One never knows exactly who is on an affiliate’s roster until the players actually arrive, but the 2015 Double-A Trenton Thunder certainly appear to have a lot of ammunition to start the season.
Injuries and last-minute moves often change who goes where – or who stays at the Himes Complex in Tampa for a few weeks – but look for this projected group to fly north to the Garden State to open the Eastern League season April 9 at Erie.
First-year manager Al Pedrique’s roster will include some the Yankees’ top prospects on the fast track, while others will be trying to hold their own and a third group faces a crucial season in a quest to remain in the conversation. If a player reaches Double-A, facets of his game are major-league ready, other areas need work.
Movement among pitchers is much more prevalent than position players in a given season. The pitching staff three months into a campaign might bear no resemblance to who was on the mound in April.
“This is the level where a player has to show his game can play at the major-league level, both on and off the field,” said Tony Franklin, who managed the Double-A Thunder the last eight seasons before moving to a roving observer and Pulaski managing position for 2015.
When Pedrique’s first Thunder club, clad in its road grays, takes the field in Erie’s Jerry Uht Park April 9, this could very well be the starting lineup:
Projected Position Players
Catcher – Gary Sanchez returns to the Double-A level after batting .270 (116-for-429) with 19 doubles, 13 homers and 65 RBIs in, 2014. The Yankees want Sanchez to improve his overall game, gain the respect of his pitching staff and show more dedication to his work. Kyle Higashioka looms as the the backup catcher.
First Base – Greg Bird will start the season here after excellent performances in the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training. With Kyle Roller in Scranton, this is his spot. He also has played just 27 games at Double-A, hitting .253 (24-for-95) with seven homers and 11 RBIs. Francisco Arcia could be the backup.
Second Base – It appears Angelo Gumbs, who has not had any type of breakout season, will handle this position. He batted .224 (74-for-331) at Class-A Advanced Tampa in 2014. Obviously his offensive production needs to be stepped up. A backup here could be Dan Fiorito.
Shortstop – As far as part of a prospect’s game being major-league ready, Cito Culver can make all the plays in the field. At bat, as evidenced by his .220 (112-for-508) effort at at Tampa in 2014, work needs to be done. A batting project for the Trenton coaching staff.
Third Base – Interesting with both Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr., a pair of former top draft picks, at the same level. The feeling here is the two may alternate in the field and at Designated Hitter, which the Thunder, as an American League affiliate, will utilize in all 142 games. Jagielo batted .259 (80-for-309), with an impressive Florida State League total of 16 homers, at Tampa in 2014. Bichette hit .271 (109-for-460) with nine homers and 64 RBIs at Tampa before an 18-game stint at Trenton, in which he batted .224 (15-for-74). Jagielo has the edge in power, Bichette in fielding.
Right Field – All eyes will be on Aaron Judge at this position. He earned notice in Spring Training with some power shots in Grapefruit League games. He batted an impressive .308 (144-for-467) between Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa in 2014, hitting 17 homers and driving in 78 runs. He has an advanced approach at the plate and will take a walk. He moves very well for a 6-foot-7 player and his defense is solid. Eastern League pitchers will limit how many fastballs he sees, so his challenge for 2015 is to handle the off-speed stuff.
Center Field – A scout compared the 2014 version of Jake Cave to Brett Gardner when he was at the Double-A level. Gardner, of course, is a much different hitter now. Cave is not afraid to get his uniform dirty, and plays the game in a hustling style. He batted an excellent .294 (155-for-561) between Tampa and Trenton in 2014, with a .764 OPS. That OPS would jump if he improved his strikeout/walk ratio, which was 124-46 in 2014. Cave is a prospect, but those strikeouts have to come down if he wants to be an effective leadoff hitter,
Left Field – The Yankees’ biggest enigma is former top prospect Mason Williams. His defense is at the major-league level. In Spring Training, he looked like a complete player, the opposite of the one who hit .223 (113-for-507) in 2014 and had no clue at the plate. If Williams can apply himself offensively as he did in Spring Training, he can regain his prospect status. Look for Ben Gamel to be the backup outfielder.
Projected Starting Pitchers
RHP Luis Severino – He will open in Trenton after going 14-9, 2.23 combined with Charleston, Tampa and Trenton with a strikeout/walk ratio of 127-27. As soon as he dominates the Eastern League, or an injury opens a spot, he will advance to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
RHP Jaron Long – Has the best control in the system, bar none. His sinker-slider combination, along with an improving cutter, allowed him to put together a 12-5, 2.18 mark among Charleston, Tampa and Trenton in 2014. He got better with every promotion, topping out with a 7-2, 2.35 effort in 11 appearances (10 starts) at Trenton. His strikeout/walk ratio was 122-22. Will certainly see Triple-A some time in 2015.
LHP Dan Camarena – Was excellent at Tampa, putting together a 5-5, 2.35 mark in which Florida State League batters hit just .210 in 16 starts against him. Relying on control, Camarena found the Eastern League a lot tougher, with a 2-6, 5.07 report card and batters hitting .260. He was inconsistent at Double-A in 2014 and must improve to move on. He will not be coming north immediately.
LHP Miguel Sulbaran – Another who must rely on control and hitting spots, Sulbaran was 4-5, 3,52 in 22 appearances (20 starts) at Tampa in 2014. He held Florida State League hitters to a .217 average. Has a tick more velocity than Camarena, but needs to approach Eastern League hitters the same way.
LHP Eric Wooten – Made seven appearances (four starts) for Trenton and ended 3-3, 4.08. He also made nine starts in Tampa, with a 2-2, 3.25 mark. Look for RHP Brady Lail and LHP Caleb Smith also as possibilities later in the season.
PROJECTED RELIEF PITCHERS
LHP James Pazos – Was 0-1, 1.50 in 20 appearances at Trenton. Had a strikeout/walk ratio of 42-19 with a fastball that can hit 95 mph. Certainly will get a chance to be the closer, as Eastern League batters hit just .167 against him. He will not be coming north immediately.
Other possibilities to fill the bullpen are RHP Alex Smith, RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Chris Smith and RHP Taylor Garrison. Canadian LHP Evan Rutckyj could also be in the mix.