Chaim Bloom is the Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. He formerly wrote at Baseball Prospectus and graduated from Yale. Bloom has worked closely with the minor league affiliates and rosters during his time in the organization, including dealing with payroll and development. A few in the industry have tabbed him as a future general manager and recently he was kind enough to give us some of his time.
R.J.: Is it fair to say that international players have a healthier appreciation for the organization after the World Series run?
Chaim: Yes, I would say so. I heard stories that during last year's run, the players in our academies were glued to the TV and celebrating just as hard as everyone in the States after we won the pennant. If you're a kid playing baseball in your backyard, the World Series is where you picture yourself, and it's the same for kids down there. Especially with both Dominican and Venezuelan players on our big league club, being in the spotlight helps us. But in a sense our pennant run was just the tip of the iceberg, validating everything that our international team did over the previous three years. We went from having almost no presence in Latin America to being at the forefront of development there, and having tremendously talented staffs working in gorgeous new academies. The World Series adds excitement and legitimacy, but the building blocks of our reputation internationally were laid well before that.
R.J.: How satisfying is it to see the fruits of the international effort like Wilking Rodriguez, Alexander Colome, and Albert Suarez progress throughout the Rays minor league system and gain legitimate prospect status?
Chaim: Those are some great arms you just listed, and they have great makeup as well. One of the most exciting parts of what we do is seeing raw talent come in and, through growth and hard work, develop into baseball players. Those guys came in with great tools and have made tons of progress over the time they've been with us. Everyone knows about their size and deliveries, how hard they throw and the type of secondary stuff that they have, but up close you see the other qualities that separate them: Wilking's spirit, Alex's fire, Albert's presence. It is still early in their journeys and they have a long way to go to get to the big leagues, but they have been a pleasure so far. They're a credit to the hard work of Carlos Alfonso, Eddy Toledo, Ronnie Blanco and the rest of our international staff and we look forward to many more names joining that list in the future.
R.J.: Do you think Hector Guevara is the next of the international kids to catch prospecting list votes?
Chaim: We had Hector here during the Instructional League and his calmness and maturity really stand out for a kid who just turned 18 this month. What struck me about Hector when I saw him in the VSL this summer was how still his head stayed throughout his swing. That's something you see in a lot of good hitters but rarely at that level. He's young and has bat speed, and we think there is more size and strength to come.
R.J.: The two most well-known international signings were of third baseman Cesar Perez and shortstop Juniel Querecuto; can you give some basic information on both?
Chaim: Both Perez and Querecuto joined us for Instructional League as well; they were the youngest players there but fit in completely. That's no small feat for a couple of teenagers in the States for the first time, and with a lot of eyes watching their every move. They are both mature, hard workers. Perez has good bat speed on a big, projectable frame and a good arm as well. For someone with no professional experience, he worked good, disciplined AB's against older pitchers. Querecuto has quickness and great instincts at short. He's been switch-hitting since he was about four years old, so it's completely natural to him, and he grew up around the game-his dad played minor league ball in the States. We're excited about both but it's important to remember that they are very young, and we will have to be patient with them as they learn.
R.J.: You attended the instructional league workouts and games. Is Luke Bailey partaking in drills yet?
Chaim: Luke's arm is still on the mend but the rest of him is fine, so Jamie Nelson, our catching coordinator, and the rest of our staff had Luke doing everything else that our catchers do. From a hitting standpoint, he's full go and we are very intrigued by his bat potential. As far as his arm is concerned, he's already begun a throwing program and is right on schedule to come back next summer. Between blocking, receiving, footwork, catching bullpens and learning the mental side of catching, there was plenty for Luke to work on and he showed us a great work ethic and personality. He can take just about anything you can dish out and not much seems to faze him. He has a ways to go in his recovery, but his future looks bright.
R.J.: Does Aneury Rodriguez have the stuff to be a front of the rotation starter?
Chaim: After the way he blew through the Sally and Cal Leagues, everyone expected more from Aneury this year, and I think he expected more from himself, too. He put himself under a lot of pressure after the trade, but once he settled in he became a real horse for us in the second half. Neil Allen, our pitching coach in Montgomery, did a great job getting him comfortable. Aneury doesn't have the raw stuff of a Wade Davis, but his strength has been his ability to pitch, to move the ball in and out, set hitters up and use his off-speed pitches well. Towards the end he did that really effectively, and we're really eager to see what he does next year. The key for him will be to use his fastball well and sharpen that breaking ball to be able to take the next step.
R.J.: Has Jake McGee's velocity fully recovered and are there any immediate plans to shift him towards the bullpen?
Chaim: Like many who come back from Tommy John surgery, Jake had some hiccups this summer and had a few outings where he was aiming the ball rather than letting it go. By the end we got to see him rear back and throw it like the Jake McGee we've known. We're expecting him to be at full strength in big league camp. He has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues in many different roles, but needs innings and reps to work on command.
R.J.: How legitimate is the hype surrounding Desmond Jennings?
Chaim: What DJ did was even more impressive when you consider that 2009 was really his first full year. He can do just about anything you'd want to see from a ballplayer. The stats are outstanding but they don't tell the story of how quiet he is at the plate, or his two-strike approach, or how well he played in the IL playoffs and Triple-A championship, at a time when he was worn out physically. He is a special player and if he sticks with his approach he has a chance to be a great big leaguer.
R.J.: And of the concerns regarding Tim Beckham?
Chaim: Tim went from high school in Griffin, GA to being an everyday shortstop and two-hole hitter in the South Atlantic League and handled it tremendously. He was the leader of his team despite being its youngest player. It's a long way from high school to the big leagues-to name one famous example, Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the SAL in his first full season and he turned out okay. What's great about Tim is that, even though he's confident, he doesn't see himself as a finished product. He's early to the ballpark every day and works his tail off; he's even-keeled and mistakes don't get to him. Our staff raves about his aptitude and how he's willing and able to make adjustments-the progress he's made in just a year and a half of pro ball is remarkable and there is more to come. In Instructional League he kept improving, and showed us things we hadn't seen during the season. When you take a raw high school player you have to be patient, but we'll bet on athletes with tools and great makeup any day of the week.
Another thanks goes out to Chaim for taking the time.