Q&A with Gary Denbo - Part I

Denbo says Kyle Anson is very disciplined

Gary Denbo, the former Yankees minor league hitting coordinator who recently became the Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com for a three-part Q&A series. In part one he gives us his thoughts on the progress of Abraham Almonte, what he's seen from Prilys Cuello, if he's seen encouraging signs from Eric Duncan and Eduardo Nunez, and much more.

PinstripesPlus: Abraham Almonte is one of the more exciting hitters. What kind of progress have you seen from him over the last year?

Denbo: It's been good. What has he been able to do this season is learn how to let the ball get to him offensively, meaning previously you'd catch him go out after the ball and making contact too far out in front frequently. I was really impressed with the progress he made during Instructional League at mini-camp in improving his load and stride to the point where he could let the ball travel back into his strengths rather than always going out to get the ball.

I saw him hitting some changeups and some breaking balls during this mini-camp that really showed that he has made some good adjustments. He's a tremendous speed guy and I saw a five-game stretch in the Gulf Coast League this year where he hit four triples. The ball really gets off his bat well. He's got some strength. He kind of reminds me of Tim Raines a little bit with his body and his speed. He's an exciting player and he's got a chance to be really good if he continues to make the progress like he did this year.

PinstripesPlus: With Prilys Cuello, I know he's got some defensive issues he's ironing out, but he seems to swing a pretty potent stick. What have you seen from him?

Denbo: Yeah he does. He has some hitting ability. Prilys is a guy that's a very aggressive hitter. He's got to learn to be more disciplined but he has good hitting ability and he has good bat control. He controls the barrel despite being a little bit overly aggressive and getting out to his front-side early. I really think when he improves his separation and improves his balance as his stride foot lands, with his ability to control the barrel like he does, I think he's going to hit. I like what I see there.

PinstripesPlus: A guy the fans kind of get down on a little bit power-wise is Colin Curtis. When I watch him take batting practice though he has shown flashes of being somewhat of a masher but he hasn't translated that into the games yet. What have you seen from him development-wise and do you see some of that power translating into the games?

Denbo: I think Colin Curtis is - when you look at hitters throughout the Yankees organization, he stands out. He's got great balance, he's a very disciplined hitter, he has a great understanding of his strengths and limitations, he makes adjustments quickly, and I think he's one of the more accomplished hitters in the organization. I think he's got a chance to be an everyday player in the major leagues.

As for his power numbers, he's going to hit more home runs. His power is going to develop. He's got to work had in the weight room, he's got to improve his overall body strength, but as far as hitting ability goes he is a pleasure to watch at the plate.

He does everything that we try to teach our young hitters to do. When he walks to the plate he puts up quality at-bats. He had a tough stretch when he got to Double-A where he was making adjustments to facing a more veteran type pitcher, but he made those adjustments and I think he's got an excellent chance to be a major league player.

PinstripesPlus: Eric Duncan has really struggled to put up good numbers over the last couple of seasons but yet he still has a ton of talent. What kind of encouraging signs have you seen from him that might indicate he starts putting up the numbers he's capable of posting?

Denbo: Well I think the last couple of months of the season in Triple-A I thought he performed like I thought he would the entire season. I think he was a .260-.270 hitter for the last two months in Triple-A. Again people tend to look at Eric Duncan and say he's not performing up to expectations, but if you take a step back and look at his age and see that this is still a young guy in Triple-A facing a lot of ex-major league pitchers and a lot of very accomplished pitching staffs, I'd say he is where he should be if he performs at that .260-.270 rate.

I think he's making progress, but he's having to make adjustments and having to learn at a very high level. Triple-A is a tough place to make adjustments. Most of the hitters in Triple-A are guys where their swing is their swing, and if they have discipline, that's about all the discipline they're going to have, and if they've got good balance and good swing paths, that's as good as they're ever going to be. You look at his numbers and maybe you don't see the improvement that you'd like to see if you just look at numbers, but when you're developing hitters you can't just look at numbers.

