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Farm system recap: Tampa Yankees

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What a year for Tampa. They won the Florida State League title over the Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays) after finishing the regular season with a 77-56 record, and featured possibly baseball's best hitting prospect.

Jesus Montero led the FSL in OPS (.989), despite being one of the youngest players in the league (19). He dominated so much (.356/.406/.583) that he got promoted to Trenton after only 48 games. He's about as sure a hitting prospect a team can have, which brings us to his much-maligned defense. Catcher is the most important defensive position on the field, so there are two ways to look at Jesus: (1) because he plays a 'defense first' position, it makes any offense he gives that much more valuable (SS and CF are the same way), even if he plays sub-par defense; or (2) his defense is so bad that his offense does not make up for it. His catching stats at Tampa were discouraging, no way around it: 26 games, 56 SB, 8 CS (13%), 2 E, 3 PB. However... he improved markedly after his promotion to Double-A (which I'll cover in the Trenton segment).

On the flip-side is 20-year-old Austin Romine, a catcher who's defense has never been questioned (though he'll never hit like Jesus). Romine threw out 38 of 125 potential base-stealers (30%), with 10 errors and 11 passed balls in 80 games. Despite not hitting at a Monter-ian level, his offense is still very good for a catcher: .276/.322/.441. Romine would be the top catcher in most other systems.

Last year's third-round draft pick, David Adams, had a breakout half-season in Tampa after getting promoted from Charleston. The 22-year-old second-baseman somehow upped his slugging average 100 points, despite going to the FSL (traditionally a pitcher's league). In 65 games, he hit .280/.362/.498 (compared to .290/.385/.394 in Charleston).

There weren't any super-prospects on the pitching side. Brooklyn-native Dellin Betances has an ultra-high ceiling, but hasn't shown much after being drafted out of high school in 2006. Last season looked like the start of his ascension to the majors, but he regressed badly this year. He got hurt and only threw 44.1 innings; while his K-rate was still excellent (9/9), he gave up 48 hits and 27 walks (1.69 WHIP) to go along with a 5.48 ERA. Like Andrew Brackman, 2010 is big for him (and he's gigantic, 6'8", 245), but at least he's only 21 and doesn't have a major league contract.

The Yanks top draft pick last year (44th overall), southpaw Jeremy Bleich, had a fine campaign in Tampa: 79.1 ip, 3.40 ERA, 56 K, 22 BB, 1.27 WHIP. He's been compared to Andy Pettitte, but that's a stretch - what they have in common is handedness, average to above 'stuff,' and 'pitchability' (AKA, knowing how to pitch). The comparison doesn't hold much water considering the 22-year-old Bleich bombed in Double-A (65 ip, 6.65 ERA, 1.82 WHIP), while the 22-year-old Pettitte dominated Double-A (way back in 1994).

22-year-old Hector Noesi has quietly become one of our best pitching prospects. He was promoted to Tampa about 2/3 of the way through the year, and continued his excellent season. His decent 3.92 ERA belies his effectiveness: 41.1 ip, 40 K, 4 BB, .92 WHIP. His career stats could make him a top-10 Yankee prospect: 193 ip, 3.13 ERA, 195 K, 34 BB, 1.05 WHIP.

2010 guesstimates:

Montero's a tough call. He missed the last month of the Double-A season after breaking his hand, but he was playing well enough to make the jump before that. The injury really sucks - if not for it, he would definitely start next year in Triple-A. But the lost month is important, more for defense than offense. I'll say he starts the year in Trenton, but they'll look to promote him quickly.

Romine will also start in Trenton, splitting catching duties with Jesus, but he'll likely stay there all year. Same with David Adams.

Betances will have to stay in Tampa: he just hasn't done enough to warrant a promotion (and Tampa is the Yanks HQ, where they can monitor him closely). Noesi will start in Trenton, while Bleich will have another go-round there.