Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Catcher Day Part 2: J.R. Murphy

For no reason at all, I have decided to have a little fun today on the blog. Thus, today is catcher day. I will post as many things as I have available about the catchers up and down the Yankees system.

Why catcher? First, it's one of the team's positions of strength. From Montero to Romine to Murphy to Sanchez to Liccien to Bird, the Yankees are bursting with backstops. Second, and more selfishly, I happen to have a good deal of catcher-related media lying around, including video clips and unpublished interviews.

We started the day with some Gary Sanchez material, and now we'll move to his first-half teammate, J.R. Murphy.

In a way, Murphy and Sanchez found their way to the RiverDogs in similar fashion. Both spent their formative years learning the game and honing their craft, Sanchez on ballfields in the Dominican Republic and Murphy at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Each was identified by the Yankees as a high-level talent, especially at the plate, and summarily handed a seven-figure bonus to join the fold.

Unfortunately for both players, there was another parallel this season: Each had his year cut short by injury.

Before it was over, Murphy earned a promotion to High-A Tampa, and compiled a .287/.325/.434 line with 29 doubles, seven homers and 46 RBIs. I imagine he'll start the year back at Tampa and earn a midseason promotion to Trenton if everything goes accordingly.

Here's an unpublished interview I did with Murphy this April, as well as a couple of videos from his series against the BlueClaws.

Q: What’s it like knowing that Brian Cashman took time out of his schedule to come watch you guys play for five games?
A: Obviously you don't want to put even more pressure on yourself thinking about who is watching, but I just think it's cool that he is around. Not just at the game but walking around the clubhouse. Very cool and something you don't get to see every day.
Q: He’d said that it was important to let you guys know that there was a connection between the front office and the minor leagues.
A: That's great to know. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, we’re in Low-A, guys up there don’t really know who we are.’ It’s really cool that he’s around here watching the games, taking the time to come watch us and stuff, so it’s cool. There are times when you think they don't even know who we are down here.''
Q: You were with Charleston last year – are you surprised to be back to start the season?
A: "(Being back) is a good opportunity. I wasn't surprised. They've got me working on different positions now, too. Surprised? No. I’m just looking forward to trying other positions and getting better at them.
Q: Which position, outside of catcher, do you believe is your strong point right now?
A: Probably third. I haven’t played any outfield – I did in spring training. Definitely third base is the strongest because of taken more reps there than in the outfield.
Q: Eventually this logjam at catcher will probably dissipate, but how do you deal with it while it exists?
A: You just have to worry about yourself and go about your business day to day. Playing other positions is only going to help me. It's all about making it to the big leagues. What position I play, that's up to them. I love catching, but if playing third base or the outfield is going to help me move up then I am all for it.
Q: You and Sanchez are together for now. How do you help each other grow?
A: Sanchez and I work a lot together, whether it's just watching each other while we are catching, or working off the field with Victor, we feed off each other and are learning stuff from each other.
Q: What specifically have you learned from Sanchez?
A: He’s come a long way from last year. Seeing his progress with footwork, receiving and the transfer of his throws to second base is what I learned most.
Q: On the other side of the coin, what do you think he’s gotten from you?
From my end I think he sees my work ethic and how I go about my business. Working with Victor every day you have to constantly push yourself and get better. I think that’s what he’s learned.
Q: They obviously have a lot invested in a handful of players here financially. Mark Newman said a lot of the organization’s better position prospects are here. Do you see you guys pushing each other?
A: I think we do. We have a good mix of Latin guys and American guys. As far as that goes, I think we are just starting to know how good we can be when play together as a team. When everything meshes with us, hits are contagious with this team. When we’re on defense, it’s a plus.
Q: The focus at the upper levels seems to be more individualized, rather than a team-first attitude at the lower levels. Do you agree?
A: Yes and no. I think the American guys work a lot together more than the Latin guys do. As a whole, as a team, we work real well together. It’s not very individual down here at all, I don’t think.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Catcher Day Part 1: Gary Sanchez

For no reason at all, I have decided to have a little fun today on the blog. Thus, today is catcher day. I will post as many things as I have available about the catchers up and down the Yankees system.

Why catcher? First, it's one of the team's positions of strength. From Montero to Romine to Murphy to Sanchez to Liccien to Bird, the Yankees are bursting with backstops. Second, and more selfishly, I happen to have a good deal of catcher-related media lying around, including video clips and unpublished interviews.

So, to start the day, here's an interview I did with Sanchez in April, when the Charleston RiverDogs were in town for a five-game set with the Lakewood BlueClaws. Because Sanchez speaks very little English, the interview was done through a translator, which is why I asked some of the questions in second person.

Q: With the situation with his heart, was he scared when all that was happening?

A: I didn’t really feel it that much. I was practicing and everything, during all that time. But they found something in the tests, and it was like a precautionary measure. I wasn’t concerned. I was always in good shape, ready to play.

Q: What was the procedure they performed? (points to chest area) I don’t see a scar there.

A: There’s not a really a scar. They didn’t cut. It was just two insertions (above his groin on his right leg). You can’t even see them.

Q: What prompted the tests?

A: The heartbeat, when he was running, there was a nerve in the heart, and it was accelerating his heartbeat.

