Tyler Austin: All the former 13th round pick in 2010 has done has hit and mash his way through the minor leagues in quick fashion, hitting a combined .322 with 35 doubles and 17 home runs, and steal 23 bases over four minor league levels in 2012 after hitting a combined .354 in his debut season the year prior.
Defensively he has gone from more of a suspect third baseman to an above average right fielder in one short year and offensively he has really begun to tap a lot of that raw power potential. The stolen base and defensive aspects of his game, however, make him more than a mere slugger so he can help the team in a lot of ways, and the scary part is he has room to get better.
Ramon Flores: The 2008 International signing out of Venezuela is a 'sleeper' in national circles because neither his power nor speed grade out as better than big league average, but those same folks tend to underrate his one plus tool and that's his natural hitting ability.
He hit .302 for the high-A Tampa Yankees in 2012, drew at least 54 walks for the second consecutive season despite being only 20 years old, and he boasts one of the prettiest swings in all of minor league baseball. He'll never be a plus power hitter but he has the chance to be Robinson Cano-like where his plus hitting ability will help his average power potential play at a higher level down the road.
Slade Heathcott: The former first round pick in 2009 had a pair of shoulder surgeries earlier in his career and that caused him to take some time to develop, but he finally seems to be coming into his own after hitting a combined .302 with 25 extra-base hits and 19 stolen bases in just 65 games between two levels in 2012, and then followed that up with a .388 performance in the Arizona Fall League this offseason.
|ENORMOUS UPSIDE: Heathcott can do amazing things on a baseball diamond. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Mason Williams: Like Heathcott, Williams, a fourth round pick in 2010, has all of the natural talent to be a big league All Star player on both sides of the ball; plus speed, plus defense, plus hitting ability, and a very patient approach. The only knock on him entering the 2012 season was what was perceived as average at best power potential, but he quickly put those concerns to bed by clubbing eleven home runs last season.
The two biggest concerns with him going forward -- his lack of walks and a sometimes sullen and lackadaisical approach to his game -- are both a bit overblown. He might not ever be a big walks guy but that's because he knows when to be aggressive, and the makeup concerns are more about him being too hard on himself at times. Some have compared him to a left-handed hitting version of Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen -- which isn't a bad comp -- but he also has some Kenny Lofton type skills to his game as well. The bottom line? He has huge upside.
Closest to the Majors
Abraham Almonte: There was a time where the Dominican native was one of the highest ceiling outfielders in the system -- and still only 23 years old with a full season of Double-A baseball under his belt he very well could still fit into that category -- but injuries have derailed him so much that he can't really be counted on until he can prove he can remain healthy for a full season.
He is a switch-hitter, has plus speed [he stole 30 bases in just 78 games last year], plus defensive abilities, plus-plus makeup and leadership skills, and surprising power for a leadoff type. There's still some considerable ceiling left in his game, but now ready for Triple-A, he'll be on the short list of potential in-house outfielders over the next year or two if the needs arises.
Zoilo Almonte: Like Abraham, Zoilo is on the precipice of being big league ready. In fact, already a member of the 40-man roster, Zoilo even has a leg up on his outfield competition. He is coming off of a career-high 21 home run reason with the Double-A Trenton Thunder last season and his .277 average last year was the highest it had been at a minor league stop since he hit .278 in 58 games at the low-A level in 2010.
He has been a little too inconsistent over the years to be considered one of the top prospects in the organization. However, the switch-hitter has really been crushing right-handed pitching in recent years and his left-handed swing could be tailor made for Yankee Stadium. He might not got the press but he is not only close to reaching the big leagues, he could also have a very surprising impact when he gets there.
Melky Mesa: Blessed with plus speed, plus power potential, plus defensive abilities, and plus-plus arm strength, there was a time where Mesa had one of the highest ceilings in the entire farm system [and he still does]. However, he didn't walk much, struck out way too much, and never really hit for average.
It's tough to shake that kind of sink-or-swim label but the fact is Mesa's strikeouts have gone down in each of the past four seasons and his combined .264 average between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2012 was a career high. And with the Yankees in desperate need of a right-handed hitting outfielder for 2013, rolling the dice with Mesa could pay big dividends [but it could also be anemic too].
In Part Two we'll examine the sleepers, the outfield prospects who need to make their mark soon, and the ones where the jury is still out.