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In its most recent heyday, the Yankees farm system produced the likes of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera (the famed “Core Four” who all have a fistful of World Series rings). And then came the lean years when the farm was pretty much depleted and any halfway decent prospect was fodder for trade bait. Well, those days are over, and the Yankees have one of the top farms in the major leagues. In fact, a few of the Bombers prospects are ready for prime time. In no particular order, other than how I see them, here’s a look at some of the top prospects in the Yankees system:
Jesus Montero, C: Jesus was loose at the end of the 2011 season. The kid played in 18 games and his line was .328 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R – not too shabby. Some scouts say he is the best bat outside of Bryce Harper (now there’s a future Yankee lineup to salivate over; Harper has expressed his love for the Yanks on more than a few occasions). While Montero’s defense may not be where his true talents lie, let’s not forget that the Yankees survived just fine for many seasons with Posada and his defensive challenges behind the plate.
Manny Banuelos, LHP: The Yankees have not developed a great lefty since Pettitte, and Banuelos is one of baseball’s top left-handed prospects. He has an above-average fastball, a very good change-up and a great breaking ball. He should get a chance to show off his stuff at some point during the 2012 season.
Gary Sanchez, C: He’s only 18, but Sanchez is considered to be the real deal both behind and at the plate. He hits for both power and average, and plays good defense. He will be a fun player to watch develop and see where he ends up compared to the rest of the Yankees catching stockpile.
Dellin Betances, RHP: He’s a big guy (6’-8”) with a power arm (he hits 95 mph regularly), which is what makes him so enticing. But his control has been an issue. If he can harness it, watch out.
Mason Williams, OF: Williams is considered the next great prospect in the Yankee system behind Montero. The Yankees drafted the kid out of high school in 2010 and last season in 68 games for the single-A Staten Island Yankees, he hit .349 with an OPS of .863. You’ll soon hear his name mentioned in trades involving New York, but if he continues to develop at his current pace, it will take quite a bit to pry him out of the organization.
Austin Romine, C: Yet another catching prospect, Romine got some playing time at the major-league level last season when backup Francisco Cervelli went down with an injury. He is by far the best defensive catcher the Yankees have in their system, but his hitting has been very mediocre.
Adam Warren, RHP: Another big righty with a solid fastball. He sailed through double-A in Tampa and Trenton before coming back down to earth at triple-A Scanton-Wilkes-Barre. If he can get back to being more of a groundball pitcher like he was in double-A ball, he has a good chance of being a successful major leaguer.
Dante Bichette Jr., 3B: I have to admit I was pretty underwhelmed when the Yankees drafted Bichette Jr., but the 18-year-old infielder (the son of former major-league outfielder Dante Bichette) had a great second half, which garnered him the Gulf Coast League MVP title. He hit .342 with three home runs and 47 RBIs. Look for even bigger things to come when he opens next year in the South Atlantic League with the Charleston RiverDogs.
Slade Heathcott, OF: I had to include Heathcott mainly because his name sounds like a combination of ’80s glam rocker and Jane Austen hero. He’s great defensively (he was named best defensive outfielder on Baseball America’s Top Minor League Tools List) and has been improving offensively. No matter, I’d be surprised if he spends any amount of quality time in pinstripes.