Farm report: The future is bright

A breakdown of the top 10 prospects in the Yankees farm system
01/23/2008 11:29 AM ET
By Joe Auriemma / Special to

Ian Kennedy was on the chopping block. (AP)
When the Yankees and Brian Cashman decided to move the team in a different direction by hanging onto their touted prospects instead of trading them away, no one could have ever imagined the Yankees' farm system would have been re-built so quickly.

Baseball America is the authority on ranking each team's top prospects before each new season. According to, "Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the Major League rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible."

Here is the list that was put out for 2008's Top 10 Prospects in the Yankees system:

1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP — Obviously the Yankees are putting a lot of faith in this young, talented arm. Last year, he showed signs of brilliance when he came out of the bullpen and seemed unhittable at times. Radar guns were lighting up to the tune of 100 MPH. He gave the Yankees a one-two punch at the back end of the bullpen with Mariano Rivera that was very hard to contend with. The argument is that maybe he should be in the bullpen because that is where he was very effective last season, but the Yankees believe that he can't reach his full potential unless he is a starter. They fully expect him to be a frontline ace in the very near future.

On top of having the nastiest fastball in the Yankees' farm system, Baseball America also concludes that Chamberlain has the Best Curveball and the Best Slider. To have that many quality pitches, which weren't even on display coming out of the bullpen, is a very scary thought for the rest of the league.

2. Austin Jackson, OF — The Yankees are so impressed with his skills that they were reluctant to include him in any potential package for Johan Santana. Baseball America ranks Jackson as the Best Athlete and the Best Defensive Outfielder in the Yankees' farm system.

Last season, Jackson played 60 games with the Charleston RiverDogs, the Class-A Yankees affiliate in the South Atlantic League. He batted .260 with three home runs, 25 RBIs, 33 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.

The 20 year old, 6'1, 185 pound right-handed outfielder also played in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League with the Tampa Yankees. He really excelled in 67 games there. A-Jax hit .345 with 10 home runs, 34 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and 53 runs scored. This season he is projected to start with the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

3. Jose Tabata, OF — Many Yankee fans have heard about Tabata's promise. He is considered the Best Hitter for Average in the Yankees' farm system.

This 19-year-old Venezuelan stud is projected to be the team's future right fielder. Right now, he is raw, young talent that is 5'11, 160 pounds. Tabata played his full 2007 season with the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League. He hit .307 with five home runs, 54 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and 56 runs scored in 103 games. On Aug. 27, 2007, Tabata played in the Florida State League Post-season All-Star game.

There is a lot of potential for this youngster in the years to come. However, he is probably a couple of good Minor League seasons away from Major League action.

4. Ian Kennedy, RHP — Kennedy is another young stud that Yankee fans got to see first-hand in 2007. He is expected to compete for a spot alongside Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in the 2008 Yankees rotation.

Baseball America gave Kennedy the award for Best Control in the Yankees farm system. In his three starts on the Major League level last season, Kennedy went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA, 15 strikeouts, nine walks, only one home run allowed and opponents hit just .191 against him.

The Yankees' 2006 top draft pick out of USC had a heck of a year down in the Minor League system in 2007. The 23-year old played on four different levels including the Majors during the season. He started with Class-A Advanced Tampa, was promoted to Double-A Trenton and his final Minor League stop was Triple-A Scranton. All-in-all, Kennedy went 12-3 with a miniscule 1.91 ERA in 25 combined starts and 26 games. He struck out 163 batters in just 146.1 innings pitched and only walked 50 batters. The kicker is that he only allowed six home runs last season, seven if you include the one he gave up to B.J. Upton on the Major League level.

5. Alan Horne, RHP — One thing you might notice about the Yankees is the lack of left-handed promising youth in the minors. However, there is certainly not a lack of talent just because these guys throw right-handed.

One award that wasn't given out to prospects was Yankees Comeback Player of the Yankees Minor league system and in 2007, Horne would have won that award.

Last season, Horne played his whole season in Double-A Trenton, where he sported a 12-4 record with a 3.11 ERA in 27 starts. He struck out 165 batters in 153.1 innings pitched, while allowing opposing hitters just a .256 batting average. This is a major improvement from his 2006 Minor League season when he pitched for Class-A Advanced Tampa, where he went 6-9 with a 4.84 ERA in 26 starts and 28 games.

At age 25, the 6'4, 195 pound right-hander, is a little older than some of the other more familiar names, but he is another player the Yankees were having a hard time parting with in the Santana sweepstakes. The University of Florida alumnus really turned it around last season and could come up to the Major League level as early as this season.

