Posts Tagged ‘Joba Chamberlain’

Thunder Announce All 15 Year Team

April 7, 2008

C: Dioner Navarro

INF: Tony Clark, Robinson Cano, Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis, Pork Chop Pough

OF: Kevin Thompson, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner

P: Phil Hughes, Justin Pope, Joba Chamberlain, Scott Patterson, Chien-Ming Wang, Carl Pavano, Ron Mahay, Corey Spencer, Jeff Suppan, Joe Hudson

Manager: Tony Franklin

We will continue our breakdown of the starting pitching, relief pitching and manager ballots shortly…let’s see if the fans made the right choices.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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

Joba VS. Phil: Who Do YOU Pick?

March 10, 2008

Phil Hughes vs. Joba Chamberlain - Graphic by Mike Ashmore

You’re the manager of the New York Yankees.  It’s Game 7.  In the understatement of the year, you need this game.

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are both on equal rest. 

Who do you give the ball to, and why?

Post your thoughts in the comments…

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

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 Joba was Joba…

February 15, 2008

Extensive and Exclusive Never Before Seen Interview With Joba Chamberlain, June 2007

Joba Chamberlain / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007)

When Joba Chamberlain first arrived in Trenton about halfway through the season, I don’t think anyone expected him to move through the system quite as quickly as he did.  Sure, he was a first round pick, but this was his first year of professional experience and he was still learning the pro game.

Sure enough, about two months later Chamberlain was setting the world on fire in the Bronx.

When I caught up with him in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse in September, it was a struggle to even get two minutes with him because of the constant crowd of reporters waiting to talk to him.

But back in June, you could have as much time with Joba as you wanted, so here’s the complete transcript from our June 15th interview just outside the home clubhouse at Waterfront Park.

Note: This has never been seen in its entirety.  However, some of the quotes have appeared in my June 28th feature on Chamberlain in the Democrat.

Ashmore: I’ve read that your heritage is very important to you.  As someone not familiar with the Native American culture, I was wondering if you could take me through growing up in that lifestyle and what it meant to be one of the highest drafted Native American players in baseball history.

Chamberlain: It’s been fun.  It’s one of those things that I take as a compliment.  A lot of Native Americans don’t necessarily get the opportunity to chase their dreams, and I was one of them.  So when I go back to where my family’s from, I always tell the kids to work hard and set yourself up to be successful and good things will happen.  You’ve just got to be patient and wait for your breaks, because a lot of them don’t get to see light at the end of the tunnel, but there always is light at the end of the tunnel.  I tell them to stay focused and trust themselves and just do everything that they want to do and never let go of their dreams.

My dad was born on a reservation, and he had polio at the age of eight months so he was taken away from his family.  We all grew up in the city, but we still have family on the reservation, so we go back and see them.  It’s a lot better, but it still can become better.  And it’s frustrating for a lot of the kids, because they don’t get the opportunities that a lot of kids in the city do, so you’ve just got to tell them to stay focused and always chase your dream.

Ashmore: So with that said, how important is it to you to be a role model for those people?

Chamberlain: You’ve got to be a role model in more ways than just one, on the field.  You’ve got to lead your life the right way.  I’m representing the Yankees on the front, but I’m also representing my name on the back, and that’s almost just as important to me.  To be able to carry on my name, and to be able to go back to see the opportunities and the tribulations that I came through in my life, I think it’s good.  This is something that I want to do, and every day I’m making sure that I’m doing things the right way and that I’m preparing myself to be successful.

Ashmore: The Yankees picked you 41st overall in 2006.  Take me back to draft day, what was that like for you?

Chamberlain: Stressful.  I stopped watching it in the middle of the first round and started playing with my son.  We were upstairs playing, and I got a call from a bunch of my teammates and everybody saying that I’d been picked at 41 by the Yankees.  It couldn’t have happened with a better team or organization, so I was pretty lucky to get picked by them at 41.

Ashmore: Did you get picked where you were expecting to go?

