Interviews

Talking Top Prospects with A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens

bo1151079bNow that we’re almost a third of the way into the minor league season, it seems like a good time to take a step back and take a look at how some of the A’s top prospects have been doing so far this season. And there’s no one better to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization back in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week while he was out on the road scouting prospects for next month’s amateur draft. And as always, his enthusiasm for the A’s top young prospects is obvious…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start out in Nashville. You guys obviously have an awful lot of veteran players there this year. But the one guy down there who genuinely qualifies as a legitimate prospect is the guy you got from the Indians for Brandon Moss, and that’s second baseman Joey Wendle. He’s been showing some pop with the bat, getting lots of doubles and extra-base hits, and he’s looked pretty good in the field too. He might still need to refine his plate discipline and pitch selection a bit, but what have you been seeing out of him?

jwWendle, Joey2BO:  I think he’s off to a good start. Joey’s a guy we saw extensively in the Arizona Fall League two years ago, and then he had an injury in 2014 with the Indians. Then we followed him after he came back from his injury in August, and we were definitely intrigued by the player. Then we were able to acquire him in the offseason in a good deal for both sides with Brandon Moss. And he definitely had a strong spring training. He’s got a very short, consistent stroke. He’s got some power in there, the production’s been solid the first two months, and he’s got strong intangibles. The glove’s steady. He didn’t have that much Double-A tutelage, so it’s not surprising that his numbers aren’t tremendous from a plate discipline standpoint now. But with his character, good eye and power potential, we think that’s going to get better as time goes by this season. And talking to his college coaches over the years, the Indians personnel and our guys in Triple-A this year and in major league spring training, everyone extols his character and his work ethic. His intangibles are off the charts, and we like his bat too.

AF:  Okay, let’s move down to Midland, where most of the team’s top young hitting prospects are this year. Of course, your top prospect there is first baseman Matt Olson, who’s also been getting some time in the outfield this year. As usual, he’s been taking his walks and getting on base. He’s hit 6 home runs there so far in what is typically a very tough place for guys to hit. But what do you think about what you’ve seen out of Matt Olson so far at the Double-A level?

moOlson, Matt2BO:  Matt’s an exciting player. He’s 21 years old. He has 6 homers in a notoriously tough park, especially for a left-handed batter. The walk numbers are like 37 walks and 44 strikeouts. He’s been playing a really good outfield. He can play corner outfield fine – his arm’s strong. At first base, his talent level’s elite from a defensive perspective. I don’t think there’s a better defensive first baseman in all of professional baseball. With his strong throwing arm, it translates well to the outfield – and it increases his versatility. Seeing Matt over the years since Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia outside of Atlanta, he can get streaky with the home runs. His raw power is off the charts – he hit 37 homers last year at Stockton. But I can definitely see him, once he’s totally acclimated and has his swing plane down, going on one of those notorious hot streaks, and he can pop you 10 or 15 homers in a 30-game stretch. And I like the fact that he’s increased his defensive versatility. The walk and power numbers are good and I think he’s due for an explosion at the plate.

AF:  Another guy who moved up to Midland along with Olson this year is Chad Pinder, whom you guys have moved back over to shortstop. He’s now got as many home runs as Olson does and has been hitting well at Midland which, again, is a tough place to hit. So tell me what you think of Pinder’s offensive performance as well as how he’s looked at shortstop so far this year.

cpPinder, Chad2BO:  He actually played a lot of shortstop and third base in college. And at the time we drafted Chad, we had two prominent players who are no longer with us at the shortstop position [Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson], so Chad was able to increase his versatility and play second base, play some third base and play some games at shortstop. He’s definitely got solid hands, the footwork is improving and he’s got enough range for the position. His arm’s strong enough to play either shortstop or third base. He’s progressing very well. The biggest thing with him was I think he only had about 22 walks last year…and pitchers at the upper levels can exploit the fact that you’re going to be that impatient. So he’s improved his walk numbers dramatically. I think he already has almost as many walks this year as he had all of last season. He’s got the 6 homers, and the ball comes off his bat well. For the left side of the infield, he’s got a lot of potential. In a dream world, the guy I’d to compare him to would be J.J. Hardy. What he’s doing is exciting and he’s definitely a legitimate prospect.

AF:  Well, speaking of the left side of the infield at Midland, another top prospect over there who just came back recently is third baseman Renato Nunez. He got a late start to the season due to some nagging injuries, but he’s been heating up and has hit a few homers there recently. So what do you think of his progress at this point?

rnNunez, Renato2BO:  Renato is an exciting player. He’s probably got as good a chance to hit for average and power as anybody in our organization. He’s a kid I personally scouted since he was 14 years old, and he’s really maturing as a hitter. If you look at the numbers right now, he’s really holding his own. He’s got like 13 walks and about 17 strikeouts and he’s got a few home runs already. So from where he was as a 19-year-old player in the Midwest League who had some power…to how he developed last year to hit the 29 homers in Stockton…to see where he is now really tightening that zone at 21 years old in Double-A is very encouraging, because the swing’s as pure as you’ll see from the right side of the plate and the power is real. So if he can just tone it down to where he’s just swinging at strikes and taking the balls, he can be an explosive hitter.

AF:  The A’s other big third base prospect, last year’s #1 pick Matt Chapman, also got off to a late start this year due to a knee injury. But now he seems to be heating up a bit too at Stockton. So what are your impressions of Matt Chapman at this point?

mcChapman, Matt2BO:  Matt Chapman is exciting. He’s probably got as strong a throwing arm as anybody playing baseball. On a scouting scale of 2 to 8, he’s got a legitimate 8 throwing arm. And defensively at third base, he’s got a chance to probably be a 7 defensively. He went to the Double-A playoffs last year and hit a couple home runs in the Texas League championship series. He’s got real power. The ball goes off his bat well. Plate discipline is always a thing we really encourage. It was impressive for him to do what he did last year in the Texas League playoffs, but we definitely want to improve that plate discipline from the numbers at Beloit last year. We worked on that down in the instructional league and in the time that he was healthy in spring training, and now we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor and he’s starting to heat up in the California League.

AF:  Another top prospect at Stockton is the kid you got in the offseason from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson deal, shortstop Franklin Barreto. Just like Addison Russell was when he was there, he’s either the youngest or at least one of the youngest players in the California League at just 19. So what are you seeing out of Franklin Barreto and what are you expecting to see out of him?

fbBarreto, Franklin2BO:  Franklin’s starting to percolate now. What Franklin did last year at Vancouver, which is a notorious pitcher’s park, to go there and hit .311 and hit 6 home runs and put up almost 30 steals, it was exciting. We did an extensive scouting job on him, not only in the Northwest League last year, but he’s another kid, like Renato Nunez, who I go back to when he was 14 years old. So we’ve seen him a lot over the years. And just like Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, he’s skipping Low-A as a teenager and going straight to the California League. And actually, between those three players, at this point of the season, he probably has the highest batting average out of all three of those guys during that period. They’re all three talented, and they were able to survey the California League in April and May and make adjustments. And hopefully, like those other two guys, he’ll really flourish in High-A ball the rest of the season.

AF:  Another guy at Stockton who’s been putting himself on the map with his performance there lately is outfielder Brett Vertigan. He got off to a great start at Beloit and got moved up to Stockton and has been getting the job done there as well. People might not have been watching him quite as closely earlier on, but he’s certainly been opening some eyes this year. So tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen out of Brett Vertigan.

bvVertigan, Brett2BO:  He’s been swinging the bat really well. It’s good to see he’s having success. He’s an outstanding kid, a hard worker. He’s probably similar to Sam Fuld. The guy’s a ball hawk in the outfield and he can be a slap hitter at the plate, has pretty good plate discipline and does things aggressively with his legs. So for a player to take a step forward, grind away and take advantage of an opportunity, we’re definitely excited to see what Brett’s doing this year.

AF:  He seems to be doing a pretty good impression of Boog Powell from last year.

BO:  Yeah, definitely. Maybe they didn’t start with all the accolades, but they were good players and our outstanding player development people were able to get the most out of their ability.

AF:  One pitcher of particular interest at Stockton is Dillon Overton, who was the A’s 2nd-round pick in 2013 and is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery after coming back in the second half of last season. They’re obviously still being a little cautious with his pitch count, but what’s your impression of his progress this year?

doOverton, Dillon2BO:  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has been amazing. But we’re still taking baby steps with him coming back from the Tommy John surgery. And honestly, before the surgery, he was a guy who could probably pitch comfortably in that 90-91 mph range and get up to 92-93 mph, where he could be a lights-out pitcher and a quick mover. So far, after the surgery, he’s been pretty much around 87-89 mph and will touch 90 mph. He’s still very effective and has a solid chance to be a good major league pitcher. But if he can continue to make progress and get a little bit more velocity over the course of the next couple years, along with that pinpoint control, he’s got a chance to be a rotation piece.

