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Yankees Offseason Notes: For Kuroda its the Yankees

Earlier this week, it was looking as if Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of coming back to the Yankees were slim. The LA Dodgers were in the race as well as the LA Angels. Well, on Tuesday evening, a source claimed that the Dodgers were no longer in the mix for Kuroda. The Angels soon followed the Dodgers lead and weren’t interested in Kuroda. Now Kuroda has one of two choices–the Yankees or Japan. If Kuroda wants to pitch in the states, he could choose the Yankees. If he wants to go to Japan, he can sign there. This is relatively good news for the Yankees–and bad news for the Dodgers and the Angels. Now all Brian Cashman has to do is make Kuroda an offer he can’t refuse.

BREAKING NEWS: The New York Yankees have signed Hiroki Kuroda to a 1 year, $15 Million contract for the 2013 season. The Yankees prevented one of their worst fears from happening. Now, Yankees need Pettitte.

In Other News:

– The New York Yankees claimed RHP Mickey Storey off waivers from the Houston Astros.

– The Yankees added LHP Manny Banuelos, OF Ramon Flores, RHP Brett Marshall, RHP Jose Ramirez, LHP Francisco Rondon and LHP Nik Turley to the 40 man roster.

– RHP Dave Herndon elected for free agency instead of being outrighted to Triple-A Scranton thus making the 40-man roster a 39-man roster.

– There’s still no word about if Andy Pettitte will return next year. Although Pettitte could most likely return, it’s not guaranteed.

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Minor Night Cap: Tampa Yankees Lose 5-3

SWB – was postponed so only one game tonight.

Tampa Yankees L 5-3

PTF J.R. Murphy – 1H, 1BB, .255

Eduardo Sosa – 1H, 2K, .258

Kelvin Castro – 1K, .226

Rob Segedin – 2R, 2H, (Solo Homer), 1RBI, .308

Kyle Roller – 1R, 2H, .235

Ramon Flores – 1H, 1RBI, 1K, .200

Shane Brown – oH, .188

Tyson Blaser – 1H, 1BB, .333

Jose Mojica – 2K, .275

Pitching
PTF Nik Turley -(DNP)

Shane Greene – 5.0IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 5BB, 5K, 3.15era

Aaron Dott – 1.2IP, 1H, 2BB, 1K, 0.00era

Kramer Sneed – 0.1IP, 1H, 3R, 3Er, 2BB, 10.29era

Branden Pinder – 2.0IP, 1H, 1BB, 5K, 5.11era

Interview with Charleston Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

Charleston RiverDogs Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

I had a great opportunity to interview Greg Colbrunn yesterday and he provided a lot of feedback on the hitters in the Yankees organization.  Colbrunn played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues as a career .289/.336/.460 hitter and was part of the World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks team that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 season.

He has been with the Yankees since 2007, serving as Hitting Coach of the Charleston RiverDogs every season except for 2010 when he stepped in as Manager.  This will be his 6th season with the team so he has worked with nearly every hitter in the Yankee system above the Rookie ball level.  With his knowledge and experience I thought he’d be a great resource to find out more about the hitters in the Yankee chain.  My questions are in BLUE.

How did you get into coaching for the Yankees and do you prefer Managing or coaching hitting?

I live here in Charleston, we moved her in 1999/2000 when I was still playing. I took a year off after I stopped playing but I knew I wanted to get into coaching. I met Gary Denbo (Yankee organization hitting coordinator), and we had some of the same beliefs about hitting. It seemed like a great fit and great opportunity to coach for the RiverDogs and the Yanks have been a very good organization.

I enjoyed Managing but I prefer Hitting Coach more. I have more impact on the kids and I really enjoy working in the cage. I relate well to hitters.

Between Kevin Long, Gary Denbo, Butch Wynegar, yourself, etc., a young hitter progressing through the system will work with different hitting coaches all the time. How much communication is there between you and the other hitting instructors talking about individual players, tendencies and areas to work on?

Its kind of the same philosophy. We have good communication. When one guy moves from one level to another, we talk about him and what type of drills he’s doing. When you have different coaches that are on the same page but may go about it in different ways , you can find out what works with certain hitters.

