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Trenton Thunder starting pitcher Caleb Smith works during Game 4 of the Divisional Series of the Eastern League Playoffs against the Reading Fightin Phils at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pa. on Saturday, September 10, 2016. Photo by Martin Griff


Manager Reflects on Yankees Losses of Tyler Jones and Caleb Smith in Rule 5 Draft

The Yankees lost four solid prospects in the first ten selections of the MLB phase of this mornings annual Rule 5 draft from the MLB winter meetings in National Harbor, Maryland. This speaks volumes to the amount of depth that the organization has accumulated in the last two years.

Two of the prospects that the Yankees lost, closer Tyler Jones and starter Caleb Smith were vital components in the Thunder making a run to the Eastern League championship last season.

Trenton Manager Bobby Mitchell, who I reported earlier this week will be returning for his second season in 2017, is ecstatic to see both players get an opportunity in the big leagues heading into spring training with their new clubs.

Bobby Mitchell is excited for Tyler Jones and Caleb Smith to get an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. (Photo by Martin Griff)

“I am really happy for both of those guys,” Mitchell told Pinstriped Prospects via telephone on Thursday. “It really is a tremendous opportunity for them to establish themselves and catapult their careers moving forward.”

Jones, a 27-year old right hander, was selected sixth overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks. In six minor league seasons, Jones is yet to pitch above the Double-A level despite putting up solid career numbers (19-17, 3.55 ERA, 59 saves, 361/111 K/BB in 296 IP).

In 2016, Jones orchestrated a dominant second half to help propel Trenton to a magical run to the Eastern League championship round. In total, he pitched in 33 games and converted 11-of-13 save opportunities while striking out 67 in 45.2 innings of work.

“I saw Tyler when I was roving with the Braves and he has always been a big horse out of the bullpen,” said Mitchell. “When I saw him back then, he had power stuff but I can remember him missing a lot up in the zone because he was trying to overthrow. Last year, I think he became a pitcher. His command was impeccable and he wants the ball when the game is on the line. A lot of credit has to go to Jose Rosado, our pitching coach.”

Mitchell added, “Internally we thought that after he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster that there was a pretty good chance that we were going to lose him. I am very happy for him and know that he is going to take full advantage of his opportunity.”

The 25-year old Smith was selected one pick following Jones with the seventh selection by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was then flipped to the World Series champion Chicago Cubs following the draft. The southpaw spent the entire 2016 season with the Thunder. He had spent most of his career as a starter, going 24-23 with a 3.40 ERA in 94 games, 69 starts, over four seasons. In 367 2/3 innings he has fanned 339 batters. He has reached as high as Triple-A in 2015.Smith pitched the biggest game of the season for the Thunder when he tossed five innings of one-run, one-hit ball with eight strikeouts in a decisive game four victory over Reading in the Eastern League Division Series.

“Caleb really stands out to me,” explained Mitchell. “Here is a guy who we forced to go back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation; we really didn’t have a role for him in the early going. He had some struggles but by the end of the year he was unhittable.”

Mitchell added, “I remember by the end of the season when I was coaching third base, players on opposing teams were coming up to me and telling me that they knew his change-up was coming and still had no chance to hit it. He has worked so hard and we couldn’t be happier for him to have this chance.”

“I think the biggest thing for both of those pitchers is confidence,” Mitchell said. “If they believe in their stuff and command it to both sides of the plate, they can both succeed at the major league level. I couldn’t be happier for both of them.”

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