This year the Missions actually hit a little better at home, .278/.369/.439, as opposed to on the road, .260/.343/.440. I can't remember this happening in the past, especially when compared to last year when there was such a big split. Any reasons why?
Mike Saeger: I think the main thing is that the players didn't appear to let the Wolff winds get into their heads and the majority of the hitters took the proper approach at home—think line drive and look to go the other way if you're a left-handed hitter.
Vince Belnome was a terrific opposite field hitter all season (when healthy) and Sawyer Carroll started to use the other half of the field quite effectively late in the season. I think also that the mindset of this team was and is different from most other clubs.
It's a group used to winning, having played together at various levels prior to 2011 and knowing what it takes to win, so something like a hard wind consistently blowing in from right field wasn't going to derail what they set out to do when the team broke camp in early April.
Jaff Decker had kind of a strange year. Two really bad months in May and July followed by three good ones and a strong playoff run. What did you think he does well and how does he get into trouble?
Mike Saeger: Jaff is a remarkably bright hitter who probably knows the strike zone better than almost any hitter I've ever seen up close in more than twenty years in the business. I think that also worked against him at times because he would often look at a pitch that might have been borderline that the umpire called a strike. Let's face it. These umps aren't perfect. They're human and they are in the minors for a reason. Maybe some of those pitches were outside the zone. Maybe some were close enough to be strikes.
Suddenly, you're down 1-2, or it's 2-2. Either way, you're in a spot where you have to be defensive at the plate. No one in the world is going to succeed when there are two strikes in the count. I know he never struggled at the plate in his life to the degree he did this year for a long stretch, so learning to deal with that may have played head games with him.
He had a pretty solid finish from about the third of July, leading the Texas League in RBIs from July 23 to the end of the season, cutting down a bit on the strikeouts and making more hard contact on a consistent basis than he had for a long period of tim. I will also add this, Jaff to me might have been the best all-around outfielder in the league and I think he'll be a better big league outfielder than the Angels Mike Trout. Doesn't touch Trout's speed but has a significantly better arm, gets great reads off the bat, has excellent range and seems to get to everything, or VERY close to everything, that's hit in his area code. He's also a better baserunner than what I had expected based on reading scouting reports prior to the season.
Vince Belnome just had a huge season at the plate. What made him so effective and how did his range and defense look at second?
Mike Saeger: I think the thing you notice quickly about Vinny as a hitter is that there is hardly any movement at all in his stance. Not much there that would potentially give a hitter problems. He's what I call a very quiet hitter. To me, the less complicated your stance and swing are, the greater the odds that you'll succeed.
Another thing is that he did a tremendous job using the whole field. I believe 13 of his first 14 home runs were actually hit to left or left-center. Obviously, a hitter's odds improve drastically when he's able and willing to use the entire field.
Belnome also showed a great eye at the plate. Always has if you look at his numbers. He often found himself in a hitter's count, which led to a lot of hits and getting on base.
Defensively, I know he worked incredibly hard to improve, having played at third pretty much all of 2010. I'm certainly not a scout by any means but I believe his hitting at this point is more advanced than his fielding but I think he can/will get better defensively. He wasn't a butcher or a liability out there in my eyes. Made some pretty nice plays at the keystone position.
I just recall the progress Logan Forsythe made at second from the start of 2010 to the end of the season when he was with us. Big difference. I think the same can be said of Vinny this year and I think he'll get even better next year.
Overall, I loved his game and what he brought to the table.
Third baseman Jedd Gyorko got called up in mid-season and struggled in July before hitting his stride in August. What did you like about him and what were the types of adjustments he made that gave him more success as the season went on?
Mike Saeger: The guy can definitely hit a baseball. He went through what a lot of guys deal with when they come up from A-ball. The adjustment isn't easy and I think Jedd went through a feeling-out process for about a month.
He had mentioned later in the season that he worked with our hitting coach to work out some kinks in his swing and he really took off in early August through the end of the season. Ended the year on 12-game hitting streak. The amazing thing is that despite scuffling for about a month, he still ranked 2nd in the league in RBI and 3rd in hits from the time he joined the club, July 4, through the end of the season.
Defensively, he stopped everything hit at him. I mean everything. There were some rockets that some guys may have happily let skip on by that Jedd stayed in front of and either gloved or knocked down. He also was tremendously smooth charging, grabbing, and throwing slow-hit balls.
