This year, the biggest crop of top prospects for the A’s has been playing for the Stockton Ports in the Class-A California League. Four of the A’s top five picks from the 2012 draft class were all playing for the Ports until catcher Bruce Maxwell was promoted to Midland on Tuesday. And three of the team’s top four picks from the 2013 draft class were playing there as well until top pick Billy McKinney was traded. If you want to see what the future has to hold for the A’s, then you need to take at look at Stockton – and that’s just what we did!
A’s Farm took the opportunity to talk with seven of the team’s top players while in Stockton earlier this month, shortly before Bruce Maxwell’s promotion to Midland. It’s clear that they’re not only a talented, but also a tight-knit, group of players who’ve got their noses to the grindstone and are ready and willing to do what it takes to keep moving onward and upward as far as their talents will take them…
The A’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2012 out of Birmingham-Southern College, the 23-year-old catcher was just promoted to Midland on Tuesday. With his previous college experience, he’s always been a half-step ahead of his peers from the top tier of the 2012 draft. Maxwell has always had the ability to get on base, but he’s also worked hard to become a solid backstop behind the plate. He currently has to be considered the A’s top catching prospect and, now that he’s at Double-A, he’s just one step closer.
AF: You came up to the California League last year and have been here for about a year now. Is there anything in particular that you’re working on or have been focused on trying to accomplish here?
BM: One thing is just to stay consistent – that’s a big thing for me. Last year, I came out hot in the Midwest League and came out here and just kind of lost sight of what I was doing mechanically and mentally. Also, I’ve been trying to expand my game a little bit to the pull side of the baseball field. So just working on that and seeing the ball a little earlier, but also sticking to my middle-away approach is a big thing.
AF: And what about behind the plate? Starting out, you didn’t have a whole lot of catching experience. But now you’re throwing out baserunners at a great rate and you seem really confident back there. What’s changed for you and how confident are you feeling now as a catcher?
BM: I feel very confident. I can finally say I’m comfortable behind the plate. It just took repetitions. I was new to it. Just doing it day in and day out and getting used to what I can do and what I can’t do, what’s comfortable and what’s not, and just getting efficient at it. I’m throwing the ball very well. My footwork has gotten a lot better over the years, and so now I can actually feel confident and relax in a game and just do it naturally.
AF: So was the key to being able to throw a lot of runners out for you just getting the footwork down?
BM: Yes, it’s getting to my launch position as quick as possible with my feet. Behind the plate, you have such small room for error that everything has to be very efficient and very quick. I had a little more time as an infielder, so I had to shorten things up and be a little more exact. It took me years to try to master my footwork.
AF: So now you’re at a point where you can just let your arm do the work.
AF: Let me ask you about a few of the pitchers here in Stockton. Seth Streich has been having one of the best seasons of anyone in the A’s system. What’s he doing right and what’s been working for him this year?
BM: He just does his homework. He pays attention very closely when he’s not pitching. But when he gets on the hill, he just trusts in me and trusts in [fellow catcher] Ryan Gorton and his game plan. Sometimes he gets in trouble when he over-thinks, just like every pitcher. So we try to keep him in a very light and breezy mentality when he’s on the mound so he can just go out there and shove it at anybody who steps up to the plate.
AF: And what have the most effective pitches in his repertoire been this season?
BM: His fastball command is definitely a strength – in and out, up and down. And his changeup has been doing wonders for him as well. In this league, everybody can hit fastballs for the most part, but everybody struggles with the changeup.
AF: What about Nolan Sanburn? He’s finally been healthy and been able to get out there on the mound and get some innings in out of the bullpen. How’s he been looking and what’s been working for him this year?
BM: Nolan looks great. He got into a new mindset a few weeks ago just to go out there and put it on table and say, “Hey, here it is – see what you can do with it.” And ever since he’s taken that mentality, he’s been more efficient, he’s been throwing harder, he’s been throwing more strikes and he’s been dominating a lot more hitters. He’s got a great curveball, he’s working on a slider, but his fastball has been blowing people away.
AF: Now what about Michael Ynoa? How’s he been throwing and where’s he at at this stage of the game?
