There are many worse places to be than Portland, Oregon in the summer time, a beautiful cosmopolitan city on the banks of the Willamette River, but it’s still not the major leagues. As is the tendency throughout the system for full season leagues of one level being for pitchers, Fort Wayne and the next for hitters, Lake Elsinore, Portland follows the path after San Antonio with the PCL being very much a hitter’s league.
While PGE Park tends to slightly favor hitters, other parks on the road, most notably in Colorado Springs, Tucson, and Albuquerque, sway very much to the batter. What appears to be a pop-up to the second baseman in these parks could go over the wall at any time.
This year, the Beavers announcing duties were once again handled by Rich Burke, one of the better announcers in baseball at any level. Rich was joined this year by Tim Haggerty, who had previously done the play-by-play duties for the Mobile BayBears, the Padres’ former affiliate in Double-A.
We caught up with Tim to get his insights on his first year in the Rose City.
What was the biggest surprise with the Beavers this year?
Tim Hagerty: I think it was a pleasant surprise when the Beavers were in a pennant race reasonably late in the season because in April it didn’t look feasible. The Salt Lake Bees started 21-1 and had a double-digit lead in the standings a month into the year. But by late July the Beavers were within five games. I think that was a strength you can attribute to Randy Ready, reminding everyone how long a baseball season is, and that a team can whittle away at an opponent’s lead in the standings, no matter how drastic the deficit is.
Two players that got quite a bit of attention this year in San Diego were Chase Headley and Nick Hundley. What impressed you the most about them when they were in Portland?
Tim Hagerty: I was impressed with Nick’s approach. In recording pre-game or post-game interviews with him, he seemed to genuinely have the same attitude whether he was struggling or hitting well. I think that trait is especially valuable for a catcher because it shows the capacity to not let his at bats harm other areas of his game or his attitude.
I think as Headley grows into a strong major leaguer, it will be fun to reflect back and realize we saw his earliest games as an outfielder when he was here in Portland. It was evident that learning to read balls in the outfield was a priority, even during the depths of his early season offensive slump.
I’ve been very impressed with how much Will Venable has improved since the Padres drafted him. How did he look in center field this year and do you expect to see more power from him in the future?
Tim Hagerty: Yes, Will hit a home run at PGE Park this year that will expand into Beavers lore. It was on July 5th, and the home run reached a balcony of the athletic club beyond the right field wall. One fan told me after the game he has been coming to baseball games in Portland since the 1960’s, and the only baseball he saw travel longer was off the bat of Willie Stargell during an exhibition game in Portland. So, the power you mentioned was revealed on that particular game.
Peter Ciofrone was in our discussion for the player of the year for the Beavers. Why do you believe he hit with so much more power this year and how was his defense at third base?
Tim Hagerty: I asked Peter that question in a postgame interview this year, and he said there weren’t any major alterations in his swing or his offseason training, but said the source of the additional power was being more selective. He said in previous seasons, he swung at pitches that weren’t as ideal to hit hard. This season, he took those pitches, even if they were called strikes, and was able to force the pitches he wanted.
I agree with you on Peter’s consideration for the Beavers player of the year. He has grown strongly since I saw him play in Double-A in 2006, and I believe he would be a valuable left-handed bat off the Padres bench.
Matt Antonelli came into the year as the heir apparent for the Padres at second base. Many even thought that he could be in San Diego by midseason. Instead, with the exception of August, he had a very tough year. Why do you think he struggled and what enabled him to turn it around in August?
Tim Hagerty: One – consistency. I heard from Randy Ready and from Matt’s teammates compliments regarding the way he handled his struggles. Everybody in the ballpark was surprised to see Matt’s batting average at mid-season, compared to what they envisioned and predicted, but Matt did not shy away from that and worked hard. If you look at the minor league statistics of many qualified major leaguers, there are sometimes some gaps in success when they were in the minors. I don’t think the 2008 season eliminates the idea of Matt being an everyday major league player in the future.
Brett Dowdy had a nice year, but is not well known to most fans in San Diego. What should Padres fans know about him?
Tim Hagerty: I agree, and I think he belongs in the discussion as someone who can help the Padres. I think his capability to play all over the infield, combined with his tempo around the bases, makes him a player with a lot of worth in the Padres organization.
Bryan Myrow had another good year in Portland but doesn’t appear to be in the picture for San Diego next year. Why he is such a good hitter and what do you see in his future?
Tim Hagerty: One opposing pitcher told me Myrow was one of the toughest outs in the entire Pacific Coast League. He is so careful with pitch selection, and it seems Myrow can disrupt a pitcher’s rhythm with his discernment. Myrow led the PCL in on-base percentage, and by a margin of about 20 points above the second place finisher.
Last questions who was the batter of the year and the top pitcher?
Tim Hagerty: For the player of the year, I would go with Chip Ambres. For pitcher, it would be Josh Geer.
Who was the top hitter and top pitching prospect?
Tim Hagerty: On that one I would say Will Venable, and for pitching I like Wade LeBlanc.
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