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Montero ranked with corner infielders Balbino Fuenmayor and Angel Villalona, shortstops Esmailyn Gonzalez and Carlos Triunfel and catcher Francisco Pena as the top talents available on the international market in 2006. All signed big-money deals, and three years later, Montero is far and away the best prospect of the group. He got off to the roughest start. He initially signed for $2 million, but his bonus was renegotiated down to $1.65 million for reasons that never have been fully disclosed. He was overmatched in his first instructional league but has punished pitchers ever since. Montero broke out by finishing second in the low Class South Atlantic League batting race at .326 in 2008 and was even better last season. He hit .337/.389/.562 and reached Double-A Trenton at age 19. A fractured left middle finger cost him the last six weeks of the season, and his rust showed with a poor start to winter ball in Venezuela. Montero doesn't have a classic swing or textbook rhythm, but he's gifted with hand-eye coordination, keen pitch recognition, a knack for barreling balls and tremendous strength. He can be out front or off balance on a pitch and still crush it. He covers the plate well and makes excellent contact. Montero hasn't delivered completely on his raw power, but he's close to projecting as an 80 hitter with 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. One veteran scout called him the best young hitter he has seen in years. Montero has solid to plus arm strength and threw out 32 percent of basestealers in Double-A, success the Yankees ascribe to his improved transfer and pitchers doing a better job holding runners. He even showed some 1.9-second pop times, according to one club official. Montero has improved under the tutelage of catching coordinator Julio Mosquera, but he still grades out as a below-average defender. The Yankees no longer talk about him as an everyday major league catcher. His defense frequently is compared to Mike Piazza's, though he's a bit more athletic. Montero is somewhat stiff and lacks agility behind the plate, leading to 11 passed balls in 59 games last year. He also threw out just 13 percent of base stealers at high Class A Tampa, and they tested him 108 times overall--nearly two attempts per game. While he improved, he has a long arm stroke that slows his transfer and detracts from his arm strength. His modest athleticism and below average speed probably preclude a move to the outfield or third base, a position he played prior to signing. In a different organization, Montero probably would just move to first base and mash, like Paul Konerko did when he came up through the Dodgers system in the mid-1990s. However, Mark Teixeira just finished the first year of an eight-year contract and isn't going anywhere. With an older roster, the Yankees aren't likely to break Montero into the lineup as strictly a DH. He's expected to catch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, mixing in time at DH and perhaps first base. He's prime trade bait but also could be a complement to the New York's veteran sluggers in short order--if the Yankees can find a lineup spot for him.
Romine's brother Andrew is an Angels shortstop prospect, while his father Kevin played seven seasons in the major leagues. Austin had his best pro season in 2009, winning MVP honors in the high Class A Florida State League and helping lead Tampa to the league title. A minor thumb injury forced him to leave the Arizona Fall League after just four games. Romine has the tools to be an average or plus defender behind the plate, especially with his above-average arm. He threw out 30 percent of basestealers even though the Yankees don't emphasize holding runners for their Class A pitchers. His best offensive tool is his plus raw power, and he's a good athlete and runner for a catcher. Romine must get stronger to maintain his skills, both offensive and defensive, over the course of an entire season. At times he struggles handling velocity, being a little late getting his glove to pitches on the corners. He still could add polish, and his arm strength sometimes gets him in trouble, as he led FSL catchers with 10 errors. He lacks patience at the plate and his swing tends to get long. The Yankees view him as their eventual replacement for Jorge Posada, though Romine is at least two years away from the majors. With Jesus Montero moving up to Triple-A in 2010, Romine will open the season as the everyday catcher in at Double-A.
When the Yankees spend big money during the international summer signing season, they usually give it to position players, such as Gary Sanchez, Wily Mo Pena and Jesus Montero. Vizcaino received the largest signing bonus the club has given a pitcher in that market, signing for $800,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. He dominated the short-season New York-Penn League last summer before a muscle strain in his back ended his season in August. Vizcaino has the most electric arm in the system outside of Andrew Brackman, and he's much more polished. Vizcaino sits at 90-94 mph with his fastball and regularly runs it up to 96. His quick arm generates easy velocity, and the ball seems to explode out of his hand. His best pitch is a hammer curveball that he throws with solid command. Club officials say his curve is second only to A.J. Burnett's in the organization. He has a sturdy, durable body. Vizcaino's changeup has improved but still grades as below average. He's raw and has plenty of work to do on subtle skills such as setting up hitters, fielding his position and holding runners. He also could have a more mature mound presence. Given Vizcaino's youth and ceiling, New York will handle him carefully. He figures to go to low Class A Charleston for 2010, starting in the first half and relieving in the second half to keep his innings from piling up.
Heathcott was one of the few true five-tool players available in the 2009 draft, but knee and shoulder injuries limited him last spring and makeup concerns scared some clubs off him completely. The Yankees pounced on him and signed him for $2.2 million, the largest bonus they've ever given to a hitter or a high schooler out of the draft. Heathcott has strength and fast-twitch athleticism. He offers big raw power from the left side of the plate and the bat speed to catch up to quality fastballs. He's a plus-plus runner with a strong arm that delived 94-mph fastballs during his prep pitching career, and New York believes he can play center field. Heathcott will need at-bats to translate his tools into consistent performance. His all-out playing style has made him injury-prone, leading to November 2008 surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a jammed throwing shoulder that limited him to DH for most of his senior season. His home life was unsettled and his immaturity has kept him off the field at times. The Yankees believe in Heathcott's talent and growing maturity, and he could become a superstar if he can stay on the field. He'll spend his first full pro season in low Class A.
McAllister has been a test case for an organization that favors power fastballs and curveballs. The Yankees tried to raise his arm slot and have him pitch more with a four-seamer and curve instead of his normal sinker/slider repertoire. Though he posted a 2.08 ERA at two Class A levels in 2008, the changes didn't suit him. He returned to his previous style last season and led the Double-A Eastern League with a 2.23 ERA. His father Steve is the Midwest crosschecker for the Diamondbacks. McAllister has the best command of any pitcher in the system. He throws his two-seamer with solid armside life, sitting at 89-91 mph and touching 93. He commands his sinker well enough to get inside on hitters effectively. His slider gives him another pitch that helps him get groundouts, and at times he can get swings and misses with it. He throws his curve and changeup for strikes. Only McAllister's slider grades as a plus pitch, and his fastball sometimes sits in the upper 80s. He must be precise with his fringy curveball and changeup. He missed time with a tired arm in 2009, but New York doesn't consider it a long-term concern. McAllister has a ceiling of an innings-eating No. 4 starter. If the Yankees move Phil Hughes back to the rotation, there's little chance of McAllister squeezing his way in anytime soon. He might just be trade bait as he anchors the Scranton rotation in 2010.
Just a year after signing out of Mexico, Banuelos has become the system's top lefthanded pitching prospect. He jumped from Rookie ball to low Class A as an 18-year-old and was Charleston's best starter in the first half before tiring and moving to the bullpen down the stretch. He was so good in that role he was promoted to Tampa for its playoff run. Banuelos has two potential plus pitches and pitching savvy well beyond his years. His fastball sits at 88-92 mph when he's at his best as a starter, and reached 94 mph in relief late in the season. He uses his fastball inside well and throws strikes to all quadrants of the plate. His changeup already rates as solid average after making more progress than his other pitches in 2009. The Yankees laud his mound presence, poise and makeup. While his curveball is currently fringy, Banuelos has the hand speed to add power to it and make it an average pitch in time. Some scouts who saw him sit at 86-88 mph with his fastball consider him more of a fifth starter. He's just a fair athlete and needs to improve his ability to field his position and hold runners. While other pitchers in the system have higher ceilings, Banuelos is on the fast track to becoming a No. 3 starter. He'll start 2010 in Tampa and could reach Double-A as a teenager by season's end.
