Sunday, February 22, 2009



Interview conducted by David Saltzer - Angelswin.com Columnist

Abe Flores has been the Director of Player Development for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim since October, 2007. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about what it’s like to be a Director of Player Management, how the Angels develop their prospects and how he sees his job after his first full year. I finished the interview impressed at how well he knows his job and how passionate he is about the Angels and baseball.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - I just wanted to start off by saying thanks on behalf of everyone at the Angelswin.com community for taking the time to do this interview.

A: (Abe Flores) - Okay.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Let’s start off with some background questions. Where did you grow up, what schools did you attend, what sports did you play?

A: (Abe Flores) - I grew up in the San Fernando Valley

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Which High School did you attend?

A: (Abe Flores) - San Fernando Valley High School. Then I went to Cal State Sacramento. Then I got my Master’s Degree at the University of Arkansas.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What were your degrees in?

A: (Abe Flores) - I got my Associates Arts Degree in General Ed. from Valley Junior College (Los Angeles Valley Jr. College). Then I got a Bachelors Degree in Social Science and then got my Masters Degree in Sports Management. I started coaching when I was finishing up at Sac-State then went to American River Junior College for two years. Then I was an assistant at Arkansas while I was in grad school there.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Did you play?

A: (Abe Flores) - Yes, I played.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What position?

A: (Abe Flores) - First base. Then started coaching at Arkansas and went to the College World Series which was very exciting. I coached summer ball in the Cape Cod League twice. Then I worked as an assistant at USC for 3 years.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How did you come to the Angels?

A: (Abe Flores) - I was an area scout for the Colorado Rockies for 9 years. My territory was Southern California. The position became open when Tony Reagins took over for Darrell Miller so his position became available—the manager of baseball operations. And now I’m the Director of Player Development.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - So what is a typical day in your life like, if there is such a thing as a typical day?

A: (Abe Flores) - On a typical day I look at a calendar of events leading up to the different parts of the year. For example, in the offseason we’re building towards getting ready for minor league spring training and we have a great staff that works with me—or I work with them—on visas, travel, acquiring 6-year minor league free agents, plugging in holes in our system. We have people working on the travel arrangements and getting things ready to go. We have an excellent guy in Tempe Eric Bricboum who takes care of the hotel arrangements. Other people that are a pretty integral part of player development here with the Angels are Tory Hernandez, Justin Hollander, and Terri Shambaugh. Those are critical components of the player development staff—I couldn’t do it without them. Tory is the manager of baseball operations. Justin is the Assistant of Player Development and Scouting and Terri is our Assistant of Player Development.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How have things changed in the post-9/11 world? What are some of the complications you’ve had to deal with?

A: (Abe Flores) - I don’t know so far as complications. Basically, the issue has been fraud concerning their date of birth, which is now almost a non-issue. It’s been cleaned up over the last 5 years.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - We’ve seen Santana age 10 months and found out that it wasn’t his real first name.

A: (Abe Flores) - It’s Ervin. A lot of that stuff has been cleaned up because obviously they are coming in here to work but then they want to know who is coming in here to work so they are going to go to the umpteenth detail to know exactly that that is your identity. But, because of MLB opening an office in the Dominican, it’s become easier now.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - So that’s a typical day during the offseason, what’s a typical day like during the minor league season?

A: (Abe Flores) - Basically looking at team reports every morning, making note if there are any injuries with the club. If there is an injury, I always have my cheat-sheet which lists all of the rosters on every club—the starters, the relievers, catchers, infielders at every position, outfielders, and it allows me to basically see the whole playing field the whole board in case we have to make roster moves. If we do have to make roster moves, either that night or the next day, I talk to either the field coordinator, pitching coordinator, catching coordinator, infield coordinator, to see who is the right person for that need.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What is a typical day like during Spring Training?

