Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre
The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees owned the International League in April, winning their first 11 games and finishing the month with an 18-3 record, but they could be in for a rough May given the state of their rotation. Phil Hughes (3-0, 1.86) is in the majors, and Ian Kennedy (1.59 ERA, 9.92 K/9), is on the disabled list with vasospasms in his right-hand. After a surprisingly strong spring training, Kei Igawa has been awful in three of his four starts, and Jason Johnson, who never should have been in the rotation to start with, is on the DL and with a partially torn labrum. The only major league-ready starter left in Triple-A is thus Alfredo Aceves, though he’s been excellent in his last two starts, not allowing an earned run over 14 2/3 innings while striking out 12 and walking just two.
With three holes to fill in the Scranton rotation, Eric Hacker, who is on the 40-man roster, was called up from Double-A, though he was roughed up in his first two Triple-A starts. The Yanks hope for a smoother transition from George Kontos, who was off to a strong start in Double-A (2.66 ERA, 10.62 K/9) and was just promoted to Scranton this weekend. Veteran major league lefty and recent Mets castoff Casey Fossom is currently filling the third hole.
The major league team has pilfered two of Scranton’s best relievers, righties Mark Melancon (10 1/3 scoreless innings, 17 K) and David Robertson (0.00 ERA in 8 IP, 14 K), and with Damaso Marte hitting the disabled list, Anthony Claggett is also back in the Bronx. Claggett has been roughed up a bit in his Triple-A debut (4.26 ERA, 1.66 WHIP), but his 10:3 K/BB ratio in 12 2/3 innings is encouraging. The opposite is true for Steven Jackson, who spent an inactive week in the majors. Jackson has a 1.74 ERA, but just six Ks in 10 1/3 innings. Outperforming both Claggett and Jackson is Brett Tomko (0.75 ERA, 12 IP, 15 K), but having already added Jackson and Claggett to the 40-man roster, the Yankees would risk losing either were they to try to remove one to make room for Tomko, and both youngsters are more valuable for the long-term than the retreaded veteran.
With just three men on the major league bench, it’s a bit surprising to me that the Yankees haven’t called up an extra hitter, particularly with fan favorite Shelley Duncan flat-out raking once again (.356/.431/.711, 9 HR). I expect that when Alex Rodriguez returns, Angel Berroa will get designated for assignment, and Duncan will take Berroa’s spot on the 40- and 25-man rosters, giving the Yankees a lesser version of what they lost when Xavier Nady injured his elbow. Alternates to Shelly include fringy veteran outfileders Todd Linden (.361/.434/.608) and John Rodriguez (.313/.402/.525), both of whom have four homers. Those three outfielders split up very nicely with Duncan batting right-handed, Rodriguez batting left-handed, and Linden switch-hitting. First baseman and 40-man roster member Juan Miranda is hitting a solid .280/.355/.512 with five taters.
Not a candidate for a call up early this season is top prospect Austin Jackson, though he is off to a strong start, hitting .389/.464/.486. Jackson has stolen seven bases without being caught and leads the team with a pair of triples, but he has yet to hit a home run this season.
Double-A Trenton Thunder
In part because of their pitcher-friendly home park and in part because of the lack of hitting prospects in the upper levels of the Yankees’ system, the Thunder have a lot of pitching, but not much hitting. As a result, they’re a middling 10-11. I’m going to ignore the few hitters with batting-average-inflated hot starts (a group that does not include Francisco Cervelli, who is hitting .190) and cut straight to the pitching.
Even with Kontos and Hacker in Triple-A, the Trenton rotation is compelling thanks to Ivan Nova, a 22-year-old righty who was taken by the Padres in December’s Rule 5 draft but returned, and Zach McAllister, who had a breakout season for High-A Tampa last year at age 20. Nova has a 2.41 ERA after three starts while McAllister has 2.53 after four. Neither has particularly sparkling peripherals, but then neither has ever pitched above A-ball before. Both are worth watching.
The inverse of Nova and McAllister is 23-year-old lefty reliever and 40-man roster member Michael Dunn, who has great peripherals (20 K and 3 BB in 13 IP and no homers allowed), but an ugly 4.85 ERA. Dunn gave up six runs in his last appearance; his ERA was 0.77 heading into that game. Given Dunn’s bad outing, Trenton’s best reliever in the early going has been 26-year-0ld righty Josh Schmidt, who has thrown 10 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out 13 and allowing just four baserunners.
Alan Horne is working his way back from back surgery in the Trenton rotation, but I wouldn’t expect much. His velocity isn’t all the way back, and he increasingly looks like a one-year wonder. Even in that one year (2007), he was merely good (3.11 ERA for Trenton), not great.
While Scranton had a great April and Trenton had a middling one, Tampa was flat-out bad. They’re last in their division with a 9-14 record. Blame a lack of hitting, but don’t blame Jesus Montero, who is clicking along to a .318/.375/.557 tune with five taters. Montero’s tag-team partner, Austin Romine, had a less encouraging April, hitting .282/.292/.400. His plate approach seems to be most in need of fixing as he’s walked just twice this season. Romine has homered twice, which isn’t particularly notable except for the fact that Montero and Romine account for seven of Tampa’s nine home runs.
Things are again more interesting on the mound. Wilkin De La Rosa, the 24-year-old lefty converted outfielder who began his pitching career in relief last year, is now in the rotation and dominating to the tune of a 1.29 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, no homers allowed, and 17 Ks against just four walks in 14 innings. Jeremy Bleich, who was drafted out of Stanford last June with the Yankees’ supplemental-round pick then made his pro debut with a strong showing in the now-defunct Hawaiian Winter Baseball, is off to a strong start with a 2.33 ERA after five starts. Towering 21-year-old Brooklyn native Dellin Betances has had less encouraging results. His first two starts were excellent (11 1/3 IP, 3 R, 3 BB, 14 K), but his last three have seen his problematic wildness return (11 BB in 15 IP, leading to a 6.00 ERA in those three starts).
A-ball Charleston RiverDogs
The RiverDogs are holding their own in the Sally League with a 13-11 record that matches the major league club’s. Their break-out star this April has been 21-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell, who was taken out of Clemson with the Yankees’ tenth-round pick last year. After five starts, Mitchell has a 2.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 34 Ks against just 4 walks in 30 innings. He’s doing that while everyone is watching 2007 first-round pick Andrew Brackman. After Tommy John surgery and a rough Hawaiian league pro debut last fall, Brackman is making his first regular season appearances as a pro. The 6-foot-10, 23-year-old righty isn’t mowing anyone down just yet, but he’s not getting lit up either and has struck out more than a batter per inning. It will be interesting to see how his season progresses.
The Charleston bullpen features switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. The Yankees’ 20th-round pick from last year’s draft continues to dominate. Thus far he’s thrown 10 1/3 innings and struck out 18 without allowing an earned run or walking a batter and hasn’t allowed a lefty to reach base. Even that looks weak next to the performance of 22-year-old Dominican righty Hector Noesi, who has thrown 15 2/3 scoreless, walkless innings while striking out 21. Those two make the performance of 23-year-old righty Brad Rulon, a late-round 2008 pick out of Georgia Tech look downright ordinary (1.46 ERA, 13 K vs. 3 BB in 12 1/3 IP).
At the plate, 21-year-old second baseman David Adams, the Yankees’ third-round pick last year, is off to a nice start (.316/.394/.495). He hasn’t homered, but he has 13 doubles, which are hits that could turn into homers as he matures. On the flip side, 22-year-old Dominican right fielder and Dave Chappelle look-alike Melquisedec “Melky” Mesa has six homers but just four walks and a .239 batting average.
Extended Spring Training
Notable starting pitchers Christian Garcia and Jairo Heredia are rehabbing some aches and pains and building up arm strength, while younger prospects such as 18-year-old Dominican right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and 20-year-old infielder Corban Joseph, the Yankees’ fourth-round pick last June, are waiting for the start of the short-season leagues in June.