Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs manager Dave Brundage returned the Phillies’ organization this season after a 26-year absence. Previously, Brundage managed the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate for the last six seasons. Prior to his time in the Atlanta system, the 48-year-old spent 19 season in the Mariners organization as a player, coach and manager. The Georgia resident was originally drafted as a fourth round pick in 1986 and played at three levels with the Phillies, reaching as high as Double-A Reading before he was traded to Seattle.
The IronPigs hung close in the International League wild card standings through the latter portion of the season, but a loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday officially eliminated them from the postseason hunt.
This weekend, I spoke with Brundage about several of his players, including Adam Morgan, Tyson Gillies as well as Cameron Rupp and he also chatted about September call-ups among other things. Read ahead for that full interview.
– What are your thoughts on the type of progress you’ve seen from pitcher Adam Morgan this year, who sported a 1.59 ERA over seven starts after coming off the disabled list with a shoulder ailment in July?
I think we’ve benefited from him coming back. I think, I mean, he benefited first and foremost. I think he benefited from the experience. Obviously, fatigue played a factor, you know, (in his most recent start) and it’s been a long season. The young man’s gone through an awful lot. He’s battled an arm injury. He’s battling to get back, it’s just sometimes you start logging so many innings, for a young man that’s fighting a sore arm and stuff like that it can take its toll. We’ve kept his pitch count down. We haven’t allowed him to go anything past five innings. We’ve kept him around 75 pitches, just so he can gain that experience. Just so it’s not just a year that you say, “Well, we threw that out the window.” He’s just benefited a lot from the experience of having to come back. Maybe not pitching with the best stuff that he pitched with in spring training or in previous year. But it also teaches you that when he has that back, that he has the ability to understand what it is like to pitch without your best stuff.
– Is Morgan a guy that could benefit from some winter experience this year, because he didn’t get a lot of innings, or would he benefit more from the rest in the off-season?
I personally think, it’s not my decision, but it’s been a long year. It’s been a long year, he’s worked his tail off to stay healthy and get healthy. I think rest is, in my opinion, it’s time to shut it down and let the arm rest and regroup.
– Tyson Gillies has had a fairly rough season. I know, mechanically, he’s changed some things at the plate and he’s gone up and down this year. Talk about Tyson’s season a little bit.
I like him, you know, in the second half much better than the first half. And, at the same time, he’s getting his feet wet, you know, maybe not as comfortable the first time around. He goes down to Double-A, he works on things, he gets some things straightened out. I thought he swung the bat better. He had better at bats coming back here in the second half. He was a much more comfortable player, coming back the second time around. More quality at bats. He played a good defense. He threw some runners out. He did an outstanding job of throwing runners out and playing a good solid defense there in the outfield. He’s a well above average outfielder. I just think his pitch recognition and things that he’s got to work on along the way is just something that can come, down the road. And, at the same time, I think the more comfortable these players get here, obviously you’ve got another level to conquer. If a player shows you they’re on the right track, mission accomplished, at times.
– Tyson seemed to think he didn’t need to be placed on the disabled list recently. It’s a rarity where a player would tell me that his DL stint was not needed. He’s still sidelined right now, what goes into the decision to-?
Well, what goes into it is that we only have 25 roster spots and we were already strapped. You know, we needed guys that were healthy and were able to play and the bottom line is that he wasn’t able at the time. It’s, you know, he was probably a couple days away and sometimes you’ve gotta make decisions on certain- you don’t know and he already hadn’t played for four or five days. So, it was one of those things where unfortunately you can’t go all the way back to his last day, like you do in the big leagues. Here, it’s you can only go back two days, but at the same time, you gotta make decisions and we only have nine healthy guys. You can’t go into a ball game not knowing- I can’t play him and I can’t play him and I can’t play him and now what kind of bench do you have?
It’s a little bit unfortunate, that he does feel like he can get back, but it’s not the end of the world. It was a couple days that he missed out on and, in a long season, maybe there’s even more precaution making sure his hamstring is good.
– Leandro Castro‘s a guy that some people might assess as not having lived up to what his potential should or could be. What are your thoughts on Leandro?
Well, Leandro’s a young player. Leandro’s got talent, he’s got tools, he needs this experience here at this level. He needs to understand and Leandro can show you something great every night. He can also show you why he needs to be here at this level because he’s going to make young mistakes. He’s going to make aggressive mistakes. You love his aggressiveness. I love the way he comes to play. You know, that aggressive, hard work. But, at the same time, there’s times we have to pull back the reins at times and understand and learn from our mistakes. I think eventually, he’s gonna get it.
