One of the biggest positives about living in the Danbury, Connecticut area is that I am no more than an hour’s drive or train ride away from Yankee Stadium. But sadly, the Yankees are the only baseball team, minor or major league, within an hour of my house.
As a lover of baseball and the warm summer months, I would love nothing more than to have the opportunity to attend all of the baseball games, regardless of level, that my heart and wallet desires. If I can’t make it to the Stadium though, my closest option is the lowly New Britain Rock Cats, the AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, who play around 90 minutes away. But after seeing a Trenton Thunder game in New Britain (one of Phil Hughes’ rehab starts) last year, I’ve been inspired to see as many Yankees minor league games as possible. Starting in three weeks, I will be making the rounds throughout the Northeast to catch the Staten Island Yankees, the Trenton Thunder and the Empire State Yankees, and there are five specific prospects I am beyond excited to watch in person. Starting from number five:
5. Corban Joseph. Second Base-Trenton Thunder
Ok, part of me is interested in seeing him because of his awesome nickname “Co-Jo”, which I just love saying. The other part of me wants to watch him because of the energy he brings to every single game and his solid offensive production so far in 2012. Through 81 at bats over 22 games, Co-Jo is hitting at a solid .314 clip, but is getting on base at a very impressive rate of .412. Jeterian. Only six of his 25 hits have gone for extra bases (two home runs and four doubles), but he still provides a solid spark out of the two hole for the Thunder. He may not have impressed in Spring Training after hitting just .214, but he didn’t make an error in 34 innings in the field. Impressive considering many scouts view his glove as his biggest weakness. Joseph suffered a shoulder injury at the end of March, landing him on the shelf for a little more than a month, but after a season in which he set the Trenton club record for doubles in a season with 38, look for Co-Jo to continue to produce at a high level this summer. Who knows, a promotion might even come his way at some point in 2012. Thunder enthusiasts might not like that though, as he’s a huge reason why the Thunder sit at 29-22, just 1.5 games out of first place in the Eastern League.
4. Ronnier Mustelier. Super Utility- Empire State
At 27 years old, he’s a little too old to be considered a “prospect” I’m excited to see play, but every minor league team has that aging veteran or two, don’t they? The Cuban, who signed with the Yankees just last June, has already impressed the Yankees enough in this young season to earn a promotion from Trenton to the Empire State Yankees about a month ago. Boy, did he deserve it. In 102 at bats over 25 games, he was just destroying Double-A pitching. He had driven in 20 runs and was hitting .353 at the time of his promotion, with 13 of his 36 hits going for extra bases (six doubles, two triples, and five home runs). In 94 at bats over a 24 game span in Triple-A, his average has decreased to a still respectable .287, but he’s still slugging as evidenced by his six doubles and four home runs. The guy has the potential to simply mash the ball at impressive rates, but he’s going to have to maintain his hot start throughout this season and a good way through the next one to ever be considered for a big league call up. One thing he does have going for him is his versatility. He has played every single outfield position as well as second and third base in his year in the organization, with the corner outfield spots being his strong suit. Mustelier might not be an option for the major league club at this time, but I sure will enjoy watching him take some hacks this July up in Syracuse.
3. Adam Warren. Starting Pitcher-Empire State
He won’t blow you away with a 98 miles-per-hour fastball, nor will he won’t drop a Barry Zito-esque curveball on your with two strikes, but Adam Warren knows how to pitch. More of a finesse pitcher, Warren changes speeds effectively with a solid fastball-changeup combination, and he’s recently added a decent slider to his repertoire. After competing in Spring Training against D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps for the long man spot out of the bullpen, Warren has pitched better this year than his 4.88 ERA suggests. He’s surrendered two runs or less in four of his ten starts, and just four runs or less in all but three of his starts, but only has two wins to show for it as opposed to three losses. He went just 6-8 last season in Triple-A, but carried a 3.60 ERA and pitched 152 innings. As of right now, Warren is nothing more than a spot start candidate, but some real improvement over the course of the season could land him an opportunity with the big league club coming out of Spring Training next season. The potential is there, and I hope I get the chance to see him throw.
2. Steve Pearce. First Base-Empire State
Joining Mustelier in the “too old to be a prospect” category is 29 year old former Pittsburgh Pirate Steve Pearce. Originally drafted by the Red Sox in 2004, Pearce has amassed 465 at-bats with the Pirates since 2007, where he hit nine home runs over that span and hit just .232. He signed with the Twins last December but was released at the end of Spring Training and the Yankees gobbled him up for organizational depth on March 29th. He has a history of prolific power numbers in the minors, including a .333 average, 31 home run, 113 RBI season in 2007 across three levels in the Pirates system, but hasn’t done much hitting since. But in 51 games (187 at-bats) with the Empire State Yankees, Pearce seems to have reverted back to his old slugging ways. Not only is he hitting .321 and getting base at a .421 clip, he’s been hitting bombs as well, as he leads the team in both home runs with 11 and RBI’s with 30. Pearce has only struck out 32 times, which isn’t too terrible considering his power numbers, and has been incredibly solid with the glove at first base, making just two errors all year. He has the potential to be the next Justin Maxwell or Jorge Vasquez (A power hitter that gets firmly entrenched in Triple-A due to major league roster inflexibility), but you never know if he could the first in line for a call up in case of an injury to Mark Teixeira. Look for him to continue to slug this summer, and I really hope I get to see him do some yard work in person.
1. D.J. Mitchell. Starting Pitcher-Empire State
I would like to go on record as saying that I believe D.J. Mitchell might be the best pitching prospect in our system right now. Not Jose Campos. Not Manny Banuelos. Definitely not Dellin Betances. I am not a fan of the latter two at all. Say I don’t know baseball all you want, but why is everyone so in love with those two? One is an underachieving injury waiting to happen and the other can’t throw garbage away without walking a batter somehow. I don’t understand it, but I digress.
We’ve already had a taste of Mitchell this year, and despite not being Kevin Whelan bad in his debut, he wasn’t exactly Joba Chamberlain upon arrival either. But if just some of his minor league success can translate into big league outs, than Mitchell will be here to say sooner rather than later. In his minor league career, he’s an incredible 42-21 with an awesome 3.39 ERA. He has a 7.8 K/9 ratio this season, up a full strikeout from last year and he’s cut his BB/9 from last season’s mark of 3.5 to just 2.7 this year. He has his WHIP under 1.15, a dramatic improvement from his career mark of 1.30. In essence, he’s been steadily improving with each start this season, and if David Phelps begins to struggle at any point this summer, it could be Mitchell trotting out of the Yankee Stadium bullpen in long relief instead. Mitchell might not even be in the minor leagues by the time I see the Empire State Yankees play, but that’s just fine with me. Look for Mitchell to be donning pinstripes at some point this summer, and if he pitches up to his potential, he’ll hit the ground running and never look back.