In with the New: Farm Freshened Up for 2004

For obvious reasons, the Yankee organization has been constantly criticized in recent years for it's apparent weakness in the farm system. This weakness can be mostly attributed to the fact that they have rarely hesitated in making a deal to acquire a key player at the expense of one or more of their farmhands. However, what is not frequently documented are the moves the Yankees have made over the past calendar year, to acquire prospects rather than shipping them off for veteran players.

It has become well publicized that the Yankees seem more than willing to deal off valuable prospects in order to get the key player that they need, but what is not often noticed is that recently there have been many player exchanges in which the Yankees took what most people would call an uncharacteristic role. Rather than acting in their typical role, the Yankees have made multiple deals in which they were the ones who would be receiving the prospects in exchange for their spare parts such as Sterling Hitchcock and Robin Ventura just to name a couple. Here is a complete list of the key moves that they have made over the past year in an attempt to freshen up their farm system:

Prospects Acquired

Player Traded by the Yankees

Ben Julianel, Justin Pope

Sterling Hitchcock

Jon-Mark Sprowl, Bret Prinz

Raul Mondesi

Bubba Crosby, Scott Proctor

Robin Ventura

J.T. Stotts, Edwardo Sierra Chris Hammond
Mark Phillips Rondell White
Juan Deleon Mike Lamb

Looking at this list, it is obvious that these players, that would more than likely qualify as "spare parts", are not a very hefty price to pay for solid prospects such as these. In fact, the value of these prospects to this point is already significantly greater than any one of the players the Yankees gave up. An even more impressive statement is that five of the these 9 prospects that were acquired, are widely considered as Top 30 caliber prospects within the Yankee farm system.

Hitchcock for Julianel and Pope

Ben Julianel. In 2003, he spent the majority of his season with Peoria in the Midwest League where he was has most of the leagues offense complete under his control. He became a dominant relief pitcher, posting a 1.05 ERA in 51.2 innings pitched. Julianel also racked up a staggering 78 strikeouts but had some control problems with his 25 walks. There is no doubt that with the electric stuff that Julianel possesses, he could be a dominant setup reliever. However, his control must be improved upon along with his consistency. At the age of 24, he needs to make a move out of A ball to prove he can be just as dominant on a higher level.

Justin Pope. Overall, many would just call Justin Pope a simply average Minor League pitcher. With the Palm Beach Cardinals in 2003, Pope pitched 106 innings while posting a 4.92 ERA. He walked 33 while striking out 69. Many scouts says that Pope has more of a future as a reliever rather than a starting pitcher. The former 1st round draft pick has never quite lived up to the hype and to this point it doesn't seem that his upside is very bright.

Mondesi for Sprowl and Prinz

Jon-Mark Sprowl. If it wasn't for ever apparent presence of Yankee #1 prospect Dioner Navarro, Sprowl would be the best catcher in the Yankee organization. The former Arizona farmhand has an impressive professional approach at the plate with decent power that could translate well on the major league level. Behind the plate, Sprowl may not be bringing that much to the Yankee organization and he could be on the move to 1st base in the future. The bottom line in the acquisition of Sprowl is that a solid, possible impact type ballplayer that has decent enough skills to greatly improve the overall quality of the farm system has been placed into a weakened system and while he is not a superstar caliber player, he should certainly make his presence known.

Bret Prinz. In this case the Yankees picked up a "token" in the Mondesi trade and a possible steal in this case. Prinz is a pitcher that is arguably major league ready but very well should be at the age of 27. He has made some spot appearances in the big league bullpen but nothing of any significance thus far. Look for Prinz this year to make a possible move to becoming a solid reliever for AAA Columbus and as a possible September call up to the Yankees.

Ventura for Crosby and Proctor

Bubba Crosby. At this point it seems that the acquisition of outfielder Bubba Crosby alone has paid off enormous dividends in the Ventura deal. Arguably, Crosby is the prospect that is most prepared for the big leagues at this point. As a matter of fact, Crosby lit up big league camp and defied all expectations by making the New York Yankee squad. He has shown over and over again that his strongest trait is his hard nose style of play. However, Crosby also has decent hitting ability that could translate to solid statistics in a major league role. This coming season will be vital to Crosby as he gets a shot at a reserve role with the Yankees and he could prove to be the most significant addition to the Yankee farm system.

Scott Proctor. Proctor is in quite a similar scenario to that of Crosby's except of course he is a relief pitcher. However Proctor has opened some eyes in a big way during this spring and throughout the 2003 season as well. Proctor possesses a wicked fastball that reaches speeds upward of 100 MPH. Besides his fastball, Proctor has a sharp slider in his repertoire which could be a valuable weapon against right handed hitters. Scouts have described him as being an intelligent pitcher and he has become much better with his command. If injuries were to hit the Yankee bullpen this season, Proctor would be the one the Yankees call upon to fill the void but at the age of 27 he will have to make his push soon. With the acquisition of Proctor, he immediately became the best relief pitcher in the farm system and could play a large role on possibly the big league level at some point this season.

Hammond for Stotts and Sierra

J.T. Stotts. In J.T. Stotts, the Yankees didn't pick up what they thought to be a star caliber player but a solid middle infielder that could play key roles for them down the road. He plays solid defense and is capable of handling the bat well. In all likelihood, Stotts will begin the 2004 season with AA Trenton and be forced to battle for a middle infield spot. The former Oakland farmhand is not an impact player by any means but could be of some value to the Yankees not too far down the road.

Edwardo Sierra. As perhaps one of the best acquisitions of all and also one of the more unnoticed, Edwardo Sierra was good enough to rank as #11 on the Baseball America Top 30 Yankee Prospects. Sierra is soon to be 22 years old and could start as high as AA this season as a reliever. The Dominican native mad 51appearances last year with 17 saves and 52 strikeouts while posting a miniscule 2.09 ERA. The Yankees may have come up with a relief pitching gem with Edwardo Sierra and it should be very intriguing to see what he does in the Yankee organization for the 2004 season. He could be the sleeper prospect that could make a big major league impact in the future at a young age.

White for Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips. The performance of young left handed starter Mark Phillips left a lot of baseball people scratching their heads in 2003 after he had enjoyed such success and hype with the San Diego organization as a former 1st round draft pick. The 22 year old Phillips took a severe downturn from his top prospect glow with San Diego but still many scouts and coaches have faith hat Phillips is good enough to turn it around and make this Yankee trade look like the best one of them all.

Lamb for DeLeon

Juan DeLeon. DeLeon is another relief pitcher who has been fairly solid in his time with the Houston Astros organization. There is no doubt that the 22 year old has a live arm with good stuff but it is only a matter of harnessing it consistently. He projects to be a possible big league set up man but he still has a ways to go before he has a remote shot at a spot in the New York bullpen.

So, in a way this could prove some of our frequent doubters that the Yankees try their best to build an at least respectable farm system. Some of the mentioned minor leaguers that were acquired have been touted as some of the Yankees very finest and are looked upon as part of an increasingly small group of respectable prospects. Every one of these players that the Yankees traded would be of no use to them now but at this point with the weakness of their farm system, these moves to land solid prospects seem to stand out much more and help to move the Yankee Minor Leagues back in the right direction.

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