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Hughes is a California guy but grew up a Red Sox fan, as his father hails from New England and he had a grandmother who lived in Rhode Island. As a boy, Hughes took trips to visit her in the summer and went to games at Fenway Park regularly. Hughes was one of the nation's top high school arms when the 2004 draft rolled around, but slipped to the Yankees with the 23rd overall pick as teams focused on college players. Signed for $1.4 million, Hughes worked just five innings in his pro debut before he stubbed his toe in his hotel room. Being ultra-cautious and fearing a fracture, New York shut him down. Hughes' first full season also ended early because of a pair of stints on the disabled list, one with shoulder tendinitis and another with a tired arm. One Yankees official has called Hughes "Mark Prior light" since he joined the organization, and the similarities are striking. He has a sturdy, strong body and relatively effortless delivery, and the ball comes out of his hand easy. His fastball settled into the 92-94 mph range last season and he has more velocity when he needs it. As with Prior, the striking feature of Hughes' fastball is his control and command of it. He throws it for strikes consistently and is honing his ability to put it in just the right spot. He has a hard, late-biting slider that the Yankees wouldn't let him throw last year, but he likes it better than his curveball and has the go-ahead to use it again in 2006. His curve progressed significantly and is now an above-average pitch. New York officials believe he has the poise and intangibles to go with his front-of-the-rotation stuff. Like Prior, Hughes has not been durable the last two years. He has pitched for three teams as a pro and has ended each stint on the disabled list. Besides the stubbed toe, he also had a mild case of elbow tendinitis in 2004. Hughes hasn't needed surgery, and the Yankees insist the biggest hurdle he must overcome with regard to his health is getting to know his body better. All pitchers get sore, but Hughes has to learn what soreness is to be expected over the course of a season and what's unusual. At times he throws his curve in the low 70s just to get it over, and he needs to throw it in the 78-80 mph range for it to be a plus pitch. He did that as the year progressed but will have to maintain that feel when he reintroduces his slider. His changeup is his fourth pitch, but he has the feel and arm speed for it to be at least average. The wraps come off Hughes in 2006. The Yankees will start him at high Class A Tampa, and he shouldn't be there long. As he reintroduces his slider, he should become a starter with well-above-average control and above-average command who throws three plus pitches for strikes. In a different organization, a healthy Hughes could reach the major leagues in 2006. Instead, he should be in the mix for a rotation spot in New York in 2007--as long as he stays off the disabled list.
One of the youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League last year, Duncan survived a poor start and trade rumors. Then he got beaned in the head by a pitch by Akron's Victor Kleine on Aug. 14 and wasn't right the rest of the season. He bounced back to win the Arizona Fall League's MVP award. Duncan has above-average lefthanded power with enough bat speed to turn on quality fastballs, and he has easy opposite-field power as well. A solid athlete, he also has excellent makeup. He's coachable and willing to make adjustments. Once EL pitchers realized Duncan had trouble with quality breaking balls, they fed him a steady diet of them and rarely gave him fastballs in the strike zone. He needs to trust his hands more on offspeed pitches. He led the EL with 27 errors at third base, mostly due to a fringy arm. With Alex Rodriguez in front of him at third base, Duncan should move to first base sooner than later and began the process in the AFL. The position switch and his modest 2005 season likely will prompt his return to Trenton in 2006.
Only Braves shortstop Elvis Andrus was younger than Tabata in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. He signed for $550,000 and had an exciting debut performance that included a league-best 22 stolen bases. Tabata has plus tools across the board and stands out from young peers such as C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson because of his advanced approach at the plate. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination (he was the second-hardest player to strike out in the GCL) and his swing already puts backspin on the ball to generate loft. That and his plus-plus bat speed have club officials projecting big power. The Yankees are excited about Tabata's total package and see the cultural adjustments of living in the United States and speaking English as his biggest obstacles. He's a center fielder with plus speed now, but as he fills out he should lose a step or two and move to right field, where his arm will fit fine. Tabata's bat is advanced enough to earn him a spot at low Class A Charleston for his full-season debut. His ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor leaguer since Alfonso Soriano.
The Yankees needed a $1.575 million bonus to convince Henry that baseball, not basketball, was his future. Though he never signed a hoops scholarship, he would have been a recruited walk-on at Kansas, where his father Carl played before a brief NBA career. His mother Barbara also played for the Jayhawks, and his younger brother Xavier is a top basketball prospect. Henry is a premier athlete, already the best in the system. He has well-above-average raw power and is a plus runner. Despite his strong frame, he's athletic enough to stay at shortstop and impressed the Yankees with his defense in his debut. Henry's swing can get long and mechanical, and he may never hit for a high average. He'll need plenty of minor league at-bats to develop a better feel. If he moves off shortstop, it will be because of his fringe-average arm. Henry's athleticism, competitiveness and presence were too much for the Yankees to pass on. He'll head to low Class A for his first full season. New York is in no rush to find a new shortstop, so Henry will have to be patient.
Jackson was set to go to Georgia Tech on a basketball scholarship. Jackson's basketball jones threw off many area scouts, who doubted his desire to play baseball. But Mark Batchko realized Jackson wanted to be a Yankee, having written his first scouting report on him when Jackson was 12. New York signed him quickly in June for $800,000, a record for an eighth-round pick. Jackson rivals C.J. Henry in his athletic ability and competitive nature. At the plate, he exhibits a knack for staying inside the ball and can drive the ball the other way, which along with his wiry frame has elicited some Derek Jeter comparisons. He's an above-average runner and a solid defender. The biggest question for Jackson is his power. He needs to add strength and will have to learn to pull the ball. The top player in his age group at ages 12 (1999) and 15 (2002) in our annual Baseball for the Ages rankings, Jackson has been a prospect since before he was a teenager. He'll spend his first season as a full-time baseball player in low Class A and could move quickly thanks to his advanced offensive approach.
Nunez hit just .215 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2004, but his bat sizzled in the short-season New-York Penn League, even though he was the league's third-youngest position player. For a teenage middle infielder, not to mention an inexperienced Dominican, Nunez has an advanced feel for hitting that allowed him to skip the Gulf Coast League. He has a level, smooth swing from both sides of the plate and projects to hit for average power. Nunez has a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale and good hands defensively. He's also an above-average runner but has shaky footwork at shortstop, and some question whether he'll have the range or mobility to stay there. He might have to move to second base or the outfield. To fulfill his power projections, he'll have to get stronger. Nunez was so impressive at Staten Island and the organization is so bereft of shortstops that he'll jump to high Class A in 2006. He may have to switch positions eventually, in deference to Derek Jeter ahead of him and C.J. Henry behind him.
Vechionacci was one of the youngest players in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005 and batted third most of the season. He switched from shortstop to third base in June in an attempt to take some of the pressure off him, and he responded with a better second half. Vechionacci has a smooth swing and solid approach at the plate. While he was a solid defender at short, he's a potential Gold Glove winner at third base with good range, soft hands and a well above-average arm. The Yankees believe in profiles, and third base is a power position, but expecting Vechionacci to hit for power in the majors involves a lot of projection. He must get stronger and improve both his pitch recognition and his plate discipline, learning what pitches to lay off, which to drive to the gaps and which to pull for power. Now that he's at third base, he'll hop off the fast track because Alex Rodriguez is in New York. Vechionacci's confidence faltered in Charleston last season, and a successful return there would put a him back on the right track.
Garcia had signed to play catcher at South Carolina. While he played in the Palmetto State in 2005, it was in Charleston as a pitcher for the Yankees, as he signed for $390,000 as a third-round pick after moving to the mound as a high school senior. He missed a month with a right elbow strain but returned to finish his first full season strong. Garcia has the perfect pitcher's frame with wide shoulders, big hands and long limbs. He has a clean arm action that he repeats well. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95, and he keeps it down in the strike zone. His curveball is a true hammer, a 12-to-6 pitch with power at 74-78 mph. Inexperience dogs Garcia on the field and off it, as some in the organization question his desire to be great. He relies too heavily on his curve for someone who has such a good fastball. His changeup is rudimentary at this point. Nuances such as setting hitters up and holding runners will have to come with experience. Garcia's upside is tremendous, but he's going to need time and has a lot to learn. He's expected to repeat low Class A in 2006.
