Blogs > Minor Matters

Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Conversation with Damon Oppenheimer

The title pretty much says it all, but here's the first part of the transcript of the interview myself and Thunder Thoughts correspondent Mike Ashmore did yesterday with Yankees Director of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer.

Q: Who from the 2009 draft class do you believe will make it to the Thunder first?
A: To get to this level right here, I would say you're probably looking at (Adam) Warren, the kid from North Carolina, or Caleb Cotham. Those two guys could get here pretty quick. Those are both college pitchers that have now stuff that they can locate. They can probably get to be on the same track as Bleich.

Q: Are you pleased with what you've seen from Bleich so far?
A: Yeah, I'd call this his first year, really, because, if you look back, it wasn't like he pitched much last year. So I'd say that this is considered a first year, and that stuff that he showed last night, there were three pitches that were very good. He just needs to continue to be aggressive and pound the zone with confidence and go out there and trust his stuff.

Q: Do you think he's lacking confidence at this point based on the apprehensiveness he showed in his last start?
A: I think what you saw was pretty accurate. The thing that really was exciting about it was: he was getting to 0-2, he's getting ahead of hitters. Now it's just a matter of saying 'I'm going to put them away' and not give them too much respect and just go after them. Very rarely are you going to find left-handers with that kind of curveball, that kind of change-up and a fastball at 92-93 miles per hour. We can't teach that stuff, we can help him with the other stuff.

Q: So you're saying that as long as he's getting ahead and racking up strikeouts, then there's no reason to worry?
A: That's why he's here. You're going to have to experience some failure, and we'd rather him experience it here than have him experience it in the Bronx. He needs to learn how to get through that stuff, and that's what he's learning how to do now.

Q: You got see Zach McAllister yesterday when he was pretty much on. What thoughts do you have on his progression overall?
A: We're really happy with what we saw out of him yesterday. That was advanced, it looked really good. That fastball's jumping on people without really lighting up a radar gun, and he's locating and coming out there and (seems like) he's in complete control of the game.

It's nice that he's staying here to be part of this playoff race. That was a big game for this team and he came out and performed real well. It's going to help this team continue to build for the playoffs. That's another big part of it. They needed him to have a good game and he went out there and did it.

Q: Does it speak to his character also that he was able to shake off the line drive off his leg and continue to pitch?
A: I think it's just a huge part of his development to realize that he's got to finish what he started here. It might hurt a little bit but you've got to get through this.

Q: Overall are you pleased with what you've seen at this level this season?
A: Overall, we could always stand to get better. I'd like to give you guys three Austin Jacksons every year, but that's just not the way the thing operates. With what's gone through here and the glimpse you got of Montero, we're pretty slow on moving guys up too quick. I think that what we're seeing and what you guys are getting ... I think we're pretty happy. I think some guys have gotten better here, the coaching staff's done a nice job in developing some of these guys. You're seeing some smiles in the clubhouse and some stuff that's pretty exciting in there.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Oppenheimer Speaks

Spoke to Damon Oppenheimer for about 10 minutes today, and more will be in tomorrow's Trentonian, but here are a few nuggets:

Dellin Betances, one of the Yanks' top prospects, had Tommy John Surgery a few days ago.

Austin Romine, one of the team's twin peaks at catcher, will be in Trenton next year.

Read the story tomorrow for the rest.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bullpen a little leaky lately?

The Thunder's previous two losses have been directly attributable to bullpen failure. This leads me to wonder if perhaps the pitchers who bide their time just across the right-field foul line at Waterfront Park are a little bit tired at the season's late juncture.

Here are the innings each member of the pen has tossed this season, and, for good measure, their previous high.

Eric Wordekemper:
2009: 52 2/3 IP
Previous High: 81 2/3

Josh Schmidt:
2009: 77 1/3
Previous High: 68

Humberto Sanchez:
2009: 28 1/3
Previous High: 123 (when he was a starter)

Wilkins Arias:
2009: 55 2/3
Previous High: 140 2/3 (as a starter) 68 2/3 (solely as a reliever)

Jose Valdez:
2009: 53 1/3
Previous High: 60 1/3 (solely as a reliever)

Grant Duff - this is his first season as a full-time reliever (although he made one start with Tampa)
2009: 66
Previous High: 139

Kanekoa Texeira:
2009: 96 2/3 (!)
Previous High: 61

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Big Series for Thunder

When the Thunder return to Waterfront Park tomorrow, they will begin what is unquestionably their biggest series of the season. It's four games with the New Britain Rock Cats, whom the Thunder trail by three (it could be two or four by tomorrow) games at the beginning of Wednesday.

