Q & A with Inland Empire announcer Mike Saeger

We shot off an email late Sunday night to Mike Saeger, play-by-play announcer of the Inland Empire 66ers. By Monday morning, he had answered all of our questions. Much thanks to Mr. Saeger for his timely response, which we have turned into a nifty Q & A for our InsidethePark.com subscribers.

InsidethePark.com: Who has been the biggest surprise on the Inland Empire team thus far?  Who's stood out to you?

Mike Saeger: The guy who has been the biggest surprise to me is Jesus Guzman. He's a 19-year-old who wasn't even supposed to be here except for the injury to Ismael Castro. And he's done a tremendous job in the field and at the plate (he did make 3 errors yesterday at Rancho). For a kid who is in his first year playing in the U.S., he's far exceeded what I thought he would do. Juan Gonzalez has been a surprise because looking at his numbers from the Midwest League I certainly wouldn't have expected his production, and he's a pretty solid defensive player.

ITP.com: How much of a joy is it to watch guys like Felix Hernandez and Bobby Livingston throw a baseball?

Saeger: I love watching Livingston pitch. He really pitches like a surgeon---up, down, in, out. And he throws strikes, enough to get hitters to swing at balls. One of the Quakes players who was in the league last year said that Bobby reminds him a lot of Ryan Ketchner but with a curve ball. Felix has a great arm but has been very inconsistent, which isn't a huge surprise. The guy is only 18 but has unreal upside. For some reason he does not pitch well at all in day games (3 starts, ERA way over 6.00).

ITP.com: What impresses you most about Livingston?  His numbers are ridiculous despite a mid to high 80s fastball.

Saeger: Pretty much what I said above. He's a smart pitcher who does a great job at setting up a hitter. If the team had to win one game to win it all he'd be my guy without a second thought. Not only does he command his three pitches, but he'll change his arm slot at certain points of the count. I think he's pretty legit.

ITP.com: How has the team responded to the injuries to Garciaparra and Castro?  Have Guzman and Cho filled in well enough where they haven't skipped a beat?

Saeger: Guzman and Cho have done a great job. I think the loss of Castro hurts, though. He was off to a great start and I believe was poised to have a 2002-like season. I could tell he looked like a different player this year compared to when he was with us last year. Much more confident. You can't replace a guy like that. But credit Cho and Guzman for filling in nicely. The Castro loss could have been a disaster. Hopefully Garciaparra gets the average up once he comes back. The one thing that his loss, along with Castro's has done, is it has restricted Darren Brown's flexibility with moving infielders around as he was able to do the first few weeks of the season.

ITP.com: Jon Nelson playing left field.  Does he look natural out there or does he look more like a first baseman trying to play the outfield?

Saeger: John has looked pretty good out there. He's gone over the fence to rob 2 or 3 HR this year. It helps when you're 6-foot-5. He seems to get good reads on the ball and has shown that he has a pretty decent arm, though no one has the arm or accuracy of T.J. Bohn. John was really hitting well when he went out of the lineup with the abdominal strain. From April 24 through his last game, May 11, he had more hits in the league than any player and was fourth in RBI. (His loss) really hurt us.

ITP.com: Does Rene Rivera appear to be further along in his development as a hitter or a defender?  His offensive numbers look really good.  What kind of ceiling would you guess he had?

Saeger: I think the Rene might not get enough credit outside the clubhouse for the success of the pitching staff. He's a solid backstop with a great arm. I think he's at 43 percent in throwing out runners and he handles the staff wonderfully. He's also one of the best clutch hitters I can remember us having in years. He's hit over .400 with ROB and RISP compared to about .200 with bases empty. He's had a lot of big hits for us. He's going to be a good one for Seattle.

ITP.com: Anything stand out about this team that's either different or similar to the championship team from last year?

Saeger:I think that this club is probably more well rounded than last year's championship team, especially on offense. Our starters are probably better as a whole this year, though our bullpen last year was better as a whole. Our defense has been pretty good this year for the Single-A level.

ITP.com: Can you believe it's already approaching June?

Saeger: I was thinking the other day that I couldn't believe we were halfway through the first half and a quarter of the way through the season. But it always goes by fast it seems. It ought to be a great first half race with us and Lancaster, and possibly Lake Elsinore. The team just finished a stretch of playing 34-straight days and have still only had one homestand consisting of more than one opponent. Starting May 28 they'll be home for 19 of 23 games which will be nice with the first half coming near an end by that point.

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