Interviews

Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on Nashville’s Top Players from Sounds Skipper Steve Scarsone

ssB9315342755Z.1_20141202162702_000_G409A1E4E.1-0cAfter spending parts of seven seasons as a big league infielder, Steve Scarsone has now spent seven seasons managing in the A’s minor league system.

He’s currently midway through his third season managing at Triple-A, though this year the California native had to head east as the A’s Pacific Coast League affiliate switched from Sacramento to Nashville.

Scarsone is handling a veteran club this year in Nashville where the average age is close to 29 and there are very few young prospects on the roster. We took the opportunity to talk with the skipper in Nashville last weekend to get his take on some of the team’s top players…

 

AF:  I know you spent a lot of time watching Max Muncy in the big league camp this spring, and now he’s back here with you at Nashville. I don’t know if you had the chance to see much of him playing at the major league level.

SS:  Not as much as you’d hope. A lot of times we’re playing at the same time. And by the time our game’s over, if they’re still playing, it’s like…

mmMuncy, Max2AF:  The last thing you need at that point is more baseball…

SS:  Sometimes, to be honest! But we tried to follow him as best we could. I know he wasn’t getting the consistent play, but that’s what he was brought up to do was to be that guy to help out and fill in. And it sounds like he did a pretty good job of it. It’s not easy for a guy to go up for his first time and not be in the everyday lineup and have to try to figure out not only how to compete at that level but how to compete at that level with three or four days in between games. I think it was a great experience for him. I think he’s taken a lot of positives out of it. And now, being here and playing every day, I think he’s shown a huge improvement defensively at third base, which is still somewhat of a new position for him. And his swing plays very nicely in this game – it’s a short swing. He has considerable power, very good pitch recognition, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. He’ll wait for his pitch. Right now he’s kind of struggling, but that won’t last very long. He’ll be fine. I think he’s going to be something that we’ll try to hold on to in this organization and see if we can find a spot for him.

AF:  So is there anything in particular that he needs to do to get himself into a position to get back up there?

SS:  No. From reports that I’ve heard, his return here was not due to his lack of performance. He was just kind of the odd man out up there. To be honest, with his age and experience level, getting a good half-season in Triple-A would be to his advantage – seeing some advanced pitching day in and day out and getting a chance to learn from his teammates and see how to handle himself on and off the field. He’s still relatively young. This year’s his first year in Triple-A, and getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues for a spell was icing on the cake for him. But I think he’s got a good mental outlook on what he needs to continue to try to fight towards, and I think he’ll be fine.

AF:  Like Muncy, one of the other younger position players you’ve got on this team here is Joey Wendle. So what have you seen out of him this year and where do you feel he’s at in his development?

SS:  I think the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Joey is just his love for the game. He hustles on and off the field and plays as hard as he can. I think that’s a quality that sometimes kind of gets overlooked, because we get so caught up in defining tools and stuff like that. And it’s kind of that X factor that doesn’t really come up in a scouting report, but I think it’s very important to bring up for him because that’s a huge part of the kind of player he is – he’s kind of a throwback in a sense. But he’s given us great defensive play. I think he’s improved greatly in just his knowledge and experience and anticipation of what’s going to happen and how to be in the right spot at the right time. His work habits are obviously good. I really have enjoyed watching him progress. I think playing with some of these older guys has been a huge advantage for him. As coaches, we kind of find ourselves limited at times. There’s so much we can do. We can give them the work, we can give them the information, but the criticism and encouragement that comes from his teammates go leaps and bounds above what we can do as coaches. I think he’s benefited greatly from some of the older players that he’s playing with – just in terms of how to best prepare himself and how to play the game as a professional player. I think that’s going to help him along the way as he continues, and I’m sure he’ll make the next step too.

jwWendle, Joey3AF:  I talked to A’s infield coach Mike Gallego about him in spring training. He raved about his preparation and how much he had his head into every play and he was really impressed with his whole approach. Now you were an infielder too, so do you concur with that assessment?

SS:  Definitely. And what we’ve tried to do this year with him is to take that attention to what’s going on, his first step and his movements and everything, and try to smooth everything out so it’s a little bit more fluid through the play. Early on, he was getting himself into trouble kind of being a little bit too forceful to the ball instead of really reading the ball and getting the hop that’s going to be best for him. As a second baseman, you don’t have to be as aggressive as on the other side. So I’ve seen a great improvement on that in terms of taking the game in a little bit more and not trying to force yourself down the game’s throat.

AF:  So letting things come to him as opposed to maybe trying a little too hard and trying to force things all the time.

SS:  Exactly! And he’s taken to it very well – he’s got a very nice rhythm about him right now.

AF:  Now what about at the plate? Obviously, he could be a little more selective. But what have you seen in terms of the evolution of his approach at the plate over the course of the year, and what does he need to be thinking about doing up there right now?

SS:  I think that’s the key. The key for him is to get good pitches to hit, because he can handle just about any pitcher he sees. He has just as much success against left-handers as he does against right-handers. He’s shown some power. He’s able to hit the ball to all fields. I think, at times, he just gets a little too aggressive. So that’s been the process with him, to try to smooth out his offense just liked we’re trying to do on the defensive side. We have him hitting in the two hole, so there’s some more things that can happen up there. He’s willing to bunt and he tries to hit the hole when he has that opportunity. So there are a lot of good things that we’re seeing, and we know that the mentality is there. It’s just a matter of more and more reps. I think we’re going to see where it’s going to start to click for him more and more as this season finishes up. And I’d like to see how he comes back next season after having an offseason to just kind of rethink everything, because in the heat of the season, you just grind and grind and grind. Sometimes that offseason of reflection can be very useful. I really do look forward to seeing how he plays out.

AF:  So it sounds like you think he knows what he needs to do and he’s headed in the right direction and it’s just a matter of executing.

SS:  By all means, yes.

AF:  A guy who was a big hitter for you last year at Sacramento is Nate Freiman, but he’s really been struggling this year. So what’s been going on with him and what’s been holding him back?

nfNate+Freiman+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+CFUGtYuCl4Ll2bSS:  Well, Nate showed up in spring and hurt his back. He was down all spring, and he was left in Arizona. He ended up joining us almost six weeks after the season started. And then, at that point, we were using him kind of sparingly to keep him from a relapse.So it took him seven or eight weeks into our season before he was kind of starting to play every day. He didn’t have a spring training. He found himself not getting off to a start, and he’s been kind of pressing, trying to contribute. He feels like he’s letting the team down. He’s a very selfless guy – he’s a great teammate. For him not to hit the ball and drive people in, it’s been very frustrating for him, and we’ve had several talks. Of course, he went through the situation where they took him off the 40-man roster, and he was stressed about that. We’ve all had to go through that at some point. It’s been a learning year for him. If you think about it, he went from Double-A to the big leagues. And then last year, he kind of went up and down. So he hasn’t had a 400+ at-bat season since 2012 when he was in Double-A with the Padres. He’s just now kind of getting a chance to get some more regular playing time. He’s working on it, he’s trying a bunch of different things and it’s frustrating. It’s tough to pull yourself out of the hole, but he’s got a good attitude and he works hard and he plays hard.

AF:  Is the back still an issue at all? Are there any lingering physical issues with him?

SS:  No, he’s 100% percent. That’s all fine. He’s just trying to get on some kind of a roll at the plate and start feeling like Nate again.

AF:  I wanted to ask you about a couple of pitchers here. The most interesting story on your pitching staff this year has to be Barry Zito. So what have you seen out of Barry and what he’s been doing here?

bzZito, Barry3SS:  Well, on the field, he’s pitched phenomenally. The numbers speak for themselves. He’s going deep into games, he’s controlling the games and he’s doing very well now. I would have loved to have been around when he was at the top of his game. He’s not an imposing pitcher like he was in terms of his velocity – there’s onbviously been a drop-off. But the curveball and the changeup are still there. He makes hitters look silly still. He sets them up and puts them down. And it’s just that experience and knowledge of pitching and the ability to make a pitch when he needs it that really has been impressive. No, not every pitch has been right where he wants it, and you can see that there’s some struggle there, but he never lets that bother him to where he can’t go back and make the pitch he needs when he needs it. And off the field, in the clubhouse, he’s been outstanding. He’s been a great source for these other guys. They look up to him, and he takes it with a ceratin modesty and grace. It’s actually fun to have him on the club.

AF:  Well, there aren’t too many minor league clubhouses with Cy Young winners in them.

SS:  But you know what what? He doesn’t wear that on his sleeve. He’s very humble. And I’m enjoying the fact that I got the chance to spend the summer with him.

AF:  So where’s his velocity been at lately?

SS:  He’s mid-80s with the fastball. When you just look at the fastball, that’s not very hard. But when you play it off of that changeup, which is arguably Tom-Glavine-like at times, and then the breaking ball, which is purely Barry-Zito-like, the velocity of the fastball probably looks about 92 to some of these hitters when he uses it at the proper time. On the scouting side, you’d probably say it’s not quite there. But in terms of effectiveness, he knows how to pitch, he knows how to get people out.

