Continuing with Monday’s post, I am reviewing things that surprised me while away for three months. The first five items on Monday dealt with players more established in the system. Now, its time for the fresh out of the box surprises.
6. Adam Warren is the real deal.
I’ve been witness to enough Staten Island flash in the pans to be pretty skeptical when someone like Adam Warren comes along and flashes a 1.43 ERA in 56 innings. Weird things happen in a short season, especially when the league is made up mostly of new draftees who are learning how to hit with wooden bats. But Warren did have a pretty impressive season (7.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9) after being picked in the 3rd round, so he hit all of our radars.
When I left, Warren was enjoying a pretty good season down in High-A Tampa. Before moving up, he pitched 81 innings with an ERA of 2.22, a K/9 of 7.4, and a BB/9 of 1.9. Since his Double-A promotion though, he has dramatically boosted his performance to 10.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 50 innings, including a record-breaking 15 K performance.
Now, all is not perfect for Warren. After throwing 94-95 consistently for Staten Island, he has settled back into his expected 91-93 mph range with the fastball. He throws a lot of pitches, and for that reason has generally failed to put up large innings totals. He has pitched just 5.45 innings per start.
Warren is another enigma that is worth taking another look at. He’s excelled beyond where his four years of high-level college experience provide him an advantage, and has the stuff to be a major league starter. He’s not a top-10 prospect, but he’s not a flash in the pan either. He’s one hell of a pick for Damon Oppenheimer and his team.
7. Gary Sanchez is Jesus Montero’s younger brother.
Sanchez will forever be compared to Jesus Montero. Both received huge bonuses (Sanches received 3 million dollars) at the age of 16 out of Latin America. Both are catchers with defensive shortcomings, and both are have phenomenal hitting potential.
Montero, like Sanchez, debuted at age 17 in the Gulf Coast League a year after signing. Unlike Sanchez, Montero’s greatness was mostly confined to scouting reports. We got really excited because scouts were telling us that Montero had a game-changing bat, and he wet our lips enough by hitting .280/.366/.421. He didn’t have a lot of power, and the Yankees almost immediately began to radically change the mechanics of his swing.
Sanchez debuted at the age of 17 in the Gulf Coast league this summer, and did things very differently. He hit .353/.419/.597 with 6 home runs and 11 doubles in 136 plate appearances for the GCL Yankees, and even earned a short promotion to Staten Island to face tougher competition. Where Montero started out walking slow and steadily quickened his pace, Sanches hit the ground running.
31 games in rookie ball carry with them a lot of sample size caveats, but the news is still good. Gary Sanchez is ahead of where Jesus Montero was at this point in his minor league career. Like Montero, he has a lot of defensive work to do, but unlike Montero he carries no athleticism or size criticisms related to his long term ability to play catcher. Folks, with a little luck we’ve got another top-20 prospect in all of baseball on our hands. Check in this time next year to see.
8. The Yankees came ready to spend in the 2010 draft
A lot of us were a little perplexed by the Yankees choice of Cito Culver in the 1st round of the 2010 draft. He signed for under slot money, and immediately started playing in the minors. The next two and a half months saw the team sign 15 of their top 16 picks, including a whole bunch of expensive signability picks.
The team spent over slot money to sign picks in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 10th, and 16th rounds. All but one of those picks (3rd rounder Robert Segedin) are highly talented high school players who are probably ticketed for Charleston next year. Along with Gary Sanchez and a few others, they will form a tight, interesting group of players to watch as they climb the ladder together. Make no mistake, the Yankees made a huge investment in this group, and it should at least in part pay off big time.
Eric wrote a great write up of the group here.
9. Slade Heathcott takes walks
The Yankees drafted Heathcott as a toolsy, slightly risky (for makeup reasons), project outfielder. A few things went right in 2010. First off, their makeup concerns were alleviated. Heathcott comes from a rocky family environment, and that scared away scouts from a lot of organizations. The Yankees weren’t phased, and Heathcott pretty quickly (at least in interviews) showed that he was going to be a model citizen.
The second thing that went right? He didn’t hit like C.J. Henry. Henry was a similar toolsy project outfielder, but debuted to a .243/.326/.366 hitting line. At first glance, Heathcott’s .263/.367/.356 line doesn’t seem much better, but Heathcott flashed some pretty good plate discipline at times (41 walks in 330 PAs, or 12.4%). He’s raw, and will likely repeat the level next season, but the Yankees overall have said good things about him. They were never optimistic in public about Henry. And to top things off, he’s played pretty good defense.
If I had to pick my 2011 breakout player of the year, I’d probably pick Heathcott.
10. Graham Stoneburner kept it up, and more
When I left for the summer, Stoneburner was in the middle of a really great debut season. While throwing 94-95 mph, he’s pitched 137 innings with a 2.36 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9. As I wrote at the beginning of the season, Stoneburner was a raw, largely untested college sophomore with a lot to prove in 2010. He didn’t have a huge experience edge against high A-ball competition, and was probably at a disadvantage in those department against High-A competition. Still, he kept the pace up all season, and looks primed to start 2011 in Double-A. He’s even reported to have improved the knock against him, a poor power slider.
When you combine top-of-the-line stuff and top-of-the-line performance, you have an elite prospect. Stoneburner is going to be ranked very high among Yankee prospects this season, and could even peek in to a major league top-100 list if he’s lucky.
Maybe I should go away more often. The Yankees couldn’t have asked for a better season down in the farm system. Here’s to an even better 2011.
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