Even before Andy Pettitte decided to return we were hearing about the Yankees’ wealth of pitching. Empire State benefits most from this, as their starting rotation will look much as it did at the end of last season. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps all have a full season of Triple-A service, while the remaining Killer B’s, Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos have part of a season. With Kevin Whelan and Eric Wordekemper in the bullpen, the Yankees will be hard on International League batters. The Yankees offense may be its biggest question mark as the season begins. They lost their biggest bat, but Justin Maxwell and Jorge Vazquez showed they could provide some good power for them last season.
Of course, the Yankees may already be working at a big disadvantage this season. While PNC Field undergoes renovations, they are virtually homeless this year, playing their “home” games in various parks of other Triple-A teams. We will have to wait and see whether a nomadic season will affect their success, but there is good news for the Yankees. In 2011, they actually had a losing record in Scranton (34-38) while they did well on the road (39-31). Hopefully, they can keep that trend going as they trek across the northeast this year.
Who to Watch with the Bronx in Mind:
The Starting Rotation: Banuelos, Betances, Warren, Phelps and Mitchell is a pretty formidable Triple-A rotation. Phelps and Mitchell have both made some noise in Spring Training and look like they are more or less ready for a shot in New York. Banuelos has also left a good impression with the Yankees, though both he and Betances will be well served by more time in Triple-A. Neither one of them looked particularly strong when they were called up to Scranton last year, and both have been criticized for not lasting particularly deep into games. Betances averaged about five innings a start between Trenton and Scranton last season, while Banuelos averaged just under five innings. Regardless, anyone of these starting pitchers could see time in New York this season, but until then they should give Empire State something fun to watch.
Austin Romine: With Montero in Seattle, Romine is now the catching prospect closest to New York. He made a handful of appearances in Scranton last season, before a surprise call-up to New York in September and his major league debut. He will be the main backstop for Empire State this season and it will be exciting to see how he continues to progress now that he has one less obstacle in his way.
Brandon Laird/Kevin Russo: Both infielders struggled at the plate in 2011, before each turned things around and ended the season with some very respectable numbers. This feels like it could be a make or break year for these guys, but if they can start the 2012 season like they played the latter half of last season both they and Empire State will be in good shape. A strong start could give either one of them a chance over Ramiro Pena if the Yankees need a backup infielder.
Others to Watch:
Jorge Vazquez: Here is the thing – the Yankees have clearly shown that they have little to no interest in giving the power-hitting first baseman a shot in the Bronx. For one thing, first base is occupied by Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez can always fill in when Teix needs a breather. Vazquez has put up some great offensive numbers in Scranton and in in winter ball in Mexico, but he does not provide the flexibility the Yankees would be looking for if they need to call up a bat. Still, he should lead Empire State’s offense this season and with Montero gone will be the teams biggest slugger.
Kevin Whelan: Whelan was a solid closer for the Yankees last season. He was 2-3 with 23 saves and a 2.75 ERA over 45 appearances. Whelan held opposing hitters to a .202 average and allowed just fourteen walks while striking out 54. He had a brief appearance in New York when he walked five batters over 1.2 innings in two games. He may have a chance to pitch in New York again, but otherwise Empire State should be happy to have him closing games for them.