First, what were your impressions of this year's TinCaps?
Mike Maahs: To begin with, this team was a streaky team to say the least.
From April 4th through May 25th, they compiled a record of 25-22; taking advantage of a six-game winning streak and four separate three-game winning streaks, while at the same time suffering through a five-game losing streak, a pair of three-game losing streaks, and three two-game losing streaks.
From May 26th through June 11th, they were the hottest team in the Midwest League, winning 15 of the 16 games they played (including winning streaks of six and nine games in a row). During that period, the team did all "the little things" , such as good pitching, adequate defense, timely hits, coming from behind, and winning close games (including three in extra-innings).
Their 7-4 win over Lake County on June 11th not only gave them the 15 wins in 16 games, it raised their record to 40-23 (a season-high 17 games over .500), and clinched a post-season playoff spot (the fifth year in a row that Fort Wayne qualified for the playoffs, currently, the longest such streak in the Midwest League). Even though they split the final six games played in the first half, their 43-26 record was the second best record in the 16-team MWL, and their 25-11 mark at Parkview Field was the third-best home record in all of minor league baseball.
That was the good news. The second half was a much different story.
They began the second half with a six-game home stand, and lost five of those six games. They lost 11 of their first 14 games in the second half, and never could turn things around, ultimately finishing 29-41. In the second half, there were stretches where the pitching broke down, the defense crumbled, and the hitting was (at times) almost non-existing.
As to why the team came up short, in terms of wins and losses, it may never be known. It certainly wasn't because of a lack of effort. Never giving up regardless of what the score was was perhaps the strength of the team this season. I will admit that on a few occasions I mentioned on the air that I felt there were lapses of focus in the second half, after all, a playoff spot was already secured in the first half.
However, once the playoffs began, focus and determination was not an issue. They eliminated Bowling Green in the first round of the playoffs, and gave South Bend all they could handle in the Eastern Division Championship Series, losing in a winner-take-all game three.
The 2013 TinCaps were a team that, when they were on, were one of the best teams in the league; and, when they were off, had trouble beating anybody.
The pitching got the most attention and with good reason. The starting staff featured four former first round picks. How much did you see them mature through their first full season?
I felt that Ross and Fried pitched better in the first half; and that Eflin and Weickel pitched better in the second half. On a maturity, and self-confidence level, I feel the same way that Ross and Fried were more mature and self-confident in the first half, and Eflin and Weickel in the second half.
Part of why I feel that way may be the many adjustments the quartet had to make getting used to the 140-game season. The many long bus rides, countering the adjustments that opposing hitters were making, keeping their confidence up when things went wrong on the field, such as defensive mistakes and/or ill-timed and ill-located pitches among other things.
Of all the four Zach Eflin had the least amount of hype although many would consider he had the best year. Can you give us a brief description of his strengths and weaknesses?
Mike Maahs: When you look at the year that Zack Eflin had, a 7-6 record and a Midwest League- leading 2.73 ERA, I think you'll agree hat he got better as the season progressed.
To me, Zach just had to become comfortable with both his surroundings, his abilities and himself. Once that all kicked in,the overall performance improved. His strength is his confidence in himself. In the second half of the season, more often than not, he knew that he was throwing the ball well, and that he was going to keep the team in the game.
As far as weaknesses are concerned, he still has to get better control of his pitches, and needs to keep the opposition off of the scoreboard in the first and second inning of the game.
Joe Ross tailed off a little at the end of the year. Any reason why?
Mike Maahs: Joe Ross had a great start to the season. Three wins in his first four starts, during which he gave up just three runs in over 20 innings of work. Once May rolled around, however, opposing teams began making adjustments, such as looking for a certain pitch in a certain situation.
Joe's favorite pitch is the fast ball, but, he, like his teammates, have to learn that a fast ball alone will not get a batter out.
I think that another area he needs to work on is getting ahead early in the count. When you get behind, say 2-0 on a batter, odds are the batter will be looking for a fastball. If he can get ahead in the count, then he can be more confident in throwing his other pitches, in addition to the fast ball.
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the fact that Ross (as well as Fried, Eflin, and Weickel) are still just 19 or 20. Youth and talent are great attributes to have, but, maturity and experience comes in handy as well.
Roman Madrid seemed to be two different pitchers this season. What did he do well when he was on and what went wrong for him when he didn't perform so well?
Mike Maahs: In the first half, Roman Madrid was one of the best closers in the league; 5-1, with a 1.11 ERA and 12 saves.
Personally, I feel that his performance in the Midwest League All-Star Game (giving up three runs and the lead in the top of the ninth inning) had a psychological effect on him. Nobody likes to have a less than stellar performance on a big stage in front of his peers.
He would come into a game in a closing situation, and more often than not fall behind early in the count. That added extra self-pressure, and the results weren't as good as they were in the first half (1-3, 4.88 ERA, 15 runs, 12 walks, and 26 hits allowed in 24 innings of work).
Closers at any level have to maintain a feeling that "the buck stops here" whenever they come into a game. They need to be confident, if not a touch cocky, in both their physical ability, and their psychological mindset. I feel that Roman has the potential to be a closer, but, he has to keep his confidence on a positive level.
