Scranton RailRiders Season In Review

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders had a disappointing regular season overall in 2014, finishing the year in fifth place in their division with a 68-76 record, 13.5 games out of first place. They still had some very good prospects, however. 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.

The Team

Just like the Trenton Thunder this year, Scranton's poor home record was a big reason for the disappointing season. In fact, only two teams in the entire International League won fewer home games than the RailRiders, going just 35-37 at PNC Field. Uncharacteristic of most losing teams, they didn't really have a notably long losing streak over the course of the season, however. Their longest losing streak of the season was just five games, a feat they accomplished just twice; once from June 10-15 and the other from August 4-9. Conversely though, their season long winning streak was just six games, a feat they also accomplished twice: May 4-9 and July 20-24.

Pitching-wise, despite finishing a respectable sixth in strikeouts [1,087], they finished ninth in the 14-team league in ERA [4.27], 12th in WHIP ratio [1.48], and walked the fifth most batters of any team in the league [508].

Offensively they were mostly above league average, leading the International League in batting [.273], finishing second in total bases [1,997], third in OPS [.750], and fifth in both home runs [113] and runs scored [642].

The Greatest Depth

As bad a season as the team pitching numbers were in 2014, the disparity between actual pitching prospects and hitting prospects is not as wide as one might think. In fact, the Yankees have a bit more depth among their pitching prospects.

Top Pitching Prospects

Hidden behind the not-so-great overall pitching statistics are three really high-end arms. The problem for Scranton in 2014, however, is that their three best pitching prospects combined to toss a mere 70.2 innings for them this year, with right-hander Bryan Mitchell being the lone starting pitching prospect and he began the season in Double-A Trenton. Known more for his plus stuff than actual on the field results coming up through the minor leagues, Mitchell, whose fastball will range anywhere from 95 mph-plus and throws a plus curveball and a quickly advancing above average cutter in the 93 mph range, posted just a combined 4.37 ERA between the two highest minor league levels this year. However, he has gotten better the higher he has climbed, posting a respectable 3.67 ERA in Triple-A before getting his feet wet at the big league level with a 2.45 ERA in three appearances. He has both frontline starting stuff and the kind of power game that could also be beneficial to the back-end of a big league bullpen too if the Yankees chose to go that route.

Right-hander Jose Ramirez can be equally as electric on the mound. The former starting pitcher now turned reliever will sit anywhere from 94-98 mph with his fastball and boasts one of the truly best changeups in the game. His slider remains an inconsistent weapon for him though despite flashing plus potential on any given day and health-wise he hasn't been able to stay on the mound in recent seasons. If he's healthy though he can be very Dellin Betances-like as a bullpen force -- it's really the only thing preventing him from being a stud reliever.

Nick Rumbelow, another right-handed reliever, actually began the season all the way down in low-A ball before cruising his way up to Triple-A by season's end. Like Ramirez, he displays overpowering stuff out of the bullpen, sitting mostly 92-94 mph with a sneaky-quick fastball, one which will hit 97 mph routinely, and he boasts a big time David Robertson-like curveball too. He struck out 81 batters in just 58-innings plus this season and is now on the short list of potential in-house bullpen candidates for the big league club next season.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

There's a bit of a dropoff in either stuff or production after the aforementioned three but the Scranton staff still hosts a quartet of potential 'sleeper' pitching prospects that can absolutely not only find their way to the big leagues but be very productive. And just like in the top pitching prospects category, there's really only one starter among the 'sleepers' and that's left-hander Matt Tracy. The former 24th round pick was an outfielder in college but has made a steady transition to the mound since his 2011 selection, just like current Yankee pitcher Chase Whitley. Stuff-wise he is more than adequate, sitting mostly 91-94 mph with his fastball, showing an average big league curveball, an average changeup, and a relatively new cutter that gives him a nice big league mix. He's not a big strikeout pitcher [just 89 K's in 151 innings this year] but he can pitch deep into games, keep his team in games, and log a lot of innings. He could slide in nicely as a back-end of the rotation big league starting pitcher.

Outside of Tracy the RailRiders staff have a trio of relievers that could wind up being viable and potentially impact pitchers at the big league level; right-handers Branden Pinder and Danny Burawa, and left-hander Tyler Webb. Arm-wise, neither Pinder nor Burawa take a backseat to anyone. Pinder will sit anywhere from 92-97 mph with his fastball and Burawa, who throws primarily sinking fastballs, will range anywhere from 95-100 mph. However, both have had issues throwing strikes consistently in the past and both have secondary pitches that flash plus potential but neither are consistent weapons yet. Neither are big league ready quite yet but both are getting real close.

Webb, last year's tenth round pick out of the University of South Carolina, isn't exactly on the same level as Pinder and Burawa arm-wise. He'll sit mostly in the 90-94 mph range with his fastball but it gets such good tailing action that it can be deceptively quick. He is also a lot more advanced commanding his fastball and he has three quality secondary pitches he can throw for strikes as well. He has a starter's repertoire out of the bullpen and that makes him difficult to hit against because it's a guessing game as to which pitch he'll throw. All he did in his first full season this year is strike out 94 batters in 68.2 innings and ascend his way over three minor league levels all the way to Triple-A. He might not be a back-end reliever someday but he could slide in nicely as a consistent seventh inning guy, one who won't be relegated to merely only getting lefties out either.

