Now that the minor league season is over - Congrats Trenton Thunder! -, I wanted to do an in-depth review of our minor league system. Earlier this week, I looked at the pitchers who played for our AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. I broke them up into three groups: Cups of Coffee, (CoCs) Organizational Role Players (ORPs), and Prospects. Today, I will look at position players who put time in with the RailRiders.
First, the Cups of Coffee (less than 100 PA):
Fernando Martinez was acquired for Charles Basford in mid-June. He was rated as a top-30 prospect in all of baseball from 2007 to 2009, as an 18-20 year old in the Mets farm system. Injuries, including an arthritic knee, have derailed what was once a promising future. He put up an above-average partial season with Houston last year, producing a 105 OPS+ and a 107 wRC+. He was expendable to the Astros after his terrible start to 2013, albeit in a small sample of 35 plate appearances. However, he produced a very nice 164 wRC+ for the RailRiders, with a .325/.394/.554 batting line. He could still very well be a productive piece on next year's team, although he would have to be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected in the Rule V draft.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the Yankees ambulatory service, sending people to New York to fill in for fallen players, including Brennan Boesch. They also were the last stop on many Yankee rehab assignments, including Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and (on multiple occasions) Derek Jeter. Neil Medchill, Kevin Mahoney, Casey Stevenson, Jose Gil, and Reegie Corona all spent most of their seasons in Double-A Trenton. Boesch, Cody Johnson, Gil Velazquez, and Brendan Harris were all released during the season. Luke Murton was signed out of the independent leagues, after being released by the Yankees before the 2013 season. And Jeffrey Farnham had fairly similar stints in High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and with the RailRiders as a defense-first catcher.
Now, let's look at our Organizational Role Players:
Walter Ibarra is a utility player who primarily plays shortstop, but has a terrible bat. He may some day be called up to the big leagues in an emergency, but I would not hold my breath. Josh Bell, a third baseman, is another former top-100 prospect after the 2009 season split between the Dodgers and the Orioles farm system. Since then, he has had a couple good minor league seasons, but has really struggled at the big league level, with a 33 OPS+ and a 25 wRC+ in 282 career plate appearances. Brent Lillibridge was signed as roster depth after being released by the Cubs, and did quite will for the RailRiders. He made it into 11 games and 37 plate appearances for the 2013 Yankees, with terrible results. He will continue to get chances due to his defensive versatility, and the fluky half season he had in 2011 with the White Sox.
Alberto Gonzalez made his debut with the Yankees in 2007. Since then, he has played for four other teams before returning to the Yankees after he was released by the Cubs, putting up his usual mediocre results for both the RailRiders and the big league club. Adonis Garcia was signed out of Cuba for $400,000 - he is unfortunately not a Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes. He struggled this year for Scranton, which will not cut it for a player going on 29, even if he had a broken wrist earlier in the season. Corey Patterson is a former elite top prospect (#3 in all of baseball in 2000, #2 in 2001) who has turned into a minor league veteran/journeyman looking for another shot at the big league level, which he hasn't seen since 2011. After being released by Seattle, he put up some pretty mediocre numbers for the RailRiders.
Bobby Wilson is the catcher version of Gonzales, a has glove, will travel catcher who cannot hit minor league pitching, much less major league pitching - 66 OPS+, 65 wRC+ in 447 plate appearances. Randy Ruiz is a career minor league slugger who has hit 229 home runs in the minors over 13 seasons, but has also had some success in the major leagues. After crushing the ball in the Mexican League (.892 OPS, 158 wRC+), he was signed by the Yankees, and did very well for the RailRiders. Surprisingly, he was never brought up to the team, even with their offensive struggles. Thomas Neal, another former top-100 prospect, was an astute pickup from Cleveland by Brian Cashman. He did very well for the RailRiders, but was miserable in his 13 plate appearances for the Yankees, and he was released and signed by the Chicago Cubs.
Melky Mesa was a Yankees prospect coming into the year, and even though he struggled this year for the RailRiders, he would've been on the prospect list. However, the Yankees decided to cut ties with Mesa in order to free up a 40-man spot for September, ending his relationship with the team that signed him in 2003. At this point, he is transitioning into a ORP role. Addison Maruszak could be a Rule V draft target, given his defensive flexibility, although the bat struggled this year after a pretty solid 2012. He is going into his age-27 season, and will probably be nothing more than minor league filler. Dan Johnson was probably the MVP of the RailRiders. He has also had success at the major league level, with 56 home runs, 101 OPS+, and a 102 wRC+. Had Overbay faultered, Johnson would've been his likely replacement. Instead, Johnson was stuck in the minors until being granted his release in September and catching on with Baltimore.
