Yankees Top 10 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
The early postseason exit, combined with an aging pitching staff, the new labor agreement and owner George Steinbrenners general impatience, mean changes in the Bronx are likelychanges that go beyond laying off front-office employees and cutting back on the teams dental plan.
High-priced veterans Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte could be casualties of a rare Yankees attempt to limit payroll, though it is tougher than ever to dump eight-figure salaries. New York also would love to move Raul Mondesi, Sterling Hitchcock and Rondell White, which should be even more difficult.
The core of the Yankees dynasty has a homegrown flavor, and the team plugged in Alfonso Soriano in 2001 and Nick Johnson a year later. But Triple-A Columbus didnt have much talent on a 59-83 club in 2002, and the upper levels of the system are as thin as theyve been in years. New York will have to look outside the organization to fill many of its holes.
Drew Henson isnt ready to take over at third base, which had been the plan. Juan Rivera could fill the outfield void left by Paul ONeill, though the Yankees also seem intent on signing Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui.
The entire pitching staff is starting to show its age, as Mariano Rivera suffered his first serious injury as a big leaguer. Roger Clemens, Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton could leave as free agents. Righthander Jason Anderson has been clocked as high as 97 mph and could be ready to contribute in the bullpen, but Edison Reynoso, another hard-throwing righty, has been limited to 27 innings since signing for $900,000 in 2001. Cuban righthander Adrian Hernandez, who signed a $4 million deal in 2000, has been a disappointment.
New York isnt anywhere close to collapsing, though. No team can match the Yankees resources. Though he could potentially pay up to $50 million in luxury and revenue-sharing taxes under the new Basic Agreement, Steinbrenners track record indicates he wont stand pat. Adding Matsui and Cuban righthander Jose Contreras, the two most coveted international players of the moment, would put New York in position to return to the World Series in 2003.
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by: Raul Ortega.
Background: Rivera broke through as a prospect in 1998, nearly winning the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Leagues triple crown with a .333-12-45 effort. He did little the following two seasons to enhance his profile, and repeated the high Class A Florida State League before re-emerging at Double-A Norwich in 2001. Rivera could be excused for being nervous when he was called up to take over the Yankees right-field job last June. On his way to his first game at Yankee Stadium, he got lost on the subway. Then he broke his right kneecap when he ran into a golf cart during pregame drills, which knocked him out for two months. He looked more like a veteran the second time around, finishing the season as a regular in left and right field. Manager Joe Torre gave him the starting nod in all four games against the Angels in the American League Division Series.
Strengths: While Rivera doesnt employ a prototypical swinghis front foot bails a la Roberto Clementehe crushes fastballs and manages to cover the outer half of the plate when he keeps his hands back. He has above-average raw power, but his power production has been average at best. Riveras defense may have been the deciding factor in his postseason starts. He has 65 arm strength on the 20-80 scouting scale. He makes good reads off the bat and takes good routes to the ball.
Weaknesses: Not a patient hitter, Rivera could produce more power with improved selectivity. Like many young hitters, he can be susceptible to offspeed stuff away but has shown a knack for making contact. Rivera has a thick lower half and is an average runner as a 24-year-old. As he continues to fill out, his speed will diminish.
The Future: As New York tries to dump Rondell White and Raul Mondesi, Rivera should take over a vacant corner-outfield job in the spring. The question remains whether Rivera will be a long-term answer for the Yankees, who are missing the .300-20-100 seasons Paul ONeill gave them. His chances for playing time could be cut if New York cant get rid of White and Mondesi or signs Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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