Mike, along with longtime Missions’ broadcaster Roy Acuff, who just retired at the end of this season, presided over a disappointing season for San Antonio after their championship run last year but still their were some bright spots.
We caught up with Mike at the end of the year to discuss some of the prospects Padres’ fans may be hearing more of in the future.
Nate Freiman doesn’t show up in many prospect lists mainly because he is always considered too old for every league he plays in.
However Nate also keeps putting up numbers at every stop and this year he had his best year of his career. What did you see this season?
Mike Saeger: Nate overall had one of the best offensive seasons by any Mission hitter in the 19 years that they’ve called Wolff Stadium home. He finished two RBI shy of the most by a Mission during that period and became the first Mission since 1998 to finish with at least 20 home runs, 100 rbi, and 50 extra base hits.
That said, it was also a strange season to some degree because he came out of the gate with 14 home runs through the middle of May, then hit two home runs through the end of June and three homers over his last 31 games, yet still continued to drive in runs pretty consistently despite a drop-off in power thanks largely to a .336 average with runners in scoring position.
|Freiman hit .336 with runners in scoring position..|
There were a couple of scouts who questioned whether he would have the ability to hit the inside fastball, particularly from the waist up. None of the TL pitchers really tried to consistently pitch him there, so that will be an interesting thing to watch next year when he’s at Tucson.
Nate would sometimes get himself in trouble by chasing breaking balls away, perhaps trying to do too much due to an offense that struggled to move runners up and drive guys home for a good part of the year.
Overall, however, it was another huge year for a guy who wasn’t a high draft pick. In fact, he and Jedd Gyorko, who is one the top-rated MiLB prospects, are the only minor league hitters to drive in 100 runs over each of the last two seasons, so that says something.
At 6’8” and 250 lbs. the first thing everyone sees in him is his power but he appears like he is a much more disciplined hitter by his K/BB ratio than given credit for.
Mike Saeger: That’s one thing that separates him from most big power hitters. He walked about once for every two times that he struck out and had a respectable 16.4% strikeout rate, which was the fifth lowest among the 11 qualifiers who slugged .440 or higher. He’s always been a pretty good contact hitter for a guy who can hit the long ball. His line drive rate, while not tops in the league (16%), was matched with Mike Olt and Nolan Arenado, two high-ranking prospects in the league.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of his strikeouts were the result of chasing bad pitches and getting himself in trouble.
Dean Anna got a chance to play everyday and if hadn’t been for a bad August probably would have been among the league leaders in on-base percentage.
What is his best position and what is the biggest part of his game he needs to improve upon going forward?
Mike Saeger: Dean ended up setting career highs in several categories, including homers and RBI. He finished with around 80 more AB’s than he ever had prior to this year and I think that, along with the hot Texas summer and grueling travel schedule, may have led to him wearing down near the end. That late season swoon coincided with a much higher strikeout rate than we’re used to seeing from him.
He was near the top of the leader board in OBP at the entire Double-A level for the first several months of the season.
I think second base is probably his best position, though as you know he can play several positions. I look at him as sort of left-hand hitting version of Andy Parrino without quite as much pop but with a better rate of getting on base and fewer strikeouts.
As for things to work on, if stamina was indeed an issue later in the season, perhaps adding a few more pounds of muscle and making other slight adjustments to help stand up to the rigors of 140 or more games. Also, continued work defensively, though as a utility guy I would think that it would be a little more challenging to master a single position since you’ve got to get in your work at several positions.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck into the majors one day as a utility guy. I think he’s opened some eyes in the organization these past couple of years and has gone from an organizational-type player to one who is somewhat intriguing.
Except for a little over a month spent in Tucson, Cody Decker was one of the big bats for the Missions this year with 25 home runs and 68 RBI.
Despite having a 100 strikeouts in 400 plate appearances he also had a .367 on-base percentage and seemed to be a little more than a free-swinger. How would you describe him as a hitter?
Mike Saeger: To me, Cody was a much more disciplined hitter this year than what I saw in 2011, though he lost much of ’11 with that nasty ankle sprain.
His strikeout rate was considerably lower until about the third week of July when he went into a nearly month-long tailspin that saw him hit a league-low .155 while he fanned 31 times in 24 games. He got hot again after that and raised his average 15 points over the last three weeks.
He and Freiman combined for the most home runs by any pair of Missions teammates in the 19-year era of Wolff Stadium (49) and the most since 1984 by a pair of San Antonio hitters.
Decker can hit a baseball about as far as anyone when he gets hold of a pitch. I believe Matt Clark is the only Padre with more homers since Cody entered the system in 2009. He doesn’t hit home runs that leave you guessing if it’s going to leave the yard or not.
What happened with Jaff Decker this year?
Mike Saeger: Jaff had a foot injury that I guess was bothering him from the start of the season according to what the coaching staff told me. I’m pretty sure it was his left foot if memory serves correctly. That really affected his ability to hit and hit with any power.
