In our final installment of our interview with Rockies Director of Player Development, Marc Gustafson, we round out our questions about the draft and the talent acquired, and ask Marc to give some reflections on the Major League club and how his involvement has shaped the product on the field today.
On behalf of Purple Row, we'd like to take a moment and thank the Colorado Rockies and Marc Gustafson for taking time on the road to speak with us and give us some insight into the club's operation, as well as Jay Alves and the people that made this interview possible.
And as always, viewers like you.
RMN: Now, going back to our recently drafted players, we have Chris Balcom-Miller in Casper. We had a user go up to a Ghosts game, and he was able to scout him a bit for us. We're hearing a lot of gopher-killing rumors. Do you envision pushing him to Modesto next season, or will he be a slower developer?
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, I think there's a definite conversation we'll be having about him. We try to stay pretty patient with the guys and where they move, and there's nothing wrong with sending someone to a level, and having a lot of success, and THEN moving them. He'll be a hot topic of conversation because of the great start he's having. He's a little bit like Brandon Hynick - Brandon pitched in Casper when he first came out, and did a very great job. Balcom-Miller has a little more arm strength, but definitely pounds the strike zone. Very aggressive, they're not scared. So that's a good situation when you're looking at Balcom-Miller coming out, whether it be Asheville or Modesto.
RMN: Jordan Pacheco: Does he stay as a catcher?
Marc Gustafson: Yes, yes, yes. He's done a tremendous job. We've taken a guy from the middle infield position and put him behind the plate. The way he can receive the ball and run a ballgame, he has confidence behind the plate, he has leadership ability. To have that type of potential behind the plate, we're real happy to have him.
RMN: It's good to hear that have people who have a good sense of the game down there, not ALL raw talent. Now, let me jump to the big name here, Tyler Matzek. Matzek was obviously a huge signing for the club, both in terms of having a top-notch prospect in the system as well as a good PR move for people following the draft. With an advanced young pitcher who already has command of a couple of solid pitches, how is the organization anticipating him starting out? Is he looking to be on the fast track, or what are you guys thinking about him now?
Marc Gustafson: Well, right now we're just getting him settled in. He's on a throwing program in Casper. He hasn't pitched competitively since his High School career came to an end. We're just building up his arm strength and taking it slow. He will not pitch in a game this year for Casper, but he will be ready to pitch in the Instructional League in Tucson. Once he gets settled in, and we get to know him a little bit, he gets to know us, obviously the sky's the limit for him; he's a premium talent. We'll be patient. He's probably looking at an Asheville situation next year to start out, see where it takes him. Right now we're just getting him settled in to the Rockies' system.
RMN: We were looking forward to 2010 anyhow. Now, on draft day, how much was Matzek even talked about as a possibility before the draft happened and he fell to #11?
Marc Gustafson: Well, we didn't think there was any way we were going to have a chance to even select him. Our guys had him very high on the board, and what an awesome opportunity for us to select a left-hander that has the talent that he possesses. When he was there, Bill Schmidt didn't hesitate. He went after the most talented guy on the board.
RMN: How do you balance your selections? How do you balance between filling organizational needs and simply taking the best player available?
Marc Gustafson: Well, early on, there's no doubt about it: You take the best player available. When you get down into day 2, day 3 of the draft, then you're bringing up the topic of organizational needs. Billy Schmidt and his guys, they spend many, many hours talking about them and where they fit in on the board. That board is set up for a reason, and if they're available, and it's not a situation of a medical concern or a psychological concern, or any issue like that, then they're going to select them.
RMN: Does Bill Schmidt make the final decision on Draft Day?
Marc Gustafson: Yes.
RMN: Now that we have a humidor somewhat equalizing things in Coors Field - we've seen a lot of pitchers coming in the early rounds - should we expect to see less stress on pitching in the first round of the draft in future years, as it's been a tendency since the franchise's inception.
