I’ve written it seemingly everyday since the Arizona Fall League campaign began; the parallels between Greg Bird’s 2014 AFL MVP season and the one Gary Sanchez is putting together are near mirror images.Sanchez, who is the AFL leader in the clubhouse in homers (6), RBI (17), hits (21), and total bases (44), was named the AFL Fall-Star Game MVP after going 1-for-3 with a big two-run homer to propel the West to an 8-3 victory over the East on Saturday night at Salt RiverFields.
The 22-year old Sanchez, who started behind the plate and batted clean-up in the game, also threw out two base runners attempting to swipe second base.
Rewind back to last season, Bird was the league leader in homers, hits and RBI and batted clean-up in the Fall-Stars Game, exactly like Sanchez did on Saturday. Bird went on to hit a mammoth homer and was named as the games MVP, exactly as Sanchez did on Saturday. Bird would win the leagues MVP award a few weeks later. If Sanchez holds serve, the Yankees will become the first organization to produce back-to-back AFL MVP’s since they began handing out the Joe Black award in 2002.
Yankees prospect Chaz Hebert earned the win after pitching a scoreless inning of relief with a strikeout on Saturday.
In one of the bigger offensive slugfests that you will see in the AFL this season, the Surprise Saguaros fell to the Mesa Solar Sox, 11-10 on Wednesday.
Tyler Austin, who the Yankees designated for assignment in September, homered for the second consecutive game while going 2-for-4 and scoring three runs on the afternoon. The 24-year old first baseman is off to an impressive start to his AFL campaign; he has hit safely in six of the seven games that he has played in thus far to put his average at .360 overall.Catcher Gary Sanchez, who leads the AFL in homers, RBI, hits, total bases and OPS, went 1-for-4 with a triple on Wednesday to extend his season opening hitting-streak to nine games.
Infielder Tyler Wade, who has had a tough start to his AFL campaign, went 1-for-5 with a double and two RBI on the afternoon. Wade was a Florida State League all-star in Tampa this past season, but he struggled in the final month after earning a promotion to Trenton. Wade has hit just .200 in eight games for Surprise.
After two scoreless appearances to open his AFL season, 21-year old flame-throwing right-hander Domingo Acevedo experienced his first rough outing as a professional. In 1.1 innings of work on Wednesday, Acevedo surrendered a homer and three earned runs while striking out two. The 6’7″ imposing Acavedo did not pitch above the New York Penn League during the regular season but has been thrust into a league with the premiere prospects in all of baseball.
As sure as the sun will rise in the desert, Gary Sanchez is sure to hit a homer. That is the kind of tear that the Yankees 22-year old catching prospect is on right now. Sanchez went 2-for-5 and hit his Arizona Fall League leading fifth homer in just his eighth game on Monday.The two-hit effort by Sanchez marked his fourth straight multi-hit effort and his sixth overall this fall. Greg Bird was the Arizona Fall League MVP last season after hitting six homers and driving in 21 runs in 26 games. Sanchez is on a pace to far surpass those numbers, perhaps as soon as this week.
Tyler Austin also joined in the fun during Surprise’s 6-1 victory over Peoria by hitting his first homer this fall. After being designated for assignment by the Yankees this past September, Austin has hit safely in five of six games for Surprise while being used primarily at first base.
After his first seven games in the Arizona Fall League, Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez finds himself as the league leader in homers (4) and RBI (14) for the Surprise Saguaros.The start to his fall campaign is eerily similar to the one Greg Bird had last season, when he also led the AFL in homers and RBI’s at this juncture. Bird, of course, went on to win the league MVP award.
On Saturday, the 22-year old Sanchez turned in his third straight multi-hit game by going 2-for-5 with a double, a homer and four RBI against Glendale. Sanchez has had multi-hit efforts in five of the seven games that he played in this season to put his average at .467 overall.
Yankees prospect Ian Clarkin, who made just his second start in 2015 on Saturday, earned his first victory since 2014 by going four innings against the Desert Dogs. Clarkin scattered seven hits, three of which were infield singles, and allowed three earned runs, two of which were surrendered by reliever Chaz Hebert after Clarkin was pulled from the game.
In two starts this week, Clarkin has pitched eight innings in total; he’s allowed four earned runs on 11 hits. He has fanned four and walked six over that span. At this juncture, the Yankees are primarily concerned with the health of their southpaw rather than the results on the mound.
After missing the entire 2015 regular season with what the Yankees described as elbow inflammation during spring training, southpaw Ian Clarkin toed the rubber for the first time this year on Monday for the Surprise Saguaros in Arizona Fall League action.Clarkin started and threw 64 pitches, 37 for strikes, over four solid innings of work against the Salt River Rafters. The 20-year old former first-round pick allowed just one earned run on four hits; he walked three batters and fanned two.
The Yankees selected Clarkin with the 33rd overall pick in the 2013 First Year Player Draft out of Madison High School in San Diego, California. It was a heralded first-round class for the Bombers, one that also saw them take top-prospect Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo with their two additional picks in the round.
