The Trenton Thunder entered the 2014 season as reigning Eastern League champions. They raised the banner despite having a horrific season at the plate. The 2013 version of the Thunder finished in the bottom half of the 12-team league in nearly every major hitting category: they were ninth in both RBI and runs and an even worse–11th in hits and homers. Their abysmal numbers called for a change of philosophy. Why not bring in a former Yankee hitting prospect to amp things up?
Trenton’s newly anointed 2014 hitting coach is Marcus Thames. The same Marcus Thames whom the Yankees drafted way back in 1996 in the 30th round of the amateur draft. Thames had a modest 10-year career in the majors. His best years were a three-year run from 2006 to 2008 with the Detroit Tigers when he averaged right around a .250 batting average with 23 HRs and 57 RBI per season. A basher by trade known for his long-ball ability, Thames homered in his first career at-bat for the Yankees against Randy Johnson. A year later he was traded to Texas where he would homer in his first Rangers’ at-bat.
Thames was hired in January of 2013 to become the Single-A Advanced Tampa Yankees’ hitting coach. His job was quite the opposite of what he was known for as a big league hitter. Tampa’s Baby Bombers had previously struggled with strikeouts and getting on base, and under Thames tutelage that all changed. Tampa led the Florida State League in walks in 2013 with 478, a 96 walk improvement from the previous season. His squad also decreased the strikeout total from the 2012 season by nearly 50. What also decreased was extra base hits, but Thames was brought on to make this team more disciplined at the plate, so he wasn’t worried. “I just want the guys to make sure they are getting a pitch they can hit,” Thames told reporters about his philosophy. “If you can get a good pitch that you can put your best swing on, take a hack at it, and if not, take it.” His success with Tampa earned him a promotion to Trenton just one season later.
It appeared at first that Thames may have been in over his head at the next level as Trenton was blanked in their 2014 home opener while managing just three hits. The next night didn’t fare much better as they were shutout for five more innings before finally scoring their first run of their young season. Apparently, it was a minor hiccup or possibly an adjustment period. The Thunder now find themselves amid a two-game winning streak in which they are scoring runs seemingly at will. An 8-hit, 6-run day on Saturday was followed by an 8-hit, 11-run day on Sunday. Thames has these guys grooving and with Tyler Austin on his way back to the line-up, things are looking good in Trenton. And Thames couldn’t be more excited.
“To be able to come back and help some of the younger guys make that dream come true, I’m all about it. I know as a player coming in I was as raw as I could be, and the player development staff really helped me a lot. To be able to come back with the team that drafted me and give back to the kids and the organization means a lot.”