Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Some Glimmers Of Light In The Injury-Filled Prospect Darkness

(Don't sleep on this guy.  Courtesy of Mike Ashmore)

This has not been a good season for the Yankee farm system.  EJ Fagan made that perfectly clear yesterday in his evaluation of the Manny Banuelos shutdown story, which was much more level-headed than mine.  By my count, the Yankees have seen 4 of their top 5, 5 of their top 8, and 7 of their top 12 prospects miss time with injuries this season, and have had another handful of their top 20 have fantastically bad years (see: Betances, Dellin or Bichette, Jr., Dante).  I guess the one good thing about all of this is that at least Jesus Montero hasn't gone over to Seattle and started becoming the next Miguel Cabrera, right?  But fear not, Yankee fans, because all hope is not lost.  The injured will return to full health at some point, and further down the prospect food chain there have been some strong performances in the Yankee system this year.  The names aren't as sexy as the ones filling up the disabled lists, but their results do provide a bit of comfort in the face of all the injury/regression devastation.

Corban Joseph was profiled recently on TYA but his season-long performance warrants a shout out here as well.  After coming back for his second go round in Double-A to start 2012, and torching that level with a .314/.412/.430 line (.388 wOBA), Joseph was moved to Triple-A and continued to hit there, with more power than he's ever shown before.  In 260 PA at Triple-A, Joseph has hit 7 HR, more than he's ever hit in a full season at any other level.  He's also maintained a very high BB rate (50 total BB on the season) and kept his strikeout numbers down, signs that he's capable of handling the stick at the next level.  He's in a bit of slump right now that has his average down to .255, and he's not nearly the all-around talent that Robinson Cano is, but Joseph's emergence at the higher levels this year gives the Yankees options for the future at second.

A level below in Double-A is where we find Mark Montgomery, who has continued to roll through MiL hitters like they're nothing this season on his fast track to the Majors.  After bursting onto the scene last year with 51 strikeouts and just 6 ER allowed in 28.1 IP, Montgomery came back this year and picked up right where he left off.  He K'd 61 and walked 16 in 40.1 innings at High-A Tampa to start this year, and since getting moved up to Trenton he's been even better.  In 10.0 IP over 6 appearances, Montgomery has given up just 3 hits and 1 BB while striking out 17.  He doesn't have quite the velocity on his heater as D-Rob, but his slider is Major League quality right now and the D-Rob comparisons are very real.  Don't be surprised to see Montgomery pop up in the Yankee bullpen sometime next summer if he keeps this up.

Big left-handers with command are hard to find and harder to develop.  That's why Nik Turley was my preseason sleeper prospect pick (mark that down as the one pick that I actually gor right if you're scoring at home).  I expected Turley to have a good season if he stayed healthy, but he's exceeded my expectations with the numbers he's put up so far.  In 87.2 IP, Turley has posted a 2.67/2.81 ERA/FIP split, and that's with some missed time because of blister problems and some screwy weather-related scheduling that messed up the Tampa rotation thrown in.  His stuff is playing up this year, evidenced by his 9.75 K/9, and as he continues to refine his delivery and smooth out his mechanics he's only going to get better.

There have even been some positive injury stories with a few a guys making strong comebacks.  David Adams has finally recovered from his 2010 ankle injury and is back to being the player he was before going down.  Adams has hit .314/.390/.441 in 288 PA at Double-A this season, with strong BB and K rates.  The fact that the Yankees had the Double-A coaches experiment with him at third base rather than CoJo after Alex Rodriguez went down is a sign that there is still a lot of organizational faith in Adams.  And Slade Heathcott has also made it back onto the field, and literally back into the outfield after the Mason Williams injury, after his season-ending shoulder surgery in 2011.  The Yankees have taken it very slow with Heathcott's rehab, but he has flashed all the tools that made him a top 10 prospect, and with a .270/.354/.476 slash (.385 wOBA) it doesn't appear that the shoulder injuries have sapped any of his power.

None of these guys have the ceiling of a Mason Williams or a Manny Banuelos, that's a given.  And they aren't going to be supplanting any of the injured or underperforming players in the organizational top 5 or top 10 next year.  But the list of players mentioned above still consists of 2 solid top 15 prospects in Montgomery and Turley, a top 10-12 in Heathcott, and 2 solid top 20s in Joseph and Adams (in my opinion).  There's players here who are closer to contributing at the Major League level than many of the other players ranked above them, and the seasons they've had this year give reason to be optimistic that they can contribute in a meaningful way when their time comes.  It doesn't change the disappointment of losing ManBan, Williams, Campos, or having Austin Romine miss the majority of the season, but it does help ease the sting a little bit.

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