New York Yankees: Top 10 Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

Bill Ford@billfordwritesCorrespondent IIIMarch 9, 2012

New York Yankees: Top 10 Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

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    The New York Yankees have been, and continue to be, the most historic major league team in organized baseball.

    Yankee history is filled with legends who played at every position on the field, stars who made mesmerizing plays and hits and home runs that left opponents standing in shock and awe.

    Every team has a minor-league system loaded with young prospects battling for a shot to play in the big leagues.

    Signing on to a minor league team in the Yankees' system is a different experience for these young players. The pressure is greater. Expectations are higher. The Yankees organization and the fans expect and demand the best.

    This is Yankees Universe.

    Each level in the New York farm system has talented prospects working as hard as they can to achieve their dreams of someday walking out on to the grass and the dirt in Yankee Stadium wearing those historic pinstripes.

    Most probably won't make it to that level. The few who do have to accept the responsibility that goes along with the honor of wearing pinstripes.

    They must exceed expectations.

    Spring training is in full swing as players demonstrate their skills and abilities at all levels and prepare for the 2012 season.

    Take a look at 10 prospects to watch during spring training who have a shot at making it to The Show.

Manny Banuelos

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    Left-handed pitching prospect Manny Banuelos is one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ farm system.

    In 2010, he was promoted from the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

    In his Triple-A debut with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, he struck out eight batters in five innings.

    Over four seasons moving through the minor leagues, Banuelos had a win-loss record of 19-17, 353 strikeouts and a 3.02 ERA in 345.1 innings pitched.

    This is his second year in a row being invited to the Yankees' spring training camp.

    Banuelos has progressed and developed very well throughout the minor leagues, and appears to handle stress and pressure well.

    He may get a call in September to pitch for the Yankees and show his stuff.

Dellin Betances

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    Right-handed pitcher Dellin Betances was a former Bleacher Creature who watched David Wells throw a perfect game in 1998.

    That moment helped him to solidify his future in baseball.

    Pitching in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, he had 142 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.70 in 126.1 innings pitched.

    He made is MLB debut with the Yankees on Sept. 22, 2011.

    Betances needs some more time in Triple-A to further develop and refine his pitching. Another call-up in September is likely to give him another opportunity to gain some MLB seasoning.

    Keep an eye on Betances and watch him grow in 2012.

Gary Sanchez

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    Ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the Yankees system prior to the 2010 season, his position moved up to the fourth-best prospect for the 2012 season, according to Baseball America.

    With the departure of Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez is now ranked as the best hitting catcher in the New York system.

    In two seasons in the minor leagues, Sanchez had 134 hits, 29 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, 95 RBI and a batting average of .283 with 474 at-bats.

    Concerns rose about Sanchez while in the minors because of what appeared to be maturity issues, but he seems to have grown and learned from previous mistakes and behaviors.

    His thumb injury in 2011 and a suspension prevented him from gaining some development in the minors, but that all seems to have been rectified.

    With another few years of development in the minors, he will further improve and become a strong, solid backstop for the Yankees.

    Watch Sanchez as he progresses to the next level in the minor league.

Austin Romine

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    Austin Romine is another top catching prospect in the Yankees' farm system.

    He appears to be the closest in line to getting a call up to the majors, and made his MLB debut last season on Sept 11.

    He was added to the 40-man roster on Sept. 11 against the Angels in L.A. and made his MLB debut in the seventh inning.

    He got his first major league hit on Sept. 12 off of Seattle Mariners pitcher Dan Cortes.

    In the 2011 season playing in both Double-A and Triple-A, Romine played in 89 games getting 98 hits, 13 doubles, six home runs and 48 RBI with a .279 batting average.

    He has had some difficulty this spring training with a back injury that kept him out of training with some soreness.

    The Yankees are wise to rest him. He is a strong candidate to be the backup catcher this season, and will likely become the everyday starting catcher in the future.

    Romine should gain some valuable MLB experience this season to prepare him for his future role.

J.R. Murphy

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    Adding depth in the catcher position in the Yankees' minor league system is prospect J.R. Murphy.

    He missed the end of the season in 2011 due to an ankle injury from a fouled pitch off of his foot.

    VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman said that Murphy will predominantly catch in the 2012 season as a result of his significant improvement.

    Playing in 23 games in Single-A+ in 2011, he had 22 hits, six doubles, one home run and 14 RBI with a .259 batting average.

    Murphy has shown improvement defensively that is believed to have advanced beyond Gary Sanchez.

    He is young and needs significant time to develop in the minor leagues, but he has shown great promise with his skills, and he has the desire necessary to further develop.

