Category: Interviews

Getting to Know Snappers Slugger Kyle Nowlin

by Ryan Christoffersen / A’s Farm Beloit Correspondent

kn665065Last year, the A’s made slugging outfielder Kyle Nowlin their 21st-round draft pick out of Eastern Kentucky University. Nowlin grew up in the small town of Harrison, Ohio, about twenty miles northwest of Cincinnati. And after graduating from William Henry Harrison High, he headed off to college at EKU, which was one of two Division 1 schools that offered him a chance to play baseball. It turned out to be a great situation for Nowlin, since he got to see plenty of playing time starting as a freshman. And in his senior season, he led his college team with 21 home runs, a total which ranked in the top ten nationally.

After getting into 44 games for the Arizona League A’s last year, the organization sent Nowlin to the Beloit Snappers this season, where they also asked him to begin playing a new position – first base. Ever since the All-Star break, Nowlin’s been on a tear, putting up a .300/.402/.482 slash line in the second half, and he currently leads the Snappers with 63 RBIs and 59 walks, while his 24 doubles tie him for the team lead. As the minor league season was entering its final weeks, we took the opportunity to talk with Nowlin about his full season of pro ball…

 

AF:  You’ve been red hot since the All-Star break and had a tremendous month of July in which you had a .610 slugging percentage and an OPS over 1.000. To what do you attribute your success in the second half?

KN:  So, I went home during the All-Star break – took three days off from baseball. I came back here and started seeing the ball better. The hits started falling, which was not the case for me at all the first half of the season. I honestly can’t pick out one certain thing, but I’m sure the rest when I went home helped. I was able to clear my brain and start over. I kind of started a new season over after the All-Star break.

AF:  It’s interesting that different things work for different ballplayers. Sometimes it’s a change mechanically or maybe it has something to do with the mental side of it.

Kyle Nowlin (photo by Dave Baker)

Kyle Nowlin
(photo by Dave Baker)

KN:  Yeah, I think I just needed to get away from it a little bit. I was starting to get really frustrated with everything.

AF:  What are some of the statistics, if any, that you look at?

KN:  I honestly don’t look at them too much, because once I start looking at them, I start thinking about them. Especially if you’re doing well in a certain category, you don’t want to look at it. It seems like every time I do, the next few games I do nothing to contribute to those stats. I just start thinking about them too much. So, I tend to stay away from looking at my stats.

AF:  Watching you this season, I have noticed that you do a great job of hitting the ball to all fields, especially with power. Is that a conscious approach that you take at the plate?

KN:  When I was in high school, my coach told me that the right-center field gap is where I had the most power. So, I never have been a stereotypical pull hitter. I mean, a lot of the ground balls I hit are pulled. When I hit a line drive or fly ball, it is usually gap to gap. I tell myself to hit a hard line drive from left center to right center. It just so happens I wear out the right-center field gap kind of a lot.

AF:  Are there any particular adjustments you’ve made this season that have helped you succeed?

KN:  Not really anything at the plate. I used to be an outfielder. But then in instructs last year, they moved me to first base. So, I mean, that was a huge difference. In the infield, you have to be more focused than in the outfield.

AF:  That actually brings me to my next question. I’ve noticed a significant improvement from you defensively at first base as the season has progressed. What specific work has gone into that?

KN:  I think just reps, honestly. I had never played infield in my life growing up. So, that was a drastic change for me. At instructs last year, I looked like a baby deer trying to walk for the first time. I didn’t know how to do much of anything at first base. But just getting work there every day, seeing ground balls and seeing throws across the diamond really just helped me to get a feel for the position.

AF:  Some people don’t realize how much goes into playing first base.

Kyle Nowlin (photo by Dave Baker)

Kyle Nowlin
(photo by Dave Baker)

KN:  Yeah, like getting used to being around the bag with your footwork. The bag is kind of awkward at first. You don’t really know how to get there and you’re dancing around it. But once you get used to it, the footwork becomes more natural.

AF:  Is there anything that you’re working on, or that the coaches, particularly hitting coach Juan Dilone, are working on with you right now?

KN:  In the second half, Dilo hasn’t worked much with me, just because I’ve been swinging so well. He wants to let me do my own thing and not mess with anything. So, yeah, I guess I’m not really working on anything in particular at the plate.

AF:  So, on the personal side, where have you been living this year? Are you staying with a host family or are you sharing a place with some of your teammates?

KN:  I’m staying with a host family. It’s me, JaVon ShelbyNate Mondou used to live with us before he got promoted – now Josh Vidales lives with us ever since he got sent here. We are living with a woman named Janna. She’s awesome. There at the house is a whole basement we have to ourselves. It’s a pretty nice little setup.

AF:  What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

KN:  A full season is a grind. You cannot take anything for granted. We have 140 games with just 12 off days, which include the three off-days during the All-Star break. So, if you have a bad day one day, you’ve just got to let it go. You’re going to probably get four to five at-bats the next day. You just can’t let something bother you so much that it sends you into a downward spiral.

AF:  With just a few weeks left in the season, what’s your main focus or goal you’re trying to accomplish?

KN:  I’m just trying to finish strong and play like I have been, aim for at least one to two hits a day, string together some good games. The body is wearing down a little bit from the grind of the season. We are currently on a 19-game stretch without an off-day. That’s a tough stretch, especially being in August. But I really want to enjoy the last few weeks we have here. You can’t play baseball forever, so you’ve got to enjoy it while you can!

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Get an Inside Look at Nashville’s Top Prospects from Hitting Coach Eric Martins & Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

0nsIMG_2587Eric Martins was the A’s 17th-round draft pick in 1994 and spent parts of seven seasons as an infielder in the A’s minor league system. After his playing career came to an end, the southern California native signed on as a scout for the A’s. He eventually made the move to coaching, first serving as the hitting coach for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, and he’s now spending his second season handling some of the team’s top young hitters at Nashville.

Rick Rodriguez served as the long-time pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats, where he had a hand in developing a number of the A’s most talented pitchers over the past many years. When the A’s Triple-A affiliate first moved to Nashville, the northern California native remained on the west coast to spend a season with the Single-A Stockton Ports. But he’s now serving his second season with the Sounds, helping to develop another crop of talented arms for the A’s.

We took the opportunity to talk with both of them about some of the A’s most promising prospects last weekend in Nashville…

 

ERIC MARTINS

emMartins, Eric2AF:  Yairo Munoz is a guy who got off to a bit of a slow start when he first came up to Triple-A, but it seems like something’s been starting to click for him lately. So, where do you feel he’s at at this point?

EM:  Well, Yairo came in and he’s notoriously known as being a free swinger. He’s got one of the highest first-pitch-swing-percentage rates in the organization. It’s one thing that I kind of talked to him about a little bit. You don’t ever want to take away a hitter’s aggressiveness, but it’s being able to recognize the pitches that he wants to swing at early. He’ll still have his lapses every once in a while, but I think that’s one thing that’s calmed him down a little bit. He’s been a little bit more selective. He’s worked a little bit more here. We’ve worked on his pitch selection and his approach, because he has the ability to hit the ball all over the yard. He’s so aggressive, he’s got electric hands. He’s one of those guys that’s kind of special, he’s a little bit free-spirited, he’s a little bit of a loose cannon, but the tools are evident. Like the other day, he kind of looked bad on a couple sliders and the guy hung him a two-strike breaking ball and he hit it over the left-field wall. And he’s been having really good at-bats the last couple weeks. I think the other thing is just being comfortable being here. These pitchers here pitch a little bit differently. And you get an aggressive guy like Yairo and they can feast on him for a little bit until he makes the adjustment, and he’s done that. He’s done a pretty good job of that.

AF:  Well, whatever you said to him seemed to get through anyway! Have you been working with him in the field as well?

EM:  Yeah, he’s been playing all over the field. When he’s out in center field, he reminds me of Carlos Gomez a little bit. He’s a little bit, like I said, of a loose cannon, but he has all the tools. His arm is tremendous. He’s done a great job in center field. He can run some balls down. His versatility has been huge for us, and it’s going to be huge for him. He’s played third base, he’s played shortstop, he’s played left field, and he’s looked really good in the outfield. He’s always been a pretty good infielder.

AF:  So, it sounds like you think he could work in center field.

EM:  I think he’s only going to get better out there. He’s made some tremendous catches out there. It’s just about knowing where to throw the ball. He’s got such a good arm that he just wants to show it off each time. He just needs to come up and find the cut-off man and know where he’s throwing the ball. But other than that, his angles and his routes have been pretty good. He’s covered some ground out there, and he’s looking more and more comfortable out there.

AF:  Well, he kind of likes to show off wherever he’s at in the field, right?

EM:  Yeah, he’s got the loud tools, so why not?

fb620439AF:  Franklin Barreto got a little taste of the big leagues this year and now he’s back here with you in Nashville. So, what did he learn from that experience and what are you working on with him at this point?

EM:  Well, I think it was good for him to go up and kind of see what those pitchers are going to do and how good they are. And he came down with instructions on some stuff that he needed to work on. And his at-bats have been really good since that point. He’s made consistent contact with two strikes, so his strikeout rates have gone down a little bit, and I think that’s one thing that they wanted to see. His mechanics have gotten a little bit better. He’s getting a little bit more comfortable staying inside the ball – he’s not worried about the pitches in anymore. He’s doing a good job with his approach and his work, and you can see his at-bats starting to trend back to where they were at the beginning of the year. But the consistency in the at-bats has been a little bit better.

AF:  It sounds like getting a look at major league pitching might have been a good, eye-opening experience for him.

EM:  Absolutely. I think he saw how the guys who don’t have the premium stuff can pitch and how good the guys who have the premium stuff are, so you’ve just got to find a way to battle.

AF:  A guy who’s been up and down between Nashville and Oakland a number of times this year is Matt Olson. What do you think he’s learned from all his trips to the big leagues this year?

EM:  I think with Olson, he’s so laid back and he understands, so it doesn’t really bother him, which is good. You know, it can bother a lot of people who are going up and down. He gets it, so it’s been easy on him. He just comes down and he does what he does, and he’s continuing to work on everything. He’s had such a good year, and he knows his time’s coming to get up there and be playing consistently. So, we just continue to work on the adjustments that he made in the offseason with his swing and his mechanics. So, he’s fine and he’s ready to go. When he gets that call and he’s going to be the everyday guy and get some consistent at-bats, you’re going to see who Matt Olson really is.

mo621566AF:  Yeah, he seems like a pretty low-key guy. It doesn’t seem like a lot would bother him.

EM:  No, real low maintenance. And that’s the thing, for him being so young, he gets it and he understands. The important thing for him is to get at-bats. And if there’s no at-bats for him up there, then he’s going to come down here and continue to get his at-bats and continue on with the good year that he’s had. It’s been a breakthrough for him as far as the consistency of his season – hitting close to .270 all year. It’s been a good year for him, where the last couple years have been kind of down. I think the mechanical tweaks that he made this offseason and early in spring training really helped.

AF:  Chad Pinder was back here in Nashville rehabbing for a while before heading back to the big leagues. So, what kind of things were you working on with a guy like that who’s rehabbing here?

EM:  Pinder was just getting his at-bats and getting his timing back. Having a lot of history with him, it was just a matter of getting his hands in the right position and his timing and all that stuff. He’s so strong and he can drive the ball all over the park. So, it was just a matter of him just seeing some pitches, working his at-bats and making sure his timing was there. He did have some strikeouts here, but he got in some counts and worked some at-bats. That was it for him. You don’t really want to change too much, because he’s been doing so good up there. It’s just those little fine-tuning things. And with me having the history with him, it was easy.

AF:  Well, you must be pretty familiar with a lot of these guys at this point.

EM:  Absolutely, it’s fun. I’ll still get some calls from the guys up there – Bruce and Chapman – checking in. And I’ll send them a text when they have a good game up in the big leagues – Brugman and I texted a couple days ago. So, it’s fun to see those guys having some success up there. They’re going to be a big part of things from now on.

AF:  A guy who spent some significant time in the big leagues and then found himself back down here was Mark Canha. It seems like he was on a bit of a tear here. So, what were you working on with him here?

mc592192EM:  Well, I think Mark just kind of simplified things here a little bit. He stopped worrying about his leg kick and the timing of his leg kick and just started concentrating on his hands. And it was one thing that he never really thought about so much. He was so worried about the timing of his leg kick that it kind of threw off his hands a little bit. So, now he’s kind of switched the roles a little bit, and he’s a lot simpler – the moves are a lot simpler. They’re not as unique and different. He still has a little bit of funk to his swing, but that’s who he is. And Mark can really hit. It’s just he gets in his own way sometimes when he over-thinks his mechanics. But he’s really simplified some stuff, and his at-bats have been outstanding. The power’s obviously there. He’s a really good hitter. He just needed to come down here and simplify some stuff, and I think he’s found his niche now.

AF:  Now that we’re heading into the final month or so of the minor league season, is there any particular message that you’re trying to convey to your hitters here at this stage of the game?

EM:  I just tell them to finish strong. I know some guys are getting tired. Some guys can be thinking elsewhere. They can be thinking, “Why am I not up in the big leagues?” Or they can be chasing their numbers. But they’ve got to realize that whatever numbers that they have now, there’s always something that you can get out of your at-bats. Don’t give any at-bats away. We had a couple of games in New Orleans that were back-to-back day games at the end of a 12-day road trip, and you could tell guys were tired, and we gave some at-bats away and didn’t really compete. You’ve got to kind of give them that a little bit, but you’ve got to rein them back in after a day or two, because they all count. At the end of the day, you give some at-bats away and you’re 0 for 4, that counts against you. So, don’t take any at-bats off – just keep competing and have quality at-bats.

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRodriguez, Rick2AF:  It’s kind of like you’ve been the supplemental A’s pitching coach this year with all the A’s starters who’ve been down here at one point or another this season – Graveman, Cotton, Hahn, etc. So, I wanted to ask you about working with some of those guys, starting with Jesse Hahn, who was pitching really well for Oakland earlier this year then ended up coming back down here. So, what have you been working on with him and what are you trying to do with him?

RR:  We have good communication between myself and [A’s pitching coach] Scott Emerson. He always has a plan of what these guys should do. So, he either sends me something or he calls me and says, “We need to work on this, this and this.” And with Jesse, it’s more his fastball command – just trying to command that fastball and working ahead in the count. He was working on a new grip on his changeup, so we’re trying to work that in. So, his command and his changeup.

AF:  Now when you have a guy like Kendall Graveman, who was working his way back from an injury and has been out for a while, what kind of things are you focused in that situation?

RR:  The biggest thing when coming back from an injury is trying not to let the injury itself affect you, just trying to keep with what you’ve done in the past. I think we were in New Orleans, and at some point, he felt confident enough to really just kind of let it go. And at that point, I think he realized he was over his injury and now it’s a question of commanding that sinker, commanding that cutter, and getting back to where he was before he got hurt.

AF:  So, I guess the first step is just gaining that confidence back that you’re actually healthy enough to be able to do what you need to do.

RR:  Yeah, it’s always in the back of your mind when you come back from an injury. It’s like, “Am I going to hurt anything again?” And then you realize, “Hey, I’m great – I’m healthy.” And then you can get back to your routine and what made you successful.

AF:  Now what about Jharel Cotton, who’s back up with the A’s now? He spent some time with you here. Where do you feel he’s at now? Did you feel you were able to help get him back to where he needs to be to be successful?

jc605194RR:  Yeah, I know his first outing coming back from the blister, he was a little rusty – he was out of sync, his fastball command wasn’t there, his changeup was up and down. His last outing, he seemed to command his fastball to both sides of the plate and he started to get his changeup with that late sink that I saw last year. His cutter’s always been there – just trying to get him to use his curveball a little bit more. But it was just more getting back into the swing of things – getting a routine and then trying to take that routine into the game.

AF:  Another guy you’ve had rehabbing here is Chris Bassitt, who’s been coming back from Tommy John surgery. After a bit of a setback, he’s been pitching out of the bullpen now. So, how’s he looking to you at this point?

RR:  This is his second go-around with the rehab. He looks more confident now. I think his elbow’s feeling better. He’s bouncing back a lot quicker. So, he’s just going to be coming out of the ‘pen. And if he pitches a day, we’ll give him a day off. And if he has two ups, we’ll probably give him a couple days off just to kind of rest that elbow. But he’s come along really good. His fastball command is there. He’s got his cutter back. I like his slow curveball – that kind of throws everybody off. But he’s doing well.

AF:  One guy who’s not actually rehabbing here who I wanted to ask you about is Corey Walter. He wasn’t a high draft pick, but he’s always pitched well and has had a great track record through the system. He got off to a good start here in Nashville, then he had a couple of crazy outings where he just got totally lit up and gave up something like 20 runs over two starts, and now it looks like maybe he’s starting to get back on track a bit again. So, what happened to him when he seemed to go off the rails there for a bit and where’s he at now?

cw657794bRR:  I think he’s still learning how to start. And as a starter, sometimes you go through a little phase where, for a couple outings or whatever, it’s not working and you’re trying everything. And I think that’s what he was going through. I know through the All-Star break, he had a couple of extra days – I think that helped him. Then with the rehabbers and some guys coming down from Oakland, we had to shuffle around, so he pitched out of the ‘pen a couple times. And it was a good chance to work on his sinker command on the side. He really needed to get that back down in the zone. And he did the other night. His slider was good and his split was better – it was a little sharper.

AF:  Do you see him staying as a starter in the near future or will he maybe be making a move back to the ‘pen?

RR:  I’m not sure what the plan is. I know he’s been starting, and I’m sure he’s going to be starting once all this rotation stuff gets cleared up. So, we’ll see how that goes, but I’m looking forward to him starting.

AF:  And as we enter the final month of the minor league season here, what messages are you trying to convey to your pitching staff at this point?

RR:  We just had a big e-mail from our pitching coordinator [Gil Patterson]. And the big thing I talk about is the fact that we have 4-6 weeks, so let’s make a good push and finish really, really strong. It’s important to finish strong, so that you go into that offseason really confident. You just want to be consistent and finish well, and then see what happens.

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

Ryan Christenson: Guiding Guys to the Big Leagues from Nashville

rc636148237120845988-ryan3by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

Originally drafted by the A’s in the 10th round in 1995, Ryan Christenson began his major league playing career as an outfielder with the A’s back in 1998. He made it to the playoffs with the A’s 2000 team before being dealt to Arizona during the 2001 season. The southern California native made his last major league appearance with Texas in 2003, and finished out his playing career by spending the 2004 season playing in the Pacific Coast League.

He then left the game for a while to go into the business world before being bitten by the baseball bug again and returning to the field in 2013 to skipper the Beloit Snappers, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League. Christenson quickly impressed the A’s organization with his ability to work with young players and, like many of his young charges, he moved through the system quickly, taking the reins at Stockton in 2014, before moving on to manage Midland in 2015 and 2016, and then becoming the skipper of the Nashville Sounds this season.

Christenson has managed many of the A’s top young prospects as they’ve moved through the system together. He began at Beloit back in 2013 with Bruce Maxwell, Matt Olson and Renato Nunez. In 2014 at Stockton, in addition to Maxwell, Olson and Nunez, he also had Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder and Jaycob Brugman, and he managed all six players again at Midland the next season. Top prospects Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto came under his charge at Midland in 2016, and have spent time with him at Nashville this year as well.

Obviously, Christenson has had a major hand in helping to develop many members of the A’s current youth movement. He’s had the chance to watch the A’s top prospects play on a daily basis as much as any other human being alive and knows them as well as anyone. So, last weekend in Nashville, we took the opportunity to talk to the skipper about his job and also got his impressions of a few of the main members of the A’s youth movement like Bruce Maxwell, Chad Pinder, Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto…

 

AF:  As a player, you played for that 2000 A’s team that started that four-year playoff run in Oakland with guys like Giambi, Chavez, Tejada and the beginning of the Big Three with Hudson, Mulder and Zito. Those guys you played with on that 2000 team really formed the core of those winning A’s teams of the early 2000s. So, what was that whole experience like for you and what did you take from that that may be of use to you now?

