Class A Advanced Tampa picked a great time to get hot.
Behind Yankees No. 18 prospect Nick Solak's four hits and seven solid innings from Brody Koerner (3-1) the Baby Bombers defeated the Florida Fire Frogs, 13-4, for their seventh straight win and clinched the Florida State League North Division first-half title.
"It turned out great, the boys played really well down the stretch," Tampa manager Jay Bell said. "It's been a strange first half. We got ahead in the win column and then would hit a stretch where we didn't play well. And then all of a sudden, we've been playing outstanding baseball. We knew we had to play that way to win this and that's what we did, it was terrific."
The Yankees ran away early, putting up 10 runs in the first two innings against Florida starter Drew Harrington (4-7). Six members of Tampa's lineup picked up at least two hits. Solak plated three runs and scored times and Jhalan Jackson added four RBIs.
Gameday box score
Solak leads Tampa with a .310 batting average and has posted a .864 OPS with four homers in 66 games this year.
"I was asked the other day to describe him in one word, and it's tough to do, but I'd say he's a baseballer," Bell said of the 22-year-old infielder. "He's someone who just loves playing the game and being on the field. He takes pleasure every time he walks into the clubhouse until he leaves. He does nothing but enjoy the fact that he's a professional baseball player. I would take nine of him every night."
The Yankees have also received significant contributions from MLB.com's No. 39 overall prospect Jorge Mateo, who leads the Florida State League with eight triples in 66 games. Even if his average (.235) and on-base percentage (.280) aren't eye-popping, Bell believes the 21-year-old is ready for the next step.
"Mateo is a guy that I'd love to see go to Double-A," Bell explained. "He's ready for it. Although his stats may not jump out at you, he's an electric player and a guy that I think can handle Double-A and needs to go there to compete and figure out who he is as a player. He's dynamic, there's no doubt about it. Every time he hits a gap, I expect to see him sliding into third base. There's just so many things that he can beat you with."
The Yankees have used dominant pitching to propel them through the first three months of the season. Tampa's staff leads the Florida State League in ERA (2.82), WHIP (1.14) and strikeouts (617).
The staff is headlined by Yankees No. 20 prospect Zack Littell, who leads the Baby Bombers with 66 1/3 innings pitched and has the best ERA (1.76) among the club's starting pitchers.
"He's a guy that's going to find himself in the big leagues," Bell said. "From a stuff standpoint, it may not seem like he belongs there, but he knows how to command the baseball with all of his pitches. He has a Major League-mentality and will spend a long time in the Majors."