If 2005 was a sign of things to come, just wait. While helped arrived in the Bronx from the Minors -- most notably from Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang -- and Eric Duncan remains the best top-level prospect, the real treasures of the system lie further beneath the surface. Thanks to some aggressive drafting for the first time in a long time, as well as successes in international scouting, the lower levels of the Yankees system are as stocked with high-ceiling talent as any in baseball.
Skeptics may wonder how many of these prospects will actually make it up to New York, with the organization's recent track record providing doubt. But the Yankees pointedly did not trade away any of their top talent in 2005, perhaps a sign of a rededication to player develpment, a system that rewarded them with many rings. If they can stick to that program, homegrown talent could very well provide the difference between playoff contender and World Series dynasty.
Five prospects whose names you should know:
Eric Duncan, 3B/1B
While Duncan's numbers in Double-A Trenton last year weren't pretty -- .235 average, .326 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage -- the organization was not overly disappointed by their 2003 first-round pick's performance. He was very young, at just 20, for the level, and they were encouraged by the power (19 homers) and walks (59), especially when considering the age factor. He didn't do a great job handling how opponents pitched to him. Many teams began to shift on the left-handed hitter, a sure sign he had been taken out of his game, which usually features good opposite-field power. He took the lessons from the regular season to the Arizona Fall League and won the MVP award by hitting .362 and slugging .734. That performance likely bumped him into position to make the jump to Triple-A Columbus, where he'll mostly play first base, with enough third sprinkled in to maintain that as an option. If he can continue to improve on his daily game plan more effectively, he should be ready to hit New York by 2007, at age 22.
Watch Duncan cracks one for the Thunder
Audio: Duncan talks to Jonathan Mayo
|2005 Organizational Record
* Won the New York-Penn League Championship
Philip Hughes, RHP
The 2004 draft class of high school pitchers includes future aces like Homer Bailey and Scott Elbert, but the Yankees think Hughes could be as good as any of them. He's got plus stuff and exceptional command at age 19. His fastball sits in the 90-95 mph range and he can touch 97 at times. Along with it, he throws a curve, slider and developing changeup. A good index for a pitcher is his ability to command the fastball to the opposite of his arm side -- away to right-handed hitters for the right-handed Hughes. And he can already do that, signs of a special understanding of pitching nuance. To find the last Yankee farmhand to exhibit that kind of early command, you'd have to go back to Mariano Rivera. Hughes was kept to about 100 innings last year as the Yankees were being super-cautious; this year he'll be upped to 140, beginning in Tampa.
Tyler Clippard, RHP
Clippard's numbers from his breakout 2005 season look impressive enough: 30 fewer hits than innings pitched and a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then you consider that this would've been his sophomore year of college and that he had that success in the high Class A Florida State League. Clippard's fastball grades a tick above average, usually in the 92-mph range. He complements it with a very good curve and changeup. He's had a lot of success since being a 2003 draft pick, with good stuff and excellent command, posting a 3.32 ERA and a better than 5-to-1 K-to-BB ratio in his Minor League career. He'll move up to Trenton at age 21.
|2005 Organizational Leaders
|Complete MiLB statistics
Melky Cabrera, OF
In New York, there are expectations that any time a player comes up, he's going to be the next superstar. Cabrera jumped up from Double-A to the Bronx last year at age 20, as the Yankees tried to catch lightning in a bottle. Cabrera simply wasn't ready. It's worth pointing out that Soriano went 10-for-58 in his first two callups before figuring some things out. Cabrera may not be Soriano, but he is a switch-hitter who can hit and has had some success at the Double-A level already. His experience in the big leagues (he went 4-for-19) could be a good thing, depending on how he responds to it. Considering he was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year in the Dominican this winter after hitting .315 and stealing seven bases in 40 games, then was added to the Dominican Caribbean Series team, it appears he's responded well. Not blessed with tremendous speed, Cabrera will have to improve his breaks and routes on balls in order to stick as a center fielder, and there's some debate over whether he'll be able to do so. He'll get the chance to show what he can do there in Columbus this season.
Video: Melky mashes one for Trenton
Steven White, RHP
After missing much of the 2005 season with a ribcage injury, White's AFL performance was in many ways better than Duncan's. He was extremely solid with a 3.94 ERA in 29 2/3 innings in an extremely hitting-friendly league, finishing the season by making the U.S. Olympic Qualifying team. A lot of that was carryover from finishing the regular season with 22 strikeouts over his last two starts in August before missing the Eastern League playoffs with pancreatitis. When healthy, White features a plus fastball that can touch 95 mph. He can sink the ball, and his curve has become a plus pitch for him. His changeup, while behind the other offerings, is on the way to becoming a factor. White will start the year back in Trenton to get some innings at age 24.
Others to watch: Yosvany Almario-Cabrera, OF; Tim Battle, OF; TJ Beam, RHP; Matt DeSalvo, RHP; Christian Garcia, RHP; Sean Henn, LHP; Jeff Karstens, RHP; Mike Martinez, RHP; Eduardo Nunez, SS; Andy Phillips, 1B; David Seccombe, RHP; Jose Tabata, OF; Marcos Vechionacci, 3B
Matt DeSalvo, RHP
Non-drafted free agents don't exactly enter pro ball with a ton of expectations. DeSalvo was a fifth-year senior out of Division III Marietta when he signed before the 2003 draft. He's been moving steadily through the system since. He was Double-A Trenton's ace in 2005, going 9-5 with a 3.02 ERA, striking out 151 in 149 innings and holding hitters to a .202 average. Since signing, DeSalvo has put up a 2.62 ERA and kept Minor League hitters to a .206 average. He was put on the 40-man roster just recently. A bulldog, DeSalvo is a very cerebral pitcher who's actually written a novel. He's competing in big-league camp and will begin the season in Columbus' rotation, knocking on the door in New York.
