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November 2, 2007 at 5:37 PM

Interview with Mike Hazen, Red Sox Director of Player Development

Since the final out of the World Series victory on Sunday, the players, the owners, Terry Francona, and Theo Epstein have been getting a lot of credit for the achievement, and deservedly so. But one man that doesn't get a lot of attention, but who unquestionably deserves a lot of that credit, is Mike Hazen. As the Red Sox' Director of Player Development since the 2005-06 off-season, Hazen deserves some applause for his role in helping to develop the Red Sox farm system. The home-grown players certainly put on a display this season, and several players that were developed under Hazen's watch were crucial to the championship run. Special thanks to Mike for his hard work and for taking the time to answer some questions from SoxProspects.com.

SP: First of all, congratulations on a magical season, it seems as if the organization has created a winning environment that should carry over for seasons to come. What would you say were the organization’s biggest successes in terms of player development in 2007?

MH: I think the easy thing to point to for both player development and scouting would be the contributions of those players that were Red Sox draft picks that started the 2007 season in the minor leagues that went on to contribute to the major league club. Not only Ellsbury and Buchholz, but also players like Kason Gabbard really helped solidify our rotation for about a month. I know our scouts and field staff take a tremendous amount of pride in that, and they should. But in the bigger picture, I would point to some of the staff hirings over the last 12 months as well as seeing the youth of our minor league teams as they climb the ladder as a second factor.

SP: Last time we spoke in July, you mentioned that you thought it would take some time to evaluate the “Lancaster Effect” for both pitchers and hitters. Have you come to any conclusions, even tentative ones, regarding development and evaluation in Lancaster ?

MH: We are getting closer to feeling more comfortable on the overall impact of Lancaster. Clearly there is an effect on both offense and pitching in that park. We saw some of our position players get to Portland and saw their production fall off from the California League levels. Most of these players were promoted in the middle to the end of the season, so I think jumping to Double-A has some effect as well as getting toward the end of the season, but Lancaster propped up some of the statistics as well. From a pitching standpoint we feel comfortable that Portland will be somewhat similar to Lancaster given the conditions, even with players moving up a level.

SP: What were your initial impressions of Nick Hagadone this season?

MH: Nick had a very good half season. Great kid, great work ethic, I think the scouting staff did a great job evaluating him. We will take any and all power arm LHP that we can find, and he showed a good feel for a change-up in the instructional league. Long-term starter vs. reliever will be the biggest discussion over the next 12 months.

SP: Have any particular players stood out in the Fall Instructional League in terms of development?

MH: I think the overall group, with regard to athleticism and size, was extremely impressive overall. Our middle infield was very athletic with Tejeda, Navarro, Middlebrooks, Roque, and Dent, and some of our younger corner players impressed as well. Greenville would project to look somewhat similar to the 2007 team in terms of age/experience which is always exciting from our standpoint -- although you never know how that is going to translate in the win/loss column.

SP: Anything you can share on how Michael Almanzar’s development is coming along in the early going?

MH: Tough to get a great read right now. He is extremely young and athletic but it will take some time for him to develop into his body. At 16, he held his own in the FIL, which was extremely encouraging - he will show you quite a few tools. Next spring, we will get a much better read after a winter of strength gains.

SP: Former first round picks Daniel Bard and Jason Place struggled a bit in 2007 but have seemingly impressed in the Hawaiian League this off-season. Any noteworthy changes in approach that may have catalyzed these improvements?

MH: As we have discussed with Jason, his path was going to take some time with adjustments to his swing and the acclimation to pro ball. He has worked extremely hard to really smooth out his swing mechanics and mental approach at the plate. With time and repetition, we feel he will maximize his potential. With regard to Daniel, he seems to have taken to the bullpen role pretty well, focusing on short stints where he can be ultra aggressive with his approach. Ultimately, we still feel he can either start or relieve but it has been interesting in seeing him in this role.

SP: Have any other players performed beyond expectations in HWB, the AFL, or in the Caribbean Leagues thus far?

MH: Still a little early to get a true read on the winter leagues, but the way Argenis Diaz has been swinging in Hawaii has been extremely encouraging. He really got worn down at the end of the SAL season, and that is when we saw a big drop off in production.

SP: Looking ahead to next season, should PawSox fans anticipate that the organization will stay true to form and sign a lot of minor league free agents to fill the Pawtucket roster in 2008?

MH: I think we will continue to see the progression of young talent that has been moving its way up the system. This has taken some time, and some have moved on to the ML club, but we feel there is a next wave that will be playing in the minor leagues for the next couple of years. As always however, we must provide the ML club with the depth and protection it needs for a six month season. We will look to supplement our young club with some veteran FA’s.

SP: What is the prognosis for Aaron Bates, Ryan Kalish, and Craig Hansen to be back and healthy in time for Spring Training?

MH: All will be fine. Bates had a staph infection that kept him out of the AFL – this was unfortunate for him and something that has cleared up. Ryan had successful surgery on his hamate and is progressing well through his rehab stint. He will begin a swinging progression soon and has already begun his off-season strength training. Craig had minor facial surgery recently and will be ready to go in 3 weeks.

SP: Who of 2007 DSL players should we keep an eye on in 2008?

MH: Stolmy Pimentel and Ronald Bermudez

SP: How does the organization intend to manage middle-infield playing time next season between Ryan Dent, Will Middlebrooks, Yamaico Navarro, and Oscar Tejeda?

MH: Great question, one I do not have an answer to as of yet, we will make those decisions during the course of the off-season. Will be tough decisions, although part of our goal will be to ensure that all of those players get everyday AB’s somewhere.

SP: Over the past four years, there has been an impressive influx of new home grown talent making major contributions each and every season, from Youkilis to Papelbon to Lester to Delcarmen to Pedroia to Ellsbury to Buchholz. Care to make any predictions on what other prospects could be added to this list in 2008?

MH: Our scouting department does a tremendous job evaluating the players that are drafted and hopefully this has provided the club with additional young players that will contribute over the next few years. There are a number of players we believe will have an opportunity to impact the ML club. I think Lowrie, Masterson, Hansen among others will have a good chance in the short term --with hopefully another level of young depth coming behind them.