Posts Tagged ‘Trenton Thunder’

Amauri Sanit’s Pinstripe Dreams

May 29, 2009

This is Amauri Sanit’s dream…

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This is Amauri Sanit’s reality…

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And this is the story about the steps he took to achieve that reality, and the steps he’s taking to make his dream come true.

It’s a tale that starts in Havana, Cuba. 

As a young boy, Sanit was actually a boxer.  It wasn’t until the age of 16 that he traded the boxing gloves for a baseball glove, when he was spotted playing in the streets.  Initially, it was his bat that caught people’s eye, but that quickly changed.

“I made one of the teams over there, but I had a good arm, so they made me a pitcher,” said Sanit, through interpreter/infielder Carlos Mendoza.

“I would throw baseballs against the walls.  I only knew how to throw fastballs.”

Sanit was thrown a bit of a curveball, however, when the Cuban government gave him his own house thanks to his status on the baseball team.

“The conditions were good, I was OK,” Sanit said.

“But on the other side of town, I had my family, and they weren’t living as good as I was.  They lived far away from where I was, and the only time I got to see them was when my team would play near where they were living.”

Complicating matters even further was that Sanit was obligated to serve in the Cuban military as well.

“I didn’t have to do a lot, they just wanted me to be a policeman on the streets,” Sanit said.

“They took me out of the street and brought me to Havana, so they wanted me to focus on baseball.”

Difficult as things were off the field for Sanit, things were going pretty well on it.  He was attracting a lot of attention for his strong arm, and really started developing as a pitcher.

But Sanit wanted to try his hand in the United States, just like Livan Hernandez, Rey Ordonez and many others had done before him.  Problem was, the Cuban government became aware of those plans and started to hold Sanit back because of them.

“I was the best closer in the league in Cuba,” Sanit said.

“But they never invited me to be a part of the Cuban National Team, because they thought once I left Cuba, I was going to stay in the States.  So I decided to go ahead and leave.”

So Sanit took a boat to Mexico. 

From Mexico, he went to Costa Rica. 

And then to Guatemala. 

Then Panama.

After four years of going from place to place in Central America, he finally made it to the Dominican Republic, and that’s how the Yankees discovered him and were able to sign him.

Sanit debuted in the Dominican last year, appearing in two games for one of the Yankees Dominican Summer League affiliates.  He only allowed one hit in two innings of work, collecting one save and two strikeouts in the process.

This year, Sanit made his American debut, starting the season with the Yankees Single-A affiliate in Tampa.  Seems the ol’ United States of America made a nice first impression on the 29-year-old.

“It’s a beautiful country, I feel comfortable here,” Sanit said.

“But I love Cuba, too.  I don’t like all the political things over there, I just wanted to be a baseball player and have my dream come true; becoming a Major League baseball player.”

sanit Sanit took the next step in having that dream come true when he was called up to Double-A Trenton about a month into the season.

“I haven’t pitched that much, but I think I can perform pretty well in this league,” Sanit said.

“It’s a good league, I think I’ll be OK.  As long as I keep hitting my spots and changing my pitches up, I’ll be fine and I’ll be able to move up.”

The statistics seem to agree.  In eight games with the Thunder, Sanit is 0-1 with four saves and a 1.08 ERA.  He’s held Eastern League hitters to just a .120 batting average, and between Tampa and Trenton, has allowed just one run in 14.1 innings pitched.

Count Thunder starting catcher Kyle Anson among those impressed by Sanit’s hot start.

“He does a really good job of keeping hitters off balance,” Anson said.

“He uses a lot of offspeed stuff as opposed to his fastball, which guys are looking for later in the game. He does a really good job with command of his offspeed pitches.”

Anson, who attributes Sanit’s offspeed command to the style of game he was accustomed to in Cuba, likes Sanit’s easy-going, veteran presence on the mound and in the clubhouse.

“He definitely carries himself in a different manner,” he said.

“He knows how to prepare for the game and how to get himself ready for the later innings as opposed to some of the younger guys who come up through the system.”

This is Amauri Sanit’s reality…

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This is Amauri Sanit’s dream…

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Now back from a minor knee injury, if Sanit can continue to put up numbers in Trenton, it won’t be long before that big league dream becomes one step closer to reality.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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Alumni Sunday: Melky Cabrera

April 20, 2008

When he was just 20 years old, Melky Cabrera found himself in Bill Masse’s lineup every day for the Trenton Thunder.

Combine the location with the playing time he got, and it was a chance that Cabrera relished, hitting .275 with 10 home runs and 60 RBI during that 2005 season.

“I liked to play in Trenton,” Cabrera said. 

“It was good to get the opportunity to play every day in the minors.  I liked Trenton.”

Even at the Double-A level, being 20 years old is still considered very young.  Was it tough being that young and being at such a high level?

“A little bit,” he said.

Cabrera made his Yankees debut about a month short of his 21st birthday, and has played 280 games over the past two seasons in the Bronx.

One of his more memorable contests would have to be just a few weeks back, when he made two spectacular defensive plays and hit a solo home run to lead the Yankees to a season opening victory against the Blue Jays.

The hero of the last Opening Day to be held at Yankee Stadium, Cabrera was just happy to be on the field.

“I was very happy to have the opportunity to play Opening Day, it was unbelievable,” said Cabrera, telling me he was honored to be starting in center field.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Shelley Sent Down

April 9, 2008

Peter Abraham is reporting that the Yankees have sent Shelley Duncan to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Alberto Gonzalez.  Unless Jason Brown is deactivated again (and considering Posada isn’t getting DL’d, and carrying three catchers on the active roster makes no sense, that seems likely) there could be a trickle-down effect here in Trenton.

I’ll be at Waterfront Park tomorrow afternoon, and will have the latest if there are any corresponding moves.

Odd situation for the big league club today, too.  Ian Kennedy gets scratched from his start because it was raining and they didn’t want to waste him — according to Pete, anyway — so Brian Bruney starts.  But Kennedy comes in the game to pitch the 7th, 8th and 9th.

So they waste him anyway.  Strange.

The gents over at River Ave. Blues have their take on this here.

Yankees lost, 4-0…TO THE ROYALS.  Alberto Gonzalez went 1-for-3 in his season debut.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Game 7: Trenton @ Altoona

April 9, 2008

Game 7 – Trenton Thunder @ Altoona Curve
April 9, 2008
Blair County Ballpark – Altoona, PA

Pitching Matchup: TRE George Kontos (0-1, 3.00) vs. ALT Derek Hankins (0-0, 0.00)

Starting Lineups:

Trenton (4-2) (4-2 road record, 2-0 vs. Altoona)

1 – Reegie Corona, SS
2 – Austin Jackson, CF
3 – Jose Tabata, RF
4 – Colin Curtis, LF
5 – Matt Carson, DH
6 – Cody Ehlers, 1B
7 – Joe Muich, C
8 – Marcos Vechionacci, 3B
9 – Chris Malec, 2B

Altoona (1-5) (1-5 home record, 0-2 vs. Thunder)

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

Farm Fresh: Our apparently now daily look at what’s going on elsewhere in the system…

(AAA) Scranton – While it hasn’t worked out for either highly touted pitcher at the big league level just yet, Homer Bailey vs. Kei Igawa is one hell of a matchup at the Triple-A level.  Accordingly, it was a 1-0 game.

But Scranton came out on the short end of the stick, losing on a first inning RBI double by super-prospect Jay Bruce.  Never trust a guy with two first names, kids.

Oddly, Chad Moeller may go from an 0-for-3 night with 3 K’s to the big leagues today.  Jorge Posada came out of the game last night with a shoulder issue.  Somewhere, Francisco Cervelli is throwing darts at a picture of Elliot Johnson.

Chris Britton, Jon Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez combined for five innings of two-hit relief with four strikeouts.

(A) Tampa – The T-Yanks squeaked out a 1-0 win over Dunedin.  Eric Hacker is the truth, ladies and gentlemen.  Check this line out…

7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

The game was scoreless through nine after a rehabbing Sean Henn blew the perfect game, but Edwar Gonzalez drove in Chris Kunda in the bottom of the 10th for the W.