AF:  We were speaking about Franklin Barreto, but the A’s have another promising young shortstop at Beloit, Yairo Munoz, who’s just 20. He’s had some big games lately and has been heating up a bit. Tell me what you’ve seen out of Munoz so far.

ymMunoz, Yario2BO:  Yeah, last year at 19 years old in the New York-Penn League, he popped 5 home runs, hit .298 and made the All-Star team. Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz both have the potential to be five-tool players at their position. Along with Matt Chapman, they have the two best infield throwing arms in the organization. Yairo’s got legitimate power to all fields – he’s got a chance to be a 15-20 home run guy. I could definitely see a similarity to Tony Batista when he played for the A’s in the mid-‘90s as a middle infielder and a third baseman who could pop 15-20 home runs and play solid defense. And just the energy and the enthusiasm he brings everyday is exciting. He’s definitely an underrated talent.

AF:  A guy who’s been a bit of a surprise this year at Beloit is first baseman Sandber Pimentel, who’s just been hitting great and showing a lot of pop this year. He wasn’t really on a lot of people’s radar before this season, so tell me a little bit about him.

sp552fd147046a1.image2BO:  Yeah, he’s an exciting kid. He’s like a miniature “Big Papi.” There’s only one, but being from the Dominican Republic and kind of the way he carries himself, you can tell he models himself after David Ortiz. But he’s a kid who controls the zone, the swing is real and the ball comes off his bat. He’s got legitimate power potential and he’s got a nice glove at first base. He’s taken to the United States – the kid’s improved his English immensely in the last year and a half. The coaches rave about his day-to-day work ethic and his personality. And he’s definitely emerging as a legitimate prospect for us.

AF:  So is he another one of those guys you’ve been watching since he was a kid?

BO:  Yeah, for sure. I’ve seen Sandber since he was 14 or 15 years old out there scouting Latin America. Our guys are so good. Raymond Abreu in the Dominican Republic has been with us for twenty years. He’s a guy who goes back to the Miguel Tejada days and all the way back to Luis Polonia. He runs a tremendous camp down there in La Victoria in the Dominican Republic. Julio Franco is out there in Venezuela, and he’s been able to mine for talent over there for years. Those guys are in the trenches and working every day. And it’s kind of nice to see guys like Nunez and Barreto, Sandber Pimentel and Yairo Munoz really emerge this year. It’s definitely a credit to Raymond and Julio.

AF:  Now your top two pitching picks from last year’s draft, Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves, are both in the rotation at Beloit this year. So how have they been progressing from your point of view?

dgGossett, Daniel2BO:  Yeah, Daniel Gossett was a winner at Clemson. In the New York-Penn League last year, he had a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio. And now in the Midwest League, we’re seeing his numbers gradually improving. He’s around 90-92 mph with a solid breaking ball and we’re working on incorporating the changeup into his arsenal. He’s a strike thrower and he’s definitely aggressive in the zone. Brett Graves kind of has a tick more velocity – he’s up to 94-95 mph. He sinks the ball really well. We’re just trying to tighten those off-speed pitches so we can increase those strikeouts, but the groundball rate’s been pretty good.

AF:  And finally, there are a couple of guys who’ve been in the A’s minor league system who are now making contributions at the major league level and doing well this year. I’m talking about Max Muncy and Billy Burns. I’m just curious to know how satisfying it is for you to see those guys making contributions on the major league roster and what you think about what they’ve been doing so far?

mmMuncy, Max2BO:  Yeah, so far it’s been exciting to watch. Max Muncy was a player who went to Baylor and played all over the infield initially and eventually settled in at first base in college. Armann Brown, our outstanding scout in Texas, was always pushing and letting us know that Max could play multiple positions. And Max was outstanding at first base. We’ve been blessed with tremendous defensive first basemen, from Matt Olson to Max Muncy to Anthony Aliotti. And Max Muncy was just so good defensively, his feet worked well and he showed the arm strength, so we allowed him to play about 25 games last year defensively at third base in Double-A. And he really worked at third base in the offseason and came to major league camp and made a favorable impression. And when he was able to get the opportunity, he showed a tremendous batting eye. He led the Texas League last year in on-base percentage and walks, and he’s got sneaky power – he hit 25 home runs between Stockton and Midland a couple years ago. And when we needed another third and first baseman who could give you quality at-bats at the big league level, Max Muncy definitely answered the call and he’s playing well. That advanced eye and those innate baseball skills that he has will translate to the top level and he’ll give you a quality, professional at-bat every day. And Billy Burns, he was able to make adjustments. Billy was a right-handed hitter exclusively at Mercer University out there in Macon, Georgia. The Nationals made him a switch-hitter right away in his professional career. So by the time we got Billy, he was able to really sting the ball as a right-handed hitter, but as a left-handed hitter at the upper levels, he was more of a guy who controlled the zone and kind of poked at the baseball. Last year, Billy got a taste of the major leagues and he saw where the fielders were playing him as a left-handed hitter and he realized he needed to make an adjustment. So when he went down to Triple-A, he got a bigger bat and he worked with Greg Sparks, our hitting coordinator for the organization who was at Triple-A last year. And when he came to spring training this season, we were able to see the adjustments he made and we realized that it was going to translate to the top level much more realistically. It’s a long season and hopefully the tide turns for us but, with Max Muncy and Billy Burns, their contributions so far the first two months of the season have been great.

AF:  Well, I know you’re out scouting for the draft right now. So are you able to disclose your current location or is that top secret?

BO:  No, I never can do that. I just finished with a conference tournament and getting ready for the regionals before we go hunker down in Oakland for the week prior to the draft. It’ll be fun. We pick #20. I think our second pick is around #63. And it’s a deep draft – maybe you don’t have the guy who’s the guaranteed superstar at the top, but at 20-100, there are a lot of really good players.

AF:  Well, I’m sure you’ll have you’ll have your finger on the pulse of all of them!

BO:  Well, you know, it’s fun, but the thing is, not only do you want to draft really good players, but over the years, guys we’ve discussed at the draft, Billy Beane and David Forst will turn around and try to trade for guys we liked during the draft process down the road. So it’s not only the guys you get, but it’s also other guys you’ve evaluated you might have a chance to get in the future. It’s always a puzzle. You never really finish the puzzle, but you’re always trying to add another piece to it!

*          *          *

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.

Getting To Know: A’s Second Base Prospect Joey Wendle

jwWendle, Joey2

Joey Wendle

In recent times, the A’s have tended to fill their Triple-A roster with plenty of veteran players whom they feel are capable of stepping in at the major league level if and when needed. And this year is certainly no exception, as the average age of players on the Nashville roster is currently between 28 and 29 years of age.

The one position player presently on the A’s Triple-A team who truly fits the “prospect” mold is second baseman Joey Wendle. At 25, the left-handed hitter is the only position player at Nashville under the age of 27. Wendle has also been one of the Sounds’ biggest offensive weapons this season, leading the team in total bases and slugging percentage. And he’s the most likely everyday player for the Sounds to end up as an everyday player for the A’s in the near future, especially considering the team’s lack of middle infield depth.

Wendle joined the A’s this offseason in one of the more surprising deals for A’s fans, when the team traded popular first baseman Brandon Moss to the Indians for the Double-A second baseman whom most A’s stalwarts had never heard of, but Wendle really wasn’t expecting it either.

“It definitely surprised my wife and I,” Wendle said during a conversation before the last game of Nashville’s homestand on Tuesday. “It was bittersweet for me because I really enjoyed being part of the Indians organization…but I was also really excited to be joining the A’s. I knew that it was an organization where people go about things the right way.”

And one would expect that being dealt for a proven big leaguer like Brandon Moss at least had to make a young prospect feel good about himself.

“It was definitely an honor,” Wendle admitted. “The numbers speak for themselves and just what he was worth to the organization, and I’m sure he’s been a great attribute to the Indians. So I definitely felt that I was valuable to the organization almost immediately as a result of the trade.”

Of course, Wendle certainly wasn’t the only new face joining the A’s this spring, and adjusting to things with a new team isn’t always easy. But Wendle had a solid spring, hitting .282 in 22 games for the A’s, and his transition to the A’s organization seemed to go as well as could be expected.

“It was awesome. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys on the team. Everybody was welcoming to me and really just accepted me as if I’d been with the organization for years,” said Wendle. “It also helped that there were a whole lot of new guys. A lot of people seemed to be meeting each other for the first time. The coaching staff was awesome. They were outgoing and very approachable. I definitely appreciated how the organization treated me, how the players treated me. Even the veteran guys went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. So that’s something that I certainly appreciated.”

Wendle definitely made a positive impression on one member of the A’s coaching staffing, former major league infielder Make Gallego, who seemed particularly impressed with Wendle’s defensive prowess.

“That is one of the best second base prospects I’ve seen come through camp in many, many years,” Gallego told A’s Farm about Wendle during the spring. “This guy’s a pure, solid, future major league second baseman. He’s just so fundamentally sound…it’s hard to find a flaw in his defensive game.”

“Well, any compliment from him I take very seriously,” Wendle said when told of Gallego’s praise. “He’s seen a lot of infielders, so those are certainly very kind words from him…I’m just always working on every part of my game and trying to get better.”

jwOakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+HJZsfVURAAbl2With the start of the 2015 season, Wendle found himself playing at a new level (Triple-A), in a new city (Nashville), and in a brand new ballpark (First Tennessee Park).

“It was awesome,” Wendle gushed. “It was my first time in Nashville, first time in Triple-A. The environment around the ballpark was fun. Everybody was excited about the new stadium.”

Of course, every stadium is a little different. And word has it that the Sounds’ new home, First Tennessee Park, has been shaping up to be a bit of a pitcher’s park, a place that tends to favor hurlers over hitters.

“Well, it seems like with every ballpark, if you ask a pitcher, it’s a hitter’s ballpark, and if you ask a hitter, it’s a pitcher’s ballpark,” Wendle joked. “But I think, to be honest, it’s a pitcher’s ballpark. It plays pretty big in the outfield. Balls that are elevated have a tendency to kind of get caught up and run down more than they do maybe in other ballparks…but the field is beautiful, the playing surface is really nice and just the overall atmosphere has made it really fun to play here this year.”

Whatever effect the ballpark has on hitters, it hasn’t seemed to bother Wendle much, as he was one of the team’s hottest hitters in April, putting up a .286/.338/.557 slash line for the month, and the left-handed hitter currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in extra-base hits this season with 19 (12 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs).

“At this level, you’re going to have weeks where you’re seeing the ball well and the balls are dropping for you, and then you’ll have weeks where they don’t,” Wendle claimed. “At this point, it’s just about continuing to make adjustments and trying to better yourself as a hitter. This season already has had some high points, had some low points and had some challenges.”

Despite otherwise solid offensive numbers, Wendle has drawn just 6 walks against 29 strikeouts in 151 at-bats so far this season. And one of the challenges that the second baseman will face, particularly in the A’s organization, is improving his plate discipline. Have the A’s specifically brought up the issue with him yet?

“Not specifically towards me, it hasn’t been addressed. But they do have that reputation certainly. And any good, professional hitter is going to develop that as they go through their career,” Wendle stated. “I would consider myself more of an aggressive hitter, and that helps me sometimes, but it’s also a detriment sometimes. So that’s an area that I’m looking to improve at.”

Spending the season at Nashville, Wendle has already seen teammates like Max Muncy and Billy Burns make their way to the A’s and make an impression at the big league level. That must make the prospect of a call coming from Oakland someday seem like a real possibility for a hot prospect like Wendle.

“I try not to think about that kind of stuff. It’s something that really is out of my control. What I can control is how I prepare to play both mentally and physically and the effort level that I play with out there.” But Wendle admitted, “It is real exciting though seeing Max and Billy up there. I couldn’t be happier for those guys and the success that they’ve been having. I saw Muncy hit his first home run – he’s here one day and then hits a home run in the majors the other day – so that is fun to see! And it’s encouraging for me to know that if he can do it, then maybe I could do it too.”

But for now, Wendle is just working on controlling what he can – having solid at-bats and trying to get better everyday – while he waits for the opportunity to take his game to the next level.

“You’re constantly making adjustments and you’re constantly looking to better yourself and have more professional at-bats. And that’s something that I’m continuing to work on and will probably continue to work on until the last day of my career.”

*          *          *

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.

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.

*          *          *

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.

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

bb542993b2

 

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.

*          *          *

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.

Talking Propsects with A’s Minor League Manager Steve Scarsone

ssB9315342755Z.1_20141202162702_000_G409A1E4E.1-0cAfter spending parts of seven seasons as a big league infielder, Steve Scarsone has now spent six seasons managing in the A’s minor league system, the past two as the skipper of the A’s Triple-A affiliate at Sacramento.

This year, the California native will be heading east as the A’s Pacific Coast League affiliate switches to Nashville. Scarsone also spends much of spring training in the big league camp with the A’s. So we took the opportunity to get his take on a few hot young prospects who’ve been making their mark in the A’s big league camp this spring…

 

AF:  There are a few guys here in the big league camp this year you had last year at Sacramento I’d like to ask you about. Tyler Ladendorf was having a great year at Sacramento before his suspension. He’s been doing great here in camp. I know you’ve seen a lot of him over the years. Can you talk about the evolution you’ve seen with him and how he’s looked here this spring?

tlLadendorf, Tyler3SS:  Well, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve spent several years with Tyler coming up through the system. We were both together back in 2009 when he came over from the Twins in short-season A-ball. So I’ve been able to be around him ever since. He’s a guy who I think a couple of years ago was kind of wondering what direction he wanted to go. Fortunately, he dove in 100% into being a ballplayer. And he is reaching within himself and it’s shown on the field. It’s great to see a guy who had talent, had a lot of good things going for him but he just wasn’t quite focused yet. He became focused, he became a man, and now you see on the field he’s getting all the little things done. He’s shown Bob Melvin and the rest of the staff here that he can play infield, outfield and get quality at-bats. He’s doing things on the bases that they’re liking, and he’s just putting himself in a nice situation where, whether or not he makes the club out of spring, he can be that guy who can be that first call-up if somebody were to go down in either the infield or the outfield.

AF:  So you think getting the mental aspect of the game together was really the key for him?

SS:  Yeah, I definitely do. I think a lot of us, as players, get caught in a crossroads, where you get to a certain point in your development in your career where you have to commit 100% to this game and this job. And I think that’s what he did, and it’s shown quite well with the way he’s performed and the way he’s been focused. It’s a very good story.

AF:  He’s obviously very versatile, but where do you feel he’s best-suited in the field?

SS:  I’ve always liked him in the middle infield, either second base or shortstop, but he’s able to play third and he can play all the outfield positions. I bet you could throw him behind the plate! He has enough athletic ability to be able to do that. But I like him in the middle because there’s so much action going on there and I like a guy who’s capable of being in the middle of the action.

AF:  Another guy who’s been doing well here in camp whom you had for a bit at the end of last year at Sacramento is Billy Burns. What kind of development have you seen out of him thus far?

bbBurns, Billy2SS:  Yeah, he joined us in August of last year. He’s a guy who’s a leadoff, speed guy, and I think he’s been taught in the past to just slap the ball, put it in play and see what happens. I think what we saw in Sacramento last year was a concentrated effort to try to drive the ball a little bit – I’m not saying drive the ball over the fence, but let’s hit balls hard through the infield, let’s make the infielders have to move side to side, instead of coming in on the ball. That’s going to help his opportunities to get on base. And it seems like he’s carried that into the spring. He’s been taking good swings, he’s got numerous doubles, and he’s having a great spring.

AF:  Well, he certainly seems to be having much better results from the left side of the plate this spring.

SS:  Yeah, from the right side, he shows more power – a little bit more of a comfortable swing. From the left side, it was always slappier. So he seems to be sitting back a little better and having quality at-bats from both sides.

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

SS:  Well, I don’t think I’ve seen any kind of bad reads. He’s making good reads. Obviously, speed can get him to some areas that maybe other guys can’t get to. But the thing that I’m probably most impressed with is he’s charging the ball, coming up and making good, hard, quality throws. He’s not just flipping it in. He’s looking to throw somebody out or to stop a runner from advancing. But if that’s a reputation he gets as a center fielder, that could be a huge asset for him and help the club as well.

AF:  A guy I wanted to ask you about you haven’t had on any of your clubs yet but I’m sure you’ve gotten a good look at here is Max Muncy. What have you seen out of him as a hitter so far this spring?

mmMuncy, Max2SS:  He just has a nice, quiet, real compact swing. There’s not a lot of movement there to where his timing’s going to get messed up. So from what I’ve seen, it looks like he’s near or on time with every at-bat. When you’re kind of filling in every other day and your at-bats are kind of spread out, for him to step in the box and actually get something done, I like that. As a young player trying to get some exposure with the club, that’s a huge thing that the coaches are looking for – a guy who can come up with a quality at-bat. Now he’s transitioning over to third. It’s a different type of reaction. He’s putting in the work. He’s looking better all the time. If he comes with us to Nashville, he’ll get a lot of work and he’ll clean up a whole bunch. He’s a smart guy, so he’ll learn quick.

AF:  And you were an infielder, so you might have a thing or two tell him.

SS:  Yeah, that’s why I’m going to take it personally!

AF:  Another guy who was here earlier in the spring, Matt Olson, got off to a good start. He’s obviously a very talented young hitter. What did you see out of him while he was here in big league camp?

moOlson, Matt2SS:  Well, he’s a potential everyday major league player. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb on that one. Obviously, the eye test is awesome – he looks great, he’s good sized, his swing is pure, there’s power, there’s recognition of what he’s trying to do at the plate. I think he might be trying a little bit harder than he needs to this spring. Obviously, he’s not in camp anymore. He wasn’t in a situation to make this team, but I think the impression that he gave everybody here is that he can play. And it’s just a matter of time before the organization feels he’s ready.

AF:  And finally, about you, I know you’re a California guy. And with the A’s changing their Triple-A affiliate this year, you’ll be making the switch from Sacramento to Nashville. Any thoughts you have about making that big move?

SS:  You know, in the minor leagues, you don’t want to be stuck in the same city for too long. So still having the same job as Triple-A manager but getting to go to a new city kind of gives you a fresh take on it. They’re building a new stadium, so we’re going to enjoy that. And being the new kid in town, we should get a little honeymoon period there. So hopefully we come in and play well so that they receive us well, and it’ll be a good set up for hopefully a long time there.

