Here is the second part of my interview with Huntsville manager Don Money (You can read the first part here).
BCB: Up until this year Alcides Escobar has been considered a defense-first shortstop, but this year he seems to have taken a step forward with the bat. What was the turning point for him?
DM: Well I think it is that he is just bigger, and his maturity. He was just a skinny little scrawny kid and this offseason he put ten or twelve pounds on and now instead of starting the year at 170 pounds, he started at 180, 182 and now is maybe in the mid-180s, so he is nearly 15 pounds heavier than he was. He also is a year older, wiser, more mature, and has a better idea at the plate. He is a pretty free swinger, but he makes good contact, and the ball jumps off his bat when it has to, but I don't see him as a 25-home run hitter. If he went up and hit .280 to .300 with eight or ten home runs with the defense he plays, I think everyone would be happy, and he is only 21 years old--you never know, maybe he will get some more pop as he comes along. He has a few more errors than I expected him to have at this point, and he can get a little lackadaisical on some plays, especially his throws. He has a really good arm, but sometimes when he has a lot of time he will lollipop it and it bounces, and the [first baseman] doesn't pick it, and [Escobar] gets an error. I wouldn't worry about that; he is a big-league defender and made a big-league play last night on a bare-hand pickup [I described this play in my THT piece if you want to refresh your memory]. He is a very athletic player, and he runs the bases well and can steal a base. He also is a much better hitter with two strikes than he was last year.
BCB: I had seen Angel Salome play a couple years ago, and he showed a strong but incredibly inaccurate arm, and opponents were running wild on him, but this year his caught stealing numbers look a lot better. Is that coming around, and how much of an issue will that be going forward?
DM: It's coming around. I haven't seen him throw prior to this year but the thing with him is right back to the same thing as with [Mat] Gamel: footwork. He has a strong arm, actually a very strong arm, but if he just comes up out of his crouch and stands then he doesn't throw guys out. When that happens he is 2.10 to 2.15 seconds to second. When he stands up and takes a crow hop and then throws to second he is a flat 2, and last night he threw a guy out and was 1.98, which is good [That throw was in the dirt and needed a nice pick by Escobar to get the runner]. If he can do that on a consistent basis then he will be fine. He is blocking the ball pretty well, and he still needs to work on calling a game a bit better. He is falling into some patterns, like if the guy has a good changeup, you still don't call five changeups in a row. You can't do that because then the hitter gets to see it, so when you need the out, then you go to it. The other thing is knowing what the pitcher's best pitch is [that particular night]--maybe it is the curveball and not the changeup. He is doing a bit better on it, but it is something he still needs to work on. The other thing is he needs to work on framing the pitches better. When he calls for a slider away, you have to catch it like this [motions catching a ball and pulling it back toward the plate], not like this [glove keeps going outside]. You have to try to pull a few back for strikes, and that is something that good catchers do.
BCB: Salome is 5'6" or 5'7". How does his height affect him behind the plate?
DM: Look at it this way: he is lower to the ground for blocking balls. There have been some shorter catchers--Yogi Berra was something like 5'8", so I don't think the height has anything to do with it. He is strong as an ox though and a very unorthodox hitter.
BCB: You beat me to my next question. [For more on Salome's batting style, check out the THT article linked above]
DM: That is his style of hitting. He has got good power to center and right-center, and he doesn't pull balls very often to left-center. He just stays on the ball and uses left-center around to right field, and he can hit it out to right field because he is as strong as an ox. When I played I couldn't hit it out to right-center; I had to pull the ball, but Salome goes the other way. Sometimes that reduces the power, but you stay on the ball. His style of hitting is unorthodox for you or me, but it is right for him.
BCB: So there haven't been any attempts to change his swing then?
DM: Why? The guy has been hitting .310, .320, .330--just go do what you have to do. Know going forward that if he has trouble, then you make some little tweaks. You don't make major overhauls unless the guy falls flat on his face, and I don't see that happening with him. He will hit balls down by his feet, he will hit balls head-high, so he is very tough to pitch to. Just let him do what he wants. He is hitting .330; just let him do what he wants until it fails. He may not be a .320 hitter in the Majors, but .280, I think so.
