Maddon: Bartlett at the top, and other things
Manager Joe Maddon just finished his winter meetings press session and probably the most interesting thing he said was that Jason Bartlett is likely to remain in the leadoff spot, meaning B.J. Upton probably will hit 5th or 6th in the lineup the way it's set up now.
A quick take on some of the other things he said (with more details and quotes later):
* A good start is a priority this season
* The Yanks are again team to beat, and definitely are better with the addition of OF Curtis Granderson.
* The Rays have discussed a number of trade scenarios, large and small, with numerous permutations, and he's playing the "waiting game" on moves as well.
* He is confident the players who struggled last season (Upton, Navarro, Burrell) will bounce back and the ones who did well (Crawford, Bartlett, Zobrist, Pena) will do so again.
* The Rays will be in the race to make the playoffs: "I do believe we can compete now and in the future."
Here are some other excepts from the MLB-provided transcript of Maddon's session:
Q. At the end of the year you were saying you were going to take some time off and then you were going to kind of digest what happened during the year and maybe start formulating your plan for next year. What came to the front on some of the things you wanted to change and go forward with?
JOE MADDON: The biggest thing is to get off to a better start obviously. If you look at last season, the poor April really did hurt us a lot and then an 11-game losing streak and then we ended up winning 84 games, which is really good in spite of all of those negative situations. ...
So we have to get off to a better start. And I don't think we're going to have another 11-game losing streak. It was kind of an anomaly situation that kind of stuck us at the end. But more than anything I want to talk to our guys about getting off to a better start this year, and I think part of the poor start last year was the residue of the previous year, which was a good thing, because we got to the World Series, guys went through that longer season for the very first time.
Q. Andrew said that you're probably going to go into a season without a closing again, so you'd probably be having your bullpen by committee. What did you learn last year by running that kind of program?
JOE MADDON: I think when you're running a bullpen by committee, what happens -- actually a match-up bullpen more than by committee, match-up bullpens you have to be really careful not getting people tired just by getting them up and not utilizing them. You're getting guys up and you see a situation arising, all of a sudden the situation goes away, and he's already warmed up for that particular juncture and then you may have to get him up two innings later for the same thing. That's difficult. So when you're running match-ups as much as we did, my concern would be that you get people tired even though they don't actually pitch in games. So that's a big concern with that.
In regard to the bullpen by committee, I'm not concerned with that as much. It's more when you have too many match up guys. That seems to be the bigger concern.
Q. Joe, the Rays have been mentioned prominently in blockbuster rumors. What are your expectations?
JOE MADDON: You know, it happens all the time. My expectations are I'll wait and see what happens. Of course a lot of that stuff has been discussed. I can't deny that. But I have to play wait and see, and if those things actually do occur, then you react and you set your plans. Of course we've talked about them, we've talked about what we could do if it would happen, but for me right now I'm just playing the waiting game like everybody else.
Q. The Rays' organization has gone from a lot of losing to the World Series, now you guys are where you're at. How difficult is it to continue to stay where you're at from scouting, development, financial situations? How difficult is it to stay where you guys are at once you've reached this level?
JOE MADDON: We're going to find out, I guess. If you look at last year coming off the previous season, we won 84 games last year, and that's what I was talking about with our guys. Bad start, 11 game losing streak, still win 84 games. That really gives me a lot of hope about 90 plus, which we could have done last year.
I think what we've learned, I see within our guys, you learn how to win in spite of not playing as well as you possibly can. I think we did that a lot last year. We have to pay attention to all the different facets, and you're talking about player development and even continue to develop the guys that we have, i.e., B.J. Upton from last year, Navi, what happened with him last year, getting these guys better. You've got young starters like Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, et cetera. We have to continue to develop even on the Major League level. But obviously I like the way we do things. I think we put things together well.
I do believe we can compete now and in the future. We have a great young core group of players that's now going to stay with us for a while obviously.
