Monday, July 22, 2013

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders Season-To-Date

MOOSIC — What you probably know about the 2013 RailRiders: The Yankees' AAA affiliate has played host to a slew of rehabbing big leaguers, namely Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

But being a season ticket holder at PNC Field (who you can follow on Twitter), I know there is so much more worth reporting.

Manager Dave Miley, widely regarded as one of the greatest current managers in the minor leagues, has had his hands full fielding a team that has been stuck in fifth place of the International League North division since mid-June.

Miley's problems start with injuries at the big league level that have forced the RailRiders to ship some of their best talent to New York. To illustrate the huge holes this has caused in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's lineup, the RailRiders have used 10 different starters in left field, with the fill-ins ranging from short-lived New York sensation Zoilo Almonte to wily veteran Corey Patterson.

There are some bad players on this team. Brett Marshall (4-8, 5.70 ERA, 1.69 WHIP), at 23 years old, is clearly not Triple A-ready.

There are some guys not playing to their potential. Dan Johnson (.238/15/48 with nine errors) has long been heralded for his defensive prowess, but finds himself leading the RailRiders in errors.

However, all-in-all, things are OK. The RailRiders are 49-52, sitting just seven games out of first place.

On the pitching side of things, we could spend our time talking about how horrible Marshall has been, but we can also highlight Dellin Betances. Betances (4-2, 1.82 ERA, three saves as reliever) has been lights out since moving to the bullpen, as he is now able to let loose and let his fastball fly at 93-95 MPH, sometimes even as high as 98 MPH.

At the dish, we've got a guy I dubbed "The Chris Davis of the International League" and that would be Randy Ruiz (.318/11/22). Ruiz, standing in at an impressive 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, has batted cleanup for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 24 of his 33 games.

Injuries could have slowed down the RailRiders, but instead, they stayed strong. When 2nd baseman Corban Joseph went down for the season, Walter Ibarra came up. With 3rd basemen Ronnier Mustelier and David Adams went M.I.A., Casey Stevenson got sent up. And talk about taking advantage of their opportunities — Ibarra hit a home run in his first Triple-A at-bat and Stevenson hit a walkoff home run in his first Triple-A game.

As long as Miley is managing and the Yankees are pulling strings, this season is far from over. Miley rightfully represented the International League in the Triple-A All-Star Game, alongside starting pitcher Chris Bootcheck (9-2, 3.40 ERA) and the suddenly struggling Thomas Neal (.314/2/29/2).

And as you may remember, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was without a team in 2012, as $43 million of stadium renovations were made to PNC Field. With a tab running that high, it's not going to pay itself off overnight, but Northeastern Pennsylvania has welcomed its team back with open arms with 2013 ticket sales having already eclipsed the sales of the entire 2011 season.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)