IL Preview- Scranton Wilkes/Barre RailRiders
After finishing 2013 with the worst record in the International League, the Gwinnett Braves will return to the diamond with a lot to prove in the 2014. They will be led by first year man Brian Snitker, who returns to bench after serving as the Atlanta Braves third base coach for the last three seasons.
Before we get into the Braves 2014 roster and potential players to look for, we will take a look at the rest of the league with an in-house feature on all the other 13 teams in the IL.
We will start the tour with the North Division and the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Scranton finished the season fifth in the North Division with a 68-76 record. Right-hander Chris Bootcheck and outfielder Thomas Neal represented the RailRiders in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
This season, the RailRiders bolster an inexperienced Triple-A roster, but heavy with top tier prospects.
Pitchers: Right-hander Jose Ramirez and left-hander Nik Turley will anchor the staff. Last season, Ramirez was regarded as the best pitching prospect in the Yankees system. After missing the start of the season with fatigue, the hurler breezed through the Eastern League, going 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in nine games. He was promoted to Triple-A Scranton in June and made eight starts for the RailRiders before being shut down with an oblique strain in July. He was roughed up in first stint at the Triple-A level, going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA. However, he has the stuff to succeed at the Triple-A level, featuring an upper 90’s fastball and tough change-up. He will need to develop his slider to be an effective starter.
While, Ramirez works on his third pitch, southpaw Turley is exceeding expectations. The former 50th rounder (1,502 overall pick), third to last pick in the 2008 First Year Player Draft out of Harvard-Westlake High School in California, was placed on the 40-man roster in the offseason after a stellar season with Double-A Trenton. The 6-foot, 5-inch lefty went 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA and lead the Thunder to an Eastern League Championship. He features a low-90’s fastball, a filthy curveball and nice change-up, but has never pitched at the Triple-A level.
Infielders: The RailRiders’ experience will come from the diamond. The 2011 International League MVP, Russ Canzler will lead a talented group around the horn. Canzler has spent three seasons at the Triple-A level, posting a career .277 batting average with 52 homers and 224 RBI. During his MVP campaign in 2011 with the Durham Bulls, he hit a career-high .314 (149-for-474) with 18 homers and 83 RBI. He will likely be joined Zelous Wheeler, Addison Maruszak and Corban Joseph.
Outfielders: With an offseason overhaul by the New York Yankees, signing of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the Scranton outfield will be loaded with top-tier talent. Top prospect Slade Heathcott will lead the group. The left-handed hitter batted .267 (104-for-399) with 22 doubles, seven triples, eight homers and 49 RBI in 103 games with the Trenton Thunder in 2013. Regarded as one of the most complete players in all of minor league baseball, Heathcott will have to stay on the field to showcase his talents, having missed parts of four straight seasons with lingering injuries. He is trending upward though as he played a career-high 103 games last year. Fellow outfielder Zoilo Almonte will lighten the load as he will take over one of the corner spots. Almonte returns for his second season with the RailRiders after hitting .297 with six homers and 36 RBI for Scranton. Filling out the outfield will be Ramon Flores or Ronnie Mustilier.
Schedule: The RailRiders and G-Braves will meet on July 21-24 at Coolray Field and July 29- August 1 at PNC Park. Last season, Scranton took 6 of 8 against the Braves.
Projected Depth Chart: