PinstripesPlus.com: Let's start off with talking about third baseman Nelson Gomez [in the photo above] because it seemed this time a year ago there were some question marks about his desire, his conditioning, his work ethic, etc, and in my opinion he put all of those questions to bed with the way he reported to Spring Training camp last year. He showed up in great shape, he seemed more committed to playing third base and the work that would be required there, etc. He seemed to make that next step mentally. Did you see that?
Mario Garza: 100 percent. I saw him make improvements in every single aspect of his game mentally, physically, baseball skills, baseball knowledge, work ethic, just overall attention to his craft. We saw improvements all across the board so I'm really excited about Nelson. I was happy he made it through his first full year. Numbers-wise I don't think it matters as far as what he's capable of because I think we all know his bat has the potential to be elite when it's all said and done. I'm very proud of all the work he's put in. I think a lot of credit goes to all of his coaches too, [including] Carlos Mendoza [who] has been really big for his development from a defensive standpoint and from an overall attention to his craft perspective. I think Carlos has been a really good mentor to him and has really impacted him in a positive way.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know you guys probably have a number of players who probably fit into this category but Gomez seems to be one of these guys who is on the precipice of breaking out, at least as much as a lower-level guy can break out that is. Do you think he's in line for a big year this season?
Garza: I do. I think of anybody [fitting that criteria] his name comes to mind. It's tough making that transition from new signee -- you receive your bonus and your life changes a lot -- and now I think we're seeing Nelson in a very good place. I think he's been able to quiet the distractions and I truly believe he's in a good place going into this year.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Dermis Garcia because I don't think it's possible to mention Gomez without talking about Garcia since they play the same position and since both are sluggers -- talk about what you've seen from Dermis in the past year.
Garza: He's a very mature kid. It seems this kid has shown since the day we got him a great work ethic and his tools are off the charts, and that combination is kind of scary to think how good he could be. He's been working very hard this offseason. He's been keeping in touch with us regarding his offseason [workout] plan. I think he's in a good spot. I think he's poised for another big year. I think his name is going to be a steady, top-of-the-list prospect the whole way through until he reaches the big leagues.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know those two, Gomez and Garcia, grabbed most of the signing headlines in 2014 and rightfully so given the size of their bonuses and their huge tools, almost larger than life when it comes to the tools. One of the guys who kind of slipped under the radar in the 2015 class, however, somebody I know you're a huge fan of, is shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera. He really jumped into the better prospect discussions rather quickly with the awesome debut season he had last year.
Garza: This is a guy who played for the Venezuelan national team as an amateur so it's not like he wasn't on the radar but as a professional I know he wasn't a big dollar sign, and wasn't one of these big names like Nelson or Dermis. He's been close but not necessarily broken through that big prospect status. You're talking about a bat though that is one of the best bats I've seen from a 16 into now 17-year old hit-ability-wise. Batting left-handed he has some natural loft. I think you're going to see power left-handed. He's kind of like a Ben Zobrist type bat where you might not see a whole of power from his lower level numbers but I think it's in there and hopefully he'll continue to mature and develop. 20 to 25, to [even] 30 home runs, I think it's in there if everything goes right but it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't see more than ten for the next five years. Ben Zobrist is a bat that I would compare him to and I played with Ben in the minor leagues so that's the guy I thought of right way when I saw [Cabrera]. He might be a Zobrist type player too. Ben was a little more athletic but you're talking about a guy who can play multiple positions -- yeah he plays shortstop and second base but he can play third base and some outfield too -- but the point is wherever we put him everyone loves him. He's got great mental makeup too and we haven't gotten to that part yet. He's a huge mental makeup guy. He works his tail off, great teammate, he's a leader, he's not influenced by his peers, he's comfortable in his own skin. He's got everything you want to see. I think he's still a puppy in a way. I think as his body grows and develops, who knows, it wouldn't be surprising if the speed ticked up. I think nothing but good things are going to happen with this guy.
PinstripesPlus.com: You're talking about trending up and the guy that immediately comes to mind is outfielder Leonardo Molina, another big dollar signing that hasn't become one of the top overall prospects just yet but perhaps fans and critics are simply expecting too much too soon. Are you liking the progress you've seen from him recently in the last couple of years?
Garza: I am. I think he's continued to develop. You made a good point -- fans aren't always as patient as maybe they should be. It's one thing to be young and be a prospect at 16 or 17 [years old] in your own country but it's another thing to come to a different country and be able to perform on the field, off the field, and make the adjustments. I think Leonardo has done a really good job with that. You're talking about a kid who takes care of his business, he's professional on and off the field, he works extremely hard, and he's still developing. His body is still maturing. He's still not where he's going to be physically, not even close. I think you're going to start to see more power out of this guy. I fully expect the numbers to go up this year just because I think it's a whole 'nother year, he's already comfortable, he's already shown what he can do, and now we're going to start to see more consistency.
PinstripesPlus.com: I think what people don't realize is that he's not only still a kid but a longer-limbed kid. The syncing of the body parts, the coordination, really hasn't matured yet. It just seems he's now starting to get all of those moving parts in-sync a bit better, no?
Garza: I think so, I really think so too. He's also a guy who was on the younger spectrum of the signing class, the younger side. It's almost like he's a year younger than you see baseball-wise. It seems like he's been here a long time but he's on the younger side. I think we need to keep that in mind and have more patience with that. To do what he's done at the age he is, is very impressive and we're not even close to seeing what he's capable of.
PinstripesPlus.com: Going over to the mound for a moment, I think despite the great success he had last year I think it's pretty amazing to me that Rony Garcia doesn't get a little more press than he's had up to this point given the stuff he has and the numbers he has posted. He seems to be in line to become one of these special pitchers.
Garza: I agree with that 100 percent. When you talk about the things you want to see out of a starting pitcher you talk about a durable frame, you want to see an athletic delivery, you want to see a mature approach, you want to see a guy who wants to attack hitters, and you want to see a guy with three pitches, and all of these things are things Rony possesses. I would definitely put him in that exciting category as a guy who has the potential to be a starter in the big leagues.
PinstripesPlus.com: Couldn't the same thing be said about Freicer Perez too though? A year ago he had the look of somebody who, despite the enormous ceiling, was someone who could take a while to develop and it seems one short half-season later than he's already here.
Garza: Yes. I don't think anybody could have predicted to be seeing what we're seeing out of Freicer right now. He was exciting early on but he's exceeded expectations and he continues to develop. That's the exciting part, he's still going. We've seen a plus-plus fastball, an 80-fastball out of him, and now we're seeing his ability to use it, his ability to pitch to both sides of the plate, and his ability to tighten the slider. His changeup, he's always had a very good feel for his changeup and I think that's continuing to develop. Man, if you're in the box and you've got to worry about 100 mph and now he's got a plus changeup, and now we're talking about adding that third pitch with consistency, wow, the dreams are big for him.