Q&A with Tampa Yankees Manager, Bill Masse

Many of the star prospects were out in Tampa this year. Manager, Bill Masse sat down with us for a chat session on his Tampa Yankees squad from 2004. Here is Bill Masse on some of the biggest name Yankee prospects.

PinstripesPlus: What are your thoughts on Melky Cabrera?

Bill Masse: What do I think about Melky Cabrera? This is easy. Melky is just an outstanding player and I was very impressed by him this year. I have very little doubt that someday he is going to be an outstanding Major League hitter. At such a young age, he is already a very professional, complete player. The thing is with him too, is that he is been able to make adjustments and that is what you have to do moving up through the farm system. But, I really think he is going to be a special hitter in the big leagues someday. Whenever you have a guy with a bit bat that is so young, you have something. I think he will definitely be in AA Trenton next year but we'll see.

PinstripesPlus: What do you think was the cause for Cabrera's sudden power surge late in the season?

Masse: Well, the thing is with Melky is that he didn't develop that power all of a sudden. He had it all year but it never translated into home runs in the games. In the Florida State League a lot of balls die on the warning track. But, in his case, it is a little different. In batting practice he would hit lots of balls out of the park with no problem. His strength and maturity is there and he does have the power. He just needs to learn how to pick out a pitch to drive and not swing at pitcher's pitches. That is one thing that can actually hurt him. He is so good at putting the bat on the ball, sometimes he thinks he can hit everything. But, things just started happening for him late in the season. I don't think there was really an adjustment made but he just started getting pitches to drive and good things happened.

PinstripesPlus: Out of all his skills, what impresses you the most about Melky Cabrera?

Masse: One thing that amazes me about Melky is his ability to make adjustments but also, he can hit a breaking ball very well. Actually, he is the best breaking ball hitter I have seen in all my years of doing this at this stage in his career. His ability to hit a breaking ball, with authority, is not seen too often in hitter at this level or at even higher levels. I think that will really help him out as he moves up the ladder. You started seeing more off speed pitches and better off speed pitches. And, Melky can hit a breaking ball as well as anybody. So, I think the adjustment to the higher levels will be that much easier for him.

PinstripesPlus: So, is there anything that you think Melky Cabrera has to improve upon?

Masse: Well, all around he looks like a very special player in this organization. He became one of the most feared hitters in the entire Florida State league but even he has weaknesses. His outfield skills are pretty solid right now but he does have his problems out there. He just needs to learn to play on every pitch and stay on his toes out there. But, he is he is only 19-20 years old, you have to expect some young mistakes like that. I think as he matures, those problems will go away. At the plate, there is not much to complain about. But, sometimes it seems like he just always wants to swing. Most of the time, he does make contact but he can't put his best swing on it. If he can just learn to be more selective and look for a pitch to drive, he will just be even better. I think he can make the adjustment and he started to late in the year. That is how he picked up some of those extra home run totals.

PinstripesPlus: What is your initial impression of Eric Duncan?

Masse: Eric Duncan, there is another guy who just looks like on of those special players. Eric is a great kid. He is so advanced right now compared to other hitters his age. To even be in the Florida State League, him and Melky, is just amazing. Eric only batted .254 this year but most of his struggles were when he first came to me in Tampa. After that, he really settled in. After a while, there was no other guy I would rather have at the plate than Eric Duncan. He came up big for us. His strikeout to walk totals really show it all. I believe they were almost even. He did struggle early on but he was tremendous down the stretch. His makeup is just perfect too. He is always the first one to greet his teammates in the dugout. He is a lot like Derek Jeter in that regard except he is not quite as vocal. Either way, his makeup is terrific. Maybe it is far fetched but I can't help but see him as a Major League All-Star for years to come. At the plate, he is just so mature and he is only 19 years old. He may or may not start out in Trenton next year but he will likely get up there pretty quickly.

PinstripesPlus: Were you impressed by Duncan's defense as well?

