Sunday, September 2, 2012

Monthly Minor League Report (August): The Lower Levels

(They just keep finding these great relief prospects.  Courtesy of

With the big down year had by the top prospects in the upper levels of the Yankee system, the spotlight turned to the higher-profile kids in the lower parts.  The Austins, Williamses, and Sanchezes of the world got the lion's share of the coverage, and justifiably so.  Now that we've come to the later part of the MiL season, and the end of the road for some teams, those big names have been promoted and the focus turned to a different batch of players in the lower levels.  Some of them made good impressions, especially guys from this year's draft, but the major theme for the top hitting and pitching names down here this past month, and for most of this season, has been underperformance.

Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees: 35-25 Record, 3rd in the Division

For a team that didn't get a lot of lineup help from this year's draft, the offense was actually pretty solid.  None of them are household names, but Mikeson Oliberto, Jerison Lopez, and Yeicok Calderon all finished the year with OPS values above .800.  Calderon flashed plus power again at the plate, but with this being his second year at this level and him not completely dominating, it's fair to not expect him to become a big name down the road.  Jury is still out on Oliberto and Lopez, but I know I won't be putting them in my Top 30.  2012 2nd-round pick Austin Aune looked good in his first try at pro ball.  He hit .273/.358/.410 (.355 wOBA) and showed good patience and pitch recognition for a HS player (11.7% BB rate).  Aune also flashed enough speed and athleticism on the basepaths and in the field to look like a decent bet to stick at short.

Ty Hensley and Daniel Camarena are probably the 2 highest-ceiling prospects on the GCL pitching staff, and each of them showed why in their limited work.  Hensley looked better in each of his 5 appearances, really cutting down on his walks in the last few, and struck out 14 in 12 IP to show that his stuff is legit.  Camarena wasn't quite as prolific with his punch outs (15 in 17.1 IP), but he also didn't walk a single batter in his 5 outings and showed a real ability to pitch downhill with his big frame.  Other pitchers of note at the end of the GCL season were Angel Rincon (4 ER, 22 K/6 BB in 22.2 IP) and Caleb Frare (7 ER, 23 K/7BB in 23.0 IP over 11 appearances).

Short Season Staten Island: 27-44 Record, 3rd in the Division

It was an ugly season for Staten Island, and the biggest reason was probably all the down years had by their returning players.  Middle infield duo Claudio Custodio (.653 OPS) and Jose Rosario(.556) each failed to show growth at the plate, and combined for 38 errors in the field.  Ravel Santana struggled mightily in his first year back from ankle surgery, hitting just .221/.303/.293 (.291 wOBA) in 234 PA and striking out at a 27.4% clip.  Catcher Isaias Tejada battled injuries all year and finish with just a .172/.252/.303 line in 114 PA.  There were a couple bright spots, namely 2012 draft picks Taylor Dugas (.421 wOBA in 268 PA) and Matt Snyder (.388 in 219), each of whom did enough at the plate to probably earn themselves a promotion to Charleston to start next season.  C/1B prospect Greg Bird also showed some pop after getting promoted from the GCL.

The pitching wasn't much better than the hitting.  In fact it was downright bad.  The group of starting pitchers all suffered from the same problem, too many walks.  Evan Rutckyj was the team's best starter for the season, and he actually finished strong in August and September, allowing just 8 ER in his final 6 starts, and posting a 16 IP, 13 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 9 K line in his final 3.  Rutckyj finished the year with a 3.72 ERA in 77.1 IP at Staten Island, and is the only pitcher who finished the season on the Staten Island roster who can be considered a legit prospect right now.

Low-A Charleston: 71-63 (32-35 in 2nd Half), 4th in the Division

They had plenty of at-bats under their belt after the big names left earlier in the summer, but things just never came together offensively for Dante Bichette, Jr. or Cito Culver this year.  Bichette still has a sub-.300 wOBA (.296 to be exact) after 512 PA this year, and with the season ending Monday it's unlikely he'll make it over that .300 mark.  Culver is below that, with a .295 wOBA in 540 PA and a suggestion by one scout that the Yankees convert him to a pitcher already.  Bichette still has his age going for him (just 19 in a full-season league) and Culver has his organizational-best walk numbers (13.0% and 70 total BB).  Ben Gamel stayed the most consistent hitter through August, and should pop up on more top prospect lists next year.  2012 picks Rob Refsnyder and Saxon Butler each produced some in limited at-bats, but it remains to be seen if either is a legit prospect.

The problem with the Charleston staff this year was similar to that of Staten Island; too many walks.  Scottie Allen, William Oliver, and Bryan Mitchell all provided innings, just not enough quality innings.  Mitchell was especially frustrating this season as he made no progress in improving his control, let alone his command.  But he still struck out 115 in 114.0 IP, so keep hope alive.  I'm not really sure what they were trying to do experimenting with Phil Wetherall as a starter, but I hope that stops next year because this was basically a lost season for him.  2 relievers with bright futures are Pedro Guerra, who killed it here all year to the tune of a 1.61/2.56 ERA/FIP split and 9.80 K/9 in 56.0 IP, and Nick Goody.  Goody moved quickly to Charleston after signing and debuting at Staten Island, and struck out 40 in 24.2 IP in Charleston while walking just 7 and allowing just 3 R before being bumped up to Tampa to end the season.  He's definitely one to watch in 2013.

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