On the last Monday of every month, we run our “The View From the Booth” feature, where we interview a different broadcaster from one of the minor league affiliates, getting their opinion on how the team they follow looks, as well as some insight on that level of the system. I was in West Virginia over the weekend and had the chance to interview Adam Marco, getting his thoughts on top prospect Jameson Taillon, as well as some of the other prospects at the level, and of course, the Toast Man.
Adam has been the radio broadcaster for the West Virginia Power for two years now. He’s been in Minor League Baseball for five years now, starting off with the Williamsport Crosscutters, doing promotions and road radio broadcasts. In 2008 and 2009 he was the number two broadcaster for the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the AAA Affiliate for the Texas Rangers. He started with West Virginia as the Director of Media Relations and the lead broadcaster in 2010.
1. Getting towards the end of the year, obviously the big story in West Virginia this year has been Jameson Taillon, the top prospect in the system coming in to the year. From your view, how did he look throughout the year?
I thought he looked pretty good. There were some outings where you could tell he was a 19 year old kid. I agree with what I’m sure you’ve heard a lot from the organization, guys like Dave Turgeon. When he gives up something he tends to lose a little bit in his mechanics, he’ll overthrow. He is one of the more mild mannered kids you come across, save maybe a Zack Von Rosenberg, but his aggressive side really seemed to come out, and that’s where he would lose mechanics. If he gave up a home run, you don’t see that recovery as quickly as you would a guy who maybe pitched in college, or even has a year under his belt. That progressed to the point where I think a lot of people were happy with him.
Ultimately I was a little surprised this last start that he didn’t go five innings, that they didn’t give him that shot for a win when the offense was there early. They’re not going to stress much on record, but even to just have him finish 3-3, or give him that opportunity, which is still out there with one more start this season. The way he was pitching, with the nine strikeouts, and ultimately pitching so well, that was the best start he had all year, hands down, and it really showcased everything he has done well this season.
2. His overall numbers haven’t looked good, obviously. He’s been hit around a little bit. Having seen him, would you say that the numbers have any reflection on him, or is he better than the numbers indicate?
I think it’s both. I think the numbers are a pretty solid reflection of a 19 year old kid in a hitter’s league, where if you throw a fastball, you’re dealing with guys who know how to hit a fastball. What they don’t know how to hit is his curve, and that was the best thing that impressed me about him this year, was his ability to use that curveball and control it so well. I think, the fact that he had, including today, 17 no decisions in 22 starts. You don’t really get a full sample size of what he’s capable of, because at no point in time were they going to leave him out there to pitch through a situation. They weren’t going to let him go much beyond the pitch count, much beyond the five innings, in fact never beyond five innings. So I think there are certain parts of the numbers that are indicative of his season. The strikeouts to walk ratio is certainly a part of it, but I think it’s more a factor of a 19 year old kid in a league that is dominated by college hitters and guys who have been around baseball for two or three years now in a lot of cases. It’s a lack of experience that maybe shows in the numbers that, next year when he’s in Bradenton or wherever he ends up, I think ultimately the numbers will be more indicative of the type of player he will be at that time.
3. Behind Taillon you have the 2009 prep pitchers, Zack Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain. They had kind of opposite years, Von Rosenberg hit around a lot, Cain has had some good numbers. What was your impression on those two, and a few of the other guys in the rotation like Zack Dodson?
I think Colton Cain has the makings of a workhorse. I mean just a bigger kid, and he has that makeup that you’re going to get out there, and you can get like we did in a stretch in June. You’re going to get six innings, seven innings out of him, when you’re not hampered by an innings count, which earlier in the season he wasn’t so he was going six innings I think it was five or six straight starts. I think that ultimately is how he’ll be. Again, high strikeout/low walk guy which is really what the Pirates have, not so much intended to invest in, but this team: fewest walks in the South Atlantic League. Bradenton: fewest walks in the Florida State League. The last time I looked, our strikeout to walk ratio was the best in this league. Cain is a guy that you’re going to get a lot of innings out of, and he’s not going to put a lot of guys on base. I think in the minor leagues you can’t ask for much more out of a pitcher.
