The following is a compendium of the staff's top Yankee prospects.
1. Jesus Montero, C, 20 - The top prospect going into the year didn't do anything to hurt his status. The 20-year old OPS'ed 1.080 in the second half as one of the youngest players in Triple-A. The only question is can he catch everyday in the Bigs? He only threw out 23% of base-thieves and allowed 15 passed balls in 105 games.
2. Manny Banuelos, LHP, 19 - Has moved up prospect lists largely due to increased velocity. He used to sit about 90-91 MPH, but this year was often 93-95, touching 97. Add in the fact that he's lefty, only 19, and already has Double-A experience, and you get a potential ace-in-the-making. The only concern is his height, 5'10", but being 19, he could certainly get bigger.
3. Dellin Betances, RHP, 22 - It was truly a breakout season for the 6'8" Brooklyn native. Between Single and Double-A (85.1 ip), Betances recorded career bests in K/9 (11.4) and BB/9 (2.3). Can he stay healthy and command the strikezone?
4. Andrew Brackman, RHP, 24 - They say it's the second year after Tommy John Surgery when pitchers get their 'feel' back. That was certainly the case with the third of the "Killer Bees." He threw 140 innings between Single and Double-A, struck out 8/9 ip, and perhaps most importantly, showed the control of a finesse pitcher (2.5 BB/9, down from 6.5/9 in '09).
5. Gary Sanchez, C, 17 - The next Montero? This kid destroyed the Gulf Coast League (.353/.419/.597) and was promoted to Staten Island where he posted a more modest .759 OPS. He won't turn 18 until March of next year. Like Jesus, the question is defense.
6. Adam Warren, 23, RHP - The control artist made a serious push to be in the top five with a great second half in Trenton including a 15-K game. Like Banuelos, his velocity increased a bit, but it's his impeccable command that makes him so highly touted: a career HR/9 rate of .2 and K/BB rate over 4.
7. Ivan Nova, 23, RHP - He would often start out and look dominant in the seven ML games he started, but would then lose control and get walloped around the ballpark. Part of it is just growing pains and learning how to get through a lineup several times. I love the kid's stuff (FB up to 97 MPH, great changeup, nasty curve), and he's shown durability (throwing 575 MiL innings in five years), but he needs to be more consistent. If he does, there's no reason he can't be a solid ML starter or great reliever.
8. Hector Noesi, 23, RHP - Yet another right-handed pitcher on the list, Noesi is a control artist (career walk rate of 1.6/9). His fastball sits in the low 90's, and with a K rate of 8.9, he has a ridiculous K/BB of 5.6.
9. Brandon Laird, 23, 3B/1B - The brother of ML catcher Gerald Laird jumped up prospect boards with a tremendous 107-game stint at Trenton where he OPS'ed .878. A poor showing in 31 games in Scranton (.612 OPS) doesn't much to diminish his luster in my eyes. There are questions about his defense and where he might fit on the Yankees (a guy named Alex plays third and is signed for another seven years), so he could be on the trading block.
10. Austin Romine, 21, C - Despite an underwhelming year in which his OPS dropped for the third straight season, his defense should still be enough to make him, at the least, a good ML back-up catcher and occasional starter.
In general, I value mediocre to above average performance at high levels over All-Star projections from low levels and new draftees. I didn't see many minor league games this season, so I'm relying on reports and box scores more than usual.
1. Jesus Montero- I give the young slugger a 45% chance of making the team out of spring training, a 45% chance of being traded in the offseason, and a 10% chance of starting 2011 back in Scranton.
2. Hector Noesi- he was 10 hits or walks from posting a sub-1.00 WHIP in 98 innings at AA Trenton. Combine that with a 7.8 K/9, and he's one of the pitchers I'm most excited about in 2011. He should start the year in Scranton, and be on the short list as a spot starter.
3. Ivan Nova- he may be league average, but league average can save a season. He'll turn 24 on my birthday, so he still has upside. With a chance to fill the Aceves/Mitre/Gaudin role on the 2011 rotation, he'll have plenty to play for.
4. Romulo Sanchez- he looked good in the 2 games Joe Girardi was willing to use him in, but he walked too many in Scranton by a factor of 3. Still, I think he could have a Brian Bruney-esque career, piling up Ks on hot streaks and BB on cold streaks. A good bullpen manager (and Joe G. generally is one) could get a lot out of him.
5. Austin Romine- his AA season looked a lot like his high-A 2009: solid defense, a roughly .270 batting average and a .320 OBP, but this year he showed even less power, slugging .400, a 40 point drop. I attribute that to the bigger park in Trenton, but I don't think his OBP can fall any farther and have him still considered a potential Yankee regular. Like Austin Jackson, I wonder if he won't be moved for a big league version of his future.
