During yesterday’s conference call to discuss Michael Pineda’s career-threatening shoulder injury, general manager Brian Cashman was asked about the Yankees rotation depth. It was a question primarily about Pineda’s injury and the ongoing struggles at the Major League level, but Cashman took it upon himself to mention the struggles in Triple-A as well.
Manny Banuelos is on the disabled list with a back injury, Dellin Betances has more walks than strikeouts, and Adam Warren’s ERA is up to 6.10 after a rocky start yesterday in Pawtucket. Veteran Ramon Ortiz hasn’t been much better through his first two starts.
Then there’s D.J. Mitchell.
Perpetually overshadowed in this pitching-rich organization, Mitchell has picked up where he left off. He leads the team with 21 strikeouts, opponents are hitting .165 against him and his 3.13 ERA looks almost identical to last year’s 3.18.
After very nearly making the big league roster out of spring training, Mitchell has established himself as the best rotation alternative available in Triple-A.
• As some of you know, I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to the lower levels of the minor league system — there’s just too much road between there and the big leagues — but it’s impossible to ignore this year’s Low-A Charleston roster. Loaded with elite prospects, the team is off to a 15-3 start. Mason Williams is hitting .347 with eight stolen bases, and Gary Sanchez is hitting .365 with no homers but a team-leading seven doubles, but it’s Tyler Austin who’s stealing the show. Getting most of his time in right field, Austin is hitting .354/.391/.800 — that’s right, an .800 slugging percentage — with five homers, four triples and six doubles. He could quickly establish himself as one of the elite prospects in the organization.
• Although most of the Charleston attention is focused on its prospect-loaded lineup, the team’s pitching staff has been awfully good as well. The rotation is led by Jose Campos, who’s 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA through his first four starts in the Yankees organization. Caleb Cotham — who’s finally healthy — is 2-0 with a 2.00, Bryan Mitchell is 1-1 with a 2.45 and William Oliver is 1-1 with a 1.69. The bullpen has been sharp too.
• The bad news in Charleston: Dante Bichette Jr., Cito Culver and Angelo Gumbs are each off to pretty slow starts, Culver especially. Bichette Jr. has twice as many errors (4) as extra-base hits (2). Culver is batting .185 and is still looking for an extra-base hit.
• On the high end of the minor league system, the traveling Triple-A roster is playing .500 baseball and is sort of matching the big league pitching staff (the bullpen has been good, the rotation has been bad). Kevin Whelan is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, and Chase Whitley has pitched well after an early call-up from Double-A.
• Veterans are leading the Triple-A lineup. Dewayne Wise is building off his strong spring training with a .388 average and team-high three home runs. Steve Pearce and Jack Cust — two former big leaguers signed at the end of spring training — have combined for 24 RBIs. Pearce is hitting .382/.449/.559 as the team’s replacement for Jorge Vazquez at first base. Chris Dickerson was playing well before landing on the disabled list.
• Francisco Cervelli is hitting just .173 after his surprise demotion on the last day of spring training.
• After his strong first impression in big league camp, Zoilo Almonte has hit for a little bit of power but not much else in Double-A. Instead, Trenton’s best hitter has been Cuban utility man Ronnier Mustelier. Playing primarily third base with a little bit of time at second and in the outfield, Mustelier is hitting .356/.407/.534. He and Melky Mesa are tied for the team lead with 12 RBIs. Mesa is doing his usual tools-and-strikeouts thing. He’s hit four homers and stolen three bases, but he’s also struck out 12 times and has a .282 on-base percentage (Zoilo has 18 strikeouts, and Cody Johnson leads the team with 20).
• Ramon Flores seems to have a lot of fans in the organization, but he’s off to a .206/.273/.235 start as Tampa’s everyday left fielder. There’s much more production coming from right field where Rob Segedin is hitting .315/.378/.548. J.R. Murphy, by the way, is hitting just .250/.318/.350 and has yet to play any position in the field except catcher.
• Mark Montgomery made a name for himself with impressive strikeout totals last season, and he already has 12 Ks through 8.1 innings as the Tampa closer this year, but it’s Nik Turley who leads Tampa with 27 strikeouts through 23.1 innings. The former 50th-round pick made some noise last year and has a 1.93 ERA this season.
• Some of the most relevant news coming out of the minor league system can’t be found in a box score. Slade Heathcott has completed his rehab and apparently will be ready to DH within three weeks. When he gets going, I have to assume he’ll jump straight to Tampa.
Associated Press photo of Mitchell; headshots of Austin, Whelan and Segedin