Charleston RiverDogs Season In Review

The Charleston RiverDogs had a pretty solid season in 2014, finishing the year with a 71-69 record and third place in their division, despite being 19 games out of first place. We take a look at where was the team's greatest depth, which prospects stood out, which ones could be 'sleeper' prospects down the road, and more.

Ironically, despite having one of their best players in the first half of the season [Aaron Judge], the RiverDogs actually fared better in the second half, finishing six games above .500 compared to the four games below .500 they played before the All Star break. A very young team, they began the season going just 3-7 and finished out the first half on a season-high eight game losing streak.

Pitching-wise they finished did better than most teams, finishing second in the 16-team league in strikeouts with 1,140 [just six behind the overall leader], allowing the third least amount of hits [1,159], and finishing fourth in ERA [3.66] and tied for fifth in WHIP ratio [1.31].

Offensively, they finished in the upper half of the league in most categories too, ranking third in stolen bases [159], fifth in home runs [91], sixth in OPS [.718] and runs scored [653], and seventh in total bases [1,763] and batting average [.257].

The Greatest Depth

While their league rankings in various offensive and pitching categories would suggest more depth on the mound, the fact is the greatest depth was among their position prospects by season's end.

Top Position Prospects

While Aaron Judge certainly would make the list here had he not been promoted to Tampa [spoiler alert -- he'll be among the top position prospects for the Tampa Yankees Season In Review], outside of him the team boasted two other top position prospects in the form of third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstop Abiatal Avelino.

Andujar struggled initially in not only his first taste of the long-season leagues but also his first extended experience playing under the lights consistently, hitting just .212 in the first half with a .601 OPS. He made the adjustment as the year went on in a big way, however, hitting .319 in the second half with an .822 OPS, including a .321 average in his final 27 games.

An above average defender at third with room to get even better, he has shown the ability to be a consistent run producer and the power, already average, has long-term above average or better potential too. He has the chance to be a viable two-way player down the road for the Yankees.

While Andujar had numbers to prove his worthiness as a top prospect, Avelino did not. He struggled with a quad injury most of the season and was limited to just 220 at-bats as a result. He looked every bit of being a top prospect before the injury, however, hitting .295 with a solid .735 OPS while playing smooth defense, but struggled after his return, hitting just .158 after the injury.

When healthy he brings a solid overall game, including a knack for consistent hitting, good speed on the base paths, and the ability to make most plays in the field. While he doesn't project to be as dynamic an offensive player as Andujar, he still has the type of game that could move pretty quickly through the minor leagues should he remain healthy.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

The biggest 'sleeper' prospect is also a shortstop -- Tyler Wade. Drafted out of high school just a year ago, he had one of the more underrated seasons in the Yankee farm system this year, hitting a respectable .272 with 24 doubles and 22 stolen bases. Like Avelino there's not a whole lot of long-term power potential [Avelino in fact has a bit more] and that will allow him to continue to fly under the radar, but it is virtually the only weakness in his game. He shows the kind of rare consistency with the bat and in the field that screams 'sleeper' prospect, and he can also play a very solid second base as well so he brings some versatility too.

Outfielder Dustin Folwer, also drafted out of high school last year, had an underrated season of his own after beginning the year in Extended Spring Training. He hit .257 with nine home runs in essentially his debut season this year and showed good contact hitting ability [he struck out just 53 times in 66 games]. He still has to learn to draw a few more walks and he's more of an average defensive centerfielder, but there's some long-term above average or better power potential, especially to the pull side, and a lot of ceiling left to be tapped. A little more consistency in the other areas of his game and he could wind up being one of the top prospects someday.

Numbers-wise it wasn't the kind of year he or the Yankees were expecting, but Gosuke Katoh, another player drafted out of high school last year, still brings a lot of tools that folks shouldn't underestimate. He hit just .222 with a whopping 142 strikeouts this year, but got better as the year went on, hitting .251 in the second half after just a .191 average before the All Star break. He finished second in the entire league in walks [71] and is still learning to balance being patient and when to be aggressive earlier in counts. A solid defensive player, he has work to do offensively, including shortening up his swing some, but he should not be overlooked as a potential long-term option.

If you're looking for a deep 'REM sleeper' prospect, outfielder Michael O'Neill certainly fits the bill. He hit ten home runs and stole 42 bases, and shows a good combination of average power and above average speed that could allow him to blossom into one of the better position prospects, but, already 22 years old, he's going to have to prove it against competition closer to his own age first. He'll also need to cut down on the strikeouts [133 in 129 games] but there's enough innate ability here that he could sneak up on folks in the coming years.

Not Just Yet

Catcher Eduardo De Oleo, despite splitting time behind the plate this season, wound up leading the team in home runs this year with twelve. He clubbed them in just 271 at-bats too but only hit .214. His power surge was rather surprising too so he is going to have to prove it wasn't a fluke. If he can do that, cut down on the swing and miss [71 strikeouts in those 271 at-bats], and continue to improve his rather average defensive game, he could find his place among the better catching prospects in the farm system but he is 21 years old already and had not shown any success prior to this season.

Top Pitching Prospects

The Charleston pitching staff had some real noteworthy prospects run through the level this year, including Brady Lail, Caleb Smith, Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, and others, but all were promoted before the end of the season, leaving really one pitcher among the top prospects that was there until the last couple of the weeks of the season; Ian Clarkin.

Clarkin, last year's first round pick out of high school, had a phenomenal first full season, posting a solid 3.21 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 70 innings after beginning the year in Extended Spring Training. He shows three above average to plus big league pitches already, the command continues to get better as he matures, and the overall pitch-ability is very advanced for a 19-year old. He is clearly head and shoulders above the other pitching prospects from the squad.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

The Charleston squad sports a quartet of legitimate 'sleeper' prospects outside of the ones that got promoted to Tampa [Philip Walby for example]; Chaz Hebert, Justin Kamplain, Conor Mullee, and Angel Rincon.

Hebert actually pitched a few games in Tampa in spot start situations from Extended Spring Training but wound up pitching the bulk of his season in Charleston, and posted a solid 2.49 ERA and allowed less hits than innings pitched in 15 appearances. Like Clarkin, this southpaw already boasts three big league pitches but his are closer to average. He has slowly gotten better over the years so his progress has been steady. He still needs to cut down on the walks a bit but he pitched as a 21-year old this past year and is beginning to gain some momentum.

Kamplain, another lefty, was drafted in the 18th round out of the University of Alabama this year and finished his debut season not only ascending to the low-A level but pitching quite well there, posting a 2.78 ERA in six starts with nearly a strikeout per inning pitched. He's an atypical crafty southpaw in that he can sit in the low-90s for long stretches and still has the above average or better secondary pitches and overall high level of pitch-ability to keep hitters guessing. There could be a Daniel Camarena-like minor league ascension here and that makes him a legitimate 'sleeper' candidate.

Mullee was a former college position prospect who was drafted as a pitcher and initially found a lot of success on the mound, but then succumbed to a total of three separate elbow surgeries that derailed his career. He made his way back in 2014, however, and did quite well upon his return, including posting a 0.54 ERA for the RiverDogs in seven appearances. His fastball isn't fully back to the mid-90s like it was before the surgery, but the slider and changeup are ions better than they were before and his velocity is creeping back up, sitting mostly in the 90-93 mph range. At 26 years old he will surely be overlooked by many but his stuff is already above average and there's the potential for more as he gets further away from his surgeries. Keep an eye on him.

Rincon was once considered one of the better young pitching prospects at one point but seemingly could never bring all three pitches that flashed plus potential into the same game. He still hasn't really done that yet but it's getting oh-so close. He pitched to a 3.01 ERA this year, mostly in middle relief, and he's learning to actually pitch by hitting spots rather than trying to blow fastballs by hitters. He is already Rule 5 eligible so he might not be long for the Yankees going forward given their impending roster constraints on the minor league side, but he is a guy who could sneak up on folks if his game continues to track upward.

Not Just Yet

Right-hander Rookie Davis was considered one of the top pitching prospects entering the season and did not fare particularly well in his first extended taste of the long-season leagues this year, posting just a 4.93 ERA in 27 games [25 starts] for the RiverDogs. The velocity was just fine, sitting mostly 92-95 mph, and physically he reported to camp this year in fantastic shape. However, his secondary pitches, which had been getting better in previous years, not only didn't improve this year but they regressed. He'll need to get those back soon in order for batters to lay off of his fastball. Should he get the curveball and changeup going again though, he could easily find his way back not only to 'sleeper' status but perhaps even one of the top pitching prospects again.

The same can be said for right-hander Gabe Encinas, albeit for completely different reasons. He missed most of the 2013 season with Tommy John surgery and made his way back rather quickly this year, but posted just a 5.81 ERA in eleven starts for Charleston. Like Davis, it's the lackluster secondary pitches that did him in statistically and the overall command that was lacking upon his return. They say command is the last thing to come back from surgery, however, so there's still some promise with this 22-year old. He just needs to prove it more on the mound.

Left-hander Evan Rutckyj, always noted for his plus arm from the left side and overall high ceiling, continues to flash signs of his top-shelf status but has yet to put it all together. He began the season in high-A Tampa and struggled there [15 walks in 12 innings] before getting sent back down to low-A Charleston. He pitched better for the RiverDogs, posting a 3.86 ERA and correcting some of his wild tendencies, but, now 22 years old, he needs to start producing better results. He can't be written off given his power arm from the left side but the consistency needs to improve.

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