Category: Interviews

A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota Offers the Inside Scoop on Oakland’s Top 11 Draft Picks of 2017

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

A's scouting director Eric Kubota

A’s scouting director Eric Kubota

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 he 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, Matt Chapman in 2014, Richie Martin in 2015 and A.J. Puk in 2016. And this year, we were eager to get his insights on #1 pick Austin Beck as well as the rest of the A’s top eleven picks from the first ten rounds of the 2017 draft.

We spoke with Kubota the week after the draft, just hours before the A’s were set to announce that they’d come to terms with 31 of their 41 draft selections, including 7 of their top 11 picks and, most notably, the team’s top pick, outfielder Austin Beck…

 

AF:  We wanted to get your take on your top 11 picks from the first 10 rounds of the draft this year. So let’s start out with your top pick. I know you guys were kind of surprised last year when pitcher A.J. Puk was available to you with the sixth overall pick. How confident were you that outfielder Austin Beck was going to be available to you with the sixth pick this year, how much did his workout at the Coliseum the week before the draft really impress you, and what was the one thing about him that really most grabbed you?

abAustin_Beck_t1u2zolz_rloc5a7f130EK:  Well, as far as whether we thought he would get to us, we did think there was a club or two ahead of us that really liked Austin…but we thought probably somewhere between #3 and #8 was where he was going to go, so we thought we did have a fair chance of getting him. And the workout itself, more than anything, was the culmination of the spring spent scouting Austin. Austin was a guy our scouts in that area liked a lot. Earlier in the season, we all went in and saw him and liked him. I mean, he’s hard not to like. What he does jumps out at you almost immediately. But having him come out to Oakland prior to the draft and having him working out on the field and being able to be around him, it was like the cherry on top of the sundae – it was kind of a finishing touch. And the thing that jumps out at me with Austin is just his natural ability to whistle the bat. I mean, what he can do as far as generating bat speed is something that we don’t get to see very often. So that ability really kind of jumps up and slaps you in the face when you see him.

AF:  Is there anyone you might compare him to?

EK:  As far as what he can do with the bat, he kind of reminds me of Andrew McCutchen, but physically, he reminds me a little bit of Kevin McReynolds.

AF:  Moving on to your second pick in the competitive balance round, shortstop Kevin Merrell out of South Florida. He’s really known for his speed, and some people think he was the fastest guy in the draft, but how confident are you that his bat will play at the major league level? And even though he played shortstop last year, it seems like there’s been a lot of talk about him possibly ending up as a center fielder. How do you feel things are going to end up shaking out for him in the field?

EK:  First and foremost, we love his bat. We think Kevin can really hit. That was all a part of the reason that we valued him and took him. It wasn’t just because he could run, which he can really do. But we really think he can hit. We think there’s a natural ability to put the barrel on the baseball. We think strength and power are developing there. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a power hitter per se, but he’s definitely going to hit some home runs. He’s strong enough to hit extra-base hits. As far as shortstop, probably coming into the year, we were less sure that he could go out and play shortstop in professional baseball, but he did a good job of it at USF this spring, and we’ll certainly give him every chance to stay there as he begins his professional career. Obviously, he has the kind of athletic ability where he could probably play at a number of different defensive positions.

AF:  Did you have any comps in mind for him?

EK:  Merrell – it’s kind of easy to go with the Brett Gardner comp.

AF:  Your 2nd-round pick was outfielder Greg Deichmann out of LSU. He’s a big lefty slugger who has that same combination of power and plate discipline as a guy like Matt Olson. How do you view him and how would you compare the two?

gdOYKFWSKEPIIKZWI.20161127154043cEK:  There’s definitely some similarities to Matt. I think one thing is that Greg is probably a little bit better athlete. Greg started his college career as a middle infielder, so there’s probably a little more athleticism there. But he’s certainly got a combination, like you said, of power and plate discipline. We had some guys go in there who really fell in love with the bat and the power potential.

AF:  I compared him to Olson, but did you have any other comps in mind for him?

EK:  Deichmann has some similarities to Seth Smith, whom A’s fans are familiar with.

AF:  Then your 3rd-round pick was high school shortstop Nick Allen. He’s got a combination of speed and defense that it seems everyone’s in love with. He kind made me think about Richie Martin in terms of that speed and defense combination. How would you feel about that comparison, and how do you feel about the ability of his bat to play out over the long run?

EK:  I think Richie’s probably a little bit more physical than Nick is. There’s certainly some similarities with the athleticism and defense. Anybody who’s ever scouted Nick just loves to watch this kid play. He’s a tremendous defender with tremendous defensive instincts. He’s got athletic ability, and we think he’s got a chance to hit. He’s not big as far as physical stature, but I think he knows what his game is, and we really believe in his ability to hit. We think he’s going to have a chance to be a premium shortstop who is going to have some offensive contribution as well.

AF:  I threw Martin out there, but did you have any other comps in mind for him?

EK:  On the older side of things, he kind of reminds me of like a Freddie Patek – they’re probably of the same stature. As far as the more modern game, you have some similarities to a Jimmy Rollins, although I’m not sure he’s going to come with the power that Jimmy had. But as far as physical stature and playing shortstop and just their baseball instincts, I think there are a lot of similarities.

AF:  In the 4th round, you guys took third baseman Will Toffey out of Vanderbilt. He’s not known as a real toolsy guy, but he gets the job done on the field and puts up the numbers. I know there was some talk that he’s the kind of guy that maybe the analytics guys like more than the old school scouts do. So what’s your take on him and how much do you like his bat?

EK:  There’s a lot of things to like about Will. And Will is a perfect example of analytics and scouting kind of coming together. We liked him from both an analytical standpoint and a scouting standpoint. He’s a deceptive athlete. I would probably argue with the fact that people say he doesn’t have tools, because he’s probably got a plus arm, he can really play defense, and he’s displayed the ability to hit. We do think the power’s coming along – that’s probably what’s going to develop last for Will. But as far as defense and being able to swing the bat, those are all things we really like about him.

AF:  Did you have any comps to offer on him?

EK:  Toffey, I kind of get a Bill Mueller out of him. I think there’s a lot of similarities there.

AF:  In the 5th round, you took high school catcher Santis Sanchez out of Puerto Rico who, for most of us, is probably the biggest unknown quantity among your top ten picks. He seems to be a strong-armed young catcher with some power potential. How many looks were you able to get at him and what are the key things you like about him?

0ss4403-6-White-19EK:  Well, the key tools are just what you said – arm strength and power. We do think he’s got a feel for the barrel as well. He’s a guy we saw a lot of actually as far as Puerto Rico goes. We had our national cross-checker [Michael Holmes] go in there in January and really love him. We had some other guys go in through the spring, and then [assistant general manager] Billy Owens went in late in April and loved him as well. So he was a guy we had consistent reports on, and we just think there’s a lot of upside to him. There’s been a pretty strong track record of really good catchers coming from Puerto Rico, and we’re hoping that Santis is the next in that line.

AF:  Well, I guess whenever you find a strong-armed catcher with power potential, that’s pretty much all you need to know!

EK:  Yeah, that’s a good place to start! And if they have the desire to be back there and work at it, those are all strong building blocks.

AF:  Did you have any comps to offer on Sanchez?

EK:  Sanchez, I’d just take the easy route and go with one of the Molina brothers – I might go with Bengie to be honest.

AF:  Don’t want to put too much pressure on him! Now in the 6th round, you took lefty reliever Logan Salow out of Kentucky, whom we just had a nice chat with on our A’s Farm Podcast. I know he’s got three pitches, with that slider that everyone loves, so do you think he’s going to get a chance to get looked at as a starter in your system?

EK:  I think we do think he can start. I know the role he filled at Kentucky, but we did see three pitches. The fastball and slider are both above-average pitches for our guys. We felt very fortunate that Logan was available to us in that spot, and I’m sure we’re going to give him every chance to start.

AF:  And continuing into the experienced-college-pitcher phase of the draft for you with RHP Parker Dunshee out of Wake Forest, whom you took in the 7th round. I imagine you looked at him as a solid, experienced, strike-throwing college pitcher, and that was basically what you liked about him.

EK:  We’ve seen a lot of Parker over the years. A couple of our scouts are Wake Forest alums and they still live in the area, so they see Wake a lot, and we’ve all seen Parker a lot over the years. Sometimes, there are guys you need to see over a period of time to really appreciate what they can do, and I think Parker’s one of those guys. He has major league caliber pitches, and he can really pitch. He’s probably more substance than style, but we do think there’s some upside to him. We think he’s the kind of guy who can move quickly in the organization.

AF:  In the 8th round, you took RHP Brian Howard out of TCU. The thing that most intrigues people about him is his height – he’s 6’9″. I know with those really tall guys, there are often problems and issues with their delivery. So how do you feel about his delivery, and do you feel there’s much work to be done there in terms of cleaning it up at all?

0bhHoward LebEK:  That’s probably his strength. His strength is his delivery, his ability to repeat his delivery, his ability to command the baseball. Those are all things he does very well, especially for his size. It’s funny you mention the height – it would be easy to assume that those flaws would be there, but for him, it’s kind of the opposite. He really commands the baseball well and controls his delivery well.

AF:  Well that’s good. If you’ve got a guy who’s 6’9″ with a repeatable delivery, that ought to make your life a lot easier! Did you have any comps on him?

EK:  Howard, I’d just go with the tall guy – he kind of reminds me of Mike Witt from back in the day.

AF:  In the 9th round, you went with LHP Jared Poche out of LSU. I know he was a consistent winner there at LSU, but what did you really like about him and what are his strengths as far as you’re concerned?

EK:  Well, Jared’s a guy we’ve seen since his high school showcase time, so we’ve seen him for many, many years. And the thing that he’s always done consistently is just compete and fight and find a way to get batters out. And for a left-hander who’s actually shown success in one of the finest college baseball programs in the country, we think that trait will take him a long way.

AF:  And then with your 10th-round pick, you took outfielder Jack Meggs out of Washington. Looking at his numbers, nothing really jumps out at you, so I’m curious to know what really put him on your radar?

EK:  Our scouts did like the baseball player there. Obviously, he did not have his greatest year statistically, but we really, really believe in his instincts. He’s a coach’s son, and he’s been around the game his whole life. We think he’s going to play above whatever his physical tools are, and he’s the kind of guy you can imagine over-achieving and finding his way into a role on a big league team.

AF:  And just one final question about your top pick from last year, LHP A.J. Puk. I don’t think you expected him to be available at #6 last year, and I know you were pretty excited to get him there. Now that you’ve had him in your system for a year, what are your impressions of last year’s top pick, A.J. Puk, at this point?

EK:  I would say that as excited as we were to be able to draft him a year ago, we’re even more excited about his progress that he’s made in that year. He’s really refined his delivery and his command. He’s shown the ability to miss bats. In a short sample in the minor leagues, he’s been really impressive. And he went out in his first start in Double-A the other night and pitched pretty well for a young kid who’s basically a year out of the draft.

AF:  Yeah, it looks like you might have a fast mover on your hands there!

EK:  Yeah, he’s big, he’s left-handed, he throws hard and he’s got a good breaking ball. As long as he keeps progressing like this, it’s a good combination to have!

 

A’s 2017 Draft Class

1st OF Austin Beck (North Davidson HS-NC), 1st Comp SS Kevin Merrell (South Florida), 2nd OF Greg Deichmann (LSU), 3rd SS Nick Allen (Francis Parker HS-CA), 4th 3B Will Toffey (Vanderbilt), 5th C Santis Sanchez (Intl Baseball Academy HS-PR), 6th LHP Logan Salow (Kentucky), 7th RHP Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest), 8th RHP Brian Howard (TCU), 9th LHP Jared Poche (LSU), 10th OF Jack Meggs (Washington)

11th SS Ryan Gridley (Mississippi St), 12th 1B Aaron Arruda (Fresno St), 13th RHP Wyatt Marks (Louisiana Lafayette), 14th OF Garrett Mitchell (Orange Lutheran HS-CA), 15th LHP Josh Reagan (South Carolina), 16th OF Payton Squier (UNLV), 17th RHP Josh Falk (Pittsburgh), 18th OF Raymond McDonald (Illinois-Chicago), 19th RHP Michael Danielak (Dartmouth), 20th RHP Osvaldo Berrios (PR Baseball Academy HS-PR)

21st RHP Heath Donica (Sam Houston), 22nd RHP Bryce Conley (Georgia St), 23rd RHP Malik Jones (Missouri Baptist), 24th RHP Slater Lee (Cal Poly SLO), 25th 1B Hunter Hargrove (Texas Tech), 26th C Nate Webb (Martin Luther King HS-CA), 27th OF Ben Spitznagel (UNC Greensboro), 28th LHP Pat Krall (Clemson), 29th RHP Adam Reuss (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), 30th LHP Cody Puckett (Middle Tennessee)

31st RHP Brandon Withers (James Madison), 32nd RHP Caleb Evans (Liberty), 33rd 2B Jake Lumley (Canisius), 34th 2B Justin Jones (UNLV), 35th C Cooper Golby (Lewis-Clark), 36th OF Logan Farrar (VCU), 37th 3B Raymond Gill (Gulliver Prep HS-FL), 38th 2B Wil Hoyle (Charles Jordan HS-NC), 39th LHP Haydn King (Archbishop Mitty HS-CA), 40th SS Jacob Hoffman (Stanford)

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Snappers Hitting Coach Juan Dilone Delivers the Lowdown on Beloit’s Best Batters

by Ryan Christoffersen / A’s Farm Beloit Correspondent

jdDilone, Juan2Back in 1990, when the Bash Brothers were ruling the roost and Oakland was on its way to its third straight World Series appearance, the A’s signed a teenaged Juan Dilone as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic.

He ended up playing eight minor league seasons as an outfielder and an infielder in the A’s and Giants organizations, ultimately reaching as high as Double-A. But after suffering a shoulder injury while playing in the Mexican League, Dilone decided to call it quits on his playing career.

Shortly after retiring as a player, A’s general manager Billy Beane and a number of coaches talked to Dilone about becoming a hitting coach. After giving coaching a one-week trial run at the A’s Dominican Republic facility, he decided that pursuing a coaching career in baseball was the right choice for him. And Dilone is now entering his 16th season working for the A’s organization. He’s served as the hitting coach for various A’s affiliates over the years and also spent four years working with the A’s Dominican operations.

Dilone is now in his second season serving as the hitting coach for the Beloit Snappers. We took the opportunity to talk with him last week during the Snappers’ final series before the Midwest League All-Star break. And it was great to get some valuable insights on the fine art of hitting as well as his thoughts on some of the A’s hitting prospects who are swinging the bat for Beloit this season…

AF:  What are some of the most important statistics the A’s organization looks at when looking to promote a position player to the next level? For example, do traditional stats still play a major role or do they look more at the “rate” stats now?

JD:  So, right now we are not paying much attention to batting average. We are looking at run production [i.e. runs created, weighted runs created plus], looking at hard contact rate, swinging strike percentage, line drive percentage. The rate stats are the stuff the organization is focused on at this time.

AF:  It’s very interesting to hear what the A’s are looking for, at least in terms of stats. My next question has to do with hitters’ launch angles. It’s been a really popular topic in baseball recently. I was wondering, as a hitting coach, do you look to teach about that? If so, what goes into teaching and practicing that?

JD:  Well, you know, the launch angle, we are really building that. In fact, this year the A’s are really emphasizing it, coming from the top down. For the most part, you really cannot teach launch angles. That is something a hitter creates. So, what I try to get those guys to do is hit hard line drives. So, if they do that, they are going to get their extra-base hits. We try to keep the hitters hitting line drives all over the field.

AF:  Yeah, I was interested in what a professional hitting coach would have to say about launch angles.

Collin Theroux

Collin Theroux

JD:  We’ve got a player right now, Collin Theroux – he’s the catcher. Every time he hits the ball, it is CRUSHED. He’s got some big power, but his launch angle is way too high. So, I have been working with him on keeping that launch angle at about 15-20 degrees. He’s also been collapsing on the backside. I’ve been working on correcting that with him. So, we want to get Theroux more in line in the box and staying focused on the middle of the field. Really, he should have 20 homers, at least. He’s got some juice.

AF:  I’ve seen him hit some of the longest bombs this year, and that’s just in the home games!

JD:  (Smiles) No doubt!

AF:  Moving on to some more position players, what have you seen out of outfielder Luis Barrera?

JD:  Well, he did a good job here in Beloit at the end of last season. He does a great job of putting the ball in play and, of course, he has very good speed. Because of that, he can always create a batting average that should be like .290 or .300. He’s been solid this year defensively, running the bases, bunt hitting. He still needs to learn more about the knowledge of the game, because he’s so young. But he has been awesome out of the leadoff spot for us.

AF:  After joining the team in mid-April, outfielder Luke Persico had a hot streak throughout the month of May that earned him an All-Star nod. What accounted for his success and what was he doing right during that stretch?

JD:  We were working on something with his back leg so that he can stay behind the baseball better. That was really nice to see him hitting the ball all over the field with line drives. He has kind of struggled the last couple of weeks. I think it is because of some fatigue setting in. But overall, he works very hard and is a very smart guy.

Nate Mondou

Nate Mondou

AF:  Speaking of All-Stars, second baseman Nate Mondou has been the most consistent hitter in the Snappers lineup. Batting usually second or third, he has done a fantastic job of getting on base. Tell me about his approach and what you like about him?

JD:  Mondou has a tremendous work ethic. We have set up a daily routine that has helped him be successful this season. He is a true professional on and off the field. That is something I love about him. He is also always searching for the little details to try and increase his baseball knowledge. That is very impressive to see from a young guy. He has done so well for us this year. But the last two weeks or so, he has put too much pressure on himself. He is chasing balls he normally would lay off. Right now, he just needs to slow down everything and he’ll get back to where he was.

AF:  While he does lead the Snappers with 11 home runs, first baseman Miguel Mercedes has some other aspects of his game that he needs to work on. For example, he didn’t take a walk in his first 21 games of the season. What improvements do you need to see from him?

JD:  Last year, he got into a bad habit of being too aggressive, which carried over into this year. That approach doesn’t allow you to walk very much. He was also trying to hit everything out of the ballpark. So, we have been working on pitch recognition with him and he has bought into it. He is now seeing that turn into results as he is having much better at-bats and more success. Now he is laying off the breaking ball down and away. The other problem was that he was guessing too much. He definitely still has work to do, but he is getting there in pitch recognition.

JaVon Shelby

JaVon Shelby

AF:  Outfielder JaVon Shelby was a 5th-round pick last year as a third baseman, but he moved to the outfield this season. He is the son of former major leaguer John Shelby, so he grew up around the game. Watching him this season, the raw talent is clearly there. Unfortunately, he’s really struggled with a strikeout rate of nearly 50%. What’s been going on with him and what adjustments does he need to make at this point?

JD:  At the beginning of the season, I sat down with him and tried to find out what he was doing last year when he was in Vermont. I think that was a very good meeting between me and him. So, the thing we have been trying to do with him is keep him looking middle of the field and opposite field, because last year his front side was flying open. He has gotten into that bad habit again, so we are pounding it home that he needs to stay looking opposite field to create a better bat path to the ball and stay behind. He is just too jumpy at the plate right now. Shelby is a very interesting player to me. I really like him. He doesn’t deserve the season he is having right now. Things are going to get better. It’s only a matter of time before he starts hitting again.

AF:  Despite this being his third season in Beloit, infielder Edwin Diaz is still just 21 years old. To me, it seems like he is starting to figure it out at the plate. What changes has he made and what has been working for him this season?

JD:  I’ve known Diaz for a long time. When he is hot, nobody can get him out. I think last season he ran out of energy playing every day. The same thing is happening again here recently. I try to take everything slow with him, because sometimes when you put too much information on him, he doesn’t know how to take it. He is so young, I feel sometimes he does not know how to deal with it. I have to keep it simple.

Edwin Diaz

Edwin Diaz

AF:  I’ve noticed he has had a better approach at the plate this season.

JD:  Yes, his pitch recognition is way better now. We know he can be a little streaky. But, man, when he’s feeling it, look out!

AF:  I’ve also heard good things about his defense. Can you give me little more insight on that?

JD:  I feel he is major league ready defensively right now. He’s played shortstop, third base and some second base last year.

AF:  Would you say he is one of the best defensive players on the Snappers right now?

JD:  With Diaz, he makes tough plays look routine. It’s awesome to see from a young kid like that. If he can hit at least just enough, there’s no question he’s going to be a major leaguer. The way Diaz plays defense is amazing to me. He makes it look so easy.

AF:  Yeah, Edwin Diaz is a very intriguing player to me. Definitely a name for A’s fans to keep an eye on moving forward.

JD:  Yes, definitely. Diaz is still very young, but he has all the ability you would want. It is great to see him putting it all together this season!

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Talking Top Prospects with A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

A's Assistant GM Billy Owens

A’s Assistant GM Billy Owens

Now that we’re a couple of months into the minor league season, we wanted to step back and take a look at how some of the A’s top prospects have been shaping up so far this season. And there’s no one better to help us do that than A’s assistant general manager 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 then named the A’s director of player personnel in 2004. And about a year and a half ago, he was promoted to the position of assistant general manager, where the A’s have been able to put his extensive knowledge of the game and its players to use in a variety of different ways.

Owens took some time out to speak with us this week while he was busy scouting prospects for this year’s amateur draft. We asked him about ten of the most intriguing prospects in the A’s system – five hitters and five pitchers – and, as always, his knowledge of and enthusiasm for the A’s young players is apparent…

 

AF:  Let’s start out with the team’s top prospect, shortstop Franklin Barreto. He got off to slow starts the past couple of seasons, but this year, as a 21-year-old at Triple-A, he started out hot and has continued to hit well over the first two months of the season. What kind of progress have you seen out of him this year and what does he still have left to learn at the Triple-A level?

fb620439BO:  I think Franklin’s always been a gifted hitter. He’s a guy who we’ve scouted since he was 14 years old in Venezuela. He’s always been able to use the field, he’s got power that’s untapped, and he’s improving defensively. He’s very athletic, he’s got a short swing, but he still needs to tighten up his strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s always been something of a free swinger. But kids like that who are so talented, they can touch a lot of different pitches, so they’re not apt sometimes to go deep in the count and do a lot of things in terms of plate discipline, because he can barrel the baseball. He’s talented, and for a 21-year-old kid who’s in a tough environment to hit in Nashville, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in that league, it’s pretty impressive. He had a strong spring training this year, and I think that probably was the impetus for him to start out so strong this year in Nashville. He popped a couple of homers this year in spring training, and he really acclimated himself well to the major league staff. Everybody was able to see, the staff, the fans and the players at the upper level, what kind of talent Franklin has. And, obviously, he’ll get an opportunity at some point because he’s very talented.

AF:  It seems like he’s been playing with a lot more energy this year. I know the plan originally was for him to split time between shortstop and second base this year at Nashville, but I think he’s only played about half a dozen games so far this year at second base.

BO:  I think he’s playing a solid shortstop, and he’s such a good athlete that he could play all over the diamond. Obviously, short is probably the toughest place to play defensively, and he’s shown, at 21 in Triple-A, that he can handle the position fairly well. He’s got all the tools and all the components to handle the position. And just the way the roster’s constructed, we have a lot of guys there who have versatility and we have 40-man-roster players who are playing various positions there. So, from a positional standpoint, it just makes the most sense for him to be doing what he’s doing at shortstop and really kind of assert himself. Everybody has a different opinion about what his final destination’s going to be, but at some point, he’ll be a very productive major league player, and it’s nice to see him getting the bulk of his games so far at Triple-A at shortstop.

AF:  Another top prospect who’s started the season in Nashville is third baseman Matt Chapman. He missed some time in the first month with a wrist injury, but he’s certainly been making up for it since he’s been back, and he hit 11 home runs in the month of May. So what have you been seeing out of him and what’s he still got to work on at Triple-A?

mc656305BO:  I think, with Matt, his defensive talent is off the charts. He’s probably one of the most talented third basemen at any level. You hear the names of Machado and Arenado when you’re discussing his defense – that’s not hyperbole, that’s just the fact. This guy’s defense is superlative and, offensively, his power is undeniable. He had 36 homers last year. Our fans have been able to see it first-hand the last two spring trainings. He had a 3-homer game last year in his brief time in Triple-A. And for him, it’s just all about really defining that strike zone, you know, learning it. With the injury, he started out fairly slow in April. But in May, with the 11 homers, his strikeout rate is actually a little bit lower this month than it was for his whole Texas League season last year when he was the Texas League MVP, so that’s encouraging. I think Matt’s capable of making adjustments, he’s smart, and he’s not afraid at all, as we’ve seen so far in his two big league camps. With him, it’s just all about tightening that strike zone and eliminating some swings-and-misses. But the bottom line is that he’s a really gifted defender, and every time he steps up to the plate, he’s dangerous. And coming at a premium position, that’s a pretty solid package.

