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Montero should be ready for the New York spotlight, because few prospects have received such scrutiny in the minor leagues. It started as soon as he signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for $2 million. His bonus later was reduced to $1.65 million, and the scout who signed him, Carlos Rios, was fired for receiving kickbacks on international deals. Montero rifled through the lower levels of the minor leagues before spending the last two seasons at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Scouts thought he looked bored in 2011 before his first callup to the majors. He sizzled in September, slugging two homers against the Orioles in his fourth game and earning a spot on New York's postseason roster. No organization has produced offensive catchers like the Yankees, and club officials admit they prioritize hitting ability in their catchers more than most organizations do. Montero fits New York's profile. One of the more accomplished righthanded hitting prospects to come around in years, Montero combines hand-eye coordination with an innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. While he's not a walk machine, he has gained a better feel for the strike zone with experience. His front-foot swing isn't for everyone, but his tremendous strength makes it work and he projects to hit .290-.300 with well above-average power. His natural swing path produces excellent pop to the opposite field, and he should be able to exploit the dimensions at Yankee Stadium. Defensively, Montero continues to work hard to overcome his huge frame, and his offensive production makes him more palatable behind the plate. Despite plenty of attention from catching coordinator Julio Mosquera, Montero never will grade better than below-average as a receiver. New York believes that will be acceptable, citing Posada's career. Montero did cut his passed balls from 15 in 2010 to seven last season, when his .997 fielding percentage led International League backstops. Despite solid arm strength, he threw out just 21 percent of the 93 basestealers who tested him in 2011. His long throwing stroke costs him consistency and accuracy. He's a well below-average runner who's prone to hitting into double plays. Montero's righthanded power fits well into a New York lineup that overly relies on the aging Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez from that side of the plate. Montero is ready to catch 50 or so games a year while also getting regular at-bats at DH. His defense probably would be too much of a liability for him to catch any more. He should get 400-500 big league plate appearances in 2012 and follow Robinson Cano as New York's next homegrown all-star position player.
Signed out of Mexico as a command-oriented lefthander, Banuelos has seen his stuff evolve since, and it was on full display in big league camp in 2011. He struck out 14 in 13 innings while making a bid for a big league role. He instead spent the entire season in the minors, pitching a career-high 130 innings and reaching Triple-A but also leading the system with 71 walks. Banuelos beats hitters with three plus pitches when he's at his best, getting swings and misses in the strike zone like an ace. His fastball sits at 89-94 mph and touches 96. His curveball has some downer action and power, often parking at 79-80 mph, and he has good arm speed on his fading changeup. The Yankees believe Banuelos is still learning how to harness his quick arm and improved stuff, and he needs to be pitchefficient rather than going for strikeouts. He struggles at times to locate his fastball to his glove side, which made him vulnerable against righthanders, who hit .285 against him in 2011. Banuelos has shown frontline stuff and flashed true command, tantalizing yet failing to put it all together. He should make his big league debut in 2012, probably before September. He has the upside to be New York's best homegrown pitcher since Andy Pettitte.
In late September, Betances became the 10th player from the Yankees' 2006 draft class to appear in the majors. A New York City product, he signed for $1 million, a record for the eighth round at the time. He has developed slowly and had surgery to reinforce an elbow ligament in 2009, but he has matured into a physical power pitcher with swingand- miss stuff. Betances works at 91-95 mph with his fastball and can get it up to 97, delivering it on a steep downhill plane. At times he throws his four-seamer with natural cutting action. He throws a fair amount of strikes with his heater but has a harder time harnessing his power curveball, which sits in the low 80s. New York always has believed in Betances' changeup, a solid pitch that flashed above average less frequently in 2011 than it had in 2010. His stiff delivery and modest athleticism prevent him from repeating his delivery and throwing consistent quality strikes. Betances threw a career-best 136 innings in 2011, and his lack of command was exposed a bit at higher levels. His stuff is so good, he could still be effective merely with average control, much like A.J. Burnett. Betances will return to Triple-A to start 2012.
Signed for $3 million, Sanchez ranked as the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League's No. 1 prospect in a banner 2010 pro debut, then led low Class A Charleston with 17 homers in 82 games in 2011. He was suspended for two weeks in late May for insubordination and missed the final three weeks of the season with a sprained left thumb. Sanchez has a purer swing and more patience at the plate than Jesus Montero, to whom he's often compared. Sanchez has similar raw power, too, and scouts project him as a plus hitter in terms of both average and pop. He's willing to go deep into counts looking for a pitch to drive, which can lead to strikeouts. He struggles to handle breaking balls offensively and defensively, and some scouts reported that he stopped calling for them behind the plate. Sanchez led the South Atlantic League with 26 passed balls in just 60 games, and some scouts believe he's a lost cause as a receiver. He does have plus arm strength and threw out 31 percent of basestealers. He's a well below-average runner, like many catchers. A combination of money, immaturity and hype didn't help Sanchez, but he was one of the SAL's youngest players. He'll probably return to Charleston in 2012. If he doesn't improve defensively, he'll have to hit like Montero to remain a catcher long-term.
Williams got the highest bonus in the Yankees' 2010 draft class, signing for $1.45 million in the fourth round to turn down his commitment to South Carolina. In his first extended taste of pro ball last summer, he led the short-season New York-Penn League in steals (28) and ranked second in batting (.349) to spark Staten Island to its sixth championship in 13 years. He ranked as the NY-P's top prospect. While he's not overly physical, Williams has the system's best all-around tools. He has a lively body with athleticism to spare and surprising strength. While at times he's a slasher, he has good natural timing and barrels balls consistently. His bat is quick enough for him to hit quality velocity. As Williams quiets his hands and uses his legs better, he could develop average power because his swing path has a little bit of loft. He's a prototypical center fielder with raw 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, easy range and an average throwing arm. He still must add polish to his baserunning, basestealing and route-running in addition to his swing. Williams could be the Yankees' next great homegrown center fielder. He'll get his first full-season test in Charleston in 2012. He's on the verge of passing Slade Heathcott within the system but will have to watch Ravel Santana coming up behind him.
The son of the former all-star outfielder of the same name, Dante Jr. is a baseball rat who hit .640 as a high school senior and became the Yankee's top 2011 draft pick (51st overall). He signed quickly for $750,000 and adjusted on the fly after a slow start to pro ball, lowering his hands and quickening his swing. He earned top-prospect and MVP honors in the Gulf Coast League and led his team to the championship. Like his father, Bichette combines righthanded power and underrated athletic ability. He's an advanced hitter with good hand-eye coordination, present strength and above-average bat speed. He doesn't sell out for power, uses the whole field and has a mature two-strike approach. While area scouts considered Bichette a lock to move to the outfield while he was an amateur, he impressed New York with his agility, arm strength and aptitude at third base. He's an average runner. His work ethic impresses coaches and opponents alike, and he should have the makeup to handle the Big Apple. Bichette's passion for the game helped him make a name for himself with his strong debut. He could move quickly, and if J.R. Murphy remains a catcher, the Yankees don't have another third-base prospect ahead of him. Bichette is ready to advance to low Class A in 2012.
Signed for just $150,000 in November 2008, Santana made his U.S. debut in 2011 after spending two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He ranked right behind Dante Bichette as the No. 2 prospect in the Gulf Coast League, ranking third in the league in slugging (.568) and fourth in homers (nine) despite missing the final two weeks after breaking his ankle in two places and damaging ligaments on Aug. 13. Wiry, lean and athletic, Santana could wind up with above-average or better tools across the board. His best present tool is his arm, which rates at least a 70 and earns some 80 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale. He's at least a plus runner and he plays an above-average center field. Santana's offensive ceiling is considerable, thanks to excellent bat speed, strength and loft in his swing and a willingness to use the whole field. He showed plus power as the season went along, gaining confidence as his pitch recognition improved. He does have problems making contact against good breaking balls, though he made encouraging adjustments. Santana is one level behind Mason Williams and could move to right field if they wind up on the same roster. The Yankees expect Santana will be healthy enough for an assignment to Staten Island in June.
