The Tampa Yankees postseason campaigns have been far from normal the last two years in the Florida State League. Due to construction at Steinbrenner Field last fall, Tampa was forced to play every playoff game away from their home-field. They went on to lose in the Championship Series to Bradenton. This year, because off Hurricane Irma, the FSL announced there would be co-champions and the winners of the two divisional rounds would share the honors.
Tampa (again) took on the Dunedin Jays in this year’s divisional round, and what was also essentially the Championship Series. They took the first game in typical 2017 Tampa Yankees fashion by coming back 5-0 to win 8-5, which meant they needed just one more game. However, the next two games would be nine-inning double headers, in the FSL when playing a double-header the games are usually only seven-inning affairs.
In the first game, Albert Abreu gave up just two earned runs, but Hobie Harris followed giving up two runs as well. Abreu’s command was off, but he still managed five strikeouts despite his four walks. The Yankees offense couldn’t get much going besides an Estevan Florial solo home-run, he and Gosuke Katoh were the only Yankees with multiple hits. They lost 4-1 and it would all come down to the second game, where they would have Erik Swanson on the mound.
In game two it was much of the same offensive story for Tampa, though. This time Dalton Blaser would be the sole Yankees player to have a multi-hit game and one of those hits were also a solo-shot. This was only Blaser’s third game in High-A ball and he would finish the playoffs with a .444 average which is something to look forward to next season. Florial went 0-2 with two walks and Katoh went 1-3 with a walk. Swanson gave the Yankees a very solid start, going six innings, giving up a run, and striking out six. The one run he gave up was a home-run, but it was the bullpen who uncharacteristically would force the Yankees into a comeback scenario.
Caleb Frare gave up a home-run to the first batter he faced, but would return strong striking out the next three batters. Jordan Foley, who received the loss, gave up three earned runs on three hits and two walks. He would still total four strikeouts after, but the damage was done and the Yankees offense had little to return.
Tampa would suffer what was the second straight Championship Series loss, despite still being the best team in the FSL through the second half. It was still an odd year for the Yankees as not many hitters were actually hitting as well as they could, it shows just how dominate the pitching was throughout the season even after promotions leaving holes in the rotation.
The Yankees’ biggest contributor by far was Nick Solak, who finished his time in Tampa with a .301 average and .856 OPS. He got off to a slow start too, at May 2 his average was only .256, but it would keep climbing throughout the summer as he peaked over .300 on June 21 and would stay there right up to his promotion to Double-A Trenton on August 1.
Solak also showed he could supply some power in his second professional year, as he gave Tampa 10 home-runs which is no small task in the FSL, especially for a smaller second baseman like Solak. His strikeout to walk ration was another shining star on the stat-line, Solak struck out 76 times, but it was matched with 53 walks. He was by far the most consistent batter for the Tampa in a lineup where many were struggling, including Jorge Mateo before his trade. Solak would go on to continue his success in Trenton, finishing the season with a .286 average.
Gosuke Katoh was able to follow Solak as he was a great addition to Tampa’s lineup after his promotion from Low-A Charleston. Katoh finished with a .293 average and .816 OPS, and was a solid contact bat in the lineup, though he still supplied Tampa with six home-runs, including one in the playoff series against Dunedin. Katoh was just as useful in the field as he was able to play first, second, third AND shortstop. Most of his games came at third where he committed just two errors, he also had 15 starts at first and 13 starts at second where he combined for just one error.
Chris Gittens and Tim Lynch showed their raw power in Tampa, the pair combined for 26 home-runs and 83 RBIs. Gittens struggled with injuries during the second half of the season after a dislocated thumb that seemed to linger, but before he, Solak, and Katoh were leading the way. Lynch only joined the Yankees on June 14 and still managed to hit 13 bombs and finish with a .310 average and .573 slugging percentage through 57 games. Gittens finished with a .266 average and .472 slugging percentage through 73 games. Should the New York Yankees front office make some needed moves to clear up first-base traffic, expect to see them in Trenton next season.
Tampa also happened to have the best season of pitching the team had ever seen. They led the FSL in strikeouts with 1,215, complete games with five, a 2.81 ERA, 43 saves, and a 1.15 WHIP. Despite early promotions, it didn’t hold the team back and their success held throughout the season.
