Now entering his 22nd year with the Yankees, it's accurate to classify Mark Newman as one of baseball's lifers. As the senior vice president of baseball operations, Newman is involved at an executive level in every aspect of the Yankees' scouting and player development operations. Recently back from a brief trip to the Dominican Republic, Mark spent some time last week talking with me about the Yankees' system, but it was this lengthy digression into the weird, wild world of international player acquisition that proved to be the most interesting.
Kevin Goldstein: The potential strength of your organization appears to be youth. Seven of my Top 11 players were teenagers last year, and a good chunk were international players. Is this a function of the Yankees always winning, and just not even getting access to the top draft picks? Is it something where you make up for it internationally where it's a balanced playing field as far as at least accessing the top talent goes?
Mark Newman: No question. You have to recognize where you are at. We've had two high draft picks since I've been here: Brien Taylor and Derek Jeter. We know, through years of assigning values to guys in the draft, that there is a significant difference between the top five guys in the first round and the bottom five—especially when you are dealing with position players, then it's even a broader gap. So we have to get them via the international market, and that's what we've done. We've also tried to do it by taking some chances in the draft. We have Andrew Brackman; when we drafted him, we thought his ceiling was substantial and that's why we did it. This guy has really made some strides this year. He's got his delivery down after a bunch of experimentation and at the end of last year and so far this year he's been really good. He went 75 pitches the other day in five innings and didn't walk anybody. He's throwing breaking balls over the plate, he's added a slider and the changeup is coming. But drafting guys like that is another way to counteract the draft position.
KG: Even last year, Slade Heathcott is a guy like that in some ways.
MN: Heathcott's tools and his ability to play the game is beyond even what the scouts told me. He's been impressive in whatever he's done for us. There were questions about him coming in, there was the injury and some other stuff, but that's a pretty talented guy.
KG: You mentioned Brackman, but even on the international level, you guys seemingly spend bigger chunks of money on pitchers than position players. Is that a fair assessment?
MN: Yeah, that's fair. We know that in terms of quality position players low in the draft, they're fairly scarce. Internationally, we've been able to get [Jesus] Montero and Gary Sanchez, who is an outstanding, really good-looking prospect with power, hitting ability, and a big-time throwing arm. But that doesn't mean we won't spend big on pitching in Latin America if it's something we really like.
KG: The bonuses internationally have increased by a huge margin lately. It reminds me of the draft in the early '90s when all of a sudden the bonuses started doubling every year.
MN: There's a lot more teams down there now. You have Cincinnati signing Aroldis Chapman, you have Kansas City signing Noel Arguelles, Boston spends $8 million on Jose Iglesias, Toronto spends $10 million on Adeiny Echevarria, and Tampa signs Leslie Anderson for millions. Minnesota had never spent more than $400,000 on a player down there and they get Miguel Sano, and Texas is always involved with a bunch of guys, so there are a lot of players down there now. People saw the market as undervalued. You want to look at the march of time down there; we signed Mariano Rivera for $3,000. We signed Robbie Cano for $115,000. We have a guy in our system like Jose A. Ramirez. Now when we signed Arodys Vizcaino, we paid for him, that was like $800,000 and that was the most spent for a pitcher down there for a period of three or four years before Michael Ynoa. We got Ramirez for $100,000 and he's a lot like Vizcaino. He's up to 96 and his changeup is better than his curveball, while Vizcaino was the opposite, but it's the same kind of guy. Manny Banuelos was $200,000. Banuelos can flat out pitch and he's got a great arm; he was 90-92 for us and out of the pen in the Florida State League he was 92-94 mph. He's like a Mexican Whitey Ford-type of guy; he can really spin the ball, he can change speeds, he's got a great delivery that he repeats all of the time.
KG: Now with all of these young players, and so much talent from Latin America, what enters the process for deciding who is ready for a full-season league and who needs extended spring before heading to the complex league or Staten Island in the New York-Penn League?
MN: With young position players, it's how well they understand the game in a general sense with things like base running and general defensive positioning. At the plate, we're looking at how well they are picking up spin, how they respond to breaking balls and how their plate discipline is improving or not. Those are the critical issues for us. When they move up, they see more spin and they get more opportunity to chase bad pitches. It's kind of how you wean these guys off of 'tryout baseball,' which is what they play in Latin America. It's run the 60, throw the ball as hard as you can from the outfield or the infield, and try to hit the ball over the fence in batting practice. They want to show tools, because they know we're interested in tools. Statistical analysis doesn't come to play in that market for obvious reasons.
KG: You talked about how you are now competing with a lot more teams in Latin American and how the landscape has changed. Are you in favor of a world draft? Do you have fears that any sort of rules put down there could create more harm than good? I always think about Puerto Rico, which was a real hotbed for talent, but since the draft, it's really slowed down.
MN: I think there are some things to be concerned about. The law of unintended consequences is in play. Just the logistics and the mechanics of a world draft can be very difficult. It's done in basketball, but there aren't many parallels there. We have baseball in Taiwan and Korea, and amateur baseball in Japan. We have the Dominican, and then we have Mexico and the Mexican League and how they do business there where they run players through their clubs. You have Venezuela and their current political situation which could be an issue as well. So I think the mechanics are very difficult, and I worry about the Puerto Rico factor. Some will say that it has little to do with it, and some with say that the Dominican is different because of the economy, but this is the pure unfettered free market at work in the baseball industry. When I first went down there 20-something years ago, if we saw a pitcher throw 85 mph, we would sign him on the spot. Now, we see 90 mph every day, and there are a bunch of guys at 90 that don't even get signed because of command and spin issues, where they don't have a secondary pitch. We never saw young kids hit the ball over the warning track, and now we see them hit the ball over the fence. Now, different people will give you different reasons for that. People talk about the bad things that buscones do, and I wouldn't argue with that, but there certainly are some good things. They don't have travel teams, they don't have high school and junior college programs, they don't have American Legion baseball, and through market forces, that void has been filled.
KG: I've dealt with my share of buscones, and I'm not sure everything they do is good, but I'm not sure how big a fan I am of how college baseball works either, so…
MN: Yeah, and college coaches have their own set of motivating factors. They're not in business, despite what we think, to provide us with players all the time. The buscones are, so they're coming from a different place, and that's the only reason they show up every day with a bunch of kids and some bats and balls.
KG: At least there's a common interest there.
MN: Yeah, it does diverge at some points [laughs]. But it's a parallel interest at least.