Although prospect week may be over, the beginning of Spring Training has me thinking about prospects once again (not that I ever really stop). Getting to see some of the Yankees’ top prospects in action for the first time is always exciting, especially when you get to see them face off against major leaguers. All the discussion about the $189 million payroll ceiling for 2014 also brings the farm to the forefront, since the Yankees may need cheap in-house replacements at several positions (catcher, outfield, starting pitcher) to stay under the self-imposed cap. I thought it would be worth taking a look at some of the questions that the Yankees’ top prospects will have to answer this year to prove themselves as future contributors to the major league team.
Manny Banuelos: Fastball command
2011 was the first season where Banuelos had control problems of any sort, and reports suggested that his elevated walk rate was the result of a jump in his fastball velocity. This perhaps could suggest that he was overthrowing. 2012 will be an opportunity for Banuelos to prove that he can command his newfound velocity, while continuing to feature his changeup and develop his breaking ball.
Gary Sanchez: Receiving
Sanchez had his struggles with inconsistency and maturity in 2011, which were problematic but not terribly surprising for an 18 year-old phenom making his debut in full season ball. While Sanchez’s bat looked as advertised (he had more homers and a higher ISO than Jesus Montero did in any minor league season), he was strongly criticized for his defense. Sanchez’s throwing last year was actually pretty good, gunning down 31% of attempted base stealers. However, 26 passed balls is way too high, and he will need to improve there to have the confidence to call breaking pitches in appropriate counts, and prove that he can stick at catcher.
Dellin Betances: Mechanics
Throughout Betances’ minor league career, high strikeout and walk totals have gone hand-in-hand. Overall he has been effective, maintaining low ERA’s and a low batting average against. His fastball, curveball, and changeup have all looked like above average to plus pitches at times, but command across the board has been a major obstacle. Scouting reports on Betances mention that he has had difficulty repeating his motion, and that his large frame makes this task even more complicated. For Betances to get a chance to stick in the bigs as a starter, he will need to lower his walk rate. Smoothing out his mechanics and improving the repeatability of his delivery is essential to accomplishing that goal.
Mason Williams: Power
Williams’ strong debut allowed him to flash his strong hit tool, plus-plus speed, and excellent defensive ability. While his batting average will probably fall below .349 in full season ball, hitting for average should not be a problem for him going forward. However, power remains a question mark due to Mason’s slight frame and swing plane. Williams hit plenty of doubles last year, but his ability to turn some of those doubles into homers will have a major impact on his future ceiling. Williams still projects as a very good player either way, but if he can grow into his frame (rumors are that he has added some muscle) and make some adjustments to his approach, he could have true superstar upside.
Jose Campos: Secondary offerings
Campos was able to carve up Northwest League hitters last season primarily with his fastball, a legitimate plus pitch with mid-90′s velocity and great movement. His great command of the pitch helped him overmatch batters at the lower levels, but he will need to strengthen his other pitches to have sustained success. Campos features a curveball and a changeup that both have potential, flashing plus on occasion, but lacking consistency. To prove that he is more than a one-trick pony going forward, Campos will need to develop his secondary offerings into consistent weapons that can be called upon to complement his fastball. His ability to make these improvements will play a significant role in determining whether he projects as a starter or a reliever in the future, but luckily for Campos, time is on his side.
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