Q&A with Pitching Coordinator, Nardi Contreras

In the past year, the Yankees have loaded up the lower levels of their farm system with some quality young arms. Overseeing their development is Nardi Contreras, who was named Pitching Coordinator on September 22nd of 2004. We caught up with the new pitching guru for an in depth Q&A session.

PinstripesPlus.com: What was your impression of Phil Hughes?

Nardi Contreras: Phil Hughes, he looks like he is going to be a big time pitcher for this organization. From what I saw from him in mini-camp, he looks like a fine young pitcher. He has a good head on his shoulders and he throws the ball well. He has three good pitches and looks like he could move quickly through the system. I was very impressed with him when I saw him. He just shows you why he was our top pick this year. In my opinion, the Yankees made a great pick taking Hughes.

PP: Where can we expect to see Hughes pitching in 2005?

NC: He'll be in Charleston. I'm pretty sure about that. He didn't pitch but a few innings in the Gulf Coast this year but he is very polished. He should be a big part of that rotation in 2005. Hughes shouldn't have much trouble. That's why I expect him to move pretty quickly.

PP: What are your thoughts on Tyler Clippard?

NC: Well, I like him. He had a good year in low A ball. But, what is great about him is that he is still working. He is trying to get bigger and stronger this offseason. Maybe he can add even a little more velocity. He's been down here in Tampa working out. So, the fact that he takes advantage of our courses is a good thing. Clippard likes to work hard and he knows how to pitch.

PP: Tell us your thoughts on Jesse Hoover.

NC: Yes, Jesse was a great pitcher for Staten Island this year. He is yet another great pick by the Yankees in the draft this year. He struck out a bunch of guys this year and we all know about his stuff. He has that great, hard fastball and a great curveball. Hoover made a lot of strides in mini-camp this year, also. We worked mostly on his changeup and I think he is coming along great with that. I have no doubt he'll be in that Charleston rotation as well. We did some work on him down here in mini-camp and he made a lot of progress. He's another guy who could move quickly. Now, with that good changeup, he is going to be really tough.

PP: So, does Hoover now project as a starting pitcher in your opinion?

NC: At this point, I don't see why not. He already had that great fastball and curveball. But, now that he has added a real good changeup, he is definitely a starter in my mind. He is a big, strong kid who could do big things. Hoover's a little older and could move fast as a starter. Right now, there aren't any plans of him being a reliever.

PP: It has been said that Edwardo Sierra has amazing raw stuff but just needs to put it all together. What is your take on him?

NC: Yes, we have done a lot of work with Sierra. He has a really great arm so there is a lot to work with. This year, he had some mechanical problems. So, we tried to fix him up mechanically down here and I think we made a lot of progress. We like his arm a lot. He already has a good second pitch but we wanted to work on his slider so he'd have something else to go to in his repertoire. That was the problem sometimes for him. We made a lot of progress with his slider and with his mechanics. This is the first time we could really get to him and polish him up.

PP: Can we expect to see Sierra closing for Trenton next season?

NC: Barring any big changes or anything unexpected, yes, Sierra should be the Trenton closer in 2005. We think he made some big improvements in mini-camp and that he could pitch much better next season.

PP: Would you consider Jason Jones to be right in there as one of the Yankee's better pitching prospects?

NC: Absolutely. I saw Jones in mini-camp and I liked him a lot. He's a guy who throws strike after strike and is pretty sound mechanically. He's a big, strong kid who has come back from past injuries. Jason has four good pitches, which is also really impressive about him. Both of his fastballs are very good and he can throw them for strikes. Actually, he throws all his pitches for strikes. He has an excellent slider and a changeup, also. The only thing we are trying to fix with him is his curveball. We'd just like him to tighten up the curveball a little bit. But, yes, he does look like a good prospect and the fact that he is a little older makes him a good candidate to move quick.

PP: Now, for the third of that big three in Staten Island, Jeff Marquez. Give us your thoughts on him.