The pitching staff, if you look at the pitching staff, five guys, relatively young, all capable of 200 innings next year. That's very unusual for any team to be able to say that. Of course we know that we have to augment the bullpen a bit, and we're trying to do that like a lot of other people are. But I think we've learned how to compete within this division, and I think that health is a big issue with everybody. But as long as we can maintain that, because we don't have a huge stockpile in regards to Major League successful kind of players, but I think we've learned how to compete within this division, and I feel very comfortable with that, and I think we can keep moving forward.
Q. You mentioned the starting rotation, the player development. How would you view Price after the season, how he's developing?
JOE MADDON: Nice. David, pretty much the season went as we expected. You know, in the beginning everyone wanted him to be there and we chose to send him back to the Minor Leagues, and he struggles there. I've talked about it a zillion times. As his command of his fastball got better later in the season last year, and not only that, he became more bold in regards to using his other pitches, his breaking ball and his change-up, and he became more of a pitcher by the end of last season. So David, to me, the progress was actually pretty fun to watch because he became very effective by the end of last season.
So I guess down the road, I could see this continuing to increase in regard of his effectiveness because delivery got better, command of the fastball got better. The willingness to utilize the other pitches in fastball counts, he became more bold with that, and found out that he can. All of those things.
You look at Sabathia as an example, how he's morphed over the years, when he first came up with the Indians, he primarily had a fastball pitch. He had a good curve ball command. He was always at 100 pitches after five innings and he had to be out of the game. Similar to what David did. All of a sudden, a couple years down the road, the guy really gets his fastball command, better curve ball, and now all of a sudden, he's got a two seamer and a change-up with command and confidence. So David is the kind of pitcher like that that as he continues to pitch more and understands his body and his delivery, et cetera, you're going to see the better fastball command and the better utilization of the other pitches in fastball counts, and you're going to see a lot of success out of him. That's what I think.
Q. You mentioned the confidence level. Do you think there was undue pressure or any kind of pressure after bringing him into the post-season and all the expectations that's been out there on him? Do you think that played any part in his ability there early in the season and the losing streak?
JOE MADDON: Honestly, I do not. At the end of the previous season, the World Series year, he was pitching in Detroit at the end of the year as a starter I believe at that time, they put him on as a starter, and his fastball command is extremely erratic and I was really concerned at that point. If you had talked to my people, it's pretty much the same thing within the Minor Leagues, even though he was successful, he's going to be successful because he's good. But you're going to get Minor League hitters chasing stuff all over the place. Now all of a sudden you get more disciplined guys. It's not going to happen.
I saw that. Okay, then of course we're in the playoffs, relief, a couple innings here or there, he's just out there throwing, he gets his couple outs, he's out of the game, it's not going to be exposed as easy. He goes to Spring Training last year, I'm seeing the same thing, fastball command all over the place, and we knew that that had to come to bear. It wasn't a confidence issue. I thought it was actually a physical, mechanical issue that he had to work through, because David kind of thrives on all that stuff. He likes being the guy. He wants to be there. He likes the moment. He likes the pressure. It wasn't that. I don't believe it was that. I just believe that there was certain things he had to fix, and he fixed them.
Q. Part of player development, as you well know, is sometimes utilizing young talent as a piece. Could you envision dealing one of the young Minor League starters to fill another need on the ballclub?
JOE MADDON: There's different things that we would do, obviously, and again, we discuss so many different permutations of trades. Yes, that would be a possibility, obviously, if we really wanted something and it took that to get it back, we would do something like that. Again, we do have some nice starters still coming in through the Minor Leagues to us, Matt Moore, a left-hander. We have a lot of nice things, Jake McGee coming back off surgery, we have some nice options out there. But of course, when it comes down to making a deal, we do explore all different options.
Q. As of right now, some of the lineup is relatively similar to what you have, who's the lead-off hitter?
JOE MADDON: I would say J.B. As of right now, I thought a little bit about that, Jason Bartlett did a tremendous job. You guys that were with us last year saw it. I mean, he really blossomed into a really good hitter, period, but as a lead-off guy, he seems more apt or willing to want to work the at-bat, the count. The number of pitches that he saw last year was very, very good. You remember we've talked a lot about fly balls with him, getting him out of the air more on a line. He did that. He did that to a larger degree, used the middle of the field better, opposite field better. I think that he re-adjusts how he thinks as a hitter when he's up at that spot, and it's very productive. He's a great base runner. He might be our best base runner, and he can steal a bag.
