by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
There’s been a mighty big turnover on Stockton’s roster since the start of the season.
And just since June, infielders Nate Mondou and Edwin Diaz, outfielder Luis Barrera and pitchers Brandon Bailey, Brendan Butler, Dalton Sawyer, Norge Ruiz and Miguel Romero have all joined Stockton from Beloit for the second half.
Late last week in Stockton, we took the opportunity to talk to a pair of those players, second baseman Nate Mondou and right-hander Brandon Bailey, who also happen to be roommates, to see how the duo was adjusting to life in the California League…
The lefty-swinging second baseman was the A’s 13th-round draft pick last year out of Wake Forest. Mondou spent the first few months of the 2017 season hitting near the top of the order for the Snappers, and his .296 batting average and .371 on-base percentage both led Beloit batters when he was promoted to the Ports. Since joining Stockton late last month, the 22-year-old has posted a .279/.352/.441 slash line over his first 28 games for the Ports. In a recent interview with Stockton manager Rick Magnante, the skipper said about Mondou: “His ability to swing the bat has been impressive. I think he’s a sleeper. I think you could see Nate in the big leagues.”
AF: You started out the season in Beloit. And I know sometimes those first couple of rainy, chilly months in the Midwest League can be rough for hitters, so how did you handle hitting in the conditions there?
NM: Definitely, it was freezing cold when we got there. It rained quite a bit. But in those type of situations, you’ve just got to stick with the process and try to simplify everything, because the outside conditions kind of made it tough. But overall, it was a good experience and I was able to learn a lot. It’s always good to learn how to play in those conditions before coming up to higher levels. So, overall it was good, but it was kind of tough at first like you said. Not being able to feel your hands at the plate is kind of rough.
AF: Yeah, when your hands are on the verge of frostbite, it’s probably a little hard to hit.
AF: You got off to a good start there though, and you had a nice hitting streak going there for a while, so you obviously managed to deal with it. But coming here to the California League in the second half has got to be a great development for you.
NM: Definitely, very glad to be here. It’s definitely more of a hitters’ league. It’s a little bit of an adjustment just being able to hit the ball in the air a little bit more. In Beloit, it didn’t quite fly as well as it does here. So, I’m just kind of making little adjustments here and there to fit the ballpark and fit the league and everything. But I’m very glad to be here. It’s nice to have nice, dry, warm weather every day.
AF: Where’d you grow up?
NM: I grew up just about an hour south of Seattle, Washington…so it’s nice to be back on the west coast too.
AF: Do you find any differences with the pitchers you’re facing here in the California League compared to what you were used to seeing in the Midwest League?
NM: Yeah, it’s definitely another level up. There’s a little more consistency in the quality of pitching, and that carries over for both the starters and the bullpen guys. We definitely saw some very good arms up there in the Midwest League, but down here, it’s day in and day out, and every guy coming out of the ‘pen too.
AF: What kind of adjustments have you had to make since you’ve been here in Stockton?
NM: Yeah, I think earlier in the year I didn’t really use the pull side of the field as much. I was kind of really, really focused on driving the ball the other way. And I think coming here, I’ve seen a lot more fastballs in, a lot more pitches inside, so I’ve kind of tried to open up the field, kind of going left-center/right-center rather than just kind of left of center field. So, that’s been the biggest thing for me, being able to open up that right side of the field.
AF: What do you feel are the biggest strengths of your game? What are you really confident that you’re bringing to the table for a team?
NM: I think the biggest thing is a quality at-bat. I’m going to try to grind out an at-bat no matter how tough the situation is and try not to take any at-bat for granted. Definitely working deep in counts, and once I get to two strikes, hopefully grinding a long at-bat out. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for me, not taking anything for granted, not letting one at-bat slip through my fingers. So, quality at-bats – that’s probably one of the biggest things for me.
AF: Now you’re a smaller guy, so people probably weren’t looking at you as being a big, powerful prospect coming out of school. So, have you had to play the game with that sort of underdog mentality, feeling like you had to prove to people what you were really capable of doing on the field?
NM: Yeah, definitely. There’s always that height thing that’s always been mentioned at every level I’ve played at. So, it’s kind of nice to show people that doesn’t really matter and that you can work past it no matter what. I came out of college hitting a bunch of home runs and kind of had to change my approach once I got here to more of a table-setter type. So, I’m trying to hit more line drives, and I think that’s helped me succeed so far, especially with the average. The power numbers aren’t where they were in college, but I think I’m slowly working to kind of find the best of both worlds between the contact and the power.