It seems the Yankees at the MLB-level, stress the importance of going deep into counts and wearing down pitchers. Is that an organizational philosophy they try to instill early on?

When kids are starting out you want to see what a kid can do first. See what they do well, see what they can and can’t hit so we can develop a program from there. The main thing we stress is to get a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere. Learn how to recognize a curve ball from a Fastball. We talk about the importance of OBP.

During their 1st or 2nd year, the kids are still developing so you don’t want to tell them they can’t hit a certain way or that’s not gonna work. When you watch the big leagues, you see a lot of different styles, different stances – hands up, hands down. There are a lot of different ways to hit. We kind of let them go and just put them in a good position where they can have some success and be able to repeat their swing. If we see something that’s getting in the way of having success I’ll make an adjustment. I might alter hand position or something like that. But for most part in the 1st or 2nd year, I kind of let them go and make some suggestions here and there. If they’re struggling I might step in and tell them what I think but as far as any big mechanical adjustments, I try to stay away from that for the most part.

You’ve been in the organization sine 2007 and have worked with most of the highly thought of hitters. If I were to list some specific characteristics, tell me who comes to mind as the prospect in the organization that best epitomizes these skills/strengths. (NOTE: Greg hasn’t seen the hitters below the Charleston level yet)

Strike zone Recognition

Ramon Flores gets rave reviews from Colbrunn

Ramon Flores. It’s something we work on but for some reason he’s always had a real good sense. He picks up pitches as well as anyone I’ve seen come through here. He picks up pitches right out of the pitcher’s hands and has real good strike zone discipline and pitch recognition – and he recognizes it real early. The biggest thing with him was getting him to be more aggressive in counts where he could take advantage of it and let some of his natural ability take off more.

Pure bat speed

JR (Murphy) has some bat speed…….Kyle Roller, big 1B – he’s got some unbelievable bat speed coming through the zone and that’s something you cant really teach. Of course Montero.

Pull Power

Montero, Gary Sanchez. Melky Mesa hit some balls a long way when he was here but Montero had the most pure power.

Power to All Fields

Gary Sanchez, Kyle Roller had some tremendous power, he hit some balls that were unbelievable. Great all around power, oppo power. Gary, being only 18 is impressive and has ability to drive the ball the other way.

Hits for Average

Rob Segedin, he was 22 but he kind of dominated, he uses the whole field and I could see him hitting for a high average throughout the system as he gets acclimated and gets his feet on the ground. Also David Adams and Corban Joseph too.

Uses the Whole Field

Segedin, Corban Joseph. Gary (Sanchez) does a good job when we convince him to use the whole field. He’s still only 18 and gonna be real good.

Best Fastball Hitter

Brandon Laird. Romine was a good fastball hitter.

Best Breaking Ball Hitter

(Ramon)Flores does a real good job, Laird was good at hitting the hanging breaking balls, Montero, Sanchez

When I watched Slade Heathcott play this year, his physique and immense natural talent really stood out. What are his strengths as a hitter and how do you see his shoulder injuries effecting his development?

He’s got all the talent in the world. His first year here, he was 19 yrs old and we just let him go. This year he was able to make adjustments and apply them early on until his shoulder started bothering him. Hopefully the shoulder thing he can put it past him and go out there and get enough ABs so he can move up through the system. He has ability to adjust his swing, we call it “Adjustability” with his swing – he can be fooled and still get the bat head to the ball. He definitely has the power, has the bat speed, can run, put the ball in play, get on base…..so he has all the things you look for in a Major League player

Gary Sanchez has been getting some high praise as one of the best hitters in all of the Minors. Talk about Gary’s strengths and what you see for him down the road.

Gary Sanchez is the top hitter in the system

I see a bright future. He has a cannon for an arm, he’s got power, he’s got bat speed, uses the whole field, has good pitch recognition – all the things you look for in a good young hitter The praise is justifiable. He’s still learning how to play. This was the first year he played every day and was just getting the feel for it and it took him until the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season to really get going and put it all together before he got hurt. He just needs repetitions, getting games behind the plate and playing baseball.

