With Spring Training finally over, the minor league rosters have finally been announced in preparation for Opening Day. There really aren't many big surprises here, as everyone falls in more or less where you might expect them to. A season ago, all the hype was surrounding the RiverDogs and large majority of the top talent starting the season there. This year, the talent seems to be highly concentrated on the Thunder roster. The bulk of the exciting prospects being that much closer to the majors is certainly a welcome sight.
Here are the highlights of those rosters for the Yankees' four full-season affiliates, as well as a few things to watch at each level this season. Nothing is quite set in stone yet, as small details can still change over the course of the next couple days, but this is the main idea of who will be where to begin the 2013 season.
Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
After an admirable showing in big league camp, Vidal Nuno looks to be shaping up as the RailRiders' Opening Day starter with Chien-Ming Wang, Brett Marshall, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren rounding out the rotation. Warren will begin the season with the Yankees, serving as their long reliever until Phil Hughes comes off the Disabled List.
The Scranton bullpen looks to be a strength for the team, starting the year off with Jim Miller, Preston Claiborne, Josh Spence, Josh Romanski, and Chris Bootcheck. Mark Montgomery will also begin the year with the RailRiders, but don't expect him to be there for long if his minor league history is any indication. He's flown through the system at an impressive rate, and should find himself in the Bronx sooner than later.
Corban Joseph, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Luke Murton, Ronnier Mustelier, David Adams, Austin Romine, and Thomas Neal will all be mainstays on offense for the RailRiders, with Dan Johnson and Addison Maruszak starting the season with Scranton as well. It will be interesting to see how Almonte adjusts to his first season of Triple-A, as it has generally taken him a season to get his numbers up to the level we've come to expect from him. Adams will also be playing above Double-A for the first time after being released and re-signed by the Yankees last week.
Double-A Trenton Thunder:
Like last season's Charleston team, Trenton may be the affiliate with the most exciting players to watch when the minor league season begins. Top prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin will be starting in the outfield alongside Ramon Flores for the Thunder; while Jose Ramirez, Nik Turley, Zach Nuding, Francisco Rondon, Tom Kahnle, Matt Tracy, and Branden Pinder will be interesting to watch on the pitching side. Graham Stoneburner will be returning to Trenton, at least to begin the season, as well. Ramirez had a strong showing in big league camp this spring, and he'll be looking to prove his stuff is legitimate in his first real taste of the upper levels of the minors this season.
JR Murphy will be the Thunder's starting catcher with Kyle Higashioka as his backup. Kyle Roller makes the jump up from High-A to serve as the everyday first baseman with big league Spring Training participants Jose Pirela, Walter Ibarra, and Rob Segedin also making the roster.
The all-prospect outfield will be something to keep an eye on, and should help provide some great offense for the Thunder. Tyler Austin has progressed quickly through the system, so he may not remain in Trenton for long before he is promoted if he can hit like he has since being drafted by the Yankees. Slade Heathcott will be looking to stay healthy and play a full season for the first time as a professional.
High-A Tampa Yankees:
Two other top prospects will begin their season with the Tampa Yankees this year in Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez. Williams and Sanchez were both promoted to Tampa in 2012, but Williams' season ended early because of a dislocated shoulder. It is doubtful that either player will remain in High-A all season, but that will largely depend on the result of their play during the first part of the year. Williams will be joined in the outfield by Ben Gamel, who put together a strong season in Charleston in 2012. Second basemen Angelo Gumbs and Anderson Feliz, catcher Francisco Arcia, first baseman Matt Snyder, and infielder Ali Castillo, among others, look to be the other leaders on offense for the Yankees.
Pitching for Tampa has a few more well-known names than the offense outside of Williams and Sanchez. Bryan Mitchell, Corey Black, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, and Rigoberto Arrebato should all begin the season in High-A. Goody pitched across three different levels last year after being drafted out of LSU in 2011. If he takes the promising reliever path of Montgomery and David Robertson, the Yankees will not hesitate to promote him along quickly. Corey Black will be making the jump up to High-A after 23.2 innings at Charleston a year ago. He is definitely a pitcher to watch this season.
Bryan Mitchell might be the biggest name on the pitching side for Tampa, usually falling somewhere in the late teens on Yankees' prospect lists. He pitched 120 innings for Charleston a year ago and will try to improve on those results against better hitters. Baseball America considers his curveball to be the best in the Yankees' system, earning praise from Jim Callis as having some of the best stuff on the farm.
Low-A Charleston RiverDogs:
Charleston's pitching rotation will be led by top pitching prospects Ty Hensley, Rafael DePaula and Jose Campos, in addition to Gabe Encinas, Evan Rutckyj, Brett Gerritse, Cesar Vargas, and Derek Varnadore. The latter three will be used as a mix of starters and relievers with the others being more set into a starting role. Charlie Short will also be returning to the Charleston bullpen this season with last year's Staten Island closer, Taylor Garrison.
Campos was off to a promising start before an arm injury cost him the rest of his season in 2012 and DePaula will be pitching in the United States for the first time after struggling with visa issues for an extended period of time. Both pitchers are regarded as some of the best in the low levels of the Yankee farm, and it will be exciting to see what they can do in a full season for Campos and against tougher competition for DePaula. Rutckyj doesn't quite have the same prospect status as Hensley, Campos, or DePaula, but he has a magnificent name (pronounced Root-ski), and that alone is reason to keep an eye on his progress this season, in my opinion.
The RiverDogs' offense will be led by Dante Bichette Jr. and Cito Culver, who will be repeating the level to start the season. They will be joined by catchers Nick McCoy, Wes Wilson, and Peter O'Brien, first baseman Greg Bird, second baseman Rob Refsnyder, and infielders Claudio Custodio, Saxon Butler, and Fu Lin Kuo. Outfielders Yeicok Calderon, Taylor Dugas, and Danny Oh are the projected starting outfielders for the RiverDogs. If you're looking for the affiliate with the best names this season, Charleston might be it.
Staten Island won't be kicking their season off immediately and the Yankees will be adding a second Gulf Coast affiliate this year, but those teams are mainly comprised of recent draftees. Both levels will be included in the daily recaps when they get going. It's hard to predict exactly who will land here, but I do believe that Austin Aune will end up with Staten Island, hopefully with improved defense from where he was a year ago in the GCL.
Do you have the gift of artistic ability? I'm looking for some kind of picture to use as the standard Baby Bomber recap picture each day. If you want to give making one a shot, email it to me and I'll make sure you to give you credit if yours is the one I decide to use. In addition to that, if you end up attending one of the minor league games this season and take any pictures you'd like me to include in the daily recaps or as the main picture for the day, you can email those to me too. I'd be happy to give you a shout out for it. You can also feel free to leave any suggestions for the Baby Bomber recaps this season in the comments below.
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