Sunday, March 25, 2007

Some wild guesses

I fly to Tampa this afternoon. Before I arrive there, here are some wild guesses for players who will come north with the Thunder a week from today. Bear in mind that, when I say "wild guesses," I really mean wild.

Infielders: Cody Ehlers, Gabe Lopez, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Howard, Grant Plumley. This is the area of the team that appears most set. Ehlers was the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year last season and I predicted last September that he would be here to start the season (I was hardly going out on a limb, of course). Andy Cannizaro is firmly entrenched as the second baseman in Scranton, squeezing Lopez out of Triple-A once again. Pena was demoted to High-A Tampa after hitting .178 with the Thunder, then got hit with the injury bug. He'll get another chance, and at age 21, he still has time. Howard had only a so-so year with the Thunder last year. Plumley saw some time here as a utility infielder, a role he'll likely fill again. A sixth infielder, likely a DH-type, should also be assigned here before camp breaks.

Outfielders: Justin Christian, Brett Gardner, Matt Carson, Edwar Gonzalez. Barring an injury, the Triple-A outfield is set, meaning that Christian and Gardner won't get promoted right away. Gonzalez, who hit .260 last year in Tampa and has reportedly had a good camp, could compete with Carson (a combined .248 between Tampa and Trenton) for the third starting outfield spot.

Catcher: P.J. Pillitiere. From what I've heard, Pillitiere is ready for Double-A. But there is the possibility of Omir Santos getting squeezed out from Triple-A, especially if Wil Nieves and Raul Chavez are kept in Triple-A. There will obviously be a backup catcher, which could be Jason Brown.

Starting Pitching: Chase Wright is the only one I feel very confident about, especially given the injuries to Wang and Sanchez. Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and Brett Smith are also strong possibilities; at least 2 will likely make it, and all three could. Steven Jackson, one of the prospects the Yankees acquired in the Randy Johnson trade, was also a possibility before the injuries; now he's likely ticketed for Scranton. Matt DeSalvo is a good possibility for the fifth spot, but it could also go to Jason Jones if they decide not to make him a reliever, which one person I talked to said was a possibility.

Relief Pitching: Also very tough to predict. Kevin Whelan, one of the pitchers acquired for Gary Sheffield, should be the Thunder closer. Scott Patterson was signed out of the independent Atlantic League and was a very pleasant surprise last year; the Yankees re-signed him and will likely send him back to Trenton. While Charlie Manning is currently in Triple-A camp, he's never been able to stick in Triple-A or above before, so it wouldn't shock me to see him sent back here. Another possibility is Cory Stuart.

There will inevitably be some surprises this week, as there always are. This will be especially true with the pitching.

Talk to ya in Tampa!

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