Yesterday the Yankees added seven players to their 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. They also removed Shelley Duncan from the roster and out righted him to Triple-A. I predicted that the Yankees would only add four or five players, so I am definitely a bit surprised they chose to add the following seven players:
Austin Jackson, OF
Jackson is one of the top prospects in the organization and was a surefire bet to be protected. His stock fell a bit this year even though he hit .300 in Triple-A. Besides for batting average, there are a number of concerns regarding Jackson's season.
His walk rate went down, as his strikeout rate went up to 24.4 percent. He showed practically no power, with only four home runs in 504 at-bats. Jackson definitely needs more time to develop in Triple-A, but should still have a bright future ahead of him. I recently ranked Jackson the third best prospect in the Yankees' system.
Ivan Nova, RHP
It was a pretty big surprise when Nova was selected by the Padres in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He hadn't pitched above A-ball and hadn't even been particularly successful there. Nova's good stuff had been touted, but the results never matched up. In 2009, he seemed to turn a corner and got the results to match his stuff.
Nova pitched pretty well in Trenton, with an ERA of 2.36 through 12 starts. He gets a ton of ground balls, but his struggles in Triple-A (5.10 ERA) and low K:BB rate of 1.53 remain a concern. He dominated in the Venezuelan Winter League and will be an option for the Yankees in 2010. I ranked Nova as the Yankees' ninth best prospect.
Kevin Russo, 2B/Util
Russo put together a great season for Scranton in 2009, doing all of the little things and getting on base at a .393 clip. Everyone who watched him play every day raves about him, even though he doesn't have one stand-out tool.
Russo can play second base, third base, left field, and is even passable at shortstop. He has a much better bat than Ramiro Pena, but is nowhere near as slick with the glove. Expect him to factor in to the utility role in 2010. I ranked him 20th in the system because he lacks upside.
Romulo Sanchez(pictured), RHP
Sanchez is a big guy with big stuff. He stands 6'5" tall and weighs a hefty 245 pounds. He'll be 25 entering the 2010 season, coming off a very impressive season in Triple-A. I was hoping that he would be protected, and I ranked him as the Yankees 23rd best prospect. Not going to give too much away here, as I will write a full profile on Romulo very soon.
Hector Noesi, RHP
I was very surprised to see Noesi added to the 40-man roster, because I hadn't even realized he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Protecting him really should tell you a lot. Noesi had the best statistical season of any pitcher in the Yankees organization in 2009. He struck out over a batter per inning, and only walked 1.2 guys per nine. That is an absurdly good K:BB ratio of 7.87.
The Yankees must have been concerned that he could stick in the major leagues for another team right now, in order for them to protect him. Noesi will pitch in AA next season and is definitely a guy to watch. I didn't include him in my Top 30 prospects, but I really should have. You can read more about Noesi here .
Reegie Corona, 2B/3B/SS
I was a bit surprised to see both Corona and Russo protected. This gives the Yankees three marginal infielders on the roster who don't really have any hitting upside: Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, and Corona. I really liked what Corona did in AA in 2009, and I guess the Yanks did too.
The Mariners drafted Corona in 2008, and I'd bet he would have gotten picked again if the Yankees didn't add him. Corona should be a plus defender at second base, but needs to improve his shortstop and third base defense to be a viable utility guy at the Major League level.
Eduardo Nunez, SS
I'm still not sure why Nunez gets a lot of hype, and I'm convinced it's just because of his shiny .322 batting average. I didn't think the Yankees should protect him, because I couldn't see him sticking with another team. The Yankees apparently disagree with me though, and I think we can safely say they know quite a bit more about Nunez than I do.
Nunez has a great arm at shortstop, but has a number of other issues on defense. While he did hit .322 for Trenton in 2009, he only walked in 4.2 percent of his plate appearances, a very low number. He also didn't hit for any power, with an ISO (SLG-BA) of .111. While he stole 19 bases, he was caught seven times, which isn't a very good rate.
As I said, I am very surprised that the Yanks added so many players to their 40-man. They have one spot available on the roster, and will definitely sign more than one player. This means they will have to designate a player for assignment after they sign more than one player. It is rare for a player to stick with another organization in the Rule 5 draft, but it is very easy to lose a player through waivers.
This means the Yankees won't hesitate to DFA a guy like Edwar Ramirez or Jonathan Albaladejo to make room for a signee. The Yankees decision to remove Shelley Duncan from the 40-man roster is an interesting one. They didn't need to get rid of anyone, but this gives them a pick in the Rule 5 draft. I'm not sure the Yankees would actually use the pick, but maybe they have their eyes on someone in particular.