Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 unpublished interviews from 2011 - No. 9: Manny Banuelos

As the 2011 season wound to close, the Yankees, as they do every year, invited a few of their most promising prospects to Yankee Stadium to observe big league life. To add a little more flavor, they do it during a series with a Red Sox. This year, the team invited three pitchers: Manny Banuelos, David Phelps and Adam Warren. I caught up with all three hurlers during that series. Here's what Banuelos had to say about the experience, as well as a few other topics. 

Josh Norris: When they told you in Scranton that you were coming to the Bronx, were you surprised?

Manny Banuelos: Yeah, but it's a good thing, coming here. This is the first time I've been to Yankee Stadium. It's great for me. It's awesome. 

JN: With that in mind, what do you think of the place?

MB: I like it a lot up here. 

JN: You think you'll make it back next year?

MB: I hope that (I do). I will work hard for next year, to get back as soon as possible.

JN: When Dellin got called up, how long did you wait before asking him about the place and what the experience was like?

MB: Dellin got here last year, with the same thing like me. (The rookie program) He showed me videos and pictures and other things, and talked about the stadium and the clubhouse and everything. And yesterday when I got here he showed me everything. 

JN: What's the coolest thing you've seen here thus far?

MB: The clubhouse. (He said this as if there were no other appropriate answer) It's awesome, man. I like everything. 

JN: Before the game today, Girardi said you guys had to 'learn the clubhouse.' What do you think that means?

MB: I don't know. I think we've come here just to get to know everything -- the clubhouse, the stadium, everything, the field, everything.

JN: Does it mean more to you that it's during a Red Sox-Yankees series?

MB: It's a good thing to come and see this series, to watch them and see what happens. 

JN: When you see so many of these kids up here who have gone through the system with you over the past few years, what does it say to you about the Yankees' reinvestment in their farm?

MB: It's great, man. We've played a couple years back, played together in different leagues, and that's awesome to me, to see all those guys here in Yankee Stadium in the big leagues. It's awesome to see these guys pitch here. 

JN: What was the best moment of the season for you?

MB: The great thing for me was early in the year, when I was in (MLB) spring training. That was awesome for me. I couldn't believe that, you know?

JN: Did the season go the way you wanted?

MB: Yes. Now I just want to see what happens next year, try to come back and do better, you know?

JN: That first start in Scranton, were you surprised by how many members of the media wanted to talk to you?

MB: Yeah (laughing). When I turned around in back of me there were a lot of cameras and reporters. That was awesome, though, all the media. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 words from last season - No. 9

A disco ball much less fancy than this one hung in the Thunder's clubhouse early last season

Today's word is: Disco

What it means: In the early going, the Thunder looked very much like a playoff team. They had stellar starting pitching, a good corps of relievers, and a few hitters starting to show their potential. What they also had was a disco ball.

For as long as I've been covering the team there's been one constant after a Thunder win: James Brown. After the victorious players get back to the clubhouse, someone (presumably clubhouse manager Tonto) presses play on a CD player/boombox perched next to the TV in the back left corner of the room. The victory mix CD's content has varied over the years -- sometimes Miley Cyrus, sometimes Nelly, sometimes mind-gnashing techno, sometimes Lil' Bow Wow -- but the disc has always led off with The Godfather's "Sex Machine"

For a spell early this year, though, someone added a wrinkle to the Thunder's post-win mix.

After one of the team's wins, the media entered the clubhouse to find the lots off, some glow sticks blaring and a disco ball hanging from a panel in the ceiling. It was what a rave looked like on a Double-A budget.

That tradition kept up for a while, and it was hilarious. Eventually, though, the wins slowed, and the disco ball was removed. But for those few weeks, Studio 54 had nothing on the bowels of Waterfront Park. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 10 Opposing Players for 2012 - No. 9: Jiwan James

Bio: Jiwan James took an odd route to where he is today. The Phillies drafted him as a pitcher, and he spent a season doing that until a series of injuries, the most serious of which was a stress fracture, spurred him to try playing the field. After missing all of 2008 recovering from said injuries, he began 2009 as an outfielder with the Williamsport Crosscutters, Philly's team in the New York-Penn League.

In three pro seasons, James has shown he can play an excellent center field, with plenty of speed and range to go with an above-average throwing arm. He's not much for power, though, as evinced by his 10 career home runs in 1,203 at-bats. His .325 on-base percentage and 274 Ks against 86 career walks also shows that he could stand to be more selective at the plate, especially if the Phillies plan to keep developing him as a leadoff hitter.

2011: With Clearwater, one of the most prospect-loaded team in the sport, James posted a .268/.327/.363 line, with 26 doubles, six triples and four home runs. Given he'll be playing next season in Reading, a very hitter-friendly park, I'd expect those power numbers to take a spike, especially if he can pull the ball from the right side.

As a side note, James hit .308/.352/.400 with two doubles, two triples and two RBIs against Tampa last year, which should be interesting when he faces Trenton this year. 

What People Are Saying: Last year, in his Top 11 Phillies prospects, Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein said this about James:

"James is a top-of-the-line athlete who is absolutely loaded with tools. He's a 70 runner with excellent range in center field and a slightly above-average arm. He shows good bat speed from both sides of the plate with game power, and projects to hit 10-15 home runs annually as he learns to take advantage of his long arms. Scouts love the energy he plays with."

When You Can See Him: Reading comes to Trenton July 19-22 and August 7-9. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Players for 2012 - No. 9b: Abraham Almonte

Bio: Almonte, 22, was signed out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2005, as a 16-year-old. He's spent five seasons touring the lower rungs of the Yankees system, culling together a .261/.339/.387 line in the process. An outfielder now, he spent the first two seasons of his career primarily as a second baseman before switching to the outfield full time in 2008. 

Last year: After one half of last year with Tampa, Almonte was hitting .217/.299/.286  and things were looking pretty bleak for him as a prospect. Then things turned around, with a lot of help from a 36-game hitting streak, which lasted from July 26 until the first game a doubleheader on the season's penultimate day.

During the streak, Almonte compiled a .342 average, a .384 on-base percentage and a .486 slugging percentage. He hit eight doubles, five triples and a home run, and stole 10 bases in 13 tries. All this led to him finishing the second half with a 317/.367/478 line. An impressive comeback, to be sure. 

What's Next: It all depends on what happens with Melky Mesa. If he moves to Scranton, Almonte will probably wind up as Trenton's starting center fielder. If Mesa stays in Trenton, Almonte could wind up in a corner in Tampa, pushed there by Slade Heathcott. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 10 Players for 2012 - No. 9a: Melky Mesa

Bio: Mesa, 24, signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He spent two years in the Gulf Coast League where, in nearly 300 at-bats, he posted a .221 average, a .280 on-base percentage, and a .366 slugging percentage -- hardly tearing the cover off the ball. 

In six seasons in the minors, he's never hit better than .258 and never on-based better than .340. Both of those high points came in 2010, when he tore up the Florida State League and earned its Player of the Year honors. 

As such, he had extremely high expectations coming into 2011, as a 24-year-old entering his first season at the upper levels. 

Last year: Before last season a scout summed up Mesa's potential thusly: He will either be a superstar, or he'll wash out entirely -- there's no middle ground. After watching him play a full season (minus a month on the shelf with a back injury), it's easy to see why one would evaluate him that way. 

In the first place, he's an absolute toolshed. He's got great speed and range in center field, and he couples it  with a cannon for a throwing arm. Watching him peg a runner on the bases is truly something to behold. He's got excellent raw power, too, which comes with a whole lot of swing-and-miss. 

When all was said and done, he put together a .249/.322/.399 line with nine longballs and 46 RBIs. Those numbers were weighted down by a spectacularly poor April. After the season's opening month, he hit a very impressive .282/.358/.442. 

And while those last few months showed the Yankees enough progress to put Mesa on the 40-man roster this offseason, there certainly are a few rough edges he needs to fix. First and foremost, he needs to cut down on the strikeouts. As he faces more experienced pitching, the holes in his swing will become more exposed. His 18 stolen bases in 31 attempts tells me he could stand to adopt a more mature approach on the bases. 

What's Next: I wouldn't be surprised if Mesa opened the year back at Double-A, but I also wouldn't be surprised if, on the strength of that finish, he moved up to Triple-A. If that's the case, I'd imagine Abraham Almonte would take his place in center field.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Top 10 Players from 2011 - No. 9: Manny Banuelos

Why He's Here: Continuing the theme from last week, Banuelos was the other of Trenton's big-name pitching prospects from 2011. Like his much taller counterpart, there were a lot of ups and downs to his season, and as such he wasn't able to provide that true No. 1 starter the team missed all year long.

Just like Betances, Banuelos flashed excellent pure stuff all year long but struggled to command the strike zone and regulate his pitches deep into games. For whatever reason, only a few parks in the Eastern League keep pitching counts, so the data is shoddy.

That said, here are the three games from this season during which pitch counts were recorded, one from April, one from May and one from June:

April 25 - 4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 SO, 2 BB, 2 HB -- 73 pitches, 47 strikes
May 27 - 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO -- 90 pitches, 47 strikes
June 23 - 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 6 SO -- 96 pitches, 61 strikes

As you can see, none of those starts was bad. In fact, the Thunder won the latter two (though the middle win came because the game was completed early because of incredibly dense fog at Portland's Hadlock Field). The point remains, though: For Banuelos to live up to his potential No. 2 starter down the line, he must increase his pitch efficiency. Forty-seven strikes in 90 pitches is simply not going to cut it.

From a purely team-oriented standpoint, the elevated pitch counts got him out of the game sooner, thus taxing the bullpen. All that work caught up to the relievers late in the season, which certainly contributed to the Thunder's monumental late-season collapse. 

Most Memorable Moment: This is going to be incredibly obscure, but Banuelos threw two curveballs this year that stood out from every other pitch I saw from him. Both were for third strikes and featured devastating two-plane break. They reminded me very much of the hook thrown by Oakland's Brett Anderson.

If you're looking for a game, it's probably the duel he had with Casey Crosby -- one of Detroit's brightest young arms -- at Erie's Jerry Uht Park.

After allowing five runs on 11 hits in is previous 8 2/3 innings, Banuelos posted six zeroes with seven strikeouts, and worked around three walks and a hit batsman in the process. It was one of just two starts he made with the Thunder that lasted six innings or longer and, to that point, it was his best start of the year.

Outlook for 2012: Unless he breaks camp with the Yankees (which I think is unlikely), Banuelos is headed into the rotation of the Empire State Yankees as they tour the Northeast on a seemingly interminable string of bus rides. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scout's Notes: Branden Pinder

We heard all about the bats down at Staten Island this year -- Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Tyler Austin and Dante Bichette, just to name a few. You don't win an NYPL championship without at least a little bit of pitching, though, and the Baby Bombers were no exception. 

Staten Island hid most of its gems down in the bullpen, where the newest edition to the Yankees' stash of  strong-armed future relievers lurked. In recent drafts, New York has seemed to make a point of popping  young pitchers who they feel could move quickly and alleviate some of the stress (and spending) associated with constructing a bullpen at the major-league level. 

One of the most promising arms on Staten Island's roster in that regard was Branden Pinder, a 22-year-old out of Cal State Long Beach whom the Yankees drafted in this year's 16th round. Baseball America named him its No. 19 prospect out of the New York-Penn League. Here's what a scout I spoke to this week had to say. 

Overall: I liked him too. Obviously he did a good job for them -- I think he closed for that team. Kind of a bigger-bodied guy, the stuff was very good. He was the best arm coming out of the bullpen that I saw.

Part of trend: He's a college guy. They've seemed to have some success doing that, the Yankees, taking these guys out of college and making them relievers -- it's the second year in a row I've seen Staten Island like that.

Future: He's one of a few mature guys who could come quick. Not next year, but I wouldn't rule it out in 2013. 

Scout's Notes - Bryan Mitchell

We heard all about the bats down at Staten Island this year -- Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Tyler Austin and Dante Bichette, just to name a few. You don't win an NYPL championship without at least a little bit of pitching, though, and the Baby Bombers were no exception. 

As far as the starting rotation was concerned, the biggest prospect was Bryan Mitchell, whom Baseball America ranked No. 23 among its top 30 Yankees prospects heading into the season. A scout I spoke with this week saw Mitchell this season, and here's what he had to say: 

Overall: I like him. I've seen him two years now. He's a guy who I think has a good arm, decent breaking ball and a change he's still got to put together. You look at his numbers, and they're not what they should be with his arm. 

Arm strength: I think he's got a really, really good arm, especially considering that league. I saw him (2010) 94-96, this year it was more 91-93, touching 94. He's got a good fastball. 

Future: He's probably a guy who ends up in a relief role. He just doesn't have the expansive repertoire nor the feel to pitch to start, I think, at the higher levels. I like it, I think it's a major league arm. 

Scout's Notes - Cito Culver

I spoke with a scout yesterday afternoon (not the same one who I spoke with about Betances, Banuelos, Montero, etc.) about some of the kids in the lower levels, mainly with Staten Island. Mason Williams is obviously the big name on that team, but there's also Cito Culver, the Yankees' highly disputed top pick from 2010. 

At just 18 years old, he put up good numbers against older competition in the New York-Penn League. He ranked No. 14 on Baseball America's list of the beset prospects on the circuit. Here's what the scout had to say about the young, athletic -- and scrutinized Culver.

Overall: Cito is a guy I didn't see real good. For me, he's not a major league player, at least not a major league regular. For me, I'm not a big fan, but there are people definitely within the game and within his organization that like him a whole lot. 

Defense: I've heard good things about the glove -- I didn't see it that good. The body doesn't fit for me, the way it looks, especially out there at shortstop.

Offense: Didn't do much for me from either side of the plate. It's nice to be a young switch-hitter, but I don't like the way the swing works. It's what we call a high-maintenance swing -- there's too much that can go wrong with it. It's a loud swing with a lot of moving parts.

