Left-hander Shaeffer Hall will be the Thunder's Opening Day starter
A few members of the media were able to catch up with Trenton Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps this afternoon, and as always, he had some interesting things to say…
On new arms: “We’ve got some good, young arms coming in. Some of them, I haven’t seen a whole lot, so it’ll be fun to watch them pitch and see them in their roles.”
On Brett Marshall: “Marshall has been very good. He’s got some very good secondary pitches, and he moves his fastball around. He’s got a little saavy-ness to him, he’s pretty good. Marshall has a good four-seam, and a two-seam fastball that’s been known to touch 95, 96. He’s got a good slider, he’s tightened it up. And a good changeup. I mean a really, really good changeup. He can use any of those pitches and throw them in any counts. It’ll be fun to see him pitch against these older hitters.”
On the closer situation: “You’ve got your multiple-inning guys; Whitley, Claiborne, those guys will have a tendency to be at the end of the game. Pope will come into some games there. Arbiso’s probably going to be like he’s been in the past, the number nine guy, the spot starter/long guy. We’ve got a new guy, (Lee) Hyde, I’ve seen him pitch one inning. We’ll see where he fits in, he’s our only lefty in the bullpen.”
On Shaeffer Hall: “One of the things we try to stress with our starters is when we’re on the mound, you want your position players and everyone to feel like we’ve got a chance to win today. So and so is pitching, and he throws strikes and he attacks, he works fast. ‘Shaeff’ has that mentality, and he is very prepared every game before he goes out. That’s a big plus for him, his makeup.”
On Kelvin Perez: “Kelvin Perez has got a really good arm with really good stuff. We’ll see what he’s got. I haven’t really seen him pitch very much. I saw him pitch four years ago down in extended when I was down there, and he’s good a really good breaking ball. He’s just starting to throw a slider. We’ll see where his command and his pitchability is, but stuff-wise, he’s got plenty of stuff.”
On Cory Arbiso’s new curveball: “He’s had the curveball coming two years ago, and he used it a little bit last year. It’s just another pitch to add in there early in the count and maybe get a chase late in the count. But his big secondary is his changeup, and his slider is next to follow after that.”
On pitchers not yet with Trenton who impressed him in camp: “There’s a few guys. There was a Cuban guy we signed, (Rigoberto) Arrebato, a little lefthander that was pretty good down there. A lot of their starters; Turley…they’ve got a bunch of good, young pitchers coming up. Pinder, who was impressive. Montgomery. A lot of those guys down there had impressive stuff. A lot of them will be up here sometime, hopefully.
Cody Johnson is looking to rebound after a tough 2011 season
Cody Johnson knows the impression he makes on people who’ve seen him play for a while: He either strikes out or hits a home run. He’d just prefer not to read about it.
“I try not to read anything. It’s hard to take anything good or bad from it,” he said.
“You’re either going to feel great or you’re going to be mad, so if you try and just ignore it and do what you do every day, you’ll be better off.”
Johnson, still just 23 years old, is a big man with big expectations. 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the Southport, Fla. native can send the ball a country mile with a simple flick of his wrists. But, all too often, a seemingly all-or-nothing approach provided way too much of the latter. The former first round pick of the Braves has hit no fewer than 17 home runs in each of his past five seasons, but also has an astounding 823 strikeouts in 2,284 career at-bats.
“I know what I am…well, I know what I have been,” said the friendly Floridian. “I’m trying to almost re-create myself and change my whole approach. It’s been a slow process. I can’t expect results overnight, but I just have to take what opportunities the Yankees give me this year and do the best I can with it.”
Johnson started the 2011 season as the Thunder’s five-hole hitter and everyday DH. He ended it in Tampa. Although he smashed 15 home runs and got hot at times with Trenton, he also batted just .226 for a team that needed much more from him. The transformation of Cody Johnson started last season, when he says he started to change his approach both mentally and physically. But things went downhill, he says, when the embarrassing incident involving Julius Matos took place.
“I felt like I really lost track when we had the situation go down where we lost our hitting coach, and it was kind of hit or miss from there on out,” he said.
