Monday, June 22, 2009
Mark Scialabba--Assistant Director, Player Development
The rebuilding of Washington's Farm System has been the number one priority since Baseball returned to Washington, DC. Ravaged of talent and left barely afloat under the stewardship of Major League Baseball, 2009 has been an awakening. Fresh blood drafted or traded for and developed over the past four years is finally beginning to impact The Major League Club. Currently, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Shairon Martis, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen all lead a young starting staff developed by Our Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman, of course, man's third base and the now injured Jesus Flores is a key component catching behind the plate. None of those six players older than 25-Years Old.
Yet, even more young talent is rising through the Farm System and Mark Scialabba, The Assistant Director of Player Development for Our Washington Nationals, met with the dozen or so bloggers invited to Nationals Park on Saturday Afternoon (June 20th) to discuss that change. While Washington took Batting Practice, Mr. Scialabba took questions for 15 minutes giving glimpses into what other impact youngsters might be seen on South Capitol Street over the next few years. It was maybe the most enlightening Front Office availability offered all day.
With that, here we go with Mark Scialabba--Assistant Director, Player Development:
“I oversee a lot of the administrative aspects of The Washington Nationals Minor League Operations, contracts, transactions, roster management, daily moves. Then, I go out and see the players in the field, evaluate and report back to Bobby Williams, my boss, who is the Farm Director and Bob Boone, who is the Vice-President of Player Development and the Assistant GM. It’s a day-to-day operation; I am always on top of things with the rosters. I work with the budgets, planning, spring training, international operations on the player development side as well as The Dominican (Republic). That’s just a quick summary of what I do, so I want to open it up to questions and answer in an informal session to help you learn more about what we do here.”
Question: Can you speak about Chris Marrero and where you see him in the future for The Big League Team? What position and how he is coming along?
“Chris was a first round draft pick (2006)--a power hitting first baseman. He’s in Potomac (Single A) right now. He had an injury last year, broke his ankle--an unfortunate injury because he was really hitting well at the time. He’s a guy who has the chance and potential to be an impact bat/hitter in The Major Leagues—be a first baseman with a middle of the order impact potential.”
Question: Do you think he has settled as a first baseman?
“Yeah, I think he’s working real hard day in and day out at first base. He’s worked hard with our Infield Coordinator, Jeff Garber, and right now Trent Jewett (Potomac Nationals Manager) is on top of him at Potomac. He’s a great influence there. He (Marrero) works very hard and has come along way. This off-season he got with a nutritionist and dietitian and really worked on his diet—maintaining his weight. I saw him the other day and he looked really good. Around the bag he is playing more comfortable. As you know, playing in the infield you have to be comfortable around the bag, his footwork has gotten much better. But he’s a work in progress though; he has much more to learn. Just like these guys in The Big Leagues—you are always continuing to get better. So definitely, we are seeing signs of improvement and expect to see more over the next couple of years.”
Question: Does the team see J.D. Martin as a prospect or just more of an organizational arm at this point? A first round pick at one point.
“Good question. Yeah, a first round pick at one point. He was with The Indians Organization and we signed him as a 6-Year Free Agent. J.D. Martin is doing quite well right now for us at Syracuse. Potential guy that might see some time here—that’s up to the need and what we have here in The Big Leagues—that’s a Mike Rizzo question. But, yeah, he's the type of guy that has the potential to be an arm to use here or there as a starter or bullpen arm.”
Question: Since you are going to be shutting down some young pitchers toward the end of the season (high innings pitched counts), has that created a different type of climate with the AAA Pitchers who are vying to be called up in September?
