Other than members of the organization, no one sees as much of a minor league team as their play-by-play announcer who makes all the bus rides, eats the same meals and stays in the same hotel with all the players and coaches.
The difference is that they are employed by the team, not the San Diego Padres. We caught up with Matt at the end of the season to talk about the 2013 Eugene Emeralds.
A tough year for the Emeralds. What was the most positive thing that stood out for you?
Matt Dompe: Despite many of the college arms having their innings limited late in the year, the starting pitching was the strongest aspect of the team. Jimmy Brasoban, Erik Schoenrock and Bryan Verbitsky all flashed signs of dominance in the NWL, but for Schoenrock and Verbitsky they were limited to just 3 innings over the second half of the year. When they were on, they were out of the game before they even broke a sweat.
Hunter Renfroe is obviously the player that got the most attention this year. What can you tell us about him?
Matt Dompe: His raw athleticism was the first thing you noticed on the field. You knew he had power but his speed in the outfield and cannon for an arm really caught your eye. Behind the scenes, it was impressive to see how much his teammates gravitated towards him. Hunter is a pretty quiet kid, but when he first stepped into that clubhouse the vibe around the team changed and they started playing like a team that really thought they could win night in and night out.
Any reason why Renfroe struggled so much on the road as compared to at home or was that just a small sample size?
Matt Dompe: Just an anomaly with the small sample size. There are only a couple of hitter friendly ballparks in the NWL and PK Park is certainly not one of them. I think he did feed off of the home crowd a bit coming up with some clutch hits including an 8th inning game winning two-run homer against eventual champs Vancouver on July 28. For probably the first time in our four years at PK Park you could really tell that fans were coming out specifically to see this top prospect in action.
We liked what Ronnie Richardson did this summer. What improvements did you see in him as compared to last year?
Matt Dompe: I think Ronnie kept on doing what he’s always done which is just get on base. My favorite Richardson stats include his league leading 14 HBP’s and his .365-.500-.508 splits when he leads off an inning. He also continued wreaking havoc late in ballgames posting a .481 OBP in the 8th inning and bumping that up to .529 in the 9th.
Another player that attracts a lot of attention is Donovan Tate. You saw him in 2011 when he had a pretty good year despite his suspension. What did you see this season?
Matt Dompe: It was definitely a struggle coming in pretty cold from Arizona. I don’t think there was much of an expectation for him to post numbers here in Eugene. Getting back on the field was a step in the right direction, but I think it will be fascinating to follow him next spring training. I think if he can put together a nice spring he may end up in Lake Elsinore and have a chance to get back on track.
Erik Schoenrock pitched much better than his won - loss record indicated. How would you describe him as a pitcher?
Matt Dompe: You can basically throw out the win/loss record when he was limited to just three innings in each of his last six starts (all ND’s), so he had no opportunity to add to his win total. When he gets into a rhythm he can be lights out like he was against Hillsboro on July 1st throwing seven innings of one-hit baseball. In a few other outings when the opposition got to him early it appeared it took him out of that groove.
Coby Cowgill was a nice find for San Diego after being released by Texas. What made him effective?
Matt Dompe: To a large extent I would say his attitude. I don’t know how many times I heard him asked about being released by the Rangers, but each time he took the question in stride and answered it like a pro. His experience also came in handy as he looked a step ahead of some of the first-year professionals.
Who was the top hitting and pitching prospect that you saw this summer in Eugene?
Matt Dompe: A prospect familiar to San Diego baseball fans, the number two overall pick in the draft, 3B Kris Byrant made his debut with Boise at PK Park. He struggled in Eugene going 0-5 with five strikeouts in his first game and finished the series with one hit in 12 at bats.
He went on to terrorize the rest of the league however, hitting .354 in 18 games before being called up to the Florida State League where he hit .333 in 16 more games. All together he hit nine homers in 122 at-bats.
On the mound, it was a guy probably not on the radar coming into the year, but Salem-Keizer’s Andrew Leenhouts was dominant in the Northwest this summer. Finishing 9-2 with a 2.39 ERA the 23rd rd pick of the Giants (2012) was 3-0 in his four outings against the Emeralds pitching 19 innings and allowing just three runs. He was the most consistent starter in the league but was also aided by being a second-year pitcher who was allowed to stretch it out all season long.
Who was the top hitting and pitching prospect that you saw this summer for the Emeralds?
Matt Dompe: The top hitting prospect is a no doubter. Hunter Renfroe in his twenty-five games not only put up the best numbers of any Emerald but just had a different sound off the bat. His first professional HR was a 435' blast off the batter's eye one of only a handful of HR's hit out to straight away center field in PK Park's existence.
Erik Schoenrock was the best pitching prospect for the 2013 Emeralds. With good size at 6'2" and a coach's son, Schoenrock mixed his pitches and showed the best ability to go to deep into games.