Laird is teetering on the edge of no longer being a prospect after making some cameo appearances for the Yankees in 2011, but considering that cameo consisted of just 25 plate appearances I think it's fair to keep him on this list. 2011 actually represented a bit of a step back for Laird, who struggled out of the gate mightily at the plate before rebounding to finish with a .260/.288/.422 line and .310 wOBA in 489 PA. His banner year was 2010, when he hit .291/.355/.523 with a .383 wOBA for Double-A Trenton and took home the Eastern League MVP award for his efforts. As it stands right now, Laird is still a solid piece for the Yankees to have in their system at 24 years old, both as backup infield depth and as a potential trade piece.
Laird is known as a right-handed-hitting third baseman, but has also seen some time at first base and is even capable of playing the outfield in a pinch. He has decent size at 6'1"/215, but does not come off as physically imposing. Laird's calling card at the plate is a powerful swing capable of putting the ball over the fence on the regular and a disciplined approach that has always left him with solid K rates (17.2% in 2011). That discipline hasn't translated to a BB rate that you'd like to see from a power hitter, however, and that lack of walks was one of the main reasons for Laird's struggles in 2011, but he still possesses enough tools and experience to be a serviceable hitter at the Major League level. He's solid with the glove at both corners of the infield, but by not being at the head of the group of backup Yankee infielders, it's likely that Laird will start 2012 at third for SWB again.
14) Graham Stoneburner- RHP- Double-A Trenton
A college pitcher drafted in the 14th round of the '09 draft, Stoneburner appeared to be on the fast track to the upper levels after a dynamite 2010 season that saw him post a 2.73 FIP and rack up 137 K over 142 IP in A-ball. He started the 2011 season in Double-A but was quickly derailed by a neck injury that significantly affected his ability to repeat the success he has in 2010. Stoneburner made only 11 starts for the Thunder in 2011, pitching to a 4.17/3.82 line with 5.55 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9, and spent the remainder of his time on the mound doing rehab outings in the GCL and Charleston. Stoneburner pitched just 91.1 total innings in 2011, and with a track record of serious injuries going back to his HS and college days, there should be a bit of concern surrounding his health and durability coming into 2012.
Those question marks aside, there is a lot to like about Stoneburner as a pitcher. He has already established 3 pitches that he uses: a two-seamer that runs in the low-to-mid 90s and is flat out nasty when he locates it, a solid curveball, and a developing changeup. There were talks of moving Stoneburner to the bullpen prior to the 2011 season, most likely related to his injury history and lack of a 3rd pitch, but for now he'll stay working as a starter as he continues to improve the change. When he's on, Stoneburner has an excellent combination of stuff and command, his 2010 K and BB rates speaking to that, but he can still stand to improve his command to be more consistent and his ability to mix pitches as he goes through a lineup multiple times. He should be back to 100% to start the 2012 season and will almost certainly open back in Trenton, but he could be in line for a promotion if he shows the form he had in 2010.
13) Corban Joseph- 2B- Double-A Trenton
A 23-year-old second baseman cut from similar cloth as David Adams, CoJo stepped into Adams' vacated spot full time for the Thunder in 2011 after murdering the ball at High-A Tampa in 2010 (.302/.378/.436, .367 wOBA). After some growing pains in limited late-season action for Trenton in 2010, Joseph had a much better year in 2011, posting a .277/.353/.415 line and a .346 wOBA in 564 PA. Putting up solid offensive numbers has been the norm for CoJo at every level he's reached so far in the MiL system, and right now he's likely leading the charge of sub-Triple-A position players who could be poised to break in with the Major League team in the next 2 years.
Joseph is slightly built at 6'0"/170, and doesn't generate nearly the power with his left-handed swing as Adams, but he makes up for it with a smooth swing and smart approach at the plate. His ability to draw walks (10.5% BB rate in 2011; never lower than 9.8% in his MiL career) and make consistent contact (18.4% K rate in 2011) make him a prototypical Yankee-type hitter, and projects future success as he continues to move through the system. Defensively, Joseph is a bit more of a question mark than Adams, as he's not particularly smooth moving to the ball, and the Yankees have experimented with him at third base in the past. But his arm is solid and CoJo held his own at second in 2011, so some more work on improving his hands could be enough for him to stick there full time. With Adams rounding back into shape health-wise, CoJo should get the bump up to Triple-A in 2012. If he continues to produce at the rate he has been, he could be in line for a late-season cup of coffee in the show and some serious consideration for a utility IF role for the Yanks in 2013.
