CHARLESTON, SC-- With Opening Day less than a week away, the New York Yankees have revealed the players who will don Charleston RiverDogs uniforms to open the 2014 season on April 3 on the road against the Augusta GreenJackets.
First-year RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante fields a team that has six of the Yankees' top 20 prospects according to MLB.com, including three with top 10 recognition from Baseball America. Featured prospects include 2013 first round draft pick Aaron Judge in the Charleston outfield, and a talented double play combo comprised of two teenagers in second baseman Gosuke Katoh and shortstop Abiatal Avelino. Pitching prospect Luis Severino headlines the RiverDogs pitching staff as the hard throwing right-hander makes his much anticipated return to the Lowcountry.
Judge (Yankees No. 6 prospect, Baseball America; No. 9, MLB.com) will make his professional debut with the RiverDogs this season. Judge, an All-American outfielder from Fresno State, was the 32nd overall pick of last year's First-Year Player Draft but did not play a professional game in 2013. His batting power and arm strength, as well as his 6-foot-7 frame, highlight the great potential for his debut season in the South Atlantic League.
Michael O'Neill and Brandon Thomas, both early-round 2013 draft picks, join Judge in the outfield following debuts with short-season Single-A State Island. O'Neill, the nephew of former Yankee outfielder Paul O'Neill, was a third round selection out of the University of Michigan. Thomas hit six home runs for Staten Island after he was drafted in the eighth round from Georgia Tech. Completing the outfield corps is Mikeson Oliberto, an experienced Yankees farmhand who played for Staten Island, Single-A Tampa, and Double-A Trenton last season.
Katoh (Yankees No. 10 prospect, Baseball America; No. 11, MLB.com) highlights a strong group of infielders. The 19-year old second baseman and left-handed hitter was the 66th overall pick last year by New York, and turned down a baseball scholarship to UCLA to sign with the Yankees organization. In 2013, Katoh had a great pro debut at the plate with a .310 batting average, and earned 2013 Gulf Coast League postseason All-Star recognition with the GCL Yankees 1.
Avelino (Yankees No. 18 prospect, MLB.com) anchors the left side of the infield opposite of Katoh. Avelino, a 19-year old shortstop, has earned his prospect recognition due in large part to his strong defensive attributes. He has also found success on the basepaths, leading the Yankees organization last year with 28 stolen bases. Avelino hails from San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., which is often fittingly nicknamed "The Cradle of Shortstops."
At third base, Miguel Andujar (Yankees No. 19 prospect, MLB.com) exploded in his second season in the Gulf Coast League. Andujar batted .323 with four home runs in just 34 games played. Corner infielder Mike Ford primarily brings experience at first base and a left-handed bat into his first season in the Holy City.
Tyler Wade and John Murphy, a pair of left-handed hitters, add depth to the RiverDogs infield. Wade plays shortstop and ranked fourth among Yankees minor leaguers with a .291 total batting average between the GCL Yankees 1 and the Staten Island Yankees. Murphy debuted with Staten Island as a shortstop after being selected in the sixth round out of Sacred Heart University.
Three catchers open the season in the Lowcountry. Luis Torrens (Yankees No. 17 prospect, MLB.com) features a strong arm, throwing out 19 runners attempting to steal on 42 chances with the GCL Yankees 2. Eduardo de Oleo registered a .283 batting average and a .435 slugging percentage in the Gulf Coast League last season. Kale Sumner, a Kailua, Hawaii native, is a versatile backstop who also played the corner infield and outfield positions last year with Staten Island.
Charleston's top pitching prospect entering 2014 is Luis Severino (Yankees No. 9 prospect, Baseball America; No. 10, MLB.com). The right-hander from the Dominican Republic made four starts with Charleston last year and has compiled an 8-4 career record along with an impressive 1.99 ERA in his first two professional seasons. Severino's arsenal includes a fastball that touches the upper 90s and holds steady in the mid 90s.
Luis Niebla, Cesar Vargas, and Rookie Davis also come back to Charleston with starting experience. Niebla pitched exclusively for the RiverDogs in 2013 and collected five wins and a save in a late-season relief appearance. Vargas started the past season with the RiverDogs before earning a promotion to Tampa in August. Davis gave up no runs or walks in two Charleston starts, including a 1-0 walk-off win in the season finale against the Rome Braves.
The RiverDogs also have a trio of new starting options coming to the Holy City. Giovanny Gallegos, who hails from Obregon-Sonora, Mexico, looks for another strong start after opening his 2013 campaign in Staten Island with 23 consecutive innings without allowing a walk. Brady Lail earned five total wins in stints with the GCL Yankees 1 and the Tampa Yankees. Left-hander Caleb Smith posted a solid 1.93 ERA last year in combined work for Staten Island and Trenton.
A plethora of new right-handed relievers will be heading to the Lowcountry from the Staten Island Yankees. RiverDog newcomer Nick Rumbelow, a seventh round draft pick in 2013, picked up seven saves in nine chances while pitching in the New York-Penn League. Andury Acevedo kept an unblemished 1-0 record last year while continuing his transition from a role as a position player in the Pirates organization.
Andrew Beresford and Stefan Lopez, two more RiverDog additions from Staten Island, join Charleston after accumulating sub-2.00 ERA's a season ago. Philip Walby picked up three relief victories near the end of the season,while Andrew Benak also earned three wins, including a start with five shutout innings for Staten Island near the end of August.
Jordan Cote highlights a pair of right-handed bullpen weapons that pitched together in the Gulf Coast League. Cote has a microscopic 0.97 career ERA in two seasons in the GCL, allowing no earned runs in his final 21.2 innings pitched. Jaron Long, the son of Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, split the past season with the GCL Yankees 2 and the Tampa Yankees.
The RiverDogs begin the 2014 season on the road, but quickly return home to The Joe for a seven-game homestand that starts on Monday, April 7 with the RiverDogs' grand Opening Night celebration, complete with $1 hot dogs and $1 beers presented by Coors. Tickets may be purchased at the Riley Park Box Office, (843) 577-DOGS (3647) or on-line at www.riverdogs.com. If fans cannot make it to the ballpark, they are encouraged to tune in to all the action this year both home and away on 1250 WTMA, the new radio home for RiverDogs baseball.