Thursday, December 22, 2005

Advanced A Tampa Yankees

I’m making a valiant attempt to return to sanity today by evaluating the Class A Tampa Yankees. Still, I know that thoughts of Johnny Damon are still running through everyone’s head, and I’m sure many would appreciate some more thoughts on him. But, for my sanity and yours, let’s talk about another topic.

An apology is due, as I referred to the Charleston River Dogs as the Yankees Advanced A Level team a few times in the recent past. Of course, Tampa is the Advanced A team, while Charleston is the mid-level A squadron. I also said on Monday that I’d like to get to Double A Trenton, but a brain fart caused me to forget about Tampa.

Okay, enough apologies. Let’s go prospect huntin’.

Justin Christian, a 25-year-old utility infielder, played the bulk of the season with Tampa, starting in Charleston and ending the season taking one at bat for Columbus. And with a line like he posted for Tampa and the fact that he’s 25, it would only make sense to bring him into Ohio to start 2006.


Very impressive, I must say. And remember, he’s an infielder, which makes these numbers even more stellar. Hell, I’d take that line for a major league first baseman. Of course, it remains to be seen if he can reproduce those numbers at a higher level, but he’ll surely be tested in Columbus this year. And at 25, he may be close to major league ready, providing the Yankees with a viable utility man in the near future. The diagnosis: sign Cairo as a stopgap in 2006 and gauge Christian for 2007.

Baseball America has some kind words for our friend Mr. Christian:

Justin Christian is making himself difficult to ignore. Signed out of the independent Frontier League in July 2004, the Yankees second baseman just keeps on hitting at high Class A Tampa. He already had recorded a pair of three-hit games this week, and last night he added a four-hit game in Tampa's 8-7 loss to Vero Beach. Christian doubled three times, giving him 21 on the year between low Class A Charleston and Tampa, and he stole three bases, giving him 43 (in 48 attempts) between the two levels. He is hitting .324/.396/.474 in 247 at-bats in the Florida State League.

Unfortunately, the hitting prospects kinda end there. The only player with over 300 at bats that cracked a .400 slugging percentage was John Urick, and he batted .238. And as we move down the list, the strikeout rates also rise. Very disappointing for an Avanced A level team. That could be a big part of the reason they finished 22-44.

At least there’s a bright side to the pitching, as the team was highlighted by prospects Tyler Clippard, Phil Hughes, and our boy J. Brent Cox. Hughes did most of his damage down in Charleston last year, where he posted a 7-1 mark with a 1.97 ERA, 72 strikeouts (9.44 per nine), 16 walks (2.10 per nine), and only one home run allowed over 68.2 innings. His season ended shortly after arriving in Tampa due to injuries, but that didn’t stop him from going 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA, 21 strikeouts, 4 walks, and no homers allowed over 17.2 innings.

Clippard will be a Clipper this year, as he was a late season call-up for the team from Columbus. Though he only pitched one inning there, he notched two strikeouts in that time. But most of his season was spent with Tampa, where he posted the following line:


Oh yeah, and he’s only 21 years old. I don’t want to get over excited about this guy, but he has the makings of a home grown Yankees star. He’ll obviously need another year of seasoning in the minors, but with Mussina departing after this season, he could be a viable option for the rotation in 2007. And even if he was delayed until 2008, he’d still only be 23. I know all the fuss is over Phil Hughes, but Clippard could be the guy the Yanks have been longing for.

From Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper:

Getting plenty of questions about Clippard, which is not surprising, considering the number of Yankees fans out there, and the proclivity of some of them to think that any Yankees player not selected has been slighted. Clippard was close to making the list, he was in the 20-25 group. Good live arm with an advanced feel for pitching, he had no fears at busting guys inside and then working away once they're worrying about the inside pitch, which is rarer than it sounds at the high Class A level, but there were concerns that he's up in the zone too much and that his secondary pitches need some work. He can pitch some, but he was behind Brevard's Carlos Villanueva on the list of guys who just barely didn't make it, and on the list of guys who have a feel for pitching.

And finally, we move to the guy who closed out every game for Texas in the 2005 College World Series, J.B. Cox. Obviously, he’s drawing comparisons to Oakland’s Huston Street, considering they both accomplished the same feat at Texas. Cox only managed 27.2 innings in Tampa after signing, posting 27 strikeouts, five walks, a dinger, just eight earned runs and his WHIP was below one (0.90). We’ll once again give it up to Baseball America’s Jim Callis for some insight.

That said, I do like Cox and think he'll help the Yankees as a setup man in the near future, perhaps toward the end of 2006. He's not Huston Street, his predecessor as closer for Texas and Team USA, but he's not too far removed. Cox has the makeup to pitch in the late innings and a nasty slider that's a strikeout pitch. His second pitch is a sinker that runs in on righthanders. He took the loss in his pro debut for high Class A Tampa on Monday, giving up one run and two hits while recording two outs (both via the strikeout).

So that’s one hitter and three pitchers to get midly excited about. And if evaluating Tampa did one thing, it put the development of minor leaguers into better perspective. I went through and hashed out over 20 prospects from the GCL Yanks, the River Dogs, and the SI Yanks, but when the levels start to increase, the prospects are less numerous. Of course, this makes the analysis of the younger guys more interesting, since we’ll get to see which ones settle in and which fizzle out.

Only two left, Trenton and Columbus. And I’m sure we’ll find even thinner talent at those stops. The Quest for the 2008 Roster continues next week.