As we have done in years’ past, we caught up with Sean McCall the venerable play-by-play man who has just finished his fourteenth year with the team.
What stood out for you the most with this years’ team?
Sean McCall: To me, it was a year where players were able to move through the system and showcase their skills. That is the key to this business and what the fans saw this year. Logan Forsythe, Cory Luebke, Corey Kluber all performed well and got to advance and then the fresh blood that came up from Fort Wayne, guys like James Darnell, Matt Clark, Sawyer Carroll and Anthony Bass, was a positive. We were able to see stars in both halves and players moving up the ladder.
The first thing that comes to my mind is the great starting staff that you had this year. What pitcher stood out the most for you this year?
Sean McCall: I’ve had the privilege of knowing Cory Luebke for parts of three seasons and in ’08 he was up and down. In ’09, he was so refreshed and focused, so his development in the Cal League and later on in Double-A and internationally was a big treat. If you asked someone a few years ago about him, they may not have believed he would become the pitcher he showed he was capable of this year. Now, it’s about rooting for him at the higher levels, and he certainly has made his mark here.
The pitcher that gets quite a bit of attention is Wynn Pelzer. What did he do well this season and what does he still need to work on?
Sean McCall: In house, we picked Cory Luebke as the pitcher of the year, but I would consider both Cory and Wynn the co-pitchers of the year. Wynn was a season long performer and had over 150 innings. His won-loss record was better in the first but his personal numbers were better in the second half. He was a playoff starter and showed maturity. I think he will improve on keeping runners closer and also fine-tuning his changeup. He has a good fastball and hard slider and is very athletic. He was a position player in the past; he played some outfield, so he has an idea of what the hitter is trying to do up there. Also he is a lot of fun in the clubhouse, very good guy to be around.
Aaron Breit has always had a world of talent, size and velocity but this seemed to be the first year he really seemed to put it together. Where did you see his biggest improvement this year?
Sean McCall: I didn’t have a chance to see him in previous years, but he was effective for us both as a relief pitcher and a starter. I think he really showcased his skills as a starter; good fastball, his curve can be good and he certainly has the size and velocity. I think he could be a real sleeper because of his ability and his willingness to do whatever the team needs, whether it is in the pen or as a starter, in addition to his talent.
Jeremy Hefner tied with Wynn Pelzer in the number of innings pitched and led the team in wins. He struggled at the beginning of the year getting adjusted to not throwing his slider. How did you rank him with the rest of the staff?
Sean McCall: He had the type of year where it reminded you that it is necessary to be both strong mentally and physically to compete at this level. He was coming off of being the Padres’ minor league pitcher of the year so he may have felt some pressure. He had a bit of a rollercoaster year; to begin the year he lost three straight starts then won three, lost three straight and then won six. To me, the biggest thing about Jeremy was he always gave the team a chance to win. I think he had 23 decisions out of 27 starts, so he gave his team a chance.
Offensively, your best player had to be Logan Forsythe before he was promoted. What made
him such a talented player, particularly since it was his first year of professional ball?
Sean McCall: He had a lost year professionally last year because of an injury, so that always tends to make you hungrier. This year, he backed up the hype. He was an All-Star in the first half, and I think if he stayed the whole year he would have put up similar numbers to Chase Headley and David Freese, who both played third base for us in the past. He is an upper echelon player, great plate awareness, good range defensively, and he runs the bases well. He is a low-key person who doesn’t try to be a big vocal presence but leads through example on the field.
James Darnell was called up in midseason and showed some ability with his bat. However many question his ability to stay at third defensively. What do you think?
Sean McCall: Defensively, he has great athletic skills, good size and arm. Of his 30 errors this year, 17 were on the throwing side. So, if the team can work with him on that, I think it will make a noticeable difference. The challenge is to find where he best fits defensively because you want his bat in the lineup.
Offensively, he has great awareness at the plate and some power. I think he showed he deserved a chance to move up in the system, he had a big year.
Until he struggled in August, shortstop Beemer Weems was having a standout season with the bat in addition to his outstanding defense at short. How good a defensive player is Weems?
Sean McCall: Based on his body of work this season, he was named an All-Star at shortstop. He played 108 games and only made 10 errors, so that is always impressive. If you saw some of his pirouette moves going to his left, it is just something to appreciate. He’s solid on the backhand side and likes to throw on the run. I think he found out this year, which was his first full season professionally, what a long season it really is, so he needs to get a little stronger. Offensively, he showed an ability to get on base, at one point during the year he had a 35-game streak where he was on base at least once a game. He’s a switch-hitter and came through in the clutch quite a few times for us.
Brad Chalk had a nice season in center, has some speed and increased his ability to hit the ball into the gap. What does he need to do to continue moving up?
Sean McCall: He is a player that I really enjoyed watching this season. He is a fun person in the clubhouse, and on the field, he just does so many things. He hustles, plays good defense, is a great bunter, finds a way to get on base and is a very good base runner. He stole 33 bases in 41 attempts. I think he led the team in eight or nine offensive categories, which showed that he was playing every day and doing a lot of positive things. Brad has the right attitude throughout the season, always came to play and you could tell how much he enjoys playing the game. If you ask how he projects, I’m not sure if he is an everyday outfielder or a backup, but I do know he will keep playing and will produce if given a chance.
Last question, who was your pitcher and player of the year and the top prospect for the year?
Sean McCall: My player is Brad Chalk for his all around game, for his consistency and numbers that he put up; and my own two bits for his likeability. For pitchers, I have two, Cory Luebke and Wynn Pelzer. Luebke stood out among all Cal League pitchers and was the starting pitcher for the All-Star game. In the second half, he went onto more success in Double-A and in international competition. With his promotion, it opened it up for Wynn, who was here all year long. He was second in the league in strikeouts and he also hit 18 guys, which I don’t know is a great stat for the Padres, but I liked it, and he certainly kept the guys off of the plate (laughs).
For top prospect, I really liked what Logan did over the first half of the year. He has a quiet air of confidence and his versatility just makes him so valuable. He has a nice package of skills and should represent the Padres well in the future.
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