Q&A with Field Coordinator Jody Reed - Part I

We sat down with Yankees' minor league field coordinator Jody Reed for a Q&A session. In part one of this two-part series we get his take on the state of the farm system, if the cupboard was as bare as he was led to believe by the national media before coming back to the Yankees last season, how the Yankees plan on dealing with the glut of shortstop prospects, and much, much more!.

PinstripesPlus.com: Before we talk about specific players and start looking at the upcoming 2015 season I wanted to get your thoughts on the farm system as a whole in 2014. How do you think last season went down on the farm?

Jody Reed: I thought it was a very good year. I know that coming in, James Rowson, our hitting coordinator, and myself, we had discussed some of the things that we wanted to lay the groundwork on and establish. I felt like the boys took to what we were asking and responded, which is going to be good moving forward because it's kind of a viral thing. We really want, we're really trying to emphasize smart, intelligent baseball players; be your own coach, learn how to be self-sufficient. And we really challenged them. We feel really good about moving forward in that area and that's going to be a continuing theme obviously. And we're excited about it because these guys are hungry, they ask questions, they want to know how the game works, they want to know why, and that's exciting because at the end of the day everybody agrees that the big leagues is not necessarily populated with the most talented baseball players in the world but they are the smartest and that's a guarantee.

PinstripesPlus.com: On the heels of that then who for you stood out pretty much and raised their game? You had some standout performers last year. Who for you popped themselves up on the radar big-time last year?

Reed: Quite honestly we had a number of guys kind of like you said, for various reasons, take Aaron Judge -- I know that he signed and was hurt the whole first year so you're sitting there going 'you know what do we got here' because we really hadn't seen him. And watching him go through the first year and the progression, and showing what type of player he is, you're like 'holy cow, this guy is pretty impressive'. Aaron Judge's initial year was very exciting. Greg Bird had a really good year [in 2013] and then tweaked his back in Spring Training and he gets off to a later start, and then ends up jumping levels and winning the MVP of the Fall League. Then you're like wait a second, he shows up in a big way. Luis Severino [is another one]. You have to remember this is the first year that I've seen these guys because I had just come back into the organization. I remember in June going into Tampa and watching Severino pitch against the Phillies behind the plate and going 'look at this guy'. He was extremely exciting and had a huge year. I think Tyler Austin, not only in overcoming his hand injury, the issue with his wrist, watching his second half turn around from a first half where he might have been getting over the hand issues and getting some confidence [back] in it, and then watching him making his adjustments and finishing up strong and kind of like you said, put himself back on the map. That's to name just a few. Being back for the first year and going through the organization level by level I was pleasantly surprised. There's some quality there, there's some quality at every level.

PinstripesPlus.com: Well that was going to be one of my questions to you Jody because you had been gone for a while and you must have heard the national opinions that the farm system wasn't very good. Did that national opinion jive with what you saw last year? I thought entering the year last season that the farm system was vastly underrated and I thought last year's overall performance kind of validated that thought. Do you get that sense?

Reed: No doubt about it Patrick. Again, speaking for myself and J-Row [James Rowson] because we both came back after going elsewhere for a couple of years, you hear the Yankees have players nobody wants and that there's no talent there, and we get back here and it was early. It was in the early programs that we'd sit and watch some of the guys, and we'd look at each other and go 'there's some clay here, there's some clay to shape here, there's some guys with some tools, there's some stuff to work with'. In all honesty right out of the gate it was pretty exciting because we didn't feel the cupboard was as bare as everyone was saying. We felt good about some of the tools these guys had and their abilities. Do you they need to get better? Of course, that's why we're called player development. But having the clay to work with and kind of envisioning that this could happen, if we do this right this could happen down the road. You have to have the clay to work with to start out and we really felt like we did. We felt like the reports were wrong.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Greg Bird more since you brought him up because since we're talking about the national media probably underrating the farm system entering last season I feel he's kind of the epitome of that. In my opinion I think he's one of the elite prospects in the game and he certainly hasn't received that kind of attention from the national media. I think nationally he goes underrated. What do you think? I think he's an impact bat and he doesn't get that kind of praise nationally.

Reed: Without a doubt. You watch Greg and he's regimented. He doesn't have flashy defensive skills. I don't think he's the guy who is going to jump off the page at you as a result. When you go in you go 'he's got a nice swing and he makes contact' but he's one of those guys you have to see day in and day out to appreciate him. And like I said earlier, I think he's going to climb the ladder in a lot of people's evaluations because he is understanding the value of becoming a complete player. He understands and is working extremely hard on the defensive side of the ball [and] on his base running. Obviously he can hit and he had a very good year during the regular season and in fall ball, and I think once people see the other areas become much better I think that's going to elevate his status because he can really hit. He also has very good hands, a very good throwing arm, very accurate. We're really pushing him to understand the value of becoming a quality base runner. That doesn't mean he's going to steal a bunch of bases or speed is going to be part of his game but you can be a good base runner and not have the blazing speed.

PinstripesPlus.com: Another general question -- I realize a lot of the new International free agent signings littered Tampa Instructs this offseason -- but among the non-new International signings, the guys who were in the system prior to July, who for you stood out at Instructs in Tampa?

