Month: April 2015

Friday, April 10th: Chad Pinder’s HR Is All Hounds Need while Ryan Cook Earns the Win in Barry Zito’s First Start for Nashville

A’s Farmhand Of The Day: Midland RockHounds Shortstop Chad Pinder (Home Run / 3 RBIs)

A’s Farmhand Of The Day: Midland RockHounds Shortstop Chad Pinder (Home Run / 3 RBI)

 

TEXAS LEAGUE  (Double-A)

NW Arkansas Naturals   2

Midland RockHounds   3

WP – Jensen 1-0 / 3.00

HR – Pinder (2)

Farmhand Of The Game:

Shortstop Chad Pinder

(Home Run / 3 RBIs)

Shortstop Chad Pinder provided all the offense the RockHounds would need when he hit a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 1st inning on Friday night in Midland. It was Pinder’s second home run in as many games to start the season. The Hounds had just 4 other hits on the night. Outfielder Bobby Crocker doubled to lead off the game, while first baseman Matt Olson walked, and both came in to score on Pinder’s round-tripper. Outfielder Chad Oberacker, third baseman Ryon Healy and second baseman Colin Walsh each singled in the game. Starter Chris Jensen turned in a solid outing, allowing 2 runs on just 3 hits over 6 innings to earn the win, while RHP Nate Long struck out 4 in 2 perfect innings of relief, and RHP Bobby Wahl tossed a scoreless 9th to earn his 1st save for the RockHounds.

Click here for more on Nashville, Stockton & Beloit…

Thursday, April 9th: Matt Olson Homers to Help Hounds Win while Josh Reddick Returns to Action in Ports Victory and Nashville Drops Opener

A’s Farmhand Of The Day: Midland RockHounds First Baseman Matt Olson (2 for 3 / Home Run / 2 RBIs / 2 Walks)

A’s Farmhand Of The Day: Midland RockHounds First Baseman Matt Olson (2 for 3 / Home Run / 2 RBIs / 2 Walks)

 

TEXAS LEAGUE  (Double-A)

NW Arkansas Naturals    5

Midland RockHounds  10

WP – Neal 1-0 / 3.60

HR – Olson (1), Pinder (1)

Farmhand Of The Game:

First Baseman Matt Olson

(2 for 3 / Home Run / 2 RBIs / 2 Walks)

In his first at-bat for the RockHounds in the first inning on Thursday, first baseman Matt Olson deposited one over the fence, bringing home second baseman Colin Walsh who’d doubled and giving Midland an early 2-0 lead. The A’s top prospect reached base 4 times, also singling and walking twice in the game. The Hounds drew a total of 13 walks on the night. Walsh and catcher Bruce Maxwell received 3 free passes apiece. Designated hitter Carson Blair walked twice and doubled, while third baseman Ryon Healy singled and doubled in a pair. Outfielder Chad Oberacker singled, tripled and drove in 3, and shortstop Chad Pinder homered in the 8th for the Hounds’ final run of the night. Starter Zach Neal had a solid outing, allowing 2 runs over 5 innings to earn the win. RHP Ryan Doolittle surrendered home runs to the first two batters he faced in relief before completing 1 inning of work, while RHP Seth Frankoff gave up 1 run in 2 innings of relief, and RHP Ryan Dull tossed a scoreless 9th to finish off the opening night win for the RockHounds.

Click here for more on Nashville, Stockton & Beloit…

Down On The Farm with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

gfDSC01787-1[2c]Long-time baseball man Grady Fuson served as the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when the team drafted such talented players as Eric ChavezTim HudsonMark MulderBarry Zito and Rich Harden. He left the A’s at the end of 2001 to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers and, after moving on to head up the Padres scouting department, Fuson eventually returned to the A’s a little over five years ago to serve as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.

Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with the A’s general manager – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here), and he and Beane are both back on the same team and rowing in the same direction.

During spring training, Fuson can most frequently be found patrolling the A’s minor league fields, now located at Fitch Park in Mesa, while keeping a close eye on the team’s most prized prospects. And it was there during the last week of camp that we took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators to get the scoop on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start right off with the team’s top prospect, Matt Olson. He spent some time in the big league camp this spring. And everyone’s really got their eyes on him now. So what have you been seeing out of him?

moOlson, Matt2GF:  Well, he impressed over there. He did a great job defensively. He got off to a little bit of a slow start, swinging and missing early in camp, but then it all came around. He’s a young kid, still just 20 years old when he went over there – he just had his 21st birthday. But his swings were good. His development is on track. He’s got huge power, and I think he let everybody know who he was over there. He’s what’s left of that high school group.

AF:  Yep, he had to say goodbye to his buddies Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson this past year. But what does he need to focus on or try to work on this season at Midland?

GF:  I think the same things – just trying to improve the contact, and instead of missing balls, maybe he’s got the ability to foul them off and get them out of play. He’s still got a tremendous eye. He knows the strike zone – very advanced for a young guy. It’s a little bit of new ground when you’re dealing with a young kid who’s advancing at this rate. There’s no rush, to me it’s just going to be typical development.