AF:  Do you have any update on a guy who was pitching here for you before landing back on the disabled list, A.J. Griffin?

ag456167SS:  He’s back in Arizona. I’m not positive where he’s at. It’s just one of those situations where trying to compensate for one injury kind of created a little bit of another. So it was decided not to push this. Obviously, I can’t talk too much about the medical side of it. He just needs to get himself feeling right.

AF:  And was it basically right shoulder soreness?

SS:  Basically.

AF:  And what about Sean Nolin, who recently went back on the disabled list again?

SS:  Sean’s still here with us. He started for us for four or five starts and he started feeling some stuff, so we slowed him down. He’s currently on the DL trying to regain some strength and ability to really get after it. But he’s on the mend and we’ll probably look to see him start to get himself into a rehab situation over the next week or so. And then hopefully over the next couple weeks we should see him back active. I don’t know if we’ll use him as a starter or in the bullpen. We’d have to build him up as a starter again, and I don’t know if we have enough time left in the season to get him built up.

AF:  Well, I guess it’s a good sign that he’s still here with you guys rather than being down in Arizona.

SS:  Yeah, it was just some small stuff. After coming off all the stuff he’s had to battle through the last year, everybody agreed that it was best for him to stay on a little bit of a slower pace rather than trying to push him into something and make things worse.

AF:  Another guy you’ve got here with quite a bit of major league experience is Ryan Cook. He’s been struggling a bit lately. But where’s he at, what’s been going on with him and what does he need to figure out to get back to where he used to be?

rc5l64jcRW2SS:  He went up and down early. Obviously, he started the season here. And I know he was frustrated. I think it was kind of a shock to him. He handled it pretty well, but you could tell he was struggling with the situation and all. And he didn’t really get off to a great start. Then he got called up and you thought, “Okay, he’ll back in a groove and he’ll stay there.” Then they did so many quick moves so soon with all those relievers. Since he’s been here, his attitude has greatly improved. He’s all about trying to get himself back on track and get himself back to the big leagues, which is a good sign. He’s an emotional guy. He’s high-strung. We’ve all seen him in Oakland – he’s out there giving it everything he’s got. He’s a hard charger. He’s just been kind of getting knocked around a little bit, so he’s getting a little bit of humility. And that sometimes can be a good thing. So he’ll continue to pitch and he’ll continue to give it everything he’s got. And I think that, at some point or another, Oakland will need him again and he’ll go up and step right back into where he left off.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that he’s been working on here?

SS:  No, no, he’s pretty much the same pitcher. He’s just trying to get a little bit more consistent with his control, trying to pitch a little bit more ahead in the count. He’s finding himself kind of getting behind and having to come across the plate with a little bit more of a hitter’s pitch. Two years ago when he was dominating in the big leagues, he was getting ahead, he was using both sides of the plate. He had late movement that was giving him opportunities for missing the barrel. But now I think he’s just trying to aim a little too much and probably losing a little bit of that late movement, and it’s being knocked around a little bit more than he’s used to. You know, sometimes that just comes from the pressure and from trying to be too fine and trying to take that next step to prove that he’s able and ready to go back up. But his velocity’s there and the pitches are getting stronger. So he’s still a valuable part of this organization.

AF:  Great, thanks!

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Catching Up With A Couple Of A’s Infield Prospects: Max Muncy & Joey Wendle

DSC04192On a veteran Nashville club where the average age is almost 29, only two position players on the team were born in the ‘90s – infielders Max Muncy and Joey Wendle.

As the youngest hitting prospects on the squad, the two are more likely to find themselves playing significant roles in Oakland in the future than just about any other position players currently at the Triple-A level.

Muncy has already seen time with the A’s this season, and Wendle may very well end up spending time in Oakland next season. We took the opportunity to speak with both of them last weekend in Nashville as the Sounds were wrapping up a 4-game home stand against Omaha.

 

MAX MUNCY

mmMuncy, Max224-year-old first baseman-third baseman Max Muncy became the first member of the A’s 2012 draft class to make it to Oakland’s major league roster when he was called up by the A’s in late April. The team’s top pick in 2012, Addison Russell, got the call from the Cubs just a few days earlier. Originally a first baseman, Muncy’s been learning to play third base over the past year. He made 4 errors in 12 games at the position while with Oakland, but he’s yet to make an error at third since returning to Nashville. Muncy’s .385 on-base percentage at Midland in 2014 was one of the best in the A’s minor league system last season, but he managed to post just a .273 OBP in 34 games with the A’s. Back at Nashville though, he’s put up a much more Muncy-like slash line of .252/.351/.433 in 34 games at Triple-A. Everyone at Nashville, including Muncy himself, claims that he looks much more comfortable now that he’s been getting the chance to man the hot corner on a daily basis.

AF:  The last time we touched base with you was during spring training when in you were in the big league camp with the A’s. You ended up spending a good amount of time with the big league club since then, and now you’re back here at Nashville. So what kind of experience was it for you to get the chance to be playing at the big league level for the first time?

MM:  It was a lot of fun. It’s definitely a dream come true. It’s as good as everyone says it is. Once the glamour wears off a little bit, you realize it’s still just baseball. It’s not like it’s a completely different sport – it’s the same sport you’ve been playing your whole life. But the biggest thing for me was realizing it’s still just baseball.

AF:  In terms of actually hitting at the major league level, did you feel the pitchers there were approaching you any differently, and were there any changes you needed to make to adapt to what you found yourself encountering there?

MM:  Yeah, there were a lot of things I needed to change. One of the biggest things for me was just my timing. I was struggling to figure out how to make sure I was in a good rhythm when I wasn’t playing every day. I didn’t do it properly, and that’s why I didn’t hit as good as I should have up there. I’ve just been trying to get back into that rhythm and that timing. It’s been a little tough doing that. But I haven’t been in this league [the Pacific Coast League] too long. One of the things everyone tells you about this league is that all the pitchers live off their off-speed. And I’d definitely say that the difference between up there and down here is that up there those guys live off their fastballs – they’re not afraid to throw those fastballs. So that’s been a huge difference for me. You go up there and you see fastballs and you come down here and suddenly you don’t see fastballs. It’s an adjustment, but it’s one you’ve got to make.

AF:  Throughout your minor league career, you’ve always played pretty much every day. So do you feel that keeping your rhythm and timing while not playing every day was the biggest adjustment for you?

MM: Yeah, I definitely think for me that was the hardest adjustment because, like you said, I’ve never done that before. And it wasn’t just hitting, it was defensive rhythm. I went out there and I worked hard on every single day on defense with Ron Washington and I did everything that I could. I just couldn’t figure out how to translate that into a game and that really hurt me – and really hurt the team in a couple games. So that was an adjustment I needed to make and, unfortunately, I didn’t. But getting back down here and getting playing time again, I feel like everything’s starting to come back. You know, I don’t blame them for that, I blame myself entirely. I just wasn’t able to make that adjustment and it cost.

mmDSC02925bxAF:  Well, you’ve primarily been playing third base down here. So has it been helpful to you to be playing over there pretty much every day?

MM: Yeah, it’s been really helpful. Like I said, I worked with Wash every single day up there. And there were a lot of things that he was trying to teach me that, at the time, when you’re not seeing it in a game, you can’t exactly see what he’s trying to get going for you. But now that I’m in the games, I can see exactly what he’s talking about and how it’s translating to me. It’s a night-and-day difference from how I was playing third in spring training to how I’m playing third now. Everything is so much smoother and so much more natural, and that’s due to all the work I’ve been putting in.

AF:  So is there anything specific that you’re working on or anything you’re mentally focused on trying to improve right now?

MM:  The biggest thing I’m trying to work on is getting my swing back. My swing has gotten away from me and it just kind of feels foreign to me right now. And I’m trying to get it back to where I’m used to having it. I believe in myself and I believe that it won’t take too long, but it’s just a process right now. And I’ve got to keep going out every day and harding work. I can’t get too frustrated with it. But that’s just been the biggest thing is trying to get my swing back.

AF:  It sounds like you’re just trying to find that comfort zone again where everything feels right.

MM:  Exactly!

AF:  So how is Nashville as a place to play in and a place to live in?

MM:  I haven’t had too many home games yet, but the town’s great from what I’ve seen. It’s a big town, it’s up and coming. There are a lot of people here, and the country music scene’s outrageous. So many people are out here, and the games I’ve been in we’ve had sold-out crowds almost every night. It’s been pretty crazy. They’ve got that thing out in right field called “The Band Box.” It’s almost like a nightclub out there. They’ve got music playing during the game. It’s just a completely different experience. As far as the field goes, it’s a tough field to hit at. I’ve seen some guys absolutely crush balls that just go nowhere here. I’m kind of used to that coming from Midland. But the situation’s different in Midland because you hit a ball and it gets caught up in the wind. Here, you hit a ball and it just doesn’t go anywhere. If you look at the field, the dimensions are actually pretty fair – they’re almost on the small side. So you think there’d be a lot of home runs being hit there, but there’s just none. I haven’t seen one ball go out to dead center field in batting practice or in a game here. It plays really big.

