Labor Day functioned as “Getaway day” for Trenton Thunder players and coaches, as Al Pedrique’s first season at the helm of the club ended with a 71-71 record after losing their season finale to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 8-1, falling just short of the Eastern League playoffs.
Some players are already close to home, such as Eric Ruth and Billy Fleming, who will make their trip home in under an hour. Others, such as Jaron Long and Taylor Garrison, will load into one car and make the cross-country trek to Arizona and California, respectively. According to Pedrique, all of his players can leave knowing this season was considered a success.
What started off as a season with high expectations, with several highly regarded prospects – including Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and New York’s newest stud pitcher, Luis Severino – beginning their season in the Thunder blues, ended as a year where Pedrique was left trying to piece together the puzzle at midseason.
“Overall, it was a good season. Obviously, it could have been even better by making the playoffs. It didn’t happen, we fell short,” Pedrique said during an interview on Saturday. “We had a great start for two months, when we had Judge, Bird, Jagielo, Sanchez, Mason Williams, who was the first guy to leave. I would say the whole plan changed.”
“After the All-Star break, you guys know that it was a different club, a different roster,” Pedrique added. “Every night, it was a different lineup, trying to put guys where they could be successful because their job was supposed to be just a role player and they wound up playing every day.”
Coming out of the All-Star break, Pedrique’s Thunder won their first game against Binghamton to put them 11 games over .500. However, five straight losses following that would be the beginning of the downward spiral, as the loss of their star power ultimately became just too much to overcome for Pedrique’s club.
Pedrique noted that despite the high expectations that many had for his club when rosters were finalized in early April, he knew that it would be a tough year because of player turnover. No one expected Aaron Judge to still be on the roster in late June any more than they thought Jake Cave would be in Trenton until September.
“You kind of get a feel for [things] when you finalize the roster in the last three days before you break camp,” the first-year Trenton skipper noted. “You see the kind of talent you have on the club and you’re always kind of assuming something is going to happen, but when, you have no idea.”
One of the things Pedrique raved about was how well his pitching staff progressed during the year. Pitchers such as Severino, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody all spent time with the Thunder this season, and progressed all the way to the big leagues prior to roster expansion. In September, they were joined by James Pazos and Andrew Bailey, who also spent extensive time working with Pedrique’s pitching coach, Jose Rosado, this year.
“Rosado did a good job. He showed a lot of patience, lot of knowledge of pitching, [and] he pays a lot of attention to details when it comes to mechanics and situations,” Pedrique said. “Rosado and I talk every day about situations and how I would to run the pitching staff and run the relievers. We know this is the minor leagues and we’re trying to develop these guys for the big leagues. They have to understand game situations.”
The pitching staff – and Rosado’s – success came despite a revolving door that saw Trenton use 34 pitchers and three position players on the mound in 2015. The amount of transactions were surprising to Pedrique, who noted the difficulties of managing an ever-changing pitching staff.
“With the pitchers, it’s hard because once you get your rotation set and your relievers know what their role is – early, middle, or late – and you start losing those guys, then you have to figure out if you can use this guy late in the game, if you can use him in the middle,” Pedrique said. “We’ll get reports about the guys that are coming up, but it’s sometimes different from when you read it and it takes some time to figure out those situations.”
Overall, Pedrique believes his first year with the Thunder was a successful one, and he remains hopeful that the Yankees organization asks him back for a second year at the helm. Should he return, the focus will remain on developing the Yankees’ stars of tomorrow, but he could also help the Thunder return to the postseason for the first time since their 2013 Eastern League championship run.