Playing without a home field, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees — nicknamed the Empire State Yankees for the season — still managed to win the IL North and advance to the postseason.
Dave Miley was an easy choice as the league’s Manager of the Year. The pitching staff was middle of the pack in team ERA, despite a rotation that wasn’t nearly as prospect heavy as expected. The lineup scored the league’s second-most runs, despite a constant rotation of middle of the order hitters as veterans Dewayne Wise, Steve Pearce, Jack Cust and Russell Branyan came and went.
Player of the Year
2B Corban Joseph
Brandon Laird and Kevin Russo were the only Scranton/Wilkes-Barre players with more than 360 at-bats this season, so it’s a strange group from which to choose an MVP. Russo was probably their most consistent bat — he was there all year and was a steady on-base guy — and Laird led the team in RBI, but neither had the kind of all-around numbers that make you think of a team MVP. Steve Pearce was Scranton’s best player early, and Chris Dickerson was incredible in the second half, and Ronnier Mustelier was a significant boost after his promotion from Double-A.
Ultimately, I was left trying to choose between Jack Cust and Corban Joseph. Truth be told, Cust might be the best choice for his all-around stats — on-base percentage, run production, with the team through the end of July — but to me Scranton’s season was defined by it’s 22-win month of August, when the players had to be drained but they kept winning to take the division. Cust was gone then, and Joseph was providing much of the run production lost when Cust, Pearce and Russell Branyan were cut loose. Overall, Joseph delivered a .266/.366/.474 slash line through 327 Triple-A at-bats. He’s always had a nice bat, but the emergence of such power has made him a different sort of prospect, in my eyes.
Pitcher of the Year
RHP Ramon Ortiz
It would be much more exciting to pick one of the young guys for this spot, but really, it was Ortiz who emerged as the staff ace after David Phelps landed in New York, Dellin Betances struggled, Manny Banuelos got hurt and D.J. Mitchell was traded. Prospect Adam Warren had a terrific second half — 2.98 ERA after the all-star break — but the rotation wasn’t constantly evolving like the lineup, and the overall advantage belongs to Ortiz, who had a 3.45 ERA while leading team with 169.1 innings at 39 years old. Also worth mentioning: Long reliever Chase Whitley, who led the team with a 1.07 WHIP.
OF Chris Dickerson
The prospect breakout was Joseph, but I’m already picking him as the team MVP, so I’ll give this spot to Dickerson. How does a 30-year-old break out? By being designated for assignment in the spring, then putting up such good numbers in the second half that he was given a September call-up and suddenly deserves consideration for a big league bench job next season. Dickerson has always been able to hit right-handers, even at the big league level, but a slight mechanical adjustment helped him hit lefties to the tune of .328/.439/.418 and he remained productive in limited big league at-bats down the stretch. Might have been on the postseason roster if not for Brett Gardner’s speedy recovery from elbow surgery.
RHP Dellin Betances
Injuries were the most disappointing thing about fellow top prospect Manny Banuelos and Austin Romine. With Betances, the disappointment was in the results. Sure, he wasn’t perfectly healthy either, but this was supposed to be the year Betances began to push for a spot in the big leagues. Instead, his command was so erratic he was actually demoted to Double-A. Betances walked nearly as many as he struck out with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, then he was knocked around through 10 starts with Trenton. He’s trying to get some things straightened out in the Arizona Fall League, but for now, this wasn’t a lost year for Betances. It was just a bad year.
OF Ronnier Mustelier
Granted, he’s 28-year-old old, but at this point it’s hard to leave Mustelier out of the prospect discussion. He might not be a future everyday player at the big league level, but he continues to show enough bat — and enough versatility — to suggest he could at least play a bench role as early as next season. Building off a strong debut in 2011, the Cuban outfielder and third baseman jumped quickly from Double-A to Triple-A this season, hitting a combined .314/.371/.488. His numbers dipped a little bit when he joined Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he was still a good all-around hitter. His platoon splits are not especially extreme, and he could fit the profile of a four-corners bench player that the Yankees often talk about.
Odds and ends
Drafted in 2010, Chase Whitley has moved quickly through the Yankees farm system, and he jumped to Triple-A after just two games with Double-A Trenton this year. Routinely pitching up to four innings at a time, Whitley held opponents to a .213 average while showing the flexibility of a late-inning setup man or multi-inning long reliever. Could be in the big league mix from the moment spring training opens. … Coming off a bad 2011, Kevin Russo rebounded with a .284/.358/.351 slash line that made him the regular leadoff hitter through much of the season. He spent significant time at second, third and all three outfield positions. … Adam Warren‘s second-half improvements suggest he’s still next in line among the Yankees young starters. … In just a month on the Triple-A roster, Melky Mesa struck out 43 times but also hit nine homers. … Although he had some good months mixed in, Francisco Cervelli hit just .246/.341/.316 in his unexpected return to the minors. … A lot of moving parts in the Triple-A bullpen, but left Juan Cedeno was one of the points of stability. So was veteran left-hander Michael O’Connor who bounced from the bullpen to the rotation with a 3.73 ERA while helping in a variety of roles.
There’s certainly something to be said for a team winning under these conditions. Says a lot about the coaching staff, says a lot about the veterans willing to play through it, and says a lot about the young guys who weren’t flustered by it.
There was no standout on the roster, but Joseph, Mustelier, Dickerson and Mesa did enough to suggest they could be — at least — big league role players in the immediate future. Even guys like Russo, Cust and Branyan did enough to suggest they could have helped this year given the right circumstances and the right needs (kind of like Pearce and Wise, who did play a limited roles).
The pitching staff was supposed to be all about the rotation, but Warren was really the only young starter who didn’t lose significant prospect status because of injury, trade or performance. Instead, it was a series of relievers who emerged. Cody Eppley wound up sticking in New York, while Ryota Igarashi and Justin Thomas pitched well enough to earn limited big league time. For next year, keep Whitley, Cedeno and Preston Claiborne on your radar (as well as some Double-A relievers who we’ll dig into later in the week).
Associated Press photo of Betances