AF:  One guy at Nashville who really seemed to turn it up a notch in May is first baseman Matt Olson. I know there was some talk this spring about him altering his swing a bit. Has that played much into this recent uptick and where do you feel things are at with him at this point?

mo621566BO:  Matt Olson, he’s definitely a student of the game. And I always go back to Stockton with him. You know, out of the draft, he was more of an all-fields hitter, and then he had a pretty solid season there in Beloit his first year out as a teenager. But Stockton is a fairly hitter-friendly environment and it’s very inviting to right field, so Matt was able to pop 37 home runs that year. But I think with that, he also became a lot more pull-oriented by hitting those home runs that year at Stockton. And it carried over to Midland, where it became a pull-heavy approach, and the park wasn’t quite as friendly and the defensive shift was more in vogue. So, as he climbed the ladder and they started doing the defensive shifts and he still was pull-happy, he realized that he had to make adjustments to go back to that hitter who uses the whole field. And I think, for some guys, it’s always good just to get a taste of the big leagues to realize it is a little bit different, the pitchers can make adjustments and they can exploit your weaknesses. And Matt’s a smart kid, so he went to the big leagues, saw what it had to offer and realized he had to make some swing adjustments. So now his swing’s shorter, he’s using the field a lot more, and he’s more conscious of trying to barrel the ball to all fields. It’s definitely carried over so far in this Triple-A season and, quite frankly, I think at some point it’ll translate to the upper levels. He’s another one who’s a gifted defender, at first base. I’ve said it, all our instructors have said it – his defense has been spectacular at first base throughout his minor league career. And once he added some versatility by playing right field – I believe he actually led the Texas League in assists a couple of years ago in his first full-time duty in the outfield – he’s proven that he can play above-average major league first base defensively and also actually play an average right field. So, with the natural power that he possesses and an improved contact rate, he’ll have a chance to make his presence known at some point in the next year or two.

AF:  Another guy who had a pretty good month of May at Nashville is Renato Nunez. He’s been doing his usual thing and hitting lots of home runs. He’s got as many homers as anyone in your system right now. We know the power is real for Renato, but how far away do you feel he is from being where he really needs to be?

rn600524BO:  Renato is 23 years old…and he’s always been a kid who’s capable of barreling the ball to all fields. He got a majestic, pretty stroke. I believe, in Double-A, he hit around .280. Last year, he started out hot but then, for some reason in the second half, he got a lot more pull-conscious. And though he still had a high homer total, his average plummeted. This year, he had a strong spring training, and he’s got 13 or 14 homers to start the year. But I still believe that he’s got another click left in him, where at 23 years old, he’s got time to mature as a hitter and start bringing that average up. He’s got a swing that’s capable of touching the baseball at multiple spots in the strike zone, so he shouldn’t have to sell out for power to hit the homers. He should be able to use the whole field. He’s in that .240ish range right now in Triple-A. But I believe, within the next two or three years, that he’ll still have the opportunity to go ahead and become more of a line-to-line hitter and become more of a complete hitter. And with Chapman and Barreto manning the left side of the infield, Renato’s been able to go out to left field and do a solid job out there and sprinkle some games in at third base and improve his defense. But make no mistake, Renato’s a hitter and, at some point within the next two or three years, hopefully he’ll start using the field more and become the hitter he’s capable of becoming.

AF:  As you mentioned, he’s been playing a lot of field so far this season. Do you think that’s the most likely defensive landing spot for him at this point?

BO:  Well, I just think with Chapman being such a special defender at third base, you have Barreto playing short, and when Semien comes back, he can play short, so with all the different players we have the same age playing similar positions, it’s been nice to give Renato a chance to improve his versatility by getting comfortable in left field.

AF:  A guy at Nashville who isn’t always included in the top prospect talk but who’s an interesting player is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He’s always seemed to out-perform expectations at every level. He was sidelined with a leg injury to start the season, but since he’s been back, he’s done nothing but hit over the past month. So what do you think his ceiling is?

jb595144bBO:  You know, he wasn’t a high-round draft pick, but since he’s been in our system, he’s always hit, whether it’s been in Beloit, or when he went to the California League and he wrecked it and hit 10 home runs in a month during his brief time in the Cal League. He went to Double-A and he was the igniter at the top of the lineup and played good defense in center field. And in Triple-A last year, they had one of the best records with one of the youngest teams in Triple-A – and at the top of the lineup, Jaycob makes things happen. He’s off to a great start. He missed some time with the injury in April, but since he’s been playing, he’s above .300. He uses the whole diamond, he’s got some power in there – he’s had double-digit home run seasons in the minor leagues. He’s got a very good throwing arm defensively, and he’s always been one the higher guys in assists. He takes really good routes in the outfield. So, I think he’ll eventually be a major league player. And it’s safe to say that he’ll be a fourth outfielder, but I think that if he’s assertive, he has a chance to surprise some people and do what he’s always done at the top level at some point when he gets the opportunity.

AF:  For the majority of his minor league career, he’s played center field, but most people seem to talk about him ending up as a corner outfielder. How do you feel about his ability to play center field at the major league level?

BO:  Well, I think he’s definitely capable of playing all three outfield positions and being a fourth outfielder. There’s no question in my mind that he can do that. And I think that Jaycob’s going to assert himself. He’s not a flyer, he’s not going to go up there and give you a blazing time down the line and do cartwheels and what not, but he’s efficient – he takes great routes and gets good angles. So, he can fill in at all three and be a fourth outfielder. But if he keeps on asserting himself, I think he’s going to surprise people at the top level, even defensively. He’s a technician and he’s efficient in center field with enough speed.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about a few pitching prospects at Triple-A. Daniel Gossett was a 2nd-round pick of yours a few years ago. He took a big step forward last year, then he seemed to really impress people during his brief time in the big league camp this spring. He had a few bumpy starts early on this year, but he’s been on a nice little run at Nashville lately. So what have you been seeing out of Daniel Gossett this year and how close is he to being major-league ready?

dg605254BO:  Yeah, last year was a breakout year for Daniel. He was good at three levels last year. And being dominant in 2016 gave him a chance to go to big league camp in 2017 and get a taste of it. And honestly, I don’t think he was totally sharp. He showed some good stuff, but he wasn’t totally sharp at the end of minor league camp, and I believe it carried over to his first three or four outings at Triple-A, but he’s been able to right the ship. In May, he had an outstanding month. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is getting even better. I think in about 54 innings, he’s got 50 strikeouts and the walks are like 19, and he’s really pounding that strike zone. He’s up to 96 mph. He’s got a nice four-pitch mix. He’s being aggressive within the strike zone. So, if you wash away those first three or four outings of the year, he’s really on that good trajectory now to show what he’s capable of doing. He’s got a cutter that he throws 90 mph, he’s got a good slider, a solid curveball and an outstanding changeup. So, he’s got the pitches – he really proved that last year. And with that strikeout rate being so strong at Triple-A, the next step is just to continue to get more consistency and then, when an opportunity strikes, he’ll be ready.

AF:  Another slightly younger guy in that Nashville rotation who’s been performing well this year is 23-year-old Paul Blackburn. He’s a former 1st-round supplemental pick for the Cubs whom you guys got from Seattle in the Danny Valencia deal. So what do think about him now that you’ve had a chance to get a good look at him in your system here this year?

pb621112BO:  Paul, he’s a control arm. He’s in that low-90s range. His fastball’s between 89-92 mph. It’s got pretty good sink to it. He’s got a solid breaking ball. He’s a northern California kid. He was in our range in the draft a couple of years back and the Cubs took him, so we made a good trade with the Mariners, and he’s been solid. He was okay in big league camp. I think he was excited to play for the hometown team here. And then he impressed all our minor league instructors. And at Nashville, he’s been tough. He’s thrown strikes as advertised. He’s able to manipulate the ball within the strike zone. He changes speeds. He’s definitely poised at a young age to be doing as well as he’s done at Triple-A. He’s not a stuff guy, but he’s a strike thrower, and he commands the baseball within the zone with an assortment of pitches, and he changes speeds well, so we’re excited to have Paul.

AF:  A guy who’s recently joined the staff at Nashville from Double-A Midland is Corey Walter. He’s another guy who wasn’t a high draft pick – he was a 28th-rounder – but since he’s been in the system, it seems like he’s done nothing but get outs, and he just had a nice outing in his last start for Nashville. So what are your impressions of Corey Walter and what’s his ceiling look like to you?

cw657794BO:  Yeah, Corey Walter, he’s kind of been the pitching version of Jaycob Brugman. He came into the system unheralded, and he’s done nothing but pitch really well. He’s been versatile. He’s at a point where his fastball is 90-92 mph, and it’s got a lot of sink to it. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy where he forces the action on the mound. He’s got a nice slider to complement the heater and the sinker, and he also sprinkles in a changeup. But he’s been efficient, he’s been a strong strike thrower. He really came into his own in Stockton, and it carried over last year in multiple roles at Double-A. With the logjam of quality starters in Triple-A and the young guys in the big leagues, we sent him back to Double-A to start the year and he did his thing in the Texas League again, which he’s done for the last year and a half. And I think his versatility and the sinker is going to really treat him well going forward. He’s proven that he can start and get a chance to be an effective starter, but that sinker will play very well out of the ‘pen as well, and he’s a strike thrower, so he’s got a chance to be versatile from a pitching standpoint. And he’s always performed well.

AF:  Yeah, it’s nice to see him getting a chance in Triple-A. Let’s wrap up with a couple of your younger pitching prospects. Grant Holmes, who was a 1st-round draft pick for the Dodgers, has had some struggles at Midland this year but, at 21, he’s also one of the youngest pitchers in the Texas League. So what’s he got to do to get over the hump at Double-A?

gh656550BO:  With Grant, the velocity’s always been there. He’s got a high strikeout rate at Double-A, especially for a kid who’s 21 years old. For him, it’s just a matter of tightening his breaking ball and getting a little bit more separation as far as the miles per hour between the changeup and the heater. I think they kind of blend together at times, and he’s got to get that separation to give hitters something else to really gauge and think about. And from a pitching standpoint, being assertive and being aggressive within the strike zone, but also learning the zones where your strengths are and understanding the scouting reports of the opposition. You know, being 21 years old in an advanced league, in Double-A, coming over here in a trade, getting acclimated and used to a new environment – getting traded at such a young age is not easy – so coming over here, being young, and getting an aggressive promotion to Double-A at 21…hopefully he’ll have an opportunity here the next three months to really hit the ground running, make some adjustments, use that high velocity that he’s shown the whole time, improve that separation between the heater and the changeup and keep on tightening that breaking ball, and he’ll have a chance to have a strong second half.

AF:  Okay, let’s wrap things up with your top draft pick last year, A.J. Puk. He’s been throwing well at Stockton, racking up lots of strikeouts and looking dominant at times. What have you seen out of A.J. this year, where he’s at in terms of his development and what he’s got to do to get to the next level?

ap640462cBO:  When you look at Andrew Miller, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, those lefties who are so tall and throw hard – A.J.’s been up to 99 mph from the left side – if they can really simplify their delivery, because their stuff’s so good, that’s just the best thing going forward. So A.J.’s going to keep on refining and simplifying his delivery. But his stuff is unquestionable. His fastball has ranged anywhere from 94-99 mph, and it’s got this component to it at the end where it has a little bit of giddy-up and it misses bats. His breaking ball, especially his slider, misses bats, and his changeup misses bats – and that’s how you get the 69 strikeouts in 44 innings. And honestly, I think he’s got another click to him. He doesn’t need to try to miss bats so much, but he has an element of deception, the stuff is quality, and you don’t see 99 mph from the left side every day. So, what’s Michael Jordan say? “The ceiling’s the roof!”

AF:  Well, that’s a good place to have your ceiling! Thanks for taking the time to chat. I know it’s a busy time a year for you with the draft right around the corner.

BO:  All right! Go A’s! I’m looking forward to the next three months of the year and we’ll see where it goes.

AF:  And best of luck with the draft coming up!

BO:  Yeah, it’ll be fun. We’ll be in Oakland shortly. And it’ll be fun to have [A’s scouting director] Eric Kubota lead us and to see where all those draft magnets take us!

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Getting To Know: A’s Pitching Prospect Logan Shore

by Josh Moore / A’s Farm Stockton Correspondent

ls624519bIt was a surprise spring training start in late March that gave many A’s fans their first look at Logan Shore. Donning a nameless jersey with the very spring training-esque number of “92” emblazoned on the back, the 22-year-old faced an Angels lineup that featured most of the team’s best big-league bats.

Shore, who had just been selected by the A’s in the second round of the amateur draft the previous summer, set down the first seven batters he faced, including reigning American League MVP Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, both on strikeouts. He didn’t allow a base runner until the third inning and, in his fourth and final frame, the kid from Coon Rapids, Minnesota retired the mighty Trout once again.