Romine became the third member of his family to reach the majors, following dad Kevin and older brother Andrew. He debuted in front of his parents and against his brother's team, the Angels, in September. It made for a positive end to a challenging season in which he missed much of June with a concussion and two weeks in August with a back injury. In an organization full of bat-first catchers, Romine sticks out for his athletic ability and solid defensive tools. Flexible and agile, he's a sound receiver who has added polish with experience. While he has plus arm strength, he's inconsistent with his throwing accuracy and has caught just 23 percent of basestealers in each of the last two seasons. Like his arm, Romine's raw power rates as above-average but doesn't play that well in games. His high leg kick results in streaky offensive production. He has become a poor runner and seemed to play with less energy in 2011. Some scouts thought Romine got stale repeating Double-A in 2011 and will watch closely to see if he responds to a promotion to Triple-A in 2012. His defense still could make him New York's long-term future catcher, with the offensive upside of a .270 hitter with 10 homers annually.
The Yankees love offensive-minded catchers, and they paid Murphy $1.25 million in the second round of the 2009 draft to keep him from attending Miami. He outplayed Gary Sanchez offensively and defensively while sharing time with him at catcher in Charleston in 2011, earning a promotion to high Class A Tampa. His season ended shortly afterward in July when he fouled a ball off his left foot, breaking a bone. New York is trying to find a place for Murphy's bat, as he offers a balanced swing and consistent linedrive, gap-to-gap power. He projects to hit 10-15 homers annually with his present swing, which has a fairly flat path. A solid athlete and average runner, Murphy has improved defensively. He has gained average arm strength through better mechanics and a long-toss program, and he also has quickened his release. He threw out 24 percent of basestealers in 2011. He's still a fringy receiver and blocker but has made enough progress to stay in the catching conversation. He also saw time at third base in 2011, and his fringy speed also makes the outfield corners a possibility. Murphy's total package resembles that of 16-year big leaguer Todd Zeile. Murphy is ticketed for a return to high Class A, where he'll keep catching while getting reps at third and possibly in the outfield.
Heathcott had an alcohol problem and a troubled family life in high school, yet he also was a two-way star who overcame a football-related knee injury to lead Texas High (Texarkana, Texas) to a state 4-A championship as a senior in 2009. The Yankees selected him 29th overall that June and signed him for $2.2 million. He has sought treatment for his alcohol use, but his career has been slowed by two surgeries on his throwing shoulder. Heathcott reminds New York of Brett Gardner, with the potential to hit for more power if he can become more patient and work himself into more hitter's counts. His injuries have cost him development time needed to improve his pitch selection. He's an explosive athlete whose energy level ingratiates him to teammates, managers and scouts. Heathcott's best present tools are his plus-plus speed and his defense, as he plays center field like a free safety. He's still an unrefined basestealer and needs to tame his aggressiveness in several phases of the game. His second shoulder operation, to reattach part of his previously repaired labrum, likely will cost him some of his formerly above-average arm strength. Heathcott has gotten his life in order, and the Yankees consider his makeup a plus. He'll report to high Class A in 2012 and see if his shoulder can hold up to a full season of play.
Marshall was the highest-paid player in the Yankees' draft class in 2008, when they failed to sign first-rounder Gerrit Cole and second-rounder Scott Bittle. Marshall and Triple-A righties D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps should provide a decent return from that draft crop. Marshall just finished his first full, healthy season, nearly doubling his previous career high for innings with 140. Two years after Tommy John surgery, he didn't miss a start in 2011. Once envisioned as a power pitcher, Marshall fits more of a sinker/slider profile these days. He has toned down his delivery since signing and repeats it fairly well, allowing him to throw his fastball, slider and changeup for strikes. His fastball sat in the low 90s for much of last season, and the days of him boasting to club officials that he'd hit 100 one day appear to be behind him. His heater is more notable for its movement, especially down in the strike zone, than its velocity. Marshall gave up just two homers his last 55 innings, quite a feat for a 6-footer who doesn't get natural downward plane on his pitches. His slider and changeup are solid secondary pitches, and New York still plans on introducing a curve to his repertoire at some point. That may happen in 2012, when he'll move up to Double-A. He has the upside of a No. 3 starter.
Any player New York drafts in the first round will have to deal with joining baseball's most scrutinized organization. The Yankees believe Culver thrives on it, as he's already dealt with hairier situations. His father Christopher Sr. broke into the family home in March 2008 and set it aflame, and he's currently imprisoned after being found guilty of arson and burglary. The club got to know Culver well prior to drafting him 32nd overall and signing him for $954,000 as a 17-year-old, and has strong conviction in his ability to play shortstop. The adjective most often used to describe his infield play, from observers inside and outside the organization, is "smooth." He has textbook actions, plus arm strength, excellent hands and solid range despite fringy speed. He should cut down on his errors (he made 17 in 67 games last year) as he gains experience. A switch-hitter, Culver will have to get stronger to hit enough to be a regular. His lefthanded swing remains a work in progress, as he hit .224 from that side in 2011, compared to .324 as a righty. He doesn't drive the ball on a consistent basis. He'll be the everyday shortstop at Charleston in 2012, once again teaming with fellow 2010 draft pick Angelo Gumbs at second base. Culver's glove should get him to the big leagues, but his bat will determine if he winds up as an everyday player.
Still listed at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, his size when he signed at age 16 four years ago, Flores now stands closer to 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds. He has made significant strides as a prospect, becoming one of the system's best pure hitters thanks to his advanced approach and keen strike-zone judgment. Flores' swing was evident when he was an amateur in Venezuela, with some scouts considering him his nation's top hitter in its 2008 international signing class. His overall game elicits comparisons to players such as Luis Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra. Flores' raw power is just average, but he gets to it regularly because of his plate discipline. He has an easy, natural swing and uses the whole field consistently, and he's not fazed by lefthanders. He has good instincts at the plate and on the bases, where he's a solid baserunner. Because his speed is below-average and his arm is fringy, Flores is best suited for left field and has played some first base as well. He will start 2012 in high Class A and could advance quickly because of his offensive polish.
Raw and athletic when the Yankees drafted him in the second round, Gumbs showed interesting flashes playing second base alongside fellow 2010 draftee Cito Culver in Staten Island last summer. The two likely will be teammates for the foreseeable future, and while they have some similarities, their tools and strengths are vastly different. Culver is a pure shortstop with classic infield actions. Gumbs was new to the right side of the infield, having split time between shortstop and outfield in high school, and struggled with the transition. His throwing mechanics are inconsistent, and his footwork and agility may not cut it in the middle infield. He's a better raw athlete than Culver, though, with more explosiveness, speed and strength. That comes through most at the plate, where Gumbs shows the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He could have average power down the road. He's still raw offensively and not selective enough, but the Yankees are confident in his aptitude to make adjustments as he gains experience. He's a veteran of MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., and New York likes his makeup. If Gumbs can't cut it in the infield, he'll head to the outfield, where his speed and raw arm strength should be assets. The Yankees could field an all-prospect infield at Charleston in 2012 with Tyler Austin at first base, Gumbs at second, Culver at short and Dante Bichette Jr. at third.
