Prior to 2015 the Yankees were so flush with talent at the lower levels that two DSL teams, two GCL teams, and a Short Season Low-A team were just not enough. There were still guys who weren’t getting the at bats they needed for development. On top of that, there is a big jump between rookie leagues and Short Season Low-A, so many were struggling with that transition.
This year Pulaski provided the perfect solution to that. More at bats for the guys who needed them, and an in between for the guys who were too advanced for the rookie leagues but maybe not ready for Staten Island. The result was a group of guys who really played well and made it to the playoffs, although they lost in the first round.
There were of course a few standouts who lead the team to that kind of success. As with any winning baseball team, good pitching and run producing hitters were the formula with this team. Here are a few guys who deserve mention for their performance.
Kane Sweeney – 1B, 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, LHB, 22 – Sweeney was a 29th round draft pick out of Morehead State and for where they got him he’s a great value. He led the team with a .320 average and managed a .437 OBP, a .562 SLG, and a .999 OPS. He is obviously too advanced for the league he played in this season, but he deserves credit for the six homeruns, 15 doubles, and two triples he hit in 45 games this year. He’s got some power and some size, and with that combo you never know what can happen as he moves up the ladder.
Carlos Vidal – OF, 5-foot-11, 165-pounds, LHB, 19 – Vidal would have come over with a lot more fanfare if it wasn’t for the big dollar signings of 2014, but he is still a legitimate prospect. He has been compared to Ramon Flores with a lot more speed and less power. So far in his career he has shown both speed and power. This year he hit .303/.389/.492/.881 with nine homeruns, 15 doubles, and two triples. He stole 16 bases with five CS. He is a productive hitter and by all accounts a good fielder as well. He’s going to be fun to watch as he moves up. Hopefully next year he’ll start in Charleston, but there’s a ton of competition for those spots right now.
Frank Frias – OF, 6-foot-2, 185-pounds, RHB, 21 – Frias started making a lot of noise last season in the GCL where he was stealing bases and hitting for good average. Then he had what was described as a gruesome ankle injury. We’ve heard that before with guys like David Adams and Ravel Santana, and it has not worked out too well for them. That said, Frias returned this season without missing a beat. He hit .298/.424/.500/.924 with five homeruns, six doubles, and two triples in 41 games. He’s 21 now so he should be moving a bit faster, but he still has time if he can get to the long season leagues in short order.
Gosuke Katoh – 2B, 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, LHB, 20 – Once considered one of the top prospects in the entire organization, Katoh was in the midst of another horrific season in Low-A when he was sent back to extended spring training. He was then assigned to Pulaski where he experienced a bit of a rebirth. He hit .287/.426/.416/.842 with five homeruns, nine doubles and a triple there. He also stole nine bases. The one red flag though is that he struck out 61 times in 59 games, which was a major part of the problem he was having in Low-A. He’s still young enough to survive this setback though, and his performance in Pulaski was promising. Now it would take one Hell of a redemption story for him to find his way to the majors though.
Allen Valerio – 3B, 6-foot-1, 173-pounds, RHB, 22 – To start the season, Valerio may have been promoted too aggressively. The Yankees sent him straight from the GCL to Charleston, where he struggled. He was then reassigned to Pulaski where he flourished. He hit .271/.370/.522/.892 with 12 homeruns, 13 doubles, and a triple on the season in 58 games. He’s definitely a good hitter, and has the power to make an impact if things break right for him. He’s another guy who is older so his success should be taken with a grain of salt, but he appears to have made some major progress this year and hopefully next year he’ll be ready to move a bit faster.
Nathan Mikolas – OF, 6-foot-0, 200-pounds, LHB, 21 – Once upon a time Mikolas was a third round pick in the draft (2012). Since then he has floundered a bit, having one decent season in the GCL and then struggling to compete in Staten Island. This year he rebounded. He hit .285/.374/.409/.783 with four homeruns, eight doubles, and two triples. He too struck out too much though, with 51 K in 52 games. It’s a long, unlikely road ahead for Mikolas, especially with all of the competition for outfield spots in the long season leagues. He had a good season though, and he deserves credit for that.
Hoy Jun Park started the season hot but folded down the stretch. He did finish with five homeruns and a .734 OPS, not bad for your first season in professional sports. Kendall Coleman did the opposite. He started off slow and finished strong. His last 10 games he hit .289, which is impressive for a guy his size. He too hit five homers on the season. If the Yankees can get him going next year he is a guy who could turn into a big time prospect in no time.
Nestor Cortes – LHP, 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, 20 – Cortes was a 36th round pick out of high school in 2013. Since arriving with the Yankees he has really done nothing but have success. This year he pitched 63.2 innings, had 66 K and just 10 walks and a 2.26 ERA. He was the ace of the staff. His stuff is very Dan Camarena-like. He doesn’t have the raw velocity but he can miss bats and his secondary offerings are legit. His control is fantastic. Now that he’s starting to build up his innings and arm strength, I expect to see him in the long season leagues at some point next season.
