The Thunder announced on Thursday afternoon via press release that Manager Tony Franklin, the teams longest tenured manager in franchise history, will return to the helm in 2014 for his eighth season. At age 63, Franklin is fresh off of what could be his grandest managing job to date after capturing his third Eastern League championship in 2013 when injuries and promotions forced Franklin to use a roster of 70 different players to reach the postseason.
The managerial status of Franklin has typically gone by a season-to-season basis predicated mostly on his physical health. After undergoing a bilateral hip replacement in 2006 and a left knee replacement procedure prior to the 2012 campaign, Franklin typically holds conversations with the organization and relays to them how he is feeling moving forward. With a good bill of health as the calender turns to 2014, the longest current tenured manager in the Eastern League will return to defend his title.
“Tony Franklin is a great asset to the Thunder and our community,” said General Manager Will Smith in the Thunder press release. “The success that we’ve enjoyed on the field during his tenure is unprecedented and we’re excited to see Tony back to defend last season’s championship.”
In the minor leagues, the organizational philosophies of player development take precedent over actually winning ball games. Franklin has done a stellar job of balancing both, having made it all the way to the league championship series in five of his first seven seasons in Trenton. Players can connect with Franklin because he never gets too high or low with the grueling rigors of a long season; his confidence never wavers in them despite their struggles.
“Never forsake player development for winning, never do that,” Franklin says. “I’ve never done that. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the youngster. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the organization.”
Franklin, by all accounts, is the most accomplished manager in the 20-year existence of the Thunder, having gone 568-457 since joining the franchise prior to the 2007 season. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has always spoke glowingly of the skipper and been confident in his ability to work with and develop the franchises most prized prospects on their road to the Bronx.
“Tony is an ace. He’s such a pro,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman in 2012. “He’s done so much for our franchise; our players are in great hands with him here. He’s obviously been great here in the community. He’s just got the perfect demeanor for what we’re looking for at this level. Trusting him with our assets at this level has been very easy to do since he came to us.”
Pitching Coach Tommy Phelps will return to the Thunder for his sixth season on the bench next to Franklin. The former big league hurler has been a staple in the organizations development of young pitching and has been praised for his ability to work with his staff on a day-to-day basis. Last season, Trenton pitchers posted the third best team ERA in the EL at 3.63 and surrendered the second fewest hits with 537.
Former Yankee Marcus Thames, who is just two years removed from being a ten-year big leaguer himself, will join the staff of Franklin as the teams Hitting Coach. Thames, who served in the same role for Single-A Tampa last season, will replace Justin Turner after just one season on the job. Under the tutelage of Thames, Tampa walked more than any other team in the Florida State League (478) and had the third highest on-base mark in the league at .330. Thames spent a good amount of time working with prospects like Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel and Peter O’Brien who all figure to be key contributors to the Thunder during the 2014 season.
Also joining Franklin’s staff as a coach will be former major leaguer, Orlando Mercado. After spending the last three seasons in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization as their Roving Catching Instructor, Mercado will play a key role in the continued defensive development of Gary Sanchez in Trenton. Mercado brings eight years of major league experience with him to help guide the young and promising talent the Thunder will field in 2014.