Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim gave us a fairly comprehensive State of the System update last week.
Kim underwent a change in his role in the off season, and added MLB coach to his portfolio. He was just learning the ins and outs of his new position this spring when the Covid-19 pandemic brought professional sports in North America to a halt.
Like most of the Blue Jays staff, Kim is sequestered in Florida, doing his best to keep busy with tasks related to the minor league side of his job. Ordinarily, we would post this article in proper sentence and paragraph form, but owing to the times, Kim had plenty of time to expand on his answers.
Future Blue Jays: Your work days are no doubt far different from what you’re used to, but we imagine you’re having no trouble keeping busy.
Gil Kim: We’re in a situation right now where we can’t be as physically close to our staff and our players… but at the same time we’re trying to continue to push programs forward as we keep in mind that priority number one is the well being, safety and health of all of our people
We have about 20 players who were largely unable to return home and they’re all staying at our team hotel in Clearwater right now so we’re approaching the situation with empathy for what those young men are going through. We’re all going through unprecedented times right now and we’re all worried and concerned about the the safety and health of our our families…..and to put ourselves in their shoes right now where they can’t return home is very difficult…but we have a group of staff that we feel are putting a lot of focus and effort into their well-being through different programs and initiatives, and hopefully we’re all making the most of it as much as we can.
Our mental performance department led by Ben Freakley – the head of department – and Rafael Dubois who’s a mental performance coach have put together mental performance video sessions for the players, so twice a week Rafi will deliver sessions that focus on different areas of mental skills, life skills and overall well-being… in some ways it’s it’s no different than the mental performance curriculum that these players would be receiving in spring training and in other cases, Ben and Rafi have tailored some of the sessions to apply more closely to the situation at hand, focusing on positivity and resiliency through tough times.
FBJ: How about the Latin players who couldn’t return home? Are they able to continue their daily English lessons?
GK: The Latin American players have English classes every week as well, and for some of the more advanced speakers we’re complementing those sessions with the video language exchanges or language exchanges with different staff members. There’s a handful of players who are at a conversational level that are able to engage through English conversation. It’s something that we’ve put a lot of focus and effort into, and I think at the core of these players is their desire to get better at baseball.
FBJ: Tell us about some of the programs your staff has put together for the minor league players.
GK: John Tamargo Jr, who’s our short-season field coordinator, Luis Hurtado (Lansing Manager) ,and Steve Rassell, our minor league strength and conditioning coordinator, and Roswell DeRosario who’s a strength and conditioning coach, have all partnered up together and have created new at home workout tutorials.
JT leads our Dominican summer league operations, and his staff have put together various self-isolation workouts being as creative as possible with equipment, and they distribute those to our DSL players and some of our players at the hotel, so we’re trying to do our best to provide them with with ideas and resources whenever possible.
Our strength and conditioning department as well has done a really nice job of providing equipment, programming bodyweight workouts that can be done in a hotel room… it’s not ideal, but then again none of this is, and we’re trying to make the best of the situation
The main priority with all of our players is their well-being, health, and safety and as well as the well-being health and safety their families and their communities and that’s what we been prioritizing with every player and every staff member….and secondly, you know we’re trying to prioritize player support -any way possible we can support our players through some of these methods we were just discussing and through other other ideas that have come to fruition including some video calls and practical decision making exercise our staff are sharing with the players… as long as those two things are being prioritized, our staff is really pushing forward with staff development projects and programs as well. We’ve been keeping very busy, but yet at the same time we always have to keep in the forefront of our minds the greater good and the circumstances we’re under.
FBJ: Can you give us some injury updates for players like Eric Pardinho, Jordan Groshans, and Justin Maese?
GK: Pardinho had surgery and and we’re taking as many positives out of that as we as can… one thing that we’ve always known what Eric is that he’s a very talented pitcher, and he’s finding right now the the silver lining in this, and is finding another another level in his body and his strength, so we’re hoping that as much as you can take advantage of times like these that Eric is doing that
Jordan’s been doing very well so both of them were in spring training and have been progressing nicely. I don’t have a ton of detail to report other than that at the time we think he’s trending positively.
Justin and the staff has been working a lot on some technical and mechanical tweaks and he was in camp, and you know we again we weren’t able to see a ton of things off of the fact that we haven’t started games yet but his overall progress was positive.
FBJ: When you look at the list of Pitchers at the upper levels of the system, you’re going to have some tough decisions to make about the Buffalo and New Hampshire staffs when/if play begins.
GK: Pitching depth is really an area that we’re excited to have a bit of an issue with this year.
