Mosquera To Lead 2017 Staten Island Yankees

Today the Staten Island Yankees announced that Julio Mosquera would skipper the Baby Bombers during the 2017 season.  It will be Mosquera’s third stint on the coaching staff of Staten Island, his first as a manager.

Mosquera made his managerial debut during the 2015 season for the Gulf Coast League Yankees; he returned to the Himes Complex last season to lead the GCL Yankees 1 team.

Gulf Coast League Yankees Julio Mosquera with Yankees prospect Cesar Diaz during the 2015 Gulf Coast League Season. (Bryan Green)

Before taking over the reigns as manager of GCL in 2015 Julio spent nine seasons as the catching coordinator for the Yankees and before that spent 15 years as a player with various organizations including the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and the Yankees themselves.

In 2006 Julio earned a New York-Penn League Championship ring as a member of the Staten Island Yankees coaching staff.  He worked closely with catcher Francisco Cervelli who was in just his second season in the organization.  He returned for the 2007 season where he once again served as a coach for the Baby Bombers.

Kevin Mahoney with the Staten Island Yankees in 2010. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

Joining the Staten Island Yankees as hitting coach for the 2017 season will be Kevin Mahoney.  Mahoney served as the hitting coach last season for the Pulaski Yankees; it was his second season as a coach in the organization after he retired from playing.  He was originally selected by the Yankees in the 23rd round of the 2009 First-Year-Player Draft and spent five seasons in the organization before playing independent baseball for one year.  He owned a career .252 hitter in the minors making it as high as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2013 his final season in the system.

Pitching Coach Travis Phelps working with the pitchers during a team practice at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

Returning for his second season with Staten Island is pitching coach Travis Phelps.  Phelps made his coaching debut last season with Staten Island and lead the team to a combined 2.82 ERA and 644 strikeouts, good for third in the league in both categories.  Under his leadership, the 2016 Staten Island Yankees finished the season tied in the league for the most shutouts with 10.

Before joining the Yankees he worked as a sports agent and ran a baseball training facility in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Phelps was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 89th round of the 1996 draft and appeared in 79 games at the major league level where he earned a 3-5 record and a 4.34 ERA in three seasons.

Defensive Coach Teuris Olivares working with fielders prior to a game at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

Defensive coach Teuris Olivares will return to the Staten Island Yankees for his third season as defensive coach.  Before joining the Baby Bombers as a full-time coach in 2015, he was a coach for the Dominican Summer League Yankees from 2011-2014.

He began his career in professional baseball as a player with the Yankees in 1996; he reached as high as Triple-A before being cut and bounced around the Atlantic League with the Newark Bears, Camden RiverSharks, Somerset Patriots and the Road Warriors.

Austin DeCarr Prepares for 2017 Following Tommy John Rehab

Playing professional baseball at the minor league level presents its set of unique challenges and obstacles. For many pitchers, the most taxing barrier is the seemingly endless recovery from Tommy John Surgery. Entering his fourth professional season in the Yankees organization, pitcher Austin DeCarr continues his rehab from the surgery after making a successful return to the mound last summer.

DeCarr, a third-round selection by the Yankees in 2014 out of Salisbury College, initially spent his first minor league season developing his three-pitch repertoire with the minor league coaching staff. Unfortunately for DeCarr, an elbow issue flared up during the following spring training and led to Tommy John Surgery. DeCarr would not pitch again in a professional game until June 2016 and faced more than a year of recovery time.

“I had a bone chip in my elbow when I was in high school, but it didn’t bother me,” DeCarr said. “There wasn’t pain in my elbow during spring training in 2015. My forearm was tight and got progressively tighter when I threw. It got to the point where the best idea would be to have it checked out.”

Yankees prospect Austin DeCarr in 2016 (Robert M. Pimpsner)

The grueling rehab process extended to the Staten Island Yankees where DeCarr pitched during the 2016 season. His early performances suggested that he needed time to overcome rust and rediscover the feel for his pitches. Although DeCarr’s curveball and changeup were in peak form, his fastball was inconsistent, primarily in the upper half of the strike zone. Despite the initial struggles, the primary goal was rehabbing in live game action.

“I knew from when I was throwing rehab outings in extended spring training in Tampa a few weeks before that I would pitch in Staten Island. I continued with the program that I was on down there, which was throwing with rehab pitching coordinator Greg Pavlick. With every outing, I was trying to improve things and get better. Obviously, I wanted to throw better, but it was a rehab season for me, and it was good to get back out there.”

As the summer moved along, DeCarr‘s elbow gradually regained its strength, and in turn, his performance improved dramatically. In three starts between July 28 and August 9, DeCarr surrendered just two runs in 15 innings of work while averaging close to one strikeout per inning. DeCarr finished the season with a 4.12 ERA in 10 starts and credits Staten Island pitching coach Travis Phelps for his guidance and teachings.

“Travis was excellent. He had a lot of great information, and he has been around the game and had a great career for himself,” DeCarr said. “We were all working with him every day and the biggest thing he was teaching me was trusting that everything with my arm was healed up and that this as a process. You cannot get frustrated with things and I needed to get back to the point where I was before the surgery.”

DeCarr diving into home plate to make a tag at the plate. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

DeCarr reached his innings limit following an August 24 start against Aberdeen, and the organization deemed it wise to shut him down for the season and let his body rest. Although   DeCarr pitched his highest inning total since 2014, he felt no lingering effects from the surgery and began transitioning towards his offseason workouts in his native Foxboro.

“It was a long year, and it was good for my development. The organization said I threw a lot for a full calendar year. They didn’t want me to throw anymore for the rest of the year, so I did pitch in the instructional league. Instead, I went back home and took my mind off baseball and didn’t have to worry about throwing. Their decision was in my best interest.”

With his 2016 season behind him, DeCarr prepares for the likely jump to pitching in a full-season league for the first time in his career. Further distanced from his injuries, the focus now shifts to building consistency on the mound and mastering the nuances of pitching in the professional ranks.

“In this game, whether you are pitching or hitting, it is about being as consistent as possible. I try to keep my mechanics simple and efficient,” DeCarr said. “My goal is also to be aggressive and hone in on every pitch. I’m starting to feel fresh after letting my arm rest for a bit, and I am ready to go.”

Holding Off on Name Change Allows SI Yanks to Fix Other Problems

On Monday, the Staten Island Yankees announced that they would no undergo a name change for the 2017 season due to missing deadlines for licensing set forth for teams.  While the one-year reprieve might come as a welcome surprise to some fans, it is important to note that it is temporary and the team is still planning to go forth with the name change.

However, holding off on the change will allow the team to work on other issues they need to fix.  Among these matters are the big two that fans continue to talk about, parking and concessions.

Parking

During the 2016 season, the team did not have access to the adjacent parking lots due to ongoing construction of the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets.  Parking is of most importance since Staten Island is the most car-dependent borough of New York City due to inadequate public transportation options.

The lack of available parking was the number one reason for the severe downturn in attendance at games during the season, which saw an average of 2,250 fans a game from 3,221 fans in 2015. That 30% decrease in attendance represents the second biggest drop in team history.

Many fans have called for the team to have “out-of-the-box” fixes to the parking lot issue like running shuttles to other parking lots, which was already in motion.  Some call for the team to open the train station underneath the stadium again. However, that is a decision that can only be left up to the MTA.  In 2010 the MTA cut the service right at the beginning of the season citing lack of ridership to cover the costs.  So, it is highly unlikely they will bring it back when the team is drawing its lowest crowds ever.

Some relief should be in sight for 2017; the New York Wheel garage is open as a valet-only option right now.  While self-parking at the lot has been delayed, again, it is possible it will be available come June 2017.  If not the team will find themselves once again in a bad spot where fans would rather stay home than deal with the hassle.

Concessions

This is the second biggest gripe fans have with the team.  Let’s face it, concessions at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark are bad, bland and boring.  The team looked to be going in a good direction when in 2015 they had Pier 76 running the first base concession stand and Irishman’s BBQ serving up delicious food on the concourse.  Aside from that, the food was still the standard ballpark fare. The team did try to bring in unique food options with fan-voted specialty hot dogs, but they did not catch on as hoped.

In 2016 stadium concessions took a turn for the worse, Pier 76 opted not to return and Irishman’s BBQ was nowhere to be found.  This left only the traditional, overpriced ballpark food that is available everywhere.  In one season the team went from pizza that was made in a real pizzeria to the ballpark version that left much to be desired.

How could they change things for the better? The first would be to bring in local vendors once again and limit the need to rely on the standard ballpark fare from Legends.  Let’s face it; once Empire Outlets opens they will have to compete with gourmet food options that will be located in the Outlets’ food hall, so fans will have much more options for grabbing food before and after games.  The team must figure out a way they could compete with that.

I for one would love to see Pier 76 back or bring in Daddy O’s BBQ to have a concession stand.  How great would it be for Ralph’s ices to be served or pastries from Alfonso’s or another local bakery?  I would like to see the team use the concessions as a chance to offer visitors a taste of Staten Island cuisine.  It will complement the new and different food options that will be available in the Empire Outlets food hall.

Price

Third on the list of gripes fans have with the team is the price.  It is expensive for Short Season Single-A baseball.  Ticket prices start at $9 for outermost sections to $18 for the infield sections.  Compare this to 2001 when the stadium open when tickets cost $8 and $10 respectively.  Adjusted for inflation that would mean the most expensive ticket would cost $13.63 if they raised it adjusting for CPI changes.

For comparison, the Brooklyn Cyclones charge $10, $14 and $17 for individual tickets when bought in advance and $12, $16 and $19 when purchased the day of the game.  The Trenton Thunder charge $13 day of the game for their most expensive ticket.  Division rival the Hudson Valley Renegades charge $15 for their most expensive ticket while the Independent Somerset Patriots charge $14.

Community

Per the New York-Penn League Community Benefit Report done after the 2015 season the Staten Island Yankees made $192,460 in contributions to community organizations.  This included funds raised in the school fundraising program, direct donations, 50/50s, ticket gifts and mascot appearances.  In total $146,020 of that $192,460 was from donating tickets, mascot appearances, and gift baskets.