Room for Improvement: One of the reasons I like (the NYPL) is because you can never say never on those guys -- they're too young to rule out. ... I would be mildly surprised if he became a major league regular. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scout's Notes: Angelo Gumbs

I spoke with a scout yesterday afternoon (not the same one who I spoke with about Betances, Banuelos, Montero, etc.) about some of the kids in the lower levels, mainly with Staten Island. Mason Williams is obviously the big name on that team, but Angelo Gumbs, the Bombers' second-rounder from 2010, isn't far behind. 

At just 18 years old, he put up some very nice numbers against older competition in the New York-Penn League. He ranked No. 14 on Baseball America's list of the beset prospects on the circuit. Here's what the scout had to say about the young, athletic Mr. Gumbs. 

Overall: I like him. He was probably a guy I like a little better than most people that saw him. I think he's got a chance to be a major league average second baseman, offensive second baseman.

Intangibles: The best part about Angelo, to me, was the makeup. This guy really enjoys playing. He's got a smile on his face, teammates like him, and he plays his ass off. 

Offense: I like the swing. He's got some swing and miss in him, big swing. I think he's got to kind of find himself, so to speak, at the plate. For me, I think he's a guy that profiles as a major league second baseman, even on a first-division team like the Yankees. 

Scout's Notes: Mason Williams

I spoke with a scout yesterday afternoon (not the same one who I spoke with about Betances, Banuelos, Montero, etc.) about some of the kids in the lower levels, mainly with Staten Island. And when you're talking about Staten Island, at least last year, you're talking about Mason Williams. 

The only Yankees pick who earned a seven-figure bonus in 2010, Williams has more than proved his worth so far. Baseball America named him their top player in the New York-Penn League last year, and went so far as to rank him fifth among the the Bombers' top prospects. 

Here's what one evaluator had to say about one of the many candidates for the Yankees' Center Fielder of the Future: 

Overall: To me, he's probably the best player on the team. The consensus was he was one of the best players in the league this year. I think really where you find the rub is, is this guy going to hit, is he going to develop power, is he going to get bigger? Or is he going to be the kind of guy who slaps the ball and gets on base, a typical leadoff hitter?

Appearance: I don't think he's going to get much bigger. I think he's kind of a wiry guy. Although it looks like there's room for him to fill out, I think he's just a naturally skinny guy. He is young enough to have some physical potential to grow. 

Offense: This guy is a guy who's surprising with the power a little bit -- he did end up with three or four home runs. When he can pull the ball down the line he can have that sleeper pop, so to speak. He's a guy who's going to hit the ball all over the place and use his legs a little bit. 

Defense: The best part about his game was his defense in center field. This guy has an above-average major league center field profile. 

Comparisons to current speedy, slap-hitting Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner: For me, I think it's an interesting comparison. Obviously, Gardner is a guy who has a fantastic approach at the plate. I don't think Gardner has the same hit potential (as Williams).

I think this guy has a chance to be a .300 hitter. Gardner remains to be seen, but I think he's more of a .280 hitter, a grade 5 hit tool. Mason's got a chance to be a tick better, maybe a 6-upside guy as far as that hit tool. Maybe a .300 hitter, maybe even better than that, considering what he did at the age he was last year. 

Defensively, I think Mason's probably a little more dynamic. ... I know Gardner's an athletic guy who does a lot of things, but for me, I see a little more upside. 

Top 10 Unpublished Interviews from 2011 - No. 10 Adam Warren

As the 2011 season wound to close, the Yankees, as they do every year, invited a few of their most promising prospects to Yankee Stadium to observe big league life. To add a little more flavor, they do it during a series with a Red Sox. This year, the team invited three pitchers: Manny Banuelos, David Phelps and Adam Warren. I caught up with all three hurlers during that series. Here's what Warren had to say about the experience, as well as a few other topics. 

Josh Norris: Where were you when you got the call that you were coming up here?

Adam Warren: I was just at home, hanging out. They told us before we left Scranton, so we were just kind of waiting for them to confirm it. 

JN: So it was certain when you left?

AW: They told us that we were, but we didn't hear from them until about Wednesday, that we were going to come up and see this series. 

JN: Why do you think they picked you guys?

AW: I feel like we're close (to the big leagues), and if we get that opportunity to come up here (next year), then we've been here, know where to go, that type of thing. Just to get familiar in case so it's not really a culture shock to us. 

JN: Going through this season, how close did you think you were to a promotion?

AW: I thought I was close. I felt like I still needed to work on some things. I feel like I took the right steps this year to get closer, so I'm just looking for that break, I guess, just to make that next step. 

JN: Specifically, what do you feel is remaining for you to work on?

AW: Just keep improving. Keep refining the pitches. Just my knowledge of the game -- keep learning. I feel like I've got the stuff, I've just got to keep learning and get better. 

JN: Of your three secondary pitches, which do you think has taken the biggest strides this year?

AW: Slider. It's gotten harder, it's gotten sharper. It's more of swing-and-miss pitch now. My change-up also has taken strides, but I think my slider is the biggest one. 

JN: So right now, if we're ranking your pitches, it goes fastball, then the slider, then the change-up, then the curve, right?

AW: Yeah. 

JN: So what have you taken, so far, from your experience with the big club?

AW: Just kind of learning everything that goes on around here, just getting familiar with everything. If I get the opportunity to come back up here next year, I'll feel a lot more comfortable with how everything works. 

JN: It must be kind of surreal today, considering it's Roger Maris Day, and Yogi Berra is here, among a bunch of other Yankees from the past. What does all that mean to you?

AW: That's pretty neat. There's tradition with the Yankees already, and just to see some of it being recognized here, that's pretty neat. To have an opportunity to be here on that special day, it's just a lot of fun for me. 

JN: When you look around this clubhouse today and you see guys like Phelps and Banuelos and Betances and Laird and Romine, what does it say to you about the way the Yankees have reinvested in their farm system?

AW: I think it means they have confidence in us, and seeing some of the guys, like Dellin and Brackman get some opportunities up here is really neat. It shows that they have confidence in us and they want to throw us out there. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Scout's Notes: Jesus Montero

Yesterday morning, I spoke to a scout with a club that was heavily following the Yankees affiliates around the time of last year's non-waiver trading deadline.

Below are a few of the highlights of that interview in regards to the players who I don't believe will be with the team next year. I'll save the Thunder-centric quotes for the Top 10 series, which began this week and will last until around the third week in February. 

The bat: Hitting-wise, no big deal, he's a no-brainer. ... He might be Miguel Cabrera. He's just got it. He's got that niche that, he was born to hit. Whether the guy hits .280 or .300, the guy can hit. He has a good ability to adjust, and he's just a kid, too.

The defense: I think he eventually will have the ability to play first base. ... I don't believe he will catch. I don't believe he will be an everyday catcher in the big leagues.

His appeal to an NL club: Where he would play in the National League, it could drive a team crazy. Even at first base, you could go from a guy like Albert Pujols or Joey Votto, a Gold Glover a first base, to a guy who might cost you so many runs a year. 

