We conclude our look back at the 2014 minor league season with those who are knocking on the door of the majors in Triple-A. Many teams use their Triple-A affiliates to stockpile lottery ticket veterans and Quad-A players that just aren't quite good enough to make it in the big leagues, which makes some of these teams less exciting than some of the lower levels of the minors. That being said, there were still plenty of highlights to be found in SWB this season.
One of the biggest stories from the farm this season was the fantastic play of second baseman Rob Refsnyder. The 23-year-old started his season at Double-A Trenton before earning a promotion to Triple-A for the remaining 77 games of the year. After batting .342/.385/.548 in Trenton, Refsnyder managed to pick up right where he left off by hitting .300/.389/.456 in Scranton. With Brian Roberts struggling at the big league level, many fans called for Refsnyder to get a shot in the major leagues before the trade deadline this year. Brian Cashman made the decision to keep Refsnyder in the minors for the entire year, likely to improve his second base defense after being converted from an outfielder after signing with the Yankees. It's very possible that Refsnyder will compete for the starting second base job in spring training next season.
Taylor Dugas also earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton in the middle of the season, and he (like Refsnyder) had no trouble continuing to hit very well at the next level. Drafted in the 8th round of the 2012 draft, Dugas put up an .827 OPS with the Trenton Thunder before finishing the season with a .294/.403/.424 batting line with the RailRiders. Although it seems unlikely that Dugas could find a spot as a starting outfielder in the Yankees' outfield next season, it's easy to see him sliding into a Zoilo Almonte-like role where he is the first man up if an outfielder needs to miss time, or possibly making the team as a fourth outfielder with a strong spring training. First baseman Kyle Roller is another whose strong 2014 season could be important for 2015, as the uncertainty with Mark Teixeira's wrist could linger into next year. Roller's calling card is mainly his power, and he hit 17 with the RailRiders after earning a mid-season promotion from Double-A Trenton. If the Yankees don't find a backup first baseman on the market they like, Roller could be an intriguing option if he can find a way to cut down on his massive amount of strikeouts.
A prospect who only found his way to the big leagues at the very end of the season out of desperation was Jose Pirela, who performed as a sort of jack of all trades in Triple-A this year. Pirela moved off second base to accomodate the promotion of Refsnyder, and he spent the majority of his time after that moving around the diamond to improve his versatility. Pirela batted .305/.351/.441 in 130 games with the RailRiders, possibly putting him in line to make the big league team out of spring training next year. It's possible that the Yankees not bringing him up until the very end could signify that they aren't as high on Pirela as some, his versatility could be helpful as a bat off the bench next year.
On the pitching front, switch pitcher Pat Venditte had a nice season with the RailRiders with a 3.35 ERA in relief, but not getting called up to the big league team ahead of his impending minor league free agency could be a bad sign. Venditte's novelty has won over fans, but the Yankees are obviously unconvinced that he can translate any minor league success into a successful big league career. If 2014 was Venditte's last year with the team, it was a good note to go out on to garner interest from other teams. A couple of potential 2015 bullpen arms in Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, and Branden Pinder ended their season with the RailRiders. The Yankees have been successful in getting value out of homegrown pitchers performing well in the bullpen, so these guys coupled with Jacob Lindgren seem like they could fill out the middle of the Yankees bullpen at some point next year, if not immediately out of spring training.
Although Triple-A does have its share of retreads trying to hang on with a team and prospects that just aren't quite good enough to make the big leagues, there were at least a few bright spots for the Yankees at the Triple-A level this season. A couple of these guys could make a big impact on the team next season, particularly if Refsnyder is given a chance to make the team out of spring training as the starting second baseman.