Pinstriped Prospects first reported on Jan. 1 that Jay Bell was slated to move up from High-A Tampa to manage the Thunder in 2018. Trenton made that move official on Thursday afternoon along with the announcement of the rest of the team’s field staff for the franchises 25th season.
Joining the Thunder in 2018 will be pitching coach Tim Norton, who will replace Jose Rosado. Well-respected Ty Hawkins joins the Thunder staff in 2018 as their hitting coach, replacing Tommy Slater, who took a big league job as the New York Mets assistant hitting coach. Luis Dorante returns to Trenton as the bullpen coach along with defensive coach Raul Dominguez, athletic trainer Jimmy Downam, and strength coach Anthony Velazquez.
Bell guided the Tampa Yankees to an overall mark of 85-50 in his first year with the organization in 2017 and was recognized as the Florida State League Manager of the Year for his efforts. The 52-year old Bell was a two-time MLB all-star, gold glove winner, silver slugger and World Series champion over the course of his decorated 18-year big league career before retiring in 2003.
During his major league career, Bell played for the Cleveland Indians (1986-1988), Pittsburgh Pirates (1989-1996), Kansas City Royals (1997), Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2002), before ending his career with the New York Mets in 2003. Bell was part of the historic Diamondbacks team that defeated Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in the World Series in 2001.
Norton comes to the Jersey capital after a successful two year tenure as the pitching coach for Tampa. Under his tutelage, Tampa pitching had the top ERA in the Florida State League (2.81) and the most strikeouts (1,215).This season will mark his sixth season as a coach in the Yankees organization after being drafted by them in seventh round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Connecticut. Norton spent five seasons in the system; he went 9-7 with nine saves and a 2.41 ERA in 85 games. Norton pitched for the Thunder in the 2010 and 2011 campaigns and posted a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings with the club. Norton becomes the third player in franchise history to later return as a coach, joining Justin Pope (pitching coach, 2011) and PJ Pilittere (hitting coach, 2015-16).
Hawkins is regarded as a hard-nosed teacher and he will bring twenty years of coaching in the Yankees system with him back to Trenton in 2018. The 50-year old New Jersey-native spent 2017 with GCL Yankees West. During his two decade tenure with the Bomber, Hawkins has made stops at GCL (1999-2001), Single-A Greensboro (2002), Single-A Battle Creek (2003), Single-A Tampa (2004) and the Thunder (2005). Hawkins spent ten seasons as the hitting coach for short-season Single-A Staten Island and served as a hitting instructor for the Yankees in 2016.
2018 will mark a return for bullpen coach Luis Dorante after spending time with the team during the 2012 and 2013 campaigns as a coach. Dornate departed to manage the Charleston RiverDogs in 2014 where he recorded 213 wins over a three season tenure, good for second-most in franchise history. In 2017, Dorante managed the Pulaski Yankees and led the team to a 41-26 record and a berth in the Appalachian League Championship Series.
Dominguez served under Bell as the defensive coach with Tampa in 2017 and enters his 12th season with the Yankees. Dominguez was a manager in the system for the eight seasons prior with both the Yankees GCL and DSL affiliates. Dominguez spent four seasons as a minor leaguer in the Yankees organization as an outfielder.
Downam returns for his second season with the Thunder and sixth in the Yankees organization. A New Jersey-native, Downam served in the same role with Charleston from 2013-2015 and spent the 2012 campaign with the Staten Island Yankees.
Velazquez returns for a second season in Trenton and fifth season overall with the Yankees. Velazquez spent the previous three seasons with the Charleston and the 2013 campaign in the same position with the Clearwater Threshers, Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to his positions in minor league baseball, Velazquez held strength and conditioning positions at the University of Michigan, University of South Florida and the University of Maryland.