New York Yankees Prospects to Watch as Spring Training Starts in Earnest
The New York Yankees aren’t known for developing prospects. Through the last decade, they’ve been more known for throwing money at some of the top free agents on the market.
Now, the team is trying to get under the $189 million tax threshold. To do so, it's going to need to polish young players through its system.
Many are quick to discredit the Yankees farm system, but they seem to forget the players who are “home grown.” Players like Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson were all developed through the Yankees.
Even more players were shipped out and are contributing on other big league rosters.
Today, there are some prospects who will eventually make an impact at the big league level. Some may come this year; some may be a few years away. Regardless, there’s going to be players to keep an eye on during spring training.
Now, with Curtis Granderson out until May, some outfield prospects will get an extended look.
Let’s see some of the Yankees prospects to keep an eye on this spring.
Mark Montgomery (RHP)
Mark Montgomery was picked in the 11th round of the 2011 draft by the Yankees. At 22 years old, Montgomery has never pitched above Double-A, but he is quickly moving up the ladder on the road to the majors.
In Double-A Trenton last year, Montgomery went 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings pitched.
In 92.2 innings throughout his minor league career, he’s only given up one home run and 17 earned runs while striking out 150 hitters and saving 30 games.
His pitch is his slider. It’s nasty. According to John Harper of the New York Daily News, his slider is becoming the most talked about pitch on the Yankees since Mariano Rivera unleashed his cutter.
The pitch has caused him to be compared to David Robertson, and via Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, Montgomery thinks it’s pretty surreal.
He’s likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the season, but if he impresses in spring training, he could wind up on the 25-man roster.
It’ll be interesting to see if his slider can keep major league hitters off balance.
At some point in 2013, whether September or some time before, expect to see Montgomery in pinstripes. He could be in line to succeed Rivera as the closer of the future.
Ronnier Mustelier (OF/3B)
Yankees fans should learn the name Ronnier Mustelier.
The 28-year-old Cuban defector has been in the farm system for just under two years, rising through the ranks to Triple-A. He's played all three outfield positions and has also seen some time at third with eight games at second.
Through the minors, Mustelier has compiled a .324 career average with 18 homers and 96 RBI. That’s in just 150 games and sprayed through four minor league levels.
He’s 5'10", 210 pounds and full of potential. With the Yankees looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder as well as DH, Mustelier could find his way onto the roster come Opening Day.
After Curtis Granderson fractured his forearm Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, Mustelier came in to replace him. He had one hit in three at-bats with a rope single to right.
His bat speed and strength enables him to hit the ball extremely hard and has impressed the higher-ups in the Yankee organization.
Last season, as Mustelier was working his way up the ranks, Joe Girardi told Bronx Baseball Daily’s Rob Abbruzzese:
I’ve brought his name up in conversations a few times. He’s someone we’re keeping an eye on.
He still needs some improvement, but he’s turning into a player that could be a perfect fit for the Yankees with his extra-base hits and the ability to drive in runs.
With a solid spring training performance this season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Mustelier fill Andruw Jones' role from a year ago.
Zoilo Almonte (OF)
Zoilo Almonte keeps improving. He made a case for himself in the 2012 spring training with four straight hits, including a double and three RBI.
He spent the 2012 season in Double-A Trenton where he clubbed 21 homers and drove in 70 runs. Almonte slugged .487 and turned in his best OPS (.808) in his minor league career.
Continuing to impress, Almonte smacked an opposite-field home run in the first spring game this year. He also had an outfield assist from right, throwing out Reed Johnson going first to third. Manager Joe Girardi told Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:
We’re excited about this kid. We think he has a really good swing. To see him start out today, drive the ball the opposite way for a home run. He hit that ball hard.
The 23-year-old switch-hitting center fielder has surely made a mark with the Yankees and has proven he can crush right handed pitching.
There isn’t much outfield depth for the Yankees this year, so if Almonte can continue to open some eyes throughout the spring, he could be on the bench in the Bronx come Opening Day.
He’s not a complete player yet, still needing work on his defense, as Pinstriped Bible notes. He could also polish his baserunning, though he did swipe 15 bases last season.