“When I got sent down, I was just glad to still have a job. I went down and got things worked out. I was in Tampa for six weeks, and felt like I really got things turned around out and started the off-season on a good note. I kind of spent the off-season trying to get in better shape and basically focus on what I ended the year doing and try to come back into spring training and pick up where I left off, and pretty much start back over. I felt like I had a pretty good spring, and hopefully I can have a pretty good season.”
To have that good season, Johnson must cut down on his strikeouts, which whether he wants to read about it or not, is a simple statistical fact. 194 strikeouts were a career high for him last season, but his third trip to Double-A very well could be the charm if he can practice what he preached at Media Day.
“Mentally, it’s just knowing what pitchers are going to do me and sticking with one game plan,” he said. “It’s not getting out of that and just staying in the strike zone, that’s the biggest thing. I chased a lot of pitches, and it’s staying in one zone. If I don’t get certain pitches, hey if a guy can locate on me for three pitches, I’ll tip my hat and turn around and sit down and just have to kind of sit there and wait for a mistake.”
Curiously, some of Johnson’s success at the plate may be a direct result of what he does while he’s out in the field. Johnson played in 74 contests for Trenton last season, but was the designated hitter for all but three of them. If he can get some playing time in the outfield, he says, it could help him clear his mind at-bat.
“I spent the off-season trying to get myself in shape to be where I know I can play in the field, and I spent spring training proving that I can play the field, at least to myself,” Johnson said.
“I’m just trying to give Tony another option for me. I really took DH’ing for granted last year, I just thought it was going to be easy. But it’s really a role that’s really hard. When you’re going good, it’s easy. You just sit there, you go up, you take your at-bat and you’re feeling great. But when you’re going bad, it’s frustrating, because all you do is go sit on the bench and you walk around and you get frustrated. You think too much. You get out in the outfield, you might get out there and be mad at yourself, but you’ve kind of got to separate that and focus because you have to pay attention and play defense. It kind of gives you that separation there. I started getting the hang of things at the end of the year and I learned it a little bit better, so if that’s my role, I’ll take it and do the best I can with it.”
WWJD broke the initial news of Rafael DePaula joining the Yankees a few weeks back, and I stumbled across this tidbit on him while mining my usual favorite spots on the web. This comes from today's Baseball America 'Ask BA' chat featuring Jim Callis, with the credit on the DePaula report going to fellow Callis' fellow BA writer Ben Badler:
In June 2010, BA assistant editor Ben Badler reported that DePaula had presented a new name (Jose Rafael DePaula) and birthdate (March 24, 1991, making him a year older than he originally stated). That November, he agreed to a $500,000 bonus from the Yankees, contingent upon him receiving a visa to enter the United States. That process took 16 months, during which he worked out at the Yankees' academy in the Dominican Republic.
More after the jump (including video!!!)...
Ben is our go-to guy on international affairs, and he says he'd grade DePaula as a 60/Extreme. On our Yankees Top 10 Prospects list, that would place DePaula in the midst of catcher Austin Romine (50/Low at No. 8), catcher/third baseman J.R. Murphy (55/High at No. 9) and outfielder Slade Heathcott (60/Extreme at No. 10). I'd err on the side of upside and put DePaula ahead of all of them.
Here are some more thoughts from Ben on DePaula:
His talent is legitimate. The fastball really is touching the high 90s, power curve, good body, good mechanics, he's just had an extremely atypical developmental path because of the suspension and visa issue. I don't stick my neck out much on the international amateur guys, but we did with Carlos Martinez at No. 3 for the Cardinals in 2011 and Miguel Sano at No. 4 for the Twins in 2010, and I think DePaula is that type of player. I don't like running up the 16-year-old signings much because there's still so much projection involved, but DePaula is 21 and has now stuff.
The thing that gets me most excited about DePaula is the talent comparison to Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, who flew way under the radar leading up to the 2011 season before bursting on to the scene. Martinez has a similarly electric arsenal, and also got a late start in the professional ranks due to name and visa issues. He now ranks within the Top 50 of most industry top prospect lists, and currently sits as the #27 ranked prospect in baseball according to Baseball America.
Some recent video has surfaced of DePaula's first simulated appearance in the United States, and gives you a glimpse of the kind of stuff he possesses on the mound.
On a Charleston Riverdogs team with Dante Bichette, Cito Culver, Mason Williams, Jose Campos, Angelo Gumbs, Tyler Austin, and Gary Sanchez, its easy for a solid prospect to get lost below the headlines. But the title of best opening weekend goes to none of them. Instead, Bryan Mitchell gave Yankee fans something to get very excited about.
Mitchell pitched 6 innings in his debut start. He allowed no runs on just one hit and one walk, with six strikeouts. He is 21 years old, and has been kicking around the low levels of the Yankee farm system since being drafted in 2009. It feels like he has been around for a very long time, because he has. Mitchell has constantly pitched well enough to stay interesting, but not well enough to break out and become a top prospect.
He certainly has the tools. Mitchell throws a 92-95 mph live fastball and has a killer spike curve. He may or may not have made progress on his changeup – I haven’t seen any news about it either way. He’s also been touted as a smart player who learns well. Control has always been his problem. A Bryan Mitchell with an average-or-better walk rate would be a very dangerous pitcher. A Bryan Mitchell who manages to get all aspects of his game clicking – the secondary pitches, sustained velocity, control, etc – could be an ace.
Obviously, one start is nothing to get excited about. Although inexperienced, Mitchell is not young for Single-A. He has never pitched a full season workload (although, at the same time, we tend to forget that EST players often pitch 50+ innings before the short season leagues start. The statistics just aren’t recorded for the public), and has constantly had control problems come back to bite him. He needs to pitch very well for 2-3 months before I am ready to start talking about a breakout season.
All of that said, there’s a non-zero chance that among all of those great Charleston prospects, Bryan Mitchell becomes the best major league player. He might at present time be the worst prospect of the group, but only Gary Sanchez has a rock-solid claim on a higher ceiling than Mitchell. I think of him as the Brett Marshall of the 2009 draft class. And even if he fails as a starting pitcher, Mitchell has the kind of two-pitch power arsenal that might make him an effective short reliever.
I know that I’ll be watching his starts very closely.
If you have the opportunity to take in a minor league game involving the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (or the Empire State Yankees for the 2012 season), you may notice something that will cause a double take. Should No. 58 trot out to the pitchers mound, you might want to pay attention because you might see something that hasn’t been done but once in baseball’s modern era. Pat Venditte, Jr (born 1985 in Omaha, Nebraska) was ten years old when George A. Harris did something not done since the turn of the twentieth century; he pitched both left-handed and right handed in the same inning for the Montreal Expos.
At an early age, Pat’s parents noticed he had a tendency to throw a ball with either hand without favoring his left or right. These ambidextrous tendencies were reinforced through other sports like football. His mother even had him write with both hands while he was home schooled. As he started to learn the art of pitching, his father (Pat Sr.) taught him to pitch with either hand to gain a competitive edge. In order to help his son’s leg motion for pitching ..read more
One of the Yankees’ ballyhooed “Killer B’s,” pitcher Manny Banuelos has a mild disposition about him off the mound.
But when standing on the bump, Banuelos – who stands a shade under six feet tall and is listed at 200 pounds – has displayed an aggressive repertoire fitting of the insect that shares its name with the surname-inspired moniker given to Manny and fellow Triple-A hurler Dellin Betances.
Signed out of the Mexican League in 2008 at the tender age of 17, Banuelos has quickly risen through the Yankees organization, advancing at least one level during every season. Starting with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees in 2008, he recorded a 4-1 record with a 2.57 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched.
Banuelos moved up to the A-level in 2009, spending nearly the entire year with Low-A Charleston before appearing in one game with High-A Tampa. “Man-Ban” then split the 2010 season between Tampa and Double-A Trenton, where he started the 2011 season as well before earning a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre midseason. He earned a trip to the Bronx last September as an expanded roster call-up/observer, and started the 2012 season back at Triple-A still awaiting his Major League debut.
Entering 2012, Banuelos’ Minor-League numbers were quite impressive. In his first four seasons over five levels of play, Manny was 19-17 with a 3.02 ERA in 81 games (65 starts) and had more than a strikeout per inning, having fanned 353 batters in 345 1/3 frames.
The most impressive thing about Banuelos, however, may be the fact that he just turned 21 on March 13.
Although his first start of 2012 was a rough one (four runs and 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings against Syracuse on April 7), the future is very bright for this lefty from south of the border, who could become a fixture in Joe Girardi’s rotation in the Bronx sooner rather than later.
Standing 6-foot-8 and weighing 260 pounds, Dellin Betances is an imposing figure both on and off the mound.
He’s also a New York boy – born in Manhattan and raised in both that borough as well as Brooklyn – who has a former Yankees pitcher to thank for helping him choose his career path.
On May 17, 1998, Betances was in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium the day David Wells threw his perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. Until that point, Betances was more of a basketball player (a fact his height might lead you to believe), but that warm May day in the Bronx changed his perspective forever.
Eight years after he witnessed history, Betances was drafted by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2006 MLB Draft and gave up a chance to pitch at Vanderbilt University to join the organization. That summer, he notched a 1.16 ERA and an impressive 27 strikeouts in just 23 1/3 innings of work for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees, early on showing flashes of the stuff that has made him a much-ballyhooed prospect over the last few years.
Betances started all but one of the 91 games he appeared in over his first six seasons in the organization, with his best season coming in 2010 – just months after having surgery to stabilize a ligament in his elbow. That summer, Betances dominated at Advanced-A Tampa (8-1, 1.77 ERA, 88 K in 71 innings) before earning a late call-up to Trenton, where he struck out 20 in 14 1/3 innings over three starts.
And, of course, after a strong season at both Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011, Betances earned a September call-up with the Yankees last fall. He made his MLB debut by pitching 2/3 of an inning against Tampa Bay on September 22, and later made his first MLB start in the season finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field on September 28.
The burly right-hander began 2012 at Triple-A, ready for his first full season at the level right below the Bigs. He has made two starts as of April 15, and despite a rough beginning, it’s surely a matter of time before the other half of the “Killer B’s” makes his presence felt at Yankee Stadium once again.
When many teenagers finally turn 16, their biggest focus is on getting a driver’s license and finding a part-time job that isn’t a drag.
But the summer after Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez turned 16, he got something much more liberating and lucrative: a contract with the Yankees organization that included a $3 million signing bonus.
Yes, Sanchez was still nearly 18 months away from adulthood when he inked his first deal in July 2009, but the raw power and talent the Yankees saw in the young catcher was seemingly worth every penny – and so far, that appears to be the case.
Sanchez has been one ofBaseball America’sTop 100 Prospects in each of the last two years, and immediately backed up the Yankees’ faith in him when he made his organizational debut in 2010.
At just 17 years old, Sanchez tore up the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before moving up to Short-Season A Staten Island later in the summer of 2010.
In 36 games with the GCL Yankees, Sanchez hit a whopping .353 (with a 1.016 OPS) in 173 at-bats, clubbing eight home runs and notching 43 RBI, and then took New York-Penn League pitching for a .278 average and two more homers (in just 54 at-bats) after his promotion to Staten Island.
Sanchez made another step up in 2011, this time to Low-A Charleston, and was one of the RiverDogs’ fiercest hitters. The young backstop, now finally an adult at 18, saw his average drop to .256, but that number came along with 17 home runs, 52 RBI, 16 doubles, an .820 OPS, and a much-improved presence defensively.
His performance in his first two seasons so impressed the Yankees that shortly after his 19th birthday last December, Sanchez received the news that he would be a non-roster invitee to Yankees Spring Training. He was far and away the youngest player in Yankees Camp, but the young Dominican was grateful to learn from and play alongside legends like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera – both of whom have been in the organization longer than Sanchez has been alive.
