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New York Yankees Top-15 Prospects of 2009, No’s 1 – 5

January 16, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 20 Comments

Once you’ve read about New York’s top prospects, try an online betting service to make some money.

For an overview of the process used to grade players, the factors used to determine where a player ranks, and other frequently asked questions, please click here. All grades are subject to change based on any new information I receive before the start of the season. If you disagree, you can make your case by contacting me or you can make a comment below at the bottom of the page.

You can find a full listing of each team’s top prospect list in the Top Prospect List Archive Page. Also, each team will have their Team Page published when their top prospect list becomes available. Team pages include team rosters, stats, payroll and front office information, past Baseball-Intellect articles related to that team, and links to some of the team’s best fan sites. We stay in the AL East with the New York Yankees

Also See: New York Yankees Prospects, No’s 6 – 15

1. Jesus Montero | C/1b | B – R | Charleston (A) | Age – 19 | Signed – Venezuela, 2006

Player Grades
Contact – 40 Now | 55 Future
Power – 40 | 65
Discipline – 35 | 45
Speed – 35 | 30
Defense – 35 | 40/45
Arm – 60 | 60
Instincts – 40 | 55
Final Grade – B+

Body Type – big, tall, and strong

Scouting Report

Performed very well for a player his age at Single-A Charleston and what makes him most intriguing is the fact he is being groomed as a catcher. Some feel he will eventually have to move off the position as he doesn’t possess the footwork to stay behind the plate. The only truly plus defensive asset he possesses at the moment is his arm strength.

The Yankees will give Montero every chance they can to make the relationship between Montero and catcher work. His value receives an enormous boost should he remain at the position. Should he have to move, third base would be the next best option, followed by first base, where his bat would play, but would be much closer to average than at the other two positions. Even a move to third base would be difficult because it’s unknown if he has the feet for the position

Montero has tremendous strength and plus raw power, though that power hasn’t translated fully into game situations yet. Montero has shown the ability to make hard contact and combined with the relatively low K% for a player of his kind, he could hit for a high average.

Montero still needs work on his plate discipline and patience, but this is a skill that can be improved with experience so it’s not a concern at this point.

Best Case Outcome – All-Star catcher…should he move off the position, his bat could still make him a top-7 offensive player at third base, or above average at first base.

More Likely Outcome – Top-5 catcher, slightly above average third baseman, or average first baseman

*Update 1-20-09 – To answer a couple e-mails that I was sent regarding Montero. First, see the comments below for an expanded explanation on Montero, but to expand on that…yes, a move to first base severely damages a player’s value. The difference between an elite catcher and an elite first baseman is usually between 100 and 130 points in OPS. See the Kevin Goldstein positional value chart I link to in the comments. An elite catcher is roughly equivalent to an average first baseman, offensively speaking. It changes every year — and when Matt Wieters hits the big leagues, you will see the production of an elite catcher get much better, but the general point remains the same.

As for Montero not showing his power in-game…he did show power and his park did suppress his production somewhat, but he hasn’t shown the plus (close to plus-plus) raw power yet.


2. Dellin Betances | RHP | Single-A Charleston | Age – 21 | Drafted – Round 8, 2006

Player Grades
Fastball – 60 Now | 65 Future
Curveball – 50 | 60
Change-Up – 40 | 45
Control – 35 | 40
Command – 35 | 45
Pitchability – 45 | 55
Final Grade – B/B+

Body Type – 6-foot-8, long, lanky, and athletic

Stuff

Fastball – Usually sits in the mid-90′s with late life…velocity dropped due to an injury early in the year, but regained it later in the year.

Curveball – A power 12-to-6 curve, flashing plus potential but very inconsistent in terms of command.

Change-Up – Not an average pitch yet and still developing, but he’s shown a feel for the pitch and was quick to learn the pitch when he entered the Yankee organization.

Scouting Report

Betances is one of the more fascinating prospects in baseball because of his raw stuff, his size, and the gap between his upside and worst-case scenario.

As many are aware, taller pitches take a longer time to develop command. It’s much harder for tall pitches to coordinate all their moving parts and consistently repeat their mechanics. I don’t think it helps that many organizations consistently try to overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics in order to make them simpler — or in their mind, more repeatable. I’ve always stressed a pitcher’s mechanics need to feel natural. What works for one pitcher might not work for another.

The Yankees changed his mechanics between the time he was drafted and the the start of the 2007 season. On the left is Betances in high school, while the right shows him during the 2007 season. The videos are just a quick-and-dirty look at some of the changes and the clip on the left is missing frames, so they are not synchronized to release.

dellin-betances-draftdellin-betances
*Credit to Perfect Game and BabyBombers

The changes implemented by the Yankees are as follows:

1. He reaches a “balance point”, coming to a stop when his knee reaches its uppermost point and then falling toward home. In high school, Betances would drift through his balance point. Pitchers that use a balance point use less body and more arm than pitchers that drift.

2. More of a shoulder tilt, which helps pitchers maintain balance as the pitcher leads with their hips…used by many taller pitchers.

3. Notice the glove arm pointing in the direction toward third base. He used to extend his arm more out in front as most pitchers do. I’m sure this change was made in an effort to keep his front shoulder from opening too soon.

Unfortunately, video of prospects playing in Charleston (or Tampa for that matter) are very difficult to find, so I’m not sure what worked for him in 2008. But the changes made prior to 2007 didn’t work well at the time. Betances again got off to a rocky start in 2008, but something clicked when he returned from an elbow injury in July. Here are Betances’ numbers month-by-month of last year (between 23 and 31 innings each month):

April – 32 K%, 16.4 BB%, .242 BABIP, GB% of 48, HR:FB% of 14.3
May – 20.4%, 16.8%, .237, 27%, 11.6%
July – 25.8%, 9.1%, .304, 50%, 3.3%
August – 30.6%, 5.8%, .333, 47%, 0.0%

The three big changes were much improved control, keeping the ball in the park, and becoming a bit more hittable. The more hittable thing isn’t necessarily bad because it probably means he was at least around the plate.

The success of Betances during the second half of the season has to have many Yankee fans extremely pleased.

Best Case Outcome – No. 2 starter…he does have No. 1 starter stuff, but I don’t think he’ll ever develop the command to be a true No. 1

More Likely Outcome – No. 3/4 starter…control will likely always be an issue for him.


3. Austin Jackson | CF | B – R | Double-A Trenton | Age – 21 | Drafted – Round 8, 2005

Unfortunately a hard drive crash erased the article I was planning to be publish about Jackson. Check out this article about Jackson’s performance against Rays pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson late in the 2009 season.


4. Andrew Brackman | RHP | N/A | Age – 23 | Drafted – Round 1 (30), 2007

Player Grades
Fastball – 65 Now | 70 Future
Curveball – 55 | 60
Change-Up – 45 | 50
Control – 35 | 40
Command – 35 | 40/45
Pitchability – 40 | 45
Final Grade – B/B-

Body Type – Very tall at 6-foot-10, but very athletic (played basketball at NC State)

Stuff

Fastball – Throws a sinking 2-seamer in the 92 – 94 range and a 4-seamer that reaches the mid-90′s and touches 97…all this was before Tommy John surgery sidelined him last season. It was reported that his velocity was back up in the Hawaii Winter League.

Curveball – two versions, one being a knucklecurve thrown in the low-mid 80′s and a slower show-me curve in the mid-70′s.

Change-Up – still needs to further develop the pitch and really hasn’t had the in-game experience to do that.

Scouting Report

The raw stuff is there to be a potential front of the line starter. The control nor the overall results have matched his stuff at any level. Control of all his pitches has been wildly inconsistent, and that’s not something we shouldn’t expect when it comes to tall pitchers as I mentioned earlier. Brackman’s athleticism leads many people to believe he will eventually find his control.

Mechanically, Brackman’s tempo is painfully slow. He’s another pitcher that reaches his balance point and then falls toward home plate. No doubt his mechanics were implemented because his coaches felt he needed something simpler, slower to coordinate all his moving parts. The problem is slowing a pitcher doesn’t always accomplish the desired goal — to throw more strikes.

Best Case Outcome – Borderline No. 1 starter, but a very long shot to reach to his upside

More Likely Outcome – No. 3/4 starter…he’s similar to Betances, but the fact that he has yet to pitch as a professional and was not a productive pitcher at the college level or in the HWL, has yet to show he can remain healthy over the course of a full season, and is a little over two years older than Betances make me think more highly of Betances at the moment. I have too many questions about Brackman at this point.


5. Mark Melancon | RHP | Triple-A Scranton | Age – 24 | Drafted – Round 9, 2006

Player Grades
Fastball – 50 Now | 55 Future
Curveball – 55 | 55
Change-Up – 50 | 50
Control – 55 | 55
Command – 50 | 55
Pitchability – 60 | 60
Final Grade – B-/B

Body Type – Round build with long arms, not projectable

Stuff

Fastball – Thrown between 92 and 94 with plenty of sink.

Curveball – More of a sharp break rather than a big break…can throw for strikes

Change-Up – Acts sorta like a splitter with a late downward break…he gets a lot of swings and misses on the pitch, but I wonder if big league hitters will be able to lay off it. You can see the pitch below:

mark-melancon
*Credit to Minor League Baseball

Melancon can be difficult to center the ball against because his high 3/4 arm slot has each pitch coming in on similar planes.

Scouting Report

Melancon missed the 2007 season because of Tommy John surgery. He returned to A+ Tampa at the beginning of the year and was a bit more hittable with a little less pop on his stuff as he was making his way back from the injury.

As he was promoted to Trenton and Scranton, Melancon saw a bit more oomph to his stuff and retained what was his excellent control.

His actual command could still use some work as there is a tendency to get a little too much of the plate, resulting in a high number of line drives and occasional homeruns.

Mechanically, Melancon reaches a compact, athletic position at the pinnacle of his leg lift — this helps in making the delivery more repeatable, and centered around his core. The biggest negative I could find was his long arm action.

Best Case Outcome – Many feel Melancon should be the Yankees closer of the future…it’s my opinion, knowing his ability to get batters out at both sides of the plate, pitch multiple innings, and pitch well from both the wind-up and out of the stretch, he shouldn’t be confined to pitching one specific inning. He should be used whenever the Yankees need him, which would make best use of his skills.

More Likely Outcome – Solid middle reliever…may not have quite the stuff to reach top level status

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Next Up: New York Yankees Prospects, No’s 6 – 15

Also See: New York Yankees Team Page

References used for this article: First Inning and Minor League Splits

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  • 20 Comments »

    • Ernie said:

      I would say that Montero has more than enough bat to become more than an “average” or “slightly above average” 1B.

    • Sarah said:

      I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

      Sarah

      http://www.thinkpadonline.info

    • Jon P. said:

      Always great stuff from your site. I’ve enjoyed Alex Eisenberg’s Yankees scouting reports a lot and have posted the link on the YES message board where they’ve gone over very big. With Texiera now at 1st base do you see Montero staying behind the plate?

    • Who ran the Yankees ball club? « Zell’s Pinstripe Blog said:

      [...] Here is a breakdown of the Yankees farm system. I think they did an excellent job of scouting the players. [...]

    • Intense Conversations » Blog Archive » | Ron Bronson, Personal Blog said:

      [...] New York Yankees Top-15 Prospects of 2009 | Baseball-Intellect [...]

    • matt said:

      i think that montero’s power has shown up in game situations considering he had 17 homeruns as a 19 year old in low a.

    • admin (author) said:

      I decided to remove the “slightly” in the post. I felt it didn’t need the qualifier. Now, you have to be really, really good to become even an above average first baseman with the bat.

      I like to use Kevin Goldstein’s positional difference chart to determine positional value. It uses three years prior to 2007, so it’s not quite up to date, but it does produce a good baseline (link here). Here are the values for first basemen:

      Elite – .987 OPS
      Good – .952 OPS
      Average – .858 OPS

      Above average is in the .870 OPS range. I think that’s a nice mid-point for his upside. Given his age, it’s possible everything just clicks and he turns into an elite player, but it’s a definite long shot.

    • admin (author) said:

      Jon,

      Excellent to hear from you again and thanks again for helping to spread the word on my content.

      I think the Yankees’ intention for Montero was to have him remain at catcher no matter what, until he proved he could not do it. That’s where he is most valuable with the bat.

    • admin (author) said:

      Matt,

      It showed up somewhat. His ISO-power ended up being .166, which is decent, but not great. Remember, he had a lot of ABs as well, which helped him accumulate HRs. About 11% of his fly balls became HRs. Compared to his potential power, I would argue his raw power hasn’t showed up yet. I think his home park did hurt him a little as well.

    • The Buzz » Blog Archive » | Ron Bronson, Personal Blog said:

      [...] New York Yankees Top-15 Prospects of 2009 | Baseball-Intellect [...]

    • marco, Italy said:

      I always find great and deeply analysis Alex, compliments for your blog. I visit it as much as work permit and so not as much as i would like. You are a great source, and i appreciate in this case Montero’s one. Bye for now from this side of the ocean..Marco

    • admin (author) said:

      Thanks, Marco!!

      Definitely much appreciated

    • Joe said:

      Just want to say I love this site and the write-ups you are doing. Fantastic job. When will you post the Austin Jackson write-up? I’m very interested to hear your opinion of him.

      Thanks!

    • admin (author) said:

      Thanks for the kind words, Joe.

      The Jackson write-up was supposed to be ready to go a few days ago, but I accidently deleted it, so I’m slowly putting the piece back together. I’m hoping it will be done by the end of the week, and published at some point next week.

    • Tom Gaffney said:

      Great analysis, here. I’m curious about why everyone rates Heyward so much more highly than Montero, despite having what seem to be comparable numbers at the same age, in the same league, esp. since Montero as a catcher would put up elite statistics. Do you know why that is?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks, Tom.

      Heyward is rated higher likely because most observers don’t think Montero will be able to stay at catcher. And while Montero would help his team with his bat, he’s mostly a liability on defense. Lastly, I think Heyward is just a more complete package than Montero. Montero has the edge on power, but Heyward has a small edge everywhere else, plus he’s a better athlete. Not to diminish Montero, but that’s the thought process as it relates to the two players.

    • mike said:

      how come austin jackson didn’t get a write up?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      I’m still working on his write-up. It was supposed to be done a long time ago, but I accidently deleted it. I’ve had to put it on the backburner for now while I write up the rest of these top lists. It will get done though.

    • 13thMan said:

      So what is the story with Jackson, he does have power in his swing, but is he ever going to try to develop it, or is he content hitting the ball to where fielders aren’t, which he is doing seemingly effortlessly in AAA?

      How about the race between Romine and Montero? Who’s the front-runner for Posada’s job midway through the 09 season? Or do the yankees just say, hey, we’re the yankees, and go get Mauer?

      I also feel like your grades underrate Melancon’s stuff, his numbers (2.70 ERA 42Ks:8BBs in 36.2 IP) in AAA indicate ++ stuff and control. I’d say he’s ready to become one of the more successful members of the yankees bullpen, and yet your rankings across the board (50-55) have him in average territory with no outstanding aspect to his game.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      13th, I’ve written two articles on Jackson focusing on the changes of his swing mechanics over the course of his career, and both times they’ve been deleted whether by accident or through a hard drive crash. I’ll give it another go in the next couple weeks.

      As far as Montero, I feel I’ve underrated his hitting ability. Sure I put him as the No. 1 guy and gave him a B+ grade, but based on what he’s done this year, the above average first base level is actually conservative. He definitely has star potential.

      Romine is another guy I underrated by just a bit. He’s made some adjustments to his swing and his power has developed nicely. Romine is the better bet to stay behind the plate, but Montero is two levels above Romine’s with the bat. Montero is a better prospect at both catcher and first base.

      I actually think I overrated Melancon by just a bit because he’s a reliever, which are much easier to find than a guy like Romine and he has yet to prove himself yet. But you’re right, he’s put up good numbers in Triple-A…I just can’t get on board that I underrated his stuff. He’s average to above average almost all across the board and that’s hard to do in itself. I can get on board with maybe underrating his control.