AF:  So, on a day-to-day basis, what’s the best thing about playing in the majors as opposed to the minors?

MM:  You know, on the road, it’s definitely the hotels. When you’re up there, you get your own room. You’re staying in 5-star hotels. Down here, we still stay in pretty nice hotels, but you’ve got a roommate. Being a young guy, it’s a little different up there. You’ve got to be at the field early. You’ve got to find your own way there. That’s not a rule, but it’s kind of like an unwritten rule. If you’re a young guy, you probably need to find your own way to the field – you probably shouldn’t ride the bus. But the biggest thing for me is just the living situation up there is just a lot different. You get treated pretty well up there.

 

JOEY WENDLE

jwWendle, Joey325-year-old second baseman Joey Wendle joined the A’s this past 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 infielder whom most A’s followers had never heard of. He’s played in 95 of Nashville’s 100 games so far this season, appearing at second base in all of them. Everyone at Nashville raves about Wendle’s work ethic and his hustle in the field and claims that he’s been as solid as can be at second base this season. He also leads the team in doubles with 27, but the one critique most frequently raised about Wendle concerns his plate discipline. He’s walked just 17 times in 425 plate appearances, but he says that he knows what he needs to work on to get where he wants to go.

AF:  We last spoke in the early part of May and now here we are in late July. So how have things been going for you here over the past few months?

JW:  It’s been good, both from a personal standpoint and a baseball standpoint. It’s been a really fun summer. It’s been enjoyable for me and my wife, as we’ve moved out here for a couple of months. Baseball season’s been going well. It’s been full of adjustments, full of ups and downs, but overall it’s been good. I’ve been playing well here lately. It was nice having the All-Star break for three days just to get your mind off of baseball for a couple days, and I think that’s good for most of the players. We were just able to kind of hang around Nashville and really explore it.

AF:  So what do you feel are the main things you’ve learned so far this year?

JW:  I think, at this level, players are able to highlight your limitations faster than maybe at other levels. So it’s been a little eye-opening for me. Pitchers realize if they don’t have to throw me strikes, they’re not going to. So that’s been a challenge for me – staying within myself and learning the pitches that I can and can’t hit. So it’s been constant adjustments and constantly trying to improve in that area.

AF:  Do you feel that you’ve made some progress over the past few months in terms of learning to be more selective?

JW:  Yeah, I do feel that way. Any hitter will tell you that they’re constantly working on something and constantly looking to improve. In a game where you fail 70% of the time, I think there’s always going to be some of that where guys are always looking to hone their skills and make them as polished as possible.

AF:  Well, there’s a reason they say it’s a game of adjustments.

JW:  Yes, it definitely is!

AF:  But going back to what you were saying earlier, you feel that pitchers at this level have a much greater ability to exploit any weakness that you may have in your game.

JW:  Yeah, I think that’s true. They get the scouting report on you and they’ve seen you once or twice before – and obviously it’s magnified at the next level too.

AF:  So how do you feel about your defense? Is it steady as she goes or is there anything you’re working on out there?

jwOakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+HJZsfVURAAbl2JW:  We do a pretty good job as a team staying on top of our defense, especially when we’re at home, we’re able to get into a nice routine. We go out before batting practice and take groundballs for about half an hour and then take balls off the bat live during batting practice. So I think that really helps me just kind of stay fresh. But I’ve felt pretty good, pretty comfortable over there at second base. I had one week in particular where I played poorly over there and had kind of a defensive slump I guess. But other than that week, I’ve been feeling pretty good over there.

AF:  Well, your manager, Steve Scarsone, was a major league infielder. So has he been much help to you here?

JW:  Yeah, he’s been great. He’s the one I’ve been working with almost every day, especially when we’re at home. And he knows what he’s doing out there so, when he talks, you definitely want to listen to him and take any advice that he has and really think about it and try to work on that. It’s been very helpful. I know he was a great defensive player. So being around someone like that and just seeing how they talk about different positions they played and how they did it is something that you definitely want to tap into and learn from.

AF:  You’ve played all your games this season at second base. Has there been any talk at all of having you maybe sample some other positions to increase your versatility? Has anyone said anything about that at all?

JW:  Not that I’m aware of, no. But I have played a little bit of third, actually right when I got drafted in short-season. But, as far as I know, it’s just second.

AF:  This is the first year that the A’s Triple-A affiliate has been here in Nashville. So how’s it been for you playing here in Nashville?

JW:  Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s really up and coming. It’s really grown at this point. It’s fun to be a part of and see new people coming in. A guy told me the city bird is a crane, with so many buildings going up. But it’s been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed it here.

AF:  This is a pretty veteran team here in Nashville. And at 25, you’re actually one of the younger guys on this team. So has it been useful for you to have some of these more experienced guys around? Is there much that you’ve picked up from your teammates here this year?

JW:  Definitely! I mean, having that kind of advice and having those eyes in the dugout for mechanical issues and stuff like that is huge. But more so for me even, just them having been around the game for such a long time and being able to learn from them about how to deal with the failures and successes of this game and just seeing how they handle themselves and seeing what it really means to be a professional is really what I take away from them. But it is nice. The coaches that we have our great, but it’s almost like we have 25 coaches down the bench.

AF:  Well, it must be interesting to see some of your teammates, like Max Muncy and Billy Burns, going up and playing for the big club. It must give you the sense that that opportunity really isn’t that far away.

JW:  Yeah, it does. And it’s real exciting for them. Playing alongside Billy Burns, and now he’s been up most all season. Seeing the success they have here and then up there is really encouraging for everybody down here. And it’s just really fun to watch. Anytime you turn on the TV and you see somebody you know, it’s just pretty cool. So we’re definitely really happy for all the guys that get called up here, and I hope to be one of them!

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

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

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A’s special assistant Grady Fuson

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.

Prior to the draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur players in preparation for the draft. But once the draft is complete, he typically begins a tour around the A’s system while also checking out some of the team’s potential targets prior to the trade deadline.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton a few days before the start of the major league All-Star break. 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 number of other promising players from throughout the system…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start out here in Stockton with last year’s top draft pick for the A’s, third baseman Matt Chapman. Ever since you guys drafted him, you and others with the A’s have always talked a lot about his power potential. And now, here he is leading the A’s minor league system in home runs after missing the first month or so of the season. So what have you been seeing out of him this year and how do you feel about the development of his power potential?

mcChapman, Matt2GF:  Well, I don’t think there’s any question about the power. The power is actually staying ahead of the quality of the day-to-day at-bats. He’s in the middle of the process now. This is his first full year, even though he missed almost a month and a half. So we’re just trying to get him into better positions day in and day out so that more of those four at-bats a night become of quality. There’s no doubt about the power – the power’s going to be there. It’s all going to depend on how good a hitter he ends up becoming.

AF:  Yeah, the batting average is still a little low and his strikeout numbers could stand to be a little lower.

GF:  Yeah, he’s got some fundamental things that, little by little, we’re trying to pick apart on him and trying to get him into better positions more often. There’s growth but, like with anybody at this level, things are always a work in progress.

AF:  Well, I’m sure it must be nice to see those home runs flying off his bat anyway. But another top prospect here in Stockton is shortstop Franklin Barreto. He started off a little slow, but he’s really been coming on strong of late. So what kind of development have you seen with him over the first half of the season?

fbBarreto, Franklin2GF:  Well, now that we’ve been able to see more of him on a day-to-day basis, going back to our first look in spring training, I think a lot of it was just getting used to a new organization and getting comfortable with people. He did not come into camp prepared. So, out of the chute, we got kind of an obscured look. And then, he got off to a sluggish start, but we kind of figured on that being a 19-year-old in this league. But he’s picked it up. There are some things defensively he’s done better than we thought he’d do. Obviously, he’s still got some errors, but that’s typical. But he’s starting to be more comfortable with his at-bats. He’s squaring it up often and swinging at better pitches, and he’s got enough strength to make himself a little dangerous from time to time. So it’s starting to blossom into a good year. From where he played in short-season last year and for a teenager to walk into this league, that’s a big step. That was quite a push in our eyes to put him here. But this is such an easier league early in the year to become comfortable in. I don’t care how good you are, the Midwest League in April and May is just difficult – the weather is inconsistent, the temperatures are inconsistent. So this was a better spot for his development.

AF:  It seems like the A’s have been pushing a lot of the top prospects right past Beloit lately.

GF:  Yeah, it’s almost like, if you’re good enough, you’re coming.

