This is the first part of a 30-part series where I will examine several prospects in every organization, and hopefully shed some light on some of the players that will be wearing a big-league uniform in the coming years. I am beginning with the AL East, and first off is the New York Yankees.
NOTES: These are the names that jump out when I look at the rosters. Players in MLB, players in the minors who have lost MLB rookie eligibility, and players not in full-season leagues at the time I'm writing this are not included. Just because I haven't listed a player doesn't necessarily mean they're not a prospect, but some of the younger guys may not be on my radar yet. With all the turnover in the minors, even a memory as good as mine doesn't necessarily catch every single player. If you want more info on any of these players or want to know about someone else in this organization, feel free to ask me, either through comments or on my profile. As always, thanks for reading.
RHP Alan Horne is a big guy with big stuff. He throws four good pitches, a fastball, slider, curve, and changeup. His fastball ranges from 91-96 mph, and his curve is probably his best secondary pitch, but all of his pitches are above average. He gets a decent amount of grounders with his pitches and struck out nearly 10/9 IP last year at Trenton. Scouts don't like Horne's delivery, especially his long arm action, which has led to command problems and an arm surgery already. He is also making his AAA debut after his 25th birthday, so he doesn't have all that much development time left.
What He Will Become: Big league No. 3 starter if he stays healthy. He's the type of pitcher who will dazzle you one day and frustrate the next, but it will average out pretty nicely.
LHP Heath Philliips is considered to be a fringy lefty by seemingly everyone except me. Phillips had a monster year for Charlotte in 2006, going 13-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 155 IP, so he has little left to prove in the minors. Phillips spots his high-80's fastball on the corners, and throws a decent cutter and curve, but his changeup is easily his best pitch. Phillips has arguably the best pickoff move in the game today, and fields his position extremely well, so he does all the "little things" to help himself. Phillips just turned 26, so he isn't going to get much better. Scouts don't like him because of his below-average velocity and lack of a plus breaking pitch.
What He Will Become: Phillips' guile recalls Mark Buehrle and Jamie Moyer, but the Yankees aren't sold on him as a starter, or even a big leaguer in general. If he starts, the upside is Moyer or Buehrle and the downside is Bruce Chen. If he relieves, the upside is Chris Hammond and the downside is, well, Triple-A. He should start, and if he does, he's a safe bet to be decent at the back of a rotation and possibly better.
RHP Scott Patterson is a 6'6" 230 behemoth who throws downhill. He throws a fastball that ranges from 91-95 and a high-60's curve. Coming straight overhand, Patterson is tough to pick up, and scouts compare him to the Rangers' Brandon McCarthy. Unlike McCarthy, Patterson has some real meat on his frame, and it seems to help him put more meat on his pitches. Like McCarthy, Patterson is an extreme fly-ball pitcher who is homer-prone. Scouts don't like him because his curve is so soft and he doesn't have another pitch to back up his fastball with. Patterson must strike people out in the majors like he has in the minors, or else his fly-ball tendencies will doom him. Originally signed out of the indy leagues after 5 years there, he is now 28, so he isn't going to get any better.
What He Will Become: A fringe pitcher, but he's cheap right now, and therefore is better use of a roster spot than Kyle Farnsworth.
RHP Edwar Ramirez, like Patterson, was signed out of the indy leagues, but unlike Patterson, he's a small stringbean of a pitcher who's best pitch is a filthy changeup. Ramirez struck out 31 hitters in 21 innings in New York last year, although he allowed six homers, leading to an 8.14 ERA. Ramirez throws a low-90's fastball to go with the change, and uses a slider as a chase pitch. He isn't quite as fly-ball oriented as Patterson, but he still leans that way, and his MLB performance shows that he still has plenty to work on. Fourteen walks in his 21 MLB innings didn't help. Ramirez just turned 27, so like Phillips and Patterson, he isn't going to improve stuff-wise. He needs to improve his command and avoid homers if he's going to be successful, but you can't ignore the strikeout rate.
What He Will Become: Ramirez likely won't close, but he'll probably be a seventh-inning reliever.
