As the offseason goes, my travel for the TinCaps is a little less time-consuming and not quite as distant as it is during the season. You may know that the Midwest League has 16 teams and that we’ll travel as far east as Eastlake, Ohio, as far south as Bowling Green, Kentucky, as far north as Appleton, Wisconsin, and as far west as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. About as far as I may travel for a speaking engagement this offseason (unless Cooperstown has any openings) is Bryan, Ohio, to talk to the Bryan Kiwanis Club. They’re a great group and they’ve graciously had me as their guest each of the last two years to talk about the TinCaps. What makes visiting there so special is that it’s the home town of one of the best players in recent TinCaps history, Matt Wisler.
He starred here as a 19-year-old (and eventually 20-year-old) in 2012, and then moved his way up to Advanced-A and eventually Double-A during the 2013 season. His numbers were phenomenal at both levels, and during an August interview I did with Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes, he told me that Wisler will come into spring training next year with a chance to make the MLB roster, which is pretty remarkable considering Wisler’s age.
During my visit to Bryan a few weeks ago, Matt was kind enough to join me at the podium and speak about his experiences this past spring and summer:
I will forgive him for wearing a San Antonio Missions polo shirt! Matt talked to the group of about 50 people about his season and how he developed both on and off the field.
During the 2012 season, Wisler went 5-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 114 innings. He struck out 113 and walked only 28, working to a 1.079 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). In 2013, he was 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA in 136 innings. He struck out 131 batters while walking 33 and had a 1.067 WHIP.
I chatted a bit with Matt about his 2013 season, during which he received an earlier-than-expected promotion from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to San Antonio, his progress in attacking hitters, the difference between Low-A and Double-A, and what he perceives his next step in the organization to be. Here are the highlights:
It’s All Relative: How was your 2013 season?
Matt Wisler: It was a good year. I enjoyed it. Staring in High-A was nice getting out there to California and working with those coaches. I had a pretty good month. I only gave up three runs my first month, I think. Then I messed up pretty bad in my last start and gave up four runs. Then I went to Double-A and struggled there early. My first start wasn’t terrible, but my second start was really bad. I gave up five (runs) in the first inning. That was the worst start I’ve had as a professional. Then I had one good outing of seven shutout (innings) and then I think I struggled a few more (starts) after that and finally figured it out in June. I had a good June, July and August. JJ (Jimmy Jones), the pitching coach in Double-A, was huge for me this year, just as much as Willie Blair was last year. He was more mental than physical; we did some physical tweaks here and there. Staying even keel was definitely big for me. Instead of over-throwing early and losing velocity late, he helped me to stay under control. With him, he had a mentality of striking guys out and going right after them. That was a good mindset to have as well. Winning the championship was really fun. I definitely enjoyed that experience.
IAR: What was your reaction to going up from High-A to Double-A?
MW: It was really good especially because I had a bad start beforehand. I was so excited to get to Double-A. You figure (you’ll get promoted) after you have a run of good starts, and then I had that bad one, and it was after that start I got called up.
IAR: What expectations did you have out of spring training?
MW: I thought if I had a pretty good first half of the season I could get up there (Double-A) by the All-Star break like what (Justin) Hancock did in Fort Wayne. I figured it would be a two or three month thing, but it was great to go earlier and get pretty much a full year of experience up there.
IAR: What is level of play like at Double-A?
MW: It’s definitely different. You can see it in the pitchers, mostly. It goes from High-A and Low-A where (pitchers) only have a fastball and not too much off-speed. Once you get to Double-A guys can locate every pitch, they mix speeds a lot better. You can see it in our hitters that guys are off balance a lot more. You’ll get a 2-0 changeup or a 2-0 curveball and guys just know how to throw it for strikes. Even 3-2 they get a lot more off-speed pitches. The hitters were just a lot better. They can all hit a fastball so if you miss a fastball, they’re going to get it. Learning how to locate my off-speeds a little better is big. I’ve got to learn how to get a 0-0 curveball over more consistently. With my slider when I first got there, guys were not chasing. When I first got there, I was still pitching the normal way—get ahead with a fastball and finish with an off-speed. I had to learn how to get ahead with an off-speed and maybe come back with a fastball or finish it off with a slider. I had to make the slider a “chaseable pitch” where I start it more over the plate so guys see it longer and have it break late. That was definitely a big adjustment for me as well.
IAR: What did you think of the comments made about you by Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes?
MW: It’s exciting knowing I have a chance going in. I have a lot of drive. Next year is a huge year for me. It’ll be my first full chance where I really have a chance to get up there. I can’t wait to start getting work in this off-season. I’m excited to see how I’ll do against big-league hitters. I’ve never really faced them consistently so I’m excited to get out there and at least see what I’ve got.
IAR: Given that the Padres don’t have the payroll to be big spenders in free agency and tend to build their MLB team from within their ranks, do you feel like it might have taken you longer to move up quickly if you were in a different organization?
MW: I don’t know. I guess it’s a matter of me and how I keep pitching or what they see in my progression. If they have something they want me to work on before I get there, it’s pretty much depending on that. Anytime they call me, I definitely think I’ll be ready to go. It’s just a matter of when they think I’m fully prepared and ready.