BCB: Is that one of the biggest differences in managing in AA compared to managing in A? Do you have to do more tweaks in A ball?
DM: In A ball you have to more. For many players that is their first season. Some guys went to Rookie ball, but some guys went straight to Beloit, and we tried to teach them the game of baseball. When I was in high school I would pitch on Monday, play shortstop on Wednesday, and then maybe in the late innings the manager would ask if you could throw a few more innings, but once you get signed and go to the minor leagues you pretty much are here every day. Here we have a 140-game schedule in 152 days, barring rainouts. So you only have 12 off-days, and four of them are travel days to Carolina.
BCB: There has been a lot of attention on this team all year, and when I was up in the stands last night there were six radar guns going at all times. Has that been a distraction at all to the team?
DM: There is talent here, and the scouts go where the talent is. Does that hinder them? Nah, I tell the players you are also playing for 29 other teams. Maybe you don't make the big leagues with the Brewers, but maybe you get traded to Baltimore and make the big leagues with them. That is the business, and you can't worry about that--just go out and play your game. I got traded twice, and there is nothing you can do about it. Just play your game and let the chips fall where they may. Someone might be looking for a pitcher or an outfielder and there could be more trades. I don't know what the future is. It did start to bother [Matt] LaPorta a little bit, and we had a nice talk a couple of days before the trade happened. I told him there was nothing he could do about it. His friends were telling him that it was going to happen, and Cleveland obviously had interest in him, and I told him there is nothing he could do about it but just go out there and play right field. It ended up happening for a pretty good pitcher, and now it is always on his résumé that he got traded for [CC] Sabathia. So that is the way you have to look at it and forget about it.
BCB: Pitch counts have been a pretty recent addition to baseball. Is that something that is helping out young pitchers, or is that hindering them and babying them too much?
DM: Well there are pros and cons to it. Here we require that you don't throw more than 210 pitches in two outings, and you can't go over 110 pitches in one outing. You look on the board there [gestures to a huge white board with all the pitchers' names on it] and you can see what everyone has thrown in their last appearance and when they last threw. There are pros and cons to it. Some guys coming out of high school, maybe they are used to throwing that much, but what about the guys coming out of college? Maybe they have thrown more than that; maybe they have burnt out in college so you don't know. Every organization has a different philosophy, and I know Nolan Ryan with the Rangers wants to get rid of pitch counts because we are producing six-inning pitchers. Are pitchers being babied? Well if you want to use that word, I would say yes. If they get into a jam, I would like to see them get out of the jam, but they are already at their pitch count. Maybe there is a runner on second and third and two outs, and I would like to see the pitcher work his way out of it, but he is already at 108 pitches so you can't let him get out of it. Everyone has a different theory on it and [there is] some good, some bad.
BCB: How has technology affected the way you do your job? [Don was sitting at his desk behind a laptop waiting for some scouting reports to come in.]
DM: [laughs] As far as technology we have Dartfish and we videotape our pitchers and hitters, and you are just sitting there filming them, and you get them on Dartfish, and if they aren't doing so well you can bring them in and say, "This is where you were standing," or, "This is where your hands were when you were hitting well." You can superimpose two on a screen or four on a screen over each other. Sometimes it gets so technical and I just want to say, "Hey, get your hands up here". What we used to do in the old days when we didn't have video is I would ask one of the photographers in the first-base well to get a still shot of where my hands were before the pitch came. I just wanted to see where my hands were. Then I could look at them and say, "No wonder why I am so [messed] up, my hands are way up here." Then I could get them back and be ready to go. But this is the electronic age, and we have to fill out lots of reports. This is Mobile's reports; you have to do every team and every player and some of these players might only have gotten in one game [in the series]. How do make a judgment in one game? But you have to do it for each player, and then it goes to Milwaukee and the Brewers can look at them, and if there is a trade then can ask for whomever.
BCB: Besides the players on your team, what other prospects have impressed you this year?
