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Hughes entered 2006 as the top prospect in the Yankees system, and he handled that pressure better than many of his predecessors. The Yankees also have handled Hughes well. Due to injuries, he pitched just 91 innings in his first two years in pro ball. None of his physical problems had been major: A stubbed toe limited him to five innings in his 2004 pro debut, and he had two stints on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and a tired arm in 2005. So his workload wouldn't increase dramatically, New York limited him to 80 pitches or five innings for most of the second half of 2006. He turned in one of the minors' best seasons and finished with a kick that had Yankees fans calling for his promotion for the stretch run. Instead of tiring as he pushed past 100 innings for the first time, Hughes dominated, giving up just 10 hits and two runs in his last 30 innings, then striking out 13 in six innings against eventual champion Portland in the first game of the Double-A Eastern League playoffs. Hughes has it all, with the combination of stuff, feel and command to profile as a No. 1 starter. In the words of one club official, "His stuff and his command keep getting better," and they were pretty good to begin with. Hughes sits at 91-95 mph with his four-seam fastball and touches 96. He can throw quality strikes with either his four-seamer or his upper-80s two-seamer. As he gains experience, his excellent control (his career K-BB ratio is 269-54) should evolve into above-average command. Hughes' greatest accomplishment as a pro has been to forsake his slider in favor of a knockout curveball, which is more of a strikeout pitch and produces less stress on his arm. It's a true power breaking ball that sits in the low 80s with 1-to-7 break. Club officials call it the best in the system because Hughes can throw it for quality strikes or bury it out of the zone, and because he uses the same arm slot and release point he uses for his fastball. While his slider is still a good pitch, he rarely throws it in games anymore. The biggest concerns for Hughes entering the season were durability and his changeup. He answered the former question emphatically, but his changeup remains an unfinished project. While he made progress, he doesn't control his change as well as he does his fastball and curve. Because the curve is still relatively new to him, it sometimes morphs into more of a slurve, but that's happening less often. The Yankees' biggest need is a homegrown ace to join Chien-Ming Wang at the front of their rotation, and Hughes is nearly ready to give them just that. Hughes hasn't pitched in Triple-A yet and probably will start 2007 there with the club's new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, if only to get consistent work early in the season. No one would be shocked to see Hughes in the majors in June, just three years after being drafted.
After signing for $550,000, Tabata raised expectations with an impressive debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2005. He was having a rousing encore at low Class A Charleston in 2006 before a thumb injury effectively ended his season in July. Some hitters just seem to be born with the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat to the ball quickly, consistently and with power. That's Tabata. He has the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and drive any pitch to any part of the park. His other tools are at least average, as he has flashed plus speed and arm strength. His coaches praise his ability to compete and rise to the occasion. Because he makes such easy contact, Tabata doesn't walk much, though he improved as the season went on. Scouts have noticed that he tends to coast and turn his talent on and off. His lower half already has thickened somewhat, and some think he could lose significant athleticism and speed as he gets older, relegating him to left field instead of right. Tabata was healthy enough to return to the field in the Venezuelan League this winter, then had to leave early with wrist pain. A healthy Tabata should be poised for a breakout 2007 season. He has the talent to reach New York by the end of 2008.
The key player for the Yankees in their Gary Sheffield trade with the Tigers in November, Sanchez originally signed for $1 million as a draft-and- follow. Though he started the 2006 Futures Game for the World Team, Sanchez became expendable when Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya passed him and the Tigers also drafted Andrew Miller. He's the young power arm New York lacked in Triple-A, where its rotation was loaded with finesse righties in 2006. Sanchez' fastball sits at 90-94 mph and he can dial it up to 97. His hard slider is a plus pitch at times, when it features so much downward break that it looks like a splitter. He'll also mix in a curveball and has an adequate changeup. Sanchez could use more consistency with his secondary pitches, mechanics and command, but his biggest need is to stay healthy. He hasn't done a good job of staying in shape, and while he reported to spring training last year in the best condition of his career, he still couldn't push his career high past 123 innings. Sanchez had oblique and groin injuries in 2005, then came down with a tender elbow and missed the last month of the 2006 season. He has a shot at making the Yankees rotation out of spring training, though his lack of durability lessens the likelihood of him throwing 160-180 big league innings. If he starts the season in Triple-A, he still should surface in New York before the year is out.
