By Sweeny Murti
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In Part I of my Q&A with Yankees VP of player development Gary Denbo, we learned about his overall thoughts on the Yankees farm system and his goals, including the ideals that are taught in Captains Camp. In Part II we discuss the progress of some of the Bombers’ best prospects heading into 2016.
Sweeny Murti: I came over here a year ago and we were watching one of the workouts together and you pointed at one kid and told me he’s the guy I need to watch and get to know, the next big prospect. It was Jorge Mateo. His name had risen up the in prospect ranks a bit the previous winter, but it really shot up since then. Who is it this year? Who do you want me to watch this year?
“Two people come to mind. One is Estevan Florial. He’s an outfielder we signed last year from Haiti,” Denbo said. “He’s an exciting young player. He’s a centerfielder and I think he’s going to be able to stay in center field. He’s an athlete, runs well, throws well, hits for power at a young age with a loose swing that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort, which is very impressive for a player that age.”
Florial was signed in March of 2015 and turned 18 last November. His professional debut came in last year’s Dominican Summer League where he batted .313 (70-for-224) with a .527 SLG (ranked second in the DSL). Of his 70 hits, he had 11 doubles, eight triples, and seven homers.
Here is a recent piece on Florial and his background from The New York Post’s Joel Sherman.
“And then Wilkerman Garcia is another one you need to watch,” Denbo added.
Garcia, a shortstop, was signed at age 16 in July 0f 2014, and is ranked by Baseball America as the seventh best prospect for that year’s international signing period. He turns 18 on April 1. He made his professional debut in 2015 and hit .281 (34-for-121) with the Gulf Coast League Yankees.
After the season he was ranked by BA as the sixth best prospect in the GCL and made the Yankees’ Top 10 prospect list at No. 9.
“He has actions out on the field that you seldom see. He does everything very easily. I’m not going to say the game comes easy to him, but there’s a flow to all of his movements out on the field,” Denbo said of Garcia. “He has the appearance of being a much older player. Major league players make the game look so easy because they’ve had so many repetitions –thousands and thousands of repetitions — and over time they just make it look like it’s easy for them to do everything. Wilkerman has that already at 17 years old. So we have high expectations for him.”
One of the things I’ve learned, and I’m sure you will, too, if you haven’t already, is as soon as fans hear names of prospects they are fast forwarding and imagining these kids in center field or wherever at Yankee Stadium. When these kids are 17 or 18, realistically, how long does it take for them to get to where they need to be, to get like you mentioned all those repetitions?
Denbo: “I don’t have an answer for you, how long it’s going to take. But I do know this — with the coaching staff we have in place, and the individual development plans and the system development plans we have in place, I think we will be able to expedite these players’ development and I think our fans will see them hopefully sooner than later. I think these guys are going to have an excellent chance to develop these tools and do it at an expedited pace, simply because we have great people working with them.”
I’m going to mention a few players to you and I would like you to tell me what they did better last year and what they still need to improve on. First is Gary Sanchez.
Denbo: “I guess the first thing that comes to mind with Gary is he matured mentally last year. Of course, most of the credit goes to Gary, but we had a village of people behind Gary last year.
“Three names come to mind — Josh Paul, Michel Hernandez, and Jason Brown. All three are catching instructors at the upper levels, Josh being our catching coordinator. Those guys really put the focus on Gary Sanchez and held him accountable for everything he did, taught him to be a better worker, taught him to be more prepared, taught him to be more accountable for his actions — held him accountable.
“Also, Al Pedrique, the manager at Double-A, who is one of our best managers and is our Triple-A manager this year. Al, I think, had a lot to do with giving Gary the proper amount of attention and working on the right development objectives throughout the year to insure that he became not just a better player, but a better teammate.”
Sanchez is one of the guys we’ve heard about for so long. You signed him at 16 and everybody right away said he’s one of the great prospects. But I guess sometimes, even beyond the baseball side, you forget these kids are 16 coming from a different country and just have to get adjusted and mature just like any other kid, right?
Denbo: “Well, like any other 16-year-old kid from another country! Not like any 16-year-old that’s had the educational background and opportunity that kids from America have had. So you definitely have to take that into account when you’re talking about a Latin American baseball player. They haven’t had the opportunities in education. They haven’t had the opportunities to have the facilities to work in like American players have. They haven’t had the coaching that American players have. And the simple fact is that a lot of the players, the family structure is not as strong as it should be for some of these players.
“And it takes them a while to learn. It’s a process that all these players go through. Hopefully with the staff we put in place here that we’re going to be able to help these guys as soon as possible.
“Our education program that we’re putting together now is going to be part of that, to help these players learn how to blend in a little bit quicker when they come from Latin American countries to the United States and make that transition easier for them.”
Aaron Judge. What did he do better last year and what does he still need to improve?
Denbo: “It’s a difficult question to answer because all areas of his game were good last year. First of all, nobody is going to outwork Aaron Judge. He is a leader, he is a good teammate, he has all the tools you look for in a championship-caliber player. He was able to put all those things together last year and put together an outstanding performance. When he arrived in Triple-A he was facing veteran pitchers for the first time in his life, guys who would pitch him backwards. He would see a lot off-speed pitches in fastball counts and vice versa. He ended up taking a lot of those pitches and not pulling the trigger on them rather than attacking pitches that he could hit in his hitting zone and taking the ones that he couldn’t.
“He has worked extensively with Marcus Thames and Alan Cockrell and James Rowson this winter. And he’s made some adjustments with his lower half in terms of the move that he makes to load up, to prepare to hit, that should allow him to be in a better position to recognize pitches and then be in a better position to pull the trigger when he sees one that he wants to attack.”
Denbo: “Travis Chapman was our infield coach in Charleston (A) with Mateo. He spent almost the entire year with him before Mateo moved up at the end. Travis was with him every day, making him accountable for how he went about his work, making sure he was working on the right things every day during pregame practice. I think Travis did a magnificent job of working with Jorge.
“He has the ability to make great plays on the field, he’s such a great athlete. But there were times when he didn’t pay attention to detail on the routine plays. I know Travis Chapman and him worked a long time on that together along with Carlos Mendoza in spring training and then again in instructional league. Those coaches did a great job with Jorge. Jorge worked hard, he played hard, I think he matured as a person and as a player. He was part of our Captain’s Camp here this spring. We expect big things from Jorge.”
Can James Kaprielian (first-round pick last year) move through the organization as quickly as everybody seems to tell me he can?
Denbo: “That remains to be seen. Experience-wise, he has a ways to go. I mean, he’s got a half-season of professional baseball under his belt. It’s easy to look at James and dream that he can move quickly through the organization because he has the tools to do so. Mentally, he’s tough. He’s been through some adversity in his life and he’s overcome that and came out with just a great attitude and determination to work even harder.
“All those things being said we don’t know how it’s going to play out. He’s going to face some good competition at the beginning of this season, probably in the Florida State League, and then we’ll see what develops from there.
Here is a terrific piece from Mark Feinsand in last Sunday’s Daily News that looks at Kaprielian and the adversity in his life that Denbo mentions above.
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