Sanchez headed for Charleston when the Yankees broke camp, and has once again continued his offensive assault in the early stages of the Class-A season. The organization prides itself on its current catching depth, and although Sanchez is the youngest of the bunch, it would surprise no one if he rapidly rose through the organization and replaced another Latino legend, Jorge Posada, behind the plate at Yankee Stadium in the next couple years.
When one discusses past Yankees center fielders, there is surely no shortage of history in that conversation. From Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio to revered fan-favorites Bobby Murcer and Bernie Williams to current starter Curtis Granderson, dozens of greats have patrolled the middle of the Yankee Stadium outfield.
Three years ago, Mason Williams was a star on the West Orange (Fla.) High School baseball team who hoped to one day even get the chance to wear a Major League uniform…and today, he’s the man thatBaseball Americasays is the fourth-best prospect in the Yankees system and potentially the heir apparent to the above list of legends.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Williams started his career two summers ago in at the Rookie Ball level, hitting .222 in 18 at-bats for the Gulf Coast League Yankees.
Even then, he was still somewhat unheralded as little as 365 days ago until a 2011 breakout campaign in that saw him dominate at the Short-Season A level. Williams was a New York-Penn League All-Star last season, and hitting .349 with three home runs, 31 RBI, and 28 stolen bases while helping lead the Staten Island Yankees to the 2011 League Championship.
That performance ledBaseball Americato tab Williams last September as the No. 1 prospect in the league, heading a list that included three Staten Island teammates as well as pitcher Parker Bridwell, considered byBaseball Americato be the No. 4 overall prospect in the Orioles organization.
Williams moved up a level to begin 2012 at Low-A Charleston, and after another strong start, it isn’t out of the question that he earns himself a promotion to Advanced-A Tampa (or beyond) before the summer is through.
He’s the son of a Major Leaguer, former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette. He’s played in the Little League World Series alongside another second-generation ballplayer (Tanner Stanley, son of former Yankees catcher Mike). He was even a multiple-time Player of the Year in high school.
But to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, prospect Dante Bichette, Jr. is more than a ballplayer – he’s a “nephew” as well.
“I’ve known him as long as I can remember. He would take care of me when I was a little kid,” the younger Bichette said of Girardi in an interview with theNew York Postlast year.
Girardi and Bichette’s father, Dante Sr., are close friends, and the two were teammates on the inaugural Colorado Rockies squad in 1993 – a team that began play just six months after Dante Jr. was born. So, when Bichette Jr. got the call telling him he had been drafted in 2011, he was blown away that the team that took him was the one managed by his “Uncle Joe.”
But “family” aside, there was good reason for the organization to think that the third baseman could be a future cornerstone in the Bronx.
After that experience representing Maitland, Florida in the LLWS, Bichette Jr. became a star at Orangewood Christian High in that sleepy Orlando suburb. Twice named the Central Florida Player of the Year while at OCHS, Bichette Jr. batted .640 with 10 home runs in his senior year – showing flashes of the same power that made his father a dangerous out for more than a decade.
So, when the Yankees’ turn came up with the 51st pick of the 2011 MLB Draft, it was clearly more than just a long-standing personal relationship with the skipper that convinced them to make the 18-year-old their top overall selection of the draft.
Quickly, Bichette Jr. proved the organization made a wise choice. In his pro debut last summer, Dante hit .342 with three home runs in limited action with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees. He was named the MVP of the GCL, and his homer in the deciding Game 3 helped those baby Bombers bring home the Gulf Coast League Championship.
Before the confetti finished hitting the field, Dante was off for a quick stop in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League, where was again part (albeit for only a few games) of a championship squad in Staten Island.
Bichette Jr. got to experience Big-League Camp with the Yankees this spring before beginning his 2012 season at Class-A Charleston – where, playing alongside fellow super-prospects Mason Williams, Cito Culver, and Gary Sanchez, Dante has a good chance to win a championship at his third consecutive level.
Whether or not that quartet can come together and bring a championship or five to the big Bombers like another “Core Four” did is a debate for another day; for now, Bichette Jr.’s main focus is on doing whatever he has to do to make it to the Bronx and play for his “Uncle Joe” sooner rather than later.