The Lake Elsinore Storm wrapped up a successful 2019 campaign by earning a wild-card berth and advancing to the Cal League Finals, where they ultimately lost to Visalia in four games. Despite coming short in the win column, there were a ton of highlights in Riverside County, including breakout seasons from players like Luis Campusano, Gabriel Arias and MacKenzie Gore, among many others.
Iconic play-by-play announcer Sean McCall spent his 24th season in Lake Elsinore, calling nearly every Storm game. Sean prefers to defer to others when it comes to talking about specific players, so Dominick Lorenz graciously lent us his insights again.
Lorenz spent the past two seasons working closely with McCall on the postgame show, and called approximately 25 games over the past two seasons. A Southern California kid who graduated from Cal State Fullerton, Lorenz answered many of our questions about the 2019 version of the Lake Elsinore Storm.
MadFriars: The Storm had a pretty memorable season, advancing to the Cal League finals. What made this team so resilient this year?
Dominick Lorenz: I think the best attribute about the team’s resiliency was their cohesiveness. The majority of the team played together in 2018 with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, and they formed a team bond that carried one another throughout the season. After falling short of the first-half championship in the South division, I think the drive and will to make the postseason for the first time in five seasons added extra fuel to win. It was always one game at a time and the next man up. Everyone held each other accountable, which I thought was the most valuable asset to the team. As a team, if you look at the come-from-behind victory versus the Lancaster JetHawks on August 14, this gives you an essence of the team philosophy through the year and how it manifested with each player.
Luis Campusano had a monster year, leading the Cal League in hitting and finishing in the top three in just about every category. What made him so good offensively?
Dominick Lorenz: Numbers do not lie; Luis was, by far, one of the best hitters I have seen in the California League in my three years with the Storm. In talking with Campusano early in the season, his main focus in the offseason was improving his bat because he knew the California League was hitter-friendly plus he wanted to elevate his overall game, which never saw him bat above .288 (2018 with Fort Wayne). Just watching the details in his swing from head to toe, the technique I saw consistently was how quick his hands got through the zone. It allowed him to make more contact with the ball, which essentially led to a high batting average. When you add in natural strength, that is when his doubles and home runs added to the equation. Now, The Diamond in Lake Elsinore is more pitcher-friendly due to the deep walls in left-center and centerfield, so that may have skewed Campusano’s numbers a little bit, but overall, he is able to take what the pitcher gives and can turn on the ball and make a hit happen.
Allen Córdoba played a full season for the first time in the Padres’ organization and had a very good year. What kind of player was he for the Storm?
Dominick Lorenz: Allen was a pleasant surprise because this was the first time since coming over to the Padres that he produced on a consistent basis. His attention to detail, not only offensively, but defensively; with learning different positions, it was incredible to see the dedication he was willing to put in to benefit the team. At the end of the season, he was named the team’s Gerrit Baxter Award Winner, which is an award presented by the coaching staff to the player they believe has strong dedication, perseverance and leadership on the team daily. After spending 2018 with the Storm, he returned with an intense focus to succeed, but at the same time, it was not overbearing where it would cause second-guessing. Córdoba, who was one of the best hitters in the league all season long, took a page right out of Campusano’s book and focused on making contact with the ball without worrying about pulling the ball or making the perfect swing to place the ball in an exact spot. His defense was the thing that caught my eye the most because he had the opportunity to play five different positions (shortstop, third base, along with all three in the outfield). His best attribute on defense is his arm strength. He proved to me that he can be a primary outfield based on his route efficiency to the ball as well as his arm strength. During the regular season, he made seven outfield assists, with about half gunning a runner out tagging to go home from third base.
Shortstop Gabriel Arias broke out with 17 homers and looked really good at the plate, especially in the second half. What kinds of adjustments did you see him make?
Dominick Lorenz: To me, the biggest adjustment he made in the second half was realizing he did not have to muscle the ball out of the park on every pitch. In the first half, he accrued 72 strikeouts, with a lot coming with pitches in the dirt. But after the All-Star break, he improved his pitch selection which translated into better contact and of course, home runs followed up. His power is evident during batting practice and in the game even if he records an out. Something that works in his favor, which factors into his high batting average, is being able to spray the ball all over the field. It allows him to let the ball go through the zone and let the bat and hips do most of the work. Clean, compact swing from a young infielder gets the job done. I expect him to continue batting this way as he progresses through the farm system.
Speaking of outstanding second halves, Eguy Rosario had a monster second half. What kind of player is he?
