Saturday, December 30, 2006

Salvage Projects: Andy Cannizaro

Age: 27
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: 7th Round in 2001 out of Tulane University
Position: Shortstop
Throws: Right
Bats: Right

Tools: Cannizaro has only one real physical asset: his defensive skills. Minorleaguesplits recently labeled him a top-10 shortstop in the minor leagues. He isn't particularly fast or athletic, but he is very nimble and efficient in the infield. His arm is strong and accurate. With a bat, Cannizaro has few strengths. He puts the ball in play, but rarely will he drive it. He takes a fair share of walks, but nothing staggering enough to make up for his lack of power. He isn't particularly strong swiping bags anymore, even though he was a speed demon in college (he stole 52 stolen bases his final year in 69 games, getting caught just 6 times). Cannizaro has a strong reputation within the organization as a tough, self sacrificing, and hard working guy. A lot of his performance is the result of long hours in preparation and lots of hussle.

Performance: Cannizaro has struggled to hit in the minor leagues. More specifically, Cannizaro has struggled to hit right handed pitchers. In 2006, his best offensive year, Andy hit .276/.367/.380. However, he hit .361/.426/.484 against left handed pitchers. He may have found himself a role in the major leagues. Cannizaro lingered in Trenton for three years, which was probably one year too long. He managed a .314/.385/.396 line in 2004 there. He plays 2nd as well as short. Cannizaro was rewarded with a call up to the major leagues, where he his first MLB home run. His career minor league line is .274/.350/.351, which is about what he should be expected to hit in the majors.

Health: Andy Cannizaro is a healthy man in the prime of his career. He has no health issues to worry about.

2007 Outlook: Andy probably could have filled the back up middle infielder role in the Bronx this season, but the Yankees made the smart move and are looking to preserve their infield depth by pursueing Mark Loretta. If an infielder goes down, Cannizaro is the likely candidate for a call up (although Justin Christian might be the preferable choice to play 2nd). Cannizaro will be playing this season for a bench spot this year and in the future. In addition, I'm sure that the Yankees would love his strong glove in front Phil Hughes, Humberto Sanchez, and Tyler Clippard. He'll start in Columbus.

Comparison: Marco Scutaro

My Take: The really good farm systems in baseball develop a lot of guys like Andy Cannizaro. He's an expendable. He's cheap. He has the skills to man a major league bench spot. I think that if Derek Jeter or Robby Cano go down, Cannizaro could make a decent placeholder. He'll be a replacement level shortstop. I labeled him a "Salvage Project" because he's got one last season to avoid "AAAA" status as passed his prime. He's a depth guy, but that's not a bad thing. Expendable, cheap guys like Cannizar help a team stay flexible.

Works in Progress: Chase Wright

Age: 23
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: 3rd Round in 2001 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Left

Stuff: Wright used to throw a lot harder, but right now he throws an 89-91 mph two seam fastball. He throws it from a very deceptive three-quarter angle. The fastball has a lot of movement to it and he uses it to get a significant amount of ground ball outs. He also throws a decent changeup, at about 78-80 mph. The changeup has a surprising amount of sink to it which is his go-to pitch. Wright has been trying everything he possibly can to find some sort of successful breaking pitch. He has tried throwing both a conventional 12-6 77-78 mph curveball and a much slower 70 mph loopy curve. Neither has worked with any success.

Command: Wright will never walk people like Carlos Silva. He has average control at best, although he has learned a thing or two about pitching. He constantly pounds the bottom of the strike zone with his two seamer, without a ton of precision. When he misses, he misses out of the zone. He is going to walk 3-4 per 9 innings in the major leagues, which will limit his utility. That said, he manages to get by despite his command problems.

Health: Wright struggled to stay healthy almost immediately after being drafted. He was not able to pitch more than 100 innings from 2002 until 2005. Part of that was ineffectiveness, but Wright suffered from a series of minor growing pains (the kind of thing that are more the norm than completely healthy seasons for young pitchers). His command was significantly worse than present during this time, which prevented him from putting together any effective innings in the lower A ball leagues. His velocity started north of 93 and ended where it presently is today.

Performance: After these years of terrible play, Wright was still a sleeper pick on a lot of people's radars. Lefties get a lot of chances, and Wright still had the stuff to show promise. He put together a decent campaign in Charleston in 2005, posting an ERA of 3.75 in 144 innings. He struck out 110 and walked 69. Wright had found himself a nitch. He allowed a lot of guys to get on base, but was able to succeed by showing an uncanny ability to prevent the extra base hit. His high walk rate prevented him from winning a spot in the crowded Tampa rotation, so Chase was moved to the bullpen. He pitched excellent, posting a 2.53 ERA in 32 innings through June. He then moved back to the bullpen when the demotion of Zach Kroenke opened up a spot. He then did something very special: he posted an ERA of 1.64 in his next 87.2 innings. For the season he struck out 100 while walking 42 in 119.2 innings on the season. Due to this performance, the Yankees could not hide him from the Rule V draft anymore, and he was added to the 40 man roster a few weeks ago.

Comparison: I have never seen a pitcher who fits his description. Maybe you guys can help me out. Bruce Chen doesn't throw a 2 seamer, but he seems as close as it gets.

Outlook: Wright will head to Trenton, where his two pitch combination will be tested by more advanced hitters. From there, he could very well enter the Yankee depth charts in terms of both starting pitching and the major league bullpen.

My Take: Wright is certainly interesting. He didn't miss my top 30 list by much. I am not at all convinced that Wright can remain a starter in the big leagues. He's a lefty, but he has no sort of breaking pitch and walks a ton of batters. That said, I think that he could very well carve out a little niche for himself. He killed lefties in 2006, getting Chien-Ming Wang-like ground ball results (over 3 per air out) and over a strikeout per inning agains them (29 in 24.2 innings against lefties). He gets righties out, but destroys lefties. Left handed starting pitching is a rarity (especially in the Yankee system), so the Yankees may resist the change. His 2007 will determine a lot.

Salvage Projects: Matt DeSalvo

Age: 26 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: Undrafted Free Agent in 2003 out of Marietta College (Division III)
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: DeSalvo is a weird pitcher. He throws a 92-93 sinking fastball. He's 26 years old. He's got a small frame. Why is he still a prospect? Because he throws every other pitch in the book! He throws a changeup, curveball, slider, forkball, 4-seamer and 2-seamer. Only the changeup is a particularly good pitch (It's up there with Marquez's), but the other pitches are all servicable. He uses the changeup to strike people out.

Command: He has trouble repeating his mechanics with his fastball, leading to a lot of walks. Even when his mechanics are on, he likes to work outside of the strike zone, leading to more walks. He kept them in control throughout 2003, 2004, and 2005, only posting sub-standard ERAs when his back was injured. What happened in 2006? DeSalvo started in AAA and posted a 7.58 ERA, walking 34 in 38 innings. He walked 59 in 78 innings after returning to AA. DeSalvo is a smart guy who often gets made fun of by his teammates for reading books all day. Even if his career in baseball doesn't work out, DeSalvo will probably find some sort of job as a biologist.

Health: Besides the brief back injury in 2004, DeSalvo has a clean bill of health. At 26 years old, his arm is fully developed and capable of handling big innings. There has been speculation of a recent injury in 2006, but no word of injury has surfaced. I'll offer my explanation for the problems later.

Performance: DeSalvo set huge strikeout records while playing Division III ball, holding both the single season and overall strikeout records (205 and 603). He actually spent 5 years in college, as he was forced to sit out one year. He didn't get a lot of attention at the draft, and the Yankees got him without having to use a pick. He proceded to blow away the low minor leagues, posting ERAs of 1.84, 0.82, and 1.43 in his first three stops in all three A ball leagues. He came down with a back injury shortly after being promoted to AA in 2004, posting an ERA north of 6.00 in 27 innings. DeSalvo jumped on to prospect radar screens in 2005, when he dominated AA with an ERA of 3.02, striking out 151 in 149 innings. He walked about 4 per 9 however. He was 24 years old and it seemed like he was on the verge of breaking out in to the majors. The Yankees put him on the 40-man and invited him to the major league spring training. He was excellent, leading many (including myself) to advocate his inclusion on the big league roster. It was assumed that he would be the first call up when someone went down with an injury. Unfortunately, something happened. We don't really know what. His control evaded him. His velocity dropped. He just couldn't repeat his delivery. He had an ERA for the season over 6.00, and all of the sudden his big league future seems up in the air as guys like Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard surpassed him.

Comparison: David Cone. They are both very smart guys who would throw any pitch to a hitter at any time. They both have similar body types. If DeSalvo had been drafted out of High School, they might have followed similar career paths. The Yankees will continue to try to get something out of DeSalvo despite the struggles because he has the potential to be a lesser Cone. He isn't a low-ceiling prospect.

Outlook: DeSalvo will probably head to Trenton again in 2007. He's way behind in the depth charts now, which may put addititonal pressure on him. A good start may see him included in a trade. If he doesn't recover his stride, he risks being labeled as a career minor leaguer.

