As you may already know, A’s pitchers and catchers began reporting to the team’s spring training camp in Phoenix on Friday, with the team’s first workouts on Saturday. And there are already plenty of observations we can make about the major league team, as well as the minor league teams, at this point.
First of all, the A’s are still a very young team. On the 40-man roster, only two players – Coco Crisp and Nick Punto – were born before 1982, and only three of the team’s pitchers – Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson and Jesse Chavez – will be over the age of 29 on opening day.
On Thursday, one day before pitchers and catchers began reporting to the A’s spring training camp in Phoenix, A’s assistant general manager David Forst told Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game that he thought he knew what the A’s starting rotation was going to look like and mentioned Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. That would make Tommy Milone the sixth starter in waiting at Sacramento, with recent acquisitions Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz right behind him.
Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon, along with minor-league free-agent signee Matt Buschmann, will be the top contenders for the remaining spots in the River Cats rotation, with former perfect-game hurler Phil Humber likely serving time in Sacramento’s bullpen. Last year, Humber made 10 relief appearances for the Astros and came into 13 games out of the bullpen for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Midland’s top three starters from last season – Murphy Smith, Sean Murphy and Zach Neal – would be the next in line to take a step up should there be an issue with any of the previously-mentioned A’s or River Cats starters. If the three of them remain at Midland though, the top three candidates to join them in the RockHounds rotation will be Drew Granier, Raul Alcantara and Tanner Peters.
The 21-year-old Alcantara is the hottest young pitching prospect in the A’s system at the moment, and the team would like to see him start the season in the RockHounds rotation and then see where his talent takes him from there. But at this point, it’s clear that Alcantara could be a fast-riser.
Former bonus baby Michael Ynoa will probably be the other most closely watched young pitcher in the A’s camp this spring. He’s been throwing hard in Phoenix, but the key for him will just be staying healthy and staying on the mound. It’s still expected that he’ll start the season at Stockton. But if he starts out well, he should be due for a quick promotion to Midland.
As far as relievers go, A’s manager Bob Melvin was impressed with Evan Scribner’s and Fernando Nieve’s initial bullpen sessions in Phoenix, and both are likely to end up starting the season as key cogs in the River Cats bullpen, as long as Scribner can clear waivers anyway.
One of last year’s biggest objects of attention when camp opened, Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima, won’t be making any headlines in big league camp this time around though, since Nakajima will be spending his time in the A’s minor league camp this year. But another shortstop, top prospect Addison Russell – who appears on schedule to become the A’s starting shortstop in 2015 – will definitely be getting a good chance to show the A’s staff what he can do this spring in the big league camp.
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. The day’s sessions wrapped up with an appearance by the dynamic duo of young starter Sonny Gray and veteran closer Jim Johnson.
Gray, of course, distinguished himself last year by winning five games down the stretch for the A’s and besting Justin Verlander in Game #2 of the A.L. Division Series. And A’s Farm was curious to ask the young hurler about the adjustments he had to make coming up to the major leagues midseason…
On the differences of pitching in the major leagues…
I think, for me, the preparation was a lot more advanced up here than it was even in Sacramento. And it was just trying to learn the hitters, and meet with [pitching coach] Curt Young, meet with the catchers and stuff. That was a little bit of an adjustment, which was a good adjustment for me. I think just the information that you have up here is amazing – it’s crazy. We were able to really establish a plan, a way to attack a game, but at the same time, kind of continue to do what got me here and continue to pitch with the strengths that I have – and it worked well for us.
On the importance of his college experience…
I think it had a huge impact. If I would have signed out of high school, I don’t even know if I’d still be playing baseball. I was just a lot smaller, I was just so young. I’m a huge fan of the college route. You know, it doesn’t work for everyone. But for me, it made all the difference in the world, especially going to Vanderbilt – it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
On getting ready for the season…
I’m just really excited to get to spring. I went to Phoenix like eight days ago and started throwing bullpens there with Curt, and a lot of guys were there…I’m just really ready to get there and start practicing and start getting this thing on the road.
On the learning curve for a young pitcher…
I still have a lot of learning to do. I’m just tweaking things here and there. Obviously, there’s something you can pick up from every player, and every single year. I learned a lot last year, and I was here for I think 14 starts [actually 10 regular season and 2 postseason starts]. I mean, I learned so much, and I’m just going to continue to pick up little things here and there. And I think that’s what makes baseball so fun for me – there’s so many things that you can pick up…Last year, Bartolo Colon – I mean, just the subtle way he does it that a lot of people don’t see. You know, he doesn’t talk much. But just the little things he would say here and there in the locker room. You know, his actions had a huge impact on me. To see somebody do it for that long, and the way he’s kind of changed his game completely, he had so much information.
The A’s new closer, Jim Johnson, led the league in saves in each of the last two seasons. The 6’6” right-hander will be counted on by the team to continue the success of departed closer Grant Balfour, and he seems eager to meet the challenge…
On joining his new team…
I’m really excited to be here. I got to meet a lot of the guys for the first time officially [at FanFest]. I’ve played against quite a few of them for a couple years. You see how much fun they have on the field, and how that carries over, and the tight-knit group that they have. This is the time of year we’re all excited to just get out there and just start playing. I can tell it’s going to be a fun year.
On his past impressions of the A’s…
Every time we played Oakland…we knew it was always going to be a battle here, it’s always going to be a dogfight. It’s not an easy place to play…They’re a scrappy team, but they have fun, and that’s a good combination to have. You play so many games…so you better have fun and enjoy it. But when you’ve got those guys that are scrappy, that are grinding out at-bats and doing what they need to do to help the other guy down the chain, that leads to good things down the road. So it’s good to be on that side, absolutely.
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A’s Manager Bob Melvin on Jaso’s Return, How New Additions Gentry & Punto Fit into the Picture and Why He Loves Managing the A’s
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. And A’s manager Bob Melvin followed assistant GM David Forst on the hot seat.
In a question-and-answer session earlier in the day at the Oracle Arena, the normally mild-mannered manager roused the crowd of A’s fans in attendance when, talking about the A’s postseason prospects in 2014, he declared, “We’ve knocked on that door a couple times – it’s time to kick it in!”
He also sounded enthusiastic about recently-acquired minor league outfielder Billy Burns, saying, “I’m excited about Billy Burns…this is supposed to be the fastest guy that maybe we have in camp. So look quick – if he’s on the bases, you might not see him.”
In his session with us a little later in the day, Melvin was his usual relaxed and affable self. And A’s Farm was particularly eager to get the skipper’s take on the A’s current situation behind the plate…
You know, in the role that he [Vogt] had last year, he started every game in the playoffs based on the matchups, and got one of the game-winning hits. He’s a guy that fit in very quickly, so we have a lot of confidence in him. The plan with Jaso from the beginning will be to catch. So we’ll see how that goes for him. We do like to rotate the DH spot, whether it’s a day off for Coco Crisp, whether it’s a day off for Yoenis Cespedes, certainly Jaso’s an option, everybody’s an option there. So we don’t like to get locked into just saying this is our DH. But I think…with the workload that a catcher gets, you know there’d be a day that potentially he [Jaso] DHs too. But I think more than anything, we have to see how he comes through spring training. He’s been cleared to catch in spring training, and we’ll see if he’s over all those issues, and obviously we’ll monitor him very closely in spring.
On the possible need to carry three catchers…
It feels that way. There were times last year though where I did have our DH catching. And we were in a position at times, which is hard, where I had my second catcher in the game – and you’re always on pins and needles that hopefully something doesn’t happen. We do have the luxury of having Josh Donaldson who’s caught before. I don’t want him behind the plate – but that’s one of the reasons that we would be able to do it potentially.
On outfielder Craig Gentry’s role in 2014…
Gentry’s a guy that we’ve had our eye on for a while. Number one, just getting him in our uniform means he’s not beating us – he’s been a guy that’s been tough on us. He can play all three of the outfield spots, he’s got a great track record against left-handed pitching…I’m not sure as far as how many starts he’ll get, but my rhetoric to him will be, “just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you won’t be the biggest impact player of the game.” He has the ability to change a game whether you’re ahead, defensively, whether it’s pinch-running, whether it’s pinch-hitting. He’s one of the premiere guys in the league at being able to handle a role like that, so he’s going to get his share of at-bats, that’s for sure.