JR Murphy looked like he was hitting everything hard with Charleston in 2011. Do you see him developing his gap to gap line drives into HRs as he progresses?

Yes, I do. He’s still 20/21. He swung the bat real well the first half of last year where he was hitting 3 or 4 balls hard per game. He ran into a little lull before he was promoted. In Charleston, the wind blows in 80% of the time, it’s not a big HR park, so power numbers might be down when you look at Charleston hitters. I think he’s gonna hit some HRs since he does hit the ball hard. As he gets bigger and stronger, when he learns to sit on pitches and take advantage of some pitches he can really handle the HRs will come.

Ramon Flores has a pretty swing for a 19-yr old. Do you see him developing enough power to be a Corner OF in the Bigs?

I do. He has one of the most natural swings we’ve had come through here. And he does have some power. Last year he took advantage, he hit 11 HRs which is pretty good for a 19 year old in Charleston. The difference between 2 years ago when I first saw him and last year when his body filled out and the strength he had was big and hopefully he’ll continue to make that progress. I’m looking forward to see him in the spring to see what kind of shape he comes in. He hit some balls well, has a great swing, a natural swing, and a real great feel. Definitely one of the best natural hitters I’ve seen come through here.

Austin Romine seems like his Catching skills will lead to a long MLB career. Do you see him being a good hitter once comfortable in the Majors?

Yes, especially for a catcher. He had a real high leg kick when he was here 3 years ago – kind of out of control with it. The time he spent here we calmed it down some, got it under control some. In the bigs, the more he gets accustomed to better pitching, he’ll hit. He has characteristics of a big league hitter – real good feel for the barrel, power, power to all fields and ability to use the whole field too. That’s something he did show as a young hitter. I think he will be an above-average hitter.

Corban Joseph and David Adams have shown ability to hit at every level. What is your opinion of them as hitters?

Colbrunn called David Adams a poor man's Jeff Kent

They are hitters. We’re fortunate that the Yanks do a great job in the amateur scouting department to bring in pure hitters. They are natural hitters. David went through some changes at Virginia (in college), when he came to us we simplified some things and he just took off, took right to it. He’s gonna hit wherever he goes, a line drive hitter who works hard. If there’s one guy I could compare him to probably a poor mans Jeff Kent, that type of hitter.

Corban is natural, gets bigger & stronger every year, ball comes off the bat a little crisper. He has an uncanny ability to get the barrel to the ball. He can be fooled, he can be beaten by a fastball and still be able to get the barrel to the ball. Great set of hands on him, he can go out and flick some things or jump on some things. Corban’s going to hit wherever he goes.

How does it feel to work with a kid, watch him progress up the ladder, then see him traded to another club right when he’s ready to make an impact in the Majors a la Montero?

I’m happy for him. I’m glad he’s going to get the chance. When I came up through the Montreal system, that was one thing they always told us – there are 27 (now 29) other teams out there. Working for the Yankees you want to see a young player come up and play for the Yankees but you have to be realistic. We try to get them better whether they are gonna help us out or help another team out.

Yankees Top 40 Prospects for 2012

Could Mason Williams be #1 on this list next year?

Based on their recent actions and remarks, it seems the Yankees are serious about sticking to a smaller payroll now and at least through the 2014 season in an attempt to get under the $189 Million Luxury Tax threshold.  In order to do so, the club will need to look  to fill important positions from within and develop both impact and role players.

The Yankees system became known in recent years as being deep in Pitchers and Catchers but lacking in strong position prospects.  This was definitely a weakness identified by Mark Newman & Damon Oppenheimer and they addressed it by adding several solid up the middle athletes and corner players who can rake in the last 2 years.  Now, the system is more well-rounded although there is definitely a lack of upper-echelon hitters in the higher levels of the organization.

The system is still strong in upper level pitching. Even with Nova & Noesi graduating to NY, they still have 5 potential MLB starters in AAA (Banuelos, Betances, Warren, Phelps, DJ Mitchell).  The next level of pitching is led by Brett Marshall and several guys that need to take a step forward in 2012.  Oppenheimer has a history of drafting good college relievers and there are many strong-armed righties in the pipeline who could advance quickly.

