The Trenton Thunder kicked off this homestand with a three-game set against the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals' Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League. Harrisburg features an assortment of interesting prospects lead by middle infielder Wilmer Difo and catcher Pedro Severino. In a fun stroke of luck, I got a look at part of the Brendan Ryan (remember him?) rehab tour. The Thunder would sweep the series to win their eighth straight game. Hey, that's pretty good!
Another matter of note this series was former manager Tony Franklin being inducted into the Trenton Thunder Hall of Fame. Franklin holds the Eastern League record for manager wins, and still works within the Yankees organization. He's been working as an instructor in extended spring training and will serve as skipper of the brand new Pulaski Yankees once their season kicks off after the draft. Franklin is the definition of a baseball lifer and all of us at Pinstripe Alley tip our caps to him.
Brendan Ryan- Ryan made his second rehab appearance with the Thunder in as many years. He played third base on Friday and looked to be very mobile. Ryan also started a great double play on a hard chopper right into his chest. After the game he said he was frustrated that he'd let too many good pitches go by at the plate. The defense is absolutely back though. He played a game at every infield position but first and looked completely up to speed. The front office will have a tough choice to make once he's fully ready to come back.
Aaron Judge - Judge hadn't logged an extra-base hit in six games until Sunday. That was when he slugged a triple in the first inning. Yes, a triple. For a 6'7' mountain of a man, Judge is deceptively fleet of foot. However what's becoming more and more apparent every time I see him is Judge's susceptibility to the breaking ball. I know I might sound like a broken record, but Judge must find a way to address this issue if he wants to be more than a version of Jay Bruce in the bigs. It's a bit of a natural problem for him to have due to the sheer size of his strike zone, but it's a concern. Regardless, he's still hitting for high average, but that could quickly change once he hits Triple-A. I'm not trying to say Judge is going to bust. He's got all the talent and natural tools in the world. Just that strikeouts could quickly become his Achilles heel.
Greg Bird - He lives! Bird made his grand return from the disabled list on Thursday in Binghamton, and he promptly collected a single. Bird did not play on Friday because the team didn't want to overexert his healing right shoulder, but he DH'd on Saturday and collected two hard-hit singles. One of those hits went the other way and scored two runs, too. On Sunday, he played first, knocked in a run on a fielder's choice, doubled and walked. Bird is hitting the ground running, it seems. His swing is just as great as it looks in video and he showed a ridiculously discerning eye at the plate. He's beyond impressive.
Eric Jagielo - Jagielo had the day off on Friday, and then collected one hit in the two games he played while also appearing at first base on Saturday. It was only the second time he's appeared at first in his professional career, the first time being on Thursday at Binghamton. Some members of the Yankees brass are very unenthusiastic about Jagielo's defense at third base and it's long been theorized that Jagielo would end up at first. I'm not going to try to grade him at that position just yet since he's clearly still in the process of learning it. It's a storyline to keep an eye on though.
Gary Sanchez - I'll give Gary this: he's hitting again. He's sitting at .262/.321/.446 with eight home runs, including a three-run oppo shot he banged off the foul pole on Saturday. Despite all the trials and tribulations, Sanchez is still just 22 and the bat is back. Odds are he'll crack the bigs at some point. Whether or not he hits enough against top flight pitching is something else entirely.
Jake Cave - Cave had two hits in all three games against Harrisburg. Nobody was fooling him. The showing brought his line to .294/.377/.379 for the season and that'll play in the leadoff spot with his speed. His power, which is much more gap power than home run power, hasn't shown as much as it did last year. I expect that to even out as the season progresses. The good news is that his walks are up and his strikeouts are down so it sort of evens out. Once the power seeps back in he'll be an even bigger threat.
Mark Payton - Last year's seventh round pick is almost like a mini-Brett Gardner. Payton is close Altuve territory in terms of height, but he's very fast and smacks the ball well. He's capable of playing all three outfield positions and playing them well. His size limits his power, but he plays hard and has fantastic range. It's very impressive that someone this small from last year's draft is already in Double-A and I'm excited to see what Payton can conjure up at this level if he gets consistent playing time.
Eric Ruth - Eric Ruth had another good outing? Shocker. The small, soft-tossing righty pitched the final five innings of Friday's game after Kyle Haynes was given an unexpected start. Ruth was the scheduled starter that day and coming out of the bullpen didn't seem to faze him (he worked as a reliever until his junior year of college). He did run into trouble in his second inning of work and allowed two runs. Part of that trouble was because the defense misplayed a couple of balls, but Ruth did leave a few too many pitches up. It was only one inning though, and Ruth ended up posting the lowest WHIP of any of his appearances since May 20th. The moral of the story is that Eric Ruth is very, very good.
Brady Lail - Lail is an advanced arm with a big league future. He's one of those "high floor/low ceiling" types in that his stuff and approach should play in the Majors, but it's doubtful that he ever is more than a third starter. That's perfectly fine as many teams would kill for a consistent third starter right now, let alone a back-end arm. Lail's fastball will sit 89-92 but he can reach back for 94 when he needs it. Lail is willing to lead off a plate appearance with off-speed and breaking pitches before using that fastball to go for the jugular, and to lead with the fastball and use his secondary stuff for the out. His seven innings of two-run, eight-strikeout, no-walk ball were impressive considering he didn't have his best stuff and Harrisburg was making a fair amount of hard contact off him. He retired 11 in a row at one point. There's nothing but pitchability here and success at Triple-A would be a sure sign that this is indeed a big league arm.
Kyle Haynes - The right-handed Haynes unexpectedly made the start on Friday. He's been a reliever to this point in his career (nine starts in 118 professional games prior to Friday) but Trenton has been trying to get him stretched out a bit more of late. In the win last Sunday, Haynes pitched the final three innings of the game and manager Al Pedrique said that they wanted to see how he would handle an extended outing. If Haynes is indeed being converted into a starter, he should be up to the task as he threw four innings of one-run ball. His fastball was in the low 90's and he looked like he could be a swingman if he keeps getting stretched out. There's no overpowering pitch here but the complete package is good enough.
Nick Goody - Goody reeks of closer. His velocity is back after dealing with Tommy John surgery and his changeup is absolutely devastating. Once you throw in his usable slider you've got a stew cooking. He has 35 strikeouts in 28.2 IP this year, and while his 14 walks are a bit sub-optimal, he's only issued three free passes in his last five outings. That'll do. He's quick to the plate with a deceptive delivery and has all the makings of a late-inning weapon.
Johnny Barbato - It's a bit fitting that Barbato was the return in the Shawn Kelley trade. Just like everyone's favorite heart attack-inducing former Yankee reliever, Barbato allows too many baserunners and has given up three homers in 26.1 innings. The 1.41 WHIP is too high and it's because his fastball isn't fooling too many batters. His curveball is a bona fide weapon that he can throw for strikes and induce ground balls with, but it's far too often that he doesn't get to use it. In his inning this series, Barbato allowed three hits before wiggling out of the jam by getting a double play ball on a perfectly placed curve. It's textbook Shawn Kelley. Hopefully he can exceed that.
Wilmer Difo - When you hear people say "he looks the part," it can sound a bit overly simple and anecdotal. Wilmer Difo absolutely looks the part. This is my second look at Difo (my first was only a single game) but he's absolutely legit. He's a smallish guy, and that's fine for a middle infielder, but he packs a surprising amount of pop. He switch-hits too. The left-handed swing is smooth and compact and while I didn't get many chances to see him as a righty, he's historically hit well from both sides. Difo played shortstop this series and he's a fantastic defender there. I've seen some chatter that he may have to move to second base, but I didn't see a single play that signaled that. Difo's cup of coffee with the Nats earlier this season was quite premature, but once he's ready he's going to be very good.
Pedro Severino - Severino looks fantastic behind the plate. He's very mobile and blocks pitches well, and has developed into a plus framer. The hit-tool has been slow to come around but he was slapping hard-hit balls all over the place on Sunday. Severino swings from the right-hand side and it's clear to see why scouts think he's a projectable hitter. He'll never excel with the bat but the addition of his great work on defense could make him a sustainable starting catcher for quite a while. It's not a skillset that will blow the doors off, but genuine starting catchers are valuable assets.
Brian Goodwin - Goodwin's prospect shimmer is nearly gone. He's pretty much stopped hitting and while he's still somewhat useful out in center field, he took some interesting routes to balls this series and it's quite easy for that to backfire. This is the second straight season he hasn't been hitting well. What makes that even worse is that he spent last year in Triple-A, and after being demoted his bat is even quieter. Goodwin is 24 now and this may be the end of his relevance. A .611 OPS at Double-A just isn't going to cut it.
Tony Renda - Renda plays a good second base. In the two games I saw him he never flashed outstanding range or arm strength but he certainly gets the job done. Renda also hit well and collected three hits between the two games. Renda stole in each of the two contests. He's fast and agile and while he hits for almost no power (just a .074 ISO this year in his first taste of Double-A), if that regresses more towards his less-awful career norms there could be a late-blooming bench player here.
Drew Vettleson - The right fielder's career has been derailed by injuries again and again. After making it back from a broken hand last year and never catching fire, he played only one game this season before being hurt again and finally making it back on May 24th. He flashed his plus power against Trenton but never collected a hit and also showed off his good throwing arm. He's only appeared in thirteen games this season so there's time for him to start hitting again and he's still just 23, but if Vettleson doesn't show up this season it could be ugly.
Austin Voth - Voth made his start a day early on Friday, because the scheduled starter Joe Ross was called up to pitch for the big league club. Voth allowed four runs, but only one was earned, largely because of an ugly inning in which a whole gaggle of errors were committed. Voth, a right-hander, throws over the top with a forgettable fastball and a curveball that can come out of nowhere and move well. The changeup is also decent enough but didn't wow me at any point.
Gilberto Mendez - Harrisburg deployed their closer in a garbage-time inning at the end of Sunday's game to get him some work. He didn't strike anybody out, but the small 22-year-old righty was impressive. In addition to throwing a low-90's fastball that he spotted well, Mendez induced poor contact and big whiffs with his changeup. The ball simply dies away when it reaches the plate. His walk rate is up slightly in his first trip through Double-A, but we'll see if that regresses. He's struck out less than a batter per inning so the ridiculous ratios that you usually look for from possible late-inning guys aren't here, but I think this is a Major League reliever before all is said and done.
The next Thunder series will be against the Erie Seawolves, the Detroit Tigers Double-A affiliate. There isn't a whole lot going on in the Tigers system prospect-wise, but it may be a chance to see the Trenton offense truly take off. We shall see!
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer 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.