Time Ripe for Yankees to Serve Youth
That said, in terms of organizational health New York is just about as strong and as flush with talent in its minor league system as any team in the game. If for a moment we could pretend that they operated like a normal organization -- that the Yankees weren't the Yankees -- we'd be pointing to all the players from within that they could use to infuse talent into their big-league roster over the next few seasons.
First and foremost, there is the catching situation for the Yankees. Jesus Montero is clearly one of baseball's elite prospects and arguably the best hitter in the minor leagues. Barring a disastrous spring training, he's also proven himself ready to take his hacks in the major leagues. Despite recurring reports of his defensive problems, Montero is at a stage where he can handle himself as a big-league catcher.
At his size, he's going to have to put in additional work to stay flexible and athletic, and his defense will always be something that requires extra attention. But the idea of him being simply unable to catch at the next level is one that is still vastly overblown. As I've stressed numerous times over the last year, like many elite big-league sluggers, if he reaches his ceiling as an offensive force he'll never be known for his defense. That does not mean he can't be adequate behind the dish.
I've had the pleasure of scouting Montero at each level of the minor-league ladder during his development, and the worries about his defense aren't unwarranted. But, they were much more warranted two years ago, and even more so the year before. As he's matured, especially physically, his defense has improved, not declined as some predicted. With Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, I still saw a lot of inconsistencies in Montero's game behind the plate, but it was nothing that I don't see from time to time from mediocre defensive catchers at the major league level.
The bottom line is that there is a big difference between having defensive deficiencies and not being able to play the position at all. Montero is ready to play catcher in 2011, and the more I've seen from him, the more confident I've become of that fact. He'll have his moments that frustrate you back there, but there are no deficiencies that are glaring enough to warrant moving him off the position. His potential to hit 35 home runs a year should more than make up for that.
With all that said, the Yankees have just signed Russell Martin. For most any other club, Montero would likely be given a very real shot at the catching job in 2011. Given the Yankees' financial might, you can't blame them for going out and buying a safety net for their young catcher, but this is going to be an interesting case study in just how willing they are to let this next wave of young talent infuse itself into their roster.
On to the pitching. There may not be a lot of Cliff Lees hitting the free-agent market in the next couple years, and the Yankees happen to have a boatload of young players on their way up. Now may finally be the time for them to let their farm system fill the holes that age is sure to open up in the coming years.
In the starting pitching department, the only safe bets you can make beyond 2011 are CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Surely New York could try to buy pitchers to fill those rotation spots, but the reality is they may not have to. The trio of Phil Hughes/Ian Kennedy/Joba Chamberlain in the rotation not so long ago didn't work out, but the truth is that two of those three are now solid big-league starters.
When the time comes can New York be patient enough to work guys like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances or perhaps even Andrew Brackman into its rotation? The same question can be asked about other positions on the field as well. When that time comes will the Yankees take a similar approach as they did at catcher this year and go get a safety net like Martin at another position that could keep a promising player in Triple-A?
Age is coming for the core of the Yankees' roster, and there is no denying that. It has long been a part of the equation for them, but never like it is now in the heart of their team. They are on the verge of having to replace Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter's days at shortstop are numbered, as are Alex Rodriguez's at third. The starting rotation clearly needs replenishing too. Again, though, given their minor-league depth, the prospect of having to retool the roster shouldn't be all that scary.
What the age in their core may require them to do is take a leap of faith. They don't appear ready to take the full plunge with Montero, but eventually they may not have a choice. Now that they are without Cliff Lee, it only makes it more prudent to plan on making use of all this young talent.
In other words, the future of the Yankees is safe, but only if it's handled correctly and given a real chance to blossom. How much of a chance Montero really gets at that starting catching job in 2011 will tell us just how willing the Yankees are to embrace their youth.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.