Yankees seeking valuable returns from within

Sanchez, Heathcott, Austin among young players with potential

Yankees seeking valuable returns from within

There is a necessary balancing act within the Yankees' organization, created by the objective voiced by ownership -- and demanded by the fan base -- to field a championship-caliber club at the Major League level.

Despite talk of fiscal restraint, identifying $189 million as a payroll objective for next year, the Yankees still jogged onto the field for Opening Day with a payroll that exceeded $230 million -- the highest in the big leagues.

If the Yankees truly intend to slice that number, then the organization will need to see some members of their Minor League system escalate through the chain and prove they are ready to make the jump to the Majors.

Manager Joe Girardi said that he saw some promising prospects this spring, and while many of those players are at the lower levels of the system, he made sure to note a few names that he could envision helping at the big league level this year.

"I think there's some pretty good arms," Girardi said. "There's some younger talent a little bit down below; there's some good talent down there and it's exciting to see. You want to see these kids take the next step and be at some point where they can help us."

where to watch
Where the Yankees' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Rank Player Team Level
1 Gary Sanchez Tampa A+
2 Mason Williams Tampa A+
3 Tyler Austin Trenton AA
4 Slade Heathcott Trenton AA
5 Manny Banuelos Trenton AA
6 Ty Hensley DL  
7 Angelo Gumbs Tampa A+
8 Mark Montgomery Scranton/WB AAA
9 Dante Bichette Jr. Charleston A
10 Zoilo Almonte Scranton/WB AAA
11 Ramon Flores Trenton AA
12 Jose Campos Charleston A
13 Jose A. Ramirez Trenton (DL) AA
14 Nik Turley Trenton AA
15 Bryan Mitchell Tampa A+
16 Brett Marshall Scranton/WB AAA
17 Adam Warren New York MLB
18 Austin Romine Scranton/WB AAA
19 Dellin Betances Scranton/WB AAA
20 Tom Kahnle Trenton AA
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.

Girardi said that he was impressed by outfielder Slade Heathcott's all-out style of play, as well as the production of catching prospect J.R. Murphy. Right-handed pitcher Jose Ramirez also was able to grab the attention of no less an authority on pitching than Mariano Rivera, who said that Ramirez's changeup looks like a big league weapon.

While most of the Yankees' position player prospects are years away from reaching their big league ETAs, Baseball America ranked the Yankees 11th in their organizational rankings, lauding up-and-coming names like catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Mason Williams, Heathcott and outfielder Tyler Austin.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has said that the club intends to develop pitching capable of helping at the big league level, but those efforts have been dented by health issues in several cases. Still, Girardi said that he saw some promising arms in camp.

"I think you can look at some of the pitching that you have down there, some of the relievers," Girardi said. "I thought [Preston] Claiborne did a really nice job for us. [Branden] Pinder did too. I don't think we saw the best of [Mark] Montgomery. I could see some of these kids taking steps."

With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Yankees' top prospects throughout the season on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Bombers' Minor League teams on the Yankees affiliates page.

Stacked squads

If you're looking to catch a glimpse of some of tomorrow's Yankees, a ride on the New Jersey Turnpike may be in order. The lineup for the Double-A Trenton Thunder boasts Austin and Heathcott -- ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, on MLB.com's rundown of the top Yankees prospects -- as well as No. 11 prospect Ramon Flores.

The Thunder will also feature left-handed pitcher Nik Turley and right-hander Jose Ramirez, both of whom were issued a serious look this spring in big league camp.

Debuts and Draftees

The Yankees' top pick in the 2012 Draft, right-hander Ty Hensley, is scheduled to miss two to three months after having surgery to repair an impingement in his right hip. He pitched in five games last season with the Gulf Coast Yankees and could make it back in time to see action with Class A Charleston or Staten Island.

There are several other players from last year's Draft class that the Yankees are excited to take a closer look at. Austin Aune is a left-handed hitting shortstop playing in extended spring training, and catcher Peter O'Brien is a raw power hitter selected from the University of Miami. Both were second-round Draft picks.

Right-hander Nick Goody, a sixth-round selection who jumped up to Class A Tampa after signing last year, has been impressive in a relief role and could escalate through the system quickly. The Yankees are also quietly high on left-hander Brady Lail, an 18th-round selection who pitched last year in the Gulf Coast League.

Teams on TV

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Trenton Thunder and Staten Island Yankees are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.