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Trenton Thunder’s Billy McKinney on deck against the Erie Seawolves in Trenton on June 17, 2017. (Martin Griff)


Stars, Heels and Stripes: June Gets Swinging

The bats are alive in the upper levels of the Yankees minor leagues. And, yes, it’s who Yankees fans might expect, and those players who’re hotly anticipated in the majors. But a few of the guys in the lower half of the annual rankings across the board are also showing up strong.

Ok, first, some not hot news. Gleyber Torres, he who sits at #1 in the Yankees organization according to most baseball insiders, was placed on the 7-day DL after suffering from an elbow injury (left). And it was just announced that he’ll have season-ending Tommy John surgery. Up to that point, he’d hit .309 and knocked in 16 runs in 23 games with the Triple-A SWB Railriders, after a mid-season promotion from Double-A Trenton.

This isn’t the story it was going to be. And you can’t count out what he was able to do up to now. This is a curve in the road, in what looks to be an otherwise promising career when he takes over at third base for the Yankees.

Gleyber Torres (Cheryl Pursell)

In 2016, he made his High-A Tampa debut, after being traded from the Chicago Cubs, and finished the season with 129 hits and 66 RBI under his belt, combined with a 10.6% walk rate. Going back, he was 18 when he played in the High-A Carolina League playoffs. Before the breaking surgery news, there were highly positive comments from one of his coaches that are unsurprising to anyone who’s been around him.

“He’s really mature, really smart for his age, great baseball IQ and ability to sequence pitches,” said Trenton Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater, previously the hitting coach for Tampa, where he worked a lot with Torres.

Torres had the ingredients in Tampa. The mixture of exceptional bat speed, with power he’s developed over time, was potent. He emerged without a lot of fanfare, a kind of expected trajectory to his career descent. There are all sorts of expectations on him, considering the Yankees are in a renewal phase. Call it rebuilding, of course, but they’re the Yankees and those that departed in recent years, after being so much the fabric of a generation of baseball (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada), aren’t easily replaced in the lexicon; or in terms of leadership.

Slater gives high marks for Torres maturity, and that marked quality is part of his skill set outside of the physical realm. He gets it. He has the baseball IQ to master the parts of the game that are inevitable: adjusting, failure, success. Handling those last two with equal dignity and mental clarity is essential, particularly in the high-profile spot of being a Yankee. Torres hasn’t faltered in the eyes of his longtime hitting coach, and certainly, the Yankees are now looking ahead, with the hope that he can handle the weight of this challenge, and mentally (and physically) bounce back in 2018.

Also in the solid swing of things is Billy McKinney. The right fielder was named Player of the Week last week, after putting up nine hits in seven games, posting a .667 OBP to end the week. With the Trenton Thunder, he’s got 53 hits and 29 RBI in 67 games. He’s hit some rough patches, but moments like a 3-hit game in Richmond in May and a recent 4 RBI night against Hartford, have made his ability at that advanced level clear.

“His exit velo higher than ever, he’s hit the ball hard, and he’s working hard,” Slater said. “Good at-bats just bad luck.”

Also, a solid defender, the Oakland Athletics 2013 first round selection in the June MLB Draft, brings a ton of versatility to any team with his ability to play all three outfield positions and has a quality throwing arm.

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 Thairo Estrada (Martin Griff)

Finally, Thairo Estrada finished 2016 strong, and that’s continued into a new league. The competition gets tougher, obviously, but in Double-A a player can really prove a lot and be called up to the big leagues with no stopover in Triple-A. They’re making what could be a final impression before a shot at major league lights. The second baseman has a lot of range and those quick hands, helping him to those 84 hits with Trenton. Slater also pointed out how important it is that he’s getting to play shortstop, observing that his defense has been high quality at this stage.

But back to that bat.

“He gets the barrel to the ball with great frequency,” said Slater.

Also on a roll? Well, we have to mention Miguel Andujar. With 14 hits in his last ten games, and 79 on the season with Trenton before he was promoted to Triple-A on June 19th.

These are good and fun swinging times in the Yankees farm system.

*Torres will be back again for more fun.

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