Believe us. it will all get sorted out once everyone gets to the Pacific Coast League and experiences parks like Colorado Springs, but we digress.
While the Missions didn’t quite have the season they did last year when they captured the Texas League championship in their first year as a Padres’ affiliate, there was still much to be excited about this year. The continuing development of Kyle Blanks the resurgence of center fielder Drew Macias back on the prospect list along with some solid pitching, especially out of the bullpen.
Roy Acuff and Stu Paul share the broadcasting duties and the roadtrips for the Missions, as they have done for the past seven years. We caught up again with Stu Paul for the second year in a row to get his impressions of this year’s Missions team. Stu has been broadcasting both baseball and basketball for over 20 years and with the Missions since 2001.
What was the biggest surprise with the Missions this year?
Stu Paul: Quite a few, but I think Mike Ekstrom being called up was the biggest story. I really thought he adjusted well; he threw more sliders and fastballs coming out of the pen. He earned the trust of the pitching staff and just kept working. Also, Sean Kazmar making the jump to San Diego after struggling the first few months of the season. He stopped trying to pull everything, his defense picked up, and he became one of our hottest hitters.
The biggest position prospect everyone talks about that was in San Antonio this year was Kyle Blanks. How did he develop during the year and what do you see in his future?
Stu Paul: He needs to learn to hit the breaking ball a little better. He hit the long ball very well and did a better job at first base defensively from what I have been told. I would like to see him to hit to all fields a little more, but he is a talent.
Chad Huffman was a bit of a mystery this year, he hit very well on the road but struggled at home. What did you see as his main problem?
Stu Paul: I think he worried too much about playing in the park. From late May on, he didn’t really put it together. I think he got too caught up in worrying about the wind blowing in from left field.
A really pleasant surprise, and a perennial Madfriars.com favorite, was how well Drew Macias played this year, especially improving his plate discipline. We all know about his fielding, although I would like to hear what you thought about it, but how much did he improve this year at the plate.
Stu Paul: Drew is a very intelligent hitter, selective, and he hit with much more authority than last year. He is capable of pulling the ball, but also made adjustments to hit to all fields. He is very aggressive with pitches inside and you could really see that he could hit the inside pitch. I think that was a big part of his improvement of getting the pitchers to come into him and making them pay when they did.
You really can’t say enough about his defense. He’s a tremendous center fielder; truly a big league center fielder. He covers quite a bit of ground and is fearless; he will go after any ball. Also, it’s not just his athletic ability out there; he does his homework and knows how to react. His arm has improved, and he can throw them out at home and on the base paths.
Mike Baxter is getting quite a bit of attention by how well he is playing the Arizona Fall League, what are your thoughts on him?
Stu Paul: He is a pure hitter, doesn’t strike out much. Mike is more of a line drive type hitter, but will get his share of home runs. He has good arm for the outfield and can play all three positions out there along with first. I don’t know how he will do at catcher, but I did like what I saw this year.
Let’s talk about some pitchers, the first that comes to mind is Will Inman, led the Texas League in strikeouts and also walks. So who is the real guy?
Stu Paul: He didn’t pitch as well as he did in the first couple of outings. His command got away from him. Will has good stuff, great curve and change, but he needs to mature more, he’s only 21. The key for him is to realize that certain umps have different strike zones and learn not to get rattled and frustrated. Aside from the mental stuff, his mechanics could use some tightening up.
When Kevin Towers visited San Antonio the pitcher that impressed him the most was Steve Garrison. What do you think Towers saw that impressed him so much?
Stu Paul: He’s a Larry Gura (former Cubs, Yankees and Royals pitcher that went 126-97 in his big league career) type of guy, he’s not going to throw hard, but he knows exactly where it is going. He has a good curve and change, pitches very well against lefties and great control. If he can add a mile or two to his fastball that would be great, but with him the key is always going to be location.
I thought Matt Buschmann was in many ways your best pitcher this year. What type of season do you think he had?
Stu Paul: He has very good command of two fastballs, the four- and two-seamers, which you usually don’t see. The key with him, as with Garrison, is to try to not catch too much of the plate. His pitches do move and he can eat some innings.
Greg Burke was one of the better closers in the system and for stretches was just unhittable. Can you give San Diego fans an idea of what type of pitcher he is?
Stu Paul: He’s mainly a fastball/slider guy. Just like everyone else on the team this year, he’s a very reserved, laid back guy, which you wouldn’t think since he is from the Philly area (laughs). I like his fastball a little more than his slider, and I think he needs to throw it a little more. Right now, he has confidence in his slider; the key is not to overdo it.
Last, but certainly not least, we have to talk about the Madfriars.com Pitcher of the Year Mike DeMark who was dominant out of the bullpen. What made him so effective?
Stu Paul: He throws hard, very hard. He consistently brings it in the low-90s with control. He was an infielder in college, a great guy. Mike is a Pittsburgh native and goes right after hitters every time. He has a curve and a change, but most of the time it was pure heat. Just a bulldog, I really can’t say enough good things about him.
Last questions who was the batter of the year and the top pitcher?
Stu Paul: If I had to go with one it would be Drew Macias. We didn’t have the greatest hitting team this year, but I was impressed with his overall game. He gave the Missions so much this year; experience, leadership, offense and his defense was second to none. For pitching, it would probably be Steve Garrison. He had some stretches where he had some tough starts, but down the stretch he was just tough with his change, curve and understanding of when to throw each.
Who was the top hitter and top pitching prospect?
Stu Paul: I still like Will Inman. He’s very young, as with Garrison, but when he becomes more consistent with all of his pitches, he could be very good. The key with him, as with many of these guys is to be able to do it every day. For hitters, Kyle Blanks has capabilities of putting up big numbers and is also very young. Once he learns to hit breaking stuff, he’ll be better and could do some serious damage.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards