Grady Fuson: I don't know if you can really put a finger on what happened, maybe it was about catching up to the league. Overall his end numbers, the 20 home runs, were about what we expected and pretty close to what he's done his whole career. You started to see him turn around in July; little by little the walks started to come up, he started to get into better counts and make better contact. For a strike hitter like himself it gives him much better odds for success.
How did you assess his year overall?
Grady Fuson: I would say about fifty-fifty. His contact has to get better along with better control of pitchers in the strike zone has to be better. The one thing I will really say about him is the kid is a battler, the more you throw at him the more he wants to make it happen. Wherever he has gone, he has never stopped working.
We've gotten quite a few questions on Matt Antonelli, mainly what has happened to someone who seemed to have such a bright future two years ago?
Grady Fuson: I noticed some things with him in Lake Elsinore a few years ago and had some concerns about how they would play out at higher levels and some things that were going to have to be fixed. I talked with our hitting guys and with Matt, but he was having so much success they were reluctant to mess with him and Matt wasn't that receptive to those ideas then.
If you go into his first year at Triple-A [last year] it was obviously a debacle. We would give him his own time to try to figure it out, then we would take over and try to get him to change and nothing seemed to work. We put him with Jimmy Lefebvre in Phoenix, broke down video of him from college and all the different minor league levels and it just didn't hold up. So after sitting here and watching this for two years, we shut him down with two weeks left in the season and sent him down to work with Tony Muser, to rebuild his approach.
We had to take him out of competition in a pressurized Triple-A environment and put him in a learning environment. We have put every teaching utensil at his disposal, and we have sent him home to rest up. We are going to bring him back and game test what we have been working on with him in the fall in the type of mini-AFL league that we have set up.
You have three quality middle infielders coming up in Logan Forsythe, Eric Sogard and Lance Zawadzki; in addition to Luis Durango in CF. If you did bring Antonelli back for a third year of Triple-A, where does he fit in?
Grady Fuson: Obviously, all these guys will have a chance to move up and Zawadski, and especially Forsythe have really come up quickly. With Sogard from the offensive side, we really don't have any worries, but if he is going to develop into a generic defensive second baseman with plus offensive potential, he needs improvement on the defensive side. He needs to work on his range, the accuracy of his throws and his footwork around the bag on the double play. He's a smart kid and he knows what he needs to do to improve in the off-season.
Wade LeBlanc had twenty starts this year in Portland. Even though he had a 4-9 record, his peripheral statistics were much better than his record indicated. What type of progress did you see him make this year and what does he still need to work on?
Grady Fuson: All of the work this year with Wade has been between the ears. Since my tenure here, the two guys that have had the most success in rising through our system have been Josh Geer and Wade LeBlanc, both have had success at every level although neither has been big "stuff" guys. They have both lost velocity over the course of their development and I think that has hurt them on the big league level. The velocity has something to do with their success or failure.
Wade has such a dominant changeup that he could get nearly any minor league hitter out with it and may have thrown it too much, which hurt the development of his fastball command. He would get to the major league level and become tentative, shying away from being aggressive and pitching away from contact if he put the ball in the wrong spot. Then it goes ball one, ball two and here we go...
I've talked to him a few times, with some force, to let him know that he has what it takes, he just has to go out and show it.
Will Inman was one of your more talented pitching prospects, but really struggled in Portland. What was his biggest problem?
Grady Fuson: Going into spring training all of us kind of thought he would be on the bubble for going to Portland. He competed well enough in San Antonio to make the jump, then reality set in. The breaking ball was in the middle of the plate and he didn't have enough consistency with his fastball so he could get to his other pitches. There are a lot of things with his mechanics that are unique and that we need to clean up. Once the San Antonio season is over, we are going to bring him to back to Instructs and clean some of it up.
Aaron Poreda was one of the main components of the Jake Peavy trade. He obviously has a ton of potential but struggled with the Beavers. What is the team doing to improve his control and ability to throw secondary pitches?
Grady Fuson: We've had him for such a short time that we are still trying to get our arms around him. All of our scouting reports before the trade told us that he was inconsistent within the strike zone and that there would be a lot of work to be done to make him a starter. It's funny to nearly all of the guys we got from the White Sox the changeup is something of a foreign object. If you can find me a major league starter that doesn't have a changeup, shoot me an email.
It's going to take awhile, but he does have quite a bit of potential.
What else did you see in Portland this year?
Grady Fuson: I was disappointed to some degree early in our offensive performance. All of the kids that we had down there had been trained and had succeeded at other levels got out of their game. They weren't having success swinging early in the count, weren't selective and so on. The higher profile players like Blanks and Venable came out of it, but the secondary players like Peter Ciofrone, Sean Kazmar and Brett Dowdy didn't. We just expected so much more out of those guys offensively, and Kazmar, if he can hit some, is a major league utility infielder because he can flat out play defense. Because of their lack of performance, Kevin [Towers] had to out and make waiver and side deals because these guys weren't playing well enough to be promoted.
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