Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pena, Burnham, Arizona Fall League, Scout notes

REHAB MANIA: For the second time this season, the Thunder have received a Yankees shortstop for a rehab assignment. In July, it was Derek Jeter, and the zoo of adoring fans he brought through the turnstiles at Waterfront Park.

Tonight, and for the rest of the season, it seems, Trenton will get Ramiro Pena, a defensive wizard who has played 257 games in the Eastern League entering the evening. He's almost certainly the best gloveman at the position in franchise history.

Pena is working his way back from an appendectomy and will play five innings tonight and seven innings tomorrow before traveling with the club to New Britain for the year's final series.

He's an interesting addition for the stretch run, especially because of the solidarity he'll add in the middle of the infield, where the team has had a bucket of problems throughout the year.

GOLDEN VOICE: Ballpark Digest named Thunder Director of Broadcasting Jay Burnham its Broadcaster of the Year yesterday. Considering that award encompasses all of minor league baseball, that's some honor.

In a press release sent out by the team, the man of the hour had this to say about the honor:

"I am truly honored and humbled to be the recipient of this award, especially since there are any number of broadcasters at all levels that are deserving as well. I am fortunate to be a part of one of the best organizations in baseball.

"My broadcast partner Hank Fuerst and I have had an unforgettable season between the new radio station and visits from some of baseball's greatest players past and present, including Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and Shane Victorino."

PLAY (MORE) BALL: The Arizona Fall League announced its rosters yesterday, and (so far) four Yankees will play for this year's incarnation of the Phoenix Desert Dogs: Corban Joseph, Ronnier Mustelier, Rob Segedin and David Phelps.

All but Mustelier, a 27-year-old Cuban import, have spent time with the Thunder in the past.

RANK AND FILE: Spoke to a scout before the game who's seen the Yankees at every level but Staten Island this season and asked him to rank the team's position player prospects, non-Montero division. Here's what he said.

1. Gary Sanchez -- He looked excellent in the second half and projects to be a catcher long-term
2. Slade Heathcott -- Behind Sanchez, but not by much
3. Austin Romine

He also mentioned Jose Toussen as a guy who may start to open some eyes. Not a star, he said, but a guy who can play a little. Also really likes Dan Burawa, a reliever with Tampa out of St. John's.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mea Culpa

I'm sorry. I haven't been at the blog much lately. Between not being at games, the Hurricane and other various day to day nonsense, I just haven't gotten around to it. My apologies. I'll be better from here on out.

With that out of the way, here's how we stand. As I mentioned on Twitter, I won't be covering any games for the rest of season because of a very complicated situation at The Trentonian's office. The paper's coverage will come from a variety of people, including talented freelancers Bill Landis and Kyle Franko.

As for me, I'll physically be at Tuesday's game, but won't be writing anything because it's technically my off day. I will, however, have something for you on the blog that's not necessarily about the Thunder.

I'll also be at the Staten Island Yankees game on Sept. 3 (weather permitting). Hopefully, the Yankees' first pick this season will also be around.

That will be my final minor league ballgame of the season. I'll keep the blog running through the offseason, and will keep you up to date on the Yankees' prospects as they play in their various fall and winter leagues.

Here's hoping you stayed nice and dry during the hurricane.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

After tonight, a murky road lies ahead for Marquez

TRENTON – While it wouldn’t have come close to topping this year’s list of marquee rehab starts, Jeff Marquez’s scheduled appearance last night did continue an interesting recent trend of long-forgotten alumni finding their way back to the capital city.

Instead, the game was postponed by torrential rain and lightning, and will be made up today as part of a doubleheader of two seven-inning games that will begin at 6:05 p.m.

Over the last four seasons, Marquez is the fifth player to re-enter the fold after spending significant time elsewhere in the sport. It’s not an illustrious list, but it includes outfielders Noah Hall and Justin Christian, as well as current Trenton relievers Kanekoa Texeira and Brad Halsey.

