A large number of prospects changed hands this past off-season as teams jumped at the opportunities to acquire some promising young stars. Some of those prospects have a good chance to one day make their former teams regret sending them packing. Let’s have a look at a few of them:
1. Jose Campos, RHP: Sophomore right-hander Michael Pineda was the key target in the swap with Seattle that sent rookie catcher Jesus Montero west but Campos, 19 years old and ready for low-A ball, could really swing this trade in New York’s favor if he develops as hoped. The prospect is still a long way away from reaching his potential but he has the stuff to develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. He’s definitely not the type of arm you usually get as a throw-in to a deal and the Yankees organization has a strong history of player development. Montero is the type of player that you don’t mind giving up a lot of value for (assuming he also reaches his potential) but the loss of two top starters could really end up stinging (even more than the likes of Jose Cruz Jr., Chris Tillman/Adam Jones, Brandon Morrow).
One of the more interesting stories in the minors this season will be the Triple-A starting rotation.
David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances all could begin the year as starters. Manny and Dellin represent high ceiling talents still a year or so away from contributing to the major league team. Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell are already considered major league ready, but have lower ceilings than their counterparts. It’s looking like one of those three will end up as the long reliever for the New York Yankees this season. In their place, Andy Pettitte will likely start off in Triple-A. Andy is a known quantity so I won’t talk about him today. The three of them all profile as back end starters who are already close to reaching that ceiling, or else they will have a chance to contribute as bullpen arms.
David Phelps, RHP: The 6-foot-2, 200-pound, 25 year old has already proven all he can prove in the minors. He started in Staten Island in 2008 and moved up two levels every season since then. Now he’s spent considerable time in Triple-A, where he owns a miniscule 3.14 ERA and has struck out 147 batters in 177.2 IP. He’s only walked 39 during that time.
Phelps is undoubtedly a control pitcher, with a low 90′s sinking fastball and a four-seamer that can reach 95 mph. His best pitch is his power slider, which is mid-80′s with solid break. He also has a decent curveball which has developed over time. His best tool is his aggressiveness. He projects as back end starter. While he doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, he definitely has what it takes to succeed in that role.
Adam Warren, RHP: He’s a very similar pitcher to Phelps. At 6-foot-2, 225-pounds, he’s had a similar course, except that he skipped over Charleston after Short Season-A and is only 24. He has one season under his belt in Triple-A, where he posted a 3.6 ERA over 152.1 IP. His SO/9 was a career low 6.6, and his BB/9 was a career high 3.1, but he had a successful first season. At one point last season, he was next in line for a promotion.
Another control pitcher with a sinking fastball in the low 90′s and a four seamer that reaches 96 mph, Warren is a gamer who really goes after hitters. He has more pitches than Phelps. He throws a power slider, a curve ball, and a changeup, all of which he locates in any count. The projection may sound familiar, a back end starter who has the tools to kill it in that role, but could end up in the bullpen.
DJ Mitchell, RHP: Mitchell will be 25 for most of 2012, as he shares my birthday on May 13, exactly one year younger. He’s listed at just 6-foot-0, and 160-pounds, but he’s been as effective as anyone in Triple-A so far. Last season he pitched to a 3.18 ERA, with an SO/9 of just 6.2, but a BB/9 of just 1.78. He had 13 wins on the season, and was the most consistent pitcher at this level.
As you can tell by the low BB/9, Mitchell is a control pitcher. Velocity is not Mitchell’s strong suit, as he stays close to 90 mph with his fastball. He is so effective at such low velocity because the movement is stellar. It breaks in on righties and away from lefties, keeping their eye off the ball. Mitchell really excels with his secondary offerings. He throws a changeup that is devastating to hitters, and a 12-6 curve ball that is also a strikeout pitch. The ceiling is similar to Phelps and Warren. He is more likely than the aforementioned to go to the bullpen. There have been comparisons to Cory Wade, which may end up being pretty accurate.
