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

Thursday, April 7, 2011

For Thunder, the difference-makers are yet to come

TAMPA, Fla. — Even before the team throws its first pitch of 2011, it’s time for a cold splash of reality. The Trenton Thunder, as currently assembled, will not be the same group upon which a playoff berth will hinge – not even close.

The stars that dot the first few months of lineups – Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Austin Romine, to name a few – will most likely be long gone by the time August rolls around.

When the 2010 team broke camp from Tampa, its rotation was: Christian Garcia, Ryan Pope, Jeremy Bleich, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell. Come playoff time, all five of those names were gone, replaced by a starting five that included Betances, Banuelos, Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren.

Hector Noesi also contributed significant innings in Double-A, but was bumped to Scranton two weeks before the Eastern League Division Series began.

With that sense of inevitable change in mind, here are a few players who could make or break Trenton’s defense of its Eastern Division crown, starting where every good team does, with the pitching.

1. Brett Marshall — A right-hander with hard fastball that both cutting and boring action, he’s the odds-on pick to be Trenton’s ace down the stretch and into a September run. When he got to New York, he famously told Mark Newman, the team’s vice president of player development, that he was going to throw 100 miles per hour one day.

Nobody’s seen him top triple-digits just yet, but they have seen him mature into a pitcher who knows that, despite its sex appeal, simply blowing it past a hitter isn’t always the most effective plan of attack. He’s learned that a weak ground ball can be just as effective as a strikeout, and it can you keep you on the mound longer, too.

2. Jeremy Bleich — Yes, denizens of Waterfront Park, you’ve seen this name before, and it hasn’t always been worth the meager cost of your ticket. Over parts of two seasons with the Thunder, the former first-round pick is 6-8 with a 5.92 ERA in 21 starts. More alarmingly, Bleich, who earned a reputation as a control artist coming out of Stanford, has issued 62 walks in just 106 2/3 Double-A frames.

His 2010 season was ended when he had surgery to repair a torn left labrum, a procedure that, for a pitcher, is arguably more daunting than an elbow reconstruction. He’ll more than likely begin the season in High-A Tampa (though not in April) and if everything goes right he’ll probably finish up in Trenton.

3. David Adams — Yep, that David Adams. The one who, were it not for an unfortunate slide in Hadlock Field in May, might have helped fit Cliff Lee for set of pinstripes. The slide left him with a broken foot, and ended what had been a boffo beginning to his first tour of the upper levels.

Unfortunately for Thunder fans, although the break has healed, Adams’ feet are once again giving him fits. He’s currently dealing with a bout of plantar fasciitis that will cost him the beginning of the year. Once it subsides, he’s more than likely ticketed for a spot in Trenton’s infield.

4. J.R. Murphy — This one is a little more of a long shot. The catcher and sometimes infielder will start the year back at Low-A Charleston, but he’s an extremely advanced hitter and could make enough strides to bully his way into the upper levels toward the tail end of 2011.

Sure, he hit just .255/.327/.376 with the RiverDogs last season, but as a product of the IMG Sports Academy, in Bradenton, Fla., there’s a considerable amount of polish already, so a jump to Double-A by the end of year wouldn’t be such an outlandish idea.

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