I hope that everyone had as amazing a summer as I did. I love the outdoors, and couldn’t think of a better way to spend the season than out in the woods. One of the downsides of being in the woods is that I don’t have much baseball information, especially minor league information, coming my way. And boy, did I miss a lot.
The past three months may have been the best half-season ever for the Yankees minor league system. Good news proliferated through a system that needed some good news pretty badly around the time I had left. It came in leaps and bounds up and down throughout the system.
1. Jesus Montero can hit again
Jesus Montero did not have a good introduction to Triple-A. He hit .247/.313/.384 in April and an even worse .214/.302/.333 in May. His name began to surface in trade rumors. Plans to DH/C him in the majors in 2011 looked thin. But Montero, just 20 years old, responded with his best-hitting half season ever. Since the Triple-A All-Star break, the Venezuelan has hit .363/.417/.689. Montero has never before demonstrated the kind of game-changing, 40 home run power that he showed in batting practice until now. He’s been a great line drive, for-average hitter, but the power is finally coming along. And its a beautiful thing to see.
2. Manuel Banuelos loses appendix, gains 5 mph on his fastball
At the start of the season, I wrote the following about Banuelos:
Manny Banuelos has a little more experience. He pitched a full season of 109 innings at low-A ball last year, and is a year younger than Ramirez. His rate stats are better too – 8.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Banuelos is a lefty with solid enough stuff – a fastball topping out at about 90 and average secondary pitches. He’s undersized at 5′10″. Banuelos draws huge praise for poise, character, and command on the mound. His average Yankee prospect list rating was #4. I rated him #9.
Before this season, Banuelos was an undersized lefty with average stuff, but drew great praise for the mental and mechanical side of the game. I questioned the ceiling of a young, small lefty with a 90 mph fastball. Things have definitely changed.
Banuelos returned from his appendectomy with, as Eric linked to a week ago, “prime Josh Beckett stuff” to go with the poise, character, and command of a MLB pitcher. To quote Frank Piliere,
This is where Banuelos’ game has changed the most since the 2009 season. Last season, I had him sitting 90-92 with the fastball, touching 93. In his most recent outing, he sat 93-94 mph, never dipping below 92, and routinely hit 95-96 mph. Banuelos even touched 97 on a couple occasions. At that level of velocity, he has a true plus fastball, particularly for a left-hander.
He showed good life down in the zone with his fastball, and had only one of his fastballs turned on with any authority all night. In other words, the velocity was playing well and continued to produce late swings and swings and misses. Considering his age, Banuelos showed well-above-average fastball command, but will have to work on his feel for the inside part of the plate against righty hitters. He got somewhat predictable, working on the outer third and allowing hitters to dive out over the plate. And, in general, although you have to love his outstanding aggressiveness and strike-throwing nature, he proved to be a bit reckless with his location in the zone at times.
This is one of those holy-crap revelations that completely changes the ballgame for Manuel Banuelos. He will instantly be vaulted to the #2 prospect in the Yankee system, and probably a top-50 prospect in baseball. He’s got all the stuff to be a true ace in the majors, and his Double-A promotion after a significantly shortened season shows how much confidence the team has in him again. Workload and size will continue to be a concern, but Banuelos just blew the ceiling off potential.
3. Dellin Betances is not dead yet
I don’t know about you, but I wrote off Dellin Betances when he got injured last season. Betances has mostly disappointed us all since he debuted in 2006. His inability to stay healthy coupled with raw, uncontrolled talent earned him the flash in the pan label, in my mind. However, he returned from elbow surgery a mature, well-developed pitcher, and the results have shown in 2010. In 81 1/3 innings since returning, he has struck out 103 and walked 22, while allowing an ERA of only 1.86. Like Banuelos, he is finishing the season with a brief stint in Double-A.
I think Frank Piliere, again, says it best,
Given some real similarities in their deliveries, as well as having highly similar arsenals and approaches, the best modern-day comparison for Dellin Betances is Josh Beckett. Obviously, Beckett may not still be that dominant pitcher, so this comparison goes more for the Beckett of old. Betances obviously is taller than Beckett, but other than that they are comparable in just about every other way, including the powerful mid-90s fastball, their deliveries, and the hard 12-6 hooks.