The 2016 Community Benefit Report has yet to be released, but it might paint a much different picture for the Staten Island Yankees.  Up until 2016 most their community relations was giving away tickets, a practice that was stopped for 2016.

Minor League baseball is based on community, and the team needs to be more proactive in the community.  That means getting out there and promoting it.  This past season the team did not have a traditional “HOPE WEEK” due to how the season schedule was spaced out.  It would be great to see the team adopt new community outreach ideas like Little League takeovers, field cleanups, a staff giving back day, etc.

Communications

This by far has been the team’s downfall since 1999.  The Staten Island Yankees have been known as a team that lacks sufficient connection with its fans.  The name change fiasco is a good example.  Many people did not realize that the name change did not affect their affiliation with the New York Yankees.  This is an area where they can only improve and must improve.

Stadium Improvements

This is a big one.  Aside from the brand-new Daktronics video board, the stadium is in much need of improvement.  This past season a fungus ate away at the field, causing a less than quality playing surface for the team to play on.  Also, the stadium electrical and sound system needs a massive upgrade.  The lighting is also in need of an update, perhaps with something like the brand-new LED lighting that is at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton and Yankees Stadium in The Bronx.

These are just some of the issues the team must face and are just as important as changing the name when it comes to the overall improvement of the organization.  Each one contributed to the downfall in the team’s popularity, and it won’t be an overnight fix.  It will take years to rebuild the trust with the fans and bring them back in droves. No one expected the name change to be the magic pill that turns everything but at least holding off on it will allow them more time to fix issues before they sour another name.

With that said the team needs to use this time to revisit the finalists.  The five names were the result of a rushed process that was based off fan input.  None of the names were tied to the island and failed to connect with the community.  The best thing for them to do is to do the research and find a selection of names that accurately represent the island’s history and culture.  Let’s face it, naming the team after an internet hoax was never a good idea.

No New Name for Staten Island Yankees in 2017

The Staten Island Yankees have announced that they will not have a new team name for 2017 after all.  In June, the team announced that they planned on changing their name after the 2016 and enlisted the help of Brandiose to help facilitate the process.  The name change is still on the table for the 2018 season and beyond.

Since the announcement, our organization enthusiastically devoted its full effort into the research and planning related to this endeavor, but over time it became clear that the approval and acceptance of the new name and artwork would take longer than initially anticipated. With that taken into consideration, we decided to table the rebranding process for the upcoming season and remain the Staten Island Yankees in 2017,” the team said in a press release.

In the initial call, the Staten Island team received over 2,000 entries in the contest and narrowed it down to five options including Staten Island Heroes, Pizza Rats, Bridge Trolls, Rock Pigeons and Killer Bees.

Since the 1999 inaugural season the Staten Island minor league team has used the “Yankees” nickname but recently the name value has worn off.  Attendance last season averaged just 2,250 fans a game in a stadium that has a capacity of 7,171 people.

We had a favored name, logo, and branding plan. We were prepared to move forward but encountered obstacles that unfortunately delayed the process beyond industry deadlines. These delays also would have compromised the quality of the product we aim to bring our fans,” said Staten Island Yankees President Will Smith in a press release issued by the team. “I always said that until there is a new name, we are the Yankees. That remains true today.

 

Staten Island MiLB Team To Open Season June 19

The Staten Island minor league team will have a new name when they take the field on June 19 against the Brooklyn Cyclones. (Eduardo Amaro)

The Staten Island Yankees may be no more, but the team will live on beginning June 19, 2017, under a new moniker as they take on their cross-town rivals the Brooklyn Cyclones.

The Staten Island, minor league franchise, will face the Cyclones total of 13 times next season including the regular season finale at MCU Park on September 9. Due to a change in the league’s scheduling format for the 2017 season, Staten Island will face every team in the New York-Penn League except for the Batavia Muckdogs, Auburn Doubledays, and State College Spikes.

Of the 76 games on the season schedule, 37 will take place in the McNamara Division with the Aberdeen Ironbirds and Hudson Valley Renegades slated to play twelve games apiece against Staten Island. The remaining 39 games consist of teams from the Pinckney and the Stedler Divisions, with nine each against the Lowell Spinners, Connecticut Tigers, and the Tri-City Valley Cats.

2017 schedule-by-the numbers

Games by team

Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets): 13

Aberdeen Ironbirds (Baltimore Orioles): 12

Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay Rays): 12

Lowell Spinners (Boston Red Sox): 9

Connecticut Tigers (Detroit Tigers): 9

Tri-City Valley Cats (Houston Astros): 6

Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland Athletics): 6

Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia Phillies): 3

West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh Pirates): 3

Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians): 3

Batavia Muckdogs (Miami Marlins): 0

State College Spikes (St. Louis Cardinals): 0

Auburn Doubledays (Washington Nationals): 0

Games by Division

McNamara (Brooklyn, Aberdeen, Hudson Valley): 37

Stedler (Connecticut, Lowell, Tri-City, Vermont): 30

Pinckney (Williamsport, West Virginia, Mahoning Valley, State College, Auburn, Batavia): 9

Home games by day

Sunday: 5

Monday: 6

Tuesday: 4

Wednesday: 5

Thursday: 7

Friday: 5

Saturday: 6

Home games by month

June: 4

July: 16

August: 15

September: 3

DayDateOpponentDivisionH/RGame #
MondayJune 19Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraHome1
TuesdayJune 20Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad2
WednesdayJune 21Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad3
ThursdayJune 22Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad4
FridayJune 23Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad5
SaturdayJune 24Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome6
SundayJune 25Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome7
MondayJune 26Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome8
WednesdayJune 28Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerRoad9
ThursdayJune 29Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerRoad10
FridayJune 30Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerRoad11
SaturdayJuly 1Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerHome12
SundayJuly 2Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerHome13
MondayJuly 3Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerHome14
TuesdayJuly 4Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome15
WednesdayJuly 5Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad16
ThursdayJuly 6Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome17
FridayJuly 7Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad18
SaturdayJuly 8Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraHome19
SundayJuly 9Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad20
TuesdayJuly 11Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerHome21
WednesdayJuly 12Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerHome22
ThursdayJuly 13Vermont Lake MonstersStedlerHome23
FridayJuly 14West Virgina BlackBearsPinckneyRoad24
SaturdayJuly 15West Virgina BlackBearsPinckneyRoad25
SundayJuly 16West Virgina BlackBearsPinckneyRoad26
MondayJuly 17Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad27
TuesdayJuly 18Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad28
WednesdayJuly 19Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad29
ThursdayJuly 20Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome30
FridayJuly 21Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome31
SaturdayJuly 22Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome32
SundayJuly 23Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome33
MondayJuly 24Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome34
TuesdayJuly 25Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome35
ThursdayJuly 27Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerRoad36
FridayJuly 28Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerRoad37
SaturdayJuly 29Tri-City Valley CatsStedlerRoad38
SundayJuly 30Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad39
MondayJuly 31Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraHome40
TuesdayAugust 1Hudson Valley RenegadesMcNamaraRoad41
WednesdayAugust 2Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome42
ThursdayAugust 3Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome43
FridayAugust 4Aberdeen IronBirdsMcNamaraHome44
SaturdayAugust 5Conneticut TigersStedlerRoad45
SundayAugust 6Conneticut TigersStedlerRoad46
MondayAugust 7Conneticut TigersStedlerRoad47
TuesdayAugust 8Williamsport CrosscuttersPinckneyHome48
WednesdayAugust 9Williamsport CrosscuttersPinckneyHome49
ThursdayAugust 10Williamsport CrosscuttersPinckneyHome50
FridayAugust 11Mahoning Valley ScrappersPinckneyRoad51
SaturdayAugust 12Mahoning Valley ScrappersPinckneyRoad52
SundayAugust 13Mahoning Valley ScrappersPinckneyRoad53
WednesdayAugust 16Conneticut TigersStedlerHome54
ThursdayAugust 17Conneticut TigersStedlerHome55
FridayAugust 18Conneticut TigersStedlerHome56
SaturdayAugust 19Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome57
SundayAugust 20Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome58
MondayAugust 21Lowell SpinnersStedlerHome59
TuesdayAugust 22Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad60
WednesdayAugust 23Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad61
ThursdayAugust 24Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad62
FridayAugust 25Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraHome63
SaturdayAugust 26Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad64
SundayAugust 27Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraHome65
MondayAugust 28Lowell SpinnersStedlerRoad66
TuesdayAugust 29Lowell SpinnersStedlerRoad67
WednesdayAugust 30Lowell SpinnersStedlerRoad68
ThursdayAugust 31Conneticut TigersStedlerHome69
FridaySeptember 1Conneticut TigersStedlerHome70
SaturdaySeptember 2Conneticut TigersStedlerHome71
SundaySeptember 3Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad72
MondaySeptember 4Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad73
TuesdaySeptember 5Aberdeen IronbirdsMcNamaraRoad74
WednesdaySeptember 6Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraHome75
ThursdaySeptember 7Brooklyn CyclonesMcNamaraRoad76

Staten Island Yankees 2016 Year in Review

Nick Solak  (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)

The 2016 season was a year of transition and prosperity for the Staten Island Yankees. Under veteran manager Dave Bialas, the Baby Bombers qualified for postseason play for the second consecutive season as the New York-Penn League’s wild-card finishing 3.5 games behind the Hudson Valley Renegades with a 44-31 record. Off the field, the club prepared to retire the Yankees team nickname and develop an identity of their own to attract a new legion of fans.

With a blend of recent draft picks and returning contributors, Staten Island set a franchise record with an 11-2 start and added to the history books during the first months of the season. Following a 20-inning marathon victory in Brooklyn in the season opener, pitchers Drew Finley and Josh Roeder combined for a ten-inning no-hitter in their first game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. The no-hitter was the club’s first since Jason Arnold blanked the Vermont Expos in June 2001.

“It was an honor,” Roeder told Pinstriped Prospects. “It feels to a be a part of this organization and its history and to do this with one of my buddies Drew Finley, it’s a good feeling too. We went out there and did our job. We were successful in getting a no-hitter and now we are a part of history.”

Dominant pitching set the tone for Staten Island throughout the season, thanks to a rotation where 13 pitchers recorded at least one start. Kolton Mahoney, a key member of the pitching staff in 2015, emerged as the club’s ace with a 2.92 ERA in 61.2 innings and pitched a complete game shutout on July 31 against the Auburn Doubledays.

