Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.
Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona?
Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now.
Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution?
Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too.
Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.
Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism.
Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally. He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure.
Roberto: He is a consummate professional.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that.
Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals?
Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort. You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up. He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels. So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him. And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp. We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system.
Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp?
Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.
Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year.
Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered. There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun. It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful.
Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago?
Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball. Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.
Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run. That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels.
Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt.
Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations.
Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life.
Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future.
Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs!
Roberto: Thank you Nick!
Adam Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The Northern California Italian American slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. He exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Canberra Cavalry claim the top playoff spot and eventually win the ABL Championship. Adam Buschini’s success continued as he led the Padres AA affiliate San Antonio Missions to a 2013 Texas League Championship.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard, a member of the 2012 San Antonio Missions and local resident mentor of the Canberra Cavalry pitching staff, now serves as pitching coach for the 2013-14 Canberra Cavalry. With over four years of experience in the Mets and Padres organizations, Beard knows talent when he sees it. The Big Dog is thrilled to have Nick Pugliese on the team roster after watching the former LA Angels prospect pitch for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as well as his stellar ABL debut performance.
“It was good to get Nick in there during the first game of the year and get him a feel for the league,” said Beard. “He had a solid outing punching out two without yielding a hit. He threw both his sinker and slider for strikes from different arm angles with good life on his pitches. We project him as a back end of the bullpen arm at the moment.” Pugliese did not disappoint in his second ABL lights out appearance.
He struck out three more in 1.1 innings of relief, placing him third in the league in strikeouts (5 K’s
in 2.1 innings pitched). Pugliese is enjoying his time playing in a Cavalry uniform knowing full well that he could come face-to-face with his Aussie teammates in the upcoming Asia Series when he suits up for the European Cup Champion Fortitudo Bologna squad. Nick said, “So far everyone is awesome, and the country is super nice. It’s a strange scenario for the Asia Series because I play the first two weekends here in Australia then join Bologna in the same tournament my Canberra team will be going to.” Although Pugliese may be conflicted on the real prospect of facing his Aussie teammates in the Asia Series–which features the champions from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia and Europe–Canberra pitching coach Beard looks forward to the opportunity of his team facing its own relief pitcher. He said, “Our boys would relish the opportunity to play against him in Taiwan. It’s always fun playing against your mates!” Despite the loss of Pugliese’s services in the Asia Series, the Cavalry charge abroad will be mighty indeed with the addition of Toronto Blue Jays prospect Jon Berti–who he led the Single-A Advanced Florida State League in games played (128), at-bats (505), runs (85), hits (126), triples (5), walks (57), and stolen bases (56). Replacing Adam Buschini at second base, Berti is up for the challenge. Voted the Florida State League’s top base running prospect by Baseball America and Team MVP by the Dunedin Blue Jays, Michigan’s Jon Berti is a welcome addition to head coach Michael Collin’s international all-star lineup. In the case of Florida’s Nick Pugliese, who rubbed shoulders with Collins in the LA Angels organization when both aspired to play MLB, it’s a reunion of two grinders who desire to keep the ABL throne in Australia’s capital. “We started last season with the goal to bring the Claxton Shield to Canberra,” Collins said. “Our goal hasn’t changed coming into this season. This year we will be defending the Shield from the top and not chasing from the bottom. Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter is proud of his team and coaching staff as well as the baseball supporters in Canberra. “This is a milestone to be celebrated,” said Carter. “It shows just how much baseball has grown as a sport within the capital city. Each coach brings strong expertise to the table and as a team we couldn’t be more excited.”
ball in places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth as participants in the Australian Baseball League. Let’s look at some of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL. #30 C.J. Beatty was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft after all-star play at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He progressed rapidly up the ranks in 2010 to Single-A Advanced Palm Beach in the Florida State League before the Cardinals farm system released him after discovering an irregular heartbeat during his 2011 camp physical. Although he was cleared to play after an EKG, the red birds acted on the side of caution with his release. That didn’t stop him from pursing his dream. After Independent ball stints
in the North American League (San Angelo, Edinburg, and Fort Worth)
and the American Association League (Lincoln), the 24-year-old North Carolinian relished his time in the ABL playing third base for the Brisbane Bandits. He earned the ABL Round 11 Player of the Week title after a multi-home run game in which he drove in five of the Bandits’ six runs. The former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand had hits in all four games of the Bandits’ Round 11 series, going 6-for-11 (.667) with three homers and eight RBI. Beatty led Brisbane in both slugging percentage (.483) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.845) while batting .252 during 2012-13. #29 JaDamion “J.D.” Williams played in his first year in the ABL after spending three seasons in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. A 10th round draft pick by the Twins in 2010 out of high school, J.D. inked a $125,000 signing bonus and spent the first two years at the rookie level before jumping to Single-A in 2012. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, but switched to the outfield while moving up to Elizabethton in 2011 and thrived. He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games. Williams demonstrated that beyond tools and projection there was a talented baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. With the Beloit Snappers in 2012, the Florida native batted .234 and stole 23 bases in 32 attempts. The 21-year-old’s power numbers have also gone up every year, hitting one in his first season and six in 2012. Playing 37 games for the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox in the ABL, the switch-hitting outfielder contributed greatly to the team’s second place finish in the standings despite a lackluster .218 batting average. Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 19th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft after graduating from South Carolina’s York High School, #28 Zac Fuesser chose not to sign in favor of attending college. Yet, the left-handed hurler was snagged as a 2009 34th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates after receiving a $125,000 signing bonus. Since embarking on his professional baseball career at age 18, Fuesser has appeared in 83 games for three different minor league teams in the Pirates system and has a career 3.73 ERA. He spent his 2011 and 2012 campaigns pitching for Single-A West Virginia Power prior to joining the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. Named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star game, the 22-year-old southpaw contained Team Australia and pitched one scoreless inning. Second on the Adelaide pitching staff in strikeouts (57) in 57.1 innings of work, starter Zach Fuesser appeared in 11 games during the 2012-13 ABL season and posted a 4-4 record with a 3.61 ERA. He held opponents to a .259 batting average and had a strong 1.44 ground outs per fly outs ratio. #27 Jonathan Jones was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2010 draft after a successful collegiate career for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Prized for his speed, strong throwing arm and defensive prowess in the outfield, the 22-year-old Northern California native played in 90 games for the 2012 Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and posted a .266 batting average before venturing down under in the Australian Baseball League. The Canberra Cavalry center fielder was promising in the early going (.258 BA, 1 HR, 2 SB), but unfortunately had to return home after only eight games due to a hamstring issue that shortened his ABL experience.
@abuschini Thanks bro. Give me a call when you get back to the Bay.
