by James Ham / A’s Farm Correspondent
Rumors broke last week that the Oakland A’s 2011 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray might be in line to make his major league debut if Jarrod Parker couldn’t make his scheduled start. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily better bring their A-game, because Gray is coming.
The 23-year old right-hander out of Vanderbilt is now 4-1 with a 2.19 ERA in his 6 starts at Triple-A Sacramento this season. More importantly, in his last 3 starts, he’s been lighting the Pacific Coast League on fire, allowing just 2 runs in 21 innings while striking out 19 over that stretch.
“Being in my second year and understanding professional baseball a little bit better and being able to get in a little bit better routine, it’s something that I’m feeling a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident this year than I did early last year,” Gray told Athletics Farm last week.
In just his third season in professional baseball, Gray is turning heads with his array of pitches. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, as well as a curveball and a changeup.
“(My) fast ball command has gotten a lot better, and that’s something we’ve been working on,” Gray said. “Not only fastball command, (but) throwing it. You know, starting the two-seam where I want it for a strike and a ball. That’s just something that’s come with a little more experience and a little more routine. The changeup is getting better, I’m really confident in that right now. It’s gotten me out of big jams already this year. And the curveball is still there.”
After posting a complete game victory last week and facing just two batters in a game that was called due to rain earlier this week, Gray pitched a gem on Saturday night. In 6 innings of action, he struck out 8 and gave up only 3 hits. While it’s still early, he seems to be getting better every time out.
The A’s farm system has become a factory for major league starting pitching and Gray looks to be the next big prospect ready to make the jump.
“As soon as I got drafted by Oakland, I knew the accomplishments in pitching that this organization has been a part of in the history of baseball,” Gray said. “(It’s) a great pitching organization (with) a lot of good people around us that we can learn from.”
Like Michael Choice, the Athletics will give Gray as much time as he needs in Sacramento, but don’t be shocked if he is the first one to get the call this year if one of the A’s starters begins to stumble.
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by James Ham / A’s Farm Correspondent
Sacramento River Cats hitting coach Greg Sparks has had his paws on the A’s future center fielder Michael Choice ever since Oakland selected him with the 10th pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft.
Before becoming the hitting coach in Sacramento last season, Sparks spent eight seasons as the organization’s minor league roving hitting instructor. If there is anyone who knows Choice’s game, it’s Sparks.
“He’s an electric kid,” Sparks told Athletics Farm before Sunday’s game. “As a hitting coordinator, I had him out of the draft. I’ve been around him quite a bit. It’s nice to see the adjustments he’s made since the day he signed. He had a lot of movement; a unique approach to baseball when he first signed and to see that calm down and for him to become the hitter he is now is very good. Nice adjustments.”
The road hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the A’s outfield prospect. After a tremendous 2011 season at Class A Stockton, where he put up a stat line of .285/.376/.542 with 30 home runs and 82 RBI, Choice struggled.
At the Double-A level last season, Choice posted a line of .287/.356/.423, while hitting just 10 home runs and driving in 58. The batting average stayed steady, but the move to Midland of the Texas League seemed to overwhelm the highly touted prospect.
“For me, the biggest jump and the toughest thing for hitters to do is to go from A-ball to Double-A,” Sparks added. “He made some nice adjustments (in the Texas League).”
Midland all seems like a distant memory now. Choice took the rough season in stride and is now flourishing in Sacramento through the early part of this season.
“Every level brings a different challenge, you know, having to adjust,” Choice said before Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas 51s. “Basically along the way, I’ve done a lot of adjusting with mechanics and that type of thing, but starting out this year, it’s the first year that I’ve been able to just focus on the mental part of hitting and not focus so much on what I’m doing physically in the box.”
Choice is locked in right now in Sacramento. The 23-year-old out of the University of Texas at Arlington has improved his plate discipline, striking out 25 times and drawing 19 walks in his first 135 at bats at the Triple-A level. He has a career-best .422 on base percentage and after Sunday’s loss, he is batting .309 with a .949 OPS.
Plate discipline isn’t the only thing that is improving for Choice, his power numbers are returning as well. After hitting 10 home runs in 402 plate appearances last season, Choice has six in just 110 official at bats this year. While others were concerned with the power drop off, Choice was confident that he would get his stroke back.
“Basically, I just try not to worry about hitting for power and just (focus on) being a good hitter and the power will come later,” Choice said.
The power will come and so will the accolades. At 6-foot, 215-pounds, Choice looks more like an NFL running back than a 5-tool baseball player. And with the A’s sitting on a $7.5 million team option for 33-year-old starting center fielder, Coco Crisp, for next season, there may be a changing of the guard coming.
Choice has nothing but respect for Crisp, who has manned the cavernous Coliseum outfield for the last three seasons. In fact, he spent a lot of time watching the 12-year veteran during spring training, trying to glean even the smallest morsel of information.
“Coco is one of the best out there,” Choice said of the A’s starting center fielder. “I watched him in spring training, watched his routine. You don’t see that many veteran guys like him that still shag hard in BP and continue to get reads and he does that. That’s why he’s one of the best out there.”
While there aren’t any plans to shuttle Choice to the big leagues right now, his time is coming. The A’s will most likely wait as long as possible before calling up one of their best minor league hitting prospects. But when the call comes, expect Choice to be ready to take his spot between Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick in the Oakland outfield.
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Believe it or not, baseball’s amateur draft is only five weeks away, and hard-core A’s fans will soon have a fresh batch of hot prospects to ponder. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to take a look back at last year’s draft class and see where things stand. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.
Owens originally joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week from an undisclosed location, where he was secretly scouting prospects for the draft. We talked about the A’s draft picks from last year’s first five rounds as well as a couple of top international prospects who are currently making their mark in the A’s system…
#1 (1st Round)
Shortstop / Age: 19
The A’s top draft pick in 2012, Russell got off to a blazing start last season. Just 19, the A’s invited him to big league camp this spring and aggressively started him off this year at Stockton in the High-A California League. He got off to a slow start and then had a brief stint on the DL, but he seems to have started heating up a bit over the past week or so.
BILLY OWENS: He had a sensational debut (last season), and we couldn’t be more excited. And seeing him in major league spring training – how he handled himself, the professionalism that he showed, just the constant energy that he plays with everyday – he has a maturity beyond his years. It’s obvious that he’s had tremendous parenting, and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s a pretty advanced assignment going to High-A ball, but we feel he’s going to be up for the challenge. We feel pretty confident that he can go there and handle himself. It’s a long year. We’re going to see how the season goes all the way through the end of the minor league championship season. And we’re pretty confident that he’s going to be able to catch up to the league, stay mature, show his tools, and be an exciting part of our system going forward.
#2 (1st Round)
Shortstop / Age: 19
Robertson got off to a great start in the Arizona League last year but then struggled a bit with short-season Vermont in the NY-Penn League. He injured his knee in the instructional league. The ensuing surgery kept him out of competitive action this spring and delayed the start of his season. But he arrived in Beloit last week with a hot bat, blasting a home run in his first game.
BILLY OWENS: His make-up is outstanding. He’s a very coachable kid – talented, mature. He got dinged up a little bit, but he’s gone straight to Low-A (this season). I think his first night, he was a triple short of a cycle, and he got another hit yesterday, and he’s playing a solid shortstop. This kid definitely likes to play baseball and has been well-coached. His skill level is outstanding. He’s a solid shortstop prospect. He can definitely play the position. His hands are solid. He’s got a strong arm. He’s fundamentally sound.
#3 (1st Round)
First Baseman / Age: 19
Another one of the A’s top draft picks who got off to a great start in Arizona last year, Olson began the season with Beloit in the Midwest League. His bat remained cold through most of a very cold April in Wisconsin, but he’s begun heating up over the past week, homering in two consecutive games over the past few days.
BILLY OWENS: Matt Olson comes from a baseball family. His father played college ball. His brother plays at Harvard currently. And he’s a baseball rat. He can play first base, and he could even dabble in the outfield if need be. He’s got a short, efficient swing. I think initially he had such a strong debut – he hit a home run in his first at bat last year in Arizona rookie ball – he might have gotten a little too pull-confident and tried to force the issue with power. But we think that Matt Olson’s going to be a very good all-around hitter, be able to use the field line-to-line, and the power will just develop over time. He’s just a natural hitter. We like his hands – his hands are fluid, they’re strong, they’re direct. He had a couple of doubles the other night and hit his first home run. He’s using all the field again and squaring up multiple pitches. He’s got a very good eye – he walked 3 times the other night. I’m seeing the trends, and I’m more excited seeing the all-fields approach and the walks start to pick up versus the power. The power’s going to be there ‘cause this kid’s 6’4”, 230 pounds and just naturally strong. So it should be exciting.
#4 (2nd Round)
Catcher / Age: 22
Maxwell appeared to be a dependable hitter in his debut last year and has continued to look like a solid hitter this year at Beloit. He specializes in getting on base, but some have wondered about his ability to stick behind the plate.
BILLY OWENS: His numbers at Birmingham Southern were just ridiculous. They were pretty amazing when you look at the extra-base hits versus the little amount of strikeouts. This kid’s got a tremendous eye, discerning at the plate. His swing path is fluid – it’s very compact, direct to the baseball. He’s strong, he’s going to have power, he’s going to be a high-walk guy. His catching is improving. Just at first glance, he reminds me of ex-Athletic Mickey Tettleton. He can catch, he’s probably going to mix in some first base down the road and get involved every now and then as a designated hitter. But first and foremost, he’s a slugger who’ll be an essential part of the Oakland Athletics organization.
