Monday, March 19, 2012

Bronx Baseball Daily

Hey everyone, this will be my last post for a while for Evil Empire Prospects. I will officially be starting with Bronx Baseball Daily on Wednesday, and will be making all of my posts for them from here on out. It is possible I could come back to writing at this blog, but I'd like to see how this shakes out. I'm looking forward to getting started over there, as that blog receives about 40-50 times more exposure than Evil Empire Prospects, and has an affiliation with ESPN. I will miss writing on this blog, and I hope all of you come by to visit and read my articles for Bronx Baseball Daily.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How Andy Pettitte's Return Effects the Empire State Yankees

Andy Pettitte playing for Trenton back in the day. There's a chance he'll be back there this year. Image thanks to YES!
Andy Pettitte is back! In a shocking move, Brian Cashman has signed Andy Pettitte, who decided to come out of retirement, to a $2.5 million minor league contract. I learned of this move in a text message, and initially believed that my friend was playing a joke on me. As it turns out, it was true, and I couldn't be more excited. We don't need to go into how good Andy Pettitte was, but suffice it to say that knowing Andy Pettitte, he would not be coming back unless he felt like he could make an impact. Worst case scenario, the Yankees could have one hell of a left handed reliever in the bullpen. Best case scenario, they have an excellent #2 starter for only $2.5 million.

Anyway, there are not a lot of negatives to this signing, but one of the problems it presents has to do with the Empire State Yankees and their starting rotation. The current rotation includes David Phelps, Adam Warren, DJ Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances. That's five in case you can't count, and there is only space for five starters. Pettitte was signed on a minor league deal, so he will likely pitch in AAA before being sent to the majors. That being the case, someone is going to have to miss out on innings. I'm not sure who it will be, but none of them deserve it. All five are legitimate rotation candidates. There is a chance, although it depends on the front office's thinking, that they could send Andy Pettitte to AA Trenton. It probably won't make much of a difference who Andy is pitching to, as it will be more important that he's getting his reps, and refining his location and stuff. It's not like he has to test his results against AAA hitters, we already know he can be dominant there. It's also possible that Banuelos or Betances will start the season back in AA while Pettitte is around, and then will get called up as soon as Pettitte goes to the majors.

There are also some positives for the AAA players if Andy does in fact go there. These same benefits would apply to the AA pitchers if Pettitte were to be sent there. He is a great mentor, and an extremely hard worker. The minor leaguers will see this first hand, and it will give them an idea of what it will take for them to get where they need to be. Aside from that, I'm sure Pettitte will provide plenty of advice, and it may even be like having another coach down there. A coach who played, and succeeded in a big way, in New York.

There is no question that this is a positive move for the Yankees. It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the minor league level, and how it effects the players who are currently slated to start with the Empire State Yankees. The amount of depth the Yankees have at the pitcher position is currently astounding. With this signing, there are 12 pitchers who could be effective major league starting pitchers this season. The Yankees were already in really good shape, and this is just a bonus on top of that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Zoilo Almonte and the Future of RF in New York

Zoilo Almonte has a chance to fill the void in RF that could be left by Swisher, but it could be a while before he's ready for that. Image thanks to It's about the money stupid.

There is a lot to like about Zoilo Almonte. He has excellent tools, including solid speed, developing solid power, and very good arm. Zoilo has had an interesting pattern of moving through the minors since 2010. I have followed him since the beginning of 2010, when he began to break out in a major way. Starting in Charleston, he got off to a slow start in 2010, but then caught fire and by midseason had earned a promotion to High A Tampa. In Tampa, Almonte was able to hold his own for the rest of the 2010 campaign, but his power was decreased and he was unable to hit for average like he was during his hot streak. 2010 ended, and he started back at High A Tampa to start off 2011. His season in 2011 almost exactly mirrored the course of his season in 2010. He struggled out of the gait, and then caught fire, even more than he had in 2010. He got promoted to AA Trenton, and cooled off majorly, but held his own. Again, the power disappeared (12 HR in 259 at bats in High A, 3 HR in 175 at bats in Trenton). Now, we move onto this year's spring training, where Almonte has gone 4/10 with 2 doubles and no walks.

