Grading Our Preseason Top 50 Prospects

Hindsight is 20/20. We take a look back at our Top 50 Yankees' Prospects rankings from last November to see how we did in our assessments now that the 2006 minor league regular season is over. See where we were correct. See where we were totally off-base. In this prelude to our 2006 Top Yankees' Prospects rankings, coming later this fall, we'll go pick by pick to see how we did.

1. Phil Hughes - It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Hughes was the top prospect in the organization following the 2005 season. Going 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 116 innings as one of the youngest pitchers at the double-A level after going 2-3 with a 1.80 in the Florida State League, he flat out dominated. He's not only the top Yankee pitching prospect, he might be the top pitching prospect in the game. Grade: A+

2. Eric Duncan - While the Yankees' philosophy of challenging their youngsters has worked for the likes of Cabera and Phil Hughes, it hasn't exactly panned out with Eric Ducan. Rushed to the triple-A level this year, Duncan never found his confidence. Throw in the fact he switched positions and suffered from an ailing back, it's no wonder he never found his groove. Grade: B-

3. Melky Cabrera - While critics ran for the hills in regards to Cabrera following a lackluster 2005 campaign, we never wavered in our belief in Cabrera. He has filled in admirably for Hideki Matsui after he began the year hitting .385 in 31 games for the Columbus Clippers. As good a year as he has had thus far, he is only going to get better. Grade: A+

4. Tyler Clippard - Sure he doesn't throw 95 MPH, but we've been one of the few publications who have been higher on Clippard. Perhaps a bit overzealous in our ranking before the season began, mostly because he's one of the safer bets to reach his potential, Clippard made us look pretty smart in the end. He went 12-10 with a 3.35 ERA and held opposing Eastern League batters to an even .200 batting average with 175 strikeouts. Grade: A

5. Jose Tabata - We immediately fell in love with Tabata's bat from the moment he stepped on to the field in Extended Spring Training over a year ago. A batter with power to all fields, Tabata once again proved his bat is special after hitting .298 with 22 doubles and 15 stolen bases as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. A smart base runner, we rated Tabata's speed a bit higher than it should have been. Even though we ranked him in the top five, he should have been ranked higher. Grade: A

6. Christian Garcia - With the way he reported to Spring Training this year, showing up in the greatest shape of his life, it appeared he was ready for a breakout season. An abdominal strain followed by bouts with a sore shoulder kept him out of action until August. His talent is unquestionable. But until he can prove it on the field more and start to stay healthy, he is more of a question mark than ever. Grade: B

7. C.J. Henry - Like Garcia, Henry's potential is vast but he struggled to prove it on the field in 2006. He hit just .240 with 19 doubles and 14 stolen bases in 77 games for the Charleston Riverdogs. Still a very raw athlete fighting his way through his first professional season, he would have remained one of the top prospects in the organization had he not been traded for Bobby Abreu. Grade: B

8. Marcos Vechionacci - A smooth defensive player with a strong arm at third, Nacci struggled in his time in the Florida State League. His power hasn't come around as quickly has some would have liked, but that isn't uncommon for a young Latin player. He hit just .255 in his return to Charleston but he showed a very patient approach at the plate. Some critics will point to his overall numbers as disappointing. We believe he's still learning. Grade: B

9. Eduardo Nunez - Like Vechionacci, Nunez did not put up the numbers he is capable of posting in his first full season in the pros. Nunez, who just turned 19-years old in June, skipped a level in order to give C.J. Henry an opportunity to play every day in Charleston and he never gained any confidence. The talent is there and he'll bounce back. Grade: B-

10. Matt DeSalvo - It has been a nightmare season for DeSalvo in 2006. Personal problems have thwarted his attention and his command has suffered as a result. His stuff is still nasty and he is one of the keener minds on the mound. We can't give ourselves a good grade for his ranking because his numbers were just that bad, but we're not giving up on him. He's just too good. Grade: D

11. Jeff Marquez - Like his good friend Christian Garcia, Marquez battled some injury problems this year. When he has been on the mound however, he has looked better than ever. Increased confidence in his four-seam fastball has allowed him to throw it more in games and as a result, the strikeouts have started to pile up. Just 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA in 18 games for Tampa, Marquez looked a lot better than his numbers revealed. Grade: A

12. Steven White - When White began the year 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eleven games for the Trenton Thunder, it appeared we had vastly underestimated White's potential. Coming back down to earth in triple-A, going 4-9 with a 4.74 ERA with the Columbus Clippers, it evened everything out. He's not as dominant as he was in Trenton and he's not nearly as bad as his numbers reflect in Columbus. He lies somewhere in the middle and our preseason ranking was very accurate. Grade: A

13. Tim Battle - One of the toolsiest players in the organization, we caught some flack for our seemingly low ranking of Battle before the 2006 season despite a breakout year in Charleston in 2005. Hitting just .133 with 47 strikeouts in just 128 at-bats with the Tampa Yankees before being sent back down to Charleston, Battle needed to work on his contact hitting. He did a better job in the South Atlantic League, but extraordinarily high strikeout totals continue to be a problem. Grade: B+.