#5 (2nd Round)
RHP / Age: 21
The first pitcher the A’s selected in last year’s draft, Sanburn appears to be a talented young hurler with an arsenal of pitches, but he spent a lot of his college career pitching out of the bullpen. So without a lot of innings under his belt, he still needs to build his stamina as a starter.
BILLY OWENS: We were excited to get Nolan when we got him. With his arm and his variety of pitches, it was a coup where we got him in the draft last year. When he went to rookie ball in short-season (Class-A), he was 96 mph+. His curveball broke off the table, and he’s got a solid changeup. He’s a very athletic kid. Just being predominantly a reliever in college last year, we’re starting to get him prepared him for X amount of innings. We’re kind of taking baby steps initially, but he’s raring to go and ready to unleash that arsenal out there.
#6 (4th Round)
Outfielder / Age: 19
Boyd was best known as a big Bay Area high school football prospect when the A’s drafted him last year. He’s loaded with talent and got off to a great start last year, but he’s young and his baseball skills will need a little refinement.
BILLY OWENS: He’s got a dynamic skill set. Last year, he was by far the fastest player in our draft class. And then he went straight out to rookie ball and showed that speed. He’s just explosive. He was an accomplished football player, had multiple Division I offers, but we were able to draft him. And all that carried over to rookie ball last year. That was a fun team that lost the final to the Rangers’ rookie ball squad, but B.J. was a catalyst for that team. He hit a few home runs, he walked, he hit for a high average, he stole bases, he played a good center field. The Midwest League is a great league, we’re proud to be there, but it’s a little bit cold initially, so we held a couple guys back. We’ve got him back there in extended (spring training), but at some point, I think he’ll be ready for the Midwest League this year. And I honestly believe that he’ll make a positive impression once he gets there. Right now he’s chomping at the bit, working hard in extended, shedding a few pounds, and getting ready to hopefully take the Midwest League by storm later on.
#7 (5th Round)
First Baseman / Age: 22
Drafted out Baylor, Muncy was the only member of the A’s draft class to start last season in the Class-A Midwest League, and he held his own there. This year, the A’s decided to start him out at High-A Stockton along with Addison Russell, and Muncy has flourished. He already has twice as many home runs in April, 8, as he did all of last year at Burlington, and he currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in round-trippers.
BILLY OWENS: Maxwell Muncy is a guy we’re excited about. Armann Brown, our area scout out there in Texas, pointed Max out early, always liked the make-up. Max came from a good family structure and background. He’s at the field early. He’s there late. He’s watching video. He’s just ready to play everyday, so we’re excited. He’s amongst the minor league home run leaders, and we like his skill set. He can pick it at first base – we like his range there. His swing is the type of swing that’s going to be able to hit advanced level pitching. And first and foremost, this guy’s a baseball rat. I mean, he’s a cage-wrecker. You’ve got to turn the lights off otherwise he’s going to be in that cage 24/7. He’s a fun guy to watch.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
Third Baseman / Age: 19
The A’s invested heavily in Nunez when they reportedly gave the young Venezuelan $2.2 million to sign back in 2010. He made his American debut in the Arizona Rookie League last year and didn’t disappoint, flashing the bat the A’s had hoped to see. He’s started this season wielding the biggest bat at Beloit, and he even celebrated his 19th birthday on opening night by blasting his first home run.
BILLY OWENS: He’s an exciting kid to watch. Sam Geaney, our international scouting director, and Julio Franco, our chief scout in Venezuela, they identified Renato all the way back to when he was 14 years old. And we were able to track him, follow him, and we were able to secure his services. He went to the Dominican Summer League at 16 years old and was able to get his feet wet and was able to do pretty well there. Last year, in the Arizona Rookie League, I believe he led the league in doubles. He just has that short stroke – it’s a very accurate barrel. He’s pretty advanced to send him at 19 years old to the Midwest League. This kid’s got outstanding make-up, he’s not afraid of anything. I think he’s hit 4 home runs, 5 doubles. He’s having a good start up there in Beloit. And it’ll be fun to watch him this year, because this kid likes to play a lot and his background is excellent and he’s a natural-born hitter.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
RHP / Age: 21
The A’s originally signed Ynoa for over $4 million as a 16-year old. He’s now a 21-year-old. And thanks to injuries, through last season, he’d thrown less than 40 innings. But Ynoa finally appears to be healthy and is back on the mound for Beloit this season.
BILLY OWENS: It’s definitely fun to see Michael in the box scores. The talent’s always been immense, and now it’s just a matter of him continuing to increase his workload and get out there on the diamond. He’s a fabulous athlete. He’s topped out at 96-97 mph, his breaking ball is getting better everyday, and his command is improving. So seeing him every five days in that box score is an exciting thing, and hopefully he can keep on doing that, because the talent’s there. And hopefully we’re crossing our fingers that he’s passed certain hurdles and he can be out there and enjoy a healthy season.
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While soaking up plenty of Arizona sun during our spring training tour, we also wanted to make sure we got a little light shed on some of the A’s top prospects by folks in the know. So we took the opportunity to talk to three guys who really ought to know the score – Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin.
Grady Fuson is a long-time baseball man who was formerly the A’s director of scouting. One of baseball’s most respected talent evaluators, he was also depicted as one of Moneyball‘s biggest bad guys, but he’s back with the A’s again as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
In his fifth season as the A’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi is one of the game’s most forward-thinking front office executives. With a doctorate in economics from UC Berkeley, he is often known as the A’s “numbers guy” and readily admits to feeling somewhat naked without his computer.
Bob Melvin is the popular and affable manager of the A’s who, in 2012, led the team to its first division title since 2006. The former catcher spent 10 years playing in the major leagues and was named AL Manager of Year for his efforts with the A’s in 2012.
We asked this trio of talent evaluators to weigh in on some of the A’s top prospects, and what we heard left us feeling pretty good about the future!
On shortstop Addison Russell…
Bob Melvin: He left us with impressions when he came out and just took batting practice with us during the season. During spring, he certainly didn’t look like a 19-year-old kid. He has a great approach at the plate, a very good work ethic – great athlete. He’s got a chance to be a quick mover.
Grady Fuson: Big league camp didn’t phase him. He went in there and stood around like a veteran. He wasn’t nervous. He was aggressive. He played the same style of game that he’s played since the day we signed him. And I think everybody top to bottom’s been pleased…I think we all see all the tools. It’s not hard to know this guy’s really got some quickness and speed. He’s aggressive on ground balls. He’s got a knack for reading ground balls. He controlled the strike zone in big league camp, so it wasn’t like he was swinging at air or anything. He’s just got a very good awareness about the game for a young kid to go with all the tools he’s got…He’s a great kid. He comes to work every day – he’s quiet but he’s deadly…As he goes along, we’re going to keep an eye on his throwing. It has nothing to do with his arm strength. It’s more about building accuracy and pace and footwork into his game. Other than that, there’s really no holes to poke at offensively. The more he plays, the more he’s going to get comfortable with the strike zone a little bit – what he can hit, what he can’t hit – and that’ll come. But this kid really has no major flaws to really speak of. It’s nice every once in a while to have a player where you can go, “Hey, let’s just go play!”
On outfielder Michael Choice…
Grady Fuson: He’s ahead of the curve as far as when he left Midland last year. What little time we got with him in instructs (instructional league), something’s clicked. His whole approach is so much more balanced and connected. The first 5-6 at-bats I saw him, I kept waiting for him to kind of get out of sorts, but he hasn’t one time. I’m proud of him. He looked great in big league camp. He’s got another burst of energy to his game. He played center field in big league camp very well – 5 of those innings a day over there that sun’s right in your face. And the great thing is, since he’s come over to minor league camp, he’s had the same work ethic, same aggressiveness, same energy. He’s been great…It looks like he’s really figured some things out.
Bob Melvin: This is the first time we’ve been able to see him get a lot of bats and do the things that the organization expects of him. He’s a highly-touted prospect with power and speed. I think he came to this camp really wanting to show the big league staff what he’s all about – and he did that. I mean, it was a very impressive camp. He fell off a little bit – I think he took a couple of 0-fors at the end. But he and Shane Peterson have been terrific throughout the whole camp. And this is a guy who’s going to knock the door down and fight his way in at some point in time, whether it’s next year, whether it’s this year – a September call-up or an injury or something like that. He’s really close to being a big leaguer.
On outfielder Shane Peterson…
Bob Melvin: He’s the one guy here who’s played every single game (this spring). You usually ease your way into it, but he’s done anything but that. He continues to hit. He plays different positions. I haven’t even used him at first, which is probably his most comfortable position, but he’s looked like a true outfielder. You look at the numbers, and he’s had a spectacular camp.
On infielder Grant Green…
Grady Fuson: To some degree, offensively, he could be big-league ready – he’s close. He’s got great at-bats going. He’s doing what Grant Green does. He’s been through a year and a half to two year period where we’ve been working on getting him to be more aggressive on the inner half and feeling what it’s like to turn on some balls. It’s helped his power production. Once again, he’s kind of getting his feet wet at a new position, but it’s the one position that you’re really seeing him grow at defensively. He is getting better every day. So obviously he’ll go back to Sacramento and we’ll see how things go in the big leagues to start – but Grant is very, very close.
Farhan Zaidi: I think there’s a growing level of confidence that second base is his best position. And because it’s his best position, probably now and also in the long run, giving him time to develop there is a priority. But we have other guys who need to play that position, so he may not get as many reps there as we would like in a perfect world just because we have to work other guys in there. But from an organizational perspective, more and more people are feeling good about the progress he’s made over there. And he could actually be an asset over there in the long term once he gets more reps and gets more comfortable playing there.