*          *          *

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.

Gallego Gives the Lowdown on Prospects’ Glove Work

mgGallego, Mike2A’s fans of all ages are familiar with Mike Gallego. For those who lived through the Tony La Russa/Bash Brothers era, they remember Gallego as a steady presence in the infield of three consecutive A.L. pennant-winning teams. But for younger fans, they know him primarily as the arm-waving coach who’s been manning the A’s third base coaching box for the past half dozen years.

Never known for his bat in his playing days, Gallego made his name with his steady glove work in the infield. And in addition to coaching third base for the A’s, he also works with the teams’s infielders. So we decided to get Gallego’s take on the glove work of some of the A’s top young prospects looking to make a name for themselves this spring…

 

AF:  Tyler Ladendorf is interesting because he’s a guy who can play all over the field and he’s gotten a lot of opportunities here this spring. But what have you seen out of him defensively?

tlLadendorf, Tyler3MG:  Well, we’ve seen him a little bit the last couple of years in spring training. He was never officially in camp with us, but he was one of those guys who would be brought up for games sporadically. He never really got an opportunity, but this year he’s been taking advantage of an opportunity that has been given to him and he’s been very impressive. With the athleticism that he has on the field at any position, he’s one of those guys where you don’t lose a thing, and maybe gain some things, at certain positions when Ladendorf’s playing defensively, from second base to short to third to the outfield – he’s pretty impressive out there as well. He looks pretty comfortable with the glove on his hand, and he’ll give you a good quality at-bat as well. So he’s been very impressive this spring. I can’t say if he’s coming north with us or not but, if he does, I think we’ll be better for it.

AF:  So you feel pretty confident seeing him at six different positions anyway?

MG:  No doubt in mind that he can handle all the positions that we put him in.

AF:  Now Max Muncy, who’s always been primarily a first baseman, has been getting a lot of time over at third base this spring. So what’s your opinion of what you’ve seen out of Muncy so far over at third?

mmMuncy, Max2MG:  Well, if somebody hadn’t told me that he hasn’t played much third base, I would have never known that, because he’s taken to third base just as easily as I’ve seen anybody make that transition over there. He seems very comfortable over there. I saw him the first day of spring training, we had that simulated game, and he made a backhanded diving play on a ball that was past him and got up and made a great throw. That was the first day that he impressed his name on my mind. So he’s very impressive over there. He looks very comfortable. The only thing that he needs now is reps. The more reps he has, obviously the more comfortable he’s going to be with the position. He’s got plenty of arm, he’s not afraid to work, and a power-hitting third baseman – those are nice to come by!

AF:  So you think he’s got the instincts for third then?

MG:  Absolutely!

AF:  A lot of people wondered about Joe Wendle when the A’s traded away a guy like Brandon Moss for him this offseason. But tell me what you thought of Wendle when he was here in the big league camp this spring.

jwWendle, Joey2MG:  Wow, that is one of the best second base prospects I’ve seen come through camp in many, many years, and I’m not just talking about the Oakland A’s camps – I was with the Red Sox and the Rockies as well. This guy’s a pure, solid, future major league second baseman. He’s just so fundamentally sound, but also has the ability to make and finish the great plays out there. And he’s fearless at turning the double play – a freight train could be coming down on him to break it up and he’s staying in there and taking the hit. He’s just so fluid around the bag and so smooth on routine ground balls that it’s hard to find a flaw in his defensive game.

AF:  And how’s his range?

MG:  His range is outstanding. I always emphasize that one of the biggest keys to being a good major league infielder is an explosive first step. I’ll sit in the dugout and watch each infielder and watch their movement on every pitch. And you’ll see a lot of guys, a pitch is made and a ball will be fouled off and the infielder will just be standing there. Well, he’s moving on takes – the guy doesn’t even have to swing and he’s anticipating where this pitch is going to be hit. So to see that in a young player is just unbelievable. When he has that type of focus on each and every pitch, it’s pretty impressive to see.

moOlson, Matt2AF:  Now Matt Olson is obviously one of the A’s top hitting prospects, but what do you think about his ability in the field?

MG:  I never knew how good a defensive first baseman he was. Everyone talks about his offense. He’s a Keith Hernandez over at first base – so smooth, very quick for his size, very confident. He makes your infielders that much better because they know they just have to get it in the vicinity and he’s going to catch the baseball – short hop, long hop, high, low. He’s an agile first baseman. He’s another no-doubter, and hopefully you and I are both around to see these guys play in the big leagues, because I look forward to seeing these guys play.

AF:  What have you seen out of Billy Burns in the outfield and what do you think about his long-term potential in center field?

bbBurns, Billy2MG:  You know, Billy’s just an impressive young player with a lot of talent and speed. As far as his mechanics are concerned, he’s shown some arm strength. He made a throw the other day and threw somebody out at third base who tried to take an extra base on him. And he’s bound and determined to impress and to prove that he belongs here, so hopefully he’ll get his shot here some day.

AF:  Another guy I wanted to ask you about is Marcus Semien at shortstop. Prior to him coming here, a lot of people questioned his ability to stick long-term at shortstop. The A’s front office obviously seemed to have confidence in him sticking there when they brought him over. So what have you seen so far out of him at shortstop?

MG:  You know, I’d like to speak to those people who doubted it. I’d want to hear what they had to say, because he’s been nothing but A+ to me. He’s taken to the position and pretty much has learned to own it. He’s done exactly what we had hoped for – for him to come in and take charge – and he’s done it in such a humble way. He’s such a nice kid – hopefully hanging out with me a little longer, he can get a little meaner. But other than that, he’s very athletic.

AF:  What would you say is Semien’s greatest strength as a shortstop?

msSemien, Marcus2MG:  He’s got great arm strength, there’s no doubt about it. He has that “easy cheese,” as we call it. He doesn’t put a lot of effort behind his throws, but they have some serious carry to them. It’s obviously developed into a solid, plus arm at shortstop. And you can’t miss his range. He’ll go back on fly balls and he’s calling off outfielders, and that’s definitely refreshing to see that kind of range out at shortstop. He’s another kid who’s not afraid to work. You know, having all these young kids around wears our butts out. I mean, these guys don’t know how to stop. It’s been a pure joy to have all these guys in camp and to watch them develop right in front of your eyes and just show what they can do and hopefully make a name for themselves.

AF:  So you think the front office got it right bringing him in as the shortstop then?

MG:  Thank God they didn’t ask me anything! They’re pretty on top of everything upstairs, and they have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. Billy [Beane] and his staff have done an excellent job with the crop that they brought in this spring.

AF:  So overall, you’d say this is a pretty hard-working group with a pretty good attitude?

MG:  Well, like I said, the coaches have to pace themselves because these guys will wear you out. As far as hard work is concerned, there’s definitely no fear of that. They’re a great bunch of kids.

AF:  So you don’t see a lot of lazy old guys around this camp then?

MG:  Nope, you don’t see those guys around here, not unless you look in the coaches’ office maybe.

*          *          *

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.

A’s Asst GM David Forst Gives the Lowdown on Team’s New Acquisitions & Top Minor League Prospects

David Forst

David Forst

In what’s become his annual winter interview with bloggers, A’s assistant general manager David Forst addressed a wide range of topics covering both the major league squad as well as the team’s minor league system at A’s FanFest on Sunday.

When asked which of the A’s offseason acquisitions he was personally most excited about, Forst hesitated to single out any one player, but he eventually got around to talking about infielder Marcus Semien, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija deal, saying, “Marcus was a guy we were really focused on…We really believe in his ability to play the middle of the infield. As much as anybody we’ve added this offseason, he’s as deserving of an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.”

Despite critiques by some of Semien’s range at shortstop, Forst praised his strong arm and quick release and said, “We’ve seen enough of Marcus to believe he can handle the position.”

Asked to assess the prospects of some of the A’s newly-acquired young pitchers with the team this season, Forst started out by praising right-hander Chris Bassitt, who arrived with Semien from the Sox, saying, “Bassitt pitched really well against us in September last year. He’s shown what he can do in the big leagues.”

But of all the A’s new arms, the A’s assistant GM sounded most intrigued by righty Kendall Graveman, who came over from the Blue Jays in the deal that sent third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto: “Kendall is the guy who moved up as quickly as anybody in the game last season and dominated almost every level. So you sort of hope that the projection on him continues to go in that direction.”

Regarding talk of Bassitt or lefty Sean Nolin, who was acquired along with Graveman in the Donaldson deal, possibly being useful bullpen pieces, Forst said the team plans to keep them as starters since, “We’re not going to get through the season with five starters.”

Ike Davis

Ike Davis

When asked how newly-acquired first baseman Ike Davis fits into the picture, Forst said, “I think he has a chance to fit into the way we set the lineup…particularly against right-handed pitching. There have not been any inconsistencies in his performance against righties…There’s no reason he’s not in the lineup against right-handers all the time.”

Forst also said that Davis had mentioned he wants to get a shot at getting some playing time in the outfield to increase his opportunities to play. But later, when asked about his abilities in the outfield, Davis sounded a little less enthusiastic, saying “I’m not going to be amazing…I can catch the ball if I get to it, and I can throw it in pretty quickly, but I’m down to do anything.”

