(Courtesy of Tim Priddy/Four Seam Images)
It's all been building to this. The past 54 calendar weeks since the first AB4AR Top 30. Suffice it to say this is arguably going to be the greatest moment of this year, and 2013 is only 17 days old. The last group of players, the top 10, of the 2012-2013 AB4AR Top 30 is released today.
From the new kids on the block with upside to the guys transition through the levels to this crop, each group of 10 has had some defining characteristics and the top 10 here is no different. This group of players consists of upper-level guys right on the doorstep of making the Major League roster, some of them with the chance to be long-term fixtures at their positions, and also the elite group of lower-level guys who are fixing to be future All Stars at their positions. If they aren't traded, the next core group of homegrown players could be sitting right within this top 10, and many of them play positions at which the Yankees are going to have a need in the next couple of years.
10) Brett Marshall- RHSP, AAA SWB (2011-2012 Rank: 11th)
If Adam Warren is the first in line to get a call up for a spot start in 2013, then Brett Marshall is probably right behind him. The Triple-A rotation depth from last year has been eliminated, and with other pitchers getting moved up to Trenton behind him, Marshall should get the promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre even if his numbers from 2012 aren't screaming that. Marshall did throw a career-high 158.1 innings in 27 starts last season, pitching to a 3.52/4.09 ERA/FIP slash. His K stats aren't all that impressive at face value, but in his final 8 starts he did strike out 45 in 47.1 IP. Marshall appears to be settling into the same type of role that Warren and David Phelps filled in their MiL careers, and with the early success Phelps had in the Majors that might not be a bad thing.
9) Corban Joseph- 2B, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 13th)
In the world of advancing one's skills and production as he advanced through the system, no player did it better than CoJo in 2012. He was hitting .314/.412/.430 in Trenton before getting moved up to Triple-A to give David Adams more reps, and all he did upon reaching the highest MiL level was have the greatest power surge of his career (13 HR in 386 PA) while also posting some of the best BB and contact rates of his career. In all, CoJo hit 29 doubles and 15 homers in less than 500 PA last season, putting himself squarely in the running for a Major League bench job in ST this year. He likely won't ever be a true utility man candidate because of his limited range and weak arm, but CoJo definitely raised his offensive ceiling in 2012 and gives the Yankees more insurance against losing Cano.
8) Ty Hensley- RHSP, GCL (11-12 Rank: NR)
I'm going against my rules by putting a young, untested 2012 draft pick this high in my rankings, but if there's a player to do that for, it's Hensley. Even with the shoulder abnormality scare, Hensley looked like a winning 1st-round pick right off the bat this year; the kind of player whose skill level matched the high character level the Yankees look for. Hensley has a big frame at 6'4"/220, he has big-time stuff in the form of a mid-90s heater with movement, plus curveball, and a better-than-normal changeup for a 19-year-old, and he pitched better in each of the 5 GCL appearances he made after signing. Personally, I like that Hensley seems to be a very confident and driven kid. I like that he says he wants to hit 100 MPH, and I like that he wants to quickly work his way to the Majors. He's still got a lot to learn and a lot to refine, but it's not a stretch to say he has ace upside. A start in the GCL again is likely, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was moved to Staten Island either.
7) Austin Romine- C, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 4th)
2012 was basically a lost season for Romine, who suffered a back injury in Spring Training that never really went away, limiting him to just 49 rehab plate appearances and another 71 at Triple-A. He hit 3 HR in those 71 PA, but then none in his 76 in the AZFL, adding up to a very underwhelming offensive year. But Romine's strength has always been his defense, and it's a strength that the Yankee organization thinks very highly of, high enough that they were willing to let Russell Martin walk and allow Romine to compete for the starting Major League job even after the disappointing 2012 he had. Cash has since stated he'll start the year in Triple-A, but if Romine outperforms the other in-house options it will be hard to justify not giving him the job. Injury issues aside, the door has been opened for Romine to be the Yankees' catcher of the present and the future.
6) Jose Campos- RHSP, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: NR)
It's hard to believe that an A-ball pitcher who only got 24.2 innings in 5 starts before being shut down with elbow problems is the biggest winner in a major trade, but that's exactly what Campos was in 2012. Not getting a lot of work in was a major blow, but what Campos showed in that small sample size was everything advertised. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, which is still very advanced in velocity and command for a 20-year-old, and showed improved consistency with his offspeed stuff in striking out 26 batters. There were some scares about the severity of the elbow injury because of how much time Campos missed, but it has been confirmed that he'll be ready to start Spring Training, and with more time to add some bulk to his frame there's reason to believe the ceiling for his stuff hasn't yet been reached. He'll likely start back in Charleston, but could get moved quickly to Tampa if he's healthy and dominant again.
5) Slade Heathcott- CF, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 10th)
When he's healthy he's a star in the making, and Heathcott showed that in 2012 after fully recovering from his latest shoulder surgery. He raked in Tampa (.389 wOBA) after a quick tune-up in the GCL, and seemed to get stronger at the plate as the season went on. We all know what happened when Heathcott went to the AZFL (dominance), and he's officially put himself on a lot of people's radars again. He might be limited to a 4-4.5 tool player now with all the shoulder problems, but those tools are still elite and still have room to grow. He's got the speed, his contact skills are improving, and the dude plays the game hard. I think Heathcott can develop 20+ HR power with more experience and smoothing of his hitting mechanics, and I like the aggressive move starting him in Trenton ni 2013, even if I don't agree with the idea of rushing him to the show if he continues to shine.
4) Manny Banuelos- LHSP, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 2nd)
It's been a rough go for ManBan since the day he got promoted to Triple-A. He's struggled with his command, he's struggled to stay healthy, and now he's going to miss all of 2013 because of Tommy John Surgery after only pitching 24.0 innings last year (4.50 ERA/3.83 FIP). But here's what I know. ManBan still has 2 very good pitches in his fastball and changeup; he started working a cutter into the mix in 2012; he's still left-handed, which is always a valuable thing to be as a starting pitcher; and he's still going to be just 22 years old when he starts throwing again and 23 when he starts pitching in games again. Long story short, Banuelos is still ahead of the curve and still has time to become the pitcher we thought he was capable of being a few years ago. The odds aren't as good, but the opportunity is still there.
3) Tyler Austin- OF, High-A Tampa (11-12 Rank: 30th)
I made the mistake of grossly underrating Austin last year. I wasn't going to do it again this year. The unquestioned MVP of the Yankee farm system in 2012, Austin is going to be popping up on a lot of league-wide top 50 and top 100 lists this season after displaying an all-around excellent offensive game at the plate and reportedly taking to his position switch to the outfield like a duck to water. While he may not profile as a true "5-tool" player, Austin showed flashes of at least 4 at various points in the season. He hit for average, .320 or better, at both Low-A and High-A; he racked up 57 XBH at both levels, showing he's got more than enough pop in his bat to be an everyday player; he even stole 23 bases and only got caught twice, so he knows what he's doing on the basepaths and could maybe squeeze some more speed out of his body to have more range in the outfield.
Austin probably doesn't have as high a ceiling as the 2 names ahead of him, but he's got a much higher floor because of his polished approach and great swing mechanics at the plate and enough athletic ability to be a versatile defensive player. He could work his way into the Yankee lineup by early 2014.
2) Mason Williams- CF, High-A Tampa (11-12 Rank: 6th)
Williams justified his big 2010 signing bonus with a .404 wOBA and almost 30 steals in Staten Island in 2011, and his transition to the full-season leagues in 2012 was a smooth one in terms of performance. Williams hit .304/.359/.489 (.381 wOBA) in 311 PA at Low-A Charleston with a scary low 10.5% K rate, then held his own in Tampa after getting bumped up in July, hitting .277/.302/.422 in 86 PA. The biggest issue Williams had last season was health-related, as he injured his shoulder diving for a ball late in July and missed the rest of the year. The injury required surgery, but Williams has already resumed baseball activities and should be ready for the start of the season.
He could stand to learn some more plate discipline, still needs to clean up his swing a bit, and definitely needs to be better at picking his spots when attempting steals, but there is real 20-25 HR potential and 40 SB potential in Williams' game to go along with potential Gold Glove-caliber defense. A lot of people were in love with Austin Jackson when he was in the Yankee system. Williams can be a better player than Jackson.
1) Gary Sanchez- C, High-A Tampa (11-12 Rank: 5th)
I know it would be an easy case to make for Williams to be the top prospect over Sanchez, and as young, toolsy, high-ceiling, up-the-middle position players they are both neck and neck. What puts Sanchez over the top for me is the fact that he's got much better natural power, he plays a tougher position, and even though he has an extra year of pro experience over Williams, he's still younger (just turned 20 in December). Sanchez is a little behind where Jesus Montero was as a 20-year-old, both in terms of competition level and production, but Sanchez seems to be ahead of Montero defensively, which makes him more likely to stick as a catcher long-term and more valuable.
Sanchez started 2012 back in Charleston as part of the prospect All Star team they built with Williams, Austin, and Campos, and showed improvement across the board from his 2011 output. He hit .297/.353/.517 (.390 wOBA) in 289 PA, with 19 2B, 13 HR, and 11 SB. After getting the move up to Tampa, Sanchez hit .279/.330/.436 in 48 games there and cut down on his 2011 K rate at each stop. His swing can still get a little long at times, and he'll need to shore that up to cut down on the strikeouts, but Sanchez has plus power to all fields and a strong throwing arm. The more defensive work he puts in, the better a prospect he's going to become. He's still years away from breaking into the Majors, but Sanchez could ultimately turn into the future All Star catcher the Yankees used to see Montero being.