(The next big thing? Courtesy of Josh Norris)
Well I think I've dragged the suspense out long enough. No more explanations of my thought process, no more looking back at the guys who aren't on the list anymore, and no more teasing with the guys who didn't make it. It's time to start getting into the meat and potatoes of the 2012-2013 AB4AR Top 30, and that starts today with spots 30-21. In a slight change from last year, I'm splitting the actual Top 30 up into 3 10-spot posts and today we'll tackle the bottom 10.
The bottom third of this year's Top 30 is the place where you'll find a lot of new faces, be they players who just started their pro careers in 2012, players who just worked themselves onto the prospect radar, or players who were on the fringe and did enough last year to force themselves onto the list. It's also a place where you'll find guys who dropped in the rankings from their positions last year, mainly because of their failure to progress and improve upon their 2011 production. It's a collection of unknown potential and unrealized potential. So without further adieu, here are the first 10 spots in this year's AB4AR Top 30.
30) Vidal Nuno- LHSP, AA Trenton (2011-2012 Rank: NR)
I've heard all the reasons why Nuno ISN'T a real prospect- he's too small, he's too old, his stuff isn't that good, he doesn't have a put away pitch- and there's truth to all those statements. But a look at Nuno's career MiL numbers shows a guy who throws strikes, doesn't walk a lot of batters, keeps the ball in the park, and actually has a pretty good K rate. Ask Andy Pettitte or Tom Glavine if those skills can lead to a long and prosperous Major League career. Yes Nuno is already 25 and this past season was his first at the Double-A level, but he performed admirably, pitching to a 2.45 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 114.0 IP. He also showed versatility by working as a reliever in the Venezuelan winter league, and that versatility, consistent track record, and left-handedness make Nuno a very valuable commodity to a team on a budget. I'm not saying he's the next Glavine, but he's worth watching.
29) Austin Aune- SS, SS Staten Island (11-12 Rank: NR)
The first of 3 2012 draft picks to appear in this year's Top 30, Aune is a very interesting prospect because of his athletic skills. It took a big signing bonus to pull him away from a college football commitment to TCU, so the Yankees clearly see something in that athleticism that they'd like to mold. Aune hit .273/.358/.410 (.363 wOBA) with an 11.7% BB rate and 14 XBH in 163 PA in the GCL this past season, showcasing enough raw speed and power to make him a 20-20 candidate down the line, but that will take a lot of work. The biggest question moving forward is whether he can stick at SS long term. He's got all the tools to be a good one, but his defensive mechanics are pretty sloppy. Aune is very young at 19, and very inexperienced from being a 2-sport star in HS, so expect the Yankees to take it easy with him in 2013 and assign him to another short-season league.
28) Rafael DePaula- RHSP, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: NR)
He hasn't even thrown a pitch in the US and yet DePaula has the distinction of being the guy who could make or break the Yankee system in 2013. The 21-year-old righty will make his US debut this season after years of slogging through documentation/identity issues, and he's already generated a lot of buzz. DePaula has all the makings of a top-flight starting pitcher, with a big 6'2" frame, smooth mechanics, and plus stuff including a fastball that sits mid-90s and can be run up to 98-99, a plus curveball, and a developing changeup.
He put up very good numbers pitching for the Yankees' top DSL affiliate in 2012, striking out 85, walking 18, and giving up just 10 ER in 61.2 IP over 14 starts, but personally I have a hard time putting much weight into those numbers considering the level of competition is like playing HS ball. The plan is to move DePaula to an A-ball league this season, and I'd like to see it be Charleston to start and then Tampa if he adjusts well. He's getting a late start to his pro career, but if DePaula transitions well to A-ball competition and puts up good numbers there, he'll rocket up the rankings into next year's top 10 and possibly top 5.
27) Cito Culver- SS, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: 21st)
There already wasn't much shine on him after his first 2 pro seasons, but the shine really started to come off the Yankees' 2010 1st-round pick in 2012. After 2 years in the SS leagues, Culver was bumped to Low-A Charleston in 2012 and did little to silence the questions about his offensive ability. In 553 PA Culver hit just .215/.321/.283 (.293 wOBA), and at this point it's probably time to scrap his switch-hitting style in favor of being a right-handed hitter only. Culver does have a few things working for him, mainly his solid defense and his very strong BB rate (12.9% in 2012), but there's only so long you can hang your hat on that when you aren't bringing anything else to the table offensively. Culver is still just 20 years old, turning 21 in late August, but he needs to show something with the bat this season or his days of being considered a legit prospect will be over.
