Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

In-Season Mini Contests

After the success of the last contest held at this blog (congrats, @AndyInSunnyDB), I've decided to hold another series of smaller contests based on things that will happen throughout the season. The questions are pretty straightforward, as you can see below. The prizes will vary from contest to contest, and will be announced after each contest is over.

Entry Rules: Pretty much the same as the last time. Go to the comments section of this post and leave your guesses to as many questions as you like. Please leave some way to contact you with your entry. This will prove very helpful in getting you your prizes. All entries are due before first pitch on Opening Day, which is April 7.

What will the Thunder's lineup look like on Opening Day (starting nine and pitcher)?

2. Who will get the Thunder's first hit of the season?

3. Who will hit the first home run of the Thunder season?

4. Who will be the first Thunder player to have two home runs in a game?

5. What will the Thunder's starting rotation look like on Opening Day?

6. Who will start the Thunder's first game after the Eastern League All-Star break?

7. What will the Thunder's record be at the All-Star break?

8. Which members of the Thunder will play in the All-Star Game?

9. Which player will be the first call-up to the Thunder from Tampa?***

End of season special: Tell me who will lead the Thunder in the following categories - Batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins, strikeouts and ERA.

***For this question, we will only accept actual moves. If there is a paper move, and the player who was "called up" never shows up, he doesn't count.

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Brackman sidelined with a groin injury

Per Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, Andrew Brackman, one of the famed Killer B's, has been shut down with tightness in his groin. He won't throw again until Tuesday.

"It's not going to hurt me," Brackman told the Ledger, "but it couldn't be a worse time."

Between Tampa and Trenton last year, Brackman finished 10-11 with a 3.90 ERA and struck out 126 men in 140 2/3 innings. He walked just 39, less than half of his total from 2009.

Brackman also was the winner in the Thunder's final victory of the season, a 3-2 victory over Altoona in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series. He relieved Andy Pettitte that day, and tossed five innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts.

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Nunez and Phelps honored by Yankees

In a release this morning, the Yankees named shortstop Eduardo Nunez and pitcher David Phelps their Kevin Lawn Award winners, which honor the system's player and pitcher of the year.

Phelps started the season with Trenton, and was excellent. He finished the year 10-2 and with a 2.50 ERA, which ranked third in the organization among qualifiers. He gave up 139 hits over 158 2/3 innings, and walked 41 against 136 strikeouts.

Nunez spent most of the year with Scranton, and finished it in the major leagues. He hit .289/.340/.721 in Triple-A, with four home runs and 50 RBIs.

2010 Kevin Lawn Award Winners

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Update: Andy Sisco is not cut

UPDATE: Apparently Baseball America had it wrong. Andy Sisco has not been released. It did seem a bit strange that the Yankees would released two left-handers in one fell swoop, especially when your left-handed options at the major league level are Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan.

In three major league seasons, Sisco is 3-9 with a 5.18 ERA and 141 Ks against 93 walks in 147 2/3 innings.


Cotts and Sisco are cut and let go

Neal Cotts and Andy Sisco, two pitchers who were, in reality, no more than candidates for the Scranton bullpen, were cut today by the Yankees. Cotts and Sisco, both left-handers who pitched in the bigs most recently with the White Sox, were signed to minor league deals earlier in the offseason.

Still, with those two out of the way, the bullpen scenarios at Trenton and Scranton are beginning to get a little more clear. Not crystal clear, but clearer for sure.

Also today, according to Matt Eddy at Baseball America, the Yankees signed 26-year-old Cuban shortstop Yadil Mujica. BA's write-up looks like this:

"Scouting info on Cuban defectors can be scarce, but Yadil Mujica appeared on the nation's preliminary roster for the ’09 World Baseball Classic and batted .358/.432/.440 that season before defecting. He had emerged as one of Cuba's most promising young middle infielders."

Given his age and pedigree, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see him start at High-A and work his way to Trenton sometime this season.

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Thunder, TCNJ formally announce radio merger

The Thunder formally announced their partnership with WTSR 91. 3 FM, the radio station at The College of New Jersey, to broadcast all of the team's games -- regular-season and postseason -- for at least the next two years.

"This new partnership expands the reach of Trenton Thunder baseball within the region," Thunder general manager Will Smith, a TCNJ alumnus, said in a press release. "We look forward to working with a distinguished institution like The College Of new Jersey to bring Trenton Thunder games to even more fans over WTSR's airwaves."

Thunder games this season will be broadcast by Jay Burnham, in his second season with the team, and Hank Fuerst, who is in his first season after moving here from the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Not coincidentally, the Hot Rods are run by Brad Taylor, the team's G.M. before Smith took over.

Smith, Burnham, Fuerst, as well as team P.R. director Bill Cook and Boomer, the Thunder mascot, were on hand for the event. TCNJ was represented by its Vice President for College Relations and Advancement Matthew Golden, a former minor leaguer himself, and the school's mascot, Roscoe the Lion.


Yankees littered throughout BP and BA's Top 100 lists

Baseball America, considered by many to be the bible of the minor league baseball world, released its annual Top 100 Prospects list today, and the Yankees were well represented. The following six Bombers farmhands made the list:

No. 3 - Jesus Montero - C ... Top Tool: Power - 70-grade
No. 30 - Gary Sanchez - C ... Top Tool: Power - 70-grade
No. 41 - Manny Banuelos - SP ... Top Tool: Command - 60-grade
No. 43 - Dellin Betances - SP ... Top Tool: Fastball - 70-grade
No. 78 - Andrew Brackman - SP ... Top Tool: Curveball - 70-grade
No. 98 - Austin Romine - C ... Top Tool: Arm - 60-grade

The other minor league must-read, Baseball Prospectus, released its Top 101 prospects in the back of its annual book. Kevin Goldstein put four Yankees on his list, and they are:

No. 3 - Jesus Montero - C
Key quote: "Montero presumably has everything it takes to be a middle-of-the-order force on a championship-level team."

No. 27 - Manny Banuelos - SP
Key quote: "His stuff and polish makes it easy for scouts not to hold his lack of size against him, and he should reach Yankee Stadium before he's legal to drink ... "

No. 29 - Gary Sanchez - C
Key quote: "Despite being just 17 years old, Sanchez looked like a man among boys in his Gulf Coast League debut, already bringing his plus-plus power into game situations."

No. 32 - Dellin Betances - SP
Key quote: "When he returned from Tommy John Surgery in 2010, everything about his game took a big step in the right direction; he maintained his mid-90s fastball while showing much-improved command and control to go with a curveball that was nearly unhittable when it was on."

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Projecting the Rotation

1. Dellin Betances

Added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, Betances is a coin-flip to start Opening Day in New Hampshire. After injuries nearly but the brakes on his career, the $1 million eighth-rounder put it all together in 2010.

Between Tampa and Trenton, Betances finished with a dazzling 8-1 record, a 2.11 ERA, and 53 hits and 108 strikeouts in 85 1/3 innings. To put it another way, in 12 of his 14 starts with the T-Yanks, Betances had more strikeouts than hits allowed.

The Yankees have already gone on record as saying that Betances will begin 2010 with Trenton, so this one's a lock.

2. Manny Banuelos

Banuelos came to Trenton with -- and delivered on -- an equally lofty pedigree. The diminutive left-hander's velocity had been building all year, and peaked at 97 miles per hour in his playoff start against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

To go with the heater, Banuelos also showcased an impressive change-up and an (at times) excellent curveball.

The problem with last year, however, was the emergency appendectomy he had right before the season began. He missed most of the first half recovering, and -- counting his work in the Arizona Fall League -- pitched just 89 2/3 innings as a result.

The Yankees have also made it clear that Banuelos will start 2011 back in Double-A, where will get a chance to prove himself over the course of a full-season workload.

