Yankees Mini-Camp Notebook: 1/24

Slowly but steadily, the prospects are filtering into to the Tampa Complex to prepare for pivotal seasons in their young careers. Some of the early guests include Christian Garcia, Rob Villanova, Tyler Clippard, Ferdin Tejeda and one very big surprise. Find out who will be arriving in the coming days and what the latest is on the players that are already in town.

Some by choice and some by the request of the organization, the prospects are coming in slowly but these weeks that they spend in Tampa will be key parts of their careers. Although there are only a few familiar faces at the complex right now, this gives them a chance to really hone their skills for the coming season under the watchful of eyes of the organization's finest coaches. There are many more reporting soon but the ones who are already there have been making positive strides.

On one of the larger fronts, the big story is Jorge DePaula. That's right, he is back. After an incredibly quick recovery from elbow surgery, DePaula has been put on a throwing program in Tampa and has a shot of being ready for spring training. He has not yet thrown off a mound but will be working his way up to that in the coming weeks. If someone were to say he could be ready by May of 2005, you would call them crazy but now that seems more probable than inconceivable. However, it is yet to be determined whether he has regained his velocity or not. Also, he has not thrown anything but fastballs since he arrived in Tampa. That will be another true test to see if he trusts his surgically repaired arm. But, the good news from the report out of Tampa is that the 26 year old is miles ahead of schedule.

Now, for a look at the volunteers. Why should we call them the volunteers? Well, there is nothing better than having a player who goes out of his way to report to camp not days, not weeks but months early to camp. First, there is Rob Villanova. At this point, Rob is not considered to be a big time prospect by any stretch of the imagination. However, he is known to be one of the hardest working ballplayers you will ever meet. He's been there for about two months now. His goal? He wants to get stronger and quicken his bat to help ease his adjustment to the wooden bat. "Physical strength and hand speed are among the top things to improve on in the off season, but its a never ending process," Villanova told PinstripesPlus.com. "I could improve in every area. My biggest strength is my work ethic. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I worked my butt off to get here and this is just the beginning. Everyone can appreciate a hard working kid. There's always a spot for one." Also, as a side note, the newly re-acquired Ferdin Tejeda also reported early and is reportedly working hard to regain the high regard he once earned from the organization.

Besides the efforts of Rob Villanova, there is also Tyler Clippard. In fact, Clippard has been at the complex for the entire off season. "I've been there for the whole off season. I live only like 30-40 miles from the complex so I take advantage of it," Clippard told PinstripesPlus.com. "They've got me on a weight training program. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I do med-ball work, agility stuff, and hit the weights, working out the lower and upper body on alternating days. Nardi and I went over my videotape and that has been a real advantage for me. It has helped a ton for sure and I feel like I'll have a 3-month head start on everybody else once Spring Training comes around." It is nice to know that the Yankees have a prospect dedicated enough to spend his whole off season working to get better. And, we got a chance to ask Clippard how his curveball is coming along since he believes he struggled a bit with it in 2004. "I feel I have my curveball back to where I need it now," the righthander said. The bottom line for Clippard is that he will be more than ready for the regular season come April.

Last but certainly not least is Christian Garcia. He's is the only one of this group that was required to report early to camp. Garcia reported on January 11th. Since then, it has been nothing but improvements and adjustments for a pitcher with sky high potential. It is obvious that the Yankees are looking to get one of their brightest, strong armed young prospects as ready as possible for the full season ball experience. The plan is for the righty to start off the season in Charleston. However, since he has very few innings of experience under his belt as a pitcher, the organization wants to prepare him as well as they can. Perhaps the intention is to build endurance for a long season but for the confident righthander, it is learning, learning and more learning. To start off, Garcia has made huge strides with his changeup. "I was working with Carlos Reyes the other day and he taught me this awesome new changeup," he says. "It is better than my old changeup. I'm so excited because I think I really have it working. With that plus my fastball and curveball, it is going to make me that much better." Armed with a new changeup, that makes Christian Garcia all the more dangerous. But, how about showing him and teaching him the mechanics of one of the top pitchers in baseball? Pitching Coordinator, Nardi Contreras has thought of that, too. To add some newfound rhythm to his delivery, Contreras suggested that Garcia bring his glove up over his head. Sound familiar? It should because they are attempting to have Garcia emulate the mechanics of Curt Schilling. "Schilling has great mechanics," the hard throwing righty said. "That is who Nardi wants me to watch. He has these videos of Curt and he wants me to watch them." Thanks to these sessions that are filled with progress, Christian Garcia looks to be far ahead of schedule for the season.


- Sean Henn will report on February 3rd to determine whether he will remain a starting pitcher or make the move to the bullpen.

- The word out of Tampa is that the Charleston pitching staff will consist of two 2004 high school draftees, Phil Hughes and Christian Garcia. The other three spots will consist of three college draftees. Two of these college draftees are expected to be Jason Jones and Jesse Hoover.

- All other pitching prospects are due to report on February 3rd. All hitting prospects are expected on March 3rd.

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