Hey folks, it’s your resident Trenton Thunder beat writer. For the rest of the season, I’m aiming to be at most (if not all) of the Double-A Thunder’s home games. Why is so much coverage being devoted specifically to Trenton? Trenton is currently where a hefty portion of the Yankees premiere prospects are currently stationed. Names you should know include Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Jake Cave, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Sulbaran, Brady Lail, Johnny Barbato, and Nick Goody. Mason Williams was also on the Trenton roster until quite recently when he was promoted to take Slade Heathcott’s spot at Triple-A Scranton. It’s also quite possible we see Tyler Wade, Abi Avelino, Mark Payton or Jonathan Holder up here at some point later in the summer. Basically, Trenton is a Refsnyder and a Lindgren short of being the complete package. Here’s what happened in their most recent series against the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate.
The first two games against Bowie felt like previews before a block-busting, retina-searing, face-melting action movie. Tuesday’s action saw Eric Wooten face off against Parker Bridwell. Bridwell, who was ranked as the Birds’ 17th best prospect by MLB.com before the season began, gave up two runs on four hits in six innings pitched. Both runs came on a Sanchez homer to left field in the first inning, and that was it for the Trenton offense. Despite getting ten hits and three walks, the Thunder left ten men on base. Trenton was without main three offensive producers in Judge (leg stiffness), Bird (rehabbing a shoulder injury) and Jagielo (sat with a high blood sugar count) but it still wasn’t a good showing. Wooten and reliever Chris Smith combined for eight innings of two run ball, and then Goody entered in the ninth, and would then come back out for the 10th after the offense failed to rally. One Quincy Lattimore homer and a quenched Trenton rally later, that was it.
Game two was highlighted by Eric Ruth (of no relation to the Bambino) throwing seven dominant innings of shutout ball for the Thunder. Unfortunately, it all went for naught. Even with Judge and Jagielo back in the lineup, Trenton only scored one run courtesy of a Taylor Dugas RBI double to score Mason Williams. Bowie starter Branden Kline exited after 1.2 innings with an injury but the Bowie relief corps was simply lights-out. Judge looked to still be hampered by his leg issue as he went 0-5 with four strikeouts.
Game three, however, was a sight to behold. The matchup of Severino and Dylan Bundy was the duel everyone expected it to be. Bundy only allowed two hits in four innings and Severino was one catcher’s interference short of a perfect five innings. The scoreless tie lasted 12 and a half innings before Trenton rallied to walk off in the 13th. There was quite a gaggle of scouts on hand for the game, even ESPN’s Keith Law. Sanchez also threw out three (three!) runners, and all of them were absolute cannon shots. Gene Michael, who stopped into the press box for a while, couldn’t stop raving about Gary’s arm. Nearly the whole team put on a defensive clinic this game, it was seriously impressive.
Below are some of the impressions I got from some of the players that appeared in these games. Some notable prospects (Baltimore’s Tim Berry, New York’s Brady Lail) didn’t have their starts line up with the series. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, as the kids say.
Luis Severino, SP: The hype is real. He outdueled Bundy in his first start back from the DL (he had a blister on his throwing hand, which is understandably a bad thing) by pumping a fastball that touched 96 into the zone for strikes. His real bread and butter, however, is his changeup. I’ve seen 70 grades put on his change and it’s that good at the very least. The whiffs this pitch induces are just plain silly. Severino does need to refine his slider but it’s not a bad pitch right now. If he wants to stick as a big league starter he needs to put more consistent bite on it.
Aaron Judge, OF: Judge missed the first game of the series with what was described as "upper leg tightness," and the effect on him was visible on Wednesday and Thursday. In his first game back he was barely using his legs in the box and was limited to DH’ing, and on Thursday he didn’t look a whole lot better in the box. Judge did manage to pick up two hits, although one of them was a squibber that bounced off Bundy’s leg and into no-man’s land. Judge displayed his good range in the field on a running grab, so his legs should be fine the next time I see him. Hopefully that’s when I get to watch Judge operate at 100% and really put on a show.
Eric Jagielo, 3B: Jagielo finished the series with a 162 wRC+, good for fourth in the Eastern League. After hitting .259 last year, Jagielo has broken out in a big way and looks like the slugger he was at Notre Dame. He’s now hitting .291/.382/.552 and his seven homers put him in a tie for first place in the league. His defense at third has been the subject of some scrutiny, but Jagielo seems to have turned a corner there. Andrew Marchand recently reported that scouts are looking at him much more favorably in the field, and I can tell why. During Thursday’s game he made a bunch of fantastic plays and I think he looks like a legit third baseman. Even if he’s not, the bat will play at first base or in a corner outfield position, most likely left due to his good-but-not-great arm. I’d like to see him get some more opportunities to test his range before giving him a final grade at third. There’s quite a lot to like here.