Traditionally the push up from the short-season into full-season ball is an area where you have a lot of depth, but we’re excited with the progress of some of our pitching at the upper levels, and looking at some of the arms that are projected in Buffalo and in AA certainly is exciting….. to think about it, it’s a credit o the organization, both the scouting department for bringing in the talent, and also to Jeff Ware, David Aardsma, and the group that has been leading the push with our development and right onto Matt Buschmann, Matt Tracy, and Cory Popham, who are continuing that progress right now.
FBJ: One of the criticisms of the scouting and player development departments that began to arise last year was a lack of high quality outfield prospects. How would you respond to that?
GK: Development is a challenge in general, and we’re always focused on developing as many quality and elite potential big leaguers as possible, and while we try to focus on every area and every position, sometimes you’re stronger in some places more than others, and we definitely feel like at this point, our infield and catching is pretty strong, and we feel like the pitching has been progressing nicely, and we are excited about about about some of our outfielders as well….. right now in camp, Forest Wall and Josh Palacios are exciting players. Forrest has a calm demeanour, but when Forrest turns it on, he’s he’s very exciting, because he has plus wheels, controls the strike zone very well, and he’s got some juice in the bat, so he’s an exciting player, and we were happy to see some of the strides that he made in his second big league camp – we felt like he was playing with more aggressiveness, more confidence, and that translated to to watching a guy out there who was having an impact on the game on both sides of the ball. He earned every bit of that promotion to AAA (last summer), and he went up there and got his feet wet, and really he’s a committed worker. He came into a second big league camp wanting to play a little more aggressively, and that’s exactly what he did so we’re really excited with his progress.
Josh Palacios is a toolsy player….he’s also an exciting player and he’s worked a ton on his first step and his route efficiency…….. if you came out if you came out to the stadium before camp opened, you would have seen both Forest and Josh running around maniacally taking live reads in BP before camp even started. Josh has been another one that we’re excited about, and then you have Chavez Young, who’s a dynamic witch-hitting player who brings energy – he’s got probably one of the most accurate arms in the system, and he put a ton of work in the off season as well.
Dasan Brown is one of the more exciting players we have too, and this is a young man who might be the fastest player we have in the system. He has an easy gait, so we feel like he’s going to maintain that speed – he can play center field and he’s got some bat speed too, so he’s another hard worker that we’re excited to see in his second pro season.
Griffin Conine is one of our most intelligent hitters, really studies his swing, and studies the game. He’s a very smart player and and he’s he’s got game-changing raw power, out and he has really good awareness of where the holes are in his swing, and what are the opportunities to improve in his swing and in his offensive game, so we just feel like with more repetitions Griffin is going be okay.
FBJ: When we talked before the 2018 season started, we asked you about prospects who stood out in the off season, and you mentioned Danny Jansen. We asked again last February, and you told us about Gabriel Moreno. That’s a pretty good track record for predicting prospect breakouts. So, who gets the nod for 2020?
GK: I honestly was going to mention Gaby (Moreno) not even remembering our conversation was last spring……is it fair to even say Alejandro Kirk? I feel like he’s such a household name now., but he had an incredible spring.
I think if you look at Top 100 lists throughout the industry you typically won’t see Kirky or Moreno’s name on there, but we’re very confident in both of them. Kirky probably has the best approach at the plate in our system….he can turn around any fastball, he has a keen eye for the strike zone, he has some pop….he’s a very good receiver, intelligent game caller, and he’s quick to block back there.
Gaby’s just – he’s an above average athlete, a former shortstop who was converted to catcher, he has a very natural feel to hit, very good timing at the plate, compact stroke with bat speed, has power to all fields…. he’s quick-twitch with a plus arm, and then he’s very active back there…..so those are two young guys really we’re really excited about.
An under-the-radar prospect we’re very excited about is (RHP) Sem Robberse… this is a guy when we’re reaching out to see how everybody’s doing once we broke camp, this was a guy who wasn’t able to go back to the Netherlands, but he’s telling staff that we all need to be patient and that we have to find the positives of these circumstances…..he told us he’s going to take advantage of the time and try to learn Spanish and he’s an intelligent mature young man – he has a very good feel for his delivery….he has a smooth starter’s mechanics, and he’s very committed to his work routines, so when you come back and natural ability, his intelligence, and his work ethic, you feel pretty good about how that projects a few years down the road.
FBJ: You didn’t get a long stretch of time to experience the new added duties as a member of the MLB coaching staff that were added to your responsibilities, but can you tell this how this new hybrid role came about, and how you found the experience in the brief time in spring training you did have?
