Broadcaster Matt McCabe on Eugene prospects

In minor league baseball very few people outside the team and the coaches see every game. As opposed to the majors, newspapers usually don't send their reporters on the road and television coverage for the most part is non-existent.

The one exception is the team's announcer; yes the announcer, not the play-by-play or color guy, the one announcer, the lone member of the traveling party that doesn't suit up. Although not hired by the organization, he is employed by the local team, and after the team and the coaches, he is the best source of information of what went on during the season.

This year, Matt McCabe began his first year of broadcasting for the Eugene Emeralds. Despite his youth, Matt has a fairly extensive resume in sport broadcasting. The recent graduate of Rice University was the voice of the Owls from 2005 to 2008, did summer league baseball in 2006 for the Delaware Cows of Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, and in 2007 was the voice of the Binghamton Mets in the Double-A Eastern League, in addition to doing basketball broadcasts for Houston Baptist.

Matt was kind enough to spend some time with us to reflect on his first season in the Northwest League with the Emeralds.

What was the biggest surprise with the Emeralds this year?

Matt McCabe: Well, for someone who was in there first year in Eugene, it was watching the transformation of Civic Stadium. I was walking around three weeks before the season was about to begin and thinking, ‘man, I don't know if they can play baseball here.' Then we come back from a five-day road trip in Boise to open the season and it's amazing. Bryan Beban and his staff just did a great job of making it look great. The environment is incredible; it's what you think baseball should be. Many times, before I would start broadcasting the game, I would walk up the stairs to the booth and just look at all the fans that were so into the game and it's hard to think of a better environment for baseball anywhere.

This was one of the better offensive teams that I can remember that the Padres had in Eugene in a long time. What hitter stood out for you more than most?

Matt McCabe: When the season started a guy named Daniel Robertson went 0-for-5 and he told me on the bus, ‘Hey that is not me.' And I thought well it's a long season, so let's see. Little did I know that he would have the season that he did. For those of you that didn't get the chance to see him, he is the complete package, offensively and defensively. He gets every bit of ability out of his body.

He did have a great season and was the Player of the Year and the Northwest League MVP. Can you give Padres' fan a brief idea of what he did for the Ems this year?

Matt McCabe: He is the guy that is the heart of the team. This year, the Emeralds kind of came and went with him. Dan was an emotional leader in the clubhouse, and combined with Rid (Emerald's manager Greg Riddoch), who really works on the mental part of the game as much as anyone, it just created a lot of great chemistry and made the team a lot of fun. Robertson was the heart and soul and the rest of the team just fed off of him. Defensively, his range is exceptional and he is about 5-foot-8, maybe smaller, but he has some speed and his first step always seemed to be the right one. He seemed to just be able to see the ball very well both at the plate and in the field. Also, he has a better arm than you would expect from someone his size, it's an average MLB arm.

The other outfielder who got quite a bit of praise is Blake Tekotte. Could you go over his game a little, particularly defensively?

Matt McCabe: Blake came to us the second week of July, and I had seen him play a little bit in college with the University of Miami. The first few games he still had a bit of aluminum bat swing, and then he made adjustments and took off. Rid had pointed out that a lot of hitters have what he calls a ‘hot spot' where if the ball is in that area it's going to go a long way. With Blake, if you threw him something down and in, he was going to golf it over the right field wall. He has some speed, which we really didn't get a chance to see this much this year as well.

The third big wheel in the outfield before he got promoted was Sawyer Carroll, who seemed to destroy NWL pitching. How much of a power hitter do you think he will develop into?

Matt McCabe: Sawyer is a tall guy with good plate coverage. I saw many games where he would fly out the opposite way to the left field warning track (Carroll is a left-handed hitter). He has a good arm, I'm not sure if he has the range to play a big right field, but I think his power will develop more. He's an outstanding player and a real prospect.

Because he signed late, we didn't get to see that much of him, but what did you think of James Darnell, and will he has the ability to stay at 3B?

Matt McCabe: That is an interesting question, but from seeing him play, I thought he could handle playing there. He has a third baseman's kind of arm and a type of rangy build at 6-foot-2, 195-pounds to stay there. One thing that really impressed me was during the long period between when South Carolina's season ended and he ended up signing with the Padres, he really kept himself in shape. When he got here, he was ready to play. Offensively, he is a great hitter, no question about it. He has good pitch recognition, can pull the ball or go the other way. A very solid person as well great makeup, he seemed to be leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the league.