RC:  Obviously, just having been in the organization at every level, I still have a feel for the philosophy that we try to teach here as a player development person with the A’s now. I think one of the things that I remember most about that group there was just the closeness that we had with the young core group of players, because it seems like we all came through the system together and kind of all arrived in the big leagues together in the late ’90s, and then started to really play better baseball and were able to win the division there in 2000. So, that’s what I see and hope for with this group as we change over now. A lot of these guys have all come through the minor leagues together and have an opportunity to do something special at the big league level with that relationship already set in place.

AF:  After you retired as a player after the 2004 season, you were out of the game for a while until you came back and started managing at Beloit in 2013. So, what led to you getting back into the game at that point?

RC:  After I was done playing, I finished up my degree. I had a business degree and kind of saw myself going into the business world. I did that for a couple years but realized pretty quickly that being behind the desk was not where I really wanted to be. I felt myself starting to miss the game and realized how much I loved the game. As a player, I didn’t think that I was going to go into coaching, but I did feel that I was missing the game. And I had some friends like A.J. Hinch, Sal Fasano and David Newhan and some guys I was talking to who were in the game and were enjoying themselves…I interviewed in 2012 and didn’t get anything, thank goodness. And I happened to land in a perfect spot with the A’s, back where I came up. And it was just a good fit. It was everything I was looking for – with a boss like [farm director] Keith Lieppman, obviously some familiarity with [Vice President of Baseball Operations] Billy Beane and [General Manager] David Forst, and [special assistant] Grady Fuson was here, and I knew [assistant general manager] Dan Feinstein from my playing days. So, that just made it feel like a good place to start my coaching career.

AF:  You’ve coached at every full-season level in the system at this point, going from Beloit up to Nashville now. So, what’s the difference for you managing guys who are just starting out their careers in Single-A and then managing guys up here in Triple-A who’ve been around a bit and who’ve maybe even spent some time in the big leagues before?

RC:  The guys here already have a feel for what they have to do on a day-to-day basis. They have a pretty good understanding of the game. At the lower levels, you’re helping these guys understand what their day-to-day routine is going to be and how they get through a day. And then up here, it’s more managing the players than managing the work day – so getting to know these guys, having that relationship, because it’s a whirlwind here. Sometimes, you have to have some tough conversations; sometimes, you get to have some real exciting conversations as far as sending guys up. But if you don’t have a pulse of where they’re all at, then this job could spiral on you in a hurry.

AF:  Yeah, you’re actually in the middle of a lot of personal drama here in Triple-A. Guys here often find themselves going through some major changes one way or another.

RC:  Yeah, they are major. And a lot of them have wives and families. At the lower levels, you don’t have to deal with that issue. Moving around is a little bit easier. But here, it can be a major uprooting.

AF:  Yeah, going back and forth between Beloit and Stockton isn’t quite as dramatic a change in life as going back and forth between Nashville and Oakland! Now you started out in Beloit with guys like Bruce Maxwell and Matt Olson, and you’ve been with them almost every year through their minor league careers. So, what’s it like for you personally to see them making it to the major league level after having started out with them back in A-ball?

rc87435-6292763FrRC:  It feels good, just because you’ve seen all the work that they’ve put in. Somebody like Maxwell, you see the transition that he’s made to turn himself into a very, very good defensive catcher. He came in as this great hitter, but the catching has continuously gotten better. So, just to see him pay attention to that and turn himself into the best catcher we have in the organization has been really neat to watch. But just the fact that I’ve been around them for four or five years and had some pretty solid relationships with these guys, just to be able to see them go up there and do it on TV at the ultimate level, which is where they all wanted to be, is pretty cool.

AF:  A guy you had at Stockton, at Midland, and for a little while here at Nashville this year is Chad Pinder. He’s an interesting player with his versatility. How do you see him profiling as a major league player?

RC:  I think he’s panning out into being the super-utility guy that we’re seeing right now. I think the throwing and the glove on the infield are probably not the quality to do it every single day at this point, not that it can’t improve. But he’s got the tools to shift around and play any of the three infield positions and play them well. So, it’s good to have a guy who can bounce around and do all three versus one position every single day. And now that he’s shown that he can go in the outfield, the fact that we can put him out there anywhere on the field is huge. The first day in spring training when I saw him go to the outfield, his instincts and his first move and his desire to want to get a good jump and go get the ball kind of impressed me that he can do it, because he’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a very strong and powerful guy, and some of the home runs that we’ve seen him hit already this year up there show the capabilities that he has. But he’s got a short swing, which allows him to get the ball deep. I think he’s still kind of coming into his own and figuring out his approach. He needs to improve to be successful at the major league level as far as working counts a little bit more and drawing a few more walks. Not going out of the zone as much as he was and being an aggressive swinger is only going to help his numbers as far as what they really want to see him improve on, which is that on-base number, and he can certainly do that.

AF:  Earlier this year, you had two guys here who are considered two of the A’s top position player prospects – Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto. Chapman’s up with the A’s now, and Barreto was up for a bit but now he’s back here in Nashville. What have you seen out of those guys, what makes them such special players, and what do they both need to do to really be able to succeed at the major league level on a long-term basis?

RC:  Well, I think both of them are right along the lines of what we were just talking about with Pinder. A refinement of their strike zone is the main thing. I think Barreto’s seen that at this level here and when he’s been in the big leagues. Somebody can be exploited that can’t lay off of that slider or that fastball that starts in the zone and by the time it gets to the hitting zone it’s dropped out of it. So, I think that’s where the improvement’s going to come offensively for all three of them – Chapman, Barreto and Pinder. Chapman is one of the best, if not the best, third basemen I’ve ever been around. The kid is absolutely electric. He’s as dynamic left and right as you can get, he’s got one of the best arms in the game at third base, and he’s got range. And especially in Oakland, he’s a perfect fit, with all that foul territory, so he’s going to be huge for them at third base. I still think they’re figuring out whether Barreto fits better at shortstop or second base. He’s a young player still kind of finding his focus. I think some of his errors that he’s made here are just a lack of focus at times, which you can see kind of drift in and out with young players. But I love what I’ve seen from him at second base. I’ve seen him make plays that remind me of Roberto Alomar. And Chapman and Barreto are both extremely powerful. Obviously, Barreto’s not as powerful as Chapman, but for a little guy, Barreto can really drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark, which is fun to watch.

AF:  Well, it sounds like he might be more of a standout player as a second baseman than as a shortstop.

RC:  I think so, I think in a perfect world. Just watching some of the young players we have in the minor leagues, I think Richie Martin is our best pure shortstop. He’s just as electric left and right as Chapman. So, I think if you can just envision those two guys on the left-hand side, that’s lock-down quality defense. Richie’s still kind of trying to figure himself out as a hitter. I’m not sure what they’re expecting or would like to see him hit, but it’s not a lot. He’s that good at shortstop. I think Barreto’s going to end up doing both. But possibly at this point in time, second base might be his better of the two.

AF:  And since you played with him, does Chapman remind you a bit of Eric Chavez?

RC:  I’m telling you, I played a lot with Chavy, and Chapman’s better than Chavez as a defender. Obviously, Chavy was a great hitter. But Chapman is better – I tell people he’s the best I’ve seen. I was always a baseball fan growing up, and I can never remember ever watching a better third baseman. He’s incredible – so much fun to watch.

AF:  So, now that you’ve had the opportunity to do this job for a few years, what’s the single best part of it for you?

RC:  My whole life I’ve just been a baseball fan. So, to be able to work in the industry of baseball has been a blessing. I was out of it and realized how much I love it and was able to get back into it. And it’s not always that easy just because you played to get back in – there’s only so many jobs to go around. But I feel very fortunate to be able to do that. And I’ve also been real fortunate to be around this young group that we’re trying to watch do something in the big leagues right now. It’s just been incredible to watch these guys play great baseball. We’ve done a lot of winning over the last four years. It’s been a great experience all around. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

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

Matt Olson: Riding the Nashville-to-Oakland Express

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

mo621566Matt Olson has been one of the top power-hitting prospects in the A’s system ever since the team made him its third overall pick in the 2012 draft. Since then, the Georgia native has slowly climbed the ladder step-by-step and finally made his major league debut for the A’s as a 22-year-old last September. He’s been up and down between Nashville and Oakland multiple times in 2017, and the young slugger demonstrated his power potential by hitting 4 home runs in 18 games for the A’s this season.

Olson’s always been known for his combination of power and plate discipline. And at Nashville this year, his 21 home runs are currently the second-most on the squad, while his 44 walks are tops on the team, and his .550 slugging percentage and .913 OPS are best among current Sounds. The left-handed hitter has also struck out 80 times in 280 at-bats for Nashville this year. The 23-year-old has primarily been playing first base this season, where he’s a defensive standout, but he spent most of his time in right field last year, where he’s more than capable of doing the job.

With the A’s youth movement in full swing, we’ll surely be seeing more of Olson in Oakland before the season’s through. A’s Farm first spoke with Olson in Stockton back in 2014, and we took the opportunity to catch up with him again last weekend in Nashville…

 

AF:  Well, it’s certainly been an interesting year for you. I think you’ve probably been back and forth between here and Oakland about a dozen times now!

MO:  Right around there, yeah!

AF:  So, has it been an interesting ride for you this year? And how’s it been adapting to all the back and forth?

MO:  Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely different than what I’ve been accustomed to. These past few years, I’m in the lineup every day playing 130-135 games and I’m getting five at-bats a day. Obviously, it’s an honor that they want me up there when I can get a spot. But it’s been a little bit of a transition having to kind of get a little more sporadic at-bats…but I’ve been working with it. It’s been good, a good experience, just getting as much time as I can under my belt.

AF:  I’m sure you’re happy to hop on a red-eye flight to Oakland anytime they call, right?

MO:  Yeah, definitely.

AF:  So, how comfortable were you able to feel during your time in the big leagues this year?

MO:  This year has gone a lot different compared to last year. Last year, with getting up there the first time and it being the end of the year, it all happened quick – it was a little bit of a whirlwind. Anytime I got in a game, obviously there were some nerves. And this year’s been a lot better. It’s been more about just being able to be out there playing the game, especially when I was up there for that week or week-and-a-half span where I was playing right field a lot, almost every day, and in the lineup a lot. It was good – it was nice to get into a rhythm and get that comfort level.

AF:  Well, you put a few out of the park during that stretch, so obviously you must have been feeling pretty comfortable then! How different was the quality of the major league pitching you faced compared to what you may have been used to seeing in Triple-A?

MO:  You can tell that guys have a little finer stuff. They’ll throw anything in any count. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a completely different way I’ve gotten pitched. But I faced a lot of guys I hadn’t faced before. So, I’m just kind of building a book with those guys and knowing what they like to do to me and take notes for when I face them further down the road.

AF:  Are there any things you’ve taken away or learned from your time in the majors?

MO:  Whenever I’m up there, I’m trying to learn better how to approach my day, the way I go about my routines – just finding the right thing that clicks for me. Everybody has their own things they like to do in order to get ready for the game mentally and physically. And I’ve really been able to figure out for myself what gets me ready for the game.

AF:  Has anyone on the big league squad been particularly helpful to you there?

IMG_0322bMO:  You know, everybody’s been really helpful. The guys who have been around, like Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce and Yonder Alonso, some of the main position guys, kind of take a little extra time to explain things to the younger guys. Anytime they can offer a little bit of advice, they’ve done a really great job of helping us out. Even if it’s just a little minor thing, it’s nice to have those guys kind of helping you along. It kind of takes a little bit of the behind-the-scenes stuff off your chest and you can just go out there and play the game.

AF:  So, now that you’re back in Nashville, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on here?

MO:  Just having that same hunger that I had when I showed up at the beginning of the year. I felt like I had a tough year last year and I kind of had something to prove, and I came in ready to get after it and ready to start off strong. And I’ve just been trying to continue that all year long.

AF: You’ve had the chance to spend some time in the big league camp in spring training. How helpful has that experience been for you?

MO:  It’s very helpful. Just from having seen the guys, met them, hung out with them a little bit. It makes it a whole lot easier to make that transition. Ryon Healy last year got called up without ever having set foot in the clubhouse, except when he would come across [from minor league camp] for a couple games. So, I’m sure that was a bigger transition for him trying to meet the guys and be able perform for his first time in the big leagues. So, there is a factor to that. A lot of it, going up for the first couple times, is being able to put all the other stuff aside and just playing baseball.

AF:  Your first major league game was last September. So, what was it like for you the first time you stepped onto the field in a major league park?

MO:  It’s just one of those feelings that you can’t describe. It’s something that you’ve worked your whole life for, to be able to be out there, with my family and girlfriend up in the stands watching. It’s definitely a special moment, one I’ll never forget.

AF:  I know your family’s not that far from here in Georgia. So, do they get a chance to come see you much in Nashville?

MO:  Yeah, they’ve come up here a lot. It’s only a four-hour drive, so they’ve been up here four or five or six times already this year.

AF:  Having to go back and forth between Nashville and Oakland so many times this year, where have you been living here in Nashville and where have you been staying when you’re up in Oakland?

MO:  I’ve just been living right over here by the field. I started out as roommates with Chad Pinder, and then I was roommates with Matt Chapman, and now I’m in the place by myself right now. Luckily, Ryon Healy’s renting a house up there that has some spare bedrooms just in case guys were coming up and down. So, there’s a room there that I’ve stayed in all the times that I’ve been up there.

AF:  Well, I’m sure his spare room’s gotten plenty of use this year – I’m sure it hasn’t gone to waste! It must be nice to know that whenever you do go up to Oakland, there are plenty of familiar faces around, plenty of guys you’ve known and played with for a while.

MO:  Yeah, it goes along with that comfort level that I was talking about. It makes it a whole lot easier to be able to go out and play the game. When you’ve got guys like that you’ve played with a long time, it just makes it a smoother transition.

AF:  Speaking of familiar faces, you’ve got Ryan Christenson, whom you go all the way back to Beloit with, here as your manager in Nashville this year. So, what’s it like for you having him around this year?

MO:  It’s great. This is our fourth season together, so we know each other well. He’s awesome. I love having him as our manager. He knows the right time to get on somebody if they need it, but at the same time, he jokes around with us. He’s a good mix.

AF:  And he must know you and your game as well as anyone. He’s probably seen you play more than any other human alive!

MO:  Yeah, he definitely has!

AF:  So, as we head into the final part of the season here, what are you focused on at this point?

MO:  Just keeping that hunger. I understand there are a lot of moving parts, and this year I’ve been moving up and down those four or five times. And my goal is to just kind of block it all out and do what I have to do on the field. A lot of that stuff’s out of my control. The main thing is to go out there and keep that hunger and just perform on the field.

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

Jesse Hahn: Keeping It Simple with the Sounds

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

jh534910Like every single one of his teammates in Nashville, Jesse Hahn‘s main goal is to get to the big leagues. But unlike many of them, he’s already seen the promised land and has actually spent plenty of time residing there, having started 50 major league games between the A’s and the Padres. He’s experienced some ups and downs during that time though.

This season, the A’s optioned Hahn to Nashville towards the end of spring training but, thanks to injuries, he was quickly recalled. After looking impressive in April, he tailed off a bit in May, and then did a stint on the disabled list. He struggled at times after returning to action in June, and the A’s optioned him to Nashville at the start of July, where he’s been doing his best to master Triple-A hitters as well as his own arsenal.

His Pacific Coast League performances have been improving of late, and we spoke with Hahn just a day before his best outing for Nashville this season, when he allowed 1 run on 4 hits over 6 innings of work for the Sounds. And after spending some time talking with him, it’s clear that he has one simple goal in mind…

 

AF:  I wanted to get your perspective on your experience down here. Of course, Nashville’s a nice place, but we all know you’d obviously rather be up in Oakland than here in Triple-A. And I know you’ve got some stuff to work on here. So, what’s your focus while you’re here in Nashville?

JH:  To get back to the big leagues – I mean, you have to. You’ve got to keep your head up and you’ve got to keep working hard. I have this thing where when something doesn’t go my way, I just work harder. If I get sent down or if I end up here…I mean, Nashville’s a great city, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it when I’m here. I enjoy the clubhouse, the coaching staff, all the guys in here, but at the end of the day, the main goal is to be in the big leagues and stay there. So, it gives you that motivation to work harder and get there.

AF:  I’m sure the coaching staff has particular things they want you to focus on here. So, what specific things are you really trying to work on here?

JH:  Yeah, I’m always trying to improve my changeup. I have a good one, but I need to use it more. So, this is a time and place to use it more and work on that. So, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing lately. And you can always touch up on your fastball command, especially myself. So, those are two things for me – fastball command and working on the changeup and just throwing it more.

AF:  What do you find the differences are between the times when you’re going really well and everything’s working for you and then the times when things just aren’t going so well for you?

JH:  You know, sometimes when you do struggle, you start thinking about things. You think about, “Wow, something might be wrong. I might have to fix something.” When it might not be – it might be that I just had a bad outing, I made the wrong pitches, I threw the right pitch but I didn’t execute it, instead of getting all caught up in, “Oh, it could be my mechanics – I need to work on this and work on that.” So, I’ve found that sometimes less is more – simplify things as much as you can, because it’s a complicated game. So, that’s kind of what I do – I try to take something really small and hopefully that’s the quick fix that I need.

AF:  Rather than thinking about everything too much and letting it all spiral out of control…

JH:  Yeah, exactly!

AF:  Is there much difference for you facing hitters at this level as opposed to hitters at the major league level?

JH:  I think guys here are a little more aggressive. At the big league level, they’re patient and they have a good approach. Up there, if you’re not locating your fastball, you’ll get behind in counts easily, whereas here, you might get a couple favors with guys swinging at some stuff. I mean, it’s a tough league to pitch in, but obviously the big leagues is a tougher league to pitch in. You can’t make as many mistakes in the big leagues. They’ll make you pay a little bit more, whereas here, you might be able to get by with a couple. But there’s not a huge difference – it’s a really good league.

AF:  Well, a good percentage of the guys down here have spent time up there before too. So, how do you feel your overall command is at this point?

JH:  I think it could use a little bit of a tune-up, but I feel good. I’m still working on things. I think every day you can work on your fastball command. There’s no such thing as perfecting it. You can always get better at it, so that’s kind of where I’m at.

AF:  Now what about the personal side of things? You had been living in the Bay Area, and then suddenly you had to up and move to Nashville. So, where are you staying out here?

JH:  I just stay in a hotel when I’m down here. I still have my place in Oakland in case I get called back up. Like I said before, keep it simple! My wife’s out here now. She goes back and forth. She’s still staying in Oakland, but whenever we get a long home stand, she flies out here with the dog just to make it seem the same, like things haven’t changed too much.

AF:  So, have you been able to spend much time getting to explore Nashville while you’ve been here?

JH:  Yeah, I’m out and about every morning. I’m a big food guy. I love to explore different restaurants and find what’s out there. So, every morning I wake up early and find a new breakfast spot and eat there and find a new lunch spot. And if we have time to get dinner, I go out and do that. But other than that, I’m not a big partier. I don’t really go out much, so that’s kind of it for me.

AF:  You’re going out in the day, not the night! So, now that we’re headed into the last part of the season, what are you thinking about trying to get done here in the remainder of the season?

JH:  Just trying to finish up strong, finish healthy and end up in the big leagues again. That’s where I want to be – that’s my main goal.

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

Mondou & Bailey on Making the Big Move from Beloit to Stockton

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

spRoFg4u4YThere’s been a mighty big turnover on Stockton’s roster since the start of the season.

And just since June, infielders Nate Mondou and Edwin Diaz, outfielder Luis Barrera and pitchers Brandon Bailey, Brendan Butler, Dalton Sawyer, Norge Ruiz and Miguel Romero have all joined Stockton from Beloit for the second half.