That’s to say nothing of Justin Pope, the Thunder’s coach who last pitched for the Thunder on Sept. 3, 2007 before returning to Waterfront when the team kicked off its home schedule on April 14.

When he finally toes the slab tonight, it marked the first time since Aug. 28, 2008 that Marquez has taken the mound at Waterfront Park in the regular season.

In the 1,087 days between appearances, Marquez has been traded to the White Sox in the package that brought Nick Swisher – as well as Texeira – to the Yankees, and pitched two seasons with Charlotte, Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate.

The Yankees claimed him on waivers on June 8, three days after he was cut by Chicago. He pitched four innings this season for New York before hitting the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

“For them to keep an eye on me and notice that I’m on waivers,” Marquez said. “I felt like that was a good opportunity for me to come back. At the time, they needed pitching up there in the bullpen. That little time I was up there I felt like I did a pretty good job, and hopefully I’ll get back there.”

If he is to get back to the Bronx, it will have to happen before Tuesday, at which point he will fall into a sort of transactional limbo. Should the Yankees decide they don’t need his services, which, considering they’ve acquired Raul Valdes, Scott Proctor and Aaron Laffey in recent days, seems likely, then Marquez’s immediate future will become uncertain.

Because he’s out of minor league options, and has been since the season began, he’ll be placed on waivers, from which teams will have 72 hours to claim him and place him on their major league roster. If nobody claims him, he can choose to finish out the year in the minors with the Yankees, or shut it down and prepare for free agency.

For now, his travels have taken him back to Trenton, and considering the success he’s had here, that’s not such a bad thing.

“It feels good to be here to be around guys, to be around a team, rather than being down there in Tampa (in the Gulf Coast League),” he said. “I was here in ’07 and a little bit in ’08 when we won the championships back to back – lot of good memories here.”

NOTES: Marquez will start the first game of tonight’s twinbill, and will be followed by Graham Stoneburner. They’ll be opposed by Mike Ballard and Tim Bascom of Bowie. … Manager Tony Franklin said before the game that third baseman Brad Suttle was likely done for the season. … Reliever Wilkins Arias is on his way back from a brief stint in Scranton. To make room, Halsey will be placed on the 7-Day disabled list. … It is unclear who will replace Marquez in the rotation after this turn. Cory Arbiso, Josh Schmidt, Kei Igawa and Arias seem like likely candidates.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Time flies when you're on the run

In the spirit of Jeff Marquez's return to Trenton this evening, I decided to do a little research. Marquez finds himself back at Waterfront Park after leaving the organization for a time, and he's not the only player to do so in recent memory. In fact, since I've been in New Jersey, I can count five players who have returned to the Thunder after spending time elsewhere in either pro or indy ball.

Those five are: Marquez, Brad Halsey, Justin Christian, Noah Hall and Kanekoa Texeira.

With that in mind, I sat down and looked up how many days each man went between
regular-season appearances at Waterfront Park. Here's how it breaks down:

Halsey - 2,841 days (Aug. 31, 2003 - June 12, 2011)
Marquez - 1,086 days (Aug. 28, 2008 - Aug. 19, 2011)
Christian - 1,051 days (June 21, 2007 -May 8, 2010)
Texeira - 698 days (Sept. 5, 2009 - Aug. 5, 2011)
Hall - 627 days (Sept. 3, 2007 - May 23, 2009)

And, as a special addendum, there's Justin Pope, the team's do-it-all coach and its former pitcher:

Pope - 1,318 days (Sept. 3, 2007 - April 14, 2011)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jeff Marquez will start on Friday

As speculated, then unspeculated, here by yours truly, Jeff Marquez will start Friday's game against the Bowie Baysox. I guessed he would be coming this way, but re-considered when I saw he was moved to the 60-Day Disabled List earlier this week.

I figured that meant his injury had gotten worse, and would prevent him from coming north. Then I realized that it may simply have been a roster-shuffling move, and it wouldn't necessarily keep him from a second stint in Trenton.

Because he's considered a major league rehab, no move will be required to get him a place on the roster.