Addressing the subject of team chemistry on a roster full of new faces, Forst admitted, “I recognize that we’re bringing twenty-something new guys into a clubhouse, and frankly they’re all down there shaking hands right now and introducing themselves.” But he expressed plenty of confidence in manager Bob Melvin’s ability to make it all gel.

Forst was asked about the apparent lack of home run power in the team’s new lineup and admitted, “We’re not unaware of that concern. The home run totals look different certainly than they did a year ago. That said, Coco’s hit 20, Reddick’s hit 30, Ike has hit 30…I don’t think power is as big a concern for us as some people have made it out to be.”

He also noted that the team has other advantages: “I do think we’re going to have a lot of options in terms of matchups and platoons. When you look at [Josh] Phegley and Davis and [Mark] Canha – all are here because of their particular skill sets.”

Forst discussed some of the infield prospects that fans can look forward to seeing at the team’s new Triple-A affiliate in Nashville this season. He mentioned that he expects Rangel Ravelo, acquired from the White Sox, to play “a good amount of third base” in addition to first base, and noted that Max Muncy could also see some playing time at third in addition to first for Nashville. And Forst named newly-acquired second baseman Joe Wendle along with Andy Parrino and Tyler Ladendorf as the Triple-A team’s middle infield options.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson

Regarding the A’s top young hitting prospect, first baseman Matt Olson, Forst seemed happy to still have him around after having recently traded away some of the team’s other hitting prospects: “I think Matt Olson is as surpised as anyone that he’s still here. In fact, when I called him last week to officially tell him he was coming to big league camp, I had to promise I wouldn’t trade any more of his friends.”

He praised Olson’s power and approach, saying that he “fits the bill” as the prototypical type of A’s hitter, and has hopes that he’ll go to Double-A Midland and pick up where he left off last year at Stockton.

Forst claimed that Olson’s Stockton teammate, third baseman Renato Nunez - who’s also ticketed for Midland – took a big step forward this year, particularly when it comes to his ability to handle breaking pitches and said, “At that age, with what he’s done, you can put a really high ceiling on a guy like that.”

As far as the team’s top draft pick last year, third baseman Matt Chapman, Forst praised his brief time at Double-A Midland and in the instructional league, saying the team saw a guy with a lot of power and a chance to be a really good third baseman and claimed, “Other than [Eric] Chavez, we haven’t seen anyone come through the system with that kind of ability and that arm at third base.”

Forst expects Chapman to start the season at Stockton but said, “If he keeps the power and increases the contact rate, he has the chance to move quickly.”

Another top prospect who appears likely to end up at Stockton is young shortstop Franklin Barreto, who came over from the Jays in the Donaldson deal. There have been some questions about Barreto’s ability to stick at short. But while admitting that he has some work to do on his throwing, Forst clearly stated, “We see Franklin at shortstop.” He also had praise for another one of the organization’s young shortstops, Yairo Munoz, whom he said was a popular target in offseason trade talks and who seems likely to end up at Beloit this season.

Speaking of Stockton though, with the team’s Triple-A affiliate moving from Sacramento to Nashville, Forst admitted that fans in Stockton might be getting a lot more chances to see some of the team’s rehabbing major leaguers this season, and mentioned pitchers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, both of whom will be returning from Tommy John surgery, as distinct possibilities to be seeing time in Stockton this season.

Forst said that he doesn’t expect the team to make any other significant additions before spring training and said that the front office was “not spending a lot of time” on highly-touted Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada. But he did mention that newly-hired assistant general manager Dan Kantrovitz and director of pro scouting Dan Feinstein were leaving that day to attend a two-day prospect showcase in the Dominican.

On the subject of Kantrovitz, who replaced former assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi who was hired as the Dodgers’ new general manager this offseason, Forst said the fact that he had a clear skill set in quantitative analysis made him a particularly attractive candidate for the job and that he’s now running the A’s analytics department and “was integral, as soon as he got here, in helping with the decisions we made on player personnel.”

Forst also praised the A’s new hitting coach, Darren Bush, whom he claimed Bob Melvin has leaned on heavily since he joined the coaching staff prior to the 2013 season and said that “moving him into the hitting coach position was a logical next step.”

*          *          *

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.

The Stockton Ports: A Team That Plays Together – And Stays Together

drobertson-Oak3This year’s Stockton Ports are a pretty special team. Not only is the roster loaded with many of the A’s best young prospects, but the team finished the regular season with the best record in the California League at 85-55 and will begin play in a best-of-three California League playoff series starting Wednesday in Visalia.

In July, A’s Farm spoke with a number of the Ports’ top players about how their seasons have been going on the field – which you can see here – so this time around, we thought we’d take a look at how things have been going off the field. In particular, we spoke with four Ports players who’ve been living together all season – shortstop Daniel Robertson, first baseman Matt Olson, second baseman Chad Pinder and pitcher Austin House. Outfielder Billy McKinney began the season with them but, with his trade to Chicago, has since been replaced by pitcher Dylan Covey.

All four of the house regulars have had solid seasons for Stockton. Robertson finished the year as the California League hits leader, while Olson won the league’s home run title. Despite missing about a month’s worth of time due to injuries, Pinder was still second on the team in doubles and batting average, and House tied for the second most saves in the league.

While most people know the kind of money that major league ballplayers make, most fans don’t really appreciate what life is like in the minor leagues and would probably be a bit surprised to find five of the A’s top prospects all spending the season together in one two-bedroom apartment. But that’s the way it often works below the major league level, where cramped quarters and long bus rides are a way of life. But when you’re busy chasing the dream, it’s all a part of the adventure – and can also help to foster the kind of camaraderie that’s needed to succeed in a game that truly is a team sport.

We talked to Robertson, Olson, Pinder and House last week, just a day after they’d clinched the California League Northern Division second-half title and with less than a week left in the regular season…

 

(DR=Daniel Roberston, MO=Matt Olson, CP=Chad Pinder, AH=Austin House, AF=A’s Farm)

 

AF:  So we’ve got the four of you roommates together here the final week of the regular season. You’ve been living together all season long, and I know Billy McKinney was living with you before he was traded, but has anyone else taken his place since the trade?

ALL:  Dylan Covey.

AF:  So then Dylan took over Billy’s spot when he got here from Beloit.

ALL:  Right.

AF:  Well how’s this living arrangement been working out so far this year?

DR:  Honestly, I get so sick of these guys sometimes. No, I’m just kidding. It’s worked out great. We drove up here after spring training and found an apartment. We’ve got two to a room. [Austin] House lives in the living room.

AF:  So you’ve got your own room?

AH:  Yeah, I have my own room!

DR:  The only thing he’s missing is a door. But it’s worked out great. We’re there to sleep most of the time. If you get more people in, it kind of helps out with the money situation – it just makes it a little cheaper. And these guys are awesome to live with. So I’ve had a blast all year.

AF:  So who’s rooming with who?

DR:  Me and Olson, Pinder and Covey.

Daniel Robertson

Daniel Robertson

AH:  And then they all hang out in my room.

AF:  And you and Olson were roommates in spring training too, right?

DR:  Yeah.

AF:  So what’s your average daily schedule look like?

MO:  I’m always up first…no later than 10:00 most days.

DR:  He [Pinder] is the last.

AF:  So when are you usually getting up?

CP:  11:30.

AH:  And I wake up whenever they come out in my room.

AF:  So when do you normally leave for the park?

DR:  I’m normally driving every day. So whenever the crew is ready, we’ll take off. We normally get here around 1:00-1:30 after we go grab some food, either Subway or The Habit.

AF:  What’s The Habit?

AH:  It’s like a burger joint.

DR:  And they’ve got awesome salads and quality food. We basically have the same routine every single day. We’ve done it for five months straight, eating the same food every day. Then we show up here around 1:00-1:30 and start getting on it. And then afterwards, we’re fortunate enough to eat here. And then we just head home and hang out for an hour or two and call it a night.

AF:  So when do you guys usually crash at night?

ALL: 12:30 or 1:00.

AF:  So not too many late-night video game sessions then?

AH:  We do movie night every once in a while.

DR:  He [Pinder] will pick out a great movie. He’s really into those scary movies. He picks out great movies.

AF:  So what was the best movie of the year?

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder

CP:  What did you think the best one I picked was?

DR:  Maybe The Devil Inside. That one was awesome.

ALL:  Yeah!

MO:  Great ending!

AF:  Well that’s sounds pretty unanimous! So who’s the most responsible member of the household?

AH:  Probably Danny.

ALL:  Yeah.

AF:  So he’s the adult?

DR:  I’m a clean freak. My area and the kitchen always have to be clean or it bugs me. I’m not going to lie.

AF:  So you’re the OCD one?

DR:  I’m the OCD one, I’ll admit it. There’s got to be that guy in the house who keeps everything neat because if there’s not then it just turns into a pig sty.

AF:  Who’s the messiest person in the house?

AH:  I’m going to go ahead and nominate you [Pinder]…He just leaves food, shoes or there’s always a pair of shorts or something…

MO:  I’m not too far behind him though.