Seems like the choice is pretty obvious if the Thunder should need a starter early in the year…

(A) Charleston – It was a good night for River Dogs fans last night.  Seven runs, 16 hits and another W out of Dellin Betances added up to a 7-3 win over the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Betances clearly had some control issues, walking six batters in 5.1 innings of work.  But he also struck out eight, and allowed only two runs on two hits.

Every starter had at least one hit except for Taylor Holiday.  Brad Suttle is now hitting .500 after a 3-for-5 night, while Jesus Montero connected for his first A-Ball home run.

A lot of the offense came off of Mike Antonini, the Mets farmhand who was lights out in his debut a few days ago — allowing no hits in six innings — and the subject of a recent MILB.com piece.

Pre-Game Notes: Doubting anyone minds the 4:05 start on a getaway day.

Tim Lavigne, who appeared in 25 games for the Thunder, was recently released by the Baltimore Orioles organization.  Lavigne, who probably started hating his name right around the time a certain Canadian popstar became popular (see: Evan Longoria and Eva) was 0-2 with a 4.93 ERA for Trenton. 

In other moves, Dave Parrish was let go by the Rockies, and Colter Bean was axed by the Braves.  Aaron Rifkin was cut loose by the Marlins, and Gabe Lopez got canned by the Padres.

It is Kontos on the mound.  Incredible they’d let him go on three days rest, regardless of how many pitches he threw.  Phil Hughes could have thrown one pitch on April 5th, and trust me…he would not be pitching today.

Anyway, the pitching matchups have been set for the Harrisburg series.  Incredibly, it looks like Bobby Brownlie will not be pitching for the Senators.  Instead, he’s pitching tonight.  If a stray storm cloud wanted to stay over there for a while so the greedy reporter could get to see Brownlie tomorrow, that would be OK.

4/10: TRE Daniel McCutchen (1-0, 0.00) vs. HAR Shairon Martis (0-0, 9.00)
4/11: TRE Phil Coke (0-0, 6.75) vs. HAR Josh Hall (0-1, 24.00)
4/12: TRE Jason Jones (1-0, 0.00) vs. HAR Marco Estrada (1-0, 5.40)
4/13: TRE Chase Wright (1-1, 2.45) vs. HAR Imsael Ramirez (0-1, 6.75)

Chad Jennings is reporting that Alberto Gonzalez has been called up to New York, and Jason Brown has been activated for Scranton to take his place.  I suppose it’s worth noting that Ramiro Pena isn’t in today’s lineup.

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

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

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

In-Game Updates: After A-Jax singled and Tabata singled him over to third, Colin Curtis hit a sac fly to put the Thunder up 1-0 in the first.  That’s where we stand in the bottom of the 2nd.

The Thunder are trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 3rd.  Gee, it was hard to predict Kontos might run into trouble on short rest.  Anyway, Miguel Perez drove in two runs with a single in the bottom of the 2nd to give Altoona the lead.

Trenton then proceeded to waste a leadoff triple by Chris Malec, and the game remains 2-1.

Same score in the bottom of the 4th.  Matt Carson is now hitless in his last nine at-bats.

2-1, bottom 5.  Trenton has left seven men on base through the first five innings.  Nice game out of Austin Jackson so far, he’s 2-for-3 with a run scored.

The Curve got another run off of Kontos in the 6th, and it’s now 3-1.

Kontos is out, Zach Kroenke is in.  Kontos line: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.

Gotta give Kontos some credit for hanging in there today.  Looking forward to chatting with him and maybe Scott Aldred tomorrow about this whole deal…

Kroenke pitched a perfect seventh, striking out two, and it’s 3-1 going into the 8th.

Hey, hey!  It’s tied 3-3 in Altoona after a two-run single from Reegie Corona.  Eric Wordekemper now in for the Thunder.

Three up, three down for the Thunder in the top of the 9th.  Altoona goes into the bottom of the frame with a chance for a walk-off win.

Wordekemper gave up two singles to start the ninth and was replaced by Josh Schmidt.  Harrisburg brought in Melvin Dorta to pinch-run for Brad Corley, who got the first of the two hits and was standing at second.

Nothing against Schmidt, who has been one of the Thunder’s better bullpen guys so far, but Steven Jackson being unavailable (most likely) after throwing three innings couldn’t have been comforting to Tony Franklin. 
Schmidt got two outs, but couldn’t get the third.  Miguel Perez singled home Jason Delaney for the walk-off win.  Had a feeling it would end that way.

