Abiatal Avelino: This International free agent signed out of the Dominican Republic in December of 2011 has yet to make it out of the short-season leagues yet and despite that he isn't all that far off from being big league ready defensively. Throw in a rather polished bat as well and still just 19 years old, he screams upside.
He has above average or plus tools across the board outside of power which, despite not showing up just yet, could tick to average or better as he continues to grow in the coming years. He has the ceiling of a big league starting shortstop who could hit in the top three spots of a lineup someday, and those kinds of shortstop prospects are rare at any level.
Cito Culver: Like Avelino there is little doubt that Culver, a former first round pick in 2010, has the defensive chops to not only stick at the position long-term but flourish there and those kinds of prospects are very valuable these days. With above average range, plus arm strength, soft hands, and a unique feel for the game, defensively there isn't anything he can't do.
Offensively he remains a work in a progress but he is at least making progress. The former switch-hitter started batting exclusively from the right side just a year ago and it resulted in a career-high nine home runs last season. The batting is becoming more consistent, the plate patience is still good, and he has some speed too. If he can just cut down on the strikeouts [138 last season] and make more contact, there's some Ian Desmond-lite potential here.
Jorge Mateo: A more powerful and speedier version of Avelino, this Dominican native has a sky-high ceiling of his own. He clubbed seven home runs in the Dominican Summer League last season [Avelino has one his career] and swiped a remarkable 49 bases in just 64 games last year. And defensively he shows some great tools in the field too.
However, he is the sizzle while Avelino is the substance, meaning Mateo flashes a bit more tools but they are also considerably more raw too. While Mateo has the requisite plate patience to sit on his pitches and draw some walks, there is a little bit of an uppercut swing and that could make the bat less consistent. If he can cut down on those strikeouts and learn to take what pitchers give him a bit better, he could be an electric player in due time.
Closest to the Majors
Carmen Angelini: The former tenth round pick way back in 2007 finally chipped in with a full healthy season last year after missing essentially the previous three seasons with an array of injuries. He hit a combined .252 with nine home runs last season between high-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
He doesn't have one the one real standout physical tool -- he is more average than anything power-wise, speed-wise, and even defensively -- but he does have tremendous makeup and all of the intangibles needed to tie his tools together nicely. Despite amassing just 728 career long-season league at-bats thus far, he is the one closest to having a big league impact at the position for the Yankees right now, and that impact would be more serviceable than anything at the start.
Thairo Estrada: Signed in 2012 out of Venezuela for just $50,000, his low dollar signing almost immediately put him in the 'sleeper' category right out of the gate. The fact is though he can play too. He hit a respectable .278 with eleven doubles and two home runs in the Gulf Coast League last year in his debut season after skipping the Dominican Summer League level entirely.
|SIMPLY SOLID: Estrada isn't great at anything but he does everything well. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Tyler Wade: Last year's fourth round pick out of high scool is already being set up quite well as a big-time 'sleeper' prospect in almost perfect storm fashion. Not only is he playing at a similar minor league level to already top prospect Abiatal Avelino, but he has a hard-charging Jorge Mateo with his plus tools coming up quickly behind him. And Wade isn't exactly known for his power either and those types almost immediately fall under the radar too.
However, those who dismiss or overlook Wade as a potential long-term shortstop solution do so at their own peril. He can really handle the bat [he hit .309 last season], he shows great plate patience, he's an above average to plus runner, and he's a wiz defensively. Throw in some real leadership skills on and off the field, Wade has a considerable ceiling of his own. He'll never be a power hitter but he could develop enough power to potentially be a Brian Roberts-like offensive force someday if things break right.
Need to Make Their Move
Claudio Custodio: Signed in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, Custodio has a couple of plus physical tools, including plus-plus speed and plus defensive abilities. He has the ability to not only stick at shortstop but be an impact defensive player and he can run like the wind. He even has a little bit of juice in his swing for a slightly built player too and that makes him a 'sleeper' of sorts.
However, he missed most of the season last year with a pulled quad, he turned 23 years old this offseason, and now he's getting squeezed out of playing time by both Culver and Avelino. He has a considerable enough ceiling that despite his .240 showing in low-A Charleston last year that he can't be written off completely just yet, but he does need a breakout season of sorts too so he also needs to make his mark sooner rather than later.
The Jury is Still Out
Angel Aguilar: The 18-year old Venezuelan native is an above average defensive player already who shows an advanced feel in the field. Offensively, however, he is still refining his approach and swing. He collected 18 doubles in the Dominican Summer League last season though so he is showing offensive progress but he still has a ways to go to catch up to the likes of Avelino, Wade, and Mateo at the lower levels.
Yancarlos Baez: One of the top International free agents back in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic, the switch-hitter sustained a couple of different injuries last season, including a shoulder injury, that caused him to miss his debut season. There's some significant upside on both sides of the ball but there's also a lot of work needed to refine all areas of his game.
Yonauris Rodriguez: A smallish player, he was one of the top International free agent signings by the Yankees last year and is widely considered a plus defensive shortstop already. However, he weighs just 130 pounds, he's still just 16 years old, and his offensive game could take some time to develop. For now it's a wait and see proposition if he can add some much needed strength.