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Sanchez, Austin brighten Yanks' system
Bombers boast outfield depth, but marquee pitchers regress
11/26/2012 10:15 AM ET
Mark Montgomery struck out 99 over 64 1/3 innings across two levels.
Mark Montgomery struck out 99 over 64 1/3 innings across two levels. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)
This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

A well-regarded Yankees farm system lost its biggest jewel last winter when top prospect Jesus Montero was traded to Seattle in a four-player deal for Michael Piñeda. In the short term, the deal has been a disaster for the Yankees -- Pineda missed the entire season and Jose Campos, a 20-year-old right-hander also acquired in the swap, made only five starts before going down with an elbow injury.

In a post-Montero world, however, New York certainly got support from its Minor Leaguers in 2012, with pitchers David Phelps and Adam Warren making their big league debuts and reliever Cody Eppley ranking fifth in appearances for the Yankees.

There also were disappointments over the summer. Left-hander Manny Bañuelos, who many hoped would make a Major League impact in 2012, missed most of the year before undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. Right-hander Dellin Betances, often mentioned in the same breath as Banuelos, had a forgettable year in which he struggled with his command and development and was demoted to Double-A midway through the season. Other big names like Mason Williams, who had surgery in August, Dante Bichette Jr. and Cito Culver -- the latter two struggled at Class A -- have room to improve in 2013.

A pair of Yankees affiliates played deep into 2012, with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre reaching the International League playoffs and Double-A Trenton falling to Akron in the Eastern League Championship Series. Class A Advanced Tampa, Class A Charleston, short-season Staten Island and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees all failed to make the postseason.

We chatted with Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president and director of amateur scouting, to evaluate the team's best from 2012:

Yankees Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Gary Sanchez, Charleston (68 games), Tampa (48 games): Sanchez, the Yankees' No. 1 prospect, posted solid power numbers and earned a promotion to Tampa in July. Perhaps the Yankees' backstop of the future, the 19-year-old hit .290 with 18 homers and 85 RBIs. Besides leading the system in RBIs, he stole 15 bases in 116 games. Like Montero, his defensive talents will need to be refined as he develops.

"I don't know if you can say someone is the catcher of the future when you're in A-ball, but if he plays with the progress he's made -- you need to have the tools for a catcher, you gotta have the catching part of it first, and he improved on that a bit this year," Oppenheimer said.



First base -- Kyle Roller, Tampa (121 games): Roller, a 2010 eighth-round Draft pick, was a Florida State League All-Star after hitting .266 with 18 homers and tying Sanchez atop the system with 85 RBIs. A left-handed bat who who won MVP honors in the Cape Cod League a year before the Yankees drafted him, Roller has shown power in his first two full seasons but could benefit from cutting down on his strikeouts.

"Strikeouts seem to come with power, but if you take away the first month and a half of his season ... you have really a quality year," Oppenheimer said. "He's got a chance to hit home runs and that's a big deal for us. Left-handed power in our system, it would be great to get that to the big leagues."

Honorable mention: Luke Murton

Second base -- Corban Joseph, Trenton (23 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (84 games): A 2008 fourth-rounder, Joseph gets the nod for the third year in a row. A lefty-swinging 24-year-old, he posted the best power numbers of his career in 2012 while reaching Triple-A. Across two levels, he hit .276 with career highs in homers (15) and RBIs (62).

"You're talking about someone at his age, he's young for Triple-A and he's progressed every chance he's gotten," Oppenheimer said. "He's been able to hit and string together his development. He has some power to go with his hit-ability. We're really pleased with where we're at with Corban right now."

Third base -- Brandon Laird, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (130 games), New York (17 games): The 2010 Eastern League MVP reached the Majors for the second straight year while hitting .257 with 14 homers and ranking fourth in the system with 77 RBIs at Triple-A. The 25-year-old infielder was designated for assignment late last summer and signed with the Astros.

"He continues to hit, and add the power -- he hadn't had power -- and that's what you have to have, those combinations, to play third," Oppenheimer said. "The defense got better, he did a quality job overall and we got see him get to the big leagues."

Shortstop -- Addison Maruszak, Trenton (117 games): Maruszak, who turns 26 in December, had a breakout season at Double-A, batting .276 with a career-high 16 homers and 59 RBIs. After hitting just one homer two years ago, he batted .373 against lefties and totaled 42 extra-base hits. He'll get a chance at Triple-A in 2013.

"I think Addison is a little bit of a sleeper," Oppenheimer said. "He's worked his tail off, he continues to have versatility to play multiple positions, he can hit, his at-bats are quality. And ideally you hope he'd had more range to play shortstop, but he's a good overall player."

