Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Minor League Spotlight: Hartford Yard Goats

Chris Creamer/
With a hot 5-2 start and four HRs from top prospect David Dahl, the inaugural season of the Hartford Yard Goats is underway. Formerly the New Britain Rock Cats, the Double-A team of the Colorado Rockies, the franchise moved to Hartford in the 2016 season. Hartford, being a historically rich city both in baseball and culture, was a prime landing spot for a minor league franchise.

Hartford is the capital of Connecticut, home of the Hartford Union train station, which serves as an important part of the historic New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad that has been around for 150 years. The Yard Goats moniker may seem like nonsense to non-Hartford residents, but it is one of major historic symbolism and significance. Yard Goats is a nod to Hartford's railway history, as it is a slang term for a locomotive that moves trains from track to track, much like a Double-A team is one that moves players from the low minors to the AAA team, just one step away from the majors. Like most minor league baseball teams, the name was chosen through a fan entry contest, narrowly beating out names such as the Whirlybirds (Hartford's history with helicopters), and the Praying Mantises (Connecticut's state insect). Props to Anthony Castora, a fan of minor league baseball, for coming up with such a creative and symbolic, if not a bit quirky, team name.

Raimel Tapia,
Not only do the Hartford Yard Goats have a catchy name, they are loaded with young and exciting talent too. Recently ranked as the third most-talented team in all of Minor League baseball, Hartford boasts a top-notch pitching rotation as well as explosive and potential-laden hitting that will strike fear in Eastern League pitchers. The aforementioned Dahl, a center fielder who has gone deep four times in just seven games, was a first-round pick in 2012 and has been a top 100 prospect ever since, ranked as high as #22 by Baseball America. Alongside him in right field is another top 100 prospect, Raimel Tapia, a fleet-footed, sweet-swinging outfielder who brings a good hit tool, batting over .300 in every level of the minors, and a strong arm to throw runners out. Not to be forgotten is the left fielder Rosell Herrera, who fell off prospect rankings after being two mediocre years removed from hitting .343/.419/.515 with 16 HRs in low-A Asheville, but still brings some tools and flash to the table.

At the infield corners, the Yard Goats have two of Colorado's top power prospects, third baseman Ryan McMahon and first baseman Correlle Prime. McMahon is arguably the top 3B prospect in the game, having dominated every level of the minors with his combo of power and patience. Prime has a flashy-name suitable for the Hartford Yard Goats, but he has an even flashier power in his bat that makes him a threat in the lineup. Coming off of a disappointing season in 2015, he is a year removed from the 47 doubles, 21 homers, and 102 RBI's campaign back in low-A. He is very raw and not a big name in most prospect circles, certainly not as big as McMahon, Dahl, and Tapia, but Prime has some tools that could take him up to Colorado when he figures out how to use them. Shortstop Pat Valaika was drafted out of UCLA in the 9th round in 2013, and while he isn't much of a prospect or hitter, I got to see him play in college and he is a smooth and reliable defender at short, profiling as a possible future big-league utility man.

On the pitching side, Hartford's rotation has three of Colorado's top pitching prospects, 2014 first round lefty Kyle Freeland, 2015 breakout Antonio Senzatela, and the recently acquired German Marquez. Freeland, a big lefty, has good command of the strike zone to go with a low-to-mid 90's fastball and hard slider from a 3/4s arm slot. Senzatela and Marquez are both live-armed Venezuelans, both just 21 years of age. Senzatela is another command artist, and he can really hit his spots and paint the corners without an overpowering fastball or particularly impressive off-speed. Marquez throws hard, but the secondaries lack as well, leading to a low strikeout rate. Set-up man Austin House, who came over in the Mark Canha trade, and closer Matt Carasiti should form a solid back of the bullpen for the starters to turn over to and finish off wins. With a strong pitching staff and powerful bats, the Hartford Yard Goats should be in for an exciting inaugural season in their brand-new stadium.

Fun Fact: the Hartford Yard Goats new home field will be named Dunkin' Donuts Park. Of course.
Yes, apparently this is actually a thing, Jeff Cohen/WNPR

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