Kyle Stark Interview, Part II

This is the second part of my interview with Pirates farm director Kyle Stark. Here's Part I.

What about the jumble of infielders you're going have [at Indianapolis]? How do you juggle the playing time there?

I think, again, part of it is making sure we have depth covered for the big-league team. We can't have four prospect infielders on the dirt there. So there will be a little bit of a balance with that. So I'm assuming it'll be dependent on how the big-league team shakes out, and who ends up filling some of those bench roles. Some of those young players - somewhat young players - that are still in camp may win those roles, and that will impact it as well. If Steve Pearce wins the utility corner job or Pedro Ciriaco wins a utility middle job or something, that's obviously going to impact how Indy's roster comes together.

But at the end of the day, you know, Josh Harrison has done things to earn a promotion. Now, we've talked with Josh - is that in April? Is that in May? We'll see where that is. Matt Hague has done some things to earn a promotion to Indy. We'll see how it plays out. Chase D'Arnaud, we're still very excited about what he can do, and would like to challenge him to move [up]. Jordy Mercer put together another solid year. We need to challenge him to take a step forward and distinguish himself, you know, some thing there. I think some of it is, maybe, May, it will be a little bit clearer in terms of what we'd like it to be, than April.

Are there players with out clauses, or is that ...

No, we typically - there's a guy or two, but typically we try to stay away from those early in the year, just because we worked hard to get them here and be depth and protection for us. Now, of those, the [Garrett] Atkins, [Andy] Marte, [Josh] Fields group - yeah, there's going to be varying interest on both sides, not just ours but on their side as well, in terms of staying in Indy if they don't make the club, so we'll see ...

Is that why May is more of an indicator?

It may [be]. And again, it'll depend on how the big-league teams shakes out.

What about Mercer and his defense? How do you evaluate him defensively?

Fundamentally sound, has played a very solid shortstop in his time with us and has made the transition to second and third flawlessly as well. He's a bigger, more physical player, so it's maybe not prototypical, but he's fundamentally sound and does a lot of things right. At the end of the day, he catches the ball and throws it across pretty accurately, so he's a guy that we think has the ability to play shortstop in the big leagues.

How do you evaluate minor-league defense in general? Is it all scouting, or is there a statistical component to it as well?

We do a statistical component.

What is that, in general terms?

Well, I mean, it's trying to take all the advances that the sabermetric community has done at the big-league level and trying to apply it in the minor leagues as well.

So you're keeping your own data, or ...

There's some of that, as some of the video and technology [that is used at] the big-league level starts to happen in the minor leagues, we take advantage of some of that as well. Not so much just on the defensive side, but some of the Pitch F/X-type technologies happening, more and more minor-league teams are starting to employ some of that.

Is that something you're doing here at Pirate City, or something you contract from elsewhere, or ...

Yeah, I mean, we've got it at, I think it's three of our stops. And with video, in terms of positioning, our own charted information, there's defense F/X stuff that continues to be out there and guys start to wrap their heads around ... we try to use that in the minor leagues as much as possible, not just with our players, but with other teams' players as well on the scouting side. At the end of the day, the further you get from the big leagues, the more scouts have an impact in evaluating things, especially defense.

What is expected from pitchers' velocity at this point in camp, and what exactly do you have them working on in terms of getting both their fastballs and their offspeed stuff ready for the minor-league season?

Velocity is, it depends on the guy. Some guys come in and progressively build velocity through camp, some guys come in about where they're probably going to be. Their progression may be more [about] maintaining that velocity every fifth day or throughout a start. So it's very dependent on the individual. We've got some guys - you know, Hunter Strickland was throwing 94 the other day, and that's his first real start of the Spring. So it's dependent on the guy.

What are they focusing on? Again, upper levels, it's getting ready for the season, lower levels, it's still very much finding deliveries, routines, those types of things, where really where guys are at is making sure that they're getting their delivery in sync, getting a feel for their pitches, and then starting to develop a plan on what they're trying to work on this year.

What about [Zack] Von Rosenberg, specifically? I saw him pitch yesterday - is that about where his velocity's going to be for the season, or is it hopefully going to inch a little bit higher?

Sounds like you're hoping it's going to inch a little higher [laughs].

Well, it seemed like it was around 86 to 89, which seems a little bit low.

