Friday, August 3, 2012

Monthly Minor League Report (July): The Upper Levels

(The new Melkman straight raked in July.  Courtesy of Beverly Schaefer/For The Times)

Now that the younglings have been covered and we have the benefit of an off-day yesterday for the Yankees, let's use this morning to finish up the MiL reports for July for the upper levels of the system.  These teams saw a lot of roster movement over the past month, with promotions from the lower levels, demotions from the higher ones, and continued injury problems necessitating some player juggling.  There were some big pitching performances last month, the best ones coming from High-A Tampa, and there were also some guys who swung the bat incredibly well, 3 guys in Trenton in particular.  Which guys did what?  And how'd your favorite prospect handle his business last month?  Find out after the jump.

High-A Tampa: 55-53 Record (25-16 in 2nd Half), 1st in the Division

The All Star-caliber lineup that Charleston featured earlier in the year has started to take shape at Tampa after the group promotion of Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, and Tyler Austin in early July.  As I wrote earlier in the week, Williams and Sanchez are still adjusting their learning curve at this level, and Williams appears to be out for the year after suffering a shoulder injury last week, but their futures still look very bright.  Austin has also missed some time with injuries, but has still posted a solid .316/.395/.395 line (.369 wOBA) in 43 PA.

Slade Heathcott is finally back to this level, and finally back in the outfield after Williams hit the DL.  He's hitting .270/354/.476 (.385) in 144 PA and showcasing all the tools that made him a top-10 prospect in the first place, including some improved power.  After a slow start to the month, he heated up in his last 12 games, with 16 H, 9 R, and 7 RBI.  Alongside him in the outfield, Ramon Flores continues to plug away under the radar.  He's hit better every single month after a poor April, and now has his season line up to .305/.371/.415 (.367wOBA) with a solid 9.0% BB rate and a K rate below 15.0%.

The pitching staff has also been solid, but the weather and game rescheduling has really messed with their rotation order.  Jose Ramirez had a strong month, with 27 K in 26 IP, but got bounced around between starter and reliever because of the schedule and as a result had an inconsistent workload.  Nik Turley was an absolute monster in July and now finally seems fully over his blister problems.  He allowed just 3 ER in 25.1 IP over 5 starts last month, with 29 K, and for the season he now has a 2.67/2.81 slash line and 9.75 K/9 in 87.2 IP.  In the bullpen, Branden Pinder has recovered from his rough start (1 ER allowed, 15 K in 14.0 IP; 0 R in his last 6 appearances).

Double-A Trenton: 67-44 Record, 1st in the Division

The Thunder has been on a tear in the second half of their season, and it's been a true team effort, especially in July.  The starting rotation has definitely been a strength lately, with Shaeffer Hall throwing 40 innings of 9-run ball in his 6 starts (2.03 ERA) and Vidal Nuno and Mikey O'Brien, while not being as dominant as they were at times earlier, putting in solid performances as well.  The big fish of the group, Brett Marshall, is finally starting to show some of the strikeout numbers that were missing all year, with 30 in 33.2 IP over his 6 July starts to go along with just 8 ER.  In the 'pen, Mark Montgomery continues his dominant march up the ladder.  Since being called up to Double-A, he has pitched to an 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K-line.


Offensively, the Thunder was led by a three-pronged attack of Mesa, Almonte, and Adams.  Melky Mesa had a fantastic July, posting a .324/.366/.524 tripleslash and earning himself a promotion to Triple-A after they cut some OFers.  He's got a .373 wOBA for the year now, and could be forcing his way back onto the prospect radar.  Zoilo Almonte and David Adams also had very good months, combining for 65 H, 26 R, and 26 RBI and raising their season wOBAs to .348 and .365 respectively.  J.R. Murphy has hit for some power since his call up, but is still adjusting to this level of competition after just less than 75 PA (.232/.319/.429).

Triple-A Empire State: 61-50 Record, Tied for 1st in the Division

Despite missing the bulk of their season-opening starting rotation and having a constant carousel of lineup injuries, the Empire State Yankees still find themselves at the top of their division.  In July, it was Ronnier Mustelier and Russell Branyan who spent big chunks of time of the DL, and in their absence Brandon Laird and Chris Dickerson shouldered much of the offensive load.  Laird went 32-116 (.276) and found his power stroke with 8 HR and 25 RBI.  C-Dick went 25-98 (.255) with 11 XBH, 10 RBI, and 17 R scored.  Unfortunately for them, their solid months weren't enough to earn them a shot at the 25-man roster when the Yankees had injury problems.  Corban Joseph has also continued to hit well since joining the team, and his .268/.366/.478 line (.373 wOBA) at Triple-A combined with his improved power should make him a serious bench candidate for the Yankees next year.

One by one, the rotation has fallen apart.  David Phelps made a brief cameo before being called back up to the show, D.J. Mitchell was traded to Seattle for Ichiro, Dellin Betances is still down in Double-A trying to get right, and Manny Banuelos still hasn't returned from his elbow injury (although he has started throwing again).  This leaves Adam Warren, who after a disastrous MLB debut and a poor first outing back in Triple-A, rebounded to pitch well in July (5 ER, 19 K over 24.2 IP in his last 4 starts).  Cast-offs John Maine and Mike O'Conner have assumed bigger roles in the rotation, and have done just enough to keep the team in games.  Cory Wade hasn't allowed an ER since being sent down, and he remains a call-up option if the Yanks need somebody down the road.

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