20 Questions with Jim Callis of Baseball America

Jim Callis, Baseball America's Minor League Editor, sits down for "20 Questions" with the staff of PinstripesPlus.com to give his thoughts on the Yankees' prospects. You can read more of Jim's content at BaseballAmerica.com and you can also purchase Baseball America's 2004 Prospect Handbook at their website. Who's the biggest "sleeper" among Yankees' prospects? What will happen with Dioner Navarro? You can find this out and much more right now!

1) What Yankee prospect, in terms of time, is the closest to making an impact in the Major Leagues? Who is the biggest sleeper in the farm system? Are any players in the system being hurt by the need to fill spots at higher levels due to trades? Who is the most major-league ready player in the system? If there is one player in the Yankee farm system that has the potential to be a superstar in the Major Leagues who would it be? Which minor leaguer has the most major-league power-hitting potential?

No one, really. The Yankees system has thinned out and they aren't giving big league opportunity to homegrown prospects. Dioner Navarro is their one solid guy in the upper levels, but Jorge Posada is under contract through at least 2006. I don't see a guy in the system I'd be comfortable labeling as a superstar. They don't have a guy like that. Navarro is easily their best prospect. Eric Duncan, the 2003 first-rounder, could have a big bat, but he's years away.

2) What are your thoughts on Brian Myrow and will he be given a real shot to earn the Yankees 3B job for 2004 in Spring Training? Among players currently in the Yankee organization, which have the best chance of donning pinstripes in 2004?

This Q&A came in before the A-Rod trade. Myrow had nice numbers, but they must be placed in the context that he was a 26-year-old in Double-A. Even without A-Rod, the Yankees weren't going to hand him the job. New York has few guys close to ready and few openings. Ramon Ramirez possibly has a shot at getting a bullpen role later in the year.

3) Some people had Jose Garcia ranked pretty high in the Yankee system, with their lack of pitching depth, were you surprised to see him traded for a utility third baseman like Mark Lamb? What kind of prospect was Garcia, and what kind of player could he turn out to be? Will the Yankees miss him?

At the time, Lamb was New York's best option at third base. Garcia's stuff is just OK, not great, and he was in low Class A at age 22 last year. He's interesting but doesn't look like a difference maker right now. I don't think the Yankees will miss him. Even if they did, they can just buy a pitcher when needed.

4) How high is Eric Duncan's ceiling, and will he stay at 3B? He looks like a major league hitter, but will he have at future at third base, or will he have to moved to the outfield to make into the majors? Will Duncan be good enough to make it all the way up to Double-A before the 2004 season is over?

Most scouts I've talked to see Duncan as a first baseman. I can't see him playing in Double-A as a teenager. I expect him to spend the whole year in low Class A. His bat is very interesting, though he still has several minor league rungs to climb.

5) Does Scott Proctor have what it takes to be given a bullpen spot this year? How would he succeed if he was in a big league bullpen this season? As it seems right now, Mariano Rivera will probably only be playing 3 more years as the Yankee closer. Is there anyone in the Yankee farm system that has the talent to replace him? If so, who?

Proctor has pure velocity but needs to improve his movement, command and secondary pitches. Should have mentioned him earlier, because like Ramirez he could factor into the bullpen in the second half. I don't see another potential closer in the system. Realistically, when Rivera is done, the Yankees will make a trade or use free agency to find a veteran.

6) Where do you see the Yankees' farm system in three years? What needs to be done to improve it? At this point, is the farm system still in decline or does it figure to be on the rise again soon with more young talent moving up through the organization? Is the Yankee farm system underrated?

It's pretty bleak right now. The best prospects in the system were signed through the foreign market, many from the Dominican, rather than the draft. But for all their potential, none of them outside of Navarro is really tearing it up. The Yankees have spent heavily almost everywhere except on the amateur draft, and it has shown. The Yankees have made trades, but it's not like they've given up a lot of talent. Most of those deals were dollar-driven. We ranked the Yankees as having the 27th-best farm system in the game (in our 2004 Prospect Handbook), so I don't think it's possible to underrate them.

7) What do you predict for Brandon Claussen this season, will he be in the starting rotation with Cincinnati, or will he back in the minors? With the loss of Claussen, who do you see as the top pitching prospects in the organization? Who is the next (if any) successful left-handed starter to come out of the Yankee farm system? A few of the Yankee pitching prospects have had major arm surgeries over the last few season, Sean Henn and Danny Borrell to name a couple, is it something in the organization, or a coincidence? If injuries were to strike the New York Yankees starting pitching, what pitcher from the farm system would be best suited to step into the number 5 slot in the rotation?

Claussen probably will be in Cincinnati's rotation, and his rapid return from Tommy John surgery is impressive. The Yankees are very short on pitching prospects. The best is probably Ramirez, who's more of a reliever, and the best starter is Jorge DePaula. He'd be the primary rotation replacement, but to repeat the same theme, I see the Yankees making a deal rather than relying on him for the long term. Borrell is the best lefty in the system, but none of these guys are frontline arms. It's the nature of pitchers that they often get hurt, and I don't see anything in particular that the Yankees can be blamed for.

8) Could Matt DeSalvo fit into the Yankees' plans somewhere down the line?

Very much so. He's an interesting sign from 2003, landed before the draft as a fifth-year senior. He holds the all-time NCAA records for career wins and strikeouts, and he has an 87-94 mph fastball and nifty curveball.

9) Aside from Duncan and Estee Harris, which 2003 Yankee draft picks have a good shot at a successful career? How should the Yankees approach the amateur draft this coming June?

Duncan is the only guy who does a whole lot for me out of the Yankees' 2003 draft (which doesn't technically include DeSalvo). Harris is a great athlete, but he's very raw. I do like projectable righthander Jason Stephens, a sixth-rounder. What the Yankees need to do is be more aggressive about signing their best picks. I'm not sure why they didn't lock up 17th-rounder David Purcey and 20th-rounded Daniel Bard, who were much more talented than their draft position would indicate.

10) Despite being somewhat old for the level, Jayson Drobiak had a phenomenal season for Battle Creek last season. Just how good a prospect is he? Do the Yankees consider Duncan & Drobiak their potential corner infielders of the future? If so, will Drobiak stay at 3B while Duncan moves to 1B...or vice-versa?

Drobiak is like Myrow. He had nice numbers, but he was very old for his league as a 24-year-old in low Class A. Drobiak needs to do it against much better competition before he can be taken seriously as a prospect.

11) What is the general feeling at Baseball America about Drew Henson's failed baseball career?

Well, just speaking for myself, I think it's a shame. If Henson had focused solely on baseball from the start, I think he could have been a star. He did very well in high Class A at age 19, but then he got traded the next year and was rushed by the Yankees after they reacquired him. I give him credit for trying to make baseball work as long as he did, rather than giving up early like Josh Booty or Chad Hutchinson.

12) What kind of timetable should we expect for hotshot prospect Dioner Navarro? Could he be good enough to come up in the next few years and force Jorge Posada out of the catching position? Will he be used as trade bait because of Posada, or does he have a future with the Yankees? Who would be on the Yankee farm system's list of players that should be known as "untouchables" in trade talks with other teams?

I don't think the Yankees have an untouchable or grandiose plans for any of their farmhands. Navarro will be big league-ready by mid-2005 at the latest, but Posada is signed through 2006 with an option for 2007. I suspect Navarro will be used in a trade.

13) Who is the best prospect in the system that nobody's ever heard of? Which player(s) will have the breakout season that everyone has been waiting for and finally showcase their talent? Which player will be the biggest surprise of 2004? Which player is most likely to be a disappointment in 2004? If there is one player in the Yankee farm system that has gotten too much hype, who would it be?

DeSalvo is probably the biggest sleeper. The Yankees expect big things out of outfielder Rudy Guillen (though he could go to Texas in the A-Rod trade), so maybe he puts it together this year. For a real deep sleeper who could surprise, maybe righthander Jason Stephens, who got $500,000 as a sixth-rounder last year. I think Sean Henn has been the most overhyped of the Yankees prospects. His top-notch velocity might come back as he puts more time between him and Tommy John surgery, but he needs better command and better secondary pitches before much can be expected of him.

14) Does Cuban defector Yobal Duenas have any major-league implications? Have you gotten a chance to see Maels Rodriguez, and if so, is he the real deal? ESPN.com reported he did not top 90mphs in his workout in El Salvador in January. Are the Red Sox the team to sign him, or will George jump in at the last minute?

No on Duenas, who's just Triple-A filler and could wind up playing behind Brian Myrow. Haven't seen Rodriguez in person, but he was the real deal at the 2000 Olympics. I don't see who the frontrunner is on him, because his workout was so disappointing and interest has cooled until he shows more.

15) Jim, do you ever think there will be an alternative to college baseball where young prospects can use wooden bats instead of aluminum? Or is there a possibility the bigger baseball schools like Florida State might soon use them, preparing young hitters for the minors? I'm sure cost is a factor, but it has to hard to judge a guy's power or ability with aluminum bats.

The alternative is summer baseball, playing with Team USA or the Cape Cod League or any of the other summer college leagues. Unless Major League Baseball subsidizes wood bats for, say, all of Division I, and I don't see that happening, it's just too expensive. And a lot of the big-time coaches have lucrative bat contracts they're not going to want to give up anyway.

16) Which Yankee farm team will have the most talent on their roster to begin the 2004 season and why?

Probably high Class A Tampa with players such as Rudy Guillen, Joaquin Arias and Bronson Sardinha.

17) Do you envision MLB teams setting up minor league systems in Japan, giving Japanese young talent a chance to sign with major league teams without having to go through Japanese baseball?

No. U.S. teams can't sign Japanese players before Japanese teams get a crack at them.

18) Will Nick Johnson be a Yankee again? Some have said there was an unspoken agreement that he will be back with the Yankees as soon as he is a free agent?

I find that hard to believe. The Yankees may try to re-sign him, but it can't be a done deal.

19) Is there a shortstop good enough to be able to push Derek Jeter to another position in the next 5 years?

Well, Alex Rodriguez! But no one else in the farm system. Even if Joaquin Arias reached his ceiling, I don't see the Yankees moving Jeter.

20) Is the well-documented talent that the Yankee teams had in the Dominican Summer League this past season good enough to revitalize the Yankee minor league system in the next few years? Which of the DSL Yankees in your opinion have a chance to become good prospects?

First baseman Raul Dominguez was the league's player of the year and pitcher Jonny Cordova won the ERA title and posted a 66-2 K-BB ratio. Those are two guys to keep an eye on. Righthander Eddie Abreu is another to watch.

We would like to thank Jim Callis for taking the time to answer our questions at PinstripesPlus.com on the Yankees prospects & farm system. We would also like to remind everyone that you can read more of Jim's work at BaseballAmerica.com and that Baseball America's 2004 Prospect Handbook is available for purchase at their website.

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