Tyler Austin: He hit a combined .354 with 18 doubles, six home runs, and 18 stolen bases [without getting caught] between the Gulf Coast League and Staten Island Yankees last year in what was essentially his professional debut season after he broke his hand just two games into his 2010 season.
Playing some third base, first base, and even some outfield, defensively he has yet to secure a permanent home in the field, but in the short-term he has shown an ability to play a good defensive first base. He offers some long-term, high-ceiling offensive potential, and quite frankly he gives the first base position for the Yankees at the minor league level some much needed depth.
Reymond Nunez: The 21-year old has seemingly been around forever and he has yet to break into the long-season leagues, putting his progress as more slow than steady at this point. He hit a respectable .272 for the Staten Island Yankees last season -- his first time playing night games -- and led the club with 20 doubles and was second in RBI .
Hidden behind the numbers and his advancing age is some incredible power potential to all fields, a true plus big league tool. He still strikes out far too often [80 K's in 69 games last year] but he is beginning to turn a corner with his offensive approach by shortening up his swing, going center to the opposite field with more regularity, and letting his natural immense power take over. He needs a breakout season soon but the sky-high talent is there to do just that.
Closest to the Majors
Brandon Laird: Laird followed up his 2010 Double-A Eastern League MVP season [.291, 23 home runs, 90 RBI] by hitting .260 with 26 doubles and 16 home runs for Triple-A Scranton in 2011. Like Austin, he's more serviceable at third base than anything and is probably better suited defensively at first base or in the outfield.
He still hasn't shown quite the patient approach needed to be the consistent offensive player he'll need to be at the big league level, but he definitely has average big league corner power and, now Triple-A tested, he'll be on the short list of potential in-house first base candidates for the Yankees should the need arise at the big league level. He's a better short-term option for the Yankees than long-term, however.
Jorge Vazquez: The Mexican native, who will be 30 years old this season, is Laird-like in a lot of ways with two glaring differences; he has bigger power [32 home runs in Triple-A last season] and he strikes out at an alarmingly higher rate [166 K's in 118 games].
He too also plays third but not quite as well as he does first base defensively and he also rarely draws walks, making him yet another better short-term slugging option at first base for the Yankees than a long-term candidate because the bat just doesn't project to be as consistent at the big league level due to the hack-attack approach he employs. Make no mistake though, he could provide some great power if called upon.
|MORE POWER COMING?: Kyle Roller has hit for power and he might have more coming. (Photo: Mark LoMoglio)|
Kyle Roller: The 2010 eighth round pick out of East Carolina University is very underrated, even among the most ardent followers of the Yankees farm system. Built like an NFL middle linebacker, he had a very good first full season in 2011, hitting a combined .284 with 31 doubles and 16 home runs between low-A Charleston and high-A Trenton, two very pronounced pitcher's parks.
While he doesn't yet show the propensity to pile up big walk totals, he does employ a very selective eye and patient approach at the plate, and that has helped him be a much more consistent hitter than the likes of Vazquez, Laird, and Nunez. And perhaps the biggest development in his game is better range and improved agility around the bag defensively, so much so that he plays a very good defensive first base. He might not ever be a top prospect in the organization but he has some long-term value with his power, plate discipline, and ever-improving defense.
Need to Make Their Move
Rob Lyerly: The former sixth round pick had proven he could hit for average at the A-ball levels, hitting .312 in Charleston in 2010 before hitting .315 in Tampa last season. With 68 combined doubles over the past two seasons, he has also proven to be a very good gap hitter too. However, the home run power has not shown up yet [eight home runs in 2011, a career high], he still strikes out a bit too often [149 K's last year], and the defense is more serviceable than anything. More than anything though he needs to show more home run power going forward to remain a viable corner option.
Kevin Mahoney: His superb defensive versatility - able to play second base, third base, outfield and first base all extremely well - puts him into the overall 'sleeper' category as a potential utility guy. He shows good exra-base power too, collecting 32 of them in part-time duty last season, and he'll draw his fair share of walks. He'll turn 25 years old this season, however, and needs a breakout season of sorts to get his chance at reaching the big leagues in Pinstripes.
Luke Murton: The 2009, 19th round pick has had a very good minor league career thus far, collecting 60 doubles over the past two seasons and chipping in with a batting average near .280 during that time. A limited defensive first baseman though, he just doesn't have the kind of home run power to project as a potential big leaguer at this point [20 home runs combined over the past two seasons] and the soon to be 26-year old doesn't have much projection in his game either.
Damian Taveras: With good power to all fields, a quick bat, and a solid offensive approach, Taveras, not a big dollar sign, had always had the look of a potential 'sleeper'. Five seasons into his career and still not yet in the long-season leagues, it's do or die time for the now 22-year old. He needs a breakout Spring Training this year in the worst way and then needs to sustain it for a long while or else he'll quickly become an afterthought.
The Jury is Still Out
Austin "Bubba" Jones: Last year's seventh round pick out of Edmonds Woodway High School in Washginton has enough raw talent to be considered a 'sleeper' in this group but he didn't shown enough in his brief GCL or Instructional League exposure to warrant that label just yet. He hit a respectable .260 in 15 games for the GCL Yankees last year but struck out 17 times and the power, always the last tool to develop, hasn't shown up yet. There's some natural talent here but he could be a slow tracker short-term and he needs to prove more going forward to move up the first base depth chart.