Overview of Corner Infield Prospects

Frankie Piliere takes a look at every team in the Yankees' system - including the Dominican Summer League - and examines the corner infield options there for the upcoming 2004 season. Where will Eric Duncan end up? How about Jayson Drobiak? Learn about DSL prospect Raul Dominguez! All this & more inside.

Of any positions on the baseball diamond, the corner infield positions may be the ones that the Yankee organization lacks the most depth in. During this past off-season, the New York Yankees searched for a reserve first baseman. They could not find a suitable solution from their minor league system this time but are optimistic that there could be some very promising young players emerging in the next few years.

Even though the Yankees are not expecting any impact players to be making their way into the majors in the immediate future they still have some lower level prospects that have excellent potential. 19-year-old Eric Duncan, the Yankees top pick out of Seton Hall Prep in 2003, is one of these players. Duncan is a tremendous all-around player that hits for power and makes contact as well. His primary position is third base at this point but he could be on the move to first base in the future. Much of the future at the corner infield positions depends upon the development of Duncan, but other prospects with high ceilings must perform as well in order for the Yankees future to remain bright.

Players are listed with their positions and statistics from 2003 along with what there age will be by season's end in 2004.

Columbus Clippers - It seems that once again, the Yankees have gone out and signed an older player to occupy a position that would normally be taken by a younger player. They signed 31-year-old Cuban defector Yobal Duenas to a minor league contract and he is expected to be the starting third baseman at Columbus in 2004. This is expected to block prospects such as Andy Phillips and Brian Myrow from the position. Both will likely have to change positions in 2004. As for the situation at first base, it seems that the position will be taken by Aaron Rifkin, who put together an excellent season in Trenton in 2003.

Player (Position)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Yobal Duenas (3B)

31

N/A

Duenas will likely never make a big-league impact and he is not considered a prospect by any means. However, he does have good power and could provide some added pop in AAA. A decent defensive player that will likely handle the everyday duties at 3B for Columbus in 2004.

Andy Phillips (SS/3B)

27

.209 - 2 - 5

Andy Phillips took an enormous downturn in 2003 from his 2002 campaign. He was limited to only 17 games due to injuries. On the other hand, the Yankee organization does believe that he can bounce back in 2004 and return to his 2002 form in which he hit an impressive 28 home runs. Has a lot of talent and should not be taken likely as a prospect. If he returns healthy in 2004, he should return to form.

Bryan Mryow (3B/2B)

28

.306 - 18 - 78

Myrow has shown to be a fantastic offensive force since his signing out of the Northern League in 2001. His age is obviously not the recommended one for a player only in AA, but there is no way not to be impressed with the statistics that he has produced . Since his arrival in the organization, he has done nothing but hit and has even been called by some as the best pure hitter in the farm system. Despite this, it seems that he could be moved to another position in 2004. There is still a chance he will remain at third if he shows improvement in the spring.

Aaron Rifkin (1B)

25

.269 - 18 - 90

He has suddenly become a an excellent prospect in the organization after a fine 2003 campaign with Trenton. Has good power while showing some improvement in his patience and high strikeout totals. Despite this, there is still work to be done in both of these areas. In the past few years, Rifkin has worked hard to become a steady defender at first base. It seems that he should be able to get the starting first base job in 2004 with Columbus and if he puts together another good season, he could be looking at playing in the majors sooner rather than later.

Trenton Thunder - Promotions will leave third base and first base in Trenton for the taking. Third base seems as if it is Elvis Corporan's job to lose for the 2004 season. However, first base will probably not be so clear cut. Hunter Bledsoe and Jeff Segar split time at first base with Tampa in 2003. It seems that they will again split time, but this time with Trenton. Again, they will be competing for the job and it is difficult to tell who may have the edge.

Player (Position)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Elvis Corporan (3B)

24

.246 - 4  - 47

Corporan is still projected to have a very bright future despite a sub par 2003 season and has gained even more recognition now that Drew Henson has given up baseball.  Needs to cut back on strikeouts and become more patient. Corporan has a great opportunity to gain standing as a strong prospect in the system.

