Posts Tagged ‘Eastern League’

Around The EL: Madison Bumgarner

July 24, 2009

BumgarnerIf the Giants — surprisingly still in the National League West race (10 games back) and certainly in the NL Wild Card race (one game behind Chicago) — are looking to add a Major League arm to give them a boost for the pennant race at the trade deadline, it seems likely that the guy pictured to your left would have to be involved in any serious talks.

But anyone who’s seen Madison Bumgarner pitch will tell you that they’d be foolish to deal him.

Still more will tell you he might just be that big league arm they need.

Back when the Connecticut Defenders made their final trip into Waterfront Park this season — a trip in which Bumgarner did not pitch — I was able to spend a few minutes with the soon to be 20-year-old outside of the visiting clubhouse.

Mike Ashmore: A lot is being made about you being a 19-year-old kid in Double-A…do you feel like a 19-year-old kid in Double-A?

Madison Bumgarner: “Yeah, it’s weird.  Not really, though.  I just feel like one of the guys, you know.  I don’t really think about the age difference.”

Ashmore: But you are more or less hanging out with a bunch of older guys…that wasn’t always the case when you were coming up through the lower levels…

Bumgarner: “When I first started playing in pro ball, it was a little different.  That was really the only time.  Last year there were some older guys on the team and then in San Jose and then here it’s been the same way.”

Ashmore: You’ve got grown men climbing over chairs to get you to sign your name on a baseball or a piece of paper or whatever…I guess what has the adjustment been like to really being in the spotlight on a full-time basis like you are now?

Bumgarner: It’s…I don’t know, I don’t really have a good answer for that.  It’s definitely weird, at first especially.  You don’t really have that…mostly it was little kids was all I’d had before.  Now, people collect cards and stuff and always want your signature.  It’s pretty cool though, that’s for sure.”

Ashmore: It has to be pretty cool to be on cards, too.  Did you collect at all when you were a kid?

Bumgarner: “Yeah, it is.  When I was about eight or nine, I did a little bit. I went through that stage, but I kind of grew out of it.”

Ashmore: You were the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft…take me back to draft day, what was that like for you?

Bumgarner: “We were at graduation practice in high school.  It was definitely exciting.  I didn’t really have a real good idea of where I’d go, I was hoping in the first round but I didn’t know what team.  When they called my name for that spot, I was definitely thrilled.  It was exciting to get started.  It took a while to get the deal down.”

Ashmore: So you signed when you were 17 still…

Bumgarner: “I’d just turned 18, I was 18 for about ten days.”

Ashmore: So you went from being a high school kid to signing a multi-million dollar deal…did you have like a high school job or anything like that before all of that?

Bumgarner: “No.  My parents didn’t really want me to get a job because they knew I’d have to work one day, so they wanted me to just have fun while I could.”

Ashmore: OK, so you went from essentially pitching for free to landing a bonus check for two million dollars…I think it’s safe to say most 18-year-olds don’t have that kind of cash in their wallets…

Bumgarner: “It’s humbling, because I couldn’t have got here without my faith in the Lord.  It’s awesome to be able take care of your family and take care of your mom, because she’s taken care of me my whole life.”

Ashmore: What kind of role did your parents play in helping you in your career?

Bumgarner: “They were always there for me, you know.  They drove me practice all the time, whenever I needed to.  They’ve always supported me.  I couldn’t be where I’m at without them, that’s for sure.”

Ashmore: In reading scouting reports on you, it seems the fastball is the big pitch for you.  Is there something you feel makes your fastball stand out compared to other pitchers or your other pitches?

Bumgarner: “I don’t really know.  I just know it’s my best pitch for sure.  I’d like to be able to see it for myself, to be in the box or something and see me throw it.  But I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

Ashmore: So with your fastball where it is, how important is the command and execution of your secondary stuff to you?

Bumgarner: “It’s definitely a lot more important the higher you go up.  Here, it’s way more important than it was last year.  The last year was way more important than it’s ever been for me in high school.  You’ve got to keep locating.  My slider and changeup is getting a lot better, so hopefully they’re both on the way to being plus pitches.”

Ashmore: In the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, the scouting report says that you kind of scrapped throwing the curveball in order to work on the slider…is that still a work in progress?

Bumgarner: “Well, I never really threw a curveball, so I don’t know where that’s coming from.  I’ve heard a couple people say that.  But I’ve thrown a slider the whole time.”

Ashmore: For someone who hasn’t seen you pitch before, can you kind of give me a self-scouting report on what kind of pitcher you and what you like to throw and so on…

Bumgarner: “I like to think of myself as a power pitcher.  I don’t know, I just like to go out there and go after guys and try to get them out and stay in the game as long as I can.  I’ve been trying to get quicker outs so I can stay in the game longer, so that’s kind of a tough adjustment from being more of a strikeout guy.”

Ashmore: When you look at the young pitching in this organization — yourself, Tim Lincecum, Tim Alderson — are you excited of being a part of that at the big league level soon?

Bumgarner: “Oh yeah.  That’s for sure.  I’d love to be there and contributing as soon as possible.”

Ashmore: You’ve got Alderson here with you on the Defenders, so naturally a lot of people are comparing the two of you.  What is something you do better than him and what is something he does better than you?

Bumgarner: “I don’t know what I do better than him.  He’s definitely a good pitcher.  His offspeed stuff and throwing that for strikes, he can just do that any time in the count.  He doesn’t really walk guys, doesn’t give up many hits or many runs.  He’s just a good pitcher.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Around The EL: Tim Alderson

July 10, 2009

alderson3As the 2009 Eastern League All-Star Game — to be held at Waterfront Park on July 15th — draws closer, I thought now would be the best time to start breaking out some of these interviews I’ve been conducting with players from around the league.

