Archive for October, 2009

How You Can Win Phillies or Yankees 2010 Opening Day Tickets

October 28, 2009

The Thunder and their “sister team,” the Lakewood Blue Claws, are running a contest coinciding with this year’s World Series.

Check out this link to learn more about how you can win tickets to either Yankees or Phillies opening day next season.

2009 Thunder A-Z: Seth Fortenberry

October 20, 2009

fortenberry

Before 2009: Fortenberry was picked in the 11th round of the 2006 draft by the Yankees out of Baylor. 

He was sent to Short Season-A Staten Island and was one of the club’s everyday outfielders, hitting .268 with four home runs and 25 RBI in 67 games.

Fortenberry really broke out in 2007, when he spent the year with Low-A Charleston.  He hit. 255 with a career high 18 home runs and 87 RBI, playing in all 140 games and finishing in the top 5 in the league in walks with 73.

His strong offensive run continued the following season, when he hit .263 with12 home runs and 46 RBI at High-A Tampa in 2008.

2009: At media day, just prior to the start of the season, Fortenberry told me: “Hopefully, (the fans will see in me) a lot of what they saw last year in AJ.  That would be nice.  I guess I’m the same type of player; speed, run around the outfield, play defense.  He has big shoes to fill, but I’m going to do my best.”

That didn’t entirely happen.

Fortenberry lasted about two months with the Thunder, hitting just .160 with no home runs and eight RBI in 38 games.  He got sent down to High-A Tampa around the first week of June, and things didn’t get much better.

In 59 games with Tampa, he hit only .175 with six home runs and 27 RBI.  Seems he could just never get that bat going.

His arm, rated as the best in the Yankees farm system, never really seemed to make much of an appearance, as Austin Krum actually made a stronger impression with his throwing arm than Fortenberry ever did. 

After 2009: Fortenberry’s prospect status took a big hit last season, and it’ll be interesting to see where he starts out in trying to get it back.  With Austin Krum likely set to start out the season as Trenton’s starting center fielder, Fortenberry’s unlikely to be able to take that spot back.

At some point, even if he doesn’t start the season there, Fortenberry will likely return to Trenton to try to pick his career back up.  If he can get his offensive numbers back on track, especially his power numbers, he’ll have a chance to re-establish himself as one of the outfielders to keep an eye on in the system.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Cross-Promotion! Yay!

October 17, 2009

When people meet me at Thunder games for the first time, one of the questions I tend to get from women is if I’m single is what I do in the off-season.  My answer, of course, is that I really have no off-season.

I’ll be back covering the Trenton Devils for a second season at my Inside the Trenton Devils blog, which I’d encourage you to check out.  In fact, you should come out and check out a game.  It’s not too far away from Waterfront Park, and I’m usually pretty accessible before games if you have any Thunder questions.

The T-Devils 2009-10 season starts off tonight at 7 PM when the Kalamazoo Wings make their inaugural trip into Sovereign Bank Arena…or, ummm…whatever they’re calling it these days.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

So, How Goes It In The AFL?

October 16, 2009

kroenke

Zach Kroenke (Photo: Ashmore/2008)

Were the Arena Football League still around, it might be a bit confusing for some for me to report on the Yankees farmhands that were assigned to the AFL.  But sadly — and I say that sincerely, as I really enjoyed my experience covering that league — the league has folded and the Arizona Fall League is the only AFL in town.

Now, the fact that just about as many people care about the Arizona Fall League — they routinely draw triple-digit crowds over there — as did the Arena Football League aside, here’s a look at how the seven Yankees minor leaguers playing for the Surprise Rafters are faring:

Brandon Laird: 2 GP, .818 AVG (9-for-11), 1 2B, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 1 K

Austin Romine: 2 GP, .500 AVG (4-for-8), 0 XBH, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K

Colin Curtis: 3 GP, .333 AVG (5-for-15), 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 1K

Ian Kennedy: 1 G/1 GS, 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

Mike Dunn: 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 SV, 1 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K

Zach Kroenke: 1 G, 0-0, 9.00 ERA, 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

Grant Duff: 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Alumni Q&A: Mark Melancon

October 16, 2009

3

Mark Melancon came to the Thunder in 2008 with about as much hype as any relief pitcher in franchise history.  A 6-0 record, two saves and a 1.81 ERA later and it became pretty clear that it was all justified.