Designated hitter -- Ronnier Mustelier, Trenton (25 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (89 games): Mustelier, a Cuban outfielder, made a name for himself in May when he homered in four straight games, helping earn a promotion to Triple-A in his first full season. The 28-year-old, signed as a free agent in June 2011, hit .314 with 15 homers, 69 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He also ranked second in the system with 141 hits.

Melky Mesa, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (33 games), Trenton (88 games), New York (3 games): Mesa made his big league debut in 2012 (he had two at-bats) after posting solid numbers at two Minor League levels. In 121 games, mostly at Double-A, the 25-year-old hit .264 with 23 homers, 67 RBIs and 22 steals. He ranked second in homers behind Luke Murton's 25 and is playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

"I thought (Mesa) did well, had a good year," Oppenheimer said. "He continues to get better, he's a solid defender and really a good outfielder."

Outfielders

Zoilo Almonte, Trenton (106 games): The Yankees' No. 7 prospect, a 2011 Organization All-Star, earned Eastern League All-Star status in his second season at Trenton after hitting .277 with 21 homers, 70 RBIs and 15 steals. He ranked third in the system in homers and fifth in RBIs while collecting 116 hits in 106 games.

"He had a great year. He did everything you'd ask him to do in the outfield," said Oppenheimer. "He hit for power and ran the bases well and it was a real standout year for him. I think we're hoping he continues to do the same thing and get better and have a good Major League career."

Mason Williams, Charleston (69 games), Tampa (22 games): Oppenheimer believes Williams and fellow outfielder Slade Heathcott are the Yankees' top two prospects heading into 2013. For the 21-year-old Williams, the numbers aren't staggering, but he didn't disappoint, finishing at .298 with 11 homers, 35 RBIs and 20 steals in 91 games at two levels. Oppenheimer feels he can be "a superstar" in the Majors.

"Him and Slade are our two best prospects in our system -- I don't think that's debatable," he said. "You're talking about 21 years old, hit-ability, power, he steals bases, plays the outfield right. From being an everyday contributor, he's probably a few years away."

Tyler Austin, Charleston (70 games), Tampa (36 games), GCL Yankees (2 games), Trenton (2 games): A Futures Game All-Star, Austin put together a great year while reaching Double-A in his first full season. Just 21, the 2010 13th-round pick hit .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs, finishing first among Yankees farmhands in average and second in RBIs.

"You couldn't ask for much more from the guy: He hit, hits for power, has good plate discipline, stole bases and he never gives away at-bats," Oppenheimer said. "No question, he had a tremendous year, it was well-deserved."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Brett Marshall, Trenton (27 games): The right-hander, drafted out of a Texas high school in 2008, spent the season as the ace at Double-A Trenton, where he went 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA to lead the system in wins. Sidelined in June with bursitis in his knee, he nonetheless struck out 120 over 158 1/3 innings, ranking fourth among Yankees Minor Leaguers and held opponents to a .255 average.

"He keeps getting better," Oppenheimer said. "He bounced back from that injury, he worked his tail off and the stuff continues to progress each year. The command got better, the ability to move the ball around with sink improves each year. His makeup has been off the charts. He had a tremendous year."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Vidal Nuno, Tampa (11 games), Trenton (20 games): The former Indians Draft pick built on his sold 2011 campaign by going 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA and leading the organization with 126 strikeouts in 138 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old ranked second in wins behind Marshall and held opponents to a .249 average while reaching Double-A in his fourth season.

Honorable mention: Nik Turley

Relief pitcher -- Mark Montgomery, Trenton (15 games), Tampa (31 games): Drafted as a reliever in 2011, the 22-year-old continued to close games in his second season with the Yankees, going 7-2 with a 1.54 ERA and a system-leading 15 saves across two levels. Montgomery struck out 99 over 64 1/3 innings and held foes to a .157 average while earning a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he garnered Rising Star honors.

"He was tremendous all year, he was tremendous," Oppenheimer said. "He showed Major League stuff, good control, he just kept getting better and better throughout the year. The Arizona Fall League, he went out there against some of the better hitters in the Minors and continued the progress. The swing and miss with him is tremendous, his slider is a quality Major League pitch right now."

Austin Romine, the Yankees' No. 2 catching prospect, caught Montgomery in Arizona and was stunned by the right-hander's slider.

"Never seen anything like it," he told Sports Illustrated. "With two strikes, the hitters know it's coming and they can't touch it."

Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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