AF:  Pretty much just let nature take its course!

GF:  Yeah. Now’s he’s going to play where the game really starts to get real. But whatever problems happen to arise should be easily fixed. He’s had a lot of at-bats now in the minor leagues, he’s starting to grow up and become a man, and he knows more about his swing and how to fix things. So it’s going to be fun to watch.

AF:  Another guy who impressed in big league camp this year is Max Muncy. He’s been hitting well and learning a new position at third base. How close is he to being ready?

mmMuncy, Max2GF:  He’s definitely back on time from where he was late last year at Double-A. I think he got out of sorts a little bit. Midland has a way of doing that to a lot of hitters. I think they try to overpower the conditions there sometimes and it just wreaks havoc on their day-to-day approach. And I think Max and a lot of guys who’ve gone through the Texas League get caught up in that.

AF:  He actually told me that himself just the other day.

GF:  Yeah, it happens. I mean, we’ve already talked to Olson and said, “Are you going to be the first guy who can go there and not come out of there crushed?” But with Muncy, he’s back on time with his swing. He’s always seen the ball very well. He’s always swung at good pitches and taken balls. He got out of sorts, but in this camp he came along great. And on top of that, he’s played more games at third base in big league camp than he’s played in the minor leagues, but he held up. We always thought this guy could go over there and do it. We just never had the flexibility to get him over there for long enough. But where things are in the system now, he’s going to get a lot more time over there.

AF:  So do you think his bat is fairly close to being able to handle major league pitching on a regular basis?

GF:  Yeah, and I think he showed that. He didn’t go to big league camp and just get five or six quick at-bats. I think he got enough of a good look-see for everybody to know that this kid’s got a sound approach. He stays in the middle of the field, he sees the baseball well, he takes good at-bats, and it’s just a matter of time before that opportunity comes for him.

bbBurns, Billy2AF:  A guy who seems to have made some big improvements this year is Billy Burns. He didn’t have a great offensive season last year, but he’s been one of the A’s best hitters this spring and has looked great. So is that just an illusion or has he made some real improvements that are going to last?

GF:  Well, it’s his second year of being the gold star spring training player, so we’re going to see! But I’ll tell you the difference. Last year, so many of his hits were ground balls and a lot of things he out-ran. This year, it seems like he’s in his legs better, using a little core, using the bottom half and driving the baseball a little bit better. That was always the goal last year. And a few of us thought, if he’s just going to be a handsy, punch hitter, they’re going to shrink the field on him the higher he goes up. But now, he’s at his second camp and he’s driving the ball a little bit better, so hopefully he stays with this part of his game. He’s another year into the switch-hitting, so he’s getting a little bit more comfortable from the left side. But he’s staying in his legs, and when you use your legs in hitting, that’s so much of your body mass and where your strength comes from.

AF:  And how to do you feel about his abilities as a center fielder?

GF:  I think he’s a keeper. There’s no issue with him in center. He’s very fundamental. Billy’s a guy who can play a little shallower and do pretty good behind him. He’s definitely a well above average center fielder.

tlLadendorf, Tyler3AF:  Another guy who’s made a great impression in big league camp this year is Tyler Ladendorf. He’s been moving on up the depth chart. He never hit that much in the system until he got to Sacramento last year. He was hitting great there and then the suspension happened. But where do you see Ladendorf’s at at this point?

GF:  Well, he’s fighting to be one of the last guy’s on that club right now. And as long as we’re an outfielder short, his versatility is holding up because he’s one of the few who can play second, third, short and get in the outfield and do some things. And obviously something started to click halfway through last year where the at-bats started to become more quality. I hand it to him, he’s put himself in a very good position. I think he’s grown up a lot in life, more importantly than just baseball. You know, the last 300 at-bats of his life so far have been pretty solid, so God bless him!

AF:  Do you think second base is his most natural position where he really fits the best?

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt.

jwWendle, Joey2AF:  Now speaking of second base, what about Joey Wendle? When the A’s traded Brandon Moss for him, a lot of A’s fans were wondering what was so great about him to justify that deal. But now that you’ve had a chance to see him here in camp, what have you seen out of Joey Wendle?

GF:  Well, he’s a player I never really knew much about until Billy [Beane] made the trade. But he seems to come as advertised. He’s athletic, he’s got quickness and he’s a tough out. He’s got a little pop in the bat and he uses the whole field. It looks like he’s got the chance to be solid at second. I don’t know how much versatility there could be to him. That’s going to take some time for us to see him some more. But he’s an offensive second baseman, he’s a gamer and it seems like he’s got some character to him as well.

AF:  A guy I know you were very high on last year in camp is Chad Pinder. What have you seen out of him this spring and what are you expecting out of him this year?

cpIMG_0155x2cGF:  I go back to last year when he went home and put on some strength. You know, he’s really come into himself as a baseball player, not only defensively but offensively. He’s got a good, pure swing. The only thing with him right now is just his patience at the plate. He’s been a very low walk-rate guy, and I think when it’s all said and done, that needs to improve. But when you think about where his career is, he hasn’t played that much baseball professionally. It’s really just a year and a half. We’re going to have him at shortstop, probably open the year at Midland. But he’s going to get his opportunity every day at shortstop to begin this year and we’ll see where it goes.