Late last week in Stockton, we took the opportunity to talk to a pair of those players, second baseman Nate Mondou and right-hander Brandon Bailey, who also happen to be roommates, to see how the duo was adjusting to life in the California League…

 

NATE MONDOU

nm670148bThe lefty-swinging second baseman was the A’s 13th-round draft pick last year out of Wake Forest. Mondou spent the first few months of the 2017 season hitting near the top of the order for the Snappers, and his .296 batting average and .371 on-base percentage both led Beloit batters when he was promoted to the Ports. Since joining Stockton late last month, the 22-year-old has posted a .279/.352/.441 slash line over his first 28 games for the Ports. In a recent interview with Stockton manager Rick Magnante, the skipper said about Mondou: “His ability to swing the bat has been impressive. I think he’s a sleeper. I think you could see Nate in the big leagues.”

AF:  You started out the season in Beloit. And I know sometimes those first couple of rainy, chilly months in the Midwest League can be rough for hitters, so how did you handle hitting in the conditions there?

NM:  Definitely, it was freezing cold when we got there. It rained quite a bit. But in those type of situations, you’ve just got to stick with the process and try to simplify everything, because the outside conditions kind of made it tough. But overall, it was a good experience and I was able to learn a lot. It’s always good to learn how to play in those conditions before coming up to higher levels. So, overall it was good, but it was kind of tough at first like you said. Not being able to feel your hands at the plate is kind of rough.

AF:  Yeah, when your hands are on the verge of frostbite, it’s probably a little hard to hit.

NM:  Exactly!

AF:  You got off to a good start there though, and you had a nice hitting streak going there for a while, so you obviously managed to deal with it. But coming here to the California League in the second half has got to be a great development for you.

NM:  Definitely, very glad to be here. It’s definitely more of a hitters’ league. It’s a little bit of an adjustment just being able to hit the ball in the air a little bit more. In Beloit, it didn’t quite fly as well as it does here. So, I’m just kind of making little adjustments here and there to fit the ballpark and fit the league and everything. But I’m very glad to be here. It’s nice to have nice, dry, warm weather every day.

AF:  Where’d you grow up?

NM:  I grew up just about an hour south of Seattle, Washington…so it’s nice to be back on the west coast too.

AF:  Do you find any differences with the pitchers you’re facing here in the California League compared to what you were used to seeing in the Midwest League?

NM:  Yeah, it’s definitely another level up. There’s a little more consistency in the quality of pitching, and that carries over for both the starters and the bullpen guys. We definitely saw some very good arms up there in the Midwest League, but down here, it’s day in and day out, and every guy coming out of the ‘pen too.

AF:  What kind of adjustments have you had to make since you’ve been here in Stockton?

Nate Mondou (photo by Meghan Camino)

Nate Mondou
(photo by Meghan Camino)

NM:  Yeah, I think earlier in the year I didn’t really use the pull side of the field as much. I was kind of really, really focused on driving the ball the other way. And I think coming here, I’ve seen a lot more fastballs in, a lot more pitches inside, so I’ve kind of tried to open up the field, kind of going left-center/right-center rather than just kind of left of center field. So, that’s been the biggest thing for me, being able to open up that right side of the field.

AF:  What do you feel are the biggest strengths of your game? What are you really confident that you’re bringing to the table for a team?

NM:  I think the biggest thing is a quality at-bat. I’m going to try to grind out an at-bat no matter how tough the situation is and try not to take any at-bat for granted. Definitely working deep in counts, and once I get to two strikes, hopefully grinding a long at-bat out. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for me, not taking anything for granted, not letting one at-bat slip through my fingers. So, quality at-bats – that’s probably one of the biggest things for me.

AF:  Now you’re a smaller guy, so people probably weren’t looking at you as being a big, powerful prospect coming out of school. So, have you had to play the game with that sort of underdog mentality, feeling like you had to prove to people what you were really capable of doing on the field?

NM:  Yeah, definitely. There’s always that height thing that’s always been mentioned at every level I’ve played at. So, it’s kind of nice to show people that doesn’t really matter and that you can work past it no matter what. I came out of college hitting a bunch of home runs and kind of had to change my approach once I got here to more of a table-setter type. So, I’m trying to hit more line drives, and I think that’s helped me succeed so far, especially with the average. The power numbers aren’t where they were in college, but I think I’m slowly working to kind of find the best of both worlds between the contact and the power.

AF:  Well, if you spend enough time in the California League, you might just become a power hitter again!

NM:  Exactly!

AF:  On the personal side, since you had to move here in the middle of the season, where are you staying at, who are you living with, and what’s life like off the field here in Stockton?

NM:  Yeah, it was kind of a whirlwind couple of days coming from Wisconsin out here and trying to figure out who I’m living with. But I’m living with Eli White and Brandon Bailey right now in an apartment. It’s a little bit more expensive than out there in Wisconsin, but it’s a nice setup and we’ve got a nice little spot and they’re a couple of good guys to live with, so I’m happy.

AF:  And you’ve got sunshine every day!

NM:  Exactly, no thunderstorms!

AF:  Well, you’ve got a little over a month of the minor league season left here now in Stockton. So, what are you really focused on this final month or so of the season here?

NM:  I think consistency is the biggest thing for me, just trying not to have a roller-coaster type of season. Of course, there’s always going to be ups and downs, but trying to keep it as close to the main line as possible. So, I think just finishing strong. I’ve had multiple coaches tell me so far this year, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.” And that’s what people really care about. So, I had a good strong start, but I’m definitely focused on continuing that consistency throughout the year and finishing strong.

 

BRANDON BAILEY

bb669064bThe A’s made Bailey their 6th-round pick in last year’s draft after he struck out 125 batters in 100 1/3 innings while posting a 2.42 ERA in his junior year at Gonzaga. He spent most of last season playing for Vermont, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he put up a solid 3.08 ERA in 10 appearances for the Lake Monsters. But Bailey was even more impressive for Beloit in the first half of this season, posting a 2.68 ERA while notching 73 strikeouts over 57 innings of work for the Snappers. Since being promoted to the Ports earlier this month, the 22-year-old has struck out 27 in 19 1/3 innings while compiling a 6.05 ERA for Stockton. We’ve periodically featured blog posts by Bailey about his experiences in the A’s minor league system, which you can find here.

AF:  You got called up here to Stockton from Beloit about a month ago. So, how has it been for you adjusting to a whole new league here this past month?

BB:  It’s been exciting, just for the mere fact that I’m back on the west coast. Being a West Coast Conference guy in college, this is where we had our conference tournament, and I’m real familiar with the park. So, it wasn’t like a complete shock. I was really familiar with the park and how it plays. I was just really excited to move up a level. It’s a long season, and you’re just trying to climb the ladder. And at the end of the day, I just couldn’t be happier to be back on the west coast.

AF:  So, remind me where you were born and where you went to school.

BB:  I was born in Westminster, Colorado and lived in the Denver metro area my whole life. My parents still live there today. I reside in Broomfield, Colorado. That’s kind of my hometown – about 20 minutes north of Denver and 15 minutes east of Boulder. And when college came, I moved to Spokane, Washington, where Gonzaga University is. And that’s kind of where I’m living currently in the offseason, just because I’m trying to finish up my degree. I hope and plan to go back this fall to knock out that last semester that I have and be done, and then from there, just go back to spring training and do it all over again.

AF:  What are you majoring in?

BB:  Sports management with a minor in public relations.

AF:  Well, that might come in handy!

BB:  Yeah, definitely useful. I love being around sports, and it’s something that I would like to pursue after the playing career is over, whether that be working in professional baseball or I’ve always had a really big passion for Nike and all the products that they release, especially the N7 brand that they have going. My dream would be to work for Nike when it’s all said and done.

AF:  You got off to a really good start to the season in Beloit. So, is there anything you’ve found that’s particularly different here in the California League?

BB:  I think the biggest adjustment is that you can’t kind of give in in those hitter advantage counts. Sometimes in the Midwest League, the parks play big and you know if you get behind that you can challenge a little bit up. They might know your 2-0 fastball is coming, but the park plays big enough that you’re not going to get hurt. And so far, in the majority of these parks, if they’re bigger, the wind blows out really hard, and if they’re smaller, it blows out even more! So, you’ve just got to be really particular with all your pitches. And I think the emphasis for me, the biggest adjustment, is really emphasizing getting ahead in the count, putting the hitter in a position where they’re unfamiliar with what’s coming, where they’re kind of on their heels and they can’t be as aggressive as they might be in the 1-0 or 2-0 counts.

AF:  Yeah, with these parks in the Cal League, if you get behind, you can’t afford to groove one in there!

BB:  Yep, but I like that challenge a little bit too, because it makes me focus just that much more on trying to be that much more conscious and particular with my pitches, and I feel like that’s actually helping me get better. And I’ve heard that at Midland, the strike zone gets a little bit smaller. So, I’m just focusing on really hitting spots. And I think that’s good for me, because in college, I knew that I could just challenge you up with a fastball and the exact location didn’t really matter – I knew that I was probably going to win that battle. But here in pro ball, it’s not exactly the same.

AF:  Well, the strike zone might be smaller in the Texas League, but the good news is the parks are bigger – and the wind isn’t usually blowing out!

Brandon Bailey (photo by Meghan Camino)

Brandon Bailey
(photo by Meghan Camino)

BB:  There you go!

AF:  Tell me a little bit about your repertoire and what you’re working with.

BB:  I throw five pitches. It was four, but four days ago I learned a new pitch, so now it’s five. I throw a four-seam fastball which has a really high spin rate, so it’s got good ride and carry through the zone. I guess to the hitter, they perceive it as the ball kind of rising almost. Oakland’s really been encouraging me to throw the ball up in the zone, which, going into professional baseball, you’re taught your whole life to keep the ball down. But here, they want me to throw up with my fastball, so that’s really kind of a bit of a change for me, but it’s kind of nice at the same time, because I do like throwing up in the zone with that fastball. So, I throw a four-seam fastball, a four-seam changeup which spins the same way as the fastball – it just has an arm-side drop and run to it. And then, I throw a slider, which is now a true slider. In college, it was kind of more of a slurve, but I’ve tightened it up and I’ve been throwing it a lot harder lately, which is nice. And then this offseason, I added a spiked curve, just because I wanted to have a get-me-over breaking ball that looked a little bit different to the hitter, so that way they wouldn’t be able to sit on something hard early in the count, whether that be the fastball or the slider. And then, I just added a cutter four days ago, which is really exciting because, like I said before, my four-seam fastball’s pretty straight and true – it has good carry, but not a lot of movement to either side. And this cutter has been moving glove side with late action to it, so it’s just a nice extra tool that I can have in my repertoire just to keep the hitters honest.

