Yankees’ Senior VP Mark Newman is on the open road, in the midst of visiting all of the Bombers’ minor league affiliates. NoMaas’ Sensei John Kreese caught up with farm system boss in Trenton, and talked about everything under the sun.

Sensei John Kreese: Compared to the success of last season, how would you rate the performance of the overall system so far this year?

Mark Newman: I don’t really think in those terms. That requires an amalgamation of views on a variety of different players. I would say “fair”, but I don’t do amalgamations in the middle of the year.

At the major league level, Nova’s been a solid contributor. He’s done what we hoped he would do. Eduardo Nunez has played well, and he’s getting his feet on the ground defensively, and I think he’ll be a solid defender. Brett Gardner has continued his progress. He’s having some basestealing issues that he’s working through, but his defense is elite. He saves us runs, which is the same as creating runs. David Robertson continues to improve and grow. The young guys up there are doing fine.

Noesi’s had some OK moments, but he has a lot of development still to do.

SJK: Speaking of Noesi, do you agree with how he’s been handled this year? He had a great year in 2010, but he’s only pitched 19 innings this season. He goes quite a few days in between appearances. He’s basically stuck in the long relief role. What are your thoughts on that?

MN: Our thoughts are that we’re in an ‘all-hands on deck’ scenario. Our mission is to win games in New York. Our secondary mission is to develop championship-caliber players in our farm system. In the ideal situation, Noesi would be a starter in Scranton right now and be continuing his development. However, we have to return to that priority of winning in New York. In that regard, we are doing what we have to do at this moment. It may not be what any of us like to do, but it’s what we have to do.

Now you can take that in isolation and criticize what we’re doing as detrimental to his development, or you can view it in the context of a bigger picture. You can ask any rabid Yankee fan and I would guess they’d care more about winning in New York than the development of a young pitcher.

SJK: I would agree with that, but only to an extent. Lately, there’s definitely been some criticism within the fanbase that there is a lack of willingness to use prospects on the big club, with the most recent example being the signing of Brian Gordon instead of using someone like Noesi. Do you think that criticism is fair?

MN: I wouldn’t want to characterize the criticism as fair or unfair. It was our decision that at the current time our best option was Brian Gordon. He had extraordinary performance over the last couple months in AAA, and because of an out, he became available. We always want to promote our guys, but this was a special case. We needed to make a decision on what would help us win in the short-term. We understand those criticisms, but we’ll see how it all plays out. Remember our priority is to win games.

SJK: What about David Phelps and Adam Warren? Why were they passed over for Gordon?

MN: They were in consideration. Adam Warren has picked it up a notch over his last few starts. But, his walks have gone up and his strikeouts have gone down. He’s still adjusting to Triple-A. The silver lining is that Adam Warren will get more time in Triple-A. I’ll tell you this, his slider has improved immensely. Because he’s had time to fail, screw up, and recalibrate, he’s a better pitcher than what he was last year. Signing someone like Brian Gordon gives Warren a little more time to refine his abilities. We think Adam Warren is going to be a good starter for us, and I’m more confident now after I saw him pitch last week.

Phelps has to work his way through this shoulder thing. But, he’s pitched fine all year.

SJK: Some scouts view Phelps more as a reliever due to a lack of pitch arsenal. Would you agree with those assessments? Do you envision him as a reliever or a starter in New York?

MN: I don’t think it’s an either/or question. I think he can start, throw strikes, sink the ball, and compete. His pitch arsenal isn’t fully developed yet. I think the quality of his curveball and changeup has improved. His velocity was down a little bit this year relative to last year, but I think it has more to do with the shoulder issue. He’s working his way through that now.

Pitchers are not starters or relievers. Phil Hughes was a very valuable reliever and then was an All-Star starting pitcher in 2010. Phelps could be a starter or reliever. Where he ends up eventually, we’ll find out. In my personal view, we spend a lot of time and wasted energy on trying to prognosticate what a guy’s future role will be. Ultimately, the game will tell you. We went through that with Joba. There’s still people who want to argue that Joba should be a starter. It’s only an academic exercise now, but it seems to me that the game told us that he was a better reliever, even though he could start.

SJK: Speaking of starting and relieving, Brackman is in the bullpen now. What’s happened with him this year?

MN: He’s struggling. He’s frustrated with what he’s doing. We have to fight through it. One of the highlights of last season was how he pitched towards the end of the year, and he was probably the best pitcher in Trenton at the conclusion of the season. He’s gone off the tracks now though. Brack’s a real competitive guy and we know he’ll fight through this. Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say.

SJK: Is there anything you can pinpoint that’s changed with him?

MN: It’s command. It’s confidence.

SJK: Sticking with AAA, what’s the latest on Tim Norton and how close was he to getting the call to New York?

MN: He was certainly in consideration. He’s had injury issues obviously, and we kept him in Double-A longer than the general population probably thought we should. But, we were allocating innings on a conservative basis. He hadn’t gone back-to-back, and we finally starting doing that with him because we thought he was strong enough to do it. He got through that fine.

