On Monday night in Surprise, Jamey Newberg held a Q&A event with Tom Grieve, Eric Nadel, John Rhadigan, Scott Servais, and Josh Boyd. The event lasted for about an hour and 15 minutes. It was a great evening, with a very relaxed atmosphere and a lot of good information. I would like to thank Tom, Eric, John, Scott, and Josh for all of their time and Jamey for organizing the event.
I was able to ask two questions during the evening:
Me: Who do you think are the three most underrated players in the Rangers minor league system?
Scott: There are some younger players on our backfields that are pretty exciting. David Perez is 17 years old. He’s about 6’5”. He hits 90-94 miles per hour, very good curve ball and changeup. I saw him pitch today. He’s a guy who’s not really on the radar yet, because he’s so young. He would definitely be one of those guys. One guy we’re looking at to maybe have a breakout year is Leury Garcia. Some of you may have seen him. He’s played in some of our big league (spring training) games. Very talented, very toolsy player. Quick runner, great arm, plays shortstop, quick hands. He’s starting to slow the game down a little bit so will hopefully make a few less errors this year. Every time you come to spring training, some players take the next step. We’re hoping Leury’s one of those guys who can take that step. The third player that sticks out… I’m trying to pick someone who’s not on Jamey’s Top 50 list. Those are probably the top two guys.
Me: Which positions do you feel have the most and least depth in the system?
Scott: Depth-wise in our system, I like our third basemen. We obviously have very talented players at the major league level. We have Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva. We’ve got some very young players at third base. I like our depth there. Shortstop depth is much different in this system than it was probably three to four years ago, with Leury Garcia, Jurickson Profar. Luis Sardinas is a very young talented young player. He’s been out with a shoulder issue but he’ll probably be back by the time the Spokane season starts. Center field. We picked Skole last year. We have a young player, Teodoro Martinez. And pitching is always going to be deep and a focus of our scouts. You cannot have enough pitching. It’s difficult. There are so many things that happen in the development process. There are so many kids who come into the system and they were all the best pitcher on their high school or college team. Just the amount of work and the amount of throwing that we do. Having to pitch every fifth day. Most high school kids have pitched maybe once a week. In college, it’s Friday night or Saturday and that’s it. You can never have enough pitching so that will always be a focus for us.
Below is a summary of some of the other questions and answers from the session.
Q: Talk a little bit about catching depth in the minors and what we may be seeing up here in the next few years.
Scott: Taylor Teagarden will be in the mix. The young player that’s coming is Jose Felix. He played in Frisco last year during the second half of the season. He’s been in major league camp as a non-roster player. He’s a 22-year old, right handed hitter from Mexico. Great personality. All kinds of energy. Has all the intangibles you’re looking for from a catcher. Very good thrower. Threw out over 50% of runners last year. He’s definitely top of the minor league group that’s coming because he’s closer to the big leagues. One of our first round picks last year was Kellin Deglan, a Canadian kid. He’s 19 years old and it’s his first full year. One of the more underrated players out here is Jorge Alfaro, who is an 18 year old player from Columbia and may have as good a tool package as we have on the backfields. Power, good arm, but very very young. Those would probably be the three guys that stick out in our system right now.
Q: I read recently that Feliz now has a plus-plus curve ball. Today I read that he’s really excited about his cut fastball. Can someone give us an update on his secondary pitches?
Scott: We all know that Neftali has a really special arm. Mike Maddux has talked to him over the last week and a half about throwing a cut fastball. The idea behind that is that Neftali gets into a lot of higher pitch counts. Guys foul off a lot of balls. He doesn’t get a lot of easy outs. He gets a lot of strikeouts but usually has 4, 5, 6 pitch at-bats. The cut fastball should allow him to get some easier outs because it looks just like his fastball but it cuts right at the end. It’s a work in progress but it’s something that will definitely help him. Hopefully he can keep those pitch counts down, especially if he’s going to be a starter.
Q: Tom, from your GM past perspective, is it much different today being a GM today than when you were a GM?
Tom: I think it’s much more difficult now. The financial part of the game is so extraordinary. We used to be presented a budget in November. Within that budget, we could pretty much do whatever we wanted. We had to let ownership know what we were doing but, in ten years, I don’t think they ever said no, we long as we stayed within the budget. Because very seldom was there a transaction that would impact the budget in a way that they were worried about. Right at the end, when we were trying to sign Kevin Brown and Ruben Sierra and contracts got to be 4 or 5 years for 20-23 million dollars, ownership began to get involved in those kinds of discussions, and you can understand why. It’s come so far since then. Ownership is very involved in the conversations when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. There are more people in the organization. When I was a general manager, we didn’t have an advance scout and we had one major league scout. We didn’t have a strength coordinator at every minor league team. We didn’t have the budget for that. So I would say that the general manager’s job today is much more difficult than it was when I was a general manager. Just the Internet makes it more difficult. Every single thing you talk about and every single thing you do is second-guessed. The talk radio makes it so much more difficult. I think maybe the last year or two when I was a general manager, The Ticket had just started and they were basically the only one. There was no Internet. I never had a cell phone as a GM. And just those several things give you an idea as to how much more time goes into it now then back then.
