Mike Maahs: The biggest difference in Duanel Jones was his maturity. When he was in Fort Wayne in 2012, he was just 19 years old, and was just beginning to get his feet wet, in terms of playing professional baseball. You may recall that he batted .226 in 113 games, with fve home runs, 41 RBI's, and 26 doubles. He also walked 37 times, and struck out 99 times. In 2013 and 2014, he had similar numbers with Lake Elsinore.
I really feel that Jones realized that 2015 might have been his final opportunity in the Padres organization, and the numbers showed it (.327 batting average, with seven home runs, 36 runs batted in, and 11 doubles in 41 games, along with 15 walks and 36 strikeouts). With age usually comes experience and maturity, and it was very evident that this was the case with Duanel. He realized that he was expected to be a leader on the team, and, indeed he was, which ultimately led to his promotion to Double-A San Antonio.
Obviously, the club really turned a corner in late May. What changed for the team at that point?
Mike Maahs: It certainly was no secret that the TinCaps struggled at the beginning of the season. The hitting wasn't there, the defense was porous, and the pitching was less than adequate. In the midst of a season-long 11-game road trip, 18-year-old Ruddy Giron was assigned to the Fort Wayne roster. On May 18th, Giron made his TinCap and Midwest League debut. What a debut it was, as all he did was to go 6-for-6 (five singles and a home run), in helping Fort Wayne to a win at Lake County.
That 6-for-6 performance tied both the Fort Wayne franchise record, and the Midwest League record, and gave the TinCaps a badly needed dose of self-confidence. Giron collected one or more hits in his first eight games, batting .526 over that stretch. That offensive performance, along with some solid defense (just five errors in his first 28 games at shortstop), seemed to ignite his teammates as well.
Giron's performance on the field, in addition to the patience exhibited by first-year manager Francisco Morales, were the key factors in the turnaround by the team. All season long, "Mo" preached patience to his team, reminding them that they could come back and win when they fell behind – and they did come back many times, as evidenced by their 11 walk-off wins, a franchise record.
Early in the year, Michael Gettys was really a force, but he never got back to producing at that level. What are the the things he's going to have to work on to turn his immense physical tools into consistent on-field performance?
Mike Maahs: Michael Gettys indeed had a good month of April, batting .306, with 22 hits, a home run, six doubles, two triples, and three stolen bases in 17 games. The problem he encountered, however, was the same problem that all players at this level encounter: being able to hit a breaking ball that tails away from them, especially when behind in the count.
Gettys, like most players, can hold his own when swinging at fast balls. However, Michael will have to learn to lay off those breaking balls, thus forcing the opposing pitcher to go back to his fast ball, thus "evening the odds.”
Another thing that I would like to see Gettys do is to take something off of his swing. He swings awfully hard, and (maybe) sometimes too hard. Perhaps by easing off a little, he may have a better chance of making contact with the pitch. Just a random thought from the broadcast booth.
Player development, especially at the lower levels, is often about more than just stats. Was there a player you watched this year whose numbers might not jump off the page, but impressed you with his development?
Mike Maahs: A couple of players come to mind. One is Chase Jensen, who didn't spend all that much time here in Fort Wayne before being promoted to Lake Elsinore.
In 40 games, Jensen batted just .197, but, he had some key hits in some key situations, which helped lead to some victories. It was his steadying presence defensively, that impressed me. Chase played at second base, shortstop, and third base in those 40 games, and committed just three errors. That defensive performance (along with the arrival of Giron), helped improve both the team's defense and won/loss record.
Another player who impressed me was catcher Jose Ruiz. Ruiz had trouble at the plate offensively, as at one point in late May he was batting just .171 on the season. He was able to boost his average up to .214 by season's end, but, it was his defense and handling of the pitching staff that impressed me.
He threw out 58 base runners, more than any catcher in professional baseball. It was that defensive performance that helped lead to the turn-a-round for the ball club.
Dinelson Lamet got out there and in his first start, was so raw with all the walks, balks, a hit batter and opponents running wild on the bases. By the end of the year, he was among the most dominant pitchers in the league. What stood out to you about the progress he made?
