Denis Savage is the publisher of MadFriars.com, a webzine that covers the San Diego Padres’ minor league system. Along with John Conniff they both visit the various affiliates throughout the season. We caught up with Denis for one of their first trips of the year to get his impressions on a team that this year resembles a T-ball team because of their youth; the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the low-A Midwest League.
1) How much of a concern is Jonathan Galvez’s defense? He committed his 15th error in only the second week of May and from listening to games it doesn’t seem like there is much improvement. Is there any chance they move him to second sooner rather than later?
Denis Savage: No way they move him to second base right now. Obviously, they will get him some reps over there, as they have with all of their shortstop prospects, but his position remains at short. Watching him play, you can see the grace in his movements. He really is fun to watch and has grown recently. Impopssible throws he tried early in the year are now being held. It is part of the process with Galvez. He has a penchant for being flashy but is really learning his own limitations and growing from that. Most of the errors are throwing errors. He understands he rushes his throws and is working towards slowing the game down. It isn’t as big a concern as one might believe.
2) The three Dominican starters, Edison Rincon, Rymer Liriano, and Galvez have all struggled immensely offensively this season. While the season is still early, are these young hitters just pressing as they enter their first full professional season? If not is there something mechanically different with their swings, or are they just being overmatched?
Denis Savage: Believe it or not, this was expected. It would be easy to say they are pressing, but the reality is that they are young players experiencing cold weather for the first time. The average temperature in Fort Wayne during the month of April was 56.5 degrees. At night, they saw 10 days where the temperature was in the 30s. By contrast, the average low in the Dominican Republic is 73 degrees in April. Being a New Jersey native, I could handle this. Now that I have been in San Diego for 10 years, I am not so sure. My hands would be like ice. Gripping the bat would be only because it might warm me up. Each time I swung, I would fear getting sawed off because my hands would go from shaking to rattling. John is more adept at swinging in the cold now; John’s problem is he can only hit a ball thrown by a third grader, underhand.
Now, pressing may actually come from this as the weather warms. If they create bad habits because of the lack of success, than your assessment later in the year will be more accurate. As of now, all three are on the right path. Rincon is still a pure hitter. Galvez is prone to having mental lapses. Liriano still susceptible to the off-speed. They have growing to do and expect the second half to prove they are capable of playing at this level.
3) With Donovan Tate, Keyvius Sampson, and James Needy all starting the year in extended Everett Williams is the only high school draftee to make it to Fort Wayne. With all eyes on him to represent the new “approach” to drafting, how has Williams looked both offensively and defensively? Is there a reason why he has only 3 stolen base attempts all season?
Denis Savage: His offense has come a long way since I last saw him. He looks like he has a clearer understanding of his own strike zone. He swings too hard at times but this kid has a feel for hitting that will only improve over time. He has natural power and smokes balls that he hits. It is pretty rare to see weak contact. And he has become a battler in working the count of late. That bodes well for his future, as his baseball acumen has made great strides in a short amount of time.
His defense was, in a word, horrific. I was honestly shocked at how bad his routes are. Remember the kid who was taken last in softball and thrown out in left field, praying no one would hit the ball to him (sorry if this was you or John Conniff) – Williams fits this description. He gave up on balls out there – got turned around several times and has a long way to go before I believe he can play a capable center field. It was the most surprising thing I saw during my time in Fort Wayne. The good news is I expect him to get a lot better. Heck, there is really no other way to go but up.
4) For the past two years the TinCaps have been blessed with an 8th and 9th inning tandem of Jackson Quezada and Bryan Oland in 2008 and Alexis Lara and Brad Brach in 2009. Unfortunately this year the bullpen looks like a hot mess. The TinCaps have used twelve different relievers already in the season, and while most of the ERA’s are respectable the TinCaps went through a five game span earlier when they blew four saves. Is there any consistency beginning to form with the back of the bullpen? If so what guys should we keep an eye on? Rafael Arias?
Denis Savage: Well, everyone should keep an eye on Arias, but he may miss the rest of the year after experiencing shoulder and elbow pain. The bullpen in Fort Wayne does have a bunch of guys who are transitioning from starting roles. That is a challenge for some. Having said that, Jeff Ibarra and Nick Schumacher deserve a look. Ibarra has a wicked slider but needs to fill out and return to health from a concussion. Schumacher has a tremendous cutter but his fastball isn’t mid-90s so his command must be on. Daniel Sarria is interesting but appears to be groomed for more of a starting role since he has as many as six pitches at his disposal. He is a backwards pitcher. I actually believe Nick Greenwood has a chance to live a long life in the majors as a lefty reliever, although he is starting today. Miles Mikolas has a new arm slot that hides the ball better and a great curveball. His fastball velocity needs to return.
5) Pitcher Dexter Carter was voted one of the Top 20 prospects in the Sally League last year. Unfortunately after the trade to the Padres he was more suspect than prospect. This year his numbers have been better, but still nowhere near the numbers that one would expect from a top prospect. Is there any reason to explain the differences in stats? Is Dexter Carter a suspect or a prospect?
Denis Savage: I saw Carter for the first time in instructs and came away thinking there is something there. I liked his breaking ball and his fastball has movement. I thought the changeup needed quite a bit of work. Carter said he has committed to throwing it and the changeup is now his best pitch.
One thing that is interesting: a lot of scouts I have spoken to say the difference in the quality between the Sally League and the Midwest League is huge. They all said it was like going from short-season to Low-A – that big of a jump. It surprised me.
Today, Carter’s biggest problem is location. He has the pitches to be successful but spotting them well has been an issue. He will also nibble rather than pitching to contact. Mechanically, he does not get a very good downhill plane, despite his size. He has this cross-body motion that he is trying to eliminate and falls off to the third base side. That messes with his command.
The second half of this season will tell us the real answer. Has he learned and adapted? He has some mental hurdles to jump over, as he is his hardest critic. It is a blessing and a curse. You have to be realistic. He has such high expectations that when he fails to reach them, it can continue to affect him into his next start. He must mature in that area.