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’ affiliates broadcasters.
Michael Gettys on-base percentage increased a 101 points from last year in Fort Wayne. Although he still struck out about once a game, what was the biggest improvement that you saw in him this year?
Mike Maahs: Michael's biggest improvement in 2016 came in the area between his ears.
In 2015, Gettys was a teenager who was making the adjustment from playing high school baseball to playing professional baseball. If you look at some of his 2015 numbers (122 games, 494 at-bats, .231 BA, 6 home runs, 27 doubles, 3 triples, 44 runs batted in, 28 BB, 162 K's, 20 stolen bases, and a .271 on-base percentage); you will see that he had a tremendous amount of potential.
He came into spring training this year wanting to improve in all areas, especially in raising his batting average and cutting down on his strikeouts.In the first half of the season, he improved in many areas (including a .304 batting average in 68 games, a .369 OBP, and just 69 strikeouts in 257 at-bats).
I will tell you a true story about Michael.
When we greeted each other on Media Day right before the start of the season, he asked me if there was any way we could NOT list his batting average on the big scoreboard in right field. He said that he was embarrassed with his 2015 batting average. I commented that I would see what could be done about his request, but, that he could take care of the problem by just going out and taking care of business and did he ever.
He also realized very early on, that he was a player that a lot of teammates looked up to, as a team leader both on and off the field.
He combined the experience gained in 2015, plus the year of previous experience in both Fort Wayne and in the Midwest League, and packaged it into a very successful first half of the season; not only representing Fort Wayne in the Midwest League All-Star Game, but, earning a promotion to Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League as well.
How good is he defensively?
Mike Maahs: He was rated as the best defensive outfielder in the Midwest League in 2015 (including a league-high 21 assists), and performed even better in 2016. At the time of his promotion, end of the first half, Gettys led the league outfielders with 11 assists. In addition, he threw out a base runner in the All-Star Game in Cedar Rapids.
He not only possesses a strong throwing arm, he has improved on his positioning versus opposing batters. Gettys has a desire to get better and better, and that will help him down the road.
Rudy Grion struggled in the second half of last year offensively and the first half of this year. He turned it around in the second half with an OPS going from .482 to .707. Why?
Mike Maahs: I really think that Ruddy decided that, if he really wanted to show the Padres that they made a mistake by not sending him to Lake Elsinore to begin the season that he better get his act together. If you remember, I mentioned to you last year in our end-of-season review, that I felt it would benefit Giron and Luis Urias, if the Padres organization kept the two players together in 2016, because they seemed to bounce off each other, if you will.
Urias had an outstanding season at Lake Elsinore (California League MVP) and I really think that splitting the players up had an effect on Giron.
He has a tremendous amount of potential, but, I feel that, with the proper training, that his best position would be in center field, where he can give Michael Gettys a run for the money.
Brad Zunica, 19, was really young for the Midwest League this year. What did you see about him that you liked and what does he need to improve upon to get better.
Mike Maahs: Brad Zunica can be an imposing left-handed batter at the plate; he's 6' 6" tall and weighs in the neighborhood of 270 pounds. He belted 14 home runs, placing him in the Top 10 in the Midwest League, and drove in 61 runs.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that he struck out a league-leading 156 times in 401 at-bats.
It seemed like whenever he came to the plate, that it was a "feast or famine" situation, tremendous potential to hit the ball a long way, but, more often or not, that he would be unable to connect his bat to the pitch.
The first thing he needs to work on, in my opinion, is cutting down on his swing, and concentrates on making more contact with the ball. He has the power to hit the ball a long way, but, he needs to realize that more contact means more base hits, which can translate to more runs for his team.
Austin Allen was one of the leaders in the Midwest League in hitting this season with a .320/.364/.425 slash line. What made him such an effective hitter and how did he progress defensively?
Mike Maahs: We learned early on that Austin could hit the baseball; but what impressed me was his approach as he came to the plate. He had 409 official at-bats, and collected a total of 131 hits for a.320 batting average. Of his over 400 at-bats, I would estimate that he swung at the first pitch somewhere between just ten to fifteen percent of the time. He showed tremendous patience at the plate, and had more two-strike base hits than anybody else on the roster.
This may sound crazy, but, I honestly feel that his experiences behind the plate defensively helped him offensively. What I mean by that is the fact that he saw first-hand what kind of strike zone there was on a given night gave him both a physical and mental advantage when it was his turn to bat.
Defensively, he improved very much in the second half of the season. Part of that can be attributed to the instruction he received when the "rovers" came to town. Additionally, he also came from the realization that, there is no designated hitter in the National League; thus, if he wants to play at PETCO Park someday, that he better sharpen his defensive skills; which included calling a game with his pitchers as well as throwing out more potential base stealers.
Although he had a 3-7 won loss record, I though Jacob Nix showed a lot of promise this year. What did you see with him?