NC: I like Marquez a lot. I met up with him in mini-camp. To me, he looks like an impact type pitcher. He has a good, live arm and he throws pretty hard, too. He's an athletic kid and he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm. Marquez has good sink on his fastball with a real nice curveball. But, the thing that impresses me about him is his changeup. This is a power changeup and I think that is the difference maker between him and other pitchers in the system. He has excellent command of all his pitches. The big thing we worked on with him down here was something mechanical. His mechanics are pretty sound but he rushes out in his delivery sometimes. I think we were able to straighten that out though. I really think he is going to be an outstanding pitcher in this organization. He may be the best one out of this young group of pitchers. Again, he was a great pick by the Yankees.

PP: Out of this new group of fresh, young arms that pitched in the Gulf Coast and Staten Island in 2004, who do you think is going to make the biggest leap in 2005?

NC: I'd have to say Jeff Marquez, actually. I think he is going to be in the Tampa Yankees rotation. Marquez just has the look of a real fast mover in this system and just a very good pitcher. He is the type of guy that would fit right in there with that changeup he has. He has three established pitches and he is a really determined kid. He pushes hard to move to the next level and I think he'll be pitching in their rotation come 2005. He just showed us a lot when he came to mini-camp this year. He held up nicely health wise for a first year player and showed that he made the necessary adjustments when he needed to. If he shows more of that in Spring Training next year, I think he'll be in Tampa to start the season.

PP: Do you agree that Steven White appears to be the Yankee's pitching prospect that is closest to the big leagues?

NC: I'm not sure because there are a couple guys at the higher levels that are also pretty good. But, White was very successful this year with Tampa. He is a guy that is on the bubble between A and AA but will likely pitch in Trenton in 2005. Now, he is a guy that seemed a little tired when it was all over this year. But, he should bounce back well next year. But, yes, I do think he'll move up fast because of his age and his stuff. He has a power fastball and pretty good secondary stuff. We just want to work with him a little more mechanically.

PP: What was your impression of Brett Smith when you saw him in mini-camp?

NC: Smith looks like another really fine, young arm. He was a late sign so we thought it would be good to get him into mini-camp so we could have a look at him. But, actually, we see him as being a power pitcher. The tools are there and he was very good stuff. He's another big, strong kid. When he came to us, since he was a late sign, we didn't want to mess with his mechanics or delivery too much. So, we just let him pitch. He looked good but there are some small changes we'll make with him. We're pretty excited about the potential he has. I think he's going to be a good power pitcher, plus he has a real good slider. Also, he's working on getting stronger with a strength and conditioning coach this offseason. That is also a good sign for him. It is the direction we want to go with him being a power pitcher. He's working with my strength and conditioning coach from when I was with the White Sox, Steve Odgers. I think he is someone to watch closely in Charleston next year. Smith looks like he's going to be a real, impact power pitching prospect.

Have you gotten any injury updates on Edgar Soto?

NC: Well, he is rehabbing his elbow right now. I think he is down in the Dominican Republic and I think he is doing okay with his rehab. But, I don't have a lot of details on his injury.

PP: Are there any true sleepers that we should know about?

NC: That is really tough to say, actually. All these guys we've spoken of have really good potential but there isn't one that I think doesn't get his due credit. In my opinion, all these top lower level guys could pitch in the big leagues someday.

PP: Does Jeff Karstens fall into the category of sleeper? What are your thoughts on him?

NC: Karstens, he is really good. He did a very nice job in Tampa this year and showed he could eat up a lot of innings for them. Karstens is another older guy so he should be in the Trenton rotation also. I'm not sure if he's a sleeper either but he is very, very good. He has shown really good stuff and we think he can pitch well in Trenton in 2005. He has a very good curveball and a pretty good fastball so he could be one our best pitching prospects once he just shows his stuff in AA.

PP: Right now, who do you think is the most polished pitcher you have seen?

