Q&A with Gil Patterson -- Part Two

We sat down with Yankees' minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for a Q&A session. In part two of this two-part series we get his take on whether or not Domingo Acevedo could be this year's Luis Severino, if Austin DeCarr could follow an Ian Clarkin-like path in his first year, if Rookie Davis can have that breakout season everyone is expecting, and much, much more!.

PinstripesPlus.com: We talked about Ian Clarkin and how was a high school guy who pretty much began his first full season in low-A Charleston, albeit after a little bit of time in Extended Spring Training. Can Austin DeCarr be that guy for you guys this year? Can you be a little more aggressive with this guy? He seems to have that similar fastball-curveball stuff. Could you see him doing that same path, maybe starting in Extended and then moving on to Charleston?

Patterson: Again, great call on your part and I think the answer is yes. You want all of your pitchers to have command of course but more than anything you want them to be fierce competitors and he raises that bar. He almost works too much. Patrick, I could certainly see him getting things moving because he's got life to his fastball, lots of life to the fastball, he can spin it extremely well, and here's another guy who came in, recognized he needed the changeup, and has dove head-first into trying to execute one. He's been great.

PinstripesPlus.com: Domingo Acevedo [in the photo above] certainly has that changeup and we all know he can throw pretty hard too. I don't want to put pressure on the guy but there just seems to me if there was a candidate to be this year's Luis Severino that maybe starts out in low-A and could move a little quicker than most it seems to me it could be Acevedo with his strike-throwing ability and the stuff that he has. Could you see that scenario possibly playing out where he's this year's Severino?

Patterson: Maybe not that quick but at least moving up out of Tampa [the minor league complex] somewhere because again we've just got to tighten his breaking ball. If he tightens up the breaking ball he certainly could do the things that 'Sevi' did.

PinstripesPlus.com: Simon De La Rosa is another lower level, power arm guy. He's actually older than Acevedo. Is there maybe a temptation to move him to the bullpen now, especially considering the changeup remains a work in progress and he's not a big command guy pitching multiple innings, kind of like you did with Rony Bautista last year simply because he's a little bit older and maybe in an effort to get him going a little bit quicker?

Patterson: I'm going to keep your idea in the back of my head. That's not a bad thought at all quite honestly. I had not thought of that, that's a pretty good thought. I'm going to keep that and not give you any credit and it works out then I'm taking all the credit that it was my idea. However, that is a good thought. Sometimes a guy might not throw enough consistent strikes for a six or seven inning period and maybe does in limited spurts. Maybe Simon is in that same mode. We're going to need to see more of him in Spring Training but I like your idea and I might actually use it.

PinstripesPlus.com: To me one of the biggest wild cards -- I still think Acevedo could be that guy -- but stuff-wise Caleb Smith seems all there. He just probably needs to fine-tune his command. Is he one of these under the radar guys stuff-wise that could maybe surprise some folks?

Patterson: I'll tell you what, I saw his 13-strikeout game last year. I would say pitchers like him kind of have to prove himself every year and I think Caleb is a little bit in that mode where you see what we see, and he just has to keep going up and doing it. He's going to keep getting the opportunity of course but it's almost like 'keep doing it, keep showing us', and he's certainly capable of doing that because he's got the swing and miss fastball, a good changeup, and even the breaking ball is getting better through the help of our coaches.

PinstripesPlus.com: Rookie Davis, the numbers last year were pretty dreadful. However, he's got the mental makeup, the physique, the power -- is last year an aberration? Can he come out this year and have that breakout season we were all expecting last year?

Patterson: Again, you do your homework because we had a meeting with him the other day about pitching objectives. It's like you said, he's got a great delivery, the ball jumps out of his hand, spins the breaking ball, you might say let's get that a little tighter, but he's got a good changeup with depth. You almost say for the sake of argument why wasn't he 15-5 last season. I would say two things; sometimes he would get into his own head and that's why the meeting the other day was so good because he said 'I'm going to act like a man'. And you know something, from a pitching coach's perspective and seeing somebody who isn't going to make any excuses and behaves appropriately, how much more do you want? He gave the right answer and I think his mindset is going to help him tremendously being where he is right now.

PinstripesPlus.com: We talked about Nick Goody and his return from Tommy John surgery and whether or not the stuff came back -- did you see the pre-surgery stuff come back for Gabe Encinas upon his return from Tommy John surgery last season?