AF:  Another guy I wanted to ask you about who was in big league camp for a while is Renato Nunez. So where’s he at in his learning curve?

GF:  Yeah, he’s a guy we started with at 16 or 17, and how many changes have been made to his body and size and strength? He’s an improving third baseman. The accuracy of his throwing continues to be on the bubble – that’s one thing he’s going to have to step up. You know, the one place that we’re starting to get some depth right now, even with the trades, is third base and short. When you think about, you know, if Matt Chapman was out here, and Nunez and Ryon Healy, and Pinder actually looks more third base-ish than he does second base or short. The young kid Edwin Diaz is becoming very physical and very big. So we have all this depth. And depending on how they’re moving up together and getting them time…Nunez got some at-bats in big league camp and wasn’t overly productive. He’s been hurt since he’s been down here [in minor league camp]. He’s got some nagging little things, but he shouldn’t be out too long. You know, he’s still got to get a little firmer with his body, get a little tougher and stronger as far as his commitment to how he’s taking care of himself. But he certainly comes with a ton of impact if everything really hits. You know, he’s got time on his side.

rnNunez, Renato2AF:  Well, I guess Midland will be a big challenge for him this year. He’ll either have to rise to the occasion or not. So for now, he’s staying at third though?

GF:  Yeah, that’s going to be an organizational discussion. If we move him – when, where? Obviously, you’re not loaded with options. But depending on the movement of a Chapman or a Healy or him, who stays at third? Healy’s a first baseman by trade. Chapman has the edge defensively on all of them, but he’s behind Healy and Nunez and even Pinder on the depth chart right now. And he’s hurt – he’s missed the whole camp so far. Get them healthy and get them out and playing, and then we’ll go from there.

AF:  So do you think Healy’s going to end up in a similar situation to last year, maybe playing first and third at Midland with Olson also at first and Nunez also at third?

GF:  Well, if Nunez doesn’t break camp, then Healy’s got the nod.

AF:  Since you mentioned Chapman, it’s his knee he tore up, right?

GF:  The day before he showed up. He was running some stairs.

AF:  So he’ll miss the start of the season then.

GF:  The odds are he’ll miss April.

ym-bur0824racineaward1.jpg20140824bAF:  You mentioned the left side of the infield and you’ve got a couple of particularly interesting guys over there now. The young shortstop Yairo Munoz really came on strong last year. What have you been seeing out of him this spring?

GF:  He’s taken this camp by storm. He’s come in stronger and smarter. He’s been showing more patience at the plate, playing hard, playing aggressively, playing smart. He’s done everything right in this camp. He’s good to go. Electric tools – there’s power in the bat, super arm strength. There’s life in his body, and he plays the game with vigor and enthusiasm.

AF:  And how do you see him in the field as a shortstop?

GF:  Good – I mean, typical young mistakes here and there. But skill-set-wise, he’s solid. This guy runs, he throws, he’s got life, he’s got actions, he’s got pop in the bat. He’s got everything you’re looking for.

AF:  So you think he’s got the ability to stick there at the shortstop position long-term?

GF:  Yeah.

AF:  The A’s also got another shortstop from Toronto this offseason, Franklin Barreto. I know he was late to camp, but he’s another highly-touted shortstop. So what have you been able to see out of him in the time that he’s been here?

fbDSC04083bGF:  Definitely seen the bat. It’s quick, it’s short and it’s direct to the ball. He impacts the ball well. It seems like he’s got a clue at the dish. He’s got good actions in the field. We haven’t seen a lot of arm strength yet at this point, so we don’t know if he’s a little tired. I’ve checked, and he’s not hurting. And again, he’s kind of behind physically…so we’re just waiting to see that one out.

AF:  So how would you compare Barreto and Munoz?

GF:  Well, there’s two ways to look at it. When you compare their numbers from a year ago, Barreto’s numbers were better than Yairo’s at the same level of play. But at the same time, Yairo’s got some impact skills that might be ahead of him. Obviously, it’ll take time to find out who delivers the consistency. One of them can have the bigger upside, but who’s going to be the guy who develops the consistency and becomes a true player?

AF:  What other positions could you see each of them most naturally slotting into?

GF:  Munoz could go to third because he’s probably got the bigger upside power, whereas Barreto would go to second. But I’m reserving judgment on that, because we just haven’t seen enough.

AF:  All right, let’s talk about some young pitchers with some upside. What about Bobby Wahl? There’s obviously a lot of promise there, but he struggled a bit last year. What are you seeing out of him at this point?

WahlGF:  Biggest stuff we’ve got in the system – I mean, when you just break down a breaking ball and a fastball. He can throw it real hard and he can drop a breaking ball that’ll buckle you. The whole thing is he’s so talented and he’s got such good stuff that in the real scheme of development, you’d want him on the mound more often. But trying to protect some of his past injuries and keep him healthy, we have to try to develop him as a 1-2 inning type of guy. Sometimes that slows down development, which is evident with him going to Stockton and not doing very well and then walking into a big league camp and punching out the side. You know, when you’ve got that kind of stuff, you just never know when it’s going to show up in the right spots. I will give him this – he pitched down a lot better in these big league games than he has historically in the minor leagues. So that’s been his biggest thing. He’s always had the stuff. It’s just his location and elevation that’s gotten him in trouble in the minor leagues. You know, he was throwing some fastballs 97 mph at the knees in big league camp. Well, that’s pretty much going to beat anybody. So it’s about him bringing that here.

AF:  So he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen this year then.

GF:  Yeah.

doDillon-Overton-2014-bm-300x225cAF:  Now Dillon Overton looked good coming back from Tommy John surgery in the second half of last season. What have you seen out of him this spring?

GF:  There have been flashes of who he really is, and then there have been flashes of him getting out of rhythm a little bit, but his stuff is back. I thought his breaking ball and his changeup were back at the end of last year. The only thing that kind of deteriorated through the rehab was his velocity. So the velocity’s back to somewhere between 87-90 mph. And I think that’s going to increase the more that he goes out there and feels confident.

AF:  So far he’s topped out around 90 mph then?

GF:  Yeah, but he’s the kind of guy that, even if it never climbs over 90 mph, this guy’s got a good chance of getting people out. He’s got a chance to really locate. He’s got feel and deception with his breaking ball, he’s got a quality changeup, and he’s got an idea what he’s doing. So this isn’t a guy whose success is going to rely on how hard he throws. This kid’s got a clue. I see some dominance coming out of him.

AF:  Is there going to be an innings limit on him this season?

GF:  Oh, yeah.

raAlcantara, Raul3bAF:  Let me ask you about Raul Alcantara, who had Tommy John surgery last May. I believe he’s been throwing some bullpens lately. How’s he looking?

GF:  He’s been good, very good. He threw a side the other day.

AF:  So you think he’s still got a few months before he’ll be back out there later in the season?

GF:  Yeah, he’s a June guy probably.

AF:  A young guy who missed last season with various issues but is back in action this spring is Dustin Driver. He pitched well here the other day. What have you been seeing out of him now that he’s back on the mound?

GF:  He’s healthy. He had a good instructional league. He’s stronger, his body’s in better shape, and he’s got a more mature awareness of the sport. He’s got a changeup that he didn’t have when he arrived. So it’s about commanding the baseball, pure and simple. It’s about him throwing fastballs in the strike zone. And when he can prove that he can be efficient enough to go out some place and start filling up that zone with strikes, then he’s on his way. His breaking ball’s not quality for a guy who throws as hard as he can throw, so that’s a work in progress. But he’s come a long way with his changeup.

ckDSC04067x2AF:  Another young guy who missed last season is Chris Kohler. So what have you been seeing out of him now that he’s back on the mound again?

GF:  He’s been good. He’s fully confident in his fastball. He’s extending, he’s getting out front and he’s letting it go. He’s got plenty of 92s coming out of his hand. The biggest thing that he’s been going through is he’s lost the feel for his breaker a little bit. So this camp has kind of been more geared to him getting his breaking ball back. I think our intent was to have him ready to go out, but that’s still under discussion what’s going to happen. That breaking ball that he has is a weapon for him, and we’ve got to make sure he’s got it. But he’ll get it back.

AF:  Before we’re through, let me ask you about one last position player I know you like who had a big year last year, and that’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman. What do you like about him?

jb595144GF:  He’s a baseball guy, he comes to play and he’s well-rounded on all sides of the game. To me, I think he’s our best fundamentally sound outfielder – not only his routes and his reads, but crow hops and his technique in throwing. I think he’s got instincts for the game. He’s always been a listener and he’s learned quick. He doesn’t do anything over the top – there’s not a lot of big things you see out of him. But you’re talking about a guy who hits, he’ll hit it out, he’ll steal a base, he’ll throw you out. He just does everything well. And last year, between Beloit and Stockton, this guy put up a super year. So let’s just keep it going!

AF:  Well, let’s hope they all do! Thanks.

*          *          *

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Catching Up With A Trio Of Up And Coming A’s: Ladendorf, Burns & Muncy

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It’s often the case in baseball that injuries can end up opening the door for young players to show what they can do. With injuries to outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, it’s fortunate that the A’s have had some young players impressing in camp this spring.

And during the final week of spring training in Arizona, we took the opportunity to talk with three of the A’s up and coming hitting prospects who could be end up playing key roles with the team both this season and in the future.

 

TYLER LADENDORF

tlLadendorf, Tyler3Acquired from Minnesota in the Orlando Cabrera trade back in 2009, Ladendorf has spent most of his time in the A’s system at the Class-A and Double-A levels but finally got some serious time at Triple-A last season. Primarily known for his glove in the past, Ladendorf’s bat came alive at Sacramento last year. But just as he was enjoying his best season at the plate, he found himself sidelined by a suspension when he tested positive for a drug of abuse. Ladendorf has come back strong this spring though. A’s manager Bob Melvin has repeatedly praised his versatility. And it appears that his ability to play second, short and third as well as all three outfield positions is likely to land him a roster spot with the A’s on opening day.

