JOSEPH AIMS TO EMERGE AS A LEADER

         TRENTON – Corban Joseph is the first to admit his time with the Thunder in 2010 did not quite go the way he, or anyone in the Yankees system, wanted it to.

          Ranked the 20th-best Yankees prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2011 campaign, the 22-year-old native of Franklin, Tenn., is quite frank about his approach.

          “I want everybody to see just what type of player I am,’’ he said with determination. “Last season, what I did here, was not an indicator.’’

          “Last season’’ ended with Joseph batting .216 (24-for-111) with six doubles, four triples and 13 RBIs in 31 games with the Thunder. This came after a solid effort of .302 (115-for-381), 27 doubles, three triples, six homers and 52 RBIs in 98 games with Class-A Advanced Tampa.

           As have many players in the past, Joseph hit what is known as the Double-A hurdle.

           “It’s a big jump,’ he said. “You feel you are prepared, but there are a lot of adjustments you have to make, both at-bat and in the field. This season, I feel a lot more comfortable.  

            “This season, I want to be one of the main contributors.’’

            Joseph is also the Thunder infielder with the most Double-A experience, with third baseman Brad Suttle, shortstops Jose Pirela and Yadil Mujica and first baseman Addison Maruszak having just the six games the Thunder played on their opening road trip.

            The inexperience under Double-A fire might have emerged a bit vs. the Fisher Cats and Sea Dogs, as the Thunder committed 11 errors in the six games, nine by the infield. Defense, however, is certain to tighten up.

            “I played with the rest of our infielders at Tampa last season, and I know how they play the game,’’ said Joseph.  “They won last year, and we aim to do the same this year.  It can take a little time to adjust,’’

             This is a key season for Joseph, and a major chance for him to establish himself with fellow second-base prospect David Adams, who got off to a strong start with the Thunder in 2010 before breaking an ankle, still not at full playing speed in extended spring training.

             The Yankees like a lot of things about Joseph’s offensive game. He shows patience at the plate and has an easy swing that covers the plate and brings quick contact.  Joseph needs to work on getting a bit stronger to add a bit more power.

           His offensive skills, at this point, rank somewhat ahead of his defensive skills. The Yankees are looking for smoother play and better footwork in turning the double play this season. His arm is a good fit for second base.

          Given that body of work, and the fact that he also batted .300 (114-for-380) at Charleston in 2009, he naturally expected to hit right off the bat in Double-A.

          “There are a lot more veteran pitchers at this level, and they challenge you a lot more than in the lower levels,’’ said Joseph. “It’s a learning process.’’

           He is always asked if there is a competition between himself and his brother, Caleb, who is two years older, three inches taller and presently with Bowie.  By the way, Caleb batted just .077 (1-for-13) with the Baysox the first week.

           “I’m glad we’re both playing professional baseball, in the Eastern League,’’ said Joseph, “but I know what I have to do, and so does Caleb. It doesn’t really affect me day-to-day.’’

           The Thunder’s Joseph is healthy and focused on what he needs to do with his overall game. As the leader of the Thunder infield in the early going, that’s a good mindset to have.

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            CODY’S GOT IT COVERED:  The best hitter for the Thunder on their opening trip was former top Atlanta draft pick Cody Johnson, who, serving as the club’s DH, batted .263 (5-for-19) with a team-leading four RBIs in five games.

             During spring training, the Yankees retooled his approach to the plate and early results are showing progress.

             “I’ve really enjoyed being in the Yankees system so far, and I’m glad they are giving me a shot in Trenton,’’ Johnson said. “The coaches have really done a lot of work with me. I have a much more patient approach than before.’’

              Johnson’s game in the past had been all-or-nothing, a home run or a strikeout.

             “First I have to hit consistently, then the power will come,’’ he said. “I’m not looking to hit every pitch out of the park, just to get base hits. Home runs will come if I follow that approach. I feel very comfortable with it.’’

              In the field, Johnson can fill either a corner outfield spot or play first base.

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              FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  The Altoona Curve, which also opens at home tonight, has issued its players the first-ever official team rally caps.  The Curve, during a come-from-behind effort, can reverse their home caps. Featured on the rally side is a depiction of Al Tuna, the defending Eastern League champions’ popular rally mascot … Reading is off to a hot-hitting start, with infielders Cody Overbeck and Matt Rizzotti each hitting .458 (11-for-24). Overbeck is the early EL leader with three home runs, and the early RBI co-leader with eight … The New Britain Rock Cats are getting a boost from infielder Ray Chang, who batted .298 (131-for-440) with Portland in 2010 and was an Eastern League All-Star. Chang hit .400 (10-for-25) over New Britain’s first six games … Another EL veteran enjoying a change of scenery is left-handed pitcher Aaron Thompson, who was 4-13, 5.80 on 26 starts with Harrisburg in 2010. Thompson won his first start with Altoona, holding the Erie SeaWolves to a single run and hit in batter-friendly Jerry Uht Park  … The Mets seemed pleased by Brad Holt’s first 2011 start, in which he tossed five scoreless innings and allowed just three hits … Following the four-game weekend set with Harrisburg, the Thunder welcome Richmond for a three-game set .

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

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