The 2021 season saw the Padres organization return to San Antonio for its Double-A affiliate. The Missions spent twelve seasons with San Diego in the now defunct Texas League. After one year of play in Triple-A and the cancelled 2020 season, the Missions returned both to the lower level and the Padres organization once more – this time in the newly-formed, and creatively named, Double-A Central League.
The Missions had arguably the Padres’ top prospect in CJ Abrams on the opening day roster but he played in just 43 games before suffering a season-ending leg injury at the end of June. San Antonio finished the 2021 campaign with a 57-63 record.
Stu Paul called all 120 games for the Missions in 2021, albeit in a unique fashion. The veteran broadcaster called home games from the press box at Wolff Stadium but due to the COVID protocols, didn’t travel with the club. So like many big league broadcasters, Paul called road games from San Antonio, utilizing the MiLB.TV feed for each road game.
“I did every game, home and away, in the booth for San Antonio,” said Paul, who just wrapped up his eighth year with the Missions, his first as the main play-by-play voice.
“At times, I was alone at night, which I didn’t mind. Believe it or not, our radio station used artificial sound and I didn’t want [listeners] to think I was in the studio. I wanted them to pretend that I was on-site and I wanted [listeners] to pretend like they were in Amarillo or Northwest Arkansas or wherever. A lot of people couldn’t tell the difference so it worked out pretty well.”
In addition to his responsibilities with the Missions, he has also called women’s basketball games for Stephen F. Austin State University, men’s basketball games for Lamar State College in Port Arthur, Texas and even a little hockey for the Colorado Avalanche’s affilate in the American Hockey League. Stu was nice enough to answer questions about the 2021 Missions.
MadFriars: I know that you didn’t get to see a lot of CJ Abrams, due to an early shoulder injury and later with the leg injury. When he was on the field what were your impressions of him?
Stu Paul: I thought for a young man of only 20, he carried himself with a lot of confidence. The guy can hit to all fields. He has excellent speed and good range at short and a good arm. But it was his presence unlike most 20 or 21-year-olds, he had a maturity beyond his years. Fortunately, he is still very young. It’s a shame [that he got injured] and it might have cost [the Missions] a chance to go to the playoffs. It was his speed, his maturity, and the way he handled the bat that stood out.
Stu Paul: He can hit. I really thought this guy could hit to all fields with power and was able to get [quite a few] extra-base hits. He has speed but got a little over-aggressive on the bases at times. He has the ability with his speed to steal bases. I thought he did a good job at short. He had good range to his left and right and had a pretty good arm. I really thought he was a natural at shortstop. I think with his versatility, he’s capable of playing a lot of positions. I am sure if the Padres need him, they can find a place for him in the infield.
Outfielder Jose Azocar was one of the biggest surprises to me this year, considering he was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the 2021 season. What can you tell us about him?
Stu Paul: Azocar could hit for power and if you can hit for power out of the leadoff spot, that’s a real plus. He could also run down balls in the outfield. He made a Willie Mays-type of catch – a two-hand, over-the-shoulder catch – in a game earlier in the year when the [Missions] were hot. He gets good reads on the ball in the outfield. I think he’s capable of playing center field. He’s been in professional baseball for a while and I’d expect him to start in Triple-A. But he can play the other outfield positions, he’s got a good arm and looked natural in center field, as far as I am concerned.
Looking at the pitching side of things, Adrian Martinez was the breakout pitcher for the Missions in 2021 and our Pitcher of the Year. His stock rose as much as anyone in the system.
What impressed you most about Martinez?
Stu Paul: The first time you said the word pitching, the man that came into my mind was Adrian Martinez. He was our best. He always kept the ball moving all over the plate. He had a great arm – he could get it up there around 95-96 miles per hour. He threw good sliders and he was our best.
Of all the starters we had in 2021 – and we had guys like [Aaron] Leasher and Reiss Knehr – if I had to pick a guy who has a great chance of being in the big leagues and sticking, it’s Adrian. Depending on how he does in spring training, he will probably start the year in El Paso in my perspective, but if he can make some adjustments and pitch like he did last year, don’t be surprised to see him in San Diego at some point in 2022.
Aaron Leasher had a solid year for the Missions before being promoted to El Paso. What did you see from him?
Stu Paul: He’s not going to overpower people but he will find a way to hit his spots. He keeps the ball down and moves the ball around the plate. He has a good change-up and a good slider. When he mixes up his pitches and uses them right. I think he’s capable [of having success in the big leagues].
Joe Beimel was one of my favorite stories of the 2021 season. How much fun was it to watch the veteran attempt a comeback this year?
Stu Paul: It reminded me of Jim Morris; who got to the big leagues at 35. 44 is old, but with the athleticism a lot of these guys have and the way they keep themselves in shape; [Beimel] has the stuff and it was his presence as well.
Like I mentioned with CJ Abrams, Beimel presented himself really well. He had great stuff, he kept the ball around the plate and never beat himself. He would come in for the one or two innings that [Missions manager] Phillip Wellman would need him and he was very consistent. I still think he can be a useful pitcher.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Chandler Seagle behind the plate. How much fun was he to watch defensively this year?
Stu Paul: He’s a great defensive catcher. He had some clutch hits here and there as well. Lord knows how many times [Seagle] and the other Missions catcher, Juan Fernandez, prevented wild pitches. I think they would make great goaltenders in the National Hockey League (laughs). His reactions behind the plate were just as good as the big leaguers. Defensively, I thought he did a nice job.
Were there any other players that caught your eye this year?
Stu Paul: [Infielder] Ethan Skender was good. He was called up late in the year [from Fort Wayne]. He has good range at second base. I didn’t get to see a lot of him, but he played well. Agustin Ruiz has got some potential. He got off to a good start, hit for some power then [had issues with strikeouts]. But he just turned 22. He [should] start next year in San Antonio. Henry Henry was probably the [Missions’] best reliever and Sam Williams showed some promise out of the bullpen. He had good stuff, sat in the low 90s. Lefty Tom Cosgrove also had good control and was able to get big outs when they needed him.