The man I like to call "Boilin" Zoilo Almonte has received more attention from the media and blogosphere this year than ever before. The contract of a certain beloved right fielder for the Yankees is coming off the books after this season, and it has the press taking notice of Zoilo. Many are writing that he could be the right fielder of the future. Watching the game last night, one radio announcer even compared his swing to fellow Dominican Robinson Cano from the left side(come on now). The hype is coming from a good place, and it is not completely unreasonable given Almonte's tools and recent performance, however I would caution that Zoilo still has a long way to go before he will be major league ready. It remains to be seen whether he will ever be anything more than a backup outfielder, or even a AAAA type player.

There are some other issues with Zoilo. Assuming he follows the same course as the last two seasons, then he will destroy AA pitching for the first half of the year, head to AAA midseason, and proceed to suffer a decrease in production in AAA while holding his own for the second half. This would mean he would not be major league ready by 2013, which is when the decision has to be made about resigning Swisher or signing another right fielder. Of course Almonte could surprise everyone and light it up in AA and AAA this season, but color me a skeptic on that one.

Almonte has also never produced above A ball yet. This season will be a huge test for him in AA, and there is no telling whether he will pass that test or not. He performed poorly in winter ball this year, hitting in the high .100's. I don't hold a ton of stock in that, but it is still something to consider. We have seen similar players stumble at AA. Melky Mesa is the most recent example. Mesa destroyed the ball in High A in 2010, and then couldn't hit a beachball in 2011 in AA. Almonte may not be able to make the adjustment to AA pitching. The key theme here is that he's far away.

It is important to mention that I really like Zoilo Almonte. When he is on one of his hot streaks, he is one of the best prospects to follow, and he's got all of the tools coaches dream about. He's still relatively young, as a 23 year old in AA this season, so it's not yet make or break time for him. He does a great job adjusting to each level, and his power AND stolen bases have improved every year since being signed by the Yankees. His batting line last season was a .276 average, 15 HR, 18 SB, 5 CS, a .345 OBP, and a .459 slugging percentage. Switch hitting is always a positive. He has great numbers, and great potential. There's a chance he can become something good in the major leagues somewhere down the line. Most importantly, his name is Zoilo.

While there are a lot of positives with Zoilo Almonte, developmentally he still has a long way to go before he can be considered the right fielder of the future. He has a lot of work ahead of him to become a successful major leaguer, and he is certainly not a sure thing. If things go really well for him this season, then it is possible he will be the answer to the void in right field. It is important to temper those expectations though, as Almonte is still relatively raw, and hasn't yet put together a full season of consistent statistics. Unfortunately, prospects like Almonte do have a high rate of failure. There is a high risk associated with guys like him, but there is also an even higher reward. The sky is the limit for this kid. He's already strong enough at the age of 23 to hit 15 HRs. His strength should only get better now.

Hopefully, Zoilo will get a shot in the major leagues at some point. I don't think he will be ready next season, but he has certainly made progress and hopefully will continue to do so. Almonte has been one of the most fun prospects to follow, and I wish him continued success in the future. Plus, with a name like Zoilo, how can you really go wrong?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dan Burawa Tears Oblique Muscle

Originally it was thought to be a rib cage injury, but he had an MRI and was diagnosed with a tear of the oblique muscle, which is one of the abdominal muscles. This injury will take approximately 2-6 weeks to heal if it is a 2nd degree strain. If it is a 3rd degree strain, it will require surgery and he'll be out up to 6 months, possibly more. He was likely slotted to start next season in either High A or AA. Here's to hoping he has a fast recovery, and that it's NOT a 3rd degree strain.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Introducing Your 2012 Charleston River Dogs. Part 3/3: The Hitters

The River Dogs play at Joseph P. Riley Park in Charleston. The park also has an affiliation with the Citadel. Image thanks to

Coming off their worse season since 1995, back when they were still affiliated with the San Diego Padres, the River Dogs were in desperate need of an infusion of talent for the 2012 season. The pitching staff looks like it will be improved in a major way from last season, which you can read about here (starting pitchers) and here (relief pitchers). The area that will see the most improvement, however, will be the lineup.

The River Dogs will be comprised of many players who played last season in Short Season Staten Island, and even a few who could make the jump straight from the GCL to Charleston. This will be a fun team to follow this season, although New York fans are most concentrated and numerous in the Northeast where few of us will get to see them play. I'll do the positions in number order, starting with the C and ending with CF. There will likely be a rotating DH.

