Chad Jennings is the beat writer for the Scranton W/B Yankees. He was kind enough to answer 10 questions for me. Here is the interview:
1. Out of all the players in AAA this year....who has impressed you the most? Who has dissapointed you the most?
Chad Jennings: Austin Jackson has probably impressed me the most. For a guy his age to hit like this in the International League is pretty amazing. He's also a lot faster than I expected, and he uses his speed well on the bases and in the outfield. He's terrific driving the ball to the opposite field. Kevin Russo, Shelley Duncan and Zach Kroenke deserve some honorable mention here. I guess there's some disappointment in the way Doug Bernier and Justin Leone have struggled. Great guys, both of them, but the bat just hasn't been there all season. Eric Duncan has really struggled, too.
2. Do you see Shelley Duncan as a capable MLB every day player, or just another AAAA player?
CJ: I absolutely see him as a capable MLB everyday player. I would love to see what would happen if a big league team stuck with him for a season. He would strikeout quite a bit, but he could be a 35 home run guy. And if he got himself locked in, he could be really valuable.
3. Can you give us some information on Zach Kroenke?
CJ: Lefty. Low 90s with his fastball. Mixes a slider and splitty, using both as an outpitch. He's not a huge strikeout guy, but he doesn't allow many hard-hit balls. And he comes from a major college program at Nebraska. There's talent there, it's just a question of how much the other pitchers in the system have him overshadowed.
4. The AAA Yankees got off to an 11-0 start this year and are currently the 2nd best team in the IL winning-percentage wise. Who would you attribute this to the most? The players? The manager?
CJ: I think there's a lot to be said for this coaching staff. The Yankees have been one of the best teams in the league each of the three years they've been in Scranton, and that's happened with constantly shuffling rosters. Dave Miley and Butch Wynegar really know what they're doing and the pitching coaches the past three years -- Dave Eiland, Rafael Chaves and Scott Aldred -- have track records that speak for themselves. Aaron Ledesma has been a great addition this season. That staff has helped create a loose, easy going clubhouse. In the end, though, I think it falls on the players. These guys have largely bought into the idea of winning being important, even at this level, and I think that's helped.
5. After seeing the whole Tony Bernazard and Binghamton Mets story play out and the Mets be repeatedly chastised for their lack of depth how do you feel the Yankees are at the same thing? Do you feel they have good enough depth in the system?
CJ: For the most part, yes. The Triple-A roster has long-term and short-term solutions in the infield, outfield and catcher. The relief depth is such that it's been hard to get everyone innings. The starting pitching depth has dwindled considerably, but that's only after a ton of injuries and just-for-now bullpen conversions. It's deep enough to fill some holes.
6. How is the Redsox farm system this year?
CJ: I don't really follow it too closely. I know Lars Anderson hasn't been too good, but Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard are legit. Junichi Tazawa looks like a solid signing, as well.
7. Who would you say is the best prospect you've seen this year (Yankee or non-Yankee) and do you feel he has lived up to the hype?
CJ: I missed a lot of them. Didn't get to see Gordon Beckham or Tommy Hanson or Andrew McCutchen. I did see Matt Wieters, and what struck me was his size and athleticism. He looks like an NFL tight end. He just looks like a better athlete than everyone else. I also thought Michael Bowden looked good against the Yankees. He's really boosted his stock the past year or two.
8. Is Kei Igawa just another minor-leaguer?
CJ: Maybe. I think Kei can get big leaguers out, but when he makes a mistake, it gets crushed. And it's tough to learn anything new from watching him pitch in Triple-A. He's been good at this level for three years now. He seems to be better at keeping the ball down this year, but I have no idea if that will be enough to make a significant difference at the big league level. He's had Triple-A success in the past but not been able to carry it to New York.
9. Give us a background on Austin Jackson?
CJ: It seems most people know that he was a terrific athlete in high school who turned down a basketball scholarship to Georgia Tech, but when Tyler Kepner wrote about him in the Times, Kepner wrote about the batting cage that was in Austin's backyard as a kid. The idea of him as a terrific athlete who just happens to be playing baseball is false. He's always been a baseball player, he was just too good of an athlete to focus on one sport in high school. He's doing that now and he seems to be getting better and better. Plus, he's a good guy. He seems to work hard and his teammates seem to really like and respect him. There's been a lot of buzz about him this season, but Austin has handled it as well as possible.
10. Last question: Give us one story that you find interesting in your time covering the Scranton Yankees?
CJ: Hard to pick one. The first that comes to mind is a story I'm working on right now about Shelley Duncan's personality. There's a lot more depth to him than most people realize.
I liked writing about Cody Ransom this season, simply because I like it when long-time minor league guys get a real shot in the big leagues. Cody's not an everyday player, but I think he's fine in that utility role and I think there are a lot of guys like him who could play a role in the big leagues if given a shot. Dan Giese did it last year. Chris Coste during the Red Barons years. Nick Green's doing it with Boston. I've also really enjoyed all the random big leaguers pulled out of obscurity -- Edwar Ramirez and Alfredo Aceves especially -- because we all spend a ton of time reading about "prospects" but there are always guys completely off the radar who can make a surprising run to the majors. Covering last year's playoffs was fun because there were so many walk-off wins and tide-turning moments.
Thanks to Chad for answering the questions and also to Mike Ashmore for answering his questions!