The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees put together a strong season. They won the International League's North division with a 81-60 record. The team is currently in the playoffs and leads their first series, two games to zero in a best-of-five.
Top prospect Austin Jackson put together a strong first season in Triple-A, while other players were emerging as prospects. Ivan Nova and Kevin Russo both put together career years. Put this together with the veteran presence on the roster and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is poised to make a run in the playoffs.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees MVP
Shelley Duncan, RF/DH: .277/.370/.546 with a wOBA of .401 in 527 plate appearances.
The 29-year-old Duncan absolutely tore through the International League this season. He led the league in home runs, RBI, total bases, IsoP, and weighted runs above average. Predictably, he took home the International League's Most Valuable Player award.
This season matched Shelley's dominant season in 2007, but I don't think that it suggests he can be a valuable major league player in the American League. He posted the best strikeout rate he's had in Triple-A, but it is still a pretty high 20.8 percent.
Duncan's contact rate is what's holding him back, and, at age 29, I'm not sure it's something he can improve. I definitely pull for the guy; he's such a fun player to watch. However, if he has a future in the majors, it won't be with the Yankees.
I would love for another team to buy into his strong year at Triple-A and give him a real shot at sticking on their major league roster. If a player can dominate at Triple-A, that usually suggests they can be useful in the major leagues. Hopefully, in Duncan's case, that holds true.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Pitcher of the Year
Romulo Sanchez, SP/RP: 5-5, 19 G, 13 GS, 64.2 IP, 6 H, 31 R, 29 ER, 3 HR, 34 BB, 64 K, 4.04 ERA, 3.63 FIP
Who? This pick even surprised me, but there has been some buzz about Sanchez recently. No Triple-A pitcher really stood out this season, and Igawa was the only one who pitched over 100 innings. This was the hardest award to decide for Scranton, because of a lack of candidates.
Sanchez hadn't started more than three games in a season since 2005 in pitching for the A-ball Pirates. The fact that he was not only able to step into a starting role, but pitch great while starting, was immensely valuable for this Scranton team.
In Scranton's series opener versus Gwinett on Sept. 9, Sanchez got the ball and the win, pitching five shutout innings, allowing five hits and three walks, but striking out nine batters. Chad Jennings said he was hitting 98 mph early on, and was still sitting 94-96 in the fifth inning. In his previous major league stints with Pittsburgh, Sanchez only averaged 92-93 miles per hour.
The Yankees acquired Sanchez in exchange for Eric Hacker, after Hacker had already been designated for assignment. In deals like that, you don't expect to get much in return. I don't know if the Yankees plan to keep Sanchez in the rotation next season, but I know I would. Since switching to the rotation, he has produced a great 3.15 tRA.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Surprise of the Year
Kevin Russo, UTIL: .326/.397/.431 with a .371 wOBA in 406 plate appearances.
Russo missed some time to injury, but when he played, he stood out. He was the Triple-A Yankees' primary leadoff man and split time between second base, third base, and shortstop.
Russo thrived as the leadoff man; it seemed like he was on base multiple times every game. He stole 13 bases but was caught sevem times, a below-average rate. Russo is known as an average fielder at second and third and slightly below average at shortstop.
After his career year, there is no doubt that Russo will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, since he would be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. While his overall batting line was very good, much of it was batting average driven. His IsoP was a mere .105 and his BABIP was a high .375, but his career BABIP is also a high .347.
His career rate suggests that this was just a bit out of line, but not inordinately so. If the Yankees re-sign Jerry Hairston Jr., Russo will be right behind him and Ramiro Pena on the depth chart. Russo will be 25 next season, and doesn't hit with enough power to be a future regular. Still, that's good value out of the Yankees' 20th-round pick of the 2006 draft.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Disappointment of the Year
There isn't one player I can choose for this award. There was no one with high expectations in Scranton who just totally underperformed.
There were your perennial disappointments: Eric Duncan and Kei Igawa. Duncan put together an absolutely putrid line of .204/.242/.285. That's about as bad a line as you'll see. I'm glad the days of him being the Yanks' top prospect are over.
The only good thing Igawa did for Scranton this season was eat innings. He started 26 games and pitched 145.1 innings. Through all this, he had a very average 4.56 FIP. Just an awful signing by Cashman that won't go away.
Anthony Claggett's ERA was strong, but his FIP was 4.38. I wouldn't be surprised to see him gone after the season to make room for a better prospect.
Ivan Nova had a strong playoff start yesterday, but his Triple-A season overall was somewhat underwhelming with a 4.08 FIP. He'll still be added to the 40-man roster in the offseason and will almost definitely pitch in the majors at some point next season if he remains healthy.
Reegie Corona really struggled in his time in Triple-A after excelling for Trenton. He posted an awful .255 wOBA in 177 plate appearances after breaking out in Double-A. I'm glad to say that none of these guys were top prospects, so none of this was too disheartening. In fact, I'd say Corona and Nova have increased their stock this year.