Northeast circuit preps for prospects

Scrappers ready for All-Stars, Yanks set to defend title

By Brian Moynahan / Special to | June 18, 2012 6:55 AM ET

League Preview This year's New York-Penn League All-Star Game will be played on Aug. 14 in Niles, Ohio, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The Scrappers were officially announced as hosts at last year's game in Lowell, Mass., but it was news that the team had known about for some time.

"We had known a little ways before that," said Scrappers general manager Jordan Taylor. "We had actually gone through the process at the Baseball Winter Meetings that year and knew that we were going to be the host city shortly thereafter, so it gave us a few months advance planning to start getting things ready for the game."

When it came to the planning process, the team had several factors in its favor. Taylor has worked in the New York-Penn League for several years and attended the previous All-Star Games, and the team's ownership group, HWS Group, also operates the Modesto Nuts and Mobile BayBears.

The Nuts hosted the California-Carolina League All-Star Game last season. The BayBears hosted the Southern League game in 2005.

"The teams in the New York-Penn League have done a really nice job over the years, so it kind of gave a nice template as far as how you can run a successful event and All-Star Game," said Taylor. "So we kind of used that as a guideline, and just tried to incorporate some of our local flavor to make it unique."

That "local flavor" will be on display on Aug. 13 when the Scrappers will host an All-Star Gala at Packard Music Hall.

"What we're doing is a showcase of Mahoning Valley," said Taylor. "It's a very ethnic community here, so what we're doing is we're highlighting different ethnic foods that are popular in the area. There's going to be tasting stations all around the bottom level of the music hall. We'll have food and drinks, then we'll do an announcement of the full teams -- players, coaches -- then we have a band playing after that.

"[Packard Music Hall] is a pretty cool kind of old-style theater, so we figured it would be a unique place to do something."

The team will follow by hosting a luncheon on the day of the game, with former Indians player and manager Mike Hargrove featured as the keynote speaker. At the ballpark, typical All-Star Game fare will be the order of the day: gates opening early, autograph sessions with the players, pre-game Home Run Derby and post-game fireworks.

Taylor and his staff expected the game and its surrounding events to provide some economic assistance to local businesses, but he still expressed surprise at the extent of the excitement in the community.

"We've been overwhelmed with [the response], to be honest with you," he said. "It's been far above what I expected in terms of corporate partners jumping on board with this. Ticket sales have been fantastic. It's been really cool seeing people jump on board with everything we're doing here.

Yankees ready

The Staten Island Yankees won the team's sixth New York-Penn League championship last season, defeating the rival Brooklyn Cyclones two games to one in the first round before sweeping two straight from the Auburn Doubledays in the final.

This year's title defense will begin under new ownership -- shortly after last season ended, the Yankees were sold to a Nostalgic Partners, LLC, a four-person group based in Stamford, Conn.

According to the Staten Island Advance, the group was formally introduced to the public last month. The group announced plans to revamp the ballpark, including improvements to the team store and concessions stands, and stated that it plans to adhere to the terms of the lease agreement that ties the team to Richmond County Bank Ballpark through 2021.

When Staten Island takes the field for the first time on June 18 in Brooklyn, they will begin a quest to become the first team since the 2005-06 Yankees to win back-to-back titles. Before that, the last team to win at least two straight championships was the Oneonta Yankees squad that won three in a row from 1979-81.

A total of twelve players from those the 2005-06 teams have gone on to play in the Major Leagues, including Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Francisco Cervelli, Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon.

Top pick to Tri-City?

Two weeks ago, the Houston Astros selected 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Though Correa signed quickly and was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to start his career, it is not known if he will join Houston's New York-Penn League affiliate, the Tri-City ValleyCats, at some point this season.

Since the Draft began in 1965, the first overall pick has played in the New York-Penn League just five times: Steven Chilcott (1966), Shawn Abner (1984), Josh Hamilton (1999), Adrian Gonzalez (2000) and Tim Beckham (2008).

None of those players appeared in more than 25 New York-Penn League games. Both Chilcott and Hamilton had batting averages below .200.

The top pick in 2007, David Price, joined the Hudson Valley Renegades briefly that year but pitched only a bullpen session without appearing in a game.

Beckham played in two games following a late-season promotion from Rookie-level Princeton. According to Renegades general manager Eben Yager, there wasn't as much "buzz" as one might have expected surrounding Beckham's brief time in the league.

"We had hoped that it would create a bigger buzz," Yager wrote in an email last week. "But we really didn't see any bump in ticket sales or much fan buzz other than maybe a couple additional media requests."

He also speculated that "it really would depend on the No. 1 pick and the buzz surrounding them."

The most New York-Penn League games played by a first overall Draft pick is Chilcott's 25 in 1980.

State College wants 'spike' in wins

The Player Development Contract between the State College Spikes and the Pittsburgh Pirates expires at the end of the upcoming season. Recently, Spikes general manager Jason Dambach spoke about his club's disappointment with the results of the affiliation.

"We're not one of these ownership groups that demands a winner every single year, but we haven't even put playoff tickets on sale," Dambach told the Altoona Mirror on June 3. "We've never really even come close to the playoffs.

"So the mandate has been put out there. We didn't have a good team last year, and so it really doesn't make any sense to re-sign with the Pirates until September, if we are to do that."

Dambach declined a request from for further comment.

The last winning season for the Spikes came in 2006, when the team finished 39-36 as the short-season affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. In five seasons as a Pirates affiliate, the Spikes are 156-219 (.416), including an 18-56 record in 2008.

Last year's team got off to a slow start, starting 5-18 before playing .500 ball the rest of the way to finish at 31-44. That team featured Pittsburgh's 2010 2nd and 4th round picks, pitchers Stetson Allie and Nick Kingham, as well as 2011 third-rounder Alex Dickerson.

This year, Pirates top 20 prospects Luis Heredia (5) and Clay Holmes (18) are expected to start the season in State College. They will be joined by several players selected in this month's Draft, including Barrett Barnes (supplemental first round) Jacob Stallings (7th round), Pat Ludwig (10th), Dalton Friend (12th) and Thomas Harlan (13th).

Samuel Gonzalez, the Top Star winner at last season's All-Star Game in Lowell, will start the season with the Spikes, for whom he hit .302 in 139 at-bats in 2011.

Aside from the Spikes, seven New York-Penn League teams have PDCs that will expire after the 2012 season: Aberdeen (Baltimore), Batavia (St. Louis), Hudson Valley (Tampa Bay), Jamestown (Miami), Tri-City (Houston), Vermont (Oakland) and Williamsport (Philadelphia).

A league's loss

Many in the New York-Penn League were shocked by the loss of longtime Brooklyn Cyclones broadcaster Warner Fusselle, who died June 10 at the age of 68.

Ken Cail, who broadcast games for the Lowell Spinners from 2008-11, recently shared his thoughts on Fusselle's passing.

One of the most lasting memories Cail will have of his colleague was his interest in doing the job right, a belief best exhibited by his commitment to something as simple as saying players' names the right way.

"He was a true professional," said Cail. "He was very concerned, checking with you in terms of pronunciations -- a great detail guy -- and didn't want to mess anything up from a pronunciation standpoint. He was one of the few that ever asked about pronunciations."

"He was an original. There aren't too many like him left around. He's certainly going to be missed around the league, without question."

Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the New York-Penn League.

Brian Moynahan is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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