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Yankees seek to improve from within

Yankees seek to improve from within

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

It may be small solace to fans of the New York Yankees, who missed the playoffs for the first time this century, but the club's Minor League affiliates were very active in the postseason. Triple-A International League champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Double-A Eastern League champion Trenton and short-season Staten Island all made playoff runs, while the Yankees' clubs at Class A Advanced Tampa (72-65) and Class A Charleston (80-59) barely missed the cut.

The Yankees system posted a combined 485-348 record and .582 winning percentage, the best in baseball. Even better, each of those teams featured good young players on the rise. Unlike years past, the club is focused on cultivating its own farmhands rather than simply throwing dollars at aging free agents.

We won't bother talking about guys like Joba Chamberlain, who is so established in the big leagues that it's hard to remember he was just a rookie when the season began. The Yankees had several promising pitchers who missed 2007 return to the mound this year (for now, we'll keep relief prospects J.B. Cox and Humberto Sanchez, who both returned midseason, on hold while they continue to rehabilitate), including 6-foot-10 Andrew Brackman, their 2007 first-round pick who finally made his debut in Hawaii Winter Baseball.

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com Preseason Picks

Austin Jackson, CF: We predicted that this talented eighth-rounder from 2005, who showed marked improvement over the course of the 2007 campaign, would shine even more brightly this year. He had a strong season, batting .285 with nine homers, 69 RBIs and 19 stolen bases and earning the Championship Series MVP as Trenton won its second straight Eastern League title. Though he wasn't among the organization leaders in any one category, he remains one of its brightest outfield prospects.
Jackson robs Wes Hodges of a homer in the Eastern League playoffs
Jackson drives in seven runs


•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

Jeff Marquez, RHP: A supplemental first-round pick in 2004 with a lively low-90s fastball, changeup and curveball, Marquez had a breakthrough season at Trenton in 2007, when he went 15-9 with a 3.65 ERA. But 2008 turned out to be something of a lost season for him as he struggled to a 6-7 record and 4.69 ERA in just 14 starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A tired arm limited him to 80 2/3 innings in which he gave up 93 hits and fanned 33 while walking 24.
Marquez notches his fifth strikeout

MLB.com Postseason Selections

Jesus Montero, C: The Yankees have serious depth at this position with Montero, just 18, and prospects Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli. But no one had as strong a year as Montero, who is as highly regarded for his power as for his arm. His .326 average at Charleston ranked second in the South Atlantic League and tops in the Yankees system, while his 171 hits were eighth-most in the Minors. He also blasted 17 homers in his first full season and led the Yankees system with 87 RBIs.
Montero cranks a homer

Zach McAllister, RHP: The 20-year-old McAllister, a 2006 third-round pick out of high school, combined to go 14-9 with a 2.09 ERA (seventh-best in the Minors) at Charleston and Tampa. In 151 innings, he walked only 21 while striking out 115, and he posted a 1.83 ERA in 15 games after his promotion to Advanced Class A. In 2007, he had a roller-coaster season at Staten Island, with his 5.17 ERA actually better than his last few starts indicated. His sinking low-90s fastball is complemented by a good changeup.
McAllister finishes off five scoreless innings with a K

Climbed the Ladder

Dellin Betances RHP: An 2006 eighth-rounder out of high school in Brooklyn, the 20-year-old Betances posted a 1.16 ERA in seven Gulf Coast League games that summer. A tender arm limited him to six starts at Staten Island in 2007, prompting speculation about a possible need for Tommy John surgery. Well-rested for 2008, he went 9-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 22 starts at Charleston, striking out 135 while allowing only 87 hits in 115 1/3 innings. His 10.53 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fifth among all full-season Minor League starters. Thanks to a mid-90s fastball and good curve, he was second in the Yankees system in strikeouts.
Betances strikes out his eighth batter

Brett Gardner, OF: This speedy center fielder made his big league debut in 2008, hitting .228 and stealing 13 bases while being caught just once in 42 games with the Yankees. A 2005 third-rounder out of the College of Charleston, Gardner batted .296 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, fifth-best in the system, while his 37 stolen bases led the organization.
Gardner plates a run with his first Major League hit

Austin Jackson, OF: See selections above.

Zach McAllister, RHP: See selections above.