Today, I will list the Top 40 with a quick blurb, then will follow-up with more in-depth on the Top 20 or so players in the coming weeks.  Each player has their position, Opening Day 2012 Age & expected level to start season.

1) Jesus Montero - C/DH, 22 – MLB

Has an elite bat that will make him a middle of the order MLB hitter for the next decade+. Rare blend of natural power to all fields with ability to make adjustments and take what pitcher gives him.   Only question is whether he will be anything more than a DH but a .300 hitter with 30 HR power will always find a spot even if he’s eventually a full-time DH.

2) Manny Banuelos- LHSP, 21 – AAA

Manny Banuelos

Had control issues in AA/AAA but most believe it’s just a matter of trying to be too fine as he has solid mechanics and repeats his delivery well.  Threw a career-high 130 innings so will be in line for 150-160 this year and could be ready to pitch for NY in 2nd half.

3) Gary Sanchez - C, 19 – HiA

Has big-time raw power and still growing into his 6’2″ frame.  His defense has been poor but I think he has the athleticism to convert to corner OF or 1B down the line and his bat is definitely strong enough to support such a switch.

4) Dellin Betances - RHSP, 24 - AAA

This is a big year for Betances. At 24, he needs to have a good year in AAA to prove he can pitch in a MLB rotation. Has plus, swing-and-miss stuff but most improve his control to cut down his pitch counts.

5) Mason Williams – CF, 20 – LoA

Dynamic player with plus-plus MLB speed and defense already. He put on a show in rookie ball and if he shows his offensive skills are for real this year in full-season ball, he may vault to #1 on this list next year.

6)  Dante Bichette, Jr. - 3B, 19 – LoA

Drafted for his plus power, he’s shown better defense than was thought. He’s really impressed the organization with his intangibles & makeup - namely his work ethic, advanced approach, knowledge of the game & leadership. Baseball America named him top prospect in Gulf Coast League and VP of baseball operations Mark Newman calls him “a special player and person.”

7) Austin Romine- C, 23 – AAA

His defense behind the plate is MLB-ready now.  His bat isn’t special but will be good enough for him to have a long career as a starting catcher in the bigs.

Phelps is a winner.

8) David Phelps - RHSP, 25 – AAA

Phelps is a winner who knows how to pitch. He’s 38-15 with a 2.61 ERA in his 4 years in the organization. He’s maintained the same solid numbers at every level including a 7.4 K/9 & 2.0 BB/9. Reminds me a little of Ian Kennedy. Missed time with shoulder issue but came back strong in August and was solid in AFL also.

9) Ravel Santana – OF, 19 – LoA

Tremendous physical skill set with power & speed. BA rated the wiry 6’2″ 160 pounder  right behind Bichette as best in the Gulf Coast League after he put up a .425 wOBA. Will have to overcome the broken ankle & torn ligaments he suffered last season so will likely start in extended ST this year.

10) Tyler Austin- 3B, 20 – LoA

Tyler Austin can hit for average and power.

I seem to be in the minority but I  really like this guy. He made his debut in the Gulf Coast and smashed to a .517 wOBA in 20 games, then followed up with .448 wOBA  in Staten Island. Has power to all fields and an advanced approach that helps him drive off-speed pitches. How many 20-year olds can you say that about? BA ranked him 8th best prospect in NY Penn League. Only question mark is his defense at 3B but he’s athletic enough to play the OF if need be. He even stole 18 of 18 bases in just 47 games which tells me he has good instincts and a feel for the game.

11) J.R. Murphy - C/3B, 20 – HiA

Improved his game offensively & defensively before ending season early with leg injury. Rips line drives to all fields and scouts now believe he has the ability to remain as a catcher while also showing the athleticism to play 3B and OF. Could become a very versatile asset in the Majors.

12) Slade Heathcott - CF, 21 – HiA

He’s Gardner-like in the OF right now and has more offensive potential. However, I’m a little concerned with his constant injuries and questionable makeup. To have his speed and get thrown out stealing 17 times in 38 attempts is baffling. But, if he matures and stays healthy, he could be special.