On free agent infielder Nick Punto’s role with the team…
It’s to be determined. He’s another guy that actually his versatility probably plays against him…but we have some in-game guys that can really impact the game – whether it’s defensively, base-running or offensively – as the game goes along. He is certainly one of those guys that we’ve identified to do that. So he will get his share of starts because you have to keep a guy current and getting X amount of at-bats to stay ready for the opportunities. But I don’t think at this point in time there’s any specific amount of at-bats that I’m looking at for him.
On the team’s depth heading into 2014…
Well, I think we increased the depth. We added a couple more switch hitters. Alberto Callaspo was here for a portion of the season…obviously Nick Punto’s the other guy I was talking about. So we’ll look at maybe Callaspo some at first base against left-handed pitching potentially. But the versatility and the depth gets more so each and every year. And I think it’s better than it was in was in 2012, better than it was in 2013…but the division has gotten better as well. So you always feel like you have to get better and address the deficiencies that you think your team had the year before.
On what he and the team have taken from the last two years’ playoff experience…
You always try to take the confidence that you had and what you’ve accomplished in years past, and we’ve accomplished some good things the last couple years. You also find some motivation in getting beaten in a certain fashion a couple years in a row. So we wouldn’t be scared of that situation again. We would relish it if we got it again. But more than anything, you try to find what’s best for your team that motivates you the best. And I think for us, it’s bringing our confidence with us and getting past what was a sour taste for us the last couple years.
On what’s different for him about managing the A’s…
Well, I like managing the A’s a little better. I grew up here in the Bay Area, so there’s some…pride factor growing up in the area. We’ve had as good a group of guys come through here over the last three years, and we continue to bring in great people that accentuate our team. And just getting along with the front office, the ownership and the fans are a big, big key for me here for that added pride of being an Oakland A.
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A’s Assistant GM David Forst on Top Prospects Russell & McKinney, Coco’s New Contract and What the A’s Expect from Reddick in 2014
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. First up was A’s assistant general manager David Forst who volunteered a generous bit of time to talk about some top major and minor league players for the A’s. We had the chance to ask him about two of the A’s most promising young players – shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney. Forst clearly couldn’t be more excited about the prospects for Russell, and he’s definitely not the only one in the A’s front office who feels that way.
Earlier in the day, in a question-and-answer session at the Oracle Arena, A’s general manager Billy Beane lit up like a Christmas tree when the subject of Russell came up. He characterized the young shortstop as a special kind of player who doesn’t come along very often and said he was “knocking on the door.” The A’s GM went on to enthuse, “We’ve had some great young players come through the system, and we’re as excited about Addison as we have been about a lot of the guys…that went on to be stars. So he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player.”
In his session, Forst also talked about some of the team’s top young pitching prospects and shared some interesting insights on the A’s draft philosophy that has seen the team increasingly shift its focus to high school players in recent years. On the major league front, the assistant GM discussed the challenge of having to fill a number of holes in the offseason, Coco Crisp’s recent contract extension, what the team expects from Josh Reddick and John Jaso in 2014, and how the A’s expect to contend in a strengthened American League West and push themselves past the competition in the postseason. But A’s Farm started things off by asking Forst to share his take on the A’s most promising young player in the pipeline…
On A’s top prospect Addison Russell…
I expect he’ll start the year at Midland. The thing that impressed me most about Addison last year, and there were obviously a lot…to see the way he kind of turned his season around…that tells me as much about Addison as a player as anything he did. You can go and watch him and see the power, see the swing, see the arm from the hole…with a guy like that, it’s really easy to see. But I remember having conversations in April with Todd Steverson, who at the time was our minor league hitting coordinator, and saying, “Hey, is this kid okay? Look, let him know we understand, he’s going to struggle.” And when I saw him myself in May, I said, “Hey, you’re not going to hit .200 forever – it’s just not going to happen.” I think he’s a confident kid, but anyone who spends a whole month doing that, there’s going to be a little bit of doubt. And within a couple weeks, he started to turn around. He’s going to hit, he’s going to have enough power for the middle of the diamond, he can throw from anywhere. There’s a reason he’s a top ten prospect in baseball. And to see him turn the season around, put everything together, and continue on into the [Arizona] Fall League, that’s a long year for anyone, particularly for a kid in his first full season…Everyone says we haven’t had a kid put it all together since Eric Chavez was there…and we’re going to see a lot of him in spring training. I know one of Bob Melvin’s main objectives is to get Addison a lot of reps because there’s no telling how soon he’s going to be here…You can see the tools and the ability, but when you spend time with him and you understand how much fun he has and how mentally strong he is, you really feel good about his chances going forward.
On last year’s top draft pick Billy McKinney…
I actually didn’t get to Arizona to see those guys. I saw Billy in March last year – I went to see him play in high school. There wasn’t a lot of consensus on the board last year in the draft room. It was just one of those years where we were picking so low that guys had different opinions. But by the time that we got down there, the nice thing was we did have a strong voice in Billy’s favor – and you always feel good about a pick when that happens. And he came out and hit the way we expected, sort of above what you’d expect for his years. He got a chance to go to Vermont and get his feet wet a little bit. And I know in Instructional League, he talked to [A’s farm director] Keith Lieppman and said, “Just so you know, I expect to follow Addison’s path and start in Stockton next year.” It’s nice to hear. You don’t put expectations on a kid like that, because we know how special Addison is, but we know he will go be with a full-season club. We know he can hit, he did a great job in center field, and we’re excited about Billy.
On the A’s recent shift to drafting top high school players like Russell and McKinney…
We didn’t like taking kids out of high school when the information was so limited. Things have evolved over the last ten years. These kids play in so many showcases – they play against the best competition in the country. We know so much more performance-wise about a high school kid than we did even five years ago, but particularly when the book (Moneyball) was written…Sure, you’re dealing with an extra three years of personal development, and any kid from the ages of 18 to 21 changes a lot…but I think we’ve gotten to the point where we are a lot more comfortable with what these kids show us on the field. Addison is from Pensacola, Florida. If he was only playing against kids in a 50-mile radius, then you’re not sure how he stacks up. But he went to California and played, he went to Texas and played, he went to Miami and played against all these kids. Billy did the same thing – he’s on that showcase circuit where you know how he stacks up against everybody in the country…When we didn’t take Mike Trout, it was because we thought, “this is a cold-weather kid from the northeast, we’re not sure how he stacks up against the rest of the country.” Well, if we’d stepped back to see that Mike did the same things and played those circuits and performed really well, we might have lined up our board differently. So really, it’s a different time with the high school kids. And if our scouts have seen a lot of them and they sort of check enough boxes, we feel really good about those guys – and Billy fell into that group.
Both Covey and Wahl were interesting conversations. Covey was a 1st-round pick in high school. Bobby was expected to potentially be a 1st-round guy, at least a top two guy. Both guys fell to an area where we paid over-slot for them because we wanted to, and we felt like both guys had some sort of marks against them that hurt their draft status. With Dylan, he never sort of performed the way people expected him to out of high school, but the stuff was always there and there was an upward trend in his college performance. And Bobby we knew had an injury history, but if we could get him healthy and keep him healthy, this was a 1st-round talent. So as far as the diversity of our draft portfolio, those guys fit really nicely after taking a guy like Billy [McKinney] in the 1st-round because they’re a little more advanced. And if they did stay healthy and kind of live up to what their pre-draft status was, you potentially have some top guys. And both guys went out and pitched great. Dylan obviously was able to make the jump to the Midwest League for a couple starts. But both those guys have a chance to start the year in Stockton, depending on how things shake out, and potentially move quickly because of their status as college players.
The goal of a 1st-round pick is always to get them here. You never draft someone hoping just to create an asset to move. With Grant and with Michael, it sort of worked out that way. But it’s a lot more rewarding certainly when Sonny Gray pitches here or ultimately when Addison Russell does get here. That’s what you want out of your 1st-round pick. I won’t say that we’re sort of focused on any position ever in the 1st-round – we’re looking for the best player…I know there’s been a lot made of trading those guys. Throughout the farm system, we’ve moved a lot of players and, as such, we’re sort of in a position where we need to rebuild. But there’s never a specific goal with a 1st-round pick.
On meeting the team’s key offseason needs…
When you look at our checklist at the end of October, replace Bartolo Colon, replace Grant Balfour, so you’ve got a starting pitcher and a closer. Craig Gentry was a guy we had been focused on for a long time who we just felt fit so well…with his ability to play all three outfield spots, running, hitting from the right side, so we sort of checked that one off…We added more pieces to the bullpen. We got some depth in the starting rotation with Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz. These were all things that we sort of laid out in October. You just hope you can hit as many as possible.
