Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Monday, January 31, 2011

A First Guess

With the start of spring training just around the corner, it seems appropriate to take a first guess at what the Thunder's roster will look like in New Hampshire on April 7. There are plenty of near-certainties, but there's also a host of slots that are up in the air, and will remain so until camp breaks.

1. Austin Romine - C
2. Jose Gil - C
3. Myron Leslie - 1B
4. Corban Joseph - 2B
5. Luis Nunez - SS
6. Brad Suttle - 3B
7. Melky Mesa - OF
8. Austin Krum - OF
9. Cody Johnson - OF
10. Ray Kruml - OF
11. Walter Ibarra - IF
12. Justin Snyder - UT
13. Dellin Betances - SP
14. Manny Banuelos - SP
15. Adam Warren - SP
16. Graham Stoneburner - SP
17. Shaeffer Hall - SP
18. Craig Heyer - RP
19. Pat Venditte - RP
20. Adam Olbrychowski - RP
21. Trenton Lare - RP
22. Phil Bartleski - RP
23. Tim Norton - RP
24. Cory Arbiso - RP

For the rotation, I'm working on the assumption that Lance Pendleton comes back after being selected by the Astros in the Rule 5. If he does not, Warren should bump to Triple-A, leaving Arbiso to plug into the fifth starter's role with the Thunder. Either way, that staff looks pretty nice to start the year.

Because of the Russell Martin signing, I expect Romine to come back to the Thunder for a couple of months. Once Montero heads to New York, Romine will head to Scranton. It's as simple as that.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

A little more from Brian Cashman

After the success of yesterday's interview with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, I figured I might as well type up the last three questions I asked. They pertain to the team's recent delving into Mexico's talent pool, as well as what the organization looks for in a scout.

JN: In recent years, you’ve seen four Mexicans, Ramiro Pena, Jorge Vazquez, Alfredo Aceves and Manny Banuelos, each contribute at either the big league level or at the upper levels of the minors. Is Mexico a new frontier for the organization, scouting-wise?

BC: (Mexico’s become a priority) in the last six years or so. … We hired Lee Sigman (the Yankees scout in Mexico), and since we hired Lee we’ve had a lot of success. Again, it’s all because of hard work and having quality scouts.

JN: When you guys look at a scout, what qualities do you look for? How do you go about hiring a scout?

BC: Obviously, guys have a reputation and guys have a history. We have a process for evaluating scouts like that, and we teach how we scout here. If we hire a scout from another club, we’re not hiring them to give us opinions willy nilly, we’re hiring them to take their abilities and put them in the context we want it put.

That’s a long answer to give about what makes a quality scout, but basically, like anything else, it’s a people business. You get a chance to get to know people, you get a chance to talk baseball, and the longer you talk and the more you talk, you can tell who’s full of shit and you can tell who knows what they’re talking about.

JN: So is it fair to say there’s a Yankees way of scouting, and then there’s a Blue Jays and Red Sox way of scouting?

BC: I think that the scouting has to reflect the philosophies from the front office. The players we gravitate to as a baseball operation are definitely different than certain organizations but very similar to others.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brian Cashman: Jesus Montero is "better, defensively, than some catchers in the big leagues right now"

Last season, at the upper levels of Scranton and Trenton, the mid-levels at Tampa and Charleston, and the lower levels at Staten Island and the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer Leagues, the Yankees’ farm system flourished in a fashion nearly unmatched in team history.

Position players and pitchers alike moved rapidly, giving the team a wealth of young, talented prospects to use to replenish the big club, be it via promotion or trade.

The advance represented the culmination of a four-season wholesale overhaul of the farm and the way it was constructed.

At the forefront of that metamorphosis was general manager Brian Cashman, who spoke exclusively with The Trentonian on Friday about what went into that process, how it is continuing, as well as other subjects pertaining to player development.

From Diamondbacks’ general manager Kevin Towers’ role with the team last year, to which farmhands he thinks fans should watch for this season, to why Jesus Montero is going to be the Yankees’ next stalwart behind the plate, this interview is a guide to how the organization approaches player development, and what effect it will have in shaping the team for 2011 and beyond.

JN: Last year was obviously a pretty good year for the Yankees on the farm. Since you’ve been GM, was 2010 the best year as far as player development is concerned?

It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t be able to say that. Prior to the 2006 season, we have certainly recommitted ourselves to amateur scouting and player development. Since that time you’ve seen us slowly but surely emerge from one of the weakest to one of the strongest farm systems in the game.

How do you begin the process of re-tooling the farm system, in order to make that transition?

Make sure you have quality scouts. When a quality scout comes available, increase your scouting budget with new hires. We’ve hired more quality amateur scouts and we’ve hired more quality pro scouts.

We have been very aggressive in the draft and re-dedicated ourselves to tools, not necessarily to performance coming out of the amateur ranks. We had been very disciplined, in most cases, in holding onto our draft pick, our number one pick, and not losing it as free agent compensation.

You mentioned giving up that draft pick, which is something you had to do this year when you signed Soriano. With the value of major-league talent on the rise, has the value of the first-round choice risen commensurately?

BC: I’m not going to answer that directly. The pick in the first round does have a great deal of value to you. As long as you’ve got a quality scouting director in the department, which we have, you’re going to get a quality player that’s going to impact your club. The signing bonus of that player, and the cost of developing him into something will certainly offset having to go to the free-agent market three years later to get that type of player somewhere else outside the market.

