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We at the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog have always maintained that the future is in our children. More specifically, in the blue chip prospects making their way up through our farm system. One of the stops on the minor league train is over in Trenton, New Jersey where the mighty Trenton Thunder master their craft. Some of the Yankees biggest prospects passed through there on the way to the bigs, and some are still there waiting for their chance.
With Brian Cashman's player development philosophy in full swing, we at the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog took an opportunity to ask some questions of Trenton Thunder beat writer Mike Ashmore. Mike has been working the Trenton beat for 3 years now, and has seen many prospects come and go through the farm system. Wondering what's going on with our Double A team? Mike Ashmore brings the Trenton Thunder to you.
1) You've been one of the beat writers at Trenton for the last few seasons when Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy all spent time there. Can you tell us about an interaction you've had with one of those guys that stood out in your mind?
The thing I liked so much about Phil, is that for all the hype that was around him when he came to Trenton, I never heard or saw him be a jerk to anyone. During the last Q&A we did at the end of the 2006 season, I took the time to thank him for always being so giving with his time to me, and he seemed touched by that.
With Joba, I only got to talk to him two or three times while he was in Trenton because he spent such a short amount of time there. The thing that stood out to me was how cool he was about me being a little hesitant in asking about his heritage. I know next to nothing about the Native American culture, and he was very understanding of that and was willing to explain his background and talk about how he grew up. When I went up to him, he also took the time to introduce himself to me and actually seem interested in wanting to talk...which for as stupid as it sounds to people who might not be in my position, stands out in my mind.
And with Ian, I can remember that for as good as he was to talk to last year -- and I actually only spoke to him once in Trenton -- the feature I wrote on him sucked. I went with a "Friday Night Lights" theme since he was USC's Friday night starter, and it more or less sucked. He does get bonus points for remembering me from Trenton when I spoke to him in the Yankees clubhouse earlier this month, however.
2) Its obvious that Chase Wright was brought up prematurely last season. How has he progressed since then, and do you think he can contribute at the big league level soon?
A year later, and I still don't know what to think about Wright being called up as early as he was last year. I've had people close to the organization tell me he was clearly pitching the best out of anyone in the system at the time he was called up...but when you balance that out with the fact that as far as he'd advanced in his career were two or three starts at the Double-A level at that time, and it was an interesting choice.
When Chase first came back to Trenton late last year, he struggled a little bit and didn't seem like the same pitcher he was when he did get called up. To me, I know people must think that the Fenway Park home run fest affected him adversly, or that not starting this year in Scranton did as well...but if it does, he never shows it. He always has such a positive attitude, and I think that's really shown in his outings so far this year. He's pitching like he did early last season for the Thunder, and while he doesn't have the hype around him that some of the other guys in the system have, and he's also got his age working against him as well, he's throwing the ball like someone who wants to earn another big league call-up.
According to Scott Aldred, his breaking ball needs some work. I think he also needs to do some work holding runners on base, because teams have a tendency of trying to run on him with some pretty decent success.
And not that you asked, but Chase is one of my favorite people to talk to on the team. Always willing to talk about anything and everything, and one of the more friendly guys on the team as well.
3) Phil Coke has the most gangster name of anyone on the Trenton roster. What can you tell us about him?
Good, I get to make a bunch of crappy soda jokes. Well, I can tell you I've never seen him drink Pepsi. Sticking with the soda theme, right now I think you're seeing Diet Coke. Everything I've been told is that this kid is a lot better than what you've seen so far.
He sits around 89-90 on the gun, so he has the velocity to be effective, but I don't think he's mastered his location or movement on his pitches just yet. There's such a logjam of solid pitchers in this organization, so if Coke doesn't get himself straightened out in his next few starts, it's entirely possible he could head back to Tampa for a little while.
I've spoken to him a couple times...seems like a pretty loose, friendly guy.
4) The Trenton outfield has both Jose Tabata and Austin Jackson, two prospects with high ceilings. How would you rate those two guys, and which one do you think will have a greater impact on the Yankees in the future?
Tabata hasn't shown me enough yet, so I think Austin Jackson's going to have the bigger impact on the Yankees. To be honest, I've paid much closer attention to Jackson than I have Tabata, largely in part to the fact that since Tabata doesn't speak English, I can't exactly ask him too much without the help of a translator.
I think Jackson is still very raw. You can tell that the tools are there, but I think the instincts still need work. Little stuff, like knowing how and when to tag up on fly balls are things I've noticed this year with him. I think that once he really puts everything together, he's going to be a good 2nd or 3rd outfielder for the Yankees...but maybe not until late 2009 or the start of 2010.
With Tabata, I think his plate discipline needs some work. He's swung on 3-0 pitches on more than one occasion, and hasn't really shown a knack for working the count in general. He's still very young, so he might still be having a little trouble making that jump to Double-A.
5) Have you ever been attacked by spam prevention robots?
Not that I'm aware of...but you'd be amazed at the spam comments I get and the spam e-mails that consistently flood my inbox. Also, I have a Spam clock on my shelf. I have eaten Spam before. What category does Spam fall into? It isn't necessarily a meat, sooooo...
6) What do you like most about covering the Trenton Thunder?
Every time I step into the press box, it's a reminder of how far I've come. I first came to Waterfront Park with my Little League team when I was 12 years old, and got to see guys like Nomar Garciaparra play. I started going regularly as a fan in 1999 and probably went to about 25-30 games. I'd get there early for BP and get autographs, run around and pick up the balls that were rolling around past the outfield wall, and fill my room with Thunder shirts, batting helmets, jerseys and so on.
I was the kid who waited down the first base line before the game with baseball and pen in hand. I was the kid who showed up for picture day so I could get my photo taken with all the players. I was the kid who saved every dollar he earned so he could buy the jersey of his favorite players.
Making the transition from fan to reporter -- and trust me, there is a transition to be made there...once you get into this business, you never really look at the fan side of things the same way again -- was an interesting one, going from chasing these guys around for autographs to getting daily access to them and getting to know some of them as well. I like being able to provide people updates on their favorite prospects, because I know how much I cared about that when I was on "the other side." I like interacting with the fans, and I try really hard to bring them as close to the guys as I can, because I know how much it meant to me.
The Thunder organization, especially PR man Bill Cook, have always been phenomenal to me throughout my years of covering the team, and wherever my career ends up taking me, I will never forget the people and organizations who believed in me along the way.
7) Scott Patterson was with Trenton for the majority of last season, and had great success. What did you think of the Yankees decision to keep him off the roster coming out of spring training?
Hated it. Scott is someone I got to know personally from his days with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. That league is actually my primary beat, and I made many jokes about Patterson sharing his name with the actor who played Luke Danes on Gilmore Girls. Yes, I watched Gilmore Girls. Initially, because I thought Lauren Graham was hot. But yeah, it's a really good show.
Anyway, I happened to be in Lancaster the day Patterson signed with the Yankees, and we ended up chatting in the press box for a good half an hour. He ended up going on my laptop to check his e-mail and get directions to Trenton. I happened to have a Thunder roster in my bag, and he spent a lot of time looking it over and seeing who he'd be playing with.
On the field, Patterson has consistently shown he can get the job done. It's silly that the fact that he has no experience at the higher levels is what apparently kept him back. How can a guy get experience in the big leagues if you aren't willing to give him that chance? I'm confident he'll get up there at some point this season, but I think he deserved a spot on the Opening Day roster, no doubt about it.
8) In the time you've covered the Trenton Thunder, you must have seen many players come and go. Which player has stood out the most to you and why?
This is my third year as a writer, and fifth overall if you count when I did a handful of games in '04 and '05 as a photographer. I don't even want to think about how many players I've seen come and go through Trenton, because it'll make me feel a lot older than I actually am (25). I'd have to say Hughes. I'm a guy who always focuses a lot of his time paying attention to the pitchers, whether it's a game I'm covering or a game I'm going to as a fan.
Why would I spend $30 to see...like Jamie Moyer vs. Odalis Perez when I can spend the same amount to see Cole Hamels vs. Johan Santana?
It was the same thing with Hughes. I went out of my way to see him pitch. I would plan my schedule around the days he was pitching. You just had a feeling that you were seeing some special, and I felt fortunate to be a part of it. Even with the big league game I did this year, I specifically chose his start. I know things haven't really worked out that way so far this year, but I think that he'll be what everyone thought he'd be in some time.
9) Do you think the Trenton Thunder will ever consider changing their name to the Trenton Jeter's Gangster?
Hey, Jeter is technically a Thunder alum with his 2003 rehab stint and all. I'd much rather them change the name to the Trenton Stump Merrill's Gangster, myself. Because when I think gangster, I think Stump Merrill.
10) I look at the name of the infield prospects on the team, and none of them seem to have that blue chip prospect label that other players in the organization have. What infield prospects are the Yankees developing, and do you think any of them will develop into big league players?
As far as the Thunder infield goes, you've got Marcos Vechionacci, Ramiro Pena, Reegie Corona and Cody Ehlers. There's no obvious future big leaguer in the group, at least not yet. Pena is finally starting to hit, and he probably has the best chance of making an impact at some point down the road.
In Tampa, you've got Mitch Hilligoss and Damon Sublett hitting well. I can't wait to see Hilligoss, you hear nothing but good things about the guy. And I got to see Sublett play for Staten Island last year and came away pretty impressed...the kid can flat out rake.
Even Charleston has some solid prospects with Brad Suttle and Justin Snyder. I got to see Snyder with the SI Yanks last year as well, and he showed awesome plate discipline...I think he had three walks in the game I saw him in. It's hard to evaluate a player on just one game, but from what I saw of him, he could make an impact in Trenton sometime soon as well.
11) You have a blog (http://thunderbaseball.wordpress.com/), which you update regularly. How many times a day do you frequent the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog, and why is it your favorite blog?
I check out as many of the Yankees related jobs as I can. I don't think people realize that even though I'm only responsible for covering the Double-A level of the Yankees organization, people expect me to know everything that's going on at every level. I try really, really hard to stay as on top of things as I can, but you're never going to have as much information as you'd ultimately like to.
Why is it my favorite blog? Hmmm...how about this? If it were to be my favorite blog, it would have to be everything that you guys are doing for charity. I'm really trying to stir up some interest for Trenton's Autism Awareness Day on April 27th, so it's great to see that there are other great people who follow the organization who are looking to help out as well.
And the C&C Boys home run race thing. That's some comedy gold right there.
12) And lastly, what do you respect most about Jeter's gangster?
Take your pick: Either that the guy has dated Mariah Carey or that he has two lockers at Yankee Stadium. One for his stuff, and one just for his shoes. Mariah's "Touch My Body" video? Now that's gangster...
So there you have it! Mike Ashmore knows his baseball, and loves the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog. If you haven't done so already, check out Mike Ashmore's blog Thunder Thoughts. If you are interested in minor league happenings, its a necessary read.
Lastly, Many thanks to Mike Ashmore for taking the time to answer our questions!