Marc Gustafson, Director of Player Development for the Colorado Rockies, has taken some time to sit and chat with Purple Row.
A NOTE FROM RUSS: Finally, RMN and I can reveal our little secret that we've mentioned over the last month. The Rockies granted access to their organization for Purple Row. This story began back in February when RockiesMagicNumber first attempted to ask for an interview with someone in the organization. He was politely told "no," but it wasn't a "never." So, the two of us decided to let things settle for several months. A few weeks ago I encouraged RMN to make contact with the organization again. Last time, we just shot from the hip and didn't really plan on what to say. This time was different, and I offered RMN some talking points on why Purple Row should be able to break down that barrier and talk with someone inside the organization. And here we are: RMN was granted an interview with Marc Gustafson, the Rockies' Director of Player Development who was on a road trip to watch the Tri-City Dust Devils. This interview took place on Wednesday.
Join RMN and Marc Gustafson for the first of at least three parts after the jump.
RMN: For the sake of everyone reading on Purple Row, as the Director of Player Development, what is your job; can you give us a bit of a rundown?
Marc Gustafson: Well, I'm in a position where I oversee the Player Development department, which includes our coordinators, our staff on the field, trainers, but the main part of my job is to make sure everyone is on the same page with our philosophies, and that starts at the top with Dan [O'Dowd] and Bill Geivett and with the ownership group, and we carry that process down, that same common theme to all of our affiliates and all of our people involved in our Player Development system.
RMN: Building on that, do you think you could summarize the organizational philosophy? Everyone in Denver remembers when Dan O'Dowd took over, we went on a 5-year plan, building from within and cycling players in and out to fill holes. Can you speak to how that has changed, or how that continues today?
Marc Gustafson: I would say it's a long-term plan that focuses primarily on scouting and player development, which also includes a component in Latin American operations. We're all on the same page; we're committed to our players in the minor league system. We're going to do everything we can to give the players in the system a chance to reach the major league level, and once they get there, we hope they have a chance to solidify and stabilize their career a little bit with the Rockies. The primary goal is to develop the players within the system.
RMN: When it comes to filling holes that aren't met immediately by the farm, because obviously the timing isn't perfect, are you directly involved with Free Agency?
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, absolutely. We have the 6-year Free Agent process, we have the Rule 5 draft, we have trades that we analyze, we're really looking in all areas. You have to, because as you just mentioned, you're not going to be able to get everybody up every year. There's going to be waves that come through the system that get there, and you may not have a player ready, and you'll have to go out and look at certain areas to fill in the gaps a little bit. We really try and get the right person; obviously good players are the primary concern, but good teammates are a very high standard for us, the players we take a close look at.
RMN: We hear a lot about that from the local media, how the clubhouse is an important part of the organization. Between the offseason and this midseason, it's been exciting to see a lot of deadline deals done. Regrettably, the Rockies have typically been sellers at this point in the season. Who would you say has been the best acquisition we've made in terms of trades or Free Agents for the '09 season?
Marc Gustafson: Well, I'd have to go back to the Jason Marquis deal this offseason. Bringing in a guy like Marquis to plug into the rotation, well, he's an All-Star, that speaks for itself what he's been able to accomplish to solidify that rotation. That would be first and foremost. Then you'd have to go down and look at a few guys, just off the top of my head, some free agents we acquired: Joel Peralta was pretty good for awhile there for us; Juan Rincon has been pretty good in the bullpen. There've been some players of late that you're probably talking about in Jason Giambi and Jose Contreras are the most recent deals we've made. You know, it's always tough to give up your own players, but as you just mentioned, it's a good position to be in, because you're in a pennant race, and you have to do everything you can to keep things going in the right direction.
RMN: Absolutely. There's about a 50-50 split [on Purple Row] when the trade was announced, how Brandon Hynick was so close to reaching the majors and then we move him for Contreras. I was personally a proponent of the deal, but that's neither here nor there. Now, in the case of Hynick, are you the person who has to make that call, or does the AAA manager handle that?
Marc Gustafson: I called Brandon personally when the trade happened. Prior to that, there's a lot of folks involved: our pro scouting department's involved, our coordinators are involved, our AAA staff is involved...We're not just doing a deal to do a deal, we try to really compare notes and figure out long-term efforts, is this the thing to do? You know, it's always a tough phone call to make, whether it be Connor Graham, who we sent to Cleveland for Rafael Betancourt, you know, because these are our guys, they've grown up with us, and you hate to lose them, but at the same time, Betancourt has been tremendous for us so far, and we hope the same situation will happen with the Brandon Hynick trade, with Contreras.
RMN: Just to reassure you, from the people who really do follow the team and the system, we hate to give our own players up, too, just because even though they've never touched the majors, we form attachments to them, and we're really looking forward to seeing them, but at the same time, we like to win as well.
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, absolutely. So you kind of get the feel of what I'm talking about, in terms of, you know, you hate to lose your guys, but it's the betterment of the organization, and that's what we're here for, that's our job.
RMN: Along those lines, during the offseason we moved Corey Wimberly for Matt Murton. He came up and was productive during his short stint up with the Rockies, and he's been mashing for AAA. Can you speak to the organization's plans for Matt Murton?
