Low-A Burlington Bees
On Blake Hassebrock (3-1, 1.46 ERA, 51 K in 55 IP, 2.29 GO/AO): He's throwing 93-96 [MPH] with diving bombing sinkers and a good slider. And, of course, the change-up is coming.
On Hassebrock's increase in velocity and whether it came from a mechanical change: I think it was just a result of a nice off-season. An off-season of rest and not having to play fall baseball.
On Josh Bowman (5-1, 2.77 ERA, 30 K and 23 BB in 61.2 IP): Bowman is one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. Loves the Lord. A Christian. The other day I said to him, ‘if Christ was pitching, he'd knock a guy down, you know.' [laughs] He seemed not so much tentative, but the way he was pitching, it was almost as if he was trying to save it for the sixth or seventh. I told him, ‘no, go as hard as you can for as long as you can. And when you are done, we'll come and get you.' He then went out and threw a seven-inning shutout [last Thursday; followed that up with eight shutout innings on Tuesday night]. He's got a good sinker, as well, and a good curveball and a good change-up.
On Tyler Vail (0-2, 5.54 ERA, 16 K and 11 BB in 26 IP): He's got a 92-95 MPH fastball that's got a lot of life and movement. The change and the breaking ball are works-in-progress for him. I was up there for his second start. I think he threw six innings. It's tough because he probably could go through the line-up once or twice with just the fastball, but you've got to have fastball command and you've got to throw a change-up to pitch in the big leagues. If you look at our staff in the big leagues, they all do that. He's working on those things.
On Vail's increase in velocity and whether it was mechanical: He pitched somewhere between 150 and 200 innings last year in high school. That's a lot, so gaining some rest helped him. Also, generally speaking, everyone is going to gain two or three MPHs every year until they are 21 anyway. Some guys gain a little quicker and some gain a little slower, but Tyler pitched at 90 last year and this year he's at 92, 93. Is it probably a little bit higher than I would have expected? Yes, a little, but I'm not totally surprised by it.
On Jose Macias (In 2 starts, 1 ER on 4 H and 2 BB with 10 K in 11 IP): A few weeks ago, he was pitching in extended [spring training] and he was pitching against Joel Pineiro. I said to the guys in the meeting the next day, ‘if you didn't know that other guy was the big leaguer, who would you have thought was the big leaguer yesterday?' They all said Macias. No matter what happened, Macias stuck with his pitches, threw under control and hit his spots. He threw change-ups and first pitch breaking balls. Jimmy [Escalante, the Bees' pitching coach] texted me when Macias was pitching [in his Burlington debut] and said ‘what have you been feeding him down there?'
On Daniel Tenholder (3-0, 1.95 ERA, 7 SV, 26 K and 4 BB in 20 IP): I wouldn't say he was a soft-tossing righty last year, but he definitely has gained some velocity. It's not like you want to teach everyone the same thing, but if you could teach everyone three pitches, you'd teach them the fastball that can sink and a change-up and the makings of a major league breaking ball. Here I am last year trying to get him to get the ball to sink and it's going as straight as a string. Then I noticed that sometimes his ball is cutting. So I am thinking, ‘geez, even if he's only throwing 87, cutting at 87 is better than throwing it straight at 88.' It's almost like he's a poor man's Andrew Bailey. Not too many guys are going to compare to the Mariano Riveras or the Baileys, but he's like an A-ball Bailey. He can cut it. He can sometimes let it go at 91. He also has a good change-up and a good breaking ball. He's made a nice transition this season.
When Jimmy asked me what we were feeding Macias, I could have asked him the same thing about Tenholder. I'm not going to say that [his velocity increase] is mechanical because, in reality, he still doesn't finish. He might actually throw harder if he finished.
On Pedro Vidal (3-1, 1.50 ERA, 25 K, 10 BB, 8 H in 18 IP): Vidal has an outstanding change-up. He throws strikes, has a pretty good breaking ball and throws 90, 91.
On Jonathan Joseph (In 2 starts, 8 R on 10 H and 4 BB in 10.1 IP with 9 K): He has terrific stuff. His curveball is outstanding.
On Burlington Bees pitching coach Jimmy Escalante and the starting staff generally: Jimmy kind of stepped into his own last year as a pitching coach. He got better, worked harder and it's paying dividends. Of the original five starters [for the Bees], two have moved up already, and you might end up saying at the end of the year that two or three of the guys still in Burlington are the best of the bunch. We'll see. All of them do what we like them to do as pitchers.
High-A Stockton Ports
On A.J. Griffin (5-0, 1.50 ERA, 61 K and 7 BB in 10 starts for Burlington and Stockton): Griffin can locate so well, and he gets a good downhill angle. He has a great change-up and can spin a breaking ball a little bit.
On Jake Brown (4-1, 3.24 ERA, 44 K, 9 BB in 58.1 IP for Burlington and Stockton): Brownie, he was a 26th round pick and I'm standing behind him and I'm thinking, ‘this is Mark Buehrle pitching.' That's what got me to send him to Vancouver last year [rather than start him in the Arizona Rookie League]. He's pitched extremely well.