In his first full season in pro-ball in 2014, the projectable middle of the rotation starter went 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 17 games between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Clarkin struck-out 75 batters in 75 innings pitched over that span.
Clarkin’s repertoire features a fastball that can sit anywhere from 90-93 MPH with a change-up and a sharp-breaking curveball that has drawn high acclaim in his young career. After pitching in instructional league action for the last few weeks, the Yankees would like Clarkin to toss 20-30 innings in the AFL before shutting it down for the winter.
Last season, Greg Bird got off to a torrid start in the Arizona Fall League and never seemed to slow down. Bird went on to win the AFL MVP award and found himself in the big leagues ten months later.The Yankees are hoping that catching prospect Gary Sanchez follows a similar path. After going 2-for-4 with a homer yesterday in the season opener, Sanchez followed that up by going 3-for-4 with another homer to fuel a 5-4 victory in ten innings.
The 22-year old catcher was an all-star for Double-A Trenton before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in late July. In 93 games between the two levels, Sanchez hit .274 with a career-best 18 homers and 62 RBI.
As recently as 2013, Sanchez was regarded by most in the game as the top-prospect in the Yankees farm system. An influx of rapid-developing young talent coupled with a lack of progress on the defensive side of the game, Sanchez has seen his stock fall dramatically over the last two seasons.
With six seasons of professional experience already under his belt, Sanchez will still only be 23-years old on opening day this spring. The Yankees are hoping that his hot-start to this AFL campaign can propel him to the big leagues in 2016, whether it be for them or another organization willing to pony up a lucrative package to acquire him.
Labor Day functioned as “Getaway day” for Trenton Thunder players and coaches, as Al Pedrique’s first season at the helm of the club ended with a 71-71 record after losing their season finale to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 8-1, falling just short of the Eastern League playoffs.
Some players are already close to home, such as Eric Ruth and Billy Fleming, who will make their trip home in under an hour. Others, such as Jaron Long and Taylor Garrison, will load into one car and make the cross-country trek to Arizona and California, respectively. According to Pedrique, all of his players can leave knowing this season was considered a success.
What started off as a season with high expectations, with several highly regarded prospects – including Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and New York’s newest stud pitcher, Luis Severino – beginning their season in the Thunder blues, ended as a year where Pedrique was left trying to piece together the puzzle at midseason.
“Overall, it was a good season. Obviously, it could have been even better by making the playoffs. It didn’t happen, we fell short,” Pedrique said during an interview on Saturday. “We had a great start for two months, when we had Judge, Bird, Jagielo, Sanchez, Mason Williams, who was the first guy to leave. I would say the whole plan changed.”
“After the All-Star break, you guys know that it was a different club, a different roster,” Pedrique added. “Every night, it was a different lineup, trying to put guys where they could be successful because their job was supposed to be just a role player and they wound up playing every day.”
Coming out of the All-Star break, Pedrique’s Thunder won their first game against Binghamton to put them 11 games over .500. However, five straight losses following that would be the beginning of the downward spiral, as the loss of their star power ultimately became just too much to overcome for Pedrique’s club.
Pedrique noted that despite the high expectations that many had for his club when rosters were finalized in early April, he knew that it would be a tough year because of player turnover. No one expected Aaron Judge to still be on the roster in late June any more than they thought Jake Cave would be in Trenton until September.
“You kind of get a feel for [things] when you finalize the roster in the last three days before you break camp,” the first-year Trenton skipper noted. “You see the kind of talent you have on the club and you’re always kind of assuming something is going to happen, but when, you have no idea.”
One of the things Pedrique raved about was how well his pitching staff progressed during the year. Pitchers such as Severino, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody all spent time with the Thunder this season, and progressed all the way to the big leagues prior to roster expansion. In September, they were joined by James Pazos and Andrew Bailey, who also spent extensive time working with Pedrique’s pitching coach, Jose Rosado, this year.
“Rosado did a good job. He showed a lot of patience, lot of knowledge of pitching, [and] he pays a lot of attention to details when it comes to mechanics and situations,” Pedrique said. “Rosado and I talk every day about situations and how I would to run the pitching staff and run the relievers. We know this is the minor leagues and we’re trying to develop these guys for the big leagues. They have to understand game situations.”
The pitching staff – and Rosado’s – success came despite a revolving door that saw Trenton use 34 pitchers and three position players on the mound in 2015. The amount of transactions were surprising to Pedrique, who noted the difficulties of managing an ever-changing pitching staff.
“With the pitchers, it’s hard because once you get your rotation set and your relievers know what their role is – early, middle, or late – and you start losing those guys, then you have to figure out if you can use this guy late in the game, if you can use him in the middle,” Pedrique said. “We’ll get reports about the guys that are coming up, but it’s sometimes different from when you read it and it takes some time to figure out those situations.”
Overall, Pedrique believes his first year with the Thunder was a successful one, and he remains hopeful that the Yankees organization asks him back for a second year at the helm. Should he return, the focus will remain on developing the Yankees’ stars of tomorrow, but he could also help the Thunder return to the postseason for the first time since their 2013 Eastern League championship run.