MMO Exclusive: Wally Backman – Part Deux
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Last week I published the first half of the MMO Exclusive interview I conducted with Buffalo Bisons manager Wally Backman. Wally was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions about his current team. He was very candid about which of his AAA players he feels, are working themselves into consideration for big league time with the Mets this season. At times while talking to Wally about managing his players, he sounded a great deal like his mentor Davey Johnson.
In the first part of this interview Wally and I talked about his current rotation including: Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Jeremy Hefner, and Dylan Owen. We also talked about his sensation at second-base this year, Bobby Scales. In this second part of the interview, we talked in-depth about the bullpen, as well as the veteran leadership present on today’s Bisons team. I also asked Wally about players Valentino Pascucci, Jordany Valdespin, and Jenrry Mejia. Keep reading to see what Wally had to say:
Petey: I wanted to ask you about a recent addition to the Bisons bullpen, Brad Holt. He was just called up from AA when you put him in last Monday in seriously adverse conditions. First and third, one-out in the bottom of the ninth, on the road against the Iron Pigs, and what was it hailing out at the time?
Wally: It was tough conditions, you know I had Holtie last year. I’ve seen signs early in the year. He’s cleaned up his delivery this year, way too slow to the plate last year. He’s quick to the plate now. So he stops the running game a little bit. And he’s pitched better from what I’ve seen in Spring Training. I wasn’t really worried about putting him in yesterday. Even though we’ve been using Cabrera as our closer. You know just to put him in a situation that’s a tough situation, and see how he did and he struck out the next two guys. So it’s good for him and I think it’s good for the organization to see that he can do that.
Petey: Absolutely and to command your breaking ball under adverse conditions like that. The weather….
Wally: The weather sucked.
Petey: Yes it did, to coin a phrase. What about Edgin are you going to use him as a closer?
Wally: He’ll close some games. Yesterday I wanted to get his feet wet. He ended up getting the win, you know. He’s really a back-end 7th, 8th, 9th inning guy for me. From what I see I think he’s going to pitch in the big leagues probably this year.
Petey: The over-under is June 25th.
Wally: Yeah. No, that’s probably pretty accurate you know?
Petey: What do you know of the status of Jennry Mejia? I know he was shut down recently and the reason given was that he was over-throwing, what do you know about that?
Wally: I haven’t heard anything about that. I saw Mejia pitch in Spring Training, and he was throwing his bullpens at 95 mph. So I think they’re just being really cautious with him.
Petey: He’s feeling good I guess.
Wally: He threw the ball really well in Spring Training in his bullpen sessions. There were no setbacks, it’s just that he’s coming back so fast, and I think that the organization’s probably concerned with him trying to push himself too fast. But I don’t see any issues with him at all.
Petey: You think your gonna get him?
Wally: Oh yeah, I think that we’ll get him here (Buffalo), and if he does well here, I don’t think we’ll have him for long.
Petey: I know this place is starting to get a revolving door.
Petey: Your bullpen is developing into something really impressive. I mean you got the veteran closer, Fernando Cabrera who has been sensational this year. You’ve got the newbie’s with the power-arms in Edgin from the port-side, Holt from the right. You’ve got the veterans, and it’s balanced with two lefty veterans: Chuck James and Justin Hampson, and the two righties: Jack Egbert and Jeff Stevens. You must feel really good about the depth, and balance, and the way you can mix and match now.
Wally: Right now, it’s nice. To have three left-handed guys in the bullpen that you know can get guys out. The sleeper we got in the bullpen is Egbert, he’s a lot better than people understand. Very good sinker.
Petey: He’s been very impressive lately.
Wally: He’s got his velocity back up to where it was when he went to the big leagues with the White Sox. I like him a lot.
Petey: He’s got kind of a funky delivery too.
Wally: He does. He’s got the good hard sinker, a pretty good slider. I wouldn’t write him out from getting to the big leagues either. The bullpen is solid. It’s very easy to mix and match guys and put them in good roles where you know they’re gonna have sucess. And I take a lot of pride in that kind of stuff.