NC: I'd have to say Phil Hughes. The kid throws hard and he throws strikes. But, he also has good mechanics and has a good head on his shoulders. Also, he is very athletic. You can't ask for much more than that out of such a young guy.

PP: Will the pitching be as strong as it was this year in the Dominican Summer League, for the Yankees, next season?

NC: Well, I think so. I just got back from the Dominican Republic last week and I liked what I saw. In 2005, we are going to have like 35 new pitchers down there. But, it is tricky to say what to expect from these guys. I mean, we have guys who come into our camp throwing 95 MPH, but are very raw. So, we have to ask ourselves what these kids have the potential to be and make the evaluation from there. And, once they get on American soil and start eating American food and living this lifestyle, they may even throw harder. We just try to polish them up before they get there. But, next year's crop looks just as good, yes.

PP: What pitcher's can we expect to make their landing on U.S. soil in 2005?

NC: Well, there is a pretty big sized crop, but there is one that is particularly good. He is the Cuban and he pitched real well in the Dominican this season. He's a lefty named Saidel Beltran. I like what I've seen from him. He was one of the older guys down there this year. Beltran is 21 years old and since he's already that age, we are going to start him off in High A Tampa. He won't be too old for that league. I'm not sure what his role will be on that club. I guess it all depends on how his spring training goes. But, he has a good chance to be a starter there I think. I really like how he spins the ball and he has pretty decent mechanics right now. So, we don't really have a problem starting him in Tampa considering his age and ability. He did have a lot of strikeouts in the Dominican this year but he doesn't throw real hard. His fastball is 86-88 MPH, but we can expect that to go up once he gets on U.S. soil. Like I said earlier, these guys add velocity once they start living this lifestyle. But, he also has a great changeup to go along with his breaking ball and fastball.

PP: Does Domingo Cabrera have a chance to also land on American soil in 2005?

NC: I think he might. He is more of a soft tossing lefty and needs a little more work and polish. So, we'll have to see. We have a bunch of guys who will come to spring training like him.

PP: Were there any guys in the upper levels of the organization that attended mini-camp that the organization has kept a particularly close eye on?

NC: Well, there is Jason Anderson. The organization has always liked him. He has gotten back that good fastball. He throws real hard, but we are just trying to work on a changeup for him. Right now, he comes with too much hard stuff. If he can work on his changeup, he still has a chance to be real good. He was down in mini-camp and we made some adjustments with him.

PP: What are your thoughts on Sean Henn?

NC: Henn is an interesting case. He still throws the ball very hard and is left handed. He has a lot of potential and we have worked hard with him to get him a good changeup and refine his slider. He is going to come back to Tampa in January and we are going to work hard with him exclusively. His slider is going to be something that we're going to work on the most. What the goal is, is to work on him and make him real tough on lefties and possibly be in the big leagues with the Yankees next season. I'm not sure if that's going to happen with all these guys coming in like Kaz Ishii. But, a move to the bullpen is a good possibility for him next season. It all depends how our session with him goes in January. If he shows that he can really throw a good slider to go along with a great fastball, he is going to be rough on lefty hitters. We think that he could be someone who could help out in the big league pen. But, if we don't get accomplished what we want in January, he'll probably just head to AAA Columbus to be a starter and get some innings under his belt. But, the idea of him being a lefty out of the pen is an interesting possibility for the organization. And, we're going to explore that possibility in January.

PP: Do you think Chien-Ming Wang has a chance to pitch in the big leagues in 2005?

NC: Well, do I think he can? Yes. But, with all these guys the Yankees are bringing in, there is not going to be any room for him. But, his ability is great. I saw him in mini-camp this year. He hurt his hamstring in the playoffs this year. He was rehabbing it down in Tampa. He looks real good. Now, if you want to talk about polished pitchers, he is one of them. To me, he looks like an impact pitcher if you want to look for one.

PinstripesPlus.com would like to thank Nardi Contreras for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions.

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