Baby Bomber Spotlight: Five to Watch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

04/04/2013 9:45 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Vidal Nuno's strong spring put him on the map as one to watch at Triple-A. (AP)
The Yankees of the future begin their 2013 season today, as Thursday is Opening Day for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

More than likely, you already know a handful of the names on a RailRiders roster that will try to help Dave Miley win back-to-back division titles; Dellin Betances has been a top prospect for a few years now, Austin Romine is potentially the catcher of the future in the Bronx, Mark Montgomery and Ronnier Mustelier received a lot of attention in camp this spring, and the quartet of outfielders Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte and infielders Corban Joseph and David Adams are all also on the 40-man roster.

Beyond those guys, however, are several other players who could end up as key contributors in the Bronx, if not in 2013 than soon after. Below, in the first part of what will be a four-part series throughout April highlighting potential breakout Baby Bombers, are a quintet of the “newer” names to watch in Scranton this season, with all five guys potentially just a heartbeat away from the most memorable two-hour drive of their life.

Added to the 40-man roster this off-season, Marshall is perhaps the closest pitcher, at least procedurally, to a call-up to the Yankees. Beyond that clerical status, however, is the fact that Marshall, who was drafted out of high school in 2008, is moving up to Triple-A this year after a strong 2012 that saw him go 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 27 starts for Trenton, leading the Eastern League in wins and helping the Thunder advance to the Eastern League Championship Series.

Marshall is a true five-pitch guy with a particularly hard slider, and since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009, he has quickly risen through the ranks by advancing a level every year while never missing his turn in the rotation at any of them. With Adam Warren already with the Yankees, Phil Hughes set to return shortly, and Michael Pineda on track for a mid-season return, Marshall could get lost in the shuffle – but if someone gets injured of falters early on and the Yankees need a spot start, the 23-year-old could make his Major League debut sooner than later.

Less than two calendar years ago, a then-23-year-old Nuno was in a tough spot, released by Cleveland after two seasons in the low Minors; the lefty turned to independent ball, signing with the Frontier League’s Washington WildThings in hopes of resurrecting his career and not 24 months later he heads to Triple-A hot on the heels of an impressive spring that saw him with the James P. Dawson Award, given to the most outstanding rookie in Yankees camp.

Like Marshall, he is a fast riser; he started 2012 in the bullpen at Class-A Advanced Tampa, earned a promotion to Trenton’s rotation in May, and ended the year by joining SWB for a playoff start. Overall, he was 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 31 appearances (21 starts), leading all Yankees farmhands with 126 strikeouts and ERA, and he followed that up this spring by going 1-1 with one save and a 0.61 ERA (14.2IP, 1ER) in seven appearances this spring, striking out 13 against just four walks.

Nuno was in Major League camp until the end and was in consideration for a bullpen spot – as either a long man or a lefty specialist – until Saturday, but for now, he'll have to "settle" for being Scranton's Opening Day starter. He's been tabbed as the man who will throw the first pitch in both RailRiders and newly-renovated PNC Park history, and if his next few weeks are anything like his last six, Nuno could see himself in the Bronx in a multi-dimensional role at some point this summer.

One thing Major League teams can never have enough of is bullpen help, and the 2012 Yankees proved that by using 16 different men – including David Phelps and Freddy Garcia – in a relief capacity at some point.

Whitley, a 2010 draftee out of Troy University, was a very versatile pitcher in the system last season, going 9-5 with a 3.09 ERA and two saves in 43 appearances between Trenton and Scranton; he pitched 84.1 total innings in those appearances, which included two starts, so he has both the repertoire to be a strong back-end option and the stamina to be a middle-inning outs-eater if need be as well.

The Yankees seem to have that long role covered with Adam Warren (now) and David Phelps (once Phil Hughes returns), but should rotation injuries or ineffectiveness – or even bullpen troubles with their other six relievers – cause Brian Cashman to look to Scranton for help, Whitley could be the top option to spend some time next to Mike Harkey beyond Yankee Stadium’s walls.

While outfield and DH are stacked positions in the Yankees system, it’s hard to ignore a lefty who has averaged a home run every 18 at-bats while in the organization. The 24-year-old Johnson, who was acquired from the Braves after the 2010 season, has done just that, mashing 23 homers between Tampa and Trenton in 2011 and following that up with 16 homers in just 57 games for the Thunder last year before a severe hamstring injury curtailed his season.

The RailRiders have just four outfielders on their opening roster, so Johnson should get regular hacks there and at DH – and if he stays on the pace he has set, his considerable lefty power could earn him a trip to the Bronx at some point if the Yankees need an infusion of the long ball.

Like Johnson, Murton is a straight power merchant, although he does it from the right side. At 26, Murton may be too old to be considered a true prospect, but the 26-year-old led all Yankees Minor Leaguers in homers last season, bashing 25 while serving as Trenton’s first baseman. He’ll likely share that spot in Scranton with Dan Johnson this year while also sharing DH duties with Johnson, and his power could be enough to earn him a place on the dance card if Mark Teixeira suffers a setback with his injured wrist and/or Lyle Overbay struggles in the interim.

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