Cole Figueroa seemed like the quintessential prospect the Padres like to have, patience and some pop. Do you see him staying at second or short, and what do you think of his future?

Matt McCabe: This year, we had four shortstops on our team, Figueroa, Beamer Weems, Jeudy Valdez and Dean Anna. The great thing about Cole is that he has so much experience being around the pro game because of his dad, who is a coach in the Giants organization in the Eastern League. He knows how to carry himself and the amount of work it takes, both physically and mentally to make it to the major leagues. From what I saw, I think he can play either position, he seemed very comfortable at both second and short.

Matt Clark had some big power numbers at LSU but didn't do as much damage in his pro debut. Any idea why?

Matt McCabe: Matt led LSU in home runs this year with 28, so the power is there. I think he has a bit of a long swing, you know he is a very big guy at 6-foot-5. Rid was really working with him on shortening up his stroke, but he does have an uppercut swing so the ball is going to travel. It's interesting that the first day he took BP he could barely hit one out of the cage. It was all about getting used to the wooden bat. The next day, he made some adjustments and was smoking them. He has a flair for the big hit, he likes the pressure situations. This is someone that played in a very big collegiate program at LSU so he is used to some pressure.

Defensively, he is still learning first base, he played third in junior college and is still growing into his body.

A pitcher that quite a few of us have been excited about for awhile is Simon Castro. How did he look this year, especially on throwing pitches other than his fastball?

Matt McCabe: Simon just has electric stuff. Against Vancouver late in the season he threw no-hit stuff. I think he only allowed one hit, in a tough loss for us, but he was just very good. He basically figured out that he needs to throw something other than a fastball. The main key was Razor (Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich_, one of the better pitching coaches in baseball, getting him to buy into throwing the changeup, which is why Simon really progressed during the season. He came into the season mainly as a fastball/slider guy, which gives too many hitters the same speed. I think next year you are going to see many more broken bats from Simon along with much more movement on his pitches. He's really coming along, his English is getting better, and he seems to be able to focus better on the mound.

Rob Musgrave was one of your better pitchers this year in Eugene, he made the NWL All-Star team and led the team in wins and strikeouts. What do you see in his future?

Matt McCabe: Mus had some great control during the season and was the same type of pitcher many of us saw at Wichita State. He can command three pitches, his best pitch is the changeup, working away from the right-handed hitter (Musgrave is left-handed). He has good command of his fastball it comes in around 88 or 89 mph and probably next year he will have a little more in the tank.

Denis Savage was really impressed by Anthony Bass and described him as having a Tim Lincecum type of delivery. What can you tell us about him?

Matt McCabe: He had watched him pitch in Washington and he realized could get more velocity by loading up on his back leg. His velocity then went from 88 to 92 mph to go along with a 12-to-6 curveball, and, like Simon, developed a change because of Razor. In the end, he was throwing the change more than the curve. Of all our pitchers, I think he has the best chance as either a starter or a reliever.

What other pitchers stood out for you this year in Eugene?

Matt McCabe: We saw (Mat) Latos come up for a short time and he was the real deal. He is one of the very few guys that can pitch just using his mid-90s fastball. When he works in his change, which comes in around 83 mph, he's just unhittable. If he avoids injury, he could be very good.

I also liked Nick Vincent quite a bit; he was a set-up man at Long Beach State. He has a good sinking fastball and really knows how to pitch, understands when and where he should throw what type of pitch. As Razor said, ‘when you know what you are doing out there it makes the development more about polishing what is already there.'

Last questions who was the batter of the year and the top pitcher?

Matt McCabe: Robertson without a doubt. He was a difference maker. He broke the record for hits in the Northwest League, which has been around since the 1970s. Musgrave, at the beginning of the year, was probably our best guy but seemed to get a little fatigued at the end. I would give it to Anthony Bass. He was our best pitcher in terms of makeup, and I would like to see what he could do with six or seven innings.

You already said you believe Anthony Bass is the top pitching prospect, who was it for the position players?

Matt McCabe: I think that is kind of a split-decision. Robertson was the best defensive outfielder as far as awareness on the field had a mindset where he always knew where to throw the ball. In the infield, defensively, Beemer Weems is major league ready. The one thing I love about him is he always got rid of the ball very quickly. He said the reason was in case his throw wasn't right on the mark it gave the first baseman a chance to adjust, and I just thought it was very smart thing to say. Defensively, he has some serious ability.

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