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Potential 2011 AFL Yankees Prospects

By Joseph Delgrippo ~ August 22nd, 2011. Filed under: Digest Contributors, Yanks Minors.

With the Arizona Fall League (AFL) schedule recently announced, it is time to discuss which players the New York Yankees might send to play in the desert.

Each team has to send six players to the AFL and the rules clearly state that only one player may be from the A level.  Since each played their entire 2010 season in High-A Tampa, I still don’t know how the Yankees had both pitcher Craig Heyer and 2B Jose Pirela both in the AFL last year.

Other players sent out last season included Austin Romine, Brandon Laird, Ryan Pope and Manny Banuelos.

What the Yankees, and presumably other teams, like to do is send pitchers out to increase their innings. The Yankees pitchers in the AFL last year all missed time during the 2010 season. Other reasons for AFL status is to allow players to play new positions (like Laird), to see how they fare versus better competition, or show off kids for possible trade purposes.

The stands for an AFL game are a virtual smorgasbord of major league scouts and GMs. Plus with day and night games, it is quite common to see everybody in Surprise during the day and Scottsdale at night. It really is great baseball in great weather.

I went out last year and reported over the air for NYBD. You can read about my insights last season here and hereplus a Yankees pitching piece here.

This season, the Yankees also have a few minor league pitchers who have missed time due to injury (what else is new?), including arms at the highest level of AAA. They also have a few pitchers who I would like to see them send out to the AFL, to get them a taste of much deeper lineups than they have faced most of their careers. Most of the players in the AFL are top prospects or players who will get a taste of the big leagues, and the deeper lineups provides for lots of offense and is a big test for young pitchers.

Here is the list of potential 2011 AFL Yankees prospects:

1) David Phelps, RHP Scranton AAA

When Phelps was drafted in 2008 (14th round), he was considered a non-prospect. You can tell what the Yankees thought when they worked him into the Staten Island rotation right away. They threw him for 73 innings in Staten Island (NY-Penn) on top of the 93 he threw for Notre Dame that season. This rarely happens to the top prospects.

But as Phelps worked his way up the ladder, the Yankees began to prospect him, meaning they started to limit his innings. He threw 165 innings in 2008, 159 in 2009 and 165 last season. Due to shoulder issues, Phelps has only thrown 95 innings, and while he had made two rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League, the Yankees are taking it easy with Phelps, finally allowing him a AAA start Friday night, which he allowed four runs and three walks in 2.2 innings.

If his shoulder is healthy, Phelps is a no-brainer for the AFL this season.

2) Pat Venditte, SHP Trenton AA

The only switch pitcher in professional baseball right now, and by most estimations Venditte is a non-prospect, but all he does is get people out from both sides of the plate. He has a 2.02 career ERA and WHIP of 1.00 in just over 254 innings. His strikeout rate is 10.5/9 IP. While this season started slowly for the ambidextrous pitcher, he has put up a 2.11 ERA since May including a stretch of 20 scoreless innings. His pitches are average, but he is able to locate that left-handed slider to the outside corner pretty regularly.

It is time for the Yankees to find out if Venditte is more than an oddity side show and let him face some better competition, and the 2011 AFL would be a big barometer for the switch pitcher.

3) Graham Stoneburner, RHP Trenton AA

I am a big fan of Stoneburner’s and have seen him pitch at three different levels. However, when I saw him in the past his velocity was  consistently 92-95. This season his velocity is steady at 88-91 with a few bumps when he needs it. Stoneburner was cruising along in April this season with three starts and 1.69 ERA before a strained neck put him on the shelf for two months. Now, the starting pitcher is looking at around 90 innings this season after racking up 142 in 2010.

Stoneburner is a virtual lock for AFL duty this year to get his innings up and see if the velocity returns the more innings he gets under his belt.

4) Dellin Betances, RHP Scranton AAA

Recently promoted to Triple A, Betances struck out 8 in six innings in his debut last night. More impressively, after bouts of wildness in Double A, he did not walk any batters, but allowed a solo HR to former top pick Tim Beckham. Before his final start in Double A, the Yankees instructed Betances to improve his fastball command and since then, Betances has only walked one in 13 innings of work.

With an innings projection of 150 for Betances this season, he will fall short of that goal by about 20-25 innings. No better place to make them up by improving your fastball command against the real good hitters in the AFL.

But in the unlikely event Betances gets a call up this September to the big leagues, the AFL date might be canceled.

5) Chase Whitley, RHP Trenton AA

Already in Double-A after being drafted last year, Whitley has also been promoted from High-A Tampa earlier in 2011. He is being fast tracked as a multiple inning, power right handed reliever, but I see less than the Yankees do. You can read about Whitley a little in this piece.

At Troy University, Whitley was a two-way player and was the team’s best hitter, so the pitching aspect is still quite new as a full time endeavor. He possesses two different fastballs, good change-up and slider, using the final two as his strikeout pitches.

Whitley dominated last season in Staten Island, but has been roughed up a little in 2011 in Trenton. He needs to cut down on the walks and improve his delivery as he throws way across his body.

But there is no better way for Whitley to show the Yankees that he can continue to be fast tracked by facing the deeper lineups of the AFL. The only thing that might keep him out is the high amount of innings Whitley has thrown this year (84 and counting).

6) Andrew Brackman, RHP Scranton AAA

The Yankees like to send a reliever or two out here and there might not be a better candidate than former first round pick Andrew Brackman. As a starting pitcher, Brackman has been abysmal this season with a 2-5 record, 6.52 ERA and 54 walks in only 59 innings. But since his conversion to the bullpen, Brackman has improved. After a rough start on July 29th where he walked NINE batters in just over three innings, he has been relegated to the bullpen full time and has only walked two in his last 9 IP covering four appearances. This is very similar to what happened back in 2009 when Brackman was with Low-A Charleston.

Now, his fastball is supposedly hitting the upper 90s again and his curveball, which he sometimes commands and many times doesn’t, is a definite out pitch.

I have always thought Brackman was a full-time reliever and have written where he might be the future Yankees closer. 

With the deeper lineups and more patient hitters, it would be of much benefit for Brackman to continue working out of the pen out in the AFL.

7) Corban Joseph, 2B Trenton AA

I wrote a bit about Joseph last week. My feeling is that Joseph takes too many pitches, especially hittable pitches. He also tends to get pull happy, and that causes him to pull off the ball. Based upon the way he moved in the field last week, I also believe CoJo is tired. Teams really shouldn’t send tired players out to the AFL, but last year the Yankees sent catcher Austin Romine to Phoenix after he caught 100 games.

However, Joseph is never going to supplant Robinson Cano at second base (or anyone else for that matter). One, he is not that good defensively and two, he will never have the bat to produce big numbers like the Yankees would expect from a Cano replacement.

The Yankees need to find out if Joseph can consistently hit better pitching to maybe make him a versatile player who can play second, third and maybe outfield. The AFL will find this out…or find out if they should package CoJo in a trade.

8 ) David Adams, 2B Tampa High-A

Adams was on a hitting tear last year in Trenton, putting up a line of .309/.393/.507/.900 OPS with 15 doubles, three triples, three homers and 32 RBIs in only 39 games. He then broke his foot on a slide and missed the rest of the season. He returned this season and, when he hasn’t been hampered by the recurring bad foot, he had alternated between the GCL and High A Tampa. Again, he has hit when healthy.

There was chatter amongst Yankee fans why Adams was being kept in Tampa. Two reasons. First, the Tampa brass wanted to keep Adams in town since the injury might reoccur, but Adams needed the reps and being in Tampa kept Adams under constant observation. Second, the AFL rules state only one player is allowed per organization from the A ball level, and this was Adams’ ticket to the AFL.

Similar to David Phelps, if Adams is healthy he is a lock for the AFL to gain much needed reps against better competition.

9) Zoilo Almonte, OF Trenton AA

As a typical International signing, Almonte was groomed slowly, playing three years in short-season ball (GCL, then Staten Island) before hitting full season ball at age 19. He was a SALLY All-Star last season, was promoted to Tampa where he struggled a little, putting up decent, but lower power numbers. However, his walk and strikeout rates were nearly identical.

Beginning the season in Tampa, Almonte improved on all levels in his repeat of High-A ball, including BA, OBP and SLG. He banged out 15 doubles and 12 HRs in half a season in the notoriously tough on power FSL. His play in Trenton this year mirrors that of last year after his promotion – decent numbers but reduced power.

I have seen him play a handful of times on several levels and have never really been impressed. Almonte hits off the front side too much, but he plays a pretty good outfield and has a strong throwing arm. I also like his ability to take a walk when needed, and that he improved considerably when repeating High-A for a half season.

He will definitely start next season in Trenton but it will benefit him and the Yankees if he spent some time in the AFL, too.

10) Melky Mesa, CF Trenton AA

The perfect candidate for the AFL, Mesa has tremendous tools, but has had major issues with breaking ball recognition, but he has improved as of late.

Mesa also missed about a month of the season with a lower back injury.

Mesa can run, throw and get the ball with the best of them, but needs to further his development with off speed pitches. The combination of a need to face better competition and his missed time this season is the perfect storm for an AFL appointment.


These are the main candidates for the New York Yankees Arizona Fall League in 2011. There are others I considered like Shaeffer Hall (already 143 IP), Adam Warren (already 138 IP), DJ Mitchell, and Brett Marshall (already 130 IP) from the pitching corps, with Jesus Montero (to work on his catching), Rob Lyerly (although he may be tired now) and the Krum(L) brothers, Austin Krum and Ray Kruml, both who are now with Triple A Scranton.

But the players listed above are the best candidates for the 2011 Arizona Fall League, guys who would benefit from the higher level of competition.

Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.
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3 Responses to Potential 2011 AFL Yankees Prospects

  1. Chuck Johnson

    “Each team has to send six players to the AFL and the rules clearly state that only one player may be from the A level. Since each played their entire 2010 season in High-A Tampa, I still don’t know how the Yankees had both pitcher Craig Heyer and 2B Jose Pirela both in the AFL last year.”

    Rule change last year expanded rosters to 35 and seven players per team, with two players below AA allowed.

  2. Joseph DelGrippo

    Sounds less like the Yankees strong arm tactics and more due to Washington having things changed so they can get both Harper and Sammy Solis out there.

  3. Chuck Johnson

    Actually, it was because the lower level Hawaiian Winter League folded and teams had trouble finding places to put some kids, so they increased the roster sizes here.

    Not sure if it was permanent or just a one year emergency kind of thing.

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