With Spring Training underway and the Yankees gearing up for their first "game," it seems like a good time to look at the Yankees of the future. The bulk of the Yankees' strongest prospects still have at least a couple years to go, but they are getting closer. Some of these guys may find their way to the Bronx at during the next seven or eight months, others are still a few years away from the majors and - of course - some may never get the chance to run out onto a big league field. Regardless, here are some names to keep an eye on during this year's Farm Reports.
1. Gary Sanchez (C): We had Sanchez at the top of our list all last season and see no real reason to move him out of that top spot, though some of the other young guys make this a bit of a harder decision - but more about them later. The Yankees have had a wealth of catcher prospects over the last few years, but with Jesus Montero now in Seattle and Austin Romine missing most of last season with another back injury, Sanchez has become the focal point in the Yankees' internal search for their future catcher. Sanchez had a rough 2011, with some "character" issues and a mediocre year at the plate, but he seemed to turn it around quite a bit in 2012.
Offensively, Sanchez still is a bit raw, but at 20 he continues to improve and has always projected to hit for average and power. He hit .290/.344/.485 between Charleston and Tampa in 2012. He was SAL Player of the Week twice and picked up SAL Mid-Season All-Star and MiLB.com Organization All-Star honors. Much like Montero, Sanchez's offensive potential has never been questioned, but his ability to stick behind the plate continues to garner discussion. He has a strong arm and appears to be making improvements defensively. He is probably a safer bet to play catcher than Montero ever was, but some scouts continue to doubt whether this will happen. Sanchez will likely start the year in Tampa and find himself in Trenton by the end of the season, giving him a few more years until we see him in the Bronx.
2. Mason Williams (OF): If you wanted to know who the best all-around prospect was in the Yankees system, Williams would probably be at the top of most lists. The young outfielder made a splash in 2011, when he hit .349/.395/.468 in 68 games with Staten Island, showing great potential on both sides of the field. Williams continued to impress in 2012, hitting a combined .298/.346/.474 between Charleston and Tampa, before his season ended early due to an injury to his non-throwing arm shoulder. A speedy outfielder with a decent arm and strong defensive ability, Williams could grow into the full package. He has always shown the ability to hit for a high average and is starting to put some more power into his game. A few comments were made about "character" issues at the end of last season, which was the first many of us had heard with Williams. For now, I am willing to chalk it up as nothing more than growing pains for a young player who looks like he should have a bright future ahead of him.
3. Slade Heathcott (OF): The Yankees' first round pick in 2009 has already overcome quite a bit in his short professional career, with some off-field and on-field controversies along with shoulder problems. Still, if he can stay healthy, Heathcott continues to show some incredible potential. While he missed the early part of the 2012 season, Heathcott hit an impressive .307/.378/.470 in sixty games for the Tampa Yankees in 2012 (credit xiavien). He got some extra work done in the Arizona Fall League, where he .388/.494/.612 for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Heathcott can hit for average, but has some solid power as well. He is another speedy outfielder and has a strong arm. Heathcott should see time in Trenton this year and if he can stay healthy he could be ready for the Bronx sometime next year.
4. Tyler Austin (OF): Austin rounds out the Yankees' trio of exciting outfield prospects, having made the move from playing corner infield positions. While Williams made his splash in 2011, Austin was quickly everyone's new favorite prospect in 2012. He hit .322/.400/.559, spending most of the year in Charleston before getting promoted to Tampa and making a couple appearances in Trenton. Austin's pull power is particularly impressive and he has some decent speed. His defense is not quite a strong as Heathcott or Williams, but the idea of the three of them roaming the Yankees outfield in a few years sounds pretty nice to me.
5. Manny Banuelos (P): Banuelos was at the top of most Yankees prospect lists at the start of last season, but the southpaw missed most of 2012 with back and elbow issues and will miss all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. While it is frustrating to watch the career of someone on the verge stall due to injury, it is important to remember that Banuelos will turn 23 during Spring Training 2014. The young hurler still has plenty of potential and while we will have to wait a bit longer than anticipated to see him in the majors, there is no reason to see him there in the long run.
6. Jose Campos (P): Much like Banuelos, Campos also missed most of 2012 with elbow problems, however, he did not require Tommy John surgery and should be back in action this season. Campos was the other exciting part of the Montero trade, exhibiting a plus fastball and a plus curve. His fastball generally sits in the low 90s, but he has hit 97 and is still just twenty years old. He will likely give it another shot in Charleston to start the year.