Not Just Yet

Scranton has a few other relievers who are not quite yet ready for prime time but can't be written off just yet either. Right-handers Mark Montgomery and Zach Nuding each bring something different to the table. Montgomery has one of the most devastating sliders in the game, so much so that the one pitch alone could get him to the big leagues, but his fastball velocity has fallen down to the big league average range [88-90 mph] the past two years. If he can just creep that back up a couple of ticks and get back to averaging 90-92 mph, it may just be enough to be an impact middle reliever or setup man.

Velocity is not Zach Nuding's problem. In fact, he's is nearly the polar opposite of Montgomery. Nuding will sit anywhere from 92-95 mph and even has topped out at 98 mph in short-inning relief stints before, but his secondary pitches are somewhat pedestrian. He's been working as a starting pitcher over the years to perfect his secondary pitches but, now Rule 5 Draft eligible, if he sticks with the Yankees it may be time to let him loose on the bullpen in more of a grip it and rip it fashion to see if things begin to click more.

On the other side of the spectrum is switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. He doesn't throw hard at all, sitting mostly 88 mph as a right-hander and about 85-86 mph as a left-hander, but he has a frisbee-like breaking ball from both sides that has allowed him to have some minor league success [career 2.46 ERA in 242 appearances]. There isn't a whole lot of upside but he very well may carve out a solid middle relief role for himself given his unique attributes.

Top Position Prospects

The Yankees' Triple-A affiliate over the years has mostly been a home for minor league free agent position players than actual prospects but the Scranton squad is starting to get a few more actual prospects on their roster recently, including the likes of second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, and outfielder Ramon Flores in 2014.

There arguably wasn't a better and more consistent position player from the Yankees' farm system this year than Rob Refsnyder. The former College World Series MVP began his year in Double-A Trenton and tore up the Eastern League to the tune of a .342 average and .933 OPS in 60 games. It was going to be hard to match that kind of production once he got promoted to Triple-A but he came close, hitting an even .300 with an .845 OPS in 77 games for the RailRiders. He is extremely short to the baseball, hits to all fields, had plus plate discipline and pitch recognition, and burgeoning average or better big league power. Throw in a non-stop motor, makeup off the charts, and a quickly advancing defensive game, he has become the complete package at second base for the Yankees.

Like Refsnyder, Pirela had not really been considered one of the elite position prospects for the Yankees over the years mostly due to his speed-power combination being more average than plus. But like Refsnyder, Pirela's entire game blends well together due to great makeup, an all-out hustle style of play, and an ability to consistently give good at-bats. He offers a bit more defensive versatility, however, so while the upside might be just a tick below that of Refsnyder he does fit into the Yankees' long-term plans.

Ramon Flores absolutely fits into the Refsnyder-Pirela category as somebody whose average or slightly better tools has pretty much relegated him to 'sleeper' status coming up through the minor leagues but whose overall consistent hitting ability has allowed the tools to play a level higher and now that he's approaching being big league ready has become more of a top prospect. He hit just .247 this past season with seven home runs but missed nearly three months of action due to injury. Don't let his DL stint lull you to sleep, the kid can flat out rake and the power has been developing as he matures. Still just 22 years old, a little more Triple-A seasoning and he could be ready for the big league club soon, perhaps at some point next season.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

There's really only two 'sleeper' candidates among the hitters from the Scranton squad this year; first baseman Kyle Roller and outfielder Taylor Dugas.

Production-wise, Roller, a former eighth round pick back in 2010, has been playing more and more like a top prospect in recent years, especially after hitting a combined .300 with 26 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. He has above average power to all fields and it shows plus potential when he pulls the ball. In fact, with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium he could potentially hit some mammoth shots if given the opportunity. The problem he runs into is whether or not he gets that opportunity in Pinstripes. He'll turn 27 years old before the 2015 season begins and with Mark Teixeira under contract for a couple of more years combined with hard-charging Greg Bird coming up behind him, it may be difficult for the Yankees to find room for him on the roster. He'll get a chance with somebody at some point though, and it would not be surprising to see him to have a Mike Jacobs-like career or even a Lucas Duda-like impact in somebody's lineup.

Dugas, the all-time hits leader from the University of Alabama, is completely on the opposite side of the spectrum. He has very little power and his diminutive size [5-foot-9, 180 pounds] doesn't offer up much ceiling. However, the left-handed batter can flat-out rake! He boasts a career .295 batting average and his plate discipline is off the charts, walking 29 more times than he has struck out in his 283 career minor league games. He doesn't offer much speed either so the tools package might not scream impact player, but somebody with his hitting ability and solid defensive game will find a big league home somewhere.

Not Just Yet

Outfielder Adonis Garcia is a little Dugas-like in that he can be a very consistent hitter [.286 career average]. In fact, he batted .319 for the RailRiders in 2014. He's not quite the same versatile defender in the outfield, however. He's a better option in the corners than in centerfield due to his lack of above average speed. He doesn't offer much in the way of power either so there are better options out there. Throw in the fact that the Cuban defector will turn 30 years old at the beginning of the 2015 season, there isn't a whole lot of upside here. He is what he is, a solid player who can serve as helpful backup option if other options are exhausted.


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