Kyle Stark, the director of player development for the Pirates, came on board in November of 2007 as one of general manager Neal Huntington's first hires. Stark is responsible for all aspects of the player-development system, including the Pirates' six affiliates in the United States as well as the academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Since taking over, Stark has completely overhauled the developmental system throughout the entire organization.
After a 2009 season which saw the Pirates acquire a great deal of young talent to add to what was already in place, he took the time to answer a few of many key questions regarding the development of these players heading into the offseason.
Is it encouraging in regards to the talent that has been infused in the system that a team like Lynchburg (Pirates Class A affiliate) was able to win a championship in 2009?
Ultimately, our goal in player development is to help every player reach their potential. We certainly hope and want that potential to include a significant number of players making an impact at the Major League level, so the increased number of players in our system that show that potential is what is most encouraging in terms of talent being added to the system. Both internal and external evaluations are recognizing this increase in talent. At the end of the day, however, we want to win in Pittsburgh, so we must develop winning players. The fact that Lynchburg won the Carolina League championship in 2009 is a reflection on both the talent on the field and the mentality being established in terms of an expectation of winning. This raises the bar for those players there to continue this as they move up the system, but also for other teams to match this accomplishment.
What are some of the steps taken in the development process that you have implemented to ensure top Draft picks like Pedro Alvarez and Tony Sanchez maximize their potential?
Our goal of helping players reach their potential applies to all players regardless of Draft status, so the concepts outlined below apply throughout our system. The difference for our first-round picks is that potential has increased initial expectations. Both Pedro and Tony have embraced those expectations and are committed to being the best they can be. A more detailed outline of our development philosophy is explained below.
The Gulf Coast League Pirates (rookie affiliate) was laden with players from many different countries. It is a challenge for you and your coaches to communicate and develop such a diverse, young group of players?
The goals and the processes remain the same; however, the logistical challenges of trying to communicate with and implement processes for players who do not speak English as their native language are obvious and significant. This forces our staff to get creative in order to communicate with these players, including communicating non-verbally, teaching players English phrases, and learning some phrases in the player's native language. Hiring interpreters or staff who are bilingual becomes critical as well. At this point though, we need to find people who speak five-six languages! The other step we take is to help players learn English, which we feel like will benefit them on and off the field.
Can you describe the changes you have made in the development process for the Pirates since you arrived?
The simple answer to this question is that we have completely overhauled the development process in this organization. That has been the exciting part of this experience, because we've been able to build a player-development system from top to bottom. Almost the entire thing has been revamped, mostly out of necessity, in my eyes, and partly by design, as we did not want things to be the same as what had been done for years here. These changes range from staff to philosophy to resources.
This is a people business, so the staff is the most important part. There has been significant turnover in staff, yet we did not set out to do that initially. xisting staff were given an opportunity to get on board and be part of this going forward, and new staff has been brought in from all different organizations and backgrounds to ensure new creative ideas and avoid group-think. Also, ownership has provided the funds to go get talented teachers, as roughly half of our uniformed personnel were sought after by other organizations last year (most of them choosing to stay with us).
The philosophy is completely different as well. Quite simply, our mission is to help players reach their potential, while developing them as professionals, through a relentless, systematic, and cohesive approach. That statement guides everything we do, including how we teach, discipline, and motivate players. The approach outlined in this statement offers some big-picture explanations of what we do. The relentless element deals with our staff continuing to work with players and be creative in reaching them. The systematic element deals with having a plan for everything we do, including for players, staff, each fundamental area, and the entire system as a whole. The cohesive element deals with ensuring a consistent message and consistent teaching throughout the system to all players at all times in all areas (personally, mentally, physically, and fundamentally).
Throughout this philosophy, two major concepts emerge that are critical to what we do. One, our focus is on the player's potential, which is a long-term approach and keeps us focused on winning in Pittsburgh rather than short-cutting the process for today's game, and two, our development philosophy starts with the man, as we care about winning with character and believe that we need to develop these players as men both on and off the field.
Finally, as indicated above, ownership has given and continues to give all resources necessary to develop our players. These resources include teaching and training aids, a nutrition and supplement budget that is among the best in the game, talented and dedicated staff in all areas, a phenomenal training facility in Bradenton, Fla., and the Dominican Republic, and an expanded and revamped video and data charting system, among others.
Is there anything that will change in the process during the offseason and heading into 2010?
We are constantly evaluating our processes and challenging ourselves to find ways to improve our system. This includes challenging ourselves to be better teachers, better implement our systems that require more accountability and follow-through, and to better motivate our players to help them reach their potential. Perhaps the greatest adjustment to the process for 2010 will be a comprehensive personal development program that focuses on developing the man. We already do a number of things in this area, but this will be a more all-encompassing and coordinated effort to help these players grow as men, both on and off the field.