With Opening Day just days away, the New York Yankees have revealed who will be in Charleston RiverDogs uniforms when the club travels on April 4 to take on the Greenville Drive to begin the 2013 campaign.
The team, which contains two of the Yankees' top 20 prospects according to MLB.com, is headlined by former RiverDog Dante Bichette Jr., the organization's top draft pick in 2011. Also returning are Jose Campos, a hard-throwing right-hander who saw his season cut short in Charleston last year due to an injury, and shortstop Cito Culver. Opening Day will also see the much anticipated RiverDogs debuts of highly-touted catcher Peter O'Brien and first baseman Gregory Bird, as first year Charleston manager Al Pedrique looks to guide his young squad to the club's first postseason appearance since 2005.
O'Brien (the Yankees No. 30 prospect, PinstripesPlus) will look to work on the numbers that he had in 2012 while with the Staten Island Yankees when he had 10 home runs and drove in 34 runs in only 52 games. His powerful stroke will make this catcher a force to be reckoned with in the RiverDogs lineup.
Last season, Bird (Yankees No. 16 prospect, PinstripesPlus) took the Gulf Coast League and the NY-Penn League by storm as he hit .337, with 13 runs scored, six doubles, two home runs and 13 RBI in only 28 games played.
Pitcher Rafael DePaula is one of the up-and-coming prospects for the Yankees. The recently-turned 22-year old put up outstanding numbers last season while pitching for the Yankees' team in the Dominican Republic. DePaula finished the year with an 8-2 mark with one save and an ERA of 3.51. DePaula's fastball averages between 92-96 mph and he has topped out at 99 mph.
Culver (Yankees No. 22 prospect, PinstripesPlus) formerly ranked as high as the ninth-best prospect in the organization, had a tough go-around with the RiverDogs in 2012. He was the Yankees' first round draft pick in 2010 and spent all of last season in Charleston. A switch-hitter, Culver hit .215 over the course of the season, scored 66 runs, stole 22 bases and continued to show off the defensive ability at shortstop that has wowed observers. So impressive is Culver on defense that Baseball America recently named him as having the best infield arm and as being the organization's best defensive infielder.
Joining Culver on the left side of the infield again this season is third baseman Dante Bichette, Jr., the Yankees first draft selection in 2011. After spending all of last season in Charleston, Bichette hit .248 with three home runs and 46 runs driven in. The son of former big leaguer and current Colorado Rockies hitting coach Dante Bichette, Sr., Junior will combine with Culver to give Charleston a left side that will again be solid.
Playing opposite Culver and Bichette in the infield will be two other solid prospects, second baseman Rob Refsnyder and first baseman Gregory Bird. Refsnyder was ranked as the Yankees No. 50 prospect (PinstripesPlus) and was a fifth round draft pick in 2012 out of the University of Arizona where he led them to the NCAA National Championship over South Carolina. He batted .241 last season with Charleston and showed comfort with switching positions.
Bird (Yankees No. 16 prospect, PinstripesPlus), was a 5th round draft pick in 2011 and could emerge as one of the South Atlantic League's top sluggers this season. Between the Gulf Coast League and Staten Island last season, Bird batted .337 with a .494 slugging percentage, six doubles, two home runs and 13 RBI.
Also sharing time in the infield will be returning player Saxon Butler, a left-handed hitter who split time last season with Staten Island and Charleston. He batted .273 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI. Utility man Fu Lin Kuo joins the squad after putting up a .250 batting average with 16 RBI last season in Staten Island. Claudio Custodio joins the infield having spent all of 2012 in Staten Island where he hit .253 with one home run and 22 RBI. He was successful in 13 of his 14 stolen base attempts last year as well.
The outfield will have three new faces as the RiverDogs welcome Dominican Yeicok Calderon, former Alabama Crimson Tide star Taylor Dugas and UC Berkley standout Danny Oh to the Holy City. Dugas was the Yankees 8th round selection in 2012 and joined Staten Island where he was voted to the NYPL All-Star Game. Calderon is fresh off of his campaign with the Gulf Coast Yankees where he hit 8 home runs and 22 RBI. Oh comes to Charleston after spending all of last year in Staten Island where he played all three outfield positions. Joining the three newcomers in the RiverDogs outfield is Kelvin De Leon, who returns after spending all of 2011 and part of 2012 with the RiverDogs where he hit .240 with four home runs and 34 RBI.
Sharing catching duties with O'Brien are returning RiverDog Nick McCoy and newcomer Wes Wilson, who spent 2012 in Staten Island after spending the 2011 campaign in both Staten Island and Charleston. McCoy is a San Diego native and a solid receiver with a strong throwing arm. Wilson has experience as he is in his third year in the system having signed as a free agent in 2011 from Indiana University.
The pitching staff is comprised of a mixture of former RiverDogs and newcomers that includes 20-year old Jose Campos, who was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in January 2012. Campos (Yankees No. 5 prospect, Baseball America) struck out 26 in 24.2 innings while he walked just eight and posted a 4.01 ERA in an injury-shortened 2012 season in Charleston. Joining him in the rotation is another hard-throwing prospect in right-hander Raphael DePaula. DePaula (Yankees No. 6 prospect, PinstripesPlus) spent 2012 baffling hitters, having struck out 85 in 61.2 innings in the Dominican Summer League.
Also in the projected rotation is Gabe Encinas, who started for Staten Island last season and went 3-7 with a 4.97 ERA and former RiverDog Evan Rutckyj who split 2012 with Staten Island and Charleston. Pitchers Brett Gerritse, Cesar Vargas, and former Auburn Tiger Derek Varnadore will be available to either start or come out of the bullpen.
The RiverDogs' pen also features former RiverDogs Ben Paullus and Philip Wetherell, both of whom finished last season in Charleston. Paullus spent all of 2012 here and went 3-2 with 3 saves. Wetherell split last year as a starter and reliever for the RiverDogs, with a 6-8 record and 7 saves.
Also providing bullpen support are Daniel Camarena, who posted a 1.02 ERA in the Gulf Coast League last season, Taylor Garrison, who recorded 11 saves with a 2.28 ERA last year in Staten Island, and former RiverDogs Charles Short and Alex Smith. Short started last season with the Roswell Invaders of the independent PECOS League, but then joined the RiverDogs making 11 relief appearances while posting a 1-0 mark with 1 save. Smith spent last year in the bullpen for both the Gulf Coast Yankees and here in Charleston.
The RiverDogs begin the 2013 season on the road, but quickly return home to The Joe on Thursday, April 11 - a Budweiser Thirsty Thursday - with a seven-game homestand that features both the Augusta GreenJackets and the Rome Braves.