WTNYOctober 27, 2004
My New York State of Mind
By Bryan Smith

In part two of fulfilling readers suggestions, I will be profiling the Yankees minor league system. One of my readers, James, asked, I'd also like to see the Yanks to see if the system is as dead as the NY papers are making it. Now I have no real evidence of this, avoiding the New York newspapers and all, but lets assume the media is quite pessimistic. If any of you have examples of this, drop it in my comments.

To help me with this project, I asked Fabian- loyal reader and writer of Minor Yankee Blog- to give me his bit on a bunch of prospects. Look for his comments incorporated throughout todays article. If you are a Yankees fan, or just a fan of minor league baseball, I highly recommend his site.

In my preseason top fifty, Dioner Navarro was the lone Yankee, reflecting the sad state the Yankee system had become. In fact, no other Yankee even made my extended top 90, which indicates the futility Brian Cashman had let the system become. Notice the past tense, that will come in play later.

Consider this, from 1997-2002, the Yankees had seven first-round picks they signed. The best, not including the unsigned Mark Prior, is Bronson Sardinha. This is a third basemen that had an ISO near .100 during the season, split between the Florida State League and Eastern League. I've really soured on him. He doesn't hit enough, in my opinion, to be a viable LF, RF, 1B, and doesn't play defense well enough to be a viable 3B, SS, 3B, CF, says Fabian. And this, is the best.

He is the best, because two of them (Ty Godwin, John Ford-Griffin) were traded out of the franchise, three (Ryan Bradley, Andy Brown, David Walling) have no Major League promise, and one (David Parrish) was called up simply as an emergency catcher. While his last name will keep him in the minors awhile, he stinks. Drafting like this is not acceptable, and the Yankees should be focusing on landing bigger names.

But when the 2003 draft came around, the New York Yankees hit jackpot. After their long draft drought, the Yankees selection of nearby product Eric Duncan has turned successful. If I was picky, I might mention a season average of .258 or his 131 strikeouts. He strikes out more than I'd like, but that's the only fault I can find, says Fabian. He has outstanding raw power according to most scouting reports and has been able to translate that into great game power at a young age.

Not only is this power apparent in scouting reports, but also in the fact that his ISO was well over .200 in the pitching-friendly Midwest and Florida State Leagues. And that, at just the age of nineteen, makes me forget his negative points. And in response to his work ethic, Fabian writes, his defense went from "no way he's sticking at 3B" at the time of his drafting to "he could stick at 3B" and his receiving of votes for MWL best defensive 3B this year. Sticking at third though, aint gonna happen.

One other good thing came from the 2003 draft, and it was all the way down in the ninth round. A lanky right-hander from a Kentucky high school, Tyler Clippard appeared to be a pitcher who could do everythingOK. BA keeps harping on his lack of a dominant out pitch, but early in the season opponents would say, courtesy of local newspapers, that his curveball was much better than any they could handle at their current level, which coincides with what was in the '04 prospect handbook. In addition, his change has been coming along this season and his fastball is picking up velocity. Well, he went from doing everything OK, to doing everything well pretty fast.

I dont like the fact that in 149 innings, Clippard allowed 153 hits and 12 home runs. This was the Midwest League, and opposing batters are only going to get harder. But, I do like his K/BB ratio of 145/32, and Kevin Goldstein gave him a positive comment. There is no question that his pitches must further improve, because my guess is the right-hander has the tendency to hang his curveball. But this appears to be a very good ninth-round pick, and Clippard is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

But, Yankee fans would laugh at me if I evaluated their system by their drafts. George Steinbrenner has more money than anyone else, and this is seen not only on the Major League free agent market, but the scouting department is well. Plain and simple, no other big league club has an influence outside of this country like the Yankees. The majority of Yankee prospects come not through the draft, but from overseas prospects.

The best of which, as I mentioned, is Dioner Navarro. Yankee fans seem to still be up on Navarro, as seen by Fabians comments, Had a disappointing year statistically, but I think it's worth noting that his struggles were pretty much isolated around the time of major trade talks so it might be worthwhile to analyze his monthly splits. Just how disappointing a year statistically? After closing out the 2003 season with a .341/.388/.471 line in 208 Eastern League at-bats, Navarro hit .271/.354/.369 this year, before a .676 OPS in the International League.

Pardon me for not buying the trade-talk excuse, because that speaks down to a players mental strength. Navarros 2003 seems, in retrospect, to be a bit of an aberration. Calling him Pudgito is insane. This isnt to say this kid cant be a Major League catcher, hes just not worthy of the rankings he saw before the season. To me, and sorry Yankee fans, I see a Toby Hall type. Trade himnow.

Next on a lot of lists, and the topic of much debate between Fabian and me, is Robinson Cano. And while I never believed much in Cano, who had topped a .750 OPS only once before this season, I am slowly coming around. While many of the Yankee prospects struggled in the pitcher-friendly Trenton stadium, Cano torched it for a .853 OPS before getting a promotion to AAA. He seemed to be back to his old self in the IL, with a .719 OPS in 216 at-bats.

Pardon me, but I dont think there is much to Canos future besides a peak of a .800 OPS, with most seasons in the low-.700s. This is, of course, where Fabian would break in. He fell off after a promotion to AAA, but the only real
change was in his doubles/triples rate as his homer rate actually spiked and his BB/K numbers remained exactly the same, which is encouraging. This is a fair point, but I dont think the Yankees should hang their hats on Cano at second base. Let me see what he does next year, and maybe he could take over there at some point.

But dont get me wrong, Fabian and I do not disagree on every issue, hardly. Melky Cabrera, for instance, is where we share a common ground. The power is coming and he seems to be at least solid defender. I wouldn't say he's Bernie Williams, but I'm beginning to warm up to the Mark Kotsay comp I have seen in BA, the good ('04) Kotsay is a great ceiling to have. I have said Bernie Williams before, which is more an indication in how highly I think of Cabrera than an actual prediction. I wrote about him in this article, and dont want to beat a dead horse, but hes good.

Two more overseas prospects that spoke volumes with their play were Abel Gomez and Erold Andrus. After a solid debut last season, Gomez continued to progress in 2004 in the Midwest League. His peripheral HR/9, H/9 and K/9 numbers are better than those of Clippard, but a 4.61 BB/9 needs improving. Back to Fabian, Throws in the low 90s. His changeup is reportedly pretty good too, but he needs to work on a breaking ball. In addition, he also lacks control.

As for Andrus, it wasnt batting average that got him a contract with the Yankees. But that, and pretty much only that, is what hes given the organization. But, there is hope for more, as scouts think that Andrus has a huge power bat. Unfortunately, comes this from Fabian, The latest news on him is that he is being converted to 1B
to take advantage of his power potential and diminishing speed. Moving him now, with his career SLG at just .411, is a bit premature to me. Stock going down.

To close out the Caribbean players, I want to touch on two very disappointing players: Rudy Guillen and Ramon Ramirez. Guillen seems to be a BA fav, largely due to the great tools he had when he signed. He is about to turn 21, and has three seasons in a row with a declining OPS. The real problem, is that the OPS started at .748. Dont tell all this to Fabian:


A lot people have soured on him, but I'm willing to give him some benefit of the doubt. He was hitting for average and not much else to start the season and then he suffered a somewhat serious knee injury that kept him out much of the summer. When he came back, the power increased slightly (I haven't looked at the numbers so I may be wrong), and the plate discipline also seemed to tick upwards while the BA plummeted. I think he could have a big '05.

Finally, lets touch on Ramirez. This kid has a great arm, just has not figured out how to use it. To Fabian:

He has problems with the longball and there have been some durability concerns raised due to his diminutive stature. That said, he strikes out a ton of guys and I think the Yankees should convert him into the bullpen and have themselves a shutdown reliever in the making. His control is also usually pretty good. He might be able to pull a Brazoban for the Yankees in '05 if they are willing to try it with him.

His home run ratio, which Fabian recognizes, is what might prevent him from being a good reliever. Remember, Brazoban allowed ten home runs in 127 minor league innings. Ramirez allowed more this year, though Juan Cruz has proved you can succeed in relief despite a high H/9. I love the K/9 on this kid, though I dont think he could reach the Yankees next year. Put him in relief, send him to AA.

This could be the end of the road, but it isnt. I want to deal with two other prospects that didnt fit in the 2003 draft or overseas prospects categories. Matt DeSalvo is one of the few types that went to college, but was not eligible to be drafted. His numbers, they speak for themselves: 1.43 ERA in 13 high-A starts. Four homers allowed in more than 100 innings. To my boy:


Yes, he's really old for a top prospect. Yes, he's small for a top RHP prospect. Still, this is a guy who has dominated at pretty much every level he's ever been at: college, SS, A-, A+. The only one where he failed was at AA this year and that was because he tried to pitch through a back injury and was not able to do it as he lost all command of the strike zone. In addition, it's not as if he's working with smoke and mirrors either, he has at least solid stuff with a low 90s fastball, and good curve and change. I really like DeSalvo and think that he has a shot at being in the majors by the end of '05 provided that he is fully recovered from his back injury.

I agree with Fabian here. You show me you healed from your injury Mr. DeSalvo, and Ill forget that youll be in your age 24 year next season.

Lastly, is the one good piece of the 2002 draft: eighth-round pick Brad Halsey. Chosen out of Texas, the small Halsey moved relatively fast through the system, even getting some spot starts in New York. To me, Halsey is the southpaw version of David Bush, who had a good year with the Toronto Blue Jays. Halsey has allowed just 15 home runs in 375 innings, and has the makeup to succeed. While Fabian thinks this guy should be in the Yankees 2005 rotation, Im not sure he fits in New York. But I know if I was a GM in another organization, I would have Halsey circled.

So, thats it. Like usual, the Yankees have a lot of hyped prospects that arent real. They also have one real prospect (Duncan), and a few more (Cabrera, Clippard, Gomez, Halsey, Cano) that I believe can be solid prospects. The system is hardly not a good one yet, but its headed in the right direction.

Comments

Thanks very much for the article - it was very insightful and I appreciate the time both you and Fabian took on it.

Thanks for the analysis. I think that you should have included the prospects from this year's draft. BA compared Hughes to Clemens, and said that Christian Garcia had the best stuff in the GCL. Jon Potterson also sounds like he has real power potential, though I would have taken Gio Gonzalez over him. Also Steven White had a great year between BC and Tampa, and I'm surprised that Fabian didn't say anything about Marcos Vechianocci, because I read his sight and he seems to love him. By the way, I have my own sight, which is somewhat similar to Fabians, his gave me the idea, and I do some prospect coverage on it. Its www.sheffieldformvp.blogspot.com