Chamberlain:  No, it was a little later than I expected to go.  But you’ve still got to go out and pitch and maybe prove people wrong and show them what they passed up on.  That puts a little chip on my shoulder, and I like that.  It makes me work that much harder to get to where I want to go.

Ashmore: How do you handle going from not having a lot of money to signing the kind of check that the Yankees gave you when you were picked?

Chamberlain: I don’t know.  If I had five dollars in my wallet when I was growing up, I was happy.  You’ve got to be humbled by it, because there’s a lot of people that you can help with that, and I think that’s the biggest thing.  I wouldn’t be where I was if there weren’t a lot of people to help me to get here.  The biggest thing for me is to know that I can take care of my family if they need something, and I can take care of a lot of other people that have helped me get to where I’m at.

Ashmore: It seems like you really started to establish yourself as a premier prospect in Hawaii Winter Baseball this off-season.  What was your experience like over there?

Chamberlain: It was awesome, I think I probably grew more as an individual than as a pitcher.  It’s a new place, you’re there for a while, and there’s Japanese guys and guys you don’t know on your team.  You’ve got to step outside of your comfort level, and just become a better person.  When you’re out there, it’s a lot easier to communicate with the guys before and after the game about the pitches or what were you expecting here.  It’s a little bit laid back compared to what it is during the season, so I think I learned a lot being able to talk to the guys after the game, like ‘Hey, I pitched you like this, what were you expecting?’ or “Did you see something?’ and I think it really helped the development of me becoming a pitcher than if I’d have jus stayed here.

Ashmore: Did you consider that your first taste of professional baseball considering you didn’t play in the minors in 2006?

Chamberlain: Yeah.  All the guys were professional, so it was a little different.  It was different to see the training, and the different way they go about it.  College is a lot different.  It was a good transition instead of just going straight from college to mini-camp to straight into spring training.  To get that little edge and that little jump in Hawaii, I think that helped.

Ashmore: For someone who hasn’t seen you pitch before, give me a little self scouting report and what to expect from you out there…

Chamberlain: I’m going to give you 110 (percent).  I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to throw hard, and I’m going to locate.  I’m going to be exciting on the mound, I’m going to show emotion and be that guy who wants to keep my team involved and just keep everyone in the game because it can get lackadaisical at times.  Just be able to throw to the plate, keep everyone involved, and keep everyone on their toes.  It’s always easier to not get relaxed as a defender, and for me to not get relaxed out there, and just throw it and see what happens.

Ashmore: The scouting reports on you say you’ve got a fastball, slider, curveball and a change.  Anything else?

Chamberlain: Nope.

Ashmore: Focusing on the fastball for a minute, you regularly throw in the mid to high 90’s.  But even with being able to throw that hard, how important is being able to locate as well?

Chamberlain: It’s huge.  As you well know, you can throw as hard as you want, but if it isn’t where it needs to be, it’s going to get hit.  If I’m sitting at 94 and I can locate it, it’s better than me hitting 97 and throwing it right down the middle.  As long as I’m locating, I think it allows me to throw all my other pitches for strikes.

Ashmore: You were pretty much lights out in Tampa, and you just made you first start with Trenton.  How big of an adjustment has it been for you jumping from Single-A to Double-A?

Chamberlain: It’s 60 feet, six inches no matter where you throw.  I think that’s the biggest thing, and I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from guys who’ve played.  Just be yourself.  I think the biggest thing that I did notice was that a lot of these guys adjust during the at-bat, not at the next at-bat.  You can’t pitch them the same way.  They’re good enough to where you might be able to strike them out with a slider the first time, but they’re not going to swing at it the next time out.  The biggest thing to me was just them adjusting during the current at-bat, not the next at-bat or next time out.

Ashmore: Everybody likes to project when a player like yourself is going to reach the big leagues.  Do you have any sort of timetable or goal as far as when you’d like to do that?

Chamberlain: No.  I think you always have goals and dreams, and you set them, but you can’t set them too high to where if you don’t meet them you feel like you’re a failure.  To be where I’m at right now, I would probably say I’m ahead of schedule for my own goals, I would say.  Everything’s going good.  You’ve just got to set yourself up to be successful.  You can only control what you do out there, everything else is up to the people above me.  As long as I go out and do my thing and be successful, that’s all I can do.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Joba on four separate occasions in Trenton, although I only got to see him pitch once — a dominant 12 strikeout performance in six innings of work against the hapless Harrisburg Senators.  I think that if any of his answers tell the tale of just how quickly he sailed through the system, it’s the last one.  He didn’t give me any indication that he thought he’d get to Yankee Stadium as early as he did, and I’m not sure he thought he would.

About a week before he was called up, I wrote a highly criticized — and perhaps rightly so — column in which I blasted the Yankees for rushing Chamberlain through the system, pointing to the fact that this was just his first season of professional baseball, and that calling him up too early could be determental to his long-term progress.

Since then, Joba quickly blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest young stars, and will be one of the most closely followed players in the game in 2008.

Next week, I’ll post my ten-minute chat with Ian Kennedy from the same day. 

Another indication of how far these guys have come? 

Any reporter who can get a combined 20 minutes one-on-one with Chamberlain and Kennedy these days is either Peter Gammons or a liar…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

NY Post: Joba’s a Reliever

February 12, 2008

I have frequently disagreed with how the Yankees have handled Joba Chamberlain.  Regardless of the results, I still think they rushed him to the big leagues.  They took their time with Phil Hughes, and that seemed to work out relatively well for them…

Now, the New York Post is reporting that Chamberlain is set to start the season as a setup man to Mariano Rivera.  But he’s still going to prepare in Spring Training as a starter.  Then, after they eventually find someone to replace Chamberlain as setup man (the article mentions EL Pitcher of the Year and Thunder alum Alan Horne as a candidate), Joba will be sent to the minors to be stretched out and will return as a starter.

Does that not sound ridiculous to anyone else?  I get what they’re doing…they can say it’s to solidify the bullpen all they want, but it’s really to keep him under his innings cap for the year.  If he’s going to be a starter, keep him in the rotation.  If he’s going to be a bullpen guy, keep him there.  How long is it going to be before the “Joba Rules” become a thing of the past?

Not any time soon, apparently…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder Alums: Youkilis Re-Signs With Red Sox

February 11, 2008

Kevin Youkilis, who spent about a month and a half in a Thunder uniform at the end of the 2002 season, has avoided arbitration and signed a one year, $3 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

For you Yankees fans who come here every day, you might remember Youkilis best for being the target of two Joba Chamberlain pitches that sailed over his head on August 30th, leading to the fellow Thunder alum receiving his first career ejection and suspension.

Youkilis posted the highest batting average of his minor league career in Trenton, hitting .344 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 44 games as the team’s everyday third baseman for the majority of the second half of the season.  In just his second season of professional baseball, he was somewhat error prone at the time, averaging an “E-5” every four games.

When the Yankees took over as the Thunder’s big league affiliate in 2003, Youkilis remained in the Eastern League with the Boston organization as a member of the Portland Sea Dogs.  His first four games with Portland were played in Waterfront Park, while his final two games were against the Thunder at Hadlock Field.

Youkilis, now a member of two World Series teams, played seven times for the Sea Dogs at Waterfront Park, and played against the Thunder a total of 13 times.  In Trenton, he was 4-for-28 with four RBI and five walks.  Overall, he was 9-for-43 with five RBI and nine walks. 

Considering that was the season where he earned his “Greek God of Walks” moniker, his base on balls totals are actually a little low.

Additionally, various reports have Tony Clark and the San Diego Padres close to agreeing on a one-year deal.  Clark was a member of the inaugural Trenton Thunder team in 1994, and his #33 is one of three retired at Waterfront Park.  The others are Nomar Garciaparra and Jackie Robinson, whose #42 is retired throughout professional baseball.

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

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