CHARLESTON, SC - In a season of broken records and the first playoff appearance in over a decade, it was hard to stand out on what will go down as one of the best on-field displays in Charleston's history. Shining brightly among one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, RiverDogs first baseman/DH Chris Gittens and infielder Thairo Estrada were each named Yankees Organization All-Stars as announced by Minor League Baseball on Monday.
Including two from the historic 2016 RiverDogs squad, 11 of the 12 members of this year's Yankees Organizational All-Star team all have spent time in Charleston in their career. All five of the Yankees' top affiliates (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Trenton, Tampa, Charleston, and Staten Island) each made the playoffs in their respective leagues while front office moves at the trade deadline impressed analysts at the MLB Pipeline to rate the Yankees farm system as the second best in all of baseball.
Collecting the organizational accolades at the designated hitter position, Gittens flashed his power and was the heartbeat of the Charleston lineup starting right from Opening Day. The Sherman, Texas native hit .253/.359/.478 with 21 homers that ranked second in the South Atlantic League and tied Kyle Higashioka for the Yankees' organizational lead The former 12th rounder out of Grayson College drove in a team-high 70 runs and came four home runs shy of Charleston's single-season franchise record. His 2016 long ball total is tied with Ben Jones' 2006 season for the sixth most in franchise history.
The impressive season brought plenty of previous hardware for the hard hitting infielder as Gittens was voted the RiverDogs Player of the Year by the Charleston fan base and he was named to the Postseason All-Star Team by a vote of the league's management and media.
Gittens' most impressive game came on the road in West Virginia on June 16 when the 22-year-old smashed three home runs, one of just two hitters in the league to complete the trifecta, while going 3-for-5 with a career-high six RBI. Along with his eye-popping power, the Yankees farmhand showed solid plate discipline, reaching base safely in a league-high 33 straight from April 21-June 2 while drawing 56 walks on the season that ranked tied-sixth in the league.
Estrada's time in a RiverDogs uniform was brief, but the Venezuelan native would make an impression and earn an early promotion to Tampa before capturing organizational accolades at second base. Coming off an All-Star 2015 campaign, the 20-year-old hit .290 with eight homers, 49 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 118 games across two levels in his first full season. He struck out just 67 times in 455 at-bats and owned a .346 OBP on the season.
With the RiverDogs, Estrada hit to the tune of a .286 average while slugging five home runs that included a power surge of three in two days from May 14-15.
Led by third-year skipper Luis Dorante, the RiverDogs captured the Southern Division first half title to clinch the first RiverDogs playoff appearance since 2005 while going 76-63 on the season, their highest win total since 2012. Off the field, the RiverDogs enjoyed equal success, welcoming over 293,000 fans through the turnstiles at The Joe for the first time in their history.
RiverDogs season tickets, half-season ticket packages and mini plans are now available for the 2017 campaign. The RiverDogs begin the season on April 6 when they host the Lexington Legends at Joseph P Riley, Jr. Park. Ticket information can be secured by contacting the box office at (843) 577-DOGS (3647) or online at www.riverdogs.com
Yankees Organization All-Stars 2016
Catcher- Kyle Higashioka*
First baseman- Tyler Austin*
Second baseman- Thairo Estrada*
Third baseman- Miguel Andujar*
Shortstop- Jorge Mateo*
Outfielder- Aaron Judge*
Outfielder- Dustin Fowler*
Outfielder- Mark Payton*
Designated Hitter- Chris Gittens*
Right-handed starter- Chance Adams*
Left-handed starter- Dietrich Enns*
Relief Pitcher- Jonathon Holder
Played for RiverDogs in 2016