Q&A with GCL Yankees1 Manager Travis Chapman

We sat down with Gulf Coast League Yankees1 Manager Travis Chapman for a Q&A session. In part one of this two-part series we concentrate on the hitters, including his thoughts on Jorge Mateo, if he sees a comparison between Drew Bridges and Greg Bird, his initial impressions of Alexander Palma, if he's expecting Leonardo Molina to break out next season, and much, much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's start with who I easily consider to be the top prospect from your team this year -- shortstop, Jorge Mateo. What were your impressions of him in 2014?

Travis Chapman: Mateo is just an extremely hard working, exciting baseball player. He's very smart. He has a lot of baseball IQ and baseball savvy to go on top of a tremendous tool set.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned his intelligence. What impressed me beyond the obvious plus physical tools is the makeup. He has really made it a priority to learn English and that's a little rare for somebody his age, no?

Chapman: Yes he speaks it very fluently. You can have a conversation with him in English and Spanish. He's very well educated.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know he's very young and quite inexperienced but given his great tools, makeup, and intelligence, do you think he could move a bit quicker than most even though the young age might suggest otherwise?

Chapman: Time and the organization will dictate how fast he moves but hopefully he goes out there and performs the way he's capable of, and really the sky is the limit with his tool set and his skills.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to outfielder Alexander Palma. He doesn't really have the same kind of tools but boy can he hit. What were your impressions of him this year?

Chapman: Alex, for a young guy, can really barrel any pitch. He recognizes pitches well, he hits hard line drives, has gap to gap power which I fully anticipate developing into more home run type power as he gets older and progresses through the leagues.

PinstripesPlus.com: Defensively what kind of progress did you see from him this year?

Chapman: He can be a good right fielder. He's got an above average arm out in right field. Even for a bigger guy he runs real well -- he was nine for nine in stolen bases this year. He moves well, he gets good jumps, and he's in the right position every time backing up, moving with hitters, moving with counts. He's a very intelligent outfielder. [I don't have any concerns with him defensively], not at all.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about outfielder Leonardo Molina. I know the numbers weren't very good but he kind of gets praised by nearly everyone for the approach he had for a kid his age. Were there good signs with him behind the numbers?

Chapman: Yes, from a numerical standpoint he was down a little bit but from an approach standpoint, learning the game, and just watching his ABs get progressively better and better as the year went on, I'm very excited about another very young kid and his potential future ceiling.

PinstripesPlus.com: What do you think he needs to focus the most on right now short-term to get him where he needs to be?

Chapman: You know I actually think he's in a pretty good spot. Obviously the numbers weren't there and baseball is about consistency. As a 17-year old for the first time over in the [United] States I thought he handled both his successes and failures in a great manner. In a lot of big situations where we needed to move a guy over or needed a big base hit, he came through in a ton of clutch situations for us this year.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know you weren't around a few years ago when Ramon Flores did a similar thing; come in as a new signing, skip a level, struggle initially in his debut season, but then had a huge turnaround season in his second year. Do you see Molina making a huge step in his second season this coming year?

Chapman: Yeah I would fully anticipate that. I know Miguel Andujar did a similar thing too in his first year in the GCL. I've heard about Ramon Flores and what he went through too. I fully anticipate and hope Molina will have a similar [bounceback] season this coming year.

PinstripesPlus.com: Drew Bridges is another kid who didn't have great numbers but every time I saw him he had a great approach. What did you see from him this year?

Chapman: Drew worked very hard and became a nice defender over at third base. He's got a great eye at the plate and just nice, easy, pure power even to the opposite field and the pull-side. He's got the chance to be a very good ball player.

PinstripesPlus.com: I'm assuming you've seen Greg Bird play some. Do you think there's a comparison there between he and Bridges?

Chapman: I had the opportunity to work with Bird as well. I think they're very similar. I think 'Birdie's' approach at the same age was a little more advanced but Drew's got power, he obviously has the pitch recognition, he has strike zone discipline very similar to Bird, and he could very well, as Drew matures, become a very similar comp.

PinstripesPlus.com: Bird has, and continues to learn, not to be so patient at the plate. Do you think that's the next big thing Bridges needs to work on, attacking better pitches earlier in counts?

Chapman: Drew is figuring himself out as far as what pitches he can do damage on and consistently putting a good swing on each and every at-bat. He worked extremely hard on that this year and got quite a bit better as the year progressed. Again, I'm very excited about watching [him] next year and seeing it all come together.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned Bridges over at third and him getting better there. What does he need to do to stick there? He's a big dude -- is it just improving his lateral quickness over there?

