We wrap up our look back at the 2019 Fort Wayne TinCaps with a discussion with Fort Wayne Journal Gazette beat writer Dylan Sinn. A Chicago-area native, Sinn is in his second year on the beat with the club.
MadFriars: In your wrap-up article on the TinCaps’ season, you wrote about it being a year of individual player development. So, who stood out to you for the steps they took to develop over the course of the season?
Dylan Sinn: I think the main one that stands out for me is Xavier Edwards because he kind of changed his approach as the year went on – and obviously he was only in Fort Wayne until July. I think they did a good job of encouraging him to try to tap into his power a little bit, and I think that’s going to be important for him as he climbs the ladder. He was kind of a slap hitter at the beginning of the season, and I think that’s always going to be his game for the most part. But right before he got promoted, he was hitting doubles with gap power, and I think that’s why he ultimately ended up getting promoted, and I think that will be really important for him going forward. If he can get to some power, that’s really going to make him a more well-rounded player.
Another guy who stands out in terms of guys who really developed this year, on the pitching staff it’s Joey Cantillo. That’s going to be the number one guy on the pitching staff for just about any question you ask me. He just continually got better as the year went on and almost every start he did something I hadn’t seen before. He hit 94 mph when he was sitting 90-91 at the start of the season. If he can pair that with his curveball and the change he’s been working on, he’s going to be very good.
When you look at the year Ryan Weathers had, it really was a tale of two experiences – before and after what the organization so carefully didn’t label an injury. What was your impression, especially as he got back into the swing closer to the end of the year, of his season as a whole?
Dylan Sinn: Obviously, the stats aren’t where he wanted them to be and that’s the number one thing. I think the bigger picture, I think that’s something that will be positive for him going forward. In high school, he pitched in one of the smaller divisions in Tennessee, so he pitched against guys who were completely overmatched. This was the first time he was seeing guys who could touch him, so I think it was good for him to have some adversity. Especially because, before the injury in April, he was hitting 95 on a pretty consistent basis, and after that, he only got up to 92, 93 probably max. So he needed to learn to pitch when he didn’t have his best fastball. I think that’s going to be a very positive thing for him going forward. He had to develop his offspeed pitches as the year went on.
Going forward, it’s going to be the command of his slider that’s going to be the thing that really tells whether he ends up being a top-of-the-rotation starter, or just another guy. I think what we saw for most of the season, which was obviously very frustrating for him and not what he wanted, almost every start that he went out there, there was something that you could see he was battling. Obviously, when you don’t have your best stuff, it’s what you have to do, and it was a year of starts like that, and I think that’s going to be good for him going forward. He does have that kind of competitive fire that we’ve all heard about, and I think that will help.
Was there anybody who, at the start of the year, you just had no sense of who he was, but over the course of the year, either because of the way he went about his work or his performance, really stood out to you?
Dylan Sinn: The main guy for me in that sense is Dwanya Williams-Sutton. I was very excited about the fact he broke the hit-by-pitch record. The night he got hit by four pitches in a row might be my favorite game that I covered all season. I don’t think it was his; he told me after the game that his arm was just barely hanging.
He’s an incredibly strong guy. That is the first thing to know about him. Obviously, this is not something you want to hear in the stats era because it’s not very precise, but when he hits the ball, it has a different sound. He’s a very strong guy, with 107, 108 mph exit velocities that are obviously pretty rare at this level. He was one of the leaders in OPS, wRC+. He led the league in on-base percentage for qualified hitters. And he was a guy who went about his business the right way every day. He worked hard. And he never shied away from getting hit by pitches, which I think says something about him. He wasn’t going to back off the plate. I think he’s a guy I didn’t really have any sense coming into the season who he was going to be – and I don’t think a lot of people did either – but he showed he’s got what it takes to be a hitter going forward.
After about mid-July, Agustin Ruíz saw his K rate take a huge dip. What stood out to you about his progression over the course of the year.
Dylan Sinn: I think the thing with him going forward is can he cut down on the swing-and-misses. Is that going to be something that holds him back? I think we saw later in the year, he has the ability to be a discerning hitter. He’s obviously going to be a power hitter. He’s still so young, we haven’t seen it as much yet, but I think he will eventually. So, as he goes forward, he’s going to hit for power and if he can control the swings and misses, as we saw down the stretch this year, he’s going to be a good hitter. He has a short, quick swing and he’s got good movement, so I think he’ll be a good player. He’s another guy who developed later in the season.
At the A-ball level, there are only so many guys who are going to go out there and take the ball every six days for an extended period of time. What did you see from Efraín Contreras, who took that role on seriously, and was there anyone else who you sort of marked as a guy you’d say ‘oh, I hope his next start is at home so I’ve got a chance to see it’ about?
Dylan Sinn: Contreras is a guy whose strikeout-to-walk rate was one of the best in the league this year, and that was a theme for the TinCaps this year. I think they had, at one point, three of the top five in the league, and that’s something the Padres are teaching up and down the system; we’re going to strike guys out and we’re going to give up walks, and I think Contreras was kind of the embodiment of that. He doesn’t have great stuff. The fastball was in the low-90s, but as the year went on because he kept guys off base he had success. Continuing to do that is going to be important for him going forward.
And then, obviously, we talked about Cantillo and Contreras with their strikeout-to-walk rates. The guy who was leading that category was Gabe Mosser. He had a stretch before he got promoted where he had 41 strikeouts to two walks over a period of five starts. It was Yu Darvish-like. He’s a guy who’s a little older than some of the guys in the organization who people are excited about, but he really impressed me this year as a guy who was competitive and level-headed, who worked and has the kind of tools the Padres are looking for even though he’s a little older.
You had a handful of guys who were back in Fort Wayne for a second pass this year – or in the case of Carlos Belen, a fourth time, though that’s obviously a special circumstance. Is there anyone in that group who, either because he took on leadership, or because of on-field development, was especially fun for you to watch this year?
Dylan Sinn: Obviously Belen is a guy who was a leader when he was here. He’s a converted position player and when they told him they wanted him to be a pitcher, he was like ‘yep, I’m going to do that and I’m going to be happy about it,’ and I think that was exciting for him.
A guy who stands out to me, maybe not in a leadership role, but with more maturity this year, was Henry Henry. His first year, he really struggled with the cold – I mean, Indiana in April, it gets very cold. It was really rainy and a terrible first season for him. So he went down to rookie ball and figured some things out and came back this year, and it seemed like he had a different mindset. And I think that really helped him have a good season here. He led the league in both wins and saves at one point this season, and obviously making the All-Star game was a big step for him. He’s a guy who has great stuff. I saw him at the All-Star game strike out a guy with a filthy slider and he’s a guy who matured a lot this year.
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