Having a strong minor-league system can fuel an organization for years to come. Quality young talent can propel an organization to new heights—see the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
This time, we'll look at the five best prospects in the New York Yankees minor-league system. The Yankees used their minor league pipeline to supply themselves with several players who were integral to their 1990s dominance.
Players like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera were developed by the Yankees and each were vital to the team winning four of five World Series between 1996 and 2000.
New York Yankees 2009 Top-Five Prospects
1. Jesus Montero, C, 11/28/1989 - Montero, signed out of Venezuela in 2006, is an imposing figure. The soon-to-be 19-year-old clocks in at 6'4"/225lbs, but it's that size that have many believing that his future is somewhere other than behind the plate, possibly at first base or designated hitter. He might become too big to catch, if he hasn't already.
Montero showed promise while playing in the Gulf Coast League in 2007, but he really emerged in 2008. Over 525 at-bats for Low-A Charleston, he hit .325 with a .376 on base percentage and a .491 slugging percentage. He smacked 34 doubles, drilled 17 home runs, walked 37 times, and struck out 83 times.
He was especially good after the All Star break, raising his average from .309 to .344, his OPS from 801 to 944, and he hit three more homers in 31 fewer at-bats. He also showed an improving eye at the plate, picking up nine more walks in those 31 fewer at bats.
We may not have seen the best of Montero yet, but those in the Florida State League might, as that's where he'll likely begin 2009 while playing for the High-A Tampa. He's still two or three years away from the Bronx.
2. Zach McAllister, RHP, 12/8/1987 - The Chillicothe, IL native was selected in the third round of the 2006 draft and has gradually picked up steam as time has gone on.
He split last season between Charleston and Tampa and was impressive at both stops. Between the two, he made 25 appearances (24 starts), threw 151 innings and surrendered 133 hits. More impressive was the fact that he walked just 21 batters all year—outstanding control for a 20 year old pitcher. He also struck out 115, but he struck them out at a lesser rate for Tampa.
McAllister isn't going to blow the ball by you, but he knows what he's doing out there and won't put himself into trouble. Look for him to start 2009 in AA-Trenton and eventually develop into a strong middle of the rotation pitcher. He won't be an ace, but he'll be better than someone who just eats innings.
3. Austin Jackson, OF, 2/1/1987 - Jackson was drafted in the eighth round of the 2005 draft and bypassed a basketball scholarship from Georgia Tech so he could sign with Yankees for $800,000.
Jackson is one of the most athletic prospects in the Yankees system, has good speed, and he's a plus in the outfield with good range and a good arm.
He spent the entire season playing for Trenton and had a respectable season: .285, 33 2B, 5 3B, 9 HR, 56 BB, 113 K, 19 SB, .354 OBP/.419 SLG.
Jackson's a good prospect, but not the great one some think he is. I'm not especially wowed by his AA numbers and his big 67 game stretch with Tampa in 2007 seems like a bit of an outlier. In those 67 games—spanning 238 at-bats—he hit .345/.398/.566 with 31 XBH. That's a level he hadn't approached before and hasn't since.
He's a good bet to start 2009 in AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could see time in the Bronx later in the season. With Damon and Matsui aging, and with Melky Cabrera not proving to be much of an answer, Jackson has a chance to claim a starting job in the next year or two. He's not likely to become a true impact player, but rather a solid everyday guy.
4. Dellin Betances, RHP, 3/23/1988 - Betances is a native of Brooklyn, NY and was chosen in the eighth round of the 2006 draft. The first thing that stands out about him is his size—he's 6'8" and weighs 245 pounds—and he backs it up with a mid-90s fastball, as well as a curveball.
Betances has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons—an inflamed pitching elbow in 2007 and an undisclosed ailment that knocked him out for nearly a month early in the 2008 season.
But he finished 2008 strong and managed to throw 122 innings on the year, 115.1 for Charleston and the rest while rehabbing with the Gulf Coast League Yankees. He limited opposing batters to a .208 BAA, walked 59, and struck out 135.
Betances seemed to take a step forward after the All Star break. Before it, he had a 40/64 BB/K in 55 innings. After it, he had a 19/71 BB/K in 60.1 innings. Notice the major drop in walks while keeping an excellent strikeout rate. Betances could have a breakout season in 2009 if he can maintain that progress.
The biggest thing he needs to do is put together an injury-free season. He's likely join the Tampa Yankees for 2009, but is at least a couple years away from being a factor for the Yankees.
5. Mark Melancon, RHP, 3/28/1985 - After going to the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 draft, the Arizona product missed all of the 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery.
He's hardly missed a beat. His fastball remains in the low-to-mid-90s and he complements it with a power curve that ranks among the best in the organization.
Melancon began the season with Tampa and ended it in AAA, an impressive rise through the minors. All told, he got into 44 games, tossed 95 innings, allowed 69 hits, 22 walks, and fanned 89. Great numbers and even better was the fact he was healthy enough to throw 95 innings.
He has a chance to open 2009 with the Yankees and could quickly stabilize their middle relief corps. He has the potential to be the Yankees closer after Rivera retires, but Rivera has two years left on the three year contract extension he signed after the 2007 season.
NOTE: Only players with no more than 130 AB/50 IP in the majors qualify for this list.