MadFriars’ Announcer Series: Mike Maahs

In one capacity or another, Mike Maahs has been broadcasting baseball in Fort Wayne for the past eleven seasons whether they were named the Wizards or the TinCaps and either as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins or San Diego Padres.

If there is someone in the Padres’ system that has come through Fort Wayne, chances are Mike has seen them and we have asked him about them. He is the dean of all the Padres’ affiliate broadcasters.

You saw Mallex Smith in back to back years. We always knew he could run, but what did you noticed changed in his game to make him such a dominate force in the MWL.

Mike Maahs: What I noticed about Mallex Smith on Media Day right before the start of the season, was a self-determination to show the Padres brass that they made a mistake in starting him back in Fort Wayne in 2014, rather than being in Lake Elsinore in the California League.

He commented to me in the clubhouse that day, that he hoped that his second stint in Fort Wayne would be a short one. He also realized, that, with so many teenagers on the opening day roster (eight), he was going to be looked at, as one of the leaders on this TinCap team.

 He took that position very seriously, determined to show everybody that he knew what it would take to (a), be a professional baseball player; and (b), what it would take to "move up the ladder" in the organization.

The weather in April always seems to be the excuse for why certain players struggle early. Does the weather really play that big of an impact on a player, specifically someone like Franchy Cordero, or do you think it was just too high a level too soon for him?

Mike Maahs: The answer is "yes" to both questions.

Remember, spring training always takes place in a warm climate; in the case of San Diego, and their affiliates, that means in Arizona. It's always interesting to see the looks on the faces of players who hail from places like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic; places where the words "snow" and "cold" don't really exist.

Those faces have the real look of culture shock, and, in a number of cases, it will take a while to get used to the different weather conditions.

In regards to Franchy Cordero, and again, with hindsight being 20-20, personally, I feel that it was a mistake to start him in the Midwest League, where the 140-game regular season begins in early April and runs through Labor Day in early September. Remember, he was just 18 years old, and an awful lot of high expectations were heaped upon him.

Some players can handle most of those expectations at an early age;19 year-old Dustin Peterson in the first half, 18 year-old Josh VanMeter in the second half, and, for the most part, Jake Bauers for his entire season in Fort Wayne are some examples, and some cannot. Unfortunately for him, Franchy could not.

Hopefully, with the experiences he gained in Eugene, and with a good training camp in 2015, Cordero will return to Fort Wayne in 2015, with a better idea of what to expect in long season baseball in the Midwest League. 

Fernando Perez set a TinCap record for 95 RBI in a season, even with playing a different position every day. What position do you believe he will end up at?

Mike Maahs: It's too bad that the Padres are in the National League, where there is no designated hitter; because that is where I feel Fernando Perez is best suited. Hitting is easily his strong suit.

To answer your question, my feeling is that second base may ultimately be the position Perez will end up playing the most.

The entire team seemed to change when Jake Bauers was called up. How did he look at the plate?

Mike Maahs: When Jake Bauers arrived in Fort Wayne, he went hitless in his first five at-bats over his first two games. He proceeded to collect a total of 12 hits in his next 19 at-bats through the next five games he appeared in, giving him a .500 batting average in his first seven games.

That seemed to set the tone.

Here was a young kid, the was the youngest player in the Midwest League when he joined the TinCaps, who loved to swing the bat, and, it didn't matter whether he was facing a right-hander or a southpaw. His mind set was basically, "throw me the ball, and I'm going to hit it".

The real challenges that Jake had to endure were two-fold. One, was the fact that opposing teams started played a shift on him when he came to the plate; with three fielders on the right side of the infield. There were times where he became a little frustrated, especially when balls hit that had been base hits early on became outs due to the re-positioning of the infielders.

The other challenge was playing almost every day in full-season baseball. He joined the team on April 25th, and played in 112 games, out of 120 possible, excluding the playoff games. That's a lot of baseball, regardless of age.

