By the end of the year, San Diego had even called up Portland’s manager Randy Ready to become their new hitting coach, so things were fluid in the Rose City this year.
We caught up with the long-time voice of the Beavers’ broadcaster Rich Burk for his review of the 2009 season.
It was a tough year for the Beavers who had the worst record in the PCL. What were some of the good things that happened during the year?
Rich Burk: The biggest story of our season was the resurgence of Tim Stauffer. He was in Double-A as a relief pitcher and on a flyer they brought him up to us as a starter. The first time out, he pitched really well. The fastball was coming in around 92 to 93, which we really didn’t see from him in years’ past. He looked like the type of guy that they drafted in 2003 with the fourth overall pick. He was throwing all of his pitches and commanding his fastball. A couple of weeks later, I was in Randy Ready’s office, and he said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Stauffer was the one the team selected to bring up, and sure enough he went up and pitched pretty well.
The Padres put Chad Huffman on their 40-man roster, who hit 20 home runs this year but was very inconsistent throughout the year. What did you think of him?
Rich Burk: I like Huffman’s game, but the question is where is he going to play in the big leagues? I thought he deserved a look last year, but it didn’t happen. He has a good sense of the moment. He really enjoyed the Triple-A home run derby in front of 10,000 fans and won it. In left, he is an average fielder and I really haven’t seen him play that much at first.
Two players that became mainstays in the Padres daily line-up in the second half were Kyle Blanks and Will Venable. How did they look when they were in Portland, particularly Blanks defensively in the outfield?
Rich Burk: I remember asking them like you guys did, if they were thinking of putting Blanks in the outfield, and they said he was an awfully big body to put in the outfield. So I was a little surprised to see him playing out there, but he handled himself pretty well out there. I can only think of about one time where he made a bad play out there, and with time, I think he could actually become a pretty good outfielder. I was a little surprised when they did call him up, I wasn’t sure he was ready offensively, but he really performed once he went up.
As for Venable, he is a great athlete and a great kid. I think he’s still growing into the type of game that he might eventually develop. I think everyone in San Diego saw a little bit more of him this year than we did, but one thing I did notice was that his arm strength was much better and has now become about standard for a center fielder. In 2008, it seemed like his arm was really hanging from some shoulder problems.
Matt Antonelli had his second bad year in a row with Portland. Why has he struggled so much and do you really think it would be a good idea to bring him back for a third year?
Rich Burk: Nobody really knows. He’s had success his entire life, just not here. I think in 2009, he put too much pressure on himself and just don’t know what happened this year. He’s a great kid, very hard working, and I thought this year he was a little quicker than last year. He never let his offense affect his defense.
Is it a good idea to bring him back? I don’t think it would hinder anyone’s progress to see what he could do for the first few months. Remember, quite a few things change in the first month of the season in Triple-A.
One candidate for an under the radar player is Mike Baxter. He can play all three outfield positions and first base – even some emergency catcher – do you see a future for him?
Rich Burk: He’s a great guy, but there isn’t any one tool that really jumped out to me. I think what he does best is hit for average, but that really isn’t off the charts. If you look at what he did last year between San Antonio and Portland, it was pretty good. I’m not sure if he is a big leaguer, he doesn’t have the speed to be a center fielder or the power for the corners. To make it, he is going to have to really hit for average. Can he do it? I’m not sure, but I really look forward to seeing him again next year to watch him try.
You have seen Wade LeBlanc quite a bit for the past few years and his last stretch in San Diego he pitched pretty well. What do you think the biggest reason behind his improvement was?
Rich Burk: Two things that stand out were that he located his fastball better and seemed to become more coachable. With Wade, sometimes his greatest strength was his greatest weakness. His bulldog attitude on the mound helps him, but it also prevented him from making the adjustments that he needed to make. I think he went though enough failure at the Triple-A level to finally get through that some changes needed to be made. He did throw more two-seam fastballs, but he still primarily threw and commanded his four-seamer better. With Wade, his deception comes from front to back as opposed to movement.
Aaron Poreda has climbed fairly high on many prospect lists this winter, but didn’t exactly perform that well in Portland. What did you think of him when you saw him?
Rich Burk: When I was talking with Abby [Glenn Abbott, the Beavers’ pitching coach], he thought it was his mechanics. He was pretty green when he got here, but with his size and velocity, his ceiling is off the charts. I don’t think he’s quite ready to get big league hitters out yet, but once he reins in his mechanics, he could become pretty good. Also, he is really an entertaining guy. On one of the road trips he wore an all purple suit, purple shirt, tie and socks and actually pulled it off unlike anyone else [laughs].
Mike Ekstrom had some nice numbers out of the pen. Why do you think he was so effective this year?
Rich Burk: He really commands his fastball and slider, especially his slider that has a nasty break. He located everything very well.
Who was the top player and pitcher this year for Portland and who was the top prospect that you saw?
Rich Burk: We had so many guys that were with the team for a short amount of time, we really didn’t have that many players that were with us for the full year. For a player, I would have to give it to Huffman and for pitchers I would pick Ekstrom, who was really even better in relief than his numbers indicated. If you throw out the one time the team asked him to start, where he gave up five runs in two innings, he only allowed seven earned runs in 60 innings.
For the top prospect, it is really hard to pick anyone other than Kyle Blanks.
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