My Take: I liked DeSalvo a lot entering this season, but I made the mistake of ignoring his walk rate. He's definately got a lot of strikeouts in him, but he can't put so many people on base. He's already succeeded in the high minor leagues, so I think we can discount 2006 as any kind of statement on his baseball abilities. Two things went wrong for DeSalvo. First off, the Yankees messed with his mechanics. They were trying to get some more velocity and control out of Matt by simplifying his delivery. Why they made the decision to change a successful pitcher's approach at 25 years old is beyond me. Beyond that, the DeSalvo suffered from unspecified "mental problems" throughout the season. What could they be? They could come from an emotional let down after not making the roster in Spring Training, or he could be having girl problems or something. I'm not going to pretend that I know what his problems are. 26 isn't too old for a prospect, but 27 is. If he's not in AAA by the end of the year, DeSalvo is in trouble. He's taking up a spot on the 40 man roster and could find himself on waivers. If he does succeed, he's certainly capable of a 3.80-4.20 ERA range. He'll be fun to watch too.

Work in Progress: P.J. Pilittere

Age: 25 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 13th Round in 2004 out of Cal State University
Position: Catcher
Hits: Right

Tools: No one is going to confuse Pilittere with a supreme athlete. He isn't fast. He doesn't have a particularly strong arm. His bat isn't great. He has gap power at best. Pilittere is the rare baseball player who may drill out a career for himself with his final tool - his mind. Granted, there is no way for me to independently varify if the reports about Pilittere's mental abilities are true, but there does seem to be a general consensus: P.J. has a strategic mind. It has benefitted him at the plate despite his lack of physical gifts and talent, and it has helped him in handling pitchers. Every publication that is available to me raves about how he makes pitchers better. Again, this isn't something that I can verify.

Performance: P.J. was on a couple of radars as a future no-hit backup catcher. Unfortunately, the knock against him was that he lacked any incredible defensive skills - he is above average behind the plate at best. He didn't hit much - .215/.252/.264 and .250/.320/.381 at Staten Island between 2004 and 2005. Since he was getting old, and the Yankees were incredibly thin on catchers (and still are), P.J. was pushed to Tampa, which it turns out was a good move. P.J. hit .302/.355/.412 in his first full season of professional ball, striking out 24 times and walking 20 times in 291 at bats. He showed decent power with 5 home runs, 2 triples and 14 doubles, and recieved boatloads of praise from Tampa pitchers. The Yankees, probably with the intent of rushing him to a backup position in 2008, decided to send him to Arizona to get more playing time against tougher competition. P.J. responded to the challenge, hitting .394/.444/.545 in a very small sample of 33 at bats (Catchers always recieve sparse playing time in the AFL). He hit 1 home run, 2 doubles, walked three times and struck out 5 times. For 2006, that brings his final line to .311/.366/.429. He also hit .373 with RISP. Everything considered, that is a pretty good line.

Health: Pilittere has never had any health problems. He's a pretty average sized catcher and shouldn't have any age or weight related concerns in the near future.

Comparison: I was tempted to say Joe Girardi at first, but I thought about it and the two don't really resemble one another. P.J. has a little more bat, while Joe was better behind the plate and was more athletic. Brad Ausmus is a better comparison. I'm not sure that Pilittere will start as many games as Ausmus, but their levels of performance will be fairly similar.

My Take: I'm not sure what to make of Pilittere. He's no doubt the only decent Yankee catcher who has played higher than Charleston. He has the abilities to be some kind of major league backup one day, in part due to having a marginally better bat than the Wil Nieves/Sal Fasano brand of catchers. He might have a short prime period where he can be an average starting catcher. I can see a lot of .270/.340/.380 lines in his future, which isn't totally unacceptable for your catcher. We'll see how he handles the high minor leagues, as his AFL line is too small of a sample to really tell much. He's got the reputation for a fierce leader and near player-coach. If he fails as a prospect, we might see him resurface as a minor league manager or scout within the organization.

Up and Coming: Gerardo Rodriguez

Age: 19
Height: 6'1"
Height: 195 lbs
Drafted: Signed as an international free agent in 2005
Position: 1st Base
Throws: Right
Bats: Right

Tools: Rodriguez is very, very raw, but he can hit. He's so raw that there isn't a whole lot of scouting information on him, but he is reputed to be talented. He's no base stealer, but he is athletic enough. He should be able to hold down 1st base fairly well once he adjusts to the position. Rodriguez used to be a catcher, but for some reason (I don't have any reports on his defensive abilities) he was switched to 1st base. His main tool is power. Reports are slim, but Rodriguez may be a 60 power guy. He really good at getting the ball in the air, which will keep his average up a lot of strikeouts.

Performance: Rodriguez is very young, and because of that he has played only one season in the minor leagues. He hit what is at first glance an unimpressive .285/.342/.445 line. However, one must adjust for context. lits his park adjusted line at .321/.375/.496. The Gulf Coast League is probably the hardest in baseball to find power, both because of enviromental factors and the youth of the prospects involved. Rodriguez also hit for significantly more power when away from his home park. Regardless, Rodriguez was likely the best position player on the team. However, he does have his weaknesses. Rodriguez struck out quite a bit, King 34 times in 38 games.

Health: Gerardo is too young to say anything substantial about his health.

2007 Outlook: Gerardo impressed a lot of people in 2006. He hit 3 home runs and 13 doubles in 2006, which is equal to 55 doubles and 13 home runs during a full 162 game season. He'll head to Charleston to try and turn some of those doubles in to long bombs. Now that he is playing 1st instead of catcher, he can concentrate on hitting. He'll be able to put on some more muscle. He'll learn the new position. He is ticketed for Charleston. He could very well be in Tampa by year's end.

Comparison: Damned if I know. I guess I could see some of Nick Swisher in Rodriguez, but who knows at this point.

My Take: There is precious little information about Rodriguez available. He's a young player who is very well thought of by the Yankees. He is a 1st baseman with tons of power. He had a great season in the Gulf Coast League. He won't turn 20 until next October. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to go on. I did not include him in my top 50 because of his lack of a a minor league pedigree. He could very well run up the charts next year. My prediction? 25+ home runs and 35+ doubles next season. As a 1st baseman, he'll have to put up those kinds of numbers.

Works in Progress: Brett Smith

Age: 23 (24 next August)
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Drafted: 2nd Round in 2004 out of the University of California-Irvine
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Smith throws a fastball around 90-93 with a little bit of tail sink when he is throwing it right, thanks to his height. When his mechanics get out of whack, it straightens out. His performance usually follows when his fastball straights out. He also uses his height to sink down a very effective 80 mph changeup, which has been his bread and butter since college. He left college with a decent slider and curveball, but he only throws the curveball right now. It's about the same speed as the changeup and gets him a few strikeouts, although it's an average pitch. Smith pitches to contact and induces a decent amount of ground balls (1.66 g/f in 2006).

Command: Brett Smith has average control and command. He lives at the knees. His deceptive height and sinking arsenal keep batters from teeing off on his 90 mph fastball, but also lead to about 3 walks per 9 innings. He keeps his pitch count down by pitching to contact, but that also makes him very hittable.

Health: One of Smith's big assets is his superb health record. He pitched two 100+ inning seasons in college and then has followed it up with two 140+ inning seasons in the minors. At 23, Smith has passed the period in his career where arm injuries develop. I put a lot of stock in a healthy pitcher.

Performance: Smith had a very good college career, culminating with a 2.54 ERA junior year where he struck out 113 in 113 innings. He earned himself a 2nd round draft pick, but didn't sign until after the 2004 season was over. He spent 2004 between Tampa and Charleston, where he combined for an ERA of 4.67. It wasn't an entirely unsucessful year, as he managed to strike out 95 and walk just 31 in 140.2 innings. The strikeouts weren't encouraging, but the Yankees bet that they would eventually come. His control had actually improved since college. Smith spent all of 2006 in Tampa, where he had a pretty good year. He led the league in innings with 158 and was 5th in strikeouts with 119. However, his control went from excellent to average with 56 walks. His ERA was good at 3.81, but that may be decieving. Smith struggled at home, posting a 4.85 ERA. His ERA was 3.01 away from home. I really don't think that the ballpark was the reason behind this, but it is a plausible theory. Smith's mechanical problems may have surfaced in front of the home crowd. My guess is that it was just dumb luck that his problems happened to occur at home.

Comparison: It's a hard one, but I'd say Jon Garland when the year isn't 2005. Garland is a tall pitcher who creates a lot of sink, pitching to contact and eating innings. Garland relies more on a breaking pitch than Smith, but besides that they are very similar pitchers.

My Take: I'm not sure what to think about Smith. I think that he won't survive the major leagues with a WHIP of 1.40. He walks a few too many. If he can get his walks down from the 60-70 range and back in to the 45-55 range, I think that he'll manage to eat innings at the major league level. He's still only 23 years old and will get a crack at Trenton in 2007. I think that Smith will either be a 7th starter in the Yankee organization or a 5th starter on someone else's team. There are just too many higher ceiling arms in front of him. Still, a young innings eater will have value to the major league team. He should be ready for a trade or call up by the time he turns 25, in August of 2008. I think that he is a fairly safe bet to at least be some kind of below average major league starter.

