With an 8-2 Opening Day loss to the Lancaster JetHawks on Thursday night, this isn’t the quick start you’d expect the Lake Elsinore Storm or manager Jamie Quirk would have liked to get off to. But, as Quirk would likely tell you, even a loss is a learning experience to build for the future.
Before the Storm packed the buses for the two-hour trip north, Padres Public was able to catch up with the first-year manager and a handful of players at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore during Wednesday’s FanFest to see how things were shaping up for the 2014 season.
Speaking to Quirk at the ballpark’s Diamond Club, the first-year manager is quick to point out that the big league coaching jobs that he’s had over the past decade or so will vary greatly from his task at hand in Lake Elsinore.
Primarily, he’s here to teach.
“This isn’t about wins,” he begins. “Not the way that it is in big leagues, anyway. That’s not to say that they aren’t important, but I’m here, first and foremost, to coach these guys and help them develop as players and as people.”
After my inquiries into whether or not he’s getting advanced information from the parent club’s Sabermetricians (he’s not) or how he’ll go about building a lineup around the likes of top prospects such as Julio Urias or Mark Appel (“I haven’t paid too much attention to their rosters”), it becomes clear that he’s focused on development.
He sees games opposite established, rehabbing Major Leaguers such as Clayton Kershaw as important for team growth, and will welcome the veteran presence of Padres players on assignment to help inspire his own clubhouse.
More importantly, it’s a learning experience for both parties.
Quirk sees this as getting back to his coaching roots, and he’ll get a chance to oversee a large stable of talented arms. In addition to the big names at the top of the rotation like Joe Ross and Zach Eflin, he notes Max Fried will also be ticketed for Lake Elsinore after he gets his reps in Peoria. Despite a varied group of individuals, some playing full-season ball for the first time, he views the end goal similarly across the entire roster.
“These guys are prospects. Maybe some aren’t the big names that you’re used to hearing, but they’re here for a reason. It’s my job to get them experience, both on the field and for real life. Get them ready for 140-plus games this season so they can play in 162 some day.”
As for whether he’s seen any similarities in the process with his new organization and that of the Cubs, given the turnover in baseball operations, he imparts the same sage advice that one would expect he might give a player coming off a rough day: look forward, and don’t dwell on the past.
“This is the Padres, man.” Quirk smiles. “You don’t talk about the Cubs.”
To start us off, and with nothing too specific, what your goals are for the year? Have you had anything set out for you by the organization? Any milestones, or anything else you want to accomplish this season?
Hunter Renfroe: I mean, honestly, I want to hit over .300 and try to get as many RBIs as possible. Home runs will come, but don’t just try to hit the ball out of the park – just line drives.
I actually caught you hitting the second weekend of March. Taking BP, working on…I believe the term was “selectively aggressive.” You were littering them equally to left and right field.
Hunter Renfroe: Yeah. That’s exactly what I was trying to do.
Zach Eflin: I’m still trying to learn the game of baseball, so… [Laughs] I’ve got to learn after every outing to cope with the struggles and success. How to bounce back from each of those and learn as much as I can on and off the field.
Joe Ross: I would say the ability to make adjustments pitch-to-pitch on the mound. I feel, as pitchers, we can kind of feel what we’re doing wrong before we even throw the ball. Like on, say, one certain pitch just try to take a deep breath, step back, and really focus on correcting it. Y’know, just staying down in the zone. Everyone here says walks – I mean, walks are always important – but eliminating the walks here they say is huge here so that’s definitely something for this year.
Corey Adamson: I want to improve on my stolen bases. Try to get at least 50 this year and build off the success that I had here last year and try to take advantage of a hitter’s league and then, hopefully get out of this league as soon as possible. [Laughs] That would be my main goal. But, yeah, other than that, I’ll probably hit close to the top of the order so I’ll be a bit of a table-setter, get a lot of walks and just get on base a lot.
As far as the league is concerned, which stadiums have you found to be havens and which ones are – for lack of a better term – “protected?”
