10 Yankees prospects to watch
Future appears bright on the mound and behind the plate
With the 2009 season quickly approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Yankees' most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Alfredo Aceves, RHP: It's been an unusual path for the right-hander, but it's landed him on the cusp of being a big league regular. After signing with the Blue Jays back in 2001, he spent six years pitching in the Mexican League before the Yankees signed him last winter. In his first full season in the system, the now 26-year-old went from Class A Advanced ball all the way to the big leagues. He's got solid stuff across the board, with a fastball, curve, cutter and changeup, and he can throw all of them where and when he wants to. He's smart on the mound and fields his position extremely well. He's also shown the ability to start and come out of the 'pen at the big league level. He's competing for a long relief job in camp this spring, though he may be a bit of a long shot.
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Dellin Betances, RHP: It's hard not to like the combination of size and stuff this almost 21-year-old possesses. The 6-foot-8 Brooklyn native has come a long way since joining the system as an eighth-round pick in the 2006 Draft. His first full season (2007) was a wash because of arm trouble, but he rebounded last year and had one of the best strikeout rates in the Minors. He's worked hard with the pitching instructors in the organization to smooth out his delivery and the results showed up largely in his second-half command last year (40 walks in 55 first-half innings, 19 BB in 60 1/3 second-half IP). When it's all working, he's got big-time stuff, with a plus fastball, a curve and changeup. It should be interesting to watch how the right-hander will handle the next step up the ladder.
Jeremy Bleich, LHP: The Yankees' supplemental first-round pick in last year's Draft (No. 44 overall), Bleich is a college lefty who really knows how to pitch. He didn't get to show that much last summer, appearing in just one New York-Penn League game (though he tossed four scoreless innings in the playoffs). But he went to Hawaii Winter Baseball and finished fifth with a 1.77 ERA over 35 2/3 innings, showing there were no ill effects from an elbow strain that kept him out of action for a while during his junior season at Stanford. His stuff is also advanced. His fastball grades out as average, he's got a curve that he can vary to give it different looks and he throws a changeup that can be a plus at times. He's the kind of pitcher who could move quickly through the system.
Andrew Brackman, RHP: The Yankees, typically, have drafted near or at the end of the first round, so it's rare to see top-flight talent reach them. Such was the case when they got Brackman in the 2007 Draft, and it's a big reason they took the big right-hander even though he came with an elbow injury. After a year of rehab following Tommy John surgery, the 6-foot-10 starter was throwing hard in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He can crank it up to 97 mph and knows how to spin a curve. Being 6-foot-10 can be a hindrance in terms of mechanics and delivery, but he's such an exceptional athlete, that it's not a real issue. What Brackman, now in big league camp, really needs is experience. Between being a two-sport star in college and the injury, the 23-year-old is still raw and 2009 will be his true debut in the Yankees system.
Phil Coke, LHP: Perhaps best known for not being included in the Xavier Nady trade with the Pirates, Coke should be known for the kind of stuff he's got on the mound. The 2002 draft-and-follow really clicked in 2008, pitching across two levels and finishing among the organization leaders in wins, ERA and strikeouts before making his big league debut. Primarily a starter in the past, the Yankees moved him to the 'pen late last year in anticipation of using him in that role in New York, and he responded extremely well. In a relief role, he could run his fastball up to 95 mph to go with an above-average slider and quality changeup. The Yankees love having the flexibility of a guy who can handle either role. He's competing this spring for a bullpen spot and has been looking very good in camp.
Austin Jackson, OF: There has never been any question about Jackson's tools. A tremendous athlete who turned down a basketball scholarship to sign with the Yankees in 2005, it's always been about when -- or if -- the performance would catch up to the potential. He can do a little bit of everything well and has been improving rapidly at playing the game. He was basically a college-aged player (21) in Double-A in 2008 and handled himself just fine, making the Eastern League All-Star team and winning playoff MVP honors as Trenton won another title. He should grow into more power and he's a very good defender in center field. His makeup is off the charts, which should serve him well in New York, a place from which he'll likely be just a phone call away for much of the 2009 season.
Zach McAllister, RHP: A high schooler taken in the third round of the 2006 Draft, McAllister had been brought along slowly until he really took off in 2008. Pitching across two full-season levels, the big (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) right-hander led the organization in ERA (2.09, seventh in the Minors) and tied for the lead in wins to earn MLB.com's organizational Pitcher of the Year honors. Now 21, McAllister has three quality pitches to choose from. He throws a fastball in the 90-93 mph range with some serious sink and he locates it very well, especially for a young pitcher. To complement the fastball, he throws a good slider and changeup (he walked 21 in 2008). He seemed to get better as the season wore on and when he was moved up, so the Yankees are very interested to see if he continues to grow as a pitcher with the next challenge.
Mark Melancon, RHP: Similar to Brackman, the Yankees took a chance on Melancon, who slid to them in the ninth round of the 2006 Draft because of an elbow strain. He pitched briefly that summer, blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss all of 2007. Whatever rustiness he had, he shook off in a hurry, going 8-1 with a 2.27 ERA over 95 innings of relief across three levels. He had a .202 opponents' batting average and capped the year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's International League title. Melancon throws strikes with three pitches, which is rare for a reliever. His fastball sits in the 92-95 mph range and he's got a quality curve and changeup to go with it. He's a real bulldog on the mound and has off-the-charts makeup. It looks like he's just about ready to contribute out of the Yankees bullpen.
Jesus Montero, C: One thing seems absolutely certain about Montero, a 19-year-old catcher. He hit .326 in his full-season debut, finishing second in the South Atlantic League and first in the organization. He was an SAL All-Star and attended the All-Star Futures Game (not to mention being MLB.com's Hitter of the Year for the organization), all at age 18. He also hit 17 homers and led the system with 87 RBIs. He's as good a hitter as the Yankees have had in their system in a long time and his bat will play anywhere. There's still work to be done defensively, with some feeling he'll move to first base or the outfield down the line, but the Yankees are pleased with the amount of progress he's made behind the plate. He's worked with big league coach Tony Pena and has fully committed to the effort needed to try and become a full-time catcher.
Austin Romine, C: That's right, another young backstop with a bright future in the system, leaving the Yankees feeling very fortunate to have two such players at the same time. The 20-year-old can throw and he can hit, finishing 10th in the South Atlantic League with a .300 average. He's got some pop in his bat and if he's behind Montero offensively, it's not by much. Like many young catchers, he's learning the nuances of the position in terms of running a game and handling pitchers, but he's got that plus arm strength and has proven to be a quick study, improving considerably over the year in terms of his defensive responsibilities. Coming from a baseball family -- his dad, Kevin, played in the big leagues and his brother, Andrew, is in the Angels system -- certainly has helped him close that learning curve.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.