Sanchez was one of the top players available on the international market last summer, and the Yankees scouted him so extensively that they were widely believed to be the frontrunners to sign him. They landed him in July for $3 million, the fourth-largest bonus in franchise history. It's the third-largest for a Dominican teen after Michael Ynoa ($4.25 million from the Athletics in 2008) and Miguel Sano ($3.15 million from the Twins in 2009). Sanchez's raw power rates at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. New York is confident he'll realize that power potential because he uses the whole field and recognizes breaking balls, two indications that he'll make consistent contact. He has a plus-plus arm with the athletic ability to remain a catcher. Just 17, Sanchez has plenty of work to do to clean up his receiving skills and he'll need to get used to catching velocity. He was overmatched at the plate in instructional league by older pitchers, but that's to be expected. He didn't significantly alter his approach, an encouraging sign. He has average speed now but projects as a below-average runner once he fills out and catching takes a toll on him. Sanchez has some similarities to Jesus Montero, with better defensive tools as a bonus. He also obviously has a long way to go. He'll likely start his career in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in June.
After missing his junior season in high school following knee surgery, Murphy moved to catcher as a prep senior and hit .627 with 11 home runs last spring. The Yankees bought him away from a Miami commitment with a $1.25 million bonus. The Yankees love Murphy's blend of hitting ability and athleticism, which is above-average for a catcher. He has a feel for hitting and knows his swing well. He generates good bat speed and pairs a low-maintenance, line-drive stroke with a polished offensive approach. He should hit for average and eventually should add solid power. He augments his plus arm with a quick transfer. Murphy is raw defensively and lacks experience handling velocity. The Yankees were encouraged with his rapid improvement after signing, but he'll have to polish his receiving and learn how to call games and handle a staff. He's a fringe-average runner who figures to slow down with the grind of catching. The Yankees have spent $7.35 million on six highly touted amateur catchers since 2006. Murphy has as much athletic ability as any of them, which may prompt him to switch position
An elbow injury sidelined Bleich for much of the 2008 college season, but he returned in May to help Stanford reach the College World Series. The Yankees were impressed enough to make him a supplemental first-round pick and signed him for $700,000. He became their top signee from the 2008 draft when first-rounder Gerrit Cole opted to attend UCLA. In his first full pro season, Bleich stayed healthy and reached Double-A. Bleich sat at 90-92 mph and touched 94 with his four-seam fastball last season His curveball and changeup are solid-average, with his curve grading as a plus pitch at times. He added a two-seam fastball and started to control it better as the year progressed. Bleich's four-seamer is true and his changeup tends to straighten out, though he's learning to add some sink to it. He lost some feel for the strike zone last year, in part because he threw harder. He doesn't have the weapons to pitch from behind in count and paid for it at Trenton. He needs better control of his two-seamer and change to combat righthanders. New York thought it was getting a pitchability guy in Bleich and hopes he regains some of his feel while retaining his added velocity. He'll have to fix what ailed him in Double-A when he returns there for 2010.
Brackman juggled basketball and baseball for two seasons at North Carolina State before giving up hoops to focus on the 2007 draft. Though he injured his elbow that May, his huge frame and ceiling enticed the Yankees to draft him 30th overall. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing at the Aug. 15 deadline for the largest draft bonus ($3.35 million) in franchise history, part of a major league contract worth a guaranteed $4.55 million and as much as $13 million with incentives. The elbow reconstruction, coupled with an appendectomy the following spring, pushed back his pro debut to Hawaii Winter Baseball in October 2008. The results from his first pro season were less than encouraging, . as he ranked second in the minors in wild pitches (26) and 13th in walks (76). though he did stay off the disabled list all season and closed with 10 scoreless, walkless relief innings and continued to throw strikes in instructional league. Brackman's combination of arm strength, size and athleticism can translate into premium stuff. His fastball, which touched 99 mph when he was an amateur, peaked at 95 when he started in 2009 and sat at 92-96 in shorter relief stints. His curveball also shows flashes of being a plus-plus pitch. In his first fully healthy year since Tommy John surgery, Brackman had little control and no command, however. He showed little feel for his delivery, or for using his curveball or rudimentary changeup. His late hot streak happened when the Yankees shelved his knuckle-curve, having him focus on a conventional grip, and his changeup. He'll need the changeup back to remain a starter. His velocity was unpredictable, at times sitting in the upper 80s. Brackman is a unique prospect in terms of his size, contract and lack of experience for his age. He could be an expensive bust, or suddenly figure it all out and move rapidly through the system. New York hasn't given up on him as a starter and will promote him to high Class A for 2010.
