Q+A with Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava
During a recent visit to the Blue Jays’ Minor League camp at the Bobby Mattick Training Center I sat down for an interview with assistant GM Tony LaCava. In the coming days, I’ll have some articles on the club’s prospects — starting today with a feature on John Stilson — but in the meantime here’s a sample of some of the things we talked about:
How do you handle the situation at first base in Triple-A Las Vegas with Mike McDade seemingly ready but David Cooper already there?
“They’re both ready for the level. Obviously Coop had a great year there and now Mike has proven that he deserves to go there. So, we have the DH spot as well so we’ll mix and match a little bit and we’ll try to develop both of them defensively but the biggest thing is that they’re going to get the at-bats that they need at that level. So, they’re going to be at the Triple-A level getting those at-bats.”
What types of improvement have you seen during the past year from Travis d’Arnaud?
“With Sal Fasano last year, they worked really hard on that consistency and getting his feet right, his throwing mechanics and I thought he got better as the year progressed to get to the point where I think we have an above-average defensive catcher now. The offense speaks for itself. We projected power and now you’re seeing it manifest in terms of home runs and being able to drive the ball out of the park. He’s a good hitter first, his power is developing.
“He’s always had a good swing. He’s got a real naturalness as a hitter, he knows how to shorten up with two strikes and when he’s ahead in the count he can do some things that allows for a bigger swing than when he’s behind. I think there’s a real naturalness and has good hitting instincts.”
Anthony Gose has gone through a lot of adjustments in the past year. His strikeout rate is still high but have you seen advancement in other areas of his offensive game?
“Last year was a year where we gave him some swing changes and we felt like wanted him to focus on the swing changes, not worry about the strikeouts, not worrying about bunting. We just turned him loose and let him go out there and get as many plate appearances as we could and just worry about hitting and getting his swing down. This year, the approach is to finish him off before he goes onto the big leagues at some point, we need to finish him off and that would be through a two-strike approach. If he puts some of those balls in play that were strikeouts then I think the numbers are really going to show and we’re also going to reintroduce bunting. That’s something he’s always been able to do since he was an amateur but we’re going to bring bunting back and we think that will also help as he gets closer to the big leagues.”
When he came over to you guys he had a reputation as being a slap hitter. How difficult of an adjustment is it for a player to go from that approach to one where he looks to drive the ball before? Because obviously you thought the power was in there…
“We thought he was more than just a slap hitter. We thought that there was some power there and the ability to drive the ball and that’s why we made those swing changes. He worked his butt off to make them stick and hold and now we think he has a repeatable swing that allows him to get the most out of his ability, which at times is some power. I certainly wouldn’t classify him as a power hitter but he does have some power, he has power at times, but he’s definitely more than just a singles hitter. That’s what we’re seeing now.”
On the young starters starting to come up through the system such as Syndergaard, Nicolino, Norris, etc…
“Andrew Tinnish and his staff have done a tremendous job of finding and signing some athletic guys with good arms, with size and makings of good deliveries. They’re progressing through the system now and we’ve got those kids now that are going to be at a full season. We’re excited for all of those guys you mentioned in addition to Sanchez, Cardona, and then of course the kids from last year’s draft. We’re fortunate to have a group of arms that we like and the reality is you can never have enough.”
For the pitchers taken in last year’s draft class, how do you determine which level they will start the season at?
“They’ll tell us. It’s going to be in short season but we’ll watch them here in Spring Training and then the extended (Spring Training) before deciding. That’s the beauty of having the three teams, we have the Gulf Coast, we have the Appalachian League and the Northwest League. We decided to add that team when we consciously made an effort to draft younger players and sign a lot of players from Latin America. We have to sort through them and they’re so young, and they need the levels, they need the touches. We’ll watch them close and then we’ll decide which level they should go.”
Obviously the inability to sign Tyler Beede was a big topic of conversation last year. But by adding Norris, who dropped in the Draft because he was considered a tough sign, does it almost feel like you still got a first-round pick?
“Our scouts really like Norris, they really liked Beede, it’s hard to say. Norris is a guy that half our guys liked Norris better than Beede. Half our guys liked Beede. We were able to draft both and unfortunately we weren’t able to sign Beede but we’re glad to have the left hander.”
Internal debates about pitching prospects…
“I think everyone has their own list of who they would prefer but at this point in time we have them all so there’s no need to choose one or the other. You’re just trying to develop them to their fullest and I know our development staff treat each player like they’re special and we’re going to develop them to their fullest. We don’t make decisions to who we work harder with our anything like that everybody gets the full attention of the staff.”
Scouting report on Norris…
“He’s a gifted left-hander with a very good arm. He has an above-average fastball and he’ll show you an above-average breaking ball. We think he has the athleticism and we think he has a chance to be a quality Major League starter.”
On Chad Jenkins…
“Jenkins is progressing just like we hoped he would. He’s got that quality sinker, slider’s getting better, he’s working on getting a longer stride and he’s making the most of his opportunity over on the Major League side. He’s opening eyes.”
Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m posting daily updates from Spring Training.