My parents never got one of those “My Son Is An Honor Roll Student” bumper stickers. Many of my report cards would mysteriously get lost in the mail or arrive days later than the other kids. Sorry, Mrs. Hollowell, but they may have never seen that D in English.
100 games into the year, and it’s time to grade the Thunder on their performances. Find out which ones are worthy of those elusive bumper stickers, and who needs another semester.
P.J. Pilittere: A-
The 26-year-old backstop has improved almost every aspect of his game in his second season at the Double-A level. He’s upped his average nearly thirty points, and continues to earn his reputation as one of the best gamecallers the Yankees have in their organization.
Ideally, you’d like to see him have more success in throwing out runners and exhibit more power at the plate, but he’s a workhorse who does everything you ask of him.
Joe Muich: C-
The third-year pro deserves some of the credit for the success of the pitching staff as well, especially considering he’s caught a little more than a quarter of the games so far.
He’s shown some pop at the lower levels of the minors, but he’s yet to connect for his first home run in a Thunder uniform. Overall, he needs to be more consistent with the bat and also struggles in throwing out runners on a consistent basis as well.
Chris Malec: A-
Unquestionably the most pleasant surprise on the team. The 25-year-old started the season on the bench, but his bat pushed its way into Tony Franklin’s lineup on a regular basis. Outside of a rough stint in Tampa in 2006, this kid has hit throughout his entire career and has continued to do so for Trenton. It’s hard not to root for him.
Carlos Mendoza: B
I bet that of all the grades I’ve handed out here — and oh, how meaningful they are — that this one might have the most disagreements. But how can you argue against what the former indy ball standout has done for this team this year? Yes, he only has 68 at-bats, but his versatility has made him valuable. His defense has been solid wherever he’s played, and he’s swung a decent bat whenever he’s been in the lineup.
Ramiro Pena: C+
Brian Cashman’s assessment of Pena at the Futures Game was pretty spot-on. The guy is a real good defensive shortstop who profiles as a possible utility player at the big league level. But he needs to be more consistent with his bat and needs to somehow develop some power. He doesn’t have a real projectable frame, so that could be some wishful thinking. Ultimately, his glove will advance him through the system.
Reegie Corona: C+
If a Reggie Bar tells you how good it is when you open it, what would a Reegie Bar tell you? Corona and Pena aren’t really that different. Corona is a strong defensive player who hits for decent average with little pop. I think that long-term, you could see Corona develop more power in his bat since he can add a little more to his frame…but right now, they’re two pretty similar players.
Cody Ehlers: F
I hate doing this. But if I’m going to give my honest opinion, I’ve got to give Ehlers an F. He’s an everyday player hitting under .200, and he’s been way too streaky. And when he does get in a slump, it tends to be a prolonged one.
What’s most frustrating about it, is that everyone has seen what Ehlers is capable of. Let’s not forget that it was just two years ago that he was the Florida State League Player of the Year. If the Oklahoma native can ever do with a hot streak what he does with slumps, he could be one of the most pleasant surprises of the playoff drive.
Walter Ibarra: INC
One of a few generous incompletes you’ll see on here. He wasn’t called up with the intention of him sticking with Trenton, but here he is. I’d imagine that once Carlos Mendoza fully recovers, he’ll get sent back down.
Austin Jackson: B+
How good has this guy been over the past month or so? Jackson seems to have put it all together over the past three or four weeks, and is starting to dominate the Double-A level. But the same things I noticed that could affect him at the beginning of the season are still there to an extent. Stuff that comes with playing the game for a long time — baserunning instincts, overall defense — still need to improve.
Edwar Gonzalez: B
This grade kind of goes against everything I’ve seen him do. In the 20 games I’ve seen him play personally, he’s hitting .182. Overall, however, he’s hitting .277 with seven home runs and 40 RBI. He’s been good, and has handled Double-A well…just not too often when I’m covering him.
Colin Curtis: B-
Maybe it’s because of all the hype that was around him going into the season that I’m giving Colin Curtis a B-. He’s been pretty solid for the majority of the season, but I don’t think he’s accomplished what people might have thought he would. Gotta give him points for overall consistency, though.
James Cooper: D
Cooper has struggled pretty significantly in his first foray into Double-A. Only two extra-base hits in his first 60 at-bats isn’t going to cut it. The fourth outfielder is a pretty significant role, and he needs to improve in the final 40 games or so.
Jason Jones: A
10-3 record. 2.28 ERA. Anyone else smell that? Smells like the pitcher of the year, to me. Triple-A will be the real test for Jones, and it would be a shame if the Yankees can’t find a spot for him there within the next year.
Phil Coke: B+
If you take away the first month of the season, Phil Coke has been flat-out ridiculous. Even with that month still in, he’s 9-4 with a 2.60 ERA. His fastball command and velocity have both improved, and there’s some significant buzz around him that he could be a legitimate option as a lefty in the big league bullpen.
Chase Wright: B
Seems to have fully recovered from his shoulder soreness to regain his form from the first few months of the year. Jones and Coke both have had their opportunities in Scranton this year, so I’d imagine Wright could be next in line with the way he’s been pitching.
Eric Hacker: B
It’s almost hard to believe how good Hacker has been in his first stint in Double-A. He went from somewhat of an afterthought in the Yankees prospect world to someone who has started to establish himself as a possible future Yankee in about 10 starts.
George Kontos: C
Overall, the numbers aren’t bad, and you could argue that he’s had bad luck to get stuck with a 3-9 record despite having an ERA in the mid-three’s. But sometimes, you’ve got to create your own luck, and Kontos is probably viewed as the team’s fifth starter by outsiders thanks to the numbers. He’s got to be better to stand out on a staff like this one.
Anthony Claggett: A
A key part of the Gary Sheffield trade, Claggett might be re-writing history so that Sheffield will have been a key part of the Anthony Claggett trade. He’s been garnering a lot of attention for his microscopic ERA, and you’ve got to wonder if he’ll get the next call-up to Triple-A.
Mark Melancon: B+
All in all, Melancon has been really, really good. He’s limited baserunners all season, and has made very few mistakes. Really, there’s little else to write about Melancon that hasn’t already been said. He appears to be ready for Scranton whenever they’re ready for him.
Bo Hall: B
Where would the Thunder be without Bo Hall? One of the most anonymous guys on the team — I’ve yet to quote the guy all season — he’s been incredibly solid and has given the team many reliable outings out of the bullpen when they desperately needed it.
Zach Kroenke: C+
A little inconsistent, but overall the team’s only southpaw out of the pen has gotten the job done. I’m not sure how well he’ll fit into the lefty specialist role down the road, but right now, he’s done a decent job with it.
Eric Wordekemper: C+
When he’s had the opportunity, Wordy has been pretty good this season. Tends up to give up a little more than his fair share of hits, but he seems to have success in getting out of his own way and getting out of jams.
Michael Gardner: C-
Walks flat out kill this guy. Gardy has really good stuff and throws a really heavy, hard fastball. But a failure to get ahead of hitters and walks in general have really affected his numbers this season. Give him credit for this, though…he hasn’t given up a home run all season.
Jose Valdez: INC
Valdez has been nothing short of solid during his stay with the Thunder, but five games is too small of a sample size to give him an accurate grade.
Kevin Whelan: INC
The former Tigers prospect has only made two appearances so far this season, but looks to add to that after being activated from the DL. Incomplete.
Oneli Perez: INC
I’ll give him a very, very generous incomplete. The career numbers are there, but he hasn’t been too good to often in 2008.
Obviously, I’d welcome your feedback on this…if you want to post your own report cards, go for it.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com