Clayton McCullough is the Blue Jays co-ordinator of instruction. This is a new position for the Jays. Previously McCullough has managed at several spots in the Jays system and he also spent the first half of 2013 as the Jays bullpen catcher. I caught up with McCullough last weekend in Lansing.
BB: When your appointment was announced I asked some people what your job description was and they said they didn't know, it had to be worked out between you and Doug. Now that you have been in the job for six months, how would you describe it?
CM: I would describe it as being another set of eyes for Doug to go around between the seven North American affiliates plus the Dominican. It was laid out for me to spend most of my time from Dunedin on down to make sure all of our programs and our fundamentals work are going well and we are all on the same page. With eight teams it is a lot of work so I am another set of eyes out there. One of my main responsibilities was the extended spring training program and getting that going with the 100 guys we had there.
BB: Are you mainly on the hitting side or do you look at the pitching side too?
CM: I am mainly on the hitting side but as I travel around I can listen to the staff, ask how things are going, and jump in and help out wherever help is needed, as well as working on the fundamentals side.
BB: If we think of a player, he has his teams hitting or pitching coach, he has roving instructors, he has instructors like yourself, plus he has former major league players dropping in on the team. Where is the balance between the right amount of instruction and too much and the ability for players to receive mixed messages?
CM: Yeah thats always a delicate thing to deal with because you do want consistency throughout. But everyone has something to offer and we try to say to the players look you guys are going to hear stuff from all over. They are hearing it from their dads and former coaches so part of their growth as a player is to learn how to filter things out. If it works for you you take it. If you try something out and it doesn't work then it's not for you so leave it for the next guy. We are trying to get as much information to the players as we can because you don't know what might click for that particular player. Players just have to learn how to filter because they will hear it from all over.
BB: Now I would like to ask you about some players. Josh Almonte in Bluefield has been having a good year, what do you see in him?
CM: He has really started to come into his own. Josh is still only twenty and he was always a super athletic guy, good runner, good defender, his defense and baserunning for his age and experience level were always in good shape and the bat was a work in progress. Josh had a very good extended spring training, Mike Barnett and his hitting coaches did a tremendous job with him, and it looks like it is paying off. That will be the thing with Josh, how is the bat coming along? He is off to a good start. That will give him some confidence that he can play because the rest of his game was in good shape and the batting development is a good sign for Josh.
BB: As a former catcher what do you see in Dan Jansen?
CM: What you love about Jansen is that he is a blue-collar guy. He is a terrific worker, he has good aptitude, a good body and strength and Jansen, from where he was when he first signed to where he is now, he has made the strides and the leaps forward that you hope a player will make. You want players to be consistenly trending upwards and Jansen is doing that both offensively and defensively. The good thing about Jansen is that he is a tough kid and a really good worker. He enjoys working with the pitching staff and he enjoys taking more accountability . For his age he is doing well, he is a blue collar guy who will give everything back there and you know you can trust him and he has the pitchers best interest in mind.
BB: What about Urena?
CM: We have quite a few guys in the middle of the field who are younger and Urena has a very lively body, he should stick at shortstop because of his athleticiam and arm strength. He is 18 years old playing in that league and more than holding his own. The physical ability has always been there but now it looks like he is starting to tighten up his game. He is switch hitting now which is something that should help him out down the road. It shows how skillful he is that after three years of not hitting right handed he can pick it back up in a short amount of time and it looks good.
BB: That's just this year?
CM: He said he did it when he was younger and he started again in the middle part of spring training. He is a very skillful kid with a lot of ability and you just keep running him out there in game situations under the lights in Bluefield. As long as he continues to move in the right direction the future is big.
BB: What do you think of Lugo here in Lansing?
CM: Lugo impressed me. You consider that he is just 19 years old. He is a latin kid, and there is the language barrier, he got through the cold months, he survived those and then as the weather warmed up his bat took off. He has always been a very dependable infielder, sure handed with a good accurate arm. As I see him at this time of the year his body is in better shape, he is more athletic, he is running better so all parts of his game are taking off. He has had a breakout year. He is a 19 year old playing every day in this league at a premium position and you have to take notice of that. He is a very likeable kid, the guys all like him, he comes to play, he has fun and the talent is big.
BB: Lugo's face looks like he hasn't fully developed yet.
CM: His body is still changing. He is maturing physically and emotionally, if he was american he would be a college freshman.
BB: Emilio Guerrero is playing some short, some centre field, some third. What is the plan for him?
CM: Emilio has the ability and skill to play a lot of places. He has played a lot of short but the guy can run, he has a good arm, long strides, throw him in centre and see if he can do it, try him at third. What will his final home be, that has yet to be determined. You love the bat, you love the power potential, he is athletic enough to play multiple spots to develop flexibility. His first look in centre is good, it's just trying to get Emilio more flexibility in his game.
BB: One more shortstop, Franklin Barreto, everyone knows he can hit, what about his fielding, will you just keep him at short for now?
CM: Right, you come and look at some of these guys and they are making errors, but a lot of guys at that age errors are just part of the deal. They try and make plays they shouldn't or they rush things. Down the road what position will Franklin be, nobody knows. He has a chance to play short until he plays his way off of it. He is 18 years old, where will he be in 5 years, who knows? As long as he can play there you leave him there until he can't play there. Sometimes they prove they can stick there.
BB: Did you see Pentecost yet?
CM: Yes I saw him in the GCL and in Vancouver. He came as advertised, very athletic guy, skill set to stay behind the plate, good arm, very athletic, moves well, seems like a winning type of kid, he has a good swing, hits to all parts of the field, runs well. You worry because the guy just signs, its a whirlwind, he plays his college year, he takes some time off, he signs, he is going here and there for awards and banquets and then he comes in here and is trying to get in game shape. So this summer is about getting back used to playing and getting into game shape but you can see why people are so high on him.
Thanks to Clayton for talking with us.
Some of my comments from the interview: I don't know if anyone has known yet that Urena started switch hitting. Urena has an OPS of 852 hitting from the left side and just 557 from the right. So the switch hitting is a work in progress. He is batting 174 against lefties but he has just one extra base hit from the right side versus 11 from the left. When Clayton answered my question about Barreto he talked about leaving shortstop at short for as long as you can. He didn't make any such comments about Emilio Guerrero. It seems as though the Jays have given up on Guerrero asa shortstop and are seeing if the can play centre field. He should be able to if he can run fast, he does have those long legs.