Yankees extend PDC with Triple-A Scranton through 2018

The Yankees have extended their player development contract with the Triple-A Scranton franchise through 2018, the team announced. The four-year extension is the maximum allowed. “We are excited. When we brought the franchise affiliation here in 2007, we told everyone we were here to stay and we meant business. We couldn’t be in a better place,” said Brian Cashman in a statement.

After a lengthy affiliation with the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees moved their Triple-A franchise to Scranton for the 2007 season and they’ve been there ever since. It’s a win-win relationship. The Bombers get to keep their extra players 90 minutes away and the Scranton franchise gets the marketing and business perks of being associated with the Yankees. Definite no-brainer and the extension was just a formality. There were no rumblings of moving the Triple-A squad elsewhere.


Sorting out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster

Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders' lineup. (Presswire)
Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders’ lineup. (Presswire)

Every offseason I put together a post looking at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster even though it’s almost completely unpredictable. So much can and will change between now and the start of the season that it’s impossible to pin down more than a few spots. At the same time, the Triple-A club is just an extension of the MLB club, so I think it’s important to look at. We’ll see a lot of these guys in the show next summer.

From the looks of it, the Yankees are planning to hold three competitions in Spring Training: one for the fifth starter’s spot, one for the extra infielder, and one for the bullpen in general. That last one will be a bunch of smaller competitions, really. Injuries could open up even more spots, as we learned last year. For now, here’s an early breakdown of who figures to head to Northeast Pennsylvania at the end of camp:

Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Russ Canzler Zoilo Almonte LHP Manny Banuelos RHP Jim Miller
Corban Joseph Slade Heathcott RHP Bruce Billings RHP Mark Montgomery
ZelousĀ  Wheeler Antoan Richardson LHP Nik Turley RHP Y. Tateyama
ST Comp. Loser 1 ST Comp. Loser 1 RHP Chase Whitley
ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 1
Utility Guys
ST Comp. Loser 2
Catchers Ronnie Mustelier ST Comp. Loser 3
J.R. Murphy Jose Pirela
Austin Romine Yangervis Solarte

Barring injury, Frankie Cervelli will back up Brian McCann this summer, leaving Murphy and Romine for Triple-A. Murphy should get playing time priority but they’ll both get plenty of at-bats, including some at DH. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy sees some time at third base, as he has in the past. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the team carried a third catcher (Jose Gil?) if the plan is to regularly DH those guys on the days they aren’t catching. If so, Solarte or Wheeler could wind up with Double-A Trenton or released.

The infield is pretty straight forward. Canzler, Joseph, Pirela, and Wheeler will get an opportunity to win that last bench job with the big league team but they are at a disadvantage for various reasons. Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna seem to have the best chance of winning that spot. The other guys will be there for show. The two losers of that competition (ST Comp. Loser 1 & 2) will wind up with the RailRiders. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Nunez and Anna landing in Triple-A with Sizemore in the big leagues. That’s just a guess though.

The outfield is mostly set. I do believe both Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will return to Trenton to at least start the year. Midseason promotions are always possible, but Austin has to stay healthy and Flores has to hit before moving up becomes a realistic possibility. The biggest outfield wildcard is Almonte, who is the odds on favorite to take over as the MLB team’s extra outfielder should Ichiro Suzuki get traded. If not, he’ll play everyday in Triple-A and await the inevitable call-up due to injury. Mustelier, Solarte, and Pirela are utility men with experience all over the field, so that position player crop features quite a bit of versatility.

Billings was picked up last week to be the team’s veteran innings guy. Every minor league team needs one. That non-prospect you can run out there for 110 pitches every five days just to save the bullpen and lighten the load on the actual prospects. Turley pitched well enough last year to move up from Double-A and Banuelos is finally healthy after missing close to two full years. It’s possible he may start the season down in Tampa with the warm weather, however. The organization could ease him back into things that way, and no, I do not think he has a realistic chance of winning the fifth starter competition. He missed too much time and wasn’t a finished product before blowing out his elbow anyway.

(Tod Shapiro/Flat Iron Hot! News)
Pineda. (Flat Iron Hot! News)

That fifth starter competition will feature David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Michael Pineda. Maybe David Huff as well, though I think he’s more likely to be removed from the 40-man roster in the coming weeks than anything. I think Phelps and Warren have to be considered the favorites in that competition and I expect both to be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. One as a starter and one as a long reliever. That would leave Nuno and Pineda for Triple-A, though Pineda could start the year in Tampa like Banuelos. After two missed years, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him along slowly.

Miller, Montgomery, Whitley, and Yoshinori Tateyama are Triple-A holdovers without much of an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job. Getting passed over in the Rule 5 Draft tells us not a single team thinks Whitley can help at the MLB level right now. Montgomery needs to rebound from his injury-plagued year before getting a chance to become a big league factor. I suspect we’ll see him at some point in 2014, probably in the second half. He just hit a little developmental speed bump, that’s all. The slider is still nasty.

The group of guys expected to compete for a bullpen gig in camp is really long. I count eight pitchers in the running: Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Robert Coello, Matt Daley, Brian Gordon, David Herndon, and Jose Ramirez. We can include Huff in this mix as well, but again, I don’t think he is long for the roster. Realistically, there are three bullpen spots open in Triple-A and three open in MLB behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, and Phelps/Warren. I’d love to see the Yankees sign two starters and push both Phelps and Warren down the depth chart another notch, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Eight pitchers for six spots means two guys are going to be left hanging, but that’s not worth worrying about now. Ramirez could step into the Triple-A rotation if Banuelos and/or Pineda start the year in Tampa and chances are someone will get hurt at some point. There are too many guys listed here to think they’ll all make it through Spring Training healthy. Spots will open in the coming weeks, guaranteed. Others like Danny Burawa (42 walks in 66 Double-A innings in 2013) and Pat Venditte (coming off shoulder surgery) figure to return to Trenton to open the year.

