YMLN - Spring Training Winners

Putting a finishing touch on our Spring Training coverage for the upcoming 2008 minor league season, we dissect some of the players who stood out and seem to be on track to have good seasons this year.

  • By far the most impressive hitter in camp was catcher Jesus Montero. Aside from the fact it got to the point where nearly everybody expected him to hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate - his power was that impressive - it was the patience he displayed at such a young age that really turned heads. His pitch recognition and selectivity is mature beyond his years.

  • Throw in the same adjectives and just change the name - Austin Romine was just as impressive in camp this spring. He might not have shown the same light-tower power that Montero displayed, but his power to all fields is already a 'now' tool. He too has excellent pitch recognition and plus plate patience, but if there is one area where Montero has him beat is in pure natural strength as Romine did appear to tire just a tad towards the end of camp. Regardless, what he did in his first Spring Training this year has him on track to easily crack the Top Ten Yankees prospects if he keeps it going - maybe even the Top Five.

  • While there might have been more impressive pitchers in camp, what left-hander Phil Coke showed is what breakout seasons are made of. Showing up to camp over 30 pounds lighter, he was showing good zip on his fastball [up to 92 MPH], his normal array of a straight changeup and splitter, and a noticeably improved breaking ball. Best described as a slurve, he was displaying impeccable command of all of his pitches. If he pitches in Trenton like he did at the minor league complex this spring, he'll put himself squarely on the prospect map.

  • Like Coke, Eric Duncan took his offseason physical conditioning program very serious. He reported to camp less bulky, looking lean and much more athletic than he had been in previous seasons. He reportedly was one of the more impressive hitters in the Scranton workgroup and he seems to have taken on the challenge of being a bit more relaxed in his approach. Rather than trying to constantly fix things, he looks to be committed to sticking to his opposite field approach and that has been when he is at his best.

  • Improving changeups seemed to be the overall mantra for a couple of top pitching prospects in camp. Both Alan Horne and George Kontos put forth the goal of improving their changeups this spring and both players exited camp believing it had caught up to the effectiveness of their other pitches. Considering they both had three other plus pitches already, that could be great news for both hurlers this season.

  • A couple of players outside of our Top 50 that had tremendous camps this spring were Tampa first baseman Kevin Smith and Trenton utility man Kevin Russo. Smith, already known for his plus defensive abilities, looked the part of a professional hitter as he consistently strung together quality at-bats. Russo, like Smith, was showing good patience and solid power. Both players get somewhat lost in the depth of the Yankees farm system but both also appear poised for solid 2008 campaigns.

  • Proving it's never too late to get started, shortstop Walter Ibarra - who had been scheduled to not arrive in Tampa until Extended Spring Training in April - was brought to camp late after injuries befell Carmen Angelini and Kelvin Castro. Making the most of his opportunities, he was swinging some heavy lumber right out of the gate. He has added nearly 30 pounds of muscle since originally signing back in 2005 and he won the backup middle infield job in Charleston on the strength of his tremendous camp. Once considered a prospect to watch out for, he might just be starting to tap his potential.

  • Catcher Francisco Arcia, pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, and second baseman Jose Pirela - three young players who seemingly were destined for Extended Spring Training right from the start of camp - each opened some eyes this spring. While Arcia's hitting and Vizcaino's poise each surprised team officials, Pirela's bat was the talk among the players watching in camp and his noticeably higher comfort level at second base might allow his offensive game to flourish. All three should be mainstays in the Gulf Coast League this season, but watch out for Pirela - he could be on his way to being a Top Ten prospect sometime soon.

  • If there was one thing camp definitely revealed it was that third baseman Brandon Laird is a much better defensive third baseman than amateur scouts gave him credit for before last year's draft. He accepted the challenge of improving his body and athleticism in the offseason, and his hard work paid off as he looked like a plus defensive player in spurts this spring, especially on the slow-roller and bunt plays.

  • Like Laird, everybody knew Damon Sublett could hit, and he continued that in bunches this spring. But with his offensive abilities not really in question, it was his prowess on the defensive side of the ball that turned some heads. Physically he can make all the plays but he was showing an advanced feel of what to do and where to throw the ball in various situations that stood out this spring.

  • Two Tampa batters to keep an eye out for as possible breakout candidates this coming season are shortstop Eduardo Nunez - who is several team officials' pick to click this year - and outfielder Josue Calzado. Both appear to be right on the cusp of putting it all together after each had strong camps.

  • Offensively Abraham Almonte might be one of the hotter hitters coming right out of the gate once the season starts on Thursday and he could be primed for a big-time breakout season of his own. We don't have his official stats this spring but he was stinging the ball with regularity in game situations, sometimes right at fielders. Defensively, however, while he looks much better in centerfield than he did at second base, he still has a long way to go to find that consistency in the field. While his lack of experience at the position should be kept in mind, he does take some really bad routes on balls right now and that should be a focus this season. He's right on track to be a Top Ten talent.

  • Mitch Hilligoss did what he does best - hit the baseball. Showing much improved power and a more patient approach in camp, it will be interesting to see what happens if he makes that next step in his development during the season. The feeling around camp was that Trenton third baseman Marcos Vechionacci might not have the time to hold off Hilligoss - especially if either Brandon Laird or Bradley Suttle does really well in Charleston - if 'Nacci' gets off to another notorious slow start this season.

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  • Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

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  • By far the most impressive hitter in camp was catcher Jesus Montero. Aside from the fact it got to the point where nearly everybody expected him to hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate - his power was that impressive - it was the patience he displayed at such a young age that really turned heads. His pitch recognition and selectivity is mature beyond his years.
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  • Throw in the same adjectives and just change the name - Austin Romine was just as impressive in camp this spring. He might not have shown the same light-tower power that Montero displayed, but his power to all fields is already a 'now' tool. He too has excellent pitch recognition and plus plate patience, but if there is one area where Montero has him beat is in pure natural strength as Romine did appear to tire just a tad towards the end of camp. Regardless, what he did in his first Spring Training this year has him on track to easily crack the Top Ten Yankees prospects if he keeps it going - maybe even the Top Five.
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  • While there might have been more impressive pitchers in camp, what left-hander Phil Coke showed is what breakout seasons are made of. Showing up to camp over 30 pounds lighter, he was showing good zip on his fastball [up to 92 MPH], his normal array of a straight changeup and splitter, and a noticeably improved breaking ball. Best described as a slurve, he was displaying impeccable command of all of his pitches. If he pitches in Trenton like he did at the minor league complex this spring, he'll put himself squarely on the prospect map.
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  • Like Coke, Eric Duncan took his offseason physical conditioning program very serious. He reported to camp less bulky, looking lean and much more athletic than he had been in previous seasons. He reportedly was one of the more impressive hitters in the Scranton workgroup and he seems to have taken on the challenge of being a bit more relaxed in his approach. Rather than trying to constantly fix things, he looks to be committed to sticking to his opposite field approach and that has been when he is at his best.
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  • Improving changeups seemed to be the overall mantra for a couple of top pitching prospects in camp. Both Alan Horne and George Kontos put forth the goal of improving their changeups this spring and both players exited camp believing it had caught up to the effectiveness of their other pitches. Considering they both had three other plus pitches already, that could be great news for both hurlers this season.
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  • A couple of players outside of our Top 50 that had tremendous camps this spring were Tampa first baseman Kevin Smith and Trenton utility man Kevin Russo. Smith, already known for his plus defensive abilities, looked the part of a professional hitter as he consistently strung together quality at-bats. Russo, like Smith, was showing good patience and solid power. Both players get somewhat lost in the depth of the Yankees farm system but both also appear poised for solid 2008 campaigns.
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  • Proving it's never too late to get started, shortstop Walter Ibarra - who had been scheduled to not arrive in Tampa until Extended Spring Training in April - was brought to camp late after injuries befell Carmen Angelini and Kelvin Castro. Making the most of his opportunities, he was swinging some heavy lumber right out of the gate. He has added nearly 30 pounds of muscle since originally signing back in 2005 and he won the backup middle infield job in Charleston on the strength of his tremendous camp. Once considered a prospect to watch out for, he might just be starting to tap his potential.
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  • Catcher Francisco Arcia, pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, and second baseman Jose Pirela - three young players who seemingly were destined for Extended Spring Training right from the start of camp - each opened some eyes this spring. While Arcia's hitting and Vizcaino's poise each surprised team officials, Pirela's bat was the talk among the players watching in camp and his noticeably higher comfort level at second base might allow his offensive game to flourish. All three should be mainstays in the Gulf Coast League this season, but watch out for Pirela - he could be on his way to being a Top Ten prospect sometime soon.
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  • If there was one thing camp definitely revealed it was that third baseman Brandon Laird is a much better defensive third baseman than amateur scouts gave him credit for before last year's draft. He accepted the challenge of improving his body and athleticism in the offseason, and his hard work paid off as he looked like a plus defensive player in spurts this spring, especially on the slow-roller and bunt plays.
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  • Like Laird, everybody knew Damon Sublett could hit, and he continued that in bunches this spring. But with his offensive abilities not really in question, it was his prowess on the defensive side of the ball that turned some heads. Physically he can make all the plays but he was showing an advanced feel of what to do and where to throw the ball in various situations that stood out this spring.
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  • Two Tampa batters to keep an eye out for as possible breakout candidates this coming season are shortstop Eduardo Nunez - who is several team officials' pick to click this year - and outfielder Josue Calzado. Both appear to be right on the cusp of putting it all together after each had strong camps.
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  • Offensively Abraham Almonte might be one of the hotter hitters coming right out of the gate once the season starts on Thursday and he could be primed for a big-time breakout season of his own. We don't have his official stats this spring but he was stinging the ball with regularity in game situations, sometimes right at fielders. Defensively, however, while he looks much better in centerfield than he did at second base, he still has a long way to go to find that consistency in the field. While his lack of experience at the position should be kept in mind, he does take some really bad routes on balls right now and that should be a focus this season. He's right on track to be a Top Ten talent.
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  • Mitch Hilligoss did what he does best - hit the baseball. Showing much improved power and a more patient approach in camp, it will be interesting to see what happens if he makes that next step in his development during the season. The feeling around camp was that Trenton third baseman Marcos Vechionacci might not have the time to hold off Hilligoss - especially if either Brandon Laird or Bradley Suttle does really well in Charleston - if 'Nacci' gets off to another notorious slow start this season.
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