3. Graham Stoneburner

A strong-armed power right-hander out of Clemson, Stoneburner exceeded all expectations in his first professional season, which was split between Charleston and Tampa. He finished with a 2.41 ERA, second in the organization among qualifiers. (Mikey O'Brien, who should be with Charleston this year, finished first).

Because of its sink, Yankees farm boss Mark Newman likened Stoneburner's fastball to MLB-vet Jake Westbrook. He couples the fastball with a slider that flashes above average at times. That combo could lead him to the bullpen down the line, but he's a starter for now.

He threw 103 stellar innings in Tampa in 2010, which leads me to believe he's all but a lock for the Trenton rotation come April.

4. Shaeffer Hall

Like Stoneburner, Hall counted last year as his first full professional season. Also like Stoneburner, Hall - a finesse lefty from the University of Kansas --flew through the South Atlantic League with the Charleston RiverDogs.

Things started out swimmingly after Hall made the jump to High-A Tampa. Over his first 10 outings (including one relief appearance), he was 9-1 and allowed 13 earned runs over 48 1/3 innings. Six of those earned runs came in one horror show of an outing, on July 8 against Daytona.

After that, things plummeted. He finished with losses in four of his final five starts, and gave up 17 earned runs, including five of the seven longballs he allowed in his time with Tampa.

Despite that bad patch, I think Hall is an excellent contender -- but not a lock -- to begin 2011 at Waterfront Park.

5. Cory Arbiso

Although he started the season on the disabled list, Arbiso made his mark on the 2010 Thunder by being available whenever and for whatever role manager Tony Franklin needed. In fact, before a rainout pushed the proceedings back a day, Arbiso was on track to pitch in a possible Game 5 of the Eastern League Championship Series.

In all, out of his 32 appearances, Arbiso made 11 starts for the Thunder. With 77 hits over 49 1/3 innings, the role didn't seem to suit him. That said, however, he may have to split the fifth starter's role with Craig Heyer until Brett Marshall is ready to make his way up from Tampa.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Thunder announce radio station switch (PR)

(Trenton, NJ) – The Trenton Thunder, the Double-A Affiliate of the New York Yankees, in conjunction with The College of New Jersey, will hold a press conference on Wednesday, February 23 at 2:30 p.m. in Paul Loser Hall room 123 at The College of New Jersey.

The press conference will announce the details of a new partnership that includes WTSR 91.3 FM becoming the new flagship station of the Trenton Thunder Radio Network.

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Projecting the infield

With Donnie Collins peering into Scranton's future over at his blog, I figured I'd do the same over here. We'll start today with the infield, which, because a bit of a logjam of up-the-middle talent, has the potential to feature a prospect of some degree at every position.

First base - Brad Suttle: After missing all of 2009 with an injury, Suttle really broke out this season at High-A Tampa, hitting .272/.340/.411 with 10 home runs and 80 RBIs. Problem is, at 25 years old, and with scouts' reviews not terribly pleasing, Suttle's stock is falling.

Second base - Corban Joseph: The wispy middle infielder faltered after making his way to Trenton toward the end of the 2010. He hit just .216/.305/.342 with in 31 games with the Thunder, including just five hits in 42 at-bats against left-handers. Still, the swing is pure, and he'll get another crack at Double-A in 2011.

Shortstop - Jose Pirela: He hit just .252 with Tampa last season, but impressed Yankees brass enough to earn a spot in the Arizona Fall League when Joseph's late-season wrist injury forced him to shut it down for the year. He didn't hit terribly well in the AFL, but produced a .333/.387/.858 line with Zulia of the Venezuelan Winter League. He also stole 30 bases in 37 tries with Tampa.

Third base - David Adams: I think Adams and Joseph will split time at third and second, but Adams should see the majority of the time at the hot corner. He played 14 games there in 2009 with Charleston, and could move over there this season to get everyday time with Joseph and Pirela in the same locker room. I wouldn't be shocked to see him spend time at designated hitter, either.