Warren went 32-4 in college at North Carolina, and four of his 2009 teammates already have reached the major leagues. He had a breakthrough year in 2010, jumping to Double-A to end his first full pro season, but had a modest 2011 campaign in his first run at Triple-A. He didn't get a win after June 20, losing his final six decisions even though his peripheral stats improved as the year progressed. Warren pitches off his 89-93 mph fastball and touches 94-95 fairly regularly. He has quickened his tempo as a pro and has incorporated his legs more into his delivery to improve his velocity from his amateur days. Warren's slider also has gotten better and is a solid pitch at times. His curveball and changeup remain fringy, and his key will be throwing them for strikes to keep hitters from sitting on his heat. His command of his secondary pitches improved in the second half of 2011, but when he missed, he was vulnerable to home runs. He gave up 13 longballs last year after yielding just four in 2010. Warren profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, and for the Yankees he's more important as depth than as a key part of their future. He could get a chance to earn a long-relief role in 2012, but more likely he'll return to Triple-A.
Wins don't matter much for minor league pitchers, but Mitchell has 38 victories in three pro seasons. He's keeping himself in the mix as a possible starter despite being dogged by assumptions that he's headed for the bullpen. While his slender frame hasn't filled out much since he signed for $400,000 as a 10th-rounder in 2008, he has logged 452 innings, establishing a strong track record as a durable sinker-slider pitcher. Mitchell prefers to pound the bottom half of the zone with an 89-91 mph fastball and a solid slider more notable for getting grounders than swings-and-misses. His sinking changeup has improved during the last two seasons, as he proved by holding lefthanders to a .684 OPS in 2011 (versus .677 for righthanders). He also owns a curveball that grades out a bit better than his slider, with fairly sharp, late bite when it's right. Mitchell keeps the ball in the ballpark, a must because he isn't a strikeout pitcher. While he has accomplished more than any other member of New York's 2008 draft class, he has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling at best. In an organization focused on impact, his greatest contributions still are expected to come as a middle reliever who can produce a groundout when needed. Protected on the 40-man roster in November, he's likely to return to Triple-A for 2012 unless the Yankees sell high on him in an offseason trade.
The Yankees gave Mitchell (no relation to D.J.) an $800,000 bonus as a 16th-rounder in 2009 and still love his stuff. They're trying to be patient with his growing pains, which included a serious bout of homesickness after he signed and command issues in each of the last two seasons. Mitchell has a live arm with frontline stuff that he hasn't learned to control. He's not overly physical but has a quick arm and excellent athleticism, and he produces two pitches that have true plus potential. His curveball already is an above-average offering and ranks among the best in the system. It's a true power downer that sits at 80-82 mph. Mitchell's fastball sits at 93-94 mph at times and gets swings and misses when it's around the strike zone, thanks to its late sinking, tailing action. He has lost development time to his late signing in 2009 and to an abdominal strain in 2010, and he has walked 4.5 batters per nine innings in two years as a pro. He'll have to do much better than that as he jumps to full-season ball at Charleston in 2012.
The Double-A Eastern League MVP in 2010, Laird came back to earth a bit last season, though the younger brother of veteran catcher Gerald Laird did make his major league debut in July with a pinch-hit single against the Athletics. He returned to New York as a September callup. However, Laird was exposed by Triple-A pitchers in a way that hadn't happened before. He always has been an aggressive hitter, and more advanced pitchers took advantage. He almost hit more homers than he had walks, and he struggled with quality breaking balls from righthanders, who limited him to a .672 OPS in Triple-A. He has the strength to hit for power to all fields and still mashes lefthanders, against whom he had an .810 OPS. Laird has helped himself by adding some defensive value as his career has progressed. Managers rated him the International League's best defensive third baseman in 2011. He isn't flashy but he's dependable and makes the routine plays, and he's also more than capable at first base. He saw some time in left field last year, though his below-average speed limits him there. Laird's best role with the Yankees would be as a righthanded-hitting corner reserve, though he could be a second-division regular if traded elsewhere. He'll fight for that bench role in New York this year.
