The Pacific Coast League is not solely about prospects and development, as the other lower leagues, but it’s also about having big league ready replacements. Its not unusual to see players such as 36-year-old infielder Frank Menechino, a long-time veteran of both minor and major league baseball, for that reason. Players at this level are usually divided into three groups, prospects, former major leaguers looking for the right fit and the majority which are guys fighting the dreaded “4A” label and hoping for either another opportunity at the major leagues or any other slim hope to realize their dreams.
Two bad drafts in 2003 and 2004 caught up with the Padres, as San Diego fielded its worst team in Portland in quite some time. The Beavers finished last in their division, second worst in the entire sixteen team Pacific Coast League and were dead last in team hitting. The 2007 Beavers had few, if any, prospects.
Rich Burk has been broadcasting the Beavers games since 1995 and is widely regarded as one of the better announcers in the game on either the minor or major league side. He also does the occasional telecast with the local Fox affiliate, frequently pairing up with ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer as his color man. Burk also maintains a popular website where you can catch up on past interviews with both Beavers players and other luminaries that appear in PGE Park.
Finally, speaking from experience as a satisfied customer, his baseball scorebooks are a great gift for yourself or any other serious baseball fan. We caught up with Burk in the off-season to discuss the past season in Portland.
Obviously it was a disappointing season for the Beavers, but was some of the highlights of the year?
Rich Burk: Getting to see Jack Cassel pitch in the big leagues and watching Yordany Ramirez play centerfield. In spite of the won-loss record, we weren’t blow out of many games and most of them were still fun. In Portland, we have kind of been spoiled because we never really had a bad team, I think the worse team we had here in six seasons was 68-76. We’ve been pretty spoiled to have teams that have always been competitive.
Not a lot of people in San Diego know about first baseman Bryan Myrow how would you describe him as a player?
Rich Burk: He’s a very good hitter and was the PCL batting champion. He’s an older guy at 31, and I can see some future for him. If he got a shot in the big leagues on an extended basis, I could see him sticking as backup first baseman/pinch hitter. I don’t know if there is an opportunity for him in the big leagues as an everyday player, but he’s a great story. He came out of the Independent Leagues and didn’t play for the first few weeks of the season then he just took off.
One of the biggest bright spots for the Beavers this year was Vince Sinisi who seems to have recovered from his hip surgery - what type of player is he?
Rich Burk: He’s a hard-nosed ball player – a great player to have on the team. He surprised a lot of people with how well he put the bat on the ball. Fuson loves him, and while he doesn’t look like much physically, when he gets on the field he plays. He wants to play every day whether or not he’s even close to 100 percent. He didn’t like it when he had to go on the DL in early July but he finally went there. I could see him as fourth outfielder off of the bench, but he could surprise you and end up in a starting role. He’s a versatile player, can play four positions; first, left, right and a little bit of center.
Craig Stansberry has a giant April .366 but really tailed off after the all-star break - .219. What were the reasons behind his slump or are we looking at another Justin Leone from last year?
Rich Burk: Stansberry may have gotten worn down during the season, but I don’t know why he slumped. At the beginning of the year, he hit quite above his career average and that he kept it up as long as he did was surprising. We kept waiting for him to tail off and he finally did after the all-star break.
A player that got a lot of attention from us that recently signed with the Houston Astros is Yordany Ramirez. Although he hit .315, he had a grand total of six walks in 133 plate appearances. Is he really that good a hitter, or did a lot of balls just seem to find their way in?
Rich Burk: He wasn’t here all that long, but he was a better hitter than it showed. He really grinded out the at-bats although he didn’t draw many walks. He’s a phenomenal all-around player what may have happened when he got to Triple-A is that the pitchers were more around the plate as compared to the lower levels, they didn’t miss that much.
I got a sense that he was never given an opportunity to be the “guy”. [Rick] Renteria [the Beavers manager] said he was his man in centerfield no matter what he hit, and I think that got him to relax. Rick told me that this is the best centerfielder that he had ever seen and within about five days I was in complete agreement. We had a televised game on Fox, and he just made two ridiculous catches, some of the best that I have ever seen. He gets great jumps on balls, it seems before the ball is even hit. He makes routine plays on balls that other outfielders would make look hard.
Why do you think the team chose not to protect him?