For instance, David Robertson has been a very terrific reliever for us. He cost us $200,000 to sign, to get him away after his junior year at Alabama. So, you see what it takes to sign free agents off the market after six years of work, and Robertson cost us a $200,000 signing bonus and the money – the minimum he’s made – and the development cost behind getting him here. There’s obviously value there, clearly.

Because the Yankees have money, it obviously gives them flexibility in the draft, but does it also buy them more patience with guys who may take longer to develop, because of injuries or otherwise?

No, I don’t think so. The bottom line is: Take the best player on the board. Brackman, in his case, the only reason he got to us is because of the knowledge that he had a ligament issue and was going to need Tommy John surgery. Nowadays, I think it’s an 88 to 92 percent success rate, so when you compare it to losing a year waiting for him, versus the other players, we chose Brackman. I don’t necessarily think patience has anything to do with it, other than you need patience to wait on these guys.

Talking about Brackman, he was one of three guys, along with Jesus Montero and Dellin Betances, who the organization brought up toward the end of the year for a bit of a taste of the show. What did you hope those guys would gain during that brief stay?

That’s another thing. When I got full authority, we implemented another added step in the development program. That was picking a few guys, maybe a handful of guys, on a yearly basis that you’d bring to New York on a homestand.

They wouldn’t be, obviously, activated on our roster, but they could participate in pregame, they could sit in on the advance scouting meetings, they can get a chance to meet the traveling secretary, know our facility, meet the trainers, sit in the stands and chart the pitches, get the atmosphere down. It’s just closing the gap on the unknown in their steps toward (being) future major leaguers.

Was Brackman technically active during that time because he was on the 40-man?

Brackman was active.

Then I assume the reason he didn’t see any time was because the division versus wild-card scenario came right down to the wire.

That, and there was also some down time between us bringing him up, so he wasn’t throwing and we didn’t think it was best to throw him when he was so rusty.

You had Kevin Towers in your system last year, and now he’s obviously the general manager of the Diamondbacks. What was the value of having him in the system for the year?

Kevin and I are dear friends, but I only (got) Kevin involved because I knew he was going to be a GM someday somewhere else, but I wanted to get an outside perspective of our system. He’s a tremendous evaluator of talent, so Damon Oppenheimer used him for the draft.

He went out there and saw the amateurs that were out there. He went through our farm system, and he was a guy I could lean on and ask for advice on a lot of different things. It was nice to have him for the short time we had him.

JN: So he could, for example, take a look at a guy you see as a starter and say that maybe he would profile better as a reliever?

BC: Not necessarily like that as much as him going through our system and ranking who he likes and comparing him to how we see it. It’s just an outside, objective – even though he was (working) for us last year – he wasn’t a part of the drafting or developing of these players (currently in the system). When you see players for the first time, as opposed to guys you’ve been seeing for a number of years in their development, you get a chance to get emotionally attached to guys. Kevin was just an objective viewpoint, kind of outside the organization, looking at our system and letting us know what he was seeing.

JN: With Russell Martin coming on board, is that an indicator that Montero will probably start the year back at Scranton?

BC: It’s an indicator of who’s going to be the starting catcher. It’s going to be Russell Martin, period. Then after that, the back-up situation’s going to be open for discussion between Cervelli, Montero, Romine, we’ll see. Or all of them. … They all could split time and get a little education in the process.

JN: With Montero, obviously the questions are with his defense. I know the Yankees believe he can catch right now. How far does the organization believe he has to go before its certain he can catch long-term.

BC: We believe he can catch, and we believe he can catch long-term.

JN: What are you and the organization seeing, then, that perhaps other organizations are missing when it comes to Montero’s defensive abilities?

BC: He’s come a long way. The defensive side is something he’s had to work on a long time. I’d liken it separately to a guy like Wade Boggs, who came through the farm system of the Red Sox, always hit, but people said he can’t play defense. He ultimately turned himself into a perennial Gold Glove-winning third baseman.

Hard work can close the gap on deficiencies. Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the South Atlantic League. … The minor leagues is (where you) work out your problems, and he’s certainly closing the gap. He’s not there yet, but he’s pretty damn close. We believe he’s better than some starting catchers, defensively, in the big leagues right now.

JN: Besides Montero and some of the other big names in the system, who do you and the organization expect to take that final step forward in 2011?

BC: I think those two kids in Trenton, Betances and Banuelos, that are going to be anchoring the rotation in Trenton. I think those two are going to be interesting to watch, people I’d be excited to go see if I was a fan.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thunder announce promotional schedule, in press release form

(TRENTON, NJ) -The Trenton Thunder, Double A Affiliate of the New York Yankees, released the bulk of its 2011 Promotional Schedule on Thursday afternoon with a pair of FREE All-You-Can-Eat Nights and giveaways commemorating the rehab appearances of NY Yankees stars Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter leading the way. Additional promotions will be announced at a later date.

Single game tickets for the 2011 Trenton Thunder season will go on sale on Tuesday, February 1 at 9:30 am online at, by phone at 609-394-3300 or in person at Waterfront Park.

The Thunder will begin their home schedule on Thursday, April 14 with an Opening Night celebration and magnetic schedule giveaway (1st 2,000 fans). The following night will feature another magnetic schedule giveaway (1st 2,000 fans) and all fans in attendance will receive free hot dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers as the popular FREE All-You-Can-Eat Night returns for a second season. A second FREE All-You-Can-Eat Night will be held on Thursday, August 25.

