Masse on Padres Double-A pitching prospects

Double-A may have held the most promising pitching staff of all the San Diego Padres affiliates. Bill Masse led the squad in 2008 and talks about pitchers Manny Ayala, Greg Burke, Matt Buschmann, Gabe DeHoyos, Mike Ekstrom, Jon Ellis, Stephen Faris, Steve Garrison, and Will Inman.

Manny Ayala struggled down the stretch for you – what happened?

Bill Masse: Manny's a guy who relies on his changeup, he relies a lot on his changeup. He relies a lot on locating that fastball, and I think he lost a little bit of his command in his fastball, started pitching up in the zone a little bit more, started losing a little bit of confidence in his fastball and he struggled. There's not really much more to say than the fact that he struggled.

One of the tough things with the Texas league is that you play a lot of these teams over, and over, and over again. Sometimes with Manny, you'll get six starts in a month and you face the same team four times. One of those teams is Midland and they kind of had his number a little bit. If some team's got your number for four straight starts, that's not going to go very well for the ERA. You've got to shut the other two teams out. I think he ran into a little bit of that too.

He was very good against Frisco; Frisco was one of the best teams in the leagues. But, he struggled against a team like Midland and he ended up facing them like four out of six starts in a month. It was one of those things where he ran in to the wrong team at the wrong time.

Greg Burke said he was throwing a lot of sliders after throwing a lot of fastballs last season. How good was that pitch?

Bill Masse: His slider is almost like a cutter; I wouldn't even think of it as a slider, it was more like a cut fastball. It had a little bit of a down movement in it, so everyone kind of labeled it like a slider. He had a lot of cut action. He threw it very hard. He almost threw it almost like a cutter.

Towards the end of the year, he started throwing his fastball more than he threw his slider. Probably the last month of the season, he started gaining arm strength as the year went on. This kid was throwing between 91 and 94 mph in his last appearances of the year. Probably his last five or six starts, he was throwing this.

For Greg Burke to pitch in the big leagues – he's got to come up with a – he does have a split-finger for left-handers. When he struggled, he struggled against the left-handers because he didn't have an out pitch for them. That slider wasn't like a true downer slider; it was almost like a cut fastball. It was in between a cut fastball that was going 90 degrees and a slider that kind of has a little bit of late bite. It was somewhere in between there. For a left-hander, that's not enough depth sometimes to get them out. So, he struggled a little bit.

He's got good potential. I like him. He comes at you. He's not afraid to throw strikes. I was impressed with the way he threw it all year. He's got good size too.

Matt Buschmann started slow and then was one of your best pitchers down the stretch. What did you see that contributed to the turnaround?

Bill Masse: Matt Buschmann is the epitome of a gamer. This kid loves to pitch, loves to have the ball. If you grade out his pitches, on the scout scale, you're not going to find anything that's probably above-average. You're looking at average stuff.

But, what you are looking at above-average is his mentality and his confidence level that he feels like nobody can hit him. When you've got that kind of a mentality, your fastball you tend to locate a little better; you tend to throw strikes. He just has that mentality that no one is going to hit him. Stuff-wise across the board, you're not going to see really an above-average pitch. Don't get me wrong, there are flashes of it.

What he does give you, too, is he gives you some deception. He throws across his body big time. That 88-89 mph fastball looks like 91-92 sometimes when you're throwing that far across your body. It's very difficult to pick up; you don't pick it up until late, so it's on you a little bit quicker than most guys.

Gabe DeHoyos struck out more hitters than most starters. What made him so good at putting hitters away?

Bill Masse: He's got a cut fastball, that's his bread and butter is his cutter. But what he struck a lot of guys out on too was his breaking ball went from probably a below average breaking ball to probably just a touch above average breaking ball. This is a pretty good 12-to-6 downer he throws, and he didn't have that in April. He developed that as the year went on.

He's got a very over the top arm angle. He throws straight over the top. He has the ability to get strikeouts up in the zone. Guys think they can hit it, and by the time they swing at it, it's by them. He has the ability to pitch up in the zone. You're going to get a lot of strikeouts when you can pitch up in the zone and get swing and misses and that's what he can do.

Mike Ekstrom really came on after the move to the bullpen. What was the difference you saw in him?

Bill Masse: The increase in his stuff. His fastball went from like 88 to about 92. His slider went from just kind of spinning to almost above-average slider. His arm strength I guess is the best way he got better. He didn't grip the ball any different. His delivery wasn't any different. He just was stronger. He threw harder. His fastball had more zip on it. His breaking ball had more bite. He took off.

There's a big difference between 88 and 92. There's a big difference between a slider spinning up there at 82 and a slider going at 85 or 83 or 84 from 79-80. He jumped up about four mph in velocity on both of his pitches. I think that was the difference, I really do, that was just a big difference for him.

Jon Ellis was a go-to guy for you – what did you see from him?

Bill Masse: Jon has that side arm kind, that right-handed Frisbee type slider he throws. He's got some good sink on his fastball, when he's on. Jon showed flashes of major league stuff.

What he's got to get better on is more consistency with command of all of his pitches. He can throw three pitches and look like a major league pitcher and the next guy comes up and he walks them on four. That's kind of what his downfall is. He got better as the year went on, and I think his numbers showed it from last year, his walks-to-strikeouts ratio.