Shore would complete four full innings, allowing one run on just two hits while walking one and striking out three Angel batters. Although that one run earned him the loss that day, his impressive performance in a last-minute start opened a lot of eyes in the A’s big league camp.

Consistency and control have always been a big part of Shore’s success. Over the course of his college career at Florida, he walked an average of just 1.8 batters per 9 innings while compiling an ERA of 2.42 and increasing his strikeout rate every year. This year, in his age-22 season at Stockton, he’s currently sporting a 9.9 K/9 rate and a microscopic 1.1 BB/9 rate.

So far this season, Shore has surrendered one earned run or less in five of his seven appearances for the Ports, and he’s set to make his eighth appearance of the season for Stockton on Tuesday at Lake Elsinore. We took the opportunity to chat with Shore last weekend in Stockton and discussed his first season with the Ports, the organization’s recent tandem-pitching experiment, and what’s it’s like to have the chance to start his pro career alongside his long-time Florida roommate, A.J. Puk

 

AF:  A lot of folks got to see you for the first time in spring training, in that late-spring start you made against the Angels, when you struck out Mike Trout in the first inning. How much did that experience increase your confidence heading into this season at Stockton?

LS:  I think it was two starts before that that I was pitching against the Cubs and got to face [Anthony] Rizzo and [Wilson] Contreras over there, and I ended up striking out Rizzo twice. So, it was actually that which gave me confidence, especially going into that start, because I’d never faced big league guys before. It was my first full season in pro ball, so I didn’t have a whole lot of experience facing guys anywhere near that caliber. So really, for the Angels game, I was told the day before that I might start, so I was just going into it with an open mind and gave it all I had. There wasn’t a whole lot to lose.

Logan Shore

Shore in his Gator days

AF:  You’ve always done a great job of maintaining control of the strike zone and limiting your walks. But from your freshman year at Florida up through this season at Stockton, you’ve also been increasing the rate at which you’re striking out hitters every single year. What have you been learning and utilizing that’s helping you miss bats with greater frequency?

LS:  You know, honestly, my fastball has gotten a lot better as far as my velocity. I’m up two to three miles per hour since my last year in college. I think the command to both sides of the plate right now, from spring training until now, is the best in my career; on top of that, just throwing my changeup behind in the count and late in the count for swings and misses. My breaking ball has gotten a lot better too. That’s still going to be a work in progress but, for the most part, it’s gotten better from last year.

AF:  When we spoke with Brett Graves last week, he mentioned that he was pretty into TrackMan, and he gave us some insight into what he’s been looking at with A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. Is that something that you’re also focused on?

LS:  You know, I never really looked at it before. We started getting the information in instructional league last year. Gil loves it and has helped us understand the numbers and statistics and all that goes into it, and I think it does help. Like Brett said, it’s good to see how your data matches up against guys who are pitching in the big leagues. You look at spin rate, velocity, etc. I try not to look too in-depth into it and get too caught up in it, but it’s really amazing to see how my stuff matches up with guys who have been pitching in the big leagues for ten years.

AF:  You and left-hander A.J. Puk both came out of Florida together. So how has it now been for you to have the chance to come up through the A’s system together?

LS:  Being drafted with him was the best thing that happened since starting pro ball. Going back to college, we always joked about being drafted together to the same team. We roomed together our freshman, sophomore and junior years at Florida, so we’ve always been roommates, and now we’re roommates here again. But yeah, we always joked about being drafted to the same team but really never considered that it would actually happen. What are the odds?

AF:  Do you remember facing your current Stockton teammate Mikey White when he was at Alabama?

LS:  Oh, yeah. There are a lot of SEC guys. Anyone that comes from the SEC knows how tough it is to play in the SEC, so we sort of have this bond.

Logan Shore

Long-time teammates and roomates A.J. Puk & Logan Shore

AF:  The eight-man tandem pitching rotations that the A’s have been experimenting with, what were the positives and negatives that have come out of that?

LS:  Now we’re going to the five-day rotations with a couple of tandems. There were some positives and negatives. For me, the positives were that I was able to pitch out of the bullpen, which is something I had never done before. So learning how to come in when there was a runner on first and two outs and you have to get out of the inning, or learning how to come in when you’re up by one run in the seventh and finishing out the game. The negatives for me were also that I had never pitched out of the bullpen. I developed a good routine in my first year of pro ball, and then changing it up was kind of tough, because you think 5-man rotation, and you’re doing this, this and this. I had it all mapped out in my head. And we come to the next season and it gets kind of flipped on us, which is totally fine. I mean, it turned out that it worked pretty well, so I feel good, I feel fresh.

AF:  How is your relationship with catcher Sean Murphy behind the plate? I know you had a chance to pitch to him a little in Vermont last year and a little bit here in Stockton.

LS:  Before Murph got hurt… I loved throwing to Murph. I threw to him in short-season last year. He does an outstanding job, as well as all of the other catchers. Everybody does their homework and they’re all phenomenal behind the plate.

AF:  Random question time – what’s favorite type of music?

LS:  Right now, it’s been country.

AF:  Same with Brett Graves. Have you two been listening to music together or what?

LS:  [Laughs] He was probably the biggest impact on me during spring training. He was always there for me, always helping me with everything and kind of telling me what to do, where to go, where to be.

AF:  Have you been given any idea when you might be joining him in Midland?

LS:  Nah, that’s the fun part of the game. You never really know when you’re going to be promoted or anything like that. So, for me, it’s first year of pro ball, just trying to work hard every day.

AF:  What’s your favorite professional sports team besides the Oakland A’s and the Minnesota Twins?

LS:  [Minnesota] Wild.

AF:  True to your home state! Thanks for the chat. We’ll look forward to seeing you in Oakland.

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Talking Ports Prospects with Stockton Skipper Rick Magnante

by Josh Moore / A’s Farm Stockton Correspondent

rmMGR_Magnante_dervlq1cStockton manager Rick Magnante originally began his professional baseball career as a 13th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians out of the University of Santa Barbara back in 1969. He first joined the A’s organization in 1995 as an area scout covering southern California. He also began managing short-season teams for the A’s in 2006 after his duties prepping for each year’s draft were through.

After spending five seasons in Vancouver and three seasons in Vermont, Magnante gave up his scouting duties and began managing full-time. He spent the 2014 season in Beloit and is now in his third season with Stockton.

Just before left-hander A.J. Puk’s impressive performance on Saturday, in which he allowed just one infield single and struck out 9 over 5 scoreless innings, we had the chance to chat with the Stockton skipper about the recent changes to team’s tandem-pitching rotation and well as many of the Ports’ most promising prospects…

 

AF:  First things first, you’re switching up the starting rotation a bit. You’re getting away from the eight-man tandem rotation and are stretching out a few of the guys now. Is that right?

RM:  Well, it’s a little bit of a hybrid now. There will be a couple of guys that piggyback. There will be three guys that get their own start: [A.J.] Puk, [Logan] Shore, and [Evan] Manarino. Those will be the three that will be on their own, and they’ll match up with what’s in the bullpen on that given day.

AF:  Do you have a pitch count for Puk, Shore and Manarino as they get stretched out? What could we expect from an innings standpoint?

RM:  I think we’re going to gradually increase them to where they can get back to 75-85 [pitches], and toward the halfway mark of the season, toward 100 and back on a starter’s number as it relates to what’s expected in the big leagues.

A.J. Puk

A.J. Puk

AF:  Puk’s previous three starts [prior to Saturday] were a little different than his first three. His BABIP was .522, everyone was making good contact against him, and he had three consecutive losses in those appearances. Was he trying something new?

RM:  I don’t necessarily think that he’s trying anything new. I think he’s just understanding that he’s in a professional environment now facing professional hitters. And when he’s making the pitches he’s capable of making, he’s pretty untouchable. But when he doesn’t make those pitches and falls behind or gets deep into counts, these guys – you have to give them credit – they can hit a little bit and it’s what they’ve been doing.

AF:  Back to the tandem-pitching experiment. How do you feel about it?

RM:  I think as far as getting guys more appearances, I get that, but I think we should mirror the model of what’s going on in the big leagues. If the big leagues are going to go to this same format, then I fully understand it. If they’re not, then I’m not sure if the Petri dish experiment is truly working. So, we’ve already amended it.

AF:  Let’s talk about some of the bullpen arms. Between Nolan Blackwood, Carlos Navas, Jared Lyons and Matt Sergey, they’ve managed to allow just 4 runs in their 41 innings of work. Everyone knows some of those names in the rotation, but for those who might not know much about the arms in the pen, tell me about a few of them.

Nolan Blackwood

Nolan Blackwood

RM:  Blackwood can pitch. They [the A’s] like him. He’s a down-under guy and it sinks at 91-92. He’s got the frisbee slider going the other way. He’s hard to pick up with a lot of deception.

AF:  Do you think Brad Ziegler with a slightly better fastball would be a good comparison for Blackwood?

RM:  Probably. This is really my first look at Nolan. I didn’t have him last year. He’s had a few appearances here and, like anybody, he’s probably a little nervous or anxious and maybe sometimes tries to do a little too much. On certain days, there’s one pitch that works. He’s got a sinking fastball at 90-92 – you don’t need to go to the frisbee slider if they’re not swinging at that. And if you don’t have the slider, then you’ve got to go with whatever your best pitch is. So he’s learning.

AF:  I wanted to ask you about Carlos Navas. He pitched very briefly in Triple-A last season, he’s 24 and he pitched extremely well in the Venezuelan Winter League to guys who are bit older than him, and he hasn’t given up a run yet this year here in Stockton. What’s his ceiling?

RM:  There’s no telling. He may move quickly through this organization as the need arises and he’s seasoned. He’s been able to combine a 2-seamer and a 4-seamer, and if he can keep himself on line – that would be his biggest Achilles heal – he doesn’t always work down the slope. He can get left-to-right and that’s when he starts to yank the stuff. This year, his mechanics have been better, he’s been more on line, he’s got two-plane action and he’s got a very good slider. He’s durable, he’s strong, he competes, and he’s got great character, so we all pull for him.

AF:  Casey Meisner has looked much better recently. He hasn’t allowed a run in a couple of his recent appearances. How do you view his development?

RM:  He’s just kind of working through it. You know, he’s a big, tall, rangy guy and sometimes those guys have a more difficult time repeating [their delivery]. It’s confidence as well. In his mind and in the mind of the organization, he probably had a very disappointing season [last year]. He’s a high school draft guy without a lot of experience, but he had a real solid season in the South Atlantic League and in the Florida State League when we traded for him. He came here and stepped right into a role and competed. And then last year was a hiccup for him.

AF:  Although Brett Graves has moved on to Midland, both he and Evan Manarino have done such a great job this year in Stockton. Both pitchers have had their finest strikeout-to-walk ratios of their careers. What are you doing with two guys like that to help them develop?

Evan Manarino

Evan Manarino

RM:  You have two guys who really have a feel to pitch. And they really treat this as an opportunity. They’re students of the game. They assess their performances and they write things down to remind them of what they did right or wrong in their previous outings in terms of how they attacked the hitters. For me, Manarino is Tommy Milone. That’s who he is. He’s unflappable out there. His fastball wouldn’t bust your lip, but he never throws it in the same place twice. It’s the same with the changeup. He mixes his pitches and keeps hitters off balance. He has to be very control-and-command oriented because, the fastball, if it’s not located, is hittable. He’s a pitcher. Graves, on the other hand, he’s got 92-94 in the tank, so he’s got a litmus-test fastball. So with him, it’s commanding the breaking ball and attacking hitters and knowing how to get people out.

AF:  Logan Shore, I believe, at Florida topped out at about 92 mph. Is he getting a little more on his fastball, and how is the development coming along on his slider?

RM:  Yeah, I think his velocity has been somewhere between 91-94 – he’s probably sitting somewhere around 92. I think that’s probably his comfort level. Right now, it’s basically fastball, change and a developing slider. I actually talked to him before we came out today and he’s really working hard to figure out a grip and get comfortable, and he really believes he’s got a slider when he throws it right. It’s a good pitch, but just doesn’t have the consistency yet.

AF:  Offensively, we’ve seen a few guys really hitting well of late – outfielders Skye Bolt and Tyler Ramirez, shortstop Eli White and, despite his slow start, infielder Mikey White has shown some power of late. Is there anyone you’ve been particularly impressed with?

RM:  I think the guy that really had a terrific April and was pushed a little bit in terms of his matriculation through the system has been Eli White. I think he got off to a great start, and I think he’s a guy who has the tools and the skill set and, with some development – maybe a season under his belt – could be a guy that will really surprise.

