Prospect Predictions For The 2008 Season

With minor league Spring Training less than three weeks away, we take a stab at predicting which Yankees prospects will win which statistical categories in the 2008 season. Who will lead the farm system in home runs? Which pitcher will strike out the most batters? Which player will break into the Top Ten Yankees prospects by the end of the season? Find out all this and more.

For Starters:

Most Wins: Ryan Pope - With the likes of Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez possibly seeing some big league time next season, and even though the likes of Eric Hacker and Chase Wright are always solid bets to be among the system leader's in wins, we're banking on Pope leading the charge. He works quickly and his impeccable control allows him to stay in games longer than most, increasing his chances to grab the 'w'. He's a very strong candidate to win 15 games in 2008.

Most Strikeouts: George Kontos - Even though the likes of Dellin Betances and Angel Reyes could strike out more than their fair share of batters, the fact is neither appear to be good candidates to pile up enough innings to accomplish this feat. Ryan Pope and Zach McAllister could also do that considering they're good command and ability to eat innings, but Kontos - who had a better strikeout ratio in his time in Tampa but similar stuff to Alan Horne - could put together a Horne-like season and lead the system in strikeouts this coming season.

Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Ryan Pope - The Yankees have quite a few pitchers with impeccable command and control. While it wouldn't be surprising to see the likes of Eric Hacker, Jason Stephens, or Ivan Nova atop this list, Pope's command is Ian Kennedy-like. Castillo, who walked just seven batters in 50 innings last season, is also a strong candidate.

Lowest ERA: Noel Castillo - We're going to go out on a limb on this one. A strong argument could be made for the likes of Eric Hacker, Ryan Pope, Jason Stephens, and a few others, but people are overlooking Castillo. The 24-year old barely missed our Top 50 rankings because of his advanced age at the lower levels - it wasn't a slight on his stuff. He has great command of a fastball that tops out at 95-96 MPH and two solid secondary pitches. He will most likely move to the bullpen at some point, where he could really move fast, but probably not until after another year in the rotation.

For Relievers:

Most Saves: Jonathan Ortiz - Predicting which Yankee farmhand will get the save opportunities from year to year is becoming one of the more difficult tasks around. Jonathan Hovis and Eric Wordekemper had great seasons picking up saves for their teams last year, but with a changeup like Edwar Ramirez, we're guessing Ortiz will lead the way in this category in 2008.

Lowest ERA: David Robertson - Moving up three levels and posting a 0.96 ERA in his first professional season, it wouldn't be wise to pick anybody but Robertson in this category. His sneaky-quick fastball and rapidly developing plus curveball are just too much on opposing batters.

Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Kevin Whelan - David Robertson struck out better than twelve batters per nine innings a year ago, but it might be hard to duplicate that ratio in Double-A and above this coming season. Garrett Patterson could lead this category now that he is a full-time reliever, and Mark Melancon will certainly strike out his fair share of batters, but considering Whelan has been the strikeout master for his entire three-year career thus far, we're going to stick with 'ol-reliable'.

For Position Players:

Highest Average: Jose Tabata - My how things have changed over the years. Gone are the days of merely projecting good hitters - the Yankees now have players who back it up with numbers. Mitch Hilligoss, Damon Sublett, Kyle Anson, and Brandon Laird, among others, are all real likely possibilities to take home the farm system batting title - but it's tough to bet against Tabata.

Most Home Runs: Brandon Laird - Quick, who finished second in the farm system in home runs behind Shelley Duncan last year? If you said Seth Fortenberry, you're a diehard Yankee prospect junkie. It would not be surprising for him to back it up again this coming season, nor would it be if Jesus Montero and his special power potential led the way, but we're guessing Laird will get quite a bit more at-bats than Montero and finish as the clubhouse leader come September. Juan Miranda has special power too but we're guessing some big league time may take away his ability to take home the title.

