Triple-A Trickledown: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
While 2012 has been and should continue to be a trying year for the Yankees’ Triple-A club, it’s a treat for Syracuse – a city and a state full of Yankee fans gets ten extra chances to see Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in action. The nomadic Yankees, whose home stadium is under renovation throughout the season, will play all 16 games with Syracuse and two extra games with Buffalo here at Alliance Bank Stadium this year. So let’s get to know them a little better…
Catcher: Francisco Cervelli, Gustavo Molina
Cervelli – who gets his third straight start of the series today – has received more cheers in Syracuse than anyone this side of Jim Boeheim. For whatever reason, he’s become a massive fan favorite in the Salt City. Of course, Cervelli would rather be a fan favorite in the Big Apple, and it came as a surprise to see the 26-year-old in Triple-A to start the year. But the Yankees decided to keep veteran backup Chris Stewart – a good handler of pitchers – as Russell Martin’s backup. Cervelli’s an injury away from a promotion, but otherwise, the Yankees will likely keep him with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to get regular at-bats. Meanwhile, Molina’s hitting just .170 to date in 13 games.
First Base: Russell Branyan
A recent signee, Branyan is a classic “three true outcomes” player – walk, strikeout or home run. At 36 years old, Branyan is coming off a season where he played in the majors for the Angels and Diamondbacks, but he likely won’t provide too much value to the Yankees in the major leagues unless Mark Teixeira goes down. However, the Yankees could also fill first base with Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix or Nick Swisher if needed.
Second Base: Corban Joseph
Joseph, a 23-year-old Triple-A rookie and 40-man member, got off to a hot start with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, starting his Triple-A tenure with a 10-game hitting streak. However, he’s just 1 for 19 since. Former Chiefs infielder Matt Antonelli is also here and on the 40-man roster, but he’s currently on the Disabled List with a hand injury. Utility infielder Jayson Nix is serving as Robinson Cano’s backup in the major leagues, although the Yankees don’t have another second base candidate on the roster.
Shortstop: Doug Bernier, Ramiro Pena
Eduardo Nunez, who was having a solid season in the major leagues, was sent down to Triple-A to become a regular shortstop and second baseman once more. However, he’s gone on the DL with a thumb injury, leaving Pena and Bernier to man the position. Both players are slick fielders who are better with the glove than the bat. Again, though, an injury to Nix in the major leagues would force a move – Derek Jeter’s obviously not going anywhere, but Nix is the only other major league shortstop option.
Third Base: Brandon Laird
A 40-man member who made his major league debut last season, Laird is hitting just .236 with three home runs for the Yankees this season. This position is less important for the Yankees in case of an injury, with both Chavez and Nix able to fill in for Alex Rodriguez in a pinch. Laird’s only 24, so he’s likely to be in the Bombers’ plans for quite some time.
Outfield: Colin Curtis, Chris Dickerson, Ronnier Mustelier, Kevin Russo
Mustelier is the most intriguing name of this bunch. He’s a 27-year-old Cuban defector who’s been tearing the cover off the ball, to the tune of a .314/351/.481 slash line in 39 Triple-A games. This year’s just the second for Mustelier with the Yankees after defecting, and he’s shot through the system on a blazing fast track. Manager Joe Girardi’s even stated that the Yankees have had discussions about calling up Mustelier recently, although they’d need to clear a 40-man roster spot for him. The other three outfielders – Curtis (27 years old), Dickerson (28) and Russo (27) – all have some big league experience as well. Russo can play just about any position, while Curtis and Dickerson add speed and good defense. Veteran Dewayne Wise – just 4 for 26 in 31 games – could find himself swapped out for one of the players in this group soon.
Designated Hitter: Jack Cust
Astute readers may note that this is the first time we’ve listed “Designated Hitter” as a position on one of these posts this year. The reason? Cust has played as many innings in the field as you or I this season, unless you are a professional baseball player. Anyway, Cust is doing Jack Cust things, which is to say hitting home runs (13), drawing walks (51) and collecting strikeouts (81). He’s walked, homered or struck out in just about half of his career plate appearances. Maybe you’d see him in the major leagues if regular Yankees DH Raul Ibanez got injured, but otherwise, likely not.
Starting Pitchers: Dellin Betances, John Maine, D.J. Mitchell, Ramon Ortiz, Adam Warren
The next pitcher in line to start for the Yankees would be David Phelps, who was just sent down to Class A Tampa to build up his arm strength – Phelps had been working out of the bullpen for New York this season. Until then, it’s questionable who New York would grab next. Mitchell and Betances are the two 40-man members here, though they sport ERAs of 5.43 and 5.91, respectively. The 39-year-old Ortiz could be an intriguing option – he’s 5-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 11 starts this season.
Relief Pitchers: Jason Bulger, Juan Cedeno, Manny Delcarmen, Nelson Figueroa, Ryota Igarashi, Mike O’Connor, Justin Thomas, Chase Whitley
Even without Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ bullpen is still a strong one, so there likely aren’t many (if any) spots for the team to swap. The standouts here have been a couple of left-handers – Cedeno, a 28-year-old with a 1.99 ERA, and Thomas, another 28-year-old, who sports a 2.45 ERA. Thomas and former Mets right-hander Ryota Igarashi are the only relievers on the 40-man roster here. But look out for 22-year-old Chase Whitley, a 2010 draft pick who’s the first member of that year’s draft class to reach Triple-A. He’s 5-2 with a 3.96 ERA in 21 games, and right-handers are hitting just .179 against him.
Hope to see you at the ballpark tonight, on another gorgeous night for baseball, as the Chiefs and Yankees play their third game in a four-game series. We’re on the air at 6:45 on The Score 1260 with first pitch slated for 7:00.