Manny Banuelos, LHP: At 5-foot-11, ManBan is the shortest starter. Normally that would predispose a player to injury, but Banuelos’ solid 200-pound frame and easy motion make it unlikely. In 2011, the stats were not as impressive as hoped. He struggled with control, and Banuelos ended up with a 3.75 ERA over two levels (Double-A and Triple-A). His SO/9 (8.7) also declined from 2010, but not by much. For a 20 year old in Triple-A, that’s not too bad. His BB/9 was 4.9, which is too high, but there is hope that he can regain that control and improve his performance.
Widely seen as the best prospect in the system, Banuelos has the ceiling of a future number one or two. His velocity increased to mid-90′s (toppin out at 97 mph) during the 2010 season. The same increase that saw his prospect status skyrocket also caused his once pinpoint control to falter. His best pitch is probably his changeup. The delivery is the same as the fastball, and the fade is good enough to strike major league hitters out already. He throws an excellent curve ball that is another strikeout pitch. The big news out of camp this year is that he has started using a cutter. Maybe Andy Pettitte can teach him a thing or two while he’s in the minors this year.
Dellin Betances, RHP: Betances is the biggest and tallest player on this list, at 6-foot-8, 260-pounds. Betances is seen as the second best prospect in the system by some. He has yet to shake the belief that he may end up a late inning reliever, mostly because of control issues. He sported a 3.7 ERA last season, but struggled mightily during a short stint in Triple-A (5.14 ERA in 21 IP). His SO/9 remained impressive at 10.1, but his BB/9 rose to 5.0.
Betances throws a mid to upper 90s fastball with great extension that misses tons of bats. He throws a good changeup and curve ball, but has struggled to control them. Despite this, he still has as high of a ceiling as anyone. If he can learn to locate, he is a front end starter. If not, he could easily end up in a relief role, or worse.
It would be difficult to find a Triple-A rotation as talented as the Empire State Yankees. They have high ceiling talent, polish, and experience. All five potential starters have abilities that could bring them to a major league rotation someday. Given the depth at pitching for the Yankees this season, it will be interesting to see what the front office decides to do with these five players.
By Mike AxisaLast week I asked you to vote for this season’s Prospect Watch, and nearly 3,300 responses later, we have our answer. Low-A Charleston center fielder Mason Williams received 31% of the vote and will have his season tracked and highlighted in our sidebar. Last year’s Prospect Watch prospect — Manny Banuelos — finished second with 27%. Gary Sanchez was a distant third at 17%.
Williams, 20, hit .349/.395/.468 with 28 steals in 298 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island in 2011. I ranked him as the club’s second best prospect before the start of Spring Training while Keith Law (#34), Baseball America (#85), and Kevin Goldstein (#99) all consider him one of the game’s 100 best prospects. Williams is a contact-oriented speed guy, so I wouldn’t expect a ton of homers this summer. Double-digits would be a pleasant surprise. The minor league season starts tonight, and I think we’re all hoping Mason raises some hell right away.
4. Low Class A Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic League/Yankees) The RiverDogs have two Top 100 Prospects in C Gary Sanchez (No. 81), who is repeating this level, and OF Mason Williams (No. 85). If we ranked the top 200 prospects in the game, they'd have several more additions as 3B Dante Bichette Jr. and RHP Jose Campos both have the potential to make the 2013 Top 100. Charleston also features the Yankees' first two picks from the 2010 draft, SS Cito Culver and 2B Angelo Gumbs.
2012 forecast: Had he not been injured in 2010, it’s very possible that Almonte would have been on the Thunder last year. Instead, after playing in just 15 games two seasons ago, he played in 131 last season with High-A Tampa. Almonte will provide some much-needed speed for Trenton; he has no fewer than 29 steals in his last three full seasons. He primarily plays in center field.
49 Zoilo Almonte S/R, 6-0, 205, 22 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .251/3/23. Tampa; .293/12/54
2012 forecast: This is the Almonte that everyone will be watching. Zoilo Almonte, who mostly played in right field last season, made a big impression in Yankees camp and is considered to be the best position player prospect on the team. If he can put together the kind of season he had with Tampa last season, he could very well be playing in Triple-A by the end of the year. For now, however, he’ll work on mastering Double-A, where he struggled at times last year.