He's an awareness guy, he knows what's going on, and he brings that to the table.
Now, having said all that, I don't know that it's going to turn out that way, but as of right now, whatever, today is December 8, I would lean in that direction.
Q. And Ben and B.J., 5 and 6, something like that, or 6 and 7?
JOE MADDON: You know, I do believe we have a thick lineup. Last year we had certain guys that just had bad years. I mean, you look at Navi obviously was down, and B.J. had a tough time, Pat had a tough time for the most part. But I still like the names, and you know that there's more out of these guys, and you put them together with Ben and Carlos being well again and Longo and Carl, I really like our group.
Everybody is going to talk about the additions everybody else is making, talking about Granderson, and I've always said God bless the Yankees or the Red Sox or whatever, but I like our names. I like our names a lot. We've had a lot of experience over the last couple years, and I think we've learned a lot of good lessons. I have a lot of confidence in our group, playing well and getting back to the top next year within our division. I have a lot of confidence in our group.
All these guys, the guys that had poor years last year, I think are definitely able to rebound and do well again next year, and the guys that had done well last year I still believe they're capable of doing at least that again this coming season, although J.B. Bartlett was a pretty -- and I still believe they have that in them.
Q. While we're on the line up, B.J. seemed kind of excited about working with Derek (Shelton, the new hitting coach). Is this just going to be one of those things, he drives his own train on this, where he's going to end up in the lineup?
JOE MADDON: That's probably fair. Like you just said, we have a lot of good names. I've thought about it a little but not a lot. You know, B.J. we've talked about. B.J. to me can hit anywhere one, two, three, four, five. We did put him back down at the end last year because he was struggling so much, but projecting wise, B. J. is a top of the order hitter, and if he gets his stroke back with the power going on again, no telling where we're going to stick him. But just to have that kind of balance within an American League lineup, American League East lineup is very important. You've got to be able to score runs up-and-down the whole order.
I'm not there yet in regards to pinpointing where people are going to hit. I'm glad that he feels good about working with Shelly right now. I think that's a positive thing.
Talking about Derek, when we interviewed him, we talked about his personal philosophies that I felt were very much in alignment with mine, so I can understand where B.J. and him are getting along very well right now. I'm looking forward to it. I'm glad B. J. is as motivated as he is to get his work beginning as of now or even a couple will weeks ago. I think it's a good thing, and I'm rooking forward to a really, really good season.
Q. Without trying to pinpoint it would you think more in the middle rather than back to the bottom?
JOE MADDON: What is the middle, down to six?
Q. Five, six, something like that?
JOE MADDON: I would like to think so. I'd like that to happen, absolutely. You leave the catcher toward the bottom --
Q. Bartlett, Crawford, Longoria, Peña?
JOE MADDON: Yeah, at the end of the day, you want to talk about guys swinging the bat at the end of the season. Carlos, better than I've ever seen him, and then he gets his finger broken. I'm really excited about him. I thought Longo handled last season extremely well. Carl played his best baseball, baseball, the whole game, last year. It's an exciting group. They're a great group of guys. I'm really excited about them.
I think creating that -- building that lineup is going to be a lot of fun.
Q. Do you think that the utility players where versatility is undervalued, and what is the value of a guy who can move all over the diamond?
JOE MADDON: Well, I think they're undervalued, and the value is that for me when you -- you can carry more pitchers, you can carry the extra pitcher comfortably by having that one real super U of a kind of a guy. I was just talk with Scioscia, and I just had some lunch, and we were talking about that specifically where when you have a guy like that that can move all over the field during the course of a game, as you're managing that game, it really lightens the load a bit because if you want to do something, this guy can do so many things, he really makes a lot of decisions easier for you. And of course you want a guy that's capable. Of course what Ben did is really unusual. But even -- we created that situation from a couple years ago where we looked at him as a super U guy and when I had Figgy a couple years ago, different players but similar in the sense that they play a lot of different places well. I just think in today's game when you want to carry that extra pitcher, having that super U guy really frees you up as a manager. It permits you to do so many different things.
