I find it hard to believe that it is already May, possibly because up here in northern New England it felt like winter was never going to end this year, but it is and so we have our first month of Minor League baseball in the books. The strange weather has played some role in the early part of the season for some of the Yankees' affiliates, but overall there have been some very positive things going on down on the farm. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: Like many of the teams located in the northeast, the RailRiders' April was interrupted by the slow departure of winter (if in fact it has left...). They had nine games postponed due to rain, snow or inclement weather, in addition to battling through some chilly games. At the end of April, Scranton had an 11-13 record, while not the strong start the RailRiders had hoped for, it hasn't put them too far behind Buffalo and Pawtucket, who both started the year a little stronger and lead the IL North Division.
The RailRiders' offense hasn't done much to set them apart from the other teams in the IL, but they've had some strong performances on the mound. Scranton has only allowed seven homers this season, as opposed to Durham's 26. They also have the second least walks (68) to go with 211 Ks. The addition of former Yankee hurler, Alfredo Aceves has given Scranton some help, to go along with strong starts from Bruce Billings, Chase Whitley and Brian Gordon. Graham Stoneburner has been inconsistent in Trenton, but he had some strong numbers for Scranton, while Mark Montgomery has a 1.50 ERA and two saves in his ten appearances (12 innings).
On offense, Zoilo Almonte is the only RailRider with multiple homers(6). His production at the plate has complimented Ramon Flores and Scott Sizemore, providing a lot of Scranton's offense. Zelous Wheeler spent some time on the DL, but he has also been a force at the plate. Meanwhile, Austin Romine isn't doing much to show the Yankees that they should have called him up instead of John Ryan Murphy. Corban Joseph and Adonis Garcia could also use a jump start to their offense.
Trenton Thunder: The Thunder are actually off to a very strong start this year, going 16-9 in April. They are at the top of the EL Eastern Division standings with Portland. They put together three game win streaks three times in April, and while they haven't necessarily stood out at the plate or on the mound, they have shown an ability to find a way to win and hold onto wins in close games, as evidenced by their league leading ten saves. Their strong first half of their lineup, along with some great bullpen performances has made up for some lackluster starting pitching.
The Thunder has an exciting lineup, and some of their key players got to work early this year. Kyle Roller, Gary Sanchez, Ben Gamel and Rob Segedin have been crucial to Trenton's success thus far. Robert Refsnyder started slowly, but he has started to heat up lately, hitting .297/.350/.405 in his last ten games. Mason Williams, however, had an awful April and needs to turn things around in May. Zach Nuding has given the Thunder some solid innings off the mound, making five starts and holding onto a 2.43 ERA with 28 Ks and only seven walks. Bryan Mitchell, Jeremy Bleich and Matt Tracy have been a mixed bag in their starts. The Thunder has seen some strong pitching out of the bullpen. Pat Venditte has made eight appearances and holds a 1.50 ERA, striking out sixteen and allowing only four free passes. Branden Pinder has yet to be scored on this year, making ten appearances and throwing thirteen innings.
Tampa Yankees: The Yankees also have a winning record through April, but their 14-12 record has them trailing FSL North leader Dunedin by 5.5 games. Tampa has some exciting power hitters, which has paid off at times, but it is their pitching that is keeping them in games so far this season. They had the third lowest ERA in the FSL at 3.11 and lead the league in Ks with 218, while walking just 80. Only Dunedin has allowed fewer homers, as Tampa has only seen eight opposing homers.
Peter O'Brien is pounding the ball for Tampa, knocking the ball out of the park a league leading eight times this season. His .703 slugging percentage is also the best in the FSL. Also exciting to see is Dante Bichette Jr., who seems to have put his struggles in Charleston the last couple years firmly behind him. Jake Cave and Angelo Gumbs have both also done some damage for the Yankees. The Yankees pitching got boosted by Manny Banuelos, who started his return from Tommy John surgery with five strong starts for Tampa. Eric Wooten and Rafael De Paula both have thrown some solid starts for the Yankees, while Phil Wetherell, much like Pinder, has yet to be scored on in his nine appearances out of the bullpen. De Paula leads the team with 33 Ks, good for third in the league.
Charleston RiverDogs: Charleston ended April with an even 12-12 record, putting them in the middle of the SAL Southern division. Early in the month the RiverDogs suffered a five game losing streak, but they turned around and won their next four. As a team, the RiverDogs are putting together strong numbers on both sides of the plate. They have a respectable 3.24 ERA and have struck out 225 while walking only 74. Conversely, RiverDogs hitters have drawn 102 walks, good for second in the league and have shown some power with eighteen homers and eleven triples.
Aaron Judge has given Charleston a lot to cheer about at the plate, hitting .356/.456/.471. Mike Ford and Tyler Wade have also been consistent contributors on offense. Michael O'Neill has shown off his power with five homers, a slugging percentage of .455 and a team leading seventeen RBIs, and he has done it all while hitting just .227. Nick Rumbelow continues our trend of relief pitchers who have yet to give up a run. He has thrown eight innings and picked up four saves, striking out fifteen and walking just three. He has allowed just four hits. Luis Severino has been the lone bright spot in the starting rotation, boasting an ERA under 2 and striking out 22 while walking six.