During the Steinbrenner era, the Yankees were not a team known for their patient attitude regarding their prospects. They viewed these players as trading chips that could be used to acquire one of the games many stars; players that were already experiencing success at the major league level and were considered amongst the elite. Yankees minor league players learned not to wait for the call to the majors, but rather for the call informing them that they had been traded. After all, their chances of making the roster on one of the other MLB teams was much higher than the chance of making the Yankees' roster. They knew they were trade bait, nothing more.
Nowadays, it's still the Steinbrenner era in the Bronx, but its Hank and Hal, not the late George, who are calling all the shots. So far, they've been preaching patience, a word the most Yankees fans probably didn't even have in their vocabulary until recently. It's not a very popular plan, but in the end, the fans may wind up being quite thankful for this new philosophy. After all, it was already used once before in the Bronx, albeit most likely by accident.
In the early to mid-90s, a new Yankee dynasty was beginning that would change the face of baseball in the future. The Yankees had a slew of talented minor league prospects that were all close to being major-league ready, and they all broke into the majors somewhere around 1995-1996. The most prominent of these players were Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and of course, the now-beloved captain, Derek Jeter. Together, these players led the Yankees to four World Series championships between 1996 and 2000, plus one more in 2009, sans Williams.
Presently, the Yankees have a new slew of talented young players already in the majors. Such players include Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Robinson Cano. Gardner brings his speed and plate discipline to the team, as well as one of the best sets of outfield defensive skills in the game. Chamberlain broke onto the scene as a dominant reliever in 2007, but the Yankees might have derailed a brilliant young player by mixing up his role over the past few years, going back-and-forth from starter to reliever (he is currently a reliever). Hughes has become a valuable member of an otherwise less-than-satisfactory starting rotation in New York, making his first All-Star appearance in 2010 in his first full year as a starter.
Then there's the man most Yankee fans affectionately refer to as "Robbie." Robinson Cano has grown into one of the absolute best players in the game over the past few seasons. With one of the most beautiful swings in the game today, he inspires fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, as he can hit for both average and power. He is also arguably the best defensive second baseman in the game, as he won his first Gold Glove last season. He is probably at least in the top three in any discussion involving the best players in the game today, and is the best player on a Yankees team that includes such superstars as Jeter, Rivera, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia. He has established himself into a perennial MVP candidate, and might be the man that leads a talented group of young players still down at the Yankees' farm to multiple world championships during what could wind up being a new Yankee dynasty in the 2010s.
Many Yankees fans don't even want to hear the word "trade" in the same sentence as "prospects" anymore, and who could blame them. They don't want to miss out on another player like Robbie Cano.
So here are those young players who have the chance to be the new jewels on the Bronx. These are the Yankees current top 10 prospects.
Slade Heathcott is considered by many to be a "five-tool" prospect, meaning he has a combination of above-average skills in hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing ability and fielding ability.
He has very limited experience in professional baseball, so maybe it's a bit too soon to be considering him the Yankees' 10th-best prospect for 2011, but the kid has talent—there's no doubt about that.
Overall, at age 19, he is a great young player who could ultimately finish 2011 with the AA Trenton Thunder.
Gary Sanchez tore onto the scene in 2010 with the Gulf Coast League Yankees and Staten Island Yankees, hitting .329 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 47 games.
It would not be too surprising to see Sanchez reach or even start the year with the Class-A Tampa Yankees, and it could all go uphill from there.
Sanchez also wasn't bad defensively behind the plate, having an overall caught stealing percentage of 26 percent (16-of-61), including 7-of-13 (54 percent) upon moving up to Staten Island, proving he can hold his own at one of the game's most demanding positions.
Sanchez isn't likely to keep the .329 batting average throughout his minor league career, but if he can continue his progress even at a slightly lower level than his 2010 performance, he should someday be an above-average catcher at the major league level.
However, he may not be a fit for the Yankees, as there are still two more young catchers to examine on this very list...
The first of the the Yankees' famed "Killer B's" to grace this list, Dellin Betances is slowly but steadily climbing up the Yankees' minor league ladder.
After going 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 88 strikeouts for the Tampa Yankees in 2010, Betances was promoted to Double-A Trenton and made his final three starts for the Thunder, receiving no decisions while posting a 3.77 ERA.
It's doubtful that Betances will have any impact on the 2011 Yankees, but the organization has showed him that they value his skills, placing him on their 40-man roster this offseason to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.
It may come as a surprise that of the three "Killer B's," Betances is only the second most intimidating on the mound. At 6'8", the 22-year-old is a very strong and well-built athlete. Despite his large size, he does not appear awkward, seemingly always comfortable while he is pitching. He can regularly get batters out with his fastball, which clocks out at 95-96 mph, and also sports an impressive curveball and a fair changeup.
He has had major elbow surgery in the past, so his health will remain a concern for the immediate future, but if he can stay healthy, he has the potential to develop into a Josh Beckett-type pitcher, which I'm sure the Yankees would welcome with open arms.
For years now, Yankees fans who even know of his existence probably think of Andrew Brackman as the younger, less expensive form of Carl Pavano.
He was well-hyped following his first-round draft pick by the Yankees but then required Tommy John surgery in August of 2007, ending his phenom status.
In 2009, he struggled pitching for the Charleston RiverDogs but rebounded nicely in 2010 for the Tampa Yankees and Trenton Thunder, posting a combined 10-11 record with a 3.90 ERA, which included a decrease in ERA from 5.10 to 3.01 upon his promotion to Trenton.
At 25 years old, Brackman is likely the closest of all the "Killer B's" to reaching the major leagues, as he was even called up in late September last year but did not make his MLB debut, with the Yankees' fight for the AL East championship with the Tampa Bay Rays going down to the final day of the regular season.
Brackman is a guy who would intimidate almost any opposing hitter. At a massive 6'10", 240 lbs., Brackman could bring back memories of Randy Johnson for some hitters once he hits the majors. He also fully understands how to use his size to aid his pitching technique. He gets on top of the ball and uses his long arms to reach fantastic extension.
With a fastball that can peak at 97 mph, that extra arm extension could be the difference between becoming a decent pitcher and a great pitcher. He releases the ball closer to the plate then most pitchers, which will deceive hitters into thinking the ball is travelling faster than it really is.
Brackman should certainly be in the conversation to possibly earn a spot on the Yankees' Opening Day roster if New York is unable to acquire a starting pitcher to fill the fifth spot in the rotation by then. He will have to pitch excellently, though, as the Yankee coaches aren't likely to rush him if there are any signs of him needing more development. There will be other pitchers in the mix, with Sergio Mitre emerging as an early favorite to take the job, along with two other pitchers on this list...
Hector Noesi also participated in this year's All-Star Futures Game in Anaheim
One of the Yankees' other internal possibilities to plug the hole in the 2011 rotation, Hector Noesi finally started to come into his own in 2010.
He was promoted from Class A to Class AA and then again to Class AAA. In all three levels combined in 2010, Noesi posted a 14-7 record with a 3.20 ERA. He also showed his stamina, pitching three complete games, two with Trenton and one with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
He did struggle in his three starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA, but that's not enough experience at that level to justify saying he wasn't ready for the promotion.
He likely needs another full season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but with the Yankees' rotation in the state it is, he might be bumped up to the major leagues a bit early, whether it be straight out of spring training or at midseason if the fifth starter is struggling.
However, maybe an even more likely possibility is that Noesi becomes a central piece of a midseason trade for a viable starter to anchor the rotation. Being so close to the major leagues already, there are bound to be at least a few teams interested in him at the trade deadline. If Brian Cashman actually can find a deal for a starter, he might be more likely to trade Noesi than one of his famous "Killer B's."
Austin Romine participated in this year's All-Star Futures Game in Anaheim.
Somewhat overshadowed by another young Yankee catcher (who we'll get to a little later), Austin Romine was ranked as the Yankees' No. 2 prospect heading into 2010. However, I expect that to change this year with the emergence of a few more highly-talented prospects that had lain dormant until 2010.
However, there is no arguing that Romine is one of the best catching prospects in baseball. He isn't a terrible hitter, although his offensive statistics have been slowly decreasing with each passing promotion, leading to a .268 average with 10 home runs and 69 RBI in 115 games in 2010 with the Trenton Thunder.
What Romine is, though, is a fine defensive catcher, posting a .994 fielding percentage with a 23 percent caught stealing percentage. There are no worries about his ability to handle the catching position, with his 6'1", 195-lb. frame easily capable of taking on the tolls of catching.
With Jorge Posada all but done catching and the future of Russell Martin as a Yankee still uncertain, Austin Romine could very well be the true Yankee catcher of the future, but for now, he'll probably end 2011 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Brandon Laird had a breakout season in 2010. He spent his first 107 games with Trenton before earning a promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for his final 31 games after destroying the opposition in Class AA. Overall, Laird finished the season with a .281 batting average, 25 home runs and 102 RBI.
He has shown the organization that he can be a valuable addition to the big league club, and he was rewarded with a spot on the Yankees' 40-man roster.
If he performs well enough in spring training, don't be surprised to see him make at least a few stints with the Bombers as a right-handed bat off the bench who could spell Alex Rodriguez at third, and maybe Mark Teixeira at first as well.
As with most of these prospects, Laird's true value to the Yankees may be as trade bait. The Yankees already have A-Rod entrenched at third for at least a few more years until he transitions to the full-time DH role, so other than as a bench player, there really is no place for Laird on the team.
He could be included with Hector Noesi and another player for an ace starter at the trade deadline, or maybe he could be traded alone to a team that needs a third baseman, such as the Angels or Marlins, for more prospects. A high-level talent such as Laird could net a nice deal from the right team.
Ivan Nova is the only man on this list who has been to the promised land that is Yankee Stadium, and barring a spring training meltdown, he will return.
With the Yankees missing out on Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte leaning towards retirement, Nova is in line to become the fourth starter in the New York rotation.
There's no arguing that he didn't earn that spot during his stint with the Yankees in 2010, but there were some issues that absolutely need to be addressed during spring training.
Nova was simply lights out in each of his major league starts in 2010...for four innings. For some reason, however, as soon as he took the mound in the fifth, he imploded. All the work he had put into each of his starts would go to waste, and for seemingly no apparent reason.
If new Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild can locate Nova's problem and just get two more innings out of him that duplicate his usual first four, then he can effectively give the Yankees another reliable starter without having to give up anything in return.
Nova is not the most talented pitcher on this list. In fact, the only reason he ranks so high is because he is major league-ready and will have a huge impact on the 2011 Yankees. He doesn't have nearly as good stuff as some of the other pitchers on this list, which is why there is still one more arm ranked ahead of him...
Anyone reading this ever have an appendectomy? Well, even if you haven't, I'm sure you can imagine that it isn't a pleasant experience. And you certainly wouldn't feel any better physically after the procedure than you had before, right?
While all of you might have just been agreeing with me, Manny Banuelos likely would not. He started off the season as the back end of the "Killer B's," and it looked as if he was destined for a future role toward the back end of somebody's starting rotation, though it was unlikely it would be that of the Yankees.
However, after that emergency appendectomy, his performance began to skyrocket. In a combined total of 15 games this season for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, the Tampa Yankees and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Banuelos dominated opposing hitters but received NO run support whatsoever, finishing the season at 0-4 with a 2.51 ERA.
The 19-year-old lefty has excellent command, which is due to his very consistent delivery. He has also greatly increased his fastball's velocity, from 91-92 mph in 2009 to 95-96 mph in 2010.
This wouldn't be half as impressive if he was a righty, but he's not; he's a lefty. Lefties usually are better pitchers anyway, but add onto a lefty an upper-90s fastball, excellent command and a dominant changeup as a secondary pitch, and you might have one of those "stars in the making" in the person of Manuel Banuelos.
Top Yankees Prospect Jesus Montero (#83) high-fiving Alex Rodriguez (#13) in a Spring Training game
I wonder if it crossed A-Rod's mind at this moment that he might be about to high-five the man that could possibly inherit his cleanup spot in the Yankees' lineup someday.
Jesus Montero is by far the best prospect in the Yankees' farm system. In fact, he is also the best prospect in the AL East and could probably also make his case as the third best prospect in MLB, behind only Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley.
Montero is supposedly an unbelievable hitting talent, and his value to the Yankees was clearly shown when Brian Cashman refused to trade him for anyone short of Cliff Lee. Now, it seems as though Montero will spend at least the start of his career in pinstripes, unless a trade involving King Felix is put on the table.
Montero hit .289 with 21 home runs in 123 games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, and that was after a slow start. Montero hit .252 with seven home runs before the All-Star break and .351 with 14 home runs after the break. Clearly his early struggles were mostly due to the adjustment period after the move to Class AAA, and as soon as he got some experience with the pitchers he was facing, he started clobbering the ball.
Montero was thought to be a lock to take over behind the plate at Yankee Stadium as Jorge Posada moves to full-time DH duties, but then Cashman went out and signed non-tendered Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, saying he envisioned him as "a starting catcher." This means that in order for Montero to break open the 2011 season as the New York Yankees' starting catcher, he will have to beat out Martin.
It's probably also safe to assume that Montero will have to blow away Martin to convince the Yankees' brass that they should choose the rookie instead. This is in no way an unobtainable feat. Martin had a terrible year in 2010, and he could just as easily play terribly in spring training, allowing Montero to waltz in and take the job by having a normal spring.
However, my gut tells me Montero will not win the job but will be called up around late May or early June once he continues to destroy AAA pitchers while Martin struggles.
Let's just hope the late arrival doesn't hurt his chances at winning the Rookie of the Year.