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Yankees Prospect Primer: Jagielo aims high

Bombers will keep close eye on lefty Banuelos following arm surgery
April 1, 2014

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2014 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Gary Sanchez, Catcher

Sanchez, the Yankees' No. 1 prospect, reached Double-A Trenton last year and showed good power, hitting .253 with 15 homers, 71 RBIs and a .324 on-base percentage in 117 games between two levels. The 21-year-old, who received a million bonus in 2009, has been knocked for his defense at times but owns a strong throwing arm. 

"We're real happy with the way he's made progress," said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president and director of amateur scouting. "He did a good job getting in shape and did a much better job defensively, his concentration level is good, and he's continued to hit. We should feel good moving forward with Gary."

Sanchez's biggest hurdle would seem to be his competition -- the Yankees inked veteran Brian McCann to a five-year, 5 million deal this offseason, leaving Sanchez and fellow catching prospect John Ryan Murphy out of contention. Throw in Austin Romine, who already has seen time in the Majors, plus backup Francisco Cervelli, and the area behind the plate is pretty crowded in the Bronx.

Oppenheimer said he's not sure where Sanchez will finish the season, but it'll be a journey determined by his development and success.

"That's up to him -- it depends how he plays," Oppenheimer said. "There's two other guys in front of him that are going to get to the big leagues too. We've got catching -- it's not the easiest path for him."

So, what does Sanchez's future hold? A position change? Trade bait? Maybe a slide over to a different position?

"No, I don't see him as a first baseman," he said.

At a crossroads: Manny Banuelos, Left-handed Pitcher

The once top-ranked lefty struggled with his command this spring in his first appearances since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in October 2012. Banuelos made two exhibition starts for the Yankees, allowing three runs in two-thirds of an inning on March 8 before surrendering four runs while recording one out a week later.

We're often reminded that Spring Training stats don't matter, but in the case of Banuelos, it should be cause for at least some concern. The Yanks envisioned the 2009 Futures Game All-Star to be a rotation candidate in 2012, but injuries slowed his progress and eventually led to surgery. He missed all of 2013 after stringing together four quality seasons from 2008-11 but showed good velocity in simulated games at the end of last season.

Despite the setbacks and time missed, the Mexican southpaw entered Spring Training with hopes of making the Yankees' Opening Day roster. 

"I have a chance now, and I want to work hard to get to the big leagues," the 23-year-old told in February. "If I don't make the team here, [I will] try to get a call-up soon. I feel normal now. After two long years, now I feel ready. I feel good after that. The rehabbing was good."

Oppenheimer said the Yankees held a more cautious approach entering this spring and have lowered expectations for Banuelos' surgically repaired arm.

"He's coming back. I don't know if you can have expectations -- you let them pitch and see what they can do," he said. "You can't sit there and say, 'I think he can get to the big leagues.' We'll see how he rebounds off the surgery and we'll try to keep the expectations to a minimum. If something happens, good, that's great, but I'm not sure [what level] we have him penciled to go."

Full-season debutant: Eric Jagielo, Third Baseman

Jagielo was one of the Yankees' first-round picks last summer, going No. 26 overall out of Notre Dame. He said it was "an honor to play" for the Yankees, and at 21, the slugging third baseman could be the long-term solution at third following the conclusion of the Alex Rodriguez saga.

The 2013 Yankees Organizational All-Star appeared in 55 games during his first season, hitting .264 with six homers, 27 RBIs and a .376 OBP mostly with Class A Short Season Staten Island. He figures to see time at Class A Charleston or Class A Advanced Tampa to start 2014.

"We're excited about all three of those kids we took in the first round -- we're looking for a big year from Jagielo," Oppenheimer said. "We'll see how [Aaron] Judge plays, and once [Ian] Clarkin gets going -- he had an impressive Spring Training. All three of those guys can be good, but Jagielo is a little further along. He played last year, so I think he might be closest to doing some moving."

Prospect Primer

Jagielo, the Yankees' No. 5 prospect, was the 2013 Big East Player of the Year after batting .388 for the Irish. He's got a left-handed swing built for Yankee Stadium and called being drafted by New York "a dream come true."

"We like him a lot, but obviously he's only played one short season. We think he has all [the tools], but you know, we'll see what happens," Oppenheimer said. "We'll see how he progresses now that he's playing every day. What we think and what they actually perform like are two different things, but we have high expectations for him."

More to keep an eye on: Mason Williams, the Yankees' No. 2 prospect, made his Double-A debut last season but posted disappointing numbers, hitting .153 in 17 games after his promotion from Tampa. Overall, the lefty hit .245 with four homers, 28 RBIs and 15 steals, so he'll be on a mission to prove himself again in 2014. ... The Yankees restocked their farm system at last year's Draft thanks in part to a pair of supplemental first-round picks. Notable draftees include second baseman Gosuke Katoh, a second-rounder ranked as the team's No. 11 prospect, outfielder Aaron Judge, the No. 32 overall pick and No. 9 prospect, and left-hander Ian Clarkin, who enters 2014 as the organization's No. 8 prospect after pitching in just three games last year.

Danny Wild is an editor for Follow his MLBlog, Minoring in Twitter.