1B/3B Eric Duncan was ranked as the Yankees' No. 1 prospect entering 2005. He has since reached AAA and is only 23, and yet he wasn't even in the top 30 prospects this year. A big, hulking lefty hitter, Duncan has a ton of power and a decent approach at the plate. He doesn't project to hit .300, but his contact ability isn't seen as a liability either. Duncan isn't a good third baseman and will probably have to move to first long-term. His arm in particular makes him unlikely to stick at third. Defensively, he is above-average at first. Duncan has also had many injury problems, most importantly his back. If Duncan is going to stay at first, the offensive standards are higher than what he projects to, which is a .250/.340/.450 hitter. Still 23 and talented, he has a year or two left to rebound
What He Will Become: A Quad-A bat or backup MLB 1B.
1B Juan Miranda is sometimes thought of as Jason Giambi's successor. He has real over-the-fence power, hitting 16 homers between Tampa and Trenton in his first year after defecting from Cuba. Miranda is thought to be 27 (his age is listed as 25), which hampers his potential. He doesn't have any value outside of his power. He only hit .264 last year at age 26, was 8 runs below average at first, and had a K/BB ratio of more than 2/1. The Yankees may give the 1B job to Miranda if they don't get Mark Teixeira or some other outside option this offseason, but Duncan is probably the preferred solution.
What He Will Become: Quad-A bat, and not a particularly interesting one.
OF Greg Porter is a gigantic corner outfielder who resembles Adam Dunn physically at 6'4" 245. He has the power you would expect from a man that size, but surprisingly doesn't share the strikeout issues that tend to come with it. Porter whiffed a manageable 97 times last year between AA and AAA in the Angels' system. He also offers speed for his size, stealing 17 bases. Porter hit .345 in the half-year he spent in Salt Lake. Porter only slugged .456 in his age-26 season, and isn't thought of as much of a prospect now as he approaches his 28th birthday. He needs to tap into his power more after only hitting 11 homers last year.
What He Will Become: Something along the lines of David Dellucci.
OF Brett Gardner is very fast, and a more-than-capable center fielder. His speed rates as the best in the system. His plate discipline isn't awful, but his OBP was just .343 in AA last year at age 24, so he shouldn't lead off in the bigs. Gardner has no power, and hit only one homer last year, so with just average plate discipline, he needs to hit .300 to have much offensive value.
What He Will Become: Juan Pierre with better defense and maybe 10 less steals/year...hopefully, no team makes the mistake of leading him off like they did with Pierre.
LHP Phil Coke is a chunky starter who does a great job keeping the ball on the ground. Coke allowed only four homers in 99 innings last year, and walked less than half as many hitters as he struck out. Coke throws a low-90's fastball with run and sink, and his changeup is also a good pitch. His breaking ball can be sharp but gets slurvy at times. At 25, Coke can't afford to stay in Trenton much longer, but he is coming off a successful year, and lefties can bloom late.
What He Will Become: A pretty good situational lefty.
RHP Steven Jackson should not be confused with the Rams' running back or the Warriors' swingman. He's a tall righty who throws downhill. Jackson split '07 between Trenton and Scranton, and he was overmatched in AAA ball. He also pitched better in relief. Jackson throws a sinker-slider-changeup combo, although in relief the changeup is less important. The sinker is good, and it contributed to his excellend 2.02 groundout-to-flyout ratio last year. He is likely to stay in the bullpen at this point. At 26, he needs to get back to Scranton quickly and pitch better, but if he can, the sinker should give him a future.
What He Will Become: The best-case scenario is something along the lines of Mike Timlin.
RHP George Kontos throws four good pitches: a low-90's sinker, a curve, a change, and a slider. The slider rates as his best pitch and probably the best in the Yankees organization (after Joba). Kontos has moved quickly after being drafted in 2006. His stuff is undeniably good, easily major-league caliber. However, Kontos was arrested at a bar last year, highlighting some makeup concerns. Also, he was inconsistent on the mound, which has always been a problem for him. Still, Kontos' stuff and quick ascent are tough to ignore.
What He Will Become: Outside chance at front-of-the-rotation, but more likely he settles in as a 4th starter. Moving him to the bullpen may help his inconsistency, so he could blossom there as well.
