It is going to be a big year for the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate. After the Empire State Yankees spent 2012 completely on the road, they return to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year with a newly renovated PNC Field and a brand new team name - the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Despite spending all of last year on the road, the (then) Yankees put together a surprisingly strong season. They went 84-60 and won the North Division of the International League. Unfortunately, they lost to the eventual IL Champions, the Pawtucket Red Sox, in the playoffs.
Once again, the RailRiders are entering the season with what should be a very strong pitching staff. Even with Manuel Banuelos out for the year after Tommy John surgery, the RailRiders' starting rotation should be a joy to watch. Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, Brett Marshall and Matt Tracy are all likely to take turns in the RailRiders' rotation. The Yankees said they are planning on returning Dellin Betances to the rotation and this year should be telling after his thoroughly frustrating 2012. Scranton's strong arms aren't reserved for starting spots, however, as players like Mark Montgomery, Chase Whitley, Francisco Rondon and Preston Claiborne will be coming in from the bullpen.
Scranton doesn't have all the exciting players Trenton has slated to start the season in the lineup, but that doesn't mean there aren't some players worth noting. There will be a lot of eyes on Austin Romine, who needs to stay healthy and show that he is ready for the Majors - after all, not many Yankees fans are thrilled at the prospect of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart in the Bronx all season. Corban Joseph will get a lot of time at second, where he needs to continue to show some defensive improvement. Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa should be patrolling the outfield, and while they may not be as exciting as the crew down in Trenton, they are definitely worth keeping your eye on.
Who to watch with the Bronx in mind: Brett Marshall: Marshall had a great year in Trenton last year, going 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA, 120 Ks and only 53 walks over 158.1 innings. He has a nice sinking fastball and a changeup that gets him a lot of strikeouts. Marshall should be a big part of the RailRiders' rotation, but he could see some time in the Bronx at some point this year.
Austin Romine: Romine missed most of 2012 with back issues that started last Spring Training. He has the potential to be a solid all-around backstop for the Yankees, but after struggling with injuries the last couple years he could use a bit more seasoning before he heads to the Bronx. However, if anything happens to Stewart or Cervelli Romine should get a shot at the majors.
Zoilo Almonte: Yankees fans got their first real glimpse at Almonte last year during Spring Training. He put together a nice 2012 in Trenton and should be headed to Scranton for the bulk of 2013. Almonte is an aggressive hitter, who has real power, a tendency to come through in the clutch and can swipe some bases. He is solid defensively and could definitely get a taste of life in Bronx at some point this season.
Who else to watch: Dellin Betances: Betances 2012 was horrendous and culminated in him being sent back down to Trenton, where he continued to struggle with his control. He rebounded in the Arizona Fall League, where he threw out of the bullpen, but the Yankees have stated that they intend to give him another shot at starting this year. Despite his struggles, Betances still racked up 124 Ks in 2012.
Corban Joseph: The Scranton infielder had a strong year last season, hitting .266/.366/.474 in 84 games with the Empire State Yankees, along with thirteen homers and 25 doubles. Some work defensively and a little more seasoning offensively and Joseph should be a major contributor to Scranton's successes this year.