GK: As a staff we’re always talking about and brainstorming different ways that we can do anything better – you know better ways of practising, more precise ways of measuring feedback, and more optimal ways to staff, whether it’s the Player Development, Scouting Department or anywhere else in baseball.
We also focus a lot on trying to be open-minded and creative…. a lot of the ideas that that you may hear about that are flourishing right now are the result of focus and effort being put into creativity and open-mindedness, so I think through the combination of just always looking at different ways of of doing things, at some point the idea was floated, and we actually went through with it.
I truly have respected every person who’s ever worn a uniform, either as a player or as a staff member at a competitive level. I’ve always admired and respected how challenging it is for these players and these coaches to do their jobs as well as they do…. so I feel extremely fortunate and grateful that Charlie (Montoyo), and Hudge (Dave Hudgens), and Pete (Walker)and the rest of the staff have welcomed me. I can say with 100% confidence that I am learning every single day, and there’s so much about coaching – there’s so much about the big league level that I have not experienced and that I need to learn….. my first year working in baseball was 2009 and my experience has either been scouting or Player Development front office – for a few weeks I did some July 2nd Tricky League coaching with the Rangers, so it’s largely been scouting and Player Development.
I knew it would be a challenging job because I’ve seen and experienced how challenging a role coaching is, because it’s not just the instruction – it’s the mental perspective, the physical perspective , and the technical and tactical perspectives, and it’s balancing all of that while trying to instil values of of compete and passion. Our big league staff has been very patient with me I would say, and I think the players at camp have also been patient with me, and have helped me as this transition has been happening. I just feel fortunate to be able to help in any way possible. Obviously a lot of my role is just learning – learning about what this role entails, but it’s definitely a challenging and rewarding experience so far. It’s a different connection with players and with staff. I know I just I’ve already made a ton of mistakes, and I definitely think I’ll continue to, but I just hope I can learn as quickly as possible from the staff and the players, and learn from those mistakes and hopefully get better from there.
FBJ: As training camp broke and the season began, how would you have balanced the dual nature of your responsibilities?
GK: The role would have been mainly focused in uniform at the big league level, so the plan was to travel with the team and focus really in any way possible in any area that our staff may need some support in. We have a very talented big league staff, and they’re all very good at connecting with the players as well. The staff is a very impressive staff to begin with so really any shape or form that I can assist that’s what I would be doing….. honestly the focus wasn’t as much working directly with players… I was doing everything from helping with flips, helping set stuff up, hitting fungoes…. daily tasks like that. Some of the coaches that have had years of experience can do those types of things rolling out of bed I needed to practice, but really the focus was on in any way possible helping with player improvement, game planning, and transition strategies -those would be the three areas we put the most thought into. With player improvement, it’s just about you know thinking systematically – how can we help players continue to get better even at the big league level?
Charlie’s worked so many years in Player Development, and he’s very prideful about his work in the minor leagues and he’s told us that, but he expects us to continue to get better you know wherever we are, whether you’re in the big leagues or in the minor leagues….. there’s been a focus on team performance as well, so I guess when I said player Improvement, team performance, and player transitions would be the three main areas, and then with team performance, that’s helping me think about game planning, and any type of strategy or daily preparation may be helpful so and of course we have a full R & D department staff that’s very well equipped to help with that.
When players transition to the big leagues, or from the big leagues, it’s important that there’s a clear plan and a consistent message and that the player is involved, and so it’s no different than last year when Teoscar (Hernandez) and (Lourdes Gurriel) went down to Buffalo and Guillermo (Martinez), Corey Hart, and Hunter Mense partnered together to ensure a fluid transition down, and then they executed a plan together, and then they came back up and had some success, so really the focus of the big league level was was was taking a player Improvement, team performance, and a player transition lens with consistency from the minor leagues through the big leagues.
I think it is important to note that one of the reasons we felt so confident going forward with this transition is because of the confidence we have in the staff leading the minor leagues right now, so our assistant system farm director Joe Sclafani will be taking over the majority of the the day-to-day operations…. he’s extremely sharp, he’s able to simplify information, and he played at a high level, he graduated from Dartmouth, he’s very well respected and you know and we’re confident that he’s going to be an effective leader for our staff right now, and for our players, and then along with that we’ve tried to flatten the leadership structure a little bit more in order to spread around the responsibilities of each staff member…….. so Casey Candaele and John Tamargo Jr are our two field coordinators, and they’ll focus on driving forward the values of competing together, the value of competing, of teammates and competing together. Casey will focus on the full season teams and Vancouver whereas JT will focus on Bluefield, GCL and DSL. With Casey we may have an extremely experienced, very knowledgeable baseball guy who has an unbelievable ability to to make make people feel positive, supported, and motivated, and JT’a worn so many hats in this organization and has a unique ability to connect with our Latin American players and some of our younger level players, he’s got of tons of energy and and he brings is every day. Dallas McPherson is probably one of the most curious, highest attention to detail most passionate guys we have when it comes to practice design, so he’ll be on skill development coordinator, but also also lead our defensive development along with Danny Solano who’s our infield coordinator. Hunter Mense will still lead our hitting department alongside of Joe Sclafani who’s focusing on hitting development as well off and then you’ve probably seen some of the news with our Pitching department…..we were really excited – there was a point in January when (minor league Pitching Coordinator) Jeff Ware and I were having a conversation…. we just started brainstorming different ideas for the Triple A pitching coach job, and he said that was an opportunity he’d be interested in, and we feel very fortunate, because we have such a strong leader in Jeff. He’s about as organized you can get and he has extremely high standards and if there’s one thing that I would bet my house that he would do is he’ll compete and outlast anybody else, and that’s exactly the type of mindset that we feel you know has pushed our Pitching department forward. Matt Buschmann will be our director of pitching development, and he’ll help drive our overall vision and philosophy; Matt Tracy will be our pitching analysis coordinator, with a focus on delivery and movement patterns. Corey Popham will be our pitching programs coordinator, designing throwing programs, and different different routine sets, and then Evan Short will be our minor league pitching analyst and David Aardsma our rehab coordinators. So amongst those those five, including Jeff Ware into that,we feel very very good about the direction of our pitching department.
FBJ: How did it feel to put on a uniform again?
GK: It was very interesting walking through the breakfast room for the very first time….. and it wasn’t until I a couple players that obviously I knew from the minor leagues made some wisecracks about Coach Kim, a bunch of us myself included were able to kind of break the ice and laugh a little bit, but again – I don’t take it lightly at all. This is an opportunity I feel fortunate that the organization and Charlie have you know provided me with so, it’s definitely exciting but I also realize I’ve got a ton to learn, and there’s a lot of work to do if I want to begin to even think about executing the job well.
FBJ: One of the off-season hires the organization made that we’re eager to learn more about is BC native Brent Lavallee, who will Manage Vancouver after a successful collegiate coaching career.
GK: As we were going through our candidate search, a lot of interesting names popped up, but from the first conversation we had with Brent, we felt like we felt like there was a different level of curiosity, and there’s a different level of attention to detail and then realized that he’s from North Delta and grew up going to Nat Bailey, and it was something that we got even more excited about.
Brent obviously is is a progressive thinker and he’s done a nice job of integrating data and technology into development, but at the same time, he’s played the game, he’s coached for several years and he knows how to connect and communicate with people and and that’s what we’re really excited about, because we have development coaches at each full season level who are focused on integrating data and technology…. we have a lot of progressive thinkers on our staff at the end of the day, our ability to communicate and to motivate impact the lives of these young men is the most important thing, and so we really have tried to diversify the skill set and the background and experience levels of our staff as much as we can, but at the end of the day all of the knowledge, resources, data, technology, and experience is only as good as how well you can connect with people, how well you can translate the ideas, and how good of a feel do you have for the timing of when to go in (when coaching a player), when to step out, and ultimately how effective are you as a leader and a motivator to help you guys get better as players and as people. Obviously, we do value a lot of the things that I just mentioned but, Brent is another example of a new coach where as much as we’re excited to bring in some of the progressive thoughts, we’re excited to bring in somebody who cares so deeply about people.
FBJ: We have no way of knowing, of course, when things will get back to “normal.” When they do, how long do you think it would take for players to get back into game shape?
GK: That’s probably the most challenging question…..we’re really just focused right now on how to take advantage of each day, and we’re hopeful for the the public, we’re hopeful for the communities, we’re hopeful for our players – that they will have as many opportunities to get reps in the summer as we can, but you know at this point we’re waiting to see what updates come in and and you know what is next. I think your guess is as good as mine. I do know we’re all itching to play and get back there as soon as we can.
That’s just so hard to predict because you know how long spring training typically lasts, but the players, they have since September been anticipating that date of return, there’s just so many unknowns. I know our high-performance staff is putting a lot of thought into how best to plan ahead with any type of ramp up plans we would need to manage the workload, but I really don’t have a good answer for you.