(Courtesy of MiLB.com)
10 down, 20 to go. Yesterday marked the first official installment of the 2013-2014 AB4AR Top 30 and it was a wide range of players. From high-level guys who were relative unknowns just a year ago to low-level guys for whom the sky is the proverbial limit, there was a little bit of everything in the bottom third. Today we move into the middle third of the rankings and as you'd expect everything is a little better in this group. There's still a nice mix of new faces and holdovers from last year, but the new faces are ones that put up big numbers to earn their spot and, in some cases, did it at higher levels than rookie ball. The familiar faces all experienced some kind of leveling out of their production in 2013, but not enough to totally wash away their prospect status. After the jump, dive right in to the middle third of this year's Top 30.
20) Gosuke Katoh- 2B, SS Staten Island (2012-2013 Rank: NR)
It says something about the kind of pro debut you had when you outshine 3 high-ceiling 1st round picks. Katoh, a lanky, 19-year-old second baseman from California, was the 66nd pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, and after surprising some people and signing for slot money, he was assigned to the Yankees' GCL 1 team. In 50 games, Katoh hit .310/.402/.522 (.434 wOBA) with 6 HR, 5 3B, 11 2B, 28 R scored, 25 RBI, and a 12.6% BB rate. His 6 homers and .924 OPS led the GCL and he also made BA's Top 20 GCL prospects list. Quite the first impression, although it remains to be seen if he can maintain that level of production. His lefty swing is more geared towards contact and generating hits off his speed, but he showed good pop for his size and he's got a good batting eye. Katoh is also a plus-plus defensive player with the range and skills to play second base full-time. For now the plan is to start him at Staten Island in 2014. We'll see how long that holds if he mashes again.
19) Ramon Flores- OF, Double-A Trenton (2012-2013 Rank: 13th)
In a year littered with subpar performances by top outfielders, Flores' down year went mostly unnoticed. It wasn't that he was really bad, he just wasn't really that great either. Flores hit .260/.353/.363 (.334 wOBA) in 620 PA with strong BB (12.4%) and K (15.6%) rates, 37 XBH, and 79 R scored, but as a player who's already earned a reputation as a contact hitter with strong on-base skills there's really nothing that stands out there. Flores didn't show an uptick in power, which would have helped raised the ceiling he already appears to be bumping into, and he didn't hit for a high enough average to make you think he could be an everyday player at the Major League level. He's still serviceable defensively, he's proven to be very durable over the last 3 years, and he's still relatively young at 21. It'll be interesting to see what the Yankees do with him and his 40-man roster spot this season.
18) Zoilo Almonte- OF, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 18th)
Doesn't seem fair to put Zoilo in a holding pattern after he had a very good year in Triple-A and broke into the Majors for 34 games. But at age 24 I feel like he might have just had his Melky Mesa moment and will be due for regression this season. The new additions to the Yankees' Major League outfield also pushed him down a bit in the pecking order, and his .236/.274/.302 slash line at the show didn't have anybody stopping the presses. And is his 10.2% Triple-A BB rate sustainable or a 1-year outlier? Lot of questions surrounding the future of Zoilo, but don't completely discount his value as a switch hitter, a speedy baserunner, and a good natural athlete who can play multiple outfield positions well. If he does hit in his return to Triple-A this year, I wouldn't be surprised if the Yanks cut bait on Ichiro and go with Zoilo as their 4th outfielder.
17) Mark Montgomery- RHRP, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 16th)
That I basically predicted this down, injury-plagued season for Montgomery after his stellar 2012 doesn't make it any less frustrating. Montgomery dealt with shoulder fatigue and back problems all year long. They sapped him of his velocity and also negatively impacted his command, leading to a 3.38 ERA/4.00 FIP, 14.3% BB rate, and only 40.0 IP for the RailRiders. He did still strike out 49 batters in those 40 innings, but when you've never had a K rate below 38.1% at any of your previous levels, the drop to 28.0% is significant. The good news is that Montgomery should come back rested and fully recovered from last year's health problems, and the dominance he's shown when healthy still makes him a future closer candidate. His fastball is good when he's locating it and his slider is unhittable when he's commanding it. As long as he stays healthy, there's no reason not to expect Montgomery to graduate to the Major League 'pen at some point in 2014.
16) Luis Severino- RHSP, Low-A Charleston (2012-2013 Rank: NR)
He isn't a household name just yet, but Severino could be the most exciting pitching prospect in the Yankee system right now. Signed for $225 thou out of the DR in 2011, the 19-year-old right-hander boasts a 3-pitch mix in which all 3 pitches at least show plus potential. His fastball sits low-to-mid 90s and he throws it for strikes consistently, his slider is developing but already good enough to get swings and misses when he locates it down, and his changeup has rapidly improved since starting pro ball and shows a little bit of movement. He dominated GCL competition in 6 appearances this past season (4 ER, 6 BB, 32 K in 26.1 IP), which earned him a late-season promotion to Low-A Charleston. He was a little more hittable there (21 H in 17.2 IP, 4.08 ERA), but also struck out 21 while walking only 4. Severino turns 20 before the start of this season and he should be in line for a full-season return to Charleston. If he continues to overpower that level of competition, a trip to Tampa and a spot on every top 10 list next year will be in order.