A former first-rounder and a part of the trade that brought Nick Swisher to the Yankees, Marquez has pitched five innings in the bigs, including four with the Yankees this season after he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox.

Marquez was a part of the 2007 and 2008 Thunder teams that won back-to-back Eastern League Championships.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Strikeouts, Schmidt and Stuff

-- I had a little free time today, so I combed the MiLB portal looking at some of the Thunder's numbers this year. One that jumped at me was the 1,042 strikeouts Trenton hitters had accrued this year.

The franchise's all-time worst was 1,047 punchouts, and this year's version is just five away with 21 games left on the slate. I find that pretty darn astounding.

The mark gets even more perplexing when one realizes that the team has spent the last month and change without Cody Johnson and Brad Suttle -- windmills both -- and that Melky Mesa, another prime culprit, had played just 87 games entering Wednesday's action.

-- Another reason the Thunder have struggled down the stretch? Infield defense, or a severe lack thereof. Corban Joseph and Jose Pirela have combined for 51 errors this season at second base and shortstop, respectively.

-- Yesterday, I ran down the list of people I thought might start Friday's homestand-opening game against the Bowie Baysox. I listed Kei Igawa, Cory Arbiso and Jeff Marquez as possibilities, but apparently I didn't count on one of the more obvious choices: Josh Schmidt.

Schmidt, who is, mercifully, on the precipice of minor league free agency, has been sent back to Trenton, according to Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune.

As is tradition, Schmidt has bounced between Trenton and Scranton this season, and has put forth a 7-4 record, a 2.20 ERA and a .199 average against. He's allowed just 40 hits in 57.1 innings this year and has fanned 62 against 24 walks.

If he starts on Friday, I wouldn't be surprised to see him stick in the rotation for the rest of the year. He's filling the shoes of Dellin Betances, who will make his first Triple-A start tomorrow, against Durham.

The difference between Schmidt and Betances is not unlike that between Joba Chamberlain and former Yankees reliever Edwar Ramirez.

-- John Brebbia, the Yankees' 30th-round selection in this year's draft, out of Elon, was assigned to Staten Island today.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back from vacation ... here are some notes (UPDATE)

After four days in sometimes rainy, sometimes sunny Virginia, I'm back in action. Not much happened while I was gone, did it? Oh, right, some stuff did occur.

For instance ...

Dellin Betances was promoted to Scranton. This makes sense. He pitched very well his last time out, and his velocity was hitting the upper-90s. He had been throwing a much higher percentage of fastballs in recent days, an indicator, I think, that the Yankees may use him as a reliever in the near future.

With his promotion, the Thunder's rotation is left with a 6-foot, 8-inch hole to fill. As it stands, here are Trenton's five starters:

1. Shaeffer Hall
2. Graham Stoneburner
3. Steve Garrison
4. Craig Heyer
5. ????

There are two in-house candidates for the elusive Four Question marks Of Doom spot -- Cory Arbiso and Kei Igawa. Arbiso is starting tonight in the second game of the doubleheader with Erie, so you can probably count him out at least for Friday.

Igawa just came off the shelf, where he'd been since June 23, so he'd be fresh as a daisy on Friday. That said, he's been markedly better as a reliever with the Thunder this season -- not that it really matters to the guys who make these types of decisions.

The other, more interesting candidate is Jeff Marquez, who was with the team way back in 2008, my first year of coverage. He's working his way back from injury, and is currently with the Tampa Yankees. He last pitched on the 13th, so he'd be on five days' rest.

Because Marquez is on the 40-man roster, no move would be needed to get him on the Thunder's roster on Friday. This is key, because the team is currently carrying the maximum 24 players.

Additionally, Austin Romine was activated off the team's disabled list this afternoon. Inflamed disks in his back put him out on August 3rd. Tonight's game will be the first he's played in exactly two weeks. Don't expect him here for long, however. He'll get the bump to Scranton once Jesus Montero is ready to take the first car up to the Bronx.

Corban Joseph missed three consecutive games after having a stye on his eye taken care of. My sister dealt with one of those at one point, and I remember her saying that they were no fun at all. Though he wouldn't admit, I'd bet it hindered his performance some.

The Thunder also dropped two of three to the Harrisburg Senators over the weekend, including one that was lost when Bryce Harper hit a 480-foot walkoff home run off of Ryan Pope on Friday.

As it stands, Trenton is, at 60-60, in a tie for second place in the Eastern Division with the Reading Phillies. Lurking just a half-game back is New Britain, who also could overtake both Reading and the Thunder for the wild card.

If the Thunder are going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to beat some of the best competition the circuit has to offer. After their quartet with Erie, they have seven games with division leader New Hampshire, three with Western Division frontrunner Bowie and eight with the Rock Cats.

UPDATE: Welp, I missed on that one, folks. Jeff Marquez was placed on the 60-Day DL and most certainly not be starting against the Baysox on Friday. Igawa leads the race.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

For Romanski, Breast Cancer Awareness Day holds special significance

TRENTON – Up and down his back and all across his body, Josh Romanski is covered in tattoos. Most of the ink is a testament to his belief in God, but the next one he gets, he says, will have a different theme.

“I’m going to get a nice, big pink breast cancer ribbon this offseason,” he explained yesterday. “I just don’t know where I’m going to put it yet. That’s coming soon.”

The ribbon will stand in tribute to his mother, Sheila, who has survived breast cancer three times. The Thunder wore pink jerseys yesterday to help raise awareness for the disease, and the cause was certainly not lost on Josh.

“I think it’s awesome whenever organizations take the time to honor the people who have struggled with the battle, not just against breast cancer, but any type of cancer,” he said.

No matter when the diagnosis comes, hard times surely lie ahead. When you receive the news on the heels of a day that was supposed to be a celebration of the culmination of years of hard work, however, the pain only multiplies.

That’s what happened to the Romanski family in June of 2008, just 20 minutes after Josh got the news that he’d been drafted in the fourth round by the Milwaukee Brewers.

During the celebration, the phone rang again, this time with the news the family had hoped it would never hear again. Sheila’s cancer had returned, and she would need to begin the process of fighting the disease for a third time.

“That was kind of a bittersweet day for us as a family,” he recalled. “I was going to get to start my professional career, but at the same time she was heading into her third bout with breast cancer.”

The first time the cancer popped up, Josh was in fifth grade, at an age when one doesn’t necessarily understand its ramifications and the battle that lies ahead for the patient and his or her family.

“All you know is that mom’s sick. My brothers and sister, they’re younger than I am, so they had a hard time comprehending it, but we got through it. She got through it the first time, it came back a year later, she got through it again, and fortunately it was in remission for another 11 or 12 years.”

Now, in the midst of a career that was nearly blunted early by Tommy John surgery, Romanski is able to count his blessings with the knowledge that the worst day in the bush leagues is far and away better than the best day his mother – or any cancer patient, for that matter – will struggle through.

“It kind of puts baseball second on your priority list, and I think that’s helped me,” he said. If something goes wrong on the field, you can always look back and say there’s other people going through more difficult times. If the worst that’s going to happen to me is giving up runs on a baseball field, then I think I’m going to be OK.”

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Another exasperating loss for the Thunder

TRENTON – Before every game, Thunder manager Tony Franklin oversees his infielders as they work on their craft. Jose Pirela and Corban Joseph in particular can be seen taking ground balls and working on perfecting the double-play turn. Rob Lyerly works on getting better at the corners.

This is all in addition to the day’s regularly scheduled pregame practice session.

After the infield’s display in the fifth inning of the team’s 9-3 loss to the Binghamton Mets last night, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work left to be done.

In that frame, Shaeffer Hall, who had the misfortune of being a control artist who can get hitters to beat the ball into the dirt, watched as Lyerly, Pirela and Addison Maruszak each misplayed grounders behind him.

The final error of the inning, Lyerly’s, would have ended the frame with just four runs on the board and the Thunder staring at a 6-2 hole. Instead, Niuman Romero, activated from Binghamton’s disabled list to replace the promoted Jordany Valdespin, reached, and the B-Mets tacked on three more.