— Jonathan Jones (@JonJones707) January 6, 2013
“I believe that Twitter is a great tool. It gives the fans access to follow their favorite players and see what they are doing, learn their likes and dislikes, and even get to see photos. It allows fans to feel like they have a personal relationship and for the athletes, and in return, it allows us to see all the fans’ love and support.”After a stellar high school baseball career, #26 Andrew Kittredge–a Spokane, Washington-born right-handed pitcher–was taken in the 45th round of the 2008 draft by the Seattle Mariners. Kittredge began his pro ball career after playing at the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his first full season in the Mariners organization by splitting time between three different leagues within the farm system in 2012. Starting at Single-A Clinton before jumping up to Double-A Jackson, the 22-year-old Mariners prospect spent most of the season pitching for Single-A Advanced High Desert Mavericks. During the course of his brief 2012 elevator ride up-and-down, Kittredge made 25 appearances in 42 innings of relief and went 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA while striking out 43. Working as the 2012-13 Adelaide Bite closer in the ABL, Andrew saved six games and compiled a 3-1 record with a 4.73 ERA while striking out 25.
#25 Nathan Melendres was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from his hometown University of Miami Hurricanes in Florida. The 22-year-old outfielder was one of three Adelaide Bite imports to have finished the 2012 season with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League. Having only played in 23 games in 2012 during his second season in the Mariners organization, Nathan put together a .307 batting average with two home runs and 15 RBI between
— Andrew Kittredge (@amkittredge) October 25, 2012
his time at Single-A Advanced High Desert, Single-A Clinton and the Arizona Rookie League. However, he got his work in this off-season in 26 ABL contests. With a .245 batting average, five extra-base hits and five homers to his credit while in an Adelaide Bite uniforn, Melendres made his impression felt
in Australia and excited the Mariners’ faithful. #24 Carlos Alonso was selected in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies after playing for the University of Delaware. The Los Gatos, California native began his collegiate baseball career at Santa Barbara City College, where he was a two-time First Team All-Western State Conference third baseman. Hitting over .360 two years straight for the Vaqueros, he started 88 consectutive games at Santa Barbara City College and led his team to the playoffs twice. Leaving the West Coast in search of more playing time, Alonso transferred to the University of Delaware and was under the guidance of head baseball coach Jim Sherman. Upon being drafted by the Phillies in 2010, Sherman was supportive
of Alonso regardless of his chosen career path. “Wherever Carlos goes, whatever he decides to do beyond baseball, whether he plays baseball for a career professionally, or goes into the business sector of the world, no matter what part of the country he’s in, he’s always going to be perceived as a class individual,” Sherman said. “I think people are just going to gravitate towards him.” Ranked #25 in Bleacher Report‘s 2012 Phillies Top 25 Positional Prospects, the righty infielder played 93 games for Single-A Advanced Clearwater and racked up a respectable .278 batting average. A versatile utility player who can play any infield or outfield position,
the 25-year-old Phillies farmhand is valuable commodity for any team manager. While in Australia, Alonso anchored the Brisbane Bandits infield at third base. Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said, “Like a lot
of guys, Carlos got out here and you’re learning the whole league overnight, literally. You get thrown in the fire. For him, it is what
it is. I told him what was going to happen, that he was going to be thrown into it, that he was going to have to pretty much learn all
the pitchers; where to play guys defensively, on the fly and he’s starting to come around, especially with the bat.” Alonso ended the 2012-13 ABL season with a .209 batting average and seven doubles. #23 Adam Melker was selected by the
St. Louis Cardinals in the 44th round of the June 2010 Amateur Draft from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After completing his third season
in the Cardinals organization and putting up good 2012 numbers (126 games, .278 batting average, 10 home runs, 35 RBI) at Double-A Springfield, Melker was reunited with former Perth Heat manager and current Corvallis Knights skipper Brooke Knight–who took his 2011-12 Aussie champion Heat to South Korea to represent Australia in the 2012 Asia Series. Prior to arriving in mid-October to play for Perth in the ABL, the left-handed hitting slugger exuded excitement. “I’m really excited,” said Melker. “I’ve heard baseball in Asia is extremely good so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Some time off this winter would have been nice, but I couldn’t turn down and opportunity to play baseball on two other continents…”
Melker remained with the Heat until mid-December and then
returned to the United States. “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” he said. “But I needed some time off that
I could dedicate to strength training and get 100% healthy before I headed off to spring training in March.” During
the 22 ABL games Melker played in the Perth outfield,
he contributed to the Heat’s early season offensive attack
with a .247 batting average–including two doubles, two
triples, one home run, six RBI and one stolen base.
(4 games played, 9-for-14 for a .643 batting average, 4 doubles, 4 RBI, and 6 runs total) sustained an elbow injury and had to return to America for surgery. In his last nine games prior to his departure, the left-handed hitting 25-year-old Bite first baseman/ DH was on a roll–going 15-for-35 with five doubles and five RBI–but left with a down-to-earth .266 batting average.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in
the 24th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Justin Howard has successfully been promoted each of his three seasons for the Buccos. The native Texan hit .283 with two homers and 29 RBI in 83 games for Single-A Advanced Bradenton prior to playing in the ABL. He will certainly be welcome to return to the Adelaide Bite next season.
It’s been amazing Adelaide. Sorry for the early departure but gotta get the elbow cleaned out. Back to the great state of Texas in 15 hours
— Justin Howard (@JHowey_11) December 18, 2012
Last December MLBblogger profiled the Top 20 Americans playing in the ABL, which was considered a holiday present to the homesick yet aspiring MLB prospects. The prized imports shared the good cheer with friends and family in the U.S.A. while playing during the offseason in Australia to fulfill their dreams of reaching the big leagues.Ranked 15th in the 2011 Top 20 Americans in the ABL, former Sydney Blue Sox outfielder Brandon Barnes made his MLB debut for the Houston Astros on August 8, 2012 and became the first non-Aussie from the recently reformed Australian Baseball League to debut in the Major Leagues. As the seventh ABL star to compete in MLB after hitting .321 with 6 HRs and 30 RBI in 29 ABL games last season, Barnes joined Sydney’s Rich Thompson and Trent Oeltjen, Melbourne’s Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay, and Perth’s Luke Hughes and Liam Hendriks as one of baseball’s elite. Brandon ventured Down Under to work on his swing and gain momentum going into Astros’ 2012 Spring Training. Although Barnes made a strong case to make the big league club, the promising Orange County, California native spent a majority of 2012 at Triple-A Oklahoma City (62 games) and Double-A Corpus Christi (44 games). The right-handed hitter was batting .321 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage when he was called up.
Back by popular demand this holiday season, MLBblogger now presents an expanded Top 40 Americans in the ABL format to the delight of even more players and their most loyal fans abroad. Visit MLBforLife.com often for updates on all the imports. Americans Zachary Arneson, Jeremy Barnes, Anthony Claggett, Cody Clark, Zachary Fuesser, Brian Grening, Tyler Herr, Kody Hightower, K.C. Hobson, Jonathon Jones, Jack Murphy, Zach Penprase, Kevin Reese, Chris Smith, Carlo Testa, and Virgil Vasquez were named World All-Stars and are playing host Australia in the Second Annual ABL All-Star Game on December 16th.
With 14 years of Major League Baseball pitching experience under his belt, it was a no brainer for San Diego’s AA affiliate in San Antonio to call on Tim Worrell to fill the shoes of former Missions’ pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who was summoned to become the new Padres bullpen. Hired by the parent-club San Diego Padres in 2010, Worrell had been working in Peoria, Arizona with the organization’s players in extended spring training and on rehab assignment prior to reporting to the Texas League team. Having to leave his wife and six boys back home in Phoenix to take on pitching coach duties in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be long before Worrell would be adopted by his new baseball family of international pitchers led by Aussie Hayden Beard.
the Baseball World Cup in Panama as well as for
the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. During the 2011-12 Cavalry season, he earned himself ABL Player of the Week honours and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. Heading into 2012 Padres Spring Training Camp, Beard looked radiant and as confident as ever. After leading High-A Lake Elsinore Storm to a 2011 Cal League Championship, it was natural for the right-handed hurler to saddle up for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio Missions. Although there were a few bumps in the road during the seemingly rough ride, the Aussie pitcher finished strong with a 6-5 record in just over 119 innings of work. Starting in 19 games, Beard gave his team a chance to win every outing. However, he relished after the All-Star break in his 12 bullpen appearances during which his strikeout totals accelerated to 69.
Roberto: 27-year-old Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard is a late bloomer because he had to sit out for three years due to nerve damage in his arm. The Padres obviously have faith in him by sending him your way in Double-A San Antonio. Having said that you reached the prime of your career at age 31, do you see some parallels between the two of you in showing him that there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Tim Worrell: Yeah, sure. Again, I never try to tell these guys where their careers could finish at. I’d be a dummy to tell them that. First off, he’s got a great live arm and great movement on his pitches. Sometimes he struggles a little bit with control and that obviously puts us in trouble. When we’re behind in the count regularly, it puts the hitters in hitter’s counts. But he’s definitely starting to get some of these approaches knowing that is an area he needs to work on. And that in itself ends up helping to control some of the results that end up happening to us. (You) can’t always control them all, but it does put us in a better position. And he is still working on fine-tuning his game. It wasn’t long ago that we sped him up a little quicker to the plate without giving up quality of stuff so that he could hold runners on first better. So there are definitely physical things we need to do and he needs to do to make his game better. But a lot of it is just believing and trusting his stuff.
Roberto: Watching his roommate Miles Mikolas get the call-up to the Padres, rubbing shoulders with last year’s surprise in the San Diego bullpen, Erik Hamren, and this year’s sensation, Nick Vincent, must have been inspirational for Hayden with the realization that he could be next. Having watched him pitch in Australia and in Lake Elsinore, the fact remains is that Hayden Beard is a great competitor. Now that he is paired up with you in San Antonio, I think it’s an awesome combination. I’m really happy that you guys are really able to work together in developing his craft.
Tim Worrell: Yep. And you brought up probably his number one attribute and that’s his competitiveness, which is probably the most important thing. Because a true competitor never gives in. We have to remind ourselves at times maybe that we are that. But they don’t give in, and they are always looking to get better and always looking to get the job done.
When the 2008 Dirtbag reliever was called up to join the Padres in MLB in May, Nick Vincent became the 13th former Long Beach State ballplayer in the major leagues this season and the 42nd
in school history. Since the right-handed hurler was summoned, CSULB is once again on top for the most major leaguers from any college–an honor the team has held in 2010 and 2011.
a fourth-time to the Padres this year, Vincent has been impressive in the bullpen by providing middle relief with a 2-0 record and a 1.83 ERA.
Padres manager Bud Black said of the reliever. “We like Nick’s stuff and he throws strikes. Nick knows his game. He throws a cutter and fastball to both sides of the plate. His game works. He’s just a little bit more consistent than some of the other guys that have come up. We like how he’s throwing the ball, we like his stuff.
He does a lot of things well.” A cordial and genuinely nice guy, Nick Vincent also has the positive disposition and outlook to make the new ownership of the San Diego Padres proud to see a local boy realize his dream in MLB.
Roberto: How are you feeling after being called up to the major leagues as a Padre?
Nick Vincent: I feel pretty good. It was an unreal experience. I mean the first day I was just in awe. How it happened and all that. And then the second day I actually felt it like ’Wow, you’re in the big leagues. This is what it feels like’ kind of thing. When they told me that I was going back down, I wasn’t too surprised. But that feeling you get in your body from going from Tucson (AAA) to the big leagues is an unreal feeling. I don’t think I have ever felt that feeling before in my life.
Roberto: How important was your college baseball experience in becoming a pro leaguer?
Nick Vincent: I played down at Palomar Junior College down in San Marcos. Played there for three years. I got hurt my first year, and there is where I learned most of my baseball. From high school to that, I learned probably ten times from what I knew about baseball from high school. It was unreal, and then I just carried that on to Long Beach with my numbers and stuff. And just started pitching well out of the bullpen there. The main reason I went to Long Beach is because the pitching coach there: Troy Buckley. I mean he had the best ERA in 2004 or 2005 with (Jered) Weaver, (Neil) Jamison, (Abe) Alvarez…they had all these pitchers. And I talked with one of them, Neil Jameson, because he went to Ramona. He was like: ‘If you want to learn how to pitch, this guy knows his stuff.’ That was the main reason
I went there because I didn’t know if they were going to be a good team or not. I didn’t check into that, but I thought if I wanted to continue pitching then I’m going to go with the best pitching coach.
Roberto: How good can it get to be pitching professionally where you grew up as a kid?
Nick Vincent: I mean San Diego is all the way around probably the best city in California…just because of the weather. There is so much stuff to do. You go two hours, and you’re in the snow. You’re right by the beach. You can go fishing. You can go to the lakes. There is just so much stuff you can do around downtown. I mean you can’t really do that in LA.
Roberto: How did your family react seeing you in a Padres uniform at PETCO on May 18th?
Nick Vincent: My dad had bought like 80 tickets. I think he only gave out 50. But he ended up bringing the other ones back, and they reimbursed him for those tickets he didn’t use–so that was cool of the Padres. When I warmed up in the seventh inning, I got up to throw and the whole section right by the bullpen–that’s where he had bought all the tickets–erupted. Friends, family, from high school, my brother’s friends, other friends..it was pretty cool!
Roberto: How have you coped with the pressures of staying up in the big leagues?
Nick Vincent: I went up there and learned some stuff. I mean when you go up there when the game starts, it’s all business. There’s not too much messing around..none of that! So that was one of the biggest things I felt. Everyone is pretty serious..like every pitch. You’re watching every pitch. Nervousness…no matter what…that first inning you throw–you’re always going to be nervous no matter what. And as soon as you get through all of that…then that’s when everything will start cooling down. I mean I’m excited. I’ve got to get the ball down, keep pitching better. Be smart of what I ‘m throwing and get the ball down. I was up in Tucson (AAA), and I was leaving the ball up a lot so they told me I was coming down here (AA). You don’t pitch (well) there, you get moved down. That’s just how baseball is.
