Two years ago when I was in Tri-City last, I was bowled over by a ball of energy and enthusiasm who goes by the name of Doris Gonzalez. Doris's full title with the Astros is Supervisor of Player Acculturation and Language Development. She has been working diligently with the Astros for several years now in helping to guide the Spanish-speaking players in the system toward a better grasp of both the English language and the cultural differences they will encounter playing in the U.S.
Doris had seen my video interview with Teoscar Hernandez and Danry Vasquez and liked how I teamed the two up for moral support since Teoscar was a little nervous about his English proficiency. It turned out that he had nothing to worry about and gave a terrific interview. Danry is so outgoing that he helped Teoscar to relax and enjoy the process.
Doris grabbed me and we headed to the clubhouse to talk to a couple of her pupils who she deemed to be ready for prime time (or at least for my modest little blog) and the result was an entertaining interview with Francis Ramirez and Alfredo Gonzalez.
Knowing that there were a fairly large number of Latin players on the ValleyCats team, I reached out to Doris before my trip to find out who she thought was up to the challenge. Out of her list of eight I honed in on two players having very good seasons ... RHP Hector Perez and 3B Randy Cesar. Here is the result.
Wanting to know a little more about these two players, I reached out to Manager Lamarr "Mars" Rogers and Pitching Coach Drew French. French had high praise for Perez, saying, "He encompasses everything that is a pro, his day in and day out work ethic, how he responds to coaching, bad outings, good outings. (He's) about the most consistent individual that we have here."
When I asked French what he considered to be Perez's best offspeed, he responded, "He has three really, really major league quality offspeed pitches, but his slider is probably a little bit above the other two pitches because it does come in at times at 87 or 88 miles an hour. And it's got really good late bite to it so I would say the slider is probably the best but the other two are coming along and he can get outs with all four of his pitches." French is also happy with what Perez has accomplished in working with his fastball, "Delivery-wise, he's come a long way since Spring Training where his velocity (was) between 88 and 91. (A minor) tweak to his delivery and all of a sudden, you're seeing some 97's and 98's at times with him."
Perez still needs to finetune his command, but French feels that is coming along as well. According to French, they have focused on command in his side work and as a matter of routine in a way that he can put that practice to work without having to even think about it.
"He's just a really good kid, really good personality, really good team guy. Winning really does matter to him and his teammates having success also matters a lot," said French.
Similarly, Rogers sees in Cesar a player who's coming into his own. "He was with me all last year in Greeneville, played very solid defensively, but struggled offensively. He was kind of sporadic, up and down. Sometimes he'd be hot. Sometimes he'd be cold. And his problem was consistency. The thing that he's learned how to do this year ... (is) to mentally prepare himself on a day in and day out basis at this level. It's very clear. He has a routine. He's figured out how to pace himself and he's gone into a methodical process of how he goes about his day."
Rogers continued, "That's what you see at the higher levels. Each player develops differently, but they have a process of how they get ready for a ballgame and how they're able to perform. You can tell that his maturity has clicked in. He's getting it now. I'm real proud of him."
Rogers called Cesar a big, strong kid ... a good third base body who's hitting the ball to all parts of the field and plays a good third base. Rogers thinks that Cesar's continued development will be the key for him, but he's very happy with what he's seen so far this season.
And I think Doris will be happy with the responses I got in talking to two of her pupils. Personally, I appreciate what she does because it has opened a door for me to talk to just that many more players coming up through the system.
Hector and Randy, thank you for your time and your bravery! And the best of luck as your seasons continue.