By Dan Pfeiffer
TRENTON – The Trenton Thunder’s longest winning streak of the season was snapped on Sunday, as they couldn’t overcome a five-run fourth inning by the Harrisburg Senators en route to a 10-4 loss.
The Thunder gave Luis Niebla a three-run cushion in his Double-A debut thanks to a pair of errors by the Senators in the first inning. Eric Jagielo drove in the first run with a base hit and two more runs came home on Dante Bichette Jr.’s single to right later in the inning.
Niebla’s debut started out as good as it could have, retiring the first nine hitters he would face. However, the 24-year-old fell apart in the fourth inning, and would be removed in favor of Johnny Barbato with the bases loaded.
Barbato allowed all three runners to score on a hit by pitch, a walk, and a sacrifice fly, resulting in an ugly final line for Niebla. His debut finished with him being charged with allowing five runs on four hits while walking one and striking out one in just 3 1/3 innings pitched.
“It looks like (Niebla) hit the wall,” Thunder skipper Al Pedrique said. “He got a little tired and his velocity dropped a little bit. Maybe trying to do too much when he got behind in the count.”
The Senators extended their lead with two more runs in the fifth off Barbato and three runs over the seventh and eighth innings off Cesar Vargas.
Gary Sanchez and Jake Cave paced the Thunder offense, with each going 2-for-4 with a run scored and a walk. Dante Bichette Jr. drove in his 19th and 20th runs of the season thanks to his first-inning single.
The Thunder have a day off on Monday before resuming their homestand against the Bowie Baysox on Tuesday. Eric Wooten (0-1, 10.80 ERA) will take the hill for the Thunder, while Parker Bidwell (1-2, 4.98 ERA) is listed as the starter for Bowie. First pitch from ARM & HAMMER Park will be 7:00 PM.
Follow Dan on Twitter at @danpfeiffer74 for all the latest Yankees minor league news.
ERIE, PA – The Trenton Thunder offense was firing on all cylinders to start the season, as they recorded a 15-2 victory over the Erie SeaWolves on Opening Day at Jerry Uht Park on Friday night.
Trenton tied the game at one in the third inning, took the lead in the fourth, and the prospect-laden lineup would eventually blow the game open with an eight-run seventh inning. Jake Cave led the team with four hits, including a home run. Cave also scored twice and drove in a pair of runs.
Every player in the Thunder lineup had at least one hit, and resounding shots from Aaron Judge and Dante Bichette left the ballpark as they produced multi-hit nights. Shortstop Cito Culver, who was making his Eastern League debut, also recorded a pair of hits on the evening. Jose Rosario, hitting out of the nine hole, also drove home a pair of runs for Trenton.
Thunder starting pitcher Miguel Sulbaran’s Double-A debut did not go as he would have hoped. The left-hander lasted just three innings as he battled control problems, allowing both SeaWolves runs on three hits and four walks. The bullpen was lights out in relief of Sulbaran, with Joel De La Cruz and Cesar Vargas combining for five hitless innings, and Alex Smith allowing just one hit in his Double-A debut.
The Thunder and the SeaWolves are back at it again on Saturday. Right-hander Taylor Garrison (4-2, 2.96 ERA between Tampa and Trenton in 2014) will take the mound for Trenton, while right-hander Chad Green (6-4, 3.11 ERA with Class-A West Michigan in 2014) will make his Eastern League debut for the SeaWolves.
Down and Out: The Yankees announced on Tuesday afternoon that promising catching prospect, Luis Torrens, will miss the entire 2015 campaign due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The young 18-year old backstop, who was ranked eighth in our Rolling Thunder prospect rankings, was looking to complete his first full-season since the Bombers inked him out of Venezuela as a 16-year old international free agent to a $1.3 million deal in the summer of 2012.
Torrens began last year in Low-A Charleston of the South Atlantic League and the 17-year old appeared to be vastly overmatched for the level. After hitting just .159 in nine games for the Riverdogs, Torrens suffered a shoulder injury which put him on the DL and forced him out of action for nearly two months. Upon returning in late June, the Yankees assigned Torrens to the New York Penn League where he proceeded to go on a 21-game hitting-streak to earn a NYPL all-star nod in August. Torrens went on to hit .270 with two homers and 18 RBI in 48 games for Staten Island.
Though he will still only be 20-years old when he returns in the spring of 2016, Torrens will have lost significant time to his development at a catching position where the organization believes that he needs to make great improvements in order to be a viable option long-term. Torrens is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday morning, performed by Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Judge Goes Boom: Down to their final strike of the afternoon, trailing the Phillies 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning in their Grape Fruit League opener, top-position prospect Aaron Judge blasted a three-run homer to left field off of Mario Hollands to dramatically knot the contest up at five.
Severino Spring Debut: Yankees top-prospect Luis Severino came on in relief of starter Adam Warren in the third inning and immediately showcased the electric stuff that has drawn acclaim with Manager Joe Girardi early on in camp. In his first inning on the hill, Severino fanned two batters, broke a bat and reached as high as 95 MPH on the radar gun. Severino ran into a hiccup inning in the fourth after allowing four hits while recording just one out.
Outfield Prospects Impress: A collection of the Yankees top-outfield prospects impressed with the bats on Tuesday afternoon. A healthy Slade Heathcott (2-for-2, 2B), Jake Cave (1-for-2, 1 RBI) and Mason Williams (1-for-2, 2B) combined to go 4-for-6 with two doubles and an RBI in their spring debuts.
Bird is Still the Word: Coming off of a strong second half for Trenton and an MVP campaign in the Arizona Fall League, Greg Bird continued his hot hitting by going 2-for-3 with a double in his spring debut.
On the second day of Rolling Thunder’s Top 15 Yankee prospects, we take a look at one of the most underrated players in the organization – outfielder Jake Cave. A 22-year-old who was the Yankees’ sixth-round pick in 2011, Cave saw his career get off to a rocky start when he suffered a knee injury that cost him the entire 2012 campaign.
Cave wouldn’t stay down for long, and he burst onto the scene with a strong season for Class-A Charleston in 2013, producing a .282 batting average to go along with 37 doubles, two homers, 31 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. However, it was something other than his skills at the plate and his plus defense that caught one scout’s eye.
“He never stops hustling,” an American League scout told me at Arm & Hammer Park late last season. “Reminds me a lot of the way [Brett] Gardner plays the game.”
The comparison to Gardner could be seen as I got to watch Cave day in and day out over the last six weeks of the season. He immediately established himself as a better player than former top prospect Mason Williams, and soon displaced him from center field and the top of the Thunder lineup.
While sitting with that same scout, he pointed out just how strong Cave’s arm was to me as we observed him show good range to make a play in right-center field, then pivot to make a solid throw to third base, preventing the runner from tagging.
Cave is not a five-tool prospect — he doesn’t hit for power, and doesn’t project to fill out any further for power to develop, but he has many skills that have caught the eye of scouts. He hustles on every play, shows plus speed and good defensive skills. When he makes contact, Cave hits the ball hard.
However, making consistent contact and displaying plate discipline has been an issue. Cave struck out 124 times in 561 at-bats last season between Tampa and Trenton, and a 22 percent strikeout rate simply won’t cut it for a leadoff-type hitter at the next level.
If Cave can cut down on his strikeouts, the scout’s comparison to Brett Gardner could easily come to fruition, and the hope is that new Thunder hitting coach P.J. Pilittere will be the man to help him do it.
One thing for all to remember is that Cave was drafted out of high school at age 18 in 2011, and played in just one game between that point and the start of the 2013 – his age 20 – season. Cave has made it all the way to Double-A in just two full seasons as a high school draftee. While he may never make an all-star team, Cave certainly has the ceiling to be an everyday player in New York down the road.
