Top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Gary Sanchez, C
Catchers that hit in the heart of an order are a rare breed, and Sanchez has the potential to fit that bill. The Yankees spent $3 million to secure his services in 2009, and his bat played immediately in the Rookie level Gulf Coast League and in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2010. He began 2011 slowly in Low-A, but an 18 year old Sanchez finished with an impressive 17 home runs in just 343 plate appearances. His average was a ho hum .256, but his 10.5 percent walk rate helped him record a .335 OBP. He strikes out too often, 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 2011, but has a plus future hit tool projection.
Defensively, Sanchez has a lot of work to do. There are some questions whether he'll stick behind the plate, and a move from behind it would hurt his fantasy stock. That said, he has a high enough offensive ceiling to be a force at another position. He may head back to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2012 season with an in season promotion to High-A.
2- Manny Banuelos, SP
Banuelos has moved through the minors quickly, reaching Triple-A last season as a 20 year old. He was young for both the Double-A and Triple-A levels he pitched at last season. Unfortunately, after two seasons of displaying very good control, it failed him last year as he had an ugly 4.93 BB/9. He still struck plenty of batters out, 8.68 K/9, and has a plus repertoire.
Banuelos is a southpaw with plus velocity on his fastball, sitting in the low-90s and able to hit 96 mph. He adds a solid curveball and good change-up to the mix. If he's able to regain his control and command he has the stuff to rack up strikeouts and succeed in the majors. He'll open the year in Triple-A, and should see the majors sometime in 2012. The Yankees added depth to their rotation this offseason, so Banuelos first taste of the bigs could come in a bullpen role.
3- Dante Bichette Jr, 3B
The son of long time big league slugger Dante Bichette, Dante Jr became the Yankees supplemental first round pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He signed quickly, and took to hammering Gulf Coast League pitching. He slaughtered opposing pitchers offerings to the tune of a .342/.446/.505 line with 23 extra base hits and a 30:41 walk-to-strikeout rate in 240 plate appearances.
Drafted as a third baseman, there was initially thought he'd be forced to move to the outfield. He surprised defensively at the hot corner, and showed enough to suggest he can stick there. He projects to hit for a solid average and above average power. He got a taste of short-season ball, two games there, and is likely to move up to full season Low-A to start this year.
4- Mason Williams, OF
The Yankees went above slot paying 2010 fourth round pick Williams $1.45 million. The investment has been a good one thus far. Williams his .349/.395/.468 in the short-season New York-Penn League displaying excellent contact skills striking out in only 13.8 percent of his plate appearances. He doesn't walk often, 6.7 percent walk rate in 2011, but his high contact rate help offset that for now. He is a burner, and used his top flight speed to steal 28 bases in 40 chances while also legging out six triples. He profiles as a future leadoff hitter, and can maximize his potential in that role by exhibiting a bit more patience. He's in line to get his first taste of a full-season league, and should open 2012 in Low-A.
5- Dellin Betances, SP
Betances has a work horse build and the ceiling of a number two starter. That said, his ceiling is looking further away and less likely to be reached as Betances control and command were poor last year. The stellar job he did working the strike zone in 2010 is looking like an outlier, and Betances best role may be that of a high leverage reliever. He has a plus velocity fastball, can reach as high as 97 mph, and a devastating curveball when it's on. His change-up is a work in progress, but could mostly be scrapped in a bullpen gig. His ceiling as a reliever is that of a closer, and he could eventually take over the gig in New York after Mariano Rivera chooses to hang up his cleats.
Bonus- Ravel Santana, OF
Lost in most of the Yankees outfield prospect talk is Santana, a Dominican Republic born slugger that was signed in 2008. He made his state side debut in 2011, playing in the Rookie level Gulf Coast League. He ripped nine home runs in 185 plate appearances. His walk and strikeout rates, 9.2 percent and 21.6 percent respectively, were solid for a player as young as Santana (19 years old). He's not a plodding slugger, and he used above average speed to steal 10 bases in 13 chances. He has a high offensive ceiling, and is likely to continue his development in the New York-Penn League this June.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Manny Banuelos, SP
Should he get back to controlling the strike zone as he did prior to 2011, he could contribute to the Yankees this summer. There is a lot standing in his way to making an impact as a starting pitcher in 2012, but injuries to pitchers aren't exactly a rare occurrence. Even in a bullpen role, Banuelos ability to miss bats, and his left-handedness could make him a holds option in non-traditional scoring formats.
2- Dellin Betances, SP
Betances best shot at making an impact this year is in a relief role. If the team decides it's time to scrap plans of him starting, he could be up in the early summer.
3- Austin Romine, C
Romine already has 20 plate appearances of major league experience. He is a more talented catcher with a higher ceiling than incumbent backup Francisco Cervelli. Should he dispatch of Cervelli and end up in the backup catcher role, he'd be in prime position for regular playing time if starter Russell Martin were to miss anytime. His offensive ceiling isn't as high as someone like fellow prospect Gary Sanchez, but he doesn't swing a limp noodle stick either. Being part of the high powered Yankees offense has its perks, and Romine could enjoy those if pressed into action.
4- Adam Warren, SP
Warren is an unexciting strike thrower that the Yankees will have as insurance in Triple-A. Who'd have thought Aaron Small would have fantasy value in 2005? Exactly.
5- Cesar Cabral, RP
Cabral was a Rule Five draft selection of the Kansas City Royals this year, and sent to the Yankees for cash. The Yankees have to keep him on their active roster all year, or offer him back to the team the Royals selected him from, the Red Sox, for one-half the draft cost. He is one of just two left-handed relievers the Yankees are carrying, and could be a holds source if he's deployed as a LOOGY in late game situations.