Betances was considered a probable first-round pick early in the 2006 draft cycle, but his slow start in the spring, high price tag and commitment to Vanderbilt scared off many clubs. The Yankees popped him in the eighth round and met his $1 million asking price, erasing the bonus record for that round--which they set a year earlier when they gave Austin Jackson $800,000. Betances' stuff is as good as anyone's in the system. His fastball sits at 93-94 mph and touched 98 in the club's fall mini-camp. He uses a low-80s power curveball as an out pitch. His changeup has made significant strides in his short pro career and grades as a future plus pitch with sinking, diving action. He's athletic and intelligent, and adapted quickly to the mechanical adjustments New York asked him to make. While he's shown some feel for his changeup, Betances needs to throw it more to master it. At his size, he'll have to work to keep his mechanics in sync and maintain balance over the rubber. At times, he rushes his delivery, making it hard for his arm to keep up with his body and costing him command. The Yankees already consider Betances ahead of schedule. He should make his full-season debut in low Class A in 2007. A potential No. 1 starter, he could become a local product who stars for the Yankees.
Chamberlain was hardly a pedigreed prospect as an amateur. He started pitching as a high school senior and went 3-6, 5.23 as a freshman for NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney. He transformed himself after transferring to Nebraska in Lincoln, having knee surgery, losing 25 pounds and blossoming into a dominant starter. When the Yankees drafted him 41st overall, he became the highest-drafted Native American ever. Chamberlain throws four pitches for strikes, and his fastball is his go-to pitch. It sat at 94-97 mph during the Hawaii Winter Baseball season, where he was named the top prospect in the league, and he throws it for quality strikes. His slider at times has depth and tilt and can be above-average, while his curveball and changeup are also solid. Projected to go in the first 10 picks, Chamberlain fell in the draft because of health questions. He missed time in the spring with triceps tendinitis, and his knee surgery and previous weight problems also scared off some clubs. He'll have to maintain his current body to maintain his stuff. Chamberlain has the best combination of power and polish among 2006 Yankees draftees and will move quickly if healthy. He'll start 2007 in high Class A and should move quickly.
A high school teammate of Rockies prospect Ian Stewart, Kennedy was a 14th-round pick of the Cardinals in 2003 but didn't sign. He succeeded Anthony Reyes as Southern California's ace but was much better as a sophomore (12-3, 2.54) than as a junior (5-7, 3.90). Nonetheless, the Yankees drafted him 21st overall and signed him for an above-slot $2.25 million bonus. Kennedy has excellent command, particularly for a young pitcher, thanks to his consistent delivery. His command helps his average stuff play up. He spots his fastball, which sits in the upper 80s and touches 92 mph when he's right, and throws a sinking changeup from the same arm slot and with similar arm speed. Even when he's not at his best, Kennedy keeps the ball down and doesn't give up many homers. He's savvy and intelligent and pitches with a plan. All of Kennedy's pitches took a step back during the spring, and his command wasn't enough to compensate. His changeup's regression and his loopy curveball kept him from putting away hitters with two strikes. His curve in particular needs help, as he tends to get around on it, costing it depth. He needs to stay tall in his delivery, lest his small stature work against him. The Yankees believe in pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras and consider Kennedy the perfect project for him. If Contreras can help him tighten his curve and regain confidence, Kennedy will hop on the fast track. He's likely headed for high Class A in 2007.
In his third full pro season, Clippard did what he has done every season-- get better. He got off to a rough start at Double-A Trenton but recovered with a dominant second half that included the first no-hitter in the Thunder's 13-year franchise history. He led the Eastern League in strikeouts and ranked fifth in the entire minors. Clippard has figured out how put hitters away at every level without "wow" stuff. He frequently pitches backward because he can throw his curveball and changeup, both slightly above-average pitches, for quality strikes. His long arms and lanky body add deception to his delivery. Though he has filled out his frame to around 200 pounds, Clippard hasn't added fastball velocity. In fact, while he used to touch 94 mph, his fastball usually topped out around 92 in 2006 and sat at 88-90. When he misses, he misses up in the zone and is prone to giving up home runs. Clippard still could use polish to tweak his mechanics and improve his fastball. He won't be an ace, but he should be a solid option as a No. 4 starter in the near future. He'll continue to move up one step at a time, heading to Triple-A in 2007.
