With the 2010 season approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Yankees' most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Prior to the 2009 season, we identified 10 prospects to watch in the Yankees farm system. Of those 10, five remain on the 2010 list.
Jeremy Bleich, LHP: Any concerns about Bleich's elbow, which bothered him during his junior season at Stanford, likely have been erased after his first full season, which saw him throw 144 1/3 innings. The 22-year-old lefty began the year with Class A Advanced Tampa and after posting a 3.40 ERA in 14 starts, he got bumped up to Double-A Trenton. He didn't pitch particularly well there (6.65 ERA in 13 starts), so he likely is headed back to Trenton to figure things out. The biggest issue was his command. In Double-A, he walked 34 in 65 innings. Considering he was thought to be a command-type southpaw, there's hope he'll be able to re-discover his control during the 2010 season.
Zach McAllister, RHP: You won't hear McAllister's name in conversations about top pitching prospects in the Minors, but that's not because of performance. Since being a third-round pick in 2006, the right-hander has risen to Double-A and posted a career 2.81 ERA. He doesn't hurt himself with walks (2.2 BB/9) and, for a command guy, his 7.5 K/9 isn't too shabby. He led the Double-A Eastern League with a 2.23 ERA in 2009, even though he missed some time with arm fatigue. He's ready to head up the Triple-A Scranton rotation, waiting for a phone call or a trade.
Mark Melancon, RHP: The time has come for Melancon to show what he can do at the big league level full-time. The reliever made 13 appearances late last year and, while he struggled with command, he still impressed in stretches. He's got a three-pitch mix, with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, an outstanding curve and a good changeup. He has the kind of aggressive mentality you like to see in a short reliever and should fit in nicely as a setup man to Mariano Rivera.
Jesus Montero, C: In two plus years in the Yankees system, Montero has a career line of .325/.379/.509. He reached Double-A last year as a teenager and was a Futures Gamer for the second straight season. The only thing that slowed him down was a broken finger at the beginning of August. There's no question his bat will be big league ready in short order. Where he'll play defensively is still the question. While he's worked hard on his catching and has a good arm, most people foresee a need to move to another position. The problem there is that Mark Teixeira has first base, Montero's likely destination, locked up. For now, the 20-year-old Montero will continue to catch in Triple-A and wait for his first call.
Austin Romine, C: Just a step behind Montero is Romine, giving the Yankees an embarrassment of riches behind the plate. It's Romine, though, that most see as the catcher of the future, as his defensive game surpasses Montero's. He's not in the same class as a hitter, but he's no slouch, winning Florida State League MVP honors in 2009 by hitting .276, slugging .441, hitting 13 homers and even stealing 11 bases. A little better pitch selection should help him tap even more into his raw power and, as he learns the nuances of catching, he's got the chance to be a very good all-around backstop. He'll catch a level below Montero in 2010, for Double-A Trenton.
These five players were on our 2009 list but are not on the 2010 list, due to the loss of rookie status, poor performance, injury, the addition of other prospects to the list, etc.
Alfredo Aceves, RHP: Aceves' stay in Triple-A in 2009 was brief. He got the call to New York after just four starts. He served as a very valuable reliever for the Yankees. He won 10 games and finished with a 3.54 ERA over 84 innings. Aceves has the ability to start and relieve, and he's had a good spring while competing for the No. 5 starter spot. Though he didn't win that job, he should once again be an asset coming out of the Yankees bullpen.
Dellin Betances, RHP: Betances has always had a tantalizing combination of size and pure stuff, but it's always been raw, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy. He had arm trouble in his first full season (2007), then seemed to start figuring things out the following season. But last year, he came down with elbow trouble again, made just 11 starts and had Tommy John surgery in August. He wasn't pitching particularly well before the injury, and now he'll miss most of the 2010 season.
