2015 Recaps: Lakewood BlueClaws – Interview with Greg Giombarrese

Listening to baseball on the radio is something that will never really get old for me, it is the ultimate story time.  You never going to scout a player by listening to the radio, but it will help fill in the details you are missing.  For those telling the story they need to be on top of everything going on on the field which leads to very in depth observations.  This is why I am happy to have the first of a few interviews with people doing radio for the Phillies’ affiliates.

Jay Floyd was scheduled to take part in this as well and had to back out, but I wanted to say that you should follow him on Twitter and read his blog, Phoulballz.

Introduce yourselves and what you do and where people can find you.

My name is Greg Giombarrese and I have done BlueClaws games on the radio since 2009. I work full-time for the team, handling our marketing, media, website, and social media.

He only stayed in Lakewood for half the season, but Carlos Tocci made his third trip to New Jersey this year.  How has he grown over the years?

When he arrived in Lakewood in 2013 as a 17 year old, he was only the second 17-year old ever to play here. The other, Domingo Santana in 2010, lasted a half-season before going back to Williamsport and then returning the next year. Carlos stayed here all year at 17 (he turned 18 that August). From day one, you knew he would need to get stronger, which obviously you would expect from any 17 year old playing in a league where the average age is around 20-21 years old.

He made some strides from 2013 to 2014 but he made huge strides from 2014 to 2015. First of all, he is much stronger. This is reflected in hard contact, it’s reflected in a few home runs that he hit, and it’s reflected in overall arm strength. He gets great jumps and covers a ton of ground but he his arm strength took a big step forward this year.

At the plate, he shows much improved plate discipline this year. He had a 4.8% walk rate in 2015 with a 18.8% strikeout rate. This year, his walk rate jumped to 7.9% and he cut his strikeout rate down to 12.2%. All this while, again, adding in a few more extra base hits.

He has speed but was not a great base-stealer last year (10-21). This year he improved there too, going 9-12. So all in all, he showed gains across the board while still, at age 19, being one of the younger players in the league. It was a great first half for Carlos in Lakewood.

In the middle of the season the Phillies traded Chris Oliver and Josh Taylor while promoting Ricardo Pinto to Clearwater.  Will Morris and Austin Davis stepped into the rotation and were good down the stretch, what is their stuff like and how do you see them growing going forward?

Both had started in college but not since being drafted and both really did very well. Neither is especially over-powering but they are both guys that know how to pitch, keep the ball down, and will mix in a pretty good curveball. They both had to get stretched out basically on the fly and were able to handle that. Morris especially, he went at least seven innings in six of his nine starts (and went 6.2 in another).

Depending how things shake out in Clearwater from a roster breakdown standpoint, I imagine both will get a chance to stay in the rotations and both deserve that.

It was a good year for minor league relievers with real major league upside in the system.  Not everyone is the next Ken Giles but there were some guys like Jairo Munoz, Jesen Therrien, Alexis Rivero, Matt Hockenberry, Joey DeNato, and others who were very good out of the bullpen.  Who do you think we could see in a major league bullpen at some point?

All of those players had excellent years. Jairo Munoz came on very strong at the end of the season. Yes, he is 24, but he also spent four years with the Royals as a side-armer, so he has far less experience than his age would indicate. He’s also 6-4, 175, can add some muscle, and throws in the low to mid-90s so there is definitely something there. The Phillies gave credit to Alex Concepcion, the pitching coach at the Dominican Academy, for helping Munoz with the transition in mechanics after they signed him in the spring (he was working at a Philadelphia mini mart while working out at an indoor facility in Cherry Hill – it’s quite the story).

Joey DeNato got the rare Lakewood to Lehigh Valley promotion and it was deserved. He was dominant over a two-year period in this league (I was surprised he wasn’t promoted sooner). He is not overpowering but has a good curveball and changeup and a sensational pick-off move (he picked off about 15 base-runners including some in situations where they know they can’t get picked off under any circumstances).

Alexis Rivero was a player that was a quiet addition to the roster having only thrown about 20 innings in the GCL the year before but, while is not physically overpowering (he’s only about 6-1), he throws very hard and has a very good fastball/slider combination. He’s definitely one to watch.

Matt Hockenberry revamped his mentality coming into the year and was far more aggressive (he described his 2014 as pitching as a starter in relief) and saw significant success. He would have been an all-star if he didn’t get hurt in May and if you took out one bad outing in June where he gave up four runs in 2/3 of an inning, his ERA would have been 1.57. He also loves the late-game, high-leverage situations and seems to thrive in them. He’s another one that could have easily been promoted during the season without surprise.

Jesen Therrien was with Lakewood last year, going on and off the roster. He actually finished last year very well and then it carried over into this year. I know he worked very extensively on his off-speed stuff in the off-season and especially his change-up. He only threw 17 innings in Lakewood before he was promoted and he seemed to carry his high level with Clearwater.

