We caught up with John Conniff of MadFriars.com and FoxSports San Diego after his recent trip to AA San Antonio. The Missions have had some of the top prospects in the Padres’ organization this year such as Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges, Jace Peterson, Rymer Liriano and Corey Spangenberg. We’ll catch up with John after each one of his stops at the Padres Minor League system and get the latest scoop from an insiders point of view.
A big thanks goes out to John for taking the time to chat with us. Make sure you also check out his Players of the Month article today.
Avenger-in-Chief: The Missions have been shutout five times in April. What’s going on with the offense out in Texas? Is it a bad run or are there bigger issues at play as prospects advance to a higher level?
John Conniff: What has hurt the Missions offense most this year has been injuries. With both Cory Spangenberg and Travis Jankowski going down with significant injuries and Jace Peterson being promoted, San Antonio lost their three best hitters. Rymer Liriano is coming back from a year off and Austin Hedges, who is only 21, is still a work in progress at the plate.
There are some other guys down there that have had success in the past, such as C/DH Robert Kral and OF Kyle Gaedele but they have also gotten off to a slow start. A player that is a bit of a sleeper is 1B/C Jason Hagerty, who is finally healthy after some serious injuries and has been putting up some numbers in the first month.
RJ’s Fro: Despite being a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Rymer Liriano still appeared to be an extremely strong human being in Spring Training. How has he looked in San Antonio?
John Conniff: Liriano is a beast. It’s funny he told me he “slimmed” down to 230 lbs. after getting up to 250 while he was recovering from his surgery. If there was any fat on his body at his current weight I didn’t see it.
His batting practice sessions are impressive and one night when I was there I saw him absolutely crush a ball over the center field wall. As I mentioned in the San Antonio Notebook article, he has always been a slow starter mainly because so much of his success is about his rhythm at the plate. Right now he is a little out of sync because of the long layoff; hitting off of his front foot and not recognizing pitches.
If I’m going to make a prediction I would expect too see much better numbers out of him when the weather heats up and he gets some more at-bats under his belt.
RJ’s Fro: You’ve been covering the Padres minor leagues for quite some time now. Where does Austin Hedges rank in the pantheon of Padres top prospects over the years?
John Conniff: Hedges is very talented and easily one of the most polished players that I have ever seen both on the field and in dealing with the media, particularly for his age. Defensively he is the best I’ve seen the Padres have at catcher and if he were in the big leagues now he would be the best defensive catcher on the team. However, I was also a big fan of Beamer Weems, who was the most talented defensive shortstops that I have ever seen and Yordany Ramirez was an incredibly talented center fielder. The problem with both of them is they just couldn’t hit enough to ever get a chance at the big leagues.
Now I think Hedges is a much better hitter than either of those two, but right now that is only what I “think”. His overall minor league slash line is .263/.330/.408 and I don’t buy the theory that if he only hits around .220 he will be a major league regular. All of us have watched enough Padres games to know that while defense at that position comes first, you also have to hit something.
RJ’s Fro: Who do you think will get called up to the Padres this year and what type of impact do you think they’ll have?
John Conniff: I think we will see Matt Wisler sometime in June if there is an opening on the big league staff. Every performance he has looked good and I was a little surprised that they are sending him to experience the Thunderdomes of the Pacific Coast League.
I was told by Randy Smith the reason they sent him back to San Antonio from major league camp is that they didn’t want him to start throwing too many secondary pitches in the smaller parks of the PCL.
As far as his impact I agree with a statement that former Padres’ General Manager Jed Hoyer said in that probably around a quarter of a player’s development is done on the major league level. I’m sure Wisler will have a pretty big mix of success and learn that his secondary pitches and command at the major league level are more important than velocity.
He seems to already be buying into that theory based on his time around major league players.
As far as his eventual impact I could see him being a very solid number two or three starter. I still stand by the statement that he is the best pitcher that San Diego has developed since Mat Latos.
RJ’s Fro: I tried selling the Avenger-in-Chief on a Texas trip (San Antonio and El Paso) instead of Portland (Hillsboro and Eugene included), specifically because I’ve been to Portland many times. But, understandably, I failed miserably. Let’s hear your best sell of Texas.
John Conniff: Oregon is much better place to visit than Texas but baseball wise Portland doesn’t have a team anymore either. Eugene is nice, but that is short-season ball. Texas definitely has some upside and while my El Paso trip is upcoming I have always enjoyed going to San Antonio to eat in addition to baseball.
Take AJM on the Texas autobahn, outside of city limits the speed limit is 85 MPH and is very lightly enforced, to Luling, Texas to the City Market for easily the best brisket and pork ribs he will have in his lifetime.
If he’s still whining, well Texas has some very liberal firearms laws.
Thanks guys, see you in El Paso.
Make sure you give John a follow on Twitter @MadFriars for some great Padres prospect news