The mark of a great franchise is building for the present and the future. The New York Yankees have the present taken care of as perennial contenders, but arguably their five biggest impact players for the future have all been derailed one way or another in 2012.
Let’s start with the pitching. As recently as Spring Training: Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Michael Pineda were believed to be the future of the Major League rotation joining: CC Sabathia and some combination of Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and/or a random unknown Free Agent.
Before the baseball season has finished, all three have taken steps backwards either physically or statistically.
Betances, the only one currently healthy, has had issues locating his pitches all season (87 walks in 114+ innings) and was demoted earlier this year from AAA to AA where he is still giving up more than a hit per inning.
Banuelos, considered by many the “crown jewel” of Yankees’ pitching prospects was shut down on August 6th, having pitched just six games all season. The lefty has battled elbow problems since May initially not deemed serious, but now hopes to be ready for winter ball to prevent delay in his 2013 campaign.
Finally there is Pineda, the highest profile of the group. The Yankees sent away top hitting prospect Jesus Montero in a deal for the righty and he was considered to be a potential number two starter behind Sabathia as early as this season. High expectations were quickly dashed when the prized acquisition went down with a shoulder injury in spring training, missing all of 2012 before ever throwing a pitch in the Bronx.
Adding insult to injury are two more injuries, this time affecting the two most important outfield players in the Yankees’ system. Brett Gardner and now the most intriguing of the hitting prospects, Mason Williams, are both also going to miss the rest of the season.
Gardner is no longer a prospect, having had a major league carer since 2008 as a premiere base stealer, elite defensive outfielder and a decent on base percentage guy. Still, with an aging offense on the parent club and with limited defensive range and speed on the team, Gardner provides irreplaceable elements. The speedy left fielder had just 34 at bats before missing the season with lingering elbow issues, officially being shut down to have surgery on July 20th.
That leaves Williams, a high outfield prospect who reached high A level before his season ended on August 4th due to a torn labrum. Williams exploded onto the scene for scouts this year, hitting: .298 with 11 home runs, 22 doubles, 20 stolen bases and a .346 on base percentage across two levels of A ball. Williams is widely considered a top five Yankees’ prospect and was listed 21st overall in Keith Law’s midseason ranking.
None of these guys are in particular danger of having their careers ruined or being given the dreaded “injury-prone” label quite yet though. Dellin Betances is the oldest of the pitchers at just 24-years-old and even Gardner is still just 28 and facing his first major injury. The future remains bright but this year the Yankees will not get any encouraging numbers out of five of their most important younger players.