David Phelps was one of the few minor leaguers to make an impact in the Bronx in 2012
The New York Yankees, widely known for their big spending and their star-studded teams, rarely look to their farm system to find minor leaguers to fill important roles in the big leagues.
However, at the same time as the Bronx Bombers begin to slow down due to age (eight of their 10 projected opening day starters including pitcher and DH are over 30 years old), owner Hal Steinbrenner has mandated a drastic payroll cut to $189 million. Suddenly developing talent internally has become very important.
Currently, most of the Yankees' impact prospects reside in the lower levels of the minors, at least a year away from their major league debuts. In the upper levels, however, there are still multiple players who can contribute this season and beyond.
Romine is the Yankees' most major league ready impact prospect.
After the departure of slugger Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners in last offseason's blockbuster trade that brought the Yankees Michael Pineda, Romine became the Yankees most major league-ready catching prospect.
Romine will never be the hitter Jorge Posada was or that Montero could be, but he can hold his own with the bat and is an excellent defender. He can handle a pitching staff, throw runners out and block balls in the dirt well enough to play every day in the major leagues.
Romine sat out most of last season with a back injury that limited him to only 31 games, but will surely be back this season. He will likely start in Triple-A, but with a good spring training could even compete to be the opening day starting catcher due to a severe lack of depth.
Mesa can provide a spark for an aging Yankees outfield.
The New York Yankees have had luck developing outfield prospect Melky Mesa. Now a Toronto Blue Jay, Melky Cabrera won the All-Star Game MVP this season while playing for the San Francisco Giants (with the help of performance-enhancing drugs).
This Melky could be a similar player to Cabrera during his Yankee years. His minor league numbers are a little better than Melky Cabrera's were, and he has better natural tools. Melky Mesa has definite power and speed, hitting 26 doubles and 23 home runs over two levels (Double- and Triple-A) last season while stealing 22 bases.
He is a little old for a prospect at 25 years old (he will be 26 at the start of next season), but there is no reason to think that with the uncertainty surrounding the Yankee outfield that Mesa couldn't make the team as a fourth outfielder in April. Nick Swisher has signed with the Cleveland Indians, Raul Ibanez with the Seattle Mariners and Andruw Jones to play in Japan.
That leaves the Yankees with Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner to roam the outfield. Ichiro is 39, Granderson 31, and Gardner will turn 30 during the season. Age could slow down Ichiro, ineffectiveness and salary has led to rumors of a Curtis Granderson trade and Gardner was limited to just 37 at bats all season due to injury.
Don't be surprised to see this Melky contribute in a part-time role similar to the way Melky Cabrera contributed in his first few seasons. If he impresses, he could even grab a starting spot.
Betances has the stuff to be a dominant big league reliever.
It seems like just yesterday that the "Killer B's" were proclaimed to be the savior and future of the New York Yankees pitching staff: former first-round pick Andrew Brackman, tall and hard-throwing right-hander Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, who Mariano Rivera called the best pitching prospect he's ever seen.
Two seasons later, Betances was demoted to Double-A Trenton, Banuelos will miss all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Brackman is no longer a Yankee farmhand after pitching last season in the minors for the Cincinnati Reds.
Betances has always had some of the best raw stuff in the minors, with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s at times and a hard power curve that has the potential to be a plus major league pitch. He has also recently started throwing a slider to add to his impressive arsenal.
However, like many tall pitchers with great stuff, control and consistency in mechanics eludes Betances, causing him trouble in Double-A and Triple-A when he should be dominating major league hitters. After walking 69 batters in 74.1 innings in Triple-A, Betances earned himself a demotion to Double-A to figure out his mechanics last season.
The demotion did not prove helpful. While he cut his walks down slightly (30 in 56.2 innings), he still walked an unacceptable number. The decrease in walks was probably attributable to Betances pumping the ball down the middle of the plate, a trend that resulted in a .319 opponent batting average.
Betances needs to learn to keep the ball in the strike zone, but also keep it on the corners so that hitters at any level don't crush him on a regular basis. He could be considered for a bullpen role as the impending retirement of Mariano Rivera leaves uncertainty in the late innings beyond 2013.
Warren could prove to be a valuable spot starter or long reliever.
Going into the 2012 season, many debated which of the very similar Adam Warren and David Phelps would get the first call from Triple-A to either make a spot start or be called upon for bullpen work. Unfortunately for Warren, Phelps got the first call and carved out a year-long niche spot starting and long relieving for the New York Yankees.
Warren still got his chance, however, and got shelled. In his one start, he gave up six runs in merely 2.1 innings before being pulled and shipped off back to Triple-A. Despite his inauspicious start, Warren is still young and can definitely have a future in a major league rotation.
With his first-game jitters out of the way, Warren could be asked as soon as April to step in and help the team due to the uncertainty surrounding the Yankee rotation. CC Sabathia is in rehab, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are each over 37 years old, Michael Pineda is expected to miss around half of the season, Ivan Nova was downright awful in 2012 and Phil Hughes has always been inconsistent.
Warren features good control, only walking 46 batters in over 150 innings last season. His fastball that sits in the mid-90s plus quality breaking pitches and a changeup should allow him to hold his own at the very least in the back of the Yankee rotation in 2013 or in the bullpen similar to how David Phelps was used last season.
Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa are very similar toolsy outfielders. Almonte can hit for decent average, good power, can steal bases and can play all three outfield positions. He does a lot of things well, but does not possess any overly impressive tools.
Almonte could be good enough to warrant a call-up midseason if the New York Yankees are short in the outfield or if he simply out-hits Triple-A, a prospect that currently seems unlikely. However, Almonte provides something that every team in any sport desperately needs: depth.
Considering the aforementioned uncertainty in the Yankee outfield with Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez all departing, depth will be vital for the Yankees to stay competitive next season.
Almonte has the tools to compete at the major league level as at least a fourth outfielder and with further development can be a future starter.
In his second year as a New York Yankee farm hand, Mark Montgomery jumped up to Double-A Trenton and was completely dominant across two levels.
Montgomery brings a mid-90s fastball and a slider that scouts have deemed "almost untouchable." This gives him a good enough mix of pitches to have racked up 99 strikeouts in 64.1 innings last season and pitch to a 1.88 ERA in 15 appearances and 24 innings in Trenton.
Montgomery will be another pitcher in the mix for late-inning roles after the retirement of Mariano Rivera and could begin his ascension in the Yankee bullpen later this season if he pitches well across double-A and triple-A this season.
Tyler Austin had been overshadowed by bigger name prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott heading into 2012, but broke out and shined above all the rest en route to a Futures Game appearance.
A powerful corner outfielder with speed, Austin has 20 home run-20 steal potential, Austin jumped across three levels from low-A Charleston to high-A Tampa all the way up to double-A Trenton. If he continues this trend, he could be at triple-A by midseason and pushing for a September call-up towards the end of the year.
Austin is an advanced hitter who is a big part of the Yankees future in the outfield and while he may contribute late in the season, it will almost surely be in a very limited role.
Corban Joseph and David Adams are to the infield what David Phelps and Adam Warren are to the rotation/bullpen in the Bronx. Both players are very capable hitters who can field a good second base and definitely contribute in the big leagues. However, there will only be room for one on the roster if either get a look.
Joseph is a more powerful hitter while Adams can hit for better contact. Joseph is not as reliable of a fielder, but Adams has a history of injuries and has yet to play a full healthy season with the New York Yankees.
If the Yankees need middle infield help, one of these two will be called upon to contribute and there is no telling which one will get the call first. This is a good problem to have as many teams are left scrambling on the waiver wire or promoting unqualified minor leaguers to fill voids created by injury during the season, but the Yankees have the luxury of both of these players who should be capable of stepping in and contributing.