He's been in the Yankee system since 2007, signed as an international free agent at 16, but has consistently flown under the radar while other position players get more attention. Now 22, 2011 was Almonte's coming out party, as his performance at High-A Tampa (.298/.373/.522, .402 wOBA in 292 PA) forced people to take notice of him. Now Almonte is being looked at as a possible replacement for guys like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson in the next couple of years after a promotion to Double-A Trenton and after the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster prior to this year's Rule 5 Draft. His production dipped a bit at Trenton (.246/.304/.371, .308 wOBA in 191 PA), but Almonte possesses all the tools to become a very good player.
He's not very big at 5'11"/165, but Almonte is a very good athlete with a plus arm who has worked to make himself a better defensive player. At the plate, his-switch hitting approach is very patient and mature, evidenced by his consistently solid BB rates, and he has developed some more power over time despite his small frame (15 total HR in 2011). He'll never be a 30 or possibly even a 20-HR guy in the Majors, but he can hit to all fields and can stretch balls into the gaps for extra bases thanks to his speed. The big drop in production at Double-A suggests that Almonte still has some learning to do at that level in 2012 and he will likely start the season there, but he experienced a similar scenario when he made the jump for Low- to High-A ball in 2010, so we should be prepared for improvement across the board and perhaps a late season promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
19) Dante Bichette Jr.- 3B- SS Staten Island
Like the Culver pick in 2010, many of us scoffed at the announcement that the Yankees drafted Dante Bichette Jr. with their 1st-round pick in 2011. And many of us were quickly shut up after the season Bichette put together in the GCL. After a slow start, Bichette went on a tear for the rest of the season, finishing with a .342/.446/.505 line, .438 wOBA, 23 XBH, and 47 RBI in 240 PA over 52 games, taking the GCL MVP with him in the process. He even made a cameo appearance for SS Staten Island, hitting a HR in his 2 games of late-season action, and was named the #1 GCL prospect by Baseball America ahead of teammate Ravel Santana. Unlike Culver, Bichette has already done a lot to prove the doubters wrong and establish himself as a legitimate Major League prospect.
Even at just 19 years old, Bichette is big and strong at 6'2"/215, and will likely put on some more weight as he moves through the system. He is a right-handed hitter and already has a very mature approach at the plate for a HS hitter, working counts and taking plenty of walks when he doesn't get anything to hit (12.5% BB rate). He's got good bat speed and power but also doesn't K a ton (17.1% K rate), suggesting an advanced eye at the plate and ability to recognize offspeed pitches. His future position has yet to be determined, but Bichette held his own at the hot corner this year and could stick with more work. One of his biggest assets is his attitude, likely forged by being the son of a former Major Leaguer, as there were reports of Bichette taking a leadership role with the young GCL team this past season and often getting in extra sessions of BP. He will likely start the 2012 season in Staten Island, but a quick promotion to Charleston to get a look at how he handles a full season of games is equally likely.
18) Bryan Mitchell- RHP- SS Staten Island
Drafted in the 16th round of the '09 draft out of high school, Mitchell is one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the Yankee system. He had a pretty good year for the GCL Yankees in 2010, pitching to a 3.67 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 41.2 innings of work, and was bumped up to SS Staten Island full time in 2011. His performance there was uneven this past year, mainly due to inconsistent control of his stuff, but a 4.09/4.09 line and 8.61 K/9 from a 20-year-old kid isn't horrible and shows that there's plenty of talent there to work with.
Mitchell is a tall, lanky right-hander at 6'2"/175, and right now is still primarily a 2-pitch pitcher. His fastball sits low-90s but can hit 94-95, and his out pitch is a very good knuckle curveball. Right now there's no indication that Mitchell has started to add a 3rd pitch to his repertoire, something he will have to do to be successful at the upper levels, and he could stand to add some bulk to his frame to improve his velocity. Mitchell's biggest weakness right now is his command. He's had BB rates in the mid-to-upper 4.00s at both levels, but if he can start to harness his stuff, that knuckle curve can be devastating. Mitchell should still be looked at as a project, and I believe he should start this season in Staten Island again. But if he starts to show better command and development of a 3rd pitch, he should be moved up to Low-A to start stretching his arm out and to get more innings under his belt. The Yankees have been patient and careful with him so far; 2012 should be the time to take the training wheels off.
17) Rob Segedin- 3B- High-A Tampa
The Yankees' 3rd-round pick in the 2010 draft, Segedin is a bat-first prospect in a similar mold to Bichette, although he has some more years and experience on Bichette as a college player who turned 23 this year. After a quick audition in the GCL and SS Staten Island in 2010 (.243/.321/.400 in 78 PA), Segedin was assigned to Low-A Charleston to start the 2011 season and hit the ground running. In 260 plate appearances, Segedin hit .323/.396/.482, good for a .394 wOBA and a mid-season promotion to High-A Tampa. There he experienced some growing pains adjusting to a higher level of competition, hitting just .245/.312/.310, but he has the hitting makeup to adjust and improve this upcoming season and beyond.
Segedin is a right-handed hitter who stands 6'3" and weighs 220 pounds. His approach at the plate isn't quite as patient as some of the other top hitting prospects, but he makes up for that by making a ton of contact and a ton of good contact at that. He doesn't have the over-the-wall power you'd expect from a guy his size, but there's plenty of power to the gaps and a low K rate (15.0% in Charleston) that speaks to his ability to consistently make contact. Defensively, Segedin is a bit more of a question mark than Bichette at 3rd, and the Yankees have already started experimenting with him in the outfield, but his bat is more than enough to carry him as a legit prospect. I expect Segedin to follow a similar path in 2012 as the one he was on in 2011: a start back in Tampa to see how he's improved and then a mid-season promotion to Double-A Trenton if the progress is there.
16) Ramon Flores- OF- Low-A Charleston
In an organization that prides itself on patience and working counts at the plate, Flores might very well be the prospect who does that best. And as a 19-year-old who doesn't turn 20 until March of next year and a lefty, that makes him a very good prospect to follow. After hitting 3 levels of the system in 2010, mainly as an injury replacement, Flores settled into Low-A Charleston in 2011 and spent a full season there putting his advanced hitting talents on display. In 534 PA over 125 games, Flores posted a .265/.353/.400 tripleslash, a .350 wOBA, 39 XBH, 59 R, 59 RBI, and 13 SB. For a 19-year-old playing A-ball while most others his age were still in short-season leagues, that's pretty damn impressive. It's not hard to see why Flores is ranked where he is on this list.
What makes Flores' production at the plate even more impressive is the fact that he's not a big kid by any stretch of the imagination. Standing just 5'10"/150, calling Flores lanky might even be an overstatement, but he uses his smooth lefty swing to generate solid consistent gap power and his incredibly advanced batting eye to take plenty of walks (11.6% BB rate in 2011) if he doesn't get anything he likes. Continuing to fine tune his swing and adding some muscle will only make Flores more dangerous as a hitter as he moves through the system. He's also no slouch defensively, boasting an above-average arm in the outfield that should keep him there permanently after the Yanks experimented with him in different spots and even at first base in 2010. Like Zoilo Almonte, Flores hasn't gotten a ton of ink yet, but I expect 2012 to be his big introduction to the masses as a solid prospect as he makes a full-season return to High-A Tampa.