Blogs > Minor Matters

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thunder announce new broadcaster, facilitator of awesomeness

(Trenton, NJ)- The Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced on Monday the hiring of six new Front Office Staff members in preparation for the 2012 season.  Opening Day is April 5 at home against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays).   
The staff additions begin with Josh Maurer who will join 2011 Ballpark Digest Broadcaster of the Year Jay Burnham in the radio booth this season.  Maurer and Burnham combine to give the Thunder a broadcast team with 18 years of professional sports broadcasting experience.  All 142 games will once again be broadcast live on WTSR 91.3 FM and with select games heard on WBCB 1490 AM.   

Maurer joins the Thunder after spending the past four years at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst as the Voice of the Minutemen and Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcasting.  There he called play-by-play for UMass football, men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse on both radio and television in addition to hosting and producing weekly television and radio shows.  Maurer, 31, was honored by the Associated Press in each of the last two years for the “Best College Sports Play-by-Play” in the region.

Maurer made a pair of stops in baseball prior to his time at UMass.  He served as the voice of the Charleston RiverDogs, the New York Yankees' Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League from 2005-2008.  In 2003, he served as a broadcaster and a media relations assistant for the Brockton Rox of the Can-Am League.

Maurer's career has also included calling football and men's basketball games at Charleston Southern University, basketball play-by-play for the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES) and various sports at his alma mater, the University of Maryland in College Park.  He has worked in sports television production in various capacities including  for ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" television show and the Philadelphia Phillies Television Network.
The Thunder's new Facilitator of Awesomeness is Cameron Fox of Braintree, Massachusetts .  Fox will be visible on game days as the roving emcee and coordinator of in-game contests, promotions and entertainment.   He graduated from the University of Rhode Island in May.
Michael Smith, of Los Angeles, California, has joined the Thunder as the new Finance Assistant.  He attended San Diego State University and previously worked as an Accounting Intern for the Athletic Department of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA.
Newtown, Pennsylvania's Kelly Wasilewski has joined the Thunder staff for the season as the Production Assistant.  The SUNY Oneonta graduate served as a game day Production Intern with Trenton last season.
Rounding out the new additions is a pair of Ticket Assistants for this season, Janelle Alfanoand  Tom Bopp.  Alfano is a Pemberton, NJ native and a Rutgers University graduate while Bopp hails from New Rochelle, NY and graduated from Drexel University.
The Thunder also announce that T.J. Jahn has been promoted to Group Sales Manager.  The Clark, NJ native attended The College of New Jersey and has served as a game day employee, intern and Group Sale Representative for the Thunder.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A second try at predicting the Thunder roster - the rotation

In  a series of texts earlier this month between myself and Donnie Collins, who covers the Triple-A Yankees for the Scranton Times-Tribune, I remarked that this year had become by far the most difficult in terms of trying to come to even a rough sketch of what the upper levels of the system might look like come April. 

In fact, I said, I could put together a hypothetical Double-A outfield consisting solely of players who I think have a serious chance to be cut from camp before the season starts. There are simply too many machinations and moving parts, and too much clutter in the organization overall. 

By clutter, I'm referring to players who are done proving themselves at their respective levels,  players who have no real shot at making the major leagues with the Yankees and are biding their time until they can find either another organization or another job entirely, or players who were signed this offseason to provide major league depth on the Triple-A roster. 

In what had to look like a scene from a mental hospital, I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon putting together incarnation after incarnation of the 24 players who will open the season in Trenton. In the end, I came up with a list of 38 players whom I think have a shot at Double-A to begin 2012. Here, sorted by position, is that list:




21. Ray Kruml


38. Josh Romanski

Even with that exhaustive list, I'm pretty sure I missed a few. Over the last few weeks, Donnie Collins has been taking a position-by-position crack at the Scranton roster. Let's see where his research led him, shall we?

Manny Banuelos
Dellin Betances
David Phelps
Adam Warren
D.J. Mitchell

Matt Daley
Manny Delcarmen
George Kontos
Mike O'Connor
Clay Rapada
Ryan Pope
Kevin Whelan

Austin Romine
Gustavo Molina

Doug Bernier
Brandon Laird
Jayson Nix
Ramiro Pena
Kevin Russo
Jorge Vazquez

Dan Brewer
Colin Curtis
Cole Garner
DeWayne Wise
Austin Krum/Ray Kruml

Just from looking at Donnie's initial prediction, one can easily see a theme for the Thunder: Quite a few players are going to be kept back because of the numbers game. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least four players who probably deserve to be at Triple-A, but might get sent back to Trenton anyway.

