Year in Review: SWB Yankees
“Change” was the theme of 2012 for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Aside from the usual roster changes a minor league club goes through, the AAA affiliate to the Bronx Bombers underwent a change of scenery, their president/general manager as well as ownership, and are going to announce a new name for the club which was chosen by the fans. For the team without a home in a state of flux, the results were not at all disappointing. They shrugged off the obstacles of traveling constantly, losing their two top hitters and watching their pitching get decimated by promotions, failures and injuries.
For starters, Kristen Rose, team president of the SWB Yankees resigned in April, accepting a job with Mandalay Baseball Properties to be closer to family. Mandalay is part of the Yankee conglomerate, so it was somewhat of a lateral move for Kristen. As the season got rolling the team searched for a new leader and in July they named Rob Crain as the new president/general manager. Crain is an import from the Omaha Storm Chasers, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals where he served as the assistant GM for four years. Crain however, grew up in enemy territory; “As a kid growing up 20 minutes away from Fenway Park, never in my wildest dreams did I think i’d thank the New York Yankees for anything”. Jeremy Ruby, former GM, will be joining Crain as part of the new leadership team. He’d been itching to get back with the club, and with a rebuilt stadium in the works this was the perfect time. The two are focused on engaging the community and bringing the fans back to the park.
Also announced this April, the sale of the SWB Yankees was made official. Negotiations had gone on for nearly two years, as the Lackawana County Multipurpose Stadium Authority finally signed off on a $14.6M sale to SWB Yankees LLC. A little strange seeing as how they will no longer be the “Yankees” but no less official. SWB LLC is a division of mandalay Baseball Properties which is a part of the Steinbrenner family holdings. The proceeds of the sale will be put towards the $43.3M renovation of PNC park, which was long overdue and should breathe some new life into the AAA club.
This brings us to the ballpark. The Yankees spent the entire 144 game season on the road, playing many of their “home” games in Rochester. They attempted to call Riverfront Stadium in Newark their temporary home, but the plan was corrupted by the Mets, who share territorial rights to the metropolitan area. Thanks for nothing guys, enjoy wallowing in mediocrity. The 12 month construction plan is a bit tight, but they are moving quickly and so far are on schedule for opening day. “The fans, when they walk in the door, are going to be inundated with the sights, the sounds, the smells, the entire fan experience” Crain said. “It’s going to be very, very minor league and when I say that, it’s going to be all about the fans and all about what they want”. The Yankees will pay $750,000 annually over the 30 year lease, which could extend to 50 years. Ownership has also agreed to contribute to maintanance and ballpark repairs. The official MiL site of the SWB Yankees has a link that directs to a live webcam to catch a peek of the construction; check it out if you get a chance.
Performance wise, the Yankees held their own despite the roster being picked apart by trades, promotions and poor performance. On the hitting side the Yankees released Jorge Vasquez, the AAA version of Adam Dunn who went back to the Mexican League. They lost another bat due to “The Trade”, as the chosen one Jesus Montero was shipped off to Seattle along with starter Hector Noesi. Austin Romine was also a no-show, spending the majority of the season with an ailing back. Like the big club, SWB had some side pieces step up and contribute; veterans Jack Cust and Russell Branyan did their share, while Chris Dickerson and Steve Pearce (both now rocking the pinstripes) filled out the run producers. Dickerson ended the year with a .316/.417/.515/.932 slash line, along with 24 doubles, 4 triples, 7 HR’s and 17 SB’s. Not be left unnoticed, Ronnier Mustelier hit his way through the system, parking himself in Scranton and opening the eyes of the higher ups in the organization. He put up a .303/.359/.455.815 line with 21 doubles, a triple, 10 HR’s, and 7 SB in SWB. Ronnier could make a play for a utility role in the Bronx next year so keep an eye out for him. Corban Joseph has also come along this year showing some excellent patience at the plate. He pushed his way to Scranton half way through the season and hit .266/.366/.474/.840 with 13 bombs and 25 doubles win AAA. His 53/57 BB/K ratio was the best on the team and is a great sign for a big league hopeful. As a team they finished off the year with a .260/.344/.403 slash line which led the league in OBP, and coincidentally led in walks with 598. They hit 128 home runs and stole a fair amount of bases, 101, which was good for fourth in the IL.
The pitching was also picked apart; David Phelps made his impression in spring training and broke camp with the big club. Hector Noesi was shipped off to Seattle in an attempt to balance the trade after Jose Campos was tossed into the mix and DJ Mitchell later joined Hector as he was traded for some guy named Ichiro!. Dellin Betances continued to fall after his 2010 breakout and now has completely forgotten how to throw strikes. He’s going to the AFL later this year, and hopefully it’s to learn to pitch one inning at a time out of the bullpen. His concentration over several innings is said to be lacking, so maybe he can excell out of the pen. If he can’t, it will be all but goodbye Dellin. Adam Warren ended up as the last of the young guns in the rotation. He had a rocky start, and an ugly debut with the parent club but finished the season at 7-8 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He struck out 107 batters and walked 46. Veterans Ramon Ortiz and John Maine filled out the roster. Chase Whitley pitched well out of the pen, appearing in 41 games putting up a 3.25 ERA over 80.1 innings with a 1.07 WHIP, striking out 66 and walking 25. As a team, the Yankees ended up with a 3.86 ERA and 1052 strikeouts, both good for sixth in the International League. They were in the middle of the pack in WHIP and HR’s allowed posting a 1.35 team mark and giving up 112 long balls, and were near the bottom in walks, allowing 486 free passes.
The big story was Manny Banuelos, ranked the second best lefty prospect in baseball and the youngest player in AAA, who had a rough go of it this season. As the team moved north he suffered a pulled muscle that manager Dave Miley attributed to the horrid weather they faced; at one point he was noted as sitting in the stands shivering and miserable. He’s going to have to get used to the weather and possibly take the precautions to be more prepared/stretched out before he throws. After coming back from the lat injury Manny found his command and threw 14.2 innings without issuing a walk while striking out 15. Miley noted that Manny had been nibbling the year before and was working on a fourth pitch (a slider/cutter) while seeing a slight uptick in velocity, so the lack of command was neither surprising nor alarming. His next start would be his last, as he went on the DL with elbow inflammation. While “change” was the theme of the SWB Yankees, “injury” was the theme of the entire organization in 2012. Let’s hope next year plays out a bit differently eh?
The Yankees ended up with a record of 84-60, good enough to take the North Division and head to the playoffs. Manager Dave Miley did an outstanding job holding the club together, as they traveled over 16,000 miles this season; the nomadic tribe took it in stride and according to various twitter accounts, morale was not an issue. While they fell to the Pawtucket red Sox in the first round of playoffs, the season was still a success. I’ll be looking forward to the new digs and some new faces in 2013. Stay tuned this winter as we here at YFU bring you more coverage on the SWB Yankees and the rest of the MiL affiliate clubs.