So here we are in the late stages of the 2011 season, The Thunder, once 48-33 and in first place in the Eastern League East, now sit just below .500 and are in a fight for the playoff.

Compared to what we saw over the last few seasons, this is a surprise. Thunder teams, more often than not, finish strong.  For several reasons, that will not be the case this season.

That leads one to believe the 2012 addition may look a lot like the 2011 edition, with many of this year’s players back for another try at the Double-A level.  This is due to the fact many could use another tour of duty in Trenton, coupled with the fact that not many Tampa players have proven themselves worthy of a promotion to Double-A.

We offer an analysis of who just might return next April:

1B Addison Maruszak – A great guy, this versatile player is hitting .248 (71-for-286).  He could play a number of positions, especially if Luke Murton, who is batting .283 (111-for-392) with eight homers and 59 RBIs advances to Trenton.

2B- Corban Joseph – Has had a solid offensive season, batting .263 (113-for-429) with 46 RBIs. Corban’s 21 errors are a concern.  Where he lands next season may depend on the condition of David Adams.  Kevin Mahoney could knock on the door next season.

SS – Jose Pirela – A total of 32 errors show defensive improvement is needed. Has 41 RBIs, but is hitting just .240 (100-for-417).  Neither  Carmen Angelini or Emerson Landoni have been overly impressive at Tampa. Both Pirela and Yadil Mujica will likely be back.

3B – Brad Suttle and Rob Lyerly – Suttle batted just .215 (70-for-326) and struck out 108 times before his injury. He also had 18 errors. Lyerly is hitting .244 (49-for-201) and has 15 errors himself. Both will likely be back here as well.

OF – Ray Kruml, Melky Mesa, Austin Krum, Zoilo Almonte, D’Angelo Mack and Damon Sublett – Kruml has had an excellent season, hitting .287 (125-for-436), committed just four errors and added 35 steals. He should advance to Scranton. Krum’s situation bears watching. Mesa has struggled and will hope to get back on track here in 2012. Almonte, Mack and Sublett all have shown talent at times, and could be with the Thunder in 2012.  Slade Heathcott’s injury probably has him starting at Tampa next spring.

C – Austin Romine – Despite a series of injuries, including a concussion, Romine has had an excellent season. Batting .285 (82-for-288), he has been lauded for his handling of pitchers.  Romine will battle for a spot in The Bronx next season before settling in at Scranton. Jose Gil could return as a veteran. Kyle Higashioka is superb defensively, but struggles at the plate.

DH – What of Cody Johnson, who hit 15 homers in Trenton, but struck out 138 times. He’s doing some retooling in Tampa and could return to add some power to the Thunder in 2012. He’s hitting .281 (25-for-89) with five homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games with Tampa. He has struck out 36 times.

SP – Expect lefty Shaeffer Hall and righty Graham Stoneburner back. Righty Craig Heyer has pitched well (9-6, 3.72) and will likely start in Trenton and eye a promotion. Lefty Jeremy Bleich could come back after surgery. Lefty Josh Romanski pitched well here – 0-1, 2.04 in 13 appearances – before being sent back to Tampa. Both Brett Marshall, a righty, and Jose Quintana, a lefty, have been solid in Tampa. Others could battle for spots likely vacated by Kei Igawa, Steve Garrison and Brad Halsey.

RP – Chase Whitley was good at times for the Thunder this season, and could very well be the 2012 closer. Pat Venditte showed advancement and likely will also be back. Righty Ryan Flannery, who attended FDU-Madison, is 3-0, 2.34 with 14 saves at Tampa. He had a cameo appearance with the Thunder this year and could be a key player next season.

Overall, it’s been a tough second half for these players, a group that could still right itself and earn a playoff berth.  Few had a lot of Double-A experience heading into 2011, which is why the feeling here is many will return in 2012.

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