Jhon Morban – RHP, 6-foot-4, 190-pounds, 23 – Morban was a late bloomer the Yankees signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 21 year old in 2013. Turns out he has quite a powerful arm to go with his size. This year he flashed some of the potential in Pulaski. He pumps a mid-90’s fastball in there and has a curveball and changeup which are still in the development stages. For a guy who’s 23, he is still pretty raw. This year he threw 62.2 innings of 3.30 ERA ball and struck out 56 batters. He walked 18. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The Yankees development team hopes to squash that myth by making Morban into a viable major leaguer. He’s got the arm for it, now he just needs the polish.
Simon De la Rosa – RHP, 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, 22 – De la Rosa was the biggest enigma on the Pulaski team. He finished the season on an absolute tear. In his last six starts he brought his ERA from 6.39 to 3.71. He 36 in his last 28 innings. He also walked 16 in that span. He was one of the most unhittable pitchers in the entire Appalachian league this year, with a .191 average against. At the same time he has not been able to surmount his greatest obstacle, which is to limit walks. He had 37 BB in just 53.1 IP this season overall. The stuff is there to be a front end starter if everything works out, but De la Rosa still has a long way to go before he can harness that stuff appropriately.
Drew Finley – RHP, 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, 19 – The Yankees snaked Finley in the third round this year and stuck him in Pulaski. He went through an adjustment period to professional baseball, but finished the season strong. He allowed just one run in his last five appearances. On the season his numbers show that he clearly has top notch stuff. He had 41 K in 32.0 IP. Much like De la Rosa, though, he needs to work on his control. He walked 19 batters in that time, which is strange because he was billed as a polished, control type pitcher when the Yankees drafted him. Regardless, the kid has a ton of potential and it will be fun to watch him in the coming seasons.
Adonis Rosa – RHP, 6-foot-1, 160-pounds, 20 – Rosa is a classic pitchability kind of guy. He throws a lot of strikes, hits his spots, and has multiple pitches he can go to in any count. That was a recipe for success early on for Rosa, but he teetered off late in the season. Overall he finished with good numbers though, as he had a 3.93 ERA and 42 K in 55 IP. He walked just nine. He’s still young, so there’s still a chance he experiences an uptick in stuff. Overall his ceiling is a back end starter right now though, but keep an eye on his progress and who knows where he’ll be in a couple of years.
Brody Koerner – RHP, 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, 21 – Koerner was one of the most consistent relievers for Pulaski as a 17th rounder. He managed to throw 18 innings and strike out 18, with a 1.00 ERA and then was promoted to Charleston. More of a ground ball pitcher, Koerner will sit 89-93 with a heavy fastball, and throws a curveball.
Garrett Mundell – RHP, 6-foot-6, 245-pounds, 22 – Mundell did something pretty amazing in his first professional season. He made 18 appearances over 26.0 innings pitched and did not let up a single run, earned or otherwise. He struck out 35 in 26 innings pitched, and even continued his success in Charleston after being promoted. The Yankees got the big bodied Mundell in the 23rd round, and they really got a bargain. He throws 90-92 as a starter and gets up to 94-95 out of the pen. He has a splitter which he started throwing again when he turned pro, and he also has a slider. So far that mix has really worked with him. There is a chance the Yankees send him out there as a starter again next year to see what they’ve got, a la Jonathan Holder and Cale Coshow. Ultimately his most likely destination is the bullpen, where he could be a fast mover and help the major league team in short order.
Juan Jimenez – RHP, 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, 21 – I was surprised this season when the Yankees had him coming out of the bullpen in Pulaski. He has the kind of stuff you’d like to see from a starter. He has had some trouble staying healthy over the years, which is one possible explanation. The other is that he just hasn’t had a lot of innings and the Yankees may have wanted to limit the workload this year. However you slice the banana, he played really well this year. He pitched 35 innings and struck out 42 with just nine walks. Jimenez throws a 94 mph fastball and his secondary pitches are a slider and a changeup.
Eduardo Rivera – RHP, 6-foot-5, 190-pounds, 22 – As you would expect from such a big pitcher, Rivera is a power arm. He has been around for a while now trying to learn how to control where the ball is going. This was his fifth season in the minors, three of which he spent in the DSL. His control is finally starting to improve, although he still has a long way to go. This year in 35.1 innings he struck out 46 and had a 3.06 ERA. He throws a mid to upper 90’s fastball, and his second pitch is a curveball. Control is clearly the key for him and only time will tell if he will be able to harness that massive arm of his.
It was a great first season for the Pulaski Yankees. The Yankees chose to keep the team together for most of the season and there weren’t a lot of promotions or new additions to the team except after the season was over. There were some young players beginning to make a name for themselves, and some older players looking for some experience and/or redemption. There were varying degrees of success, but all of these guys should be proud of the way they performed in 2015.