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 able to speak with 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.
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.
For our final segment we interviewed Felix Chavez, who has been writing for the El Paso Times since May of 2009 and covered around 20 games this year along with writing numerous features. He gave us his thoughts on this year’s squad along with baseball’s impact on El Paso.
The Chihuahuas drew 560,997 fans in their inaugural season in the Pacific Coast League and was by all accounts, including mine, a resounding success.
El Paso had minor league baseball before in the Texas League with the Sun Kings and the Diablos, which ended in 2004. Why was this team so much more successful than the ones in the past?
Felix Chavez: The teams in the past were very successful in their own right and there is a lot of history with the Diablos and Sun Kings. With the Chihuahuas, it was a combination of so many things. A beautiful stadium, great work by the Chihuahuas management to promote the team, the fact that El Paso was getting a Triple-A affiliate. All those mattered.
When the Padres had their AAA team in Tucson the focus on that team invariably turned into how much of a hitter’s part Kino Stadium was and how it distorted offensive statistics. How did Southwest University Park play?
Felix Chavez: Southwest University Park was both a pitcher's park and hitter's park. We saw some crazy games that were high scoring, but we also saw some great pitching at times from El Paso, from Memphis when it game to town and Fresno early in the season.
Cody Decker led the organization in home runs and seemed to have a lot of fun both on and off the field this season. Can you give us an idea of what type of player he was and how he interacted in the community?
Felix Chavez: Cody was a tremendous player for the team. He really caught fire the past couple of months it seemed and he was a great team player. A fan favorite and he really interacted with fans great and just an overall funny, good guy.
The Padres may have openings at second or third base depending on what they end up doing with Jedd Gyorko. What did you think of Jonathan Galvez and Jace Peterson this season and what type of major league players could you see them becoming?
Felix Chavez: Jonathan Galvez is a kid that can play multiple spots. Decent hitter, clutch at times at the plate. Peterson had some great moments for the Chihuahuas. He showed flashes of being really good. It was fun watching both of those guys play. As with any player trying to move up, consistency is the key.
Can these guys get it done every day?
Felix Chavez: Adam Moore is a very good offensive player. It was too bad he missed time with an injury. He was very good for this team and hit for average and some power. Not bad on defense as well.
Rocky Gale was very good defensively. He had a good arm and blocked ball well. He doesn't hit for power but he had a good season average wise and had some big hits.
CF Rico Noel hit much better in the second half (.290/.384/.383) than he did in the first (.243/.323/.283). What improvements did you see in his game as the season progressed?
Felix Chavez: Rico just got more consistent at the plate and his defense was always pretty good. I think he just settled down at the plate and also caught some breaks to. There were a couple of games early in season at home that I saw where he hit ball hard but just right at someone.
Matt Wisler was ranked by many publications as the Padres’ top pitching prospect coming into the year. He struggled at first and then improved as the season went on. Why was he able to get better in a very tough hitter’s league?
Felix Chavez: Matt Wisler was one of the most improved players on this year's team. He struggled early but he had just moved up from San Antonio. He's got good stuff. He really was effective when he didn't walk many batters.
He placement was tremendous and he worked all of his pitches well. His confidence skyrocketed once he got going.
I don’t think I have ever seen a player quite like Jason Lane who could both pitch and hit. All of us know that Jason was a former big league outfielder but what type of pitcher would you describe him as?
Felix Chavez: Jason Lane is a very smart pitcher. He uses all of his pitches and he is a student of the game. You can tell he really knows the opponent and what the opposing batters' weaknesses and strengths are. He's such a competitor as well. You will get his best effort every time out.
Keyvius Sampson came into the season ranked as one of the Padres’ top pitching prospects but had a difficult year. Why do you think he struggled so much?
Felix Chavez: Keyvius has so much potential. His first few outings weren't bad, then the team used him in relief at times later in year and he had a good run for a while. I think his control was a bit inconsistent and he just got himself stuck in tough jams. He's still someone who can do good things. He just needs to get his confidence back.
El Paso had quite a few good bullpen arms this year, but two stood out to me in Jerry Sullivan and Dennis O’Grady. Can you give us a brief scouting report on what each of them does well and what they get in trouble with?
Felix Chavez: On Jerry and Dennis, I didn't get to see as much of them as some of the others for some reason. But I really thought Sullivan gave the team some important innings at key times and he wound up doing some decent things this year.
Last question, what players stood out the most to you in the Chihuahuas’ first season?
Felix Chavez: For me, I'll just remember how El Paso really took to the team and vice versa. Every night was fun to head to the ballpark and the team just played so hard. Just look at how the team finished. The team could have packed it in after July, but the team had a wonderful August and finished strong.
Seeing prospect Matt Wisler and Rymer Liriano was fun. Liriano was only here for a few weeks but was sensational.
Also got to see former El Pasoan Omar Quintanilla with the Las Vegas 51s and that was neat. Also getting to watch Joc Pederson with Albuquerque was something else. He can flat out hit the ball and not a bad outfielder as well.