Mark Newman is the Yankees Vice President of Baseball Operations, and he's charged with overseeing the Yankees farm system. In short, all decisions with respect to the minor leagues go through him. He's normally very frank in his evaluation of the Yankees strengths and weaknesses, so it's always a treat to hear some of his insight.
You can read the interview in its entirety here, and I suggest you do so. Here are a few of the more interesting questions and answers:
SICKELS: Let's talk about some specific players. Jesus Montero. Everyone wants to know if he can catch.
NEWMAN: I think he can. Jesus has made severe improvements with the glove. If you didn't know his name was "Jesus Montero," and just watched him play, you'd look and say his glove was fine. He has a good arm, he receives the ball well, sets a good target. He's really improved his mobility. A couple of years ago, he was not a good catcher, that's true, but he is much more flexible now. He's really worked hard at his technique. Julio Mosquera, our catching coordinator, has spent a lot of time with him. So yeah, I think Montero's going to be a good defender.
SICKELS: Even if he works out with the glove, could the demands of catching hurt his bat?
NEWMAN: I don't think it will hurt him. He's just a really, really good hitter. I don't think catching will impact that.
SICKELS: Is Cito Culver sticking at shortstop?
NEWMAN: Absolutely. Range, hands, arm strength, all above average for shortstop. His feet work well. He has a great sense of timing.
SICKELS: The bat?
NEWMAN: I think he'll be fine. He might not hit for a ton of power, but he should hit for average, hit a few homers. He'll be a legitimate hitter.
SICKELS: Let's move to the pitching. You mentioned the depth you have in high ceiling arms that are close to the majors. Let's run down the list. Dellin Betances. He seems recovered from injuries now, and looked good in his first outing. Is he a starter or closer, and what level does he begin at?
NEWMAN: Definitely a starter. Three-pitch guy, plus curveball, plus changeup, hit 96-97 in first game. There are some concerns about his durability until he proves otherwise, but we think he'll be fine. He has a great work ethic, I love the physique, his mechanics are consistent. His walk rates have gotten better. With the injury behind him we think he'll be durable now. He will start off in Double-A.
SICKELS: Manny Banuelos opened lots of eyes in the Arizona Fall League. I saw him down there and he's just incredibly smooth.
NEWMAN: Yeah, he is a smaller guy but wow, great stuff. It is hard to fathom how a guy his size, throwing that easy with the ball coming out of his hand the way it does, can throw so hard. He was at 93-95 yesterday. I have no worries about his arm. His delivery and athleticism scream durability. He's going to Double-A with Betances.
SICKELS: Andrew Brackman, starter or reliever?
NEWMAN: Starter. His changeup has come miles and miles in the last year. He emphasized working on the changeup this winter and it looks so much better this spring. I know some people were frustrated with him until last year, but he is a unique guy. He was a college basketball player. He is 6-11. And he had the elbow injury. We told people to be patient because any one of those factors by themselves were enough to slow his progress, but he had all three. He had the trifecta of extenuating circumstances.
But once he got healthy, look at the progress. He went from 6.5 walks-per-nine to 1.9 walks-per-nine in A-ball last year. I've never seen a starting pitcher make that kind of leap in such a short amount of time. The stuff has always been there. He's an extraordinary athlete, fields his position, runs springs in the outfield like he's 6-2. He's going to start the year in Triple-A.
SICKELS: Ivan Nova: favorite for rotation?
NEWMAN: I don't know if he's the favorite. We would like him to be. He's young and has the stuff, pitched at 94-96 the other day. He's another guy working on his secondary stuff to go with the heater. The other issue is command. He has control, he throws strikes, but his command within the zone still needs work.
SICKELS: Like the difference between throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes?
NEWMAN: Yeah. That's what he's working on.