Q: Do you remember a specific point where you felt something was wrong?

A: No. Not really.

Q: How relieved is he that they found it now and took care of it this early in his life?

A: I feel normal, actually. I never felt bad. That was something the doctors detected in my body. I never really felt anything, any discomfort or anything like that.

Q: You got a pretty big chunk of money to sign with the Yankees. What did you do with that initial signing bonus? Any big first purchases?

A: No. I have everything at home. My family is taking care of it.

Q: Do you feel pressure after getting that much of a bonus?

A: No.

Q: This is your first year in full-season ball. What have the biggest challenges been through the first month of the season?

A: The trips are killing me. After the trips, I’m very, very, very exhausted. I’m very tired.

Q: Because he’s catching all the time?

A: You go crazy on the bus. There’s too much time spent on the bus.

Q: What’s the longest trip?

A: Thirteen or fourteen hours (this one)

Q: Do you sleep on the bus?

A: I couldn’t sleep very well. I was tossing and turning.

Q: How does life in American ball compare to the sport in the Dominican?

A: In the Dominican, I played in my little league (not Little League). Here, you play professionally. There’s a lot at stake here, as opposed to playing over there.

Q: Can you think of one thing that made him stand out to the Yankees or any other team that may have wanted to sign him?

A: It was my normal workout. I was hitting the ball and throwing well to the bases.

Q: With the heart again, what did your parents think? How nervous were they that, at 18, their son needed heart surgery?

A: They didn’t know. When I went to New York, I explained to them, and my family was at the hospital. They did visit me at the medical center.

Q: With all the catching prospects the Yankees have, do you like having all of those good catchers in the system at the same time?

A: I’m going to do my job and let them do theirs. I’m going to try to do the best I can.

Although his first year of full-season ball was cut short by injury and dotted with questions about his maturity (those things tend to dog 18-year-olds), the numbers -- especially in the second half --looked pretty good for the premier position prospect in one of the game's better systems.

He finished with a .256/.335/.485 line with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs, struck out 93 times against 36 walks (oddly, none were intentional). Interestingly, his average and on-base percentage dipped in the second half, but his slugging jumped more than 100 points, thanks in large part to 12 longballs in 136 at-bats.

And while the defensive numbers were nothing short of ghastly, two scouts I spoke with were unfazed, saying that they liked his athleticism and instincts behind the plate, as well as his plus arm. When questioned, both preferred Sanchez longterm to Montero.

More than likely Sanchez will begin next season in High-A Tampa, with an outside chance to finish it in Trenton. That said, we saw last year with J.R. Murphy and Slade Heathcott that the Yankees are not afraid to hold players back if there's something there they still need to work on.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Several 2011 Thunder players among Yankees minor league free agents

Baseball America transaction guru Matt Eddy released his publication's guide to this offseason's minor league free agents, and several of this year's Thunder players showed up on the Yankees' list.

New York Yankees (21)
RHP: Francisco Castillo (Hi A), Noel Castillo (Hi A), Grant Duff (AA), Logan Kensing (AAA), Jeff Marquez (AA), Kelvin Perez (Lo A), Mark Prior (AAA), Josh Schmidt (AA), Kanekoa Texeira (AA), Eric Wordekemper (AAA)
LHP: Wilkins Arias (AA), Steve Garrison (AA), Brad Halsey (AA), Kei Igawa (AA), Jose Quintana (Hi A), Josh Romanski (Hi A)
C: P.J. Pilittere (AAA)
1B: Mike Lamb (AAA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA), Luis Nunez (AAA)
OF: Jordan Parraz (AAA)

Among those who played with the Thunder last year are: Duff, Marquez, Schmidt, Texeira, Arias, Garrison, Halsey, Igawa and Romanski.

Nearly all of those arms, if they re-signed, would be fodder for Triple-A. Unfortunately for the Yankees, it's going be difficult to lure free agents to the hellscape that will be the Rochester/Batavia/Lehigh Valley/Pawtucket/Lake Woebegone Yankees.

Meaning: It's going to be really interesting to see how this plays out over the winter.

NOTE: Jordan Parraz has already signed a minor league deal with the Braves.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thunder manager Tony Franklin "on the mend"

In a text this morning, Tony Franklin, the Thunder's manager since 2007, says that he underwent successful knee-replacement surgery and is "on the mend."

"Therapy is tough," he wrote, "but (I'm) getting through it."

Franklin was bothered all season by various issues, foremost of which was his aching knee. You could see it when he walked, and especially when he made his way out to argue with an umpire.

He also missed an early portion of the season after being taken to a local hospital before a game complaining of chest pains.

In Franklin's absence, Justin Pope, a coach and a former Thunder pitcher, served as the team's acting skipper. Because minor league managerial contracts are year-to-year, Franklin is currently a free agent.

If he returns, he would only extend his franchise-record tenure at the team's helm. I, however, don't believe he will be back. The medical issues seemed almost too much to bear at times this season, and I think he will ultimately opt to stay in baseball, but with a job that is both less taxing physically and closer to his California home.

When the 2012 season begins, I fully expect that Pope will begin his first season as a professional manager.

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