Works in Progress: Justin Christian

Age: 26
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: Signed in 2004 out of Independent League River City
Position: 2b/CF
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Tools: Justin Christian is fast. Very fast. Faster than a speeding bullet. Christian uses his speed to get on base, steal bases, and play excellent defense. The good news? He has a lot more than just speed! Most 80 speed guys would make Luis Castillo look like a slugger. Christian? Nope! He actually has an average amount of power. He has a short and compact swing that allows him to drive balls to all fields and put the ball in play. He projects to strike out only 70-75 times per season, which gives him plenty of opportunities to leg out ground balls. He used to play 2nd base, but a weak arm got him a ticket for centerfield, where his 80 speed was put to use. He is a plus defender at the position.

Performance: Christian was one of a half dozen signings that the Yankees found in independent leagues a few years ago. They did their scouting well, finding that Christian had overcome his college-day woes to become a lethal threat at the plate and on the basepaths. Christian hit .450/.518/.700 in 30 games for River City, which could get a lot of people's attention. He stole 26 games while only being caught twice. The Yankees sent Christian to Staten Island, where he put up an indifferent .274/.336/.438 line, with 14 stolen bases and 4 CS in 50 games. Christian would come in to his own in 2005, hitting .303/.366/.466 with 55 stolen bases, only 5 CS, and 11 home runs in 125 games between Tampa and Charleston. He was sent to Trenton this season, where he would meet his first stumbling block in his professional career, hitting .276/.341/.394 in 129 games. He started the season off very slow, hitting .253/.316/.330 in his first three months. However, Christian adjusted, hitting .287/.354/.379 in July and .321/.392/.554 in August. He stole 68 bases while being caught only 13 times.

Health: Christian had major rotator cuff problems in college, but he has since overcome his injury woes. In the prime of his life, Justin Christian is completely healthy.

2007 Outlook: Christian will be sent to Scranton, where he will be high on the Yankee's outfield depth charts. Christian will try to prove that his late-season adjustment to more advanced pitchers was for real. A good deal of his future will be determined by how much power is able to hit for in Scranton. If he can maintain a slugging percentage of about .400, he could very well be a valueable major league starting centerfielder. If it dips back down to the .350 or lower range, he may not be more than a 25th man.

Comparison: Scott Podsednik. I think that Christian's career path could very well mirror Podsednik's. When Podsednik is hitting well, taking his walks, and driving a few balls to the outfield, he is a very good player. When he's off by just a little, he is a glorified pinch runner who is a liability with the bat. We'll have a better idea about which version Justin will be by the middle of 2007.

My Take: I probably should have included Christian on my top-30 prospect list. I have never been a big fan of stolen bases as the primary weapon of a prospect, but I think that Christian brings something special to the table. There are two different kinds of stolen base threats in my mind. The first are 95% of speedsters out there; guys like Derek Jeter, Luis Castillo, Bobby Abreu, or Alfonso Soriano. These are very fast players who are good at picking up on a pitcher's move. They can steal 25-45 bases per year, but most of their stolen bases are stolen off the pitcher. If the pitcher isn't paying attention to them, they go. They are opportunistic. Then there are the 5% of speedsters who have the instincts and legs to steal a base when everybody knows that they are going. I'd say that Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Dave Roberts, Corey Patterson, and Ichiro Suzuki are probably the only MLB players who meet this standard. Scott Podsednik did a few years ago, but not since he injured his hamstring in 2005. These are the guys who can really throw a team and a pitcher off every time that they are on the basepaths. I think that Christian has that kind of ability. He is part of an elite group of prospects. However, he also has the ability to get on base at an above average rate and drive enough balls to the outfield to leg out some doubles and triples. On top of it all, he plays plus defense. He probably won't ever get a chance to start without some sort of catastrophic injury, but he'll be a valueable bench player until age slows him down.

Works in Progress: Daniel McCutchen

Age: 24 (turned in September)
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: 13th Round in 2006 out of the University of Oklahoma
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: McCutchen throws a pretty standard 92 mph fastball. It isn't particularly straight or live. He was throwing harder during his time in relief at Oklahoma, but settled in to the 92 mph range once he was converted to a starter. However, his breaking stuff is what really seperates him. I've been reading quote after quote of Big-12 hitters talking about being fooled by McCutchen's curve/split combination. Several hitters said "We just kept swinging at pitches in the dirt. We couldn't do anything about it". McCutchen's three different speeds really aid him in keeping hitters off balance.

Command: McCutchen's command was decent throughout college, walking about 1 batter every three innings. He projects to have average major league command and control if everything goes well. Typically, he spots his curveball better than his splitter. The difference in break between the two serves to keep hitters off balance a lot, getting him a lot of swings and misses.

Performance: McCutchen was a late bloomer. He started his college career in 2002 with division II Central Oklahoma. He transfered to the University of Oklahoma, but was forced to sit out in 2003. He spent 2004 and 2005 as a good-but-not-great reliever, and finally blossomed as a 5th year senior starting pitcher in 2006. Overall, he pitched 313 innings, striking out 329 and walking 96 in route to a 4.02 ERA. He pitched an impressive yet stressful 148 innings in 2006. Because of this, the Yankees only let him pitch more than 3 innings every five days once. Overall, he pitched 29 innings in 9 appearances, striking out 29 and walking 6. His ERA was a sparkling 1.86.

Health: Its all too good to be true right? A guy with a passable fastball and two good breaking pitches, no control problems, and a stellar start to his professional career? Daniel McCutchen was suspended for 50 games following a failed drug test in August. Update - Looks like I was acting on bad information. Dan's drug test was actually pretty benign. He tested positive for a prescription amphetamine.

2007 Outlook: McCutchen will likely be headed to Tampa. He's 24 years old and will have to move fast. I personally think that McCutchen will head back to the bullpen. He's proven to be very durable, but the Yankees won't have a whole lot of room for him in the future. He's blocked by a dozen pitchers higher in the pecking order.

Comparison: I really don't know. Steve Trachsel with a little more velocity.

My Take: I think that McCutchen is too good to be true. I think that he either had a hot couple of months or a juiced couple of months. He wasn't very good in college, despite good peripheral numbers. His upside is average, but he has only one season of more than 84 innings pitched under his belt. Still, he got great reviews from his peers in college, and could have made a simple mistake after entering professional baseball with performance enhancers. McCutchen's a smart guy - he made all-scholar teams - so maybe he'll be smart enough to rebound. He's going to be halfway to his 25th birthday by the time he returns from his steroid suspension. 50 games is really going to hurt him. Maybe I'll be wrong, but if I am McCutchen I would look for another career.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Prospect Profile: Phil Hughes (#1)

Age: 20
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Drafted: 1st Round in 2004 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Hughes would be an effective pitcher with a 90 mph fastball. That said, Phil Hughes is going to be more than an effective pitcher. He is capable of throwing 96-97 mph, but prefers to sit comfortably at 93-94 or 94-95 on a good day in order to command it better. That said, he is capable of reaching back and throwing a located fastball at 97 if the situation commands it. He locates his fastball with the best of them. Think Curt Schilling as a comparison for the fastball.

Curveball: Two years ago, Hughes did not throw a curveball. Maybe he knew how to toss one on the side in the backyard, but he couldn't throw it in a game. What happened? Nardi Contreras told him to shelf his slider and use a curveball instead. What did Phil Hughes do? He almost immediately began to throw one of the best if not the best curveball in the minor leagues. It is a deadly strikeout weapon that lands on it's spot every time, with a solid 1-7 break.

Changeup: When Hughes made the decision to not throw his plus slider and instead focus all of his breaking effort on the curveball, it quickly became clear that he would need a 3rd pitch. Enter the changeup. He throws a 78-79 mph changeup fairly well, although it is not as developed as his other pitches. That will change. The Yankees put him on a constant diet of changeups throughout the 2006 season, forcing him to throw it as often as his curveball. It worked. He is still a step away from throwing the changeup in any situation (he goes to his curve with men on), but he is getting a better feel for it. Hughes would benefit from a few innings in AAA to finally nail it down without the big league pressure on him. Right now it will sometimes make hitters look foolish or sometimes fall way out of the strike zone. If Hughes' track record is at all predictive, expect him to throw it as well as he does his fastball.

Slider: While he still occassionally throws it on the side, Hughes does not throw his slider in games anymore. It used to be his signature pitch, but he has taken so well to the curveball that the Yankees see no reason to throw both. Hughes himself says that he struggles to command two different breaking balls at once.

Command: Lots of pitchers have a 65 fastball, 70 curveball, and 60 changeup. Phil Hughes compliment them with 70 control. He can put his fastball and curveball wherever he wants, in any count, without fail. He barely walks anyone. He barely leaves anything on the broader part of the plate for the home run. If a ball bounces in the dirt, he meant to do it. He has a career BB/9 ratio of 2.05 (which is roughly Mike Mussina level). He is a smart pitcher who always thinks one step ahead of the batter.