8 Dan Brewer R/R, 5-11, 195, 24 y/o
2011 stats: Scranton; .278/0/9
2012 forecast: Brewer would probably be in Triple-A in most other organizations, but much like Ryan Pope, is forced out because of a numbers game. His fate, however, was better than Austin Krum or DeAngelo mack, both of whom were released earlier this spring. It could be quite tough for him to find playing time with the Almonte’s and Melky Mesa in the fold, however.
44 Cody Johnson L/R, 6-4, 240, 23 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .226/15/45. Tampa; .328/6/22
2012 forecast: Johnson can be a difference maker for the Thunder if he truly has changed his approach from last season. The slash line needs to go up, and the strikeouts need to go way, way, way down this season. Not only for the team, but for his future in the organization. Johnson is just 23 years old and is a former first rounder…there’s a reason for the latter. But he’s running out of time to put it all together.
29 Melky Mesa R/R, 6-1, 190, 25 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .251/9/46
2012 forecast: Mesa, like Zoilo Almonte, is on the Yankees 40-man roster. But that spot could be tedious if he has another average year. A toolsy 25-year-old, Mesa battled through injuries and inconsistency to put together a decent first season in Double-A, but really needs to show that he’s progressed in 2012. Mesa’s arm may very well be his biggest attribute, but he’ll need to utilize his bat and his legs more to continue to earn his spot.
2012 forecast: Adams will likely be the most scrutinized player on the Thunder this season. Well, perhaps moreso his right ankle, anyway. Once a highly touted infield prospect, Adams’ career was sidetracked in May of 2012 when he suffered a chip fracture in the aforementioned extremity. The extent injury was believed to kill a Jesus Montero deal (remember that guy?) at the time, but more importantly, but Adams’ future in doubt. Fast forward about two years, and he’s back in the home clubhouse at Waterfront Park, ready to prove that he’s still the same player, if not better. The Yankees seem to believe in him, as they placed him on their 40-man roster this off-season. But only time will tell if he can hold up as the team’s every day second baseman. And if he does, if he’ll be as good as he was in 2010.
25 Walter Ibarra S/R, 5-11, 175, 24 y/o
2011 stats: Tampa; .297/6/52
2012 forecast: Remember when Walter Ibarra was on the Trenton Thunder? It was all the way back in 2008, and even as a 20-year-old, he performed pretty well. Ibarra played second, third and short for Trenton and hit .268 in 18 games. He was a fill-in called up from Staten Island, and still need a lot of polish to his game before he ever got back. It took him a while — he spent the last three seasons in Tampa — but he’s finally here. Ibarra, and not Jose Pirela, will be the team’s regular shortstop.
15 Rob Lyerly L/R, 6-1, 200, 24 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .246/4/34. Tampa; .315/4/46
2012 forecast: Lyerly is a corner infielder who will probably see a lot of time as a designated hitter this year. He performed well at the plate in Tampa, but struggled both with the bat and the glove once he got to Trenton. He’ll need to improve significantly in both sides of his game to continue progressing through the system. He took some reps at first base on Tuesday, so that could be an option as well.
17 Addison Maruszak R/R, 6-1, 190, 25 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .244/7/47
2012 forecast: Versatility is a blessing and curse for Maruszak, who played a variety of positions for Trenton last season, including catcher. While it seems unlikely he’ll get behind the plate again, Maruszak already profiles as a utility type instead of having a true spot. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used this year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get another opportunity in Triple-A.
11 Yadil Mujica L/R, 6-1, 170, 27 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; .233/1/14
2012 forecast: It’s hard to really see Mujica having much of a future with the organization. He’s 27 years old, is returning to Trenton for a second year, and didn’t really do much last year. There’s been speculation that Mujica could be an odd man out when the roster gets trimmed down. If he does stick, he’ll probably seem some time in the middle of the infield on occasion, and could spell Adams if he needs to rest his ankle.