RHP Daniel McCutchen also has makeup concerns, except his stem from a 50-game steroid suspension. However, he went 14-4 with a 2.47 ERA between Tampa and Trenton last year. The 25-year old was drafted late, but his '07 helped make up for lost time. McCutchen throws two fastballs, a mid-90's four-seam and low-90's two-seam. He also throws a plus curve and average changeup which hitters need to watch out for. His mechanics can get rough at times, and he is emotional on the mound. McCutchen needs to hurry up at his age, but his stuff gives him a shot at making it.
What He Will Become: Big league 4th starter if all goes well. He could also close if moved to relief.
RHP Josh Schmidt has always confounded hitters with his low arm angle. A late-round pick out of Pacific, Schmidt proceeded to completely shut down the NYPL in 2005 and has been moving up the ladder since. Like most sidearmers, Schmidt throws a high-80's sinker and sweeping slider, and righties can't pick the ball up off him. He doesn't have a good weapon against lefties, limiting his projection. Hopefully, the Yankees won't waste him like they wasted Colter Bean.
What He Will Become: An average righty situational guy.
LHP Chase Wright is famous for his homer meltdown as a Yankee last year, and has now fallen all the way back to Double-A. He got to the bigs in the first place, however, so he at least warrants a mention here. Wright is quintessentially average with his pitches: a 90-mph fastball backed up by an average curve and change. Obviously, he needs to find a way to get comfortable on the mound and put that nightmare outing behind him. Wright has some homer problems, but he doesn't have a ton of major flaws, and sometimes that's enough for a career.
What He Will Become: The next Glendon Rusch. Hey, it gets a paycheck.
C Francisco Cervelli is considered to be the Yankees best catching prospect, but I don't believe the hype. He threw out 41% of basestealers last year in Tampa and is a plus defender. He has held his own at the plate thus far, but he has absolutely no power. Further problematic is his limp hand setup, which leads to him dragging the bat through the zone instead of swinging with authority. The effect of the setup on his bat speed is very obvious. Cervelli has a small frame for a catcher, which also leads to blocking concerns, although he hasn't shown any problems in that area thus far.
What He Will Become: I'm really not sold on him and don't see him as anything more than a righty Paul Bako, but others compare him to Jason Kendall and Dioner Navarro. Believe who you want.
SS Reegie Corona is a small, switch-hitting 21-year-old. No, his name is not "Reggie." Corona is a slap hitter from both sides, although he does have some semblance of gap power in his 160-pound frame. He stole 29 bases across two levels in 2007. He also drew 69 walks, a good sign for a speed player. Defensive concerns leave most scouts to project Corona as a second baseman down the line, although he plays a decent enough short to get a few cameos there. Corona will likely never develop 10+ homer power. He hit only .221/.315/.264 in Trenton last year in 163 PAs, although he was just 20 and playing in a pitcher's park.
What He Will Become: A traditional speed-and-defense utility infielder, but better than most because of his switch-hitting, patience, and decent hitting. A switch-hitting Marco Scutaro, perhaps.
3B Marcos Vechionacci is a big switch-hitter with Gold Glove potential at third. Vechionacci has reached Double-A long before his 22nd birthday, and has always been young for his levels. However, Vechionacci has weaknesses as a hitter. He is a career .263/.339/.370 hitter in 5 minor league seasons, leaving his ISO barely above .100, which is unacceptable for a third baseman. Scouts see power potential in Vechionacci, but his .363 slugging percentage last year was not an improvement. Now that he is entering his sixth year, the projections must begin to come true. Scouts believe he could be an average shortstop if moved, and that would put less pressure on his bat.
What He Will Become: It really depends on his power development. He could be Eric Chavez if everything works out, or he may never see the majors.
OF Colin Curtis is average in all five tools, and is a career .281 hitter in the minors. He reached Double-A before his 23rd birthday. However, Curtis can't play center everyday, and his career slugging percentage of .388 won't carry left field. Unless his defense or power dramatically improves (at 23, it's unlikely) he seems to be stuck with the tweener label.
What He Will Become: Some baseball math for you: "Tweener" = "4th or 5th Outfielder."
