InsidethePark.com: Troy Cate intrigues me. What can you tell us about his makeup and what is future might be?
Mike Saeger: He's got some talent. He was very inconsistent last year. He and his wife had a baby in April and I think handling the newborn as a first time father might have had a little something with that. In talking to Seattle people and from some of the coaches, this is what I was told: they mentioned that perhaps at times he didn't, or wouldn't, make some of the adjustments they wanted him to. Hard-headed. I don't know. I know that was a part of Glenn Bott's problem in '02.
ITP.com: Evel Bastida-Martinez was recently re-instated by the Mariners. What is your impression of that, the incident, and him a player?
Saeger: I was very surprised, as everyone was about what happened. That was out of character and I think he was honestly remorseful about it and learned a lesson. I don't know how much of a prospect he is. Interestingly enough, the team played really well after that ugly night and in some ways it may have galvanized the team.
ITP.com: What kind of an upside does Enmanuel Ulloa have? He seemed to regain his command this year with just six walks in 50.2 IP while at Inland.
Saeger: I believe he is now in the Montreal system. He was having a lot of control problems and as I understand it, he asked to come here because he wanted to work with pitching coach Scott Budner, who worked with him a few years back. I don't know if he would have made it to Seattle with all of their pitching.
ITP.com: Can you describe the ballpark down there and all its intricacies?
Saeger: It's a very fair park. I'd say maybe a little tilted to the pitchers. 330 down the lines and a little over 400 to CF but the ball doesn't carry extremely well. That's probably a big reason why our pitching staffs have usually done well. Beautiful park. Opened at the tail end of the 1996 season. There are no cheap HRs hit here but it's a great double and triple park with big alleys.
ITP.com: How did the 2003 staff, with Cate, Bott and Ketchner, compare to some of the other staffs you've seen there?
Saeger: This was one of the better staffs, top to bottom, that we've had here. Our rotation in '02 was overall a bit better, with travis and Clint, but our '02 pen wasn't good. I'd take our '02 starters with last year's bullpen and wouldn't lose too many games.
ITP.com: What is your opinion on Ismael Castro? Given his age, he seemed to have a pretty good season.
Saeger: Until about July I was very disappointed. But he really started to play well and hit a ton in July up until he broke his hand in mid-August. I think he still is a bit of a prospect. Doesn't run great. Played second and SS but he's probably better suited for 2B. He's a bit intriguing. His range is fine for 2B and overall he's average on the field. If he makes it, it will be with his bat.
ITP.com: Shin-soo Choo almost resembles Ichiro Jr. Good speed, defense, and arm. A little more pop, a little less average. Is that a fair assessment or do you see him differently?
Saeger: He has a lot of tools but he also has a lot of holes in his swing. He couldn't handle inside pitches last year and they killed him on that. If he makes adjustments that he really didn't do last year he'll be good. Yes, a little more pop than Ichiro but not as high of an average.
ITP.com: Does Choo's defense appear to be strong enough to handle CF in the majors or is he more suited for RF?
Saeger: He does have the speed, I think, to cover the ground in CF and he has a very good arm.
ITP.com: Ryan Ketchner is quite a story. I really want to know more about how he's dealt with being mostly deaf.
Saeger: Great competitor, hates to lose, and isn't afraid out there. He'll challenge guys and he really moved the ball around quite a bit. Has a great change. He is deaf and that might be an asset to him when he's on the mound because he is able to focus entirely on the batter and can't be distracted by the fans. But he reads lips very well and can understand you if you look right at him. He's just one of those clubhouse guys. Last year he was basically a fastball-changeup pitcher, which probably won't work as well in AA. But I think he'll do what he needs to do and should be alright.
ITP.com: What is your favorite part about your job?
Saeger: Getting paid to watch and talk about the game 140 nights a year and see guys who make it to the big leagues who I saw when they were making $1000 or less a month riding the bus.
ITP.com: What were your impressions of Mike Steele, who was the 66ers closer until he went on the DL?
Saeger: He was very impressive. I hope he can come back at full strength sometime this year. He was automatic when he came in until his arm started hurting.
ITP.com: Who do you believe was the most talented position player to come through Inland in recent years?
Saeger: Wow that's a tough one. Are you talking about major league ability, projecting a guy? Or just the best when he was with us?
Saeger: As far as the M's guys we've had, the one who really stands out is Chris Snelling. I loved to watch that kid play. And he was a pretty funny guy too. Before the M's, when we were a Dodger team, I thought Chin-Feng Chen was going to be a star. I was very impressed with Craig Anderson and Travis Blackley pitched very well and I could tell he had big time talent, especially considering how young he was.
ITP.com: What kind of year do you envision out of 3B Hunter Brown? Think he'll advance to AA or stay at Inland?
Saeger: I think he earned the right to get a shot at AA. He struggled for a stretch last year when I think he was taking his AB's into the field. But he looked like Brooks Robinson at 3B the last month+ of the season and put up very respectable numbers.
ITP.com: What did you think of the Indy league signing like Jacobs, Delucchi and Balet last season?
Saeger: Seattle had to do that so that we could field a team. Wisconsin was so bad the year before they didn't have enough guys who could have moved up to help. The one good thing about Indy guys is that they are very hungry and lay it out on the line every night. I think that rubbed off on some of the fellas. If it weren't for those guys we definitely wouldn't have won the title, although we got contribution from others obviously.
