MadFriars' Announcer Series: Mike Maahs
By David Jay
Mike Maahs has been broadcasting games for the Fort Wayne TinCaps since they were the Wizards and affiliated with the Twins.
One of the better things about any baseball discussion with Mike is the perspective he brings from his experience of spending most of his summers in a broadcasting booth. He has an ability to place player’s abilities not only in the context of the level they are currently performing but also in relation to what he’s seen in nearly twenty years of watching the Midwest League.
Before embarking on an off-season of broadcasting basketball Mike took some time with us to talk about what he saw in 2012.
Obviously, Matt Wisler's performance as a teenager was pretty impressive. What stood out to you about his pitching as the season went on?
Mike Maahs: The fact that he had confidence in throwing any and all of his four pitches (fastball, curve, change-up, and slider) at any point in the game. I was also impressed with his maturity as well as his confidence, something you don't often see from a 19-year-old.
Adys Portillo turned a corner in his return to the Midwest League. What did you see him doing differently this year than in 2011?
Mike Maahs: The biggest change I saw in Adys Portillo in 2012, as opposed to 2011, was his maturity, both as a pitcher and as a person. Remember, when he was here last year, he was just 18 years old, and still wet behind the ears.
Portillo had a lot of talent and potential, but, he seemed to lack both knowing how to pitch to batters and also maintaining his focus for long periods of time. Whether it was a case of having Willie (Blair) as his pitching coach for a second consecutive year; or being able to talk (in his own language) to Jose (Valentin) about other matters (or a combination of the two), 2012 was a big turn-a-round from 2011.
James Needy was really a jack of all trades for the TinCaps pitching staff once he got there in May. As he made the transition from reliever to starting, was he able to bring more than two pitches to the table consistently? Where was his fastball sitting as he worked deeper into games at the end of the year?
Mike Maahs: It really seemed like James Needy was much more comfortable as a starting pitcher than he was a a reliever. Once in the rotation (and knowing he was going to the mound every sixth day or so), we started seeing him throw three pitches (fastball, slider, and change-up), instead of primarily the fastball.
I also feel that a big key to his success was the ability to change speeds as well as location. He was using the fastball as his set-up pitch, rather than as the "out" pitch; running it between 89 and 93 MPH.
Have you seen anyone Matt Stites' size throw the way he did this year in the Midwest League before? Was the tiny walk total an indication that the fastball was just more than inexperienced hitters could handle, or was he getting people to go after the slider too?
Mike Maahs: The one person that Stites reminded me of was Tim Collins, who pitched for Lansing in 2006, and who know is pitching for the Kansas City Royals. Collins was small in size (no more than 5' 4" or 5' 5" tall), yet approached 100 MPH on a regular basis.
I think the low walk total was primarily a result of the movement on his fastball. The slider and change-up were thrown occasionally, just to keep the batter from looking "dead-red" all the time.
Coming in, Hedges was regarded as a glove-first guy, but he was really choppy behind the plate early on before hitting his stride. What did you see him doing behind the as the season went on, not only with his own defensive abilities, but in managing the pitching staff as a young guy?
Mike Maahs: What impressed me most about (Austin) Hedges was his ability to (a), quickly get a read on opposing batters; and (b), and establishing a game plan and relationship with the pitchers.
It was made clear at the start of the season (by both Willie and Jose) that the catchers on the club would be calling the pitches, and, I feel that Austin took on the added responsibility and ran with it.
You saw Jace Peterson more than any other position player this year. For a guy who, as a two-sport athlete, didn't have a ton of experience, he really seems to have good baseball instincts. What stood out to you about his game, both at the plate and in the field?
Mike Maahs: Jace certainly has the physical skills to play the game of baseball.
What impressed me most was his ability to translate his football mentality ("hard-driven", "take no prisoners", and "hit early and often") and apply it to the diamond. Peterson also used his aggressiveness (from football) on the base paths (finishing second in the Midwest League in stolen bases with 51).
Travis Jankowski took a little while to get his feet under him, but then finished the year on a tear. What did he do for the team when he was able to perform at the top of the lineup? Have the TinCaps ever fielded a better defensive outfield than the Gaedele/Jankowski/Asencio trio they had down the stretch?
Mike Maahs: Jankowski and Peterson at the top of the batting order in the second half of the season usually meant that the TinCaps were going to be aggressive at the plate (as noted by the rise in the team batting average in the second half).
The goal of both Travis and Jace was to get on base, drive the opposing pitcher nuts (utilizing the stolen base threat), and letting (Yeison) Asencio, (Lee) Orr, (Mike) Gallic, and (Austin) Hedges drive them in.
It worked pretty well in the second half and in the playoffs.
As for fielding a better defensive outfield, no, I don't think so. Both Asencio and Gaedele have great throwing arms, and, combined with Jankowski's speed, made it the most solid outfield (from a defensive perspective) I've seen in the 20 years of the franchise.
Yeison Asencio was a beast from the week he arrived in the Midwest League, but some scouts still really aren't sure what to make of him. Were there any areas where you saw him consistently struggle in his otherwise stellar year?
Mike Maahs: I called Asencio "Mr. Excitement" whenever he came to the plate, because he provided just that---excitement. It was amazing how he made such solid contact (as evidenced by his being the first-ever Fort Wayne player to win a Midwest League batting title).
The downside, is the fact that almost always wants to swing at the pitch, no matter where (in the zone) it is thrown. He needs to continue to learn to be more patient at the plate, but, the sky's the limit for him.
At the Low-A level, there's often a disconnect between innate talent and on-field production. Was there a position player and a pitcher whose numbers may not have stood out, but whose underlying tools caught your attention as you watched this year?
Mike Maahs: My position player that stood out was Tyler Stubblefield. The offensive numbers weren't great (with the exception of his 17 stolen bases in 21 attempts); yet, it was his steadiness, and self-confidence in both himself and in his teammates that made him a true leader on the team.
As far as a pitcher is concerned, I would have to say that the job that James Needy did as a starter (after being placed in the rotation) was tremendous. You knew that you were going to get a solid performance every time he went to the hill.