With Baseball America’s 2008 Prospect Handbook starting to arrive in mailboxes, it’s time to continue our series of looking back at the Yankees top prospects from years past and go back just two years ago.
This is a look at the publication’s 30 best Yankees prospects from 2006…
1. Phil Hughes, P
With Hughes, the Yankees finally had a prospect who lived up to the hype. But he did a lot more than that, he actually managed to exceed the expectations that were had of him going into the 2006 season. Hughes was just 19 when he arrived at Waterfront Park, and quickly became one of the most talked about prospects in the entire country. The first time we spoke, which was a day before his Double-A debut, he had yet to even visit Yankee Stadium, no less pitch there.
It’s amazing just how quickly this kid shot through the system…
2. Eric Duncan, 3B/1B
After leading the Eastern League in home runs with 34, Shelley Duncan was nowhere to be found on this list in 2006. Meanwhile, Eric found himself as the second best prospect. I’m not at all insinuating Shelley should have ever been rated higher than Eric…but it was always interesting to me to see how these guys paths crossed.
3. Jose Tabata, OF
Tabata looks to make his Double-A debut this season, very likely breaking camp with the team in April. The guy is a career .305 hitter over three seasons of work, so there’s a lot of excitement in Trenton about the possibility of seeing this kid — and he is just as a kid at 19 — in a Thunder uniform.
4. C.J. Henry, SS
One of the centerpieces of the Bobby Abreu trade, Henry hit an astonishing .184 in 102 games with Single-A Lakewood and has since made his way back to the Yankees organization. Once the fourth best prospect, he’s now completely and entirely off the radar.
5. Austin Jackson, OF
He was drafted out of high school in 2005, and quickly established himself as one of the better prospects in the Yankees organization. After last year’s impressive performance over multiple levels, he now appears to be one of the elite prospects in the farm system.
6. Eduardo Nunez, SS
Nunez made 40 errors in 2006 and 33 last season. He’s a career .245 hitter with below average power and decent, but certainly not blazing speed. At just 20 years old, he still has time to develop and improve.
7. Marcos Vechionacci, 3B/SS
Vechionacci was once one of the more exciting prospects in the entire organization, but has stock has fallen dramatically. This season could be make or break for him, and it looks like it’ll happen at Waterfront Park.
8. Christian Garcia, P
Garcia pitched just 12 games in 2006, and was shut down entirely in 2007. With his injuries and the glut of quality starters in the organization, he’s become an afterthought.
9. Jeff Marquez, P
Marquez spent all of 2006 in Tampa, and posted another solid, but somewhat unspectacular season. He went 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA, striking out 82 and walking just 29 over 92.1 innings of work. After a season in Trenton, Marquez will now be competing for a spot in a very crowded Triple-A rotation.
10. Tyler Clippard, P
I should ask Clip to sponsor this blog for as much as his name comes up in it. 2006 was such a mixed bag for him, but his year end numbers don’t really indicate that. His ERA was as high as 5.69 in mid-June, and it looked like he could potentially be a candidate to get sent back down to Tampa. Instead, he put together a remarkable second half that saw him win 10 of his last 11 decisions and lower his ERA by more than two runs.
11. J. Brent Cox, P
Cox hasn’t pitched in a game since being allowed to leave to pitch for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament towards the end of 2006. Some writers were talking about Cox being a potential replacement for Mariano Rivera at the time. I asked him about this in August of 2006…
“At this point, it’s too early,” Cox said. “(The Yankees) haven’t really talked about my plans for me, but I trust them with what they want to do with me, and I’ll just go along with it.”
12. Tim Battle, OF
His last name is an appropriate one, because it’s been just that — a battle — for him to maintain his status as a prospect in the Yankees organization. It will be very interesting to see where he ends up come Opening Day, as some people are projecting him to crack Trenton’s roster.
13. Brett Gardner, OF
Gardner made his Thunder debut in 2006, joining the team in the middle of June after hitting .323 and stealing 30 bases in the Florida State League. He swiped 28 more bags for Trenton, setting a new career high with 58 in a season.
14. Steven White, P
White started the 2006 season in Trenton and did a lot to re-establish himself as one of the better arms in system, posting a 4-1 record with 2.11 ERA in 11 starts before being called up to Triple-A Columbus for good in June.
15. Melky Cabrera, OF
The Melkman shed his prospect tag in 2006, but in the best way possible. After hitting a torrid .385 in Columbus, the Yankees almost had no choice but to call him up. He’s stuck in the big leagues ever since.
16. Matt DeSalvo, P
I absolutely, positively wrote off Matt DeSalvo after his 2006 season. I don’t think the numbers (5-4, 5.77) for Trenton really tell the tale of how disappointing and inconsistent he was.
“Matt DeSalvo’s had a bad year,” Yankees Special Advisor Reggie Jackson told me during his annual visit.
“He’s had some off the field issues that we believe he’s got straightened out. Every year isn’t a great year, but the organization still loves him and is behind him.”
And while that wasn’t entirely true, as DeSalvo was taken off the 40-man roster, he did rebound in 2007 and make his Major League debut.
17. Alan Horne, P
Horne was still an enigma at this point, having yet to throw a pitch in professional baseball. Now, he’s considered to have a great chance at cracking the Yankees roster at some point in 2008.
18. Sean Henn, P
Henn might be better suited to be pitch in an organization that will allow him to start, because the Yankees attempt to convert him to a reliever certainly hasn’t panned out.
19. Kevin Howard, 2B/3B
I never understood the fascination with this guy. Maybe it was that he went to Miami, I don’t know. He bounced around the Dodgers and Phillies organizations last year, and put up some better numbers in Double-A Jacksonville after going back to his natural position of second base.
20. Matt Smith, P
Smith had a real solid 2006 season while under the Yankees umbrella, allowing just six earned runs in 24 relief appearances in Triple-A. He one-upped himself upon going to the Bronx, stringing together 12 straight scoreless appearances.
21. Justin Christian, 2B/OF
Those who know my opinion of Brett Gardner might be surprised to know that I don’t necessarily feel the same way about Justin Christian. Gardner may have it, but I think Christian really used his ability to single-handedly change the game with his speed while with Trenton. His inability to handle any of the infield positions well will really hurt him, but I do think there’s a place in the big leagues for Justin Christian.
22. Bronson Sardinha, OF
Sardinha spent most of 2006 in Trenton, hitting .254 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI. He was called up to Triple-A in mid-July and finished the year there.
23. Kevin Thompson, OF
Thompson made his big league debut in 2006, hitting .300 in 30 MLB at-bats for the Yankees.
24. T.J. Beam, P
Although he could never quite translate his Double-A success to the big leagues, Beam had to be one of the more impressive relievers in Thunder history. In 18 games, he was 4-0 with a microscopic ERA of 0.86.
25. Garrett Patterson, P
Patterson walked 37 and struck out 39 in 50 innings with Single-A Charleston in 2006, not exactly helping his case to climb the prospect ladder.
26. Andy Phillips, 1B/3B
Phillips had his longest stay yet in the big leagues in 2006, spending the entire year with the Yankees and playing in a career high 110 games.
27. Rudy Guillen, OF
Guillen dropped 15 spots from his #12 ranking in 2005. After hitting .173 for the Thunder in 2006, he fell off the map all together.
28. Kevin Reese, OF
Reese got some time in the show in 2006, driving in the only Major League run of his career in 12 at-bats.
29. Jason Stephens, P
Stephens appeared in only eight games in 2006, going 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA at Single-A Charleston.
30. Jeff Karstens, P
Karstens got his career back on track in Trenton in 2006, going 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts after being sent down from Triple-A Columbus. He made his Major League debut in late August of that year, and established himself as a contender for the Yankees starting rotation in 2007.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com