AF:  Skye Bolt is a guy we’ve all been focused on because of his tools, and he’s currently in the top ten in the California League in on-base percentage. What is he doing differently this season?

RM:  I think he has just made some strides in his basic approach to hitting. He just seems to be more on time, his pitch recognition is better, his path is more consistent. He’s got a lean, sinewy kind of body that doesn’t really say “power,” but when the ball comes off the bat, it can be electric at times. I would kind of liken him a little bit to [Josh] Reddick in terms of that kind of profile or prototype.

AF:  About the injuries to first baseman Sandber Pimentel and catcher Sean Murphy, how long should we expect that they’ll be out?

Sandber Pimentel

Sandber Pimentel

RM:  Pimie…I don’t know. We got him here kind of hoping we could rehab him to begin the year. And we got him back on the field, but then he swung a couple of times and he had to shut it down. It’s a back issue. I’m not an orthopod, so I can’t tell you, but we all thought it’d be better to send him back to Arizona and give him more hands-on treatment to see what happens. Certainly we’d love to have him here because he’s an impact guy for us. If we have him and we have [Chris] Iriart—a lefty/righty combo at first-base and DH—we’ve got some thump and some dangerous guys in the lineup. So, we certainly hope he’ll be fine. With Murph, it’s just a little wrist problem and those are quirky. Those are things that can be hard to work through.

AF:  Catcher Jose Chavez joined the team with Murphy’s absence and hit two home runs in his first six games. Is he someone we can expect to get more and more time while Murphy is out?

RM:  I think so. I think Chavy will get the lion’s share of the catching when Murph’s not capable of playing. And everybody’s always been very complimentary of Chavy’s ability to catch and throw – that’s his forte. It’s the bat that’s always been a little suspect as he has developed through the minor league system. Now he’s getting a little better feel on how to hit. He’s a little stronger. He’s a little more mature. He’s had more experience. So, hopefully we’re starting to see that if this guy has the ability to get to the big leagues, he’ll have a serviceable bat that’ll allow him to play some.

AF:  How much of a defensive drop-off do you see between Murphy and Chavez?

RM:  I would say in the receiving end, probably not too much. I think Murphy is a prodigy. I think he’s advanced and has a baseball IQ that shows that not only can he catch, and he can really throw, but he also has an idea on how to help his pitchers attack hitters and exploit their weaknesses and take advantage of that – and that’s a thinking man’s catcher, and that’s something you can’t really grade out unless you see it every day on the field.

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Brett Graves: Stepping It Up For Stockton

by Josh Moore / A’s Farm Stockton Correspondent

RHP Brett Graves  (Photo: Meghan Camino)

RHP Brett Graves
(Photo: Meghan Camino)

If you’ve been paying attention to Stockton’s impressive pitching staff this season, you’re not alone. There’s been plenty of talk about the potential of top draft picks like A.J. Puk and Logan Shore, but it was another pitcher on the Stockton staff who was actually the team’s most consistent hurler over the first three weeks of the season.

RHP Brett Graves started off his second season at Stockton by allowing just 1 run and 1 walk while striking out 19 in 18 innings over his first 5 appearances of 2017 for the Ports. The 24-year-old finally had his first rough outing of the season for Stockton on Friday, but he’s still sporting a 3.00 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP to go along with just 2 walks and 24 strikeouts over 21 innings of work.

Graves was a 2014 3rd-round selection out of the University of Missouri, where he spent three seasons pitching in the SEC (the same conference that both Puk and Shore called home). Prior to attending college, Graves was a 26th-round selection of his hometown St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 after leading Francis Howell High School to the MSHSAA State Championships. Splitting time between pitching and playing shortstop, he pitched to a 9-1 record with a 1.95 ERA while batting .441 with six home runs and 35 RBIs as a high school senior.

At Missouri, Graves made impressive strides over the course of his collegiate career, giving many organizations the feeling that he had a lot more potential left to be tapped. He finished his junior season at Missouri with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, limiting hitters to 0.4 HR/9 while increasing his strikeouts to 6.2 K/9 and decreasing his walks to 1.7 BB/9.

Graves endured a rough start in his first season at Stockton in 2016, posting a 5.72 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP in the first half. He showed improvement over the course of the season though, putting up a 3.36 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in the second half. Graves ultimately finished the season with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP over 141 innings, but his 5.5 K/9 and his 1.8 K/BB ratio could still stand a little improvement.

Well, one only has to look at Graves’ 24 strikeouts and 2 walks in 21 innings in 2017 to see that he’s clearly stepped up his game this season. We recently had the chance to speak with him to find out, among other things, what accounts for his success at Stockton this season…

 

AF:  You were originally drafted by your hometown St. Louis Cardinals out of high school prior to accepting the offer to pitch at Missouri. How close were you to taking the Cardinals up on their offer and foregoing your college career?

BG:  After getting drafted in the 26th round, I was pretty set on going to college. I think it worked out for the best for me and I was really excited to go to Mizzou.

AF:  Were you a huge Cardinals fan growing up and was it ever your dream to play for them?

BG:  Yes, I was a huge Cardinals fan. I used to imitate their lineup playing in the backyard.

AF:  Did you have any favorite pitchers growing up that you wanted to emulate?

BG:  I really liked Chris Carpenter. He spent a lot of his time in St. Louis, and I loved the way he competed, as well as his intensity on the mound.

AF:  Going all the way back to 2006, there have been quite a few notable Missouri pitchers selected in the early rounds of the draft, including Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow, and Kyle Gibson. Have you ever had the opportunity to talk with any of them?

Brett Graves (Photo: Meghan Camino)

Brett Graves
(Photo: Meghan Camino)

BG:  As far as those guys go, no, I haven’t ever gotten to know any of them. I paid very close attention to how Max attacked hitters and how he competed out on the mound. I definitely tried to pick up anything I could from those guys. I wanted to follow right in their footsteps.

AF:  Is there anyone else from your time at Missouri that has had a profound impact on your maturation process?

BG:  Rob Zastryzny. He was our Friday night starter at Mizzou my freshman and sophomore years. We pushed each other and were there for each other whenever we needed to vent. Last year, he made his debut with the Cubs and got to be a part of that amazing World Series run.

AF:  Over your three seasons at Missouri, your walk rate decreased dramatically each year. Some thought that, as a freshman, you came out throwing hard and had to learn how to command the strike zone; as a sophomore, you controlled the strike zone but maybe weren’t throwing as hard; but as a junior, you really tied both in together and threw quality pitches with a good command of the strike zone. Do you agree with that assessment?

BG:  Yes, I would say that’s pretty spot on. When I came in as a freshman, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to reach back and throw it by these hitters anymore. I had to find my balance between attacking with my best stuff and learning how to pitch.

AF:  What played the biggest role in your collegiate development and making those transitions?

BG:  I would say my two years of summer ball in Newport, Rhode Island. My sophomore summer is where I really think I started to figure things out. Also, I think Rob [Zastryzny] helped me a ton with that.

AF:  How has your pitch repertoire evolved from Missouri to how you pitch now?

BG:  I think I have really been able to expand on my repertoire. I mix my four-seamer with my sinker much more. I’ve added a changeup that I really feel comfortable with that I hardly threw in college. And I think my breaking ball is way ahead of where it was in college.

AF:  Although it’s early in your second season with Stockton, you’ve commanded the strike zone extremely well, showing off a really good walk rate and strikeout rate. Is there anything else that’s enhanced your development since being drafted by the A’s?

BG:  I think the insight and access to some of the new TrackMan data from our staff has helped me to see how to use my pitches better and how to mix pitches maybe more effectively.

AF:  There’s so much information flowing in and out of baseball circles these days. Velocity, spin rates, release heights, the list goes on and on, but what do you find most compelling and most interesting when examining the data for your own pitches?

BG:  I like to look at how my pitches stack up against major league averages – how they’re moving and in what locations they are most effective. It gives me an insight on what pitches to throw in certain counts and the confidence and conviction of how and when to throw them. [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and the rest of the A’s staff have really gone to great lengths to make this information available to us and I think it helped me. I don’t think it’s something you can think too much about, but getting a general idea on how to use your pitches, which of your pitches are most successful, and gauging your pitch development based on some of the numbers you see can be very beneficial.

AF:  What pitch combinations are working for you now? Are you doing something different with your pitches that’s equating to better results or are you simply getting more comfortable on the mound?

Brett Graves (Photo: Meghan Camino)

Brett Graves
(Photo: Meghan Camino)

BG:  I think it has to do with a lot of those factors. First and foremost, I think I am just attacking the hitters better, leading to more counts that I’m ahead in, which typically leads to better results. I also think the development of my curveball to this point in the season has given me much more confidence and I’m really feeling much more comfortable with it.

AF:  A few really talented pitchers [A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, Daulton Jefferies] joined you in Stockton this season. Did you feel any added pressure coming into the season knowing that there could be more eyes focused on the pitching staff with some high expectations?

BG:  Not necessarily. Iron sharpens iron and they’re all good dudes that work really hard, so I was excited.

AF:  How do you feel about how they’ve been progressing? Do guys like Logan or A.J. come to you for advice and, conversely, have you picked anything up from them that you’ve felt was helpful?

BG:  Well, I feel they both have a tremendous grasp of who they are and what they need to do. But just from having been through a couple professional seasons now, I try to let them know what to expect – mainly just some things that I would have liked to know coming into pro ball.

AF:  Coming into the season, the A’s were beginning a relatively new philosophy of having eight starting pitchers pitch together in four-inning tandems, and you got the first crack on opening day. How are you adjusting to starting a game and then relieving in a game per the tandem starting pitch philosophy?

BG:  It’s interesting. I think you can learn some valuable lessons from it. You have to come out ready to go and attacking with your best stuff. There’s no time for a two or three spot early whereas, in a normal start, you can settle in and go six or seven innings and it’s a quality start – you just don’t have that option in the eight-man.

AF:  Back to opening day, you pitched four perfect innings without allowing a base runner. Had you ever gone that deep into a game without allowing a man on? And was there talk of coming back out for the 5th inning?

BG:  I have a couple times. However, I’ve never been able to seal the deal. We briefly discussed it in the dugout, but we decided it was just [too] early in the season and [we] had our eyes set more down the road and looking to be at our best come July and August.

AF:  Well, let’s wrap this up with some light stuff. Our readers often like to know some random details about players. I’m personally a big music geek, so what bands are you currently listening to?

BG:  I’m a country music fan. Lately, my roommates and I have been listening to a lot of Thomas Rhett.

AF:  If you were only allowed to keep one country artist’s entire collection of albums with you on a long road trip, which artist would it be?

BG:  Well, last year I went to Hawaii and downloaded every Kenny Chesney song. He has so many hits, I hardly have to listen to the same one twice.

AF:  By the way, you mentioned roommates. Is there anyone you’re particularly close to on the team?

BG:  Well, I share a bedroom with Lana Akau. Doesn’t get much closer than that…

AF:  It’s been a pleasure. Good luck the rest of the way.

(All photos courtesy of Meghan Camino)

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Exclusive: 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 seven years ago to serve as a special assistant to the general manager.

Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with Billy Beane and ends up getting fired – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here).

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

 

AF:  Let’s start out by talking a little bit about last year’s draft. I know you guys may not have even expected to have the chance to get the guy who turned out to be your top draft pick, left-hander A.J. Puk. But now that you’ve got him here in camp and you guys have had a chance to get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now, and what have you got to work on with him to get him where he needs to be?

ap640462bGF:  Well ever since we signed him, we really haven’t seen any of the command issues that kind of bothered him a little bit in college. So for the most part, once he got signed and got out and got comfortable, he threw pretty good strikes in Vermont, did the same in instructs, and has done the same here. So now that we’re starting to feel comfortable about his location and his execution, [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson has allowed him to bring back a curveball that apparently Florida had taken from him all those years. And it’s actually showing some signs of life. It’s a different angle than his slider, and it looks like it’s going to be a very good pitch for him. For him, it’s about a big man maintaining some consistency in his delivery so that he’s able to execute at the highest level. He had an unbelievable first major league inning in a spring training game – 97 mph, threw strike after strike, threw the baseball by all of them, it wasn’t even close!

AF:  I guess that opened a lot of people’s eyes.

GF:  Yes.

AF:  Last year, you guys took three pitchers at the top of the draft. After Puk, right-handers Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore, a couple more experienced college pitchers, were your next two picks. So how are those two guys looking at this point?

