The minor league season is finally over for all the little Baby Bombers. From here, some will head to the Arizona Fall League to keep playing, others will spend some quality time in the instructional league, and the precious few that were lucky enough to get a major league cup of coffee will be hanging around to watch (keyword!) the big league club chase a spot in the postseason.
It was kind of a crazy year for the Yankee farm system. They traded their top prospect in the offseason, their two top pitching prospects battled ineffectiveness and injury all year, and their AAA affiliate spent the season traveling around the state of New York without a real place to call home during their stadium renovations in Scranton. Even with all that, there were certainly some great moments too, so here's the first of a three-part breakdown of the year that was. Today, the good parts! It's hardly an all-inclusive list, so feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on players I may have left out.
Tyler Austin - Austin hadn't popped up on a ton of radars, even after smashing his way through the New York-Penn league in 2011, but there is no way that he doesn't fly up the Yankees' top prospect list this offseason. After beginning the year in Low A Charleston, where he made the All-Star Game and was selected for the home run derby, Austin made it all the way to the AA lineup for their Eastern League playoff series. His 17 homers easily eclipsed his 2011 total of six, and he was named as the lone Yankee representative in this year's Futures Game. He has a realistic shot of starting the 2013 season in AA Trenton, and if he continues to hit like he has, he could be knocking on the door of the majors sooner than later.
Mark Montgomery - Drawing favorable comparisons to David Robertson, Montgomery has kept hitters searching for answers with his slider that is already being labeled as a plus major league pitch. In 40.1 innings this season at High A Tampa, Montgomery struck out an absurd 61 batters. If it weren't for the fact that he hovered around a career-high innings count and was ticketed for the Arizona Fall League, the Yankees may have found a spot on the 40-man roster for him this September. As it is, he could be making a major league impact as soon as next season. The Yankees don't seem to be holding him back at all, and they have no reason to. Hitters at every level he's been to are just not prepared for what he's throwing them.
AAA Empire State Making the IL Playoffs: No Manny Banuelos, no Austin Romine, no Jesus Montero, an ineffective Dellin Betances, and no home ball park doesn't sound like a recipe for success, but the AAA affiliate managed to win the International League North division to earn a spot in the playoffs. Though they were eliminated in the first round, it's amazing that they were able to make it as far as they did with the roster they had under all those circumstances. They did it without many flashy names and with their players mainly living out of a suitcase for months. They should definitely be commended for that.
Gary Sanchez - After a horribly rough defensive season in 2011, Sanchez improved his game all around after repeating Low A to begin this season. He finished the year with 18 home runs to lead all minor league catchers, and drove in 85 runs between Charleston and Tampa. He also tightened up his defense that was called into question after allowing a number of passed balls that would make Jesus Montero blush the season before. He's the next real hope the Yankees have for a catcher who can actually hit within the system, and it's comforting to see him put together a better season. The Yankees are in love with defense-first catchers, so he'll have to do more than just hit to be a real part of their future plans.
Zoilo Almonte - He made people take notice of him with a strong showing in Spring Training, and his season in AA didn't disappoint. The 23 year old hit .277/.322/.487 on the year with an easy career-high in home runs with 21. He kept up his hot hitting in the Eastern League playoffs, accounting for a majority of the team's offense in those games. The Yankees have tough decisions to make on their outfield this offseason, and they may need a homegrown outfielder to present himself as a viable threat to take the job so that they have a bargaining tool in negotiations with Nick Swisher and eventually Curtis Granderson. A good year from Almonte doesn't mean they will be ready to start him in right field next season, but they will at least have to look his way a little harder when they are deciding exactly how much money they are willing to part with for the impending free agents.
Corban Joseph and David Adams: The pair of second basemen really flourished offensively this season; Joseph bringing a much-needed bat to the AAA lineup, and Adams managing to both hit well and stay on the field for Trenton. The unfortunate reality for both these guys is that they are playing a position blocked by a superstar that is likely to remain with the club for as long as his career lasts. The Yankees did the smart thing by trying to see what Adams could do at third base, and the results were mainly positive. If they are to have a future with the Yankees, they are both almost certainly going to need to find a new position to play. Joseph was originally drafted as a shortstop, but hasn't played there since. Maybe it's time to, like was done with Adams, see if he can hack it at a position the Yankees will need to fill before the better part of the next decade.