Masse: You know, when Eric first came to me, I didn't really know what to expect out of him at third base. I had heard absolute horror stories about him playing third base and I didn't really know what to expect. I knew he could hit but I didn't really know about his fielding until I saw him in spring training. I was pleasantly surprise by him. He made a lot of improvements and is a really hard worker. The important thing is that he really learned the position well this year. Some people said his arm was a little short but it all depends on what play you're watching. He makes the big throws when he needs to and that is what makes him such a smart player. If there is a fast runner running, he can put more on throws and vice versa. He looks like he will be at third for a while.

PinstripesPlus: Eric Abreu spent some time in Tampa and was lights out. What are your thoughts on him?

Masse: Here is another guy, he just has a great makeup. He really impressed me even though he was only with us a for a couple starts. It is amazing considering where he started from this year. We had some injuries at the end of the season we needed a fifth starter. We figured he could be a kid that could help us out. But, they must have really liked him to skip him right over Battle Creek. He looks like a very talented young kid. His mechanics are very good. He has that nice, slow fluent motion and looks very smooth coming towards the plate. That is going to help him a lot. But, the thing that is interesting about Abreu is that if you watched him from the side, you would wonder how these hitters aren't hitting this guy. He really doesn't throw that hard but he looks like he is blowing guys away with his fastball. But, he is really only throwing around 89 MPH. But, the way he hides the ball and the deception he has has to be the reason for that. It is something you can't really understand until you step into the box against him. But, his fastball has a lot of late life and that helps him a lot too. I mean, he was dominating when he came to us but he was really getting by mostly on hitters swinging through his fastball. It was really amazing to me. But his motion is so fluent, I think it really surprises hitter. He has a good curveball too, but it was very inconsistent with us. He could throw an excellent curve one pitch and the next one he threw would just roll up there. He is still young yet so it isn't much of a concern. I know it sounds really far fetched but, I played with Mariano, and I can see a lot of him in Eric Abreu. I know it is way out there but I really see a lot of similarities. I also think he can do what Mariano did increasing the velocity of his fastball. He can probably bump it up by a few miles per hour I think, like what Mariano did when he was younger. T he way he was able to dominate with one pitch impressed me. But, their mechanics are very, very similar. They have that same fluent motion.

PinstripesPlus: What do you have to say about Rudy Guillen's down season?

Masse: Well, you know, Rudy just had one of those years. He had a down year. That is just the way you have to look at it. Rudy is still an outstanding talent and this season doesn't change that. To start the year, he looked great. He was hitting the ball really well, putting together good at bats and his defense was good too. You can does chalk it up to a bad year. He will still be heading to AA Trenton next year, I'm sure. I think he'll come back strong.

PinstripesPlus: Did Guillen's injury have anything to do with his struggles?

Masse: Yes, I think most of it was due to his injury. He injured his ankle after a really good start and he missed a really long stretch of games. He twisted it pretty bad and it messed him up for a while. But, not only was his timing just off when he came back, I think he was just still very tentative with it. I guess "tiptoeish" would the way to describe it. He just couldn't get past that I think. He never really let it fly at the plate and that robbed him of all his power. He just wasn't willing to let it go. I guess he was too afraid he would reinjure it. Rudy is a tough kid and he really wanted to play. I just don't think anyone expected it to mess up him up as bad as it did. He should bounce back next year. He should be over the tentativeness with the ankle by then.

PinstripesPlus: Do you expect Shelley Duncan to ever fully meet his potential?

Masse: There is no doubt, that Shelley Duncan does have huge, huge power potential. It is definitely well above average power. He does have some potential yet to be tapped into I think. He does have a very good eye at the plate but the thing with Shelley is that he is very streaky right now. It just seems that he isn't making the adjustments sometimes. He sticks to his ways and isn't really willing to adjust to this point. There are some times that it seems like he can't hit a pitch and there are other times that it seems like no one can get him out. If he can ever put it together, he could be very dangerous. I think they'll push him and have him play first base in Trenton next year. That is another thing, he played first base for the first time this year and really did a great job. I was pleasantly surprised by his performance on defense. Not to mention, he keeps the guys loose on the field. He is a just a loosey, goosey guy anyway. I mean, his name is Shelley Duncan. He is just a funny guy and a great person to be around.

