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How did the Yankees’ 2012 farm system turn out?

Revisiting the good, the bad, and the underdogs of a Yankees top-15 prospects list from a decade ago.

Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees Set Number: X158455 TK1

A little more than 10 years ago, the Yankees dealt away Jesús Montero, the crown jewel of their farm system (and a crown jewel in all of baseball, honestly), in a trade that brought Michael Pineda to the Bronx. So where did that leave the Yankees’ system as the 2012 season loomed? Even after the blockbuster deal, the club was in good shape. Baseball America listed New York 13th in its ranking of MLB farm systems prior to Opening Day 2012.

In retrospect, a decent number of the players listed among FanGraphs’ Top 15 preseason Yankees prospects went on to at least reach the big leagues. So without further ado, here’s a look at who lived up to the hype, who disappointed, and who exceeded expectations.

Prospect who paid off: Dellin Betances (No. 3 per FanGraphs, selected by the Yankees in the 8th round of the 2006 Draft)

FanGraphs accurately forecast that Betances, who had a brief cup of coffee in New York in 2011, was destined for the bullpen, given his struggles with control as a starter. Betances turned into an indomitable and invaluable member of Yankee bullpens for several years, easily seeing the most big-league success out of the Yankees’ vaunted “Killer Bs” trio of prospects (alongside Manny Bañuelos and Andrew Brackman).

A four-time All-Star, Betances seized a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen in early 2014 and ran with it, easily becoming the most dominant arm in a bullpen looking for a relief ace to succeed the recently-retired Mariano Rivera. Betances finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2014 and earned down-ballot recognition for the Cy Young award the following season. He racked up a staggering 11.8 bWAR between 2015 and 2018, highlighted by his 2014 and 2015 seasons wherein he pitched to a 1.50 and 1.82 ERA, respectively, with 3.7 and 3.9 bWAR in those campaigns.

Betances at his best was as much fun to watch as any pitcher I have ever seen.

Injuries derailed Betances’ later Yankees tenure and he eventually left for the cross-town Mets, where IL stints continued to dog him. Currently a free agent, perhaps there is some magic left in Betances, who will turn 34 in March. Crazier things have happened. Heck. He wouldn’t even be the first “Killer B” the Yankees have brought back, in light of the recent Bañuelos signing.

Honorable Mention: Gary Sánchez (#5)

Swing and a Miss: Dante Bichette Jr. (No. 6 per FanGraphs, selected by the Yankees in the supplemental 1st round of the 2011 Draft)

I don’t want to be too hard on Bichette here because quite honestly there are a few names on this Top-15 who could hold down this spot, but ultimately I chose DBJ. It made sense that he was so highly thought of prior to 2012. He had just completed his pro debut in his age-18 season, progressing to Low-A ball. He finished the season with a .342 batting average, and a patient approach at the plate led him to pile up 31 walks in 54 games.

FanGraphs noted that Bichette had re-tooled his swing, helping to enable his 2011 success. Further, his play at third base seemed to indicate that in the short-term at least, Bichette might stick at the hot corner. There was reason to think that good things were on the horizon for the second-generation ballplayer.

Alas, that was the high point of Bichette’s tenure as a Yankee farmhand. He languished in the Yankees’ system through the 2017 season, making it to Double-A but stalling out there. From 2012 through 2017, he never managed more than 11 home runs in a campaign and his peak OPS came in at .741 in 2014 while toiling between High-A and Double-A. Instead of DBJ, it was little brother Bo who became a top major leaguer.

Honorable Mentions: Manny Bañuelos (#1), Slade Heathcott (#8)

Under the Radar: Adam Warren (No. 14 per FanGraphs, selected by the Yankees in the supplemental 4th round of the 2009 Draft)

Warren had just spent his age-23 season at Triple-A, where he made 27 starts, pitched 152.1 innings, and excelled at keeping the ball in the yard (0.8 HR/9). FanGraphs was bearish on his ability to stick as a starter in the majors, forecasting his likely ceiling as a middle reliever, albeit one whose durability to that point could allow him to settle in as a fourth or fifth starter.

FanGraphs’ instincts proved to be correct. Warren has appeared in over 300 games at the big-league level, but he has only started 21 of them. Despite that fact, he has carved out a nice career, including in two separate stints with the Yankees at the major league level (he also spent 2021 pitching in Triple-A Scranton).

Warren’s time with the Yankees, and actually his major league tenure as a whole, is highlighted by his 2015 campaign. That year, Warren threw 131.1 innings, with 17 starts sprinkled in, to a 3.29 ERA (124 ERA+) and compiled a more-than-respectable 2.8 bWAR.

It was noteworthy enough that the Yankees packaged Warren in a trade to the Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro in the offseason (he was later reacquired at the 2016 deadline), and after getting a couple decent years from Castro, he was flipped to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster. So even if he’s not pitching at the MLB level, Warren still has a lasting impact on the Yankees’ current roster.

Honorable Mention: David Phelps (#12)

It was fascinating to look back at FanGraphs’ list from 10 years ago and see how various players’ careers evolved and the mark they made on the Yankees. Omitted in my thoughts above is a rather important player, the No. 10 prospect on the list: John Ryan Murphy. The catcher also left a lasting mark on the Yankees despite his limited time in pinstripes. In November 2015, New York sent Murphy — a solid backup at the time — to Minnesota. In return, Aaron Hicks came to the Bronx and has provided considerable value when healthy.

With spring training approaching (lockout permitting, of course), prospects are probably on the minds of many fans. Prospect rankings are out and they help hope spring eternal, as the adage goes. It’s interesting to wonder which young players will pan out and perhaps go on to become valuable contributors for the Yankees, or maybe headline a package that brings elite established talent to the Bronx.