Archive for November, 2009

Who’s Your 2009 Thunder MVP? Cy Young? Good Guy?

November 30, 2009

In this Thursday’s Democrat, I’ll unveil my choices for those honors in the fourth annual awards article, the seventh annual for the paper.

While my picks may be set, I’d be curious to see who you guys would pick for MVP, Cy Young and Good Guy. 

The Good Guy award will probably be a little tough considering you guys unfortunately don’t get the kind of access to these guys like the media does, but many of the people reading this have interacted with quite a few of the guys on the team at one point or another, I’m sure.

Post your picks in the comments, or send a tweet my way on Twitter: Mashmore98

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Masse Hired By Mariners As Scout

November 30, 2009

Bill Masse, who led the Thunder to a 154-130 record over two seasons as the team’s manager, has been named as a scout by the Seattle Mariners.

The former Yankee farmhand skippered the team in both 2005 and 2006, and led them to their first playoff berth in six seasons. He was controversially fired after making statements that questioned the organization’s philosophy on developing pitchers in a local paper.

It’s been quite a ride for Masse ever since the Yankees let him go after the 2006 season.  He spent one season managing the New Hampshire Fisher Cats before leaving the area to take the helm of the San Antonio Missions in 2008.

He spent last season as the hitting coach of the Binghamton Mets.

After once being considered a rising managerial star, Masse has now completely fallen off the map and become a scout…and he may be better off for it.  Masse’s number one priority was always winning, and that often conflicted with organizations who were more concerned with development. 

Brian Cashman once told me he didn’t care if his teams won at the minor league level, so that should give you some sort of indication as to why things ultimately didn’t work out with the Yankees.

Masee, who I enjoyed covering very much and have the utmost respect for, is someone I always thought would make a good college coach…maybe that’s a route he’ll pursue one day.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

2009 Thunder A-Z: Edwar Gonzalez

November 27, 2009

Before 2009: Gonzalez was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent in 2002.  He was sent to the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate to start his career that season, and hit .275 with a home run and eight RBI in 19 games.

He would slowly start to climb through the system in 2003, playing a full season in Short Season-A Staten Island, putting up a disappointing year which led to his return to the club in 2004 after an equally disappointing start to that season in Low-A Battle Creek.  Yes, Gonzalez has been in the organization for so long that he played for Battle Creek.

But the organization stuck with Gonzalez, sending him to Low-A Charleston in 2005.  He rewarded them with his first solid full season of minor league play, hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI in 89 games.

But he’d stall out again, spending the next two and a half seasons at High-A Tampa, despite posting some pretty decent numbers each season.  He hit no lower than .259, had his first double-digit home run season and posted a career high in stolen bases all while with Tampa.

2008 marked what seemed to be Gonzalez’s true breakout season, as he combined for a career high 20 home runs and 85 RBI between Tampa and Trenton.  Called up to Trenton in the first few days of May that year, he hit a career high .295 and played a key role in helping the Thunder to their second straight Eastern League championship.  After taking so long to make the jump to Double-A, Gonzalez’s breakout year finally put him on some people’s prospect radars, and big things were expected of him in 2009.

2009: Gonzalez had the option to sign anywhere else as a minor league free agent prior to the start of the 2009 season, but decided to return on a one-year deal.  It seemed inevitable that at some point during the year, given his standout 2008 season and age (26), that he’d be seeing time in Triple-A Scranton sooner rather than later.

That never happened.

Injuries and inconsistent play hampered Gonzalez all season long, leading to a season that statistically appeared to be more like the ones he had at the beginning of his career and not what people had come to expect after 2008.  He hit just .232, and added only four home runs in 413 at-bats (1 in every 103.25 at-bats) after going deep once every 25.35 at-bats the previous season.

After 2009: Gonzalez will again become a minor league free agent, and the demands for his services likely won’t be what they were around this time last year, where he actually turned down better offers from other teams.  I enjoyed covering Gonzalez quite a bit.  He was one of the more friendly guys on the team and would often go out of his way to say hello to you…which again, in a normal social situation sounds incredibly stupid to compliment someone on, but countless guys will walk past you like you don’t exist, so it was appreciated.  He would often help reporters out when a translator was needed as well.

I’m not sure where Gonzalez will end up in 2010, but hopefully he can land on his feet somewhere.  Maybe he’s Cody Ehlers — a guy who put up one outstanding season and fizzled out afterwards — but it’s worth a shot to see if he can recapture that sort of magic.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

2009 Thunder A-Z: Jose Gil

November 24, 2009

Before 2009: I’m sure you were all just anxiously awaiting a look at Jose Gil, so here goes…Gil was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent in 2003 as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela.  After a 2004 stint in the Dominican Summer League, Gil would debut on North American soil in 2006, splitting time between Short Season-A Staten Island and Low-A Charleston.  Gil would repeat that plan in 2007, but put together a much better combined season between the two, hitting 12 of his 17 career home runs and driving in 50 of his career 125 RBI that year.

Gil would see a lot of playing time in 2008, appearing in 73 games for High-A Tampa.  He hit .240 with just one home run and 25 RBI and seemed to lose any steam he’d gathered in terms of making waves in the system. 

2009: Gil essentially became an organizational catcher last season, spending time at Tampa, Trenton and Scranton.  He started the season as Trenton’s third catcher, being used very sparingly.  He was called up to Scranton — never appearing in a game — and then was quickly sent back down to Trenton.  After just a handful of games with the Thunder (12), Gil was eventually sent back down to Tampa to get some actual playing time.

After 2009: It is hard to envision a role for Gil in 2010 that would be any different than the one he endured in 2009.  A career .229 hitter in an organization that’s overflowing with prospects behind the plate, there would seem to be no realistic starting roles for him at any level of the farm system.  It is entirely possible that Gil would be better served playing in another organization.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Five Thunder Alums Among Those Added To Yankees 40-Man Roster

November 21, 2009

Chad Jennings reports that the New York Yankees have added RHP Hector Noesi, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Romulo Sanchez, INF Reegie Corona, INF Eduardo Nunez, INF Kevin Russo and OF Austin Jackson to their 40-man roster.

In addition, the team has reinstated Chien-Ming Wang from the 60-day DL and outrighted Shelley Duncan to Scranton.  Jennings reports that Duncan will refuse the assignment if he clears waivers and elect free agency.

As for the 40-man roster moves, five of the seven players added have Trenton Thunder ties.  The only two who haven’t are Hector Noesi –who struck out 118 batters and walked just 15 between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 117 innings of work — and Romulo Sanchez, who was acquired in exchange for Eric Hacker last year and flirted with the 100 MPH on the radar gun in Scranton last year.

Interestingly, two of the players protected this time around were selected in the Rule 5 draft last year by other teams; Nova and Corona.

Both players started their 2009 seasons with the Thunder after being returned by the teams that selected them; Nova from the Padres and Corona from the Mariners.  Nova started the season at the back end of the Thunder’s rotation and was 5-4 with a 2.36 ERA before being summoned to Scranton at the end of June.  While he showed flashes up there, the numbers ultimately weren’t that good — A 1-4 record and a 5.10 ERA.

Corona’s statistics seem to mirror Nova’s to an extent.  His Thunder numbers are solid (.287/3/26) but his Scranton numbers tell a different story (.200/3/14).  He did showed marked improvement in power, although it didn’t translate to his statistics, especially to the right side.  If he realistically wants to make the big leagues, he’s going to have continue to develop some pop.

Nunez displayed a premium bat and suspect defense with the Thunder last year, which is par for the course with his career.  28 errors in 72 games in 2005, 40 errors in 115 games in 2006, 33 errors in 120 games in 2007, 19 errors in 92 games in 2008 and now 33 errors in 120 games last year in Trenton.  That’s 153 errors over his last 519 games in the field…or around one every three and a half games.  Bad.  Thing is, Nunez has an excellent arm, but it seems that his footwork or lack of concentration get in the way of it at times.  A career .266 hitter, Nunez hit a career high nine home runs last year and seems to be developing nicely at the plate.  But if he can’t improve in the field, pinstripes are not at all a foregone conclusion.  And I don’t want to hear the Jeter comparisons.  Just don’t.

Russo, whether you want to believe it or not, is a legitimate prospect.  Hurried through the system, likely the result of his age, he’s handled every move well.  After starring at Trenton in 2008 after overcoming a facial injury that took place during a freak bounce during infield practice and a health scare that involved platelet counts in his blood, Russo moved to Scranton and got even better, hitting a dazzling .326 over the course of a full season.