On infielder Miles Head…
Grady Fuson: He didn’t get that much time in big league camp, so he’s kind of getting a late start playing every day here (in minor league camp). But he should be ready to go. Obviously, he can’t do what he did in Stockton – that was the most unreal half you’re ever going to see. But he’s been getting his knocks, he’s swinging aggressive, getting time at third and first – and that’s what we’ll expect when he goes out.
On pitcher Dan Straily…
Farhan Zaidi: I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable in this camp, being in the big leagues, being around the big league team and staff. He’s had some things to work on this spring, just like most pitchers have. But you know, we sort of have this notion of building the starting pitching depth out 8 or 9 guys. And if you’re the 6th guy, it means we have a pretty high level of confidence – we know we’re going to need you at some point…He’s going to be a big factor in our season…He might not be in there for every turn of the 162 game season, but he’s going to play a big role for sure.
Bob Melvin: He just needs to be more consistent at times – and he knows it. He had a tough first inning the other day where he gave up 3 runs and then he pitched really well after that. It’s getting rid of that one inning, or getting through games a little bit more in the fashion that we think he can do it – and he’s probably not quite there yet. But he’s still a young guy, and we’ve had a lot of young guys perform well here. He was instrumental down the stretch with a few games for us last year. He has some experience pitching in a pennant race. But I know he probably looks at his performance this spring and thinks there’s a little bit more in the tank for him and wants to finish up strong.
Grady Fuson: He just seemed a hair out of sync (this spring). He wasn’t locating his fastball as well. And when he doesn’t locate his fastball well, then his sequences don’t come together. As far as his stuff, his stuff was still solid – 90-93mph, good breaker, slider got a little flat at times, good changeup – but he just wasn’t getting ahead of hitters enough as he’d done a year ago…You know, it’s his first big league camp – he knows he’s pressing to make a spot in that rotation.
On pitcher Sonny Gray…
Grady Fuson: His stuff is good. It’s all going to get down to location. If Sonny can improve on pounding the strike zone, he’s going to be a competitive kid. But he’s got to find a way to get ahead earlier in counts and work on the efficient side of being a starter versus the overpowering side of being a starter. He knows it. He’s trying to work through it. And right now, it comes and goes. So it’s a work in progress.
Farhan Zaidi: As much as we have invested in him, he’s a guy who we would want to only bring up when we really feel he’s ready, not sort of out of a sense of urgency for a guy. I think he just has to work on pitching more efficiently. If you’re in Triple-A and you’re throwing 100 pitches in a 6-inning stint, that’s not going to work at the big league level. The guys who have success moving from Double-A and Triple-A to the big leagues are the guys who pitch really efficiently at the minor league level and have short innings, don’t walk guys, all that kind of stuff. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue for him.
On pitcher Andrew Werner…
Grady Fuson: He’s kind of an under-the-radar lefty. He doesn’t throw overly hard. But he’s a locate guy. He’s got a real good changeup. He’s got a solid breaker. So he’s a lot like most lefties who throw 87-88mph who can pitch a little bit.
On pitcher Jesse Chavez…
Grady Fuson: Jesse Chavez has tremendous stuff. It’s just about him harnessing it, and he’s dominated in Triple-A. So it’s just about him getting used to playing in front of a second deck and the lights not blinding him a little bit. But we feel good about having him down there (at Sacramento).
On pitcher Michael Ynoa…
Grady Fuson: The progress continues to be nothing but ‘hang a star on it!’ He’s healthy. His velocity continues to climb. He’s been up to 95-96mph here. His breaking ball’s sharper because the velocity’s back. He’s been around the strike zone. You know, we’re still going to proceed with a little caution, but he’s been good.
Farhan Zaidi: His stuff has been really good. His fastball has been up to the mid-90s. He shows his other pitches. He’s a big presence on the mound. He just needs reps and he needs to get more consistent. If you haven’t pitched at that level, and things start unraveling – just getting out of jams, not letting innings totally get away from you. But the stuff has been fine…The stuff is where you were hoping it would progress to when we signed him – I mean, we thought he might be in the big leagues by now. So all the ingredients are there. It’s just about him getting out and pitching…I think he has the ability to make up for a lot of that lost time, so we’re looking forward to him pitching.
On infielder Daniel Robertson…
Grady Fuson: We’re still just being cautious with the knee. Little by little, he’s done more on the field, so he has not played in games. He feels great. We’re just taking it slow…In instructional league, his spike caught up on the mat hitting in BP and kind of tore a little meniscus in there. So the odds are he probably won’t break (camp). We’ll keep him down here a little bit and make sure it’s tested. But hopefully by the middle of the month, he’s good to go.
On first baseman Matt Olson…
Grady Fuson: Olson’s been great. He just picked up where he left off. He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger. He’s having a nice minor league camp. He’s ready to go.
Farhan Zaidi: The guys over there have been very excited about him. I think he’s hit a handful of homers in minor league games already. He has that kind of power…and that’s got people pretty excited.
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Knowing he’s always got an eye on the future, we took the opportunity to ask Farhan about the possible value of applying analytics to the subject of health and injuries in order to better anticipate the physical resilience of individual players, and here’s what he had to say…
Farhan Zaidi: There’s more and more of this stuff – either analyzing historic DL data or injury data, or also mechanics. I don’t know that there are a lot of great, or certain, answers at this point. But I think it’s a major next frontier for analysis. It started off with offense, then it moved to defense, measuring fielding, now I think this is the next frontier for analytics. We do a fair amount of that – it’s sort of an ongoing process…Even getting a little bit better at predicting players’ health going forward is really valuable. So that’s something that we’re working on and trying to get better at every year…Even if you improve your predictive power a little bit, that can be worth a lot in the long run.
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–GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH–
We asked Grady to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got…
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
He was good last year after we signed him. He went to Burlington (Class-A) right out of the draft and held his own. This guy gets it. He knows how to play the game. He’s got a good swing. He’s very hitter-ish. He’s always had a little bit more power in the bat than his numbers show. And we’re working with him to take advantage of the shorter parts of the park – and it’s coming. He’s been a jewel in camp. He’s firmed his body up a little bit more. He’s a solid defender. Keep your eye on him!
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 14th Round
He closed in Vermont last year. He threw from 25 different slots. In instructional league, we tried to calm him down, gave him one slot, and he went home all winter and worked on it. And he’s gotten so much cleaner now that we’re thinking about maybe starting him and pushing him with some innings. He’s got a good arm. He’s got a nasty changeup…He wiped guys out as a closer, but the more you can get on the mound, the more you’re going to learn.
Age: 21 / Drafted 2012 – 18th Round
Junior college kid – he only pitched 1/3 of an inning for us last year, so I didn’t even know who this guy was. The other day, he comes out here, he’s throwing 94mph with a nasty breaker – good body, good delivery. Today he goes 3 shutout innings, touching 95mph – I’m in!
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Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2
Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, where he gave us the lowdown on top prospects Addison Russell, Dan Straily, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and Grant Green. In Part 2, we’ll cover Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez, Michael Ynoa and more of the A’s top prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…
AF: Next on our list is a guy who got off to a phenomenal start last year, hitting probably as well as anyone in pro ball in the first half at Stockton, and who you guys very shrewdly targeted in last year’s trade with Boston – and that’s third baseman Miles Head. He came back down to earth a bit at Midland in the second half but still held his own there. Tell me what you think about Miles Head at his point and where you see him playing in the field this year now that you’ve got another third baseman like Jefry Marte in the system who’s basically at the same level as him.
FZ: He was a guy that we did sort of tack on to that deal a little late. And one of the things about him, similar to the Brandon Moss story, when we went and looked at him in the 2011 season, he was a guy who got better every month – first in the South Atlantic League and then even in the Carolina League in 2011, where his overall numbers weren’t great. He was getting better there every month. We’re very optimistic about him. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system. He’s a very aggressive hitter. He wants to put the ball in play, and he makes consistently loud contact. Defensively, we moved him over to third base last year, the position he played as an amateur. Everybody has more value at third base than at first base. But in the long run, he’s going to be a guy who plays both positions. And with Marte in the system, and both of those guys potentially starting the year in Double-A, I think both guys will see time at both spots. That still enables both guys to get plenty of reps at third, but it’s a case where having that flexibility and experience at a couple of different spots doesn’t hurt.
AF: The seventh guy on our list was your second overall draft pick last year, shortstop Daniel Robertson. He got off to a great start in the Arizona League. He had a little tougher time of it in his brief time at Vermont, but obviously everybody still seems to feel very positive about his abilities and what he’s capable of doing in the long run. So tell me what you think about Daniel Robertson at this stage of the game.
FZ: We feel very good about him. You’re right. He played very well in Arizona. He didn’t really have the results to show for it in Vermont, but nobody who was there thought that he was over-matched. And if he had another 10 or 20 games in the season at Vermont, I think he would have brought up his numbers. So we’re not concerned about that small sample that he had there. He’s one of the brightest and most motivated players I think we’ve ever brought into the system, so the intangibles that he brings in make you all the more excited about him. And our guys who really study swings, from (minor league hitting coordinator) Todd Steverson on down, all think he has one of the best and one of the most compact swings of the young guys out there. So that’s exciting when you hear about those kinds of skills that you know translate as you move up the ladder.
AF: Where do you see him playing in the field this year? Do you see him still starting at shortstop, or do you plan on moving him around the infield a bit?
FZ: It really sort of depends on how things shake out on the depth chart. His ability to play probably the most premium position on the field isn’t something you want to give up easily. So I think he’ll probably wind up getting time at both spots on the left side of the infield. But as well as he played short when he got the chance last year, we think it’s worth keeping him there and having him get some reps there.
