2013 Trenton Thunder Preview: Four stars and seven more with hope

water-front-park-trenton-thunderYes, the title of this article references US history, but watching the Thunder play this year will be nothing like reading a boring 8th grade text book. There may not be a single team in the entire minors with more top 100 prospects. The most amazing part of it all is that the depth doesn’t even come close to ending there. In addition to the four top 100 prospects who will be gracing the fans at Waterfront Park with their presence, there are between five and seven others who could be serious impact players in the future for the Yankees.

I’ve never been more excited to see a group of minor leaguers play baseball. Waterfront Park is one place I will definitely be visiting this year. Without further adu, I present to you the 2013 Trenton Thunder (projected… by me)

The Outfield:

The most stacked outfield the Yankees have had in Double-A in a long time. You’ve heard all of these names before, and there’s no reason to think their success will stop here. Three of them are already top 100 prospects in all of baseball, and one will be if he develops power.

1. “Mad Mase” Mason Williams: BBDP ranking: 3, LHB – The only question with him is if his shoulder is ready to start the season. He had surgery in his non throwing shoulder in the offseason. When healthy, we’ve all seen what he can do. Speed, athleticism, arm strength, defense, and developing power. This kid has all the tools to be the centerfielder of the future in New York. He’ll be part of a superior defensive outfield in Trenton and possibly one of the most prolific offenses in all of major league baseball. Look for him lead off in this lineup.

2. Slade Heathcott: BBDP ranking: 4, LHB – Has the same tool set as Mason Williams with more power. He can also play centerfield, and if his arm strength comes back 100% he could easily supplant Mason Williams in that role. He is most likely the fastest player in the minor league system, and he has the power to back it up. Another five tool player, he has actually drawn comparisons to Mike Trout. I wouldn’t put the two in the same class, but suffice it to say that Heathcott is highly regarded within and outside of the Yankees organization. He should bat second or third in this lineup.

3. “Stone Cold” Tyler Austin: BBDP ranking: 5, RHB – Not as speedy as the two above him, Austin has still managed to steal quite a few bases so far because of his head up base running. More than that, Austin’s best tool is his hit tool. His second best tool is his power tool. Now that he has a position he’s comfortable and above average at in right field, his 17 homeruns and .960 OPS should play up at the position. There’s no reason why the power output shouldn’t increase either.

4. “Ray-Flo” Ramon Flores: BBDP ranking: 10, LHB – Flores has been underrated for years, and the trend continues. His swing has been compared to Robinson Cano‘s many times. His defense is well above average and his hit tool is off the charts. You also won’t find a more patient hitter on this team, or most likely in all of Double-A. His power hasn’t developed, but when it does he’s your prototypical power hitter. His ceiling is actually extremely close if not the same as the above players. He’ll be just 21 in Double-A this season. If he develops the power, he’s your prototypical five hitter in any lineup. He’s one of the “seven more” who could be top prospects by the end of this season.

The Catcher:

The question remains whether this will be a crowded platoon situation or whether Gary Sanchez will own the position at this level in 2013. If Austin Romine sticks with the major league club this season, it will likely be the latter. If not, then Sanchez could end up in High-A again to start the season with J.R. Murphy as the Double-A starter. Obviously Sanchez has the star power and the offensive advantage, but don’t sell JR Murphy short. He is a solid hitter too.

1. Gary “the Sanchize” Sanchez: BBDP ranking: 2, RHB – If he is the starting catcher, this lineup will be abslutely stacked. His defense improved from a mess in 2011 to average-above average in 2012 for his age and level. If he sees another improvement like that, he will be a star in the making. His bat has never been called into question, so having him behind the dish is huge. Sanchez, Heathcott, Williams, and Austin make up the four top 100 prospects on this team. Make no mistake about it, this may not happen again for a really long time.

2. “Murph” J.R. Murphy: BBDP ranking: 19, RHB – His bat is not nearly as established as Gary Sanchez, but it also hasn’t been a focus for about three seasons. Now that he is considered a well above average defensive catcher, he could change his focus a bit to hitting this season and surprise a lot of people. If he does, he could easily become another top catching prospect in the Yankees system. Even if he doesn’t, his above average defense with slightly above average bat is still a valuable assett. His leadership skills are phenomenal. He is the type of catcher who could make the whole pitching staff better.

The Infield:

As impressive as the outfield depth is, the infield depth is actually pretty scant. There will certainly be a few stragglers who repeat Double-A in 2013, which will help the offensive output. There is very little in the way of High-A players who will be moving up to Double-A to cover the infield positions either. What we’re left with is what follows.

