This is part two of my interview with Neal Huntington; you can find the introduction and all the other parts here as they’re posted.
How has the big picture shaped up since you’ve taken over in 2007 compared to where you thought it would be after three years? Obviously the major league product is lacking, but in terms of the whole system, the big picture, how is everything coming together?
The structure and the systems that we have in place — the way we evaluate players, the way we develop players — I’m very pleased with how that’s coming together. The scouting staff, the player development staff, I’m very pleased with how those two are coming together. The decision-making process, the resources we have in the office to weigh all forms of information, we’re very pleased with where that is at this point in time. All of these aspects need to get better and they’re all looking to get better, but they’ve all been very solid. The players on the field at the minor league level, we’re very pleased. Obviously not every trade has worked out, not every draft pick has worked out; some guys have exceeded expectations, some guys have underachieved at this point in time. But the beauty of the game is that Jayson Werth wasn’t an every day player until he was 28 or 29 and now he signs that contract with Washington. As much as we think we have this thing figured out with all the analytics, with all the subjective opinions, with all the work that’s done, we’re still trying to predict what humans are going to do in the future. Some guys get it sooner than others, some guys get it later than others, some guys never get it. As for the depth in the minor league system, we’re very pleased with it. How that progesses and how we continue to finish guys off and how we move guys through our system, those are the day-to-day challenges.
Obviously the disappointment is the Major League wins and losses. Too look at our club, the 2008 club was more “Where are we at this point in time, what can this club do?” We had a group of players nearing free agency after a year or two without much coming behind it in the farm system. If that group showed us it could do some things we could add to it and figure it out from there. Unfortunately, we weren’t very good and so we began the rebuilding process at that point. The 2009 club was about some players that were in transition, trying to establish themselves as big leaguers. We had some guys again nearing free agency and again, we weren’t very good and we made the trades. Last year our hope was that we’d be better. We needed some guys to take some steps forward and capitalize on their opportunities. We knew we had Alvarez and Tabata and we believed in Brad Lincoln at that point in time. Walker was going to be on the horizon in some way shape or form. Plus we had guys that had performed well the year before; McCutchen, Jones, Ohlendorf.
Last year we had the hope that we’d be better and the belief that better days would be ahead, but we walk into this year knowing we’re better and knowing that we’re ready to take a big step forward this year; it’s just a matter of how big and how this next group of pitching and next group of position players impact what we have on the field? We’ve got significant depth and a significant ability to do some things that we haven’t had in the three years that we’ve had prior to this year.
You mentioned Brad Lincoln; he’s already been sent down and will start the season in Triple-A (Editor’s note: this is what I meant about interviews being hard. I was actually talking about Lincoln’s injury with my uncle just the day before). Does he have to prove that he deserves a call-up more than someone like Bryan Morris or Rudy Owens?
Brad is still technically on the Major League roster; he took a ball off the forearm and he’s down and unfortunately that’s going to make it tough for him to make the rotation, so he’ll go back to Triple-A. But he’s thrown the ball very well this spring and he’s worked out of some difficult situations when he hasn’t had the fastball command. His breaking ball is much more consistent, his changeup is much improved, the fastball command wasn’t sharp the other day but he was able to use his other pitches to get out of jams against some pretty good hitters. For the most part he’s attacked the zone and he’s been pretty solid this spring. He would’ve been right in the mix — depending on what happened in his next two outings — had he not taken that ball off the forearm. He’s going to miss a little bit of time, so we’ll see where he is day-to-day and how the forearm swelling looks because he needs to get back to throwing and back on the mound.