GF:  Jefferies, as you know, experienced some shoulder issues last year at Cal and was shut down – probably not shut down long enough. They allowed him to go out and pitch at the end of the year, and he probably wasn’t 100%. So we spent most of the time rehabbing him all last summer. He hit the mound a couple of times late in the summer. He pitched effectively and pitched issue-free. So instead of pushing the envelope, we didn’t even bring him to instructional league really – he was here for a short period of time but did not throw. The rest and the recovery, for the medical guys, was more important. Now he’s showing up 100% healthy. He’s been pounding the strike zone – 93s-94s-95s with a filthy changeup. The breaking ball is the one thing that we still play with a little bit – still trying to play with a grip, play with an angle – so if there’s any pitch in there that needs some attention…but he’s a pretty good strike thrower and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got a chance to be a special kid.

AF:  And what about Logan Shore?

ls624519GF:  Shore’s been very good. As a sophomore, there were some 93 and 94 mph four-seamers in there, much more than there were his last year in college. He pitched around 90 mph all year. Everything he threw had more of a sink to it. I think there was some question as to how much was left in this guy. I for one was excited to see if we could get that four-seamer back. Now being with him, everything he holds is a four-seamer! But velocity is up. There was one day he touched 95 mph, but he been pitching in the 92s and 93s. He’s got a filthy changeup. He’s another guy who could improve a little bit on the consistency of his breaking ball. He’s similar to Jefferies, maybe not as live and quick of an arm, but they both have plus to double-plus changeups and they’re both strike throwers.

AF:  How much thought have you guys given to maybe keeping all three of these guys together as a group to start the season?

GF:  We’ve had our thoughts. I think they’re all somewhat advanced college pitchers – there’s some polish there. Puk may be the lightest on overall command, but these guys have a chance to move quicker than the rest.

AF:  Is there anyone else from last year’s draft that you’ve been feeling particularly fond of lately?

GF:  Yeah, let me mention Skylar Szynski. He was a high school pick in the 4th-round – powerful kid, good arm, good breaker, makings of a changeup, around the dish. He tired easily after we signed him. He lost half the summer to fatigue. We brought him back for instructional league and didn’t have him do much because of the fatigue factor. But he’s come back to this camp and has looked very good. The ball is jumping out of his hand. He’s got decent moves in his delivery, which creates a lack of concern. There’s power in this kid’s game. It’s just about him getting on the mound now and getting to a level where he can go out and pitch a little bit. I’m unsure how we break here with him but, in my opinion, a very good draft pick.

AF:  So it sounds like it’s up in the air at this point whether he goes to a short-season or a full-season team this year.

GF: Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk a bit about some of the higher-level prospects now. Your top prospect, infielder Franklin Barreto, looked very good in big league camp this spring and he was recently sent over to the minor league camp. He’s going to start the season at Nashville, and he’s obviously very close at this point. What’s left for him to do to be major-league ready and what’s he got to work at Nashville this year?

fb620439bGF:  Not a whole lot! I mean, he’s really come on as an offensive player. There’s going to be power in his game for a little man. He’s probably got the quickest bat and quickest hands in the system. Nobody can ever have enough experience controlling the strike zone and learning how people pitch you and things like that. He’s played a little bit more aggressively in big league camp, which most young kids do. There were times that we were concerned about his effort. It showed up in the [Arizona] Fall League a little bit as well. Some of that’s fatigue – some of that could be attitude. But this guy has dominated, going down the line, making hard turns, everything in big league camp that would impress a major league coaching staff.

AF:  So should we assume this year at Nashville he’ll be spending time at shortstop and second base, splitting time between the two.

GF: Mm hmm.

AF:  Now what about third baseman Matt Chapman? He managed to keep up his power numbers at Midland which, as you know, no one ever seems to do. So obviously the power is real. He’ll be at Nashville this year. I know the question with him always has to do with how much contact he’s going to make. So what’s he got to work on at Nashville to be ready to take the next step?

GF:  That’s it – hopefully improving his strikeout rate. He looks better. It looks like there’s a little bit more separation to his move, which is going to give him a little bit more time to read and react. But everything else is solid. He’s hitting them just as far today as he did a year ago.

AF:  Well I guess we don’t have to bother worrying about his power and defense anyway.

GF:  Not at all.

AF:  A guy who made a big leap forward last year was catcher Bruce Maxwell. He really seemed to turn a corner with the bat last summer at Nashville. What clicked for him last year, and where do you feel he’s at both at the plate and behind the plate at this stage of the game?

bm622194bGF:  Yeah, it was a little bit of a breakout year for Maxie offensively. It was certainly a collection of the most competitive at-bats I’ve ever seen him have over the course of his career – and it held up in the big leagues. And the more quality at-bats he had there, the more he ended up playing, especially late in the year. The bottom line is we have Stephen Vogt and we have Josh Phegley, and when they’re both healthy, there’s kind of no place to go. So in his case, if he goes back to Nashville, it’s not that he’s being demoted. It’s just that right now he’s still waiting in the wings. I think everybody’s locked into the catch/throw – we’re okay – he’s done a great job with that the last two years. Maybe some blocking – you know, you could pick these guys apart left and right if you want but…he still gets exposed sometimes in blocking situations. But catching and throwing, he’s done a tremendous job.

AF:  At this point for him, it sounds like it’s mainly just a matter of standing in line and waiting his turn.

GF:  Yep.

AF:  Let’s talk about infielder Chad Pinder, who was recently sent back over to the minor league camp. Bob Melvin was just saying the other day that he thought that his bat was ahead of his defense and it may be just a matter of finding the proper home for him in the field. And now they want to try to make him more versatile defensively and have been talking about having him spend some time in the outfield this year at Nashville.

GF:  Well his defense last year threw us all for a loop a little bit, because of how well he played the year before at Midland. So he went through some growing pains, and I think he’s realized some of the things he’s done wrong. I think the big league staff and the front office, some people have gotten a different look at him – maybe he was a little intimidated or nervous, whatever it may be, in the big leagues last year and had a little stiffer look to him. But I think he’s put himself back on the map in this camp. I know the staff has been impressed. He’s done well offensively for the most part. But, you know, he goes back and tries to put another stage to his game, and see if he can improve on that defense. My thing with Chad has always been, he’s just been a guy who’s always had a very low walk rate. So very low walk rates usually equal guys with recognition issues. And with Chad, he’s gotten better in his two-strike situations, but for me personally, I see him get himself in trouble early in the count. He’s offering at pitches early in the count that are going to be low odds to square up. So if he can improve his recognition of what he wants to jump on early, I think that’s going to improve the whole on-base thing a little bit.

cp640461bAF:  And do you anticipate seeing him moving around a bit in the field and getting a little more versatile this year?

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt, which we’re big on in the big leagues. We platoon a ton. So the more versatility, the more options there are. The other thing that’s going to be interesting…he told me that he had his eyes done.

AF:  Lasik?

GF:  Yeah, and in the at-bats that I was seeing over there [in major league camp], he looked a little bit more patient and confident.

AF:  So maybe he literally is seeing pitches better at this point! A guy who’s in a somewhat similar situation as Pinder is first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson, who was also sent back over to the minor league camp recently. Bob Melvin was saying that they’re working on changing his swing a bit. So what’s he got to do this year to get himself to where you can see him being ready for the major leagues?

GF:  He’s got to define where the impact’s going to be. We already know what he can do defensively. He’s well above average at first, and he’s solid in the outfield. I’m sure if you wanted to put him at third, he could play it. He’s just a good defender. So it’s the same story with him going into this year as every year. There’s always been power, there’s always been on-base, but it’s about not having so many empty at-bats. So it doesn’t take a scientist to realize we need the contact rate to go up and the swing-and-miss rate to come down…and try to make him as good as he can be as far as his approach. This is the first year that he’s come back with a change – he’s a little bit more out in front of himself instead of tied up in the air – and it looks like it’s helping him. He’s been much more competitive in his big league at-bats this spring.

AF:  So it sounds like you’re trying to shorten his swing a bit.

GF:  Yeah, we’re trying to shorten it and we’re trying to get him to stay over the baseball a little bit better.

AF:  And you feel like he’s taken to that change fairly well?

GF:  Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about Renato Nunez. It’s always sort of the same conversation about him. The power potential’s real, when he hits the ball it goes a long way, but the question has always been where he’s going to end up in the field.

rn600524dGF:  Well he’s got to learn to make himself more versatile. It’s going to be an interesting year for him, because he’s going to have to play some left, he’s going to have to DH, he’s going to have to play some first, and then he’ll get some third base time – but you’ve got Chapman there, and he’s probably going to get the majority of the time there. So it’s time for him to kind of change his game a little bit. He’s kind of an odd one, because he’s so young, and yet he’s like the most unheard of 22-year-old to hit 23 homers in the Pacific Coast League. So you’ve got to appreciate what this guy can do – this guy can change the course of a game with one swing. But he’s never come to big league camp and nailed it, you know, like Chapman did [last spring]. Sometimes those things need to happen to get that extra opportunity.

AF:  Another hitter likely to start the year back at Nashville who I wanted to ask you about is a guy I think you’ve always felt good about, and that’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He’s another guy who seemed to take a big step forward last year. He always seems to over achieve and exceed people’s expectations, and he had a really good season last year. So where do you feel he’s at and what’s he got to do at this point?

GF:  He’s close, I think he’s ready. But to open the year, he’s going to go back to Nashville. But there’s not a lot Bruggy needs to overcome to become our fourth, or somebody’s fourth, or fifth outfielder. And in a perfect world, if you’ve got a contending team, I kind of see him that way. He can play all three outfield spots, and he’s going to give you a good quality at-bat whether he’s getting four at-bats a night or two a week – and that’s a vital skill for a part-time player. Now in Bruggy’s case, if he does the things that he’s been doing in the minor leagues, which is a little combo of everything, then he’s going to make himself into an everyday player somewhere, here, somewhere. It was their first look at him in big league camp. They’ve heard most of the minor league coaches describe him. I thought he held his own and did fine and his at-bats were competitive.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few pitchers before we wrap up. A pitcher who made a lot of progress last year was Daniel Gossett. He wasn’t particularly eye-opening at Beloit in 2015, but then he suddenly blows through Stockton, Midland and Nashville last year and looks good at every stop. So what clicked for him?

dg605254cGF:  Last year was his breakout year…he really turned it around. And I think it’s just about starting to execute in the finer spots of the strike zone. He’s always been a strike thrower, but it’s been control over command. But now I think his command is starting to tighten up. And when he wants to go down and away, he’s hitting it, and when he wants to come underneath the hands in, he’s hitting it. Before, a lot of his stuff was kind of center cut, and so there was a lot more contact off him and the strikeouts were down. And last year, that all flipped. And he did a very good job in big league camp. He pitched very well.

AF:  And I guess adding the cutter helped him a bit too.

GF:  Yeah, but he’s got a solid repertoire of pitches, and his fastball velocity’s up. He was 91-95 mph pretty much every outing last year.

AF:  Well that always helps! Another pitcher I wanted to talk to you about is Raul Alcantara, who’s out of options. He’s been pitching in the big league camp all spring and competing for a spot on the major league roster. Where do you feel he’s at and do you see his future more as a starter or a reliever at this point?

GF:  Well Raul’s ability to start, especially at the major league level, is going to be determined by his efficiency and command of a breaking ball. There’s no doubt that he’s got a good arm. He’s got a great changeup. So with Sonny Gray being down, it kind of eases the decision as to what we do. I’m not sure yet, we still have a couple meetings to have about…is he in the mix for the fifth starter role or does he kick it off as the long guy? But I think there’s enough opportunity now for him to possibly stay when we break. So we’ll see how that goes.

AF:  And finally, I wanted to ask you about Frankie Montas, who was one of the guys you got last summer from the Dodgers. He was hurt most of last season, but he pitched for you guys a bit in the Arizona Fall League and now he’s been pitching here in the big league camp this spring. So what’s he look like to you now that you’ve had the chance to get a look at him up close here in camp?

fm593423cGF:  I got to see him a little bit in instructs before we sent him over to the Fall League. I saw him in two outings in the Fall League, and I’ve seen him two or three times here. Easy 100 mph – probably one of the easiest big velo guys you want to see. The breaker comes and goes, but it can be filthy at times. Personally, I would like to see him utilize his changeup more, which I just haven’t seen – I don’t know if I’m running to the bathroom when he throws it! Especially if we’re going to think down the road as a starter, he’s going to need that changeup. But currently, he’s just not really using it that much. I think he went into this big league camp knowing that he was going to be used probably an inning or so at a time, because we’re going to have to watch his pitch counts this year and his innings, so he just attacked them with fastballs and sliders. But he’s done well.

