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In 2004, Chamberlain was a 272-pound starter at NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney, and he went just 3-6, 5.23. Chamberlain started getting in shape, though, and his fastball started reaching the low 90s by the end of his freshman season. He then transferred to Nebraska, where he kept improving and led his hometown Cornhuskers to the 2005 College World Series. While his talent made him a consensus top prospect for the 2006 draft, his stock fell because of concerns about a knee injury that required surgery in the fall of 2004. He fell to the Yankees with the 41st overall pick and signed for $1.15 million. A member of the Winnebago tribe, he became the second-highest Native American ever drafted, behind only Jacoby Ellsbury. After signing, Chamberlain reported to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his first pro action. Chamberlain had a mild hamstring pull last spring and didn't make his pro debut until May, then made the minor leagues look easy. After breezing through high Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Chamberlain moved to the bullpen to help the Yankees fill a big league need. He made the majors look easy too. Only Mother Nature could stop him. He coughed up a 2-1 lead against the Indians in Game Three of the Division Series after he was swarmed by midges and lost his focus. Scouts chuckle with delight discussing Chamberlain's raw stuff, and several give him 70 or 80 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for three different pitches. He reached 100 mph with his fastball 100 mph as a reliever, and more impressively can sit at 96-97 mph when he starts. His fastball command grades at least major league average, if not higher. He also commands two breaking balls--a mid-80s slider with depth and a nasty power curveball in the low 80s. Both are strikeout pitches, and he's adept at keeping his hand on top of the curve and behind the slider. He showed a solid-average changeup as a starter. Chamberlain's arm action is clean, and his personality and confidence make him well-suited for New York. Chamberlain will need to keep his weight in check, which would help him avoid any recurrence of his past knee, hamstring or triceps tendinitis issues. He needs to maintain the mechanical improvements he has made as a pro, which keep him more balanced and direct his energy toward the plate, rather than side-to-side. There's almost no room for improvement with his pitches, though he must prove he can maintain his stuff through a full season. His career high for innings remains the 119 he threw for Nebraska as a sophomore. While he could become an elite closer almost immediately, Chamberlain fits the No. 1 starter profile in nearly every way except for his durability. If the Yankees were only thinking of his development, they would limit him to 170 innings or so. He's likely to pitch so well as to tempt new manager Joe Girardi to use him more than that, however. If he remains healthy, Chamberlain has multiple all-star appearances in his future.
For nearly the first two years since Jackson bypassed a Georgia Tech basketball scholarship to sign for $800,000, Jackson's progress was slow. He began 2007 by returning to low Class A Charleston but took off when pushed to high Class A. He finished the season on a roll, helping Trenton win the Double-A Eastern League title and ranking as the No. 2 prospect in Hawaii Winter Baseball. The best athlete in the system, Jackson stopped fighting himself and let the game and his talent flow last season. He takes a big, aggressive swing, and his quick bat and strength give him solid-average raw power. He uses the whole field and feasts on pitches on the inner half. He has developed above-average range in center field as his instincts and reactions have improved, and his plus arm has become more consistent and accurate. Jackson takes a healthy cut and doesn't have great times to first base out of the batter's box, but he has average speed and has improved his first step considerably. He's still gaining baseball experience, which shows in his pitch recognition and baserunning acumen. Jackson still has more room to grow, and the Yankees consider him a future all-star candidate. He'll try to continue his progress in Double-A in 2008 and could challenge for a big league job as soon as 2009.
Tabata was rolling along as one of the minors' brightest prospects until being hit on the right wrist by a pitch in July 2006. While he played some late that season and again in winter ball in Venezuela, he was never quite right and saw five different hand specialists to find a solution. He finally had surgery last August to remove the hamate bone in his right wrist. Despite his hand injury, Tabata was one of the high Class A Florida State League's top hitters, and he has a natural knack for making consistent hard contact. His wrist problem sapped some of his power, but scouts still project Tabata to have at least average pop, and some even see him more as a slugger than hitter. While he flashes plus speed, he projects as an average runner and right fielder with a solid average arm. Tabata's offensive future still involves some projection, and there's some concern his thickening body could lose some athleticism, rendering him more one-dimensional. Scouts outside the organization chide him for failing to give a consistent effort. While he has flaws, Tabata also has upside and will play in Double-A as a teenager this year. Ideally, he'd be ready to replace Bob Abreu in right field in 2009, but that might be too ambitious a timetable if his power doesn't develop.