IAR: What did you think of the Padres trading (2012 TinCaps teammate and 2013 Missions teammate) Matt Stites?
MW: That was pretty crazy because he’d just had that appendectomy and I knew he was going home anyway. (Stites had been placed on the disabled list toward the end of the season.) I picked him up and I was taking him to get his pills two days after his surgery when he got the call (from Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes). It was kind of shocking. You forget it’s a business and we’re not gonna have him next year, so I’ll have to find a new roommate.
IAR: What are your plans for the winter?
MW: I’ll start working out 4-5 days a week until spring training. Weightlifting for now and I’ll start throwing with (Defiance, Ohio, native Justin) Hancock in December and I’ll start to hit since next year I’ll start to hit a little bit more.
Thanks to Matt for taking the time out of his day to speak not only with me, but also with the Bryan Kiwanis club. We’ll be keeping an eye on Matt as spring training rolls around next year.
Eve 6…take it away!
With the busy weekends of K105’s CountryFest, 98.9 The Bear’s Birthday Bash and Fort4Fitness behind us all at Parkview Field, some of the front office members of the TinCaps embarked on a weekend of their own, driving from the Summit City down to Cumberland, Maryland, for the Ragnar Relay, a nearly 200-mile trek by foot from Maryland into Washington, D.C., and it was probably busier than all of the previous weekends had been combined.
If you’re not familiar with what the Ragnar Relay is, which I wasn’t when I was asked to join the team early in the season, it’s a race run by teams of 12 (or six if you’re looking for a crazy challenge) in which every person runs three legs of varying difficulty. The team is split into two vans (1 and 2) and while one van is busy running, the other van rests and eats. This goes on for anywhere between 24-36 hours depending on how fast your team is. Our group finished in about 31 hours. For the 12 of us (9 current TinCaps employees, 1 former, and 2 spouses) this was our first Ragnar, so we’d done a lot of reading about what to expect but weren’t really sure how it would all play out. Boy, was it ever exciting, tiring, exhilarating, draining and ultimately worthwhile. I’d say the best suggestion anyone made was to bring gallon Ziploc bags in which to store your sweaty clothes once you finished your run. Definitely a good call…for everyone’s sake if you know what I mean!
The legs that I ran were 5.8 miles, 5.0 and 2.2 miles, relatively easy compared to some of the eight and nine-mile treks that my teammates had, not to mention the ridiculous uphill climbs they endured. While I don’t consider myself a runner, I enjoyed the experience to the fullest, more so for the camaraderie of the whole thing than anything else. You could be running in the middle of the day with a heat index of 99 degrees, or at 2 AM as I did for my second leg, traversing through country roads and suburban neighborhoods all in a five-mile span. For the night runs every runner was required to wear a reflective safety vest, and blinking light and a headlamp, which wasn’t quite as cumbersome to run with as I thought it would’ve been.
The toughest part was the lack of sleep throughout the weekend. Even though as my van switched off from being the active group on the course, with all that it took to drive to the next exchange point and then changing into new clothes, combined with the preparation for the upcoming run and chatting with the other van about how everything was going, I got maybe four or five hours of sleep over the entire race.
Although technically teams are competing against one another, the entire feeling of of the weekend was a positive one, with teams from the other 315(!) vans cheering their running mates on. Vans would drive by me while I was running and I’d hear, “Good job, runner!”, “Keep it up!”, “Almost there!”, which was nice to hear toward the end of a near six-mile trip. Our group, Team IronCaps (like IronMan, but TinCaps themed) had runners of all skill levels, so we weren’t running for time, but rather for fun. The front of our shirts, which you can see above, says “RUN FTW” similar to the RUN DMC logo, except better, of course. (Big thanks to TinCaps Creative Director Tony DesPlaines for putting those graphics together.) When spending that much time with people in close quarters and sweaty clothes, you learn a lot more about people than you ever expected (or wanted) to, but I think it was great from a work perspective to get a closer bond with people in the office. During the baseball season I’m either in the press box or on the road and don’t get to spend as much time with my co-workers as I’d like, so this was a great bonding experience, too.
Another aspect of the Ragnar was the fitness incentives it provides. I remember back when April turned into May and the TinCaps had nearly a full day off in Peoria, Illinois, after a rain out in Burlington, Iowa. I was sitting in the hotel with nothing to do, knowing that this race was on the calendar for October (which seemed light years away at that point), and figured I’d give running a shot. I did run four years of cross country in high school, but never particularly enjoyed running. (Side note: I joined the high school cross country team by accident. Yes, by accident. My mother told me that the track team was looking for new runners and that my friend, John, was already on the team. Well, she was 0-for-2. Not only was in the cross country team and not the track team, but it was my friend John’s older brother, Bobby, who was on the team. So I joined not knowing anyone and never having run distance in my life. Thanks, Mom.) I did eventually get my friends to join and I enjoyed their company, but not the workouts. As I tried that day in Peoria to get back into running, I felt a miserable failure. I couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes without my shins hurting, my iPod playlist sucking, my breath disappearing and my hope fading. I thought I’d never make it.
