Monday, August 24, 2009

More Time With Mark Scialabba

Mark Scialabba was the most enlightening availability this past June when Our Washington Nationals held their first Blogger Day at Nationals Park. Our Assistant Director--Player Development is well in tune with the hundreds of young players working their way through Our Farm System. The goal of each and every one--to reach The Major Leagues.

Yesterday, during Blogger Day 2 on South Capitol Street, Mark Scialabba again spoke to the gathering and didn't disappoint. He was just as informative as before. With that, here we go with More Time With Mark Scialabba, Assistant Director--Player Development.

Mark: “It’s nice to see all of you folks. I recognize some of the faces and it’s good to put new faces with names as I read a lot of your stuff. So, welcome. I am here to talk about the Minor Leagues. Some of you I have spoken to before. My role is that I report to Bobby Williams—The Farm Director, Bob Boone (VP of Player Development) and then up to Mike Rizzo (GM) and Brian Parker who runs the Baseball Operations office. We mainly work here out of D.C.. And I travel to affiliates when I can. And I also help out The Major League Club here as well. So, I get a little bit of both—the Major League side and the Minor League side.”

“Let’s just open it up to your questions and hopefully I can give you some idea about how our system is doing.”

Question: Have you made decisions on who is going to the Arizona Fall League yet?

Mark: “Sure, we have. For the position players, that will not be released today—unfortunately—very soon, very soon. But it is a very impressive group. We are really proud of the players we are going to send there. You will be happy with the group. It’s a notification thing and we just want to be sure they are notified.”

Follow up: Then I guess you are not going to tell me any of the Instructional League players either?

Mark: “No. I can’t tell you the rosters yet. They will be announced pretty shortly. I think in the next couple of weeks. Definitely, the fall league will be very, very soon.”

Question: Mike Rizzo has said he wants to see each of his young players master each level as they progress. You have Drew Storen who has only been around a little over two months—he’s moving much more quickly. Has he mastered those levels? Is he way ahead of everyone else?

Mark: “Drew Storen is a very unique case. We are really excited about Drew. Obviously, that is why we took him with our second pick in this year’s draft. He has outstanding command of pitches. He doesn’t walk anybody. He’s got three plus pitches with the ability to command each one, very excited about his development. His make up is off the charts. He is very mature, physically and mentally. We are excited about what he has done. From a level-to-level position, he has done great. His first outing, I was there in Hagerstown, he was woken up to professional baseball with a fastball 96 (MPH) on the outside corner (hit out of the park for a home run) and he realized—you know what? —I have got to locate pitches here. This is not college baseball. So, we are very, very excited about Drew’s progress so far.”

John Dever (Sr. Director—Baseball Communications) “And he doesn’t walk any guys and strikes out—literally, almost literally—one guy per inning.”

Question: I have read a little bit about Ian Desmond’s defensive skills. Can you talk about his bat and do you see him fitting into The Nationals plan in the coming month?

Mark: “Ian is a very exciting player. You look at him and you think—Big Leaguer. He is very exciting. He has plus range both ways. He has an outstanding arm and amongst all the managers throughout the leagues and Baseball America--they have rated his arm tops during the past few years--Carolina League, Eastern League. He’s a guy whose bat has taken some time to develop. He’s hit some rough patches. Earlier in his career, we promoted him too quickly and he struggled. For a young kid that was in Big League Camp and people are throwing out names like Derek Jeter—you get a lot of pressure put on you. And you have heard this before, but he has very good bat speed. He utilizes his lower half extremely well. His swing is in sequence—which is what we teach and praise our guys to do. Ralph Dickinson, our Hitting Coordinator, works our hitters to make sure they swing the proper way. The way to be successful up here in The Major Leagues. And Ian has done a phenomenal job this year. I think he is hitting .440. He is really hitting the ball real well right now. Two more hits last night. He is exciting, a lot of potential. As far as coming up here (to D.C.), I don’t think it would be fair to him to give you guys an idea before he knows. So, I am not going to get into that, but I think he has a lot of potential and we are really excited about the future with Ian Desmond.”

Question: I want to talk about Derek Norris a little bit. Obviously, he is having a great year with the bat. He still has room to grow, defensively, as a catcher. Is he a catcher or can he play another position—first base. I want to hear from the organization whether he is going to stick at catcher? Will he be able to play a defensive catcher in The Major Leagues?

Mark: “Yes. Our plan is to have Derek catch. Derek came to us in the draft a few years ago and he is a guy with amazing bat potential, a very advanced approach. You don’t see many hitters with his type of approach, very calm and strong—strokes the ball. He is a catcher. He started to catch his junior year in high school. So, he has a ways to go. We feel very confident within our staff that his make up, his ability to go out there and grind every day, to get better. It is going to take time. If you talk to any Farm Director, it is one of the hardest things to develop—a catcher. And you are going to have some failure along the way. Derek is not where he needs to be because he is still in Low-A (Hagerstown). We know that but his bat is progressing much more quickly than his defense. But he is going to come along. He is going to work hard this off-season on his skills and Bobby Henley—our Catching Coordinator—has worked with him a ton in spring training—and throughout the first half of this season—before he began managing the Gulf Coast League (Nationals). And Matt LeCroy (Hagerstown Manager) has given him a lot of good advice there so as we go up (in the system) we have some outstanding former catchers in our organization like Jon Stearns and obviously—Bob Boone is here. Bob gives him a lot of knowledge. Bob was one of the first people to work with him when he (Derek Norris) was here for a draft workout a few years ago.”

Follow up: Is his bat going to force the issue? If his bat is Major League ready, are you going to bring him up here, sort of like Jesus Flores—indoctrinate him to learn how to catch in The Big Leagues—is what I am trying to say?

Mark: “Jesus Flores was a Rule V Pick so that’s a little different, that is why we had to have him in The Major Leagues. Derek, I think, we can be a little more patient with because, hopefully, Jesus is healthy next year. We don’t need a catcher right this moment (on the Big League Roster). It would be nice to have Jesus healthy. Obviously, right now, we have Wil Nieves and Josh Bard, so there is not a desperate need to have Derek come up and catch right away. But we want to keep him as a catcher. His value is extremely high as a catcher and we want to continue to make sure we can develop him. We feel confident in his ability to develop as a catcher.”

Question: “When you bring guys up for September Call-Ups, do you have a plan to make sure they still get enough time in. For instance, if you bring up Ian Desmond, would you say we have to sit Cristian Guzman or play him at second base for a day just to get these guys the opportunity to get their at-bats?

Mark: “That is a great question. If we are going to bring up a prospect, like an Ian Desmond, we are going to have a plan. That will be discussed with Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman and Bob Boone. They will have a plan in place for a prospect. Some guys, we might be bringing up more as a reserve type player that can spell some guys some time. Obviously, we are not contending right now, so it is easier for us to do that. But, if you have a prospect and you bring him up—you surely want to have a plan in place, yeah.”

Question: Potomac (Nationals) is again in the pennant race. Is there a chance of stocking them with the best players, the useful players in Hagerstown to help them win The Carolina League Championship?

Mark: “Yeah, I think that is something we might do. It depends overall on how we feel what is best for the players. Winning is great, winning is very important because we feel as you grow as a baseball player—you want to learn how to win. It is very important. However, the (individual) development is the primary issue. You need to develop your players. You need to make sure each player is put in the right position to maximize his potential, to learn the most, to get the most out of his ability. Now, winning is definitely a secondary thing. However, if there is a guy that we feel can help. Last year, Michael Burgess and Stephen King were promoted (to Potomac—2008 Carolina League Champions) in early August and it was great. They added a lot. Michael Burgess ended up hitting six home runs and Stephen King played a steady 3rd base. Stephen is actually on a re-hab assignment but will be activated very soon. So that is like getting a new player back (King was activated today as I write this post). It’s like getting that healthy guy coming off the DL. So, that will add a lot. He is an outstanding 3rd Baseman, very athletic kid. His bat has not come along as quickly as possible, but you will see—if you look at The Carolina League stats that The Carolina League is pretty tough. There are only seven opponents. You are going to get advanced scouting reports as an A-Ball Player. So, when you are exposed, they are going to beat you. But what that does is teach those players like a Michael Burgess, who is a left handed hitter, who has had problems with lefties (pitchers)—Hey, you work on it here, develop yourself and really work hard at that. We don’t want to take him out whenever a lefty comes into the game and send up a pinch hitter. We would never do that. But, we would allow him to struggle here (at Potomac) because this is where you need to learn how to hit those lefties and do things right. So, The Carolina League is tough and we want to make sure the players are ready and they can contribute right away. For example, if you are thinking Derek Norris. We wouldn’t put Derek Norris up there (at Potomac) to sit the bench and play every other day. He would have to be the main guy. We have two guys that are playing real well, we believe, and the reason why the team is successful. I don’t know what is going to happen next. We shall see what happens.”

Question: Can you tell me anything about the Dominican Kids you signed? Jean Valdez, Cleto Brazobon. Those were the bigger names. Can you tell me anything about the other three as well?

Mark: “Sure. We signed five players recently in The Dominican Republic. Jean Valdez we are very confident of his bat. I have not seen them, so it is tough for me to give you a full scouting report on them. But, just based upon what I have heard. I have talked to Dana Brown (Director of Scouting). Jean Valdez (16 Years Old), a very good bat. We are talking about a guy with the potential to hit in the middle of the order. This is one of the best bats we feel we have signed in a long time in The Dominican. Cleto Brazobon (17 Years Old), a right handed pitcher, we feel very confident has an electric arm. And the other three guys—(Vidal) Paredes (18), (George) Rosa (19) and (Jose) Norberto (18) who is a centerfielder, and Rosa is a right-handed pitcher and so is Paredes. I can’t give you too much on that but once I see them I will be able to answer you more.”