At Double-A, we can manage innings easier than we can manage innings at Triple-A. In Triple-A, our position is that you need to pitch like you would at the major league level. At Double-A, we can tell a pitcher “you’ll throw 2 innings every 2 days for the next three weeks.” At Triple-A we can’t do that, because you’re at the beck and call of the big league club, and they need to be conditioned both physically and mentally to perform on the big stage. So at Scranton, we try to maintain a mirror image of how they’d be used in New York.

Every time you move a player up, he tends to get an adrenaline rush, so we try to be careful, and that was the case with Norton. He works his rear end off, so if he can come back, he will come back.

SJK: Does that process, in which you mirror usage at the AAA level with the big league level, also apply to position players?

MN: Yes. You’ll notice that a guy like Greg Golson, who’s really performing well, is playing multiple outfield positions because that’s how Girardi would use him in New York.

SJK: We’ve heard quite a bit in the past couple weeks about the Jesus Montero saga. You were quoted in saying that he feels like he should be in the big leagues already. Some people are saying he’s bored. His numbers this year aren’t as good as they were last year. What’s the deal with Montero and what’s going on with him in your view?

MN: Defensively, he’s improved. Offensively, he’s not playing as well as he did last year. If he’s bored, he shouldn’t be. I’m close to him and I don’t think he is. He’s got big-time ability, but still has developmental work to do. Sometimes with pitchers, we see them work hard on their breaking ball, and their changeup goes south. They need to find that equilibrium. In Montero’s case, catching is so demanding and he’s focused so much on being a big-league caliber catcher, that he’s been less focused on hitting. He needs to find that equilibrium.

If you’re an outfielder, that transition to offense from defense is much less demanding than when you catch. One of my all-time favorite players is Paul O’Neill and if you paid attention, you could sometimes see him practicing his swing in right field. You don’t see a catcher do that. Montero is 21 years old, he’s basically a college junior. He’s playing in Triple-A, and he’s playing at a very high level. He’s trying to figure out how this game works mentally. Baseball is in large part about mental preparation. A catcher needs to get ready to call and receive every pitch, plus get ready to attack every at-bat. He’s learning how to do that. There’s a reason the Nationals put Bryce Harper in the outfield.

SJK: So you are saying that Montero isn’t ready yet?

MN: He’s got work to do. He could go to the big leagues and play, but he’s got work to do before he’s truly ready. I have every confidence that he will be, but he’s got work to do.

SJK: Well, let’s go back to what you said earlier in that the Yankees’ main priority is to win games at the big league level. Playing devil’s advocate, why wasn’t Montero brought up when Russell Martin went down to his back injury? Obviously, when it comes to at least hitting, there is no comparison between Cervelli and Montero. Why wasn’t Montero called up if the priority is to “win now?”

MN: Cervelli still would have caught every day because he knows the pitching staff. Joe wouldn’t use Montero, and there was no point using him as a backup to Cervelli.

SJK: At what point do you think it takes major league experience to develop a prospect?

MN: A prospect’s development doesn’t stop when he leaves AAA — at this point, Newman asks if he can call Sensei back because Brian Cashman is calling.

– Newman calls back –

SJK: Some fans have been clamoring for Betances and Banuelos. Looking at the numbers, Betances is having problems walking hitters and Banuelos is having problems against right-handed batters. How close do you think they are to the bigs, and do you think it’s at all reasonable for fans to be complaining that they haven’t been given a shot in the Bronx yet?

MN: Everybody writes about prospects now. Ten to fifteen years ago, no one did. These guys almost become the backup quarterback. Everybody loves the backup quarterback when the team struggles.

I saw Dellin yesterday and he’s made progress. His fastball command still has issues though. Banuelos has fastball command issues as well. Dellin has only 16 Double-A starts over the past 2 years, and Manny has 17. Manny’s walked too many guys. He needs to calm that down. They need time.

SJK: Let’s look at some of the guys who got away, most notably Ian Kennedy and Tyler Clippard. At the time they were traded, they were regarded as not having dominant stuff, even though the results were good. Obviously, they’ve impressed since leaving the organization. How much do the Yankees weigh “stuff” versus “performance”, and do you have a preference for one over the other?

MN: Well, you’d like to have both. But, “stuff” isn’t just the radar gun. Ian and Tyler are two good examples. Ian’s fastball is 88-92. We measure the quality of the fastball in three ways beyond just the radar gun:

1. Command/Strike Rate
2. Swings & misses
3. Groundballs

SJK: So with Kennedy and Clippard, it wasn’t “they don’t throw 95, so we’ll make them available?”

MN: No. In Ian’s case, we liked him. We thought he would be a good pitcher, especially me and Cash. But, we were getting a premium position guy with power who had a manageable contract (Granderson). And we had a lot of pitching in our system.

In Tyler’s case, we thought Albaladejo would be a serviceable bullpen guy, but he struggled. The mistake we made was not seeing what Tyler Clippard looked like in the pen.

SJK: As the boss of the minor league system, do you ever get frustrated that prospects aren’t given the chance that other organizations might afford them?

