Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Player Development & Bob Boone

With only ONE WIN in Six Exhibition Games so far in the 2007 Grapefruit League Season for Our Washington Nationals, I have noticed the Gloom & Doom has already appeared in, not only some of the Nats Blogs & Message Boards, but also the Mainstream Press. Those prognostications may well prove correct. The Nationals could be a bad team, this year. I am not here to counter any of those remarks. Instead, I wanted to be positive (as most always). Help is on the way. Just, most likely, not this upcoming season.

Bob Boone is the Assistant General Manager, Vice President, Player Development for The Nationals. Bob comes from a FAMOUS Major League Baseball Family. He is the son of Former Major Leaguer Ray Boone. The Father of Major Leaguers Bret and Aaron. Bob Boone played 19 years for three franchises and took home a World Series Ring as the starting catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. Bob was a 4 time All Star, 7 Time Gold Glove Award Winner. For the last three years of his playing career, he was the oldest player in the game. Upon retiring as a Kansas City Royal in 1990 at the age of 42, he had played in more Major League Games as a Catcher (2225) than anyone else in Major League History. Subsequently, Hall Of Famer, Carlton Fisk would top that mark by 1993. But, Boone wasn't done with the game,yet. For all or parts of six seasons, he was the Manager of The Royals and The Cincinnati Reds.

Then, when Nats General Manager, Jim Bowden asked Bob Boone to come on board the Nationals, he jumped at the opportunity. Like many, he sees the Washington situation as something special. Its Boone's job to take the talent brought on board by Scouting Director, Dana Brown, Asst. GM, VP-Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo, their enlarged Scouting Department, and harness it. On the day I caught up with Bob Boone at The Nationals very first day of Accelerated Spring Training for Minor Leaguers and selected Minor League Free Agents, in Viera, Florida, Boone was right in the mix of things. Players were being taken aside, individually, and in groups, for instruction from coaches. Bob was personally working with the catchers.

I got the conversation going by asking Bob Boone about the Nationals New Way of Business, when it comes to developing talent?

“We are going to do things right. And, you have to give credit to ownership, The Lerners and Stan Kasten for stepping up and realizing that the Minor League System for this franchise needs an overhaul. That’s why we’ve had so much changeover since last July. We need an infusion of young talent. And, when we get that young talent, we need to be able to develop it.”

That's the reason for this special spring training camp for Minor Leaguers?

“This accelerated camp is the first steps of doing just that. Along with putting money into the Stadium, especially when the New Stadium is something they do not even own. The Lerners are doing it right. Plus, also, with all the off season signings (free agents), that will, in the long run, allow the young players to develop at their own pace, and not be rushed.
This is refreshing for us. It really is. This (Accelerated Camp) is a large expense. This is a business decision, something that DID NOT have to be done by them (Ownership). You really have to give them credit (The Lerners/Kasten)."

Something The Nationals under MLB ownership were not allowed to do, correct?

"This is an expense. Something we have not been allowed to do (under MLB Ownership). We (Bowden, Boone, Dana Brown) went to ownership. From a business standpoint, they asked, how much is the cost? 'Yeah, OK, you guys can do that,' was the response. The benefits of doing this (Accelerated Camp) is immense. We’ve taken the cream of the crop, and we are getting, number one, a jump on the 2007 season, because the players are getting three more weeks of preparation time. Instead of the normal Minor League Schedule where they come in early March and we start games on the 17th of that month. So, this year, we will be playing those games for real, with the players in better game shape to start the season. In the past, that has never been the case here.”

"Second--We have an opportunity with a lot of instructors, to give individual instruction to each and every player. We can work on the details. What this player needs, what someone else needs to improve. Plus, we will have players on pace with the Major Leaguers, so when they (The Nationals) need someone for split squad games, our Minor League Players can fit right in. And, they are physically ready to do it. Also, Our Minor League Camp will provide an opportunity for many in the Major League Camp to come over and get some playing time in, and get some extra work in. So, its working both ways. That’s a plus, especially on days they might not be playing."

I see a lot of instructors working individually and in groups teaching players and telling them what they are doing wrong? SBF

“And, what they are doing correctly, too. That’s the beauty of this setup. Its an instructional camp. And, this camp is much more than just being in the Minor Leagues, with a Manager, a Pitching Coach and a Hitting Coach. Without this (Accelerated Camp), those coaches would not have the time. The players would show up in March and begin playing in just a few days. The Coaches can not teach. You have a game to play. Accelerated Camp allows us to slow everything down where you can give the player individual attention. You can work on the fundamentals. Our objective is to not only teach all the them, but also--How to play the game correctly! At the end of the day, that (playing the game correctly) is the most important aspect of Accelerated Camp.”

So, this camp will hopefully get many young players away from learned bad habits?

“Well, I don’t know about that. Some of the guys are older. We have to teach all the time, at all age groups. Sometimes players can forget, not practice something enough, and you have to remind them."

A lot of teams don’t do this Accelerated Camp?

"No, but a lot of teams have Instructional League. We haven’t had Instructional League, either, since I have been here. So, this is our Instructional League."

How different is working this year under real ownership, as compared to MLB for you?

“Well, I don’t sense much of a difference. This project certainly is different. But, for me, the meal money is still there. And, I do the job I am suppose to do (We are both chuckling). And, when we are out on the field (instructing), that’s being handled, and has always been. The Big Difference for us is we have Field Coordinators. We had no extra help last year. Which is very unusual (for a Major League Team)."

Along with the ability to run this Accelerated Camp, you must be pleased with your new found opportunity to scout just about anywhere for talent in the world?

“The Scouting, we have upgraded by MILES, AND MILES!! Scouting is what development is all about. You can teach until you are blue in the face. But, if you don’t have the talent to teach the skills, and you don’t have the student that’s good enough, nothing is going to help you. Also, we have more draft picks this year. So, we need more Scouts to make sure we are not wasting those picks. We don’t want to make any mistakes. We are being thorough."

In my brief time in Viera, at Washington Nationals Spring Training there was distinct difference, in feel, between The Major League Camp and The Minor League Camp. For Our Washington Nationals, you have alot of players just looking to hang on, make the team, be a Major League Player, for one more season. But, the futures, for many, on this Big League Club, were very much in doubt. The Washington Nationals are a team, very much in flux.

At Accelerated Camp, there was hope, not only for opportunity, but the chance to be a part of something special, in the near future--AT THE MAJOR LEAGUE LEVEL!! A chance to actually make a difference. Whether I talked with Chris Marrero, Garrett Mock, Zechry Zinicola or Justin Maxwell, all these guys understand what's going on around them. They all see a rising Franchise. A Franchise taking their baby steps right now. And, its with quality people, like Bob Boone, that gives me hope for Our Washington Nationals, even when many are already dismissing them for 2007. I am, FOREVER, the optomist.

I've said it before: We are not going to win anything in 2007. Yet, I can still enjoy the games, while watching the building blocks take shape. Because, when the Nationals finally win it, I will appreciate that Championship Banner, all the more.


phil dunn said...

SBF Next time you talk to Stan, tell him the seat poachers are still alive and well at Viera. Also, ask him why he can't hire some ushers to stop the poaching. When I arrived at my box seats yesterday (Braves vs. Nats), they were occupied. I didn't see one usher in the entire stadium, except for the two that stand on the Nats dugout between innings. I stopped attending games at RFK because of the same problem.

Anonymous said...

I agree building blocks are in place. You know we are going to have a good draft because that is the focal point of the 2007 season. After that we have to wait till Free Agency and I hope we go after Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs. The guy is a beast and is only 26 after this season. I think the goal for the '07 NATS is beat Franks '05 team of .500 baseball. If we can do that then Manny Acta is mgr of the year.

One more thing, GIVE ZIM $$$$$$$$$ I know im not a baseball executive but if he is the CORNERSTONE BUILDING BLOCK for the future LOCK HIM UP!

SenatorNat said...

Boone is a Stanford guy, too, which means he can catch and roll a joint simultaneously!

I think he goes a bit overboard in the gushing department for the Lerners "putting money into a stadium they don't even own." More than a little like claiming that Peyton Manning is going to "pay for gas and a cup-holder for a new Cadilac he didn't even buy!" (Super Bowl MVP)

As to the ascending doom and gloom. Boswell is the single best baseball columnist and homer in the entire world - at the same
time his track record at predictions makes him a bettor's dream as a contrary play.

Losing 1. Hernandez; 2. Armas, Jr.; 3. Ortez; and 4. Astacio sets easily the lowest bar ever set for equaling or surpassing that past year's starting rotation in MLB History!

Try this on: 1. John Patterson; 2. Mike O'Connor; 3. Beltran Perez; and 4. Shawn Hill; and 5. Jason Bergmann.

Add to this four middle-relievers who can spot start, if needed, but more importantly can pitch innings 5-7 repeatedly.

Middle-relievers pitching early and often guarantees last place, but it may preclude the kind of blow-up season projected, as it can limit the damage done.

Think about the last half of 2006 - weren''t we doing this anyway? This team can readily exceed 71 wins, which is the moral victory they should be seeking. And one doesn't have to be smoking anything to believe it!

Trust in Kasten. All Good.

Tom said...

Just another over-the-top interview that we've all come to expect from Nat320. Yawn! The man puts these out in his sleep!

JayB said...

SBF - thanks for your great work. I enjoy reading most everything you put up. I respect you are a FAN in the purest form....that is no matter what you support the team.

The problem with this for me is that it does not allow you to be objective when it comes to decisions the club makes. I do not blindly accept that this is the best we can do. Or that Stan and Jim are doing everything they can and the Learners are willing to do whatever it takes to build a winner.

They could do more in 2007 without hearting their PLAN at all. I also have a problem with Bob Boone praising the Learners for the whole accelerated camp thing or putting some cash into the ball park.....come on they are saving over 30 Million Dollars on salary over last year....how much does 3 extra weeks of minor league camp cost them and a capital expenditure they will amortize over the life of the stadium?

Screech's Best Friend said...

jayb: I am not ashamed of anything that I have wrote. What has worked for me in these interviews is the throwing out of each and every question and allowing the person to respond, in whatever why that person feels appropriate. Its also allows the reader to take in everything that person states, IN ITS ENTIRE CONTEXT, thus allowing the reader to guage his own opinion of what the person says. I am not weaving a story with half phrases or a few words, to fit with my thinking. That's for The Washington Post, Times, and definitely the TV NEWS. Something we are all exposed to in the Mainstream Media, each and every day. That's not my thing or goal. And, believe me, I know, I am in the TV NEWS BUSINESS. If I did that, I would be just copying what others are already doing.

Sure, I have my opinions about the way The Nationals run their operation. Just like you, and thousands of others. Right now, I am supporting them because I believe The Lerners/Mr. Kasten are attempting to build a solid foundation that will, hopefully, pay off in the near future. At the same time, they have held control of the team for only approximately 8-9 months and they feel a complete overhaul of the operation is necessary after MLB ruined this once proud franchise, in Montreal.

My feelings about how the team is run, my well be far different than you and many, many others. That's OK. There is nothing wrong with that. Its been very important for me that Baseball has returned to my hometown after being lost for 34 years. I missed My Washington Senators, of my youth, tremendously. Having a bad team for a few years, while The Owners tranform the ballclub is far preferable to me, than NO TEAM AT ALL.

I enjoy writing the Nats 320 Blog. And, I am proud of the hard work I have put into it, to be different, and meaningful for many Washington Nationals Fans, whether anyone agrees with me or not. I am attempting to provide some off beat coverage. I think I have succeeded, so far.

Thanks for your for wonderful comments. Your thoughts are ALWAYS WELCOME-here.

JayB said...

Well said SBF.....I do get a great deal from reading the whole conversation. This does provide us with a great deal of information. I would love to hear more what Bob B had to say about the openings we still have in the Player Development Department. People were let go with no replacement plan....that makes me question what happened and why.

I did not grow up with the Senators but I greatly respect the tradition. I am a life long baseball fan and player. It is hard for me to watch bad baseball. If we can just field the ball, run the bases without running into outs and not walk in runs I will be able to watch 2007.

Screech's Best Friend said...

jayb--as you may not know, I played professionally, and posted about it a few months ago. Thank you for your response. Bob Boone did comment about the the changeover in The Farm System Staffing. I was asked about this, specifically, from readers and posted it back on February 21, so I did not repeat the info in my post from yesterday. In case you missed it:

"Late this afternoon, I brought up the subject with Bob Boone, and he told me both Dunn and Copes did resign, but the Holmes and Blaney were let go. The team wanted to move in a different direction on the latter two. But, he did emphasize that Dunn and Copes DID RESIGN." Boone went on to say The Nationals are looking to build their farm system with their own guys, not MLB's.

Gut feeling. The Nats will be better than advertised. But, with many expecting only 60 wins, that's not too hard a bar to jump over (I am chuckling while I write that line) Thanks. Please keep reading. I appreciate it so much. SBF

JayB said...

SBF, I have been working my way backwards through 320 for a few weeks but I need to keep my job too.......I did not get paid but did play in old SWC in the late 70's and early 80's.....I wonder if we have some common acquaintances in a 10 degrees of separation kind of way....I would like to stop by 320 sometime (after the 7th in a rain delay of course).