With opening day (featuring the World Series trophy) just 63 days away -- and pitchers and catchers reporting in just more than two weeks -- now seems as good a time as any to ask a few questions about what the Thunder might look like against the Erie SeaWolves come April 8.
Today marks the second of 10 questions in 10 days about the Yankees Double-A affiliate.
9. Who will fill Eduardo Nunez's shoes at shortstop?
Eduardo Nunez spoiled Thunder fans last season. By and large, Nunez was the most consistent offensive producer in Trenton's lineup from Day One until season's close. He produced a .322/.349/.782 line with 26 2Bs, nine HRs and 55 RBIs.
Sure, his 33 errors left much to be desired, but this guy
(a four-time Gold Glover) had seasons with 21, 25, 29 and 56 miscues in the minor leagues.
Enough about the past. It's time to look ahead.
When I contacted Mark Newman a few weeks ago, even he couldn't give me a solid answer about who would play short at Waterfront Park in 2010. There are few candidates, but none who really jump out as someone who could play up to Nunez's caliber.
Candidate No. 1, Walter Ibarra: The 22-year-old from Los Mochis Sinola, Mexico played in 18 games with Trenton in 2008, getting 15 hits (including three doubles and a home run) in the process.
This season, with Charleston and Tampa, Ibarra put together .262/.294/.602 with 19 RBIs and swiped 12 bases in 17 attempts. This winter, with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo of the Mexican League, Ibarra compiled 16 hits in 64 at-bats.
The Double-A experience, I believe, gives Ibarra a little bit of a leg up on all the rest when it comes to his odds of being in Tony Franklin's lineup come April 8 against Erie.
Odds to win the job - 5:1
Candidate No. 2, Matt Cusick:
Cusick joined the Thunder late last season, and despite his .240 batting average, seemed to hit the ball hard every time. He played second base with the Thunder, but, because of second basemen like Corba
n Joseph, Damon Sublett and David Adams making their way toward Trenton, Cusick could be asked (forced?) to switch positions.
His defense at second was solid if not spectacular, and I think more of that could be expected if he makes the switch.
Odds to win the job - 8:1
Candidate No.3, Addison Maruszak: This is a long shot, but a good performance in spring training could vault him out of the warm weather in Tampa into what should be a significantly less hospitable Trenton in April.
Maruszak earned a late-season promotion to Tampa last year, but struggled mightily upon arrival. His .148 average with the T-Yanks suggests that he may not be offensively ready for the upper levels. The sheer lack of candidates for that job, however, may necessitate an early promotion.
Odds to win the job - 20:1
Check back tomorrow for a look at the 2010 bullpen.
Photo Credits: Mike Ashmore (Cusick), Steinbrenner Drive blog (Maruszak)