The RailRiders have won two consecutive International League North Division championships and their bullpen has played major roles in those conquests. As they go for a three-peat in the division and a repeat of their Governors’ Cup and Triple-A National Championship titles, the bullpen is once again expected to be solid.

With Yankees pitchers and catchers conducting their first official workout in Tampa, Florida, today, we continue our five-part series with a look at who the RailRiders could have available in their bullpen April 6.

The Candidates

  • Johnny Barbato*
  • Richard Bleier*
  • J.P. Feyereisen
  • Giovanny Gallegos*
  • J.R. Graham
  • Jason Gurka
  • Ben Heller*
  • Jonathan Holder*
  • Joe Mantiply
  • Mark Montgomery
  • Branden Pinder
  • Nick Rumbelow
  • Evan Rutckyj
  • Eric Ruth
  • Chasen Shreve*
  • Matt Wotherspoon

*Indicates player in on 40-man roster

Six of the 16 names on this list are 40-man guys. Here’s the thing about that, though. Four or five are most likely going to be relegated to the RailRiders. The Yankees enter camp with four bullpen spots solidified — Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, who is technically competing for a rotation spot but will wind up in the big league bullpen if he doesn’t win one, which seems more likely. Tommy Layne also is safe from Triple-A because he doesn’t have to accept an option to the RailRiders.

Keep in mind that in Part 1 of this series on Tuesday, I thought the Yankees would keep Bryan Mitchell as a reliever if he didn’t win a rotation spot. If the Yankees keep Layne and Mitchell, that means there will be (presumably) six guys vying for one spot in the Bronx, assuming Warren doesn’t make the rotation.

Probably Out From The Start

  • Brandon Pinder
  • Nick Rumbelow
  • Eric Ruth

Two years ago, Pinder and Rumbelow made their major league debuts and became integral members of what became known as the “Scranton Shuttle,” in which the Yankees recalled pitchers from the RailRiders seemingly on an everyday basis. After being optioned to the RailRiders in the final week of camp last year, both were expected to have similar roles but their seasons ended before they really began thanks to Tommy John surgeries.

Rumbelow pitched just one inning for the RailRiders, while Pinder made two appearances with the RailRiders before the Yankees called him up. His lone appearance in New York came April 20 when he gave up three hits, two runs and a walk in one inning against Oakland. Two days later, he hit the disabled list and underwent his surgery a few weeks later.

The Yankees DFA’d both in November, eventually outrighted Pinder to the RailRiders and re-signed Rumbelow to a minor league deal. Neither are expected to pitch this spring and even if they were, it wouldn’t make sense to rush them back. Safe bet is that they remain in Tampa for the early portion of the regular season with the hope of returning to the upper levels later this summer.

As for Ruth, he’s pitched for the RailRiders in each of the last three seasons and all five of his appearances have been starts. In fact, 32 of his 41 appearances above Class A have been starts. However, the majority of his 2016 outings came from the bullpen. They also came at Double-A Trenton or High-A Tampa. When Ruth has pitched for the RailRiders in the past, it was in spot-start duty and he actually performed well. He won both outings last year and had a 1.98 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. Unfortunately for him, he’s in an organization loaded with an abundance of upper-level pitching talent and wouldn’t appear to be a consistent arm with the RailRiders.

Probably Not Ready

  • Evan Rutckyj

The 25-year-old southpaw, who was a surprising Rule 5 pick by Atlanta in 2015 only to be returned to New York in March, had a lost 2016 season thanks to an elbow injury. Rutckyj began the year at Trenton — where he ended 2015 — but went down after just four appearances and missed nearly four months. After rehab stints with the GCL Yankees and Short-Season Staten Island, he returned to Trenton for its playoff run.

Still, Rutckyj has pitched just 15 games above Class A and most likely hasn’t given the Yankees reason to believe he’ll be ready to face Triple-A hitting come the first week of April. That’s not to say he won’t appear with the RailRiders at some point this summer, assuming he stays healthy.

The Wild Card

  • The Yankees’ rotation battle

I debated this one for a long while and initially thought about choosing Layne because of his option situation. If he doesn’t make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster, then he could very well be released, which would open another spot. But Layne is a big league veteran of five seasons now and had outstanding success against left-handed hitters. Considering the Yankees’ only other lefty out of the bullpen is Chapman, it makes more sense to keep Layne around.