Roberto: Is your cutter your best pitch?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, I can throw my cutter to both sides of the plate. It has good late life.
Roberto: Is it a dream come true getting drafted and playing Major League Baseball?
Nick Vincent: I mean everyone who gets drafted…that’s where they hope their destiny is. But I mean you got to earn it. So for me I’ve got to come down here and throw strikes and get people out. I mean I would hope to get back there, but at the same time they are not going to be bring me back up if I’m not pitching good. So I’ve got to get back doing my thing, get people out and hopefully…I mean that’s where I want to be (in MLB). If I’m pitching good, that’s where I’ll be. But if I’m not pitching good, then I’ll be down here (in AA).Roberto: Have you always been a pitcher way back to your Little League days?
Nick Vincent: In Little League and stuff, I pitched but not to be like good at it. I just did it because no one else could throw strikes. And I played outfield more back then. High school came along. The JV coach wanted me to be a pitcher so I went ‘okay’ and I started pitching then. Junior and senior year came along, and I just pitched. That’s all I did. So after that, pitching was the only thing that I could go to.
Roberto: Is there a different mindset being a reliever than being a starting pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, it’s a way different thing. You can’t be a reliever and go out there and try to start and have the same mentality because you’re not going to. You can’t go out there and throw an inning as hard you can and expect to be that good the next inning. So starting and relieving are two different things. I mean I started at junior college. I liked it. I started doing relief at Long Beach, and I liked that too. For me I think I would be more successful as a reliever out of the bullpen because you get that adrenaline going. And like for me, I want to go in with guys on base right after a starter and we’re like winning or something. And you just shut those guys down and don’t give in and take the momentum from the other team.
Roberto: What kind of pre-game preparation and research on the opposition are you doing?
Nick Vincent: I’m not really doing much. If you’ve only got two pitches. you’re going to throw those two pitches no matter what. Just because they can’t hit a change-up, you’re not going to start throwing change-ups because your change-up is not the same as everyone else’s change-up. For me I’m just going to go out there, and I just look where they’re at standing at the plate. I’m kind of studying them throughout the series, but
I mean it only takes one game to figure out what these guys can do, what they want to do with the ball. If the guy wants to go opposite field with it, then that’s where he’s going to hit the ball that way the whole time. And then you have to play the whole field. If the wind is blowing in this way, you can throw pitches that way. You got more chance for error. I just go up there, and I learn from where they’re standing in the box. I trust our catchers too. Our catchers are watching the game more than I am. So I trust them with their knowledge.Roberto: Are you paying much attention to baserunners when you are on the mound?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, you’re always taking note that they are on base, but they’re not taking my concentration off the hitter at all. I mean I’m pretty quick to the plate so if they want to steal and take the chance of getting out…I’ll let the catcher do his job. I don’t throw many balls in the dirt. I’m more of a strike guy. If they want to chance it and run for second base, I’ll let them and let the catcher throw them out. I’m not really too worried about the guys on base.
Roberto: How good of a hitter are you with the bat?
Nick Vincent: I’m not good with the bat. I got one AB last year, and I struck out. When you haven’t hit since high school and you try to go out there, it’s coming like a 100 miles an hour. Or least that’s what it feels like.
Roberto: If Bud Black calls on you to sacrifice, can you at least lay down a bunt?
Nick Vincent: If I had to, I could get that down. Bunting off a machine is way different than bunting off a guy in a game. I know that…
Roberto: Do you have any advice for young baseball players trying to make it in MLB?
Nick Vincent: I mean just go out there and work hard. Prove people wrong, that’s what I’ve done my whole life. They always said I wasn’t going to get drafted because I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough and all that. So that just gives you fire kind of deal.
You go out there and let’s say you’re throwing 85, 86 and you’re getting people out—you’re getting people out! Baseball is a numbers game. Sooner or later they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s all I have to get back to doing and see what happens from there.
Roberto: Who were some the players that had the greatest influence on you as a pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Back in the 90’s when it was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, that starting rotation right there. It seemed like they were on TV every night. Watching them…what Maddox could do with ball, and then Smoltz throwing fastballs by people and Glavine had his change-up. That three starting line-up was like unreal. As a starting rotation, those were probably my favorite guys I liked to watch.
Roberto: Thanks for your time today, and we look forward to seeing you back at PETCO!
Nick Vincent: Thank you and have a good day.
Utility baseball player Dean Anna is the consummate leader.
A three-sport letterman in baseball, basketball and golf while attending Lincoln-Way East High School in Mokena, Illinois, he chose baseball at John A. Logan College in Carterville and was rewarded by being named All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference during his sophomore year after leading his team in home runs and breaking the school record for RBI. Dean Anna’s leadership continued as a junior transfer at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana–where he led the Cardinals in doubles, triples, walks and runs.
After speaking with Missions’ Dean Anna, we found him to be one of the most humble players in the dugout. His work ethic is unparalleled and his ‘never say die’ approach to the game is commendable. With the Missions needing their clutch player to step up and lead the team to the post-season, Dean Anna is more than capable to take on the role as captain. Batting .282 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI, Anna’s on-base percentage of .392 is among leaders in the entire Texas League. The 25-year-old prospect is certainly exciting to watch, and we expect to see him play his best baseball yet in his quest to help his team repeat.Roberto: I understand you have played every position on the field but catcher, correct?
Dean Anna: The only catching I have done…caught a few bullpens. If the opportunity came, I think that I would have to catch. But I haven’t caught a pitch yet.
Roberto: Would you like to try pitching professionally?
Dean Anna: Yeah, I would love to actually. I have always wanted to try one inning or two just to see how it is out there. Make me feel like I was 10 again pitching.
Roberto: How does playing second base differ from playing shortstop in regards to turning the double play?
Dean Anna: Well, second baseman, there is three different turns, you know. Second base you got a drop step, you got a flip and then you got a side flip. So I mean you just really work on your craft, you know. At first it’s real difficult when you start at second base. Because I started at short(stop) all of my career, and I moved to second when I got to pro ball. And you know I thought it would be easy, but actually it was a little hard because of all the different type of turns for double plays from throwing it from shortstop. The drop step was different, the side flip was different and the underhand flip was different. And you use them in a different type of areas. So you really have to understand what area you’re in for what ball to throw, you know. So that was the big thing. Even to turn double plays when you’re on the bag…you know there’s a way of doing it that way. It seems to look easy but wherever the ball’s taking you–you have got to go to it. And you have got to be quick as possible and get out of there because that runner is getting on you fast. So that’s another thing you have got to have quick hands.
Roberto: When has a baserunner crossed the line to intentionally cause you harm?
Dean Anna: You know what? If a cleat hits you, you know they’re out of hand probably. But it’s hard to tell because you can’t see the runner sliding because you’re focusing on the ball thrown at you. So both of your eyes are following the ball. It’s impossible to look at the runner while the ball is in the air and catch it at the same time. So you’re just hoping, you know. You kind of have a clock in your head so you kind of know when the runner is coming to second base. So you know when to get out of there. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you forget the time of it and how fast the runner is getting on you.
Roberto: How difficult is it to remain engaged in the game when you play nine innings night after night? After all, isn’t baseball a game that can change instantly with one single pitch?
Dean Anna: Yeah, that’s how baseball is played. I mean every pitch matters, you know. There’s a situation on every different pitch. You have got to be on your toes. Sometimes if you are not ready for what that moment is going to bring to you it can cost your team a game, you know. So that’s a big part of baseball, just staying in the game the whole time and having that mental toughness–just knowing everything, what’s going on…
Roberto: As an infielder, do you communicate with your outfielders on the field?
Dean Anna: Yeah, you know, the right fielder and me (second baseman). We talk pretty much with every batter. We kind of know where we are going because I know if he is playing shallow or deep. Especially on guys, right-handed hitters, that maybe stay inside the ball well and hit the ball good to right field. We’ll know that he should be coming in a little shallow. So I kind of know that we’re not going to blow into each other, you know. The tough ones are when the ball is kind of sinks into center, like right center or left center. That means that you have all three players running at it. And that’s when it gets confusing, where the communication gets confusing. But with right field and second base, we’re okay out there. We kind of know where we’re staying.
Roberto: Were you hurt being selected as a late round draft instead of an early pick?
Dean Anna: No, you know, it didn’t bruise my ego at all. I was just happy to get the opportunity to play pro ball. That’s what I have always wanted to do. And you know I was going to give it my best, and I’m doing pretty good right now and stuff like that. I just wanted to have a chance, an opportunity that ‘s all you can ask for in life actually. So I’m just happy for that.
Roberto: Are you ready to be called up to Major League Baseball by the Padres?
Dean Anna: Yeah, I mean I’m definitely ready if they’re ready, you know. But I’m just playing ball and having fun. It’s day-by-day. I mean I have no control over any of that stuff. I wish I was a psychic. Yeah, that would be real nice. That’s fully out of my control. I just take it day-by-day. I play as hard as I can, and you know hopefully good things will happen. Roberto: Do you stay in touch with all of your teammates who have made it to MLB?
Dean Anna: Oh yeah, we definitely do. I talk to a couple guys like (Blake) Tekkote,
Miles (Mikolas), (James) Darnell. Those guys had a great time, they’re having fun up there. They said it’s an unbelievable experience, you know their first-time, their first game. Hopefully one day I can get the same feeling.
Roberto: Are you prepared for all of the rookie pranks that go along with being in MLB?
Dean Anna: Yeah, hey, if I can get to the big leagues they can prank me everyday (laughter). Yeah, I’ll be the prank guinea pig. I don’t care (laughter).
Roberto: Do you think being five-foot-eleven and 180 pounds puts you at a disadvantage?
Dean Anna: I mean the size for me…it doesn’t really matter. Honestly, I feel like it’s not like football or basketball where you have got to be 6’6”, you got to run a 4.2 forty. Baseball is such a mental game and if you can just read between the lines well. I mean a smart baseball player…that will make you look better. Just being a smart baseball player, I think plays a big role in all that.
Roberto: Don’t you think that being a left-handed hitter has its advantages?
Dean Anna: Yeah, that definitely helps a little bit for sure. Get down the line a little quicker.
Roberto: Having only reached double digits in the stolen bases category early in your professional career, why don’t you steal more bases with the speed that you possess?
Dean Anna: You know…I’m not a big steal guy, but I have real good anticipation like when the ball is hit. I can tell if the ball is going to drop or not without looking. Like I just know that I can probably get (from) first to third with a line drive and know that the fielder is not going to catch the ball. I just got good instincts.
Roberto: Where did you pick up this talent? Did good coaching have anything to do with it?
Dean Anna: Yeah, definitely great coaching helps out…you know. After a while, you just get a feel. You know how the ball sounds off the bat. You know where the ball’s going. You just kind of get a feel for the game when you play for a while and start getting a rhythm. You just kind of know. Roberto: Who did you used to follow before becoming a part of the Padres organization?
Dean Anna: I’m a Midwest guy from the Chicago suburbs. My family is all diehard Cubbie fans. Yeah, it runs through our blood.
Roberto: Do you have your suitcase ready to go if you get called up next month?
Dean Anna: No, my bags are not packed. Honestly, I’m just taking it day-by-day. If that does comes…that opportunity…I would be so happy, you know. I’m just excited to see what happens.
Roberto: Excited to get pranked? What has happened to you so far in the minor leagues?
Dean Anna: When I was in High-A, everyone knows that I don’t like animals and stuff.
You know I’m kind of a city guy so I don’t like all the country stuff and all the fishing and stuff. One guy had a little snake and it was live. So he put it in my pocket in my locker,
right where my phone’s at. So I go to grab my phone, and this little snake pops out of my pocket. I did a back flip down on the floor. So then after that, I almost had a heart attack. And then I ‘m sitting, watching TV. I had my shirt tucked in and one of my teammates opens my shirt and puts the snake down my back. I went crazy! That was kind of funny…
Roberto: With your fear of snakes, did you cringe when you learned that former teammate Miles Mikolas ate a live lizard in the Arizona Fall League bullpen?
Dean Anna: I texted him that same day when I heard and asked him what he was thinking. He said it was funny and good protein intake.
Roberto: What is your biggest baseball taboo?
Dean Anna: I’m a big guy where I don’t want anyone to touch my baseball gloves. I don’t like anyone putting their hands in them.
Roberto: Do you have a pre-game routine that you follow?
Dean Anna: I like to really relax like for an hour. Get off my feet and just relax. Listen to my music. Calm down, you know, relax. Get mentally prepared for the game.
Roberto: What about your routine at-bat and in-between pitches?
Dean Anna: My ritual when I go up to bat…I always do my batting glove thing. Like every pitch I do this one batting glove, I tighten my left one up then my right one up. Then I touch the two outside corners of the home plate. Then I get ready to go. I feel like in baseball you’ve got to be consistent to move up. So everything I do I make sure to do the same way. Just because your brain works that way, you know. Your brain works like if you do the same thing it should trigger something. Roberto: The golden sombrero is not a good thing in baseball. Have you ever struck out
four times in the same game?
Dean Anna: If I got the golden sombrero, I would change what I ate that day. Like if I had bad games, I make sure that whatever I ate that day…I wouldn’t eat it the next day. I make sure that I wouldn’t wear the same shoes to the field. Like I’m a superstitious guy a little bit. Just because this game makes you kind of like that.. But when I’m going good I’m eating the same food everyday. I’ll walk the same way. I’ll take the same path. Just because it’s just a mindset thing.
Roberto: What is your personal professional best hitting streak to date?
