Grady Fuson: I am really happy with the growth of a lot of our Latin players out of the Academy. There are two things that are common denominators. I just patted Juan Lara on the back because this is the first year that I have felt the happiest aobut our cultural and English program where I know and I hear and I see our players learning our culture and learning our language much better. It is like anything else, when one or two of our guys start doing it and they happen to be the one or two guys that are getting better quicker than others, it becomes like a fever and runs rampant through the system. They start talking to each other and policing themselves. It has taken awhile to get this going but it is really happening throughout our system.
Who was the pioneer?
Grady Fuson: The first guy that was impressive to me was Jackson Quezada. Within a year, this guy was like talking to an American citizen. The second guy that strikes me was Simon Castro. Tremendous. He worked at it from the first time he landed in the states. He has been tremendous. There are other ones. Felix Carrasco has done a decent job. Yefri Carvajal – this is the first year you can really have a conversation with Yefri and get it going.
Even some of the guys who are slow to come. Emmanuel Quiles – I am proud of him and I think his game is starting to get better.
Simon Berroa, who I was disappointed in because being in rehab, you would like to believe there was extra time.
It is a big, important issue for me. I challenged Juan who spearheads it – I am happy with everybody.
You mentioned a lot of different hitters who impressed – which we know you love – but have any of the pitchers stuck out to you?
Grady Fuson: Very much so. First, when you think about the Latin guys that have started to pick it up in the system. You certainly start with Ernie (Ernesto Frieri) in Double-A and go right down the line. There are quite a few of them.
There are good things going on in Fort Wayne. Alexis Lara is much better. He is starting to figure things out. He is not walking as many guys. Certainly Simon Castro is not walking many guys. Stiven Osuna has had some ups and downs but his ups have been good – his downs have been pretty bad. That is why it is called Low-A ball. He is in a perfect spot.
All of the kids in Arizona. We don't have many in Eugene with the exception of Jose DePaula who came down hurt. He is certainly prepared to pitch here and has pitched well. Petey (Pedro Hernandez) had a rough go, but we push people. The plan all along was to have him in Arizona. He was so dominant in extended that I said, ‘Let's let him go up there and get his feet wet. See how he does. If he handles it great, if he doesn't, we can make a move when our other pitchers get going.'
All the kids in Arizona – there was a point in extended where we didn't know if Rafeal Arias would get anybody out. Now, he is closing down there and throwing 94-95.
Juan Chavez and DePaula both had very rough extendeds. Chavez is now competing. Berroa is now healthy enough to be in the rotation and get innings in. He is going to get better. There are positive things all over the system.
System-wide, has there been anyone in the system that has surprised you and exceeded your own expectations?
Grady Fuson: There are a lot of surprises. In no order – we have always seen the skill in Lance Zawadzki but we have not seen him put together two months, much less one month, together mainly because of health. With that being said, flow through the game being consistent. We have seen the top end of his game and the bottom end. We have never seen the consistency, whether that be because of health or just game performance. He has not only done it in Elsinore and put it together consistently, he has done it with pretty big numbers and done well defensively in San Antonio.
I shouldn't say Mike Baxter and Craig Cooper are surprises. Obviously, when you hover around .400 for two and a half months, that is a surprise. I think all of us have always expected those guys to hit. How damage ends up coming out of there? Who knows.
Beamer Weems – major surprise. Here is a guy that we knew when we took him really had no offensive past. When we got our eyes and arms around him we evaluated what we had to work with. At the end of the summer, I challenged Muse (hitting coordinator Tony Muser) by saying, ‘Sometime in the near future, we have to make a call in this Instructional League on whether we are going to continue to allow him to switch-hit or turn him around to the right side and let him go.' We all know what a good defender he is. But when Instructional League was done, we were all in agreement that this guy has made so much improvement that we have to let it go.
It is not only that he has hit but his ability to get on base and control the strike zone. His amount of walks and on base percentage has blown everybody away. It has been a nice surprise.
You mentioned Sean Kazmar as someone who has not met expectations. Have there been others?
Grady Fuson: Without a doubt. I am not saying we have lost Matt Antonelli, but it has been a major disappointment that Matt has had the struggles for a year and a half. I can go on record as saying I don't know if I have ever seen a player with his skill set perform like he did in most of the lower levels struggle for as long as he had at the higher levels.
Does that mean I have lost faith? No. I still know what he brings to the table – his character, his work ethic. Obviously, he is not on the path I thought he would be on but that happens a lot in this game too. I can't hit for him and no one can. He has to be the guy that figures this thing out.
Before coming to Eugene, I was in Fort Wayne. Allan Dykstra looks like he is still trying to put the fundamentals you and your staff have given him together. It seemed like there was too much going on in his head each at-bat.
Grady Fuson: True. There are a lot of things to clean up – there really is. The talent is unquestionable. He can hit them as far and maybe as often as anybody.
There are some things that we probably under scouted in that swing that have come to our attention and are limiting him from putting up the kind of numbers that we thought he would put up or certainly what he wants to put up.
With that said, I am talking to every rover that goes in, whether I am there or not, what they are seeing when they come out. For the most part, everything remains positive. This is one of those guys – he is doing enough good things to keep him in the lineup. He is getting on base at a torrid pace, even for a guy hovering around .200. He is starting to do more damage. He is up there with doubles. Is there a chance he ends up having 15 homers and 25 doubles and a .380 on-base percentage? Well, that is a pretty good year for anybody. He is just not coming around as quick as we had hoped. Again, it is his first year.
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