The rotation also received a boost in late June as former 3rd round draft pick and Foxboro native Austin DeCarr made a successful return from Tommy John Surgery. DeCarr took a few starts to regain his form but allowed just three runs in 19.2 innings between July 28 and August 18 showing marked improvement.

Other notable pitchers included Freicer Perez, a 6’8” righthander who stood tall making the jump from the Dominican Summer League and emerged as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects and Delaware alum Chad Martin, who went 4-0 in five late-season starts. Staten Island finished third in the NYPL with a 2.82 ERA and finished tied for first in the circuit with ten shutouts.

At the plate, Staten island took an opportunistic approach throughout the season and displayed a propensity to capitalize with runners in scoring position and support the strong efforts on the mound. First baseman Dalton Blaser opened the year with 7 hits in his first 11 at-bats and Mandy Alvarez batted .364 in his first 13 games to earn a quick promotion to Charleston.

Catcher Luis Torrens would also join Alvarez in Charleston in mid-July after a triumphant return from shoulder surgery. Torrens, who missed the entire 2015 season returned to form as the best catching prospect in the Yankees’ organization after Gary Sanchez, showing no ill-effects from the injury. In 12 games in Staten Island, Torrens threw out 39 percent of potential base stealers and recorded a .760 OPS at the plate.

“Luis can hit. He has a short stroke to the ball and his arm is healthy now. He is a future major league ballplayer without a doubt,” Bialas said prior to Torrens’ promotion to Charleston.

Throughout the summer, the Baby Bombers established a variety of offensive contributors despite a constantly shifting roster. Outfielder Timmy Robinson, a 21st round draft pick out of USC, led the New York-Penn League with 52 RBIs and paced Staten Island in five offensive categories, including home runs (8), triples (4), and total bases (111). Robinson broke out on July 21 against the Tri-City Valley Cats with a 2 HR, 5 RBI performance and was a potent offensive force throughout the season.

Third baseman Drew Bridges, a returning member of the club in 2016, had the finest season of his professional career, batting .258/.321/.377 with 5 HR and 32 RBIs in a team-high 67 games. The Carthage, Missouri native was one of three Staten Island players to receive a NYPL All-Star selection and sustained his impressive play into the postseason with an extra inning home run to stave off elimination against the State College Spikes.

Lauded for his consistency and makeup, second baseman Nick Solak made the biggest impression on most observers. A 2nd round draft pick out of Louisville last June, Solak led Staten Island with a .412 on-base percentage in 64 games and exceeded expectations defensively recording a .975 fielding percentage. Solak was also adept at hitting to all fields and finished fourth in the NYPL with a .321 average.

On September 3, Staten Island clinched the wild card spot in the NYPL postseason with a victory in Tri-City. The Baby Bombers would face top-seeded State College in the semifinals and lost to the eventual league champions in three games, falling one game short of pursuing their seventh NYPL title. Although Staten Island did not return to the championship series, there was a sense of accomplishment for their postseason journey.

“I know it meant a lot to me and a lot to these kids,” Bialas said. “These kids have battled every day and worked hard, putting in extra work when they needed to and busted their tails playing to him. These kids deserved to be in the playoffs and that chance to compete for a championship.”

Staten Island became the 5th team in the Yankees’ organization to qualify for postseason play after clinching the NYPL wild card. With the 2016 season in the books, Staten Island will officially retire the Yankees moniker after 18 seasons and embark on the next chapter of their history. By year’s end, the club will officially have a new name and rebrand with an eye towards the future and generate local interest for their product on the field, while remaining a Yankee’s affiliate.

Gosuke Katoh Still Growing Mentally And Physically

Gosuke Katoh  (Charleston RiverDogs)

Gosuke Katoh has had his ups and downs during the first four seasons of professional baseball in the New York Yankees minor league system.  He’s battled through being demoted and finished 2016 with the Charleston RiverDogs.

Katoh had played high school baseball at Rancho Bernardo in San Diego where excelled playing second base and batting at a .429 clip his senior season.  Katoh decided at that point in time to stay close to home accepting a scholarship to play baseball at UCLA.

While watching the 2013 baseball draft, Katoh was watching to see where his friends were being taken in the draft.  Much to his surprise, he heard his own named called by the Yankees in the second round.  “It completely just surprised me.  I was watching TV, the draft, pretty much just as a fan because I played with most of those guys who went in the first round.  I was just texting them like, ‘Hey man, congratulations.’  Little did I know I was going to get drafted on TV, so it was exciting and I was really surprised,” Katoh said.

Katoh was faced with an unexpected dilemma.  “It was a really tough decision my senior year because when I committed to UCLA, I pretty much knew 100% that I was going to go there and play baseball for them and that was my dream school because my mom went there and my dad went there.  I always grew up as a Bruin fan and being from southern California, they’re always a good baseball school and always have good athletics and good education.  It was really tough to turn down, but when the Yankees called I was really excited to open up a new chapter in my life and to get my professional baseball career started,” Katoh said of his choice to accept the Yankees offer.

