New Hampshire Fisher Cat manager Bill Masse recently sat down with Batters Box in Binghamton, New York, to answer some questions about his team. Masse is new to the Blue Jays this season having been a manager in the Yankees system last year. As a newcomer to the organization Masse was able to give a new perspective on several prospects to Batters Box.
BB: Aaron Mathews has been a pleasant surprise this season, what does he have to do to get to AAA?
Masse: Well this is Aaron's first year in AA, he is one of those guys who has to prove himself at every level because he wasn't really on the radar before this year. But I will tell you what he does, he has a really consistent approach at the plate and he uses the whole field. The one thing I hope he doesn't do is get too power conscious and think he has to hit home runs. Sometimes you find that with young guys who play in the outfield. But he is a good hitter, he goes line to line, he has a good approach, he is a very good outfielder, probably above average out there. He is still learning how to run the bases a little bit, probably his only weakness is that he gets too hyper, he is a very high strung kid, he is very competitive and wants to do well, he is hard on himself sometimes, but so far he is very consistent.
BB: Your comments brought to mind Reed Johnson who wasn't highly regarded, is a bit undersized and isn't a power guy, and had to prove himself at every level.
Masse: Yeah, that sounds like Aaron. He still has some things to work on, he likes to swing at the high fastball which is his kryptonite but he has been our most consistent offensive player this season. He deserved to make the all-star team.
BB: Ryan Patterson has been improving recently after an injury and a slow start to the season.
Masse: He is another guy who needs to use the whole field, he had three home runs in Portland all to right field. He has big power and when he is using the whole field he's good too. He missed spring training, no-one knows how long it takes to get back in the groove sometimes when you miss time like that. He is just starting to really swing the bat well and when you talk about all these guys starting to have success it all comes down to plate discipline, swinging at good pitches, using the whole field, having good at-bats and he has been doing that lately.
BB: Patterson has an unorthodox stance, do you think that will work at higher levels?
Masse: I don't think anyone is going to change it until he absolutely fails. He kind of reminds me of a Cecil Fielder type, not as big obviously, where he dives out after the ball but when he keeps his hands back and he is not thinking pull, pull, pull, he is pretty good. He has a good flat stroke and like I said he has power to all fields and he is starting to realize that. Looks like he is starting to find his niche which is a big help to us.
BB: One of your most consistent hitters is Robinzon Diaz, although he hasn't been hitting with much power. Do you think he will stick with his approach?
Masse: He is still very young. When you look back at many major leaguers who hit 25 to 35 home runs in the major leagues, many of those guys didn't hit many home runs in the minor leagues. You have to develop your mature strength where you grow physically stronger. I see Robby walking around sometimes with his shirt off and it's like he has the upper body of a teenager, and he is only going to grow into that. Very similar to Mathews I don't want to change his approach, they are both very good hitters, Diaz especially uses the whole field, but he can turn on a fastball too if he needs to, he is a real gifted hitter. He is one of those kids who was born with a bat in his hands, he reminds me of Melky Cabrera who I had with the Yankees, very similar kind of magic wand. Defensively he is getting a lot better, I am new to the organization so my eyes were wide open. You know I hadn't heard a lot of positive reports on him defensively but I have nothing but good things to say about him defensively so far. He has good feet, blocks very well, he is light on his feet, he throws real well he is just a talented kid, he just needs to keep working. The game comes easy to him, throwing comes easy to him, blocking comes easy to him, hitting comes easy to him, he is one of those guys who needs to keep working and the sky is the limit if he works consistently at his game. I think he is going to be a special player.
BB: His reputation was a guy who pitchers weren't crazy about throwing to.
Masse: Yeah, that was one of the reps he had, we're working on that, we work on it all the time. As any good hitter is, as any gifted athlete is, they think they know all the answers, which is OK, I would rather have a guy who I have to pull back rather than a timid guy who you have to push out the door. He (Diaz) is through the door, he thinks whatever he calls is the right pitch and sometimes pitchers don't want to throw that and he gets upset that someone wants to throw that. So we are working on the fact that you guys are a team, it's a team game and we are trying to get the guy out. So if the pitcher is set on throwing a certain pitch you have to be 100% behind him even though you might not think that's the right pitch. You have to let him know in your body language that I am with you, lets go, lets throw this, rather than (shrugs) OK fine throw it. And that was the problem he had which I kind of witnessed the first couple of weeks of the season. And we have been in here and talked about it a bunch of times and he is getting a lot better at it, I don't think you would find too many pitchers here now that don't mind throwing to him.
