We sat down with Charleston RiverDogs Manager Greg Colbrunn for a Q&A session to get his thoughts on…
Q&A with Tampa Yankees Manager Torre Tyson
Torre Tyson: Corban's done a great job working his tail off to improve the things he needed to improve to play at a higher level. Unfortunately [his season] was cut short because of the wrist problem. If you look at Corban's defensive numbers from the start of the year to the last month, that's where big improvement for me is. He led our organization among infielders with just one error in the last month he played for me. It was just a long ordeal that he knew he had to work on that we started last year [in Charleston] when he came up to me. Jody Reed worked his tail off with him and I did the same thing everyday this year, and I have to give him the credit. He wants to be out there everyday doing something and I have to tell him no because he's been out in the 100 degree weather too many days in a row. Everyone who has ever seen him agrees that he's a pure hitter. We all know that and we all agree on that. Whether or not the power numbers are going to come is probably the biggest question mark everyone has. I personally think with size and strength, that's where it's going to come from, not from any big mechanical change or something like that. He's already a pure hitter. The defense is where he was really lacking and he put that together this year, and hopefully it's there again for him next year.
PinstripesPlus.com: I think we can agree too that Jose Pirela doesn't have the greatest set of tools, but yet he goes out there and puts up some numbers. Did he make you a bigger believer this past season?
Tyson: I've always said he's an interesting prospect. There's question marks about him because he doesn't have that outstanding tool, but he's not bad at anything on the flip side. The best thing that could have happened for him this year is the failure he went through at the beginning of the year because he's never had to deal with that. We saw a different side from him, a reaction that I didn't think I'd see from him, and he really grew up through that frustration and with his defense going to offense. Once we got the defense part shored up and got him right mentally, his offense started taking off. He's an ultra-aggressive type guy and you've got to keep him in aggressive situations. I thought dropping him down in the lineup might help him and I didn't see that it did so even though he wasn't doing well at all I brought him into the office one day and told him 'you're in the two hole today because I think you're better than you think you are'. He kind of gave me the 'thank you' and he stepped up. So I think he's the kind of guy that needs to be challenged and I think his key is staying aggressive. I can't tell you how many of those triples were where I had my arms up like 'no, don't go' and he went anyway. I'd say to him, 'you weren't even looking at me, were you?'. He wanted those triples.
PinstripesPlus.com: I know he didn't play much but you saw a lot of him in Spring Training and then at the beginning of the year - did you see any carryover effect with Abraham Almonte with the way he ended last season until he got hurt this year? Did you think he was poised for a breakout season this year?
Tyson: Absolutely. When he went down with the injury I knew immediately that we lost our best player all-around. I really wish I could have seen what he would have done this year because I'm pretty sure, among all of the guys I've seen over my eight years that I've coached at this level, to see him figure things out and me keep questioning it the first year and then to see him in Spring Training with the maturity and the leadership, the confidence, you could see that he knew he was the man and we all knew he was too. I was really looking forward to putting him leadoff. He could have changed our team. As a matter of fact he could have hit anywhere from one to three for us. That was a huge blow to our team. I still don't know how we made it through without him. It was just a huge blow on the field with the running, power, speed, and defense, but also with the leadership he brings, especially to the Latin American players. They really look to him. He's been my guy the last three years. We've worked our tail off on base stealing aspect and I can guarantee you that most of Melky Mesa's progress as a base stealer is from Abraham teaching him what he got from me teaching him. I kind of use Abraham on a daily basis - I even had Abraham there the last month of the season in our dugout as kind of an extra coach. We had a young kid there at the time, Anderson Feliz, we had him on the bench and I had Abraham tell him in the seventh inning what I wanted him to do in the ninth inning and how we're going to steal this base. So his value to me as a coach, I'm really going to miss him next year because I know he's going to be in Double-A. I'm really going to miss him because I've been spoiled the last three years.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about Zoilo Almonte. He didn't put up quite the same numbers that he had in Charleston, but what did you think of him overall?