The Yankees' Almonte prospects run from A to Z. Abe Almonte ranked 30th on this list in our 2009 Handbook and had a 34-game hitting streak in high Class A last season. His teammate in the first half at Tampa, Zoilo Almonte, hadn't played his way into prospect status before 2011, striking out 130 times in his lone year at the full-season level. He broke out last year, making more consistent contact and bashing a career-high 15 homers. Almonte doesn't have one carrying tool but offers a solid package. He has added 40 pounds since signing in 2005, and now has the strength and bat speed to generate at least average power. A switch-hitter, he has improved his pitch recognition with more experience. Almonte is an above-average defender in left field and has the arm strength to be an average defender in right as well. His speed is fringy, and likely limits him to an outfield corner as a starter, but he'll continue playing center field in the minors and should have a future as a fourth outfielder if his bat falls short of a corner profile. Almonte plays with energy and has many ways to help a team win. How much progress he continues to make with the bat as he returns to Double-A in 2012 will determine if he has a future as a regular. New York believes in him enough to have added him to its 40-man roster in November.
A decorated amateur player, Austin was an Aflac All-American the summer after his junior year in high school. But 2010 was an epic year in Georgia with five prepsters drafted in the first round, and he got a bit lost in the shuffle. He wound up dropping to the 13th round and signed for $130,000, then broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch in his second pro game. His bat proved too advanced for the Gulf Coast League last summer, so New York promoted him to Staten Island, where he batted .429 in the playoffs to help the Little Yanks win the title. Strong and physical, Austin has above-average pull power and a fairly advanced approach. He's not afraid to work counts or use the whole field. He's a solid athlete with average speed and excellent instincts that helped him steal 20 bases (including the postseason) while being caught only once in 2011. Austin's future value is tied into his defense. He was primarily a catcher in high school but hasn't caught as a pro, instead working at third and first base. His arm, which is a tick above-average, is his best defensive attribute. His newness at third showed as he made 11 errors in just 29 games (playoffs included). Austin's shaky instincts and footwork at third contributed to his miscues, and he'll likely to play a lot more first base down the line. That's likely to happen this year in low Class A. Austin's speed gives him a chance to man an outfield corner as well.
Phelps has progressed as far as any member of New York's 2008 draft class. He rocketed to Triple-A in 2010, then hit his first speed bump in pro ball last summer, when he wound up missing two months with shoulder discomfort. He just needed rest as it turned out, and he came back to give up just two earned runs and one walk in his final 19 innings. Phelps resembles Adam Warren in that he profiles as a backof- the-rotation starter, and his future upside depends mostly on his ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes in fastball counts. Phelps works off a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touches 95. He also has a solid curveball, fringy slider and decent changeup. Like Warren, he tried to mix in his secondary stuff more often and paid for it when he missed against Triple-A hitters. After giving up just six homers in 158 innings in 2010, Phelps surrendered 11 in 107 innings last season. He generally challenges hitters rather than nibbling, and his control ranks among the best in the system. He'd be a candidate for a callup in a different organization, but with New York he's playing a waiting game. A November addition to the 40-man roster, he's likely headed back for a third stint in Triple-A in 2012.
Big and strong, Nuding draws physical comparisons to Josh Johnson. He doesn't have Johnson's upside, but he does have a big body and a big arm. He wasn't drafted out of high school, then selected by the Pirates in the 37th round after his freshman year at Weatherford (Texas) JC in 2009. After a second turn at Weatherford and in the Texas Collegiate League, he signed with the Yankees for $265,000 as a 30th-rounder in 2010. Nuding has one of the best fastballs in the system, sitting at 93 mph and ranging from 90-96. When he's at his best, he uses his size to deliver his heater with tough angle and plane, and he has shown the ability to throw strikes to both sides of the plate. Nuding doesn't have the cleanest arm action or delivery, yet he repeats his release point and consistently has heavy sink on his fastball. He pitches off it effectively and gets into trouble when hitters don't have to respect his slider and changeup. His low-80s slider has some depth and is his better secondary pitch. His inconsistent changeup shows late fade when it's on, which wasn't often in his first full pro season. He'll spend 2012 in high Class A and faces a future as a hard-throwing reliever if his secondary pitches don't become more reliable.
