Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Clippard’

Looking Back: The 2006 Top 30…

January 27, 2008

With Baseball America’s 2008 Prospect Handbook starting to arrive in mailboxes, it’s time to continue our series of looking back at the Yankees top prospects from years past and go back just two years ago.

This is a look at the publication’s 30 best Yankees prospects from 2006…

1. Phil Hughes, P

With Hughes, the Yankees finally had a prospect who lived up to the hype.  But he did a lot more than that, he actually managed to exceed the expectations that were had of him going into the 2006 season.  Hughes was just 19 when he arrived at Waterfront Park, and quickly became one of the most talked about prospects in the entire country.  The first time we spoke, which was a day before his Double-A debut, he had yet to even visit Yankee Stadium, no less pitch there.

It’s amazing just how quickly this kid shot through the system…

2. Eric Duncan, 3B/1B

Eric Duncan / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

After leading the Eastern League in home runs with 34, Shelley Duncan was nowhere to be found on this list in 2006.  Meanwhile, Eric found himself as the second best prospect.  I’m not at all insinuating Shelley should have ever been rated higher than Eric…but it was always interesting to me to see how these guys paths crossed.

3. Jose Tabata, OF

Tabata looks to make his Double-A debut this season, very likely breaking camp with the team in April.  The guy is a career .305 hitter over three seasons of work, so there’s a lot of excitement in Trenton about the possibility of seeing this kid — and he is just as a kid at 19 — in a Thunder uniform.

4. C.J. Henry, SS

One of the centerpieces of the Bobby Abreu trade, Henry hit an astonishing .184 in 102 games with Single-A Lakewood and has since made his way back to the Yankees organization.  Once the fourth best prospect, he’s now completely and entirely off the radar.

5. Austin Jackson, OF

He was drafted out of high school in 2005, and quickly established himself as one of the better prospects in the Yankees organization.  After last year’s impressive performance over multiple levels, he now appears to be one of the elite prospects in the farm system.

6. Eduardo Nunez, SS

Nunez made 40 errors in 2006 and 33 last season.  He’s a career .245 hitter with below average power and decent, but certainly not blazing speed.  At just 20 years old, he still has time to develop and improve.

7. Marcos Vechionacci, 3B/SS

Vechionacci was once one of the more exciting prospects in the entire organization, but has stock has fallen dramatically.  This season could be make or break for him, and it looks like it’ll happen at Waterfront Park.

8. Christian Garcia, P

Garcia pitched just 12 games in 2006, and was shut down entirely in 2007.  With his injuries and the glut of quality starters in the organization, he’s become an afterthought.

9. Jeff Marquez, P

Marquez spent all of 2006 in Tampa, and posted another solid, but somewhat unspectacular season.  He went 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA, striking out 82 and walking just 29 over 92.1 innings of work.  After a season in Trenton, Marquez will now be competing for a spot in a very crowded Triple-A rotation.

10. Tyler Clippard, P

I should ask Clip to sponsor this blog for as much as his name comes up in it.  2006 was such a mixed bag for him, but his year end numbers don’t really indicate that.  His ERA was as high as 5.69 in mid-June, and it looked like he could potentially be a candidate to get sent back down to Tampa.  Instead, he put together a remarkable second half that saw him win 10 of his last 11 decisions and lower his ERA by more than two runs.

11. J. Brent Cox, P

Cox hasn’t pitched in a game since being allowed to leave to pitch for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament towards the end of 2006.  Some writers were talking about Cox being a potential replacement for Mariano Rivera at the time.  I asked him about this in August of 2006…

“At this point, it’s too early,” Cox said. “(The Yankees) haven’t really talked about my plans for me, but I trust them with what they want to do with me, and I’ll just go along with it.”

12. Tim Battle, OF

His last name is an appropriate one, because it’s been just that — a battle — for him to maintain his status as a prospect in the Yankees organization.  It will be very interesting to see where he ends up come Opening Day, as some people are projecting him to crack Trenton’s roster.

13. Brett Gardner, OF

Gardner made his Thunder debut in 2006, joining the team in the middle of June after hitting .323 and stealing 30 bases in the Florida State League.  He swiped 28 more bags for Trenton, setting a new career high with 58 in a season.

