On Wednesday afternoon, the Staten Island Yankees held their annual Media Day at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark in St. George. For the second straight season, Yanks Go Yard will have the privilege of covering Staten Island Yankees games. The Yankees’ afilliate that plays their games in the New York Penn-League (Short-Season Single A) is where some of the draft picks that were taken last week will begin their pro careers. The team saw improvements in 2013 as their record went from 30-45 in 2012 to 34-41 in 2013.
There is a new manager this season, as Mario Garza will be running the Baby Bombers in 2014. Garza is in his fourth season in the Yankees’ organization, most recently as the manager of one of the Gulf Coast League teams a season ago. Staten Island has one of the unique minor league venues, due to playing just a ferry ride away from New York City. I asked the manager about what he is learning from some of the players from last season:
“One of my goals is to get to get to know my players,” said Garza. “I try to break my tail to get to know my players, knowing where they came from, asking them [the returnees] about what happened last season.
Two of the returnees that will have an impact as far as pitching is concerned, is David Palladino, who made the most starts for the team last season with 12. Palladino went 3-3 with a 4.67 ERA and walked 26 batters, which was second on the team last season.
“I’m excited to be back,” replied Palladino. “I have worked on a couple of new pitches and a new arm slot.”
Palladino would add that one of his main improvements that he is working on will be his consistency, considering he has had his innings built up to go deeper into games in 2014.
Just like last year, the buzz around the ballpark is Staten Island’s own, pitcher Dillon McNamara. McNamara made 20 appearances, mostly out of the bullpen last season. He went 4-3 with a 2.19 ERA. So, does it help returning to the same affiliate from a season ago?
“It helps being here last year… getting used to the swing of things,” answered McNamara.” McNamara is developing a fourth pitch to his game, which he told me was his splitter.
The leading hitter returning to the team is Austin Jones. The Staten Island first baseman hit .284 in 2013 with two home runs and 26 RBI. He discussed with me about being a quiet leader, who will lead the new players by example. Jones did have 60 hits in as many games last year, but power is the one aspect of his game he is working on this season:
“There is always something to work on, for me, at first base, it would be power numbers,” replied Jones, referencing his two homers from last season.
For some of the draft picks, it’s a chance to make a first impression at the professional levee. First baseman and 13th round pick Bo Thompson out of The Citadel is looking to improve on the defensive aspects of his game. That being said, he is coming off a good season at the Citadel, hitting .315 with nine home runs and 42 RBI last year while drawing a team-high 41 walks.
There is 26th round pick, Collin Slaybaugh, a catcher/outfielder out of Washington State. Slaybaugh is unique for a catcher, considering that he hits in an unorthodox part of the batting order for a catcher.
“I hit leadoff a lot last season, so I have more speed than most catchers, which is different from anyone else.” Slaybaugh led the Washington State Cougars in stolen bases with seven.
10th Round pick, second baseman Ty McFarland out of James Madison, felt the prestige of being drafted by “the most storied franchise in the country”, according to McFarland.
34th Round Pick, pitcher Matt Wotherspoon talked to me about facing ACC-caliber hitters as his school, Pittsburgh, switched conferences last season. He describes his game as a pitcher “who can throw strikes and throw any pitch at any time.” Some of his role models as far as pitchers go, he told me, are Tigers’ starter Justin Verlander and Dodgers’ starter Zack Greinke.
The Staten Island Yankees will open the season tonight at home against their rivals, the Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets). It will be interesting to see what storylines emerge this year.