AF:  A guy who didn’t start out the season as a top prospect but who’s been having a great year on the field here is center fielder Brett Vertigan. So what’s accounted for his success this year?

bvVertigan, Brett2GF:  I think the biggest thing is everything he had to go through last year. If you go back to last year, he didn’t even break camp – he got stuck in extended spring training. And it was tough on all of us – it was tough to see him have to stay there. But we just felt that we had some other guys who needed to get out and play. And for a college guy at that age to be told that he’s going to extended, it’s kind of hard to take. But he got over it and he earned his way back into Beloit and, since then, he’s kind of taken off. But I think the biggest difference this year is he’s a lot more confident. And what he’s needed to work on, he’s worked on. He’s done a much better job keeping the ball out of the air. But when things go the way they’re going for Brett, he’s seeing the baseball better and he’s putting better swings on better pitches. So his whole game has taken off. He’s stealing more bases, he’s walking more, and he’s doing all the things that come with the building of confidence. And when you start doing some things at the plate and you know you can compete, your confidence grows and the odds of your whole game playing up come up. I think he’s got 20 plus stolen bases between two clubs, he’s got around 50 walks between two clubs and he’s hitting around .300 between two clubs, so he’s done a great job.

dcCovey, Dylan2AF:  I wanted to talk to you about a few of the pitchers here. Dylan Covey has been pitching well all season. He’s doesn’t strike out a lot of guys or blow guys away, but he seems to be getting the job done. So what’s been coming together for him this year?

GF:  Well, his command is better. I think we all believe he still needs to work on pitching down in the zone better. But as far as him working ahead in counts and staying ahead in counts, he’s done a much better job. But you’re right, he’s not a big strikeout guy. He’s got a good sinker when he throws it, but the sinker is a contact pitch, and it needs to be down in the bottom half of the zone for him to get the groundballs. But there are times when this guy will come out and he’ll get you ten or twelve groundballs a night, and that’s the way he needs to pitch.

jsSeddon, Joel2AF:  The guy who’s been a bit of a surprise here lately is Joel Seddon, who was a reliever but has been turned into a starter this year, and he’s really been rounding into shape nicely here lately.

GF:  Well, he started a little bit in college. And then I think in his last year or so at South Carolina, they made him a reliever. But he’s always had three pitches. And we just don’t have the depth of starters in this system, so that opened up an opportunity for him to become one. He was the guy we kind of hand-picked to give some starts and get him on the mound longer. And since the middle of last month, the quality of his starts has really improved.

AF:  A guy who was here during the first half and just recently moved up to Midland is Dillon Overton, who’s still making his way back from Tommy John surgery. So what have you seen out of him this year?

doOverton, Dillon2GF:  Well, we’re finally getting him out to a level where he can be challenged a little bit. We still need to watch his workload, but I think he got what was needed out of here. We’re still waiting for the velocity to come back another tick. But even if he doesn’t come back to 93mph, at 89-90mph, this guy’s got the breaking ball and the changeup and the deception to still be very effective.

AF:  Well, he seems to know how to pitch anyway.

GF:  Yeah, exactly.

AF:  So has he basically been hovering in the high-80s on the radar gun?

GF:  Yeah, he’s kind of an 87-91mph type of guy. 88-89mph is where he’s been comfortable.

raAlcantara, Raul3bAF:  Raul Alcantara is another guy who’s been coming back from Tommy John. How’s he been doing here?

GF:  Well, if you ask him, he hates it! But if you ask us who’ve been around, you know how the whole rehab process works. There’s no science to it. You don’t know how certain guy’s are going to feel. His stuff is certainly there. It’s just about him getting his rhythm and delivery back so that he commands the baseball a little better.

AF:  So I guess he’s eager to get it going!

GF:  Oh yeah, his expectations at this point are probably a little higher than ours are. But that’s good. Every time you take the mound, you want to throw a no-hitter, right?

bmMcCurry, Brendan2AF:  Right, I guess there are worse attitudes to have! Now the guy out of the bullpen here who’s been really impressive is the closer Brendan McCurry. He just seems to be solid every time out there.

GF:  As expected! He was a very polished college guy when we got him. He’s still a bit of the trickster. He drops arm angles and he’s got all these different slots. But the guy’s got four pitches and he commands them and he attacks the strike zone. He probably is what he is, but he’s got the stuff to keep it going and do the kind of things he’s doing at every level.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few of the A’s top prospects at Midland, starting with first baseman Matt Olson. Of course, Midland is a notoriously difficult hitting environment, but what do you think about what Olson’s done there so far this year?

moOlson, Matt2GF:  Well, I would say the first month and a half, the target was being met. He hovered around .270 and he was hitting some homers. And we all know the conditions are much different there. We might have cursed him because in spring training we told him, “Hey, be the first guy who goes from Stockton to Midland and doesn’t have to stumble around a bit.” He’s kind of hit a wall. He’s had a rough patch, but we’ve got plenty of time to get things fixed and get back on track and end up having the kind of year he hopes to have.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that he’s struggling with at the moment?

GF:  The swing-and-miss is still there, and that’s obviously getting exposed. So if there’s any part of his game that needs to take the next step, it’s that – it’s the contact.

AF:  So the tougher pitchers there are just getting him to swing and miss more often.

GF:  Right, but at the same time, he’s such a studious kid and a hard-working kid, his ability to make those adjustments and get better should be no different than the pitchers who’ve climbed to that level.

AF:  So you think he’s capable of making those adjustments then.

GF:  Yeah, yeah.

cpPinder, Chad2AF:  So what about Chad Pinder, who’s been back playing shortstop at Midland this year? He’s been hitting well, and he’s also been getting on base more often than he had been last year, which I think was a bit of an issue. I’m not sure how he’s been in the field, but tell me a little bit about where you think he’s at both at the plate and in the field.

GF:  He’s been great on both sides. He’s played a very solid short. I think he’s opened a lot of eyes as a shortstop. Time will only tell where he ends up position-wise, but he’s done a remarkable job. He’s been consistent. There haven’t been a lot of peaks and there haven’t been a lot of valleys in his game. He’s been pretty solid. When it comes to his numbers, across the board, the arrows are pointing up. He’s walking at a higher percentage and his recognition is improving. So his growth to me is right on target.

AF:  The other guy at Midland who everyone’s always interested in is third baseman Renato Nunez, who’s another one, like Chapman, who got a bit of a late start to the season and is maybe just now starting to get into the swing of things. So what are you seeing in terms of his progress this year?

rnNunez, Renato2GF:  Well, I think we’re speaking at a time here in July when things are finally clicking again, where the quality of the at-bats every night are a little more on target, and obviously the performance is coming out of that. He’s being moved around – he’s playing a little third, playing a little first – because we’re using Olson in the outfield quite a bit more now, so he’s getting an opportunity at both spots. So I’m hoping for a big second half from him. You know, that league doesn’t become quite as difficult for righties as it does for lefties. The right-handers aren’t hitting it into the teeth of the wind every day.

AF:  Well, I know Michael Choice and Grant Green didn’t enjoy it there too much.

GF:  Well, it’s one of those things you’ve got to overcome – you’ve got to go through there.

AF:  I guess that’s what hurdles look like!

GF: Exactly.

AF:  Now one pitcher of particular interest in the bullpen there at Midland is Ryan Dull, who’s only given up two runs all year long. So how’s he been doing it and what’s he got to do to get out of Midland?

rdDull, Ryan2GF:  Well, he’s doing it with the same stuff he’s always had. When he’s been good, he’s been 90-92mph, his ball has a little sink and dive to it, and he pitches at the bottom of the strike zone fabulously. He’s got a hard little slider and he’s got a nice little changeup. He’s one of the better pitchers in our system when it comes to really pitching down in the strike zone consistently, and that’s the biggest attribute he has, plus he pounds the strike zone. You know, nobody expects a run like this, so God bless him!

AF:  So is there anything in particular that he needs to do or work on still to get to being a major-league-ready reliever?

GF:  No, I think his stuff is what it is. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy you can project bigger stuff out of. I think he’s got to do it the way he’s doing it right now. And if he continues to do that at every level, he will pitch in the big leagues.

AF:  So I guess it’s obviously just a matter of getting the opportunities then.

GF:  Exactly.

