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April 7, 2006

Top 25 Yankee Prosects: '06
by Fabian

  1. Phil Hughes, 19, RHP

The only possible flaw you could find in him is his spotty injury history though he hasn’t suffered anything serious to this point. He will start the year in Tampa and end at least in AA.

  1. Eric Duncan, 21, 1B/3B

Concedes the number 1 spot after tough offensive year at AA along with move across the diamond and emergence of Hughes. I was more down on him at the outset of the off season, but recent news that the stance he used during his ’05 AA season was different than the stance that he has used prior to and following that stint has cheered me up. I still think it’s a mistake to start him in AAA though and hopefully his off the chart makeup allows him to put together a respectable season at the level.

  1. Tyler Clippard, 21, RHP

His stuff took a step forward in ‘05, as did his performance. RHB previously tattooed him due to his off speed stuff being so far ahead of his fastball, but now that he’s consistently getting it up to the low 90s, batters of all types are in danger. His fly ball tendencies are also overblown as he was around average in that regard. AA is often said to be the test for guys with less than overwhelming stuff and I’m cautiously optimistic Clippard will pass.

  1. Jose Tabata, 17, RF

Following in the footsteps of Marcos Vechionacci, Jose Tabata is the new teenaged phenom from Venezuela. Tabata is actually about a year younger than Vechionacci was when entering full-season ball, but I’m confident he will do a better job carrying Rookie League excellence over to full season baseball. Part of this is Tabata’s broader skill set, he is a 5-tool player for the moment while Vechionacci lacks speed, and part of it is that the terms used to describe each of Tabata’s tools were more impressive than those used to describe Vechionacci’s. Unfortunately, Tabata also gained a bit too much weight this off-season and that situation bears watching.

  1. Christian Garcia, 20, RHP

Garcia is a popular pick for breakout prospect in the Yankee farm system heading into 2006 and while I’m not as much on the bandwagon as others, I do like him a lot. Garcia gets a lot of groundballs and when he is on he is the most dominating pitcher in the system, unfortunately his being on doesn’t occur on a consistent enough basis. Additionally, Garcia also seemed to have a tendency to get flustered when things weren’t going his way during the ’05 season. Lastly, the most common measure I have seen used to place a numeric value on his strikeout ability is K/9, which overestimates someone like him who walks and hits so many batters.

  1. Jeff Marquez, 21, RHP

In the haste to crown Garcia as THE breakout pitcher for the farm system, Jeff Marquez is being overlooked. Marquez doesn’t strike out as many guys as Garcia, but he doesn’t really need to as he makes up for it with more ground balls and better control. Marquez doesn’t have Garcia’s ceiling, but he appears a safer pick and projects as a very good pitcher in his own right

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 18, SS

Given his age, position, league, and home park, Nunez had arguably the best performance of any prospect on this list last season. Despite that as well as his solid tools across the board, especially defensively, Nunez only comes in 7th on this list because he will be starting the year in Tampa and I’m weary of how he’ll perform and what that will do to his future development. The organization was in a tough position as he had conquered the highest level of short-season ball they have and C.J. Henry would be holding the SS job for Charleston, so this is no fault of their own. It’s unfortunate that a numbers crunch may negatively affect his prospect status, but I guess it’s always best to have too many quality prospects at a position than not enough.

  1. Marcos Vechionacci, 19, 3B

Vechionacci was last year’s teenaged phenom and I was perhaps his biggest backer, going as far as to insinuate his age-18 season in full season ball would be perhaps comparable to B.J. Upton’s. It didn’t come close. Vechionacci started the year off all right, but struggled after hurting himself in a home plate collision early in the season. I feel that this incident may have been a contributing factor in his poor performance as what he lacked was proper drive on balls he connected with and since the injury was a lower body one, it might have affected his ability to generate power in his swing. One positive that came out of the season was that after switching to 3B permanently Vechionacci was widely regarded as a future Gold Glover. He’ll start the season in Tampa, which I’m lukewarm about, though similar to last year I’ll place my faith in his strike zone judgment to overcome, hopefully this time it’ll work out better.

