Saturday, April 28, 2012

Monthly Minor League Report: The Lower Levels

(Mr. Williams hasn't done anything to stop the hype.  Courtesy of Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos)

It's been a hot minute since I've discussed the goings on of the Yankee farm system.  It's understandable, given that the big boys have started their season and they're always the primary focus, but still not acceptable in my book.  So over the next 2 days, I'll take a quick trip through the system to see how everybody's doing.  Today, the lower levels.

Low-A Charleston: 15-5 Record, 1st in Division

I said this was going to be an all-star team at the plate, and in some respects it has been.  Tyler Austin, who I am now officially kicking myself over ranking him so low in the 1st AB4AR Top 30, has been absolutely killing it with the bat, posting a .377/.411/.855 slash line, .550 wOBA, and 17 XBH out of his 26 total on the year.  Mason Williams has picked up right where he left off, hitting .329/.365/.481 and showing improved power.  And Gary Sanchez has started his campaign to replace Jesus Montero as the organization's #1 prospect strongly, hitting .343/.397/.448 (.409 wOBA).  The HR power hasn't been there yet, but his all-around hitting skills continue to improve, and Sanchez has made good progress defensively behind the plate, even throwing out 3 of 6 base stealers in a recent game.

It hasn't all been positive for the talented crop of young hitter, though.  The middle infield tandem of Angelo Gumbs ( .224/.324/.345, 30.9% K rate) and Cito Culver ( .185/.303/.185, 0 XBH) are both struggling in their first full-season experiences.  Dante Bichette, Jr., who turned a lot of heads in 2011 and with his 2-HR cameo late in Spring Training, has really gotten off to a slow start, with a .254/.338/.302 slash line, .302 wOBA, and 0 HR.  He's missed a few games with small injuries, and his being banged up could be a contributing factor to the sluggish start.

On the mound, the River Dogs' sparkling collection of offensive talent has been supplemented by a trio of good starting pitchers.  Jose Campos, the "extra" piece in the Montero-Pineda trade has been brilliant in his 4 starts thus far, posting a 1.23 ERA/2.38 FIP line and a 23/5 K/BB ratio in 22 IP.  Caleb Cotham, back in the rotation and back to full health, has been so steady that he's gone a bit unnoticed because of it, but has allowed just 19 baserunners in 18 IP over his 4 starts.  And Bryan Mitchell, the pitcher with possibly the highest ceiling in the system, has been a bit inconsistent, and is still working on refining his command, but still sports a 2.45/3.40 slash line and 15 Ks in 14.2 IP.  At the end of games, Phil Wetherall has been a lockdown closer, striking out 14 and allowing only 1 ER in 12 IP.

High-A Tampa: 10-11 Record, Tied for 3rd in Division

Tampa was a mixed bag in terms of high-level talent coming into the season, and they've gotten some stronger than expected performances from unlikely sources early on, with others expected to be strong not getting off to the kind of starts they wanted.  At the plate, Rob Segedin has shaken off the problems he had after his promotion last season and adjusted to the High-A game, hitting .321/.379/.538 thus far with 4 HR and 13 RBI.  His defensive position still isn't set, but a few more weeks of this hot bat and he'll earn a promotion to Trenton.  J.R. Murphy (.266/.329/.359) and Ramon Flores (.192/.256/.219) have scuffled in this first month, Flores much more severely, and it hasn't helped that most of the rest of the lineup regulars haven't contributed much.

On the mound, the big lefty Nik Turley has been the story.  Turley, who was my TYA pick for sleeper prospect this season, hasn't missed a beat after having his 2011 season ended early with a broken hand and shows no ill effects from the injury.  He's got a 1.93/2.60 slash in 23.1 IP, and his stuff has been electric (10.41 K/9).  Helping to support Turley in the rotation has been Zach Nuding, who has a 1.29/1.77 slash and 19 K in 14.0 IP and is starting to improve his prospect stock within the organization.

At the back end of the pitching staff, the power duo of Branden Pinder and Mark Montgomery have been experiencing some growing pains.  Their stuff is still upper-echelon, evidenced by their high K rates (12.41 K/9 for Pineder, 13.06 for Montgomery ), but they've each gotten hit a little more than they did last season, Pinder got smacked around and took the loss last night, and need to make some adjustments against this better level of competition.  According to their FIP numbers, if they can make those adjustments, they'll be right back to the shutdown status they were at last season.

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