Grady Fuson: I don't necessarily agree with that, but then again I haven't ever heard him say it until you told me. This is the first time since I've been with the organization that we have had the opportunity to pick this high in the draft. There are a bigger handful of players that you do like at these spots, so they tend to be more that the team would consider being worth the money that it takes to sign them.
We've been kind of picking down low late in the first round so the kind of money that you spend down there in that spot is different. The players that do drop down, you tend to run into signability issues, which are different than those at the top. This year we were very fortunate to get the guys that we did.
How has the negotiations been going with the top picks?
Grady Fuson: We have been a little more aggressive with [James] Needy (sixth-round pick out of Santana High School) as of late. We've had some discussions with the Williams family (Everett, drafted in the second round). There seems to be some disappointment that he didn't go higher in the draft, but this day and age, you don't go in the first few spots its bound to happen. We expect to engage a little more with (Keyvius) Sampson, who is pitching right now as the summer goes on, but really we haven't had anything more than initial discussions.
Players like Logan Forsythe, James Darnell and Nick Schmidt have had a lot of success this year and were recently promoted. Our readers want to know what you look for when making a decision to promote players to the next level.
Grady Fuson: Well everyone is a bit different. For example, we promoted Lance Zawadzki. There were several factors that went into it. We lost so much time with him because of injuries and this year right before spring training he tweaks his oblique which set him back. There hasn't been a lot of consistency from what we expected from Lance going into this year, but last year in Fort Wayne we did see some flashes of what we hoped to see in the future.
By the time we got him to Lake Elsinore, he was dominant in his first 100 at-bats and he needed to be pushed, especially when you are talking about a guy that may or may not be a little old for the league.
When I promote a player, you also have to think if I move someone up, who gets shorted for playing time. In San Antonio, our shortstop was Jesus Lopez who is a very good defensive player, but his offensive skills are still lingering at the Double-A level. Also, in the near future, our ball club has to develop an offensive shortstop and Lance has a chance.
With the other guys, we had lots of discussions prior to spring training and I try to get everyone's opinion, and, of course, I have my own opinions. In a perfect situation, I do want to see some domination at each level by a player, but obviously the word "dominate" is subjective.
With a pitcher like Nick Schmidt – his talent level was always much higher than the Midwest League, but he was coming off of surgery and we knew he could have a few hiccups before he was all the way back. But he really began to string together some appearances and he was ready to move up. All of the players we moved up put together consistent performances and were moved up.
How has Blanks adapted to the outfield?
Grady Fuson: He was much better than I expected. We wanted to make sure that he got comfortable at Triple-A before we attempted to convert him to a new position. He got a 100 at-bats under his feet and then we began to slowly integrate him into the outfield. I sent Gamby (Tom Gamboa, the Padres minor league field coordinator) for a full week to work with him and I also caught up with him for a three-game series in New Orleans.
He's obviously a big man but he reacts well to the ball in the outfield. If he comes back down, we will continue the process but so far he has satisfied the big league people with his play out there. Right now, he's very close to being a big league performer.
Antonelli seems to be having a bit of a rebirth this month in Portland. Do you think he is finally out of a very long slump?
Grady Fuson: I would like to believe so; but I've never seen a player that talented take such a prolonged dive bomb. There are some mechanical changes we would like him to make, but right now he feels comfortable and as long as he continues to turn it around we are going to leave him alone.
What are some of the changes, or mechanical problems that you see?
Grady Fuson: He feels comfortable right now, but at some point we may have to look at some changes. He has his shoulder tilted upward, not much stride towards the ball, which will affect his hip rotation and that takes away from his ability to drive the ball up the middle, which for a player like Matt is where he is going to make his money.
What has surprised you most about the Portland club?
Grady Fuson: I've been disappointed in our offense. This is the second year in a row that the club has been dominated by our kids. All of them have had superior success up to this level but for whatever reason all of them just have not really been able to get it done this year; and many of them were in their second year at this level.
We are going to keep on trying to find the solution, but we also have a bunch of guys below them that are really playing well.
Promoting Mat Latos to this level was a pretty bold move. What made you decide to jump him from Low-A, and do you think he could end up in San Diego by the end of the year?