Highest On-Base Percentage: Juan Miranda - Justin Snyder, Damon Sublett, and Brett Gardner all have the ability to hit for average and each have shown a willingness to pile up walk totals, but Miranda gets overlooked - we think unfairly - based on his first year back to pro ball last season. This slugger is a better hitter than people realize and he is extremely patient at the plate.

Most Stolen Bases: Brett Gardner - This would normally be a meatball right down the plate but Gardner is a strong possibility to see some considerable big league action. We're betting he still swipes the title from the likes of Abraham Almonte, Mitch Hilligoss, Austin Jackson, and Justin Christian, even if he doesn't play the whole year in the minor leagues.

The Superlatives:

First Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Steven White - If history has taught us anything it's the fact that being on the 40-man roster is a pre-requisite to being among the first called up to the big leages. With Jeff Marquez a better starting option and with Scott Patterson a more reliable relief option, the smart money says White's versatility in either role will allow him to get the call first.

Best Comeback From Injury: Mark Melancon - The Yankees should be welcoming back quite a few pitchers from injuries this coming season. Names like Humberto Sanchez, J. Brent Cox, Christian Garcia, and even Tim Norton should find their way back and all have the talent to excel, but none of them have recovered as quickly as Melancon. Getting an invite to big league camp, it's quite possible he could get to the majors for good by the end of the 2008 season.

Best Bounce-Back Season: Eduardo Nunez - Garrett Patterson and his career 4.87 ERA, Eric Duncan and his .250 career batting average, and C.J. Henry with a career .222 mark are all strong candidates to have bounce-back seasons, but now that Nunez has given up switch-hitting, we believe he'll start tapping some of that vast potential.

Breakout Player: Abraham Almonte - There is no shortage of names that could appear on this list: Mitch Hilligoss and Marcos Vechionacci if they improve their power production, Brandon Laird or Damon Sublett if they prove last year's numbers were not a fluke, etc. But with the way he has come on as of late after moving to the outfield, and getting much more comfortable at the plate as a result, Almonte has the stuff to make an Austin Jackson-like leap in the rankings this coming season.

DSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Arodys Vizcaino - Guys like Carlos Urena, Jose Pirela, Kelvin De Leon, and Jose Mojica have Top Ten-type talent, and all have a place in the Top 50 currently. But with the way Vizcaino was pitching during the two Instructional League camps, and considering some team officials are already higher on him than Jairo Heredia, Vizcaino could make the biggest leap of them all rankings-wise.

Current Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Abraham Almonte - With the possible graduation of the likes of Alan Horne, Mark Melancon, and Humberto Sanchez, to the big leagues, and even a slightly lesser chance of Jose Tabata and Austin Jackson doing the same, there could be a few spots available in the Top Ten next offseason. If that were the case, guys like Brandon Laird and Arodys Vizcaino could make their way up, but if only one were to make it, Almonte has the best shot.

Current Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - History dictates there isn't just one player likely to break in. Taylor Grote, Chase Weems, and Jimmy Paredes are already locks to crack their way into the Top 50 on November 3rd [bookmark the date]. Players like C.J. Henry, Noel Castillo, and Grant Duff [now that he has moved to the bullpen] could all do the same with strong 2008 seasons; Tim Battle and Adam Olbrychowski could do the same if they make adjustments to their games; and Andrew Brackman, Lance Pendleton, and Tim Norton could also find their way in with a healthy return at some point in 2008.

Top Yankee Prospect For 2008: Jesus Montero - Currently ranked second in our Top 50, all it would take for the Venezuelan slugger to lead our rankings on November 3rd is for Jose Tabata to get some big league at-bats - and we think it will happen.

