Q&A with Donny Rowland - Part I

PinstripesPlus checks in with Yankees International Scouting Director Donny Rowland for a Q&A session to get his thoughts on the Yankees' 2015 International signing class. In Part One we focus on the pitchers, getting his thoughts on the likes of Luis Medina, Alex Mejias, Deivi Garcia, and much more, and to get his thoughts on the challenges of signing players in a penalty year.

PinstripesPlus.com: First a general question in regards to this year's International free agent signing period -- how did this year's spending restrictions, not being allowed to spend more than $300,000 on any one player, change your philosophy on this year's class?

Donny Rowland: Obviously it restricts us from some of the market, yet at the same time we've had some success with players in that price range. You never want to be restricted or limited with regard to player acquisition, yet we knew what our limitations would be after the 2014 signing class, and it really is not as bad as it seems because there is plenty of talent out there to be had in that price range and we've been lucky enough to find some of it in the past, a la [Luis] Severino, [Jorge] Mateo, [Abiatal] Avelino, Domingo Acevedo, etc. So yes it restricts us from some of the players in the market with quality tools who are well known and exposed, the supposed elite guys, but it's not a deterrent that prohibits us from signing future prospects or Major Leaguers in our eyes because we have a great staff, we have thorough, detailed processes, our perseverance doesn't change, and the only thing that really changes is the patience level because you kind of have to let the market settle. Nothing at all changed or changes with the way we go about our business. It was status quo; same work ethic, same processes, same attention to detail and pursuit of excellence. We obviously didn’t commit a ton of time on high profile players whom we knew were out of our price range, yet through the process of identification and elimination, we developed a target group of players, and it was just a matter of staying on those players as long as we could until they signed with some other teams for bonuses above $300k, or were available to us, but the patience really paid off with some of these guys [that we signed]. While the restrictions eliminate some of the market it's not as though we cannot or will not find prospects and Major Leaguers from this area of the market, due to our staff and system. We're going to get good players out of this.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about all of these pitchers you have signed so far, starting with Dominican right-hander Luis Medina. What are your impressions of him?

Rowland: He's athletic, he has a good body, and he has an extremely quick arm. It's a power arm. At this point in time I'd call him more of a thrower than a pitcher. With our player development system as good as it is though I have no issues with that because we can develop that kind of player. He's got an electric arm and to be able to get an electric arm like that in a penalty year I was shocked. He was one of the guys where the patience paid off. We stayed on him, we stayed patience, we kept networking, and we came to find out that he did not have an agreement. We came to find out that he was a Yankee fan and wanted to be a Yankee, and it all worked out for us. He's actually touched 100 mph four times for one of our cross-checkers in his last outing prior to signing. Now he's going to have to refine his delivery, he's going to have to improve his command and secondary stuff, but really all of these guys are so young and change so drastically in such a short period of time. We're looking at years down the road before this guy is considered to be potentially Major League ready but to get an arm like this in a penalty year, we're very excited.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned 'good body' -- body-wise is he Severino or Acevedo?

Rowland: Well he's 6-foot-1, 175 [pounds], and pretty well proportioned. It's a live body. He's athletically proportioned. He's not a big, burly, hefty guys, he's more of a quick-twitch, live-body guy with double-plus arm speed. Obviously you have to have arm speed to throw 100 mph. We've seen quality flashes of spin to the breaking ball. It's inconsistent but Patrick, if this guy was touching 100 mph with a plus breaking ball [already] and consistently throwing strikes we wouldn't have been able to touch him in a penalty year.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to another right-handed pitcher, Luis Ojeda. What's the book on him?

Rowland: Ojeda is a Venezuelan right-handed pitcher who was a low dollar sign. He was not a July 2nd guy, he was age eligible. We've seen him as high as 93 mph, touch 94, with quality spin [on his breaking ball]. He's a medium-frame guy with a good arm and good stuff. He's potentially a quick mover because of the stuff and I'm very excited to get him at the price we got him. He's just a tick under 6-foot-0, about 185 pounds. He's got deception to his delivery, he's touching 93-94 mph, and he's got tight spin to his breaking ball.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Heiner Moreno, the lefty from Colombia. You guys seem to be plucking some of these guys from Colombia lately.