Corey Adamson: Lancaster and High Desert. I played there last year, and guys were getting jammed and popping balls up and center fielders were running back and catching them on the wall. So, try to take advantage of those fields and we’ve got both of them our first two series coming up. We’ll try to get as hot as early as possible so when we’re playing at the not-so-hitter friendly parks we can kind of cruise off that a little bit.
You guys all have a diverse background as far as where you initially acquired and brought up from. Two of you were brought in straight from high school, Corey’s from Australia, and we’ve got one guy out of college. Joe, you’ve got the Major League brother. How much different is it going to be, or have you already experienced some of this clubhouse dynamic thus far?
Joe Ross: I think it’s good that we have a bunch of different backgrounds between drafts and where we’re from. We can all learn something from each other. I’d say it’s definitely an advantage to have some of the guys who are – who is a more veteran pitcher?
Zach Eflin: Colin Rea?
Joe Ross: Colin Rea, yeah. Young guys like me and Eff out of high school, it’s good to be able to ask questions and learn. I think he’s more of a calm and collected pitcher, and person overall. So we can probably learn something from him, because I know he and I have a little bit of a shorter temper when it comes to things going on in the game. Just things like that. We can learn things from one another and I think it’s good that we have a diverse group like that.
Corey, you said you set a goal for 50 stolen bases. Do you have to work a lot as far as integrating that speed into your defensive game as well, or does that just kind of come naturally?
Corey Adamson: I think it comes more naturally to me on defense than doing it on the base paths. They’ve said this year that I’ll play all three outfield positions, which I haven’t done for a couple years. So, that’ll be cool. I guess all the running and coaching that I did in the off-season will help when I’m in center field trying to cover as much ground as possible. I’ll just kind of take that whole experience through hitting, base running, and in the outfield trying to be athletic as possible.
Is there any position you’re most comfortable at?
Corey Adamson: I like center field the most. I feel like it’s kind of the easiest – everything’s out there in front of you. I played every day out there in the off-season. But the corners are pretty similar – right field here is real nice with that shallow wall. You get a lot of opportunities to throw people out at second base. Get guys who haven’t played here before, try to take a turn and be aggressive, when the ball comes off that wall it comes straight to you.
Left field and right field are pretty similar to me.
Hunter, I take it you’re looking forward to getting those off the wall, what with your arm.
Hunter Renfroe: Yeah, absolutely. Anytime you have a chance to show off your arm, throw guys out, help your pitcher out of an inning – show what’s God-given. You just go out there and do as much as you can for the pitcher. Say a guy tries to get a double off the wall and you throw him out, and the pitcher kind of tips their cap to you – just do what I can to get back and hit again. It’s all good.
Corey said he’d be switching between positions, but you’re pretty much set in right field, huh?
Hunter Renfroe: Pretty much. I’ll be in right field and, I guess, maybe in left some. But mostly in right.
Is there any pitch you’re working on specifically, Zach? Anything you feel you need work on, or want to incorporate into your repertoire?
Zach Eflin: I want to get more in control of my slider. It’s been a little loopy in Spring Training, so I just need to get out in front with it and throw it like my fastball. Really, get it down in the zone and throw it for strikes. Eliminate the walks.
I know you, Joe, talked about getting the walks under control. Is that something that’s been difficult because you’re working more outside the zone now, or just something where you’re working more pitches in?
Joe Ross: I think last year I was trying to be too fine when it comes to fastball location. Like, trying to get outside and really paint the corner. I feel like throughout the year and a lot in Spring Training a lot of people talked to me and, I guess, just what they experienced when I was pitching was you don’t always have to be so perfect. I mean, especially here, when guys swing at almost anything that crosses the plate. Just get ahead early, and if you get behind don’t try to be too fine. That’s where you go from 2-0 to 3-0, and then you’ve got to throw one down the middle. Nothing good happens when it’s 3-0.
But, y’know, being aggressive and working down the middle of the plate really will help me be alright.
Well, that’s all I have, so I’ll let you guys get to your meeting. Appreciate it.