AF:  Well, there certainly aren’t an awful lot of young prospects in Nashville this year – it’s a real veteran team. But one guy the A’s got in the offseason, second baseman Joey Wendle, has been the youngest position player there for most of the season. So what have you been seeing out of Joey Wendle so far this year?

jwWendle, Joey2GF:  It’s all been good. Collectively, between most of us, we think there’s certainly a hitterish-looking guy there. He’s got enough power to kind of be a little scary. And I think his approach leaks back into a power mode a little too often. With the numbers that he’s putting up, I think our expectation might have been a little bit more – but at the same time, close to .270 and some homers. There’s some defense that still can take another jump. I look at him as like a younger Sogard defensively – you know, the defense just kept getting better and better and better all the time. And I use Sogie because I drafted him in San Diego, and he was all offense. That’s what bothers me when Sogie hasn’t hit, but he’s become a superb defender. By the way, [A’s hitting coach] Darren Bush has done a tremendous job with Sogie. He’s got him lengthening out his stride. You know for the last couple years Sogie’s gone with a no-stride approach, and it’s changed the way he attacks pitches in the zone and actually how he sees pitches. I don’t know why Sogie in the past has not walked when this guy used to be an on-base machine. So now Bushie’s got him back into getting some distance in his stride and being in a better position to see the ball, and obviously he’s having a much better offensive year.

AF:  So you’re looking at Wendle as possibly being on a similar sort of path as Sogard was on then.

GF:  Yeah, with a little bit more pop in his bat. He’s more physical.

bzZito, Barry2AF:  One of the most interesting stories at Nashville this year has been Barry Zito’s return to baseball. Since you go way back with him, do you have anything to say about what he’s been doing there this year?

GF:  Yeah, I’ve always got a lot to say about Barry because, shit, I signed him way back when! I’m proud of what’s happened the last month or so. You know, the first five or six starts he made, you just kind of went, “Ugh, here we go.” Not the command that he’s used to throwing with, and we all know the velocity’s down. But he’s been grinding through it and he’s been working at it. I know [pitching coach] Don Schulze and [manager] Steve Scarsone say he’s been a tremendous citizen. And I would say his last five or six starts have been off the charts. He’s been efficient, he’s been pounding the strike zone and his breaker’s been more consistent. His changeup still kind of comes and goes, but he’s been really good.

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AF:  And finally, I just wanted to get your take on a couple of the A’s top draft picks this year starting with your #1 pick, shortstop Richie Martin.

GF:  Yeah, he’s a high-upside athlete. He’s got all the skills you want. He’s a plus runner and thrower. He’s got actions, he’s got hands. There are some things in the offense that we’ve got to keep our eyes on. He’s not a power guy per se, but he’s got the strength to hit a few. There are some things, maybe once he gets his legs underneath him a little bit, that we may tinker with offensively in instructional league. But he’s got a chance to be a complete guy, minus the big home run threat, but he’s a big upside athlete.

AF:  And what about the top pitcher you guys took in the 3rd round, the high school pitcher Dakota Chalmers?

dc_MG_8530_resize2GF:  It was nice to take a run and get the young kid Chalmers. After taking Martin number one and White number two, we lost some pitching in that area of the draft. So it was nice to be able to come back and get a nice upside guy like Chalmers. I didn’t see him throw in high school, but I saw his first or second side down in Arizona, and it was impressive. But he’s like most 18-year-olds – you’ve got to let the body grow up. He’s tall and he’s thin. His body’s going to go through a lot of transformations in the next three or four years. But he’s got a good delivery, he’s got a good breaking ball and there’s some heat coming out of his arm. He looks like he’s got a chance to be a little more of a mature strike-thrower, and there’s some upside there, no doubt!

AF:  Well, that’s good to hear. Thanks!

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Catching Up With: Matt Chapman – 2014’s Powerful 1st-Round Pick

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

After being taken with the A’s top pick in the 2014 amateur draft, third baseman Matt Chapman began his career in the A’s system at Beloit. The Orange County native got off to a bit of a slow start in the Midwest League, but later performed well in the postseason when he played for Midland in the Texas League playoffs and championship series.

Chapman got off to a late start this season after injuring his knee while working out just prior to the opening of spring camp. The 22-year-old finally began his season on May 7 with Stockton. In 58 games since his season started, he’s managed to accumulate a total of 15 home runs and currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in that important category. We caught up with Chapman in Stockton, just about two months into his first season in the California League…

AF:  I know you’re a California guy. So, even though it’s not southern California, tell me what it’s been like for you having the chance to play here in Stockton in the California League this year.

MC:  It’s awesome to be able to have family nearby and see my friends and family every time we go down south or have them visit. It’s a short drive up here. It’s great. It’s good to be home, and it’s good to be playing baseball.

AF:  After coming out of the college game last year, what was the biggest difference for you in terms of adapting to the pro game?

MC:  Just playing every day. You’re not always going to feel good. You’re not always going to be ripping the cover off the baseball. So just to be able to show up and bring something to the table every day and just give it your all and find ways to contribute – just getting used to the grind. I’m still getting used to it. It’s my first full season, so I’m just trying to make that transition.

AF:  Yep, pretty much every day you wake up, there’s going to be a ball game!

MC:  Yeah, whether you like it or not!

AF:  How is it different playing here in Stockton this year as opposed to where you spent most of last year at Beloit in the Midwest League?

MC:  There’s talent in that league as well. But each level you step up, the competition is just more consistent. There’s the same amount of talent at most levels, but everybody’s got the ability at the higher levels to do it on a more consistent basis. You know, you’re not getting any free at-bats up here.

AF:  Are there any particular adjustments you’ve had to make at this level this year?

MC:  I’ve definitely been making a lot of adjustments, and just trying to figure out what works for me at the plate and just develop myself into a professional player and have a professional swing.

AF:  When you were first drafted, everyone I talked to in the A’s organization talked about your power potential. And now you’re leading the A’s minor league system in home runs at this point after missing the first month of the season. So what’s been going right with your power stroke and what’s ebabled you to square up as many balls as you have this year?

mc451716682bMC:  I definitely have run into my fair share of baseballs, that’s for sure. But just that work that I was talking about, trying to get that professional swing. Some things have been working but, to be honest, I’m definitely not satisfied with the way I’ve been hitting. I’ve been striking out too much and my batting average is too low. But that’s all stuff that we’re working on, and hopefully we’ll find a happy medium on everything, and we’ll all be smiling!

AF:  In the college game, you seemed to draw a lot of walks, but that hasn’t been quite the case here yet. So what do you think accounts for that difference?

MC:  Just maybe swinging at some pitches that I shouldn’t. I’ve just got to focus and take good at-bats. The pitching’s definitely a lot better – they don’t throw as many balls. Obviously, college is easier to hit in, and guys weren’t throwing me as many strikes in college because I was hitting third. I would like it to be back to what it was, but we’re still working on it.

AF:  Well, I guess at this level, a lot of it is just figuring out which pitches are the ones you can handle and which ones you’ve just got to lay off of.

MC:  Exactly, if I had it all figured out, I’d be in the big leagues. So it’s still the minor leagues, still working on it, still a work in progress.

AF: So is there anything you’re focused on trying to work on or any goals or expectations you have for yourself for the second half of the season?

MC:  Team-wise, I want us to win the second half and make the playoffs, because I think we’ve got a great group of guys and it’s fun to be out here with them. It’s a great team – we’ve got a lot of talent on it. And on a personal level, just find ways to help us win and definitely cut the strikeouts down and get the batting average up.

AF:  So where are you living here in Stockton and who are you living with this season?

MC:  I live with Joel Seddon, Kyle Finnegan and Dylan Covey. We live a little bit north of the ballpark in an apartment. But that’s just where we sleep. We spend most of our time here.

AF:  You’re living with a bunch of pitchers. So is there anything you’re learning from living with all those pitchers?

MC:  Yeah, we all kind of pick each other’s brains on certain things. But those guys are just my buddies, they’re good dudes, and we just kind of feed off each other and we enjoy each other’s presence. When you spend as much time with each other as we do, you better be with people you enjoy!

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Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on Stockton’s Top Prospects from Ports Manager Rick Magnante & Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez

DSC04178After spending the past nine seasons managing at Vancouver, Vermont and Beloit in the A’s system, Rick Magnante returned to his native California this season to pilot the California League’s Stockton Ports.

Meanwhile, another California native, Rick Rodriguez, who served as the long-time pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats, remained on the west coast with the Ports when the A’s Triple-A affiliate moved to Nashville this season. We spoke with both of them about some of the team’s top prospects earlier this week in Stockton…

 

RICK MAGNANTE

rm533052d85a25f.imageAF:  I wanted to get your take on a couple of the top hitting prospects you’ve got here at Stockton. You’ve got last year’s 1st-round draft pick for the A’s, third baseman Matt Chapman. I remember when he first got drafted, everyone with the A’s talked to me about his power potential, and now here he is leading the A’s minor league system in home runs with 14 after getting a late start to the season. So what kind of development have you seen with him since he’s been here this year?

