Q&A with Jake Mauer (Part II)
Watching Aaron Hicks play in Ft. Myers, where he didn’t put up big stats, what made you think that he had something?
Jake Mauer (JM): I think he got a little enamored with the long ball, and I think he tried to do that in Ft. Myers a little more than hitting. You play in those big ball parks, and I think he tried to muscle up a little bit and got into a funk, but I think that’s part of learning too. Joe’s first year in the Florida State League, I think he was only hitting two-something, maybe .220, in the month of April. He wasn’t tearing the league up by any stretch of the matter. So it’s part of development and understanding that very rarely do guys come in and just tear the league apart right away and do it for the whole year. There’s usually a point where the league adjusts to you, and that’s part of it. Aaron obviously made a commitment last year to turn himself into a pretty good player. Now it’s another thing to be starting over in the big leagues. It’s another learning process for him.
Watching batting practice, it’s clear that bunting is done different. When I played, bunts were supposed to go down the lines, but now it seems like hitting it back toward the pitcher is just fine.
JM: I’m the same way, I still like to bunt it toward the lines and make the corner guys field it. But the thought-process behind it that most of the time, if the pitcher fields it, and it’s not a bullet back to him, if he has to come in and pick the ball up, he’s going to throw it to first base most of the time anyway. So, what they’re trying to do with sacrifices is to take the guy who’s trying to be too fine and bunts the ball and it roles foul. Now we have to tee it up again. More of the thought process is just get it down into the grass where the pitcher has to field it and throw it to first.
So, it’s still just trying to deaden it?
JM: It’s having a feel for it. Really, a lot of our guys try to get too perfect. They’re sacrificing and they’re almost trying to bunt for a base hit. We’re just trying to change the mentality a little bit.
Josue Montanez was added to the Kernels roster that already includes a lot of lefties. A couple of years ago, there were very few left-handers in the organization, now is it a focus?
JM: I think it’s just kind of a cyclical thing. Honestly, where we drafted the last couple of years, we had opportunities to get some guys that can run it up there pretty good. We drafted earlier compared to five years ago when we drafted toward the bottom of the draft. I think the opportunities were there.
I think Ibarra’s got a very good arm, a left-handed arm. Jose Gonzalez has a pretty good arm. Those guys are AA now. We have some guys here, you’re going to see (Mason) Melotakis today. (Josue) Montanez has a pretty good arm. Brett Lee threw the ball pretty good last night. We have some left-handed arms that we haven’t had for a while. Do I think that the scouts are focusing on it? I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s just not only our draft status, but some opportunities internationally to get these kids and develop them.
What is yours and the organization’s philosophy of development versus winning?
JM: To be honest, development is one, number one, without a doubt. But winning is 1A, if that makes sense. You’ve got to try. Am I going to sacrifice bringing a guy in in the ninth inning to get one out? I am pretty confident that my closer is going to come in and slam the door. Well, let’s see. Let’s maybe given another kid an opportunity. I think it’s unfair to kids to pigeonhole them when they’re this young. Melotakis may be a starter, may not be a starter, but he’s got a good arm, so let’s see what we have.
Especially the way starting pitching is around the league. They’re at a premium. When you’ve got guys that are fourth and fifth starters getting double-digit figures that just tells you where it is and the value that’s place on it.
Development is number one, give guys an opportunity. That’s my biggest belief. But in the 9th inning, if we get a chance to try to win the game, maybe it’s a pinch hit or pinch run for somebody, we’re going to do that most of the time. But, there will be some managerial moves that wouldn’t necessarily make sense, but I think it will be better for the development of a hitter or a pitcher just to see what happens. We may sacrifice some losses just to see what we have.
History suggests he’ll spend the full season in Cedar Rapids, but is there any chance that Byron Buxton moves up to Ft. Myers during the season?
JM: To be determined. If he’s dominating the league here, they’ll probably move him. But that’s not to say anyone. If JD Williams is dominating, they’ll probably move him too. It’s kind of the neat thing. It’s not like, and I use the term, it’s not like school where you do just enough and they graduate you. You have to play your way out of leagues. Michael Tonkin is a good example. Started in Beloit. Probably not happy. Asked what he’s got to do. Well, he’s got to go out and dominate the league. Well, he did. Then he went to Ft. Myers. He got down there, dominated the league. Gets himself on the 40 man. Does a nice job out in Arizona. Now he’s in AA knocking on the door. That can happen. These guys have to realize that nothing is going to be given to him. They got to go out and play, and if they dominate a league, we’re going to get them out of here.