A: (Abe Flores) - That’s 32 days of 6 in the morning ‘til 6 at night. Breakfast and cereal with pitchers and catchers, but it’s pretty much Groundhog Day continuing every day. Meetings in the morning every day at 7 o’clock in the morning to determine what we’re going to do for that day so far as the practice plan—what we’re trying to execute for that particular day, where we’re plugging players in for rotation time system, bullpens, catching those bullpens. There will be some pitchers and some extra position players that we roll into full squads and obviously breaking them up into work groups by team—there are 4 teams that are full season that will break camp—and try to put the rights players on each team—prospects too—and we’ll try to align that all up. So far as our work groups and teams, that is an ongoing process. It never just ends. That’s bigger than just Spring Training. That’s done relatively in advance and really we put that together at the end of Instructional League.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - I would like to get into Spring Training and how our players are doing, but you talked a little bit about plugging holes in our minor league season. Last year you had to plug a few holes in Arkansas with players like Greenberg, a player out of the Independent League, could you talk a little bit about that?

A: (Abe Flores) - We basically had what we thought at the time was a season ending injury to the centerfielder on that team. He broke a bone. They needed somebody basically they said in 24-36 hours. We called up the Independent League and we went for him. He was the best person available at that time.

Also, in the process, when we have more time, both Justin and Tory are in charge of the active reserve list. We maintain in our computer an inventory of players either are playing Independent Ball or who have been released and basically putting those players in preferential order by position so that we can assess that we get the right player for that particular moment based on ability. Then, the other factors come in. Once we’ve identified that group of players, that there’s no medical issues and that they have no makeup issues, or minimal medical issues.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Let’s get into a little bit about Spring Training. What are the daily reports that you are receiving? Who’s looking good? Who should we be keeping our eyes on?

A: (Abe Flores) - Well I was only there for 4 days. I just came back. I won’t be going back’til March 4th. So far as standouts, it’s too early to tell now. But the most important thing is that everyone came back to camp in shape, for the most part, so things are looking good. We have our normal bumps and bruises, but that’s always kind of the norm every year.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How do you factor in Winter Ball performances? Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar both had really good winter performances and Brandon Wood struggled a little bit. How do you evaluate that coming into Spring Training?

A: (Abe Flores) - I think it’s on a case-by-case situation depending on what that player is trying to accomplish in that Winter Ball scenario. For some players, what they’ve accomplished doesn’t always show up statistically. For some players it does show up statistically. The main thing is that they are there and getting in their homework for what they need to accomplish. It’s a difficult and different environment. It’s a great opportunity to learn all of their skills. It’s a passionate environment, so for me it’s all a positive. It’s all predicated on the player himself whether it is a positive experience.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How about Kendry Morales. Several of us at Angelswin.com project big things for him this year. We saw those tough at-bats he had in the post season. He had an incredible Winter Ball. What do you see out of him and what has changed in him over the past couple of years?

A: (Abe Flores) - I think number one I think Kendry has become a little bit more comfortable in our culture. He did not have a grasp of the English language at all. So if you put anybody in that environment they are going to struggle. Struggle with taking direction, struggle with trying to execute the direction. It takes time. And I think it did take time. He’s a talented guy, he’s a skilled guy, but he had to learn a different system about how they go about playing the game. There’s an adjustment period. I think he’s really blossoming and I think he’s becoming a very complete player for us. He’s really blossoming in front of everybody’s eyes. It’s a pretty neat thing.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How often do you get to see each and every player throughout the season?

A: (Abe Flores) - I basically go to each affiliate 3 times—Rancho, Arkansas, Salt Lake and Cedar Rapids—3 times. Twice in the first half and once in the 2nd half. We have 3 short-season teams and I get to see them twice, once in the first half. And I’ll go to the Dominican twice. Once during the Major League All-Star Break—that’s a good time—and once again in the fall.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Do you see anyone jumping a level or standing out yet?

A: (Abe Flores) - I haven’t gone to camp yet, but as I said, our rosters are pretty much set going into camp. We have a good idea where guys are going to fall. What throws that completely off or throws a wrench into it is when injuries occur. And, injuries will occur. If we don’t have injuries, then it’s really power to us, but injuries occur. They are a part of the process. We have to be able to get the proper players the proper player who will be productive within that group.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How do you rank someone like Pettit or Sweeney, both of whom pretty much lost an entire year to injury? How do you assess where they should go?

A: (Abe Flores) - Pettit missed a large part of his season. He came back but was definitely rusty when he got back to the double-A club. But he had a tremendous Arizona Fall League—he really tore it up. Basically one of the top MVPs of that league. That being said, if we were breaking camp today, he would project out to double-A to be patient with him a little bit more. We expect some big things out of him and he could potentially have a really quick promotion, but that remains to be seen. In the case of Sweeney, he hasn’t been on the field in over a year. I’m more than curious to see how he’ll move and react to live pitching or game situations. That’s one of those things at his age and skill level that I would probably not hesitate to send him to a high-A ball club, but, that’s one of those wait-and-see situations.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - At the start of Spring Training, do you set individual goals for everyone to work on for Spring Training and the season? How are those goals set?

A: (Abe Flores) - Basically there is a group and we all have a say on that player so far as the comments and on putting together a plan for that player—their strengths and their weaknesses. Their goals can come from us but basically we want active participation from that player because when he’s involved in the process he needs to buy-in and be a part of what we’re trying to do or accomplish. So, it’s a partnership.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Could you give us a hypothetical goal that you might set with a player?

A: (Abe Flores) - Basically it would be more of a general sense of trying to accomplish something specifically within his skill level. So, in other words, trying to refine a breaking ball that’s going to help his overall pitchability. Maybe becoming more conscientious as a position player. It could be a couple things--being more conscientious of his work—his work level, his effort level, his focus level on a daily basis. Maybe concentrating on some components with his swing. We keep it pretty simple and keep it pretty general. I don’t want to bog them down with a lot of technicalities and walk out of there with their heads spinning. I want to give them some really good sticking points that they can accomplish that are reasonable through the course of the season. Once they accomplish those, they adjust on them. There’s some more things for them to work on. It’s an ongoing process. It never really ends.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - We’ve been lucky to have an Eddie Bane feature here at Angelswin.com for the past 3 years. What’s it like working with Eddie?

A: (Abe Flores) - Awesome. Tremendous charismatic guy. A very competitive guy. He wants to beat the competition in getting the best players for this organization. He has tremendous resources and by resources I mean a tremendous staff that is basically unselfish and is willing to do what is asked and go above and beyond what is asked. I worked with those guys and still work with those guys for seven years and what is going on as year eight. Eddie is a tremendous person, a good resource. Very patient—a good listener. Definitely can bring some levity into a meeting room. A very original thinker in some cases. A very critical thinker.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - At what point do you get involved with a potential draft pick. Eddie has the scouting team—they identify and rank the potential draft picks. When do you get involved in the process?

A: (Abe Flores) - Whoever they pick is up to them. There may need to be some holes that need to be filled as we get along further in the draft—after the 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th round and we need to assess these holes. We’re always going to need a lot of pitching. But, we may be short on some position players, some specific position players. So, as the draft really goes along, hey, we need a 1st baseman for Tempe. We may need a 3rd baseman for Orem. Is there anybody on the board who or on a certain round or certain place that can address that? But so far as when it is those high pick drafts, I have nothing to do with it. It’s all up to his staff as to who they think in their estimation is the best one for the Angels. Once we do sign those players, it’s making sure we got them on the right team and on the right spot.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - And that would be entirely within your domain or purview?

A: (Abe Flores) - Yes. Obviously we get written reports from our scouts on what were getting. And we really want to make sure that when we’re talking to our scouts that they’re giving us their assessments as to what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what are the things that this guy needs to work on. Is this guy abused? Is there any red flag that we need to be aware of either mentally or physically so that we’re aware of it and it doesn’t catch us blindsided.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Let’s get into a little bit about Angels’ organizational philosophy towards hitting, pitching and fielding. Are there any key philosophies that we should be seeing or that you are specifically trying to work on?

