Transcript: Conference call with VP of Player Development Ross Atkins
Indians Vice President Ross Atkins took time from his most recent trip to the Dominican Republic – where, he kindly informed those of us back in Northeast Ohio, it’s about 85 degrees – to answer fans questions via conference call on Friday afternoon.
He also mentioned that Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar were in the Dominican this week at the Tribe complex. Atkins, who oversees all Minor League operations – the Indians just named Joe Wendle and Cody Anderson as the organization’s Minor League Players of the Year — opened with this primer on the offseason:
“This is an exciting time for us. The (Minor League Player of the Year) process is one that, of course, performance is going to have a large part. But we look at performance in many ways: In the minors, one thing that we often will put a little more time stock in is how they did it. Did they go about it the right way? Does he embody what we’re looking for in a future Indian player?
“There are no better examples than Joey Wendle and Cody Anderson. They understand the fundamentals and mechanics. We vote among player development staff and front office on those awards, and it was abundantly clear that these two represent the Indians very well, among a very good group of players.
“That (Wendle) beat out (shortstop prospect Francisco) Lindor suggests how good Wendle is. He’s already an incredible story; he does not have a huge pedigree. Cody, too, came from Feather River Community College. Similarly, he wasn’t a pitcher in college, or in high school; he’d pitched very little. They’re very confident players, and their confidence comes from work.”
Question: One of the players that stick out is (outfielder) Bryson Myles. Where will he start?
Answer: Bryson Myles is one of our best surprises. He will all but be in Akron. He’s a really interesting story: He was a football player who didn’t play a bunch of baseball and slipped a little in the draft. We were really excited about his athleticism. He worked at the right things, and that’s hard to learn: Not everyone enjoys learning what it takes to become a great base runner, and other things like that. Learning how to put all the information together and prioritize it is vital. For Bryson, it clicked midway through the season. He lost some playing time, and that was part of what made it click for him. His focus took up a notch. Then came confidence and then came results. He’s a very promising story.
Question: I think other intriguing guys are (pitchers) Ryan Merritt and Louis Head.
Answer: Merritt is interesting; there’s not many MLB players that are 6-feet, 165 pounds. We have no signs of him not being durable or not holding up; the strikeouts are there and the walks aren’t. He keeps the ball in the ballpark, and commands the ball better than anyone in our system.
Louis will be a reliever, and he’s had some success. He will have to outwork people and continue to get outs; that’s the nature of the beast with relief pitchers. (Editor’s note: Head played at all three levels in 2013, while Merritt finished the season with the fourth-best ERA in the Indians Player Development System.)
Question: When will Minor Leaguers report to Spring Training?
Answer: With us having a facility in Goodyear, a lot of guys come in very early, in January. We incentivize them for that. A lot of it depends on what position they’re in, where they are in their careers. We’ll have everyone there by March 9. Half of them will be there by Feb. 20. The reason for (some of the later arrivals) is that the MLB season is much longer than the minor league seasons in many cases, so some guys report later.
Question: What players with current MLB team do you model the minor league system after, in terms of work ethic, preparation and workout routine?
Answer: There are a few players that have evolved and that’s changed. (Former Indians outfielder) Grady Sizemore was at the pinnacle .(Former Indians outfielder Shin-Soo) Choo was a model. (Outfielder Michael) Brantley is a current incredible model for our young players to look to. (Second baseman) Jason Kipnis is an exceptional model. (Starting pitchers) Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are off the charts from a work ethic standpoint.
Right now, Danny Salazar is a good model. He’s experienced a lot, being 24. He’s had Tommy John surgery, was signed out of the Dominican at 16. He didn’t come onto the scene as quickly as he would have hoped, but now he has and made a splash. He has all the intangibles. It starts with the player’s vision. He understands that and then follows through with the plan.
Question: What’s the plan for (2013 top pick) Clint Frazier?
Answer: He played half the season in Arizona. In his first at-bat, he hit a home run. He finished the year with an above-average OPS, was getting on base, hitting for power. He really took to center field, too; playing center as a pro is a little more demanding, with the pace of the game. He has it all, has all of the skills to do exceptional things. All of those other things, work ethic, will determine his route. It’s extremely difficult for a high school player to become a MLB player, because of expectations and demands. Sounds easy, but it’s very challenging. We have little doubt he’ll have a solid big-league career.
Question: What are our strengths at each level and what are our weaknesses?
Answer: Our system is balanced, especially with middle infield prospects and lower-level bats and position players. That’s where we’re strong. There are areas where we want guys to make strides forward. We feel very good about (Trevor) Bauer. Remember, he’s a year younger than Danny Salazar. He didn’t have the year he hoped for, but at 22, we’re still very encouraged.
We feel very good about some of the starters we have working their way up. They all have the intangibles. We have to have guys make positive strides each year; that’s what we had this year.
Question: What is the organization pushing (Lake County shortstop) Dorssys Paulino on?
Answer: We had him in Arizona this fall, and he’s been working on strength, conditioning and agility. His mobility and agility don’t match the strength he has, and that’s somewhat common in Dominican athletes. We’ve been working on his speed and agility. He’s going through a very rigorous offseason, and likely will start in Lake County again. He turned 18 last year; it was an adjustment to cold temperatures, 13-hour bus rides, and very little BP outdoors due to weather. That’s atypical, so it was an interesting spring for him. For a young Dominican player trying to find his groove, that’s not easy.
Question: Do you have an update on (2012 first-rounder) Tyler Naquin?
Answer: Tyler was among the group that was special to watch, with Joe Wendle and others. They were the leaders of the Arizona Fall League. He was at the forefront. One of the most encouraging things about him: He’s made an incredible adjustment and he did it in season; he’s spread out his lower half. There were some questions and he’s silenced them.