Final Score: 4-3, Curve.

Post-Game Notes: Wordekemper hasn’t been as good as advertised, at least not yet.  He picked up the loss, and his ERA sits at a hearty 10.12 at the moment.

Matt Carson is now hitless in his last 12 at-bats.  Looks like that hot start has turned into a mini-slump.

Joe Muich threw out one of two attempted basestealers.

Jackson, Tabata, Curtis and Malec each had two hits.  Vechionacci’s 5-game hitting streak is over.

Thunder Thoughts: With the Thunder coming home tomorrow, please don’t forget that I’ll be back at the ballpark as well…I intend on covering the games on Thursday, Friday (unless I get Rangers-Devils tickets…in which case, you guys are on your own), Saturday and Sunday.  After that, I will likely go either Monday or Tuesday, but not both due to an Atlantic League commitment. 

If you have any specific things you want answered by any of the guys, or questions for myself, please pass them along in the comments or my inbox and I’ll do what I can.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Game 6: Trenton @ Altoona

April 8, 2008

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

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

Starting Lineups:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Kontos is now slated to get the start tomorrow. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 5-2, Thunder.

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

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

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

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

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder Thoughts Tuesday Power Rankings

April 8, 2008

Every Tuesday, for the purpose of creating discussion and giving you an idea of my thoughts on how each member of the Trenton Thunder roster is performing, I’ll be posting power rankings.

This has nothing to do with a player’s prospect status, it’s just my take on how the guys have been doing, 1 through 24 on the roster.  I’ll use stats, what I’ve seen and heard on my own, and opinions to compile these.  

I encourage you to agree, disagree…something, some sort of reaction.

NOTE: At this point of the season, previous season’s performance and player pedigree will play some sort of role, especially with me having only seen some of these guys at the exhibition game thanks to the road start.

1 – Daniel McCutchen, SP

Three hits and seven strikeouts in five scoreless innings is enough to get Mr. McCutchen the top spot for now.  Probably the top candidate to get called up to Triple-A if a starter is needed.

2 – Colin Curtis, OF

Leads the team in runs with five, and has one of just three home runs that the Thunder have hit in five games.

3 – Matt Carson, OF/DH

Carson has one of the other ones, and is second on the team with a .879 OPS.  Making a strong case to get the call to Scranton if someone is needed.  Leads the team in RBI with five.

4 – Ramiro Pena, SS

Leads the team in OBP with a .467 mark.  He also is tied for the team lead in walks (4) with Austin Jackson.  Needed to get off to a good start to open some eyes, and has.

5 – Jason Jones, SP

No earned runs in his first start of the year, but only one strikeout as well.  Then again, he had no walks.

6 – Cody Ehlers, 1B

Would be a little higher if I weren’t a little skeptical based on last year’s performance.  But he leads the team with a .953 OPS, and is 5-for-15 in his first four games.

7 – Bo Hall, RP

Has only made two appearances so far, but has allowed just one baserunner in two innings of work while striking out four of the seven batters he’s faced.

8 – Chase Wright, SP

It must be frustrating to be back in Double-A again, but neither his words or his pitches have shown it.  Gave the Thunder their longest start of the year so far, and was a mistake away from having a real solid start.

9 – David Robertson, RP

The reliever who’s seen the most work, Robertson leads the bullpen guys with 4.2 innings.  He has yet to allow a run, despite walking two and giving up four hits, and has collected five strikeouts as well.

10 – Marcos Vechionacci, 3B

It’s hard to argue with a .333 batting average, tied for the team lead.  But three errors aren’t helping his case, either.  Leads the team with two doubles, and is tied with a few others for the extra-base hits lead.

11 – Austin Jackson, OF

Not a lot of great things to say just yet.  Tied for the team lead with four walks, but that’s about it.

12 – Steven Jackson, RP

One game, two innings, two hits, two strikeouts, one save.  Not spectacular, but certainly not bad.

13 – Reegie Corona, 2B

Is tied for the team lead in steals with two.  Has played five error-free games so far.