14. Austin Jackson - Like his good friend C.J. Henry, Jackson is one of the better athletes around. Even though he batted leadoff for the entire season in Charleston this year, a move to get him as many at-bats as possible, he does not profile to be a leadoff hitter despite his plus speed. Like Battle, Jackson has had a problem making consistent contact. And while he'll need to hit further down in the lineup, he hasn't shown an ability to hit for power down there just yet. We were probably a bit conservative in our ranking of him this past offseason, but not as blatantly as some may think. Grade: B-

15. Brett Gardner - Gardner received what may be perceived as a rather low ranking not because of his abilities, but because of the depth of an improved Yankee farm system. Hitting a combined .290 with 58 stolen bases and 70 walks this season, Gardner is an ideal leadoff hitter. While some publications continue to project him as "nothing more than a fourth outfielder type", they're missing the boat on this exciting player. While we remain confident in his ranking this past offseason, we're not going to argue with anybody who wants him ranked higher. Grade: A-

16. J. Brent Cox - With the type of season he had in AA-Trenton this year, going 6-2 with a 1.75 ERA in his first full year in the pros, Cox is making the Yankees look very smart in selecting him. He held opposing batters to a .196 batting average and he hasn't done anything to dissuade us from projecting him as a future setup man. While he had a tremendous season, there aren't but one or two players we would have ranked him higher than in hindsight. Grade: A-

17. Jonathan Poterson - Nobody has the power potential that Poterson has, but two full years into his development after being drafted as a supplemental first round pick in 2004, that is the only feather in his cap at this point. He hit just. 167 with Charleston before being sent back down (again) to Staten Island. Unable to secure a starting role in his second stint in the NY-Penn League, he hit just .173. We haven't completely given up on him just yet, but we have to give ourselves a failing grade for his ranking last preseason. Grade: F

18. Mario Holmann - One of the better small-ball players in the organization, Holmann's plus speed and Gold Glove caliber defensive play should be enough to get him to the big leagues someday. However, he was surprisingly sent to Charleston to repeat his season this year and found himself buried in a prospect-laden lineup. He struggled to find playing time and it snow-balled into a disappointing year. He still has the goods though and his ranking last year was not far off. Grade: B-

19. Francisco Castillo - Castillo's upside is legitimate and we knew a year ago that he was destined for the NY-Penn League in his second professional season. He went 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. His breaking ball is a work in progress and it will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not he remains a starting pitching prospect. But as far as his ranking a year ago goes, we were dead on. Grade: A

20. Alan Horne - If you go by straight numbers alone, we didn't go a good job in his ranking. Going just 6-9 with a 4.84 ERA with the Tampa Yankees in his first professional season, Horne's progress was better than the numbers indicated. He made marked improvements to his mechanics and a few rough innings skewed his overall numbers. In hindsight, his ranking was pretty accurate. Grade: B

21. Sean Henn - We've been projecting Henn as a reliever for years and the Yankees finally decided to shift him to that role permanently a little over a month ago. Battling injuries this season, which is nothing new for his career, and a new role limited his innings this season. He'll be out to prove he can handle the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. His numbers - 3-1 with a 4.01 ERA - might not support our ranking in the preseason, but it was pretty close. Grade: B

22. Rolando Japa - An organizational favorite, it is Japa's coachability that has impressed the Yankees' brass to date. In Charleston, he was either great or terrible, depending on the day. And in Staten Island, it was more of the same as well. Japa's got the stuff to be very good pitcher for the Yankees some day, he just needs consistency. Grade: B-

23. Ramiro Pena - Like his good friend Mario Holmann, Pena is a superb defensive player who will get to the big leagues some day. Whether or not that happens in a Yankee uniform remains to be seen. He has improved at the plate, showing increased patience and a concentrated effort to go the other way more. Pena may never hit enough to be an elite prospect, but his defensive play warrants a spot this high. Grade: A

24. Angel Fermin - Like Poterson, Fermin's power potential is virtually unlimited. But like Poterson, he coudn't show any consistency making contact in 2006. He'll only go as far as his bat will carry him, and unfortunately, his .305 average in the Gulf Coast League a year ago might be the exception, not the rule. Grade: C-

25. Jeff Karstens - We caught some heat with our ranking of Karstens last preseason, many believing it was way too generous. In hindsight, we were right on the money, maybe even putting him slightly lower than he should have been. After struggling in his first taste of triple-A, Karstens dominated in Trenton, going a perfect 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in eleven starts. Karstens is what he is - a solid starting pitcher. Grade: A-

26. Eric Hacker - Hacker continues to be sidelined with an array of injuries and he did not pitch at all this season, he isn't expected to participate in the Instructional League, and we probably won't see him until Spring Training of next year. When healthy, he's as solid as they come. The problem has been he can't stay healthy long enough to put up the numbers he is capable of posting. Grade: INC

27. Garrett Patterson - It was a roller coaster season for the hard-throwing lefty, battling injury problems and dealing with chronic blisters on his pitching hand, which didn't help with his control this season. He gets a mulligan for his first full professional season and he is a much better pitcher than he displayed. That said, he is ranked right where he should be. Grade: B+

28. T.J. Beam - We didn't rank Beam too high despite quality stuff because of his age relative to his level of competition a year ago. We wanted to see him put up those type of numbers at the higher levels, and after dominating double-A (4-0, 0.86 ERA), he skyrocketed his way to the big leagues. We believed in his talent but did not rank him accordingly so we can't give ourselves a good grade here as he should have been ranked about ten spots higher. Grade: D

29. Abel Gomez - The book on Gomez has always been the same - nasty stuff, no control. And while he posted a 3.25 ERA in his third stint at the low-A level, his walk-to-strikeout ratio remains a big problem. We get a decent grade for his ranking because of his stuff and because we didn't rank him higher as a result of his control issues, but his stock is slipping in the organization. Grade: C+

30. Brett Smith - There is growing sentiment among Yankee fans that Smith somehow isn't a quality pitching prospect, most likely because of his lack of strikeouts. A pitcher who seeks contact, getting punchouts isn't his game. He made some strides in 2006 and one of the true intelligent minds on the mound, always trying to perfect his game, Smith is better than people realize. Like Karstens, he may not get the respect he deserves until he is in the big leagues. Grade: A-

31. Jeremy King - There's no way we can give ourselves a passing grade for a player who released during the season, especially after going 2-3 with a 6.56 ERA in Tampa. While it was obviously a complete 180-degree turnaround, and his worst season as a professional, he is a better pitcher than his 2006 numbers revealed. Grade: F

32. John Urick - Like King, John Urick was one of the class acts in the organization before surprisingly being released at the end of Spring Training. While the talent is there, we never ranked Urick too high because of his projection with the Yankees. In that regard, we were right on the money so we won't give ourselves a failing grade because of that point. Grade: D

33. Justin Christian - J-Sizzle continues to be a sparkplug on the base paths, stealing 68 bases in double-A this season and leading the team in runs scored. If not for the fact he is 26-years old, we would have ranked him higher. But considering we flubbed on the rankings of Urick and King, in hindsight, we could have ranked "JC" a few spots higher. Grade: B+

34. Josh Schmidt - To our credit, we did not get caught up in the numbers despite Schmidt having one of the most dominant seasons in minor league baseball history in 2005. His control faltered, for his standards, this season but he still proved to be a solid reliever. While he may not ever be the same stud he was a year ago, he should be better than he was in Tampa this season. His projection lies somewhere in the middle and we accurately ranked him accordingly this past offseason. Grade: A+

35. Jim Conroy - Just like with Schmidt, we didn't get too caught up with Conroy's terrific season with the Staten Island Yankees a year ago. Some may have forgotten already, but Conroy was having a pretty good year in Charleston until they moved him to the bullpen later in the year, where he imploded. Our ranking of him was as a starter, not a reliever. But if he can't find a third pitch to compliment his plus changeup and solid fastball, he will need to learn how to pitch in relief. Grade: B-

36. Rudy Guillen - Guillen's talent is unquestionable, but the game of baseball is about making adjustments and Guillen simply hasn't made them. He was even worse in his second tour of duty with Trenton this season before returning to Tampa and smacking double-digit home runs for the first time in three seasons. He still has one of the better outfield arms in the organization, but as toolsy as he is, his stock is fading fast. We can't crucify ourselves for his ranking at this spot, but he could have been ranked lower in hindsight. Grade: C

37. Jason Jones - Another one where we took a brow-beating from readers was our ranking of Jason Jones. Some felt he didn't "deserve" to be in the Top 50 after going 5-13 with a 5.68 ERA with the Tampa Yankees in 2005. Never caught up in numbers, we knew Jones was essentially starting all over with new mechanics a year ago and that he was a better pitcher than people realized. An All-Star performance in Tampa this season, going 9-2 with a 2.55 ERA, and a mid-season call-up to Trenton has him back on track. He isn't one of the top pitching prospects but he's as solid as they come. Grade: A

38. Cory Stuart - As was the case with Josh Schmidt, it would have been easy to put too much stock in Stuart's numbers in Staten Island - where he was dominating - and rank him higher. But like Schmidt, we knew Stuart wouldn't be as dominating at the higher levels. He has a plus slider and very good control and he should develop into a good big league relieve. Our assessment of Stuart last offseason was on the money. Grade: A

39. Jason Stephens - After three years in the short-season leagues, Stephens was finally set to break out in Charleston this year (4-1, 1.80) until Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf. A control artist, much in the same manner as Jason Jones, Stephens doesn't have the overpowering stuff to make mistakes. But like Jones, Stephens is a solid pitching prospect in a pitching-rich farm system. Grade: A

40. Bronson Sardinha - In this 'what have you done for me lately' mentality this world has these days, people may look at Sardinha's numbers in triple-A at the end of the year and think we vastly underestimated Sardinha by his ranking. Yes, he tied his career-high in home runs with 16, his most in four years. And while he did finish the year up strong, he still only hit .254 with ten home runs in 86 games for AA-Trenton. Hidden behind his overall numbers is still a very hot-and-cold run producer. He could have been ranked higher, but not as high as some may think. Grade: B-

41. Lance Pendleton - Armed with a plus fastball and a plus curveball, we didn't get to see Pendleton in 2006 after having Tommy John surgery in May. Considering his lack of experience on the mound, we were pretty accurate with his ranking, but we'll have to take an incomplete for now since he didn't play. Grade: INC

42. Domingo Cabrera - The Dominican lefty, converted from the outfield, is very raw on the mound. Despite putting up terrific numbers in the Gulf Coast League a year ago, we knew he was a high-risk/high-reward player who would take some time to develop. Destined for a repeat stay in the Gulf Coast League this season, injuries limited his playing time and effected his control. Nobody is giving up on Cabrera yet, but he was ranked right where he should have been. Grade: A

43. Shelley Duncan - Shelley narrowly made the rankings last offseason because of his prodigious power potential, but was ranked lower because of his projection with the Yankees. In that regard, our ranking was quite solid. An argument could have been made to put somebody else in his place, but we're fine with where we had him. Grade: B

44. Kyle Anson - Continuing knee problems kept Anson out of action this season, his first since being converted to catcher. While the plan remains to have him at catcher, we're steadfast in our belief his best path to the big leagues is as a utility player. His approach at the plate and plus arm were the reasons he made our Top 50. He didn't play in 2006 so we get an incomplete for now. Grade: INC

45. Luis Nunez - Nunez made the list on the strength of his defensive abilities at a multitude of positions. His arm is one of the better infield arms in the organization and he has some offensive potential to be groomed into a useful utility player. Injuries limited him to just 16 games with the Tampa Yankees this season and as a result, we'll have to take another incomplete even though his ranking was very solid. Grade: INC

46. Zach Kroenke - Kroenke skipped low-A ball at the start of the year and got pounded in his first few starts with Tampa before being sent down to Charleston. In a way, Kroenke is the left-handed version of Brett Smith in that he often times gets overlooked by the fans because of his style of pitching. He won't blow anybody way with stuff or strikeouts, but he is polished and solid. If anything, we may have had him a spot or two too low. Grade: B+

47. Omir Santos - Santos, who we've been projecting as a backup catcher for a while now, continues to put up solid numbers offensively while shining defensively. He won't be on anybody's top prospects list but he'll be the type of player that will sneak his way into the big leagues and have a solid career. Grade: A

48. Kyle Larsen - Larsen has struggled to find a consistent stroke in 2006, but put up some power numbers to help lead Staten Island to their second straight year in the playoffs. But while our ranking of Larsen in this spot was very good, the fact that we chose him over Cody Ehlers - a debate we had for quite some time - means we made the wrong choice. Grade: F

49. Irwil Rojas - While Rojas remains a solid contact hitter, his power is non-existent and his defensive skills are eroding pretty quickly. Once a potential big league backup catcher, Rojas has plummeted in the depth charts behind a number of catching prospects. Grade: F

50. Wilkins De La Rosa - De La Rosa made the final cut in our Top 50 last offseason on the strength of his outfield arm, which still remains not only one of the best in the organization but one of the best in baseball. He has little or no power and he has struggled at the plate all year. Don't be surprised if he becomes the latest to move the mound to see if Nardi Contreras and company can do something with his terrific arm. Grade: A

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n \r\n1. Phil Hughes - It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Hughes was the top prospect in the organization following the 2005 season. Going 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 116 innings as one of the youngest pitchers at the double-A level after going 2-3 with a 1.80 in the Florida State League, he flat out dominated. He's not only the top Yankee pitching prospect, he might be the top pitching prospect in the game. Grade: A+
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\r\n2. Eric Duncan - While the Yankees' philosophy of challenging their youngsters has worked for the likes of Cabera and Phil Hughes, it hasn't exactly panned out with Eric Ducan. Rushed to the triple-A level this year, Duncan never found his confidence. Throw in the fact he switched positions and suffered from an ailing back, it's no wonder he never found his groove. Grade: B-
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\r\n3. Melky Cabrera - While critics ran for the hills in regards to Cabrera following a lackluster 2005 campaign, we never wavered in our belief in Cabrera. He has filled in admirably for Hideki Matsui after he began the year hitting .385 in 31 games for the Columbus Clippers. As good a year as he has had thus far, he is only going to get better. Grade: A+
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\r\n4. Tyler Clippard - Sure he doesn't throw 95 MPH, but we've been one of the few publications who have been higher on Clippard. Perhaps a bit overzealous in our ranking before the season began, mostly because he's one of the safer bets to reach his potential, Clippard made us look pretty smart in the end. He went 12-10 with a 3.35 ERA and held opposing Eastern League batters to an even .200 batting average with 175 strikeouts. Grade: A
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\r\n5. Jose Tabata - We immediately fell in love with Tabata's bat from the moment he stepped on to the field in Extended Spring Training over a year ago. A batter with power to all fields, Tabata once again proved his bat is special after hitting .298 with 22 doubles and 15 stolen bases as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. A smart base runner, we rated Tabata's speed a bit higher than it should have been. Even though we ranked him in the top five, he should have been ranked higher. Grade: A
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\r\n6. Christian Garcia - With the way he reported to Spring Training this year, showing up in the greatest shape of his life, it appeared he was ready for a breakout season. An abdominal strain followed by bouts with a sore shoulder kept him out of action until August. His talent is unquestionable. But until he can prove it on the field more and start to stay healthy, he is more of a question mark than ever. Grade: B
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\r\n7. C.J. Henry - Like Garcia, Henry's potential is vast but he struggled to prove it on the field in 2006. He hit just .240 with 19 doubles and 14 stolen bases in 77 games for the Charleston Riverdogs. Still a very raw athlete fighting his way through his first professional season, he would have remained one of the top prospects in the organization had he not been traded for Bobby Abreu. Grade: B
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\r\n8. Marcos Vechionacci - A smooth defensive player with a strong arm at third, Nacci struggled in his time in the Florida State League. His power hasn't come around as quickly has some would have liked, but that isn't uncommon for a young Latin player. He hit just .255 in his return to Charleston but he showed a very patient approach at the plate. Some critics will point to his overall numbers as disappointing. We believe he's still learning. Grade: B
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\r\n9. Eduardo Nunez - Like Vechionacci, Nunez did not put up the numbers he is capable of posting in his first full season in the pros. Nunez, who just turned 19-years old in June, skipped a level in order to give C.J. Henry an opportunity to play every day in Charleston and he never gained any confidence. The talent is there and he'll bounce back. Grade: B-
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\r\n10. Matt DeSalvo - It has been a nightmare season for DeSalvo in 2006. Personal problems have thwarted his attention and his command has suffered as a result. His stuff is still nasty and he is one of the keener minds on the mound. We can't give ourselves a good grade for his ranking because his numbers were just that bad, but we're not giving up on him. He's just too good. Grade: D
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\r\n11. Jeff Marquez - Like his good friend Christian Garcia, Marquez battled some injury problems this year. When he has been on the mound however, he has looked better than ever. Increased confidence in his four-seam fastball has allowed him to throw it more in games and as a result, the strikeouts have started to pile up. Just 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA in 18 games for Tampa, Marquez looked a lot better than his numbers revealed. Grade: A
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\r\n12. Steven White - When White began the year 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eleven games for the Trenton Thunder, it appeared we had vastly underestimated White's potential. Coming back down to earth in triple-A, going 4-9 with a 4.74 ERA with the Columbus Clippers, it evened everything out. He's not as dominant as he was in Trenton and he's not nearly as bad as his numbers reflect in Columbus. He lies somewhere in the middle and our preseason ranking was very accurate. Grade: A
