Winning 97 games and the toughest division in baseball is usually enough to call a season a success, but when it comes to the New York Yankees, only a World Series will do. What makes the Yankees’ season a bit more interesting from a prospect point of view is just how many prospects they brought up to the big-league team. Normally, we associate the Yankees with few to no rookies, but they promoted Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Eduardo Nunez while also giving Jesus Montero a few at-bats at the end of the season. Nova was probably the most valuable of all of these guys as he gave the Yankees 165 innings of very solid work, and in leaner years, he would have had more of a say for Rookie of the Year.
Most of the focus in the minors rested upon four prospects – Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Gary Sanchez, and Dellin Betances – and they had mixed performances. Montero had an odd start to the year and didn’t “dominate” AAA like people hoped, but that was mostly chalked up to Montero being bored and frustrated by repeating the level for little reason. Banuelos and Betances had similar years in that they pitched quite a few innings and did fairly well, but their control problems flared and caused mild concerns. Sanchez had more success as the season went on, but he was sent away from the team for “attitude issues”, which is never good. He seemed to get over them, so we’ll chalk it up to him being an 18-year old.
Looking down to A-ball highlights a lot of the rest of the talent. Mason Williams looked absolutely special in Staten Island, and every single person I talked to or read reports from were gushing about the guy. Cito Culver and Angelo Gumbs also played on that same Staten Island team, and they formed the up-the-middle duo in the infield, and while both had some offensive issues, they both demonstrated solid tools and athleticism. Combining these three prospects along with Montero and Austin Romine gives the Yankees enviable depth in up-the-middle prospects.
From looking at the Top 10, the Yankees farm system looks pretty strong, and it is. One “problem” is that it drops off a bit after that. Last season, they had more depth, and they had more legit pitching prospects. Banuelos and Betances are just fine as prospects, but the rest of the top prospects are position players. That’s not all bad, considering you want prospects to pitch in the big leagues like Noesi and Nova did, but it does thin out the system. My other concern is the quality of the “Good” prospects, as most of them below Betances are probably toward the lower end of the spectrum, and I’m not sold on Betances, either. That being said, the Yankees don’t really seem to be headed in a downward spiral, and if a couple of these guys pan out, the aging contracts might not hamper them too much.
Jesus Montero C/DH
Projection: 3-5 WAR
While I imagine classifying Montero in this category seems like an insult, the classification includes the fact that he’s not likely to be a catcher, which severely hurts his value, and even with that, he’s likely to be the top “Outstanding” prospect on the future Top 100 list. Montero can certainly rake, hitting for average, OBP skills, and plenty of power. The only question is exactly how much. To be clear, David Ortiz hit .309/398/.554 last season in 140+ games and accumulated 4 fWAR. It’s hard to say that Montero will do better than that because it’s certainly impressive to do what Ortiz did, but it’s nice to know you have a prospect you think might hit for that.
Manny Banuelos SP
Banuelos is a bit undersized, but the concern over that is lessened by a delivery that uses his lower body well and an easy arm action. Propelled from that easy arm action is a low-90s fastball that can tick up into the mid-90s when he needs it, and he adds an above-average curveball and change-up that can both be plus on the right day and yet inconsistent on other days. Considering that he’ll turn 21 just before the start of next season, I think we’ll let that slide. What we may not be able to let slide is the below-average control. With his delivery, he should be better than he is, but that might just be a sign of him being rushed. Banuelos should improve his control enough to be a mid-rotation guy, but if he makes it above-average (which I think is possible) and adds consistency to his secondary pitches, he could be a 2.
Gary Sanchez C
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Sanchez may eventually be what people hoped Montero would be, but when you haven’t played above Low-A, we’re not about to jump off the deep end yet. Sanchez has a solid offensive profile, and he should hit for average, get on base, and pop some bombs, though he probably isn’t quite as good as Montero. Behind the plate, Sanchez looks better than Montero, though he’s still a bit raw back there. He’s got the arm, but he’ll need to improve the receiving skills that gave up 26 passed balls in 82 games. Sanchez just turned 19, however, so he has plenty of time and potential.
