When I first started covering the minor leagues for IIATMS about four or five years ago, the truly exciting prospects were in the lower levels and, in some cases, weren't even stateside. It often felt like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was stocked with players who were either desperately trying to make it back to the majors, even though their prospects looked bleak, and those who had once been greatly touted, but were never able to breakthrough (see Eric Duncan). This is one of the many reasons I have gotten such a kick out of seeing players like Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Mason Williams all make their debuts this year. It's been pretty exciting for me to watch some of these guys as they move along. I've been pleasantly surprised by some (Chase Whitley wasn't off my radar, but I didn't expect much from him) and disappointed by many (Graham Stoneburner - who just seemed destined to put on pinstripes with a name that translates to Steinbrenner, Dante Bichette, Jr., Jesus Montero, and so on). Despite most of the prospect talent having been lower in the farm system, the RailRiders had some surprisingly successful seasons, but they struggled quite a bit the last couple seasons. This year so far seems to be a different beast entirely.
Right now, Scranton is sitting at the top of the International League North Division at 37-28. They are 3.5 games ahead of Rochester and just finished a six game win streak. Interestingly, if you want a chance of beating the RailRiders right now, you better hope you are playing in Scranton. The RailRiders have continued a trend I've noticed quite a bit over the last few years - they like to play on the road. At this point, Scranton is 17-20 when playing at PNC Field, however, they are an almost mind-blowing 20-8 on the road. They've played 65 games so far and have only lost eight on the road.
A big reason for Scranton's success this year is their offense, which appears to be far more potent than it has been in a while. The team has a slashline of .269/.340/.382/.722. They lead the IL in each of those categories except slugging percentage - in which case they trail Durham by a single point. Speed is not their strong point, as their 28 stolen bases are the second least in the league, but they have the fourth most walks (227) and are squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to strikeouts (457).
Part of Scranton's success at the plate stems from the fact that they have a number of bats that can make an impact at any moment. The fact that the Yankees have had to call up a few of their key players hasn't slowed them down much. The RailRiders seem to find offense from any number of sources. Obviously, Robert Refsnyder has been a major part of the mix, hitting .284/.360/.406 after a monster month of May and a strong start to June. Ben Gamel is in a three-way tie for the most triples in the IL with seven, to go along with his .299/.366/.448 line. Williams is now up in the Bronx, but in his twenty games with Scranton he hit an impressive .321/.382/.432.
The pitching for Scranton has been fairly mediocre on the whole, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to be excited about. Bryan Mitchell is having a strong season, despite his 4-5 record. He has a 2.79 ERA and has struck out 54, while walking just 34. Jacob Lindgren got called up after putting up an impressive 1.23 ERA in fifteen appearances in Triple-A. Perhaps even more exciting is that Luis Severino has made three starts for Scranton now and has a 2.70 ERA, five walks and eight Ks.
All in all, Scranton is a team that has been fun to watch and could continue to put together a nice season this year. Honestly, I'm not sure whether I'm more excited to see how they do or if it's the youthful potential that has finally made its way close to the Bronx.