Archive for January, 2012

2012 Baseball America Top 30 Yankees Prospects Revealed

January 27, 2012

Several weeks after Baseball America revealed the initial top ten Yankee farmhands, the 2012 Prospect Handbook has been released and the remainder of the list has come out. Josh Norris listed players 11-31 on his Twitter account, and here goes…

11) Brett Marshall
12) Cito Culver
13) Ramon Flores
14) Angelo Gumbs
15) Adam Warren
16) D.J. Mitchell
17) Bryan Mitchell
18) Brandon Laird
19) Zoilo Almonte
20) Tyler Austin
21) David Phelps
22) Zach Nuding
23) Mark Montgomery
24) Jake Cave
25) Claudio Custodio
26) David Adams
27) Nik Turley
28) Greg Bird
29) Chase Whitley
30) Branden Pinder
31) Isias Tejeda

I say this every year at this time…don’t put that much stock in these lists. That’s all it is, a list. Some people treat this thing like a bible, and while I certainly read the Handbook from cover to cover when I get it, I’m no different than any of you in that I disagree with a lot of where various guys are ranked…Laird and Gumbs too high, Warren not high enough, etc. And if you treat it — outside of the great scouting reports, of course — as little more than a discussion starter, you’re likely better off. I know it isn’t an option for everyone, but I will always, always, always encourage you to make your own judgments with your own eyes.

I’d also be very curious to see where Jose Campos, who is likely to get to Trenton by mid-season, would be had he been dealt from Seattle earlier. I’d have to think he’d slot in around 6-8. Not sure Whitley should be on there, not sure Corban Joseph shouldn’t be and am wondering where the love is for Phil Wetherell, who as you likely know by now impressed me quite a bit when I saw him with Staten Island. But he’s an under the radar guy on the prospect circuit anyway…which is exactly why you should check these kids out for yourself and see who you want to follow.

Thoughts on the list?

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Former Thunder Pitcher Whelan DFA’d By Yankees

January 27, 2012

Reliever Kevin Whelan, who spent parts of four seasons with the Trenton Thunder, was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees in order to make room for Hiroki Kuroda.

Whelan, 28, appeared in just two big league games with the Yankees this season, his first and so far only Major League experience.  Somewhat tellingly, despite remaining on the 40-man roster, he was not given a September call-up, leading many to believe his days were numbered.

Originally acquired from the Tigers on his wedding day, Whelan went as far as his split-finger fastball would take him.  He struggled all too often despite relatively solid numbers at the minor league level (3.23 career ERA), but the 48 wild pitches and 206 walks in 367 2/3 innings may tell the real tale.

However, there is some upside, as Whelan had most likely his best season in the Yankees system last year, collecting 23 saves, walking just 14 batters and keeping his WHIP under one for the first time in five years with the organization.  He also avoided Double-A all season, a first for him.

The thing I’ll take away most from Whelan — similar to Andrew Brackman — is how classy he was in dealing with some tough questions myself and other reporters had for him.  His performance often warranted some difficult conversations, and not once did he show any signs of frustration towards us.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

’99 Thunder Middle Infield Retires

January 26, 2012

If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you know by now that well before I started covering this team, I came to games as a fan.  The first year I began coming to Waterfront Park regularly was 1999.  I was 16 years old, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being treated to a middle infield duo that would both go on to big things at the big league level.

Both shortstop Adam Everett and second baseman David Eckstein went on to have long MLB careers after their Thunder days were behind them, and both have ultimately decided to hang up their spikes this off-season. 

At the time, Everett was certainly the more highly touted of the two.  Drafted in 12th overall by Boston in 1998, it took him just one season to advance to Double-A, where he served as Trenton’s full-time shortstop. 

“I think at the time, I was more surprised at who had drafted me, especially with them having Nomar,” Everett told me in an exclusive chat last season.

“I didn’t really know how professional baseball worked, and obviously I got traded within the next year.  I was excited at the time I got drafted.  I didn’t really think about the pressure (of going in the first round), I was very naive and I think that helped a lot.”

Everett, who was traded to Houston after that season in exchange for Carl (no relation, thankfully) Everett, would catch on quick with the Astros. 

After winning an Olympic gold medal with Team USA in Sydney in 2000, Everett made his big league debut with Houston the following season and spent seven of his eleven big league seasons with them, playing in the World Series for them in 2005.  Following his run with the Astros, the defensive whiz bounced around the American League for unremarkable stints with the Twins, Tigers and Indians.  A career .242 hitter, Everett’s glove kept him in the lineup, as evidenced by him leading the National League in Range Factor/9 as a SS in 2003 and Defensive WAR in 2006.

“Even after two or three years in the league, I never really thought about staying and playing here as long as I could or anything like that,” he said.

“I honestly was just taking it day to day and year to year.  The next you think you know, you look up and I’ve got eight years and some change in the big leagues.  I’ve had a great career and I’m excited about what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished.  I’m obviously not as decorated as say, a Derek Jeter or some of these other guys, but I’m just enjoying myself and I’m getting to the point where I can pass some of my knowledge on to some younger guys.”

Everett has since been hired by the Cleveland Indians — who released him midway through the 2011 season –to do just that as a special assistant to baseball operations. The soon-to-be 35-year-old is set to help out infielders at Cleveland’s minor and major league camps this spring.

But it all seemingly started in Trenton, and Everett recalled his time as a key component on the winningest team in Thunder history.

“I just remember having a great time, and I remember us winning a lot of games,” he said.  “It was one of those times where I really didn’t know much about professional baseball and how everything worked, so you just kind of grinded it out and kept playing hard and thought,’ Well, if this is what professional ball is like, winning all the time, this is going to be great.’”

“DeMarlo Hale was our manager and Steve Braun was our hitting coach.  It was me, Eckstein and Rafael Betancourt in a two-bedroom apartment.  All three of us played in the big leagues…it was a lot of memories, man.  Just a lot of, I guess more than anything, learning how to win.  Going to the playoffs for the first time, I felt like the whole year was a great experience.”

Everett played in 98 games with the Thunder in 1999, hitting .263 with ten home run and 44 RBI but as the year wore on, it was his double play counterpart who started getting more and more of the attention.

David Eckstein was just 5-foot-6 and at age 24, was probably too old to be considered a prospect at Double-A.  But he made both of those stats irrelevant with a campaign that saw him lead the team with a .313 batting average while posting an incredible 89:45 BB/K ratio.  But while his incredible eye at the plate was what stood out on the back of his baseball card, what anyone who saw him play back then will truly take away from his was his hustle.

David Eckstein ran everywhere.  Busted his tail down the line every time like the game was on the line, gave everything he had for a ground ball…heck, he sprinted out of the dugout when the team got introduced. 

“It was a thrill,” Eckstein told me in 2008 of playing for the Thunder. “Like you said, we had a great club. There were a lot of big leaguers from that club. It was just fun to play on because we went out there, and it felt like we won every night.

It was hustle that was going to get Eckstein to the big leagues, and that’s exactly what happened two years later.  But he never played for the Red Sox either.  Boston tried to sneak him through waivers, and the Angels quickly scooped him up.  Like Everett, Eckstein was disappointed he never got to play at the big league level for the team that drafted him.

“The biggest thing about it, is it was very disappointing in the sense that when you’re with a club, you want to find a way to help them win a World Series,” he said.

“So the fact that I did nothing for them, to me that’s where I was disappointed in myself in that sense. But now you look back, and it all worked out. It was a good situation.

After four productive years there, including winning his first World Series with the Angels in 2002, he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals and that’s where he really started to make a name for himself.  The diminutive middle infielder made his first big league All-Star team in 2005 and reached the postseason again, but ultimately was eliminated by Everett’s Astros in the NLCS that year.

He got back to both the next season, making his second and final All-Star team and advancing to the postseason again with the Cardinals.  This time, however, he was perhaps the most unlikely hero in World Series history, batting .364 with four RBI in five games en route to being named the World Series MVP.

“It was definitely a thrill,” Eckstein said.  “The biggest thing was winning another World Series, that’s why you play this game.  So just getting that extra honor, it was kind of unbelievable.  I really didn’t think about it.  I still don’t think about it that much.  It’s one of those things where when I’m done playing, it’ll mean a little bit more.”

Eckstein would play one more season with St. Louis, hitting a career-high .309.  The little man who did the little things right — he led the league in HBP and sacrifice hits twice, and three times had the best fielding percentage for his position — split his 2008 season between the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays and played his last two seasons with the San Diego Padres.  He didn’t play last season, despite having offers to do so, and has officially retired this off-season.

Pope Excited For Chance To Manage

January 19, 2012

Justin Pope never wanted the first opportunity he got to manage.  But he plans on taking full advantage of his second chance.

Pope took over for beloved Thunder bench boss Tony Franklin for a short time last season when the veteran manager was hospitalized after experiencing some discomfort in his chest.  It was a move that led many to believe that Pope, who was in his first season on the staff after establishing franchise records as a closer several years before, was being groomed to replace Franklin, who was unsure of his status for 2012.

But with Franklin back for a sixth season and Pope primed to take the next step, the Yankees organization assigned him to be the next manager of their Short Season-A ball affiliate in Staten Island.  The 32-year-old will take over for Tom Slater, who will be joining the Thunder’s staff as their new hitting coach.

Recently, I had the chance to spend about ten minutes on the phone with the always gracious Pope, and here’s what he had to say:

On everything came about that he got the Staten Island job:

“Well, we kind of first talked about it in instructs, right after the season.  Pat Roessler and Mark Newman asked me if there was a managing spot open, if I’d be interested in taking it.  And I was like, ‘Definitely.’  It’s been something I’ve wanted to do after these past couple years of coaching, it would go off of what I was doing.  I was involved in all aspects of the game, and I really enjoyed it.  I learned a lot.  So it was something I wanted to proceed with, and being involved with all aspects of the game.  So they said something to me then, and then I guess it was October, they said the way it was looking right now, I’d go manage in Staten Island.  They asked how I felt about that, and I said that I’d love to.  It should be fun.”

On if he viewed his opportunity managing in Trenton last season as an audition:

“Good question, I don’t know.  I think Mark Newman and Pat Roessler would be able to answer that better than I would.  I don’t know.  When it happened, it was a good feeling that they didn’t send anybody up to Trenton to, I guess you could say watch over me or help out or be the acting manager or whatever you want to call it.  So I guess they had enough faith in me that I could that I could handle things in that situation.  But also, we had Tommy Phelps and Julius Matos there at the time, and they’ve been around the game a while as well, so they were very helpful.  But that time, it was a good experience and especially the game that went 16 innings.  That experience there was huge.”

On the speculation he might replace Franklin:

“I never really thought that way.  But I don’t think that if Tony didn’t come back, that I would take that spot.  Just because I’ve never really managed before, and for one it’s not fair to other people who put their time in and are older me and more experienced than me and probably know more than me.  I think Staten Island is a great starting spot for me as a manager.  I’ll be down in extended spring training for a while and learning stuff down there.  I’m really, really excited.  It’s going to be a great challenge, and I love challenges.  I always try to challenge myself every day with something, and I’m going to learn a lot.”

On how coaching in Staten Island and Trenton prepared him to become a manager:

“For one, I got to be around two different managers, so at times I’d like to sit back and just see how they’d run the game and what they did in certain situations.  And it gave me time to think about what I might do in certain situations and see how they’d go about things and see what the result would be.  It was good, because I was a pitcher, so to be able to be the fourth coach, I was able to be around position players and be comfortable around them and learn the game more.  You learn in this game every single day, and if you don’t, then it’s probably time to hang em’ up.  I want to learn something new every single day and better myself, that way I can hopefully better the players around me, better the coaches around me.  And the players can better me and the coaches can better me.  Hopefully it’s just a learning process with everybody.  Ultimately, we’re here to help these guys get better and get them to the big leagues.  If they can’t get to the big leagues, we want to maximize their potential and get them as far as they can.”

On his role in the organization before the start of Staten Island’s season:

“I’m sure in spring training, I’ll be running around a little bit.  But we’ll have extended spring training after that, and I believe I’m running the extended program and I’ll be managing the team down there.  If there’s enough players, we’ll try to play two games a day in the Tampa area.  Of course, I’ll be managing one of those teams.  I’ll still be managing, it’s not like I won’t be doing anything until the short season starts.  I’ll be learning every day and getting as much experience as I can and take that to Staten Island.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder Announce Front Office Promotions And Additions

January 11, 2012

(PR) (Trenton, NJ)- The Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees, have announced several promotions and additions to the Front Office Staff in preparation for the 2012 season that will begin on April 5 at home against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The Thunder welcome four new employees and have promoted nine from within as the organization moves forward after a year that saw a 5% increase in attendance per game.

“I rank our staff with any in Minor League Baseball. In a business that has annual turnover, we’ve done an outstanding job of adding talented staff members to those positions that have vacancies while keeping a core group of employees intact,” said Thunder General Manager Will Smith. “We continue to educate seasonal staff members to give them the tools to become full-time employees. It’s a great business, and we have a tremendous staff. ”

“I cannot wait for Opening Day on April 5th to continue to show our fans how hard our staff works throughout the off-season to prepare 71 events for their entertainment,” Smith added.

The staff changes begin with Jeff Hurley who has been promoted to Director, Finance/Baseball Operations. Jeff, who grew up in Hamilton, NJ, was an intern with the Thunder in 2004. He joined the full time ticket sales staff the following year and from 2007-2011 was the Accounting Manager and the team’s baseball operations liason with the New York Yankees.

East Windsor, NJ resident Greg Lavin has been elevated to Director, Creative & Audiovisual Services. He joined the Thunder in 2005 as a Production Department Intern and is responsible for all aspects of game day fan entertainment including in-game promotions, music and videos as well as producing print items such as brochures and other marketing pieces.

The Thunder are pleased to welcome Patrick McMaster as the Director, Corporate Partnerships and Business Development. Patrick, a native of Hanover, PA, has spent the last seven years working in Minor League Baseball including his most recent stop as the Assistant General Manager of Sales for the Charlotte Stone Crabs (Class A, Florida State League).

Bobby Picardo, who began his career as a Thunder intern in 2009, has been promoted to Ticket Sales Manager. Bobby, who grew up in Atlanitc Highlands, NJ, will sell new group and ticket packages, coordinate the Baseball Camp & High School Baseball series as well as help oversee the team’s internship program.

Nate Schneider, who joined the Thunder in 2011, has been promoted to Group Sales Account Executive. The native of Pottsville, PA spent 2010 working for the Reading Phillies and will sell various group and hospitality options to businesses and community groups.

Millstone Township, NJ’s Caitlin Reardon has been promoted to Ticket Sales Account Executive for the 2012 season. Caitlin was a Thunder game day employee from 2006-2008, worked full time for Sky Blue FC of Women’s Professional Soccer for 2009 and 2010 and then rejoined the Thunder last year. In her new role, she will coordinate the team’s Most Improved Student and School Music Awards Programs and sell ticket packages, while also monitoring the team’s presence on Twitter.

Jennifer Murphy, a native of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts has made the transition from Merchandise Assistant to Business Development Executive for 2012. Jennifer spent last season helping manage the Thunder Company Store and will focus on selling season tickets, ticket packages and group outings to local businesses this season.

Jeremy Sanders, who grew up in Scotch Plains, NJ and Caracas, Venezuela, worked as a Ticket Sales Intern for the Thunder in 2011. He has joined the staff full time as a Ticket Sales Account Representative where he will sell ticket packages and serve as a team liason to the local Spanish-speaking community.

Chris Kiernan has joined the Thunder as a Seasonal Group Sales Account Representative. Chris, a native of Lacey, NJ, spent the 2011 season as a Ticket Sales Assistant with the Lakewood BlueClaws (Class A, South Atlantic League) and will coordinate group outings at the ballpark for companies and community organizations.

Lindsey Ravior of Minotola, NJ, has been brought on as a Seasonal Group Sales Account Representative. Lindsey spent last season working in the Ticket Department for the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Class A, Carolina League).

Two members of the 2011 Trenton Thunder Internship Program, Jess Ridolfino of Crosswicks, NJ and Kevin Ertel of Brick, NJ have joined the Front Office Staff for next season. Jess will serve as a Ticket Sales Intern while Kevin will serve as Group Sales Coordinator.

Rounding out the staff changes is the hiring of Breanne O’Neill as Merchandise Assistant. Breanne, from Yardley, PA, is a June 2011 graduate of Drexel University.

The Thunder Front Office now includes ten people who served as interns for the organization. These include Hurley, Lavin, Picardo, Reardon, Sanders, Ridolfino and Ertel above as well as Director of Ticket Operations Matt Pentima, Stadium Operations Manager Steve Brokowsky and Group Sales Account Executive T.J. Jahn. FULL STAFF LIST

The 2012 Trenton Thunder season will begin on Thursday, April 5 against New Hampshire. Season Tickets, Group Tickets, Pic-A-Plans and Mini Plans are all on sale now at trentonthunder.com.

2012 Baseball America Yankees Top 10 Prospect List

January 8, 2012

Although the much-awaited Prospect Handbook hasn’t come out just yet, Baseball America has released their annual rankings of the Yankees Top 10 prospects and “Best Tools” honors.

Former Thunder players were scattered amongst the latter; as Jesus Montero took “best hitter for average” and “best hitter for power, Dellin Betances “best fastball” and “best curveball,” Manny Banuelos “best changeup,” and Austin Romine earned “best defensive catcher” honors.

