One of the better pitchers in Mobile this year was Jared Wells, what were your impressions of him?
Tim Hagerty: Wells stood out as someone that was very competitive. He had the attitude of “as long as we won the game I’m happy”. I was surprised to see his lack of success in AAA, because when he left here he was leading the league in ERA. He throws a good fastball, hard sinker and a change. Everything with Wells, when he’s successful, is down in the zone.
The Padres number one pick in 2005 Cesar Carrillo had quite a bit of success last year with the BayBears and was on his way to a solid season before injuring his elbow in Portland in May. How did he pitch in Mobile?
Tim Hagerty: Well Carrillo was only here briefly, but he did pitch well. When I think of Carrillo I think of a great point our pitching coach Glen Abbot brought up. He said that when you are looking to see if someone can pitch in the major leagues its important to not just look the cumulative numbers, but to look to see if he was really dominant in any one particular outing. There was one game earlier this year in Huntsville in late April where he threw seven shutout innings, which was as good as any pitcher that I have ever seen in the Southern League.
Sean Thompson was in Mobile for the full year and the majority of last year. What improvement did you see from Thompson this year as compared to last?
Tim Hagerty: Down the stretch when Mobile put themselves into the playoff race he and Jack Cassel were the main reasons the BayBears were able to do that. Every time he went out he really gave the team a chance to win. As compared to last year he had a better command of his fastball, higher strikeout totals and lower walks, but he also gave up a few more home runs. I’ve noticed that a lot of guys that who are always around the plate so much, Jamie Moyer of Philadelphia comes to mind, tend to give up the big hits too.
The best pitcher that we believed in Lake Elsinore this year was Mike Ekstrom, who had some tough outings early on with Mobile. Did you think he was better than his record indicated?
Tim Hagerty: Yes he was and he did have some tough outings. The best thing about Mike was that he really took it one start at a time. He started off with a 0-7 record then threw a complete game shutout. All throughout his problems, each day was a new day and he was looking to improve every time out.
He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he has an effortless delivery and throws harder than you think he would. A very bright and well-balanced guy who is also going to strike out a lot more people than you would think he could.
Two other pitchers who received some attention this year were Jose Oyervidez and Jack Cassel. Both had pitched before in Mobile what changes did you see in each of them this year?
Tim Hagerty: Oyervidez was disappointing this year at times. He had more strikeouts this year, but also more walks. He can throw four pitches, but each one could be a little better.
Cassel is a good guy with good makeup and an ability to concentrate. He’s pitched here before in 2004 and 2005. Sometimes we see players that come down and are shaky for the first few games, you know their heads aren’t in the right place. Cassel came down and was just the opposite, he wanted to prove that he could pitch, and he did.
Dale Thayer had been the closer for the BayBears for two straight years. Any idea why the Padres’ management didn’t seem to be higher on him?
Tim Hagerty: This was his second straight year that Thayer lead the Southern League in saves for two teams that finished below .500, so he’s done pretty well. I really don’t know why San Diego wasn’t higher on him but I’m sure he’s excited about the new opportunity in Tampa Bay. The Padres got Branyan whose been a pretty good player for them, so it can also mean that Tampa saw a lot of value in acquiring Thayer.
A player who received a lot of pre-season attention and later was the reason the Padres were able to acquire pitcher David Wells, was George Kottaras. Kottaras was one of the leaders in the Southern League in on-base and slugging percentage when he got promoted to Portland. What did you think of the trade and of Kottaras’ play for Mobile this year?
Tim Hagerty: I think it’s a trade that helped both Boston and San Diego. The Padres are confident that they have some pretty good catchers in their system with Colt Morton and Nick Hundley coming to mind. Kottaras, for a guy that isn’t overwhelmingly big, has quite a bit of power. He has a lot of natural strength and bat speed and defensively threw out more runners stealing this year than he did last. Also catching in Mobile with the heat is just brutal.
Colt Morton, after a bad first half in Lake Elsinore, came up and had a good second half with Mobile. What did you attribute this too?
Tim Hagerty: Colt Morton I think stands out as a player who is going to be a good major leaguer. He has a great attitude; personality and pitchers say he calls a very good game. He has real strong arm, he threw out 40% of the runners that attempted to steal on him. Some players are able to get the most out of their raw ability and I think Colt will be able to as well. He works very hard and all of the coaches loved working with him.
I thought Michael Johnson would have a much better year than he did. Was his lack of production due mainly to injuries?
Tim Hagerty: I think it was mainly just injuries. You don’t see too many high averages in the Southern League and he had some really good numbers for only playing in 61 games, like 10 home runs. What is really sad is that he has the reputation for being injury prone, when all of his injuries, the hamstring and bad ball hop he took in the face later in the year, no one could have avoided.
A couple other guys who had good seasons last year in Lake Elsinore, but were somewhat disappointing this year in Double-A were third baseman Brett Bonevechio and center fielder Drew Macias. Why did they struggle?
Tim Hagerty: The Southern League is just a real tough place to hit. Bonevechio stands out as someone that will be in the game after his playing time is over. He enjoys talking baseball as much as any player that I’ve ever been around and has a really good knowledge of the game. If he doesn’t make the majors it won’t be for a lack of effort and attitude. There were times that he had difficulty at third and other times he showed more athleticism than he was given credit for. His bat was a little inconsistent as well.
I had heard that Drew Macias was the best defensive outfielder in the Padres system and this year he showed that he could play all three outfield positions. We had Kennard Jones in centerfield for much of the first part of the year. He got out to a great start, he was in the Top 10 in batting at beginning of the season, but kind of petered out from there. He was drafted very late and is a good story and he’s told me that it is something that motivates him. Macias has the skills to be a MLB outfielder and has garnered some positive attention from MLB staff. He hit a home run in both exhibition games with the Padres, and Bruce Bochy has said that he is going to keep an eye on him for the future.
One of the players that really turned it around this year was second baseman/shortstop Luis Cruz. What did you think of him?
Tim Hagerty: He was definitely one of the better defensive infielders. Cruz was much bigger and stronger this year than last. He’s only 22, a strong player that developed a lot of power and led the team in RBIs. If you told me last year that Luis Cruz would be batting 3rd and leading the team in RBIs I would have thought you were talking about a different player
Last question, who was the best player, best pitcher and best overall prospect?
Tim Hagerty: I thought the best player this year was Luis Cruz and the best pitcher Dale Thayer. For best prospect I have to go with Luis Cruz.
Editors note – As most of you already know by now the Padres AA team will be in San Antonio in the Texas League next year ending a 10-year relationship between San Diego and the Mobile BayBears. As the “point man” for Madfriars.com who visited Mobile several times all of us would like to thank Bill Shanahan, the President and CEO of the BayBears, Tim Haggerty and especially Jason Kirksey, the former Director of Media Relations [who is now working at his dream job for the University of Alabama] for all their assistance, hospitality and friendship they have provided to us over the years. The Diamondbacks are teaming up with a first-class organization and we wish them the best of luck.