A high school teammate of Rockies third-base prospect Ian Stewart, Kennedy went to Southern California while Stewart signed out of high school. They both made their big league debuts in 2007 after Kennedy ranked third in the minors in ERA (1.91) in his first full season. Though he pitched well in three starts with the Yankees, they left him off their postseason roster because he had a minor back injury. That was a sort of blessing for Kennedy, who married former Trojans basketball player Allison Jaskowiak on an off day during the Division Series. Kennedy has mound presence and moxie to go with above-average major league command, and that helps all his pitches play up. His 88-92 mph fastball, his curveball and his slider (which he added since turning pro) all are average pitches. His plus changeup is his best offering, featuring late fade. He repeats his compact delivery like a machine. With only one above-average pitch, Kennedy has to hit his spots, but he usually does. At times his curve is too slow, dipping to 69-72 mph, and lacks sharpness. Some club officials compare him to Mike Mussina because of his bend-at-the-waist stretch delivery, but Kennedy lacks the plus stuff from Mussina had at the same age. Kennedy fits a No. 3 or No. 4 starter profile, and New York expects him to fulfill that role in 2008.
Horne was a first-round pick out of Marianna (Fla.) High in 2001, when he was a teammate of Angels catcher Jeff Mathis. He turned down the Indians and embarked on a three-stop college career, pitching for Mississippi, Chipola (Fla.) Junior College (where his dad played) and Florida, which he helped lead to the 2005 College World Series finals. He had Tommy John surgery along the way but has stayed healthy as a pro, leading the EL in ERA (3.11) and strikeouts (165 in 153 innings) in 2007. At times, Horne shows four above-average pitches, starting with a fastball that usually sits at 92-93 mph but also can park at 94-95. He flashes a power slider and curveball, and he throws his changeup with good arm speed. Horne's arm action is long, leading to inconsistent release points and below-average command, and it likely contributed to his past elbow injury. The Yankees have shortened his delivery in other ways to compensate, but it's not a correctable flaw and limits Horne's ceiling. He doesn't field his position or hold runners particularly well. While he has frontline stuff, Horne's command issues relegate him to a No. 3 or 4 starter profile. He'll head to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for 2008 but give the Yankees another homegrown starter soon thereafter.
Montero signed for $2 million, the highest bonus of any international free agent in the summer of 2006. He had a difficult fall, however, struggling in instructional league and having his signing bonus reduced to $1.6 million. Industry chatter about the reasons for the reduction hasn't been officially confirmed. Montero has exceptional raw power to all fields, coupling a discerning eye for a young player with brute strength and bat speed. He has plenty of arm strength for his position and natural leadership ability, with an effusive personality and improving knowledge of English. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Montero already has grown very large for an 18-year-old. The Yankees say he has lowerbody flexibility, necessary for blocking balls in the dirt, and he has worked hard to become a solid receiver. There are mixed opinions about his ability to stay at catcher, and he'll have to keep working on his body and catch-and-throw skills to stay behind the plate. He threw out just three of 32 basestealers (9 percent) in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his pro debut. If Montero can remain a catcher, he profiles as a future all-star. He has a leg up on 2007 second-round pick Austin Romine, who has yet to play as a pro, for the starting catching job at short-season Staten Island.