AF:  Who’s the craziest or most random person where you never know what to expect from them?

ALL:  Billy [McKinney]!

DR:  When he was with us, you never knew his next move…I think, living there now, it’s probably House.

AH:  I usually ride pretty solo…I usually go by myself. I’m a pitcher.

AF:  Not only are you a pitcher, you’re a closer! So you’re really on your own wavelength.

AH:  Yeah, I usually kind of do my own thing.

AF:  So if you all end up in Midland next year by any chance, would you consider reconstituting this arrangement?

DR:  No, probably not. I’ve lived with Olson for three years now. It’s kind of getting old.

AH:  I might go back to hanging out with pitchers.

DR:  No, I’m just kidding. I would live with these guys for sure.

ALL:  Yeah.

AH:  Honestly, we get along pretty well. We have fun together and enjoy hanging out with each other.

AF:  So there could be chapter two in Midland?

Austin House

Austin House

AH:  There probably is going to be chapter two…but we’ve got to get to Midland first!

AF:  Of course. Now you’re just wrapping up your season here and you’re going to the playoffs. Looking back, you’ve accomplished a lot as a team this year, but what do you take out of your time here this season?

AH:  We kind of expected to be a winning team. We’ve got a lot of good players. Not saying that we expected to get to the playoffs or anything, but we expected to win.

DR:  I think last year we had a winning tradition in Beloit, and it’s most of the same guys here, with a couple of major additions like Chad Pinder and some of the other guys. We had the same coaching staff and most of the same crew here, and we won last year and we expected to carry it on again this year.

AH:  I think we kind of had a chip on our shoulder too because I think we could have won the Midwest League. And coming into this league, we had the same kind of squad, so we want to win it.

AF:  So you feel like you’ve got a little something to prove this year.

AH:  Exactly.

AF:  So I guess you’re looking forward to getting into the postseason and trying to go all the way then.

DR:  Yeah, I feel like if you get there, you want to make the most out of it and win it all, and not get bounced in the first round or something.

AF:  Now it looks like three of you [Robertson, Olson, House] are going to be together out in the Arizona Fall League this year.

AH:  He [Pinder] is responsible. He’s going to school.

AF:  Where are you going to school?

CP:  Virginia Tech.

AF:  So back home – what’s your major?

CP:  Communication studies – so not really a major. [Laughter]

AF:  How much do you have left to do?

CP:  35 credits, so I’m going to do 15 this fall and then knock out the rest periodically.

AF:  So are the rest of you looking forward to going to the AFL?

DR:  Yes, definitely. It’s an honor for sure. I think it’ll be fun. It’s just the next step of the process.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson

MO:  Seeing the competition, we probably haven’t faced half of those teams just because they’re on the east coast, so it’ll be good to see what all’s out there. And like he said, it’s an honor to be included.

AF:  Yeah, you’ll definitely be seeing a lot of talent out there you haven’t seen before. And you’ll also be seeing your old friend Addison Russell since he’ll actually be on the same team with you guys. I guess you must be looking forward to that.

DR:  Of course.

AF:  You’ve still got your place out in Arizona, right?

DR:  Yeah, it’s up to him if he wants to stay with us again or not.

AF:  Individually, you’ve each had really strong seasons this year. Starting with you Chad, you got off to a great start. You’ve had a few injuries, but you’ve still been out there most of the year and have had a really solid season while learning a new position at second base. What do you feel you’ve been able to accomplish this year?

CP:  I think the big thing was defense at second base. When I was first over there, I was like a fish out of water. I was really uncomfortable and making a lot of errors. And then I worked hard and it started to get better throughout the season. So I feel like that’s the main thing that I’ve gotten out of this year.

AF:  Austin, you’ve really been coming on strong in the second half, and your strikeout numbers have really been on the rise. Is there anything that’s been clicking here for you later in the season?

AH:  Just trying to be consistent every outing. I think in the first half, I was throwing well. Some of the results just weren’t where I wanted them to be, but that’s a part of the game.

AF:  Well, eventually it all evens out!

AH:  Yeah, it’s a full season.

AF:  Matt, you’ve had a great season, but you’ve really had an exceptional second half, hitting lots of home runs and walking a lot. Is there anything in particular you’ve learned or adapted to over the course of the season?

MO:  Yeah, I think just the experience of getting more at-bats under your belt, and just sticking to a plan up there. And obviously as the season goes on, you get more at-bats and you become more comfortable up there. I wouldn’t say there’s been any specific adjustments.

AF:  And what about you, Daniel? It’s late in the season, you’ve been out there grinding every day, and still you’re hitting as well as you have all season right now, so something must be clicking for you.

DR:  I just think it’s preparation and staying with the routine, getting the work in and just trying to stay within myself at the plate and trying to control the zone. Getting down to later in the season, you’ve got to stay mentally strong, and how you prepare is what will help you finish strong. Like Olson said, there’s no major adjustment that I’ve made. It’s just staying with the routine, and the more at-bats you get, the better you’re going to get. And it’s been a fun year.

AF:  As you look back on the season, were there any particularly memorable moments or highlights that stand out in your mind?

DR:  Last night, clinching the second half, especially beating a team that won the first half and dominated us in the first half. So to do it against them was pretty fun. You get into the playoffs and it’s a fresh start and anything can happen…One thing that sticks out in my mind, we didn’t win this game, but we were down 11-3 against San Jose a couple of weeks ago and scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth, and that was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been a part of in a while. We didn’t come out on top in that game, but we sure felt like we won with the display we put on in the bottom on the ninth – and those are games you like to play.

AF:  So did that help infuse you with a little extra confidence coming down the stretch, like you could come back in any situation?

AH:  Yeah, we’ve done it like five or six times.

MO:  We did at Visalia two weeks ago!

DR:  The other day in Rancho Cucamonga, we were down 2-0 in the top of the ninth and we put a couple of runs together and Ryan Gorton comes up with a big hit and the next thing you know we’re on top 3-2.

MO:  And Josh Reddick hitting that game-tying bomb for us!

AH:  It happens all the time! In the eighth inning, we’ll be down by four or something, and I know somehow we’ll pull it off. Who knows how? But we always do! We just battle until the very end.

AF:  So how did you guys celebrate when you clinched your playoff berth?

AH:  Just hung out with the teammates and enjoyed their company. That’s what’s good about our team. We have a real good clubhouse. It makes it easy to come to work when you enjoy your teammates, so we always have fun.

AF:  Well, I guess for you, it’s just like being at home!

ALL:  Yeah!

 

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

Exclusive: Talking Top Prospects 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 four 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.

Prior to the amateur draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur prospects in preparation for the draft. But once the draft is complete, he begins a tour around the A’s minor league system, checking in on teams from Sacramento and Stockton to Midland and Beloit.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton just before the major league All-Star break, and prior to Ports catcher Bruce Maxwell’s promotion to Midland. We took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators and get the lowdown on some of the A’s top prospects at Stockton, as well as a few other promising players from throughout the system…

 

AF:  So let me just start off by asking you, as a guy with a long background in both scouting and development, how does it feel to lose a couple of top-quality prospects like Addison Russell and Billy McKinney?

GF:  Well, it hurts, but I’m in this business for the same reason as the people I work for, and I know everything we do is about that big league club. As good as our club has been the last two years, to me, this is what you’ve got to do. And I think Billy [Beane] worked through this thing magically – the timing, the quality of the players we got. We didn’t just add pitching, we added aces, and this could end up being the difference in us possibly putting a ring on our finger or not. And when it’s all said and done, that’s a big part of development – drafting and developing these prospects to be at that level of interest so that they could be a part of a deal like that.

AF:  Well, this year, most of the A’s top prospects are right here in Stockton. Of course, shortstop Daniel Robertson was probably more affected by the Addison Russell trade than anyone. So what do you see for Daniel Robertson’s baseball future at this point?

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2GF:  He’s on time with his progression. He has many talents. Maybe he’s not as “sexy,” if that’s the word, as Addison, but probably more consistent in some areas. But he’s taken another step in his maturity as a baseball player. You can’t out-work him – he’s here every day. He wants to get better, and he’s shown he’s better this year than he was a year ago. He’s becoming more consistent. The biggest thing – the thing we were all counting on when he signed – was coming into some power, and it’s starting to come. You can see it in his numbers, you can see it in BP – it’s starting to come. Everything else is in his hands, and he’s playing great baseball.

AF:  Did his development this year make it any easier for the organization to make the deal and trade away someone like Addison Russell?

GF:  Maybe to some hidden degree. But Billy’s come out on the record and said that we’re going to worry about 2015 and 2016 when we get to them. And it’s really no different down here in the system. You know, we’re not as deep as we were a couple years ago. We’ve made a lot of trades, we’ve made a lot of moves. But one good move is we do have a Daniel Robertson at a key position. Maybe he’s not on as a quick a path as Addison could be on, but Danny’s not far behind Addison in any category, trust me.

AF:  Another guy who looked to be really affected by the trade, particularly by Billy McKinney’s departure, was center fielder Herschel Powell. He had a great first half at Beloit before getting called up to Stockton and then was hit with the 50-game suspension after just a couple of weeks here. So what’s your take on his performance this year and the recent developments with him as well?

