Looking Back: The 2007 Top 30…

OK, so we’re obviously not looking that far back here.  Today, I’ll be taking a look back at Baseball America’s Top 30 Prospects from the 2007 season.  Apparently, it wasn’t a bad year to be in the Yankees farm system, as this seemed to be the first season where…gasp, they actually gave their minor leaguers a legitimate opportunity.  In fact, six of the 30 players on this list made their big league debuts with the Yankees last year.

Make sure you also check out my looks back from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 lists.

1. Phil Hughes, P

Anyone wondering how highly regarded Hughes was before the start of the 2007 season needed to only look at the cover of the Prospect Handbook.  Hughes’ picture, taken by Thunder team photographer Dave Schofield, graced the front of the annual publication.

Hughes made his highly anticipated MLB debut about a month into the season, and had a no-hitter going deep into his second game before injuring his hamstring.  That and a subsequent ankle injury derailed his season for a few months, but after a few rehab appearances back in Waterfront Park, Hughes was good as new and ready to show the world what he can do for 2008.

And, on a side note, he really is as good of a guy as he seems.  Always incredibly giving of his time, not only during the 2006 season with Trenton, but also in the Yankees clubhouse as well. 

2. Jose Tabata, OF

Tabata did very little to hurt himself last season, spending all of last year in the Florida State League with Tampa.  He hit .307 with 5 home runs and 54 RBI, and helped lead the team to an impressive 83-56 record.

However, he still hasn’t developed a lot of power, and only had 23 extra-base hits last season.  One of the more intriguing stories of 2008 might just be Tabata’s adjustment to Eastern League pitching, and if he can increase both his home run and walk totals.

3. Humberto Sanchez, P

With the Yankees being shut out of the Johan Santana sweepstakes, some people might forget that they were victorious in the “getting rid of their aging outfielder for prospects” contest last season.  Sanchez was the key player in the Gary Sheffield deal that sent him to the Yankees along with Kevin Whelan and the essentially forgotten Anthony Claggett.

The problem with all that is that Sanchez hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the Yankees on any level, out for all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  During the parts of three seasons he spent on the hill for the Erie Seawolves, he’s never faced the Trenton Thunder.  However, it’s very possible that his rehab tour will take him to Waterfront Park at some point in 2008.

4. Dellin Betances, P

Betances is listed anywhere between 6′ 7″ and 6′ 9″, but the more important numbers would involve how many starts he’s made over the past two seasons: 13.

The lanky New York native made just six appearances last season for Staten Island, battling a forearm injury that shelved him for the majority of the year.  He’s been impressive when he’s been out there, but he needs to be healthy for all of 2008 to shake any sort of “injury prone” label.

5. Joba Chamberlain, P

What else is there to say about Joba Chamberlain?  He sailed through three levels of the minors, Trenton included, to make a huge impact on the Yankees out of the bullpen following his early August call-up.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t even hear himself get drafted.

“I stopped watching the draft in the middle of the first round,” Chamberlain told me in June.

“I started playing with my son upstairs, but then I got a bunch of calls from my teammates and friends saying that I’d been picked at 41 by the Yankees. It couldn’t have happened with a better organization, so I was pretty lucky to get picked there.”

The same enthusiasm that endeared him to fans in the Bronx was also very evident even in Trenton.

“I’m going to give you 110 percent every time I go out there,” he said.

“I’m going to be excited out there, I’m going to show emotion out there. I want to keep my teammates involved and keep everyone in the game.”

I wrote a column about a week before his big league call-up saying how the Yankees were rushing him, and how people were expecting too much out of him and so on. I obviously now look like an idiot.

6. Ian Kennedy, P

Ian Kennedy / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Kennedy was another pitcher who sailed through the various levels of the minors relatively quickly.  He made the same three stops Chamberlain did — Tampa, Trenton and Scranton — but he stayed in each a little longer.

He goes after hitters with a repertoire that includes a fastball that sat at 88 MPH in his Thunder debut, a sinking changeup, a slider and a curveball.

“I command my pitches a lot like (Tyler) Clippard does, that’s who a lot of people compare me to,” Kennedy told me in June.

But Kennedy rocketed past Clippard in the system, to the point where Clippard was sent down to Trenton to make room for Kennedy, who was on his way up to Scranton.

7. Tyler Clippard, P

Clippard told me in September that he felt like his 2007 season was a mixed bag, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.  Sure, he made his Major League debut and ended up going 3-1 in six starts for the Yankees, but he also went all the way back down to Trenton and didn’t really pitch all that well in the process.