The first of these chats will be with Connecticut Defenders pitcher Tim Alderson, who entered the season as the San Francisco Giants fourth best prospect, according to Baseball America.

The 20-year old spun what may have been his best Double-A start so far at Waterfront Park on June 16th, allowing no runs on two hits while striking out five in seven innings of work.

The 22nd overall pick in the 2007 draft and I chatted outside of the Defenders clubhouse for about five minutes and discussed a wide variety of topics…

Mike Ashmore: San Francisco picked you 22nd overall in the 2007 draft.  Take me back to that day, what was that like for you?

Tim Alderson: “It was pretty crazy.  I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  I had expectations, but you can’t predict anything on draft day, of course.  So I just kind of had to sit there and wait and see how the cards fell.  It happened to work out, and I was able to sign kind of early and get out there and play.”

Ashmore: Did you have any plans for college if you weren”t going to sign?

Alderson: “Yeah, I had signed with Oregon state to go play there.  But I couldn’t get away from signing with the Giants, so I decided to just go do that.”

Ashmore: Having seen you pitch yesterday, your delivery could certainly be described as unique.  How did you start that, and how would you describe it?

Alderson: “I have no idea that I actually look like that.  So it feels a lot smoother than it looks, I guess you could say.  I didn’t really have a time that I started doing it, because I don’t realize that I really do it.”

Ashmore: It just sort of came natural to you when you first started throwing?

Alderson: “Yeah.  I can’t even try to make it look smooth, I guess.  I don’t know.”

Ashmore: Has anyone tried to change that delivery since it isn’t very conventional?

Alderson: “Not really.  I mean, I can repeat it, so that’s all that matters I guess.  They’ve left it alone pretty much.”

Ashmore: And it’s easy for you to repeat since you don’t really notice it, as you’ve said…

Alderson: “Yeah, it’s not like I have to think about how to move my leg a certain way, it just happens that way.”

Ashmore: For people who haven’t had the chance to see you pitch, can you give me a little self-scouting report on what kind of pitcher you are, what pitches you throw, and so on…

Alderson: “I’m real aggressive.  I like to go right at the hitters and not waste too many pitches, let my defense work.  I’m trying to keep my pitch count down and get deeper into the game.  I’m not worried too much about strikeouts, they’ll come when they come.  Other than that, I’m just trying to get people into the game.”

Ashmore: People talk about your curveball quite a bit…is that something you consider to be your best pitch?  Is it a pitch you work on a lot?

Alderson: “Yeah, it’s definitely one of my best pitches.  It’s definitely my strikeout pitch, you can probably figure that out just by watching the game.  I just try to keep it down and not try to hang anything.  It’s been good so far.  I’m working on other pitches, and that’s going good.”

Ashmore: You’re a 20-year-old kid in Double-A, but does it feel that way to you?  Has this been as easy as you’ve been making it look?

Alderson: “It’s totally different in Double-A than it was last year or even the beginning of the season this year in High-A.  You can tell there are a lot of older guys here who are experienced and know what they’re doing out there.  You’ve got to have a better game plan and think more about each pitch before you throw it.  It’s definitely not been easy at all.  It’s been an adjustment, but it’s a fun battle.”

Ashmore: After that first start you had in Double-A, where you didn’t allow a hit and struck out ten in six and two thirds, were you thinking that they’re all going to be like that?

Alderson: “(Laughs) No.  Those type of starts only happen once in a while.  You’ve just got to enjoy it, but know that there’s stuff that you need to work on even if you have a game like that.  There’s always things you can see after pitching a game like that, you can go out there and find different things to work on.”

Ashmore: Tough to give up the ball after a start like that?

Alderson: “It’s part of the game.  It was a smart move by our manager to bring in a lefty with the lineup they had out there.”

Ashmore: You look at yourself, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum…it seems like this organization is going to be set when it comes to pitching for a long time.  How much thought do you give to being able to be a part of that at the big league level sometime soon?

Alderson: “It would definitely be fun for that to happen.  Madison and I signed at the same time and were drafted in the same class, so it would be fun to get up there together.  You can’t help but think about it.  We have a lot of fun out there each and every day, so you’ve just got to hope for the best.”

Ashmore: What is something that Bumgarner does better than you, and what’s something you do better than him?

Alderson: “I don’t really know.  We have our different styles of pitching.  He’s a real hard throwing lefty, and he’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, which is a big part of it.  He has different things that he works on, and I have different things that I work on.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

4/9: Around the EL

April 9, 2008

A lot of tight games last night in the Eastern League, and one semi-blowout.  Here’s some quick recaps…

** Eastern League Scores

**  Erie defeated Harrisburg, 3-2, despite former Portland Sea Dogs infielder Luis Jimenez hitting two solo home runs to increase his league leading total to four.

The Seawolves Will “Busta” Rhymes (straight out of the jokes he’s certainly never heard before department) added the offense for the road team, hitting a three-run home run off of Ismael Ramirez.

** Akron came from behind to beat the Binghamton Mets in another 3-2 game.  

The Aeros used three solo home runs for their offense, the latter two spoling another good outing by Jon Niese, who allowed just one run on two hits (including one of the bombs) in six innings of work while striking out five.

Fernando Martinez went 0-for-5 in the game, lowering his average to .136

** In the third 3-2 contest of the evening, New Britain broke open a tie game in the bottom of the ninth and beat the visiting Fisher Cats.

David Winfree doubled home Matt Moses for the walk-off win.  That came off of Mike MacDonald, who had shut the Rock Cats down in the previous inning.

** It took the Defenders 11 innings, but someone finally knocked off the Sea Dogs…this time by a score of 2-1. 

Portland reliever Mike James gave up a walk-off home run to former San Francisco Giants slugger Travis Ishikawa to send the fans home happy.

Justin Masterson pitched five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven.

** Four-run innings in the second and fifth were enough to carry Bowie to an 8-3 win over Reading.

Former Thunder pitcher Gerardo Casadiego allowed Reading’s three runs in the bottom of the ninth, but they were unearned.

Jonathan Tucker drove in four of the eight Bowie runs, going 2-for-4 with a single and a double.

** Eastern League Notes

Chris Smith / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007)

The Portland Sea Dogs lost pitcher Chris Smith after he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket to take the place of Bartolo Colon.  Colon was placed on the DL after an oblique strain.

Smith, who was 6-9 with a 4.41 ERA last season in Portland, hadn’t appeared in a game for Portland this season.

Making the spot start against Lehigh Valley last night, he pitched out of his mind, allowing two hits in four innings, all while getting seven of his twelve outs via the K.

This marks the third consecutive season that Smith has been called up to Triple-A.  He was picked in the fourth round by Boston in 2002.

** Eastern League Standings

NORTH

Connecticut: 4-1
Portland: 4-1
Trenton: 4-2
Binghamton: 3-3
New Britain: 1-3
New Hampshire: 0-4

SOUTH

Erie: 5-1
Reading: 4-2
Harrisburg: 3-2
Akron: 2-3
Altoona: 1-5
Bowie: 1-5

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Game 6: Trenton @ Altoona

April 8, 2008

Game 6 – Trenton Thunder @ Altoona Curve
April 8, 2008
Blair County Ballpark – Altoona, PA

Pitching Matchup: TRE Chase Wright (0-1, 3.00) vs. ALT Kyle Bloom (0-1, 14.73)

Starting Lineups:

Trenton (3-2) (3-2 road record, 1-0 vs. Altoona)

1 – Ramiro Pena, SS
2 – Austin Jackson, CF
3 – Jose Tabata, RF
4 – Colin Curtis, LF
5 – Matt Carson, DH
6 – Cody Ehlers, 1B
7 – P.J. Pilittere, C
8 – Marcos Vechionacci, 3B
9 – Reegie Corona, 2B

Altoona (1-4) (1-4 home record, 0-1 vs. Thunder)

1 – Boone
2 – Cruz
3 – Pacheco
4 – Corley
5 – Delaney
6 – Bowers
7 – Webster
8 – Perez
9 – Finegan

Farm Fresh: In Charleston, Zach McAllister picked up the win last night.  Brad Suttle is smokin’ hot in the first week of the season, hitting .474 with a homer and three RBI.  The River Dogs have five other regular players hitting .300 or better: David Williams (.444), Justin Snyder (.357), Wady Rufino (.333), Austin Krum (.300) and Abe Almonte (.300).

Dellin Betances is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA after a five-inning start, and Jesse Hoover has made two scoreless relief appearances, collecting a win along the way.

Edwar Gonzalez is hot in Tampa, hitting .278 with two home runs and seven RBI in his first five games.  He has accounted for all of his team’s longballs, and half of their RBI.  Mitch Hilligoss is also doing well for the T-Yanks, hitting .273, but he has made two errors already.

Mark Melancon, who all eyes will be on in Tampa until he’s inevitably shipped north to Trenton, is 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two games and 3.2 IP.

In Scranton — home to the lovely Pam Beesly, by the way — Jason Lane’s already got three home runs in the first five games of the year.  Brett Gardner has missed the past two games, but is 4-for-11 with one steal in his first three.

Alberto Gonzalez is hitting just .091 in his first four games, and Juan Miranda is 2-for-17 (.118) for the SWB Yanks.

Pre-Game Notes: The Thunder have announced that their new puppy will be named Derby.  Derby was the puppy the team kept from the litter that came from Chase, their bat-collecting, ball-delivering, loveable mascot.

Despite the Thunder playing Altoona ten million 17 times last year, Chase Wright did not face the Curve last year.  Kyle Bloom was picked in the fifth round by the Pirates in 2004, and is making his fourth career Double-A start. 

Starts one and two, made last year, went really well. 

Start three did not, as he comes in with a loss and 14.73 ERA next to his name. 

Of players considered prospects in the Pirates system, Baseball America has him dead last on the depth chart for lefty starters.

As expected, Daniel McCutchen has been pushed back a day, and will now go on his regular four days rest…meaning he gets the ball for the home opener on the 10th against Harrisburg. 

George Kontos is now slated to get the start tomorrow. 

The problem with that, of course, is that he’d now be going on three days rest.  He only went three innings on April 5th against Binghamton, so that may be the reasoning…but if he didn’t start, I wouldn’t be surprised either.

Remember Juan Francia?  He hit .198 in 31 games for the Thunder last year.  He’s resurfaced in the independent Atlantic League, signing with the Lancaster Barnstormers.  That’s the same team that Scott Patterson came from.  Jason Bowers, an infielder on Altoona, is a former teammate of Scott’s in Lancaster.

Radio Links: Click here for the links to each team’s broadcast.

Live Box Score: The MILB.com direct link is here.

Around the Eastern League: For scores from around the EL, go here.

In-Game Updates: I’ll be at the ballpark again starting Thursday, but these updates are from the comforts of the couch.  Anyway, it’s 4-1 Thunder in the top of the 5th.

The only big mistake Chase Wright has made so far was a second inning home run to Jason Bowers.

Reegie Corona’s got his first two RBI of the year, and Jose Tabata and Marcos Vechionacci have got the others.  Both Tabata and Austin Jackson have stolen a base as well.

Not a real great outing out of Altoona’s Kyle Bloom so far.  Four runs on five hits through four innings of work so far.

Bottom 7th, and Trenton is up 5-1 now.  Colin Curtis has driven in a run.  Chase Wright is out, Steven Jackson is in.  Wright’s line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR. 

You’d like to see him go a little deeper, but that’s two straight solid performances out of Sebern Chase Wright.