The Yankees sent the top four pitchers they drafted in 2004 to low Class A in 2005, and Marquez won the most games and pitched the most innings of that group. He saw his velocity take off in his freshman year at Sacramento City College in 2004, and the Yankees signed him for $790,000 after making him a supplemental first-round pick. Marquez shows three pitches that could be 55 or 60 offerings on the 20- 80 scouting scale. His 89-94 mph two-seam fastball has excellent sink and tails in to righthanders. He holds his velocity well. His downer curveball doesn't quite have true 12-to-6 break but is a swing-and-miss pitch. His firm changeup sinks like his two-seamer. Marquez is still honing his four-seam fastball so he can get inside consistently on lefthanders and to be more consistent with his change. He has some issues with his extension and finishing off pitches, which leads to high walk totals and inconsistent control. If his control and command improve to be major league average, Marquez could top out as a No. 2 or 3 starter. He's slated to move up to high Class A this year.
Clippard pitched near home in 2005 and had a breakthrough season in high Class A. His 181 strikeouts ranked fifth overall in the minors, and he placed seventh with an average of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Clippard always has pounded the strike zone and shown a willingness to pitch inside. He worked with roving pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras to clean up his delivery, which became more consistent. Subsequently all his pitches got better. He now has an 89-92 mph fastball with some life that touches 94, a plus curveball, a slider and a changeup. He has excellent control with improving command. A fly ball pitcher, Clippard is going to give up homers when he misses his spot while trying to work inside. He must maintain and repeat his delivery as he continues to add weight to his lanky frame. Clippard combines a knack for pitching with solid-average stuff and a strikeout pitch. He profiles as a No. 3 starter and could move quickly if he gets off to a strong start in Double-A this season.
Cox was Huston Street's wingman at Texas for two years, setting up the current Athletics closer before taking the reins himself and recording the final out when Texas completed its sweep through the 2005 College World Series. The Yankees love a winner, and that describes Cox, who also pitched for Team USA. They took him in the second round in June and signed him for $550,000. Frequently compared to Street, Cox broke his career appearance record at Texas with 106 while tying the school record for single-season saves with 19, a figure that led NCAA Division I. Like Street, Cox works from a lower arm angle and can throw in the low 90s with a plus slider. Unlike Street, Cox is at his best when he takes something off his fastball, throws it in the upper 80s and gets good sink and armside run in on righthanders. Then he goes down and away with his hard slider, a power pitch that gets plenty of swings and misses. Cox has the intangibles necessary to close, even if his stuff is a little short for the true closer profile. He figures to move quickly through the Yankees organization because of his strike-throwing ability and could debut in New York sometime in 2006.
Battle was diagnosed with lymphoma soon after the Yankees drafted him, and he overcame cancer with surgery and chemotherapy treatments. He made his full-season debut in low Class A last year and led Charleston in extra-base hits, home runs and stolen bases. He also topped the minors in strikeouts--fellow Yankees farmhand Mitch Jones was second-- because of his poor pitch recognition. It's not one pitch that flummoxes Battle, who is a decent breaking-ball hitter and has the bat speed to turn on good fastballs. Though he takes his fair share of walks, he'll swing at just about anything. He's a guess hitter, and when he guesses breaking ball and sees one, he swings--whether or not it's hittable. If he tempers his aggressiveness, Battle's prodigious power could explode. He's an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale who continues to improve on the nuances of basestealing. Defensively, Battle has exceptional range in center field and an average arm. Mental lapses keep him from being more than an average defender at present, however. His dedication to the game improved significantly in 2005, as he often was the first River Dog to take early work in the batting cage and shagged extra flies to improve his route-running. His ceiling is significant, and his development hinges on improving his pitch recognition and taming his strikeouts. He'll try to make more strides in that regard in high Class A this year.
