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A Look Back At 2023 In Somerset

December 20, 2023

After winning the Eastern League Championship in 2022, the Somerset Patriots had the bar set high for 2023. The success was powered by 19 of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects, including OF Jasson Dominguez and C Austin Wells. Off the field, Somerset displayed the legendary Yankee tradition and baseball history

After winning the Eastern League Championship in 2022, the Somerset Patriots had the bar set high for 2023. The success was powered by 19 of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects, including OF Jasson Dominguez and C Austin Wells. Off the field, Somerset displayed the legendary Yankee tradition and baseball history through events and promotions at TD Bank Ballpark.

The team saw over 350,000 fans throughout the year at TD Bank Ballpark and it was able to witness the Eastern League’s best team throughout the regular season. The Patriots finished the first half of the season with a record of 42-26, a second half record of 42-27, and an overall record of 84-53. That was the best record for both halves in the Eastern League and topped all of Double-A baseball. Somerset also held MiLB’s best run differential, outscoring opponents by 211 runs, in addition to leading the league in strikeouts (1,397), runs (749) and walks (650). This was done while leading all Double-A teams in home runs (197), ERA (3.56) and stolen bases (256).

Throughout the 2023 season, 10 Yankees passed through Somerset on Major League rehab assignments. On May 30 against the Portland Sea Dogs, both OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton and 3B Josh Donaldson were in the lineup for the Patriots. While that was Stanton’s only game in Somerset, Donaldson previously appeared with the team on April 18. LHP Carlos Rodon made his organizational debut in Somerset on June 20 and appeared in two games with the team. In those games, Rodon pitched seven innings, allowing a run and striking out nine batters.

Somerset has been fortunate enough to be the home of the Yankees’ most recent MLB Pipeline top prospect. Shortstop Anthony Volpe played with the Patriots for the majority of the 2022 season and was the team’s top ranked prospect the entire time. Once he was called up to the Bronx, Jasson Dominguez took over the top spot to begin the 2023 season. When the updated ranking came out in June, OF Spencer Jones took over and ended the season as the Yankees number one prospect.

New for 2023, the Patriots joined the MiLB initiative known as “The Nine,” paying tribute to the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues on August 27. “The Nine” was created as a Black community-focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport, provide new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation, further diversify the business of baseball and embrace millions of passionate fans throughout MiLB’s 120 communities nationwide.The Patriots successfully paid tribute by wearing themed uniforms in honor of the historic team, while prominent figures such as former Yankees Captain Willie Randolph and Patricia Payne of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) were in attendance.

The Zorros de Somerset returned for their second season in 2023. The Patriots switched identities for five games as part of MiLB’s “Copa de la Diversión” initiative, created to celebrate Latin culture in ballparks across the country. TD Bank Ballpark was decorated with Zorros piñatas, papel picado, flags of Hispanic countries and food vendors selling traditional Latin food. Giveaways such as Zorros hats, stress balls, rally towels and baseball card strips of Hispanic Patriots were received by fans during the Copa games. Carlos Rodon sported the Zorro’s orange uniform in his second rehab start in Somerset.

Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond touched down in Somerset as the team participated in year two of the partnership. A comic-inspired logo and jersey were created by Marvel artists and revealed at the 2022 Comic Con event in New York City. Sparkee the Mascot roamed the event alongside other MiLB mascots revealing the new branding and taking pictures with fans throughout.

Volpe’s time in Somerset was celebrated at the ballpark on July 26, as 7,216 fans flooded the ballpark when Volpe bobbleheads were distributed at the gates. At the concession stands, chicken parm sandwiches were on sale in reference to viral story of he and long-time teammate and friend Austin Wells suggesting a fix to his swing mechanics, while eating homemade chicken parm at the Volpe house. The promotion was one of the highlights of a season that saw over 54 million impressions for the team across their social media platforms.

The Patriots commemorated the career of Yankees legend Ron Guidry at the ballpark. The festivities lasted two days, beginning with an autograph session and meet & greet on August 22. Before the game, Patriots Manager Emeritus Sparky Lyle joined Guidry in a pre-game Q&A session about their careers and shared some behind-the-scenes stories. The two pitchers won the Cy Young Award for the American League’s best pitcher in back-to-back years with Lyle winning in 1977 and Guidry in 1978. Following the Q&A, fans were able to pre-purchase tickets to meet Guidry and receive a signed item of their choice. August 23 continued the celebration as fans packed the park to receive a limited-edition Guidry bobblehead.

Four members of the 2023 Patriots made their Major League debuts with the Yankees in 2023. Outfielder Everson Pereira played in 46 games with Somerset batting .291 with 31 RBI and 10 HR. Upon being called up, Pereira appeared in 27 games with the major league club. Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells were called up together when MLB rosters expanded in September. Dominguez took off in the Bronx hitting four home runs in his first eight games before an injury halted his promising start. Wells started the season on the injured list, but was quick to reintroduce himself to Somerset upon his arrival. The slugging catcher hit 11 HR with 50 RBI with Somerset. Pitcher Yoendrys Gomez was the first player in the organization’s history to get the call to the majors straight from Somerset.

A total of 10 former Patriots made their MLB debuts this season with the Yankees or other MLB clubs. Volpe was the standout, after he broke the Opening Day roster and finished the season with an impressive 21 home runs and 24 stolen bases, while starting the entire season. He became the first Yankees rookie in the franchise’s illustrious history to hit over 20 home runs and steal more than 20 bases. At the conclusion of the season, Volpe was named the American League Gold Glove Award winner for shortstop, becoming the first Yankees rookie to receive the honor. Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez made multiple starts in the Bronx throughout the year and were later included in the deal that brought coveted OF Juan Soto to the Bronx.

RHP Drew Thorpe was named the MiLB Pitching Prospect of the Year by MLB in the inaugural MiLB Awards Show on October 2. He finished the 2023 season 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA, 182 K, 0.98 WHIP, .200 AVG over 139.1 IP in 23 games started. He topped all of MiLB in strikeouts and ranked among the leaders in W (T-2nd), WHIP (2nd), ERA (4th) and AVG (6th ). In Somerset, Thorpe went an undefeated 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA, 44 K, 0.66 WHIP and .144 AVG over 30.1 IP in five starts. Thorpe was one of the centerpieces in the Soto trade with San Diego.

Somerset was also home to the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, Richard Fitts. During his first season in Double-A, the big right-hander set or matched a career-high in strikeouts in four separate starts. Fitts also set Patriots single-season records with 11 wins, 27 games started, 15 quality starts and 152.2 innings pitched. He finished the season with a 3.48 ERA and 163 strikeouts. After the season, Fitts was included in the trade for Boston Red Sox OF Alex Verdugo.

Yankees Hitting Prospect of the Year ( Ben Rice took over when Wells got called up and the talented prospect did not disappoint. Since his promotion to Somerset on July 18, Rice was the Eastern League leader in HR (16), RBI (48), SLG (.651), OPS (1.054), XBH (30), TB (127) and R (40), while ranking third with a .328 BA. Among all players with 300 plate appearances, Rice ranked first in wRC+ (183) while batting .324/.434/.615 with 20 homers in 73 combined games between Single-A, High-A and Double-A.

Third baseman Tyler Hardman’s power turned heads as he led the Eastern League with 26 homers despite missing the season’s last two months.

First baseman T.J. Rumfield was honored as MiLB’s Gold Glove winner for first base after he set a Patriots franchise record by posting a .997 fielding percentage, 562 putouts and 34 assists on 598 total chances over 78 total games.

After a high bar was set during Somerset’s Championship-winning 2022 season, 2023 continued to raise the bar for what is yet to come in Somerset County on and off the field. Promotions, events, and a winning team will make a return to Bridgewater, New Jersey with Opening Day set for April 5.