Grady Fuson: To me, the biggest thing was the unity that was created on the club. You really have to take your hat off the staff for the environment that they were able to create. We really saw a lot of growth from all of our pitchers and with the position guys there was also improvement, but, to me, the biggest thing that stood out was there ability to get on base. Even when the guys weren't hitting they found ways to get on. They were the best club in the system for on-base percentage and when you look at championship clubs, the ones that are getting on base more are scoring more runs.
From the other side, if you can cut down on walks and keep the ball from going out of the park, you are going to decrease runs; and this year our staff did that. Put both of them together, it's tailor made for winning baseball.
Jaff Decker led the league in on-base percentage and was second in slugging percentage, which is especially impressive since he did at 19. However, it seems he's been getting dinged by many scouts as having all of his value only with his bat. How do you respond to that?
Grady Fuson: I totally contest that perception. Its easy to look at him and make an easy and quick judgement. I was no different when I first saw him play in high school. My question was what will his body be like when he turns 25, but the more that you watch him play, watch the reads and breaks that he gets on the ball – he's as good as anyone out there. If we didn't have the center fielders that we have in our system now, no one would have a problem putting Jaff out there.
Is Jaff aware that he has to do some things with his conditioning? Yes, and I think his back injury this year really hammered that concept home. Right now, we have him on a pretty good program in Peoria where he is not only working out with our trainer but also getting his nutrition on track, which a lot of time is a big challenge for young kids.
As I said, he can run, throw, and has a good first step in the outfield. I don't believe that his whole value is just in his bat. With Jaff its about making sure he stays in shape as he goes forward.
James Darnell absolutely smoked the MWL when he was there for the first half of the year. Offensively, what impressed you the most about him and do you think he will be able to stay at third?
Grady Fuson: What impressed me the most was that he controlled the strike zone, and this is a guy that was a very aggressive hitter in college and not someone I would expect to walk 80 times this year. He had a really good idea of how to work the count, of where his hot zone was, and how to spin on pitches. I think there was a correlation to how fast his power numbers rose.
Defensively, the feet and hands are good, but the throwing comes and goes. When he starts to learn pace and timing, not trying to unload on every throw, he's going to be good. I would put him up there with Logan Forsythe.
It seems every year there are some strange numbers that come out of Fort Wayne, last year it was Jeremy McBryde and this year it was Allan Dykstra, who hit .226 but had a 104 walks. He had a very good August, but what was the good you saw from him this year and the bad?
Grady Fuson: The discipline and patience he has nailed, maybe to a fault. He might need to be a little more aggressive with runners on. Once we got to the second half of the season, we could see the improvement. He was letting the ball travel more, getting better at middle in and showed signs of pulling the ball with some spin. If you are going to play a corner position, you have to get yourself in position to drive the ball. It's a continuing work in progress, but we were happy at how he finished up the season.
When Drew Cumberland was healthy, he put some numbers offensively. How much better did he look to you this year defensively?
Grady Fuson: He's come along way at short and made everyone a believer that he can stay there. His reactions are better, his throwing is better, although he still throws an occasional cutter to first base.
There are no second thoughts in my mind that if he had been healthy for the whole season he would have hit over .300 and stole between 30 to 40 bags and really put himself on the map. He's a good athlete, but we have some problems keeping him on the field. He's a very tightly wound athlete, gets a lot of hamstring and calf pulls. Right now, his hand is still bothering him and caused him to miss the last month of the season and all of instructs. He should be fine for the beginning of spring.
Blake Tekotte started off slow but really bounced back in June and July before tailing off in August. What did you think of his season?
Grady Fuson: When it was all said and done, he had a good year after a very bad April and May where he did no damage at all offensively. He started to drive the ball better, and he has more pop in his bat than most people give him credit for. Right now, we are working on the length of his swing, especially on off-speed pitches.
There was also one other player that really impressed me this year and that was Cole Figueroa. This is a player that may not wow you with his speed, but when you watch what he can do it's amazing. He has great instincts, uses the whole field, and hit many different pitches in many different places. Defensively, he made only five errors in 70 games, which is a great statistic for a young player. His hands and reactions are unique, and I saw him just make some great throws that I didn't think he would be able to make.
One of the best stories this year in the system has been how well Simon Castro performed. What was the main reason behind his step forward this year? The development of his change?
Grady Fuson: I think that was a big part of it and his confidence in throwing in the strike zone. He threw 95 when we first signed him and had no clue where it was going. As he got older, he not only gained more coordination in his body but learned that location is better than just pure velocity. Right now, he sits at around 90-93, he might touch 94 or 95 but he is developing into a pitcher and has so much room to still develop the velocity will probably start coming back. Not a whole lot of starters out there can consistently throw 95.
He is the poster boy of what young, raw pitchers with that much velocity need to do; scale back, learn mechanics, get consistency and start to build a more consistent delivery. He has an unlimited ceiling and is very intelligent.
Fort Wayne also had the top closer this year in Brad Brach. What does he need to improve upon to have continued success as he moves up the ladder?
Grady Fuson: There is not any glaring weakness. He signed late and we were unsure of what we were getting. He kind of got exposed to the closer's role by accident in the AZL and he performed pretty well. We started to think that this might be for real, and he came into camp in great shape and was really firing like he did all season. He's big strong, athletic, good plane and angle, with a good sharp breaking ball and has some velocity. This year, he was so dominant in the strike zone. I can see him moving fast in the next year or two.
Erik Davis won 16 games this year but didn't get a whole lot of publicity. What can you tell us about him?
Grady Fuson: He was the prototype college pitcher, maybe a little overused in his last year there. He had a good changeup, so-so breaking ball and a straight fastball. I think he had a few too many innings when he came to us.
This year he was around 90 a little more and his curve really improved, it had a much sharper bite.
Nick Schmidt came off surgery and was very effective in Fort Wayne before seeming to tire in Lake Elsinore. What did he do so well during his time with the TinCaps?
Grady Fuson: The first five times out, his overall boxscore didn't look good. What the reports indicated was that he would have one bad inning with the rest that were clean, crisp and sharp.
We got him going, and at one point, he reeled of 20 to 25 innings of scoreless baseball where his fastball was crisp and breaking ball was good. By the time we promoted him to Lake Elsinore a second stage of fatigue began to set in, his arm speed was lacking, he couldn't find his release point, and we ended up shutting him down. His season at Lake Elsinore was not what we expected.
There are the two pitchers in the organization we can think of that are allowed to throw a splitter, Brad Brach and Bryan Oland. Why?
Grady Fuson: We still have kind of toyed with (Wynn) Pelzer, and (Brandon) Gomes has one in Double-A. A lot of times that is a pitch that they throw better than a changeup, especially with big guys that have their ability to get their hands around the pitch. Their overall size allows them to grip it properly.
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