Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

Thunder Alums Shine In Intrasquad Game

February 28, 2008

Well, most of them did.  Over at his frequently linked to blog, Pete Abraham’s got the pitching line’s from yesterday’s intrasquad game.

Jeff Karstens, Scott Patterson, Steven Jackson and Edwar Ramirez pitched for “Team Goose,” while Dan McCutchen and Sean Henn laced em’ up for “Team Gator.”  Here are the pitching lines for pitchers from Thunder past.

Team Goose
Karstens: 2 IP,  1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Patterson: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Jackson: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
Ramirez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

Team Gator
McCutchen: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Henn: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 0 K

So most of the pitchers really stood out for good reasons.  For Sean Henn…well, I guess it’s more of the same.  I wonder if he’s ever recovered from getting the call straight out of Double-A.  In the Yankee clubhouse last season, Henn told me that he felt like he was ready at the time, but didn’t really feel like he’d showed it.

Three years later, and there are still questions about whether he’s a ready for primetime player.

Another thing that may be working against him, at least in the long term, would be the loss of Ron Guidry.  While did pitch on Guidry’s team, Dave Eiland is the pitching coach now, and Henn also told me last year that he credited Guidry with helping him with “certain situations and how to attack guys and what to look for and things like that.” 

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

Best of 2007: Moment #12

February 4, 2008

Moment #12 – Tony Franklin named Thunder manager
Trenton, NJ
(OK, so this technically happened in late December 2006…)

If I were to do a Top 20 countdown of the most ridiculous moments in Thunder history, Bill Masse getting fired after the 2006 season would certainly be near the top.

After all, he led the team to consecutive playoff appearances and finished with a 154-130 record during his two seasons at the helm of the Yankees Double-A affiliate.

And to replace him, they get a guy who hasn’t managed since 2000? 

“It’s great to be a Yankee,” Franklin said in a team release.

“I’ve been in baseball for 38 years and have always thought the Yankees would be an exciting organization to be a part of and I’m glad Trenton is where I’ll get that chance.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  That all sounds great.  But it was hard not to be skeptical, and it was even harder to think that anyone could produce the kind of results that Masse did.

It turns out that it was the best thing that could have happened to the Thunder.

Franklin’s 83-59 record was better than any individual season that Masse put together.

More impotantly, he did what no other manager in team history could do, leading the Thunder to their first championship after so many seasons of frustrating postseason futility.

He also brought a personality and demeanor that was somewhat the opposite of Masse.  Masse was always accomodating with reporters, he was very intense and very quotable.  He wasn’t really the kind of guy who bit his tongue, and while I think everyone respected and appreciated that, it was also what got him in trouble with the Yankees organization.

Franklin, also incredibly giving of his time with the media, comes across as very laid back and quiet.  He always gives eloquent and well-thought out answers to your questions, but also isn’t going to give you anything that’s going to show up on the back page of the paper like Masse would on occasion.

While Masse’s style could be a little grating on his players, Franklin’s approach was appreciated by all that played for him.  However, the Thunder never really had any consistent struggles last season.  If this year’s team has trouble getting out of the gate, I’ll be curious to see if Franklin’s demeanor changes and he’s forced to crack the whip a little bit.

But if everyone who’s expected to be on the roster this year actually ends up in Trenton, it’s hard to believe that the Thunder aren’t the odds on favorites to repeat in 2008.

Recapping the Top 20 so far…

#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

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

Exhibition Game Could Become Yearly Event

January 23, 2008

I just spoke to Trenton Thunder GM Brad Taylor, and there’s some good news and some bad news for Thunder fans…

The good news is that Taylor said that he thinks the April 1st exhibition game between the Scranton Yankees and Trenton Thunder to be held at Waterfront Park could be a yearly event, which would be held at alternating locations every season.

The bad news is that for those of you holding out hope that the New York Yankees might one day play an exhibition game against the Thunder — as the Red Sox did during their stint as Trenton’s affiliate — Taylor thought that was highly unlikely, but he did say not to rule it out.

There could be more bad news if you don’t act fast on tickets, as Taylor told me there was “significant response” to the game now that tickets have gone on sale.

So, how did this all get started?

“I approached the Yankees and asked if this was something we could do,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that after the team won the title in Akron, that the fans never really got a chance to welcome the team home and that this would be a great way for them to see some of the players who’ve moved up a level for 2008.

“This is a great opportunity to see a lot of the best Yankees prospects all in one game,” he said.

Go to trentonthunder.com for more information on the game and how to order tickets.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Brown re-signs with Yankees, DeSalvo to Atlanta

January 5, 2008

Jason Brown / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007)

Baseball America is reporting that catcher Jason Brown has re-signed with the Yankees.  Additionally, pitchers Scott Strickland, Billy Traber, Heath Phillips and second baseman Nick Green have joined the organization as well, but the only move that would appear to have a potential impact on the Thunder roster would be the Brown signing.