The closer for Texas' 2005 College World Series championship team, Cox led NCAA Division I with 19 saves that spring. He spent his first full pro season at Double-A, helping Trenton overcome a 0-10 start by serving as a workhorse set-up man. He finished the year with Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Cox pounds the strike zone with pitches that hitters find nearly impossible to lift. His out pitch is a plus slider with depth that he can throw for strikes or bury to get strikeouts. His fastball sits at 88-91 mph and plays up because of its heavy sink and his ability to command it. His changeup made significant strides in 2006, helping him limit lefthanders to a .150 average. He's a fearless competitor who loves to pitch with the game on the line. Cox just doesn't have enough fastball to be a strikeout pitcher. He profiles better as a set-up man than as a closer, and that somewhat modest ceiling is the biggest knock on him. With a big spring, Cox could pitch his way onto the big league roster. If he doesn't, he'll head to Triple-A and continue preparing for a set-up role.
Whelan arrived at Texas A&M as a catcher but his strong arm proved more valuable on the mound, and he's looked like a steal since Detroit took him in the fourth round in 2005, dominating three levels and earning 42 saves in 1 1/2 seasons. He came to the Yankees in the Gary Sheffield trade in November. Whelan's out pitch is his splitter, clocked as high as 89 mph. He also has a strong four-seam fastball in the 92-94 mph range, as well as a two-seamer with plus sink. The residue of the throwing motion he used as a catcher adds deception. Whelan switched to pitching full-time only in 2005, and his inexperience remains evident. He sometimes loses his feel for the strike zone. Once he gains a better understanding of his delivery, he'll have an easier time repeating it. His slider, which could be a nice addition to his fastball-splitter combination, has remained inconsistent. Whelan will start 2007 in Double-A, with an eye toward refining his pitches. Once everything clicks, he has the potential to sail through the system. He may get to New York at some point this season, and he should arrive in the majors to stay in 2008.
A former walk-on, Gardner became the highest-drafted player in College of Charleston history as a senior in 2005. He reached Double-A and ranked ninth in the majors with 58 steals in his first full pro season. The organization's fastest runner, Gardner has earned 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for his speed and consistently turns in 4.0-second times from the plate to first base. He's an adept basestealer who succeeded on 83 percent of his attempts in 2006, and he covers the gaps well in center field. Gardner endears himself to scouts with his all-out hustle, while his plate discipline ranks as the best in the system. He stays within himself at the plate and sprays line drives from gap to gap, using a short swing he repeats well. With no power to speak of, Gardner will have to keep proving that he can hold his own against better pitching as he moves up the ladder. He has the bat speed to turn on balls inside, but he frequently gets beat on the outer half and fails to adjust. His arm is below average and his routes are erratic, though he usually outruns his mistakes. With Johnny Damon signed for three more seasons, Gardner has time to prove he can drive the ball enough to become a regular. He's ticketed for Triple-A in 2007.
Vechionacci has a higher ceiling than almost any hitter in the system, and he's also a potentially premier defender on the left side of the infield. He has above-average raw power and a knack for centering the ball on the fat part of the bat. He's starting to use his pitchrecognition skills to select balls he can drive out of the park, and he could become a .279- .290 hitter with 30-homer power. A switch-hitter, he's slightly better from the left side but is sound from the right. While he probably could handle shortstop, Vechionacci has Gold Glove ability at third base, where his accurate, plus arm and soft hands suit him well. He's a solid-average runner. Vechionacci's emotional maturity, in terms of focus on a play-to-play and game-to-game basis, is beginning to catch up to his physical maturity. He still has some growing to do on both counts, though. He has been pushed, and his game collapsed when he opened 2006 in high Class A. He struggled offensively (specifically with pitch recognition) and defensively, and he lost confidence. One scout who saw Charleston still liked him better than Jose Tabata because of his body and future power potential. The Yankees hope this is Vechionacci's true breakout season, and if it is, he could finish it in Double-A.
Marquez hasn't disappointed the Yankees since they took him with the 41st overall pick in 2004. His live arm produces fastballs that sit at 89-94 mph, and at times he's thrown even harder. His heater has natural sink, and he had a 2-1 ground/fly ratio in high Class A in 2006. His season was interrupted by a shoulder strain that landed him on the disabled list for all of July, but he returned to have his best month of the season in August and made up for lost time in Hawaii Winter Baseball. Though he had a 7.04 ERA, he ranked as HWB's No. 4 prospect. Marquez will go as far as his command and secondary stuff take him. He didn't throw enough strikes early in counts in 2006, making him more hittable than he should have been after he fell behind. He would have more swing-and-miss stuff if he stayed tall more in his delivery. While he has the ability to spin a curveball, both it and his changeup don't find the strike zone frequently enough. He throws his changeup too hard at times. Marquez has the raw stuff to start in the middle of a big league rotation, and his hard sinker would make him a valuable reliever if necessary. He should open this year in Double-A.