Blake Tekotte went up to the Padres a few times but could you give fans in San Diego an idea of what type of player he is when he plays on a regular basis?
Mike Saeger: I think Blake has the potential to be the perfect PETCO hitter. He's got some pretty good pop but when he's on he's a line-drive guy who will put a few balls in the seats.
Really good speed and he improved as a base stealer from what we saw in 2010. He'll draw a few walks. Some scouts I talked to during the year saw him as a 4th outfielder in the big leagues while others thought he could maybe be an everyday guy. There seemed to be some question in that circle as to whether he could play center at the MLB level. I think he can but I'm just a broadcaster, for what that's worth.
I do think that because he's not a 35-HR type of hitter, he'll need to cut back a bit on his strikeouts at the big league level but other than that, if he gets a chance to play on a regular basis I think he can turn into a pretty nice big league ballplayer.
Casey Kelly came into the season rated as the organization's top prospect by many publications. His season was good but there were also a few hiccups. What did you see that you liked and what does he need to improve upon?
Mike Saeger: Well, Casey's go the pedigree to begin with that most guys don't have since his dad played ball and taught him the game. When he did have issues this year it was mainly the multi-run innings. He was victimized by a bunch of those if you start looking at his box scores from games when allowed three or more runs.
He's also a phenomenal athlete and I think I can safely say that he's the best fielding pitcher I've ever seen in the minors, not to mention he's no slouch at the plate.
I thought Casey improved as the season progressed, which is the idea in the minor leagues. Cut way down on those multi-run innings that can spoil an otherwise nice performance. Generally did a nice job of working ahead of the count. Has nice hard sinker. Seemed to do a good job of maintaining his poise on the mound.
The thing with Casey that one has to consider when you look at his body of work this year is that he was, at least at one point, the third youngest starting pitcher in the Texas League. Add to that the fact that he had less than 200 innings of pro experience as a pitcher when the season started, and his '11 campaign looks even more impressive. Most guys his age and with his innings would have been in High-A ball.
I think the main thing is just to get some more innings under his belt. Most pitching coaches I've worked with over the years have all said that it takes about 500 innings before you really start to know what you're doing out there. Casey's going to be a pretty good big leaguer one day. And he already has major league hair, so he's got that going for him.
The two pitchers that came over in the Mike Adams trade Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland have gotten quite a bit of attention. Their statistics indicate they pitched very well. What is something the numbers don't show?
Mike Saeger: I think those two are a big reason why the team won the 2nd half in addition to taking the 1st half before those two arrived.
Robbie is one the brightest and most cerebral pitchers you'll find. Well ahead of his years in that department. I know this word tends to be a bit overused, but he's fearless when he's out there. Some guys give up a walk, have an error behind them, maybe a bad-hop single, and suddenly there are four runs on the board. Erlin doesn't strike me as being that type of guy.
I'd also heard that he's one of the best clubhouse guys you'd ever want to have on a team. That, to me, is a pretty impressive statement about someone wasn't even old enough to legally buy a beer when the season ended.
Wieland, to me, is a little like a right-handed version of Erlin. Both pound the strike zone and have impeccable command. Like Robbie, Joe's a battler out there. He likes to win and wants to have the ball in his hand.
There were a couple of games at the end of the season where I think he was running out of gas. His fastball command, which is solid, wasn't really there and there was a recipe for disaster. Except, to his credit, Wieland battled his butt off and got by with a serviceable outing.
He did say that he prefers pitching in tight games, such as the playoff opener against Frisco when the Missions were getting no-hit into the 6th inning I think it was, but there was no score in the game. San Antonio goes on to break up the no-no and win 3-0. Joe got the win with an incredible outing, facing a guy who allowed one hit and fanned 12 of our guys.
Mike Saeger: I agree that he was the "straw that stirred the drink" in the bullpen. One word for his success--Cutter. Nick was basically a one-trick pony but had amazing success with it. He pretty basically would throw fastballs and cutters, cutters, and more cutters. But he didn't throw the same exact cutter. He could take a little off it, speed it up, vary the break to a certain degree.
Every hitter had to know it was coming but no one could hit and, if they did, usually didn't do much with the pitch. It started to become kind of funny later in the season you knew what you were getting, but you still couldn't hit him I also know that Nick has a great work ethic, which is key to anyone being successful at anything. He worked construction for his dad and helped chop wood as a kid, so he knows what a day of hard work is all about