BM: He’s progressing just like everyone else. Last year, he threw 72 innings, so this year they’re trying to get his innings up. He’s doing better. When he goes out there and has the right mentality and actually believes in what he does, he dominates pretty easily – just trusting in his fastball and working on putting it where he wants to put it. He’s already got the stuff, he’s already got the movement, he’s already got the velocity. Now he’s just got to work on putting it where he wants to put it.
AF: So it sounds like being confident, being aggressive and mastering his command are the keys for him at this point.
BM: Definitely. The guy sits between 95-100 mph every outing. So if he can put 95 mph on a corner, then I think he’ll be something to reckon with down the road.
AF: So how much time do you spend with pitching coach John Wasdin talking about things?
BM: Being with Wasdin for the second year in a row, we know each other very well…but I spend a lot of time with him. We talk about everything throughout BP, before the games and sometimes even on the bus. This league’s a little different than the Midwest League – the Midwest League has more teams, so you have to have a little bit more of an in-depth scouting report. In this league, you play everybody a ton, so we tend to remember things. So we bounce ideas off each other. And we just kind of correlate and make sure everything’s running smoothly before we bring our pitchers in and talk to them and make sure we agree on everything.
AF: What about working with the pitching staff? Do you enjoy that whole aspect of the game?
BM: I love it. The scouting reports and the day-in and day-out stuff with our pitchers is very enjoyable. We have a great group of guys here. A lot of us have been around each other for a long time, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We feel very comfortable with each other, so it’s easier to notice things with guys because you’ve seen them over and over again. So the communication between pitcher and catcher on this team is easy…and it’s all constructive.
The A’s 1st-round supplemental draft pick in 2012 out of Upland High School in California, the 20-year-old infielder had been looked at as the second-best shortstop in the A’s system until the trade of his good friend Addison Russell. Robertson has impressed both at the plate and in the field this year, and his play undoubtedly made it a little easier for the A’s to deal their top prospect and install Robertson as the A’s new “shortstop of the future.” He has the second-most hits among A’s minor leaguers so far this season and his improved plate discipline this year has allowed him to put up the third-best on-base percentage in the A’s minor league system.
AF: How surprising was it for you to see one of your best friends, Addison Russell, along with one of your teammates here in Stockton, Billy McKinney, get traded?
DR: It was a surprise, no doubt. With me and Addison getting drafted, as well as Matt Olson, the same year, the last couple years we got real close to each other and did everything together when we had the opportunity. But that’s just how baseball goes – it’s a business. He has his new journey now, and I believe he’ll be successful no matter where he plays. I was surpised, but you’ve still got to go out and play the game.
AF: There’s always a game to play tomorrow.
DR: That’s right.
AF: So are you still planning on staying together out in spring training now?
DR: That’s a good question. It’s up to him. The place is always open. He was the first one there. I’d love to have him there, but it’s up to him.
AF: So as for you, how does it feel to know that you’ll now be sticking at shortstop and people won’t always be asking when and if you’ll be switching positions with Addison at shortstop in front of you and the path is a little clearer for you now?
DR: You can say it’s clearer but, for me personally, I always just tell myself you’ve got to come out here and play every day. I felt my abilities were good enough to get to the big leagues no matter who was playing with me or beside me or the Addison question – it didn’t really affect me at the time. But like you said, I guess it’s more open, but that really doesn’t change my mindset at all. I just love coming out here and playing every day, and whatever happens after that is what happens.
AF: Is shortstop a position you particularly enjoy playing?
DR: I love playing short. I’ve done a lot of work to stay there, so I’d like to stay there as long as I can. I enjoy it. I feel like you’re the captain of the infield and you can just take control of the game on the defensive side. I love it – I like making that big play there.
AF: Well, you’re definitely right in the middle of the action there. Now what about at the plate? This year, you seem to have really improved your plate discipline – your walks are up, you’re getting on base a lot. Was that something you were consciously focused on coming into the season and have there been any particular adjustments you’ve made this year?
