Q&A with Donny Rowland - Part II

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 Two we focus on the hitters, getting his thoughts on the likes of Jesus Graterol [in the photo above], Alfred Pujols, Deivi Garcia, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to the positions players you guys signed in this year's International free agent market, starting behind the plate with catcher Moises Lobo. What can you tell us about him?

Donny Rowland: He's strong-bodied, sturdy Venezuelan guy who was a passed over player who showed us arm strength and raw power, and adequate receiving skills. He was a low-money sign who our scouts had a gut feel for and we'll see what happens. There's a couple of tools there. He's built similarly to Mike Napoli when we drafted him in Anaheim. He’s got a couple of tools that we like. Our scouts liked his game performance so we took a flyer on him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Sticking with the catchers, reportedly you signed Carlos Narvaez. What's the book on him?

Rowland: He's Venezuelan, 6-foot-0, 190 [pounds], right-right, and we really liked his receiving skills, his feel behind the plate, we liked the calmness that he showed with his setup and his receiving, his low flexibility and the way he handled pitchers. Now, He came out of the Carlos Guillen Academy who has some pretty good pitchers, so he's received guys who throw in the 90s regularly. We really liked him behind the plate. I love his demeanor back there and his makeup. He works his tail off but he's not hyper. He calms the pitchers down. He's got an average arm with accuracy. He's an interesting guy. His receiving skills could be very good in the future. I don't want to label him as just a catch/receive guy either; offensively he was very competitive in the simulated games we put him through and we obviously do that a lot, and we've seen him in live at-bats at the Guillen Academy and throughout the national events there in Venezuela. His at-bats were competitive, his contact rate is high, so he's an interesting guy.

PinstripesPlus.com: Any other catchers that you signed that we should know about?

Rowland: Meure Rodriguez, another Venezuelan, was born in May so he's a very young July 2nd guy. He's 6-foot-2, 180 [pounds], right-right. He's a quality athlete. He's a 6.9 runner in the 60 [yard dash] as a catcher. He's got exit velocity off the bat with quality contact. He's got some explosion. He's got an above average pure arm. He's going to need some work receiving. He does not have the experience level and has not caught the same kind of guys that Narvaez has caught.

Roberto Espinosa is another one we signed, he’s from the Dominican. He's a converted infielder and he's taking to it pretty well. We saw this guy a lot. He showed solid hands and a strong average arm as an infielder, yet below average range and foot speed, so the conversion to catch was the route for him. The market didn't develop for him as expected, so again patience paid off and we ended up getting him. He's medium-framed, 5-foot-10, 190 [pounds], but he's strong, he can throw, and the receiving is still a work in progress but it's getting there, and he swung the bat very well in games for us throughout the process. His makeup is off the charts.

Samuel De La Cruz is another catcher we signed out of the Dominican. He's a late bloomer who we jumped on late. What we like about him is he's got some explosion to his game, a quick arm, he can throw, and the best thing about him is bat speed and exit velocity. He drives the ball well to all fields. This guy could be a sleeper.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Diego Duran, the second baseman. What's the book on him?

Rowland: He's a smaller guy with hit-ability. He was 2014 eligible so he was a passed-over player but every time our scouts saw him he hit and he played a quality second base. He's 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. Again, time, strength, nutrition, all of those factors will have to come into play but he reminds me of when we signed Alberto Callaspo in Anaheim, kind of an under the radar guy that could hit and could always hit in amateur games. We'll see if this guy produces the same kind of results with his hit-ability. In the games we saw of him we saw consistent quality at-bats. He's going to have to play second [base] but he's a low dollar sign.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Dominican third baseman Sandy Acevedo. What can you tell us about him?

Rowland: He's a big-bodied guy. He's a third baseman with big raw power, solid actions at third, with an above average arm. We worked out the pitcher that Arizona signed [Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million] and Acevedo was one of the hitters that we brought in to face him and he absolutely owned him in three out of four at-bats and crushed stuff. That's where our staff became sold on this guy. 'We like the pitcher but who is the hitter?' He was a passed-over player, not July 2nd eligible, an older guy by a year, who has the body, the power, and is a third base profile. Obviously many of these guys have several areas that need improvement. His contact ratio is going to have to get better, his pitch recognition is going to have to get better, and it should. He's got exit velocity, he's got a good body, raw power, and he's strong.

