There was quite a bit of excitement in Charleston when the 2012 season got underway, as the RiverDogs’ Opening Day roster boasted some of the Yankees’ most exciting prospects. With Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, Dante Bichette, Jr. and others, it looked like the RiverDogs would be the team to beat in the South Atlantic League. Unfortunately for Charleston, Austin, Williams and Sanchez moved up to Tampa part way through the season, while Cito Culver and Bichette struggled to make up for the lost production and the RiverDogs ended the season 73-63, just short of a SAL playoff berth.
As always, there will be plenty of changes in Charleston this season, and I am not just talking about the newest addition to their heralded concessions - the beer milkshake. These changes will start in the dugout, as Al Pedrique will take over managing duties for the RiverDogs for Carlos Mendoza, the new roving defense coach for the Yankees minor league system. Pedrique served as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ interim manager in 2004 and was the bench coach for the Houston Astros the last couple years.
While the RiverDogs’ 2012 was a bit disappointing, given their initial potential, it was an improvement over a truly disappointing 2011. They had strong pitching and hitting last season, and have potential to replicate that success this year. So let’s take a look at which players will be trying to lead Charleston to the Sally League playoffs in 2013.
Who to watch with the Bronx in mind:
Jose Campos: The less-heralded, but perhaps just as exciting, piece of the Jesus Montero trade also spent most of 2012 on the DL. The young righty tried to pitch through some pain after a strong start to the year, but ended up on the shelf after less than 25 innings. After an elbow injury slowed down his progression, Campos should be ready to show off his power arm in the Sally League this season.
Dante Bichette, Jr.: Bichette could be ticketed for Tampa right out of Spring, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Yankees keep him in Charleston to start the year. The Yankees’ first round pick from 2011 was quickly promoted to full season ball after an impressive first year in pro ball. He slowed down some in Low-A, but started to adjust as the season wore on. If he can continue to adjust he may move to Tampa quickly. While Bichette’s offense was not nearly as impressive as it was in 2011, he continues to make some crucial improvements defensively. While he once was questionable to stick at third, it is starting to look more likely that he could stick at the hot corner.
Cito Culver: Culver was abysmal at the plate last season, but he continued to flash an impressive glove at shortstop. He hit .215/.321/.283 in Charleston last year, which should send him back to the RiverDogs’ lineup to start 2012. His youth, defense and the Yankees’ lack of any truly exciting shortstop prospects indicate that New York will give him every chance to prove himself. If he can show some improvements at the plate or at least continue to consistently find his way on base, Culver could see some time in Tampa this year as well.
Who else to watch:
Robert Refsnyder: After picking up MVP honors with the University of Arizona during last year’s College World Series, Refsnyder signed a contract with the Yankees and quickly found himself in Charleston. Over 162 at bats, the infielder hit .241/.319/.364, swiping eleven stolen bases. Since he is unlikely to develop much power, Refsnyder’s future seems to rest on his ability to stick at second base. He is a smart baserunner, who will hit for contact, but his defense is going to determine how quickly he climbs the ladder. His first full year of professional ball should be interesting to watch.
Saxon Butler: The Yankees’ 33rd round pick last season burst onto the professional scene with some truly impressive numbers in the short-season leagues. The first baseman hit .296/.370/.620 in 36 games for Staten Island last season, with ten homers and fourteen doubles. He moved up to Charleston, where he slowed down some (.235/.345/.533 over 25 games), but continued to show off some power. Whether Butler is a legitimate prospect is hard to tell at this point, but if he can maintain some decent offensive numbers in Charleston this season, he may force his name into some conversations.