I thought this Batters Box interview with Jays' GM Alex Anthopolous was really well done on both ends (where's the Bluebird Banter interview, though? Get on that, Dakers!) Batters' Box asked some good, tough questions and AA stepped up with actual answers that weren't at all patronizing and showed some good instincts and baseball intelligence.
BB: With regard to hitting the organization has been unable over the last several years, at this point, to develop high school hitters into top prospects or develop many major league ready hitters other than top draft picks. Do you think that hitting development needs to be restructured in the organization and what steps have you taken to do so?
AA: It's certainly an area that we're focusing on. We only recently started drafting HS position players and in hindsight, we may have moved those players too aggressively. That being said, under the direction of Tony LaCava, we hired Anthony Iapoce as our Minor League hitting coordinator from the Marlins organization and feel he will have a great impact on our hitting program.
I think that's right on. It's complete hindsight, but considering their unspectacular years at Lansing in 2008 and the fact that they were already in full-season ball, there wasn't necessarily a need to start Jackson, Ahrens, and Tolisano at Dunedin at 2009. They could've begun at Lansing and hopefully worked their way up, but of course there are risks with this approach too. If they don't play well, they could end up causing a logjam at the lower levels where someone like Pastornicky has nowhere to play shortstop every day. That said,
BB: Are you still hopeful that some of the high school hitters drafted in the last few years can contribute at the major league level. If yes, why?
AA: Absolutely. They're all still relatively young and should play this year as 21 year olds. To put it into perspective, they would be college juniors and most likely playing in the NY Penn league if they were drafted out of college this year.
This is absolutely right, in my view. While it has been frustrating to watch, say, the high-school draftees in the 2007 draft class, the truth is that it's way too early to write any of them off. And that's where balance comes in - having someone like Cecil from 2007 who may be ready to make his impact this season after an inconsistent but promising debut makes it easier to be patient with the younger guys.
BB: With so many early picks in the 2010 draft and a desire to rebuild the organization, and given the organizations lack of success to date with high school hitters, are you likely to select more college players in this years draft?
AA: We will continue to take the best players available irrespective of their ages.
BB: Will you consider selecting high school pitchers in the first two or three rounds of the draft?
AA: Absolutely. If we consider a HS pitcher to be the best player on the board at the time we make our selection we certainly won't shy away from him.
Ding ding ding! You absolutely have to pick the best available players in the first couple of draft rounds. A team like the Jays simply cannot afford not to draft the best available talent. Thinking in terms of organizational need feels like it is long-term planning, but it's actually the opposite - short term thinking, because the needs are short-term and it's impossible to predict how things will shake out down the road. I also like the absolutism of the "best palyers available" because it indicates that the Jays will not hesitate to go over slot again, even though the team's first foray into that arena in the 2009 draft was decidedly mixed.
BB: Do you have a system or basis for evaluating your professional scouts? With so many new scouts in the organization can you hear all their voices and recommendations?
AA: Evaluating scouts is something that I feel is critical- both on the professional and amateur sides. I also believe developing our employees is equally as important. We've begun to implement systems to address both of those issues. With respect to hearing all of their voices, we've set up a system in our Pro Scouting Department, led by Perry Minasian, where we feel communication will be one of the cores of our value system.
I think that the thing that gives me the most optimism, long-term, about the Jays', is AA's increased focus on scouting. This absolutely has to be an organizational priority for a team like the Jays. Signing the BJ Ryans of the world to 5-year deals just ain't going to cut it for this team.
Here's a tough question for which I appreciated AA's response:
BB: You said in an earlier interview that the organization uses first person evaluation for defense rather than the new defensive metrics. Many of our readers saw Vernon Wells miss a lot of balls at the wall that, in our readers opinion, he would have caught in previous years. Did the organization see the same and was it just that there were a lot of close plays in 2010 or did you think that Vernon, because of age and body type, might have lost a step or two?
AA: I think the interview you're referring too may not have captured the meaning of my comments. Principally, we rely on first person evaluations for defense but we do use defensive metrics to either support or dispute what our scouts are seeing with their eyes. We continue to explore defensive metrics and incorporate them into all of our defensive evaluations. In Vernon's case, the metrics did indeed indicate that Vernon did not have a strong defensive season. However, in examining all the criteria and in using all the tools at our disposal, we believe Vernon will have a much stronger year defensively in 2010.
Not because it talks about defensive metrics, or because I agree with AA that Wells is likely to have a bounceback defensive season in 2010 (I don't, really). But because I appreciated AA's directness in answering the question, and, even more, his candor in responding that many of the things that fans were seeing, anecdotally and statistically, were the same things that the Jays' front office was looking at, rather than some sort of patronizing suggestion that what we're seeing isn't really what we're seeing and the organization knows so much more than we do.
And finally, a tiger-shaped bone for the stat-heads:
BB: Do the Jays have employees focused on the statistical side of the game? Is Tom Tango consulting for the organization?
AA: Tom Tango has joined us this season as a statistical consultant and we recently added Matt Olkin in a similar capacity. Our Pro Scouting Coordinator, Harry Einbinder also does some statistical work for us. We continue to explore adding statistical analysts and are currently in the process of building a database which will incorporate every facet of baseball operations.
I know most marriages start out happy, and fan-GM relationships are no exception, but I'm very happy with both the work that Anthopolous has done so far and the way in which he interacts with the media and fans. I think both his substance and his style bode very well for the organization going forward.
Today's title from "Alec Eiffel" by the Pixies.