Utility - Myron Leslie: This is exactly the kind of player Tony Franklin covets. He plays multiple positions, and will do anything asked of his skipper. In 2010 with Tampa, Leslie played catcher, first base, second base and even pitched a game. He could fill a very similar, Justin Snyder-esque role with the Thunder in 2011.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Training Trip = Booked

Like I did last year, I'll be heading down to the minor league complex toward the end of camp. The dates are March 27-April 3. Here's what the Thunder will be doing during those days.

March 27 - Camp Day
March 28 - at Toronto (in Dunedin)
March 29 - vs. Philadelphia (in Tampa)
March 30 - at Pittsburgh (in Bradenton)
March 31 - vs. Pittsburgh (in Tampa)
April 1 - vs. Toronto (in Tampa)
April 2 - at Toronto (in Dunedin)
April 3 - Break camp, post-workout

I didn't have a car last year, mostly because I wasn't 25, and the rates would have been jacked through the roof. This means I'll actually be able to travel with the team to its road games in Bradenton and Dunedin. I'll miss out on Clearwater, damn.

During the trip, I'll do the same thing I did last year, plus a little bit more. I bought an iPhone this morning, and will use that to help get you guys pictures and videos much faster than last year.

Big goal for the trip : I want to be able to do a live, one-on-one video interview with a member of the Thunder.

Here's how I think this could work. A day or so in advance, you, my readers, would tweet the questions for said players with a certain hashtag attached. Once all tweets are collected, I would whittle down the 15-20 or so best questions and ask him live at camp.

The interview would be broadcast live on a video site like UStream, thus enabling the questioners to see the interview as it happens.

The other big goal: The roster, and ascertaining it as soon as possible. I've arranged to leave Tampa at 7:30 that night, so I have plenty of time to watch that day's activities and pester players to find out where they will be starting 2011.

I was able to get just about everybody last year, and this year I hope to get them all.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Yankees announce six signings, spring training invitees

Here's the press release from the team, but it announces the signings of: Ronnie Belliard, Eric Chavez, Luis Ayala, Warner Madrigal, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

It also announces the Non-Roster Invitees, which are: Manny Banuelos, Dan Brewer, Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Austin Krum, D.J. Mitchell, Jesus Montero, Jordan Parraz, David Phelps, Austin Romine, Bradley Suttle, Jorge Vazquez, Adam Warren and Eric Wordekemper.

Spring Training Invites-Additional

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alfredo Aceves signs with Boston

For those of you who missed it (read: nobody) Alfredo Aceves signed a deal with the Red Sox yesterday. Released by the Yankees earlier in the offseason, Aceves' 2010 season was plagued by multiple back injuries.

He made three starts and four total appearances with the Thunder last season, and pitched in three more games (two starts) with Scranton before eventually being shut down for good when he just wouldn't heal.

He was 3-0 with an ERA of an even 3.00 over 12 games with the big club.

Aceves, one of the Yankees' first success stories in their recent dip into the Mexican talent pool, made his initial impact with the Thunder in 2008. He threw the team's only complete-game shutout that year, and its most recent before Hector Noesi turned the trick this season.

His most memorable moment that season, however, was proposing to his then-girlfriend in the stands before a game. Of course, my back was turned at the moment, so I missed it. I'm told it was quite touching.

In any case, here's hoping for the best of luck for Aceves in Boston.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Morosi: Former Thunder outfielder Christian signs with Giants

Per's Jon Paul Morosi, former Thunder outfielder Justin Christian, a catalyst on this year's Thunder team up until the final month, has signed a deal to join the San Francisco Giants.

Christian, 30, hit .297/.374/.846 in 87 games with the Thunder. He homered nine times, drove in 51 runs and stole 20 bases in 25 attempts. His numbers this winter in the Mexican League were even better, bordering on absurdly good.