Catcher- It's funny that catcher is the position this post starts out with, because it's probably the only weak hitting position at this level. Last year, River Dogs fans were lucky enough to watch JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez behind the dish, depending on which part of the season it was. Both are legitimate prospects with significant upside. This year will be different. Some combination of Wes Wilson, Nick McCoy, and Kyle Higashioka will be responsible for the catching duties. None of these players have significant upside, or is ever expected to make it to the major league level. Higashioka has an outside shot to make it as a backup, since he is a defensive whiz who has shown some power in the past. Having Higashioka will be nice for the pitchers though since he is known for his stellar defense. Although unlikely, there could be a revelation by mid-season that could rapidly change the catching landscape in 2012. Isaias Tejeda emerged as a legitimate catching prospect last season with his breakout season in the GCL, which saw him hit .331 with 6 HRs and 5 SB in just 39 games. If he starts off really hot in Staten Island, then he could get a quick promotion to Charleston and get his first taste of full season ball. There's an outside chance he begins the season there, although I wouldn't bet on it.

First Base- 20 year old Tyler Austin will get the lion's share of the reps at first base. He will also see significant time at 3B, with Reymond Nunez filling in at 1B when he's at 3rd. Austin is a 13th round pick out of high school in Atlanta. He's 6'2 and weighs 200 lbs. His hit tool is what will get him to the majors. Finding a position for him will be the major challenge. He's been focusing on his defense in the offseason though, and we have heard from scouts before that hard work translates into defensive improvement, even if the natural ability isn't always there. He put his name on the map last season, when he tore apart the GCL and Short Season Staten Island, hitting a combined .354/.418/.579 with 6 HRs and was a surprising 18/18 in stolen bases in 49 games. I would caution that he is not a player who is considered to have plus speed, so those 18 stolen bases should diminish over time, especially if he bulks up like he must if he wants to tap into his power potential. Hitting for power is something he will have to do if he wants to play 1B in the majors.

Second Base- Drafted as a shortstop, and postulated to be an outfielder in the future by some, Angelo "Bubba" Gumbs will start the season as Charleston's second baseman. A smooth handed fielder drafted in the 2nd round, many scouts felt after watching him last season that he could stick at second base, as long as he doesn't grow too much. The 19 year old also has shown impressive range and a powerful arm. Given his transition from CF though, he still has a long way to go at this position. He's 6' tall, and weighs 190 lbs. His hitting as an 18 year old in Staten Island was a bit inconsistent, but he showed good patience and has a quick, compact swing that has scouts believing he could have some plus power in the future and hit for better average than we saw in 2011. One scout even ranked him as a top 6 prospect in our system. While that may be overzealous, he does have a bright future. He hit .264/.332/.406 for Staten Island last season, with 3 HR and 11 SB in 18 tries. He is a lot more raw still than a guy like Tyler Austin or Dante Bichette Jr., but he's also very young and could continue to improve exponentially with experience.

Third Base- This is the guy that everyone wants to see in Charleston. A supplemental round draft pick in 2011, Dante "Bichette Happens" Bichette Jr. came out of the gate slow in the GCL. People were beginning to question the wisdom of drafting him so high when all of a sudden he exploded and began to mash. As if that weren't enough, he also showed an excellent feel for playing third base, which was a major question coming into the season. Joe Girardi is a long time friend of the family to the Bichette's, so many people felt there was an heir of nepotism to this draft pick. Those criticisms were soon put to rest when Bichette Jr. finished the season batting .335/.440/.507 on the season, with 4 HRs and 48 RBI in 52 games. The scouting report on Bichette Junior is great. If the draft were redone after the season, most scouts agree that he would have been a top 10 pick. The 6'1, 215 lb kid is a tireless hard worker, and knows what it takes to succeed in the major leagues. He has a year round mentor and hitting coach in his father as well. He may struggle in Charleston as the jump from GCL to Low A can be a daunting one, but don't look for this kid to stay down too long. It's possible he will be held back in Staten Island for one extra season, but the Yankees have moved prospects from the GCL straight to Charleston with less impressive seasons than this (see Slade Heathcott). Tyler Austin will also get some time at this position, and both will also DH at times.