DR: I just think it’s getting at-bats under my belt. With more experience and just playing, that stuff’s going to come. I’ve always had a pretty solid approach, but I feel like now I’m really dialed into my zone and when I get my pitch, I’m not missing it. The walks have gone up…but nothing has changed. I didn’t go into the offseason thinking that I’ve got to work on my approach and get my walk numbers up. I just try to come out here and see the ball as well as I can…but I just think it’s been coming with more experience. Even the at-bats I got in big league spring training I think really helped me a lot too.
AF: I was going to ask you about that. How was that experience for you, having the chance to spend a little bit of time in the big league camp for more than just a day or two this spring?
DR: I got into some pretty good action there. And it was awesome. All the guys there treated me real well. Bob Melvin’s a great guy. I just soaked up the whole experience. It was my first healthy spring training I’ve had where I was out there every day. And to be put in that situation, I feel like it was a blessing. I learned a lot and I feel like my game got a whole lot better. Just seeing what those guys were doing day in and day out and how they went about their business, it kind of put in my head that I could do this – not that I had any doubts before. But all those guys up there are top-notch guys and real class acts. They welcomed me and I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun.
AF: Was there anyone in the A’s clubhouse who was particularly friendly or took you under their wing a bit?
DR: I was with Addison most of the time. But guys like Coco Crisp – he’s a great guy. Derek Norris talked to me a lot. And Stephen Vogt, I know him just from being around southern California. He went to Azusa Pacific, so we got to know each other pretty well. Nick Punto was awesome working on some ground ball stuff. Everyone was awesome.
AF: You’re from California, so what’s it like for you to be back out here playing in the California League?
DR: It’s an amazing experience. I was in Wisconsin last year, so my family didn’t really get to come out too much – I’m sure they didn’t really want to either! But it’s been great. When we go down to Bakersfield and Lancaster, it’s about an hour or two hours away and I’ve had my family there. And when we went down to Inland Empire in April, that was the first time that my family and friends and most people who are in my life got to see me play professionally since I signed. So it’s been a great experience being close to home and playing in front of friends and family.
AF: Are there any particular goals you’re focused on or things you’re working on trying to accomplish the rest of the season?
DR: Just maintaining what I’m doing. I love coming out here and playing hard every day…I don’t think there’s anything better you can do than come out and play baseball. I don’t like to put goals or expectations on myself because sometimes you can get out of what you’re doing and try to do too much. So I’m just trying to stay within myself and see the ball and hit it hard. And whatever happens after that happens.
AF: Well, that plan seems to be working out pretty well so far!
The A’s 1st-round supplemental draft pick in 2012 out of Parkview High School in Georgia, 20-year-old first baseman is clearly one the top power prospects in the A’s system. Olson currently leads the California League in home runs with 28 and has the second-best slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers. His .393 on-base percentage and his 89 walks in his first 100 games certainly serve to endear him to the A’s front office as well.
AF: So how’s the adjustment to the California League from the Midwest League been for you this year?
MO: Obviously, the weather’s better. It’s a little easier transitioning from spring training to this as opposed to going from spring training to 35 degrees. I’ve got another year under the belt and kind of had a better idea what to expect going into this year.
AF: Now what about your power numbers? You’ve always hit home runs, but recently you’ve been hitting even more. Is there anything in particular that accounts for that power surge?
MO: No, nothing specific. If anything, it’s just waiting to get the right pitch to drive. I think my walk numbers have definitely helped my power numbers, because I’m being more selective and not getting myself out as much up there at the plate.
AF: Your walk numbers have gone up and your strikeout numbers have gone down this year. Was that something you were specifically focused on coming into this year?
MO: Yeah, obviously I struck out more than I would have liked last year. I still had decent walk numbers. But it’s just kind of my approach at the plate – not giving pitchers pitches, not getting out of my zone. And that was a big thing that Trick [former minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson] and [A’s special assistant] Grady Fuson and even [current minor league hitting coordinator] Marcus Jensen this year just wanted me to focus in on – just getting a specific zone and attacking that.
AF: So now you’re really looking for your pitch in your spot and not settling for things that aren’t your pitch.
MO: Right, just zoning in on certain stuff.
AF: Now what about in the field? You’ve always had some skills out there. Are you feeling pretty confident out there around the bag?
