Mark Newman Yankees

Mark Newman has served in the Yankees’ organization for 22 years. As Senior VP of Baseball Operations, he oversees the entire player development system. NoMaas’ Sensei John Kreese sat down with Mark for a long interview, discussing everything from talent acquisition and evaluation to the current state of the farm and individual Yankee prospects.

SJK: As Senior VP of Baseball Operations, you are the boss of the entire player development system. What exactly does that role entail? How does the hierarchy work?

MN: It works like this. We have exceptional people leading four different departments of player development. Damon [Oppenheimer] runs our domestic scouting. Donny Rowland leads our international scouting department. Pat Roessler is our farm director, and a guy named Pat McMahon leads our international player development efforts, which are centered in our complex in the Dominican. Each one of those guys has responsibilities.

The nature of amateur scouting in the US is such that our guys do this all year. All in, it’s probably close to a twelve-month a year operation. They’ve got showcases in the fall, home visits in the winter — high school and college games in the spring leading up the draft. And then post-draft, there are summer leagues like the Cape, high school showcases, national team tryouts — there’s all kinds of things that our guys are involved in. Damon runs that department very well, and he has the authority to draft the players the Yankees need. Neither Cash or I tell him who to pick and who not to pick. We’re there to support, and evaluate his production, just like everyone else in the organization is evaluated.

I do get more involved in international scouting, just due to the nature of the activity. I spend a lot of time down there with Donny Rowland.

SJK: Who actually decides when a player is promoted?

MN: There’s a lot of people involved in this. Ultimately, I do, but Pat Roessler plays a major role in that. If it’s a top prospect — we just moved Slade Heathcott from extended spring to Charleston — I’ll talk to people in the player development leadership group, including Cash. If Cash says “don’t do it”, then we won’t, because he’s obviously the General Manager and has a responsibility for baseball operations in a general sense. He doesn’t though, because even with the people I oversee, we don’t micro-manage these guys.

SJK: In regards to Slade, and also JR Murphy who was sent to Charleston, are they going to stay there? Or when the Penn League starts are they going to….[Mark jumped in]

MN: There is a chance they could go to the Penn League. Our initial intent was to send them to Charleston to get them ready for the Penn League.

They’ve been here in this complex [Tampa] for a long time, and it can be a difficult and long experience. They play here in our complex with no fans, during the day, and there’s no external motivators to get players going. We wanted to give those guys a competitive challenge and a change in their environment. Our original plan was to then send them to the New York Penn League. That still may happen.

SJK: Due to where the Yankees select in the draft, do you think the organization is better positioned for success via international signings or the draft?

It’s all part of a large effort to acquire talent. We have to do it in the draft. We have to do it in international signings. We have to make trades. We have to sign free agents. Every talent pool has to be explored. When you pick where we pick, the Stephen Strasburgs aren’t there. So we have to find Phil Hughes and Robbie Cano. We got Brett Gardner….[Sensei jumps in]

SJK: Are you surprised by what Gardner has done offensively? Has he exceeded your expectations?

MN: No, because we always thought he would be a good offensive player. We thought he would be a starter in the major leagues. We thought he’d play great defense, draw walks, steal bases, be disruptive…we thought he’d do all of that. And each year he’d struggle first time through a new level, and then the next year he’d blow right through it.

SJK: Looking at the draft this year, there seemed to be a strong slant towards athletic, premium-position type players. Was that the blueprint heading into the draft, and was that a reflection of where you think the current needs are in the farm system?

MN: No, we approach the draft as we approach signings internationally — we want to get the best players we can. We’d like to get athletic players, which means you’ll probably be drawn to middle-of-the-field guys. Our first 4 picks are athletic guys. Culver is a plus runner. Gumbs is a plus runner. Williams is a plus-plus runner. Culver is a shortstop. Gumbs is a shortshop. Williams is a centerfielder that can be shortshop. They can move.

SJK: When you’re looking at a high school player vs. a college player vs. an IFA, do you evaluate them differently because of age, competition, and cultural differences?

MN: Yes, there’s different ways you project. You’re looking for baseball tools, but also for size and potential for strength. You’re looking for that stuff in all three areas of players. And what you project depends on where they’re at. You project less for a college kid versus a high school kid. And with an IFA, you’re signing 16 and 17-year old kids, so you’re projecting more than with a high school kid in the US.