AF:  Well, you’ve gotten plenty of at-bats here in the big league camp this year. What’s the experience been like for you?

TL:  It’s been fun. This is my first big league camp. I’m just trying to get my feet wet and get to know everybody. I mean, it’s been awesome with this group right here. You could tell early, it was a bit quieter. But now the last couple of days, it’s just been fun to be around with this group.

AF:  So how is this experience different from being over in the minor league camp?

TL:  There’s just more going on. More attention’s paid to all the little details. You’ve just got to be on top of your stuff a little bit more over here. They’re not going to hold your hand over here, that’s for sure.

AF:  Is there anyone here in camp who’s taken you under their wing a bit?

TL:  Some of the pitchers like [Ryan] Cook and [Sean] Doolittle. But I feel like some of these guys, even though they’ve got big league time, I feel like I’ve been here [in the organization] longer than just about anybody in here, in all seriousness.

AF:  You’re definitely an organizational veteran – you’ve been here since 2009!

TL:  I’m just excited for what this year brings. I’m just happy to be back out there playing more than anything.

AF:  Last year, you finally made it up to Triple-A and you were hitting better than ever and having a great season, and then the suspension came along. Was it disappointing for you to have to come off the field at that point after things had been going so well for you?

TL:  It was. It was real disappointing, embarrassing, humbling – a lot of words you could use. But I learned from it. I feel like I’m a better person because of it. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have taken an event like that for that to happen. So it was a good feeling coming back here and just trying to pick up where I left off from last year.

AF:  Well, you’ve certainly been playing well this spring. So have the coaches here given you much guidance or had you working on anything, or have they just let you go out there and do your thing?

TL:  No, I feel like they’re just kind of trying to see what I’m about. And I feel like I’m old enough now where I have my own routine and I understand what I need to do to get ready every day.

AF:  So have there been any new challenges for you facing this level of pitching in the major league camp?

TL:  Yeah, they’re a little bit better up here, that’s for sure. You’re just not going to see that pitch over the plate – they’re few and far between. So I feel like you’ve just kind of got to pick your spots. I’ve just tried to stay patient, because I feel like my patience is what led to a lot of success last year. So I don’t want to change what got me here. These guys are good. It’s fun though, because I’m as competitive as it gets. So if they get me out 3 or 4 times, I’m trying to get back in there that last at-bat and get a knock. So the challenge is exciting every day. It’s just a matter of making adjustments.

AF:  Now last year, you had better success hitting at Triple-A than you’d had at the lower levels. So what was the difference between hitting at Midland and hitting at Sacramento?

TL:  Obviously, if anybody’s been to Midland, the conditions there – the wind – there’s a lot of physical elements that are out of your control that aren’t in hitters’ favor. But I feel like my patience at the higher levels helped me, because they’re not going to necessarily just come up there and throw everything right down the middle. So I feel like I have a good enough eye to work the counts and handle the bat and do things like that.

AF:  Going forward this year, is there anything in particular that you want to try to focus on or work on a bit?

TL:  Not really. Honestly, I feel like I turned a corner last year. So I just really want to pick up where I left off…and just build on it.

AF:  Now you’re able to play a lot of different positions in the field. But are you more comfortable playing anywhere in particular, or do you care? Have they told you there are any spots they want you to focus on more?

TL:  No, right now it’s everywhere. I take a lot of pride in my defense, so I want to be able to do it all. Whatever I can do to help the team, I just want to win more than anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s ping pong, I just want to win the game.

 

BILLY BURNS

bbBurns, Billy2Primarily known for his speed, Burns was acquired from Washington after the 2013 season. He got off to a bit of a slow start at Double-A Midland last season and then struggled after a promotion to Sacramento during the final month of the season. But this spring has been an entirely different story. Burns has been one of the best hitters in the A’s big league camp. And with outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick set to open the season on the sidelines, it looks like Burns is likely to get the chance to start the season with Oakland.

AF:  Well, you’ve been having a great spring, playing regularly and hitting well. So what’s been working for you and accounting for your success?

BB:  There’s stuff you’re always trying to improve on. I’m tyring to improve on my left-handed hitting especially, and I changed a little bit of my approach. In the offseason, I worked with some of the hitting coaches on different mental approaches and just attacking the ball more and getting into a stronger position. But other than that, my game’s something I always work on. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything.

AF:  Obviously the left-handed hitting seems to be coming along, you seem to be driving the ball and hitting with a little more authority and getting more hits from the left side. Was that part of the plan, to try to hit with a little more authority from the left side?

BB:  Yeah, just getting into a stronger position and just trying to attack the baseball a little bit more instead of being more passive. So I’ve been working on that and just enjoying this Arizona weather – it’s fun being out here.

AF:  Now what about the base-stealing aspect of the game? You’ve been at Double-A, Triple-A and here in major league camp over the past year. Do you find that it’s tougher to steal bases quite so easily as you go up the chain?

