With July nearly in the books, NoMaas’ Gary Wallace reviews the farm system year-to-date, and ranks his Top 10 Yankees prospects…plus another 10. You can find more of Gary’s work in his Minor League Players of the Week series.

My evaluations attempt, and I stress “attempt”, to take everything into account: age, level, ceiling, chance of reaching that ceiling, floor, performance, and health. I put a larger emphasis on ceiling than those other factors, typically. I’m also rather bearish on low ceiling, mid-floor guys, which will be evident shortly.

1. Jesus Montero, 20, RHB C, AAA
While Montero gave us a bit of a scare at the beginning of the season, his recent play has alleviated any doubts about his ability to handle upper-level pitching. His July numbers are Gary-Sanchez-like (.420/.531/.740) and his OPS on the season now sits at .820, a far cry from the .642 it was at the beginning of June. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Montero is the top hitting prospect in all of baseball. Hopefully we can squeeze a couple seasons behind the plate out of him before he needs to find a different home.

2. Austin Romine, 21, RHB C, AA
Romine’s season is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Montero’s. Austin started 2010 hot and held a .873 OPS on June 1st. Since then, he’s been struggling a bit with the bat (.623 OPS in June/July). One thing Austin shares with Jesus, however, is a considerable improvement in plate discipline (9.9 BB% in 2010, 7.0% career), and he’s already set a career high in walks. These are extremely positive steps for a young backstop with already strong defense. His power has been somewhat lacking this year, but that’s typically the tool that comes last in developing players.

3. Manuel Banuelos, 19, LHP, A+
I was tempted to move Banuelos down the list simply because he hasn’t started many games this year due to a DL stint (appendicitis), but in his limited time, he’s pitched extremely well (34.7 K%, 8.4 BB%, 4.13 K/BB). Given all the talk surrounding his poise and mound presence, it’s easy to forget that he’s only nineteen years old and already has a full season of A-ball under his belt. Banuelos’ greatest asset, besides his ability to pound the strike zone, is his handedness, and it’s likely to carry him farther in the minors than a similarly diminutive, command-reliant right handed pitcher.

4. Slade Heathcott, 19, LHB CF, A
He hasn’t come roaring out of the gates, but it’s certainly been a solid beginning to the 2009 1st round pick’s career. Slade’s displayed a solid eye for a young hitter (9.9 BB%), and while his power has been noticeably absent (.077 isoP), a case of biceps tendinitis might have contributed to that. Noticeably present has been Heathcott’s speed, as he’s swiped 8 bags in 35 games, with a 66.7% steal rate. He’ll need to improve that percentage to become an efficient base stealer, but the foundation for success is there. Heathcott has been coming alive as of late, putting up a .780 OPS in July and a .897 OPS in his last ten games.

5. Gary Sanchez, 17, RHB C, Rookie
Coming into this year, I didn’t feel comfortable putting Sanchez on a top ten list, as the only statistic I would’ve been basing his ranking on was his signing bonus. After 20 games brutalizing the Gulf Coast League as a seventeen year old, I could see an argument for ranking him even higher than five. While there’s loads of potential in his bat, Sanchez’s defense certainly has a ways to go. That’s the case more often than not for a young catcher and, lucky for us, he has plenty of time to work on it.

6. Andrew Brackman, 24, RHP, AA
It must have been quite the ride for Brackman the past two years. After having an awful season in 2009, the 6’10” NC State product has displayed a newfound command of his plus-stuff in 2010 (15.2 BB% in 2009, 5.5% in 2010). There’s no denying the raw potential of Brackman, who typically works in the mid-90’s with his fastball, backing it up with a devastating low-80s knuckle-curve. He’s been a bit hittable this year, which is due in large part to an abnormally high BABiP (.352) — an odd state of affairs given his good ground-ball rate (48.5 GB%). Andrew’s work this year has certainly revived his prospect stock and renewed confidence in his ability to be a starting pitcher.