Baseball America officially released their rankings of the top prospects in the Yankees farm system on Friday, and to no surprise, the list was topped by Trenton Thunder ace Luis Severino. The 20-year-old Dominican right-hander dominated three levels of the minor leagues last season with a lethal arsenal that includes a high-90s fastball and a plus changeup. He figures to have an impact in New York at some point during 2015, whether in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
Aaron Judge officially displaced Gary Sanchez as the organization’s top hitting prospect on this list, taking over the second overall spot. He will likely be the right fielder with Trenton on Opening Day, and could be ticketed for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by mid-season. Judge remains on track to take over the right fielder’s job in New York at some point during 2016.
One of the bigger surprises came in the third spot, where shortstop Jorge Mateo settled in. A 19-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, Mateo has yet to make it out of Rookie-ball despite signing back in 2012. Mateo has top-shelf speed, and has enough power to make it to the majors at some point. He has been compared to Jose Reyes – though unfortunately, that comparison includes the injury bug, which has hampered Mateo during two of his three pro seasons.
A pair of Thunder power hitters, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez, took the fourth and fifth spots on this list by virtue of being polar opposites. Bird was promoted to Trenton after the All-Star break and has continued his hot hitting into the Arizona Fall League. He’ll open the year with Trenton, but it will likely be a short stay and he should be ticketed as Mark Teixeira’s eventual replacement. On the other hand, Sanchez is tumbling down Baseball America’s list after a mid-season benching for disciplinary issues that highlighted immaturity. He’ll likely be bumped to Triple-A to begin 2015, where his bat should play well but his defense will need work if he’s ever to succeed as a catcher.
Former 1st-round pick Ian Clarkin just missed the top five, but remains a solid long-term option for the Yankees. He ended last season with High-A Tampa, where he’ll return to start 2015. He boasts a fluid motion and a solid repertoire. When Severino inevitably moves up from Trenton, Clarkin could slot right in as the next young talent to lead the Thunder pitching staff.
Rob Refsnyder’s stay in Trenton was short this year, mostly because of his bat. Ranking seventh in the Yankee system, Refsnyder was rated as the “Best Hitter for Average.” He’ll compete for a spot in the big leagues during Spring Training next year, and has a fair chance of opening the season as the Yankees’ starting second baseman. His defense still needs some work, but he should be able to field the position adequately enough in the big leagues.
Joining Refsnyder as a potential candidate for the Opening Day roster is left-handed relief pitcher Jacob Lindgren. It’s rare to see a reliever crack any team’s top-10, but Lindgren is truly that good. He boasts a mid-90s fastball, but his wipeout slider is the calling card that profiles him as a set-up man, or even a closer, in the near future.
Rounding out the list are a pair of prospects who have yet to make their full impact felt on the farm system. As good as Gary Sanchez projects to be, Luis Torrens could be even better. He struggled in his first taste of the South Atlantic League, but was also one of the youngest players in the league. He’s already earned rave reviews as a defensive catcher, and he possesses good contact skills. Miguel Andujar will head to Tampa for 2015 after catching fire during the second half of Charleston’s season in 2014. He profiles as an above-average hitter with average power. Andujar still needs some work defensively, but profiles as an everyday third baseman down the road.
Noticeably absent from the list were Thunder outfielders Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams, who were once thought of as two of the top prospects in the organization. However, a re-injured knee ended Heathcott’s 2014 campaign after just nine games, and Williams showed an inability to hit much of anything at the plate. It’s an incredible fall for Williams especially, who was the top prospect in the organization as recently as 2013. Heathcott still owns a 40-man roster spot, and figures to still have a chance to impress – if he can stay on the field.
Also surprisingly absent from the list was a mid-season addition to the Thunder who I felt certainly should have made the back end of the top 10 – Jake Cave. A scrappy player in the mold of Brett Gardner, Cave shined with the High-A Tampa Yankees before a promotion to Trenton. He quickly forced Mason Williams out of the leadoff spot, and proceeded to play the game with a great combination of talent, heart, and desire. He might be the second-best outfielder in the farm system.
Despite a losing record and a failed bid to repeat as Eastern League champions, Tony Franklin’s Trenton Thunder kept playing hard even after they had been mathematically eliminated from the postseason. Franklin told us during the final homestand he stressed to his players the importance of giving it their all on every pitch, regardless of record, because it showed character, dedication, and the determination to get better. These awards, determined by Matt Kardos and myself, reflect the values that Franklin preached, as they truly are the values which help build a winning team.
MVP: Ben Gamel, OF
Also considered: Gary Sanchez, C & Ali Castillo, SS
All season long, the Thunder outfield was a revolving door of talented prospects. Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, and possibly even Taylor Dugas were all likely ahead of Gamel on the organizational depth chart to begin the season, and none could displace the 22-year-old from the lineup.
Gamel led the Thunder in hits, at-bats, doubles, and games as he earned a trip to the Eastern League All-Star game, while establishing himself as a potential major leaguer in the future. Gamel was one to hustle game in and game out, and Tony Franklin frequently spoke of him when talking about consistency. As a player who gave it his all every single day, and produced well enough that Tony Franklin was working top prospect outfielders around him in the line-up, Gamel cemented himself as one of the most valuable players in the league.
In terms of pure offensive numbers, one can argue Sanchez should have won this award. However, his mid-season benching, coupled with his not-so-improved defense helped make it easier to give Gamel the nod here.
Pitcher of the Year: Jaron Long, RHP
Also considered: Luis Severino, RHP
Jaron Long has truly come out of nowhere in 2014, just one year after going undrafted out of Ohio State. The 23-year-old son of Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long overpowered hitters in A-ball before making it to Trenton in time to make 11 appearances, 10 of which were starts.
Over 69 innings with the Thunder this season, Long went 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA and a WHIP of 1.06. In most outings which I saw him, Long was simply dominant, looking heads and shoulders above opposing hitters. His future is likely only that of a back-end starter at the big league level, but Long was the Thunder ace in the second half of the 2014 season.
I could certainly see the argument for Severino winning the award here, but this is solely for the Thunder, not for the entire system. Simply put, Severino didn’t pitch for Trenton enough to justify giving him the honor, even though he was consistently dominant on the mound.
Most improved player: Rob Segedin, 3B
Also considered: Tyler Austin, OF
Probably the biggest toss-up of the awards, Segedin gets the nod for a few reasons. Always considered a defensive liability at third base in the past, the 25-year-old returned from hip surgery looking much improved, with one scout calling it “night-and-day” from the year before.
In his last regular playing time in Trenton (2012), Segedin managed to hit just .188 over 48 games. This year, he led the Thunder in on-base percentage (.398) and was an absolute force in the middle of the line-up. Segedin totaled 92 hits in as many games, the result of a more consistent approach at the plate. His improvements on offense and defense earned him a brief look with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. While the trip to Triple-A was short-lived, Segedin looked like a much better ballplayer coming off his 2013 season-ending hip surgery, and that’s part of why he was one of two Thunder players who I placed on my season-ending Eastern League All-Star ballot.
That’s not to say Austin did not improve quite a bit. In his second season with the Thunder, Austin caught fire in early July and never looked back before a personal matter ended his season a week early. Despite definite improvements from 2013, Austin still appears to have some difficulty handling breaking pitches, which he will need to overcome in order to make the big leagues someday. He’s headed to the Arizona Fall League and is a candidate to be protected from the Rule V draft this winter.
Top mid-season promotion: Jake Cave, OF
Also considered: Luis Severino, RHP & Greg Bird, 1B
Severino was overpowering on the mound after being promoted from High-A Tampa, and Bird re-discovered his power swing once he arrived in Trenton, but neither player made the sort of impact that Jake Cave did on a nightly basis. Since his promotion, every scout I’ve spoken with has raved about Cave as a high-motor player who could be a MLB regular someday.
Despite seeing his bat starting to cool down after a hot start to Double-A, Cave’s grit and hustle made him a high-impact player at the top of a prospect-laden lineup. His style of play, much like that of Slade Heathcott and Brett Gardner, may need a little taming, but there is no reason to believe he cannot improve on the .344 on-base percentage and .798 OPS with the Thunder next season. Of course, Cave may wind up shifting to a corner next season, with Heathcott and Mason Williams also both likely to return to Trenton.
All photos are official photos from team website.