BB:  Some part of it is tougher. It really just depends on my jumps and whether the pitcher is consciously trying to hold me on. But I think it’s a little bit harder here at this level…I think the catchers are just better. They have better arms, better experience, better accuracy. They’re good – they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.

AF:  Going forward into this season, is there anything in particular that you really want to try to focus on or work on?

BB:  It’s going to be different to take my new left-handed hitting approach into the season. And that should be fun just to see how it plays out. But other than that, I’m just always trying to improve on everything. There’s nothing I feel like I’ve mastered.

AF:  So are there any veterans here in camp who’ve been particularly helpful to you this spring?

BB:  Well, I’m always with the outfielders. So some of the outfield guys have been pretty instrumental, like Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry. They’re always kind of helping me out if I do something stupid. If I have questions, I always feel like I can come to them.

AF:  I know you’re from Georgia. So if you should end up spending much time in Nashville this year, would that feel fairly close to home for you?

BB:  Yeah, it’s only like a three-hour drive, so that helps. And I’ve got family and friends that’ll be coming to see me if I’m there, so it’d be cool.

AF:  Well, it’d definitely be a lot closer that Midland or Sacramento anyway.

BB:  Yeah, that’s for sure!

 

MAX MUNCY

mmMuncy, Max2Taken by the A’s in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, Muncy has shot through the A’s minor league system faster than any other position player from that draft, primarily due to his advanced plate discipline. A first baseman throughout his college and pro career, Muncy has been learning to play third base this spring. And he managed to put up an impressive .364/.463/.697 slash line in his first big league camp. Muncy’s expected to split time between first and third at Triple-A Nashville this season.

AF:  You’ve spent an awful lot of time in the big league camp this year, especially for a non-roster invite. So this must be a great experience for you.

MM:  Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. I definitely didn’t expect to be up here this long. You know, they make those first couple of cuts and I was expecting to go down. But they’ve kept me here the whole time, and I’ve really enjoyed it. You get to learn from the best players out there. There are some guys I’ve really been taking a lot of stuff from this year and I feel like that’s really going to help me out a lot.

AF:  Is there anyone here who’s been particularly helpful to you this spring?

MM:  Stephen Vogt’s talked to me a bunch, and he’s been a guy I’ve been watching a lot – the way he takes batting practice, the way he takes his swings in the game. He’s definitely somebody you can learn from. His batting practice is so professional, it’s fun to watch. [Ben] Zobrist is another guy I’ve really been paying a lot of attention to. I like everything he does. I feel like I can learn a lot from those two guys. It’s been fun to watch how they go about their business. Everything they do is just so professional.

AF:  So has the coaching staff said much to you about what they’ve seen from you or what they’d like to see from you?

MM:  No, I haven’t heard too much from them. The only thing that goes on is I go out and get my early work in with Gags [Mike Gallego] and Scars [Steve Scarsone] and we go out and do a lot of ground ball work and try to make that transition to third a little easier. I’ve had a couple of bumps in the games, but those are all learning experiences. I feel like I’ve been getting a lot better this spring, and I’m ready to make a full-time transition over there. From what I know, the plan is to play first and third this year, so I’m excited about it.

AF:  I was just about to ask you if they’ve specifically clarified for you what you can expect in terms of where you’ll be playing in the field this year.

MM:  I don’t think it’s ever really clarified for anybody. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that I can expect to be playing some first and some third the entire year. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s always fun learning a new position. For me, it’s a little fun to get away from first. It’s nice to actually be one of the guys making the throws instead of just catching it.

AF:  I remember when they stuck you over at third in the Arizona Fall League a couple of years ago, you seemed a little surprised to end up over there.

MM:  I was definitely surprised, because I hadn’t even heard anything about it before. At the time, I don’t know if there was actually a plan for me to go over to third. There were just so many people on that AFL team that the opportunity for me to get at-bats was to go play third. So I don’t know if that’s what started it or if something else started but, from that day forward, it’s kind of been an ongoing thing to make a move over to third.

AF:  Now you spent last year at Midland. And Midland’s a notoriously difficult place for a lot of guys to hit, especially compared to Stockton. So what are some of the challenges that one faces hitting in Midland at that park?

MM:  Well, if you take everything else away, the hardest challenge is just the adjustment to the pitching. A lot of people say the jump from A-Ball to Double-A is one of the toughest in baseball. For me, so far it has been, but that’s because I haven’t made another jump yet. It’s definitely a huge difference. You go from guys who are really young in A-Ball, then you go into Double-A and you’ve still got a lot of young guys, but they’re big-time prospects and they’ve got big-time arms. And on top of that, you’ve got a lot of veteran guys down there who have seen some big league time or some Triple-A time and they know what they’re doing. So that, to me, I think is the biggest adjustment. And on top of that, Midland’s just…for a pull left-handed hitter, that wind blows in about 40 mph every single day. And the field dimensions in Midland are just gigantic, and you’ve got about a 30-foot wall all the way around the field. Just in my two years there, I’ve seen some balls hit that get knocked down pretty good. You shouldn’t let the hitting conditions affect you, but I think one the things that happens is you feel like you have to start doing a little more and you start changing your swing. I definitely let that affect me, especially last year. I came back from that injury, and I just felt like I had to start using more body and getting a bigger swing just to get the ball out. I ended up changing everything, and it cost me a lot last year. It’s definitely a mental grind in Midland, and you’ve just got to find a way to get through it.