AF: Well, if you spend enough time in the California League, you might just become a power hitter again!
AF: On the personal side, since you had to move here in the middle of the season, where are you staying at, who are you living with, and what’s life like off the field here in Stockton?
NM: Yeah, it was kind of a whirlwind couple of days coming from Wisconsin out here and trying to figure out who I’m living with. But I’m living with Eli White and Brandon Bailey right now in an apartment. It’s a little bit more expensive than out there in Wisconsin, but it’s a nice setup and we’ve got a nice little spot and they’re a couple of good guys to live with, so I’m happy.
AF: And you’ve got sunshine every day!
NM: Exactly, no thunderstorms!
AF: Well, you’ve got a little over a month of the minor league season left here now in Stockton. So, what are you really focused on this final month or so of the season here?
NM: I think consistency is the biggest thing for me, just trying not to have a roller-coaster type of season. Of course, there’s always going to be ups and downs, but trying to keep it as close to the main line as possible. So, I think just finishing strong. I’ve had multiple coaches tell me so far this year, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.” And that’s what people really care about. So, I had a good strong start, but I’m definitely focused on continuing that consistency throughout the year and finishing strong.
The A’s made Bailey their 6th-round pick in last year’s draft after he struck out 125 batters in 100 1/3 innings while posting a 2.42 ERA in his junior year at Gonzaga. He spent most of last season playing for Vermont, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he put up a solid 3.08 ERA in 10 appearances for the Lake Monsters. But Bailey was even more impressive for Beloit in the first half of this season, posting a 2.68 ERA while notching 73 strikeouts over 57 innings of work for the Snappers. Since being promoted to the Ports earlier this month, the 22-year-old has struck out 27 in 19 1/3 innings while compiling a 6.05 ERA for Stockton. We’ve periodically featured blog posts by Bailey about his experiences in the A’s minor league system, which you can find here.
AF: You got called up here to Stockton from Beloit about a month ago. So, how has it been for you adjusting to a whole new league here this past month?
BB: It’s been exciting, just for the mere fact that I’m back on the west coast. Being a West Coast Conference guy in college, this is where we had our conference tournament, and I’m real familiar with the park. So, it wasn’t like a complete shock. I was really familiar with the park and how it plays. I was just really excited to move up a level. It’s a long season, and you’re just trying to climb the ladder. And at the end of the day, I just couldn’t be happier to be back on the west coast.
AF: So, remind me where you were born and where you went to school.
BB: I was born in Westminster, Colorado and lived in the Denver metro area my whole life. My parents still live there today. I reside in Broomfield, Colorado. That’s kind of my hometown – about 20 minutes north of Denver and 15 minutes east of Boulder. And when college came, I moved to Spokane, Washington, where Gonzaga University is. And that’s kind of where I’m living currently in the offseason, just because I’m trying to finish up my degree. I hope and plan to go back this fall to knock out that last semester that I have and be done, and then from there, just go back to spring training and do it all over again.
AF: What are you majoring in?
BB: Sports management with a minor in public relations.
AF: Well, that might come in handy!
BB: Yeah, definitely useful. I love being around sports, and it’s something that I would like to pursue after the playing career is over, whether that be working in professional baseball or I’ve always had a really big passion for Nike and all the products that they release, especially the N7 brand that they have going. My dream would be to work for Nike when it’s all said and done.
AF: You got off to a really good start to the season in Beloit. So, is there anything you’ve found that’s particularly different here in the California League?
BB: I think the biggest adjustment is that you can’t kind of give in in those hitter advantage counts. Sometimes in the Midwest League, the parks play big and you know if you get behind that you can challenge a little bit up. They might know your 2-0 fastball is coming, but the park plays big enough that you’re not going to get hurt. And so far, in the majority of these parks, if they’re bigger, the wind blows out really hard, and if they’re smaller, it blows out even more! So, you’ve just got to be really particular with all your pitches. And I think the emphasis for me, the biggest adjustment, is really emphasizing getting ahead in the count, putting the hitter in a position where they’re unfamiliar with what’s coming, where they’re kind of on their heels and they can’t be as aggressive as they might be in the 1-0 or 2-0 counts.
AF: Yeah, with these parks in the Cal League, if you get behind, you can’t afford to groove one in there!