GF:  Well, he’s gone crazy a little bit this year. He really had a great first half at Beloit. He’s learning the little things a little better. He’s always been a runner, and he’s always had the tools to play center. He’s always been an aggressive hitter, and now he’s learning the strike zone. He’s getting on base more. His instincts stealing bases still need some work but are starting to come. He came here and had a quick two weeks, and it didn’t look like the Cal League was prepared to stop him. And now we got the “oopsie,” so we got to wait 50 [games].

AF:  With Powell out for a while, another outfielder who was hitting well at Beloit and is now getting a chance here in Stockton is Jaycob Brugman. I remember you telling me to keep an eye on him in spring training, and he’s gotten off to a pretty good start here in the California League so far.

GF:  Brugman’s a good player. He’s one of our better defenders on the corner. He reads balls well, and he’s a good thrower. He’s got the best release. There are not a lot of things he does that are way off the charts, but there’s nothing that he does below average. He does a lot of good things on all sides of the game.

AF:  Now first baseman Matt OIson’s been having a good year here – he’s been leading the California League in home runs and it looks like his plate discipline has improved as well.

GF:  As far as his strikeout percentage, he’s cutting that back a little bit. But the good thing is he’s walking. So there are times when he’s going to swing through pitches, but he’s also swinging at strikes, and that’s a big key for him going forward.

AF:  What kind of improvements have you seen Renato Nunez make this year at the plate but also in the field at third base?

rnrenato-nunez-2013cGF:  It’s a work in progress. It’s repetition, repetition, repetition. He’s not perfect, but he’s working on it. He’s getting there. There’s no reason not to think he’ll be fine there when it’s all said and done. The more offensive he becomes, the better at third he becomes! He’s gotten stronger. He’s a lot more physical this year. Last year, he tapered his body and thinned out at 19. This year at 20, he’s starting to add some good weight. His hands are quicker. He’s got another 10 yards to the ball when he hits it. He’s got a chance to be a beast when he’s done.

AF:  What about Chad Pinder? It was a big leap for him to skip the Midwest League and come right up to the California League this year, but he got off to a great start here.

GF:  First of all, we’ve got to go back to spring training when he showed up 25 pounds stronger, and it was good weight. He had a whole different look in his eye. He looked a little bit more confident. I thought last year he was kind of frozen a little bit in the pro game. It looked like he was out of sorts and uncomfortable, plus he got hurt and lost a lot of time. But after Instructional League, he got his feet on the ground and worked his tail off in the winter in our strength program. And in spring training, he was one of the more impressive young guys in the whole camp. So we pushed him a little bit and sent him here. He’s playing a new position – 80% of the time at second base. Back in his amateur days, it was more short and third. So he’s still learning a lot of the nuances at second. But offensively, he’s been aggressive. He needs to learn how to control the strike zone a little bit more as he continues to grow, but he’s really putting a charge into the baseball when he squares it.

AF:  The other guy you guys bumped up here to Stockton with Pinder, Ryon Healy, started off the season slow, but he’s really been turning it on here of late.

GF:  For me personally, that would be my most improved guy. From last summer to Instructional League and even into spring training, things were a little rough. He himself is learning a new spot at third base. But I can tell things are more comfortable. He’s moving his feet better, he’s got better angles and lines. But offensively, he’s got much more timing and rhythm, and his true hand-speed strength is starting to show up.

AF:  How do you feel Bruce Maxwell’s been doing both at the plate and behind the plate, and how has he been in terms of learning to work with the pitching staff and that whole aspect of the game?

GF:  That bat’s fine. There are still some things we’re working on as far as the pull side, but his discipline’s been good. His receiving’s better and he’s been throwing real well…One thing that’s been impressive in talking to the staff here is that he’s really taken a big leap in leadership. He runs our meetings before every series. We have a meeting with all the pitchers and go over the opposing club. And he’s basically taken charge of that meeting, so that’s a step in the right direction. He’s in there, pitchers are digging him, everything’s good.

AF:  Speaking of pitchers, Seth Streich has been having one of the best seasons of any guy in the system. What’s he been doing right, what’s been working for him and what’s allowed him to have the success he’s been having?

ssStreich2bGF:  The changeup. That’s been our plan of attack with him for a year now. He’s had one, but it wasn’t a pitch that he really used. It wasn’t a pitch that he thought he had to use. He’s been predominantly a fastball/curveball guy. His changeup’s been hard, it’s been flat. So all the guys have been working to soften up his change and get some bottom to it. And I think it’s really been an added weapon for him. I’ve always loved the way he throws his fastball. He’s one of our best as far as locating it down and away.

AF:  How is his overall fastball command at this point and how hard does he throw it?

GF:  He’s really good with his fastball – he’s always been able to nail his fastball. He’s 90-93 mph, in that area…but I’ll say the same thing now that I said two years ago, he’s a changeup away from being a really good pitcher.

AF:  Nolan Sanburn has finally been healthy all year and has been out there pitching on a regular basis. So how do you see him coming along at this point?

GF:  Good. I think he’s prepared to pitch at the next level if needed. The biggest thing is getting back on the field for a full year, staying healthy and getting the innings he needs instead of being hampered by low innings. You don’t get better not being on the mound, and now he’s getting on the mound consistently and he’s been solid.

AF:  Do you see him sticking in the bullpen in the foreseeable future?

GF:  Yeah, I see that. It’s probably up for future discussion though.

AF:  What about the guy everyone’s always interested in, Michael Ynoa? He’s had some good outings and some not-so-good outings here in Stockton this year. So where do you see things are at with him right now?

Michael YnoaGF:  He’s healthy. He’s throwing hard. Like you said, it’s been 50/50 success. The boys have been giving him a little bit more of a slider look instead of a curveball. Last night was the first time I’ve gotten to see this new little slider. And even though I saw his breaking ball a year ago in spring training as good as I’ve ever seen it, the bottom line is he just doesn’t repeat it enough to be effective with it. The slider that I saw last night on numerous occasions might be a very, very helpful pitch for him. When he threw it right, it had the perfect depth and angle for a slider to get some swings-and-misses. And that’s what Michael needs right now – he needs a pitch that he can get some more swings-and-misses with.

AF:  Now you were just in Sacramento, so is there anyone in particular there you could see helping the big club in the near future if needed?

GF:  Yes. Andy Parrino could go up there and play defense all day long. He’s swinging it a lot better than he did a year ago. He had a unique down year offensively last year, but Andy could be on anybody’s big league team in the right role. Shane Peterson continues to do everything you want to see out of a guy. He could be a fourth or fifth outfielder for anybody – thankfully, we haven’t needed that because of the job that Craig Gentry’s done. But he’s talented – he can play all three outfield spots, he gives you quality at-bats. There’s a flash of thunder in there, there’s a flash of speed in there. So there are a lot of things that could be attractive.

AF:  Have you had the chance to see much of Max Muncy or Billy Burns at Midland this year and, if so, where do you feel they’re at?

GF:  I think they’re both in good spots. Muncy has some hot streaks and has some cold streaks, but I think overall he’s been pretty consistent this year…I think he’s right on track – his patience, his ability to defend. We’ve toyed with him at third and that looks like a very playable option. Billy can steal a base on call and he’s played well in center field. You’ve got to remember, he’s a singles guy – and the higher up you play, the more they shorten the field, so he’s having to figure that out a little bit. You know, in spring training, everything’s opened up and nobody really cares. But once the season starts and guys start putting hitting charts against you and know where you hit it, they defend you a little bit different. So he’s kind of in the middle of that part of the learning curve.

AF:  And have you had a chance to see last year’s 2nd-round draft pick Dillon Overton, who’s been working his way back from Tommy John surgery down in Arizona?

dospringstate10weatherford4-3cGF:  Yeah, I saw his first rehab. He was at 90 mph. The curveball was there – it just wasn’t consistent. But he threw easy. He attacked the strike zone at 90 mph. He’s been throwing 3 innings.

AF:  Do you think there’s any chance of seeing him outside of Arizona this year?

GF:  Yeah, I think the plan is once we get him up to around a 5-inning-type pitch count, we’ll probably send him somewhere, but we’re not going to pitch him a ton.

AF:  Now what about a couple of young pitchers from the 2013 draft who’ve been on the sidelines, Chris Kohler and Dustin Driver? What’s the latest with the two of them?

GF:  Driver’s got a back issue, so he’s been out. I don’t think it’s too bad. Before that, he had an infectious disease for a while – it wasn’t anything major – but he was basically quarantined from the complex. Then when he came back from that, he threw a couple times and then that’s when the back thing popped up, right around the time of the draft.

AF:  And what’s the latest with Kohler?

GF:  Kohler’s elbow is just a slow go. It’s still biting him. They’ve gone back in and taken another look. I think he was going back in to have another MRI. But he’s not currently in any legitimate throwing program as we speak. I don’t see him see pitching a whole lot the rest of this season.

