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Yankees prospects: Previewing the 2014 RailRiders, Thunder, Yankees, and RiverDogs

Rejoice! Minor League Baseball kicks off the 2014 season tonight!

Most of the Yankees' minor league affiliates kick off their 2014 season tonight, which means the return of the daily Baby Bomber Recaps Friday morning. Before then, here's is a quick refresher course on which prospects are where to begin the season and which teams look like ones that could follow in the 2013 Thunder's footsteps as league champions.

One thing to note is that this is likely imperfect. Minor league rosters are constantly changing and some players have been held back at the start of the year. This is a pretty good idea of who will be where, but it is far from an exact science. Players are reassigned with very minimal notice all the time. Just keep that in mind.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:

Slade Heathcott gets his first taste of Triple-A after missing out on big league camp games while recovering from offseason surgery. The often-injured outfielder has lost a bit of his stock without proving that he can stay on the field in one piece. If he wants to advance further, he's going to need to shake the reputation that he can't. Joining Heathcott in Scranton will be the pair of catchers who didn't earn the backup job in the majors. John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine will presumably split time between catcher and DH with, according to beat writer Donnie Collins, Murphy getting more of the time at catcher.

Scott Sizemore, Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores, Ronnier Mustelier, Russ Canzler, Adonis Garcia and Corban Joseph will be getting plenty of time in the field for the RailRiders. Nearly any of them could see time at the big league level in case of an emergency with Sizemore being the most likely to crack MLB at some point. He has an opt out clause that will allow him to force the Yankees hand or allow him to find work elsewhere.

Alfredo Aceves, Brian Gordon, Shane Greene, Chase Whitley, and Bruce Billings start the year in the rotation for the RailRiders with Matt Daley, Preston Claiborne, Jose Ramirez, Graham Stoneburner, Caleb Cotham, and Mark Montgomery being of note out of the bullpen. Nik Turley could join them once he recovers from the injury that kept him out of spring training.

Double-A Trenton Thunder:

The 2013 Eastern League champs will have top Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez behind the plate to start the 2014 season. Sanchez finished the season with the Thunder last year, so his return is no surprise. Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder also begin their seasons with the Thunder at center field and second base, respectively. Carmen Angelini, who had a fine season for the Tampa Yankees last year, kicks off the year as one of two shortstops on the roster with Ali Castillo. Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel, and Taylor Dugas should flank Williams in the outfield.

Zach Nuding returns to Trenton as one of five starting pitchers with Bryan Mitchell, Jeremy Bleich, Joel De La Cruz, and Matt Tracy. Offseason pickup Cole Kimball will work out of Trenton's bullpen with Charley Short, Diego Moreno, Aaron Dott, and switch pitcher Pat Venditte.

The Yankees sent Tyler Austin to the Arizona Fall League as a first baseman, showing their willingness to make him as versatile as possible. Austin was a catcher turned third baseman when he was drafted, and the Yankees have their outfield at the big league level pretty well-stocked for years to come. If they can get Austin comfortable at a position of greater need, it will really open up his path through the upper levels of the minors and into MLB.

High-A Tampa Yankees:

Pinstripe Alley favorite Greg Bird will look to build upon his 100+-walk season once he returns from a back injury that has delayed his debut a bit. First round draft pick Eric Jagielo has also been aggressively slated to start the season in Tampa. Not surprisingly for a college player with a polished bat, but good to see that the Yankees are really throwing him in the deep end, so to speak. Cito Culver will kick off the year as Tampa's shortstop, hopefully continuing to prove that ditching switch hitting was the right call. Peter O'Brien should begin the year as Tampa's catcher, hopefully cutting down on his strikeouts while continuing to display his insane power potential.

Dan Fiorito, Anderson Feliz, Dante Bichette Jr., and Jake Cave will also call Steinbrenner FIeld home for the first part of 2014. It's a bump up for Bichette, who is likely going to get pushed aside by Jagielo. His promotion isn't really a merited one as much as it is just time to sink or swim at the next level in what would have been his third try in Low-A.

Manny Banuelos will start his first season back from Tommy John surgery with the Yankees, rumored to be in part because the weather is warmer in Florida and likely also because it puts him in close proximity to the Yankees' complex. He'll be joined in the rotation by Rafael De Paula, who struggled in his first taste of Tampa last season, Eric Wooten, Dan Camarena, and Brett Gerritse. Jose Campos, Dietrich Enns, James Pazos, and Nick Goody are also likely to be with the Yankees to begin the year.

Low-A Charleston RiverDogs:

Charleston may just be the team to watch this year, being totally stacked with talent right out of the gate. Seventeen-year-old Luis Torrens will start the year as the RiverDogs' catcher. Do you feel old yet? The infield is stocked with some of the best talent the Yankees have with Abiatal Avelino at shortstop, Gosuke Katoh at second base, Miguel Andujar at third base, and first round pick Aaron Judge is slated to start the season in the outfield. Michael O'Neill, Mikeson Oliberto, and Brandon Thomas will join Judge there.

The starting rotation to begin the year will be Rookie Davis, Luis Severino, Giovanny Gallegos, Brady Lail, and Caleb Smith. Nick Rumbelow, Andy Beresford, Andrew Benak, Cesar Vargas, and Philip Walby will be working out of the bullpen. Severino has drawn rave reviews and already found himself creeping up prospect lists. He should be really exciting to watch this year in his first taste of professional baseball above the short season level.

Tyler Wade, another intriguing shortstop prospect, is listed on the RiverDogs' roster. It seems like it might be unwise to try and fit two prospects into the same position at the same level, but that's highly subject to change. These things have a way of working themselves out in the end.

There you have it! A primer of the start of the 2014 Minor League Baseball season as it pertains to the Yankees and their prospects. Who are you most excited to see this year? Who do you think has a breakout campaign?

Important update: