(Courtesy of Beverly Schaefer/The Times of Trenton)
As we move forward from the first third of this year's rankings, the faces start to become a little more familiar. 9 of the 10 players included in the middle section of this year's Top 30 were on last year's list. They also start to become a bit more experienced, with 9 of the 10 having played in a full-season league last year and 7 of the 10 playing in at least 1 game at the Double-A level or higher. There's slightly less upside in this group than in the group of 10 from yesterday, or at least upside that's a little better known, but there is also more polish and polish is what I'm looking for to know that a player is on the right track. After the jump, check out positions 20-11 in the 2012-213 AB4AR Top 30.
20) Ravel Santana- OF, Low-A Charleston (2011-2012 Rank: 23rd)
Normally you wouldn't expect to see a player who hit .216/.304/.289 (.291 wOBA) in a short-season league move up in the rankings, and normally I wouldn't rank a player like that higher. But in Santana's case, I'm willing to make an exception. We've seen how long it can take for a player to recover from a devastating ankle injury with what has played out with David Adams, and the ankle injury that ended Santana's 2011 season was just as severe. Part of me thinks the Yankees expected this kind of a year from Santana, and that's why they kept him in Staten Island rather than moving him up to A-ball after 2 straight seasons of elite-level offensive production in the GCL. Santana still has advanced plate discipline for a 20-year-old (10.1% BB rate) and still has 5-tool potential, so I'm willing to give him a pass for his down 2012.
19) Angelo Gumbs- 2B, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: NR)
A lot of people included Gumbs in their top prospects lists last year, but I had him just outside my top 30, wanting to wait and see how he responded to a higher level of competition before falling in love with the tools. Gumbs didn't disappoint in 2012, posting a .336 wOBA and going 26-29 in SB attempts, but he also didn't totally wow me either. As with Santana, I'm curious to see how Gumbs comes back from an elbow injury that ended his 2012 season , and early indications from his winter league performance are that he'll be just fine. Gumbs has the athleticism to be a great defensive player, and the bat speed to be a great hitter, but he is still very raw mechanically on both sides of the ball. That said, he's an easy candidate for a top 5-10 ranking next year if he has a strong, full 2013.
18) Zoilo Almonte- OF, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 20th)
Zoilo seems to be on the Melky Mesa MiL career plan, moving methodically up through the ranks, struggling at first at a new level before figuring it out and raking his way to the next level. After a so-so 191-PA debut in Trenton in 2011, he returned there for a full season in 2012 and performed much better, hitting .278/.322/.488 (.358 wOBA) with 21 HR and 15 SB (out of 19 attempts). Those totals are even more impressive when you factor in the big chunk of time Almonte missed early in the season with a hamstring injury. Like Mesa, he's never going to draw a lot of walks, but Almonte makes more contact and can probably hit for a higher average. He can also play multiple outfield positions and is an outside candidate to see some time in the Bronx in 2013 if things work in his favor.
17) Nik Turley- RHSP, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 26th)
Turley made the back end of last year's Top 30 on the strength of his first foray into full-season ball, and in my opinion his first experience at the High-A level in 2012 was even better than what he did in Low-A. Turley has never been a big power guy, despite being tall enough to play small forward in the NBA, but he showed improved velocity on his fastball and bite on his offspeed stuff this past season and the resulting increase in K rate (24.8%) and decrease in HR speak to that. He did walk a few more batters than I'd like to see (45 in 117.0 total IP), but I think 2013 can be the year he learns to match the command to the stuff. The Yankees are clearly high on him, evidenced by him getting a 40-man spot to be Rule 5 protected, and he'll surely start the year at or near the top of the Trenton rotation.
16) Mark Montgomery- RHRP, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 25th)
I've waxed poetic about Montgomery enough in the last calendar year for any regular AB4AR reader to know how much I love the guy. Pound for pound he might be my favorite prospect since I started seriously following the Yankee MiL system, and if he graduates to the Majors and becomes another D-Rob, he's likely to be the next inductee to the AB4AR Man Crush Hall of Fame. Montgomery pitched 64.1 innings across 2 levels above where he pitched in 2011 last season, and in those 64.1 innings he gave up just 35 hits and 11 ER (1.54 ERA) while striking out 99. His fastball is still a plus pitch, his slider is absolutely deadly, and his lower BB rate suggests he's improving his command of both. Montgomery has shown great durability despite less-than-perfect mechanics, and even if he doesn't start the year in Triple-A he's likely to be in the Yankee bullpen before September roster expansions.