Watch DeSalvo chalk up a strikeout for Trenton
Primed for breakout
Sean Henn, LHP
Don't let the rocky big-league debut fool you. Henn performed well in Double-A and Triple-A in 2005, and there are those within the organization who think the southpaw is really close to being ready to contribute positively. He lost command while up in New York. If he can regain faith in his stuff, he'll become a very good commodity -- a lefty with a good arm -- in a pretty thin market. He'll begin the year in the Columbus rotation, but it remains to be seen where he finishes.
Tim Battle, OF
Right now, Battle is the epitome of the all-or-nothing athlete. Playing all of 2005 after recovering from lymphoma with Charleston, Battle hit 16 homers and stole 40 bases. He also struck out a Minor League-high 195 times. He can flat out run down fly balls and has a strong arm from center field. He's got as much upside as anyone in the system, and if he can continue to make improvement in pitch selection and recognition, he can be a very special player. Look for that to continue in Tampa in 2006.
2005 draft recap
1. C.J. Henry, SS
.249 average, .333 on-base percentage, .381 slugging percentage
While the numbers weren't extraordinary, the Yankees were impressed with his defense at short and some of the things he did with his bat in 181 trips to the plate. He did draw some walks and stole 17 bases while showing some opposite-field power. Even though he's already 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, the Yankees don't worry about him outgrowing his postion. He'll be Charleston's shortstop in 2006.
2. J. Brent Cox, RHP
1-2, 2.60 ERA, 27 2/3 IP, 20 H, 5 BB, 27 Ks
One of the top college closers while at the University of Texas, the Yankees took it slow with Cox last summer, allowing him to pitch in just 16 games after he pitched in several pressure-packed College World Series games. He's since acquired a changeup which will help him attack left-handed hitters to go along with a fastball and hard slider tossed with a Jeff Nelson-like delivery. He'll begin the year in Trenton, but could very well move quickly from there.
3. Brett Gardner, OF
.284 average, .377 on-base percentage, .376 slugging percentage
The College of Charleston standout is the fastest player in the Yankees system, and that's saying something with players like Battle in the organization. An advanced hitter who'll take a walk, he uses his speed as a game-changer both offensively and defensively, and did so to help Staten Island win the NY-Penn League title last year. He'll join Battle in the Tampa outfield, where hitters should have a hard time finding a gap between the two of them.
4. Lance Pendleton, RHP
1-0, 2.33 ERA, 27 IP, 27 H, 13 BB, 23 Ks
Stop if you've heard this one before: A pitcher from Rice University is drafted and turns out to have a sore arm. Well, it happened to Pendleton, who didn't even pitch that much for the Owls in college. Doctors say Pendleton is healthy and suffered from the over-diagnosed tendinitis. The Yankees are hopeful he'll go out and have a full 2006 season, beginning in Charleston's rotation.
5. Zach Kroenke, LHP
1-2, 2.63 ERA, 41 IP, 34 H, 15 BB, 30 Ks
The University of Nebraska product is a lefty with a good arm, and that's always something worth working with. He's got some pitch-development work to do and he struggled with command in his brief debut. But the Yankees think there's a good core there and they'll try to polish him at either Charleston or Tampa.
Video: Kroenke records a strikeout for the Baby Bombers
Best of the rest: OF Austin Jackson (eighth round), signed away from a basketball scholarship, has first-round talent. He hit .304 and stole 11 bases for the GCL Yankees. ... LHP Garrett Patterson (7) racked up 71 strikeouts and allowed just 37 hits in 51 innings for Staten Island. ... ... RHP Josh Schmidt (15) went 5-1 with a 0.27 ERA, 47 K's and 13 saves in 33 IP with Staten Island. ... 2B Chris Malec (16) hit .384 in a brief 73 at-bat stint in the GCL. ... RHP Jim Conroy (19) went 5-1 with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 67 in 66 IP for Staten Island. ... RHP Eric Wordekemper (46) posted a 2.12 ERA and struck out 24 (while walking just one) in 29 2/3 GCL innings before getting promoted to Staten Island.
Organizational MVP: Duncan. He'll take the lessons learned during a trying 2005 season and the success from the AFL to have a big 2006 in Columbus and show he's ready for the Bronx in 2007.
Cy on the farm: Clippard. While the easy pick would be Hughes in the Florida State League, the pick here is that Clippard will again pile up some huge numbers, first in Trenton and then to destinations unknown.
Level-leaper of the year: Gardner. Cox may get the press as a guy making it to the bigs quickly, but Gardner could make a couple of jumps in 2006, starting in Tampa and perhaps even making a September showing in the Bronx.
Most likely to go 30-30: Battle. The speed is already there; all he needs is slightly better pitch recognition to bring up the power numbers.
Best affiliate to visit: Charleston. Aside from the climate, this is the place to go to see some of the most athletic prospects in the game. The RiverDogs should have Henry at short, Jackson and Tabata in the outfield, a trio that has enough tools to make Tim Allen jealous.
Mark Newman, senior vice president, baseball operations
"In the last two years -- and really to some extent from 2003 with Duncan and Battle, but certainly in 2004 and 2005 -- we've added some athletic position players and some quality arms. Our system has also been able to help develop some players like DeSalvo. It's been a combination of good work by some of our coaches and some great work by our scouts. We also didn't trade any of our top prospects this year. That was a point of emphasis with [GM Brian] Cashman, so that was helpful. Our Latin people, with Tabata, Vechionacci, Nunez, those are some good players, and we have more coming. We need to keep doing that, do it again in 2006. If we do that, we'll be back to where the Yankees ought to be."