Katoh was sent to the Gulf Coast League soon after signing and soon showed why the Yankees had taken a chance on him in the second round.  He hit .310 while posting an on base percentage of .402 in 50 games.  “I think it was because it was pretty much just an extension of my high school season.  I finished high school, won our state championship and then basically again next week I was playing baseball again in Florida.  That was a pretty easy transition on the field.  We were playing day games, so I was really used to that.”

Katoh had to adjust to living across the country and was on his own for the first time in his life. “The off the field stuff was the hardest for me because it was my first time away from home for a very long period of time.  You know having to take care of my body by myself and living on my own was pretty tough.”

The Yankees were impressed with his 2013 season and assigned him to the full season single-A Charleston RiverDogs for 2014.  His numbers at the plate declined though as he hit .222, although he was still getting on base with a relatively good .345 on base percentage.

The next season, the Yankees assigned him to Charleston again where he started off the season.  Katoh was then faced with his first setback when he was sent to extended spring training and then down a level to the Pulaski Yankees shortly into the 2015 season.  “It was really tough to go down because it was my first time ever experiencing failure really.  Through high school, I’ve always succeeded for the most part and to fail was kind of tough but I really learned a lot on the mental side of baseball and a lot of the coaches here helped me out.  The hitting coach has helped me out and all the staff in Tampa really helped me out with my mental game.  I went to Tampa for extended for a little bit and really worked on my swing with the hitting instructor, James Rowson,” Katoh said.

Katoh then turned his season around at Pulaski where he hit .287, getting on base at a .426 clip to help spark the P-Yanks to the playoffs.  “When I went to Pulaski, I only had positive thoughts.  We had a really great group of guys there.  I loved the team there, I love the team chemistry there.  We ended up winning a lot of games and making the playoffs.  It was a really positive season.”

Katoh started off 2016 in extended spring training before getting re-assigned to Charleston on May 23.  In his first game back, he felt something he never had before while playing baseball.  “It was awesome because I was basically shaking at the plate because I was so nervous.  I’ve never really been that nervous on the baseball field,” he said.  Nobody in the stands could tell as Katoh homered in his first at-bat of the season.  He ended up going 3-5, scoring two runs while driving in one in a 10-2 RiverDogs win over West Virginia.  “To be able to get that first at-bat, first knock, first home run out of the way was a huge relief because after that I felt like all the pressure was off and I was really able to have some fun on the field,” Katoh said

While at the plate, Katoh has a reputation for being patient but he’s trying to take a more assertive approach at the plate.  “At the plate, I like to be really aggressive.  I swing at a lot of first pitches when I’m feeling really good.  I like to grind out at-bats.  I feel like I’ll never really be that three or four guy that drives in runs in the gaps or hit home runs, so I like to really just grind out at-bats and help the team win by getting on base and stealing some bags.” Katoh described.

Defensively, Katoh plays second base, but did play third base this season for the first time in his professional career.  Playing third gave him more perspective while at the plate.  “I never knew how hard it was to field a bunt from third base until I actually did it.  You know hitting wise and obviously from the second base side, the more you know about every position in the game, the more you’ll succeed.  It was good to know about the bunt stuff from the third base side too,” Katoh said.

As far as his normal position, Katoh has good hands and range at second base, but he still has areas of his game he’s looking to improve.  “Basically everything in general. The main focus is footwork and arm strength. I can always improve on hands and range.  If I compare myself to the big league, major league all-star, I’m nowhere close to there.  There’s a lot of work to do, I have a lot of work to do,” Katoh said.

Katoh is still young and will be 22 years old when the 2017 season starts.  His numbers at the plate weren’t fantastic (.229 BA 1 HR 9 RBI in 65 games) but he knows what he has to do to get better and become the player the Yankees think he can be.  His focus is to keep gaining strength, both mentally and physically.  “In 2017, I expect myself to be a better person and a better player.  Be stronger mentally.  I feel like every year I’ve been getting a lot stronger mentally.  Making good steps forward after a bad game.  I expect a huge year out of me every year.  I’m going to work really hard in the gym and during the off-season and that should pay off.”

Ben Ruta Lives out Hometown Dreams as Yankees Farmhand

Ben Ruta with the Staten Island Yankees (Robert M. Pimpsner)

During the past two decades, the New York Yankees entrenched themselves as the perennial team of choice in their city. Through their dominance and winning culture, they built a new legion of youth fans, some of who are playing professional baseball themselves. Ben Ruta, a native of West Windsor, New Jersey grew up in that era and now lives out his dream as a player in the Yankees’ organization.

Defining the championship seasons under Joe Torre were patience and discipline. Outfielder Bernie Williams translated that on-field discipline from his musical background where he learned to express himself internally. In a similar sense, Ruta also grew up around the music by playing the piano as a youngster and learned from an early age the benefit of being patient on a baseball diamond.

“I played the piano for seven years. I didn’t like practicing the piano initially, but my mom made me do it when I was younger.” Ruta said. “One I was done, I began to enjoy it, because I was able to see why it was beneficial to me and the discipline part of it is just like baseball because you are always practicing to become successful.”

