Masse on Padres Double-A prospects

Double-A San Antonio was a hotbed for talented San Diego Padres prospects. Bill Masse, who managed the squad in 2007, had a front row seat to the likes of Josh Alley, Kyle Blanks, Mike Baxter, Craig Cooper, Chad Huffman, Sean Kazmar and Drew Macias – and those were just the hitters.

Josh Alley seemed to be a bit of a spark for you when he is in the lineup, taking a lot of pitches and getting on base.

Bill Masse: He's one of those guys that are very patient, obviously, at the plate. He's not afraid to walk; he's going to get on base; he's going to score some runs. He loves to play.

The downside with him is that he's a little bit limited defensively and where he can play. He can't play center field, doesn't have the speed to play there but can play right. Those are some of the things he's going to have to work on in the off-season; to get his agility a little better.

This is a guy that has a very good idea at the plate; very good discipline. He knows how to handle a bat. He was a quality guy for me; he was a guy that, like I said, I could either hit him lead off, I could hit him fifth. He wasn't afraid to drive in a run when he had to. He was a valuable guy.

Kyle Blanks led the team in RBIs and was unaffected hitting at home in San Antonio. What impressed you about him?

Bill Masse: The most impressive thing about Kyle is his ability to be a complete hitter for his size. Most guys you see the size of Kyle Blanks try to hit the ball 500 feet over the light towers in left field. Kyle's not afraid to take a base hit to right field when he has to. If someone's not giving him a pitch to really drive, he's not afraid to stay inside the baseball and take a base hit to right. He's not afraid to shorten up with two strikes. He's one of those guys that, what impresses me the most, at times he almost hits like he's a leadoff hitter; he's just trying to get on base.

Some people will go, ‘For a guy that size, he should be cutting it loose and not being afraid to strikeout.'

My whole thing on that, especially in the minor leagues, I'd rather see him become a complete hitter first and worry about the power numbers later. It's only going to benefit you in the long run, especially when you get to the big leagues where the pitching's a little bit better and you've learned how to hit the ball to right center; how to take a base hit to right field on a curve ball away. That's, to me, his ability to be a complete hitter with the size he is, and the power potential that he has, it's probably the most impressive for me. Plus, he's not very far behind.

This kid is a very good athlete. He's got very good feet at first base; he's got very good hands. This guy's probably a touch above average first baseman right now. He's got an above average arm for a first baseman. He's a good athlete. He reminds me of a tight end in football; good feet, good hands, good agility. He's got that kind of package to him. To me, that's the next thing.

There was talk of Mike Baxter moving to catcher at Instructs and in the AFL. Is this a guy who can make such a move?

Bill Masse: I don't know, to be honest with you. I haven't seen him back there in a game yet, so I couldn't give you an answer. He looks like a catcher; he plays like a catcher. What I mean by that, he's a very in the dirt kind of guy; he likes to get dirty. He's not afraid of anything. He's one of those guys that are just going to get after it. He's not afraid to get dirty. He's got a catcher's type of mentality. As far as his skill set to play catcher, I haven't seen it enough, I can't really tell you.

He's going to have to learn to throw like a catcher. He's coming from the outfield, he was a first baseman in college, so his arm stroke is a little bit long. He's going to have to learn how to shorten that up. Plus, the physical beatings you take back there; the ability to block; the ability to call a game. Those are things that he's going to have to learn how to do obviously. But, as far as the mentality goes and the aggressiveness it takes to play that position, he's a pretty good candidate.

What does Craig Cooper need to do to improve and reach the next level?

Bill Masse: We tend to forget sometimes, this is the kids first year at Double-A. This kid basically went from a short season at High-A to Double-A. He's only a year and a half removed from signing and he's in Double-A. I don't care what age you are, sometimes it takes some guys a little bit longer to get adjusted. I think Cooper might be one of those guys.

He's going to have to learn how to hit a breaking ball a little better. As far as offensively goes, that's one of his weaknesses. He struggles with the breaking ball. He struggles hitting it when it's a strike and he struggles laying off of it when it's not a strike. But, that's a common thing for guys their first year in Double-A. Most of the time, when you reach A ball, you're seeing more of the guys that control it a little bit, the guys that are trying to learn fastball command. Then, when you get to Double-A, you start finding some seasoned veterans in there with the younger guys and, usually, if you're a seasoned veteran guy and you're pitching in Double-A, you've got pretty good command of your off-speed stuff. I don't think he was ready for that yet.