Rowland: We do everything in our power to be everywhere there is a prospect. He was actually signed prior to July 2nd because he was age eligible. We saw him several times. He's 6-foot-0, 180 [pounds], and we've seen him as high as 91-92 mph. He's got action to his 'slurve', a tight breaking ball. He's an under the radar guy, a late bloomer. We stayed on him, we fought, and we signed him. Our staff did a great job staying on him, fighting other teams to get private tryouts with him and it paid off.

PinstripesPlus.com: Going back to the right-handers, what can you tell us about Deivi Garcia?

Rowland: He's an exciting guy. He's a lean, live, wiry body. A very young kid, born May 19th of '99. He is one of the youngest guys in the class; he's a baby. He's got a really quick arm. He's recently been as high as 94 mph and he can really spin a breaking ball. Medina was born in May as well so he was a young July 2nd guy and Deivi Garcia is a young July 2nd guy. He has plus arm speed and the ball comes out of his hand really well. There's life to everything he throws and he can really spin the curveball. The kicker to me was when I saw him snap off a couple of breaking balls that I thought eventually down the road were going to be plus curveballs and I didn't think it was going to be very long before they became plus curveballs. We'll see how he progresses but he's certainly a guy that all of our scouts like. We've got a couple of cross-checkers that absolutely love him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to another Garcia, Rony Garcia. What can you tell us about him?

Rowland: He was an age eligible guy, not a July 2nd guy. He was a passed over player. He's a thicker, heftier player. He's 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. We've seen him as high as 94 mph, touch 95 mph, when he was fresh. One of the things we always fight in the International scouting market is whenever we get a chance to see a player we're never really sure, and we have to ask to gather the accurate information and find out what their recent workload has been. Many times we see these young position players at 150 pounds and they've been worked to death the last three days by another team so we have to be cognizant of the fact that this guy is coming to us tired. He certainly isn't fresh. The same goes with Rony Garcia. They were trying to get him signed, working him to death and throwing him a lot, and his velocity and command went up and down for a while. We finally got a chance to see him fresh a couple of outings in a row and he was pretty good. Recently I've been told that down there he's once again up to 94 mph. He throws a slurve type breaking ball with action and tightness. The ball comes out of his hand really well. Again, he's a guy we really like especially at the price for tools we thought was in our favor.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about Alex Mejias? He's another righty.

Rowland: A Venezuelan kid. Our scout, Roney Calderon did a great job with this guy. He's 6-foot-1, 180 [pounds], a strike-thrower, and flashing average stuff across the board and recently topped at 93. Often, the Venezuelan kids tend to pitch a little more and the Dominican kids tend to throw a little more. This guy has shown us the ability to pitch, not at the same level as [Miguel] Yajure who pitched for us this season, not quite at that level of pitch-ability, but man this guy was a low money sign with three pitches and throws strikes. When it comes to young pitching like this, if we are going to get a Major League starter out of a group of projection guys at $300,000 or less, and if I have to roll a seven to get a Major League pitcher, I want more rolls of the dice. This guy falls into the category of we like everything about him -- delivery, arm action, strike-throwing. Now Mother Nature is going to have to kick in. He's going to have to get stronger, the stuff is going to have to tick up a little bit, but the ingredients are there. [Luis Severino] was throwing 88-93 mph when we signed him. The slider was the kicker for us at that point. It had late abrupt action and power for a young pitcher. It had late abrupt action and power for a young pitcher. The slider velocity was up to 85 mph and everything has ticked up since then. Our player development staff did a great job with him and so far he's pitching pretty well. I certainly am not saying that Mejias will be Severino, just that if we sign pitchers with the attributes we are looking for, and give player development tools and attributes to work with and let player development do what they do very well, some of these pitchers will become prospects.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about Dominican right-hander Elvis Peguero?

Rowland: He's again another passed over player. We followed him for well over a year. He's a good bodied, well-armed guy. We signed him because of his body, arm strength, upside. Peguero flashes action to his breaking ball. It's inconsistent as it is with most young Latin players. They don't have consistent command and action on the breaking ball at that age but he's another guy we've seen tick 94-95 mph when he's fresh and not been over-exposed to other team, over-tried-out if you will. This is a guy one of our cross-checkers really, really liked. He's a guy we had targeted all along and we're talking about another low dollar sign to get 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, good body, and good arm.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's switch back to the lefties; what can you tell us about Dominican southpaw Argelis Herrera?