All in all, Melancon lasted all of about two months at Waterfront Park before being called up to Triple-A Scranton at the end of July.  Since then, he’s helped Scranton win an International League championship and got to make his big league debut in the first month of the 2009 season.

Melancon was back in the New York Yankees clubhouse in September, and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his time with the Thunder and what he’s been up to since:

Mike Ashmore: I haven’t had a chance to see you since you were with the Thunder back in 2008…take me through what the roller coaster has been like since then.

Mark Melancon: “It’s been great.  It wasn’t a great year this year, but there’s always things to improve on.”

Ashmore: Did things go the way you thought they would in terms of when you would get to the big leagues?

Melancon: “Well, this is my third time up, so I guess it’s gone well.  I wish I could have stuck the first time.  But there’s always a learning curve and different things that go on.”

Ashmore: When you were in Trenton and Scranton, you were under a lot of scrutiny considering your lofty prospect status.  Now, you’re a big leaguer.  Is the attention that you’ve received any different now that you’ve finally made it up here?

Melancon: “It’s a whole different level up here.  You can’t mimic anything here in the minor leagues.  It’s a whole new level, and I think that’s why it is such a big learning curve.”

Ashmore: What do you remember from that first outing at Fenway?

Melancon: “It was exhilirating.  I came in, I think it was the seventh inning, and everybody’s standing up and singing ‘Sweet Caroline.’  It was an unbelievable feeling.  A dream come true, for sure.”

Ashmore: You were only with the Thunder for about two months, but what do you remember about your experience there?

Melancon: “Trenton was great.  The fans were great, the atmosphere was great.  It’s a good team to have in the Yankees organization.”

Ashmore: There were a lot of guys on that Scranton team that you were on this year who were with you on the Thunder as well.  Any thoughts on how those guys have progressed?  Anyone stand out to you?

Melancon: “We seemed to have a great class coming through.  It’s been fun that we’ve been able to move together.”

Ashmore: How are you viewing this opportunity in September with the Yankees?  Are you viewing it as an audition for next year?  An audition to pitch in the postseason?

Melancon: “Both.  The biggest thing for me is to do your best every day.  Long term goals are good, but I can’t worry about tomorrow when I have today to worry about.  I’m just going to do my best each day.  Ultimately, I hope it plays out next year that I earn myself a spot.  This year, earn a spot on the playoff roster.  Those things will take care of themselves if I take care of today and tomorrow.  So that’s how I view that.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Flying Squirrels? Seriously?

October 15, 2009

(PR) RICHMOND, VA – Richmond Professional Baseball held a press conference on Thursday to announce that Flying Squirrels has been chosen as the team name for the Eastern League franchise beginning play at The Diamond in 2010. Flying Squirrels was selected from a pool of more than 15,000 entries submitted during an on-line “Name the Team” contest on TimesDispatch.com and subsequent wild card entry period on CNBC.com.

“We are thrilled with the passion that selecting the name of the team has ignited within the community,” said Richmond Professional Baseball Chief Executive Manager Chuck Domino. “We have promised the baseball fans of Richmond a truly unique brand of fun. Out of all the tremendous entries we received, we believe the Flying Squirrels moniker provides the best representation of that brand, while giving us unlimited avenues to creatively explore the identity of this team.”

Brad Mead, the fan who submitted Flying Squirrels in the “Name the Team” contest, was unable to attend the press conference. However, his mother, Donna Nelson, and step-father, Kyle Nelson, accepted the grand prize on his behalf. Mead was awarded two Flying Squirrels’ season tickets for life. The fans that submitted the names of the other finalists were also on hand at the press conference, and were awarded prize packs from the newly-minted team.

Other speakers at the press conference were Richmond Times-Dispatch President & Publisher Tom Silvestri and Flying Squirrels’ General Manager Bill Papierniak. Jason Klein and Casey White of Plan B. Branding also outlined the team’s plans for logo creation and brand implementation. In conjunction with the naming announcement, the team introduced the new on-line home of the team — SquirrelsBaseball.com — which will replace RichmondProBaseball.com. The team had been operating on the temporary site while the name of the team was being selected.

2009 Thunder A-Z: Mike Dunn

October 15, 2009

dunn2

Before 2009: Mike Dunn’s “Before 2009″ is a lot more interesting than…oh, wait.  I used that line already?  Well, Wilkin de la Rosa isn’t the only left-handed outfielder turned pitcher in the organization.

Picked in the 33rd round of the 2004 draft by the Yankees, Dunn debuted the following season as an outfielder in the Gulf Coast League, where he’d hit .194 with no home runs and nine RBI in 24 games.  He also played for High-A Tampa — somewhat odd considering his numbers and lack of experience — and posted similar statistics, hitting .167 with no home runs and six RBI in 28 games.

He started the 2006 season at Low-A Charleston, again as an outfielder.  His career in the outfield would last another month, as he hit just .086 with no home runs and two RBI in 14 games before starting his transition to the mound.

Dunn returned to the Gulf Coast League as a relief pitcher, and the move paid immediate dividends.  In 11 appearances, he was 3-0 with an 0.73 ERA, and the opposition hit just .155 off of him.  He was sent to Short Season-A Staten Island to finish the season, and posted no record and a 5.68 ERA in three appearances.  However, New York-Penn League batters hit just .125 off of him, as Dunn was ultimately victimized by his seven walks more than his three hits allowed in 6.1 frames pitched.

2007 marked Dunn’s first full season on the mound, and he was inserted into Low-A Charleston’s starting rotation. I n 27 starts, Dunn went 12-5 and posted a 3.42 ERA, which was good for ninth best among qualifying pitchers in the South Atlantic League.

His progression of one level per year continued in 2008, as he pitched in all but one of his games while wearing the uniform of the High-A Tampa Yankees.  He appeared in 30 games, including 22 starts.  He was 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA for Tampa before being called up at the tail end of the year to join Double-A Trenton.  Dunn picked up the win in his only relief appearance of the year, and was used in some key situations in the postseason as he helped the Thunder earn their second straight championship ring.

2009: Dunn, who was added to the Yankees 40-man roster prior to the start of the year, began his season in Trenton’s bullpen, and pitched very well until his inevitable promotion to Triple-A Scranton in the middle of July.  For the Thunder, Dunn went 3-3 with a 3.71 ERA and two saves.  He tallied 76 strikeouts in just 53.1 innings of work.

Dunn’s time in Scranton would last just a month and a half, as his 1-0 record and 2.25 ERA in 12 appearances was good enough to earn him a call-up to the Bronx when rosters expanded on September 1st. 

After 2009: Dunn is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League for the Surprise Rafters franchise, and has emerged as a top prospect in the organization.

With a spot on the 40-man roster, his penchant for strikeouts and a lack of quality arms from the left side in the organization, Dunn has a real chance to start 2010 as a New York Yankee.  Despite the fact that he’s essentially had two careers in baseball, he won’t turn 25 years old until May 23rd of next year, so there is still time for him develop in Triple-A if need be.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

2009 Thunder A-Z: Grant Duff

October 14, 2009

duff

Before 2009: Duff was selected out of noted baseball powerhouse The College of the Sequoias in the 21st round of the 2004 draft by the Yankees.  He debuted with the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2005, going 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA in four appearances.

He seemed to put that inauspicious debut behind him in 2006, dominating the Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 5-1 record with a 1.14 ERA in 11 appearances while holding the opposition to a microscopic .155 batting average against.  He finished the season in Staten Island, and was sent to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2007 season.