“As far as the AAA Pitchers go, Collin Balester spent some time up here as you know. He has potential to come up here. Everyone is obviously working hard for the moment to one –day get here—that’s what they are striving for. Are there going to be players that come up for emergency needs if they are ready and others need to go down? Yes. There is always anticipation to become a Big Leaguer for guys that haven’t made it. And there are players that want to get back to that level. Right now, with the bullpen there (Syracuse), we have some arms that are doing well. Tyler Clippard, we moved him to the bullpen this year. So far that is going really well. He’s got an outstanding change up that he can use against right-handed and left-handed batters—a lot of success there. He’s getting strikeouts, throwing strikes and he’s running up a consecutive innings total, scoreless innings total right now—I am not sure of the number—but he had another one last night (Friday, June 19th). A pretty impressive outing. And then Zech Zinicola just got promoted to AAA and is doing an outstanding job. A fastball up to 95 or 96 miles per hour with a split (fingered pitch). He’s done a really good job this year getting ahead of hitters and pitching with a couple of plus pitches at times.”
Question: Are we going to see Tyler up here soon? He was doing well in Syracuse while the bullpen here was shaky for a while and a lot of fans were questioning why he was not here?
“Obviously, with our needs here and what’s going on, I think Tyler has a shot. I think that’s a question you might want to ask Mike Rizzo because that’s his decision to make at the right time. I think right now you can’t ask for anything more from what Tyler is doing and he is showing he is not getting discouraged from not being up here. I know he wants to be up here. But I think for what he is doing—he’s staying focused—and he will be prepared if the time comes when we need him up here.”
Question: You mentioned Zinicola, when he got out of Arizona State he moved quickly, but then for two years fell behind. What’s the difference today?
“I think the difference was that he had a lot of success early on. He was overpowering hitters. We were very aggressive at that time promoting players through the system. I think that last year his fastball command was off and that happens to pitchers some times. If you don’t get ahead—you see it with some guys like Jordan Zimmermann last night—an impressive performance—23 or 24 first pitch strikes. That’s outstanding. If pitchers don’t get ahead and not commanding their fastball—which is ultimately what is the most important things you want in your pitchers—the command of their fastballs. Then, you are going to have some failure along the way. But I think he (Zinicola) has persevered and right now you can’t ask for any more. We just want to continue to challenge him and he’s getting that right now at AAA. He’s not going to breeze by AAA. He’s going to have to learn what it takes to pitch and have success at AAA Hitters.”
Question: But he’s back on the radar of making The Major League Club?
“Definitely. Yeah, he’s done a very good job this year in Harrisburg and he showed that he’s ready to make the next move so we promoted him. Let’s see how he does against AAA Hitters. But he’s continuing his program and has done a good job.”
Question: “What about Derek Norris (Catcher, Low A Hagerstown)? Is he ready for a promotion? He’s tearing up Single A Ball right now?
“Derek has had an outstanding year. He’s a fourth rounder from the ’07 Draft. A catcher that was committed to Wichita State but decided to sign with us—which we were very happy about. He made outstanding progress last year in Vermont. He led the league in On Base Percentage and walks. He’s at the top of the Triple Crown Categories (Home Runs, RBI’s & Batting Average) right now (at Hagerstown). And he’s got the most Home Runs and RBI’s in The Sally League and he’s up there in average--.310 I think. I saw him the other day. He’s a work in progress behind the plate, but he can catch and throw. He’s got an outstanding arm. The ball really comes out of his hand nicely and he’s a leader amongst that club. As far as promotion goes, it’s a case-by-case basis. But I think with what he is going right now—he’s doing an outstanding job—but you always continue to look for various improvements.”
Question: Danny Espinosa is pretty close defensively, with the bat is he going to project? And will he be considered to be a long-term replacement at shortstop?
“We hope he can be a fixture here at Nationals Park at shortstop—that’s why we drafted him. I think he was a third-round pick in last year’s draft (2008)—outstanding defensive ability, plus range to both sides (fielding) and he’s got a cannon for an arm—a switch hitter we think he has the potential to be an everyday shortstop and a top of the order hitter for The Nationals in the future.”
Question: Do you think they are going to have to find a stopgap between (Cristian) Guzman and him?
