CEDAR RAPIDS — Jeremy Zoll is in his second season as farm director of the Minnesota Twins. The official title is Director of Minor League Operations.
He’s the youngest farm director in baseball at just 28 years old.
Zoll was among the dignitaries in town last week for the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ annual Hot Stove Banquet. He answered some questions from The Gazette about the current state of the Twins system, what he has been able to accomplish in just one year on the job, the very early outlook for the 2019 Kernels and more.
Q: I read a story the other day in which Dave St. Peter (Twins President/Chief Executive Officer) said how pleased he is with the progress the player development side has made, in regards to getting up to speed with other clubs with its infrastructure. Can you explain what he meant?
A: We are really excited about the people we have in place for 2019 and beyond. I think starting at the ownership level, with Dave and Derek and Thad, their commitment to allow us to really increase our resources at the player development level, hiring some extra coordinator positions that we didn’t have in the past, adding four coaches (to each minor league staff) in 2018, a number of other initiatives that we’ve been able to put into place, has really allowed us to get moving and implement a number of exciting programs. I think the sky’s the limit with the group that we have. Our amateur scouting group has done a phenomenal job the last few years and really loaded us up. Pairing that with some trades we made at the deadline (last year), we’re really excited about the system we have and the programs we have in place to support that group.
Q: From a player standpoint, what specifically do you like about what you have right now? What are the strengths of your system, and maybe what needs to be improved?
A: I think the group we have in place starting with Cedar Rapids this year and all the way through Double-A, we are really excited about that core that we have in place. We think it’s a lot of high-impact talent that is going through the system here. It’s fun when you go through the projected rosters at the beginning of the year to know anyone you go — whether it’s Elizabethton or Rochester or Fort Myers — there is going to be an exciting group at that place. It keeps it fun and interesting, keeps our staffs really inspired and invigorated as well. I think with some of the trades that we made, the acquisition of guys like Jhoan Duran and Jorge Alcala, pairing them with guys like Edwar Colina, the talent of a Brusdar Graterol, there is a lot of exciting pitching in the system. Obviously, we have focused on some bats in the draft (as well) the last few years. Guys like Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis. We are excited about the well-rounded nature from Triple-A all the way through (the system). Whether it’s position players or pitchers, there are a lot of things to excited about.
Q: I know it’s way early and spring training will dictate a lot, but what can you tell me about the 2019 Cedar Rapids Kernels? The one name you keep hearing is shortstop Wander Javier. He had surgery for a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last season. Is he healthy now?
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A: Wander’s rehab has been going great. We were hoping to get him to Cedar Rapids for the 2018 season this time last year.
Q: That injury kind of allowed you to space him and Royce Lewis out, though, in their development curves, right?
A: Yes, exactly. It is unfortunate that the injury came about, but he’s good to go. He was doing some rehab during our mini-camp programs in the fall. He’s 100-percent healthy, and probably the biggest name that will be part of the Cedar Rapids roster for 2019. We are excited to get him out to a full-season affiliate. Let him be a part of that and let his talent shine through. You pair him with guys like (second baseman) Yunior Severino, who we signed after he was made a free agent from the Braves system. You’ve got pitchers like Jordan Balazovic, who had some time here (last season) and is still young and exciting. Guys like (pitcher) Cole Sands, who we took in the draft (in the fifth round) and was someone we shut down because of his workload (at Florida State). We think it should be another well-rounded group again. (First baseman) Chris Williams hit 15 homers last season at Elizabethton, coming out of the draft at Clemson, brings right-handed power to the lineup. He’s another guy we’re really excited about.
Q: You decided this season to have a hitting coach and an infield coach here instead of two pitching coaches like last season. Why is that?
A: I think we have two big considerations as we work to build out the staffs. One is putting our coaches, our staff, in the best positions for their own, personal growth and development. And, two, pairing that with the best matches for the players in our system. When we looked at it, the opportunity to push Luis Rodriguez a little bit out of his comfort zone and bring him to a full-season affiliate, he’s a wizard on the infield, and knowing we were going to have young middle infielders like Wander Javier and Yunior Severino, we thought Luis would be a great match with those guys. Then we felt Virgil Vasquez had kind of earned an opportunity to be a pitching coach at a full-season affiliate. We think he’ll have a really good challenge and have a good, personal growth year here. We are confident he can take it on himself and really lead this group of young pitchers. Then Ryan Smith coming from the junior college space, we are excited to bring him into the pro space. His dad, Marty, is being recognized for a lot of things right now (as longtime head coach at College of Central Florida), and it’s pretty cool for Ryan to get to experience a bunch of that stuff as it comes down the pike right here. The things they are doing at the College of Central Florida are pretty exciting. Bringing Ryan into the Twins system, and also Zach Bove, who will be a pitching coach for our GCL team, that’s pretty cool. Marty was pretty supportive, and we are appreciative of his support for that.
Q: It used to be that all minor league coaches were guys that played pro ball, whether in the minor leagues or major leagues. But you have hired guys straight out of college and junior college to be coaches for you. Assistant coaches out of college, actually. Can you tell me about your reasons for doing that? What do they bring that you feel will benefit the organization?
A: A number of the new staff members that we’ve brought in, while they might be coming from college, have spent a lot of time working to refine their craft as coaches. Really digging into the science behind coaching, the art of leadership. They’ve had a number of years under their belt to where they get to experiment and utilize trial and error and learning. We have found some really curious people, people who are really looking at staying on the cutting edge. Those are really intriguing qualities for us to be a part of our player development staff. We are working to create a balance in all things we do. We have Dink (Brian Dinkelman) as our manager, someone who played in our system a long time and brings a lot of experience in that regard. Luis Rodriguez has a whole host of experience. Then it was, all right, can we add Virgil and Ryan in here to really balance out our staff.
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