Archive for December, 2011

Slater Slated For Big Promotion

December 20, 2011

The New York Yankees organization has been known to skip players a level when their performance or pedigree warrants it.  But after leading the Staten Island Yankees to a 45-28 record and a New York-Penn League championship, it was a coach who’d earned a chance to jump a few rungs of the proverbial ladder at a time.

Tom Slater, who joined the Yankees organization after stints in college baseball with Auburn and VMI was named the Trenton Thunder’s new hitting coach this week, replacing the disgraced and departing Julius Matos, who is no longer believed to be with the organization after a dust-up with manager Tony Franklin during the 2011 season that saw him unceremoniously relieved of his duties.

Slater’s old position has since been filled by former Staten Island coach and Trenton closer Justin Pope, who will also be featured in an upcoming story.

Thunder Thoughts was fortunate enough to catch up with Slater again — I spoke to him last season in Brooklyn on several occasions — and he spoke on a variety of topics.

On how he found out he was getting the job…

“I was talking to Six (Pat Roessler) while I was over in the Arizona Fall League, and he told me that this is what I was going to be doing.  I said, ‘I appreciate it, I’m looking forward to it.’  I have a lot of respect for Tony and Tommy, both.  I’m just looking forward to getting up there in Trenton, it should be a lot of fun.”

On if it will be difficult for him to jump from a level where he was getting players fresh out of high school and college to dealing with more experienced players…

“I’m looking forward to that.  I know a lot of these guys, having seen them come through.  And I know some of the guys that will be there next year as well.  I’m just looking forward to re-connecting with some of those guys from years past.”

On if adjusting from managing to being a hitting coach will be difficult…

“You know, I had a good time being a hitting coach out in the Fall League.  I was out there in Phoenix with a few of our guys; Corban, Seggy (Rob Segedin) and Mustelier, and I certainly enjoyed my time out there.  I’m looking forward to it for sure.”

On if managing is still a goal for him…

“I think that all of us that work in the minor leagues, we’d all love to be in the big leagues.  For me, personally, to coach in the big leagues would be a dream come true.  To me, whether you’re managing or coaching, it doesn’t matter.  Just like the players, I’d love to get there one day.  All of us coaches would.”

On his take on what his approach as a hitting coach will be…

“Well, I think everybody’s different.  Everybody’s a different type of hitter.  But at the same time, there’s some core beliefs obviously that the Yankees have, and our hitting coaches — guys at the upper levels like Butch Wynegar in Triple-A and Kevin Long in the big leagues — there’s some basic things that those guys want for the guys to accomplish.  That’s what we’ll try to do, get the hitters in Double-A to the point where, when they move on, they’ll be at a point where Butch and Kevin are happy with where they’re at.”

On who he thinks would be the first player from his 2011 Staten Island team to reach Trenton…

“The college guys, guys like Branden Pinder, Matt Tracy, Montgomery; who started the year with us, they’re older, so I would expect them to advance quicker just because of their age.  I think when you look at the college arms in our system, the bulk of the guys on that Triple-A staff last year; Phelps, Mitchell, Warren, those guys were all pitching in Staten Island three years ago.  So you see how quick those college arms go through the system.  You talk about the college arms we had there, Mark Montgomery started the year with us and went to Charleston before the year ended, Branden Pinder was with us the whole year.  Matt Tracy.  Those are some college arms that you would expect to get through the system quickly.  That’s not taking anything away from Mason Williams, who was the Player of the Year up there and a tremendous, tremendous player.  You and I talked back in August about him, and I think he’ll move quickly as well, but he’s just a year out of high school.  He’s a 2010 draft pick, so he just  played his first year really in 2011, so I wouldn’t expect him to progress through the system as quickly as some of those college arms, but he’s certainly a guy that I would expect to see moving quickly.”

On his own move from the college ranks to pro baseball several years ago…

“I really enjoy coaching professional baseball, it’s all baseball.  We’re working with the guys every day and we’re out starting in January and they’re out early in Tampa and then spring training and during the season.  It’s just such a joy to be at the baseball field every day.  Here, you really get to coach and you get to spend time with them.  That’s really been exciting for me these last three years.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT (Graphic from


December 19, 2011

— Just got off the phone with new Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope.  I also spoke with new Trenton Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater, and have played a little phone tag with Tony Franklin as well.  I should have stories posted on Pope and Slater — at least one of them — this week.

— Kanekoa Texeira has inked a deal with the Cincinnati Reds.  In lieu of repeating everything Josh Norris wrote about it, I’ll simply link you over to his blog post about it.

