Can anyone think of the last time a New York Yankee looked over their shoulder and saw an Oriole? I certainly cannot, yet that’s exactly what all Yankees are seeing this year. Caught in an AL East pennant race with perennially awful Baltimore, the Yankees are currently knotted with the O’s with 16 games left in their 2012 season. Every win is a must from here on out as the Yankees attempt to make the post-season for the 17th time in their last 18 seasons.
Yankee fans may see a lot of the Orioles in seasons to come, as they have developed a nice core of excellent young players. From Adam Jones, to Matt Wieters, to recent call-up Manny Machado, the Orioles will certainly cause an aging Yankees team some problems. That said, the Bronx Bombers have their own crop of young talent. Five players from that crop will be playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League this year, intent on showcasing their abilities to earn the eventual promotion to the Bronx. Let’s take a look at these five delegates.
RHP – Mark Montgomery (22) – Yankees 2011 11th Round Draft Pick
2012 – Tampa: 1.34 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 23 H, 16 BB, 61 SO in 40.1 IP
2012 – Trenton: 1.88 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 12 H, 6 BB, 38 SO in 24 IP
Chatter around Yankee prospect pitchers over the past couple of seasons has centered on players like Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. When underperforming teams look to unload big contracts to the Yankees, Banuelos and Betances have been the big name prospects teams look for in exchange. But there may be a new sheriff in town in Yankees right-hander Mark Montgomery. His dominant arsenal will be on display this fall for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Mark Montgomery has mowed down the competition in 2012. Between Class-A Advanced Tampa and AA Trenton, Montgomery has sat down 99 batters by way of the K in only 64.1 IP. Montgomery features a good fastball, but scouts agree his slider is a pitch that is better than just major league ready—it could be one of the best sliders in all the bigs. Maybe most impressive about this youngster is his ability to improve on his pain-points as he has progressed through the New York system. Montgomery enjoyed his lowest BB/9 and best K/BB of his career after being promoted to Trenton.
Recent struggles out of the Yankee bullpen have sparked talk that Montgomery should be called up to bolster the Yankee relief efforts as they try to solidify another playoff berth. Though that call has yet to be made, Montgomery did receive the call to represent the Yankees in the AFL.
RHP – Zach Nuding (22) – Yankees 2010 30th Round Draft Pick
2012 – Tampa: 3.89 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 89 H, 26 BB, 66 SO in 85.2 IP
The second of two Yankee pitching prospects headed to Scottsdale is 22 year old righty Zach Nuding. Though not as highly touted a prospect as Montgomery, Nuding is a big, strong kid with good velocity who has worked his tail off to make his dreams of playing professional baseball come true.
Standing 6’4” and tipping the scales at 250 pounds, Nuding may be the most imposing pitching body in the Yankees organization. His best (and favorite) pitch is his fastball, which consistently hits the mid-90s. Nuding’s off-speed arsenal includes a slider and a change-up, but both are still upside pitches that need quite a bit of tuning. The young right-hander spent his 2012 with the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees, and had passable, albeit pedestrian results. Over 14 starts and 16 total games, Nuding put up a K/9 of only 6.9, one of the lower numbers of his career. For a kid that had been a starter since joining New York’s farm system, the drop in strikeouts could be a sign of maturation in that Nuding now knows he can make outs when pitching to contact. He also put up the lowest walk rates of his career in 2012.
Ultimately, Nuding has progressed further than maybe anyone expected given that he was drafted as the 925th overall selection in 2010. His delegation to the AFL is a sign from the Yankees that they want to take a focused look at him to determine if he is ready for play at the next level.
C – Austin Romine (23) – Yankees 2007 2nd Round Draft Pick
2012 – Tampa: 0.389/.421/.556, 1 HR, 1 BB, 3 SO in 19 PA
2012 – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 0.213/.296/.393, 2 2B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 10 SO in 71 PA
Backstopping for the Scorpions this fall will be Yankees fifth year prospect Austin Romine. The catcher actually missed the majority of his 2012 season with an inflamed disc in his back that put him on the 60-day DL. Since returning to action in mid-July, Romine completed a 14-game rehab assignment between the Rookie League and Class-A Advanced, followed by a call up to AAA to close out the season. Romine has only played in 31 games in 2012, so his time in Scottsdale will give him the extra reps he missed while dealing with injury.
When healthy, there aren’t many holes in Romine’s game. He is an outstanding defensive catcher, with a career .990 fielding percentage and a CS% of 24. Romine can also swing good wood. In 1925 minor league plate appearances, he has 149 XBH and 254 RBI. The only shortcoming to his game is his lack of patience at the plate. He has a career .333 OBP, a number the Yankees would like to see improve given Romine’s career BA of .278. That small issue should improve with time, and certainly will not prevent him from getting the call up to the majors.
More of a concern for Romine is the injury bug. The Yankees hope to see Romine build some strength up in his back this fall, and return to form as their top backstop on the farm.
2B – David Adams (25) – Yankees 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick
2012 – Tampa: 0.308/.368/.365, 3 2B, 0 HR, 4 BB, 8 SO in 57 PA
2012 – Trenton: 0.306/.385/.450, 23 2B, 8 HR, 38 BB, 53 SO in 383 PA
The second infield prospect the Bombers delegated to Scottsdale is David Adams, a second baseman out of the University of Virginia. Adams was drafted in the 21st round by the Tigers back in 2005 out of high school, but elected to put his professional career on hold to attend college. His four years at Virginia did wonders for his draft stock when four years later the Yankees made him a 3rd round pick.
Adams is in a bit of a tricky situation at 25 years old, as he plays the same position as 29 year old Yankee all-star Robinson Canó. He lacks the power Canó has, and he could be described as an opportunistic base stealer, though his speed is nothing to write home about. His .977 fielding percentage is just OK for a second baseman, though his mechanics and arm strength are both plusses. Apart from sitting behind Canó in the second base pecking order, Adams suffered an unlucky setback that cost him big portions of his 2010 and 2011 seasons when he slid late into second base and broke his ankle. He played only 68 games in those two seasons, and has had to gradually get back in the groove in 2012.
All that said, Adams can hit, and he can get on base. His career average sits just below .300, with an OBP of .385. The Yankees seem committed to finding a way to help Adams make the leap to the majors in the near future. He even played some third base for Trenton this year, an encouraging sign for Adams given the left side of the Yankee infield is a combined 75 years old. He is likely to see time at third with Scottsdale this fall, where he hopes to continue to strengthen his ankle, and put himself in the best possible position to break camp next season playing in the Bronx.
CF – Slade Heathcott (21) – Yankees 2009 1st Round Draft Pick
2012 – Tampa: 0.307/.378/.470, 16 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 17 SB, 20 BB, 66 SO in 243 PA
The lone Yankees outfield representative in the 2012 AFL will be Slade Heathcott, an athletic talent drafted out of his Texarkana, TX high school. Heathcott is in his third full season in the Yankees system, finishing his 2012 season with the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees.
Heathcott may be the closest thing to a five-tool prospect New York has on the farm. In high school, he was a multi-sport athlete, playing both baseball and football, and he was both the best pitcher and hitter on his high school team all four years. Though ranked the 72nd best prospect in his 2009 draft year, the Yankees made him the 29th player off the board and the seventh highest paid draftee that year.
Though raw, Heathcott features a star-caliber arm and range from his natural center field position, and plus speed and decent power at the plate. He has 15 career outfield assists, a career .275 batting average, and 40 career stolen bases. Heathcott does need to refine his plate approach before being major league ready. He strikes out in just over 26% of his plate appearances, suggesting some contact and bat speed work would serve him well. He does draw more than his expected share of walks at 21 years old, which is certainly an encouraging sign of patience at the plate. Perhaps most attractive about Heathcott is his effort. He plays at 200% speed 100% of the time, to the extent that his effort has come back to bite him a few times in the form of injury.
The Yankees and their fans love big effort guys (think Brett Gardner), and Heathcott should be no exception. He will likely spend a season or two more in the minors at a minimum before the Bronx brass calls his number. His play in the AFL this fall should accelerate that process.