Rich Burk: I like Drew Macias, and I think he could have a big league career, but I would be shocked if he had a better career than Yordany. I think he just didn’t fit the Padres’ mold, you know Yordany didn’t walk much. At worst, he’s a fourth outfielder, and if he’s a starting centerfielder he will save a run a game. I understand what the Padres are doing with OBP but his defense will save at least a run a game.
I do think they sometimes forgo defensive tools for what someone can do on offense
Why do you think his offensive numbers weren’t an aberration?
Rich Burk: That is why I think at worst he will be a fourth outfielder because we really don’t know how he will hit because he didn’t have enough at-bats up here. If he does hit, he will be a star in centerfield. I certainly thought it was worth a look.
Pete Laforest put up some numbers, but seemed to have the Jack Cust approach - homer, walk or strikeout. Were you kind of surprised when the Padres failed to protect him and let him go to the Phillies?
Rich Burk: At one point this year he had 14 singles, one double and 21 home runs. He set a PCL record for grand slams with five. The first one he hit in Round Rock with two outs and the game tied at 7-7. A few days later he did in Las Vegas with two outs and two strikes. He’s kind of an all or nothing guy. Defensively, he played better than his reputation and is passable defensively. Whether or not he could transfer that to the big leagues I’m not sure. I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t protected or that the Phillies wanted him.
We talked about Jack Cust a little last year - was part of you surprised that the Padres never gave him a chance in left field?
Rich Burk: He proves the point that the A’s have little regard for defense. It’s not a knock on Jack, but I think he would be the first one to tell you that he’s not a right fielder where the A’s had him for a few games this season. It didn’t surprise me that the Padres didn’t have a place for him. There is no room for him at PETCO, no DH and Jack isn’t a first baseman.
What surprises me is that the A’s let him go in the first place. About five days before Jack got traded, we had a long talk for about half an hour in an airport. He was upset that his agent wasn’t making calls for him and that he never really got an extended shot in the majors. I remember saying on the air at the time that if he got a chance to play he could produce. Sure enough, when Piazza got hurt, Cust was only supposed to be there for a few weeks and he ends up sticking. I was really happy for him and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
Tim Stauffer pitched very well post-all star game – 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA but was shelled in two starts in San Diego. Is their any reason he was that bad in San Diego and that good in Portland?
Rich Burk: I don’t know. Our pitching coach Gary Lance has been pretty good with predictions on what pitchers like Cassel, Hensley and Thompson would do when they went up, but he was 180 degrees wrong with Tim. Gary thought Tim’s velocity was finally coming up, he was turning it loose and not worrying about his shoulder. He was setting around 90-92 MPH and was touching 94 compared to 85 to 86 last year. I don’t know, he’s still young, but he might need a new start somewhere else. He’s a great guy.
What was the big reason for Jared Well’s transformation from a guy that was on the verge of being released as a starter to a very good relief pitcher?
Rich Burk: In the bullpen, he didn’t have to think a whole lot and worry about how he pitched a guy the last time up. Out of the pen, it was all fastballs and hard sliders but he would also throw in a pretty good change. When he threw the change, guys were shocked – you don’t see that many guys who have the hard stuff to go along with the change of speeds. When he turned it lose it was around 93 to 94.
Another pitcher who came up and helped out the Padres is Jack Cassel. Although Cassel helped the Padres, how much of an upside could he have in the majors - he gave up quite a few hits 203 in 156 innings?
Rich Burk: Sometimes he catches a little too much of the plate. Also, he didn’t have a good defensive team that didn’t get to a lot of balls playing on artificial turf with an infield with no range cost him. Balls found holes but Cassel is not completely without blame.. He was also 4th in the PCL in earned runs.
Can he do it the bigs?
I don’t know. On days where he has good command and lets it go, he can do it, but if he aims it, he will struggle. He’s like a lot of guys in that you just don’t know how they will react. He really needs to be in the right situation.
Why did Clay Hensley struggle so much this year in Portland?
Rich Burk: He was hurt. I think it was his shoulder and a lot of it was that. He wasn’t the same guy that we have seen in the past.
Who were your Player and Pitcher of the Year?
Rich Burk: For players it would have to be Brian Myrow and for pitching it was Jack Cassel.
Top Prospect for Player and Pitcher of the Year?
Rich Burk: Yordany Ramirez without a doubt. For pitchers it would probably still be Carrillo, but that is based more on reputation than performance. Nobody else jumped out at me but Jared Wells could be a factor as a reliever.