RM:  Last year, Matt came to Beloit with me, and he started off like a firecracker offensively, and also with the leather. Then he ran into a couple of injuries and it slowed his progress down. But he showed enough that they sent him to Midland for the playoffs, and he was kind of the catalyst for them winning that first round and did very well there. This spring, he got off to a slow start because he injured himself in the offseason working out, so he got here late. So he’s trying to play a little bit of catch-up. And every day we’re seeing marked improvement with him, not only at the plate, but with his defense. And you’re right when you talk about his tools. There certainly is raw power, there’s physical strength and there’s athleticism. There’s the potential to be a well-above-average defender. And, of course, his arm, on a scale of 2 to 8, is an 8. Then you take the intangibles, the make-up, the work ethic, the commitment, the desire to be a big leaguer, and the ability, at an early age, to deal with adversity, which is very impressive as well. His ability to handle that 0 for 4 with 2 or 3 punch outs and not allow it to affect his defense or his next at-bat or the next day is really a very telling sign of his character and what’s going to allow him to be successful and be that big league frontline player that we hope he’ll be some day.

mcChapman, Matt2AF:  So what’s the key to him maximizing his power potential?

RM:  Well, there are a couple of things. He’s got strength, he’s got leverage and he’s got bat speed. What he’s working on right now is a physical approach that creates some tempo and rhythm and puts him in a better position to maximize his power by getting ready early and seeing the ball longer. He’s got really above-average power to the off field, but to be able to get to that ball on the inner half and pull it to the short field where he can really maximize things. So his physical approach is something he’s working on right now. There’s some rigidity in his set-up. He’s a little bit of a still-bat hitter. We’re trying to get him to get some rhythm, some separation and a little flow to that approach so that he can really get to the ball and get through it. Right now, his physical strength is allowing him to overcome technique that needs to be improved.

AF:  So rather than starting from a static position getting a little more momentum into his swing.

RM:  Right, exactly.

AF:  Another big prospect you’ve got here is 19-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto, who started off the season a little slow but now really seems to be rounding into shape. So what have you seen in terms of his learning curve over the first half of the season?

fbBarreto, Franklin2RM:  Well, it’s night and day from spring training to today, that’s for sure. First of all, he came into spring training, by his own admission, without doing much in the offseason. So he really wasn’t ready to really get into the flow of things. He had to kind of get in shape, which is not usually the case with most young players today. Secondly, he’s a 19-year-old Venezuelan who comes to a brand new organization knowing no one. So you can imagine that there’s going to be some adjustments, not only on the field, but getting to know the coaches, the staff, his teammates and getting comfortable. So that has taken some time as well. So with not a lot of at-bats in spring training, being in a new organization, and I’m sure in his own mind, trying to please and trying to excel, he probably put some undue pressure on himself. So all those things factored into his slow start. Now that he’s out here everyday, getting his at-bats and getting his work in, we’re starting to see the player Toronto had a year ago at 18 years old in the Northwest League that pretty much took the league by storm – driving in runs, stealing bases, scoring runs, everything. For me, he’s “Furcal-esque.” He’s got that same kind of sturdy, sub-six-foot body, good lower half, athleticism – and he’s only 19 years old. I’m not saying he is Furcal, because I saw Furcal in Lynchburg, and Furcal’s tools are a bit better. But who does he remind you of? That’s the type of player he reminds me of.

AF:  And what’s been the key to his improvement at the plate from the beginning of the season to now?

RM:  At the plate, it’s been timing and recognition for him. There’s a few moving parts in that swing. He’s a leg-lift guy, so that timing has to be more precise. There’s a little bit of bat waggle, there’s some movement – it’s not simple and pure. So anytime you’ve got a lot of moving parts going, it’s hard to coordinate that day to day and at-bat to at-bat. But we’re working on that, and he’s got a better understanding of how to get himself in a better position to recognize pitches and decide whether to take or to swing. In addition to that, he’s working hard on his defense. I guess if there was a knock on him it was that he made a lot of errors last year. And he continues to make errors. But the old adage in baseball is, “If a guy can hit, just give him 1,000 groundballs and the defense will get better.” And we believe it will. Whether he’s a shortstop or second baseman, I couldn’t make that call right now. He’s getting an opportunity to play shortstop, but basically he’s a center-of-the-diamond fielder.

bvVertigan, Brett2AF:  A guy who didn’t necessarily start the season as a top prospect but has been really key to your team here this year is center fielder Brett Vertigan, who’s been having a great season on the field for you. What have you seen out of him so far and what’s the key to what he’s been doing for your team here this year?

RM:  Well, he’s really faced some obstacles in his short career here with Oakland. He was a 10th-round draft pick, and we considered him a smaller version of a Brett Gardner type – a guy who could patrol the outfield and stay in center field, could run, throw, had a contact bat, was able to use the field, could bunt, steal bases, etc. And he had a pretty decent first year with us. And then he went to the Midwest League and he just kind of leveled off performance-wise. And then last year we seemed to have an abundance of outfielders and he found himself in extended spring training and then had to come back and went all the way back to Vermont. This year, when we went to spring training again, the outfield spots were pretty much the same and he found himself in the unenviable position of having to start the season again at Beloit, a league he had already played in two years previously. But I think the key for Brett is he does have tools, he has a skill set. He has aptitude, he’s a good learner and he can make adjustments. And he has grown a little bit this year because of the adversity he’s had to overcome. And when he joined us here, he basically jump-started the offense. He’s really been the catalyst for us putting together a pretty decent last month of June to finish on a winning note here in the first half. He’s a kid who’s worked hard. Now he’s gotten an opportunity and he’s made the most of it. So we just hope that he can continue it and accelerate his career, because there’s no doubt that, if he keeps playing well, he should be looked at as somebody who may advance this year as well.

AF:  I’m sure it’s pretty hard for you to imagine your lineup without him in it at this point – or at least I’m sure you wouldn’t want to!

js656996RM:  Well, it’s interesting because he came here because J.P. Sportman went down. And J.P. Sportman started off very well also. And had he not gotten hurt, Brett might not be here. With both of those guys on this club, we’re a better ballclub. And with only two guys on the bench, we are a little bit limited in our bench players, so it would be nice to have them both.

AF:  So what is the latest on Sportman’s status?

RM:  He just re-injured the hand in the same place again. And we decided it would be in his best interests to send him back to Arizona to rehab where he could get daily care and a little bit more monitoring of his condition. And I think when he gets back and healthy, then possibly he’ll be an Instructional League candidate or maybe even a Fall League candidate.

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrrick_rodriguez_2011_05_24bAF:  So let me ask you about a few of the arms you’ve got here in Stockton. Let’s start with Dylan Covey, who’s been having a good year. He seems to have made some improvements and has been a lot more consistent this season. He might not strike out a lot of guys, but he still gets a lot of outs. What’s made it possible for him to develop a lot more consistency this year?

RR:  I think towards the end of spring, he just started using his fastball and getting more aggressive with it. And he’s been working on his command and sharpening his curveball. He’s got a nice little cutter coming along right now. His changeup is good. For me, it was just getting in a good routine that worked for him. In fact, his last outing was probably his best fastball he’s had, so hopefully the rest of the way he’ll have that fastball.

dc592229AF:  What are his best pitches and what does he need to work on to get to the next level?

RR:  He’s got good command with his fastball. His curveball can be a good pitch at times, but sometimes it can be a little off. His changeup is like a split – I think that’s probably his better off-speed pitch. I think he probably needs more consistency in terms of being down in the strike zone with his fastball. But he’s a pitcher. He knows how to pitch. He can change speeds. He’s learning how take something off of his fastball, so hopefully he’ll start using it out there during the games. He’s been very good, a real pleasure to work with.

AF:  A guy who’s been a bit of a surprise is Joel Seddon, who had been a reliever for much of his college career. You guys have turned him into a starter here this year, and he’s been really impressive lately. So what kind of progress have you seen out of him this year?

jsSeddon, Joel2RR:  A lot of these guys, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them pitch. And in spring training, I always thought Joel was a starter, but they said, “No, he was a reliever.” And he came here in relief. And, it just so happened, we needed a starter. He fit the bill, and he’s taken off from there. He’s been really good with command of his fastball and all his off-speed pitches. He’s getting us deep into games. He’s a guy, I can just let him go.

AF:  Well, it seems like he’s got awfully good command, which helps make everything a lot easier.

RR:  Yeah, he can rely on his command. That’s his best tool. I told him, “It’s not like you’re throwing 95 mph. You have to hit your spots and change your speeds.” And he’s been doing that.

AF:  I want to ask you about a guy who was here with you for most of the season but has recently moved up to Midland, and that’s Dillon Overton. He’s been coming back from Tommy John surgery. So what have you seen in his development over the first half of the season and where’s he at on his road back?

doOverton, Dillon2RR:  From what I’ve seen, he’s another guy who’s a great command guy. He’s got great movement, he’s got an outstanding changeup and his curveball can be really good at times. But he’s starting to get into that groove now where he can rely on anything and throw any pitch at any time. Coming back from his injury, he’s kind of being limited on his innings pitched for the whole year. But everything is flawless out there. It’s really good to work with someone like that.

AF:  Where was he at in terms of his velocity when he was here?

RR:  I think he was anywhere from like 87-90 mph, maybe 91 mph every once in a while. He’s relying more on his command. But he’s getting there.

raAlcantara, Raul3bAF:  Another guy who’s been coming back from Tommy John surgery is Raul Alcantara. I know he’s just had a few appearances so far, but what have you seen out of him since he’s been back?

RR:  I see an extremely good fastball. His changeup has good late action down. His curveball is almost like a slider. He calls it a curveball, but I think it might be more of a slider – but it’s a good breaking pitch. I think he’s got all the makings of a good major league pitcher. I think it’s just a matter of getting him out there every fifth day, getting him some innings and trying to build up his arm strength.

AF:  The guy out of your bullpen who’s been very consistent for you in the closer role is Brendan McCurry. What’s enabled him to be as consistent as he’s been out of the bullpen for this team?

bm657680RR:  When we first started the year, I really didn’t know where he was going to pitch. I know our skipper liked him a bit as a closer. But he was a guy who was coming in in the middle innings and giving us a couple of innings here and there. And then he kind of evolved into finshing games and now he’s kind of our closer. But we had a talk. He’s got a very good fastball, but I think he was trying to trick too many guys. Now it’s like, “Hey Brendan, throw your fastball, use your fastball. You’ve got a really good fastball.” He’s got a good moving fastball. He drops down and throws that little sidearm curve or slider or whatever you want to call it. And he’s gotten it down now to where, instead of it being flat across the zone, it’s got a little bit of tilt. And now he’s able to get those hitters out a little bit more consistently. And he’s got a plus changeup. I think he’s going to be a good one.

AF:  So it sounds like you’ve really simplified things with him.

RR:  Yeah, I think he’s starting to understand that he doesn’t have to strike out everybody. He can get ahead with his fastball, and if they get groundouts early, that’s even better.

AF:  And he’s got a good number of pitches for a reliever.

RR:  Yeah, he comes at you from different angles. He’s tough. He’s got a great mentality out there. He’s out there going right after the hitters. I like it!

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Get the Inside Scoop on Oakland’s Top 10 Draft Picks of 2015 from A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota

A's scouting director Eric Kubota

A’s scouting director Eric Kubota

After selecting a good number of high school players over the past few years, the A’s returned to their old, familiar ways in this year’s draft, taking college players with nine of their top ten picks. The A’s took a pair of college shortstops with their top two selections. Top pick Richie Martin is a multi-talented, speedy, young shortstop out of Florida who’s still just 20 years old, while 21-year-old Mikey White is a solid-hitting shortstop out of Alabama.

The man responsible for overseeing the A’s efforts in the amateur draft is scouting director Eric Kubota. Kubota started out his career in the baseball world by interning for the A’s in the mid-‘80s and eventually served as the assistant director of scouting and the supervisor of international scouting before succeeding Grady Fuson as scouting director following his departure after the 2001 season.

In past years, we’ve talked with Kubota about top picks like Addison Russell in 2012, Billy McKinney in 2013 and Matt Chapman in 2014. And this year, we were eager to get his insights on #1 pick Richie Martin, as well as the rest of the A’s top ten picks of 2015.

When we spoke with Kubota, exactly one week after the start of this year’s draft, the A’s had signed eight of their top ten picks, with Richie Martin and Skye Bolt the only members of the top ten still remaining unsigned. Since then, although the A’s haven’t officially announced it, Jim Callis has reported that the A’s have come to terms with Bolt. Meanwhile, Martin’s signing will have to wait until he’s completed play in the College World Series.

 

AF:  Well, first of all, you guys took an awful lot of college players in this year’s draft – you only took five high school guys out of your forty picks. Was that just a function of the talent that was available or was there any other thinking involved there?

EK:  I think it was just more the way the draft pool was set. I think it was pretty well known that it was more of a college-heavy draft. So it certainly was not a conscious decision to necessarily take more college guys than high school guys.

AF:  Now your top pick Richie Martin, the shortstop out of Florida, was a college junior, but he’s young for a junior at just 20 years old. What was it about him that impressed you so much that you wanted to make him your 1st-round pick, and did his relatively young age help influence your thinking about him?

rmbrn_richie050513_10715444_8col2EK:  Yeah, his age definitely was a factor. He’s really less than two years older than some of the high school prospects we’re talking about and has three years of playing in the SEC, so it was certainly a factor. Richie’s a super athletic kid. He’s got outstanding defensive ability. He’s got the arm for the position, and we think the bat is ever improving. He performed very well with the bat in the Cape Cod League and in the SEC this year. We think he’s a very strong defensive shortstop, he can really run, and we think the bat is going to play in the major leagues.

AF:  What would you say his single best tool is?

EK:  His single best tool is probably his speed – he can really run – and just a little behind that would be his defensive ability.

AF:  So is there anyone you might compare him to?

EK:  Yeah, I thought about this because I know you always like to ask about it. For Richie, the guy he idolizes and the guy he does have some similarities to – I don’t want to say he is this person – but his idol is Derek Jeter, and there are a lot of parallels that you can make. I’m not saying he’s going to be Derek Jeter, but he has that kind of profile.

AF:  So let’s just say he’s Derek Jeter-ish!

EK:  I also thought a little bit about Barry Larkin, but I think Larkin probably has more power.

AF:  I remember Barry Larkin was always the comp for Addison Russell.

EK:  Yeah, that might end up being a pretty good comp.

AF:  With your 2nd-round pick, you went back to another college shortstop with Mikey White out of Alabama. He seems to have a pretty advanced bat at this stage of the game. There’s been some talk that maybe he profiles a little better as a second baseman. So tell me what you think about him with the bat and also what you think about him in the field.

MBAEK:  Yeah, he’s a very advanced hitter. He performed well in the SEC. Both he and Richie Martin, we’ve seen them since they were in high school. So he’s a guy we’ve seen a lot of over the years. Mikey’s always been able to hit. He’s got some strength. We think there’s power there that’s in play now and more power to develop. And from a defensive standpoint, we think, with his hands, he’ll be able to play shortstop in the major leagues.

AF:  So as far as you’re aware, the plan is to keep him at shortstop for the foreseeable future?

EK:  Yep, you’re going to see both those guys at shortstop.

AF:  And who would you compare him to?

EK:  For Mikey White, I thought he’s kind of like a Rich Aurilia type at shortstop – a very steady defender at shortstop with some power.

AF:  Now with your 3rd-round pick, you took your only high school player in the top ten rounds, Dakota Chalmers, the tall right-hander out of Georgia. So tell me what it was that made you want to make him your first high school pick of the draft?

EK:  When we evaluated Dakota, it was as a near 1st-round pick – that was our evaluation of him. He’s another guy we’ve seen a lot of over the summer and through the spring. We’ve seen him up to 95-96 mph, and we think he’s got a plus curveball – a strikeout, out-pitch type of curveball – and really an advanced feel for the changeup for a high school kid. So his stuff is top notch, and we think there’s physical projection left for him. Like I said, he was a guy going into the draft that we kind of saw as a near 1st-round type of guy.

dc_MG_8530_resize2AF:  I’d heard that a lot of people looked at him that way. Is there any particular reason you think he ended up falling to you in the 3rd round?

EK:  It’s hard to say. There are lots of different factors that go into making decisions for thirty different teams. It may have been signability at one point or another.

AF:  Well, it sounds like you made him an offer he couldn’t refuse [reportedly a signing bonus of $1.2 million].

EK:  [Laughter]

AF:  He does seem rather advanced for a high schooler though. Do you look at him as a guy who could move fairly quickly for a young kid?

EK:  I think we’re expecting him to be in Arizona for this year, and then we’ll just let things play out.

AF:  Any comparisons for him?

EK:  Chalmers I kind of likened to Clay Buchholz. Physically they’re similar, and they have the same kind of stuff.

AF:  He’s pretty much a real tall, skinny guy, right?

EK:  Right, exactly.

sbbolttt2AF:  Your 4th-round pick was one of the best names in the draft, Skye Bolt out of North Carolina. He’s a switch-hitter and a center fielder and he seems to profile like a lot of the hitters you targeted – some power and some plate discipline. So, besides his name, tell me what it was that you liked about Skye Bolt?

EK:  He’s full of ability, first and foremost. I mean, talent-wise, he’s a 1st-round talent if you just look at the tools. It was to our advantage that he didn’t have the kind of year offensively, at least average-wise, that he’d hoped to have, and I think that kind of pushed him down in the draft. But from a physical talent standpoint, he has 1st-round ability.

AF:  And who would you compare him to?

EK:  The guy I thought of, it’s not a really great physical comp, but I think the kind of player he could be is kind of a Jim Edmonds type – very good defense in center field with power.