14. Steven White, P

White started the 2006 season in Trenton and did a lot to re-establish himself as one of the better arms in system, posting a 4-1 record with 2.11 ERA in 11 starts before being called up to Triple-A Columbus for good in June.

15. Melky Cabrera, OF

The Melkman shed his prospect tag in 2006, but in the best way possible.  After hitting a torrid .385 in Columbus, the Yankees almost had no choice but to call him up.  He’s stuck in the big leagues ever since.

16. Matt DeSalvo, P

Matt DeSalvo / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

I absolutely, positively wrote off Matt DeSalvo after his 2006 season.  I don’t think the numbers (5-4, 5.77) for Trenton really tell the tale of how disappointing and inconsistent he was. 

“Matt DeSalvo’s had a bad year,” Yankees Special Advisor Reggie Jackson told me during his annual visit.

“He’s had some off the field issues that we believe he’s got straightened out. Every year isn’t a great year, but the organization still loves him and is behind him.”

And while that wasn’t entirely true, as DeSalvo was taken off the 40-man roster, he did rebound in 2007 and make his Major League debut.

17. Alan Horne, P

Horne was still an enigma at this point, having yet to throw a pitch in professional baseball.  Now, he’s considered to have a great chance at cracking the Yankees roster at some point in 2008.

18. Sean Henn, P

Henn might be better suited to be pitch in an organization that will allow him to start, because the Yankees attempt to convert him to a reliever certainly hasn’t panned out.

19. Kevin Howard, 2B/3B

I never understood the fascination with this guy.  Maybe it was that he went to Miami, I don’t know.  He bounced around the Dodgers and Phillies organizations last year, and put up some better numbers in Double-A Jacksonville after going back to his natural position of second base. 

20. Matt Smith, P

Smith had a real solid 2006 season while under the Yankees umbrella, allowing just six earned runs in 24 relief appearances in Triple-A.  He one-upped himself upon going to the Bronx, stringing together 12 straight scoreless appearances.

21. Justin Christian, 2B/OF

Justin Christian / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Those who know my opinion of Brett Gardner might be surprised to know that I don’t necessarily feel the same way about Justin Christian.  Gardner may have it, but I think Christian really used his ability to single-handedly change the game with his speed while with Trenton.  His inability to handle any of the infield positions well will really hurt him, but I do think there’s a place in the big leagues for Justin Christian.

22. Bronson Sardinha, OF

Sardinha spent most of 2006 in Trenton, hitting .254 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI.  He was called up to Triple-A in mid-July and finished the year there.

23. Kevin Thompson, OF

Thompson made his big league debut in 2006, hitting .300 in 30 MLB at-bats for the Yankees.

24. T.J. Beam, P

Although he could never quite translate his Double-A success to the big leagues, Beam had to be one of the more impressive relievers in Thunder history.  In 18 games, he was 4-0 with a microscopic ERA of 0.86.

25. Garrett Patterson, P

Patterson walked 37 and struck out 39 in 50 innings with Single-A Charleston in 2006, not exactly helping his case to climb the prospect ladder.

26. Andy Phillips, 1B/3B

Phillips had his longest stay yet in the big leagues in 2006, spending the entire year with the Yankees and playing in a career high 110 games.

27. Rudy Guillen, OF

Guillen dropped 15 spots from his #12 ranking in 2005.  After hitting .173 for the Thunder in 2006, he fell off the map all together.

28. Kevin Reese, OF

Reese got some time in the show in 2006, driving in the only Major League run of his career in 12 at-bats.

29. Jason Stephens, P

Stephens appeared in only eight games in 2006, going 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA at Single-A Charleston.

30. Jeff Karstens, P

Karstens got his career back on track in Trenton in 2006, going 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts after being sent down from Triple-A Columbus.  He made his Major League debut in late August of that year, and established himself as a contender for the Yankees starting rotation in 2007.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Clippard Signs One Year Deal With Nats

January 26, 2008

Tyler Clippard / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Tyler Clippard, who’s been getting some pretty extensive publicity on this blog lately, has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals.  As has been mentioned before, Clip was dealt to the Nationals in the off-season for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.