Petey: This team all the way across has a very good mix of young guys and veterans.
Wally: Absolutely, the veteran guys that we got, Valentino Pacsucci, Bobby Scales, guys like that, they lead the clubhouse. And to surround the prospects, I’m not saying that they’re not, but they’re a little bit older, and they’re veteran guys and a really good influence on the other players.
Petey: Scooch is another one, he had a great year last year, team MVP. But this year he’s been fantastic, playing on a whole other level altogether.
Wally: He’s a good player. These are great players to manage, because you don’t have to manage them. You know they’re going to go out there and work everyday. They’re not guys that you have to call into your office and say, hey you have to step it up a little bit. To me they are leaders, they lead by example, by their work ethics and things like that.
Petey: You can tell with Scales just the way he takes the field, there’s almost a sense of this is the way you do it.
Wally: He’s a leader.
Petey: Has anybody surprised you so far this year?
Wally: Well to me the guy that has been much better this year than when I had him last year has been Valdespin. He had a tendency to get laid-back a few times. But I think with the veteran guys and the people he was surrounded with, and I know that they were talking to him. And that made him that much better, and it got him to the big leagues as quickly as it did. I mean the injuries are always a factor, but I think for him to go to the big leagues now, it’s a good time for him to go to the big leagues because he had proved to myself and the other coaches that he was playing the game the right way.
Petey: That’s something the fans have wondered about because everybody that’s been following him knows about his potential and his talent. But at the same time it’s been apparent that he needed to grow up a little bit in baseball.
Wally: I really believe that. I think the kid can have a great career at the major league level, if he continues to go the way he’s going.
Petey: You think he’s up there to stay now?
Wally: Well he’s there due to injuries, it really depends on how much playing time he gets. You don’t want him to go to the big leagues to sit on the bench because there’s so much talent there. But if the need calls for it as a utility guy or whatever, he can play all the infield positions. I played him in CF probably ten games already when he was here. And he can definitely play the outfield, which is an asset, he did an outstanding job in CF.
Petey: Well, to finish up Wally, how bout this? What do you know about the future of Mets AAA baseball in Buffalo? There has been much speculation that the Mets might be forced to leave after this year but it’s such a great baseball town. Are there any new developments?
Wally: You know what? I wish I knew. Buffalo is a….if you’re not in the big leagues, Buffalo is the place you want to be, in AAA. Hopefully the organization can work it out because it would be sad to see us leave there. I know it’s awful cold there at the start of the year, but it’s a great organization. Great people in the front office, great ownership, they take care of not only the coaching staff, but the players, just like it would be at the major league level. It’s a very nice place to be.
Petey: Well I wish you the best of luck. I’ll talk to you again Wally, thanks again.
Wally: Ok, thank you, anytime.
I really want to thank Wally for taking the time to talk to us here at MMO. I had a great time chatting with him and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Presently, Wally has the Herd on a four-game winning streak, and they have won seven of their last ten games. The excellent play has leap-frogged them past Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and into second place in their division, just 1.0 game back of the front-running Pawtucket Red Sox.
About the Author: Peter Shapiro
The first time I went to Shea was not for a Mets game, it was for the Beatles concert there in August of '66. My first Met game was '67, a guy named Salty Parker was the interim-manager then. My first pennant race was 1969. As a 12 year-old that summer and fall, I managed to get to the park for 3 games. The first was the beginning of the Miracle which actually started on Tuesday July 8, 1969 with a day game against the Cubs. I was there a lot in '73. I saw games 3 & 5 of the 1973 NL Playoffs against the "Big Red Machine", from the upper deck behind home plate. It was from there that I witnessed the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose, and the mayhem that ensued. And that sweet victory in game 5! I saw a couple of WS games at Shea that year against that legendary Oakland A's club. I was there in 1985 for every single game Dr. K pitched including his two 16 strikeout performances, and the day he one-hit the Cubs on an infield single and the Mets won 1-0. I loved being a Met fan in those days. Hopefully we are once again preparing to emerge from the darkness.
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