Posts Tagged ‘Ian Kennedy’

Alumni Sundays: Catching Up With Ian Kennedy…

April 6, 2008

Every Sunday, I’m going to try to have some quotes from a player from Thunder past.  Today, it’s Ian Kennedy…

I was fortunate enough to be in the Yankees clubhouse a few days ago, and I had a few goals in mind.  One was to stick around for Phil Hughes start — I’d never seen him pitch in the big leagues, and it takes me around three hours to get back home with the subway and trains and the drive home.

The second goal was to talk David Eckstein.  Eck may have the most impressive individual hardware of any Thunder alum — a World Series MVP trophy.

But the third was to speak to Ian Kennedy, and he was gracious enough to give me about five minutes of his time before Thursday’s game against Toronto.

TT – You may not have been in Trenton too long, but you’re probably one of the most well known and successful alums the team has ever had.  What has the ride been like for you since you left Trenton?

IK – “It’s been amazing.  It sounds cliche, but it’s like a dream come true.  You can’t write it up any better, within a full season, I’m here.  It’s everything you read about and you hear about.  The big leagues are awesome.”

TT – I remember when we talked last year you told me that you had just hoped to finish last season in Double-A.  The Yankees had a need for starting pitching, this is the last year of Yankee Stadium, it really seems like perfect timing for you…

IK – “Oh yeah, it couldn’t have gone any better.  Like I said earlier, I just hoped to be in Trenton.  Then I ended up in Scranton, then I ended up out here.  It’s been a really fun ride, and obviously it’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

TT – Everybody talks about the so-called big three with you, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.  What’s it like to have those guys in here with you after coming up through the minors with them…

IK – “It’s great to get to hang out with these guys.  We’re all friends, and we’re all about the same age, so it makes it really fun.  But also, this whole clubhouse is really fun to be in.  You can tell just by being in here, it’s very lively.  And it helps having Joe (Girardi) and Dave Eiland out here too.”

TT – You mentioned Joe Girardi…was there any sort of adjustment for you from pitching under Joe Torre to Girardi, or were you not even really there long enough last year for there to even be an adjustment?

IK – “I wasn’t really here long enough to make that adjustment.  But you can tell there’s a little jumpstart.  Mike Mussina and our veterans, like Andy, they’re a little more peppy all the time.  So it’s been good.”

TT -Having guys like Mike and Andy around must be great…would you say there’s a particular pitcher that you’ve learned the most from while you’ve been up here?

IK – “I’ve probably learned quite a bit from Andy, even though he’s left-handed.  I feel like I can ask him anything.  Just with how to prepare is what I like to ask him.  With pitching and stuff, I haven’t really got to.  I’ve asked Mike too, but nothing really in-depth.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Trenton’s Big Three Sent Down, Other Notes…

March 10, 2008

The Yankees have their big three: Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

But last season, Trenton’s talented trio of Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne and Chase Wright anchored the team’s rotation and led them to their first Eastern League championship in the team’s 14-year history. 

This year?  They all got a look in big league camp, and Peter Abraham reports that all three got sent down together.  All three appear likely to anchor another rotation, this time in Triple-A Scranton.  Maybe one of them will pitch an inning or two in the April 1st exhibition game…

Abraham also reports that Francisco Cervelli will be out 8-10 weeks.  8-10 weeks!  That would have him out until some point in May.  Not good for the Thunder fans hoping for their first big name catcher since Dioner Navarro.

If you’re a fan of checking out other team’s prospects, however, Baseball America has some good news for you.  BA’s top Toronto Blue Jays prospect, Travis Snider, appears to be headed straight to Double-A New Hampshire. 

“It’s almost completely decided that he’s going there,” Blue Jays farm director Dick Scott told the publication.

How will you know which guy to look for?  At 5′ 11″, 245 pounds, he’ll be the guy who looks like a house in a baseball uniform.

The BA Prospect Handbook says some scouts considered him the best hitter in the ’06 draft — he went 14th overall and signed for $1.7 million — and that he’s “extremely advanced for a young hitter.”

His career numbers are pretty mind-boggling.  In two seasons, he’s a career .316 hitter with 27 home runs and 134 RBI.  He won the Appalachian League MVP in his first pro season in 2006, too.

He can hit for average and for power?  Yikes.  Snider is certainly someone to keep an eye on when the Fisher Cats come to Waterfront Park on May 16th.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder alums win Kevin Lawn Awards

March 8, 2008

This release straight from the Yankees…

YANKEES NAME OUTFIELDER AUSTIN JACKSON AND RHP IAN KENNEDY WINNERS OF THE 2007 KEVIN LAWN “PLAYER OF THE YEAR” AND PITCHER OF THE YEAR” AWARDS

The New York Yankees announced today that outfielder Austin Jackson and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy were named winners of the Yankees’ 2007 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year.” The two players will receive their awards prior to the Yankees game on Saturday, March 8 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays.

The annual awards are dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn, the son of long-time Yankees Vice President and Chief of Operations Jack Lawn, who passed away in 1999. A complete list of past award winners can be found on page 170 of the Yankees’ 2008 Media Guide.

