For a long time now, I have been planning to get tickets to a Yankees minor league game. At the beginning of the season, Charleston would have been the obvious choice. After a few promotions Tampa would be an interesting team to watch given that they currently house three of the best five prospects in the system. The most exciting team to follow of late, however, has been the Trenton Thunder. Even if location were not an issue, there’s no team in the system I’d rather watch than Trenton, and that includes Tampa.
You may wonder why anyone would want to watch a team that doesn’t have a top 10 prospect (besides fringe top 10 players like Betances and Brett Marshall). It’s simple, because this team has a ton of players who are starting to look like they’ll be able to contribute in the major leagues, some in a more significant way than others.
Starting with the obvious, Brett Marshall is having a banner year. He’s 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA. The fastball velocity is down, but that’s because he’s throwing a sinking fastball which is generating ground balls. This has also contributed to his decrease in strikeout rate, a career low 5.5 per nine innings. This performance in Double-A has me believing he will be able to contribute to the major leagues rather soon.
Vidal Nuno has really strutted his stuff this year. He’s making a strong case to be placed on the 40 man roster after this season, protecting him from being stolen by another team like Jose Quintana. His 8.3 K/9 is consistent with career numbers, impressive for a guy who scouts say doesn’t have pitch to put batters away with. The strikeout numbers aren’t decreasing as he moves up in the system either, a sign that he may be for real. His ERA in 51.2 Double-A innings is a miniscule 1.22.
Shaeffer Hall is my favorite LOOGY in the making, and I love the fact that he is an innings eater. Mikey O’Brien is a short, spunky starter who has had success all the way up the ladder and reminds me of a shorter David Phelps. He’ll hit 90-92 with the fastball as a starter, which would likely be dialed up in relief.
Kelvin Perez has figured something out in the relief role. He’s had an uptick in velocity and has been a bit of a revelation in the late innings for Trenton. Left handed reliever Francisco Rondon is finally beginning to tap into his potential, as his performance this year has matched his electric, 92-95 mph stuff.
Last but not least for the pitchers, Dellin Betances is the enigmatic pitcher every team needs. Many have given up on him, yet we still hang on every start and check the box scores to see if this will be the start where things start to click for him again. Unfortunately that day seems to be as far off as ever. The forgotten Graham Stoneburner is also working his way back in the short season leagues now.
The most surprising aspect of the Thunder lately has been their hitting. There are several players who have really piqued my interest, not to mention a few promotions that have me checking the box scores regularly.
The most talented hitter is David Adams. There were doubts about whether he’d ever be the same after that ankle injury, but it appears he has put those injury problems behind him (fingers crossed). He’s playing regularly, which is the most important thing, and he has recently rediscovered his stroke. He’s batting over .300 and hitting for solid second baseman power. He’s doing it in a pitcher friendly park. He and Corban Joseph would represent an upgrade in the utility infielder arena, especially if they could learn to play third base. It’s also possible Cano could move to third in the long run.
Next up, personal fav Zoilo Almonte. He burst on to the scene during Spring Training. He was injured a while, but he’s back and looking as good as ever. His average is improving by the day and the power numbers are impressive. He’s also always had the tools necessary to be an impact player.
The other Almonte, Abraham, has been doing a great job setting the table for the Trenton lineup. He gets on base at a high clip, and he has already stolen 30 bases on the season. With this type of speed and some developing gap power, he will eventually be on a major league roster somewhere.
Two guys have been promoted to Double-A recently. Both are adjusting to the new level, but JR Murphy and Rob Segedin are nothing if not legitimate prospects. Both are looking to prove they deserve consideration for filling some of the impending holes in the Yankees lineup (C and RF).
There are other guys to look out for too. Luke Murton is becoming a demolisher with 17 HR on the season, and is red hot. Jose Pirela is still just 22 and has some speed and power combined with a new found ability to hit for average. Addison Maruszak and Kevin Mahoney are on base machines and have found some power this season. Even Melky Mesa has opened some eyes.
These players are not without flaws. There are reasons to be skeptical about every player on this list. The sheer number of them, however, has me thinking that at least one or two of these guys can contribute at the next level if they are able to address some weaknesses.
I’ve been reading a lot of stories complaining about the lack of talent at the top of the system. That might be the case if you consult Baseball America’s shortsighted top 100 as your source of information, but there is a lot of talent in Double-A right now that is flying under the radar. Don’t forget, some of the best major league players never cracked the top 100.