AP NEWS

Yankees’ Trades Leave Payton As Main Outfielder On RailRiders Roster

July 29, 2018

MOOSIC — Mark Payton checked in with his dad Thursday night to get some updates on his brother, who was playing in a tournament in Oklahoma.

He wasn’t paying attention to the Yankees game, when Aaron Judge took a pitch off his wrist, left the game and went for an MRI. The all-star had a chip fracture and was heading for the disabled list.

Outfield depth hasn’t been an issue for the Yankees since the youth movement came of age. From Ben Gamel to Dustin Fowler to Mason Williams to Jake Cave, Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney, the PNC Field outfield hosted some of the game’s top young talent over the past three seasons.

The Yankees put the depth to use, though not necessarily in New York. With Judge, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, the big league outfield was already crowded.

So, they traded Fowler to Oakland for Sonny Gray and sent Gamel to Seattle the year he won the International League’s MVP award. Cave was dealt to Minnesota in spring training for a younger pitcher and, this week, McKinney helped bring in J.A. Happ from Toronto. Williams walked away a minor league free agent after leading the RailRiders to the Governors’ Cup finals last season, and Frazier is on the disabled list after post-concussion symptoms resurfaced.

For a few hours after Thursday’s game, the RailRiders had one true outfielder remaining on the roster: Payton.

The 26-year-old played with all of them coming up through New York’s farm system — even Judge — though he’s never really been the guy in the spotlight. Even this season, he’s only played in 38 games since joining the RailRiders on June 1, arriving late after needing knee surgery in spring training.

He’s the main guy now.

“Just kind of try to take it day by day right now and play as good as I can and come with energy every day, make sure I’m taking care of my body so I can come out and perform,” Payton said. “But yeah, it’s going to be nice to hopefully get a chance to go out there, play on a daily basis and try to find a groove and see what happens.”

Payton is batting .234 this season, well below his career average, but he’s still getting on base at a solid .372 clip. He’s the kind of player who can do a bit of everything, and has more pop than his 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame would suggest.

“There’s been a rough week or two here and there, just trying to fine tune some things and make sure my legs are working right,” he said. “I’ve felt, overall so far, to this point, I’ve had some pretty good at-bats for a consistent basis. I’ve just got to keep that up and keep on having good at-bats and the hits will come.”

Payton’s role was already going to get bigger once McKinney — who led the RailRiders in home runs — was traded to the Blue Jays. Then, Shane Robinson was called up to New York and utilityman Tyler Wade replaced Judge.

“Until (Thursday) night, I was thinking to myself, ‘OK, we really only have one center fielder now: Wade,’ ” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “And then, right that second, I got a phone call saying (Wade) was going up, so we didn’t have one. We had to get somebody up here quick. So, yeah, we were running out of players in a hurry with McKinney leaving and everything.”

They called up Zack Zehner and Devyn Bolasky from Double-A Trenton to join Payton in the outfield.

“We were doing the math,” Zehner said. “It looked pretty shallow up here. During last night’s game, we figured something was going to happen, absolutely.”

Zehner, 25, opened the season with the RailRiders and has been back and forth a couple times. He has 19 extra-base hits in 52 games with SWB, but has also struck out 65 times as he adjusts to the higher level.

“You’ve got to be ready to go at all times,” Zehner said. “It might be more relevant now, but you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to do your work and you’ve got to be ready if that call comes.”

Bolasky, 25, played in four games with the RailRiders last year, but has spent this whole season at Trenton. He batted .365 with an .850 OPS in 38 games with the Thunder.

“This season, started off on the DL, So, once I got to Trenton, I was just trying to just pick it up where I was in rehab,” Bolasky said. “I started off hot and was able to kind of keep it going. It’s been nice to stay in a rhythm and perform.”

Bolasky will take over center field for the RailRiders. Had Wade not been called up, he likely would have seen a lot of time out there, too.

“It’s going to be a little different,” Payton said. “I’m good friends with Zehner and Bolasky that are here now. And obviously, just go out there and compete with each other, compete with ourselves and do what we can on a daily basis to get each other better and make sure we’re just ready to play on a daily basis.”

Utilityman L.J. Mazzilli slots in as the fourth outifleder and Tyler Austin could see some time out there, too. Ryan

McBroom, who ranks fifth in the International League with a .309 average, is a phone call away in Trenton, though the Yankees reportedly want him playing more first base than outfield.

Behind them begins the next wave of outfield prospects, with Trey Amburgey, Jeff Hendrix and Jhalan Jackson in Trenton. None has played a game at Triple-A. One level lower at Tampa, top position player prospect Estevan Florial is back to full health after wrist surgery and is roaming center field.

“We still have a good group of dudes in this locker room and guys that have been here before are back and those guys are going to step up as well,” Payton said. “We’ve still got a really good team. Obviously, we’re in a playoff push here, coming up toward the end of the season. We’ve got to come out and just play well.”

Contact the writer:

cfoley@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9125;

@RailRidersTT on Twitter

AP RADIO
Update hourly