10 Ronnier Mustelier R/R, 5-10, 210, 27 y/o
2011 stats: Tampa; .333/3/24
2012 forecast: The Trenton Thunder, now 100 percent more Ronnier! Although, just like Mujica, Mustelier is 27 years old, he’s a more interesting case. Mustelier was sent to the Arizona Fall League this off-season, and could have an outside chance at a future with the organization, but he needs to move quick. He played all three outfield positions last year, but also some second and third. Seems the stocky Cuban-born Mustelier will stick to the infield for now.
28 Jose Pirela R/R, 5-11, 210, 22 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; 239/8/45
2012 forecast: Pirela is likely thankful that his error total isn’t included in last year’s stat line. While Lyerly tied a franchise record with four in one game, Pirela made 39 of them all season, which set a franchise record. Last year, he was the starting shortstop. This year, he’ll be on the bench.
2012 forecast: As of now, Abeita is the Thunder’s backup backstop. With the bizarre happenings at the big league level, however, things may change. Gustavo Molina could be sent to Trenton as a sort of trickle-down after Francisco Cervelli was assigned to Triple-A. Unlikely? Sure. But it could happen. Abeita is in his fifth year in the Yankees organization and is a career .243 minor league hitter with eight home runs in 1,025 plate appearances. He threw out a very impressive 47% of attempted basestealers last year (35 for 75) with Tampa and if he can hit more like he did in 2010, he could steal some playing time away from Jose Gil.
32 Jeff Farnham R/R, 6-1, 190, 24 y/o
2011 stats: Charleston; .232/2/12
2012 forecast: Farnham caught Andy Pettitte’s simulated game a few days ago. That might be the last meaningful thing he gets to do for a bit. The 24-year-old is slated to be the Thunder’s third catcher this season, and it’s unlikely he starts the season on the active roster. He’s somewhat oddly played in Staten Island in 2010 after seeing some time in Charleston the year before, and he returned to the RiverDogs to play in 42 games in 2011.
2012 forecast: Gil is in his eighth season in the Yankees organization, and will be in Trenton for a fourth year. Gil played in 79 games last year between Trenton (73) and Scranton, which was the most action he’d seen since 2007. But this is the first time he’ll be the starting catcher for the Thunder after being behind Austin Romine for all or parts of the past two years. It’ll be interesting to see what he does as “the guy,” as the Venezuelan-born 25-year-old showed he could be an offensive force on occasion last year.
2012 forecast: Arbiso comes into the season in better shape and with a new curveball. Both have suited him well, as he was lights out in spring training. The fan favorite struggled at times last season, but will likely fill the same role as he did in 2011, serving as the team’s long man and spot starter. Much like Heyer, Arbiso could use a big year to continue climbing through the organization.
53 Preston Claiborne RHP 6-2, 225, 24 y/o.
2011 stats: Tampa; 38 GP/0 GS. 3-7, 3.11 ERA, 5 SV.
2012 forecast: Claiborne has moved quickly after being taken in the 17th round by the Yankees in 2010. It’s hard to see him blowing through the system like others have in the past, and a full year at Double-A could do him some good. He does have closing experience in the past, and will likely get some opportunities late in games with the Thunder.
54 Ryan Flannery RHP 6-2, 245, 26 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; 4 GP/0 GS. 0-0, 9.00 ERA. Tampa; 36 GP/0 GS. 3-1, 1.24 ERA, 19 SV.
2012 forecast: Flannery will likely get more than a few chances to serve as the Thunder’s ninth inning man this season, despite struggling in his initial call-up to Double-A last season. The Carlstadt, NJ native put up impressive numbers in the Florida State League last year and will get another chance in Trenton this year.
27 Lee Hyde LHP 6-2, 205, 27 y/o
2011 stats: Syracuse (AAA, Nationals); 42 GP/0 GS. 2-0, 5.68 ERA, 1 SV.
2012 forecast: Raise your hand if you’d heard of Lee Hyde before about a week ago. Not seeing a lot of hands. Hyde is the prototypical “outside of the organization, veteran arm for Double-A” type. The bullpen’s only lefty, he could play a key role at times, although Tony Franklin rarely plays matchups. Given Hyde’s experience, he could also be on the Double-A/Triple-A shuttle if a veteran arm is needed a level above.
3 Kelvin Perez RHP 6-1, 160, 26 y/o
2011 stats: Tampa; 8 GP/0 GS, 0-0, 6.43 ERA, 1 SV. Charleston; 39 GP/0 GS, 0-4, 4.66 ERA, 8 SV.
2012 forecast: Right now the Thunder roster stands at 27. It needs to get cut down to 25. You look at Perez’s experience level, and he’d certainly have to be a candidate to start the season on the “phantom DL.” The Dominican-born righty is in his eighth season in the organization and didn’t put up impressive numbers at either stop he made last year.
20 Ryan Pope RHP 6-2, 205, 25 y/o
2011 stats: Scranton; 14 GP/0 GS. 2-1, 8.14 ERA. Trenton; 13 GP/1 GS. 0-1, 2.04 ERA.
2012 forecast: Pope has little left to prove in Double-A, and was somewhat of a surprise shift to the Thunder roster at the last minute in favor of Pat Venditte. Pope has been used in a late-inning role by Franklin before, and it’s possible that he could be the guy doing that again this year so as to best showcase him for another promotion. This is a big year for Pope, who both must pitch well and stay healthy after being taken off the Yankees 40-man roster last season.
48 Chase Whitley RHP 6-4, 220, 22 y/o
2011 stats: Trenton; 19 GP/1 GS. 3-4, 3.38 ERA, 1 SV. Tampa; 23 GP/0 GS. 1.68 ERA, 6 SV.
2012 forecast: Whitley is the lone Baseball America Top 30 prospect you’ll find in the Thunder bullpen. In just his first pro season, Whitley was impressive at High-A Tampa, but couldn’t dominate in Trenton the way he could there. Whitley says fastball command is a key for him this season, but he’ll need to refine his secondary pitches a little bit as well in order to keep progressing. Whitley is another legitimate candidate for late-game duty.
2011 stats: Trenton; 26 GP, 24 GS. 10-8, 4.12 ERA, 1 SV.
2012 forecast: Hall will serve as the Thunder’s Opening Day starter this year, and a hot start to his season could earn him another promotion to Triple-A. Hall is probably the most polished pitcher among the five in the rotation to start the season, and could see significant time with the Empire State Yankees depending on how things play out with the big league pitching staff.
31 Craig Heyer RHP 6-3, 210, 26 y/o.
2011 stats: Trenton; 28 GP, 24 GS. 10-9, 4.54 ERA.
2012 forecast: Heyer has shown that he can be a versatile member of the pitching staff in Trenton. He also has shown a bit of a propensity for repeating levels (he spent two years in Tampa and this is his second in the capital city), which does him no favors considering he enters the season at the age of 26. Once highly regarded enough to be sent to the Arizona Fall League, this is a big season for Heyer in the Yankees organization. Solid but not spectacular, he’ll need to be better this year if he’s going to get a regular turn in the rotation.
21 Brett Marshall RHP 5-11, 200, 22 y/o.
2011 stats: Tampa; 27 GP, 26 GS. 9-7, 3.78 ERA.
2012 forecast: If you’re buying your tickets this year based on the staring pitcher, Marshall is the kid you’re paying to see. Regarded as the biggest prospect on the Thunder, at least to start the season, the 22-year-old will be the team’s third starter to open the year. He possesses a low-to-mid 90′s fastball and a slider, but pitching coach Tommy Phelps seemed most impressed with his changeup. He’ll make his Double-A debut in the day game Saturday against another top pitching prospect, Deck McGuire.
23 Josh Romanski LHP 6-0, 185, 25 y/o.
2011 stats: Trenton; 13 GP, 1 GS. 0-1, 2.04 ERA. Tampa; 17 GP, 17 GS. 7-5, 3.16 ERA.
2012 forecast: Romanski opens the season as the Thunder’s fifth starter, and is slated to take the ball for the first time on April 10. One of two lefties in the rotation, the easygoing California native will have a slightly lower arm slot in order to better attack left-handed hitters. It’s easy to see a scenario in which Romanski could be transitioned back to the bullpen, as he showed last season he can be effective as a reliever, and likely doesn’t have the stuff to continue progressing as a starter in the organization long-term. Then again, many said the same thing about Steve Garrison, and the Yankees insisted on using him every fifth day.
39 Graham Stoneburner RHP 6-0, 203, 24 y/o.
2011 stats: Trenton; 11 GP, 11 GS. 1-5, 4.17 ERA.
2012 forecast: David Adams isn’t the only member of this team who had somewhat of a lost 2011 season. Stoneburner began the year in Trenton, but made just a handful of starts before a neck/shoulder issue shut him down for the majority of the season. He made just 11 appearances in Trenton last season, and went from a fringy prospect to somewhat of an afterthought. But the 24-year-old will be given every opportunity to reclaim his status as an arm to watch as the second starter in the Thunder rotation.
Yankees' Triple-A Club Will Hit The Road This Year
By Jim Mandelaro April 3, 2012
ROCHESTER, N.Y.—They have six homes, two names and zero idea how their upcoming five-month road trip will unfold.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees—aka the Empire State Yankees—are the gypsies of the Triple-A International League this season. They'll play all 144 games on the road while PNC Field, their 23-year-old ballpark in Moosic, Pa., undergoes a $40 million facelift.
The Yankees' 72 home games will be played at five fellow International League ballparks: 37 games at Rochester's Frontier Field, 10 at Syracuse's Alliance Bank Stadium, eight at Lehigh Valley's Coca-Cola Park, six at Buffalo's Coca-Cola Field and four at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium. They will also play seven at short-season Batavia's Dwyer Stadium.
The Yankees will have more homes than Donald Trump in this surreal season.
"It's a year unlike any we've had here,'' says Dan Mason, who enters his 18th season as Red Wings general manager.
Dwyer Stadium seats just 2,600 for an attendance-starved New York-Penn League team that is for sale and is operated by the Rochester Red Wings. The home "clubhouse" is a small, square building down the right-field line. But it will be the home of the Yankees vs. the Red Sox—that's the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees vs. the Pawtucket Red Sox—on May 5-6.
The Yankees actually will play their first "home" games in Syracuse on April 14 and 15. Then, they'll make their Frontier Field debut on April 16 as the home team for a four-game series against the Red Wings.
Rochester fans will get to see their team play 80 games at Frontier Field instead of the usual 72, with eight against the Yankees. The Triple-A Yankees will play 45 games at Frontier—37 as the home team and eight as visitors against the Red Wings. They'll also play seven more in Batavia, about 20 minutes from down Rochester, for a total of 52.
Because Rochester will serve as the home base this season, numerous changes were made to the clubhouse level during the offseason.
The umpires' room is now the domain of the visiting team's coaching staff. The Yankees will take over the visitors' clubhouse, and the other 12 teams who visit Frontier Field will dress in a small community clubhouse. The Red Wings will stay in their clubhouse, but the family lounge, where wives, children and parents have gathered after games, is now the visiting team's training rooms.
And the umpires?
"The umpires will be nomadic," Mason says. "Wherever there's an empty clubhouse, that's where the umps will go."
Rochester will also serve as the base for the Yankees players and coaching staff, who are responsible for finding their own housing in the area.
"You just deal with it. It's not a great situation, but hopefully the stadium is much nicer when we return to it," Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred told the Associated press. "This year will be a little tougher on everybody, but you grind through it and we'll be OK."
Mark Newman, the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, says the constant travel will be the biggest challenge, but not the only one.
"A big and essential job will be to provide the players with an opportunity to prepare the right way each day,'' he says. "From strength training to conditioning to the fundamental work critical to consistent performance, each part of the players' daily preparation must be planned carefully.''