Committed to North Carolina, Mitchell told teams before the 2009 draft that it would take "life-changing money" for him to turn down his home-state Tar Heels. Undaunted, the Yankees selected him in the 16th round and changed his plans by signing him for $800,000. Mitchell signed late and didn't pitch until instructional league, but he arrived with a more polished repertoire and better present stuff than most of the high school pitchers New York has signed of late. Mitchell throws a four-seam fastball that sits at 88-92 mph and touches 94. He's loose-armed and projectable with excellent hand speed, which helps him throw a snapdragon curve that's his best pitch. His curve was the best breaking ball the organization found in the 2009 draft and one of the best in the organization already. Mitchell's mechanics are fairly clean and repeatable, and he already throws a two-seam fastball, which the Yankees require for pitchers to advance past Class A. He also shows a feel for his nascent changeup. Mitchell could jump on the fast track, particularly if he performs well at Charleston in 2010.
Dunn finished last season in the major leagues, quite an accomplishment for the former two-way player at CC of Southern Nevada. He converted to the mound full-time in 2006 after batting .160/.269/.230 in 66 games as an outfielder. He quickly established himself as a power arm, and his strong 2009 season--his first as a full-time reliever--made the Yankees comfortable enough to include Phil Coke in the Curtis Granderson trade. Dunn has a better raw arm than Coke, sitting at 90-94 mph and touching 98 with his fastball. Along with his heater, his slider also gained velocity when he moved to the bullpen, and he now throws it in the mid-80s. It's usually an average pitch but is a plus offering when he gets good depth on it. While he's aggressive and attacks hitters, Dunn can get inconsistent with his delivery and release point, putting him into hitter's counts as he struggles to throw strikes. The Yankees say he's athletic enough to have serviceable control, which should be enough with his stuff. Like Coke, Dunn figures to carry the load as a cheap, durable reliever, though he won't often be counted on for late-game outs. He'll get the opportunity to earn a big league bullpen spot in 2010.
The best draft-eligible hitter in Tennessee in 2008, Joseph went in the fourth round--66 picks ahead of his older brother Caleb, a Lipscomb catcher whom the Orioles took in the seventh round of the same draft. Joseph opened 2009 in extended spring training, but an injury to Garrison Lassiter opened a spot for him in low Class A and he seized the opportunity, finishing second on Charleston with 57 RBIs. Joseph has one of the purest swings in the system. He's short to the ball and long through the zone, and he has the strength to drive the ball. He has an advanced approach for a high school hitter and shows a willingness to take a walk. He has good gap power and could have average home run power down the road. Joseph also shows the ability to hang in against lefthanders, batting .302 against them in 2009. Some scouts still question his bat, though, as his swing gets long and they aren't sure how much power he'll produce. The bat comes first for Joseph, who probably doesn't have enough arm to be a regular third baseman. He has rough edges at second base, his more natural position, but profiles better there. His hands, athleticism and arm work at second, but he'll need repetitions and agility work to become an average defender. He's an average runner. The Yankees have a glut of second basemen, with Kevin Russo at Triple-A and David Adams ready for Double-A. Joseph's pure lefthanded swing puts him atop the list and makes him the most likely to be a regular, though he may never displace Robinson Cano in New York. He's slated for high Class A in 2010.