Follow up: Norberto played toward the end of the year in The DSL (Dominican Summer League). Was it a plan to keep the other four out?

Mark: “Actually, we signed all of them for this year, except for Valdez. He signed for 2010 (when he is 17). And the other four are signed for this year. It was a matter of innings and it was late in the season. It was getting them worked up. As you will see, with Stephen Strasburg—which we are all excited about this week. You noticed how Mike Rizzo mentioned that it takes about four weeks to get to that game ready, professional game ready throwing program. So, they are going through that program (as well). Hopefully we will have an Instructional League there (in the D.R.) and they will be able to do that and get more involved there. And be ready, maybe, even for Instructional League here. We will be making those decisions very soon.”

Question: You have an interesting reliever in your system named Yunior Novoa—interesting off-speed stuff. How does he project? Do you have a knuckleballer in your system?

Mark: “Aaron Seuss (the knuckleballer). Yunior Novoa is a left-handed pitcher, tall/lean body—fastball, can locate it very well. He can throw strikes (86-88, 89 MPH). He’s got a very good breaking ball, good curve ball that he can get lefties and righties out with. He’s a guy I would consider a fringe prospect. We shall see what happens here the next few months. He will be Rule V eligible and he is a Minor League Free Agent next year, so we still have control of him (right now). But, an interesting guy, definitely.”

“And the knuckleballer, Aaron Seuss is an outfielder we drafted a few years back. He’s actually thrown the knuckle ball in the past year—on the side. He has had opportunities this year to throw some in a game. We will see what we do in the off-season. We will see if we can entice some former Major Leaguers to work with him.

Question: A couple of years ago The Nationals took a flyer on Jack McGeary taking him in the 5th round, when he was supposedly 1st round talent, paid him money to go to school at Stanford. Has he regressed by not being a full-time player?

Mark: “It’s tough to say regressed. I think this is his first full season. I think you have to be fair to him to give him a little bit more time. I think that if he came out and played professionally for a full year, right away, yes—I think he would have been developed more right now. However, we are confident in Jack and his ability. I don’t know if anybody has met him or seen him pitch, but he is a very, very special kid—extremely bright—and has three outstanding pitches. Unfortunately, he goes to school, and plays baseball at the same time (but not at Stanford—where he just trains). This year he is in Vermont. I saw him last week. He threw on the side and he looked good. He was throwing strikes, but when he gets into the game he can’t take that bullpen to the field yet. And I think that is where he is struggling right now. He still has a very good curveball, good change up and, hopefully, we can figure some things out. He is working with Spin Williams, our Pitching Coordinator, and we feel confident he will hopefully bounce back in Spring Training (in 2010) and show what he really is capable of.”

Follow up: Is he going to become a full-time player (leaving Stanford behind)?

Mark: “I can’t comment on that. I have to talk to Jack. I really don’t want to get into that. Sorry.”

Last Question: With Chris Marrero’s promotion to AA, if he hits well this fall, do you see him playing next year some time in D.C.?

Mark: “I hope that he progresses to the point where he can. I can’t say that he will. I don’t know if everybody knows, but he was promoted to Harrisburg and yesterday he was five for six in a doubleheader. He’s got to find the groove. You are going to have an adjustment period. Hopefully, he finishes up strong and seeing the ball and making consistent contact. He is a kid with a lot of power, an exciting batter. I think that if he progresses quickly, yes, he might have a shot. However, you really don’t want to push him up there unless we feel confident he is ready for it mentally and physically. As we talked about Ian Desmond, you don’t want to put a kid up there (in The Majors) to fail and have that burden on him—adding a lot of pressure. But physically, Chris has a way to go at 1st base and he is working on that. He is developing into a 1st baseman. When he started this year, he really didn’t know. He didn’t have the footwork. He wasn’t comfortable around the bag. Trent Jewett has work with him, our Manager at Potomac. And Jeff Garber, Infield Coordinator, has worked with him a lot this year. He (Marrero) is working hard at it, trying to become a 1st baseman, because he knows, he has to become a two way player when you get to The Big Leagues and The National League.”

With that final answer, More Time With Mark Scialabba concluded. He is really informative and excellent at sharing his knowledge about Our Washington Nationals Minor League Farm System.


Positively Half St. said...

Thanks so much for doing this work, as you always do. Our guys have disappointed again this year, so we really need to keep tabs on the kids coming up who might make it better.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview! Very informative. Thanks.