The Thunder Thoughts breakdown of Baseball America’s Top 30 Yankees Prospects for 2008 returns today with a look at prospects #11-15. As you know by now, the Thunder’s new lead broadcaster, Steve Rudenstein, is on board to provide some analysis for this.
Steve’s done a great job of providing his expert analysis on each player, and I’ll throw my “Thunder Thoughts” in there after each of his player breakdowns.
As for Steve’s work, you should definitely know by now that the below commentary are opinions solely from Steve Rudenstein, and do not represent the opinions of the Trenton Thunder (Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees) and the New York Yankees.
#11 RHP Mark Melancon – Another selection with enormous potential but limited experience, Melancon did not pitch in 2007 due to Tommy John surgery in November 2006. At 23 years old, and only eight professional innings under his belt, this is a crucial year for Melancon. As a closer at the University of Arizona, he displayed an incredible level of competitive fire. His work ethic and fastball/curveball combo give the Yankees hope they can groom him into a closer-of-the-future, but keeping him healthy is the primary objective. If Melancon performs well early in the season, he could end up in Trenton some time during the summer.
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Melancon and Jose Tabata are the two kids I can’t wait to see play this year. But while Tabata will start the season with the Thunder, Melancon is ticketed for Tampa to start the year to avoid the cold weather up here at the start of the year. So, perhaps as early as May, Melancon will get promoted to Double-A, barring any injury. And for someone coming off of major surgery like he is, that’s not necessarily a given.A lot of people are projecting a Joba-esque meteoric rise through the system for Melancon, but as of right now, he’d seem to be blocked by more than a few pitchers currently vying for bullpen spots.
#12 RHP Humberto Sanchez – There was much more buzz about Sanchez a year ago. He was the most highly regarded prospect the Yankees received from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade. However, Sanchez never made it to the mound in 2007. He suffered forearm tightness in spring training and eventually would have Tommy John surgery and miss the season. He won’t be ready for game action until mid-season 2008. Sanchez had a live fastball and a nasty slider prior to the injury. He put great numbers at Erie (Double-A) and Toledo (Triple-A) in 2006. Will his conditioning and health allow him to get back to a high level at the end of 2008? We will wait and see.
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Sanchez is another guy you could see in Trenton this year…in fact, I’ve heard it’s a very strong possibility. As Steve mentioned, Sanchez had a lot of hype around him last year, but the fact is he’s yet to throw a meaningful pitch under the Yankees employ. The Yankees will take it easy with Sanchez’s rehab schedule, but it will be interesting to see what effect his injuries have had on him. One of the more electric pitchers in the league during his first stay with Erie, I wonder what kind of shape he’ll be in when he comes back…both his arm and his whole body. Conditioning has always been an issue for Sanchez…and the Yankees have little tolerance for such issues regardless of your numbers, just ask Paul Thorp.
#13 RHP Dellin Betances – Like Brackman, the sizeable Betances has as high a ceiling as any pitcher on this list. A New York native, the 6’7” Betances was taken in the eighth round of the 2006 draft. Unfortunately, he only threw 25 innings at Staten Island last season before being shutdown with forearm tightness. It is unclear whether or not he will need Tommy John surgery. Betances will turn 20 in mid- March and is still learning how to pitch and is still growing into his body. The Yankees are hopeful he won’t be shutdown with surgery in 2008, and will log more innings and continue to develop.
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Betances is probably a few years away from appearing in a Thunder uniform, and that’s something that could be delayed even longer if his injury problems continue to persist. Betances quickly emerged as one of the most discussed prospects in the New York-Penn League last year, but the Yankees have received just 48 innings over a season and a half out of one of their brightest young stars.Phil Hughes, Brien Taylor, or somewhere inbetween? Waaaaaaaaay too early to tell.
#14 RHP Daniel McCutchen – McCutchen, who exhibits a bulldog mentality on the mound, burst onto the Yankees’ radar in 2007. With a 50-game MLB suspension behind him from the previous year, he ranked second in the Minor League System with 14 combined wins between Tampa and Trenton with a 2.47 ERA. He won two post-season starts for the Thunder including the Eastern League Championship clincher against Akron. His fastball runs up to the plate in the low-mid 90s and has an excellent change-up as an out pitch. As with Marquez, McCutchen’s confident demeanor on and off the mound, makes him someone to keep your eye on going forward.
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: There’s no doubt that McCutchen benefitted from last year’s experience in the Bronx after helping the Thunder win their first EL title. No, he didn’t get into any games, but he was a part of a development program last September, joined by Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez.McCutchen is very likely to return to the Thunder as their Opening Day starter, and will probably be the first pitcher called up to Scranton if an opening pops up. And if last season is any indication, an opening will pop up…
#15 RHP Kevin Whelan – Another prospect the Yankees acquired from the Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan had an uneven year in 2007. Coming off a 27- save season in Lakeland (High-A), he got off to a good start in Trenton. His splitter had Eastern League hitters completely baffled. Once mid-season hit, the Yankees decided to send him to Tampa and give him an opportunity to start. When Whelan returned to Trenton, his command deserted him. He ended up with 42 walks in 54 IP by season’s end in Trenton. The Yankees are still high on Whelan. A former catcher at Texas A&M, he is probably best suited to stay in the bullpen with his split-finger fastball.
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: It was just an odd year for Whelan last year. The decision to send him down to Tampa to start was somewhat puzzling, as was his return to the bullpen when he came back to Trenton.Whelan certainly had some things he needed to work on, as the numbers probably didn’t indicate just how much he was struggling. Likely to start the year in the Scranton bullpen, it’s very possible Whelan could be back with the Thunder at some point as well…but that picture will be clearer when the Yankees determine just how many of the pitchers they sent back to minor league camp they’ll actually keep.
Ashmore Note: At one point or another, the hype machine has been working overtime on all five of these pitchers. I know everyone loves to think that all these guys are going to pan out…but what are the odds that all five make the big leagues by 2010?
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com