Chris Goff is the sports reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette . In addition to covering the TinCaps, Chris is also the beat reporter for the Indiana Hoosier basketball team and the Notre Dame football team. As with the last few years, he was nice enough to take some time to give us his thoughts of what he saw this summer.
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?
Chris Goff: As the guys in the clubhouse came and went, there was a diminished sense of team. How could there not be?
Roster fluctuation always exists at some level in the minors, but with 62 players coming through, Fort Wayne set a franchise record in 2016. In fact, the previous mark (54 guys) was blown away. So this was abnormal. But, mostly, the TinCaps had a collegial clubhouse vibe, and that kind of atmosphere wouldn’t have existed without the majority of the team being high-character guys. The players almost always did things the right way. Guys looked tired and beaten-up by the end of the year, all that losing taking its toll, but this was a likeable bunch. And don’t forget: the promotions were a motivator, too. Players knew they might be the next to get that call.
The Tin Caps had a glut of quality pitching prospects with varying levels of success this year. The highest rated of which was newly acquired pitcher Anderson Espinoza. While he did not have incredible success (1-3, 4.73 ERA with the Tin Caps), scouts rave about both his raw talent and work ethic. What were your thoughts on the ace pitcher?
Chris Goff: Espinoza is probably years away from the majors. That’s OK. The Padres pretty much decided Drew Pomeranz’s value was as high as it was going to be. They’ll wait on a kid who doesn’t have a lot in common with Pomeranz, other than talent, and Espinoza actually has more of it. Nonetheless, Espinoza struggled to find his way at low-A.
Let’s combine his numbers from the Midwest League and South Atlantic League. That comes to 25 games (24 starts) with a 6-11 record, 4.49 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and .276 opposing batting average. Out of 23 qualified Midwest League pitchers, Espinoza’s full season numbers were worse than 18 of them in ERA, worse than 17 in WHIP and worse than 16 in opposing batting average. I see a kid trying to discover how to complement his 95-plus-mph fastball with his curve and slider. He’s an 18-year-old pitcher with potential, maybe an ace one day. Love his fastball. Love his curve when it’s on. But there are no sure things in the prospect world, and my main source of concern would be his 6-0, 160-pound frame. Standing next to Espinoza, those numbers seem generous. Hope he fills out as he gets into his 20s.
Another mid-year acquisition, RHP Chris Paddack, looked absolutely dominant in his three starts for the Tin Caps before going down with Tommy John surgery. What made him so effective?
Chris Goff: Easiest question I’ll field all year. His disappearing changeup. He throws it to right-handed and left-handed hitters, and he doesn’t throw many bad ones. The kicker: Paddack throws that change with the same arm action as his fastball.
Walker Lockett started the year in Fort Wayne for the third season in a row, and yet ended the year starting the championship game for the Padres Triple-A affiliate. As someone who has seen him for the past few years, what was different about Lockett this year, and is he someone you see being good enough to be a starter in the majors?
Chris Goff: Well, believe it or not, I’ve only seen Lockett pitch five times, and three of those games were this spring. I don’t travel for road trips, and eight of Lockett’s 13 starts in a Fort Wayne uniform have come away from Parkview Field. That being said, what was different with Lockett this year was he showed he could stay healthy. He pitched in 28 games, more than the previous three seasons combined (26). Take a moment and think about that. I could see Lockett providing some innings at the back end of a big league rotation, being the sinkerball pitcher he is. But somewhere down the line a team is going to have to believe in his durability to guarantee him a spot out of spring training. Otherwise, he’ll be a candidate for those quick call-ups and spot starts.
Austin Allen had arguably the best April by a Tin Caps prospect in a long time; maybe ever. 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?
Chris Goff: Austin would be the first to tell you he wasn’t so hot throwing out runners, but I’ve written about Allen’s otherwise strong work behind the plate, and when I asked Padres GM A.J. Preller about Allen’s season, Preller talked about how well Allen “services the pitchers” and how he “improved defensively.” I love Allen’s makeup. He doesn't get too emotionally high or low during the good times or the bad.
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?
Chris Goff: Oh, sure, Giron started getting himself out chasing bad pitches, but the reality is he hasn’t been good for a long time. Over his past 182 games, dating back to last year’s Midwest League All-Star break, he is hitting .240 with six homers and 56 RBIs in 701 at-bats. I don’t know that I noticed any significant change in approach in the second half this year, other than it appeared Giron was hitting into some bad luck in the first half. His batting average on balls in play was .321 in the second half, compared to .226 in the first.
Speaking of hitters who started 2016 with their second tour with the Tin Caps, CF Michael Gettys also looked like a completely different player from 2015. What differences did you notice in his game compared to last year?
Chris Goff: I was talking about this with TinCaps president Mike Nutter last month, and Nutter told me Gettys’ improvement from one year to the next was probably the greatest leap Nutter has seen in a quarter-century of being around minor leaguers. Basically, Gettys stopped worrying about his numbers.
“I said to somebody right there, ‘This kid is going to take off,’” Nutter said. Instead of letting frustration cloud his mind, Gettys embraced the idea that the last at-bat doesn't matter anymore. What's important is the next one, because each AB is a game, and each game is the season. Also, while he was in Fort Wayne in 2016, Gettys did significantly better in two-strike counts than he had in 2015. That really helped him.
From your time covering the team who were the top pitcher/hitter in terms of talent? Did anyone stand out above the rest?
Chris Goff: Gettys truly has five tools, the power, the speed, the arm, the glove and the pure hitting ability. And Espinoza, as a starting pitcher, is unlike anything that’s arrived on the scene talent-wise in my three years covering the TinCaps.
Parkview field has been voted one of the best ballparks in the minors since it opened. Besides the beautiful ballpark what makes Parkview such a great place to watch a game?
Chris Goff: The same reason Parkview Field is a difficult place to play for visiting teams – an average nightly crowd of 6,000 people – is also one of the reasons it’s a great place to watch a game. Even a beautiful facility, as you described it, would have no life and no atmosphere unless there were butts in the seats, and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the summer pack this place. Parkview Field is easy to navigate. All the seats are good. There’s a signature food item, the Big Apple, plus the other concessions sport a little more than just standard ballpark fare. The promotional theme nights are always well-done. And, prior to this year, the franchise had fielded seven consecutive playoff seasons, if you’re into the on-field product.
On Monday we finish up with the TinCaps with Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney.