My Top 10 Yankees prospects
For Jesus Montero, briefly a Thunder catcher and our choice for the Yankees’ top prospect entering the Hot Stove season, the defense is merely a footnote.
It’s his bat that generates the ink — and justifiably so.
Montero recovered from an ice-cold start to dominate the International League at a tender 20 years old.
After May was completed, he looked lost, compiling just three home runs and 21 RBIs. By the time the season finished those totals were at 21 and 75, meaning he’d swatted an incredible 18
bombs and drove home 54 runs in a span of just 79 games.
The finish was so hot, in fact, that some were clamoring for Montero to earn a September call-up. A late infection quashed those talks, but the youngster will almost surely play a role in the Yankees’ catching picture in 2011.
2. Manny Banuelos - LHP
Continuing the trend of youth flourishing at the upper levels, there’s Manny Banuelos, a Mexican southpaw who, at just 19 years old, more than held his own at Double-A over the final few weeks of the season.
Scheduled as High-A Tampa’s Opening Day starter, Banuelos underwent an emergency appendectomy and missed more than two months before debuting in mid-June.
No matter, Banuelos bullied his way north from Florida to join the Thunder in the midst of a hotly contested pennant chase with the Fisher Cats.
The lefty wound up pitching his finest game during the finale of Trenton’s three-game sweep in the Eastern League Division Series, dispatching New Hampshire in dominating fashion.
Expect him to make a return to trip to central New Jersey next April.
3. Andrew Brackman - RHP
After seeming incapable of throwing a strike in 2009, things finally came together for Brackman last season.
After some early struggles, Brackman found his way in Tampa and earned a promotion to Trenton shortly thereafter.
Slowly but surely, control and confidence returned for Brackman, who admittedly was still not at 100 percent after having Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted in 2007.
By the end of the season, the 6-foot-10 Brackman was the Thunder’s most dominant pitcher. He earned the team’s only win in the EL Championship series, flashing as high as 98 miles per hour and showcasing a devastating spike curveball.
It seems a coin-flip as to whether Brackman returns to Double-A to start next year.
4. Dellin Betances - RHP
Like Banuelos, Betances began the year on the shelf, although his absence was expected.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder spent April and May recovering from ligament reenforcement surgery on his throwing elbow.
When he returned, so did his high-90s fastball and wipeout curveball, as well as a revamped change-up and a much-improved sense of command.
New weapons in tow, Betances tore up the Florida State League, allowing a scant 43 hits in 71 innings, while fanning 88 against just 19 walks.
He’ll more than likely return to Trenton in 2011, but could move quickly.
5. Gary Sanchez - C
Another young, slugging catcher from Latin America?
Just 17 years old, Sanchez, whom the Yankees signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3 million, was a man above boys in the Gulf Coast League. He slugged six bombs in 31 games before earning the promotion to Short Season Staten Island.
He struggled a bit there, but the dirt on Sanchez remains the same: He’ll hit, and hit a ton.
6. Slade Heathcott - OF
New York’s first-rounder in 2009, Heathcott spent the year in Low-A Charleston, and put up fine numbers for a 19-year-old getting his feet wet in pro ball.
The numbers tell one story, but here’s another: During one game of his I saw this year, Heathcott collected two hits against the Lakewood BlueClaws.
On the surface, that’s nice, but not exceptional. When you consider he did it while missing a contact lens, it shows some pretty nice determination from the young man.
7. Austin Romine - C
Handling the duties for Trenton all season, Romine didn’t quite flourish, but he didn’t flounder, either.
He hit .268 with 31 doubles, 10 home runs and 69 RBIs. The defense, while drawing some very positive reviews from scouts, didn’t look great on the stat sheet.
Still, his six passed balls marked a career low, and he expertly guided a talented and fluid staff all year long.
His work behind the dish does have flaws — he doesn’t handle velocity as well as he should, and he sometimes rushes himself — but he’ll e 22 next season, so there’s no reason to think he can’t overcome his problems.
8. J.R. Murphy - C
Another in a line of young, talented backstops, Murphy more than held his own in his full-season debut with Charleston — including a two-HR, nine-RBI game in mid-August.
He split time with Kyle Higashioka, and is athletic enough to perhaps move to the outfield down the line.
His .255/.327/.703 line doesn’t jump out at you, but seven bombs and 51 RBIs as a 19-year-old isn’t bad.
Still, he’s extremely polished, and could handle the staff next year at High-A.
9. Hector Noesi - RHP
He tossed the Thunder’s first nine-inning complete game since 2008, and apart from a mid-season struggle with his stride, Noesi was the team’s workhorse until he was moved up to Scranton for the season’s final weeks.
His solid four-pitch mix is enhanced by impeccable control.
He’ll start 2011 in Triple-A, more than likely.
10. David Phelps - RHP
Lost in the hubbub surround Brackman, Banuelos and Betances was Phelps, who quietly carried Trenton’s staff through the first part of the season.
He sports a a low-to-mid-90s fastball that he throws with excellent command and confidence anywhere in the zone.
Phelps was up and down after he was promoted to Scranton, but with a good showing in the early season, he could push for a spot in the 2011 bullpen.