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\r\n13. Tim Battle - One of the toolsiest players in the organization, we caught some flack for our seemingly low ranking of Battle before the 2006 season despite a breakout year in Charleston in 2005. Hitting just .133 with 47 strikeouts in just 128 at-bats with the Tampa Yankees before being sent back down to Charleston, Battle needed to work on his contact hitting. He did a better job in the South Atlantic League, but extraordinarily high strikeout totals continue to be a problem. Grade: B+.
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\r\n14. Austin Jackson - Like his good friend C.J. Henry, Jackson is one of the better athletes around. Even though he batted leadoff for the entire season in Charleston this year, a move to get him as many at-bats as possible, he does not profile to be a leadoff hitter despite his plus speed. Like Battle, Jackson has had a problem making consistent contact. And while he'll need to hit further down in the lineup, he hasn't shown an ability to hit for power down there just yet. We were probably a bit conservative in our ranking of him this past offseason, but not as blatantly as some may think. Grade: B-
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\r\n15. Brett Gardner - Gardner received what may be perceived as a rather low ranking not because of his abilities, but because of the depth of an improved Yankee farm system. Hitting a combined .290 with 58 stolen bases and 70 walks this season, Gardner is an ideal leadoff hitter. While some publications continue to project him as \"nothing more than a fourth outfielder type\", they're missing the boat on this exciting player. While we remain confident in his ranking this past offseason, we're not going to argue with anybody who wants him ranked higher. Grade: A-
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\r\n16. J. Brent Cox - With the type of season he had in AA-Trenton this year, going 6-2 with a 1.75 ERA in his first full year in the pros, Cox is making the Yankees look very smart in selecting him. He held opposing batters to a .196 batting average and he hasn't done anything to dissuade us from projecting him as a future setup man. While he had a tremendous season, there aren't but one or two players we would have ranked him higher than in hindsight. Grade: A-
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\r\n17. Jonathan Poterson - Nobody has the power potential that Poterson has, but two full years into his development after being drafted as a supplemental first round pick in 2004, that is the only feather in his cap at this point. He hit just. 167 with Charleston before being sent back down (again) to Staten Island. Unable to secure a starting role in his second stint in the NY-Penn League, he hit just .173. We haven't completely given up on him just yet, but we have to give ourselves a failing grade for his ranking last preseason. Grade: F
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\r\n18. Mario Holmann - One of the better small-ball players in the organization, Holmann's plus speed and Gold Glove caliber defensive play should be enough to get him to the big leagues someday. However, he was surprisingly sent to Charleston to repeat his season this year and found himself buried in a prospect-laden lineup. He struggled to find playing time and it snow-balled into a disappointing year. He still has the goods though and his ranking last year was not far off. Grade: B-
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\r\n19. Francisco Castillo - Castillo's upside is legitimate and we knew a year ago that he was destined for the NY-Penn League in his second professional season. He went 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. His breaking ball is a work in progress and it will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not he remains a starting pitching prospect. But as far as his ranking a year ago goes, we were dead on. Grade: A
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\r\n20. Alan Horne - If you go by straight numbers alone, we didn't go a good job in his ranking. Going just 6-9 with a 4.84 ERA with the Tampa Yankees in his first professional season, Horne's progress was better than the numbers indicated. He made marked improvements to his mechanics and a few rough innings skewed his overall numbers. In hindsight, his ranking was pretty accurate. Grade: B
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\r\n21. Sean Henn - We've been projecting Henn as a reliever for years and the Yankees finally decided to shift him to that role permanently a little over a month ago. Battling injuries this season, which is nothing new for his career, and a new role limited his innings this season. He'll be out to prove he can handle the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. His numbers - 3-1 with a 4.01 ERA - might not support our ranking in the preseason, but it was pretty close. Grade: B
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\r\n22. Rolando Japa - An organizational favorite, it is Japa's coachability that has impressed the Yankees' brass to date. In Charleston, he was either great or terrible, depending on the day. And in Staten Island, it was more of the same as well. Japa's got the stuff to be very good pitcher for the Yankees some day, he just needs consistency. Grade: B-
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\r\n23. Ramiro Pena - Like his good friend Mario Holmann, Pena is a superb defensive player who will get to the big leagues some day. Whether or not that happens in a Yankee uniform remains to be seen. He has improved at the plate, showing increased patience and a concentrated effort to go the other way more. Pena may never hit enough to be an elite prospect, but his defensive play warrants a spot this high. Grade: A