Dean Anna: I’ve recently had a nine-game hitting streak, and I just didn’t shave for nine days. So I was getting a little scruffy, and then it ended. I mean it didn’t get that bad, but
it was getting bad where people were asking ‘What are you doing?,’ you know. But I wish it could have gone a little longer.
Roberto: Are you happy to have been part of the San Diego farm system?
Dean Anna: The Padres organization is great, you know. I’m happy to be a part of them. Hopefully someday I can get up there and witness that. And have fun with that. It seems great. Everyone says it’s great. So it would be nice. I’ve been out there once when I was
in High-A Lake Elsinore. We actually went out for a game and everything was beautiful. Everything was so nice. Hopefully one day I can play there and get my chance.
Roberto: Did you enjoy your time playing in the Midwest as a member of the Single-A
Fort Wayne TinCaps?
Dean Anna: When I was at Fort Wayne, it was nice because I have family out there that way. So I saw my family a lot.
Roberto: Did the humidity and heat in Indiana prepare you for the weather you are now experiencing this summer in the Texas League?
Dean Anna: Nothing compares to San Antonio heat. Honestly, it’s very hot out here!
Roberto: Sometimes do you flash back to the good old days in California playing for the
Lake Elsinore Storm when it’s over 100 degrees outside at game time in San Antonio?
Dean Anna: Lake Elsinore was not bad at all. The thing that surprised me about Lake Elsinore is that it can get cold out there. I’ve never been out to California since I was in
the Cal League and that was last year. I couldn’t believe how cold is was in the beginning. Because I was like ‘California, is that place cold? Really?’
Roberto: Southern California weather is hard to beat. Wouldn’t you agree?
Dean Anna: Yeah, yeah…it was nice, very nice!
Roberto: How about the beautiful sights there? Now you truly understand what the
Beach Boys meant when they wrote ‘California Girls’?
Dean Anna: (Smiling) Yeah, it makes sense!
Roberto: Thanks for your time and sharing so much with us today.
Dean Anna: It was a great interview. It was fun. It was great—thank you!
Although half of MLB.com Jonathan Mayo’s 2011 Top 10 Outfield Prospects have made their splash into Major League Baseball, the remaining five prospects–including former Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick and current Padres AA-affiliate San Antonio Missions leadoff hitter Reymond Fuentes–have yet to make their grandiose MLB debut despite possessing the five-tools necessary to become successful in the big leagues.Considered the “other” prospect San Diego received packaged with right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) in exchange for trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010, the speedy 21-year-old Reymond Fuentes has the genetic makeup to break into the Bigs. Just ask his cousin, seven-time MLB All-Star/Puerto Rican philanthropist and baseball advocate Carlos Beltran. “I’m very proud of him,” Beltran said. “I believe he’s going to make it to the big leagues. I told him, ‘As hard as you’ve worked so far, you’re going to have to work double to get where you want to go.'” Upon hearing the news of Reymond being shipped out west, Beltran was concerned about his cousin’s reaction and called him immediately. He said, “Sometimes when you’re young and a team trades you, they think they don’t like him. So I told him, ‘Man, the best thing that happened to you was being able to get traded to San Diego because that organization is an organization that doesn’t have players on long-term deals. And if you put up a good year, you play hard, you can play in the big leagues as soon as possible.’”
Chosen to represent San Diego as a member of the World Team at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game as well as lead off for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, six-foot Reymond Fuentes is looked up to by many aspiring Caribbean ballplayers with the same dream. Having built the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to educate and nurture young athletes, cousin Carlos Beltran in the spirit of legend Roberto Clemente gives back generously to his people–especially when it comes to family. Carlos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to help him out. I work out with him in Puerto Rico, and I invite him to my house, and he’s there way early–so he’s hungry. For being so young, that really impressed me the most–more than his talent. Hopefully he lives up to that, and I can watch him play in the big leagues and maybe play against him one day.”
Part of Team World’s outfield with current MLB players Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox) and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, Reymond Fuentes was one of two prospects selected from the San Diego Padres organization. Named the Friar’s #13 prospect by MLB.com and rated the franchise’s best baserunner by Baseball America following a successful 2011 at Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore with 41 stolen bases, Fuentes has been the spark plug for the 2012 AA San Antonio Missions.
We caught up with Fuentes recently in San Antonio at Wolff Stadium after the post-game fireworks, which the youthful Reymond kindly requested to watch before conducting the interview.
Roberto: You look good having put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason for additional power without compromising your lightning speed. With teammate Dean Anna having a great 2012 season and sometimes leading off, Missions’ manager John Gibbons has switched up the line-up and placed you in different slots. Do you care where you are placed in the line-up?
Reymond Fuentes: Anything that
can help with the team win–I will just
do it. Just follow orders from my manager and just play the game that I love and know how to do.
Roberto: As the Missions’ team leader for stolen bases on par for 30-plus in 2012, do you enjoy making the opposing pitcher worry about you when you are on the base paths?
Reymond Fuentes: Why not?
I mean I do my role then they have
to do their role.
Roberto: Having an eagle eye vantage point of all the action on the field, do you like playing center field?
Reymond Fuentes: Center field is awesome. My speed and my range help me a lot. It’s fun just to run down balls and get those hits off the other team. And get them angry a little bit…you know what I mean. It’s a lot of fun tracking balls and making those diving catches is the best! So I love center field, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else.
Roberto: After being involved in the trade that allowed Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, was there any love lost when you had to say goodbye to Fenway?
Reymond Fuentes: You know it
was really tough not to see my old teammates from Boston, but I mean being traded for Adrian is a huge step for me. I mean Adrian is an All-Star. He’s a great player. I think it’s a real honor to get traded for him and just join this team, play the game with the same attitude and effort in Boston here.
Roberto: Please tell me about your deep family connections to Major League Baseball.
Reymond Fuentes: Carlos Beltran is my mom’s cousin. We work out in the offseason everyday–hitting, fielding, throwing, catching. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot on the field and off the field. He’s taught me a lot of stuff about life so I have to thank him. My dad used to play too. He’s been there since I was four years old. He was the first one who gave a bat to me and saw me swing. So I have to thank my dad for staying with me all this time and help me get where I am right now.
Roberto: How influential was the legendary Roberto Clemente growing up in Puerto Rico?
Reymond Fuentes: Roberto Clemente, God rest his soul, was a terrific, all-time I don’t even know how to describe…he was a great player! A lot of little kids including me looked up to him because the way he played ball, the love he had for the game. It was unexplainable. I love to read his articles because I didn’t get to see him play. But everything I read about him is awesome, and he’s the best of Puerto Rico right now. I used to wear (Clemente’s) number 21 when I was a little kid. Then I couldn’t use it because of some rules in Puerto Rico when they retired his number. So I just decided to go with (number) 15 that Carlos used to wear. So I’m staying right there and just keeping everything within family, you know.
Roberto: With reggaeton blowing up in Puerto Rico, I was surprised that you have a different genre represented in your walk-up song.