AF: Eighth on our list is another infielder who hit really well in Arizona last year, and that’s third baseman Renato Nunez. He obviously doesn’t seem to have any problem swinging the bat, but he’s been a little shaky in the field thus far. So tell me what you think of Nunez both offensively and defensively at this point.
FZ: Yeah, you’re right. It was great to see him come over last year and put up the numbers that he did. And it was actually just a little unfortunate that we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to move him up to Vermont because he was as deserving as Robertson and Olson of getting that late-season promotion. Defensively, it’s a work in progress. He has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting a few reps. Our defensive coaches, Juan Navarrete and the rest of the group, feel good about his chances to improve at third. You know, people have said this for a long time, you don’t want to read too much into error totals at the low minor league level. I think Derek Jeter’s first full season error total (56 in 126 games) is one of the most constantly thrown around statistics. We’re not concerned about that. He has plenty of time to work on refining his skills.
AF: Ninth on our list is the top pitcher you took in the draft last year, right-hander Nolan Sanburn. He only got in about 18 or 19 innings last year, but a lot of people are very high on him. So with the limited opportunity you’ve had to see him, what do you think about him so far?
FZ: It’s interesting. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the typical college pitcher we’ve drafted. He didn’t throw a ton of innings at Arkansas. He was only there for a year. He was really more of a middle reliever at Arkansas and didn’t get much of an opportunity to become a mainstay on that pitching staff for whatever reason. So what we got was a guy who you felt there was some track record, because he’s a guy who did pitch with a reasonable amount of success, but you also had the upside of a junior college or high school player almost. What we’ve seen so far has been really encouraging. He’s obviously got out stuff. He’s got a plus curveball. For him, he’s going to just have to work on his fastball command and refining a third pitch. But he has the physical build and endurance to be a starter. He’s got two pitches that are a really good foundation. And if he can refine the rest of his arsenal, he could be an impact-type guy.
AF: Tenth on our list is a guy who certainly wasn’t a high draft pick but who a lot of people have been saying good things about – Chris Bostick, who’s been playing both second and short. I think he was drafted in the 44th round and the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, but there are a lot of folks who seem to have a good feeling about him.
FZ: Chris was one of those guys at the tail end of the draft who we just wanted to see how he progressed over the summer. And he went to the NYCBL, which is probably one of the top ten summer college leagues around. And I’m not sure if he won the batting title, but he was either first or second in the league in hitting. I think he hit like .450. He had more walks than strikeouts. It was really one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a summer league for a kid who has just graduated from high school and was playing against college sophomores and juniors. So that’s what really got us excited about him. And you’re right, the numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he has that performance history and all the ingredients and tools are there. So he’s definitely a little bit under the radar, but someone we are excited about.
AF: Your third overall draft pick last year, first baseman Matt Olson, is another guy who hit really well in the Arizona League and showed a lot of power there and looked good in a very brief stint with Vermont as well. So how to do you see Matt Olson at this point?
FZ: You know, it isn’t our common practice to take a high school first baseman that high in the draft. If you do that, it’s because you feel really good and excited about the bat. And he was a guy who matched that description. He’s a guy who we think has future plus, or even double-plus, power. He hit some long home runs in Arizona and carried that over into Vermont. So he’s a guy who profiles as an above-average offensive first baseman, which is saying a lot, because that’s a position that demands a lot offensively. But the whole key is that he continues to progress and starts moving towards achieving that power projection.
AF: And the final guy that everyone is always curious to know about is pitcher Michael Ynoa. After lots of time off due to injuries, he’s on the mend and getting back into the swing of things. So where are things at with Michael Ynoa?
FZ: I really think that the way he finished last season has given us a lot of reason for optimism. He went out and pitched outside the Arizona League for the first time. He had a couple of rough outings, but also had a couple of positive outings. And the reports on his stuff were really very encouraging. He was up to 95-96 mph, showing a full arsenal of pitches. And that was something that he carried into the Instructional League – he was one of the best pitchers for us both in terms of stuff and performance. He unfortunately got a late start this spring. He was a little sick in the Dominican and didn’t get over until a week into camp. He threw his first live bullpen session today against hitters over at Phoenix Muni. If everything went well with that, then he should be able to get into a game sometime soon. I think that would be a huge achievement and benchmark for him. He’s a guy who I think we’ve always felt that once he can get over his injuries, with the kind of stuff he has, he can make up for some of the lost time he’s had over the last few years.
AF: One last thing I’m curious to ask you about. When you’re analyzing minor league guys and their numbers, what is the first thing you’re looking at for both hitters and pitchers to try to get a handle on who the guys are who are most likely to be successful at the major league level?
FZ: Well, for a hitter, to be honest, for me, one of the biggest and most important metrics is walks and strikeouts. Guys that have a good ratio – just because those are an indicator of good plate discipline – the guys who, for the most part, swing at strikes and don’t swing at balls. And with the kind of stuff that you face in the big leagues, if you can’t do that, your chances for success drop dramatically. Hey, I’m not going to complain about the guy who hits .300 or has a .600 slugging percentage, but really, that’s the first thing that I look at because having good plate discipline is what really enables a lot of the actual hitting production to translate at a higher level. As far as pitching goes, strikeouts are a big factor. The other thing that really goes along with that is strike percentage. And I say that because sometimes we forget that not all strikeouts are created equal. There’s a big difference between throwing three strikes and just overpowering a guy, and having a 7-8-9 pitch at-bat where you have a full count and the guy fouls off a few pitches and then finally you strike him out. That first type of strikeout is a lot better indicator of skill and performance than the second type – so that’s why looking at strikeouts in conjunction with strike percentage is so important to me. Like I mentioned, once you get to the big leagues, you have to be able to pitch in the strike zone. If you’re striking out players in the minors by getting them to chase, it’s going to be a lot harder to replicate that success at the highest level. So those are the first things that I look at for hitters and pitchers at the minor league level.
AF: I was just reading something that said something pretty similar about walks and strikeouts for hitters. It was basically saying that whatever your hitting profile, once you get to the major leagues, you’re going to be striking out a lot more than you were in the minors. So you better start out with a decent ratio, because it’s going to be going down once you start having to face major league pitchers.
FZ: You know, I think there’s this common perception that that’s not something that you can get better at. I look at Grant Green, who went from Double-A to Triple-A and actually cut his strikeout rates dramatically, and I think that was maybe the single most encouraging thing about Grant’s season last year. And you look at Yoenis Cespedes, and there have been many articles written about his plate discipline through the course of the season from April to September and how he started swinging at more strikes and fewer balls and how, as he continued to do that, his production continued on an upward trajectory. Guys can get better, so I would never want to totally doom somebody to failure. And frankly, on the flip side, just because you have a good walk/strikeout ratio doesn’t guarantee success. But I think it is one of the best statistical predictors of hitters’ success at the big league level.
AF: Right, absolutely. That’s a lot of great information. I really appreciate it.
FZ: No problem. Just imagine how much more informative it would have been if I wasn’t out driving around and was at my computer.
AF: Well, the next time I talk to you, we’ll just have to make sure you’re staring at a computer!
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Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1
Last month, we brought you A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, taking a look at some of the team’s top young talent down on the farm. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to talk with someone who could provide an even deeper insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And it’d be hard to find someone with more detailed information on the array of players in the A’s organization than the team’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi.
Farhan didn’t necessarily take the traditional route into baseball, earning a B.S. in economics from MIT and later earning his Ph.D in economics from UC Berkeley. He originally joined the A’s as a baseball operations analyst in January of 2005 and is currently entering his fifth season as the team’s director of baseball operations. Though he performs many different roles in his current position – including evaluating amateur draft targets, handling contract negotiations and developing advance scouting reports – as the economics major who feels a little disconnected when he’s too far away from his computer, Farhan is basically known as “the numbers guy” who oversees statistical analysis for the team.
We took the opportunity to talk to Farhan earlier in the week while he was making the long and boring drive back from the Royals’ and Rangers’ spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona after the A’s split squad had just lost to the Royals. He made a point of noting early on that he felt a little naked without his computer on hand and apologized for the lack of detailed statistical information that he’d have at the ready. But I think you’ll agree that, even without his computer, Farhan had plenty of valuable and insightful information to offer on all the A’s top prospects…
AF: How would you describe what you do in your current role as director of baseball operations?
FZ: It’s a real mix of stuff. The work that I was doing when I first started, which was conducting and supervising all the analysis, is still a very big part of my job. But it’s expanded into other things. Contract negotiations with agents – that’s something we split a few ways in the office. I travel with the team during the season. I’m pretty active in developing and maintaining the advance reports that we give to our coaches. And then I’m pretty active in the draft too. During the spring, I try see players who are guys who are first-round considerations for us. And I sort of manage the analysis that we do for the amateur draft as well.
AF: So as far as the amateur draft goes, you’re both going out and seeing the players in person as well as analyzing their numbers and performance?
AF: Aren’t you quite involved in analyzing and targeting minor league free agents as well?
FZ: Yeah, we don’t always get to aim super high on the major league free agent side. So pouring over the minor league free agents and being smart about which guys we bring in who can have a material impact on the major league team is a pretty big part of our operation. And guys like that, whether it’s Brandon Moss or Jim Miller or Evan Scribner, those guys play a big role for us every year. And in a year like last year where he have some success, they become all the more important.
AF: Well, I wanted to ask you about Brandon Moss specifically. Can you tell me a little more about what you saw in him that made you really sit up and take notice?
