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Yanks Prospects Update Live From the AFL



By Chuck Johnson ~ October 30th, 2011. Filed under: Digest Contributors, Yanks Minors.

I attended the Phoenix at Surprise game on Friday and had a chance to see Yankee prospects Rob Segedin and Corban Joseph. I was lucky enough to hit the right game as I also caught pitching prospects Chase Whitley and Preston Claiborne on their bullpen rotation day.

My primary reasons for picking this game was the schedule; I wouldn’t have an opportunity to see the Desert Dogs for the rest of the season due to conflicts, plus I was adamant about seeing Oakland top prospect Grant Green.

I have to say that while I have yet to see the Salt River Rafters squad, and in the one time I saw the Scottsdale Scorpions play Mike Trout wasn’t in the lineup, Green EASILY has the highest ceiling of any player I’ve seen so far. Turning a plus bat, average shortstop into a centerfielder has not only accelerated his path to the major leagues, it has turned Green into a potential, perennial All-Star candidate.

Anyway, back to the Yankees.

Rob Segedin: A 6’3”, 220 pound New Jersey native, Segedin was the Yanks’ third round pick in the 2010 draft out of Tulane. A third baseman in college, the Yanks moved Segedin to the outfield after he was drafted. He played just 22 games last year after he signed (20 in Staten Island) and hit a combined .244 in 86 plate appearances. Segedin began the 2011 season in Charleston, where he hit .323 with a .798 OPS in 61 games, then was promoted to Tampa, where he finished out the year posting a .243/.620 mark in 52 games.

At the plate, Segedin sets up about six inches open with his feet and just slightly closer to the plate than the mid-point of the batter’s box. His hands are in a close to optimum position (height is good, top hand even with the ear flap of his helmet) although a little closer to his head than I would like. Facing Marlins’ fireballer Evan Reed later in the game, Segedin took a 99 mph fastball for a strike, fouled off a 92 on the outside corner, then took an 85 curveball on the outside for a third strike looking, so he clearly hits off the fastball, which is not going to play well as he reaches higher levels. In one of his at bats he tomahawked a high outside fastball one hop off the right center field fence for a standup triple, although it must be mentioned the relay throw went home in an attempt to nail the trailing runner. Otherwise, it would have been a double.

Which brings to the point his speed, or lack thereof. In my notes, I wrote down, “heavy legs”, which means he doesn’t run well and his center of gravity is more below his hips than above. I wanted to get a feel for these guys, so I watched the game from behind the plate instead of the press box. Segedin scored on a hit, and as he slowed down approaching the plate, I could actually hear his footsteps. What this does is move the weight from the toes to the heels, and will impact him not only on the bases but in the outfield. As an outfielder, the weight going backwards means your head will start to move, which leads to mis-judgments on batted balls, but also would slow down his pivot on throws back to the infield. Drafted as a third baseman, his arm is a bit short, but that’s certainly a fixable issue. In analyzing the 2010 draft, Segedin and first baseman Kyle Boller were considered the top two power prospects the Yankees obtained, so it’s possible once he learns the nuances of playing the outfield and lengthens his arm, he could be a candidate down the road for some corner OF/DH duty in New York.

Corban Joseph: In talking with Joe DelGrippo about Joseph, and in reading scouting reports about him, I had an idea of what to look for when watching him and what they said proved accurate. Joseph is not a very good defensive player, his footwork is good, but he lacks the physicality to play the position; his pivots are painfully slow and his arm is below average. He gets to every ball, so his range and anticipation are good, but he has trouble getting himself into the proper position to execute. Offensively, he loads with his hands, which is never a good thing, but considering his size (168 pounds) he really has no choice. During the game, he turned on a couple of pitches, hitting a sacrifice fly to right and a one hop double off the right center field fence, so he does have the ability to square the ball. With Robinson Cano firmly entrenched in New York and a candidate for a long-term extension, Joseph really has no future in the organization as he lacks the arm and bat to play third base or the outfield.

Before I get to the pitchers, I want to talk a minute about David Phelps. He wasn’t the scheduled starter, but I was curious about his performance to date, which if you look at his game reports hasn’t been very good. (Phelps is next scheduled to start on Halloween against former Yankee draftee and 2011 first overall pick Gerrit Cole).

I threw a couple of questions around the press box before the game and ran into Phoenix Operations Director Matt Demson on my way downstairs to the field, and the consensus was unanimous; despite whatever he’s working on (the Fall League is a development league, and not a stats league), Phelps has not met expectations. Phelps was the Yanks’ 14th round pick in 2008 out of Notre Dame and just completed his fifth year in the organization. As a player who signed after his nineteenth birthday and who has been in the organization more than five years, Phelps is now eligible for the Rule V draft. Despite a stellar career record of 38-15 with a 2.61 ERA, Phelps is clearly at a crossroads in his career, with his AFL performance the sole determining factor in his being added to the 40 man roster or pitching for another team in 2012.

In an organization painfully thin on pitching depth, Phelps ranked sixth in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings of right handed starting pitchers. While he possesses the trait of all good pitchers of throwing off his fastball, Phelps lacks the secondary stuff or the go-to out pitch necessary to be successful. Early in his career, Phelps was known to touch upwards of 96 mph on his fastball; during his appearances here he’s rarely approached much more than 93 and is often I in the 90-91 range. Understanding the AFL to be a development league and giving consideration to Phelps working on the slower two seam fastball, the drop in velocity is not a concern. What is a concern, however, is his apparent inability to improve on his secondary offerings, especially the much needed changeup. I made this prediction before the AFL season started; Phelps is pitching for his future in the Yankee organization, and with his performance to date thus far, I see Phelps being exposed to the Rule V draft instead of being added to the 40 man roster.