Performance: Few pitchers excell in the minor leagues to the extent that Phil Hughes has. Simply put, he has out classed his competition. He was drafted in 2004, but the Yankees decided to play it safe with their new jewel (he missed time with a stubbed toe) and only allowed him to pitch 5 innings in the GCL, where he didn't allow a run and struck out 8. An omen of things to come? Yes. He started 2005 in Charleston, where he would spend his last moments under the radar. Hughes and his new curveball showed the 19 year olds in A ball who was boss, pitching 68.2 innings to a 1.97 ERA, striking out 72 and walking 16 (and allowing just 1 HR). He earned a promotion to Tampa, where he pitched the worst baseball of his career - throwing 17.2 innings of 3.06 ERA ball, striking out 21 and walking 4 before being shut down with mild shoulder soreness. Prospect watchers, including myself, got very worried for a moment. However, word leaked out during the offseason that Hughes had simply hit the Yankee's prefered inning count for the season and was going to be shut down regardless of injury concerns.

Hughes made just about everyone's top prospect lists after this, finding himself anywhere from the 20s to the 40s. Baseball Prospectus predicted that Hughes would have a huge 2006 with their PECOTA projection system, saying that Hughes was the second most major league ready starter in the minors, to Liriano. It was predicted that Hughes could be called up from 17 innings in Tampa and post a 3.80 ERA. Hughes did indeed have a huge 2006, which most of you probably know about. He dismantled A+ ball, but struggled for a few starts in Trenton (as can be expected from a guy who had not yet turned 20). He posted a 3.99 ERA in May, which certainly startled people. Hughes then did his normal thing: adjustment. He posted an ERA of 1.29 in his final 10 starts, striking out 71 in 48.2 innings while walking 11 and not allowing a single home run. He finished the year with a single playoff start against Portland, pitching 6 innings (his leash on innings was loosened for the playoffs) while striking out 13 and walking one and allowing one earned run. His totals for the entire minor league season and playoffs were 152 innings, 182 strikouts, 35 walks, 5 home runs allowed and a 2.13 ERA. He could have pitched more innings (he rolled through batters without effort), but the Yankees kept him on a 5 inning limit for much of the season.

Health: There were concerns about Hughes' health coming in to this season. There are no longer any concerns. It became very clear that the concerns were simply the Yankees being extremely cautious with their golden arm. They have succeeded in keeping his innings at exactly where they wanted - around 100 innings in 2005 and 150 in 2006. He should be ready for 200 in 2007. There is no reason to be concerned about his health.

Ceiling: None. None at all. Hughes has the ability to be a once in a lifetime pitcher. He has the ability to be the best pitcher in the major leagues. There is nothing stopping him. There is nothing more than I can say. He won't put up Pedro Martinez 1999-2000 numbers, but besides that you can compare him to any rookie phenom that has come up and dominated in recent years. Jorge Posada said that Hughes has a better arm than anyone on the Yankees - including guys like Mariano Rivera and Randy Johnson.

Reaching Ceiling: He's nearly there. Hughes made AA hiters look like they should go back to little league. By the time he adjusted to the level, it was almost too easy for him. Minor league hitters are too easy for him. He has everything that you could possibly ask of a prospect, and he has been expertly handled by the organization.

Comparison: A healthy Mark Prior. I used the same comparison for Betances, but I need to draw a distinction. If Betances overcomes the traditional obstacles associated with any minor league pitcher drafted out of High School, he can top out at Mark Prior's level and style. Phil Hughes has indeed overcomed those obstacles and has found himself at the brink of the major leagues with Mark Prior-like performance levels and almost the exact same pitching style. They both had 95 mph fastballs. They both located their fastballs with Mussina-like precision. They both had filthy curveballs. They both throw a similar changeup. Prior posted a 2.43 ERA in 211 innings in 2003 at age 22. Hughes is capable of the same. Hopefully he will not be cursed with the same injuries (which the Yankees have done their best to prevent).

My Take: Tyler Clippard has his control. Ian Kennedy has his brain. Joba Chamberlain has his power. Christian Garcia has his curveball. Jeff Marquez has his changeup. Phil Hughes has it all. I have never seen a pitcher without a weakness in the minor leagues before I saw Phil Hughes. Usually power pitchers have a lack of control, or control pitchers lack power, or power pitchers with control lack secondary pitches, or they have injury issues, or they are 25 before they figure everything out, or they are inconsistent. Hughes has no weakness. All of his numbers would be phenominal if he was 24 years old, but Hughes put up these K/BBs, K/9s, BB/9s and ERAs as a 19/20 year old in AA. We're looking at something special folks, and he could be the ace of a new dynasty. Hughes has it all, and we're going to see that first hand when he gets called up in 2007.

Prospect Profile: Jose Tabata (#2)

Age: 18
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 160 lbs
Drafted: Signed Out of Venezuela in 2005 for 500,000 dollars
Position: Outfield (Where is yet to be determined)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Batting: Jose Tabata is all about the projection of his bat. This is one weakness that I have in evaluating prospects. I'm no scout. I can only rely on the consensus of others. The consensus is that Jose Tabata has a big league bat capable of Manny Ramirez type numbers. I doubt that to an extent, even though I do not doubt that Tabata has the ability to be a major impact player, but I do doubt his power potential. Tabata is a small baseball player. He's not Phil Rizzuto, but there is no way to get around Tabata's size. He isn't a lot smaller than Manny Ramirez, but Ramirez is a special type of player. Ramirez is a hall of fame talent who comes along once in a generation, and immediately hit a ton of home runs in the minor leagues at Tabata's age. Tabata is "built like a fire hydrant", but can he really hit 40+ home runs? I doubt it. Tabata does however have two very good skills that he shares with Manny Ramirez: near inhuman plate discipline for an 18 year old and a tremendous ability to get base hits. He will hit a ton of doubles and get his share of extra base hits. Scouts rave about his swing and his ability to keep his hands in. He'll be a batting title contender if everything turns out right.

Defense: Tabata's position is uncertain. At present, he has plus range in the outfield and an average to above average arm. He has been playing left field in Charleston. He could probably be an average centerfielder, but the Yankees played him in the corners in 2006. This was in part due to Tim Battle and Austin Jackson being in Charleston for much of the season, who don't have the bats to hold down a corner position. We'll see if the Yankees try to shift Tabata back to center, but his likely destination is probably left field. He wouldn't have a terrible arm in right field, but it would be average at best there. With hitting potential like Tabata's, position is less of a concern. Still, it would be nice if he were to end up in Centerfield for at least his prime years.

Performance: Tabata spent his age 17 season showing the Gulf Coast League who was boss, hitting .314/.382/.417 in 44 games with 22 stolen bases, 15 walks, 14 strikeouts, 3 home runs, one triple, and five doubles. The power numbers may have been down, but Tabata had a phenominal season for a 17 year old (he actually didn't turn 17 until August of that year). He immediately show toward the tops of prospect lists, but he would really prove himself in 2006 when he was sent to Charleston. During his first three months, he owned A ball hitters, hitting .321/.432/.450, all before his 18th birthday. Unfortunatly, a wrist injury began to sap his power and playing time in June, resulting in a long fade which would land him on the disabled list. He was thought to be healthy after the season ended and was sent to the DWL, where he hit .288/.431/.404 against intense competition before going down with the same wrist injury.

2007 Outlook: If he's able to play (and nothing that we've heard so far indicate the contrary) he will be sent to High A Tampa, where he will be among the youngest if not the youngest player in the league yet again. He made strides in the power department in 2006, but the Yankees will be looking for a lot of those doubles to turn in to home runs. He is going to be in a tough ballpark for hitters, so the numbers may be a little more subtle than they could be. The Yankees will probably keep him there for the entire year, unless he really blows the league away (which is certainly possible). Tabata is years ahead of schedule. Health will be an issue, which I will discuss later. If the Yankees hope to keep him at centerfield, they will have to make a move back there in 2007. Tampa should be an exciting place.

Health: This wrist issue is a major concern about Tabata. No one thought that it was serious when he left Charleston, because presumably the Yankees would have a short leash on an 18 year old. But when Tabata went down in the DWL, a lot of people (myself included) grew worried. Very little information has come out of the Yankees' organization about this, so I can only speculate, which I won't. Wrist injuries can be very tough, and statisically this one clearly hurt his play. Other health issues revolve around his frame and weight. He has a lot of growing to do, and a lot of people are speculating that he could end up with "chunky" legs. This could hurt his range in the outfield. As good as Manny Ramirez is with the bat, we don't want Tabata looking like him in the field.

Ceiling: Very high. In my opinion it is still limited due to size, but Tabata certainly has the ability to hit like an MVP candidate. If nothing goes terribly wrong, he is going to hit #3 somewhere someday for a long time. I don't think that he has the kind of ceiling that a guy like Montero has, simply for lack of power. Of course, this all changes if Tabata ends up in centerfield, where he could be on a Carlos Beltran/Vernon Wells level.

Reaching Ceiling: Tabata will have plenty of chances to fail in the coming years. He probably has at least two and a half minor league seasons to go at bare minimum, and these injury issues don't make things any better. For an 18 year old to be as high as Tabata is on everybody's radar is very special. I think that we'll see a quick rise out of Jose.