Von Rosenberg, it was two-thirds of the season you didn’t want to see him pitch every fifth day, and then the last third of the season he was ultimately the ace of this staff, maybe aside from Taillon. I think it was a stretch of six or seven straight games where Zack’s ERA was 1.92. He wasn’t allowing much, I think it was eight runs over 37 innings, or something along those lines. He was a completely different player than what we saw the first two and a half, three months in the season. I think a large part of that has to do with Dave Turgeon, finally having some consistency this season. The thing with Zack is, he’s so quiet off the field. He and Taillon have that similar. Jameson was just attack, attack, attack when he was on the mound. Well, Von Rosenberg, not so much, and I think that was the problem. They bring out that more aggressive nature. You bring a Taillon, Zac Fuesser, a Colton Cain working inside to hitters. You bring those mentalities to a Von Rosenberg and I think that’s what we get. It’s tough to change a pitcher’s mechanics, but it can be done. I think it’s more difficult to change a pitcher’s mentality about how he pitches against guys, and I think that was the big thing with Von Rosenberg.
Dodson was impressive in the limited time we saw him, with the broken hand sandwiched in the middle of his appearances here in West Virginia. His month of August was exactly what we needed. He’s a kid that, when he stays consistent, when he’s out there, it’s not flashy but he’s going to get the job done. I like what we saw from him from a left handed pitcher. I think Zac Fuesser did well, kind of a season to me that came out of nowhere. His numbers, maybe from a wins and losses aren’t really telling of how his season was. He was a reliever, he pitched well for us in spot starts, and ultimately was thrown out there in that day to day, and every fifth day rotation role. He did alright for us.
Two guys out of the bullpen that stand out to me: Jason Townsend was just that backend presence all season long, and Brooks Pounders. Even though he started off 5-0 and hasn’t won a game since that time, I think Brooks is a guy who has a big upside, and that’s no pun intended on his size, but a big upside in this organization. If they keep him in a middle relief role, or if they eventually try to work him back in to a starting role, that remains to be seen. I like what I saw from those two guys especially this season.
4. Coming in to the year there was some talk that West Virginia had one of the best rotations in the minors. You didn’t hear too much about the hitters. Who are the guys who stood out for you?
A lot of people I think will pick Drew Maggi as one of the offensive MVPs of this club. It’s hard to argue with, the kid’s had ten hits in the last three games. For a consistent season presence, there’s no doubt it was Matt Curry the first two months, Justin Howard maybe the second two months, but from April 7th to August now, the guy for me is Dan Grovatt. The All-Star was great, but just kind of that mid-point recognition. The most consistent player on this club was Dan Grovatt. Mel Rojas I think came a long way. Gary Robinson described it as a kid with a lot of tools. His power is going to play at some point, I’m not sure when that is. I think he still needs some work. I think he’s still raw, comparatively speaking, but he’s come a long way.
For whatever reason, yes this was a club to be known for pitching. The brief time we’ve been affiliated with the Pirates, they haven’t sent offensive clubs to us. They may send us an offensive guy or three, like the first year with (Calvin Anderson), Quincy Latimore, and Starling Marte. Last year we relied on Aaron Baker, and we get the surprises of a David Rubinstein out in right field. This year the guy that was supposed to be our leader, was, Matt Curry. When he was on this club we were fighting that winning record, and we rode the coattails of May to a 35-33 first half record. But without him, that’s when things started slipping away. Maybe now at the end we’re picking it up a little bit. Grovatt has been there, his month of August has been amazing. He was the most impressive player to me on this team because his season, it wasn’t like a hot start and curtailed from there. It’s just been gradually consistent and on the rise. We’re batting around .250 this year, where would we be without a guy who is hitting .280 and driving in 60 runs, I don’t know. It’s not an offensive club, I’m curious to see what 2012 presents, if there are any guys down there at State College, or if we get a Josh Bell. That sort of thing that makes us for the first time in now our fourth season as a Pirates affiliate, makes us a team like Greensboro, which is a force to be reckoned with offensively.
5. Speaking of Bell, do the fans here follow the top guys and talk about “Are we going to see Josh Bell”, “Are we going to see Jameson Taillon”, “Are we going to see some of the 2009 guys”?
Absolutely. At our Pirate Caravan in January, Frank Coonelly said “You guys are going to see Jameson Taillon”, “You guys are probably going to see Stetson Allie”. We got half of that right, but one was enough. Getting the first round pick was enough, even if it wasn’t at the outset of the year, it was the end of April and we had him for 22 starts, 23 starts probably when it’s all said and done. They absolutely follow it. We’re already talking about that next year’s pitching staff, next year’s rotation. Will we get Gerrit Cole. Will he go to Bradenton. If I hedge my bets on it, I think Taillon and Cole are at the top of the Bradenton rotation. It would shock me to see him here. I would be pleasantly surprised. I think Bell’s a better bet to start here, if they want to really jump start his career and not send him to extended and not send him to State College.
The guys that aren’t necessarily well known, I think people expect Stetson to be here next year to start the season. That’s his natural progression. But you don’t hear fans talking about Samuel Gonzalez. You don’t hear them talking about anyone from the GCL. It’s the draft choices and the draft choices alone that they know about, because they’re the most publicized. I follow a few other guys. I want to see Jesus Brito come back here as a pitcher now. Whether or not that happens, who knows. That would be fun for me to see a guy that was here, by the time he’s back, two years ago. They know the big names. The hardcore fans are ultimately the ones that come up to me after the game, “who do you think we’re going to get next year”? I kind of look at the rosters and think, I’ve kind of done it the last couple of days in the broadcast, who do I think has a chance to come back?
If we got a guy like Chase Lyles back, I don’t think I’d be all that surprised. If (Elias Diaz) or (Eric Avila) came back for another year, just based on their offensive numbers, and the fact that they’re 20 years old, 21 years old, I don’t think that would surprise me as much. We only had four guys come back from last year’s club, so I don’t really hold my breath for a lot of these kids to come back. Maybe a Rinku Singh to start the year here, just kind of speculating. I hope Rogelios Noris isn’t back. I hope he’s in Bradenton, and up to stay. I think his game was limited by the amount of playing time he got this year. They follow it, I follow it. I’m working and looking at media guides, rosters, just guess who I’d think we’re going to get. If I had to guess, I’d say a Josh Bell, I’d say a Stetson Allie, and maybe one to three guys at most from this current club.
6. Looking at some of the guys you’ve had come through in the past, particularly Starling Marte. He’s had a great year in Altoona this year, kind of a break out year because of him doing that in the upper levels. And then another guy that you had, Robbie Grossman, is having a big year in Bradenton. Did you see some flashes from those guys when they were here? Did they kind of stand out above the rest while they were here?
I think Grossman’s season was, not necessarily out of nowhere this year, but the fact that he is repeating that level, he had the ability to excel on a club that was predominately made of our 2010 team here in West Virginia. Starling I think everybody knows is going to be there at some point in time. I think Pittsburgh has created a good thing, a logjam of outfield talent. With (Alex Presley) coming off the DL these last couple of days, where and when does Starling get that chance. And if he finally entrenches himself in center, who moves where in the outfield at the big league level? What does that do to Grossman? Does he then become trade bait at the end of next year like we’re looking at this year trying to acquire some guys to make a run at the post season, or make a run at a .500 record in Pittsburgh. That was more important to me growing up there, growing up in Pittsburgh. The playoff run would have been nice, but finishing with a .500 or better record was more important to the fans in the city of Pittsburgh.
I think a lot of people knew with Starling, and never had any doubt. It wasn’t maybe as much as a slam dunk as they saw with Ryan Braun when he was here for the brief time in the Brewers days, but I think ultimately most people expected that. It was more of a hope and potential type situation for Robbie, and I think he starts next year in Altoona, but finishes in Indianapolis, if ultimately he has even a remotely close season, even 75% of what he has done this year for Bradenton, I think gets Grossman there. I think Starling has that potential to jump over the AAA level, or at least spend a short amount of time there.
7. You said you’re from the Pittsburgh area. Did you grow up a Pirates fan?
I grew up a Dodgers fan. In the 1980’s I was a big Orel Hershiser fan, and my best friends were all Pirates fans. So we’d go to games, I’d cheer against the Pirates, and they would cheer for them. This was the Chico Lind, Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere, pre-Sid Bream Braves days, and it wasn’t until the late 90s after the strike that I started to really follow the Pirates. Hershiser moved on to the Indians, and then the Giants and Mets, and that kind of swayed me towards Pittsburgh. I wrote a research paper one year about how they couldn’t compete. It was 97, it was the year that they did compete until that final week of the season. So they won me over. Then 98 with all the home run chase with Sosa and McGwire I was going to the stadium every couple of games. At that point in time I was in college, but home for the summer, was working, any chance we had I was working down in Pittsburgh so we’d just stick around and go to the game afterwards.
It was ultimately that point in time when I started to follow them, so now I’m a Pirates/Red Sox fan because, to endure the losing, I had to find someone who was winning, and also didn’t like the Yankees at that point in time, because they were buying players and doing what the Pirates couldn’t do financially, it seems. I took that for what it’s worth, like the Red Sox, happy that somebody I followed at least won a World Series in 04. But through and through a Pirates fan now. Dodgers are an after thought. Red Sox kind of, if the Pirates are 1A, Red Sox are 2B with nothing in between, but still cheer for them. I spent some time with the Oklahoma City RedHawks in Texas’ organization, so I like to see the Rangers do well, but my background and my knowledge base is more so based on Pirate lure and suffering through days that I’d seen Kevin Polcovich or Lou Collier struggling at shortstop, and now we get to see guys like Chase d’Arnaud, who we want to see excel.
8. In West Virginia you’ve got something kind of unique other parks don’t have. You’ve got the Toast Man. How is it doing your broadcast every day when the Toast Man is doing his thing?
Distracting. Entertainingly distracting. There have probably been five points this season where I’ve caught myself, just for a split second, “what did he just say?”. He does so much research. I think he does more research on a day to day basis than the average broadcaster. Our body of work that we do is more built up on a season’s worth of knowledge, but he is out there finding nuggets and tidbits that you would never mention on the air, first of all. You would never mention that a guy was in High School Musical his senior year. You could, but I try to rely on, I hope, more relevant facts. But Mr. Blackstone, Rod Blackstone, the Toast Man, his whole goal is not to affect the game, but if he can get in to a player’s head, even for a split second, where he’s thinking about what’s going on behind the plate, as opposed to what’s going on in front of it, then he’s done his job.
He’s been silenced a couple of times. One time I noticed was against Bryce Harper. Harper hit a home run, this was after Toast Man was getting on his case about not wearing the eye black that day. I think it was on and off at the beginning of the year that Harper was wearing it. Not doing the smear, but just the eye black. He hit a majestic home run out of the park, and it was, as he was running around the bases, you just look down at the Toast Man and he’s covering his mouth with his research, and he sits down. It doesn’t happen often that a player gets him, it’s more so that he gets a player, based on his knowledge. But it’s fun. And it is such a unique feature to this park.
It goes back 20 years now, and it’s gotten more and more developed with the addition of internet research. Before it was just “You Are Toast”. Now it’s in depth details about each player, and it seems like it’s something, like he’s attacking the players I think at times. But that’s not his ultimate goal. He becomes friends with them. He’ll buy them dinner in the grill after a game. He Facebooks some of them, and he follows them. He’s a huge fan of Anthony Gose a few years back when he was with the Phillies. Anthony Hewitt this year. They are guys that he follows, and he’ll go to Pittsburgh when they’re playing there. One of the earliest stories I remember was Hunter Pence. He always ridiculed, for what it’s worth, and got on Hunter Pence’s case. But now he’ll go to Pittsburgh when Houston is playing, and he and Pence will talk before and after games. It’s a unique relationship that he has with the players, that it’s almost like the players treat him like a pitcher, that if you strike me out in one at-bat, I’m gonna forget about it and I’m gonna come back and try to get you the next time. That’s kind of the relationship with the Toast Man, and it makes it fun to watch.