Hunter Bledsoe (1B)

28

.311 - 0 - 17

One would think that with the statistics that Bledsoe has put up in his career, he would be much higher. However, at 28, he is much too old for any level of minor league ball. One of the main reasons for his lack of movement to higher levels in the minors has been his anemic power and production numbers. First base is known as a power position and at this point Bledsoe has shown little to none.

Jeff Segar (1B)

25

.223 - 6 - 59

As a result of his younger age and much higher production numbers, Segar seems likely to gain the majority of the playing time at first base in 2004. Even though he hit for a low .223 batting average last season, he did hammer 6 home runs while knocking in 59 RBI. Has shown that he is a patient hitter that keeps strikeout totals to a minimum. Displays the potential to have a very high ceiling as a hitter and his fielding is fairly solid.

Tampa Yankees - Jayson Drobiak, due to his monstrous breakout season in 2003, has one of the jobs locked up. It is highly unlikely that he could even be challenged by Eric Verbryke and it is his job to lose at this point. Once again, the situation is dependant on the positioning of Drobiak at either first or third base. Willie Vasquez becoming an everyday player would be the most logical solution to third base, unless there is an unexpected move or promotion to fill this hole by the organization.

Player (Position)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Jayson Drobiak (1B/3B)

25

.293 - 30 - 86

Drobiak still seems to be somewhat of an enigma to most scouts and it is difficult to tell what he will do in 2004. Ffrom what he displayed in 2003, the Yankees could have a late-blooming prospect on their hands. Obviously, he has excellent power but needs to cut back on strikeouts and increase his walk totals. Has developed into an adequate fielder but it remains to be seen where the team will position him in the field (1st or 3rd base). 

Eric Verbryke (1B/OF)

23

.271 - 9 - 38

Verbryke has  transformed himself from utility player to a solid ballplayer. He has versatility which he uses to his advantage in terms of his playing time. As he has increased his at bats, he has proven himself as a potential everyday player. Has decent power with good plate discipline for a young hitter. Could move quickly through the system because of his versatility.

Willie Vazquez (3B/2B)

21

.223 - 5 - 26

For every team he has played on, Vasquez has been a valuable member of the ball club. Played 5 out of the 9 positions on the field in 2003, but spent most of his time at 3B, where he received an MWL All-Star selection. Despite his low batting average, he was able to play solid defense and be a contributor to the team. He played out the end of the season with Tampa last year as mostly a reserve player but could be looking at a starting role in 2004.

Battle Creek Yankees - The situation at both corner infield positions are up in the air here. Again, much of the scenario depends on Duncan, who seems to be Battle-Creek bound for the 2004 season. With his top prospect glow only after playing one season in the organization, it is more than likely that he will win the starting job over Hector Zamora. Zamora is a solid ballplayer who put up solid numbers with Staten Island in 2003 but his talent pales in comparison to Duncan's. Another possibility is that Duncan could be seeing some time at first base in 2004, therefore pushing John Urich to a reserve role and Zamora would have the starting job at third base.

Player (Position)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Eric Duncan (3B/1B)

19

.278 - 2 - 28 (GC)
.373 - 2 - 13 (SI)

Duncan is by far the best corner infielder in the farm system at this point and it seems that he is only going to get better. He has excellent power and a very professional approach at the plate. Is an adequate fielder but may be better off eventually moving to 1B in the near future. He is a player to watch and might be able to work his way all the way up to Tampa if he continues to impress the organization. An incredible talent that must be handled with care and taken slowly instead of giving in to the temptation to push him to the big leagues.

John Urich (1B)

23

.226 - 0 - 16

Urich did not show the kind the of talent that many scouts saw him as having in his first season in Staten Island last year.  He did show excellent plate discipline and good defense. It is unlikely that he will see a lot of playing time unless he shows a massive improvement next season. Must improve his offense to ever have a future in the organization.

Hector Zamora (3B)

22

.253 - 7 - 27

Zamora had a fairly good season in SI in 2003 and solidified the 3B position. He is a patient hitter and keeps his strikeouts at a minimum. Maintained a respectable OBP and scouts expect that the other aspects of his game can be improved upon considering he has a solid base to work from. Will need to show a lot of improvement to keep his starting job at Battle Creek in 2004.

Staten Island Yankees - The Staten Island Yankees will probably be suffering major losses of good young players at their corner positions due to promotions to higher levels in the organization. However, they will be receiving more young talent such as Taylor Mattingly and Hector Gonzalez and are hoping that they will be able to fill the void left by players like Eric Duncan from the year before.

Player (Position)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Taylor Mattingly (1B)

19

.224 - 0 - 7

Mattingly has shown no signs of being the type of player that his father was throughout his illustrious career. On the other hand, Taylor is a work in progress as far as coaches and scouts are concerned. He showed solid defensive ability at first base and was patient at the plate in a limited number of plate appearances. It will take a full season to truly get a gage on what type of player that Mattingly is.

Hector Gonzalez (2B/3B)

19

.325 - 0 - 5

There has been talk among the organization that Gonzalez could be headed as high as Trenton for the 2004 season, but it seem much more logical that he will end up in SI. Was one of the few bright spots for a GC team that struggled for offense all season long. He batted an impressive .325 in 2003 but was unable to display the kind of power and production he could have due to limited ABs. Has good OBP potential as he draws walks and keeps strikeout totals low. May be a player that has to move to shortstop if Hanish fails there or if the organization doesn't obtain one in the 2004 Draft.

GCL Yankees - As it usually has been in the past and will be again, the corner infield positions will be mostly be filled by draftees and possibly young players coming in from the Dominican Summer League. It is always very difficult to tell what players will be brought in from the Dominican or what draftees will get the starting jobs. Possible suitors will be 2003 Gulf Coast Yankee first baseman Ross Michelson and draftees Kevin Smith and Robert Widlansky.

Player (Repertoire)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Ross Michelson (1B)

20

.100 - 0 - 5

Michelson was limited to only 30 at bats in the Gulf Coast last year. His talent is not truly defined at this point in time, but he is known as a possible run-producing first baseman if he develops on the correct career path.

Kevin Smith (3B)

20

N/A (College)

It remains to be seen what the left-handed hitting 3B can do on the minor league level after a successful college career. Has decent power and his defense is merely adequate at this point.

Robert Widlansky (3B)

20

N/A (High School)

This young man has been at times compared to Robin Ventura with his body type and overall skills. Has lightning quick bat speed and is patient at the plate as well. Is an excellent fielder with good range at third with soft hands and a strong arm. Most of his power is from the left hand side of the plate but his right handed hitting is steady as well. Could have a very good shot at the starting job at third base in 2004.

Dominican Summer League Yankees - As long as the Yankees have had teams in the DR, some scouts say that their teams have the most talent of any team in the country. This is the Yankees' endless fountain of talent that keeps their farm system going and much of this is to be accredited to the scouting system that is there as well. The trend continues for the corner infielders as well. Talent is abundant at 1B and 3B for the Dominican team and at the top of the heap is star first baseman Raul Dominguez. Another first base product of the DSL is Irwil Rojas who put up similar statistics to those of Dominguez. The third basemen includes a cast of characters that is very foggy and uncertain right now. 

Player (Repertoire)

Age

Stats (AVG - HR - RBI)

Comments

Raul Dominguez (1B)

18?

.316 - 4 - 46

Dominguez played for the Yankees 1 team in the DSL in 2003 and there are already many scouts saying that he could be a MLB star. It is obvious that it is much too difficult to tell what kind of player he could turn out to be when you consider his very young age and that his talent is still incredibly raw. On the other hand, there is no doubt of the ability he has. He put up some of the best statistics in the league, and his 46 RBI were tops among DSLers. It is still early in his career, but keep an eye out for the name Raul Dominguez in the next few years.

Irwil Rojas (1B)

18?

.336 - 0 - 22

Rojas displayed his talents in full force in the 2003 season. He proved he could hit for a high average and be a very productive hitter as well. Scouts do believe that his home run total will increase as he matures and he will become an even better run producer. Is very athletic and there is a very slight chance that he may be able to play third base as well. A very rare talent and should be watched very closely.


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