Trenton Thunder Season In Review

The Trenton Thunder had a disappointing regular season overall in 2014, finishing the year in fourth place in their division with a 67-75 record, 21 games out of first place. They still had some very good prospects, however. We take a look at where was the team's greatest depth, which prospects stood out, which ones could be 'sleeper' prospects down the road, and more.

The Team

The Trenton squad was done in by their very poor home record, tying for the league-worst home mark as a matter of fact with a 31-40 record in the [not so] "friendly confines". They were essentially done in by four losing streaks of at least five games during the season; a six-game losing streak from May 13-18, a season-high seven game losing streak from June 13-18, a five-game losing streak from August 15-20, and capping it off with a five-game losing streak to end the season from August 28 through September 1st. Throw in the fact that they had just one winning streak longer than three games all season [a seven-game winning streak from August 21-27], it wasn't a surprise they finished below .500 on the year.

Pitching-wise they finished second in the 12-team league in strikeouts [1,093], fourth in ERA [3.84], and gave up the third fewest home runs in the league [83], but also walked the third most batters of any team in the league [476] and finished just seventh in WHIP ratio [1.32] overall.

Offensively they were mostly in the middle of the pack, finishing sixth in runs scored [607], doubles [252], and OPS [.709], seventh in batting average [.256] and slugging [.385], and all the way down at tenth in home runs [99]. On the positive side they struck out the third fewest times [927] in the Eastern League.

The Greatest Depth

As bad a season as the team offensive numbers were in 2014, the disparity between pitching prospects and hitting prospects is not as wide as one might think. In fact, the Yankees have a bit more depth among their position prospects.

Top Position Prospects

The depth of top position prospects on the Trenton team was certainly aided by some late season call-ups from high-A Tampa, including first baseman Greg Bird and outfielder Jake Cave. Throw in the likes of outfielder Tyler Austin and catcher Gary Sanchez, the Trenton team has some quality hitters at the top.

Bird is hands down the best hitter of the group. He clubbed seven home runs in a brief 27-game trial in his first taste of Double-A [extrapolate that over a full 142-game season and it equates to a 36 home run pace] after hitting .277 with 22 doubles and seven home runs in 75 games for the Tampa Yankees to begin the season. He has power to all fields, a discerning at the plate [63 walks this past season], and he's only getting better as he matures.

While the numbers on the surface may be a little disappointing to some, Sanchez isn't too far behind Bird as far as quality hitting goes. He hit a very respectable .270 with 13 home runs for Trenton in 2014 but more than anything he stepped up his consistency at the plate, hitting .270 before the All Star break and .272 in the second half. He's a plus throw guy who has developed steadily in the other areas of his defensive game and there is still a lot of untapped offensive potential for the 21-year old.

Austin, hampered for the better part of a year and half with a hurt wrist, displayed the kind of hitter he can be when he's completely healthy. He hit a robust .336 with a .954 OPS in the second half of the season the further he got away from the injured wrist that plagued him most of 2013. In fact, he OPS'ed 287 points higher than in the first half. He just needs to stay healthy going forward to become the impact player he's proven to be when he's 100 percent.

Cave pales in comparison to the aforementioned trio in the power department [he has a career total of just nine home runs, seven of which came in 2014] and that could make him a 'sleeper' of sorts, but the all-out gamer is also one of the more consistent hitters in the farm system too [he led the farm system with 165 hits this season] and the power started increasing once he got to Double-A. He slugged 60 points higher with the Thunder and it's important to keep in mind this 21-year old basically missed his first two pro seasons with injuries so there is still some untapped power potential. He's made his way into the top prospect category and he may not be done ascending the ranks either.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

There's no clear-cut biggest 'sleeper' prospect from the Trenton hitters this year but there's a solid group of candidates, including shortstop Ali Castillo, third basemen Dante Bichette Jr. and Rob Segedin, and outfielders Ben Gamel and Mason Williams.

Williams and Bichette in particular are once former top prospects whose games haven't exactly developed too quickly yet nor has the production been eye-popping either, but both are 'sleepers' for different reasons. Bichette, a former first round pick, had two straight rather disastrous seasons in low-A Charleston before bouncing back in 2014, hitting a combined .264 with 30 doubles and ten home runs between high-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. The production for a corner guy still isn't high enough to be considered a top prospect again just yet, but there is obvious progress being made. Another solid season with perhaps a bit more production could get him back in those top prospect conversations.

Williams on the other hand, once considered a top prospect, has seen his game stall somewhat the higher he has climbed through the minor leagues. It didn't help matters that offseason shoulder surgery plagued him last season and in some respects he is still bouncing back from that, but the bottom line is he hit just .223 for the Thunder this season. Still, he has been the subject of so much rancor from his detractors that he's actually become a 'sleeper' prospect. Written off by many, the fact is he's not nearly as bad as the Paul Bunyan-like tall-tales might suggest from the critics. He is still very much a quality reserve big league outfield prospect at minimum given his defensive prowess and running ability, and he's shown glimpses of potentially becoming an impact player once again.

Segedin had always shown an advanced eye at the plate but the power was never really there and it turned out it was partly due to injured hips. He had that corrected in 2013 and missed pretty much the entire season, and bounced back with a a solid .283, 21 double, eight home run showing in Trenton this season. The power production is still below what's needed from a corner guy like him and he is 25 years old now, but as good as a hitter as he can be he flies under the radar and could still carve out an eventual big league role for himself somewhere if the power comes along a bit more.

