Mike Monaco is in his first year as the play-by-play announcer for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Previously he has done broadcast work for ESPN, NBCSpots, and WGN. Last year he worked for the South Bend Cubs where he hosted the pre and post game shows for the local radio station. He is a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he also worked as the play-by-play announcer for the Fighting Irish Mens and Womens Basketball teams.
He was nice enough to chat about the recent season that he spent in Fort Wayne with us.
Since Parkview field opened a few years ago it is consistently ranked as one of the best minor league ballparks in baseball. What makes Parkview so great?
Mike Monaco: Even through I’ve only been with Fort Wayne for one season, it was pretty easy to see what makes the place special. From the downtown setting to the cleanliness to the perfectly-manicured field to the in-game entertainment, the place really is the best stop in the Midwest League.
The last few years the Padres’ have held a few young players back in Peoria for a few weeks. While they may say its for a “slight injury” most fans seem to think it is due to the cold Aprils in Fort Wayne. Just how bad is the weather in April? For a player that might have grown up in warm weather, what do you see as the biggest struggles they face playing in cold for the first time?
Mike Monaco: In our season opener this year, we were in Eastlake, Ohio. It was a miserably cold night, and there was a wintry mix coming down by the middle innings. Regardless of where you’re from, that’s a challenge to deal with, mentally and physically. Certainly for players who’d never seen snow before arriving in Fort Wayne, I’d imagine it’s difficult to acclimate your body and mind for playing in that environment.
The Tin Caps seemed to have a revolving door in the clubhouse, as players were continuously being promoted/demoted/traded. With so much influx in the clubhouse, what was the atmosphere like?
Mike Monaco: Yeah, it was certainly an eventful year with quite a few different players. That being said, the atmosphere doesn’t change a whole lot for whoever’s on the 25-man roster. Most of these guys know each other from prior stops in the Padres’ system, whether that’s at a lower level or even just through spring training or instructs.
Over the last month Padres’ GM AJ Preller has been suspended for bad medical reports that resulted in Anderson Espinoza coming to the Padres. When Espinoza joined the club he immediately became the top prospect in the organization. While he did not have the best season statistically, what makes Espinoza such a promising prospect - and worth a 30 day suspension?
Mike Monaco: I think any discussion of Anderson’s season has to begin with the fact that he’s 18 years old. He faced a lot of polished hitters three, four or sometimes even five years older than him, many of whom came through the college ranks. He’s got really easy velocity — just an ease of operation — sitting in the mid-90s and touching the upper-90s with the fastball. His curve ball certainly flashed as an effective pitch in spots. His best off-speed delivery, his changeup, was also very effective playing off his fastball. He’s got a bright future for sure.
Another mid-year acquisition, RHP Chris Paddack, looked absolutely dominant in his three starts for the TinCaps before going down with Tommy John surgery. What made him so effective?
Mike Monaco: Chris was one of the best pitchers we saw in the entire Midwest League in his few starts with us. We’d heard a lot about his changeup going into his first start, and it absolutely lived up to the hype. On his first strikeout in a TinCaps uniform, I called it a curveball on the air because I thought for sure it wasn’t his changeup with all the movement it had for a swing and miss. But that was just his changeup, and hitters didn’t have an answer for it. I think the other really impressive part of Chris was his overall demeanor. He’s a passionate, competitive guy, and he carries himself very maturely.
The Tin Caps missed the playoffs for the first time in seemingly a decade. One of the biggest reasons was the struggles of the bullpen. After having some of the best relievers in the MWL (Blueberg and Brasoban last year, Butler in 2014) 15 Tin Caps in 2016 collected at least one save with no one saving more than five games. Can you speak a bit on some of the struggles that manager Anthony Contreras had, and did anyone emerge as the best of the bunch?
Mike Monaco: It’s tough for me to pin the second-half struggles only or even mostly on the bullpen. With back-end bullpen arms like Gerardo Reyes, Trey Wingenter, José Castillo, Corey Kimber and Phil Maton being promoted at different points in the season, there were a lot of opportunities to go around. Those guys were really effective with the TinCaps, as were Elvin Liriano, David Bednar and Elliot Ashbeck.
Austin Allen had arguably the best April by a Tin Caps prospect in a long time. While players go through hot streaks where they might hit .350 for a week or so, Allen was hitting close to .600 for the first three weeks of the season. How did he look in the field, and was there something noticeable about him off the field during that stretch that showed the type of streak he was on?
Mike Monaco: Yeah, Austin had a great start to the season and really a terrific season overall. I think his defense certainly improved over the course of the year, and I think he’d be the first guy to tell you he’s still got room to grow behind the plate. He shortened his delivery and proved very durable after losing some weight in the offseason. In terms of Austin off the field, he’s a very confident guy and rightly so. He did nothing but hit all season.
After being one of the best young hitters in Fort Wayne in 2015, Ruddy Giron had a season to forget. While he did improve in the second half (.268/.329/.379) you would not have guessed that the player hitting .180 was a former MWL All-Star. What did you notice year to year about Ruddy, and did you notice a change when he rebounded in the second half?
Mike Monaco: I only had a chance to see Ruddy a handful of times in 2015 when I worked for the South Bend Cubs, so I can really only speak to what I saw from in 2016. As the year went on, his numbers certainly improved, and he was driving the ball with more authority. Defensively, as well, he was much sharper in the second half before his promotion.
From your time covering the team who were the top pitcher/hitter in terms of talent? Did anyone stand out above the rest?
Mike Monaco: Austin Allen was very consistent with his bat and getting on base. Michael Gettys is super talented and just a fun player to watch with a lot of potential. Ty France earned his promotion as a good fielder and a strong ability to get on base. Pitching-wise, Anderson Espinoza and Chris Paddack were really impressive after coming over in trades, and Jake Nix was consistent throughout the season. His fastball command was strong, and his breaking ball really improved over the course of the year. Trey Wingenter and Phil Maton are guys to watch as relievers.
Tomorrow we chat with TinCaps' play-by-play announcer Mike Maahs, who dean of the Padres' affiliates broadcasters.