Of the Yankees' 2005 draftees, only righthander J. Brent Cox figures to move faster than Gardner, who earned raves as an amateur and again in helping lead Staten Island to the New York-Penn League championship. Gardner was a third-team All-American in 2005, when he set College of Charleston records for runs (85) and hits (122, tied for the NCAA Division I lead) in a season while leading the Southern Conference in those categories as well as stolen bases (38). A third-round pick in June who signed for $210,000, Gardner is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and has edged Tim Battle as the organization's fastest man. He's also a savvy basestealer. He doesn't have Battle's power, but he has enough juice to earn pitchers' respect and his polish at the plate is obvious. He doesn't try to do too much, spraying line drives from foul pole to foul pole, and isn't afraid to take a walk. He's a good defender in center field with a solid arm. Gardner needs to hone his two-strike approach and could improve his bunting to better take advantage of his speed. He's poised to skip a level and should join Battle in the Tampa outfield.
The way the Yankees' big league season worked out, a healthy White might have had a shot at reaching New York and helping a beleaguered rotation. Instead, he missed nearly two months in the first half with an oblique strain, then spent time in the hospital and missed the Eastern League playoffs with a bout with pancreatitis. White also had pancreatitis as a college sophomore, so he'll have to monitor his health more closely in the future to avoid another flareup. He made up for lost time by pitching in the Arizona Fall League and making the U.S. Olympic qualifying team. In the AFL, his stuff was better than it had been all year, as he threw his fastball at 90-93 mph. White has touched 95-96 mph with his heater in the past, and he's at his best when he works off it, supplemented by an average curveball that has improved since he has turned pro. His injury issues stunted the work he needed to do on his changeup. White will return to Double-A in 2006 and needs to stay healthy to remain ahead of the younger, higher-ceiling arms behind him in the organization.
Failing on a stage as public as center field for the Yankees in a series against the Red Sox would kill most prospects' confidence. That's what happened with Cabrera, whom New York turned to in June to fill in for an injured Bernie Williams. Cabrera was overwhelmed, misplaying a Trot Nixon liner into an inside-the-park home run and looking lost at the plate. He was demoted to Triple-A Columbus after just six games and carried his struggles with him, and his performance there prompted a return to Double-A. Cabrera's bat is his best tool. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and a handsy swing that allows him to hammer breaking balls. He could use a better trigger to help him catch up to good fastballs and hit for more power. Cabrera needs to be more aggressive and get better jumps to be an average center fielder, and a dose of confidence wouldn't hurt. He profiles defensively as a corner outfielder but doesn't have the power to play there regularly in the majors at this point. He'll return to Triple-A this year and could rejoin the Yankees as an extra outfielder.
DeSalvo was one of the best NCAA Division III pitchers ever, setting NCAA all-division records for wins (53) and strikeouts (603), but his slight frame and a knee injury that forced him to redshirt his fourth year in college caused him to pass through the 2002 draft unclaimed. The Yankees signed him as a fifth-year senior before the 2003 draft, and he was Trenton's ace last year, pitching the Thunder to the Eastern League playoffs. DeSalvo has altered his delivery since college, varying his arm angle to put more movement on his 89-90 mph fastball. When he goes over the top, he gets more velocity, but he rarely does so anymore. Instead, he keeps his fastball down and uses it to set up his plus-plus changeup that fools hitters because of his deceptive arm action and its late sink. DeSalvo also has two solid-average breaking balls, a slider and changeup, and good control of both. Despite fringy stuff, DeSalvo is tough to hit--his .202 opponent average ranked sixth in the minors among starting pitchers. He never gives in to hitters, a trait that endears him to scouts and managers. His bulldog mentality and passion to win make his makeup his best attribute. DeSalvo will rely on the same formula as he moves up to Triple-A this year. He profiles as a fourth or fifth starter.
Horne has lived a baseball lifetime since he played with Angels prospect Jeff Mathis in high school--and he still has yet to make his pro debut. Horne was a first-round pick in 2001 but didn't sign with the Indians, attending Mississippi instead. After a solid freshman year in 2002, Horne hurt his elbow early in his sophomore year and had Tommy John surgery, taking a medical redshirt. He then transferred to Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, where his father had played and where he had known the coach, Jeff Johnson, since he was young. Johnson helped Horne develop a cut fastball that he could throw consistently for strikes. The Angels took Horne in the 30th round of the 2004 draft, but he turned down six-figure offers to go to Florida. He threw better as the spring progressed, sitting at 88-93 mph with his fastball. He also learned to compete better and improved his approach to pitching. Horne made only one start in the College World Series and injured his left hamstring. He flirted with returning to Florida as a fifth-year senior, but signed for $400,000 and attended the Yankees' fall minicamp. He impressed club officials with his stuff--his fastball was up to 92-95 mph--and mature demeanor. Horne's progress will depend on his health and control of his secondary pitches, which include a curveball that showed improved bite down in the zone in minicamp, and a changeup. He could make his pro debut in high Class A with a strong spring.