Montgomery wasn't heavily recruited out of high school and originally signed with NCAA Division I independent Longwood as a shortstop. He was a two-way player as a freshman before becoming a full-time pitcher as a sophomore. That summer in the Coastal Plain League, his low-80s slider started drawing rave reviews for its tilt and tight rotation. It earned him a $65,000 bonus as an 11th-round pick and allowed him to dominate in both college (0.89 ERA, 14.2 K/9) and pro ball (1.91 ERA, 16.2 K/9) in 2011. Montgomery struck out the side in three of his four outings at Staten Island, then had a five-strikeout inning in his first game with Charleston, as his slider was too sharp for Gary Sanchez to handle. (For comparison's sake, there never has been a five-strikeout inning in the major leagues, and the South Atlantic League hadn't had one since 1997.) Montgomery's slider is already a plus pitch by big league standards, and the Yankees will put him on the fast track as they did with David Robertson. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph and touches 94, though at 5-foot- 11, he has some issues with his heater coming in flat without much downhill plane. His slider alone could make him a major leaguer, however. If like Robertson he gains velocity as a pro, Montgomery could be a late-inning force in New York. He could jump to Double-A to open his first full big league season.
Cave received the second-largest signing bonus in New York's 2011 draft class-- $800,000 in the sixth round--thanks to his tools, athletic ability and strong commitment as a two-way player to Louisiana State. He helped his cause with a strong summer performance, ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the collegiate Coastal Plain League. The CPL hadn't allowed high schoolers in the league before 2011, and he hit .326/.432/.442 with wood bats. Cave's fast hands produce a whippy swing with plus raw power. His pitch recognition is somewhat raw, and he was susceptible to breaking balls in the summer, so he'll have to make adjustments. Cave played first base in high school and in the CPL in part to save his arm, which delivers fastballs clocked as high as 94 mph. He's an above-average runner, so he should be able to move to the outfield in pro ball. It's possible he could see time in center field, though he profiles better in right. Cave is headed to extended spring training to start 2012 and could earn an assignment to Staten Island.
Custodio was part of a prospect-laden Gulf Coast League championship club in 2011, sharing time at shortstop with Jose Rosario. Even though he didn't play every day and had a lower leg injury end his season early, Custodio led the GCL with 46 runs and 26 steals in 39 games. After originally using a false identity (Claudio Baez) and age, Custodio was going to sign with the Royals until they backed out and he inked with the Yankees for $300,000 in April 2010. Custodio stands out for his hitting ability from the right side, as he has quick hands that produce solid bat speed. He still tends to cheat to try to lift balls and hit for power, but he's patient and isn't afraid to draw a walk, and he showed aptitude in flattening out his swing. Custodio has quick-twitch athleticism and above-average speed, as well as the tools and instincts to play shortstop. He was error-prone in 2011 thanks to a scattershot arm, a problem New York considers correctable. One club official compared him to Robert Andino with a better shot to stay at shortstop. Already 21, Custodio could handle the jump to full-season ball in 2012 but the Yankees won't do that at the expense of playing time for Cito Culver and Angelo Gumbs. More likely, Custodio and Rosario will team up again at Staten Island.
Though Adams has played in just 68 games during the last two seasons, New York still protected him on its 40-man roster in November. As senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said, "I haven't seen a guy yet have his career end because of a broken foot." Adams' injured himself sliding into second base in May 2010. He was initially diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, and it wasn't until July that doctors discovered a broken bone at the joint where his right foot meets the ankle. The Mariners used the injury as a pretext to back out of a trade that would have sent Cliff Lee to the Yankees for a package that included Adams and Jesus Montero. Lee went to the Rangers instead and Adams has hardly been seen since. He played one game at Tampa last April, then sat out for two months before a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League. He returned to high Class A in late July but didn't last three weeks before pain returned and New York shut him down. When healthy, Adams is an offensive second baseman who has arm strength and the ability to turn the double play well. He has solid gap power and enough juice to project to hit 10-15 homers annually. He has played some third base in the past, and it remains to be seen if his injury problems will diminish his already fringy range at second base. He might lose a step from his below-average speed as well. The Yankees want to keep him at second base, but the main priority at first will be for him to remain healthy. He'll head to Double-A when he's ready in 2012.