The Thunder will host six Bobblehead Doll giveaways with each one featuring players who have worn the Thunder uniform in their careers. Robinson Cano Bobblehead Night (1st 1,500, 6+) will be held Friday, April 29 thanks to Synder's of Hanover. Phil Hughes Bobbleheads (1st 2,000 fans ages 6+) will be given out on Friday, May 13 thanks to the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Trenton. Andy Pettitte's 2010 Rehabiliation Appearances with the Thunder will be featured on two bobbleheads - on Friday, July 15 in his Thunder home jersey (1st 2,000 fans ages 6+) thanks to TD Bank and Friday, July 29 in his Thunder road jersey (1st 2,000 fans ages 6+) courtesy of Hyundai . NY Yankee captain Derek Jeter, who rehabbed with the Thunder in 2003, will be featured on a bobblehead doll in his Thunder uniform on Friday, August 19 (1st 2,000 fans ages 6+) thanks to Arm & Hammer. The sixth bobblehead giveaway is to be determined but will be held on Latin Heritage Night, Friday, August 26.

Some new items on the Trenton promotional slate include a Trenton Thunder & Reading Phillies reversible Bucket Hats (1st 1,000, 18+) on Tuesday, May 10 thanks to Deborah Heart & Lung Center. On Wednesday, May 11, Arm & Hammer will provide Thunder folding hampers to the first 1,000 fans ages five to 18. Thunder growth charts will be the giveaway on Sunday, July 31 (1st 1,000 5-15).

Dog-friendly promotions will return to Waterfront Park on Sunday, May 1 with Bark at the Park presented by Dogs and Cats Rule. This event allows fans to bring their canines with them to the stadium. On Friday, July 1, the Thunder will celebrate the birthday of its Golden Retriever, Chase, with a dog bowl giveaway (1st 1,000) thanks to Arm & Hammer, Frontline and Heartguard.

Thunder fans at each Monday game all season will receive a collectible souvenir travel cup (1st 1,000).

As previously announced, the Thunder will host 21 fireworks shows after games in 2011.

Also added to the schedule are a slew of theme nights including Irish Heritage Night (August 11), Polish Heritage Night (June 28), Women in Sports Night (April 19) and more. Many community events will also be returning to the ballpark including the Sixth Annual EarthShare New Jersey Environmental Awareness Fair (July 16), the 2nd Annual Good Deed Game (August 27) and Community Blood Council of NJ Blood Drives on June 4, July 30 and August 27.


The 2011 Trenton Thunder season will begin on Thursday, April 7 at New Hampshire with the home opener set for Thursday, April 14 versus Harrisburg. Group tickets, season tickets and Ticket Packages are all on sale now.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


River Ave. Blues' Mike Axisa got his handbook today, and was kind enough to send me the rest of Baseball America's Top 30 Yankees prospects. That means we have a winner for our contest. And his name is ...

ANDY FLEMING (@andyinsunnydb)

The rest of the prospects were, in order:

11. Brett Marshall
12. Adam Warren
13. Ivan Nova
14. J.R. Murphy
15. Mason Williams
16. David Phelps
17. Graham Stoneburner
18. D.J. Mitchell
19. Melky Mesa
20. Corban Joseph
21. Cito Culver
22. David Adams
23. Bryan Mitchell
24. Jose Ramirez
25. Angelo Gumbs
26. Jeremy Bleich
27. Dan Brewer
28. Tommy Kahnle
29. Chase Whitley
30. Pat Venditte

Also, the No. 31 prospect, which comes when you buy the BA Book, is Kelvin De Leon.

JUDGING: I went through the list and counted how many spots on the list each contestant got correct. In the case of a tie, I went with who had the most closest to the top. Andy nailed the first three, Marshall, Warren and Nova, and thus beat out the other two contests who also got three spots correct.

Thanks for playing, everyone. There will be more contests in the future.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

I guess I should enter my own contest, huh?

It seems the Baseball America Prospect Handbooks have begun to ship, which means we'll soon know the results of this blog's contest, and the winner of the coveted quartet of bobbleheads and Corban Joseph rookie card.

Because I put you all through so much work, I figure it's only fair that I make my own guess at how BA will rank the Top 11-20 prospects. Without further hemming and hawing, here are my choices, without any prior knowledge.

11. Adam Warren
12. David Phelps
13. J.R. Murphy
14. Melky Mesa
15. Ivan Nova
Graham Stoneburner
17. Brett Marshall
18. Corban Joseph
19. Ramon Flores
20. Cito Culver
21. David Adams
22. D.J. Mitchell
23. Mason Williams
24. Jose Pirela
25.Chase Whitley
26. Angelo Gumbs
27. Tommy Kahnle
28. Rob Segedin
29. Preston Claiborne
30. Kyle Roller
BONUS - 31. Daniel Burawa

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Yankees Winter League Standouts

Today marks the middle of a pretty light week, blog-wise. Sure, there was the Rafael Soriano press conference, but that was mostly it, and I really don't do the major leagues. Don't worry, though, I have a few surprises left in my bag of tricks, but you probably won't see those until next week.