The Yankees finally got a return on their $1.701 million investment in Henn--a record at the time for a draft-and-follow signee--when he made his big league debut in 2005. It didn't go as they hoped, as his control deserted him and he gave up 16 runs in three starts. In the minors, though, he had his best season before a mid-August bout with stiffness in his left forearm ended his season. As a power lefthander, Henn has enough stuff to get by with just enough control, and when he's at his best he's effectively wild. He has enough life on his 90-93 mph fastball to pitch up in the strike zone, and then he can bury his hard slider down in the zone. When he stays on top of the pitch, it's an above-average breaking ball. He was less consistent with his slider in Triple-A and compounded his difficulties when he tried to be too fine. Henn just needs to trust his stuff and attack hitters. He still lacks a real feel for a changeup, and the total package profiles him better as a reliever. The Yankees have resisted making that move yet. He's expected to rejoin the Triple-A rotation in 2006, and his name continues to come up in trade talks.
Howard, acquired from the Reds in a trade for Tony Womack during the Winter Meetings, has hit at almost every stop along a storied career. He was Baseball America's College Freshman of the Year in 2000, when he batted .413, and won a College World Series championship ring with Miami in 2001. He hit .373 in the Arizona Fall League in 2004, then won the AFL batting title with a .409 average this offseason while playing third base. Howard had played just one game at the hot corner as a pro after starring there for the Hurricanes. The move was simply a way to get him at-bats on an AFL team that already had enough second basemen, but it also enhanced his value by showing his versatility. Howard's bat is ready for the majors right now. He has shown a consistent ability to center the ball, with an effective line-drive swing and adequate power from the left side. He has average speed. Howard's defense is what keeps him from profiling as an everyday middle infielder. His actions are a little unorthodox, he doesn't turn the double play particularly well, his range is average and his arm is below average, especially at third base. Howard, who profiles best as a utilityman, likely will spend most of 2006 in Triple-A.
Smith had a high-profile college career at Oklahoma State, where he was the No. 1 starter as a sophomore on the Cowboys' last College World Series entry. He also pitched for Team USA in 1999 in a rotation that also included Mark Prior. Injuries stunted his progress as a pro. He found new life in the bullpen last season and earned a spot on the 40-man roster as well as a second turn with Team USA, this time on the team of professionals in the November regional Olympic qualifier in Arizona. Smith is a different pitcher from the one the Yankees drafted, having battled elbow soreness and a serious blow to his confidence when he struggled in 2002 in his first stab at Double-A. In the bullpen, he has improved the velocity on his formerly flagging fastball, getting it back to 89-92 mph. He has honed his breaking ball, once a slurvy curveball, into a sweeping slider that at times has 1-to-7 depth and bite. One club official rated it a plus pitch, and until Philip Hughes starts throwing his again, Smith has the best slider in the system. The pitch gives him an edge over the likes of Sean Henn and Wayne Franklin to earn a spot as a bullpen lefty in New York in 2006, but he'll have to prove himself to the big league brass and figures to open the year in Triple-A.
One of the Yankees' most unlikely prospects, Christian is also one of the system's better hitters. His bat has found a home with New York, and the much-traveled Christian could use a home. He played at Skyline (Calif.) Junior College, Auburn and Southeast Missouri State in college, and signed with River City of the independent Frontier League when he wasn't drafted following his junior season in 2003. He hit .374 with 45 steals in parts of two seasons with River City, prompting the Yankees to sign him to fill a roster spot at short-season Staten Island in 2004. He has proven to be more than roster filler, however. Christian can hit with a short, consistent stroke that produces average power. He has excellent plate discipline and is a 6.5-second runner over 60 yards. His speed and excellent instincts helped him lead Yankees farmhands with 55 steals in just 62 attempts in 2005. The total package makes him potentially an impact top-of-the-order hitter. Christian's biggest shortcoming is defense. His below-average arm and modest infield actions limit him to second base, where he's average at best. He earned an invitation to the organization's fall minicamp, where he worked on playing outfield. Christian could become a super utility player and figures to play every day at second base or in left or center field in Double-A this year.
