Mike Ashmore is a beat writer for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees' Double-A affiliate. Mike was kind enough to agree to an interview with me, and is definitely a guy that's worth your attention. Here is a link to his twitter account, and a link to his blog, Mike Ashmore's Thunder Thoughts.
Frank: Talk a bit about what you've seen from Manny Banuelos. Is he as good as advertised?
Mike: Banuelos has shown flashes that he's as good as advertised, but he hasn't really put together even that one start where you're completely blown away. People need to remember that he's still just 20 years old and has a lot of time to develop. All the "call up Banuelos" or "call up Betances" (to a lesser extent on the latter) always makes me laugh a little bit. Not saying he couldn't handle a call-up, but let the kids marinate for a while. Why rush them if you don't have to?
Frank: Dellin Betances, same question.
Mike: Betances has been good as well, but I don't think he's been quite as good as the numbers indicate. He leads the Eastern League in ERA, so that's certainly being a little critical of him...but then again, you look at the expectations and maybe it's not that unfair after all. Same issue as Banuelos, really...the control hasn't always been there. Pitch efficiency hasn't always been there for either pitcher this season, either. You need to get more than 5+ innings out of these guys if they're on a 100 pitch leash.
Frank: Keith Law has Banuelos ranked higher than Betances, but Baseball America has Betances over Banuelos on their prospect rankings. What's your take on the debate?
Mike: It honestly doesn't matter to me. Who's rated ahead of who in the system doesn't ultimately mean a whole lot at the end of the day. Personally, I think the consensus sides with Law, in that Banuelos would be a little ahead of Betances. But I also think Betances will move a little more quickly given his age and having a 40-man roster spot...so again, it doesn't really matter that much who's ranked ahead of who. Who had Amauri Sanit ranked ahead of half the guys he jumped to get to the big leagues? So it doesn't mean much to me.
Frank: You've seen Austin Romine for about a year and a half now. What do you see in him? Is he a starting catcher at the major league level?
Mike: Romine, who is unfortunately out with a mild concussion at the moment, has become a lot more consistent this season. He brings a solid bat and strong work ethic, and he's a fun guy to be around. He's an above average hitter, but hasn't really shown the kind of power you might like. When he's on, he's really able to send the ball into the gaps...when he isn't, he'll go on stretches where he'll strikeout or swing at first pitches. Behind the plate...he doesn't have the strongest of arms. But he's very well respected for his game calling skills. Not sure he's a starting big league catcher at this second, but he is a big league catcher, and has time to develop into something more.
Frank: Describe Melky Mesa's tools. Does he have a future in the Bronx?
Mike: He didn't exactly set the world on fire when he got here. It's clear the kid has got some raw power...and it's impressive the kinds of swings he's able to generate on the ball given his somewhat small size. But he strikes out way, way too much right now. I would never tell you a prospect doesn't have a future in the Bronx, but he has a long way to go to fulfill his potential.
Frank: Which position player has impressed you the most?
Mike: Probably Cody Johnson. Again, he's a guy who didn't exactly set the world on fire when he got here, but he's really turned things around thanks to lowering his hands in his stance. His power is unreal, and he always puts on quite a show during BP. Now, he's starting to translate that to the games, too. All he was good for were multi-strikeout games, but he's really turned his game around over the past month. Former first rounder, just 22 years old...if he can really get himself going, he could still do something with his career and make the Braves regret giving up on him.
Frank: For good or bad, or both, who is your surprise player of the year so far?
Mike: Shaeffer Hall. You kind of get lost in the hype of bigger name prospects, especially on the pitching side of things, but he's been a very solid addition to the staff and has been the only starter to actually make all of his starts since the start of the year. He doesn't have great stuff, but he knows how to pitch and has been very effective so far this season. He hasn't been moved as quickly as he has through the system for no reason.
Frank: Which under the radar player should Pinstripe Alley readers keep an eye on?
Mike: Either Johnson or Hall. Neither player gets a lot of ink, but both have been significant contributors on this team.
Mike Ashmore is a beat writer for the Trenton Thunder. His blog and twitter account are linked above.