Here are the matchups:

Friday: LHP Jeremy Bleich (3-6, 6.47) vs. RHP Cole DeVries (7-13, 4.66)
Saturday: RHP Zach McAllister (6-5, 2.40) vs. LHP Ryan Mullins (10-10, 4.01)
Sunday: RHP Ryan Pope (5-11 (4.85) vs. RHP Deolis Guerra (6-3, 5.19)
Monday: Trenton TBD vs. RHP Matt Fox (9-9, 3.64)

That TBD you see will most likely be someone like Josh Schmidt, who started last night in Altoona.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

AFL update via Chad Jennings

Former Thunder players RHP Ian Kennedy, OF Colin Curtis and LHP Michael Dunn (unless he gets a call-up in September), and probable members of next year's Thunder team C Austin Romine and 3B Brandon Laird will all be in the Arizona Fall League this season.

Great pitching. No hitting.

Interesting note in yesterday's Thunder press release.

Yesterday's 1-0 blanking of the Fisher Cats marked the fourth one-hitter the club has thrown and its 15th shutout.

And they're still just 62-62. Amazing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strasburg signs

Well, Nationals fan, you can exhale.

The mythical Stephen Strasburg has signed and will probably make his debut in some sort of winter league (Arizona is the likely destination). His $15.67 million contract fell way short of the $50 million figure bandied about before the draft but set a new record for first-round signees.

With his triple-digit fastball, Strasburg brings with him hope for a team sincerely in need. His mere presence will boost attendance -- at least for a short while. Couple him with Ross Detwiler and (eventually) Jordan Zimmermann, and he may bring something far more important to the nation's capital: stability.

Every first-round pick except Texas' Matthew Purke and Tampa Bay's Levon Washington signed with their club. Aaron Crow did not sign with the Royals, the second team in as many seasons to draft him round one, but he has until a week before next season's draft to agree.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Get happy, people, it's signing day

With the Yankees coming to terms with Slade Heathcott in the past few minutes (a $2.2M bonus), the list of unsigned first-rounders in down to 13. Stephen Strasburg, the top choice, is on that list, as is No.2 selection Dustin Ackley.

Just two teams failed to sign their first-rounders last season: The Yankees (Gerrit Cole, who opted for UCLA) and the Nationals (who failed to lock up Aaron Crow). Crow was taken by the Royals this year, and is still counted among the ranks of the unsigned.

Three big-name high schoolers are still without contracts, and given their demands, probably will be once midnight passes tonight. Jacob Turner (Tigers), Shelby Miller (Cardinals) and Matt Purke (Rangers) each are asking for record-setting bonuses (think Rick Porcello two seasons ago)

If they choose not to sign, each player has a solid Division-I school in his future. Purke has committed to Texas Christian University, Turner to North Carolina and Miller to A&M.

Tyler Matzek, a high schooler who the Rockies' chose with the No. 11 pick, is committed to my alma mater, the University of Oregon. Here's hoping he doesn't sign and I can go see him next spring.

The rest of the day should be exciting, stay tuned.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Random Thoughts

It seems to me that there is a lot of, for lack of a better word, chaff on this year's Thunder squad. In this case "chaff" means guys who appear to have their careers hanging on by a thread.

Here are a couple who I think could find new homes next season:

Edwar Gonzalez: After being Trenton's ace in the hole in 2008 and the very early portion of 2009, Gonzalez seems to have forgotten how to hit. He's down to .217/.286/.611, a far cry from his numbers of a season ago. He says the shoulder he injured at the beginning of the season isn't bothering him, which doesn't leave many options as to where the offense has gone. At 26 years old and unproductive, it would seem that his days in the organization could be numbered.

Marcos Vechionacci: He's hit only from the right side this season at the organization's request, but that doesn't appear to have changed much with regard to his meager output. Vechionacci has shown a little pop of late, but he's approaching six seasons in the organization without making it past Double-A. With guys at the lower levels pushing their way forward, it's probably time for Vechionacci and the Yankees to part ways.

P.J. Pilittere: Pilittere is a great guy, but the results just haven't been there for the rock of the last two seasons' EL Championship runs. Judging by the way the organization has treated him, it's painfully obvious they don't see a major league future for Pilittere. He has great game-calling and defensive skills, however, and would be wise to seek a position as a catchers' coach with the Yankees.