1. Shaeffer Hall
2. Corban Joseph
3. Pat Venditte
4. Tim Norton

Of those four, only Norton really blew the doors off at Trenton. He has no business being at Double-A ever again. If he hadn't gotten hurt in Scranton, I think there was a really good chance of him helping the big club in 2011.

Joseph's season was solid if not spectacular, and he certainly has things to improve upon, but not enough, I think, to keep him from advancing in 2012. That said, there's probably a reason the Yankees invested in Bernier again this offseason, and it's not to be Robinson Cano's backup.

Hall pitched admirably to open last season but steadily faded down the stretch, posting ERAs higher than 4.60 in June, July and August. Over those three months, he allowed 105 hits in 83 2/3 innings, and opponents reached him for a .308 average. His strikeout-to-walk ratio held at slightly better than 2:1, though, that's a dip from his full-season mark.

Whether it's by cutting someone or putting a player on the fake DL to start the year, I think the Yankees will probably find a way to get Norton to Triple-A come April. Joseph, Venditte and Hall, however, might want to consider finding month-to-month leases in the Mercer or Bucks County area.

That's three down, so what about the rest? Let's start with the rest of the rotation behind, I assume, Hall.

The only real name prospect I imagine will start the year in Trenton is Brett Marshall, the Yankees' 11th best prospect as ranked by Baseball America. Frankly, I was pretty surprised not to see him in Trenton at some point last year, especially when Banuelos and Betances were promoted.

After a godawful April (9.00 ERA, 14 Ks in 21 IP, 1.62 WHIP, .310 BAA), Marshall settled down the rest of the way and finished 9-7 with a 3.78 ERA and a groundout-to-airout ratio of close to 2-to-1. He'll  be 22 when the season starts, and will probably pitch toward the middle of the Thunder's rotation for most of the season.

Joining Hall and Marshall most likely will be Graham Stoneburner, whose career stalled a little bit last year when he missed more than three months with a persistent neck/shoulder issue. He made just 11 starts all year and earned only one win (April 15 vs. Harrisburg), thus earning him a ticket back to Trenton to see if he can make up for lost time.

After those three is where it gets tricky.

Craig Heyer, who spent all of 2011 with Trenton, is a good candidate to slot into the rotation somewhere once again. He doesn't have flashy stuff or a big profile, but he provided the Thunder some much-needed reliability in an uncertainty-plagued season, and he'll probably be counted upon to do so again in 2012.

So far, that gives us a rotation that, in no order, looks like this:

1. Brett Marshall
2. Graham Stoneburner
3. Shaeffer Hall
4. Craig Heyer

Sean Black, Mikey O'Brien and Jairo Heredia are all candidates for Double-A's fifth spot, I think, but I think they'll all get trumped, at least to begin the season, by Trenton's reliable swingman, Cory Arbiso.

Arbiso, who in 2010 had a chance to pitch a possible fifth game of the Eastern League Championship Series, has pitched in 72 Thunder games (20 starts) over the last two seasons. Like Heyer, he's been a part of the rotation, pitched out of the bullpen, and made a few spot starts when needed.

I imagine he'll probably get the nod for the first couple of months, before someone like Heredia is warmed up and ready for a promotion, at which time Arbiso will bounce back into his comfortable swingman role.

So, to recap, that come April the five starting pitchers for Tony Franklin will be:

1. Brett Marshall
2. Graham Stoneburner
3. Shaeffer Hall
4. Craig Heyer
5. Cory Arbiso

It's not going to make the scouts or the folks over at Baseball America drool, but it's what Trenton will throw at the rest of the Eastern League for a few months.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

News, notes, and the minor league ST schedule

Baseball's almost back.

One of the surest signs came yesterday when, after weeks of annoying the receptionist down at the Yankees minor league complex, the minor league spring training schedule (along with the system's complete list of coaching and baseball operations staffs) was released.

Despite my pestiness, the receptionist faxed the schedule up to our office. Here are all the details.