SJK: Moving away from amateur talent and on to the topic of the current system, would you agree that the system is significantly thinner now than it has been over the last few years?

MN: Oh yeah, we gotta rebuild. We traded Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Vizcaino, Mike Dunn…with the Yankees, there will always be times when it’s stronger than others because of trades.

SJK: When a player arrives in your system, are there certain baseball principles you look to instill in them? What about hitters, for example?

MN: There’s two basic principles that make up the foundation of our hitting program: Get a good pitch to hit and use the whole field. We don’t want to develop dead-pull hitters or dead-opposite-field hitters.

SJK: What about pitchers? When they arrive, are there certain things you immediately do with them? Do you make them stop throwing certain pitches? Do you work on mechanics?

MN: We don’t make any changes immediately. We want to look at them for an extended period of time to see what they do well, and what they don’t do well. Plus, we want them to become emotionally comfortable in this environment. Until they do, you don’t know what you have because they could be impacted by something like that.

SJK: Over the years, I’ve read that you discourage a slider in favor of the curveball. Is that accurate?

MN: To say we discourage a particular pitch is incorrect. All of our players have individual development plans based on their particular abilities. We will try to get someone to develop a breaking pitch and then a second breaking pitch, but not at the same time. If push came to shove, we’d develop the curveball because it has a broader application, but it’s case-by-case depending on the player.

SJK: There’s been a significant increase in the quality of statistical analysis that people use to evaluate players. When a kid is coming up through the system, how much do you weigh statistics versus scouting?

MN: Statistical analysis is a part of our decision-making. The value of those statistics increases as a player gets closer to the major league level. It never though replaces human judgment. We have high regards for analytics, but we have a high regard also for our ability to make the distinctions that individual assessments require.

SJK: You hear a lot in the mainstream media about the proper handling of prospects. How important do you think the pace of promotion is relative to everything else it takes to develop players? Would you consider yourself a conservative promoter, for lack of a better term, or aggressive in moving kids through levels?

MN: It’s on a case-by-case basis considering these factors: Will the player have success when he’s moved up? We want to develop confident athletes who’ve had success along the way. At the same time, we need athletes to be challenged. We moved Slade Heathcott up for elevate the challenge he faced. We try to strike a balance between those things. We can move someone aggressively like Joba. We can take our time like we did with Austin Jackson. Montero has moved fast, being 20 years old in AAA. They typically tell you when to move them. Ultimately, the game is smarter than all of us, and we need to pay attention to it.

SJK: In Joba’s case, do you think you would have moved him slower if there wasn’t such a need at the major league level at the time for bullpen help?

MN: That’s a factor. He probably would have stayed at AAA a little longer. But, he went to the big leagues and did very well. Part of the development process continues at the major league level. We use a three-year timetable for most guys. A lot of our coaches on the major league staff all spent extended periods of time in our farm program. Even Joe Girardi spent time in our instructional camps after he retired.

SJK: Moving on to individual players and a lightening rod in the fanbase, let’s talk about Andrew Brackman. His control is remarkably better this year. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost 6. But, I also read reports earlier in the year that his velocity was down and his secondary pitches still needed significant work. Where does he stand right now with you?

MN: He was at 95 the other night. His secondary pitches have improved significantly. He’s made some great progress. There might be some Double-A in his future this year if he continues to perform well. This is the ‘second-year after elbow surgery’ case right here.

SJK: Dellin Betances, he’s returning from injury. Do you still have hopes for him?

MN: Yeah, big-time stuff. I saw him at a rehab game the other day, he was at 95 mph, topped at 97.

SJK: Mark Melancon isn’t pitching as well this year as he has during the course of his career. What is your take?

MN: Well, he struggled at the big league level and he’s been up and down [to NY]. His confidence has been banged up a bit. He’s an extraordinary hard worker. He can get it up to 95-96. He’s got a quality breaking-ball and a very good change-up. He should be a good major-league reliever for us, and we expect him to do that. Sometimes you need to struggle at first to take that next step.

SJK: Adam Warren has handled the FSL so far, and Jose Ramirez has done the same in the Sally League. Any chance of a promotion in the near future for either of them?