Comparison: Somewhere between Kirby Puckett and Brian Giles. Tabata is going to take more walks than Puckett (resulting in a higher batting average), but hit for less power than Brian Giles did in his prime (Giles also got on a very slow start to his career). We'll see how his home run stroke comes along in time.

My Take: Again, Tabata is the kind of prospect that my methods have trouble analyzing. His statistical pedigree is strong, especially when he remembers to take his walks. That said, I have to rely on a lot of people agreeing about his hitting projection. I think that position will determine a lot about Tabata's future. If he goes to a corner, I think that Tabata will have some all star years but won't be considered a top-5 player at his position. I think that Tabata could put up numbers not all that far from Bernie William's numbers in centerfield, or at the very least hit .310/.400/.520 every year. A year from now, we'll have a better picture of where Jose Tabata is going. I'd place my bets on a more optimistic outcome than otherwise.

Prospect Profile: Joba Chamberlain (#3)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 230
Drafted: 1st Supplemental Round in 2006 out of University of Nebraska
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Chamberlain is a big guy. He has a big fastball. Chamberlain throws 94-97 with plenty of life. There were reports out of Hawaii that he was being clocked at 98-99. Chamberlain's weight problem prevented him in the past from maintaining his ideal fastball throughout the later stages of each start, but he has whipped himself into shape over the last two years. More on his weight later. Chamberlain locates his fastball with the best of them.

Changeup: Chamberlain has an average 80-82 mph changeup. The Yankees are working on it and believe that it has a chance to become significantly better. He has throw it a lot in Hawaii, using it to get ahead in the counts.

Slider: Chamberlain has an above average to plus slider, which is his strikeout pitch. A typical power pitcher, you can imagine how he uses it. He has command with it, rarely leaving it up in the zone (although, like most pitchers, he can't really get a called strike with it). It is his best secondary pitch.

Curveball: Chamberlain has an above average curveball. Chamberlain may or may not abandon it as his primary "slow" pitch in favor the changeup. Lately the Yankees have been encouraging curveballs over sliders for their high school draft picks, so we'll see how Chamberlain goes.

Command: Chamberlain has plus control, but not plus command. Of course, he has the advantage of throwing 97. He'll pound the zone for strikes, but won' tbe able to hit a one inch box like Kennedy or Clippard, but he won't walk the ballpark either. Unlike those two, Chamberlain can afford to lay the occasional fastball over the middle of the plate. He illustrated his control in the HBL this winter, striking out 46 while somehow walking 3.

Performance: Chamberlain does not have an Ian Kennedy resume. He played for one year for a Division II college, weighing close to 290 pounds. He had a strong fastball but not much else, posting an ERA ove 5.00. He transfered to Nebraska, and set about improving his weight. The results were excellent, and he pitched 118.2 innings of of 2.81 ERA ball. He struck out 130 while walking just 33 and allowing just 7 home runs. He entered 2006 as a top-5 pitching prospect in the draft, but a triceps injury scared a lot of people away. His performance suffered early on, although he would eventually recovery and end the season well. He pitched 89.1 innings of 3.93 ERA ball, striking out 102 and walking 34. He allowed 8 home runs. The injury scared scared off a lot of people, causing Chamberlain to sink to the Yankees at the 41st pick. He signed late, preventing him from pitching in Staten Island. Instead, the Yankees sent him to Hawaii, where he blossomed. He pitched 37.2 innings of 2.63 ERA ball, posting that mind blowing strikeout to walk ratio of 46:3. The hitting competition wasn't great in Hawaii, but those numbers are beyond insane. Chamberlain was clearly the best pitcher in the state.

2007 Outlook: The looked like a foregone conclusion two months ago that Chamberlain would start the year in Tampa. He hadn't played an ounce of professional baseball and hadn't blown away NCAA hitters. However, as a power pitcher with tons of life on his fastball, Chamberlain may find wooden bats easier than Kennedy might. His HBL performance was nothing short of dazzling, and the hitters there are supposed to be roughly equal to High A ball level. The Yankees may push him and start him at Trenton, especially considering that Trenton may be the only minor league club that the Yankees aren't going to have a huge surplus of rotation spots. He could excell and could find himself in the major league picture as early as Spring Training of 2008.

Health: Chamberlain has two primary health concerns. First, he has weight problems. He used to be downright fat. He weighted over 280 pounds, with some claiming he was closer to 300. He had all sorts of knee and muscle problems throughout his early college career. However, someone must have lit a fire under his fat ass because he lost over 50 pounds and began pitching like an ace. The knee problems have gone away, but his triceps started to act up at the begining of this year. The injury hurt his velocity and his control, and as a result all of his numbers dipped. It was enough to make teams shy away from his top-level stuff and let him fall to the Yankees at 41.

Ceiling: Chamberlain is a bona fide potential #1 starter. He has the control, power, and secondary stuff to do it all. He has been reported to be an unceasing competitor who wears his emotions on his sleeves. He certainly has the ability to strike out 200 while posting an ERA over 3.50, which makes him an ace in my book. He'll probably pitch his fair share of innings and even have a shot at a Cy Young down the line.

Reaching his Ceiling: Time will tell whether or not Chamberlain's triceps injury is serious. I expect that it is not. His weight problem will on the other hand be a constant issue, and similar problems have derailed the careers of many a Bartolo Colon.

Comparison: C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is a little bit taller and wider, but they have the same basic pitching style. They both have a strong fastball which sits at 94-95, and both throw a slider/curve/changeup setup. Sabathia's achilles heel prior to his successful 2006 season involved a lot of maturity issues, which Chamberlain (who is already a father) does not seem to have. The college polish is certainly there.

My Take: I originally has Chamberlain rated outside of the top-10. I had ranked the Top 30 Yankee prospects right after Detroit knocked us out. Chamberlain came in with a good reputation but the injury concerns and lack of any professional experience was a knock against him. At the time, the report was that he was also only throwing 92-93. Things changed. He regained his velocity, stayed in shape, and utterly dominated Hawaii. I usually don't put a lot of stock in winter league numbers, but a 46:3 K/BB ratio is insane. On top of that, two of those walks came in his first start, where he pitched only 2 innings. His numbers were unrelenting after that. Between the rise in velocity, the numbers, and the speed that he learned a new changeup, Chamberlain rocketed in my eyes. This is one of those "gut feeling" picks.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Clippard (#4)

Age: 21 (22 in February)
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 200
Drafted: 9th round in 2003 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Tyler Clippard does not throw hard. He throws between 88-92. Kennedy has his smarts, Chamberlain has his fastball, but Clippard has his control. He can place the ball within inches of where he wants it - every time. The fastball is certainly an obstacle to success, but Clippard has not faltered. Despite the big frame, he hasn't aided any velocity to the fastball after gaining over 15 pounds of muscle. That is all right, because his other pitches get him by.

Curveball: Clippard dominated the low minor leagues by combining great control with a great changeup against hitters as young as he was. He got strikeouts like crazy by hitting a corner or expertly placing a ball just out of the strike zone. However, this is not an approach which will get whiffs out of more advanced hitters. Clippard started to learn the curveball in the begining of 2005, and Nardi Contreras yet again succeeded in teaching a true plus pitch to his pupil. Clippard quickly adopted his approach with his new out pitch, thrown at about 76-77 mph.

Changeup: Clippard has long thrown the changeup, but over the past two years it has been his trademark. He combined an already deceptive delivery with the ability to throw an 80 mph change without any indication that it is coming. He throws it for strikes and is willing to use it in any count. It isn't as good as Jeff Marquez's, but it isn't far behind.

Command: Clippard can throw all three of his pitches for strikes very consistently. His strike throwing capabilities have allowed him to eat innings throughout his minor league career. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it. His command isn't perfect, but it is very close. His height makes his top-down delivery very deceptive.

Performance: Tyler Clippard has about as good of a minor league pedigree as it gets. He pitched 149 or more innings in each of his full major league seasons, posting a collective ERA of 3.33. In 513.1 total innings, he has struck out 557 and walked just 126. He has steadily advanced from league to league, pitching in all three levels before AAA without fail. He appeared to falter to start off 2006 - posting of 4.07, 4.06, and 5.81 in April, May, and June. The stuff-crazy pundits were saying "See... we were right! He can't be that good with a 90 mph fastball". Of course, stat heads like myself were saying "Hmm... his ERAs don't match his peripherals. Something is up". Clippard had struck out 87 and walked just 30 in 86 innings, allowing 8 home runs. Statistically, he was doing the same thing he had done in the two years previous. He was either getting unlucky or his defense was letting him down. Clippard recovered, playing some of the best baseball in the minor leagues in the remainder of the season, pitching 80 more innings with an ERA of 1.91 and 92 strikeouts to just 25 walks. Clippard was top-5 in the minor leagues in both innings and strikouts.

2007 Outlook: Clippard has a luxery right now. A lot of ballclubs would take Clippard's mind blowing second half and set him up in the major leagues right away. However, Clippard is a finesse pitcher. Finesse pitchers take a little longer than power pitchers to adjust to new leagues. Clippard will benefit from a near-full season at AAA, and I would be very surprised if we see him in the major leagues in 2007 before September. He has the talent to do it, but he is behind Karstens, Rasner, Hughes, Sanchez, and White in the depth charts. That is not a knock on Clippard - as he is only 21 years old. We'll see him starting full time in 2008.

Health: One of the reasons that Clippard is rated so high is his health situation. His effortless delivery, lack of reliance on velocity, and consistent 150 inning performances through his age 21 season are all great signs for a young pitcher. You could not ask for more in a pitcher. A++

Ceiling: Clippard has a flaw. Thanks to his average fastball, Clippard is prone to giving up the home run. He's no Eric Milton, but Clippard will probably allow 25-30 home runs every season in the major leagues. His home ballparks have been big and traditionally helped him a lot in this regard, but he is going to have a little trouble remaining elite in the majors. Luckily, his great control has helped to dull the damage from the bombs. It will keep him from winning Cy Young Awards, but Clippard can certainly be a reliable starter. His ability to throw strikes and eat innings will make him a very useful pitcher in the major leagues. His ERA will over between 3.70-4.20 most of the time.

Reaching Ceiling: Barring some freak injury, Clippard is pretty much there. He will try an tackle advanced hitters at AAA, but they should not prove to be much of an obstacle.

Comparison: Dan Haren. Haren has a little more of a fastball, but Clippard's breaking stuff is much better than Haren's.

My Take: I like Clippard. I think that any pitcher who has 220+ inning potential is an incredible value to his team. As Michael Kay likes to point out every inning, good pitchers throw strikes and change speeds. His fastball may be a little lacking, but control is significantly more important. Even I recognize that the fastball keeps Clippard's ceiling down (He doesn't have the magic that Kennedy or Mussina or someone like that seems to), I rated him #4 due to the impressive health record. An injury-free pitching prospect is as rare as a good interview from a hockey player, and Clippard hasn't even raised an eyebrow from any team trainer yet. He has moved passed the point in is career where pitchers generally fall to the needle. He has grown up in Phil Hughes' shadow, but Clippard should not go unnoticed.

Prospect Profile: Dellin Betances (#5)

Age: 18
Height: 6'7"-6'9" (Depending on who you ask)
Weight: 185-215 (Again, depending on who you ask)
Drafted: 8th Round in 2006 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Betances is 18 years old. He is a big guy. He has yet to put a lot of muscle on his frame. He throws a 93-97 mph fastball, hitting 98, with nasty movement on it. He throws it with command and consistent mechanics. His fastball can do nothing but improve. Betances entered camp a raw talent, throwing 3-4 mph slower and with a mechanical delivery all over the place. The Yankees took him in and almost immediately corrected his flaws, resulting in a beautiful product.

Curveball: Betances throws a knuckle curve. He entered camp with a slight feel for it, but it was not much of a weapon. As would be a theme for Betances, this would change almost immediately. In less than two months, Betances transformed a pitch which he had little feel for in to a true plus pitch. His curveball is a strikeout weapon that sits in the low 80s.

Changeup: Yet again, Betances entered camp without much of a changeup. In fact, he entered camp barely knowing how to throw one. At least he had some experience with a curveball. With a little instruction, Betances was almost instantly able to throw a plus changeup, which compliments his fastball perfectly. He does not yet use it as a strikeout pitch, but that could change in the future.

Command: Betances entered camp with the typical "tall man syndrom", meaning that he had difficult repeating his delivery. That lasted about a week. To compare, it took Randy Johnson the better part of a half decade to do the same. That said, Betances is not 6'10". People tend to overestimate height, and I would say that Betances is more likely closer to 6'7" than 6'9". After that week of adjustment, Betances never let up. He was dominant.

Performance: Betances has a short pedigree in professional baseball. After signing, he tossed 23.1 innings (the Yankees limited his workload, as they do with a lot of 18 year olds), striking out 27, walking 7, and allowing just 3 earned runs (1.16 ERA). Betances did this following a 40+ inning high school performance where he struck out over 100. Why did he fall to us in the 8th round? Well, there are a few reasons. First off, no one thought that he would sign. Second, he pretty much said "If I am going to sign, it is only going to be with the Yankees". Third, he was not a three pitch pitcher prior to attending the Yankee camp. He tossed a live fastball and had little in terms of secondary pitches. This is a steal.

2007 Outlook: Dellin will certainly head to Charleston, where he will join a very talented rotation. The Yankee goal in 2007 will likely to simply keep Betances healthy, marginally effective, and adjusted to everyday baseball. He has no lingering issues with injury to worry about, but at such a young age who knows what health problems he may encounter in the future. He could very well take the Phil Hughes path, moving up to Tampa after some limited time in Charleston. If he manages to pitch 120+ innings, we Yankee fans should be very optimistic about his future. If he dominates Charleston, we may have another top-flight prospect on our hands.

Health: Incomplete. He is too young to determine anything about his health, although he has no immediately apparent health issues.

Ceiling: Betances has no ceiling. He is that good. If he can continue to stay mechanically clean and throw three plus pitches, he will be a success in this league. He is so young that he should be considered years ahead of schedule. I have not seen Betances pitch, but after reading a lot about him something struck me. He knows how to adjust. He quickly learned pitches, he quickly learned how to fix his mechanics, and he quickly learned how to attack hitters in professional baseball. Who does this remind me of? Phil Hughes.

Reaching Ceiling: He is so young that he will have dozens of opportunities to fail. Nothing can really be said about this right now.

Comparison: Can I say Phil Hughes? I guess I cannot. Besides a few inches and a few ticks of velocity, the two prospects seem to be mirror images of each other. Since I cannot say Phil Hughes, I am going to compare Betances to a healthy Mark Prior.

My take: I originally had Betances rated much lower, for the same reason that I rated Montero lower. But I stepped back and reflected on my choice. Betances is very young and very inexperienced. However, I cannot ignore how quickly his pitching intelligence kicked in and he adjusted his game. Some players just have it. They just know how to play. It is natural for them. Betances seems to be a natural. I am going to cautiously predict that Betances will have a Hughes-like rise to power, becoming a top-5 pitching prospect in this league in the next few years. Yankee fans should be very excited about him. His height and velocity give him an advantage over a guy like Hughes. Cross your fingers that he stays healthy.

Prospect Profile: Humberto Sanchez (#6)

Age: 23
Height: 6'6"
Weight: 230
Drafted: Draft and Followed 31st Round out of Junior College (Originally from the Bronx)
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Sanchez has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, on par with top prospects like Giovany Gonzalez, Chris Volstad, Matt Garza, and Nick Adenhart, although still a step below Homer Baily, Phil Hughes, and Jeremy Sowers. He throws an incredibly heavy 92-95 mph fastball. This heavy fastball will break bats, miss bats, and pound the ball in to the ground. He backs it up with an above average curveball and average changeup. Brian Cashman believes that Nardi Contreras can the changeup into an above average pitch and the curveball in to a plus pitch. He uses his height to his advantage, especially when throwing his curveball.

Command: Humberto has been inconsistent with command. He has the ability to pump his velocity up to 96 when he wants to, but this usually results in Sanchez becoming very wild. He is much more effective when sitting in the 93-94 mph range, where he can pound the bottom of the zone. When he learns to calm down and not overthrow, he is going to become an elite pitcher. His walk rate has improved every year since 2003.

Outlook: Sanchez has struggled with health problems in the past. He suffered from a number of nagging injuries in 2004 and 2005 which resulting in him missing time, including a sore elbow, knee surgery, and an oblique strain. However, he put it all together in 2006, pitching 123 innings between AA and AAA (his innings were limited because of past elbow problems) of 2.63 ERA ball. He struck out 129 and walked 47. He is considered major league ready, although the Yankees plan on sticking him in AAA for awhile to work on his changeup. Despite the injuries and the slow development of his 3rd pitch, the Tigers stubbornly refused to move him to the bullpen. He has the ability to be an elite closer in this league, but he could also be a top starter. If Nardi Contreras can indeed improve his two secondary pitches, and he stays healthy, look for Sanchez to be something very special. The overall pitching depth of the Yankees at AAA will enable them to take it slow with him. Sanchez would have been rated higher, but his health issues concern me.

Grades: Ceiling A, Health C-, Comparison: I've heard Roberto Hernandez, but I am still confident that Sanchez can remain a starter.

Prospect Profile: James Brent Cox (#7)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: Second Round in 2005 out of the University of Texas
Position: Relief Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: J.B. Cox is not going to blow his fastball by anybody. He throws a 2-seamer at about 91-92 mph from a 3/4 arm slot. Previously, Cox had proven to throw a very durable near-sidearm fastball, but the Yankees decided to change this. He was throwing 86-89 when they drafted him, in part due to fatigue after throwing so many college innings. The new arm slot vastly improves his breaking stuff, and retains the movement on his fastball. His delivery is still deceptive, and very repeatable. He controls his fastball very well, throwing strikes with ease. The sink on his fastball has been compared to Derek Lowe's.

Slider: Cox has a plus slider, on par with T.J. Beam's. He throws it at about 85 mph, with excellent control. It breaks hard and in to left handed batters, getting him a decent amount of swings and misses. He is by no means a strikeout pitcher, but his slider is certainly a strikeout weapon. He doesn't use the pitch to get strikes, but it certainly looks like a strike when he is throwing it. The weird arm slot that he throws from makes it even more deceptive.

