A veteran of broadcasting for several college baseball teams, we caught up with Russ to find out his impressions of his first season with Emeralds and of the future Padres’ stars rising in the system.
It’s the first year of professional baseball for most of the players in Eugene, what is their biggest adjustment?
Russ Eisenstein: I think its playing baseball everyday that is so different from the college game. In college you play maybe once during the week and the weekends. Here they have to adjust to a pretty intense schedule, practicing everyday, the travel on the busses, which from Eugene can be some distance, and the emotional ups and downs of pro ball. Throw in the fact that the competition picks up quite a bit at this level and the wooden bats and it is a big adjustment.
With the pitchers the biggest struggle was the lower pitch counts at the beginning of the year and not having as much rope to work with as compared to college.
The player that really stood out for me was third baseman David Freese, how would you describe him?
Russ Eisenstein: Freese is just a big time hitter. He had a very good college career at South Alabama and could hit for power, contact and with two strikes. His approach and calm were impressive. I can’t recall how many times in his limited stay here that he delivered with two outs.
I think he could be a major league third baseman, I didn’t see that many bad plays on his part. He wasn’t afraid of the competition with Matt Antonelli either and I certainly thought the Padres got a steal late in the draft.
After Freese left, left fielder Chad Huffman had a big year. How would you describe him?
Russ Eisenstein: He’s a pro. From seeing him day in and day out he has very good makeup, possibly a little bit too comfortable at times, but he has the makeup of a major-league player. His ability to catch on so quickly in the outfield was impressive and he made good on a lot of opportunities. Huffman has a very strong accurate arm and his adjustment to left field was even more impressive than his hitting.
So you do think he has the ability to play right field?
Russ Eisenstein: Sure, he has the tools to play there, mainly because of his arm, but Huffman is also very much a student of the game and he’s always trying to get the edge mentally. He really seems to thrive on pushing himself.
Matt Antonelli was the Padres’ first selection in this years draft and although he got on base very well [.412 OBP], he hit with very little power. Was there any reason for his lack of power?
Russ Eisenstein: In an extra-inning ball game hurt his top hand trying to bunt about two-thirds of the way through the season so that could have been part of the problem. I was a little surprised he didn’t have more power numbers at first, but he had a bit of a layoff because Wake Forrest didn’t make the college playoffs so that could have affected him his timing.
He did hit some lasers and was robbed a few times but he is much more of a line drive hitter than a big fly guy. He’s very comfortable in the box, has good instincts and footwork. There weren’t a lot of situations where the team ran, but when they did he could do it. He runs the bases very well and is a very bright guy.
Another player that had a good year was first baseman Craig Cooper, how much of a future do you see for him?
Russ Eisenstein: He has a good future, so many clutch hits and some incredible power. He went through a slight lull midway through the season but did bounce back. He’s very strong and uses his whole body very well in his swing; especially generating power with his hips and legs.
Michael Epping led the team in stolen bases - how would you describe his year.
Russ Eisenstein: He’s a deceptive guy who you wouldn’t think would steal as much as he did. Epping is another very smart player who tries to play within himself. Mike is a really good kid, the type of guy that you want to date your daughter. He also played a good defensive centerfield for us.
Who else stood out for you this year?
Russ Eisenstein: Jesus Lopez comes to mind [shortstop]. Lopy and a lot of higher ups believe he will be playing in the major leagues somewhere because of his glove. He’s got some great ability and really made some plays for us.
The Emeralds had kind of an unusual pitching philosophy this year - how would you describe it?
Russ Eisenstein: At the start it was an eight-man rotation, with a starter backed up by a pre-determined second pitcher. Two-thirds of the way through the season the team went back to more of a standard five-man rotation, which allowed the pitching counts to be extended.
What pitchers stood out for you this year?
Russ Eisenstein: Aaron Breit was a guy that showed how powerful a strikeout pitcher could be. He led the ball club in strikeouts, but became more of a pitcher as the season went on. He can be very good on the hill and I think he may be able to go deeper into games as he becomes more knowledgeable about how to pitch.
He labored a little with runners on base, but then again not use to having runners on base before.
How about Matthew Buschman?
Russ Eisenstein: He’s the type of get it and throw it type of pitcher, doesn’t mess around a whole bunch. A graduate of Vanderbilt who grew up a Cardinals fan and his dream was to pitch in Busch Stadium. It still is, only now it’s with the Padres at the new Busch Stadium.
He’s got a very good sinker and he threw more first pitch strikes than anyone else on the staff. He throws a fastball/sinker, slide and change, with his velocity toping out in the high 80’s.
One of the better signing the Padres made this year was RJ Rodriguez, the teams closer. What did you think of him?
Russ Eisenstein: At first he didn’t have a closer mentality, but he made good on so many of his chances that he became a closer because of his success. He faltered only a handful of times and really came along. He has a nice fastball and doesn’t walk a whole lot of people.
Two of the Padres top draft picks this year were Wade LeBlanc and Nate Culp. How would you describe their stay in Eugene?
Russ Eisenstein: I was impressed with Wade LeBlanc. He’s a product of a good program and he was lucky to be able to work with the same battery mate [Alabama and Eugene teammate Kody Valverde], which helped. He stayed ahead in the counts; has a good fastball and a very good change. Not a lot of guys could hurt him and he was very impressive.
Nate Culp has a very good breaking ball and is a smart kid. He thinks through situations and it wasn’t that much of a surprise that he and his curveball were promoted so quickly.
Final question, which was the best player, pitcher and best prospect?
Russ Eisenstein: I think the best player this year was David Freese. The best pitcher was Buschman, with RJ Rodriguez a very close number two. I think the best prospect was Chad Huffman, because of his ability to move from second base to left field and just make adjustments so quickly. He really hit the ball well, but moreover his mental ability is what impressed me the most.