On the Beat: Eugene

Some of the best sources for finding out about what is really going on at one of the affiliates is talking to the team’s beat writer, who is going to be possibly the only person that sees a significant amount of games and is not affiliated with either the big club or the affiliate.

Despite the decline of small and medium size newspapers, there are still some out there that produce excellent journalism. This year on MadFriars we were spoke with three of the better ones, Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard, Chris Goff or the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Felix Chavez of the El Paso Times on what they saw in 2014.

Sadly, neither San Antonio or Lake Elsinore have a regular beat writer, just pool reporters or frequently no one.

Next to people directly involved with the club, and the team’s play-by-play announcers, no one sees the individual team as much as these guys or can match their knowledge and insight.

First up is Steve Mims who has been with the Eugene Register-Guard since 1999 and covered the Ems every summer since then. So for all 14 seasons that they have been affiliated with the Padres, he’s been to around 30 home games a year ( a short season team plays about 75 to 80 games a year).

He is also the beat writer for the University of Oregon football, men's basketball and baseball teams.

First question on everyone’s mind; can Franchy Cordero play shortstop?

Steve Mims: I don't see it. He had 34 errors in 37 games and they seemed evenly split between fielding and throwing. There were many games with multiple errors where it seemed like once he made the first one, it was in his head again and even the crowd began to dread when the ball went his way. Late in the season, it seemed that his teammates were doing all they could to get near pop ups in his vicinity so he didn't have to come up with it. At this point, having committed 106 errors in 142 career games, it has to be more mental than physical and I don't think you keep somebody at a position where he is obviously uncomfortable and not confident any longer. I think they need to move him to a corner outfield spot and I even had one scout tell me he thinks that he can play first base.

What position player impressed you the most this summer?

Steve Mims: Marcus Davis, but since you ask about him later, I will go with Auston Bousfield. Seemed to be one of the few Emeralds to come up with clutch hits on a regular basis and put together an impressive stretch late in the season. He did that after a long college season that ended in the World Series. Eugene did not have a center fielder until he arrived and he gave them stability there and at the lead-off spot. I think he'd be a solid No. 2 hitter as he moves up the chain. Hit .301 with a .402 OBP and 24 extra base hits in 45 games. Decent pop plus speed with 12 stolen bases. Seemed like a mature player who the coaches could trust at the plate, on the bases, and in the field.

Marcus Davis put up some really strong numbers.  Can you describe what type of player he is?

Steve Mims: Marcus had one of the most amazing turnarounds I've seen on the beat. Davis hit .176 with 0 homers and 8 RBI in 35 games in 2013. Looking back now, it seems the classic case of a guy who struggled with the switch to a wood bat after a long college season at Florida State. Davis talked often about how he spent the offseason looking for redemption and he got it with a .322 batting average, seven homers, and 31 RBIs. He also showed class as he became the face of the franchise, the guy most in demand for interviews and the most popular player at the All-Star Game with Eugene as the host. He seemed to be the clubhouse leader as well. He was solid, not great, as a first baseman, but I think he would be better as a corner outfielder going forward. His swing is really smooth and there were some no-doubt homers. He was good from the start of the season to the finish which made it surprising he stayed in Eugene all summer, but I think his 2014 season is closer to the player he can be than 2013.

Which player do you believe will be a better player going forward despite not having great statistics with the Emeralds?

Steve Mims: Yale Rosen. He finished with just a .247 average, but picked up his play late in the season when he finally was able to play every day. He was stuck in a glut of outfielders and did not play as much early in the season as he should have. Once that group was thinned, Rosen became the most dangerous bat in the line-up aside from Davis. He homered in each of the final two home games to finish with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 170 ABs. He was also a guy who seemed very mature off the field. Strong guy, didn't complain when he was struggling or sitting out too many games and was ready when he got his chance at the end of the season. The kind of personality that I could see being the leader of a clubhouse someday.

I was really happy for Michael Kelly this year after he had struggled so much in the past.  What was different from his this year as compared to years past?

Steve Mims: This was Kelly's first year in Eugene, so I can't tell you what was different, but I know he talked about how he got over bad moments quicker. If he gave up a homer, he was able to come back and get out of the inning with no more damage which he said in the past was a problem when one homer might lead to a few more. I was impressed with his demeanor. Sometimes when a guy is a No. 1 pick and doesn't live up to expectations quickly, he doesn't seem to enjoy engaging with the media likely for fear that past problems will be brought up. Kelly never had any of that, but instead talked of the changes he's made. I never saw him grumble or mope about the fact he was still in short-season A ball. While obviously not where you want a former first-rounder to be after three years, I wouldn't give up on the 22-year old although he has to show some of the success he had here at a higher level pretty quickly.

Quite a few people are really high on third round pick Zech Lemond.  Do you share their same optimism and if so why?

Steve Mims: I do. I think Lemond is an intriguing prospect because he has been a lights-out closer in college and was solid in his first season of pro ball. Granted, his numbers were much better at home than on the road so I may not have gotten a complete picture, but he passed the eyeball test with me. I remember one game where he threw six innings and left because he was nearing 75 pitch limit, but I had no doubt he'd have tossed a complete game shutout if he could have been given 110 pitches.

Bryan Verbitsky was much better as a closer than he was a starter last year.  Why?

Steve Mims: I think he is more comfortable and better out of the bullpen. He was at times a position player, starter, and reliever at Hofstra and seemed to have his most success as a closer during his final year. Then, one month later he was a starter in the pros just months after his heaviest workload in college and he struggled, so that was no surprise. He's not a real big guy, but he has a good fastball so I think somewhere in the bullpen is where his future lies. He was great almost every outing for the Ems and was able to close out almost all of the few save opportunities his team gave him.

Which pitcher should Padres’ fans be aware of that might not be getting the attention he deserves?

Steve Mims: I liked Samuel Holland for a lot of reasons. First, he is 6-4 but standing by him and watching him on the mound, he looks even taller than that. He was good in just about every outing and finished with a 2.43 ERA despite leading the Ems with 27 games. It is rare at this level to see a reliever in that many games and not have a blowup inning for two that destroys their ERA, but he was able to avoid that. Had 53 strikeouts in 40 innings at age 20. I think the potential is there for him to develop into a solid reliever as he moves up the ladder. And with all Aussies that come through here, a terrific personality and fan favorite.

Addendum

After we spoke with Steve the Emeralds changed their affiliation from the Padres to the Chicago Cubs, ending their fourteen year affiliation with San Diego. We got back in touch with him for some insight on why the change occurred.

What was the main reason that the Ems decided to switch from the Padres to the Cubs after14 years?

Steve Mims:I think the Ems simply got tired of never winning a championship and felt the need to look around and see if there was a team out there that gave them a better chance to win the title. The Cubs, who made the NWL playoffs the last four seasons, were looking to get out of Boise and provided the Ems with a national brand and a team that has put competitive clubs in the Northwest League.

Eugene made the playoffs only twice in 14 years with the Padres, and went 30-46 this year, the second-worst record in the league. Having such a disappointing season coming at the end of the contract with the Padres likely made the Ems more anxious to look around at other options.

I know there has been frustration in Eugene with the Padres having massive roster overhauls during many seasons. Even if the Padres sent a top pick to Eugene, he rarely stayed for more than a month because the Padres wanted to get him to Ft. Wayne later in the year to start them at Lake Elsinore the following year. While player movement in the lower levels of the minors happens everywhere, the Emeralds rarely were given a team early in the season that would be given time to play together and then stay together to try and make a run in the second half.     -


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