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Down on the Farm
2007-04-04 09:53
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Bryan Smith

Read Alex Belth long enough, and you start to pick up the guy's biases. I'm not talking his love for rap, Ken Burns or Central Park, but the Yankees that command most of his ink: Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Notice the trend.

I'm not bashing my friend Alex here, as I think any team diehard (myself included) does the same thing. As baseball fans, or really, as sports fans, we are drawn to the players we can only imagine in one uniform. Bernie, Rivera, Derek Jeter, these guys are Yankees. Being homegrown is to be one step closer to being a fan favorite. As loved as Paul O'Neil was, he was half a Red. As dominant as Roger Clemens was, he had shoved it for years with the Beaneaters.

If the Major League Baseball draft was different, and trading up in the draft allowed, Derek Jeter would not be New York's captain. Heck, he probably wouldn't be their shortstop. Because if trading were allowed, George Steinbrenner would have moved up in the 1993 draft after reading his staff's reports on a young stud in Miami. Despite taking Jeter the previous year, the Yankees would have bought the top pick from Seattle and drafted Alex Rodriguez.

After suffering through 1994 with Mike Gallego, the Yankees would have never signed Tony Fernandez. Rather, they would have opened 1995 with A-Rod at short, and New York would have fallen in love with him over the next 464 home runs. Jeter would be one helluva leadoff hitter, still loved in New York, but always second fiddle to the Bronx shortstop.

That's what is funny to be about baseball: although we don't realize it, fan allegiances to players are as determined by player development as they are effort and media friendliness.

Alex has asked me to write about the Yankees farm system once a month this season because I think he senses a new era with this organization. Starved to end this World Series drought, the Yankees are returning to what defined their '90s dynasty: scouting. The Yankees demanded their farm system provide them with a foundation – and it did in spades, with all the aforementioned homegrown talents – and then leaned on Brian Cashman (and Steinbrenner's wallet) to decorate the interior.

This approach worked, and then was abandoned during the spending sprees of this decade that have defined the Yankees nationally. For much of the last 5-8 years, the Yankees have been near the bottom of Baseball America's farm system rankings. Recently, with renewed interest from Damon Opponheimer and Mark Newman, the Yankees seem ready to again allow the farm system to determine their future.

In 2006, Yankee Stadium began to see this revival. Chien-Ming Wang, plucked from Taiwan by the Yankees are a teenager, became the ace of New York's staff. Robinson Cano tied the American League lead for Win Shares by a second baseman. Hell, Melky Cabrera showed what Ricky Ledee once had for a fraction of the hype. While hardly defined by youth, the Yanks were indisputably propelled by it.

What I'm here to do is to prepare you for the future. My first draft of this piece was to go through the entire Yankees farm system, breaking down the twenty-some Yankee prospects that I think have a pulse. But, I realized that to many of you, that's not particularly valuable. Instead, I'll dedicate my words (this month, at least), to the smaller group of names that should have an effect on wins in the Big Apple down the road. Leave a question on Marcos Vechionacci in the comments and I'll answer it, but for now, he doesn't project to Pinstripes and we won't touch on him.

At present, it's impossible to talk about the Yankees farm system without starting on the two blue-chippers: Phil Hughes and Jose Tabata. These two dominate the headlines, and rightfully so, they can be the next Rivera and Bernie, where the rest of the names below are really just hoping to be the next Ramiro Mendoza.

With a beautiful delivery and vicious stuff, Phil Hughes will give any baseball fan something fun to watch every fifth day for the next decade. Hughes has pitchability – scouting jargon for a combination of command and moxie – rarely seen from someone his age. He mixes this with a live, sinking mid-90s fastball and a 11-to-5, late-breaking curveball. Hughes has some work to do on his change up, and while his Spring Training was a tad disappointing, he should replace Carl Pavano in the rotation by June. In September, he could already be the Yankees ace.

Alex relayed a quote of mine a couple weeks ago, as I saw Tabata play for the first time the day he hit an opposite field home run against the Indians. Tabata excelled in full-season ball last year as an 18-year-old; he is one of the few minor leaguers to rival Hughes in terms of polish. Scouts critique the bodies of prospects like much of us do women, and Tabata is a perfect 10, a frame yielding comparisons to Manny Ramirez. He's a gifted hitter, and if his swing develops enough leverage to add Manny-esque power, the Yankees won't be sad to see Bobby Abreu go after 2008.

I must warn you, when you start a farm system analysis with projections of Tom Seaver and Manny, the rest goes downhill. Really, where can we go from here?