Gamel falls into the Segedin category as a guy who is very much a quality hitter but the lack of power production simply won't allow him to rise into the top prospect category. He's an above average to plus defender at all three outfield positions, he can steal bases, and he's a pretty consistent hitter too. The 22-year old outfielder is a bit of a 'tweener'; he's not ultra fast to be a speedy leadoff type nor does he have the power to play the corners in the big leagues either, but he's got enough game to become a quality reserve outfielder type.

Castillo on the other hand has two things going for him that could push him into a potential starting role someday at the big league level; plus-plus defensive skills at shortstop and a knack for putting the ball in play. He can simply make every defensive play asked of him and he struck out just 45 times in 410 at-bats with the Thunder this season. Throw in some useful speed [he stole 17 bases] and playable gap power [he has virtually no home run power], some big league team could find his entire game useful in a starting role someday. He should not be written off simply because of the lack of home run power, which is the only reason he's not considered a top prospect.

Not Just Yet

When it comes to pure natural talent and tools, outfielder Slade Heathcott should absolutely be considered a top prospect. However, the former first round pick has seemingly been in the operating room more than he's been on the field since his 2009 selection. He's endured multiple shoulder surgeries and recently completed his third knee surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2014 season [he had just 33 at-bats]. The talent is there to be a difference-maker in every facet of the game and he could very realistically become one of the top prospects once again, but he's got to prove he can stay on the field for an entire season first and unfortunately he's never amassed more than 400 at-bats in any season yet.

Top Pitching Prospects

The Trenton pitching staff boasted a quartet of top pitching prospects in 2014 but only one in a starting capacity and that's right-hander Luis Severino. The Dominican native shot through the minor leagues this season, beginning the year in low-A Charleston and ending it in Double-A Trenton, and he dominated nearly every step of the way. He posted a combined 2.46 ERA over three minor league levels, struck out a whopping 127 batters in 113 innings, and walked just 27.

He has two plus big league pitches with his changeup and a fastball that routinely hits 98 mph, and his slider has shown more and more flashes of being a plus pitch too. Throw in innate strike-throwing ability for such a youngster, the 20-year old not only has the highest of ceilings but the overall advanced feel for pitching that makes him one of the strongest bets to reach his ceiling too.

While he is clearly the best and arguably the only top pitching prospect among the starters in Trenton this year, the team has a trio of potential impact relievers too in the form of left-handers Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos, and right-hander Nick Goody.

Lindgren, this year's second round pick [but first overall for the Yankees], mowed down minor league batters to the tune of a combined 2.16 ERA [that was only inflated by his final appearance where he gave up four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning] and a ridiculous 48 strikeouts in 25 innings. Like Severino the stuff is electric, including a 91-94 mph fastball that generates a ton of movement, a killer wipeout slider, and a burgeoning plus changeup. All of his pitches move so much that it makes it difficult to command at times but he's also so incredibly hard to hit too.

Pazos is Lindgren-lite. His breaking ball isn't nearly as good but it's still an above average big league pitch, the changeup is quality that he can throw for strikes, and his fastball, which can hit 97 mph, sits mostly in the 92-94 mph range and he has learned to pepper the strike zone with it over the years. He, like Lindgren, might not be long for the minor leagues going forward.

Goody returned in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 season with Tommy John surgery and the results were a mixed bag. The stuff was clearly there, including a 92-94 mph fastball that topped out at 97 mph, and his breaking ball was once again a plus pitch. Even the changeup had shown marked improvements too. However, the long time off had his command a bit spotty and he left a few too many pitches up in the zone and that led to an increased 6.75 ERA in Trenton this year. Don't let the stats fool you, he's still a top relief pitching prospect, one who could find his way to the big leagues as soon as 2015 and he has the stuff to make an immediate impact.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

The Trenton pitching staff has some quality 'sleeper' prospects too in the form of left-hander Daniel Camarena and right-hander Jaron Long.

Camarena, a 20th round pick out of high school in 2011, was dominant in high-A ball this year, posting a 2.35 ERA for the Tampa Yankees before earning a promotion to Double-A Trenton. He struggled making the adjustment initially, allowing four earned runs or more in five of his first eight starts, but he showed glimpses of becoming a dominant pitcher again, striking out 17 batters in his last two starts with only two runs allowed. The fastball is merely average, sitting mostly 88-91 mph, but both the curveball and changeup are above average or better big league pitches and he has an advanced feel for pitching. He gets overlooked because of his smaller size and lack of plus velocity, but there's some Martin Perez potential here if he can continue to make the adjustments.

Every undrafted free agent signing comes with an immediate 'sleeper' tag simply because they weren't selected but in the case of right-hander Jaron Long, the son of former Yankee big league hitting coach Kevin Long, there's some real potential here. He's very much like a right-handed version of Camarena in that the fastball velocity is merely big league average [sitting 88-90 mph] but it's his ability to use to above average secondary pitches so effectively to pitch backwards that makes him so productive on the mound. He posted a combined 2.18 ERA over three minor league levels in 2014 with 122 strikeouts and just 22 walks. He won't ever be confused with somebody who can pitch in the front half of a big league rotation but there's some viable potential here as a long reliever, swing starter type cut in the mold of Chase Whitley if given the chance.

Not Just Yet

Right-handed reliever Phil Wetherell surely looks the part of a potential 'sleeper' prospect. He'll sit anywhere from 92-96 mph with his fastball and his splitter is a true plus big league pitch, but the slider has been inconsistent despite showing some good signs at times and the overall pitch-ability has been spotty too. There isn't a whole lot of work to be done, just some minor tweaks including throwing a few more strike-one pitches, but at 25 years old he's running out of time to make that next step in his development. Until he does he falls just shy of being in the true 'sleeper' category but he should not be written off. He just needs a little more consistency for a short inning reliever.

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