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Dog Days: Five to Watch at Class-A Charleston

04/25/2013 11:31 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

After visa issues kept him overseas for two years, Rafael De Paula has landed in Charleston this spring.(Josh Norris)
Just three weeks into 2013, it has already been a season of flux for the Charleston RiverDogs and rookie skipper Al Pedrique.

Within 14 days of season’s open, three players -- Saxon Butler, Fu-Lin Kuo, and Rob Refsnyder -- were all promoted from Charleston to Tampa due to injuries on the T-Yanks’ roster, and the RiverDogs lost starter Derek Varnadore to the disabled list after he pitched just two innings in his season debut on April 6.

Class-A Charleston is the lowest classification of full-season baseball in the Yankees system, which already means lots of newcomers every year, but with former top picks Dante Bichette Jr. and Cito Culver back for their second years with the RiverDogs and set to steady the ship, the future looks very bright for in 2013.

So far, Pedrique has the RiverDogs hovering right around .500 and just a few games back in a very tight SAL Southern Division, and now it’s his team’s turn in our spotlight as we chronicle a handful of players who can help Charleston fill the SAL’s entire summer with “Dog Days.”

RHPs Rafael De Paula and Jose Campos
The importance of good starts is paramount with one already hurt, but outside of anything else, 2013 already shaped up to be an incredibly important season for both Campos and De Paula. Now 22, the Dominican-born De Paula is making his stateside debut this season after issues with his documentation and visa approval held up his Yankees contract from becoming official until mid-2012. He pitched well in the Dominican Summer League last year, posting a 1.46 ERA in 61.2 innings and striking out 85, leading the DSL with 12.4 K/9 rate.

He has moved up to full-season ball right away, and made an immediate impact by striking out 11 in his debut against the Greenville Drive before leveling off a bit. De Paula’s standard numbers through his first four starts (0-2, 3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) may not jump out, but he had 33 strikeouts in 17.1 innings in those starts, and with a fastball that touches the high-90s backed up by a hard, low-80s curve, he has the swing-and-miss potential to end up dominating the SAL this summer.

As for Campos, the 20-year-old was the “other guy” acquired in the Michael Pineda trade -- a moment he called “unbelievable” when asked about it the spring -- and is back for his second stint in the SAL, hoping this one goes much better than the first.

Campos started off 3-0 in five starts last season, but was placed on the disabled list with elbow soreness and ended up missing the remainder of the year to the dismay of himself and the RiverDogs fans.

“When I got hurt, it was really hard because I got off to a good start,” Campos said through an interpreter during Spring Training, “but I never really got down because my teammates helped me through it. I did my rehab, got my work in, and I hope to bounce back and have a good year.”

Campos is coming along slowly, having pitched just three innings in each of his first four starts, but he’s still considered a top prospect and will look to improve his stock as 2013 goes on.

Five Prospects To Watch: Scranton | Trenton | Tampa

C Peter O’Brien
The Yankees organization is loaded with catching prospects, from Austin Romine to Gary Sanchez and beyond, and the 22-year-old O’Brien is looking to add his name to that list in earnest in his first full season of professional baseball. Drafted in the second round last year out of the University of Miami, O’Brien needed just a week in the Gulf Coast League -- where he went 5-for-14 with two doubles in four games -- before moving up to Staten Island, where he bashed 10 home runs in 48 games.

With 2012 SAL All-Star Francisco Arcia moved up to team with Sanchez in Tampa, O’Brien will be the everyday guy in Charleston this summer, and has gotten off to a hot start. Through his first 13 games (50 at-bats), he was hitting .300 with two homers, eight RBIs, nine doubles and 11 runs scored, and he has certainly been a force while holding down the cleanup spot for much of the season.

Advancement may be tough this year simply because of the talent ahead of him, but should Sanchez move up the line mid-summer, don’t be surprised if O’Brien is summoned to Tampa to team with Arcia and/or serve as a DH in the second half.

1B Gregory Bird
Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, Bird was once part of that aforementioned catching depth, but has now moved to first base full-time after a series of injury concerns curtailed his development as a backstop.

Bird is in his third year in the system but 2013 is his first full one, as he played just four games in the GCL in his rookie year and appeared in 28 for the GCL and Staten Island Yankees in 2012. Bird did hit .337 in that limited time last year, and posted a .262-1-9 line through his first 17 games with the RiverDogs this season, also showing a good eye by drawing 17 walks.

After a short stint in Major League camp this spring, Bird said his immediate goal was staying healthy -- saying “I need to stay focused throughout the ups and downs, ride out the bumps, and keep working on all parts of my game” -- and with Butler and Refsnyder already having been promoted, Bird looks to get the chance to do just that and man first base for the majority of the season.

OF Taylor Dugas
When the Yankees drafted him out of Alabama last summer, the now-23-year-old Dugas knew that in an organization so rich with outfielders like the Yankees, he had to make an impact in a hurry; he did just that, as the eighth-round pick burst on the scene in Staten Island, hitting .306 with 51 walks in 59 games and playing excellent defense in center field.

Serving as the main leadoff hitter for the RiverDogs so far this year, Dugas hit .262 with a .377 OBP through his first 17 games and has continued his stellar defense, and he could follow in the footsteps of 2012 RiverDog Ben Gamel as the one who puts his name on the outfield map with a strong season in the SAL.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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