Changeup: Cox entered 2006 with a feel for a changeup, but it wasn't good enough to be thrown in a pressure situation. That changed. He worked very hard, turning it in to a major league quality pitch. It isn't anything special, but it gives the hitters something softer to think about. He will continue to work on it coming in to 2007, and the Yankees believe that he can make the changeup a near plus pitch.

Command: Cox has absolutely stellar command, which is easily his biggest asset. He does not get himself into trouble by walking people. He does not leave balls over the middle of the plate, resulting in an astronomically low 6 career home runs allowed in 290.1 innings between college and the minor leagues. Cox has pitched in 13 CWS games, handling the pressure as well if not better than fellow-Texan Huston Street.

Performance: Cox put together three excellent years in the NCAA's storied University of Texas, pitching 185.2 innings, striking out 190, walking 53, and posting a 2.03 ERA. He got the final out of their 2005 Championship before signing with the Yankees. He has one of best pedigrees for a college closer in the short history of drafted college closers. He doesn't throw as hard as most power relievers, but he has certainly showed up on the mound. Between High A Tampa and AA Trenton, Cox has pitched 104.2 innings, striking out 87 while walking just 29. He has allowed only 23 earned runs during that time for an ERA of 1.98.

2007 Outlook: On a lot of teams, Cox would already be in the major league bullpen and perhaps a major league closer. However, the Yankees refused to rush Cox, seeing Joe Devine on the Braves and Craig Hansen on the Red Sox crash and burn after being rushed from high end college programs to pressure situations in the show. With a suddenly loaded Yankee bullpen, Cox will start 2007 in Scranton, which will give him time to work on his changeup. He will likely be second or third on the Yankee relief depth charts, behind Chris Britton (if he gets optioned down) and T.J. Beam (who is starting to get old). There is no doubt in my mind that Cox could perform better than Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor next year if sent immediately to the Yankees.

Health: If there is one reason to be concerned about Cox, this is it. He pitched well over 100 innings in 2005 between the college season, the CWS, and Tampa. The Yankees slowed it down a bit this year, giving him 77 innings before shipping him off to Team USA. He pitched well there, but went down with an elbow injury in the final days of play. He was supposed to go to Arizona, but was pulled from the team roster. No Yankee official seems to be making a big deal about it though. Hopefully they are not trying to mask a bigger problem.

Ceiling: There is debate as to whether or not Cox can be a big league closer. His fastball is below average for an ace reliever. Most closers (even Mariano) sport a 95+ mph fastball to blow by people. I think that Cox has the ability to close, but will not fool anybody to thinking that Mariano had yet to retire. In terms of quality, I would compare him to John Wetteland. Wetteland was a decent closer, but not a great one. Think about some of Tom Gordon's good years, or one of Shield's better years. The ability to eat innings should not be underrated here. Cox could be one of the average closers in this league or one of the better setup men.

Reaching his Ceiling: He is basically major league ready right now. I would say that there is an 80% chance that Cox steps in and posts a sub 3.50 ERA right away. He has as much experience as we could possibly hope for, and should feed off the pressure of the big leagues. Health is the only concern. 90% Chance of Reaching the Majors.

Comparison: Scot Shields. If Cox successfully turns his changeup into an above average pitch, he will resemble Shields even moreso. Shields relies on his sinking fastball to force ground balls and low pitch counts. Shields will probably strike more people out, but I think that Cox will be a better reliever thanks to the plus slider. He has better minor league numbers than Shields and an excellent college track record.

My Take: Cox wouldn't be #7 if he wasn't so far along. He is going to be at least a good major league reliever very soon, and could very well be a great one. His ability to get left handed batters out just as well as right handed ones thanks to the hard slider coming in will make him better than a middle reliever. He is such a certain product that there is not much more to say about him. Hopefully this mysterious elbow injury isn't serious, and I doubt that it is. Scranton is going to be a fun team to watch.

Prospect Profile: Ian Kennedy (#8)

Age: 22
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 185
Drafted: 1st Round in 2006 out of USC
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Kennedy throws a 4 seamer around 88-92 mph, although it dipped in velocity during his final year at USC. He is learning a 2 seamer down in Hawaii, which may be to blame for most of his struggles there (more on this later). "But EJ, why did we waste a 1st round pick on a guy who throws 90?". Johnny, it is pretty simple. Kennedy locates his fastball with extreme poise, ala Mike Mussina.

Changeup: Kennedy has a plus changeup, which he uses with ruthless efficiency. The changeup is essential to Kennedy's approach on the mound. He uses it to out smart the batter, with a lot of success. It is one of three pitches that he will often use to finish off a batter.

Slider: Kennedy sports an above average slider, sitting in the mid 80s. He uses it to make his changeup look a little lighter, forcing the hitter to account for harder breaking stuff. He is one of the rare pitchers who can reliably throw their slider for strikes. When it misses, it misses in the dirt, not in the zone.

Curveball: He also sports an above average curveball, which he can again use with pinpoint accuracy. The curveball gives Kennedy a third strikeout pitch, making him incredibly deadly in that department (and it showed in college, which I will get to soon).

Command: As previously mentioned, Kennedy's command is excellent. He is a very smart pitcher who learns how to get each individual batter out. He has a strategic mind not unlike that of Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina. He handles pressure extremely well. In terms of "polish", the Yankees believe that Kennedy is already far ahead of most AA prospects.

Performance: Ian Kennedy put up two of the more dominant seasons in NCAA history. In 2004 and 2005, Kennedy pitched a combined 209.2 innings. He posted a 2.70 ERA between the two years, striking out 278 and walking just 69. for a 19 and 20 year old just entering college, these numbers were monumental. He had a reputation as the best pitcher in USC history - a group which includes Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. USC also happens to face the highest level of competition in the NCAA. What happened? Kennedy had a poor - by his standards - Junior year. He posted a 3.90 ERA in 101.2 innings, striking out 102 and walking 36. He did not allow any more home runs than his freshman year, give up significantly more his, or walk a ton of batters.

2007 Outlook: Unfortunately, Kennedy signed late. He only got 2.2 innings in at Staten Island before the playoffs started. Any thought of Kennedy starting in Trenton was immediately dismissed. He will start in Tampa, where he hopefully should do very well. Kennedy went to Hawaii, pitching 30.1 innings, striking out 45, walking 11, and posting a 4.56 ERA. He allowed 27 hits. A lot of Kennedy's struggles may be due to his attempt to develop a 2 seam fastball. In addition, almost half of Kennedy's earned runs came in one game, where he gave up 8 runs. Other than that game, Kennedy had an ERA of 2.48. Kennedy still struck out over 13 per 9. Still, he will go to Tampa.

Health: A lot of speculation about Kennedy's significantly worse 2006 season has been speculation about health. This is just speculation, although it may have merit. Rumors are that his velocity dropped, although no one can specifically say that it did. I am skeptical. Kennedy pitched a lot of innings in college without arm problems. He has a pretty good health record. B.

Ceiling: Kennedy's fastball is a knock against him. If you read BA, you would think that Kennedy would be lucky to get out of AAA. I cannot disagree more. I strongly believe that Ian Kennedy is going to be a major steal in this draft. A steal in the first round? Yes. Absolutely. His fastball is average. I understand that. However, Kennedy has a ton of Maddux/Mussina in him. Hell, he even does Mussina's stretch move. You cannot ignore those college numbers. Those are crazy dominant strikeouts, walks, and ERAs. I believe that Kennedy can put up a lot of typical Mussina years - 3.40 ERA, 220 innings, 200 strikeouts, 40 walks. That doesn't look like "#4 Starter" that BA seems to have doomed Kennedy to.

Reaching his ceiling: It will be up to Kennedy to prove that his 2006 season in college and Hawaii was a fluke. I believe that he can do it. Intelligence is underrated in baseball, and Kennedy appears to have the ability to outsmart his opposition. The Yankees can also afford to take their time with Kennedy and let him learn at his pace. Maybe he'll learn a gyroball or something.

Comparison: Mike Mussina, no doubt. Like I said, he resembles Mussina in almost every way. Strikeouts. No walks. Average fastball. Lots of secondary pitches. The same strange stretch move. This is the easiest comparison on this list.

My Take: Don't write Kennedy off. If George Kontos is an example where old school scouts are dead-on toward a prospect, Ian Kennedy will be an example where the stat-heads got it right. Sometimes you cannot explain a pitcher's performance by the plus marks next to his pitches or the radar gun readings. Sometimes something is just there - and Kennedy has that something. In the words of Charles Barkley - I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Prospect Profile: Jesus Montero (#9)

Age: 16
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220
Drafted: Signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for 2 million dollars
Position: Catcher (for now)
Bats: Right

Batting: Jesus Montero is 16 years old. Jesus Montero's bat is now. His bat is among the best to come out of Latin America in history. He has 80 power on a 20-80 scale, which means he has the potential to hit 40+ home runs at the major league level. He has an advanced approach at the plate, meaning that he knows how to select his pitch. We are unsure about his strikeout and walk potential due to his lack of professional experience to this point. It is very difficult to judge too much about Montero at this stage in his development. The Yankees are already adjusting his swing to allow him to hit for power to all fields, which is something usually reserved for prospects much older than Montero.

