Q&A with Nardi Contreras - Part II

Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com for a Q&A session. In Part Two of our six-part series, Nardi talks about the progress of Dellin Betances, why George Kontos and Tim Norton did so well in the second half, what he saw from Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy in the early going, and more.

PinstripesPlus: When we talked back in July, you were extremely impressed with Dellin Betances. What kind of progress did you see from him this year?

Contreras: Dellin has made tremendous, no, leaps and bounds of changes. I got to see him the second to last start of the year he pitched after we made the changes. You know we wait 30 days to make changes. Dellin showed great velocity and life with his fastball. He threw curveballs comparable to Christian Garcia. He threw changeups comparable to Marquez with control. When he threw against the [GCL] Tigers, they had predominantly college players. They had a AAA hitter rehabbing that day, and [Zach McAllister also pitched, and that AAA hitter told our first base coach, "these guys are 18-years old? I don't see pitching like that at the triple-A level." That's tremendous from when they first got here to where they were at when they made their changes: command, power, the snap of their breaking balls, the changeups. Dellin of course is more power oriented, the great breaking ball, the life in the location of his changeup. It was tremendous to see from when he first got here. The delivery was more compact. We teach balance in our separation and he was able to do that. The strike zone was much more improved. He was more downhill, more lower in the strike zone with his fastballs. His curveball was quick with depth and his changeup had depth, arm speed, and was in the lower half of the strike zone compared to the upper half.

PinstripesPlus: You brought up his name so let's touch on him. What differences did you see from Zach McAllister from the time he signed until the end of the Gulf Coast League season?

Contreras: Well Zach got here he was more side-to-side. He was more sinker oriented, more changeup oriented, turning the ball over, he threw a slider, and his fastball wasn't as quick as it is now. As soon as we made the changes to him to stay taller, use more four-seam fastball, use more power and use more of his size, use the angle and the deception that he can have, then he was throwing his fastball three to four MPH more. His changeup had more depth instead of side-to-side. The slider still wasn't where I'd like to see him, but right now he's not throwing the slider. He's learning the curveball, the same thing we did with Phil Hughes. We're putting the slider in the back pocket so he can learn the curveball and we'll take it from there. We know he has the slider and we can always fix it. I teach the curveball before I teach the slider. We'll see what he can do. He's 18-years old and we're going to spend some time with the curveball. I see the rotation coming out of his curveball. It's going to be there. The quality of the curveball, we'll see where it is.

PinstripesPlus: Talking with a few scouts, everybody seems to see George Kontos and Tim Norton as future big league relievers. I know you don't like to label guys a starter or a reliever and that you like to get them innings first. What do you see from them and what changes have you made to their game?

Contreras: They are both two different type of pitchers. Their deliveries when they got here needed some work. Norton has just come so far from when he first signed. He was falling all over himself. If you look at his numbers the first half compared to his numbers in the second half, once he made the changes in the mechanics of his delivery, he learned the changeup instead of the forkball he threw, the slider instead of the slurvy breaking ball he had. The slider is going to get better, the changeup is there, and when we took away the forkball, we gave him a splitter. The forkball he had said 'hit me'. The splitter is now a swing-and-miss strikeout pitch for him. He's working on the changeup and the slider first though before worrying about the splitter. What Norton was able to do was command the fastball. In his mechanics, we got him to stay tall, his hands separated at his balance point, he went from north-south, we gave him a little turn in his delivery, I could go on and on. Now he does a lot of things well.

Georgey [Kontos] has some arm strength. He lacked some balance from the stretch especially and he was always drifting and playing catch-up. You look at his numbers early in the first half and then compare to what he had in the second half, strikeout to walks. Even look at what he had in college with all the walks he had there. Now he's able to throw more strikes. Now he has a better idea of where the slider is going, he has a better idea of where his curveball is going. When he first got here his changeup was hard and now it's at a better velocity. Now he's got more life to his changeup. He's staying back and being able to command the strike zone with his fastball a lot better. Both of those guys made great improvements and both will be pitching higher baseball next season.

PinstripesPlus: He didn't pitch much before going out to Hawaii, but what did you see from Mark Melancon this past season?

Contreras: Melancon has a power fastball, a power curveball, and a power changeup. He's got three pitches, he's going to get people out, his deception in his arm angle is north-south, that means he's coming from high-angle and the balls comes straight down. You'll see him get a lot of strikeouts with balls that are going to hit the dirt and hit the plate. He's going to get guys swinging at his curveball because it comes from that type of angle. What he does though, is he tilts his head back a little bit and he's working on that. He's getting his body shift back to get the balance instead of jumping up so quick to have better command. What I didn't see this year that he will be able to do in the future is throw his curveball for strikes, not strikes that the hitters swing at, but pitches the hitters will take and it's called a strike by the umpire, which I hadn't seen yet, but that will happen. He throws a changeup that has got great life to it. He can throw all three pitches for strikes. He has two-seam life with his fastball and four-seam life on his fastball. He's got the ability to be a very nice closer in the near future, but not next year. He'll be extended with innings.

PinstripesPlus: Ian Kennedy was another guy who signed late this year and didn't get into many games. What did you see from him before he went out to Hawaii?

