Q&A with GCL Yankees Manager Mario Garza

We sat down with GCL Yankees2 Manager Mario Garza for a Q&A session. In part one of this two-part series we concentrate on the hitters, including his thoughts on Abiatal Avelino and his greatest strength, what kind of growth he saw from Miguel Andujar from a year ago, how good is Luis Torrens already, his initial impression of Drew Bridges, and much, much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know you coached Miguel Andujar last year too -- what did you see from him this year?

Mario Garza: Man he matured tremendously on the field. He's always been a pretty mature kid in general but he matured in his at-bats and pitch selection. Previously he seemed like he tried to get big and impact the ball with every swing and this year I think he stayed within himself a little bit better and took what he got, and was able to use the whole field better.

PinstripesPlus.com: It seemed like this year he wasn't trying to pull the ball more -- was that a concentrated effort on his part and the coaching staff?

Garza: Absolutely, I think [hitting coach] Edwar Gonzalez did a great job with him keeping him focused using the whole field. He's so strong, he's not one of those guys that has to exert too much effort to drive the ball. He has great bat speed, he has great pitch recognition, so I think he did a great job staying within himself.

PinstripesPlus.com: Defensively I know he made some errors but he seemed to be a lot smoother in the field. Did you see that?

Garza: Yes, I saw a big improvement. His range was very good and he really made tremendous strides throwing. I see him being an average to maybe a little bit above average defender when he reaches his maturity.

PinstripesPlus.com: So how good a player could he be down the road?

Garza: Man I think he can be very good, I really do. I think he can be an impact big leaguer.

PinstripesPlus.com: Luis Torrens was the youngest guy in the Gulf Coast League this year. I know he didn't put up tremendous numbers but were the numbers a little misleading?

Garza: No question. If you were to take his Extended [Spring Training] numbers and combine them with the GCL you'd see much better numbers. For a kid who was the youngest kid in the league [with] his first time catching and then do it at 12 o'clock in the Florida sun everyday that's going to wear on you, and I think that's what we saw. But I expect big things out of him. Everybody knows he can hit just watching his approach and his maturity, it's incredible for his age. I really expect him to come on strong next year and in years to come. I expect big things out of him.

PinstripesPlus.com: You're a former catcher -- where is his catching right now?

Garza: I'll start with really his biggest strength -- he's probably the best natural catch and throw guy I've worked with which is a statement considering I've worked with [J.R.] Murphy and [Gary] Sanchez, and both of those guys are very good throwers, Sanchez being an exceptional thrower. But just the consistency of his exchange and the accuracy and arm strength, he's as good as anybody I've worked with and that's pretty special. Receiving-wise he's still getting used to velocity and movement at the professional level but from when he first signed to the end of Instructional League he made phenomenal improvements. Where is it now to answer your question directly, it's well ahead of schedule for his age and experience level.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Abiatal Avelino. I know he's 18 but it sure seems like he plays like a 25 or 30 year old guy, the game comes to him. What did you see from him?

Garza: Yes he's very exciting. What I think he did this year was really improve the feel for his game and took that with his tools, and we're really seeing his tools play now. Before he was a toolsy guy and this year with his maturity he really, really made some big strides. He's an exciting player and a great leader too. He was the leader of our a team and a unique spark when he was with us.

PinstripesPlus.com: Where do you feel his biggest strength is right now? His defense? His pitch recognition?

Garza: It's not everyday that you can see a guy play shortstop the way he is with his combination of range, arm strength, and feel. I think that's the most exciting part of his game, defensively. He [also] did a great job this year stealing bases which is also something that shouldn't be overlooked. During Instructional League we made a concerted effort for him to drive the ball a little more because sometimes he gets into a defensive mode when he's hitting and he made some really big improvements driving the ball. That was really good to see because he's explosive and he can impact the baseball. That's got to come out more and when it does it's going to be really fun to watch.

PinstripesPlus.com: I want to ask you about another shortstop, Thairo Estrada. He kind of came out of nowhere. He was another very young player in the league. What were your impressions of him this year?

Garza: We wouldn't have had the success as a team if it weren't for Estrada because he was able to play short for us, second, he could hit anywhere in the lineup, and he's extremely consistent and mature for his age. Gosh, I can't imagine being his age just coming to a new country and like you said, coming out of nowhere. We needed him almost out of necessity in the beginning and he came in and played himself into a big role for us.