Grady Fuson: He was pitching so well and was so consistent with his stuff and location we didn't think going to Lake Elsinore would be enough of a challenge for him. As with Zawadzki, we kind of lost some time with him due to injuries, and from what we saw with his mindset and behavior on and off the field, this is a guy that has a chance to be an impact pitcher on the major league level.
As for getting to San Diego, we are trying to put him in a position to get there but at the same time from a development standpoint we want to be careful. Last year, he only threw 57 innings, really 65 to 67 if you count the development league, so we don't want to double his innings in a year.
Would it be great to promote him now for the city, media and the organization? Yes, but what would we do when he runs out of innings at the end of August? We have a better chance to monitor his innings in the minors and hopefully get him up here in the last month.
Why has Craig Cooper been producing the way he has this year?
Grady Fuson: He's always been a good player for us, someone who really enjoys playing the game and works at it. I think he has refocused himself on his career and is starting to figure himself out as a hitter. He's driving the ball much better this year.
Lance Zawadzki's is obviously been hitting very well this year. How has his defense improved from last year?
Grady Fuson: I think his defense has picked up. With Lance, its always a question about how well he can make the routine play. We have been breaking down his fundamentals, he had some unnecessary flash to his game which I think caused some inaccuracies, and I think he is on his way. He probably has the strongest infield arm in the system and the quickness to stay at short. In the second half, you are gong to see him a lot more at shortstop.
Forsythe has just had an amazing year so far. What has impressed you most about him?
Grady Fuson: Just the overall consistency of his whole game. Whether he gets a hit or not, he always has a solid at-bat. He's sure-handed, has a very accurate arm from third base, and he knows how to make an adjustments in the game both offensively and defensively.
Everyone has known about Beamer Weems' glove; what made you believe he would hit as well as he has?
Grady Fuson: With Beamer it was all about what happened at the Instructional Leagues. He came to us with not very high evaluation numbers either in his first year or in college at the plate. Defensively its another story, he's a very good player.
We were going to have to make a decision whether he could continue as a switch-hitter or just as a righty. Tony Muser, one of our coaches, was adamant that he could stick as a switch-hitter, and by the end of camp, we decided to let him stay that way. We got him away from lunging at the ball and drifting towards, which helped his pitch recognition and patience. Right now, yes, he has been a bit of surprise but you could also see by the end of the Instructs he had the potential to do what he is doing now.
Beginning of the year, you talked about how you believed the starting pitching is the best that you have possibly ever had at Lake Elsinore. So far it's been as good as you claimed. Has anything surprised you about the staff?
Grady Fuson: The only thing that I was surprised about was Hefner's slow start, although he has been pitching better as the season has gone on. I really liked his curveball coming out of spring training and thought we had that locked down. All of those guys, Hefner, McBryde, Luebke, Kluber and Pelzer have performed up to our expectations.
Why has Fort Wayne been the best team in the system this year?
Grady Fuson: It's just a very skilled team. If you look around the infield, Darnell, Cumberland can all play, and Darnell really put up some dominant numbers before being promoted. Zornes is a good catch and throw guy, Dykstra has not had a good first half in terms of average and power, but has shown some ability to get on base. Clark, who we just promoted to Lake Elsinore, put together a good first half, especially in terms of power.
In the outfield, three out of four of our outfielders played very well and Tekotte, who we thought of promoting to Lake Elsinore at the beginning of the year but didn't because we had (Brad) Chalk and (Danny) Payne splitting time in center, is starting to come around this month.
Jaff Decker is putting up some good numbers, what can you tell us about him that the numbers are not showing?
Grady Fuson: Its not showing the defensive part, he's been a very good defender for us. Offensively, there wasn't a whole lot that surprised us, he's a good hitter who we don't expect to see a whole lot of bumps on his path to the big leagues. He's played left field, but he can easily play right as well and last year he played some center for us as well.
Some very good pitching, but who has been your best pitcher so far with the TinCaps?
Grady Fuson: The guy that I am pleased with the most is Simon Castro. He has eliminated walks from his game, his velocity is up and he's on his way to being a potentially dominant pitcher.
With so many young players drafted this year that may sign late what type of team do you expect in Eugene this year?
Grady Fuson: They are going to have to scrap a little more than in the past. They have some power there in Jason Hagerty and Nate Freiman, but this is not a club that is designed around a bunch of polished college hitters. When we get some of our pitchers established up there like Jerry Sullivan and Chris Fetter we could have the makings of a good rotation.
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