Mason Williams CF
Projection: 3+ WAR
You gotta love athletic center fielders, and that’s certainly the very description of Williams. A plus to plus-plus runner with an above-average arm, Williams fits extremely well in center, and he should be an asset there once all is said and done. At the plate, he makes sharp contact and is willing to take a few walks, but he doesn’t have much power, though that should increase as he fills out. Williams still has a lot to learn about the game (12 CS in 40 attempts, for example), but he’s already started turning his tools into in-game skills. Breaking out in High-A next year could make his stock sky-rocket.
Dellin Betances SP
Projection: 3/4, Relief Ace
Betances is just plain massive on the mound, and he has equally huge stuff – a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball. The problem is that his massive size may make repeating his delivery difficult. Though the delivery isn’t too bad, his long limbs and big body make staying on plane and repeating his arm slot difficult, and as a result, he walks a ton of hitters. His next problem is that his change-up is still below-average for the most part, and even though his other pitches are excellent, it would help to have a third pitch. Betances has the potential to be an ace, but his inability to hit the zone enough makes a bullpen more likely than we’d like.
Austin Romine C
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Romine might be toward the bottom end of his projection, but he still has the skills to be a solid major-league catcher. At the plate, he makes frequent contact, though without much power, and while he doesn’t take a lot of walks, he isn’t over-aggressive. Behind the plate, he’s still a little rough around the edges as he has a strong arm but not great accuracy and decent hands but still has trouble catching better stuff. That being said, he’s probably the best defensive catcher the Yankees have in the minors, and he’ll probably hold down the fort until Sanchez arrives.
Dante Bichette, Jr. 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
The son of the former Rockie by the same name, Bichette may end up being quite a bit like his father. With above-average power, Bichette’s calling card will be his bat, and while his swing has some quirks in it, it works for him. Defensively, he’s starting out at third, but he’s not particularly athletic and may need to move to a corner, which could be right considering he has a pretty good arm. There’s some concern how his bat will play against better pitching and if the hitches in his swing will come back to bite him, but for now, he’s a solid prospect.
Ravel Santana CF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
A nasty ankle injury ended Santana’s season a little early, but as long as he heals, the Yankees have another solid center field prospect. Santana’s tools begin with a plus to plus-plus arm and above-average speed that should make him an excellent defensive center fielder. Offensively, he has a solid hit tool and a better approach for a player his age, and he even has above-average power. Santana, however, faces two major questions. One, will he be this good as he enters into full-season play, and two, how will the ankle injury affect him going forward?
Cito Culver SS
Projection: 2-4 WAR
We knew it might take a little while for Culver to get acclimated to pro ball as his amateur career was spent in upstate New York, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of baseball, so while he had a rough debut, it’s not that big of a deal. He still showed an ability to make contact and draw walks at a good clip, but it’s clear that his power hasn’t arrived yet, though it might be average down the road. Culver should be able to stick at short defensively as he has a tick above average speed and a plus arm (threw 94 in high school). He’ll need to show more offensive potential to stay in good standing, but his first season in pro ball shouldn’t be held against him.
Angelo Gumbs 2B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
There was quite a bit of talent down in Staten Island, and Gumbs teamed up with Culver around the keystone. Gumbs is plenty athletic with plus speed and a solid arm, but he doesn’t always seem comfortable in the infield and may move to center eventually. Offensively, he’s quite a bit like Culver, but he has more power, which is good because he plays a less valuable position. Gumbs has quite a bit of talent, but like all of these guys in A-ball, he still has a long way to go before he reaches the majors and contributes.
Big Question – Slade Heathcott
Heathcott just needs to get out of his own way. The Yankees knew when they drafted him that he had some issues, but moments after that articled published, Heathcott got into a brawl with a catcher and was suspended, effectively ending his season. There’s no question that Heathcott has plenty of talent – plus speed, arm, and power – and he has a competitive fire that’s tough to match. But if he can’t learn to control himself, his temper will end his professional career not long after it began. We’re all pulling for him, for baseball reasons as well as humanitarian ones, but no one can fix this but Heathcott.