Once or twice a year Hugh Bernreuter gives us his insights on the Loon team. Hugh covers the Loons for the Saginaw News out of Michigan.
Phil : Every TBLA reader is tremendously excited about what Jerry Sands did in the MWL. I'd say we were all apprehensive about how he would perform once he got promoted. As you know he won Southern League Player of the Week in his first week in AA. I know you are a big fan, can you enlighten our readers on your thoughts on Jerry Sands?
Hugh: Jerry Sands, to me, is still underrated. It’s hard to find many flaws. He rarely had a bad at-bat, even though he rarely saw many good pitches to hit in the last month. He stole bases. He was a plus-glove in the outfield and first base. He has a good arm in the outfield. In the four years the Great Lakes Loons have been in existence, I have not seen any hitter (Lambo, Josh Bell, Kyle Russell, etc.) hit the ball as consistently hard as Sands. Everything was a line drive. His homers were just longer line drives. He hit to all fields. He drew walks. He hit well at Dow Diamond. He didn’t strike out a lot. And while 22 may be a bit old for Single A, it is not old for Double A. One tidbit. After the first three years of this team’s existence, one of its players has always become the No. 1-ranked recruit by Baseball America (Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Lambo and Dee Gordon). Is Sands next?
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Phil: Besides Jerry Sands most of the big news coming from the Loons has been the incredible rotation they have put together. We expected good things from Webster and Wallach, but based on 2009 performances, the outstanding work of Magill and Pimentel has been a huge surprise. I had written Josh Wall off but it looks like he's doing the best he can to resurrect his career. Can you give us your opinion about each one:
Probably the only thing keeping Webster at Great Lakes is his age. He has had a few rough games, but he’s only 20, plus he’s somewhat skinny. He has a great fastball and his changeup is also a quality pitch. I think the Dodgers want him to add strength, consistency and experience before promoting him. He may go the Dee Gordon path where he spends the entire season in Midland and then, depending on spring training, makes the jump to Double A.
Somewhat a sleeper, although there’s probably a limit on the number of years a player can be a sleeper before he’s no longer a sleeper. Excellent strikeout/walk numbers with 53 Ks and just 15 walks in 48 innings. Nice, tall right-hander who throws hard and has a very good slider. His stats are deceptive a bit. It seems every time there’s a rainout, Magill is pitching poorly and his bad numbers are wiped out. It also seems he needs to work on pitching from the stretch. He’s much better from the wind-up, but most young pitchers are.
Wallach started strong, but seems to be tiring. He still throws hard, but is inconsistent. He sometimes has trouble with the strike zone (30 walks in 57 innings) and has stretches in games where nothing seems to be working. Still, he is 4-0 at this point of the season. With the name and projections, there were higher expectations. The talent is there, but consistency is not. He needs experience. He was not a fulltime pitcher until after the Dodgers drafted him.
Rubby De La Rosa
I’m not as high on him as others. He’s got a good arm and throws extremely hard, but he has not shown any consistency with a second pitch. So there are games where he’s great and other games where he’s shelled. He has some odd numbers. He’s a right-hander who struggles against right-handed batters, plus he has not done well at home at Dow Diamond, which is a pitcher’s park.
OK, who saw this coming? Pimentel was mediocre at best last season at Ogden and came to Great Lakes as a skinny starter at the back end of the rotation. Now, he may have taken top-pitching prospect status away from Webster. Maybe this is the year everything came together and he learned how to pitch? He throws hard and throws strikes. He’s struck out 75 in 70 innings and allowed a .177 batting average against. He turns 22 later this month, so he may make a move up to Inland Empire to see if his stuff translates at a hitters environment. Usually, I take gaudy pitchers numbers at Great Lakes with a grain of salt. The big test comes at the next level.
The arm was never in question. There were the questions about maturity and pitching IQ. There were some stretches that tested his maturity early in the season, especially after he was disappointed in being sent back to Great Lakes. Then there was a stretch when he pitched well, but couldn’t get a win. He has three straight wins and seems to have turned the corner. If the Dodgers can get Wall’s head on straight, they may have something, although it may be as a middle reliever. I’ve always thought Wall might have a brighter future out of the bullpen where he can enter a game and just start firing away.
Phil: Who hits the longest batting practice home runs, Chris Jacobs, Blake Smith, or Songco?
Hugh: Chris Jacobs easy. I would have answered Chris Jacobs even when Sands was here. Jacobs has incredible power. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have strike zone judgement or the ability to hit off-speed pitches. That leaves you with a a lot of cheers during batting practice and a lot of groans during the game.
Phil: It was great to see Blake Smith come to life this year after his dismal debut in 2009. Is he strictly a hitter, or can he play defense like Kyle Russell? Did his great pitching arm carry over into the outfield?
Hugh : He’s a quality defensive player, but he’s not as good as Russell or Sands. He’s better than Songco, who is strictly average. He does have an excellent arm in the outfield. Smith was having a good season but then he missed three weeks with a concussion despite wearing the new "David Wright" helmet. He has returned and is batting cleanup with Sands gone. He has shown some power, although I think the Dodgers would like to see more. Again, however, the pitchers park may work against him. He’s hitting just .250 at home, .311 on the road. One good stat: He has had no problems hitting left-handers (.313 batting average).
Phil: Wise is quite old for any A league team, his bat seems to be coming around as the weather heats up. How is his defense, at his age, I'd hope he's already a fully developed catcher and hitting is what he'd need to work on?
Hugh: I don’t think he’s a Gold Glove candidate, but he’s a quality catcher. He’s got a good arm, although there have been a few games where he’s struggled blocking pitches in the dirt. He does need to work on his hitting and I’m not sure he’ll ever be a fulltime catcher because he can’t hit right-handers. He crushes lefties. One thing to note because he’ll probably move up to Inland Empire next season. The home park kills him. Wise is hitting just .164 at Dow Diamond, .305 on the road. Put him at Inland Empire and you may see him blossom.
Phil: Unlike last year when the Loons had Gordon at SS, this team seems devoid of prospects in the infield. Am I missing someone who is flying under the radar?
Hugh: I was hoping Brian Ruggiano was going to be that guy, but he’s been injured and hasn’t hit with any consistency when he’s been healthy. Christian Lara has been a pleasant surprise at short and third, but he’s too old (25) for this league. The one name to remember: Rafael Ynoa. He is an excellent defensive second baseman with very soft hands. He struggled early offensively in the cold, but has improved at the plate as the season has progressed. I wish he would walk more and I wish he were a little younger (22), but expect to see Ynoa move up even if it’s only as a utility infielder. If he continues to improve at the plate, he may become more than just a utility guy.
Finally the lightning round:
Most power in a game situation?
That was an easy answer a couple weeks ago. But with Sands gone, I’ll go with Angelo Songco against right-handers. With the game on the line though, Lara has been money and, as a switch-hitter, hits with reasonable power against both lefties and righties.
Best fastball in the rotation?
Rubby de la Rosa can touch 100 mph a couple times a night on the gun. If only he had a dependable second pitch. If he gets that, look out.
Best Change Up in the rotation?
Webster has an outstanding changeup that is almost unhittable when he’s able to get both his fastball and changeup over for strikes.
Best CurveBall in the rotation?
Wallach and Magill have the best sliders, but Wall possesses the best curve. There aren’t a lot of Loons pitchers who throw a true curveball. Most feature fastball, slider, changeup.
Best base runner (not fastest)?
Brian Cavazos-Galvez has some flaws. He doesn’t walk enough. He doesn’t show enough power. He doesn’t have the greatest arm in center field. But, he can run. He’s 24-for-29 in stolen bases this season and was sorely missed when he spent some time on the disabled list earlier this season.
More and more, the Dodgers seem to approach their two Single A teams (Inland Empire and Great Lakes) as more equal than not, even though Inland Empire is Advanced A. One is a warm-weather, hitting-friendly environment, while the other is a cold-weather, pitcher-friendly environment. It is not abnormal to see Great Lakes players make the jump to Double A. Because of that, the intensive focus on players’ ages at Great Lakes may be misguided. They don’t necessarily have to make a stop at Inland Empire. The criticism of Jerry Sands’ age (22) came with the theory that he would have to make a stop at Inland Empire for a year (23), then Double A (24) and then Triple A (25) and may not see the majors until he was 26 or 27 at best. The Dodgers seem to have no qualms about putting older players at Great Lakes and moving them quickly if they perform.
Thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my question. Feel free to ask some questions here, and I'll forward them onto him, or invite him to this thread to answer them himself.