FZ: Yeah, it’s funny, he was a guy we had some history with. He actually hit a home run off of us in Japan all the way back in 2008. He’s a guy who was a very high level prospect with the Red Sox at one time and wound up kicking around a little bit and playing for a couple of different organizations prior to the Phillies. And what we try to look for with guys like that in the minor league free agent market isn’t necessarily just what their career track record is, but to try to look for some progression and improvement, where you can take advantage of a guy’s upward trajectory. And even a guy who’s a little bit old for a prospect may have figured something out that’s turned him into a potentially more productive player. And with Moss, there were a couple of things that we looked at. There was how he finished in the second half of his Triple-A season in 2011. If you look at his first half versus his second half splits, he really produced in the second half of that season. We got some good scouting looks at him as well, so the stats and the scouting reports lined up.
AF: Well, let’s get to the top 10 guys on our A’s prospect list plus maybe a couple of others. So starting out at the top of everyone’s list is your #1 draft pick from last year, shortstop Addison Russell. He obviously looked great in his first stint in pro ball last season, and he moved up through three different levels very quickly. So now that you’ve had a chance to see him in the major league camp this spring, what are your impressions of him at this point after having seen a little more of him?
FZ: Yeah, nothing we’ve seen has made us any less excited about his long-term prospects. He’s a really good athlete. He has the potential to be a five-tool player down the road. And having him in big league camp is less about trying to get him into the immediate plans and more about giving him a taste of being around big leaguers and the big league coaching staff and a chance for our staff to get to know him a little bit better. I think it was a little bit overwhelming for him at first, but I think he’s getting increasingly comfortable. He played a few innings today and made a couple of nice plays in the field. It’s just exciting to have a kid like that who has those kinds of tools and backs it up with performance at a very young age. So, obviously, we’re excited about him. We’re going to let him develop at his own pace. But I think it’s been a really good experience for him and for our coaching staff to have him in camp.
AF: How likely is it that he starts the season at Stockton in the California League?
FZ: It’s a possibility, but we haven’t made a decision one way or another. He’s going to spend some time in the big league camp, and then he’ll spend some time in the minor league camp with the player development guys there. So that decision is still a little bit down the road.
AF: Well, you guys were obviously pretty aggressive in moving him along last year. Are you still prone to being aggressive with him as long as he shows he can handle things?
FZ: I wouldn’t characterize us as wanting to be aggressive with him but I think, more and more, I personally realize that every player really needs to be brought along at his won pace. Some guys have very slow and steady progress, repeating levels when needed. And for other guys, they can move really quickly and have the aptitude to play up to higher competition levels very quickly. So it really is a player thing, and that determination just hasn’t been made on Addison yet. But along the way, it’ll all be about what’s the best thing for him. And what past players have done, either inside our organization or with other teams, won’t have any bearing on it.
AF: Okay, second on our list is another guy who had a great minor league season and moved up through three levels last year and made it up to Oakland late in the season – and that’s right-hander Dan Straily. So how are you feeling about his development at this point and what he still needs to work on to clear that last hurdle?
FZ: Obviously, the prospect status that he has now is one of the biggest and most positive developments for our organization from last year, and it’s a testament to all our player development. But I think the most exciting thing about him, from both a scouting and a statistical thing, is his ability to miss bats. Probably the single best predictor of success in the big leagues is guys who miss bats and get strikeouts in the minors. And he obviously did that in spades last year. I think getting to the big leagues and getting acclimated to the discipline that hitters at this level have, that you don’t get quite as many swings and misses out of the strike zone, you have to be able to pitch in the zone, and you have to be able to pitch with your fastball. I think those are the kinds of adjustments that Dan’s going to have to make. And I think he started to make them a little. I think he sort of learned through his experience last year that big league hitters don’t miss mistakes the way that minor league hitters do. So you have less of a margin for error, and part of limiting your margin for error is not walking guys and not putting extra guys on base. So I think he’s going to come out this year with a better understanding of that and more aggressively throw more strikes, and I think those will be very good things for him.
AF: I interviewed him recently. And he seems to be a guy who’s pretty smart and really seems to like to think about pitching a lot, so hopefully that’s a good sign!
FZ: Yeah, absolutely. I get the exact same impression off him. And with a guy like that, you don’t even have to say too much to him because you know that he probably has a good awareness of who he is and what he needs to work on.
AF: Third on our list is your 2010 top draft pick, outfielder Michael Choice. After his big year at Stockton, there were big hopes for him last year at Midland. He struggled a bit in the first half and then, just when it looked like he was starting to turn it around, he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Obviously, he’s been hitting really well in spring camp so far this year. So what are your impressions of him at this stage of his development?
FZ: Yeah, he’s looked terrific in camp, and I think it’s encouraging because this is a continuation of the way he finished the year. He was really the hottest hitter in the Texas League when he, unfortunately, got hurt. And it’s too bad for his development that he missed out on the end of the season because who knows how far he could have gotten. You never know how a guy’s going to come back from injury, physically and mentally, in terms of missing the reps that he missed. But he’s been one of the most effective hitters in camp. He’s hit all the pitches. He’s hit good pitching. It’s not like he’s getting all these hits against minor leaguers or guys who are in late in the game. He’s played a good center field, which is also a major part of what he could potentially offer. The biggest thing for him, when we first got him, the one thing that really stood out about him was just the bat speed. Just sitting in the scouts section, you could hear everybody’s breath be taken away every time he’d take one of those big swings. And the issue for him was shortening up and refining his mechanics to the point where he could really hit that high quality pitching. And I think this has been one of the best jobs that our player development has done – giving him a swing that was simple enough that it could work at the major league level. And that’s what he’s really shown so far this spring.
AF: So do you see him as a potentially legitimate major league center fielder then?
FZ: He’s still playing center field. As long as he’s playing center field, he’s a potential major league center fielder. He has the physical ability to stay out there. And part of it, quite frankly, is gong to be, when he reaches the big leagues, what the big league outfield looks like, where we have needs. That might be as big a part of the equation as where we think his best position is.
AF: Is it reasonable to expect that we’re going to see him starting the year at Sacramento?
FZ: Yeah, that’s the hope. And certainly he’s done nothing to dissuade that notion so far.
AF: Fourth on our list is another #1 draft pick who started out the year at Midland, right-hander Sonny Gray. And like Choice, he started out the season a little wobbly – I guess he was working on his delivery along with his changeup – and then he started to put it together a little more at the end. So where do you think Sonny Gray is at this stage of the game?
FZ: Well, he’s a guy who now in two straight big league camps has really turned heads with his stuff, with just the life on his fastball and then his curveball – he has those two big league pitches. Sonny’s a guy who’s really stood out in the past couple of years. For him, it’s really been a couple of things. One is working and refining his changeup. He has a good changeup – he just really has to learn to trust it and use it more. And another part of that is he’s probably got to not have things speed up on him when things unravel a little bit. Sometimes he maybe just needs to not out-think himself on the mound and just trust his stuff, because his stuff is clearly major league caliber. We really liked the development of him last year. It’s not easy for a starting pitcher to go straight to Double-A and stay in that rotation all year and actually finish the year in Triple-A. So we’re very optimistic about him continuing that progression. He has things to work on, but we knew he had things to work on when we drafted him, and he’s already improved in those dimensions.
AF: Fifth on our list is Grant Green. He’s obviously moved around a lot since he was your top draft pick back in 2009. And I’m really curious how you see him profiling as a potential major league player both at the plate and in the field.
FZ: You don’t want to put too much pressure on players or give them too much credit before they’ve achieved the same level as the comp you’re using, but the guy that I think Grant Green could develop into is a Michael Young type player. I think he has that kind of profile. He’s really a gap-to-gap hitter who has 15-20 homer power. He just has a natural knack for hitting that makes you believe he could be a .300 hitter in the big leagues. And defensively, it’s been a little bit of a work in progress for him. But just like with Michael Young, Michael Young’s a guy who’s moved around and played a few different positions, and a lot of his value to the team was his ability to move around, not just within a season, but across seasons, and sort of fill in depending on where the team needed him. And I think Grant is kind of building up that sort of versatility, which I think could be a huge benefit to a team. So in a perfect world, you hope he turns into that Michael Young type of player.
AF: Well, hopefully it’s a matter of turning a liability into a virtue if he develops this tremendous versatility then. But where do you see him as strongest in the field at this point?
FZ: The best position that I’ve seen him play really is the position he’s playing right now, which is second base. I was joking with someone about this today saying, “He plays second base like he’s too good to play the position.” But I actually like that. He plays it with that kind of confidence, with a little bit of flair. But I like seeing him with that kind of confidence in the field. He can make all the plays at second base. When you play second base, you have just a little more time to get over to first, and that I think has relaxed him a little bit. He has good range, and I think he just has a comfort level at second base. I think he’s always had the defensive tools. Believe it or not, when we were scouting him in high school, we actually considered him a defense-first shortstop. So the defensive tools are certainly in there. And combine that with the confidence he’s shown playing second base and I think that’s where he profiles best.
AF: That’s interesting. When I spoke with him last year, he said his preference was definitely to be playing right around the bag where the action is at either shortstop or second base. So the fact that he’s looking comfortable and showing confidence there at second base makes sense.
FZ: Right, if he hits like Michael Young, you’ll find a place to play him. If you have a bat like that that has the ability to go to a few different spots and play those spots, that’s all the more valuable. You know, I was at the Sloan Sports Conference this weekend in Boston, and one of the papers was about the value of roster flexibility. And just as an aside, just for your own edification, it’s an academic paper but it’s on their website, I think it’s worth checking out. And they talk about the value of having a roster built on players who are fairly interchangeable and can play multiple positions, because they’re able to be platoon players, maybe even across different positions, and because it insulates you against injury. And that’s the direction that our roster has been going in the last couple of years. And I think we got a lot of benefit out of that last year, and I think we’ll get a lot of benefit out of it this year. And Grant could be the kind that fits in with that roster philosophy very well.
AF: Yeah, I was going to say that theme certainly seems to fit right in with where you guys are at this point. It seemed like everything you did in the off-season was designed to add as much flexibility to the roster as you possibly could.
FZ: Yeah, absolutely. When we’re looking at individual players, and we think they have that ability to expand their flexibility, we’re probably more inclined to at least take a look at that than we have in the past.
AF: That’s funny, it’s almost becoming like building a fantasy baseball roster. Guys who can play multiple positions are always one of the things you’re looking for.
FZ: Yeah, there’s no doubt. Guys who can play across positions and save you a roster spot, obviously you have to figure out how much more valuable those guys are. And look, part of it is having a manager who can manage the personalities and keep guys happy. Every player wants to play everyday and wants to be at the same position everyday just because baseball players are creatures of habit. But Bob Melvin is just a great communicator and a guy that the players love to play for. And we have the advantage of being able to create a little bit more depth and flexibility and trust that he’ll be communicating with these guys so that the roster and all the guys are on the same page. And that’s a big part of being able to do this.
AF: Yeah, it’s great to be able to have someone who can get guys to be happy about doing things they might not normally be all that happy to do!
FZ: Right! I mean, it’s a challenge. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be smooth sailing, but there’s nobody I trust more than Bob Melvin with that task.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, in which he gives us the lowdown on Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez and Michael Ynoa and what he really looks for in minor league prospects!
Well, last week, we brought you an interview with the A’s top pitching prospect on our Top 10 Prospect List – Dan Straily. And this week, we took the opportunity to have a little chat with the organization’s top hitting prospect, shortstop Addison Russell.
The A’s top draft pick in 2012 got off to a phenomenal start last year, posting a slash line of .415/.488/.717 with 6 home runs and 9 stolen bases in just 106 at-bats in the rookie-level Arizona League. Russell was quickly promoted to Vermont in the short-season NY-Penn League, where he put up a .340/.386/.509 slash line. But after just 13 games there, the Florida native was sent packing for Burlington in the Class-A Midwest League, where he hit .310/.369/.448 over the final 16 games of the season. Russell finished the year with a combined slash line of .369/.432/.594 with 10 doubles, 9 triples, 7 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 217 at-bats at three different levels. He didn’t disappoint in the field either, showing nice range and a good arm. And by all accounts, Russell is hard-working, takes direction well and has a great attitude.
The young phenom garnered plenty of attention in the off-season, even making the cover of Baseball America. And having just turned 19 last month, Russell is the youngest player in major league camp this year. Viewed as the A’s shortstop of the future, he’s already become something of a fan favorite amongst the A’s faithful. It looks like Russell could start the season at High-A Stockton in the California League and, if all goes well, the hope is that he could be ready for arrival in Oakland by 2015. As long as he maintains a good attitude, a solid work ethic and a desire to constantly learn and improve, there’s no reason that shouldn’t be a likely scenario for Russell – and a likeable scenario for A’s fans. We took the opportunity to check in with the A’s top prospect at the end of his first week in big league camp, just a day before the A’s first spring training games were set to begin…
AF: Well, you’ve had a chance to be in camp for a week now. So what are your first impressions of big league camp at this point?
AR: It’s fun. It’s definitely a good experience. The guys are really, really nice. It’s pretty cool. I get to see some of the big league guys perform and get to learn from them. So it’s a pretty good experience overall.
AF: Is there anything you’ve seen or experienced so far that’s really opened your eyes?
AR: Yeah, just basically the work ethic. Some people think that the guys who have made it to the big leagues don’t have to work as much. But that’s definitely not true. Every big leaguer I see here and every minor leaguer I see here is working really hard to get better and get to the next level.
AF: Is there anyone in camp who’s been particularly friendly or taken some time with you or taken you under their wing a bit?
AF: And is there anything that you’re particularly focused on this spring?
AR: Yeah, I just want to learn as much as I can while I’m here. I’m just trying to see what the guys are doing to make themselves better, and then see if I can do that. I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak everything up.
AF: You’re a very multi-dimensional player. You can do a lot of things – you can hit, you can play shortstop, you’ve got speed. Is there any particular aspect of the game that you enjoy more than anything else?
AR: Playing shortstop is probably the most fun. For me, playing shortstop, it should always be a good day. Sometimes on those days I struggle at the plate, I look forward to having a good day in the field and just performing on the defensive side of things.
AF: You were primarily a shortstop in high school, but you’d played other positions too. When the A’s drafted you, did they initially say anything to you about keeping you at shortstop?
AR: I don’t recall any of that. But they drafted me as a shortstop, and I’ve been playing shortstop. I haven’t really experienced any other position here in the A’s organization yet.
AF: So I guess you’ve been pretty happy to be out there at shortstop everyday then.
AF: Once you got drafted last year and started to play, what were your first impressions playing pro ball for the first time?
AR: There’s a lot more speed in the game. There’s a lot more thinking. It’s a lot more about mental ability and being able to keep yourself composed whatever situation you’re in.
AF: Well, you obviously had a great year and were very successful in your first season. But was there anything in particular that was a challenge for you last year?
AR: Just getting adjusted. I was never really in one spot for a long time. So making that adjustment of moving from one spot to another and then also being able to perform the next day. Being able to meet all the guys and meet all the managers going through the minor league system. So that was probably the biggest thing I had to do.
AF: Things have changed quite a bit for you in the span of a year. You’re in major league training camp right now. But what were you doing at this time last year?
AR: Just getting ready to graduate, planning for prom and all that stuff.
AF: It seemed like you got an awful lot of hype and attention this off-season. That must have been nice for your family to see anyway. I imagine your family’s been very happy about the way your baseball career’s gotten going.
AR: Yes, sir. My mom and dad were probably the most excited but, at the same time, sad because their 18-year-old kid was just off on his own now. But they were happy for me and they’ve always been my biggest supporters.
AF: Are there any interests or hobbies that you have outside of baseball when you have a little free time?
AR: I definitely like to shoot my bow. I have a whole bunch of targets. Other than that, I guess just watching Duck Dynasty episodes and Prison Break episodes. But I’m just looking for some off-season hobbies now.
AF: Well I’m sure you’ll be pretty busy from now through September anyway.
AF: So were there any of your fellow draftees you got to be particularly tight with last year?
AR: Oh yeah, for sure – me, Matt Olson and Daniel Robertson were pretty much inseparable during the season until we got moved through the system. They’re actually coming out here March 10th, and Daniel has a condo set up for me and Matt to come stay with him. So it’s going to be fun.
AF: So the top three picks are sticking together then?
AR: Yeah, definitely!
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24-year-old right-hander Dan Straily is generally considered to be the A’s top young pitching prospect heading into 2013 – and he earned that distinction on our own Top 10 Prospect List as well. But he wasn’t always quite so high on everyone’s radar. The Oregon native was drafted in the 24th round by the A’s back in 2009 out of Marshall University in West Virginia. And his numbers in the A’s system didn’t immediately open any eyes. But what did happen was that he just seemed to get better and better every step of the way. Rather than being challenged by each new level, each time the bar was raised, his performance seemed to kick up a notch.
Last year, after not even being invited to major league camp, Straily started the season at Double-A Midland, where he might have been expected to spend most of the year toiling away in the Texas League. But a funny thing happened, he started striking out batters at a rate of 11.4 per 9 innings while maintaining a 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA of 3.38. About halfway through the season, the 6’2” right-hander was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he proceeded to strike out hitters at a similar rate while notching an even more impressive ERA of 2.02. Straily finally got the call to Oakland late in the season where he went 2-1 in 7 starts while posting a 3.89 ERA in the heat of the A’s playoff run.
Conventional wisdom has it that there are currently five starters ahead of Straily on the A’s depth chart – Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin. And in a recent press conference, A’s assistant general manager David Forst referred to Griffin and Straily as the team’s 5th and 6th starters. Of course, spring training’s barely underway and anything can happen. But we do know that Bartolo Colon will be unable to make his first start of the season while he completes his suspension, which could very well mean that Straily will be in line for a start with the A’s the first week of the season no matter how everything else shakes out.
Of course, if any of the A’s other five starters should open the season without a clean bill of health, then Straily would definitely be well-positioned to stick around for a while after that first start. But if Straily does end up starting the season back at Sacramento, then he would definitely be one of the A’s top two pitching prospects at Triple-A, along with former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, hoping to be the first called when a warm arm is needed.
One thing’s for certain, whenever the A’s call, Straily will be ready. He’s clearly a student of the game who appreciates the fine art of pitching and is hungry for the opportunity to continue practicing it at the highest level. For now, all he can do is focus on making the most of his opportunities this spring in Arizona where, when he’s not working hard in the A’s camp, he’s hanging out at the temporary home he shares with his wife Amanda and their new puppy, along with fellow A’s pitcher Tom Milone and his fiancée, and A’s catcher Derek Norris. It’s a full house, and a house full of young guys working to establish their place in the major leagues with a team that typically gives young players like them plenty of opportunities to do so. We talked to Straily this week just after he’d returned home from his fourth day ever in big league camp…
AF: Can you tell me a little bit about your basic repertoire of pitches you’re working with right now?
DS: Fastball command this year has been my biggest thing coming into the season. I noticed last year at the end of the year when I got tired, that was the first thing to go. So I’m making sure that’s dialed in. But fastball, changeup, slider and curveball are what I have to offer.
AF: What’s been your big strikeout pitch?
DS: It was really everything. There were some games it was the fastball. Sometimes it was the changeup. Sometimes it was just sliders. Whatever’s going for me that night – whatever happens to be the most “on” pitch. When you have four pitches, you’re going to have one off-speed pitch that’s going to stand out more than the others every night. It tends to be the slider. And then last year it seemed that the changeup was really kind of the equalizer, because guys had to think about that, and then they’d get the slider – or they’d think about the slider, and then they’d get the changeup. That’s my game. I don’t tend to fall into too many patterns. I just mix speeds and try to hit spots.
AF: Well, that’s good a thing because if you do fall into too many patterns, guys will start to figure that out and take advantage of it.
AF: Last year you had a really dominant season in the minor leagues, in Double-A and Triple-A, and that performance really put you on people’s radar. Was there anything it particular that really clicked for you last year?
DS: For me, mostly it was just the consistency. Every game, I kind of knew what I was going to get – my fastball command was consistent, changeup movement was consistent, slider was consistent. It was just everything you look for. You notice there’s not a whole big difference in terms of stuff from minor league guys, major league guys – the stuff is pretty much the same – it’s just the level of consistency. You know, each guy’s going to be different. For me, it was just finding the consistency of my delivery, and my stuff was there all the way through last year. I remember early on, I had a rough game in Double-A and they just reiterated to me, “You know, you’re not judged game to game – you’re judged over the course of the year.” And it starts to take that pressure off from trying to be perfect every single pitch to just going out there and trusting yourself and being confident in yourself. You’re going to give up home runs, you’re going to give up singles – it’s going to happen. But also the mental game, I was able to take that to a whole new level – talking with (Midland pitching coach) Don Schulze and (Sacramento pitching coach) Scott Emerson last year and just trusting myself and trusting the adjustments that we were making on the side. It wasn’t that I was a completely different pitcher, it’s that I was finally the complete pitcher that I am capable of being. I saw flashes of good changeups before, flashes of good fastball command, and then finally it all hit together.
AF: So it was really just a matter of integrating everything and just putting it all together consistently as opposed to doing something new or having some big revelation.
DS: Yeah, I never felt like I really did anything different. It’s not like anything really changed. I didn’t change my mechanics. I didn’t change anything else. It’s like I told some reporters last year when they called about all the strikeouts, I said, “I’m not doing anything different. They’re just missing them this year.” It’s more than that obviously. I learned how to set up hitters a lot better. I learned how to recognize swings. And I started paying attention more to what guys are trying to do and different things like that.
AF: It sounds like it was really all about just gaining command of all your pitches and then being able to execute what you wanted when you wanted. Am I right?
DS: Absolutely. Being able to trust myself, full count, bases loaded, throwing a changeup. Throwing changeups in counts when I normally wouldn’t throw them. Throwing that 0-2 fastball inside instead of just throwing a nasty slider because I know they’re going to swing and miss at it. Don Schulze came up to me one day in Double-A and just said, “You know what? No one’s going to care what you did in Double-A after you’ve been pitching in the big leagues for years. So don’t focus so much on your results today. Go out there and work on your fastball and your changeup today. Work on fastball command and throw your changeup. You have to develop your changeup if you want to be in the major leagues.” And I’d heard that so many times. It’s not like he was the first one to tell me that. But I just heard it so many times that it finally clicked. And I finally understood what he was trying to say. And he just happened to be the one who said it when I finally understood it. Yeah, no one’s going to care what I did in Double-A. Obviously, if you do bad, you’re not going to stay around. You have to be successful, but no one’s going to care about your success there. They just want to know that you can do it at the next level, and then at the next level.
AF: So at that point you just started to develop the confidence to throw whatever you needed to throw whenever you needed to throw it?
DS: Yeah, absolutely, like I used to only throw changeups to lefties and sliders to righties. And I finally just gained the confidence in my pitches, and the consistency and the command. You know, I can throw any pitch to anybody at any time. It’s really just trusting yourself, and that was something that I was really able to learn how to do last year.
AF: You mentioned your pitching coach at Midland, Don Schulze. Was anyone else key in contributing to your success last season?
DS: Well, Scott Emerson was really big on scouting reports and helping me learn how to prepare for a game. In Double-A, you don’t get a chance to really see a scouting report until you see a team once – you have to make your own. And in Triple-A, it’s a little better, a little more advanced. You see guys more often, guys have been around Triple-A for a few more years. So that was the first time I was ever introduced to scouting reports. So when I did get called up, it was a little easier for me to just go in there and read it and know what I was looking for and know how my stuff played into the scouting reports. It’s just a whole other part of the game I didn’t even realize really existed. So he was really big on that side of things for me.
AF: Can you tell me a little more about the differences between the various levels you were at last year - between Double-A and Triple-A, and then between Triple-A and the majors? Were there any specific things that you had to adjust to at each level?
DS: One of the biggest things between Double-A and Triple-A would honestly have to be the travel. You think it’s going to be great – no more riding buses, you’re going to be flying. But it’s not the kind of hours you’d expect. You’re not flying chartered airplanes – you’re flying the first flight out each morning and then having to play that night at 7:30. It’s a grind. And I wasn’t even there a whole season, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be there for a whole year. But in terms of the actual play, a big difference is you notice guys start having approaches – not so much just one type of hitter. Guys aren’t just a power hitter, guys aren’t just an average hitter. You start getting more complete hitters. And then you get into some of these Triple-A PCL parks where the ball just flies.
AF: In terms of pitching, were there any adjustments you had to make when you finally got called up to the big leagues towards the end of the year?
DS: Not really. When I got called up, I was running on empty basically. But it was really good to figure out how to pitch when you feel like you just can’t get enough rest at the end. But then the day of your game comes up, you’re jacked up and you’re ready to go because you’re pitching in the major leagues that night. But you just get out there and don’t really see the names on the back of the jersey, you just see the scouting report and you see the game plan in your head of how you’re going to pitch certain guys and that’s really kind of what it boils down to. Obviously the media has built up certain players and their numbers speak for themselves but, as a pitcher, you don’t really see it that way, you just see the game plan and the scouting reports.
AF: You must have ended up pitching more innings last year than you had at any other time in your pro career.
DS: I threw 140+ innings my first year, then the next year I threw like 160, then in 2012 I threw 191. So I’ve had a steady upward climb.
AF: Towards the end of the year, you must have been aware that you’d thrown a lot of pitches over the course of the year.
DS: Yeah, at the end of the year, I was maybe just putting too much pressure on myself. But I definitely feel like, coming to camp now, it’s a whole different world to come in here and be a part of it from day one instead of just showing up in the middle of a playoff race and having to meet guys and be a part of a team at that point because you don’t know anybody there.
AF: Well, it must have been interesting to join the A’s late last year, with all that energy and excitement in a playoff run, and just step into the middle of all that.
DS: That was pretty cool. As a minor league player, you’re not so much noticing what they’re doing at the major league level. You’re more focused on your task at hand and your job and what’s going on at your level. So I didn’t even know about ‘The Bernie’ or anything like that. People don’t realize that you’re not focused on the big leagues when you’re in Double-A. You’re focused on what you’re doing to get yourself better. So it’s cool to get up there and actually learn about all the cool stuff that’s going on up there and just the fans’ energy that they’re bringing every night. The first night, my debut was in front of like 32,000 people on a Friday night in Oakland. And it was just a lot of fun to make your debut in that atmosphere.
AF: Last year with the A’s, you made 7 starts, won a couple of games, pitched well. But the one trouble spot was the long ball. You gave up 11 home runs. Have you had a chance to reflect on that and how you might be able to adapt to keep guys from being able to square up the ball like that?
DS: Yeah, I just did a terrible job of mixing up speeds. I kind of got away from my game and just let everything kind of speed up on me. And I was able to get home and kind of reflect on that and realize the game didn’t change at all, I’m the one who changed. It was frustrating, I can’t say it wasn’t. To be honest, it came up today in the clubhouse when I was talking with a reporter. They pointed out that I gave up 17 runs on the year (for Oakland), and I think 14 or 15 came via the home run. And I said, “Well, if I can figure out how to stop giving up home runs, I’ll be good to go!” But for me, it was just a lot of left-handers I’d fall behind in counts and leave the fastball out over the middle of the plate. And that’s what good hitters are supposed to do – if you fall behind and put a fastball right over the middle, they’re supposed to hit home runs. So it was kind of my own doing. But that’s not me – that was a fluke. Obviously, it happened – we all saw it. But that’s not who I am as a pitcher. And it won’t be like that again. It was embarrassing as a player. I remember the last time I threw against the Mariners, I gave up 3 hits – 2 of them home runs. It was very frustrating, to be pitching so well and then to throw a ball right over the middle – home run. I just didn’t do a good job of hitting spots.
AF: Well, I know no pitcher likes to be standing out there on the mound and have to turn around and watch one sailing over the fence.
DS: Yeah, and the weird thing was I think nine of them were in day games. And I have no idea why. I’ve pitched in plenty of day games and been perfectly fine.
AF: This is your first year in the big league camp, right?
DS: My first day of big league camp was Tuesday.
AF: So is there anyone around you’ve known for a while that you’re particularly friendly with who it’s just good to have around in camp?
DS: Well, my roommate’s Tom Milone. And you can’t get much more of an even-keeled type of guy than that. So it’s been good just to have him around everyday. Him, me and Derek Norris are all living together. It’s good – we’ve got a catcher and a couple of pitchers.