PinstripesPlus.com: He doesn't seem to excel at any one thing but he seems to be solid in all phases of the game, no?

Garza: I would say that's extremely accurate. He's a tough out, he makes the routine play about as well as anybody that we saw in the league, he's got versatility, he's an average runner, maybe a tick above average runner, and that's probably the next phase for him, to steal bases and use his speed better. But as far as offensively and defensively he was a great piece of our team this year. I'm excited for him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Nathan Mikolas. The numbers this year were better. Where was his biggest improvement?

Garza: From what I saw last year to this year he played a lot more relaxed and allowed his ability to take shape on the field. Coming from his background it took some adjustment and I think this year you saw him gain a lot of confidence. He was able to be himself. Before I think he was just feeling it out a little bit too much.

PinstripesPlus.com: It seems to me that he, especially being a rookie ball guy, is a pronounced pull-hitter. Is he a guy that's going to need to use the whole field more as he moves up the levels?

Garza: I think he will. If you watch his batting practices which I know you have, he can drive the ball in the other gap. And he did that sometimes. Occasionally he would hit a ball and you'd be like 'wow, that's what we've been looking for'. For him to reach his potential he's going to have to hit the ball the other way a little more and I think he will because it's in there.

PinstripesPlus.com: He seemed to be more of an athlete this year, no? Last year he seemed to be more of a lumbering slugging type and this year he lost weight, showed some speed, etc.

Garza: Yes and I think that kind of came free from breaking inhibitions. It seemed like last year he was afraid to make a mistake and this year he really came out of his shell, and really played with so much more confidence. He wasn't afraid to make a mistake. His defense improved tremendously. I remember a couple of plays down the stretch and even in the playoff game he made some diving catches, and his decision making on throws was excellent. A lot of those little things showed up, especially towards the end of the year. I think he's in a good place and I think he's going to come out and have a good year next season.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know he didn't play a ton for you this year but I would still like to get your initial thoughts on Drew Bridges. He's a big guy. In fact he physically looks like Greg Bird to me; a strong, tall, left-handed batter. What were your impressions of him?

Garza: He's got exciting tools. He's got big impact with his bat. He naturally has impact to all fields and I think he's got a very high ceiling. He actually moves very well too. He's not a slow guy at all. We'll see if he can play third base. He showed really good aptitude at first base. He's going to have to improve his overall feel defensively but yeah, he's going to be good.