Yeah, no, it will. He pitched last year pretty much 88 to 92 most of the summer, and he's a guy that will inch forward as we go.

That's something he was doing last year also, right? He had a lower velocity in Spring Training?

Yes. And in fact it was actually lower in the Spring last year - it was more 84 to 86 early, and things progressed.

I heard a rumor [at Pirate City] yesterday that you're moving [Duke Welker] back to starting. That can't be right, is it?

That'd be a rumor [laughs]. Now, I do think Duke is ready to take some steps forward. I know it's been a long grind for him. But he made some progress last year. Last year in the summer, he was reaching the upper 90s. I saw him hit 99 a half-dozen times in one day, with good life. The consistency with strikes continues to be a work in progress, but I think he made some strides in the second half of last year, and he's come into camp well, throwing the ball over the plate, and the stuff has been pretty good.

If you draft a guy in June, and he doesn't end up playing in the minor leagues that year but he ends up signing before the deadline, what do you have him doing here in Bradenton?

It depends on the guy, but typically [unintelligible] we get to instructionally, and with all our new players we have them down here for a full five weeks to indoctrinate them into us and what we're about ...

What does that involve?

It's getting a feel for what our philosophies are, the big picture in terms of how we develop players, each fundamental area, getting a foundation on the physical side, on the mental side, the personal side. It's ... even just in terms of the day, how we work, what we go through. Guys were joking that we start early work before sunup down here, in terms of getting guys out on the field and getting some work done. It's just getting them used to the culture that exists here, so that way when they come into Spring Training, it's not culture shock. Days are pretty similar. I know a lot of organizations, an instructional day and a Spring Training day are very different, goals are very different. We kind of feel like we're in development mode all the time. This isn't about just getting guys ready for the season. This is about helping guys take strides forward, so with those guys down here it's, much like everybody else, tailored to the individual, but it's about continuing to move their career forward, setting a specific goal for the season, where they need to make strides, and then get them ready for the season.

In terms of the young Latin players who are here for the first time, can you talk through some of those players and what you hope to see them doing this year?

Typically, we tell those players that this is about getting acclimated - acclimated to baseball over here, because the way the game's played, professionalism, expectations, those types of things, are different here, so getting acclimated to that. Getting acclimated to the culture, cultural differences. And then also getting acclimated to learn English. And obviously, we do significant work with that before a player gets here, but it's really continuing to try to move things forward. And then typically those players are going to be down here, so we tell them hey, it's not like you're competing to make the club. Your focus is basically trying to learn as much as you can every single day.

What about, for example, Willy Garcia, or Yhonathan Barrios, what might we expect for them in terms of an assignment?

GCL. Barrios [is] a little bit different, potentially, because he was here last year, but he was hurt all year. But for the most part, for the first year, guys are going to be down here, Spring Training extended and then the GCL.

Can you talk a little about your career path and any advice you might give people who might want to get into jobs on the baseball side?

My two cents for people who want to get into professional baseball is two things. One is, you've got to figure out a way to distinguish yourself, because everybody and their brother wants in, and there's some extremely talented people. I mean the days of how this resume is different [are] kind of over, just in terms of all the different skill sets people have.

So figuring out some way to distinguish yourself. And that could be education, that could be being bilingual, that could be even ... it used to be, "Well hey, I've done some research on the sabermetric side." Well, everybody's done some research on the sabermetric side now. It's just continuing to be creative and finding a way to distinguish yourself.

The second thing is, getting to know somebody, having a relationship, so it's not just a resume coming across. It's key, and it's a challenge, obviously, because there's no easy way to do that, and typically, people in the game, last thing they're wanting to do is go around and meet a bunch of people who want to get in. But some way to have a contact or relationship, whatever else.

I was fortunate that, right place, right time, right organization, because I was exposed to a ton of things in Cleveland. Things worked out. And my background was diversified enough, based on education, based on coaching, that it appealed to them. But it's going to be different for every organization. And the other thing I'd say [is that] it's hard to get in, but if there's any way you can get in with the right organization ... I'm guessing my career path would be completely different if I had started with somebody else, just because some organizations are very open to what is thrown at people, what opportunities are given. Cleveland was that way, we are that way, so you get a lot of responsibility thrown at you and you get exposure to a lot of different things. But again, at the end of the day, that's an ideal. The first step is getting in.

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