Having been on the scene for many years at the Himes Complex in Tampa, the Minor League Working Groups are, shall we say, interesting.
The Double-A Working Group, called Trenton, bears no resemblance to what the 2016 Thunder roster will be, nor does it even compare to the present actual Thunder roster, which has little resemblance as well.
These are all for what is called “individual player instruction” in relation to team play. However, since few of these players in the groups will actually play together this season, that is not the main emphasis. Come back in three weeks. These groups will make sense then.
Most of the key prospects, from Single-A to Triple-A are with the big club. They will begin filtering across the street and down the block over the next few weeks. It’s like that in every camp.
Among the Trenton group, we can figure pitchers righty Cale Coshow and southpaw Caleb Smith traveling to Trenton. Lefty Dan Camarena could also return, but he showed little in 10 starts with the Thunder in 2014, stumbling to a 2-6, 5.07 mark in which he allowed eight home runs in 55 innings. His did not come close to overcoming the Double-A hurdle.
The pitcher who will catch many observers’ interest among those presently with the Trenton group is 21-year-old left-hander Nestor Cortes, a 36th=round selection by the Yankees on 2013. Cortes had an excellent season at Rookie Level Pulaski in 2015, putting together a 6-3, 2.26 mark in 12 appearances (10 starts).
The Hialeah, Fla, native throws a mid-90s fastball with sink, an excellent changeup and an improving curve.
‘”Nestor was excellent for us last year,” said Pulaski manager Tony Franklin. “He pitches with confidence. I’m anxious ro see what he does in a full-season league this season.”
Right-handed reliever Chance Adams had a superb year in 2015, going 3-1, 1.78 in 14 appearances. He will likely get a shot at Trenton, but the jump from the lower levels to the Eastern League is huge for relievers.
None of the catchers are likely to come close to Trenton this season, while, among infielders, Billy Fleming will play first base in Arm&Hammer just 20 minutes from his home in Churchill, Pa. Third-sacker Miguel Andujar may find his way to the Thunder, but the sleeper here we like is fellow third-sacker Allen Valerio.
Another Pulaski star a year ago, Valerio flashed power in the Appalachian League, hitting 13 homers and driving in 49 runs in 71 games. He will likely start at Class-A Charleston. Another future power guy is first baseman Chris Gittens, who may jump from the Gulf Coast League to Charleston or even Tampa.
Among outfielders, Michael O’Neill faces a key reason, He played well at Charleston in 2014, but hit just .213 (73-for-342) with just four homers at Tampa in 2015. He’ll get another shot at the Florida State League in 2016.
These groups will begin to change in a big way around March 20, when players like shortstop Jorge Mateo come back to the Himes Complex.
Yankees talent evaluators do like to see what some of these players can “playing up,” just as those with the bug club in Spring Training are trying to make an impression.
The real “working groups” have yet to emerge.