15) Ty Hensley- RHSP, GCL Yankees (2012-2013 Rank: 8th)
2013 was a lost season for Hensley. After showing flashes in his 12-inning GCL debut in 2012, he missed all of last season after having surgery on both his hips in April. Coming off the initial scare of his reported shoulder abnormality, a health problem requiring surgery and a full missed season don't exactly make you feel comfortable. But Hensley came through his recovery and physical therapy just fine and he's been on a full offseason throwing program since September. Mark Newman confirmed recently that Hensley is fully healthy and will be ready for Spring Training. He's still a big kid who's growing into his body with a very good 3-pitch mix (fastball, power curve, change). He needs to spend this next season working on his delivery and building up experience to make up for the lost 2013, so expect a safe, carefully-monitored season in one of the short season leagues.
14) Greg Bird- 1B, High-A Tampa (2012-2013 Rank: NR)
The breakout star and offensive MVP of the system in 2013, Bird makes his AB4AR Top 30 debut in a big way after an injury-riddled and position-changing 2012. Now out from behind the plate and at first base, Bird raked to the tune of a .288/.428/.511 tripleslash (.429 wOBA) with 20 HR, 36 2B, 84 R, 84 RBI, and an otherworldly 18.7% BB rate. He was unquestionably the best offensive player in the entire Yankee system as well as the best offensive player in the SAL. The big question that remains now is what will he do for a follow-up? Bird's power potential is real but it wasn't thought of as truly elite. 20-HR power from behind the plate would have made him the #1 prospect in the system this year, but at first base it merely makes him very good. He clearly wasn't challenged by Low-A pitching, so he'll need to show it was no fluke as he moves up a level (and maybe 2) this season. His offense is always going to carry him, so if he can continue to show plus power, plus-plus plate discipline and on-base skills, and cut down on the strikeouts, he'll be heavily involved in the discussion for #1 next year.
13) Nik Turley- LHSP, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 17th)
Turley was the breakout pitching star of 2012. His 2013 season didn't reach the same heights, but it was still plenty good to move him up the list as he inches closer to the Majors. Turley spent the entire season in Trenton, save for 1 late-season spot start for SWB, and with the exception of a few rough outings he was consistently good. 26 starts, 139.0 IP, less than a hit per inning, 137 strikeouts (22.3% K rate), 73 BB (12.0% BB rate), 3.88 ERA, 4.18 FIP. You don't like to see that many free passes, but Turley's command has always been a little touch-and-go, something that's not unexpected from a 6'7" lefty. The important things are his continuing to show strikeout stuff and continuing to build his workload (145 total IP this year). Even as a guy with a #4-5 starter ceiling he's incredibly valuable to the Yankees because he's a lefty and he'll be very much in the mix for a future role in the back end of their rotation with another good year in 2014.
12) Jose Ramirez- RHSP, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: NR)
I took a little heat for leaving Ramirez off last year's Top 30 despite his top notch stuff and stellar performance at High-A Tampa. I've always been concerned about his health problems and the hindrance they've been to his development, and to a certain degree I've been waiting for something catastrophic to happen to his pitching arm. That didn't happen this year, although he did get hurt again and post his 4th straight year of declining IP totals. But now that he's reached Triple-A and the Major League coaching staff is clearly enamored with him, I have no choice but to look past everything I don't like about him and give Ramirez his due. His 2013 was nothing special, a 2.76 ERA/4.26 FIP and 50 K in 42.1 Double-A innings followed by a 4.88/5.05 with 21 BB in 31.1 Triple-A innings. But Ramirez's stuff is still dynamic and dynamic enough that he still profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starter and a potential shutdown power reliever. He's going to get a looooong look in ST and it won't be a surprise to anybody if he lands a Major League bullpen job. If he doesn't, he'll probably get one more shot to stay healthy in the SWB rotation.
11) Aaron Judge- OF, Assignment TBD (2012-2013 Rank: NR)
The first of the trio of 2013 1st rounders, Judge gets held out of the top 10 only because he didn't take the field at all after signing. A hamstring injury kept him on the bench, nothing serious, and now the anticipation is building towards his 2014 debut. Mark Newman recently suggested that debut could come at High-A Tampa, but I wouldn't be shocked if he was held back a bit in Extended ST. Whenever and wherever he does debut, Judge is going to be one of the most talked about players in his league and in the Yankee system in 2014. He's a physical freak at 6'7"/255, with plus speed and athleticism and a good outfield arm. At the plate, his calling card is power, raw power that was enough for me to name him the #1 power prospect in the Yankee system. His biggest challenge this season will be adjusting his swing and hitting approach to pro pitching. If he's able to do that, watch out. Judge has all the tools to be a future top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
** Coming up tomorrow- Part III of the 2013-2014 AB4AR Top 30: Positions 10-1. **