2015 Minor League Preview

Though there is still snow that hasn’t quite melted away outside my window, like many of you, nothing says spring more to me than the start of baseball season. The Yankees got their first game of 2015 under their belt yesterday, and by the end of the week the Minor Leagues will have begun as well. With that in mind, here is a quick reminder of how the minor league affiliates ended last season, along with some of the prospects to watch. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: Last Year: For the second season in a row, the RailRiders ended with a lackluster 68-76 record. Despite this disappointing record, there were some positive signs, not the least of which was their offense. The RailRiders had the best team batting average in the International League and they owned team slash line of .273/.337/.413. Pitching was less successful for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with their numbers putting them squarely in the middle of the pack.

Prospects to Watch: There are a few familiar faces in Scranton this season, including some intriguing prospects who should get a chance in the Bronx at some point. Slade Heathcott, the former first round draft pick for the Yankees whose journey to the majors has been curtailed by various injuries, appears to be healthy and made a lot of noise in the big league club’s Spring Training. Robert Refsnyder has continued his quick ascension through the farm system. There is no doubt he can hit, but he will need to resume his work on defense if he is going to become an everyday second baseman in the majors. Top prospects like Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will also start the season with the RailRiders. On the mound, Scranton will see familiar hurlers like Chase Whitley, Matt Tracy, Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez.

Trenton Thunder: Last Year: Much like their Triple-A counterparts, Trenton had a disappointing 2014 campaign, ending 67-75. Unlike Scranton, however, it was Trenton’s pitching that was their strong point, while their offense was mediocre. As a team, the Thunder had a 3.84 ERA and had the second-most Ks in the league with 1093. Their .256/.323/.385 slash line put them right in the middle of the Eastern League, while their 75 stolen bases were the second-least in the EL. Luckily, Trenton is poised to have a very different season, featuring some of the most exciting prospects in the Yankees’ system.

Prospects to Watch: Honestly, there are plenty of players to choose from in Trenton this year. Top catching prospect, Gary Sanchez, will return to Trenton to continue his work. He put together a solid season with Trenton last year, but his defense is still a major concern. Prospects such as Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Jacob Lindren and Luis Severino promise to make Trenton a team to watch in the EL this season. Meanwhile, players like Mason Williams, Dante Bichette, Jr. and Cito Culver, who have struggled quite a bit the last few seasons, will also be taking their swings in Trenton. Also returning to the Thunder is Mark Montgomery. He looked like he was going to fly through the minors in his first couple seasons, but he was slowed down by injury.

Tampa Yankees: Last Year: The Yankees managed to put together a winning season, going 71-68. As their record dictates, the Yankees were fairly unexceptional in 2014, despite some exciting performances by Judge, Bird and Severino. Tampa pitchers managed to combine to throw 1089 Ks, which was the second most in the league, along with holding opposing batters to just 52 homers, the least in the Florida State League. Otherwise, their pitching stats primarily put them in the middle of the pack. On offense, Tampa put together a line of .256/.325/.377 and struck out a league-leading 1154 times. They also weren’t too much of a threat on the bases, swiping just 70 bases for the second-lowest total in the FSL. Power was the key to the Yankees’ offense, as they smashed 87 homers, second only to Clearwater’s 91.

Prospects to Watch: Honestly, so far there aren’t many prospects that have me particularly excited for Tampa this season. Ian Clarkin, the pitcher the Yankees took in the first round of the 2013 draft, had a strong start to 2014 in Charleston and threw a strong five innings for Tampa. He is easily the most intriguing active prospect on the Tampa roster now. Domingo German would have joined him on the mound, but it looks like he will be having Tommy John surgery instead. Rookie Davis, Gabe Encinas and Brady Lail will all be on the mound for Tampa at some point this year, while Miguel Andujar, Angelo Gumbs, Mike Ford and Tyler Wade will be trying to provide the offense.

Charleston RiverDogs: Last Year: The RiverDogs went 71-69, just barely managing a winning record. They had some impressive performances on both sides of the field. Charleston’s batting statistics were rather average, but there were some good signs. Considering the lack of speed in Tampa last year, Charleston’s 159 stolen bases (good for third in the Sally League) was one of their highlights. They also managed to draw an impressive 511 walks, which was also the third most in the SAL. Pitching, however, seemed to be the RiverDogs’ strength. They had a team ERA of 3.66 and managed to put together eleven shut-outs. Their 1140 Ks were second only to Greensboro, while keeping their walks to a respectable 427. Charleston also didn’t allow too many long balls, as opposing hitters only connected with 65 homers.

Prospects to Watch: This is a pretty young looking crew with a lot of question marks, as usual when you are looking at Low-A ball. The most intriguing player that will see time in Charleston is Jorge Mateo, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic. The young prospect is only 19 and has garnered a lot of attention ever since making his US debut last season. Abiatal Avelino will get his first taste of full season baseball, looking to build on the 53 games he spent in Charleston in 2014. Domingo Acevedo, Tyler Wade and Gosuke Katoh will also be in Charleston this year.