The Yankees have pushed Duncan aggressively ever since he responded positively in 2004 to a midseason promotion to high Class A. They thought Duncan had the right mix of power, patience and contact ability from the left side to be an ideal hitter for Yankee Stadium. However, the two years since he ranked No. 1 on this list haven't been good to Duncan. He struggled for most of 2005 at Double-A, yet he was promoted to Triple-A out of spring training in 2006 before he was ready. Back problems didn't help matters. Duncan gathered himself after a demotion to Double-A in June, but when the back injury--originally considered a lower-back strain, later diagnosed as a disc problem--cropped up again, he faltered and eventually ended his season in mid-August. He returned to play in the Arizona Fall League, though his performance was more modest. Duncan has the bat speed to turn on good fastballs, crushes balls on the inner half and isn't afraid to take a walk. His raw power ranks among the best in the system. However, back injuries tend to linger, and Duncan will have to work hard to remain in the lineup consistently. While he played some third base in 2006, he lacks the arm strength and agility to be effective there. He saw more action and is better suited for first base, where he has become adequate in a short time and should improve with experience. A healthy Duncan should be ready for a second stint at Triple-A in 2007, but it's becoming harder to see him as an eventual regular for the Yankees.
A high school catcher, Garcia shifted to the mound as a senior and emerged as a top pitching prospect. After missing a month in 2005 with an elbow strain, he was sidelined for much of 2006 by an oblique strain, but he looked strong when he returned. Yankees officials believe a healthy Garcia has almost as much upside as Hughes. While Hughes' curve has passed his as the organization's best, Garcia's is still a plus pitch, particularly when he throws it with purpose and power. His fastball is consistently in the low 90s, and as he refines his mechanics and continues to gain experience, it could sit in the mid-90s. He's learning to work off his fastball more and rely on his curve less. Garcia has pitched just 197 innings in three years as a pro, and while his biggest needs are an improved changeup and experience, he's about to miss another year of development time. Garcia tried to make up for lost time in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but he injured his elbow. He had surgery to reinforce a torn ligament and isn't expected to pitch again until 2008.
Arizona's single-season (11) and career (18) saves leader, Melancon projected as a firstround pick until a strained elbow ligament ended his junior season in April. Satisfied by the results of an MRI exam, New York snapped him up in the ninth round and signed him for $600,000. He had to leave Hawaii Winter Baseball after just four appearances with what initially was characterized as a sore arm, but Melancon had Tommy John surgery in November and is expected to miss the 2007 season. At his best, Melancon has power stuff that fits the closer profile. His fastball ranges from 92-95 mph with late life. He attacks hitters high and low, with enough giddy-up on his heater to work up in and out of the strike zone, and a hammer 12-to-6 curveball. Coaches rave about Melancon's work ethic and positive contribution to team chemistry. Melancon's maximum-effort delivery put stress on his elbow, leading to his injury. However, the Yankees love his makeup and have no doubts that he'll attack his rehab and do everything he can to come back strong. The Yankees won't get to see if he can be their future closer until his first full season, in 2008.
Horne jumped straight to high Class A in his pro debut. While he needed a couple of months to adjust, the Yankees are encouraged by the progress of this highly-regarded arm. He was a 2001 first-round pick (Indians, 27th overall) out of Marianna High in Florida's panhandle, where he was a teammate of Angels catcher Jeff Mathis. While Mathis signed that year, Horne embarked on a college career that began at Mississippi, was interrupted by Tommy John surgery, detoured to Chipola (Fla.) JC and wound up at Florida. He helped pitch the Gators to the 2005 College World Series before signing for $400,000. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Horne has an ideal pitcher's frame. When he stays direct to the plate and doesn't over-rotate, he keeps his delivery shorter and more repeatable. Then he can throw strikes with two plus pitches, a 92-96 mph fastball and a curveball that at times has good depth. He worked on a changeup last year and made progress with the pitch. Horne is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. He'll head to Double-A hoping to build on his late-season momentum.