Scout's Notes: Dellin Betances

Yesterday morning, I spoke to a scout with a club that was heavily following the Yankees affiliates around the time of last year's non-waiver trading deadline.

Below are a few of the highlights of that interview in regards to the players who I don't believe will be with the team next year. I'll save the Thunder-centric quotes for the Top 10 series, which began this week and will last until around the third week in February. 

Overall impression: I'm not the biggest Betances fan in the world. I think he's got really good stuff, but he's got to learn to harness it. I think he's going to end up as a bullpen guy.

On injury problems: Here's a guy that, as a starter, if you trade for him that way and believe that's what he's going to be, you're taking a guy who's been out a lot and spent time on the disabled list every year. It's kind of like taking the running back that's missed time four years in college, that's probably not going to change. ... To me, with durability and just the way his stuff plays, he's going to be a bullpen guy.

Background: Big strong kid, he's a great kid, he's grown up, he's got aptitude. There's a lot of good things.

Troubles with repeating delivery: I don't think he's the greatest athlete in the world, not that he's terrible, but I'm not sure he's the greatest athlete in the world. If you hope a guy's going to log 200 innings, you've got to repeat that delivery for a long, long time. That's not always easy.

Miscellany: I think that's what he gets in trouble with sometimes, is throwing that breaking ball for strikes. His fastball doesn't have a ton of life, it can straighten out a little bit. 

Top 10 words from the season that was - No. 10

Yeah, Hammer of Thor is three words -- sue me. 
Today's word is: Hammer of Thor

What it means: For most of the early part of the season, the Thunder's bullpen was tremendous, and help came from every corner of the clubhouse.  

- Pat Venditte, the famed switch pitcher, tossed 23 consecutive innings from May 5 until June 6 without allowing an earned run. 

- Josh Schmidt, the funky junkballer, allowed just two earned runs from May 20 until Sept. 2, a stretch of 19 1/3 innings. He fanned 29 against 6 unintentional walks during that span. 

- Naoya Okamoto, the Japanese lefty from the Mexican League, had a stretch of 11 2/3 consecutive zeroes from May 20 until June 11. He allowed just five hits in that time, struck out 10 and walked only one. 

But the unquestioned bullpen star all year was Tim Norton, the tall, intimidating right-hander from the seventh round of the 2006 draft (the same round and year as Mike Leake and Doug Fister) who'd seen his career become increasingly derailed by injuries. 

Before he left Trenton Norton put up fantastic numbers and was becoming a must-watch every time he jogged down the right-field line and onto the mound. He had become the bullpen's lights-out closer, so it was only appropriate that he had a poster of Thor and a toy hammer (like the one in the picture) above his locker.  

For his efforts, as well as those of the bullpen as a whole, today's word (or phrase) is Hammer of Thor. 

Baseball America's Top Ten -- and what it means for the Thunder

By now, you know that Baseball America's Top 10 Yankees prospects came out yesterday -- at least in e-magazine form, for subscribers. If you happened to miss it, the list went like this: 

1. Jesus Montero
2. Manny Banuelos 
3. Dellin Betances
4. Gary Sanchez 
5. Mason Williams
6. Dante Bichette Jr. 
7. Ravel Santana
8. Austin Romine
9. J.R. Murphy
10. Slade Heathcott

So, what do those 10 men have in common, you ask? Two things: 

1. They all have first names between four and seven letters long. 

2. None of them figure to be on the Thunder to open next season. 

Montero will probably be with the big club. Banuelos, Betances and Romine will probably be at Triple-A. Murphy and Heathcott should start with the Tampa Yankees. Bichette, Williams and perhaps Sanchez should open at Charleston. Santana, because of his horrifying injury, will most likely go to a short-season league. 

That should leave the Thunder's opening day roster without a Top 10 prospect, as ranked by Baseball America, for the first time since 2005, when the team switched from a Red Sox to a Yankees affiliation. 

They began last year with three -- Betances, Banuelos and Romine -- and ended, predictably, with none. 

So while the team, on paper, will lack the sexiness, of, say, the Charleston club, a void of prospects doesn't necessarily correlate to a fewer wins. Want proof? Just look at last year's Eastern League.

Here's how each team's Opening Day roster broke down, in terms of Top 10 prospects, and how each team's record looked on July 14, after the Eastern League All-Star break:

Akron (2) - Joe Gardner (9), Nick Hagadone (10) ... 47-44
Altoona (4) - Tony Sanchez (2), Starling Marte (4), Bryan Morris (6), Jeff Locke (8) ... 37-52
Binghamton (1) - Brad Holt (10) ... 35-55
Bowie (2) - Xavier Avery (3), Wynn Pelzer (6) ... 47-41
Erie (4) - Jacob Turner (1), Francisco Martinez (4), Casey Crosby (6), Chance Ruffin (7) ... 43-47
Harrisburg (2) - Derek Norris (2), Brad Peacock (10) ... 53-36
New Britain (1) - Liam Hendriks (6) ... 45-43
New Hampshire (2) - Anthony Gose (3), Travis d'Arnaud (4) ... 51-37
Portland (1) - Stolmy Pimentel (9) ... 35-54
Reading (0) ... 47-43
Richmond (2) - Charlie Culberson (8), Eric Surkamp (9) ... 47-41
Trenton (3) - Dellin Betances (2), Manny Banuelos (3), Austin Romine (5) ... 48-42

Do you see any correlation between quantity of Top 10 prospects and team success? I sure don't. Both teams with four Top-10ers to their credit finished the first half with losing records, while Reading, the lone team with no big-name prospects, finished better than .500 and, at the time, sat just one game out of the EL North's Wild Card.

From a marketing standpoint, it would probably be really nice to have a few big names around to help sell tickets. A few years ago, the Thunder went so far as to market the trio of Colin Curtis, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata on their media guide as the "Outfield of Dreams." They turned Banuelos and Betances into a dual bobblehead last season, just as they did with Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy a few years earlier. 

From a won-loss standpoint, though, a lack of big names might not mean a thing in the long run. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Scout's Notes - Corban Joseph

Corban Joseph accepts a double-play flip from Jose Pirela's backup. He didn't last long in Double-A.

I spoke to a scout this morning with a club that was heavily following the Yankees affiliates around the time of last year's non-waiver trading deadline.

Below are a few of the highlights of that interview in regards to the players who I don't believe will be with the team next year. I'll save the Thunder-centric quotes for the Top 10 series, which began this week and will last until around the third week in February. 

Overall impression: Corban Joseph can hit, man, he can hit. I really like the way he swings the bat. ... He's an offensive second baseman. He's got a good approach to hitting, he's got a little pop in his bat. Plays hard. To me, his weakness is the glove. I really like his approach at the plate, the way he swings the bat.

Room for Improvement: He's a kid that you're going to teach to how drive the ball a little bit more, maybe pull the ball, maybe hit it out more -- he knows how to hit right now. He certainly has profile in being an offensive-type second baseman.