The 11-year minor league veteran came to the Thunder in 2005 with two championship rings (’99 San Bernardino and ’01 Brevard County) to his name, and completed his Lord of the Rings style trilogy as a member of the first championship team in franchise history last season.

Brown is a leader in the clubhouse, and provides a veteran influence to not only the pitching staff, but also the catchers he’s mentored while with the Thunder, namely P.J. Pilittere and Omir Santos. 

In 2006, everyone’s favorite pitching prospect at the time, Phil Hughes, had this to say about Brown.

“He calls a great game,” Hughes said.

“It always seems like we’re on the same page. He’s got a lot of experience in this game, and he knows a lot of the veteran hitters and knows what he wants to do out there. It’s always good when I get to throw to him.”

Brown will likely receive a Spring Training invite, just as he has the past few seasons as a member of the Yankees organization. 

“The goal isn’t to see how long you can play in the minor leagues, the goal for me is to get to the big leagues,” Brown once told me.

The 33-year-old has never played in the Majors, and in all honesty is unlikely to ever achieve that goal.  He has just 29 hits in his last 145 at-bats (.200) in a Thunder uniform over the past two seasons, and spent much of last season on the disabled list.

Brown could theoretically be the backup in Scranton, but the much more likely scenario is for him to backup either Francisco Cervelli or Pilittere in Trenton or possibly be the third catcher if both are on the roster.

I will say that if making the big leagues was based on how good of a guy you are, Brown would have never spent a day in the minor leagues.  One of the nicest people I’ve met in my six seasons of covering the game.

Also noteworthy to Thunder fans is that Matt DeSalvo has signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves. 

He spent part of 2004, all of 2005 and the second half of 2006 with the Thunder, with his best season easily being the middle one.  He went 9-5 with a 3.02 ERA in 25 appearances for Trenton, and his 151 strikeouts were good for third best in the Eastern League that season.

He put up similar numbers for the Scranton Yankees this year, and earned a few starts with the big league club as a result.

I’ll have a little more on DeSalvo as the countdown of Top 20 Trenton Thunder Moments continues to count down throughout the off-season.

The popular Andy Phillips, yet another Thunder alum, has signed a deal with the Cincinnati Reds. 

Phillips suited up for the Thunder in just 10 games in 2004, which was before when I started covering the team on a regular basis.  Head on over to Chad Jennings’ Scranton Yankees blog, where he was a better breakdown of the move.

Additionally, shortstop Caonabo Cosme, who played on the 2004 and 2006 incarnations of the Thunder, has inked a deal with the Detroit Tigers.  The Cosme Show was somewhat of an error machine early in his career, has pretty average tools and really wasn’t that impressive during his most recent stay in 2006.  He was most recently in Triple-A with Cincinnati last season. 

It’s very possible he could make a return to Waterfront Park when the Erie Seawolves come into town on June 23rd.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Welcome to the new Trenton Thunder blog!

January 2, 2008

I just wanted to take the time to welcome everyone to what will hopefully be a great source of information regarding the defending Eastern League champion Trenton Thunder.

My name is Mike Ashmore, and I’ll be entering my third season of covering the team as a writer for the Hunterdon County Democrat.  I also cover the independent Atlantic League for the paper, specifically the Somerset Patriots.

I started out covering the Thunder as a photographer back in 2003, working the Hall of Fame Dinner in which Ken Macha and David Eckstein were inducted into the Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame.  I then covered nine games in 2004 and 2005 in a similar role, and also started doing player interviews to supplement Scott Stanchak’s work — Stanchak covered the team for the paper from 2003 to 2005.

When Scott left to pursue bigger and better opportunities, I got the job and have covered the team ever since.  I love what I do, and work hard to do the best job I can to bring people as close to the team as possible.

The Patriots, based on where my paper is located, are my primary beat.  I still get to around 30 Thunder games a season, and usually aim for at least one game per series.  It’s a weekly paper, so this isn’t a problem in terms of coverage in the paper…but I’ll do the best I can on keeping people informed on the days I’m not there as well.

Last season, I also had the great opportunity to cover six Yankees games, roughly one a month.  I was fortunate enough to cover Matt DeSalvo’s first MLB start (you remember the one, where he was robbed of the win thanks to a blown call at second base) and Shelley Duncan’s first big league home run. 

So hopefully this can continue this season, and I can continue to provide updates on Thunder alums making it big with the Yankees and other teams.  I also plan on heading up to Scranton at least once this season as well.

Please feel free to contact me at any time via e-mail at mashmore98 AT gmail.com, and I’ll answer your questions as best as I can…and of course, you can always leave comments here as well.