Chapman: He worked hard on his range. He's got good feet and pretty good hands over there at third base, and the arm plays at third. It's just a matter of keeping the mobility at third and continuing to increase range. He'll never be a huge plus third baseman as far as range he can potentially be an adequate one and an average one over there at third base.

PinstripesPlus.com: One guy who didn't get to play much for you this year due to injury was Kendall Coleman. I really thought with the way he reported to camp and how he looked at the plate back in Spring Training that he was ready to break out this season had it not been for the injury. Your thoughts?

Chapman: He progressed so much and I was really proud of his offseason regiment last year. He came back ready to play. He got better in all aspects of the game and had a very nice Extended [Spring Training]. As the [GCL] season started he kept trying to get through those shin splints. He's a guy who is a hard worker and has really gotten a ton better.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know Thairo Estrada mostly played in the GCL for you this year in a rehab capacity but I'm sure you got to see him in Extended Spring Training and at Instructional League. Both Mario Garza and I believe he's a bit of a sleeping giant in prospect circles. Your thoughts?

Chapman: No doubt about it. He's good enough to play short, he can definitely play second, potentially even over at third if you need him, but the bat, even for him being a smaller guy, he can really swing the bat and swing it with some power. He hit two home runs for us this year during the playoffs, in four games during the playoffs, including a grand slam. He's just a wonderful leader on the field and a very good defender at both short and second base.

PinstripesPlus.com: Outfielder Dominic Jose gets a little bit lost in the shuffle because he's a bit older than most GCL players and he was a later round pick. Apparently there's some upside to him. What did you see from him?

Chapman: No doubt. He's got power, he can run, he can play outfield. He's got a lot of various tools so hopefully he can get a bunch of ABs so we can really see what we've got. But he's a hard worker and really goes out there and competes. He wants to do well, he wants to play hard, and wants to play together as part of a team. He didn't get a ton [of playing time] at Stanford and he got dinged up a couple of different times [in the GCL] and was in and out of the lineup with us, but he's a very good player and he needs to get the ABs. He's got power from both sides of the plate and can go out there and play centerfield as well as the corner outfield. He just needs the ABs.

PinstripesPlus.com: We're talking about an older guy with some tools as a potential sleeper -- what about Tyler Palmer. He was an undrafted guy but showed some things this past season, no?

Chapman: Tyler is a very good defender at shortstop. He also played some third base and some second base. We talked a lot about the plate discipline and the strike zone awareness, and easy power, and that's Tyler Palmer from a more athletic build that can play shortstop. He can run, he's got a very good arm, he can make any play in the six hole -- I saw him make a sliding play, pop up, and gun down the runner at first base from the six hole this year -- he's got doubles power, triples power, hits home runs, and can steal bases.

PinstripesPlus.com: So how does this guy go undrafted? It's a bit of an enigma.

Champan: I'm not sure how we were able to track him down but I'm very, very, very happy that our Yankee scouts were able to find him and bring him, and sign him because he has the chance to be a very, very good player for us.

PinstripesPlus.com: He plays a multitude of positions as you noted. Which is his best position?

Chapman: I would say shortstop but really you can play at second, third, and I think you can throw him out in centerfield too. He's athletic enough for that. He can run well enough to do that. But I think his best position is shortstop.

PinstripesPlus.com: To me it seems your team this year was littered with 'sleeper' prospects and I'd put catcher Alvaro Noriega right near the top of that group. What were your thoughts on him this year?

Chapman: Noriega worked extremely hard -- I was so proud of him and his work ethic, getting out there and working on his receiving, working on his throwing, and the bat has played since he was on the Columbian national team. He's a guy who makes his pitchers better.

PinstripesPlus.com: Offensively what's the big thing for him?

Chapman: He's just like every other young hitter; he's learning his strike zone, what pitches he can drive, and he's a very promising young hitter. He's got the ability to recognize pitches and put good swings pretty consistently on good pitches.

PinstripesPlus.com: Keeping up the the 'sleeper' theme, what are your thoughts on Bryan Cuevas. What do you think is his best strength?

Chapman: I'll tell you what, Cuevas this year had a monster season. His best strength is his head and his ability to go out there and compete regardless if he's playing second base and this year we asked him to play some shortstop, and he did awesome at that. We asked him to hit leadoff, second, and third in the lineup, and he did all of those extremely well this year. He really had just a monster year.

PinstripesPlus.com: Before we move on to the pitchers, what are your initial thoughts on outfielder Cesar Diaz? I know he didn't play much for you.

Chapman: He reminded me of a Taylor Dugas type, a very scrappy young hitter who could put bunts down, hit the ball all over the field, line-drive approach, would take his walks, and once he got on was a threat to steal some bases. He was a pleasure to have the last couple of weeks of the season.

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