14 – P.J. Pilittere, C

Would have thought he’d have played more than three games at this point.  Hitting .300 in ten at-bats with two RBI.

15 – Michael Gardner, RP

Has one of two Trenton saves.  Two hits and two walks in 2.1 innings, but he’s managed to avoid anything big.

16 – Jose Tabata, OF

Is playing like a 19-year-old kid making the jump to Double-A for the first time.  That’s not a knock, it’s the truth.  Has the lowest average on the team, and is tied for the lead in strikeouts.  Does have two steals, but would have more if he got on base more.  I wonder when this kid will start hitting his stride, because I can’t wait to see him when he’s on.

17 – Josh Schmidt, RP

Looked nasty while wearing Scranton’s uniform during the exhibition game.  Allowed two unearned runs in 2.1 innings so far this year.  One hit, two strikeouts.

18 – Phil Coke, SP

Pitched pretty well in the exhibition game, and even in his Double-A debut, but had more walks than strikeouts and could only go four innings.

19 – George Kontos, SP

Only went three innings in his first start.  Four hits and three walks.  It’s only one so-so outing, though.

20 – Carlos Mendoza, 3B

Played one game.  Got one hit.  Made one error.  Hard to say much else, but it isn’t a good sign that he was the guy who was going to get sent away before Kevin Russo’s health concerns.

21 – Chris Malec, 1B

Got no hits in his only game.  People are expecting some big things out of this guy at some point this year, but he just hasn’t had the opportunity to do it yet.  I fail to see where this kid gets regular at-bats.

22 – Joe Muich, C

Not a real great start to the year for Muich.  Only six at-bats to base his offensive numbers on…but he allowed quite a few steals in his first game of the year.

23 – Zach Kroenke, RP

It’s only one game, but it wasn’t his best.  Two runs on two hits and a walk in one inning.  That will give you a team-high ERA of 18.00

24 – Eric Wordekemper, RP

Is under Kroenke because his numbers are over two games, not one.  Has allowed as many baserunners (5) as the amount of outs he’s nailed down.  WHIP is 3.00

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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

All 15 Year Team: Outfield

March 30, 2008

Michael Coleman / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Baseball is baseball,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a shame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our ballots so far:

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

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

AUDIO: Aldred talks about pitching in cold weather

March 26, 2008

Got a few e-mails from people wanting “more legit” audio clips.  And again, as I said, I will have that for you this season.

But I went through some older stuff looking for something appropriate to post, and came up with this short clip from Trenton pitching coach Scott Aldred, in which he talks about pitching in cold weather.

If you’re curious, this is from a chat I had with him after Chase Wright’s 2007 Opening Day start…

AUDIO CLIP 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Jennings: Whelan Out, Double-A Rotation Clearer

March 26, 2008

Since I’m stuck up in New Jersey, I’ve got to rely on various sources of information until the Thunder join me up here in about a week.

Another thing I can do is check out Chad Jennings SWB Yankees blog, and he’s got some information on there that’s relevant to Thunder fans.

Jennings confirms something I’d been hearing rumblings about lately — that Kevin Whelan’s sore shoulder won’t allow him to start the season in Trenton.  Not good news for Whelan, who got passed in the organization by a few guys last year who might have to convert from starters to relievers to have a better shot reaching the Bronx.

Jennings also wrote that Anthony Claggett is having a hamstring issue and won’t be ready to start the year, and that when he is ready, he’ll come out of the bullpen.  So, the Thunder rotation?

According to Jennings, it’s looking like Daniel McCutchen, Phil Coke, George Kontos, Jason Jones and Brett Smith.

I think everyone has come to the conclusion that McCutchen’s going to get the ball on April 3rd in Binghamton.  But the exact order after that seems to be unclear.  My guess is that you’d see some combo of Jones and Smith in the 2 and 3 slots, and some combo of Coke and Kontos in the 4 and 5 slots.  I could see Kontos as the 3, but we’ll see.

What would my rotation look like?  McCutchen – Jones – Kontos – Smith – Coke

Yours?

If nobody in the rotation is skipped, or if no other unforeseen issues occur, then the team’s #3 starter would start the home opener on April 10th against Harrisburg.  But Thunder fans will get to see the entire rotation, as the team is home for five more days after that.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com