ITP.com: Can you talk a little more about Greg Jacobs? He just tore the cover off the ball all year.
Saeger: He's always been a great hitter, going back to his school days. The Angels drafted him and made him a pitcher and as Greg says, he basically wasted four years of his career. He's good friends with Rod Carew, who took him under his wing when he was younger. He still talks to him.
ITP.com: I'm also curious about Delucchi's projectablity, someone wanted to know if he would make the big leagues like his Arizona teammate Bloomquist and I couldn't answer.
Saeger: He's a guy who is going to have to prove himself all the way simply because he's not big. It's the old saying, "A big player has to prove he can't play, a small player has to prove he can."
ITP.com: Do you believe that Felix Hernandez will start the year at Inland?
Saeger: From what I've read of him it wouldn't surprise me. Seattle isn't afraid to push a guy if he has the talent. Castro came here from the NW League, as did Cate to name a couple. However, we might have several second-half pitchers return to ST.
ITP.com: What did you think of Luis Oliveros' contributions to the team? Do you think he could be a big league catcher?
Saeger: He's tremendous behind the plate. His bat trailed off after a torrid start. I think that if he can hit a little bit at higher levels he'll be a big league catcher at least as a backup. Did a really nice job of handling the staff.
ITP.com: Which of the Wisconsin players have a shot at AA out of camp?
Saeger: It's a little hard to say because I obviously didn't see them in person. But from what I've read and have gathered from talking to M's people last year I would say that most of the Wisconsin guys will be here this year. Bobby Livingston is supposed to be tremendous. His stats were impressive. He might be the only guy among the pitchers if there is one. From what I've seen with the M's, I can't remember them skipping too many players over us and going straight to San Antonio.
ITP.com: Daren Brown is coming back to Inland Empire, Steve Roadcap is going to Wisconsin. How do the two compare as managers?
Saeger: They're both good managers with their own style. Roadie was really a players manager and the guys enjoyed playing for him. Brown is a little more quiet, at least from my point of view that's his personality. I like them both quite a bit.
ITP.com: What's the inside track on Choo? From what I've read he is a real prospect. Sorry if you've already answered this Mr. Saeger.
Saeger: Like I said earlier, Choo has a toolbox full of potential to be a very good ballplayer. The biggest adjustment he'll have to make in AA, in my opinion, is handling inside pitchers, which ate him up last year.
ITP.com: What's your take on Ryan Rowland-Smith? He was very impressive in Wisconsin and continued to throw well at Inland.
Saeger: Hard to tell now. He got hurt last year so I didn't see enough of him to make a fair opinion. But I think he could possibly be a situational lefty guy one day. He'll likely be back here to start the year.
ITP.com: Were there any players in the lower minors you've heard about that you'll be excited to see at Inland Empire in the coming years?
Saeger: Felix Hernandez is one I'm looking forward to seeing. Rene Rivera will be here next year and I've heard nothing but good things about him. Last year's No. 1 pick Adam Jones had a pretty impressive rookie season.
ITP.com: Any hope the M's can play an exhibition in San Bernadino, say next year?
Saeger: I don't know when Seattle will be back for an exhibition. They like to rotate their minor league clubs and under the new collective bargaining agreement, major league teams can only play minor league exhibitions during spring training, not once the season starts
ITP.com: What are your expectations for Eddie Menchaca? He had an incredible year at SS at Inland?
Saeger: Eddie was absolutely spectacular at SS. I ran out of adjectives to describe his play. Roadcap told me many times late in the season that "Chaca" was his team MVP. But I don't know if Eddie's ever going to hit enough in this day and age. If I had to give a real honest opinion, based only on what I've observed, he'll likely top out at AA because of his bat. I hope I'm wrong because he's a good kid.
ITP.com: I've been listening to Saeger for six years now. Continue to be impressed by the thorough way he stays with the game. So Mike, when will you be stepping up?
Saeger: I'm hoping to step up as soon as possible. I really haven't looked at going to AA at all in some time or to that extent, AAA, unless it were the right situation. In my line of work, you don't get any better as an announcer the higher you go.
ITP.com: Two names I want to know more about…Fruto and Jared Thomas. What's your take Mike?
Saeger: Thomas was all over the zone as a starter last year. Budner said he was getting to pumped up when he started. Once he went to the pen he started pitching much better. I thought he threw harder when they clocked him up. Upper 80's was his fastball. Fruto developed a nasty splitter late last year that made him better. He's a guy who has had a lot of control problems in the past but he could have saved his career with that splitter last year.
ITP.com: What major league team appeared to be the most popular among the fans at Inland?
Saeger: I don't think the fans care too much. Maybe the season ticket holders. We were a Dodgers team for six years and our attendance actually went down before we reversed the trend a couple of years ago.
ITP.com: Mike, I listened to you all last season and my opinion is that you have a very balanced and informed approach to baseball broadcasting. I hope to see you at a higher level.
Saeger: I appreciate that. You and me both. That style isn't always popular with every player because I've found that guys at this level aren't used to hearing someone call it like it is and sometimes young players take things too personally.
Chat Transcript: Mike Saeger, Inland Empire Radio
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