The New York Yankees are experiencing a renaissance throughout their farm system. Highlighted by some big trades at the deadline that brought in an influx of talent from other organizations, a Yankees farm system that was once barren of elite prospects is booming. Look no further than the minor league playoffs for the proof, as five of their affiliates are representing them.
The Charleston RiverDogs are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. They got there by locking up the South Atlantic League Southern Division in the first half behind a 42-27 record. They slipped below .500 in the second half, by no fault of their own, as some of the bigger named prospects quickly moved up the ladder.
They also got there behind a dominant pitching staff. Their young guns led the entire SAL with 3.03 ERA and a minuscule — and franchise best — 1.17 WHIP behind 15 shutouts. They finished second in strikeouts with 1,248. All of those Ks were also a Charleston record, besting the previous high by 67 set in 2011.
Early in the season, RiverDogs skipper Luis Dorante had the luxury of seeing two of the bigger Yankees breakout pitching prospects. 21-year-old Nestor Cortes, a finesse lefty, who hadn’t been on anyone’s radar, went 6-2 with a 0.79 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 15 over 68.1 innings with the RiverDogs before being promoted all the way to Triple-A at one point.
“Cortes was really, really good,” Dorante said. “He’s a kid that just throws strikes. He doesn’t overpower guys, just goes out there and gives me everything to get people out and that’s his mentality. He told me that, ‘I go out there and just try to get them out, doesn’t matter if it’s a strikeout, ground ball or pop out or what’. A mentality like that — you don’t find them. Sometimes these guys that throw hard they want to strikeout everybody, and that’s not the case with him. He is amazing with all of his pitches and then the command of them.”
Domingo Acevedo — the huge 22-year-old lefty standing at 6-foot-7 — also had a fine year before moving up to Tampa. Acevedo went 3-1 with a 1.90 ERA and a minuscule 0.96 WHIP, striking out 48 in 42.2 innings. What was most impressive was his improved command, walking just seven, and an understanding of how to pitch and not simply throw.
“He’s a power guy,” Dorante said. “Acevedo used to throw hard a lot, and not so much around the zone. This year he was a different guy. He was around the zone more. He toned it down more, used his velocity to throw strikes.”
With the departure of two of their best pitchers, the RiverDogs artillery was reloaded when the Yankees sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers. One of the arms they received in return was 21-year-old righty Nick Green.
Green had been idling around the lower levels of the Rangers system since being a seventh rounder for them in 2014. With a career ERA over 4.00, he exploded once arriving in the Yankees organization.
He went 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA and a 14-to-3 strikeout ratio over three starts. He drew the call for Game 1 of the Southern Divisional Championship, and although the box score doesn’t suggest it, he pitched well, rebounding after a rocky first inning.
“Greeny has done well ever since we got him,” Dorante said. “I know he pitched below us, and then we got him. We like what we saw. He’s getting people out and he’s around the zone. He deserves to open up the playoffs.”
The big haul in the Beltran deal was the fourth overall pick from the 2015 MLB Draft, Dillon Tate. Tate — who had bounced between the bullpen and rotation at UC Santa Barbara so well he became the top pitching prospect in last season’s draft — was turned into a starter for the Rangers. Once arriving in Charleston, they returned Tate to the bullpen where he has since found that velocity that had fallen off and has shown improved command.
“A couple tweaks here and there that I feel like I believe is going to help him with his mechanics,” Dorante said of what they have focused on with Tate. “You have to understand when you’re starting, you tend to be more conservative with your pitch count, you always want to go through five innings or so. You don’t think too much, it’s just throwing hard and just throwing strikes. Now that he is in the bullpen and the work he has put in with [pitching coach Justin] Pope and himself, it’s been paying off. We’re just thinking about increasing his velocity. That’s going to be his role I think in the big leagues, a reliever.”
The battery mate of this young and sharp RiverDogs rotation is the Yankees No. 17 catching prospect Luis Torrens. Torrens had a monster 2014 before succumbing to injury and missing the entirety of the 2015 season. Despite the setback, Torrens has shown signs at his highest level of ball that he could be growing into the role they expected.
For the complete interview with Dorante head on over to Today’s Knuckleball by clicking on the link below:
Yankees’ Charleston RiverDogs excelling on the mound