13) Brett Marshall- RHSP, 22 – AA

Brett Marshall

Now fully recovered from his 2009 Tommy John Surgery, he threw career high 140 IP with 3.24 FIP. Has good low 90s sinker and makings of a plus slider. Has flashed mid 90s velocity at times and will be interesting how he does in AA this year.

14) Adam Warren- RHSP,  24 – AAA

Warren is next in a succession of Yankee right handers, behind Nova and Noesi, ready to advance to the majors. He threw 152 IP in AAA with a 3.60 ERA and on a lesser team without depth, he’d have a great chance to make the rotation.

15) Corban Joseph - 2B, 23 – AAA

Has patient approach and nice lefty stroke that generates hard line drives but there are concerns about his defense at 2B and 3B. He had .346 wOBA in Trenton with 38 doubles and 8 triples but doesn’t get the lift and backspin to hit HRs.

16) Zoilo Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Solid all-around skills. Good defense, speed and power that has improved the last 2 years. Yanks added the switch-hitter to their 40-man to protect him from Rule 5 draft and he could be a candidate to make the team in 2013.

17) Graham Stoneburner - RHSP, 24 – AA

Season was marred by a neck injury that kept him out 2 months and he was never quite effective as excellent debut in 2010. But he still has a great sinking fastball that gets tons of grounders.

18) David Adams - 2B, 24 – AA

The ankle injury he suffered in 2010 lingered all season and the Yankees were very careful with Adams. He played sparingly in only 29 games.  If he’s finally healthy this season he could progress quickly as he has an excellent bat that rips line drives to all fields.

19) Angelo Gumbs- 2B, 19 – LoA

Great up the middle athlete shows lightning quick bat speed and raw power to go with strong arm and nice speed. BA rated him 14th best prospect in NY Penn League where he had .341 wOBA, 4 triples & 11 SB in 220 PAs.

Nik Turley has that Andy Pettitte look down pat.

20) Nik Turley - LHSP. 22 – HiA

6’7″ lefty reminds me a litle of Andy Pettitte.  Took a step forward with 2.51 ERA and 8.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 82 IP in Charleston til a broken hand ended his season after being promoted to Tampa.

21) DJ Mitchell - RHSP, 24 – AAA

Similar to David Phelps, Mitchell is someone who just keeps pitching well and winning. Sinker/slider pitcher with solid change-up could be another back end starter/long-relief candidate.

22) Mark Montgomery - RHRP, 21 – HiA

Overwhelmed hitters with low-mid 90s Fastball and an unhittable slider leading to a 16.4 K/9 and 1.91 ERA as closer in Charleston.  His slider is just unfair to young hitters and he needs to be tested against more advanced hitters to see how quick he can advance.

23) Brandon Laird - 3B, 24 – AAA

Strong defensive 3B with good power but he doesn’t take many walks or hit for much average.  Has also played some 1B & LF so could be a backup candidate in NY.

24) Cito Culver- SS, 19 – LoA

Showed strong arm with smoothness in the field and compact swing from both sides of the plate. BA rated him 6th best prospect in NYPenn League where he hit .250/.323/.337.  He’s a project that will take time to develop his offensive game.

25) Ramon Flores - OF, 20 – HiA

Sweet lefty stroke and patient approach at plate, had .350 wOBA in Charleston. Good OF with strong arm and solid all-around tools. Only 5’10″ 160 so should get stronger and develop some pop.

26) George Kontos - RHRP, 26 – MLB

Standard FB/Slider reliever, held RH hitters to a .182 BAA in AAA.  Averages about a strikeout per inning but is a fly-ball pitcher who is prone to HRs.

27) Claudio Custodio - 2B, 21 – LoA

Talented 2B/SS with very good speed.  Hit ball well in GCL and  showed willingness to take a walk.  Hit .325 with .433 OBP and 26 SB in 28 attempts.

28) Tommy Kahnle - RHRP, 22 – HiA

Power reliever had 2.45 FIP in 81 IP with 12.4 K/9 but also 5.4 BB/9. Sits around 93-95 and can dial it up to 96-97 with a developing slider.  Needs to improve his command and secondary pitches.