A-Jax is the only Thunder player with two hits so far.

Final Score: 5-2, Thunder.

Post-Game Notes: Steven Jackson, ladies and gentlemen.  Three innings of relief, no hits, seven strikeouts.  Wow.

Two-hit nights for the top three in the order: Ramiro Pena, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata. 

Another 0-fer out of Matt Carson, who has had two straight rough games now.

0-for-2 with two walks and two K’s for Cody Ehlers.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Around the EL

April 8, 2008

** The Ruckle Shuffle made its debut in the Eastern League last night.  Jake Ruckle, who dazzled Brooklyn fans a few years back with his very unorthodox delivery, made his Double-A debut for Binghamton last night and threw 5.2 scoreless innings in a no-decision for the Mets in their 1-0 win over Akron.

Just wait until this kid comes to Waterfront Park.  You haven’t seen anything like him. 

Jake’s a nice guy, too…spoke to him a few years back over at Keyspan Park in Brooklyn.

An Emmanuel Garcia single scored Fernando Martinez in the eighth inning for the game’s only run.

** Dustin Richardson is apparently as good as advertised.  Perhaps one of the lesser known pitching prospects in the Red Sox system, that will all change if he keeps repeating the performance he put on in his Double-A debut last night.

Richardson allowed just two hits and struck out ten batters in just five innings of work, leading undefeated Portland to a 7-1 win over Connecticut, who suffers their first loss of the year.

** Bowie fell to 0-5 after an extra inning loss to Reading.

Chris Tillman, who was acquired by the O’s in the Erik Bedard trade, made his Double-A debut and left after just two innings due to a pitch count.  A Javon Moran bases-clearing triple was the difference in the 10th inning for Reading.

** Harrisburg crushed Erie, 12-3. 

They used an eight-run seventh inning to do the Seawolves in, led by run-scoring doubles from Luis Jimenez, Yurendell De Caster, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernardina.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

All 15 Year Team: Outfield

March 30, 2008

Michael Coleman / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2005)

So far, we’ve taken a look at the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team nominees for catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and third base.

What can I tell you about David McDonough, our featured writer, that I haven’t copied and pasted five times now?

Well, Dave is…ummm…Irish.  So he’s got that going for him.  Outside of that, McDonough’s entering his 15th season of covering Thunder baseball.  One of the most helpful people on press row, Dave’s been up close and personal with just about every single player on the entire ballot, and provides unique and interesting stories that you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

The following is Dave’s breakdown, mine will follow after all of his are done…

Andy Abad: When your manager says to the organization, “Get him out of my sight,” it’s probably not a good sign. To Andy Abad’s credit, he overcame that stigma to become, if not a big league star, a least a valued minor leaguer.

Andy was a not particularly successful first baseman/outfielder in his third pro season, batting .240 for the Thunder, when he got into a bar brawl in Trenton one night in 1995. He denied everything, and then admitted to manager Ken Macha the truth of the matter. Macha was disgusted with his 22-year-old outfielder, primarily for lying, and banished him to Single-A Sarasota in the Florida State League, from where so few return.

But Abad did come back, half-way through the 1996 season. He was more thoughtful, more serious and incidentally, a better hitter, batting .277 in 213 at bats. He never shook the journeyman status, though. He batted .303 in 45 games in 1997 for Trenton, and went on up to Triple-A, where he showed some power. He’s bounced around Triple-A ever since, with time out for a year in Japan, and has gotten 198 big league at bats with Oakland and the Red Sox. He spent 2007 with the Brewers Triple-A club, batting .316 in 83 games, and is known as a model citizen.

Raul Gonzalez: So many of the players on the Thunder list were veteran minor leaguers having good seasons in their third or fourth go round of AA ball. Gonzalez was one of the best. At age 25, in his third full year of AA, he knocked 103 runs, still a club record, with the 1999 Thunder. He batted .335, second best in club history, and had 33 doubles. He was a AA All-Star and he was also a very good mentor to the younger players, too.

It was his only year in the Red Sox organization. He played through 2006, hit well in Triple-A, and got a fair amount of time in the big leagues with the Mets in 2003, as well as odds and ends with the Cubs, Reds and Indians. He finished up in Indy ball in 2006.

Melky Cabrera: Melky won’t turn 24 until late in 2008, and he still may turn out to be one of the best players to come out of Trenton. He was only 20 when he played center field in for the Thunder in 2005, and hit well enough for May and June to go up to AAA Columbus, and then on to New York on July 7.

He flopped badly in six games, and thank goodness that George Steinbrenner was making fewer and fewer decisions for the Yankees, or we probably never would have heard of Melky again. Instead, cooler heads like Brian Cashman’s prevailed, and Melky was sent back to Trenton – where he was still one of the younger players in the league. Finishing the year with a Trenton August, he righted himself, and was in New York again for the 2006 season. He had a good year for a 23-year-old in 2007, batting .273 in 150 games for the Yankees, and with Johnny Damon no longer able to play center field, Melky’s future should keep getting better and better.

Michael Coleman: If only Michael Coleman had been as good as Michael Coleman thought he was. Actually, he was pretty damn close. He was highly recruited as a high school football player (Alabama offered him a scholarship), but chose baseball when the Red Sox came calling. He was only 21 when he played an excellent center field for Trenton in 1997, and he batted .301 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 102 games. Baseball America voted him “Best Defensive Outfielder” in the Eastern League. He batted .367 with five homers and 21 RBIs in July, and the Sox promoted him to Triple-A Pawtucket.

He hit well in 28 games for Pawtucket, too, and earned a trip to Boston in September. But Coleman had had an attitude problem since Day One. He had never been shy about revealing when he thought he wasn’t being moved up fast enough – which was almost always. When he arrived in Boston with his self-appointed nickname, “Prime Time”, demanding to pick his own uniform number, he rubbed a lot of the veterans, including Mo Vaughn, the wrong way. “Who named him that?” demanded Vaughn. “…to get a nickname, you’ve got to put some time in.” It didn’t help that Coleman struck out 11 times in 24 at bats.

That was about it for Coleman. He spent all of 1998 in Triple-A and even his 30 homers at Pawtucket in 1999 rated only a 2 game stint in Boston. He got shipped off to the Reds with another Red Sox disappointment – Donnie Sadler – in the winter of 2000, and in the spring of 2001, the Yankees picked up him, along with another famous flop, Drew Henson. The 12 games that he got into with the 2001 Yankees was his last glimpse of the big leagues. He drifted off into Indy ball, although curiously enough, all three of the organizations he played with in organized ball – Boston, Cincinnati and the Yankees – re-signed him at one point or another. In 2005, the Yankees, having signed him out of the indy Atlantic League, sent him to Trenton, eight years after the debut in this town that had seemed so promising. The 29-year-old went through the motions for 42 games without much fanfare. 2006 was the last time he played pro ball. But he was awfully good that first time around in Trenton.

Brett Gardner: He’s fast and he can hit okay. He plays with great intensity. He’s the highest drafted player ever out of the College of Charleston. Baseball America lists him as the #8 prospect in the Yankees system.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Brett will be a big-leaguer, but I am not yet convinced that he’ll be an everyday player. He didn’t hit Eastern League pitching all that well his first time through (a .272 average in 217 at bats in 2006) and his vaunted base running wasn’t always wisely chosen – although he did steal 28 bases, and 18 more when he came back last year and hit .300 at Trenton in 203 at bats. He missed a month with a broken hand last season, but finished up well with Triple-A Scranton and then batted .343 in the AFL. He hasn’t got a great arm but covers plenty of ground in center field. If fellow centerfielder Austin Jackson has a good season in Trenton this year, and Melky Cabrera continues to develop, Gardner could be traded. And if hard work is the key, he will definitely be in the big leagues soon.

Adam Hyzdu: Adam signed with the Red Sox on April 26, 1996. He reported to Trenton half-way through the next night’s game, persuaded the crack Thunder security staff to let him in, introduced himself to manager Ken Macha, was inserted into the game as pinch-hitter, and promptly hit a home run. It was that kind of a season for the ex-first round draft choice of the Giants. In what is probably the best all-round year a Thunder player has ever had, Hyzdu batted a club record .337 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs in 374 at bats. He was also a pretty good left fielder, and made the All-Star team. Not bad for a 24-year-old who had been released by the Reds organization that March.

Adam hit well in Triple-A the next year, but the Red Sox saw no place for him. He was in the DBacks system for a year, and played in the Eastern League again in 2000, when the Pirates signed him as a free agent. He tore things apart, leading the league in homers and RBIs. He got some at bats in the majors with the Pirates every year from 2000 through 2003, and the Red Sox even re-signed him and gave him 10 at bats in 2004 and 16 in 2005. He sipped the coffee twice more, with the Padres and Rangers, and spent 2007 in Japan. He hit 280 minor league home runs, and in parts of seven big league seasons, he had a total of 358 career major league at bats. A lot of guys would love to be able to say that.

Trot Nixon: Was anyone ever tougher on himself than Trot Nixon? He felt the burden of being the Red Sox number one draft choice very keenly. Here was a guy who, if he went 2 for 4 would spend hours worrying about the two hits he didn’t get. Add to that the fact that he was already experiencing the back problems that would shorten his career in Boston, and you have one worried warrior.

Fortunately, everyone in the Red Sox organization knew what Trot was going through, and he had a lot of support from manager and coaches. At age 22, he played 123 games in 1996 with Trenton, batted .251 with 11 homers, played an excellent right field, and started, very gradually, to let up on himself. It took a couple of decent years in Triple-A for him to get his game together, but he ended up as a fan favorite at Fenway for his determined style of play and his slugging against right-handers. The injuries have caught up with Trot, who played for Cleveland in 2007. As of this writing, he has signed a minor league contract with the DBacks. Red Sox fans will always remember him as a part of the 2004 championship team.

Dernell Stenson: Part of the tragedy of Stenson’s violent death in 2003 was that the Cincinnati Reds really felt he was at last coming into his own as a ballplayer. Dernell was the original tools guy – a very raw young hard hitter when he was drafted by the Red Sox in the third round in 1996. He was in Trenton by the start of the 1998 season, and was called the Best Hitting Prospect in the league by Baseball America. The 20-year-old hit 24 homers in 138 games for the Thunder and scored 90 runs.

He also struck out 135 times, and, just three years removed from being a high school pitcher, had a lot of trouble playing the outfield. That seemed to prey on Stenson – throughout his time in the Red Sox system, his struggles with the outfield, and later first base, seemed to affect his overall game. Each year, he’d hit some homers, but never seemed to put together that one season the Red Sox were looking for. Baseball America called him the Sox’ top prospect in 99 and 2001, but that’s what he stayed – a prospect. He also ran into some off-the-field personal problems.

After he had spent 3 ½ years at Triple-A Pawtucket, the Reds claimed Stenson on waivers. They let him play at Double-A again, and felt he had gained enough confidence to bring him up to the big leagues for 37 games at the end of 2003. They spoke of having him in their plans for the 2004 season. But on November 5, 2003, in Chandler, Arizona, while Dernell was playing fall baseball, he was robbed and murdered. He was the first ex-Thunder player to lose his life. At 25, he should have had years of living and baseball ahead of him.

Kevin Thompson: The fleet outfielder can run like the wind, but has never hit consistently. He stole 47 bases in 86 games for the 2003 Thunder, and was caught only eight times, but he only batted .226 in 328 at bats. He did better in 04 and 05 (.329 in 81 games for the Thunder) but there are other more talented players ahead of him in the system. He got a few games in with the Yankees in 06 and 07 before the A’s picked him up during last season.

