In fact, this space has often been devoted to a playoff preview and analysis at this time. This year’s Thunder club, which fell from 48-33 to finish 68-73, fell, to both manager Tony Franklin’s consternation, short of the postseason.
Yet, there were three players BaseLines felt worthy of honors – outfielder Ray Kruml, Craig Heyer and Addison Maruszak
BaseLine’s Choice For 2011 Thunder MVP – Kruml, who turned 26 during the season, put himself on the map with an excellent Double-A season. Prior to his promotion to Triple-A Scranton, he batted .290 (131-for-452) with five homers and 35 RBIs in 114 games.
He emerged as an excellent leadoff hitter and stole 37 bases in 48 attempts. He covered ground in the outfield, displayed a decent arm and had only four errors.
“I just try to contribute and improve my game,’’ said Kruml, a native of Lisle, Ill., who played collegiately at South Alabama. “All I tried to do this season is make myself better.’’
Some scouts will tell you Kruml has speed rivaling former Thunder star and Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner. He indeed was one of the fastest baserunners in the Eastern League and, if he has as a solid a season in Triple-A in 2012, could be looked to as an outfield reserve in The Bronx in the future.
“My goal is to play like Brett,’’ said Kruml. “He’s become a big part of what the Yankees do.”
BaseLine’s Choice For 2011 Thunder Pitcher of the Year – Heyer, who ended up making 24 starts for the Thunder, advanced his cause as well in 2011.
After a 2010 season in which he first was a reliever, then a starter, helping the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees to the Florida State League championship, he became a full-time starter with the Thunder.
The 25-year-old native of Scottsdale, Ariz., who played collegiately at UNLV, moved into the rotation early in the season when both lefty Manny Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances were sidelined by blister problems.
He ended the season with a 10-9, 4.54 mark, with a few rough spots down the stretch. He may have tired a bit after pitching 146.2 innings, nearly 55 more than he had in any other season. His strikeout-walk ratio was 75-38.
“My goal was to help our team in any way I could, whether starting or relieving,’’ said Heyer. “I had the confidence to do either. The season was a good step forward for me.’’
Heyer showed a lot of grit. Chances are he’ll be back with the Thunder next spring, helping lead a staff that will no doubt include Brett Marshall and Jose Oquendo from Tampa.
BaseLine’s Choice For 2011 Thunder Utility Player of the Year– Maruszak, 24, came to the ballpark everyday with an upbeat attitude.
The 24-year-old native of Piniellas Park, Fla., who played collegiately at his hometown University of South Florida, played wherever Franklin needed him. He appeared all over the infield, the outfield and caught a few games.
Maruszak can play every position but pitcher, and likely would try that in an emergency. He batted .244 (84-for-344) in 108 games with the Thunder, along with spending a week at Triple-A Scranton. He had many key hits, with an OPS of .726. He committed just eight errors.
“I enjoyed playing here, and the atmosphere in our clubhouse,’’ said Maruszak. “ Where I play doesn’t matter and where I bat doesn’t matter. As long as I’m in there.’’
Chances are good Maruszak will get a return trip to Trenton next spring. His versatility is a plus and, with a season of Double-A experience, could be a major factor for the Thunder next season.
ABOUT THE SKIPPER: Franklin also likes the playoff atmosphere, having won a pair of Eastern League titles, and he missed that this season as well. A stickler for defense, he watched as his team committed a franchise-record 158 errors.
“All those errors don’t translate into winning baseball,’’ he said, shaking his head.
Franklin talked about coming back for a sixth season. Waterfront Park isn’t Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park, but it’s a pretty cool baseball spot. He enjoys working with younger players, the development process and the atmosphere in Trenton.
“We’ll see what happens,’’ said Franklin as he always does at the end of a campaign. “If the Yankees want me to come back here, however, this is where I’ll be. It’s a darn good place to work.’’
Franklin likely realizes he has become as much a part of the Thunder’s community fabric as anyone.
THE OFFSEASON ARRIVES: With the Thunder’s 2011 season concluded, BaseLines shifts into offseason mode, which includes the Arizona Fall League, Winter Baseball and other developments.