The Off(ice) Season
As Mr. Magoo once sang in “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, “It’s great to be back!”
After the end to a great season of TinCaps baseball, it was time to take a little bit of time to exhale, relax, and reflect on the season that was. This past weekend I did a bit of traveling and took in a Virginia Tech football game in Blacksburg, Virginia:
So that was fun. Now for some numbers on the TinCaps season that was:
408, 044: A new franchise record for attendance.
149: Number of games the TinCaps played this season (Nine playoff games)
.323: Yeison Asencio’s batting average. Asencio won the Midwest League batting title, marking the first time that’s ever happened in the 20-year history of the franchise.
0.74 ERA: Matt Stites’ regular-season ERA. Stites is headed to the Arizona Fall League as one of two players on the Peoria Javelinas who played at Low-A this year. The team is comprised of prospects from the Padres, Mariners, Reds, Twins and Phillies farm systems. Of players who have gone to the AFL, 60% have gone on to the major leagues.
I answered a few questions for the blog MadFriars, which covers the Padres farm system. Here are some of those as they’ll appear on the site:
Yeison Ascencio led the Midwest League in hitting and not a whole lot is known about him. What did you see this year?
Mike Couzens: First and foremost, we saw the first-ever Midwest League batting champion in the 20-year history of the franchise. That’s no small accomplishment, considering Sean Burroughs hit .359 in 1999 and still didn’t win the award. Asencio won the title with the 14th lowest average in the 65 years that the league has handed out the award.
If I had to draw an estimate off the top of my head of the percentage of first pitches that Asencio swung at, it would probably be around 60%. He is very aggressive. And you know what? It works. There are a lot of other hitters in this league who will swing at first pitches but not have the same results that he did. From talking to hitting coach Jacque Jones and some of Asencio’s teammates, they all remark at a) his hand-eye coordination and b) the raw power that he naturally has. Remember—he didn’t even go to spring training because of a visa issue, and didn’t get to the U.S. this season until May. He essentially jumped right into the game and started to dominate. That said, his approach did prove detrimental at times when he would’ve been better served taking a few pitches, especially with runners on base, to see if the pitcher might work himself into a little bit of trouble and then need a fastball, which Asencio feasted on.
When he arrived in Fort Wayne he had a lot of trouble defensively, and would leap to catch routine line drives in right field because he would get there late. That was quickly rectified, and it was something that the coaching staff liked to see.
When I was in Fort Wayne I was very impressed with Jace Peterson but though his defensive instincts were still developing. What improvement did you see from him?
Mike Couzens: Of shortstops I saw in the Midwest League this year, I would rank Peterson in the second tier of players behind Eugenio Suarez from West Michigan and Francisco Lindor from Lake County. Peterson’s defense was at times a liability, but it was never anything that was concerning as something that you thought would linger throughout the entire season, because it didn’t. Duanel Jones led the team in errors and Peterson was second, but most of their mishaps happened within the first 70 games. Remember that Peterson was not just a baseball player before this year, having also played football at McNeese State. It’s his first full year of pro baseball, so you expect there to be a certain number of mistakes. A lot of the errors he had were on balls that needed to be charged, and the ball might skip off the heel of his glove, or mishandling a throw to second base when trying to turn a double play.
The one thing that Peterson has that not many players will is an innate ability to sacrifice his body to make a play. On May 10 he dove for an infield pop-up, collided with Colin Rea, and had to be carted off the field with what looked to be a neck injury. He was fine. But his football background has instilled in him something that leaves him fearless when it comes to diving for a ball, no matter how deep in the hole it might be.
Matt Wisler had a great season. What made him so effective?