On how the A’s expect to best the rest of the west in 2014…
We still feel like the make-up of the complete 25-man roster gives us a chance to repeat, and as great a job as Bob Melvin has done the last two years of managing that group – putting guys in the right spots, platooning, using the bullpen. We feel like from 1 to 25, we’re just as strong as we were, if not stronger than, the last two years. And certainly the bullpen – with adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to what was already an outstanding group, maybe potentially a full season of Dan Otero, and Jesse Chavez showed last year what he can do – that has to be a strength that we’re going to lean on a lot.
On the effect of increased national TV revenue on the team’s spending…
There’s no doubt our payroll is going to be higher this year probably than ever, certainly in the time I’ve been here. You just have to do the math and see we’re significantly above where we were last year. And that’s what allowed us to go get Jim Johnson, knowing there’s going to be a $10 million price tag on him, and to sign Scott Kazmir, even a move like signing Eric O’Flaherty, where you’re only adding a little bit for this year. But we had already sort of bumped up against our number, and [managing partner] Lew Wolff and [team president] Mike Crowley were very open to what we were trying to do with Eric for half a season and then backload the money. So there’s no doubt that, whether it’s the TV money, the success of the team, all these things have gone into ownership being very open to increasing the bar and letting us do some things this offseason that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
On avoiding long-term contracts and Coco Crisp’s extension…
I think we’ve benefited a lot from the flexibility over the last few years. Obviously having added Coco in the last 24 hours, but other than Yoenis Cespedes and Scott Kazmir, there was nobody signed for 2015. We don’t necessarily want to recreate the team every year, because obviously the fans like the players that are here and we like the certainty of the guys that we know, but that we’ve given ourselves the ability to do it is a huge factor in our success. So to commit to a guy like Coco, obviously we know the guy, we know the player, he’s so important to what we do, and it was just an opportunity where we felt like this was the right dollar amount to commit to him beyond the next couple of years.
On expectations for Josh Reddick in 2014…
We certainly expect Josh to bounce back. I don’t think anybody knows fully how much his wrist affected him last year, and Josh will never ever admit it privately or publicly. But the fact is that he had that injury in Houston early in the year. And when you look at the difference in his numbers between 2012 and 2013, a player with his talent, you have to assume there’s something else going on. So we fully expect Josh to bounce back – and I fully expect to have him under contract hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks. But Josh adds so much with his defense alone that it’s hard to calculate his value to the team. And if he does get back to being the offensive player that we saw in 2012, he has the chance to carry this team at times.
On expectations for John Jaso’s return in 2014…
He’s coming to camp as a catcher. He’s cleared all exams. He’s had no setbacks with his physical activity. Look, you can’t predict how he reacts when he gets hit by a foul tip – that’s a medical issue. We did everything we could in terms of giving him the rest he needed and getting him to see the right people. But he comes into camp as a catcher – same situation with him and Derek Norris. The nice thing is Stephen Vogt sort of emerged last year in John’s absence, and that’s a great problem to have. If you end up having a roster with all three of those guys, they’re great options for the DH spot and the catching spot.
Each of those guys we felt addressed, not necessarily a weakness, but somewhere we could get better. It’s hard to say how they specifically help us in the postseason, but anytime your pitching depth is strong – whether it’s with Kaz or Jim Johnson or Gregerson – you expect that to come into play in a tight postseason game. Nick has played in the postseason quite a bit, he’s been on winning teams, he knows a lot of the guys around the league. There’s no way that his experience isn’t going to help us when it comes down the stretch – it’s sort of subjective to say exactly what that is, but we’ve seen it before with players that we’ve brought in. So hopefully these guys fit as well as the group has the last two years. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do is put that puzzle together to compete in September, and I think we have every reason to believe that these guys will fit.
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With the first A’s players set to report to spring training camp in just a couple of weeks, it’s time to present A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List for 2014. We’ve combined half a dozen different A’s prospect lists to come up with a consensus list that reflects a broad base of wisdom where A’s prospects are concerned.
You can find the prospect lists that we used to compile our consensus list at the very end of this piece. Some of the lists we’ve included are from better known sources and some are from lesser known sources, but they’ve all been chosen because they represent intelligent and informed opinions about the A’s system. For the purposes of this list, we’ve looked at the top ten picks from each list and assigned points to each player as follows: 10 points for each first place finish, 9 points for second, 8 for third, all the way on down to 1 point for each tenth place finish.
It’s interesting to note that the A’s 2012 top draft pick, shortstop Addison Russell, was the unanimous choice as the A’s top prospect, and the top five picks on our consensus list – Russell, McKinney, Alcantara, Ynoa and Nunez – were each included on all six lists. Six of the top ten are position players, while only four are pitchers. Half are products of the 2012 draft class. Half will also be 20 years old or younger to start the season, and only two are certain to start out above Class-A (Russell and Muncy, who are both expected to start the year at Midland), with none of the top ten starting out at Triple-A. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List for 2014…
A’S FARM’S CONSENSUS TOP 10 PROSPECT LIST
#1 – Addison Russell (SS) – 60 points / 6 lists
#2 – Billy McKinney (OF) – 41 points / 6 lists
#3-4 (tie) – Raul Alcantara (RHP) – 40 points / 6 lists
#3-4 (tie) – Michael Ynoa (RHP) – 40 points / 6 lists
#5 – Renato Nunez (3B) – 37 points / 6 lists
#6-7 (tie) – Daniel Robertson (SS) – 26 points / 5 lists
#6-7 (tie) – Matt Olson (1B) – 26 points / 5 lists
#8 – Bobby Wahl (RHP) – 21 points / 4 lists
#9 – Nolan Sanburn (RHP) – 12 points / 6 lists
#10 – Max Muncy (1B) – 10 points / 3 lists
(60 points / 6 lists)
Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop
Age On Opening Day: 20
Drafted 2012 – 1st Round
The unanimous pick as the A’s top prospect, Russell got off to a slow start at Stockton in 2013 as the youngest player in the California League. But the then-19-year-old eventually settled in and put together a solid season both at the plate and in the field. The young shortstop slugged 29 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs and committed just 15 errors while playing on some pretty rocky California League fields. Russell’s attitude and his ability to learn and adapt has helped to fuel his fast rise. He’s scheduled to start the season at Double-A Midland but, if he gets off to faster start there than he did last year at Stockton, he could find himself in Sacramento before long. And with A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie set to hit free agency after the 2014 season, Russell could be just a year away from landing in Oakland.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
(41 points / 6 lists)
Left-Handed Hitting Outfielder
Age On Opening Day: 19
Drafted 2013 – 1st Round
The A’s most recent 1st-round draft pick, the team went after McKinney because of his sweet swing. And the Texas native lived up to his reputation at the plate, hitting .326 in 215 at-bats in 2013. Though he might not flash a lot of power, his ability to make contact seems solid. The center fielder looked strong in the outfield as well. And a full season facing slightly more advanced pitchers in the Midwest League should tell us a lot more about how fast McKinney will rise in the future.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Beloit Snappers (A)
#3-4 (tie) RAUL ALCANTARA
(40 points / 6 lists)
Age On Opening Day: 21
Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent
Acquired from Boston with Josh Reddick and Miles Head in the Andrew Bailey/Ryan Sweeney deal, with Sonny Gray and Dan Straily now in the majors, Alcantara has emerged as the top pitching prospect in the A’s minor league system. Splitting the season between Stockton and Beloit, the right-hander posted a 3.11 ERA and led all A’s minor league starters with a 1.16 WHIP. Alcantara flashed an impressive changeup and showed solid control – walking just 24 batters over 156 1/3 innings. The A’s might start Alcantara at Midland but, since he just turned 21, they could still take it slow and have him start the season at Stockton.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
#3-4 (tie) MICHAEL YNOA
(40 points / 6 lists)
Age On Opening Day: 22
Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent
The biggest bonus baby in A’s history, the team reportedly paid Ynoa $4.25 million when they signed him as a flame-throwing teenager out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008. Many injury issues later, Ynoa made it back onto the mound to throw 75 2/3 innings in 2013. The 6’7” right-hander looked impressive at Beloit, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts, but he put up a 7.71 ERA in just 21 innings at Stockton. Ynoa is capable of flashing a mid-90s fastball and possesses tremendous potential, but he still needs to prove that he can command his repertoire and endure a full season on the mound. Ynoa might get the chance to do that at Midland, but he’s more likely to start the season at Stockton.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Stockton Ports (A)
