I have received a few e-mails about why I don't put together any type of "Top 10/20/30/500" list for Yankees prospects. Honestly, I don't find lists to be extremely useful; more of a fun exercise than an actual science. The next great Yankees star may not appear anywhere on a "Top 20" list right now. Prospects constantly change. Pitchers add velocity, change their off-speed offerings, and mature in general. Hitters learn to adjust to their new levels, and things that were so difficult in the first half of the season suddenly become easy again. It is a part of the process.
That said, since I have been asked, I am going to take my first crack ever at a Top 20 list. This should be considered a mid-season list, even though the minor league teams are beyond that point.
1. Gary Sanchez, 20, C (High-A Tampa) - If there is any one slam dunk on this list, it is Sanchez.
2. Rafael DePaula, 22, RHP (High-A Tampa) - Many people saw DePaula as a breakout candidate heading into 2013, and they have not been disappointed. A true power pitcher with two big offerings (fastball/slider) to go along with a developing change.
3. Slade Heathcott, 22, CF (Double-A Trenton) - Heathcott's overall performance (.257/.321/.370) may not inspire you, but he has been red-hot since the calendar turned to July (.351/.393/.439).. This is all about potential - Heathcott can stick in center field, which means that even if he doesn't reach his full offensive potential, he can still be an above-average major league player for his position.
4. Mason Williams, 21, CF (High-A Tampa) - A few weeks ago, I would have been tempted to put Williams much lower on the list - but something has clicked. He is hitting .275/.349/.376 but has 26 hits in 65 AB (.400) since the High-A ASB. Maturity is a concern, but I always put talent ahead of maturity in hopes that the maturity eventually shines through as a player gets older. Perhaps next spring, Derek Jeter can take him to the side for a little 1-on-1 counseling.
5. Eric Jagielo, 21, 3B (Short-Season Staten Island) - It is still way too early to tell, but the bat looks legit right now. The Yankees are desperate for infield help, so I fully expect them to keep him at third base. Early reports indicate he is handling the position fine.
6. JR Murphy, 22, C (Triple-A Scranton) - The Yankees have been very aggressive with Murphy, and he never has disappointed. Offensively, I see a player with a good chance to be better than major league average behind the plate. Defensively, he may not be the most gifted catcher in the system - but he likely doesn't need to be moved away from the position, either.
7. Ian Clarkin, 18, LHP (No Level) - Clarkin has yet to make his debut, which makes it hard to say much about him beyond the potential he has. The biggest hurdle he probably has to clear is fastball command, as the scouting reports I read rate it as a bit below-average coming out of the draft. But he is a high-school pitcher who already throws in the low-90s with two developing off-speed offerings (curve/change).
8. Greg Bird, 20, 1B (Low-A Charleston) - Try to find a player in the system who is having a bigger offensive season than Bird. He is hitting .273/.398/.476 in 311 AB. He can easily jump up this list if he continues to hit - one of the issues I have with him is that he seems to be planted at first base long-term. Defensively, he will be fine there - but first base is an offensive position, so his margin for error is a bit small.
9. Tyler Austin, 21, OF (Double-A Trenton) - Some may think I am being a bit harsh on Austin by putting him at #9, especially given the recent news of his wrist injury. It is actually the injury that has pushed him down a few pegs, in my opinion. Wrist injuries can be very tricky, and can ruin the career of a hitter depending on the severity. I still think Austin is a fine prospect, and a very important one given his potential for right-handed power from a corner OF spot. For now, I am tempering my own expectations.
10. Jose Ramirez, 23, RHP (Triple-A Scranton) - Just a few short years ago, the Yankees rushed Ramirez to High-A Tampa, and he was smoked. It was tough to follow, given all that we heard about his potential. Some prospects may have crumbled at that point, but Ramirez dusted himself off and now finds himself in Scranton, a phone call away from the Bronx. Of course, tough to answer that call when you are on the disabled list.
11. Manny Banuelos, 22, LHP (No Level) - Banuelos is out for the 2013 season. I am a bit concerned because in 2011, his velocity increased...leading to a decrease in his command. Missing essentially two years of development time to iron that out is disappointing, but he is still young and should be good to go next spring.
12. Aaron Judge, 21, OF (No Level) - Instantly became the most intriguing player in the system after he was drafted. Massive boom/bust potential here.
13. Jose Campos, 20, RHP (Low-A Charleston) - Yankees have handled him with kid gloves all season, and it is starting to pay off. Campos has been tremendous as of late. The potential for big things is still there - but there has to be some hesitation until they loosen the leash a bit.
14. Ty Hensley, 19, RHP (No Level) - Out for the 2013 season. Since his injury was not arm related, I expect him to come back strong in 2014. He has the potential to zoom up this list.
15. Ramon Flores, 21, OF (Double-A Trenton) - Sometimes, we do forget that the outfielders playing for Trenton are still very young. I am disappointed in Flores because I think (thought?) he had a very mature approach at the plate. There is also the fact that he is already labeled as a tweener - someone who cannot cover center field on an everyday basis, but may not have the power for a corner.
16. Nik Turley, 23, LHP (Double-A Trenton) - I expected Turley's strikeout numbers to start declining a tad as he moved up the chain. That has not happened (100 Ks in 95 IP this season). But his walk rate has increased, and his ERA is pedestrian (4.26). All that said, he is a left-handed pitching prospect in a system that cherishes them. I remain bullish.
17. Pete O'Brien, 23, C/3B (High-A Tampa) - O'Brien doesn't have the upside of many other prospects, but he can mash. The biggest question is how his tendency to strike out will translate in the upper minors. Always a chance he can cut back on that a bit. He's also not a young prospect, which also brings down his grade.
18. Bryan Mitchell, 22, RHP (High-A Tampa) - In terms of pure power stuff, hardly anyone in this system can match Mitchell - he throws extremely hard (mid-to-upper 90s) with an above-average curve and solid change. So, how can a pitcher with this much talent be rated #18? Because his performance has simply not matched up with the potential.
19. Angelo Gumbs, 20, 2B (Low-A Charleston) - Injuries have impacted his progress a bit, and he had a rough go of it in Tampa earlier this year. That said, his talent is immense and he is considered one of the best overall athletes in the system. Perhaps he is a bit like Austin Jackson in that he needs to grow into an actual baseball player. But make no mistake about it: Gumbs can blossom at any time, just like Jackson did. He has the ability to play different positions, but the Yankees seem content with him at second.
20. Corey Black, 21, RHP (High-A Tampa) - Black has struggled a bit in Tampa (4.29 ERA in 18 starts), but the smallish (5'11") right-hander with the big arm continues to show signs that perhaps he can stick in the rotation. He has the pitches to do so - it is all about the stamina. He could move quickly as a reliever, but the Yankees are smart to not go down that path at this time.