Contreras: I got to see Ian just one time. I didn't get to see him in Staten Island because he went up after I left there. What he has is four pitches, actually five, because he's going to work on a two-seam fastball. He throws a four-seam fastball and he's going to learn a two-seamer when he's out in Hawaii. He has a quality curveball, a quality slider, and a quality plus changeup. So he's got a lot of pitches that he throws for strikes. He has pitch ability. He reads swings really well. He has a better idea of the strike zone than the other fellas have. He was a number one pick and he can do a lot of things control-wise and command-wise than the other guys right now. He's going to make little changes and just slight changes in his delivery. He had a little bounce but that will be fixed with Scotty Aldred. He'll be pitching higher baseball next season.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n \r\nPinstripesPlus: When we talked back in July, you were extremely impressed with Dellin Betances. What kind of progress did you see from him this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Dellin has made tremendous, no, leaps and bounds of changes. I got to see him the second to last start of the year he pitched after we made the changes. You know we wait 30 days to make changes. Dellin showed great velocity and life with his fastball. He threw curveballs comparable to Christian Garcia. He threw changeups comparable to Marquez with control. When he threw against the [GCL] Tigers, they had predominantly college players. They had a AAA hitter rehabbing that day, and [Zach McAllister also pitched, and that AAA hitter told our first base coach, \"these guys are 18-years old? I don't see pitching like that at the triple-A level.\" That's tremendous from when they first got here to where they were at when they made their changes: command, power, the snap of their breaking balls, the changeups. Dellin of course is more power oriented, the great breaking ball, the life in the location of his changeup. It was tremendous to see from when he first got here. The delivery was more compact. We teach balance in our separation and he was able to do that. The strike zone was much more improved. He was more downhill, more lower in the strike zone with his fastballs. His curveball was quick with depth and his changeup had depth, arm speed, and was in the lower half of the strike zone compared to the upper half.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You brought up his name so let's touch on him. What differences did you see from Zach McAllister from the time he signed until the end of the Gulf Coast League season?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Well Zach got here he was more side-to-side. He was more sinker oriented, more changeup oriented, turning the ball over, he threw a slider, and his fastball wasn't as quick as it is now. As soon as we made the changes to him to stay taller, use more four-seam fastball, use more power and use more of his size, use the angle and the deception that he can have, then he was throwing his fastball three to four MPH more. His changeup had more depth instead of side-to-side. The slider still wasn't where I'd like to see him, but right now he's not throwing the slider. He's learning the curveball, the same thing we did with Phil Hughes. We're putting the slider in the back pocket so he can learn the curveball and we'll take it from there. We know he has the slider and we can always fix it. I teach the curveball before I teach the slider. We'll see what he can do. He's 18-years old and we're going to spend some time with the curveball. I see the rotation coming out of his curveball. It's going to be there. The quality of the curveball, we'll see where it is.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Talking with a few scouts, everybody seems to see George Kontos and Tim Norton as future big league relievers. I know you don't like to label guys a starter or a reliever and that you like to get them innings first. What do you see from them and what changes have you made to their game?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: They are both two different type of pitchers. Their deliveries when they got here needed some work. Norton has just come so far from when he first signed. He was falling all over himself. If you look at his numbers the first half compared to his numbers in the second half, once he made the changes in the mechanics of his delivery, he learned the changeup instead of the forkball he threw, the slider instead of the slurvy breaking ball he had. The slider is going to get better, the changeup is there, and when we took away the forkball, we gave him a splitter. The forkball he had said 'hit me'. The splitter is now a swing-and-miss strikeout pitch for him. He's working on the changeup and the slider first though before worrying about the splitter. What Norton was able to do was command the fastball. In his mechanics, we got him to stay tall, his hands separated at his balance point, he went from north-south, we gave him a little turn in his delivery, I could go on and on. Now he does a lot of things well.
\r\n
\r\nGeorgey [Kontos] has some arm strength. He lacked some balance from the stretch especially and he was always drifting and playing catch-up. You look at his numbers early in the first half and then compare to what he had in the second half, strikeout to walks. Even look at what he had in college with all the walks he had there. Now he's able to throw more strikes. Now he has a better idea of where the slider is going, he has a better idea of where his curveball is going. When he first got here his changeup was hard and now it's at a better velocity. Now he's got more life to his changeup. He's staying back and being able to command the strike zone with his fastball a lot better. Both of those guys made great improvements and both will be pitching higher baseball next season.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: He didn't pitch much before going out to Hawaii, but what did you see from Mark Melancon this past season?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Melancon has a power fastball, a power curveball, and a power changeup. He's got three pitches, he's going to get people out, his deception in his arm angle is north-south, that means he's coming from high-angle and the balls comes straight down. You'll see him get a lot of strikeouts with balls that are going to hit the dirt and hit the plate. He's going to get guys swinging at his curveball because it comes from that type of angle. What he does though, is he tilts his head back a little bit and he's working on that. He's getting his body shift back to get the balance instead of jumping up so quick to have better command. What I didn't see this year that he will be able to do in the future is throw his curveball for strikes, not strikes that the hitters swing at, but pitches the hitters will take and it's called a strike by the umpire, which I hadn't seen yet, but that will happen. He throws a changeup that has got great life to it. He can throw all three pitches for strikes. He has two-seam life with his fastball and four-seam life on his fastball. He's got the ability to be a very nice closer in the near future, but not next year. He'll be extended with innings.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Ian Kennedy was another guy who signed late this year and didn't get into many games. What did you see from him before he went out to Hawaii?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I got to see Ian just one time. I didn't get to see him in Staten Island because he went up after I left there. What he has is four pitches, actually five, because he's going to work on a two-seam fastball. He throws a four-seam fastball and he's going to learn a two-seamer when he's out in Hawaii. He has a quality curveball, a quality slider, and a quality plus changeup. So he's got a lot of pitches that he throws for strikes. He has pitch ability. He reads swings really well. He has a better idea of the strike zone than the other fellas have. He was a number one pick and he can do a lot of things control-wise and command-wise than the other guys right now. He's going to make little changes and just slight changes in his delivery. He had a little bounce but that will be fixed with Scotty Aldred. He'll be pitching higher baseball next season.
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