This year, the team lost to the eventual champion Midland Rockhounds in the first round of the Texas League playoffs, but San Antonio still saw some quality players pass through, including Mat Latos, who may be the best Padres’ pitching prospects since Jake Peavy.
We caught up with Stu Paul, who along with Roy Acuff, broadcasts all the Missions games this year.
How did this team compare to other Padres’ farm teams that you have seen in the past few years?
Stu Paul: It’s really hard to compare anyone to the 2007 team that won the Texas League championship, especially the way that team played in the second half. This team was a younger team that needed to become more consistent day in and day out, especially in doing the little things that makes winning baseball; moving the runners over, hitting the cutoff man and other things that don’t always show up in the numbers. I think injuries and the way the big club was playing at the beginning of the year caused the organization to move some players up quicker than they should, and when you have that many young players, sometimes it’s going to take a little longer.
Lance Zawadzki, who was brought up in mid-year from Lake Elsinore, has been getting quite a bit of attention. What was your opinion of him both offensively and defensively?
Stu Paul: Defensively, he is a whiz, has excellent ability to go to both his left and right. He really worked hard on his fielding, you could see that every day before the game how serious he took it. He has some pop but is more of a spray or gap hitter. I’m not sure how high an average he is going to hit for, but he will get his walks and some extra-base hits. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he is a very good base runner and can steal a base. Defensively, he does stand out in his ability to go into the hole and he has a very big arm.
Eric Sogard was one of the leaders on the team for extra-base hits, despite not being the biggest guy in the world. What did you think of him as a hitter and how was his defense this year?
Stu Paul: He doesn’t have too much range, but he can handle the balls that he gets too. What impresses me about him is that he can really hit. He knows the strike zone as well as anyone that I have ever seen and really understands what he is doing every time he is at the plate. He doesn’t try to kill the ball but hits it where it is pitched and was one of the team’s leaders in extra-base hits. He can steal a bag and is just a very intelligent player. He’s a very even keeled guy, very steady, and I think if he is given a chance in the big leagues, he will hit around .290 to .300 with some walks and power.
Luis Durango excites a lot of people with his speed and ability to get on base. What is the biggest part of his game that he needs to improve to get to the next level?
Stu Paul: He needs to become a better base runner. With his speed, he doesn’t get the type of jumps that he should mainly because he is too predictable and gets picked off of first too much. On the positive side, he is a great bunter, knows the strike zone, and has a decent arm for center; but he needs to get a little better reads on balls defensively. I think he might end up as kind of a younger Manny Mota type player in the big leagues, a late inning replacement, pinch runner or a fourth outfielder type; although it’s hard to say. If he gets a little bigger and improves on some of the things that I mentioned, he could become an everyday player.
Logan Forsythe was a much better hitter on the road than he was at home. Did the ballpark really affect him that much?
Stu Paul: I don’t know, it’s very hard to get inside a player’s head. The wind might have had something to do with it, and we also have to remember it was his first year in professional baseball. He made some errors in tough moments for us and needs to cut down on that. I think it’s just a question of him becoming more experienced and relaxed, he may have tried to press a little too much this year.
All of us were very high on Cedric Hunter coming into the year, and he really didn’t perform that well this year. What happened?
Stu Paul: To me, I think it was the timing on his swing; he seemed to mishit quite a few balls because he was trying to swing too hard. He’s tall and not skinny, but he really isn’t that big a guy. He’s only 21, which is very young for this league and really needs to learn how to hit more line drives into the gaps and keep the ball out of the air. Also, I think he needs to become more patient and learn what his pitch is. This year, he really had problems with the outside pitch, and even when he pulled the ball, it wasn’t with too much authority.
The pitching was very much up and down this year. Which pitcher stood out to you the most this year and why?
Stu Paul: Our relief pitching stood out for me more than what the starters did. On the starting pitching front, Mat Latos was obviously the first pitcher that comes to mind. He has a big fastball that comes in around 97 or 98, which is very impressive. Sometimes, he became a little too predictable and gave up some home runs and that also happened in the majors, but his secondary stuff is developing. Cesar Carrillo really improved as the season went on for us with his fastball and slider. Remember, he was coming back from a pretty severe arm surgery the year before. Ernesto Frieri was probably our best pitcher for the whole season and got the call to the big leagues. He has a fastball that is around 92 to 93 and he really competes.
Evan Scribner was very effective in the first half and struggled quite a bit in the second. What happened?
Stu Paul: He had some issues closing games, especially in the second half. It’s tough to say, it could have just been that he was given a little too much work, which resulted in him getting his pitches up. You throw too many fat pitches over the plate, you are going to get hit.
Brandon Gomes had a very effective year in relief. What impressed you the most about him?
Stu Paul: Just an innings eater. He can bring it up around 93 and he truly has a wicked slider. When both of them are working, the sky is the limit. I think he was our best relief pitcher down the stretch.
Craig Cooper put up some numbers, but there are some questions if he hits for enough power for first base or the corner positions. What do you think?
Stu Paul: He was our most consistent hitter, but he should have a little more power for a guy his size. He’s a very good hitter, good idea of the strike zone, but you tend to want to see a little more power from the positions that he plays.
Sawyer Carroll rose from the Midwest League all the way to San Antonio, and hit all the way up. What were your impressions of him?
Stu Paul: He was a good player for us, and he has a nice arm in right too. I think he needs to work on his swing a little; at times, it gets to have a bit of a loop in it.
Who was your top player and pitcher this year and who is the top prospect?
Stu Paul: I think I would have to go Cooper for the player and Frieri for the pitchers. For the top prospect it’s impossible to not go with Latos, but I am also a really big fan of Eric Sogard. I just really enjoy watching the way he went about playing the game on an everyday basis.
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