AF:  Well, that’s a couple more pitches than most guys have at this level!

BB:  Yeah, so the biggest thing for me is the fastball/change has always been my bread and butter, so now it’s just trying to get those breaking pitches, along with the cutter, up to speed and hopefully get them to be big league average or a tick better than that.

AF:  So, have you used the cutter in a game yet?

BB:  Yeah, I did in a game versus the Quakes. I threw three – one was really good, one was straight as an arrow and one went in the dirt. So, I went one for three, but I’ll take it for only having thrown it for like two days in advance.

AF:  On the personal side of things, you had to make a move here in the middle of the season from Wisconsin to California. So, where are you staying at and who are you living with now?

BB:  I think the person who was most excited for me to move out here was my girlfriend, because she’s actually from Sacramento. So, when I told her, she was pumped. But I currently reside in an apartment complex about fifteen minutes north of the stadium. I’m living with Nate Mondou and Eli White in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s the typical minor league apartment. We’ve got the cardboard box as the TV stand. We’re all living on air mattresses. But at the end of the day, it’s still a lot of fun. They’re great guys to live with. I was able to room with Eli White in Vermont to start everything off last summer, so me and him are really good buds. And then with Mondou being in Beloit, we obviously knew each other. So, it’s been a good fit. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment going from a host family in Beloit to apartment living, but I kind of enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.

AF:  Well, probably most of your time is spent out here at the park anyway.

BB:  Exactly! All you’ve got to do is wake up, make breakfast and then go to the park and you’re here basically the majority of your day anyway.

AF:  Well, we’re heading into the final month or so of the minor league season now. So, what are you thinking about and what are you trying to accomplish in the last month or so here?

BB:  I think it’s just to finish strong. At the start of the year, there can be some bumps in the road – everyone has their ups and downs. But I remember in spring training, [minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and [farm director] Keith Lieppman and [special assistant] Grady Fuson and all these guys saying, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.” And they re-emphasize that when the first teams come out, because some guys aren’t exactly thrilled with where they’re starting. So, my goal is just to try to continue to work on my craft and really get a feel for these new pitches – the curveball and the cutter that I’m adding. And just try to finish strong here in Stockton and hopefully end on a high note and go into the offseason with some good goals to try and achieve, and then come back and hopefully fight like hell to make the Midland roster. I think, at the end of the day, it’s just trying to see progress with each day that you come to the field and when you leave the park, you can say, “I got better today.” So, the goal each day is to try to get a little bit better than you were the day before.

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

Stockton Center Fielder Skye Bolt Loving Life in the California League

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

sb621450bThe A’s made Skye Bolt their 4th-round selection in the 2015 draft after the Georgia native put up a .259/.383/.449 slash line in his junior season at the University of North Carolina. The center fielder was viewed as a toolsy prospect who possessed speed, a strong arm, a solid glove, good bat speed and some raw power potential. After spending 2015 with short-season Vermont and 2016 in Beloit, Bolt is now spending the 2017 season with Stockton in the California League.

After Monday’s contest, Bolt was sporting a .239/.338/.439 slash line for the Ports. He leads the team with 9 stolen bases and is tied for the team lead in walks with 42. The 23-year-old has significantly increased his power numbers this year and has already hit a career-high 10 home runs in 81 games this season. Last week, after batting practice in Stockton, we took the opportunity to talk with Bolt about his first season in the California League…

 

AF:  So, how do you feel your first season in the California League has been going for you so far?

SB:  Yeah, it’s been a great year thus far. The Cal League’s been very receptive. I enjoy the home ballpark. That’s obviously a blessing and a nice place to play day in and day out. Everybody here’s been real receptive. It’s a well-oiled machine. It’s been great thus far – good first half of the season, good start to the second half. Every day’s getting better than the day before it, and that’s the name of the game. For me, it’s been a great season as far as improving things I wanted to improve. And I’m going to keep putting the right foot in front of the left and repeat as we go into this last quarter of the season.

AF:  How is it hitting here in the California League as opposed to hitting in the Midwest League in Beloit? I know they’re very different environments.

SB:  Yeah, definitely! That first month and a half to two months out in Beloit is unfriendly to say the least. But the Cal League’s been great. You’re forewarned to not fall into a trap, especially here in Stockton with the short porch in right. And for me personally, it’s been beneficial for me – not in the sense of hitting the long ball and utilizing it, but keeping my approach away from trying to do damage to that side of the field. The Cal League is obviously great as far as other ballparks. There’s eight teams, so you get to see everybody. You start to build that understanding and familiarity with different pitchers – or the same pitchers. And that’s what you’re going to see as you go up the ladder. I know in Midland, our Double-A club, it’s a small league as well. But as you go up the ladder, you’re going to see guys over and over again. So, it’s a learning experience, just like everything else. But I’ve really, really enjoyed playing here.

AF:  I would think so. Those first couple of months of the season in the Midwest League, when it’s raining every other day, it must make it a little tough to get into a groove.

SB:  Absolutely! There’s no rainouts here. You’re going to play every day. The game on the schedule is going to be played one way or another. And that’s great!

Skye Bolt (photo by Meghan Camino)

Skye Bolt
(photo by Meghan Camino)

AF:  Have the pitchers here in the California League been approaching you any differently than what you’ve been used to seeing in the past?

SB:  Yeah, again back to seeing the same guys over and over again, you start to build a log. A lot of us guys keep track of what certain pitchers are trying to do to us. And that’s something that we visit quite often as we see them what seems like every two weeks. But I feel like guys are more in the zone. They’ve got more of an aggressive, attack-the-zone mentality, which for me as a hitter, I love. I enjoy a pitcher who’s going to attack the zone and going to come right at you. And that’s, for the most part, what we’ve gotten here in the Cal League – more refined arms working to attack the zone as they’re trying to go up the ladder as well.

AF:  Well, at least you’re more likely to see more pitches you can get the bat on anyway.

SB:  And that’s exactly it! You ask any hitter and they’ll tell you they’d much prefer that kind of guy.

AF:  What kind of adjustments have you had to make this season, and what have you really been trying to work on this year as a hitter?

SB:  For me personally, it’s been the duality of being a switch hitter and getting the reps on both sides and working with [hitting coach] Tommy [Everidge] on what I need day in and day out to maintain both sides of the dish, which to this point, I think I’ve done. And for me, the adjustment has been not missing my pitch. Reflecting back on the past two seasons, it’s just been a lot of misses. Did the pitcher get you out or did you get yourself out? You ask any hitter, and 70% of the time they’re going to say, I got myself out. And that’s the tough part of the game. But 70% of the time, it’s on us to get the pitch that you’re looking for and do with it what you’re supposed to. And most of the time with hitters, it’s “I missed my pitch” – it wasn’t the strike-three call. So, this season, it’s been not missing my pitch, being prepared each and every pitch, getting myself in a good hitting position, especially from the left side of the plate, to attack my pitch and do what I want with it. And thus far in the season, I’ve done a better job of that and I’ve started to do more damage with some extra bases.

AF:  I know the minor league season can be a bit of a grind, and we’re getting into the dog days here towards the end.

SB:  Yep.

AF:  So, this last month or so here, what are you really focused on and what are you trying to accomplish as we head into the home stretch of the season?

SB:  In the home stretch of the season, you want to be as aggressive as you can be. You don’t want to leave a season saying, “I wish I would have been a little more aggressive.” But being aggressive gives you more opportunities, and that’s something that I’ve aimed to do progressively over the past few seasons – be aggressive and let my tools play, and be the athlete that I know I can be and that I have to be in order to continue to go where I want to go in this game. And I can’t stress enough, I don’t think any position player wants to leave the season having this conversation with you or others saying, “I wish I was a little more aggressive.” Let it all out, attack your pitches, attack bases, take extra bases on the base paths – that’s my goal for this last quarter. So, this home stretch of the season, it’s just be aggressive, play my game and let the cards fall where they may.

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

Stockton Skipper Rick Magnante Talks about the Ports’ Newest Prospects

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

rmMGR_Magnante_dervlq1cStockton manager Rick Magnante originally began his professional baseball career as a 13th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians out of the University of Santa Barbara back in 1969.

He first joined the A’s organization in 1995 as an area scout covering southern California, where he was the signing scout for players like Barry Zito. He also began managing short-season teams for the A’s in 2006 after his duties prepping for each year’s draft were through.

After spending five seasons in Vancouver and three seasons in Vermont, Magnante gave up his scouting duties and began managing full-time. He spent the 2014 season in Beloit and is now in his third season with Stockton. We took the opportunity to talk with the Stockton skipper late last week to get his first-hand take on some of the prospects who’ve recently joined the Ports…

 

AF:  You’ve had a lot of turnover on your roster here at Stockton this year. So, let’s talk about some of the new guys who’ve recently joined your squad here in the second half. Let’s start out with 22-year-old second baseman Nate Mondou, who arrived from Beloit at the end of June. He’s not a very big guy, but he seems to be doing a pretty good job of putting the bat on the ball.

RM:  He’s your typical grinder, blue-collar player who has to maximize his skill set to be that over-achieving, instinctual, anticipatory kind of player – and he is that. And his ability to swing the bat has been impressive. I think he’s a sleeper. I think you could see Nate in the big leagues. I’ll go out on a limb right now and say that may happen someday, because he can play the game. And the other thing you have to take into consideration is that this is his first full season. He had a real good first half there in Beloit. He came up here and he’s hot as a firecracker – he’s slowed down a little bit as of late, but that’s going to happen. And if he can just finish with some kind of consistency at the plate after his first full season, I think that’s quite an accomplishment for him.

AF:  He sounds like the kind of guy you could really see hustling his way to the big leagues.

RM:  Yeah. I asked him, “Were the Boston Red Sox ever interested in you?” I said, “To me, you’re Marty Barrett, you’re Jerry Remy, you’re Dustin Pedroia. You’re all those under-sized middle infielders who can really play the game and give 110% every time.” So, that’s what I liken him to.