While he’ll likely start the season at Triple-A where he can play every day, Almonte will get a close look during the spring.
Ramon Flores (OF)
Left fielder Ramon Flores is full of talent and quickness.
He’s a Brett Gardner-type player, as FanGraphs notes, but the soon-to-be 21-year-old has a lot of hurdles to climb on his quest to the majors.
Some of the top prospects the Yankees have are positioned in the outfield. While Flores doesn’t have great speed, he’s a good baserunner and possesses plus range in the outfield.
Flores played 132 games at Class-A Tampa in 2012 and turned in his most impressive season. Batting .303, he had 43 extra-base hits, including seven triples, and he scored 85 runs.
He’s a patient hitter and works the count in his favor. He may be the most disciplined hitter at his age and level.
Like Gardner, Flores doesn’t have much power, but his bat speed and ability to hit for contact helps boost his average.
Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar said (via Chad Jennings of The Journal News) his nickname for Flores is "Bobby" because of his offensive similarities to Bobby Abreu.
What’s hurting Flores is the options the Yankees and their farm system currently have for the outfield.
Flores is a name to watch in the spring, and though he's on the 40-man roster, he likely won’t play above Double-A this season.
Corban Joseph (2B/3B)
While Corban Joseph’s journey to the major leagues is blocked by Robinson Cano, the 24-year-old second baseman needs to shine in spring training games this season.
When Cano leaves camp for the World Baseball Classic, all the attention will turn to Joseph, or CoJo as he’s called. It will be his opportunity to prove to the Yankees he deserves some recognition in the infield.
His power increased last year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he hit 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs. What’s most impressive is the fact he drew 69 walks and only had 70 strikeouts in 413 at-bats.
Joseph needs to work on his defense. He made 15 errors last season and 23 in 2011. Though he was drafted as a shortstop, his arm will most likely keep him at second base in the pros, rather than a utility player who can play anywhere in the infield.
He’s begun to play some third base this spring, where he has already made an error. He can’t dwell on the mistakes and needs a short memory to succeed.
With extended playing time coming up shortly, he’ll have to make the most of his opportunity if he wants to wear the pinstripes at all before September.
He’ll probably need another year in Scranton to polish his defense.
Chase Whitley (RHP)
Chase Whitley reached Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre extremely quick in his brief minor league career.
In 2012, he pitched to a 9-5 record with a 3.09 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
After starting 2012 in Double-A Trenton, he struck out seven batters in four innings and was promoted to Triple-A. Whitley struck out 73 in 84.1 innings in Scranton.
While he’s primarily a reliever, he’s known to throw multiple innings per outing and can become a long reliever or even spot starter with the Yankees.
A lot of Yankee prospects are trying to earn a spot on the 40-man roster, Whitley included.
There’s bullpen spots that are up for grabs, so if Whitley can show the Yankees he can compete at a high level, look for him to join the club at some point this season.
Gary Sanchez (C)
Gary Sanchez is quite possibly the catcher of the future. The Yankees found Jesus Montero expendable because of their catching depth in the farm system.
Sanchez is one of the best catching prospects in all of baseball and was named No. 57 on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects in 2013.
Just 20 years old, Sanchez stands 6'2" and 220 pounds. He spent 2012 in Class-A Charleston and Advanced Class-A Tampa Yankees. Combined, he hit .290 with 18 homers and 85 RBI for the season. He stole 11 bags in Charleston and 15 for the year.
Sanchez was invited to big league camp this spring, but he has a lot of development left before he can seriously be considered for the major league roster.
Mark Newman, the Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations told Spencer Fordin of MLB.com:
He's made great improvement over the last two years. He's got the physical tools and the mental capabilities to do it. He's a catcher. We have zero doubt about that.
Sanchez has an exceptional arm and gets the ball out quickly. His overall defense is a work in progress, and the Yankees are willing to be patient with him and groom him into a major league catcher.
He continues to make an impact no matter the level he is playing. He should be evaluated behind the plate in games this spring, but it would be surprising if he starts the season higher than Double-A.