Sardinha found a position in 2005, moving to right field after previous stints at shortstop, third base and two other outfield spots. He took to his new home well and showed a solid-average arm that plays up because of its accuracy. The nuances of right field also started coming to him, as he learned to throw to the right base and take better routes to the ball. He's the youngest of three brothers in the minors: Dane played in the Reds system last season, Duke in the Rockies organization. Bronson's bat was supposed to be his ticket and was the reason the Yankees drafted him in the supplemental first round in 2001, but his offensive progress stalled a bit. He's better off when he uses the whole field, but he tried too hard to hit for power last season, leading to him cheating on fastballs and trying to jerk balls down the line for home runs. Sardinha has a knack for staying inside the ball and using left-center field. His raw power is just average, and he's in danger of becoming a 'tweener. The Yankees want him to focus better on the field and off it in terms of his preparation. Coming off a .344 performance in the Arizona Fall League, he'll get his first shot at Triple-A in 2006 and needs to get back to hitting for average instead of worrying about his power.
Thompson started the 2005 season well in Double-A and even earned a start in the Futures Game, but he wasn't as impressive in the second half after a promotion to Triple-A. He remains unrefined for a player of his age and experience level. He's slump-prone in part because of his makeup, as Yankees officials use phrases such as "nervous energy," "edgy" and "emotional" to describe him. Thompson has raw power potential and carries his pop into games when he's aggressive yet disciplined at the plate. The Yankees would like him to play that way defensively. While he has center-field tools, he's tentative with his jumps and still lacks savvy, such as proper positioning, throwing to the right cutoff man and knowing when to dive for a ball. He's one of the organization's faster runners and has improved his basestealing ability. Thompson almost certainly will return to Triple-A in 2006.
Known as T.J. because he's Theodore Lester Beam Jr., Beam was a solid starter at Mississippi in college, leading the Rebels in wins as a senior. He was a fastball pitcher in the offspeed-heavy Southeastern Conference and got away with it because of his low-90s velocity and the downhill plane he generates from his 6-foot-7 frame. His lack of a quality offspeed pitch caught up with him in pro ball. He made strides with his slider and picked up velocity on his fastball after moving to the bullpen in 2005, and his improvement prompted the Yankees to protect him on their 40-man roster in November. Beam's fastball often sat at 92- 96 mph last year, and while it lacks movement, he has enough velocity to pitch up in the zone. His slider greatly improved and became an average pitch. He locates it much better than he used to, and at times it has good tilt and some hard bite. His changeup is just fringe average. Beam profiles as a set-up man and will start this year in Double-A. If his slider continues to improve, he could move quickly.
Staten Island dominated the New York-Penn League, going 52-24 and winning the playoffs, thanks to a pitching staff that posted a 2.85 ERA to lead the league by a substantial margin. Patterson had an ERA nearly a full run higher than the team mark, but his power lefthanded arm makes him Staten Island's top pitching prospect. He had a well-traveled college career due in part to elbow problems. He started his career at Kansas State before transferring first to Grayson County (Texas) Community College and then Oklahoma, where he was a part-time starter and reliever. Patterson has big stuff, with enough power to be effective despite fringy control. His fastball sits at 93-94, and he touched 96 this summer out of the bullpen. His changeup gives him a second plus pitch, though it's a notch below his electric heater. He also has shown the ability to spin a breaking ball, a decent though inconsistent curve. While he has an easy and fairly smooth delivery, he has command and control issues. Patterson's poor conditioning has something to do with it, and he also tends to lose his release point at times. If he comes to spring training in better shape, he'll be given a chance to be a starter in Class A because of his three-pitch mix. Otherwise, he could move quickly as a power lefty reliever in the Alan Embree mold.