Players To Skip A Level To Start 2008 - Mark Melancon, who last pitched in Staten Island, is a lock to skip a minor league level this coming season. Staten Island's Ryan Pope and Damon Sublett are also strong candidates to bypass the South Atlantic League entirely and make their full-season debuts in Tampa in 2008.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nFor Starters:
\r\n
\r\nMost Wins: Ryan Pope - With the likes of Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez possibly seeing some big league time next season, and even though the likes of Eric Hacker and Chase Wright are always solid bets to be among the system leader's in wins, we're banking on Pope leading the charge. He works quickly and his impeccable control allows him to stay in games longer than most, increasing his chances to grab the 'w'. He's a very strong candidate to win 15 games in 2008.
\r\n
\r\nMost Strikeouts: George Kontos - Even though the likes of Dellin Betances and Angel Reyes could strike out more than their fair share of batters, the fact is neither appear to be good candidates to pile up enough innings to accomplish this feat. Ryan Pope and Zach McAllister could also do that considering they're good command and ability to eat innings, but Kontos - who had a better strikeout ratio in his time in Tampa but similar stuff to Alan Horne - could put together a Horne-like season and lead the system in strikeouts this coming season.
\r\n
\r\nBest Walks Per Nine Innings: Ryan Pope - The Yankees have quite a few pitchers with impeccable command and control. While it wouldn't be surprising to see the likes of Eric Hacker, Jason Stephens, or Ivan Nova atop this list, Pope's command is Ian Kennedy-like. Castillo, who walked just seven batters in 50 innings last season, is also a strong candidate.
\r\n
\r\nLowest ERA: Noel Castillo - We're going to go out on a limb on this one. A strong argument could be made for the likes of Eric Hacker, Ryan Pope, Jason Stephens, and a few others, but people are overlooking Castillo. The 24-year old barely missed our Top 50 rankings because of his advanced age at the lower levels - it wasn't a slight on his stuff. He has great command of a fastball that tops out at 95-96 MPH and two solid secondary pitches. He will most likely move to the bullpen at some point, where he could really move fast, but probably not until after another year in the rotation.
\r\n
\r\nFor Relievers:
\r\n
\r\nMost Saves: Jonathan Ortiz - Predicting which Yankee farmhand will get the save opportunities from year to year is becoming one of the more difficult tasks around. Jonathan Hovis and Eric Wordekemper had great seasons picking up saves for their teams last year, but with a changeup like Edwar Ramirez, we're guessing Ortiz will lead the way in this category in 2008.
\r\n
\r\nLowest ERA: David Robertson - Moving up three levels and posting a 0.96 ERA in his first professional season, it wouldn't be wise to pick anybody but Robertson in this category. His sneaky-quick fastball and rapidly developing plus curveball are just too much on opposing batters.
\r\n
\r\nMost Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Kevin Whelan - David Robertson struck out better than twelve batters per nine innings a year ago, but it might be hard to duplicate that ratio in Double-A and above this coming season. Garrett Patterson could lead this category now that he is a full-time reliever, and Mark Melancon will certainly strike out his fair share of batters, but considering Whelan has been the strikeout master for his entire three-year career thus far, we're going to stick with 'ol-reliable'.
\r\n
\r\nFor Position Players:
\r\n
\r\nHighest Average: Jose Tabata - My how things have changed over the years. Gone are the days of merely projecting good hitters - the Yankees now have players who back it up with numbers. Mitch Hilligoss, Damon Sublett, Kyle Anson, and Brandon Laird, among others, are all real likely possibilities to take home the farm system batting title - but it's tough to bet against Tabata.
\r\n
\r\nMost Home Runs: Brandon Laird - Quick, who finished second in the farm system in home runs behind Shelley Duncan last year? If you said Seth Fortenberry, you're a diehard Yankee prospect junkie. It would not be surprising for him to back it up again this coming season, nor would it be if Jesus Montero and his special power potential led the way, but we're guessing Laird will get quite a bit more at-bats than Montero and finish as the clubhouse leader come September. Juan Miranda has special power too but we're guessing some big league time may take away his ability to take home the title.
\r\n
