Before we get this started, I have to admit that I made a serious mistake on the site. When I was writing about the Rays’ signing of right-hander Yael Regalado as a non-drafted free agent from George Washington High School, I erroneously stated that Regalado had undergone Tommy John Surgery during his junior year in high school when in reality he had, as Coach Steve Mandl informed me, missed the season but only as a precaution from elbow inflammation (the article has since been corrected to reflect that). Although the mistake was unintentional, I take full responsibility for the error I made. I’m deeply sorry to Yael and his friends and family for all the hassle they received regarding the incorrect statement I made, and wish only the best to him as he pursues his professional baseball career in the Rays organization.
While I had Coach Mandl on the line to inform me of the error in my article, he was kind enough to talk to me about Yael and about the most well-known player he has ever coached and briefly an Rays player, Manny Ramirez. Coach Mandl has been the coach at George Washington High School in Washington Heights in Manhattan for the last 30 years, winning 27 division titles and 3 city championships along the way and guiding many players to colleges and even quite a few to professional baseball including Ramirez and fellow ex-big leaguers Alex Arias, Frank Gracesqui, and Angel Salome. I would have rather gotten in touch with Coach Mandl under better circumstances, but it was a pleasure for me to talk to him on the phone and thanks to him for agreeing to do this interview.
Robbie Knopf: While we’re still talking, anything you would like to say about Yael and his approach on the mound?
Steve Mandl: If he didn’t sit out that year, he would have been drafted fairly high, and he also had the chance to go to Central Arizona, which at that time last year was one out away from winning a (Junior College) National Championship and he was a player they certainly would have wanted. He’s just phenomenal. Now he’s throwing 94 (miles per hour)- when he was more 87-88, he was unhittable and I knew he could pitch at a high level in pro ball just because of his forget-about-it tenacity, his knowledge of pitching. He’s got great movement, great stuff. He’s just one of those kids that everything has movement on it. He has great movement, changes speeds a lot, and now that he’s up there in the low-90′s, (touching) 94 even, he’s going to be a real tough kid to hit- and his changeup is awesome.
RK: Yeah, I was hearing a lot about his changeup along with his curveball. What type of changeup does he throw and what makes it so effective?
SM: Off the fastball, it’s just real tough to hit. He changes it real well and it looks just like his fastball and comes out the same way, featuring a 12 or 13 mile per hour difference with some movement. It’s hard to hit.
RK: How impressed were you that Yael was able to go from missing the entire year with the inflammation to pitching the (New York City high school baseball) Class A championship game the next season?
SM: I was impressed, but it didn’t surprise me. I felt bad for him because he really wanted to be out there every day, but I really think that I made the right decision with him . It was tough because every kid wants to play and every coach wants their best pitcher out there, but I think I made the right decision and I knew that it wasn’t going to make him end up quitting. I knew I would make him really learn a lot from the experience, and that’s exactly what happened.
RK: This past year at GW (George Washington High School), it was kind of a bittersweet season as you lost in the championship game but had a nice group of guys and had few players drafted- Nelson Rodriguez by the Indians and Fernelys Sanchez by the Braves- and now Yael has signed with the Rays. What were your overall thoughts on your season and that whole group of players you had on your team?
SM: It was great for the kids. That’s what they live on they work for, and it would have to great to win the championship, but we have to get kids to the next level, that’s the first goal, and all the kids that graduated either signed or went to college, mostly to college, and that’s what we’re really trying to do. That was the good part of the year.
RK: How disappointed were Yael, you, and basically the entire team that he wasn’t selected in the MLB Draft? (he was eligible in 2011)
SM: The fact that he didn’t pitch a whole year, people really didn’t get to see him, so I wasn’t surprised, because he was off-the-radar as far as that goes.
RK: What made Yael decide to forego going to college at Central Arizona or wherever he was going to go and instead decide to sign as a rare undrafted free agent out of high school?
SM: I really wanted him to go to school. That’s my goal to get them all to go to school. He was just so set on trying to sign that way that it was hard to convince him any other way. I guess if it didn’t work this year, he would have gone to school next year, but hopefully it will be the right decision a few years down the road.
RK: I’m not sure if you’re aware that the Rays actually signed a high school free agent several years ago who’s now on their major league team, infielder Elliot Johnson. Good luck to Yael trying to live up to that standard.
SM: Yeah, definitely. He’s a tough kid- he’s going to be OK. He won’t even think about that, about where he came from, how he got there, he’s just going to go out there and give it everything he has.
RK: I’m going to have to ask you about a former player you coached, who also happened to be a former Ray for a brief time (laughs), Manny Ramirez. What was it like coaching him in high school at GW?
SM: He was nothing like he became in the major leagues. As far as talent, certainly, but he was always the quiet kid, did his thing. He was always a little different, but he didn’t have the hair- I wouldn’t allow it- and he just went out there and worked harder than anyone there ever was. He just was a workaholic. He couldn’t stop. Again, he was different, he did some crazy stuff off the field, but it was nothing you could put your finger on, it was always “Manny being Manny,” he was always like that, but coaching him was a coach’s dream. His talent was unbelievable and he never ever gave you problems.
RK: Coach Mandl, thank you so much for clarifying everything with Yael and helping to make this whole thing happen. Happy New Year, enjoy your weekend, and good luck to you this coming season.
SM: Thanks a lot, appreciate it, talk to you soon.
It was really nice to hear more about Yael Regalado- along with that tidbit about Manny- and it’s clear that he’s a player who could be a deep sleeper prospect for the Rays in coming seasons with his fastball velocity getting up there as he’s now two years removed from the inflammation, even touching 94 MPH according to Coach Mandl, and his secondary pitches, especially that changeup that we got to hear a little bit about, showing potential. Maybe the biggest takeaway from my talk with Coach Mandl about Regalado was just how driven he is and how motivated he is to be successful, constantly begging and pleading to get back on the mound even as he dealt with injuries and then giving up a chance to go to college and not only receive an education but also develop into be relatively high draft pick and receive a much larger signing bonus as he became a high school free agent and wound up signing with the Rays. Only time will tell what level prospect Regalado turns into and there are no guarantees whatsoever, but he certainly fits the Rays’ strategy for going after players with upside, and as we have seen with Elliot Johnson, the reward could be quite significant. Good luck to Yael beginning his professional baseball career next season and to Coach Mandl as he continues to coach his GW players to victories, graduations, and in some cases, professional baseball.
(Image credit goes to Christina Santuccci.)