In addition to his music pursuits, Ruta comes from a strong athletic background, where both his father and sister played collegiate soccer. Ruta would establish himself at West-Windsor Plainsboro South High School, where he earned three varsity letters in baseball and was a Princeton “All Packet” First Team selection on two occasions.

“Baseball was truly the sport that I loved more than soccer and I was willing to work hard in that sport. The high school competition was ok, but what prepared me for college was being able to look up to some older players and keep working hard every year from then and get into a routine, which is how I found success,” Ruta said.

Following high school, Ruta received a Division I offer from Wagner College, which plays its home games on the same field as the Staten Island Yankees at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Under head coach Jim Carone and his predecessors, Wagner developed into one of the top baseball programs in New York City with seven players getting drafted by big league teams, including former Oakland A’s closer Andrew Bailey.

Ben Ruta with the Wagner College Seahawks (David Saffran Photography/Wagner College Athletics)
Ben Ruta with the Wagner College Seahawks (David Saffran Photography/Wagner College Athletics)

“Playing at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in my professional career is a dream for me because I practiced and played there for four years in college,” Ruta said. “Wagner was one of my only Division I offers. I was the first player recruited by Carone when he got the job. From the time I was a freshman to when I was a senior, the program kept taking steps to improve from playing better competition to recruiting better players.”

Ruta began garnering notice with a standout season this past spring, batting .343/.406/.439 and making the First Team All-NEC for the second consecutive season. Although the individual stats were impressive were impressive on paper, Ruta puts team performance ahead of individual pursuits and regrets being unable to compete for a league championship in his final year of eligibility.

“It’s always great to get individual awards, but we did not meet our goals as a college program. We did not get a chance to play in an NEC Tournament, which was a huge disappointment. It is nice to have a great year, but you cannot do that without the help of your coaches, teammates, family, and hard work.”

Ruta’s aspiration of playing for the Yankees came to fruition when the organization selected him in the 30th round in June. His first 13 professional games came with the Pulaski Yankees in Appalachian League, when he hit .283/.365/,413 with one home run and eight runs batted in for manager Tony Frankin to open the season.

Ben Ruta diving back to first base. (Jarah Wright)
Ben Ruta diving back to first base. (Jarah Wright)

“The Yankees showed interest in me during the pre-draft workout. I was hoping to get taken by them since I was on their radar the past two seasons. I really enjoyed the small-town feel of Pulaski. They had great fans there and the park was beautiful. Tony was very supportive and walked the players through the minor league process through their first experience in pro ball”

Following an auspicious pro start, Ruta earned a promotion to Staten Island, where he returned to the site of his collegiate glory. Ruta struggled in his first foray in the New York-Penn League with one hit in his first 16 at-bats before hitting a home run against the Williamsport Crosscutters. Adjustments were key for Ruta to overcome difficulties and adjust to the league in Staten Island.

“It was definitely a big adjustment anytime you move up a level,” Ruta said. “What it comes down to is feeling out your swing and not worrying necessarily about how many hits you get, but about putting in good at-bats together each day because baseball is a rough sport on your mind because you have to focus on the process rather than the results.”

Primarily a gap hitter with speed, Ruta hopes to improve his power potential as he makes his way through the Yankees minor league system and believes the coaching philosophy at each level benefits him while he improves in professional baseball.

“Eric Duncan, the hitting coach in Staten Island has helped me make small adjustments during the season, where my swing now feels great. He is similar to Kevin Mahoney in Pulaski since they aren’t about changing your entire swing. I think it’s a great approach to have since these adjustments can help you go a long way.”

Dom Thompson-Williams Builds Momentum in Pro Ball

Dom Thompson-Williams singles on a fly ball to right field (Robert M. Pimpsner)

There are few positions in sports, which hold both the reverence and importance of playing centerfield for the New York Yankees. The names that held the position were iconic in stature and maintained a deep place in the team’s illustrious history. 27 miles away in Staten Island is where Dom Thompson-Williams, the Yankees fifth round pick in the 2016 draft begins his professional career.

In his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa, Thompson-Williams had a number of athletic pursuits available to him during his senior season of high school. As a star wide receiver and defensive back, Thompson-Williams received offers to play football at the collegiate level, but after winning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2013, he chose to attend Iowa Western Community College with the hopes of becoming a professional baseball player.

“I could have gone to Iowa, Iowa State, or Nebraska for football, but I wanted to play both baseball and football. They did not want a two-sport athlete. People do not know this, but I signed to play both sports in junior college. After a week, I thought it through, and I did not want to hurt myself playing football, so I told the coach to raise my scholarship to play baseball full-time,” Thompson-Williams said.

Thompson-Williams quickly established himself during his two seasons at Iowa Western and led his team to consecutive appearances in the NJCAA World Series. During his freshman season, he batted .407/.465/.623 with 20 stolen bases and became the 19th round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals that spring. By the time he completed his tenure at Iowa Western, Thompson-Williams was a national commodity ranked in the top 100 among collegiate players.

Dom Thompson Williams collected 2 hits in his first professional playoff game. (Robert M. Pimpsner)
Dom Thompson-Williams collected two hits in his first professional playoff game. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

“A big thing that they preached at Iowa Western was to teach you how to become a baseball player on the field and they teach you to become a man off the field,” Thompson-Williams explains. “Junior college wasn’t the fastest route, but made me the man who I am today and I would not take back those days and the decision I made to attend school there.”