Finally, and most importantly, let's review the prospects who reached the highest level of the Yankees minor league system. I have listed them based on my own ranking of the players:
Hector Crespo was taken in the 34th round this year (go read Jason's review of the draft), and somehow became the first draft pick to reach Triple-A. Apparently the RailRiders needed some infield help, because he sure as hell didn't earn the promotion with his play in Staten Island - .528 OPS, 69 wRC+. He may not ever make it back to Triple-A, is only listed as a prospect since this was his first year in professional baseball, and he does have a non-zero chance (barely) of turning into a prospect. He will probably return to Staten Island or maybe Charleston in 2014.
Cody Grice was drafted in 2011 in the 12th round from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He has played all three outfield positions, but like Crespo, he has really struggled with the bat - career .588 OPS in the minor leagues. However, his 82 wRC+ this year for the RailRiders was his highest since put up an 89 wRC+ in Staten Island after being drafted. He has also gone 33 for 40 in stolen bases over his 163 career games. Given his speed, defensive flexibility, and decent performance for the RailRiders, he could turn into a cup of coffee/bench player for the team, similar to Colin Curtis from years past. He should open next year with the RailRiders, but with the outfield prospects behind him, he will be pushed aside pretty quickly if he struggles.
Dan Fiorito is an interesting prospect. He was signed as an undrafted free agent from Manhattanville College in August 2012, only the second player from Manhattanville to play professional baseball. He finished his three year college career in the top ten for most of Manhattanville's baseball records. He didn't actually play until this year, and spent the majority of the season with High-A Tampa, posting a .688 OPS, which was actually better than league average (103 wRC+). He is a good fielder on the left side of the infield, splitting time between shortstop and third base. He will probably get a chance to start the season with Double-A Trenton, and working on become a serviceable defender at as many positions as possible to get his Mark DeRosa Utility Player Certificate of Excellence.
As a founding member of the "Free Ronnier Fan Club", I was hoping that Ronnier Mustelier would make the Yankees out of spring training, a hope given strength by his play and the injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. However, he hurt himself towards the end of spring training and it took a while for him to come back. When he did, he struggled initially. On the season, he was still above-average offensively, but he wasn't his normally dominant self. He did improve as the year went on, having his best month in August while hitting .301/.358/.460 and .310/.356/.524 over his last five games. He will be 29 next season, so it will be make or break time, and if Plan $189 is implemented, he will be given opportunities as a bench player in New York.
Corban Joseph had some hype coming into the season, given his solid performance between Double-A (134 wRC+) and Triple-A (139 wRC+) last year. However, he dealt with injuries that derailed his effectiveness all year. He finished with a .712 OPS and a 101 wRC+. He should no longer be seen as a possible backup plan in the nightmare landscape created by Cano signing elsewhere. However, he could be a good bench player for the team next year, or be used as part of a trade package to bring in talent that is less redundant if Cano does re-sign with the team. Next year, he will probably start out back with the RailRiders, with a shot at the team if any of the 2013 curse on Yankee players' health escapes into 2014.
Zoilo Almonte was a very hyped prospect around PSB this summer, if for no other reason than because he was not Vernon Wells. And really, that is all it takes. Zoilo has been consistently well above-average in offensive production in the minors since 2009, and finally got a chance with the Yankees this year. He wasn't great, but he wasn't as terrible as most players making their Yankees debut in 2013. He had a 75 OPS+ and a 73 wRC+ this year with the RailRiders. He is on the 40-man roster, and should be in the front of the line for the team next year if Granderson doesn't return to the team. If Granderson does come back, I'd expect Zoilo to start in Triple-A and wait for an injury, or to be used in a trade package for another talent. Overall, I think Zoilo could become a David DeJesus type of player if given the chance.