The Yankees have struggled to develop lefthanders since hitting the jackpot with 1990 draft-and-follow Andy Pettitte. Though senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman says the Yankees have the best pitching depth in his 15 years with the organization, they still have a distinct lack of lefthanders, particularly in the upper levels. Reyes, converted from an outfielder to a pitcher in 2004, has emerged as the lefty with the highest ceiling in the system. Though he's small, he has a quick arm and generates above-average velocity with his fastball, touching 93-94 mph at times. His curveball also has shown signs of being a plus pitch, and he has shown glimpses of a changeup. Still raw, Reyes excited the Yankees with a three-start audition at short-season Staten Island shortly after he turned 19 last year, more than holding his own. The next stop will be full-season ball in low Class A, where he'll work on becoming more consistent.
Jackson has confused scouts as both an amateur and now as a pro. Recruited to play point guard at Georgia Tech, Jackson had scouts guessing whether he actually wanted to play pro baseball with some spotty efforts as a high school senior. However, he spurned the Yellow Jackets when the Yankees drafted him in 2005 and gave him $800,000, a record for a player selected in the eighth round. (New York broke the record last year with Dellin Betances' $1 million bonus.) After a solid debut in the Gulf Coast League, Jackson joined fellow phenoms Jose Tabata and C.J. Henry in low Class A. He was the only one to finish the season with Charleston, as Tabata got hurt and Henry went to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu/Cory Lidle trade. Jackson learned what it takes to grind out a season, an important lesson because he didn't play like the premium athlete the Yankees thought they were getting. Premium athletes are quicker at making adjustments than Jackson is, and they run better. Jackson's 4.4-second times from the right side of the plate to first base were pedestrian, though he runs better underway. His fringy speed also limits his range in center field, where he'll have to improve his routes and instincts to become an average defender. Jackson has raw strength, stays inside the ball well and has patience, so he eventually could hit for aboveaverage power. To do so, he'll have to dramatically improve his breaking-ball recognition and stop falling behind in the count so often. Unless Jackson can have his athletic ability play better on the field, he'll only go as far as his bat takes him as a left fielder. He's expected to move up to high Class A but could return to Charleston, at least to begin the year.
A third-round pick back in 2001, Wright took a while to get going. His arm strength never has been a problem, but his lack of command was. He finally stuck as a starter in 2005 in low Class A and finally made significant progress last year, when he was the high Class A Florida State League's pitcher of the year. He began 2006 in the bullpen, joined the rotation in June and led the FSL in ERA. The Yankees consider him the most advanced lefty in the system. Wright's stuff is just solid--88-90 mph fastball, curveball, changeup--and could play better if he could use to learn the same arm slot for his curve as he does for his other pitches. He lowered his slot to get more movement and harnessed control of his heater in 2006, getting plenty of grounders and not allowing a homer in 343 at-bats by righthanders. Wright doesn't have a strikeout pitch and profiles best at the back of a rotation. Added to the 40-man roster, he will get his first taste of Double-A in his seventh pro season.
Kontos was expected to be Northwestern's ace as a junior, with two years of experience and a solid 2005 summer in the Cape Cod League, where he ranked third in the league in strikeouts behind fellow 2006 Yankees draftee Tim Norton and Red Sox first-rounder Daniel Bard. Instead, Kontos went just 3-10, 5.29 last spring as his ability to throw strikes deserted him. The Yankees still drafted him in the fifth round based mostly off his good size and the stuff he showed in the Cape, and signed him for $158,000. He was impressive in his debut, winning seven straight starts and both playoff starts to help lead Staten Island to the short-season New York-Penn League title. Kontos has a fastball that sits at 90-92 mph and has touched 94. More important, he has shown a proclivity to challenge hitters with wood bats the he didn't show facing metal bats in college. The Yankees think there's more velocity in there, and they will let him keep his slider, which he can run into the mid-80s. Kontos has taken to a curveball taught to him by minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras, and he has the potential for an average or better bender in the future. His changeup is too firm, and Kontos' track record is not one of sustained success. He'll head to Class A in 2007.
Montero was one of the more anticipated free agents on the 2006 international market when it opened in July, and New York moved quickly to land him for the second-highest bonus of the signing period. Then-international scouting director Lin Garrett raved about Montero's top-of-the-line power, as well as his makeup and work ethic. Despite the Yankees' impressive summer in Latin America, they fired Garrett after the summer. Scouts from other organizations agreed that Montero had more power--present and future--than any other international prospect available. However, Montero had his doubters, starting with his position. His physical, mature frame may yet outgrow the catcher's spot. One scout compared him to Travis Hafner physically, and it wasn't meant as a compliment. His maxed-out body also led to suspicions that Montero wasn't really 16. Club officials reiterated that there was no age issue, but in December they confirmed that his signing bonus, originally reported as $2 million, had been adjusted down to $1.6 million. Montero disappointed the Yankees at their fall minicamp with his hitting and his fielding. He has yet to play in an organized game and hitters with 80 power potential on the 20-80 scouting scale are hard to come by, so New York will give Montero time. He's likely to begin 2007 in extended spring training and make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League in June.
No. 4 on this list two years ago, White is running out of time as the Yankees acquire more and more pitchers with similar or better stuff and more command. He's still a factor, though, as he's taken to minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras' instruction and improved his curveball. At his best, White pounds the strike zone with a 90-93 mph fourseam fastball that he occasionally throws at 95, as well as his curveball and two versions of a changeup. One of his changes is straight, while the other has some sink. His whole package was more effective when he repeated Double-A last year, particularly against lefthanderss. In Triple-A, White got pounded when he elevated both his fastball and his changeups. He's worked hard to pick up a two-seam fastball and to improve his command. The Yankees are suddenly crowded with Triple-A righthanders, and White has little relief pitching in his past, so he could need time to adjust if asked to change roles. His ceiling is more likely at the back of the rotation, but he has more stuff than the likes of Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner. To pass them, White likely will have to master Triple-A in 2007.
Beam did just what the Yankees hoped he would in 2006. He continued his adjustment from starter to reliever, dominated the minors and made his big league debut. Now, he has to take next step--having major league success and earning manager Joe Torre's trust in the late innings. Beam's stuff has improved the last two years, particularly his slider, which is now plus pitch at times. He stays tall in his delivery more consistently now and can hit 95 mph with his fastball, though it usually sits in the low 90s. Beam thrived in extended appearances in the minors, often pitching two or three innings per outing, and some Yankees officials worried that he had little experience throwing on back-to-back days prior to getting to the majors. Sure enough, he struggled in such appearances. When he's tired, his stuff flattens out and he's vulnerable to homers. Beam needs to get stronger. He'll have a chance to earn a big league bullpen spot in 2007 but will have to pitch a lot better in New York to stay there.
The Yankees loaded up on college pitchers in the 2006 draft, but also grabbed a pair of physical high school arms who will need time to develop in Dellin Betances and McAllister. A third-round pick, McAllister was the top-rated prospect in Illinois last year (ahead of George Kontos) and signed for $368,000. His father Steve scouts for the Diamondbacks organization as a crosschecker. McAllister still is getting used to his body, as he has added six inches and more than 50 pounds to his frame in the last two years. Now he'll have to get used to essentially a new repertoire. In high school, he had a lower arm slot and used more of a sinker-slider approach, mixing in the rare changeup. With his body and arm strength, the Yankees believe he can be more of a power pitcher and have made some changes. They have raised McAllister's arm slot slightly, worked with him on a four-seam fastball and added a curveball, hoping he'll take to it and shelve his slider eventually. Used in a piggyback role in the Gulf Coast League with Betances, McAllister showed good arm strength, throwing in the low 90s. He also displayed an aggressiveness in the strike zone that New York likes to see. Because of the overhaul of his repertoire, McAllister may need longer to develop and could start this season in extended spring training.
A three-year starter at Arizona State, Curtis helped led the Sun Devils to the 2005 College World Series and won a New York-Penn League championship in his first taste of pro ball. Curtis was the Yankees' highest-drafted position player in 2006 and had a solid debut after signing for an above-slot $450,000 bonus. New York buys into his offensive ability, thanks to his short, quick swing, and offense may have to be his calling card. Area scouts in Arizona considered him less athletic as a junior than he was as a freshman. All his tools play average, and his body leaves little room for projection. While he's a smart, aggressive baserunner and efficient basestealer, his speed is just average. He has some strength in his swing, which seems to work better with wood than with metal. Curtis played center field in Staten Island and his bat would fit best there. He'll have to maximize his average range, running smart routes and improving his instincts, to stay there. No one doubts his makeup, as Curtis was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 15 and beat the disease. If the Yankees decide to keep Austin Jackson in low Class A, Curtis could get on the fast track and jump to high Class A.
International League hitters had their way with Karstens in his first Triple-A stint, and he went 0-5, 7.01 in seven starts. Sent down to Double-A, Karstens turned his year around with the help of Trenton pitching coach Dave Eiland. He pitched aggressively and won all six of his decisions, earning a trip back to Triple-A, and the ride didn't stop until Karstens arrived in New York and nearly exhausted his rookie eligibility. He earned his first major league victory in his second start, pitched with moxie and earned the respect of manager Joe Torre. Karstens' stuff is fringe-average, particularly his fastball, which sat at 87 mph in the majors. However, he throws both a slider and curveball for strikes, and he can use his above-average changeup in any count. With Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa added to the fold, Karstens will return to Triple-A to start the year and be near the front of the line for a promotion.
Calzado, who signed for $110,000 in 2003, needed three years to get out of the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. When he finally did, he was a different physical specimen from the 6-foot-1, 160-pounder they signed, having grown an inch and added 30 pounds. With five-tool potential, Calzado is still raw and a long way off from helping in New York, even after a successful cup of coffee in low Class A. Calzado has bat speed and raw power. He has plus speed but lacks the instincts and savvy to make the most of it on the bases and in center field. He often has to use his quickness to run down balls that he didn't read well off the bat. Calzado has a decent concept of the strike zone and an excellent work ethic. He's expected to return to Charleston, though New York's depth in outfielders and his lack of polish may dictate he opens in extended spring training before going to Staten Island.
The Yankees have cooled on Sardinha over the years, citing his laid-back demeanor and inability to find a defensive home. But over the last two years, the former supplemental first-round pick made progress, and his natural hitting skills and athletic ability have him poised to contribute in the majors. Sardinha's bat has blossomed since his 2005 move to right field, where his arm strength plays average and he has solid range. His lefthanded swing remains fluid and strong, he stays inside the ball well, and he has improved at letting his power come naturally as he concentrates on using the whole field. He played better after a promotion to Triple-A, thriving under Columbus manager Dave Miley. Sardinha, whose brothers Dane (Reds) and Duke (Rockies) were active minor leaguers in 2006, tied a career high with 16 homers, but his overall power potential falls shy of the ideal for a right fielder. And with Melky Cabrera ahead of him--not to mention Bob Abreu--it appears Sardinha would be a better fit in another organization.
Norton put up better numbers than George Kontos at Staten Island last summer, but Kontos rates as a slightly better prospect because he has more arm strength and is two years younger. A seventh-rounder who signed for $85,000, Norton operates at 90-93 mph with his four-seam fastball. He had a funky delivery when he first arrived in pro ball, but after a month, the Yankees were able to take some of the effort out of it. He threw consistent strikes with his fastball and didn't issue a walk in four of his final eight starts. He also gained better control his two-seamer, which he'll need to use more as he moves up. Norton's biggest problem is his lack of a breaking ball. His arm slot lends itself to a slider, and his isn't very good right now. He throws a nice changeup and a splitter, pitches that help him against lefthanders. The total package makes Norton most likely to make an impact as a reliever, but the Yankees hope he can gain experience and develop a better breaking ball in a starting role in 2007, likely in low Class A.
Most organizations wouldn't be as happy with a player who ran afoul of baseball's performance- enhancing drugs policy in his pro debut. But the Yankees love McCutchen's stuff and attitude, and they believe his contention that his positive test resulted from ephedra in a prescription drug he took during his career at Oklahoma. He became the Sooners' ace as a fifth-year senior in 2006, ranking third in NCAA Division I with 149 innings. In that respect, McCutchen's 50-game suspension didn't hurt too badly, because the time off was good for him. During his brief pro debut, he showed good control of four pitches. He works at 90-92 mph with both a two-seam fastball and a four-seamer, and he hits 94-95 at times with the latter. He also has a plus curveball he throws with power in the low 80s, as well as a changeup with late tail and sink. The Yankees want to smooth out his delivery, which had plenty of effort in his college days, and get all that energy going toward home plate. He had elbow problems at Grayson County (Texas) CC, and while he was healthy at Oklahoma, his college career lasted five years. At age 24, he has just 29 innings of pro experience. While McCutchen has a chance to start, he also could move quickly as a middle reliever--once his suspension is over. After he serves the final 23 games, he could open 2007 in high Class A.