Drafted with the compensation pick the Yankees received when David Wells left as a free agent after the 2003 season, Marquez has progressed steadily and was a workhorse for Trenton in 2007. He led the Eastern League with 15 wins and ranked second with 155 innings. Known as a groundball guy, Marquez works off his power 89-93 mph sinker. His fastball has as much life as any in the system, with excellent run to go with its sink. His changeup and curveball have improved to be solid-average pitches. He commands his changeup better, making it his preferred secondary pitch. He has the best pickoff move of any righthander in the system. Marquez doesn't have enough power or bite to his curveball for it to be a strikeout pitch, and he's dependent on his defense because he doesn't miss a lot of bats. He'll have to continue to refine his fastball command and have that pitch play up if his curve doesn't improve. Marquez has the chance to become a workhorse groundball machine who fills the No. 3 or 4 slot in a rotation. Because of New York's pitching depth, he'll start 2008 in Triple-A and won't challenge for a big league job until the following year.
A former walk-on who became the highest-drafted player ever from the College of Charleston, Gardner reached Triple-A in his second full pro season. After missing a month when an errant pitch broke his right hand, he finished 2007 by hitting .343 in the Arizona Fall League, leading the league with 27 runs and 16 steals. The fastest prospect in the system, Gardner rates as a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and is an adept basestealer, succeeding on 84 percent of his 116 attempts the last two seasons. He uses his speed well defensively and has above-average range in center field. Offensively, he evokes Brett Butler by bunting, slashing line drives and taking walks. Gardner has hit one homer the last two years and doesn't have the swing path or strength to hit for much more. He'll have to prove he won't be overpowered in the majors, and he needs to hang in better against lefthanders to avoid becoming a platoon player. His arm is below average yet playable in center. The Yankees believe Gardner will hit enough to be a regular and some club officials compare him to Jacoby Ellsbury, which is a stretch. Unlike Ellsbury, Gardner needs to start 2008 in Triple-A and hone his offensive game. Then he can challenge Melky Cabrera for the center-field job in the Bronx--with Austin Jackson gaining ground from behind.
As his senior thesis at Princeton, Ohlendorf broke down the economics of baseball's draft. The key prospect in the trade that sent Randy Johnson to Arizona, Ohlendorf began his Yankees career by getting hammered as a Triple-A starter. He missed two months with back problems, but thrived once he was moved to the bullpen after returning and finished the year on the New York's playoff roster. A sinker-slider pitcher who relied on groundout as a starter, Ohlendorf became a power pitcher as a reliever. His fastball jumped at least a grade, sitting at 94 mph and topping out at 97 with excellent sink. His slider also jumped a grade, adding velocity and depth when thrown in the mid-80s. He seemed to think less and just let his pitches go more coming out of the bullpen, and that approach suits him. Lefthanders owned Ohlendorf when he was a starter because his changeup was fringy. He's added a splitter to see if that will help. His command slipped at the outset of 2007 but improved dramatically once he moved to the bullpen and hadn't been an issue in the past. Even with his improved stuff as a reliever, he still allowed a .297 opponent average in that role. Ohlendorf could be the sinkerballing setup man the Yankees haven't had since Jeff Nelson's departure as a free agent in 2000. A big league relief job is his to lose come spring training.
Brackman played both basketball and baseball at North Carolina State, averaging 7.6 points per game as a sophomore to help the Wolfpack reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. After ranking as the top pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League in 2006, he gave up basketball to focus on baseball, but his junior season ended in May with an elbow injury. New York drafted him 30th overall anyway and signed him to a major league contract with a $3.35 million bonus--the biggest in franchise history for a draftee--and $4.55 million in total guarantees. With incentives, he could earn as much as $13 million. A premium athlete, Brackman has as high an upside as any player in the '07 draft class. He has reached 100 mph with his fastball, which generally sits at 94, and uses his size to drive it downhill. His filthy spike curveball can be a strikeout pitch and has the potential to be an 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. Brackman's elbow injury turned out to be a torn ligament, and he had Tommy John surgery immediately after signing in mid-August. He won't pitch in his first pro game until 2009, which is even more of a setback because he worked just 149 innings in three years at N.C. State. The Yankees are willing to wait on Brackman's upside. They believe he could become a No. 1 starter.
Normally, pitchers with Melancon's track record don't get ranked so highly: ninth-round pick, seven pro innings, Tommy John surgery in November 2006, college reliever who'll be 23 before the season begins. However, he's far from ordinary, indicated in part by the $600,000 signing bonus he received in 2006. Yankees officials joined the chorus of amateur scouts who knew Melancon as a Colorado prep or as Arizona's closer and loved his off-the-charts makeup. Melancon is fearless on the mound, is a tremendous teammate off it and a monster in terms of work ethic and in the weight room. Oh, and he has two aboveaverage pitches. Both were showing flashes of being at their pre-surgery peak in the fall, when Melancon headed up a contingent of Yankees prospects who traveled to the Dominican Republic for the organization's Latin instructional league. Melancon picked up some Spanish language skills, showed 89-92 mph velocity on his fastball (which sat at 92-95 in the past) and didn't hold back throwing his power curveball. Melancon has a max-effort delivery that New York has tried to harness in order to keep him healthy. In a best-case scenario, club officials imagine Melancon having a strong spring, starting 2008 in high Class A to get his legs under him, then getting challenged with a promotion to Double-A. With Mariano Rivera re-signed for three more seasons, Melancon has time to develop, and the Yankees see him as Rivera's eventual successor.
The most highly regarded prospect the Yankees got from the Tigers in the November 2006 Gary Sheffield trade, Sanchez joined their ranks of injured pitchers soon after being acquired. He had missed the end of 2006 with elbow inflammation and he came down with forearm tightness in spring training. Finally, in mid- April, Sanchez had Tommy John surgery. In the fall, he was sticking to his throwing program--even during his honeymoon. He was back to playing catch at the Yankees' Tampa complex in December and wasn't expected to get into game shape until mid-2008. Exactly what shape he's in will be crucial for Sanchez, who signed for $1 million as a draft-and-follow in 2002 but teased Detroit with premium stuff and a lack of durability. At his best he has has shown easy velocity, sitting in the low 90s and dialing up as high as 97. His slider was a plus pitch before he got hurt, and he had a passable changeup and curveball. His control was always erratic, as was his conditioning. He has reached as high as 40 pounds above his listed weight, and he never has pitched more than 123 innings in a minor league season. With New York's starting-pitching depth at the upper levels, Sanchez could be ticketed for a long-relief or setup role in the minors this year, both to see how he takes to relieving and to protect his arm.
Some scouts and Yankees officials were so enamored with Betances after they signed him for $1 million in the summer of 2006, they talked about him as a future No. 1 starter. Optimism remains high regarding the New York prep product, but his prospect stock took a hit as he pitched just 25 innings at Staten Island before being shut down with forearm tightness--a telltale sign of impending elbow surgery. When asked if Betances would require Tommy John surgery, one club official merely replied, "We're confident in all our guys and in our doctors and in our rehab guys." Betances joined Melancon and 2006 second-round pick Zach McAllister at instructional league in the Dominican and hit some mid-90s with his fastball while flashing his plus curveball. Regardless of whether he'll need surgery, he must to continue to make his delivery more compact and repeatable, even though he lacks the athleticism of a similarly tall pitcher such as Andrew Brackman. Still growing into his body, Betances had little semblance of command or control last year. New York just hopes Betances is healthy enough so they can get a long look at him this season.
The Yankees love McCutchen's competitiveness and stuff, and were willing to believe his claims about the 50-game suspension he drew for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy shortly after signing in 2006. He blamed the positive test on ephedra contained in a prescription drug he took during his college career at Oklahoma. With that behind him, he ranked second in the system with 14 wins and a 2.47 ERA in 2007, and he won two starts (including the championship clincher) in the Eastern League playoffs. McCutchen pitches aggressively, which shows in his delivery at times and in his mound demeanor. The Yankees have worked to tone him down somewhat, and his velocity hardly suffered, as he still sat in the low 90s with his four-seam fastball (which hits 94) and was around 89-91 mph with his two-seamer. McCutchen's best pitch remains his overhand curveball, and he has gained confidence in his tailing, fading changeup. Some in the organization want to channel his aggressiveness into the bullpen, believing his stuff will play up as was the case with Ross Ohlendorf. But others see McCutchen as having more value as a No. 3 or 4 starter role. He'll likely begin the year back in the Double-A rotation, with an outside shot of breaking camp in Triple-A.
Scouts don't know why Whelan is a slow starter--they just know that he is. It happened at Texas A&M, where he failed to capitalize as a junior on his strong 2004 Cape Cod League showing and fell from firstround consideration down to the fourth round. While his results were solid early last season--his first in the Yankees system since coming over in the Gary Sheffield trade with Detroit in November 2006--his stuff was not as sharp. He was working with a high-80s fastball and decent splitter as a reliever, then was sent down to high Class A to get some work starting. New York hoped to build up his arm strength and work on his breaking ball, a decent slider that remains his third pitch. When he came back to Double-A, it took Whelan a while to get going but he eventually put it all together and was throwing 92-94 mph with a plusplus splitter, one he could bury or throw in the strike zone. That Whelan could be in the majors as soon as 2008, but the former catcher just converted to pitching full-time in 2005 and likely will need another year in the minors. He still seeks consistency and is learning nuances of the game such as holding runners, who take advantage of his slow delivery to the plate. Basestealers went 19-for-20 against him last year. Whelan left the Arizona Fall League with a sore arm but was expected to be fully healthy by spring training.
The Yankees are betting $1 million--the highest bonus ever for a 10th-round pick who wasn't a draftand- follow--that Angelini will wind up being the best Louisiana Mr. Baseball out of Barbe High (Lake Charles) in the last few years. The other winners are a Who's Who list of flameouts, including Joe Lawrence (a first-rounder who had 150 big league at-bats with the Blue Jays in 2002), Nick Bourgeois (an ex-Phillies minor leaguer whose career peaked at Tulane) and Austin Nagle (a former Athletics farmhand). The Yankees wooed Angelini away from his Rice commitment with the bonus and, more subtly, by bringing him to Yankee Stadium during the Subway Series with the Mets and working him out alongside Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Angelini could be the homegrown shortstop to eventually replace Jeter, who will be 34 this season. Scouts like Angelini's range and arm for the position, and the Yankees love his hands, which they believe will work for him in the field and at the plate. At his best, he's a line-drive machine with gap power to all fields and good plate discipline, particularly for a player his age. He's also a plus runner, covering 60 yards in 6.7 seconds. Other teams who scouted Angelini as an amateur weren't as sold on his bat as New York is, liking Angelini more for his energy and athleticism and profiling him more as a utility player. He's polished enough to be able to earn a spot as a starting shortstop in low Class A this year.
Kontos spent eight weeks on the disabled list from mid-April to mid-June, though that stint likely had less to do with injury and more with his arrest in Tampa on April 19. He was charged with trespassing and obstruction after he failed to leave the Green Iguana Bar & Grill when it was closing. Kontos was inconsistent after he came back, a problem that plagued him throughout his college career at Northwestern, where his stuff rarely produced good results. His command was shaky, he gave up too many homers and he relied too much on his plus slider. It's one of the system's best sliders, a two-plane pitch with depth and tilt that he throws in the low 80s. Kontos had a good offseason, making progress with his 90-93 mph sinker and solid changeup in Hawaii Winter Baseball. While he was there, the Yankees made him use his changeup as many as 15 times a game, and now it has more depth and more separation from his fastball than in the past. He also worked on commanding his fastball and solid-average curve, using his slider only sparingly. Kontos still needs to mature and let bad breaks go rather than letting them eat him up. He has strikeout stuff and could take off if he harnesses his sinker. He's headed for Double-A and has a No. 3 starter's ceiling, but he has a long track record of not living up to expectations.
While Nova is moving more slowly than the Yankees expect their star Latin American players to develop, he has continued to open eyes with his pure stuff and projectable body. He'll show three plus pitches at times but was far too hittable in low Class A. He began 2007 in extended spring training to keep his workload down, went 4-2, 1.75 in his first six starts, then fell into a 2-6, 6.82 tailspin the rest of the way. Nova must get stronger to maintain his stuff, and he also needs to begin showing better aptitude and ability to make in-game adjustments. His pitches don't need much help, as his fastball sits at 90-94 mph and he has a solid-average curveball and changeup as well. But he doesn't trust his secondary stuff and throws a lot of hittable 0-2 pitches, indicating his lack of mound savvy. Now 21, Nova is a prime breakout candidate for 2008, when he'll repeat low Class A.
One Yankees official laments that the organization misses out on players such as Dustin Pedroia because they don't profile. While Pedroia's tools didn't scream "big leaguer," it's apparent now that scouts underestimated him. Curtis, Pedroia's teammate at Arizona State, has a somewhat similar resume, though scouts liked Curtis more as an amateur because of his well-rounded tools. However, he doesn't profile well either. Curtis played primarily left field in 2007 and is a better defensive fit there with his average speed, range and arm, but he lacks corner-outfield power. His bat would play better in center field, though he's just an adequate defender there. New York rates him as a plus hitter and pro scouts like his approach, but he wasn't ready for Double-A last season. A cancer survivor who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1999, Curtis has tremendous makeup that makes the Yankees confident he'll make the adjustments needed when he repeats Double-A in 2008. He looks like a fourth outfielder.
The Yankees have remained aggressive internationally throughout this decade, even when they were conservative in the draft in the early part. Of the players in New York's 2006 Dominican signing class, Heredia is off to the fastest start. An easy indication of the Yankees' confidence in a young Latin player is whether they hold him back to play in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, and both Heredia and Jesus Montero skipped that level in 2007. So did Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera in past years. Heredia has a quick, live arm that already produces 90-92 mph four-seam fastballs. He has shown some feel for pitching, especially for varying his fastball, that's uncanny for his age. His curveball remains slurvy but has plus potential, and he worked hard in the Dominican instructional league to learn a changeup as well as English. A strong spring will enable Heredia to jump straight to low Class A.
The Yankees signed Miranda to a four-year, $4 million contract in 2006, when the Cuban national was made a free agent after two years in limbo. While the Yankees list him with an April 1983 birthdate, several Cuban sources show a 1981 birthdate (some say March, some say April). Whether he's 24 or 26, Miranda is part of New York's first-base picture, which has been cloudy since Jason Giambi's became a defensive liability. Miranda isn't likely to win any Gold Gloves either--his stocky body and fringy defense evoke Tino Martinez, the last Yankee to start 100 games in a season at first base. He's a fringy runner as well, but Miranda can hit. While his swing can get long, which leads to strikeouts, he's shown a feel for the barrel of the bat and raw above-average power to all fields. He was particularly impressive in the Arizona Fall League, where he was patient and showed prodigious power. He doesn't hit lefthanders too well (.223 with two homers in 112 at-bats in 2007), so Miranda and 28-year-old rookie Shelley Duncan could form New York's first-base platoon of the near future, particularly after Giambi's contract expires following 2008.
The sons of former big leaguer Kevin Romine were both selected on the first day of the 2007 draft. Older brother Andrew helped lead Arizona State to the 2005 and 2007 College World Series as a shortstop and went in the fifth round to the Angels. Younger brother Austin is the better prospect, whether one believes the scouting consensus in southern California or the Yankees' reports. The two accounts differ. New York signed him for $500,000 as a second-round because it believes he has significant offensive potential, with at least solid-average power to the gaps and perhaps above-average home run juice. Most scouts who saw him in showcases or in high school thought his athleticism and defensive tools were better than his bat, admitting he was raw as a receiver but gushing over his plus-plus arm strength that helped Romine occasionally serve as a high school closer. Scouts have recorded his pop times to second base as quick as 1.78 seconds. He has below-average speed but runs decently for a catcher. A ligament tear in Romine's left thumb ended his prep catching career early--he just pitched after the injury--so it was good for Romine to get back on the field in August. The Yankees sent him to their September minicamp and Dominican instructional program in November as well. The fall work should pave the way for Romine to start next season in low Class A, as he's more advanced and older than Jesus Montero, though Montero remains the better prospect.
Organizations like to have depth up the middle in the minors. While the Yankees lack second basemen and shortstops (other than Carmen Angelini), they like their center fielders and catchers. Cervelli is by far the closest to the majors of the three catchers ranked on this Top 30 list, but he has the lowest ceiling because he lacks offensive upside. He skipped a level last year and held his own in high Class A until he was sidelined in August after hurting his knee in a home-plate collision. He returned to play winter ball in Venezuela. Cervelli evokes former Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro, who now starts for the Rays, because his above-average catch-and-throw skills are ahead of his bat at this stage of his career. He led the FSL by throwing out 41 percent of basestealers, has a feel for handling pitchers and impressed scouts with his toughness and ability to grind through a season. While he has a good swing, he lacks the premium bat speed or strength to hit for power. The ball doesn't jump off his bat. He does draw some walks, but more advanced pitchers will be more likely to challenge him without fear of reprisal. He's a below-average runner. Cervelli profiles as a backup unless he provides more offensive production. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he's likely to jump to Double-A in 2008 and should soon become Jorge Posada's understudy.
The Yankees have a plethora of middle-relief prospects coming through the system. Robertson is similar to J. Brent Cox, who was close to the big leagues before 2007 Tommy John surgery caused him to miss the season, and Robertson ranks higher here because he has a better fastball and two above-average breaking balls. Robertson, whose older brother Connor reached the majors with the Athletics last year, was a closer at Alabama and signed as a draft-eligible sophomore after starring in the Cape Cod League in 2006. New York drafted him in the 17th round that June, liked what it saw on the Cape and gave him a $200,000 bonus. In his pro debut last year. Robertson dazzled with a curveball that he didn't throw in college. It's a plus downer with bite, angle and depth, and he can throw it for strikes or bury it. His slider already was a plus pitch, and his 90-92 mph fastball has natural cut action on it. Despite his small frame, he makes his mistakes down in the strike zone and has yet to give up a homer in pro ball. Robertson proved durable in his first pro season and could challenge for a big league role after finishing last year in Double-A. His size seems to be the only reason scouts don't project him as a future closer.
Dunn was a two-way player in junior college, and the Yankees knew he had ability to do both when they signed him away from Texas A&M as a draft-and-follow in 2005. When he hit .160 over parts of two seasons as an outfielder, they put him on the mound in mid-2006. A year later, he has emerged as their top lefthanded pitching prospect. Granted, it's an uninspiring lot that includes Chase Wright, a No. 5 starter at best; hard-throwing Angel Reyes, who disappointed New York with his poor command and lack of toughness last season; and sleeper Edgar Soto, a relief candidate with big stuff but poor command. Dunn relies--perhaps too much--on his plus slider, which he throws with low-80s velocity and pretty good depth. He's athletic and repeats his delivery well, giving him solid control of his 88-92 mph fastball, which touches 94. Befitting a converted position player, he's still working to deepen his repertoire, toying with a cutter and a changeup. The changeup works when he finishes off the pitch, uses all his fingers and keeps it low and slow, the way pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras wants it. Dunn will try to do all that and remain a starter as part of the high Class A rotation this year.
When Cox came to the Yankees fresh off being the closer for Texas' 2005 College World Series champions, Yankees fans jumped on his bandwagon as the replacement for Mariano Rivera. However, Cox always has profiled better as a setup man, and after losing the 2007 season to Tommy John surgery, he has fallen back into a large pack of New York middle-relief candidates. Cox's strong suits long have been his plus slider and his command of that pitch and his fastball. His heater touches 92 but sits at 88-89 mph with good sinking life. His fearlessness and willingness to throw strikes have long endeared him to coaches and scouts alike. Coming back from Tommy John surgery could be tough initially for Cox, because command is usually the last thing to return and he needs it to thrive. He was throwing light bullpens in Tampa in December at 30-foot distances, trying to build up arm strength. He wasn't expected to be ready for spring training and probably won't see game action until midsummer. If he adds velocity like a lot of Tommy John survivors have, that will be a bonus.
Hilligoss set a low Class A South Atlantic League record with a 38-game hitting streak in 2007. He's another Yankees prospect without at toolsy profile, but he's such a good hitter that he'll likely reach the big leagues. He had an excellent track record at Purdue, where he won the Big 10 Conference batting title (.404) in 2005 and finished second (.386) in 2006. A dead low-ball hitter, Hilligoss has excellent plate coverage and can drive any pitch below the thigh to all fields, spraying line drives from pole to pole. His approach keeps him from hitting for power, and his confidence in his hitting ability keeps his walk totals low, but it also contributes to his excellent two-strike approach and sheer volume of hits--he led the SAL with 161. Hilligoss is a grinder with excellent makeup, as evidenced by his teammates' delighted reactions every time he extended his hitting streak. He cut across all social groups in the Charleston clubhouse to become a team leader. Defensively, he fits best at third base, where his hands and arm are average or a tick above. He played shortstop at season's end, but lacks the range for the position. With his lefthanded bat and ability to play anywhere in the infield, he could be a useful utility player. If everything comes together, he could be a regular along the lines of Adam Kennedy. Hilligoss could skip a level up to Double-A with a strong spring training.
New York has two pitchers on its 40-man roster whom it signed out of independent leagues. Both Patterson and Edward Ramirez put up video-game numbers in the minors, and while Ramirez reached the majors, the Yankees believe Patterson has more upside. A West Virginia native who attended NCAA Division II West Virginia State, he spent four years in the independent Frontier League and another with the indy Atlantic League's homeless Barnstormers before the Yankees discovered and signed him. Patterson has drawn some comparisons to Adam Wainwright because he's tall and lanky, drives his low-90s fastball downhill and owns a big, low-70s curveball. While scouts would love to see him throw his curve with more power, it has deception and he commands it well, spotting it all over the strike zone or burying it as a chase pitch. Patterson's deceptive high release point adds to his overall package. A six-year minor league free agent at season's end, he re-signed with New York and was added to the 40-man roster in November after not giving up a run in his first 13 outings in the Venezuelan Winter League. He'll contend for a big league middle-relief role in the spring.
Ramirez' story would have been outstanding if he'd never reached the majors. Discarded by the Angels in spring training in 2004, he pitched in two independent leagues before the Yankees noted his gaudy numbers in the independent league United League in 2006. Scout Mark Batchko, working on a tip from pro scouting assistant John Coppolella (now with the Braves), drove six hours to see Ramirez pitch and kindly asked the Edinburg manager to use Ramirez. Based on that one look--during which Batchko saw a major league changeup--the Yankees signed him. Ramirez has dominated ever since, at least until he got to the majors. Former manager Joe Torre used him erratically, and while he continued to pile up strikeouts, Ramirez made too many mistakes and got hit hard. He proved that he can fool big league hitters with his top-of-the-scale changeup, and he can locate it well and vary the velocity as need. He's liable to throw three in a row if hitters don't catch on. The rest of his package, however, is fringy, starting with a scrawny frame that has scouts doubting his durability over a full big league season. His 90-91 mph fastball lacks life. His below-average slider must improve if he's to become anything more than a sixth-inning long man--and a great story.
McAllister was one of the American farmhands the Yankees took to instructional league in the Dominican Republic in November, a group ranging from high-profile prospects such as Mark Melancon and Austin Romine to rehabbing righthander Lance Pendleton. McAllister, whose father Steve is a crosschecker for the Diamondbacks, needed the extra work because the Yankees have changed him since drafting him in the third round in 2006. They've raised his arm slot to make him more of a power pitcher, and added a curveball while taking away his slider. The curve didn't take, however, and in the fall New York switched him back to a slider. His four-seam fastball reaches the low 90s and his two-seamer has become more consistent with its sink and 89-91 mph velocity. He also has taken to a changeup. The Yankees project that McAllister will throw harder in the future and become a three-pitch workhorse. After ranking third in the short-season New York-Penn League with 75 strikeouts in 71 innings, he'll help anchor the low Class A rotation this year.