Russ Canzler could be playing near his hometown of Hazleton come April.
On Monday, the 27-year-old Canzler reportedly signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees, meaning he could be spending his spring and summer playing at PNC Field in Moosic for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Of course, Canzler went down a similar road last offseason and it was nearly exactly a year ago when that whirlwind began. Part of the flurry of moves included a brief stint in the Yankees organization, before eventually landing with Baltimore before the season began.
This time it’s different.
Last year at this time, the Hazleton Area graduate was on the Indians 40-man roster, meaning he had to clear waivers before accepting a minor league assignment. That limbo period is known as being designated for assignment. He was DFA’d four times by three teams and claimed by a different team all four times before settling in with the Baltimore Orioles. He played most of the 2013 season with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, making a visit to renovated PNC Field in June. Late in the season, he was traded from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. At the end of the season, he was designated by the Pirates and cleared waivers, making him a free agent.
So this time around, with a minor league contract, he will not be on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — unless added later — and will be under the assumption he will begin the season in the minors.
“Yeah it would’ve been nice to be here in Scranton and play in front of family but I’m still fortunate enough to be in this league,” Canzler said in June when he visited PNC Field while playing for the Norfolk Tides. “And when we go to Lehigh Valley, I’m close enough to home where I see a lot of family - and when we come here to Scranton.”
Now, it’s possible he could be seeing them nearly every day.
If he finally sticks with the Yankees, it would be a dream come true as he grew up a Derek Jeter fan, and his father is a lifelong Yankees fan.
There’s definitely opportunities for the right-handed hitting utility player to get promoted to New York as well. He’s played, third base, first base, right field and left field during his career and those are all position in which the Yankees had many players line up at last season due to injuries.
The Yankees expect Mark Teixeira to be back at first base this season, but there’s uncertainty about third baseman Alex Rodriguez due to a possible suspension for PED use. Or he could be a valuable piece off New York’s bench.
Canzler has Major League experience, playing in 29 games with 102 plate appearances with the Rays (2011) and Indians (2012). He has a .271 batting average in those appearances, but has a strong track record against left-handed pitchers. In 30 at-bats against southpaws, he has 12 hits and two home runs. That kind of line could earn him a job on New York’s bench.
Waiting on coaching staff
Jim Miller, who pitched phenomenally well for the RailRiders last season with a 3.55 ERA — largely due to allowing nine earned runs in his first two outings — and struck out 92 batters in 63 1-3 innings before getting a September call-up to New York, was re-signed to a minor league deal last month. That’s a big piece for the team’s bullpen.
But a big piece for the RailRiders team is still in waiting as the coaching staff has not been announced yet. The announcement normally arrives in December or January so it’s not out of the ordinary.
However, there’s sure to be at least one change to the unit as bench coach Frank Menechino was plucked by the Miami Marlins for their hitting coach job under manager Mike Redmond.
Another note about the 2013 staff is that RailRiders manager Dave Miley was recently fired by the team he was managing in the Dominican League.
RailRiders welcome Santa
The RailRiders will welcome Santa Claus to PNC Field for breakfast and more on Saturday, Dec. 14 from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Mohegan Sun Club.
The full breakfast features scrambled eggs, french toast sticks, ham, sausage and much more, including a hot chocolate bar. There will also be plenty of activities available for children and prizes will be awarded. Toys for Tots donations will also be accepted and the first 100 people to donate will receive a 2013 Opening Day baseball.
Tickets are on sale at the PNC Field box office or the day of the event. All payments will be run through the box office and guests shall receive tickets that must be presented at the door to gain entrance to the breakfast. Cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-10. There is no cost for children 2-and-under.