Catching Up With Clip

January 25, 2008

Tyler Clippard / Collage by Mike Ashmore (2006)

With Tyler Clippard being the subject of the 15th best Trenton Thunder moment in 2007, I figured it would be appropriate to post this interview I did with Tyler in the New York Yankees clubhouse late in the 2007 season.

Given I write for a weekly paper, there was never any room for this to run, so this is the first time this has seen the light of day…

On winning a championship in Trenton, and if that was his first ring…

“We won a World Series when I was 16, and I got a ring for that, but this one was a lot more special.  Trenton wasn’t the place I wanted to be at the time, but coming into that team, the atmosphere there and the group of guys that we had, it was pretty special.  You don’t run across a team like that all the time.  Everybody did their part, every little thing.  We had a great pitching staff, great defense.  The offense was great at times, but it wasn’t the greatest.  We just did all the little things right, and it was fun to be a part of.”

On how difficult it was making his Major League debut early in the year and ending up in Double-A towards the end…

“It’s been a roller coaster year, man.  I’ve learned a lot though, and that’s what I’m most happy about.  Obviously, as far as performance on the field, I felt like I could have done a lot better.  But I think in everyone’s career, they go through years where they don’t get to do exactly what they wanted to do.  But then again, I got to the big leagues, and I’m here now, so it’s kind of like a mixed bag for me.  I’m looking forward to getting a new start on next year and working hard in the off-season and getting prepared and coming out here and being a level above where I’m at right now.  I’m excited for the future, and I’m excited that I got this opportunity this year to do what I did.  I hope next year will be way better.”

On the motivation that a September call-up gives you…

“It’s amazing.  For me, I didn’t know if I was going to come up or not, so mentally I was ready to go home.  But as soon as I found out I was coming here, it was a whole new burst of energy.  It’s like that every time you walk into this clubhouse, almost every single day.  You don’t experience that every day in the minor leagues.  It’s definitely a good motivational tool to be around here, and you definitely want to stay.”

On the entire Double-A rotation either being on the big league roster at the time or being up as part of the development program…

“It was good to know that that’s how good our pitching staff was.  It’s good for them to get that recognition and to get their feet wet here.  That just goes to show you what kind of staff we had.”

On the benefits from his own experience in the development program the previous season…

“It was good man, just getting the lay of the land.  When I got here, I knew who to talk to and where to go and I just knew what to expect.  I think that’s a big important thing, because when you’re going to a new club, whether it’s here or anywhere, you don’t know what’s going on where to go and what the ballpark’s like.  I was able to do that last year, and coming here this year, I felt a lot more comfortable.  That was a big, helpful thing for me, and I think it would be for anybody.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #15

January 24, 2008

Tyler Clippard / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

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

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

But wow, what a debut it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recapping the Top 20 so far…

#15 – Tyler Clippard’s MLB debut
#16 – Brett Smith’s no-hitter
#17 – Chase Wright’s MLB debut
#18 – Chase Wright’s opening night start
#19 – Paul Lo Duca and Endy Chavez rehab in Trenton
#20 – Jeff Karstens rehab appearance

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #16

January 22, 2008

Brett Smith / Photo by Mike Ashmore

Moment #16 – Brett Smith’s no-hitter
July 4, 2007
Trenton, NJ

It’s incredible when you think of just how far Brett Smith fell after throwing the first no-hitter by a Thunder pitcher in the history of Waterfront Park.

You would have thought he would have followed the path that Alan Horne or Jeff Marquez did based on what he did early in the season, but his season fell apart after he was somewhat unexpectedly sent down just two games after his Independence Day no-no.

Smith started the season on fire, leaving after seven innings with a no-hitter intact on April 21st against the Binghamton Mets…which at the time was the most impressive performance I’d seen by a Thunder pitcher since Tyler Clippard had taken a perfect game into the 7th inning in 2006.

After that, he had two consecutive starts where he allowed one hit over eight innings of work in the month of May.

But even during his no-hitter, Smith struggled with his control late in his stay with the Thunder, walking a mind-boggling seven during the five innings of the rain-shortened contest.

