New York Yankees: Who Will Form the Next "Core Four?"

James Stewart-Meudt@@JSMeudtCorrespondent IIFebruary 9, 2011

New York Yankees: Who Will Form the Next "Core Four?"

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    With the retirement of Andy Pettitte, the New York Yankees' fabled "Core Four" is now a "Core Three," which isn't nearly as catchy.

    The Yankees locked up shortstop Derek Jeter for another four years and closer Mariano Rivera for another two, but Jorge Posada, who will serve as the team's primary DH this season as the Yankees move him away from full-time catching duties, is likely entering his final season with the team.

    By this time next year, the Yankees could be down to a "Core Two" of Rivera and Jeter.

    Yesterday, someone asked me who I thought the next "Core Four" would be. That's a tricky question, the reason being that the "Core" is called such because that group was together for almost their entire careers and during that time won five world championships.

    To think about who will make up the next "Core," I decided not to include Jeter or Rivera, despite the fact that both will most likely finish their careers with the Yankees. The next "Core" will have to be four entirely new, homegrown players.

    The problem with finding the next "Core Four" is that the Yankees have a very deep farm system, full of great pitching and great depth at catcher, but issues in the starting rotation for the upcoming season could cause them to deal some of that talent away. With that, we don't know who will stay in the system long enough to be called up, let alone stay in the bigs long enough to win multiple titles.

    That said, it's still interesting to muse about the next group of players to make up a "Core Four," so let's take a look at the possible candidates.

    Now, simply because the original group was comprised of a shortstop, a pitcher, a catcher and a reliever doesn't mean I'm going to stick to that same outline. The next "Core" can be any four guys.

Jesus Montero, Catcher

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    Earlier, I mentioned the Yankees' depth of catching prospects, and Montero is a big part of that. Since he'll be one of the first to taste the bigs, we'll start with him.

    Early in this year's offseason, with the announcement that Jorge Posada would serve as the team's primary DH, leaving the everyday catching duties open, it was assumed that this left an opening for Montero.

    Then the Yankees signed free agent catcher Russell Martin and dubbed him the team's starter, leaving Montero's role in doubt.

    He will be in spring training and could win time at both catcher and DH.

    The biggest asset Montero has is easily his bat. The guy can flat-out rake. He's the Yankees' top prospect according to Baseball America. In Triple-A last season, Montero posted a .289/.353/.517 slash line with 21 home runs and 75 RBI in 504 PA.

    There are a few concerns surrounding Montero. His defense is not particularly strong, so his future as a major league catcher could be doubtful, which is why the Yankees added Russell Martin. Another issue could be the quality of opponents in the AL East. It's one thing to be a top prospect called up into the NL West, but it's entirely different to be thrown into the fire of the AL East.

    His move up to Triple-A last season also brought an increase of his strikeout percentage from 12.6 percent in Double-A to 20.1 percent, but with almost 300 extra plate appearances. In a full season in the AL East, Montero could strike out 140 to 150 times.

    He'll get his shot when spring training begins in less than a week, so we'll see what he's capable of doing. If he performs well, he's a lock to make the team, but his name has already come up in several potential trades for a starting pitcher, so if the Yankees find a deal, whether it's during the season or before, Montero is almost certain to be included.

    The reason? The Yankees also have...

Austin Romine, Catcher

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    An excellent hitter in his own right, Romine is considered better behind the plate than Montero and could be the Yankees' catcher of the future.

    He's yet to start in Triple-A, so he's further away than Montero, but if the Yankees trade Montero for a starting pitcher, Romine could move up quickly.

    Romine has a short, compact swing with good power. In stops with the Desert Dogs and at Double-A, Romine hit .273 with 10 home runs and 69 RBI and collected 34 doubles in a combined 561 at-bats.

    Many projections have him hitting 20 to 30 homers in the majors, though he needs to fill out his frame a bit to reach that kind of potential. He'll put the ball in play rather than take a walk or strikeout.

    He is great defensively, stopping balls in the dirt with ease, and his speed to second base rates close to 80 on a 20-80 scouting scale.

    Romine is more likely to become the Yankees' everyday catcher, but at just 22 years old and 195 lbs., he's got some growing to do before that happens.

Manny Banuelos, Pitcher

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    Banuelos is just 19 years old and current the No. 4 prospect in the Yankees' minor league system, according to Baseball America.

    A lanky left-hander, Banuelos sports three pitches, a curve ball, fastball, and change up, with the last two pitches forming a devastating combination.

    His fastball sits at 92-94 mph as a starter, but he can get up to 96 mph as a reliever. His change up gives hitters a much different look and he throws it at 79 mph. He has a slow wind up but is quick to the plate, so both pitches can fool his opponents.

    One of the biggest problems with Banuelos is his size. He's only 5-foot-10, 155 lbs. and he doesn't have a lot of muscle, so the speed of his fastball isn't always consistent, which directly affects the effectiveness of his change up because he has to keep it at least 7-10 mph slower.

    Banuelos projects as a No. 2 starter, and the Yankees could certainly use starting pitchers right now. But Banuelos is another of those names likely to come up in any future trade talks, and at just 19 (he'll turn 20 next month), he might not make it to the bigs with the Yankees.

Dellin Betances, Pitcher

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    Want to describe Dellin Betances in one word? Try "intimidating." At 6-foot-8, 245 lbs., this kid is scary.

    But don't get it twisted, he is scary good too. Betances went 8-1 with a 2.77 ERA with a rediculous 11.85 K/9 in a combined 17 starts between High-A and Double-A in 2010. Out of all the Yankee pitching prospects, he could be the first the make an appearance in the Majors.

    I could go on and on signing this kid's praises.

    He did have Tommy John surgery in 2009, which has limited his workload, but he seems fully recovered and ready to continue to develop. In the next 2-3 years, Betances could slide into the Yankees starting rotation behind CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, but he could make an appearance even sooner if the Yankees aren't able to solve the issues currently facing their starting rotation.

    I really can't see him making an appearance this season, but if he does well at Triple-A, 2012 could be a possibility.

    Health is going to be the biggest issue for Betances. If he can stay healthy, his ability will take him as far as he wants. If there is a pitching prospect considered untouchable in a potential trade during the season, Betances has to be that guy.

Eduardo Nunez, SS/3B

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    Nunez is an interesting player right now. Not necessarily because of his ability, but because of his role with the club. To be frank, he doesn't have one. Nunez appeared in 30 games for the Yankees in 2010 and handled the bat pretty well, hitting .280 with one home run and seven RBI in 53 plate appearances. He also stole five bases.

    His defense is his best asset to the Yankees, and he saw time at both shortstop and third base last season.

    The problem for Nunez is that the Yankees aren't going to have much use for him in the Majors, having recently added several infielders to compete for bench spots during Spring Training, and of course Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have their jobs to do.

    Now, if you are of the belief that Jeter will eventually have to change positions, Nunez is the obvious replacement. He's the Yankees' top position prospect who isn't a catcher and can certainly make a nice combination with Robinson Cano at second base.

    One thing for Nunez to hang his hat on is that fact that the Yankees were unwilling to include him in a deal that would have brought Cliff Lee to the Bronx, so they obviously don't want to lose him.

    But role can he play? When the idea of moving Derek Jeter away from shortstop was brought up by GM Brian Cashman, all hell broke loose. So if shortstop isn't open for Nunez, what about third base?

    With 2011 likely being Posada's last season in pinstripes, and with Montero a likely inclusion in any mid-season trade for a starting pitcher, A-Rod could become a full-time DH, sparing him wear and tear on his hip and knees, and opening a spot for Nunez.

    It would also give Jeter a break when ranging to his right.

    We'll see what they do with Nunez, but it doesn't appear the Yankees are in a rush to find him full time duties in the Majors.

Andrew Brackman, Pitcher

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    At 6-10, Brackman is an imposing figure. His tremendous size is very important in his game as it directly affects his delivery.

    Brackman went 10-11 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in two stints at High-A Tampa and Double-A.