MN: Some chance. Jose Ramirez would be more likely, but he’s young and Latin and may need a little bit more time there. This is Adam Warren’s first full season, so we’re not going to go crazy with these guys.

SJK: Looking at Tampa, their relief corps is pretty stacked. You have Jon Ortiz, Pat Venditte, Tim Norton — any chance these guys could be moved up soon?

MN: We’ve got a bunch in Trenton too. They could. Likely not in the next two weeks, but they could at some point.

SJK: Hector Noesi: Biggest surprise in the system this year?

MN: No, he was probably a surprise last year. He had come back from elbow surgery too. He’s a big-time strikethrower. He’s going to be a major-league pitcher.

SJK: What do you think his ceiling is?

MN: Probably a middle-of-the-rotation.

SJK: What’s the timetable of the return for David Adams and Manny Banuelos?

MN: Banuelos is getting close. He’s a couple weeks away. Adams has a high-ankle sprain, and that’s going slowly. Maybe two more weeks.

SJK: Looking at your dynamic catching prospects, Austin Romine has hit the ball very well at Trenton. Did you expect this type of offensive production from him?

MN: He’s gotten better offensively every year. He’s a smart guy and has a really good swing. He has a gameplan and knows how to execute that gameplan.

SJK: Moving on to everyone’s favorite topic, Jesus Montero…the consensus opinion is that he will be moved from behind the plate. Obviously, he maximizes his value if he can catch. Now, my question isn’t whether or not he’ll stay as a catcher, but it’s more a philosophical question. If he can be adequate defensively and squat for 130 games, can’t you just deal with any defensive problems he may have? Posada isn’t exactly Ivan Rodriguez in his prime back there. How much emphasis do you place on defensive value for a catcher versus quality of the bat?

MN: We put strong emphasis on the defensive tool for a catcher. It impacts the game in ways most people don’t understand. He has made huge improvements. He’s struggled with the bat the last 6 weeks, but he’s very young for the league. He’ll hit, but he’s made so many improvements. He’s maturing as a human being. We feel very strongly he will be able to catch.

SJK: If Montero does catch and Romine continues to develop, you may have a conundrum on your hands, Mark.

MN: A conundrum is a beautiful thing. We’ve also got JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez.

SJK: Any players that have surprised you so far this season?

MN: Two guys really deserve to be mentioned. Brandon Laird is really swinging the bat well and playing very good third-base. Eduardo Nunez at AAA, playing outstanding defense, hitting over .300, can run and throw…they’re emerging as legitimate prospects.

SJK: Any disappointments?

MN: It’s been injuries…trying to get Dellin back on the mound, Bleich is working through a stiff shoulder…those are the things that are difficult.

SJK: Is there anyone in the last few years, or during your tenure, that you regret letting go or were wrong about?

MN: There’s no one who comes to mind that we released, but of course, when you trade these guys away, it will happen. Tyler Clippard comes to mind. I was telling somebody yesterday, we never tried him in relief. He’s really found a nice role. He’s a great kid and I’m happy he’s doing so well.

SJK: Did you see [Jose] Tabata made his debut?

MN: I knew he was called up, but I haven’t checked the box score. We always knew he would be a good player, but we’re always going to trade good players — not all of them, but some of them, because we’re trying to win championships. The ownership has always told us, “The Yankees don’t rebuild.” The fans tell us that too. We’re the New York Yankees. We don’t go into a 3-year hiatus while we try to re-stock the system. We have to do this on the run. But those are the directives.

SJK: You raise a good point, because many fans expect you to acquire major league talent while giving up nothing.

MN: You can’t do it. We gave up good players to get Curtis Granderson. We’re going to do that. Our charge is to have enough players in our system so we can bring guys up to the big league team, and also be able to make trades. I’d love to have Tabata, Vizcaino, and Jackson, but that’s the narrow view. Our responsibility is to win games in New York and win championships. That’s why that stuff happens and will continue to happen.

SJK: I appreciate it, Mark.

MN: You got it.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to NoMaas. The amount of work that Newman and his staff put into player development is massive, and we appreciate him taking us behind the scenes.

*Special props to our minor league correspondent Gary Wallace for helping us prep for the interview