Note: These rankings are about how much a player has improved his prospect standing in the organization based on the strength on their Instructional League showing and not about what they've done in 2012 as a whole.
1. Greg Bird, 1B: There's a lot to like offensively with Bird's showing late in the year after the Yankees moved him from catcher to first base after he had been dealing with a nagging back problem most of the season. He hit .400 with six extra-base hits in his eleven game trial with the Staten Island Yankees and kept his hot hitting going at Instructs.
He chipped in with a few more multi-hit games at the minor league complex and the power was still very much there, going very deep for a home run and even clubbing a one-hop double off the left field wall too. He has the look of a big-time breakout candidate in 2013.
2. Rafael DePaula, RHP: Right behind Bird on the hard-charging prospects' list is the flame-throwing Dominican native. Sitting 93-96 mph with his fastball and with a true hammer curveball that averaged 80-83 mph, DePaula was simply overpowering during Instructs.
It wasn't as if he was just a two-pitch hurler either. He showcased a quality changeup too that flashed plus potential. He still has to work on his command but he has the chance to have three plus pitches and his showing at Instructs gives him the appearance of a quick mover up the organization, starting in 2013.
3. Gabe Encinas, RHP: The numbers in Staten Island [3-7, 4.97 ERA] for the 2010 sixth round pick helped disguise what was truly an uptick season for him stuff-wise. One of the most impressive prospects during Extended Spring Training, he was once again dominant during Instructional League.
Like DePaula there's still considerable work needed to be done with his consistent strike-throwing ability, but the stuff has gone from average to above average and even borderline plus behind the scenes. He was sitting mostly 94 mph with his fastball during Instructs with late life, and he showcased both a big league curveball and changeup at times. He has to be more consistent but he is flashing some serious long-term potential.
4. Miguel Andujar, 3B: Like Encinas, it wasn't a banner season for Andujar statistically [.232, one home run] but there was some real progress being made behind the scenes and it showed at Instructs.
Whether he put too much pressure on himself and tried to do too much in the Gulf Coast League during his debut season or not, he was simply a much better player at Instructs. Not nearly as pull-happy, he had several hits up the middle and to the opposite field, showed good patience at the plate, and in the field he allowed the game to come to him rather than rushing on every play. He looked like an impact player on both sides of the ball.
5. Rob Refsnyder, 2B: There are a number of prospects who could slide in here at number five -- shortstop Abiatal Avelino, right-handed pitcher Luis Severino and his plus fastball, outfielder Chris Breen, left-hander Nik Turley and the introduction of a new slider into his mix, right-hander Luis Niebla, and left-hander Chaz Hebert with his much improved curveball -- but we're going with Refsnyder here after his seemingly seamless transition defensively to second base.
He was making somewhat difficult plays look routine on far-ranging plays to both his left and right sides. However, as if that wasn't enough, it was his bat that seemed to really come around at the minor league complex too. He was hitting some hard lasers for extra bases nearly every day and now he gives the Yankees another high-upside second base prospect to slide in there with Angelo Gumbs.
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Hardball ScoopWednesday at 6:03 PM