2013 Preview: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

RailRidersComing off what must have been a miserable 2012 season where they were never the home team, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (formerly the Yankees) will finally get their home field games back this season. Last year, despite the season on the road, they had a fine season and managed to win their division. Don’t ask me where they got their team name, and furthermore how a porcupine is the mascot, but apparently these things are not for the simple minded to understand.

All naming issues aside, the RailRiders will have an interesting team to follow this season. It’s actually intriguing, because they have a team filled with legitimate prospects, yet none of them are top 100 prospects in baseball, and only two even crack the organizational top 10. When healthy, Manny Banuelos is a top prospect, but until he is he will be excluded from this discussion. Where it might get interesting is when midseason call-ups begin to happen and some of the high profile prospects from Double-A finish the year in Scranton. Those players will be covered in the Trenton Thunder preview.

The Starting Pitching

A good team must have good pitching, and the RailRiders should have enough to go around. With Banuelos out, there is no true ace, but Adam Warren or Brett Marshall will look to anchor what hopes to be a strong rotation.

1. Adam Warren, RHP, BBDP Rank: #21: Biding his time until a spot opens up in the majors, Adam Warren will look to hit the ground running this season. After two solid but less than stellar seasons in Triple-A, it’s time for him to make a move. He lacks a great put away pitch, but if he can find one, his aggressive pitching style will play up in the majors. His first bullpen appearance in the Bronx went about as poorly as it could have, but the good news is it can only get better from here. Average stuff, above average control, he’s got a shot.

2. Brett Marshall, RHP, BBDP Rank: #12: Not all that different from Warren, but the performance has been better. Marshall was a power pitcher who developed a sinker and some finesse. Late last year he developed a new toy, his slider. It’s a great strikeout weapon. Coupled with his other weapons he’s got what it takes to be an above average major league starter if things break right. Low to mid 90’s fastball, solid slider and changeup. He’ll be fun to watch.

3. Vidal Nuno, LHP, BBDP Rank: unranked: He only went unranked because he was a minor league free agent at the end of last season, but the Yankees re-signed him. One can’t help but be reminded of Jose Quintana from the Yankees system who played for the Chicago White Sox last season. A soft tossing lefty who lives in the high 80’s, low 90’s and gets by on control. Despite that, he still had 100 K in 114 innings in Doube-A last season. He definitely knows how to get outs, and could have another big year for the RailRiders. The scouting report isn’t necessarily all there, but the control is and he has some solid secondary offerings. He could be useful in the future as a fill in starter or a guy who ends up as a LOOGY.

4. Shaeffer Hall, LHP, BBDP Rank: unranked: Hall is a real workhorse. He is an innings eating machine with great control. He is another soft tossing lefty who could find himself in a LOOGY role someday, or he could sneak into the back end of a rotation somewhere. His performance has been consistently solid all the way up the ladder, and he had 164 innings and 100 K in his latest stop in Trenton. With an ERA of 3.67, he’ll have to step it up to keep his spot in this rotation.

5. The fifth spot could be filled by any number of people. Ivan Nova or David Phelps could get sent down. Dellin Betances could get one final shot. Manny Banuelos could make a miraculous recovery (don’t hold your breath), and Pineda could end up pitching a lot in Triple-A. There’s also always the pitching depth signings on minor league contracts who the Yankees will inevitably sign in the coming days. Mikey O’Brien has an outside shot, as does Matt Tracy. In the end, despite being the fifth starter, whoever gets this spot is still just one step away from the majors, so it could be an important battle this Spring Training.

Relief Corps

The Yankees have superior relief depth again. Some of it has come from minor league contracts, some from trades, and some from within. The Yankees used a ton of relievers in the majors last year though, so everyone on this roster should be ready to go at the drop of a hat. One thing is for sure, this bullpen is going to win a lot of games for the RailRiders.

Closer: Mark Montgomery, RHP, BBDP Rank: 9: My bold prediction is Mark Montgomery and his magic slider skip Trenton and go to Triple-A this season. He’s too good to hold back, and he can probably help the major league team now. Why waste time keeping him in the minors and risking that he gets an arm injury that will keep him from ever contributing in the majors? Giving him the ball in the 9th inning will be a nice luxury for this team, but it will probably only be a matter of time before he gets called up.

Setup One: Chase Whitley, RHP, BBDP Rank: 34: Low 90’s fastball with great extension, excellent control, decent repertoire. His future is of a middle reliever with the potential to be more than that if he experiences an uptick in stuff. His now is the RailRiders set up man. I wouldn’t feel bad at all trotting him out of the major league bullpen this year. He also developed a slider late last season, and was able to use it as a strikeout pitch.