He made just one more start for Trenton, but was pulled after just three and two thirds innings.  After that, he made a brief appearance out of the bullpen, but faced eight batters in one inning of work.

Smith was then sent down to Single-A Tampa, where he more or less imploded.  He went 0-6 in eight starts, and his ERA was a robust 7.68.  He had more walks than strikeouts, and had at least two free passes in every start.

In a farm system absolutely overflowing with pitching prospects, Smith had a year he couldn’t afford to have, and may have fallen off the prospect map.  It’ll take a huge 2008 to re-gain his status as someone to keep an eye on, and it’s a season that will likely see him return to Mercer County.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Making David Letterman Proud…

January 19, 2008

While our Top 20 Moments of 2007 countdown returns on Monday, I figured that with the 2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook set to reach bookstores very soon, it might be time to revisit some of their picks from years back.

For starters, let’s take a look at their top 30 Yankees prospects from 2004 and see how they turned out…

1. Dioner Navarro, C

Dioner Navarro / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2004)

While I will always think that dealing Dioner Navarro was a mistake, it’s also fair to say that he didn’t turn out quite the way a lot of people thought he would.  Only at the last trade deadline were the Yankees able to acquire an adequate backup catcher in Jose Molina, but this is a role that Navarro easily could have filled instead.

Traded in the Randy Johnson deal, he’s spent the past two seasons with the Dodgers and Devil Rays.  Since L.A. shipped him off to Tampa, his stats have steadily declined, and he hit a career low .227 in 119 games last season.

2. Eric Duncan, 3B

It’s interesting that while Shelley Duncan was crushing the ball at every stop of the Yankees organization, it was Eric that was getting the recognition as a top prospect.  Now, Eric is about a year away from being considered a total bust, while it’s Shelley who set the world on fire in the Bronx last year.

Frequently hampered by injuries, the Yankees first pick in 2003 struggled last season in Triple-A Scranton, hitting .241 with 11 home runs and 61 RBI.

He was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, and went unclaimed.

3. Rudy Guillen, OF

It’s really hard to believe he was the 3rd best prospect in the Yankees organization at one time.  He spent parts of two seasons in Trenton, and after hitting a paltry .173 in 21 games in Double-A in 2006, he attempted a conversion to pitcher.

Last season for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, he appeared in three games, and allowed three runs in four innings of work.

4. Joaquin Arias, SS

Arias was dealt to Texas right before the start of the 2004 season and actually reached the big leagues with Texas in 2006.  He hit .545 in six games, collecting an RBI.  He only appeared in five games last season at the minor league level, and missed the majority of the season after suffering a shoulder injury.

5. Ramon Ramirez, P

Ten years from now, if anyone remembers Ramirez at all, they’ll recall that he got busted for performance enhancing drugs.  In reality, Ramirez was a pretty solid pitcher who played for the Thunder in parts of three seasons.

As has been mentioned here before, the converted outfielder was dealt in the deal that netted the Yankees future Hall of Famer Shawn Chacon.  He has appeared in 83 games for the Rockies over the past two seasons, but struggled last year after an impressive 4-3 record and 3.46 ERA in 2006.

6. Robinson Cano, 2B

Robinson Cano / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Is there really anything new I can tell you about Robinson Cano?  Along with Navarro, he was one of the first true top prospects that the Thunder had under their relatively new affiliation with the Yankees.  He joined Trenton in July of 2003, and stayed there until he eventually hit his way to Triple-A in June of 2004.

He briefly returned to Trenton during his All-Star season of 2006, rehabbing an injury in three games at Waterfront Park.  Cano was very generous with his time with the media, and also with the fans, and reminded everyone why he was one of the more popular players in Thunder history.

7. Ferdin Tejeda, SS

Tejeda is the second position player in the top 10 who crapped out and tried a conversion to the mound.  He wowed Thunder fans with a .174 batting average in 30 games during the 2004 season, and lasted one more year as a middle infielder before trying his hand as a relief pitcher.

He was actually quite good last season in Charleston, going 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 31 games. 