Mike Maahs: One must remember that he had never pitched in the United States before this season, and he only pitched a few innings last year before suffering an injury. So, the Padres took the side of caution with Lamet, limiting his starts to five innings or so (he did pitch six innings in a start on two occasions in August). As he began to pitch more often (he made 24 starts after appearing twice in relief to start the season), he became more comfortable and stronger as well; and we began to see the lively fastball, as well as a change-up and breaking ball. The key for Lamet, as he moves forward, is to (a) stay healthy; and (b) continue to work on developing the change-up and breaking ball, so that he doesn't try to rely on just the fastball to get outs.
As good as Lamet was through the second half, Thomas Dorminy was even better. What does he offer when things are going right for him?
Mike Maahs: Without a doubt, Thomas Dorminy was the ace of the staff for Fort Wayne in 2015. He doesn't possess a world class fastball in terms of velocity, but he does throw it, along with a change-up and breaking ball. Where Dorminy excels, is in his game preparation (especially the mental part), as well as with pinpoint accuracy. In a start at South Bend in late August, he threw seven scoreless innings, didn't walk anybody, and, at one point, retired 13 batters in a row, and 17 out of 18. He was a member of the Eastern Division All-Star team and definitely deserved the honor. When he is on his game, it's a lot of fun watching him pitch.
Even in an organization that has a tradition of dominant relievers, the back end of this year's TinCaps bullpen stood out for their stellar performance. The trio of Blueberg, McGrath and Brasoban are three totally different arms back there. How did they complement each other?
Mike Maahs: Let's talk about the three amigos. Kyle McGrath appeared in a pair of College World Series for the University of Louisville and he certainly took advantage of those experiences while pitching in Fort Wayne this season.
When you look at his numbers, the ones that stand out the most to me are the 79 strikeouts as opposed to just eight walks. There's one other number that stands out as well – no earned runs allowed in 40 consecutive innings (a Fort Wayne franchise record). Kyle just had an attitude of "I'm just going to shut the opponent down" nearly every time he came out of the bullpen.
Personally, I feel that San Diego made a good decision when they decided to take Yimmi Brasoban out of the starting rotation and put him into the bullpen. In 38 appearances out of the bullpen, Brasoban had a record of 5-2. He pitched 59.2 innings, allowing just 14 runs (10 earned) on 39 hits, walking 17, and striking out 68. Opponents batted .184 against him, and he collected 10 saves in 12 save opportunities.
Brasoban was the hardest thrower of the three, throwing his fastball in the mid- to upper-90s on a consistent basis. He still needs to work on his breaking ball and change-up, but, he definitely has a good chance to move up in the San Diego system.
Then, there is Colby Blueberg. The right-hander did what all closers are supposed to do – take care of business and put the game into the win column for his team. In 41 games (all in relief), Blueberg compiled a record of 4-1 and racked up 21 saves, third in the Midwest League. He held opposing batters to a .163 average, and had a better than 4-to-1 ratio in strikeouts vs. walks (62 vs. 15).
The mental focus by all three hurlers made life a lot more enjoyable for both Francisco Morales and Burt Hooton over the final 101 games of the regular season (a record of 65-36 over that stretch).
Who should we have asked you about that wasn't mentioned yet?
Mike Maahs: Josh VanMeter showed tremendous courage and determination in coming back four months after breaking his fibula in the second game of the season. I don't know if anybody really expected Josh to come back after the injury, but he showed all of us how much he wants to play professional baseball.
Trae Santos became a leader both on and off the field, especially after Duanel Jones was promoted to San Antonio. He finished in the top five in several offensive categories in the MWL (third with both 33 doubles and 51 extra-base hits, and fourth in slugging percentage at .455, and 14 home runs). He also showed durability by playing in 130 of the 138 regular season games.
Nick Torres was perhaps the most consistent player during his time in Fort Wayne, as evidenced by him being named to both the Eastern Division All-Star team, and to the post-season All-Star Team.
Luis Tejada was a pleasant surprise in his third tour of duty with the TinCaps, as evidenced by his numbers (70 games/.293BA/4HR/37RBI/12-2B/ and 8 stolen bases). The remarkable thing about Tejada was the fact that he came back as a third baseman, not the first baseman he was back in 2013, or the first baseman/outfielder he was here last year.
Luis Urias was a nice addition to the team as well, batting nearly .300 in 51 games. It will be interesting to see how the Padres handle both Urias and Giron down the road, as I feel that they could become a very good keystone combination if they stay and play together as they move through the system.