With the Caneros de los Mochis, the former major leaguer hit .356/.452/1.013 with 10 longballs, 32 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 25 tries. He is currently playing with Mexicali in Caribbean Series.

Before being promoted to Scranton, Christian broke Kevin Thompson's Trenton record for stolen bases in a career. A swipe against Bowie in August sent him past Thompson's 101 steals with the Thunder.

Christian collected 10 hits in 43 at-bats with as a member of the Yankees in 2008, his only major league experience.

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Behind Enemy Lines with: Blue Jays Head of Player Development Charlie Wilson (Part 1)

Today, I begin what I hope will be an 11-part series of conversations with the Head of Player Development (or the Mark Newman) of the rest of the Eastern League teams.

I do this because I think it's kind've cool for readers to get a behind-the-scenes look at the talent in the organizations that the Thunder will face. Then again, maybe I'm the only one who thinks that's a cool idea.

In this installment, we begin with Charlie Wilson, the player development guru for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Next up, we'll have Jim Rantz of the Minnesota Twins.

(Photo, from left: Jays minor league field coordinator Doug Davis, Fisher Cats slugger Eric Thames and Wilson.)

We saw a glimpse of Adeiny Hechavarria last year, and clearly that glove is very, very advanced. What did you guys see from his bat?

CW: Obviously we signed him as an amateur last year. It was the first year that Adeiny was in the United States, let alone playing professional baseball. So last year was a huge transition year in his life. It was a huge jump coming from Cuba, and traveling away from his family for the first time, not knowing any English.

To answer your question directly, we saw somebody with tremendous bat potential. We felt that this guy has a chance to hit for average and hit for a little bit of power in the future. We had our evaluators see him in the Dominican Republic last winter, and obviously they were very impressed with the glove. They were impressed with his fielding, with his throwing, but they were also convinced he could hit in the major leagues.

JN: You mentioned that transition period. What do the Blue Jays have in place to help Spanish-speaking imports learn English and communicate better in the states?

CW: Our cultural assimilation program begins in the Dominican Republic, in our facility in San Pedro de Macoris. We have English lessons every day during our instructional program down in the Dominican, and during their Dominican Summer League season.

When they come to the United States to start spring training in our extended camps, they’re receiving half an hour of English daily, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, depending on the time of year. The spring training classes are in the morning, extended in the evening. The Gulf Coast lessons are the in morning.

We have an on-site liaison between the team and our Latin American program and the players. That’s a gentleman by the name of Blake Bentley, whose title is Assistant of Latin American Administrations. He’s our cultural assimilation coordinator so, not only is he coordinating the English classes, but he’s on site to assist the guys with their transformation from playing in the Dominican to the United States for the first time.

The guys, if they need help in the hotel or when it’s time to go out and get an apartment on their own, they make sure they know what they’re doing. Opening up bank accounts, Social Security numbers, all that stuff when it comes to life in the United States.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Graham Stoneburner puts himself on the prospect map

LAKEWOOD — Sure, he’s got mid-90s heat, a tight slider that made great strides in his first professional season and an injury history only an insurance provider could love, but that’s not the most interesting thing about Graham Stoneburner.

It’s that name — Stoneburner, and where the hurler says it comes from.

“My ancestors used to heat up rocks and put them under people’s beds, and that’s how we got our name,” he explains.

Those days are long gone, but during his first full year as a Yankees prospect, the young right-hander did all he could to live up to his fiery family name.

Along with the hard fastball – which Yankees head of player development Mark Newman has compared to that of major league veteran Jake Westbrook — Stoneburner sports a maturing a slider and a nascent change-up.

The fastball and slider combo helped him sail through his first full season as a starter, though there’s internal debate as to whether he’ll eventually have more success out of the bullpen.

Whatever the future may hold, Stoneburner looked very much like a long-term starter last May, when the RiverDogs entered the Garden State for a set with the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies’ Sally League squad.

From the jump that afternoon, Stoneburner took quick advantage of a free-swinging line-up. He fanned two of the first three hitters he faced, including top Phillies prospect Jiwan James.

Then, in the second inning, he got to show off his considerable mettle.

A three-base error by Jimmy Paredes put the speedy Anthony Hewitt on third with nobody out against Lakewood’s 5-6-7 hitters, a tall task for any pitcher, let alone one making just his sixth professional start.

Stoneburner stood tall, turning the next three hitters into his third, fourth and fifth strikeouts of the day. He rang up the last man, the 17-year-old Domingo Santana, on two sliders — one in the zone, one in the dirt — and a final fastball on the inner half.

He finished the afternoon with 11 punchouts, including a stretch of seven in a row, and earned his first his first win in the minors after two early losses during which he allowed a combined four earned runs.

He left after seven shutout innings and 95 pitches, the last of which was a fastball at 95 miles per hour. The ability to carry that kind of velocity deep into games should aid him over the next couple of seasons as he vies for a spot in the Yankees’ rotation.

It’s also something he’s had to work since high school to maintain.

“When I was younger, I used to throw harder in the fourth inning than in the first, for some reason,” Stoneburner said. “They have us in pretty good shape, and that allows us to maintain our velocity throughout the game. I knew right there that that guy was a good fastball hitter, so I had to put a little extra on it."

Promoted before midseason, Stoneburner finished the year with a 9-8 record, a 2.41 ERA, 137 strikeouts in 142 innings and a sub-1.00 WHIP. He’s almost certain to spend the season in what should be another prospect-stocked Thunder rotation.

No matter his role down the line, Greg Colbrunn, his manager last year with the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Low-A affiliate, has no problem seeing the big-time in Stoneburner’s future a few years down the line.

“He’s got a chance to move through the ranks pretty quickly. It’s hard to project where he’s going to be four years from now, but he’s spotting his fastball. If he can continue to progress like he has, we’ll see how he does.”

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Thunder Spring Training Schedule (PR)

(Trenton, NJ) The Spring Training schedule for the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, will get underway on Saturday, March 19 against the Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Thunder spring schedule will consist of 14 games against other organizations. There is also one day that will be a ‘Camp Day’.

The complete list of games is below...

Date Opponent Site Time

March 5 Minor League Players report to Tampa, FL

March 19 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Bradenton, FL 1:00 PM

March 20 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 21 New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) Dunedin, FL 1:00 PM

March 22 New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 23 Reading Phillies (Philadelphia) Clearwater, FL 1:00 PM

March 24 Reading Phillies (Philadelphia) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 25 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Bradenton, FL 1:00 PM

March 26 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 27 Camp Day (Trenton vs. Scranton) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 28
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) Dunedin, FL 1:00 PM

March 29 Reading Phillies (Philadelphia) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

March 30 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Bradenton, FL 1:00 PM

March 31 Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

April 1 New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) Tampa, FL 1:00 PM

April 2 New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) Dunedin, FL 1:00 PM

April 3 Break Camp (post workout)

Game times & opponents are subject to change.

The Thunder's spring home is at the New York Yankees Minor League Complex in Tampa, FL. All requests for player interviews and credentials while the team is in Florida should be coordinated through the New York Yankees.

Information about the annual Trenton Thunder Media Day will be announced at a later date.

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.

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Andy Pettitte's retirement opens the door for a prospect influx

Now that Andy Pettitte has decided to call it a career, the 2011 season just got a whole lot more — let’s say interesting — for the Yankees.

With Pettitte gone, the Yanks’ will likely open with a rotation of some combination of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova.

That quintet doesn’t exactly scream postseason-bound, does it?

There are others in the mix for those back two spots, including former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon, the once-promising Mark Prior and journeyman Freddy Garcia.

Still, even with those three in tow, the absence of solid arms in two fifths of the rotation could make for a very intriguing spring training for a few Yankees farmhands.

With a good showing at camp, kids like Andrew Brackman, David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos could position themselves for a midseason call-up.

A scout I spoke with yesterday said that he doesn’t believe any of those farmhands is ready now, however, so the veterans, retreads and Nova will have to hold the fort for the time being.

One idea the scout suggested was a sort of tag-team fifth spot throughout the course of the season.

The idea would work something like this:

From Opening Day through the end of May, Mitre, Colon, Garcia or Prior would take the ball every fifth day.

Then, from June until the start of August, a prospect would get his feet wet in the big leagues.

After his two months were up, that youngster would relinquish the ball to another farmhand for the duration of the season.

To me, that sounds like a pretty viable solution on a couple of fronts.

First, it helps avoid a Joba-like shuffle to and from the bullpen for someone the Yankees have spent years developing as a starter, something fans certainly don’t want to see happen again.

Additionally, it doesn’t overexpose either prospect long enough for the league to get a good book on him.

The glaring weakness in the plan, however, is that it pins a rookie with 20 percent of the team’s starts down the stretch, which would be especially troubling if the team were to find itself in playoff contention.

If that’s the case, though, you can the Yankees will swing a deal to avoid that kind of scenario.

The bottom line is: Because of Pettitte’s retirement, this season represents the first time in a very long while that an untested prospect has a chance to win a spot in the rotation out of camp.

If that happens, this summer will be remembered more as a fond beginning than a bittersweet ending.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Phillies first-rounder and likely Lakewood BlueClaw Jesse Biddle talks to the media

Here's Phillies first-round choice (and a would-be Oregon Duck) Jesse Biddle talking about his adjustment to pro life, his repertoire and his experience at the 2008 World Series Game 5 -- parts 1 and 2. He'll more than likely pitch for the Lakewood BlueClaws this year.

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Olbrychowski dealt to Nationals

The Yankees have traded former Thunder reliever Adam Olbrychowski (video below) to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Justin Maxwell, who was designated for assignment last month.

Olbrychowski pitched 4 1/3 innings for the Thunder after being called up in early September, after major league rosters expanded. He posted a 2.08 ERA with four strikeouts and a walk.

More notably, Olbrychowski, the Yankees' fifth-round choice in 2007, struck out New Hampshire's Jonathan Jaspe to end the Eastern League Division Series (video above), which the Thunder swept.

Maxwell, who had Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow last October and is expected to be ready for spring training, hit .144 with three home runs and 12 RBIs with the Nationals in 2010.

To make room for Maxwell on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated outfielder Jordan Parraz for assignment.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Q&A with Mark Newman

With the start of spring training mere weeks away, teams’ rosters are just about set for the coming campaign. Sure, there could be a few tweak here and there but for the most part, it’s done. The same isn’t true for the minor league levels.

The players are all there, but figuring out which players should be at which levels can be a tricky proposition.

With that in mind, The Trentonian spoke to Yankees head of player development Mark Newman to see if he could clear up a few of those issues, as well as a few other questions about the team’s system as a whole.

JN: I think the most pressing issue, as far as Trenton is concerned, is how the situation at second base is going to shake out. How are Corban Joseph, David Adams and Jose Pirela all going to fit into that mix?

MN: Pirela (will be) at shortstop, and we’re still working on the other two and how that’s going to play out there. There’s Triple-A possibilities. They both played together at Charleston a couple of years ago, and we moved them around.

JN: Is there a possibility that either of them could play at third base?

MN: Yes. We’ve got Suttle there, too, so there’s a bit of a logjam. We’re still working on how that’s going to play out.

JN: With the rotation, it seems pretty fair to say that Betances and Banuelos are going to be there, correct?

MN: It’s premature to say that they’re going to be there and not in Triple-A. There’s probably the best chance that they would be in Double-A to start with, but it’s not a done deal.

JN: I’d assume Graham Stoneburner’s going to be right there, too?

MN: Yeah.

JN: What about Adam Warren? It seems he’s ready for Triple-A, but I could also see him being pushed back to Double-A because of numbers.