Jackson is a surefire big leaguer.  Whether it’s April 1st or September 1st or sometime inbetween, nobody who has seen him play will tell you they don’t expect Jackson to crack the big leagues.  In fact, a lot of people thought he could have been there last season, but the Yankees were actually smart in terms of his development and gave him a full season at Triple-A Scranton instead.  Both in the 2007 Eastern League Playoffs and the entire 2008 season, Jackson dazzled in a Thunder uniform, and has the potential to be one of the most successful alumni in franchise history.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Valdez Signed By Astros; Added To 40-Man Roster

November 21, 2009

In a somewhat unexpected move, the Houston Astros have pounced on former Trenton Thunder reliever Jose Valdez, signing him to a deal and adding him to their 40-man roster.

That Valdez was signed isn’t a big shock, as he posted a 3.43 ERA in 43 games in both Trenton and Scranton, and showed some decent stuff and velocity.  That someone added him to their 40-man roster is somewhat surprising, considering I don’t think anyone ever thought he’d have much of a shot at that in the Yankees organization or too many others.

Valdez actually seemed to regress a little bit on the mound this season, considering he posted ERA’s of under three at both Tampa and Trenton in 2008 and his batting averages against were better in both places last year than they were at either Trenton or Scranton this year.

Off the field, his English improved and he was finally able to conduct short interviews without the use of a translator.  I liked Valdez personally, and hope he does well in the Astros organization.

In other Thunder alumni news, the Pittsburgh Pirates have designated Jeff Karstens for assignment…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Let’s Take A Look At Who The Yankees Could Lose…

November 20, 2009

(List courtesy of the Thunder’s T-Mail; thanks for saving me a few seconds of typing, Bill Cook!)

RHP: Paul Bush, Michael Gardner, Justin Pope, Humberto Sanchez, Jay Stephens, Jose Valdez

Analysis: Bush enjoyed being a part of the Yankees organization and would like to return in 2010, but given his injury history and the fact that he couldn’t stay healthy last year makes that unlikely…although he did pitch well when he was actually out there.  Given his age, unless he got on a ridiculous hot run, he’s probably not much more than filler to the organization…Gardner didn’t pitch at all last season after recovering from arm issues, but as far as I know he does want to pitch in 2010.  This is a guy who was picked in the Rule 5 just two years ago, so there is some talent there, but the control often wasn’t.  Is there a spot for him in the Double-A bullpen as he pitches his way back to health?…Pope is essentially a coach now, I don’t think he has any intention of pitching again…Sanchez is an interesting name as well, as he was in the big leagues with the Yankees in 2008 and seemed to make strides in the minors last year after being removed from the 40-man roster while being held back to work on his conditioning.  I think the Yankees are probably tired of waiting for him to get into the kind of shape they’d like — and he made huge strides in that department as well last season — and will allow him to move on…Jay Stephens…I liked him a lot, but is there a spot for him?  In all honesty, I don’t think the Yankees really treated him as any more than a guy they could shuttle around to fill a spot at a different level, and I think he was better than that.  He’d be better suited in a different organization unless the Yankees can promise him a set role at a set level…Jose Valdez was probably one of the Thunder’s better relievers at times last year, and he saw some time at Triple-A Scranton as well.  His velocity was pretty impressive for a guy who could stand to eat a cheeseburger or two as well.  But is he ultimately replaceable?  Probably..

C: Brian Peterson, Chris Stewart

Analysis: Both Peterson and Stewart probably fall into the same boat.  There are about 30 of the exact same type of veteran minor league catcher out there each year, and you can pretty much interchange any of those guys into the spots that these two filled.  Stewart played very well for Scranton and did bring some big league experience to the club, but given the embarrassment of riches the organization has behind the plate, there doesn’t seem to be a scenario in which he can add to that experience in pinstripes next year.

3B: Eric Duncan, Carlos Mendoza, Cody Ransom, Marcos Vechionacci

Analysis: Eric Duncan, what a waste.  It would have been a great story, the local kid gets picked by the local team in the first round and becomes a Yankee.  Instead, he only showed occasional flashes of what people thought he could be and people knew he was a bust for the past few years.  The fact he made it this long with the organization is somewhat surprising, but I guess they wanted to get every at-bat out of the foolish investment they made in him.  Without question, Duncan should be sending out his resume to the other 29 MLB teams…Mendoza has been coaching in Staten Island for a whole season now, so his inclusion here is pretty irrelevant…Ransom, wow.  I can’t remember a guy who Yankee fans seemed to loathe more than him.  He’ll be elsewhere…Marcos Vechionacci was once a top prospect in the organization, but his stock sank over the past few years thanks to injuries and inconsistent play.  I could see him coming back, but he simply isn’t what he once was. 

SS: Doug Bernier

Analysis: Bernier hit .181 with no home runs and 20 RBI in 227 at-bats with Scranton last year.  I don’t really need to say much else here, correct?

OF: Edwar Gonzalez, Freddy Guzman, Richie Robnett, John Rodriguez

Analysis: Here’s an interesting little behind the scenes story for you on Edwar Gonzalez.  After the last game of the season in New Britain, I waited in the dugout to give the guys the appropriate 10 minutes to cool down before going in there and talking to Tony Franklin and a few of the players like I usually will after the game and so on.  I noticed that Edwar had left his hat on the railing of the dugout, so I picked it up and brought it in with me to give back to him on my way into Tony’s office.  When I went to give him the hat, he told me to just throw it away.  He didn’t want to remember anything about this season, he said.  And it makes sense.  After somewhat of a breakout year in 2008, Gonzalez wasn’t the same last year after agreeing to come back to the Yankees organization.  I don’t think he showed enough to warrant getting an opportunity in Scranton next year, and he probably can’t come back to Trenton, either.  He’ll likely move on…Guzman managed to get a World Series ring out of his tenure with the Yankees, but probably won’t be coming back to the organization either.  They have a speedy outfielder already in the big leagues, they don’t really need two.  Granted, I felt the same way before they brought him to the big leagues this year, but it doesn’t matter what I think…Robnett was a decent option at the plate for the Thunder this year and was probably their best power threat at times, but he was a defensive liability.  I could see him returning, but his days as a prospect are pretty much over.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

In Today’s Democrat: Mike Dunn Q&A

November 19, 2009

Getting It Dunn In New York
by Mike Ashmore

BRONX, NY — Mike Dunn started his season as one of the pitchers coming out of the Double-A Trenton Thunder’s bullpen. He ended it wearing Yankee pinstripes, called up by the team on the first day of September.

While the southpaw wasn’t on the postseason roster, he will still earn a World Series ring for his efforts. Given the lack of depth of left-handed relief pitching in the organization and Dunn’s ability to blow the ball past the opposition, it’s not out of the question to think that he could play a much bigger role the next time the Yankees play in the postseason.

During his call-up to the Bronx, the Democrat had the opportunity to sit down with the friendly New Mexico native and ask him about the experience.

Hunterdon County Democrat: What has the experience up in the big leagues been like so far?

Mike Dunn: “It’s been amazing. You know, it’s just been good to get back up with these guys. I spent some time with them in big league spring training, and when I got up here, they all welcomed me and I felt like I belonged up here. Everyone was excited to see me, so it was good.”

HCD: Realistically, did you think this was going to happen for you this year?

Dunn: “I thought I would get a September call-up, but September 1st? Realistically, I didn’t. I thought that once the Triple-A season was over, I’d get to come up for a little bit. So I was really surprised when I got the call on the 1st.”

HCD: So you go from pitching in front of four or five thousand people in Double-A to crowds of 50,000 people here in the big leagues. From that sense, what kind of an adjustment is that?

Dunn: “My first outing, I was real nervous. They all said I was going to be nervous and to just try to control it. It’s the same game everywhere you go, even from Double-A to Triple-A and Triple-A to here. My first couple outings in Triple-A were a little rough, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m in Triple-A now,’ you know. But you’ve got to just think of it as the same game, and you block out the crowds and stuff like that. Other than, it’s the same game. You’ve just got to pitch.”

HCD: Outside of being nervous, what do you remember about that first outing?

Dunn: “It all went by very fast. I walked three guys, two of them being left-handed, so I was pretty upset about it. Everyone was like, “Did you have fun out there?’ Not really. I was disappointed in myself and the way I handled things. But I look back at it now, and it was exciting. It’s amazing to see how amped up your body can be, and to not really realize it until after the fact.”