But, he still needs to get even better. He needs to get better at commanding the strike zone. He's got to get a pitch for getting a left-hander out. There aren't too many situational right-handers in the big leagues. The last guy I remember was Jeff Belzer for the Yankees. He struggled with left-handed bats. He didn't really have anything that moved down in the zone. He needs to develop a split-finger or better his changeup for his ability to get left-handers out.

But, you know what, he's the kind of guy that shows major league stuff at times, so there's always a hope for that.

Stephen Faris had some trouble holding base runners. What did you do with him to try and improve in that area?

Bill Masse: We don't know. We were still trying to figure it out. The only thing you can do with trying to hold base runners, basically you've got one or two options with a runner at first: you can hold the ball longer and become set so it makes the guy at first kind of freeze, he can't get a good jump, get in any kind of a rhythm, you vary your holds, or you quicken your delivery to the plate.

All of the guys with the Padres are trying to get somewhere in that 1.3 (second) area to the plate. They try to get around 1.3. Unfortunately, for Steve, sometimes, he didn't feel real comfortable sometimes with his stuff when he was real quick to the plate.

So, we tried to pick and chose when he could go higher. This is a work in progress. This guy only pitched in Low-A ball last year and here he is making the jump to Double-A, and it's a big jump. He did an awesome job for a guy who only pitched in A-ball, Low-A. He took the ball every fifth day. He's one of our solid every fifth day starters. He put up some good numbers. But, you're right, as far as holding runners, he's got to keep working on it, there's no question about it.

One of the things too, his breaking ball is a little bit soft. It's not like your typical kind of swervy, hard breaking ball. It's more of a 12-to-6 downer. When he throws that combined with being a little slow to the plate, you're looking at a 1.5, 1.6, and I could steal that. So, if you guess right, if you guess breaking ball, you can pretty much walk to second base.

He's just got to work on his delivery; he's got to work on quickening it up. There were times I don't think he felt comfortable quickening it up. That's the old theory, you think you lose stuff, you think you lose velocity, you think you lose command if you quicken up your delivery too much. So, there's a happy medium in there. That's something that guys with slower deliveries have got to continually keep working on. The last thing you want to do is go out there and three or four guys in the lineup can steal and every time they get on first it's an automatic double.

Steve Garrison seems to get outs pretty regularly without a plus pitch. How does he get it done?

Bill Masse: There's something about the lefty in this world that kind of messes guys up. What Steve is very good at is that he has the ability to pitch in to right-handers. He's not afraid to come inside. This guy has pinpoint control, when he's on. This guy throws one of the most impressive bullpens I've ever seen for a 21-year-old kid. He'll throw 40 pitches in the bullpen and he may throw three or four where the catcher doesn't even have to move. He's got four pitches to him. He's got a very good curveball, his slider's a little bit spinny at times, it doesn't have a lot of depth. He's still working on his changeup. His changeup is still just ok. There are times I've seen his changeup very good, though. For the most part, it's probably, maybe a touch below average right now and sometimes it's average.

But, his key is that his fastball command is so good. He can throw it in, he can throw it out. He's not afraid to pitch up in the zone if he has to. If he sees a guy late on his fastball, he'll elevate. He's impressive. He's got some good moxy on him too. You watch Steve Garrison pitch after one inning, and you're like ‘this guy just reminds me of a major league pitcher.' Just his whole moxy out there, his delivery is very mechanical. It's basically how you write it out. It's very solid. That allows him to have such good command too in his delivery.

Will Inman led the league in walks and strikeouts. Was he so concerned about getting the strikeout that he was nibbling too much?

Bill Masse: I don't know, to be honest with you. Will's one of those guys where you just sit back, throw up your hands and let him pitch. He's going to be the guy that loads them up and gets three strikeouts to end the inning. He'll load them up with three walks and then strikeout three. That's just kind of the way this year went. Obviously, you've got to get better command.

It's tough because, listen, one of his reasons to his success is his deception. He's throwing arms and elbows at you, and his legs are flying and everything's flying at you. He's all over the map as far as on the mound. That's one of the reasons why he gets so many strikeouts is that deception that he has messes up the timing of the hitters. Half of the time they find themselves late, late, late so then they start cheating and then he throws an, he's got an above average breaking ball, so you mix that one in there.

So, you've got to be careful about cleaning up his delivery so he can repeat his delivery more. The problem is, you clean up his delivery, you're going to take away some of that deception. That deception was a big reason why he had a lot of that success. So, you've got to be careful.

He's another guy that throws between, averages, 88-89. He's got a good breaking ball, though, he's got a little above-average breaking ball. He's got a pretty decent changeup. But, there's another guy, you've got to be careful. A lot of what he does is off deception; a lot of what he does is off of having that no one is going to hit me type attitude.

Like you just mentioned, he's very similar to Buschmann. Buschmann has deception throwing across his body so much, but he's got that mentality that no one is going to hit him. Both of those guys, you're right, are very similar. If you graded out there stuff, you'd be kind of be like, ‘Well, his fastball's only 88-90, his changeup's o.k.' But, if you take the total package of deception, mentality, you're looking at a possible major league pitcher.

But, that being said, both of those guys need to work on they still have to get better command of their pitches. If you've got a pitch with that kind of deception, you better figure it out how to throw more strikes. Hopefully he does.

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