DM: [Clayton] Kershaw. He had really good stuff, and he is now in the big leagues. Clayton Richard down at Birmingham has a lot of promise. There have been a couple of good pitchers, but position players are down a bit. [Cameron] Maybin in Carolina I am not sold on yet. He can run like a deer out in center and he has some pop. His arm might be a little short and he has a long swing, but he is only 21, and you only see them for five or even eight games. You go down the list on a roster and you go "Maybe", "Maybe", "Maybe", "Yes", "No" but then maybe that "No" goes to another team and they make an alteration and they turn it around. The kid we had here last year, Will Inman, he used to be over the top but now they have him down here [shows a nearly side-arm delivery], and he is doing very well. We didn't change him down here, and when we made the trade I was OK with that because I wasn't in love with [Inman's motion] up here, but down here, yeah, maybe it works. Whoever they had scouting maybe saw something that made them believe that down here he could be more effective.
BCB: The early '80s Brewers team was just filled with guys who ended up in coaching. What was it about that team produced so many coaches and managers?
DM: Well there were so many players on that team that knew how to play the game. Ned wasn't an everyday player, but a lot of managers in the big leagues weren't everyday players. They could sit in the dugout during games and listen to conversations going on with the manager, and maybe it sticks. There was a lot of talent on that team and they knew what they needed to do to help the team win. If I had to get a man over, well, maybe the best way for me to get a man over was a bunt. Then Cooper hits a ground ball behind me and it is 1-0. That is a hard thing to teach players today; everyone wants to hit the home run or the two-run double with two outs. When you are called upon to do the small things, don't have a long face, just go out and do the things you need to do. A lot of the times we have a runner on third base and the infield is back and we pop out or hit it to the corners when the corners are in and the run doesn't score. If you get jammed and hit a grounder to second, you have driven the run in. Then say I want to drive the ball and get the runner in, well, if you hit a ground ball you got the runner in and we got a run. Otherwise we don't get that run. A lot of players today don't play as much ball as we did when we were kids. We went to the sandlots, and I know times have changed because sometimes it is dangerous for kids to be there without parents, but when I was a kid I'd ask my mom what time dinner was, and she would say 5:00 and don't be late. So I would go out to the ballpark and play all day long. For lunch go over to the store, get a soda and a bag of potato chips, and head back to the field. Now guys don't do that; they sit there and beep, beep, beep [imitates using a video game controller], and what do they do? They sit there hours and hours playing the Nintendo. A lot of players just don't get the same amount of playing time as we did. Where I saw that ground ball 200 times maybe you only saw it 50 times, because I played four times as much as they did.
BCB: Is the money and the stat-oriented world causing that? The attitude of, "I want to hit five more home runs this year so I can get a bigger contract"?
DM: This is what I try to pound in our guys' heads.
They say, "I am a home run hitter."
"How long have you been playing?"
"How many home runs have you hit in those three years?"
"So you have hit five a year."
"Well, no, I hit two, then four, then nine."
So I say to them, "If you hit five more home runs next year, is that going to get you to the big leagues? Fourteen home runs isn't going to get you to the big leagues."
Maybe a whole bunch of other things might get them to the big leagues, but five more home runs isn't going to do that, and they just can't get their heads wrapped around that. If you do things like move runners over, turn double plays, avoid double plays, then you have the total package. It isn't just about hitting five more home runs and hitting .240. Wouldn't you rather hit .280 with six home runs? I would. If you are at a defensive position like second base or center field, then steal a base, move a guy over, it all goes into the reports. Do whatever it takes. It is the total package--that is what we are looking for.
BCB: So where do you see yourself in five or ten years? Would you like a shot at managing in the Majors?
DM: Ten years, I'll probably be home by then. I am AA right now, and my goal is not really get myself to the big leagues next year or the year after. I am in my eleventh year, and I am satisfied with getting players ready either for AAA or the big leagues. The talent has come through, and we have a lot of former players in the big leagues, and if something opened up in Milwaukee, yeah, I would be interested. But that isn't my goal. My goal is to make these players better. I am not like, "Man, this is July of '08. I have to be in the big leagues next year." You know, I am 61, and in ten years I will be 71, and will I be doing this? I don't think so. But you go out there until they don't want you anymore or maybe you don't want to do it anymore, I mean physically can't do it anymore. If something worked out, would I be up for it? Yeah, but it isn't my number-one goal. My number-one goal is to do the best I can and make these guys better.
BCB: Thank you very much!