Rick Magnante (photo by Meghan Camino)

Rick Magnante
(photo by Meghan Camino)

AF:  I was thinking about David Eckstein.

RM:  Absolutely, that’s a good comparison.

AF:  21-year-old outfielder Luis Barrera came up here from Beloit in the middle of July. He got off to a pretty good start here and has already hit a couple of home runs for you. He seems to have a lot of tools to work with.

RM:  He’s a combination of tools with an emerging skill set and a baseball IQ that still needs to advance some. But he’s wiry strong, fast, defends, throws, chance to hit, and has youth on his side. So, certainly he’s a chance prospect for me.

AF:  The other guy who came up from Beloit at the same time as Barrera is 21-year-old infielder Edwin Diaz. He’s still very young, but he’s also got some tools.

RM:  Originally drafted as a shortstop, he’s gotten bigger, filled out and slowed down a little bit, so he’s moved over to the corner. He’s gifted with the glove and has a gifted arm. He’s made some sensational plays in the short time that he’s been here to allow us to stay in ballgames and eliminate rallies and not give extra outs away. He needs to work on the bat. The hitting is his Achilles heel right now. There’s strength there, there’s leverage, there’s raw power. But the ability to make consistent contact, to take advantage of pitches in the zone that he should hit, those areas are the areas that he needs to improve on.

AF:  22-year-old infielder Sheldon Neuse just recently came here from the Nationals’ system. Have you been able to form much of an impression of him yet?

RM:  We had a nice talk in the office yesterday, just a little orientation. I gave him a little history about the A’s, our direction, our philosophy. I got some information from him, a little bio, where he comes from, his family, etc. Anytime anybody comes over to a new organization, you’ve just got to give them a pass for six to ten games and let them just get their feet on the ground. But his numbers speak for themselves. He was a 2nd-round draft pick by the Nationals, and we know they scout well. And it looks like we’re going to give him an opportunity to play some shortstop and some third base and see how that goes. But we had him out here for some early work in batting practice today, and there is raw power to all fields. But early on, you can see it’s a good body – there’s strength, there’s power. He closed all three years at Oklahoma as well as playing short and third. I don’t know if it’s Chapman-like, but there’s arm strength there.

AF:  23-year-old Cuban pitcher Norge Ruiz is an intriguing pitching prospect that people are very interested in. He’s made four starts here in Stockton now, so what have you been able to see out of him so far?

Rick Magnante (photo by Meghan Camino)

Rick Magnante
(photo by Meghan Camino)

RM:  Well, he’s extremely competitive – extremely competitive. He raises the bar very high in terms of his expectations, which is good, but it sometimes can be unrealistic and unattainable. So, I tried to bring that down a little bit and create some kind of measured reality for what we expect here. But you’re dealing with a different culture…with those guys, you really have to give them the opportunity to just settle in and get comfortable. They want to impress early. He’s got a large mix of pitches – from the fastball to the curveball to the slider to the splitter to the change. So, we’re going to let him throw his stuff and see how he does. And I’m sure we’ll start to abridge his arsenal and try to get him something that works more like a traditional three-pitch/four-pitch mix and see how it all works out. But he’s had his moments where he’s been impressive. He mixes it up, he changes speeds and he attacks hitters. And he’s going to have to learn also that this is professional baseball in America. It’s not international baseball. This is a little bit more challenging over here. And he’s going to have to do what he needs to do to make the necessary adjustments. So far, he’s competed out here, and he’s mixed in well with his teammates – so good for Norge!

AF:  As we all know, the minor league season can be a bit of a grind. And with a month or so left in the minor league season, we’re probably starting to hit that grind point right about now. So, at this point, what are you thinking about, and what messages are you conveying to the young players here on your squad?

RM:  Well, you know, we had a successful first half. I was very pleased with the fact that, with four games left to play in the first half, we were one out, and had a chance to get ourselves an early first-half spot in the playoffs. It did not come to fruition. But as far as the work ethic, the energy, the commitment, the fellowship, the camaraderie that we’ve seen here early on, I’m very pleased with the makeup of the ballclub. At the halfway point, when I sat down and spoke with the players, I simply said that now is the second half, this is when adjustments need to be made, not only in terms of what you need to do to get better, but also what the other teams are going to do to offset the success you’ve had against them. And also, I just said that I thought there was tremendous parity in the California League, and there was no one or two teams that I felt this year were clearly, talent-wise, better than the rest. So, our future, our destiny here this second half is going to be a function of how well we play the game and how few mistakes we make…with a new crew, with a whole different group of guys – outside of maybe Eli White and maybe Pimentel and Bolt and Brown and Siddall and Mikey White; the pitching has completely changed; we have two new catchers [Argenis Raga and Santiago Chavez]; we have a new third baseman [Edwin Diaz]; we have a newly-acquired infielder with Sheldon Neuse. So, it’s a different crew, but you expect that. That comes with the territory in the minor leagues – we, as a staff, understand that. So, we just continue to come out and work hard every day, send out a positive message and make sure that the guys give us their best effort. And to date, they have.

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

Chapman, Maxwell & Brugman: A Trio of Young A’s Players Talks about Life in the Majors

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

The A’s youth movement finally appears to be in full effect – and third baseman Matt Chapman, catcher Bruce Maxwell and outfielder Jaycob Brugman are clear evidence of that. While Maxwell has been back and forth between Oakland and Nashville multiple times over the last couple of seasons, Chapman and Brugman both were called up in June to make their major league debuts for the A’s.

We’d spoken with all three players before during stops at Stockton, Nashville, the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, but we wanted to check in and see how the trio has been adjusting to life in the majors. So, earlier this week, we took the opportunity to talk to all three of them again, but this time while wearing major league uniforms in the A’s clubhouse…

 

MATT CHAPMAN

mc656305cThe A’s top draft pick in 2014, the third baseman has been considered one of the team’s top power-hitting prospects. He hit 16 home runs in just 49 games for Nashville this season and tagged a pair of home runs in one game for Oakland. Chapman is also known as a talented defender at the hot corner and has already made a number of impressive plays in the field for the A’s. The 24-year-old went on the disabled list in late June with a knee infection, but he returned to action during the first week of July, and he’s now fully focused on making his mark in the majors.

AF:  Now that you’re here in Oakland, what’s the biggest difference you find yourself encountering in the big leagues compared to what you’d experienced in the minor leagues?

MC:  I don’t know if I can put my finger on one thing. But you see good stuff every single night. Guys are consistent in what they do. They try to figure out what your weaknesses are and they try to exploit them. So, you’ve just got to keep working extra hard to stay with your approach. And every little thing counts. At this level, it’s attention to detail, and it’s a lot of work. You know, the talent’s at every level, but up here, it’s just fine-tuned, and everybody knows their role and knows what they’re doing. It’s a clean game and it’s at a fast pace. There’s always an adjustment at every level.

AF:  Are there any specific adjustments that you’ve had to make at this level so far?

MC:  Really just slowing the game down and trying to get back to what I do best. You’ve got to trust what’s gotten you to this level.

AF:  You mentioned the game being faster at this level. It seems like everyone says that. Was that one of the first things that you noticed here?

MC:  Yeah, the speed of the game just keeps getting faster and faster at each level.

AF:  What about the defensive end of things? You’ve always been known as a solid defender at third base, and you’ve already made some nice plays for the A’s in the field. Has your preparation or anything else you do in the field changed for you up here?

MC:  The preparation stays the same. I feel like I have a pretty good preparation routine defensively. I guess just kind of getting to know my pitchers and getting to know the hitters on the opposing teams, and just figuring out who bunts, who doesn’t, kind of where to position myself and what pitches the pitchers on our team throw and all those little detail-oriented things.

AF:  So, how did they break the news to you in Nashville that you were going to the big leagues?

MC:  My coach came into the cage and told me I wasn’t in the lineup, so I was kind of mad. And then he told me that I was going to the big leagues, so it was a nice surprise.

AF:  How nervous were you in your first big league game? Did it seem like you were in a dream?

MC:  Yeah, definitely. There are so many emotions going on at that time, it’s hard to really even describe it, but it was a great day. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience…you’re kind of in your own world.

AF:  Well, I know you’re from southern California, so has your family had the chance to come see you here much?

MC:  Yeah, they’ve had the chance to come up once. They came for my debut.

AF:  So, how tough was it for you having to sit out while you were on the disabled list? Were you kind of going crazy?

MC:  Yeah, definitely. I wanted to come back, and I wanted to come back as fast as possible. And when I first came back, I was fresh out of the hospital. So, there’s definitely an adjustment period with getting some strength back, but I feel totally good now. It took some time for the antibiotics to finish off and for me to feel right again, but I feel good and confident going into the rest of the year.

AF:  Is it true that you were texting Bob Melvin from the hospital quite a bit and telling him you were ready to come back?

MC:  Yeah, yeah.

AF:  So, on the personal side of things, what are your living arrangements like and where are you living at here in the Bay Area now?

MC:  I’m in Walnut Creek…I’m staying with a couple guys on the team.

AF:  Had you ever spent much time in the Bay Area before?

MC:  Not too much. I’ve just been kind of checking it out. I’ve got to make my way into San Francisco on one of our off days.

AF:  How does it feel to have a bunch of guys you’ve played with in the minors up here playing with you as well?

MC:  Yeah, it’s definitely good to know you’ve got some guys like that to lean on. And you get to go to war with those guys you feel comfortable with, and we can all help each other learn together and grow.

AF:  Have any of the guys who’ve been here a while helped you out or offered you any helpful advice?

MC:  Yeah, everybody’s kind of helped me out and tried to help me feel comfortable and make that adjustment. Yonder Alonso’s helped me out a lot and just tried to get me thinking the right way and pointing things out to me that maybe I wouldn’t notice, so it’s good.

AF:  We’ve got a couple of months left in the season at this point. So, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on trying to accomplish?

