It is with great pleasure that I bring you this guest post written by Rob Steingall. Rob provided his own introduction, so all I will say is that Rob has a SB Nation account and will answer any questions you have in the comments section of this post. Please feel free to ask questions and comment on the post itself! Here's Rob's post!
In writing over at SNYWhyGuys and my Minor Developments piece at Yahoo! Sports, I don't normally get to focus exclusively on Yankees prospects, so this piece is a special treat for me. I've been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, so from a personal standpoint, it gives added meaning to me to follow their farm system. It's exciting knowing the young players I'm watching and covering today will be such a huge part of the greatest franchise in baseball history tomorrow.
The most important thing I need to share first, and what I've learned since I started covering prospects, is that you have to leave emotion at the door when evaluating players (those of you who are Ocean's 11 fans will recognize that line). You almost need to forget what uniform the player is wearing when evaluating talent, with the focus being on the skill set and how those skills are translating to the actual game itself. All this being said, let's talk prospects!
Let's start with Banuelos, who generated a ton of buzz last spring with his impressive performances. Banuelos normally works in the low-to-mid 90s with his heater, and can ramp it up to 96 when he's looking for a little more. His upper 70s curveball shows good break and power, and his change up shows deception and good late fade. Both of these secondary offerings flash plus potential. Banuelos has added some velocity in recent years, and is still learning how to command his increased stuff. The problem we face with him is two straight years of questionable control, with a BB/9 just a shade below 5.00.
I see him as a spitting image of Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, a fellow short lefty with a big strikeout arsenal who took a similar development path. With Banuelos, I don't think we're looking at an ace, but certainly a guy who has a #2/#3 ceiling and can be a very effective pitcher for the Yankees.
In a way, Betances is very similar to Banuelos, in the sense that both pitchers really took a step back in the control department this past season. Betances' fastball also sits in the low-to-mid 90s, reaching 97. He gets tremendous downward plane on the ball due to his enormous 6'8" frame, giving him a great weapon to work off of. His curveball sits in the low 80s and shows good power, but command of the pitch is lacking, as he's showed great difficulty when it comes to controlling it in the zone. His change-up flashes plus at times, and gives him a nice weapon against left handed batters.
Some have compared Betances to current Yankee A.J. Burnett, most recently Mike Axisa over at River Ave Blues. I'm not quite so sure I see it, but an interesting case can be made. I personally see a greater likeness to current Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who showed a similarly big fastball coming through the minors and spotty secondary control. Don't take that as Betances becoming Pelfrey, but rather where I see him from a developmental standpoint currently. Betances' secondary offerings show greater potential than anything Pelfrey was working with in the minors, so the chance of him exceeding that comp is quite good. He also profiles as a #2/#3 starter in the majors, or a shutdown arm out of the bullpen.
Q: Who is this Jose Campos guy, and why should I be excited about him?
I did an extensive write-up of Campos over at the SNYWhyGuys blog, where I stated I felt he actually could have a higher upside than both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. This is certainly a bold claim, but Campos is a special talent. I'm somewhat breaking from my earlier disclaimer in saying this, but look at the recent track record the Mariners have in spotting and developing young pitchers.
Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, and current top prospect Taijuan Wagner are all physically imposing righties with big power arsenals, and Campos fits that mold as well. While raw and inexperienced as a pitcher, Campos controls his stuff well, something so crucial when evaluating young arms. Given more innings and continued instruction, he could wind up as the Yankees best pitching prospect a year from now.
Q: With the departure of Jesus Montero, who is next in line as the best Yankees positional prospect?
There are plenty of solid bats down on the farm. Here is a little bit on each of them:
Gary Sanchez, C: Often compared to Jesus Montero, but a long way off. Good swing mechanics and patience, with plus power. Poor receiving skills as a catcher, but a good throwing arm. Needs to refine his defensive skills to stick behind the plate. Sound familiar? Could develop along the same path as... Jesus Montero.
Dante Bichette, 3B: I loved this draft pick and really believe in his bat. He uses the whole field when hitting and shows good pop, and will make pitchers pay deep when they make a mistake. Shows good plate discipline and has a great work ethic. Made good defensive strides and now looks like he can stick at third base.
Mason Williams, OF: Tons of tools, highlighted by excellent speed. A natural center fielder who should hit for average and develop useable power. Needs to repeat his performances at a higher level to take the next step. Reminds me a lot of Austin Jackson from a skill set standpoint.
Austin Romine, C: He is the catcher of the future, even if Montero was still in the fold. On the cusp of a breakout, both with the bat and behind the plate. Still working on transferring his power and throwing into more usable skills. A good receiver, and handles pitchers well. He'll be a good one for the Yankees and is nearly a finished product.
Ravel Santana, OF: Suffered a serious ankle injury last year which cut his season short. Great bat speed and plus power, but needs to improve his pitch recognition to take the next step offensively. Has a great throwing arm and running skills, and is likely to eventually shift to a corner outfield spot, especially with the emergence of Mason Williams.
Q: Finally, what are your thoughts on Michael Pineda and his future with the Yankees?
I've been following Pineda closely for the past three years, and writing about him for nearly that entire time. This is a guy who excited me to the point of tuning in to Mariners minor league games on internet radio if I wasn't able to find a video feed of his starts. Here is my most recent post about him over at SNYWhyGuys, which also cites some of the other work I've done about him. I won't lie, Pineda has been a little bit of an obsession for me, but one I'm proud to say I was spot on about.
In short, I think Pineda could be challenging for Cy Young awards in the American League in the next few years. A lot of people talk about how rare a catcher with the offensive ceiling of Jesus Montero is, but let's be serious; he was never going to stick behind the plate and would have been limited with the Yankees. The DH role will increasingly be filled by the likes of A-Rod and Jeter, so Montero's value was at it's probable high-water mark after his strong September showing.
Good friend and colleague Michael Salfino recently wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal about how truly special Pineda's rookie season was. If you're looking for rare, look no further than the opening paragraph in that piece:
"Recently acquired Yankees starter Michael Pineda isn't coming off just any rookie season, but one unique to baseball history. No other rookie hurler with at least 150 innings has ever had more than nine strikeouts and fewer than three walks per nine innings."
If that doesn't excite the fan base, I'm not sure what will. Acquiring Pineda was great for the Yankees, and while the loss of Montero stings due to the attachment we all had for the potentially next great homegrown Yankee hitter, what we received in return was quite special.
Thanks again to Brandon for reaching out to me and affording me the opportunity to do this guest piece. If anyone has any additional prospect questions, I'll be happy to answer them in the comments section below.
You can also follow or reach me on Twitter @rsteingall (https://twitter.com/#!/rsteingall), where I discuss prospects, sports, and other general nonsense with anyone who comes my way.