Jackson, 21, combined to bat .304 (151-for-496) with 88R, 21 doubles, 7 triples, 13HR, 59RBI and 33 stolen bases in 128 games at Single-A Charleston, Single-A Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2007. In January, Baseball America ranked the outfielder the No. 2 prospect–and top position player–in the Yankees organization. He was tied for fourth overall in the organization in stolen bases and led Tampa with 10HR. Jackson also appeared in the playoffs with the Eastern League-champion Trenton Thunder, going 7-for-35 (.200) with one double and 4RBI in eight games. Following the season, he participated in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League, batting .271 (36-for-133) with 25R and 22RBI in 39 games with the Honolulu Sharks. Jackson reached base safely in 33 games, including a league-high 24 consecutive contests from 10/6-11/9. He tied for the league lead in runs and triples (5), ranked second in extra-base hits (18), tied for third in doubles (10) and stolen bases (8), and ranked fourth in RBI. He was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Kennedy, 23, saw action at four different levels in 2007 in his first full professional season. In 26 combined games (25 starts) with Single-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he went 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 146.2IP, ranking second among Yankees minor leaguers in both ERA and strikeouts. He also held opponents to a .182 batting average, the second-lowest mark among full-season minor leaguers. He was named to Baseball America’s 2007 All-Minor League All-Star team and was tabbed by the publication as the organization’s fourth-best prospect entering the 2008 season. Following a call-up on 9/1, Kennedy went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts with the Yankees in his Major League debut. Overall, in 29 combined starts in 2007 (minors and Majors), Kennedy held opponents to 3ER or less in all but one start. He was selected by the Yankees in the first round (21st overall) of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

Each player will be presented with a trophy designed by C & C Awards as well as a Burberry watch, courtesy of William Barthman Jewelers.

Yankees lose to Twins, 7-5

March 5, 2008

The Yankees lost to Minnesota, 7-5, today.  Not a real great pitching performance from anyone involved, but Edwar Ramirez in particular struggled.  I did some sporadic live updates throughout the game, sooooo…

For those unfortunate souls (such as myself) who don’t get the YES Network (I suppose that would make it the No Network) the Yankees are playing the Twins right now on ESPN.

Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are the Thunder alums currently in the field, while Ian Kennedy got the start for the Yankees.

Kennedy’s final line: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K

Heath Phillips came in for the third…

The game is in the fourth inning now, and Joba Chamberlain is in.  This should be good.

Well, maybe not.  Garrett Jones just hit an absolute bomb off of Chamberlain in the fifth, and Joba just drilled the next batter on the first pitch.  Uh-oh.

Jonathan Albaladejo in for Joba.  Not a stellar outing for either Kennedy or Chamberlain.

Shelley Duncan now in the game.  Score remains 4-3 Yankees.

Seventh inning, game now 4-4.  Albaladejo out, Edwar Ramirez is in.  With a runner on, he got the strikeout and got out of the jam.  He’ll probably start the season in Scranton, but he did well for himself in this particular spot.

It’s in the eighth, and Edwar has nailed a batter as well and threw his next pitch high and in to the following Twins hitter.

Just kind of waiting for one of Minnesota’s guys to nail a Yankee at this point…

Twins take a 6-4 lead in the 8th.  Edwar got into a jam, and couldn’t get himself out of it.  He gave up a bases loaded double, and there’s still two on with only one out.

Colin Curtis just made a dazzling, diving play in left field to bail out Ramirez to an extent.  It’s 7-4 now after the sac fly, and with two outs, that’s it for Ramirez.  Definitely not the outing he wanted…he’s given up three runs, and the runner on second is his.

Chris Britton’s been in since, Ross Ohlendorf’s now on the mound.

Shelley Duncan just crushed a ball over the left field fence, and the Yankees trail 7-5 in the 9th.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Before Ian was Ian…

February 20, 2008

Extensive and Exclusive Interview with Ian Kennedy, June 2007

On the heels of my Joba Chamberlain chat from last year, I figured it would be a good time to post my lengthy interview with Ian Kennedy as well.

Thunder fans were very fortunate to have Chamberlain and Kennedy on the same staff at the same time, and perhaps the media was just as lucky as well…the stories seemed to write themselves with last year’s pitching staff.

In any event, here’s the transcript from my interview with Kennedy, which took place outside the Thunder clubhouse in mid-June.  As with the Chamberlain post from a few days back, this interview has never seen the light of day, and only small portions have been used in the paper.

Note: You might notice that a lot of the questions I asked Kennedy are similar to what I asked Chamberlain.  I originally had planned on writing a single feature on both of them, and was trying to go for the same kind of questions.  When you write for a weekly, you really have to plan out your space very carefully…but I eventually decided to do two separate features.

Ashmore: The Yankees drafted you 21st overall just a year ago.  Take me back to draft day, what was that like for you?

Kennedy: I guess it was kind of nerveracking, because I had to wake up and wait by the computer and see where I’d go.  There were some teams that were interested.  I actually didn’t even hear my name get picked.  I got a phone call before that — my college pitching coach, Dave Lawn, called me and said congratulations.  And that was weird, because the computer was only on 17, so there were still a few more to go.  He called me and said ‘congratulations on the Yankees taking you,’ and I was like ‘what?’

We didn’t look at the draft tracker, but that was going faster than the actual broadcasting was.  So I heard it, and I talked to the area scout, Bill Mele, and then my agent called me and told me everything and congratulated me and all that stuff.  So it was kind of an exciting morning.

Ashmore: You mentioned some teams who picked before the Yankees were interested in you.  Did you get drafted where you were expecting to go?

Kennedy: Actually, from the night before, the Yankees sounded more interested than all the other teams.  I was still trying to figure out where I was going to go and all that stuff, but it ended up being the Yankees at 21.

Ashmore: The Yankees gave you a $2.25 million bonus as their first round pick.  What’s it like going from a college kid with not a lot of money to someone who’s got seven figures in their bank account?

Kennedy: It didn’t really change much at all.  I think of it as God’s money, and He gave me all this talent in order to get that.  I didn’t really do too much with it.  I got a house that I had to pay my parents for.  But I basically put it all in investments.  I’ve got to live off some of it, but a lot of it is in investments.

Ashmore: I’m sure a lot of people think of USC as a football school with their recent success, but they’ve also got a legendary baseball program as well.  You emerged as an ace there and took over for Anthony Reyes, who went on to the big leagues.  Take me through what that experience was like…

Kennedy: I had big shoes to fill.  The year before, they didn’t have a lot of pitching and they had a lot of openings on the weekends because people were hurt, people failed out of school.  I was a freshman, and the year before I got there, they weren’t doing very well.  I think they finished below .500 for the first time in 10 years.  Then I went out there and I actually beat out a sophomore for Friday night pitching.  That was kind of cool, I got to pitch against Jered Weaver for my first start, which was really cool.  I was just hoping to get a no-decision out of it. 

Pitching there, it’s like pitching for the Yankees.  They’ve won more college championships than any other school, and a lot of big names came from there — the latest one was Mark Prior.  Hopefully he does something soon.

Ashmore: I’m not too familiar with the college game myself, and I think there are a lot of fans who might be in that same boat.  You talked about getting to pitch on Friday nights…can you talk about the significance of that?

Kennedy: Usually, Friday’s are where they put out their best starter.  Then Saturday is the next best.  Traditionally on Sundays, it’s a good, talented freshman that would pitch.  I pitched on Friday’s, so that was kind of a big thing for a freshman to do that.  Randy Flores, he pitched for the Cardinals…actually (current Thunder catcher) Jason Brown played with him, he was the last freshman pitcher to do that.  He pitched on Friday’s through his whole career there.  I was lucky enough to do that.  But I also came at a bad time for USC.  But Friday’s are traditionally where you want to get that first one out of the way.  If you win on Saturday, then you can get a sweep if you have a good enough rotation.  But Friday’s the most important day I think.

Ashmore: You look at all these guys who’ve gotten an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues this season: Phil Hughes, Matt DeSalvo, Tyler Clippard, Chase Wright.  Do you think that’s allowed you to fly under the radar this season, or do you think that’s kind of intensified the pressure on you?

Kennedy: I don’t know, I just look at that as it’s good for our organization to do that.  As a young guy, if you get drafted by a team, you want to be on that big league team.  You want to make your way up there, you don’t want to get traded unless you don’t like the organization.  But I like the Yankees organization, and of course I want to be a big league Yankee.  But I don’t really know if I’m flying under the radar.  I don’t really pay attention to that, if I am or if I’m not.  But there’s so many guys going up and down almost every other day, I guess it does make it look like Joba and I are under the radar.

Ashmore: Are you where you thought you would be at this point in the season?  Did you think you’d be in Double-A this early in the season?  Did you think you would be here earlier?

Kennedy: No, I kind of expected to be in Tampa.  I didn’t know, all I wanted to do was pitch well.  I knew that I couldn’t determine where, or if I got moved up fast.  The opening up here, Chase Wright got called up to the big leagues, so that spot opened up quick and it stayed open until I came in.  I really didn’t even look at that, I just wanted to do well wherever I was.  I wanted to do well in Tampa and hopefully be here by the end of the season, that’s what my goal was.  Here I am.

Ashmore: For someone who hasn’t seen you pitch before, give me an idea of what you throw…

Kennedy: Fastball, changeup, slider, curveball.  I command all my pitches a lot of like Clippard does.  That’s who they compare me to.  Fastball command is the most important thing.  I think if you do that, you can pitch anywhere.  I can throw it about 89-91, but I like to outthink the hitters and that’s about it.  If he expects something else, hopefully he gets fooled on something else.  If he expects a fastball, I’ll throw a changeup.  Basically, keep everything at the same arm speed to throw off their balance.

Ashmore: It seems like you’ve made the adjustment from Single-A to Double-A quite nicely…but still, how big of an adjustment is that?

Kennedy: I honestly haven’t noticed that much of a difference.  You still have to go after hitters, you can’t be afraid, you can’t be timid.  There’s a couple guys in the lineup that you have to look out for here compared to High-A.  There might be one or two guys down there, and up here there might be three or four.  But you still have to go after them, I haven’t noticed much of a difference.  I think in my first start, I was kind of timid.  But after I watched a few games, I realized I’ve just got to do the same things I’ve always been doing.  My second outing was a lot better, and hopefully from here on out I’ll keep doing well.

Ashmore: Everybody likes to project when prospects are going to make their big league debut.  Do you have sort of timeline when it comes to when you think you’ll be making your Major League debut?

Kennedy: All I can do is keep doing well.  If I keep doing well, everything looks really good.  Things can change where you can’t think about injuries, or if you’re not having success.  But if I keep having success, this fast track seems pretty nice.  But I don’t know, I can’t really determine that.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Looking Back: The 2007 Top 30…

January 31, 2008

OK, so we’re obviously not looking that far back here.  Today, I’ll be taking a look back at Baseball America’s Top 30 Prospects from the 2007 season.  Apparently, it wasn’t a bad year to be in the Yankees farm system, as this seemed to be the first season where…gasp, they actually gave their minor leaguers a legitimate opportunity.  In fact, six of the 30 players on this list made their big league debuts with the Yankees last year.

