Minor-league player development: It’s about opportunity

It’s a given Dayton Dragons players will want to win over new manager Dick Schofield as quickly as possible. But there’s someone else entrenched in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization whose opinion trumps most others when calling the fate of a minor-league player: Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe.

Ultimately, with corroborating help from various levels of the organization, it’s Graupe’s call to determine if the Reds’ minor-leaguers are ready for Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

Graupe’s insight into shaping the future of the organization has become more meaningful than ever. If there’s such thing as a major-league makeover from last season to the next, it’s what the Reds will undergo.

“It’s a great time to be in the minor leagues with the Reds,” said Graupe during a meet-and-greet last week at Fifth Third Field along with Schofield and holdover Dragons hitting coach Luis Bolivar. “While unfortunately our big-league team kind of stubbed their toe last year, that did create some opportunities for us in terms of farm system overall depth and high-end talent. That’s something we’re really excited about.”

Here’s what else Graupe had to say about that and more:

Q: Why have the Reds made so many player changes such as trading pitchers Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman and third baseman Todd Frazier?

A: The life-cycle of our major-league club is that we probably won’t be a 90-win team every year. But, being smart and making better decisions, we had to make some painful ones this winter and let go of some guys we’ve had since Day 1 of their pro careers.

The flip side of that is we have new chances and new opportunities. Guys like (third baseman) Eric Jagielo, (pitcher) Rookie Davis (both from the Yankees for Chapman) and (infielder) Jose Peraza (from the Dodgers for Frazier), guys we’ve acquired who aren’t only going to strengthen our overall farm system but they’re going to push and make some of the competition at the lower levels more intense.

Q: Who’ll be playing for the Dragons this season?

A: It’s tough to speak to the day-to-day products of what the Dayton Dragons are going to look like. Under Dick’s leadership I’m sure you’re going to get a product that fans are going to connect to. We’re really big in connecting to our history and getting back to where we want the players to be seeing competitive baseball every day.

Q: Who else is key in player development?

A: You’ll see (roving instructors) like Barry Larkin and Eric Davis and Mario Soto come through (Dayton). When you have those guys working with guys like Dick and Boli on an everyday basis, we think that’s going to provide the best template for what we think will be championship baseball and we’ll work our way back to the cycle of the major-league level.

Q: What’s on deck for the Reds’ future?

A: We have the No. 2 pick in the (major-league) draft. We’ll have to see if that’s a high school or college player. It’s a pretty good chance someone like that comes through Dayton at some point. We’ll have two other picks that will be in the top 40-45. More and more talent is on its way.

Q: What’s your impression of the changes in the Dragons’ coaches?

A: This is going to be a good staff. (New Dragons pitching coach Derrin) Ebert was with Dick the last few years and these guys are on top of it. This is one of the staffs I probably worry least about in terms of getting done what needs to be done on a daily basis.

Q: Why does character make a difference?

A: We are incorporating some new stuff in terms of leadership training and personal development. We brought on full time Frank Pfister, a former Dragon, to be our mental skills coach. That’s a new initiative for us. We want to keep good people inside our inner circle.

It’s a new emphasis. We’ve always taken it very seriously to have good kids. We’re really big on everything from in-house visits to psychological profiles in the draft. I think our filter is high in terms of players who come into the organization. We take it seriously that we’re putting young adults into each community of these minor-league facilities.

Q: What goes into determining if a player is ready for the next level?

A: That’s one of the big things that’s changed about the job, the influx (of information) you get. You’re not only getting scouting reports, coaches reports, medical reports, now there’s more analytics and data reports. Things like velocity, spin rate, extension. There’s so much information.

Q: What else is new for you?

A: We’re trying to take the next step in terms of leadership training and character development. We’ve ramped up our sports psychology department. We are looking into new initiatives in how to create that leader prototype that everyone’s looking for.

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