Nunez ranked No. 6 on this list after his first year in the United States in 2005, when he starred as the thirdyoungest position player in the New York-Penn League. He faltered for the next three seasons before finding success again in 2009, when most scouts considered him Trenton's best position player. The Yankees added him to their 40-man roster after the season. Nunez has athletic ability and good all-around tools. He's a free swinger who may not have the plate discipline to bring his solid power out on a consistent basis. He made good strides with the bat last season, though, making more consistent contact. He has above-average speed but doesn't always make the best decisions on the basepaths. Nunez has the size, strength and quickness to play shortstop. His arm is his best tool, though it sometimes gets him into trouble on defense when he tries to make plays he shouldn't. His lack of concentration also contributed to 33 errors in 120 games at short last year, and he must improve at making routine plays to be an everyday option there. Nunez profiles better as a utilityman at the big league level. He'll work on polishing his rough edges in Triple-A this year, when he could see more time at second base, third base and the outfield.
The Yankees bullpen should be quite different in 2010, following the trades of Brian Bruney and Phil Coke and the planned move of Phil Hughes back to the rotation. Melancon is in position to take advantage of that opportunity after making 13 appearances for New York last season, including two scoreless innings at Fenway Park in his big league debut. It was just the second fully healthy pro year for Melancon, who had a bad elbow when he signed for $600,000 as a ninth-round pick in 2006 and required Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter. He might have made a bigger impact in the majors had his fastball command not become an issue. He still throws hard, mostly in the low 90s with a peak of 95 mph, but didn't throw enough strikes with his heater. It's crucial for him to get ahead of hitters with his fastball, because his secondary pitches are designed to get hitters to chase. His power curveball is a low-80s hammer and his changeup has splitter action, but he doesn't throw them in the strike zone often enough. Melancon worked in a setup role at Triple-A last season, but he still has a closer's mentality and no one questions his makeup. His delivery always has had some effort, so he has to tone it down while maintaining his stuff.
The Yankees left Nova off the 40-man roster in 2008, and the Padres picked him in the major league Rule 5 draft. He yielded 11 runs in nine innings in big league camp, so San Diego returned him to New York. Nova then put together his most consistent season as a pro, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he was Scranton's top starter in the playoffs. The Yankees protected him on the 40-man roster this time, and he's now good trade bait or an option if they need a fill-in starter. Nova always had stuff and added consistency in 2009, throwing his 89-93 mph fastball downhill and for strikes more often. His command now grades as fringe-average, and scouts still see room for projection with his loose arm and long frame. Nova is at his best when he throws his curve with power in the upper 70s. His changeup is a fringy pitch but he shows decent feel for it. He still doesn't have a true plus offering that would help him generate more swings and misses. Nova finally started to close the gap between his upside and production last year, and he could be a No. 4 starter in the big leagues if his command and secondary stuff improve.
An outfielder for most of his first two seasons at Clemson, Mitchell moved into the Tigers rotation as a sophomore, then gave up hitting altogether that summer in the Cape Cod League and the next spring in preparation for pro ball. He signed for a $450,000 bonus as a 10th-round pick in 2008, and ranked second in the system in wins (12) and strikeouts (125 in 140 innings) and third in ERA (2.63) in his 2009 pro debut. With his repertoire and athleticism, he reminds club officials of Ramiro Mendoza. Mitchell came to the Yankees with a good 89-91 mph sinker, and he has excelled at producing groundouts (2.89 groundout/airout ratio last season) and keeping the ball in the park (no homers allowed in his last 98 innings). Since turning pro, he has switched from a slider to a hard, tight curveball that gives him a strikeout pitch. His changeup hasn't made as much progress, and lefthanders batted .293 against him. Mitchell has time to improve his changeup, but if he doesn't he'll wind up in a middle-relief role. He'll pitch in Trenton's rotation in 2010.
