EJ had a great post yesterday analyzing some of the important prospects to watch on the Yankees’ short-season affiliates, who began their 2012 seasons yesterday. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these players, and what I will be looking for over the course of the season, and I’ll start with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees for this post.
Miguel Andujar 3b: Andujar is far and away the youngest player on the current squad (the fact that he was born in 1995 is absolutely terrifying), just turning 17 a few months ago. Andujar was the Yankees’ top IFA signing for 2012, and earned a $700,000 bonus. Despite his youth, the fact that the Yankees have sent him directly to the GCL rather than giving him a year in the Dominican Summer League indicates that they consider him to be fairly advanced, and ready to handle the rigors of playing in the US. Off the top of my head, the list of Yankees’ international signees who played in the GCL at 17 without spending time in the DSL is fairly small, and includes guys like Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, Manny Banuelos, and Arodys Vizcaino. With youth can sometimes come immaturity, so I will definitely be looking to see how he handles the challenges placed before him, and whether he is able to hold his own offensively. I expect some defensive struggles from time to time, but I think he’ll ultimately settle in ok on that front.
Greg Bird C: I was honestly a little surprised to see Bird on the GCL roster. I assumed that since Bird received a $1 million bonus in the 2011 draft, the Yankees believed that his bat was advanced enough to handle A-ball (either Charleston or Staten Island). Either that is not the case, or there is another possibility that I may have overlooked initially. The possibility is that the Yankees are putting Bird in the GCL to give him the opportunity to work on his catching, and get more reps at the position. With Isaias Tejada in Staten Island and Gary Sanchez in Charleston, Bird would likely be splitting time, but in the GCL he will unquestionably be the top catcher, and will get the opportunity to work with the organization’s catching instructors in Tampa. From that perspective, this seems like the right move, and Bird can always force his way to a higher level if he rakes from the get-go (a la Tyler Austin last season). Bird’s bat is his calling card, but his value as a prospect definitely increases if he can show the defensive chops to stick at catcher, so I will be watching to see how he does behind the plate.
Jordan Cote RHP: Like Bird, Cote was a big-bonus prospect from the 2011 draft that wound up on the GCL roster partially because of a logjam at the higher levels, but also because he has some raw aspects of his game that may not be ready for the higher levels. While Cote has good velocity and a projectable frame, the rep on him around draft time was that his mechanics needed work. By staying in Tampa, Cote will likely be closer to the organization’s pitching instructors, and will be able to work on his mechanics in a lower-pressure environment. While it is too early to draw any conclusions from performance, Cote’s season debut couldn’t have gone much better, giving up just 2 hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings of work, and striking out 5. Like Bird, he could also force his way to a higher level if he performs well.
Other players not currently on the roster that I will definitely be keeping an eye on include outfielder Jake Cave (who is working his way back from a broken kneecap suffered in a home-plate collision), and the top 2012 high school draftees such as Austin Aune, Ty Hensley (assuming he signs), and Nathan Mikolas (ditto). For Cave, I will be looking to see if he comes back healthy with his speed and athleticism intact, though I would not be surprised if there is some rust. For Aune, I will be most focused on his defense at shortstop, since there are a lot of questions about whether he will be able to stick at the position. I will be looking to see if Hensley can maintain the increased velocity he showed this spring without sacrificing command, show consistency with his curveball, and make strides with his changeup. Since Mikolas is project to play either 1b or LF, I’m primarily going to be focused on how well he hits, and whether he can show good plate discipline.
Overall, it should be an interesting year for the GCL Yankees. The earlier signing deadlines should have more of the top high school signees getting substantial playing time, and it will be fun to see how well they do. The expectations are a little higher for the 2011 draftees because they should be more developmentally advanced, whereas I’m just hoping that the youthful Andujar is capable of holding his own at this level.
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