8. Jorge DePaula, P

Jorge DePaula / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Those looking for a sign that the Yankees pitching depth has improved need look no further than DePaula being ranked as their second best pitching prospect just four years ago.  I personally liked DePaula a lot, and he was subject of the very first feature I ever did on the Thunder.

But the Yankees got very little out of him (10 games over a three year span) after he battled injuries, and he eventually went back to the Rockies organization for 2007.  A 6.41 ERA in 19 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs earned him his release.

9. Estee Harris, OF

Harris was the Yankees second round pick in the 2003 draft.  That’s pretty much the extent of good moments he had under the Yankees umbrella.  He never made it out of Charleston, hitting .216 in 2005 and a mind-numbing .177 in 2006.

He eventually ended up with the Road Warriors of the independent Atlantic League last season, and spent most of the season there before being acquired by the Long Island Ducks of the same league.

10. Bronson Sardinha, 3B

No, that’s not a typo.  Sardinha was a third baseman at the time, and stayed that way through the 2004 season before being converted to an outfielder in Trenton for the 2005 campaign.

He was also still pretty highly regarded as a top prospect in the organization, but his average play over the next few seasons would eventually send him down the Top 30 list.  But the Yankees still thought enough of him to protect him on their 40-man roster before the start of last season, and he somewhat imexplicably got a big league call-up despite hitting just .222 in Triple-A last year.

11. Eduardo Sierra, P

Has yet to crack the big leagues after nine seasons in the minors.  Was dealt in the Shawn Chacon trade.

12. Chien-Ming Wang, P

Quite possibly the most underrated starting pitcher in the game.  He’s 38-13 in his last two seasons with the Yankees, and has emerged as a perennial Cy Young contender.  Oddly enough, the highest ERA of his minor league career came in Trenton in 2003 (4.65).

13. Scott Proctor, P

Was one of Joe Torre’s most reliable relievers before being traded back to Los Angeles, where they’re now re-united.

14. Danny Borrell, P

One of the game’s good guys, Borrell was tantalizingly close to the big leagues before injuries essentially ended his career…or so everyone thought.  He came back last season with the Oakland Athletics organization, and went 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 games, including nine starts.

15. Matt DeSalvo, P

DeSalvo recently signed with the Braves organization after finally putting it all together and getting a chance at the big league level in the Bronx last year.

16. Hector Made, SS

A made man by name only, the undersized Dominican was traded to the Phillies in the Sal Fasano deal.  Entering his seventh season in the minors, he briefly reached Double-A last season, hitting a home run for his only hit in ten at-bats.

17. Sean Henn, P

Henn had his best chance of securing a regular spot in the Yankees bullpen last season, but essentially blew it after posting an ERA of over seven in 29 games.

18. Mark Phillips, P

Phillips returned to professional baseball for the first time since 2003 last year, appearing in seven games for the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League.

19. Melky Cabrera, OF

Got Melky?  The Yankees still do, despite numerous trade rumors involving the young outfielder.  Several analysts have predicted the Thunder alum will be a breakout player in 2008, but for which team?

20. Jose Garcia, P

Garcia was traded to Texas in February of 2004, and eventually found his way to the Cardinals organization.  Released midway through last season by St. Louis, he also went to Newark of the Atlantic League, where he and Phillips won a championship.

21. Jose Valdez, P

Did not pitch in the 2005 season, and appeared in only 14 in 2006.  In his first full year back, Valdez went 3-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 37 relief appearances in Tampa.

22. Michael Vento, OF

Vento appeared in two games for the Yankees in 2005 before joining the Nationals organization the following season.  The career .282 hitter in the minor leagues collected five hits in nine games with Washington before spending all of 2007 in Triple-A Syracuse with the Blue Jays.

23. J.T. Stotts, SS/2B

Stotts did not play last season.  He hit just .228 with no home runs and 21 RBI in 86 games for the Thunder in 2006, primarily being used as a utility infielder.

24. Brad Halsey, P

Halsey made his Bronx debut in 2004 after going 11-4 with a 2.63 ERA for Columbus.  He pitched in a grand total of eight games for the Yankees before being shipped west to Arizona as part of the Randy Johnson deal.  After joining Oakland in 2006, he was converted to a reliever, but appeared in just three games last season due to injury.