BB: There has been some talk in Toronto that Diaz could back up Greg Zaun next season in Toronto.
Masse: I don't know how good of a backup catcher he will be, he's very antsy, he wants to play, and he has the tools to be a starting catcher because he can hit. Some guys who have special talent need to get into a consistent work ethic and thats what we are working on with him, its just the game calling and body language he needs to work on because he can block, he can throw, he has great instincts. The kid loves to play, he would like to show up at six every day and play at seven, he wouldn't take BP, he wouldn't block balls because he is that gifted that he could do that and still perform at a high level. We don't want him to perform at a high level we want him to perform at a major league level, he has to understand that he has to keep working at it.
BB: Juan Peralta was a surprise early in the season but leveled off in June. He has some hits in the last couple of games, where is he going?
Masse: I hadn't seen much of him, saw him a bit in spring training. He wasn't having a lot of success in Dunedin when he was called up here, he was called up to be a fill-in guy for some injured players. Next thing you know he was a starter and he did very well, he was outstanding hitting wise, then he cooled off a bit and I think it was because he was getting less playing time. Some of those guys who came off injuries needed to play and he might have lost his feel a little bit but he has done a good job and been very steady.
BB: Sergio Santos came back down to AA this year and he had problems at AAA with the slider away. How is he this year?
Masse: One of the things about me is that I didn't know these kids before this year and I have tried to look at things with open eyes. I can see the talent the kid has and I had heard those things too and sometimes you get in a rut offensively and you keep making the same mistakes over and over and you are not having success and then you are hitting .215 and you get sent back to AA. I am looking at him as though he has come up from A ball and that's what I told him, even though you have played two season in AAA I will look on you as a new guy. He is till young, 24 years old, he has been more consistent and he has been better at not swinging at that outside pitch. His bat is a little bit slow at times, and he is working on that, but the good thing about him is that he started real hot, then he started to slide and his average was in the .230's and then he has picked it back up, that's nice to see. He just didn't keep sliding, he worked at it and figured it out.
BB: You haven't seen much of Ricky Romero, he has been injured, what is your impression of him?
Masse: I haven't seen enough of him really, he only made four starts for me in April and now two in June. Initial impressions are that he has three pitches and he is one of those guys who has to perfect those three pitches. He doesn't throw 93 mph, he throws between 88-90, has a good change-up and a good breaking ball. He has to have all three pitches working to be successful so he needs to work on all his pitches, he will have to go up level by level, prove he can get AA hitters out then prove he can get AAA hitters out, if he does that he will get his shot at the big leagues.
BB: David Purcey is injured , this year his control seemed to be better but then started giving up hits.
Masse: Yes that's right, he started out like a house on fire, he was throwing real well, had a real live fastball, was un-hittable his first three starts really, then for whatever reason his velocity started to slow down a little and his fastball didn't have the same life on it. It could have been the elbow issue he has right now, sometimes you are not injured and you don't feel bad but that little extra energy just isn't in there. It's like he went through a dead arm period and he couldn't use his fastball and he pitches off his fastball, its his best pitch. When you throw 91-94 as he does and your breaking ball is better because your arm speed is better. When your arm speed drops he wasn't throwing as hard and his breaking stuff wasn't as good. We will see what happens when he comes back.
BB: Is he close to coming back?
Masse: No, he is down in Dunedin now and resting it. Once he is ready he will go on a program, starting with baby steps. Hopefully he comes back before the end of the season.
BB: Tracey Thorpe has the major league fastball but needs better command. How is that coming along?
Masse: Yes, his last five or six appearances were outstanding. His change-up has been a big pitch for him, he has learned how to control it and throw it in tight situations. His slider is getting better, he always had the big arm but being able to locate that big arm has always been his downfall. He gets wild, walks a couple of guys and before you know it here we go. He has been real good his last five or six appearances, he struggled a bit there in mid-May, late-May but lately he has been good. He has to be able to throw strikes, and he has to have something else, other than the fastball, that he can throw for a strike and he is learning how to do that which is why he is having more success the last month or so.
BB: Finally, tonight's starter Kurt Isenberg, what do you need to see from him?
Masse: He is more of a control guy, he needs to locate his fastball in and out and he has to pitch in to right-handers to keep them honest, he throws a pretty good 2-seamer to get the hitter out in front and hit ground balls. But his big thing is his fastball and he has to get a better curveball too, it's been a little bit flat lately and that limits him getting left-handers out. He has a decent change-up too. He usually gives you a decent outing but if he struggles to locate his fastball he will get in trouble.
Batters Box thanks Bill Masse for his time.