#5 RENATO NUNEZ
(37 points / 6 lists)
Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 20
Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent
Another international bonus baby like Ynoa, the A’s reportedly signed Nunez for $2.2 million out of Venezuela in 2010. Nunez turned 19 on opening day last year and celebrated by hitting a 3-run homer. His raw power is what originally attracted the A’s to the young Venezuelan, and he notched 19 homers and 27 doubles for Beloit in 2013. Nunez could improve his plate discipline a bit though – he struck out 136 times while drawing just 28 walks last season. The third baseman also led all A’s minor leaguers with 39 errors in 114 games at the hot corner in 2013. But Nunez should get the chance to show off his bat with Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League in 2014. And as long as he continues to hit, the A’s will find a way to work around his glove.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Stockton Ports (A)
#6-7 (tie) DANIEL ROBERTSON
(26 points / 5 lists)
Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop
Age On Opening Day: 20
Drafted 2012 – 1st Round
Drafted by the A’s with their next pick after Russell in 2012, Robertson is currently the second-best shortstop prospect in the A’s system. There was originally some question about his ability to play the position, but Robertson played solely at short last season and showed some ability to stick there. While being able to play short clearly increases his value, with Russell penciled in as the A’s shortstop of the future, Robertson should also start seeing some time at second and third to increase his versatility. The California native hit .277 with 9 home runs and a .353 OBP for Beloit in 2013. He spent part of the year hitting near the top of the lineup and showed some ability to get on base, but it’s hoped that Robertson can also develop a little more pop as his bat matures.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Stockton Ports (A)
#6-7 (tie) MATT OLSON
(26 points / 5 lists)
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 20
Drafted 2012 – 1st Round
The next pick by the A’s after Russell and Robertson in 2012, Olson’s raw power potential was what most-impressed scouts. And in his first full season in the A’s system in 2013, he blasted 23 homers for Beloit, which was more than any A’s minor leaguer except for fellow first baseman Max Muncy. Olson also put up 32 doubles to go with 72 walks, 148 strikeouts and a .225 batting average. More than half his hits were for extra bases, putting him in that category of players who walks, strikes out and gets extra-base hits more often than he singles. The Georgia native should have the chance to put his power on display for Stockton in the hitter-friendly California league in 2014. And if the 6’4” first baseman can just cut down on the K’s and put a few more balls in play, he could be a big hit in Mudville.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Stockton Ports (A)
#8 BOBBY WAHL
(21 points / 4 lists)
Age On Opening Day: 22
Drafted 2013 – 5th Round
With more college experience than most of the A’s current crop of pitching prospects, the former Ole Miss hurler could be poised to make a quick rise. Drafted last year in the 5th-round, Wahl signed later than most and only ended up getting into 10 games, all but one with Vermont. The right-hander boasts an impressive slider and clearly was able to fool a few of the NY-Penn League hitters he faced, striking out 27 of them in his 20 2/3 innings with the Lake Monsters. Expect to see him start the 2014 season in Beloit, where the typically chilly Midwest League spring temps could help Wahl put hitters there in a deep freeze.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Beloit Snappers (A)
(12 points / 6 lists)
Age On Opening Day: 22
Drafted 2012 – 2nd Round
The first pitcher taken by the A’s in the 2012 draft, Sanburn is a hard-throwing right-hander out of the University of Arkansas. And like Wahl, he’s one of the most promising college pitchers among the A’s current crop of pitching prospects. Sanburn didn’t sign quickly after the draft and only ended up making it into 7 games with Vermont in 2012. And injury issues limited him to just 16 games last year. In his 23 appearances since being drafted, Sanburn’s posted a 2.40 ERA while striking out 45 batters in 48 2/3 innings. And with a mid-90s fastball and a solid curve, the Indiana native could move quickly if he can stay healthy and get his work in on the mound.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Stockton Ports (A)
#10 MAX MUNCY
(10 points / 3 lists)
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 23
Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
Muncy led all A’s minor leaguers in home runs, RBIs, total bases and walks in 2013. The Texas native is a better-than-average defender at first base too. And his 88 walks attest to the fact that he may have the best plate discipline of any current A’s hitting prospect. 21 of his 25 home runs came in the hitter-friendly California League, which tends to exaggerate almost everyone’s power numbers, but it was still a solid season for Muncy. He struggled a bit after making the move to Midland but, after a rough first few weeks, he seemed to settle in and start having productive at-bats again. Muncy should start the 2014 season back at Midland, where he’ll be joined in the infield by shortstop Addison Russell. And of all the A’s top hitting prospects besides Russell, Muncy is probably the most advanced at this point.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
* * *
It appears that most of the A’s off-season work is done. The team has found capable replacements for departing free agents Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour and Chris Young and filled a few other holes as well. It’s possible that someone like Alberto Callaspo, who’s set to earn close to $5 million and doesn’t have a full-time position, could still end up being traded before spring training is through. It’s possible that a few younger players with major league experience who are out of options like outfielder Michael Taylor or reliever Evan Scribner could be dealt as well. But for the most part, barring any unforeseen injury issues, it looks like the A’s are now holding most of the cards they’ll be playing to start the 2014 season. And it’s becoming increasingly clear who most of the players are that Sacramento River Cats fans can expect to be seeing at Raley Field in 2014 as well.
2014 OAKLAND A’S
One area that seems to be most clearly set for the team is the outfield, with Josh Reddick in right, Coco Crisp in center, Yoenis Cespedes in left and newcomer Craig Gentry serving as the fourth outfielder. The left side of the infield will also remain in place for the A’s, with the team’s most valuable player in 2014, Josh Donaldson, manning the hot corner and the team’s best-hitting shortstop in recent memory, Jed Lowrie, returning to shortstop.
The other four positions in the lineup – second base, first base, catcher and designated hitter – are the areas where the A’s will deploy their patented platoons. Free agent infielder Nick Punto is likely to take over for Adam Rosales and Callaspo as Eric Sogard’s platoon partner at second base. And based on manager Bob Melvin’s comments, it seems like that might push Callaspo into the role of Brandon Moss’s platoon partner at first base, which would then push Nate Freiman to Sacramento along with fellow first baseman Daric Barton.
Melvin’s recent comments also make it sound like John Jaso is likely to get most of the DH at-bats, replacing the departed Seth Smith in that position, while against left-handers, Craig Gentry would join the lineup in left field with Yoenis Cespedes moving into the DH spot. With Jaso getting most of the DH at-bats, that requires the A’s to carry a third catcher, and that’s most likely to be Stephen Vogt, who got plenty of valuable experience last year down the stretch and in the postseason for the A’s. And his left-handed bat is the perfect complement to righty-swinging backstop Derek Norris, who hit just .149 against right-handed pitching last year.
Basically, Vogt would be replacing Jaso in the catching platoon, just as he did late last year, with Jaso moving out from behind the plate to replace Seth Smith in the DH platoon, while Punto replaces Callaspo in the second base platoon, Callaspo replaces Freiman in the first place platoon and Craig Gentry takes Chris Young’s place in the lineup against left-handers.
As far as the pitching staff goes, the plan seems pretty clear. Free agent lefty Scott Kazmir will take over for Bartolo Colon as the veteran presence in the team’s starting rotation, while young righty Sonny Gray appears set to take lefty Tommy Milone’s spot in the rotation, just as he did late last season, with Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily rounding out the starting five.
Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Jim Johnson will take over for Grant Balfour as the team’s closer, while top-notch setup man Luke Gregerson will take the roster spot that Pat Neshek occupied most of last season and lefty Fernando Abad is likely to take Jerry Blevins’ spot on the left side of the bullpen, with fellow lefty Sean Doolittle and righties Ryan Cook, Jesse Chavez and Dan Otero rounding out the rest of the A’s bullpen – though it’s possible that, since he’s out of options, the team could also decide to have Evan Scribner take Otero’s spot to start the season. The A’s will also likely start the season with two relievers who are both recovering from Tommy John surgery on the disabled list – recently-signed free agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty and righty Fernando Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Astros in the Jed Lowrie deal.
2014 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
If we make the preceding assumptions about the major league roster, then the River Cats roster starts to fall pretty clearly into place. Of course, there are a few players who are out of options, and it’s quite possible that at least one of them won’t end up clearing waivers.
