While the 2018 New York-Penn League season did not bring about a playoff berth for the Staten Island Yankees, there were a lot of positives for a team that competed the entire year. In total, the Baby Bombers were 37-36 and were in playoff contention up until the final couple days of the year after a brutal 4-12 start to the year.
During our daily conversations with manager Lino Diaz, competitiveness was always one of the words that he would mention about his squad. For a team that is filled with young players, that is all you can ask at this level:
“They competed. They prepared and got better. If you look at our roster, we have younger prospects, but those guys competed. We overcame a lot of stuff, and I am very proud of them. It is an honor to have coached every single one of them.”
When asked about whether or not a particular moment stood out to Diaz this year, he mentioned how the team showed good concentration despite a rocky start. Although wins and losses are not the ends all, be all in minor league baseball, the fight they showed was significant:
“What meant a lot to me is how far the team went. At one point, we were 4-12 to start the year. To get to where we are right now and to be able to concentrate on getting better and to win as many games as we did, it was a very good job by the players. It shows how dedicated they were and how much they fought. It’s all a credit to them and the coaches for the work they did.”
The strength of the Yankees team was their pitching staff, which was one of the best in New York-Penn League history. They led the league in ERA (2.60) and WHIP (1.19), and they were second in strikeouts (684) and walks allowed (201). The staff was able to win a lot of close games as the offense ran into its fair share of struggles.
At Media Day in June, pitching coach Travis Phelps had high expectations for this group, and it is safe to say they lived up to the hype:
“Well, up until the last week or so, we had the third best ERA in New York-Penn League history, so I would say we have. We’ve had a lot of rollover, and we have continued to maintain our ability to shut teams down. I think our guys have done a tremendous job this year.”
Throughout the season, the pitching staff changed as some of the Opening Day roster was promoted. Starters Nolan Martinez, Roansy Contreras, Shawn Semple, and Alex Mauricio were promoted to Low-A Charleston. As for the relievers, pitchers such as Brooks Kriske, Daniel Alvarez, Christian Morris, and Chase Hodson all spent time with other teams.
For a pitching coach that works with these players during extended spring, Phelps took great pride in seeing all of these players move up.
“I take tremendous pride in it. It goes back to last year when [Jonathan] Loaisiga was here. He’s pitching in the big leagues now and guys I’ve had the last couple of years are in Double-A, Triple-A, and knocking on the door of the big leagues. You spend so much time with them. You just love seeing them grow, having success, and being a part of it. You are not the reason, but you are a part of that growth.
“They are getting first and foremost, tremendous people. I think the world of both of them. You cannot ask for a better person, teammate, or competitor in any one of those guys. They are very lucky to have them.”
In addition to those pitchers that were promoted, Staten Island’s rotation had some talented arms such as Harold Cortijo (4-1, 2.63 ERA, 60 strikeouts in 10 games) and Matt Sauer (3-6, 3.90 ERA in 13 games). Sauer threw six no-hit innings on Opening Night, and Cortijo struck out ten or more batters in two of his final four starts.
For any Short-Season club, the excitement is always there for new draft picks to join a rotation and this team had its fair share of them. Rodney Hutchison was 2-1 with a 1.97 ERA in nine games, and Frank German had 38 strikeouts to six walks in 10 games.
In addition to those pitchers, Staten Island got a few starts from the Yankees’ First Round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Clarke Schmidt. Schmidt had a 1.08 ERA in his two appearances and had 10 strikeouts to two walks in 8.1 innings.
There were many talented pitchers on the staff, but one that stood out in particular for his dominance out of the bullpen was Aaron McGarity. In 13 appearances, the right-hander had a 0.35 ERA (only allowed an earned run on August 28) and had 32 strikeouts to three walks in 25.2 innings:
“If I had to say, one guy who has taken a game to a different level, it would be him, Phelps said about McGarity. “His ability to work ahead, change speeds, and work down in the zone. He has done a great job working down in the zone and locating his fastball. Whenever he does that, his slider and changeup have continued to improve in confidence every time he goes out there to the point where he has a good idea of what he’s doing and how to set up hitters when he gets ahead of them.”
As for the offense, the numbers were not significant in their favor as some of the players were getting their first taste of the offspeed pitches. They had the second lowest batting average (.213), the lowest on-base percentage (.285), and the third lowest slugging percentage (.325).
While the offense struggled for the bulk of the season, hitting coach Ken Joyce talked about the improvements that a lot of the players had throughout the season:
“To me, [Eduardo] Torrealba has made some good adjustments, [Jesus] Bastidas got a little bit better. At times [Junior] Soto, Gray, even though the results aren’t there with the average, I thought he made great strides hitting seven home runs coming in here to pro ball. Up and down the lineup, there are certain ways each guy improved,” Joyce told Lawrence Krieger.
Torrealba was one of those players that ended the season on a high note. The shortstop hit .276 and drove in six runs over the final 19 games of the season. Plus, he hit .378 in August with eight RBIs, a .452 on-base percentage, and had a walk-off single on August 2 against Connecticut.
The infield duo of Torrealba and Bastidas were able to be a strong double-play combination throughout the season. Bastidas had 47 hits this season, which was third on the team and two behind outfielder Junior Soto (49) for the team lead.
When you transition out into the outfield, Brandon Lockridge did not play after July 31 due to a torn UCL in his left thumb. Before the injury, five of his 11 hits went for extra bases (three doubles, a triple, a home run). Whenever he got on base, his speed would be vital in trying to manufacture runs.
In addition to Lockridge, Alex Junior had 33 walks and 10 stolen bases in 57 games as either a center fielder or a right fielder. Junior Soto hit five home runs, and he had a cannon of an arm in right field. Finally, Ricardo Ferreira only appeared in 37 games, but he had 16 hits, a home run, 10 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.
Joyce also mentioned that Josh Breaux was the player who had the best professional debut. The New York Yankees’ 2nd Round pick made it to Staten Island in July. He hit .280 in 27 games with nine doubles and drove in 13 runs. He missed some time during the season due to a hamstring injury. However, he showed good gap power while with Staten Island.
Breaux was one of many catchers who were behind the plate this season. Ryan Lidge and Jerry Seitz started off the year as the primary catchers before moving up the system. One other draft pick that made an impact behind the plate was Jackson Thoreson.
Thoreson, who was the Yankees’ 26th Round pick in 2018, threw out 10 baserunners trying to steal in 31 chances. He hit two home runs, drove in eight runs, and he walked 10 times.
We thank the Staten Island Yankees for their access this season, and there are plenty of players from this year’s club that should be on the radar for Yankees fans over the next few years.