Riddoch on Emeralds hitting prospects

Greg Riddoch has been in the game for close to 50 years and manages the San Diego Padres short-season club in Eugene. He gave insight into the talents of Vince Belnome, the smarts of Nate Freiman, whether Edinson Rincon can stay at third, and many other insights into the hitting prospects in Eugene.

Vince Belnome was a latter round draft pick but didn't perform like one. He did a fantastic job for you and wound up helping Fort Wayne in the playoffs.

Greg Riddoch: Almost like a Daniel Robertson the year before. Late round guy, 27th-round, I don't know what it was, I don't pay any attention to the pick, but the guy that nobody else took the flyer on, and I think he ended up leading Fort Wayne in hitting that final month. I'm not positive, but I don't look at what their stats are, but I think he was up there and almost led the team in hitting. Belnome's the same way.

He probably improved his range, five feet in each direction because he's a work ethic oriented kid.

He can flat hit, as long as he stays in his zone. When he starts chasing pitches belt high and above, and he swings and misses - but belt high and down, he's going to crush it.

He used both fields. I think he hit ten home runs for us; five to left, five to right, or maybe six and four. But he's got opposite field power, including one that he hit in Tri-Cities where the ball does not fly at all. Nobody hits home runs there, and he hit one out there one night that went out to left center field and the flag was standing straight down. Not a drop of wind and it went way out. I went, ‘Holy Jesus!' Now there is wood bat and real power the opposite way. He can hit!

Je did a decent job defensively in second and third, both, but got much better defensively. He needs to work on turning two and being quicker with his hands on the exchange. But, wow, he had a tremendous year and helped both clubs. What a great draft that was for, do you now what pick he was 27th! That's a heck of a pick. When the scouts tell me that after the eighth-round there was nothing there. It was prospects to the eighth round. I've heard this from three or four pro scouts, that after the eighth round go find three or four guys with tools that can play a little bit, but there's not a whole lot of tools out there. So that's a pretty nice looking pick right there.

What did you see out of a kid like Dean Anna? His approach has gotten much better and he sees the ball well now.

Greg Riddoch: Yep. Much better, and the other part with him is, like a whole lot of kids, when they're really comfortable, then they're more confident, and when you're not playing like he was in Fort Wayne, he was like the 25th guy, he got to play once a week (something like that). But when you come to a place where you show up and I say, ‘You're going to be our shortstop and you're going to play a lot.' So right there is that solidification of, ‘Geez, I'm going to get some time here.'

So now they're not pressing because it's their one day a week to perform, and he played a hell of a shortstop for us. He did wonderful. He made plays that you don't see guys make and did a great job hitting-wise. So he's put himself on the map. He's got a good job of being the shortstop at Fort Wayne next year.

Jason Codiroli – started off slow but something changed for him. He ended up hitting .290 for you.

Greg Riddoch: I rode him really hard. There's a lot of stuff there, where he's a low-rider guy, hat backwards, pants down below your buttocks. Those kind of low rider kids from California, skateboarder kids. Undisciplined, no plans, and it was, to be honest with you, it was really hard on him because I rode his butt all the time. There were times at BP where he'd do that little sulky stuff and swing and then hit the cage with his bat because he was mad, and I'd say, ‘You're done. Get off the field.' And he'd go in and then I'd chew his butt in my office. And I'd just tell him, ‘Jason, this is, whether you realize it or not, it's a behavior that is not acceptable.' And that's what I try to tell our staff. You don't like what a kid is doing, you don't like the behavior that you're getting, tell them that you don't like it, and tell them the behavior that's going to replace the behavior that you're seeing that's incorrect. Don't just keep telling them that you hate the behavior.

Then they go, ‘Hey, I didn't know what else to do.' Tell them the behavior that you expect in its place.

We really had some knock down drag out type things, even in front of the team. He didn't run a ball out one day when he thought the ball was out and he started jogging around to second and the ball hit the fence and he was running half speed and I took him out of the game. And in front of the team I said, ‘Do you understand why you are out of the game? I will not stand for lack of hustle. Make errors, physical mistakes, mental mistakes fine, but you don't hustle, you don't play in this game.'

Some tough things love like that I think helped him understand. "I do care about you, as a human being as one of my players.' I think once that stuff started happening, there were times when I'd make little comments to him and he'd say, ‘I know Rid, I know where you're coming from. I've gotcha.'

