25) Mark Montgomery- RHP- Low-A Charleston
Of all the young nasty relievers currently in the Yankees' system, Montgomery might very well be the nastiest. He's not as big as Branden Pinder or Tommy Kahnle at 5'11''/205, but the numbers he put up in his first pro season in 2011 were even more eye-opening. Drafted in the 11th round of this year's draft, Montgomery was assigned to SS Staten Island and then quickly moved to Charleston after striking out 10 of the 19 batters he faced over 4 innings of work. At Charleston, Montgomery continued to miss bats at an incredible rate, striking out 41 more over 24.1 IP and racking up 14 saves. All totaled, Montgomery's K/9 was 16.2 over his 28.1 innings of work. I don't care what level you're doing it at, that's damn impressive.
Montgomery's fastball sits in the low-90s but can be dialed up to 94-95 when he needs to reach back for something extra. His biggest asset, though, something that neither Pinder nor Kahnle have established yet, is a good secondary pitch. Montgomery's slider is his big out pitch and has already been graded by scouts as "major league plus." He, like almost every young pitcher, still needs to harness his command of his stuff, but at just 21 and with 2 plus pitches in his repertoire, Montgomery is set up to become a Dave Robertston-type relief ace. He should start 2012 in Tampa and could be in line for another quick promotion if he dominates that league. If the command comes around, we could be looking at Montgomery as the next big piece of the Yankee bullpen in 2013.
24- George Kontos- RHP- Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
A guy who is older than me probably shouldn't qualify as a prospect, but with the reinvention that Kontos has had to go through after Tommy John Surgery, and the fact that he is practically a Major League-ready reliever right now, I think that's enough to get him on the list. Originally drafted in '05 as a starter, Kontos experienced success rising through the system until the TJS shut him down in mid-2009. Since then, Kontos has rehabbed his arm and rebuilt himself as a very effective relief pitcher. In 89.1 innings at SWB in 2011, Kontos posted a 2.62 ERA/3.85 FIP with a 9.17 K/9 and 2.62 BB/9 to boot, and then struck out another 6 in his 7-outing, 6-inning cup of coffee with the Yanks at the end of the season.
Kontos is another big body (6'3"/215) and has seen his stuff play up a bit since the surgery and conversion to a relief role. He throws a low-90s fastball that he can run all over the place and did in his late-season audition with the Yankees, and a mid-80s slider that generates lots of swings and misses when it's on. He's got a few problem areas that could be cause for concern at the next level, but he'll be given a long look in Spring Training in 2012 and could very well win the last bullpen spot out of camp. If Soriano has injury problems again and the clock strikes midnight on Cory Wade, the opportunity is there for Kontos to get some higher-leverage innings. If he can throw strikes consistently, he could be a useful piece in the Majors next season.
23) Ravel Santana- CF- GCL Yankees
We haven't touched "toolsy young position player" territory since opening with Tyler Austin, and players don't get much more toolsy than Santana. Signed as an international free agent in 2009 at age 17, Santana tore up the Dominican Summer League in 2010 to the tune of a .322/.440/.533 tripleslash, .493 wOBA, 21 XBH, and 22 SB in 244 plate appearances. He was doing similar things in 2011 for the GCL Yankees (.296/.361/.568, .423 wOBA, 23 XBH, 10 SB) until his season was ended by a brutal ankle injury suffered on a stolen base attempt. Still only 19, Santana is long and lean at 6'2" and 160 pounds, but has plenty of time to add some weight as he advances.
Santana's hitting approach for such a young player is very mature, evidenced by his solid BB rates, and he has good bat speed and power for such a thin frame. He complements his hitting skill with tremendous speed and a great arm that make him a plus defender in center field and a constant threat on the basepaths. In a short time, Santana has already flashed the makings of an outstanding 5-tool player, and was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Yankee system by Baseball America last week after being ranked as the #2 prospect in the GCL in 2011 behind another Yankee teammate. But his injury was a serious one, and it's still unknown how that will affect him in 2012. Early reports have him on schedule to start the season, but I expect the Yankees to err on the side of caution and ease Santana back into things in Staten Island. If he shows he's fully recovered, expect a quick promotion.
22) David Adams- 2B- Double-A Trenton
He hasn't played at the Double-A level since suffering a bad foot/ankle injury (sound familiar?), but before that injury David Adams may have been the best position prospect in the Yankee system not named after the son of God. He's a right-handed hitter who was consistently in the .290-.300 BA range with an OBPCano. At worst, Adams projected and probably still does project as a solid backup infielder, even at 24 years of age.
Adams started working his way back from the injury this year with limited time in the GCL and High-A Tampa, but amassed only 121 PA. His blossoming gap power was nowhere to be found in Tampa (only 3 XBH in 57 PA, all doubles), suggesting that he's still not quite back to full strength. Adams is scheduled to arrive in Tampa early to continue his rehab work before Spring Training begins in 2012, and injury or not, the Yankees thought enough of him to add him to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft. I would imagine Adams will start the season in Tampa again to test out the ankle and see how he feels, and if all signs are positive we can expect to see him back in Trenton before long.
21) Cito Culver- SS- SS Staten Island
The much-maligned 1st-round pick of the 2010 draft continues to try to silence the critics. Culver posted a respectable .312 wOBA in 2010 between the GCL and Staten Island, and put together a solid campaign for SI again in 2011, hitting .250/.323/.337, good for a .324 wOBA, in 312 plate appearances. The low SLG is a bit of a concern, but adding some weight to his 6'0" frame could help add some pop to his bat, as could some refinement to his switch-hitting swing. What he lacks in power, though, Culver makes up for offensively with his ability to draw walks (9.6% BB rate in 2011) and his speed on the basepaths.
Anybody still looking to criticize Culver or the Yankees for taking him should remember that he'll enter the 2012 season still just 19 years old. And a comparison of his 2010 totals to his 2011 show that he's trending in the right direction, especially in regard to his decreased K rate, down to 18.3% this past season. He'll never make any of us forget Derek Jeter in his prime with the bat, but Culver is more than capable of being an everyday shortstop at the next level thanks to solid range and a very strong throwing arm. And being so young, he's got plenty of time to improve his hitting and at least be able to step into the box at the Major League level and not get the bat knocked out of his hands. The next step is to see how Culver handles a full season of games, and that should start in 2012 with a promotion to Low-A Charleston.
** Check back tomorrow afternoon for spots 20-16. **