STATEN ISLAND – When the 2017 New York-Penn League season started, Staten Island Yankees manager Julio Mosquera said that the objective for the team was to have fun, learn, and improve.
After a brief pause he added: winning is fun.
And the Yankees did just that.
Staten Island came storming out of the gate by winning seven of their first eight games, and spent almost the entirety of the year in first place. After a brief slump that lasted from the end of July to the start of August, Staten Island went storming into the All-Star break on a seven-game winning streak. From there, the Yankees won six of their next seven games to take a comfortable lead in the McNamara Division and then finished the year by winning four of their final five games.
This all resulted in a NY-PL best 46-31 record and a third consecutive trip to the postseason.
The quest for their seventh championship however was cut short in the semifinal round by the Hudson Valley Renegades. In game one of the series, Staten Island ace Jorge Guzman took the mound for the Yankees on the road and gave the team seven strong innings of work where he scattered five hits and walked just one while striking out six. However, an error behind him led to two unearned runs by Hudson Valley. The game remained tied at 2-2 into extra innings when the Renegades walked-off with a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 13th inning.
The Yankees returned home for game two, facing elimination, but Jonathan Loaisiga threw five scoreless frames and Timmy Robinson came up with a clutch 2-RBI double to keep Staten Island alive en route to a 4-1 victory and force a decisive third game.
Staten Island had to feel good about their chances in Game 3 with Juan De Paula getting the ball. De Paula really found his groove late in the season with the Yankees and at one point had a 14 2/3 innings hitless streak going. But on this evening, he simply did not have his best stuff — giving up seven hits and four earned runs over 3 1/3 innings.
That proved to be a hole too large for the Yankees offense to climb out of as they faced the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 3 prospect Brendan McKay – who only surrendered a single hit over his five frames of work. Leadoff hitter Andy Diaz did get the Yankees on the board with a home run in the sixth inning but that would be the only run to cross the plate for Staten Island. They dropped the game 7-1 and were eliminated from the playoffs on Sept. 12.
Despite what many might consider a premature exit from the postseason, you would be hard-pressed to dispute that this was a successful year for Staten Island. Aside from finishing the regular season with the best record in the NY-PL, several stars emerged from this team and there was constant shuffling of players throughout the year because of roster moves and promotions.
Oswaldo Cabrera (.289, 16 RBIs, 12 runs in 23 games); Dom Thompson-Williams (.277, 22 RBIs, 7 doubles, 3 home runs in 41 games); Dalton Blaser (.225, 10 RBIs, 14 runs in 36 games); and 2017 17th-round pick Chris Hess (a double and a triple in four games) were all position players that got promoted to the Charleston RiverDogs this year. Blaser went on to get promoted again and finished the season with the Tampa Yankees.
And while the offense earned a reputation for making their hits count, it was the team’s pitching staff that was its greatest strength all season. Staten Island pitchers led the NY-PL in with a 2.64 ERA all season and its bullpen posted a sub-2 ERA for the entire year.
For that reason, a number of the Yankees’ pitchers also got the nod for the next level this year.
Alexander Vargas (4-0, 1.88 ERA, 0.96 WHIP); Braden Bristo (3-1, 1.86 ERA, 0.67 WHIP); Chase Hodson (1-1, 1.53 ERA, 0.85 WHIP); Brian Trieglaff (2-1, 2.04 ERA, 0.85 WHIP); Christian Morris (4H and 0ER in 7.2IP); and Luis Cedeno (1H and 0ER in 3IP) all finished the year with the RiverDogs as well.
And despite losing this quantity of talent throughout the season, reinforcements joined Staten Island to take these players’ spots and did not miss a beat as the team continued its winning ways.
Jose Polonia (the team’s lone All-Star representative); Welfrin Mateo (.256, 10 RBIs, 7 runs scored in 32 games); Andy Diaz (7 doubles, 2 home runs, 10 runs scored in 24 games); Kaleb Ort (1-0, 1.59 ERA, 1.03 WHIP); 2017 3rd-round draft pick Trevor Stephan (1-1, 1.39 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 43 Ks in 32.1IP); as well as Jio Orozco, Drew Finley, Austin DeCarr and David Palladino all joined the club at some point in the season and finished the year with the team.
Fans also got to get a glimpse of Branden Pinder, Francisco Diaz, Carlos Vidal, Kyle Higashioka, and New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (batting practice) as each made a rehab assignment with Staten Island this season.
But the biggest story of all this season for the Staten Island Yankees had to be the emergence of starter Jorge Guzman. Entering the year people knew Guzman had a big arm, but there were some control issues as well as some questions about whether he would be better suited as a starter or a power bullpen arm. Guzman answered all of those questions loudly.
Guzman finished the season with a 5-3 record, 2.30 ERA, and a 1.04 WHIP in 13 starts. Over that span he threw 66 2/3 innings where he gave up 17 earned runs, 18 walks, and struck out a league-high 88. Guzman consistently threw his fastball in triple-digits (hitting a season-high 102.7 mph velocity), while also showcasing a low-90s change-up and a knee-buckling curveball that averaged 86 mph. What was probably most impressive about this 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic though was his stamina and demeanor on the mound. Guzman’s fastball rarely lost a tick in the later innings of his starts, and he usually found a way to pitch himself out of trouble and avoid “the big inning.” It will be interesting to see what level the Yankees decide to start him next season.
Other Yankees standouts from this season included pitchers Juan De Paula — who finished the year with a 2.90 ERA and 1.08 WHIP – Josh Roeder (2.19 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 29 Ks in 24.2IP); Eduardo Rivera (1.90 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 33Ks in 23.2IP); Justin Kamplain (1.41 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 33Ks in 32IP); and Glenn Otto (1.59 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 25Ks in 17IP).
The Yankees’ also got key contributions all season at the plate and in the field from Manny Argomaniz (.257, 12 RBIs, 15 runs); Ryan Krill (.243, 13 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs, 25 runs); Wilkerman Garcia (.222, 14 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs, 27 runs); Timmy Robinson (.219, 7 home runs, 10 doubles, 23 RBIs, 27 runs); and Kendall Coleman (.212, 16 extra-base hits, 25 RBIs, 20 runs).