I saw Alberth Martiniez early last year before he got sent down and wasn't impressed. Obviously he turned it around this season. What made this year so much better than the last?
Mike Maahs: Experience and age played a huge roll in the season that Alberth Martinez had in 2013. Even though he played in just 20 games in Fort Wayne in 2012 before being sent to Eugene in the short-season Northwest League, the comfort factor helped him immensely this year.
He also was one of the older players at 22 on the team, and some of the younger players, particularly the Hispanic ones, turned to him for advice. It's amazing to see someone come into his own when other teammates turn to him for help and advice.
Mike Maahs: Mallex Smith has confidence in himself and his abilities. He also was blessed with speed, and a desire to improve on his performance. What many people probably don't know, unless they either read Mike Couzens' blog on the team website or listened to our broadcasts, especially in the second half of the season, is that he kept a notebook on opposing pitchers, charting what pitches were thrown and in what situations. When a player goes the extra mile in wanting to improve on his performance, that says an awful lot.
In terms of improvement, I feel that Smith has to try to strength his throwing arm to get better defensively. I would also like to see him work harder at his bunting skills,and not try to hit the ball out of the park as much as he did this year. He homered in the first game of the season and may have thought he could become a power hitter of sorts.
The future is bright for him.
Hunter Renfroe came up and didn't have the success that he did in Eugene. How does he compare to other top Padres' picks that you have seen in the past in Fort Wayne like Jedd Gyorko and Corey Spangenberg?
Mike Maahs: I feel that the biggest problem that Hunter Renfroe experienced in Fort Wayne was the fact that he came here basically running on fumes.You have to remember that he started his 2013 season back in January, helping his Mississippi State team eventually make it all the way to the Final Series in the College World Series in Omaha in late June where they lost to eventual champion UCLA.
The came the draft, he was the first pick of the Padres and 13th pick overall. After all of the hoopla (going to San Diego and signing his contract), it was on to Eugene of the short-season Northwest League. There, he batted .308 in 25 games, hitting four home runs, and driving in 18. That did not include his collecting the game-winning hit in the Northwest League All-Star Game.
Then, it was a plane ride to Fort Wayne.
In each of his first two games with the TinCaps, Renfroe went 2-for-4, including a home run. He also excelled defensively, making a leaping, run-saving catch up against the wall in right field, in one of those games. Yes, the competition was a bit tougher in the Midwest League than it was in the Northwest League, however, I just felt that he just needed a few days off in order to get re-energized.
He did get some rest late in the second half, and his performance improved in the playoffs.
In comparison to Gyorko and Spangenberg, I feel that there's no substitute for experience. Gyorko is already up in San Diego, and Spangenberg isn't far behind.
Although Hunter Renfroe is very talented and seems to have a pension for playing very well in clutch situations, CWS and the TinCaps playoff run, I think that it will be 2016 before we see him playing at Petco Park.
For the position players, who was your "sleeper"?
Mike Maahs: My "sleeper" for 2013 in Fort Wayne was Maxx Tissenbaum. In 2013, Tissenbaum batted .277 in 111 games, with two home runs and 49 runs batted in. He led the team in hits with 115, and led the Midwest League in times being hit by a pitch with 19. He also had a somewhat keen eye at the plate, as he walked 43 times and only struck out 36 times, this, in over 400 at-bats.
He used his hockey mentality (he's from Toronto, Ontario, Canada for those who didn't know) to play primarily second base, although he did play some at shortstop, especially after Stephen Carman was injured late in the first half.
Manager Jose Valentin was quoted at the end of the first half as saying that, he felt Tissenbaum was the most valuable player on the team, helping to secure a playoff spot.
I also want to give Honorable Mention status to shortstop Tyler Stubblefield.
Tyler spent both 2011 and 2012 in Fort Wayne, and was released by the Padres at the end of spring training this year. Not wanting to give up on his dream to perhaps one day play in the big leagues, Stubblefield gave it one more shot, and was playing in Independent League baseball when he was re-signed by San Diego and assigned back to Fort Wayne, primarily due to injuries of other players.
His numbers weren't all that great (.267 BA, four home runs, 19 runs batted in, 16 doubles, and three triples in 64 games), however, he showed a heart of gold and a genuineness for being given another chance to play that was not lost on his teammates.
In all honesty, Stubblefield was the glue that held this team together, when they were struggling in the second half.
Last question, who was the top TinCaps' position prospect that you saw this year and the top pitching prospect?
Mike Maahs: The last question always seems to be the toughest one to answer.
I feel that the top TinCaps' position prospect I saw this year was Maxx Tissenbaum, not only for what he accomplished this year (as was mentioned earlier), but, also for the intangible doing what it takes to help the team win. His numbers were solid all season long, and, lest we forget, he played second base this year when he grew up playing shortstop in Canada. Position changes sometimes can be difficult, but, Tissenbaum succeeded in his.
The top pitching prospect I would say would be Zach Eflin.
We noted his accomplishments earlier, but, something that I observed all season long, was the fact that he went out and gave it his all every sixth day or so. Some players lead vocally, and some players lead quietly.
Eflin let his arm do his talking for him, and I feel his future is very bright.