MO: Yeah, I take pride in being a defensive player as well. Sometimes, they stick the guy who can’t play anywhere else at first base. But I take pride in it. I know that I’m there to pick guys up, and I don’t want to be the guy bringing everyone down on the defensive side.
AF: You got a start in the outfield the other night. How did that feel, and when was the last time you played a game in the outfield?
MO: That was my first time in pro ball, since high school. But it’s definitely something I’m open to. Whatever keeps me in the lineup, and if I’ve got to go to the outfield, so be it.
AF: Did the game look a little different from that far away?
MO: It did, but it’s definitely something I could get comfortable with.
AF: A couple of your buddies got traded away recently. How surprising was it for you to see Addison Russell and Billy McKinney get dealt?
MO: I think it came as a shock initially for everybody. But it is a business. Our management wanted to get the big league team some help and they’re obviously pushing.
AF: How has it been for you to play with this group of guys that you’ve been with for the most part since you were first drafted?
MO: It’s awesome. We’ve got a great clubhouse. Everyone gets along. We’re having fun, but we know when the game starts, we’re there to work. It’s a great group of guys – I haven’t really had any problems with any of them. Anytime you can see people every day for six months and not get tired of them, that’s something to say.
AF: It is! Is there anything in particular you’re focused on or any goals that you’ve got the rest of the year?
MO: I’m just up there trying to put together good at-bats, play good defense and help the team win.
The A’s 2nd-round supplemental draft pick in 2013 out of Virginia Tech, the 22-year-old infielder spent most of his college career at third base and shortstop but has primarily been playing second base this season at Stockton. After struggling a bit last year at Vermont, he skipped over the Midwest League and went straight to Stockton, where he got off to a great start. And his 18 doubles and 11 home runs have helped him to have the third-best slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers.
AF: You got off to a great start right off the bat in the California League this year. Is there anything in particular that accounts for your success this season?
CP: I’m not sure – kind of just believing in myself. You know, I had a rough start last year and I kind of was down on myself and I don’t think I played my game. So I’ve just kind of refocused my mindset to just going out there and having fun and playing the way I think I’m capable of.
AF: You were also dealing with some lingering injuries last year too, right?
CP: Yeah, I got banged up a bit.
AF: So you started out this year healthy and that gave you a good confident feeling that you could get back out there and get things started the right way.
CP: Anytime you take five months off of baseball, you’re just chomping at the bit to get to spring training and get to a team. So it was awesome just to have that extra energy to get back out there. And it was great to see that they had the confidence to send me out to the California League, so that gave me a little bit of confidence.
AF: Now what about in the field? You’ve been playing second base out here this year. I don’t know how much second base you’ve played in your life before.
CP: I played a little bit of second base growing up – very little. In college, maybe like 5 innings at second base. I played the majority of my college career at third and then ended up moving to short during my junior year. So it was a transition for me. And from day one, when they threw me at second, I felt like a fish out of water – and I’m sure I looked like one too! I was struggling. But each day, going out there and doing the early work and getting the repetitions, it’s helped me. I think I’ve grown a lot and I still have a lot of growing to do over there and I’m excited for it.
AF: So how surprising was it to see your buddy Billy McKinney get traded away recently? That must have been a bit out of the blue for you.
CP: Yeah, it was. It was out of the blue. It’s something you obviously don’t think it about till it happens. It was a bummer. He was my roommate and I miss the kid. But I guess it’s part of the game. I don’t know, I wish him the best and he’s going to have a great career.
AF: So are you roommate-less now in Stockton?
CP: No, he was one of my four roommates. I’m still with Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson and Austin House. So I still have those guys.
AF: Did you ever have the chance to spend any time in California before you started playing out here in the Cal League, and how does it compare to Virginia, where you’re from?
CP: First time ever in California…The biggest thing is the weather, for sure. Out here, it’s perfect every day, not a cloud in the sky. At home, I’m sure it’s muggy, probably raining. It’d be awesome to have this type of weather every day to play baseball.
AF: Is there anything in particular you’re focused on the rest of the season?
CP: Obviously, continuing to work at second base and getting better over there. And then at the plate, not to change anything, but to continue to buckle down and work on my two-strike approach. I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now, but it’s not going to take away from me being aggressive early in the count.
AF: What about your selectivity? The A’s are always big on plate discipline and taking your walks. Is that something they’ve spoken to you about at all or are they just letting you go out there and do your thing at this point?
CP: No, I haven’t heard much on it at all. But it’s something that I want to do to make myself a better player. I’ve gotten myself out many times on two strikes, and on a lot on pitches that I need to lay off of, and it’s something that only I can handle and that I can do myself.
The A’s 3rd-round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Oregon, the 22-year-old first baseman/third baseman spent most of his college career at first base but has been working to add third base to his resume at Stockton. Along with teammate Chad Pinder, he skipped over the Midwest League and went straight to Stockton this season. And after getting off to a slow start in the California League, he now has the third-most hits among A’s minor leaguers.
AF: The start of the season might have been a little frustrating for you, but you’ve certainly been turning it on of late. Did anything change in terms of your approach?
RH: I would say the preparation definitely got a lot better. The pro game has been a lot different than what I was used to. And the coaching staff here has done a great job of getting me adjusted to that and getting me acclimated, so I give them a lot of credit.
AF: Are there any specific adjustments you’ve made since the beginning of the season that have helped account for the success that you’re having now?
RH: I think simplifying my swing, and also pitch selection’s been a big part of it. Getting my pitch and being able to do something with it. That’s really helped my success lately.
AF: So being a little more patient and waiting for your pitch has been key.
AF: What about the pitching that you’re facing here in the California League? How does it compare to the competition that you’ve faced in the past?
RH: I think the main thing is consistency. A lot of these pitchers have a lot more control over more than two or three pitches. A lot of them are four-pitch guys and they can spot their fastball with the changeup, curve, slider. So that’s where the discipline comes in, getting my pitch to hit, because they have so many options. And if I stay disciplined in my zone, then I have a better chance of being successful.
AF: Now what about playing third base? Obviously that’s a little new to you, but how are you feeling over there and how do you feel about your progress?
RH: I feel my progress is getting there. It’s not where it needs to be, but I feel like it’s on the right track. Considering last year to this year, through instructs and spring training, I think the progressions have been made and it’s getting better and I’m feeling more comfortable. It’s still a work in progress, but I feel it has potential.
AF: You’ve been playing with a new group of guys this year than you were primarily with last year. So how have you gotten along with this bunch of guys?
RH: I haven’t played with a group of guys in a while that has this much fun on a daily basis. We’re at the park for eight to ten hours a day, and we have a great time together. As you can see from our record and our stats, we definitely get the job done in the field. And we have fun doing it, so that makes it more enjoyable to show up at the park and the clubhouse. Between the coaching staff and the players, we all have a very good time together.
AF: Now I know you’re from California. So how nice is it for you to be playing back out here?
RH: You can’t complain when you’ve got weather like this on a daily basis. You show up and the sun’s out. I’m from about five hours south of here, so my family gets to come out a lot. So that’s been a blessing this season.
AF: Is there anything in particular that you’re trying to work on or focus on during the rest of the season?
RH: I think continuing to do well in my preparation – the things that are controllable. Sometimes you can’t control the outcome of the game or the outcome of your at-bats or how many hits you get in a game. But I think the quality of my at-bats, I want to continue to have them be better and continue to get better. And also limit the amount of bad at-bats. I don’t want to have a stretch of ten bad at-bats. You want to limit them to two or three. And having them just be a bad at-bat, not a bad game or a bad week or a bad month. So cutting that time period down is what’s important.
The A’s 17th-round draft pick in 2013 out of Brigham Young University, the 22-year-old outfielder started the season in the Midwest League, where he was one of Beloit’s best hitters. But after the trade of Billy McKinney and Herschel Powell’s suspension, opportunity came knocking and Brugman was on his way to Stockton. In his second game with the Ports, Brugman homered, doubled and drove in 4 runs and has posted a .279/.323/.443 slash line since his arrival in Stockton.
AF: You had a big night in just your second game here in Stockton, hitting a home run and driving in 4 runs, including the winning run in the bottom of the 9th. How did that feel for you?
JB: It felt great. It’s always good to be welcomed in a home stadium in your first game and do well. It’s kind of nice.