He truly was a breath of fresh air, and not just with his bat. We, Mike Couzens and John Nolan, as well as myself, commented many times how well he fielded his position at first base, and he meshed in very well in the clubhouse as well. 

One other footnote. Bauers was the post-season MWL All-Star first baseman in 2014. A job well done.

Trea Turner was nearly unstoppable after his call-up. Did he look nearly as good as his numbers made him look and do you think he can stay at short?

Mike Maahs: There's a reason why the Padres picked Turner in the first round of this year's draft, and that reason is self-confidence.

When Trea arrived in Fort Wayne, he hit safely in the first seven games (and 20 of his first 21) in which he played, and reached base safely in 29 straight games, and 36 of his first 37 games as a TinCap, batting .396 over that stretch (61/154), scoring 28 runs, stealing 13 bases, and having a .469 OBP, a .578 SLG, and an OPS of 1.046.

Those are simply outstanding numbers. In addition, he committed just three errors over that stretch at shortstop. He did struggle in the playoffs, but, I attribute that to just plain being tired. Remember, he began his 2014 baseball season at North Carolina State back in late December or early January. To play nearly every day for over nine months in a row is a challenge for everybody.

I think that Turner has a great shot at ending up as San Diego's shortstop in 2017, if not a little sooner. He has the speed, and he has a strong arm.

The main question, in my mind, is, can he hit as well in higher levels (where the pitching will most certainly be better) as he did in Fort Wayne?

I wouldn't bet against him.

The team had a lot of big name offensive prospects on the team in Turner, Bauers, Peterson, and Perez. Was there any other offensive player that Padre fans should really keep an eye on as they move up through the minors?

Mike Maahs: Two players who I feel have the potential to do well as they "move up the ladder" are Franmil Reyes and Josh VanMeter.

Reyes is a physical specimen at 6'5" tall and 240 pounds. Even though he lacks speed, and still needs a lot of work defensively in the outfield, he played primarily in right field in Fort Wayne, remember, he is just 19 years of age, until Jake Bauers joined the team in late April, Reyes was the youngest player in the Midwest League.

I mention VanMeter because of his grit and determination. He struggled a bit in the first half of the season, batting just .228.

A huge reason why he did so poorly, was due to the fact that he was trying, perhaps too much, to please his family and close friends, as many as 100, who made the short drive from Ossian to Fort Wayne (a distance of about 15 miles or so) nearly every night to see him play at home.

Josh was the first every-day player from the Fort Wayne area to play for his hometown team in the 22-year history of the franchise.

In a pre-game interview in the second half, he mentioned to me that the best thing to happen to him was the three-day break for the Midwest League All-Star Game. He just got away from the ball park and from baseball altogether over that stretch, and said it helped him immensely.

He batted .281 in the second half, and teamed up with Trea Turner to form a pretty good combination at second base and shortstop.

He also hit left-handed pitching rather well (.304 for the season), and has a sense of maturity; knowing what he wants to accomplish in the future. Those are two other offensive players to keep an eye on.

The TinCaps have an impressive streak of having four straight closers currently on a MLB roster (2009-2012). Can Ryan Butler be the next to join the list? How good was he?

Mike Maahs: I certainly think so.

Here was someone who came on to the scene at the same time that Trea Turner joined the club, threw fastballs that reached 101 MPH on a number of occasions, and this is according to opposing teams pitch speed-guns, and just mowed down opposing hitters, becoming the team closer in the process.

I think he can be successful, however, he needs to perfect a second pitch in which to get batters out in the late innings, be it a curve ball, a slider, or a change-up. 

A lot of the Padre brass were really high on Ronald Herrera when we acquired him from Oakland. As someone who got to see everyone of his TinCap starts (and a few of his Beloit ones as well), how did he look?

Mike Maahs: Herrera certainly has a lot of potential, especially for someone who is just 19 years of age.

