Baby Bombers playoff primer

Get set for all the playoff action around the Minor Leagues
09/04/2013 4:59 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

It's been a busy year for Double-A Trenton. Ramon Flores high-fives Alex Rodriguez earlier this year.(AP)
Last week, in the “first” primer for the 2013 Baby Bombers Playoff Blog, we profiled the seasons of the four Rookie-level affiliates of the Yankees, including the GCL Yankees 2 squad that bowed out in the Gulf Coast League semifinals. .

This week, it’s time to shed a little light on the Baby Bombers closest to the Bronx by looking at the highest five affiliates; four of those saw their seasons come to an end on Sunday or Monday and Staten Island ends Wednesday – but worry not, as there’s still at least a little Baby Bomber ball left to be played, with the Double-A Trenton Thunder headed to the Eastern League playoffs for the second consecutive season. .

Trenton’s playoff berth is perhaps the biggest testament to the talent in the lower Minors right now, as a rash of injuries – in the Majors and Minors alike – meant a lot of flux on rosters up and down the system and, in one case, a player going from Short-Season Class-A to Triple-A simply because the RailRiders needed a body. .

And so, with that, here’s what you may have missed in 2013, and a look at what lies ahead for the Thunder. .

Last year, the then-SWB Yankees were road warriors and ended up reaching the postseason without playing a true “home” game; 2013 wasn’t as kind, as the season started with the first game at PNC Field in nearly 18 months and ended with more players used (72) than wins (68). .

That former total had a lot to do with the fact that the Yankees used 50 different players before Sept. 1; as a result, the newly-minted RailRiders finished 68-76, fifth in the six-team IL North, and there were only four players on the Opening Day roster who stayed in Scranton all the way to the Labor Day finale – which, depending on how you look at it, is either a good thing or a bad thing. .

Among the leaders, first baseman Dan Johnson almost made it all the way, but was released in the season’s final week to sign with the Orioles; he still ended up playing a team-high 138 games and leading the RailRiders in home runs (21), RBI (70), and pretty much every “collector” statistical category. .

A distant (yet close) second in the big categories was 1B/DH Randy Ruiz, who was signed out of the Mexican League in June because the team needed bodies and ended up posting a .274-17-42 line in 277 at-bats and had the highest OPS (.812) of anyone with at least 100 AB; he ended up sitting out most of the final weekend after being ejected from a game, but was still arguably the best RailRider not named Johnson. .

On the mound, Brett Marshall led the team with 25 starts and 138.2 innings pitched, but Chris Bootcheck (10-7, 3.69 in 23 starts) was arguably the staff “ace” all year, and Chien-Ming Wang (8-7, 2.87 in 17 starts) was second on the team in wins; in the bullpen, several relievers had good stints, but Sam Demel (1-1, 1.72 ERA, 65 K in 52.1 IP) and the since-released Mike Zagurski (6-3, 2.66 ERA, 75 K in 47.1 IP) were statistically the best of the bunch. .

The Thunder were the lone playoff team from the full-season affiliates, finishing 74-67 to win the wild card spot out of the EL East. They will meet the Binghamton Mets in the EL semifinals, with Games 1 and 2 to be held in Trenton Wednesday and Thursday and Games 3-5 (if necessary) in Binghamton this weekend. .

Offensively, just about every category was led by either IF Jose Pirela (.272 average, 18 steals, 27 doubles, .777 OPS), 1B Kyle Roller (17 HR, 69 RBI), or OF Ramon Flores (139 hits, 77 walks), with Flores playing a team-high 139 games. .

On the mound, lefty Nik Turley (11-8, 3.88 in 26 starts) was the ace and led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts as well, Shane Greene (8-4, 3.18 in 13 starts after being promoted from Tampa) was a nice No. 2, and the bullpen was led by Tommy Kahnle (2.85 ERA, 15 saves, 74 K/60 IP) and Danny Burawa (6-3, 2.59 in a team-high 46 appearances). .

The Florida State League plays with a two-halves system, and while the T-Yanks ended with the league’s second-worst overall record at 58-78, Luis Sojo had more than a few special players in 2013. .

Offensively, both SS Cito Culver (.355 in 16 games) and OF Taylor Dugas (.321 in 55 games) played very well after their call-ups from Charleston, C Gary Sanchez (.254-13-61) led the team in homers and RBI despite his mid-season call-up to Trenton, fellow Thunder advancer OF Ben Gamel led the way on the base paths with 21 steals, and 2B Rob Refsnyder (.283 average, 117 hits, 28 doubles, 77 walks) led in most of the other collector categories. .

On the mound, a pair of departees led the rotation, with Trenton-bound Bryan Mitchell leading the team in starts (23) and innings pitched (126.2) and Scottie Allen’s nine wins pacing the staff; on the back end, Taylor Garrison (1.87 ERA, eight saves) led a talented relief corps that also included Charley Short (4-1, 2.20 ERA, 59 K in 45 IP) and Joel De La Cruz (6-3, 3.28 ERA in 33 appearances with six starts). .

Charleston finished 75-63 this year, but fell just short of earning a playoff berth in both the first half (second in the South) and overall standings (third). .

Their offense had a solid one-two punch in the middle thanks to first basemen Greg Bird (.288-20-84, led team with 84 runs, 107 walks, and 132 hits) and Rey Nunez (.260-15-62), with catcher Peter O’Brien (.325-11-41) adding to that before his call-up to Tampa; OF Jake Cave (.282, 37 doubles, 18 steals) was a force up top ahead of them, and Dante Bichette Jr. chipped in 61 RBI as well. .

Several different players took the lead in the rotation, as of the 13 to make starts, Evan Rutckyj led in wins (10) and innings pitched (118), but Cesar Vargas made a team-high 22 starts and Brett Gerritse topped with 108 strikeouts; meanwhile, in the bullpen, Ben Paullus was the nominal closer with nine saves, while Alex Smith (3-3, 1.01 ERA, four saves before promotion), Dietrich Enns (4-1, 0.69 ERA, 69 K in 44.1 IP before promotion) and Tyler Webb (3-1, 3.86 ERA after promotion from SI) all chipped in at times. .

The SI Yanks technically don’t end their season until Wednesday night, but with one day left, they stood at 33-41 and were assured of finishing last in the four-team NYPL McNamara Division. .

As of the season’s final day, OF Yeicok Calderon looks like the MVP, as he paces the team in homers (10), RBI (43), hits (68), total bases (118), runs (34), and doubles (18). In other categories, 1B Bubba Jones leads the offense with a .287 average, OF Brandon Thomas is tops with 30 walks was, and Thomas is tied with OF Michael O’Neill for the team lead with nine steals.

On the mound, Gio Gallegos (2-8, 4.27 ERA, team-high 16 starts and 65.1 innings pitched) has been the workhorse, while Dillon McNamara’s four wins are assured of at least a tie for the team high; Caleb Smith’s 52 strikeouts and Nick Rumbelow’s seven saves and 0.74 WHIP lead the remaining big collector categories, while Stefan Lopez (1.09 ERA in 33 innings) leads the way in that department.

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