PinstripesPlus.com: How does Alfred Pujols, another Dominican third baseman you signed this year, compare to Acevedo?

Rowland: Our sports science Director, John Kremer, came down and conducted several tests on various players. Pujols was one of the guys that was a standout during the testing for John. Now that information from J.K. just further confirmed what we liked about this guy. Early in the evaluation process I don't know that I've seen a young third baseman with better defensive skills. In his first two workouts I just kept looking at our scouts after each play he made. The hands, feet, exchange, release, arm, were all just premium. Now just like many other players we scout in the International market, in the next two workouts it was like there was a different player in his uni, and then he comes back the next two workouts and looks like the guy we saw the first time. So we know it's in there. He's got really good hands, first-step quickness, he's got a very flexible, projectable, athletic body. Offensively he's got average to better bat speed and he's got exit velocity that graded out a little bit above average in his peer group. Offense and the power is a bit of a projection. We believe he's going to have contact. How much power he's going to wind up with? Physical development, time, body maturity will determine. Defensively though he has the chance to be elite.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to the shortstops, starting with Jesus Graterol. What can you tell us about him?

Rowland: We didn’t expect this one, didn’t know a lot about Graterol prior to seeing him in the very early Spring. We went out to a buscone's academy to watch all of his players work out and two of his pitchers were scheduled to throw. Before they ran the pitchers out there all of the position players took infield and batting practice, and Graterol was at shortstop. I kept about the shortstop. He's got to be signed, he's got to be with an organization, working out to get ready for Spring Training. I was just curious who he was, what team he's with, and how much bonus they gave him. It turns out Graterol was a passed-over player who never signed. So we were having a workout later that day, we brought him in, and he was an absolute no-brainer. He's got very good actions at short, he's got an above average arm, he does it easy. One of our cross-checkers graded him out at plus arm, plus hands, plus feet just prior to signing him in July. He's a solid average runner, he's not a burner. He's got a good body. He's a little similar to [Abiatal] Avelino at the same stage. He plays low to the ground like Avelino. We'll see how this guy progresses but shoot in every workout we saw him after that initial workout he just kept getting better and better. He’s got some hand strength and exit velocity to the gaps and uses the field with a tick of loft to his swing.

PinstripesPlus.com: He almost sounds a little more like Thairo Estrada offensively.

Rowland: Maybe if you called him a hybrid of the two that would be a more apt fit. We'll see what winds up happening Patrick but this guy was very exciting to us based on the defensive skills and the way the ball jumped off of the bat prior to us signing him. He's got a real good body, solid average to above average athlete, and really good actions at shortstop.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about shortstop Brian Jimenez?

Rowland: Brian Jimenez is about 140 pounds soaking wet but live-bodied, lean, very low body fat, thin with quick-twitch actions. We've seen an above average arm when he's fresh. He's got very quick actions at shortstop. Sometimes he gets a little out of control but he's very young. Again, another May birthday. When you get into the July 2nd signings and you get into May and June birthdays, those guys are really young. They're really not that far off from being eligible to sign the following year. He's 6-foot-0, 140 pounds. He has a flat stroke that some people thought the stroke in of itself was similar to [Jorge] Mateo at the same age. Again, he went through our sports science testing and tested very well. That was confirmation for us. He's a projection shortstop. We'll see as time goes on with strength but he's a very interesting young shortstop.

PinstripesPlus.com: He almost sounds by the way you describe him as a poor man's version of Yonauris Rodriguez, no?

Rowland: Very similar. That's a great call. Yonauris though was a little more polished defensively, ran a little better when we signed him, and was much higher profiled when we signed him and therefore cost us more money. But this guy is an interesting guy. Our scouts liked him quite a bit and sports science liked him just as much if not more, and the combination of both departments coming together made him a no-brainer to sign.

PinstripesPlus.com: How about Venezuelan shortstop Kleiber Maneiro?

Rowland: Medium frame; 5-foot-10, 170 [pounds], quick actions. We've got him as an above average runner in the 60-yard dash, strong average arm, quick actions, sound hands, and rarely misplayed a ground ball. He put the ball in play, has a feel for the game, another low dollar sign who our scout Jose Gavidia had been on for a very long time. The guy performed very well in every sim game we put him through. He made it impossible not to sign him.

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