TRENTON – These days, Thunder second baseman Corban Joseph is enjoying the start of the 2012 season.
He’s part of the clubhouse atmosphere, is having a good time with his teammates, who take a 17-16 mark into the play in the opener of a four-game series with Binghamton tonight. It all is going pretty well.
“I am satisfied with my start,’’ said the 22-year-old native of Franklin, Tenn., whose brother, Caleb, two years older, plays for the Eastern League’s Bowie Baysox. “I feel comfortable at the plate, and I am working to improve my defense.’’
Joseph’s average has hovered near .300 over the first six weeks of the season, He heads into the Binghamton series batting .294 (32-for-109) with 13 RBIs. Over his last 10 games, he is batting a solid .297 (11-for-37) with six RBIs.
He seems to be hitting the ball with more power and intensity this season, having worked on adjusting his swing a bit since last season. Thunder manager Tony Franklin is noticing the results.
“Sometimes with Corban, it really looks like he was born with a bat in his hands,’’ said Franklin. “He has been one of our better hitters in the early going. I’m enjoying watching him hit.’’
After batting .300 (114-fof-380) at Charleston in 2009, then .302 (115-for-381) in 98 games at Tampa in 2010, he got a taste of the Eastern League late last season, hitting .216 (24-for-111) in 31 games with the Thunder.
All through spring training, he seemed determined to show both Trenton fans and the organization that stint was not at his normal offensive level.
“I think everyone will see a difference this year,’’ he said.
So far, he’s backed up his March words. His smooth, fluid swing, which gets to the ball quickly, is serving the Thunder well. He has shown bursts of gap power, which may develop more as the season goes on.
His play at second base has also been steady. As a player some scouts have labeled “offense first,’’ he is working to improve his defensive game.
Scouts rate his arm strength as average to a bit better, but seem to always mention his footwork and hands as less-than-average. Given that, her is determined to prove those evaluators wrong.
“Defense is something I am working on every day,’’ Joseph said. “I don’t want to be called just average on defense, I want to get to the point where that part of my game is much better than that, and rated much better than that.
“I’m certainly willing to do the work, and the coaching we are getting is always outstanding.’’
Again, few are worried about his offensive consistency, which is showing so far this season. And his work at turning the double play has also improved, as he is the Thunder infielder with the most Double-A experience, playing with third baseman Brad Suttle, shortstop Jose Pirela and first baseman Addison Maruszak.
Naturally, with such inexperience, and with Austin Krum as the only outfielder with Double-A experience, Joseph was not surprised the Thunder had a tough opening road trip and has scuffled some away from home in the early going.
Yet, he feels last weekend’s trip to Akron, featuring a series in which the Thunder took 2-of-3 from the Aeros, boosted confidence among the younger players in the clubhouse.
“It was a tough trip, two long bus-rides, but we played real well and had a lot guys come through in key spots,’’ said Joseph. “I really think the series in Akron, winning two games in a place that can be tough, got us turned around in the right direction.’’
That seemed to be the case, as the Thunder took 2-of-3 from a solid Reading team, and now faces a Wally Backman-managed Binghamton club.
“I always work to make my game better, and I realize what my role is here this year,’’ said Joseph. “I think we’ll have another good season in Trenton.’’
ALL ABOUT COMMAND: For a player who has just turned 20, Thunder left-hander Manny Banuelos seems mature beyond his years.
Scouts marvel at his mound presence. And, with all the hoopla around him as a prospect, including the week he spent sidelined due to a blister on his thumb, everything seems to be taken in stride.
“I know what I want to do,’’ Banuelos said. “I’m just not there yet.’’
Despite notching his first regular-season Double-A victory Tuesday with a solid five-inning effort, changing speeds well and reaching 95 mph on the guns, he still sees a need for improvement in a major part of his game.
“Command is not quite there yet,’’ he said in his rapidly improving English. “I’m not quite putting the ball where I want to all the time. It will come.’’
Franklin and the Yankees have been careful with both Banuelos and fellow prospect Dellin Betances, especially since both had blister problems. Five innings or around 75 pitches is the regimen for these two at present, but will increase.
“It’s early, and they’re young,’’ said Franklin. “You have to be careful with those arms.’’
Arms that have quite a bright future.
FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: In a year when zany food choices are appearing in every stadium, the Thunder has chipped in with super peppery-hot “Ghost Wings.’’ A person can win a prize by eating a full portion of these. Franklin asked for a sample after Wednesday night’s game with Reading, and got through one bite before deciding to eschew the rest of the two such wings that were brought down to him … New Britain is off to a strong start, led by outfielder Yangervis Solarte, who leads the Eastern League in hitting at .364 (43-for-118). Solarte, from Valencia, Venezuela, has been in the Minnesota system since 2005 and is not listed as a top prospect … New Hampshire right-hander Reidier Gonzalez, who had a 12-4 2008 in the Toronto system, then took a step or two back, leads the EL with a 3-1, 1.40 ERA and is throwing the ball well.