Q&A with Carlos Rios - Part III

Rios says Jesus Montero's body has gotten better

In the final part of our three-part Q&A series with Yankees' Latin America Coordinator Carlos Rios, he gives us his thoughts on the likes of Marcos Vechionacci and Eduardo Nunez, what he has seen thus far from Jesus Montero and where does he think he'll play in 2007, which position prospects to watch out for from the Dominican Summer League, and much more!

PinstripesPlus: Eduardo Nunez has a ton of talent. He had a phenomenal season a year ago but didn't have a great season this year despite pretty good run production from a shortstop. Some fans and some publications might be quick to downgrade him as a prospect because of it. In your mind, were his struggles this past season something to be worried about?

Rios: No, his struggles are typical of a young player. He had a very good year [in 2005] and nobody thought he would have that good a year. This year was a learning one. We pushed him to the Florida State League. It didn't turn out to be good, he went down there and couldn't cope with it. Sometimes these young kids don't know how to cope with failure. I think we had great talks with him and he played well [in Instructs]. He's just one of those kids that can not let errors or bad at-bats get you down. The tools are there, it's just time and patience with him. Some people get disappointed when they look at stats and I understand that, but tools are the things that make you a great player. You just have to be able to put them all together.

PinstripesPlus: Marcos Vechionacci is another talented player who struggled this past season. Is he a guy, in your mind, that we should start worrying about?

Rios: No, these guys are talented. We pushed them. They are young, 19-years old, we tried to do something different with them, and it didn't work out this year. He went back [to the South Atlantic League] and did well. He is still talented. Everybody has to realize that these guys are just kids and they don't know how to deal with failure yet. I think this next year is going to make them tougher and smarter. Remember we had Melky [Cabrera] in the big leagues, sent him back to triple-A and then back down to double-A, and then the next year he's playing in the big leagues everyday. Sometimes these changes will make you stronger in the end. I think that's what is going to happen with these two kids [Nunez and Vechionacci].

PinstripesPlus: Well, you kind of predicted it three years when we talked about Melky Cabrera, that he was a guy we should all watch out for. Who from the Dominican Summer League this past season are the offensive guys we should watch out for?

Rios: Prilys [Cuello], the two Almontes, and [Andres] Dionicio. I say Prilys and Zoilo Almonte have special bats. They both have the potential to be Yankee-type hitters. The other two are good players, but we'll see. Time will tell where they are going to land. But all four of those guys are very, very good hitters.

PinstripesPlus: A guy we haven't touched on yet, but one that seems to have a very special bat as well, is Gerardo Rodriguez. He's now making the transition from catcher to first base. What do see out of Gerry?

Rios: Gerry's a guy I always believed was going to be a first baseman. That's what we signed him as. It's okay that we tried him at catcher. As he feels more comfortable and relaxed at first base, it will give him more time to think about hitting and not have to worry so much about catching. He's got tremendous power and with any young power hitter, he's going to have some holes. We're going to have to give him the at-bats. We believe he's going to smart enough to figure it out. He's shown that a little bit at a time, but that's good. He's doing it. He'll be challenged next year and I think he'll do better.

PinstripesPlus: What have you seen from Jesus Montero since you've signed him?

Rios: His body got much better. We're working with him on some of the techniques of hitting. The power is still there. He's got a good attitude about it. We're trying to put a lot on his plate right now to get him going. That's something we also have to be careful about how we do it. The whole package is still there. That's what we want to continue to do. It [catcher] is a difficult position to deal with, especially as a Latin catcher. He's trying to do a lot in a short period of time.

PinstripesPlus: It seems to be the Yankee way to push guys. Everybody is expecting him to be in the Gulf Coast League next season, but in your mind, do you think there's a chance we could see him in the South Atlantic League next season?

Rios: Well we're hoping that he might. I just think that's a big push for a catcher, especially in that position with the language barrier. I think the tools are there, but we also want to give him some success in his first year. Those are the things we have to consider. I think he's going to play a long time. Yeah, you want to rush guys, but I think the rush has to be at the right time. Right now we're building a foundation and if we don't build it right with success, coaching, and time, it might crumble at the end. I think the foundation was good for Melky [Cabrera]. He led the league [DSL] in hitting and then he was challenged in Staten Island, but he had a foundation. He had a couple of Instructional Leagues under him and the same thing with Cano. We were challenging them but they had some foundation. I think we're probably going to go that same route. We don't have a great need for a catcher tomorrow or anything, just two or three years down the road.

PinstripesPlus: Shortstop Damian Taveras was one of the late 'July 2nd' signs this year. What can you tell us about his game?

Rios: Taveras is a hit ability guy. He can really hit. He's a second baseman or third baseman. He's not a true shortstop. He's a smart kid and loves to play the game. He has good baseball instincts. We've been trying to make him a catcher but he doesn't want to do it. I think he would be great at it but that's something that has to come with time and something he has to convince himself he can do. He's a good athlete that can hit and he has a little pop in the bat.

PinstripesPlus: Aris De La Cruz was another late 'July 2nd' sign. What can you tell us about his game?

Rios: De La Cruz is a middle infielder that is cat-quick. He's a skinny kid, a projection guy that we signed as a middle infielder. You've got to sign a bunch of those. Some of them will play in the Dominican one or two years and get stronger and better. He's one of those guys. Some of these guys, like when we signed Reegie Corona, he was 140-pounds when we signed him and he's at 170 pounds two years down the road. That helps a lot when it happens.

PinstripesPlus: The word from scouts is that Carlos Urena is a special talent and it was kind of surprising not to see him invited to Instructs in Tampa this year. What was the reason for that?

Rios: We couldn't bring everybody and they have enough outfielders. Carlos Urena was a tremendous sign. You might have an opportunity to see him sooner because he might bypass everything. He's a center fielder who has all the tools. He has an excellent glove, gets excellent jumps at the ball, has a 65-arm [on the 20-80 scout scale], and he's got some power at the centerfield position. I think we're going to have 20 first year guys here next year and six guys will get an opportunity to play here that have not played yet that were just July 2nd signs. So we're excited about that it is going to be a great year. Put it this way, they'll at least have an opportunity in Spring Training or Extended Spring Training to show what they can do and stay here.

PinstripesPlus: Zoilo Almonte, Abraham Almonte, and Francisco Gil all participated in Extended Spring Training and all three were kind of expected to be in the Gulf Coast League this past season. Why did the Yankees decided to bring all three to the Dominican Summer League instead of putting them in the Gulf Coast League?

Rios: Francisco was not going to get the innings in the Gulf Coast League, then why keep him here, let's put him in the Dominican. And both Almontes were going to get an opportunity to play everyday in the Dominican. Anytime you can get an opportunity to give a guy close to 200 at-bats versus 50 or 75 at-bats, you're doing the right thing. It showed and paid off for all three of them because all three of them, they are going to come here and play and I believe they are going to be successful for it.

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