I wasn’t aware of the problem for awhile and was scratching my head trying to figure out what was going on with him at the plate because we all expected him to come out and have a big year repeating the Texas League and he didn’t even look close to what we saw last season, which was kind of a hit-and-miss year statistically.
Things finally came to a head when we were in Springfield, MO at the end of May. He hit a slow bouncer toward the pitcher and only got a few steps out of the batters box before collapsing. That was the last we saw of him. I know he didn’t play too many rehab games in Arizona, so I’m assuming that perhaps the injury flared up again. I never heard if he was going to need surgery. If he’s ready to go in April of 2013 I would expect that he’d be with us again for at least part of the year. I don’t think we’ve really seen the real Jaff Decker yet in his time in a Missions uniform.
Jonathan Galvez got off to a late start but still put up some pretty good offensive numbers. What did you think of his defense at second and what were his strengths at the plate.
Mike Saeger: As a hitter I think he’ll always hit. More of a line drive guy who can hit a few home runs. He had a pretty bad slump down the stretch that dropped his average from .330 to .292. It seemed that during that period he became more of a free swinger than we had seen up to that point.
Defensively he’s a work in progress. He has an unusual way of fielding ground balls that I’ve never seen, almost as though he’s carefully gathering an egg from the ground. Sort of a scooping motion with both hands.
|Can Galvez stay at second base? |
I always like to talk to some of the scouts to get their input on guys, since they know more than I do about the intricacies of the game. The few I spoke with did indicate that his defense at second needs a lot of work.
Near the end of the season our manager, John Gibbons, stuck him in left field for a number of starts and he actually looked pretty good out there for a guy who had never played in the outfield. It gave him a chance to use that speed of his as well. I think his future is likely going to be as an outfielder. He can steal some bases though I don’t think he’ll ever hit for the power that a prototype corner outfielder is supposed to show.
Robbie Erlin was probably the best pitcher at AA and above that Padres’ fans didn’t get a chance to see this season. You have seen him now for two years. How would you describe him?
Mike Saeger: As steady as the English rain. Has an idea what he’s doing out there. Seems to mix up his pitches well and move the ball around. And he throws a bit harder than you would think for someone considered to be a smallish lefty.
Robbie’s a smart kid, too, which has a lot to do with the success that he’s had. Good head on his shoulders.
I suspect he’ll be in Tucson most of next year, which is always a challenge for any pitcher. That whole division can be punishing on even good pitchers. I think he’s smart enough and good enough to make whatever adjustments he’ll need to in order to succeed at that level and in the majors.
If he can stay healthy, which has been the challenge for Padre pitchers the last couple of years, he’ll be a fine addition for the big club at some point.
Keyvius Sampson’s ERA after the all-star break was 3.73 as compared to 5.90 before. What adjustments did he make to get better?
Mike Saeger: I think part of it was due to working on some slight mechanical adjustments, which can take some time and can lead to some painful moments during the process. From what I understand, one of things they were working on was getting him quicker to the plate.
One of the biggest reasons for his success later in the season was due to better command, getting ahead of the count more often and not walking nearly as many hitters. If you look that stretch where he lost six straight decisions, he rarely got lit up. But take a look at his walk numbers from those games and the problem becomes evident. The walks and deep counts led to a high number of innings where the opponent put a crooked number on the board.
Keyvius, to me, showed a lot of progress over the course of the year. People have to remember that he skipped High-A, and that’s not an easy jump for pitcher or a hitter.
What were your thoughts on Rymer Liriano.
Mike Saeger: Rymer showed flashes of why he is considered one of the top prospects in the system. He got off to an awful beginning at Double-A and then put together a 12-game hitting streak, during which time he led all Double-A in batting. He finished the year something like 3-for-22.
He showed a great arm from right field and he can run. He definitely has some pop in his bat, which he showed here and there in his brief time with the team. If he can hit in the range of 20 homers a year he’ll definitely be a big league regular.
He’s got a little ways to go to be a polished diamond, but the toolbox is full. Time will tell if he can master the tools he has.
Going into the future, who was the top prospect that you saw for the Missions this summer?
Mike Saeger: There are a few guys worth mentioning. Obviously, Sampson is a one to keep an eye on as we move forward, but he’s probably still a couple of years from being there. I liked the progress I saw from him from start to finish. That’s what the minors are about.
|Mike Saeger likes Robbie Erlin too.|
I think Robbie Erlin is the closest to being big-league ready from this year’s team and I would be surprised if he’s not with the Padres at some point next year, even if it’s a September call-up.
Another guy I like who isn’t talked about in terms of “prospect” status, is left-hander Jeff Ibarra. Fastball-slider guy. He’s a sidearm thrower, tall lefty. He had an arm problem that shut him down at the end of May (elbow, I think). He’s extremely tough on lefties and even though right-handers hit .293 in 58 AB, I think he’s got a chance to be successful against them because his fastball seems to rise and I think that can help him in getting righties out. He’s not exactly your typical sidearm-throwing lefty because of that. I want to see more of him but keep his name in the back of your mind.