Following the season, he was shipped to the Nationals for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, and many people think he could figure prominently in the mix for a spot in Washington’s starting rotation.

8. J. Brent Cox, P

Like Humberto Sanchez, Cox has not pitched since late in the 2006 season.  But what might be more frustrating than anything else for the Yankees is that the former Texas Longhorn actually injured himself pitching for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which they perhaps foolishly allowed him to pitch in during the Thunder’s 2006 playoff push.

What’s worse is that Cox was well on his way to becoming a prime candidate for the Yankees bullpen at some point in 2007, but instead finds himself thrown into a category with other rehabbing Bronx prospects.

9. Kevin Whelan, P

Kevin Whelan / Photo by Mike Ashmore

At the start of the season, Whelan was the highest ranked Yankees prospect in Trenton.  Accordingly, I made him the subject of one of my first features.  I’d post the audio if it weren’t for the numerous f-bombs I dropped in it, but Whelan very narrowly avoided injury during our first chat in the home dugout, thanks to a stray BP ball that rocketed off the dugout wall between both of our heads.

That was an odd situation, and it was an odd year for Whelan.  The numbers look good, but his walk totals were a bit of a concern, and he was inexplicably sent down to Tampa to start in the middle of the year before being sent back up as a reliever.

10. Brett Gardner, OF

Gardner spent the first half of 2007 in Trenton, hitting .300 in 54 games with the Thunder.  However, the power that everyone hoped he’d develop didn’t appear, and he didn’t hit a single home run and drove in just 17 runs.  Since his five home runs with Staten Island in 2005, he’s hit just one since.

11. Marcos Vechionacci, 3B

Vechionacci was called up to Trenton just in time for the postseason, and he hit .242 with two RBI in eight postseason contests.  He spent the majority of the season in Tampa, however, where he hit .266 with two home runs and 39 RBI.

12. Jeff Marquez, P

Marquez did a lot to improve his status in the Yankees organization in 2007, posting a league leading 15 wins while with the Trenton Thunder.  It looks like he’ll be joining the Scranton rotation for 2008, and could be a candidate to make the jump to the Bronx at some point in the year.

13. Eric Duncan, 1B/3B

Duncan hasn’t excelled as people hoped he might, struggling for a good part of last season with the Triple-A Scranton Yankees.  He hit .241 with 11 home runs 61 RBI in 111 games, although he did continue his trend of keeping his strikeout totals much lower than the career high of 136 he set while with the Thunder in 2005.

14. Chris Garcia, P

Garcia did not pitch in 2007 due to an injury suffered while in the Hawaii Winter League.  Once compared to Phil Hughes, Garcia now needs a big 2008 to even be in the same conversation with some of the less prominent pitchers in this list.

15. Mark Melancon, P

Melancon also blew out his elbow in Hawaii, and didn’t pitch either in 2007.  So let me get this straight…Sanchez, Cox, Garcia and Melancon all didn’t pitch last season, and Betances only lasted for six games?  Yikes.

16. Alan Horne, P

Horne was probably the most consistent Thunder pitcher last season, dominating Eastern League batters to the tune of a 12-4 record, 3.11 ERA and league leading 165 strikeouts.  However, there are widespread concerns and rumblings about his control, and he still has to prove himself to some of those people while in Scranton this year.

17. Angel Reyes, P

44 walks compared to 49 strikeouts last year?  Uh-oh.  Reyes appeared in 16 games at three different stops last season, and the 20-year-old southpaw wasn’t particularly impressive at any of them. 

18. Austin Jackson, OF

The numbers — .200, 0 HR, 4 RBI — don’t necessarily tell the true impact that Austin Jackson had on the Trenton Thunder’s postseason run.  He made several impressive and clutch throws that showed why this guy is considered to be one of the best, if not the best athlete in the entire system.

19. Chase Wright, P

Outside of the getting traded part, you could pretty much write the same paragraph about Chase Wright as the one above about Tyler Clippard.  Wright received national attention in his second big league start after getting rocked by the Red Sox for four consecutive home runs.  But that was after he made an impressive jump to the Yankees right from Trenton, a place he would unfortunately be sent back down to after the Yankees needed to make room for Kennedy and Chamberlain in Scranton.