6. Adam Warren- the fastball, change, curve combo is working for the former UNC righty; he threw 130 innings to a 1.14 WHIP between A+ and AA. I expect him to start next season in Trenton, but he could find himself on a fast track to Scranton.
7. Manny Banuelos- the most hyped Yankee lefty since Brandon Claussen, he threw a very exciting 44 innings at A+ Tampa. The scouts love his arm and his poise. He'll turn 20 in March and should start the season in Trenton.
8. Brandon Laird- the 3B's breakout AA season (107 games, .291/.355/.523) was only slightly marred by his brief AAA experience (31 games, .246/.268/.344). Both performances scream small sample size, and his full season looked in line with career expectations. Still, he took another step toward giving the Yankees an in-house candidate to take over 3B as Arod transitions to a full time DH.
9. Andrew Brackman- the righty with the endless wingspan finally seemed to stay healthy and figure things out in 2010. He split time between Tampa and Trenton, holding his K rate over 8.0 while cutting his walk rate by nearly 2/3 to a sparkling 2.5 BB/9.
10. Jeremy Bleich- you want to know why There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect? Bleich went from Trenton to torn labrum in 40 innings.
Honorable mentions, in order: Betances, Kontos, Nunez, Joseph, Sanchez, David Adams, Heathcott, Murphy, DJ Mitchell, Suttle, Heredia
1. Jesus Montero (C) - Not really much to talk about here, dude's a freak.
2. Manuel Banuelos (LHP) - 19 year old who has already debuted at AA and has impressed at every level.
3. Gary Sanchez (C) - Very talented 17 year old IFA signing, who will be known as "Jesus Montero 2.0" in a few years if things keep progressing.
4. Dellin Betances (RHP) - Took a huge step forward this year by dominating in A ball (1.77 ERA, 1.83 FIP) and debuting in AA. The stuff has always been there if Betances can stay healthy and keep his control.
5. Austin Romine (C) - The best defender of the catching prospects, and seems destined to play in the majors. What you get with Romine is a lot lower ceiling, but a lot higher floor.
6. Hector Noesi (RHP) - Pitched very well at AA and debuted at AAA at the end of the year. There is a good chance he makes his ML debut in 2011 if he keeps pitching well and his readiness to contribute gives him a boost over some of the younger "higher ceiling" guys that are a little bit further away.
7. Andrew Brackman (RHP) - 80.2 innings of 2.90 ERA pitching at AA was a major step up in the up and down roller coaster of performance and expectations that define Brackman.
8. Graham Stoneburner (RHP) - Threw 142 innings between A and A+ in 2010 and was dominant at both stops. If 2011 is like 2010, he'll most likely hop over every pitcher on this list except ManBan and (maybe) Betances.
9. Adam Warren (RHP) - I consider Warren the pitching version of Austin Romine. He's not likely to blow you away and become an ace, but he seems almost guaranteed to have a serviceable (at worst) big league career.
10. Slade Heathcott (OF) - Wasn't horribly impressive in 2010: .258/.359/.352 with a whopping 33.9 K%, but if he can learn the strike zone and continue drawing walks (12.0 BB%) I think he has a lot of room to improve. Even though he didn't really show it this year, I'm still bullish on Heathcott's potential.
1. Jesus Montero- This isn't even questionable. Unless traded, I will guarantee that he plays for the MLB club at somepoint this upcoming season before September.
2. Dellin Betances- I don't know much about this guy, but what I've heard from scouting reports and other reports, he is going to be very, very good.
3. Manny Banuelos- Height doesn't always determine talent.
4. Austin Romine- I've always held him in higher regard than Jesus Montero because of his defense. That changed completely this season when Montero proved he was the real deal in AAA and Romine struggled defensively and had some difficulties offensively as well.
5. Gary Sanchez- Another catching guy. Looks like another candidate to replace Posada eventually if Montero/Romine are traded or don't work out.
6. Hector Noesi- This guy isn't one of the marquee names of the prospect class for the Yankees, but he is one that I am excited for.
7. Andrew Brackman- To be honest, I didn't see the whole comeback thing coming from Brackman. The guy was just plain horrendous in 2009, but bounced back in a solid way in 2010. If he can channel his potential he will be in the upper levels and pitching well very soon.
8. Brandon Laird- I love this guy, not just because of his name. He swung the bat great in AA this year and played well at the start in AAA then struggled a bit. There isn't a spot open for him right now in the majors, but he's a talented player.
9. Ivan Nova- We saw some of him towards the end of the season, but we did not see the best of him. He can be a very good 4th starter if he reaches his potential.
10. David Adams/Corban Joseph- Both young infield prospects that I have not gotten the chance to talk to anyone about yet.
I left off the Heathcott type players because there are a lot of question marks before they reach the mid-upper levels.