This year it will be difficult to narrow it down to 30, mainly because we have so much depth. The last 10 on this list will probably be pretty interchangeable between each other and between the next 20 on the list, because we have a bunch of guys who have the tools to possibly become major league material. Many people hold a lot of stock in scouting reports and very little in actual performance. I tend to be closer to the opposite, however I do take scouting reports into account heavily. For example, while stats may be similar, Manny Banuelos is a higher end prospect than Adam Warren. Here's my list, and I'll provide an explanation for each. Noesi has been in the majors for over half the season, so he is not being included on this list. Montero was a September call-up, so he is.
1. Jesus Montero: Preseason Rank: 1. Will be 22 next season. Most people know who he is by now. It's tough to argue with how good he is because he is proving right now he can handle major league pitching, albeit in a small sample size. Scouts give him 80/80 power, and he hits to all fields. His power to right field will serve him well in Yankees Stadium, and he should be a DH/Back-up to Russell Martin for the big league team next year. So long Cervelli, I hope we can get a useful piece in return for you via trade. 18 HR this season and he handled AAA pitching really well. He is going to be a very good major league player at the very least.
2. Dellin Betances: Preseason Rank: 2. Will be 24 next season. Finished with a 3.7 ERA 142 K in 126 innings.Most people would have Manny Banuelos in this position but I disagree. Manny is younger, with similar stats in AA and AAA. Dellin, however, strikes out more batters, and has a better WHIP. His fastball sits at 94-95 and he's already got a nasty curveball. He needs to work on his control, just like Manny, but his build is better, and thus it is likely that the ball comes up on hitters quicker. He is 6'8, 260, compared to Manny's smaller frame. He is older by 3 years, but his large build should allow him to last longer in the majors and at some point he should be a Verlander or Ubaldo Jimenez type who can go late into games. Then again Banuelos is Lefty. He'll be in AAA next season and could be in the majors by the middle to end of next season.
3. Manny Banuelos: Preseason Rank: 3. Will be 21 next season. Finished the season with a 3.75 ERA, but pitched 129 innings and had 125 K. His control faltered this season but he showed he can handle the upper minors. He should challenge for a rotation slot coming out of spring training next season, but will likely end up in AAA to start the season. No reason why he shouldn't excel there the way he has so far in his career. A 21 year old in AAA, he will be one of the youngest players in the league. His fastball is sitting around 93 now, and his changeup is his major strikeout pitch. His curveball has improved greatly as well. If his control comes back around, he will dominate AAA next season and we will probably see him in the majors at some point.
4. Gary Sanchez (Sanchize): Preseason Rank: 4. Will be 19 next season. He started off with an abysmal first half, but really turned it on in the second half before his injury. He ended up with 17 HR despite his slow start. His average never quite came around, finishing at .256, but he got so hot at the end of the year, as an 18 year old, young for his level, in single A. The struggles he had coincided with his "maturity issues," where he was fighting with the coaches about playing time, etc. Hopefully this is all behind him. Maybe he sees how quickly a prospect can fall off if he stops trying. If so, he will start off in High A next season and the sky is the limit. If he starts off hot, he could easily supplant JR Murphy as the starting AA catcher quickly. If all goes well he could be a 20 year old in AAA by 2013.
5. Mason (Mad Mase) Williams: Preseason Rank: 18. Will be 20 next season and will start off in at least Low A Charleston, but may skip a level. Being the MVP of your league (my prediction) will do that. Either way, he is a young guy with a boatload of talent. A possible future 5 tooler by all accounts. He flashed the speed and reasonable power in his short time at Staten Island. Most impressive was his high average (.349) and his SB total (28), although he was caught 12 times. He even had 3 homeruns to go along with all of this. He could be a Brett Gardner with more power. He's got plenty of time to get there, and he seems to have the right makeup. It's too early to tell right now, but his ceiling is so high that it would be foolish to put him miuch lower than this, because the summation of his tools and his results are better than anyone ranked below him.
6. Austin Romine (Bromine): Preseason Rank: 5. Will be 23 next season. Romine had a bit of a disappointing season. He repeated a year in AA and his numbers did not improve significantly. In fact, his power numbers actually took a hit. Nevertheless, he hit for a decent average and moderate power for a catcher. He finished the season .279/.343 after struggling in a short appearance in AAA at the end of the season. He's at a premium position, and he's got great defense. He has proven that he can hit so he would be a valuable member of many teams. Doesn't have the highest ceiling of anyone in our system, but I can't say I'm disappointed to have him in our system.
7. JR Murphy (Murph): Preseason Rank: He was one of my preseason Dark Horse candidates, meaning he was top 30. He will be 21 next season, and will probably start in Tampa. He really improved his stock this season. Overall he batted .287 with 7 HR and a .325 OBP. More importantly, he learned how to catch last offseason, and it now looks like he will stick at this position. He unseated Gary Sanchez as the starting catcher early in the season until he was promoted to Tampa. Scouts seem to think his bat is a sure thing, so the improvement in his catching will go a long way towards increasing his standing as a prospect.
8. Slade Heathcott: Preseason Rank: 8. Will be 21 next season. He was really starting to have a breakout season when it was cut short due to another shoulder injury. Given his ability to overcome these injuries in the past, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and leave him at number 8. On the other hand, had he not suffered the injury he would probably be even higher on this list. He hit .279 with a .349 OBP this season. He had a short stint in Tampa, where he had one of the best games of his career, then went down with the injury. He hit 5 HR, but only stole a disappointing 6 bases. He continued his stellar play in the field, although you have to think that all of these shoulder injuries are taking a toll on his arm. I am cautiously optimistic that he will return early next year. He didn't end up getting surgery in the offseason, so lets hope his shoulder holds up.
9. Adam (The Warden) Warren: Preseason Rank: 10. Will be 24 next season. Cashman said on several occasions that Warren was one injury away from getting a few major league starts this season. He is about as major league ready as an AAA starter can get, and will most certainly compete for a slot in the rotation next year with Phelps, Noesi, Banuelos, and Betances. It will be a fun spring training to watch. This season he went for a 3.6 ERA with 111 K in 152 IP. His K/9 was really low for him, but he proved he could successfully handle AAA hitters at just 23 years old. He throws a 4 seamer that can hit 97 but sits around 94, and a 2-seamer that ranges from 90-92. Also throws a changeup (his out pitch), a curveball, and a slider. He profiles as a back end starter, somewhere between 3-5. I'd be surprised if he couldn't be more successful than Burnett was this year.
10. David Phelps: Preseason Rank: 9. Will be 25 next season. Before he went down with the injury, he was the next guy on the depth chart to start for the major league team. Unfortunately, while he was injured, Adam Warren emerged as that guy. While he was healthy, he pitched about as well as could have been expected, with a 2.99 ERA in 114 IP with 95 K. He strikes a decent amount of guys out and he keeps the ball inside the park, two important qualities for the majors. Most importantly, he has excellent control, with only 2.1 BB/9 this season. Take away his slow start, and he looks like a dominant AAA pitcher. Look out for him to be a surprise candidate to swoop in for a rotation spot next season. He has a 92 MPH 2-seamer and a 93 MPH 4-seamer, with a big league slider and an average curveball, as well as an average changeup. His control is what separates him from the others, but so far he hasn't been able to get major league hitters out (granted spring training is a small sample size). This season he will likely get a shot in the majors at some point. This will be the true test. If your wondering why he's not above Warren, it's because Warren didn't get injured, simple as that.
11. Brett "Fire" Marshall: Preseason Rank: 15. Will be 22 next season. Accomplished 2 major things this season. First of all, he got his innings total up to 140. Secondly, he figured out high A hitting. His first half numbers were pretty bad but by the end of the season his ERA was down to 3.78. Hopefully he can carry that momentum into next season. If he does, you may see him crack the top 10 on this list because he certainly has the stuff. He had 114 K in 140 IP this season. He throws a 92-95 MPH 2-seamer, a circle change-up and a slider. AA next season will be a big test for him.
12. Dante "Bichette Happens" Bichette Jr: Preseason: Unranked (new draft pick). As much as people say his fielding might not allow him to stay at 3B, the bottom line is that a hitter with great power and who can hit for average is a high-end prospect no matter what. We've seen it with Montero. This season, after being drafted as the Yankees number one pick, he did not disappoint. He raked. His BA was .335 and his OBP was .440. He hit 4 HR and OPSed at .947. He made an immediate impression and will be just 19 next season headed to Staten Island most likely. Sky's the limit for this hard worker.
13. Zoilo Almonte (Boilin Zoilo): Preseason Rank: Unranked. Will be 23 next season. He seems to improve every season. Had a very similar season in course to last year. Starts off slow, catches fire midseason, then gets promoted and cools off a bit. Either way, he ended up with 15 HR, 18 SB, and a .276/.345/.803 line. Next year will be a big one for him in AA. He held his own towards the end of this season in AA, so hopefully he can really put it all together next season. He is a solid fielder with a good arm with good speed. In fairness, 14 might be a generous rank, but next season will be a big test.
14. Corban Joseph (CoJo): He'll be 23 next season, and likely in AAA, although I'm not sure where that puts Kevin Russo. He had a decent season, hitting .277/.353/.768 in AA, with 5 HR and 4 SB. He doesn't have a lot of speed or range at 2B, and 3B may be his long-term position. Given that, his value may be limited. I am not as high on Joseph as many people are, but I've been wrong before. People have been talking for a while about his power that will develop, but we haven't seen it yet. Either way, he has a bright future and will likely see the major leagues at some point with some team.
15. Brandon Laird (Bash Brother): Preseason Rank: 13. Will be 24 next season, and will start in AAA. Let's look at the positives. He's young, he's got some decent power, and he won the award for best 3B in the International League. Now for the negatives: .260 average, .280 OBP, and really took a step back from his career year last season. This will be a big year for him. It will likely determine if he has a shot at a big league gig or if he'll be a future back-up type.
16. DJ Mitchell: Preseason Rank: 20. He'll be 25 years old next year. Looks like his career path will be more of a mop-up guy, with an outside shot at being a high leverage reliever. He had an excellent season for AAA SWB this year, throwing 161 innings and striking out 112, with a 3.18 ERA. He certainly surpassed expectations by a long-shot. Given his success at this level it is hard to ignore him, especially when just a few years ago he was considered a top 10 prospect. At this point he will likely get a shot in the majors, it's just a matter of when and for who. He throws a 2-seamer at 91 and induces a ton of ground balls. He also has a solid change and curveball. He's as ready as he'll ever be for the MLB.
17. Graham "Cracker" Stoneburner: Preseason Rank: 12. Will be 24 next season, and this will be an important year for him, after missing a good portion of 2011. He did muster 91.1 IP on the season, however, most of which were at Trenton. He will probably start at AA next season at well, but will move to AA very quickly if he performs well. I predict a much better season in 2012. This year he got hit around quite a bit, but a lot of this could have been rust. He throws a 92-94 MPH 2-seamer, and a 4-seamer. He also throws a slider and a change-up. I still haven't lost faith in him, and I do believe he could be at least a high-leverage reliever in the future.
18. Jose Quintana (Jose Quintanadana): Preseason: Unranked. Will be 23 next season. Will start in either High A or AA. He came out of nowhere this season. He had a strong 2010, but this year he really blossomed. He threw 102 IP, with 88 K, and a 2.91 ERA. He has a 90-92 MPH fastball with a curveball and change-up. He's left handed, so with those numbers he is a legit prospect. Next year he will be a fun guy to watch, he could easily move up or down on this list based on his performance.
19. Ravel Santana: Preseason: Unranked. He will be 20 years old next season. The only reason this guy isn't number 6 on this list is because of the "gruesome" injury he suffered this season. Scouts report that he has 80 power AND 80 speed. We've heard that before with Kelvin De Leon, but Kelvin never performed like this kid did. Unfortunately, the horrific injury basically destroyed his ankle. He may or may not even play next season. Even if he does, he may be significantly slowed down and sapped of some power. Regardless, a guy who starts off at 80/80 can still be highly effective with a hobbling injury. I give this kid a 19 despite his questionable future.
20. Rafael DePaula: Preseason Rank: 17. Will be 20 years old next season. I can't justify excluding this guy from the top 20, because just stepping foot on American soil puts him in the top 15. Throwing a pitch at his rumored velocity of 92-97 brings him right to the top 10. Then, if he has success with his nasty FB, CB combo for one season, he's top 5. Hopefully his VISA situation is resolved asap.
21. Cito Culver (Cheeto): Preseason Rank: 16. Will be 19 years old next season. Some will argue that Gumbs belongs above him, here's why I disagree. Cito Culver will be a 19 year old in Low A next season. He has had success from the right side of the plate (.324). Worst case scenario, he could always just focus on the right handed swing. He has a cannon for an arm, and he has excellent range, while he has to work on his hands. He has a great deal of speed, but needs to get more aggressive on the basepaths. 10 SB in 10 attempts this season. I feel his upside is higher than Gumbs, and I don't feel that their performances were all that different. A couple of tweeks to his swing and this hard worker will be back to a top 15 prospect.
22. Angelo "Bubba" Gumbs: Preseason Rank: One of the dark horse candidates. He'll be 19 years old next season as well. Gumbs is a toolsy kid with a quick bat. He played a lot of 2B this year and I think that is where his future lies. They say he probably won't stick long-term at SS. I guess we will see. He's got good range and good hands, as well as impressive speed. It will be interesting to watch he and Culver develop. Finished the season batting .264, with 3 HR, 11 SB, and 7 CS. He walked at a decent clip, with an OBP of .332. Again, I like Culver's upside more than Gumbs'
23. Jairo Heredia: Preseason Rank: Unranked. Will be 22 years old next season. Here's a guy who put himself back on the prospect radar by reinventing himself in high A. He pitched to a 3.29 ERA in high A after a miserable 6 + ERA last season. He had 68 K in 68 IP. He unfortunately got injured and lost the rest of his season at that point, however he took positive strides and will hopefully see some time in AA next season if all goes well. He has an 89-92 fastball, with a plus curveball and change-up.
24. Andrew Brackman (Brack Attack): Preseason Rank: 6. He'll be 26 years old next season. He has fallen farther than any other prospect, and quite frankly, he's lucky to be on this list at all. He still has the potential to turn things around, but he's running out of time. Next season is make or break for him, and I'm going to go ahead and predict he breaks. The Yankees are too good to carry a liability just in hopes that he develops into something. Early in the season he lost his velocity, and he just couldn't figure out how to pitch again. Finally, late in the season he started hitting 94-95 again, with some sink. He also throws 2 different curveballs. He's got a long road ahead of him and he doesn't have that much time to traverse it. He may have a decent career, but it probably won't be with the Yankees.
25. Tyler Austin: Preseason Rank: unranked. He'll be 20 years old next season. Here's a young guy who can really hit. He did it in the GCL and at Staten Island this year, and I think he should be tested at low A Charleston next season. He batted .354 this season, with 6 HR and was 18/18 in SB attempts, which is impressive for a 1B. Therein lies the only problem with him, he is a 1B. In order to be a 1B in the majors, you really need to hit for power, and he will have to develop that to ever make it to the next level. Don't count him out though because he has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball so far in his career.
26. George Kontos: Preseason Rank: unranked. He'll be 27 years old next season. He's currently with the major league team, auditioning for a spot in the bullpen next season. He was unable to stay healthy as a starter, so to the bullpen he went. He pitched really well for SWB this season, with a 2.62 ERA and 91 K in 89 IP. He had good control as well (2.6 BB/9). He has a 91-92 MPH fastball with a nasty, nasty slider. Next year will be his chance in the bullpen.
27. Mark "Monte" Montgomery: Preseason: Unranked. Will be 21 years old next season. Montgomery was our 10th round draft pick this season, and shortly after dominating at Staten Island, including a 5 K in one inning performance, he was sent to Charleston, where he successfully closed out some games. He finished the season at 16.2 K/9, with 15 saves in 28 IP. He's got a long way to go, but he seems to have a good feel for pitching. He throws a 91-93 MPH fastball with a nasty 86 MPH slider. He's got a lot to prove but he could be a really fast mover if he continues his success at high A next season.
28. Jose Rosario: Preseason: Unranked. He'll be 20 years old next season. He's at a premium position, and he performed extremely well in the GCL this season. At this point it's just picking favorites, but I like the kid, and I think he's got the opportunity to be a difference maker. Here's his line: .311, 6 HR, 13 SB. He's got speed and some power, and he's at a position that the Yankees farm system is not currently very deep at. That's a recipe for success.
29. Isaias "The hata" Tejeda: Unranked. He will be 20 next season. We are really getting down to the nitty gritty here, and I can't say that Tejeda is that much better if at all better than some of the guys who didn't make this list, but he is a guy who could have some real value if he continues to develop. This season was his breakout season, as he batted .331 with a .402 OBP for the season. He OPSed at .965 in a small (40 games) sample size. There's not much in the way of a scouting report on him but any time a 19 year old has that kind of success in the GCL it should open eyes. The jury is still out on him, but he's a player you can dream on because he is a catcher with what appears to be a decent bat.
30. Mikey O'Brien: Unranked. He will be 22 next season and will begin at either High A Tampa or AA Trenton. There were a number of players that could have occupied this position, but I chose they guy who had the best statistics of them, and did it at a reasonably high level. In 119 IP, he sported a 3.16 ERA and 99 strikeouts in a season that was split between Low A and High A. He's a small body with a lot of "spunk." He's cut from a similar cloth as David Phelps and Adam Warren in my opinion. His fastball ranges from 91-95, and he also has a curveball and a change-up. His performance speaks for itself, but he will have to do it at higher levels if he wants consideration as a starter. He is one who might have to settle for a relief role in the long run, but nothing is set in stone.
Here is a list of the guys who could have easily slotted in the top 30 depending on who you ask, the time of day, the mood of the observer, and better knowledge of advanced scouting reports. I'll put them in my own order, but once you reach this point you are really splitting hairs.
31. Bryan Mitchell - RHP
32. Taylor Morton - RHP
33. Jake Cave - OF
34. Chase Whitley - RHP (Relief)
35. Claudio Custodio - 2B/SS
36. Nik Turley - RHP
37. Kyle Roller - 3B
38. Preston Claiborne - RHP (RP)
39. Josh Romanski - LHP
40. Kramer Sneed - LHP (RP)
41. Gregory Bird - C
42. Daniel Burawa, Tommy Kahnle, Mike Gipson - essentially the same prospect (RHP, RP)
43. Ben Gamel - OF
44. Matt Tracy - LHP
45. Gabriel Encinas/Evan Rutckyj - Both young projects, RHP, LHP respectively.
46. Ray Kruml - OF
47. Jose Ramirez - RHP
48. Melky Mesa - OF
49. Ramon Flores - OF
50. Rookie Davis - RHP, Jordan Cote - RHP, Hayden Sharp - RHP, Daniel Camarena - LHP, and Chaz Hebert - LHP. These are the likely starters from this years draft class. I give them all an approximately equal chance to succeed for now, although Cote and Davis are my frontrunners.