Of this group, few have a major chance of actually going north with the Yankees, in fact many are likely to be wearing Thunder gear when April comes along. Yet, with some wearing high numbers – like lefty Manny Banuelos’ 92 – an exciting experience awaits.
“The time I spent with the Yankees as an invitee really got me ready for the season,’’ said infielder/outfielder Brandon Laird, who went on to have a breakout 2010 campaign with the Thunder. “Just being around the Yankees, dressing in the same clubhouse and playing some games with them was a learning experience for me.
“You see what it takes to play at the big-league level.’’
Laird is on the Yankees’ 40-man roster this spring, so he has moved up a few notches in the pecking order. There are some who feel he has an outside shot at earning a spot on the team’s bench this spring, but he is likely to start 2011 at Triple-A Scranton.
Returning to camp this week as a non-roster invitee is catcher Austin Romine, who also thought his Grapefruit League stint with the big boys helped his 2010 season.
“Handling all the big-league pitchers, and working with them for a few weeks made me a better all-around catcher,’’ said Romine. “This year, I really want to perform and see if I can make it so they have to give me a backup job with the Yankees.
“That’s what I’m aiming for.’’
Perhaps Romine can have a flawless spring, but he also has fellow prospect Jesus Montero aiming for the same prize. Yet, with Russell Martin in camp, and Francisco Cervelli a solid backup and Jorge Posada the DH and emergency catcher, Romine could return to Trenton and Montero to Scranton.
Such is the life of a non-roster invitee, a look in the spotlight, then possible obscurity or redemption.
A pitcher like Mark Prior, now 31, is a non-roster guy looking to catch lightning in a bottle. A player like him, once a budding superstar, will likely, if he stays with the Yankees, spend some time in Scranton or even with the Thunder.
Of the pitchers, Banuelos, David Phelps and Adam Warren are there to see how they fare against big-league hitters, although it is Grapefruit League time. All three could pave an eventual road to The Bronx, but the plans are for Banuelos to open 2011 in Trenton, Phelps and Warren in Scranton.
It is not out of the question that at least two of the three end up with the Yankees by season’s end.
Righty D.J.Mitchell is in a bit of a different category. He has a lot of the stuff to remain a starter, but many feel, especially with his ability with a sinker, that he could be a reliever. He’ll likely be called on to relieve a few times in Tampa.
Jose Gil, a somewhat underrated player whom the Yankees re-signed in his Minor League Free Agent year, receives his first taste of life with the big club, which will take 67 total players to camp. Chances are, no matter what other catcher is with the Thunder, that he will see a lot of action in Trenton in 2011.
Brad Suttle, who bounced back from injury with a strong 2010, will likely play at both first and third base for the Thunder in 2011, depending on how Corban Joseph and David Adams are deployed. He goes to camp early for the first time.
The non-roster outfield trio is interesting, with 2010 Thunder performers Dan Brewer, who established himself as a prospect last season, and Austin Krum, who is trying to retain a similar status. That pair will be looked at with Jordan Parraz, who has been in the Kansas City, Boston and Yankees system within the last several months.
Upon arrival at spring training, it is always interesting, from a writer’s point of view, to see both how long these players last with the Yankees before being sent down the street to the Player Development Complex on Himes Avenue, or what mark they make to advance themselves.
A non-roster player, with a spectacular spring, can open eyes and claim a spot in the majors. Watching these men try is one of the most interesting facets of spring training.
COLEMAN LANDS IN ERIE: Former Thunder assistant general manager Greg Coleman, a native of Hamilton, is back in the Eastern League.
After leaving the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, the franchise to which he went with former Thunder GM Brad Taylor, Coleman is now the president of the EL’s Erie SeaWolves, Detroit’s Class-AA affiliate.
“It’s a good move for the Coleman family,’’ he wrote in an E-Mail.
Coleman, who previously had positive stints with the independent Golden League and with the Modesto Nuts of the Class-A California League in addition to his time with the Thunder, steps into a situation in which attendance has been lagging.
When the SeaWolves were in the Short-Season Class-A New York-Penn League, and a Pittsburgh affiliate, fans packed quirky Jerry Uht Park in the city. Many figured Erie, first an Anaheim affiliate, now with Detroit, to be an attendance success in a full-season league.
That hasn’t been the case, and Coleman certainly will attempt to change that trend in Erie.
FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: New Thunder broadcaster Hank Fuerst is a student of history as far as baseball is concerned. The Nashville native has studied the work of all-time great Red Barber in the booth and authored a paper on the man who occupied the “Catbird’s Seat’’ in Brooklyn’s old Ebbets Field … The Binghamton Mets and Portland Sea Dogs will play Aug. 20 in Boston’s Fenway Park as part of the annual Fenway Futures doubleheader. Wouldn’t a Thunder-Sea Dogs matchup in that iconic ballpark be fun?