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Phelps, Banuelos among Yanks' best

Pitching help on the way after Montero makes Bronx impact
December 7, 2011
This offseason, will be 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.

The Yankees boasted a pair of championship teams in 2011, although they were as far from the Bronx as you can get. New York saw its Rookie-level affiliate take the Gulf Coast League crown behind top Draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who traveled to Staten Island and watched that club win the New York-Penn League title.

There weren't a whole lot of surprises beyond that, however. Top prospect Jesus Montero finally reached the Majors, taking fellow backstop Austin Romine with him. Youngsters like Ivan Nova and Hector Noesi got extended time in the Majors, and the Yankees hope their other big prospects -- Dellin Betances, the organization's 2011 strikeout king, and lefty Manny Bañuelos can follow that route in 2012.

Yankees Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jesus Montero, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (109 games), New York (18 games): The organization's top offensive prospect finally arrived in 2011 and even made an impact in October after spending a fifth season on the farm. At Triple-A, Montero was named an International League All-Star and hit .288 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs in 109 games while working on the one aspect of his game for which he's taken heat: defense.

"We see him as a guy who can do different things for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News last month. "You think about how old he is -- there's going to be some growing pains as we go through with him. But I think the kid is extremely hungry. I think he's talented and I think he can help us."

"The bat is big-league ready, its a question of the Yankees being willing to turn a 22-year-old into a designated hitter," said Draft reporter and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo. "It's obvious they don't think he can catch."

It's worth noting, and it's also no secret, that the Bombers are loaded with catching talent. Austin Romine, considered a better defender, had a solid year at Double-A before seeing time in the Bronx and Gary Sanchez,'s No. 34 prospect, had 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Class A Charleston. Even his partner with the RiverDogs, J.R. Murphy, hit .298.

First base -- Jorge Vazquez, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (118 games): The 2010 Caribbean Series MVP went on some serious power surges in his best season since 2006. The 29-year-old batted .262 and led the farm system with 32 homers and 93 RBIs. Honorable mention for Tampa's Luke Murton and Kyle Roller.

Second base -- Corban Joseph, Trenton (131 games): The 23-year-old hit .277 with five homers and 58 RBIs in his first full season at Double-A, basically replicating numbers he posted a year earlier at Charleston. While the stats weren't eye-popping, the Yankees thought enough of the Eastern League All-Star to send him to the Arizona Fall League and add him to their 40-man roster.

Third base -- Dante Bichette Jr., GCL Yankees (52 games), Staten Island (two games): The Yankees' top pick in the 2011 Draft, Bichette quickly showed his inherited skills by claiming MVP honors in the Gulf Coast League. He led the Yanks to the GCL crown, then helped Staten Island claim the NY-Penn League title. The second-rounder hit .342 in the GCL and led the system with a .440 on-base percentage.

"I think the Yankees have to be pleasantly surprised with how Bichette produced right out of the gate," said Mayo. "[Starting him in] Charleston makes sense [for 2011] -- he's a high school kid, he grew up around the game, which helps, but I don't think anyone thought he was going to hit like that right away."

Worth noting: Brandon Laird batted .260 with 16 homers and 69 RBIs at Triple-A, New Jersey native Rob Segedin hit .287 across two levels, Robert Lyerly led the system with 149 hits between Tampa and Trenton, and Tyler Austin owned the best average after hitting .354 between the GCL and Staten Island.

Shortstop -- Walter Ibarra, Tampa (100 games): The 24-year-old switch-hitter already has spent six years in the Yankees' system. He found a little more power in 2011, hitting six homers after totaling five in his first five seasons. With Tampa, Ibarra batted .297 with 52 RBIs and 10 steals. Cito Culver, the Yankees' top pick in 2010, struggled through his first full season, batting .250 with two longballs and 33 RBIs.


Jordan Parraz, Scranton/Wilkes-Barres (126 games): The former Royals farmhand was claimed off waivers last winter and excelled in his first season with the Yanks, hitting .289 with nine homers, 52 RBIs and a .362 OBP. He's a free agent.

Justin Maxwell, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (48 games): Acquired from the Nationals in a February trade, Maxwell returned well from Tommy John surgery and got off to a hot start with 16 homers in 48 games before missing most of the season with a torn labrum. He led Yankees' Minor League outfielders in homers, despite his time on the shelf.

Mason Williams, Staten Island (68 games): Williams, a 2010 fourth-round pick, was named the Topps New York-Penn League Player of the Year after batting .349 with 94 hits, 31 RBIs and 28 steals in 68 games. He was a league All-Star and ranked second in the system in average.

"Williams might have the most upside of any player in the Yankees' system," Mayo said. "The fact that he put up those kinds of numbers when most considered him to be really raw is very encouraging for his future."

Designated hitter -- Zoilo Almonte, Tampa (70 games), Trenton (46 games): The 22-year-old switch-hitter produced nice power, average and speed numbers at two levels after earning a Sally League All-Star nod in 2010. He hit .293 at Tampa (.276 overall) with 15 homers and 77 RBIs and 18 stolen bases, with most of the production coming in the Florida State League. Almonte's stats dropped off a bit after facing Double-A pitching, but he's still at work in the Venezuelan Winter League. The Yanks also added him to their 40-man, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Right-handed starter -- David Phelps, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (18 games), GCL Yankees (two games): Phelps had a nice year in 2011, along with other righties like Dellin Betances, who reached the Majors, and D.J. Mitchell, who led the system with 13 wins. Phelps, however, owned the organization's best ERA at 2.99 and walked only 27 batters over 114 1/3 innings at the highest Minor League level.

"Phelps has always been one of those prospects who has flown under the radar," said Mayo. "He won't light up the radar gun or 'wow' with stuff, but he knows how to pitch and he's had success at every level. I think he definitely could be a guy who could contribute in 2012."

He had seven wins, including a complete-game shutout while striking out 95 and earning an invitation to the AFL and a spot on the Yanks' 40-man roster.

"Betances is another one who needs to throw strikes to be a starter," Mayo said. "He should be able to help out right away out of the pen if the Yankees need him to."

Left-handed starter -- Manny Bañuelos, Trenton (20 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (seven games): Fans have been waiting to see this southpaw reach the Bronx after he opened eyes in Spring Training. The Yankees kept their word, though, and kept him in the Minors, where he was 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA and 125 strikeouts over 129 2/3 innings.

"His pure stuff still ranks him among the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball," Mayo said. "For him to have long-term success, though, he needs to harness his command and throw more strikes. You could see him in 2012 at some point, and shortening him up to be a left-handed setup man, even in the short-term could expedite the process."

Relief pitcher -- Kevin Whelan, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (45 games), New York (two games): Whelan, an IL All-Star, led the system with 23 saves and appeared in two Major League games in a season that saw him post a pair of wins and a 2.75 ERA. Acquired from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade in 2006, he struck out 54 over 52 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .202 average.

Danny Wild is an editor for