Q&A with Nardi Contreras - Part V

Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com for a Q&A session. In Part Five of our six-part series, Nardi explains why Josh Schmidt had an up and down year, what changes he has in mind for Cory Stuart, if Zach Kroenke is progressing like he would like, what happened to Rolando Japa this past season, and more.

PinstripesPlus: It seemed like Josh Schmidt had an up-and-down year this past season. What was going on with him this year?

Contreras: Josh Schmidt met a league where he better be in command and keep the ball down. He's not a hard thrower. He sinks the ball and has to be down around the knees. When he throws his breaking ball, he's pretty much outer third. When he pitches against lefties it has to be a backdoor kind of thing and he has to use his changeup against them. Anytime you're throwing strikes but are mid-thigh with the velocity he throws, you're going to get hurt. That was part of his problem with consistency. I told him after the season that I'd like him to come back next year as a sub-mariner. It's a unorthodox release point instead of a side-winder. When you're pitching side-arm, a lot of pitches flatten out and that was a problem he was having. He faced better hitters this year and these guys [Florida State League hitters] are used to seeing side-armers better. If you're not throwing hard, and the pitches are flat, they are going to get hit. When the ball was sinking when it was down at the knees, he was having success. If he's mid-thigh or higher, he's not going to have success.

PinstripesPlus: Schmidt's partner in crime in Staten Island last year, Cory Stuart had a very good year in Charleston last year and impressed a lot of his teammates. Did he make the type of progress you would have liked to have seen from him this year?

Contreras: Cory Stuart is another person who is a side-armer. I also told Cory that I'd like to see him be a sub-mariner. He is a little lower than a side-armer and too often the ball was flat. If you think about big leaguers that throw side-arm, they better throw hard. Jeff Nelson was a side-armer for us that was 94-95 MPH. He had success with that frisbee style that Stuart has. A lot of the side-armers we have in the organization have the good breaking ball. Well when it's flattening out and that two-seamer or so-called sinker is flat because your're side-armed, you better throw a little hard with some location. That's the same problem with Stu. When he's down at the knees and the ball is sinking, he's got a chance to be darn good. He has a hard, quick breaking ball. But when he's not, and he's a little higher in the strike zone, he'll get hit.

PinstripesPlus: Wilkins Arias had a very good season in Charleston this past season, but he seems to be more of a fastball pitcher right now. Does he have the secondary stuff to compliment his repertoire right now?

Contreras: Yes he has secondary stuff, it's just not a plus secondary stuff. At the beginning of the season he didn't have a changeup. He had a slider but it wasn't quick and it wasn't located. I think he might have ended up with 25 or 30 scoreless innings at the end of the season. The slider and the changeup started working with his fastball. He has a plus fastball. He's got sink, he's got a rubber arm, but you need that breaking ball and it started clicking, the changeup came around by slowing it down. It almost became like a batting practice fastball so it became a pitch the hitters could hit. But once that changeup came down in velocity, it became a better animal for him but it still wasn't consistent. But if he pitches with his slider and changeup like he did at the end of the year, there will be some good things for Arias.

PinstripesPlus: Zach Kroenke also has a very solid year in Charleston this past season. Is he progressing the way you would have liked?

Contreras: Yes he is. When he came here, he didn't have a great delivery or arm action. Because he came from a [University of] Nebraska, we put him in Tampa because his stuff was pretty good. But most of his strikes were up in the middle of the plate so he was sent down to Charleston. He has probably developed the best slider among the left-handers we have. His changeup has come around really nice, it has action, and he sinks the ball and now he's getting the ball down. He's still not hitting the black yet, the corners. Once he's able to do that it is going to be vastly improved. He gets the ball to the middle third so there's contact and he gets a lot of ground balls. He got more ground balls hit for base hits than any other pitcher I saw this year. I think one game I saw he gave up eight or nine hits and seven of them were ground balls, high choppers, swinging bunts, hits guys barely got through the infield, etc, which is okay. Once he finds a little better location, those balls will become outs to the infielders. So Kroenke came on real nice. The velocity is there, the sink is there, and the changeup and slider developed better than anybody for a left-hander.

PinstripesPlus: One of your favorite guys from a year ago, Rolando Japa, had a disappointing year. What happened to him this past season?

Contreras: I wish I knew. He didn't throw quite as hard as he was in Charleston. His breaking ball is good, but he didn't throw it for strikes. His changeup was really good all the time but it was the only pitch he was throwing for strikes, so hitters were sitting on the changeup because his fastballs weren't for strikes. I saw him pitch a couple of really good games, but two games out of ten doesn't make it. He got sore at the end of the season and we had to shut him down. He'll be pitching down in our Dominican Instructional League and I'll see him there and see if everything clicks. Hopefully everything does happen real well for him because he does have real good arm speed with his fastball, good life, a real good curveball, and he's got a real good changeup. But again, you can have all that good stuff, but you better be able to put it in a location where you want it, because if you don't, the hitters will let you know it's not working. He started doing a little dipping of the back shoulder a bit too much, but Scotty Aldred rectified that in Charleston. But he was still out of sync. There was something that still was not there where he flowed like last year.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus: It seemed like Josh Schmidt had an up-and-down year this past season. What was going on with him this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Josh Schmidt met a league where he better be in command and keep the ball down. He's not a hard thrower. He sinks the ball and has to be down around the knees. When he throws his breaking ball, he's pretty much outer third. When he pitches against lefties it has to be a backdoor kind of thing and he has to use his changeup against them. Anytime you're throwing strikes but are mid-thigh with the velocity he throws, you're going to get hurt. That was part of his problem with consistency. I told him after the season that I'd like him to come back next year as a sub-mariner. It's a unorthodox release point instead of a side-winder. When you're pitching side-arm, a lot of pitches flatten out and that was a problem he was having. He faced better hitters this year and these guys [Florida State League hitters] are used to seeing side-armers better. If you're not throwing hard, and the pitches are flat, they are going to get hit. When the ball was sinking when it was down at the knees, he was having success. If he's mid-thigh or higher, he's not going to have success.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Schmidt's partner in crime in Staten Island last year, Cory Stuart had a very good year in Charleston last year and impressed a lot of his teammates. Did he make the type of progress you would have liked to have seen from him this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Cory Stuart is another person who is a side-armer. I also told Cory that I'd like to see him be a sub-mariner. He is a little lower than a side-armer and too often the ball was flat. If you think about big leaguers that throw side-arm, they better throw hard. Jeff Nelson was a side-armer for us that was 94-95 MPH. He had success with that frisbee style that Stuart has. A lot of the side-armers we have in the organization have the good breaking ball. Well when it's flattening out and that two-seamer or so-called sinker is flat because your're side-armed, you better throw a little hard with some location. That's the same problem with Stu. When he's down at the knees and the ball is sinking, he's got a chance to be darn good. He has a hard, quick breaking ball. But when he's not, and he's a little higher in the strike zone, he'll get hit.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Wilkins Arias had a very good season in Charleston this past season, but he seems to be more of a fastball pitcher right now. Does he have the secondary stuff to compliment his repertoire right now?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Yes he has secondary stuff, it's just not a plus secondary stuff. At the beginning of the season he didn't have a changeup. He had a slider but it wasn't quick and it wasn't located. I think he might have ended up with 25 or 30 scoreless innings at the end of the season. The slider and the changeup started working with his fastball. He has a plus fastball. He's got sink, he's got a rubber arm, but you need that breaking ball and it started clicking, the changeup came around by slowing it down. It almost became like a batting practice fastball so it became a pitch the hitters could hit. But once that changeup came down in velocity, it became a better animal for him but it still wasn't consistent. But if he pitches with his slider and changeup like he did at the end of the year, there will be some good things for Arias.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Zach Kroenke also has a very solid year in Charleston this past season. Is he progressing the way you would have liked?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Yes he is. When he came here, he didn't have a great delivery or arm action. Because he came from a [University of] Nebraska, we put him in Tampa because his stuff was pretty good. But most of his strikes were up in the middle of the plate so he was sent down to Charleston. He has probably developed the best slider among the left-handers we have. His changeup has come around really nice, it has action, and he sinks the ball and now he's getting the ball down. He's still not hitting the black yet, the corners. Once he's able to do that it is going to be vastly improved. He gets the ball to the middle third so there's contact and he gets a lot of ground balls. He got more ground balls hit for base hits than any other pitcher I saw this year. I think one game I saw he gave up eight or nine hits and seven of them were ground balls, high choppers, swinging bunts, hits guys barely got through the infield, etc, which is okay. Once he finds a little better location, those balls will become outs to the infielders. So Kroenke came on real nice. The velocity is there, the sink is there, and the changeup and slider developed better than anybody for a left-hander.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: One of your favorite guys from a year ago, Rolando Japa, had a disappointing year. What happened to him this past season?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I wish I knew. He didn't throw quite as hard as he was in Charleston. His breaking ball is good, but he didn't throw it for strikes. His changeup was really good all the time but it was the only pitch he was throwing for strikes, so hitters were sitting on the changeup because his fastballs weren't for strikes. I saw him pitch a couple of really good games, but two games out of ten doesn't make it. He got sore at the end of the season and we had to shut him down. He'll be pitching down in our Dominican Instructional League and I'll see him there and see if everything clicks. Hopefully everything does happen real well for him because he does have real good arm speed with his fastball, good life, a real good curveball, and he's got a real good changeup. But again, you can have all that good stuff, but you better be able to put it in a location where you want it, because if you don't, the hitters will let you know it's not working. He started doing a little dipping of the back shoulder a bit too much, but Scotty Aldred rectified that in Charleston. But he was still out of sync. There was something that still was not there where he flowed like last year.
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