Ultimately, I decided on four (starting) pitchers not listed as candidates above — Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Luis Severino. Two of these four are most likely not going to be in the Yankees’ Opening Day rotation, which obviously means there’s no way they wind up in the RailRiders’ Opening Day bullpen. But the key here is what the Yankees decide to do with the two who lose the battle.

On Tuesday, I said that they would keep one of the two in their bullpen (Mitchell) and send the other to the RailRiders as a starter (Green). To keep this as simple as possible, let’s stick with these two. What if the Yankees decided to send both to the RailRiders? After all, they’re both 25 and the Yankees might feel they have more value as starters in the long run. That would open another bullpen spot in New York.

Worst case scenario for the RailRiders’ bullpen? Warren wins a starting spot and the Yankees send the three losers to the RailRiders, thus creating three open bullpen spots in the Bronx. But that’s very unlikely.

Pencil Them In

  • J.P. Feyereisen
  • Joe Mantiply
  • Jason Gurka

The name that sticks out in this group is Feyereisen, who came over from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller deal last July. He pitched exclusively at Double-A last year and really stood out following the trade. In nine regular-season games with Trenton, he went 3-0 and had a 0.50 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings. Coupled with his time with the Akron RubberDucks, the 24-year-old went 7-3 with a 1.70 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. There’s no need to send him back to Double-A.

Mantiply’s journey to the Yankees is an interesting one. He was claimed off waivers from Detroit on Nov. 8, DFA’d 10 days later and released five days after that only to re-sign a minor league deal with a big league camp invite Nov. 30. He’s pitched the last two seasons mostly at Double-A Erie but made 14 appearances with Triple-A Toledo during that time. But when the Tigers recalled him to make his major league debut Sept. 3, he was in Erie. The fact that the Yankees re-signed him tells me that they think he can be a bullpen option at some point, which would bode well for him locking up at least a Triple-A spot.

Gurka is a veteran who I think the Yankees would like to have on their Triple-A staff, especially one as young as the RailRiders’. He’s a 29-year-old southpaw who’s pitched the majority of his nine-year career in the minors but managed to pitch 15 games with Colorado over the last two seasons. There may not be a spot for him in New York at the moment but he should certainly have one in Scranton.

(Johnny Barbato's strong 2015 carried over to last spring and he ultimately made the Yankees' Opening Day roster. Will he repeat that success this spring? Emily Selby /

(Johnny Barbato’s strong 2015 carried over to last spring and he ultimately made the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. Will he repeat that success this spring? Emily Selby /


  • Johnny Barbato
  • Richard Bleier
  • J.P. Feyereisen
  • Giovanny Gallegos
  • Jason Gurka
  • Ben Heller
  • Jonathan Holder
  • Joe Mantiply

You might be wondering why I didn’t include any of the six 40-man relievers in the previous category. That’s absolutely fair to wonder, considering that the only options for them are New York or Scranton. The reason I didn’t include them is because it is unlikely that all six actually begin the year with the RailRiders. And with a close competition like that, I didn’t feel comfortable “penciling in” any of them to the RailRiders.

(Butch Comegys / Times-Tribune Photographer)

(Giovanny Gallegos’ brilliant 2016 season earned him a 40-man roster spot in November. Can he elevate himself to New York in 2017? Butch Comegys / Times-Tribune Photographer)

That competition could be the last roster spot decided like it was in 2016. Each pitcher can make a compelling case for it. Barbato made the Opening Day roster last year. Heller also came over in the Miller trade and made his MLB debut less than a month later. Holder was arguably the organization’s best minor league reliever and basically forced the Yankees to call him up and put him on their 40-man in September after the way he dominated Triple-A in a five-week span, which was highlighted by a four-inning save in which he struck out the first 11 batters and 12 of 13 overall on Aug. 28 that clinched the RailRiders a playoff spot. Gallegos was added to the 40-man after a brilliant season in which he became the RailRiders’ most reliable reliever and eventual closer down the stretch of the regular season and during their playoff run. And Bleier, while not overpowering by any means, is doing something right if the Yankees are still keeping him around.

In the end, I think it comes down to Bleier and Chasen Shreve with Shreve winning the spot. My line of thinking? The Yankees need a third lefty reliever and Shreve has had a better big league track record, despite his disappointing 2016 campaign.

No matter how the Yankees choose to fill their Triple-A bullpen, it would appear that J.R. Graham, Mark Montgomery and Crestwood High School graduate Matt Wotherspoon, all of whom pitched for the RailRiders last season, are more likely ticketed for Trenton — or possibly another organization — to start this season.