We caught up with John Conniff of MadFriars.com and FoxSports San Diego on his recent trip to AAA El Paso. The Chihuahuas are in their first year of existence and playing in a brand new stadium, Southwestern University Park.
The club features a combination of some of the Padres’ top prospects in Matt Wisler, Jace Peterson and Keyvius Sampson along with some more experienced players with big league service time in pitcher Jason Lane and outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
We caught up with John for his recent trip to the Sun City.
Vocal Minority Nate: Matt Wisler and Jace Peterson are the only people I care about on the roster. Am I wrong?
John Conniff: As far as top prospects go, you probably aren’t that far off. However, it’s also good to remember that many times guys that are kind of considered border-line “organizational” players like Nick Vincent a few years ago actually go on to have bigger and better careers than many of the players predicted by pundits like me.
There are quite a few guys that while they might not be stars could probably help the Padres or some other major league team if given an opportunity. Super-Utility man Cody Decker comes to mind and relief pitcher Hector Ambriz has been very good this season. Also catcher Adam Moore, who was picked up nearly for free from the Royals at the end of spring training, has been great both behind the plate and at it with a .320 batting average.
Avenger-in-Chief: How does El Paso compare to Tucson in terms of being a hitters’ destination? How skeptical should we be when we hear about big power numbers like the ones that Kyle Blanks put up during the first six weeks of the season?
John Conniff: It’s not as bad as Tucson but it’s not that far off either. The last day I was there both teams combined to hit seven home runs. The ball will fly out of that park. One reason the numbers seem bigger in both Tucson and El Paso is that the park in San Antonio, Nelson Wolff Stadium, is such an extreme pitcher’s park.
So yes, while good numbers are always better than bad, it’s not a bad idea to be a little skeptical of any offensive numbers that you see from the PCL South.
RJ’s Fro: Is there a cooler name than Odrisamer Despaigne?
John Conniff: No, flat out no. However, Fort Wayne does have a pitcher named Justin Livengood which can give him a run for his money.
RJ’s Fro: Was it shocking to see Wisler get called up to Triple-A? Do you see players like Austin Hedges or Rymer Liriano getting called up to Triple-A before the season ends? Do you think it’s a good thing for the players or could it stunt their developmental growth?
John Conniff: A little bit but when I was out there I had an opportunity to chat with Mark Prior, who is an Assistant to the General Manager, who basically stated that the Padres wanted to see what he could do against the more advanced hitters in AAA and tougher ballparks.
Liriano I do expect to see sometime this year in El Paso. I’m a big fan of his, he is truly a five-tool player, but he can also take some time to get going, primarily because he takes such a monster cut that it can take him awhile to find his rhythm.
Hedges has hit better as the season has moved forward, but I really think – especially with the way Adam Moore has been playing in El Paso – it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him a full year in AA.
RJ’s Fro: Border nachos served in a dog bowl, fried alligator, buffalo chicken and waffle sandwiches and huevos rancheros burgers? Tell me you tried each and every one of those at Southwest University Park?
John Conniff: The park is easily one of the best minor league parks that I have been in and was designed by the same firm that did PETCO. Yes, they do have some cool food but not all of it quite makes it up to friendly confines of the press box where the price is gratis.
El Paso is a really underrated place to eat. The best meal I had was about 20 minutes out of town to a place called The Cattleman’s Steakhouse, which is literally east of the city and in the middle of a desert. Great steaks and atmosphere – the location has been used for several movies.
But the best eats in the city are easily it’s Mexican food, which is better than San Antonio. I went to a relatively famous place recommended by a friend called the L&J Cafe, great, really cheap Mexican food. I ate a plate of enchiladas in green chile sauce, which is homemade, that was incredible.
Thanks guys, see you in Fort Wayne.
Make sure you give John a follow on Twitter @MadFriars for some great Padres prospect news