Setup Two: Kelvin Perez, RHP, BBDP Rank: unranked: Mid 90’s fastball and five other ways to get you out. Managed to strike out 21 in just 14.1 innings in Triple-A last season, and had almost 9 K/9 on the season. His uptick came out of nowhere, and at his advanced age he could be one of the first call-ups this season. I was shocked when no one took him in the rule 5 draft this season, hopefully he’ll make them regret it in 2013 or 2014.

Middle Relief: Preston Claiborne, RHP, BBDP Rank: unranked: Another guy with low 90’s heat and solid control. He is one who could sneak up on people and become a quality major league relief arm. It’s hard to say where his place is with all of the quality arms ahead of him, but anything can happen.

Middle Relief: Francisco Rondon, LHP, BBDP Rank: unranked. Lefty with mid 90’s fastball and electric stuff. The control still isn’t there but the performance in Double-A in 2012 was encouraging to say the least. If he cuts down on the walks he could be a major player in the future of the Yankees bullpen. He will undoubtedly be a major part of the RailRiders’ bullpen picture this season.

The rest: Dellin Betances will likely be shifted to the bullpen this season, he could slot anywhere from long reliever to closer with his ability. Cesar Cabral will play at least a few games in Scranton while rehabbing. Recent acquisition Kelley or Cody Eppley could end up here as well. Kevin Whelan still exists and still has solid stuff, and there will inevitably be some minor/major league free agent signings as well.

The Infield

There is a logjam of infielders hoping to seize some playing time in Scranton this year. They are all low ceiling but reasonably high floor prospects.

First Base: Looks like Dan Johnson will get the majority of the at bats to start the season, but his contract will end before we know it. Any number of players could get some time at first base after that. Luke Murton is the front runner to get the lion’s share, but Kevin Mahoney, Addison Maruszak, and Cody Johnson could see significant time there as well. All are low average, patient hitters who can knock the ball out of the park. Not the worst guys to have around on your team, and one or two may surprise in 2013. Murton’s 25 homeruns in 2012 leave him the clear frontrunner in my book. None are ranked in the top 50 on any list I’ve seen.

Second Base: Corban Joseph, Bats: left handed, BBDP Rank: 14: David Adams may see some time at second, but he will likely spend most of his time at third. Joseph is a scrappy second baseman who hit for excellent power last season, knocking 15 homers out of the park. He is not the greatest defender, but could be part of the solution to replacing Cano if he leaves. There has even been talk by some of moving Cano to third base long term. Personally, I’m not sold on that idea. He has a sweet left handed swing and phenomenal patience at the plate. He projects as an every day second baseman in the major leagues. For now, he is a dangerous threat in the RailRiders lineup. Pirela will also see some time here.

Short Stop: Addison Maruszak, Bats: right handed, BBDP Rank: unranked. Maruszak played the majority of Trenton’s games at shortstop last season. He has a lot of power for a shortstop, but is a below average fielder at the position. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he does get on base at a solid clip. Jose Pirela may see time at short this season as well. Neither figure to be in any major league plans unless there is an injury of some sort or a drastic improvement in performance. Eduardo Nunez could start in Scranton, but he will likely be needed to spell Jeter at shortstop this season.

Third Base: David Adams, Bats: right handed, BBDP Rank: 8: Adams was finally healthy in 2012. He’s already tweaked his back in 2013, but it sounds like he’ll only miss a week. If he stays healthy, he’s got as good of a hit tool as anyone in the Yankees system. The power is not quite there for a third baseman, but he has the ceiling of a Michael Young type if all things break right. He’s another who could be part of the solution to the Robinson Cano problem, but he could also be a solution to the A-Rod problem. For now he’s another solid hitter in what looks like it will be one of the better lineups the Yankees have had in Triple-A in recent years. Mustelier, Adonis Garcia, and Segedin could also see time here.

The Outfield

The outfield picture got a tiny bit less crowded with the trade of Abraham Almonte, but there are still five players competing for playing time in three spots.

Center Field: Looks like the RailRiders are ready for the Melky Mesa era in 2013. He managed to hit nine homeruns in just 126 at bats in Triple-A last season, but his average and OBP were unacceptably low. He’ll have plenty of time to adjust this season, and his 23 homeruns would be welcomed by the team with open arms. His cannon and speed in the outfield don’t hurt his value either. He’s on the short list for a call up in case of a major league injury.

Left Field and Right Field: Playing time will likely be split at all three positions with some variation of Zoilo Almonte, Ronnier Mustelier, Thomas Neal, and Adonis Garcia. Of all of them, Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa have the most potential, but Mustelier, Garcia, and Neal are the most major league ready. It will be interesting to see what happens to this group. All could get an opportunity to play in the majors at some point, but obviously only one or two will get that chance with the Yankees.

Overall

Looks like a solid team all around. There are no superstars on this team, at least not yet. There are also very few guys who look like they’ll be duds. Only time will tell, but with solid performances in Triple-A, these players will look to provide evidence to coaches that they can contribute to the major league team in 2014, especially with the budgetary constraints that are now in place.

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