2013 Preview: Charleston RiverDogs

riverdogs baseball stadiumThe Charleston RiverDogs announced their opening day roster today, so they will be profiled here instead of the Tampa Yankees. The Tampa Yankees will be done when they announce their roster. There are a few surprises but not many, and there were also a few omissions that turned out to be a surprise. All in all this is going to be an exciting team to watch early in the season, and they have one of, if not the most exciting starting rotation of any team in the system.

The Outfield:

Taylor Dugas really turned some heads last season with his performance in Staten Island, where he raked. His extremely patient approach made him one of the best bats in the lineup. Unfortunately for Dugas, while he has a great hit tool, he doesn’t have many other tools. The power is just not there and at 23 it may never. His speed is average. A .306/.465/.838 triple slash will still make you wonder if this kid deserves to be in prospect discussions though.

Yeicok Calderon will play one of the corner outfield spots. He is renowned for his power but last season showed that he will strike out a lot. Word is he came to camp prepared to mash though, which must be why he is in Charleston. Here’s a guy with major power potential and if he can start hitting for average and cut down on strikeouts, he’ll turn himself into a legitimate prospect. He hit 8 homers in the GCL in 2012.

The other two outfielders are Danny Oh, last year’s eighth round selection, and Kelvin De Leon who has sadly become a non prospect. Oh didn’t do much last season and will look to improve upon his performance. Truthfully he and De Leon may just be holding a place for Jake Cave when he is ready to play in Charleston.

The Infield:

Gregory Bird and his monstrous power will man first base. All signs point to a breakout season for Bird. He has immense power with the ability to barrell the baseball. He’s got a huge frame and that power should only increase. Last season in 89 at bats he hit .337/.450/.944 with two homeruns. This lefty is one of those guys I am going to be hitching my wagon to. Learning first base will be his biggest challenge this season.

Second base will be manned by Rob Refsnyder. This was a surprise because most felt Refsnyder would be in Tampa and Gumbs would be in Charleston. Turns out it’s the opposite. He will look to bring last year’s adjustments and some of his college world series MVP magic with him into this season. He’s another who will be learning a new position. He managed to hit four homeruns last season in just 162 at bats, meaning that he could bring significant power to second base if things work out.

Cito Culver is going to again be the shortstop for Charleston to start the season. He has officially abandoned hitting left handed now and has been facing right handed pitchers as a right handed batter for the first time since Spring Training. His defense is spectacular and he does steal quite a few bases so if this switch helps him that would be a huge boost to the farm system.

Dante Bichette Jr. is another repeater who faced many trials and tribulations last season and ended up batting .248/.322/.331 on the season. The power disappeared too, although he did prove he is capable of defending the hot corner. He was tinkering too much with his swing last season and he has now realized that. He plans on sticking to one approach this season and I am expecting a major rebound season from him. I’m talking statistics much more in line with his first season than 2012.

Claudio Custodio and Saxon Butler will be used as backup infielders. Butler will likely DH quite a bit, and Custodio will play some SS and 2B. He’s a legitimate prospect so keep an eye out for him, especially once either Culver or Refsnyder earns a promotion.

Peter O’Brien will be debuting the 2013 season as the starting catcher. There’s not much to say about this guy except he has a great arm, massive power, and a huge frame. There are doubts that he can stick at catcher because of his size and lack of quickness. For now, he’s Charleston’s starting catcher and he has the potential to launch some rockets into orbit this season. Last season he didn’t hit for much average (low .200s), but he did show the power that caused the Yankees to draft him in the second round in 2012. He hit 10 homeruns last season and I would expect him to drop at least 20 bombs this year.

Starting pitching:

This is where the excitement really sets in. There will be six starting pitchers at this level, all legitimate prospects and all looking in top form for this season.

Jose Campos is a guy we’ve all heard about. He’s got ace potential and of course he got injured last year in one of the more frustrating seasons for Yankees prospects. His elbow will be something to look out for, but apparently he’s throwing pain free right now. If he can get back to his 95-98 mph fastball velocity with pinpoint control, and throwing his curve and slider then he’s gonna have another big year.

I wrote one of my first pieces for Bronx Baseball Daily on Rafael Depaula, and it took him over a year to make it to the states. He’s here now though and everything in the scouting report is true. A fastball that can touch 97, and control of his secondary pitches including a curveball, slider, and change up. There’s not much doubt in my mind he is going to dominate this level.

Evan Rutckyj is another one of my personal favorites. Last year was looking like it was going to be a breakout season for him as he came to extended spring training and dominated, but after struggling with control in Charleston he was sent to Staten Island for the remainder of the season. He had some solid success there and really regained his control by the end of the season. He throws a fastball that can hit 95 and sits in the low 90’s. He also throws a curveball and a change up. The stuff is great and most importantly he’s a lefty. The final stat line for 2012 showed a 3.91 ERA with 86 K and 51 BB in 101.1 innings.

In addition to DePaula and Campos, the RiverDogs will have one more international prospect in the starting rotation. Cesar Vargas is a 21 year old guy with a 92-94 mph fastball and an excellent curve. He is the least heralded of the three international players, but he may be able to really make a name for himself this season. He’s got great control, and had a 3.13 ERA, 7.4 K/9, and just 2.3 BB/9 in 46 innings last season.

Gabriel Encinas is not even on BBDP’s top 50 prospect list, but that doesn’t mean he’s a non-prospect. In fact, there’s a good chance that by the end of the year he will be on the list. He had a major velocity bump from his usual low 90’s fastball last season and has carried it into this season. He’s had difficulties with control, however, and thus the numbers are not coming around for him. If he is able to harness the control and develop his curveball and change up, he will have a big year. Personally I don’t think he’s ready to take that step just yet, but he should be able to in due time.

There is one more starter who is actually listedĀ amongĀ the relievers in an article on the Charleston RiverDogs website. Daniel Camarena is making his way to Charleston this season. He’s lefty, has great control and already sits in the low 90’s with his fastball. He’s a definite candidate to burst on to the scene in 2013. He wrecked the GCL in 17.2 innings last season and didn’t walk a single batter. He had 7.6 K/9 and a 1.02 ERA. His secondary pitches are a change and curve.

Relievers:

Brett Gerritse, Derek Varnadore, Ben Paullus, Philip Wetherell, Taylor Garrison, Charlie Short and Alex Smith will all be coming out of the bullpen to start the season. Of those, Garrison, Gerritse, and Wetherell probably have the most significant long term potential.

Charleston is going to be a fun team to watch in 2013. There is an interesting mix of players repeating the level and trying to step up their game, players who are looking to make a name for themselves this season, international prospects, and extremely high ceiling pitchers. They have all of the makings of a winning team. As is always the case with Charleston, the face of the roster could completely change throughout the season as promotions begin to occur. For the start of the season, at least, this team should be a real contender.

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