AF:  So what about your time here in major league camp? You’ve talked about facing Double-A pitchers, and you’re up here facing guys even more advanced than that now. So what are you seeing in the pitching you’ve been facing here?

MM:  This is my first time up in big league camp. And it’s been a lot different facing the pitchers up here, because they’re trying to make a team and they’ve actually got a plan of attack, whereas you might face a guy in the minor leagues who has to throw a certain number of fastballs or curveballs because it’s spring training and they’re trying to get they’re work in. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed – if you go out and you’re facing a guy and he’s trying to make a team, you might see five sliders an at-bat. But facing some of these pitchers has been fun, because it’s the best competition out there, and it’s been really fun to go out there and try to grind against that. They’re not afraid to attack either side of the plate. They throw whatever pitch whenever they want and, on top of that, they command almost any pitch they want. So it’s just been refreshing to go up there and have to be ready for anything at any time. It’s fun.

AF:  Well, you’ve been fairly successful facing these pitchers up here so far this spring. So is there anything in particular that you feel you’ve learned that you’re going to be able to take forward and carry with you this season?

MM:  For whatever reason, I feel like I’ve always hit really well in spring training. I think the biggest thing for me this spring so far has just been getting myself into a good hitting position really early. A lot of times, it’s kind of been just seeing the ball and then reacting to it, and now it’s more getting into hitting position and attacking the ball instead of waiting for it. It’s not really a huge adjustment at all but, as a mindset, it’s different. I just feel like getting into that good hitting position really early is one of the biggest things for me. I’ve really been trying to do it the past couple of years, and I feel like this year it’s really starting to take shape for me.

AF:  You’ve always had the sort of classic A’s approach as a hitter with your plate discipline. Has anyone in the organization talked to you about anything that they want you to do or don’t want you to do?

MM:  No, they really haven’t said anything as far as hitting. The only thing they’ve really said to me is just defensively – they’re out there working with me because they know it’s something I’m new to doing – that’s really the only thing they’ve talked to me about. I just go out there and get my work in and hang out with the guys and watch what they do. I watch some of the guys take ground balls, like Brett Lawrie – he’s a cat over there at third. You can definitely learn from watching those guys go about their business. And that’s the biggest thing I’ve really been trying to do is just keep my eyes open and watch what everyone’s been doing.

AF:  Now going forward this season, presumably at Nashville, is there anything in particular that you really want to try to focus on or work on this year?

MM:  I think the biggest thing for me is to not let anything affect the way I’m swinging it, and not let my mind get in the way, which is what I did at Midland. In Midland, I’ve hit a ball that got knocked down, and suddenly I’m thinking I’ve got to start changing stuff. I think this year I really need to focus on just staying with who I am, and if I do that, I’ll end up being fine.

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A’s Trade Triple-A RHP Matt Buschmann to Tampa Bay to Make Way for Possible Addition of Barry Zito to Nashville Rotation

Could Barry Zito be Nashville bound?

Could Barry Zito be Nashville bound?

The A’s traded Triple-A RHP Matt Buschmann to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash on Thursday. We’€™ve also learned that, though no final decision has been made yet, the A’€™s front office thinks it’s likely that non-roster pitcher Barry Zito will agree to join the Triple-A Nashville Sounds to start the season. And if that is indeed the case, then the Buschmann deal would serve to open up a spot in Nashville’s starting rotation for Zito.

If Zito does agree to accept the Triple-A assignment, then the Sounds would open the season with a starting staff consisting of LHPs Zito, Brad Mills and Rudy Owens as well as RHPs Chris Bassitt and Arnold Leon. The team’s bullpen would likely include 8 of the following 10 relievers: Ryan Cook, Eury De La Rosa, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Venditte, Brock Huntzinger, Kevin Whelan, Ryan Verdugo, Jim Fuller, Chad Smith and Angel Castro.

In other news, the A’€™s released three more minor leaguers on Thursday. Outfielder Zeke DeVoss and RHPs Tyler Vail and Joseph Michaud were all given their releases. They join hurlers Paul Smyth, Murphy Smith, Drew Granier, Deck McGuire, Brandon “€œBranch”€ Kloess and Dakota Freese, as well as first baseman Ryan Huck, who were all released earlier this week.

DeVoss was a light-hitting 24-year-old outfielder who’€™s appeared in just two dozen games above Class-A in his career and played primarily at Stockton last season. The 23-year-old Michaud was drafted in the 33rd round in 2013 and looked good at Vermont early last season but had a tough time after being promoted to Beloit. Also 23, Vail has mostly struggled since being selected by the A’€™s in the 5th round of the 2010 draft. He posted a career 4.56 ERA over 290 innings in the A’s minor league system.

