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Conversation with Loons broadcaster Brad Tunney, part two

Tunney talks about the 2019 Great Lakes Loons and what influence John Shoemaker carries on the team

Brad Tunney
Brad Tunney
Brad Tunney

Today we are concluding our conversation with Great Lakes Loons broadcaster Brad Tunney.

Tunney is spending his first full season as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Loons after being with the team part time since 2015. He is also the program manager for ESPN FM 100.9 in Midland, Michigan, the station that carries Loons game.

If you would like to read part one where we talked about prospects Josiah Gray and Miguel Vargas among other topics, please go here.

Note: this was recorded on Tuesday, July 30. This interview is slightly edited for clarity.

Q: After the first 20 games, the Loons were 8-12 but then they went on to go 35-12 and win the first half. Was there anything in particular you saw that sparked that run?

BT: “Well, thinking about the first 20 games here, we were told this was going to be a level the Dodgers prioritized, which was refreshing to hear because over the years we’ve had really, really slow first halves. They were assigning guys here that were 18-20 years old, and in the month of April when we play as the northernmost spot in our division, the weather here is not great. It’s really tough on those guys.

“A series against Dayton is where things really started to pick up. Guys like Andre Jackson who was never really considered a prospect in the system before, flipped a switch and is now starting to find his way onto prospect boards. A guy who we really had no expectations for was Josiah Gray. He turned it on with a flip of a switch in the end of April. And then, Jose Martinez turned things around right at the end of April. He’s the guy that epitomizes the turnaround because I think his 20th birthday this year was Apr. 23 and since that point, his ERA is like 2.20. Same with Robinson Ortiz, by the time he got here, it took him three or four starts.

“Then you add in the fact that Niko Hulsizer [since traded on deadline day] was the best hitter in the league in May and that was the best month in franchise history since 2010. Very rarely do the Loons have a guy like Hulsizer, 22 years old who has success like that. The Dodgers just haven’t assigned guys here like him.

“So, it was a difference in roster assignment really over the last couple of years. And for a younger team still at this level, it took a month just to get going. And then once they did, the talent prevailed.”

Q: For a lot of the players on the Loons roster, this is their first full-season in professional baseball. How does manager John Shoemaker’s experience and demeanor help with their growth as baseball players?

“I think Shoemaker is just so respected in the system and for good reason. He was named the minor league captain a few years ago and he epitomizes what it means to be in the Dodgers minor leagues. This is a guy that has such great pride in being a Dodger. He talks all the time about how the Dodgers are the best organization in sports and he’ll give ample reasons for why he believes that.

“You are a young player and your first taste of leadership in the Dodgers system is John Shoemaker. You’re getting a good picture of what the Dodgers want to see from you as a player, as a person, as someone who takes pride in being in the organization. I think all of that is huge per John Shoemaker, just being a guy that’s respected and walks the walk every day. And you know, at the low Class-A level you’re introducing guys to the Dodgers system for sometimes the first time. And I don’t know if there’s a better representative in the organization to do that.”

Q: You have seen Jacob Amaya for two seasons now and it looks like just based on his stats that he has gotten stronger. What do you like about him this season as compared to 2018?

BT: “Amaya is an interesting guy. He has shown improvements this year, statistically that’s 100% true. I’m not really sure if the Dodgers would have liked to have seen more from him, but again, he’s still 20 and will not turn 21 until the last day of the regular season.

“He only played 27 games here last year, but he really is the same guy that he was last year. Except with more doubles power and hits a bunch of home runs. He may never be a guy that even gets to 15 home runs in a minor league season, even if he does play with juiced ball and Triple-A.

“The most impressive part about him is the plate discipline. You can see it in the numbers, 150 strikeouts and 135 walks. He’s blowing out the league right now. And I think all Single-A ball in walks drawn. That’s in part because he’s been here all year and it’s been an everyday player and a priority for the Dodgers at this level. He’s good to draw basically two walks a series. So when he’s struggling at the plate, he’s still going to get on base.

“Defensively, he can play either side of second base. He gets a little bit ahead of himself sometimes in terms of wanting to get a little flashy, but he has also made the most impressive plays by anyone on the roster this year. Long runs from the shortstop position where he fields in the center field grass has to spin and then throw and gets the runner or dives to his right from short and throws from his knees or something and is able to get a runner so it’s with the good and the bad. And then there are just some routine plays that he can miss at times. That’s when he takes the next step defensively.

Q: What are your early impressions of 2019 draft picks Kody Hoese, Michael Busch and Jack Little?

BT: “All of those guys assigned here have been great and it’s going to help the Loons. Hopefully if they stick around, Kody Hoese, Ryan Pepiot and Jack Little and Aaron Ochsenbein could help them potentially make a run in the playoffs. On top of that, with Rancho Cucamonga and Ogden playoff bound there may not be very much movement at the lower level of the system down the stretch. With all three teams probably favored right now in their leagues, it’s going to be tough to move guys down the stretch.

“Hoese is really impressive just in the way he carries himself. You’re gonna know that guy was a first round pick. It’s a very similar feeling to when Gavin Lux was here and he showed up the first week and it was like, ‘Okay, the first round pick is here.’ He certainly has a presence about him and some of that is just because he’s a first rounder.

“It’s tough to get an impression on their games early — especially Hoese. We should have seen him about three weeks prior than we did, but he was battling a little arm injury, which is no longer any concern for him. He had gone his first seven games without drawing a walk. He also hasn’t hit any extra bases yet (prior to July 30). So it’s all singles, batting average is a little high right now, but the OPS is super low. But that’s just a small sample.”

“I’m sure once he starts hitting for power at this level, he’ll be a guy that, you know, I don’t know if he’ll need to return here next year just based on what we know from what he did at Tulane this year. So we’ll definitely see. But now the Dodgers have now assigned 11 straight first rounders to the Loons, which is really cool. They’ve made this level a priority, which is refreshing and they have the ability to do that just because of how deep the system is. Ogden is outstanding. Rancho Cucamonga is always good. So they’re able to prioritize this level because of it.

Q: While all of these players have the dream of playing for the Dodgers, what do you think of the idea that they have to also think, ‘I am also playing for a chance to play major league baseball somewhere that might not be with the Dodgers’?

BT: “Exactly, it’s two fold. If you’re a player in the Dodgers organization, you’re being treated better than any player in major league baseball right now. I really have no doubt in saying that the resources that the Dodgers put into their minor leagues I think is better than any other organization in baseball. So from that perspective, if you’re a player in the minors right now, you want to be in the Dodgers organization, I don’t think there’s any question about that.

“At the same time the Dodgers are one of two teams in the bigs in terms of their production right now, a year after a year. On top of that they again have a top five farm system in minor league baseball. So if you’re a fringe guy, your chance to get to the majors maybe isn’t with the Dodgers.

“While that’s a tough truth, you’ve got to selfishly look at your career and think, ‘Yeah the Dodgers may develop me the best, but what’s my actual best chance of getting to the majors?’ It may not be in the Dodgers organization because it’s tough. It’s like going to the most competitive college or the most competitive job market and trying to get a job. It’s really tough to be a farmhand of the Dodgers system because yes, they’re going to care about you and give you resources and prioritize you over outside people but we know how talented it is.”

True Blue LA would like to thank Brad Tunney for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview. You can follow Brad on Twitter @brad_tunney.