The A’s have two veteran minor league catchers to handle the River Cats pitching staff, returning backstop Luke Montz along with Chris Gimenez, who was recently claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the team looks to be overloaded with first basemen, with Daric Barton, Nate Freiman and Anthony Aliotti all looking for playing time – unless the A’s end up trading Callaspo and opening up a roster spot for Freiman as Brandon Moss’s platoon partner. If not, there could still be plenty of playing time to be found for all three between the first base and the designated hitter spot.
Returning River Cat Andy Parrino appears to be set at shortstop. Hiro Nakajima is likely to get the majority of starts at third base while also picking up at-bats at other positions around the infield, while free agent signees Jose Martinez and Alden Carrithers should get most of the playing time at second base. Shane Peterson is set to return to Sacramento’s outfield, along with Jake Goebbert and, if they clear waivers, veteran minor leaguers Michael Taylor and Corey Brown (who was recently designated for assignment).
The River Cats should have plenty of worthy contenders for their starting rotation. If the A’s other five starters are all healthy to start the season, then Tommy Milone is likely to anchor Sacramento’s starting five, along with recently-acquired righty Josh Lindblom and lefty Drew Pomeranz. Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon will also be competing for a spot as well as free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann, with those don’t make the rotation starting the season in the River Cats bullpen. If he clears waivers, they’re likely to be joined there by Evan Scribner, along with returning River Cats Paul Smyth and Fernando Nieve and free agent signees Deryk Hooker and Jose Flores as well as Triple-A Rule 5 draftee Tim Atherton.
So that’s how things seem to be shaping up for both the A’s and the River Cats, assuming everyone clears waivers and Billy Beane doesn’t have any last-minute surprises up his sleeve!
Well, the results are in – and A’s Farm was ranked in the Top 5 MLB blogs for 2013! At our peak late in the season, we were averaging almost 6,000 hits per week and over 20,000 hits per month. And we want to be sure to thank all you devoted A’s fans who are clearly committed to learning as much as possible about the organization from top to bottom.
We also want to thank MLB Trade Rumors for repeatedly featuring A’s Farm as one of their top blog picks of the week, Baseball Reference for regularly featuring us in their player news section, and A’s Nation who’s allowed us to provide weekly minor league updates during the season for all those A’s fans who get their A’s news from the biggest and best A’s blog on the web.
In 2013, A’s Farm profiled the A’s top prospects, offered progress reports on the team’s top draft picks, named the A’s organizational all-stars, and featured interviews with top players and prospects like Dan Straily, Sonny Gray and Addison Russell, along with front office personnel like director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, director of player personnel Billy Owens, scouting director Eric Kubota and super scout Grady Fuson. All that in addition to our daily updates on all the A’s minor league affiliates – the Sacramento River Cats, Midland RockHounds, Stockton Ports, Beloit Snappers, Vermont Lake Monsters and the Arizona League A’s.
Stay tuned for much more right here in 2014, and be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm, and sign up to get our weekly A’s minor league update e-mailed to you during the season to stay up to date on all the latest down on the farm!
A’s general manager Billy Beane has had a busy week – and it ain’t over yet! On Monday, the team signed free agent left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to a two-year $22 million deal. And later that same day, the A’s acquired right-handed closer Jim Johnson from Baltimore in return for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.
Then on Tuesday, the team traded two of its top minor league prospects, outfielder Michael Choice and second baseman Chris Bostick, to Texas for outfielder Craig Gentry and right-handed starter Josh Lindblom. The A’s then followed that up just hours later by sending outfielder Seth Smith to San Diego for right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson.
Just the previous week, the team dealt minor league outfielder John Wooten to Washington for left-handed reliever Fernando Abad. And two weeks prior to that, the A’s signed utility infielder Nick Punto as a free agent.
The A’s new outfielder, Craig Gentry – who was nicknamed “Kitten Face” in Texas – is a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He brings excellent defense and speed and hits lefties well, so he figures to take Chris Young’s place as a right-handed platoon player and fourth outfielder who could take over full time in center field for the A’s when Coco Crisp becomes a free agent after next season.
In order to acquire Gentry, the A’s gave up their top outfield prospect, who also happened to be the team’s top major-league-ready hitting prospect, former 1st-round draft pick Michael Choice. After hitting .302 at Triple-A Sacramento in 2013, many had hoped that Choice would be given the chance to fill Young’s role on the A’s roster in 2014. But instead, he’ll get the chance to battle for a starting spot in the Rangers’ outfield this season.
Top talent evaluators are divided on Choice’s chances for success as a major league slugger. But the A’s have a history of undervaluing and trading away talented young outfielders who’ve gone on to become successful major league hitters elsewhere. And A’s fans have to hope that Choice doesn’t turn out to be the next Andre Ethier, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Gonzalez in Texas.
With Choice now gone, Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor are now the most major-league-ready outfielders at the upper levels of the A’s minor league system, while 20-year-old B.J. Boyd and 19-year-old Billy McKinney are the team’s top outfield prospects at the lower levels of the system.
The A’s also traded away their top second base prospect, Chris Bostick, in the deal. And it looks increasingly likely that shortstop Daniel Robertson might have to try to make the move to second base to provide a future double play partner for top shortstop prospect Addison Russell. With fellow second baseman Jemile Weeks now gone as well, Sacramento’s 2014 infield could be comprised of Daric Barton or Anthony Aliotti at first base, minor league free agent signee Jose Martinez at second base, Andy Parrino at shortstop, Hiro Nakajima at third base and Dusty Coleman as the utility infielder filling in at second, short and third.
Meanwhile, RHP Josh Lindblom is likely to start the season in Sacramento’s starting rotation, along with River Cats returnees Arnold Leon and Andrew Werner as well as recent minor league free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann.
At the major league level, new acquisitions Scott Kazmir and Jim Johnson are clearly intended to take the place of free agents Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour on the A’s pitching staff. With Kazmir guaranteed $11 million this season, Johnson expected to net $10-11 million in arbitration and seven starting pitchers currently on the staff, the A’s second-highest-paid starter, Brett Anderson at $8 million, is expected to be the A’s most appetizing bit of a trade bait to be dangled at next week’s Winter Meetings. And rumors already have the Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Yankees, Indians and Mariners licking their lips over the left-hander.
Assuming the A’s are able to complete a deal for Anderson, the team’s 2014 rotation would then be comprised of five of the following six starters: Scott Kazmir, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray. Given the general health of starting pitchers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one out of any group of six starters wasn’t 100% healthy to start the season, so I wouldn’t bother spending too much time worrying about which five of the six will end up making the opening day cut – it’ll surely sort itself out by the end of spring.
As far as the A’s bullpen goes, new closer Jim Johnson, who has saved at least 50 games in each of the last two seasons, and new RHP Luke Gregerson, who has been one of the best setup men in the National League over the past couple of years, are set to join LHPs Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins and RHPs Ryan Cook and Jesse Chavez, who is out options and whom the A’s value as a long man and spot starter.
Since the team typically likes to carry seven relievers, there’s room for one more arm in the A’s pen, and RHP Dan Otero is clearly the most deserving candidate for the final spot. But since Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa and Fernando Rodriguez are all out of options, it’s possible that Otero could start the season being stashed at Sacramento, waiting for someone to hit the DL while one of the others is given a shot.
Over the past week and a half, the A’s farm system has suffered the loss of outfielder Michael Choice, second baseman Jemile Weeks, second baseman Chris Bostick and outfielder John Wooten. And in the last six months, the team lost its 2007 #1 draft pick James Simmons as a minor league free agent and traded away 2008’s #1 pick Jemile Weeks, 2009’s #1 pick Grant Green and 2010’s #1 pick Michael Choice. 2011’s #1 pick Sonny Gray has already made it to the majors, while 2012’s #1 pick Addison Russell should be starting the season at Double-A Midland and 2013’s #1 pick Billy McKinney is expected to start the year at Class-A Beloit.
As previously mentioned, LHP Brett Anderson is the most likely member of the A’s roster to be the next one to find himself on Billy Beane’s trading block, with infielder Alberto Callaspo not far behind. With six other starters on the staff, a long injury history and an $8 million salary attached to his name, Anderson is clearly expendable. And with a salary close to $5 million and no definite spot in the A’s lineup, Callaspo seems to just be taking up roster and salary space at this point.
Outfielders Seth Smith, Chris Young and Michael Choice have all recently departed, with Craig Gentry being the only outfielder the A’s have acquired to take their place. So it certainly seems like there could be room for one more big OF/DH bat to be added to the A’s lineup to help boost the team’s offensive output, possibly as the result of an Anderson deal.
It’s also been reported that the A’s have been inquiring about middle infielders and catchers in trade talks for Anderson. So the team could be looking for a second baseman to take the place of Eric Sogard, or a shortstop who would then enable Jed Lowrie to make the move to second, or possibly a catcher who would allow John Jaso to take over for Seth Smith in the designated hitter role.
The A’s major league roster currently shapes up with Jaso and Norris as the catching platoon, Donaldson, Lowrie, Sogard, Punto, Moss and Freiman serving around the infield, and Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick and Gentry making up the outfield. Since the team typically likes to carry thirteen position players, that leaves one last roster spot open. At this point, it would most likely be filled by Callaspo. But if he ends up being traded, then it would be Barton, unless, of course, the A’s acquire another big bat who would end up pushing Barton back to Sacramento.
With all the current question marks, one thing seems certain – Beane and company aren’t done dealing just yet, and the A’s roster is far from set. There are surely more changes to come. But for the time being, here’s how things are shaping up for the 2014 A’s and River Cats, assuming everyone who’s out of options can clear waivers.
The Arizona Fall League just wrapped up its 31-game schedule this past week. As some of you probably already know, there are six teams in the AFL with each team comprised of prospects from five different organizations. Organizations typically use the AFL as an opportunity to get their top prospects a little more live game action to hopefully help advance their development.
The A’s prospects logged one extra game this year as their team, the Mesa Solar Sox, lost the AFL championship game on Saturday after having clinched the AFL East title on Thursday.
A’s Farm had the chance to visit the team earlier in the final week of the AFL season and talked with most of the A’s prospects there. The language barrier prevented us from talking to LHP Omar Duran, and catcher David Freitas’s early departure from the desert due to his impending nuptials kept us from catching up with him. But fortunately, the rest were all game for our enquiries…
At age 19, shortstop Russell started the year as the youngest player in the California League, and the former 1st-round draft pick turned in a solid season both at the plate in the field for Stockton. The A’s top prospect is expected to start 2014 at Midland.
AF: The AFL is a unique kind of league with all these mixed teams. So how has the experience of playing out here with all these different guys been for you?
AR: Pretty good. It’s a mix of a lot of people from different organizations. We’re all just kind of meshing together and we’re all getting along. And we’re all just here to play baseball and get better.
AF: Well, you’ve got a few guys here you played with in Stockton, guys like Max Muncy, Seth Frankoff, Ryan Dull. So it must be nice to have a few familiar faces around anyway.
AR: Oh yeah, for sure. When you first get here, it breaks that kind of tension. You can talk to them and see what they’ve been up to and see how they’ve been doing. It’s a good thing to see those familiar faces.
AF: What’s your impression of the talent level here in the AFL?
AR: You know, it’s the best young talent. They’re all top prospects from their teams. They’re first-round guys, and I expect them to play the way that they’ve been playing to get to this point. So they’ve been doing something right, and I’m fortunate enough to be among them.
AF: Well, you’re still just 19. So do you feel it steps up your game to be playing with guys who might be a little older or a little more advanced?
AR: Oh yeah, for sure. The young guys always want to prove themselves and show what they can do on the baseball field. And that’s how I feel. The guys kind of get a sense of how I go about my business, and hopefully I think I’m liked in the clubhouse. And everyone’s been cool.
AF: You’ve been coming on strong at the end of the AFL season, kind of like you did at Stockton this year. Are there any particular adjustments you’ve made?
AR: Just staying patient and looking for my pitch.
AF: And what’s your pitch?
AR: Nine times out of ten everyone wants to hit a fastball. I’m just trying to see the fastball early and just know where’s it’s going to be pitched, and then just adjust to the off-speed stuff. So I’m just looking out for the fastball.
AF: Is there any particular part of the plate where you usually prefer to be looking for a pitch?
AR: No, not really. I kind of stay over the center of the plate. I work three-quarters of the way in and three-quarters of the way out. So if he throws me an inside pitch, I’m ready for it, and if he throws me an outside pitch, I’m ready for it.
AF: So what about your play out in the field? I think you only made a handful of errors in the second half this year. Is there anything you’ve been working on out there?
AR: I’m just trying to go about my business the right way. It’s just staying in the game. You just have to stay in the game and be on your toes and just be ready.
AF: Was there anything you learned or were there any adjustments you made in the field as the season went on?
AR: I just try to play pitch by pitch. You know, if the catcher’s setting up outside to a right-handed hitter, I might shade up the middle just a little bit. Just trying to see what kind of pitch the pitcher’s going to throw so I can kind of get a good idea where he might hit it. If he throws a right-hander a curveball, I’m trying to shade into the six hole a little bit. So just trying to stay ready and stay in the game.
AF: When the season’s over, what are you going to do when you finally get a little time off?
AR: I’m probably just going to sleep, see some family and get back to training.
AF: So where are you planning on spending the off-season?
AR: Back in my hometown in Florida.
AF: Well, I’m sure they’ll be glad to see you!
2013: 17 HR / 61 BB / 125 K / .269 AVG / .369 OBP / .495 SLG / .865 OPS
AFL: 1 HR / 10 BB / 15 K / .282 AVG / .361 OBP / .435 SLG / .796 OPS
First baseman Muncy led all A’s minor leaguers in home runs with 25 in 2013, 21 of them coming when he got off to a blazing start in the California League before being promoted to Midland in July.
AF: Well, you got off to a great start in Stockton this year. Then you went up to Midland and it was a little more of a challenge there. So what were the biggest differences for you when it came to facing those pitchers and hitting in those parks?
MM: The difference for me was pitchers were a lot more confident in their stuff. They weren’t afraid to throw whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. And I can honestly say the back-foot slider was the biggest difference to me. In the Cal League, there were a lot of high-powered arms that we saw. They had sharp curveballs, but none of them would try and back-foot it. I get to the Texas League, and I’m automatically seeing two back-foot pitches each at-bat. I’ve never really seen that, so it took quite a while to get used to that. My strikeout numbers went up quite a bit at first and then I started making the adjustments towards the end. And I really enjoyed the challenge because that was really the first time I’ve ever really failed. And I’m glad I went through it then, so now I know how to deal with it going into this next year. Well, hopefully I won’t be dealing with it – but playing the sport of baseball, it’s impossible not to.
AF: Well, even the best hitters fail two out of three times! So what were the specific adjustments you actually had to make to deal with that?
MM: Just setting my sights differently. You know, seeing that pitch down and in and trying to lay off that. When I was hitting all those home runs in the Cal League, if I saw a pitch down and in, I got ready to turn on it and try and lift it in the air. I started trying to do that in the Texas League, but instead of being a fastball, it was a curveball or a slider and it disappeared off the table. So just laying off certain pitches and having a better approach at the plate and attacking the better pitches over the plate. Also one of the bigger adjustments was trying to pick up on patterns that the pitchers were doing, certain things they would do – trying to speed you up and then slow you down with a different pitch, just little things like that.
AF: So assuming you start next season back at Midland, do you feel you’ve learned the lessons you needed to in order to get off to a good start next year?
MM: Yeah, I really feel and believe that I can go back in there and have a strong start just like I did this year. Obviously, the home run numbers probably aren’t going to be there. That entire league is a tough league to hit in. Everywhere you go, the wind blows in 30-40 mph. And on top of it blowing in, the field in Midland and a lot of the fields, they’re big dimensions, so it’s tough to get the ball out. But hopefully at the beginning of the season, the wind’s not quite blowing in yet, so hopefully I can take advantage of that. But that was also one of the big adjustments for me was getting back to my line drive swing and not hitting the ball in the air as much. And once I started doing that, I actually ended up hitting a couple of home runs and my average started climbing up and I was going back to what I was used to doing.
AF: It’s often such a big adjustment for hitters going from the California League to the Texas League because the parks and the conditions are just so different.
MM: Everyone had always told me it was different hitting in the Texas League because the wind blows in. But I went there and I was kind of in shock at how different it really was. One of my first couple of games there, I hit a ball to right field that probably would have been about 100 feet out of Stockton and the right fielder was almost coming in on it. The ball got up in the wind and just died.
AF: We’re not in Stockton anymore!
AF: And the park in Midland often has some of the lowest home run totals in the whole league. Michael Choice had a hard time there. Grant Green had a hard time there. All these guys have big years at Stockton then go there and have a tough time hitting it out.
