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June 7, 2006

Yankee Minor League Musings, or Why It’s Stupid To Rush Players, or The Demotees
by Fabian

Eric Duncan was demoted from AAA Columbus to AA Trenton today. You reap what you sow, folks, you reap what you sow. Eric Duncan had a good enough year in ’04 to make him a consensus Top 40 prospect in all of baseball as well as making his opening ’05 in AA entirely justifiable. Unfortunately, he had very poor year for Trenton as he lost much of what made him such an attractive prospect in the first place, his power, as well as seeing his primary weakness, hitting for average, become even weaker. His prospect status took a hit. With his offensive future now looking somewhat muddled, he was moved to 1B. Prospect status takes another hit. The Yankees then placed Eric Duncan in the Arizona Fall League where he proceeded to rip the AFL a new one, much like Drew Henson several years prior. However, despite the shiny nature of both players’ overall stats, there peripheral numbers, primarily strikeouts, demonstrated that neither had really advanced as hitters. It was just that their greatest gift, power, was facilitated by the AFL environment. Duncan then went on to do rather well in Yankee Spring Training, earning the club’s top rookie award. However, anyone who decided that meant he was completely ready for the jump to AAA needs to become further acquainted with the idea of sample size. So, with Duncan headed to AAA, I prayed for the best, unfortunately he played awfully and then got injured and now he’s back in AA. Because of the way scouts talk about his makeup, I’m hopefully optimistic that Duncan will start hitting now that he’s at a more appropriate level.

Speaking of improving offensive performance upon demotion, that’s exactly what seems to have occurred with Marcos Vechionacci and Ramiro Pena. For those of you who don’t remember, Vechionacci is the guy I had pegged for future stardom following his ’04 season in the Rookie and Short Season leagues and Pena is the slick fielding SS the Yankees signed out of Mexico last year. Marcos is currently in his age-19 season. Players at this age can generally be found in Rookie leagues, short season leagues, and Low-A. However, the Yankees started him off not only in High-A, but in arguably the toughest of the High-A leagues for an offensive player, the Florida State League. The defense for this was, I guess, that because Vechionacci had played in Low-A all of ’05 he deserved to be or should have been in High-A. Such a viewpoint ignores his poor offensive performance last year as he struggled to post a sub .700 OPS. Vechionacci was destroyed by the FSL to the tune of .178/.242/.237 in 135 at bats. His peripheral offensive statistics did not offer much hope for the future either. Now back in Low-A, Vechionacci is hitting .282/.356/.372 through 78 at bats. Still not where you would ideally like to see him, especially given the hype I gave him, but much more acceptable. Pena wasn’t so much rushed as he was forced to AA due to a numbers crunch during his age-19 season last year. He was as overmatched by the league as one would expect given the circumstances. This year the numbers got him once more as he found himself in Trenton again since now there were too many SS in the organization that needed playing time. Since all those SS, Pena included, decided to start the year off slow, Pena was able to get back to the FSL, more his speed, and has since seen his line increase from .198/.247/.221 to .278/.333/.333. Better, but still not much to be happy about.

The other SS currently stinking up the Yankee organization are C.J. Henry and Eduardo Nunez. Nunez was…wait for it…rushed, to Tampa following his very good New York Penn League season due to the presence of Henry at the Low-A level. Two months into the season and a .184/.223/.340 FSL line later, they form the keystone combination for the Charleston Riverdogs. As a double play combo they are their team’s pitchers worst nightmare because thus far they have not produced much offensively, .241/.293/.278 for Nunez and .214/.302/.359 for Henry, in addition to being perhaps the most error prone double play combination ever in the history of double play combinations. Seriously. Both players have had stints as a DH and despite this, Henry has managed to accumulate 16 errors in 36 games while Nunez has 20 in 50 games.

Yet another demotee is Tim Battle. This was probably the foreseeable one of all. Every other player, there was some hope at the beginning of the season that some discernible aspect of their prospect profile would allow them to prosper. This was not the case with Timothy. The Yankee organization was in a tough spot as he was coming off an All Star season for Charleston, he was amongst the league leaders in a lot of different categories, he was the All Star Game MVP, there were a bunch of talented outfielders coming up behind him, but they should have just listened to the stat that he dominated the league in; strikeouts. There is just no way you can promote someone to the Florida State League after he strikes out about 40% of the time in Charleston. None. Battle went .133/.184/.188 for Tampa, striking out 37% of the time and is now playing for Charleston once again. Unfortunately, he is only hitting .213/.283/.234 and striking out 38% of the time.

Of these struggling prospects, Duncan, Pena, Vechionacci, Nunez, and Henry all have defensible reasons for still looking at them amongst some of the organization’s brighter lights prospect-wise though they have all slipped a bit in the standings. Battle, I can’t speak as understandingly of.

On the pitching side of things and focusing on guys who were amongst my preseason Top 25, disappointing performances have been turned in by Matt DeSalvo, Jeff Karstens, and Alan Horne. DeSalvo and Karstens, I’m willing to give a mulligan because A.) I like both guys probably more than I should and B.) Considering that they are pitchers who outsmart hitters to be effective the replacement umpires likely affected them more than others. Horne has just been wildly inconsistent over the course of the season and within the course of his games. One second he’s striking out everybody, the next he’s walking everybody, and then…he gives up a homer. Hopefully he can gain some consistency as the year goes on as he is already 23 due to the amount of late starts to his career he had to endure, some self-inflicted.

Later today, hopefully, I will review the draft, but I will also continue looking at the progress of the farm system thus far in ’06. Read SG's entry on last night's game below.