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August 4, 2006


The Hardest Part of the Year is Over
by Fabian

With the trading season having concluded I can now write about prospects without fear that by writing about them I am only growing more attached to players who shall inevitably be traded. While the Yankees did end up making some moves that will greatly improve the big league club, the only minor leaguer of note that they gave up was C.J. Henry. C.J. Henry has been much maligned since the trade went down, but I’d like to give one last objective look at his merits before moving on entirely.

Henry was not drafted with much of a baseball background because he played his school baseball in Oklahoma rather than Texas, California, Florida, or other states known for their baseball productivity. Then, unlike many talented players plugging along in less prestigious states, he wasn’t able to fully dedicate his free time to showcases and the like because he was also a star high school basketball player. This was a player who lacked polish. Acknowledging that, the Yankees still felt good about choosing him with their first round pick because he was amongst the best athletes in his draft class.

An ok performance in the ’05 Gulf Coast League, combined with his work in the fall mini-camps was enough for the Yankee organization to feel Henry was ready for full-season baseball. He started off his South Atlantic League campaign very slowly before injuring himself and being placed on the disabled list. When he came back from the DL he put on the type of offensive show that the Yankees dreamed of him one day doing in the bigs when they drafted him and his season peaked on May 17th at .295/.377/.541.
Since that day he has done next to nothing offensively while also playing inconsistent defense.

Taking all of this into account, getting Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for a package centered around C.J. Henry is highway robbery in the sense that there’s an enormous chance that all the Phillies get out of the deal is financial relief, which as someone else pointed out is probably very necessary in a small market such as Philadelphia, and a solid reliever in Matt Smith. However, on the off-chance C.J. Henry does figure it out, he has the physical talent to be a very good player. If he fails again next year, then you can write him off, until then, I don’t think it’s fair to declare him a complete nothing as a prospect because while performance is certainly nice, so are tools.

***

As far as persons still within the farm system, the most exciting news for me around deadline time was that Brian Cashman has begun to drink the Tyler Clippard kool-aid. Despite a 60 inning stretch that includes 66 strikeouts against just 15 walks and 37 hits allowed, Tyler Clippard is not and will never be Phil Hughes. However, he IS making it very difficult to look at him as less than a good prospect as well as making me feel good about having always been bullish on him. Better than the statistical dominance of Clippard’s run is the development of his changeup into a plus pitch. On nights when Clippard has his command, that gives him two plus pitches, the curve and the change, to go along with a solid fastball, which ups his potential to mid-rotation and perhaps higher.

***

While Clippard has spent the past couple months officially breaking out onto the prospect scene, the guy that everyone expected to do so for the Yankees this year, Christian Garcia, has just been getting his year underway. Garcia, to give a refresher, is the guy looked at by many as having the most physical talent of any pitcher in the Yankee organization. Yes, more than Mr. Hughes. Unfortunately his season was derailed when he was befallen by oblique troubles in the spring. The Yankees are especially cautious on oblique injuries to their minor league pitchers, Steven White was out for about 3 months with a similar problem last year, and rightfully so. Though it is not a “pitching injury” it is the type of ailment that a pitcher could come back from too early and in trying to compensate for it, hurt himself further. In the process of returning from the oblique problems, Garcia also lost more time to “sore arm”. While it was good to see him return to the mound in July for the GCL Yankees, he worried some by throwing a lot of wild pitches, hitting a lot of batters, and balking…a lot. This was good enough work for him to be promoted to Charleston as he made his full season debut last night and went 6-4-0-0-0-4-0 (IP-H-R-ER-BB-K-HR). Garcia should get about 6 more starts to prove that he is indeed fully physically capable. I expect him to do well and, if so, his prospect status won’t have been hurt too much.

***

There was another less-heralded hurler making a return from injury for a Yankee farm club last night, and it was Jeff Marquez. Marquez is a guy who often gets overlooked because he was in the same draft class as Hughes and Garcia and gives up a lot of hits, but I like him a lot due to his extreme GB tendencies, good fastball (90-94), and plus changeup. Prior to going on the DL he seemed to be breaking out after starting off ’06 very slowly and I believe that had he stayed healthy, he likely would have been promoted to AA by now, rather than Jason Jones who moved up at the AA all star break. Anyway, he had an encouraging line of 5-2-0-0-0-4-0 in his Tampa return. I expect to do well in the 6 or so starts he has left for the year and open ’07 in AA.