You've got to look at the adjustments that they're making and the quality of their at-bats. I think the quality of Eric's at-bats over the course of the season improved and I think his power numbers improved over the course of the season. I know the way that he impacted the ball got better over the course of the season. I know his ability to use the entire field when he hits got better and I know he learned over the course of the season to trust his swing and to not rush when guys were pounding him in, and to be a more disciplined hitter and getter better pitches where he could drive the ball.

Rather than focusing on what the pitchers were trying to do him he became more focused on his strengths and he got better over the course of the season. I've still got to emphasize that he's a young guy in Triple-A. A lot was expected of him because he moved up very quickly through the organization, but every hitter, with the exception of very few like Derek Jeter, gets to a point in their professional career where they've got to change and they've got to make adjustments based on what's being done to them or what level they're playing and 'Dunc' is in that process right now making adjustments. He still has a chance to be a very good major league player but I think patience is required in this case.

PinstripesPlus: Speaking of patience, the one player nearly all the fans have lost patience with is Eduardo Nunez. He seems to ooze talent but he has a hard time putting it all together. Now that he has given up switch-hitting, have you seen some encouraging signs?

Denbo: I did, yeah. He actually hit better versus right-handed pitchers when he started hitting right-handed than he did switch-hitting. He hit right-handed pitchers better than left-handed pitchers once he went to the right side and that was very encouraging for me because you always worry when you move a guy and take that left-side away that he's going to struggle against righties but he actually hit better.

I see the same things you do. I see tremendous athleticism, a great arm at shortstop, and good feet. All the tools are there for him to be successful. He has to develop the mental part of the game, he has to be mentally tough throughout the entire season, he has to stay focused during the at-bat, during each at-bat and every at-bat of every game.

Players not only have to develop physically and develop their skills, but the mental aspects of their game have to develop too. Eduardo Nunez is one of those guys that needs to improve the mental aspects of his game and when he does that with tools, he has the chance to be something really special. We'll see what happens.

PinstripesPlus: Kyle Anson was flirting with .300 this year until he fell off at the end but he seems to have a pretty nice left-handed stroke. What did you see from him this year?

Denbo: Yeah you're right but you can't discount what he does right-handed because he doesn't get very many opportunities to hit right-handed. I think guys with Kyle Anson, you look back and compare them to guys like Tom Wilson, Jorge Posada, even Julio Mosquera, guys that were ex-infielders. Their first couple of seasons after converting to a catcher it's very difficult to be a quality offensive player.

When you're converting to a catcher all of your energy is put into defense. I don't, and I don't think anybody else should, expect a guy converting from an infield position to a catching position should put up impressive offensive numbers during that first year or two of that process. You're not seeing what you're going to see offensively. Once he becomes comfortable behind the plate and masters more of the game management part defensively, then I think his offensive numbers are going to improve.

He's tremendously disciplined as a hitter. That's a very difficult thing to teach but he seems to get great pitch recognition. He lays off pitches that a lot of other hitters are chasing, pitcher's pitches. He takes those pitches so he's got an excellent chance to become a good hitter but he must improve his strength. He's got to spend a lot of time in the weight room and he's got to get stronger so that the demands of his defensive position don't take away from his offense.

PinstripesPlus: Reegie Corona is another guy who tailed off offensively down the stretch but he seems to have really put himself on the prospect map with the last two season that he's had. What have you seen from him development-wise?

Denbo: He has, he's come a long way in the last two seasons. He's playing a position at short that again is a tough transition to make [from second base]. I was a middle infielder and when I moved from shortstop to second base it felt like a vacation because the demands at shortstop are just a little bit less than what the catcher faces I think. It's a tough thing to be an everyday shortstop, especially in the Florida State League. It's so physically demanding and it's so hot that it's tough to put up good offensive numbers. Not very many guys do it.

He has improved. Reegie's another guy that the strength and conditioning program of the Yankees should help him. He's really got to focus on getting stronger because I think the last two season he has faded at the end and not been as effective offensively as he was early in the season. He's also a very streaky player so what he's got to do is be more consistent with his work habits, more consistent with his preparation, and he's really got to do a great job in the strength and conditioning program to be able to put up a full season of quality play.

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