The Yankees Double-A team ranked in the bottom half of the Eastern League in just about every offensive category and had only one player reach double digit home runs. The pitching staff wasn’t much better, and that led to a sub-.500 record.
This might have been a breakout season for several Thunder players — Melky Mesa, Brad Suttle and Graham Stoneburner were intriguing for various reasons — but instead it was usual suspects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances who had most of the attention most of the year in Trenton (when the team didn’t have a future Hall of Famer at shortstop, that is).
Hitter of the Year: 2B Corban Joseph
Nothing especially overwhelming about Joseph’s season, just a typically solid all-around year for the versatile infielder who was an everyday second baseman this year. Joseph hit .277/.353/.415 and was one of only five players to get into more than 100 games for the Thunder. He led the team with 58 RBI and tied for the league lead with 38 doubles. A fourth-round pick in 2008, Joseph has been a steady hitter while playing second and third base, and should move up to Triple-A next season with an eye on a big league utility role at some point.
Starter of the Year: RHP Dellin Betances
He had a losing record and pitched only 105.1 innings for Trenton, but Betances still stands out because he led all starters with 115 strikeouts and a .219 opponents batting average. Betances and Banuelos each battled some control problems, a sign that they still have work to do before they’re fully polished, but both showed that they can be dominant. Betances allowed two runs or less in 12 of his 21 Double-A starts. He was better in the first half than in the second half, but more than held his own when given his first big league start in late September. He’s clearly not a finished product, but Betances showed why he’s such a highly touted young arm in the Yankees pitching-rich system.
Reliever of the Year: RHP/LHP Pat Venditte
Josh Schmidt and Wilkins Arias delivered typically Double-A impressive numbers, but neither pitched more than 35 innings, and Tim Norton’s incredibly dominant Double-A stint was cut short after just 29 innings. Meanwhile, Venditte threw a whopping 90 innings — all of them out of the pen — and carried a 1.23 WHIP that was the best on the team among anyone with more than 35 innings. Seen as a kind o sideshow, Venditte has gotten results at every level, and this year he held lefties to a .213 average with 43 strikeouts in 136 at-bats. He pitched at least three innings 10 times, and went as high as 4.1 innings (on 57 pitches). As he keeps getting outs at higher and higher levels it’s becoming more and more difficult to completely dismiss him as a legitimate prospect.
Breakout performance: RHP Tim Norton
Trenton’s truly eye-opening performance lasted only the first two months of the season. Coming back from injury, Norton put himself firmly back on the map with 22 exceptional relief outings for the Thunder. He struck out 44 batters in 29 innings, allowed a .124 opponents batting average and earned a promotion to Triple-A. After one outing for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Norton landed back on the disabled list and was never heard from again. One of several pieces of the Trenton roster that seemed so close to a breakout but ultimately fizzled for one reason or another.
Disappointing numbers: CF Melky Mesa
Coming off an MVP season in the Florida State League, Mesa came into this year with a 40-man spot and renewed hope that he might finally turn his exceptional tools — power, speed, defense — into legitimate baseball progress. Instead, he took a step back. Mesa’s strikeout totals went up slightly and his slash line dipped to .251/.329/.404 with nine home runs and 18 stolen bases. In an organization light on elite upper-level outfield prospects, Mesa offered some hope this season, but he didn’t do much to keep the attention. Austin Romine’s power numbers also dipped this season, Brad Suttle did nothing to resurrect his prospect status and Graham Stoneburner was limited to just 11 starts.
Top prospect watch: LHP Manny Banuelos
One of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, Banuelos generated a ton of buzz in spring training, but he had 52 walks in 95.1 innings with Trenton. Only three of his 20 starts lasted more than five innings. But there were, of course, plenty of positives. Banuelos struck out 95, had a 3.59 ERA and held lefties to a .229 average. He was bumped to Triple-A in August and made seven starts at that level, including a seven-inning, one-hit gem against the Red Sox top minor league affiliate. Banuelos had a good-but-not-overwhelming season, showing the promise and the youth of a 20 year old.
Notable: C Austin Romine didn’t hit for the same power that he showed last season, but his batting average and on-base percentage both improved in his second Double-A season. He threw out 23.9 percent of base stealers, ranking seventh of nine qualifying catchers in the Eastern League… LHP Shaeffer Hall and RHP Craig Heyer each had 10 wins in solid but not standout seasons out of the rotation… After an impressive 2010 seasons, RHP Graham Stoneburner had a 1.69 ERA through his first three Double-A starts before being shutdown with an injury. He returned in late July, but he’ll ultimately need to take a mulligan on his season… RHP Josh Schmidt first got to Trenton in 2008. In his past three seasons he’s had a 1.61, 2.67 and 1.83 ERA in Double-A, but he’s gotten just 21 opportunities in Triple-A. Such is the life for a soft-tossing right-hander. Have to feel for the guy, though… SS Jose Pirela made a team-high 39 errors, the most among Eastern League shortstops… Nice year for OF Ray Kruml who hit .290 and earned some playing time in Triple-A… Up from High-A Tampa, OF Ziolo Almonto, 3B Robert Lyerly and RHP Chase Whitley were among the biggest names on the roster at the end of the year.