The Yankee Farm: Opening Day Outlook

Baseball season has already returned to the biggest stage as the MLB teams are back in action, but Thursday begins the new 2004 season in the Yankee Farm System. All four of the Yankee full season league teams will be back on the field including the Columbus Clippers, Trenton Thunder, Tampa Yankees and Battle Creek Yankees. Let's take a look now at what to expect and what to look for on Opening Day on the Yankee farm.

Columbus Clippers. Like all of the affiliated full season Yankee farm teams, the Columbus Clippers open their season on Thursday and on the mound for them will be LHP Alex Graman. The 27 year old Graman is coming off an up and down 2003 season and is looking to have a bounce back year to retain the top prospect status that he once possessed. The Clippers have much more of a veteran look, as far as minor league standards are concerned, for the 2004 season. With new faces such as Jeff Deardorff at first base who is still only 25, 34 year old Darren Bragg and 33 year old Mike Kelly as possible suitors for starting outfield spots. But, at this point it seems that two of these spots will likely be taken by young players like Mike Vento and John Rodriguez. Catching Graman on opening day will likely be 26 year old minor league free agent pick up Steve Torrealba who will be backed up by veteran Sal Fasano and David Parrish. To round out the opening day infield, revitalized Homer Bush should be patrolling 2b with his double play partner probably being Felix Escalona. At third base, sweet swinging Brian Myrow seems to have a handle on the full time duties.

Trenton Thunder. To bring in the 2004 season, LHP Matt Smith will be on the mound for the Thunder even after overcoming elbow surgery last year. Pitching is hoped to become more of a strength for this Trenton team rather than the weakness it was in 2003. Last year, the staff greatly underachieved and the rest of the staff tat will consist of Javier Ortiz, Sean Henn, Chien-ming Wang, and Rik Currier. Each one of these pitchers has the potential to be a part of a very solid rotation. On the receiving end of these pitchers will be number one Yankee prospect, 20 year old catcher Dioner Navarro who will easily take the starting job ahead of Omar Fuentes and Sandy Madera. It is fairly obvious as to what the infield defensive alignment will look like at this point. Aaron Rifkin seems to be a shoe in for 1b, top 10 prospect Robinson Cano at 2b, Ferdin Tejada at SS and newly acquired J.T. Stotts at 3b. In the outfield, all three spots will most likely be up for grabs unless top prospects such as Melky Cabrera should move up later in the year. Right now, Jake Weber, Jason Grove, Jackson Melian and Mitch Jones will all compete for the three outfield positions.

Tampa Yankees. The starting rotation for the Tampa Yankee could constantly be changing this season but to start out it will consist of Jose Valdez, Jon Skaggs, Matt DeSalvo, Mark Phillips and Jeremy King. That will be the rotation that the team goes with early in the season followed up by an excellent bullpen. Matt Brumit, Charlie Isaacson, Juan DeLeon and Ben Julianel will anchor this pen for at least a good portion of the season ad cod be very important in the success of the team. At the catching position, Tampa will be well set with Jon-Mark Sprowl who will be backed up by Manuel Mejia and Doug Boone. In the infield, Jayson Drobiak should get the first or third base job following his monster 2003 season. Gabe Lopez seems to have the upper hand on the 2b job, while Jared Koutnik and Deivi Mendez could split time at SS. The 3b position is up for grabs at this point, depending on whether Bronson Sardinha sticks to outfield or not. Speaking of outfield, Rudy Guillen and Matt Carson are firmly entrenched at the corner spots while Tommy Winrow seems to be the leading candidate in center.

Battle Creek Yankees. The Battle Creek pitching staff may have a lot of "maybes" in it come opening day but it still could easily turn out to be very effective. LHP Chase Wright will be on the mound on opening day followed by T.J. Beam, Josh Smith, Abel Gomez, and Tyler Clippard. If all goes well, the ball club seems to have a solid staff. The catching job seems to be up for grabs throughout the year with the candidates as Omir Santos, Luis Robles and Tommy Rojas. As for the whole infield, it will be a very good one. Hector Made will be at SS while Rafael Rodriguez will play second and Eric Duncan at 3rd. In all likelihood, John Urick will play first. To cap off an apparently excellent ball club, this team seems to have a fantastic outfield. Melky Cabrera will probably be in center surrounded by Estee Harris and Erold Andrus at the corner spots. Out of all the Yankee farm team, this team may very well have the most talent in a very close comparison with the Trenton Thunder.


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