OF Austin Jackson is considered by some to be the best Yankees prospect in the minors right now. Jackson has the complete package of tools; the most obvious one is his truly game-changing speed. He also is a plus defender in center field with a good arm. He is also a career .284/.357/.408 hitter in the minors, including an astounding .345/.398/.566 line in the notoriously pitcher-friendly FSL last year. That line shows that Jackson has made the step from athlete to baseball player. The .221 ISO in the FSL line also shows that Jackson has serious extra-base pop in his bat, which was a concern after he slugged just .346 in 2006.
What He Will Become: If the Tampa line isn't a fluke (given the environment, it isn't very likely) Jackson is on the road to stardom. He is only 21, and could wind up being a right-handed Grady Sizemore. I would take him over Jacoby Ellsbury as well: Jackson has the same speed, defense, and contact, but is much better than Ellsbury in power and arm strength.
OF Jose Tabata ranks just behind Jackson according to many, and ahead of him according to some (including myself). Tabata has not turned 20 yet, and won't until August, yet there's a good chance he'll be in Scranton by then. Tabata isn't quite the athlete that Jackson is, so he's likely to play in right instead of center, but his 52 career steals (in just over two seasons) mean Tabata has some speed as well. Tabata's calling card is his bat, as he's hit .305 thus far while being ridiculously young for his levels. He hit .307 for Tampa as an 18-year-old. Tabata has only 13 homers thus far, but scouts say Tabata could hit 40-50 home runs in the big leagues in his prime. His career ISO is just .101, but even if he doesn't match his power projections, his contact ability can carry him.
What He Will Become: Tabata involves a ton of projection, primarily concering his power. Best case: Albert Pujols in right field (yeah, I said it, that's why it's a BEST case). Worst case: This takes a bit of imagination, but try to imagine a righty Jose Vidro in right field.
LHP Mike Dunn draws notice for his plus slider, but his other offerings aren't very good. His fastball is average, sitting in the high 80's and occasionally hitting 92-93. Dunn doesn't really work off his fastball like most pitchers, instead preferring to throw sliders for strikes one and two. He also throws a cutter and change but doesn't use them much. However, he came to pitching late and may have a lot of improvement left. He dominated Low-A Charleston last year with his two-pitch combination, but his fastball is nowhere near good enough for that to keep working as a starter. Dunn will still be given a shot at the rotation for the next year or two, but he'll likely move to the bullpen down the line, where his slider could become a big asset.
What He Will Become: Jon Coutlangus, also a lefthanded 6'1" 185 converted outfielder, offers some precedent, as his stuff is similar as well.
RHP Mark Melancon is a 23-year-old reliever who has thrown seven pro innings and already has one arm surgery on his pro record. His fastball ranges from 87-95 mph, but most often sits at 89-90. Not excited yet? Surprisingly, a lot of scouts are, as Melancon throws a power curveball that breaks early and keeps on breaking. Melancon is a big body and has a max-effort delivery. That combo scares hitters, but his own team is wary because his mechanics led to his arm issues. Melancon was more consistently in the low-90's with his fastball before surgery, and getting it back there may prove crucial to his development.
What He Will Become: Brandon Lyon compares well in terms of stuff, size, and overall value, but expect Melancon to get more Ks and fewer grounders.
RHP Ivan Nova is a big righthander from the Dominican with a plus fastball. Nova throws in the mid-90's easily and mixes in a decent curve-change combo. Nova has walked only 49 batters in 181 pro innings, which is a good sign for a young pitcher. However, he has only struck out 128, a red flag given his plus stuff. Nova is a long way away, but he throws strikes with plus stuff at age 20, and that's never a bad thing.
What He Will Become: It's hard to say: the K rate likely precludes him from being a No. 1 starter, but he could wind up anywhere else in the rotation. If moved to the bullpen, he has enough velocity to profile as a closer.
LHP Edgar Soto is a compact lefty with a compact delivery that he repeats well. Soto has started and relieved in the past, and his three solid pitches seem more suited for starting, but his small frame and inconsistent command seem more suited for the bullpen. Soto's fastball sits at 88-92 and tops out at 96, which is good for a lefty. His sweepy curve is a second plus pitch, and his change shows some late fade. Soto's mechanics are clean, but walking 43 batters in just under 70 innings is never good. Since the problem doesn't lie in his mechanics, some scouts question Soto's effort on the mound.
What He Will Become: He's a longshot to make the bigs, but there are plenty of pitchers there whose stuff isn't as good. There's a reeeeeally small bit of Franklin Morales here, but Soto is older already. Meh. Take what Morales is now and move it to the pen; that's Soto's best case scenario in his prime.
RHP Jose Valdez is 25 years old, which is never good, but he still is high on upside. At 6'5" 170, Valdez is a complete stringbean, but he throws hard and has some idea of where the ball is going. Now in relief, Valdez may have found his niche, as he K'd more than a batter per inning while putting up a 2.87 ERA for Charleston last year. Valdez has plus velocity on his fastball and a promising curve that he needs to tighten and learn to control better.
What He Will Become: As with Soto, I should really title this "By the most optimistic of projections, and barring no setbacks or biases, what could be become" for Valdez, because he likely will never be on the MLB map. Anyways, the absolute best-case upside here is something along the lines of Jesus Colome with a higher arm angle.
2B Damon Sublett is in Tampa for his first full season, which says a lot about his polish as a hitter. In Staten Island last year, Sublett hit .326/.426/.531. Sublett bats lefty and has a solid line-drive stroke to go with good patience at the plate. Sublett isn't a good second baseman, although he likely is just barely good enough to get by in the majors. He has solid-average speed and went 10-for-14 in SBs in his debut. At 22, Sublett needs to keep hitting and move quickly.
What He Will Become: I said I'd take Austin Jackson over Jacoby Ellsbury, and in Sublett there is some comparison to Dustin Pedroia. However, plenty of college 2Bs come up and bash the NYPL like this, and not many turn into Pedroia. A lefty Pedroia is the upside, but don't be surprised if Sublett becomes a Quad-A 2B down the line.
OF Tim Battle is just a 22-year-old CF in High-A, but has already experienced a decline from top prospect to bust. Battle has tremendous athleticism, which translates into speed and defense. He also has a cannon arm and possibly the best raw power in the system, even including Jose Tabata. That's four tools, which is great; not so great is the fact that the last tool--contact hitting--is completely and utterly lost on Battle. In five minor league seasons, Battle's average is .238 and his OBP is .299. He has racked up 608 Ks in just 1861 ABs, including a whopping 195 in Charleston in 2005. Battle K'd 149 times in 130 games last year in Tampa while posting a miserable .268 OBP. The career 113 steals and .127 ISO from CF is nice, but until Battle dramatically cuts his strikeouts or learns how to walk like Jack Cust, he's going nowhere.
What He Will Become: The last three words of the last paragraph are the most likely scenario. Battle's K issues are so unparalleled, it's hard to find a decent comparison for him. Imagine Wily Mo Pena minus 30 pounds. That would give him more speed and defense, but take away a bit of power. Then take Pena's K issues and make them even worse. Does that even add up to anything? I don't even know. All Battle needs to do is get rid of a third of the strikeouts. He walks enough already, and his average would go up if he didn't K as much, so the rest of his offense would go up. It's just tough to say what he would look like then: you don't see many players with this many K's considered prospects, and most who are considered prospects are sluggers, not speed-and-D CFs. You read my report--project this one for yourself.
OF Seth Fortenberry is similar to Colin Curtis in his balanced profile. At Charleston last year, he hit 18 homers, stole 25 bases, and drew 73 walks. However, Fortenberry, like Curtis, is stretched in center, although he profiles better than Curtis in right due to a good arm. Fortenberry struck out 137 times last year and hit just .255, so his OPS stood at just .782 despite the good walks and homers totals. Fortenberry turns 25 when the season ends, so he needs to move quickly.
What He Will Become: Todd Hollandsworth without the ROY award. He'll have to move quickly to get there.
SS/OF C.J. Henry is the rare prospect who is more exasperating than Tim Battle. Traded to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal, this former 1st-rounder was so thoroughly terrible last year in Low-A Lakewood (.184/.238/.322) that the Phillies cut him loose. Back in the organization that picked him 17th overall, Henry is probably going to move off short permanently. The Phillies played him at short, third, and center, and center is likely where the Yankees will play him. Henry is a fast runner with a great outfield arm, and is similar to Battle toolswise. However, the comparison to Battle extends to contact hitting; Henry struck out 139 times last year. Henry's K issues aren't quite as egregious as Battle's, but he walks less and is less of an asset on the bases and in the field. Like Battle, Henry is stil young (he turns 22 in a month), so it isn't inconcievable that he fixes things. But man, a .238 OBP in Low-A...he's got a long way to go.
