TRENTON – The Thunder (85-44) have been the cream of the crop in the Eastern League since the first pitch was thrown way back in April. With just 11 games remaining on the slate, they have already clinched a postseason berth and are in prime position to win the division crown. With a roster that has seemingly been a revolving door all season long, the Thunder have used 68 different players and 198 roster moves to navigate their way through what has been one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. Having been shrouded with so much inconsistency, Manager Bobby Mitchell has been able to lean on the constant of infielder Thairo Estrada, who has played in 115 of the teams 129 contests.
When the season began , it was understandable to overlook Estrada with respect to the plethora of premium middle infield talent that the Yankees possessed throughout their highly-regarded farm system. With nearly a full campaign in the books, the 21-year old Venezuelan native has certainly opened they eyes of the organization.
Yankees Vice President of Player Development Gary Denbo told The Trentonian earlier this season that Estrada has firmly entrenched himself as an option to help the major league club in the near future.
“He’s been a good player over the last year and a half,” said Denbo. “It’s not like we’re surprised by his level of success, but maybe the level of success he’s had right now. He’s developed very well and put himself on the map as one of our best infield prospects in the organization. He reported down to minor league spring training in February early in great shape, great condition and worked extremely hard. He was part of our captain’s camp in Tampa and got a chance to spend time around some of the great Yankee players. He’s having himself a great year and put himself in position to be considered an option for our major league club.”
“Estrada has been our most consistent player,” admitted Manager Bobby Mitchell, whose team needs to win seven of their final 11 games to eclipse the single season franchise record for wins.
In his first full-season at the Double-A level, Estrada was named to the EL All-Star team in July and is slashing .298/.350/.385. He currently ranks second in hits (139), third in at-bats (467), fourth in runs (67), while his average ranks sixth on the league leaderboards.
“That is something that helps me,” said Estrada in regards to the confidence that Mitchell has placed in him all season long. “It makes me feel like they really expect something from me and I want to be able to match that. Obviously I want to do the best so that we can get to that championship.”
While he likely won’t garner enough attention for the award, Estrada is certainly worthy of MVP consideration for his stellar play. After all, he has been the best player on the league’s best team and that alone has to put him in the conversation. Mitchell has had his roster stripped of superb talent by injury, promotions and of course the MLB trade deadline just a few weeks ago. The one guy who he has been able to pencil in every day has been Estrada.
Mitchell has asked Estrada to wear many different hats depending on the talent surrounding him and he has proved to be a model of versatility that should certainly increase his net value moving forward. When Gleyber Torres opened the season with Trenton, Estrada typically batted leadoff and found himself at second base. Once Torres was promoted to Triple-A, Estrada slid over to shortstop and the team did not lose an ounce of production. June rolled around and Estrada was again asked to move back over to second in favor of Jorge Mateo when he was promoted from Tampa. By the end of July, Mateo was traded to Oakland in the Sonny Gray trade and many of the heavy hitters that once packed a potent Thunder offense were now in Scranton. In this final stretch of the season, Estrada now typically finds himself in the third slot in the batting order in a run producing spot.
“My mentality doesn’t change,” Estrada said. “Whether they hit me first, second, eighth or ninth; whatever it is, I just want to go out and play and come up with a plan. I have a plan when I come up there and I follow that plan and try to execute it.”
Estrada has hit .314 in 229 at-bats as a leadoff hitter, .275 over 102 at-bats in the second spot in the lineup, and .287 in 136 at-bats while batting third. What has more more impressive about Estrada and his sheer ability to hit the baseball is his knack for doing it in clutch situations. Around the clubhouse, Estrada is soft-spoken and humble young man and that personality carries over to the field. With runners in scoring position, Estrada is hitting .323 and in close/late situations he is hitting .304.
“It all goes back to the routine that I have,” said Estrada. “I put all of my work and preparation into that every day. I watch the video and watch the pitcher and then every day I ask myself if there is anything that I can do better.”