PinstripesPlus.com: We're talking about how Freicer Perez is making earlier leaps in his development than expected and it seems Estevan Florial [in the photo above] might be the opposite, somebody who is taking a little bit longer to come together, at least in the judgement of fans and media types. He was THE talk of the International program this time a year ago as the top guy and rightfully so. He didn't have the greatest numbers in his first taste of the United States last year though. Where you are with him; concerned? Not concerned? Is he a guy who is just now scratching the surface?
Mario Garza: There's really no concern on the numbers, especially when you consider he's an 18-year old playing against well below league average [age-wise] still. You're talking about a guy who went up to Charleston. There's no concern at all. He's extremely athletic. That's something you obviously can't teach and it's going to carry him. He's got a power-speed combination and he's an intelligent kid who works his tail off. He's a professional and he's been a professional since day one. He's only going to get better, he's only going to develop. He's so intelligent, he absorbs information. He's far ahead of his years when it comes to learning. I truly believe he's poised to have a great season this year too. He looks to be in great shape and I can only imagine what he's going to look like in a few years when he's 21 or 22 years old, and he's already a huge impact guy. He can hit 15-20 home runs now. I can only imagine what he's going to do in a few years.
PinstripesPlus.com: Okay you're not concerned with Florial's numbers. What about Wilkerman Garcia though? He did not have a great year.
Garza: It's hard to be too concerned about numbers, especially in the lower minor leagues. Obviously we want to see him perform because we know he's capable of it. At least speaking for myself I'd like to see him this year come out and have a good year. He finished Instructional League [last year] on a good note. He's very mature and I think he understands the process so we need to get him going about his business and just letting his talent play. I'm really not worried about him this year. I'm hoping he performs better than last year and I think everyone is hoping for that. I'm not worried about him though, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. I'm looking forward to him having some success, putting the past behind him, and just moving forward because he is capable of doing some things.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know I've likened his potential to newly acquired shortstop Gleyber Torres as somebody who could be one of these above average guys in all facets of the game. Do you see that is comparison ceiling-wise?.
Garza: That's a good comparison because they both play the game easy, they can both play shortstop and make it look easy, and it's not an easy position to play. You've got Gleyber who's had success numbers-wise and Wilkerman who has not but I think they both have the same potential. They're very similar players. I saw Wilkerman do some things as a 17-year old that I've never seen any 17-year olds do, left-handed driving the ball gap to gap, hitting breaking balls and changeups, hit fastballs in and hit fastballs away. I've seen him do things that are exciting. I know it's in there and like I said I'm just looking forward to him having success, putting the past behind him, and never look back.
PinstripesPlus.com: I brought him up so let's talk about Gleyber Torres. What are your initial impressions of him since coming over from the Cubs?
Garza: My initial impression is, and I hit on this earlier, is he plays the game so easily at a premium position, which is not an easy position to play. He just makes it look easy. He has fun playing, he seems to be very comfortable in his own skin, the trade and transition didn't seem to bother him at all, and that's very encouraging to see from a 19-year old. I was super excited to see what he was doing in the Arizona Fall League; huge numbers, MVP. Good grief it's exciting. It's very exciting.
PinstripesPlus.com: I've talked to some scouts who have thrown out a Manny Machado comparison in regards to his potential ability to slide over to third rather seamlessly if need be. In fact, there's the possibility even at second base where he could plug more than just one hole for you guys if the Yankees needed it. Could you see him doing something like that?
Garza: I do. Again, I haven't see him a ton but I saw him at Instructional League [too] and I do think he has that potential because he's a baseball player. At the end of the day the ball sticks in his glove, he's an accurate thrower, he has real good feet. I think it's just a different angle on the throw and that's it, otherwise he'd be fine doing that.
PinstripesPlus.com: The guy I've been expecting more than a couple of years to have a breakout year is Miguel Andujar and he kind of had a mini-breakout season last year. He had always been cold start in the first half and heat up in the second half, and last year he pulled a reversal, having the hot start and while not necessarily a cold finish but one that wasn't nearly as good. Now a few years into his professional career he seems ready to take that next step. Do you see that?
Garza: I do. That's another one who seems to have been around forever but really he's still very young and that's the exciting part because I think the future is bright for him. He was put on the 40-man [roster this offseason] and I think people are finally realizing what kind of talent we're dealing with. He's got the chance to be a big leaguer for a long time and I'm excited for Miguel. There couldn't be a better person out there. He's happy, he's humble, he plays the game with spirit, he goes about his business the right way, he's a clubhouse favorite. Simply, he's outstanding.
PinstripesPlus.com: All the things you just said could easily have described Thairo Estrada. You mentioned the word favorite and this guy might be my favorite. I think he's still so very, very underrated, maybe not inside the organization but outside the organization. I just don't think people realize either how good he is right now or how good he could wind up being. How high do you think his ceiling is?