Short Stop- Cito "Cheeto" Culver was the first round draft pick in 2010. Similarly to Bichette, he was signed very quickly and played a full season in the GCL in 2010. He now has two seasons under his belt and his hitting statistics have been disappointing, although he has flashes of brilliance. Cito has excellent speed and has all of the tools to be a fantastic defender, which is extremely important at short stop. He's 6'0 tall and weighs 190, which is a reasonably good size for a short stop. He's got excellent range, plus arm strength, and good hands. The error totals were high in his first two seasons, but this is very typical of even the best young short stops. Most of the question marks surrounding Culver are with his bat, mainly from the left side. There has actually been talk amongst scouts that he might be well served to abandoned switch hitting and bat from the right side full time. This is extreme at this stage of the game, but it's not out of the question. Last year he hit .324 from the right side, and .224 from the left side. These are short season statistics so the sample size isn't particularly large, but this will be the main thing to watch as Culver continues to develop. He will also look to be more aggressive on the basepaths. Cito had 10 stolen bases in 10 tries last season. He's a very smart base runner, and with experience he should become more aggressive as well. A very patient hitter, Culver will greatly improve his average (.250) and on base percentage (.323) this year if he starts hitting better from the left side. Some scouts are saying his lefty swing is pretty out of whack right now, so he may have a long way to go. We knew Cito Culver was a long term project when we drafted him, but the common thread with many long term projects is their athleticism, and Culver lacks nothing in that department. There is no reason he shouldn't improve upon his numbers from last year given his athleticism.

Left and Right Field-  Okay I'm going a little bit out of order here, but you'll see why I chose to lump left and right field together in a moment. The outfield situation in Charleston for 2012 is going to be unique. There are three players who could be first class centerfielders for the River Dogs. Not all of them can play there, so Mason Williams will be the every day guy in CF. The other two guys are Ravel Santana and Daniel Lopez. They will compete for playing time with Ben Gamel in left and right field. The question remains whether Santana will be fully recovered from his gruesome leg injury (broke his leg below the knee) in time to start 2012 in Charleston, or whether he will be taking it slow and may spend time in Staten Island first. Talent wise, he would be playing for the River Dogs. Daniel Lopez is a different question. The question with him is whether or not the front office thinks he's ready for full season baseball. Ben Gamel is basically a lock to be on the roster, and will probably spend time in both left and right field.

"Ravenous" Ravel Santana is a beast. At 6'2, 175 lbs he has a lot of room to beef up, and yet he's already hitting homeruns at an impressive rate. With his incredibly quick hands, advanced patience for his age, and power to all fields, he was able to hit 9 homeruns in just 41 games and 162 at bats. This is a small sample size, but at that rate, he would hit 30-35 homers in a 160 game season. This was all at the age of 19, so he has a lot of time to develop even more power. He also has considerable speed. He managed to steal 10 bases in 13 attempts on the short season. In the field, the tool that sticks out the most is how the ball comes out of his hand like it's being shot out of a cannon. I have not read a single source that denies the sheer power that is his arm. He is a 5-tool athlete, plain and simple. The triple slash from 2011 is .296/.361/.568. His future success largely depends on how well he recovers from that injury. Apparently he's running around pretty well right now according to twitter comments by Bichette Jr., but we've seen with David Adams how debilitating these injuries can be.

Ben Gamel is another 20 year old with an excellent plate approach. He doesn't have the size or tools of Ravel Santana, but he's a lefty with a nice swing. He's listed at 5'10, and 156 lbs according to, but he's probably closer to 5'11 and 165 now. Gamel hasn't shown much in the way of power yet (2 HR las season), and his frame isn't all that projectable. What he offers is a solid but not great defender with a great plate approach. He hit .289/.379/.432 last season. He's got some speed, and he stole 7 bases this past season. If he can develop some power then he can put himself on the map, but he doesn't currently have any one tool that separates him from the pack besides patience.

The main question with Daniel Lopez is where he starts 2012. Given that he is so raw, he may well end up in Staten Island. He's an extremely speedy runner with developing power, and he has shown the ability to hit for average early on in his career. Yet another 20 year old, he is 6'2 and has a very stringent offseason workout program. For more info on him, check out my post about him at Daniel Lopez: Super Sleeper.

