MadFriars continues its end of the year wrap-up of all the Padres’ affiliates with the guys who know them the best — their play-by-play announcers. Today’s interview is with John Nolan, the play-by-play voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Before Nolan gives us insight to a very intriguing squad in the Summit City, let’s breakdown all of the key players who spent 2017 in Indiana.
2017 was a tale of two halves for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, as they stumbled through a putrid first half and played .600 ball in the second half to earn a playoff berth. Ultimately, Fort Wayne made to the Midwest League finals, where they lost to Quad Cities (Astros organization) in a three-game sweep. The season turned around with improvement from players Hudson Potts and Fernando Tatis Jr., as well as additions like Michel Baez and Pedro Avila to the pitching staff.
Top Players: Anytime you talk about the 2017 TinCaps, the conversation has to start with Fernando Tatis Jr. The teenage shortstop established himself as one of the top prospects in all of baseball with a monstrous campaign that ultimately led to a late-season promotion to San Antonio.
Tatis hit .281/.390/.520 with a TinCaps record of 21 homers. He showed the ability on the base paths (29 steals) and made several highlight worthy plays in the field. More impressively, he reduced his strikeout walk each month, while lowering his strikeout rate. He also led the Midwest League in OPS with a .910 mark in a league that generally favors pitchers.
Catcher Marcus Greene Jr. stayed healthy for the most part and had a very nice season. Greene, 23, is a little old for the Midwest League but has some pop and demonstrated the best plate discipline on the team. If the name sounds familiar, Greene Jr. was acquired in a 2015 deal that sent outfielder Will Venable to Texas. Greene’s overall slash-line of .270/.366/.460 was about 32% better than the league average, according to FanGraphs and Hudson Potts recovered from a miserable first half and ended up hitting 20 homers — he was just the third TinCap to ever do so.
LINK – https://scout.com/mlb/padres/Article/MadFriars-Player-of-the-Year-San-Diego-Padres-Affiliate-Fort-Way-108737608
On the mound: RHP Michel Baez only made 10 starts for the TinCaps but quickly established himself as the ace of the Fort Wayne staff. The Cuban righty struck out a staggering 89 batters in 63.2 innings, while walking only 10. He routinely touched the high 90’s with his fastball and his slider showed some promise as well.
RHP Pedro Avila was demoted from Lake Elsinore in June and turned his season around with the TinCaps. Avila posted a 3.05 ERA, despite a pair of poor starts immediately after his demotion. The 20-year-old had arguably the best performance of any pitcher in the system on August 8th, when he struck out 17 batters without a walk in 8 innings against the Great Lakes Loons. RHP Hansel Rodriguez struggled as a starter but was a revelation out of the bullpen, pitching to a 1.56 ERA in 25 relief outings. He is a guy that has developed a go-to off-speed pitch, so a move to the bullpen could help advance quickly in the system.
LINK – https://scout.com/mlb/padres/Article/MadFriars-Pitcher-of-the-Year-San-Diego-Padres-Affiliate-Fort-Wa-108750790
Also on MadFriars, we chatted with long-time Fort Wayne radio broadcaster Mike Maahs and his partner Michael Tricarico along the Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney weighed in on what he saw in the Summit City in the summer of 2017.
LINK – https://scout.com/mlb/padres/Article/MadFriars-Announcer-Series-Fort-Wayne-TinCaps-Michael-Tricarico-108776203
LINK – https://scout.com/mlb/padres/Article/MadFriars-Announcer-Series-Mike-Maahs-108825116
LINK – https://scout.com/mlb/padres/Article/MadFriars-QA-Sam-Geaney-MWL-108892591
MadFriars Announcer Series: John Nolan
Broadcaster John Nolan saw more TinCaps baseball than anyone and provides an incredible insight to the Padres’ Midwest League affiliate. The Syracuse graduate just completed his fifth season behind the mic in Fort Wayne. Nolan answered some questions about arguably the most talented team in the system.
