Trenton, NJ—Things are exciting, as they usually are, in Trenton, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. There’s a mix of top ranked talent showing they’re developing at a fine pace. And then there’s guys who might not be as well-known or as hyped, but are coming through in the early spring of the 2017 season.
Before a game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays), Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell had some thoughts on a few guys doing a solid job for the club, and advancing their development as hoped.
The news that day was about top prospect Gleyber Torres, who was out with a sore arm, though he’d not been officially placed on the DL yet. The Yankees caution, mixed with arm soreness was what the concern boiled down to for the YOUNG (20!) player. He was placed on the 7-day DL and is expected to make his return shortly. Mitchell recalled his own playing days and said, well, sometimes your arm strength just gets, “Zapped.”
On the mound that night was top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, making his second start of the season. Mitchell was high on him, as are the Yankees, and the enthusiasm about his potential was clear.
“Shef is dynamic. He’s one of the most competitive players that we have,” Mitchell said. “He’s got really good stuff. He’s fun to watch.”
Big on the list of what’s fun to watch, for anyone not facing him that is, is his command of mix of pitches. The hard-throwing lefty was set to go 7 innings and throw 94 pitches. He went 6 innings, and gave up one run on 3 hits to earn the win. He also got a little more leeway, throwing 97 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, outdoing top Blue Jays pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley who lasted 3 innings, though he only allowed 2 hits and did not surrender a run.
“We expect big things out of [Sheffield], and he expects big things out of himself.”
At the other end of the field, the bullpen has been a showcase for one guy repeating the level, big righty Cale Coshow.
Back in his New York Penn League days, Coshow was a starter and heavier. He credited his off-season weight loss after that season as highly beneficial to his health and his comfort on the mound. He could be wild back then, with less effectiveness but big power in the arm, and a willingness to challenge hitters. He just needed to polish the rough edges. This year, he’s finding his groove by finding his confidence. Mitchell says Coshow’s confidence “is growing” as he works his way through good and bad moments.
After notching his third save of the season (he recently earned his 5th), Mitchell observed that there’s been changes in his mentality that led to the better performance.
“He had a bad first outing and he came in and struggled and it was somewhat similar to what we saw last year. Where his confidence and command were…where he started relying on his secondary stuff too much.
For a guy that throws 95-100, there’s no need to mix in off-speed stuff, not if he’s confident enough in his fastball. The key is commanding the heater, Mitchell said.
“When he does, he’s effective. When he’s not commanding his fastball, he’s up in the zone and sometimes they catch up with his fastball. And then he mixes in a cutter-slider that he’s working on. The one pitch he got burned on in his first outing was a hanging slider. He’s a got that’s got that closer stuff. We just need him to stay in that role.”
Where that leads him with the Yankees is hard to figure, perhaps in short relief. What was clear from his outing the night before was that he did something he needed to (earned the save) by staying the course mentally and not reverting to bad habits (throwing up in the zone). He worked with a one-run lead and showed his grace under pressure.
“That confidence he’s building is huge. Mentally is the biggest thing for him. He’s got the stuff; it’s just a matter of believing in his stuff,” Mitchell said.
The strong lineup also features left fielder Zach Zehner, whom falls among players that might not be getting the attention they’ve earned. The spotlight tends to favor those receiving the most hype overall, but, also those who seem the closest to having an impact on the big club. The 2015 18th round pick for the Yankees spent 2016 in High-A Tampa, and, understandably is making some adjustments to the high level jump to Double-A.
Mitchell had seen “Z,” as he called him in the spring, down in Tampa, Florida, the Spring Training home of the Yankees, and liked what he saw. Now he’s getting a better look at not just the player, but the person.
“His work habits stand out a lot. He works hard at everything he does. He’s very energetic. And he’s really come on strong with the bat for us. He needs to make adjustments. And he just has a very good attitude,” Mitchell said.
Bobby Mitchell’s club this year is already showing up big: they’re 2nd in the league (Eastern Div.), just behind the Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox), with a 10-7 record.
You can read my continued coverage of the Trenton Thunder in the bi-weekly column ‘Stars, Heels and Stripes’ on Pinstriped Pros. And look here for ongoing coverage of the Eastern League throughout the 2017 season.