BB: Yep, but I like that challenge a little bit too, because it makes me focus just that much more on trying to be that much more conscious and particular with my pitches, and I feel like that’s actually helping me get better. And I’ve heard that at Midland, the strike zone gets a little bit smaller. So, I’m just focusing on really hitting spots. And I think that’s good for me, because in college, I knew that I could just challenge you up with a fastball and the exact location didn’t really matter – I knew that I was probably going to win that battle. But here in pro ball, it’s not exactly the same.
AF: Well, the strike zone might be smaller in the Texas League, but the good news is the parks are bigger – and the wind isn’t usually blowing out!
BB: There you go!
AF: Tell me a little bit about your repertoire and what you’re working with.
BB: I throw five pitches. It was four, but four days ago I learned a new pitch, so now it’s five. I throw a four-seam fastball which has a really high spin rate, so it’s got good ride and carry through the zone. I guess to the hitter, they perceive it as the ball kind of rising almost. Oakland’s really been encouraging me to throw the ball up in the zone, which, going into professional baseball, you’re taught your whole life to keep the ball down. But here, they want me to throw up with my fastball, so that’s really kind of a bit of a change for me, but it’s kind of nice at the same time, because I do like throwing up in the zone with that fastball. So, I throw a four-seam fastball, a four-seam changeup which spins the same way as the fastball – it just has an arm-side drop and run to it. And then, I throw a slider, which is now a true slider. In college, it was kind of more of a slurve, but I’ve tightened it up and I’ve been throwing it a lot harder lately, which is nice. And then this offseason, I added a spiked curve, just because I wanted to have a get-me-over breaking ball that looked a little bit different to the hitter, so that way they wouldn’t be able to sit on something hard early in the count, whether that be the fastball or the slider. And then, I just added a cutter four days ago, which is really exciting because, like I said before, my four-seam fastball’s pretty straight and true – it has good carry, but not a lot of movement to either side. And this cutter has been moving glove side with late action to it, so it’s just a nice extra tool that I can have in my repertoire just to keep the hitters honest.
AF: Well, that’s a couple more pitches than most guys have at this level!
BB: Yeah, so the biggest thing for me is the fastball/change has always been my bread and butter, so now it’s just trying to get those breaking pitches, along with the cutter, up to speed and hopefully get them to be big league average or a tick better than that.
AF: So, have you used the cutter in a game yet?
BB: Yeah, I did in a game versus the Quakes. I threw three – one was really good, one was straight as an arrow and one went in the dirt. So, I went one for three, but I’ll take it for only having thrown it for like two days in advance.
AF: On the personal side of things, you had to make a move here in the middle of the season from Wisconsin to California. So, where are you staying at and who are you living with now?
BB: I think the person who was most excited for me to move out here was my girlfriend, because she’s actually from Sacramento. So, when I told her, she was pumped. But I currently reside in an apartment complex about fifteen minutes north of the stadium. I’m living with Nate Mondou and Eli White in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s the typical minor league apartment. We’ve got the cardboard box as the TV stand. We’re all living on air mattresses. But at the end of the day, it’s still a lot of fun. They’re great guys to live with. I was able to room with Eli White in Vermont to start everything off last summer, so me and him are really good buds. And then with Mondou being in Beloit, we obviously knew each other. So, it’s been a good fit. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment going from a host family in Beloit to apartment living, but I kind of enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.
AF: Well, probably most of your time is spent out here at the park anyway.
BB: Exactly! All you’ve got to do is wake up, make breakfast and then go to the park and you’re here basically the majority of your day anyway.
AF: Well, we’re heading into the final month or so of the minor league season now. So, what are you thinking about and what are you trying to accomplish in the last month or so here?
BB: I think it’s just to finish strong. At the start of the year, there can be some bumps in the road – everyone has their ups and downs. But I remember in spring training, [minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and [farm director] Keith Lieppman and [special assistant] Grady Fuson and all these guys saying, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.” And they re-emphasize that when the first teams come out, because some guys aren’t exactly thrilled with where they’re starting. So, my goal is just to try to continue to work on my craft and really get a feel for these new pitches – the curveball and the cutter that I’m adding. And just try to finish strong here in Stockton and hopefully end on a high note and go into the offseason with some good goals to try and achieve, and then come back and hopefully fight like hell to make the Midland roster. I think, at the end of the day, it’s just trying to see progress with each day that you come to the field and when you leave the park, you can say, “I got better today.” So, the goal each day is to try to get a little bit better than you were the day before.
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