TAMPA, Fla. – Like singer Carly Simon’s hit song “Coming Round Again,’’ spring training for the Trenton Thunder is up and running in a big way.
And, as Carly sang so well, “There certainly is room for a broken heart.’’
Careers start. Careers end. Prospects sparkle, Prospects flop. Yet, as we go back to Carly, “all are willing to play the game.’’
A sight for sore eyes is Thunder manager Tony Franklin. He’s one who has “stayed the same’’ as he returns for his fourth season with the club. A man who has few rules, but players respect and adhere the ones he does profess, as they are related to getting a player used to what it will be like in the major leagues.
“They (the players) have to learn it at the Double-A level if they expect to get to the major leagues and prosper,’’ said Franklin. “We stress that talent is one factor, but playing baseball the right way is an even bigger factor.’’
Franklin, whose Double-A working group will play its first game Saturday vs. what will emerge as the defending Eastern League champion Altoona Curve at Pirate City in Bradenton, about 40 miles over road, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from the Yankees Minor League camp on Himes Avenue, does not yet have many of the players who will arrive in Trenton in a few weeks.
His top two pitchers – lefty Manny Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances – have been the talk of camp. While Betances has held his own against big-league Grapefruit League opposition, Banuelos has dominated.
The Mexican lefty – there is debate how to pronounce his last name – has been dazzling, mixing his outstanding off-speed stuff with a fastball that has picked up velocity and now reaches 96 mph. Both he and Betances will start with the Thunder – with the Yankees hoping for 150-inning seasons from both – but the pair remains with the Yankees.
A few key performers – infielder Brad Suttle, outfielder Austin Krum and right-handed starting pitcher Adam Warren – took the five-block trip from George M. Steinbrenner Field to the Himes facility earlier this week.
Chances are they will not be with Franklin’s troops Saturday, either, likely playing with Scranton skipper Dave Miley’s Triple-A group. As time goes, with the season-opener for the Thunder about three weeks away, players such as outfielder Melky Mesa, a speedster with power who was the Florida State League MVP in 2010, and catcher Jose Gil will make their respective ways to Franklin’s squad.
“I’ve always liked Mesa,’’ said Franklin. “He’s got the tools to hit a decent amount of home runs, steal a decent amount of bases and play good defense. He’s got a good arm.
“His challenge, like any young and talented player coming to the Double-A level for the first time, is to see if he can handle what’s there.
A few early observations about what could transpire concerning the Thunder and the “trickle-down effect’’ always present in camp:
- Gil will likely be the starting Thunder catcher, with possibly Kyle Higashioka as the backup. With Jesus Montero likely to go north with the Yankees, Austin Romine and Gustavo Molina will likely play at Scranton.
- More and more it appears Brad Suttle will be the Thunder first baseman, with both David Adams and Corban Joseph both starting at Trenton. Myron Leslie can catch and play first base, which may earn him a Thunder roster spot.
- Eric Chavez’s excellent spring and willingness to accept a bench role, along with Brandon Laird’s lack of consistent offense, probably puts the 2010 Thunder slugger at Scranton this season.
- Warren is the most likely candidate of that tier of pitchers – Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps – likely to return to the Thunder, although Phelps did not have a good spring.
BaseLines’ goal each spring training is to introduce you to the Thunder’s new players and re-acquaint you with some of the veterans. We will providing numerous features and stories through the weekend from Florida.
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FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: Congratulations to Thunder Director of Public Relations Bill Cook, who ably shepherds BaseLines to its correct spot, and his wife, Lorna, on the birth of their first offspring, daughter, Zoe … The Thunder will host Altoona Sunday to complete an early Grapefruit League home-and-home series … Many fans have asked if injured former Thunder catcher Francisco Cervelli might rehab in Trenton. A possibility for sure.