Throughout the course of the summer and baseball season, I faced a daily battle: sacrifice a little bit of sleep after a 12 or 13-hour day at the ballpark or succumb to the glory that is the extra hour of sleep. Most days I gave in to the latter, but on the days that I did run, I was able to keep building my endurance and my distance. I ran in my own neighborhood, at Salomon Farm Park and at Swinney Park, trying to find a mix of familiar routes and new ones to keep the experience fresh. Hearing stories from my co-workers/teammates about their runs helped provide me with the necessary motivation to keep waking up early and trying to become a better runner. Like I said, I still don’t consider myself a runner (some of my teammates run every day), but I do feel a sense of accomplishment after this weekend. I’d never run 13 miles in such a short span, and am happy that I have that under my belt. Now the task is keeping up the fitness regimen moving forward, which I definitely plan on doing.
Here are a few more shots from the race:
If you ever have the chance to run a race like this, I highly recommend it. It’s a blast.
THE LATEST FROM THE PADRES IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
While there was running to be done on the East Coast, there’s baseball being played in the Dominican Republic. Last time we heard from infielder Maxx Tissenbaum about his experiences, and this time we’ll check in with perhaps a future TinCaps infielder, Ossian’s own Josh VanMeter, who is blogging his experiences for The Journal Gazette:
“First, let’s start with the weather. My only two words I really have for it is holy humidity. The thick air just drains the life out of you when you are out on the fields in the middle of the day. That’s has been a huge adjustment for me, especially coming form Arizona, where I spent my whole summer.
Secondly, just the culture of the island is so different. I have quickly learned that there is no way I would want to drive a car down here. It is absolute madness. I don’t think these people have ever heard of turn signals, and people must not see the red light cause they run through them like it’s their job.
Also, I have learned that the food is totally different than in America. Everything just has a slightly different taste. Early in the first week I had to revert to just eating my food as fast as I can, because some things just don’t taste very good. However, things are starting to taste a little better as I am beginning to get used to the food.
One of the big positives of being here, though, is that there is a beach down the road that is about a ten minute walk. It has really helped me work on my tan, because as a lot of baseball players know, the farmer’s tan is unreal right now.”
It could be worse, Josh. You might not be tan at all!
As for Tissenbaum, he recently wrote about some of the community service that the Padres are having their players do while in the Dominican Republic:
“Here I was, a Canadian kid standing in the middle of a Dominican school yard, holding court with a bunch of 12 year old peloteros. I told the friend I was a second baseman and a shortstop before becoming a catcher, and they both seemed a little confused (I wasn’t sure if they were confused as to how a big lumbering gringo could play the infield, or as to how a middle infielder becomes a catcher). We exchanged a few more quick baseball questions and answers and then it was time to leave.
As I walked back to the bus I felt so incredibly happy that I had been able to go in there and feel comfortable with the native language. I was extremely proud of all of the guys for putting in a really great effort with the kids, because going into the day I wasn’t sure how many guys were totally committed and on board with the idea of community service. Hell, I wasn’t really on board before I left, but when I got here and started to hear about the different activities I started to warm up to the idea. It was awesome to see the English and Spanish speaking players really come together to help a common cause, the school kids. It was very cool to see guys who normally exist in almost two entirely separate universes interacting to try and help one another figure out just how to get the job done.As I sat down on the bus I thought back to a conversation I had at the end of 9th grade at Crescent with my friend, and at the time, line-mate Robbie Mitchnick. We were going through our course selection for 10th grade and I had the choice between taking French and Spanish. I had always been good in French class so I quickly “bubbled” it in on the selection card. Robbie saw me do it and immediately stopped me and told me “you’re a baseball player. What are you going to do when your middle infield partner is a Spanish speaker and you can’t communicate. You’re taking Spanish with me.” I laughed and semi ignored the advice at first, but he insisted and eventually I erased the bubble beside 10th grade French and colored in the bubble beside 10th grade Spanish. Having been on teams with over 50% of the guys being Spanish speakers I can’t thank him enough for making sure I took Spanish. It has truly been a blessing to be able to communicate with those guys, and the kids at that school earlier this week. I’ve been able to trade stories and make friends with my Latin American teammates in a way that a lot of other guys haven’t. I’ve learned a lot about their lives, and the total difference in the two worlds we live in when we aren’t together on the baseball field.”
I talked with a friend of mine in the Padres front office who made the trip to the D.R., and he said it was an eye-opening experience for him, too. None of us from the United States can really picture where the players come from or the type of poverty they grow up with, he said. An important aspect to consider, he also mentioned, was that the players there don’t grow up with the organized structure of baseball we have here–little league, high school baseball, college baseball–so they miss out on lots of instruction, and they don’t get to regularly watch baseball on TV like we do. When the players show up in front of us at Parkview Field or other ballparks around the country, our expectations of them are the same as the American players–to perform at a high level. It sounds like this trip has been great on so many levels to help understand not just the foreign baseball culture of the D.R., but also where so many of the non-American players in MiLB and MLB come from.
J. Roddy Walston and The Business…take it away!