Newman says the Yankees will consider many things when deciding where to place a player on a rehabilitation assignment.
"Where an affiliate happens to be playing, home or road, is a part of the assignment consideration,'' he said. "I would not think that all of our rehabs would be sent to (Double-A) Trenton. Trenton is closer to the stadium in New York, and that's helpful. But there is a higher level of competition in the International League.''
The Red Wings asked the New York Yankees to come up with a name for their Triple-A homeless club, and the Yankees chose Empire State Yankees. The name was announced in early March and merchandise has been a huge hit. Through March 26, 165 caps had been sold in 21 states, from Nebraska and Arizona to Indiana, Maine and South Carolina. And the Red Wings had sold out of T-shirts featuring the Red Wings and Empire State Yankees logos and coffee mugs featuring the same two logos.
The numbers are impressive at the box office, too. The Wings have sold 400 season tickets to the 37 Yankees home games. And their ticket package—10 tickets to any games involving the Red Wings or Yankees—is up 700 over last year's total. "People are excited,'' Mason says. "They love the Yankees, and now they'll get a chance to see some of the Yankees' top prospects."The International League stresses that "Empire State" is only a moniker, similar to "Bronx Bombers." In all official standings and releases, "Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees" still will be used.
The Road Warriors
The Yankees' staff will include two men who will travel with the club throughout the season—broadcaster Mike Vander Woude and vice president of stadium operations Curt Camoni. Camoni's primary task will be to make the Yankees feel like they aren't on the road for five months.
The host cities for Yankees' home games will handle all tasks and expenses—ticket sales, promotions and in-game presentation—and will take any profit from the additional dates. Mason has long equated a game at Frontier Field as an entertainment show, and now his front office will be asked to put on 109 shows this summer.
"It's our risk and our reward," Mason says. "We have to pay for everything it costs to open the ballpark: ushers, ticket takers, electricity, grounds equipment. But the ticket sales and concessions, those will be ours.''
Wings CEO Naomi Silver sees this year's baseball marathon as a one-time opportunity to help an IL North neighbor.
"We think our fans will enjoy seeing the Yankees' top affiliate play in our city, and having the chance to see over 100 Triple-A baseball games," she said. "We're very excited about this."
The Red Wings have received numerous awards for their creative promotions—players raced against a thoroughbred for three consecutive years and Mason spent six nights sleeping in a tent in the team bullpen during a 12-game losing streak in 2002—and that "brand" won't change when the Yankees are playing at Frontier Field instead of the Red Wings.
"We'll have the same in-game promotions," Mason says. "It will just be geared toward the Yankees when they're the home team."
Except for when the visitors are the Red Wings for eight games, of course.
The New York Yankees are extremely popular in the Syracuse, Rochester, Batavia and Buffalo markets, and those teams are counting on Yankees fans to push through the turnstiles to see the team's top prospects.
Getting Some Help
Newman is aware of the Yankees' strong support in central and western New York, and appreciative of the support the team has received from minor league teams in those areas.
"It's the intention of the Yankees to repay that assistance by playing good baseball for the fans in the Rochester area," he said. "We'll do the same in Buffalo and Syracuse, as those franchises have been very helpful.''
While other front offices are serving as caretakers and promoters of the Yankees, the real Scranton/Wilkes-Barre front office will have perhaps an even more challenging task: marketing a team that has simply disappeared for a year. The staff will work in temporary offices while construction crews transform PNC Field from an outdated stadium into a state-of-the-art ballpark. They will focus on relaunching the team for 2013 and energizing fans about the new stadium.
Newman says it wasn't hard to re-sign players or sign six-year free agents.
"We didn't really notice much of a chance in our ability to attract free agents," he says. "Opportunity to get to the major league club is always the driving force."
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Empire State Yankees will know one thing after their 144-game road trip: If they can make it here, there and everywhere, they can make it anywhere.
Jim Mandelaro covers the Red Wings for the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.)