Well, we'll start with a pair that New York locals will be able to fall in love with, pitchers that take "homegrown" to a new level. Humberto Sanchez, the Yankees main bounty for Gary Sheffield, grew up in a high school just 1.5 miles from Yankee Stadium. Sanchez is a broad-shouldered (trying to be nice here), big pitcher with stuff to match. For years he could not get a handle on his control, could not turn the life of his fastball and big slider into success. Last year, he found it, and the Yankees are convinced he's turned a corner. However, he's currently hurt, and it looks as if Sanchez' two-pitch arsenal will work best in the bullpen.

Preceding Sanchez as a NYC-lifer in the NY farm system was Dellin Betances, the Yankees bonus baby from last year's draft. Betances garnered a lot of notoriety as the New York City star last spring, and he leveraged it, claiming he wanted $1 million (only from the Yankees), or he was headed to Vanderbilt. The Yankees happily obliged to his demands – Betances has greater upside than Sanchez while being further along for his age. Still, with inconsistencies in his velocity, the bite of his breaking ball, a third pitch and his delivery, he's a long way away. He might not return to the Big Apple until 2010, but when he does, it should be as the newest Golden Boy.

Betances was a microcosm of the Yankees 2006 draft approach: stockpile pitching, at whatever cost, whenever possible. Brian Cashman recognizes what young pitching is suddenly worth (see: Freddy Garcia trade), and in response to the market, seems to have focused his scouting staff focus on pitching. Besides Betances, there was one sure-fire selection from the 2006 draft (Joba Chamberlain), but also a host of pitching that could very well enter the equation in 2007: Ian Kennedy, Zach McAllister, George Kontos, Tim Norton, Mark Melancon, Casey Erickson and David Robertson. All should provide a huge boost to the Yankees low-level minor league rotations.

Choosing Ian Kennedy with their first pick was a "safe" selection that I wasn't very fond of, but in the end, landing Joba Chamberlain gives them a viable first round-caliber player. Chamberlain had a fantastic career at Nebraska, notably taking Omaha (at the College World Series) by storm as a sophomore, and then following it with a strong junior campaign. He has Humberto's chubby build, but is a far more controlled pitcher. With good control and multiple good pitches, he is going to fly through the farm system. If Nardi Contreras, Yankees roving pitching instructor and curveball expert, can sharpen Joba's breaking stuff, watch out.

I could re-phrase the last sentence, writing that if Joba can get his curve to become half as good as Tyler Clippard's, watch out. However, while that is a possibility, I just don't see Clippard adding life to his fastball with little tinkering. He's a low-ceiling guy that will end up giving the Yankees a better chance to win than Carl Pavano or Darrell Rasner. But, in the end, Clippard's total ceiling is somewhere between Brandon McCarthy and Gavin Floyd. The hitting version of Clippard is Brett Gardner: Johnny Damon lite that was beat to the Majors by Melky Cabrera, and by all accounts, will likely be traded this season. He doesn't fit in pinstripes.

I'll end today with a sleeper, as I realize I owe you that after 1,500 words about the minor leaguers you already know. In August, who do I think will be in the Yankees rotation? Well, Philip Hughes instead of Carl Pavano, for one. But I also can't see the other four starters all avoiding injury, so I'll project one more: Alan Horne. A college career derailed by injuries clouded Horne before the 2005 draft, but the Yankees saw something in his rebound senior season at his third college. With better control, an area where he showed improvements at the end of last year, Horne can be Joba with a better breaking ball. He could be, legitimately, the third best prospect in this system.

In the end, the Yankees are doing a great job at acquiring talent in their system, and returning to the mentality of the 90s should bring this organization a championship sooner rather than later. If that's with Mike Mussina leading the charge rather than Phil Hughes, however, I wouldn't be too sure.

The former co-creator of Baseball Analysts, Bryan Smith is joining Baseball Prospectus in 2007 to write about (among other things) the prospect scene. He has also written for Baseball America, SI.com and the Hardball Times.

Comments
2007-04-04 10:24:20
1.   Shaun P
Bryan, outstanding piece, and welcome to the Banter. I've missed reading your stuff over at Baseball Analysts. I've never heard of Horne before - what has you so high on him?

Alex and Cliff, you've spoiled us again! (Thank you!) The Yanks have an off-day, and Emma and Will pop up. The Yanks get rained out, and you have Bryan Smith writing about Yankee prospects. Allen Barra has already been here. Who's next, Roger Kahn? David Halberstam? Nothing would surprise me.

2007-04-04 10:32:58
2.   Sliced Bread
Thanks for a great read on a rainy day, Bryan.

The only thing I might add to your outstanding analysis here: Tyler Clippard and Joba Chamberlain both possess great "Bob Sheppard names."

2007-04-04 10:36:25
3.   pistolpete
Nice approach to your article - I think a lot of people's eyes glaze over when you start talking about 3-level-deep prospects that probably won't even see action in the bigs until 2010.

Outlining who we may see in pinstripes in the near future gives your post some real teeth, and I think we can all agree the future is a lot brighter than it was just 3 short years ago...

2007-04-04 10:49:23
4.   yankz
Great, great writeup. The focus on scouting is amazing, and I think they're doing it at the ML level as well. Wonder if they knew Abreu would fit in as well as he did.

You know, I've never heard Sanchez (or anyone else) explicitly say that he grew up a Yankee fan. Was he not?

2007-04-04 10:57:08
5.   rbj
Great piece, Bryan.

My question is catchers. Anyone of any value down on the farm somewhere?

2007-04-04 10:58:11
6.   weeping for brunnhilde
Thanks, Bryan. Very informative, very enjoyable read.

Now you've got me all excited about the (not too distant) future!

2007-04-04 11:03:23
7.   weeping for brunnhilde
By the way, anyone see El Duque last night?

God I miss that guy.

Never should have let him go.

2007-04-04 11:21:29
8.   Alex Belth
I did see that game, and here, here. I think Duque's FORP (fun over replacement player) is off the charts. Nice hitting too.
2007-04-04 11:24:11
9.   Sliced Bread
7 check out the ode to Duque over at Eephus Pitch.

He's as good as it gets when he's on, but you have to remember some of the rough outings.
I recall him getting brutalized one game I attended in Anaheim.

Ah, but you're right: Viva El Duque!

2007-04-04 11:32:22
10.   Bryan Smith
Hey guys, thanks for the kind words so far. I told Alex that I can respond to questions on prospects until the thread dies, so fire away if you'd like.

ShaunP -- I am a big fan of Horne. This is a guy that was a first round pick out of high school, but opted to go to college to try to become a top ten pick. It backfired, he hurt his arm, and everything went south. But according to some reports, things looked up in August last year big time. He has big league stuff, and the key is control, which improved in the second half. There's still a good chance he never puts it together, but he has better stuff than Tyler Clippard, so he's worth betting on.

RBJ -- Catching is one of the big holes of this farm system, to go along with left-handed pitching and power hitters. The Yankees tried to kill two birds with one stone by giving a ton of money to a Latin catcher, Jesus Montero, but his early reports have been pretty bad. Big-time power, but a fat frame and a small chance of sticking behind the dish. Beyond that there's not much to speak of, so don't be shocked if they go with the catcher in the top 5 rounds of the 07 draft.

2007-04-04 11:40:07
11.   rbj
10 Thanks for the update, Bryan.
Dang, I hate rainouts.
2007-04-04 11:48:09
12.   Sliced Bread
Bryan,

What do you think of Jose Veras?
When he came over to the Yanks he seemed to be under the impression he'd be setting up for Rivera. Obviously, that has not happened yet, but do you envision that becoming a possibility after he recovers? I think he's out of action for another couple months.

2007-04-04 12:02:28
13.   Bryan Smith
Sliced, I'm wary of Veras. His control was much improved in Columbus last year, but he certainly doesn't have a history of that. In addition, while he does have a Major League fastball, just not sure that second pitch is quite advanced enough to be what the Yanks demand of their relievers. Using Humberto as Rivera's set-up man is their best bet.
2007-04-04 12:28:56
14.   Sliced Bread
Thank you, Bryan.

Veras has been my dark horse, but not having that second kill pitch would quickly make him a dead horse. I've been impressed by his raw power, and thought since his control seems to be improving he might have a shot.
I also admired his confidence (or was it misguided naivety?) when he came to the Yanks, boldly declaring/believing he'd be Mo's warm-up act.
Given, as you suggest, that Sanchez will not likely be an "innings eater" I think you're right about Humberto being the Yanks best bet for the 8th.
I'd love for both Sanchez and Veras to enjoy some time in the bigs with Rivera, and maybe learn a few tricks from the old dog.

2007-04-04 12:39:52
15.   JL25and3
9 Duque was a wonderfully entertaining pitcher, maybe the most entertaining to watch since Tiant (who was in a class by himself).

Duque was also the best fielding pitcher I've ever seen.

2007-04-04 12:47:25
16.   Sliced Bread
15 Duque might actually be as old as Tiant, but I agree as entertainers go he was a Satchmo among pitchers.
2007-04-04 12:52:14
17.   Shaun P
10 Thanks, Bryan. I'm guessing Horne starts the year in Trenton, and I hope he does well. Now I'll be keeping an eye on him.

Follow-up to rbj's question - how does the '07 draft look in terms of catchers? Any college guys who might come quickly that the Yanks could target as a late 1st round pick?

9 Duque is a lot of fun to watch when he's on. These days, though, he's more hurt or off than on. That's why I'm glad the Yanks didn't bring Duque back, nostalgia and entertainment aside.

2007-04-04 12:58:08
18.   JeterChrist
Bryan, How much more do you know about David Robertson's future in the organization? I watched a few Y-D Red Sox games last summer, and he was was lights out in the Cape League Playoffs.
2007-04-04 13:04:27
19.   Andrew Fletcher
Since you asked for it, here's a question about Vechionacci: Why don't you see him fitting in pinstripes? Is it because ARod is blocking him or do you think he won't be a major league star for any team? He certainly seems to be a scouting over stats kind of prospect, but that's only to be expected for someone whose best tool is his glove and next best is "power projections."
2007-04-04 13:19:55
20.   Bryan Smith
ShaunP -- Indeed, there are. Mitch Canham has been lights out this year for Oregon State, and he's a guy that probably slots in towards the late first round, maybe supplemental first. There's also Josh Donaldson from Auburn, who is behind Canham, but a good pick. As far as the high school ranks go, I'm a big fan of Yasmani Grandal, a Miami kid that impressed me at the East Coast Showcase last August. You'd be looking supplemental first, second round on him.

JeterChrist -- I really, really like David Robertston. Cape reports on him are always sparkling, and I think he could turn out to be a steal in this draft. You see a guy like J.B. Cox given a big second-round bonus, and as good as he looked prior to injury, he's now out for 2007. What I'm trying to say is that I like the Yankees looking for relievers, Melancon and Robertson, late in the '06 draft rather than early. I think Robertson will have a big year, bringing some deception and a good slider to go right behind Kevin Whelan as the second-best relief prospect in the organization.

2007-04-04 14:17:58
21.   Start Spreading the News
Any of you guys see this A-rod anti-booing website?

http://www.projecta13.com/index.html

2007-04-04 15:26:22
22.   yankz
21 Your name should be "Start Rehashing the News" :) JK...yeah it's hilarious.
2007-04-04 15:46:19
23.   Start Spreading the News
22 I haven't seen it posted here before. Sorry if it has been.
2007-04-04 15:55:26
24.   yankz
23 I'm just messing around; I first saw it on WasWatching, then on Deadspin.
2007-04-04 16:06:46
25.   weeping for brunnhilde
9 I know, that's the thing with him. He's either unhittable or he gets lit up, but I'll take that.

Especially when you think of all the duds we've had to "replace" him since.

Stick with what works, especially with a guy like El Duque who gets by on wiles and guts. It's not like you have to worry about him losing velocity or anything.

Plus, he's just so much fun to watch and root for.

Personally, I love, just love to see when a junk-baller can dominate, exasperating as it is when it's against us (Exhibit A, Tim Wakefield, the only guy on their team I have tremendous respect and affection for.)

10 I didn't get to see Hughes in spring training, but I looked him up on youtube and wasn't quite sure what to think.

Is it just me, or is his fastball a little on the juicy side? It seemed just a tad straight, but maybe I'm imagining things, or maybe he's improved since then.

2007-04-04 16:07:27
26.   weeping for brunnhilde
8 Btw, Alex, FORP!

That's delicious.

FORP.

:)

2007-04-04 16:08:48
27.   claybeez
Hey Bryan,

Great post. I enjoyed reading you over at Baseball Analysts. Glad to have you enlightening us on the Yanks' farm system, specifically.

2007-04-04 16:43:21
28.   Alex Belth
Hey, FORP was one of Emma Span's throw-away lines. I just picked it up and plan to keep on pimping it throughout the season. I really like it a lot.
2007-04-04 17:07:31
29.   mikeplugh
Great piece Bryan. I'll be joining you as a member of the 2007 BP team (Japanese baseball). It's going to be fun over there this season.

I'm a gigantic Betances fan, and from what I've heard he's made huge strides refining his pitches. He worked super hard over the offseason, and looks like a whole new pitcher. Is that true?

Also, I am hungry for news on Hairo Heredia. I can't find anything anywhere about the kid, but they say he's the best pitcher from a deep crop of Latin signees last season. After the initial reports on the Yankees signing coup, his name has been hard to find anywhere, and I wonder if anyone has a take on him yet.

Thanks. (What up AB).

2007-04-04 17:40:54
30.   Bryan Smith
Mike, glad to be a BP cohort, I think we'll have lots of chattin' to do over the years about the next in Japanese players. Loved 2b Nishioka (can't remember first name) in the World Baseball Classic, but he'd be a few years away. Also, glad you're leading the Yu Darvish bandwagon, he's a few more strikeouts from having me ride shotgun.

I unfortunately didn't make it to the backfields in Yankees camp, so I can't answer your questions directly. Soon I should be able to. Betances improving his curveball would be no surprise, as Nardi Contreras teaches the pitch as well as anyone.

How's this? I'll get some work in to make my May piece for Alex be an interview with Paul Roessler, director of Player Development. If I can swing it, I'll be sure to get the word on Betances and Jairo Heredia.

2007-04-04 17:51:11
31.   mikeplugh
Thanks Bryan.

I've developed a real thing for pitching prospects over the last year or so. It stemmed from following Matsuzaka as closely as I did, and extended to Darvish, Uehara, and Yuki Saito. Now, my eyes are trained on any and every pitching stud in the world when I catch word of them. Betances has no ceiling in terms of potential, but I hope to see his boxscores a bit more to see how he progresses. Heredia is one of those men of mystery that someone teased us with by talking him up in the international signing period with words of huge upside, then...silence.

I've got a big job ahead of me over the next few days, updated in Darvish Watch, Uehara Watch, and maybe Yuki Saito Watch. The first two pitched their team's openers and Saito has been throwing some practice games. I'll also be sending in my next BP piece on players to watch in Japan for the MLB transition....

Thanks again.

2007-04-04 19:43:50
32.   Orly Yarly NoWai
In other news, check out Derek Zumsteg's Cheater's Guide blog. He seems to have caught K-Rod greasing up the ball with something on his hat.

Bryan, that'd be pretty sweet.

2007-04-04 19:56:30
33.   Vandelay Industries
MLB agrees to deal with iN Demand! Maybe Congress' threateneing to have the justice department investigate non antitrust statutory violations and tom once again "seriously" look at ending Baseball's antitrust exemption scared the pocket book right out of DePuy and Selig!

I did already spend $119 for MLB.TV but alas I am happy I can watch games on DVR this season.

I called Time Warner Socal and of course noone had the slightest clue that a deal was reached.

Here is to hoping they get the programming up and running before the All-Star Break!

2007-04-04 19:59:01
34.   Vandelay Industries
Here is a link to the iN DEMAND article on MLB.com.

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070404&content_id=1880145&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

2007-04-04 23:40:16
35.   Rich
That was a very good read.

I would note, however, that Cashman didn't "decorate the interior" of the '90s teams, at least primarily (he was the assistant GM until 1998, by which time a lot of the important complimentary pieces had been added); Stick and Bob Watson did.

Also, Clippard topped out at 93 mph during ST.

Any thoughts on Chase Wright?

2007-04-05 09:07:39
36.   Bryan Smith
Rich -- Good point, I probably credited Cashman too much. The point stands, however, that filling in the gaps was the big responsibility of the front office during that time period.

Clippard, yes, can get it into the 90s a little bit. If the change-up plays and the fastball is controlled, Clippard's utmost ceiling is a right-handed Barry Zito, and I think a RH Zito isn't really a Cy Young, $17M pitcher. He can be a #3 if things break right, fringe if they don't. On a team with Yankee aspirations, he's a #5 or out of the organization.

Chase Wright, interesting name. Big numbers to be sure last year, left-handed, smart pitcher and really athletic. Sounds like the keys to success. I think he can be Ron Villone, but more the reliever version. Wright is a guy that confuses by pitching backwards, and as long as he pounds the zone and keeps hitters guessing, he'll get outs. However, the stuff just isn't there for much beyond middle relief.

2007-04-05 15:37:57
37.   Kered Retej
Not to get too off track, but I would also put Pascual Perez in the category of "entertaining" pitchers to watch. I was pretty young when he pitched though, so my memories are a bit vague. I know he wasn't the greatest pitcher (especially while with the Yanks) and had his share of off-field troubles, but I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that he was not entertaining. You just never quite knew what he was going to do next.

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