MadFriars: Fernando Tatis was obviously the headliner in Fort Wayne this season. Two questions on him: 1. Do you think he can stick at short. 2. He seemingly got better each month, What were your impressions on what he could do on the field going forward?
John Nolan: 1. Can he play short in the major leagues? Absolutely, I think. Will he end his MLB career there? I don’t know. But that’s a long way off and, in my opinion, a waste of time to wonder about right now. People need to move on from this idea that someone who’s 6-3 or 6-4 is too big to be a shortstop. Check the numbers. Big-league shortstops, including some of the best in the game like [Carlos] Correa, [Corey] Seager, and [Didi] Gregorious, are taller than ever.
2. This was my fifth season in Fort Wayne. Through the first four, the most talented and exciting player I saw in a TinCaps uniform was Trea Turner. Things have turned out pretty well for him since 2014.
Fernando was even more electrifying than Trea. While there was a similar wow-factor in terms of speed, hustle, and defensive ability, Fernando’s power makes him even more tantalizing. Not to mention, Trea was 21 when he was here. Fernando is 18.
If I’m a Padres fan, I also love how Fernando has a charismatic personality and is beloved by his teammates. As a player fluent in both English and Spanish, he was a leader for the entire clubhouse despite his age. With some prospects, it might be a question of whether or not they can stick in the show. With an elite prospect like this, I think it’s more a question of can he become a star.
To me, Marcus Greene Jr. is one of the more underrated prospects in the entire system. Is he a guy that should be on the prospect radar going forward?
John Nolan: Well, it’s a pretty deep system with severally highly touted catchers now so I’m not sure how you want to define “prospect radar,” but is Marcus a really capable catcher? Yep. He fell a bit short of the necessary number of plate appearances to qualify as a league leader, however, of the 18 catchers in the Midwest League this season who had 300-plus PAs, Marcus ranked first in OPS (.826) and wRC+ (132). (For context, last year Austin Allen posted a .790 OPS and a 131 wRC+. Austin did that as a 22-year-old in 89 games as a catcher and 20 as a DH compared to Marcus this season at the age of 23 in 62 games catching and 22 DH-ing.)
Through June 8 this season Marcus’s numbers were fairly pedestrian (.256/.342/.346—1 HR), but from June 9-Aug. 8, he took his offensive game to another level (.294/.391/.596—10 HR). Marcus’s .987 OPS for those two months was the third highest in the entire league behind only Tatis and Astros prospect Carmen Benedetti.
Unfortunately, he then spent the next three weeks on the disabled list. Nevertheless, he returned to hit two postseason home runs, including a walk-off blast that sent the TinCaps into the Eastern Division Championship Series. He also hit a walk-off homer last season and earlier in 2017 had a walk-off single (#clutchgene).
Defensively, utilizing available data, Marcus threw out 26 of 82 attempted base stealers (31%). He was only charged with four errors and eight passed balls in his 62 games behind the plate.
Remember, he accomplished all of this on the heels of a successful campaign in the Australian Baseball League in the winter. He’s worked hard to overcome several injuries so far in his brief MiLB career and has a natural chip-on-his-shoulder attitude. With his physical and mental toughness, I wouldn’t bet against someone like Marcus accomplishing his goals going forward. And don’t forget, A.J. [Preller, the Padres’ General Manager] was with the Rangers when they drafted Marcus and it was A.J. who traded for him.
Hudson Potts really came on strong in the second half of the season, belting 18 homers. What adjustments did you see him make?
John Nolan: Yeah for Hudson, it was only two homers in April and May, and then 18 through the rest of the regular season, plus another in the playoffs. His 20 regular season homers finished second in franchise history (bested only by Fernando’s 21).
He didn’t significantly change his stance or swing over the course of the season, but he said he did improve at figuring out how pitchers were attacking him and made necessary adjustments, especially with his two-strike approach. Hudson also felt like it was something of a case of better fortune—a lot of balls barreled early in the season wound up going for outs and that righted itself as the season went on.
I think as you’d expect with any 18-year-old in his first full season, there was a natural learning curve in pitch recognition, too. Hudson steadily lowered his strikeout rate as the season went on and increased his walk rate.
