The Hottest Team in Minor League Baseball

The New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is currently 11-0 on the young season thanks to some strong pitching (unlike the big league team) and timely hitting.

The Scranton club has a rotation that might give the Washington Nationals club a run for its money. Included in the rotation are five pitchers with MLB experience: Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Kei Igawa, Jason Johnson and Alfredo Aceves. Johnson is the old man of the group at the age of 35 and he has more than 1,300 MLB innings to his credit (as well as a 4.83 career FIP). He has a tidy ERA in three starts in 2009 but he’s also allowed 19 hits and six walks in 16 innings of work.

The enigma that is Igawa has made two minor league starts and has allowed just seven hits in 12 innings, but opponents have gone yard against him four times. Aceves, perhaps the biggest surprise contributor to the Yankees last season, is having the toughest time of any starter on the Triple-A squad with a 7.20 FIP (10.00 ERA) with 11 hits and three homers allowed in nine innings of work.

The two big names knocking on the door in New York (or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, “Showcasing themselves for other teams”) are obviously Kennedy and Hughes. Kennedy will be only 24 years old for the duration of the 2009 season, so he’s still young. A trade to the National League might be the best thing for his career, as there are a lot of No. 3 starters in that league having success with worst stuff and much less pitchability. Kennedy has allowed just nine hits and two walks (with 16 Ks) in 12 innings.

Hughes is still not as polished as his teammate, but his stuff can be dominating when he’s on – and the right-hander is still just 22 years of age. He’s shown improved command and control so far on the young season with just two walks in 11.2 innings of work. The most important thing for Hughes at this point, though, is to prove he’s healthy.

In the bullpen, three relievers have yet to allow earned runs on the year: veteran Brett Tomko, Mark Melancon, and David Robertson (who was called up briefly to the Majors and provided two shutout innings for the big club). Combined, those three relievers have provided 22.2 innings of scoreless relief with just nine hits, four walks and 34 strikeouts. Of the four other relievers, no one has an ERA above 3.38 – and that’s Anthony Claggett, whom New York fans will not forget anytime soon.

On the offensive side of things, the now-injured Austin Jackson (day-to-day with a bruised elbow) is leading the regulars with a .480 average. He has just one extra base hit, but he’s stolen three bases and is showing improved patience at the plate with five walks in seven games, which bodes well for his future as a lead-off hitter.

Three hitters on the team have been hitting for power, with Shelley Duncan leading the way with four dingers and is second in RBI with 13 in 37 at-bats. Other players providing home runs and driving in runs include Juan Miranda (3 HR/15 RBI), Todd Linden (3/12), and Angel Berroa (2/11).

Of the lesser-known players on the roster, second baseman Kevin Russo is having the most impressive overall start to the season. The former Baylor University infielder is hitting .382/.417/.471 with 13 hits and three stolen bases in seven games. The 24-year-old New York native hit .307/.363/.416 for Double-A in 2008 and may yet carve out a MLB career as a utility player. One neat (small-sample-size) stat has Russo hitting .714 against southpaws (5-for-7) in the early going.

If things don’t improve in New York in a hurry, management might be tempted to swap the entire Triple-A roster for the Major League roster. OK, maybe not… but you know the Steinbrenners were not happy after (or during) that 22-run loss in new Yankee stadium.

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The San Diego Padres’ low A-ball affiliate in Fort Wayne earns runner-up honors as the second hottest team in the minors with a 10-0 record. Eight pitchers in Fort Wayne have an ERA below 1.00. Eight. And the highest ERA on the team is 4.50 from starter Rob Musgrave. Yes, it’s early but it’s still a neat feat. Key names on the team include pitchers Nick Schmidt, and Simon Castro, as well as hitters Andrew Cumberland, James Darnell, and Allan Dykstra.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

10 Responses to “The Hottest Team in Minor League Baseball”

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  1. Kevin S. says:

    Yeah, but how many of those guys, besides Hughes, Jackson and the bullpen crew, are likely to be able to help the Yankees any time soon?

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    • RollingWave says:

      I’d think half of the infielders are better options than Cody Ransom. not that that’s much of a compliment to those guys. hell, Eric Duncan might be less of an epic suck than Cody right now. if Sabathia hadn’t started today Giradi probably PH him for Cody .

      outside of Jackson, Shelley Duncan is still a decent guy to have off the bench to ride a hot streak for some ridiculas power, I’d think they might do that move soon once they can get a 40 man spot. that or Juan Miranda again, who’s basically the same thing but from the other side (though he’s finally showing a little ability against lefty so far in this very tiny sample size)

      Russo might be a decent util option. even right now. though I guess the Yankee’s don’t really have much use for their util espically when A-rod gets back.

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  2. Joe says:

    Why make it sound as if the MLB Yankees are in dire shape right now? 9/13 games so far played on the road, last year’s ace is having one of the worst 3 game stretches ever, and arguably the best player in baseball still on the DL, yet the Yanks are 7-6. I’m not sure how much more you can ask for from them at this point….

    And don’t point to their Pyth Win-Loss, as a reason for worry, as that would show a gross misunderstanding of the usefulness of such a statistic. It is severely skewed by Wang’s performance so far (which is obviously bound to improve, or is, at the very least, replaceable by the guys mentioned in this article), and is hardly indicative of their run prevention skill.

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  3. Marc says:

    I more meant it to sound as though Yankee fans were worrying… I think the post itself just goes to show how much depth the Yankees have – It’s certainly more than I thought before I took a second look at the Triple-A squad.

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  4. Rich says:

    Alas, the streak is over.

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  5. Rich says:

    And btw, Hughes isn’t getting traded.

    As for the Yankees, they are 8-6 , 1.5 games out of first, and three of their six losses occurred when Wang has pitched. The 22 runs they gave up to Cleveland are meaningless beyond trying to fix Wang, and if they can’t, Hughes will replace him.

    The goal was to tread water until A-Rod returned, and to this point, they are doing that.

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  6. Tom B says:

    “Showcasing themselves for other teams”

    Please leave your AntiYankee hats at the door.

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  7. JCA says:

    Marc – have you checked what the Nats starters have done the past 3 games? 5 quality starts and 2 more 5 inning starts w < 2 runs. Yes, the team is laughable, but because of fielding and bullpen, lately.

    Still like Phil Hughes over Jordan Zimmermann? Same age . . .

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Jordan Zimmermann has had one start. In Hughes’ second start, when he was two years younger (!), he had a no-no going into the seventh before pulling up lame. I’m not knocking Zimmermann, but you shouldn’t change your mind after one start.

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      • JCA says:

        You are right of course. The one start is just one start. Hughes is pitching well, and it looks like we’ll see Hughes again if Wang is DL’d. I was not going on Zimmermann’s one start so much as his spring, high prospect ratings, and smarter people than me picking him as a ROY candidate. I don’t think Zimmermann was ever rated higher than in the 20s on early prospect lists this year, and Hughes was certainly rated higher than that last year. Main point of the post is it was a peculiar time to take a shot at the Nats starting pitching.

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