It might sound difficult for a 6-foot-8, 260-pound prospect to become virtually invisible, but that's exactly what happened to Dellin Betances.
The 2006 eighth-round pick was signed with a lot of fanfare and an over-slot bonus out of high school as a high-ceiling, future front-of-the-rotation type right-hander. No one thought he'd be a fast tracker, but he developed very slowly, spending his first two summers in short-season ball and throwing a grand total of 48 1/3 innings in 2006-7 combined.
He finally made it to full-season ball in 2008 and started to jump on the radar after 121 2/3 innings that season. But he was off again the following year, when he had a 5.48 ERA in 11 starts with Single-A Tampa and ended up needing elbow surgery.
"I know I kind of fell off the map a little bit with all the injuries the previous years," Betances said. "I felt I got stronger mentally and got a lot of help from the Yankee coaches. I put a lot of hard work in the offseason to put myself in the situation I am now."
That situation included a spot on the 40-man roster this past November and his first trip to big league camp this spring. Those two feathers in his cap were earned as a result of coming back from the surgery and going 8-1 with a 2.11 ERA over 17 starts in 2010. Betances spent most of his time last season with Tampa, but earned a late promotion to Double-A that finished with a good postseason performance from the big right-hander.
"This past year, I thought everything went well," Betances, now 23, said. "I rehabbed [hard]. I'll just try to work on my mechanics and stuff like that to put up the numbers last year.
"Right now, I'm trying to keep my consistency, try to command my three pitches more. If I can get three down pat, I feel like I'll have another good year."
That likely will come with a start back in Trenton, but with his sights set much higher. No longer is Betances the forgotten man, that once-promising arm left in the netherworld of rehab and extended Spring Training. Now he can dream about pitching in Yankee Stadium once again, something the New York City native tries not to let consume his thoughts.
"I try not to think about it," Betances said. "But born and raised in New York, you look up to these guys and you're like, 'Man, I definitely want to wear the pinstripes and get looked at as one of those players that helps the Yankees win championships.' I try not to put too much pressure. I just try to work as hard as I can to get there."
Yankees' Top 10 Prospects
1. Jesus Montero, C: Ranked No. 9 overall on MLB.com's Top 50 prospect list and as the top catching prospect in the game, 21-year-old Montero's bat is just about ready for the big leagues. The question is about his glove, though the Yankees feel he has come a long way. He's got a chance to spend some time as the backup at the start of the season in New York, though some every-day time in Triple-A to continue working on his catching wouldn't be a bad thing. There's still hope he can be an offensive-minded starting backstop in the big leagues.
2. Gary Sanchez, C: Sanchez has the chance to be a better all-around catcher than Montero when all is said and done. Ranked No. 32 overall -- and third on the catching list -- he had a very strong United States debut, showing the ability to hit for average and power. He's got all the tools needed to be a good defensive catcher as well and just needs time behind the plate. He should get plenty of it in full-season ball this year at the ripe old age of 18.
3. Manny Banuelos, LHP: The No. 35 prospect (and No. 10 LHP) created quite a buzz in big league camp this spring, showing just why the Yankees are excited about the 20-year-old lefty. With a plus fastball now, as well as good command, to go along with a very good breaking ball and a changeup that froze more than one big league hitter this spring, he's got the chance to have three above-average to plus pitches. He just needs some more development time to refine his command and face hitters at the upper levels.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
4. Dellin Betances, RHP: Finally healthy in 2010, Betances came back in June and began to show why the Yankees gave him an above-slot bonus back in the 2006 Draft. He can get his fastball up into the mid-90s, throws an outstanding curve and a changeup that's inconsistent, but has a chance. He should join Banuelos in that Trenton rotation to start the year and if he can stay healthy, still has a very high ceiling.
5. Austin Romine, C: Another catcher in the system, Romine came in at No. 8 among prospects behind the plate. The 22-year-old was competing with Montero this spring for the part-time backup spot in New York, mostly because his defensive skills surpass Montero's. That doesn't mean he can't hit, with some extra-base pop that should continue to develop. He's got a strong arm and solid receiving skills, and while he doesn't have the offensive ceiling of Montero, there are more who believe he's the one who could be an every-day catcher in the big leagues. He and Montero should settle in as the catching tandem in Triple-A this season.