29) Isias Tejada – C, 20 – LoA

Next in line of promising Yankee catcher prospects, Tejada showed his ability to make good, hard contact with a .971 OPS in the GCL with only a 12% strike out rate.

30) Brandon Pinder - RHRP, 23 – LoA

Dominated mostly younger hitters as closer in Staten Island with 11.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and 1.16 ERA.  Has great command of 94-95 mph Fastball but has no quality secondary pitch yet.

31) Bryan MitchellRHSP, 20 – LoA

Plus stuff but still very raw. Put things together by end of year and shows strikeout (8.6 K/9) and ground-ball stuff (2.19 GO/AO rate)

32) Jose Rosario- SS/2B, 20 – LoA

Hit just as well as teammate Bichette with .331 average and .529 SLG%.  He’s a hacker with a 3.2% Walk rate but he’s caught the attention of the organization and earned a late season promotion to Charleston. Mark Newman stated, “He can run (11 SB in 43 games) and throw. He hit 6 HRs, so he has some ability to impact the ball.  By diligence, he’s turning himself into a quality prospect.”

33) Taylor Morton - RHSP, 20 – LoA

Made impressive debut in GCL. The 6’3″ righty should get stronger and he already possesses a plus change, low 90′s FB and good command.

34) Rob Segedin - 3B, 23 – HiA

Big 3B/OF with strong hitting skills. Earned promotion with .395wOBA at Charleston but struggled some in Tampa. Yanks put him in AFL this Fall where he went .250/.367/.407.

35) Daniel Lopez – CF, 20 – LoA

Another emerging all-around athlete with good speed. Showed power potential this year hitting .327/.413/.490 with 27 SB in 61 games across 3 levels.

36) Jose Ramirez - RHSP, 22 – HiA

Promising arm took a step back this year but still notched strong K rates so stuff is still there.

37) Evan Rutckyj- LHSP, 20 – LoA

Big strong 6’5″ lefty got stronger as the season progressed and generates a lot of ground-balls.

38) Cesar Cabral - LHRP, 23 – MLB

Rule 5 pick from Red Sox system, he’ll have chance to make team in ST as second lefty in pen. Gets a lot of Ks with good Fastball and plus Changeup.

39) Pat Venditte SWRP, 26 – AAA

Doesn’t have dominating stuff but continues to post good overall numbers and solid K rates at every level.  Biggest drawback is he’s a heavy flyball pitcher.

40) Abe Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Plus defender and baserunner but wildly inconsistent at the plate. Switch-hitter had huge 2nd half, riding a 30-game hitting streak and showing off good extra base hit power.  Needs to prove 2nd half surge was real at AA this year.

Other NotablesWalter Ibarra, Kyle Roller, Zach Nuding, Dan Burawa, Chase Whitley, Ronnie Mustlier, Yeicock Calderon, Robert Lyerly, Melky Mesa, Dan Brewer, Brad Suttle, Jorge Vazquez, Ben Gamel, Gabe  Encinas, Matt Tracy, Zach Wilson, Evan DeLuca, Mikey O’Brien

New Additions to Watch in 2012: Greg Bird, Jake Cave, Matt Duran, Jordan Cote, Justin James, Dan Camarena, Hayden Sharp, Rookie Davis, Miquel Andujar

Minor Lg. Season in Review: Class A – Charleston Riverdogs

The Class A Charleston Riverdogs went through a season of constant flux.  They started the season with an extremely talented starting lineup consisting of 5 of the organizations top 15 position players.  Expectations were high, however due to promotions and injuries, the team that finished the season looked entirely different.  the team had little continuity and that led to a disappointing 55-85 record.

The team’s top two hitters were promoted to Tampa in June. 3B Rob Segedin & 1B Kyle Roller finished the season in the Florida State League so I will go into more detail on them in the Tampa season review.  Segedin was hitting .323/.396/.482 and Roller was at .305/.379/.545 at the time of their promotions, so their bats were sorely missed.

Overall the team finished in the middle of the pack or worse in most offensive categories in the 14 team South Atlantic Lg.  They were 10th in runs, 8th in HRS,  batting avg (.259) &  OBP (.330).