Minor League Players Report -- March 3
First Full Workout -- March 5
First Game -- March 17
Break Camp -- April 1 (after a morning workout)

(if Thunder are home, so is Scranton, which means the lower levels are away against the same opponent)

March 17 - against Reading at Clearwater
March 18 - against Altoona at Tampa
March 19 - against New Hampshire at Dunedin
March 20 - against New Hampshire at Tampa
March 21 - against Reading at Clearwater
March 22 - against Reading at Tampa
March 23 - against Altoona at Bradenton
March 24 - against Altoona at Tampa
March 25 - CAMP DAY -- all players at Tampa
March 26 - against Reading at Clearwater
March 27 - against Reading at Tampa
March 28 - CAMP DAY -- all players at Tampa
March 29 - against New Hampshire at Tampa 
March 30 - against Altoona at Tampa
March 31 - against New Hampshire at Dunedin
April 1 - CAMP DAY -- all players at Tampa

Additionally, I found a few other surprises when I perused the list of various front-office and minor league staffs.

- Tim Lentych, the Thunder's former trainer who will be replaced this season by Scott DiFrancesco, has been promoted to the organization's Head Athletic Trainer

- P.J. Pilittere, a well-traveled former Trenton catcher, is now a coach with the GCL Yankees, where he will work with former teammate Edwar Gonzalez

Monday, February 13, 2012

Top 10 words from the year that was - No. 5

Today's word is: Returns

What it means: For whatever reason, a lot of of former Thunder players made their way back to Waterfront Park in 2011. And I don't mean just the normal guys bouncing back and forth from Scranton, I'm talking about the guys most people -- self included -- thought were gone for good, for better or for worse.

The most mild surprise was Dan Brewer. He had an excellent season with the Thunder in 2010, but the numbers game brought him back to Trenton for a 10-game spell.

Ryan Pope coming back was also surprising, but injuries and a crowded Scranton pen sent him back to New Jersey for most of the season's second half.

Beyond those two, though, there were a quartet of arms I never thought I'd see again unless it was in the stands in a scouting role.

1. Jeff Marquez - Lingering injuries and a long rehab tour, plus an outright to the minors, gave Marquez an unwanted trip back to Trenton. He made three starts with the Thunder, on Aug. 20 and 27, and Sept. 2. He signed with Seattle in the offseason as a minor league free agent, and for a while all he'll be is the answer to "Name the last Yankee to throw a pitch a Wrigley Field."

2. Alan Horne - 2007's Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, itching for one last shot, made his way back last season from a series of shoulder injuries. It did not go well. In his first outing with the Thunder, in Portland on June 22, the right-hander faced six hitters and retired none. He allowed one hit and walked the other five, and allowed four runs.

It didn't get much better from there. Over the course of his final five appearances, which spanned just 6 1/3 innings, Horne allowed nine more runs (four earned) and walked eight against just three strikeouts. The Yankees released him in July, and he is out of baseball.

3. Kanekoa Texeira - Talk about unexpected. The Mariners took him in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, and he pitched 49 games in the show before winding his way back to the Yankees, who claimed off waivers from the Royals on May 25.

After spending time with the Omaha Royals, the Scranton Yankees and the GCL Yankees, Texeira was sent to Trenton to finish the season's final month. Over 11 innings pitched in as many games, he allowed a ghastly 24 hits and pitched to an ERA of 10.64 and a WHIP of 2.46. He signed with the Reds in the offseason.

4. Brad Halsey - Talk about a trip in the way-back machine. Two players who saw time with the 2003 Thunder club returned to Waterfront Park in 2011. One was Halsey. The other was Derek Jeter.

The Yankees plucked Halsey from out of nowhere on May 1, more than two years after he'd been released by the Dodgers, and decided to see if there was anything more in reserve in a left arm with four years of big league service time.

There wasn't.

And although he wasn't as bad as Texeira or Horne, a 4.88 ERA, 41 hits in 31 innings pitched and a batting average north of .300 isn't anything to write home about, either.

Top 10 opposing players for 2012 - No. 5: Aaron Hicks

Last year: One of the toolsiest players in the minor leagues, Hicks struggled again in 2011. He hit just .242/.354/.368 with five home runs and 38 RBIs with High-A Fort Myers. The 31 doubles he hit, however, put him in ninth place in the Florida State League. Though the prospects sites have cooled on his future, there's still enough there to get excited about. 

What people are saying: Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, who ranked Hicks a three-star prospect and the No. 4 in the Twins' system, had this to say about New Britain's future center fielder.

Hicks is one of the best all-around athletes in the minor leagues. He shows considerable power in batting practice, and is a 60-65 runner. He's a tremendous center fielder with one of the best arms in the minors, one that some scouts put an 80 on."

When you can see him: New Britain comes to Trenton July 4-6 and Aug. 27-30.