MM: Yeah, it was really tough. I think I even got a couple of triples there. You hit the ball in the gap and it goes for days out there. You can just run all around the bases.
AF: I notice they’ve had you playing a little third base out here. So what’s that all about? Was that part of the plan or was it just out of circumstance?
MM: I don’t know what the plan is to be honest. Our first couple of days out here, we were having practice and (manager) Bill Richardson was having a meeting with us and he comes to me and goes, “You play first and third, right?” But after I got over the actual shock of that, I was like, “Yeah, I used to play third all the time before I got to college, so I’m used to it.” I’ve gotten a couple of games there and it’s been a lot of fun for me. It’s always fun to play a different position. I haven’t been told if that’s a plan for me in the long run, but it’s good to keep my versatility up. It makes it easier to move up.
2013: 25 HR / 88 BB / 102 K / .273 AVG / .381 OBP / .476 SLG / .857 OPS
AFL: 0 HR / 10 BB / 10 K / .224 AVG / .350 OBP / .265 SLG / .615 OPS
RHP Dull pitched well enough to sail through three levels of the A’s system in 2013, starting the season in the Midwest League before moving up to the California League and finally finishing the season in the Texas League.
AF: Well, you started the season in the Midwest League and now you find yourself out here in the Arizona Fall League. Looking at the guys you were facing to start the year compared to the guys you’re facing here in the AFL, what kind of differences do you see?
RD: You definitely see a lot more polished approaches in the hitters here. They hit the pitch that they want. You don’t really see them swing at many pitches out of the zone, as compared to earlier in the year – there were a lot more free swingers.
AF: You were dominant in the Midwest League early in the year and you did really well in the California League where a lot of pitchers often have trouble. And then came the jump to Double-A – was that the biggest leap you felt in the course of the season?
RD: I did, I definitely felt that. We changed some sequences on how to attack hitters and be a little more conscious of actually pitching inside a lot more than I did. Working on changing sequences from hitter to hitter so everybody doesn’t see the same sequence every time. And we tried to work on bringing that approach out here as well.
AF: So are there any particular pitches you’re working on at all or do you pretty much feel you’ve got your repertoire down at this point?
RD: I think I have it down now. It’s just making sure it’s all consistent and I can be able to put it where I want to instead of just relying on one pitch to get all the outs.
AF: Do you still have certain pitches that you feel most comfortable going to in a tough spot?
RD: I feel like recently I could use any three that I want to at any time, which makes it a little easier to pitch because whatever the catcher throws down, you have the confidence to throw that.
AF: So you feel pretty confident in all your pitches at this point.
RD: I do.
AF: Well that is a help! So when you got to the Texas League late in the year, what were you finding different about the hitters there from the hitters you’d faced at the lower levels?
RD: They can hit your good pitches well. Even if you think it’s a good pitch, they still might hit it hard. And they definitely know how to hit the mistakes a lot better. And I really had to learn how to mix it up even more. They can swing at really good pitches or pitches out of the zone and they’ll still find a way to get a hit. They know how to hit the bad pitches and still get hits out of it somehow.
AF: How would you compare the general level of play out here in the AFL to what you experienced in the Texas League?
RD: I would say it’s a step up, because you’re playing with the best in the minor leagues right now. And it’s guys you’re going to be playing against for years to come.
AF: So what’s the key thing that you’ve been focused on during your time here in the AFL?
RD: Just trying to keep my game plan the same. I feel like at the beginning of this fall league, I just wasn’t the same. I wasn’t sticking to the game plan that I used all season. But then, as of late, we’ve been going back to my game plan of just continuing to stay aggressive and using hitters’ aggressiveness to my advantage so I can try to get them out as quick as possible.
2013: 60 IP / 44 H / 16 ER / 9 BB / 78 K / 2.40 ERA / 0.88 WHIP
AFL: 11 IP / 11 H / 6 ER / 4 BB / 9 K / 4.91 ERA / 1.36 WHIP
RHP Frankoff was the most reliable arm out of Stockton’s bullpen in 2013 and finished the year with the best ERA and WHIP of any pitcher on the team who threw more than 70 innings.
AF: So when you found out you were going to be given the chance to play in the AFL this year, how did you feel about it?
SF: It was a goal that I’d had. So it was nice to get a little bit of recognition. It’s a great honor to be invited here. It means that the organization sees something in you. So obviously this was something that made me feel good about the kind of year I had.
AF: You spent all year in the California League. So how does the talent level out here in the AFL compare?
SF: Well, it’s kind of a who’s who of prospects. So you’ve heard a lot of the names before. There are some very talented individuals in this league – and some guys who’ve gotten paid a lot of money.
AF: Some guys who’ve got some pretty nice cars, right?
SF: Absolutely, the parking lot’s always interesting to see!
AF: So what about pitching here? You’ve been doing well out here, but are there any particular adjustments you’ve had to make?
SF: Just trying to buy into the philosophy that the A’s have preached to us. You hear it so many times, but really it’s true – just getting ahead, strike one, strike two, putting guys away in less than three pitches, and really working the fastball command is paramount. Stay out of the middle of the plate, stay down in the zone, and just try to continue what I was working on this season and continue to improve every time I get out there.
AF: So when you came out here, did the A’s tell you they wanted you to work on anything in particular?
SF: One thing that (minor league pitching coach) John Wasdin who’s here with us has conveyed to me that they want to see is really working the fastball down and away to right-handers and then throwing my curveball for more strikes. I think I’ve shown that I can throw my cutter and my changeup in most every count, but they really want me to get the strike percentages up with my fastball and curveball. So that’s a couple of things I’ve been working on.
AF: The cut fastball’s what you’ve always relied on, right?
SF: It’s been my bread and butter a little bit. But you have to be able to adapt. Scouting reports get out, so you have to be able to show guys other things to be successful.
AF: Well, that’s what happens. As you move up, there’s always something new they need you to work on to get to that next level. And even if you might not be comfortable with it, you’ve got to get comfortable with it if you want to move on.
SF: Absolutely. This is a game you always have to try to improve at. The day you think you have it all figured out is the day the game will pass you by. So that’s kind of what I try to live by.
AF: Things obviously went well for you this year in the California League. Was there anything you felt you really learned there?
SF: I think that I threw a lot more strikes. I’m not a big statistical guy, but I want to keep my walks down obviously. So I think that getting ahead in the count and not giving guys free passes helped me out tremendously. I think that just pitching with confidence is a big thing. You have to have conviction in every pitch you throw and know that you have the ability to be successful in what you’re doing out there.
AF: Well, obviously your command this year at Stockton was very good just looking at the numbers. Was that just the result of confidence or a commitment to throwing more strikes or what?
SF: Well, I’m very fortunate to live in the same basic area as our (minor league) pitching coordinator Scott Emerson. So I was able to work with him a couple of times in the off-season and he kind of cleaned up a couple of things with my delivery, really working direction-wise, getting on a straight line to the plate. And that really helped me out going into spring training.
AF: The California League is such a tough league for so many pitchers, but you did very well there. I’m sure you saw plenty of balls sailing out of those parks…
SF: It’s not very forgiving!
AF: So is there anything you felt you were doing differently that allowed you to succeed there?
SF: I put a premium on groundball outs. My goal every time I go out there is to not let a ball get out of the infield. So if you’re staying down in the zone, you’re going to get those groundball outs. So that’s what I try to do is work down in the zone, try to get downward plane on the baseball and make guys, if they are going to put it in play, hit it weakly and hit in on the ground, because you aren’t going to get hurt very often when they put it on the ground.
AF: Yeah, your odds are definitely much better if no one’s having to look up! So I guess you’re finally about to get to enjoy a little off-season time. Are you looking forward to getting back to North Carolina for a while?
SF: Absolutely, it’s been a joy to be out here. But it’ll certainly be nice to get back home and see my family and get to do a little fishing and some golfing and stuff like that. I plan on taking a couple of weeks off as soon as I get home and eat quite a bit for Thanksgiving. But then when December 1st comes around, I’ll start getting back after it in the weight room.
2013: 74 1/3 IP / 57 H / 23 ER / 23 BB / 93 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.08 WHIP
AFL: 12 1/3 IP / 8 H / 2 ER / 3 BB / 15 K / 1.46 ERA / 0.89 WHIP
LHP Urlaub spent all of the 2013 season as a key lefty out of the bullpen for Midland.
AF: So how’s this whole AFL experience been for you?
JU: It’s been a blast. This has been the best experience ever. The guys, when we came together in early October, we meshed so well. And 90% of these guys are the future of major league baseball, so it’s been a blast to get to know a lot of guys from different organizations. They’re so good that it makes it so much more fun to play.
AF: You’re from out here in Phoenix, right?
JU: Yeah, born and raised out here. Growing up out here, I’ve seen so many Fall League games. I was a bat boy for a team when I was in high school. So the transition for me was a lot easier, because I get to go see my family every night. I get to see my friends, everybody gets to come out and see me play and it makes it a lot easier for me.
AF: You spent all year in the Texas League this season. So how would you compare the level of competition out here?
JU: The competition is better. Don’t get me wrong, no matter what, when you get to Double-A, it’s a different game. And I learned a lot my first year in Double-A this year, which I felt helped me transition into the Fall League as far as preparation and caliber of play. It’s tough. This league is everything that everybody says it is.
AF: I’ve always thought of the AFL as sort of comparable to a Double-A All-Star league.
JU: Absolutely. I’d say Double-A, Triple-A all-star guys – and that might even be an understatement. I can say a lot of the guys on our team could play in the big leagues for somebody right now.
AF: You got off to a really good start out here, so you were obviously up to the challenge and must have been feeling pretty confident.
JU: I was. I came in confident. But I didn’t want to come in over-confident, because the game of baseball’s very humbling. But I got off to a great start. I pitched well the entire month of October. I’ve hit a little speed bump now towards the end. But I don’t think I’ve done anything different as far as the Midland season to now.
AF: What were the key lessons you learned in Double-A this year at Midland?
JU: Mainly, it was believing in myself and believing that I belonged there. Only spending half a year in High-A last year and being able to be successful there, I went into spring training with the goal to make it to Double-A at least at some point this year. A lot of it was mental. You’ve got to study hitters a lot more. You’ve got to look at more scouting reports. It was tough, but you learn a lot as you go through. You hit a bunch of little speed bumps here and there. And it’s how you get past those and get back on track.
AF: What was the difference in the hitters you were facing in Double-A as opposed to the hitters you were facing in High-A?
JU: They’re a lot smarter. They make a lot more adjustments quicker. You can have success pitching a guy how you want to pitch him with your strengths one time. But then if you face him a day or two later, everybody’s got the scouting report on you. You don’t want to over-think the situation, you still have to pitch to your strengths, but then sometimes you might have to alter it a little bit. Guys at the Double-A level make a lot better adjustments a lot faster. Some even make adjustments mid-at-bat. But all these guys can hit – that’s why they’re there.
2013: 46 2/3 IP / 49 H / 20 ER / 13 BB / 40 K / 3.86 ERA / 1.33 WHIP
AFL: 13 IP / 14 H / 4 ER / 3 BB / 16 K / 2.77 ERA / 1.31 WHIP
Maxwell started the year as the backstop for Beloit before being promoted to Stockton. He was the new kid on the block in the AFL, taking the place of catcher David Freitas who took an early exit to get married. Maxwell made it into just one game before the end of the AFL season.
AF: You spent the first part of the season in the Midwest League and then you made it up to the California League. What was the difference in those leagues from your perspective?
BM: The difference is, in the Cal League, pitchers had a better understanding of what they were trying to do. When we were in the Midwest League, we still had a lot guys who were ironing some things out. And when I got up to the Cal League, a lot of pitchers already had an idea of what they wanted to do. They had pretty good control for the most part. There were more plans, there was more execution, there were more goals, instead of just going out there and just trying to get people out with whatever. The scouting report’s more in-depth, and our guys actually worked with us catchers very well.
AF: I know you haven’t actually been catching for all that long. So how do you feel your catching game’s been coming along?
BM: I think I’ve made big strides thanks to our coordinators and all the catching coaches I’ve had here in the A’s organization. But it’s just going to continue to get better. When I first got here, just the speed of the game overwhelmed me. And now it’s just ironing out the little things, because my receiving, my blocking, my game-calling’s gotten a lot better.
AF: How do you feel about working with the pitchers, getting the scouting reports, working on a game plan? Do you enjoy that aspect of the game?
BM: Oh yeah, I love it. When stuff doesn’t get executed, of course, the fingers get pointed at us first, but at the same time, I love the responsibility. When it does work, you and the pitcher have a camaraderie that can’t be matched in any other sport.
AF: Are there any particular pitchers you worked with this season who really impressed you with their approach?
BM: On the whole, Tanner Peters. He was real calm. He never really got worked up over anything. And he just really focused on executing his pitches and his game plan. Every time we’d go over a scouting report, it’d be like, “I got this guy with this, this guy with that. Let’s keep it up till they make an adjustment.” He was on his game all the time, and it showed in his productivity. So it was good to work with him.
AF: Now what about hitting in the California League? Were there any particular adjustments for you this year?
BM: Not even just in the Cal League, I’ve been making adjustments this year hitting-wise in general. Basically, I was just trying to go out there and just stick to my game plan. Middle-of-the-field is my strong suit. I’m not a very pull-oriented hitter. I’m working on some things. But for the most part, I’m just trying to barrel as many baseballs as possible.
AF: So going forward, what are you primarily going to be focused on in terms of your hitting?
BM: Having an approach and executing that approach. I mean, you’re not always going to get a hit – we do play a game of failure. Just kind of accepting the fact that just because I might be on time or I know what’s coming doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out the way I want. And at the same time, just consistency. Just like behind the plate, my consistent game-calling and attentiveness, I need the same thing at the plate. My biggest goal this year was to make sure I had the biggest progress with my catching in my first full season. I wasn’t really worried about my hitting, and I hit well. So now it’s kind of like I need to put a little more focus into the little things in my hitting and catching just to make things that much better.
2013: 7 HR / 43 BB / 63 K / .275 AVG / .348 OBP / .390 SLG / .739 OPS
AFL: 4 AB / 0 HR / 0 BB / 1 K / .000 AVG / .000 OBP / .000 SLG / .000 OPS
* * *
A’s AFL Farmhand Of The Week
A’s Prospect AFL Highlights
Monday, November 11th:
Shortstop Addison Russell had 2 singles and a double and LHP Omar Duran and RHP Seth Frankoff each tossed 1 scoreless inning in Mesa’s 4-0 shutout win on Monday.
Tuesday, November 12th:
DH Max Muncy had 2 hits and a walk, shortstop Addison Russell walked twice and scored twice and RHP Ryan Dull tossed 1 scoreless inning in Mesa’s 8-1 win on Tuesday.
Wednesday, November 13th:
Shortstop Addison Russell doubled, LHP Jeff Urlaub tossed 2 scoreless innings and RHP Seth Frankoff tossed 1 scoreless inning in Mesa’s 3-2 win on Wednesday.
Thursday, November 14th:
Shortstop Addison Russell walked and stole a base and LHP Omar Duran allowed 2 runs in 2 innings in Mesa’s AFL East division-clinching win on Thursday.
Saturday, November 16th:
Shortstop Addison Russell went 1 for 4 and LHP Jeff Urlaub tossed 2 scoreless innings and picked off 2 in Mesa’s 2-0 AFL championship game loss on Saturday.
A’s Prospect AFL Stats
(October 8 – November 16)
Addison Russell (SS)
85 AB / 1 HR / 10 BB / 15 K / .282 AVG / .361 OBP / .435 SLG / .796 OPS
Max Muncy (1B-3B)
49 AB / 0 HR / 10 BB / 10 K / .224 AVG / .350 OBP / .265 SLG / .615 OPS
David Freitas (C)
27 AB / 1 HR / 4 BB / 6 K / .222 AVG / .382 OBP / .333 SLG / .716 OPS
Bruce Maxwell (C)
4 AB / 0 HR / 0 BB / 1 K / .000 AVG / .000 OBP / .000 SLG / .000 OPS
Jeff Urlaub (LHP)
13 IP / 14 H / 4 ER / 3 BB / 16 K / 2.77 ERA / 1.31 WHIP
Seth Frankoff (RHP)
12 1/3 IP / 8 H / 2 ER / 3 BB / 15 K / 1.46 ERA / 0.89 WHIP
Ryan Dull (RHP)
11 IP / 11 H / 6 ER / 4 BB / 9 K / 4.91 ERA / 1.36 WHIP
Omar Duran (LHP)
9 2/3 IP / 9 H / 6 ER / 7 BB / 6 K / 5.59 ERA / 1.66 WHIP