25. Jason Stephens, P

In five seasons of minor league baseball, has appeared in just 61 games.  The sixth rounder is 17-9 with a 2.68 ERA when he does pitch, however.

26. Jon-Mark Sprowl, C

Sprowl did not play last season, and most recently played in 2006 as a member of the Cubs organization.  He hit just .118 at the Single-A level.

27. Erick Almonte, SS

Another player who eventually went to independent baseball, Almonte was off of the affiliated map by 2006 and ended up as a member of the independent Long Island Ducks.  The man best known as Derek Jeter’s temporary replacement was eventually picked up by the Detroit Tigers and played well for them at the Double-A and Triple-A levels last season.

28. Tyler Clippard, P

Clippard threw the first no-hitter in Thunder history, and made a very steady climb as a prospect in the organization.  But with a glut of starting pitching prospects — something that was clearly not a problem when this list came out — he was dealt this off-season to Washington for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.

29. Ben Julianel, P

Julianel had two relatively unremarkable years in the Yankees system before joining the Marlins organization in 2006.  He reached Triple-A for the first time last season.

30. Mike Knox, P

Knox last pitched in 2005, where he had an 11.50 ERA in 14 games for Single-A Tampa.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #17

January 15, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Best of 2007: Moment #20

January 4, 2008

Jeff Karstens / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Moment #20 – Jeff Karstens Rehab Appearance
July 17, 2007
Trenton, NJ

Moment #20 takes us to Waterfront Park in Trenton, where pitcher Jeff Karstens made his one and only rehab appearance with the club against the Binghamton Mets.  While it was overshadowed by Phil Hughes, who had appeared four days earlier and would make his final start one day later, Karstens pitched well, allowing one run on four hits in five innings for the win.

Only a small media contingent showed up to see his latest stop on the comeback trail from a broken leg that derailed one of the more surprising Thunder-related success stories of 2007.

A line drive off the bat of Julio Lugo on April 28th fractured the fibula of the Thunder alum, who spent all of 2005 with the team and part of 2006.  The 19th round pick put up some pretty pedestrian numbers in his first season with the ballclub, going 12-11 with a 4.15 ERA in 169 innings pitched, but established himself as a legitimate prospect in 2006 after a 6-0 run with the Thunder after being sent down from Triple-A Columbus early in the season.

Karstens pitched well in limited action for the Yankees in 2006 after being called up in late August, and entered the 2007 season as a member of the starting rotation in the big leagues after a so-so showing in Spring Training.

But a season that started with so much promise never really got back on track, at least at the big league level, with Karstens allowing 11 earned runs in 10.1 innings in the five games he appeared in after eventually returning from the injury after a few starts in Triple-A Scranton.

But even with a rough first inning and sitting through a brief rain delay, you’d have never predicted Karstens would have faltered after seeing him on that gloomy mid-summer day.

“My body felt good for the most part,” Karstens said at the time.

“I didn’t throw as good as I thought I could, I was kind of off on a few fastballs and changeups, but it got better towards the end.”

Karstens was also impressed with Thunder pitching coach Scott Aldred, who will be returning to the team this year.

“He’s been good, he’s got a lot of insight on a lot of things,” he said.

“All pitching coaches are different, you’ve just got to take certain things from all of them and just go from there.”

Where does Karstens go from his 2007 season?  It would seem highly likely that he’ll be starting the year in Scranton, as so many pitchers seemed to pass him in the organization.  Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez and possibly even Daniel McCutchen all whizzed by Karstens on the depth chart and unless the Yankees think he can help their bullpen, it seems hard to believe that he’ll get a chance as good as the one he had at the start of 2007.

Right now, he’s probably on par with Steven White and Darrell Rasner, although a strong showing in the Baseball World Cup might have buoyed his stock in the organization, if only slightly.

However, considering Tyler Clippard was sent all the way down to Double-A after making his big league debut earlier in ’07, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see Karstens make a cameo in Trenton as well…but if things ever reached that point, the Yankees might be better off following the path they did with Clippard and try to get a quality prospect in return for him.

Needless to say, this is a make or break year — pardon the pun — for Karstens.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com