HITTERS

Slade Heathcott – CF,  20, 6’1″ 190

Another shoulder injury for Slade

Slade is anything but boring.  The 2009 1st round pick (#29) got off to a blazing start hitting .370/.457/.630 through the teams first 20 games in April.  However on May 13th, he was hit by a pitch leading off a game and ignited a brawl by attacking the catcher.  Slade’s numbers declined after that amazing April but he was promoted to Tampa on June 29th.  He celebrated by going 3 for 5 with a HR in his 1st game.  Unfortunately, this was his only game as he missed the remainder of the season with a left shoulder injury.

Heathcott finished with a .279/.347/.437/.784 line in 53 games.  He showed some increased power at the plate this year as he continues to get stronger.  He already is a plus-plus defender in CF and was voted the  best defensive outfielder in Class A by Baseball America. Slade is also as fast as anyone in the minors although this has not turned into success in stealing bases yet.  He was an unacceptable 6 of 13 in SBs this yr after going 15 for 25 in 2010.  This player has all the tools needed to be a starter in MLB but there are questions about his character, attitude & durability that will ned to be answered in the years to come.

JR Murphy – C/3B, 20, 6’0″ 190

Murphy was a 2009 2nd rd pick who raised his stock by having improving in almost every category this year.  He hit .297/.343/.457 with 6 hrs and 23 doubles in 277 PAs with Charleston.  He showed ability to rip line drives all over the field which led to an improved ISO from .121 in 2010 to .160 in 2011.  JR also cut down his strikeouts whiffing only 13.7% of the time.  Murphy also erased a lot of concerns about his ability to catch as he drew rave reviews from several scouts for the improvement in his receiving & throwing skills.  His play earned him a promotion to Tampa but he only played 23 games before being lost for the season on July 21 with a foot injury. He hit only .259/.270/.365 in 85 abs.

Gary Sanchez caught fire at the end of the season

Gary Sanchez – C,  18, 6’2″ 220

Sanchez got a huge $3 Million Bonus to sign in 2009 and was in everyone’s Top 5 Yankee prospects entering this yr.  MLB.com had him #32 in all of baseball.  However, he got off to a poor start this yr offensively and defensively. Through July 31st he was a disappointing .236 with 10 hrs but something clicked in August as he hit .433 with 7 hrs in the first 9 games. But his season full of slumps, streaks, suspensions & injuries came to a halt due to a hand injury just as he was catching fire.

For the yr Sanchez finished .256/.335/.485 with 17 hrs in 301 abs which is respectable when you remember he is only 18 yrs old and playing his first yr of full-season pro ball. He must cut down on his huge 27.1 K% at the plate and improve on his defense behind the plate. Scouts criticized his defense this yr mostly for his lack of focus and poor form.  He has the tools to remain at Catcher but he’ll have to prove he has the work ethic and concentration.  He was sent back to Extended Spring training in May for a poor attitude after a few incidents.  Hopefully, he learned from this and it can be written off as an 18 yr old dealing with struggling for the first time in his career.

Ramon Flores – OF/1B, 19, 5’10″ 150

Flores is one of the few players to play a full season for Charleston. The strong armed OF has a sweet left handed stroke and hit .265/.353./.400 with 11 hrs & 13 sbs.  He has a good idea of the strike zone and had a solid 11.4% Walk rate. Flores does a lot of things well and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a hitter as he gets bigger and stronger.

Shane Brown – OF, 23, 5’11″ 197

Brown was considered nothing more than an organizational player coming into the season. As a 23rd round pick, he hit just .234 in Staten Island last yr so he repeated the level this yr.  However, in 22 games he tore up the NY Penn Lg hitting .446/.544/.635 to earn the promotion. In 35 games in Charleston, he hit .321 for a combined .366/.465/.473 line in 205 abs with 11% Walk rate and 7.8% K rate.  He doesn’t have speed or power but he has shown great ability to get on base.

