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Minor League Year in Review: Double-A

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Trenton was back in the Eastern League finals this season. It got there on the strength of one of the league’s better pitching staffs, along with the league’s most powerful offense. The Thunder hit 162 home runs this season. No other Eastern League team hit more than 125, and half of the teams had fewer than 100.

There were a few more standouts on this roster than on the Triple-A roster, especially if you’re among the real believers in David Adams, Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa.

[3]Player of the Year
RF Zoilo Almonte
Got off to a slow start in April, then missed a month with a hamstring injury, but Almonte ultimately built on the strides he made in Tampa in 2011. He hit .277/.322/.487 while playing mostly right field and a little bit of center. He had six homers at the end of June, then his 14 in the next two months. He still strikes out quite a bit and doesn’t walk very often, but there’s some real pop in his bat, and he’s secured a spot on the 40-man. After a strong showing in big league camp last spring, he could get a longer look next time around. There are holes here — and Tyler Austin is right on his heels — but Almonte has resurrected his prospect status at a time when the Yankees outfield is thin.

[4]Pitcher of the Year
RHP Brett Marshall
With apologies to the out-of-nowhere performance by Vidal Nuno, it was Marshall who led the league in wins while finishing top six in innings and strikeouts. The sinkerballer was a sixth-round pick in 2008, underwent Tommy John surgery early in his career, and has finally put together back-to-back seasons of more than 20 starts. The results have been encouraging, and Marshall will surely jump to Triple-A next season with a chance to surpass Adam Warren as the first in line for a spot start or a long relief job in New York. He was the top prospect in a rotation that also featured minor league free agent Nuno — and his 2.45 ERA after a bump up from High-A — and lefty prospect Shaeffer Hall, who led the team in innings with a steady 3.67 ERA.

[5]Breakout player
3B David Adams
It’s been a long wait for Adams, who had an ankle injury in early 2010 and never fully recovered until this season. The Yankees never gave up on him — they added him to the 40-man roster last winter, despite the fact he’d played fewer than 70 games the previous two seasons — and Adams delivered in a big way with a .306/.385/.450 slash line this season. In late July, he was moved from second base to third base, and in the Arizona Fall League he’s been playing both positions. If the bat continues to develop, he could be a legitimate backup plan should Alex Rodriguez continue to decline or Robinson Cano price himself out of the Yankees plans. For now, Adams is one of the more interesting prospects in the upper levels of the system. He’s finally healthy, and he’s producing.

3B/LF Rob Segedin
Aside from Dellin Betances continuing to struggle after his demotion from Triple-A, and Graham Stoneburner’s injury-shortened season, there was no overwhelming, start-to-finish letdown on the Trenton roster. The disappointments that stand out to me are Segedin and J.R. Murphy, two high draft picks who jumped from High-A to Double-A midseason without inspiring results. Murphy never really got rolling this year, but Segedin had been terrific before the promotion. He hit .297/.362/.448 in Tampa, but only .188/.253/.279 with Trenton. He had similar trouble making the jump from Low-A to High-A last season, so maybe a return to Double-A will ease some of those concerns next season, but he’s never hit for much power considering he’s limited to the four corners.

[7]Prospect watch
CF Melky Mesa
By the end of the year, guys like Mark Montgomery, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores were adding some prospect muscle to the Trenton roster, but their seasons were more clearly defined in the lower levels. The one true Trenton prospect who made it all the way to New York this season was Mesa, the toolsy center fielder who has the arm, glove, power and speed to be a legitimate big league outfielder. Question is, can he make enough contact to be a viable player? Mesa hit 23 home runs this year, the second-most in the minor league system, nine of which came in a month in Triple-A. In Trenton, he struck out 75 times in 88 games, but he also hit .277/.344/.464. He’s actually cut down on the strikeouts, which is a positive sign, and there’s enough athleticism to dream about what he could be if he put it all together.

[8]Odds and ends
No clue what to make of it, but Addison Maruszak really emerged with a standout season as Trenton’s regular shortstop. Before this, he’d always seemed like a kind of organizational utility man, but this season Maruszak hit .276/.330/.457 while spending time at every infield position and eventually settling in as Trenton’s regular at short. He’ll have to repeat those results to really secure a spot on the radar, but his was an unexpectedly intriguing season. … Along those same lines, utility man Jose Pirela bounced back from a rough 2011, moved away from shortstop, and hit .293/.356/.448 while playing mostly second base and left field. … The minor league system’s home run leader was Trenton first baseman Luke Murton, who hit 25. … The Yankees have already re-signed speedy outfielder Abe Almonte, who’s still clinging to a little bit of prospect status after hitting .276/.350/.392 and leading the organization with 32 steals. … Following a promotion from Tampa, top relief prospect Mark Montgomery had 38 strikeouts and six walks in 24 innings with Trenton. … For most of the year, the standout in the Trenton bullpen was Kelvin Perez, who allowed 47 hits through 71.1 innings.

Big picture

Combine this group with the guys likely to repeat Triple-A next season, and the 2013 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster could be loaded with intriguing young players who could legitimately help in the big leagues if an opportunity presents itself. The bigger prospects are still a step or two lower, but there are some potentially helpful players on the verge in the Yankees organization.

What’s surprising is how quickly the starting pitching depth has taken a hit. That seemed to be an overwhelming strength when this season started, but now upper-level rotation depth thins out quickly after Marshall and Warren. There are some interesting bullpen arms rising quickly, but the setbacks to Betances and Manny Banuelos have really hurt.

The important thing to take from Trenton’s season might be the development of guys like Almonte and Adams, and the late-season arival of Austin and Montgomery.

Associated Press photo of Mesa