Marc Gustafson: Well, he came in and did a great job starting Day 1 in Spring Training. He's a grinder, he's a professional, he gives a professional At-Bat each and every time at the plate. He's done a fantastic job for us in Colorado Springs. He and Matt Miller have been the glue to the middle of that lineup in Colorado Springs, and they're in a playoff hunt right now. You know, the guy plays the game the right way. As I mentioned, he's a pro, he's a good teammate, he does a lot of good things at the plate, and to be quite honest with you, he's a pretty good defender in the outfield. So we're in a situation right now where we're going to finish off the year in AAA, and hopefully get into the playoffs, and we'll see what happens when their season is over, and if Jim Tracy and the staff feel like they need another bat off the bench, in terms of a Right Handed Bat, most definitely Matt Murton and Matt Miller would be of consideration.
RMN: Speaking of AAA, one of my favorite players to follow has been the SS Mike McCoy. I know he's more of a veteran journeyman, as it seems, but is there going to be a Major League look at him at any point?
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, definitely. We've been very proud of what McCoy has been able to, what he brings to the table, his athleticism, he's a sparkplug anywhere in the lineup, because he gives you a good AB, he's going to get on base, and he can play SS, he can play 2B, he can play CF, he's really what you're looking for. Going back a couple steps, you asked me about the Free Agent process; Mike McCoy was in there very high on our list, and we were able to bring him back...him and Danny Ortmeier...those are the guys you're looking for, you know, the guys who play every day, and give you a quality effort day in and day out. To answer your question specifically, I think most definitely we've considered McCoy in terms of a big league option, if that point in time comes.
RMN: Awesome. I personally would love to see him up, but we've got to do what we've got to do right now, and if he's helping the Sky Sox do some big things right now, it's understandable, we have a lot of depth right now.
Marc Gustafson: And to be quite honest with you, getting regular ABs with the AAA club and playing every day is probably the better option right now, because if they're at the big league level, well, we're playing well, and everybody on the field is playing well, so it'd be tough for Jim Tracy to find ABs for those guys.
RMN: Now, if I could move away from the Major League club - well, at least the players - in terms of the organization, where do the Rockies fall in with Sabrmetrics and defensive metrics and the advanced numbers and evaluation thereof?
Marc Gustafson: Well, we have guys in the office; they do a hell of a job in terms of getting the information that we need. We don't overdo any specific area; we try to look at all areas. We try to be really good in a lot of different areas. Our scouts out there are doing their thing, the guys in the office and the statistics and the analysis they do, they do a fantastic job. We've got player development people who have a heck of a good idea on how to teach guys to play the game. So for me, and for the organization, it's a balanced approach. We have to stay in tune with everything going on, but we have to evaluate and we have to teach. That would be the best answer I can give you on that question.
RMN: I happen to be a statistics guy on Purple Row, so this is my area of interest, but I won't harp too much on numbers. Do you use it much in the minor league development system, saying, "oh this guy has an OPS of .900, he might be ready" or is it more of an eyeball test and seeing how well he's adapting to competition?
Marc Gustafson: It's definitely used in the minor league system, without a doubt. We take a very close look at everybody and see how they're doing. We really have to stay focused on the player himself, and what he can do to contribute to the major league level. We have to separate that - that's an office thing. We don't get our player development instructors involved in that stuff, that's a front office tool that we utilize, and we definitely take a close look at it at the minor league level as well.
RMN: That's one of the things we try to stress on Purple Row, to have posters who have an old school mentality and try and balance it with a new school/numbers mentality, so we can have a balanced approach, in the form of "Well, this guy has good numbers, but he's not fast" or whatever. The balance is the smartest thing.
Marc Gustafson: It really is. You need to have that balance. We don't shy away from any idea that's brought to the table. Dan is wonderful at that, Dan is really focused on...any information that can give us an edge, we're going to look into it, without a doubt.
RMN: That's wonderful to hear. Now, if I can move into the farm system and the scouting a bit more here... how much do you scout the other teams' farm systems - is it only when it's an upcoming series? And how far in advance do your advanced scouts work on teams?
Marc Gustafson: Are you talking at the minor league level or the major league level?
RMN: The minor league level.
Marc Gustafson: At the minor league level, a couple of different ways. Our amateur scouts and our pro scouts work together. Obviously the amateur scouts have their duties that they take care of leading up to the draft. Once the draft is complete, then they'll go out and each scout will have coverage with a specific organization. The pro scouts are out covering the big league clubs as well as minor league clubs, so a lot of reports are coming in every day - reports from other clubs' players...we take a look in Mexico, we take a look in Independent leagues, we try to keep our eye on what's going on in the Pacific Rim. Those guys do a hell of a job keeping all the information coming to the office. In terms of our player development staff members, meaning managers, coaches, pitching coaches, those guys will definitely report on what they would call a prospect. They would give a report into the office if they were, say, matching up against... like, right now I'm in Tri-Cities and we're playing the Yakima club. If they see a player that in their eyes is a prospect then they're going to go ahead and compile a report and send it into the office.