American League or National League: I think (the National League) would play a little bit more for the defense, so I think he would play more in the American League. 

Scout's Notes - Manny Banuelos

Still just 20 years old Manny Banuelos checks in as the No. 2 prospect in the Yankees system

I spoke to a scout this morning with a club that was heavily following the Yankees affiliates around the time of last year's non-waiver trading deadline.

Below are a few of the highlights of that interview in regards to the players who I don't believe will be with the team next year. I'll save the Thunder-centric quotes for the Top 10 series, which began this week and will last until around the third week in February. 

Overall impression: He's a no-brainer in my opinion. I think he's got a chance to be pretty good, real good. I think he's the real deal. He's got a great fastball, and I think his breaking ball's going to be fine. 

I think his secondary stuff is going to be fine. He's going to have a good change-up. I liked his breaking ball. He just needs a little bit of experience and to get a little bit stronger, durability-wise. 

I think he's got starter-type stuff. He's still learning to throw quality strikes and learning to expand the strike zone when he has to -- that kind of stuff. 

What caused command issues: I don't think it was necessarily (his delivery). Sometimes I think he needed to trust his stuff a little bit. He tries to be too fine, nibble at times, where sometimes you've just got to trust your stuff and just go out there and do it. 

Top 10 Opposing Players for 2012 - No. 10: Sammy Solis

Solis delivers a pitch as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions

Bio: Sammy Solis, a left-hander, was Washington's second-round choice in the 2010 draft. He's 6-foot-5, weighs 230 pounds, and is 23 years old. He was drafted out of the University of San Diego, where he was teammates with current Yankees farmhand -- and sort of one-time Thunder player -- Nick McCoy. 

2011: Between Hagerstown and Potomac last year, Solis went 8-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 96.2 IP. He struck out 93 against 23 walks and allowed eight home runs. Of those eight longballs, four came against Red Sox prospects (two to Bryce Brentz, one to Miles Head, one to Brandon Jacobs). He also allowed one to Manny Machado, the third overall pick in the draft. 

He worked 26 more innings in the Arizona Fall League -- with the Scottsdale Scorpions, as you can see from the picture above -- and allowed one bomb, to Michael Choice. So, if you're counting Solis has allowed home runs to two of the first five hitters taken in the 2010 draft. And one of those hitters, Bryce Harper, was his teammate, so he never got to face him. An interesting if meaningless aside. 

What People Are Saying: A scout who saw Solis this season described him thusly: He has a fastball that sits between 89 and 94 miles per hour, with an average velo of 92 and hard, late life. He also throws a slider, a cutter, a change-up with late fade, and a knuckle curve.

When You Can See Him: Harrisburg comes to Trenton April 19-22 and July 26-29. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 10 Players for 2012 - No. 10: Preston Claiborne

Bio: Claiborne was the Yankees' 17th-round selection in 2010, out of Tulane University. He's a right-hander who checks in at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, and he'll be 24 when the season starts in April. Along with Chase Whitley, Claiborne was one of two college relievers from the 2010 class whom the Yankees chose to pass over Low-A Charleston.

2010 was the second time he was drafted. The first was in 2006, when the Pirates selected him in the 23rd round out of Newman Smith High School, in Carrollton, Tex.

Last year: After 31 innings between Staten Island and Tampa in 2010, the Yankees ramped up Claiborne's workload in 2011. He tossed 81 frames out of the T-Yanks' bullpen, as well as another dozen for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League.

Overall, he finished with a 3-9 record between the teams, allowed 84 hits (eight longballs) over 93 innings, and worked to a WHIP of 1.26 (I removed four intentional walks from his total).

A scout who saw him with Tampa was not impressed. He noted a fastball that sat between 89 and 92 miles per hour that was delivered with little deception and a long, stabbing arm action in rendering his judgment.

What's Next: Claiborne will probably be part of a host of interesting arms toward the back of the Thunder's bullpen in 2012. If he can clean up his delivery, perhaps he can raise his stock as a prospect.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Top 10 Players of 2011 - No. 10: Dellin Betances

Why He's Here: I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Josh, why is Dellin Betances, one of the Yankees' biggest and brightest prospects, ranked so low? Well, I'll tell you. It's because, despite his dynamite stuff and sky-high ceiling, his time with the Thunder this year was very inconsistent.

At 6-foot-8, command problems are pretty much an inevitability, and Betances is no exception. He issued four or more walks in nine of his 21 starts, and issued 55 free passes in 105.1 innings before being bumped to Scranton toward the end of the year.

Overall, Betances' season was fractured into two distinct halves. See for yourself.

From April 10 until June 4, he was 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA (the best in all of Double-A), a 1.17 WHIP and allowed just 31 hits over 45.1 innings. He struck out 50 against 22 walks. Over those nine starts, the Thunder were 8-1.

After that, things quickly went south.

From June 9 until August 12, his final start with Trenton, Betances went 1-5 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. He fanned 65 during that stretch and walked 33. The team was a shocking 1-11 in those 12 starts.

I said all that to say this: Yes, he's a fantastic prospect, and yes, he'll probably have more major league impact than a lot of guys you'll find on the rest of this list, but his impact with the Thunder in 2011 wasn't all positive. At least, it wasn't as positive as the players at the top of my list.

Most Memorable Moment: On the field, Betances' finest start was probably his outing on May 25 against Reading. He lasted six innings, fanned 10 against one walks and allowed just two runs. Both scores came on his only mistake of the day, which Derrick Mitchell put over the fence at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Runner-up was probably July 7 at Richmond, when he went six innings again, allowed one run and struck out nine against two walks. He also hit 99 miles per hour that afternoon.

Off the field, the best Dellin Betances moment was easily on the morning of July 31, MLB's non-waiver trading deadline, while his name was being bandied about in all sorts of rumors. One would have excused him if he were nervous and a little on edge that morning.

Not so.

While waiting to go in and talk to the manager before the game, Betances was in the weight room across the hall from the clubhouse, riding the elliptical machine and listening to some very loud Spanish music. During every chorus, you could hear Betances clapping and singing, all while wearing a huge smile.

So much for nerves, eh?

Outlook for 2012: With a great spring, he might just earn himself a spot in the big club's bullpen out of camp. More likely, however, he'll probably get a great tour of the Northeast part of the U.S. in the rotation of team formerly known as the Scranton Yankees, who will play the 2012 season without a home park while PNC Field undergoes a yearlong renovation.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

With the offseason in a lull, it's time for some Top Tens

Since the World Series ended, the Yankees have done three things: Extended CC Sabathia, re-upped with Freddy Garcia, and won the bid on Japanese infielder Hiroyumi Nakajima. As far as traditional Yankees offseasons go, it's been a snoozer.

With that in mind, it seems like the perfect time to begin the second year of my Thunder Top 10 lists. Starting Monday, I'll roll out of five lists of the top ten best things involved with the Thunder's season last year and their campaign in 2012, which, by the way, begins in just 110 days.