I thought it was interesting that, when Herrera was with Beloit, he pitched as many as seven innings in a game on two occasions (50.2 IP in 9 starts overall); while with Fort Wayne, he pitched 6.2 innings in his first start, yet primarily just five innings maximum in his other 15 starts as a TinCap (82.1 IP in 17 games with Fort Wayne, 16 as a starter).

I know that, when adding the numbers together, it becomes 133 innings of work this season, which is a lot for a starter at this level Low-A.

I think the future is bright for Herrera. He throws hard, and has a good strike-out-to-walk ratio (25 walks and 82 strike-outs combined in those 133 innings). Again, the key will be how many pitches he can learn to master.>

Tayron Guerrero went from walking 8 batters in just 3.2 innings last year in Fort Wayne, to leading the team in WHIP. What can you attribute to his becoming such a dominate pitcher, and futures game selection?

Mike Maahs: Two words---experience and maturation.

I should also mention the Tayron stayed healthy this season, as opposed to 2013. At 6'7", Guerrero is an imposing figure on the mound, and, like Ryan Butler, he can "bring it", throwing his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90's.

His numbers with Fort Wayne were more impressive (6-1/1.00 ERA/36IP/7R/4ER/22H/12BB/42K/.169BA/1SV) than the ones in Lake Elsinore (0-0/2.63 ERA/13.2IP/4R/4ER/10H/8BB/14K/.200BA/3SV); but, one has to realize that the Midwest League is known as a pitcher's league, while the California League is more well-known for hitting.

I also found it interesting, that, at the Midwest League Game at West Michigan, Guerrero was chosen by the Eastern Division All-Star Manager (Andrew Graham of West Michigan) to be his closer (instead of TinCap teammate Nick Mutz). It should be pointed out that both Nick Mutz and Guerrero pitched a perfect 8th and 9th inning, respectively, in that All-Star Game.

Which player was your top position player and pitcher for 2014?

Mike Maahs: The top position is a tough choice, considering the first half that Dustin Peterson produced offensively (66G/.267/6HR/55RBI/19-2B/3-3B/.429SLG); the second half that Trea Turner produced (46G/.369/4HR/22RBI/14-2B/2-3B/14SB/.447OBP/.529SLG/3E); and the season that Jake Bauers gave us (112G/.296/8HR/64RBI/18-2B/3-3B/5SB/.414SLG/.789OPS); however, my position player for 2014 has to be Fernando Perez.

Although average at best defensively (24 errors in 116 games), the fact that he played three infield positions, first, second, and third shows that he has versatility. 

Perez for the season batted .284, hit 18 home runs (a TinCaps-only franchise record, and falling two shy of the overall franchise record of 20 set in 1997), drove in a Midwest League-leading 95 runs (breaking the Fort Wayne franchise record of 91 RBI, set by Padres OF Will Venable in 2006), collected 24 doubles and one triple, and had a .454 SLG, as well as a .776 OPS.

Arguably, Fernando Perez may well have been the most valuable player on this team, and perhaps in the MWL, for the months of April and May, as, he was among the leaders in batting average, doubles, runs batted in, and slugging percentage over that period.  

The top pitcher on the staff in 2014 was starting pitcher Kyle Lloyd. He had an overall record of 6-5 in the regular season, with an ERA of 3.61. In 27 appearances (21 of them starts), Kyle pitched 119.2 innings, and allowed 60 runs (48 earned) on 114 hits. He walked 34 batters, and struck out a league-leading 155; falling two strikeouts shy of cracking the top-five in that category all-time in Fort Wayne.

He was the most dependable starter in the rotation for manager Michael Collins and pitching coach Burt Hooten in the second half of the season, thanks in large part to a devastating split-finger fastball that he mastered. Again, as long as he can develop a better straight two-seam or four-seam fastball, and perhaps a change-up to go along with the splitter, I feel the future will be bright for Kyle Lloyd.

Finally, how good is the “Big Apple” which was voted best dessert in all of minor league baseball?

Mike Maahs: To be honest with you, I never devoured the "Big Apple" this season, but, I did enjoy some apple crisp and apple dumpling, and oh, was it good!

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