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01/25/12 10:00 PM EST

Yanks' approach with system paying off

New York boasts four in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects

NEW YORK -- For years, the reputation of the Yankees has been one of reckless disregard for the farm. Trade away youngsters for proven talent. Trade away potential for known commodities.

So perhaps it is symbolic of how this organization has evolved that despite recently dealing away one of game's best prospects in Jesus Montero, New York still boasts one of the strongest overall farm systems in the league. In MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, released Wednesday, the Yanks placed four players in the Top 75 as well as two in the Top 50.

Only three American League franchises -- the A's, Mariners and Rays -- can claim more prospects in the Top 100. And Seattle made the cut only because of the addition of Montero, whom Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently called one of the best players he's ever traded.

This year's edition of MLB.com's Top Prospects list has expanded from 50 to 100 players. The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012.

Montero, for the record, clocked in at 12th overall for the Mariners -- one spot ahead of left-hander Manny Banuelos, who remains a significant part of the Yankees' future plans. Other Yanks making the cut included right-handed pitcher Dellin Betances (41), catcher Gary Sanchez (53) and outfielder Mason Williams (73).

Top 100 Prospects
West Central East
West Central East

The jewel of that list is Banuelos, 20, who ranked 35th a year ago. His bump to 13th overall came after a season that saw him post a 3.75 ERA over two levels, pitching as one of the youngest players in both the Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League.

That did not stop Banuelos from striking out 125 batters in 129 2/3 innings, though he did also walk 71 and allow 130 hits -- numbers that will need to decrease for him to make the next step to the Majors.

"From looking at him where I'm standing, it doesn't look like he has any fear," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Banuelos last spring. "He's aggressive, he has confidence in his offspeed stuff that he can throw it behind in the count and he doesn't nibble. He goes right at hitters."

Since wowing onlookers in big league camp, Banuelos has shared a link to Betances, 23, another pitcher burning his way through the Minors. The most notable differences between the two are age, handedness and the fact that some see Betances as a future reliever.

Then again, it's hard to envision Betances ever switching roles if he keeps producing as well as he has. A 3.70 ERA split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year kept Betances on the fast track to the Majors, where he debuted briefly for his hometown team late last summer.

"Born and raised in New York, you look up to these guys and you're like, 'Man, I definitely want to wear the pinstripes and get looked at as one of those players that helps the Yankees win championships,'" Betances said last spring. "I try not to put too much pressure. I just try to work as hard as I can to get there."

Trading Montero was easier for the Yankees knowing they had Sanchez, 19, waiting to replace him as the organization's premier catching prospect. Though extremely young and inexperienced in pro ball, Sanchez hit 17 homers in 82 games for Class A Charleston last summer, vindicating New York's $3 million investment in him as a 16-year-old international free agent.

If Sanchez continues to progress as he reaches the upper levels of the Minors, he could easily rise up the prospect list as well.

Then there is Williams, 20, an afterthought at this time last year. An athletic outfielder who has yet to make his full-season debut, Williams batted .349 with a .395 on-base percentage for Class A Staten Island last season, hitting six triples and stealing 28 bases.

So yes, the Yankees traded Montero, and yes, he could turn into something special with the Mariners. But with four other Top 100 prospects, the Yanks are confident that their farm remains well stocked with another generation of standout players.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.