  1. Austin Jackson, 19, CF

While there were some worries about how Jackson, a borderline first-round talent picked up in the eighth, would adjust to pro ball based on his having focused more on basketball as an amateur, he hit well in his pro debut. In the ’05 GCL, Jackson hit for a high average and drew walks though he only showed gap power. Defensively, Jackson projects to stick in CF and if he can maintain the K:BB ratio he held in ’05, or come close, he should fulfill his offensive potential and become a good number 2 hitter, perhaps in the mold of a Derek Jeter. The likelihood of him doing so isn’t assured though as even after the good debut his approach at the plate is still questioned by the scouts.

  1. C.J. Henry, 19, SS

Henry was the Yankees’ first round pick in 2005, but only got off to a so-so start to his career in last year’s GCL. The primary problem for Henry was strikeouts and whenever those are an issue it always bears watching. Henry did everything else well though and scouts don’t seem to doubt his ability to hit for average down the line, so hopefully strikeouts won’t hinder him in ’05.

  1. Tim Battle, 20, CF

In terms of pure physical talent, Tim Battle could arguably place number 1 on this list. However, tools alone do not make a prospect, as performance is necessary as well. ’06 was Battle’s third year in the Yankee farm system and the first where he showed any type of offensive consistency. The consistency saw Battle end the season with a .259 average, 60 XBH, and 40 steals; all career highs. Unfortunately, Battle also struck out 195 times in 525 ABs. Because of the high strikeout rate I have no faith Battle will hit at the highest level, however he sits this high on the list because if he does get his strikeouts down, there’s nothing on the baseball field he can’t do. Battle’s chances of making the necessary adjustments are decent, I feel, because his approach at the plate isn’t a reckless one, it’s just that he tends to chase 2-strike pitches so perhaps a mental adjustment needs to be made.

  1. Brett Gardner, 22, CF

While Battle is the CF who’s all about potential, Gardner is all about polish. Gardner was a guy who I was not a fan of when he was drafted, but I’ve come around on him as he does have terrific speed and projects as both a good CF and leadoff hitter at the highest level. Additionally, Gardner is not completely without punch, which I thought might be the case. He will start the season as the CF for Tampa, pushing Battle over to a corner, and I expect him to end the year at least in AA as he controls the strike zone well and plays within himself.

  1. Matt DeSalvo, 25, RHP

If the Yankee rotation goes through problems of injury or ineffectiveness it is likely that DeSalvo will get the first call after impressing in ST. Overlooked because he is a smallish RHP and can only touch 94 once in a while, DeSalvo is a groundball pitcher that racks up strikeouts. The biggest flaw in his game at this point is that from time to time he can get wild and run up the walk totals. This was especially the case at times early in ’05, but Matt adjusted to the level and ended up being one of the best pitchers in his league as has been the case every step of the way of his career. He might not have front of the rotation potential, but DeSalvo should be able to be at least a solid 4 or good 5 and that could be as soon as this year.

  1. Melky Cabrera, 21, CF

Most Yankee fans likely have a very negative impression of Cabrera who struggled in the field and at the plate during his ridiculously brief ML call-up. Melky was not ready at the time and the Yankees had no business calling him up, so to some extent, failure should have been expected. Why the Yankees are continuing to rush Cabrera after that experience, now by starting him in AAA rather than allowing him to experience consistent AA success, I’m not quite sure. The decision is even more questionable considering that there is no need for a CF at the big league level and no top-flight CF manning the position at AA. Similar to Duncan, if he succeeds, it will be a case of talent overcoming questionable management.

  1. J.B. Cox, 21, RHP

While he doesn’t have the stuff of say…Craig Hansen, who looks like the next Mariano Rivera, J.B. Cox should at least make a great set-up man someday. He strikes out more than his fair share of batters, gets tons of groundballs, and is battle proven, having closed the door in many a pressure packed game as the former closer for the Texas college baseball program. Some have made comparisons to the man who held that job before him, Huston Street, but it’s hard to expect someone to be that good that quick. If the ML bullpen ends up performing as questionably as the track record of the players involved in it would have one believe they will Cox should get a look come mid-season.

  1. Alan Horne, 23, RHP

Horne signed too late to pitch in ’05, but he is making this list strictly off the buzz from his instructional league performance as well as reports from his amateur career where he always noted as a high ceiling guy who was rough around the edges. The roughness around the edges is due to his injury history as well as less than ideal control. Horne will open this season at Tampa and if he stays healthy, hopefully will make his way to AA at some point.

