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Payton, Gomez Among RailRiders Rule 5 Losses

December 14, 2018
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Payton, Gomez Among RailRiders Rule 5 Losses

Mark Payton knew he had two more years on his deal with the Yankees. He assumed he would be back in the organization, possibly chasing a fourth straight trip to the Governors’ Cup championship series with the RailRiders.

So, he was a little surprised when he started getting text messages during the Rule 5 draft Thursday.

“In baseball, it’s always in the back of your mind: You never know where you’re going to be tomorrow,” Payton said.

The 27-year-old outfielder was one of six players the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 draft, selected by the Oakland Athletics in the annual event that closed the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

Double-A pitcher Nick Green went to Arizona in the major league portion, meaning he can be returned to the Yankees if he doesn’t spend the entire season on the Diamondbacks’ 25-man roster. Payton, RailRiders reliever Anyelo Gomez, Double-A catcher Chris Rabago and lower-level pitchers Gilmael Troya and Alexander Vargas were scooped up in the minor league portion and will not be returned to New York.

The Yankees did make up for one of the losses, claiming outfielder-turned-pitcher Adonis De La Cruz from the Seattle Mariners in the minor league phase.

“It’s a weird feeling. It’s bittersweet,” Payton said. “Obviously, (I’m) very, very excited for the opportunity that I have in front of me. But at the same time, I created so many relationships in the Yankees farm system — coaches, staff, players, friends that I talk to on a daily basis — that it’s going to be tough to leave. It’s the business side of baseball.

“Any opportunity you get, you’ve got to go and be thankful for it. I’m very, very happy that there’s an organization right now in Oakland that sees something in my game that they really like and are taking this chance on me.”

The Yankees drafted Payton out of the University of Texas in 2014. The scrappy outfielder is a career .274 hitter in the minors with a .354 on-base percentage.

He got his first real taste of Triple-A ball when he joined the RailRiders for the Governors’ Cup championship series in 2016, collecting three hits, including a triple and two RBIs in the clinching win against Gwinnett. He would play in 144 games and three Governors’ Cup finals with the RailRiders.

“I was lucky to be a part of some special groups,” said Payton, who carved out playing time in minor league outfields with the likes of Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Jake Cave, Dustin Fowler and Billy McKinney. “Every team was different in its own way, but very special groups of individuals that, you know, it’s pretty special when all those different groups of people can go to three championships in a row. That was definitely a fun ride over there.”

While he knew the Rule 5 draft was Thursday, Payton never expected to hear his name called. He said he was on the way to work out when he saw three text messages pop up from people he doesn’t hear from often, all saying congratulations. By the time he read them, Oakland’s assistant general manager called to welcome him to the organization.

Payton, who lives in Chicago, said he’s played nine games on the West Coast, all in college, and will have to adjust to the Oakland organization. If he stays at Triple-A, he’ll go from the one-casino Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area to the casino utopia of Las Vegas, suiting up for the Athletics’ inaugural Aviators squad in a brand-new ballpark. Luckily, he already has some connections with the A’s — Fowler, his old roommate, joined Oakland in the Sonny Gray trade and former RailRiders manager Al Pedrique is on the big league coaching staff.

“I didn’t think my time with the Yankees was up just yet, but it’s never your choice as a minor leaguer or a big leaguer,” Payton said. “You just take where the best opportunity is given and run with it.”

The Red Sox picked up Gomez, 25, who flashed electric stuff with a 1.93 ERA in 9⅓ innings in a handful of games for the RailRiders over the last two seasons. The Braves took him in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft before the 2018 season, but ultimately returned him to the RailRiders. He then missed most of the year with injuries and needed shoulder surgery.

Green, 23, spent most of the year at High-A Tampa, where he was 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA before a promotion to Double-A Trenton.

Kansas City selected the 25-year-old Rabago, who played in just seven games in the Yankees organization after New York claimed him off waivers from the Rockies in late August. Troya, 21, has yet to reach a full-season level of the minors, but was picked up by the Phillies after he put up a 1.63 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 38⅔ innings in his second season with rookie-level Pulaski. The Cubs took Vargas, 21, who had a 4.01 ERA between three levels of the minors this season.

De La Cruz took up pitching in 2015 and, by some metrics, had his best season in 2018. He struck out a career-best 11.8 per nine innings at Class A Clinton and lowered his walks per nine innings from 4.3 in 2017 to 3.0.

Contact the writer:

cfoley@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9125;

@RailRidersTT on Twitter

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