Thunder Thoughts is a blog about the Yankees AA affiliate, the Trenton Thunder. Blogger and beat writer Mike Ashmore has been covering the team since 2006, and he was kind enough to answer a few of our questions:
Jimmy Dugan - Who is the best prospect you have seen that didn't make it to the
big or busted at the big league level?
Mike Ashmore - Right now, Eric Duncan and Chuck Lofgren come to mind...I'd say Adam Miller -- there were people who thought he was better than Phil Hughes when both were in the Eastern League in 2006 -- but I still think he's going to be a big leaguer.
Duncan was a local guy and a first rounder, and as a result was hyped to ridiculous levels. I think people forget how young he still is,but the fact that he isn't getting spring invites and isn't getting a sniff in the Rule 5 shows you how far his stock has fallen.
As for Lofgren...BA has him ranked as Cleveland's #2 prospect last season, and now he's fallen completely off the radar. He had one great year in 2006, a pretty good year in 2007 and was a mess last year...was he a starter? Was he a reliever? He's only 23, but still...yikes.
Adam Loewen comes to mind as well, actually...he got a handful of games in the bigs, but he was another first rounder who was hyped to death who just never really panned out.
JD - You had the chance to watch Mark Melancon pitch pretty frequently last year - how good is he?
MA - Well, he certainly doesn't suck. Melancon's going to be an above average big leaguer one day, and perhaps the future Yankees closer depending on how things work out with Mariano Rivera and so on...then again, people were saying the same thing about J.B. Cox a few years back and that didn't entirely pan out.
Melancon's fastball still isn't where it once was in terms of velocity, but his secondary stuff is pretty nasty...a bad outing from him was rare in Trenton. I doubt he cracks the big league club out of camp...but he'd have to be one of the first guys called up if an opportunity should arise in the bullpen.
JD - Better logo: Thor or the Cloud? What is the best Minor League Logo?
MA - Neither...I'm impartial to the original logo from the first eight years of the Thunder's existence. That's the one I was accustomed to from following the team when I was younger.
Best minor league logo? Yikes. Probably not a good answer, but Always liked the color scheme the Vermont Lake Monsters had.
JD - How has the morale of the team has changed from the barren early2000s, to what is now billed as a resurgence. Guys like Robinson Cano have talked about how futile it felt to be a Yankee farmhand for along time until he and Wang got promoted. Do Yankees minor leaguers feel like more than bait now?
MA - Well, I've only been covering the Thunder since 2006, so that isn't as easy to answer as I'd like...but even over the past few years, guy shave felt like they actually have a chance in the organization as opposed to more or less being groomed for someone else's big leagueteam. I still wonder whether that attitude will change considering guys like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were added via free agency...which was more like what the "old" Yankees would do and not as much going torwards building from within as they'd seemed to be trying to do over the past few years. You can't blame them at all forgoing out and getting the best guys available...but if you're Yankees minor leaguer, you're probably a little more frustrated than you were last season.
JD - Is Austin Jackson the potential star that the Yankees are telling us, or is he a serviceable big league center fielder?
MA - Somewhere in the middle, I think. Occasional All-Star? Perhaps.Perennial All-Star? Probably not. But the kid is a great athlete with a great attitude and a strong work ethic, and that can take you pretty far. I'd really like to see what he can do against Triple-A pitching for a full season and not see him get rushed...but that all depends on how the Yankees center field options perform in the first half of the year.
JD - Give me a sleeper for 2009
MA - Is Eric Hacker considered a sleeper? He's on the 40-man roster, after all. But he could end up on the Trenton roster to start the season considering the pitching depth the organization currently has. He was just so consistent, and he's similar to Phil Coke in that he just wants the ball and doesn't really care when or where he gets it. I'll be very curious to see if he can follow up on his breakout season of'08.
JD - I read in your bio that you have conducted an inordinate amount of interviews - who was the most interesting?
MA - I don't even want to take a stab at putting a number on how many people I've been fortunate enough to interview during my career...I know it's a pretty ridiculous number that I'd ultimately be pretty proud of. Most interesting? I usually go with Matt DeSalvo when people ask me that question. He was just a very different guy who was very into books and just had a lot of layers to him. He liked to answer questions with other questions and is probably the only player to this day who didn't want to read what I'd written about him.
JD - Dish dirt: Who was the biggest prick?
MA - Ha. You could probably make an All-Star team out of the guys who have turned me down for interviews...but most of them have been nice about it. I think Kenny Rogers was the first one who ever flat shot me down back when I was working for a sports radio show in 2005, and he wasn't the best about it. Ben Sheets also wasn't the easiest to talk to,either.
As far as Yankees go...I've never, ever had a problem with anyone in Trenton. A-Rod shot me down once before a Yankee game, but I wasn't surprised. More embarrassed than anything else because he did it in front of other reporters, really. But then Derek Jeter was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time, and it made the day suck much, much less. Think of it this way...I need to talk to those guys a lot more than they need to talk to me, so it was nice that Jeter would actually give a break to the Double-A beat writer. You don't forget stuff like that.
JD - As a minor league expert, I have to ask: Is it really possible fora catcher that has pop from both sides of the plate and calls a great game to be overlooked to the tune of 220+ minor league home runs, or was Crash Davis as fake as Joaquin Phoenix's shtick?
MA - Setting minor league records is kind of like being the tallest midget...yeah, that's great and all, but you're still a midget.Little person? Is that more politically correct? But the point is,there are guys who have got some impressive minor league numbers who have never and likely will never get a look at the big league level.
There was obviously some embellishing on the Crash Davis story...but it's not too far-fetched.
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to pen some very in-depth answers for us (we'll be keeping an eye on Eric Hacker!). I urge all of our readers to check out Thunder Thoughts, as it gives an excellent snapshot of whats going on in Trenton throughout the year.