Center Field- I have unintentionally saved the most exciting prospect that will be in Charleston in 2012 for last. Mason "Mad Mase" Williams was a 5th round draft pick signed for $1.45 million. He's got speed and a sweet swing that allowed him to hit .349 and take home MVP honors in the New York Penn League last season. He had 3 homeruns and stole 28 bases in 68 games last season and was caught 12 times. His OBP was .395 and he had a slugging percentage of .468. The only question with Williams is if/when the power develops. If Mad Mase is able to develop power, he could be a Curtis Granderson type in the future. If not, he could develop into a better version of Brett Gardner, as his swing is naturally much better than Gardner's. Scouts are drooling over Mason Williams and every time trade talks come up with other teams, his name is brought up by the trading partner.

That completes the three part series on the Charleston River Dogs. You'd be hard pressed to find a team more exciting than this one in the entire system. With the exception of maybe the Empire State Yankees (AAA), there is no team that even comes close to the amount of high ceiling talent that will start the season in low A. There are at least 4 players who could be top 100 prospects with a strong showing this season (Campos, Bichette Jr., Ravel Santana, and Tyler Austin), and one who already is (Mason Williams). It's unlikely all will meet expectations, but if one or two of them do then the farm system is going to look pretty healthy by year's end.

Friday, March 9, 2012

BoyBan Becoming ManBan

Manny Banuelos has a bright future as a potential MLB starter. Image thanks to baseball instinct

According to Joe Girardi, Manny Banuelos (ManBan), widely considered to be the best prospect in the Yankees system, looks even better this year than last. Last year in AA he struggled with his control, but was otherwise pretty dominant all season.

When asked what he thought of Banuelos' performance in the Braves game today Joe said, "I thought he attacked the zone better and was able to get his secondary pitches over."

So far this spring, Banuelos has posted impressive numbers. He's thrown 4 innings with 3 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts. He hasn't yet allowed a run. The 2 walks came in his first outing on a windy day. I can forgive him. The key going forward will be to maintain the control he showed today over a full season.

Joe Girardi told ESPN New York, "I think his command can improve, and when that improves I think he’s a major league pitcher. Obviously we love the talent and what he can become.”

That control is probably the only thing standing between ManBan and the Yankees starting rotation. He represents an important piece of a possible young core of starters for the next 4-5 years, including Nova and Pineda. CC will also be around for a while, so if Banuelos can show continued success we could be looking at our 1-4 starters for the foreseeable future. Filling out the #5 spot is as easy as David Phelps, Adam Warren, DJ Mitchell, and possibly Betances or they could always go the Hiroki Kuroda 1 year free agent route. 

Banuelos spent most of last year in AA, throwing 95.1 innings there. He then threw 34.1 innings in AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The statistics were a bit underwhelming, but there are a few important caveats when looking at ManBan's numbers. First of all he was just 20 in AA and was the youngest player in the International League when he played in AAA. The second caveat may or may not partially explain the issues he had with control last year. He was on an innings limit. The Yankees' idea of an innings limit is different than some other organizations. Some organizations just let a guy loose and shut them down when they reach a certain number of innings. In New York, they limit guys to 5 inning outings so they can pitch all season. In the case of Banuelos, and maybe Betances too, this may have made it more difficult to get into a groove. Looking closer though, many of Banuelos' outings last year approached 100 pitches at the 5 inning mark, so it would have been inappropriate to keep him in the game anyway.

Regardless of innings limitations and age, the numbers were still pretty damn good. Overall he had a 3.75 ERA in 129.2 innings, allowing 130 hits, 9 homeruns, and 71 walks. He struck out 125 batters for a strikeout rate of 8.7 K/9 IP. His WHIP was concerning at 1.55, but overall he performed exceedingly well as a 20 year old kid in AA-AAA.

There is no question that Banuelos has a bright future. As a left handed pitcher with a 93-96 mph fastball that he has been able to control for most of his career (besides last), his upside is that of an ace. He could see time in the majors as soon as this season, with a September call up not out of the question. He should compete for a spot in the rotation next season, and could preempt the need for a free agent starting pitcher next year.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees Undergo Name Change

 The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees will hitherto be known as the Empire State Yankees. I think it's safe to say that they have been reading my blog and wanted to include the word "Empire" in their AAA team name. How clever Brian Cashman.