Make sure you also check out my looks back from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 lists.

1. Phil Hughes, P

Anyone wondering how highly regarded Hughes was before the start of the 2007 season needed to only look at the cover of the Prospect Handbook.  Hughes’ picture, taken by Thunder team photographer Dave Schofield, graced the front of the annual publication.

Hughes made his highly anticipated MLB debut about a month into the season, and had a no-hitter going deep into his second game before injuring his hamstring.  That and a subsequent ankle injury derailed his season for a few months, but after a few rehab appearances back in Waterfront Park, Hughes was good as new and ready to show the world what he can do for 2008.

And, on a side note, he really is as good of a guy as he seems.  Always incredibly giving of his time, not only during the 2006 season with Trenton, but also in the Yankees clubhouse as well. 

2. Jose Tabata, OF

Tabata did very little to hurt himself last season, spending all of last year in the Florida State League with Tampa.  He hit .307 with 5 home runs and 54 RBI, and helped lead the team to an impressive 83-56 record.

However, he still hasn’t developed a lot of power, and only had 23 extra-base hits last season.  One of the more intriguing stories of 2008 might just be Tabata’s adjustment to Eastern League pitching, and if he can increase both his home run and walk totals.

3. Humberto Sanchez, P

With the Yankees being shut out of the Johan Santana sweepstakes, some people might forget that they were victorious in the “getting rid of their aging outfielder for prospects” contest last season.  Sanchez was the key player in the Gary Sheffield deal that sent him to the Yankees along with Kevin Whelan and the essentially forgotten Anthony Claggett.

The problem with all that is that Sanchez hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the Yankees on any level, out for all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  During the parts of three seasons he spent on the hill for the Erie Seawolves, he’s never faced the Trenton Thunder.  However, it’s very possible that his rehab tour will take him to Waterfront Park at some point in 2008.

4. Dellin Betances, P

Betances is listed anywhere between 6′ 7″ and 6′ 9″, but the more important numbers would involve how many starts he’s made over the past two seasons: 13.

The lanky New York native made just six appearances last season for Staten Island, battling a forearm injury that shelved him for the majority of the year.  He’s been impressive when he’s been out there, but he needs to be healthy for all of 2008 to shake any sort of “injury prone” label.

5. Joba Chamberlain, P

What else is there to say about Joba Chamberlain?  He sailed through three levels of the minors, Trenton included, to make a huge impact on the Yankees out of the bullpen following his early August call-up.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t even hear himself get drafted.

“I stopped watching the draft in the middle of the first round,” Chamberlain told me in June.

“I started playing with my son upstairs, but then I got a bunch of calls from my teammates and friends saying that I’d been picked at 41 by the Yankees. It couldn’t have happened with a better organization, so I was pretty lucky to get picked there.”

The same enthusiasm that endeared him to fans in the Bronx was also very evident even in Trenton.

“I’m going to give you 110 percent every time I go out there,” he said.

“I’m going to be excited out there, I’m going to show emotion out there. I want to keep my teammates involved and keep everyone in the game.”

I wrote a column about a week before his big league call-up saying how the Yankees were rushing him, and how people were expecting too much out of him and so on. I obviously now look like an idiot.

6. Ian Kennedy, P

Ian Kennedy / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Kennedy was another pitcher who sailed through the various levels of the minors relatively quickly.  He made the same three stops Chamberlain did — Tampa, Trenton and Scranton — but he stayed in each a little longer.

He goes after hitters with a repertoire that includes a fastball that sat at 88 MPH in his Thunder debut, a sinking changeup, a slider and a curveball.

“I command my pitches a lot like (Tyler) Clippard does, that’s who a lot of people compare me to,” Kennedy told me in June.

But Kennedy rocketed past Clippard in the system, to the point where Clippard was sent down to Trenton to make room for Kennedy, who was on his way up to Scranton.

7. Tyler Clippard, P

Clippard told me in September that he felt like his 2007 season was a mixed bag, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.  Sure, he made his Major League debut and ended up going 3-1 in six starts for the Yankees, but he also went all the way back down to Trenton and didn’t really pitch all that well in the process.

Following the season, he was shipped to the Nationals for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, and many people think he could figure prominently in the mix for a spot in Washington’s starting rotation.

8. J. Brent Cox, P

Like Humberto Sanchez, Cox has not pitched since late in the 2006 season.  But what might be more frustrating than anything else for the Yankees is that the former Texas Longhorn actually injured himself pitching for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which they perhaps foolishly allowed him to pitch in during the Thunder’s 2006 playoff push.

What’s worse is that Cox was well on his way to becoming a prime candidate for the Yankees bullpen at some point in 2007, but instead finds himself thrown into a category with other rehabbing Bronx prospects.

9. Kevin Whelan, P

Kevin Whelan / Photo by Mike Ashmore

At the start of the season, Whelan was the highest ranked Yankees prospect in Trenton.  Accordingly, I made him the subject of one of my first features.  I’d post the audio if it weren’t for the numerous f-bombs I dropped in it, but Whelan very narrowly avoided injury during our first chat in the home dugout, thanks to a stray BP ball that rocketed off the dugout wall between both of our heads.

That was an odd situation, and it was an odd year for Whelan.  The numbers look good, but his walk totals were a bit of a concern, and he was inexplicably sent down to Tampa to start in the middle of the year before being sent back up as a reliever.

10. Brett Gardner, OF

Gardner spent the first half of 2007 in Trenton, hitting .300 in 54 games with the Thunder.  However, the power that everyone hoped he’d develop didn’t appear, and he didn’t hit a single home run and drove in just 17 runs.  Since his five home runs with Staten Island in 2005, he’s hit just one since.

11. Marcos Vechionacci, 3B

Vechionacci was called up to Trenton just in time for the postseason, and he hit .242 with two RBI in eight postseason contests.  He spent the majority of the season in Tampa, however, where he hit .266 with two home runs and 39 RBI.

12. Jeff Marquez, P

Marquez did a lot to improve his status in the Yankees organization in 2007, posting a league leading 15 wins while with the Trenton Thunder.  It looks like he’ll be joining the Scranton rotation for 2008, and could be a candidate to make the jump to the Bronx at some point in the year.

13. Eric Duncan, 1B/3B

Duncan hasn’t excelled as people hoped he might, struggling for a good part of last season with the Triple-A Scranton Yankees.  He hit .241 with 11 home runs 61 RBI in 111 games, although he did continue his trend of keeping his strikeout totals much lower than the career high of 136 he set while with the Thunder in 2005.

14. Chris Garcia, P

Garcia did not pitch in 2007 due to an injury suffered while in the Hawaii Winter League.  Once compared to Phil Hughes, Garcia now needs a big 2008 to even be in the same conversation with some of the less prominent pitchers in this list.

15. Mark Melancon, P

Melancon also blew out his elbow in Hawaii, and didn’t pitch either in 2007.  So let me get this straight…Sanchez, Cox, Garcia and Melancon all didn’t pitch last season, and Betances only lasted for six games?  Yikes.

16. Alan Horne, P

Horne was probably the most consistent Thunder pitcher last season, dominating Eastern League batters to the tune of a 12-4 record, 3.11 ERA and league leading 165 strikeouts.  However, there are widespread concerns and rumblings about his control, and he still has to prove himself to some of those people while in Scranton this year.

17. Angel Reyes, P

44 walks compared to 49 strikeouts last year?  Uh-oh.  Reyes appeared in 16 games at three different stops last season, and the 20-year-old southpaw wasn’t particularly impressive at any of them. 

18. Austin Jackson, OF

The numbers — .200, 0 HR, 4 RBI — don’t necessarily tell the true impact that Austin Jackson had on the Trenton Thunder’s postseason run.  He made several impressive and clutch throws that showed why this guy is considered to be one of the best, if not the best athlete in the entire system.

19. Chase Wright, P

Outside of the getting traded part, you could pretty much write the same paragraph about Chase Wright as the one above about Tyler Clippard.  Wright received national attention in his second big league start after getting rocked by the Red Sox for four consecutive home runs.  But that was after he made an impressive jump to the Yankees right from Trenton, a place he would unfortunately be sent back down to after the Yankees needed to make room for Kennedy and Chamberlain in Scranton.

20. George Kontos, P

Kontos has been picking up a lot of steam as someone to keep an eye on in the Yankees farm system as of late, and may be one of the more polarizing pitchers in the organization.  With Tampa in 2007, he went 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA.  His 15 home runs allowed were the fourth highest in the FSL last year as well.

21. Jesus Montero, C

After an overall lack of catching depth in the system for the past few years, it seems the Yankees have made great strides in that department with both Francisco Cervelli and Montero.  Just 18 years old, he made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last year, hitting .280 with three home runs and 19 RBI.

22. Steven White, P

In a year where it seemed like everyone was getting a shot in the Yankees starting rotation, Steven White’s 6-4 record and 3.34 ERA apparently weren’t good enough.  He doesn’t have outstanding stuff, but he deserved a shot in the show just as much as nearly anyone else who got one last year did.

23. T.J. Beam, P

After struggling in an extended look in the big leagues in 2006, Beam spent all of 2007 in Triple-A Scranton.  He did all right, but also did little to distinguish himself from the other relievers in the system.  He’s since signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

24. Zach McAllister, P

Zach McAllister / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007) / Taken in Brooklyn, NY

McAllister went 4-6 with a 5.17 ERA in 16 appearances for Staten Island of the New York-Penn League last season.  I was fortunate enough to see one of his starts in Brooklyn, and it seemed to be a microcosm of his season.  The numbers were pretty good, and I thought he showed some flashes of what he could do, but it was a pretty inconsistent start.

25. Colin Curtis, OF

If I were to entirely base my assessment of Curtis on games I saw him play last year, it might not be so great.  After all, he was 9-for-58 in games I covered.  But his overall numbers were solid, and I saw enough to where I’ll give him a pass.  I think that with a full year in Trenton and some experience against Double-A pitching, he could be somewhat of a sleeper this year.

26. Jeff Karstens, P

Karstens has become somewhat of an afterthought in the system.  He ended up in the Yankees rotation early last season, but broke his leg and never really factored in the discussion after that.

27. Josue Calzado, OF

Calzado hit .271 with nine home runs and 55 RBI at Single-A Charleston last year, showing his first real consistent burst of power.

28. Bronson Sardinha, OF

Seriously, Sardinha must have set some sort of record for most years spent in the Prospect Handbook with the same organization.

29. Tim Norton, P

Norton came out of nowhere to light up the NYPL with Staten Island in 2006, but lasted all of five starts with Charleston in 2007 before going down with a shoulder injury.  Any pitcher in this system simply cannot afford an injury, but a guy who turns 25 in May that the team has very little money in has even less margin for error.

30. Daniel McCutchen, P

Daniel McCutchen / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Do you remember when the only time people talked about Tyler Clippard, it was to discuss him being kicked off his high school team for a drinking and driving incident?  Well, there was also a time when McCutchen was known as the guy who tested positive for ephedra in 2006.

His 2007 season went a long way towards him removing that label, and the Yankees agreed, going as far as to include him as a part of their developmental program at Yankee Stadium. 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

How they did in Trenton, ’06 Humber Interview

January 29, 2008

Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey / Photos by Mike Ashmore

To me, one of the most fascinating things of a trade such as the one that has tentatively sent Johan Santana to the Mets for four prospects is hearing baseball personalities and writers go into great detail about the minor leaguers involved.  The problem with that is that a lot of these guys have never seen any of them play.

But if you regularly attend games at Waterfront Park, as I know many of you reading this do, you got to see three of the four players the Twins will be getting; Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez and Philip Humber.  The other, Deolis Guerra, is likely to appear at some point with New Britain this season.

Mulvey was the only one who set foot in Mercer County in 2007.  He faced the Thunder three times last season, all of which came in Waterfront Park.  In fact, if Mulvey ever makes it big, you might have been fortunate enough to say you saw his last Double-A start, which came on August 26th.

He faced Alan Horne that day, and struck out 10 batters in six innings of work without factoring into the decision.

His first appearance in Trenton was on April 19th, where he earned the first of his 11 wins on the year.  He went just five innings, but allowed only two runs on four hits.

His other stint on the bump in Waterfront Park was a memorable one, as his June 5th start saw him opposed by Ian Kennedy, who was making his Double-A debut.

Neither hurler pitched particularly well, and Mulvey came out on the losing end after allowing six runs in four and a third innings.  He also set a season high with five walks.

Thunder fans got to see plenty of Carlos Gomez, as he manned center field 11 times in Waterfront Park during the 2006 season.

He made his Waterfront Park debut on May 26th, and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base.

Overall, Gomez was 16-for-39 (.410) in his 11 contests in Trenton, hitting one home run and driving in three runs.

Phil Humber has made just seven starts at the Double-A level in his career, including six in 2006.  Thunder fans were lucky enough to witness one of them, which occured on August 10th, 2006.  Making just his second Double-A start of the season, Humber put together his best outing of the season to date, scattering six hits and striking out seven in a season high seven innings fo work.

But he was outdueled by Jason Jones, and Humber would pick up his first loss of his 2006 campaign in Binghamton.

On the basis of Humber being a former Yankees draft pick — and me finally having somewhere I can use this interview — here’s my complete August 2006 chat with Humber, which includes him discussing why he never signed with the Yankees.

Ashmore: The Mets picked you third overall in the first round of the 2004 draft. Take me back to draft day, what was your experience like?

Humber: It was a lot of fun, man. Actually, we were probably coming off of the lowest moment in my college career, we got beaten out of the regional. I gave up a grand slam in the eighth inning, and we ended up losing the game. I was down going into the game, but getting picked third by the Mets is a pretty good pick me up. My whole family was there, and it was a lot of fun, an incredible moment.

Ashmore: Your Rice teammates, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend, also got picked in the first round that year. Have you thought about the significance of “The Big Three” getting picked together like that?

Humber: It was really cool to play with those guys all three years I was there. We became really close by playing with each other and pushing each other. There was a lot of competition, because we all wanted to be the best, and that brought out the best in all three of us. We were all excited for each other when we got picked in the first round. That’s something that will probably hit home more when our careers are done. We’ll look back, and that’s something that’s only happened one time before, and never actually that high in the draft. But it was really cool and that’s something we’ll always be connected by.

Ashmore: You signed for $3.7 million, far more money than I’m ever going to see. What was the first thing you did with the check?

Humber: I put most of it into investments, and then I picked out a car that I wanted and I bought that. I got a Yukon Denali. It’s not too flashy, but it’s very comfortable. I like it, it’s worked out good. I actually just bought a town home in Texas, so that’s really the only two big purchases I’ve made so far.

Ashmore: Do your teammates ever give you an earful about signing for that much money?

Humber: You know, they’ll rib me every once in a while about being a first rounder and stuff like that, but it’s all in fun.

Ashmore: The Yankees picked you in the 29th round in 2001. Was there ever any thought put into pursuing that?

Humber: At the time, I’d signed with a junior college out of high school. They picked me thinking I was going to go to junior college, and they’d have a chance to follow me and maybe sign me after that. I ended up having a really good summer after my senior year of high school, and they wanted to sign me before I went to Rice. But I had it in my mind that that’s where I wanted to go. I thought I could improve my position in the draft, and three years later it worked out that way. It would have been nice to be with the Yankees, but I’m happy with the Mets.

Ashmore: You were on the mound for the decisive game of the 2003 College World Series, which your Rice team won. Tell me about what it was like to be such a big part of winning the College World Series…

Humber: I pitched a complete game in the championship game, and that’s probably the biggest thing I got out of going to Rice. All three years were fun, but that was just a really special season and a really special team; a lot of guys that played together for a while. That’s something I’ll never forget, actually getting a chance to pitch in the championship game was the biggest thrill of my baseball career. That was awesome.

