— At just 20 years old, what Manny Banuelos has been able to do so far is impressive. But that, of course, refers to what he’s been able to do on the field. Off of it, Banuelos has impressed reporters as well with his ever-improving English.
We’ve never needed to use a translator for Manny. He’ll ask on rare occasions for you repeat a question, but his command of the language is arguably just as good as that of his pitches considering he’s only been in the states for a few years. Turns out, though, he got a bit of a head start.
“When I was 13 or 14 years old, my uncle and my mom bought a lot of CD’s and books so I could learn English,” Banuelos said.
“I listened to the CD’s and read the books to try to learn pronounciation. Then, in my school, I took English class too. But when I got here in 2008 in the GCL, I took English classes and that helped me a lot. But the big thing is that I hear a lot of guys here, they talk in English, and I ask them. That’s how I learn. I like that, when they’re talking around. I listen in. When I don’t understand, I ask them. I just want to keep working at it.”
Banuelos admits that his grasp of the language wasn’t so good when he first came over from Mexico, but is happy with how much he’s learned over the last four years in America.
“In 2008, people would want to talk to me, I wouldn’t understand,” he said.
“I talked mostly to the Latino guys. But now, I’m happy. I just want to learn more English and keep working at it. It’s much better than 2008. I live with all Latin guys at home, but I like to talk to all the American guys here and keep learning English. I want to have perfect English.”
— Justin Pope is the Thunder’s all-time franchise saves leader with 58 and single-season saves leader with 29 (2005). But, as Trenton’s long-time closer, opportunities for wins were few and far between. In his three seasons with the Thunder after having moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen, Pope collected just 10 of them.
But with Tony Franklin out of action while recovering from a recent health scare, Pope was able to add three W’s to his name as the team’s acting manager, and will get the chance for more as he’s expected to lead the club in Erie as well.
The former fan favorite, who is simply listed as a “coach” on the Thunder’s official roster, certainly didn’t get his first chance to manage the way he might have liked, but he’s been making the most of the opportunity.
“It’s been good, it’s been fun,” Pope told me.
“This is something I would like to do, manage. So I think this is great experience. I’m kind of learning as I go, you’re kind of forced to do things and make some decisions, and that’s kind of when you learn. When you’re out of your comfort zone, I think that’s when you learn the most.”
It had been somewhat clear that Pope was being groomed as a future manager by the organization — where that might be is unclear, of course — from the beginning of the season. Pope had been coaching third base at times, which Franklin usually handles, and he credits Franklin for that experience prior to having to manage.
“(It helped) big time,” Pope said.
“If this happened and I hadn’t been coaching third or if I wasn’t relaying signs to the catcher, I would be so lost. Him allowing me to coach third and do a little bit more and have more responsibility, it’s helped out so much in being able to be more prepared these past few days and be a little bit more calm.”
While Pope’s responsibilities have changed in an obvious manner, the behind the scenes side of it hasn’t really been altered too much, again due to him having already taken on a bigger role than people might have expected.
“Like I said, I would like to manage one day, and when they told me I was coming here, that was kind of the idea…having more responsibility like a manager would do,” Pope said.
“Actually, I’ve been doing the same; typing up the lineups, putting the early work together. I guess the only thing that’s changed is putting together the lineup myself. Usually Tony puts together the lineup and gives it to me, and I’ll type it up or whatever. But after (Friday) night’s game, myself and Julius (Matos), we talked about the lineup and came up with it, and we talked to Tony on the phone this morning and ran it by him and he said it was good.”
— Over the course of a 142-game season in 2010, Trenton used 14 different starting pitchers (Aceves, Arbiso, Banuelos, Betances, Bleich, Brackman, De La Rosa, Garcia, Mitchell, Noesi, Pendleton, Phelps, Pope, Warren). In their 36th game this year, Carlos Silva marked the tenth different one they’ve used. Of those ten, only Banuelos, Betances and Arbiso are among those who started last season for the Thunder.
Of the original five-man starting rotation from this season, only Shaeffer Hall has made every start. Banuelos and Betances both missed time with blisters and Garrison (groin) and Stoneburner (neck) are down in Tampa rehabbing.
— Here’s a Tim Norton stat I won’t get wrong…in 18 2/3 innings pitched, he has 30 strikeouts. That leads the team. His 0.80 WHIP also leads team among pitchers with 10 or more innings. Add that all up and throw in a 95-96 MPH fastball, and it’s time to start paying attention to him.
— Jose Gil has done a nice job in his sporadic starts so far this season. In seven games, Gil is hitting .360 with a home run, two RBI and four walks compared to four strikeouts in 25 at-bats. He also carries a 1.088 OPS in his limted action.
— Let’s give Ryan Baker his shine while we’re at it. He remains inactive, but his behind the scenes work in the weight room is to be commended. Likely not a name you know, Bake works hard and is just hoping for an opportunity. Just not sure that comes at Trenton, given that they’re pretty set behind the plate. Always amazes me that a guy in that kind of situation is able to maintain a positive attitude.
— Jose Pirela has struggled in his first foray into Double-A. He’s batting just .149 in 32 games, and his 12 errors lead the team. Similarly, Yadil Mujica has hit just .115 in nine games in his first trip to this level as well.
— In a combined 373 at-bats, Brad Suttle (48), Melky Mesa (43) and Cody Johnson (52) have 143 strikeouts (38.3%). The Eastern League record of 201 was set in 2001 by Binghamton’s Robert Stratton.
— Trenton is last in the Eastern League in batting average (.231), but first in walks (129) and stolen bases (45). Pitching-wise, the Thunder are second-best in the league with a 3.12 ERA.
— Damon Sublett has yet to play this season, despite having been active for 14 days. He continues to throw sides, and was also spotted taking PFP (pitchers fielding practice) recently as well. Draw your own conclusions. If a transition were to happen to pitching, do not expect that to begin in Trenton. I think that much is obvious, but I was also told that by someone in the organization. I spoke to a different person who had seen a Sublett side session, and he told me that the arm strength that Sublett showed in college — he threw in the low 90’s there as a pitcher — was still very much so there.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com