Defense: Montero is a catcher. We know that. He probably will not remain a catcher. Montero has a few things going against him. First off, he is a big guy. At 16 years old, he will probably be larger than 6'3" 220 lbs by the time he reaches the majors. Catchers simply cannot survive at 240+ lbs. Second, he is no Joe Mauer. His defensive abilities are extremely raw and may or may not develop in to a good defensive catcher, but right now he doesn't show a lot of finesse behind the plate. The Yankees plan to keep him at catcher now, but Montero could end up a 1st baseman when all is said and done. If he does remain a catcher, his offense will be magnified tenfold.

Performance: Montero has not played any serious professional ball so far. He did hit a home run in his first professional game though.

2007 Outlook: There are two options for Montero. He could go to Charleston as a 17 year old, or he could be sent to the Gulf Coast League. I believe that Montero will not end up in Charleston. He is still learning English and the catching position, two traits that you do not want handling prize prospects such as McAllister and Betances. Montero is so incredibly young that rushing him could have poor effects. He will probably be sent to extended spring training and the GCL Yankees, where his bat will dominate. All of this said, if the Yankees decided to move him away from the catcher position, he will almost certainly be sent to Charleston. It seems a little early to do that though. When you hear things in interviews like "He hits like a big leaguer right now", you do expect prospects to be a little more rushed than expected.

Health: Montero is so young that nothing substantive can be said about his health. Incomplete.

Ceiling: The sky is the limit for Montero (a phrase that will certainly come up a lot with the next few propsects). I don't care what position he plays, because his bat has enough power to play him anywhere. A+.

Reaching his ceiling: He is so damn young that again nothing substantive can be said about it, except that power is traditionally the last tool to develop in a prospect. If he already has major league power, he is in good shape. Plate discipline will determine a lot for Montero. 20% Chance of reaching the majors.

Comparison: Again, it is way to early to compare him to anyone. He certainly has the ability to match or beat Javy Lopez's 2003 or some of Posada's best years.

My take: Some people would rate Montero a bit higher. I certainly agree with them that his ceiling is unlimited, but I cannot rate a 16 year old who never has played in the minor leagues higher than some of the guys on this list. He could very well be the #1 prospect in the Yankee system a year from now. He probably has more potential than even Tabata.

Prospect Profile: Eric Duncan (#10)

Age: 21 (22 in December)
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 1st round out of High School in 2003
Position: 3rd/1st
Throws: Right
Bats: Left

Tools: Eric Duncan is not going to make anybody mistake him for a triathelete. On the other hand, he is no Jason Giambi. His tool is his bat. From the start, Eric Duncan was looked on by scouts as a big time power hitter. This is a mischaracterization of Duncan. Eric Duncan will never be a 30+ home run guy. He simply does not have the swing for it. He tends to be very uncomfortable pulling balls, prefering to drive pitches in to left center field. He is one of the best in the minors at doing so. His eye at the plate is extremely selective, resulting in comparisons to Chipper Jones. His defense at 3rd was average at it's absolute best, although he has proven to be a passable 1st baseman.

Performance: The Yankees have attempted to change this, adjusting his swing to be more pull happy. The result? Lines of .235/.326/.408 as a 20 year old at AA and .209/.279/.255 as a 21 year old in AAA. He recovered in Trenton this year, hitting .248/.355/.485. In between the years, he earned the AFL MVP honors after posting a .362/.423/.734 line. Duncan has a weird power stroke that will produce lots of doubles and a decent amount of homers. The comparison is Jason Giambi is way off in this regard, as Duncan is anything but a dead-pull hitter. He has had a major strikeout problem in the high minors, punching out 136 times in 126 games in 2005 and 24 times in 31 games in AAA in 2006. The strikeouts did improve after being sent back to AA, striking out only 38 times in 57 games (equal to 108 in a 162 game season).

Outlook: I am mixed on my opinion of Duncan's future. He spent most of 2006 experiencing bad back problems, almost resulting in surgery. Those problems have again resurfaced in the AFL this year. Back problems tend to be chronic and very debilitating. If healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that Duncan will be an effective major league player. The strikeout level that he maintained in his second trip to AA is certainly low enough to maintain a decent major league batting average, and his isolated power at AA has been top of the line (.237 in 2006, Alex Rodriguez has a career .268 ISO). I love any player who can hit to all fields like Duncan can, and the plate discipline is a big plus. His minor league stats aren't great, but the Yankees have consistently rushed him from level to level. Just being in AAA at 21 this year was an accomplishment, even if he failed miserably. I believe that Duncan could blossom in to a .270/.370/.500 hitter in the majors.

Grades: Ceiling B+, Health C-, Comparison: Erubiel Durazo

Prospect Profile: Austin Jackson (#11)

Age: 19
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 180 lbs
Drafted: 8th Round in 2005 out of High School (800,000 $ bonus)
Position: Centerfield
Bats: Right

Tools: According to Travis at Pending Pinstripes, the Yankees started scouting Jackson when he was 12. They clearly had interest in his athletic talent, and it showed. Jackson is an excellent athlete, but that is only hlaf the story. His speed is 60 on a 20-80 scale, or about equal to a Bobby Abreu. He is still learning how to steal bases but has already shown 40-50 base ability. The speed translate well to centerfield, where is one among many excellent Yankee defenders. He has the arm of an average left fielder. Jackson has a Derek Jeter-like swing to right field, producing surprising gap power. Austin is extremely patient at the plate for a 19 year old, although he struck out a ton in 2006.

Performance: At first glance, Jackson did not follow up his strong performance in 2005 when sent to Charleston in 2006. He hit to a .260/.340/.346 line with 151 strikeouts, 61 walks, 37 Sbs and 12 CS. The strikeouts were not the result of a long or loopy swing but rather Jackson taking too many pitches for strike 3. That said, he came in to the season as a 19 year old pure-athlete. It is very rare that an athlete of his caliber does not swing at everything - so the pitch-taking is encouraging. He will learn as he ages to get ahead in the count and drive hitter's pitches. Jackson certainly looks to have 80-walk potential written on him. In addition, he showed excellent raw power in Charleston, hitting 33 extra base hits. With his inside-out swing he probably won't hit a lot of home runs, but he will get his share of doubles and triples (especially with his speed).

Outlook: Jackson is my pick for a breakout prospect in 2007. Except for the strikeouts, he has done everything right. If he could cut those strikeouts down considerably he looks to be a .290/.380/.450 player who can steal you 40-50 bases every year. He is still a long way off, but the Yankees may push him to Tampa next year. He will join teammates Battle, Corona, Vechionacci, and others there. He is at a stage where the average high school prospect would still be trying to figure out how to tie his shoes in professional ball, so it is easy to underrate his performance so far. He is ahead of where Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, similar in terms of talent, were at this age.

Grades: Ceiling A-, Health B, Comparison: Kenny Lofton

Prospect Profile: Jeff Marquez (#12)

Age: 22
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 175
Drafted: Supplemental 1st Round in 2004 out of Sacramento College
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Jeff Marquez has a strong sinking fastball that he throws around 92-93 mph, topping out a few ticks higher. He gets a ton of groundballs with it. He could add a few mph as he puts some muscle on his body. Marquez's fastball is good, but his real strength comes with his plus changeup, probably the best in the Yankee system. He throws it from the exact same arm slot as his fastball, but at 76 mph. He also throws a very good curveball at around the same velocity.

Command: Marquez commands his fastball and changeup extremely well. He does not rely on the strikeout, although he certainly does get his fair share (he has a career K/9 of 7.48 in the minors). Instead, he causes hitters to pound the ball in to the ground like Brandon Webb. He does not command his curveball nearly as well, although it is still a good pitch. The curveball (which Nardi Contreras seems to be teaching to every Yankee starter) has a lot of break to it, but generally breaks into the dirt. Marquez has only been throwing it for a season and a half, so it certainly could improve. He shows a remarkable ability to prevent home runs, allowing only 11 home runs in over 300 innings.

Outlook: Marquez battled injuries throughout 2006, but did not get run off his course. He pitched just under 100 innings in 2006, posting a 3.58 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 30 walks in Tampa. This is after throwing 139 innings of 3.42 ERA ball in Charleston with 107 strikeouts and 61 walks. His control has improved considerably since in that small time, in part thanks to the development of his curveball. Marquez is not having a good time in the Hawaiian league right now, but he is still likely to head to AA Trenton next season. Marquez will be an effective major league player for a couple of reasons. He strikes people out, forces them to pound balls into the ground, rarely walks people, and does not allow a lot of home runs. The injuries that he missed time with were just a couple of muscle strains. I have a lot of faith in guys who change speeds as well as Marquez does. He was a first round pick for a reason. He may be converted to a reliever due to a surplus of Yankee starters, but I doubt it.

Grades: Ceiling B+, Health B, Comparison: Ramiro Mendoza