Eric Duncan: A career .253 hitter thus far, Duncan hasn't really proven to be a great hitter for average on the field yet. In fact, he hasn't hit above .260 at any level in the long-season leagues but scouts love his patient approach and his ability to take pitches to the opposite field, giving everybody the sense he will hit for higher averages in due time. His performance in 2007 might the tell-tale sign in whether or not he can become a consistent contact hitter.
Austin Jackson: Through his debut season with the Gulf Coast League Yankees (.304) in 2005 and his first two months of the year with the Charleston Riverdogs last season, Jackson had the look of a solid .300 hitter. He tired down the stretch in 2006 and finished his first full season with a .260 average. With a quick bat and a good eye at the plate, Jackson should be a better hitter than the career .269 average indicates.
Francisco Cervelli: A switch-hitter in his earlier days, Cervelli gave it up in favor of his natural right side two years ago and it started paying dividends in Staten Island last season, hitting .309 in the NY-Penn League. Scouts love his short compact swing and they believe he could be a very good hitter for average in due time.
Eduardo Nunez: After hitting .313 in his U.S. debut with the Staten Island Yankees in 2005, Nunez hit nearly 100 points lower last season, batting a combined .214 in stops between Tampa and Charleston. He was still very good with runners in scoring position and the Yankees are hoping he can bring that approach to every at-bat. His pitch selection could use some work but scouts love his patience and his ability to put the ball in play.
Andres Dionicio: Dionicio hit a team-high .330 with DSL Yankees1 last season, thanks in large part to his incredible bat speed. The 19-year old has shown great contact hitting ability and while the strikeouts have been a little high, that's not uncommon for a power hitter. He'll be one to watch in the coming seasons.
|Jose Pirela will be one to watch out for as he makes his professional debut, perhaps in the Gulf Coast League, this coming season. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Abraham Almonte: Almonte hit just .254 in his professional debut with DSL Yankees1 last year despite drawing a team-high 55 walks in just 63 games. While he does tend to get a bit homer happy at times and swings for the fences, he is very adept at patiently waiting for his pitches and his plus bat speed allows him to catch up to most fastballs. Forget the .254 average last season, Almonte projects to hit for higher averages in the future.
Zoilo Almonte: Like his namesake Abraham, Zoilo struggled to hit for average in his debut season last year in the Dominican Summer League. He hit just .219 with DSL Yankees1 but is already one of the high-ceiling switch-hitters in the organization. While his average doesn't prove it, he is a very good contact hitter who projects as a Melky Cabrera type of hitter down the road. Most Yankees officials are predicting a minor league batting title in his future.
Carlos Urena: Signed as part of the 'July 2nd' group last year, Urena hasn't even played an official game yet and the Yankees already love his contact hitting ability. He has some work to do in commanding the outer-half of the plate but that's not uncommon for a player who has yet to make his professional debut. Urena has the talent to rank very high on this list in future seasons.
Prilys Cuello: Cuello won Team MVP honors for DSL Yankees2 in his debut season last year, hitting .279 and a team-leading seven home runs. While the strikeouts were alarming last season, the fact is he works himself deep into counts and draws a lot of walks, leading his team with 41 base-on-balls in 2006. The Yankees believe he could be a similar hitter to Robinson Cano, which gives you an idea of his projected ability to hit for average.
Top Ten Hitters For Average
10) Cody Ehlers: The 2006 Florida State League Offensive Player of the Year, Ehlers hit .298 with 57 extra-base hits in a pitching-friendly league. A .364 hitter in his final year of college, he has proven he can be a very good hitter, perhaps even better than some of the names ranked higher on this list right now. His moderate power however makes his projected role with the Yankees a bit cloudy. If he continues to improve his power and improve his stock as a starting first baseman, he could rank higher.
9) Jesus Montero: The key international free agent sign last year, Montero has the natural ability to be a very good hitter and rank higher on this list. Even though he has yet to play an official game however, he has shown he can't consistently keep his head down through the hitting zone. Nobody in the Yankees organization seems too concerned though and they believe he will be a plus-average hitter in due time. Until he shows he can make that adjustment in game situations, we're going to take a more cautious approach.
|Reegie Corona ranked among the batting leaders in the South Atlantic League last season. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
7) Juan Miranda: The Cuban defector signed by the Yankees back in November has the look of a professional hitter. Like Ehlers his power is average to slightly above average, but most Yankees official predict he will hit for high averages as he works his way up to the big leagues. He has a sweet left-handed swing who works from gap to gap. It won't come as a surprise if he challenges for a batting title in the minors at some point.
6) Gerardo Rodriguez: Since signing with the Yankees back in 2004, Rodriguez has been quite consistent at the plate. He hit .284 in his professional debut season in the Dominican Summer League in 2005 and hit .285 with the Gulf Coast League Yankees last season. He has an incredibly short load on his swing with great bat speed and most scouts agree he'll hit for higher averages once he learns to sit on his pitches a bit more. Gerry has the look of a future .300 hitter down the road.
|Mitch Hilligoss batted .404 in his sophomore year at Purdue. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
4) Mitch Hilligoss: He had a solid professional debut with the Staten Island Yankees last year, hitting .292 and showing great patience at the plate. Hilligoss is a great left-handed hitter who batted a combined .395 in his final two years with the Purdue Boilermakers. His approach at the plate screams professionalism and the Yankees are excited to see what he can do in future seasons as they believe he has just scratched the surface of his potential in the pros.
3) Colin Curtis: Like Hilligoss, Curtis had a solid professional debut with the Staten Island Yankees last season. After hitting .300 or better in each of his three seasons with Arizona State University and drawing 11 more walks than strikeouts during that time, he hit .302 in the NY-Penn League last year. He hardly strikes out at all and puts the ball in play with the best of them. He might lack the power others might have, but not many have his bat control.
2) Marcos Vechionacci: Just a career .263 hitter so far, 'Nacci' is a much better hitter than people realize. In fact, he has drawn more walks than he has struck out in two different minor league stops in his short career already and most scouts believe it's just a question of when will he start hitting for higher averages, not 'if'. The 20-year old switch-hitter has proven to be much better from his natural right side and the Yankees love his clutch hitting ability.
1) Jose Tabata: Tabata simply is the best hitting prospect in the farm system. He's not only the best fastball hitter in the organization, but he's also the best breaking ball hitter. He sprays line drives from center to right field and he has a very patient approach at the plate as well. While it might take him a little while to develop his power game, the career .303 hitter projects to be one of the safest bets to reach his potential and challenge for batting titles along the way.