Rowland: Big guy. Herrera is a shoot the moon, make or break kind of sign. We've got him listed at 6-foot-5 but I think he's grown. He's a big, tall, lanky, left-handed pitcher that one of our cross-checkers had seen up to 91 mph. He's not dissimilar to Rony Bautista. At the same time though this guys throws more strikes than Rony did. He's a left-handed projection who's big, lanky, and a baby. He's very young. These players change so much at this age. You see him one day and five or six months later you might think you're looking at a different player. We saw some sweeping slurve action to the breaking ball with tightness. My cross-checkers were coming out of their shoes and I certainly agree. This guy could become something really special and he could also never get out of the Dominican. You just don't know. It's all going to be about keeping his delivery together, command and the development of his offspeed and secondary stuff.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's stick with the pitchers; what is the book on right-hander Jonathan Munoz?

Rowland: He's a baby. His birthday was on August 10th so we just signed him. We couldn't sign him until August 10th. He's a medium-framed, 6-foot-0 right-hander, and just kept getting better and better late. We saw him early, he had touched 91 mph, and he showed spin. He was tried out ridiculously hard and his velocity went way down. Finally they gave him rest and we saw him late and his velocity was back up, and his breaking ball had improved, and his command had improved. He's so young, touching 91 mph, and flashing spin. We've got so much time with him. Our scout Alan Atacho once again did a fantastic job with him. So we'll see. He's just now signed, he's just now getting into our throwing program, and his velocity will probably go down before it comes back up -- most of them do when they get in our throwing program -- it's just a natural progression of professional baseball.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about right-hander Edwar Paredes from Venezuela?

Rowland: Pitch-ability with good stuff given his age. He's a 6-foot-0 righty, 150 pounds. He's a projection guy. We've seen him touch 90 mph and pitches at 88-89 mph. He throws strikes, he can spin a breaking ball, and he's got feel for a changeup. He's a guy that we targeted early and we were lucky enough to get him. He's got a high chance of having three pitches and it's now a matter of time, strength, Mother Nature, and player development, but he's a good looking, young projection guy.

PinstripesPlus.com: Are there any other signed pitchers that I haven't asked about that we should keep an eye on in the coming years?

Rowland: There's a right-hander, Adonny Rojas. He's live-bodied, 6-foot-1, 185, quick arm. We've seen this guy up to 93 mph with spin and [throws] strikes. We're talking about another low dollar sign too. As you can see with the pitching you're talking about and that I've mentioned we tried to mix it up with a group of power arms and a few guys with quality deliveries and strike-throwing abilities and waiting on the spike with stuff. Now not all of them are going to spike but some of them are and those are the ones you'll be talking about as prospects in two to three years from now. We see players multiple times by multiple scouts over a long period of time. That's one of our main processes and every one of these guys falls under this process. All of these guys are still very young, extremely weak, in some cases not had proper nutrition and never been on a weight training program, their conditioning is not always good, very lean and low body fat percentages, etc, so a lot of these guys are going to get much stronger. Look at what happened to Domingo [Acevedo]. We signed Domingo throwing 88-90 with very good feel for his changeup, and he kept his delivery together and threw strikes. And he went from 88-90 to now throwing 95-100 mph plus. No one knows for certain who is going to get stronger in the coming years, but if we sign young players with good frames and athleticism, and quality work ethic, some will get much stronger and get that spike in stuff we are looking for.

PinstripesPlus.com: Any others worth mentioning?

Rowland: Two others that fall into that projection category are Venezuelan Pedro Barrios -- 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, lean, another guy with strike-throw. The fastball right now is up to the high-80s but he has a quick arm and has projection. He flashes spin. There's also Luis Rijo, another Venezuelan. This guy can pitch. He can really pitch. He's similar to Yajure. His now stuff is similar, his pitch-ability is similar. He throws all three pitches for strikes. He pitches in the high-80s. He's 6-foot-1, 170 pounds. I saw him four times and he never had an issue with throwing strikes or walking people. If you're looking at the projection as opposed to the now power arms you're looking for delivery, making sure that's intact, making sure there's no overhauls needed, and make sure the guy has a feel for the strike zone now if you're talking about a projection in stuff. If you need the stuff to spike up and if you have to re-do the delivery as well, then the percentage chances of getting a prospect are very low, but Rijo has the delivery already and throws strikes so now it's time, patience, Mother Nature, and player development. Let him develop and get stronger. We're talking about two kids who are sophomores or juniors in high school for the most part, very young players who can change monthly. That's the interesting part but that's also the most difficult aspect of evaluating players in this age group.

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