7. Ty Hensley (P): The Yankees' first round pick last season signed late, after talks were slowed upon the discovery of an "abnormality" in his shoulder. Hensley only threw twelve innings in the Gulf Coast League, striking out fourteen batters, giving up eight hits and seven walks. His fastball has plus potential and he has hit 97mph. Hensley compliments his fastball with a strong 12-6 curve that he commands well. He has a changeup that has potential, but he needs to work on his consistency with it. After getting just a glimpse of him last season, it will be nice to see him really start his professional career later this summer when the short season clubs get underway.
8. Angelo Gumbs (2B): An infielder who has a lot of tools and a high ceiling, Gumbs seems to get better as he moves up. He started 2012 in Charleston pretty slow, but once he adjusted to the Sally League he made quite the impact. At the end of the year he had a line of .272/.320/.432, with seven homers, fourteen doubles and an 26 stolen bases. Gumbs uses the whole field and has great bat speed, making him a big threat at the plate. He has good speed on the bases, but what makes him dangerous is his aggressiveness. Gumbs is still adjusting to playing second base, but his good range, hands and strong arm should make him a solid second baseman.
9. Mark Montgomery (P): Montgomery has flown through the Minors and it would not be surprising to see the reliever on the mound in Yankee Stadium during 2013. He owns a 1.65 ERA over 92.2 innings through the last two seasons, starting in Staten Island after being drafted and ending last year in Trenton. He strikes out batters, picking up 150 Ks during his professional career while allowing just 35 walks. He has a deceptive four-seam fastball that he throws in the mid-90s, but it is his slider that has been confounding batters. Montgomery has a changeup that he mixes in from time to time. He is often compared to David Robertson and if this truly is the final year of Mariano Rivera's illustrious career, it may make it easier on Yankees fans to envision a future with Montgomery setting up and Robertson closing.
10. Ramon Flores (OF): Flores had a slow start to 2012 but turned things around rather quickly. His exceptional plate discipline and ability to use the whole field were truly on display in Tampa, as he started to add a little more power to his game. At just 20, Flores has always appeared to have a more advanced approach at the plate for someone his age. Over the year, he hit .302/.370/.420 in Tampa and played one game in Trenton, going 2-5 with a homer. Flores is a smart baserunner, if not particularly speedy, so he can swipe his share of bases during the course of a season. He also continues to improve defensively and is starting to turn into a solid all-around player. Look for him in Trenton this season.
11. Bryan Mitchell (P): Mitchell finished his first full season of professional baseball last year, pitching for the Charleston RiverDogs. He threw 120 innings and while his 4.58 ERA shows how inconsistent he can be, he was able to pick up 121 Ks. Mitchell boasts some of the best pure stuff in the Yankees' organization, but the comparisons to A.J. Burnett are likely to make many fans wary of whether he will be able to take advantage of it. Mitchell has a powerful fastball that averaged in the mid-90s last season, but also routinely hit 98. He was able to maintain velocity deep into games, but he struggled with control. He throws one of the best curves in the system, which gets him a lot of strikeouts. His changeup is a work in progress, but it shows flashes of potential.
12. Dante Bichette, Jr. (3B): It has been an interesting road already for the young Bichette, who many were surprised to see the Yankees snatch up in the first round in 2011. While many questioned the pick early on, Bichette signed quickly and put together an impressive first season in the Gulf Coast League and even playing a handful of games for Staten Island. The Yankees were impressed enough that in 2012 they sent him right to Charleston for his first full season of professional ball. Not surprisingly, Bichette struggled some as he had to adjust to some tougher competition. He hit just .248/.322/.331 in 122 games for the RiverDogs, but seemed to find his swing towards the end of the year, hitting .371/.463/.457 in his last ten games. When he was drafted there was skepticism about Bichette's ability to stick at third base, but he has worked pretty hard and looks like a solid defender. There are still a lot of things to like about Bichette, including a strong work ethic and winning mentality. He still has a lot to learn, but the tools are there.
13. Brett Marshall (P): Marshall put together a strong 2012 in Trenton, picking up 120 strikeouts, with a 3.52 ERA and only 53 walks. He has developed a nice sinking two-seam fastball, favoring that over his former power four-seamer. A good changeup with some nice movement has become his main strikeout pitch. A decent slider and curveball round out his repertoire, each with the potential to turn into solid major league pitches. Marshall is an efficient pitcher who could be a good major league starter if he finds some more consistency. He will likely start the year in Scranton and could see time in New York this season with a chance to make the major league roster next spring.
14. Ravel Santana (OF): There was a lot of excitement over the return of Santana from a nasty ankle injury in 2011. Once a truly exciting prospect, Santana has had to overcome both the injury, eyesight problems and his own apprehensions upon returning to the field. Once a speedy and aggressive base runner, Santana is much more cautious. The same goes for his play in the outfield. In the end, he hit .216/.304/.289 over sixty games for Staten Island. This by no means signals the end of Santana's career, once he gets the ankle and vision issues behind him, he should be able to get back on track as the exciting prospect he can be. He is no longer on the fast track to the majors, but he is still just twenty years old and has a pretty high ceiling.
15. Austin Romine (C): Romine had a rough 2012, injuring his back early in Spring Training, when he was competing for a spot on the major league roster. The injury kept him out of commission for the bulk of the season, though he got some more swings in during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Romine has always been praised more for his defense than the other Yankee catching prospects, but he can put together a decent offense. If it weren't for last year's injury, it is likely Romine would definitely be looking to become the Yankees' starting catcher this season, after Russell Martin left in the offseason. However, it seems likely he will head back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a little more work and hopefully should get another shot in the Bronx pretty quickly.
16. J.R. Murphy (C): After 2011, Murphy had moved his name into the ongoing discussion about the Yankees' wealth of catching prospects. He had hit .297/.343/.457 in Charleston and improved defensively. In 2012, he continued to make defensive improvements and move up the ladder, but he never quite got his swing going. He went .248/.316/.386 between Tampa and Trenton, striking out 73 times and drawing just 42 walks. Much like Romine, Murphy has become a solid defensive catcher and he has the tools to has a major league worthy offense. He does a lot of things well, but does not stand out in one particular area. Murphy will likely start 2013 in Trenton, but could see time in Scranton with an eye towards the majors next year.
17. Nik Turley (P): At 6'6", Turley is a big southpaw who has drawn comparisons to Andy Pettitte. He had a good year in Tampa last season, where he had a 2.89 ERA and picked up 116 Ks and walking only 44. Turley's fastball improved this past season, getting some more velocity and even routinely hitting 95mph. He has good control over his fastball and his changeup, probably his best offspeed pitch. His curveball has gotten better, but he still lacks consistency and he has worked on adding a slider. Turley would be my pick for a pitcher to keep a close eye on this season, if he continues along this path he could easily find himself in the middle of a major league rotation in a couple years.
18. Rafael DePaula (P): It has been a long journey getting DePaula playing professionally, as he was in limbo due to visa issues for quite some time. After finally getting the green light, DePaula got his start in the Dominican Summer League. The righty put some pretty nice numbers there, owning a 1.46 ERA and 85 Ks, while allowing only eighteen walks and a batting average against of just .162 over 61.2 innings. Still, he turns 22 in about a month so he better put those kinds of numbers up in the DSL. He is hard to project, given he hasn't played in the US yet, but this year we should start to see him moving more quickly up the ladder.
19. Jose Ramirez (P): Ramirez reminded the Yankees why he is a special prospect in 2012. He had a 3.19 ERA with 94 strikeouts and just 30 walks. Ramirez has a nice power fastball, consistently hitting the mid-90s late in games and having great command over the pitch. Combined with his plus changeup, which he delivers much like his fastball, and a slider he has introduced and has helped him gain some confidence, Ramirez has the potential to be a special pitcher. Where he seems to struggle the most is the mental side of the game, lacking confidence despite his ability to command these pitches well. He should start the year in Trenton and could see time out of the bullpen in New York next season.
20. Adam Warren (P): Warren's first taste of the majors did not go as he likely envisioned it, when he gave up six runs on eight hits in just 2.1 innings, but overall 2012 was a good year for the right handed hurler. A rough start was quickly forgotten and he owned a 3.71 ERA, 107 Ks and only 46 walks for the Empire State Traveling Yankees. There really isn't a lot left for Warren to prove in the minors, he will just have to wait for another shot at the majors and hope that things go better the next time around.
21. Corban Joseph (2B): Joseph crushed Double-A last year for Trenton, hitting .314/.412/.430 over 23 games before being sent up to Empire State. He continued to show some good stuff in Triple A with a line of .266/.366/.474 and thirteen homers. A decent defensive player, Joseph has always shown some natural hitting ability. Some confidence in his defense could go a long way and he is starting to find more power offensively. He will hit for average and is probably ready to give the majors a try at some point this season.
22. Austin Aune (SS): Aune was the Yankees' second round draft pick last year and he started his professional career pretty nicely down in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .273/.358/.410 with twenty RBIs, ten doubles, three triples and a homer. His ability to stick at shortstop is questionable, but he has some great offensive - albeit raw - talent. Aune has a long road to travel, but it should be interesting to watch how he develops.
23. Zoilo Almonte (OF): Almonte made quite a statement during last year's Spring Training, but was slowed down when a hamstring injury sidelined him for a month. He returned to Trenton where he put together a solid .277/.322/.487 line, with 23 doubles and 21 homers. He also managed to swipe fifteen bases, getting caught four times. The switch-hitter has a knack for clutch hits and shows some nice power, along with some solid defensive play in the outfield. Almonte was added to the 40-man and should be in Scranton to start the season with a real shot to show up in the Bronx if the need arises.
24.David Adams (2B): Another player who had to come back from a bad ankle injury, Adams wasted little time in getting back on track. He hit .306/.385/.450 in 86 games for Trenton last year. A patient and consistent hitter, Adams' swing does not seem to have suffered due to his time off. He is going to hit more for average than power, with the ability to knock quite a few doubles. He has lost a little speed since the injury and while he is not going to be an elite defender, he is a competent second baseman with a strong arm and can play a little third base as well.
25. Nick Goody (P): Goody has only 32 innings of professional baseball under his belt, after being drafted in the sixth round last season, but he jumped from Staten Island to Tampa quickly. Over three levels, he had a 1.13 ERA with a .177 batting average against, 52 strikeouts and only nine walks. He collected seven saves and has yet to give up a homer. Goody throws a hard fastball and goes right after batters. His slider has potential to be a true strikeout pitch and he throws a changeup that needs some work. Goody could follow in Montgomery's footsteps, flying through the minors and projecting much like another Robertson setup type pitcher.
26. Dellin Betances (P): I am guessing that Betances was really happy to see the calendar change from 2012 to 2013. After making his major league debut in 2011 and having long been one of the Yankees most talked about pitching prospects, Betances had a truly frustrating last season. The hard-throwing righty still has some great stuff, but his inability to find any consistency has paused his progression and has many people wondering whether he will turn things around. It is still too early to give up on the guy, especially given the potential he still has. He threw out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League and showed some good stuff, so that may be the key to seeing if the Yankees can do something with him.
27. Matt Tracy (P): Despite starting 2012 on the DL, Tracy has continued his fast assent towards the majors. After a strong 2011 season with Staten Island he skipped Charleston and put together a nice season in Tampa. In eighteen games he had a 3.19 ERA and pitched two complete games. He was rewarded with a promotion at the end of the year not to Trenton but to Empire State, where he put together a nice five inning start, allowing just one run on three hits, three walks and four Ks. Tracy may not have much in the way of professional experience, but there is a reason the Yankees keep skipping him along. He has incredible command over his fastball and keeps the ball low in the zone. Over the past two seasons he has allowed just four homers. Whether he spends this season in Trenton or Scranton, Tracy should continue his quick rise to the top.
28. Cito Culver (SS): What is there to say about Cito Culver? I truly root for the guy and he is still pretty young, but last year was frustrating to watch. There continues to be little doubt about his skills in the infield. Culver is a very good shortstop, with a strong arm, good instincts and the ability to make big plays. However, he is going to need to start doing more offensively if he is going to make his way up the ladder. In Charleston last year, Culver hit just .215/.321/.283 and I would expect to see him back there trying to prove he can do more with his bat before moving up any further.
29. Melky Mesa (OF): Mesa finally made his major league debut last season, picking up a hit and RBI in his first at bat. He has great power, speed, defensive ability and arm strength, but Mesa has long been knocked by his inability to consistently hit. This past season, however, he seems to have put this together enough to become a viable major league option. He hit .264/.325/.480 with Trenton and Empire State last season, along with 23 homers and 22 steals. Mesa is hardly a sure bet, but I wouldn't count him out if the Yankees find themselves needing some help in the outfield.
30. Jordan Cote (P): The New Hampshire native, drafted in the third round in 2011, put together a strong first year in the Gulf Coast League. He threw 27.2 innings and had a 0.98 ERA with 25 Ks and only four walks. The tall righty signed out of high school and has always been viewed as a raw pitcher with a lot of potential, but requiring a lot of work in the short-term. His fastball lost some velocity this past season, but expectations are that he will regain it after recovering from the elbow tendonitis and other minor injuries he struggled with during the short season. If Cote can get his consistency together and sort out his curveball, he could be a strong pitcher for the Yankees down the road.