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SoxProspects News

September 22, 2008 at 3:08 PM

Q&A with Mike Hazen

Red Sox Director of Player Development Mike Hazen is the man responsible for overseeing the growth and development of the Red Sox minor league system, which has included some great success stories over the course of the 2008 season. Players such as Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Jed Lowrie have developed under Hazen's watch. With the Sox on the cusp of clinching another post-season berth, he certainly deserves a lot of credit for the team's success this year. Special thanks to Mike for his hard work and for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

SoxProspects.com: If you had to pick a few players in the system who had "breakout" seasons in 2008, who would you choose and why?
Mike Hazen: I think Felix Doubront and Luis Exposito were two very positive stories in 2008. Felix rebounded from a tough 2007 campaign both physically and performance-wise, and Luis bounced back from a tough 2007as well, where he did not play very much. We felt both players made significant on and off-field adjustments that led to their very productive 2008 seasons.

SP: When evaluating the young arms coming up through the low minors, what are some of the main points that you and your staff look for in terms of developmental progress? In other words, what are the main factors in deciding when its time to promote that pitcher to the next level?
MH: I think there are the basic fundamentals that are stressed at the very beginning stages - like repeating a delivery or fastball command - and the factors generally get more complex as we move up the system. Of course, we try to never get away from the premise that we are teaching the game of baseball and not reinventing the wheel – but there are certainly some nuances at the upper levels that become far more important - controlling the running game, exploiting an opponent’s weakness, etc. As far as promotions go, everything is tailored to the individual, but there are some of the aforementioned stepping stones that we feel players need to master before taking on the next level.

: Similarly, what factors go into deciding when to make adjustments to an individual pitcher's mechanics and when to let them be? For example, why might changes be made to a Clay Buchholz's mechanics on the one hand, while a Michael Bowden type pitcher might be allowed to continue utilizing his delivery?
MH: I think performance is one key, and overall physical maturity is another. As you know, each pitcher’s delivery, frame, and arm action are pretty unique, so an individualized approach to each player is important. On the performance front, it’s tough to suggest fundamental changes to players where there is extreme positive performance, as you would probably gather. As for the physical maturity, the factors include both size and strength, as well as the advancement of mechanics - what the player is capable of handling at any one given time. Our ability to assess those things accurately is crucial.

: Back when Daisuke Matsuzaka was signed in the 2006-07 off-season, we heard about all the accommodations that were made for his arrival into this country to ensure a smooth transition to playing ball in the U.S. What type of infrastructure does the organization have in place to ensure that the international amateur signees are enjoying relatively smooth transitions? Are there bilingual staff members at each level?
MH: We spend a significant amount of time trying to individualize each player’s development. For those players that are getting acclimated to a new country – no matter the country – that becomes a key component to their development. We have bilingual staff at almost every level (mostly Spanish speaking), as well as in our coordinator and medical groups. For our Taiwanese-born players, we have a staff member that speaks Chinese. For the past two years, we have employed a Japanese trainer as well. Beyond the simple language, we have staff - Eddie Romero and Duncan Webb - that do a really good job of exposing the other areas of cultural assimilation so that we can ease the transitions as much as possible and allow our foreign-born players to focus on playing baseball.

: At the time of his introduction as general manager in 2002, Theo Epstein offered a vision of a Red Sox "player development machine." As that vision comes to fruition, a number of highly-regarded players are filtering their way up to the AAA level, and this might have the tendency to create positional logjams. As just one example, candidates for the PawSox OF/1B/DH positions in 2009 include Jeff Bailey, Chris Carter, Jonathan Van Every, Jeff Corsaletti, Bubba Bell, Aaron Bates, and Zach Daeges - all who likely deserve starting roles somewhere. On top of that, players such as Jeff Natale, Sean Danielson, and Bryan Pritz might also be in the fold, and Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick could potentially be knocking at the door at some point in the season. While quite often "these things tend to work themselves out", how does your staff address these types of logjams? Its certainly a good problem to have - and a tribute to your staff's continued success - but what happens when a team has too many prospects slated for a particular level?
MH: Good question, I will admit that “these things working themselves out” has been far more convenient and usable in past years. I do think with injuries and the like, some of these things will still work themselves out. However, moving forward we will be faced with depth issues that will challenge us with regard to playing time and priority positional fits. Once you get to the AAA level, obviously there is major league need that factors into the equation, not just pure minor league development. It’s a good problem to have if it ends up working out that way, so no one around here will be complaining. However, I don’t think having logjams at the minor league level will result in players being promoted to the majors without it being a fit for the big club.

: Can you discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses (areas that may need further development) of George Kottaras, Dusty Brown, and Mark Wagner? Do you anticipate that any will get an extended look for a major role on the big league club in 2009?
MH: George, Dusty, and Mark have all had pretty good seasons and made some strides fundamentally. With George and Dusty, we are talking about the overall major league refinements of the position: game calling, managing the pitching staff, and the leadership skills necessary to be a catcher in the majors. They are certainly different offensively, but both continue to show an ability to hit at the minor league level – I do think they will have an opportunity at some point in the future. Mark had a good year in AA, and I think was presented with some challenges for the first time at the upper levels with regard to some of the nuances of the catching position. The biggest key to us is will there continue to be the offensive/defensive separation on a given night - which is probably the toughest part of being a catcher at any level.

: Josh Reddick has excelled - perhaps dominated - at virtually every level of the system. In Portland , we understand that the plan was for Reddick to take a more "patient" approach at the plate, and to try to earn a few more walks. While its certainly evident that plate patience is the area of his game in the most need of improvement, is there a part of you that just wants to let him continue with his aggressive approach?
MH: As with any player, the developmental approach and focus changes as they move through the system. We don’t necessarily need Josh to become more patient, we just continue to discuss certain aspects of plate discipline that we feel will be another tool for him as he moves up the ladder and the pitching and defense become that much better. The last thing we try to do is cookie cutter any one approach offensively or pitching-wise, but there are subtleties that we try to add along the way.

: Could you discuss the decision to allow Che-Hsuan Lin and Chih-Hsien Chiang to play for Taiwan in the Olympics? Were other players in the Red Sox organization invited to participate?
MH: Lin and Chiang have been on the Taiwanese national team for a couple of years now, so allowing them to play was pretty much a certainty. David Pauley was selected to the 60-man roster for the U.S. team in June, but was not ultimately selected for the 25 man roster.

: File this under another potential logjam: how much of the decision to jump Michael Almanzar from the GCL to Greenville at age seventeen was based on the fact that Middlebrooks was already at third in Lowell ? If both were hypothetically assigned to Greenville to start 2009, any idea how to get them as many at-bats possible? A 3B/DH platoon? Time at other positions? Or maybe you disagree with the premise of the hypothetical altogether?
MH: One of our biggest challenges in the immediate present and hopefully into the future will be these types of issues. They are a challenge as long as Jason [McLeod] and Ship [Craig Shipley] continue to draft and sign players with very good talent. Our goal is always to maximize the amount of playing time each player needs – in a lot of cases with position players, that usually translates into at-bats over defense. I don’t think the hypothetical is far fetched, although I can tell you there is a lot of time and there are a lot of evaluations left to be made between now and next April.

: What players from the 2008 DSL team should we keep an eye on in 2009?
MH: Roman Mendez and Manny Rivera were two pitchers that really stood out in the DSL for us.