Mike Couzens: I got to know Matt Wisler’s father, Bob, over the course of the season, and from talking to him I understand why Wisler is the great pitcher and excellent person that he is. From a very young age, Bob said that he tracked Matt’s pitch counts and planned his workouts to help him be as successful as possible. When Matt decided to pass up a scholarship to Ohio State, where his girlfriend and many high school friends now attend, Bob told him that he would have to move to Arizona to begin his pro training immediately. It was Matt’s choice whether to attend OSU, but he knew if he didn’t that he wouldn’t be laying around at home until spring training. He is the epitome of a hard worker. When Matt moved, Bob came out to check on him and helped him set his diet straight since, as a caring dad, he felt Matt was eating too much fast food. I don’t say this to make it seem like it’s a parent who is controlling, because Matt is 19 years old—and let’s be serious, how many of us would handle a transition to being a professional baseball player on our own?—but rather to illustrate that Matt was on a track for success from a young age and continues to work hard toward a likely prosperous career.
Matt is a very level-headed pitcher who works extremely hard at his craft. What sets him apart from other pitchers, not just at his age, but in this league, is his ability to command them for strikes. Even during his roughest outing of the year, an August 30th game where he gave up a season-high 11 hits in four innings, he did something no other pitcher on the staff might have been able to do. With the bases loaded in the second inning, he had a 2-2 count on the batter and zipped a fastball to the outside corner for a called third strike. Most pitchers would try to land a breaking ball in there for a strike, but he knew he could land his fastball with pinpoint precision.
He also has an interest in learning more about the game. I read RA Dickey’s autobiography during the all-star break, and when I told Matt that I’d read it, he asked to borrow it and read it himself. Matt is a great pitcher who comes from a very good background, and looks like he has a lot of success in his future.
It’s a pretty remarkable feat to make it to the championship series, especially considering that the Midwest League has 16 teams. The odds are slim, and yet Fort Wayne has been to the finals twice in four years. Wisconsin, the TinCaps’ opponent and eventual league champion, hadn’t made the finals since 2005.
Since we last talked, the TinCaps announced that they’ve extended their player development contract (PDC) with the San Diego Padres for two more seasons. That’s great news for both sides. The TinCaps will continue to receive the high-caliber players that they have since 1999 when the two teams locked arms. The Padres will be at gorgeous Parkview Field for two more seasons, which means a great facility for their players. It’s a win-win for all involved.
Since the season is over and I won’t be on the air every night now, I’ve got to say thank you to everyone who read the blog this season, listened to or watched the games, or who stopped to say hello at one point or another throughout the season. It was a great first baseball season here in Fort Wayne for me personally, and I’m already looking forward to TinCaps Opening Day 2013.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
One question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the last week or two has been, “Well, what are you going to do now that the season’s over?”
I’m so glad you asked!
I’m going to be doing something that the team has never done before, at least in a formal sense. Starting next month, I’ll be going out and giving talks as a part of the TinCaps Speakers Bureau. Any group (civic, service, church, business) of any size can request to have me come speak, absolutely free of charge, about the TinCaps, the business of minor league baseball or the history of baseball in Fort Wayne. Since I’m the only member of the TinCaps staff that gets to travel with the team for all 140 games, I learn a lot about the players and what life is like for them throughout their journey of a season, and I’m happy to share what all of that is like, too.
If you’d like to get in touch with me, please either email me (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or call me 260-482-6400 and I’ll be happy to help set something up.
Also, I will be back in broadcast mode this weekend. As you may know, the annual Fort4Fitness event takes place this Saturday, and all of the races finish at Parkview Field’s home plate. I’ll be carrying live coverage of the events from 7AM to 11AM on Saturday on XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81, the same channel that carries TinCaps games during the course of the season. I’m looking forward to being a part of a big event in downtown Fort Wayne and to learning a lot about not just running, but also the folks who are participating, some of whom will be on the air with me at the conclusion of their respective races.
Keep an eye out for an off-season podcast, too. It’s going to be hosted by me and TinCaps Vice President of Marketing /Promotions Michael Limmer. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but I will offer this–we are going to be implementing what I’m calling the Odd Food Challenge. Each participant works within a $10 budget at the grocery store, and has to try and find the most obscure item for the other person to eat. This will take place while tape is rolling. From what I’ve heard, powdered goat milk is delicious…
As for the blog, I will not be writing every day like I did throughout the season. I will continue to post throughout the off-season, perhaps twice per month, to keep you updated on the latest happenings from around Parkview Field. As always, if you’ve got questions please get in touch.
Passion Pit…take it away!