Patterson: Yes I think the stuff is still there, it's just the consistency that's a little scattered. There was movement with the fastball, some life to it, and now it's just fine-tuning everything and just be able to repeat a little more consistently. But yes, I do see that same stuff that we saw before.

PinstripesPlus.com: So do you think we could possibly expect a breakout season from him this coming season or are we expecting a little too much too soon from him?

Patterson: I think to expect that might just be a step above -- he doesn't have a boatload of innings so we're trying to devise a plan that can best help him and help us for the long-term.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Danny Burawa. We talked about all of those bullpen options that are closing in on being big league ready and we all know that Burawa has the big-time arm. Is improving the consistency of the slider and fine-tuning that fastball command the two big things he needs to work on? And can he be a viable big league bullpen option as soon as this year?

Patterson: I would certainly say yes, he can be an option for us this year. Again, you're hitting it on the head with just about every guy you're talking about. The thing with Danny is you'll sometimes see two innings, one hit, and four punchouts. Now I don't expect that every time he pitches but sometimes when the wheels start to come off 'how can I keep them on'. I think sometimes the consistency of making an adjustment and helping the wheels stay on is our biggest chore with him. Sometimes all he needs is more innings; 'I need more innings, I'm not quite ready for that Major League innings yet because I'm still developing'. Heck some guys are still developing in the Major Leagues. I do believe he can help and just the consistency of his pitches from game to game where if one game he doesn't have it how quickly can he make the adjustment even from pitch to pitch to help and compete [is what we're looking for].

PinstripesPlus.com: Could the exact same things be said of Branden Pinder?

Patterson: Yeah but with Branden though he had some injuries last year. He had the groin [injury] I believe so he had a couple of issues health-wise that affected him some. He's 100 percent [now] and I think his biggest objective is just attacking the zone. Sometimes he gives the hitters too much credit and I think he's starting to get it. Larry Rothschild had Mariano Rivera, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, and El Duque talk to us all, including the pitchers here in camp and the motto is just attack; don't try to be too fine, just attack the zone. If you try to pitch around people then you have to throw the pitch over the plate and when they're looking for it that's when they hit it. Branden just has to attack from strike one and he's really getting that mentality.

PinstripesPlus.com: Everybody knows Mark Montgomery has that wipeout slider but yet a lot of folks have been harping on his loss in velocity the past two years. Is getting that arm strength back all that is needed for him? How important is the velocity coming back for him?

Patterson: The past six months we have tried some different things with Mark to get the velo back up a little bit but I said to him 'as much as we would love to have the velo come back to where it was more important than that is when you throw your fastball throw it where you want'. You can't miss whether it be 93 [mph] or 89 over the middle of the plate because they'll still whack it, especially behind in the count. The first goal is to whatever comes out of his arm is we're going to take it and command the piss out of it. And then do some of the things we're doing a little bit mechanically, if we can get a few jumps in velocity, great, but you still better locate it because it's not going to be 98 where maybe you don't need to care where the ball is being placed. You still need to command it. The first priority is command. The second one is -- we noticed some things delivery-wise and we're making some adjustments to have it help a little bit with velo as well as consistency and quality of pitches.

PinstripesPlus.com: Daniel Camarena can command the "piss out of it". He doesn't have the big-time fastball as we all know. Does he have the secondary pitches and the overall pitch-ability to be a successful big league starter? People kind of overlook him merely on the 88-90 mph range it seems.

Patterson: You know something, I guess for me I'm not smart enough to tell you no. I keep saying as long as he keeps performing keep pushing him. What do you have to lose? He does all of the things you want a guy to do; locate, change speeds, pitch backwards, pitch in, he does it all. So keep testing him. He will probably hit a plateau but it could be in the big leagues helping us win so let's go. And if it's not good enough then it's not good enough. If he keeps earning the chance to move I think it should be given to him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Jordan Montgomery seems to be a bigger version of Camarena and obviously that size difference does give him the chance to potentially throw harder. He doesn't throw very hard despite being a big guy. Do you think there's some untapped power potential with him? Can he be one of these late-bloomers?

Patterson: What I'm really hoping is that a nice offseason really helps him because he played Fall ball, then Spring, then summer, then with us so he had a really long year. The thing with him though is that changeup makes the fastball appear six miles per hour faster than it really is so I'm looking forward to him establishing himself this year after a regular offseason, doing our throwing program, doing our exercises, and let's see what see this season.

PinstripesPlus.com: Is improving his breaking ball more important than the fastball velocity increase in your opinion?

Patterson: Yes.

PinstripesPlus.com: Jordan Foley to me is another one of these 'sleeper' types; not a big name, not a high round pick. I'm trying to figure out where he fits in role-wise for you guys. I think he can move as a reliever but there's also some starting potential too I believe. Do you see him as a fit in either role, or possibly even both?

Patterson: Well I haven't seen him pitch long enough quite honestly but our pitching coach who was in Staten Island, Tim Norton, he said if we had Game Seven of the World Series he'd want him to pitch. That's a pretty nice comment to make. You know El Duque helps us quite a bit and he told all of the Latin guys one day 'when you pitch you have to pitch with cabeza, your head, corazon, your heart, and cajones, your balls', and we love it. We love the three c's. And Foley certainly does. Plus he's got stuff, he's around the plate, and I'll tell you what, I'm not going to take the ball out of his hands as a starter until something really drastic changes. Like I said though, Tim Norton just loves him.

PinstripesPlus.com: We talked about Acevedo and De La Rosa, and in my opinion Juan Jimenez is one of these under the radar guys who doesn't appear to be too far behind those guys. He seems to have the stuff. What does he need the most going forward?

Patterson: You hit it right on the head. Once you get hurt and don't have a lot of innings, we're just hoping for him to come back. That's all. Our biggest challenge as pitching coaches is keeping them healthy. Of course I charge our guys with the task of getting them better physically and mentally, and sometimes I have a way of wanting to do it, sometimes the pitching coach has his way, and other times the pitcher has his own way. But if you're not on the field pitching it doesn't matter how good your plan is. Our biggest objective with him is just getting him healthy. It doesn't matter how good the life on the fastball is with movement, how tight the nice little slider is, and they are, both of those pitches are very good, but if you're not in the game throwing them it doesn't matter. So that's our biggest objective, getting him out there and staying healthy. We want him healthy to see what we have.

PinstripesPlus.com: Among the American kids, Chaz Hebert seems to be one of these under the radar guys too. He had a mini-breakout season of sorts last year. The progress has been steady it seems, getting stronger and improving his game. The development hasn't been rapid but rather slow and steady. Does he seem poised for a breakout in your opinion?

Patterson: I think he certainly could be especially with the addition of the cutter last year. A cutter isn't the answer to everyone, we talked about that. But he's got a nice fastball. I'm hoping he gets a little stronger over the offseason, comes in here maybe just a click or two higher, I don't need 98 [mph] although I'd like it, but maybe just a click higher, maybe a sharper breaking ball, because he does have the fastball, curveball, changeup mix that plays, he's a strike-thrower, and he's a good competitor. Maybe you can take that, pitch into righties a little bit more with the cutter, maybe get a little more strength and power. I could certainly see him having a breakout season for us.

PinstripesPlus.com: The way you just talked sounded a little Jaron Long-like. He had a tremendous season last year. He doesn't throw very hard and as an older guy probably won't throw much harder going forward either. Does he have enough stuff though in your opinion to be a factor for you guys down the road? Obviously he's not going to be an 'ace' type pitcher at the big league level but can he be useful in some role with the stuff that he does have?

Patterson: He still had a 40 percent swing and miss rate with his changeup in Double-A. As a matter of fact we talked about him just [the other day]. Sometimes you and I see things when we go to watch games and we see certain things, but sometimes we need some analytical support. He's got the fastball, curveball, probably more of a strike-one curveball, got a cutter and a sinker, and the changeup is swing and miss. It has the chance to be swing and miss in the Major Leagues. You really hit it -- does the fastball have just enough quickness because he can locate the heck out of it, does the sinker and the cutter play just enough so they can't maybe sit soft all of the time? It's almost like the same thing we talked about with 'Cam' [Daniel Camarena] -- I certainly hope he continues to pitch as effectively as he has and earns the right to be able to do that in Triple-A and then if he does it in Triple-A who's to say he can't do it in the big leagues. You and I might look at him and say that might be stretch, and maybe so, but it's definitely not a definite no for me because with the things he's done -- you tell guys to go compete and throw strikes, and he does it. And if you do that you have the chance to do something. And he pounds the zone.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned the competitive fire and the guy that comes to mind is Sean Carley. He seems to have that makeup, that run through a brick wall competitive fire, and he's got some stuff. I know he was a starter and a reliever last year but could he be one of these guys that moves quickly as a reliever because there seems to be some Joba Chamberlain-like quality to him, maybe not 100 mph like Joba once had but some potential special bullpen qualities.

Patterson: You know we have three guys kind of in that same mold; him, Joe Harvey, and Jonathan Holder. And I like Holder. We gave Holder a cutter during Instructional League and boy it played tremendously. But with Sean I could see that. You know what happens every once in a while in everybody's system, we had Webb, Lindgren, Rumbelow, Long, almost all of them started off in Charleston last year and some of them got to Double-A and even Triple-A. I'm not going to say movement isn't possible but just to have [Carley] pitch the way you and I are talking about him, yes, I do see him maybe going by some guys. It's just nice to have the amount of pitchers we do have because the way our draft has been working. It's a great problem to have if you want to say it's a problem.

PinstripesPlus.com: We're talking about these news guys. What's the difference between Justin Kamplain and Camarena? They seem to be almost identical.

Patterson: I didn't see Justin enough but it's like geez, the draft guys are doing their job. It's almost like when the guys first get here you kind of just want to let them pitch. Sometimes I tell the pitching coaches 'don't change anything, you might mess them up'. It's just nice to see the success that Kamplain has had.

PinstripesPlus.com: Talk about Philip Walby and the progress you've seen from him since he first signed.

Patterson: The thing with him is we allow pitchers to take some ownership as I mentioned before. He's different. He wants to do things a little bit different. We say we're all for it as long as everything is working. If he says 'this is the delivery I like' but you can't command your pitches well then you better like a different delivery. The thing about him you like is he does have a power arm, he does have a very good changeup, we've kind of played around with slider-cutter-curveball, but we need to get into his head and his heart and say 'let's take a delivery, stick to it, make sure we're on the same page, and let's get to work'. He did have a pretty good Instructional League so I'm hoping when he comes back this spring we see some repeatable delivery regardless of what it is. When he plays catch -- let's break it up into three parts; balance, direction, and finish. When you throw you throw in a straight line and give me some finish to get the ball down. His balance and separation or okay, his direction is okay, but his finish sometimes when he plays catch he stands straight up. Then you watch him on video in the game and he'll finish better. Sometimes he has a little bit different idea and we just have to put all of our heads together to come up with the best plan for him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Well the plan seems to be working for David Palladino from a delivery standpoint. It seems he's gotten a lot better since he signed. How close is he to being in that consistent delivery and strike-throwing mode to perhaps then start tapping some of his potential and have the stuff maybe progress a little bit more?

Patterson: That's a great call. You and both know it's not where you start it's where you finish during the course of the season. Sometimes it's difficult for players to see the big picture. You're talking about somebody who has the potential to really step up and have a breakout. Of all the people we've talked about he continues to progress the way we saw him. He feels good about himself, we feel good about the position he's in, so I've very encouraged about what he has the chance of doing this year with the four-pitch mix of fastball-curveball-change, and the slider.

PinstripesPlus.com: I'm going to lump these last two guys together, Evan Rutckyj and Rony Bautista, because they're both big left-handers who throw hard but have had a hard time throwing strikes and limiting walks, and both of whom have recently moved to the bullpen. Are either one of them closer to perhaps turning the page on their command issues?

Patterson: Quite honestly we can only hope because we did notice something with Evan Rutckyj. I mentioned we sometimes compare guys with a similar pitch package and maybe the same delivery. Rutckyj, through some analytics, he should have the capabilities of throwing a good two-seamer. And you might ask how can you go to a two-seamer with a guy who can't command his four and that would be a great question. But sometimes throwing a two-seamer ends up starting in the middle and doesn't end there so the guys might have a tendency to swing at it and when you have great depth you can throw it even more to the middle. My hope is that the time and effort that all of my pitching coaches have put in with these guys and their tenacity of work ethic comes to play. [Mariano] Rivera was talking to us the other day and he said 'just do it like this' and I was like 'Mo, people can't do it just like you'. How many reps, how many innings does it take for somebody to get A-ball command, to Double-A command, to Triple-A and then to the big leagues? You and I both know, especially you since you might even see more pitchers than I do, some guys get it faster than others. We're certainly hoping that 'Rutter' and Bautista get it because of the time and effort everybody has put in. We're hoping it pays off for everyone.


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