For now, here are a few standouts from the Yankees class of Winter Leaguers:

1. Justin Christian: A lightning rod at the top of the Thunder lineup, Christian simply dominated with Los Caneros de los Mochis. He hit .356/.452/1.013 with 10 HRs, 32 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 25 attempts. I guess that shoulder is fully healed now.

2. Jorge Vazquez: With his success, and the fact that Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez have placed a pretty solid block in front of him, maybe he should just return to the Mexican League and mash. He hit .346/.401/1.048 with 10 doubles, 10 longballs and 30 RBIs. Someone, however, decided it was wise for him to try to steal a base. They didn't make that mistake twice.

3. Wilkins Arias: That's right, when he wasn't causing massive labor stoppages, Wilkins Arias was dominating for Estrellas de Oriente, of the Dominican Winter League. The lefty, who takes great pride in luring reporters over to his card table for no apparent reason, put together quite an offseason for himself. In 17 appearances, Arias went 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA and 19 strikeouts against two walks over 14 innings.

4. Josh Schmidt: When he's with the Thunder, he's an oft-forgotten long man. When he's in Venezuela, however, he morphs into a pretty darn effective starter. With Aguilas de Zulia, Schmidt made 13 starts (14 appearances overall), allowed 52 hits and fanned 69 over 71 innings.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Scout's Notes - Part 2: The Pitchers

Toward the beginning of the offseason, I spoke to a couple of scouts about some of the Yankees prospects at Scranton, Trenton and Tampa. I'm no talent evaluator, so I like to talk with scouts as often as possible to get a more professional opinion about what I'm seeing. Here are what a couple of them had to say about some of the pitchers in the system:

Arm strength. He can throw strikes with all his pitches, and can get ahead in the count. He lacks deception, and will have to really command his 90-94 (ed note: I've seen 95) mph fastball, which is really straight. Sees him as a back-end starter or a 6/7 inning reliever.

Similar to Stoneburner in that he commands his fastball, which sits in the 90-94 mph range. Has good command of his fastball, which also has sneakiness. Someone else who has a sneaky fastball: David Robertson. His curve and slider are average major league pitches. Has the ability to go up the ladder to get the strikeout.

Very good stuff. Starter in the big leagues with front-end stuff. Topped at 96 with cutting and tailing action. Big-time breaking stuff.

He has a bright future. Sneaky fastball (topped at 94). Plus curve, plus change. Showed big ability. "Whitey Ford didn't have this kid's stuff." No concerns about size. Throw out size when you're talking about a left-hander.

He made big strides, topping at 97 with the fastball. Two plus-plus pitches -- FB and CB. Delivery has gotten a lot better, but he still falls off to the first-base side. Top-of-the-rotation stuff.

Middle-of-the-rotation starter. Good life on his fastball. Pitches with moxie. The kid can pitch. Pitches at 89-94, sitting at 91-92. A lot of confidence.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Scout's Notes - Part 1: The Hitters

Toward the beginning of the offseason, I spoke to a couple of scouts about some of the Yankees prospects at Scranton, Trenton and Tampa. I'm no talent evaluator, so I like to talk with scouts as often as possible to get a more professional opinion about what I'm seeing. Here are what a couple of them had to say about some of the hitters in the system:

He's got a lot of tools. He's a very good athlete with a lot of holes in his swing. The percentage of him making the big leagues is slim, but if he does, it will be as a starter. He's not going to be a fourth or fifth outfielder.

He's got the rare combination of power and speed. He swings and misses a lot and needs to cut down on his swing. He's susceptible to the breaking ball and gets himself out. If he can get pitchers to get him out, he has a chance to be good.

He's a polished player, but not that good of an athlete. He's a slow-twitch muscle guy who knows how to play. His range is below average. He's not a Suttle guy.

He's going to hit. He makes good contact, and is going to play in the big leagues. Adequate defender. Just like Utley, his ticket to the MLB is going to be his bat. This is not to say he's as good a hitter as Utley.

He has real defensive abilities. He has the chance to be a plus defensive catcher in the MLB. Compared to Brad Ausmus who can hit.

Another scout said: Defensively, he still has to improve. When he saw him (late season), he looked worn out. Did a good job with higher velocity kids. Got a good report from the Arizona Fall League.

He's a gifted hitter, but is going to need to find a different position. Offense is so far ahead of the bat. If he were to be in the big leagues this year, he could survive, but you wouldn't see the real potential until the second year.

Questionable defense. He'll make the big leagues, but he won't be anything special. He hits bad pitching, good pitching can get him.

A different scout said: Bat is ahead of his defense, where he seems to be limited to the corners. Not much in the run game. The bat is real. Threw out a Jeff Conine comp. His swing has strength and leverage. He takes good at-bats and is aggressive.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Contest Time!

The Thunder Top 10 series has concluded, but there's still a bit of time before spring training, so I figured it might be fun to do a contest on the blog to keep you warm while the hot stove cools. So, without further ado, here goes.

THE CONTEST: Baseball America has already given us their Top 10 Yankees prospects. For those who need a refresher, those 10 were:

1. Jesus Montero
2. Gary Sanchez
3. Dellin Betances
4. Manny Banuelos
5. Andrew Brackman
6. Austin Romine
7. Hector Noesi
8. Eduardo Nunez
9. Slade Heathcott
10. Brandon Laird

Here's what I want you, my readers, to do: I want you to give me, in order, your guess for how BA will rank the Yankees' 11th-30th best prospects. It's as simple as that. In case there are multiple winners, here are two tiebreaker questions I'd like you to answer:

1. Off of whom did Jesus Montero hit his first Thunder home run?
2. Against whom did Jesus Montero record his first Thunder strikeout?

