Brian Cashman: Jesus Montero is "better, defensively, than some catchers in the big leagues right now"
Position players and pitchers alike moved rapidly, giving the team a wealth of young, talented prospects to use to replenish the big club, be it via promotion or trade.
The advance represented the culmination of a four-season wholesale overhaul of the farm and the way it was constructed.
At the forefront of that metamorphosis was general manager Brian Cashman, who spoke exclusively with The Trentonian on Friday about what went into that process, how it is continuing, as well as other subjects pertaining to player development.
From Diamondbacks’ general manager Kevin Towers’ role with the team last year, to which farmhands he thinks fans should watch for this season, to why Jesus Montero is going to be the Yankees’ next stalwart behind the plate, this interview is a guide to how the organization approaches player development, and what effect it will have in shaping the team for 2011 and beyond.
JN: Last year was obviously a pretty good year for the Yankees on the farm. Since you’ve been GM, was 2010 the best year as far as player development is concerned?
BC: It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t be able to say that. Prior to the 2006 season, we have certainly recommitted ourselves to amateur scouting and player development. Since that time you’ve seen us slowly but surely emerge from one of the weakest to one of the strongest farm systems in the game.
JN: How do you begin the process of re-tooling the farm system, in order to make that transition?
BC: Make sure you have quality scouts. When a quality scout comes available, increase your scouting budget with new hires. We’ve hired more quality amateur scouts and we’ve hired more quality pro scouts.
We have been very aggressive in the draft and re-dedicated ourselves to tools, not necessarily to performance coming out of the amateur ranks. We had been very disciplined, in most cases, in holding onto our draft pick, our number one pick, and not losing it as free agent compensation.
JN: You mentioned giving up that draft pick, which is something you had to do this year when you signed Soriano. With the value of major-league talent on the rise, has the value of the first-round choice risen commensurately?
BC: I’m not going to answer that directly. The pick in the first round does have a great deal of value to you. As long as you’ve got a quality scouting director in the department, which we have, you’re going to get a quality player that’s going to impact your club. The signing bonus of that player, and the cost of developing him into something will certainly offset having to go to the free-agent market three years later to get that type of player somewhere else outside the market.
For instance, David Robertson has been a very terrific reliever for us. He cost us $200,000 to sign, to get him away after his junior year at Alabama. So, you see what it takes to sign free agents off the market after six years of work, and Robertson cost us a $200,000 signing bonus and the money – the minimum he’s made – and the development cost behind getting him here. There’s obviously value there, clearly.
JN: Because the Yankees have money, it obviously gives them flexibility in the draft, but does it also buy them more patience with guys who may take longer to develop, because of injuries or otherwise?
BC: No, I don’t think so. The bottom line is: Take the best player on the board. Brackman, in his case, the only reason he got to us is because of the knowledge that he had a ligament issue and was going to need Tommy John surgery. Nowadays, I think it’s an 88 to 92 percent success rate, so when you compare it to losing a year waiting for him, versus the other players, we chose Brackman. I don’t necessarily think patience has anything to do with it, other than you need patience to wait on these guys.
JN: Talking about Brackman, he was one of three guys, along with Jesus Montero and Dellin Betances, who the organization brought up toward the end of the year for a bit of a taste of the show. What did you hope those guys would gain during that brief stay?
BC: That’s another thing. When I got full authority, we implemented another added step in the development program. That was picking a few guys, maybe a handful of guys, on a yearly basis that you’d bring to New York on a homestand.
They wouldn’t be, obviously, activated on our roster, but they could participate in pregame, they could sit in on the advance scouting meetings, they can get a chance to meet the traveling secretary, know our facility, meet the trainers, sit in the stands and chart the pitches, get the atmosphere down. It’s just closing the gap on the unknown in their steps toward (being) future major leaguers.
JN: Was Brackman technically active during that time because he was on the 40-man?
BC: Brackman was active.
JN: Then I assume the reason he didn’t see any time was because the division versus wild-card scenario came right down to the wire.
BC: That, and there was also some down time between us bringing him up, so he wasn’t throwing and we didn’t think it was best to throw him when he was so rusty.
JN: You had Kevin Towers in your system last year, and now he’s obviously the general manager of the Diamondbacks. What was the value of having him in the system for the year?
BC: Kevin and I are dear friends, but I only (got) Kevin involved because I knew he was going to be a GM someday somewhere else, but I wanted to get an outside perspective of our system. He’s a tremendous evaluator of talent, so Damon Oppenheimer used him for the draft.
He went out there and saw the amateurs that were out there. He went through our farm system, and he was a guy I could lean on and ask for advice on a lot of different things. It was nice to have him for the short time we had him.
JN: So he could, for example, take a look at a guy you see as a starter and say that maybe he would profile better as a reliever?
BC: Not necessarily like that as much as him going through our system and ranking who he likes and comparing him to how we see it. It’s just an outside, objective – even though he was (working) for us last year – he wasn’t a part of the drafting or developing of these players (currently in the system). When you see players for the first time, as opposed to guys you’ve been seeing for a number of years in their development, you get a chance to get emotionally attached to guys. Kevin was just an objective viewpoint, kind of outside the organization, looking at our system and letting us know what he was seeing.
JN: With Russell Martin coming on board, is that an indicator that Montero will probably start the year back at Scranton?
BC: It’s an indicator of who’s going to be the starting catcher. It’s going to be Russell Martin, period. Then after that, the back-up situation’s going to be open for discussion between Cervelli, Montero, Romine, we’ll see. Or all of them. … They all could split time and get a little education in the process.
JN: With Montero, obviously the questions are with his defense. I know the Yankees believe he can catch right now. How far does the organization believe he has to go before its certain he can catch long-term.
BC: We believe he can catch, and we believe he can catch long-term.
JN: What are you and the organization seeing, then, that perhaps other organizations are missing when it comes to Montero’s defensive abilities?
BC: He’s come a long way. The defensive side is something he’s had to work on a long time. I’d liken it separately to a guy like Wade Boggs, who came through the farm system of the Red Sox, always hit, but people said he can’t play defense. He ultimately turned himself into a perennial Gold Glove-winning third baseman.
Hard work can close the gap on deficiencies. Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the South Atlantic League. … The minor leagues is (where you) work out your problems, and he’s certainly closing the gap. He’s not there yet, but he’s pretty damn close. We believe he’s better than some starting catchers, defensively, in the big leagues right now.
JN: Besides Montero and some of the other big names in the system, who do you and the organization expect to take that final step forward in 2011?
BC: I think those two kids in Trenton, Betances and Banuelos, that are going to be anchoring the rotation in Trenton. I think those two are going to be interesting to watch, people I’d be excited to go see if I was a fan.