PinstripesPlus.com caught up with Riverdogs' first baseman Ben Jones to get his thoughts on his…
Q&A with Riverdogs' Broadcaster, Josh Maurer
Josh Maurer: The most impressive thing watching these guys day in and day out has been the improvement the pitching staff has made from day one. I think Steve Renko gets all the credit for that. I think he has done just a fantastic job and I think he's got a real good chance to be the Coach of the Year in this league just because of what he's done. With the arms that the Riverdogs have and as young as they are, as inexperienced as they are even for this level, for them to now have the second lowest earned run average in the entire league, which has 16 teams, that's pretty remarkable. He is absolutely the reason they are in the playoffs, because of their great pitching. It is the most surprising thing to me.
You watch guys like Jeff Marquez, who struggled in the beginning but has been solid most of the year and a lot more consistent the latter half of the year, and a guy like Phil Coke who has been pitching well as of late, and add in the great bullpen, its a credit to him. We got a shot in the arm when Josh Smith and T.J. Beam came back down, and Brett Smith as well for that matter. But Beam has been as good a pitcher as I've seen in the league all year. So getting him back is a huge boost for our playoff run.
PinstripesPlus: So Beam has been the most impressive pitcher you've seen on this team all year?
Maurer: Well, no, he's not the most impressive pitcher I've seen on this team. That would be Phil Hughes. In the absence of Hughes, Beam has been about as unhittable a pitcher as I've seen.
PinstripesPlus: So what about Hughes has impressed you this season?
Maurer: His demeanor, his intelligence, and his maturity for his age. He was 18-years old when he was pitching here and he looked like a 25-year old out on the mound. He thinks the game well. I said, and not even half joking, that when the Yankees were having all their pitching problems, why not just call up Hughes. I bet you he could handle it. And the guys that I talked to agreed with me. He was just that impressive. And he'll be in the big leagues in a year or two, or three. There's no question in my mind. He's by the far the best talent I've seen in the entire league. And I'm really not kidding about that.
PinstripesPlus: Which one guy, among the positional players, has stood out in your mind?
Maurer: From day one, I guess the most consistent contributor to the offense has been Ben Jones. He's leading the team in home runs. He's leading the team in RBI. He's right up there in average. He's basically been 'Mr. Consistent'. While other guys have had peaks and valleys, Ben has been there to give you a big hit all season long. Marcos Vechionacci has gotten a lot better defensively as the season has gone on. His offense has lacked a little bit as of late, but I think he's just getting tired. He's only 19 years old.
Then of course you have to talk about Tim Battle. Battle is among the league leaders, both positive and negative. He's up there in runs scored. He leads the league in triples. He's up there in doubles and extra-base hits. But then you look at the errors he's made. He has made a ton, way too many. The strikeouts. He was on pace to break the all-time league record for strikeouts. So he's been fantastic to watch but also maddening a lot of times. Sometimes you just want to pull your hair out. But he's just 19, so that's what you get at times. But he's a great prospect. He's really a great prospect.
PinstripesPlus: So who does Battle remind you of at the Major League level?
Maurer: A lot of people say Mike Cameron. But honestly, I think a lot of people say that because he strikes out so much. He's a five-tool player. Actually, its tough to call anybody in the Sally League a five-tool player. But he's as close as there is. Defensively, he can be as good as a Gold Glover in the Major Leagues. He has made plays this year that you would see Jim Edmonds or Mike Cameron make. You know, actually, defensively I compare him to Jim Edmonds with the way he gets jumps on the balls, the way he throws his body around and makes the diving catches. But he makes terrible, terrible lapses where he'll just drop a fly ball. That's the 19-year old part of him I guess.
PinstripesPlus: Going back to Phil Hughes for a second, who would you compare him to at the Major League level?
Maurer: This is very lofty, but Mark Prior. He's got that extra gitty-up on his fastball, a good breaking ball, and he's got good location like Prior does. Hughes is going to have to develop another out-pitch to be that successful, obviously, at the Major League level. He also looks a little like Prior. He's a tall guy. He throws the fastball 92-93 MPH. He has good off-speed stuff. And they're both thinking men. It is tough to make Major League comparisons with guys that are 18-years old, but if I had to, I'd go there.
PinstripesPlus: You mentioned to me that Marcos Vechionacci has been a fan favorite this year, but yet his stats are the greatest. What about him has impressed you that may not always show up in the stats?
Maurer: He's batting .238, so you have to take a look at that. But he was hitting over .250 until about a week and a half ago, which is not that bad for a guy that's had the amount of [professional] at-bats as he has had and the fact that he just turned 19-years old. The one thing I would say is that he comes up with clutch hits. I've talked to [hitting coach] Torre Tyson about this several times. If he could choose one or two guys to come up to the plate needing a good at-bat in the 9th inning, then Nacci would be one of them.
What drives Torre crazy about him is that he feels he gives away at-bats when its not a tough situation. He'll ground out to second base three straight times in a game but then come up with the big two-run single in the 9th inning. So he is a clutch hitter and I think that's one of the reasons the stats don't tell the whole story [with him]. I think the other thing is once he moved over to third base, he's such a natural third baseman. I think that's his position for the future. I hope it is at least. You watch him out there and you know he was born to play third base. He's got the reflexes and the arm. That's his position. I was actually surprised they tried to make him a shortstop.
PinstripePlus: Has there been a surprise guy for you? Is there somebody that's not as highly touted as the others but is somebody you think will play in the Major Leagues?
Maurer: An 'X' factor would be Mario Holmann. I said this to Eric Bell, our other radio broadcaster, the other day. He's as good right now, defensively, as half of the second baseman, if not more, in the Major Leagues. He's taken away 30 hits this year and he has played in 55 games. He has really been fantastic. If he develops any kind of pop in his bat - he's gotten like 5 or 6 extra-base hits all year - as quick as he is, and as outstanding as he is defensively, he's going to be a pro.
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