"He's a solid man, for baseball and life."
Those of us who have listened to Sean broadcast the Storm games know he brings a certain perspective and joyfulness to his broadcasts along with a solid knowledge of the game. We were fortunate enough to get in touch with Sean recently as he reviewed the past season.
The first player that everyone wants to talk about at Lake Elsinore this year was Chase Headley. Can you give us your evaluation of him as a future MLB third baseman?
Sean McCall: Chase was certainly a joy to watch during his first full year of professional baseball. He's going to get bigger and stronger as he gets older and progresses through the system. He's a switch-hitter who was better from the left side than the right.
What I saw was a guy with some fire who wants to compete everyday. He's got some power, an ability to drive in runs and has an excellent eye.
How is he defensively?
Sean McCall: He's a good defensive player. As Chase moves up the ladder I think he will get even better. He's just 22. He's very steady; he only committed 18 errors in 129 games. Also, he was also able to stay healthy which helped him to really establish himself.
A member of the Storm that has always had a patron at Madfriars.com in Denis Savage is Peter Ciofrone. Can you give us your opinion of where his best position may be and what type of hitter he is?
Sean McCall: Peter primarily played outfield for us this year, although he played mostly second and third in the past. He can hit and he has a very solid awareness of the strike zone. He played well for us at the beginning of the season and then went from the DL to Double-A. After he came back in mid-June he found his rhythm and ultimately led the league in RBI's in July with 33.
I think his struggles at the end of the season were due to his getting sick. When you are a left-handed hitter and you don't play in Lancaster and High Desert you have to be on your deathbed to not play in either of those two parks [laughs]. When he came back I thought he lost some of his strength and a little of his timing. Overall, he had a really nice season and looked better in the outfield as the season went on.
Someone who absolutely tore up the Midwest League was Nic Crosta, who slowed down a little with the Storm. What did you think of him?
Sean McCall: Nic certainly has power. He was primarily used in right field and in the clean-up role for us. He's a good player who had a tremendous start to his professional career, hitting .382 at Fort Wayne. I really look forward to seeing him play next year, especially when you factor in how much he is going to benefit from a full off-season as a professional.
Tim Brown is someone that the Padres signed out of the Independent Leagues after the Pirates organization had given up on him and really put together a good season. Why do you think he played so well here?
Sean McCall: Most of these guys that I've seen, when given a chance, will help their cause. So many guys just don't get a chance based on politics, where they are drafted and so many other factors. Tim has good size and I would have considered him right along with Chase as our MVP candidate. Brown led us in multiple categories, walks, hits, and doubles. He had a small stretch where he wasn't as consistent, but then he really turned it on. Tim has a good glove, especially being able to pick and dig out throws at first.
A big favorite of mine has always been Sean Kazmar, who had a real up and down season. What do you think the reasons for his success and his problems were?
Sean McCall: The game is going to make you struggle in the sense of numbers and duration. Sean is still pretty young and still growing into his body. He will make the spectacular play and in the last month of the season he was one of our better offensive players. I was here when Barfield was here, and obviously he is not where Barfield was offensively, but he is a very good defensive player who is really coming along offensively. Where does he fit in down the road, I don't know, but it's a nice problem for the Padres to have.
This year the Storm had two of the top catchers in the system, Colt Morton and Nick Hundley. While Hundley had a much better batting average, .278 to .227, Morton actually posted a slightly better OPS numbers [.772 to .760]. Which one did you think was the better player and why?
Sean McCall: When Colt began the year here; I thought he was ahead of Kottaras. He has big pop and is good defensively. He's a tall catcher, but that doesn't detract from his defensive ability and he is really beginning to call a good game, something that doesn't pop up on a scorecard. He had a really big first month here, but then had hamstring and groin problems that affected his legs and timing. I really liked Colt, and I know the fans and his teammates did too. He has a great attitude and was one of the reasons that the team had its success. It was able to come together as a cohesive unit, and he was a big part of that.
Nick Hundley joined us and was productive right away. He seemed to get a little tired at the end of the season, but then again it's his first full season of professional ball and the length of the season is just brutal on a catcher. He had a good year, he is a young player that can really swing the bat.
Which was the better catcher? Hey, I'm just the announcer, not a scout [laughs].