MC:  Well, from a team aspect, we want to win, and I think we feel like we can do something really special in the second half. We’ve got a good group of guys…and we feel like we can compete on a daily basis. And if you look at the records around the league, everything’s pretty tight with the wild card, so nothing’s out of the question. I think we just want to keep getting better and keep growing as a team. And then, personally for me, I just want to keep getting better and keep making that transition to the big leagues and figure out how to bring my best self every single day and how to compete at this level and take that into finishing strong this year and preparing for the next.

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

bm622194bA 2nd-round selection in Oakland’s 2012 draft class, the 26-year-old backstop has climbed his way up through the A’s system step by step and he’s now taken over as the A’s primary receiver. He’s done solid work behind the plate, and is currently boasting a .386 on-base percentage in 28 games for the A’s this season. Always known for his work ethic, Maxwell is determined to make the most of the opportunity to lay claim to the A’s catching job.

AF:  I think this is your third time back up here in Oakland this year. Do you feel like there’s something new you learn each time you come up or do you come back with a little more confidence each time?

BM:  You’re always learning stuff up here. But I feel like this time around, it’s a different feel, different mindset, different role I’m playing seeing how the departure of Stephen Vogt puts me in a more solidified position up here. So, I’m able to kind of relax a little more than I have in the past and be able to kind of trust in my game and take on a leadership role on this team, even as a rookie. But it’s a little different – everything is a little more important now, everything is more consistent now. And I’ve reached a comfort level of mine that I’ve been looking for. So, now it’s just time to play.

AF:  So, it’s made things a lot easier for you now knowing that you’ve got a defined role.

BM:  It’s made everything I do on a daily basis a lot easier and a lot more consistent for the most part – just getting the consistent at-bats now and getting the consistent looks behind the plate.

AF:  Now that you’ve been in there more regularly, has your relationship with the pitchers on the staff changed at all?

BM:  Not really. I’ve known a lot of these guys for the past couple years. So, they treat me just like they did when I was up here for a week or when I was up here for three days. Now it’s just they get to work with me a little more consistently, so they get a little more comfortable.

AF:  And how much time do you spend studying the scouting reports and working with the pitching staff prior to a game, prior to a series?

BM:  It’s our job, we do it all the time. It’s just about the feel, the relationship between you and the pitcher and making sure you guys are on the same page…I’ve gotten more comfortable with the meetings, with the knowledge and the information. Now I’m seeing these teams consistently, so the knowledge is more polished. And we just continue to learn about these hitters and try to dominate them the best we can.

AF:  What about at the plate? Are the opposing pitchers at this level approaching you any differently than the pitchers in Triple-A did?

BM:  Yeah, up here, their execution’s a lot better than it is at Triple-A, so it’s a little different. But up here, guys who’ve been around the game for a while already know their own scouting report. So, it’s our job to make the adjustment before the other team does. They know my scouting report, and I know my own scouting report. So, it’s just about minimizing their execution and then taking advantage of it when they don’t execute.

AF:  I know when you were first drafted, you didn’t have a lot of catching experience under your belt, and that was a big focus for you early on. So, where do you feel you’re at defensively at this point, and are there any little things you’re working on right now?

BM:  Yeah, behind the plate, everything is so small. So, it’s about staying on your work and being able to perfect everything that you do. I’m constantly adjusting my stances and my receiving skills and all that kind of stuff, because there’s always room for improvement back there. I’m pretty quiet as a catcher in general, and I get compliments from umpires and coaches and stuff but, at the same time, I could be that much better. So, never a day goes by that we don’t work on what I do behind the plate.

AF:  You mentioned Stephen Vogt earlier, so what did you pick up from him while you were both here?

BM:  I’ve been with Stephen the last four years. I’ve been in big league camp every year, and you learn little things from guys in your position every year. He’s taught me so much – the mental side of it, the physical side of it, the catching side of it. I continue to apply all that in my everyday work and my everyday game play. So, I couldn’t be more grateful for a teammate like him, and I wish him all the success over in Milwaukee.

AF: Whether it’s on the field or off the field, what are the key differences between playing here at this level and playing in Triple-A?

BM:  Everybody wants to win up here. Triple-A is still a developmental process. You know, we won everywhere we’ve been for the most part, this core group of young guys. But up here, it’s more of a team-based evaluation. It’s all about wins up here, however you’ve got to do it. It’s about getting those “W”s in the column. Up here, it’s easier to kind of put yourself on the back burner and just kind of do what you need to do for the team.

AF:  You don’t need to worry about getting to the next level because there is no next level! But you’ve been up and down between here and Nashville a few times this year. So, on the personal side of things, where are you staying at now, and who are you living with up here?

BM:  Well, me and a couple of the other young guys are about to bunk up out in Walnut Creek on the next home stand. We’ve found a place for a couple months. We’ve just been kind of trying to figure it out. So, moves to be made soon.

AF:  I know you moved around a bit as an Army brat. So how do you find living in the Bay Area?

BM:  It’s all right. We don’t really have time to do much out here. I’m here for work, and then when work’s over, I go back home. The fans out here are great. There’s a lot of history out here in the Bay Area, but we don’t get much time to go and explore those things in general. I get to the field pretty early to take care of my job, because this is the reason why I’m here.

AF:  Well, I guess the part of the Bay Area you know the best is the Coliseum!

BM:  Pretty much!

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

jb595144bThe lefty-swinging outfielder was the A’s 17th-round draft pick in 2013. A bit of an underdog who wasn’t always prominently placed on prospect lists, Brugman has consistently out-performed expectations and over-achieved at every level. The 25-year-old has often hit near the top of the order during his minor league career and has always done a good job of getting on base. He was sporting a .373 on-base percentage in 33 games for Nashville this season, and has hit a pair of home runs in his first 33 games for the A’s. Always known as a hard worker, his enthusiasm for succeeding at the major league level is apparent.

AF:  Well, we’ve talked to you when you were at Stockton and Nashville, and now you’re here in Oakland. So, what are the biggest differences you find in the game at this level?

JB:  Everyone’s good! The pitchers are really good every day. And they’re going to adjust to you, so it’s a constant battle between you and the pitcher – and you’ve got to make those adjustments quicker.

AF:  Have you found yourself having to make many adjustments already?

JB:  Yeah, just working with the hitting coach [Darren Bush]. They know how it is up here and have got some good insights. I’ve just been making some small adjustments with my swing here and there that’s allowing me to see the ball a little better and drive the balls a little better and get into my legs a little more.

AF:  Have many of the guys who’ve been around a while also been helping you out or offering you any advice since you’ve been here?

JB:  Yeah, definitely, all the older guys – I talk to them every day. Mainly the outfielders because I’m out there with them a lot – so Khris Davis and Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis. They’ve seen everyone, so it’s nice to be able to say, “Hey, what kind of approach do you have on this guy?” Especially Joyce, because he’s left-handed like I am, so we talk a lot about that stuff. Every little bit helps.

AF:  Is there anything different about playing center field in the majors, or playing it here at the Coliseum?

JB:  Yeah, guys hit a little harder and a little farther! It’s just small adjustments. There’s certain stadiums where you’ve got to really make sure you can see the ball well. It just takes a little getting used to. But you work every day and things come.

AF:  Do you find it’s really even more important here in the majors to get that first step right in center field?

JB:  Yeah, you know, I’ve been working on that a lot. That whole first-step thing, I’ve been trying to get that right. And not necessarily getting the first step quickly, but going in the right direction. It’s not a matter of how quick you can move, but how efficient the routes are that you can make.

AF:  Do you enjoy playing out there in center field as opposed to playing in the corners?

JB:  Oh yeah, I love it. It is fun! I like to be out there and have the whole field in front of me – it’s kind of cool.

AF:  You’ve got the best seat in the house out there! So, how did they break the news to you that you were going up to Oakland when you were at Nashville?

JB:  They kind of just faked a hitters’ meeting. My hitting coach [Eric Martins] said before the game, “Hey, we’re going to go over some stuff and look at some video.” So, after the game, I went in there and thought we were going to have a normal meeting. And then the other coaches and the manager [Ryan Christenson] came in and told me, and I was like, “What? No way!”

AF:  What did your first game in the majors feel like? Were you nervous or excited? Was it all just a blur?

JB:  It could have easily been like that. But I really had to focus and make sure I wasn’t too riled up. I knew I had a job to do, and I knew I had to control my emotions. So, I really worked hard on just trying to focus in and narrow my scope and not be overwhelmed.

AF:  Now I know you’re married and have a couple of kids. So, were they able to be out here for your first game?

JB:  They were! They were at the first debut week, and they live here now with me.

AF:  I was going to ask you what your living situation here in the Bay Area was like now.

JB:  We’re in Walnut Creek.

AF:  So, you’re all back together here now in a nice, normal situation.

JB:  As normal as baseball can be!

AF:  Were you with your family in Nashville or were you rooming with other guys there?

JB:  No, I didn’t see them for a while. I roomed with Daniel Gossett, and I didn’t know when I would see my family next. So, it’s nice to be with them.

AF:  So, how does it feel to have a bunch of guys you’ve played with for a while in the minors up here with you?

JB:  It’s fun – it’s awesome! You know them, you play with them throughout the system, so it’s just a good, comfortable situation, and it’s nice to see them all have that success too.

AF:  Well, I guess it’s probably something you guys have all sat around talking about before, and now it’s actually happening.

JB:  Yeah, that’s right!

AF:  We’ve got a couple of months left in the season at this point. So, what are you focused on trying to accomplish the rest of the way?

JB:  Just to put together some wins as a team. My goal is just to help the team win as much as I can. I want to be able to end the season with an impact and have people talking about how this team is going to be next year and kind of have that sense about us that we’re going to be trouble next year. I think that’s all we can do right now is just finish hard.

AF:  Put a little fear into people!

JB:  Yeah, that’s right!

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

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

A's scouting director Eric Kubota

A’s scouting director Eric Kubota

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

In past years, we’ve talked with Kubota about top picks like Addison Russell in 2012, Billy McKinney in 2013, Matt Chapman in 2014, Richie Martin in 2015 and A.J. Puk in 2016. And this year, we were eager to get his insights on #1 pick Austin Beck as well as the rest of the A’s top eleven picks from the first ten rounds of the 2017 draft.

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

 

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

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

AF:  Is there anyone you might compare him to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A’s 2017 Draft Class

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

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

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

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

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