Ashmore: Another thrill for you must have been pitching in Spring Training with the Mets last year, where you got into one game and pitched two innings. What was your first Spring Training like?

Humber: I don’t remember many names, I wasn’t paying attention to who was batting. It was late in the game, and it was against the Nationals. I don’t think there were any Major League regulars in the game at that time. It was still cool to get on the field with the Mets regulars that are up there now and get a chance to show what I can do. Especially with that being my first glimpse of pro ball in a big league environment, it was really neat. It was fun to get out there and not give up any runs or do anything real stupid.

Ashmore: Did you seek out anyone in particular when you were up there? Guys like Pedro, Glavine…

Humber: Coming in and not even having thrown a pitch in pro ball, I didn’t really feel comfortable going up to a lot of people, I just kind of kept my mouth shut. With a lot of them, they’d come up to you and give you advice, they were real friendly. Especially Pedro, he offered some advice on my changeup and a lot of different things, like being confident with my pitches and knowing that you can get big league hitters out. It’s a great atmosphere up there, those guys were real cool.

Ashmore: 2005 wasn’t all great for you, as you ended up having Tommy John Surgery and are only now starting to come back from that. Take me through what that put you through and what you had to do to get back…

Humber: Well, that season was tough because I’d taken six or seven months off from baseball because of the holdout. I came in feeling real strong, I was in shape. But I think as the season went on, my arm began to wear down. I’ve pitched for a long time, so I’ve pitched with pain before, but the pain got pretty much unbearable to where it was affecting the way I was pitching. I came up (to Binghamton) for one start, and I couldn’t take it anymore so they took me out. (I went to some) doctors and got several opinions and found out I needed Tommy John, so I went ahead and had that. Thankfully, there’s a procedure to fix that and it’s pretty successful, so I had that. I was never really scared or worried that I was never going to pitch again. I had faith in the doctors, and it was easier knowing that a lot of people had it and came back successfully. I had faith in God throughout the whole thing, and so far I haven’t really had any setbacks, so it’s been good.

Ashmore: Baseball America had you ranked as the number three prospect in the Mets organization coming into this season. Do you put any stock into something like that?

Humber: No, I really don’t pay attention to much of that stuff. I’ve seen too many guys get hyped up and not really pan out, and then I’ve seen a lot of guys not get hyped at all and become really good Major Leaguers. That’s really for the fans, and for them to have fun with. It’s nice for that to be said, but I want to be the best.

Ashmore: Mike Pelfrey, who was the number one pick of the Mets in 2005, recently got called up to the big leagues. I heard you guys are pretty tight…

Humber: We keep in touch. Coming in, we had a similar background. Both first round picks, both coming out of good college programs, and both right handed pitchers. We had a lot in common, and during Spring Training this past year, we got pretty close. I went through with him what I’d went through, and I told him not to go down the same path, because I ended up getting surgery. But I was real excited for him earlier when he got called up. I tried to watch all the games that I could, and I kept in touch with him as much as I could. I was real excited, because him and Henry Owens I’m real close with. Those guys being in the big leagues was fun for me too.

Ashmore: You started the year in St. Lucie, and you did really well in your first action since your surgery. Were you almost surprised at how well you did?

Humber: I wasn’t really focused on the results. I had a couple of rough outings, I knew my command wasn’t going to be there when I first started out, and it’s still not where I want it to be. But I was fortunate in my last four or five times out there, I was making really good pitches and my stuff was pretty much back. My arm strength was there, so when I make the pitches I wanna make, I’m going to be tough out there. And that’s what I’ve been working on; there with Ricky Bones and here with Mark Brewer, just being more consistent with my pitches. That’s something that everyone coming off of major surgery has to deal with. Hopefully, every single start, I’ll be as consistent as I want to be.

Ashmore: As you mentioned, two of your close friends, Mike Pelfrey and Henry Owens, got to the big leagues this season. When’s it going to be your turn?

Humber: I don’t know man, that’s in God’s hands. All I can do is go out and work every day as hard as I can. The most important thing to me is to mentally focus on the right things, and right now I think I’m in a good place as far as that goes. Whenever there’s an opportunity, I want to be ready for that and hopefully take advantage of it.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #15

January 24, 2008

Tyler Clippard / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Moment #15 – Tyler Clippard’s MLB Debut
May 20, 2007
Flushing, NY

This probably could have been a little higher on the list, but I think a lot of people had expectations that Clippard would make his debut at some point during the 2007 season.

But wow, what a debut it was.

Good news, kid…you’re going to the big leagues.  The bad news?  We’re going to throw you right into the Subway Series against the Mets at Shea, and oh by the way…the game is on national TV.  Good luck.

That was pretty much the scenario for Clippard, where he faced the potent New York Mets on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball on May 20th.

A second inning home run by David Wright was essentially the only blemish on Clippard’s slate, but he retaliated with a long double of his own in the sixth. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve swung it, so that was definitely a bonus,” Clippard joked.

As for the pitching line, it was pretty impressive: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB and 6 K.

“It was fun, it was a pretty good experience,” Clippard said in July.

“It was good to experience (the big leagues) and get that under my belt so I’m prepared for the next time that happens.”

Clippard spent the entire 2006 season with the Thunder, and did quite a bit to catapult himself — at the very least — into the discussion about the Yankees top pitching prospects.  His funky motion always stood out in Trenton, but his numbers always made his strongest statement, specifically his strikeout total.

