Of the many things I’ve learned while covering the Thunder, one of them is that phrases preceded by “according to Mark Newman” or “Mark Newman said” tend to carry a lot of weight.
That’s why I was all the more excited to sit down with the Yankees Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for about ten minutes during tonight’s Trenton Thunder game.
In a wide-ranging exclusive chat with both myself and Times of Trenton and occasional Thunder Thoughts contributor David McDonough, Newman discusses the embarassment of riches the organization has on the mound, Thunder players who’ve established themselves as prospects this season, the plans to replace Ramiro Pena on the Trenton roster, and many, many other topics…
- Newman said that in the 20 years he’d been with the Yankees, he had not seen the system as stocked with pitching prospects as it is now.
“It’s not really close. The scouts have done a nice job, and the pitching coaches have done a real good job. Nardi Contreras, our pitching coordinator, Scott (Aldred) here, and Dave Eiland, the big league pitching coach, they’ve done a really great job.”
“Having said that, we need to do the same thing on the position player side of the ledger as we have on the pitching side. We’ve spent most of our high draft choices on pitchers, so that’s the reason. Again, this year: first pick, pitcher, second pick, pitcher.”
- Newman did not feel as though pitchers were more of a risk than position players.
“I don’t really think they are. There’s a health risk with pitchers, there’s a performance risk with hitters. When you see a pitcher in college or high school throw 98, or 95, or 92 with plus movement…if you see a breaking ball that spins, if you see delivery, if you see command, because they’re the initiator, we feel confident about that transferring to professional baseball. Pitchers are fragile physically. Hitters on the other hand, high school hitters are going to see an 80 mile per hour fastball most of the time. He’s going to hit with aluminum. He’s not going to see quality breaking pitches. And he’s not going to see a closer coming out of the bullpen that throws as well or better than the starter. From an evaluation standpoint, evaluating hitters is difficult, especially high school hitters. And when you pick in the draft where we pick — low — the high caliber…the Evan Longoria’s, the B.J. Upton’s, the Justin Upton’s, those guys are typically gone. There are some hitters late. We got Derek Jeter with the seventh pick in the draft, we got Carl Everett…but this was 20 years ago, this is ancient history. Typically, where we pick, the gold-plated, can’t miss position player is already gone. There’s some (hitters left), but you feel more certainty with the pitchers. But we’re working on the offensive side too.”
- Newman is excited about the young bats in the system.
“We’ve got some stuff going on in Charleston right now with our two middle guys (Snyder and Angelini), who are good hitters and really good defenders. Our center fielder (Abe Almonte) is a quality player. Colin Curtis, we think is going to hit. Jose Tabata is down in Tampa with a pulled hamstring. At age 19, he was getting in the .250 range or .240 range here after a horrible start. He was starting to handle the ball inside a little better, which is a part of hitting that typically shows up later. We like the position players we have here, and we feel good about the group we have in Charleston.”
- Newman is really excited about Austin Jackson.
“Like him a lot. Potentially a five-tool guy. His power is emerging. It started in the second half last year, and it’s coming on this year over the last five or six weeks. He runs, he runs the ball down in the outfield, throws. So he’s a player, and we think he’s going to be a quality big league guy for us.”
- Newman said Jose Tabata is expected back perhaps this month.
“He’ll be back. Hamstrings, depending on the degree…there’s first, second and third degree. First degree is a couple weeks, between 14 and 21 days, and we think he’s in that category. Having said that, those are only benchmarks. Every guy heals at a different pace, but he’ll be back to play. There’s what, six weeks left in the season? He should be (back).”
- Newman was not as optimistic about Marcos Vechionacci.
“Quad injury, different deal. Hurt it early here, re-injured it rehabbing. One of the tough things about rehabbing is that you have to push them, simulate game activity and game speed and see if it holds up. We got to a certain point, and while he was doing some baserunning drills it tightened up on him again.”
- Newman did not necessarily commit to keeping Mark Melancon in Trenton all season.
“Yes (the plan is to keep him in Trenton all season), but plans are changeable. Whoever’s the next Joba, I’m not sure. But he certainly has ability, and he’s pitched extraordinarily well here. He’s still essentially in a rehab season. This is his first competition in professional baseball, and he’s doing it coming off Tommy John surgery. We didn’t expect him to do this well.”
- Newman was quick to point out who’s been standing out in his eyes in Trenton.
“Jason Jones, Phil Coke. Jason’s been outstanding, and Mark Melancon’s bounced back from the injury. Claggett’s been really good. All pleasant surprises. There are these double secret conference rooms in Tampa, and they’ve got these magnetized names on there, and their magnets have been going up (laughs).”
- Newman was just as quick to point out that he doesn’t feel there’s anyone in Tampa who’s knocking on the door of a call-up to Double-A.
“They’re going to come here whenever they’re ready, but there isn’t anybody there right now.”
- Newman did not anticipate a significant move being made in replacing Ramiro Pena when he departs for the Futures Game.
“They’ll probably send up a utility middle infielder. It’s going to be for two days, so it could be somebody from Staten Island. We’re going to see how that shakes out, but we just need to get them through a couple games. Geography might be part of it, it depends on what their depth is like at the time. We make those decisions late, because injuries always play a part.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com