Masse on Double-A prospects

Double-A San Antonio manager Bill Masse had to work with an unforgiving park that sapped power and a lineup that had little speed – making his job a little tougher. He simply tried to put each player in a spot to succeed as a result.

What did you see as some of the strengths and weaknesses of this team, and how did you use that to your advantage?

Bill Masse: Well, we've kind of been up and down as far as strengths go. At the beginning of the year, it was our pitching, we weren't really hitting. In the middle of the year, we started really hitting and weren't pitching.

It's been, to be honest with you; it's been really an unbalanced kind of year. I think there was the inconsistency of everything trying to mesh together at once.

The bullpen was very good. Our starting pitching was very good. Our hitting struggled a little bit. Our defense was ok, it wasn't great, it wasn't bad, it was just ok.

You hope that when July and August came around you've ironed out some of the things you didn't get done in April and May and hopefully you're stronger in those last couple of months. I think we accomplished that.

When you started first coaching, you started in lower levels of the minors. You've been in Double-A for four years. How have you changed as a manager since you started? Is there a progression where that double A just feels comfortable for you?

Bill Masse: I don't know. My goal is to try to make major league baseball players out of these guys. That's what I try to do at every level, every level I've ever been.

Obviously, the mistakes are going to be more at the lower levels than they are here. When you get to this level, there's a chance you could actually send a kid from here to the big leagues and I've done that almost 10 times in my last three years; I've done it about almost a dozen times. When you get to this level, it's more about making sure you're fine tuning your focus because we know that when you do get to the major leagues.

It's about the little things that you do; whether it be holding the runner correctly, getting a bunt down, hitting and running, making the routine play all the time. Those are the things you've got to do consistently to stay up there.

Once you get to this level, it's more about maintenance and getting guys to focus all the time. Lower levels, you're dealing with some raw guys sometimes and some raw talent and sometimes that part can get a little bit frustrating, watching the mistakes happen over and over again. Eventually, they realize that they've got to be more consistent and when they get to this level. I think this is the level where you've really got to start showing some solid consistency.

Prior to this year, and obviously you weren't here, one of the things that was being taught throughout the organization was the holding of runners on base and the time going home wasn't really taught until Double-A. Some of the guys who entered this year weren't very good in their time to the plate, to be honest.

Bill Masse: We weren't really good in April and we consistently worked on it. The last probably three weeks here, we've been excellent at it. Different organizations are different. Some organizations will teach right away ‘listen, we're going to hold runners' whether it be rookie ball or the big leagues. Some will say ‘well, we're not worrying about that until Double-A.'

My opinion on that always is that you've got to take each case individually, separately. You don't want a kid going out there getting eight stolen bases on him a game. It's not any fun for him; it's not any fun for the team. It's not any fun for anybody.

For me, it's always if you can learn how to do it and not take away from your pitch, pitch pitches. You need to learn how to do it as early as you can so you get comfortable with it the later you go. I think that's what the Padres are starting to do. They're starting to realize that. Like I said, the last three weeks that we had, we were excellent at holding runners.

Is there an example of a pitcher who has made significant strides in that area?

Bill Masse: No question, no question. Steve Garrison is a kid that just comes to mind. He's a left-handed kid; he would get third base stolen on him once or twice a game. We went out there, we worked at it, we worked on his looks, and we looked at different things, at how to hold a runner correctly.

The last few games he went out there and didn't have one guy steal third base and there were chances. But, he's doing it right so it hasn't happened. When you have that kind of confidence that a guy's not going to be able to steal on you, it's going to be that much better for you mentally.

It's not just him; it's been all the pitchers. They've all been very good at it, but it's taken some time. It's taken them time to get used to quickening up their delivery but not taking away from the quality of their pitch. It's taken a little bit of time.

This is a team that didn't have a whole lot of speed. There are a couple of guys that can steal a bag or two, but it's not necessarily anyone going out there burning. Does that make it a little bit tougher for you on the managing side, on hit and runs? Does that make it more difficult to call those kinds of plays?

Bill Masse: The funny thing is that this team, even though we were last in the league in home runs, this team actually can hit the ball with some good authority. The problem is the park we play in is not conducive to hitting home runs. So, the power part is minimal. The perfect team is that you have three or four guys that can hit the ball out of the park and three or four guys who can steal a base so if one part of that game isn't working, you can go to the other part.

The best successes I've had as a minor league manager, the teams I've had, we've had one or two guys who can really run and one or two guys who can really hit the ball out of the park. So, it's like there's always a threat. Every inning you've either got a running threat or a power threat and you kind of set up your lineup that way. Every inning there is a chance to score some runs whether it be running or hitting.

Unfortunately with us, I think we're more on the hitting side, unfortunately, with the park we play in, it's very difficult to get that part of the game going. One of the problems with that is you start asking guys to do things that they just can't do. To ask Kyle Blanks to hit-and-run, or Chad Huffman, or Seth Johnston, they're just not those types of hitters. But in this park, with the way the wind blows, you almost have to do it. We got the winning run one night because Kyle Blanks hit it, we ran the runner 3-2 and it was almost like a hit-and-run. And he just stuck out his bat and hit it.

Perfect; great placement.

Bill Masse: Yeah, you don't expect your 6-foot-5, 260-pound number four hitter to do that. But, sometimes with the way the park plays here, you almost have to do that sometimes. So, that part has been difficult because you don't want to ask guys to do things that they're just not capable of doing.

We tried to make them capable because we do realize that if Kyle Blanks goes to the big leagues next year, he may have to hit-and-run. He may have to bunt. He may have to do those things. So, in that regard it's kind of not bad, and I've actually hit-and-run with Kyle one time. He can handle the bat.

But, in the long run, do we want Kyle Blanks to be hitting and running. That's something we don't want him to do in the big leagues. It's one of those things that this park, unfortunately, makes you try to do things sometimes that you don't want to do. I've tried to avoid that because it is about developing players to play in the big leagues here.

It's not about hitting and running with Kyle Blanks to get a win; he's not going to do that in the big leagues. You run into conflicts of interest there sometimes.

Now, when you're juggling a lineup around, let's say you've had Drew Macias leading off and then you dropped him down lower in the order. It's almost a demotion, but also to get him going in a different sort of circumstance.

Bill Masse: Drew did not have a good start to the year. He'd be the first one to tell you that. He was very inconsistent. He seemed to feel more comfortable in the leadoff spot, so I tried to leave him there as much as I can. But, there came some times when Josh Alley deserved some at-bats. He's a very good leadoff hitter because he walks a lot; he fights. I just wanted to keep him there and see what happens. Josh can hit anywhere, it's not like he has to leadoff. I mean, leadoff is just the first batter of the game. After that, you're on your own.

Perception, though, sometimes is reality.

Bill Masse: 'Oh, the guy's a great lead off hitter.' Well, let's see what he did in the first at-bat of the game, how good is he. Then, that's a good lead off hitter.

A lot of times it's funny because a guy will hit leadoff and you'll be like ‘oh, he's hitting .350 as a lead off hitter.' Ok, what is he hitting his first at-bat of the game, ‘oh that's .120.' Well, then he's not a good leadoff hitter!

You only leadoff once. You can lead off an inning, but you only lead off once.

Bill Masse: So, he's not a good leadoff hitter of the game per say because he's hitting .120 in that spot. I mean, he's gotten other hits in the course of the game. Sometimes, we get crazy with that stuff. I'm just trying to make him feel comfortable where he's at.

Matt Buschmann struggled a little bit early in the year but seemed to come on strong over the last half of the year.

Bill Masse: I guess from what I heard, he did the same thing last year, he struggled a little early and he started coming on later. He started coming on later like May or June.

I think he had 10 of 11 with two runs or less over his last 11.

Bill Masse: He is a very excitable kid. He's very emotional, very competitive. When he keeps his emotions in check, he likes to throw hard; he likes to throw fastballs, hard sliders. That's just his repertoire. Sometimes when you get a guy who likes to go out there and throw hard and get all gassed up, sometimes, it takes him time to find his rhythm.

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