Tyson: I've seen him in Spring Training the last three years. He's just one of those guys where some days you're like 'nah' and other days you're like 'wow'. I compare him to the opposite of a Pirela where some days you're like 'I don't think he can play everyday' and the next day you think he's an All Star in the big leagues. For me it's a matter of consistency, bringing it out the consistency of his tools and becoming a better ball player.
PinstripesPlus.com: I know he played for you for like a week but did you get an early impression of Ramon Flores?
Tyson: I loved him. I asked for him every time we had somebody get hurt. That's a huge jump for somebody like him who is 17 or 18 years old and he then ended up going up to Charleston and I'm pretty sure he held his own. I'm a huge fan of his. It doesn't look like much in a uniform, but the plus speed is there and the swing I'm just in love with. It's one of the sweeter left-handed swings I've seen from a young kid. You can tell as a young hitter he has that knack for pulling his hands through the zone, not hitting the ball hard all the time but having a feel for putting the ball in play, just that hit-ability you like to see in a good, young hitter. He's a really smart kid too. He knows English but he doesn't want to speak it. Kind of like Abraham Almonte, once he goes through that process of becoming more confident and secure with himself and knowing that he is a big-time player, we're really going to see some things. I hope I get a chance at him this year.
PinstripesPlus.com: Flores isn't the only youngster getting some big-time praise in the organization. Anderson Feliz, who you already mentioned, is getting a lot of love. Did you see enough to form an opinion on him yet?
Tyson: He's another guy. I ended up playing him like the second day we got him. I knew he was overmatched but he wound up hitting a game-winning home run and played an outstanding second base, and I called Jody Reed and said 'we've got a freakin big leaguer down here and he's 18'. He said 'don't get too excited', but I have to admit I got excited. That's just such a huge jump right there but I think if they send him to Charleston this [coming] year he'll be a big-time player as he progresses. You talk about speed, that guy has some big-time wheels. I'm really looking forward to working with him.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let's talk about my favorite, Manny Banuelos. Talk about what you saw from him in Charleston last year versus what you saw from him in Tampa this year?
Tyson: I guess last year he was, I shouldn't say finesse because he was throwing 90-92 mph, but last year he was more of a 90 mph guy who could locate. I think this year he really struggled at first when he came back from the appendectomy to figure out how to pitch with 94-95 [mph]. It's a big change. He got a away with a lot more stuff than he did the year before as far as the fastball goes, but he didn't get away with the offspeed stuff. I think Double-A is a great level for him next year because he's going to get by on stuff alone, so he'll figure out how to locate his 94-95 and his secondary stuff. We should see something special.
PinstripesPlus.com: Like Banuelos, you had Betances in Charleston before and this year you had him again, only this time in Tampa. Talk about the differences you saw.
Tyson: Dellin to me, with Brackman a close second, when I had Dellin in Charleston three years ago he was a lanky guy that you couldn't get to repeat anything. Guys stole all over the place, he didn't have a pick move, all of those little intangibles that help you succeed. We saw the fastball but we didn't see as many fastballs as we saw this year. We saw a great fastall and he could spin the ball [three years ago]. The first game I saw him this year when they sent him back to us, I had heard across the street that he had been doing 97 [mph] and a breaking ball falling off of the table, and I'm like 'okay, sure'. But when he got over here not only did that impress me, but the changes he went through repeating his delivery most of the time and having a feel for what he's doing wrong when he works east to west instead of north to south, then the quickness in his feet, more athleticism on the mound, all of those little things, I was just in awe that first game. And he never stopped. I knew every time he was on the mound we had a really good chance to win. If he was on, we won.
PinstripesPlus.com: Again, you mentioned his name, Andrew Brackman is another pitcher you've now had at two different levels. Talk about the differences you've seen.