Deivi Grullon was the one top prospect to stay in Lakewood all year, he really struggled with the bat for most of the year, but got hot down the stretch, did anything noticeably change?

He worked very hard with hitting coach Nelson Prada and his performance improved significantly in August. He seemed to chase fewer pitches and made a lot better contact and he does have some power. He’ll have to cut his strikeouts down moving forward but to me it was very impressive that he improved as much as he did at the end of a season in which he caught as many games as he did. That is the time of the year when you see catchers, especially the younger ones, fading but he was surging, to his credit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is back in Lakewood to start 2016 and I think there is a good chance he puts a full, quality season together. Defensively, he has developed significantly in terms of calling and managing the game and the pitching staff, obviously a significant (most significant) part of his job. He has grown in that area.

Also making return trips this year were Ranfi Casimiro and Tyler Viza, both of whom had much better years this time.  What kind  of things have the coaches had success in with growing pitchers?

They stress more than anything else fastball command, which is commonplace, of course. In Viza’s case, he always had excellent fastball command, but he was not overpowering and gave up too many hits last year. This year, they didn’t mind if he worked outside the strike zone or threw pitches that would start in and end up outside the strike zone. He needed to get more swings and misses, and he did that. If that meant walking a few more hitters, then so be it. Tyler also had a stretch where he got no run support and thus won one game after June 1st but was really tremendous once the calendar turned to July. He had a lot thrown at him in his two years here and he handled everything. He’s ready for the next step.

In Casimiro’s case, last year he struggled with his fastball command and his command in general, walking nearly five batters per nine innings. He improved that significantly this year and the results followed (he walked less than 2.5 batters per nine this year). He also, at 6-8, throws on a significant downward trajectory and gets ground balls. He also improved his curveball and change-up this year too.

It has been a while since a draft pick started in Lakewood, we had two this year.  What were your first impressions of Scott Kingery and Kyle Martin?

I would say pretty much what you would expect in both cases – they were both impressive. Kingery is just a good hitter. He has some pop if you leave one up but mostly he is just a guy that hits the ball hard to all fields. He was a little unlucky with some hard hit balls that could have been hits and he’ll hit moving forward. He’s also a tremendous fielder with a big-time arm and is tremendous turning double-plays at second base. I don’t know what I expected of him as a fielder, mostly what was talked about was that he was a two-time Pac-12 batting champion, but don’t sleep on him as a fielder too.

Martin ended up hitting five home runs in 65 games and could have easily hit five or six more (for those that don’t know, FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood is considered an extreme pitchers park – the BlueClaws traditionally hit approximately twice as many home runs on the road than they do at home). Martin also is very good about not chasing balls out of the strike zone. His power is legitimate (it was a lot of fun, a blast you might say, watching him take batting practice every day).

I know the Phillies have very high hopes for both players and expect they will both hit well for Clearwater in 2016.

Rather than continue to quiz on everyone else to put on a Lakewood uniform, who is a player or two that needs recognition that you haven’t brought up yet?

Herlis Rodriguez had a tremendous season. On Mother’s Day, he went 0-3 against his twin brother Helmis (with Asheville – Rockies) and dropped to .176 (on a side note, seeing two twin brothers face each other, on Mother’s Day no less, was one of the really cool things I’ve gotten to see in this job). From that point on, he hit well over .300 and was one of the best players in the league. He has a little power and some speed. He’s an excellent defensive player – he could easily play centerfield – and he has a great arm – he led the league with 22 outfield assists. Basically he began the year as the fourth outfielder and ended it on the Post-Season All-Star Team and certainly stamped himself as a player to watch coming out of Lakewood this year. He has to improve his plate discipline, but he really had a great year and don’t sleep on him.

Lakewood routinely out draws teams in higher leagues and the stadium is always rated highly.  What makes the ballpark experience so great?

The biggest comment we hear from fans is they love the 360-degree concourse. It’s something that most ballparks do not offer (in the South Atlantic League, for example, there are I think just two other 360-degree concourses) and it gives fans the opportunity to enjoy the game from many different locations throughout the day. In the case of FirstEnergy Park, we have the very popular Lifeguard Chairs and the grass berms so you barely have to use your seats. Parents love the berm and the Kids Zone which keeps the young kids occupied for a few hours.

It’s obviously one of the newer parks in the league (though there have been some new parks since this opened in 2001 and more are coming – Columbia, SC in 2016, Augusta in 2017) and it’s great for both the players and the fans.

This year, we added in a new 1,850 square-foot video board which really enhanced the in-game experience for everyone as well. It’s the largest one in the league and one of the largest in all of Minor League Baseball.

Photo By Baseball Betsy

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.