6. Jesus Montero, C — Montero is regarded as the best power hitting prospect in the Yankees' farm system. Right now he is listed as a catcher, but this very young prospect is considered more of the Yankees' first baseman of the future.

On July 2, 2006, the Yankees signed this 16-year old catcher and took a risk giving him a seven-figure signing bonus. However, he was believed by many teams to be a prized catch. Many scouts deemed him very mature for his age and considered his raw power was off the charts. One National League scouting director told Baseball America, "He was hitting home runs to center field in Valencia, which is pretty tough to do. The question is where does he play? The body is pretty maxed out. He looks like Travis Hafner at age 16."

Now Montero is 18 and the Venezuelan is a robust 6'4, 225 pounds. In his first season in the Yankees Minor League System in 2007, he played in the Rookie Gulf Coast League and in 33 games hit .280 with three home runs with 19 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .421.

7. Jeff Marquez, RHP — Marquez is another righty with a lot of potential. The Yankees are chock full of young talented arms and Marquez is in this group.

This California native is 23 years old and is 6'2, 175 pounds. Last season, he played the full season down at Double-A Trenton. In 27 starts, he went 15-9 with a 3.65 ERA. He had 94 strikeouts and 44 walks in 155.1 innings pitched.

He has a nice mix of pitches and was part of that daunting starting staff down in Trenton last season. The staff of Chamberlain, Kennedy, Brett Smith, Horne and Marquez had a great rapport with each other. They all gave each other tutorials on how each throws their best pitches. If anything, the 2007 season made Marquez a better all around pitcher.

8. Brett Gardner, OF — This is another outfielder the Yankees hold in very high regard. Along with Jackson and Tabata, the Yankees can see Gardner maybe joining those two players as the outfield of the future.

Gardner has the best strike-zone discipline and is the fastest baserunner in the Yankees farm system. This 24-year old, 5'10, 180-pound, left handed outfielder is once again expected to be on the Scranton Wilkes-Barre roster where he finished up last season. He played a total of 99 minor league games. In 54 games at Double-A Trenton, he hit .300, with 19 extra base hits, 43 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. In 45 games in Triple-A Scranton, he hit .260 with eight extra base hits, 37 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. He certainly has the speed on the bases to be a future lead-off hitter.

9. Ross Ohlendorf, RHP — Ohlendorf is probably the best prospect the Yankees received when they traded Randy Johnson back to Arizona last offseason. He did pitch in six major league games in the 2007 season with no record and a 2.84 ERA. Ohlendorf had nine strikeouts in 6.1 major league innings. However, he did have one rough inning in the postseason, coming in relief of Chien-Ming Wang in the Game 1, 12-3 Indians blowout. In that one inning of work he gave up a home run to Travis Hafner and allowed three earned runs and four hits, while walking one.

The Yankees liked what they saw out of Ohlendorf though. He has a very good chance of being a part of the bullpen in 2008, maybe facilitating the role that Chamberlain held in 2007 as the eighth-inning bridge to Rivera. Last season in the Minors, Ohlendorf split time as a starter and reliever. He was much more effective coming out of the bullpen, where his fastball went from the low '90s as a starter to the mid-to-upper '90s as a reliever. He has very good control of his pitches and this 25-year old Princeton University graduate has Mike Mussina-like intelligence.

Last year, his Minor League totals, in 13 starts and 25 games, were 4-4 with a 4.81 ERA. He allowed nine home runs and a .298 batting average against. In 82.1 innings he struck out 65 and walked 25 batters. The numbers may sound inflated, but the Yankees did see a lot of positives from this 6'4, 235 pounder, especially coming out of the bullpen.

10. Andrew Brackman, RHP — Just when you thought the Yankees might have enough talented starting pitchers, they went out and drafted Brackman with their first-round pick in 2007. When you talk about big pitchers, you think of Randy Johnson. Well, Brackman is in that category. He is a giant 6'10, 230 pounds.

He has yet to pitch in the Yankees minor league system, so fans should anticipate a big coming out party in the Minors this season. As a student at North Carolina State University for two years, Brackman played two sports while attending the University. He was part of the basketball team that got knocked out of the Sweet 16 in 2006 by the Wisconsin Badgers, but after this game he decided to put his attention squarely on baseball.

He has a fastball in the 92-97 range throwing both a two and four-seam fastball. He throws a knuckle curve at about 78-81 MPH, which he has trouble locating in the strike zone at times and a changeup in the 82-84 MPH range. His strength certainly is his fastball and command of his two-seamer.

Joe Auriemma is a contributor to comments