Trio of Yankees among Top 50 prospects
MLB.com tabs catchers Montero, Sanchez, southpaw Banuelos
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' player development pipeline continues to pump out promising talent, as three Bombers youngsters have earned spots on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list for the 2011 season.
Catchers Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez were joined by left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos to represent New York throughout the rankings, which were unveiled Tuesday on the site along with an hour-long presentation on the MLB Network.
Montero, 21, was ninth on MLB.com's list, earning a place as the top catching prospect in the game. The slugging backstop shrugged off a rough start in his first taste of Triple-A baseball in 2010, batting .351/.396/.684 in the second half while continuing to improve his receiving abilities.
The Yankees were so impressed with Montero's progress that, for a time, he was being spoken of as the heir apparent to Jorge Posada for the starting catching job in the Bronx as soon as this season. Instead, the Opening Day job seems targeted for December pickup Russell Martin, with the Yankees seeing an opportunity to cover their bases in case Montero isn't quite ready.
But with Montero's loud bat having already generated a great deal of buzz both inside and outside the organization, it is possible that Martin's time in New York will wind up serving as just a stopgap until Montero forces himself into pinstripes.
New York's system is blessed with a crop of catching talent, and while slick-fielding Austin Romine didn't make MLB.com's Top 50 list, 18-year-old Gary Sanchez appeared as the game's No. 32 prospect.
After receiving a $3 million signing bonus from the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic, Sanchez batted .353/.419/.597 in the Rookie level Gulf Coast League to earn a late bump to short-season Class A Staten Island, where he played in 16 games and held his own.
Owning a mix of offensive and defensive potential, Sanchez has the Yankees dreaming big. He was picked as the third-best catching prospect in the game by MLB.com, and the organization will be watching closely as he projects to open 2011 with an introduction to full-season ball at Class A Charleston.
Banuelos will turn 20 in March and has already turned heads as one of the Yankees' top talents to keep an eye on. Ranking as MLB.com's No. 35 prospect overall, Banuelos was also selected as the No. 10 left-hander on the way up, though he's a bit too far off to be considered a possible answer for the club's rotation woes coming out of the spring.
Despite a slight frame, Banuelos makes scouts salivate thanks to a high-octane fastball that he commands well, with a curveball and a changeup that have earned nods as being quite good. He was discovered by the Yankees in Mexico back in 2008, signing a contract in the same batch of transactions that imported Alfredo Aceves into New York's chain.
Having spent most of his season at Class A Tampa with three starts at Double-A Trenton, Banuelos figures to be back honing his craft in the Eastern League to start 2011, looking to harness the potential that has some believing he can be a front-line starter at the Major League level within the next few years.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.