Mark Melancon, RHP: Of three Yankees prospects recovering from Tommy John surgery, this 2006 ninth-round pick out of Arizona is closest to a full-time job in the big leagues next year, thanks to a tremendous comeback season. Breaking camp with Tampa, Melancon posted a 2.84 ERA there, then a 1.81 ERA in 49 2/3 innings at Trenton and finally a 2.70 ERA at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, combining for a 2.27 ERA. Over 95 innings, he walked 22 and fanned 89. When healthy he's a true closer with a fastball in the low to mid-90s.
Melancon picks up the save with a strikeout

Jesus Montero, C: See selections above.

Edwar Ramirez, RHP: Signed out of an independent league in 2006, Ramirez earned the 2007 MiLBY for Best Minor League Relief Pitcher, combining to go 4-0 with an 0.79 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 22 walks in 56 2/3 innings at Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Though his big-league debut that September was shaky -- he compiled an 8.14 ERA in 21 appearances -- the Yankees vowed to give him another chance and must be glad they did. After a quick start at Scranton, where he fanned 13 in nine shutout innings, he was up in the Majors to stay with a 5-1 record, 3.90 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.
Ramirez fans two in an inning of relief

Austin Romine, C: The son of former big leaguer Kevin Romine, Austin was the club's second-round pick in 2007 and has raw power and a plus arm. He split time with Montero at Charleston and has similar strengths. A groin injury slowed him this year, but he came on strong down the stretch to finish with a .300 average (third-best in the Yankees system), 10 homers and 49 RBIs.
Romine rips a homer

Kept Their Footing

Francisco Cervelli, C: A highly regarded catching prospect who batted .279 and played great defense at Tampa in 2007, Cervelli broke his wrist in a controversial collision at home plate in a Spring Training game against Tampa Bay. He did not return until late summer, when he hit .309 in 27 games of virtual rehab and appeared in five big-league games without a hit. A full season, or even half of one, probably would have had him climbing the organizational ladder, but with so much of the season lost to injury, we'll be conservative.

Jeff Marquez, RHP: See selections above.

Juan Miranda, 1B: A Cuban defector who joined the Yankees full-time in 2007, Miranda batted .264 with 16 homers and 96 RBI at Tampa and Trenton that summer. This year, he batted .287 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, adding six RBIs in the Yanks' 20-2 rout of Durham in the IL title game. He showed little rust, despite a gap of two years between his defection and return to baseball. He continues to tear it up in the Arizona Fall League and could factor into the big-league picture very soon.
Miranda plates six runs

David Robertson, RHP: The younger brother of Minor League pitcher Connor Robertson, David was a 17th-round pick in 2006 who has a plus curveball, slider and fastball in the low 90s. In two years, he has moved up as quickly as anyone in the organization. His 2007 pro debut was phenomenal -- he went 8-3 with a 0.96 ERA at Charleston, Tampa and Trenton while striking out 113 over 84 innings. He established himself in the Majors in 2008, posting a 0.96 in a brief stint at Trenton, a 2.06 ERA in 21 appearances at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and a 5.34 ERA in 25 big-league games with a break due to a tired arm.
Robertson notches his fourth K

Slipped a Rung

Alan Horne, RHP: Last year's Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, Horne struggled to a 2-3 record and 5.63 ERA in eight starts this season, allowing 22 walks while fanning 24. He was slowed by biceps and shoulder trouble. Drafted by the Yankees out of Florida in the 11th round in 2005 (he'd been a first-rounder out of high school three years earlier but opted for college), he throws four pitches.

Ian Kennedy, RHP: Perhaps no one slipped more this season than our 2007 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. A 2006 first-round pick out of USC, Kennedy went 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA the following year with 163 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings. This year, he broke camp with the big-league club but compiled an ERA that hovered around 8.00 in the first two months of the season before he was optioned to the Minors. He posted a fine 2.35 ERA at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but it will take more than Triple-A success to erase the damage done. If anyone can regain that luster, however, it should be Kennedy, whose makeup is outstanding.

On the Radar

Alfredo Aceves, RHP: Why, you may ask, wasn't Aceves, who combined for a 2.62 ERA in 140 2/3 innings at three Minor League levels this year, mentioned in our preview? Because the 25-year-old had not pitched for an affiliated team since making 10 appearances for Toronto's Dominican Summer League club in 2001. After spending the last six seasons in his native Mexico, including a 2007 campaign in which he went 11-5 with a 3.64 ERA in 18 starts for Monterrey, Aceves was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in February. Kudos to the Bombers' scouting staff -- he came up to the Majors in September and posted a 2.40 ERA in six games while limiting Major League hitters to a .227 average in 30 innings.
Aceves tosses a shutout

Phil Coke, LHP: Coke, 26, is a bit old to be considered a prospect. But after making his own Major League debut at that age, Edwar Ramirez was one of the most effective relievers in the Yankees bullpen last season. Coke is a southpaw who went 11-6 with a 2.79 ERA at Trenton and finished among the top six in the system in ERA, wins and strikeouts before moving up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he posted a 4.67 ERA in 17 innings of relief. He shone in his big-league debut with a 0.61 ERA in 12 games, striking out 14 in as many innings while walking two.
Coke strikes out his 10th batter

Edwar Gonzalez, OF: Gonzalez, a 25-year-old Venezuelan, was one of the top power threats in the system and was cited by Trenton players as one of the keys to their title. Hitting .292 with 20 homers and 85 RBIs for the Thunder, he finished third in the organization in both home runs and RBIs and seventh in batting. His 42 doubles tied for sixth in the Minors. It was a big step up from his 2007 season at Tampa, where he hit .259 with nine homers, 68 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
Gonzalez cranks a homer

Eric Hacker, RHP: Hacker, a 2002 23rd-round pick who missed the 2004 season following Tommy John surgery and 2006 with shoulder trouble, made a strong impression in 2008. His combined 2.43 ERA for Tampa and Trenton ranked 13th in the Minors, and he was even better in the postseason with a 2-0 record and 1.54 ERA in two starts. Hacker's ERA was second only to McAllister in the Yankees system.
Hacker hurls six strong innings

Brandon Laird, 1B/3B: A 27th-round pick out of California's Cypress College in 2007, Laird's first full season at Charleston landed him on the Yankees' leaderboard in several categories. Just 20 years old, he batted .273 with 23 homers, 86 RBIs and 31 doubles while compiling a .498 slugging percentage. The power is no fluke -- he hit .339 with eight homers and 27 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League in '07.
Laird goes deep

Jonathan Ortiz, RHP: Ortiz, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, finished third in the Minors in saves while recording a 2.03 ERA, 87 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 62 innings at Charleston. At Staten Island in 2007, he posted a 1.80 ERA and 13 saves and limited opponents to a .173 average.
Ortiz strikes out the side for his 30th save

Draft Recap

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP: The 28th overall pick, Cole opted to attend UCLA rather than sign, taking his high-90s fastball with him.

2. Jeremy Bleich, LHP: This Stanford product, taken in the supplemental first round, signed late and made an abbreviated debut at Staten Island, where he tossed three innings of two-hit ball, allowing two runs and striking out four.

3. Scott Bittle, RHP: This Ole Miss hurler did not sign, leaving the Yankees with just one player from their first three picks.

Others of Note: 2B David Adams (third round) hit .257 with four homers and 31 RBIs at Staten Island. ... SS Corban Joseph (4th round), a high school hitter from Tennessee, batted .277 in the Gulf Coast League. ... OF Daniel Brewer (eighth round) hit .296 with three homers and 40 RBIs at Staten Island, finishing fourth in the New York-Penn League in RBIs. ... OF Ray Kruml (11th round) finished sixth in the NY-Penn League in batting at .294. ... RHP Luke Greinke (12th round) made nine starts for Staten Island. ... RHP David Phelps (14th round) was 8-2 with a 2.72 ERA at Staten Island after pitching his college ball at Notre Dame. ... SS Addison Maruszak (17th round) hit .317 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Staten Island. ... RHP/LHP Pat Venditte (20th round), a legitimate switch-pitcher out of Creighton, arguably had the best season of any 2008 draftee. He posted 23 saves and a 0.83 ERA in 30 games at Staten Island, striking out 42 batters in 32 2/3 innings. He was joined in the bullpen by RHP Brad Rulon (34th round), who had an 0.41 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 21 hits allowed over 44 innings, and RHP Andrew Shive (35th round), who was 9-2 with a 1.96 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 46 innings. ... The Yankees' last pick in the Draft, LHP Nikolas Turley (50th round), was 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA and fanned 13 without walking a batter in his brief eight-inning debut. Hard to imagine a better debut from anyone, let alone a 50th-rounder.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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