Through hard work and a stringent routine, he made impressive progress defensively in his first year as an everyday third baseman as well. For what it’s worth, Hudson only committed nine errors in 116 games at third—good for the highest fielding percentage in the league at the position (.962).
He has a quiet confidence to him. Anthony Contreras preaches professionalism to his younger players but said he didn’t need to stress that with Hudson, who already embodied it coming in.
It was really impressive to see how Hudson rose to the occasion toward the end of the season, after Fernando was called up to San Antonio. Hudson earned the MWL’s Player of the Month award in August.
Jorge Ona had a very solid season but didn’t necessarily light the world on fire. Is he a guy that got better as the season went on?
John Nolan: Jorge actually saw his numbers decline in August after he had been performing at an All-Star level at the plate. He was slashing .302/.376/.439 through July 25 and finished the regular season at .277/.351/.405. While he dropped off down the stretch, his final numbers were still well above the Midwest League averages (.250/.324/.379). And he did that at the age of 20, with the average age in the league being 21.
His success and then late-season decline is all the more impressive and understandable when you consider how this was his first season in the U.S. Jorge said in Cuba he had never played in more than 36 games in a season. He more than tripled that this year with 107 regular season appearances, eight playoff games, and even the All-Star game.
It will be intriguing to see how Jorge bounces back in 2018 after all his learning experiences this year both on the field and off. He’s said he’s focused on improving his defense and speed.
Hansel Rodriguez dominated when he was moved to the ‘pen. Do you think he can move through the system quickly?
John Nolan: Not sure how we want to define quickly, but it’s safe to say that Hansel could’ve been promoted by the end of the season. If Lake Elsinore was in a playoff push instead of the TinCaps, that probably would’ve been the case. So, with that said, if he can keep on a similar track, he could get to San Antonio in 2018, and then who knows.
It will be interesting to see how bullpen roles in the big leagues continue to evolve. With his background as a starter, Hansel was the type of bullpen ace who often went multiple innings.
Commanding his mid-to-high-90s fastball and sharp slider, he posted a 0.35 ERA (one earned run in 26 innings) and .124 average against over his final 20 appearances of the regular season. He followed that with 4 1/3 scoreless in the postseason. So, from July 3 on, he had 49 strikeouts compared to six walks.
What’s funny is that off the mound, Hansel is quite a character—the type of personality who can help keep a clubhouse loose. But on the mound, he takes on a much more businesslike persona.
Michel Baez and Pedro Avila dominated in the last few months of the season. What made them so good in Fort Wayne?
John Nolan: They both pitched like aces, but with different styles.
Michel was largely overpowering with his mid-to-high-90s fastball. Although he wasn’t a one-trick pony and showed he can throw a changeup and breaking ball for strikes, too. At 6-8, his extension makes him even more difficult to hit, especially when he keeps the ball down.
Meanwhile, Pedro is listed at 5-11, 170 (which coincidentally is the same size that Baseball Reference lists Pedro Martinez at). Nevertheless, he could run his fastball up to the mid-90s as well. Pedro seemed to be at his best with great sequencing of his fastball, curveball, and changeup.
One characteristic they share is tremendous poise and focus. For Michel, this was his first season in the States. For Pedro, who’s from Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, he was pitching while his family and friends were experiencing turmoil. Both demonstrated maturity on the mound regardless of the circumstances.
Adrian Morejon was the highest profile pitching prospect that pitched for the TinCaps this season? How was the command of his fastball?
John Nolan: The command of his fastball in Fort Wayne didn’t appear to be as strong as it must have been when he pitched for Tri-City earlier in the summer. Adrian went from walking only three batters in 35 1/3 innings in the Northwest League to walking 13 in 27 2/3 in the Midwest League in the regular season. That’s a pretty amazing BB% with the Dust Devils, but did leave something to be desired with the TinCaps.
Keep in mind, though, as an 18-year-old who was born in February 1999, he was the second youngest pitcher to take the mound in the MWL this year. The average batter in the league this season was 21 years old.