The Sod Poodles had quite an inaugural season, winning the Texas League championship. Amarillo hosted some of the top prospects in the Padres’ system this year and broadcaster Sam Levitt spent the summer calling games for the new sports juggernaut in the Texas Panhandle.
Levitt previously spent a pair of seasons in the Texas League with the Houston Astros’ Corpus Christi Hooks. He also spent some time calling games for the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League. The Northwestern graduate was nice enough to give us his insights into what he saw in Amarillo in 2019.
MadFriars: The Sod Poodles had an amazing year and from the outside looking in, the community of Amarillo really embraced the team. What was the experience like of having a front-row seat for all the magic?
Sam Levitt: “Magical” would be the right word to describe what happened in Amarillo this past season, both on and off the field. It was simply an incredible experience. After going nearly four decades without affiliated baseball in the Texas Panhandle, the community was ready to embrace it in a way that was beyond my wildest expectations. It was the most rewarding experience of my career so far. It was such a special summer in every way.
The team battled through the postseason and went 5-0 in elimination games. The decisive Game 5 of the Texas League Championship Series and Taylor Trammell‘s grand slam was truly breathtaking. No, seriously…I was calling it and had to catch my breath!
The celebration at HODGETOWN when we arrived after winning the Texas League title was like nothing else I’ve ever seen in Minor League Baseball. It was simply perfect. You couldn’t have scripted a better first season for the Sod Poodles in every way. The fans and atmosphere at the ballpark every night were truly tremendous.
Ivan Castillo was a really interesting story. He came out of nowhere and won the Texas League batting crown. How valuable was he to the Sod Poodles squad?
Sam Levitt: Castillo had a terrific season and you could make an argument that he was the team’s MVP. He could have easily hit above .320 for the year if not for slowing down his pace a bit in the final month. He ended up hitting .313 for the season.
He’s a great hitter and super versatile in the field. You can put him at second base, shortstop, third base, and the outfield. Castillo has a solid glove at all of those positions, even in the outfield. The Soddies needed him in the lineup, and his versatility allowed Phillip Wellman to write his name on the lineup card every day.
Castillo was a relative unknown to us when he arrived in April. He’d spent a number of years with the Indians and a season in Toronto’s system. To his credit, Castillo asserted himself in the lineup and never looked back. He hit .304 at High-A Dunedin with the Blue Jays in 2018 and took another step forward in 2019.
Castillo is a great teammate and upbeat personality. I so enjoyed getting to know him. He’s got the makeup of a Major League player. He won’t appear on any top prospect lists, but he is someone to keep an eye on. He was tremendously consistent at the plate and brought so many important things to the Sod Poodles.
Luis Torrens broke out this year and was one of the best players in the Texas League. What was the big reason for his success this year?
Sam Levitt: Torrens was so valuable on both sides of the ball and really had a terrific year. He registered a 46% caught stealing percentage, which is obviously a great mark. Teams truly have to think twice about running against him. It’s a game-changer.
Offensively, he was consistent and put together his best season at the plate. From the start of July through the season’s end, he hit .290 with eight homers and 26 RBI. Torrens ended up hitting .300 for the season.
When you pair his arm with a breakout season offensively, there should be a good deal of excitement about what Torrens could develop into at the big league level.
Edward Olivares showed an excellent mix of power and speed this year. As someone who watched him play every day, what stood out to you?
Sam Levitt: Olivares took so many strides forward in 2019, solidifying himself as a prospect in the Padres organization. In my mind, he was a top-3 candidate for Texas League Player of the Year.
Just take a look at his Texas League rankings: .283 batting average (9th), 18 homers (tied 3rd), 77 RBI (2nd), 85 runs (1st), .802 OPS (8th), 45 extra-base hits (5th), and 35 stolen bases (3rd).
Olivares is a complete player. He’s a hitter who can use the entire field, has plenty of power, plays a good outfield with a solid arm, and can steal bases with ease. He played right and center field very nicely all season.
Olivares was probably the most clutch hitter in the lineup with a number of big hits and homers throughout the season. The best example was in Game 1 of the Texas League Championship Series when he laced a bases-clearing double to break a tie and give Amarillo a lead in the 8th inning.
The moment never seemed too big for Olivares. He was one of the breakout stars among Padres’ minor leaguers in 2019.
After a slow start, Taylor Trammell broke out in a big way in the playoffs. How did he fit into the mix of the team and what kind of talent do you think he possesses?
Sam Levitt: It’s easy to see why A.J. Preller and the Padres wanted Trammell. The raw tools are abundant. He’s got power, speed, defense, and athleticism. He’s got an infectious personality that exudes energy and confidence. The star potential is there in every way.
If his finish to 2019 was any indication, Trammell is poised for a huge 2020. He hit .394 in his final nine games to finish the regular season, and then had a number of big moments in the playoffs. There was no bigger swing for the Sod Poodles than his go-ahead grand slam to essentially lift Amarillo to a Texas League Championship in Game 5. If you’re reading this, you probably saw him rounding the bases on that grand slam…how can you not love that?!
Trammell was a fantastic addition to the team on the field and in the clubhouse. I really enjoyed talking to him. He’s a great interview. Once he settled into his new surroundings following the trade, Trammell started to show why so many evaluators think he could be a major league All-Star. Padres fans should be very excited about him.
Owen Miller has hit in every stop since he entered the Padres’ system last year. Is he someone who could be an everyday guy in the big leagues?
Sam Levitt: I really think so. Miller is a pure hitter and sprays the ball around. He’s hit at every stop and it’s hard to ignore the numbers. Miller ranked 8th in the Texas League with a .290 batting average and led the league in total hits (147).
Also, it’s important to put his numbers and level of play into some context. 2019 was his first full season in San Diego’s organization. He played a full season at Double-A after being drafted only in June of 2018. Also, he was asked to learn second base and play there quite a bit (47 starts). He did a solid job defensively.
“Steady” is the best way to describe him. Miller is a hitter you want at the plate in any situation because he’s reliable and stays within himself. He’s got a very calculated, serious approach and I think that shines through in the way he plays every day.
I once had a scout tell me that “steady” plays in the big leagues. Miller has that approach and the natural ability to drive the ball towards right field. I spoke with some scouts during the course of 2019 who really enjoyed watching Miller play. You look at the box score every night, and there he is with a couple of hits. When you see that throughout a season, it’s easy to become a fan of his.
Hudson Potts spent some time on the Injured List but did flash power in limited action. What did you see from Potts this year?
Sam Levitt: Potts showed flashes of what he could be. He handled Double-A and some of his struggles at the level very well for someone who’s so young. He’s obviously got tremendous power and displayed that on many occasions.
The key for Potts will be making adjustments and finding consistency. He spent the entire Double-A season at just 19, and I think Potts will be a better player for it. He also played a steady third base.
If he makes some adjustments, Potts has the raw power to be a dangerous home run hitter. You can see why the Padres selected him in the first round. I’m really excited about the potential of what Potts could do in 2020.
Were there any other position players that impressed you this year?
I really enjoyed watching Taylor Kohlwey when he was with the Sod Poodles. He batted .276 in 65 games and hits to all fields. Kohlwey plays both right and left field. If he’s given the opportunity to have nearly a full season at Double-A in 2020, he will be a great asset in the lineup.
Ronald Bolaños came up to the Sod Poodles and looked impressive with increased velocity. How dominant did his stuff look?
Sam Levitt: At his best, Bolaños is dominant. His fastball ranged from the low 90s to 100 MPH. His slider and changeup are solid. He would drop this super slow curveball in for strikes, too.
Bolaños had a stretch in late June and July where he posted a 2.79 ERA in 29 innings while striking out 37. If he can find a way to harness his ability as he did in that stretch, he has all the potential to be a force as a major league starter.
Bolaños’ stuff is really, really good. With a little consistency, he could be special.
David Bednar has been on my radar for a few years. What was the key to his dominance out of the bullpen this year?
Sam Levitt: David Bednar is one of the best stories I’ve seen in minor league baseball and perhaps put together the most dominant stretch of any reliever in the Texas League during 2019. He was a 35th round pick out of Lafayette, a small Division I program. There wasn’t any fanfare about Bednar when the season started, but he changed that in a big way as the summer rolled along.
Here were Bednar’s numbers in 26 appearances from June 9 to August 30, his final outing before being promoted to San Diego: 1.85 ERA, 34 innings, 52 strikeouts, and 5 walks. Simply dominant.
Bednar pumps his fastball in for strikes at mid-90s velocity and pairs it with a devastating splitter. He throws a curveball for strikes consistently. It felt like every outing built on one another, while his confidence grew with every appearance. Bednar simply came into his own in every way. He was unhittable during that stretch.
I wasn’t surprised when he got to San Diego and pitched well. If you take out his final outing in the big leagues, Bednar had a 2.61 ERA in 12 appearances with 14 strikeouts in 10.1 innings.
I’m going to be pulling for Bednar moving forward. You need to really turn heads to get to the Major Leagues as a 35th rounder, and Bednar certainly did. He earned the opportunity in every sense. A great story.
MacKenzie Gore only made a few outings for the Sod Poodles but how good was his stuff in the limited looks you saw?
Sam Levitt: There’s not much more I can say about Gore than what’s already been said by so many others. He’s an ace in the making. His stuff is tremendous and he’s an incredibly hard worker. lt’s hard to believe he’s just 20 when you consider the quality of his pitches and his ability to throw anything for a strike at any count.
I was actually most impressed by his final outing on August 27th vs. Tulsa, after he had been rested for a few weeks. His velocity was a bit higher than when he first arrived at Double-A and he struck out five batters in 1.2 scoreless innings. It was a flash of the dominance he displayed in the California League.
I watched Gore’s bullpen session prior to his Double-A debut in Frisco and was blown away. It was like no side session I’d ever seen. He displays extreme focus and intensity with every moment. Every pitch he threw in that session had a purpose. You could see him challenging himself and the competitive nature that so many evaluators in San Diego’s system have raved about.
Sometimes, players just have that “it” factor and a willingness to be great. Gore has that aura about him.
Were there any other pitchers not mentioned that impressed this season?
Sam Levitt: On the starting side, righty Lake Bachar really had a tremendous season. If not for a few hiccups towards the end of the season, he very well could have received Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors. In 13 outings from June 1 to August 9, he pitched to a 2.09 ERA in 77 innings. It was the finest stretch of his pro career. Bachar’s got a good fastball and some nice off-speed stuff, including a sharp slider.
Kyle Lloyd is a name that Padres’ fans are familiar with, and the 28-year-old had two dominant seven-inning performances in the postseason. He has the ability to keep lineups off balance and is as hard a worker as you’ll find. His splitter and fastball combo is really good. I hope he gets another shot in the big leagues at some point.
In the bullpen, Dauris Valdez quietly put together a dominant stretch and he’s got some electric stuff. From June 1 to August 31, Valdez had a 2.33 ERA in 28 appearances. He can touch 100 MPH with his fastball, while his slider and changeup really improved as the season moved along. Once he started throwing more strikes, Valdez really turned a corner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a look in San Diego’s bullpen at some point in 2020 if he keeps moving in the right direction.
Left-hander Travis Radke had a tremendous season in the bullpen. He registered a combine 2.64 ERA in 49 outings between Lake Elsinore, Amarillo, and El Paso. He posted a 1.94 ERA in 45 appearances between all levels in 2018. Radke is a crafty pitcher and knows he needs to mix up his offerings and timing in order to keep hitters guessing. He was a very reliable presence and I think he’ll continue to have success. Radke may be someone who gets a shot in San Diego’s bullpen at some point.
Read all the rest of our coverage of Amarillo and the other Padres affiliates as we wrap up the 2019 season. If you haven’t already become a subscriber, please consider doing so now and supporting our work.