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Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: I know you coached Miguel Andujar last year too -- what did you see from him this year?
\r\n
\r\nMario Garza: Man he matured tremendously on the field. He's always been a pretty mature kid in general but he matured in his at-bats and pitch selection. Previously he seemed like he tried to get big and impact the ball with every swing and this year I think he stayed within himself a little bit better and took what he got, and was able to use the whole field better.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: It seemed like this year he wasn't trying to pull the ball more -- was that a concentrated effort on his part and the coaching staff?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: Absolutely, I think [hitting coach] Edwar Gonzalez did a great job with him keeping him focused using the whole field. He's so strong, he's not one of those guys that has to exert too much effort to drive the ball. He has great bat speed, he has great pitch recognition, so I think he did a great job staying within himself.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Defensively I know he made some errors but he seemed to be a lot smoother in the field. Did you see that?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: Yes, I saw a big improvement. His range was very good and he really made tremendous strides throwing. I see him being an average to maybe a little bit above average defender when he reaches his maturity.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: So how good a player could he be down the road?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: Man I think he can be very good, I really do. I think he can be an impact big leaguer.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Luis Torrens was the youngest guy in the Gulf Coast League this year. I know he didn't put up tremendous numbers but were the numbers a little misleading?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: No question. If you were to take his Extended [Spring Training] numbers and combine them with the GCL you'd see much better numbers. For a kid who was the youngest kid in the league [with] his first time catching and then do it at 12 o'clock in the Florida sun everyday that's going to wear on you, and I think that's what we saw. But I expect big things out of him. Everybody knows he can hit just watching his approach and his maturity, it's incredible for his age. I really expect him to come on strong next year and in years to come. I expect big things out of him.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: You're a former catcher -- where is his catching right now?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: I'll start with really his biggest strength -- he's probably the best natural catch and throw guy I've worked with which is a statement considering I've worked with [J.R.] Murphy and [Gary] Sanchez, and both of those guys are very good throwers, Sanchez being an exceptional thrower. But just the consistency of his exchange and the accuracy and arm strength, he's as good as anybody I've worked with and that's pretty special. Receiving-wise he's still getting used to velocity and movement at the professional level but from when he first signed to the end of Instructional League he made phenomenal improvements. Where is it now to answer your question directly, it's well ahead of schedule for his age and experience level.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Abiatal Avelino. I know he's 18 but it sure seems like he plays like a 25 or 30 year old guy, the game comes to him. What did you see from him?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: Yes he's very exciting. What I think he did this year was really improve the feel for his game and took that with his tools, and we're really seeing his tools play now. Before he was a toolsy guy and this year with his maturity he really, really made some big strides. He's an exciting player and a great leader too. He was the leader of our a team and a unique spark when he was with us.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Where do you feel his biggest strength is right now? His defense? His pitch recognition?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: It's not everyday that you can see a guy play shortstop the way he is with his combination of range, arm strength, and feel. I think that's the most exciting part of his game, defensively. He [also] did a great job this year stealing bases which is also something that shouldn't be overlooked. During Instructional League we made a concerted effort for him to drive the ball a little more because sometimes he gets into a defensive mode when he's hitting and he made some really big improvements driving the ball. That was really good to see because he's explosive and he can impact the baseball. That's got to come out more and when it does it's going to be really fun to watch.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: I want to ask you about another shortstop, Thairo Estrada. He kind of came out of nowhere. He was another very young player in the league. What were your impressions of him this year?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: We wouldn't have had the success as a team if it weren't for Estrada because he was able to play short for us, second, he could hit anywhere in the lineup, and he's extremely consistent and mature for his age. Gosh, I can't imagine being his age just coming to a new country and like you said, coming out of nowhere. We needed him almost out of necessity in the beginning and he came in and played himself into a big role for us.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: He doesn't seem to excel at any one thing but he seems to be solid in all phases of the game, no?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: I would say that's extremely accurate. He's a tough out, he makes the routine play about as well as anybody that we saw in the league, he's got versatility, he's an average runner, maybe a tick above average runner, and that's probably the next phase for him, to steal bases and use his speed better. But as far as offensively and defensively he was a great piece of our team this year. I'm excited for him.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Nathan Mikolas. The numbers this year were better. Where was his biggest improvement?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: From what I saw last year to this year he played a lot more relaxed and allowed his ability to take shape on the field. Coming from his background it took some adjustment and I think this year you saw him gain a lot of confidence. He was able to be himself. Before I think he was just feeling it out a little bit too much.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: It seems to me that he, especially being a rookie ball guy, is a pronounced pull-hitter. Is he a guy that's going to need to use the whole field more as he moves up the levels?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: I think he will. If you watch his batting practices which I know you have, he can drive the ball in the other gap. And he did that sometimes. Occasionally he would hit a ball and you'd be like 'wow, that's what we've been looking for'. For him to reach his potential he's going to have to hit the ball the other way a little more and I think he will because it's in there.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: He seemed to be more of an athlete this year, no? Last year he seemed to be more of a lumbering slugging type and this year he lost weight, showed some speed, etc.
\r\n
\r\nGarza: Yes and I think that kind of came free from breaking inhibitions. It seemed like last year he was afraid to make a mistake and this year he really came out of his shell, and really played with so much more confidence. He wasn't afraid to make a mistake. His defense improved tremendously. I remember a couple of plays down the stretch and even in the playoff game he made some diving catches, and his decision making on throws was excellent. A lot of those little things showed up, especially towards the end of the year. I think he's in a good place and I think he's going to come out and have a good year next season.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: I know he didn't play a ton for you this year but I would still like to get your initial thoughts on Drew Bridges. He's a big guy. In fact he physically looks like Greg Bird to me; a strong, tall, left-handed batter. What were your impressions of him?
\r\n
\r\nGarza: He's got exciting tools. He's got big impact with his bat. He naturally has impact to all fields and I think he's got a very high ceiling. He actually moves very well too. He's not a slow guy at all. We'll see if he can play third base. He showed really good aptitude at first base. He's going to have to improve his overall feel defensively but yeah, he's going to be good.
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

Are you a monthly or 3-month subscriber to PinstripesPlus.com? Why not get two months free AND get 4 issues of our PinstripesPlus Magazine included by becoming an annual subscriber? Upgrade today to get the most out of your subscription.

\r\n

\r\n

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