by Nick Badders / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent
With the Arizona Fall League now about halfway through its schedule, A’s Farm took the opportunity last weekend to check in with a couple of the A’s top young prospects in the AFL.
22-year-old infielder Sheldon Neuse and 23-year-old catcher Sean Murphy were both top picks in last year’s draft. Neuse was Washington’s 2nd-round selection, while Murphy was the A’s 3rd-round pick.
Both players performed well this season while spending time with both High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. And they’ve both continued their strong performances for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall in the AFL.
Traded from Washington to the A’s last July in the Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle deal, Neuse started out the year at Class-A Hagerstown in the Nationals system. But he was bumped up to High-A Stockton upon joining the A’s organization, where he hit .386 with seven home runs in just 22 games. The infielder was then promoted to the Double-A Midland RockHounds for the last few weeks of the season and was part of their Texas League championship-winning team.
AF: How much have you enjoyed having the chance to play in the Arizona Fall League?
SN: It’s been fun – great atmosphere, good group of guys. We like to come out and compete and have fun at the same. It’s a good group and I’ve enjoyed being here.
AF: You’re playing with some guys you played with in Midland. Is it nice being able to play with them a little longer since you’re new to the organization?
SN: It’s nice, coming in to a new system halfway through the year and meeting a bunch of people. I wasn’t in Stockton very long. Got thrown right into a playoff run there in Midland, went a long ways, got to hang out with those guys a little bit longer. Then playing with some more here, you get familiarized with those guys, and it’s been fun. It’s been fun to hang around them – good ballplayers, good people.
AF: What was your initial experience like in Stockton and Midland?
SN: Just a different atmosphere. You’ve got better pitching, so you’ve really got to be on your game. You can’t take any at-bats off, ever. But even more so there, you’ve got to be locked in the whole time. I’d say the biggest difference is trying to stay within yourself, trying to trust the process.
AF: Is there anything you’ve tried to work on in the AFL so far?
SN: Just getting consistent, making sure I’m getting my best swing off, as much as I can. Battling with two strikes, trying to cut down on some of the strikeouts. And coming out and playing and just playing the best baseball I can.
AF: You’ve spent time at third base and shortstop in your pro career, which position do you prefer?
AF: Is there another position you’ve played outside of those two, either in high school or college? I know you pitched for a while before being drafted.
SN: I can play anywhere, anywhere on the field. Anywhere they want to put me, I’m going to be comfortable there. I just want an opportunity to hit. So right now, just giving myself to play anywhere, showing that I can play anywhere in the infield, outfield, wherever they want me, just giving myself a chance to get in the lineup every day.
AF: What was your reaction when you found out you had been traded?
SN: I was excited. It was a new opportunity, a new door to go through. I can’t thank the Nationals enough for giving me a chance to play professionally and then the interest from the A’s. I left a bunch of good guys over there I still stay in contact with friends-wise, and a couple of those guys are on the team here. But just going into a new organization, it was a whole new opportunity. I took it with open arms and open mindset, and it’s been great.
AF: It seems like you kicked things up a notch after the trade. You hit .380 combined at Stockton and Midland. Did you change anything or did the change of scenery help?
SN: I think I just got hot, hot at the right time. I figured some things out, was able to get comfortable back in the box, stay confident and rode that wave last year.
AF: You have played at four different levels since being drafted last year. How has the rapid rise been for you?
SN: It’s been awesome – climbing that ladder, you know, chasing your dream. It’s happening a lot faster than I expected it to and just never stop working. This year is almost done. Wrap it up, stay healthy and finish the fall league strong. Then looking forward to next year.
AF: What kind of differences did you see between the California and Texas Leagues?
SN: Just pitching. You’re not going to get as many pitches to drive [in the Texas League]. You’re not going to get that many pitches over the plate. At different levels, guys can command. You’re going to get more off-speed pitches in hitters’ counts and better stuff, so you’ve got to be quick to the ball. And you’ve got to trust the work you put in to go out there and just play the game. See and react versus kind of work on stuff – you can’t do that at the next level because they’re going to eat you up. You’ve got to minimize your holes and maximize on opportunities and you get something to drive.
AF: It seemed like the only change for you between Stockton and Midland was in your power numbers. Would you just chalk that up to a small sample size, playing just 18 games in Double-A, the California League being good for home runs, or Midland and the Texas League being brutal on power?
SN: The ball flew better in California. You’ve got better pitching up there too in Double-A. And Midland, it’s a bigger ballpark. It’s going to play bigger, it’s going to be harder to hit those balls out. It’s the same process the whole time, the same mindset – just going in and looking for a pitch I can drive in the gap. If it goes out, it goes out. If not, I did my job. I drove the baseball, and that’s all I can do as a hitter.