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\r\n24. Angel Fermin - Like Poterson, Fermin's power potential is virtually unlimited. But like Poterson, he coudn't show any consistency making contact in 2006. He'll only go as far as his bat will carry him, and unfortunately, his .305 average in the Gulf Coast League a year ago might be the exception, not the rule. Grade: C-
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\r\n25. Jeff Karstens - We caught some heat with our ranking of Karstens last preseason, many believing it was way too generous. In hindsight, we were right on the money, maybe even putting him slightly lower than he should have been. After struggling in his first taste of triple-A, Karstens dominated in Trenton, going a perfect 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in eleven starts. Karstens is what he is - a solid starting pitcher. Grade: A-
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\r\n26. Eric Hacker - Hacker continues to be sidelined with an array of injuries and he did not pitch at all this season, he isn't expected to participate in the Instructional League, and we probably won't see him until Spring Training of next year. When healthy, he's as solid as they come. The problem has been he can't stay healthy long enough to put up the numbers he is capable of posting. Grade: INC
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\r\n27. Garrett Patterson - It was a roller coaster season for the hard-throwing lefty, battling injury problems and dealing with chronic blisters on his pitching hand, which didn't help with his control this season. He gets a mulligan for his first full professional season and he is a much better pitcher than he displayed. That said, he is ranked right where he should be. Grade: B+
\r\n
\r\n28. T.J. Beam - We didn't rank Beam too high despite quality stuff because of his age relative to his level of competition a year ago. We wanted to see him put up those type of numbers at the higher levels, and after dominating double-A (4-0, 0.86 ERA), he skyrocketed his way to the big leagues. We believed in his talent but did not rank him accordingly so we can't give ourselves a good grade here as he should have been ranked about ten spots higher. Grade: D
\r\n
\r\n29. Abel Gomez - The book on Gomez has always been the same - nasty stuff, no control. And while he posted a 3.25 ERA in his third stint at the low-A level, his walk-to-strikeout ratio remains a big problem. We get a decent grade for his ranking because of his stuff and because we didn't rank him higher as a result of his control issues, but his stock is slipping in the organization. Grade: C+
\r\n
\r\n30. Brett Smith - There is growing sentiment among Yankee fans that Smith somehow isn't a quality pitching prospect, most likely because of his lack of strikeouts. A pitcher who seeks contact, getting punchouts isn't his game. He made some strides in 2006 and one of the true intelligent minds on the mound, always trying to perfect his game, Smith is better than people realize. Like Karstens, he may not get the respect he deserves until he is in the big leagues. Grade: A-
\r\n
\r\n31. Jeremy King - There's no way we can give ourselves a passing grade for a player who released during the season, especially after going 2-3 with a 6.56 ERA in Tampa. While it was obviously a complete 180-degree turnaround, and his worst season as a professional, he is a better pitcher than his 2006 numbers revealed. Grade: F
\r\n
\r\n32. John Urick - Like King, John Urick was one of the class acts in the organization before surprisingly being released at the end of Spring Training. While the talent is there, we never ranked Urick too high because of his projection with the Yankees. In that regard, we were right on the money so we won't give ourselves a failing grade because of that point. Grade: D
\r\n
\r\n33. Justin Christian - J-Sizzle continues to be a sparkplug on the base paths, stealing 68 bases in double-A this season and leading the team in runs scored. If not for the fact he is 26-years old, we would have ranked him higher. But considering we flubbed on the rankings of Urick and King, in hindsight, we could have ranked \"JC\" a few spots higher. Grade: B+
\r\n
\r\n34. Josh Schmidt - To our credit, we did not get caught up in the numbers despite Schmidt having one of the most dominant seasons in minor league baseball history in 2005. His control faltered, for his standards, this season but he still proved to be a solid reliever. While he may not ever be the same stud he was a year ago, he should be better than he was in Tampa this season. His projection lies somewhere in the middle and we accurately ranked him accordingly this past offseason. Grade: A+
\r\n
\r\n35. Jim Conroy - Just like with Schmidt, we didn't get too caught up with Conroy's terrific season with the Staten Island Yankees a year ago. Some may have forgotten already, but Conroy was having a pretty good year in Charleston until they moved him to the bullpen later in the year, where he imploded. Our ranking of him was as a starter, not a reliever. But if he can't find a third pitch to compliment his plus changeup and solid fastball, he will need to learn how to pitch in relief. Grade: B-
\r\n
\r\n36. Rudy Guillen - Guillen's talent is unquestionable, but the game of baseball is about making adjustments and Guillen simply hasn't made them. He was even worse in his second tour of duty with Trenton this season before returning to Tampa and smacking double-digit home runs for the first time in three seasons. He still has one of the better outfield arms in the organization, but as toolsy as he is, his stock is fading fast. We can't crucify ourselves for his ranking at this spot, but he could have been ranked lower in hindsight. Grade: C
\r\n