I think you could make an argument that Banuelos’ curveball is better than Betances — or at least that it will be — but that’s a pretty nitpicky complaint.

As far as non-Thunder players, the other “award” winners were…

Best Strike Zone Disicipline: Ramon Flores
Fastest Baserunner: Mason Williams (pictured)
Best Athlete: Mason Williams
Best Slider: Mark Montgomery
Best Control: Nik Turley
Best Defensive Infielder: Cito Culver
Best Infield Arm: Cito Culver
Best Defensive OF: Mason Williams
Best Outfield Arm: Ravel Santana

As far as the list itself, here goes…

1) Jesus Montero, C
2) Manny Banuelos, LHP
3) Dellin Betances, RHP
4) Gary Sanchez, C
5) Mason Williams, OF
6) Dante Bichette, Jr., 3B
7) Ravel Santana, OF
8) Austin Romine, C
9) J.R. Murphy, C/3B
10) Slade Heathcott, OF

We’ll get to the others, but I think the name that stands out is Santana.  Considered the top prospect in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, the 19-year-old made his North American debut last year in the Gulf Coast League.  Although his season was cut short by an ankle injury, he put together a season in which he hit .296 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 41 games.  The 6-foot-2, 160 pounder walked 17 times and struck out 40 in 160 AB’s, stole ten bases and posted a .929 OPS.  And, as you saw above, he apparently has a hose for an arm.

Will he be another international signing who vaults into the prospect spotlight but flames out — anyone remember Rudy Guillen?  Exactly.  – Or will he continue his impressive progression?  Either way, you won’t see him in Trenton for a few years.

As for the others…well, there isn’t much you can say about Montero that I haven’t already written.  I’d like to think he’s hit his way into the big leagues full-time in 2012, but where will he play?  His defense, which has admittedly improved, still needs a lot of work.  A lot of work.  But his bat was special when he got to Trenton, and remains so now.  Has the potential to be a big league All-Star with the bat, but definitely not behind the plate. 

The Banuelos/Betances ranking makes sense…I’ve seen some write-ups where people think Betances has a higher ceiling than Banuelos, and I’d actually disagree.  When he’s on — and all too often last season, he wasn’t — Banuelos has some truly special stuff.  Betances does as well…his fastball is inarguably better than Banuelos’, but given Manny’s a lefty, I think he’s got the better ceiling.  I also think, however, Betances has a much better chance of reaching his.  Scouts have spoken with me in regards to their concerns about his athleticism and how he’ll hold up over the long-term as a starter, and I believe those concerns are valid.  Although in absolutely no way am I suggesting he should be moved to the bullpen at this stage in his development — I still wonder what that did to Joba Chamberlain — I do believe he’d be very successful in a late-inning role.    

I haven’t seen Sanchez yet, so I can’t say much on him…although the numbers are obviously impresive.  Same goes for Dante Bichette, Jr. (have only seen him take BP), J.R. Murphy and Slade Heathcott.  I don’t like commenting on guys unless I’ve seen them myself, and if you’ve read my rants on these lists before, you know that’s one of my biggest concerns with them.  That, and people take them way, way too seriously.

I have seen Mason Williams, however, and you know if you’ve seen my tweets while I was watching Staten Island or if you read the feature I wrote on him, that I love this kid.  There’s nothing wrong with a well-rounded player — and that’s not to say Williams isn’t just that — but when a guy doesn’t have a standout tool, you start to wonder what kind of impact he can make on a game if his other attributes start to falter.  Williams is a true burner.  Check out YouTube and look at the videos I’ve shot of this kid.  Covers a TON of ground in the outfield and on the basepaths, and is pretty good with the lumber as well.  I wonder if he’ll ever develop power, and I guess that’s where the inevitable comparisons to Brett Gardner will come in, but when you consider he’s only at the Short Season-A level — I presume he’d start in Low-A Charleston this season and finish the year in High-A Tampa — you’ve got to be excited about his future.

And finally, with Romine…he’s starting to slide down the prospect charts, and that makes some sense.  His bat has leveled off a bit, and despite being the organization’s best defensive catcher, he still needs to improve his numbers when it comes to throwing out baserunners.  He’s also coming off a year in which he was pretty banged up, which may have affected his performance.  The personable two-time Futures Game alum may end up being the starting backstop for the traveling Triple-A circus this season.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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