Even when I was covering minor league baseball, I found it hard to put too much stock into short season and rookie ball numbers. These guys are a long way from the big leagues, and the game is full of guys who put up numbers in short season and rookie ball, but fizzled long before the majors.
That said, first impressions matter, and that’s certainly what these early levels are about. In Staten Island, the Yankees went 45-28 with one of the league’s best lineups and a strong pitching staff. They won the New York-Penn League, making Staten Island the Yankees most successful affiliate this season.
Hitter of the Year: CF Mason Williams
The Yankees fourth-round pick in 2010 was arguably their most buzzworthy selection. While top pick Cito Culver was met with doubts, Williams was instantly praised for his high-end ceiling. He played only five games last year, but this season he earned even more believers with a terrific all-around season in Staten Island. He hit .349/.395/.468 with 28 stolen bases and a league-leading 94 hits (10 more than anyone else). He’s a left-handed hitter but actually had more success against lefties than against righties. Next season will be a new sort of challenge as he’ll play his first full season, but already Williams is challenging Slade Heathcott as the team’s top center field prospect.
Starter of the Year: RHP Bryan Mitchell
Really, there wasn’t a huge difference between any of Staten Island’s top three starters, but — fair or not — Mitchell is certainly the name that stands out. The Yankees convinced him to sign rather than attend North Carolina, and he was the most highly touted starter on the Staten Island staff. His results improved as he threw more innings later in the year. In his last four starts, Mitchell had a line of 21 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 9 BB and 17 K. He’s far from a finished product, he showed glimpses of his potential.
Reliever of the Year: RHP Branden Pinder
Plucked out of college in this year’s draft, Pinder was Staten Island’s closer and finished second in the league with 14 saves. Opponents hit just .152 against him, and he struck out 38 — with just five walks — in 31 innings. He allowed a total of four runs all year, one of them on a home run in his final appearance of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was 3-for-3 in save opportunities with six strikeouts, one hit and no walks. It was an impressive debut from a 16th rounder.
Breakout performance: LF Shane Brown
At this level, pretty much every good performance could be considered a breakout performance. Brown stands out because he was a 23rd round pick last year and hit just .234 without much power in the Gulf Coast League last season. This season, he clobbered the New York-Penn League with a .446/.544/.635 slash line, and when he was promoted to Charleston in mid-July he kept hitting (.321/.418/.382 after the promotion). The on-base percentage might not be a fluke. Brown had more walks than strikeouts in the GCL last year, and he did it again at each stop this season.
Disappointing numbers: SS Cito Culver
Last year’s first-round pick hit .327/.405/.464 during the month of July, but on the whole, his .250/.323/.337 slash line was uninspiring. The Yankees believe in Culver’s glove and think he’ll be able to stick at shortstop. They also drafted him knowing that he was young with some work to do. The bright side is that Culver hit .324 with a .388 on-base percentage, and obviously that month of July shows that the bat has potential, but those hoping for a huge, breakout season were left wanting more.
Top prospect watch: 2B Angelo Gumbs
Williams and Culver were the top prospects on this team, but Gumbs was a second-round pick last year, moved to second base because Culver has claimed shortstop, and hit a solid .264/.332/.406 this season. He hit third quite a bit, showing the Yankees have some faith in his bat, despite the fact he’s a middle infielder. He’s extremely young, and when Baseball America profiled him as the Yankees 25th-best prospect, it noted that Gumbs is seen as a raw, long-term project.
Notable: Nice year for RF Ben Gamel, the team’s 10th-round pick last year who hit .289/.373/.432 with good production against both lefties and righties… In a return to Staten Island, UT Casey Stevenson played all four infield positions plus right field and greatly improved on last year’s numbers, hitting .272/.374/.386… 1B Reymond Nunez showed improvement in his second half-season in the States… This year’s 21st-rounder Zachary Wilson was the team’s primary third baseman and hit .256/.346/.457 with a team-high 10 home runs. He also spent some time in the outfield… 3B Tyler Austin continued to hit after a promotion from the Gulf Coast League… Finally healthy enough to pitch, RHP Caleb Cotham had 29 strikeouts in 21 innings for Staten Island.