HOW TO ENTER: Below are the steps you need to take to partake in the fun and games. They're very simple.

1. On Twitter, follow @trentonsports, the account for The Trentonian's sport department
2. In the comments of this blog post, give me your guess for next 20 prospects on Baseball America's list, as well as your answers to the tiebreaker questions.

Entries will be accepted until next Friday, January 21. At that point, I will announce the winner and mail him or her the prize, which is detailed below.

FABULOUS PRIZES: The winner will receive Thunder bobbleheads of the following Thunder players - Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, Mark Melancon and ... Jesus Montero, as well as a Bowman Chrome rookie card of Corban Joseph.

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Top 10 Numbers of the Year - No. 1

Each Friday, Minor Matters will publish the Top Ten numbers from the season. These can be stats, players' numbers, whatever. As long as it's a number, it counts. The Thunder were just two wins from the Eastern League championship, so there's no shortage of material for this section.

No. 1 ...

What it means: The number of runs the Thunder scored in the final three games of their season, a trio of losses to the Altoona Curve in the Eastern League Championship Series.

Why it's significant: Besides putting a whimper of an end on an otherwise successful season, it exposed the Thunder's weakness to moderately talented left-handed pitchers. Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson and Tony Watson each did the job against an offense that appeared to finally be finding its groove against a far more imposing New Hampshire staff. Instead, Trenton's bats went silent, and the Curve hoisted the championship trophy on Waterfront Park's infield.

What Else It Could Mean: Lots of things, frankly, including: Jorge Vazquez's RBI total, Justin Christian's triples, Marcos Vechionacci's stolen bases, Kevin Mahoney's games played and strikeout total, Jose Gil's doubles, Edwar Gonzalez's homers, Corban Joseph's doubles, Jack Rye's strikeouts, Kevin Smith's doubles, D.J. Mitchell's hit batsmen, Ryan Pope's losses, David Phelps' wins, Wilkin De La Rosa's holds and games finished, Manny Banuelos' and Dellin Betances' earned runs, Tim Norton's games pitched and John Van Benschoten's innings pitched.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top 10 Opposing Players for 2011 - No.1: Reese Havens

Every Thursday, Minor Matters will unveil its Top 10 opposing players for the 2011 season. Yes, the Thunder are clearly the most interesting topic on this blog, but wouldn't be nice to hear about the next Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana or Stephen Strasburg to come through the Eastern League. Yeah, I thought so too.

No. 1 - Reese Havens

Bio: A second baseman, Havens was selected by the Mets with the 22nd pick of the 2008 draft, a class that included such notables Gordon Beckham, Buster Posey, Brian Matusz, Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, Andrew Cashner, Justin Smoak and Ryan Perry.

2010: Havens earned a quick promotion from St. Lucie to Binghamton, but after just 18 games with the B-Mets he re-aggravated a strained oblique (while playing in Trenton) and missed the rest of the season. Still, in just 32 games between High- and Double-A, Havens homered nine times in 125 at-bats, and put together a slash line of .312/.386/.978.

What People Are Saying:

"Havens has the kind of power and patience rarely seen in a middle infielder. His quick, compact swing generates plenty of power, with some scouts seeing him as a Dan Uggla light-type player capable of 20-plus home runs per year."
-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

"Havens has good power for a middle infielder and slugged 14 home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He also has an advanced idea of the strike zone and recognizes pitches well, though he has batted just .247 in each of his two seasons."
-- Baseball America, Adam Rubin

When You Can See Him:
Havens and the B-Mets come to town on May 12-15, June 10-12 and August 9-11.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 10 Players for 2011 - No. 1: Manny Banuelos

Every Wednesday, Minor Matters will unveil its top 10 Thunder players to watch next season. Considering that the Tampa Yankees took home the Florida State League crown in 2010, there's no reason to believe that the upcoming season will have a shortage of talent around the diamond.

No. 1 - Manny Banuelos

Signed out of Mexico in 2008 by Lee Sigman, Banuelos has quickly gained both velocity and hype. He went from the high-80s/low-90s to the mid-to-upper-90s in the span of just three seasons, and has quickly established himself as one of the system's premiere arms. He stands 5-foot-10 and, after spending a few weeks around Cory Arbiso, seemed to take to wearing all black.

2010 season:
After an emergency appendectomy just before he was due to start Tampa's opener, chances seemed slim that he'd see Waterfront Park in 2010. Still, as he and his magnificent change-up dominated the Florida State League, it grew increasingly clear that he was well above his competition.

So, after Zach McAllister -- 2009's Trenton ace -- was swapped to the Indians, word came quickly that he and Dellin Betances were moving up to Trenton, and Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell were heading to Triple-A.

Banuelos made three starts with the Thunder in the regular season, none terribly impressive, results-wise. The plus stuff certainly was there, though. Then came the postseason, when it all came together in the Eastern League Division Series.

He dominated the Fisher Cats in the clincher, and was flashing as high as 97 miles per hour with his fastball. Things didn't go as well in the ELCS, when he allowed four runs on five hits in just 4 2/3 innings before exiting after a line drive caught him in the neck.

Still, the game in New Hampshire showed he has exactly the kind of potential the Yankees were hoping for when they brought him into the fold.

