Alex Anthopoulos first joined us in Da Box last May. In that interview Alex discussed his job, at that time, how he came to join the Blue Jays, and some specific Jays related issues. When Alex was promoted to the General manager position I touched base with him but we agreed to wait until 2010 to continue our discussion as Alex was going to be snowed under with his new responsibilities.
So when 2010 rolled around we here at Da Box didn't want to talk about 2010, we know it will be a development year and we assume Alex is optimisitc about all his players. Alex has laid out a new vision for the Jays and we wanted to drill down on that to get some more details of his longer term plans. So we discussed the draft, hitter development, evaluating scouts, defensive metrics and statistical analysis. Alex was his usual honest self. So in this interview we learn why Alex feels the Jays will do better at hitter development; that the Jays might draft a high school pitcher in the first round; a different angle on what Alex thinks of Vernon's defense; and how the Jays are beefing up their statistical department.
Alex and I started exchanging e-mails a few weeks ago so the Dustin McGowan question looks dated now but it is good to hear that he seems to be continuing to get back to form.
Batters Box thanks Alex for taking some of his valuable time, which is much in demand right now, to answer our questions.
BB: First question relates to pitching. The Jays have developed a lot of pitching recently which is a tribute to the organization and the minor league development staff. Do you think pitching development is an area of strength in the organization and if so would it tend to make you more likely to trade pitching for hitting knowing that the organization should be able to develop more pitching?
AA: Pitching has certainly been the strength. That's a credit to J.P. Ricciardi, Tony LaCava, Jon Lalonde, all the amateur scouts from his staffs and certainly Dane Johnson and all of his pitching instructors. Trading pitching for hitting is something we're certainly open to. Though we agree with the statement of "you can never have enough pitching", we also believe that there will be instances where we'll have to look to add some position players and that will result in potentially having to discuss some of our pitchers in trade talks.
BB: With the large number of potential starting pitcher candidates available to you are you at all concerned for 2010 or 2011 that pitchers who are major league ready would have to stay in AAA and whether that would impede their development?
AA: Not at all. That would be a great problem to have. It rarely works out that way though. Every time you feel you have too many pitchers someone either gets hurt or doesn't perform. We've discussed this type of topic many times in the office when we're looking at players we feel might be "blocked" by other organizations. With most teams carrying twelve pitchers on Major League staffs, pitchers are rarely if ever blocked. Every team is always looking for pitching.
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.
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.
BB: Given the current price for a 1st or 2nd round draft pick in terms of signing bonuses, do you think signing young Latin American free agents "in bulk" is more economical?
AA: We're always looking to spend our dollars as effectively as we can while also trying to manage our risks. There's no question that at times there's strength in numbers but should the right opportunity present itself player wise, we're open to spending a greater amount on a smaller amount of players.
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.
BB: Many baseball people admit to there being an element of luck in the drafting and dvelopment process. That process is a big part of your plan for success. Does this concept of luck concern you and does it alter your thinking about the job?
AA: There's no question that there's an element of luck in everything that we do, whether it's sports or any other industry. That being said, we're starting to incorporate new systems and a process to everything that we're doing that should only improve our probability for success.
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.
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.
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.
BB: Has Dustin McGowan thrown off a mound yet?
AA: Yes he has. Dustin has thrown several bullpens to date and is progressing well in his rehab.
BB: How about Jesse Litsch?
AA: Jesse has also begun throwing bullpens and is on schedule for his rehab.
As I said at the top our questions related to the longer term vision for the team and I, for one, was happy with Alex's answers. He appears to be doing a lot of what we hoped he would do and he appears to me to be headed in the right direction.
Thanks again to Alex Anthopoulos and best wishes from Batters Box for a successful 2010, and also for no more pitcher injuries.