Dominick Lorenz: Eguy to me is the perfect prototypical utility guy that brings speed and energy to the table, that can also provide a little pop almost anywhere in your starting lineup. This season he had the opportunity to play all four infield positions which allowed him to display, what I thought, was a more improved defensive game. At the plate, a 16-game hitting streak is never a bad thing to include on your résumé during the season. During that streak, as well as in the second half, he showed more plate discipline. For a player who just hit 20 years of age, absorbing the art of patience is difficult, but he brought a newfound focus in this season which set him up well and should help him moving forward to the next level of the organization.
MacKenzie Gore had one of the best years that the Cal League has ever seen. As someone who saw many of his starts, what made him so special?
Dominick Lorenz: There is a lot of things that make MacKenzie Gore special, to say the least. Not only does he have an incredible pitching arsenal, I think the biggest thing that the Storm enjoyed, which will be something Padres fans will be enjoying within the next year or two hopefully is Gore’s laser focus and commitment to pitching excellence. Doing enough to just “get by” in another start does not satisfy the lefty. The phrase everyone knows already, “Dominate the Day,” is true on so many levels. It doesn’t matter if it is a workout, bullpen session or his turn around the pitching rotation, it is a mindset that focuses on being meticulous to get every once of talent versus an opponent. Another thing that I noticed about Gore that made him special is his relationship with the catcher. On very few occasions would Gore shake off a sign or call for a meeting on the mound. The catcher (either Campusano or Jalen Washington) would stick to the game plan and pitching coach Pete Zamora would also have trust that the tandem could work in or out of any situation. Gore is extremely polished for his age and that leg kick gives him extra leverage to ramp up his velocity or make pitches more deceptive. I may be getting excited or see a great future, but in MacKenzie Gore, I see a vast amount of similarities to Chris Paddack. Out of my three years with the Storm and seeing many great starting pitching prospects come to the mound, these two draw comparisons and can be a great 1-2 duo in the future at Petco Park.
Luis Patiño displayed dominant stuff for the Storm in 2019. What can you tell us about the electric righty?
Dominick Lorenz: Well as you state it in your question… he is electric! The craftiness that he possesses in his pitch arsenal is dominating and he is by far a clear front-runner to be a top of the rotation starter in the near future. His youthfulness allows him to stay hungry and continue to perfect his craft on the mound. As a batter, you need to buckle up for his velocity because the fastball he delivers is lights out, but the slider will surprise you as it sweeps both right-handers and left-handers which does not help opposing teams formulating the lineup. I think in a weird way, Patiño had an under the radar season because he was not recognized as a Mid-Season All-Star or Postseason All-Star in the California League, though he was in the same conversation with MacKenzie Gore. Off an initial reaction, some may say it was because he went 6-8 in 18 starts (17 games started), but I believe that bodes well for the kid. He set career highs in innings pitched, strikeouts, opponents’ average and games pitched, which helps build his young arm and keeps him poised for a positive 2020 season. I see him starting at Double-A Amarillo, but making quick work of the Texas League and advancing to Triple-A El Paso before the end of the year.
Quietly, Aaron Leasher had a very good season for the Storm. Is he someone that could eventually find a path to the big leagues?
Dominick Lorenz: I absolutely agree. To me, this was a great breakout season for Leasher, not only because he set a career-high in innings pitched, strikeouts and wins (first 10-game winner for the Storm since Chris Huffman in 2016), but because it showed he can provide length and depth in a rotation. After ding some different workout and throwing programs in the offseason, it was a small adjustment coming back to the California League to start 2019 with some batters you have faced just a year ago, but it was the second half that proved all the work pays off. In 10 games before the promotion to Double-A Amarillo, Leasher went 7-2 with a 1.77 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 61 innings. The biggest thing he worked on with Zamora was attacking batters. Previously, there would be times he would nibble around the corners and pitch out of the zone to make batters chase. The philosophy changed to getting ahead of counts so you can effectively use the secondary pitches to your advantage. With the promise Leasher displays, I can see him being middle relief or back end of the Padres starting rotation.
I thought Caleb Boushley was kind of an unsung hero this year. What type of stuff does he possess?
Dominick Lorenz: Boushley is a gritty pitcher. He does not have overpowering stuff (velocity ranging from 85-90 for fastball) that is going to blow batters away like Gore or Patiño, but his savviness is a promising attribute. For a pitcher who has been used to relief appearances during his time in the Padres organization, making the transition to starting pitcher for most of the 2019 season was not too much of a stretch. He has plenty of life in his arm that can carry him throughout a game regardless if it is for one inning or at least seven, while also pitching to contact, where he trusts his defense. I categorize Boushley as a “workhorse” because you may never find someone who works as hard at his craft a Boushley does. He is very meticulous just like Gore and looks to find the best way each time he goes on the mound to beat his opponent. There is a reason why Boushley was known as the team captain, not only because of his good attitude and leadership qualities but the way he went about the game (personally and collectively) that resonated with the squad.
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