TAMPA, Fla. – Right-hander Craig Heyer is not usually mentioned in the same breath as Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances.
Or Graham Stoneburner, for that matter.
Yet, the 25-year-old native of Scottsdale, Ariz., may turn out to be as big a factor on the mound for the 2011 Thunder. Heyer is a legitimate swing man, effective both out of the bullpen and as a starter. He’s the type of pitcher who fills a lot of gaps for any team.
“I’m not sure whether I’ll be in the bullpen or in the rotation,’’ said Heyer. “All I want to do in Trenton is help the team. What’s good about me is I can both start and relieve.
“Cory Arbiso really filled that role well for Trenton last year. He did a great job. I hope I can do the same thing.’’
Heyer started the2010 season in the Tampa bullpen, recording a 3-1, 1.26 mark, allowing just four runs in 28.2 innings. He then joined the Tampa rotation, making 12 starts and finishing with an 8-4, 3,52 mark. He allowed just one home run in 92 innings.
A control pitcher, he had an outstanding strikeout/walk ratio of 66-6.
Yet, Heyer realizes, as he develops, what he has to do to reprise that success with the Thunder.
“In Class-A, and at the lower levels, you can get away with two pitches,’’ he said. “That’s not the case in Double-A or Triple-A. These guys have seen just about everything a pitcher has.
“What I’m hoping to do is show them something they haven’t seen.’’
For Heyer, that would be the slider that he is working on, a pitch that is progressing well and, given he throws an effective sinking fastball and solid change-up, a chance at emerging as a true sinker-slider pitcher.
He earned kudos from several scouts for his work with the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, throwing 18 innings, allowing just five earned runs and recording a 1-2, 2.50 mark. His ability to throw strikes with that emerging slider put his name on the radar.
Armed with a third pitch, he will test his offerings at Double-A for the first time.
“It’s a big difference when you are facing veteran guys, but I’m pleased with the way I am throwing this spring. I’m looking forward to the jump to the next level.
“I really feel, with the slider, I’m still in the development stage.’’
If early rainouts and the like force the Thunder to play a stretch of doubleheaders, Heyer will be the perfect antidote to such a schedule.
“If I have to, I can come in and throw five or six innings,’’ said Heyer, who brings a solid 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to the mound, He repeats his delivery well and hits his spots.
“Craig, like Cory, is just the type of guy you need and always like to have around, in the bullpen or starting,’’ said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
Heyer also brings that championship feeling to the Thunder after being part of Tampa’s second straight Florida State League championship team.
“We’ve kind of started something in the system with these championships,’’ he said. “Trenton has had great teams in recent years, as had Tampa. You win one championship, you want to win another after moving up.’’
Given the makeup of this upcoming Thunder team, with players who both enjoy the game and are willing to put in the work to improve, Heyer predicts an upbeat clubhouse.
“With the guys we have, I know it’s going to be fun in there,’’ he said.
And on the field as well, no doubt.
SNYDER STILL IN THE MIX: Infielder Justin Snyder, a versatile sort who can play all four positions around the bases, as well as the outfield, will be happy with a spot with the Thunder or at Triple-A Scranton.
“They’ll put me where they’ll put me,’’ said Snyder. “I’m just glad to be in the mix.’’ He has been working with the Triple-A group.
“It’s going pretty well,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to get the kinks out after having not played all winter.
Snyder’s versatility will be a key with one team or the other in 2011.
Baselines is providing daily spring-training reports from its annual trip to the Thunder camp in Tampa, Fla., last week. Comments are welcomed below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @jedleyq.