He’s represented himself very well. It’s not a down year, by any stretch. He hits- he’s hitting .255, he’s got eight homers. He’s arguably one of the most clutch guys we’ve had here all year. He’s had numerous big hits for us. He’s swung the bat very well against left-handers. You know, there’s a lot to be said. He plays a good outfield and he plays aggressive. Those are the mistakes we talk about. He just- eventually, he’s going to learn from those mistakes and be a more well-rounded player.
– David Buchanan and Mike Nesseth, two righty pitchers, are guys that have been added to this roster over the last month of the season and they’ve done a great job for you. Thoughts on those guys and what their futures could hold?
Well, I mean, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know certainly they’ve opened some eyes here at this level. When you get the opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity…you want to make a name for yourself and I think they both have. You know, just in the short stints. Obviously, Buchanan’s been here longer and he’s stepped up in some big ballgames for us and he’s given us five quality starts. Nesseth has stepped up. I know the organization wanted him up here to see what he can do at this level in just a short period of time, ’cause there’s a chance that he could be here next year. So, I think you want to get some guys- the same way you want to get some guys to the big leagues, you want to see if other guys can handle this level and I think they both represented and did a super job.
– Another guy that was added to this team from Reading during the season was catcher Cameron Rupp. He’s another guy that’s been a great addition to this roster. What are your thoughts on Cameron?
Cameron’s grown up a little bit. He’s much more comfortable in his surroundings here. Getting here and trying not to overwhelm him with too many things, because catching is the toughest position by far of any position, when you’re going from one level to another, whether it be from A ball to Double-A, or Double-A to Triple-A, or Triple-A to the big leagues because, number one you’re learning a whole new staff, you have your own defensive program, throwing, calling a game and then, you know, a whole other ball game is swinging the bat. I’m not trying to ask too much of Cameron early on. I think he’s so much more comfortable now. He’s more comfortable behind the plate and now’s the time when you start to see improvements and in the past month we’ve seen a lot of improvements. We always knew they were there, but it’s just sometimes as a guy gets more comfortable and they start gaining that experience, the game slows down a little bit, it’s not going as fast and the capacity to learn is that much greater and that’s exactly what he’s done.
– Other key contributors on this roster have been up and down this year with the big club. You’ve had guys like Cesar Hernandez, Phillippe Aumont and Freddy Galvis here on this roster. Clearly, the team goal coming into the final week of the season was playoffs and a wild card berth. But, I’m sure guys can’t help but look forward to when the big league rosters expand as September rolls in. Do you think that can weigh on guys’ minds down the stretch?
It’s human nature. I’m sure that’s what motivates them. One is, you’d love to be in a championship. You’d love to win a ring. But, also along the way, the whole objective is to be in the big leagues. You can’t blame anybody for thinking ahead, but I also know that in the (clubhouse) it’s also what motivates them. It’s what drives them. I drives them to be better every day and develop and get better and open eyes and, hopefully, get a call to the big leagues.
– Steve Susdorf has been a steady performer here with the IronPigs and had that proverbial cup of coffee in the big show. A lot of folks were happy to see him get that shot. Among other guys that have climbed the levels of the Phils system, fans might also be partial to a guy like Cody Overbeck to get such a nod as a call-up. Do you feel that a guy like Susdorf or Overbeck could be in line for a look in September?
I think a lot of them are deserving. You know, it’s just sometimes you run against numbers and I’m not saying one way or another, because that’s not my job as- who gets called, but I certainly voice my opinion when asked about guys and, you know, you have your sentimental favorites along the way and the guys like Susdorf and Overbeck have paid their dues and have been good Triple-A ball players. You would love for them all to get a call, in a sense, and the ones that are deserving especially. At the same time, I know, realistically, they can’t all get a phone call. You also hope. It’s not cut and dry. You don’t know how the organization’s leaning or what they’re thinking right now, but, you know, I’d love- Cody Overbeck‘s been a great teammate just like Susdorf has.
– You mentioned something about offering your thoughts on guys or your endorsement or stamp of approval on somebody. What goes into that? What could you say and who do you talk to?
You just speak your mind and tell ’em how you feel. They’ll ask about players and when they ask about them- and they’ve already asked on a few different and I’m sure they have their minds, you know, not completely made up, but, at the same time, they also- you know, when I’m asked then you want to voice that opinion and stand up for your players, realizing that they all can’t get called up but, at the same time, who is deserving and who has earned the right to get an opportunity.
I just speak from my heart and tell them who I think deserves a call.