AF:  I know there’s been a lot of talk about whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever, and the fact that he was injured and only threw so many innings last year, so realistically he can only be expected to throw so much this year. So is he going to start out the season as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start at all?

GF:  He’s got to start out as a reliever at this point because he’s only been a one or two inning guy so far. And plus, we’re going to have to watch the innings. So he can go out and get a good half a year in the bullpen and, if he’s still feeling good and healthy and we’ve still got 50-60 innings to play with, then if we decide to go the starter route, he could attack that later. Or there’s a chance he’s on the club.

AF:  You mean, the major league club, right?

GF:  Yeah…in the bullpen.

AF:  Well that’d certainly be good news for fans who like to see guys who can bring the heat! Thanks as always for the insight.

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Talking with a Trio of Top A’s Prospects: Chapman, Gossett & Maxwell

IMG_3715bLast week at the A’s major league spring training camp in Mesa, we took the opportunity to chat with a trio of top A’s prospects, all of whom made our pre-season Top 10 Prospects List.

We caught up with catcher Bruce Maxwell and third baseman Matt Chapman, both of whom we’d spoken with a number of times before. And we also got the chance to speak with pitching prospect Daniel Gossett for the first time.

Maxwell and Chapman both spent plenty of time in the major league camp last spring, but it was the first time in big league camp for Gossett, who was clearly excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

After getting the chance to appear in three spring games, Gossett was reassigned to the A’s minor league camp the day after we spoke, but both Maxwell and Chapman are likely to remain with the major league squad till just prior to opening day.

 

MATT CHAPMAN

mc656305c#2 on our Top 10 Prospects List, third baseman Matt Chapman led all A’s minor leaguers with 36 home runs last season, slugging 29 at Double-A Midland to lead the Texas League and then adding another 7 in just a few weeks with Triple-A Nashville. 2014’s top draft pick for the A’s is also known as a top-tier defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. The 23-year-old will start the year at Nashville, where he’ll try to prove to the A’s that he’s ready for the show sooner rather than later.

AF:  Well, it was a very solid season for you last year. You managed to hit 29 home runs while playing at Midland, which is considered to be a bit of a pitchers’ park. So how did you manage to keep your power numbers up going from Stockton to Midland when so few other guys have been able to do that?

MC:  Just really working with the coaches, swinging at the right pitches, getting good pitches to hit, and just letting your good swing take care of the rest. For me, working hard in the weight room and getting my strength up, and just trying to put good swings on the ball. I’m just going to keep trying to take good swings and letting the results happen.

AF:  You obviously kept your power swing going when you got a late-season promotion to Triple-A Nashville and hit seven more home runs in just a few weeks there. So how did you feel about your experience there?

MC:  It was fun. Every level you go up, there’s different challenges and different adjustments you need to make, so it was fun to kind of get a taste of that. And I’m assuming that’s where I’ll be this season. So it’ll be nice to have a little bit of experience and kind of know what to expect a little more this time around.

AF:  Making the move from High-A to Double-A and Triple-A last year, were there any particular adjustments you had to make against more advanced pitching?

MC:  Definitely, you’re always making adjustments. That’s something in baseball that I don’t think will ever stop. So for me, it might be just making those adjustments a little faster, because the pitchers have a plan of how they want to attack you. So for me, it’s just sticking with that professional approach and being able to not give in to those good pitches those pitchers are making.

AF:  Was having the chance to spend plenty of time in big league camp last year a helpful experience for

you? And did it boost your confidence a bit heading into the season?

MC:  Definitely. Being around these guys and trying to learn as much as I could was definitely a great experience – and also having some success and then being able to have that confidence that you are good enough to play at a higher level.

AF:  So how’s it been being back here in big league camp for your second year? Do you feel a little more comfortable this time around?

MC:  Definitely. It’s always nice to get some of that experience under your belt, so that when you come back again, you know what to expect, you kind of develop more of a routine, you know the guys a little bit better, put some more names to faces, and feel more comfortable just being yourself. It’s been fun.

AF:  Is there anything that the coaching staff has you working on in particular this spring?

MC:  From an offensive standpoint, my rhythm and timing – just really working on dialing in that good rhythm and good timing. And pitch selection – just being disciplined and really committing to getting the pitch that I’m looking for – and kind of just developing that professional hitting approach.

AF:  Now you’re known for your solid defense and your strong arm. So how confident do you feel out there in the field at third base?

MC:  I’m definitely confident. You should always be confident in your abilities, because when you’re confident, you play your best. And at this level, you should always want to play your best. So you should always be confident and believe in yourself. I’m definitely very confident in my ability on defense and err on the side of attacking every baseball.

AF:  So what are you focused on and what’s your mindset heading into this coming season?

MC:  My mindset coming into this season is to take everything that I’ve been working on this season in big league camp, everything that I learned from last season, successes and failures, and hopefully combine all those together and formulate the best version of me that I can be, then take that into the beginning of this season and go out there every day and try to get better and show them I’m ready to make the next step.

 

DANIEL GOSSETT

dg605254c#7 on our Top 10 Prospects List, right-handed starting pitcher Daniel Gossett blew through three levels of the A’s system last season, making as much progress as any pitcher in the organization, and his 151 strikeouts led all A’s minor leaguers last year. Oakland’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2014 (selected by the A’s right after Matt Chapman), the 24-year-old is set to begin the year as a member of the starting rotation at Triple-A Nashville but, depending on how things go, he could end up getting a shot to show what he can do in Oakland before the season’s through.

AF:  You made a big leap forward last season, pitching well at Stockton, Midland and then Nashville. So what accounted for your progress last year, what clicked for you?

DG:  I really focused on just staying with the process, trusting my stuff, and not trying to do too much. And now I get to be around all these guys [in the A’s major league camp], so I get to learn a ton every day. So this is an awesome experience for me. If I can just grab on to everything I learn here and just apply it, it’s going to be the best thing for me.

AF:  I was just about to ask what it’s been like for you to be in big league camp for the first time this spring.

DG:  It’s everything you dream of. This is the dream for everyone. Obviously I haven’t made it to the big leagues yet, but this is obviously a step up in spring training. And I’m honored and excited to be a part of all this and to be around all these guys and to learn as much as I can.

AF:  Has anyone here taken you under their wing a bit or been particularly helpful to you this spring?

DG:  I try and pick as many brains as I can and talk to everyone I can. But Sean Manaea’s been a rock for me, so that helps out a ton. I get to sit by him every day and ask him anything. I feel like he’s a good friend that I can lean on.

AF:  That’s funny because he was the new kid here just last year!

DG:  I guess he understands what I’m going through, so he can kind of look out for me a little bit as well.

AF:  So what was it like when you got out there on the mound in your first spring training game facing big league hitters for the first time?

DG:  Well the first one was actually a start – it was the home opener! It was the first time I’d ever pitched in a big league scenario and I’m starting the game. So there was a little anxiety, but it was awesome. It was great to be on the mound in a big league uniform. It’s still not the real deal, but it’s definitely a cool experience.

AF:  Let’s talk a little bit about your repertoire. What were you throwing last year and what was really working for you?

DG:  I was really able to work off my fastball, which was really good. My fastball control was pretty good. But then I was able to work on my changeup, which has been a staple for me. And then I added a cutter last year, which actually helped out a ton – another option to go to. So adding that pitch really helped out a lot. And [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and a guy who was in Stockton with me last year, Brett Graves, helped me out a ton with the cutter. I’ve just got to keep refining and keep working to see if I can make it a little bit better every day.

AF:  Well, in addition to Gil Patterson, you also had three different pitching coaches throughout the system to work with over the course of last season.

DG:  So I had Steve Connelly my first couple years. I had him in Vermont, then I had him in Beloit, then I had him in Stockton. And so that was great to have a building block there, a good firm relationship I could always lean on. Then I go up to Double-A at Midland and then Triple-A with Rick Rodriguez. And just getting different perspectives on pitching is awesome. These guys, that’s their job – they understand, they’ve been there. So I can learn from them and take different aspects from them and put it all together.

AF:  So how were those different parks for you to have to pitch in? Stockton’s known as a hitters’ park, while Midland and Nashville are known a little more as pitchers’ parks.

DG:  Oh yeah, Stockton and the whole Cal League is definitely a hitters’ league. But you’ve just got to trust in the process – just keep pitching and everything else is outside your control, so just control what you can. And I just try to see if I can wheel out the best I’ve got every day.

AF:  As you moved through three different levels last year, were there any significant adjustments that you needed to make moving from one level to another?

DG:  In Triple-A, definitely. You’ve got a bunch of guys up there with a ton of big league time, and they all have great approaches. And you’re not going to get many swings and misses out of the zone – you have to be good in the zone. Coming from Double-A and High-A, and I’m not trying to talk down about anyone, but I was getting more swings and misses out of the zone. Then you go up to Triple-A and you’ve got to be nasty in the zone, and that’s a bit of an adjustment.

AF:  You’ve got to work in the danger zone all the time!

DG:  Yeah, you’re always living right there on the edge, that’s for sure!

AF:  Even though you weren’t there for very long at the end of last year, how did you enjoy your time in Nashville?

DG:  Unbelievable! Everything there is great. Everything gets better the more you move up, that’s just the way it is. But Nashville’s got a brand new stadium, awesome fans, great city – there’s no down side. It’s really close to home for me too, five hours away, which is fantastic, so I got to spend some more time with my family.

AF:  I guess you didn’t miss all those bus rides across Texas when you were down at Midland.

DG:  That’s true. That’s not a bad deal. Going from the Texas League where I’ve got 12-hour bus rides, then [at Nashville] you’re jumping on a plane to head down to Louisiana. That’s fine with me. I’m not going to complain about that, that’s for sure.

AF:  So if you should end up starting the year back at Nashville, I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad thing then.

DG:  Absolutely. If I start the year playing baseball, that’s a good year!

AF:  So what are you focused on here the rest of the spring?

DG:  I just need to work on some consistency stuff. I need to be consistent in the zone. Just trust myself, that’s the biggest thing. Knowing that I’m facing big league hitters, sometimes I feel like I need to do more, but that’s not the case. You’ve got to do what you do and do it the best you can.

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

bm622194b#8 on our Top 10 Prospects List, Maxwell had a breakthrough 2016 season at Nashville and made his major league debut last July with Oakland, where he made a positive impression on manager Bob Melvin and the A’s coaching staff. The 26-year-old backstop is expected to start the season back at Triple-A Nashville, but if another catcher is needed on the major league squad at any point during the season, then Maxwell will likely be the first man to get the call.

AF:  You made a big leap forward offensively at Nashville last season. So what accounted for the improvements that you were able to make at the plate last year?

BM:  I feel like it was just trusting in the process, and learning from the guys who helped me, whether it be my coaches or my teammates, and just trusting in the hitter that I am, and finally getting enough at-bats to really put into play what I do best and stick to that. So once I had the confidence and the repetitions and the trust in the process, I was able to just kind of let my talent take over.

AF:  And what is it that you feel you do best as a hitter and what is the approach that works for you?

BM:  For the most part, I’m a big strong guy and I have power to all fields, keeping in mind that I use the opposite field very well, and to really try to perfect that craft of mine, so I can always rely on that at the end of the day. So being able to stay confident with that and not switch up my game depending on the pitcher or the situation in the game was my biggest thing. Sticking with that on a daily basis has really made me the consistent hitter that I know I can be and I know they know I can be.

AF:  Last spring, you had the chance to spend a lot of time in the big league camp. I’m sure that was a great experience fo you, but how important was it in terms of developing even more confidence in your own abilities and your own game?

BM:  It was huge…last year I got to show them what I’ve been working on and show them that I do belong and how I’ve come a long way catching-wise. So it was good to get that exposure…and put a good run in in spring. And it really helped me going into the season.

AF:  When you left the big league squad last spring, did Bob Melvin or the coaching staff have anything to say to you or any advice they left you with?

BM:  Yeah, they told me to keep doing what I was doing…and they just told me to make sure that I keep progressing behind the dish and the hitting will take care of itself. They just told me to keep with a good routine, keep my head on straight and just keep plugging away.

AF:  Well, we know there’s always work to do on the catching side, and you’ve obviously done a lot of that already. But where do you feel you’re at with your catching game at this point?

BM:  Honestly, I feel like I’m the best I’ve been. I feel comfortable back there…and I know my pitchers feel confident in me, especially a lot of the guys in Triple-A. I’ve got a good rep with a lot of the big league guys as well because I caught a lot of them in camp last year. And so it’s just about staying on top of it every day.

AF:  So are there any particular aspects that you’re really focused on or trying to work on behind the plate at this point?

