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Trenton’s season was defined by players moving towards their Yankees future

Chris Gittens and a strong rotation helped lead Double-A Trenton to a championship season.

Sea Dogs vs. Trenton Thunder AA baseball
Chris Gitten’s MVP season ended with an EL Championship for the Trenton Thunder
Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Trenton clinched the first-half title for their Eastern League division on June 18th as the Yankees’ top prospect Deivi Garcia punched out 15 batters over six innings. This team remained strong, finishing in 2nd place during the second half of the season, before winning six of their seven playoff games on their way to the Eastern League championship. They were paced by numerous strong pitching performances that resulted in two no-hitters, and an Eastern League MVP season from Chris Gittens to carry the offense. Let’s take a look at the key players from Trenton’s championship season as we continue our review of the Yankees’ minor-league affiliates.

Chris Gittens: 25-years-old, first base

Coming off an injury-plagued season, Gittens turned a lot of heads on his way to winning the Eastern League’s MVP. Gittens hit .281/.370/.472 while leading the league in home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging. Baseball America polled the Eastern League managers towards the end of the season, and Gittens was voted the best defensive first baseman by that group. Gittens is primed to put up big numbers next season when he starts hitting the Triple-A/MLB baseball at the next level.

Hoy Jun Park: 23-years-old, second base/shortstop

Park had the single most exciting play of Trenton’s season with a straight steal of home to break a 1-1 tie late in game three of the Eastern League Championship series. Outside of that moment, Park put together a very solid .272/.363/.370 line for Trenton this season while playing the middle infield for the Thunder. That line was good enough for a 122 wRC+ in the Eastern League.

Kyle Holder: 25-years-old, shortstop

Coming off a 2018 season where he played fewer than 50 games, the former first-round pick long known only for his glove put together his best offensive season. Holder especially picked it up in early June, hitting .296/.371/.437, good for a 139 wRC+, over his last 67 games, and 287 plate appearances. Never known as a patient hitter, Holder showed growth in his game by posting a career-high 8.7% walk rate, while continuing to show outstanding range at shortstop.

Nick Nelson: 23-years-old, right-handed pitcher

Nelson battled injuries early in the season, but he was outstanding at the Double-A level once he hit the mound. On the season he recorded a 11.4 K/9, and had a 2.81 ERA across three levels. The blemish on Nelson stat line is his control, as he did have a high 4.3 BB/9 rate, but he was able to lower that to 3.4 over his last nine starts.

Rony Garcia: 21-years-old, right-handed pitcher

Promoted after 25 strong innings to start the season at High-A Tampa, Garcia initially had some struggles at the higher level. But the strong armed righty, who can sit 95-96 through a start, improved as the season went on. Down the stretch and through the playoffs, Garcia pitched to a 2.98 ERA over his last 69.1 IP, with 69 K in that stretch. He did not allow a run in two postseason outings, including five no-hit innings in the final game of the Eastern League Championship series.

Albert Abreu: 24-years-old, right-handed pitcher

Abreu’s 96.2 innings pitched are the most he has thrown since joining the Yankees organization prior to the 2017 season. While scouts still love his plus pitches, Abreu has yet to refine his command, posting a 4.93 BB/9 rate. Heading into his last season of minor league options, Abreu is a player that still flashes a ton of potential, but is a few steps short of the majors.

James Reeves: 26-years-old, left-handed pitcher

Reeves was money down the stretch for Trenton, giving up only one earned run in his last 33 innings pitched, while striking out 37 and only giving up nine hits and ten walks. That included 6.1 innings in the playoffs, where he only gave up two hits and struck out ten. The lefty was sent down to High-A Tampa for a stretch this season, but was absolutely amazing for Trenton in the second half working out of the bullpen in a multi-inning role.

Brooks Kriske: 25-years-old, right-handed pitcher

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Kriske thrived in a bullpen role for Trenton. Kriske had an 11.8 K/9 rate with Trenton this season, and was a key piece out of the bullpen all season. He can throw in the mid-90’s, but will have to refine his control next season as he walked 4.25 batters per nine.

Daniel Alvarez: 23-years-old, right-handed pitcher

Trenton’s closer for most of the season closed out a combined no-hitter on June 24th, and threw the last pitch of the Eastern League Championship in September. Overall, he recorded 21 saves in 24 chances during the regular season. The strong-armed reliever recorded a 11.73 K/9, a 3.55 BB/9, and a 2.31 ERA.

Garrett Whitlock: 23-years-old, right-handed pitcher

Whitlock came out of the gates extremely strong, giving up only four earned runs through his first 18 innings, but was then derailed by an ingrown fingernail on his pitching hand before the end of April. He came back after a short IL stint, and continued to pitch well for the rest of the season, finishing with a 3.07 ERA, including a 55.9% ground ball rate. Unfortunately for Whitlock his season ended in early July when he felt discomfort in his arm that resulted in Tommy John surgery, which could wipe out his entire 2020 campaign. Whitlock still had time this season to show that he has the ability to be another quality arm with a major-league ceiling in the upper levels of the system.

Trenton put together an outstanding season that culminated with an Eastern League championship. Numerous players on both sides of the ball took steps forward and have positioned themselves to be the types of quality depth pieces in 2020 that helped carry the Yankees through the 2019 season.

Next week, I will continue our minor-league review with a look at the High-A Tampa Tarpons.