Mesa was one of the Yankees' success stories in 2009, raising the possibility of a two-Melky outfield in New York. (In Mesa's case, Melky is short for Melquisedec, an Old Testament non-Hebrew priest.) Mesa was Charleston's most explosive player in 2009, and he could be the system's top five-tool player, with a lean, wiry frame and loads of athletic ability. The problem is that most scouts consider him a below-average hitter. Mesa is a free swinger who is overly aggressive, no matter what the count. One scout said pitch recognition wasn't the problem, which gave him hope that Mesa would make enough contact to be a regular. The ball jumps off his bat thanks to elite bat speed, and he crushes fastballs. He has the ability to put backspin on the ball, turning line drives into home runs. He's a plus runner who'll have average speed once he fills out, and he has an above-average arm that should fit in right field. Mesa can play center field in a pinch but doesn't have the range or instincts to be an everyday player there. The Yankees want to see him reach what senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman calls "that happy convergence of impact and contact" more often. They'll see if Mesa can make the necessary adjustments in high Class A this year.
DeLeon signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for a $1.1 million bonus, but the two scouts who signed him were fired by the Yankees after accusations that they each took $100,000 cuts, part of the Dominican bonus-skimming epidemic. DeLeon has been on a slow track, spending his first two seasons in Rookie ball. He grinded his way through his U.S. debut in 2009, showing his talent as well as his rough edges. His raw power is the second in the system only to Jesus Montero's, and it's usable, as he ranked third in the Gulf Coast League with seven homers last summer. He's wiry strong and has shortened his swing while retaining his power. He's still too aggressive at the plate but has the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs. He fits the right-field profile, with solid athleticism, plus arm strength and average speed. DeLeon is quite raw, with contact issues (he ranked fourth in the GCL with 61 strikeouts) and below-average defensive skills. He'll need a good spring to earn a job in low Class A, but he's also just 19 and has plenty of time to add polish.
Ramirez emerged as one of the system's more electric arms in 2009. He led the Gulf Coast League in opponent average (.159) and fewest baserunners per nine innings (7.23), and his only defeat was a 2-1 decision in the first round of the playoffs. Working with GCL Yankees pitching coach Carlos Chantres, Ramirez made significant progress with his delivery, getting his energy moving more toward the plate. That helped his fastball velocity, which jumped to 92-95 mph on a consistent basis. He commands his heater well. He has a quick arm and room to fill out physically, though his velocity isn't likely to increase much more. Ramirez's second-best pitch is his changeup, which is average now and has plus potential. He doesn't have much of a breaking ball and focused on a curveball during the Yankees' Dominican instructional program. His curve still has a ways to go, as does Ramirez. His fastball and changeup might be enough to earn him a spot in Charleston's 2010 rotation.
The younger brother of Rangers minor league infielder Davis Stoneburner, Graham was a better prospect out of high school but went undrafted after a stress fracture in his back kept him off the field as a senior in 2006. He redshirted the following season at Clemson after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Stoneburner pitched with D.J. Mitchell in the Tigers rotation in 2008 but had more success working out of the bullpen last spring. His relief role, medical history and extra leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore helped drive him down in the 2009 draft, but the Yankees gave him a $675,000 bonus in the 14th round. Stoneburner has a compact, athletic build and generates electric stuff. His fastball sat in the mid-90s during the spring and again in instructional league. His slider was inconsistent at Clemson and the Yankees made it a point of emphasis after he turned pro. The slider looked nasty in instructional league, and he'll stick with it rather than developing a curve. Scouts who aren't high on Stoneburner consider him homer-prone because they think his four-seam fastball lacks life and his changeup lacks consistency. The Yankees have a hard time containing their enthusiasm, however. He'll get innings as a starter in low Class A this year but eventually will fit better as a power-armed reliever.
Adams has been a prospect dating back to his high school days in Florida. A 21st-round pick of the Tigers in 2005, he spurned them to attend Virginia, where he started most of his three seasons at second base. He had draftitis in 2008, hitting .286 as a junior after batting .372 as a sophomore, and didn't quite snap out of his funk until his first full pro season, when he led the system with 40 doubles and slugged .498 after a midseason promotion to high Class A. Adams needed mechanical adjustments to his swing, which the Yankees made in instructional league after his 2008 pro debut. Hitting coordinator James Rowson adjusted his exaggerated load, allowing Adams to unleash his bat speed and improve his balance. He showed excellent gap power and could have average home run power as he learns to put backspin on the ball. Adams played mostly second base last year, but he could move to third base because he has a plus arm and the Yankees have a glut of second basemen. He's a fringe-average runner and his range is a shade below average for second, though he does turn the double play well. Adams will play in Double-A in 2010.