A: (Abe Flores) - Well obviously with hitting we believe in using the middle of the field. We want to make solid hard contact towards the middle of the field. We want to be able to—our style of play is being aggressive on the bases—so we want to be able to advance runners. This isn’t anything that anyone else is doing. Base running is a big component of what we do offensively. Teaching repeatable swings. Being efficient with the bat. Being able to recognize situations based on the counts. These things are not as easy as they may seem in an interview. They are very difficult. And it takes time for our players to understand this and more importantly to execute it.

Pitching, hey, basically, being efficient with what you have. First off, it all starts with teaching a repeatable delivery. The one thing that we do introduce here—which Bill Stoneman started with—is the full windup, that old-fashioned wind up. We believe in more athletic aggressive type deliveries instead of cookie-cutter mechanical type deliveries. Those are some of the things that kind of jump into my mind.

A big component here is our catching—that pitcher catcher relationship. It’s well documented Mike believes in it and preaches it at all levels—as well as our base running at all levels—that once they come aboard with us and have yet to play that is a big component of what they are expected to learn here. They are expected to learn it fairly quickly. And there is a key intensity level that is expected of them for them to basically continue and advance within the Angels’ organization. Not only do they have to hit, but they are professionals so far as the intensity level to be the kind of players that we are trying to produce. We’re trying to produce contributors on a championship caliber club. That’s kind of a nice little encapsulation but a lot has to do with being that type of player. You have to be able to contribute in a lot of different ways and in a lot of different roles.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What can fans read into starts in a Spring Training game? If I’m an Angels fan, and I’m reading a box score, and it’s late in Spring Training, and I’m seeing someone like Chris Pettit starting for 4 innings, can I read anything into that?

A: (Abe Flores) - For me, Spring Training can be a little bit like fool’s gold. It can get deceptive on a performance in Spring Training, but don’t. Be very careful on that performance. Take the body of work, the track record with that individual player. What did he do last year? What did he do the year before that? What has he done maybe in an instructional league moving forward? Spring Training has different matchups with different players. There’s advancing, no scouting. It’s basically players competing against other players. There’s not a lot of advance work or prep work so far as how you’re going to attack a certain hitter. There is, but it isn’t as intense as it is during the regular season.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - But then again, we also saw Darren O’Day have a really incredible Spring last year and made the major league club.

A: (Abe Flores) - Good point. If there is an open spot then it becomes a little bit of a tryout situation for that group of players who are competing for that open spot. Players may shine through and have great springs and may push other players out of the way. But if that person comes in not having a very good track record, that should be weighed into that decision too, ultimately.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - You’ve now been on the job for a little bit over a year. How do you like it? What have you learned on the job? What has surprised you?

A: (Abe Flores) - Number one I think it is one of the best jobs in major league baseball bar none. I think it is challenging. But the best part about it is that you get to see the players grow from when they first come until they grow all the way up and graduate to the major leagues and hopefully become impactful on our major league club and become impactful on a championship caliber club. Most of the things that are really rewarding are working around a group of dedicated people from those in the front office to those on the field to our coaches and our staff—who are basically are our unsung heroes. Being a part of that group is one of the things I’m most proud of. Basically being a part of that group that is going to dedicate that focus. Things that probably surprised me? Not much because I saw Tony do it for 6 years. I guess what you really find out is that until you really start doing it, you really don’t understand the weight of that job. As much as I can observe Tony being the GM, I’ll never know what its really like to be the GM until I sit in his chair. I think this holds true with this position also. As much as I thought I knew Tony’s job, I really didn’t because it all falls on your lap in your department.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What’s the hardest part of your job?

A: (Abe Flores) - Cutting players. Telling players that they’re not going to be a part of your organization. Players that you care about, players that have been with you for a while, players who were committed. Even if they haven’t been here for a while, it pains you and it pains them. This is work that they really want to do and unfortunately you have to cut them loose. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t continue playing baseball. It just means that they won’t be playing baseball with an Angels uniform on their back.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Let’s get to the lighter side. What’s your favorite movie?

A: (Abe Flores) - This year or ever?

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Both.

A: (Abe Flores) - Probably the best movie I’ve seen this year has been The Wrestler. Number two would be probably the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - And, for all time?

A: (Abe Flores) - I don’t have one of them. I have a bunch of them. That’s one I’ll have to sit down and think about for a while. You will have to come back and write to me on that one.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Favorite band?

A: (Abe Flores) - I have a bunch of them. Pretty eclectic, I like everything.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Favorite place to eat?

A: (Abe Flores) - In Arizona, Oreganos.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How about here in Anaheim?

A: (Abe Flores) - I really can’t say it. I frequent a lot of places here in Anaheim and don’t really go back to the same place often.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - How about your favorite stadium food?

A: (Abe Flores) - I don’t eat stadium food.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Well, I’m just striking out here.

A: (Abe Flores) - No, there’s Tony’s box. It could be a hamburger, it could be anything. No, you’re not striking out, just asking me questions I haven’t given any thought to.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Wife, kids?

A: (Abe Flores) - Wife, no kids. My wife is a school teacher, she teaches 4th grade. She’s been the Time-Warner Teacher of the Year for 3 years and we expect her to hopefully be Teacher of the Year again this year. She was chosen as the alumni of the year for within her own Department at Long Beach State—her Teaching Department. So she will go back and be recognized at the Long Beach State‘s graduating ceremony this year.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Congratulations!

A: (Abe Flores) - Yes, congratulations for her. It’s well earned. She really cares about her kids.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Favorite place to stay on the road?

A: (Abe Flores) - Marriott.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - What’s the toughest place to go to on the road?

A: (Abe Flores) - So far the toughest has been to get to is Cedar Rapids. That’s because of the time change and the connections. You just barely get there at game time it seems like. It’s tough and tricky. The weather has a lot to do with it too. Coming through Dallas or going through Chicago in the summertime it can be really tight making your connections and making your connections on time.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Is there anything else you’d like to share with the fans?

A: (Abe Flores) - The one interesting thing that I wanted to pass along to the fans is that mark of scouting and player development is that 53 of our 66 players in major league camp are home grown. That’s an amazing thing that we have going on here. We have the talent and other teams really covet our talent. With our talent we had 3 players taken in the major league phase of the Rule-5 draft. Being placed on our 40-man roster prior to that contributed towards that. Nick Green got selected off of waivers and was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers just recently. What a great opportunity. I just talked to him yesterday and it’s a great opportunity. The door is wide open for him for him to make a fresh start and a great impression in another organization.

When I’ve gone around to talk to our different Hot Stoves or our different affiliates who are kicking off their Hot Stove sessions, I’ll talk about those 40 Kernels of our 66 players who are in our major league camp. Think about that. At any affiliate you have that big a group of guys who have come through your city and are now in major league camp and are now around major league players and are now competing against other major league players. There have been 42 Quakes. There’s been 43 Travelers. 40, 38 or 39 Bees. That’s pretty awesome!

Q: (Angelswin.com) - I would have to say so. I’d also have to say it’s the right way to go through development because they all learn the same system so that they can all play together when they come in. They can just come in and immediately know what they need to do.

A: (Abe Flores) - I think that the neat thing as Mike has been there for a long time is that every manager from Salt Lake to Cedar Rapids is in major league camp. The complete Double-A and Triple-A staffs are in the major league camp right now. To keep our system uniform we teach our philosophy to our players. In a way it gets back to scouting and player development. We say what we mean and we mean what we say. A lot of people say that for scouting and player development the proof is in our numbers and what we have in camp. Now does that mean everyone is an all-star in camp? No. But we really believe in drafting and developing our own players. Yes, we do sign free agent players, no doubt to supplement the club at the major league level. But we really believe in player development and I’m really grateful to Arte in believing in that and us.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - That’s great. I really appreciate your time and insights. Would you be open to doing a mid-season follow-up after the All-Star Break?

A: (Abe Flores) - Sure. Give me a call and we’ll get this thing going.

Q: (Angelswin.com) - Thanks again! I really appreciate the time.

A: (Abe Flores) - Take Care.
Love to hear what you think!

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1 comments:

CincyReds4256 said...

That's one of the best player development interviews I've ever read. Awesome.

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