TRENTON, NJ – Al Pedrique came into his office at Arm & Hammer Park Sunday afternoon.
“What’s new, guys?” the 54-year-old manager of the Double-A Trenton Thunder said as he greeted a few members of the area media. “What do we have today?”
The talk turned to how well the Yankees’ Double-A farm team has done. Despite injuries, call-ups and other adversity here and there, the Thunder (50-40) are assured of leading the Eastern League East into the All-Star Break.
“We really have a cohesive group,” said Pedrique. “Our guys pick each other up, are working hard to get better and are really learning to play the game right.”
Following Spring Training, the Thunder were picked by many to be just where they are, in first place. Like a successful Broadway play, Trenton opened with a cast of stars. Right-hander Luis Severino led the pitching staff. Outfielders Mason Williams and Aaron Judge patrolled center field and right field respectively, and first baseman Greg Bird and catcher Gary Sanchez were a tough middle of the order.
As the All-Star Break at the Double-A level arrives, only Sanchez remains. Severino, Judge and Bird have moved on to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while Williams, presently on the 60-day Disabled List, made his Major League-debut with the Yankees.
Two key relievers, southpaw James Pazos and righty Nick Goody, also made their way to the Triple-A RailRiders.
“We like to see the guys go up,” said Pedrique, “It’s a tribute to what we try to do. I certainly don’t do this all myself. The coaching staff (hitting coach P.J. Politer, pitching coach Jose Rosado, who served in that role for the World team in Sunday’s Futures Game in Cincinnati – and defensive coach Michel Hernandez) have done a great job.
“We have played through adversity and injuries, like losing starting pitcher Miguel Sulbaran (a developing lefty). We don’t know if he’ll be coming back at all this season.”
Pedrique sees more moves. “There are some kids at Tampa playing well. We may see them here soon,” he said.
Under new Vice President of Player Development Gary Denbo, prospects are moving through the system quicker as the Yankees aim to get younger. It is to the credit of the Yankees system, which still has some non-believers, that the Thunder have kept winning.
Like that successful Broadway play, the understudies are performing well.
Two pitchers who started the year in Tampa – righties Eric Ruth and Brady Lail – have emerged as two of the better starters in the Eastern League. Both throw strikes and paint the corners, Ruth is 6-2, 1.89 in 13 Double-A starts, while Lail is 5-3, 2.21 in 16 (17 appearances) in Trenton.
And lefty Caleb Smith, who is becoming more and more consistent, is 7-4, 4.2o in 15 starts, but 6-1, 3.o4 in his last 10.
“They all have pitched well,” said Pedrique. “Brady and Eric fit tight in after starting in Tampa and Caleb is coming on.”
Lefty Matt Tracy has filled a spot lately, coming down from Scranton after making his big-league debut. He is 0-2, 2.89 in three starts, four appearances), while righy Jaron Long, who was 12-5, 2.18 at three levels in 2014 – 7-2, 2.35 in 11 appearances (10 starts) at Trenton last season – returned to the Thunder after compiling a 5-6, 4,94 mark at Scrabton in 17 appearances (16 starts).
The Thunder are fourth among Eastern League pitching staffs with a 3.42 ERA and second in shutouts with 10. They are third in team batting at .260.
Righty Mark Montgomery, regaining the form that excited many a few years ago, has emerged as the leader of the bullpen with 10 saves.
Offensively, the Thunder are now led by infielder Ali Castillo, who is batting .340 (48-for-142), outfielders Danny Oh, batting .305 (29-for-95) since his promotion from Tampa, and Jake Cave at .276 (94-for-338). Sanchez, who is bating ,258 (58-for-225) leads the club with 12 homers and 36 RBIs.
Given the fact the loss of Judge, Bird, Williams and infielder Eric Jagielo, sidelined with a knee injury, took away 27 home runs and 119 RBIs, the Thunder have switched from a power game to a contact and speed game over the last few weeks with the additions of infielder Tony Renda in the David Carpenter trade, and outfielder Rico Nola, signed as a free-agent.
“Things change,” said Pedrique. “We still have 60 games left. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We’re in good position, but we need to take care of business.”
With a Trenton cast that might look different around Labor Day.