In an earlier post this afternoon I profiled the performances of a few Yankee pitching prospects, and in this post, I intend to do the same with a few hitting under-the-radar (for the mainstream prospect follower) prospects.
It seems like Nunez has been around forever, and he has been in the Yankee system for a while, making his stateside debut at age 18 in 2005 for Staten Island. The .785 OPS he posted as a teenager has yet to be replicated in his career, and until last season, he failed to even break .700. In 2009, Nunez had a breakout season for Trenton with a .318/.344/.428 line and 9 home runs, good for a .772 OPS. At age 23 in Scranton, Nunez has thus far put together a similar season. While Nunez’s home run rate is down from 2009 (only 2 homers through 324 PA’s, compared to 9 in 523 last year), Nunez has shown improvement in his previously paltry walk rate. Nunez had 22 walks all of last season, a total he has nearly equaled with his 18 thus far in 2010. This is perhaps indicative of his great patience at the plate, and his .320/.361/.420 line shows that his OPS is more on-base heavy than it was in ’09, and hence, more valuable. Nunez has also stolen 15 bases (caught 3 times) so far this season, compared to 19 in all of 2009 (when he was caught 7 times). Nunez’s performance in 2009 so far has been very impressive, but is it sustainable? His career-high .369 BABIP would indicate the potential for some regression, though his career-high line drive rate of 19% (compared to 13% in 2009) does indicate some real improvement. Nunez’s defense may also have improved this year, as he has made just 4 errors in 69 games at shortstop, compared to a whopping 33 in 120 games last season. Although Nunez may need to show more patience and power, as well as sustained defensive improvement to prove that he can be a major league shorstop, at present, he is the closest thing the Yankees have to a Jeter successor (let’s see Cito Culver in full season ball before we start to make broad judgments on him).
Laird has long been a prospect with excellent power, questionable patience, and mediocre defense. In putting together the best season of his career so far in 2010 with Trenton (leading the minors in RBI with 76), Laird has shown a power spike, though his defense and patience are still problems. After a .264/.328/.413 2009 with 13 homers in Trenton, Laird is breaking out in a big way in 2010, batting .295/.352/.565 with 19 home runs already, putting him on pace to exceed 30 on the season. His k rate has jumped 2.4% from last year (to 17.4%) and his walk rate is identical to 2009. Laird’s power has always been impressive, but the question is whether his hitting ability will develop enough to allow him to be something more than a AAAA slugger or bench bat a la Shelley Duncan. Working in Laird’s favor is his age (at 22, he still has room to improve) and the fact that he has never repeated a level in the minors. He seems like he has been around a while, but if he were drafted out of college (as opposed to junior college) he would likely in his first or second pro season (instead of his 4th), and his AA performance would look even more impressive. Laird’s .309 BABIP likely indicates that he is not getting exceptionally lucky with batted balls this year (his BABIP was .293 in 2008 and 2009), and the increase in home run power appears substantial. Laird also has only two fewer doubles so far (18) than he had all of last season, so he doesn’t appear to just be swinging for the fences. The hitting improvement appears legitimate for Laird, but unless his defense (14 errors at 3rd) and patience improve, he may not be able to crack a major league starting lineup. If he can figure things out, I see him as a potential Aubrey Huff type, a corner infield/outfield bat with pop who plays mediocre defense.
A 4th-round selection in 2008 out of high school, Joseph has continued to show strong offensive abilities for a 2nd-baseman, though his future defensive position remains in doubt. At age 20 in 2009, Joseph posted a .799 OPS with 17 doubles, 8 triples, and 4 homers for Charleston. In 2010, Joseph is OPS’ing .826 so far, with 23 doubles, a triple, and 4 homers on the season. While his .311/.377/.447 line is strong, it may be reasonable to expect some regression given that his .391 BABIP greatly exceeds his previous career high (.349 in 2009). Even if some BABIP correction does occur, Joseph’s power numbers will likely exceed those posted in 2009. Despite the increase in power, two red flags emerge for Joseph so far in 2010. His strikeout rate has increased (from 14% to 20%) and his walk rate has decreased (11.2% to 9%). While none of these percentages are in the dangerously extreme territory, the trend indicates that Joseph could have problems as he advances up the ladder, and his batting average could drop off. Joseph is still a very good hitting prospect since he is a middle infielder with legitimate pop (or at least doubles power, for now), but he definitely has to cut his strikeout rate and/or increase his walk rate if he is going to improve.
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