I think he relaxed and then started playing and played better and started playing like he should play. I don't think anywhere in his career he had people that when he did that stuff, because he was the good player, ‘All right, well I'm not going to say nothing because you're the stud. I don't want to ruin that.'

It's the biggest injustice that we do for kids is not having an expectation higher than theirs. If they don't have any expectation, where are you? They just show up and play. It's like Matt Latos, guarantee you. He was such a stud in high school that he didn't have to come to practice if he didn't want to.

So now what happens if you've got to follow the rules? ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough deal?'

But he came on good, played a good centerfield, he didn't drift to the ball anymore in the outfield. He ran hard to get the ball. It's not something that's going to be, ‘Okay, clench your fingers. I've been doing it for 18 years, now I'm going to change it.' It has to be a conscious effort. He just got better. I think he finished somewhere around .290. He played a good center field. He still needs work on reading pitcher's moves and more confidence on the base pads even though he's stole 15 or something like that, but that's going to come as he gets better. So he should be able to play in Fort Wayne next year, too.

How big of a blow was it to lose Bo Davis for you? He was a sparkplug for you guys.

Greg Riddoch: What happens to USC when they lose their quarterback when Sanchez went down? Oh, Jesus! Psychologically, what does that do to the team here? Your quote ‘team leader' leaves. What happens when Gonzalez doesn't play first base with a gold glove and drive in all the runs? That's one person, we lost about 10 or 15 in the course of a year.

So, what happens when you lose that one who was your catalyst? The fans started to love him, he stole 11 bases in two and a half weeks, and when he got on base, he was exciting. The guy hitting behind him got all fastballs to hit because they knew he could run. Then you lose that to a broken hand, and it hurts. It hurts anybody to lose that guy, and he was our key pulse – our sparkplug.

How good can he be when he changes that stance to get more balance and perhaps power with it?

Greg Riddoch: He's smart enough to do all those things he just didn't get enough time to try it. You know they all come to us with those college rotational swings where the bat is in and out of the zone and so your bat path is the width of the baseball. When it's in there, you'd better be on time. Maybe all but four or five figure it out by the end of the season, but when you get two and a half weeks, and then you're done, it's still going to take him time. He was doing great, he was hitting .325 or .328 or something like that when he was injured. Eleven stolen bases and he was on his way. So, he would be a guy that definitely would play at Fort Wayne next year.

What did you see improvement wise from Nate Freiman? His hands dropped into a better hitting position and his swing improved.

Greg Riddoch: He doesn't have that stride separation thing down yet. He goes in and out of it, but look he led the league in RBI I think. He was upright, hands way high, skip leg at 6-foot-8, couldn't take the low pitch, so he got more flexion in his knees, his hands were dropped down a lot lower, back elbows down instead of way high. The wrap was pretty much gone.

His whole thing, being as smart as he is, his learning style is he has to go through things and get that intrinsic feel, and as he gets it, then he starts to improve. He just can't take something and do it immediately. That's why it was a gradual progression as the season went on he got better and better.

He picked balls in the dirt where if it was in the beginning in the dirt it was passed him. We had the drills everyday. We did firing balls from different angles, and he got better and better defensively, and defensively is where he really has to improve a lot more. The offensive came very good, but the defensive part is where he's going to have to get a lot more flexible to be able to dive for ground balls instead of doing it from 6-foot-8. He needs to do it from 5-foot-6, where he's down in a good position and can lay out and anticipate and read the ball off the bat off the hitter's hand. But that will happen the more chances he gets to do it.

It just amazes me, and it does every single year, even left alone, if we didn't do anything time on task seven days a week versus three days a week, they just improve.

Big time power. Didn't show up too much in the game, but in batting practice – I haven't seen anybody hit them over our light stands in Eugene, but he did, but that's batting practice. Maybe 5 or 6 times, I think he ended up with 11 home runs, 5 or 6 times during the season, he hit them into the night. The ball just got smaller and smaller and then went out of sight. You don't see that very often.