Jake Cave, CF: Cave can play all three outfield positions and he can play them well. I’ve seen Cave make a small handful of diving catches in my brief time here and he’s always received positive reviews for his glove. Cave also displays plus speed and surprisingly good plate discipline. He was rocking a .388 OBP entering Thursday’s game and if he can keep walking and hitting for decent average, that’s a great profile for a leadoff hitter. He’s never posted a wRC+ below 116 at any level. If you’re looking for a sleeper in the system, Cave’s a great bet. I’m a big fan.
Mason Williams, OF: I only saw Williams for two games this series before he got bumped up to Scranton, and also on Sunday before the series began. Mason is fourth outfielder material at this point, but he has good speed and can play all three outfield spots. As of his promotion to Scranton, his OBP was higher than his slugging percentage, which tells you a lot of what you need to know. He’s a singles hitter who uses all fields, though, and when that’s combined with speed it can make for a good bench piece.
Eric Ruth, SP: What a fascinating young arm. The Yankees signed Ruth as an undrafted free agent in 2013 out of Winthrop and he’s become a cool little story. He’s a bit on the small side for a starter (listed as only 6’0") and he doesn’t throw particularly hard. I saw him rear back and find 92 MPH for a strikeout during his start on Wednesday and it was a big deal. Ruth relies on location and movement to operate, which is why his strikeout rates have fluctuated between levels. Before this start his K’s were especially low and his walks were up. All Ruth did was fire off seven innings of one-hit ball, and it took someone having the last name Yastrzemski to get that hit. It was easily his best start of the year. He struck out six Baysox and walked only one (also Yaz the Younger). Ruth displayed a bulldog aggression in his quick-moving attack, which made his lack of velocity play up. When I talked to him after the game, he attributed his success to that approach and letting hitters get themselves out with poor contact. He entered the game with a 1.50 WHIP, and left with a 1.12. Of his 74 pitches, 51 went for strikes. Keep an eye on this one.
Dylan Bundy, SP: Bundy’s pure stuff is just silly. Honestly, it’s just stupidly great. It makes you wonder just how amazing he was before his Tommy John surgery. Bundy still throws gas, but it’s in the mid 90’s now instead of reaching Yordano Ventura territory. A couple of scouts at the game confirmed that Bundy was throwing a cutter instead of a normal four-seamer or a sinker, and it seemed to be working wonderfully for him. His curveball also showed some huge vertical movement. However, Bundy displayed the control issues that have been bugging him of late. He didn’t walk anybody, but he missed badly on some of his fastballs. It’s definitely an issue that needs to be watched, and could just be a side effect of his arm still not being back to 100% just yet. Still, Bundy still has mountains of upsides and I’d be shocked if he’s anything less than a #3 starter.
Mike Yastrzemski, OF: The grandson of Carl is an interesting prospect. Yastrzemski does everything at least decently well but nothing exceptionally well. That’s a skillset that can bring a guy to the show (Jose Pirela, Yangervis Solarte) but he’s likely a fourth outfielder with the chance to be a second division starting left fielder. He’s slugging under .400 despite lengthening his swing, and I noticed he was pulling a lot of balls in batting practice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a dangerous game to play if you lack power. Yaz also doesn’t walk a whole lot. He’s definitely toolsy, but the extent of those tools will be what decides his fate.
Glynn Davis, OF: Davis doesn’t appear on any top prospect lists and was one of a gaggle of honorable mentions on Kiley McDaniel’s rundown of the Baltimore system. However he’s been hitting very well and fields pretty well too. McDaniel calls him a 70 runner, and a former 80 but he’s apparently put on some weight. He started the first two games in center before moving to left in the third. One of the things holding Davis back is a low walk rate that he’s shown at every level, but the bat definitely plays and his speed will help his OBP. The speed also lets him hit leadoff despite being a right handed hitter as he can make up those extra few steps out of the box. The other is that he doesn’t hit home runs. He’s only hit seven during his entire minor league career, and one has to think the odds won’t be good as he faces better and better pitching. There’s potential for a very good fourth outfielder here, with a chance for a player that can be a decent starter for a few years.
Mychal Givens, RP: Givens was once a shortstop. He’s now a flamethrowing reliever with a ¾ arm slot that wreaks havoc on righties. It’s made even more deceptive by the I didn’t see enough of his secondary stuff to give a full scouting report, but his slider looked halfway decent. MLB.com put a 45 on his change and I'm inclined to agree, so if he can improve that he’s a good late inning option.
The Thunder’s next home series will take place at the very end of the month after a road trip through Erie and Akron. They’ll play the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox Double-A affiliate. Check back between now and then for more prospect tidbits, and I’ll have another full scouting report after that series.
Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on my Twitter account for #CulverWatch. The infamous first rounder is in the midst of a nasty 0-for-44 streak, although he did draw a walk and subsequently score the winning run on Thursday. Eugenio Velez owns the big league record at 0-for-46. Can Cito Culver best him? Is "best" even the right word to use there? We’re certainly going to find out.
Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.