1B: At least one of Murton, Maruszak, or Cody Johnson is likely to repeat the level. Whoever does will be a nice source of power at the bottom of the lineup. Truth be told, as much as none of these guys is a particularly exciting prospect, they are all probably better than most six batters in the league.

2B: It looks like Kevin Mahoney will also be repeating Double-A. It’s not so bad because he was injured for a portion of 2012. He managed to hit 11 homeruns last season, with a not so bad for a second baseman .751 OPS. He doesn’t provide much in the way of defense, but he’ll be another above average bottom of the lineup bat for this team. Jose Pirela may also be held back in 2013, and could see significant time after his breakout season in 2012. I could easily see this being the season Pirela fades back into nonprospect oblivion, but if he manages to perform again he would significantly raise his stock.

3B: Tough to say who will man third base this season, but it could be anyone really. Murton, Maruszak, Cody Johnson, Rob Lyerly, or even JR Murphy could see some time there at one point in the season or another. Whoever it is, whatever they contribute will be a bonus for this team.

SS: Another position which is a wildcard. Pirela could get another shot at short, or Maruszak could man the position again in 2013. Jose Toussen, Francisco Rosario, or some other nonprospect could also end up seeing the majority of time there. Again, contribution from this position will be a luxury for this team.

Starting Rotation:

1. “Turley Bird” Nik Turley, BBDP ranking: 15, LHP: Turley was the work horse for High-A Tampa last season, and really the ace of the team. He’ll look to keep that going in Double-A in 2013. A tireless worker, he had an uptick in stuff in 2012. With his size, there’s actually a solid chance his stuff gets even better in 2013. He’s one of the “seven more” who could sneak up on people this season and become a top prospect.

2. “J-Ram” Jose Ramirez, BBDP ranking: 6, RHP: His stuff is off the charts. He now has three plus pitches. If he uses them to throw strikes and keeps the ball down in the zone, he’s got front of the rotation starter written all over him. Getting to 130+ innings would be a big deal for him this season. Another “seven more” prospect.

3. “M-Trac” Matt Tracy, BBDP ranking: 33 LHP: He was last year’s sleeper and did not disappoint in the least. Above average stuff with superior control from a lefty will get you places in the minors. Another season like last year’s and he’ll be a major player in discussions about the 2014 New York Yankees starting rotation.

4. Zach Nuding, RHP: Did a prett good job proving himself as a starter last season, and will look to expand on that in 2013. His stuff projects more as a late inning reliever, but if he can develop a second and third pitch he’ll be back in the starting pitcher discussion.

5. Shane Greene, RHP: Hasn’t had that breakout season many have been hoping for just yet, but he’s still drawing comparisons to Brett Marshall. He’ll have to learn some control and some secondary offerings if he’s to stay in the rotation, but I’m not ready to count him out just yet. Given the poor season, there’s a pretty big change that Mikey O’Brien ends up holding down this spot.

Relief Corps:

Closer: Branden Pinder, BBDP ranking: 43, RHP: One of the top relievers in this system, he will look to impress and move quickly so he can hopefully be in the discussion for a spot on the 2014 major league roster. The back end of this Trenton Bullpen is pretty stellar looking.

Setup one: Nick Goody, BBDP ranking: 39, RHP: Another of the top relievers in the system, he has a nasty slider and has had a Montgomery-esque ascension through the minors thus far. We’re talking back end major league potential here too.

Setup two: Tommy Kahnle, BBDP ranking: 45 RHP: 99-100 mph fastball, nasty slider. Really, what else do you need? Another candidate to move quickly if his control does not falter.

Setup three: Manuel Barreda, RHP: Another guy with incredible stuff, he finally showed what he can do last year. Control is a major issue, but if he can hold onto it he’s a very good relief prospect.

Lefty Specialist: Kramer Sneed, LHP: Struggled last season but part of that was probably from being jerked around from the rotation to the bullpen. He should be able to settle into a bullpen role in 2013.

Others: Jeremy Bleich could start the season here, and Graham Stoneburner will look to revive his career in the bullpen. Probably two of the best middle relief options you could imagine at this level.

Projected Lineup:

1. Mason Williams, CF
2. Slade Heathcott, LF
3. Tyler Austin, RF
4. Gary Sanchez, C
5. Ramon Flores, DH
6. Luke Murton, 3B
7. Cody Johnson, 1B
8. Addison Maruszak, SS
9. Kevin Mahoney, 2B

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