A personality that just becomes magnetic because of his sense of humor or lack of sense of humor. You know what I mean? He's a genius mentally, academically. Sometimes because he's got such good mental capabilities they get in the way because you become analytical and you analyze all your stuff too much. You look for what went wrong in it instead of what went right in it. So we had a lot of fun with that boy. He's as good a person as I've met in the game in a long, long time. He's a genuinely great human being. That's not putting anyone else down, but he's really naïve. I used to tell him all the time, ‘You were raised in the closet son.' I have two daughter-in-laws the same way, raised in the closet. They hit the real world and hey, I need to get back in that closet. He's a sweetie pie that guy.

Jason Hagerty, a switch-hitting catcher, that showed some power. What was your take on him?

Greg Riddoch: I have a whole lot of good feelings about him. He beats himself up real bad. Does not know the strike zone like he should. He's aware of these things, and as soon as he learns the strike zone, I think he's going to be a much better hitter.

He's above average arm, 55 arm, some mechanical issues in the throwing portion of it, where he takes the front shoulder and closes it too far so his arm comes around the corner to second base, but he's aware of that, and so is Duffy Dyer and I'm sure they're working on that. But the switch-hitting catcher with the great body and can catch and throw? It's just a matter of what the bat's going to end up doing. Time will tell that.

Were you impressed with the progression of Emmanuel Quiles, especially hitting since he wasn't swinging at the first pitch anymore?

Greg Riddoch: Yeah. Defensively he got better. He's much better this year than last year and he played the year at 19, probably still the youngest in the league, outside of Rincon who was 18.

Nice looking catching prospect and everybody goes, ‘He's unselective at the plate.' My view is, he still is, but he's way better than he was. So as long as that scale for me is tilted up, why would you say he doesn't have a chance. If Vladimir Guerrero can make it being an unselective hitter, and I'm not saying he's Vladdy, although I've nicknamed him that, who says he can't do it? What are you going to do when he's 23 years old in four more years? He's going to be 23, and we're going to draft kids 23? Wow! Where's that going to be?

I wish I was smart enough to predict that, but all I know is his scales have been tilting up for the two years I've had him. Great kid. Good on a game. Catch and throw, stop the running game, and if the bat comes, which I don't know if he hit close to .300 or not but I think he did, maybe .270. I forget now. But way better than where he was. He just gets locked into sometimes, into the Vladdy mode where he's going up there and if he swings at the first pitch he's swinging at the next two; hopefully they throw them for a strike. That's going to have to change for him to move. He and Jason should be the two catchers in Fort Wayne next year.

Edinson Rincon had a fabulous season. I can't believe that Drew Biery gets the All-Star nod at third base and DH for the Northwest League.

Greg Riddoch: I don't know how that works. Really when you look back, because none of that stuff really matters. Nobody's going to care when you get to the big leagues how many All-Star teams you made or what you did.

Second on the team, probably in the 50s, 56, something like that in walks. He's the most selective Latin player in our whole organization. A real good makeup kid, plenty of arm, not accurate from time to time. I think he's going to have to play a different position, personally, than third base. I don't know what that's going to be, but that would be my suggestion to try him in another position. And he was a catcher, they converted him to a catcher when he got here.

But still, I think he turned 19 in July or August, something like that at the end of the season so he'll play almost the whole season next year 19 years old. But I'll tell you what, he was selective, and he turned some of those college slide ball guys and breaking ball guys around. He turned their stuff around. He had to have two hits the last game in Salem, and as soon as he got them, I took him out so he'd end up at .300 and he hit it right on the nose I think. You've got to take care of your kids when you get a chance. You don't want a kid if you can keep from it hitting .298 or .299 when you've got a chance to get him to .300. That just means so much to him to get to .300, whatever that means, but in their minds it means something.

Everett Williams was only there for a few games. Could you see the talent level with him?

Greg Riddoch: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yep, it's there, and he's got a long way to go because he's an 18-year-old kid. He's probably been undisciplined like a lot of kids. Run if you want, if you're feeling good, run hard, if you don't, you don't run hard. When you've been the star a big stud in your teens, you just kind of do what you want to do.

I see lots of stuff. I see arm there. I see quickness. I see a good bat. He's smoked some balls. Eighteen-year-old facing these 24 year old Salem guys, that's only six years, but what's six years difference? He got his share of hits and did a pretty good job, but he doesn't really know the game yet, and why should he? He's a starter.

The daily grind will get to him after a while. How will he handle that makeup wise? Will he be able to handle that, like any high school kid? The tools are there. I'm real excited. And the pitcher too.

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