“That’s a good question for Mike Rizzo. That’s something we will see as the time comes. It’s tough to say at this moment right now. I think Cristian is signed for next year as well. We shall see how that goes and see the development. You don’t want to rush somebody because you don’t want to put someone in a position to fail. At times, you have to promote guys. You are seeing right now with our pitching staff, with the young pitchers out there, it’s pretty outstanding what they are doing and I think some people might ask are they ready? How do you know when they are ready? Really, you ultimately never know for the first time if a guy is ready or not. You hope that he is and that’s what you think. But once they are promoted, then you find out, and right now with Craig Stammen, Shairon Martis, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann it’s amazing what they have done. How immensely tough they are. And that’s what really separates them from the players that don’t have the success.”
Question: You mentioned earlier, Marrero has gotten his weight and diet under control, which has always been an issue with Michael Burgess (Potomac Nationals All-Star Outfielder). Is that something he’s been able to control as well?
“Michael has a stocky build. He’s got a shorter stocky build. It’s his body type really. As a young kid who is traveling on the road, living in clubhouses—basically—you are not going to eat the healthiest food. We try to encourage them and we try to put options in front of them. We have our clubhouse managers of each affiliate give them healthy options like fruit, vegetables, snacks that are healthy—not containing a lot of fat. But then once the players go home, sometimes, they want to have some pizza or some chocolates—and that’s just normal for 19-Year or 20-Year Old Kids to have. So yeah, we are always worried about his weight. I talked to him the other day: ‘are you staying in shape? Are you getting into the gym?’ We have strength coaches at each of the affiliates that are on top of it and that is something we are going to monitor. We strive to get our players in the best condition as possible. Very important.”
Question: If (Stephen) Strasburg signed today, where would he go? Where do I go to see him play?
“That’s a good question. But that’s a question I really can’t comment on with the Strasburg situation. But it’s good to see your interest there.”
Question: Can you talk about Drew Storen (1st Round, 2009 10th Pick Overall), you saw him the other day.
“I went to Hagerstown and saw Drew Storen pitch—an exciting pitcher. I saw him get in there and he was pumping 95 and 96 (MPH on his fastball). First pitch, 96 on the outside corner. He threw a ball on the next pitch—another 96 MPH pitch. But the guy hit it out (for a home run) to dead center. He needs to learn you have to make adjustments. But his stuff is there. He has an outstanding curveball. It’s obviously why we drafted him where we did and you would think he would reach his potential to be a Big League, back end of the bullpen guy. So, we are excited and he has great makeup—outstanding character—and that’s one of the things we saw in him that also separates him from other candidates—other prospects.”
Question: How about Trevor Holder. I have read elsewhere people say picking him in the 3rd round was a reach?
“Yes, that's more of a scouting question. But from talking to our scouts they are more excited over how competitive he is. Another plus make up guy. He has three pitches that are average—at least according to our scouts. I think he has the potential to be the sort of guy that battles, keeps teams into games, and gives you the chance to win. And that’s all you can ask from young pitchers—give the team the chance to win. Trevor Holder is the type of guy we don’t know yet because he’s not in the professional ranks where we know where he is going to end up. But the potential is there for sure for Trevor Holder.”
With that final answer, the availability with Mark Scialabba concluded. But later, in the press box high above Nationals Park, Mr. Scialabba and I spoke again over why some young talented players take so long to adjust to The Major Leagues. And why it's difficult for organizations to give up on players with the skills and tools--even when they struggle for a few years.
Zech Zinicola is one such talent. Infielder Stephen King, a 2006 3rd Round Pick is another such gifted player--now playing at Single A Potomac. Each has failed along the way--neither having made the impact yet to advance to The Big Leagues. But Our Washington Nationals haven't given up on them. And here is why. Mark used Roger Bernadina as an example. He said, Roger is the type of guy that went up and down, up and down from level to level. He failed every single time he advanced within Washington's Farm System. But every time he got sent down, Bernadina understood what he needed to do to improve. The skill sets were always there, but Roger Bernadina also had the makeup to learn, adjust and evolve in his game. The mental aspect of the game the most important part of development. Those that can hold it all together--succeed. Those that are afraid to fail--never do.
It was a great comment by Mark Scialabba and a worthy finish to this fine discussion.