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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 1:00 am

Big stage sets stage for young players

Padres like TinCaps in pressure situations

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

For many of the younger players on the TinCaps' roster, ignorance has been bliss as they enter the best-of-five Midwest League Championship Series tonight against Quad Cities.

“Especially those youngsters that are 17, 18 or 19 years old, they're just going about it the way they think they should go about it,” TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said Tuesday. “They have no clue, and it's kind of good. It plays into our favor because they're kind of numb to the situation.

“I think once they get rolling into this next series, you'll see them come out into their own and do what they do best.”

A prime example is 17-year-old shortstop Gabriel Arias, who replaced Fernando Tatis Jr. late last month.

In Game 3 against Dayton, Arias was able to brush off an early error and contribute to a double play by throwing to catcher Marcus Greene Jr. to tag out the Dragons' Randy Ventura at the plate on an attempted double steal.

“Just based on the inexperience of this level, him being so young, it just shows the talent and what the Padres have found in all these infielders we've brought into the organization,” Contreras said. “We're excited to see when these guys get older what they can really do.”

Arias is one of two 17-year-olds in the infield along with Justin Lopez, who replaced Reinaldo Ilarraza, who was placed on the disabled list for a broken finger.

“It was huge to get that double play to keep them from scoring after we scored in the first (at Dayton),” Contreras said.

“It's amazing. You see the guys out there, two 17-year-olds up the middle there playing right now, in this position. If you were to predict that before, you would say there's no shot that we're going to have a chance to be in this position with two infielders like that.

“It's a tribute to the way their talent is, the hard work they're putting in. As long as our pitching can keep doing what they do, we'll be in a good position.”

For the older guys such as 23-year-old pitcher Will Headean, past playoff experience with short-season Tri-City has been valuable, and this year's run will be valuable for those relatively new to pro baseball.

“(Playoff experience is) huge,” Headean said. “I know the Padres want to see guys playing in pressure situations and pressure games.

“You got three rounds of playoff baseball, and it's very important. I think it springboards you into next year and years to come. When you are put in San Diego, you've played in some important baseball games along the way that when the bright lights are on in a major league stadium, you know how to handle it and take care of yourself.”

Being able to bounce back from the worst record in the Midwest League Eastern Division after the first half to now playing for the league championship has provided invaluable learning opportunities.

“I think the experience that these guys have gained through the struggles of the first half, just everything that's gone along with the season has taught them something,” Contreras said.

“It's all starting to build up in the right spot. They still make mistakes, it's just the way it is. It's minor league baseball, it's low-A level, but they're cutting them down.

“It's progress in their career, and as they move on in their future, those mistakes will start to dwindle and that's when they'll become big forces for the Padres.”

areichel@jg.net