Mike Maahs: The Padres treated Nix very carefully this year, with outings hardly going past four innings in any outing in the first half of the season. When he wants to, he can throw a fast ball in the 94-to-97 mile-per-hour range. It's no secret that his fastball is his best and most effective pitch. In the second half of the season, he got to pitch longer and longer. What he needs to do, as is the case with almost every starting pitcher in the system, is to develop at least three pitches (two-seam and/or four-seam fastball, curve ball or slider, and/or a change-up) that he can feel comfortable throwing in any situation.
The other factor that I feel will help Nix in his journey, is the fact that he absolutely hates to lose, whether it be in baseball or other things.
It is that "bulldog" attitude, that I feel will help him move up through the system.
Logan Allen struggled to stay on the mound, but when he did pitch he showed some talent. What makes him so effective when he is on and what does he need to work on going forward?
Mike Maahs: Let me answer the second question first.
The number one priority for Logan Allen in 2017 is to get and stay healthy. He missed an awful lot of time in 2016 due to injury. Again, number one is to get and stay healthy.
What can make Logan effective in the future is, (a), the fact that he is a southpaw, a commodity that all the major league teams strive for; (b) he has a lot of movement on his fast ball; (c) he has a good change-up and finally; (d) he has a pretty good breaking ball as well. In my opinion, the combination of staying healthy and perfecting the off-speed pitches will keep him going in the right direction.
Anderson Espinoza was the biggest player to come over to the Padres during the trade deadline. Although his numbers don’t look great why should San Diego fans be excited about him?
Mike Maahs: First of all, he's still just a teenager and second the reports are true he has a wealth of potential. He possesses not just a fast ball that could someday reach the upper 90's to close to 100 mph, but a curve ball that breaks, and a change-up that floats.
The sky is the limit for this young man, so long as he stays healthy.
Austin Smith was one of the Padres’ top picks in the 2015 draft. This year it seemed to be a process of converting him from an athlete/thrower into a pitcher. Did you see the same thing?
Mike Maahs: With Austin Smith, the Padres need to decide if they want him to be a starter or a middle-to-long reliever. You are correct when you say that he needs to be converted into a pitcher who throws multiple pitches, rather than relying on a mid-to-upper 90 mph fastball.
What a lot of people may not know, is what kind of a guy he is off the field. He had a tremendous rapport with the fans, both on autograph Sundays at Parkview Field, and when he visited schools and hospitals and such. What he needs to remember is that he has to have a different mentality on the mound than he does off the field.
Before Chris Paddack got hurt, how impressive was he?
Mike Maahs: To be perfectly honest, I felt that Chris Paddock was the best and most complete pitcher the TinCaps had on their staff in all of 2016. Even though he on made a handful of starts for Fort Wayne before he was injured up in Wisconsin, he was the most talented, the most confident, and, the most prepared starting pitcher that I have seen in a long time.
Not only did he possess an array of pitches that he seemingly could throw for strikes at just about any time, he had a confidence about him that a lot of players, regardless of position, just don't have at this level. It's a shame that he was injured, and had to have Tommy John surgery, but, hopefully, he will recover. If so, you can expect to see him at PETCO Park sometime in late 2018 or early 2019.
Finally, who was the top hitter and top pitcher you saw this summer in Fort Wayne?
Mike Maahs: The top hitter for the entire season was Austin Allen. A left-handed batter who was the talk of all of minor league baseball for the first few weeks of the season; he was batting .615 on April 18th, collecting at least one hit in each of his first 11 games; and was still batting at a .509 clip through April 27th. For the entire season in Fort Wayne, he amassed a .320 batting average (sixth highest in the Midwest League), belting seven home runs, and driving in 61 runs. In addition, he batted .362 (47 hits in 130 at-bats) against left-handed pitching, not bad for a left-handed hitter.
The best pitcher I saw (even though it was briefly) was Chris Paddock. In just three starts, Paddock had an 0-0 record with a 0.64 ERA, pitched a total of 14 innings, allowed just one run (earned) on 11 hits, walked three, struck out 23, held opponents to a .212 batting average, and had a 1.00 WHIP. Another pitcher who impressed me was Walker Lockett. In eight starts, he compiled a record of 1-3, with an ERA of 3.00. In 45 innings of work, he allowed 20 runs (15 earned) on 43 hits, walked 8, and struck out 29. Opponents batted .244 against him, and his WHIP was 1.13.
If you will allow me, the best overall player that I saw in a TinCaps uniform this season was Michael Gettys. Even though he was only here for the first half of the season, not only batted above .300 (.304), but, he led the Midwest League in both stolen bases (24) and outfield assists (11); was a starting outfielder for the Eastern Division All-Stars in the MWL All-Star Game in Cedar Rapids, IA in late June, and was the unquestioned leader of the team, both on and off the field.
Tomorrow we chat with the beat writer for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Chris Goff who covered the team for the entire season.