Tampa’s rotation to start the season was Taylor Widener, Domingo Acevedo, Ian Clarkin, Zack Littell, and Josh Rogers. Widener would be the only one to finish with Tampa, Acevedo and Rogers finished with Trenton, Clarkin was traded, and Littell as well. The Yankees’ rotation at the end of the season was Widener, Albert Abreu, Erik Swanson, Brian Keller, and Adonis Rosa. Dillon Tate who was with Tampa for a little over the month during the summer helped the team enormously as well.
The bullpen was also an undeniably strong asset for the Yankees this season, once again. Jose Mesa, Jose Pena, Stephen Tarpley, James Reeves, and names like Colten Brewer, Cody Carroll, Anyelo Gomez, and Raynel Espinal who weren’t with Tampa as long as others, but still gave the Yankees quality bullpen innings. All held sub-3.00 ERAs and despite being moved up and down between the top three levels, they were able to give quality innings no matter where they were.
There are a lot of options for top-arms of the season, but the ones who helped Tampa most would be Dillon Tate, Taylor Widener, Jose Mesa, and Stephen Tarpley. Honorable mentions would Ian Clarkin and Zack Littell, who will be kept off this list being that they were traded, and Josh Rogers who kept a 2.22 in Tampa, but only started eight games.
Dillon Tate only started nine games for Tampa, but much was unknown on how he would bounce back after all he had gone through before. This was his second year in the Yankees organization, and they made it very clear that they would to take their time on getting him back to his initial status. He finished his season with Tampa holding a 2.62 ERA and a WHIP of 1.08. Tate didn’t flash a consistently high strikeout rate during the season, in fact he only had two games in which he struck out seven or more batters in a start.
What Tate did show off was efficiency, being able to get out of jams not just relying on strikeouts, but having the command to jam hitters or induce pop-ups. His best asset, will also be what he needs to work on next season as his walks and home-runs were a bit high for only a nine game period. Through 58 1/3 innings, Tate walked 15, gave up four homers, and struck out 46 batters. Despite those numbers being a bit higher, Tate never looked out of it and stayed composed. His rough innings were nearly always countered with great innings to get back on track. Tate will be another great starter for Trenton next season, and it will kick-start him in becoming a Major League-caliber pitcher.
As for Taylor Widener, the 2016 draft-pick started the season a bit shaky, but really turned his year around. He led the team with 119 1/3 innings, which means he had a whole season to work with pitching coach Tim Norton. It worked out as Widener finished with 129 strikeouts, a 3.39 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP. He only gave up five home-runs this season, but all of which were in the first half of the season. As for walks, he had 50 on the year, but only six in the final full month of the season. His success in August was also matched with giving up just four earned runs and totaling 21 strikeouts in 18 innings. All of these lines will work in his favor as a quick promotion next season to Trenton (just like Rogers) could be in line should he keep his success going.
Jose Mesa might be this year’s biggest unknown name, as James Reeves was last year. Mesa finished the 2016 season with a 5.36 ERA after 42 innings pitched between Charleston and Tampa. This season he rebounded with a stunning 1.93 ERA after 84 innings and a 0.95 WHIP. As Reeves last year, the Yankees may have found a new future starter in their organization in Mesa as well. He gave Tampa three spot starts, in those starts he combined for 9 2/3 innings, no runs, four hits, three walks, and 15 strikeouts. For Tampa, Mesa struck out 62 batters in his 49 2/3 innings, and continued his success for Trenton posting a 0.79 ERA in eight games (five starts), he struck out 39 batters in 34 1/3 Double-A innings. It had been known the organization was working with Mesa on becoming a starter, expect him to get more work in Double-A next season before anything is set in stone. As for now he has emerged as a potential top-prospect for the Yankees in the future.
As for Stephen Tarpley, there wasn’t much of a sample size, but because he was so dominant it couldn’t be helped but to recognize his efforts. Not only did he have nearly a complete shut-down season, but it proved the Yankees’ Ivan Nova trade somewhat of a future win, with salvaging Tarpley. He came over to the Yankees organization late last season making one start, he was then injured, and then again in the spring. He finally came back to baseball this past June and absolutely stunned the FSL. In 14 games out of the pen, Tarpley pitched 30 2/3 scoreless innings, gave up eight hits, and struck out 36 batters. He didn’t make any starts for Tampa, but there is still a possibility he could be converted back next season. This season was the first full year the Yankees could work with them, they will most likely see what his future is next season in Trenton as a starter or reliever.