7. Mark Melancon, 25, RHP, AAA
Any other relief prospect having Mark’s season would likely consider it a success. Unfortunately, Melancon’s dominance of the minors has created some lofty expectations for 2010, which he’s having trouble achieving. His strikeout ability hasn’t waned (23.1 K%), but he is walking an uncharacteristic amount of batters (12.0 BB% in 2010, 7.5% career). In our interview with Mark Newman, he mentioned that Melancon might be struggling with some confidence issues. The tools are all there (56.4 GB%, 24.1 K%, 3.23 K/BB) for success at the next level; he just needs to get his head straightened out.

8. David Adams, 23, RHB 2B, AA
David Adams was tearing up the Eastern League with a .900 OPS before suffering an ankle injury. What was, at the time, a seemingly minor complication now looks like it will cost the former UVA Cavalier the rest of his 2010 season. Adams’ hasn’t failed to hit at any stop in his professional career, but his defense might not be ideally suited for a major league second base. His ability to stay in the middle of the field will probably be determined by just how strong his bat turns out to be, and whether his offensive production outweighs some shortcomings with the glove.

9. Dellin Betances, 22, RHP, A+
Since Dellin’s return from ligament reinforcement surgery he’s been simply dominant, striking people out (30.1 K%), limiting walks (6.4 BB%), and looking seemingly unhittable (5.0 H/9). Similar to Brackman in both height (6’8”) and pitch repertoire (hard fastball, knuckle curve), Betances has brought some serious heat this year, dialing his 4-seam up to 98. There is ace potential here, but reaching that ceiling is going to require improving his inconsistent changeup. Staying healthy is going to be the biggest challenge for Betances, who has a history of missing starts.

10. JR Murphy, 19, RHB C, A
Whereas Slade’s season has inspired confidence in his abilities, Murphy’s has raised some questions about his game. Coming into the season, Murphy reportedly had an advanced plate approach, but through 200-plus appearances at the dish, he’s only racked up 14 walks (5.9 BB%). The Yankees are transitioning Murphy into a full-time catcher slowly (26 games at C, 30 at DH), as he only caught for one season in high school (senior year). Trying to learn a physically and mentally exhaustive defensive position has likely detracted from Murphy’s performance with the bat. Repeating Charleston in 2011 might be the best course of action if the rest of JR’s season resembles his work so far. This would also allow the Yankees to go easy on Gary Sanchez’s knees by having him and JR split duties behind the plate, similar to Montero and Romine back in 2008.

11. Zach McAllister, 22, RHP, AAA
Decreased ground-ball and strikeout rates have to cause some trepidation.

12. Brandon Laird, 22, RHB 3B, AA
Bat has slowed, but he’s still a strong prospect.

13. Hector Noesi, 23, RHP, AA
Great year, but ground-ball rate isn’t.

14. Corban Joseph, 21, LHB 2B, A+
Similar to Adams, defense will determine CoJo’s viability as a second baseman.

15. Jose Ramirez, 20, RHP, A
The best prospect in the Charleston rotation is having a rock-solid year.

16. Graham Stoneburner, 22, RHP, A+
Despite strong work as a starter, industry sees him as a reliever.

17. Ivan Nova, 23, RHP, AAA
Big, strong, back of the rotation ground-ball innings eater.

18. Eduardo Nunez, 23, RHB SS, AAA
Has cooled, but is still the in-house favorite to replace Jeter in the short term.

19. David Phelps, 23, RHP, AAA
Superb year, but still lacks a quality secondary offering.

20. Cito Culver, 17, RHB SS, Rookie
Great patience shown by the youngster.

Just Missed (Alphabetical order, not ranking):
Melky Mesa, 23, RHB CF, A+
Bryan Mitchell, 19, RHP, Rookie
D.J. Mitchell, 23, RHP, AA
Nik Turley, 20, LHP, A-
Adam Warren, 22, RHP, AA



Our #6 ranked prospect, Andrew Brackman, finally appears to be figuring out his freakish frame.