AF: How’s your relationship with A’s pitching coach Curt Young? You probably never got to spend that much time with him in spring before, but now I’d imagine you’re a lot more prominent on his radar.
DS: You know, he’s got a tough job. There are thirty pitchers or so here in camp. The only time I actually get to see him is when I’m pitching off a mound. I’m excited to hopefully be with him for a whole year – that’s the goal. From everything I heard, he’s just a great resource, which I saw last year when I was up – everything from holding the runners to pitch selection to how to take care of yourself. The guy’s been around the game so long he’s an amazing pitching coach.
AF: So is there anything in particular you’re working on or focused on this spring?
DS: I’m just focused on trying to make the team right now. I don’t get the luxury of working on something at this point. What I came with is what I have to go to battle with for the year. I’m sure, for some veterans, it’s more about getting ready for the season. Well I’m getting ready for the season as well, but I’m also fighting for a job. There’s only so many jobs available out there and more than enough guys to fill those positions. The last couple years I’ve had a little better idea of where I was going because it was pretty well laid out. But there’s no more room to go up anymore, so just trying to stay there is the hardest part.
AF: Well, I guess it’s pretty clear what the goal is now anyway.
DS: But the thing is, as much as you want to be there, if you’re not there, you can’t let it get you down because there’s a whole season ahead either way. So I keep telling people when they ask where I see myself going this year, I say, “That’s not up to me. That’s up to the front office.” My job’s to go out there and pitch, whether that’s in Sacramento, that’s in Midland or that’s in Oakland. It doesn’t matter – wherever they tell me to go, that’s where I’m going to be.
AF: I think everyone realizes the value of pitching depth at this point. I mean, the A’s used ten different starting pitchers last year. So wherever you are, if you’ve got a good arm and are pitching well, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in that rotation at some point one way or another.
DS: Yep, that’s what you’ve to remember either way.
AF: Well, it sounds like you’re just working on staying focused on your game, maximizing what you’ve got, and trying to continue making as good an impression as possible.
DS: Yeah, and so far from what I’ve felt, I just think it’s going to be a repeat and a little bit better from last year. You know, get a little bit better each year, throw a little bit harder each year, come into camp with a little better idea of how to be physically ready and mentally ready. I learned so much last year in every aspect of the game. And I’m just ready to go this year. I’m excited.
AF: Onward and upward!
DS: That’s right!
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Beane And Melvin On A’s Top Prospects, Who’ll Play Second Base, And The Team’s Biggest Challenge In 2013
Over the past few days, we’ve brought you coverage of the bloggers-only press conference with various members of the A’s staff that took place last weekend at A’s FanFest. But there were a few question-and-answer sessions with the general public that provided some illuminating insights as well.
The most interesting of these panels featured A’s general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin sharing a stage with outfielders Chris Young and Josh Reddick. While Young’s dancing and Reddick’s beard provided the entertainment, Beane and Melvin provided some interesting observations on the team.
Melvin, the AL’s reigning Manager of the Year, said that the big challenge for the team this season was going to be “keeping our edge,” but that he hoped to “build off the momentum from last year.” The A’s skipper added that he planned to have the team work even harder this spring, but that he feels like “we’re a better team going into spring training” this year.
As for the competition at second base between Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore, Beane commented, “If Jemile could have a bounce-back year, that’d be great.” But he also noted that second base was Sizemore’s original position and that “he showed a lot the half-season he was with us…he could be a factor as well.” He then added that second base would be one of the few spots that Melvin and his staff would have to take a close look at this spring.
As for last year’s playoff experience against Detroit, Melvin noted that “Verlander probably had a bigger strike zone than we would have liked to have seen.” And Beane, while confessing to squirming too much to be able to watch many regular season games, admitted, “I do watch the playoffs. At that point, it’s all house money.”
When it comes to the A’s top prospects, Beane noted, “The kid who was really impressive last year was (1st-round draft pick) Addison Russell.” He said that the A’s scouts had done a great job evaluating the high school shortstop and that he’s had “as good a year as an 18-year-old could have.” And when asked about former top pitching prospect Michael Ynoa, Beane commented, “He appears to be healthy…we hope that he moves quickly at this point.”
Overall, one got the sense that the manager and the GM were very much in sync when it came to their confidence in the depth and versatility of the current roster. And it sounded as if they and the team were all more than ready to get going in their defense of the AL West championship title in 2013.
A’s Assistant GM David Forst On New Catcher John Jaso, New Shortstop Hiro Nakajima, And The Importance Of Team Chemistry
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. One of those who stopped in to chat with us was A’s assistant general manager David Forst. And A’s Farm was especially eager to find out what it was that got the A’s front office so excited about shortstop Hiro Nakajima…
On the team’s belief that Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima could succeed in the major leagues…
I did not actually see him myself. We have a number of guys who’ve seen him back through the WBC in 2009 – a lot of our pro scouts, our international guys. Part of it is based on the numbers. His offensive numbers do translate well based on what other Japanese players have done here. But the reports, not only scouting reports, but from other players who’ve played with him – I think we mentioned Bob Melvin had talked to Ichiro and to Hideki about him. The guys who’ve done well over here are guys who have some leadership over there, who have the personality, who aren’t as affected by the off-the-field things that they gave to adjust to, which are huge. We saw that with Yoenis too – there’s so much that foreign players have to deal with aside from just baseball. We felt like he’d be able to handle that stuff, so his talent would play. Defensively, that’s the hardest thing for us to predict, because we don’t have the same metrics we have on the offensive side. But our reports are good – the hands, the arm strength. All the things you look for from a scouting perspective, we feel pretty good about…we do think he can play the position.
On evaluating defensive metrics…
The key on defense is to have everything sort of match up. If you’re looking at Range Factor and UZR and all the stuff that takes into account the Field f/x stuff, the SportVision data, the key is to have everything match up. So if you have conflicting reports, that’s when you sort of look at your scouting reports. I think you only feel good about defensive stats when things are aligned across the board.
On the team’s strategy in this year’s amateur draft…
We got together with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and his guys a couple weeks ago just to sort of go over the list. It’s a lot deeper in college players this year – both pitching and position players. We certainly didn’t set out to take a bunch of high school guys last year. That’s just where we felt like the talent was. But it is deeper in the college level…We’ve obviously traded away a lot of pitching. We have pitching here, and then there’s a little bit of a gap after guys like Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. There’s a gap down to A ball, and having traded A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen kind of opened that gap up a little bit…Obviously you always need to replenish your pitching every year.
On the acquisition of catcher John Jaso…
He’s been on the target list for a while. You look at what he did in the minor leagues, the type of offensive player he was – he’s certainly the kind of guy that historically we’ve coveted. And he had a year in Seattle where he really finally broke out offensively. So as we watched him a lot over the course of the season, seeing him in our division, he was certainly a guy we thought about towards the end of the season and all off-season and figured out a way to see if Seattle would part with him. And it obviously took a long time for (Mariners’ general manager) Jack Zduriencik to come around. And getting Mike Morse was the piece that he needed. In fact, one of our pro scouts, Craig Weissmann, was an amateur guy with Tampa when he signed Jaso originally in the draft. So we’ve kind of had our eye on John for a while.
On trading pitching prospect A.J. Cole back to the Nationals in the John Jaso deal…
(Nationals’ general manager) Mike Rizzo had said a couple times in the last twelve months how disappointed he was in having given up A.J., so Billy sort of knew in the back of his head that that was going to get us in the door. And when things sort of matched up, he knew Seattle wanted Morse. And obviously Rizzo knew we didn’t have interest in Morse, but we were able to say, “Hey Mike, if you’re still interested in A.J., we might be able to work something out here.”
On pitchers’ workloads…
We’re always aware of it. It’s something that we constantly talk about. (A’s pitching coach) Curt Young does a great job of keeping track of these guys start by start and then on a three-starts-by-three-starts basis. But it’s certainly not a situation where we’re going in saying we’re going to cut pitcher A off here or whatever. Our trainers do a lot of work in between starts, and they do a good job of keeping track of historical comps for each guy. So whether it’s Jarrod Parker, who increased his workload significantly last year, or Brett Anderson, who had a limited workload because of the injury, I think we have the best feel for them just because our trainers have their hands on these guys after each start. So I expect that we will continuously talk about and be aware of it, but I don’t imagine that anyone will have a limit set on them to start the season.
On the possible need for the team to add more veteran pitching depth…
Obviously we’re aware that a lot of what we accomplished last year was based a lot on our starting pitching depth, and the fact that we ended up using 7-8-9 starters who were effective. The fact that Travis Blackley is still here obviously and can fill that role and you expect a full season out of Brett Anderson, we felt like adding Bartolo Colon was probably as much as we needed to do. At the same time, it’s just not easy to add those veteran guys when, on paper, you have a rotation like we do. It’s not necessarily an attractive place for a veteran guy to come and have to make the team or fight for it. So we feel like, with A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily in the 5-6 spot, with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray at AAA, with Travis here being able to be a swing man, we feel like there is the depth there to get it done.
On clubhouse chemistry…
There’s no doubt that clubhouse culture is important, and it starts with Bob Melvin - that’s the most important thing. He set the tone for those guys, and they kind of followed his lead, which isn’t the case everywhere. I think there’s been a lot made of Jonny Gomes leaving and Brandon Inge, and you’re never going to keep all 25 guys together. But…we like the mix we have – personalities combined with guys who take it seriously on the field. But also you have a bunch of guys who should continue to get better, whether that’s about age or getting a chance to play everyday, this team should not have guys who regress – they should continue to trend upwards.