Yanks' top prospects living up to reputation
Banuelos, Betances impressive at Double-A; Montero raking
NEW YORK -- The Yankees wrapped up the 2011 First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday with the final 20 of their 50 picks -- players who hope to rise through the farm system and one day don pinstripes.
For now, they can look at several recent Yankees Draft picks and signees who are on the doorsteps of the Bronx after standout showings in the Minor Leagues.
Four Yankees Minor Leaguers are currently ranked among MLB.com's top 50 prospects -- a pair of catchers and two power arms, not to mention the rising Austin Romine, another catcher currently with Double-A Trenton.
Romine and Dellin Betances remain on the traditional path, the one the recent Yankees Draft picks hope to carve out for themselves. A catcher and a pitcher -- a pick from 2006 and '07, respectively -- they have thrived with the Thunder this season.
An everyday catcher in his second year at Trenton, Romine has hit .298 and driven in 31 runs in 44 games while displaying skills behind the plate many believe are unmatched by anyone in the Yankees' system. That includes catcher Jesus Montero, the organization's top prospect and No. 7 overall, according to MLB.com.
Romine was picked 94th overall in the second round in 2007, one year after the Yankees took Betances in the eighth round, at No. 254.
A right-hander, Betances has stifled hitters in his first full season in Double-A ball, going 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA in nine starts while striking out 50 in 45 1/3 innings. The Yankees' fourth-ranked prospect and No. 45 overall, Betances displays a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, along with a dazzling curveball.
Joining Betances atop the Trenton rotation is Manny Banuelos, a 20-year-old southpaw who has gone 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA through 11 starts. The owner of four pitches who can also reach the mid-90s, Banuelos drew praise from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who mentioned this spring that Banuelos is the greatest pitching prospect he has seen.
At the moment, Banuelos is the top-ranked arm and No. 3 player in the Yankees' system, No. 28 overall, after being signed out of the Mexican League in 2008.
Nos. 1 and 2 are two more international signees, catchers Montero and Gary Sanchez, respectively. The latter was sent from Class A Charleston to extended spring camp in Tampa, Fla., last week for disciplinary reasons but has also earned praise for his ability behind the plate.
Signed in 2009 at the age of 16, Sanchez is baseball's No. 25 prospect, 18 spots behind Montero.
Currently hitting .294 for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Montero has overcome early struggles as a catcher while displaying a big league-ready bat that makes his call to Yankee Stadium this season a possibility. That would mark the highlight of the Venezuelan's journey, which began with a $1.6 million contract he chose to sign with the Yankees in 2006.
Five years later, the dream has never looked so real, and many of the 50 players taken by the Yankees this week hope to meet similar fates in the not-too-distant future.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.