MN: All that stuff (with the rotation) is still TBA. We have more quality pitching at the Double-A and Triple-A levels than we’ve had in some time, so throughout spring training there’s going to be a lot of consultation among staff before we finally determine who’s going to go where.

JN: Who stood out for you guys at instructs?

MN: Well, a lot of the young guys. It was really a young group. It was (Cito) Culver, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, that bunch.

JN: Did you guys like the early returns from Culver, despite the numbers maybe not being the prettiest?

MN: The stats were fine in a rookie league for a first-year player. If you go back and look at Derek Jeter and Robbie Cano the first year, the stat line is not good. At the lower levels early on in their career, it has very little meaning. You look for other things: How they handle the game, how they take pitches, how they use the field. You look at a lot of technical stuff.

JN: With a kid like Culver, who obviously didn’t have the greatest upbringing in the world, do you worry about how he’s going to adjust to basically being on his own for a while?

MN: He’s a quality kid. He has outstanding make-up. We have no concerns about him.

JN: How is Laird looking as a left fielder?

MN: Laird played in the fall league out there and did fine. It’s just to provide a defensive flexibility for the major league club. Third, first, left, right.

JN: So he’ll see time at all those positions in Scranton this year, I assume?

MN: He’ll see time at those spots.

JN: If I remember, Betances went down there to work solely on his fielding. How did that turn out?

MN: We focused on very few things, and he made progress on all those.

JN: Did you figure out what was causing those yips?

MN: It was just that he hadn’t had enough work. He’d been down with the injury for an extended period.

JN: One theory proposed up here was that he just hadn’t had many runners to deal with during his stint with Tampa. Could that have been a contributing factor as well?

MN: Well, he didn’t have many. There are a lot of outstanding young pitchers that go through that for the same reason. They didn’t have many runners on in high school, they didn’t have many on in the low minor leagues. Throw in the fact that he was out for a year with an injury.

JN: Another guy I heard a lot about all season down there was Brett Marshall. What do you see for him in 2011?

MN: Florida State League. Really good arm, really competitive. Very good athlete, great feel for the change-up. He’s got ceiling, he’s got big ceiling. He’ll keep working day by day to improve delivery and improve his secondary pitches, but yeah he’s got good stuff.

JN: I heard a story about him telling you that he was going to throw 100 miles per hour one day. How do you get a kid like that to learn how to dial it back?

MN: The coaches continually counsel him about that, and then you learn from the game. He figures out, with maturity, that the key is to get hitters out and the only stat that matters is how often you get hitters out, not the readings on the radar gun. He’s figured that out.

JN: I mentioned position switches not long ago. Is J.R. Murphy also making a switch from behind the plate to more of third base or outfield?

MN: No, he’s just learning multiple positions. He’s such an outstanding young hitter, we want to maintain some flexibility. When he’s ready to go to the big leagues, we want to have more options than just catch, and so the third base, right field work is going to provide him and us with that kind of option.

JN: With Gary Sanchez, the numbers were obviously there in spades. What kind of other things, aside from the numbers, were you able to take from his first full year?

MN: Adjustment to playing every day, which he handled. Running a pitching staff, managing a game, all that stuff is still a work in progress. He’s a very bright kid, and we think he’ll make those adjustments. He’s really talented.

JN: How much input do you guys get from the pitching staff he handles about how he is able to work back there?

MN: So far he’s caught so many young pitchers. You really don’t go to another 18-year-old and ask him to critique a catcher. They’re so worried about their own performance. If you were pitching to veteran players, it might be more helpful. At this point, all he’s done is that.

JN: I see that Vic Valencia, who was with the Thunder last year, is in Charleston. Being an outstanding defensive catcher during his playing days, is he there to work with Sanchez this season?

MN: He’s done a nice job with the catchers he’s worked with so far. We move staff around to try and match them up with players so we get the biggest bang for our buck from our staff.

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