The Yankees used the draft-and-follow approach with junior college players for years. With that system gone thanks to the August signing deadline, the Yankees have shifted to summer follows, with Cotham a prime example in 2009. An injury to his right knee interrupted his season at Vanderbilt in the spring, and the sophomore- eligible pitcher went to the Cape Cod League after the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round. He struck out 15 in 13 scoreless innings for Brewster, earning a $675,000 bonus. He wound up having knee surgery and didn't throw much in instructional league, but he has shown two plus pitches when healthy. His fastball sits in the low 90s with excellent sink, and when he's right he has solid command of the pitch. His slider improved greatly last spring, and he pushed its velocity into the upper 80s while maintaining depth. Cotham's knee is the biggest question about him going forward. He's one more Yankees pitching prospect working to improve his changeup, an area of emphasis for the organization. He'll begin his first full pro season in low Class A.
One of the best stories in the system last year, Noesi rebounded after missing parts of 2007 and 2008 because of Tommy John surgery. His stuff was as good as ever, and his command was surprisingly good for a pitcher who recently had his elbow reconstructed. He started 2009 in Charleston's bullpen before graduating into the rotation in May. He didn't give up a run in his first 27 1/3 innings last year, including seven no-hit frames against Lexington on May 13. After a successful promotion to high Class A, he was added to New York's 40-man roster. Noesi pounds the strike zone with three potential average pitches. His 88-92 mph fastball has good life up in the zone, and some scouts project more velocity because he has a low-effort delivery. He has good arm speed on his changeup and the hand speed to spin a breaking ball. His curveball got tighter in 2009, though it still gets loopy at times and isn't a strikeout pitch. Both should become average pitches. Noesi repeats his delivery and arm action, though they don't give him any deception. His 117 innings last season represented a career high, so he's far from ready to handle a major league workload, and his size raises doubts about his durability. He'll be part of the Trenton rotation in 2010.
The Yankees like to draft college arms and turn them over to pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras. Phelps emerged from the pack last season, as he led the system with 13 wins, ranked second with a 2.38 ERA and third with 122 strikeouts while logging 151 innings. New York stole him in the 14th round of the 2008 draft, signing him for $150,000 after he slumped as a junior at Notre Dame. His brother Mike, a former Cubs farmhand, pitched in independent ball last year. Phelps has size and stuff, taking his four-seam fastball from 91-92 mph in college to 92-95 as a pro. He threw his fastball for strikes and consistently got ahead of Class A hitters last year. He throws his four-seamer on a good downhill plane and locates his 90-mph two-seamer in the bottom of the strike zone. Phelps' ceiling is tied to his secondary stuff, which isn't special. He throws a changeup that has made progress but is still below average. He also has a fringy slider that's more of a groundball pitch than a strikeout offering, plus a curveball that has flashes average potential. Phelps' fastball makes him intriguing, but he'll have to show more when he gets to Double-A this year.
Warren went 32-4 in his career at North Carolina, pitching in three College World Series. His fastball velocity gradually increased with the Tar Heels, peaking at 94 mph last spring, but the Yankees were unprepared for his breakout performance after he signed for $195,000 as a fourth-round pick last June. Not only did Warren help pitch Staten Island to the New York-Penn League championship, but his four-seam fastball sat at 93-95 mph at times. He's not likely to sit at that velocity in the long term, but his customary 90-92 mph velocity from college would be more than enough. He commands his two-seam and four-seam fastballs very well, and he adds adds deception with a little hesitation in his delivery. Warren has added a cutter to give him a pitch with a wrinkle. His solid-average changeup is his best secondary pitch, and he'll use a slow curveball early in the count. He could jump to high Class A in 2010 as the Yankees are eager to see exactly what they have in him.