Here's what the schedule will look like:

Monday - Top 10 Players from 2011: From superstar prospects like Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to role players Addison Maruszak and Jose Gil, here's where we'll count down those most important to Trenton's success and failure last year.

Tuesday - Top 10 Players for 2012: As it looks right now, this year's roster will, for the most part, lack that true A-list player as it's had in years part. Even so, there will be plenty of players who have the chance to make the jump into elite status.

Wednesday - Top 10 Opposing Players for 2012: As any one who's met me or followed me on Twitter (@jnorris427) knows, I love prospect watching. Last year's season featured such luminaries as Travis d'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Bryce Harper, Eric Surkamp and Matt Harvey. There will be plenty more where that came from in 2012, and I'll run down my favorites for the next 10 Wednesdays.

Thursday - Top 10 Words from the 2011 season: Last year we did the top 10 numbers, so this year I thought we'd switch it up and list the 10 most representative words. Last season had plenty of ups and downs -- and Derek Jeter -- so there will plenty of potential for this list.

Friday - Ten Lost Interviews from the 2011 season: Sometimes during the course of a busy year, you do an interview with someone, but never get around to transcribing it. I have quite a few of those from the 2011 season, and I'll share one each week in this space.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

A Q and A with new Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater

On the heels of the interview with Tony Franklin interview this morning, I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with new Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater this evening. He managed the Staten Island Yankees last year, the Gulf Coast League the year before, and has been in the Yankees system for the last four years.

As such, he's gotten a chance to see just about every young player in the system, and was willing to share a few of his insights about a few guys you'll see this year at Waterfront Park, as well as a couple of guys who might need another year at the lower levels. It's a bit lengthy, but it's worth the read. Enjoy.

Q: After managing in the Gulf Coast League in 2010 and with Staten Island last year, why do you think the Yankees assigned you to Double-A in 2012?

A: I don't know. You'd have to ask Pat Roessler that question. Six called me in October and told me I would be heading up to Trenton. Obviously I'm excited about it, getting a chance to be with Tony Franklin and Tommy Phelps, two class guys, so I'm looking forward to it. As far as why, I guess you'd probably have to ask Six that question.

Q: Besides working with the Yankees, what else do you have on your coaching resume?

A: I'm going on my fourth year with the Yankees, I just got done with the Fall League in Arizona. Yankees sent me out there this fall. Prior to the years with the Yankees I coached in college for 17 years.

Q: With the Arizona Fall League, then, you got to see some of the more experienced guys in the system, as opposed to the younger, more raw guys you'd worked with at the complex and with Staten Island.

A: Yeah, I was out there with Corb and Ronnier and Rob Segedin, and a few of our pitchers that you guys had last year -- Chase Whitley and Preston Claiborne and Dan Burawa, who I know were at Tampa last year, as well as David Phelps from the Triple-A club. All those guys were out there. It was a good time, those guys all did well and I certainly enjoyed my time out there as well.

Q: What's the difference with working with guys at the upper levels as opposed to kids who are just getting their feet wet in pro ball?

A: I think, with the younger guys, be it Gulf Coast League or Staten Island, some of the first-year guys, you're doing a lot of the stuff that's introductory to those guys. They are learning the Yankees system, the way we do certain things, be it team defense, the way we run the bases, whatever.

Obviously by the time they're up there in Trenton where you guys get to see them, they've been through rookie ball, short season, and then either Charleston or Tampa. It's an older, more mature and obviously more polished player.

Q: Let's get specific, then. With a guy like Mustelier, who's older but new to pro ball, what do you do with a guy like him?

A: I tell you what, I was really impressed with Ronnie out in Arizona. He really swung the bat well, showed the ability to hit the ball, to really use the whole field. Probably what was the most impressive -- I had been told what a good hitter he was -- but he really played defense well. He played third base a lot there, and he really played third base well.

The young guys, like I said, down in the Gulf Coast and in Staten Island, you're really helping those guys establish a routine, and hopefully you're helping them establish a routine that they can carry throughout.

With the older guys, Mustelier, Corb, Rob Segedin, these guys are a little bit older and they've already established their routines. It's a matter of helping them stick with it. Those guys all work extremely hard out in the fall league, and it was fun to be around them.

Q: Have you had a chance to work with Tony Franklin before?

A: Just in spring training, a lot in spring training over the last couple of years. What a great guy. What a great baseball guy. Really a class individual. I've always enjoyed my time around him down in spring training.

Q: What would you say your biggest strength is as a coach?

A: To be honest with you, I wouldn't say. It's not something I really want to talk about -- myself -- that much. I'm just honored to have the opportunity to get up there and coach with a bunch of good players and a great staff.

Q: Well, if you don't want to talk about yourself, then let's talk about a few of the players you might see up here at Trenton this year. First, Zoilo Almonte.

A: Yeah, Zoilo, what a great player. I really enjoyed having him down in extended spring training a couple of years ago. Tremendous athlete, tremendous skills, pop -- a lot of pop in his bat. ... Just great tools, an exciting player. Like I said, three years ago when we were together down in extended spring training, (he was) just an exciting guy to be around. That bat is fun to watch hit.

Q: How about Rob Lyerly?

A: Rob's another guy that I've gotten to know. He went straight to Staten Island out of college. I got to know him in Spring Training with some of the early work we do in January and February with the guys before Spring Training starts.

Another guy who can drive the ball. I know that at both Charleston and in Tampa, he really put up good numbers hitting, and from what I've seen of Rob, he's a guy who really drives the ball well to left-center, right-center, stays on the ball well, lot of doubles; good middle-of-the-field, gap-to-gap approach. I know he got up there with you guys for a spell last year. He's a hard-working kid who's fun to be around.

Q: I don't think Trenton's going to see him until later in the year, perhaps, but J.R. Murphy.

A: I was fortunate enough to have Murph down in the Gulf Coast League the first year he signed. He's very intelligent, he's got a great demeanor and he's got a really great approach. He had a great high school coach who prepared him well.

He's just a guy with a great demeanor and a great approach coming out of high school right into pro ball right from the get-go. He signed late, but he was able to play for us there at the end of the Gulf Coast League and was dropped right into the middle of our lineup. He did a great job, and I know he's continued to do a great job.

I know he was putting up really great numbers in Charleston last year and really swinging the bat well. Unfortunately, I think he broke a foot when he first got to Tampa, but quality guy, good hitter and just a great professional demeanor.

Q: Same deal for another guy who the Thunder probably won't see this year but who is intriguing to Yankees fans nonetheless -- Gary Sanchez.

A: I had the pleasure of having Gary two years ago, and ... just a tremendous talent. Tremendous talent. He overmatched the Gulf Coast League a couple of years ago. I mean, .350 with, I don't remember how many home runs it was, nine, in a short period of time. Then he went up to Staten Island at the end of the year just as a 17-year-old guy.

Last year, I know he really got on a hot streak in Charleston with the home runs before his season got cut short by an injury as well. Just a tremendous hitter, a guy that will hit for power and for average.

Q: Just two more, the next name I'm curious about is Kyle Roller.