I'll probably take some heat for this selection, as I seem to be the only one out there who thinks this highly of Mitchell, but in looking at the guy's numbers I see no reason why people shouldn't be giving him more props. In a well-stocked 2011 SWB rotation, Mitchell pitched just as well as anybody, posting a 3.16 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 161.1 IP. He's advanced from A-ball to Triple-A in just 2 seasons, pitching 140+ innings in '09, 150+ in 2010, and then the previously-mentioned 161.1 in 2011, exhibiting the ability to be both effective and healthy. There are some questions about whether or not his future will be as a starter or a reliever, but either way Mitchell has shown that he can be a useful piece of a pitching staff. It's important to remember that this kid has only been pitching full-time since his sophomore year in college, so there's room for improvement.
The biggest thing holding Mitchell back is his stuff. He stands 6'2" but only weighs about 170 pounds and so he doesn't generate a lot of velocity. He's mainly a sinker-slider pitcher, with the sinker sitting high-80s-low-90s, and he also has a decent changeup and will mix in the occasional curveball. The lack of velocity on the sinker and lack of a true out pitch in his secondary offerings combine to have Mitchell not miss as many bats as you'd like to see (6.25 K/9 in 2011), and his BB/9 consistently sitting in the mid-3.00s suggests he needs to harness his command. But moving through the Yankee system in 2 years with the numbers he's put up points to there being plenty of talent and natural pitching ability there to work with, and adding some weight and tweaking his mechanics a bit could bring some of that added velocity necessary to make Mitchell a true top-tier pitching prospect. There is also the belief that Mitchell's stuff could play up out of the bullpen where he could throw his best pitches more often, so it will be interesting to see how he's used in 2012 when he'll start out in the SWB rotation again.
11) Brett Marshall- RHP- High-A Tampa
Another Tommy John Surgery recipient, Marshall went under the knife in 2009. Since returning to the mound in 2010, Marshall has flashed the type of electric stuff that future aces are made of, making him arguably the top pitching prospect below the current crop of Triple-A arms the Yankees have. In 2011, his first full season since the surgery, Marshall focused on building his innings and arm strength back up, and did just that by throwing 140.1 total innings at High-A Tampa over 26 starts. But he wasn't just pitching for quantity, he also pitched well, posting a 3.24 FIP and striking out 7.31 batters/9 innings. He'll turn 22 right before the start of the 2012 season and could be in for a big year as he continues to move further away from his surgery.
Marshall has decent size at 6'0"/195, and generates a ton of velocity on his 2 different types of fastballs he throws. His 4-seamer sits mid-90s and can touch the uppers at times, and his 2-seamer sits low-90s with plenty of movement in on right-handed hitters. He also throws a hard slider with a lot of late movement and is in the early stages of developing a curveball. With a repertoire like that, it's easy to see why the ceiling is high for Marshall. He has decent control of his stuff right now, but a 3.08 BB/9 in 2011 suggests that there's still plenty of room for him to tighten up his command to become even more effective. Like D.J. Mitchell, Marshall hasn't been pitching for very long, so his approach on the mound and mechanics aren't totally refined. As he continues to learn the nuances of pitching, the opportunity is there for Marshall to develop into a top-tier pitcher. There are some openings in the Double-A rotation after the promotion of the Killer Bs late last season, and I would expect Marshall to get bumped up and fill one of those spots in 2012.
OK, people. Here's the deal. I've got 15-11 going up this afternoon for the continuation of the AB4AR Top 30, but I'm heading up to Bahhston for New Year's with my buddies so that's the last you'll be hearing from me in 2011. I know, I know, it's enemy territory. How could I betray my own Yankee fandom like that? But no worries. I'm loaded to the gills with Yankee clothes and will be wearing my new Yankee hat with pride all weekend, so rest assured.
I'll be back in writing shape some time on Monday, January 2nd when I get back out to Wisco, so the plan is to pick up the Top 30 then and finish it out with the unveiling of the Top 10 on Monday and Tuesday. And then from there we'll focus on moving forward towards pitchers and catchers reporting. So from me to you, have a happy and safe (and hopefully like me, hammered) New Year's Eve and I'll see you on the other side of the calendar change.