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

Monday, March 28, 2011

While nothing's certain, Thunder rotation has a good look at the top

TAMPA, Fla. – With the time remaining in spring training dwindling from weeks into days, the shape of the Thunder’s opening day roster is beginning to gain clarity. Almost nothing is set in stone, but there are a few obvious pieces that will be at manager Tony Franklin’s disposal come April 7 in New Hampshire.

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First and foremost is the pitching staff. It’s been clear for weeks that Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, the system’s two brightest prospects, will front Trenton’s rotation at the outset.

“It’s always been the pitching with us.” Franklin said “Over the last four years, it’s always been pitching, and we hope to have another good staff. We saw remnants of it last year, with Banuelos and Betances and some of the other guys down there in the bullpen. Even with that, we’re not exactly sure who else is going to fit in there.”

Two of the more likely candidates to join Betances and Banuelos are Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall, two members of the 2009 draft class who spent last season with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.

Combined, Stoneburner and Hall were 21-9 last season with 240 strikeouts in 279 innings. The former’s individual total of 137 punchouts was good for third in the organization, trailing just Hector Noesi and David Phelps.

As for that final spot in the rotation, there are a number of names in play. The likely and most obvious choices are Cory Arbiso and Craig Heyer, with the latter being more suited for the role. A soft-tossing control specialist, Heyer made 12 starts out of his 26 appearances with Tampa. In all, he walked just six hitters in 92 innings.

Before late this month, those were the only two names that seemed to be in play. With Kevin Millwood’s addition to the Triple-A rotation, however, there’s a slight chance Adam Warren, a star in the 2010 Eastern League playoffs, might return to Trenton for the first month or so of the season.

Notably, Warren fanned a team-record 15 batters in an August game against Bowie, and he struck out 10 hitters in six innings in relief of Andy Pettitte during Game 2 of the EL Division Series against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

What is absolutely certain, however, is that Austin Romine will be catching the Thunder staff, no matter what it looks like.

Gustavo Molina was officially named the Yankees’ backup catcher yesterday, setting off a domino effect that sent Jesus Montero to Triple-A Scranton and Romine back to Waterfront Park to begin 2011. The unquestioned team leader last season, Romine hit .268/.324/.402 with 31 doubles, 10 home runs and 69 RBis in 115 games.

On the other side of the coin, two players you definitely will not see with the Thunder, or any Yankees team, this season are infielder Justin Snyder and right-handed reliever Phil Bartleski. Both players were released yesterday as part of the traditional end-of-spring paring of the rosters.

With the Thunder last year, Snyder hit .245 with three home runs and 27 RBIs in 90 games. He also pitched an inning in relief during a blowout loss, and was very proud that one of his fastballs hit 90 miles per hour.

With free-agent signee Pedro Feliciano scheduled to start the season on the disabled list, the race to join Boone Logan as the Yankees’ second left-hander has been trimmed to two: Ewing native and Hun graduate Steve Garrison, and Luis Ayala, who spent last season in Triple-A for the Arizona Diamondbacks

This spring, Garrison, picked up on waivers from the Padres last season, has a 5.59 ERA over 9 2/3 innings. He’s struck out four men and walked two.

Because of heavy rain in the area, the scheduled minor league game between Trenton and Toronto’s Double-A work group was called off. Instead, the teams played intrasquad games for the second day in a row.

Also for the second day in a row, the Double-A vs. Triple-A game had a little extra star power. Montero, who hadn’t yet been sent to Scranton, and Robinson Cano each came over to get some extra at-bats. Cano joined the Triple-A team, while Montero hit for the Double-A squad.

Each man batted second every inning and was immediately and was immediately removed for a pinch runner if he got on base. Montero homered in his third at-bat, a massive bomb to left-center field on the first pitch he saw from former Thunder reliever Amauri Sanit.

As with Sunday and yesterday, it appears the minor league complex will get a little major league flavor tomorrow and Wednesday.

Manager Joe Girardi announced after yesterday’s rainout that Mariano Rivera will pitch in a minor league game tomorrow, weather permitting. He also noted that outfielder Curtis Granderson would probably play in minor league games tomorrow and Wednesday.

Romulo Sanchez, a reliever the Yankees got from the Pirates in exchange for Eric Hacker two seasons ago, was sold to a Japanese team yesterday. The departure of Sanchez, who was out of options and could not be sent to the minor leagues, clears space in what is becoming an increasingly cluttered-looking Triple-A bullpen.

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