The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at each team's farm system, from the Top 20 Prospects to under-the-radar types.
It's a thought that can quicken the pulse of any Major League fan or general manager. The Yankees don't just have a roster full of talent at the big league level, they have a deep reservoir of prospects in the Minors that could help them remain competitive for years to come.
New York served notice of that fact this winter by trading super-prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for a package headlined by young right-hander Michael Pineda -- a deal made more palatable for the Yanks by the presence of three solid catching prospects in their farm system.
The Yankees have Russell Martin on the big league roster and prospects Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy developing in the Minors. And with that depth at the game's most strenuous position, it suddenly made sense to deal Montero for help on the mound.
"It wasn't easy, because Montero is an extraordinary young player, but we've got pretty good depth at catcher with Romine, Sanchez and Murphy. That ain't bad," said Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. "Romine is the closest, and he made his MLB debut last season, but it will be nice to have him start at Triple-A [Scranton/Wilkes-Barre]. He needs at-bats, and it could retard his development if he came up to the Majors and had to sit behind Russell Martin."
The Yankees can also boast of top-flight arms in Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, and they have a pair of multifaceted outfielders in Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott. Perhaps more important, New York has balance, with prospects both close and rather far from the Majors.
"Our system's good, but it could be better," said Newman. "We have some really good young position players at the lower levels of the Minors, and we also have some impressive high-level pitching. We feel good about these guys, but we hope to infuse the farm system with even more talent."
Top 20 Prospects
Banuelos and Betances both starred at Double-A Trenton and advanced to Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have enough arms at the Major League level that they can afford their best prospects even more time to reach their potential.
"Acquiring Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda affords Banuelos and Betances more [development] time at Triple-A," said Newman. "It gives them less of a chance to be rushed. We want them to be able to command their stuff with efficiency by the time they get up to the Major Leagues."
Sanchez is perhaps the best of the catching prospects, blessed with an all-around game that includes hitting for average, controlling the strike zone and hints of power down the road.
Dante Bichette Jr. and Cito Culver are recent high Draft picks who are sorting out their games at the lower levels of the Minors, and Jose Campos is a potential high-impact arm acquired from Seattle in the Montero trade. Heathcott has been billed as a potential five-tool player, but he had a turbulent season last year and is looking to revive his prospect value in 2012.
"[Heathcott] can run. He can throw. He's got power, but I'd hate to say a Major League [player] comparable [to] him," said Newman. "He's too far away from the Majors to have a comparable. Let's put it that way."
yankees' top prospects
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Under the Radar
Ramon Flores is a versatile young outfielder with advanced plate discipline and a chance for increased power potential down the road. Flores, who won't turn 20 until March, drew 61 walks in 125 games for Class A Charleston, where he was one of the youngest players on the team.
Corban Joseph, 23, may not get any headlines in this talent-rich organization, but he's a solid middle infielder who has exhibited control of the strike zone at each step of the Minors. Joseph will advance to Triple-A and should provide injury insurance for the parent club.
Hitter of the Year
Sanchez, who turned 19 in December, will be tested at Class A Tampa in the Florida State League this season. The right-handed hitter set career highs in doubles (16) and home runs (17) last year, and the Yankees would like to see him hit for average and power in 2012.
Sanchez will need to be more selective as he advances to the upper levels of the organization, but the Yankees can afford to let him develop at his own pace. Sanchez threw out 31 percent of attempted basestealers last season, another impressive element of his game.
Pitcher of the Year
Banuelos has electric stuff and has progressed quickly through the farm system, but the Yankees need him to show that he can walk fewer batters at the upper levels. The 20-year-old walked 52 in 95 1/3 innings at Double-A and logged 19 more in seven starts at Triple-A.
But when he's not handing out free passes, Banuelos has proved hard to hit. He held his own in a brief spin for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, and the Yankees would like to leave him alone and let him thrive. For one season, at least, they have enough depth to get along without him.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.