\r\n37. Jason Jones - Another one where we took a brow-beating from readers was our ranking of Jason Jones. Some felt he didn't \"deserve\" to be in the Top 50 after going 5-13 with a 5.68 ERA with the Tampa Yankees in 2005. Never caught up in numbers, we knew Jones was essentially starting all over with new mechanics a year ago and that he was a better pitcher than people realized. An All-Star performance in Tampa this season, going 9-2 with a 2.55 ERA, and a mid-season call-up to Trenton has him back on track. He isn't one of the top pitching prospects but he's as solid as they come. Grade: A
\r\n
\r\n38. Cory Stuart - As was the case with Josh Schmidt, it would have been easy to put too much stock in Stuart's numbers in Staten Island - where he was dominating - and rank him higher. But like Schmidt, we knew Stuart wouldn't be as dominating at the higher levels. He has a plus slider and very good control and he should develop into a good big league relieve. Our assessment of Stuart last offseason was on the money. Grade: A
\r\n
\r\n39. Jason Stephens - After three years in the short-season leagues, Stephens was finally set to break out in Charleston this year (4-1, 1.80) until Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf. A control artist, much in the same manner as Jason Jones, Stephens doesn't have the overpowering stuff to make mistakes. But like Jones, Stephens is a solid pitching prospect in a pitching-rich farm system. Grade: A
\r\n
\r\n40. Bronson Sardinha - In this 'what have you done for me lately' mentality this world has these days, people may look at Sardinha's numbers in triple-A at the end of the year and think we vastly underestimated Sardinha by his ranking. Yes, he tied his career-high in home runs with 16, his most in four years. And while he did finish the year up strong, he still only hit .254 with ten home runs in 86 games for AA-Trenton. Hidden behind his overall numbers is still a very hot-and-cold run producer. He could have been ranked higher, but not as high as some may think. Grade: B-
\r\n
\r\n41. Lance Pendleton - Armed with a plus fastball and a plus curveball, we didn't get to see Pendleton in 2006 after having Tommy John surgery in May. Considering his lack of experience on the mound, we were pretty accurate with his ranking, but we'll have to take an incomplete for now since he didn't play. Grade: INC
\r\n
\r\n42. Domingo Cabrera - The Dominican lefty, converted from the outfield, is very raw on the mound. Despite putting up terrific numbers in the Gulf Coast League a year ago, we knew he was a high-risk/high-reward player who would take some time to develop. Destined for a repeat stay in the Gulf Coast League this season, injuries limited his playing time and effected his control. Nobody is giving up on Cabrera yet, but he was ranked right where he should have been. Grade: A
\r\n
\r\n43. Shelley Duncan - Shelley narrowly made the rankings last offseason because of his prodigious power potential, but was ranked lower because of his projection with the Yankees. In that regard, our ranking was quite solid. An argument could have been made to put somebody else in his place, but we're fine with where we had him. Grade: B
\r\n
\r\n44. Kyle Anson - Continuing knee problems kept Anson out of action this season, his first since being converted to catcher. While the plan remains to have him at catcher, we're steadfast in our belief his best path to the big leagues is as a utility player. His approach at the plate and plus arm were the reasons he made our Top 50. He didn't play in 2006 so we get an incomplete for now. Grade: INC
\r\n
\r\n45. Luis Nunez - Nunez made the list on the strength of his defensive abilities at a multitude of positions. His arm is one of the better infield arms in the organization and he has some offensive potential to be groomed into a useful utility player. Injuries limited him to just 16 games with the Tampa Yankees this season and as a result, we'll have to take another incomplete even though his ranking was very solid. Grade: INC
\r\n
\r\n46. Zach Kroenke - Kroenke skipped low-A ball at the start of the year and got pounded in his first few starts with Tampa before being sent down to Charleston. In a way, Kroenke is the left-handed version of Brett Smith in that he often times gets overlooked by the fans because of his style of pitching. He won't blow anybody way with stuff or strikeouts, but he is polished and solid. If anything, we may have had him a spot or two too low. Grade: B+
\r\n
\r\n47. Omir Santos - Santos, who we've been projecting as a backup catcher for a while now, continues to put up solid numbers offensively while shining defensively. He won't be on anybody's top prospects list but he'll be the type of player that will sneak his way into the big leagues and have a solid career. Grade: A
\r\n
\r\n48. Kyle Larsen - Larsen has struggled to find a consistent stroke in 2006, but put up some power numbers to help lead Staten Island to their second straight year in the playoffs. But while our ranking of Larsen in this spot was very good, the fact that we chose him over Cody Ehlers - a debate we had for quite some time - means we made the wrong choice. Grade: F
\r\n
\r\n49. Irwil Rojas - While Rojas remains a solid contact hitter, his power is non-existent and his defensive skills are eroding pretty quickly. Once a potential big league backup catcher, Rojas has plummeted in the depth charts behind a number of catching prospects. Grade: F
\r\n
\r\n50. Wilkins De La Rosa - De La Rosa made the final cut in our Top 50 last offseason on the strength of his outfield arm, which still remains not only one of the best in the organization but one of the best in baseball. He has little or no power and he has struggled at the plate all year. Don't be surprised if he becomes the latest to move the mound to see if Nardi Contreras and company can do something with his terrific arm. Grade: A
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