After two productive junior college seasons, the South Carolina Gamecocks recruited Thompson-Williams last spring and became teammates and fast friends with Gene Cone and Taylor Widener, who later began their pro careers with Thompson-Williams in the New York-Penn League.

“My dream out of high school was to play in the SEC, period. That was my main dream. At Iowa Western, we ended up winning the national championship, and that opened a lot of doors for me,” Thompson-Williams said. “Gene Cone was our leadoff hitter, and he had a hell of a year at South Carolina and those types of players push you to become better.”

“Dom was supposed to make a major impact coming into South Carolina,” Cone said. “He played center and left predominantly for us and was a big factor in the success we had last spring. Everybody liked him as a teammate, and we hung out together both on and off the field.”

With the help of head coach Chad Holbrook, Thompson-Williams hit .315 with eight home runs and 41 RBI in 240 at-bats. Earlier in the spring, South Carolina alum and current Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. visited the campus and made an impression on the student athletes.

“South Carolina had the academics and the best resources in the country. They called me out of the blue and gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was heaven all over. Jackie is the man. He sat down with me, and we talked about baseball and the off the field matters. He was so down to earth that you would never know he’s a big leaguer. It’s pretty awesome to know somebody of that caliber.”

Proving he could play successfully at any level as an amateur, Thompson-Williams felt ready to accept the challenges of professional baseball and quickly signed a contract with the Yankees just before the start of the New York-Penn League season. Assigned to the Staten Island Yankees as a fifth-round pick, Thompson-Williams batted in the leadoff spot for the first time and faced the struggles that typify the transition from college baseball.

“I guess the biggest transition for me was switching from aluminum to the wood bats. I am still trying to figure that out, and the key is making adjustments. I came out of the gates striking out a lot and not doing too well. I just had to tell myself that baseball is a game and that everybody has ups and downs, even if they are in the big leagues. Eventually, things turn around,” Thompson-Williams said.

Dom Thompson-Williams scores sliding into homeplate on a single by Angel Aguilar. (Robert M. Pimpsner)
Dom Thompson-Williams scores sliding into homeplate on a single by Angel Aguilar. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

By midseason, Thompson-Williams rediscovered his form, and his difficulties began subsiding. Dating back to a two-hit performance against the Lowell Spinners on August 8, Thompson-Williams was hitting .333 in 33 at-bats and boosted his on-base percentage to a season-best .366 by month’s end with Staten Island in contention for a postseason berth.

“I think he is started to get accustomed to using the wooden bats by now,” Staten Island manager Dave Bialas said. “He was down for about 11 to 12 days with a bruised hand and now is beginning to swing the bat well for us. He adds a lot to our club in the outfield and plays a good centerfield. Also, he can steal bags out of the leadoff spot and contributes well to this club.”

Staten Island Forces Game Three Match-Up with Extra Inning Win

Drew Bridges hit a solo home run in the tenth inning to lead the Yankees to victory. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

The Staten Island Yankees will be around for at least one more game as they have defeated the State College Spikes in game two of the New York-Penn League Semi-Finals.  The win came in the tenth inning thanks to a solo home run by Drew Bridges.

Staten Island got off to an early lead in the first inning after Dom Thompson-Williams lined a single to left and advanced to second on a throwing error.  That allowed him to move to third base on a ground out by Drew Bridges and score on a ground out by Timmy Robinson.

The Yankees added a second run in the top of the sixth inning. Timmy Robinson doubled to left, moved to third on a single by Dalton Blaser and then got thrown out at home when Jerry Seitz hit into a fielder’s choice.  Blaser went to second on the play.  Nathan Mikolas walked to load the bases and after a pop out in foul territory to the third baseman Ben Ruta would walk to force home a run.

That is where the scoring would stay until the bottom of the ninth inning.  Josh Roeder came into the game in relief.  He allowed a leadoff single to Danny Hudzina then a wild pitch to move him to second.  Roeder then walked Yariel Gonzalez.  A fly out to center field moved up both runners, putting them in the position to score on a single by Tommy Edman.

Drew Bridges came up big with his solo shot in the top of the tenth inning, giving Staten Island the lead once again.

The lead was in jeopardy as State College loaded the bases with one-out in the bottom of the tenth inning after Ricardo Bautista singled, Elier Rodriguez reached on a throwing error, and Danny Hudzina walked.  But the Yankees had some luck as Yariel Gonzalez grounded into a double play to second baseman Nick Solak to Angel Aguilar at the bag and finally to Dalton Blaser at first base to end the game.

Freicer Perez pitched five innings, allowing four walks and three hits and striking out only two batters.  He was followed by David Sosebee who pitched three great innings in relief, striking out three batters and allowing a hit and walk.  Josh Roeder got the win but allowed 2 runs on two hits and a walk.  Trevor Lane earned the save with a scoreless inning.

Tomorrow the Staten Island Yankees will look to try to make it to the next round of the playoffs with Simon De la Rosa on the mound.  If the Yankees win, they will face off against the Hudson Valley Renegades in the championship round.