AF: When you first heard you were getting promoted to Stockton, were you expecting it or were you a little surprised, and how did you feel when you heard you were coming here?
JB: During the season, I was thinking no way. But with the recent moves and changes, I kind of had an idea that it might be me, because I knew it had to be an outfielder, and I was just in the right place at the right time.
AF: Now you were having a good season at Beloit. So what was really working for you there?
JB: It really was a lot of different things, just making adjustments throughout the year, making adjustments to different pitching. You’ve really got to take one game at a time and not stress on your bad games. I was just really comfortable there…and stayed decently hot for a long period of time, and it’s easy to play every day when you’re swinging that well.
AF: Is there anything in particular that you’re working on at this point in time?
JB: For me personally, I’d like to work on swinging at better pitches and getting more walks. I really am a believer in getting on base and having a good on-base percentage. That’s the only way your team can win, and that’s what I want to do.
AF: Well, you’re definitely in the right organization for that! Now I guess you were the one married guy on the team in Beloit. So what advantages are there for you to have that support system there for you, and are there any disadvantages?
JB: Well, I love it. I love my wife and my daughter. If they’re with me, then I’m happier. And if you’re happier, then you play better – that’s the simple fact. They got to live with me for a couple months, and it’s a blessing to have them come to me wherever I am. And they’ll be joining me here, so that’ll be nice. No disadvantages, just sometimes a little less sleep than you want. And you obviously can’t go out partying at night with your teammates, but that’s not really my scene anyway, so it works out good for me.
AF: Do you have any particular goals or anything you’re focused on the rest of the year?
JB: Mainly just doing anything I can to help my team win. I just want to continue my success from Beloit over here – that’s all you can ask for. I’m just going to try to have fun and finish strong. That’s a big goal of mine is finishing strong the way you want – no regrets at the end of the season.
The A’s 6th-round draft pick in 2012 out of Ohio University, the 23-year-old right-hander has put together the best season of any starting pitcher in the A’s system this season while competing in the hitter-friendly California League. Streich leads all A’s minor leaguers with 111 strikeouts while walking just 22 and posting an impressive 3.01 ERA over 107 2/3 innings for Stockton.
AF: You’ve been having a great year so far. So what accounts for your success this season?
SS: I think the main thing is just hard work and the consistent approach I take – just staying focused day to day.
AF: Tell me a little bit about your approach on the mound.
SS: Well, in its basic sense, pitching is about disrupting timing and keeping hitters off balance. And that’s one of the main focuses I’ve had this year, just trying to move the ball in and out.
AF: How’s your fastball command been this year? Are you pretty confident that you can put it where you want for the most part?
SS: Most of the time. It’s still not where I want it to be, but I’m working on it every day. And I think from last year to this year, I’ve made a lot of strides in being able to locate the fastball.
AF: What about your changeup? It seems like it’s been a pretty strong pitch for you this year. Do you feel a greater sense of confidence in your changeup at this point?
SS: Yeah. With my changeup, it’s just a matter of working on it every day. I feel like I’ve made strides with my changeup.
AF: You’ve been with your pitching coach John Wasdin for a couple of seasons now. What does he bring to the table for you?
SS: I’ll never say a bad word about that man. I look up to him. He’s been extraordinary, and not only with my life on the baseball field but off it. The man’s awesome. He’s a great pitching coach, and it’s been great to be around him the past two years.
AF: Do you feel it’s particularly valuable to have someone who’s been there in the major leagues and knows what it takes?
SS: It goes without saying. The guy had a great career. I think he’s very underrated. He’s been all over the world to play baseball. And it’s just awesome to be around him on a day-to-day basis.
AF: Now I know you’re from Pennsylvania. Had you ever spent much time out here in California before coming out here to the California League?
SS: No I hadn’t. And now that I’ve spent this much time out here, my eye allergies are killing me. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s been a great time, but sometimes I struggle to keep my eyes open.
AF: So I guess it’s amazing that you can see the plate at this point! So is there anything that you’re working on or focused on the rest of the season.
SS: Just trying to build on the success that I’ve had. I’m not trying to change too much up, because I’m trying to stick with what’s working for me. I’m just trying to stay balanced and see where it takes me.