Reed: I'll be honest with you, Instructs, and I don't know if you noticed this, it was kind of a hybrid this year. We had the younger guys if you will and then what we did was bring in some older guys in the system that we wanted to target areas to address. And then we would put them in games periodically to monitor how the progress was. I think two guys that have been in the system that I felt like made pretty good strides in Instructional League were Mason Williams and Cito Culver, and both of them on the offensive side of the ball. I know they had a pretty tough regular season offensively and it's exactly what we wanted to target, guys we wanted to bring in and address some issues. Quite honestly in a short period we saw some vast improvements so we're really excited how these guys respond next year. It's a big year for them. .

PinstripesPlus.com: Let me ask you about a younger player in particular who has been in the system for a little bit and seems to me to be poised to break out here soon -- Thairo Estrada. I've spoken about him with various coaches and we all seem to be in agreement that he's oh-so close to becoming one of the better prospects. Did you see that from him this past season and/or Instructional League?

Reed: Yeah but in all honesty there's a couple of guys. You've got Thairo, you've got Angel Aguilar, who are very, very talented players. So yes, they are blossoming and after coming in and seeing them for a year you're like 'these guys can play'. And they did. I don't want to say they put themselves on the map but they really impressed not only in Instructional League but throughout the year. That's why they were invited to Instructional League and we're looking for them to play prominent roles next year.

PinstripesPlus.com: Well you mentioned Aguilar and Estrada, and there's Jorge Mateo and Abiatal Avelino -- there's all of these shortstops at the A-ball level and lower now, there seems to be a glut of shortstops. How do you guys plan on getting all of these guys playing time?

Reed: Patrick I'm not going to lie, we've spent many, many, many hours trying to figure this out. But anybody will tell you that is a welcomed luxury. That's a problem you look forward to. You're looking at a premium position and we've got anywhere upwards of eight to ten guys that we feel at some point in the next be it two, three, or four years, are going to emerge and be a viable option for the Major League club. Do we know who that's going to be? No, but we know we've got to eight to ten viable options that we're very excited about and that includes some of the guys in the July 2nd signs. They're all 19 or younger and your'e like 'man, this could be fun over the next three of four years' to see how this shakes out, who elevates himself to that level. And hopefully it's a number of them, that would be really exciting.

PinstripesPlus.com: On the heels of that then, you mentioned just how young most of these guys are and they are young, Jorge Mateo seems to be the top guy at least among the general consensus and certainly in my opinion but yet he's a guy who only has rookie league experience. Is he a guy that despite his youth you could still see moving a little quicker? He seems to have some polish to go along with the tremendous upside.

Reed: He's an 80 runner, he's got the arm to stay at shortstop, he's got the range, he has leadership skills, he plays the game the right way, he's intelligent out on the field, he manages the team, he's that quarterback that you look for out in the infield, and in all honesty he goes what, 5-foot-11 and 170 [pounds], and you're watching BP and he's hitting balls half-way up the batter's eye and you're like 'where is this coming from'. He demonstrates power, he demonstrates speed, this guy has the potential to be a five-tool player. He's had some misfortune with the wrist and things like that which has taken some time off of the field so this year we're hoping he can stay on the field and elevate himself, and make some jumps.

PinstripesPlus.com: I guess a better way to ask the question is, barring health concerns is he a guy who might get pushed aggressively? And not necessarily even just Mateo, are some of these shortstop prospects going to be challenged aggressively because a lot of them seem ready to do that if they're healthy?

Reed: I think the overall feeling, the overall philosophy moving forward is that we do want to be aggressive. The one thing that we feel strongly about is let's not fear putting players in a situation where they could possibly struggle a little bit because I think learning to overcome adversity, learning how to work through struggles and learning how to compete against a level that's maybe a little higher is not a bad thing because guess what, when you get to the Major Leagues there's going to be a time when you're going to have to fight through something, you're going to have to fight through a slump, you're going to have to fight through a positional challenge. You have to learn how to be a fighter, not only to get to the big leagues but to survive there and stay in the big leagues. Well if we're player development isn't that part of the development of a player, teaching them probably one of the most important lessons he's going to learn and that's how to be a fighter? To answer your question, are we going to be more aggressive? Absolutely.

PinstripesPlus.com: Okay then on the heels of that answer does the new Pulaski affiliation, the addition of another rookie level team in the United States, allow you to be more aggressive with the younger Latin players? Are we going to stop seeing some of these guys spend two to three years down in the Dominican Summer League and get these guys the opportunity to get under the lights a little quicker and not nearly throw them quite into the fire by having to send them to Staten Island to get them under the lights?

Reed: That was 100 percent the thinking and the reasoning behind Pulaski, it allows us to be more aggressive, it allows us to get these young players who like you said may not be ready for a Charleston -- GCL to Charleston, that's a big jump -- even in Staten Island you're talking about having to play with college kids. The Pulaski team gives us a nice intermediate level to get some of these younger players under the lights, to experience the professional game; playing in front of fans, playing under the lights, making bus trips, living in hotels, the whole nine yards, getting more of the professional experience earlier than we have been able to in the past.

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