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Yankees prospects 2014 season recap: Trenton Thunder

Recapping the 2014 season of the Yankees' Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder.

Over the past couple years, Double-A Trenton has served as the Yankees farm system's biggest test in terms of evaluating the numerous players who did quite well at A-ball. With the step up to Double-A, prospects witness pitching far more closer to major league caliber than anything previously seen. Whether or not they can meet this challenge, particularly in pitcher-friendly Arm & Hammer Park, is up to the talent of the prospect.

This season felt like a transition year of sorts for the Thunder, as the previous A-ball phenoms faded to the background somewhat while a new group began to move up from High-A Tampa. Righty starter Luis Severino was promoted after only four starts in Tampa, and he justified the hype by pitching to a stellar 2.52 ERA and 2.27 FIP in six starts with Trenton, striking out 10.4 batters per nine with good control at 2.2 BB/9. Severino's been in each of the past three write-ups, so it's only fair to give his overall numbers on the 2014 campaign: a 2.46 ERA, a 1.059 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and just three homers allowed all year in 113 1/3 innings (0.2 HR/9). The Yankees love his repertoire, and that only adds to his talent. He was ranked the team's top midseason prospect by, and it's awfully hard to dispute that claim.

Other top prospects to make the jump from Tampa to Trenton in 2014 were Greg Bird, Jake Cave, Jacob Lindgren and the since-departed Peter O'Brien. As much fun as the #DidPeterOBrienDinger hashtag was on Twitter this year for us while O'Brien led the system with 33 homers (a team-high 23 in Trenton), he just didn't do much else, with his one skill unlikely to survive against big league pitching. O'Brien barely walked (.296 OBP), he was eventually restricted to first base because he couldn't handle anywhere else on defense, and he was ultimately too one-dimensional a prospect to feel emotional about losing in the Martin Prado trade with the Diamondbacks at the Trade Deadline. With first base open, the more patient Bird was promoted from Tampa, and he made an immediate impact, hitting .253/.379/.558 with seven homers and a 158 wRC+ in 27 games, prolonging hope that he could be a more legitimate first base prospect than O'Brien.

The outfielder Cave was a nice underrated prospect find in 2014. After his midseason promotion, he hit .273/.344/.455 with 19 extra-base hits and a 121 wRC+ in 42 games, all while earning some intriguing comparisons to Brett Gardner from his manager Franklin (who also managed Gardner years ago). Lindgren's "Strikeout Factory" show continued in Trenton, where he struck out 13.9 batters per nine in 11 2/3 innings. However, he also faced his first adversity in the pros, as a couple of wild outings gave him an unsightly 6.9 BB/9, three wild pitches, and a 1.286 WHIP. It could have just been fatigue from pitching about 80 innings this year between college and the minors, but it will still be something to track going forward. The warning sign was right in front of him at the end of the season in Mark Montgomery, who was demoted from Triple-A Scranton due to control problems, though Montie seemed to do better back in Trenton with a 0.83 ERA and 0.969 WHIP in 21 2/3 innings, albeit with a shaky 5.4 BB/9.

Catcher Gary Sanchez is highly-touted enough to serve as bridge of sorts between the two prospect groups. The Yankees' consensus top prospect for the past two years was steady at a .270/.338/.406 triple slash with 13 homers and a 108 wRC+ in 110 games. However, Sanchez also faced questions about his maturity, as he was suspended for five games due to an undisclosed matter in June by manager Tony Franklin. As I noted back in June, the offense had to be pretty bad for Sanchez to be benched for that long since in 2008 under Franklin, Jose Tabata was suspended three games for leaving the ballpark in the middle of a game. (This suspension wasn't the first time the Yankees system disciplined him, either.) Although Sanchez is only turning 22 in December, giving him plenty of time to improve, he still needs to make great strides on defense as well if he wants to figure in the Yankees' future plans.

Of course Sanchez still had a much better season than his former fellow teammates in A-ball, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. Heathcott yet again suffered a debilitating injury-filled year with only seven games played, as he has yet to play a full season of minor league ball without getting hurt. The talent might still be there though hard to reach due to injury; maybe that's a better fate than Williams. Once regarded as a Top 100 Prospect, Williams was absolutely dominated by Double-A pitching, as he was held to a ghastly .223/.290/.304 triple slash in 128 games, a 66 wRC+. Oof. He's good on defense, but that might be the only nice thing to say about him anymore.

A few more prospect bites from Trenton in 2014:

  • Jaron Long continued his surprising 2014 ascent with 11 games (10 starts) in Trenton, during which time he posted a 2.35 ERA and 2.80 FIP. Severino will probably be the Yankees' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but in any other season, Long's terrific campaign would certainly get more consideration. Who knows if he'll be anywhere near this good next year, but obviously so far so good for the undrafted free agent.
  • Tyler Austin was the fourth in that aforementioned old A-ball core with Sanchez and he actually did well to reclaim some of his prospect status after a disappointing 2013. The outfielder hit .275/.336/.419 with 34 extra-base hits and a 110 wRC+, highlighted by an impressive .336/.397/.557 showing after the All-Star Break.
  • Former top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos made 16 starts in Trenton in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery, and the results weren't exactly amazing: a 4.59 ERA and 5.03 FIP, though the Yankees did bump him up to Scranton in August.
  • Bravo to some of the players who performed so well that they were promoted to Scranton: outfielder Taylor Dugas (.294/.403/.424, 136 wRC+ in 54 games), first baseman Kyle Roller (.385/.456/.808 and nine homers in 21 games), and of course second baseman Rob Refsnyder (.342/.385/.548 and a 159 wRC+ in 60 games). There's sure to be more on Refsnyder once we reach the Scranton season recap.

The Thunder will continue to be an exciting team to watch in 2015 as 2013 first round picks Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo seem likely to move up next spring. Catch them in Trenton if you get a chance--the ballpark's nice, the talent is good, and you won't regret it.