26) Nick Goody- RHRP, High-A Tampa (11-12 Rank: NR)
I love me some good relief prospects, probably because the Yankees are so adept at finding and developing them, and 2012 draft pick Nick Goody already looks like the next in that assembly line. Taken in the 6th round out of LSU, Goody was pushed through 3 levels of the system in a little over 2 months, and he responded by allowing just 4 ER in 30 total IP with a 48/8 K/BB rate. Most of Goody's work came in Low-A Charleston, where he allowed less than 1 baserunner per inning and struck out 40 batters in 24.2 innings, exactly the results you'd expect from a polished college reliever with a 1-2 punch of a plus fastball and power slider. He's not as big physically as a Montgomery or Pinder, but he's being moved just as quickly. I expect a return to Tampa to start the year, with a promotion to Double-A coming not long after.
25) Melky Mesa- OF, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: NR)
This is a Lifetime Achievement Award of sorts for Mesa, who has been in the Yankee system since 2006 and now just weeks away from his 26th birthday is getting close to his prospect expiration date. Mesa made the kind of improvement you want to see from a returning player in Double-A last year, putting up a .364 wOBA in 368 PA, and then managed to put up a .348 on the strength of his power in 133 Triple-A PA despite having a low BA and OBP. Mesa is never going to be a high contact or walk guy, but he has very real pop, something the Yankees need from the right side of the plate, and plus speed that makes him a valuable baserunner and outfielder. With the departure of The D, Mesa has set himself up to be the first in line for an injury-replacement call up in 2013, and that's if he doesn't earn himself a bench spot outright in ST.
24) Tommy Kahnle- RHRP, AA Trenton (11-12 Rank: 27th)
For all the talk about the great organizational bullpen depth, I still feel like Kahnle doesn't get his due. Maybe that works to his advantage down the road, as I don't remember D-Rob getting a lot of press until he got called up, but there's no denying that Kahnle is a hoss in the making. After a workman-like 2011 in Charleston, Kahnle got the bump to Tampa in 2012 after rehabbing an injury in ExST and picked up right where he left off. His first few outings weren't pretty, but Kahnle was downright dominant from early July on (2 ER, 9 BB, 40 K in his final 27.2 IP) and he finished the year with 74 K in 57.0 IP while cutting down on his walks (3.93 BB/9 compared to 5.44 last year). He should be healthy to start 2013, and at age 23 there's no reason to not start him in Trenton and see how he fairs.
23) Jordan Cote- RHSP, SS Staten Island (11-12 Rank: NR)
A late signee after being taken in the 3rd round in the 2011 draft, Cote didn't make his pro debut until this past season and even in a small sample size there's a lot to like about the kid. Just 20 years old, Cote stands 6'5"/215, a great frame for a potential power pitcher, and he is already making strides to improve everything about his game after growing up in New Hampshire, where the cold weather prevented him from getting year-round reps. Cote's repertoire includes a low-90s fastball and a slider-curve-change trio that are all works in progress, but scouts are high on his ability to add velocity and movement to all of his pitches with proper coaching and repetition. He made 6 appearances in the GCL in 2012, 2 of them starts, and was impressive with a 25/4 K/BB ratio. I expect him to get a full complement of work in Staten Island this season, and if he continues to grow into his body and get more comfortable with his mechanics, he projects as a top-tier starting pitcher.
22) Bryan Mitchell- RHSP, Low-A Charleston (11-12 Rank: 18th)
While one big young pitcher with great upside trends up, another trends down. 2012 was supposed to be a coming out party for Mitchell in his full-season debut. Instead it ended up being more of the same- hot and cold performances and struggles with command. The positives were that Mitchell still showcased his dynamic stuff on the reg (9.08 K/9) and that he got 120.0 innings of work logged in 26 starts. The biggest negative was that he walked 72 batters in those 120 IP, and that inability to harness his stuff has left his 2013 plans up in the air. The Yankees knew he was going to be a long-term project when they drafted him, but I think they were looking for some refinement to his game in 2012 and it's hard to say that took place. I think they play it safe and start him in Charleston again and then move him to Tampa if the pieces start coming together.
21) Dellin Betances: RHP, AAA SWB (11-12 Rank: 3rd)
The 2012-2013 "Anti-Tyler Austin Award" for biggest drop in the rankings goes to Dellin Betances, and there's absolutely nothing for him to be proud of in winning that award. After a 2011 bullpen cup of coffee, Betances was in line to make a bigger splash in 2012. He ended up struggling so much with his command that he was demoted from to Double-A, and he was used exclusively as a reliever in the AZFL. In his 16 Triple-A starts, Betances struck out 71 batters and walked 69. That's a 19.0% BB rate and it's almost unheard of for a guy who had advanced to the highest MiL level. Betances stays on the list this year because he showed signs of improved command in AZ, and at 6'8" and with his kind of stuff he's still a really sexy option as a starter or reliever if he ever learns to harness his command. 2013 is do-or-die time for him, though, and if the command doesn't come he'll be a goner.
** Coming up tomorrow- Part II: Spots 20-11. **