Not On the Ballot: Justin Christian: Signed as an undrafted free agent out of indy ball, Justin stole a club record 68 bases for the Thunder in 2006, and has 28 multiple hit games. He wasn’t hitting well in Trenton in 07 (.235 in 65 games) when he was promoted to Scranton in July, where he took off, bating .325 in 40 games. A clubhouse leader, he could help someone off the bench. It’ll have to be soon, though – he turns 28 in April.

Dave’s Votes Go To: Gonzalez, Hyzdu, Coleman

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: This is where it starts to get really, really difficult.  There are just so many options when it comes down to the outfield, starting pitching and bullpen.  As far as the outfielders go, eight of the nine guys on there made it to the big leagues after they played in Trenton.  The ninth, Brett Gardner, was in serious contention to make the Yankees this season and will almost undoubtedly be in the Bronx at some point in 2008.

Andy Abad: The way he pissed everyone off after his little bar incident is a somewhat legendary tale over at Waterfront Park.  Fausto Andres Abad — the kids call him Andy — has pretty much played everywhere you can imagine, including a stint in Japan in 2000.

He’s put on 16 different uniforms in his career, but only three of those have been in the big leagues.  With a whopping 5,381 minor league at-bats to his name, he has just 21 in the show.  He got one of them with Oakland in 2001, 17 more in Boston two years later, and got his final three with the Reds just two seasons ago.

Now 35 years old, Abad’s status for 2008 seems uncertain.

Raul Gonzalez: Gonzalez is one of the best outfielders I’ve seen at the minor league level.  I never really understood why he didn’t get more of a look than he did in the bigs. 

Sure, he was older when he finally started hitting his peak — it was his fifth year in Double-A, his third full season…but the season he put together during that magical 1999 season was the best of his career.  But he was just 25…was he really too old at 25?  .335, 18 home runs and 103 RBI should be the only numbers that matter.

It was also the only season he was a member of the Red Sox organization, and perhaps that worked out to his favor.  The following year, he signed with the Cubs and started the season in Triple-A before making his big league debut later that year.

He’d go on to play for the Reds, Mets and Indians at the highest level, but he never was able to stick or become an everyday player.

In 2005 and 2006, Gonzalez spent both seasons in Triple-A with the Cardinals and Pirates, respectively, without getting a look in the bigs.

At 34 years old, the undersized (5′ 9″) outfielder appears to be done.  At best, he was an example of the Red Sox classic mismanagement during the Dan Duquette era.  At worst, he was someone who had mastered Double-A and was left there for far too long.

Melky Cabrera: Cabrera was in Bill Masse’s lineup every day for the Thunder in 2005, outside of brief stints with Triple-A Columbus and the Yankees.

One of the better defenders the Thunder have seen in the outfield, Cabrera also put together a solid offensive year as well, hitting .275 with 10 home runs and 60 RBI.

Even being on the Yankees, it seems everything Cabrera has done has been under the radar…few probably realize that he drove in 73 runs last season in the Bronx.

Seems he’s always dangled as trade bait, too.  Yankee fans had better hope that stops, because Cabrera seems to be a pretty key part of the team’s future for many years to come.

Michael Coleman: Every time I talked to Michael Coleman, he scared the crap out of me.  And were it not for being drafted by the Red Sox, he would have went on to have people checking their pants as a football player at Alabama.  Instead: “I never made it to Alabama, I got drafted and never looked back,” he told me back in 2004.

He’s just an intimidating guy.  But he was intimidating at the plate too, and put together a monster year in Mercer County in 1997.

“I had a good year with the Thunder, I had a great time there,” Coleman said.

“I was there for the majority of the year, Dave Gallagher was our hitting coach and DeMarlo Hale was our manager. They established several guys in the big leagues and some of those guys are still in the big leagues. But I had a fun year that year.”

Coleman came back to Trenton in 2005, and left Thunder fans with one last memory — hitting a walk-off home run off of Portland’s Jim Mann in Game Four of the Eastern League Division Series to send the series to a fifth game.

Brett Gardner: The boy can run, that’s for damn sure.  Gardner swiped 46 bags in 109 games with the Thunder in 2006 and 2007, coming close to setting foot (get it…setting foot…stolen bases…I’ll stop) in Justin Christian and Kevin Thompson territory.

It’s hard to believe that the 24-year-old is entering just his fourth season of pro ball.  In contention for a spot on the Yankees roster this season, it’s harder yet to believe that Gardner won’t see some time in the Bronx at some point this season…and if not this summer, certainly in September.

If he can get some more pop into his bat, he won’t fall into the Kevin Thompson trap of being known as a guy who’s all speed and no bat.

Adam Hyzdu: Seems like any time you read one of those stories about guys with oodles and oodles (technical term) of minor league at-bats who could never really get an extended look in the big leagues, Adam Hyzdu’s name was in it.

After breaking none other than Ken Griffey, Jr’s record for home runs in a season at his Ohio high school, Hyzdu was picked in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 1990, and never played a day in the big leagues for them.  Instead, he bounced around a few organizations and eventually got to the bigs with the Pirates.

But inbetween being drafted and his big league debut, Hyzdu wore a Thunder uniform in 1996, hitting .337 with 25 home runs and 80 RBI while doing so.  An Eastern League All-Star, Hyzdu put up similar numbers the following season for Pawtucket — but in a stunning development considering how well the Red Sox handled their prospects during this time period — never reached the bigs during his first stint in the organization.

He did return to the Sox in 2004, and even got into a playoff game for them in 2005.  A veteran of a mindboggling 1,750 minor league games, Hyzdu has just 358 MLB at-bats to his credit.
  
36 years old, Hyzdu is a free agent and is probably done after playing one final season in Japan.

Trot Nixon: Sure, Trot Nixon played for the Thunder in 1995.  You know this by now.

But for as long as he lives, Christopher Trotman Nixon will always be asked about what it was like to bring Red Sox Nation their first World Series in 86 years.

“I got the opportunity to live out one of my dreams, and also fulfill the fans dreams to win a championship in the Boston area,” Nixon told me last year.

“I’d heard all the things about the curses and this and that, so to be able to be on a team that was able to come back the way we did in the ALCS against the Yankees and then go into the World Series and take four games in a sweep of St. Louis, it was something special. I was glad I was able to be there when the curse was broken.”

Even after years of dealing with the scrutiny of playing in Boston, Nixon insists that his first season with the Indians hadn’t changed anything.

“Baseball is baseball,” he said.

“We’re having a good year this season, and the fact that I’m not in a Red Sox uniform any more, it doesn’t bother me. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to play.”

Now 11 seasons and one World Series ring removed from wearing a Thunder uniform, one thing’s for sure. Trot Nixon will never forget the Trenton faithful.

“In some minor league parks, you don’t get that much support,” Nixon said.

“But we got a tremendous amount of support in Trenton.”

After a lackluster season in Cleveland, and equally iffy spring training this year, Nixon has been sent to the minors by the Arizona Diamondbacks to start the season after trying to learn first base to help his chances of making the team.

Dernell Stenson: What a shame.  I thought about just leaving it at that, because it really would sum things up, wouldn’t it? 

Who knows what would have become of Stenson had he not been tragically murdered a few years ago?  Once thought to be Mo Vaughn’s replacement over on Yawkey Way, Stenson was picked in the third round by the Red Sox in 1996.

With the Thunder in 1998, he hit .257 with 24 home runs and 71 RBI — the 24 dingers would be his career high.

At least he finally got to reach the big leagues in 2003 with the Reds, hitting .247 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 37 games.  It looked like he had a future with the Reds…a future that was ridiculously taken away from him by a few you-know-what’s who wanted his truck.

What a shame.

Kevin Thompson: Thompson and Justin Christian would probably be interchangable on this list were it not for Thompson reaching the big leagues with the Yankees.

Thompson was claimed on waivers by Oakland last September and didn’t really do too much to stand out there, instead signing with the Pirates this off-season.  He’ll start the year in Triple-A.

In 2003, Thompson set the Thunder’s single season record for stolen bases in a season with 47.  Over the next two seasons, he’d add 54 more for a total of 101 steals in a Trenton uniform.

Not On The Ballot: Justin Christian: If you didn’t have the list of guys who are on the ballot in front of you, you might be willing to make a stink about JC not being on it.  To be honest, Christian’s future with the Yankees seems pretty bleak with the emergence of Gardner.  At one point, they seemed to be pretty even, but Gardner has clearly passed Christian and established himself as the Yankees first option for an outfield call-up.

Regardless, Christian’s story is one of the more intriguing ones you’ll find in minor league baseball. Undrafted after spending time at three different colleges, he signed with the River City Rascals of the Frontier League and played there for parts of 2003 and 2004 before signing with the Yankees after hitting .450 in 120 at-bats for the Rascals.

“(River City) gave me an opportunity to play out of college,” Christian said in 2006.

“I knew when I was in indy ball that I’d have to put up extremely good numbers to get an opportunity, so it was exciting to get the chance to go to the Yankees.”

My Votes Go To: Raul Gonzalez, Adam Hyzdu, Dernell Stenson.  I was very, very close to having Justin Christian in one of these spots.  Real close.

Our ballots so far:

C: Walt McKeel (McDonough), Virgil Chevalier (Ashmore)
1B: Tony Clark (McDonough), Shelley Duncan (Ashmore)
2B: David Eckstein (McDonough), David Eckstein (Ashmore)
SS: Freddy Sanchez (McDonough), Adam Everett (Ashmore)
3B: Shea Hillenbrand (McDonough), Wilton Veras (Ashmore)
OF1: Raul Gonzalez (McDonough), Raul Gonzalez (Ashmore)
OF2: Adam Hyzdu (McDonough), Adam Hyzdu (Ashmore)
OF3: Michael Coleman (McDonough), Dernell Stenson (Ashmore)

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #8

March 6, 2008

Moment #8 – Alan Horne wins Pitcher of the Year
August 25, 2007
Trenton, NJ

Brad Taylor (left) hands Alan Horne the 2007 EL Pitcher of the Year Award / Photo by Mike Ashmore

The following is an excerpt from my August 30, 2007 article in the Hunterdon County Democrat

Two days before his start, Trenton Thunder pitcher Alan Horne was named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team.

One day before his start, Alan Horne was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.

During his start, Alan Horne showed why he deserved both of those honors.

With a chance to clinch the Northern Division title on the line, Horne spun six masterful innings in Trenton, holding the Binghamton Mets to one run on four hits, giving his team a chance to win a game they eventually lost in fourteen innings, 3-2.

However, with the team’s magic number at one before the start of the game, and with Portland losing their game to New Hampshire, the Thunder secured the division with eight games left to play in the regular season.

“The guys have been fantastic all year, they’ve played well,” said Thunder skipper Tony Franklin.

“I congratulated them and I thanked them, because they really came to work with a purpose every day.”

But where would they be without Horne?

In a year where the Thunder have used no fewer than 25 pitchers, Horne is one of just four to have stayed the entire season.

With a 12-4 record, a 2.91 ERA, and league leading strikeout total of 161, there seemed to be no other choice for Pitcher of the Year honors.

“I’m very excited about it, there are a lot of other very good pitchers in this league they could have given it to,” Horne said.

“I’m definitely proud to represent our team on the All-Star list, and now as Pitcher of the Year. It’s just awesome, I don’t really know what to say about it.”