When asked about it before the game, Franklin agreed that his team’s defense, particularly on the infield, has been one of the major contributing factors in its current tailspin.

“It’s a defensive game. I’ve said this for five years and I’ve said this for a long time in my career. … We’ve made a lot of errors, and errors have contributed to big innings (and) runs, and that makes playing the game a little more difficult.”

To wit, through the first 116 games, Trenton has committed 130 errors. Four players (Pirela, Joseph, Lyerly, Brad Suttle) have more than 10, something that hadn’t been accomplished since 2006.

Allowing seven runs in an inning is never good, but facing a former first-rounder throwing high-90s gas only compounds the situation.

That was the case with Matt Harvey last night, the seventh overall selection in last June’s draft, who, although he didn’t have lockdown stuff, was able to quiet the Thunder’s bats over five innings.

In all, Harvey allowed three runs on six hits, walked nobody and fanned six.

Before the disastrous fifth, things were actually looking up for the Thunder, who were able to briefly time Harvey’s fastball. Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte strung together consecutive singles in the second, and Damon Sublett sent home the first run with a ringing double into the left-center field alleyway.

A groundout from Jose Gil – who also erred in the fifth – brought home a second run, which tied the game at the time.

NOTES: Joseph was not initially in the lineup. He was scheduled to visit the doctor to have a stye over his eye lanced. Plans changed, however, and he was reinserted into day’s starting nine. … Ray Kruml took batting practice yesterday, and could be activated in time for this weekend’s set in Harrisburg. … Austin Romine (lower back) is still day to day.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thunder show fight but fall to Binghamton (with audio from Tony Franklin and Rob Lyerly)

Even though it had a little twist at the end, the Thunder followed virtually the same script they have for the last five weeks: Lose, and do so in particularly frustrating fashion.

This time it was a 6-5 defeat against Binghamton, one in which it looked for a moment like the tide was finally beginning to turn.

Down 6-1 opening the eighth, Jose Pirela blooped a single into a shallow left field. Corban Joseph followed with a single through the right side, and Rob Lyerly capped the rally with a long three-run homer into the blackness beyond the wall in right-center field.

With the pendulum appearing to swing back in their favor, the Thunder kept chipping.

Damon Sublett started the ninth with a triple off the top of the wall in center, which Jose Gil followed with a walk against Binghamton closer Josh Stinson.

Things then turned quickly back toward the visitors’ dugout.

With his team down two and threatening, Gil committed one of baseball’s biggest no-no’s when he got picked off of first base on Stinson’s fake-to-third-throw-to-first move.

Sublett scored on a wild pitch, but the next two men, Addison Maruszak and Austin Krum went down in order to close the game and the send Trenton back to the clubhouse with its six loss out of seven tries in August.

“I’ve got a recording,” manager Tony Franklin said afterward, “and it’s not good. It’s starting to wear on me. I think we’re a better team than that, but we keep seeing the same movie over and over every night, and I’m tired of watching it.”

In spite of the loss, the Thunder, who are just 11-25 since the start of July, find themselves just one game behind Reading for the Eastern Division wild card and just five games back of division leader New Hampshire, against whom they still have six head-to-head matchups.

With that knowledge, Lyerly says, the team can take a hint of solace in knowing its mess of a second half hasn’t amounted to a knockout blow.

“We’re right there,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time before we roll through and make a push and start climbing the ladder.”

Things started poorly last night when, with two outs and a runner on second, starter Graham Stoneburner lost the strike zone. He issued two consecutive free passes before third baseman Mike Fisher cleaned the bags with a double.

And although Fisher was wiped out in a rundown between second and third base, his hit put the Thunder in a three-run hole which, lately, has been an overwhelming deficit.

Over its last 11 games, last night marked just the third time Trenton had scored more than three runs.

Stoneburner settled down after the first inning, dodging in and out of trouble through the next four frames to keep Binghamton off the board. Problem was, Trenton wasn’t putting up much of a fight either.