Sean McCall: First thing you notice about Yordany is his defensive ability, range and commitment to go for the ball. He's fearless and wasn't afraid of the wall or to dive, and when he dives he usually comes up with the ball. He made a few amazing plays, and at least three that were truly superlative. He will take outs away with his arm, just a really good player. On the offensive side I wished he bunted more and used his speed. I think he needs to capitalize a little more on what he does well and get a little healthier; you're going to have to play more than 75 games to get noticed. So much of this game is just about being able to be on the field consistently and avoid injuries.
How about Josh Howard?
Sean McCall: I like what he did with us this year. He came from a small college program and can create a little havoc on the bases. He bunts very well and is a little scrappy, a guy who hustles and makes things happen. He got a chance when other people were injured and made the most of it.
Sean McCall: I really enjoyed watching Mike Ekstrom pitch this year. As a fan just watching how he dissects a game, formulates a plan and then executes the plan is fun. He's very accurate inside the strike zone and as you can guess a pretty cerebral pitcher. I've watched him compete when he had great stuff, but more importantly when he didn't. He can give you innings and keep you in the ball game. He has a fastball, change and slider, works both sides of the plate and up and down, and as I said he will compete.
Cesar Ramos is someone that I enjoyed watching make adjustments to a hitters league. He knows how to go about his business as a professional, and by that I mean he puts in the necessary work on the side and mentally prepares for each start. He is going to do his part to keep you in the game, but he still is refining his skills as a young pitcher, only 22 years old.
He will help himself by pitching a smart game, though he does need to work on holding runners and an improved move to first. He has the raw ability and the confidence to move up if he stays healthy. He was a mid-season all-star.
What I like about both pitchers is not only do they compete on the field, but also how they compete off of the field.
A pitcher that I liked a lot from last year is Brent Carter. Carter really seemed to be coming on strong before he went down. What did you think of him?
Sean McCall: He's a different type of pitcher. Brent put together several impressive starts before he went down with his Achilles injury. One of his best starts was his last when he was going into the ninth inning without allowing a run and he got hurt on June 30 trying to cover third base.
He struggled at first, but improved every month. The biggest reason for his success was he was able to come up with a third pitch to go along with his fastball/changeup combination, which was a cut fastball. It was a very effective pitch for him. He doesn't throw particularly hard, but he knows what he is doing on the mound and mixes speeds and sight lines very well.
It's a shame his season ended so prematurely, but I saw him as the season ended and he was in good sprits and looking forward to getting back on the mound in 2007.
A nice independent league pick-up was Manny Ayala. What type of future do you see for him?
Sean McCall: Manny is a big right-hander, only 21, with some potential. I thought he had a challenge getting acclimated to a new organization. For awhile he was the band-aid at a lot of places; he was in Fort Wayne and Portland this year too. Once he got settled and was put in the rotation he did very well for us. He could chew up innings and he could throw strikes, which is especially important in this league.
He's got a good change; he threw it more often as a relief pitcher than as a starter, and a fastball that comes in around the low 90's to go along with a developing breaking pitch.
Neil Jamison led the Padres organization in saves with 34 and represents a non-changeup dominant closer, which is a welcome change for the Padres. What did you think of him?
Sean McCall: Neil had some great moments, but also overcame some tough times. If you take away the High Desert Mavericks, he had even a better year. He really grew as a pitcher and his confidence in himself didn't waver. Neil has that special bulldog type sprit that you look for in a closer. This year he showed an ability to stay healthy, get people out and bounce back from a couple tough outings. He did put up some statistics, he led the country in appearances, he led the organization in saves and it was a very productive year for him.
Josh Geer had a big year in Fort Wayne, was called up to Lake Elsinore and struggled a little before really coming on at the end of the year. What did you think of him?
Sean McCall: Geer has some guile and a very good change and enough of a fastball to make it effective. He's another guy whom I believe is going to get stronger as he gets older. He led the organization in wins and stretched his scoreless innings streak to 32. Josh fields his position well, has a pretty good move to first and works very quickly which helps keep his infielders involved.
Final question, which was the best hitter, pitcher and prospect in Lake Elsinore this year?
Sean McCall: Our team MVPs were Chase Headley, Tim Brown and Sean Kazmar. Mike Ekstrom and Jonathan Ellis were tremendous in the first half, and Cesar Ramos and Neil Jamsion were steady all season long. For pitcher of the year I would go with Neil Jamison for his success and contribution over 60 plus games. For the player of the year I would split it between Chase Headley and Tim Brown, slightly over Sean Kazmar who was really producing for us down the stretch with home runs and RBIs.
For the top prospects, I would select Headley as a position player and Ekstrom as a pitcher. If I had to choose only one, I would give the nod to Ekstrom.