Top 10 Thunder players for 2012 - No. 5: David Adams

Bio: Adams started the season with Trenton in 2010 before suffering a career-altering injury in Portland on May 22. Since then, he's played just 12 games outside of the complex league, all with High-A Tampa last season. A University of Virginia product, the Yankees protected Adams on the 40-man roster prior to this season's Rule 5 draft.  

2011: Adams spent most of the year rehabbing. When he wasn't, he usually could be found on one side or another of Himes Avenue in Tampa, where the Yankees have both their High-A and Gulf Coast League teams.

He spent 17 games with the GCL Yankees, for whom he provided .429/.469/.643 of gravy for an already impressive team of young bats. He hit .308 in his dozen games with the T-Yanks. Otherwise, it was a lost season for Adams. 

What's Next: Adams' agent, B.B. Abbott, in an e-mail, said his client "feels good and is preparing for a long season." I think there's a good chance (although not 100 percent) that Adams begins the year back at Waterfront Park.

Top 10 Thunder players from 2011 - No. 5: Shaeffer Hall

Why He's Here: He entered the Thunder's rotation without any of the hype of teammates Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but as the season wore on it became clear that he was the one of the team's most valuable and effective starters.

It didn't show up in the statistics that would have put him on the prospect map, but he provided something rare for a Thunder hurler last season: Efficiency.

Of his team-best (tied with Craig Heyer) 24 starts, Hall went seven full frames seven times. Combined, Betances, Banuelos, Heyer, Steve Garrison and Graham Stoneburner accomplished that feat on just five occasions. 

Most Memorable Moment: Against Erie on July 19, Hall lasted eight strong innings, allowed just two runs (both earned) and picked up the win. He struck out six against two walks before handing the ball to Pat Venditte, who pitched a perfect ninth.

Outlook for 2012: Unfortunately for Hall, he'll probably get Kontos'd, by which I mean asked to head back to Double-A after a year that warranted a promotion. Unless Betances or Banuelos breaks camp with New York, the Triple-A rotation is looking stocked, which could send Hall back to Waterfront for a return engagement with the Northeast's brisk spring months. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Top 10 Words from 2011 - No. 6

Today's word is: Health

What it means: The Thunder had their fair share of injuries and ailments in 2011, but two stood out: Austin Romine's concussion and manager Tony Franklin's brief hospitalization.

First, Romine's concussion. Before the season, Major League Baseball introduced a new 7-day disabled list for concussions, which signaled the sport's increased level of concern with the injury.

In June, Romine, in his second season as the Thunder's backstop, was plowed over by Altoona designated hitter Travis Scott. He missed three days before the team placed him on the disabled list.

Romine, as directed by the team, kept the injury -- and his symptoms -- quiet.

He eventually returned and in September was summoned to the majors. While at Yankee Stadium in September, he felt that, because enough time had passed, he was free to talk about what he was actually feeling while he was sitting on the DL with his first concussion.

Here's what he said.

"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."

As for Franklin, the situation was a bit more bizarre. 

On May 12, after meeting with the media, filling out the lineup card and doing all of his other managerial duties, the Thunder skipper complained of chest pains and was taken to a local hospital, where it was determined he did not have a heart attack. 

Neither the team nor Franklin revealed additional details (though it was speculated that the problems stemmed from a super hot "ghost wing" he had eaten earlier), and he returned in about a week's time. 

It was easily the strangest injury I've seen in five years on the beat.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Top 10 Opposing players for 2012: No. 6 - Trevor May

Last year: After a demotion in 2010 stemming from a bad case of wildness, May re-emerged last year as one of the Phillies' most powerful young arms.

He spent the whole year with the Threshers, going 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in the process. Over 144.1 innings, May fanned an impressive 208 hitters, best in the minor leagues and good for a K/9 north of a dozen. 

On the flip side, he also walked 65 hitters, the fourth most on the circuit, showing that the control/command problems that sidetracked him earlier might not quite be a thing of the past.

What people are saying: Baseball America, which rates May as the top prospect in a Phillies system severely depleted by trades for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (twice), Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, said this about the 22-year-old with the blazing heater. 

"Scouts compare May to Chris Carpenter because of his size and swing-and-miss stuff. May's best pitch is his 90-95 mph fastball, which has heavy life and great angle, and he holds his velocity deep into games. He has worked to add a two-seamer to his arsenal, though his high three-quarters arm slot produces natural armside run. He gained consistency with his secondary offerings in 2011, particularly with his changeup."

When you can see him: Reading comes to Trenton July 19-22 and Aug. 7-9.