The Yankee Clippard rebounded from a so-so first half to post a 12-10 record and 3.35 ERA in 28 starts for the Thunder, including a no-hitter that earned him his own bobblehead during the 2007 season.  His 175 strikeouts were not only a career high, but also led the Eastern League.

Things were looking good for Clippard going into the 2007 season, and his dreams were quickly realized after the quick call-up to the Yankees.  But after getting sent back down, Clippard was victimized by a numbers game — namely that Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain needed to go up a level — and he eventually went all the way back down to Trenton.

“It’s not something I wanted to happen, I definitely didn’t see this coming at all,” Clippard told me upon his return.

“I don’t have any control over these things, so I just have to make the best of it.”

When pressed for a reason for being sent down, he wasn’t entirely sure.

“I wasn’t throwing like I know I can, but I didn’t feel like I was doing terribly,” he said.

“It’s tough for me to say that I was going through a rough patch, but I wasn’t pitching to what I was capable of, I guess is the best way to put it. So now I’m here.”

Clippard certainly made the most of his time in Trenton, although the numbers might not show it.  He couldn’t quite regain his consistency, and after getting the nod for Game 2 in the 2006 Eastern League Division Series, he was skipped entirely in the first round of the playoffs in 2007.

But manager Tony Franklin had the confidence to give him the ball for the first game of the Championship Series.

“Everyone was asking why Clippard is going in this game,” said Franklin after the game.

“Our feeling was that whoever we sent out there was going to do a good job, and it was his turn to pitch. Was he consistent out there throwing strikes? No, he wasn’t. Did he have his best stuff tonight? No, he didn’t. But sometimes, what it takes is just sheer determination to just pitch the game when you don’t have your best stuff, and he did that tonight.”

With his Major League debut happening at the beginning of the season, and winning an Eastern League championship happening towards the end, things weren’t so bad after all for Tyler Clippard.

Again the victim of a numbers game, Clippard was shipped to the Nationals this off-season for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, who has an outside chance to start the season in Waterfront Park himself.

Recapping the Top 20 so far…

#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 #17

January 15, 2008

Jason Varitek’s Bat In Cooperstown / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007)

Moment #17 – Chase Wright’s MLB Debut
April 17, 2007
Bronx, NY

It seemed to be a pretty common misconception in Trenton last year that Chase Wright’s Major League debut was the infamous game in Fenway Park where he gave up four consecutive home runs to the Boston Red Sox.

While it was a historic one, it certainly was not a best moment from last season.

But his actual debut, a five inning outing at Yankee Stadium against the Indians on April 17th, could certainly qualify.

After just two starts in a Thunder uniform, both at Waterfront Park, Wright was summoned to the big leagues by the Yankees after a very stunning and unexpected injury to former Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Carl Pavano.

While Wright and since-traded reliever Jeff Kennard were the only members of the Thunder on the Yankees 40-man roster at the time, the move was still somewhat unexpected since he’d be getting his chance before the likes of Phil Hughes, Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. 

Granted, Kennedy and Chamberlain were known to very few at that time, but when you consider how many rookie pitchers made an impact with the Yankees in 2007, the fact that Wright got the first shot is impressive.

Perhaps more impressive was how Wright handled himself in his debut, collecting his first big league win while allowing three runs on five hits.

“He went after people. There was a lot of quality there,” Yankees manager Joe Torre told reporters after the game.

“He has a presence about him that makes you feel pretty comfortable.”

But Wright got rocked in his next game to such an extent that the bat that Jason Varitek used to hit the fourth consecutive home run off of him currently resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

“I felt good, I felt more comfortable for that game than I did at Yankee Stadium,” Wright said after his return to Trenton.

“I just made some bad pitches, and they took advantage. But I felt fine, I felt as prepared as I could be. I was revved up as it is, it was Sunday Night Baseball versus Daisuke (Matsuzaka).”

However, Wright’s self-destruction at Fenway worked out well for the Thunder, as he was eventually sent back down to Double-A and played a large role in helping the team win their first championship.

“It’s been a wild ride, I never expected to get up to the big leagues that early,” he told me in August.

“The way I looked at it was I thought I’d be in Double-A all year. If I put up good numbers and pitched well, maybe in August I could get a chance in Scranton and then get an opportunity to go up.”

Wright did go back up in September, but went back up to the big leagues instead of Scranton. He appeared in one more game, picking up his second Major League victory in relief on September 30th against the hapless Baltimore Orioles.

What does 2008 hold for Wright?  It would seem very likely he’ll be at the top of the rotation in Triple-A Scranton, and most likely near the top of the list for another Major League call-up.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Weekend Notebook

January 12, 2008

Two more Thunder alums have been inked by Major League teams, with Seattle re-signing Chris Reitsma and Pittsburgh officially agreeing to terms with T.J. Beam.  Both are minor league deals that include Spring Training invites.

If you scroll down to the post below this one, you’ll see that former Thunder hitting coach and World Series Champion Steve Braun has weighed in with his thoughts on Thunder managers past and present.  So that’s obviously worth checking out.

Meanwhile, over at the Trenton Thunder official website, team officials have given fans the first look at the special Joba Chamberlain bobblehead that’s only available as a part of their Joba Rules ticket package.  While Joba will be a part of a special dual bobblehead with Ian Kennedy during the season, this is the only way to get an individual bobblehead of Joba from the Thunder.

For a look at the bobblehead and more details on the Joba Rules package, head on over to trentonthunder.com

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com