Preston Claiborne: The Yanks’ 17th round pick in 2010, Claiborne was a teammate of Rob Segedin at Tulane. A closer in college, Claiborne has pitched the majority of his pro career in a set-up role, notching just seven saves in sixty-two career appearances, all in relief. Listed at 5’10. 180, Claiborne appears bigger, especially weight wise, and looks like a miniature version of Joba Chamberlain, a fact magnified by a strikingly similar pitching motion. Claiborne works with a fastball in the 86-92 range with a late, up and in tail. A red flag is his fastball is harder (93) out of the stretch, meaning the force of his windup takes away from his balance, keeping him from staying behind his right side during the delivery. His secondary stuff is almost non-existent, showing a fringy curve just twice. As a short pitcher with a violent motion, he has trouble getting the ball down in the zone; most of his misses were up. Claiborne has averaged a strikeout per inning during his short pro career, with a 3 to 1 K/BB ratio, but his lack of stuff and the max effort required just to throw really is against him, best case scenario he gets to New York as a one or two out specialist.

Chase Whitley: The Yanks 15th rounder in 2010 out of Troy State, Whitley is a big 6’4” 220 right-hander with a nasty repertoire. He throws a four seamer which touches 96 and has a very late rise, just enough where he will miss a lot of barrels. He throws an 85 or so slider, and while the break isn’t big, it’s late, which, in the overall scheme of things is almost a preferred option because the potential of a mistake is less. He has a nice change in the 83, 84 range and consistently keeps it down in the zone. At the time of the draft, Whitley was considered to have the best changeup of any college pitcher, and that fact proved to be true yesterday, albeit in just one inning of work. As a pro, Whitely’ made just one start in 72 career appearances, and that was an emergency start this year in Trenton when the scheduled starter cramped up in the bullpen warming up. Whitely didn’t take up pitching until his junior (draft) year of college and spent most of his early development years as an offensive player. The fact he was able to develop a plus changeup, arguably the most difficult pitch to master, in such a short time points to him being able to learn and master his slider, and if what I saw yesterday is an indication, he’s well on his way to accomplishing that. Despite his current career path as a reliever, the Yankees like his future potential as a starter and could have him repeat Trenton next year as a member of the rotation. If that doesn’t work out, and if David Robertson ends up the in-house replacement for Mariano Rivera, Whitely has the stuff to step into the set-up role down the road, and could potentially close as well.

All in all, yesterday was a worthwhile investment at the ballpark. I was happy to see the two pitchers as I wasn’t expecting anything when I showed up. While Claiborne and Joseph don’t have much of a future in the organization, I think Segedin and especially Whitely are sleepers going forward and while neither project to be impact players, they both could be contributors in the major leagues down the road.

As a former scout, and more importantly a fan, it’s exciting to see good players, and watching Green, Wil Myers, and Mike Olt during their development stage is a thrill. Over the past three weeks I’ve also had a chance to see Tim Beckham, who the Rays “settled” on as the number one overall pick in 2008.

He can’t play. He’s lazy, he doesn’t hustle anywhere, he doesn’t charge ground balls, and instead he lays back and relies on his arm. He popped to right field in one at bat and dropped three or four F-bombs on his way down to first. He chews gum with an attitude, like Tim Tebow and Bryce Harper, and acts like the world owes him something because he was a first round pick.

Newsflash, Tim. What you did before you signed is no longer relevant.

No one cares anymore that you were on the cover of Sports Illustrated when you were sixteen. No one cares you were the quarterback of a National Championship team or were drafted first overall as a high schooler over a dozen college players.

What matters now is throwing away the gum, wiping the eye black off your face, and not relying on Bible quotes as a way to discount poor play. All that matters now is what happens on the field.

Nothing tells the truth more than performance.

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A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.

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5 Responses to Yanks Prospects Update Live From the AFL

  1. Daler

    Chuck ‘Montero can’t hit’ Johnson. Tough to take this clown seriously

  2. Yardisiak

    An organization painfully thin on pitching depth? Betances, Banuelos, Warren, DJ Mitchel, Marshall, Noesi, Kontos,Stoneburner, and Phelps among others give the Yankees a strong mix of safe bets to contribute and up side.

  3. giants fan

    your assesment of tim beckham is false and maybe bias considering your a yankees fan. I’ve heard the complete opposite things from multiple sources. For example, many people say that beckham has a great work ethic and he has drastically improved over the past two seasons. Also, he is killing it in the AFL right now: in 54 ABs he has 11 BB/18 SO, 3 Hr, 13 RBIs, 13 Runs, .961 OPS, .568 SLG, and 3 SBs.

    It sucks that you were equally sucessfull this year to the rays with a 200 million dollar more pay roll

  4. Chuck Johnson

    Right, I’m going to waste my time ripping a AA player from Tampa because I’m a Yankee fan.

    Where do people come up with this stuff?

    And you might want to look up the phrase “killing it”.

    And I’m pretty sure you have no “sources.”

    Although I give you credit for at least offering a counter-argument, unlike the troll who posted the first comment.

  5. Chuck

    Tim Beckham was not selected to the AFL All-Star game on Saturday.

    It’s actually called the “Rising Stars” game, meaning it is for, well, rising stars.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20111101&content_id=25857742&vkey=afl_news&c_id=mlb

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