The future is brighter than it’s been in quite awhile for the Yankees, who have one of baseball’s elite farm systems thanks to a series of savvy trades, draft picks, and international signings. Most recently, MLB ranked seven of their prospects among the league’s top 100: Gleyber Torres (#3), Clint Frazier (#24), Blake Rutherford (#37), Aaron Judge (#45), Jorge Mateo (#47), James Kaprielian (#58), and Justus Sheffield (#79).
The number of Yankees prospects to crack this list is remarkable considering the breadth of young talent in the game. It’s not the first time the Yankees had a large group of highly-rated Baby Bombers though. Just six years ago, Baseball America placed six Yankees prospects in their top 100 for 2011.
Although groups of top prospects are never truly the same, a short walk down memory lane is sometimes necessary. It’s always a good sign to have young talent acclaimed by experts around the game, but no prospect is ever a lock and only a select few in the entire league (if any) should ever be considered truly untouchable in trade talks. Fans should definitely like the current crop of Baby Bombers—just don’t prospect-hug too much.
So how did the 2011 Baby Bomber squad fare?
Jesus Montero (#3)
The top two prospects in baseball that year also happened to be two of the best prospects of all-time: Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. That’s obvious now and it was obvious then. Just behind them though was Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ uber-prospect. There were always questions about whether or not he could catch (he couldn’t), but it was pretty much a unanimous opinion that he would hit.
Montero had a special bat throughout the minors, and in 2010 he seemed ready for The Show with a .289/.353/.517 triple slash and 21 homers in 123 Triple-A games. If Torres does that in 2017, fans will be understandably screaming for a promotion, and as someone around Pinstripe Alley in 2010 and 2011, that definitely happened with Montero.
Inexplicably, he never really hit after his briefly exciting September debut in 2011. The Yankees shocked their fans by trading him to the Mariners for Michael Pineda the following offseason. He was a terrible catcher but had a modest 94 OPS+ in his first full season. While it wasn’t the debut people expected, he was a mere rookie. Surely he would improve! In 73 MLB games since then, he has hit .217/.255/.374 with a 76 OPS+ and now seems relegated to Quad-A status.
Montero wasn’t the only top 10 MLB prospect to fail from that class—the Phillies’ Domonic Brown was right behind him, both ahead of future All-Stars like Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers. Sometimes, even the locks to hit don’t hit.
Gary Sanchez (#30)
Yes, Gary has been seemingly ranked since the beginning of time. This was the first of five times that Baseball America put him in their top 100, and they left him one year in the middle, too. Sanchez’s story was told countless times during his breakout 2016, but it’s worth noting that prospect fatigue certainly set in on him among the fanbase after awhile.
Sanchez had only just turned 18 the first time he was ranked. Since then, he’s gone from “up-and-comer” to “apparent bust” to “resurgent” to “record-breaking rookie.” The expectations are sky-high for 2017, but fans might have to give Sanchez the major-leaguer the same leeway as Sanchez the prospect. If he’s simply productive, then that’s more than acceptable.
Manny Banuelos (#41)
“ManBan” was a superb southpaw prospect whose stock only rose higher in 2011. By the start of 2012, he the clear-cut number one prospect in the Yankees’ system, and Baseball America had him 29th in baseball, ahead of pitchers like Matt Harvey, Sonny Gray, and Drew Pomeranz. The future looked bright.
Then the injuries came, as they do to so many pitching prospects. Banuelos made just six starts in 2012 before being shut down, eventually succumbing to Tommy John surgery that October. When he returned in 2014, he just wasn’t the same dominant pitcher. So the Yankees dealt him to the Braves in the offseason for mere relievers, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Banuelos showed a few slashes at the major-league level for the Braves in July 2015, but he only made it five starts before getting hurt again. He has only appeared in two MLB games since then, none in 2016. He was designated for assignment in August and will give it another try this spring with the Angels (it’s probably not a coincidence that their GM is former Yankees executive Billy Eppler). Banuelos is still just 25, but it’s safe to say that he didn’t really pan out.
Dellin Betances (#43)
Betances never could figure out how to throw a strike when he was a starting pitcher. He had the same pitches that make him so exciting out of the bullpen these days, but he never got into a rhythm starting in the minors, save for a strong stint in High-A Tampa in 2010. Subsequently, he received his highest prospect ranking from Baseball America in 2011, only to stumble that year and slip to number 63 (despite a September cameo on the MLB roster).
By 2012, Betances had completely lost the plate, finishing the year with a horrible 6.44 ERA in 27 games between Scranton and Trenton. His walk rate in Triple-A was 8.3 BB/9, and even Double-A batters crushed him. So the Yankees shifted him to the bullpen in early 2013, and it finally clicked. Now he’s a dominant annual All-Star.
Betances certainly worked out for the Yankees—just not how people originally expected. Keep that in mind with the current crop of pitching prospects. A move to the bullpen is not a death knell, and the best major-league relievers are almost always failed starters.
Andrew Brackman (#78)
The last of the “Killer B’s” and least successful, Brackman was a risky prospect from the start. A strong pitching prospect out of NC State who also played basketball, he fell to the Yankees in the 2007 MLB Draft due to a combination of signability questions and uneasiness about his elbow. The Yankees decided to take a chance on him even though he likely needed immediate Tommy John surgery.
Brackman did indeed have surgery that August, but he worked his way back to twice becoming a top 100 Baseball America prospect anyway. In 2010, he had a 3.01 ERA and decent peripherals in 15 Double-A games after a midseason promotion, so there was some optimism. Then in 2011, his game went to hell with a 6.00 ERA and 7.0 BB/9 in 33 games with Scranton; not even a switch to a bullpen role could save him. His cup of coffee in September turned out to be his last games with the Yankees organization.
Brackman tried to come back with the Reds in 2012 and the White Sox in 2013, but he was destroyed at every level, even in a return to High-A. His career is long since over.
Austin Romine (#98)
The defensive specialist catching yin to Montero’s yang, Romine will probably end up having the better career even though he was 95 spots behind him. After a few years riding the Scranton shuttle back and forth between the majors and Triple-A while the Yankees sifted through superior bench options in Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy, Romine appears to be on his way to a nice career as a backup catcher. He played second banana to Brian McCann at the start of 2016, and he will do the same for Sanchez in 2017.
Honestly, for a catcher at the back of a top 100 prospect list, this career is a fine result. Plenty of guys drafted ahead of him barely played in the majors, and he’s already had better luck catching in the majors than Tony Sanchez, who was ranked 46th and only made it into 51 MLB games. Romine is just Romine. That’s okay.
From this group of six, there is one potential star, one failed starter who became an All-Star reliever, one modest big-leaguer, and three busts. Considering just how high Sanchez’s ceiling is, that’s not a bad product. Despite all that potential though, it’s not over-the-moon successful. All of this is just a reminder to keep expectations in check with the new Baby Bombers. Be excited, but also be patient.