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Abe Flores Interview: Plate Discipline and Third Base Depth

HH: What needs to happen for [Bourjos] to become a viable leadoff candidate at the major league level?

ABE FLORES - Controlling the strikezone. Laying off pitches. Laying off pitches, especially when he gets behind in the count. Pitches that are balls and swinging at them. Basically, becoming a little bit more of a disciplined hitter.  They don't want to walk him, so they're pitching him pretty tough.  You walk him, it's a good chance it turns into a double.

HH: At the beginning of last year, the organization preached plate discipline, more so it seemed than years past. The lesson really seemed to take with Bourjos and Conger especially. How are you guys building on those lessons in 2010?

ABE FLORES - Basically, having our guys understand that it's not always about taking pitches, but recognizing pitches... to be able to hit hard the ones that you can handle. There are different growing pains that come with that, because everyone learns at a different pace. Everybody's [pitch] recognition and talents are different. I don't think you can make one broad brushstroke, and say everybody's going to get it, everybody's going to get it at the same time. It just doesn't work that way. It requires time and patience. Plus there's a turnover of players. Players are coming in from the draft, they're going to be learning these processes, or philosophy, so it's almost like you start over with those guys.

HH: I guess I'm generalizing here, but the Angels' FO has said in the past that they believe strike zone judgment is not an inherent skill for a player, but that it's very teachable. 

ABE FLORES - It is.  Everybody's recognition is different. Some guys just have a tough time recognizing pitches, so we try to help them along with it. With some guys, it's a lot easier. We'll give them some guidelines for the at-bats they'll have that particular day, or their at-bats in general, of how they should approach those at-bats from an offensive standpoint.

HH: Are there additional strategies or techniques that you guys use to teach strikezone judgment?

ABE FLORES - It starts with being able to hit the fastball. Any way you look at it. There are different kinds of fastballs, not just one fastball: it could be 84 to 94, fastballs will do different things in the strikezone, but it's being able to get the fastball that you can handle and being able to do something with it... hitting it hard. Every at-bat, or series of at-bats, they're going to give that fastball that you can drive. It's about being ready for it, attacking it.  Right now - this conversation, it sounds really easy to do. But it's not.

HH: I'm trying to wrap my head around what you were saying about strikezone judgment, and what the goal of it really is. Are you saying that, the walks are nice, but it's really about teaching players to get into good counts so that they can predict what's coming, so that they can hit the ball hard?

ABE FLORES - It's not about predicting what's coming, but it's being ready for the fastball. Not chasing out of the zone, early in the count, on pitchers' pitches... It's getting the hitters' pitch, which should be a fastball, and doing something with it. Often times you'll see, early in the count, especially at the lower levels, [pitchers] throw bad breaking balls off the plate.  [Hitters'] are chasing them, or swinging at them, and getting behind in the count, and you lose a little leverage there in that at-bat, or series of at-bats. You can dig yourself into a hole pretty quickly.

HH: Depth and third base. There have been injuries with Izturis at the major league level, some guys left for free agency in Chone Figgins and Matt Brown, we traded away Sean Rodriguez and Matt Sweeney.  Then there's Brandon Wood's situation.  What's the strategy, short term and long term, for addressing depth at third base?

ABE FLORES - Well, we've got Jimenez. We've got a guy at extended spring training who is a prospect in Jeremy Cruz [since promoted to Cedar Rapids]. We feel that the depth is ok; obviously something that's not perfect but we'll continue to improve it. I know that Eddie [Bane] will be cognizant of it, and will try and get us some draft picks. Whether you think that our talent level is high, medium, or low, we're still going to need spare parts at every position, just because of injuries, promotions, players that don't meet your expectations. I don't think you ever have enough players, you just don't.

HH: You mentioned Jeremy Cruz - I think he was a later round draft pick last year?

ABE FLORES - Yes... [He's] just a good baseball player. Good hitter.  We didn't see him last year because there was an injury and we signed him late. He came to spring training, had a little hammy tweak. He can do a lot of things well, can play both corners of the outfield adequately, can play both corners of the infield, so he's a very versatile guy. He gives the manager a lot of options. He has good pitch recognition, he covers the strikezone, two strikes don't bother him, runners on base don't bother him, he can drive balls to the opposite field and he has some power.

HH: Am I remembering correctly in that he swings left-handed?

ABE FLORES - No, right-handed.

HH: Is that an issue for you? The lack of left-handed power throughout the system? Is that something that you guys are looking to address?

ABE FLORES - For me it's about having athleticism, it's about having hitters in your system, whether they're left-handed or right-handed.  Yes, it would be nice to have a perfect ratio, but I think that there's always a shortage of hitters in our industry as a whole, so I'm not going to pin it down to just a ratio.  I'll just take hitters.

HH: Dillon Baird -what can you tell us about him?

ABE FLORES - Hitter. Minor League batting champion last year. Was a little bit nervous about jumping him over the Midwest League -- I don't think the Midwest League is a give-me.  It's very unusual to jump a player and have him miss a league, so we had to get Tony's permission on that, had to build a case for that. Part of that [case] was his hit-ability. [We] thought that the power could come.   My concern was not so much his ability to ride out those rough patches with his offense, but his position change from first to third base. What has been surprising is that, at the point he got hurt, he had only made four errors. Now I didn't see him every day, but the competition, the surface that he plays on, which is extremely fast -- I thought he would definitely have some more growing pains, but he really did well if you consider all of those factors.

HH: Do you think he will be mobile enough to play third base at the major league level?

ABE FLORES - I do. I know because I've seen guys like him. Not everybody is Brandon Inge... Brandon is probably a top of the scale third baseman, but not everybody is at the top of that scale. But yeah, there's a place for him. 


We'll post the rest of the interview tomorrow, so remember to check in for Flores' take on minor league bullpen arms, bullpen depth, tools for evaluating players, and more.