Unlike that fifth starter competition, I’m not sure we can handicap the bullpen competition right now. Betances, Cabral, Claiborne, and Daley may seem like they have a leg up, but Coello was pretty awesome before getting hurt last year and Ramirez could show up in Tampa and blow everyone away. Maybe Claiborne is at the front of the line after logging a decent amount of big league innings last summer, but otherwise I don’t think there’s much of a pecking order in the bullpen. Whoever impresses the most in camp will probably get the job, but either way, I’m willing to bet we’ll see a whole bunch of these guys in 2014.

As I said before, this is just a snapshot of the Triple-A Scranton roster. We learned last year just how much things can change during camp. For now it seems like a good chunk of the RailRiders roster is set aside from those competitions, which are vast and numerous. The Triple-A team is basically a taxi squad for the big league club and that will be especially true for the 2014 Yankees. Those competitions are not limited to Spring Training, remember. Those spots will be revolving doors all summer.

Looking at the Triple-A Scranton roster

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
The backup catcher. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Every year around this time I try to figure out who will be playing where for Triple-A Scranton during the upcoming season. Most years it’s pretty straight forward with the caveat that minor league rosters can change in a hurry, but this season is a little different. The Yankees still have a number of spots open on the big league bench, and the way the team fills those spots will impact the Triple-A roster. Here’s a look at how things are lining up for the club’s top minor league affiliate two months from Opening Day…

Catchers: Austin Romine, Bobby Wilson

This is probably the most straight forward position. Romine will have a chance to make the big league team in Spring Training, but the smart money is on him going back to Triple-A for some much needed playing time. He’s missed an awful lot of development time these last two years due to the persistent back problems. Wilson, who signed a minor league contract earlier this winter, has an even smaller chance of making the big league team and is the obvious choice to backup Romine with Scranton.

Infielders: 3B David Adams, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Addison Maruszak, IF Gil Velazquez

Depending on what the Yankees do with their utility infield position at the big league level, Jayson Nix and/or Eduardo Nunez could factor in here as well. I would expect either of those guys to play everyday in Triple-A if they don’t make the team, presumably relegating Maruszak to the bench.

Adams will inevitably get some time at second base just to remain familiar with the position, but he’ll be the club’s everyday third baseman and likely three-hole hitter. Johnson, who does have a small chance of making the Yankees as a lefty bat off the bench, is a former International League MVP. He’ll probably mix in a handful of games at third base just to stay sharp there as well. Maruszak had a nice year in Double-A last summer and will probably play shortstop everyday, but he’s rough at the position and fits best in a utility role. It’s Triple-A though and he’s more of a prospect than Velazquez.

Outfielders: Abe Almonte, Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, Ronnie Mustelier, Thomas Neal

Neal. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Neal. (Jason Miller/Getty)

As I wrote over the weekend, the outfield picture at the Double-A and Triple-A levels is very crowded and someone is going to lose out on playing time. The DH spot means four of these guys can play everyday — I’m sure they would rotate rather than have a set DH — and I’m guessing Neal is the on the short-end of the playing time stick.

Two catchers, five infielders, and five outfielders gives us a dozen position players total, but remember, they only have 24-man rosters in Triple-A and apparently they carry 25-man rosters these days. Luke Murton, who hit 24 homers for Trenton last season, will likely get squeezed out in the numbers game and have to suit up for the Thunder again could make the team as well. If Nunez or Nix has to spend time in Triple-A, I’m guessing Neal would either get bumped down to Double-A (he played there all of last season) or flat-out released to make room there would be room for just one of Murton and Neal..

Rotation: LHP Shaeffer Hall, RHP Brett Marshall, LHP Vidal Nuno, RHP Adam Warren

This will be Warren’s third year at the Triple-A level while the other three will be getting bumped up from Double-A for the first time. The open spot figures to go to a veteran on a minor league contract, and I listed a handful of potential targets yesterday. Only one of those guys seems like a realistic option though.

Bullpen: RHP Dellin Betances, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Jim Miller, LHP Francisco Rondon, LHP Josh Spence, RHP Chase Whitley

That’s six relievers for what was a nine-man bullpen at times last year. I’m assuming they’ll start the year with the usual seven. RHP Matt Daley did not pitch last year after having shoulder surgery in August 2011, but I don’t know where he is in his rehab. He’s been invited to Spring Training and if he’s healthy, he’ll definitely join these guys in the Triple-A bullpen. RHP David Herndon had Tommy John surgery last June and figures to join the Scranton bullpen at midseason.

There are plenty of other candidates for the Triple-A bullpen, including righties Preston Claiborne, Craig Heyer, Kelvin Perez, Ryan Pope, and Graham Stoneburner. RHP Mark Montgomery made just 15 appearances with the Thunder last summer, so expect him to open the year back in Trenton. He’ll be with Scranton before long, however. If the Yankees don’t sign a scrap heap veteran to fill out the rotation, I suppose Betances could try starting again. That would leave two unoccupied bullpen spots and plenty of spare relievers to choose from.

Yankees No More: They’re the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders now

Via Donnie Collins: The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise has officially changed its nickname from Yankees to RailRiders (one word). The new name and uniforms were unveiled at an event tonight. Here’s the new primary logo.

The Yankees reportedly asked their minor league affiliates to drop the “Yankees” nickname around this time last year, but so far only the Triple-A squad has obliged. Fans were able to vote for the team’s new nickname, and Collins says RailRiders easily won out over Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Porcupines, Trolley Frogs, and Fireflies. Porcupines came in second, hence their inclusion in the logo. Trolley Frogs got hosed, man.