It took the Triple-A Scranton RailRiders an extra game, but they won the International League North division title in 2019. Considering how much the major league club depended on players from Scranton to fill in and produce, the season-long success of the team can be considered a surprise to some extent. At one point they led the division by six games, but over the last two months that lead slowly evaporated, to the point that Scranton had to play a one game playoff for the division title after the regular season.
The International League saw a 57 percent increase in home runs this season as they switched to the major league baseball. Eight RailRiders hit at least 10 home runs this season, but four of those, Logan Morrison, Ryan McBroom, Breyvic Valera, and Brad Miller left the organization through trade or opt out. Offense’s around the league exploded, and more than a few players in Scranton helped the team pound out 212 home runs on the season, to finish second in the league in that category.
Mike Ford: 27-years-old; 1B
While Ford has made his name at the major league level, especially during his second-half run with the big league club, he was one of the best offensive performers in the minors during his time there this season. Ford was leading the International League in OPS with a 1.007 mark when he was promoted to the majors for what turned out to be the rest of the season. He has hit 34 HRs in 429 ABs between the majors and Triple-A this season.
Clint Frazier: 25-years-old; OF
Frazier’s demotion in June surprised many as he was putting together a strong offensive season and it was generally assumed that he would quickly return to the majors, especially as injuries took their toll on the big league roster. Yet Frazier never forced the issue with his play, only hitting .265/.310/.489 in 64 games with Scranton. That was only good enough for a 85 wRC+ in the International League.
Tyler Wade: 24-years-old; UTL
Now that he is performing at the major league level, I don’t think too many fans are going to worry about how Wade did at Triple-A. Wade, known for his versatility, played a lot of middle infield, along with some occasional action at third base this year. While he did see some action in left field and center field for Scranton, he has already played more major league innings in the outfield this year than he did in the minors. Overall Wade hit .296/.352/.425 on the season for Scranton, but he has stolen 20 of 25 bases between the minors and majors.
Thairo Estrada: 23-years-old; 2B / SS / OF
Returning from a lost season where he only played 18 games in 2018 due multiple injuries, there were not many expectations for Estrada heading into the season. Just playing a healthy season would have qualified as a success, but Estrada quickly found his way to the majors as the injury bug hit the Yankees early on. Estrada put up very similar numbers with Scranton and with the Yankees this season.
.266/.313/.452 - Scranton
.258/.303/.452 - Yankees
The end result was a healthy season that Estrada can build upon, and as a bonus his 11 home runs on the season is a new career high.
Kyle Higashioka: 29-years-old; C
In his last season with minor league options, Higashioka showed that he is more than capable of crushing Triple-A pitching, registering a .278/.348/.581 line in 70 games this season. Higashioka likely earned himself a long look with a major league team next season, but time will tell if that is the Yankees, or if this might have been his last run with the club.
Next season’s shuttle candidates
Deivi Garcia: 20-years-old; RHP
Garcia could be listed on the season roundup of three different teams, but we’ll cover him here where he finished. Garcia’s gaudy strikeout numbers started drawing attention early in the season as he registered 120 strikeouts through 71.1 innings at High-A Tampa, and Double-A Trenton. The Yankees’ top ranked prospect was promoted to Scranton right at the time that he also passed his previous career high for innings pitched. Struggling though the end of the season, Garcia still flashed his elite stuff as he struck out 45 batters in 40 innings but struggled overall pitching to a 5.40 ERA.
Gosuke Katoh: 24-years-old; UTL
Katoh started the season on fire, hitting .367/.438/.684 and setting his career high with seven home runs in his first 22 games of the season. The lightning fast start hit some speed bumps though and Katoh found himself bouncing between Scranton and Double-A Trenton as he struggled through the middle of the season. It would have been easy to write off Katoh’s fast start, but then he caught fire again in August, hitting .337/.476/.542 over his last 25 games.
Trey Amburgey: 24-years-old; LF/RF
Amburgey has steadily climbed through the Yankees minor league system, but took a significant step forward this year. His 22 home runs were a new career high, and he was an above average offensive performer in a league that saw offense spike through the ceiling. Amburgey played the bulk of his games in right field, but also covered center field when needed, playing 16 games at the position. Overall he hit .274/.329/.494 on the season.
For all the turnover that this roster saw during the season, it was a testament to the depth of the organization that Scranton kept winning at a first place level even as many of their top performers headed to the majors to fill the voids left by injury. Next week, we’ll take a look at the Eastern League Champions, the Double-A Trenton Thunder.