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.