AF:  Moving out of the southeast, your 5th-round pick was your first lefty. And everyone loves a lefty, so tell me what it was that you guys loved about Kevin Duchene out of Illinois?

kdILLOSUKevinDuchene2EK:  He’s got solid stuff – we’ve seen him up to 92 mph with a good breaking ball and changeup. He’s got an advanced feel for how to use his stuff. If you just look at the success he had at Illinois, he obviously knows how to pitch. We think we know the kid well. We think that he can really pitch, he’s got good stuff, and the kid’s solid.

AF:  It seems like a lot of these pitchers you guys took have really impressive walk-to-strikeout ratios and have really good command, and he seems to fit right into that profile as well.

EK:  Right, right. As an organization, we’ve discussed that a little bit. It doesn’t get any easier to throw strikes as the strike zone gets smaller as you move up.

AF:  Do you have a comp for him?

EK:  Potentially Jimmy Key for Duchene – kind of an average-sized left-hander who can really pitch.

AF:  Now your 6th-rounder was your first west coast pick, RHP Bowdien Derby out of San Diego State.

bdDerby1.0.0bEK:  I think he goes by “Bubba” actually. So he also makes the “all-name” team.

AF:  Yeah, I found him on Twitter as “Bubba Derby.” He was one of two guys out of San Diego State you took in the first ten rounds. I think he led the conference in strikeouts, so I guess it’s easy to tell what you like about him, but tell me a little bit more about Bubba Derby.

EK:  He’s kind of an average-height guy, and I think that probably pushed him down a little bit. There generally can be a bias against that in scouting. But just based on his ability and his stuff, and what he did with his stuff, we were certainly happy that we could get him in the 6th round when we got him. Obviously, he can throw strikes and he can miss bats, which are two things we value highly. We’ve seen him up to 93 mph. I’ve heard from other people that he was up in the high-90s as a closer, but we saw him up to 93 as a starter.

AF:  So is his fastball the main thing that guys are missing?

EK:  Yeah, it’s the fastball, but he also has a really good changeup.

Kyle FriedrichsAF:  Well, that always helps! Now you went with another west coast guy in the 7th round, RHP Kyle Friedrichs out of Long Beach State. He seems to have really exceptional command. I think he had 12 walks and 109 strikeouts. So obviously he must have a clue what he’s doing on the mound, but tell me what you saw in him.

EK:  Exactly, it’s kind of a common thing among these guys. We think that their stuff is solid, and these guys are all high performers with things we value. He had very low walk rates and very high strikeout rates, so he fits right in with that. We really think he has exceptional fastball command. And if there’s one characeteristic you need to be able to pitch in the major leagues it’s being able to command the fastball.

AF:  So in the 8th round, you took your first catcher, another middle-of-the-diamond player – like all these guys in your top ten picks. So tell me what you like about Nick Collins as a hitter and also how he profiles behind the plate.

ncSHallGtown-NickCollinsXYZ2EK:  Well, first and foremost, we think he can hit. He’s a big, physical kid. He’s a left-handed hitter. He’s got a very strong arm. I think his receiving skills are a little bit behind those two skills right now. But we’re very confident that he has the ability to evolve into a solid catcher.

AF:  I guess anytime you can find a left-handed hitting catcher with a strong arm it probably piques your interest.

EK:  Yeah, I mean, he can catch the baseball. But catching in professional baseball is just so different than at a high school or college level. There’s so much more asked of catchers, so there’s so much more development that goes into catchers, probably more so than almost any other position because it’s so different. But we like his hands, and we think he’s going to develop into a very good defensive catcher.

jlbaseball-action-jaredlyons9-new2AF:  In the 9th round, you went with another left-hander, Jared Lyons out of Liberty. Has he primarily been a starter or a reliever over his college career?

EK:  Prior to this year, he pitched mostly out of the bullpen for them. I think his role had kind of shifted around in previous years. He’d pitched primarily out of the pen and made some spot starts, but his stuff jumped up this year and he really established himself as a Friday night guy for Liberty. Also, it’s a common theme, but he threw strikes, he missed bats and he performed really well with solid stuff. I sound like a broken record!

AF:  Well, I guess we know what you’re looking for anyway! Now in the 10th round, you went with another up-the-middle guy, center fielder Steven Pallares, who was the second player you took out of San Diego State. He seems to be another guy with some pop and some plate discipline, so tell me a little bit more about him.

spCGcLRYsWcAAKzAN2EK:  Yeah, he’s unique for a college senior in that we think that there’s an upside left to him. We think we may be just seeing the tip of the iceberg with this kid. It’s unusual to talk about a senior draft pick that way, but that’s kind of how we see him.

AF:  And how do you feel about him defensively in center field?

EK:  We think he’s got the ability to stay in center. But he also has the ability to play all three of the outfield positions. He’s played some infield and has some versatility. I think we’re just going to see how things shake out with his development and see where he best fits as time goes on.

AF: So it’s my understanding that all your top ten picks have signed except for Skye Bolt and Richie Martin. Of course, Richie Martin has been in the College World Series, but are you anticipating having all of your top ten picks in the fold before long?

EK:  Yes, I think we’re very close to finishing things up with Skye hopefully this week. And then with Richie, we obviously have to wait until after the World Series is over.

AF:  And I think you’ve signed 27 of the 40 guys so far. So it seems like you’ve moved pretty quickly and taken care of business pretty fast this year.

EK:  We did a lot of leg work before the draft. So it made things easier once the draft ended.

AF:  And I imagine we’re probably going to see most of these college pitchers from the first ten rounds going to Vermont this year.

EK:  Yeah, they will all go to Arizona to begin with, because we do our medical stuff and we do our orientation. And then we have to evaluate where they are in their throwing programs. Some of these guys haven’t thrown for three weeks, so we’ve got to get them back into shape before sending them out. But ultimately, yeah, most of them will be in Vermont for the bulk of the summer.

AF:  That’s what I expected. By the way, does part of the orientation these days include “what not to say on Twitter?”

EK:  [Laughter] I think that starts long before they get to us! But we certainly do talk to them about things like that, and we talk to them about it repeatedly!

AF:  Obviously, the draft is the centerpiece of your year. But now that we’re about a week removed from the draft, besides talking to people like me, what’s your time primarily taken up with now?

EK:  We’re putting 2015 in the books, and we’re getting ready for 2016. Next week, I’m going to an event that’s going to feature players for 2016. But there’s a big event going on this week that we have scouts at. It really doesn’t stop. We start up almost immediately.

AF:  So nobody’s taking off and going on vacation the week after the draft?

EK:  Not really. We’re taking a little time to catch our breath and then we’re back at it!

AF:  Well, thanks for taking some of that time to talk with us!

 

A’s 2015 Draft Class

#1 Richie Martin SS (Florida), #2 Mikey White SS (Alabama), #3 Dakota Chalmers RHP (HS-GA), #4 Skye Bolt CF (North Carolina), #5 Kevin Duchene LHP (Illinois), #6 Bowdien Derby RHP (San Diego State), #7 Kyle Friedrichs RHP (Long Beach State), #8 Nick Collins C (Georgetown), #9 Jared Lyons LHP (Liberty), #10 Steven Pallares OF (San Diego State)

#11 James Terrell OF (HS-CA), #12 Chris Iriart 1B (Houston), #13 Brett Siddall OF (Canisius), #14 Boomer Biegalski RHP (Florida State), #15 Ryan Howell 2B (Nevada-Reno), #16 Dustin Hurlbutt RHP (Tabor), #17 Brent Wheatley RHP (USC), #18 Brett Sunde C (Western Michigan), #19 Seth Brown 1B (Lewis-Clark St), #20 James Naile RHP (Alabama-Birmingham)

#21 Andrew Tomasovich LHP (Charleston Southern), #22 Brady Bramlett RHP (Mississippi), #23 Eric Senior OF (HS-ON), #24 Heath Bowers RHP (Campbell), #25 Evan Manarino LHP (Irvine), #26 Jordan Devencenzi C (Nevada-Reno), #27 Xavier Altamirano RHP (Oral Roberts), #28 Marc Berube RHP (Pittsburgh), #29 Armando Ruiz RHP (Alabama State), #30 Brendan Butler RHP (Dowling)

#31 John Gorman RHP (Boston College), #32 Michael Murray RHP (Florida Gulf Coast), #33 Mike Martin CF (Harvard), #34 Shane Conlon 1B (Kansas State), #35 Tim Proudfoot SS (Texas Tech), #36 Troy Rallings RHP (Washington), #37 Andy Cox LHP (Tennessee), #38 Chris Cullen C (HS-GA), #39 Gregory Fettes C (Kentucky), #40 Nick Maton SS (HS-IL)

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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!

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

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 staff, 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.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

AF:  Pretty much just let nature take its course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  The odds are he’ll miss April.

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah.

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

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

AF:  So how would you compare Barreto and Munoz?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah, he’s a June guy probably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TYLER LADENDORF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BILLY BURNS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BB:  Yeah, that’s for sure!

 

MAX MUNCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.