Pitching exclusively as a starter for the first time in his pro career, Duff went 14-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 27 starts, but led the league with 80 walks compared to just 82 strikeouts.  He also had 13 wild pitches to his credit.

In 2008, Duff spent the entire season in High-A Tampa, going 3-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 30 appearances, including eight starts.  But his relief splits (2-2, 3.60) were significantly better than his splits as a starter (1-4, 5.15).

2009: Duff began the year as a big, 26-year old reliever who needed a big year to finally establish himself as a legitimate prospect — it was either that or he was one year closer to needing to find another organization after being unable to solidify a spot in any key role. 

He’d end it in the Arizona Fall League after earning a brief postseason call-up to Triple-A, both signs that he’d finally made big strides in the Yankees farm system.

Inbetween those two points, Duff began the season pitching out of the Tampa Yankees bullpen, posting solid numbers (0-1, 3.82) in 24 appearances before finally being summoned to Trenton a week or so into July.  Duff immediately became one of the pillars of the bullpen, although he’d occasionally struggle with command.  Ultimately, he posted a 4-2 record with a 3.22 ERA in 21 appearances — which, when combined with his games pitched in Tampa, gave him a career high 45 appearances — and he held the Eastern League to a .222 batting average against.

After 2009: Duff has earned a reputation as one of the hardest throwers in the upper levels of the farm system, if not the whole organization.  His fastball has allegedly touched 99 MPH — he certainly never did that at Waterfront Park – and generally sits at 96 or 97 once he gets a few pitches into an outing, when he’s usually at 93-94.

At 27 years old going into the 2010 season, the time is now for Duff.  While it’s possible he could start the season in the Thunder bullpen, the more likely scenario sees him pitching out of Scranton’s bullpen to start 2010.  Depending on how things go for him at PNC Field, Duff has a legitimate chance to wear Yankee pinstripes at some point in 2010.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

2009 Thunder A-Z: Wilkin De La Rosa

October 13, 2009

delarosa2

Before 2009: De La Rosa certainly has a more interesting “Before 2009″ than some other guys, that’s for sure.  The Yankees signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old…outfielder, not a pitcher.  He wasn’t totally horrendous as an outfielder — he was a .224 career hitter with three home runs in 920 at-bats…OK, maybe he was – but he didn’t get past Low-A ball in five years, and he made the transition to the mound after the 2006 season.

De La Rosa debuted as a left-handed reliever with the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2007 and started immediately getting the results he couldn’t as a hitter.  In 12 games, he was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA and struck out 32 batters while walking just 11.

Already 23 years old at the time of the 2008 season, the Yankees needed to see if De La Rosa could handle being fast tracked through the system, so they started him at Low-A Charleston.  De La Rosa was lights out, going 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 29 appearances, including eight starts.  It was there where he first started experimenting with pitching every fifth day, and that’s what he would permanently do starting with his late season call-up to High-A Tampa.  For as good as he was with Charleston, he was even better with Tampa, posting a 2-1 mark and 1.10 ERA in three August starts.

2009: The 24-year-old southpaw began the year in Tampa’s starting rotation, but after allowing just two runs through his first three turns in the rotation, it became clear that he was ready for a promotion to Double-A.

Added to the 40-man roster prior to the start of the season, De La Rosa ultimately pitched pretty well for the Thunder before eventually being shut down late in the season due to a biceps tendon injury that was not believed to be serious.  In 16 starts, De La Rosa was 4-5 with a 3.48 ERA.  In 82.2 innings of work, he walked 41 and struck out 77 and held the Eastern League to a .221 average against, which is actually 15 points higher than his career average against numbers.

After 2009: Does De La Rosa figure into the Yankees immediate plans?  Probably not.  But he’s likely to figure into the Thunder’s rotation come Opening Day in 2010.  He entered 2009 as the Yankees 19th best prospect according to Baseball America, and likely will end up somewhere around there next year as well.  He didn’t do anything to hurt his prospect status, but didn’t do much to give it a big boost, either.

Given he’s a consistent lefty, De La Rosa will likely get a shot in the big leagues at some point with the Yankees.  And given his status on the 40-man roster, that’s an opportunity that may come in September of 2010. 

Sooner yet though, given his age and sudden lack of upper level starters in the organization, De La Rosa will likely earn a promotion to Triple-A Scranton by mid-season, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if a strong camp earned him a spot in the back end of their rotation in April.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Looking Back At ALDS Game 2…

October 11, 2009

This article, slightly modified, will appear in the Hunterdon County Democrat on Thursday…

As you know, I was fortunate enough to be able to cover the first two games of the 2009 American League Division Series between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.

And this post can’t go any further without relaying my heartfelt appreciation to the Yankees organization for letting me get a great experience and some great stories as well.

But, just a few hours before the third game of this great series kicks off tonight, let me share a few thoughts from Friday night’s Game 2.

I’ve covered a little more than 650 games in my seven year career, and that may be the best one I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of.  From it looking like a pitchers duel through the first five innings, to Alex Rodriguez tying it up in the ninth inning, to the blown call down the left field line, to the Twins loading the bases with no outs and Mark Teixeira’s dramatic walk-off home run that skipped off the top of the left field wall, this game absolutely had it all.

I rarely stay for the entirety of a big league game when I’m covering it.  I’m not there for the game — I’m there to talk to players for stories beforehand — so I’ll usually stay for about five innings and then leave so I can get out of everybody’s way.  I didn’t even stay for the entirety of Game 1 of the ALDS, to be honest.

But with pre-game player access limited to off-day workouts, I needed to stay for the entirety of Game 2 anyway. 

I’m sure glad I did.

It was a circus in the clubhouse after the game, with the media scrambling to interview all the big stars from the game who weren’t going to be in the interview room after the game — those players being Rodriguez and Teixeira.  Meanwhile, Alfredo Aceves was finishing up a few interviews with some Spanish-speaking media outlets and Phil Coke was getting dressed by his locker with nobody approaching him at all.

Being that my focus is Thunder coverage, I wanted to know from them what it was like to be a part of a game like that.  Sure, around 200 media members and a new stadium record crowd of 50,006 people will know what it was like to be there, but only a handful of players can say they actually played in this epic contest.

“It feels like I pitched yesterday man, not today,” said reliever Phil Coke, who faced just one batter, striking out Minnesota’s Jason Kubel to end the seventh inning.

“There were a lot of innings, a lot of hard fought innings in both directions.  We played a great game, and we were in a position to win the game a few times early, but so were they.  But it ended up having to go to extras, and we wound up winning in extras.  It’s what everybody dreams about doing, but instead of the bottom of the ninth, it was the bottom of the eleventh.  It was fun.  I had a good time.”

Aceves, signed out of the Mexican League after the 2007 season, has only been in the Yankees organization for two seasons, but has already earned a key role as a long reliever and spot starter in the big leagues. 

He pitched the tenth inning of the game, allowing a walk and a hit, but ultimately holding the Twins off the scoreboard.

“It’s a great feeling,” Aceves said.

“It’s kind of different, the postseason.  If we lose, we’re going home, and we don’t want to lose.  We just played hard, and we won today.”

Aceves, who pitched for the Thunder in 2008, was particularly impressed by the way his team’s star players stepped up when it mattered the most.

“They’re great players,” he said.

“I’m just happy to be there with them.  I thank God to be a part of this.”

For Coke, who was known for his easygoing nature and willingness to talk to just about anyone while with the Thunder, it should come as little surprise that if there was any pressure on him pitching in a game like that, he sure didn’t seem to notice.

“I don’t think there was any pressure on me, and shame on me if I did,” Coke told the Democrat.

“I’d faced (Kubel) the first day, and I didn’t make the pitch that I wanted to make, I wanted to make it off the plate.  But I got lucky, and he lined it right at Tex.  Tonight, I went out there and I was making sure that if I was missing, I was missing off the plate.  I was going after him early with the sliders.  It was great pitch-calling by Posada back there, and I was right on board with everything that he called.  I was happy to do it.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers