On Tuesday, Josh Norris and I talked to Yankees Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Mark Newman for about 25 minutes. We touched on a variety of subjects, and you can read the results here. Enjoy.
Josh Norris: We talked earlier about this team having a really outstanding season. Is there anyone who really jumps out at you as having a really surprising season?
Mark Newman: Vidal Nuno has made huge strides, and he’s probably pleasantly surprised a lot of people. Signed him last year out of the Independent Leagues. I think he went New York-Penn, Charleston (last year) and then this year (he had) a pen deal in the Florida State League and the rotation, and now he’s pitching better than anyone in the rotation here, and the team’s in the first place in the Eastern League. That’s a pretty good year.
JN: What does he do that sets him apart.
MN: He pitches. He’s not 6-foot-6, he doesn’t throw 95, but he throws hard enough. He pitches. He changes location, spins the ball, locates his fastball and has a feel for how to get hitters out.
JN: How much of a different pitcher is he then when you signed him?
MN: I think he’s made some improvements, but he was better than most people give him credit for. Basically he’s done a lot of this in response to the competition. He has all kinds of game awareness. I think he understands what’s going on and devises ways to get hitters out. It’s a simple concept but it’s not easy to execute, and he does.
Mike Ashmore: I know winning and losing isn’t the most important thing in player development, but have you been surprised by what this team has been able to do?
MN: Yeah. They’ve had a great season in a lot of different ways. A lot of people have had exceptional performances. A bunch of guys have improved at the same time, and they’ve put up numbers over the course of the year over an extended period of time, so you can’t say, at this point, that it’s randomness or chance or luck or any of that stuff. They’ve performed.
Addison Maruszak, he was basically an organizational utility guy who has created a strong role for himself. His situation is interesting because he hasn’t had consistent at-bats. He ends up playing a lot every year because he’s so versatile. He’s from Tampa. He works out all the time. He’s indefatigable. He does it day after day and with an extraordinarily optimistic outlook.
MA: Are there guys who didn’t just come out of nowhere, but guys who are just having better years than expected?
MN: They all are. From Murton to Pirela – who’s having an extraordinary year – David Adams fought back from all the injuries, Zoilo’s been really good. Melky Mesa was obviously good and now he’s in Triple-A and he’s off to a pretty good start in Triple-A. Abe was down for a while, but he’s doing pretty well also. I think Murphy’s adjusting well to the league. He’s 21. He’s one of the younger players in this league. He’s doing fine.
It would be difficult to find somebody who I would look at personally or we would as an organization and say (he’s performed) less than expected. … Most of these guys have performed beyond expectations.
JN: Where would Murton have been had Rob Lyerly not gotten hurt? Would he have been with Tampa, or would he have made his way to Double-A?
MN: He would have been here. One of them would have prevailed. Rob’s had an unfortunate injury, but the challenge for him was to profile as a first baseman. The challenge for Luke is to hit better. He has power. So they were like polar opposites. They both faced challenges. Lyerly’s chance to meet his challenge was cut short by the injury, but Luke’s done a nice job.
JN: You’ve got two former Thunder guys – Grant Duff and Tim Norton – as coaches. What did you see out of them that they fit well on your coaching staff?
MN: We’ve got an internal coaching program, and they’re both involved in that. They’re still presenting or displaying their potential to be coaches. Most guys get done playing and think they can immediately coach, and it’s a lot more difficult than that. They’re finding that out. They were high-character, high-work ethic guys as players, respected by teammates. We think they’re good people and that’s why we give them a chance. I think they’re both going to be successful.
JN: Same thing you saw from guys like Edwar Gonzalez, P.J. Pilittere and Carlos Mendoza?
MN: Absolutely. The same thing. We’re producing major league players and some guys that are going to coach in the major leagues, too. They’re all high-character guys.
MA: What kind of challenges have you guys faced as an organization with all of the injuries this year?
MN: Huge. Huge. That’s the single biggest issue. We’ve been lucky that over the last few years we haven’t had many at all. That’s a tremendous challenge. It’s a tremendous challenge. It’s a challenge in several ways: One is to recognize how much of this is randomness – and injuries tend to be random – how much can we prevent going forward, how can we improve rehab processes and diagnoses, prescriptions for rehab processes.
When you’ve had all the stuff we’ve had, you take a really close look at everything. We do all the time, and it’s a maddening thing for everyone in this industry to deal with injuries. The single most significant in player development and coincidentally in scouting also is pitchers’ arm injuries.
There was a group some years ago that believed in a principle – a group of analytics guys – they called TINSTAAPP. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but we’re dealing with Manny, we’re dealing with Campos, we’re dealing with Andy Pettitte, we’re dealing with Michael Pineda. That’s a lot.
My father used to tell me when I felt it necessary to complain to him about something, ‘Shut up and go back to work. Eighty percent of the people on the planet don’t care about your problems, and the other 20 percent are glad you have them.’ So all we’re going to do is shut up and go back to work and see where we can improve. First we have to identify what’s improvable and what’s randomness and what isn’t. That’s no easy task.
MA: Where did Betances lose his way this year?
Newman: It’s command of his stuff, it’s throwing his secondary pitches over, it’s locating his fastball. Some of it’s confidence. Most of it’s confidence. Some of it is delivery, some of it is fundamental. But that’s probably a 75-25 proposition. He’s not too good to struggle. Roy Halladay is one of the great pitchers of this generation, and I saw him go from the big leagues to A-Ball. I’ve seen a lot of great pitchers struggle, so that’s part of it. The German guy that said, ‘That which does not kill me only makes me stronger’ is dead on, and that’s what he’s going through. And it’s OK. You’ve got to embrace it, learn from it and go forward. He’s got great stuff. And how tough he is mentally will go a long way towards determining how well he does in the next few years. Whether he’s a major league pitcher or whether he’s a highly talented guy who couldn’t quite get over the hump.