AF:  And finally, how much of this year’s 1st-round draft pick, Matt Chapman, did you get a chance to see prior to the draft and what’s your take on him?

mcimg_6735bGF:  I’ve seen parts of him for two years…He’s a very talented defensive kid. I can’t believe he didn’t play shortstop in college. He’s got a gifted arm. He’s got gifted hands. He reacts well. He’s very polished defensively. He’s got some raw power in there and very impressive strength. There are some things we’ve got to clean up a little bit in his approach and his moves. But he’s got a chance to be a complete guy – you know, hit, hit with some power. This guy’s got a chance to be a Gold Glover.

AF:  Well, let’s hope so! That’s great, thanks a lot.

 

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

Exclusive: Skipper Ryan Christenson Gives the Lowdown on the A’s Top Prospects at Stockton

rcchristenson_4j13f5yu2Many A’s fans might remember Ryan Christenson from his days patrolling the Oakland outfield from 1998 through 2001. But he may have an even more important job now, as he’s been entrusted with overseeing some of the A’s top prospects currently playing for the Ports in Stockton. Four of the A’s top five picks from the 2012 draft and three of the team’s top four picks from 2013 all started the season with Stockton.

Christenson spent last season with many of the same players in Beloit, where he was considered to have done such a masterful job of managing the team’s top prospects that they made him the manager in Stockton this year. And with players like Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder and – until his recent promotion – Bruce Maxwell, the team is currently tied for first-place in the California League North second-half standings. A’s Farm recently took the opportunity to talk with the Stockton skipper to get his take on his talented cast of characters…

 

AF:  First off, let me ask you about Daniel Robertson. With the trade of Addison Russell, he’s now the guy in the spotlight as the A’s new shortstop of the future. So what have you seen from him at the shortstop position in the field this year, and have you seen any sort of evolution from last year to this year?

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2RC:  As good as he was with us last year in Beloit, he is noticeably better this year. The guy makes all the routine plays. He comes out here to play every day…and he’s been solid for us at shortstop. The fact that I believe we’re leading the league in defense this year just kind of goes to show how strong we’ve been up the middle – and he’s been the captain of that.

AF:  Now what about at the plate? It looks like he’s been showing a little more discipline and taking more walks and getting on base a lot. So what have you seen in his approach at the plate this year?

RC:  I think his approach at the plate has been solid. He’s hit #1 and #2 primarily for us this year. I don’t think leadoff is a comfortable position for him, but he’s done it for us because that’s what we’ve needed – and he’s been getting on base a lot. For a 20-year-old, I think the power is starting to show its potential. He’s hit a couple balls this year that I’ve just been saying “Wow!” They’ve really come off the bat well with a lot of noise and have true carry. And he’s hit a couple home runs to right field, so I think the power that he has in that frame is coming around. The guy works his butt off in the weight room, so he’s just going to continue to get stronger. And as he comes into his twenties and gets some of that man strength, I think he’s really going to be a special player.

mo15095_4110106706138_1463379083_n4AF:  Well, speaking of power, what about your first baseman Matt Olson? He’s always had power, but he’s really been taking it to another level lately. What have you seen from him, and is there anything in particular that he’s been improving on or doing any differently this year?

RC:  His plate discipline has really impressed me this year. The fact that I believe he’s still leading all of minor league baseball in walks right now just goes to show what he’s able to do up at the plate. His eye is impeccable. He’s cut down on the swings-and-misses. He’s always had a pretty stroke. But I think the difference between last year and this year is that when he does get the mistake in the at-bat, he’s not fouling it off or missing it, he’s connecting with it. And he’s just so strong that if he does get it going in the right direction with any kind of trajectory, it’s going to go out.

AF:  What about your third baseman, Renato Nunez? Like Olson, his power seems to be hitting another level here lately. Has he been doing anything differently in his approach?

rnrenato-nunez-2013cRC:  I don’t think he’s been doing anything differently. I just think it’s a matter that they’re not missing that mistake when they get it. That’s kind of the nuts and bolts of what we try to preach as an offensive approach is to wait out that great pitch. It might be the first pitch of the at-bat, it might be the seventh pitch of the at-bat – and the walks and working the count are kind of a by-product of that mindset of getting that good pitch in the at-bat and not missing it. And that’s all he’s done here of late in this power purge is that he just has not missed his pitch. And he’s hitting it out of the ballpark, he’s been hitting it off the wall, he’s hitting doubles – the power shots are coming with regularity with him.

AF:  What about in the field? You had him last year and know he had an awful lot of errors there in Beloit. So where’s he at defensively this year?

RC:  I think he’s definitely showing some improvement in making the routine play. I think he might have had 40 errors over at third base last year. I think he doesn’t even have 10 to this point in the season. So it’s just a testament to the work that these guys do. Juan Navarrete, our infield coordinator, has a simple program that we go through every day as far as getting their ground balls and staying in that routine of consistently working on the fundamentals. He’s made some good plays for us, and he’s played a solid third base. He and Healy both have come a long way. [Ryon] Healy as well has shown tremendous improvement over there at third base, and I have no problem throwing either one of them over there and feeling very comfortable throughout the game.

AF:  That was actually the next guy I was going to ask you about, Ryon Healy. Obviously, he got off to a slow start and has really climbed a long way back and has really been playing great lately.

rh1223780bRC:  His start really wasn’t as slow as the numbers might indicate. The guy’s hit the ball the same the entire season. I really started feeling bad. We were joking around with him to start the season about how many line drives and hard fly balls he was hitting at people or guys were making diving plays on. So I wasn’t tremendously worried about him. He wasn’t overmatched by any means. And that was what I kept feeding the brass – he’s not overmatched here and I think this is where he belongs. And I’m glad they kept him here to continue to work through it. And hats off to him and the fact that he’s climbed up to where he is at this point. The way he started, if he gets off to any kind of halfway decent start, he’d have monster numbers right now. I like what he does – he’s able to put the ball in play pretty regularly, he’s not a big strikeout guy. And he’s just going to continue to get bigger and stronger and really continue to come into his own as far as his power stroke.

AF:  And you like what you’ve seen out of him so far in the field at third base?

RC:  I really have. He’s a guy who it was a new position for. He was a first baseman in college. In Instructional League last year, they moved him to third and he struggled mightily. But he’s put the work in. That’s my main credit to this whole team and why I enjoy being around these guys all the time. It’s easy for me to get them out on the field and get that extra work in. And to see it pay off with the numbers that they’ve put up as a club defensively really is just a testament to what they’ve done.

cpDSC03243dAF:  Like Healy, another guy you didn’t have last year in Beloit but who’s had a big role here this year is Chad Pinder, who’s changed positions and has been playing second base here for you. Where do you see he’s at at this point?

RC:  I got my first look at Chad in the Instructional League last offseason, and I was very impressed with his power, not just bombing balls to left but he’s got tremendous strength to drive the ball to the opposite-field gap. And he’s hit a few home runs here with us this year to the right-field side, so that’s very impressive. He’s got quick hands, and he’s really put the work in at second base. Bret Boone was in with us to start the season and got him comfortable and kind of changed his mindset. It was the first time he’d ever played on the right side of the infield after being a third baseman and shortstop in college. So, with him, I think just getting that comfort with the throw – that sidearm flip from second base as he’s going to his left – and getting used to the pivot there at second base and turning the double play. He’s definitely gotten comfortable. And we all know he’s got the arm to go to short or third if we need it. So he’s a special player – I think we’ve got something in him.

AF:  What about catcher Bruce Maxwell [who was recently promoted to Midland]? Tell me a little bit about where he’s at both at the plate and also behind the plate. His throwing has obviously improved tremendously.

bmDSC02921bxRC:  I think everybody believes that Bruce is going to hit. That’s what he is – he’s a hitter. So I don’t think that there’s any worry there. There’s some fine tinkering here and there. I think offensively his biggest challenge is just separating his offense from his defense. He would have a tendency to take an at-bat, be frustrated and go back behind the plate and make some silly mental mistakes as far as having some balls get by him, but he’s really cleaned that up…and he’s tightened his game up back there. He still has some work as far as just controlling the blocks consistently and not having the drops show up here and there. But as far as the way he’s thrown the ball, it’s been night and day from last year.

AF:  You’ve been with a lot of these guys for the past two seasons now. They seem like a pretty special crop of prospects to a lot of people. But you see more of them than anybody, so what’s your overall view of this group of players you’ve got here in Stockton?

RC:  I think everybody sees the talent on the field. It’s been a joy just to watch them play the game every single evening. But for me personally, just to be around them and see the way they interact in the clubhouse, to see the way they get their work done, to see the way that they influence not only the other position players but also the pitching staff and this group of 25 guys as a whole is really what makes them special. They really get it, they have leadership qualities, they’re just ballplayers and I just have to pinch myself when I think that the majority of them are still just 20 years old. But I’m excited for them. They’re great pieces for this organization. I don’t know what the long-term plan is for them. I know we’re in win-now mode in Oakland. So they’re valuable pieces. If they feel like they want to push them through and see them in Oakland one day, I would love that. But I know that they’re also valuable to help get a huge piece like what we’ve done with Addison Russell to get us [Jeff] Samardzija and [Jason] Hammel up there in the big leagues. So I’ve been blessed to be with them for two years and just enjoy being around them.

 

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