BM:  Just making sure that I stay mobile, making sure my pitchers have a nice big target, and making sure that I just stay sharp with the little things back there. Me being as big as I am, the little things are what matter the most. So just trying to make sure those are on point every day, and trying to make sure that my pitchers have the best opportunity to throw strikes and have a big target and can be as confident and comfortable as they can be with me.

AF:  Coming out of college, you really hadn’t done a whole lot of catching at that point. And the main focus when you came into the A’s system was really getting you up to speed with your catching. So how does it feel to now be the #3 catcher on the depth chart for the A’s right there near the top of the food chain?

BM:  It feels good. When I started catching, it seemed like a long way off. I feel that I’ve learned and I’ve applied stuff and put it to use every day. And now my confidence is up there, so it feels good.

AF:  Let me get your quick take, as a catcher, on a few of the pitchers who’ve been here in camp with you this spring. I don’t know if you’ve gotten the chance to catch Jharel Cotton much. I know you didn’t get a chance to catch him at Nashville last year because you were already up in the big leagues when he came over.

BM:  Well I’ve played against Cotton for years. So I’ve known Cotton going on four years now. But he’s a competitor. On any given day, he’s going to go out there and give you his best effort. His pitches are very good, especially when he’s dialed in. And it’s fun to play behind him – he’s got a good pace. It’s his job to make hitters struggle, and that’s what he does. He has a good repertoire of pitches, and he’s a bulldog, so he’s going to go after you with everything he’s got and give you the best chance to win.

AF:  And what about that changeup of his?

BM:  It’s great! It’s not great to hit against him, but catching it’s not so bad.

AF:  And what are your impressions of Frankie Montas?

BM:  He’s kind of the same except he throws 100 mph. He’s got a really good breaking ball, and his changeup’s really good, but his fastball’s dominant. He goes out there cool, calm and collected, and he gives it everything he’s got. He attacks you – he forces you to make an adjustment and then, as soon as you make that adjustment, he makes the adjustment. So he’s strong mentally and even stronger physically.

AF:  And have you had the chance to work with Daniel Gossett yet?

BM:  I’ve caught him one time. But from what I know about him and what I’ve seen, he’s an aggressive pitcher. He’s got confidence in all his pitches. He’s just going to go right after you. He works around the corners and he works down in the zone very well.

AF:  So after having had the chance to be here before, do you feel a little more comfortable and a little more confident at this point?

BM:  It feels good. I feel like I have a good relationship with a lot of these guys. A lot of the guys in this room, I’ve played at Triple-A and Double-A with. But Yonder Alonso and Marcus Semien and a lot of guys I’ve developed good relationships with, so it feels like I belong here.

AF:  Last year, you were with the big league club pretty much till the very end, and you’ll probably be with them till the very end again this year. So whatever happens, wherever you end up, what’s your mindset heading into this season?

BM:  To keep aggressive…everybody wants to get better and better every year. So this year, it’s about repeating what I did last year, and just getting a little more refined in certain aspects, and just being the catcher I know I can be and my pitching staff knows I can be, and just winning a championship whether it be at Triple-A or in the big leagues.

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Talking Top Prospects with A’s Assistant GM Dan Feinstein

A's Asst GM Dan Feinstein (photo: J.Meric/Getty)

A’s assistant GM Dan Feinstein (photo:J.Meric/Getty)

While still in college at UC Davis in 1994, Dan Feinstein got his foot in the door of the baseball world by landing an internship in the Oakland A’s media relations department. He then ended up spending nearly a decade as the team’s video coordinator before eventually getting the chance to serve as an amateur scouting assistant for the A’s in 2004.

Feinstein took the opportunity to join the Dodgers front office in 2005 when former A’s assistant general manager Paul DePodesta became that team’s general manager, but he wound up moving on to Tampa Bay, where he spent six seasons as the director of baseball operations under former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.

The northern California native eventually returned to the A’s just prior to the 2012 season, and he was promoted to assistant general manager, professional scouting and player personnel in late 2015.

His duties currently include assisting executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst with all aspects of baseball operations, including contracts, trades, the construction of major and minor league rosters and arbitration, and he also oversees the team’s international scouting department. But we wanted to take the opportunity to get Feinstein’s inside perspective on some of the A’s top prospects, specifically the top five A’s prospects from A’s Farm’s recent top prospects list

 

AF:  Well, at the top of just about everyone’s A’s prospects list this year is infielder Franklin Barreto. He had a great spring in the big league camp before gettng sent over to the minor league complex, and he’s obviously getting very close to being in the major leagues. What excites you most about him, and what does he still need to work on to get his game where it needs to be?

DF:  Well, one thing we’ll talk about with a few of these guys…is that, even though he’s been with us for a little while now, he’s still just barely 21 years old – he turned 21 during this spring training. So it’s something we have to be mindful of, just how young he is, and how above his age he’s played at virtually every level he’s been at. He’s a fairly quiet kid but extremely confident. He’s a very advanced hitter for his age, excellent hand-eye coordination and bat speed. He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s a really talented young bat.

AF:  Should we expect to be seeing him getting time at both shortstop and second base this year at Nashville?

DF:  Yeah, we certainly think he has enough arm and range to stay at shortstop but, for the immediate future, he’ll probably be able to make the biggest impact at second base. He has very good hands. He’s still learning the nuances of playing the middle of the diamond. I know he’s spent a good deal of time this spring training just making sure that he has the proper footwork and that he’s getting in a strong position to throw. We certainly see him as a shortstop in the future, but he may have his biggest impact at second base this season.

AF:  So would you say that the primary focus for him in terms of improvement this season is more on his defense than on his offense then?

DF:  Yeah, I think that’s probably the case.

AF:  Okay, let’s move on to #2 on our list, and that’s third baseman Matt Chapman. First of all, we know his power is real since he managed to keep his power numbers up at Midland last year, which very few guys seem to be able to do. But he maybe needs to make a little more consistent contact. So what do you like about what you’ve been seeing out of Chapman at this point and what do you need to see out of him at Nashville this season to feel that he’s really major-league ready?

DF:  Matt is a really underrated athlete. He plays a really stellar third base. He’s kind of emerged as one of the best defensive third baseman in all of the minor leagues. He could probably play anywhere on the field if you let him.

AF:  Well, he did used to pitch in college too, right?

DF:  Yeah, and he threw really hard! I mentioned his athleticism, but also his bat speed, the strength in his hands and wrists, and his natural ability to defend. He’s got above-average range at third base. He’s got an extremely strong and accurate arm. There are just so many things to like about him. He did go to Triple-A [late last season], and all his stats might not have been exactly what he would have liked, but he still managed to hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and his power numbers didn’t drop off at all in his short stint in Triple-A.

AF:  Are there any adjustments that are being made to his swing or his approach at this point?

DF:  This spring, I know he’s made it a point to try to be a little more selective and really identify the pitches that he can attack.

AF:  So it sounds like pitch selection is really the main thing that he needs to focus on at this point then.

DF:  Probably, yeah.

AF:  #3 on our list is your 1st-round pick from last year, LHP A.J. Puk. I know you might not have even expected to have the chance to take him in the draft. But now that you’ve gotten him into system and you guys have gotten the chance to really get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now? And I know when Sonny Gray was drafted, he needed to work on the changeup and maybe clean up some of his mechanics, so what do you have to work on with Puk to get him where he needs to be?

DF:  Well, first, A.J. has a rare combination of size and stuff from the left side. You just don’t see a whole lot of 6’7” left-handed pitchers with his kind of stuff. He has the ability to leverage the fastball downhill. He does have an out-pitch breaking ball. He certainly has the ingredients of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. In college, he was primarily fastball/slider. That’s mostly what we saw last spring. It’s really all he needed in college – he would throw an occasional changeup. This spring, he has gone back to a pitch that he threw early on in his college career. He’s got a curveball that we hadn’t really seen much of before. It’s a more true downward break, and that has the chance to be an out-pitch as well. Some of the things he’s working on here: certainly advancing his changeup and making it a more usable third or fourth pitch, being more efficient with his pitches and, like every young player, he’s just adjusting to the daily rigors of his first full professional season – setting his schedule, getting into the weight room, managing his nutrition and that kind of thing.

AF:  Okay, #4 on our list is RHP Jharel Cotton. The A’s got him last summer from the Dodgers. I know you guys have had the chance to get a much better look at him here this spring, and I’m sure you’ve liked a lot of what you’ve seen out of him so far. He certainly seems to be abe to fool a lot of hitters, especially with that changeup of his. So how are you feeling about him at this point and his possible role as a member of the A’s starting rotation going forward in the coming years?

DF:  We were excited to acquire him in the trade, and he continued to perform exceptionally well in Nashville when we got him. And then he came up and made five outstanding starts in the major leagues in September. He’s as confident a young man as you’ll see on the mound, and he does have a pretty exceptional changeup. It’s safe to say it’s one of, if not the best, changeups in our entire organization.

AF:  And finally, #5 on our list is RHP Frankie Montas. He also came over from the Dodgers last summer, but he’d been injured, and I know you didn’t really get to see a lot of him until the Arizona Fall League. So now that you’ve gotten a good look at him, what’s your evaluation of him? And since he really didn’t pitch many innings last year, what’s the plan for him going forward into this season?

DF: His fastball and slider both come as advertised. It’s an easy 97-98 mph pretty consistently this spring, and then the slider’s a real wipeout pitch for him. The onus is going to be on the coaching staff and us in the front office to manage his innings this year after coming off a real shortened season last year, and making sure that we can get the most out of him and get him through a full season healthy.

AF:  Now I know originally there was a lot of talk about having him working as a starter at Nashville this year, but Billy Beane has recently been quoted talking about him working out of the bullpen. Has that all been worked out yet? Is he likely to start the year working as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start?

DF:  We’re not sure yet. It’s something that we’re going to discuss with the coaches over these last two weeks and figure out not only what’s best for his development but what the best makeup of our 25-man roster is. Something that he’s working on, the biggest thing, is the continued development of his third pitch – because we still believe he’s a starting pitcher – and to continue to develop that changeup and make it a real usable complement to his fastball and slider.

AF:  Okay, great. Thanks a lot for all that input!

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No Stalling for Cody Stull

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Cody Stull

by Mark Nikolov / @realmccoyminors

(special to A’s Farm)

Left-hander Cody Stull was drafted out of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina in the 29th round by the A’s in 2014.  This past season, he was able to get a taste of three different levels of minor league ball – at High-A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville.  I recently had a chance to speak with Cody and talked to him about his recent success…

MN:  This past season, you moved up three levels in the A’s farm system.  To what do you attribute that achievement?

CS:  I attribute it to hard work.  The A’s have also done a great job surrounding me with some really good pitching coaches.  All of my coaches have helped me improve my performance in Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A.  I’m very grateful to them for that.  Being able to get lefties out is always a good way to move up in the system too.

MN:  Last season, you put up great numbers in the California League – a league that is known for being a hitters’ league – 63 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings with only 11 walks and a 1.46 ERA.  Do you think you can repeat those numbers or put up even better numbers this coming season?

CS:  I think so.  I think that there’s always more opportunities to get better.  Now that I’ve added a curveball into my pitching arsenal, that should only help me get better.

MN:  In an article on 27 Outs Baseball last season, Eddie Pannone mentioned that you have a low 90s fastball and a good changeup.  He also said that you were working on your breaking ball.  Can you tell me about the success you had with that pitch last year?

CS:  Sure, my breaking ball helped me open up the zone a little more.  It eventually turned into a cutter and I’ve had success with that pitch as well.

MN:  I found an article on the Coastal Plain League website from January of 2013 that described you as a fan favorite when you were playing for the Gastonia Grizzlies.  Here is a direct quote from that article: “Cody has tremendous character and is the kind of person that you always want on your club.”  Do you agree with that statement?

CS:  Yeah.  I always want to be known as the guy that people want to be around.  I try to keep a good positive atmosphere when I’m around other teammates.

MN:  I noticed that you and Max Schrock follow each other on Twitter.  What can you tell me about him?

CS:  I got to know him for a short period of time when he was in Midland.  He is a true competitor.  He hits everything when he’s at the plate.  It seems like the guy never gets out.  Having him behind you on defense is great because there’s a good chance he is going to make a play on every ball that comes his way.

MN:  What was it like growing up in Matthews, North Carolina?

CS:  It was nice.  Matthews is a small town surrounded by some other small towns and there’s a lot of baseball in our area.  Richie Shaffer and a few other major league guys are from there.

MN:  Last question, what are your goals for this upcoming season?

CS:  I want to stay on the same path that I’m on right now as far as numbers go.  That should help me advance to the MLB, and hopefully I can make an impact there as well.

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

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