Their first run scored on a Krum groundout in the fifth, and they collected just three hits and a walk in five frames against starter Collin McHugh.

Binghamton added to its lead in the sixth and seventh innings, using a two-run home run from Raul Reyes and a seventh-inning double from Fisher that plated Havens and chased Stoneburner.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thunder release 2012 schedule

(TRENTON, NJ) Even with 14 home games remaining in the 2011 season, the first seeds of the 2012 campaign were sown on Tuesday afternoon as the Trenton Thunder, Double A Affiliate of the New York Yankees, released next year's schedule.

The Thunder will begin the 2012 season at home against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays) on Thursday, April 5 at 7:05 pm. The team will play their last home game on Thursday, August 30 at 7:05 pm against New Britain (Minnesota Twins). The season will end in Binghamton (NY Mets) on September 3 at 1:05 pm.

The Thunder will face their top rivals 24 times at home. The Double A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, the Portland Sea Dogs, will visit Trenton 14 times in 2012. The Sea Dogs will make their first trip April 9-11 followed by May 10-13, June 22-25 and July 7-9. Philadelphia Phillies fans can catch the Reading Phillies in Trenton for seven games next season, July 19-22 and August 7-9. The Binghamton Mets (NY Mets) will visit Trenton for just one series, June 8-10.

The Thunder will play 13 home games in April, 14 in May, 14 in June, 15 in July, and 15 in August. The team plays 71 home games against all 11 Eastern League teams.

The standard game time will remain at 7:05 pm for night games. The first Saturday of the season, April 16, will begin at 1:05 pm and Saturday, April 21 will begin at 5:05 pm. All other Saturday games will start at 7:05 pm. Sunday games will start at 1:05 pm with the exception of the final two Sundays of the season, July 29 and August 19, which will begin at 5:05 pm.

Mid-week day games will return in 2011, with the first one, a 10:35 am "Education Day" slated for Wednesday, April 11. Education Days will also be held on on Thursday, April 26 and Monday, June 4. Popular 12:05 pm day games are scheduled for Monday, July 9, Thursday, August 2, Wednesday, August 8 and Wednesday, August 22.

The schedule of fireworks dates and promotions will be released at a later date.


Pitching matchups vs. Binghamton

Today: RHP Graham Stoneburner (1-1, 1.86) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (4-2, 3.75)
Tomorrow: LHP Shaeffer Hall (10-5, 4.23) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (3-8, 6.33)
Thursday: LHP Steve Garrison (3-8, 6.33) vs. RHP Brandon Moore (9-7, 3.93)

Pregame stuff: On the way in Trenton was hit with quite possibly the biggest storm since I've been here (four years). The streets were flash-flooding to a degree I've never witnessed. That said, it seems to have slowed, and the tarp was on, so I wouldn't bank on a postponement just yet.

Austin Romine is still on the shelf with what his agent called "inflammation in a couple of disks in his back." Jose Gil and Ryan Baker will be the catching duo in his stead, with Addison Maruszak filling the role of emergency catcher.

Dellin Betances is scheduled to spin on Friday in Harrisburg, where he'll face one Bryce Harper, a prospect of note and enthusiast of terrible mustaches.

Good news for the Thunder on a couple of fronts. They are facing the B-Mets, who are a league-worst 47-68, and who are underwhelming against southpaws as a whole. On the season, Binghamton hits just .248/.328/.386 against lefties, which is good news for both Shaeffer Hall and Steve Garrison.

The Thunder haven't been caught stealing in seven attempts in August. The last Thunder runner to get caught was Melky Mesa, who was nabbed by Akron catcher Raul Padron on July 27 at Canal Park.

In sporadic playing time, utilityman Yadil Mujica has a modest five-game hitting streak, the longest of any hitter on the team.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Videos a go-go: Montero, Banuelos, Mason Williams, William Oliver, Angelo Gumbs

Audio from Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Brian Cashman, Jesus Montero and Adam Warren