  1. Jeff Karstens, 23, RHP

I have a soft spot for Jeff Karstens and his all-around average repertoire of pitches. He’s a guy who will never amount to a star, but does enough, eating up innings, striking out a decent amount of batters, keeping his walk rate low, getting a decent amount of groundballs, that I just feel he will be a big leaguer. His likely role in the big leagues is as a swingman/spot starter and don’t expect anything too nice, but it’s always nice to have those guys on your staff who you can call on to get outs and eat innings from the bullpen.

  1. Sean Henn, 24, LHP

Similar to Melky Cabrera, most Yankee fans may not have fond memories of Sean Henn. Unlike Melky, the problem with Henn wasn’t that he had show no signs of readiness, but that when he made the jump he suffered from big league jitters. These jitters had a huge effect on Henn’s control and command as he threw a lot of balls outside the strike zone and when he did get in the strike zone he served up meatballs due to missing spots within the zone. His fastball-slider combo from the left-side has had many, including myself, begging for him to be converted to a middle reliever, which I feel is a spot he would excel in, but the Yankees seem focused on making him a SP where his potential is strictly back of the rotation. Hopefully, he’ll be more mentally prepared for the big leagues this season.

  1. Steven White, 24, RHP

White is a big guy with a big fastball who some scouts project as a middle of the rotation workhorse. With no minor league evidence to backup the workhorse claim and without any incredibly impressive performance on his career ledger, at this point White is resting on the fact that he can throw a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s. He will begin the year at AA as the opening day starter, where hopefully he can improve on last year where he struggled with his control and got hit hard early only to succumb to injury and ineffectiveness until the last couple starts of the AA season. Despite the offensive-mindedness of the AFL, I’m not especially encouraged by White’s performance there either as he continued to have mediocre walk and strikeout rates considering his billing and I feel that is what he needs to correct to fulfill the potential scouts see in him.

  1. Darrell Rasner, 25, RHP

Rasner was an off-season gift from Jim Bowden. He will join DeSalvo, Henn, and Karstens as part of the most exciting Columbus rotation in years, full of young-ish pitchers who could serviceably fill out the back of a ML rotation. Rasner is the only one with positive big league experience, but has the lowest ceiling. Nevertheless, his good control and groundball tendencies should hopefully allow him to do the job when his time comes and considering the Yankee rotation has guys such as Chien-Ming Wang, who refuse to pick up Derek Jeter, we’ll probably see him at some point.

  1. Justin Christian, 25, OF

Christian is another personal favorite of mine. While not blessed with amazing physical talent, outside of his speed, Christian has made an impression with his solid plate approach, surprising pop, and all out play. He will begin ’06 at AA, making the transition from 2B where his lack of arm strength as well as error-prone play were serving as primary hindrances in him fulfilling his destiny as a valuable player off the bench.

  1. Jason Stephens, 21, RHP

In his 4th professional season, Jason Stephens will finally be making the transition to full season baseball. His stuff hasn’t developed as expected as he was only touching the low 90s during last year’s NYPL, but he has done a good enough job getting outs, especially those valuable groundball ones, and his control is good enough to the point where he is still interesting. Plus, at 21 he’s young enough where he may still add something to that fastball and if everything goes right we might even have a Mark Prior on our hands.

  1. Garret Patterson, 23, LHP

Patterson makes this list because he’s a LHP that throws really hard, touching 96, and strikes lots of guys out. Unfortunately, he also walks a lot of guys, and at 23 is older than you’d like considering the extent to how poor his control is and how far away he is on the developmental ladder.

  1. Matt Smith, 26, LHP

If spots at the major league level were decided solely on merit, the argument could be made that Matt Smith should have broken camp as part of the Yankee bullpen. However, there are a lot of politics involved in such decisions and Smith will have to be content to continue to dominate hitters out of the bullpen as part of Columbus’ bullpen corps. Unlike fellow AAA relief pitcher, Colter Bean, there is a pretty high chance Smith does get a look this season as the Yankee relief pitching looks shaky and his ability to, at the least, dominate LHB, is a precious commodity. Smith just needs to get his control in check at this point.

  1. Jose Gil, 19, C

In an organization with just about nothing at C at the minor league level, other than Irwil Rojas whose skill set is somewhat narrow, Jose Gil sticks out. Last year Gil showed pop to the gaps as well as good strike zone management indicators. He will make the transition to full season baseball this year and if he can continue to show even the slightest bit of pop he likely moves to 2nd best C in the organization behind Jorge Posada.