AJ Achter and Michael Tonkin followed very similar paths in 2012, can you compare and contrast the two?
They were outstanding. Achter is a little more polished right now, but realistically, Tonkin probably has a higher ceiling. He’s got more power stuff, that you would want to see at the back end. Achter’s stuff is pretty good also. I would say that’s probably the biggest difference between the two. Tonkin’s going to be more of a strikeout guy, swing and miss guy. And Achter’s going to get his fair share, but he’s smart enough too. He’s not a strikeout guy. He gets them to swing at his pitch, ground ball. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s going to be that power pitcher than Tonkin can be.
A baseball season is pretty time-consuming and intense. What do you enjoy doing to get away from the game?
It’s nice. My family is here most of the time we’re in town. When school winds down, they’re able to spend more time. That keeps me pretty busy. I try to give mom a break because she’s got those two all the time. There’s no break for her. We’ll go play golf as a staff. That’s probably more on the road in the morning. The boys like to sleep in, which is fine, but I don’t think anyone in that other room sleeps in either. We’ll get up and go play. Come to the park and get our stuff down.
This is a bigger town for an A ball town, about 100,000 people. There are a lot of opportunities, a couple of malls on the south and north sides. There’s things to do. Different, decent restaurants, to go sit down and eat and have good meals. Yeah, you try to get away, Seth, I think you have to.
I think it’s important. It can consume you. Baseball can. It’s every day. You want to try to spice it up sometimes. It can turn into Groundhogs Day, and you don’t want it ever to feel like a job, if that makes sense. It’s fun. We get to put a uniform on and go out there and play, and they pay you to do it. You can’t beat that.
You get serious when it’s time to get serious. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself when it’s appropriate too. I think that, if you have that kind of attitude and that mindset, and you’ll be ok.
Adam Walker puts on a show in batting practice and has incredible power, but he appears to, like many, struggle with the breaking pitches.
He gets pull happy sometimes. His hands get around the ball. If he thinks, just stay to the inside of the ball, he’s still going to pull it. It’s not telling you to punch the ball that way. If he stays inside the ball, he’ll be OK.
Watching Travis Harrison work in batting practice is great. Great stance, uses his hands well, and the ball jumps off his bat.
He’s strong. He’s strong in his hands for a young man too. He’ll learn the strike zone a little bit, and young hitters do, they get anxious sometimes. When he starts recognizing pitches and tendencies, and not only that, but what he can really lock into, you’ll start seeing him pop some balls out of the park.
Is that the key to hitting and hitting for power?
I think it’s learning yourself. Learning what pitches you can take a chance on, per se, and understanding points in the game and counts, when you can do it. I think that’s the biggest thing, not only with those potential power guys, but with the small guys too. You have to learn your role. That’s part of the Objectives meeting that we have. We tell each guy how you fit on our team right now. Probably going to change. You know, (Drew) Leachman obviously is going to hit in the middle of our order, and he goes down the first night, so things change a little bit. We slide Polanco down to the 3-hole and different things like that. He’s going to DH today and we’ll how that goes, but I think it’s learning yourself as a hitter and getting those at bats, having that understanding. You learn how to hit and all that other power stuff starts to show up.
As I’ve said, Jake Mauer was great. He was willing to take time to chat with me on several occasions and answer questions, or just kind of chat about other things like playing baseball in the MIAC (Minnesota Inter-collegiate Athletic Conference), family, etc. His whole staff was great. Tommy Watkins is as good of a guy as there is. It was fun chatting with him as well. And I got the chance to meet Gary Lucas for the first time and he was a terrific guy.
Kernels GM Doug Nelson chatted with me for an extended period all four days I was there. He is good. He runs a great show at Perfect Game Field and other venues around the city. He’s got to be quite busy, but he was kind enough to spend time with me. Morgan Hawk is their PR guy as well as doing the radio broadcast at www.kernels.com. He was extremely helpful and supportive.
As I wrote yesterday, I can’t encourage people to make a trip to Cedar Rapids enough to watch this team play. I made the trek last week. I’m hoping to get there at least one more time this summer. I’ll be joining the Territory Train in late June to spend a couple of fun-filled days watching Kernel baseball. If you’re interested in joining that trip, click here.