|Gary Sanchez is one of the many promising players the Yankees' system has to offer. (USATSI)|
Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The Yankees took the threat of the luxury tax seriously, as they didn't spend a significant amount of money in free agency since, well, it's been a very long time.
But if the luxury tax is something the team will adhere to in future years, it is in luck. While the team doesn't have many prospects ready to contribute immediately, it has some tremendous young assets in the lower levels of the minors. With the team currently sporting a number of aging players, the additions of these prospects should help keep the team productive, while helping to keep it below the luxury tax, for a number of years.
2013 Impact Prospect
With so many of the club's best prospects still in High-A ball, they aren't likely to see any major contributors this season. Only two players -- Tyler Austin and Mark Montgomery -- featured on most of the team's prospect lists saw time in Double-A last year. Neither player has enough experience in Double-A, and will likely begin there this year. Montgomery is a reliever, so there's a slight chance that he will move quickly if he performs well. Considering the team's current options at the position, there's no reason to rush him.
Sanchez played at two levels last season, ultimately finishing the year in High-A. He's already shown tremendous power, hitting 17 home runs in 2011 and 18 in 2012, all before his age-20 season. It's somewhat foolish to poke holes in a 20-year-old's game, since few are anywhere near major-league ready, but Sanchez needs to work on his strikeout rate. Some of that could come as he learns to distinguish pitches with more experience. The Yankees currently have a need at the position, but there's no reason to rush Sanchez. He's likely slated for the low minors again this year.
There's already some talk about Williams replacing Curtis Granderson in New York next season. While he might be able to handle the position defensively, Williams' bat probably won't be ready at the start of the 2014 season. Like Sanchez, Williams finished the year in High-A, so it will be a few years before he's a finished product. He's not going to be a big-time power hitter, but has shown an ability to hit for average. As he advances, he'll likely have to make adjustments to his approach, which is a little bit aggressive, but not necessarily a reason for concern yet. Again, he's 21, so these issues are expected. One area he'll need to show improvement is on the bases. Williams stole 20 total bases last season, but was caught 13 times.
OF Tyler Austin
Austin hit at every level last season, finishing with a .322/.400/.559 slash line in 413 at-bats. He also showed power and speed, clubbing 17 home runs and stealing 23 bases. Austin doesn't profile as a faster runner than Williams, but he was much more efficient on the bases last year, getting caught stealing just twice. Still, he doesn't really profile as an elite power-hitter or stolen-base threat. Austin is more of a well-rounded prospect, with only his hit tool and arm rated above-average according to Baseball America.
Injuries have been a big problem for Heathcott, who was the team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft. And while he's shown a lot of ability, he's received more than 300 plate appearances just once since he was drafted. He has above-average speed, and has improved his efficiency on the bases the last two years. Baseball America ranked him higher than Austin based on his potential, but Heathcott needs to be healthy enough to show his skills.
If not for October Tommy John surgery, Banuelos would have been ranked as a 2013 Impact Prospect in this preview. Now, he'll likely miss the entire season rehabbing and recovering. Banuelos is a veteran to prospect lists, placing on Baseball America's top-100 in both 2012 and 2011. When he is ready to pitch again, he needs to improve his control. But once he's fully healthy, he probably won't be far from seeing action in the majors. The injury pushes back his timetable quite a bit, though.
The Yankees boast some impressive young players, most of who are still a couple of seasons away. And while it's risky put all your stock in players with so little professional experience, what they've done so far has inspired confidence. While every player on the list has adjustments to make before they reach the majors, there's no reason to think they would be incapable of those changes given their athleticism and prospect status. There are some great pieces here, but the fans need to be patient and realistic about the time it will take for these players to contribute in the majors.