Q&A with Nardi Contreras - Part I

The Discovery Channel has their popular 'Shark Week' each year and we have 'Nardi Week'. Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com for a long Q&A session. In Part One of our multi-part series, Nardi talks about Mike Dunn and his walks, if he believes Mark Melancon will do better at the big league level, and much, much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Before he went down with Tommy John surgery, had you guys seen George Kontos become that four-pitch hurler that you wanted him to be?

Nardi Contreras: I was there to see George's first game in Triple-A. He was a little nervous but he competed well. He used all four pitches effectively well. I think he came out of the game in the sixth inning with only a couple of runs scored. He pitched well during his time in Scranton.

PinstripesPlus.com: Mark Melancon did really well in Triple-A but struggled a little bit at the big league level. Is he a guy you're worried about a little bit or does he just have to find his way in the bigs before becoming the same kind of pitcher that he has been at the minor league level?

Contreras: I'm not worried about that stuff. He will continue to pitch and learn. He will show us at the Major League level what he showed us at Triple-A. Pitching at the Major League level is a different animal and there is some adjusting to do there. Mark's stuff is there and he is someone that doesn't lack confidence. With time he will produce at the big league level.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know you were a little disappointed initially losing Ivan Nova in the Rule 5 Draft. But when you got him back this year, did you see him make the kind of progress that you wanted to see him make this year?

Contreras: I saw him pitch in Trenton before he went to Scranton and he pitched really well. I believe he pitched for seven or eight inning and gave up a couple of runs. He had all of his pitches working. His fastball velocity was there, he had sink, his curveball was biting, and the changeup was fading. He pitched inside to both sides of the plate. He really pitched well, so I would easily say that I am happy that he is pitching for us and not some other organization. He has really matured.

PinstripesPlus.com: Can you tell us a little bit about Romulo Sanchez, the pitcher you got from the Pirates?

Contreras: I saw him pitch once early when we first got him. He showed plus power with his fastball, a good changeup and a fair slider. He was real raw, he would just rear back and let it fly. Shortly after that we put in the rotation and Scott Aldred was able to work in improving his delivery and control. He is blessed with a great arm and there aren't many power arms like his.

PinstripesPlus.com: You say power arm and Kevin Whelan comes to mind. His bugaboo has always been his walks. Did you see some encouraging signs in his development this year that maybe he can overcome that?

Contreras: I saw him pitch a couple of outings in Trenton. Tommy Phelps did a nice job in helping Kevin with his control. His stuff, velo, pitches, and control were much better than the year before. He has three Major League pitches in the power fastball, slider and the split. Kevin has improved but he still needs to do a better job harnessing all three pitches. When that happens he will have great success.

PinstripesPlus.com: Mike Dunn certainly falls into that Kevin Whelan category this year of a power arm who walks a few too many guys. What is going wrong with him when he's walking guys, is it his fastball command?

Contreras: I think it is this new power that he has. I just saw him pitch in Arizona Fall League and he is showing his arm strength. He has a great arm but he tries to put a little more on it than he has to. He didn't have the problem of walking hitters when he was in the low 90's. He pitched. He is a young left-hander with a power arm and now we have to get him to harness that power fastball and slider.

PinstripesPlus.com: Zach Kroenke had a great year this season. He's always had that slider-fastball combination with command. Did you see him make progress in the other areas of his game or is it more steady as it goes with him?

Contreras: Yes, Zach continues to improve. He is now using a forkball and compliment his fastballs and slider. When I saw him early this year he had an earny [ERA] around 0.70 and he made getting outs look easy. He needs to continue to get better holding runner close and he also has his pickoff move. Here is a lefty with an average to plus fastball and a sinker, a nasty slider and a forkball. Soon he should get his chance to show what he can do at the Major League level.

PinstripesPlus.com: Jose Valdez is a bit of an intriguing guy because a few years ago he was throwing hard, then got hurt and didn't throw nearly as hard, but now he's back to throwing hard. Is he merely a power arm at this point or are there some secondary pitches that make him more of a viable option?

Contreras: Jose needs to control his pitches better to pitch at a higher level of baseball. He has power with his fastball, he has an average slider and changeup, and a plus forkball. He pitched really well for us in Trenton. He became the closer and to my knowledge this is the first time he has pitched in that role for any length of time.

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\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Before he went down with Tommy John surgery, had you guys seen George Kontos become that four-pitch hurler that you wanted him to be?
\r\n
\r\nNardi Contreras: I was there to see George's first game in Triple-A. He was a little nervous but he competed well. He used all four pitches effectively well. I think he came out of the game in the sixth inning with only a couple of runs scored. He pitched well during his time in Scranton.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Mark Melancon did really well in Triple-A but struggled a little bit at the big league level. Is he a guy you're worried about a little bit or does he just have to find his way in the bigs before becoming the same kind of pitcher that he has been at the minor league level?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I'm not worried about that stuff. He will continue to pitch and learn. He will show us at the Major League level what he showed us at Triple-A. Pitching at the Major League level is a different animal and there is some adjusting to do there. Mark's stuff is there and he is someone that doesn't lack confidence. With time he will produce at the big league level.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: I know you were a little disappointed initially losing Ivan Nova in the Rule 5 Draft. But when you got him back this year, did you see him make the kind of progress that you wanted to see him make this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I saw him pitch in Trenton before he went to Scranton and he pitched really well. I believe he pitched for seven or eight inning and gave up a couple of runs. He had all of his pitches working. His fastball velocity was there, he had sink, his curveball was biting, and the changeup was fading. He pitched inside to both sides of the plate. He really pitched well, so I would easily say that I am happy that he is pitching for us and not some other organization. He has really matured.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Can you tell us a little bit about Romulo Sanchez, the pitcher you got from the Pirates?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I saw him pitch once early when we first got him. He showed plus power with his fastball, a good changeup and a fair slider. He was real raw, he would just rear back and let it fly. Shortly after that we put in the rotation and Scott Aldred was able to work in improving his delivery and control. He is blessed with a great arm and there aren't many power arms like his.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: You say power arm and Kevin Whelan comes to mind. His bugaboo has always been his walks. Did you see some encouraging signs in his development this year that maybe he can overcome that?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I saw him pitch a couple of outings in Trenton. Tommy Phelps did a nice job in helping Kevin with his control. His stuff, velo, pitches, and control were much better than the year before. He has three Major League pitches in the power fastball, slider and the split. Kevin has improved but he still needs to do a better job harnessing all three pitches. When that happens he will have great success.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Mike Dunn certainly falls into that Kevin Whelan category this year of a power arm who walks a few too many guys. What is going wrong with him when he's walking guys, is it his fastball command?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I think it is this new power that he has. I just saw him pitch in Arizona Fall League and he is showing his arm strength. He has a great arm but he tries to put a little more on it than he has to. He didn't have the problem of walking hitters when he was in the low 90's. He pitched. He is a young left-hander with a power arm and now we have to get him to harness that power fastball and slider.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Zach Kroenke had a great year this season. He's always had that slider-fastball combination with command. Did you see him make progress in the other areas of his game or is it more steady as it goes with him?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Yes, Zach continues to improve. He is now using a forkball and compliment his fastballs and slider. When I saw him early this year he had an earny [ERA] around 0.70 and he made getting outs look easy. He needs to continue to get better holding runner close and he also has his pickoff move. Here is a lefty with an average to plus fastball and a sinker, a nasty slider and a forkball. Soon he should get his chance to show what he can do at the Major League level.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Jose Valdez is a bit of an intriguing guy because a few years ago he was throwing hard, then got hurt and didn't throw nearly as hard, but now he's back to throwing hard. Is he merely a power arm at this point or are there some secondary pitches that make him more of a viable option?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Jose needs to control his pitches better to pitch at a higher level of baseball. He has power with his fastball, he has an average slider and changeup, and a plus forkball. He pitched really well for us in Trenton. He became the closer and to my knowledge this is the first time he has pitched in that role for any length of time.
\r\n
\r\n

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

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