He can hit a fastball with the best of them. He can turn on a fastball; his ability to hit off-speed stuff has got to improve. It might be just a thing of seeing it more, just more experience. That's what he has to work on offensively.

Defensively, he's pretty solid. He's a pretty good corner outfielder. He's an average runner; his arm's average. On the bases he's o.k., he still needs to loosen up a little bit. He's a high strung kid; he gets very upset at himself for not performing, which is o.k. I'd rather have that than the other way around. But his emotions, he's got to control his emotions a little bit. He gets a little too amped up is the best way to put it.

Chad Huffman had a down year by some standards and really struggled at home. Did the winds blowing in affect him?

Bill Masse: Sometimes you don't know what the heck these guys think. If you look at our overall team average, it was actually better at home than it was on the road. But, no question about it, San Antonio, I've been coaching and playing for 20 years, San Antonio is definitely the most difficult park I've ever been at from an offensive standpoint, no question about it. Not only is the wind blowing straight in, but it's a big park too. When we're talking about blowing in, we're not talking about a little 5 mph breeze, we're talking about 15 mph gusts coming in from left center field. It's a very difficult park for anybody to hit at, but especially for a right-handed kid.

Left field is pretty much non-existent some nights for trying to hit a home run. He might have let it get to him a little bit. Chad's strength is being a complete hitter. He uses the whole field very well. He got away from that probably the last two or three months of the season. I think a lot of that, like you said, had to do with his frustration at home, basically just saying, ‘Screw it. I'm not going to hit the ball to right center, right field, it's not going anywhere anyways. I'm going to try to hit a ground ball through the left side, it's the only way I can get a hit.' You start getting that kind of a mentality and you're going to find your numbers start going down, unfortunately. You're right, it's tough to judge.

Sean Kazmar was very good for you defensively and really came on offensively after a slow start. What were your impressions of him?

Bill Masse: This is a guy that was hitting under .200 in the first two months of the season; to be honest with you, not playing very good defense.

He just completely did a 180. I challenged him a little bit on some different issues, and he rose to the occasion.

His hitting obviously got a lot better. He's another guy very similar to Cooper. I don't think he was used to seeing, a lot of these kids get into Double-A and it's like, you see some more veteran guys that know how to throw a breaking ball a little bit better. He struggled with that early on. It was actually towards the end of the year that he became a pretty good breaking ball hitter. Offensively, he obviously improved. Defensively, he improved tremendously. He was always a guy that was labeled as a guy that could field. The first couple of months, a lot of it was due to the fact that he wasn't hitting, so I think his defense lapsed a little bit the first couple of months. Now, he's one of the better shortstops I've seen. He gets tremendous jumps off of the ball, both ways, right and left. He's got very good instincts. He knows when he needs to get rid of it; he knows when he needs to take his time. He's got a pretty good idea of who's at bat, who's hitting, speed of the ball, speed of the runner, all of that kind of good stuff we talk about, he's got a pretty good idea about that.

Drew Macias led the team with 12 outfield assists – how good was he for you defensively.

Bill Masse: Drew and Kazmar almost fell exactly the same. Drew's another guy who was heralded as a very good outfielder. I just didn't see it the first couple of months. A lot of it had to do with the fact that he just wasn't hitting very well. He was another guy who just rose to the occasion. He was another guy I had a lot of closed door meetings with and it wasn't pretty. And not to say these guys aren't good kids, these are great guys too, both these kids I mean, super guys.

Sometimes in baseball, unfortunately, if you're not hitting well, a lot of it has to go to hitting. If you're not performing at the plate, you tend to get down on yourself. I don't care how good of a guy you have. All of us at some point in our lives, in our baseball lives, need somebody to kick them in the ass. I'm not afraid to do that. I did it with both of them and I did it two or three times there in the month of May and they responded, to their credit, I don't take any of that credit, I just try to get them in the right direction.

To think, both of those guys went to the big leagues, and they were both probably in the top five worst averages in the Texas league through the month of May. I'm just happy for them. They responded. That's the best way I can put it.

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