Garza: I'd be surprised if in a few years we're not talking about the Major Leaguer Thairo Estrada because I think that's what he's capable of. He can play just about any position on the field and do it well. I truly believe the future is bright for him. I was very happy to see him get everyday at-bats in Tampa this past season. I thought it was great. He was hitting in the middle of the lineup too, two, three, in some instances five, some leadoff too. It was very exciting to see him in that prospect-filled lineup and be in the middle of it, and be such a big part of their success. I think what people don't know about Thairo is what he brings everyday to the field. He brings both an energy and a confidence, an air about him and he brings that everyday. This is a gamer. However you want to grade out his tools -- he doesn't have any plus-plus tools but he's solid across the board and that's what separates him from the others, what he brings to the field everyday. And I've had the pleasure of managing him twice and he's a special one. I'm with you on that, I think he's special.
PinstripesPlus.com: I think part of the reason he gets underrated is he hasn't really settled into one full-time position but rather fills in at a few different spots, and like you said hits in a few different spots in the lineup too. I think the same can be said of Abiatal Avelino too, somebody who gets vastly underrated because he hasn't settled in anywhere at the minor league level, playing shortstop, second, and third. Isn't he another guy you gain a bigger appreciation for watching him everyday? Has he come closing to tapping his ceiling?
Garza: No I don't think he's come close to tapping his ceiling. I think we're just now starting to see what he's capable of. Like you said, he's bouncing around different positions, he's a smart player, and he's going to be average to above average at all of those positions you mentioned. I think his future is bright too and he's still on the younger side. We haven't seen any of these guys reach maturity yet. I saw him playing Winter Ball in the Dominican and I've never seen his body look so good. He's starting to look like a man and that's exciting because now I think we're going to see what he's really capable of. Hopefully he's a Yankee for a long time but I know he's going to be playing for somebody for a long time.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know there's no sugar coating it -- Jorge Mateo didn't have the season many envisioned, the Yankees envisioned, or even he himself envisioned and yet it was still a pretty solid season. What do you think he can take with him from last year into this season and be the player nearly everyone expects him to be going forward?
Garza: Dealing with those expectations is tough. He seems to be in a good place now. In Winter Ball he played a lot early and then he actually took off some time so he could focus on his body and focus on getting ready for this season. If you look at his Winter Ball numbers they weren't good but I think what he did showed maturity, that he knew where he needed to be, to be preparing for the 2017 season. That really showed me a lot. He seems to be a very good place now and I think he's doing the right thing to come back strong. Managing those expectations, like I said, he's learning to do that. This wasn't a high-profile guy as an amateur so this kind of happened, I don't want to say overnight, but it happened really, really fast for him. Now I think we're going to see his talent and his abilities starting to play more. This is a guy who didn't play a whole of baseball growing up and even in his first couple of years with us. He had a few injuries early on so we're talking about a guy who when you really think about it hasn't played as much as other guys have played at the same age and you're talking about that extreme talent, I think we're in a good position to see a really good 2017 from him. I think he's motivated too, not just from last year but from the Torres [acquisition] too. I've never seen him more motivated than I think he is right now so hopefully we're going to see some good things from him.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know we're talking about all of these shortstops, it just seems like an endless line of talented shortstops, many of which I've mentioned as really flying under the radar. However, there's one more who might fly under the radar more than any of them and that's Hoy Jun Park. He didn't have a great year last season batting average-wise but the walks were there, the speed was there, by all reports the defense was there, etc. Talk about his progress thus far. What do you see, what do you like?
Garza: You're talking about a guy who played with Kyle Holder all year and I think they were good for each other. Kyle's another one talking about Yankee shortstop prospects, but with Park he's another guy who can play multiple positions if you need him to. I don't think we're quite ready for that yet [full-time] but he makes shortstop look easy. He makes plays in the hole, he makes plays going up the middle, and I'm really excited about him. I think the bat -- it was his first full season, which is always tough for guys, but especially on a guy who is still physically maturing. We're not seeing strength out of Hoy yet which I think we're going to see more of this year. I think we're going to see more physical maturity, that whole getting the whole first full year out of the way thing is big for him, and I think he's going to have a good year. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do this year. Like you said, you touched on the base running, you touched on the defense, and those are two things at his age that he's extremely advanced on. I think he's got the chance to be elite.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let's end the interview with getting your thoughts on the Yankees going down to one Dominican Summer League team.
Garza: I think overall we're going to have to make some tough decisions because of that change. I'm hoping we're able to push a lot of our guys forward. Maybe in the past with all of the players we've had down in the Dominican and two GCL teams, Pulaski, Staten Island, etc, it was really hard to get to Charleston. It still is and this is going to make it even harder from one standpoint. However, I think we're going to be able to push the young guys that we have and are excited about, guys we want to get up there, it's going to push them forward, accelerate their development, and one, two, or three of these guys are going to pop. I think we're really going to see some guys pushed forward this year, some guys pushed from Extended to Charleston just out of necessity. It's going to be exciting for a few of those players to get those opportunities. That's one positive that's going to happen. Obviously the tough decision part means we're going to have to let go of some players and move on. That's the bottom line. I think it's going to help with development, we're going to improve the coach to player relationship, at least the ratio, but mainly we're going to be able to push some guys forward that haven't gotten that opportunity yet. .