On what improvements relievers Ben Hornbeck (0.84 ERA, 16 K, 1 BB in 10.2 IP for Stockton and Sacramento) and Brett Hunter (1.42 ERA, 9 K, 3 BB in 12.2 IP for Sacramento and Stockton) made while at extended spring training: With Ben, we worked on improving his direction to homeplate. We've given him a little more aggressive approach and attitude. He also had a little bit of a shoulder issue this off-season so when he was throwing [this spring], it just wasn't coming out like it was in the past. I felt it wasn't fair to him and to us to send him out and try to compete with that. It worked really well for him [to start the year in extended]. In fact, Emo [Sacramento pitching coach Scott Emerson] and Bushie [Sacramento manager Darren Bush] didn't want him to go back to Stockton when he was up there earlier this month.
Really, with Hunter it was about the same thing. I went out to a spring training game at the end of March and I'm watching him throw and I said ‘there's something wrong.' The pitching coach went out to talk to him and he says, ‘oh no, he says he's fine.' He threw three more pitches and I went out to the mound and said, ‘there's no way that you are fine.' So we shut him down and then built him back up again at extended spring training. We have the three-headed monster of pitching coaches down there with Garvin [Alston, the rehab coordinator], John Wasdin and Ariel Prieto. All three of them do a great job for us.
With Brett, his big issue was really more of a repeating of his delivery. He's always had the good strike-out totals, but his walk totals were unacceptable. He's never going to be Justin Duchscherer [in terms of command], but you don't want it to where you are constantly on the edge of your seat and it is ball one, ball two, strike one, etc. That's very difficult to ask people to sit through. But he's throwing the ball very well. He's probably 91 MPH low, 93 average, 96 high, so he's close [to where he was when he was drafted] and the slider is much improved.
On Chris Mederos (2.52 ERA, 29 K, 5 BB, 5 SV in 25 IP for Burlington and Stockton): He has a pretty good overhand curveball. Not a really hard one, but a good downer. He throws quite a few cutters. Not a hard-thrower. Really a right-handed over-the-top guy. His fastball is about 87-89. He usually locates very well. He uses his big curveball for the back-and-forth game a little bit. He's also got a slider that's about 83. He pitched well last year at Kane County before he got hurt and he pitched well this year. We thought we would challenge him [with the promotion to Stockton from Burlington this season] and we'll see what happens.
On Ryan Doolittle, on the DL since May 3 (3-0, 2.21 ERA, 24 K, 3 BB in 20.1 IP): It's so frustrating [that Doolittle got hurt]. You bang your head and think, ‘what can we do?' and usually the answer is nothing. He was coming along so well. I think on the day he got hurt, we had even given him an extra day [of rest]. I think he has that flexor issue in his elbow again. I believe he is playing catch and throwing again. Really it will just be a matter of how long it will take for that to get better as he continues to throw.
On whether Doolittle's command is his best asset: Yes, it is. He has a good downhill angle and isn't afraid to throw the ball over the plate, does throw the ball over the plate and he can hit his spots with it.
On Josh Lansford (2.01 ERA, 27 K, 2 BB, 22.1 IP): We left him down at extended at the start of the year and we didn't feel he was quite ready. Since he's been back in Stockton, he's pitched well. In April and in spring training, he was at 90-91 MPH, with a couple of 92s and a couple of 89s. But then [last week] he was 92 average and 94 high. I could see a couple of weeks into the season getting that jump, but it was surprising to see it take this long. Maybe we'll have him starting throwing earlier next year coming into spring training.
On Jose Guzman (2.45 ERA, 30 K, 9 BB, 6 SV in 29.1 IP): He's been throwing great. He comes in, throws the ball firm in the low-90s. He'll pretty much pitch at 90, touch 92, but mostly sit at 90. He has a pretty good breaking ball and change-up.
On Connor Hoehn (4.00 ERA, 24 K, 4 BB in 18 IP): We lowered his arm angle just a touch and he seemed to be getting the grasp of it. He was another six-walks-per-nine-innings guy last season and we've got him down to where it was like two or three per nine innings. We told him, ‘ok now that you can repeat a little bit, you can really start to let it go.' I still think we have a chance to get that 92-93 MPH average, but right now it's probably 91. But he's coming back and the velocities are starting to jump. I'm happy with that. I'd rather have 92 where you want it than 94 and have no clue where it is going. That's my goal with him, to have the low-90s where he wants it instead of the 94, 95 and he has no idea where it is going.
On Daniel Straily (3-3, 4.45 ERA, 49 K, 15 BB in 54.2 IP) and Robert Gilliam (4-4, 4.48 ERA, 55 K, 17 BB in 64.1 IP) thus far this year: It has been a little bit of a rollercoaster. A good game, a bad game, a fair game. You'll get a seven innings, three hits, two walks and 10 punch-outs game and think, ‘okay, they've turned a corner' and then it's two-and-two-thirds the next time out. But I think in their overall development, Gilliam is learning to be a power pitcher. He is learning to be a little bit less max effort, but aggressive enough because Robert was always more of a higher RPM guy. Straily's problem a lot of times isn't not enough strikes, but instead too many strikes catching too much of the plate at all parts of the count. I think that's where in those games when he pitches very well, he's throwing strike one, strike two, ball one, but the guy is likely to swing because he thinks it's a strike, as opposed to strike one, strike two, base hit because it's thrown like an 0-0 pitch.