PITCHERS

Shane Greene – RHP, 22, 6’4″ 210

Greene has a good pitcher’s frame and some promising stuff so was a lot of people’s pick this ST to take a leap forward.  He did show some signs but was still too inconsistent. He finished 5-14, 4.37 era but had a 3.89 fip, 8.4 K/9 and 1.53 Ground Out ratio. So he shows ability to get strikeouts and ground balls but must improve on his .265 opposing BA and 4.4 bb/9.

Nik Turley – LHP, 22, 6’7″ 230

Nik Turley had a breakout season

Turley was one of the systems breakout pitchers this season. He doesn’t light up the radar gun (sits around 90) but has a nice slurve and makings of a solid change, all of which he throws for strikes.  Nik posted a  2.81 era with 87 Ks in 89ip and only 22 walks.  Turley was a project taken in the 50th round of the 2008 draft who has grown 3 inches & 30 lbs since and finally busted out this yr.Looking at some of the pictures and video, this kid has mechanics and mannerisms like Andy Pettitte. Nik earned a promotion to Hi-A Tampa but his season was cut short after just 2 appearances with a broken hand. This big lefty will be someone to watch closely in 2012.

Zachary Nuding – RHP, 21, 6’4″ 250

I got a chance to see Nuding pitch in May and he threw 6 shutout innings. He’s a big strong guy who sits around 89-91 but gets it up to 93-94 at times. He steps to the 3rd base side with his front foot and throws across his body kind of like Jered Weaver does. Zach finished 7-6, 4.48 era/4.36 fip, 7.5 k/9, 4.0 bb/9, 0.64 GO/AO, 1.0 HR/9.  He had a good .232 opposing BA but he needs to improve his command, generate more ground balls & refine his off-speed pitches so he can strike out more batters.

Jose Ramirez – RHP, 21, 6’1″ 155

Ramirez began the season in Tampa with high expectations but got smacked around with a 8.14 ERA in 6 starts leading to a demotion to Charleston.  He pitched better in CHS finishing  with a 4.78 ERA / 4.17 FiP.  His 21.0% K rate and 9.2% walk rate were almost identical to his successful 2010 season.  The difference was his GO to AirOut ratio fell from 1.16 to 0.82 which lead to a big increase in Batting Avg Against (.239 to .292) and HR/9 (from 0.23 to 1.06). Ramirez gets good low to mid 90s velocity from his wiry frame and has the makings of a nice change-up. His breaking ball isn’t good at this point but he has time to develop it.

Vidal Nuno – LHP, 24, 5’11″ 195

The Yankees purchased Nuno from an independent league and he started the season in Staten Island. Pitching out of the pen he was 5-0 0.72 era with 29 ks in 25 ip. He was promoted to Charleston and started 7 games where he was just as dominant with a 37 to 2 SO to walk ratio in 40 ip!  Overall for the season, he was 7-1 with a 1.38 era and 66 Ks & just 5 walks in 65ip.  At 24, he’s older than many in the league but a 66 to 5 SO to walk rate cannot be ignored.

Thomas Kahnle – RHP, 22, 6’1″ 220

Kahnle was a 5th rd pick in 2010 who was used as a 1-3 ip reliever in CHS this yr.  He had an impressive 12.4 K/9 and .223 opposition BA but a far too high 5.4 BB/9.  His 4.22 ERA wasn’t indicative of how well he pitched since he had a 2.45 FIP and miniscule 0.11 HR/9 rate.  He sits in the 93-94 range and can pump it up to the 96 with a slider that shows potential. Kahnle definitely has a future as a reliever, how well depends on how his command and  secondary pitches progress

Mark Montgomery – RHP, 21, 5’11″ 205

Mark Montgomery had a 16.4 K/9 and fanned 5 in 1 IP!

Montgomery signed as an 11th rd pick in June and after a 4 game cameo in Staten Island came to CHS. He wasted no time making an impression by breaking a professional record by striking out 5 batters in 1 inning in his first game! Mark dominated hitters with a low-mid 90s fastball and a nasty slider that he uses to rack up strikeouts.  Overall, he had an amazing 16.4 K/9 with 51Ks and 13 BB in 28.1 ip. He saved 15 games with a 1.91 ERA.  He has the moxie to be a closer and I’m anxious to see how his slider plays against more advanced hitters.

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