Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chattin' with Chaim Bloom, Part I

It's been awhile since I've posted here, however I shall make up for the delay in posts with a Q&A that I had with Chaim Bloom, the Rays' Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. Due to the size and content of the Q&A, I chopped it up into 3 parts. In the 1st. we will focus a bit on his beginnings at BP, thoughts on the future of the Farm system, International Scouting, Oscar Hernandez and the extreme park factors of the VSL Rays' ballpark and how it prepares our youngsters for life in the AL East.

  • Jake: Your beginnings, unbeknownst to some, were at Baseball Prospectus. What did you do there and what style of articles did you write? Were you familiar/friends with fellow Rays front office member James Click back then?
  • Chaim: My work there was behind the scenes at first, but I eventually got the opportunity to write articles on different topics. Everything I did at BP, and being exposed to the sharp minds that were there, helped me greatly in honing my critical thinking skills. James was a part of that group and his work was very impressive.

  • JL: Since Stu's ownership took over the team, it seems that the Rays farm system has actually improved by leaps and bounds in the way things are run and how expansive it is. This is shocking, considering the past that the Rays endured pre-2008 with high-end draft picks. Without going into full detail, do you foresee anymore changes and expansions to the Rays' farm system?
  • CB: We've emphasized repeatedly how important player development is to this organization, and that means doing everything possible to help every player in our system and not only our high picks. That's why we have as many minor league teams and instructors as we do, and why we continue to grow our investments in peripheral programs such as nutrition and mental skills. We are always looking for ways to develop more big leaguers and will continue to look for ways to improve and grow.

  • JL: Inquiring minds would like to know how the Brazilian Academy is doing. Looking at VSL/DSL rosters, the word "Brazil" will pop up in hometowns of players, but do you foresee in the near future when more and more talent from Brazil starts playing in summer leagues and short-season leagues state-side?
  • CB: Our efforts in Brazil are definitely a long-term project but, as you mention, the search for talent has begun and we look forward to it paying dividends in the years ahead.

  • JL: Stepan Havilcek was an interesting signing a couple years ago, out of the Czech Republic, do you see the Rays expanding into Europe, the Pacific Rim and Australia for Int'l talent?
  • CB: There are different challenges that come with expanding into countries outside of the US and Latin America but we can't ignore any part of the world that could potentially yield major league caliber talent. All of the areas that you mention have produced players, though on a smaller scale than the Americas, and as with Havlicek, our scouts will continue to identify young talent that has a chance, with time, to play in the big leagues.

  • JL: Oscar Hernandez had an amazing season for the VSL Rays this year, posting an astounding .400 average and 20+ HRs, what were your thoughts on Oscar's year? He wasn't considered to be a "bonus baby" talent, but performed to that level.
  • CB: Obviously, Oscar had an incredible season -- clearly the best offensive year in the history of the VSL and one of the best in Rays minor league history as well. More important to him was that we won the VSL championship -- you really couldn't have asked for more. He is still a long way off, but both his offensive and defensive tools show real promise. That was a great find by Ronnie Blanco and his scouting staff, and a great job by our coaches in Venezuela to help Oscar improve year over year as much as he did.

  • JL: Also, questions around minor league message boards and blogs question the size of the Rays' Venezuelan League Ballpark, stating it's splits make it appear no bigger than a Little League ballpark with the insane amount of HRs hit out of hit and the fact that the VSL Rays have posted the league leader in HRs basically every year that the team has been in existence. Do you have any thoughts on this?
  • CB: As you might guess from the park factors, we play in a hitter's park in Venezuela -- there's a short (but very high) fence in left field due to a paved road running behind the complex. The league has very few teams and also some larger parks, which makes ours look more extreme, even though center and right at our home field are very fair. The dimensions in left aren't something we can control, but the upside is that our pitchers learn very quickly that they need to keep the ball down...and they get an early preview of what it's like to pitch at Fenway Park!