Q&A with Gary Denbo - Part II

In part two of our interview with Gary Denbo, the Yankees Minor League Hitting Coordinator, he updates us on the progress of Tim Battle and Austin Jackson, what has he seen in the early going from the likes of Carlos Urena and Zoilo Almonte, if there are encouraging signs with Eric Duncan, what has he seen from Reegie Corona, and more.

PinstripesPlus.com: He had such a great year last year being among the league-leaders in hitting for a while. What kind of progress have you seen from Reegie Corona?

Gary Denbo: The first time I saw Reegie was in the fall of 2005 in the Instructional League when I first came back and started working with the Yankees. You could see that he had very good hands, good adjustability with the bat, but he didn't use his lower-half very well. He made contact but it wasn't crisp solid contact like you'd like to see. Over the course of last season, Torre Tyson had him in Charleston and Torre did an outstanding job of getting him down on his legs a little better in his setup and throughout the process of his swing. As the season progressed, the crispness of the contact just got better and better throughout the year. So I think he's made tremendous progress. He was one of the big surprises for us last year. I think the secret is out now. He is one of our better hitters. He's got a great feel for the barrel and he's just continued where he left off last year and hopefully he'll come out and have another solid season for us.

PinstripesPlus: Carlos Urena, despite being one of the youngest players in camp, is having one of the better springs. I know he hasn't been with the Yankees too long, but what have you seen from him that has given him the early success that he's had?

Denbo: He's an exciting player. He's got a lot of tools to work with and every coach loves to work with players like that. The ball really gets off his bat well. What I see that you don't normally see with most young players is that he hits the ball to all fields. He can lead to the pull-side of the field and he drives the ball to right-centerfield also. That's very impressive for such a young hitter. He's shown that he's got some bat speed and hopefully he'll develop into a very good player like we think he will.

PinstripesPlus: What have you seen from Eric Duncan in the Arizona Fall League last year and in camp this year that can give the fans a more positive outlook for this year?

Denbo: Well, number one, he's healthy. He went through at least three different times last season where he went down where his back was bothering him. It's very difficult to do anything when you're in that kind of condition. He also had stretches when he was healthy when he got back in Double-A where he was very, very good. You put his numbers together, in a half-season of at-bats in Trenton and you double those, the numbers look pretty darn good. Eric has come out this spring and worked very hard, as he always does - he's one of the hardest working players we have in the organization - and what he's done is developed some looseness in his swing now. I think he's taking more aggressive swings. I think he went up and made some adjustments with Kevin Long in major league camp and he's come back here and stayed with that program. He's having some impressive at-bats here in Spring Training and we hope it carries into the season.

PinstripesPlus: Eduardo Nunez had the great year in Staten Island two years ago and then struggled to make consistent contact last year. What can you tell us about his progress?

Denbo: 'Nunie' is a little bit like Reegie Corona in that he relies on his hands. Even on defense, a lot of players that have good hands on defense, sometimes they don't move their feet around and get their feet in position to make plays. They just rely on their good hands to make the plays for them and then it translates into offense. When 'Nunie' is on offense, he's got great hands, he has good adjustability with the bat, but he doesn't use his legs together with his upper-half to be able to be in a strong hitting position to make contact. We're in the process right now of developing that area of his swing, the lower-half, and we think once he gets in sync - his lower-half half and his upper-half - he's really going to catch on and you'll be surprised how well he really hits.

PinstripesPlus: I don't know how much you've seen of him so far, but I really like Zoilo Almonte's swing. What can you tell us about him?

Denbo: I can't say a lot because I haven't seen him much, but he has a characteristic that a lot of good hitters have: everything he does is very easy. His load, his stride, it's very slow, it's under control, and he has good balance. That usually equals good pitch recognition and the ability to control the barrel. He has all those things. He has the makings of a quality hitter. He's young though so he's going to have to work hard, get in the weight room, and make sure he keeps his body in good shape. Like I said, he has the qualities that he could be a very good hitter for us.

PinstripesPlus: I know you took away the leg-kick from Tim Battle last season and he's been working hard on his new stance and swing. Have you seen encouraging signs from him so far after making those changes?

Denbo: Tim Battle is a player that I'm very proud of. Again I give a lot of credit to Torre Tyson for doing an outstanding job with Tim last year, and really the year before. Sometimes you see progress a player makes over the course of a couple of years, or sometimes you'll see a player make big progress in a short period of time, but usually that's the result of a lot of hard work by somebody a year ago or maybe two seasons ago with the player and the coach. Torre did a great job with Tim. Tim made some huge adjustments last year, cut his strikeouts down tremendously, and we look for him to do that again this year because when he puts the ball in play, he's a very dangerous hitter. He has a chance to drive the ball into the gaps and that's the type of hitter we want him to think about being right now, a left-center to right-center hitter. We've taken away a big leg-lift from him, we've taken away a hand-drop from him, and Tim Battle looks like a professional hitter right now when takes batting practice and in the games it looks like he's got a chance to succeed in every at-bat that he goes to the plate. That's all you can hope for as a hitter.

PinstripesPlus: Well what have you seen from Austin Jackson? Is he making similar adjustments, putting the ball in play more?

Denbo: I think he's had a tremendous spring. A.J. is one of the better athletes we have in the organization. This kid, I think, had a pretty limited baseball experience [growing up]. I thought he did a great job last year in Charleston. He learned a lot, he's a sharp kid, he makes adjustments very quickly, and he's learning how to control his load and stride in order to be in a good position to recognize pitches. I think once he does that he has the skills - the bat speed and the quickness and ability to react to pitches that not many people have - I look for him to continue the development process this year and over the next couple of years I really think he's a player to watch for us. He's really an exceptional athlete and you really enjoy working with a player with those kind of tools.

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\r\n \r\n \r\nPinstripesPlus.com: He had such a great year last year being among the league-leaders in hitting for a while. What kind of progress have you seen from Reegie Corona?
\r\n
\r\nGary Denbo: The first time I saw Reegie was in the fall of 2005 in the Instructional League when I first came back and started working with the Yankees. You could see that he had very good hands, good adjustability with the bat, but he didn't use his lower-half very well. He made contact but it wasn't crisp solid contact like you'd like to see. Over the course of last season, Torre Tyson had him in Charleston and Torre did an outstanding job of getting him down on his legs a little better in his setup and throughout the process of his swing. As the season progressed, the crispness of the contact just got better and better throughout the year. So I think he's made tremendous progress. He was one of the big surprises for us last year. I think the secret is out now. He is one of our better hitters. He's got a great feel for the barrel and he's just continued where he left off last year and hopefully he'll come out and have another solid season for us.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Carlos Urena, despite being one of the youngest players in camp, is having one of the better springs. I know he hasn't been with the Yankees too long, but what have you seen from him that has given him the early success that he's had?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: He's an exciting player. He's got a lot of tools to work with and every coach loves to work with players like that. The ball really gets off his bat well. What I see that you don't normally see with most young players is that he hits the ball to all fields. He can lead to the pull-side of the field and he drives the ball to right-centerfield also. That's very impressive for such a young hitter. He's shown that he's got some bat speed and hopefully he'll develop into a very good player like we think he will.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: What have you seen from Eric Duncan in the Arizona Fall League last year and in camp this year that can give the fans a more positive outlook for this year?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: Well, number one, he's healthy. He went through at least three different times last season where he went down where his back was bothering him. It's very difficult to do anything when you're in that kind of condition. He also had stretches when he was healthy when he got back in Double-A where he was very, very good. You put his numbers together, in a half-season of at-bats in Trenton and you double those, the numbers look pretty darn good. Eric has come out this spring and worked very hard, as he always does - he's one of the hardest working players we have in the organization - and what he's done is developed some looseness in his swing now. I think he's taking more aggressive swings. I think he went up and made some adjustments with Kevin Long in major league camp and he's come back here and stayed with that program. He's having some impressive at-bats here in Spring Training and we hope it carries into the season.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Eduardo Nunez had the great year in Staten Island two years ago and then struggled to make consistent contact last year. What can you tell us about his progress?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: 'Nunie' is a little bit like Reegie Corona in that he relies on his hands. Even on defense, a lot of players that have good hands on defense, sometimes they don't move their feet around and get their feet in position to make plays. They just rely on their good hands to make the plays for them and then it translates into offense. When 'Nunie' is on offense, he's got great hands, he has good adjustability with the bat, but he doesn't use his legs together with his upper-half to be able to be in a strong hitting position to make contact. We're in the process right now of developing that area of his swing, the lower-half, and we think once he gets in sync - his lower-half half and his upper-half - he's really going to catch on and you'll be surprised how well he really hits.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: I don't know how much you've seen of him so far, but I really like Zoilo Almonte's swing. What can you tell us about him?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: I can't say a lot because I haven't seen him much, but he has a characteristic that a lot of good hitters have: everything he does is very easy. His load, his stride, it's very slow, it's under control, and he has good balance. That usually equals good pitch recognition and the ability to control the barrel. He has all those things. He has the makings of a quality hitter. He's young though so he's going to have to work hard, get in the weight room, and make sure he keeps his body in good shape. Like I said, he has the qualities that he could be a very good hitter for us.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: I know you took away the leg-kick from Tim Battle last season and he's been working hard on his new stance and swing. Have you seen encouraging signs from him so far after making those changes?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: Tim Battle is a player that I'm very proud of. Again I give a lot of credit to Torre Tyson for doing an outstanding job with Tim last year, and really the year before. Sometimes you see progress a player makes over the course of a couple of years, or sometimes you'll see a player make big progress in a short period of time, but usually that's the result of a lot of hard work by somebody a year ago or maybe two seasons ago with the player and the coach. Torre did a great job with Tim. Tim made some huge adjustments last year, cut his strikeouts down tremendously, and we look for him to do that again this year because when he puts the ball in play, he's a very dangerous hitter. He has a chance to drive the ball into the gaps and that's the type of hitter we want him to think about being right now, a left-center to right-center hitter. We've taken away a big leg-lift from him, we've taken away a hand-drop from him, and Tim Battle looks like a professional hitter right now when takes batting practice and in the games it looks like he's got a chance to succeed in every at-bat that he goes to the plate. That's all you can hope for as a hitter.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Well what have you seen from Austin Jackson? Is he making similar adjustments, putting the ball in play more?
\r\n
\r\nDenbo: I think he's had a tremendous spring. A.J. is one of the better athletes we have in the organization. This kid, I think, had a pretty limited baseball experience [growing up]. I thought he did a great job last year in Charleston. He learned a lot, he's a sharp kid, he makes adjustments very quickly, and he's learning how to control his load and stride in order to be in a good position to recognize pitches. I think once he does that he has the skills - the bat speed and the quickness and ability to react to pitches that not many people have - I look for him to continue the development process this year and over the next couple of years I really think he's a player to watch for us. He's really an exceptional athlete and you really enjoy working with a player with those kind of tools.
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

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