Horne is only the second pitcher in Trenton Thunder history to win the award, with the much-maligned Carl Pavano being the first.

“Well, hopefully I’ll have a little better path down the road than that one,” joked Horne.

With his breakout 2007 season behind him, Horne looks to 2008 with a chance to crack the big league roster at some point.  It would appear as though he’ll start his season in the rotation at Triple-A Scranton.

Recapping the Top 20 so far…

#8 – Alan Horne wins Pitcher of the Year
#9 – Trenton finally beats Portland in the playoffs
#10 – Shelley Duncan’s impact with the Yankees
#11 – The emergence of Austin Jackson
#12 – Tony Franklin named Thunder manager
#13 – Matt DeSalvo’s MLB debut
#14 – Phil Hughes rehab appearance
#15 – Tyler Clippard’s MLB debut
#16 – Brett Smith’s no-hitter
#17 – Chase Wright’s MLB debut
#18 – Chase Wright’s opening night start
#19 – Paul Lo Duca and Endy Chavez rehab in Trenton
#20 – Jeff Karstens rehab appearance

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #9

February 29, 2008

Moment #9 – Trenton finally beats Portland in the playoffs
September 8, 2007
Portland, ME

In their first 13 seasons, the Trenton Thunder not only had never won a playoff series, they’d never had a 2-1 series lead.

With the first two games between Trenton and the Portland Sea Dogs at Waterfront Park split down the middle and making the series little more than a best-of-three, it was obvious that Game 3 at Portland’s Hadlock Field would be the turning point.

Daniel McCutchen got the nod in the pivotal third game for the Thunder, the first postseason start of his brief professional career.

“You have to take the same approach, even though it’s going to be a little more intense than a regular season game,” McCutchen said.

“I know (Portland) has some pretty good hitters, and we have a pretty good scouting report on them. I just have to pitch to my strengths, and go right at them.”

That’s exactly what the 24-year-old righty did, allowing only one run on three hits over six innings of work, leading the Thunder to a tight 3-2 victory and their elusive two games to one series lead.

The 30th ranked prospect in the Yankees system, according to Baseball America, McCutchen retired 11 straight batters at one point in the game.

With Jeff Marquez on the mound for Game 4 with the Thunder on the brink of advancing to the championship series for the first time in franchise history, there was little doubt that Trenton would break their 13-year curse.

The 15-game winner continued the domination of Thunder starting pitching in this series, combining with Eric Wordekemper and Justin Pope on a five-hit shutout. In fact, Thunder starters allowed just three earned runs over 26.2 innings pitched (1.02 ERA).

And just like that, the Trenton Thunder would be headed to the Eastern League Championship Series.

The first two games of the series, held in Trenton, seemed to be where the Thunder needed to make their mark. Chase Wright, who made two starts for the Yankees earlier this season, started the series opener, and Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Alan Horne was on the bump for the second game.

Wright outdueled top Boston prospect Justin Masterson in the first game, getting a little revenge against the Red Sox — who hit four straight home runs off of him in his last big league start.

“I’ve faced them a couple of times since I’ve been back, and they’ve roughed me up a little bit, so when I saw that I was going to get a rematch, it was nice to be able to go out there and beat them,” Wright said.

Masterson, drafted in the second round out of San Diego State just last year, looked like the inexperienced pitcher he is, having a difficult time locating his pitches in his five innings of work.

It was an assessment he didn’t necessarily agree with.

“I did exactly what I wanted to do,” said Masterson, who picked up the loss after allowing two runs on seven hits.

He also walked a batter, hit another, and threw a wild pitch.

“I actually felt pretty good out there. I gave up seven hits or something like that, but four or five of those never left the infield. Every hit was at least a ground ball, and that’s exactly what I want to do,” said Masterson, who got 10 of his 15 outs on the ground.

Noah Hall, who started the season with the independent Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League, found his way back into the starting lineup after a long stretch on the bench late in the season, and provided a key run scoring single in the win.

“It feels good,” Hall said.

“This season has really worked out well. Having done well in my short time playing, maybe I’ll get another opportunity next year.”

In Game 2, Horne and Sea Dogs knuckleballer Charlie Zink matched each other frame for frame, with the Thunder ace carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and Zink giving Portland seven strong innings of his own.

The contest lasted over four hours, with Portland scoring the eventual game-winning run on a wild play to give them the 3-2 win.

With two outs in the 13th Inning and a runner at first Base, Portland right fielder Jay Johnson singled to give the Sea Dogs runners on the corners. Andrew Pinckney then hit a ball off the glove of the diving first baseman, Cody Ehlers. The ball deflected back to the pitcher, Kevin Whelan, who flipped the ball back to Ehlers, who dropped it, allowing the runner on third to score.

The Thunder’s first playoff series victory helped get rid of the bitter taste left in the mouths of Trenton fans after the past two seasons, as they’d lost to the Sea Dogs in the first round of the playoffs in 2005 and 2006.

What made that pill even more difficult to swallow was that Portland was the affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  Even at the Double-A level, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is an intense and important one.  And this time, it would be the Yankees who’d come out on top.

Recapping the Top 20 so far…

#9 – Trenton finally beats Portland in the playoffs
#10 – Shelley Duncan’s Impact With The Yankees
#11 – The emergence of Austin Jackson
#12 – Tony Franklin named Thunder manager
#13 – Matt DeSalvo’s MLB debut
#14 – Phil Hughes rehab appearance
#15 – Tyler Clippard’s MLB debut
#16 – Brett Smith’s no-hitter
#17 – Chase Wright’s MLB debut
#18 – Chase Wright’s opening night start
#19 – Paul Lo Duca and Endy Chavez rehab in Trenton
#20 – Jeff Karstens rehab appearance

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com