1. Jesus Montero - It was certainly no difficult task figuring out who would take the number one spot on this list. Montero is deserving of all the high praise, and from what I gathered in 2010, made significant strides in both his approach at the plate and his handling of a pitching staff behind it. Some will still continue to question his defense, but for me, aside from the experience he'll need to get on the job, this is a player prepared to play the position at the next level.
Having several looks at Montero in spring training and in Scranton, I saw improvements over the 2009 version of the righty swinging slugger. His footwork was much smoother behind the dish, and his overall throwing mechanics looked just a bit more fluid. The improvements were not limited to his defense, though. At the plate, especially as the season moved along, he appeared more able to stay on his back side and drive the ball with authority to right center field.
If he can stay level and off his front foot, he has opposite field power not too dissimilar to a left-handed power hitter. And, that's where the Yankees' coaching staff will have to work hard to keep him. Keeping his mechanics tight and keeping him in the middle of the field will keep him on the path of being a balanced offensive threat.
2. Manny Banuelos - Consider me among the earlier Manny Banuelos believers on a national level. Few in the prospect world included Banuelos among the elite last off-season, but don't get the impression that he came out of nowhere. The 5-foot-10 southpaw did see an increase in velocity in 2010, but even without that added giddy-up on the fastball he had the upside of a number two type starter.
Make no mistake, going from a pitcher I clocked at 90-92 mph in 2009 with Charleston to a southpaw consistently living at 93-95 mph is a big difference. But, the velocity alone is not what makes Banuelos so special. He continues to work with superior command of three above-average pitches, with his changeup being his best out pitch. The breaking ball still has some room for improvement and remains inconsistent on a game to game basis, but flashes above average when he's at his best.
At just 20-years-old, and considering the fact that he's left-handed, all these ingredients add up to a front of the rotation type starter. And, if you're looking for the intangibles and moxie that allow a pitcher to pitch at an ace type level, Banuelos shows that as well.
3. Gary Sanchez - In most organizations, Gary Sanchez would easily be the top catching prospect in the organization and perhaps even the top prospect overall despite his young age. But, although for now he plays second fiddle to Jesus Montero, that won't last long. I'm among those out there that believe Sanchez just might be further along than Montero was at the same stage. And, his defense is far less less of an issue. Assuming he can continue to adapt as he moves up and avoid injury, the Yankees have another special offensively gifted catcher on their hands.
4. Dellin Betances - There's only one reason Dellin Betances doesn't rank even higher among baseball's elite prospects. That reason is his history. Betances may go on to be a very durable starting pitcher, but for now his rankings just need to be approached with a fair amount of caution. His stuff and total package on the mound stacks up with any young pitcher in the sport, but we still need to be sure he can stay durable and stay on the field.
Back in August when I got my first 2010 glimpse of Betances, I dropped a Josh Beckett comparison on him. Aside from the 93-96 mph fastball and swing and miss breaking ball, Betances shares some of Beckett's problems as well. He still is somewhat inconsistent mechanically and his command does get away from him at times. But, his surprising feel for multiple secondary pitches despite such limited mound experience in his professional career leads me to believe he will continue to learn on the job.
5. Andrew Brackman - If there's a lesson to be learned out there about judging prospects too quickly, Andrew Brackman would be an outstanding example. Brackman was underwhelming on multiple occasions when I scouted him in 2009, and I got a similar impression in Spring Training of 2010 as well. Somewhere along the line in the regular season this past summer, however, something seemed to click for Brackman. Since that point, we began to see the dominating type right-hander the Yankees envisioned when they grabbed him in the first round.
When I got a look at Brackman in August, the pitcher I saw was not the fringy type talent I had seen the previous year. Instead, he was a pitcher using his height to create movement, working at 92-96 mph with his fastball and locating his plus downer curveball at 77-81 mph. Not to mention, his changeup was much more of a factor than I had seen it be in the past. His mechanics, and more specifically his ability to stay back over the rubber, are going to be a continuous battle for the towering righty. If he can keep that in check, and in turn keep his command in check he has a chance to be a number two type starter or a force out of the bullpen.
6. Austin Romine - He slid back in the pack among Yankee prospects in 2010, but that isn't necessarily an indictment of his skills. It simply represents a steady rise in talent in the farm system.
The thing I've always like about Romine has been his ability to consistently square up the ball. That's something he did a little less of in 2010. His defense remains a strength but he still has some learning to do on the offensive side. I'd like to see him spin on the ball and drive it a little more often, but he has the sound swing mechanics and bat speed to make adjustments to how pitchers are attacking him. He may be ranked lower than he has been recently among Yankee prospects, but his future is still as promising as ever.
7. Hector Noesi - Noesi has done a pretty good job of somehow staying under the radar in the Yankees' crowded farm system. He seemed to finally begin to get the credit he deserved in the summer of 2010, however.
Working at 90-94 mph with his fastball, Noesi tends to be aggressive in the zone and shows little fear of his opposition. But, aside from the fastball, it has been the rapid development of his 12-6 breaking ball that's made the biggest difference for the right-hander. Both pitches can produce some swings and misses at this point. Noesi isn't a guy that will pitch at the top of the rotation but provides the aggressive approach and quality offerings to be a strong number three.
8. Adam Warren - Like Hector Noesi, Warren seems to go somewhat unnoticed in a deep Yankee farm system. But, now that we've heard that he may potentially compete for a rotation spot with the big league club, perhaps he'll receive more attention.
Warren lived in the low 90s and reached upwards of 96 mph in Trenton this year with a heavy, moving fastball. And, as good as that one offering is, he can often cruise through lineups on mostly one pitch alone. His secondary pitches came along in a big way in 2010 as well, as his changeup and slider showed consistent improvement in particular. Most likely, he will start the year in Scranton, but given his presence and command this is a guy on the cusp of being a big league contributor.
9. Eduardo Nunez - Yankee fans got a good glimpse of exactly what Nunez brings to the table in his big league stint in 2010. He showed a glimpse of that loud bat that scouts have been fascinated with since his teenage years, his speed, and his versatility and athleticism. And, what we also learned about him is that while there may not be a long term place for him on the Yankee roster, he's got more than enough raw talent to draw some interest on the trade market.
10. Slade Heathcott - There were some growing pains for Heathcott in his first full season, and he didn't breeze through Low-A ball, but he also showed a lot of good things that the Yankees' scouting staff obviously saw when they took him in the first round.
It didn't take me long in my first glimpse of Heathcott to see just what the Yankees had seen. Aside from the obvious raw tools, including plus speed and tools to play centerfield, the mentality Heathcott brings to the game has the potential to be very unique. The comparisons to Brett Gardner plus more power are not that far off, although I think Heathcott's offensive upside is far greater as a whole. He does have the ability to use his legs, but also shows that he can sit down and drive the ball to his pull side.
At this point, it's game experience that the lefty swinging Heathcott needs. He can stick in centerfield, steal 25 bags or more a year, and in time could provide big league average power. It will take some time, but the patience will be worth it.
Frankie's Top Ten
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