— Speaking of former Thunder pitchers and the Reds, just to clarify on something I wrote earlier, Andrew Brackman is apparently on a Major League contract with his hometown club, although that has still not been reflected on the Reds 40-man roster listed on their website.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Pope To Manage Staten Island

December 16, 2011

Justin Pope, who was on the Thunder coaching staff last season and briefly filled in as manager for Tony Franklin, will serve as Staten Island’s manager in 2012.

This news comes via an e-mail exchange with Mark Newman.

Pope, who was a coach in Staten Island in 2010, fills the void left by Tom Slater, who has become the Thunder’s new hitting coach.  The 32-year-old pitched in parts of three seasons with the Thunder, and holds their franchise saves record with 58.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Franklin Returns For Sixth Season; Phelps Back, Slater And Dorante Added

December 15, 2011

Thunder manager Tony Franklin is returning to the club for an unprecedented sixth season.

(PR) (Trenton, NJ)- The Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced on Thursday that Tony Franklin will be return to Trenton as Manager for the sixth consecutive season.

Franklin will be joined in the dugout once again by pitching coach and former Major Leaguer Tommy Phelps who returns for a fourth season. The coaching staff will include new additions, Hitting Coach Tom Slater, Coach Luis Dorante and Athletic Trainer Scott DiFrancesco. Strength and Conditioning Coach Kaz Manabe will return to the Thunder for a second season.

“Tony Franklin is an absolute professional and he’s been a great asset to the Thunder and our community,” said Thunder General Manager Will Smith. ” I can’t wait to welcome him back to Trenton in 2012. We all hope he can lead the Thunder to our third League championship.”

Franklin guided the Thunder to back-to-back Eastern League Championships in 2007 and 2008 and another Eastern League Championship Series appearance in 2010. Last year’s squad did not make the Eastern League playoffs. Franklin owns a career managerial record of 997-906 including a record of 405-323 with Trenton (records include post-season).

The 2008 Eastern League Championship was Franklin’s third title as manager. In 1993, he led South Bend (Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox) to the Midwest League Championship. Prior to his time in Trenton, Franklin spent most of the last 11 years as the Minor League Infield Instructor for the San Diego Padres. His managerial career began with the White Sox organization as the manager for Geneva (NY) of the New York-Penn League in 1982.

Franklin spent four seasons in Geneva, making the playoffs in 1985. After one season with Wytheville (Appalachian League), he guided the White Sox affiliate in the Florida State League, the Sarasota White Sox, to a playoff appearance in 1989. Franklin spent two years as the skipper of the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League, including 81 wins in 1991 and a berth in the Championship Series.

He and his wife, Haiba, have three children Derrick, Wayne and Shelby.

Tommy Phelps will return for his fourth season as the pitching coach for the Thunder. Phelps pitched for the Florida Marlins in 2003 and 2004 including a 2003 season in which he went 3-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 27 games (seven starts). He was part of a Marlins team that won the World Series over the Yankees. Phelps pitched in 29 games for Milwaukee in 2005 and went 7-4 with a 4.45 ERA in 2006 with Columbus (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees). Phelps was originally an eighth round pick by Montreal in the 1992 draft.

Hitting Coach Tom Slater has been a Manager in the Yankees organization for the past three seasons. Last year, he led Staten Island to a 45-28 record and the New York-Penn League championship. He managed the Gulf Coast League Yankees the previous two seasons. Prior to joining the Yankees, he served as Head Coach at Auburn University, going 115-113 and seeing 15 players drafted by Major League clubs over the four year span. His previous coaching experience includes a stint as assistant coach at Florida (2004), three years as the head coach at Virginia Military Institute (2001-03) and assistant coach positions at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, VA and Marshall University.

Coach Luis Dorante spent the last four years in the Pirates organization, serving as the Latin American Field Coordinator in 2011. From 2008-2010, he was the Pirates Bullpen Coach, having joined the Major League staff on November 20, 2007. He served the Florida Marlins in the same capacity during the 2005 campaign.

Dorante’s managerial career began with the Montreal Expos in the Gulf Coast League in 1995. The former Harrisburg Senators skipper returns to the Eastern League for the first time since the 2001 season. In 11 seasons as a minor league manager, Dorante led his team to the playoffs four times and compiled a record of 671-696. Primarily a catcher during his playing days, Luis also made appearances at first base, third base and in the outfield during his six-year minor league career.

Athletic Trainer Scott DiFrancesco has been in the Yankees organization for five years after spending last year with Tampa, the previous three with Charleston and a 2006 internship at the Yankees complex in Tampa, FL. He has a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training from Ball State University.

Kaz Manabe returns to the Thunder as the Strength and Conditioning Coach. He had spent the previous two season with Charleston. A native of Japan, Manabe graduated from Hiroshima University and earned his Master degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Northridge.

Melancon Dealt To Red Sox; Brackman Signs With Reds

December 14, 2011

Former Thunder reliever Mark Melancon was dealt from Houston to Boston today (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

As it seems is always the case, there’s some movement amongst prominent Thunder alumni.  The Houston Astros traded former highly touted Trenton Thunder relief pitcher Mark Melancon to the Boston Red Sox today in exchange for INF Jed Lowrie and P Kyle Weiland.

Drafted in the ninth round by New York in 2006, Melancon overcame arm troubles to establish himself as one of the premier pitching prospects in the Yankees organization by the time he reached Trenton in 2008.  All he did with the Thunder was post a sparkling 6-0 record with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings, striking out 47 batters and walking just 12 in 49 2/3 innings of work.

He was subsequently called up to Triple-A Scranton, which is where he ended 2008 and began 2009.  Melancon was called up to the Yankees several times that season, but struggled with control at times, both walking and striking out ten batters in 16 2/3 frames.  He made two appearances for New York in 2010, but was primarily stuck in Scranton before being traded in the Lance Berkman deal on July 31.

Melancon pitched well in his first extended big league stint, going 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 20 appearances with the Astros at the tail end of 2010.  But he established himself as a big leaguer for the first time last season, emerging as Houston’s closer in a largely overlooked campaign in which he made a career-high 71 appearances.  In 74 1/3 innings, the 26-year-old went 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and 20 saves, a bright spot on an atrocious team. 

He now finds himself in Boston with an opportunity to compete for the closer’s job, depending on how the free agent market and the status of Daniel Bard plays out.

Also, former Thunder standout starter Andrew Brackman (left) has signed a deal with his hometown Cincinnati Reds after being let go by the Yankees.  Brackman — who’s featured in my favorite interview I ever did with him here —  was a disappointment after being selected in the first round by the Yankees, but he would always show flashes of the talent that got him picked there.

The 6-foot-10 righty’s best stint was, coincidentally, with Trenton.  He went 5-7 with a 3.01 ERA in 15 appearances with the club in 2010 — not including a stellar postseason run — but struggled so mightily last year that there was a lot of debate as to whether he’d get sent back down from Triple-A Scranton.  Ultimately, the friendly big man turned things around and earned his second big league September call-up, and finally made his MLB debut. 

He appeared in three games with the Yankees, spinning 2 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing one hit and walking three.  Brackman is not listed on the Reds 40-man roster, so this is presumably a minor league deal.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Minor Matters

December 9, 2011

Yep, that’s the name of Josh Norris’ blog.  Sue me.  Actually, don’t.  I can’t afford it.

But there are some minor league related, uhhh…matters to get to here that have taken place over the past few days. 

The Yankees have selected RHP Brad Meyers and acquired LHP Cesar Cabral in the Rule 5 Draft.  OF Greg Golson was released to make room on the 40-man roster.

Also, according to Baseball America transactions guru Matt Eddy, a must-follow on Twitter at @eddymk, the Yankees have signed 3B Jayson Nix (which had previously been reported) and added LHP Mike O’Connor (pictured), while also re-signing RHP Kelvin Perez.

New York also made their one-year deal with Freddy Garcia official, and DFA’d former Thunder OF Colin Curtis to make room.

Got all that?  Let’s take a quick look at all this…

Meyers, 26, will be heading into his sixth professional season.  After an injury-shortened 2010 campaign, he spent the majority of last season at Triple-A Syracuse, which was his first time reaching the highest level of the minors.  Last season, he made 25 appearances between Short Season-A Auburn, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, and posted a 9-7 record with a 3.18 ERA over 138 2/3 innings of work.  He struck out a career high 116 batters, and walked just 15.  That walk total includes a grand total of zero free passes in 36 1/3 innings for the Senators.  He was Washington’s fifth-round selection in 2007, and has allowed just 105 walks in 453 career MILB innings.

Cabral, 22, is a lefty who, given his status as a former Rule 5 pick, would not need to clear waivers were the Yankees not to keep him on their big league roster.  He split last season between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, and has been used as a closer at times in the past.  Were he not to stick in the big leagues — a likely scenario — Trenton is a very likely destination.  Cabral went 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA in 24 apperarances for the Sea Dogs last year, and has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning over his career (333 K’s in 347  IP).

Nix, 29, has been primarily used as a third baseman throughout his career.  He’s played with the White Sox, Indians, Rockies and most recently the Blue Jays in the big leagues, but hit just .169 in 136 at-bats for Toronto last season.  In all, he’s a .207 career MLB hitter, but does hit at a .261 clip at the minor league level.  He hasn’t played below Triple-A since 2005, and he’s likely headed for the traveling Scranton circus this year.

O’Connor, 30, is a lefty reliever with big league experience who was likely added for organizational depth.  He’s been in the show with the Washington Nationals — he was a regular in their rotation in 2006, making 21 starts — and the New York Mets, for whom he spun 6 2/3 innings just last season.  O’Connor was let go by Washington midway through the 2009 campaign, and after a brief stay in the Padres organization, made four starts for the independent Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs before being picked up by the Royals.  He’s been with the Mets since 2010, and was very effective out of Buffalo’s bullpen in his first year there, posting a 5-2 record and 2.67 ERA in 51 relief appearances that season.  Last year, however, his ERA jumped to 5.22 and his average against rose 41 points to .287.

Perez, 26, is listed at a shocking 6-foot-1, 140 pounds.  That is one inch taller and ten pounds heavier than your beloved beat writer.  He plays, I write.  Last season, he advanced to High-A Tampa for the first time, and struggled out of their bullpen to start the year.  He was sent back down to Low-A Charleston, where he remained for the rest of the year.  He walked 44 batters and struck out 77 in 70 combined innings last season, and is likely to be given an opportunity to start with Tampa again. 

Golson, although still listed on the Yankees 40-man roster on their official web site, was let go after appearing in just 33 big league games over the course of his two seasons in the organization.  Once regarded as a top prospect in the Phillies organization, he’s never been able to fulfill his vast potential and has played in just 40 Major League contests over the past four seasons.  Toolsy, and blessed with above average speed, the 26-year-old is sure to get another opportunity somewhere else.

Curtis, 26, is coming off a lost year due to a shoulder injury suffered prior to the start of the season.  He’s one year removed from making his big league debut, a 2010 season in which he hit .186 in 31 games.  It’s expected that Curtis will clear waivers and begin the season with Triple-A Scranton.  If he can show he’s healthy, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the personable “Kerm” can play his way back onto the 40-man roster.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Catching Up…

December 1, 2011

I’ve been pretty focused on my hockey work lately, so I haven’t posted too much on here.  But…the news hasn’t stopped, of course.

The Yankees have re-signed RHP Grant Duff (pictured) and LHP Josh Romanski, signed LHP Juan Cedeno and lost LHP Steve Garrison to the Seattle Mariners.

Duff will be 29 when the season begins, and enters another make-or-break year.  He threw just nine innings over the course of eight games last season, all of them with Double-A Trenton, before being shut down with shoulder issues.  Duff, who had made his Triple-A debut the season before, was also shut down in 2010 due to a stress fracture in his pitching elbow that ultimately required the insertion of a screw.  But the potential is always there with the friendly fireballer, and it’s that tantalizing fastball that has led the Yankees to bring him back for another try.

Romanski opened some eyes in his second season in the Yankees organization, pitching well as a starter in Tampa (7.5, 3.16) and a reliever (0-1, 2.04) in Trenton.  25 years old, the heavily inked lefty has inked a deal with the Yankees and could see some time in Triple-A this season, depending on what role the organization slots him in.  He can both start and relieve, but it would be hard to see him as a starter in Trenton this year.  He likely carries more value as a lefty reliever anyway.

Cedeno, 28, has bounced around the Red Sox, Royals, Tigers and Dodgers organizations.  He last pitched last season for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the independent North American League.  He has not advanced past Double-A, and Trenton would seem to be a likely destination to start out with if he were to stick with the Yankees.

Garrison’s homecoming surely wasn’t what he was hoping for.  The 25-year-old Trenton native pitched for the Thunder last season, and battled injuries and inconsistency along the way.  Perhaps his lone highlight is an obvious one, his big league debut against the Seattle at Yankee Stadium.  Now, those same Mariners have agreed to terms with the personable southpaw for the 2012 season on a minor league deal.  But he’ll have to improve on a 4-8 record, 5.95 ERA and .317 batting average against if he wants to get back to the show.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

Tonto Jumps On Charity Auction Again

December 1, 2011

Long-time Trenton Thunder clubhouse manager Tom “Tonto” Kackley is holding his sixth annual charity auction to benefit the Domestic Violence Project.

The auctions, which have included and continue to include autographed items and game-used memorabilia, have raised a considerable amount over the past five years.

To view the items available for auction, please check out this link.  Star players like Derek Jeter and Shane Victorino have provided items, as well as Thunder stars like Hector Noesi, Ray Kruml, Steve Garrison, George Kontos, Dellin Betances and Corban Joseph. 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT