Day 11: Q&A with AGM A.J. Hinch
PEORIA, Ariz. — Yes, it’s a Peoria dateline today, though it could have easily read MY COUCH, Ariz. That’s right: I got a day off. In all honesty, I’m not spending my time indoors today as I’m headed to the Phoenix Art Museum to see their Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit.
I know, you could care less. And that’s fine. I’m cool with that. You want your Padres news.
I’ll try to add to the blog later if there were any stunning developments in camp. But to tie you over until then, I have got a treat — a Q&A with Padres vice president, assistant general manager A.J. Hinch, who was kind enough to give me a few minutes today.
Hinch was elevated to his current position in September after spending all of last season as vice president, professional scouting. I think he’s got a unique perspective and not just because of his diverse professional background but because in his position a year ago, he spent a lot of time on the road watching amateur players before the draft, current players in the Minor League system and even ones who weren’t yet Padres, like Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin, who Hinch saw a handful of times before the July 31 trade.
Anyway, here’s that Q&A:
— Who are some of the players who have impressed you so far in camp?
“On the pitching side, it’s been an impressive group of young pitchers. Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, Andrew Cashner, three newcomers to the organization in the last calendar year have been positive for different reasons. Cashner looks the part, has life in his body and his arm. There is something about him that separates him from the pack. With the young starters (Erlin, Wieland and Casey Kelly), it’s been fun to see them do well. Starting pitching is so hard to find in our game.
— How do you typically divide your day before games start – watching catchers, pitchers, hitters, meetings?
“This time of year, it changes from day to day. You’re here developing a chemistry, a camaraderie around the ballpark, whether that be players, staff or the front office. You tend to touch everyone in camp. There’s something to do every day. I spent a lot of time checking in with different groups. When guys get on the field, you go out and you’re watching pitchers right now because they’re head of hitters. I watch bullpens. They’ve [pitchers] been here a little longer, they’ve been through that first week soreness and are starting to look like the players they going be.”
— As a player, what were the best and worst aspects of Spring Training?
“The best part in any role seeings the guys again and building the camaraderie and having the even slate again, no matter what you did last year. The worst part if the grind. The toll that it takes on your body, the pounding that your body takes. You feel in the best shape of your life when you get there, but after a few days, you just feel sore in every aspect. No matter how hard you train in the off-season, it beats you up.”
— How difficult is it to evaluate players during games here (hard infields, big wind and varied level of competition)?
“It’s important to keep it all in context. No evaluation will sorely be based on what happens in Spring Training. We have files on players, we have seen these guys last year in the season, during instructional league, during winter ball. You don’t base your evaluation solely on one month. The two worst times to evaluate Major League talent are September (expanded rosters) and Spring Training. It’s not a perfect science.”
— Hitters are facing live pitching this week. From your own experience is this fun or a daunting task?
“It’s a necessary evil. The pitchers need to see hitters and you need to calibrate your eyes and mind to velocity and recognize spin and things like that. Sometimes you draw that savvy veteran who might be working on a few things. But more times than not you draw the young flamethrower who might be a little too amped up.”
— You saw catcher Austin Hedges before the draft last year. He’s got a good shot to make the Fort Wayne roster at 19. What do you like about his skills behind the plate and has the bat comes along faster than you guys thought?
“I think what’s played faster than we anticipated is his growth spurt. He’s put on some weight and added strength. He carries himself with maturity and that’s good to see. His physical maturity is starting to catch up with emotional maturity. His control of the bat head is better than when we saw him in high school. As he gets more at-bats, it looks like he can impact games both offensively and defensively.
That’s it for now. As I mentioned, I’ll update the blog if there’s any big developments in camp today. See you Thursday.
Corey Brock, MLB.com