PinstripesPlus: Do you see Ben Julianel as a future MLB, lefty reliever?

Masse: Actually, I don't really see him as a left handed specialist. What he does look like to me is a very good left handed reliever that could give you two or three innings of good relief. The reason I say that is because I think he is actually equally tough on right handed hitters. That's mostly because he has a plus changeup. His changeup is just fantastic. He comes straight over the top and he gets good tail down and away from righties with that change. He brings it straight over the top and he really hides the ball well. And, he is just a fierce competitor. He has a heart the size of Texas. He really does. Something that helped him late in the year though was his slider. His slider really came on strong and that should really help him next year also. But, a guy who he reminds me of is Gabe White. He is the same type of guy.

PinstripesPlus: What do you make of Jose Valdez's struggles this year?

Masse: Overall, it was just a really rough season for Jose. He is still pretty young so I think he will be okay though. His strikeouts were way down this year, yes. I would say that's because of the loss of the command and feel of his splitter. His split is his out pitch and if he doesn't have that, he is really hurt by that. His fastball is still excellent but he didn't have much command of that this year either. There would be times where he would go out to the mound and look like the Jose Valdez we expect to see. Other times, he looked like a different guy. But, his struggles really just come down to lack of command. I think he will still be in Trenton next season, though.

PinstripesPlus: What was your impression of Jon Skaggs?

Masse: Yeah, Skaggs was one of our main guys all year this season. He definitely was a big part of our staff, that's for sure. I think he is back at full strength now after he had his Tommy John Surgery. He is back throwing over 90 MPH and not to mention he has 4 good pitches. He has a very good curveball but his control is still not where it should be. Because of all his walks, he would get often get stuck with a very average outing when he could have been much better. If he could improve his control, it would make all the difference in the world in his pitching. Another thing is that he needs to cleanup his delivery. His motion is very violent and he is going to need to fix that up. Essentially, it was really only his second year of pro ball despite his age. So, we'll have to wait and see with Skaggs.

PinstripesPlus: Overall, what do you think of Edwardo Sierra and that season he had?

Masse: You know, I really liked Edwardo and he had some problems this year. If you look at his total number of saves you wouldn't know he struggled but he had his share of problems. Sierra has a great, great arm. He gets his fastball around 95 MPH+ every time. But, he has a wild motion. He flies off the mound and is really all over the place. The bottom line is that he walks too many. You just can't do that when you're trying to close out a game. He has the stuff but he has to work on his control issues to be successful.

PinstripesPlus: Tell us your thoughts on Steven White.

Masse: White, you know, he was just fantastic for us and in Battle Creek. He really looks like a very mature pitcher and it showed in his performance. His overall stuff is great. There is really nothing not to like about him. He was a real big lift for us this season when he came up. He has a good breaking ball but I think in time, it could be an above average Major League breaking ball. Right now it is average but it looks there is room to grow there. He is going to need a little work on his changeup so he is able to neutralize the left handed hitters. The lefties seem like the only ones that have some success against him. But, if he can continue improving that changeup, he is going to be incredible. But, his fastball really surprised me. He added about four miles per hour to it after he came up to Tampa. He was pitching at around 93 MPH and touching 95 MPH at times. He looks like he could be a very good major league pitcher. He has a pretty violent delivery too. That helps him with his deception but also, it could use some cleaning up. I expect White to be a big part of the Trenton pitching staff next year. But, I really like Steve. He is another guy who has a heart the size of Texas also. And, he has gotten the reputation as being arrogant, but you know what? I like that in a pitcher. He goes out there and he thinks no one can touch him and no one can beat him. I think that is actually a very good attribute to have.

PinstripesPlus.com would like to give out a special thanks to Bill Masse for his time and efforts in answering these questions.

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