AF: What are your offseason plans?
SN: Just enjoy some time off at first, spend some time with my family. And looking forward to getting back to work. I’ll probably work out normal come January and the new year and get ready for hopefully big league spring training.
AF: Is there anything you’re going to try to work on when you do start working out again?
SN: Just trying to pick up where I left off here. Staying confident and trying to stay consistent. Keep the swing that I have and try to get it more consistent if I can, to the point where it’s the same all the time. And try and go into spring training healthy as always, stay healthy the whole time and just make a good impression there.
2017 (Hagerstown): 9 HR / 25 BB / 66 K / .291 AVG / .349 OBP / .469 SLG / .818 OPS
2017 (Stockton): 7 HR / 9 BB / 25 K / .386 AVG / .457 OBP / .675 SLG / 1.132 OPS
2017 (Midland): 0 HR / 6 BB / 21 K / .373 AVG / .427 OBP / .433 SLG / .860 OPS
2017 (Total): 16 HR / 40 BB / 112 K / .321 AVG / .382 OBP / .502 SLG / .884 OPS
AFL: 3 HR / 5 BB / 12 K / .300 AVG / .364 OBP / .580 SLG / .944 OPS
The strong-armed backstop was drafted by Oakland in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft and has risen quickly, finishing the 2017 season with the Double-A Midland RockHounds after starting the year at High-A Stockton. Just before we spoke to him after last Saturday’s game, Murphy drove an RBI single to left field in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game and help Mesa come back from a 6-2 deficit to post a 9-6 win over Glendale.
AF: How has the Arizona Fall League experience been for you, playing with guys from different teams you’ve never played with before?
SM: It’s just fun, meeting new guys, playing baseball. Meeting some different personalities is always nice.
AF: You’re playing with some guys you played with last season – Sheldon Neuse, Sam Bragg, Nolan Blackwood. How nice has that been to have familiar faces around?
SM: Obviously, to have some familiarity with some guys helps. But as you get closer to the team, you gel with other guys. It’s just nice having friends here.
AF: What are some of the differences you found between hitting at Stockton and hitting in Midland?
SM: Well, the Cal League is a hitter’s league for sure. The ball flies there. Then you get to Midland and that’s a graveyard, every part of the park. That’s an adjustment, understanding I’m not going to hit any cheap home runs out there.
AF: You were just drafted last year, then you ended this season in Double-A. How have you felt about such a quick rise?
SM: I’m just going with it. You don’t want to look ahead and try and see where you want to be in a year. It doesn’t do you any good trying to make projections like that in your head. You just play every day. It doesn’t do you any good to think about that kind of stuff.
AF: As a catcher, were there any pitchers you worked with this season who impressed you with their approach?
SM: Obviously, A.J. [Puk]. He’s growing every day. It’s cool to watch him develop and grow and change as a pitcher, become more of a big-league style pitcher. Logan [Shore], Daulton [Jefferies], Brett Graves, all good. Sam Bragg is a bulldog out of the bullpen. I like all those guys.
AF: You were drafted as a catcher who was known for your outstanding defense. What have you done since you were drafted to work on your hitting?
SM: Well, I’ve done a lot of stuff. Some of it didn’t work, some of it did. Biggest difference is obviously the mental game, having a better approach, understanding the head space I want to be in while I’m at the plate.
AF: Is there anything you’re trying to work on in the AFL?
SM: Continuing. I’m not trying to get overwhelmed, not trying to think about other stuff. Again, it’s such a mental game that every great adjustment starts in your own head. It’s not a “mechanical this, mechanical that.” You’ve got to understand where you are in space and what your brain is doing.
AF: What are your offseason plans? Are you going anywhere, trying to focus on anything?
SM: No plans right now. Spend some time with loved ones, get some rest, start back up. Physically working on some baseball skills, some weightlifting, eat well. That’s about it.
AF: Take me through your at-bat in the 8th inning today. First-pitch swinging, what were you looking for?
SM: There, I was looking for a fastball. You have the bases loaded. If he threw a slider, I was just going to take it. But it’s just guessing he’s going to throw a fastball. I was just going to try and hit it on a line somewhere. Hit it off the end a little bit, but the swing I put on it was good enough and it worked for a single.
2017 (Stockton): 9 HR / 11 BB / 33 K / .297 AVG / .343 OBP / .527 SLG / .870 OPS
2017 (Midland): 4 HR / 21 BB / 34 K / .209 AVG / .288 OBP / .309 SLG / .597 OPS
2017 (Total): 13 HR / 32 BB / 67 K / .250 AVG / .313 OBP / .410 SLG / .723 OPS
AFL: 0 HR / 6 BB / 5 K / .289 AVG / .396 OBP / .356 SLG / .752 OPS
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