Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com…
Q&A with Carlos Rios
Carlos Rios: Jose Sanchez is going to be one to watch. He has a plus, plus arm. He is a converted shortstop with tremendous defensive skills behind the plate. Defensively, he's going to be a special player. Offensively, I think he's going to be alright. He's got a little bit of power, but he's more of a gap-to-gap hitter. He hits well and impacts the ball.
PinstripesPlus: Are there any international signings that our readers should be aware of as players to keep in mind as future impact players?
Rios: Walter Ibarra is a special defensive shortstop who can hit from both sides of the plate. Daniel Hill is a 16-year old right-handed pitcher from Mexico. He's 6'3" or so and he's already throwing 91-92 MPH and he's got good pitchability. Zolio Almante has a chance to be a rare talent. He's a switch-hitting outfielder that can hit for power and average. He's only 16-years old and yet he has an advanced approach at the plate. Without putting undue pressure on him, he kind of reminds me of a young Rafael Palmeiro. He'll be a corner guy because he's got a lot of power. It doesn't happen too often with such young players, but all three have got a chance to be impact players and they should be in the States next year.
PinstripesPlus: One of the big stories from this past season is the ascension of Jose Tabata. Where did you and your staff find him and what are your impressions of him?
Rios: He's a Venezuelan kid that we saw in a tournament at 14 1/2 years old. He showed a lot of power early. He's a very, very talented player. Our scouts grew closer to him, learned his strengths and weaknesses, and realized he was worth our time and money. My scouts did a great job acquiring a talent like him. He's going to be a guy that hits for average and power and steals bases. The one thing for him is maintaining his weight under control. He's committed and serious about the game, so I don't think it will be an issue. He's got all five tools in his game. I hate making comparisons for such young players, but I see him as a Raul Mondesi type with better hitting ability. He doesn't have the arm of Mondesi, but Mondesi was more of a free-swinger than Tabata.
PinstripesPlus: What are your impressions of Francisco Castillo?
Rios: For me, Castillo is a power pitcher. He's a strong kid with a good delivery who can throw hard and shows the ability to throw a good changeup. He has a good mental approach, but he needs to come up with a third pitch. If he can't come up with that third pitch to go along with his fastball and changeup, I think he could be a stopper [closer]. He's got a great personality and he is eager to learn. [The way he pitched last year] He was a very good surprise.
PinstripesPlus: What do you think of Wilkins De La Rossa? He's not as young as some of the other players from the Dominican Summer League, so do you think he has as much upside?
Rios: He lost a year or a year and a half with double knee surgery, so really, he's still young. I think he'll be fine. I think he's on the upswing now that he's finally healthy. He is a tremendous center fielder. He gets to the ball with easiness in the outfield. I mean, he gets to a lof of balls that most other players can't get to. I think they [the Yankees] should play him in center field. He's got occasional home run power right now. I think he'll hit a lot of doubles with a fair amount of home runs, but his defense should keep him there.
PinstripesPlus: Are there any 'sleepers' from the Dominican Summer League this past season that we should keep in mind?
Rios: Andres Santos is a 6'2" left-handed pitcher that ended up strong this past season. He couldn't pitch for a year and a half or so and he did real well for us by the end of the year. I think he'll be a starter. He's a young kid, 18-years old I believe, and this was his first year. He throws 88-92 MPH and he's got a good feel for the changeup. I think if he's healthy enough, he'll be in the Gulf Coast League next season.
PinstripesPlus: Of all the players you've mentioned so far, who are, in your opinion, the top players making the move to the United States in 2006?
Rios: Walter Ibarra and Zolio Almante. Ibarra has played professional baseball against much older competition, so I think he can handle it better. Almante is going to be a special bat down the road.
PinstripesPlus: What are your thoughts on Eduardo Nunez and what he was able to do with the Staten Island Yankees this past season?
Rios: I think Nunez is as talented a young player as you can sign. In the traditional scout's scale, his arm is a 60-70 type of arm and he's got real soft hands. We were a little concerned pushing him up to that level [Staten Island], but he stepped up and performed at a really high level. Don't get me wrong. We knew he had the tools, but he was still learning how to play the game. He might stay there [shortstop], but he also might have enough power to play third base too. There's no reason he can't stay there though. Offensively, he can hit from both sides of the plate. He was a right-handed hitter only who has been switch-hitting for only about a year or a year and half. He hits for occasional power now, but I think he'll hit for power as he matures.
PinstripesPlus: What's the deal with Wady Ruffino? Will he ever have a breakout year?
Rios: Ruffino just needs to mature. He's got as much talent as anybody. His issues are in regards to understanding the rules and policies of the Yankees. He's a wonderful right-handed power hitter who can play first base or a corner outfield spot. In fact, he's got as much raw power as anybody I've ever seen. He over swings at times. But when he stays focused, he's going to allow himself to do more. I think he's got a good chance to play in Staten Island next season.
PinstripesPlus: What is going on with Johnny Cordoba? Is he out of baseball entirely?
Rios: No, he's actually pitching in a league in Panama right now and he's finally healthy. He'll be coming back [to the Dominican Summer League] this year and we'll see what he can do. He's a small guy that pitches big. He's got a good curveball, a fastball in the 88-90 MPH range, and a good changeup. He makes left-handed batters look silly and he still has a chance with the Yankees, but he'll be back in the DSL next year.
PinstripesPlus: How good could Domingo Cabrera be?
Rios: Domingo is a very high ceiling pitcher. He played center field and when we asked him to pitch for us, he was very reluctant at first. He did some things this past year [in the Gulf Coast League] I didn't think he was capable of doing just yet. He's pitching right now on just raw ability. That's all you're seeing from him right now, which should tell you about his ceiling.
PinstripesPlus: Nardi Contreras is really high on Rolando Japa. What are your thoughts on him and why was he in the Dominican Summer League a little longer than most?
Rios: Japa is another guy that started out as a positional player. He came up as a second baseman before we moved him to the mound. So like Cabrera, he's got a lot of room to grow. He has a great body with a very good arm. He throws his pitches with good sinking action and he just goes out there everyday. He didn't get a big bonus or anything, so he goes out there and proves it on the mound that he wants it more.
PinstripesPlus: What are your thoughts on Reynaldo Rodriguez?
Rios: He played at catcher for us, but he didn't have the strongest arm behind the plate so we moved him to the outfield. He's a good athlete that runs so well, which is part of the reason we moved him to the outfield. He doesn't have much power right now, but he's got a good frame.
PinstripesPlus: Will Maximo Nelson and Juan De Leon ever make it back to the United States?
Rios: No, not right now. They both have ability, that is not in question. It is a government ruling and we've tried everything possible to get them back. But they broke the rules and there's a price to be paid. I just don't think there's any possible way they will be back in the United States.
PinstripesPlus: What is the status of Dionisio Tineo?
Rios: He's a young hitter that has been playing third base. He just needs to get stronger and learn the fundamentals better. He really needs some more development and he'll be back in the Dominican Summer League next year.
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