    Spring training will give him an opportunity to demonstrate his improvements and he will earn his spot.

Mason Williams

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    Ranked as one of the top ten prospects in the Yankees' minor-league system by Baseball America, Mason Williams is a solid outfielder in the making.

    The Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, signing him for $1.45 million. He had a commitment to the University of South Carolina, but chose to pass up on it for the Yankees.

    In 2010, he played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees and went 4-18 in five games.

    Playing for the Staten Island Yankees in 2011, he had 94 hits, 11 doubles, six triples, three home runs and 31 RBI with a .349 batting average in 68 games.

    The Yankees have plenty of time to work with Williams to develop his offensive and defensive skills. Advancing through the minor-league system will strengthen his game physically and mentally.

    While it may be quite a while before he is seen at higher levels in the minors, he has demonstrated that he is a solid player who will advance forward with high-quality skills.

Dante Bichette

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    Third base top prospect Dante Bichette has MLB in his genes. His father was a professional in the major leagues, and he has inherited his father's skills.

    He was selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft and signed with the Yankees for $750 thousand.

    Starting out slowly in the Gulf Coast League hitting .151, he ended the season as the GCL MVP.

    He had 67 hits, 17 doubles, and 47 RBI with a batting average of .342 and an OBP of .446.

    Bichette hits with power and speed, and has the ability to be patient at the plate to force pitchers into deep counts.

    Coaches worked with him to improve his batting mechanics, and he adapted easily and quickly.

    Known for his solid work ethic, the Yankees have a great athlete to develop.

    Bichette is another prospect with plenty of time to develop in the minors. He is versatile and can handle fielding in multiple positions.

Pat Venditte

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    Pat Venditte is what is known as a switch pitcher. He is an ambidextrous pitcher with the Yankees affiliate Double-A Eastern League Trenton Thunder.

    He is the only known pitcher at the professional level who has the ability to pitch effectively with both arms.

    Venditte's ability to throw as a switch pitcher has generated quite a buzz and a following at games and on the Internet.

    While pitching with both arms for the Creighton Bluejays in college, he had a 3.02 ERA in 62.2 innings in his sophomore year. His junior year proved his value, pitching 42 2/3 scoreless innings.

    When the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft took place, he was picked in the 20th round and was signed by the Yankees.

    Venditte has successfully played in multiple minor league levels and was promoted to Double-A. Fans love to watch him pitch and switch his custom-made glove to his other hand to switch arms.

    There is a very popular minor league video from 2008 of Venditte pitching for the Staten Island Yankees against the Brooklyn Cyclones. He and the batter kept switching back and forth from righty to lefty.

    He completed the 2008 season with 23 saves in 30 games and had a 0.83 ERA.

    Although the fans get excited about him, he is not considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system. His fastball averages about 87 MPH and tops out at 94 MPH. His left-handed fastball is significantly slower.

    His chances of making to the MLB level may not be great, but he is interesting to watch and I tend to root for the underdog in a situation such as his.

    Whether he makes it or not, keep an eye on his progress.

Ravel Santana

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    Ravel Santana signed with the Yankees in 2009 for $145 thousand.

    He is a strong outfielder in the Gulf Coast League with a ton of potential.

    Unfortunately, last season he suffered an injury in a stolen base attempt, fracturing his ankle in two places and tearing some ligaments.

    Santana has awesome speed going 10-13 in 40 games in stolen base attempts.

    In 2011, he had 48 hits, 11 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 29 RBI with a .296 batting average in 41 games.

    He is known for being an advanced hitter with good plate discipline and above-average power for his age.

    His above-average speed could be utilized in center field and right field, and he has a strong throw from the outfield.

    Right now, his recovery and rehabilitation from his injury are paramount. The Yankees have a powerful prospect in development with Santana.

Slade Heathcott

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    Slade Heathcott is a 21-year-old outfielder for the Single-A Charleston Riverdogs.

    He was drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft.

    In Charleston last season, he had 57 hits, 11 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 16 RBI with a .271 batting average in 52 games.

    Heathcott was drafted as a player with a great deal of raw talent but without any professional baseball polishing.

    He has speed, which is a huge asset to have in center field.

    The Yankees began to push him quickly after being drafted to develop in the minors. He adapted well and has shown signs of improvement which will earn him promotions to higher levels in the minor leagues.

    Heathcott will need some time for further development, but he will progress through to Double-A and into Triple-A quickly.

    He will prove to become one of the most valued and prized prospects in development.