After finishing in last place in the South Division of the American Association last year it was expected that there would be some changes made to upgrade the team for this season, but the Amarillo Thunderheads have made wholesale changes at a variety of positions looking to reach the top of the league. They have likely been the busiest team in the league this off-season and the changes should make this a very competitive team this year. There is no doubt that this is a vastly improved team from the one that finished out last year.
On February 10, Amarillo traded OF Sawyer Carroll to the Joplin Blasters in exchange for INF Cory Morales. Interestingly enough, Sawyer had been acquired by Amarillo just after New Year’s and Morales had actually played for Amarillo last season. The infielder split time between Fort Worth of the United League and Amarillo, combining to hit .290 with 32 runs scored and 20 RBI in 54 total games.
On the same day the Thunderheads released four players: C Jeff Farnham, INF Kevin Mahoney, RHP Tyler Hale, and RHP Derek Blacksher. Farnham hit .250 in 94 games for Amarillo with 3 homeruns and 30 RBI. Mahoney appeared in 61 games, and hit .286 with 28 runs scored and 21 RBI. Hale made 21 appearances for Amarillo last season and had a 1-1 record with a 6.04 ERA. Blacksher was 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA.
The next day 1B Kyle Nichols was released. Nichols played in 74 games for the then Amarillo Sox, hitting .268 with 12 home runs and 53 RBI.
Morales stay with Amarillo was short-lived, as he and 1B Matt Padgett, who had also been acquired by the Thunderheads a week earlier, were dealt to New Jersey of the Can-Am League for RHP Chris Balcom-Miller. The right-hander sat out the 2014 season, but in 2013 he pitched for the Boston Red Sox High-A and AA teams before going down. Combined he was 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 13 appearances.
One day later 1B Rene Leveret was signed by Amarillo. Leveret has played nine seasons of professional baseball, with the last five of those primarily with Quebec of the Can-Am League. In 93 games last season the first baseman hit .261 with 8 homeruns and 44 RBI. He is a career .301 hitter, with his best season coming in 2012 when he hit .361 for Quebec.
The next day the Thunderheads had two player transactions, re-signing OF Jason Martin and trading LHP Kristhiam Linares to Lancaster of the Atlantic League for a player to be named later. Martin has played the last two years for Amarillo. Last season he had a solid season for the team, playing in 98 games, and hitting .276 with 7 homeruns and 39 RBI.
Linares pitched for four clubs in the American Association last season, including Amarillo, Kansas City, Laredo and Lincoln. He finished 3-3 with a 6.03 ERA.
On February 20, the Thunderheads traded for catcher Jordan Guida from Winnipeg. Guida has been with the Goldeyes the last two seasons. Last year he appeared in 45 games, hitting .281 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBI. He has been a solid backup who is now getting the chance to prove he can be an everyday catcher.
On March 4, the team signed RHP Cody Fassold to a deal. The right-hander pitched for affiliates of the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves last season, closing out the year at the Royals AA-Northwest Arkansas team. Combined he was 4-2 in 41 appearances, with a solid 3.50 ERA. Fassold has a live arm, striking out 68 batters in 61.2 innings pitched.
Two days later RHP Kevin Thomas was signed by the club. Thomas is battling his way back after sitting out the entire 2014 season due to injury. He was a solid prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals before the setback, but looks like his arm is good and he is ready to return to the game. In 2013 he struggled in four appearances at AAA-Memphis before going down, however, at AA-Springfield he pitched very well. In 46 appearances there he was 6-4 with a save and a 2.56 ERA. He has a cannon for an arm, striking out 75 in 59.2 innings pitched, while only walking 17. If he regains his command and his arm is sound, he could be a top closer for Amarillo.
The Amarillo Thunderheads have taken a chance on some of their signings, but if those pitchers return to form this is going to be a very formidable pitching staff. No doubt that they have a real shot of making some noise in this division.
By Robert Pannier