A: Kyle, like Rob, is a guy I've had a chance to spend some time around in spring training and in the early parts of January and February for some extra work with those guys. Again, a strong, good-looking hitter. From everything you read in the reports and everything you see, I know he's had a lot of success at Staten Island, at Charleston and in Tampa last year.

He's a guy who uses the whole field, drives the ball well to left-center field, has a lot of power in his bat, and is a good-looking hitter.

Q: Last name I'm going to mention, and he won't get to Trenton this year, but Mason Williams is the talk of the organization, so I've got to ask you about him.

A: Again, I've had the great fortune of having Mason. I had him Staten Island this year, he was the Player of the Year in the New York-Penn League. He hit .350, played a tremendous center field, stole 28 bases. He's an exciting young player, and comes to play every day and loves to compete. I'm biased. I've had him for the last two years, and he's really a good-looking young player.

Q: What could you say about his work ethic?

A: It's tremendous. Tremendous work ethic. That whole group of 2010 draft kids, guys who were first at the yard every day at Staten Island, they put in countless hours at the cages with Ty Hawkins, and they also put in good work at the fields defensively in their pregame work as well.

Every one of those kids, whether it's Mason, Cito, Ben Gamel, Tyler Austin, Angelo Gumbs, just a really special group of young players.

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Quotes from Tony Franklin

Got a chance to speak to Tony Franklin just now for a few minutes as he made his way into physical therapy on his newly-replaced left knee. The Thunder announced yesterday that he was on board for his sixth consecutive season managing the team. When I told him that, at least toward the end of last season, it appeared that 2011 would be his last at Trenton's helm, here's what he had to say.

"I've thought about (retiring) in each offseason. You start questioning myself, but in the back of my mind I think, 'What else do I want to do?' I'm too young to retire."

During our conversation of what, other than reassurance from his doctors, eventually brought him back again, he brought up the many big-rehabs who have come through Trenton over the past few years, namely Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, and how much that's meant to him.

"Another Hall of Fame player (like Jeter or Pettitte, or a prospect) will come through Trenton, and I want to be a part of that."

More than anything, though, the decision to come back centered around a desire to teach, which has been the motivating factor since he starting managing in 1982.

"I want to educate players about this," he said, "about how to be major leaguers."

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tony Franklin, Tommy Phelps to return to Thunder

(Trenton, NJ)- The Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced on Thursday that Tony Franklin will be returning to Trenton as Manager for the sixth consecutive season.

Franklin will be joined in the dugout once again by pitching coach and former Major Leaguer Tommy Phelps
who returns for a fourth season. The coaching staff will include new additions,Hitting Coach Tom Slater, Coach Luis Dorante and Athletic Trainer Scott DiFrancesco. Strength and Conditioning Coach Kaz Manabe will return to the Thunder for a second season.

“Tony Franklin is an absolute professional and he’s been a great asset to the Thunder and our community," said Thunder General Manager Will Smith. " I can’t wait to welcome him back to Trenton in 2012. We all hope he can lead the Thunder to our third League championship.”

Franklin guided the Thunder to back-to-back Eastern League Championships in 2007 and 2008 and another Eastern League Championship Series appearance in 2010. Last year's squad did not make the Eastern League playoffs. Franklin owns a career managerial record of 997-906 including a record of 405-323 with Trenton (records include post-season).

The 2008 Eastern League Championship was Franklin’s third title as manager. In 1993, he led South Bend (Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox) to the Midwest League Championship. Prior to his time in Trenton, Franklin spent most of the last 11 years as the Minor League Infield Instructor for the San Diego Padres. His managerial career began with the White Sox organization as the manager for Geneva (NY) of the New York-Penn League in 1982.

Franklin spent four seasons in Geneva, making the playoffs in 1985. After one season with Wytheville (Appalachian League), he guided the White Sox affiliate in the Florida State League, the Sarasota White Sox, to a playoff appearance in 1989. Franklin spent two years as the skipper of the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League, including 81 wins in 1991 and a berth in the Championship Series.

He and his wife, Haiba, have three children Derrick, Wayne and Shelby.

Tommy Phelps will return for his fourth season as the pitching coach for the Thunder. Phelps pitched for the Florida Marlins in 2003 and 2004 including a 2003 season in which he went 3-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 27 games (seven starts). He was part of a Marlins team that won the World Series over the Yankees. Phelps pitched in 29 games for Milwaukee in 2005 and went 7-4 with a 4.45 ERA in 2006 with Columbus (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees). Phelps was originally an eighth round pick by Montreal in the 1992 draft.

Hitting Coach Tom Slater has been a Manager in the Yankees organization for the past three seasons. Last year, he led Staten Island to a 45-28 record and the New York-Penn League championship. He managed the Gulf Coast League Yankees the previous two seasons. Prior to joining the Yankees, he served as Head Coach at Auburn University, going 115-113 and seeing 15 players drafted by Major League clubs over the four year span. His previous coaching experience includes a stint as assistant coach at Florida (2004), three years as the head coach at Virginia Military Institute (2001-03) and assistant coach positions at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, VA and Marshall University.

Coach Luis Dorante spent the last four years in the Pirates organization, serving as the Latin American Field Coordinator in 2011. From 2008-2010, he was the Pirates Bullpen Coach, having joined the Major League staff on November 20, 2007. He served the Florida Marlins in the same capacity during the 2005 campaign.

Dorante’s managerial career began with the Montreal Expos in the Gulf Coast League in 1995. The former Harrisburg Senators skipper returns to the Eastern League for the first time since the 2001 season. In 11 seasons as a minor league manager, Dorante led his team to the playoffs four times and compiled a record of 671-696. Primarily a catcher during his playing days, Luis also made appearances at first base, third base and in the outfield during his six-year minor league career.

Athletic Trainer Scott DiFrancesco has been in the Yankees organization for five years after spending last year with Tampa, the previous three with Charleston and a 2006 internship at the Yankees complex in Tampa, FL. He has a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training from Ball State University.

Kaz Manabe returns to the Thunder as the Strength and Conditioning Coach. He had spent the previous two season with Charleston. A native of Japan, Manabe graduated from Hiroshima University and earned his Master degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Northridge.

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Kanekoa Texeira signs with the Reds

Another day, another former Thunder pitcher finds his way into a new organization. This time it's Kanekoa Texeira, a two-time Trenton alumnus, who signed yesterday with the Cincinnati Reds.

He joins former teammate Andrew Brackman, who inked a major league deal with Cincy earlier in the week.

Like Brackman, Texeira does have some major league service time under his belt, although his experience in The Show is considerably more extensive.

The affable Hawaiian appeared in 49 games over the last two seasons, compiling a 1-1 record and a 4.66 ERA with the Mariners and Royals. He never appeared in the big leagues as a Yankee, though he did face them four times in 2010.

Of the Yankees' minor league free agent pitchers, Josh Schmidt, Logan Kensing, Brad Halsey, Francisco Castillo and Wilkins Arias are still on the market.