But since he was drafted, there’s never been much doubt that Betances had potentially all-world type stuff. Thankfully, his elbow surgery has not robbed him of that. It may have, in fact, given him more time to develop his changeup and refine his delivery. Those two categories have both gone from potential weaknesses to strengths.
The bottom line here is this: keep Dellin Betances on the mound and healthy and his talent is as good as anyone at the minor league level. Health is the only thing that can hold him back.
The best part? Betances has likely not yet fully recovered from his elbow surgery. Next season, he could show us the same fantastic post-surgery improvement that Andrew Brackman showed this season. Speaking of Brackman…
4. Andrew Brackman, a year after Tommy John, remembers how to pitch
Like Betances, I wasn’t enamored with Brackman when I ranked the system’s top prospects in June. His first half showed a great K/BB ratio, but reduced velocity and high pitch counts. Since then, he has done much of the same, but at Triple-A.
Brackman’s line for the season is solid, if unspectacular: 129 2/3 innings, 119 strikeouts (8.5 per 9), 38 walks (2.7 per 9), and a 4.10 ERA between Tampa and Trenton. The good news is that Brackman brought his biggest (by far) issue, his command and control, from a huge minus to a tentative plus. For a big guy like him, that’s great news. The bad news is that the options clock is still ticking on Andrew Brackman, and the odds of him sticking in the Yankee rotation before it ticks away are still relatively slim.
Brackman runs out of options after spring training of 2012. He must be on a MLB team at that point, or exposed to waiver. For the Yankees, this is a bit of a problem. Brackman must either be traded, exposed to waivers, given a spot in the rotation, or moved to the bullpen. We’ve seen with Joba and Hughes what the bullpen transition does to a young pitcher. We’ve also see a huge reluctance on the part of the Yankees to hand a young, untested pitcher an AL East rotation spot, and probably for good reason. That means that Brackman needs to make his first MLB impact in 2011, not in 2012. He looks on track to start 2011 at Triple-A, which hopefully could mean an extended MLB look in the late summer. He’ll have some learning to do in the majors, but Brackman definitely has recovered the talent and athleticism which earned him his big contract. Or he’ll be traded to the Pirates. We’ll see. Brackman is an interesting enigma whom I love to write about, and I’m sure that I will dedicate many words to him this winter.
5. Hector Noesi is going to have a really good K/BB in the majors next season
Hector Noesi continued his meteoric rise with a start at Triple-A this week. His K/BB sits at 5.5, down from last year’s mind-blowing 7.87 mark, but right in line with his career minor league average. He has walked 1.5 batters per nine innings, also in line with his career line. His strikeout rate dipped to a still-strong 7.8 per 9. And he stayed healthy, went deep in to games, and gave the Yankees license to promote him to Triple-A.
I don’t know where Noesi sits on the Yankee depth chart, but he can’t be far down. They are likely to open up next year with Ivan Nova, Noesi, Brackman, David Phelps, and D.J. Mitchell fighting for spots in an absurdly strong Scranton Yankees rotation. I love Ivan Nova, but I think that Hector Noesi will be a better pitcher by the start of next season. Nova’s strong stuff hasn’t translated to the upper minor leagues as well (though to his defense, he’s still getting good results) as his major league stints have demonstrated. He’s got great stuff, but average control and still lacks the out pitch to rack up real strikeout numbers. Nova is the incumbent, but a strong performance could easily cause Noesi to leapfrog him in the depth charts.
It is easy to forget what that K/BB number means. Hector Noesi has an elite control of the strike zone. He throws strikes, misses bats, and almost never lets a batter reach base. He has strong enough stuff to go along with it all, and has for the most part remained healthy over the past three years.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some newer additions to the farm system: Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez, Adam Warren, and the 2010 draft class. The news down there is just as good, if a little more obscured.
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