Richie Robnett: Listed among baseball's top prospects as recently as this season by Baseball America, Robnett just has not produced during his tenure with Trenton. The tank-built outfielder is hitting .240/.290/.661 in the minors this season and is fast approaching 25 years old. While his time in organized baseball may not be quite over, his stint with the Yankees should be.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Notes and Quotes from yesterday

The Thunder topped Reading yesterday at home, moving their record to 4-8 against the R-Phils in 2009. Early on, things weren't looking good for the Thunder, who were no-hit for 4 2/3 innings by Yohan Flande.

It was the first time they had seen Flande this season, and boy did he look good. He was getting awkward swings and misses on a devastating changeup that made his fastball look much better by comparison.

Here's what manager Tony Franklin had to say about Flande afterward:

"He doesn't look like anything special, but he gets you out. He's one of those kind of guys who gives you a nice, comfortable 0-for-3, some guys are like that. He's certainly is that kind of pitcher. You look at him and you say 'God, we should be hitting this guy.' He pitches well."

Here's Tony on Trenton All-Star reliever Josh Schmidt, who despite near-total domination of Double-A, hasn't earned a call-up:

"He's an All-Star. He was an All-Star pitcher this year. What more can I say about that? He's been very good for us and the reason he was an All-Star is because he's been very good all year. He continues to get guys out. It doesn't matter (whether they're) left or right.

He didn't pitch a lot for a while but when he did get in there he was able to maintain what he had done previously. Coming down the stretch he's done well."


One scout this week, when talking about Austin Jackson, threw out a comparison that I think Yankees fans will be pleased with: Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

Just thought I'd throw that out there.


Speaking of scouts, Phils top scout Charley Kerfeld was in attendance for the first two games of the Reading series at Waterfront Park.


A couple of cool, eye-opening links, via Deadspin and Peter Abraham.

Bronson Arroyo talking candidly about supplements:

A University of Illinois on whether there really is a wind tunnel at Yankee Stadium:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You win, Pedro, for now

So Pedro Martinez did just fine in his first start with the Phillies, it appears. What may have helped, though, is the extra five miles per hour he seems to have gained on his fastball since last Wednesday in Reading. Whether that's a product of the extra rest or a fast/slow radar gun somewhere is up to the imagination. What matters, at least to Phillies fans, is that he performed better than Jamie Moyer, which is really all they are asking of him.

I'm sticking with my original prediction that he will eventually flounder and leave Philadelphia wondering why they went out and got him in the first place. Hey, they still have Cliff Lee, though.


The re-acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. by the Seattle Mariners seems to have largely been a bust (unless you count sentimental value), but last night he made the patrons at Safeco remember the glory days for an evening.

With the score tied at 0-0 in the 14th, Griffey stroked a pinch-hit, game-winning RBI single off of the White Sox's Tony Pena, setting off a mob scene on the infield.

So while he may not be much help as the M's get the Yanks for four this weekend in the heat of a wild-card race, he brought the success-deprived Seattlites a brief reminder of the good times.


Speaking of the Yanks (I totally was, check the last paragraph), today marks the 12-year anniversary of my first game at Yankee Stadium. It was Yanks-Royals, Hideki Irabu. Tino Martinez hit one of his 44 home runs that season, and Wade Boggs made a diving catch to end things. Good times.


Be sure to follow me on Twitter (jnorris427)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mea Culpa Redux

I've been having a lot of Internet issues lately, so the blog has suffered. This ends today. I promise, from the bottom of my rawhide-covered and red-stitched heart, that I will update this blog at least three times a week from now on.

That said, what has happened since I've last posted? Frankly, a lot.

- The Yankees swept the Red Sox in four games ... which ultimately means nothing more than a temporary morale boost for Yankees Universe. A lot can and will happen from now until the season ends.

If Wakefield and Matsuzaka come back healthy, then it's a whole new ballgame for the Yankees, Red Sox and the race for first in the AL East.

- Pedro Martinez makes his first start for the Phillies tonight, and Moyer moves to the bullpen. Ultimately, in my super-duper professional opinion, I think Pedro will prove to be an upgrade over Moyer, but not by much. Sure, he fanned 11 Thunder players the other night, but wasn't hitting much above 90. Additionally, none of the Thunder had seen Pedro, meaning they hadn't seen that change-up.

Players in the MLB will have seen him and will have had access to tons of video and scouting reports, meaning he probably won't fool anyone.

- It's just stopped raining in Trenton and looks like the sky is clearing up a bit. Perhaps there will be baseball after all.

Follow me (jnorris427) on Twitter.