Tyson: I'm starting to learn over my years coaching that I've seen all of these really tall, highly touted pitchers come through every organization, not just ours, and I'm sitting here in A-ball going 'nope, I don't like him. He's not going to do it because he can't repeat his delivery'. I've learned through my years of coaching that I would never give up on those tall guys because the ones that I've seen figure it out have such an advantage. That's the thing with Brackman this year. 'Pav' [Tampa pitching coach Greg Pavlik] did such an outstanding job with him getting him to understand that it's work, that every day out is work, it's not about the numbers and whether we win or lose. He got him to understand that it's a work day for him and that he needs to get better with each work day because he was a guy who let things get to him...the bunts, the broken bat hits, the wild pitches, all of those things would get to him. He just lost focus because he's an ultra-competitive kid. I think after the first five or six starts 'Pav' really broke through to him and we saw a whole different guy out there. He really figured things out. I just think he hit the point in his career where he said 'I need help' and 'Pav' was right there to jump on it, and we couldn't ask for a better pitching coach for him.
PinstripesPlus.com: Hector Noesi continued to put up good numbers for you again. Did you notice any big changes in his game or was he his normal self out there?
Tyson: I saw last year what I saw this year with maybe a little bit better velocity this year. He's got four pitches he can throw for strikes whenever he wants and that's why we were saying after his first two starts that he needed to be challenged. We had a couple of guys move around up top and it gave him a chance to move up even a couple of levels. He could start for a number of teams in the big leagues right now but unfortunately [for him] he's stuck with the Yankees. He's got four pitches he can throw pretty much in any count, he works both sides of the plate pretty well - working guys inside more would make him a better pitcher I think - I think he'll make a run at some spot on the big league club this year.
PinstripesPlus.com: Graham Stoneburner had a great year for you. What do you like best about him?
Tyson: He's another guy who won't be out-worked, an Adam Warren type, a guy you don't have to say anything all year to. He's kind of like an extra coach on the field and then when you do you tell him something he'll take it and put it in right away. He's just a big-time competitor. He reminds me of a [David] Phelps. He had one plus pitch this year which was his fastball, his sinker. It was so smooth people didn't see how he could throw 94-95 mph. His slider got better. When he continues to sharpen that up and get a little bit more movement, and then add in the changeup, you're looking at a guy who could be a starter or be a reliever in the big leagues.
PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned his name and for me Adam Warren was one of the most impressive guys I saw all year.
Tyson: When I talk to scouts about Warren, for me he's a better prospect than they're making him out to be. I know they're high on him but for me the most exciting part is his body type and his demeanor. When you watch him he looks like he's going to pitch all year with no elbow or shoulder problems and just eat 200 plus innings per yer in the big leagues. I'm in love with that big body and the great Roger Clemens-like demeanor.
PinstripesPlus.com: Of the guys who got called up late, the reliever types like Preston Claiborne, Chase Whitley, Ryan Flannery, etc, which one stood out in your mind?
Tyson: Selfishly speaking I think the biggest change in our team when we got Chase Whitley in there. We didn't expect much from him when he came up two levels. We threw him in there one night and Greg Pavlik and I looked at each other and we were laughing and saying 'we found a setup guy'. We finally found a way to get to [Jonathan] Ortiz, especially after losing Venditte. Whitley has the good fastball, good size, a tremendous changeup, and I'm not so sure that his slider isn't going to be tremendous once he keeps working on that. For me that's a diamond in the rough. I think we've found a big-time reliever.
PinstripesPlus.com: We've talked about in the past so I'll it again - did you see Pat Venditte start to have more inside the zone, swing-and-miss stuff this year?
Tyson: Not so much, but the thing that I was most impressed with is I think he could be a good situational left-handed reliever. With all of the different arm angles, his slider became much tighter and he actually started throwing his fastball inside, which really opened up the plate. The Yankees worked with him by dropping the right arm too and adding the slider. I'm really interested to see how he does next year.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know a guy who continually gets overlooked because of all the big-time arms and yet keeps putting up numbers too is Craig Heyer. What did you think of him this year?
Tyson: I can't say anything bad about him. He worked through a lot of off the field issues right when he had grabbed that starting job and to come back and work through that was touching to watch. He's another guy who added 3-4 mph out of nowhere and he was pitching with one pitch. I'm really hopeful that he can keep working on the changeup and the slider to give him some other look. His sinker has so much sink that I knew in the first inning if we were going to get six or seven innings with 75 pitches or if he'd be out of there after three innings.
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