WHO’S ON FIRST? COULD HIGHLIGHT THUNDER SPRING TRAINING

          Abbott and Costello’s iconic Who’s on First? baseball pantomime has something in common with what might happen during Thunder spring training this March in Tampa.

          Manager Tony Franklin may literally be asking, “Who’s on First?’’ during the first weeks of March while the 2011 Thunder are being formed.

           “That will be one of the questions we have to answer,’’ said Franklin.

           Given the group of potential players slated for Double-A Trenton, along with those who will play their way onto the roster, the question, since the Yankees don’t have a big-time prospect at that position, Who’s on First?

            Perhaps it could be Brad Suttle, a 25-year-old Texan (as of Monday) who has overcome Type 1 Diabetes and two right-shoulder surgeries to reclaim his status as a prospect. He’s a third baseman by trade, and started 96 games there for Class-A Advanced Tampa in 2010.

            Suttle did start 10 games for Tampa at first last season, and his trio of playoff home runs helped the T-Yanks capture their second straight Florida State League title. He is ready for Double-A and could be one of the 2011 Thunder’s key offensive players.

             Here’s why he could possibly answer the question of Who’s on First:

  • There are some who feel Suttle might not have regained all the strength in his right shoulder. That being the case, maybe a shift to first would make sense. A switch-hitter, he showed more power from the left side in 2010 and, with that, could be a 15-homer, 80-RBI game with the Thunder.
  • Suttle is more advanced than some of the others who played the position at Tampa last season. Trent Lockwood, Myron Leslie and Addison Maruszak split most of the starts at first base for Tampa and all have a shot at making the Trenton roster this season.
  • The Yankees’ top first-base prospect is Luke Murton, who will turn 25 in May. After batting .282 (112-for-397) with 32 doubles, 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 106 games at Charleston, he will likely start 2011 at Tampa. He did hit .350 against lefties for the RiverDogs and made only four errors in 88 starts.
  • With both David Adams and Corban Joseph slated to start the season in Trenton, it would not be surprising to see Adams stationed at second and Joseph at third at the beginning of the campaign. If that is the case, it might make sense to station Suttle at first.
  • Former Atlanta top pick Cody Johnson has played some first base in his career. He’s one of those hit-it-a-mile/ strikeout guys who will likely play some first base and outfield at Tampa.

             The first-base situation is just one of a few intriguing possibilities about the Thunder infield as spring training approaches.  Adams and Joseph playing together is one, while who might nail down the shortstop job is another.

            Three candidates – veteran Luis Nunez, Walter Ibarra and Jose Pirela – appear to be in the mix. Chances are Nunez will claim a spot at Triple-A Scranton, leaving Ibarra and Pirela.

             Ibarra, 23, held his own during an 18-game stint with the Thunder in 2008, and Franklin liked his game at the time. He has been slowed by injuries, but played well when healthy last year at Tampa, batting .301 (74-for-246) and playing mostly at second base. He will likely be the Thunder’s utility infielder in 2011.

             Yankees development brass is anxious to see what the 21-year-old Pirela can do at Double-A after making 99 starts at shortstop for Tampa in 2010. He batted .252 (125-for-497) with the T-Yanks and there are those who love his range.

             Interestingly, Pirela had an up-and-down winter season, struggling in the Arizona Fall League, but starring in the Venezuelan Winter League. He could emerge as the Thunder’s regular shortstop in spring training, but he battled in the field at Tampa in 2010, committing 50 errors in 99 starts at shortstop.

             The presence of the trio of Adams, Joseph and Suttle adds a bit of intrigue to what will go on as Franklin molds a team, as does the duo of Ibarra and Pirela.  Thunder fans know Adams and Joseph, and may remember Ibarra. Suttle and Ibarra will no doubt become just as familiar this spring.

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              WARREN, PHELPS IN MIX: Among the many matters Yankees general manager Brian Cashman touched on over the past weeks, the mention right-handers Adam Warren and David Phelps will be given chances to win a spot with the Yankees was quite interesting.

              Warren pitched well for the Thunder last season, recording 4-2, 3.15 mark in 10 starts, highlighted by a 15-strikeout game. The 23-year-old dominated at Tampa prior to his promotion, recording a 7-5, 2.22 mark. His combined strikeout/walk ratio was 126-33.

               The former University of North Carolina star could start 2011 with the Thunder, or he could pitch himself to Triple-A or above in spring training.

                Phelps has long been the Yankees pitching prospect who has traveled under the radar. With a fastball that reached the 94-95 mph range, and outstanding mound presence, Phelps is 31-8 in three seasons after going 6-0, 2.04 in 14 starts with the Thunder last season before a 4-2, 3.07 mark at Triple-A Scranton. His combined 2010 strikeout/walk ratio was 141-36.

               A past 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame who is still downplayed or overlooked by some, Phelps might be closer to the majors today than any other Yankees pitching prospect.

             “I don’t take anything for granted,’’ said Phelps. “I just try to go out there and give my team a chance to win.’’

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              FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  As reported by many a few weeks ago, Wally Backman was officially named Binghamton manager. He is optimistic about the B-Mets’ 2011 prospects in the Eastern League East. “As long as the players buy into the system, we’ll be good in Binghamton,’’ said Backman, who directed the New York-Penn League Brooklyn Cyclones to a league-best 51-24 mark and McNamara Division title in 2010 … Former Thunder outfielder Jose Tabata has been a major hit on the Pittsburgh Pirates caravan, which is hitting dozens of towns in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and Northern West Virginia … Frank Francisco was traded from Texas to Toronto Tuesday. He was a young reliever trying to find the plate with the Thunder as a Boston farmhand in 2002.

              BaseLines appears weekly on http://www.trentonthunder.com . Comments are welcomed below, or at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com.  Follow on Twitter @jedleyq

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