LOOKING IN THE CRYSTAL BALL FOR STARTING PITCHERS

           Last season, despite all the movement among Thunder pitchers, the Trenton staff finished with a solid 3.66 Team ERA.

           Given the movement of a carload of Thunder starters  – right-handers Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Lance Pendleton and D.J. Mitchell earned promotions to Triple-A Scranton,  and injuries – both righty Chris Garcia and lefty Jeremy Bleich were shelved early – an 83-59 season under skipper Tony Franklin was quite an accomplishment.

           On paper, the Thunder’s potential 2011 opening staff could be one of the most impressive at the Double-A level, but chances are there will be just as much movement.

           While both lefty Manny Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances, who arrived in Trenton just before the Eastern League playoffs, will start the season with the Thunder, they may not end it here.  Names such as Graham Stoneburner, Shaeffer Hall and Josh Romanski are among those who just might become familiar to Waterfront Park denizens in 2011.

           Indications are righties Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren could start 2011 in Scranton. Pendleton was taken by Houston in the Rule 5 Draft and the feeling is he has a good chance of sticking with the Astros. If not, he’ll be in the Triple-A mix with Noesi, Mitchell and Phelps.

           If indeed the above fall into place, how will the 2011 Thunder staff shape up? With spring training less than two months away, here’s how things might go.

AMONG THE LIKELY STARTERS

  • Lefty Manny Banuelos – Impressed everyone with a fastball that reached 95 mph in the Arizona Fall League. Playoffs aside, he made just 13 starts and pitched just 59 innings in 2010. Likely needs a full year in Trenton, but a dominating start will put him on the fast track.
  • Righty Dellin Betances – After an  impressive 8-1, 1.77 mark in 14 starts at Class-A Tampa, was 0-0, 3.77 in three Thunder starts.  He showed greatly improved control and command but pitched only 85 regular-season innings in 2010. Needs to show he can throw at least 150.
  • Righty Craig Heyer – Indications are he will be used as a starter after coming out of the bullpen and going 8-4, 3.52 in 24 appearances (12 starts) at Tampa with a strikeout/walk ratio of 66-6.
  • Righty Cory Arbiso – Was 5-5, 4.38 for Thunder last season and battled in his 11 starts. He’s in the Thunder mix for 2010.
  • Righty Graham Stoneburner – Dominated at Charleston, despite 1-3, 2.08 mark before an 8-5, 2.53 effort in 19 starts at Tampa. Seems ready for this level. Mixes pitches well.
  • Lefty Shaeffer Hall – Was 2-2, 1.85 at Charleston before 9-5, 3.91 report card at Tampa. Knows how to pitch.

COULD BE IN THE MIX

  • Righty Adam Warren– Was 4-2, 3.15 in 10 starts with Trenton, including a 15-strikeout effort after going 7-5, 2.22 with Tampa.  Definitely ready for Triple-A try, but may end up back with Thunder to start.
  •  Andrew Brackman – It all points to Triple-A, but he was 5-7, 3.01 in 15 appearances (14 starts) with the Thunder. He did improve his command and control as the season wore on. Could the bullpen be in his future?

 AIMING FOR A SHOT

  • Lefty Josh Romanski – Former Milwaukee prospect was 8-4, 3.16 at Charleston before making a trio of starts at Tampa. Fastball was getting back to 93-94 mph range. One to watch in spring training.
  • Righty Sean Black – After 7-8, 3.88 mark at Charleston, tossed a pair of impressive starts at Tampa. Likely to pitch at Tampa in 2011, but worth watching.

             Spring training will help sort all this out. The Yankees had nearly a dozen pitching prospects make outstanding progress in 2010. The same could happen in 2011.

*******************************

             WINTER LEAGUE ROUNDUP:  The Caribbean Leagues are into their playoffs, with teams aiming for both a championship and berth in the Caribbean World Series, which will be held Feb. 2-7.

             Outfielder Justin Christian had by far the best offensive season for any Thunder-connected player, batting .355 (90-for-253) in 64 games with Los Mochis in the Mexican Pacific League. Outfielder Edwar Gonzalez batted .318 (14-for-44) for Lara of the Venezuelan League. It will be interesting to see where both land in 2011.

             Righty Josh Schmitt had a solid season with Zulia of the Venezuelan League, going 5-3, 2.79 in 14 appearances (13 starts).

******************************

             FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  The Thunder have found a new broadcasting partner for Jay Burnham in Western Kentucky grad Hank Fuerst, who will work the majority of the Thunder’s 2011 road games.  Colleague Josh Norris of The Trentonian broke the story, which can be read on his Minor Matters blog at http://minormatterstrenton.blogspot.com … The renovation of Reading’s First Energy Stadium is proceeding well … Luis Sojo is returning as skipper of Class-A Tampa.

          BaseLines appears weekly on www.trentonthunder.com. Feel free to comment below, or at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com. Follow in Twitter @jedleyq.

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