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A’s Release More Minor League Hurlers on Wednesday

Murphy Smith: One of the latest minor league hurlers to be released by the A's.

Murphy Smith: One of the latest minor league hurlers to be released by the A’s.

Hot on the heels of the releases of minor league hurlers Drew Granier, Deck McGuire, Brandon “€œBranch”€ Kloess and Dakota Freese earlier this week, the A’s also released RHPs Murphy Smith and Paul Smyth on Wednesday.

After being moved to the bullpen last year, Smith posted a 4.73 ERA in 85 2/3 innings at Double-A Midland. Smyth, despite posting a 3.05 ERA in 59 relief innings at Triple-A Sacramento last year, was told earlier in the week that he would likely be sent back to Double-A this season. The reliever then requested his release and it was eventually granted by the organization on Wednesday.

In other news, it looks like RHP Nate Long, who was one of Midland’s top starters last year, will open the season on the disabled list or at extended spring training in Arizona. That means that, in addition to Zach Neal and Chris Jensen, Midland’s starting rotation is likely to include 3 of the following 4 hurlers: Chris Lamb, Jake Sanchez, Tim Atherton and Tanner Peters. Meanwhile, with Smith and Smyth’€™s release, the top candidates for Midland’s bullpen now appear to be Jeff Urlaub, Seth Frankoff, Tucker Healy, Ryan Dull, Ryan Doolittle, Kris Hall, Jonathan Joseph and Andres Avila.

As we mentioned yesterday, the Triple-A Nashville rotation appears to be set for the moment with RHPs Chris Bassitt, Arnold Leon and Matt Buschmann as well as LHPs Brad Mills and Rudy Owens. And there are currently 10 arms available for 8 slots in the Nashville bullpen: Ryan Cook, Eury De La Rosa, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Venditte, Brock Huntzinger, Kevin Whelan, Ryan Verdugo, Jim Fuller, Chad Smith and Angel Castro.

As we reported yesterday, there are whispers that the A’s have been talking to other teams about recently-demoted RHP Ryan Cook. And with the recent news that outfielder Coco Crisp may miss as much as the first two months of the season due to elbow surgery, it certainly wouldn’€™t be surprising to see the A’s package a couple of experienced bullpen arms like Cook and possibly Fernando Rodriguez for someone who could help provide the team with a little more depth in the outfield.

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Abundance of Arms Affecting A’s Minor League Pitching Prospects

Drew Granier: No longer in the A's plans.

Drew Granier: No longer in the A’s plans.

When the A’€™s signed 7 minor league free agents pitchers, re-signed 2 of their own minor league free agent hurlers, and acquired a number of other young arms in trades this offseason, it was inevitable that there was going to be a bit of a roster crunch at the upper levels of the minor league system once spring training began to wrap up. And that’€™s exactly what’s happening now.

It appears that the pitching staff at the A’s new Triple-A Nashville affiliate will consist entirely of pitchers currently on the 40-man roster and minor league free agent signees, plus a pair of fairly experienced arms in Fernando Rodriguez and Angel Castro. So if you’re a pitcher not on the 40-man roster or a minor league free agent signee, then it’s likely that you’€™re bound to wind up at the Double-A level or below.

Another effect of this roster crunch has been the release of a number of arms in the past week, including Andrew Werner, Drew Granier, Deck McGuire, Brandon “€œBranch”€ Kloess and Dakota Freese. And this week, we heard that RHPs Nate Long, Ryan Doolittle, Paul Smyth and Seth Frankoff were all being ticketed for Midland barring any last-minute trades.

With Nashville’€™s Triple-A rotation already full, it looks like RHP Zach Neal will be sent down to anchor Midland’s rotation, while RHPs Nate Long and Chris Jensen, both of whom had solid seasons at Double-A last year, will be returning to the RockHounds rotation once again. Other potential candidates for Midland’s starting staff include Chris Lamb, Jake Sanchez, Tim Atherton and Tanner Peters. RHP Sean Murphy, who spent most of last season in the RockHounds rotation, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will sit out the season.

Meanwhile, at Nashville, the starting rotation should consist of RHPs Chris Bassitt, Arnold Leon and Matt Buschmann as well as LHPs Brad Mills and Rudy Owens. LHP Sean Nolin will likely join the Nashville rotation once he’€™s fully recovered from sports hernia surgery. The Nashville bullpen is still a little crowded with 10 arms currently available to fill 8 slots: Ryan Cook, Eury De La Rosa, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Venditte, Brock Huntzinger, Kevin Whelan, Ryan Verdugo, Jim Fuller, Chad Smith and Angel Castro.

It’€™s expected that the A’s may make a couple of deals before opening day to help clear the pitching logjam at the upper levels of the system. And to that end, it’s been whispered that the A’s have been talking to other teams about recently-demoted RHP Ryan Cook. But even if the A’€™s were to trade Cook, that might not be the last deal involving a young hurler that the team will end up making before opening day arrives.

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Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm. You can also get our exclusive A’s minor league newsletter e-mailed to you free by signing up here.

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