Phillips continue to do what he does best--hit--but it looks like he may never be more than a 4-A player. The Yankees have used him in 32 big league games during the last two years, and Phillips has shown glimpses of the power he has displayed in the minors--six of his eight hits have gone for extra bases. The former Alabama star, who led the Crimson Tide to the 1999 College World Series with a Southeastern Conference-record 36-game hitting streak, had another strong minor league season in 2005. He has slightly above-average pop, and he maximizes his power potential by being an intelligent, disciplined hitter. He'll be 29 this season and may never get consistent at-bats in New York to justify the Kevin Millar comparisons that some scouts have put on him. A college shortstop, Phillips has been held back by his defense as a pro. He's still capable of filling in at second base and played more at third base than he did at first base in Triple-A last year. But his bat comes alive when he's at first, where he's an average defender.
Guillen ranked third on this list just two years ago, and the Yankees still see some ceiling in him. Expectations have been lowered, though, as it becomes apparent that he doesn't have quite the power the organization thought would develop. His swing consistently is a little late and a little long. Because power is the last tool to come, the Yankees haven't ruled out that Guillen will shorten up and hit for enough pop to be a starting corner outfielder. He showed improved ability to pull the ball in the club's fall minicamp, a crucial aspect he must add to his game to avoid being pounded inside by fastballs. His plate discipline also hasn't progressed as he has advanced to higher levels. Otherwise, Guillen still has solid tools, with good hands that allow him to steer offspeed pitches to the opposite field with some authority. His strong throwing arm remains his best tool. Guillen got his first Double-A experience last season and wasn't overwhelmed. He'll return to the Trenton in 2006, still trying to make the adjustments needed at the plate to avoid being characterized as a fourth outfielder.
The last week of June couldn't have been more memorable for Reese. Two days after he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Laura Le Gallo, the Yankees finally rewarded his offensive talent with a brief big league promotion. He struck out and walked in two plate appearances. New York acquired him from the Padres in December 2001 in a trade for Bernie Castro. Reese is an efficient hitter with a career .299 average in the minors, and he's smart and patient enough to identify and wait for pitches he can drive. He has an excellent twostrike approach. He hangs in well against lefthanders and has power to the gaps, but he doesn't have enough juice to be a corner outfielder on a contender. He's also a good baserunner and efficient basestealer. Defensively, Reese is solid-average on either corner, though his arm profiles best in left. He has played some center field in the minors, mostly in 2004, and grades out as slightly below average. Realistically, Reese will be an extra outfielder for the Yankees and won't get a chance to start until he's in another organization.
The Yankees have been waiting for results from Stephens since they signed him for a $500,000 bonus as a 2003 sixth-round pick. At the time, New York scout Gordon Blakeley compared Stephens to Mark Prior, whom the club had drafted out of high school five years before. Stephens doesn't quite have Prior's physique, and the Yankees still have to do some projection on him, as he has yet to play full-season ball. He made significant strides at Staten Island last season, mostly in his mound demeanor. Stephens didn't face much adversity in high school and is learning how to get through tough innings, making big pitches when he needs them and not giving in to hitters. He locates his 89-90 mph fastball well, and the Yankees believe there's more velocity to come once he fills out physically. He's still learning to get more sink on the pitch. His 12-to-6 curveball is his out pitch, and he also throws a changeup. He has good control now and the Yankees expect him to have above-average command down the road. He'll head to low Class A this season for his first shot at full-season ball. This would have been his draft year had he attended Georgia Tech.
Karstens spent two years at Grossmont Junior College and was an all-conference selection in one of California's most competitive community college conferences. He moved on to Texas Tech for a year as a reliever, but New York thinks he can be a back-of-the-rotation starter. A pitchability righthander, Karstens resembles 2005 Yankees savior Aaron Small in some ways, with a tall frame (though less solid than Small's) and the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes. Karstens has an 88-91 mph fastball that he spots to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and he also uses a changeup, curveball and slider. His changeup is his second- best pitch, and he used it to hold lefthanders to a .257 average. Righthanders handled him at a .307 clip. Karstens needs to pitch inside more and keep his modest stuff down in the zone, as he was too hittable last year. But he has shown enough of a knack for pitching to keep the Yankees interested. He'll move up to Triple-A for the first time in 2006.