Austin Romine is our best short-term anti-Stewart hope. Seen as a top-ten Yankees prospect before this year, due to his decent bat and good glove, Romine finaly got an extended look at the big league level - thanks to the seven of clubs. He had a .796 OPS for the RailRiders, along with a 129 wRC+. This, along with Francisco Cervelli's injury opened a spot up for Romine. While he struggled at first, he picked it up in the second half, posting a .271/.343/.407 line with a 129 wRC+. I expect that he will be given a shot to start next year, and I have faith that he will learn the staff quickly, and be an above-average hitter for the major leagues. He will be 25 next year, so the clock is ticking.
David Adams has always mashed in the minor leagues. He has also always ended up on the DL for whatever reasons. His only full season was his first full year after the draft. Since then, he hasn't played in more than 86 games in any season. However, success proved fleeting for him in the major leagues (42 wRC+). Although every single metric that could be influenced by luck show how unlucky he really was in his brief major league trial. He struck out at a much higher rate than he has in the minor leagues, while he walked less, had a very low batting average on balls his (BABIP), and less power at the big league level. Next year is make or break for the almost age-27 infielder. Next year, Adams should get a shot to make the big league club, especially given their need for cheap talent to make "Plan $189" a reality.
Jose Pirela was #24 on my midseason prospect list. He is second on my position player list for the RailRiders. Pirela is still young, only going into his age-23 season. He plays a premium position (second base) and hits well. He spent most of the year with Trenton, posting a .272/.359/.418 with a 118 wRC+. As I wrote in my prospect list:
Jose Pirela was signed as an international free agent in 2006 out of Valera, Venezuela for $300,000. He began his pro career as a shortstop in 2007 in the Dominican Summer League. He has progressed through the system one level at a time, although he has been playing with Trenton since 2011. Last year, he moved off of SS, becoming a second baseman, and put up an .802 OPS, 123 wRC+. This year in Trenton, he has continued to produce, putting up a .259/.356/.397 line with 14 stolen bases and a 112 wRC+. His defense still needs work at second base, which is probably why he hasn't moved up to Triple-A (along with Corban Joseph's presence), but if I were the Yankees I would look to promote the stocky second baseman to Triple-A soon to give him a taste of the level before next season. If Robinson Cano doesn't re-sign, Pirela could join Joseph, David Adams, and Rob Refsnyder in the battle to replace Robbie.
Pirela will probably be on the RailRiders next year, and could be called up if there are any injuries on the big league club.
The best prospect for the RailRiders is J.R. Murphy. Murphy is our prayer against Chris Stewart and Binder. As I said in my midseason list:
J.R. Murphy is a catcher drafted in the second round out of high school from Bradenton, FL. It took a $1.25 million signing bonus to get him to pick pro ball over the Miami Hurricanes baseball team. He has spent most of his time at catcher in the minor leagues, playing 297 of 312 career games at that position. He has a minor-league career batting line of .265/.330/.405, with a 8.8 BB%, a 15.4 K%, and a 105 wRC+. Out of high school, he was a bat-first catching prospect, and his defense was a bit rough over the first few years of his pro career. However, according to scouting reports, he has made some nice strides in that department this year, and now projects to be an average defensive catcher in the major leagues.
The great news about his glove has been supplemented by his best season with the bat since being drafted. This year, as a 22-year-old, he has a .268/.349/.420 line between Double-A and Triple-A, which is 14% better than league-average (114 wRC+). He has maintained an very good walk rate (10.7 BB%) with an equally impressive strikeout rate (15.1%). He has cooled down quite a bit since the All-Star break, posting a .212/.297/.333 line over 66 plate appearances, versus his .309/.377/.479 line in his first 94 plate appearances in Scranton. This shows he probably can use more time in Triple-A, especially considering this is his first year playing above A-ball. However, the bat has always had potential, and has produced at an above-average rate in his minor-league career. Combine that with the growth on the defensive side of his game, and he should be able to compete for the starting catcher gig out of spring training next year.
I'd expect him to start the year in Triple-A, and be called up once either he makes it impossible to ignore him, or one of the Stewart/Cervelli/Romine team implodes. Although he will probably not be the long-term answer at catcher for the team, given who the top prospect is, he should be a serviceable starter until 2016, at which point he can be used in a trade.
While he has a made great strides on his defense, Murphy will probably need one more year in the minors to become more consistent defensively. But I think he could be up for good as early as midseason 2014.
So, what do you think? Who will be the most valuable for the Yankees out of this group? Please vote in poll, and discuss below.