Marc Gustafson: Well, early on when we first started, when Pat Daugherty was our scouting director and Bob Gebhardt the GM, you have to try and find guys that are going to move quick and you have to select for organizational needs, and they did a fine job of that. As we've evolved throughout the years, and we've got some more tools in the cupboard, if you will, and we've got some depth, we're definitely going to try to balance the approach and take a very very close look a pitching mechanics and deliveries, things of that nature, and figure out who doesn't have the best projection, and who has the best potential. We don't even think about the Coors Field factor internally, that doesn't even come up. That's just something...those are the old days for us, personally, and I think I can speak for everybody else on that matter. It's time, it's patience, you've got to develop and hang in there, and really work hard at it. Rolando Fernandez, you have to give a lot of credit to Rolando and his staff in Latin America. You know, Ubaldo Jimenez, [Manuel] Corpas, and Franklin Morales, and now we're looking at [Samuel] Deduno, [Jhoulys] Chacin, [Esmil] Rogers, when you mix in those guys that Bill Schmidt and his scouting department come up with, and that's really a neat situation.
RMN: Now, a lot of the mainstream media doesn't seem to understand that Coors Field doesn't play as it did in the 90s. Do the pitchers in the minors still look at Coors Field as being the Terrordome?
Marc Gustafson: Absolutely not. I always laugh, too, because I still hear it. You turn on ESPN or whatever the show is, and everybody says that you can't pitch at Coors Field. I just don't get it. It doesn't work out that way. If you look at the numbers, and I'm sure you have, Coors Field - you'd rather pitch at Coors Field rather than Citizen's Bank Park, I would think.
RMN: Or Chase, for that matter.
Marc Gustafson: Or Chase, or a lot of different places. No, we don't talk about it internally. We don't even think about it, to be quite honest with you. We're going to teach guys how to pitch down in the strike zone. We're going to make sure they can command the fastball, we're going to make sure they have feel for a changeup. We want guys that are tough, we want guys that have heart, we want guys that compete. That's kind of the philosophy when we look at pitching.
RMN: I have to say, it speaks strongly to the scouting and the development to say that this is - I would argue this is the best pitching the Rockies have ever seen.
Marc Gustafson: It's been pretty solid, you bet.
RMN: I only have a couple more, and we'll let you get back to your day. Dexter Fowler: Obviously a fan favorite now, speedy guy, I met him at Spring Training in Tucson in 2008, seemed like a really friendly guy. You've obviously seen a lot of Dexter Fowler coming up in the minors. What do you feel the next step for his development is? We see a lot of 5-tool potential in him, what's the next step for him?
Marc Gustafson: Well, I'll go back to Day 1 when Dexter came into the system; you've seen it, as you've seen him evolve. It's just the physical strength and maturity; it's the belief that he belongs on the field every day. You're taking a premium athlete and you're running him out there as often as you can. The more he's out there playing, the more ABs he gets, the more confident he gets. Confidence, with a guy like that, sky's the limit for his talent and his potential impact in the game. It's been wonderful to see. I remember when he first started switch-hitting; he could barely hit the ball out of the cage left-handed. Now, you're starting to see him (before he got the knee injury), he was driving the ball the other way. He had power pulling the ball as a left-handed hitter. It's been fun to see his development. Mainly, it's just his strength and being out there every day, and his confidence.
RMN: Well we've definitely seen the improvement as the season's gone on. A lot of the people have settled down on his rookie foibles, and we're really excited to see him and Gonzalez roaming Center Field.
Marc Gustafson: That's a nice combination. Going back to one of your original questions: to be able to acquire Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street. What a wonderful story that is, because with Carlos, you're looking at the same type of potential impact as Dexter, in a 5-tool type player. Those two out in the OF together...I'd be hard pressed to come up another set of outfielders who can cover as much ground as those guys.
RMN: We know that Brad Hawpe has a bit of trouble with RF range, and I don't mean to speak disparagingly, but it's good to know that we have a little bit of insurance with guys able to cover a lot of ground and cover the gaps well. Now, looking at the major league club, and this is just kind of a fun question for you, out of all the talent, and most of it being homegrown, who was the hottest prospect coming up when they were a prospect?
Marc Gustafson: Wow. That's a tough one. Oh man, there've been so many special memories for me as the guy who introduces them. That's the best part of the job, when you get to meet them, and when you get to see them at the big league level. I think Tulo - obviously Tulo went pretty quick through our system. Just watching him on the backfields in Spring Training and during Instructional League, you knew there was something very very special there. He'd be a highlight for me. Obviously Dexter would be a highlight. Jimenez. Ubaldo Jimenez, to see him evolve into what he's become, that's certainly a great memory for us in the minor league system. That's tough, I don't think I could single out one specific guy.
RMN: Which is very fair. It's very encouraging to see Ubaldo really filling out that talent he has. For years we heard "Oh, this Ubaldo Jimenez kid, he's going to be all the big deal" and then in '07 he was struggling in AAA, and we thought "Oh no" and he's proved every doubter wrong.
Marc Gustafson: Right, right. That's a great point that you make, and it brings up maybe Eric Young Jr., and they said, "You couldn't do it" and now look at him; he's there. Matt Daley, a non-drafted player, he's up there. There's just so many wonderful memories of guys who've spent their time in the minor league system and they believed in themselves, they worked hard, and they got there.
RMN: Speaking of Eric Young, we hear the reports from FSN and the Post: How active has Eric Young Sr. REALLY been in making sure that Eric Young Jr. has his nose to the grindstone?
Marc Gustafson: I don't think words can describe how hard this guy works, and what he has done in the minor league system to prepare himself each and every day. I have to give his father the credit. He brought him up, he taught him the work ethic, he taught him the ability to focus each and every day. EY Jr. grew up in that type of atmosphere, and you know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when you compare the two. Really a special family and a great story.
RMN: We have a lot of fans who were original Blake Street Bombers fans who've fallen a bit out, and don't know the farm as well, and when they say "Eric Young's playing again?!" and we say "No, no, it's his son! And he looks just like his daddy!"
Marc Gustafson: Haha, it's pretty neat.
RMN: I have one last question for you, Marc, and we'll call it quits here. What is your proudest moment of personal direct involvement on the organization? It's a bit of a broad question, but let's give you some credit.
Marc Gustafson: I think so far, throughout these years, when we got to the World Series, and we looked out on the field, and they were all playing together, and it wasn't long before that they were all playing together in the minor league system. Probably the proudest moment was when we were all together as a player development staff and a scouting staff and we were up in the Mountain Ranch club together as a group, and we were looking out on the field at World Series competition, and they were a bunch of the guys that spent a lot of hard work and time with, and that was probably my proudest moment.
RMN: It makes us proud to be Rockies fans. We pride ourselves - the real fans - as being very patient, and we feel like we're rewarded just as much by saying "I remember that guy when he struck out 4 times as a rookie, and now he's in the All Star Game."
Marc Gustafson: That's a neat feeling. Like I mentioned, when you're with your guys together watching and giving high fives and clapping and cheering, and you're so proud of them, when you see them compete at the highest level. That's a neat feeling.
RMN: Well, I think that's all I have for right now, Marc-
Marc Gustafson: I can't believe you didn't ask me about Christian Friedrich!
RMN: Well, I actually did have a question about Friedrich! [Marc laughing] But we veered away from a bit, and I didn't-
Marc Gustafson: No, I'm teasing you. He's done awesome. His numbers speak for themselves. He's a premium left handed starter, he's going to be in the mix very very soon.
RMN: We're very excited about Christian as well. Especially watching him dominate Asheville and Modesto.
Marc Gustafson: He has done a great job.
RMN: Marc, I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Marc Gustafson: It's been my pleasure, thanks.