Max Venable: I don't know about the tinkering. When he was in Fort Wayne – you look at his swing, uppercut, loopy, whatever you want to call it. He was such an aggressive hitter and such tremendous bat speed where he could get away with a lot of things. And he knew the strike zone pretty well. Again, in Lake Elsinore it was a little bit different in pitching but not that much. Just a guy who had power to all fields and got away with stuff because of his strength and bat speed. Basically, what we worked on there was getting him to swing down through the ball to create a level path than the uppercut. He got away with it because of his tremendous bat speed and when he got balls they just kept going. If you didn't have the bat speed with the loop it is warning track power.
What were your impressions on David Freese who you had in the last half?
Max Venable: We liked David a lot. The guy is definitely a gamer in my mind. He played the heck out of third base. Initially he came in and swung the bat very well. He got in a little rut the latter part but still hanging in there. He started seeing a few more off-speed pitches and got frustrated but still hung in there well. You look at this kid and just say, 'he can play.' At third base, he picked it. A very confident player and very durable. You just throw him out there and let him play. I like him a lot.
That is a steal. Big time – the ninth round, are you kidding me? A steal.
Probably the MVP down the stretch was Mike Sansoe. After hitting .250 most of the year he turned on the jets and ended up at .290. What were the adjustments he made?
Max Venable: We preached that we would go through those ups and downs but we have to get out of them. Mike worked extremely hard. He never gave up. We always preach that you have to continue to keep swinging. If you are going bad you keep swinging to find that comfort zone. That is exactly what he did. Every day he was hitting and with the hard work – and extremely hard work – he got back on track.
At the end of the year I commended all of those guys. We really had a great group of guys that worked extremely hard and their seasons show their hard work.
Javis Diaz, during the limited time he was there, was really a sparkplug for you guys. Of course injuries limited him and time in Lake Elsinore but he had a solid season.
Max Venable: I think he could have helped us out too, although we had an abundance of outfielders. Javis is a guy that is a typical leadoff type guy that will put the ball in play and create total havoc with his speed. He must have had at least 15-20 bunt base hits. We would sit there and go, ‘Here comes a bunt base hit.' And the opposing team had no chance at all. It was funny to see. He executed it very well. Although Mike Sansoe and Baxter did a pretty good job hitting leadoff, with that speed that Javis has it is incredible to have at the top of the order. I think he has a bright future.
You mentioned Mike Baxter. I always envisioned he would hit for more power as a first baseman out of Vanderbilt. Obviously, he has since moved to the outfield and I know he has other intangibles and notched quite a few doubles – is that a concern?
Max Venable: At the end of the season Mike said, ‘Max, what should I do in the off-season.' I said, ‘You know what Mike, you didn't have a great year but you rebounded and had a adequate year.' Like you said, he didn't hit for power and sure we would like to see a little more but he rebounded and got really hot there. I told him, ‘Get in the weight room. Get stronger.' Those were my words to him. He has the ability to hit but if he is going to be playing right field or wherever in the outfield he is going to have to hit some balls out of the ballpark. My thing with him was to just get a little stronger.
Talk about Brandon Gottier, a guy you saw more towards the end of the year?
Max Venable: Goat – after Nick went up – got inserted as the starting catcher. He did really well handling the pitchers, calling the game. I think as far as offensively, he needs some work. He did show signs of being able to take the ball the other way.
You had Nick Hundley for about half a season too. What keyed you in that he was ready to move up as well?
Max Venable: They moved him because he got hotter than – that was fun to watch. He homered in, I think, six games in a row. It was incredible. Here is another kid, not to single out anyone differently, but him along with Mike Sansoe, had his routine and was determined – his determination was unbelievable. He did his early work and then did his post work after batting practice he would come grab me and say, ‘Max, sorry.' ‘Sorry for what?' He would come disturb me while I was doing something to come and do soft toss and I would say, ‘Are you kidding? I am in heaven. This is what it is all about.' He kept with his routine and like I said with Sansoe it really paid off. He really worked his tail off to get where he was at and got promoted. He was playing well there. This guy has some pop in his bat. With his catching, he is probably the number one catcher in the organization.
I know you only saw Matt Bush for 21 games and it tough to get in a rhythm during that time but was there something different you saw from him this year as opposed to last season?
Max Venable: It was a short time but I think what he went through in spring training missing all that time I thought that I saw his approach and the way he went about it with a sense of urgency. He wanted to show that he could still play even though he missed all that time. There were improvements in his maturity, his field presence. It wasn't a whole lot of time to evaluate but that is what I saw.
Talk about the season for Will this year. I don't think he surprised anyone this year but he put all the talent together. Max Venable: When I first coached William at home here in high school – he didn't play his senior year in high school or his freshman year in college. Being a basketball guy, they had a couple of years where he went to the NCAA tournament. Seeing him in the Instructional League and spring training there was some gradual improvement there. But he had had some issues with his arm being weak. As far as offensively, there is no question that everyone thought he had a very nice swing. At Eugene, he really didn't put up good numbers there. In spring training everyone was asking me about him. ‘Hey Max, what about Will? What did you guys do this winter?' ‘We just worked on a good foundation.' Grady had asked what I thought about him. I said, ‘William is going to be a good player. He is an athlete. He just needs to be seasoned because he really hasn't played a whole lot of baseball. He is a basketball guy. He picks up things pretty quick.'
He just needed some AB's and letting him play and with that he ended up turning in a pretty good year.