What's Next: More than likely he'll open the year back with the Thunder. Depending on how he performs and how the rest of the system advances, he should see Scranton by year's end.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top 10 Players of the Year - No. 1

Every Tuesday, Minor Matters will run down the top 10 players from the Thunder's 2010 season. In a year that saw eight of Baseball America's 16 pitchers (excluding Mike Dunn
and Arodys Vizcaino, who were out of the organization) in their top 30, not to mention Austin Romine and Brandon Laird, there were plenty of good choices to go around.

No. 1 - Brandon Laird

Why he's here:
Put simply, Laird had the most dominant season of any player in the Tony Franklin era. Before leaving after August 1, he put up the following numbers: .291/.355/.878, 22 2Bs, 23 HRs, 90 RBIs. Those 23 bombs came in just 409 at-bats, meaning he left the yard once every 17.8 ABs, which is pretty darn impressive.

He also earned the Thunder's first Player of the Month honor since 1999, when David Eckstein took home the award. Laird was also a Player of the Week, a mid-season All-Star, a postseason All-Star, the league's MVP and Rookie of the Year, and was named to the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars game. He also was the starting third baseman at Metro Bank Park for the EL All-Star Game.

Laird also put together two of the more memorable afternoons this year. One came when he had seven RBIs in the span of two innings against the Binghamton Mets. The other, which I said was the fifth-best game of year, saw Laird hit a walk-off home run to complete the cycle, something that, at that point, hadn't been done in the MLB in 26 years.

Outlook for 2011: Laird has switched to left field for now, to make his bat more attractive and to make him a more viable option in the Bronx. There seems to be a rather expensive roadblock standing in his way at the hot corner. He'll polish up in Triple-A in 2011.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Thunder hire new broadcaster

The Trentonian learned yesterday that the Thunder have hired Hank Fuerst (pronounced: first) to complete their broadcasting team. He will join play-by-play man Jay Burnham on 107.7 WRRC FM The Bronc, starting on April 7, when the team travels to New Hampshire to begin the season.

Here are some highlights from the conversation he and I had earlier:

JN: So, how did you get here?

HF: I was able to work my way through college (Western Kentucky) and got on with the local team, the Bowling Green Hot Rods, where I worked for two years. They were a brand-new team the year I graduated from college. I worked one summer as a production intern and spent last summer as a broadcaster.

JN: You worked there for the Thunder's former General Manager, Brad Taylor. What did he have to tell you when you told him you were heading north to join his former employer?

HF: He just said that Trenton is a great place. I obviously knew, working with him, that that's where he spent his time prior to coming down to south central Kentucky. We'd see him wear Trenton Thunder gear around the front office every now and then. He said great things about Trenton and that it was a great place to live, great place to work and a good organization to be a part of, with the Yankees system.

JN: I know you have a past connection with current play-by-play man Jay Burnham. Can you explain how it helped you land the job with the Thunder?

HF: I met Jay the first summer that I worked for the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Bowling Green was a member of the South Atlantic League, in Low-A, and my last year they moved into the Midwest League, so they switched leagues. Jay, at the time, was working for Asheville (also in the SAL), and I was a production intern that year and was able to host a pre-game show on the videoboard at the ballpark down there.

Jay and I struck up a conversation in the press box after that show one time, and it was a good thing getting to know Jay back then. I continued to keep him abreast of my progress along the way, and it turned into him hiring me for the position they had available in Trenton for this coming baseball season.

JN: In your short time broadcasting, what's your favorite moment doing a game?

HF: I think last year we had a no-hitter at Bowling Green Ballpark come down to the final at-bat of a game. They're obviously a lot bigger at the professional level, because a lot of times you've got one pitcher in there and it's going to go down in history as the next no-hitter or perfect game.

I think it was maybe the second or third pitcher that was on the mound out there, but it would have been the first no-hitter in Bowling Green Hot Rods history, and it went down to, as they always do, the final out, and I believe the final strike of the game. There was a controversial ball-strike call by the home plate umpire, and wouldn't you know, after that was called a ball the guy singled up the middle on the very next pitch.

That was very exciting, and the team, unfortunately, was not in any postseason races or anything last season. But that was definitely the most exciting moment last season, getting to feel the energy of, even in Low-A ball, what could have been a no-hitter and what that means in baseball.

Top 10 Games of the Year - No. 1

Every Monday, Minor Matters will run down the top 10 games of the Thunder's 2010 season. In a year that saw eight of Baseball America's 16 pitchers (excluding Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, who were out of the organization) in their top 30, not to mention Austin Romine and Brandon Laird, there are plenty of good choices to go around.

No. 1 - Banuelos, bats shine in ELDS clincher

After two dramatic wins over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Eastern League Division Series, the set moved to Stadium, where there were a few tricks waiting for the Thunder.

Scott Richmond, the scheduled starter for Game 4, was moved up a day. Edwin Encarnacion, who, like Richmond, came with MLB service time, was plugged into the starting lineup. Both moves were widely construed as retaliation for Andy Pettitte starting in Game 2, though that was never confirmed or stated publicly.

Manny Banuelos, in his first start of the year without a pitch count, was called upon to finish off the Cats and send Trenton into its third ELCS in four seasons.

At just 19 years old, he delivered.

His line, seven shutout innings on five hits, three walks and five punchouts, was impressive enough, but it was stuffed he used that really jumped out.

The stadium gun kept flashing 86 and 87 for his fastball, which I found odd. It made more sense when some local writers told me that their radar was consistently five miles per hour slow. So when those 86s and 87s turned into 91s and 92s toward the later innings, it looked like Banuelos had found his groove.

While Trenton arms silencing New Hampshire throughout the series had become commonplace, the offensive explosion the team produced was certainly out of the ordinary.

Austin Krum, Dan Brewer and Marcos Vechionacci each doubled, and Rene Rivera and Damon Sublett both popped a longball as part of the Thunder's 14-hit outburst that fueled an eventual 8-1 win and set them up for a date in Altoona.

Link to Original Story

REACTION: “At the beginning of the game, it was a little tense. I was a little bit nervous about it” he said. “Once I started throwing my stuff, I knew my stuff was good and I kind of relaxed and just let it go.” -- Manny Banuelos

“These would be hard to top. These would be hard to top,” he said, “especially with the youngsters that we have and the newness on the pitching staff that we’ve got assembled here now.-- Tony Franklin, calling the ELDS the three most complete games he's seen in his four years with Trenton

AFTERWARD: Andy Pettitte started for the Thunder in the team's Game 1 win in the ELCS, but that would be their last win of the year. Altoona won the next three, and celebrated their first championship at Waterfront Park.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

A quick Top 10 recap

I started the Thunder top 10 series back in November as a way to pass the winter while waiting for April. Since then, I've run down the team's best games of the year, players of the year, players who will be on the team next year, players who the Thunder will face next year, and numbers that best represent the team's season. Here, now, is a quick recap of how I've ranked them. Feel free to tell me what you think.


10. Hector Noesi's complete game
9. Austin Krum's incredible defensive day
8. Andrew Brackman's debut
7. The Joseph brothers' reunion
6. Andy Pettitte in Game 1 of the ELCS
5. Laird's grand slam completes the cycle
4. Andy Pettitte and Adam Warren dominate the Fisher Cats
3. Adam Warren strikes out 15
2. Betances outduels Drabek


10. Hector Noesi
9. Justin Christian
8. Dan Brewer
7. Marcos Vechionacci
6a. Dellin Betances
6b. Manny Banuelos
5a. David Phelps
5b. Lance Pendleton
4. Austin Romine
3a. D.J. Mitchell
3b. Adam Warren
2. Andrew Brackman


10. Pat Venditte
9. Adam Olbrychowski
8. Brett Marshall
7. Craig Heyer
6. Jose Gil
5. Shaeffer Hall
4. Graham Stoneburner
3. Melky Mesa
2. Dellin Betances


10. Charlie Culberson
9. Travis d'Arnaud
8. Tony Sanchez
7. Derek Norris
6. Aaron Hicks
5. Anthony Gose
4. Jacob Turner
3. Nick Hagadone
2. Austin Hyatt


10. 23 (Laird's home runs)
9. 1,125 (Thunder Ks)
8. 17 (Romine's hit streak)
7. 0 (Manny Banuelos' wins)
6. 39 (David Adams' games)
5. 69 (Garcia's pitches for the year)
4. 29 (Brewer's stolen bases)
3. 37 (Betances' and Banuelos' combined Ks)
2. 1 (New Hampshire runs against the Thunder in the ELDS)

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Top 10 Numbers of the Year - No. 2

Each Friday, Minor Matters will publish the Top Ten numbers from the season. These can be stats, players' numbers, whatever. As long as it's a number, it counts. The Thunder were just two wins from the Eastern League championship, so there's no shortage of material for this section.

No. 2 ...

What it means:
Yes, it's the loneliest number, but it's also the total number of runs the Thunder allowed against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in their sweep through the Eastern League Division Series.

Why it's significant: The Fisher Cats were, without question, the Thunder's biggest nemesis in the regular season. They scored 120 runs against Trenton, including 19 home runs. Three Trenton pitchers -- D.J. Mitchell, Lance Pendleton and Wilkins Arias -- allowed more than 10 runs against them. Holding them to just one run over 30 innings, then, was nothing short of a monumental feat.

What Else It Could Mean:
Lots of things, frankly, including: Jorge Vazquez's walk total, Jose Gil's triples, Kevin Mahoney's doubles or RBI totals, Jack Rye's triples or home runs, Taylor Grote's at-bats, Lance Berkman's runs scored, Hector Noesi's shutouts, Tim Norton's saves, and Manny Banuelos' losses.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top 10 Opposing Players for 2011 - Austin Hyatt

Every Thursday, Minor Matters will unveil its Top 10 opposing players for the 2011 season. Yes, the Thunder are clearly the most interesting topic on this blog, but wouldn't be nice to hear about the next Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana or Stephen Strasburg to come through the Eastern League. Yeah, I thought so too.

No. 2 - Austin Hyatt

The Phillies' 15th-round choice from 2009, Hyatt was selected out of the University of Alabama, one choice after the Brewers took teammate Paul Howell. He earned the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year last season, and earned two Pitcher of the Week honors.

2010: Coming in with absolutely no fanfare. Hyatt tore up the Florida State League. He went 11-5 with Clearwater, posting a 3.77 ERA and fanning 156 against 35 walks. He was promoted to Reading late, and fanned 25 more over 22 innings.