What He Will Become: This is a slightly more straightforward Wily Mo Pena comparison, but his chances at the majors may be even less than Battle's because all his tools rate slightly lower.
RHP Dellin Betances is a gigantic righthander (6'8" 230 and growing) with gigantic stuff. In 49 career innings, Betances has a 2.42 ERA. He throws a high-90's fastball and top-notch curve. Betances has three problems. First, as with many pitchers his size, his delivery is hard to repeat, leading to command lapses. Second, he needs a changeup if he wants to start. Third, he had forearm tightness last year that caused him to be shut down after just 25 innings. Forearm tightness is often a sign that elbow surgery is near, so it may not be long before he's on the operating table.
What He Will Become: Talentwise, the sky is the limit. His changeup will dictate whether he starts or relieves, and his delivery, command, and health will dictate where he settles. I don't really have an upside beyond that; I'd say the downside is Dustin Nippert.
LHP Wilkins De La Rosa is a small lefty reliever with two power pitches. His fastball-slider combination was nearly unhittable in the GCL last year, leading to a 2.63 ERA and 32 K's in 24 IP. De La Rosa throws in the mid-90's and his slider has sharp, late bite. However, De La Rosa is 23 and needs to move quickly through the system. He walked 11 batters in those 24 innings as well, suggesting wildness. He is the type of darkhorse who could move through three levels this year and burst onto the map, but always remember, darkhorses are darkhorses for a reason.
What He Will Become: J.C. Romero is the upside--an effectively wild situational lefty.
RHP Zach McAllister is a 6'5" 230 power pitcher who throws straight over-the-top. He throws in the 89-96 range with his fastball, and backs it up with a good changeup. For all his height and velocity, McAllister put up a 5.17 ERA for the RiverDogs last year, so he returns as a 21-year-old. He did K 75 batters in 71 innings last year. He has switched between a curve and slider, but neither one projects to be any more than average, hindering his possibilities as a starter. His splits for his career have favored the bullpen as well, but the Yankees want him to start.
What He Will Become: I'm betting on the bullpen role, where he won't have to throw as many breaking balls. McAllister could be a good situational righty.
C Jesus Montero was ranked by Baseball America as having the best power in the organization, ahead of Tabata and Battle. For a catcher, that's special. For a catcher less than two months older than me, that's even more special. Montero is a hulking presence at the plate, at 6'4" 230 and growing. He hit .280/.366/.421 in 107 ABs for the GCL Yankees in his stateside debut as a 17-year-old. Montero is big for a catcher, and 29 of 32 basestealers stole successfully off of him last year. The consensus is that he will have to move to first base, but his bat would still make him a prospect there.
What He Will Become: He's still behind the plate for now, and if he stays there, think David Ross with more average, or Ivan Rodriguez in his prime minus the defense. At first, Mark Teixeira minus the defense and switch-hitting.
C Austin Romine was the Yankees' 2nd round pick last year. Romine has arguably the best catching arm in the minors. He also projects to hit 15 homers/year in the majors while hitting for a decent average. With one game of pro experience in '07 (he doubled, walked, and struck out) we have basically nothing to go on other than scouting reports.
What He Will Become: Offensively, somewhere in between Henry Blanco and Mike Napoli, defensively, somewhere between Mike Napoli and Henry Blanco.
INF Carmen Angelini is a 10th round pick who received a $1 million bonus last year. Like Romine, Angelini played one pro game in '07 (he struck out in his only AB), so there is nothing but scouting to go on. Angelini is considered a decent defensive shortstop who may hold the position, but some more negative scouts believe he may have to move to first base down the line. Offensively, he's a gap hitter who projects to 10-20 homer power.
What He Will Become: Look up Brian Barden--this sounds an awful lot like him. And no, it isn't necessarily a bad thing.