HCD: How are you looking at this opportunity you’ve received here? As a chance to get your feet wet this year? A chance to audition for a spot in 2010?

Dunn: “I’m just looking at it as I’m just going to go out there and pitch whenever they ask and go out there and try to do my best and show them what I’ve got. I’m just kind of taking it game by game and pitch by pitch and show them what I’ve got.”

HCD: For the tail end of 2008 and the first half of this year, you were in Trenton. What was your experience like there?

Dunn: “I loved it down there. It’s disappointing that they didn’t make the playoffs this year. The group of guys we had last year and at the beginning of this year were a lot of fun, and I had a blast while I was there. I learned a lot while I was there, so it was a good level to be at.”

HCD: While you were with the Thunder and even with Scranton, you would get used every two or three days. With the big league call-up and the amount of guys they have here, that’s obviously not the case. Is it tough to get used to a role like that?

Dunn: “Maybe a little bit. You’ve just got to keep your arm loose. I learned a couple tricks here and there to keep my arm in shape with having a lot of days off, and how to try to stay sharp without pitching in a game. It’s kind of tough, but while you’re up here, you don’t even really think about it.”

HCD: I’m sure this has all been a whirlwind for you, but have you had the chance to sit back and kind of look at the ride this has been over the past few years? You went from being drafted as an outfielder and spending your first few years in the minors doing that to pitching off the rubber at the new Yankee Stadium…

Dunn: “Every year, I kind of look back at those first couple years of hitting and not pitching, and it’s frustrating to myself knowing that I could have probably pitched right out of the gate and I blew a year and a half of hitting. But like a lot of people say, I needed that opportunity. I needed to go out and do that, and it probably helped me out in the long run. But looking back at that, I look back at it every year, thinking about how much fun I had as an outfielder and how much fun I’m having as a pitcher.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

2009 Thunder A-Z: Christian Garcia

November 17, 2009

Before 2009: Garcia was picked in the third round of the 2004 draft by the Yankees, and was sent to their Gulf Coast League affiliate following his selection.  Fast tracked to Low-A Charleston for the 2005 season, Garcia suffered an elbow strain that would be the first of many injuries that have marred his tenure in the Yankees organization.  In 2006, it was an oblique strain.  He missed all of 2007 while recovering from elbow and knee surgeries.  And he threw just 62.1 innings in 2008 thanks to shoulder bursitis and elbow soreness. 

But while he was healthy, Garcia was impressive, showing off a curveball that many felt to be the best in the organization.  The righty seemed to be making strides in 2008, spending most of his time on the mound at High-A Tampa, going 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in ten starts.  He finished the year at Double-A Trenton, making one regular season appearance on the last day of the year and helping the team win their second straight Eastern League Championship.

2009: Garcia lasted all of five starts in 2009, all of them coming in a Trenton Thunder uniform between the middle of May and middle of June.  He was simply outstanding, going 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA in five starts, holding the Eastern League to a .172 batting average against.  But perhaps his K/BB ratio of 24/17 was a sign that things weren’t quite right.

Garcia was shut down after a June 10th start, and underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs and scar tissue, a story that was reported first here.

“It sucks going through the rehab process all over again,” Garcia told me at the time.

“But it was frustrating to be pitching through pain, too. Whatever it takes to get it fixed for good, I’ll have to do.”

After 2009: The fact that the Yankees have had every opportunity to remove Garcia from the 40-man roster and have refused to do so should give you an indication as to how bright many feel his future can still be.

Projecting where Garcia will end up in 2010 is an absolute crapshoot, as there’s no telling what the recovery timetable is for his surgery.  That picture may not become more clear until the end of February or beginning of March, when Garcia would head down to Florida for spring training.

But if he is healthy, and that’s a sentence that’s been used in many a Garcia write-up, it would seem very possible that a return to Double-A Trenton at some point might be likely.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Great Items In “Tonto’s” Charity Auction

November 16, 2009

Every year, Thunder clubhouse manager Tom “Tonto” Kackley has an online charity auction with a bunch of great items in support of a great cause.

This year is no exception, as items ranging from a game-used and autographed Jesus Montero chest protector to game-used bats, hats and signed memorabilia are being offered, all in support of The Domestic Violence Project.

To check out all the items and place a bid on some unique items from the Yankees, Thunder and other teams, check out this link.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT