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.

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