MA: Long-term, do you think he’s a reliever?
Newman: He may be, he may not be. He’s got enough pitches to start. He’s got an outstanding changeup when it’s right.
JN: Do you expect him to stay here the rest of the year?
Newman: I have no idea, it depends on how he pitches.
MA: With Montgomery, is he a guy you could continue to see move quickly through the organization?
Newman: I think he’s here for the remainder of the year, most likely. Having said that, there aren’t any guarantees. He’s done really well. As he moves through the system, he needs to continue to build up the durability. He’s still transitioning from college where he had to relieve on the weekend and he’d have four or five days off to being a relief pitcher and going back-to-back and dealing with the physical challenges of the professional game. It’s a really different environment.
JN: What has Corey Black shown you so far?
Newman: He’s been outstanding. He has big-time stuff, quality sink, secondary…
JN: He’s a starter still for you?
Newman: Yeah. We don’t want to be moving guys to relievers too early. Even guys like Dellin…Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game, and he was a starter. Most of them were. They get innings, they learn to pitch. One of the things with Montgomery that’s difficult is that he doesn’t pitch that many innings, so he didn’t get reps.
We wouldn’t take a position player and say I think Jones Gomez is going to be fifth infielder, he’s going to be a good one. Our fifth infielder is a guy that can play short and multiple infield positions, so we’ll start him in Double-A and play him now. Joba went through as a starter except for three or four or five games in Triple-A. David Robertson was a reliever in college and stayed there.
JN: Is there any way that’s been proven to be more successful between taking a guy who’s been a reliever or taking guy who’s been a starter to develop a reliever more successfully?
Newman: Well, the long history of the game was relievers come from your starters. Very few guys were developed as relievers. Now, we see a few more. But in general, if you look at the top relievers in the game today you’re going to get a bit of both.
MA: Back to Montgomery for a second. How does his slider compare to other pitches in this organization? is that the best pitch you have in the organization?
Newman: It’s probably got the highest swing and miss rate. It’s good, it’s a power (slider). Power defined as the ability to miss a bat, and it’s a powerful pitch.
MA: I wanted to ask you about Brett Marshall. He’s always been a pretty confident kid, there’s that famous story that he bragged to you that he’d hit 100 miles per hour one day. How has he changed since you guys first got him?
Newman: He’s still confident and boastful. I don’t think he takes himself all that seriously though. He’s a pitcher now. I’ve seen him hit 98, and he probably could still. But he pitches. He’s efficient, his breaking ball has improved and he throws a high-caliber changeup. So, he’s a pitcher now.
JN: Nardi Contreras had mentioned that it was a bone issue for Jose Campos, and you told Andrew Marchand with ESPN New York it was a bone bruise for Manny Banuelos as well. When did that happen for Banuelos? Was that the original injury?
Newman: Yes. It’s just from throwing. (A bone bruise) is ultimately what it was. I don’t think they would probably be diagnosed as bone bruises five or ten years ago, because you didn’t hear about it. I think the MRI’s and CT scans and all that stuff allow us to be more precise in our diagnosis. But we have to figure out how to prevent these things, just like we have to figure out how to prevent the Tommy John problem. It tends to come from joint instability, and some of that is physical and some of that is fundamental with a funky delivery. Some of it is not being strong and flexible enough, and some of it is genetic. At some level, we have some control over mechanics, workload and conditioning. But we cannot control the gene pool.
We had a pitcher some years ago who had an ACL surgery, and the operating surgeon, in trying to find replacement connective tissue, had to search longer than most and said he had the connective tissue of a 60-year-old man. So this guy continued to have injury problems after. There is a genetic component to this. Injury-proneness is not black cat stuff, it’s very often that guys are put together with more joint stability than others. You don’t know that when you sign a guy. In high school and college, their bodies aren’t stressed to the extent they are here. This is an extraordinary game in that you do this every day. These guys come out and take BP and they throw pens and they run and they play games and run into walls and stand on slopes and throw 88 miles per hour sliders. That ain’t easy.
JN: With Campos, was it the same thing as Banuelos with a bone bruise?
Newman: It’s similar, not exactly the same. It’s a bone issue. That’s probably the only way to put it.
MA: What was the issue with Ty Hensley’s medical reports?
Newman: Hensley…you ought to talk to them about that, I’m not going to get into it other than his agent talked about stuff, and we don’t…he hasn’t had any problems. We’re treating him like a regular pitcher. That’s something you need to talk to them about.
MA: I know it’s unfortunately a pretty long list, but do you have any other injury updates?
Newman: I’m sure I do, but it is a long list…
JN: With Burawa, did he break a rib?
Newman: It’s not exactly that, but he’s got a rib issue.
JN: Different from the oblique?
Newman: Right, but I wouldn’t say they’re unrelated. I’m not sure what to say about that other than it’s a rib issue and he’s been fighting that one since day one.
JN: So if he’d healed from the original injury, he wouldn’t have missed the entire season?
Newman: You don’t see obliques that last this long. Whether the oblique caused the rib injury, I don’t know that.
MA: Williams had surgery recently?
Newman: Yes, non-throwing shoulder. It’s not different (from other labrum surgeries in the organization) other than that he doesn’t have to throw with that shoulder. He did it diving for a ball.
MA: Has Tyler Austin stood out the most to you in the organization this year in terms of a guy who’s made the most progress?
Newman: Yeah, probably. He can hit. He hits it over the fence, he changed positions and plays right field well and throws well. Tough guy, plays hard every day.