March 14, 2018

Q&A with Bryan Hoch, author of new Yankees book 'The Baby Bombers'

Longtime Yankees beat reporter for Bryan Hoch just released his first book, and it's definitely worth the read if you want to hear how the Yankees cultivated the next potential "Core Four."

Hoch features extensive detail on how the Yankees scouted and developed Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Greg Bird. Brian Cashman's key trades and near-trades over the past few seasons are also detailed like never before.

I breezed through my advance copy in about a week. Go pick up this book now.

If you're still looking for a reason to buy it, I'll let him tell you why you should, as Hoch was nice enough to hop on the phone with me for a 15-minute interview about the book and the current state of the Yankees.

I’ve just finished reading it, but why should other fans pick up a copy of your book?
I hope it captures the excitement that fans have around this team right now. The concept beginning the book was how the Derek Jeter Yankees became the Aaron Judge Yankees. You know from watching the team last year that people really fell in love with these guys – the Judges, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird – there’s so much excitement around the Bronx. For the first time in a very long time you can really see a future where the Yankees are gonna be good for a sustainable period of time and compete for championships year in and year out. I think watching these guys come up through the farm system, become stars at the big league level, get to experience New York for the first time. It’s not just that they’re young, it’s that they’re good. I think the sky really is the limit for what these guys can accomplish going forward. 

When did you get the idea to write this book?
I had been kicking the concept around in my mind for a while. It went into high gear around the All-Star break when Judge had that terrific performance at the Home Run Derby. The team was playing well, they were above expectations. There was so much excitement around the Bronx and it felt like you were in on the ground floor of something really special that people wanted to be a part of. 

So I started pitching ideas around a little bit. It was initially just gonna be focusing on Judge but the more we dug into it, there was a better story to tell just as far as how this team transitioned so quickly from a veteran-laden, fading out ballclub to a team with a whole lot more tomorrows than yesterdays and so I was writing along with the pennant race in August and September, and obviously through the postseason as well, and we finally went to print sometime around the Giancarlo Stanton trade.

And this is your first book, right? What was the process like finding a publisher and all that goes into it?
Yes, it is. You know it was a know experience for me. Fortunately, Diversion Books was very receptive to the idea. Scott Waxman the publisher is a big Yankees fan, so I think that was an easy sell on his part. The people in the Yankees organization – particularly Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, a lot of the players – understood the project and what I was trying to portray. They were very generous with their time too and it was really enjoyable to work on. 

The book features extensive detail from several members of the Yankees scouting team. Was there anything about the scouting process that you learned?
A ton. We all traced these guys going through the farm system, and you can look at their stats on the page but that doesn’t really tell the story of how these guys were scouted by the Yankees, how they were discovered. I really enjoyed those parts of the book. Talking to Troy Afenir who signed Aaron Judge, getting his story a little bit. This is a guy who played in the big leagues and had a few cups of coffee, then went into scouting. He’s kind of new on the job out there in California. He just inherited that territory and they gave him a list of players to go see and one of them is Aaron Judge. So he’s going to Fresno State. All of the sudden you see a 6-foot-7 monster playing center field and you say “Oh my god that’s a football player out there.” Then you find out he’s a baseball player and he can play a little bit. 

Getting those insights and how they watched a guy like Judge play in a Cape Cod League game at Fenway Park, a showcase game, where he started crushing some home runs and really started making an impression on the Yankees. 

And then going behind the scenes on draft day. Damon Oppenheimer, the scouting director, was really great as far as setting the picture there and taking me inside the thought process of how they were able to get Judge with the 32nd overall pick. 

And then of course all the credit in the world to the Yankees coaches who developed him along the way to get him to the big league level. I feel like there’s a little aspects to this book, and, if you’re a Yankees fan, hopefully you’ll come away saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

What would you say to those who say it’s too early to write a book about Judge, Sanchez or Severino since they haven’t done enough in their careers yet to grace the cover of a book?
I guess that’s a fair criticism. They haven’t done it yet, as far as world championships, and obviously it’s easy to compare them against Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Those guys set the bar really, really high, winning four World Series in five years. I’m not saying that the new core of the Yankees is gonna do that, but having experienced where 2017 took this team, one win away from the World Series in a year when they weren’t expected to do a whole lot. Now that you’ve added Giancarlo Stanton to the mix, this team is certainly one of the favorites in the American League right now. 

I think that you forecast 2018 and beyond, what they have here is the makings of a core that can really be sustainable. They’ve got the building blocks in place to be very good for a long period of time. That’s what I think everyone is looking at here. They’ve got a whole lot more tomorrows than yesterdays. We’ll see if it does turn out to be a Yankees dynasty, but I feel pretty confident that you’re going to be looking at a very good Yankees team for years to come. 

And not the next Shane Spencers and Shelley Duncans of the world?
[Laughs]. The thing with Shane Spencer and Shelley Duncan is they were never huge touted prospects the way these guys are. Gary Sanchez is not a fluke. They watched this guy at age 16 in the Dominican Republic. He looked like a college sophomore catcher even then. Every team was in on them. Every team was aware of who Aaron Judge was, even though 31 picks went by before he was selected. You look at Luis Severino now. This was not a fluke. There were people thinking he was going to be a relief pitcher for life, and he’s stepped up. 

I love Shelley Duncan, I really do, he’s a great guy, but I don’t think anybody was looking at him as the Yankees’ first baseman or right fielder of the future. And Spencer had a good run in pinstripes too but I think that these guys are on another level from those guys.

In your book you focused on the past two trade deadlines, and one of the outcomes of those deadlines was Gleyber Torres. Do you think he has a chance to join this Baby Bombers group, or will he forever be on the outside since he came up with the Cubs?
No, I think he can definitely be part of it. As far as being a Baby Bomber, this guy is obviously going to be a part of the Yankees infield sooner rather than later. I don’t know if it’s going to happen on Opening Day, but in this season you’re going to see him make his major league debut. I really do believe he would have gotten called up last year if he didn’t get hurt in June. Maybe it turns out the Yankees don’t trade for Todd Frazier, for example, because you could’ve plugged in Gleyber Torres at third base and I think they would have done just fine. He was tearing it up at Triple-A, and played well at Double-A. 

Miguel Andujar is on the way as well. The amazing part about this Yankees team is that it’s not just Judge, Bird, Severino, Sanchez – there’s more coming. I think that’s what people should really know about this team. The pipeline is continuing to feed with Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Albert Abreu and Estevan Florial. And we get into them a little bit in the back of the book but as far as the next dynasty, that’s what’s cool about it. 

Do you think with Gleyber’s slow start, he’s pretty much counted himself out for Opening Day? (Ed. note: our conversation happened before the Neil Walker signing.)
I thought that was going to be a longshot to begin with. The Yankees talked about how his service time was not going to be a consideration. I’m sure that if he’d torn the cover off the ball and hit about .480 all spring it would have made it a tough decision. There were guys on the coaching staff who were pulling for Torres to be on the Opening Day roster last year when Didi Gregorius went down to injury. It just makes too much sense considering he didn’t really play a whole lot at Triple-A last year. 

People put a lot of focus on the Opening Day roster and who’s going to be on the team on March 29. I think Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar could play a lot of games with New York this year, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re there in March or early April.

I can look at the stats and see who I think is impressing Aaron Boone and the Yankees coaching staff, but you’re a little closer to the action. Can you tell us which Yankees prospects are raising eyebrows?
I think Florial is really showing his stuff. People are so high on him, a five-tool outfielder. We’re not talking about him for 2018, it’s probably 2019 or maybe 2020 at the latest. This is a guy who’s easy to dream on. He can do it all on the baseball field. Really smart kid. He seems to be very well put together, handling it well. 

In a lot of ways it reminds me of the way Torres was last spring and continues to be now in terms of being able to slow the game down. People talk a lot about the internal clock that these players have. Sometimes the moment gets too big, but I don’t think that’s the case with Torres or Florial. 

He is definitely one that is standing out to me and I’m sure to Aaron Boone as well. Boone said he’s watched a lot of video and heard rave reviews from Tim Naehring, who’s an assistant to Brian Cashman. In the book, Naehring said that one of the most glowing reports he’s ever filed on a player was Estevan Florial. That’s a name that Yankees fans should know, even though it’s not going to be on the Opening Day roster.

With the addition of Stanton, there's been a lot of talk about how Boone should structure the lineup. The idea of Judge hitting leadoff made headlines recently. What's your take?
The thing about Aaron Boone is no topic is off limits. He’ll consider anything. I really do expect that Judge is going to get most of his at-bats in the No. 2 spot. Boone had said he was considering between Judge and Stanton in the two-hole. I think he’s going to hit Judge second most often. I think Brett Gardner is going to play the majority of games in left field. He’ll leadoff a bunch. I think that’s an easy call. He put Aaron Hicks in the leadoff spot yesterday, which I thought was an interesting idea too. Maybe that’s something you see during the course of the year. I know he’s talked about maybe wanting to hit Judge and Stanton back-to-back but I think he’s going to probably have a lefty in there to break them up, whether that’s Greg Bird or Didi Gregorius. 

There’s a lot of different ways that he can go. It’s funny, I was thinking coming into spring training: Scoring runs is not going to be this team’s problem. So we can all debate how the lineup goes, but I think he could bat them alphabetically, he could bat them by height, I think they’re gonna score runs. They’re gonna be just fine no matter where Judge hits. 

With J.D. Martinez finally signing with the Red Sox, are they still the team to beat in the East?
They have to be. They took the division last year. They have to make up that two-game gap. You have to prove it on the field. People are talking about how Stanton is going to affect the clubhouse chemistry. I think it’s going to be just fine because he doesn’t have to be the man, he just has to be one of the men. He’s kind of the icing that, in theory, is going to put this time over the top. 

I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like when Stanton goes into Fenway Park for the first time. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch. Considering the way the season ended last year, and forgetting the postseason, Boston is still gotta be the team to beat. That’s the mindset the Yankees have to have. If they want to be the AL East champions, you’ve got to go through Boston. 

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