Although the much-awaited Prospect Handbook hasn’t come out just yet, Baseball America has released their annual rankings of the Yankees Top 10 prospects and “Best Tools” honors.
Former Thunder players were scattered amongst the latter; as Jesus Montero took “best hitter for average” and “best hitter for power, Dellin Betances “best fastball” and “best curveball,” Manny Banuelos “best changeup,” and Austin Romine earned “best defensive catcher” honors.
I think you could make an argument that Banuelos’ curveball is better than Betances — or at least that it will be — but that’s a pretty nitpicky complaint.
As far as non-Thunder players, the other “award” winners were…
Best Strike Zone Disicipline: Ramon Flores
Fastest Baserunner: Mason Williams (pictured)
Best Athlete: Mason Williams
Best Slider: Mark Montgomery
Best Control: Nik Turley
Best Defensive Infielder: Cito Culver
Best Infield Arm: Cito Culver
Best Defensive OF: Mason Williams
Best Outfield Arm: Ravel Santana
As far as the list itself, here goes…
1) Jesus Montero, C
2) Manny Banuelos, LHP
3) Dellin Betances, RHP
4) Gary Sanchez, C
5) Mason Williams, OF
6) Dante Bichette, Jr., 3B
7) Ravel Santana, OF
8) Austin Romine, C
9) J.R. Murphy, C/3B
10) Slade Heathcott, OF
We’ll get to the others, but I think the name that stands out is Santana. Considered the top prospect in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, the 19-year-old made his North American debut last year in the Gulf Coast League. Although his season was cut short by an ankle injury, he put together a season in which he hit .296 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 41 games. The 6-foot-2, 160 pounder walked 17 times and struck out 40 in 160 AB’s, stole ten bases and posted a .929 OPS. And, as you saw above, he apparently has a hose for an arm.
Will he be another international signing who vaults into the prospect spotlight but flames out — anyone remember Rudy Guillen? Exactly. — Or will he continue his impressive progression? Either way, you won’t see him in Trenton for a few years.
As for the others…well, there isn’t much you can say about Montero that I haven’t already written. I’d like to think he’s hit his way into the big leagues full-time in 2012, but where will he play? His defense, which has admittedly improved, still needs a lot of work. A lot of work. But his bat was special when he got to Trenton, and remains so now. Has the potential to be a big league All-Star with the bat, but definitely not behind the plate.
The Banuelos/Betances ranking makes sense…I’ve seen some write-ups where people think Betances has a higher ceiling than Banuelos, and I’d actually disagree. When he’s on — and all too often last season, he wasn’t — Banuelos has some truly special stuff. Betances does as well…his fastball is inarguably better than Banuelos’, but given Manny’s a lefty, I think he’s got the better ceiling. I also think, however, Betances has a much better chance of reaching his. Scouts have spoken with me in regards to their concerns about his athleticism and how he’ll hold up over the long-term as a starter, and I believe those concerns are valid. Although in absolutely no way am I suggesting he should be moved to the bullpen at this stage in his development — I still wonder what that did to Joba Chamberlain — I do believe he’d be very successful in a late-inning role.
I haven’t seen Sanchez yet, so I can’t say much on him…although the numbers are obviously impresive. Same goes for Dante Bichette, Jr. (have only seen him take BP), J.R. Murphy and Slade Heathcott. I don’t like commenting on guys unless I’ve seen them myself, and if you’ve read my rants on these lists before, you know that’s one of my biggest concerns with them. That, and people take them way, way too seriously.
I have seen Mason Williams, however, and you know if you’ve seen my tweets while I was watching Staten Island or if you read the feature I wrote on him, that I love this kid. There’s nothing wrong with a well-rounded player — and that’s not to say Williams isn’t just that — but when a guy doesn’t have a standout tool, you start to wonder what kind of impact he can make on a game if his other attributes start to falter. Williams is a true burner. Check out YouTube and look at the videos I’ve shot of this kid. Covers a TON of ground in the outfield and on the basepaths, and is pretty good with the lumber as well. I wonder if he’ll ever develop power, and I guess that’s where the inevitable comparisons to Brett Gardner will come in, but when you consider he’s only at the Short Season-A level — I presume he’d start in Low-A Charleston this season and finish the year in High-A Tampa — you’ve got to be excited about his future.
And finally, with Romine…he’s starting to slide down the prospect charts, and that makes some sense. His bat has leveled off a bit, and despite being the organization’s best defensive catcher, he still needs to improve his numbers when it comes to throwing out baserunners. He’s also coming off a year in which he was pretty banged up, which may have affected his performance. The personable two-time Futures Game alum may end up being the starting backstop for the traveling Triple-A circus this season.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com