Minor League Preview: Trenton Thunder

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Trenton put together a surprisingly strong 2012, going 79-63 and winning the Division, eventually falling to the Akron Aeros in the Eastern League Finals. Stellar play by Brett Marshall, Zoilo Almonte, Vidal Nuno and David Adams all came up big for the Thunder. Luckily, this year should see more of the same for the Thunder, who should see some of the Yankees’ hottest prospects don their uniform.

A lot of eyes will fix on the Trenton outfield this season, with Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Mason Williams all likely to spend some time there this season. According to Josh Norris, Flores and Austin are looking outstanding in the Minors Spring Training right now. Unfortunately, Austin seems to have tweaked his ankle and missed yesterday’s game, however, it sounds like he should be fine by Opening Day. Flores celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday and has been swinging a hot bat in Spring Training.

While it is clear that the outfield will get a lot of attention, the Thunder has strong players all over the field. Nik Turley and Matt Tracy will lead the Thunder’s starting rotation, while Brandon Pinder and Nick Goody should both see some time in the Trenton bullpen. J.R. Murphy will return behind the plate, after ending 2012 with the Yankees’ Double-A club. Trenton Manager, Tony Franklin, has returned for his seventh season with the Thunder, after taking home a well-deserved Eastern League Manager of Year last season.

Who to watch with the Bronx in mind:
austin10s-1-webTyler Austin: Austin saw his star rise quite a bit last season, as he clubbed his way through Charleston and Tampa, hitting .322 with 35 doubles and 17 homers. He saw a couple games in Trenton to end the season, and looks to pick up right where he left off. While his bat has gotten Austin a lot of attention, the former third baseman has become a pretty decent outfielder and is a very smart baserunner.

Slade Heathcott: The first requirement for Heathcott is that he stay healthy. There was plenty of talk during Spring Training about how, despite how great it is to see a kid playing all out all the time, Heathcott really needs to learn when to take it a little easy. It has always seemed like the sky is the limit with Heathcott, but at this point it would be really nice to see him stay healthy for a full season.

Ramon Flores: Flores had an excellent 2012, hitting over .300 in Tampa and playing a game in Trenton before the season ended. The young outfielder seems very mature at the plate with good plate discipline and an ability to use all fields. Flores takes a fair amount of walks, but he could use some more power. He is a solid outfielder and could start to get his name mentioned a bit more than the other hot-shot outfield prospects.

Nik Turley: The big southpaw had a fantastic year in Tampa last season, owning a 9-5 record and a 2.89 ERA. He struck out 116 batters in 112 innings, walking just 41 as he really started to hone his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball. Turley got a taste of Double-A ball at the end of the season, and should headline Trenton’s pitching staff this year.

Who else to watch:
Matt-Tracy-4J.R. Murphy: Murphy had a tough year at the plate, but he still hit 37 extra base hits and has continued to improve defensively. The former third baseman has actually turned into a pretty strong defensive catcher, and his offensive skills are stronger than his 2012 indicates. Murphy could be primed for a big year, as he returns to Trenton. Murphy isn’t as exciting as Sanchez, but he is a pretty solid all-around catcher.

Matt Tracy: Another strong lefty, Tracy put together a solid 99 innings in Tampa in 2012, with a 3.27 ERA and 64 Ks. He skipped over Double-A completely, making one nice start for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He could move quickly through the minors this season, as scouts indicate he is more or less major-league ready.

Mason Williams: I mentioned Williams yesterday, as he will probably start the year with Tampa, but he should also see some time in Trenton. The toolsy outfielder will bring some extra excitement to what already looks to be one of the most highly-anticipated outfield squad in the minors.

You can follow Tamar on Twitter at @Jeterian

Tamar has written for IIATMS since July 2009, having started off writing game recaps before shifting to the minor leagues. Born in Connecticut and having lived all over the country and in South Korea, Tamar now finds herself "temporarily misplaced" in New Hampshire. Please send help.

6 thoughts on “Minor League Preview: Trenton Thunder

  1. IMO this is the MiL team to watch this year. Lotta talent and prospect potential in the field and on the mound.

    Isn't Jose Ramirez supposed to be in the Thunder rotation too? Or is he starting in High-A again?

    • Ramirez should start in Trenton as well – I should have included him, thanks for pointing that out. There are so many intriguing players headed to the Thunder this season, I knew I was going to forget someone.

      I agree, I think this probably is going to be the most exciting team to watch. Lots of intriguing prospects who are now getting close to the majors. It's going to be a lot of fun.

  2. nathanielz

    These kids better be good, because the big league club is desperate for an injection of talented youth. That is if the front office will give them the opportunity.

    • chris

      The front office will let them, but they need to prove it in AAA as well. The Yanks will have 2 outfield spots open in 2014-15 (4th/5th outfielder in 2014 and 2 full-time slots in 2015). The Yanks will also need one starting infielder in 2015 as well. On the mound they will likely need 1 or 2 starters at that time and the kids will get a shot under Hal's payroll. Guys like Austen, Heathcott, Williams, Nuno, Murphy, Romine and Sanchez are all going to get shots. Guys like Flores and Gumbs (2b) are a wild card that may be asked to move (3b for Gumbs?) or get traded if/when Cano re-signs or the outfield is over capacity.
      That being said, there is no way to no if they will be good. They are prospects. Some work and some don't. If the Yanks had traded the "killer B's" 2 years ago people would have rioted. Today, would they even get a marginal return AAA player?

  3. Michael

    I wonder what the plan is for all of these outfielders? Ramon Flores comp is Bobby Abreu who despite what some Yankee fans might think was a very good player. I think you need 2 CF to play in Yankee stadium, only a matter of which out of Mason Williams or Heathcott stick. Why not move Austin back to 3rd? With no prospects in the entire organization (sorry Bichette doesnt count in my eyes) and a need that will have to be filled soon, why not move him back that way the Yankees could keep all of their superstar players? This is of course best case scenario that they all become major league regulars or better.

    The report on Austin defensively at 3rd was that he wasnt going to win any gold gloves there and was moved off in deference to Bichette. This was when he put up his first big year and most scouts didnt know if he was for real. Reports also say that if his power is to increase it will be in spite of his physical size, not because of it. With that said his bat would play up a lot at 3rd, and hey Brett Lawrie was supposed to be moved off 3rd himself. Goes to show with dedication and a hard work ethic you can at least be passable. Thoughts anyone?

    • No doubt, the Yankees have incredibly strong outfield prospects – and that's a good thing since you never know what will happen (for example, will Heathcott ever stay healthy for a full season? I hope so, but I'll believe it when I see it), so I don't think they are feeling like they need to move anyone around yet. It gives them some trade chips at the worst I guess.

      What I've seen about Austin's defense at third was that he was a below average defender, while he's turned into an above average defensive outfielder. Meanwhile, all reports about Bichette's defense at third are that he's become a pretty good defensive third baseman.

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