20. George Kontos, P

Kontos has been picking up a lot of steam as someone to keep an eye on in the Yankees farm system as of late, and may be one of the more polarizing pitchers in the organization.  With Tampa in 2007, he went 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA.  His 15 home runs allowed were the fourth highest in the FSL last year as well.

21. Jesus Montero, C

After an overall lack of catching depth in the system for the past few years, it seems the Yankees have made great strides in that department with both Francisco Cervelli and Montero.  Just 18 years old, he made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last year, hitting .280 with three home runs and 19 RBI.

22. Steven White, P

In a year where it seemed like everyone was getting a shot in the Yankees starting rotation, Steven White’s 6-4 record and 3.34 ERA apparently weren’t good enough.  He doesn’t have outstanding stuff, but he deserved a shot in the show just as much as nearly anyone else who got one last year did.

23. T.J. Beam, P

After struggling in an extended look in the big leagues in 2006, Beam spent all of 2007 in Triple-A Scranton.  He did all right, but also did little to distinguish himself from the other relievers in the system.  He’s since signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

24. Zach McAllister, P

Zach McAllister / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007) / Taken in Brooklyn, NY

McAllister went 4-6 with a 5.17 ERA in 16 appearances for Staten Island of the New York-Penn League last season.  I was fortunate enough to see one of his starts in Brooklyn, and it seemed to be a microcosm of his season.  The numbers were pretty good, and I thought he showed some flashes of what he could do, but it was a pretty inconsistent start.

25. Colin Curtis, OF

If I were to entirely base my assessment of Curtis on games I saw him play last year, it might not be so great.  After all, he was 9-for-58 in games I covered.  But his overall numbers were solid, and I saw enough to where I’ll give him a pass.  I think that with a full year in Trenton and some experience against Double-A pitching, he could be somewhat of a sleeper this year.

26. Jeff Karstens, P

Karstens has become somewhat of an afterthought in the system.  He ended up in the Yankees rotation early last season, but broke his leg and never really factored in the discussion after that.

27. Josue Calzado, OF

Calzado hit .271 with nine home runs and 55 RBI at Single-A Charleston last year, showing his first real consistent burst of power.

28. Bronson Sardinha, OF

Seriously, Sardinha must have set some sort of record for most years spent in the Prospect Handbook with the same organization.

29. Tim Norton, P

Norton came out of nowhere to light up the NYPL with Staten Island in 2006, but lasted all of five starts with Charleston in 2007 before going down with a shoulder injury.  Any pitcher in this system simply cannot afford an injury, but a guy who turns 25 in May that the team has very little money in has even less margin for error.

30. Daniel McCutchen, P

Daniel McCutchen / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Do you remember when the only time people talked about Tyler Clippard, it was to discuss him being kicked off his high school team for a drinking and driving incident?  Well, there was also a time when McCutchen was known as the guy who tested positive for ephedra in 2006.

His 2007 season went a long way towards him removing that label, and the Yankees agreed, going as far as to include him as a part of their developmental program at Yankee Stadium. 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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3 Responses to “Looking Back: The 2007 Top 30…”

  1. Mike R. Says:

    Great analysis Mike. I have a question and a request.

    1- What’s your opinion of Kennedy? Some say he’ll be a solid MLB starter, others feel he should be trade bait. Are his minor league numbers just an illusion?

    2- Please please pleeeeease post that Whelan audio. It has the makings of a classic.

  2. dan Says:

    Good stuff Mike

  3. thunderbaseball Says:

    Thanks guys. To answer the questions…

    Breaking down a guy like Kennedy is difficult for me. As I’ve mentioned here before, I only got to see him once, and he wasn’t particularly sharp that night. I always try to base my assessments on what I see and not necessarily what I read or hear, but I obviously want to soak up as many opinions as possible as well.

    I think he’ll be a solid MLB starter, probably a #3 guy, but the immediate problem is that there’s really no place for him on the Major League roster right now. Like so many guys on the brink, this is a big year for Kennedy. I think the answer to that question will become a lot more clear at the end of this year. But I will say I think that losing Kennedy would have been easier than losing Hughes.

    As for the Whelan audio, that may happen someday. To paint a picture: I’m literally about three seconds into my chat with Whelan in the Thunder dugout, asking him about his transition from catcher to pitcher. You then hear the ball bounce off the cement dugout floor, between both of our heads, off the wall behind us, and then on the wooden bench.

    Listening back to it, I managed to shoot out a “holy s–t” while dodging the ball. If I can bleep that out, I just may upload that at some point…

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