While the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders ended the first half of their season on a winning note, two of their key players, first baseman Mike Ford and right-hander Erik Swanson, were down in Short-Season Staten Island as part of their rehab assignments.
At the Short-Season level, any experience that a player can get from someone who has been at that level is valuable. Manager Lino Diaz talked about the impact that Ford and Swanson had in the meetings by giving their advice to the players:
“Those guys have been great here. They have offered a lot of insight to our young guys. Ford goes to our meetings and brings his experience. That’s invaluable. Swanson is the same way with our pitchers. They are good guys. It’s been a tremendous experience for the guys that are here.”
Ford was in Staten Island recovering from an oblique injury, which is something he never had in his career. Meanwhile, Swanson is coming back from a groin injury. Both players discussed the toughest part of the rehab process as they near returning to Scranton for the second half that begins on Thursday.
“Mentally, it was just getting over the hump and letting it go a little bit in the box. The first two games, I couldn’t let it go even without the pain or the tightness. Just getting over the challenge and letting it go,” replied Ford.
“Being on the DL is never fun. I have been on it for three weeks. Kind of doing the normal treatment every day. Not being able to play is the worst part of it for me. I did all of the things I needed to do with my trainer up in Scranton to get me back healthy and in the right position to get back up there.”, said Swanson.
When a player gets to go on a rehab assignment to an affiliate they have played at twice before (in Ford’s case), it allows them to help the other players in Short-Season that are just learning the game. Both players mentioned some of the keys are to enjoy the game and to stay patient:
“It’s been fun over the last couple of days to sit with a handful of guys and have them ask me different questions.”, said Swanson. “My biggest thing is just to stick with it. A lot of the guys are still learning things and getting advice from different coaches and coordinators. Take that information in and translate it to the game. Got to be patient. My biggest thing is to do the right things with it when given the opportunity.”
“Don’t get too caught up in numbers. Just play your game and enjoy it as much as you can. It becomes a job at this point, but if you can keep it as a game, that’s the biggest thing,” replied Ford.
When you look at Ford’s season so far, he’s hitting .219 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs. He came back to the organization after being taken in the Rule V Draft by the Seattle Mariners and getting some valuable experience that helped him think he can play that level.
“It’s helped in so many ways. For me, the biggest thing coming into camp is I know I can play there. Mentally, I think I can. That’s the biggest step for a player. I learned so much from the guys over there.”
For Swanson, the 24-year-old is having a breakout year with the Yankees organization. After having a 0.44 ERA in seven games with Double-A Trenton, he was promoted to Scranton, where he has 29 strikeouts to five walks in four starts (5.11 ERA). So, what has been the toughest adjustment for Swanson?
“Moving up, guys have more of an approach. Guys stick to their gameplan, and you have to stick to your gameplan. You have to do a lot of different scouting report looking at the opponents you are facing.”
As Scranton Wilkes-Barre heads into the second half, the Railriders are 46-41 and are 5.5 games behind the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for first place in the North Division (two games back in the Wild Card). Both players talked about their goals as they head back to Triple-A:
“Stay healthy. I want to finish the year healthy. Finish out the year strong. Keep building off what I had going into this rehab stint,” said Swanson.
“Trying to get back to myself. Lay off some pitches I have been swinging at a little bit, get my walks back up, and keep the power where it is. Start driving the ball.” said Ford.
The unique part about this rehab assignment for both players is that they got to go through this process together with the same team. Both players had great things to say about each other as teammates and how they go about their work. First, here’s Ford on Swanson:
“It’s been great having him here. Just a friendly face around the clubhouse. He’s a great teammate up in Scranton. I love when he pitches. He works quick, gets the easy outs, and makes our lives easier.”
“It’s been great having him here,” said Swanson about Ford. “Just a friendly face around the clubhouse. He’s a great teammate up in Scranton. I love when he pitches. He works quick, gets the easy outs, and makes our lives easier.”
As Ford and Swanson’s rehab stints come to an end, that enters the door for some of the top picks from this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. In the last week, Staten Island has added catcher Josh Breaux (Second Round), outfielder Brandon Lockridge (Fifth Round), and right-hander Rodney Hutchison Jr. (Sixth Round).
It happens on a daily basis in the minor leagues where the roster is constantly changing. Diaz talked about that process how new guys enter a team as the season continues:
“When they come in here, we usually have what we call an orientation with us to get them acclimated with our team. We tell them the things we do. They will be integrated. They were in Florida already, so they kind of know how we work. They are pretty much ready to go into competition. I think it will be a very smooth transition for them.”
Finally, Staten Island just finished a series where they took two out of three games against a Brooklyn Cyclones squad that had Noah Syndergaard and Jason Vargas on the mound (rehab assignments). This season, the two teams have played six games decided by three runs or less and that experience can be valuable for a young team, according to Diaz:
“Anytime you play a close game; you are competing. You have to really play well. You can’t afford mistakes; You have to be aggressive. It’s a good thing, and we can benefit from that. It’s a good thing for the young guys.”