The man who runs the New York Yankees minor league system has heard the harsh words and felt the heat.
That doesn’t mean Mark Newman is getting burned by it.
His farm system came under fire during the past two months when the New York Yankees found out third baseman Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season and shortstop Derek Jeter won’t be around next year — and the organization doesn’t have anyone to replace them from within.
Panicked Yankees fans and media immediately began to point blame at a Yankees farm system that they said to be failing.
“As far as the criticism, I don’t really think about it,” said Newman, the Yankees vice-president of baseball operations. “I do think we have to get better.”
But he believes the cupboard has been far from bare.
Since the Yankees moved their Triple-A team to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2007, current Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner has passed through PNC Field on their way to play at Yankee Stadium.
So did relief pitcher David Robertson, Newman points out, who will take over as the Yankees closer for Mariano Rivera this year. Former reliever Joba Chamberlin and pitcher Phil Hughes — who was an American League All-Star in 2010 and spent four years in New York’s starting rotation before leaving for Minnesota this past offseason — were developed in the Yankees minor league system and rode from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to New York.
Current Yankees starter Ivan Nova along with relief pitchers Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances found their way from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to the Yankees mound and just-demoted reliever Preston Claiborne spent most of last season in the Yankees bullpen after opening the 2013 season with the RailRiders. During the 2013 season, catchers Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy, who will both begin this year in Triple-A, made strong impressions during call-ups to the Yankees.
“The past few years, Nova, Phelps, Robertson, Preston Claiborne, Vidal Nuno have made contributions,” Newman said.
This year, Romine and Murphy will open the season with the RailRiders and could continue opening eyes in New York.
“Two good young catchers,” Newman called them. “They’re both going to play.”
So is Zoilo Almonte, who will be in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s outfield after hitting .361 and scoring seven runs for the Yankees in major league spring training and batting .236 with four doubles and nine RBI in 34 games for them last season.
“We think he’s going to be a very good player for us,” Newman said.
Pitcher Shane Greene, who nearly made the Yankees bullpen and will start in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, was so good he won the organization’s Kevin Lawn Award as New York’s minor league pitcher of the year. Greene went 12-10 to lead the farm system in wins and with 154 1/3 innings pitched, he struck out 137 batters while pitching between Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and posted a 1.64 ERA in two postseason starts for the Thunder.
“He’s really made accelerated progress the past few years,” Newman said. “We really look forward to seeing him, he’ll be a quality guy.”
And infielder Jose Pirela is a rising prospect himself, coming off a .348 big league spring training for the Yankees with a homer and three RBI in 15 games.
“He had a really good year in (Double-A) Trenton,” Newman said. “He can hit.”
Then there’s Corban Joseph, who is coming back from the shoulder surgery that ended his season for the RailRiders pretty early last year.
“He’s going to have a nice bat,” Newman said.
And if they all developed as planned, someday soon he may be hearing nice things about the farm system.
“We’re trying,” Newman said, “to get better all the time.”