One of his three career home runs allowed was against Alex Rodriguez. Mark Teixeira scored on the bomb, marking a lovely collision of Texeira and Teixeira.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Back from the Cayman Islands, a guess at the 2012 Thunder roster

After a relaxing week in the Cayman Islands, I'm back in lovely, frigid New Jersey and ready to think (and blog) about the Thunder. There should be an announcement in the next couple of weeks regarding the team's coaching staff for 2012,

Anyway, to the predictions, which I'm sure are what you care about most. I've been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks, tossing around a few of system's sexier names and wondering what the team will look like come April.

From where I sit, it appears that this year's club, at least for the first half of the season is going to look very much like it looked at the end of 2011. Aside from catcher and second base, the starting nine should be untouched.

A few familiar names should show up in the bullpen, which otherwise should feature more than a few strong-armed college relievers.

With that said, here's my initial guess at which 24 men will be on Trenton's roster on Opening Day against New Hampshire.

1. Kyle Higashioka - Catcher

2. Mitch Abeita - Catcher

3. Luke Murton - First Base

4. David Adams - Second Base

5. Jose Pirela - Shortstop

6. Brad Suttle - Third Base

7. DeAngelo Mack - Left Field

8. Melky Mesa - Center Field

9. Zoilo Almonte - Right Field

10. Rob Lyerly - Designated Hitter

11. Yadil Mujica - Utility

12. Walter Ibarra - Utility

13. Brett Marshall - Starting Pitcher

14. Graham Stoneburner - Starting Pitcher

15. Mikey O'Brien - Starting Pitcher

16. Sean Black - Starting Pitcher

17. Craig Heyer - Starting Pitcher

18. Dan Burawa - Relief Pitcher

19. Grant Duff - Relief Pitcher

20. Chase Whitley - Relief Pitcher

21. Preston Claiborne - Relief Pitcher

22. Ryan Flannery - Relief Pitcher

23. Noel Castillo - Relief Pitcher

24. Kramer Sneed - Relief Pitcher

Also in the mix: Ryan Baker (C), Jose Gil (C), Addison Maruszak (Utility), Jeremy Bleich (SP).

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A September Chat with ... Austin Romine

Thanks to a recommendation from ESPN's Andrew Marchand on Twitter this morning, I've gained more than 70 new followers over the last few hours. With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to give them a taste of the kind of stuff they can expect once the minor league season gets going again. 

I spoke to a bunch of former Thunder players at Yankee Stadium this September, and they had some interesting things to say about their time with Trenton, their 2011 season, and a variety of other topics. 

First up is Austin Romine, one the Yankees' top catching prospects. With Jesus Montero seemingly marooned at Scranton all of last year, Romine was bumped back into a repeat of Double-A until a late-season call-up. 

Once S/W-B's season finished, it seemed for a while that Romine's did too. Then Francisco Cervelli got hurt, opening the door for Romine's big break. Here's what he had to say about that moment, plus a few other things along the way. 

Additionally, I take a lot of videos of these players throughout the season, so here's Romine's single off of Altoona's Aaron Pribanic from the Eastern League All-Star Game, held in Manchester, NH, home of the Fisher Cats. 

JN: Being a West Coast kid, it must have been nice to break in out there. Had you ever been to SafeCo before?

AR: No, I had never been there before. It’s a really nice field, really nice town. It was cool. My first start was in Seattle, everything first was in Seattle, but my debut was in Anaheim.

JN: Obviously that was a really publicized moment, considering your brother was playing for the Angels and your parents were on hand.

AR: You can’t write it any better than that. To be called up to be in your first big league game at home where you grew up with your family and friends – I had like 40 people at the game – with my brother on the other team, it was a really good moment for me.

JN: When I saw that Cervelli went down with the injury in California, my first thought was, ‘OK, Romine’s probably going to get the call here, because he’s probably in the stands as it is.’

AR: It’s the first time in September that I haven’t been in LA. I was (in Kentucky) visiting my girl out there. She’s going to school out there, so I was out there with her.

JN: At the University of Kentucky?

AR: No, Northern Kentucky. I drove from Scranton, so it was only like 10 hours, so I figured I’d drive there before I drove home.

JN: Yeah, ONLY ten hours.

AR: That’s not that bad, considering I was about to drive three days. Then I got a call, and it was the best call of my life, then I got on a plane and now I’m here.

JN:  Now you’re here, playing against the Red Sox, which was your dad’s team growing up. Did you root for Boston as a kid?

AR: I did. For the most part I was actually an Angels fan, back when they had (Troy) Glaus and (Tim) Salmon, (David) Eckstein, (Darin) Erstad and all those guys, but that’s where I grew up. I grew up watching them.

JN: How many guys in the other clubhouse did you grow up watching?

AR: All of them. When I was in high school I used to watch them. I used to watch Yankees and Red Sox all the time -- that was a big thing even out on the West Coast, so I grew up watching all those guys.

JN: With you being a catcher, it must be even more special having Yogi Berra on hand here today.

AR: I actually ran into Yogi over where we eat, said hi and talked to him for a second. He’s really short, but just to see him and be around him is pretty cool.

JN: That’s probably the kind of guy you’d want to model your career after, with his 10 World Series rings.

AR: I’d be happy if I get one, that’d be awesome. As many as I can get, that’s the plan.

JN: Considering what you’ve gone through this year, with the concussion and the back injury, did you think this promotion was even a possibility?

AR: I really, really didn’t. I figured I’d go up to Scranton and just finish the year. They’d give me some time there and maybe I’d go back next year, who know what happens in spring training. I thought they were just going to give me some time (at Scranton) And then with the back thing, it was lingering but it was fine. I was excited to get a full offseason in – I’d never had that before.

JN: Now that it’s passed, was the concussion more than you might have let on to us at the time?

AR: Now that it’s passed, yeah. It was a little bit worse than maybe I’d let on, but I’d never had a concussion so I didn’t know what to expect. I was telling you guys the truth every single day. You know that I’m not one to lie. I tell it how it is, I hope I have that track record over the past two years when I was in Trenton.

Yeah, it was a little bit more (severe). I was dizzy for a while, but I just had a lot of trust in Tim Lentych. He’s a very good man, he got me back playing many times through injuries over there through my time in Trenton, so we devised a plan and it ended up working out and I came back when we thought I would.

JN: Do you think the time you spent in Arizona last year, adding a big chunk to your overall workload might have helped you manage this year better?

AR: I do. I think so. Playing more games than just 140, getting up into the 160s, that’s what the big leagues is. It’s a lot more games than in Trenton in Scranton, but I think that being in Arizona may have helped me out.

JN: Last one, given the hype that you two have come here with, did you think that you and Jesus would ever be in the same major league clubhouse at the same time?

AR: We always joked about when we were coming up through the system together, like ‘Yeah, we’re both going to be there. How cool would that be?’ Like I said, this happened really quick, so we just recently started talking about it, how cool it is to be in the same clubhouse. Even though we’re vying for the same job, we’re both here and we’re both just trying to help the team out the best we can.