Looking At The 2011 Trenton Thunder

I won’t make a prediction this year.

Regular readers of the blog know how well that’s gone for me in the past.  I predicted that New Hampshire would knock out Trenton in the first round of the playoffs last year, largely because of Kyle Drabek.  The Thunder beat Drabek and the Fisher Cats and went on to Altoona to face the Curve.  I boldly stated that the Thunder would win their third championship in four years.  They instead went out in four games.

So yeah, no predictions.  Well, maybe.

This year’s Trenton Thunder squad, the 18th in franchise history, is an interesting one.  Top prospects, reclamation projects and guys inbetween are all here.

The majority of the attention this season is likely to be focused on Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos…while they last, that is.  Regardless of what the rotation looks like, these are your top two starters, and these are the guys who will most likely get the first opportunity to climb up the ladder in Triple-A.  Betances and Banuelos — I’ll try to avoid the unoriginal “Killer B’s” for as long as I can — are supremely talented, there’s no getting around that.  But Banuelos is just 20 years old and Betances is 23, with some injuries in his past.  There is NO reason to rush either of these guys, especially with a Scranton rotation of David Phelps, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell and Andrew Brackman ahead of them.  There is no veteran filler plugging up Scranton this year.  So both Betances and Banuelos will likely be moved when they’re ready to be moved.  There is no obvious scenario in which they’d need to be rushed, right?

Behind Banuelos and Betances — well, ahead of them given the current rotation, really — are Steve Garrison, Shaeffer Hall and Graham Stoneburner.  Garrison, make no mistake about it, was the darling of media day yesterday.  The Ewing native and Hun School (Princeton, NJ) graduate will be wearing his hometown colors for the first time, and if you watched the video I posted, shared a story of going to a Thunder game where his dad caught a foul ball.  But it isn’t all just a local angle with Garrison, as it has been for local players in the past with the organization.  The kid’s got talent, and he’s on the Yankees 40-man roster.  Something else the personable Garrison and I addressed yesterday was how he was a rather surprising story of big league spring training, receiving legitimate consideration as a possible lefty reliever in the big leagues.  Everyone you talk to about Garrison feels he profiles as a reliever, but for now, he’ll be getting his innings in the Thunder’s rotation.  The attention will be on Betances and Banuelos, sure…but don’t be surprised if Garrison gets moved up before either of them.

The bullpen, as of now, features three lefties (Wilkins Arias, Kei Igawa, Naoya Okamoto), four righties (Cory Arbiso, Fernando Hernandez, Craig Heyer, Tim Norton) and Pat Venditte.  The entire pitching staff had a collective 13 saves in 2010, so there is no obvious candidate for a closer.  Venditte had six of those saves, but will likely be used more as a situational guy.  Norton, if healthy, is certainly a candidate.  Hernandez and Igawa are both former big leaguers — Hernandez a 26-year-old righty and Igawa a 31-year-old southpaw.  Okamoto will be a Japanese cohort for Igawa this season, but did not have any saves during his Mexican League stint. 

The offense this season is an interesting bunch, and my first thought is to wonder where the power will come from with this group, especially in a ballpark that plays bigger than it is.  Melky Mesa and Cody Johnson have both got some legitimate pop in their bats — they combined for 37 home runs last season — but the buck seems to stop there.  Austin Romine will, for now, return to see the majority of the catching duties.  Romine was also a candidate to stick with the Yankees out of Major League spring training, and is still rightfully regarded as one of the organization’s top prospects.  He will, undoubtedly, see the vast majority of the workload behind the plate while he’s around.  Two full seasons in Trenton would be surprising, in my opinion, for Romine.  He’s just 22 years old, so that amount of time behind the plate at any level certainly won’t be detrimental to his development — he could likely use more work on throwing out baserunners — but it seems hard to not see a scenario in which Jesus Montero bats his way into the bigs at some point this season.  While Nick McCoy is on the roster, Myron Leslie will likely be the second active catcher.

The stating infield projects as follows: 1B Brad Suttle, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Addison Maruszak, 3B Jose Pirela.  Yadil Mujica will serve as a utility man.  Only Joseph is a returning member of the club, and his season was cut short last year by injury.  He largely struggled, hitting just .216 with no home runs and 13 RBI, but did exhibit slick fielding skills and some solid speed.  Suttle, left off the Thunder’s preliminary roster due to a clerical error, put together a nice season in Tampa in 2010, posting a .272/10/80 line to earn a spot in Double-A.

Austin Krum, Melky Mesa and Cody Johnson are the likely starting outfielders.  Ray Kruml, Jack Rye and Damon Sublett are the reserves, and it seems likely one of them will be heading off to the magical land of phantom injuries to begin the season due to roster limits.  Krum needs a big year to continue his progress in the organization, as this will be his third year at Double-A.  Mesa should be an exciting new addition to the team with his power, but his penchant for strikeouts could be particularly alarming given that this will be his first time facing this caliber of pitching.  And Johnson, a former Atlanta first rounder, could also see time at first base and designated hitter.

So, prediction?  Sure.  The end of season roster will look a lot different than what you see now.  It always does.  How those players do — the ones that replace the ones who are lost due to call-ups, being sent down, or injuries — may very well determine how this team ultimately does. 

I predict things will be interesting this season.  Doubt I’m wrong about that.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

3 Responses to “Looking At The 2011 Trenton Thunder”

  1. Tom Says:

    did you go to the fanfest? if you did, how did it go as I was going to go but had to work?

  2. Peter Lacock Says:

    I’m going to say the same thing I said last year at this time.
    With that pitching, anything less than a title will be a disappointment.

  3. Ashmore Says:

    I did not go — no reason for me to be there, and I also had to leave to cover the Knicks.

    Also, John Nalbone has Fernando Hernandez as the team’s closer.

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