So one season ends as another begins.
This offseason I'll be tracking the performance of several Yankee farm hands in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a 6 team league (mixed affiliation) for the best and brightest among AA and AAA players.
It is a legendary hitters league because the high altitude has a mini-Coors Field effect. This makes a strong performance by a pitcher especially impressive and a strong performance by a hitter less so (see Duncan, Eric).
The Yankee affiliate (Peoria Javelinas) also features players from the Braves, Rockies, Nationals, and Mariners.
I'll be using this space to update you on the players' progress (or lack-there-of). I'm not an expert on the minor leagues or player development; I don't pretend to be, but I'll link to any relevant analysis and reviews that I come across.
My goal for Bronx Bound is to give you an idea of some of the prospects who will be playing roles for the Yanks in 2008 and 2009 (either as players or as trading chips).
So let's meet our cast:
OF Brett Gardner
Gardner is a member of the 2005 draft class, and he split his year between AA (54 games) and AAA (45). The 24 year old is a very fast baserunner and not much else. He played center for Scranton, and could make the Yankees out of camp in a Bubba Crosby/ 4th outfielder role once Damon gets traded (more on that at a future date).
RHP Steven Jackson
Jackson struggled in AAA this season bouncing between the rotation and the pen, before being demoted to AA and improving slightly as a reliever there. Drafted by the D-backs in 2004 and packaged with Viz and Ohlendorf, I'll be as interested in how Jackson is used as in his performance. A strong showing could send him to another team.
RHP Ross Ohlendorf
You've seen Ohlendorf thanks to a late season callup and an improbably (and ineffective) placement on the postseason roster. The 2004 draftee came to the Yankees as part of the Randy Johnson return deal. The 25 year old Princeton grad was a starter, but ineffectiveness and the depth of the Yankee system have moved him to the pen- where his sinker allows him to pound the strike zone (1.6 BB/ 9IP) and pick up mph because he's not holding anything back. He could easily be the prospect I'm most excited about now that the Trinity have made the Show.
RHP Kevin Whelan
Sheffield brought the Yankees three young pitchers, and Whelan is the most interesting story. The 23 year old 2005 draftee is a converted catcher who pitched in A and AA this season, primarily as a reliever. There was a lot of concern at the time that his delivery (which looked more like a catcher's motion than a pitcher's) was a sure recipe for TJ surgery. I know the Yanks have played with his delivery, but I don't recall at what point in the season. His 95 mph heater, forkball and slider seem to be intact. Best case scenario has him pulling a Joba and helping the big club in August. Second to Ohlendorf, in my opinion.
RHP Steven White
The 26 year old served as a starter for AAA this season, and he was a big reason why they won their division. Not brilliant by any measure, he seems to be what is called a "C prospect": a guy who could be mediocre in the bigs for several seasons. I don't think he's a Yankee for anything more than injury/doubleheader call-up duty.
IF Reegie Corona No, that's not a typo.
The 20 year old (soon to be 21) shortstop is a perfect example of the lone weakness in the farm system (although I think it is a weakness the Yanks will soon address either through drafting or by trading some of the MLB ready pitchers). Reegie hit .258/ .345/ .329 in A (100 games) and AA (35) this year, looking extra bad at AA (.579 OPS). The switch hitter has been an All Star the last couple of years- we'll see if the thin arm boosts his confidence and helps him turn a corner or if facing the best pitching day after day exposes him and dims his star. I think that for him to become Miguel Cairo would take a miracle.
IF Juan Miranda
Another prospect to watch closely, 24 year old the first baseman defected from Cuba and put up solid numbers in A and AA. He showed some of the power that Gardner and Corona are lacking along with a decent eye (his A and AA numbers are nearly identical, usually there is a falloff). I don't see him in the 1B mix for 2008 (especially with the emergence of Shelley Duncan), but September or 2009 it could happen.
So how did our boys do in their first game?
Gardner played left and batted leadoff. He went 2 for 4 with a SB.
Miranda: 0 for 3 with a BB as the cleanup hitter.
Corona: 1 for 3 with a BB batting 9th.