Russo continues to grind his way toward the big leagues, despite injuries and holes in his game. He suffered facial fractures in June 2008, when he was hit in the face by a batted ball during a practice, and has dealt with hamstring pulls the last two seasons. Russo's hitting ability, speed and arm all rate as plus tools, with his defense grading out as average at both second base and third base. He clearly knows what kind of player he is and led the system in batting (.326) in his first try at Triple-A with a slashing, contact-oriented approach. He uses the whole field and has some modest gap power. He's willing to take a walk and would be a future leadoff option if he were a better basestealer. He's a streaky defender and has just fair hands. His arm helps him turn the double play at second, and he's better defensively at third. He can play shortstop in a pinch and also has experience playing the outfield corners. Russo has hit in Double-A, the Arizona Fall League and now Triple-A. He could be an everyday infielder on a second-division team and fits a utility profile for the Yankees. He'll compete with Reegie Corona for that role in 2010 after joining the 40-man roster in the offseason.
Betances was a high-risk, high-reward pick whose $1 million bonus in 2006 set a record for an eighth-round pick. He has progressed slowly, and after seeming to turn the corner in 2008, adversity struck him last year. He was having an inconsistent season when he had elbow pain in late May. He tried rest but got hit hard when he pitched again and went back on the disabled list. His injury eventually was diagnosed as a ligament tear that required Tommy John surgery in August. Even before he got hurt, Betances showed little sign of improving the balance in his delivery or loosening up what can be a stiff landing. His lack of athletic ability and size prompted some scouts to compare him to Daniel Cabrera, who always had plus stuff but never learned how to use it successfully. Betances has a fastball that sits at 93-94 mph and touches 97, and he backs it up with a plus curveball. His poor command last year could have stemmed from his elbow trouble, but throwing quality strikes never has been his strong suit. Following a lost year, he'll miss most of another and have to be protected on the 40-man roster or exposed to the Rule 5 draft after the season.
Signed for $350,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Heredia seemed on the verge of a breakout last season after a promising 2008 performance in low Class A. But he came to spring training out of shape and pitched just 38 innings in 2009. His lack of conditioning was particularly disappointing because the Yankees have stressed that he needs to get stronger for years. He came down with a sore shoulder and didn't pitch in a game until July. Heredia has the pitches to reach the major leagues if he can stay healthy. His 90-91 mph fastball touches 93 and features sink and armside run. His changeup also has sink, and his curveball can be a plus pitch at times. While Heredia throws strikes, he doesn't always throw quality strikes. With his stuff, he needs to be more precise and improve his pitch sequencing. Heredia is still just 20, so he has plenty of time to get back on track, starting with an assignment to high Class A this year.
The Yankees don't usually need low-cost reserves, but they have stated their desire to lower their payroll in 2010. To that end, they traded Brian Bruney to the Nationals for the No. 1 pick in the major league Rule 5 draft, then used that choice to grab Hoffmann. He'll compete for a backup outfield job on the big league roster, and if he doesn't stick with New York, he'd have to clear waivers and get offered back to the Dodgers for half his $50,000 draft price. Hoffmann was drafted in the eighth round in 2003--by the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. Like former all-star catcher Terry Steinbach, Hoffmann excelled in hockey and baseball at New Ulm (Minn.) High. Unselected in the baseball draft, he signed with Los Angeles as a free agent and reached the majors in his sixth pro season. Hoffman is a physical player with 55 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, which along with his solid-average throwing arm allows him to play all three outfield spots. His defense is ahead of his offense, and despite his size he never has quite tapped into his raw power. The Yankees had hitting coordinator Kevin Long check out Hoffmann on film prior to selecting him and believe he has a foundation for hitting that just needs to be tweaked, not overhauled. His defense, speed and contact ability--plus the inclusion of Austin Jackson in a trade for Curtis Granderson--should help Hoffman win a bench job with the Yankees. That's his ceiling on a contending club.
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