6. Andrew Brackman, RHP: The 2007 first-round pick has followed an unusual path, starting with Tommy John surgery right after signing. The 25-year-old didn't make his Yankees debut until 2009, but it was last year when he started showing some real progress, moving up to Double-A and posting a 3.01 ERA over 15 games with Trenton. The former 6-foot-10-inch basketball standout is a good athlete, and has the chance to pitch with an above-average to plus fastball and curve. He's got a slider and a changeup that are works in progress. He could jump up to Triple-A and be the proverbial phone call away.
7. Ivan Nova, RHP: In December 2008, Nova was taken by the San Diego Padres in the Rule 5 Draft, but returned to the Yankees. Now he's been picked as New York's No. 4 starter at the beginning of the season. Nova, 24, had an outstanding 2010 in Triple-A and showed some glimpses in the big leagues last year, though he had some difficulty pitching deep into games. Stuff-wise, it's all there, with the chance to have a fastball-curve-change arsenal at his disposal, though the fastball is ahead of the other two. An outstanding spring has opened the door to the rotation, though some still see him as a reliever for the long-term.
8. Hector Noesi, RHP: Noesi was a Florida State League All-Star and Futures Game participant in 2010, even making it up to Triple-A for a few starts to end the season. Along the way, he led the organization in wins and strikeouts while landing sixth in ERA. With just 28 walks in 160 1/3 IP, Noesi has outstanding command, particularly of his fastball. The 24-year-old has a changeup and two breaking pitches, both of which aren't great at this point, but have a chance to be decent offerings. He should be a part of the rotation in Scranton.
9. Eduardo Nunez, INF: It's taken a while -- the Yankees signed Nunez back in 2004 -- but 23-year-old Nunez is now on the verge of being a big leaguer after an All-Star season in Triple-A and his first Major League callup in 2010. A terrific shortstop defensively, Nunez can also play second and third and could also see time in the outfield. He's got good speed that should allow him to steal a few bases and makes pretty consistent contact at the plate as a free swinger. He could land on the 25-man roster to start the season in a super-sub utility role.
10. Slade Heathcott, OF: The 2009 first-round pick spent a little more than half the 2010 season with Class-A Charleston. There, he showed glimpses of all the tools that made him one of the better high school position players in that Draft class. Now age 20, he should develop power from the left side as he matures, he runs very well and could be a plus all-around defender in center field. He is, however, still raw and is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.
Under the Radar
Melky Mesa, OF: Signed back in 2003, it took this toolsy outfielder five summers to make it to full-season ball. And when he did, he didn't hit much, bringing home a .225 average in Charleston back in 2009. He did show a power-speed combination (20 homers and 18 steals), something that was still there last year (19 homers, 31 steals). He also hit .260 and dropped his strikeout rate considerably. The 24-year-old was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason and will likely give Double-A a try in 2011.
David Phelps, RHP: The Notre Dame product taken in the 14th round of the 2008 Draft spent his second straight year pitching at two levels and now finds himself knocking on the door to the bigs. In 2010, he was an Eastern League All-Star before moving up to Triple-A, finishing with the second lowest ERA and second most strikeouts in the system. At age 24, he relies on command -- 2.0 BB/9 in his career -- and his stuff limits his ceiling. But a guy who goes 31-8 with a 2.50 ERA to date deserves some notice.
Hitter of the Year -- Sanchez
With Montero potentially seeing some time in the Bronx, the nod goes to another of the catching prospects in the system. Sanchez will show that his short-season performance was no fluke, finishing among the system's leaders in average and slugging percentage.
Pitcher of the Year -- Banuelos
He'll keep building off of his 2010 and his spring, making it to Triple-A at some point this season. He'll put himself in position for a callup to New York in 2011 while topping the system in ERA and strikeouts.