We sat down with Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope for a Q&A session to get his thoughts on…
Q&A with Mark Newman
Mark Newman: Greg Bird, who missed a fair amount of time in the regular season dealing with the back issue, when he did finally get back he played well and continued that. He really swung the bat well. He's adjusting to first base nicely. Luis Niebla, the breaking ball is better, tighter, more strikes. That was an objective he achieved. He did a nice job with that. Gabe Encinas, the velocity is up to 93-95 mph. He was impressive. Dante Bichette, it really began at the end of the year, I think made some really effective adjustments in his approach at the plate and it seemed to play very well. Slade Heathcott, prior to going to the Fall League, was excellent. That was a huge plus. Rony Bautista, the big 6-foot-7 left-handed Dominican, was good. We've got Luis Severino from the DR who is very good -- 93, 94, 95 mph, and an improved slider. And [Ty] Hensley is continuing to adjust. The curveball was very impressive.
PinstripesPlus.com: Among the guys at Dominican Instructs in particular, who stood out for you?
Newman: Pitching in general -- a new guy we signed in particular, Simon [pronounced Simone] De La Rosa, was really impressive. He's up to 95 mph, a hard breaking ball. That's a name nobody has heard. Dallas Martinez, right-handed pitcher from Mexico, he was impressive. Of course [Rafael] DePaula was impressive in both places. Christopher Cabrera was good. He had the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery a year and half or so ago and he's come back from that and throwing the ball really well.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let me back-track for a moment. You mentioned Niebla and I've heard more than a few comps to Hector Noesi. Do you see that comparison as a kid who has above average stuff at a similar stage in his career?
Newman: Yep, absolutely. That's a good comp.
PinstripesPlus.com: You didn't mention him here but was Giovanny Gallegos a breakout candidate for you guys this year, especially since he had not really pitched much prior to this season?
Newman: I think that's going to happen next year. He's just getting on the field this year. I think next year we've got a decent chance to see some significant improvement there. He's got really good stuff and now I think as of next year he'll be completely recovered from [knee] surgery, but we like his upside. He's real smooth, easy, the ball comes out of his hand with some power, he can spin the ball, he's very bright, composed, yeah. Dallas Martinez is in that same mold.
PinstripesPlus.com: What about the position players down there?
Newman: Abiatal Avelino, a shortstop, he really played well. He had an excellent year. He's a really good defender with a great throwing arm. Our new guys, Luis Torrens, kind of our first-round Latin pick this year, he's been impressive offensively. Defensively behind the plate he shows great promise because he's got really good hands and he's an above average thrower with a quick release. He's got to receive and block, and will mature and emerge over time, but we're very happy with him. A young shortstop named Jorge Mateo is an 80 runner and has significant upside. A Venezuelan shortstop name Angel Aguilar, a big-time defender now and can really play. He has an immature, lanky body, 17-year old, but he's an impressive defender.
PinstripesPlus.com: It seems you have a lot of young promising pitchers coming out of the short-season leagues this year -- are we looking at a potential piggy-back situation in Charleston next year just trying to get all of these guys the innings that they need?
Newman: We're adding a team next year, well, at least there's a chance that we're adding a team next year. It's not official yet because we have hoops to jump through but we will find a way to get those guys innings. That's our intent [adding a team]. If we can do that, fine, but if we can't those kids are going to pitch. We will find a way, they'll get innings. If that has to be a plan that involves two starters per game, we'll do it.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let me go back to Greg Bird for a moment. He seems to have taken off and more focused on his hitting after making the switch to first base. Is his success doing that a reason for moving Chris Breen from behind the plate? Why move him so quickly from the catcher's position?
Newman: Same reason, we think -- in Bird's case he was having some back trouble -- and in Breen's case it's not final but in Bird's case it is. Breen's [case] was more experimenting. Catcher and shortstop, especially catching, are so demanding that it can impact offensive production and I'm sure that was Washington's reason for moving [Bryce] Harper. But Birdie can hit and that's his big, big tool. That's his thing that distinguishes him from a lot of others. You add on the fact that he was having some back problems, it made sense to us anyway to do that.
PinstripesPlus.com: Going to the Charleston guys for a second, Bryan Mitchell didn't have the greatest numbers this year but he feels he turned a corner, especially mentally. Did you see that? Did he turn a corner in your opinion?
Newman: Yeah he made a mental leap and he made a performance leap too. You got that one right.
PinstripesPlus.com: A lot of fans look at the numbers by Cito Culver and don't come away impressed. Some question if he should give up the switch-hitting. Is it too early to give up on that?
Newman: Yeah and there's no evidence -- he hasn't had an extreme platoon split yet overall. And secondly the sample size is too small. Third, he's a fantastic young fielder at shortstop. He makes plays once a week where your immediate reaction is 'how did he do that?' -- he can really, really play defense. So he's working on getting stronger physically and he's spending a lot of time with [Farm Director] Pat Roessler with having a more efficient approach at the plate. We think the future is bright for him. In fact we feel great about him.
PinstripesPlus.com: Going back to the catchers for a moment -- everyone knows that Peter O'Brien can mash and that he has a great arm. Did you start seeing him make the adjustments he needs to make to become a better catcher?
Newman: Yeah he's got a strong arm and big power. We'll know in a couple of years. He works at it, he cares, he's smart, he's got arm strength. Catching, you know what a challenge it his defensively. He's got work to do but he's willing to do it so we'll see how it goes.
PinstripesPlus.com: Is there a guy from this year's draft that maybe some folks are sleeping on that has some real long-term potential?
Newman: Frare's a good one, he was impressive. Goody is off to a great start. I haven't seen much written about Corey Black. He was a fourth round pick but he was exceptional. I think Refsnyder is a real interesting guy. Those are the ones that stood out for me.
PinstripesPlus.com: How did Refsnyder do at his transition to second base at Instructs?
Newman: It's going to take longer but okay. He's played there before and as we've seen with players like Angelo Gumbs, if you're committed you can make huge improvements defensively. We'll see how it goes but so far we think it'll be fine.
PinstripesPlus.com: What about Matthew Snyder? Is there anything you've seen from him that would make you think he's a bit of a 'sleeper' even though he's a first baseman?
Newman: Well he's certainly off to a good start. He's going to get a chance to play. He walked more than he struck out, which is huge. He comes from a good baseball program and a good baseball family. We're certainly happy we got him in the tenth round and he played really well. I don't know that it's a surprise. It's not an answer a lot of your people on your web site want to hear but a lot of it is we'll see. He's off to a great start, we feel good about him, he's going to get at-bats and continue to play, and to this point I think it's a really good draft. He was a nice sign.
PinstripesPlus.com: When it comes to your big league catching situation and whether or not Russell Martin gets re-signed, a lot of folks seem to throw out a name like Austin Romine, if the back is healthy, could be a solution until Gary Sanchez is ready but a lot of folks seem to be overlooking J.R. Murphy has a viable in-house candidate sometime soon. Is he a guy we could see sooner than a lot of folks realize?
Newman: Yeah he gets lost in the Romine-Gary Sanchez shuffle at times but 'Murph' is going to play in the big leagues. He's going to be a good big league player. He's improved defensively as much as any catcher I've seen in a while here with us. He's really bright. He's improved at receiving, throwing, his game management skills are solid. He's going to play in the big leagues and he's going to get there -- he's 21 years old and playing Double-A, that's good. So yeah, he's a player. He didn't hit as well as he would like last year but we think he's going to be a good hitter. We thought he was going to be a good hitter when we drafted him. The expectations were we thought he was going to be a really good offensive player and we hoped he could become a good defensive player. We still think he can be a good offensive player and he has become a good defensive player. 'Murph' has done well so far. He's going to be a good big league player.
PinstripesPlus.com: Obviously the reports have been out that Gil Patterson is being brought back to the organization as the pitching coordinator. What is going to be the role of Nardi Contreras going forward?
Newman: Nardi is going to be dealing with our young Latin pitchers. Nardi has been doing this stuff a long time. It's something that he expressed the desire for over the last several years at some point, to narrow his focus. He does a ton of traveling between Santo Domingo and Triple-A and he's going at it all year long and we thought the chance to get Gil back who has had great success at Oakland -- he was here before, he lives in Tampa -- we think we have an exceptional staff with Gil as the coordinator, and Nardi and Greg Pavlick as senior pitching instructors. We have three former big league pitching coaches, all of them bright, all of them experienced, all of them providing mentorship for our young pitching coaches and our young pitchers. I think it's a really great situation. We're happy to have Gil in his leadership role and we're happy to accommodate Nardi. He's already made an impact in our pitching in Latin America and he'll give us some increased focus in that area. I think that's really significant.
PinstripesPlus.com: We've talked about Nik Turley for a while now and he has seen a steady improvement over the years. Is he one of the better pitching prospects for you guys now in your mind?
Newman: Yep. The progress has been kind of broad-based. His strength has improved but his secondary pitches -- his curveball has come a long way. It's really a factor now. His changeup is legit. He's a really hard working, tough competitive guy. He's a 50th round pick and that's why you work hard for 50 rounds, and I applaud our scouts for that. It was a great pick and a great sign. It [the draft] is 40 rounds now but you keep fighting for all 40.
PinstripesPlus.com: We know Brett Marshall is a high makeup, highly competitive guy with a good fastball and a great changeup. Did you see the slider make the progress that you wanted to see?
Newman: Yep, that was his major objective for him and he's done it. Now we have to continue to expand his ability to use his secondary stuff but he's made the kind of progress we were hoping for. He had a really good year and we're happy about him.
PinstripesPlus.com: Going back to the catchers -- we were talking about Murphy and his defensive progress. There are still some who say that Gary Sanchez isn't always in the game mentally on the defensive side and that's not what I saw at all this year. He appeared to me to do a complete 180 degree turnaround in that department, becoming that leader on the field. Are you happy with the way he's come around defensively?
Newman: Yeah I agree, he's made real significant defensive progress. He's 19 years old and none of us at 19 had the mental maturity that we had at 25 and he's going to continue to grow in that way. But he's committed to it, he wants to be a catcher. He's not back there thinking about his next at-bat, he's thinking about how to get hitters out and help his pitchers. He's making solid progress.
PinstripesPlus.com: We can't have an interview and not talk about Tyler Austin. Did moving to the outfield allow him to focus more offensively, not taking the bad plays he was making in the infield with him to the plate?
Newman: I think he can hit and I think that transcends all of the other stuff. He plays in 2011 twice as many games at third as he did first base, but he raked then. One, he can play outfield and that's where we have a need right now and he can play it well. I think he plays right field better than any of the other positions that he plays. I think he's a better right fielder than he his a first baseman or third baseman, at least now. But he's one of those guys who can hit, period. He concentrates and stays focused for a young guy really well. I haven't seen him not hit so I don't know when defense has bothered him because he's raked the whole time he's been here.
PinstripesPlus.com: We talk about these guys -- Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin -- obviously the outfield depth has gotten a lot better over the years, but a guy who gets lost in the shuffle is Ramon Flores. All he does is continue to hit and he gets on base. Do you see that power developing though?
Newman: He hit eleven home runs in Charleston in 2011 and he hit eight between A-ball and Double-A this year. I think he's going to have power. He works at the game. He's 20 years old. In the next couple of years we may see more. If you look at Cano's power numbers as a young guy he hit 14 home runs in Greensboro but Greensboro is short and Charleston is long, and he hit five in Tampa. In 2005 he was 20 years old and played in Tampa and Trenton, and he hit six home runs. Ramon Flores is the same age and he hit eight home runs between those two ball parks. I'm not saying Ramon Flores is going to be a 30-home run hitter or a 30-home run power guy in the big leagues, but he's got some pop and he's emerging as a player. When these guys get to 21, 22, 23, that's when we can expect to see some increased power output. So we'll see but we know he can hit. He can hit and he gets on base. If he gets some power, and he's a solid corner outfielder -- yeah, people don't talk about him and I wouldn't be surprised if he's in that same group.
PinstripesPlus.com: Of the young pitchers you guys drafted last year -- guys like Jordan Cote, Rookie Davis, Chaz Hebert, etc -- each one has their own adjustment that needs to be made, but is there one who maybe stood out and is tracking quicker than you thought he would?
Newman: Not really in that group. I think they're all doing fine. Daniel Camarena is another one. Hayden Sharp is another one with upside. So there's a group of six or seven pitchers from the 2011 draft that we think all have different types of abilities. They've all grown close as a group and we think a few of those guys -- obviously we hope all of them -- can emerge. Jordan Cote throws strikes, Joey Maher has great sink, Camarena's left-handed and can spin the ball, Hayden Sharp is 6-foot-6 and has power, Chaz Hebert has made great improvements and can pitch really well, can spin the ball and change speeds, etc. So we don't know who among them is going to take a velocity jump but they can all do some things. Jordan Cote is an extraordinary strike-thrower for a young guy. We'll see. I'm not smart enough to know who it's going to be yet, but a few of those guys we think are going to emerge as quality young pitchers.
PinstripesPlus.com: You have a similar group of young pitchers on the International side too -- Angel Rincon, Gallegos, Cesar Vargas, Niebla, etc -- obviously Rafael DePaula is head and shoulders above the rest, but is there a young International pitcher coming up behind him that could emerge as a top pitching prospect?
Newman: It's Gallegos, Niebla, Dallas Martinez, those guys. And Rincon has a shot at it. Those guys are a notch below [DePaula] but there's a lot to like with that group. There's a bunch of guys, like 10-15 guys within the last year or two, who we think will emerge as really strong prospects in the industry. We like that depth that we have. Our scouts did a nice job of acquiring some pitchers with some upside. We'll see how they emerge. It will be a nice challenge for Gil [Patterson] to walk in to. I think that Turley, Tracy, Nuding, Marshall, Montgomery, Kahnle, Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne, there's going to be some guys emerge from that group. If you throw in guys from the last two drafts, guys like Nick Goody and Corey Black, Hensley, Pinder -- we traded a lot of guys and then Banuelos got hurt and moved up Phelps and Noesi so it's a little thin at Triple-A but we've got a couple of waves behind them. It should be fun.
PinstripesPlus.com: We've talked about a lot of pitchers here today and nearly all of them are really progressing. Taylor Morton, however, seems to be going in reverse. Talk about him. What happened to him this year?
Newman: I think he got tired and wore down over the course of the year. His velocity went down. We've got to adjust his exercise program and make sure he has enough down time this offseason. He'll bounce back though. We certainly feel like he will.
PinstripesPlus.com: Obviously Miguel Andujar 17 years old is very young and he didn't have the greatest numbers this season, but he showed something during Instructs I thought. Are you pleased with the way he finished out the year?
Newman: Yeah and we think he can hit. And we've had some really good players who didn't hit well during their first year in the rookie league -- Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for example -- but they looked good doing it, and Andujar looked good doing it. He can hit the ball hard the other way, his balance is good, we think he's going to be a hitter.
PinstripesPlus.com: Austin Aune, obviously another young guy who can look raw at times and who needs some work, especially defensively -- are you happy with the way he got his feet wet this year?
Newman: Offensively I don't think he's raw. Offensively he did fine; his balance, his plate discipline, they're indicators that this guy can be a good offensive player. Defensively that's a work in progress and we'll see how it goes. Shortstop is really a challenging position. He wants to play there and we're giving him a chance to play there. We know that he's going to be a good offensive player and we're going to work our way through the defense and see where it ends up.
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