The TinCaps led the minor leagues with 101 victories, winning the first and second half titles. They outpaced their nearest rival by 13 games and set 16 franchise records. Along the way, they featured some of the best players in the Padres’ system: Mat Latos, Jaff Decker, Simon Castro and James Darnell; but the real star may have been their new stadium.
This year Dan Watson and Mike Maahs called all the games for their record-breaking season, and we were able to catch up with Mike, a long time MadFriars.com favorite, for his impressions on their memorable season.
Obviously this was the best Fort Wayne team in the franchise’s history, but how did it compare to other Midwest League teams that you have seen in your career?
Mike Maahs: The West Michigan team of ’97 with Robert Fick that won over 90 games was pretty good, that is what made it so special when we took them out in the first round that year. Possibly the 2005 South Bend team, but this may have been the best team that I have seen in 17 years in the league. The TinCaps really had no weaknesses. They were the best defensive team that I have seen in a long time, and it was the first time I feel that San Diego really gave us the players that were capable of playing the game with speed, power, and athletic ability.
There has been little doubt about the numbers that Jaff Decker put up this year but quite a bit of doubts about his athleticism, specifically his ability as a defensive player. As someone who saw him everyday, what is your opinion about his ability to become a major league player?
Mike Maahs: I think his potential is unlimited. Remember, he’s only 19 and one year removed from high school so what he did was pretty good. When you think about it, what he did was pretty amazing considering that a concussion kept him out for the first few weeks of the year, and then he hit a home run in his first at-bat. He’s a likable kid that really wants to improve, and his defense picked up as the season went on. It helped that the team limited him to left field, although he does have a very good arm. I thought the staff worked with him really well this year in all parts of his game.
I was really impressed with Drew Cumberland. What is the biggest difference you see between Drew this year and last?
Mike Maahs: To me, maturity was the biggest thing; he just had a much better understanding of what he needed to do. He really wants to play, and it killed him missing the time that he did this year. I thought he played better defense, had a much stronger and accurate arm, and, of course, he can really run.
Former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson was raving about your second baseman, Cole Figueroa, particularly about his range and feel for the game. What part of his game impressed you the most?
Mike Maahs: For me it’s his range. In one game, he made a pair of identical outstanding plays, going around 35 feet to his left on the short outfield grass and still was able to make a strong enough throw to get the runner at first with two outs and saved a few runs. He can play short as well as second and he can really hit. Getting him after a month in Lake Elsinore was huge. He really solidified the infield.
Blake Tekotte led all MWL outfielders in total chances. How good was he this year defensively?
Mike Maahs: He really had a great year when you talk about the jumps that he was getting on balls. He had the longest consecutive hitting streak on the team at 18 this year and showed some power. This year, a big part of the team’s strength was how strong we were defensively up the middle with Blake, Cumby, Figueroa and both of our catchers Lara and Zornes.
Allan Dykstra struggled throughout most of the year, except with is OBP. His last month he really came on and put up some numbers. What were the reasons behind the turnaround?
Mike Maahs: I really think he was too hard on himself at the beginning of the year. Maybe a combination of his draft status and recovering from some off-season surgery hurt him. To me, I think the beginning of his turnaround was playing first base everyday as opposed to splitting time with Matt Clark between 1B/DH. He got better defensively and the last six weeks of the year, he was one of the toughest outs on the team.
Simon Castro was arguably the best pitcher in the MWL. What were his biggest strength and his biggest weakness?
Mike Maahs: I think his confidence was his biggest strength. He had a few outings where he had mental lapses in games where he pitched well, but then would have one bad inning. When Anthony Bass went up, he became our number one pitcher and really accepted the responsibility that comes with that position. He used his fastball and changeup very well and really started to produces. His change was good this year, but I think as he continues to improve with it along with tightening up his command a little, he could really be very good.
Before being promoted, Anthony Bass was having a very good year. What made him so effective this year?
Mike Maahs: He has a very good mix of pitches, but not really one knockout pitch. His fastball tops out at around 90-92 MPH, but is a very competitive guy on the mound. He can throw all three for strikes, fastball, change and breaking ball. He put up some good numbers at Division II Wayne State and really kept it going here.
Brad Brach led the league and organization in saves. He doesn’t seem to have a big out pitch, what makes him so effective?
Mike Maahs: He pitches very quickly, and I think that kind of makes hitters a little uncomfortable. He was a starter in college and made the transition. He’s 6-foot-6, 240-pounds and keeps everything down. He doesn’t have the biggest fastball, but he keeps it down and mixes in a good change and splitter. What really stands out is his ability to get that first pitch strike. It would be my guess that he must have thrown first pitch strikes to 90-percent of the batters that he faced.
Money question. Name who you think was your top player and pitcher this year and the top prospect?
Mike Maahs: For me, the top pitcher was Brad Brach. He had the responsibility for sealing the deal and he did it. At the beginning of the year he retired 31 of the first 33 batters that he faced. For the top player, I would have to split it between James Darnell for the first half and Jaff Decker for the second. For the top prospect, I would go with Simon Castro. He needs to get his fastball a little tighter and improve on his change and slider, but once he does that he could become really special.
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