Josh: I think another example of that was the question about who the sleepers are in the system. There’s so much coverage now – Jamey, Baseball America, various blogs – that it’s difficult to even identify three sleepers because the players have been talked about since the second they signed. As far as the size of the scouting staff, we have eight full-time pro scouts plus a few special assistants. On the amateur side, there are 20, 25. International is too many to count. 15-20 more there. And then multiple people doing advanced scouting.
Jamey: Josh, can you talk a little about your group and what they do this time of year, how that changes in June and July, what goes on at the end of the season, and that sort of thing?
Josh: This time of year, we basically have everyone split up. Half here, half in Florida. They each have 3-4 organizations they cover. They’re on the backfields for those organizations basically every day. Once opening day starts, each of the pro scouts has four organizations they cover, from the major leagues down to low-A. Five teams within each organization. When June rolls around, there’s more of a focus on specific targets and you’re always trying to stay one step ahead of where that next trade might come from.
Q: John, how are things going so far for you?
John: I think it’s going well. I was surprised how nervous I wasn’t on the first telecast and I think it’s because I have my security blanket, Tom Grieve, with me. Tom couldn’t be easier to work with. Really friendly and a great guy and couldn’t be more patient with a guy who’s doing major league baseball for the first time.
Q: What should we make of Hurley’s performance today?
Scott: He pitched very well today. I know his velocity isn’t where he wants it to be but he had a very effective slider, threw strikes when behind in the count, located his fastball. I thought he did a nice job and had a very positive outing.
Jamey: To dovetail on that, I was hoping you guys could comment on what Miguel De Los Santos did in the 9th. He’s a guy who’s come from off the radar in a similar way that Alexi Ogando did just because he hadn’t been in the states for a while. And what he did today, even though it was against minor leaguers because it was the 9th, I thought was really interesting.
Scott: Miguel had a great season for us last year. He pitched at lower levels. He pitched in Hickory and Spokane and to put a guy on the 40-man roster that pitched that low in our system is kind of unheard of. But if you track his numbers, they’re unbelievable. The number of people he struck out last year in the minors. And you saw the game today. He has a tremendous changeup and a very good curve ball. Command of the fastball will be the thing he needs to work on throughout the season. Very good outing today. He’s a little bit behind the rest of the pitchers and that’s why you hadn’t seen him in spring training to this point. He had an arm issue so they were slow getting him going, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.
Q: If we make Feliz a starter, do we have anyone else in the system who can come up and be a closer and be as strong as him?
Scott: The biggest thing to do in the minor leagues is to develop starting pitchers. What determines whether you can or can’t start a lot of the time is secondary pitches. If you don’t have them, a lot of times you slide to the bullpen. That usually happens around the double-A or triple-A level. We have a really good nucleus of pitchers at the high-A and low-A levels. Those kids are coming. There’s not one person I could put a tag on and say ‘that’s our closer’.
Q: Besides Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez, who is the next big thing as far as minor league pitchers are concerned?
Scott: Neil Ramirez is a kid who has really come on. Neil was a supplemental pick back in the draft when we had Michael Main, Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon, and Tommy Hunter. The kid who pitched today, Miguel De Los Santos is another one. Robbie Erlin is a kid who had probably one of the lowest ERA’s in all of minor league baseball last year, his first full year. He’s a left-handed pitcher with tremendous control. Like I mentioned earlier, David Perez. Joe Wieland. Jacob Brigham. I could probably go 10, 15 deep. And there are some younger ones who haven’t even pitched that much yet. Our scouts have done a tremendous job of identifying young pitching. And that’s what’s great about our job. We get the chance to mold it and develop it.
Q: What is your favorite stadium to announce games in?
Eric: As far as a vantage point, I really like Anaheim. We’re very low. Most of the broadcast booths now tend to be higher. Our stadium is actually the worst in the American League for us. It’s the farthest from home plate. It’s the highest and the farthest back. In the old stadiums, like in Detroit and Cleveland, you almost overhung the netting.
Q: How did Jarrod Saltalamacchia fail so badly with us and he’s the starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox on opening day?
Scott: You know, I probably spent as much time with Jarrod as anyone in the organization. Obviously there are a lot of things that go into playing that position. The development of catching takes time. We’re built to win now. Last year we knew we had a very good team with a good pitching staff that was starting to come together. We needed to have veteran catching. Jarrod’s probably at a better spot now than he was maybe a year ago. He looks to be healthy. The catching instructor for Boston happens to be a good friend of mine. That’s just part of the game. You make trades. Guys get opportunities. They get a fresh start. And guys get it going. That’s why they make trades. I wish Jarrod the best of luck.
Jamey: Just to jump off that a little bit, Scott, I know you as a player crossed paths with Yorvit Torrealba once or twice. And I’m guessing you had as much input as anybody in targeting that guy and deciding to bring him here. Talk about what about his game attracted you to bringing him forward to be the starter.
Scott: Anytime we acquire a player, it’s a group decision. With Torrealba, I was at the end of my career and he was just coming up with the Giants. I saw him when he was about a 20-year-old player. At the time, he was not a very good hitter but was a very good catch-and-throw. He’s been a very productive in the major leagues. He’s been on winning teams. He’s helped teams get into the playoffs and been a big part of that. He plays with a lot of energy. I think you’ll all appreciate that. You can see that when you see him play. He has a little flair to his game, which is fine. He’s probably not the defensive catcher he was 5-6 years ago but on the flipside he’s a better offensive catcher. I don’t think anyone projects him to catch 120-130 games. He’s never done that in his career. He’s probably a 90-100 game guy. That’s why we have Matt Treanor and Mike Napoli. I think he’s going to be a good player for us. He does a very good job with the pitching staff. We’ve already seen it in spring training, getting to know our young guys, getting them to use all their pitches. Guys like Derek Holland and Matt Harrison should benefit greatly from it.
Q: Scott, how do you rate our minor league pipeline over the next few years and what are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the game since you played?
Scott: I think we’re in a good position. Obviously every year, the draft is very important. With the depth we have now, I really see us being a top 10 system over the next 3-4 years. My last year of playing was 2002. The biggest change is probably around agents. I had an agent when I played but I didn’t really have one until I got to the major league level. Now it seems like every player in our minor league system has an agent.
Tom: How about in broadcasting, Eric, you’ve been doing it for so long. What sorts of changes have you seen?
Eric: The biggest change of course involves the Internet. Game preparation is just totally different from what it used to be. So much of the information that we gather comes off of the Internet. I still really like to go down and talk to players to get stuff that only I can get. You can go out and get all of the same stuff on the Internet that I can. But you don’t have the access to go down to the clubhouse and get the players’ viewpoints. The availability of the information on the Internet is what’s changed the most.
Tom: How did you get that information before the Internet?
Eric: Well I didn’t have nearly as much. But the information I got generally came from the other team’s announcers, talking to the other team’s manager. But I really went into a broadcast with much less information than I do now. Now it’s a matter of choosing, for me, what’s interesting and what’s just filler. And that’s part of the challenge now, whereas in the old days it was a matter of accumulating enough information to try and fill the time between pitches. Although since I started, the average game time has gone from about 2:20, 2:25 up to 2:50 or whatever it is now, so we have another half hour to fill.
Q: I’m just curious what you see happening with Chris Davis.
Scott: Chris has had a great spring. One of the things we talk about is his versatility. Chris is a special athlete. He can really defend and play a lot of different positions on the field. It’s all about the bat. He really got a great start when he first showed up in Texas and it’s been up and down since. But is he going to make the team, is there a spot on the team for him, we’ll see what happens. But I know one thing. When you’re putting a team together, you can’t have too many good players. There will be injuries and there will be things that come up throughout the season and if he isn’t with the big league club to start, I’m sure he’ll put himself in a position where he’s one of the first guys we go to because he’s versatile. He can play a lot of positions.
Q: We can’t leave without a question about Michael Young. How is Michael really doing and what are the chances he’ll be with us at the end of the year?
Tom: I don’t think any of us can speak to the chances of him being here at the end of the year. That’s a question that I don’t think anybody can answer. How’s he doing? He may still be upset but you’ll never know it when he’s on the field. Some of the silliest things I read in the offseason were questions about whether Michael would report to spring training and if he does will he be a distraction. You can’t know anything about Michael Young and come up with those two questions. He was going to be here when he was supposed to be here. And he addressed his team, which they probably told him he didn’t have to do, to say that he won’t be a distraction. He’ll play hard, he’ll play well at third, short, second, first, DH, wherever Ron Washington puts him in the lineup. If he’s here, he’ll be a huge part of our team. The hardest part about the whole situation is when you look at the people that are involved – the three main players – Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan, and Michael Young. You can’t get three better people than this. They’ve all got great reputations. Their integrity speaks for itself. So it’s hard to understand how the situation could ever have happened, and it’s too bad. But it will have absolutely nothing to do with what goes down on the field. It won’t matter at all. Michael will be fine. He’ll be playing hard. The players don’t care about it and it will not be an issue. Now whether or not he’ll be here - if someone has an injury and calls up Jon Daniels and they make him a great offer tomorrow, who knows what could happen. Right now, I think all of us feel the same way. We’re glad he’s here, we need him and he’ll be a huge part of our team. I feel bad a little bit for Michael that for ten years, he’s built up this equity and people are so quick to jump off his bandwagon. And at the same time, I feel bad for Jon Daniels because his integrity has been questioned too and that’s too bad because I don’t think he deserves that either. So whatever the miscommunication was, probably none of us will ever know and it won’t impact the team.
It was a fun evening and I’m really glad that it happened while I was in Surprise. Thanks again to everyone involved.
Come back this weekend when I hope to finally post my spring training pitchers analysis, which has been taking me a lot longer than expected to put together. Also, I’ll be posting my spring training trip report soon.