What People Are Saying:

"He's a little more seasoned, and he looks a lot more comfortable. Last year he was going from game-to-game, but this year he seems to have more of a plan." -- Reading pitching coach Bob Milacki

When You Can See Him: Hyatt and Phillies come to town twice, May 9-11 and July 14-17.

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Top 10 Players for 2011 -- No. 2

Every Wednesday, Minor Matters will unveil its top 10 Thunder players to watch next season. Considering that the Tampa Yankees took home the Florida State League crown in 2010, there's no reason to believe that the upcoming season will have a shortage of talent around the diamond.

No. 2 - Dellin Betances

An eighth-rounder whom the Yankees rewarded with a $1 million signing bonus way back in 2006, Betances is an imposing specimen. He stands 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, and comes equipped with high-octane gas and plus secondary stuff. He finished recovering from ligament reinforcement surgery in the middle of 2010.

2010 season:
Better than anyone could have expected. Once he got back from his surgery, in early June, Betances quickly made up for lost time. After allowing a run in his opening start, he allowed just one more over his next 30 frames. By the time he left Tampa for Trenton, he had gone 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 71 innings.

He fanned 20 against three walks over three starts with Trenton, but he wasn't terribly efficient while doing so. He lasted more than five innings just once, but that was partly due to a stringent pitch count.

The only really troubling part of Betances' game is his inability to hold runners or field his position. I cannot stress enough how truly gruesome his pickoff throws are, despite being charged with just three errors all year.

What's Next: More than likely he'll open the year back with the Thunder. Depending on how he performs and how the rest of the system advances, he has a real shot of reaching the majors by the end of 2011.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 10 Players of the Year - No. 2

Every Tuesday, Minor Matters will run down the top 10 players from the Thunder's 2010 season. In a year that saw eight of Baseball America's 16 pitchers (excluding Mike Dunn
and Arodys Vizcaino, who were out of the organization) in their top 30, not to mention Austin Romine and Brandon Laird, there were plenty of good choices to go around.

No. 2 - Andrew Brackman

Why he's here:
He only joined the team in June, but by the end of the season he was the team's longest tenured starter. And after August, he was the team's ace. From his first start in August until the season ended, Brackman went his final seven starts without allowing more than three earned runs.

He matured greatly throughout his tenure, from a guy who seemed to rattle easily and appeared to not trust his excellent stuff, to an absolutely dominant force who earned a call-up to the big leagues at the end of the year.

This season, just his third full year as a pro, remember, could be the divining rod for his career. If he succeeds, he may wear the pinstripes for a long time. If he struggles with Triple-A hitters, however, there's a pretty good chance he's a very expensive bust.

Outlook for 2011: More than likely, he'll join D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and perhaps Lance Pendleton or Ivan Nova in the Scranton rotation. There's probably an outside shot of him making the big league bullpen if he blows up the spot in Tampa.

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Top 10 Games of the Year - No. 2

Every Monday, Minor Matters will run down the top 10 games of the Thunder's 2010 season. In a year that saw eight of Baseball America's 16 pitchers (excluding Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, who were out of the organization) in their top 30, not to mention Austin Romine and Brandon Laird, there are plenty of good choices to go around.

No. 2 - Betances outduels Drabek

When I picked the Thunder to top the Fisher Cats in the ELCS, despite the beatdown New Hampshire had issued Trenton all season long, I did so because I felt the starting pitching matchups bent strongly in the Thunder's favor.

That said, I really didn't think they were going to beat Cats ace Kyle Drabek, a powerful right-hander who had as much business in the Eastern League as Andy Pettitte.

Even so, I thought Betances would at least be able to hold his own with Drabek until the Thunder could get into the bullpen. He did that, and then some.

It wasn't pretty, but, with a huge throng of family and friends cheering his every move, Betances handcuffed the Cats for 5 1/3 innings, when he reached his pitch count.

Dan Brewer doubled home the eventual game-winner in the fourth inning, and Rene Rivera added an insurance run in the seventh when he reached Futures Game alum Trystan Magnuson for a solo bomb.

Link to Original Story

REACTION: “I knew Drabek was going to come in, and he’s been pitching well all year. He won Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, so I knew it was going to be a tough one. I just had to keep trying to put up zeroes and give my team a chance.” -- Dellin Betances

“The first game at home here against Drabek, and the manner in which we got it, that’s outstanding.” -- Tony Franklin

AFTERWARD: Betances took the hill in Altoona for Game 2 of the Eastern League Championship Series, and it didn't go quite as well. He struggled all evening to command his change-up and field his position, and the result was the first of three consecutive losses to the Curve to close the season on a sour note.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 10 Numbers of the Year - No. 3

Each Friday, Minor Matters will publish the Top Ten numbers from the season. These can be stats, players' numbers, whatever. As long as it's a number, it counts. The Thunder were just two wins from the Eastern League championship, so there's no shortage of material for this section.

No. 3 ...

What it means:
The number of strikeouts -- in 29 2/3 innings over six starts -- from Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos -- a pretty fair taste of what fans can expect at the top of the Thunder rotation in 2011.

Why it's significant: Barring trades, Banuelos and Betances will be at the top of the Thunder rotation come April 7 and 8 in New Hampshire. Unleashed from their pitch counts, and hopefully free of any last-minute surgeries, the pair could pile up a whole lot of punchouts throughout the summer.

What Else It Could Mean:
Austin Romine's walks, Edwar Gonzalez's runs scored, Damon Sublett's strikeouts or Hector Noesi's runs allowed.

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