\r\nHighest On-Base Percentage: Juan Miranda - Justin Snyder, Damon Sublett, and Brett Gardner all have the ability to hit for average and each have shown a willingness to pile up walk totals, but Miranda gets overlooked - we think unfairly - based on his first year back to pro ball last season. This slugger is a better hitter than people realize and he is extremely patient at the plate.
\r\n
\r\nMost Stolen Bases: Brett Gardner - This would normally be a meatball right down the plate but Gardner is a strong possibility to see some considerable big league action. We're betting he still swipes the title from the likes of Abraham Almonte, Mitch Hilligoss, Austin Jackson, and Justin Christian, even if he doesn't play the whole year in the minor leagues.
\r\n
\r\nThe Superlatives:
\r\n
\r\nFirst Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Steven White - If history has taught us anything it's the fact that being on the 40-man roster is a pre-requisite to being among the first called up to the big leages. With Jeff Marquez a better starting option and with Scott Patterson a more reliable relief option, the smart money says White's versatility in either role will allow him to get the call first.
\r\n
\r\nBest Comeback From Injury: Mark Melancon - The Yankees should be welcoming back quite a few pitchers from injuries this coming season. Names like Humberto Sanchez, J. Brent Cox, Christian Garcia, and even Tim Norton should find their way back and all have the talent to excel, but none of them have recovered as quickly as Melancon. Getting an invite to big league camp, it's quite possible he could get to the majors for good by the end of the 2008 season.
\r\n
\r\nBest Bounce-Back Season: Eduardo Nunez - Garrett Patterson and his career 4.87 ERA, Eric Duncan and his .250 career batting average, and C.J. Henry with a career .222 mark are all strong candidates to have bounce-back seasons, but now that Nunez has given up switch-hitting, we believe he'll start tapping some of that vast potential.
\r\n
\r\nBreakout Player: Abraham Almonte - There is no shortage of names that could appear on this list: Mitch Hilligoss and Marcos Vechionacci if they improve their power production, Brandon Laird or Damon Sublett if they prove last year's numbers were not a fluke, etc. But with the way he has come on as of late after moving to the outfield, and getting much more comfortable at the plate as a result, Almonte has the stuff to make an Austin Jackson-like leap in the rankings this coming season.
\r\n
\r\nDSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Arodys Vizcaino - Guys like Carlos Urena, Jose Pirela, Kelvin De Leon, and Jose Mojica have Top Ten-type talent, and all have a place in the Top 50 currently. But with the way Vizcaino was pitching during the two Instructional League camps, and considering some team officials are already higher on him than Jairo Heredia, Vizcaino could make the biggest leap of them all rankings-wise.
\r\n
\r\nCurrent Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Abraham Almonte - With the possible graduation of the likes of Alan Horne, Mark Melancon, and Humberto Sanchez, to the big leagues, and even a slightly lesser chance of Jose Tabata and Austin Jackson doing the same, there could be a few spots available in the Top Ten next offseason. If that were the case, guys like Brandon Laird and Arodys Vizcaino could make their way up, but if only one were to make it, Almonte has the best shot.
\r\n
\r\nCurrent Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - History dictates there isn't just one player likely to break in. Taylor Grote, Chase Weems, and Jimmy Paredes are already locks to crack their way into the Top 50 on November 3rd [bookmark the date]. Players like C.J. Henry, Noel Castillo, and Grant Duff [now that he has moved to the bullpen] could all do the same with strong 2008 seasons; Tim Battle and Adam Olbrychowski could do the same if they make adjustments to their games; and Andrew Brackman, Lance Pendleton, and Tim Norton could also find their way in with a healthy return at some point in 2008.
\r\n
\r\nTop Yankee Prospect For 2008: Jesus Montero - Currently ranked second in our Top 50, all it would take for the Venezuelan slugger to lead our rankings on November 3rd is for Jose Tabata to get some big league at-bats - and we think it will happen.
\r\n
\r\nPlayers To Skip A Level To Start 2008 - Mark Melancon, who last pitched in Staten Island, is a lock to skip a minor league level this coming season. Staten Island's Ryan Pope and Damon Sublett are also strong candidates to bypass the South Atlantic League entirely and make their full-season debuts in Tampa in 2008.
\r\n
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