Double-A Midland Rockhounds
On Gary Daley, Jr.'s improved command (24 in 51 IP this season; 58 BB in 91 IP last season): He and I did everything together this spring except sleep in the same bed. [laughs] We worked on delivery, on the mental aspect of the game. Probably the mental game more than anything, about trust and belief and confidence and aggressiveness. Going back to that it is one pitch at a time and that this is the pitch that is important and not the one that you just let go of whether that pitch hit the guy on the back or went over the plate on the black. He is definitely not out of the woods where you can definitely say that he's ok and that he will only continue to get better. I think he will, but there still might be a few hiccups. What I'm looking for each time he pitches is continued improvement.
On Anthony Capra's struggles at Double-A (6.38 ERA this season; 4.27 ERA last season): He's a guy because of his stuff that has to have good feel in repeating and being able to move a pitch three inches on the plate to three inches off. At this point, he is unable to feel that and repeat. To a certain extent, the responsibility becomes all on the pitcher as far as that goes. Pitching coaches can give you drills for feel. There are a number of things that we've done, but it just hasn't clicked for him yet. When it does, look out. The change-up is special. He and Hornbeck go back and forth [on who has the best].
On Ethan Hollingsworth's season (3-2, 3.78 ERA, 33 K, 14 BB in 52.1 IP): He's been very good. He can repeat. He has a sinker and has movement to both sides of the plate and a great change-up. He has two good breaking balls and good location and good movement.
On Shawn Haviland (2-4, 6.79 ERA, 39 K, 18 BB, 10 HR in 50.1 IP) : He just needs to keep pitching the way that [Travis] Banwart and [Graham] Godfrey did when they first got to the league. He needs to get used to the league and locate better and change speeds. The pure stuff doesn't allow for him to make a whole lot of mistakes, so that's why he needs to continue to learn to pitch. I would expect to see continued improvement.
On the Midland bullpen: Justin Souza has stood out really well from that group and Neil Wagner has stupid strike-out-per-innings-pitched numbers. Souza, since he arrived there, has been outstanding. Trey Barham has done a credible job as well. They've all pitched well even if sometimes the numbers aren't great. Jonathan Ortiz was pitching extremely well early on. Jared Lansford will have one bad game and then two or three good ones, but the one bad game is so bad that it makes the numbers not look very pretty. Mickey Storey has pitched fairly well. John Meloan was just sent out there about a month or so ago. I see him continuing to get better the more that he pitches. Souza has probably pitched the best.
On whether Souza is back to being a 40-man roster level player: I'd say the way that he is pitching, if he continues to pitch like this yes. He needs to continue to throw fastballs down in the ‘zone and we've worked on his change-up a few weeks ago when I was in Midland and his slider is better as well.
Triple-A Sacramento River Cats
On Fautino De Los Santos' growth this season:(1.86 ERA, 26 K, 10 BB in 19.1 IP) For Fautino, it was almost the same thing as it was with Henry [Rodriguez]. Just the maturity factor. The season is a marathon and, for the most part, he has executed his pitches well for Midland and for Sacramento. He's never going to be a command guy, but with that stuff, he can get away with it as long as he can keep the ball around the plate and especially if he can keep the ball down. I'm not going to say he can never get away with pitches up – because he can throw it by guys – but he's pitching with better command because of his maturity and being another year away from the surgery and being healthy.
On Travis Banwart (2-3, 3.23 ERA, 43 K, 13 BB in 53 IP) and Graham Godfrey (6-1, 2,42 ERA, 47 K, 15 BB in 48.1 IP) and whether they have reached their full potential: The numbers would almost indicate yes. That's very impressive what they are both doing in that league. You'd love less hits than innings pitched, two to three walks per nine innings and five to six strikeouts per nine innings, and batting average about .240 or so and they are doing all of those things. I'm very happy with the way that they have progressed.
On Carlos Hernandez (5-1, 4.91 ERA, 47 K, 13 BB in 55 IP for Midland and Sacramento) and whether he is pitching better than his ERA would indicate: I think he is. He and I had a talk when I was up there. The left-handed batting average against is stupid high right now, but the numbers always don't tell you everything. I just want him to keep pitching. I think he is quite capable of starting or relieving.
On Yadel Marti (2-0, 4.72 ERA, 29 K, 22 BB in 47.2 IP) : Lots of things would need to go right for him to get an opportunity [in the big leagues]. I think he has pitched some games where he has pitched at a major league level. And then he's pitched some games where it wasn't quite there. He's done a very credible job for us. He's had to take some extra days off here and there. It's part of the game, but it's not easy at the same time. Right now we are happy with where he is with his game.