Turley played at toney Harvard-Westlake High (Studio City, Calif.) and was committed to Brigham Young after graduating in 2008. Because he's a Mormon, many scouts expected him to attend BYU and go on a two-year mission. Instead, he signed for $150,000 after the Yankees drafted him in the 50th round. He comes from an athletic family: his mother skiied for BYU, while three brothers played college sports, including Kurt, a former Cougars righthander. Turley's career took a while to get going, as he began each of his first three pro seasons in Rookie ball. He was just starting to hit his stride in 2011 when he took a line drive off his pitching hand in his second start following a promotion to high Class A, breaking a bone and ending his season. He had been Charleston's best starter in the first half and didn't allow an earned run in his final four starts there. Despite a late growth spurt that has seen him add two inches and 30 pounds since signing, Turley has the system's best control. His fastball is the least of his pitches, sitting in the upper 80s at times and in the low 90s at others. It's effective at average velocity because of his height and angle to the plate. He could throw harder as he irons out his delivery, which has some stiffness. His above-average curveball has good shape and his changeup also has its moments. Turley should return to high Class A in 2012 and has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.
Bird played at Grandview High (Aurora, Colo.) with righthander Kevin Gausman, who's now at Louisiana State and is expected to be a 2012 first-round pick as a draft-eligible sophomore. Gausman's presence brought some attention to Bird, who made a name for himself last spring, hitting .553 with 12 home runs as Colorado's high school baseball player of the year. Committed to Arkansas, Bird went in the fourth round of the 2011 draft and spent the summer in the California Collegiate League. He hit .273/.446/.494, reinforcing the Yankees' strong conviction that he'll hit for power as a pro. They signed him for $1.1 million, more than they paid any other draftee last year. New York not only believes in Bird's lefthanded pop but also thinks he has a chance to catch, which wasn't the industry consensus. He has some arm strength, but he's big for the position and not terribly athletic or agile. The Yankees love offense-first catchers, but he's behind the likes of Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy at a similar stage of development. Bird will need time to adjust to catching as a pro and many area scouts believed he'll have to move to first base. They weren't totally sold on his hitting ability because his swing can get long at times, but it's hard not to like his strength and bat speed, not to mention his ability to loft and backspin balls. He's a well below-average runner. Bird will work on his defense in extended spring training to begin 2012.
David Robertson's success has the Yankees on the lookout for the next Robertson. Whitley is a candidate who has moved quickly since signing for $68,000 as a 15th-round pick in 2010. Primarily a third baseman in college, he also closed at Troy and has a future as a big league reliever. His positionplayer background is part of the reason for his funky, high-elbow arm action, which gives him some deception. Whitley's fastball is unremarkable at 89-91 mph, so he'll have to be precise with his command at higher levels to make it work. His secondary stuff sets him apart, as both his changeup and slider are plus pitches at their best. He throws his changeup with confidence, good arm speed and late sink. His low-80s slider also generates some swings and missed. Whitley was New York's best performer in the Arizona Fall League after the 2011 season and could push for a role in the majors at some point this year.
Pinder attended Santa Ana (Calif.) JC for two seasons before transferring to Long Beach State, where he struggled for most of the next two years. The Yankees took him as a senior sign in the 16th round last June and were delighted to find they had landed a hard-throwing reliever for $60,000. Slipped into a bullpen role after starting in college, Pinder picked up velocity and attacked hitters confidently with two pitches. His fastball, a fairly pedestrian 88-91 mph offering at Long Beach State, jumped to 93-94 mph consistently in pro ball. It helped set up his slider, which shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch. Pinder varies the spin on his breaking ball, sometimes favoring a sweepier slider and at other times adding some depth. Both versions found the strike zone and eluded bats all summer. Pinder used a changeup in college but figures to stay with his twopitch mix in his new role. He should see high Class A at some point in 2012.
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