The Tampa Yankees took home the 2016 Florida State League North Division crown. Despite coming up short of winning the championship in Bradenton, the T-Yanks enjoyed their most successful season since 2010. FSL Manager of the Year Patrick Osborn led the team to a 77-58 record and Tampa became one of five New York affiliates to reach postseason play. Many players found success and several had breakout seasons as part of what is generally known as the best farm system in baseball.
Winning the 1st-half of the Florida State League schedule allowed the Yankees to claim a playoff spot for the first time in six seasons. At the end of the half, Tampa sat in first place in the North Division at 42-27. It was the highest win total by Tampa in a single half since the club went 42-25 in the 2nd half of that 2010 season, which resulted in the last time the Yankees won the FSL Championship.
Strong out of the gate, the Yankees went 15-8 in April and finished the month as the top offense, leading the league with a .281 batting average and 21 home runs. Mark Payton earned "Player of the Week" on April 26th after batting .389 with two home runs and nine RBI in a six-game stretch.
After finishing the 2015 season with the T-Yanks, Miguel Andujar returned and made a big impact in the first half. The 21-year-old got his bat going in May, hitting .306 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 27 games for the month. Andujar rolled into June and batted .300 in 11 games before getting the call to Double-A Trenton. His 10 home runs with Tampa led the team.
CHANCE THE PITCHER
Entering the season, many eyes were on New York's No. 1 pitching prospect James Kaprielian. After the right-hander was shutdown with an elbow injury in April, RHP Chance Adams stepped into the spotlight.
Adams pitched his first full season of professional baseball after being selected by the Yankees in the fifth round in 2015. The former reliever at Dallas Baptist smoothly transitioned into one of the best starting pitchers in New York's farm system, going 13-1 with a 2.33 ERA between Tampa (12 games) and Double-A Trenton (13 games).
Tampa battled with Clearwater for first place throughout the month of May, ultimately taking over the top spot. Adams played a big role in the effort, winning all three starts he made against the Threshers. The now 22-year-old held Clearwater to two runs over 19 innings. Adams went on to win the MiLB.com FSL Player of the Month Award after going 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 29 innings in May. He finished 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA with Tampa and did not lose a game until August 11th while with Trenton.
On the eve of All-Star weekend, the Yankees owned a 2.5-game lead of first place with four games to play. Tampa required a win in Lakeland, along with a loss by Clearwater, to clinch the North Division. Soon after the Dunedin Blue Jays defeated the Threshers in regulation, the T-Yanks beat the Flying Tigers in 18 innings, 3-2, with a game-winning RBI single by Abiatal Avelino.
Two nights later, Fort Myers hosted the FSL All-Star Game. Adams, Andujar and Payton were all selected but did not attend after all were promoted to Trenton. Jorge Mateo, however, made the trip and batted leadoff as the starting second baseman for the FSL North All-Stars, playing four innings and going 1-for-2.
After leading all of Minor League Baseball with 82 stolen bases a year earlier, Mateo entered 2016 as New York's No. 1 prospect. The 21-year-old flashed his speed on the first pitch of the all-star game, legging out a slow roller for an infield single. One pitch later, Mateo stole second. The runner was stranded but the North eventually scored in the sixth and defeated the South, 1-0.
In the summer months, the Yankees morphed into one of the top pitching teams in the league, with ERAs of 2.93 in June and 2.76 in July. By season's end, Tampa's 3.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 1,162 strikeouts ranked first among all teams in the FSL.
Josh Rogers had a breakout season after being drafted by New York in the 11th round in 2015. In June, the southpaw went 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA and two complete-game shutouts. On August 7th, Rogers was named FSL Pitcher of the Week after throwing seven shutout innings against Lakeland, striking out eight and yielding three hits, a walk and a hit-batter. The 22-year-old finished the regular season at 10-5 with the third-lowest ERA in the league at 2.53.
New York picked Yefrey Ramirez in the 2015 Rule-5 Draft and the right-hander showed why he was a good choice. After posting a 2.80 ERA in 11 starts with Single-A Charleston, Ramirez made his Tampa debut on June 30th. The 22-year-old tallied a career-high 11 strikeouts while holding Lakeland to one run in seven innings, earning Pitcher of the Week. Ramirez won the award a second time after taking a perfect game into the seventh against Dunedin on August 24th, tossing eight innings while striking out eight and allowing only one hit and one hit-batter.
Two other Tampa starters took home a Pitcher of the Week award. LHP James Reeves dealt the longest outing of his career in part of a two-hit shutout against St. Lucie on July 20th. The 23-year-old held the Mets to a pair of singles and two walks while striking out six over seven innings. Fellow southpaw Nestor Cortes also claimed the honor. On August 19th, Cortes flirted with perfection by retiring the first 19 batters he faced against the Brevard County Manatees. The 21-year-old allowed only two hits in seven shutout innings, striking out nine.
New York made several deals at the trade deadline in order to boost what was already a farm system on the rise. As a result, three new players joined the T-Yanks. Shortstop Gleyber Torres, 19, and outfielder Rashad Crawford, 22, arrived as part of a package from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman. In addition, the Yankees received left-hander Justus Sheffield as part of a deal that sent setup man Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians.
Torres began the season ranked as Chicago's No. 1 prospect. Both he and Crawford joined Tampa after having played the entire season with Single-A Advanced Myrtle Beach. Torres made his Yankee debut on July 26th and played 31 games with Tampa, batting .254 with two home runs and 19 RBI. The 19-year-old went on an impressive run on August 19th, batting .364 and with 11 RBI in an eight-game stretch. Crawford played his first game with the T-Yanks on July 27th and hit .291 with two homers and 18 RBI in 29 games. The 22-year-old ended the regular season by hitting .429 with two homers, 11 RBI and six multi-hit games in the final 10 games.
The addition of Sheffield gave New York a new No. 1 pitching prospect. Originally a first round pick by Cleveland in 2014, Sheffield started the season with Single-A Advanced Lynchburg. The Tennessee native went 7-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 19 starts with the Hillcats. Like Ramirez earlier in the season, Sheffield collected a new career-high in strikeouts in his debut with Tampa. On August 5th, the 20-year-old held the Daytona Tortugas to one run on two hits and a walk, tallying 11 strikeouts in six innings and earning the win. Sheffield went 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in five starts with the T-Yanks before getting a promotion to Trenton on September 2nd.
Due to renovations at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the T-Yanks would not be able to host any playoff games. Tampa, though, had played well on the road throughout the regular season, going 41-25 in away games.
The best-of-three North Division Championship Series took place at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium against the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Game one went to Tampa, 2-1, in 13 innings. Both teams scored in the third and Torres broke the tie in the top of the 13th when his double led to a fielding error, allowing Thairo Estrada to score the go-ahead run.
More extra innings ensued in game two. Trailing in the eighth, 3-2, Trey Amburgey lined a two-out double to the wall, allowing Torres to score from first. Dunedin retook the lead in the ninth, but Tampa loaded the bases in the home half and Estrada legged out an RBI fielder's choice, tying the game at 4-4. Dunedin later rallied for four runs in the 15th and pulled the series even, 1-1.
After playing 28 innings in two nights, the teams battled in a "win or go home" game three. An RBI double and RBI triple by Crawford led to an early 3-1 Tampa lead. The Blue Jays battled back, scoring a run in the fifth and rallying for four runs in the sixth for a 6-3 lead. Tampa answered in the bottom of the frame. After back-to-back singles, Crawford launched a game-tying three-run home run. A walk and a single placed two more aboard and Amburgey crushed a go-ahead three-run homer, capping off a six-run inning and giving the Yankees a 9-6 advantage.
Dunedin chipped away with a run in the seventh. RHP Jordan Foley entered for Tampa in the bottom of the ninth. A leadoff single and an RBI double placed the tying run at second with one out. Foley, who finished with 88 strikeouts in 64.2 innings in the regular season, struck out the next two batters, sending the T-Yanks to the FSL Championship Series.
The matchup featured the Marauders, who owned the highest team batting average (.265), against the Yankees, who had the lowest team ERA (3.08). Bradenton defeated Tampa in the best-of-five series at McKechnie Field, three games to one, for its first championship in team history.
Tampa may have come up short of winning it all, but the 2016 season was full of exciting and memorable moments from the future New York Yankees.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.