    He showed excellent command, allowing only 39 walks in 140.2 IP, but his H/9 was much too high at 9.2.

    If he can continue to develop, and cut down on the hits, Brackman will be an excellent pitcher for the Yankees. He is 25 years old, and hasn't pitched higher than Double-A because of Tommy John surgery in 2007, so it's unclear exactly when Brackman will reach the Majors.

    If the Yankees were going to include any of the so-called "Three B's" in a mid-season trade, Brackman could be the guy to go.

Hector Noesi, Pitcher

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    Noesi is currently No. 7 on the list of the Yankees' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America.

    He was all over the place last season, with stints at High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

    He finished the year 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.908 WHIP in 27 starts. He displayed unbelievably good control, walking just 28 in 160.1 IP. He also surrendered just 11 home runs and pitched three complete games.

    In addition to Betances, Noesi is closest to the Majors.

    With the starting rotation as weak as it is, it will be interesting to see how many, if any, of their prospects the Yankees take a look at during Spring Training. They certainly need pitchers to step up, and fans would rather see a homegrown prospect start over Bartolo Colon or Sergio Mitre.

    But throwing a promising prospect into the AL East could be a developmental mistake, so we'll see what they do. If the Yankees thought any of their prospects were Major League ready, they probably wouldn't have brought in as many rotation possibilities as they have this offseason.


In Conclusion

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    Thinking about who could possibly form the next "Core Four," one has to be willing to give another group of players the same title. For example, to many New York football fans, there is, and will always be, only one "L.T." and that's Lawrence Taylor.

    So if you want to say there will always be only one "Core Four" and no other group, even if they combine to win multiple Championships, will earn that title, that's perfectly understandable.

    However, it's still interesting to think about, and maybe we can come up with another title. "Fantastic Four" maybe? It would be even better if maybe one was kinda big and ugly, one lanky, onr a hot head, and the fouth...a girl, but we'll see.

    If there is ever going to be another "Core Four", it will start with Robinson Cano of course. He's a homegrown talent and one of the best players on the Yankees. He's already won one World Series title, now he just has to do it with a few new faces.

    I also have to give a vote to Dellin Betances. I've heard plenty of reports that if any prospects are called up during the season, Betances will be one of them. If he can establish himself in the Majors, with the Yankees' pitching as weak as it as, and with a 2012 free agent class weak on pitching, Betances could earn himself a spot on the team quickly.

    Austin Romine would be another choice. The Yankees have three excellent catching prospects, but Montero is likely the first to go if there's to be a trade for a pitcher during the season and Sanchez is far from ready. Romine is an excellent hitter and a good defender. The Yankees need to infuse some youth into their team, and Romine could be a big part of that behind the plate.

    In keeping with the idea of a youth movement, Nunez is next. Let's be real here: Derek Jeter can't finish his career at shortstop. Very few baseball players do, it's not a slight against Jeter. I'm not saying it will happen this year, or even 2012, but by 2013, 2014, it's going to have to be discussed. It has nothing to do with Jeter's down season in 2010. If he had done great, I'd still support a move because his defense still would be been on the decline. Nunez is young and perfectly capable of giving the Yankees excellent defense and good offense.

    He's not better than Jeter overall, but that's not the point. The Yankees need youth and defense in their infield, and Nunez gives them both.

    So, that would make the next "Core Four", Robinson Cano, Dellin Betances, Austin Romine and Eduardo Nunez. At the beginning of my article, I said I wasn't trying to put in the same position players as the ones that made up the original "Core Four", but in the end, after considering all the Yankees' needs and the players most likely to not get traded away first, I still ended up with a shortstop, a pitcher, and a catcher.

    I'm sure most Yankees fans would just be happy to win multiple Championships over the next few years, and if any group of prospects happens to be together during those runs, that's just icing on the cake. And of course that group could be made up of any prospects, as the Yankees' farm system is very deep.

    We'll see what prospects the Yankees have left after this season, with a mid-season trade almost a certainty, but it would be nice to see them build another great, young core of players. First they need prospects to get to the Majors. Then, of course, they need to win. And win and win and win and win again.