15) Dante Bichette, Jr.- 3B, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: 19th)
Bichette was another kid I thought a lot of people overrated after his fantastic 2011 debut, and I thought the Yankees moving him to Charleston in 2012 was both risky and smart as a way to gauge his true talent level. Bichette was dinged up to start the season, which contributed to a very slow start, and even when he got healthy he never really found his stroke at the plate. In 522 PA he hit just .248/.322/.331 (.308 wOBA), and the lack of power compared to what he did in the GCL was noticeable. On the plus side, Bichette did cut down on his K rate against better pitching, and still posted a respectable 8.4% BB rate. His approach at the plate is advanced for a 20-year-old, and he still gets generally positive reviews for his defense, so I'm expecting a bounce back in 2013 and a possible mid-season promotion to Tampa.
14) David Adams- 2B/3B, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 22nd)
After using 2011 as a recovery year from his ankle injury, Adams re-established himself as a legitimate future Yankee infield candidate with a big 2012 and improved his prospect stock in my eyes by getting work at third base and standing out in the offense-heavy AZFL. He blended a balance of plate discipline, plus contact skills, and no-slouch power to produce a .306/.385/.450 slash in 383 PA in Trenton, and there's room for that power to develop even more as he gets more ABs. Adams is also a capable defensive player, and the Yankees' decision to try him out at third shows the faith they have in him down the road. Ultimately, where he starts the season will be determined by what happens with some other fringe Major League candidate above him, but there's little left for Adams to learn in Double-A. I'd like to see him be the Opening Day third baseman for the RailRiders, but that's just me.
13) Ramon Flores- OF, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 16th)
He isn't flashy, and he's probably never going to be an MVP candidate, but Ramon Flores can flat out handle a bat and now that he's back on a regular MiL development schedule he's really starting to show it. Flores spent all of 2012 in Tampa, where he got better and better each month after a very poor April, culminating in a final season line of .302/.370/.420 (.364 wOBA). He can draw walks, he doesn't strike out a lot, and although he doesn't have big-time power he made up for that by hitting 29 doubles and 7 triples and by stealing 24 bases. His range and arm in the outfield aren't the best, but they're more than serviceable, and Flores can carve out a nice career as a 4th OF type or possibly a starter if he can ever bulk up a bit and add a little more power to his swing.
12) J.R. Murphy- C, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 9th)
With Montero gone and Romine on the shelf, 2012 could have been Murphy's time to jump into the spotlight. Instead he struggled to find traction offensively in his return trip to High-A Tampa, and then got promoted to Trenton before he was really ready to make room for the catcher below him. His numbers at Trenton (.231/.306/.408) weren't that far off from what he was doing at Tampa, and he actually hit for more power with the Thunder, so a return trip there to start this season should result in improved offensive performance. Murphy's continuously-improving BB rate is a very good sign, as is his improving defense, and he will continue to get the regular reps behind the plate he needs to become an everyday catcher. Here's hoping 2013 sees Murphy getting back on track.
11) Adam Warren- RHSP, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 7th)
What most people remember about Adam Warren's 2012 was his disastrous spot start against the White Sox. What more people probably forget is that he was the best starting pitcher in the SWB rotation. Repeating Triple-A as a pitcher is never seen as a good thing, but for Warren it had more to do with the depth ahead of him than his own shortcomings. His K numbers didn't improve much, but Warren threw more innings (152.2) than he did in 2011 in 1 fewer start, walked fewer batters, cut down on his HR allowed, and his 3.72 FIP was better than the 4.05 from the previous year. With Phelps graduated to the show, ManBan out for the year, Betances walking the yard, and Mitchell out west, Warren becomes the next man up for the Major League rotation in 2013.
** Coming up tomorrow- Part III: Spots 10-1. **