Q. Obviously awards aren't your priority, but do you think it did hurt you in MVP voting, just that he didn't have a clearly defined position?
JOE MADDON: Maybe a little bit. The thing that hurt him more than anything, I think, is the fact that he wasn't a regular player early in the season possibly. I think had he been a regular from jump street, a regular utility player where he got out there every day, because the way we move the right field around, he probably would have got strong consideration. But he was, he was hurt by the fact that -- there's no question about that. But nevertheless, if you ask Ben, I think he was happy. He was just happy to play every day. This is a different kind of guy. He loves to play, he wants to and he likes playing for us. He's really a unique young man.
Q. Have you made a decision yet whether you're going to take another shortstop and take the back off of Ben for this year?
JOE MADDON: We haven't made that decision on that. Sean Rodriguez provides that possibly, Reid Brignac, Reid's part of this mix, provides that. We have nice different options. Whether it's Sean Rodriguez is capable of playing many different positions, as well, with power. This guy has got some legitimate serious power, great make up guy.
Reid Brignac, you saw him at the end of last year, his definitely hitting had improved. I do like him fielding a ground ball as much as any American League infielder right now, the way he picks it up, he doesn't pat, he likes take extra steps, he just throws it accurately to the first baseman. Reid Brignac, technically as a shortstop, picking up a ground ball does it as well as anybody, and then his hitting came along, and you're talking also about a real high end makeup guy. This guy is a fearless player, also, which I love about him. We have these different options in regard to creating and developing super U guys possibly out of the bunch that we have. Again, that permits that extra pitcher comfortably.
Q. So you actually actively tried to develop a guy that has that?
JOE MADDON: I totally believe in that, yeah. To this point we've had Elliott Johnson in the Minor Leagues. Elliott has been that kind of player. Actually this year the report is that he played a lot better shortstop. When you get this guy and he could actually play sort stop well, that makes him a super U. If he could catch, God bless him. But if he can play shortstop then you really get excited. But I really believe it's a position to be nurtured, I really do, in the Minor Leagues. I get arguments about that, but that's okay, I don't mind that kind of stuff. I really believe it's a position, and it's a very valuable position.
Q. Will you look at Brignac and Rodriguez some in the outfield in the spring, too?
JOE MADDON: Sean is a really good outfielder. Reid has been primarily with the infield. We really haven't even discussed anything more than just playing at second base like we did last year.
Sean has played the outfield and plays it well. He's got a fine arm. This guy throws really well. Not a burner, but he runs really well, so he has that edge in regards to playing the outfield a bit.
Reid, as of right now, we're still studying Reid primarily only as an infielder.
Q. He says he played there in high school and was actually going to play there at L. S. U.
JOE MADDON: Guys like Reid will say they can catch, they can be relief pitchers, whatever it takes to be on a big league team. Once he got good, he changed his mind. He does not want to catch.
Q. What do you think is going to drive that decision, whether Ben plays second or Ben plays right and Matt and Gabe and Reid and Sean? Is it going to be the offense, the defense?
JOE MADDON: We really pay attention to defense, as you know, so it's going to be a combination of things. You've got Kapler and Joyce, et cetera, out there, and you've got Ben and Sean, of course, and Reid to consider in the infield. We have a lot of nice -- not problems necessarily, we've just got to figure it out, try to figure it out as well as we possibly can. When you think about it, it's kind of fun to think about. Matt Joyce is a guy we haven't even talked about. Matt Joyce we feel has tremendous potential as a hitter and a defender in right field. Great power, great swing, and he played pretty well last year in Triple-A, also. I don't have a specific answer for that yet. These are just discussions that we're undergoing right now. But we've kind of worked that little thing between right field and second base, and I think he did a great job with that. And Gabe Kapler, I'm still a big Gabe Kapler fan. You look at his OPS over the lat couple of years versus left-handed pitching, it's among the best in all of baseball, and also the presence that he provides on the team. He's a fine young man. So we have some nice things going on.