MN: I don’t really think of it like that, but I do make a point to remind everyone not to make snap judgments on players. Look at Mark Melancon. He walked a bunch of guys when he was called up, 10 guys in 16 innings. In Houston, he’s got his feet wet and he’s throwing the ball well. We have to make sure we don’t make decisions on small sample sizes. But, we made the trade for Berkman because we thought he was a guy who could help us get to where we wanted to go. Obviously, he’s still got some game left because he’s doing well this year. We were hoping he could give that to us, but we missed it by a few months.

All of our scouts know what the Yankees are about. They don’t moan and groan if one of their draft picks gets traded. We’re in this for one reason and that’s to win championships.

SJK: Lots of promotions to Tampa recently, starting with Slade Heathcott and JR Murphy. Murphy’s been hitting well all season, Slade not as much. I know they’re roommates and they’ve played together since joining the organization. Does their relationship factor in at all with their joint promotion? In other words, are they a package deal?

MN: No, every player is his own individual. We don’t care who are roommates, who are friends — Slade had periods where he hit the ball really well and times when he didn’t, especially later on in his stint there. He needs a challenge and we think going to Tampa will help him.

SJK: Is Murphy a catcher long-term?

MN: I’ll tell you, he’s improved so much defensively. He can do other things too, but I really believe he’ll be able to catch in the big leagues. His arm strength has improved. His receiving has improved. He’s a bright guy.

SJK: Sticking with Tampa, Jairo Heredia (SP) is having a really nice season so far. What are your thoughts on him?

MN: He’s really pitching well. He struggled in 2009 and 2010. His shoulder was bothering him. He lost a bunch of weight. He’s gained the weight back. He’s stronger. He’s healthy. He’s been one of the highlights this year. I saw him pitch marvelously a couple weeks ago. But with a lot of these young kids, his fastball command is a big issue. He’s got a quality curveball and quality changeup. Both of them are ‘plus.’ He’s pitching 90-92 with his fastball and he can win a lot of games with that and his secondary stuff. He has a chance to move up at some point this year.

SJK: What about Zolio Almonte? He’s showing big-time power this year.

MN: He’s another emerging guy. He has an .869 OPS and 11 HRs in a league that is tough to hit home runs in. He’s on pace to hit over 20 home runs and that’s big. He’s stolen 9 out of 12 bases, switch hits, has some power…he’s forcing himself on the prospect map. He’s 22 years old and that’s pretty good stuff.

SJK: Back to these promotions to Tampa, Kyle Roller is fantastic hitter. Any chance he can move around, maybe an outfield position, or do you see his future as a 1B/DH type? The knock on him is that he’s not very athletic, and unless he hits at a top-level, he’ll find it hard to advance because of the clog of 1B/DH types always available.

MN: That’s what he is. He has the bat, but that’s what he is. Rob Segedin is the other one. He was promoted from Charleston to Tampa. He’s going to see more time in right field (as opposed to 3B).

SJK: With Segedin’s situation specifically and also in general concepts, what goes into the decision to try players at different positions? Is it where you see the depth or lack of depth at the major league level? Is it athleticism?

MN: There’s a couple ways to look at it. You look at the major league roster and try to have some idea of how that will look a few years down the road. You obviously have the Teixeira issue at first base and the Arod issue at third base. The next question you ask is what kind of ability does the young player have? In Segedin’s case, moreso than Roller, he has played other positions. Even with JR Murphy, we have a bunch of catching depth in the organization, but Murphy is more athletic than Montero and can play outfield and third base. You maintain your options because unpredictable situations can occur.

SJK: How do you view Romine with Montero blocking him?

MN: Romine will be a starting major league catcher. I really believe that. I wouldn’t say Montero is blocking him. Our manager went from Double-A to the big leagues as a catcher. We just don’t want them to play in the same place. Romine should be in Triple-A.

SJK: Speaking of catchers, are Gary Sanchez’s issues behind him?

MN: He’s 18 years old. He’s learning to be a professional. He’s a great kid. I love him. We have to discipline him on occasion, just like in any family.

SJK: What are your thoughts on Nik Turley? He’s a big boy, left-handed…

MN: Nik’s an interesting pitcher. He’s pitching his tail off. He’s striking out nearly 9 per nine, he’s walking 2.3 — he’s not a big radar gun guy. He’s a big boy. He’s got one brother who’s playing basketball at Penn. He’s got another brother who’s a NAVY Seal. This guy comes from a high caliber family. He’s left handed and throws secondary pitches for strikes. I would never underestimate what this kid will do. We like him a lot.

SJK: Last question, with Joba, Feliciano, and Soriano going down, are there any other arms we should be paying attention to? Maybe George Kontos?

MN: You hit the nail on the head on the guy. He’s healthy now and he’s throwing the ball better than ever. His fastball is 92-93. He’s got a swing-and-miss slider. If his strike rate with the fastball improves, he’ll certainly be an option for us. His slider is legit. It’s late, it’s quick. It’s 85-86. His strikeout rate is 9.5. His walk rate is as low as it’s ever been. He’s doing well. He’s putting himself on the map.

SJK: Well Mark, I appreciate it. Thank you again for another interview. I’m sure we’ll talk soon.

MN: No problem.