Reymond Fuentes: Reggaeton is big in Puerto Rico, but right now I have a salsa—that’s old school music in Puerto Rico. I got this walk-up song from my dad. It’s my dad’s favorite song, and I’m using it right now. I think I’m going back to reggaeton because I mean it makes me move walking up to the plate and just makes me happy.
Roberto: It be long before you make your MLB debut for the SD Padres.
Reymond Fuentes: Thank you. That would be awesome. I’m looking forward to that every single day.
Roberto: Would you like to be called up to MLB next month when the roster expands to 40?
Reymond Fuentes: I would love that. I mean that’s my dream ever since I was a little kid.
I just can’t do anything else, but play my best ball here and just wait for that call.
Roberto: Are you looking forward to facing cousin Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals?
Reymond Fuentes: You know what? If I face Carlos, I just want to rob two hits out of him with diving catches in center field. I would just call him the next day and say ‘Hey, you can’t hit it over there.’
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out for us today. Let’s chat again at PETCO in San Diego.
Reymond Fuentes: Absolutely, I mean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with MLBforLife.com and I’ll do it anytime when I can.
as he is affectionately known as by his players and coaches, lives up to the Urban Dictionary’s slang definition of “being an incredibly awesome person”. The 50-year-old former big league catcher was a first-round selection by the New York Mets in 1980 from MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Great Falls, Montana and the son of a military veteran who was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base for 13 years, Gibby moved to San Antonio as a third grader and never looked back. As a youth baseball standout noticed by local fans and scouts alike, Gibbons and his father would attend Missions games at V.J. Keefe Stadium to watch Dodger minor leaguers Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scioscia and Steve Sax. Currently home to the Double-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres and also MiLB’s Minor League Team of the Year in 2011 after winning 94 regular-season games and ultimatelycapturing the Texas League title–the San Antonio Missions now play at Wolff Stadium under first-year manager John Gibbons, who enjoys knowing his middle school son is nearby. Having spent the last three seasons as the Kansas City Royals’ bench coach, Gibbons has interviewed for recent managerial vacancies with the Mariners, Mets and Pirates but in the end remained close to home as the Missions’ skipper. For the one-time MLB manager, a well-traveled baseball mind for more than three decades, the move represented a decision as much about self as sacrifice goes since the San Antonio native and dedicated father need not give up quality family time. Gibby assumed patriarch duties for possibly the best pitching rotations in Toronto history with Roy Halladay,
A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch, while juggling a starting line-up which included the likes of Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and Shannon Stewart. The native Texan led Toronto for four-and-a-half seasons and is credited for putting together the third-highest win total in team history (behind Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox) compiling a 305-305 career record–including an 87-75 campaign in 2006 and a second-place finish in the AL East. Gibbons spent seven seasons with the Blue Jays, serving as their bullpen catcher (2002), first-base coach (2002-04), interim manager (2004) and manager (2005-08). Gibby began his coaching career in 1991 as a roving minor league instructor for the New York Mets and spent a total of 12 seasons in the Mets organization (1991-2001) as an instructor, coach and manager. In his first managerial role in 1995, he guided the Kingsport Mets to the Appalachian League Championship with a 48-18 record and as a result was named 1995 Appalachian League Manager of the Year. Having led his teams to the playoffs four times and winning two championships in 1995 and 1996 with the Florida State League’s St. Lucie Mets, the accolades mounted during his seven-year managerial tenure in the Mets system. He was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year and the winner of the Casey Stengel Award as the Mets’ Minor League Manager of the Year in 1998 with Double-A Binghamton.
Recently named one of the 15 most controversial managers in MLB history, San Diego Padres Vice President of Player Development and International Operations Randy Smith believes hiring Gibbons as the San Antonio Missions Manager was “a no-brainer.” Smith said, “Everyone we talked to gave nothing put positive reviews,”–including positive feedback from one of the players Gibbons scuffled with while in Toronto. Smith declined to provide a name, but said the player “was very complimentary” of Gibbons. Smith commented, “A little fire and passion is not a bad thing. We think we got the right man for the job. It doesn’t hurt that he’s from San Antonio, either. That’s a real plus for the organization, to get someone with his experience. I think that we’re real fortunate to get John to lead that staff.”
San Diego Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes echoed the sentiment calling Gibbons “a great addition to our organization.” Byrnes said, “You get someone with his resume…it’s a shot in the arm for us. His knowledge, calmness and competitiveness have all proven to be standout qualities. We are lucky to have him.” If anyone could vouch for Gibbons’ temperament, it would have to be his long-time friend J.P. Ricciardi, who roomed with him when both were prospects in the New York Mets system during the early 80’s. After throwing in the towel of his professional baseball playing days, Ricciardi transitioned to the front office.Working as A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s special assistant when Oakland began to implement the “Moneyball” system of using statistical data to unearth hidden gems, Ricciardi was able to parlay his A’s Director of Player Personnel position under Beane into becoming the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays General Manager. He handed over the reigns of the Jays’ managerial job off to John Gibbons midseason in 2004 after Carlos Tosca was fired. Having built quite the reputation as a bulldog manager for his heated confrontations with players and umpires alike, the veteran MLB player and coach has received a bad rap for his aggressive passion for the game. Ricciardi adamantly denied suggestions that Gibbons has rage issues. “Is he a hot-head? No, not at all,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.” Currently serving as special assistant to New York Mets General Manager (and former A’s boss pre-Billy Beane) Sandy Alderson–J.P. Ricciardi remains Gibby’s close friend.
Gibbons recently sat down and answered some questions prior to the All-Star break, at which time his San Antonio Missions were struggling and ended the first-half in the cellar of the Texas League South Standings. Since then, the Missions have regained last year’s championship form and are currently second in the division in the second-half.
Roberto: How are you doing as the new manager for the San Antonio Missions?
John Gibbons: Doing good. you know. We haven’t been playing particularly well, but everyday is a new day, and I always enjoy this group of kinds I have here. When you get a chance to come to the ballpark, make a living doing it, things aren’t all bad.
Roberto: As a catcher, you were the New York Mets first-round selection of the June 1980 First-Year Player Draft after playing at San Antonio’s MacArthur High School and earning All-City and All-District honors. You played in 18 major league games between 1984-86 for the Mets and hit .220 (11-for-50) with four doubles, one home run, two RBI and five runs scored. Having Major League Baseball experience, do you believe that your minor league team benefits from your perspective both as manager and former player?
John Gibbons: Well, what it does is you can relate to what these guys are going through.
I got drafted high, it wasn’t an easy career, it didn’t last forever. You know, I got there but I spent many years down in the minor leagues so I have been through everything these guys are going to go through. I always told myself that when I got into coaching to not forget how tough it was. It’s easy for me to relate to these guys. That 1980 year that I was drafted, the Mets had three first round drafts that year. Darryl Strawberry was number one, Billy Beane, the G.M. for the A’s was 23, and I was 24. So one went on to be a good player, the other went on to be a G.M. and the other one is a coach. So you never know where you are going to end up.Roberto: Playing home in Toronto as the manager of the Blue Jays, you were fortunate enough to stand twice as long in other ballparks for the playing of both national anthems.
John Gibbons: Every night you would hear two. I enjoyed that, but it got to be a little bit long to be honest with you. You know, I loved my time in Toronto. Good people, it’s a lot like an American city, big city. They treated me very well, a majority of them… Some of the them thought, “Here’s a dumb Texan.” At the time, George Bush was in office. Up there a lot of them just liked him, so they tied the two of them together—it seemed like. But it was a lot of fun. I got a chance to manage in the major leagues, and it lasted for almost four years. It’s a thrill I will never forget.
Roberto: Did you and your players have to undergo intensive questioning crossing borders?
John Gibbons: One thing about it, if you’re involved in Major League Baseball, they know pretty much everything about you–just to get there. Even though you hear stories, people say that customs might be a nightmare. But it wasn’t that bad. We’d go through our own little building. They’d get us through customs pretty quick, and we’d just hop on our plane. So you know it could be a hassle sometimes. So I think one or two times we had to ever go through the major terminal like everyone else. And I remember it happened when we had to play the Baltimore Orioles, and maybe it was because we were flying so close to DC might have been the reason. But other than that, Toronto is a beautiful city and they really treated their people good.
Roberto: With young MLB players like Ryan Dempster, Joey Votto and Brett Lawrie along with hot prospects James Paxton and Ryan Kellogg hailing from north of the border, are Canadians making an impact on baseball?
John Gibbons: Oh yeah, one thing about those Canadian players that get into baseball—they are really good players! You look at guys like Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, you know what I mean….guys that make it..Jeff Francis, back years ago with Colorado. They’re pretty dog gone good, you know. It’s definitely a proud country. They’re hockey crazed up there… There’s no doubt about it, but they love their Blue Jays. They’re the only team left. They got one team representing the whole country. They’ve been starved for a winner for a while. They’re waiting for another one to come back.Roberto: How have you adapted your managerial style moving from the American to the National League?
John Gibbons: It’s a totally different game. I got so used to it in the American League over there (in Toronto). You know, in the American League with the DH all you’re really worried about is handling the pitching staff. The game, the offense is what it is, you know. In the National League, a lot of things change, and the pitchers need to hit. It’s a different style of game. In the National League the game kind of dictates and forces you to make moves too…depending on the score, whether you have to get this guy out or pinch hit for him or what have you. So it’s definitely a different breed of baseball. I was fortunate enough to be in the American League East, which arguably and probably was the strongest division in baseball with some powerhouses, Yankees and Red Sox. So I have seen some pretty good line-ups.
I know one thing about this business, you know, pitching and defense win but you also have to be able to slug a little bit too. So it makes good fun.
Roberto: As a young baseball player, did you ever imagine managing in MLB?
John Gibbons: No, one thing I thought regardless of how my career was going to turn out I wanted to get into coaching some day–whether it be at the high school level, professional level. But at the beginning I never thought that I would set my sights on a major league managing job. Then I got a chance to go back to my original organization, the Mets, as a coach and was in their minor-leagues for a few years as a catching instructor. Then I got a chance to manage and really enjoyed it. Had some success with it and one thing led to another. An old roommate, teammate of mine, J.P. Ricciardi ended up getting the general manager job up there in Toronto, you know. He brought me on board. I was a roving coach there for a few years and then he made a few changes and he gave me a shot at managing. So it’s funny how things work out sometimes even things you don’t expect.Roberto: During the first-half of the Missions’ season many of your best prospects have been called up because of excellent play and the San Diego Padres’ MLB-leading disabled list. Do you think this may have cost your team the first-half?
John Gibbons: You know, that’s the name of the game: to get these guys to the Big Leagues. Winning’s one thing, but also a lot of these guys are so young that we can’t lose sight of developing. The ultimate goal is to harness their skills so when they get to the big leagues they’re good all-around solid players. So we got to keep that in perspective.
A number of guys have moved up from this ball club this year, and by that happening it has taken it toll on the team here. But the bottom line is our goal of getting these guys out of here up to the next level and eventually on to the big league team.
Roberto: Your reputation of shuffling line-ups in Toronto has followed you in San Antonio. Why have you switched around your leadoff hitters throughout the season?
John Gibbons: Originally we started out the season with Jaff Decker as the leadoff guy because the big league team up in San Diego wanted to see him in that role because they pictured him maybe in the near future fitting that role. So we started that. He was little bit banged up, and he was struggling a little bit so we jumped Reymond Fuentes up there. He did a pretty solid job there, Ideally that’s what type of player he needs to become and eventually we think he will become. But with Dino (Dean) Anna now…Dino, he’s having a heck of year. He’s like second in the league in on-base percentage. He’s hitting over .300, and he’s really one of the tougher outs in the league. So we bumped him up there in that role to set the table for us. By doing that we just move Rey down to the nine spot, and it’s kind of like we have two leadoff hitters. He’s just further away down there at the bottom, but they both can fill that role for us very nicely. Right now Anna is playing so well, and he’s one of the better players in the league so he earns that spot.
John Gibbons: I tell you what…this kid he keeps getting better and better and he’s got some kind of power. You know he’s the gentle giant (laughter), if you really want to term him correctly. Nate’s a special guy, and he’s having a tremendous year coming off a big year in (Single) A ball for us last year. It’s kind of refreshing, the kind of the individual he really is. He’s very respectful to individuals, the game. He’s always one of the guys who always does the right thing, you know. I hate to think where we would be right now without him. You know, we see him…he’s just going to get better, better and better. When you got that kind of ability with the bat, there’s no telling how far he’s going to go.
Roberto: Recent Texas League All-Star and Home Run Derby Winner Nate Freiman is an octopus defensively who can handle just about anything hit or thrown in the infield. Have you any idea how many errors he has prevented while playing first base?
John Gibbons: You know, it’s funny…as big as he is and that wingspan he’s got. We tell these infielders all the time: “Don’t bounce the ball over there. Hell, throw it as high as you want…he’s going to catch it. You’re getting your errors by bouncing them,” (laughter) which isn’t very smart—right? No, he really has done a tremendous job for us, you know. One thing about Nate, he shows up to work. He shows up to play everyday, and he’s definitely one of our leaders.
Roberto: Any words of advice for those interested in career as a player or coach in MLB?
John Gibbons: Well one thing you know to get on top of this business you have got to work hard. You have got to outwork the other guy. You got to hope for a break, There’s no doubt about it. It’s a tough road so you have got to be dedicated, and you have got to be willing to put in some years. You know, if you want it bad enough, go for it! As far as the coaching end of it, just do what an organization expects. Always try to do the right thing.
Be fair to your guys. The bottom line is we get the most out of these guys and then if you’re at the right place at the right time you might get a shot to manage in the major leagues. You never know…