With Matt Silverman moving back into his Presidential role, the General Manager duties were handed to the newly promoted SVP of Baseball Operations Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom.
With a month under the team’s belt, Chaim was kind enough to chat with us about the off-season gone by, and a few stand out prospects in the system.
DRaysBay: How long did the KK contract take to come together, and was something like the Carl Crawford contract part of your guide?
Bloom: We’d had substantive conversations with Kevin and with Larry Reynolds, his agent, for several weeks before we finalized the deal. But this is one of those cases where there’s more to it than just the negotiation.
The foundation of a contract like this is our belief that Kevin is the type of player and person to be worthy of such a substantial commitment, and Kevin’s belief that this kind of contract is best for him and his family for the long haul. Those beliefs can take longer to develop than just a few weeks, but when they’re in place it enables things to come together like they did.
As for the contract itself, it’s nice to have an organizational blueprint for these sorts of deals going all the way back to Carl, as you mention. We can and do look to those deals as a guide in negotiating a deal like KK’s.
Are you able to comment on how the Wilson Ramos contract came together? The two year deal seems like an incredible win this off-season.
I think you can look at Wilson’s contract as a win for everyone involved. It’s not going to shock anyone to hear me say that we didn’t expect to be able to compete for a healthy Wilson Ramos on the free agent market.
Obviously the injury changed things. And I think that a big part of why Wilson chose to sign with us was that he believed in what the organization could offer him, beyond money and opportunity. He believed in our medical staff. He believed in how we would take care of him, and in all of the little things we try to do behind the scenes to help players. He did his homework on our coaching staff, our players, and our overall environment and believed it would be a good place for him to re-establish himself and set himself up for the remainder of his career.
We were able to get creative on the structure of the deal to find something that worked for him and fit our constraints. We’re going to have to be patient to reap the rewards, but that’s worth doing for this type of talent and this type of competitor at a premium position. Wilson’s work ethic during the rehab process has been outstanding and we’ll be excited to see him back out there later this summer.
Depth at the major league level has proven to be a necessity in each of the last two seasons, and the roster faces another injury spell again right at the onset. Do you believe the team is better equipped to absorb the losses at SS, RP this Spring?
Our depth is certainly being tested. It hurts to be without the guys we are missing right now – you can’t sugarcoat that, or minimize it. But injuries are part of the game and we have to build our club accordingly.
Two constants on all of our successful teams have been the way that guys stepped up when injuries gave them opportunity, and the way that the rest of the club battled regardless of who was on the DL. And so far we’re seeing both of those things with our 2017 club, despite our tough schedule. We’ve seen various guys come up big for us this first month at those spots – Tim at short, and at various points, Jumbo, Austin Pruitt and Chase Whitley in the pen, just to name a few.
This team has had an edge; they grind and they don’t give up. We’ll need to get healthier to reach our full potential, no doubt. But how we’ve handled adversity so far is a good sign.
What changes has the organization seen in Tim Beckham to give the team more faith in him this year than last, and hand him the starting role at short?
Tim’s desire to play, and ability to play every day, have been with him his whole career. Even if you go back to his first full season in Low-A, he was basically the everyday shortstop at nineteen years old. Not every teenager can handle that, physically or mentally, and he’s always been able to. So when Duffy had setbacks and the opportunity arose for Tim, we knew he’d be eager to seize it.
In camp this year, we saw how well Tim was going about his business on and off the field. His teammates saw it, too. He had a really nice spring training and once he got rolling he carried that over to the regular season. It’s been fun to watch him coming into his own.
Based on your looks at Rickie Weeks, has he met expectations?
Rickie’s had a tough start but when he’s put the ball in play he’s hit it really hard and we’re hopeful about what that means once he starts making more contact.
Off the field, he’s been an incredible addition to our clubhouse. He’s a great person and teammate and those attributes have been great for our group as a whole. You couldn’t ask for better intangibles and we like having those kinds of guys in our mix.
Chad Mottola recently moved from hitting coordinator to the major league staff. Have you noticed any changes in the hitting approach for the established guys now that Chad's been in the role for six months?
So much goes into hitting that I think it’s hard to draw a straight line from a specific coach to a change in ability or approach. In a lot of ways, hitters are the sum of their experiences and the coaching that they’ve had throughout their careers.
Having said that, as we’ve gotten to know Chad over the past several years, his ability to connect with hitters has stood out. He can meet them where they are, create a rapport and build trust, and those things are as important as his technical knowledge, if not more so.
As the season has unfolded, we’ve seen his ability to connect with our hitters carry over to the major leagues.
How much work does the R&D department put into pitch sequencing? Is that something the Rays generate reports on for batteries or coaches to consider?
Our R&D group does outstanding work and spends a ton of time trying to understand every aspect of pitching. With something like sequencing, which has so many variables and is highly complex, you’re not going to get to a precise answer analytically.
With that said, our guys have generated some really good information and insights and that have been tremendously valuable. But there is always going to be a subjective side to this and a “feel” component that’s really important. The game is played by human beings who have to make constant adjustments.
As an organization – led by our coaching staff – we’re trying to put our players in a position to use their athleticism and their natural gifts to react properly to what’s going on around them and to what the opposition is trying to do.
The Rays are without any left handed pitchers in the bullpen right now, is that a concern?
It’s not ideal, and of course it’s not how we set things up on Opening Day. At the end of the day our goal is to get hitters out, and in the past we’ve had righties who were really tough on lefties and used them in big spots accordingly. We don’t need to have a lefty just to check a box if he isn’t up to the task.
At the same time, we’d like to be as strong as possible against left-handed hitters and we’re always exploring ways to improve our roster.
What young arms were most intriguing in camp this Spring?
Guys like Pruitt and Schultz were under a microscope all spring, competing for spots on our club, and they really impressed. But we were equally excited about some of the arms behind them.
We hadn’t seen Ryan Yarbrough in person before and really liked his poise and pitchability, how he filled up the strike zone with quality pitches and kept hitters off balance. Hunter Wood, in his first major league camp, did the same thing and really executed well.
And there’s a group of power relievers—from guys like Stanek and Alvarado, who were in big league camp, to Diego Castillo, Ian Gibaut and others who weren’t—who aren’t finished products yet but got us really excited for when they do arrive.
Does the organization plan on being more aggressive in taking extra bases and/or stealing bases? How does the team plan to approach the development of Mallex Smith on the base paths?
Our aggressiveness is going to vary based on the individual player and where he is developmentally. With a young player at the lower levels, especially one with speed, we’re going to prioritize reps for development. We can’t expect a player to learn how to use his speed unless he gets a lot of chances to do it, and we have to accept that we may make a few extra outs along the way. But as that kid climbs the ladder, we’ll expect improvement not only in his skill level but also his judgment.
There’s a learning curve for each player on his journey through the minors. When he gets to the big leagues, where winning is our first priority, we can’t give away outs just for the sake of aggressiveness. We always want to be as aggressive as possible without hurting our chances to win ballgames.
As we saw earlier this year, Mallex has disruptive, game-changing speed. It can help him in the batter’s box, in the field and of course on the bases. He’s also young, and not a finished product just yet. While he’s in Durham, learning how best to use that speed, and finding the right mix of aggressiveness and judgment, will be a priority for him, and for our staff – led by Skeeter Barnes and Ozzie Timmons – who will be working with him.
Jake Bauers really impressed this Spring. How much of his development has come from coaching, and how much has that been his natural ability at the plate? He clearly has the necessary athleticism to be a major league talent. Are you able to give an honest assessment of his development in the outfield (in either corner) at this time?
You know, with all the hubbub around Jake’s hitting in the spring – and he deserved every bit of it – the quality of his outfield play was lost in the shuffle a bit. He looked a lot more comfortable there than he has in the past, and that’s a testament to the work he’s put in and continues to put in. His bat will always be his calling card, but he’s given himself another way to help a club and fit into our puzzle up here when the time is right.
Our coaches and coordinators have done a great job with Jake. But he also has an innate feel to hit and a good sense for the game. He’s loose, he’s even-keeled, and he handles the ups and downs of this game with a steadiness that’s well beyond his years. That’s what so many good hitters do and it will help his physical ability play up.
How do you view the continued development of Casey Gillaspie’s swing?
The way that Casey sees the ball has always been a separator for him and a real good place to start for a hitter.
Throughout ’16 he seemed to look more and more comfortable, and when we challenged him with a promotion to Durham, he rose to the challenge. I wouldn’t say that Casey’s swing changed radically, but he used his legs better and strengthened his base, and that allowed his path to get shorter. With his power, he’s going to be especially dangerous the more quality contact that he makes.
Some time has passed, so I think it’s safe to ask: how did you find out about Kevin Padlo? Was it a spreadsheet find, scouting find, or word of mouth?
It was a good marriage of all of our information. Our scouts have known Kevin since he was in the draft, and continued to follow him as he got into pro ball. We liked his physicality at a young age, his confidence and the way he carried himself. From a performance standpoint, we saw a lot of positives in what he accomplished at the lower levels. And Kevin’s still developing, but all of those things that we liked have shown themselves well in the time that he’s been a Ray.
We believe in making the best use of all of the information that’s available to us. In cases like this one, that can mean looking at multiple years of history with a certain player and not just a snapshot in time. The more complete the picture, the better a decision we can make.
When can we see Brent Honeywell in The Show?
Over the years we’ve had some really good starting pitching prospects come through our system and Brent has as much ability as any of them. It’s a credit to the depth of his repertoire and his ability to compete that he’s reached AAA just two full seasons removed from junior college.
In our view, a big reason that so many of those guys that came before Brent had so much success in the big leagues is because we allowed each of them to develop at the right pace and to learn as much as they could while they were still in the minors. We’re going to take that approach with Brent, too, and do everything we can to make sure that he is ready to thrive when he gets to St. Pete. It’s not fair to him to put a date on that.
But he’s getting closer, and we love his upside.
Last question: Favorite Lion King character?
Would you believe I’ve never seen the movie start to finish? So I have to punt on this one. But my older son will be three in a few months, so in a couple of years I suspect I’ll have a pretty good answer to this question whether I like it or not!
Many thanks to Chaim Bloom for answering our questions, and congrats on your promotion this year to SVP. Go Rays!