Prospects to watch
Alfredo Aceves, RHP
Manny Banuelos, LHP
Dellin Betances, RHP
Jeremy Bleich, RHP
Jeremy Bleich, LHP
Slade Heathcott, OF
Andrew Brackman, RHP
Zach McAllister, RHP
Phil Coke, LHP
Mark Melancon, RHP
Austin Jackson, OF
Jesus Montero, C
Zach McAllister, RHP
Ivan Nova, RHP
Mark Melancon, RHP
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Jesus Montero, C
Austin Romine, C
Austin Romine, C
Gary Sanchez, C
Andrew Brackman, RHP: The good news was that the 2009 season was a healthy one for the 2007 first-round pick. The bad news is that the 6-foot-10 right-hander had a 5.91 ERA and walked 76 in 106 2/3 IP. He still has a very good fastball and flashes a plus breaking ball. His changeup remains way behind those two pitches, and he'll have to show a feel for it this year if he wants to keep starting. If 2009 was really his debut season, then 2010 will be a crucial test to see if the 24-year-old has any real future on the mound.
Phil Coke, LHP: Coke won a job in the Yankees bullpen out of Spring Training in 2009 and stayed there all year. He worked largely as a lefty specialist (72 games, 60 IP). He finished with a 4.50 ERA and .220 average against overall but was much stingier vs. left-handed hitters (3.22 ERA and .195 BAA). Coke was included in the package sent to Detroit that brought Curtis Granderson to New York.
Austin Jackson, OF: There always have been mixed views on Jackson in terms of his potential. Those who really liked him saw him as a future Curtis Granderson type, perhaps with less power. There is some irony, then, that A-Jax was sent to Detroit for Granderson. Jackson has had a very good spring, and Yankee fans can watch him roam center field in Comerica Park beginning on Opening Day.
The following five players are new additions to the Yankees Prospects to Watch list.
Manny Banuelos, LHP: There's a lot to like about this young Mexican left-hander. Banuelos made his U.S. debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, then jumped straight to full-season ball in 2009 at age 18 and didn't miss a beat. His 2.67 ERA would have been good for third in the South Atlantic League had he thrown enough innings. In his 108 IP, he struck out 104, walked just 28 and held hitters to a .219 average. While he's not the biggest guy in the world and his stuff probably doesn't grade out as more than average overall, his feel for pitching is well beyond his years. He's ready to move up to Class A Advanced Tampa, and with his maturity on the mound, he could move quickly even though he's only 19.
Slade Heathcott, OF: A toolsy high school athlete, Heathcott lasted to No. 29 overall because of some injury and makeup concerns. The Yankees feel good on both fronts and think they got one of the better athletes in the Draft. He barely got his feet wet in the Gulf Coast League last summer, but he has all five tools at his disposal when he's healthy. The Yankees might have to be patient in letting his performance catch up with his potential, but he should be one of the more exciting all-around players in the system in 2010.
Ivan Nova, RHP: It's been a bit of a wild ride for Nova in his Yankees career. Left unprotected after the 2008 season, he got taken by the Padres in the Rule 5 Draft, only to be returned the following spring. Nova responded by pitching exceptionally well in Double-A and earning a promotion after 12 starts. He pitched very well for Triple-A Scranton during the playoffs and this time earned a spot on the 40-man roster. Still only 23, he'll join McAllister in a pretty solid Scranton rotation, waiting for that first call up to the bigs.
Eduardo Nunez, SS: After scuffling for a few seasons, Nunez broke out in 2009 when he batted .322 with 19 steals for Double-A Trenton while turning just 22. That earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. He's got the skills to be an excellent shortstop but hasn't consistently put them to use. That, and the fact that the Yankees have a fairly established shortstop in the big leagues, could mean Nunez will start seeing some time at other positions when he moves up to Triple-A Scranton in order to prepare him for possible big league utility work.
Gary Sanchez, C: It's going to be a while before anyone sees him at the big league level, but it's going to be worth watching his development. The 17-year-old was one of the top international signees last summer, getting a reported $3 million to join the organization. The Yankees think they've invested wisely in a young player who has the chance to be a special all-around backstop. He's got plus raw power and a good idea at the plate. Behind it, he's got all the tools, including a terrific arm and good athleticism. He should make his U.S. debut this summer and start his slow climb up to New York.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.