Interviews

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

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

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 Outfielder Billy McKinney began the season with them but, with his trade to Chicago, has since been replaced by pitcher Dylan Covey.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

ALL:  Dylan Covey.

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

ALL:  Right.

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

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

AF:  So you’ve got your own room?

AH:  Yeah, I have my own room!

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

AF:  So who’s rooming with who?

DR:  Me and Olson, Pinder and Covey.

Daniel Robertson

Daniel Robertson

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

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

DR:  Yeah.

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

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

DR:  He [Pinder] is the last.

AF:  So when are you usually getting up?

CP:  11:30.

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

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

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

AF:  What’s The Habit?

AH:  It’s like a burger joint.

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

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

ALL: 12:30 or 1:00.

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

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

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

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

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder

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

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

ALL:  Yeah!

MO:  Great ending!

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

AH:  Probably Danny.

ALL:  Yeah.

AF:  So he’s the adult?

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

AF:  So you’re the OCD one?

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

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

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

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

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

ALL:  Billy [McKinney]!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL:  Yeah.

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

AF:  So there could be chapter two in Midland?

Austin House

Austin House

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

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

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

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

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

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

AH:  Exactly.

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

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

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

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

AF:  Where are you going to school?

CP:  Virginia Tech.

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

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

AF:  How much do you have left to do?

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

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

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

Matt Olson

Matt Olson

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

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

DR:  Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  Well, eventually it all evens out!

AH:  Yeah, it’s a full season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MO:  We did at Visalia two weeks ago!

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL:  Yeah!

 

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

Exclusive: Talking Top Prospects with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  And what’s the latest with Kohler?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A’s Top Prospects Soaring At Stockton

Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton

Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton

This year, the biggest crop of top prospects for the A’s has been playing for the Stockton Ports in the Class-A California League. Four of the A’s top five picks from the 2012 draft class were all playing for the Ports until catcher Bruce Maxwell was promoted to Midland on Tuesday. And three of the team’s top four picks from the 2013 draft class were playing there as well until top pick Billy McKinney was traded. If you want to see what the future has to hold for the A’s, then you need to take at look at Stockton – and that’s just what we did!

A’s Farm took the opportunity to talk with seven of the team’s top players while in Stockton earlier this month, shortly before Bruce Maxwell’s promotion to Midland. It’s clear that they’re not only a talented, but also a tight-knit, group of players who’ve got their noses to the grindstone and are ready and willing to do what it takes to keep moving onward and upward as far as their talents will take them…

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

bmDSC02921bxThe A’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2012 out of Birmingham-Southern College, the 23-year-old catcher was just promoted to Midland on Tuesday. With his previous college experience, he’s always been a half-step ahead of his peers from the top tier of the 2012 draft. Maxwell has always had the ability to get on base, but he’s also worked hard to become a solid backstop behind the plate. He currently has to be considered the A’s top catching prospect and, now that he’s at Double-A, he’s just one step closer.

AF:  You came up to the California League last year and have been here for about a year now. Is there anything in particular that you’re working on or have been focused on trying to accomplish here?

BM:  One thing is just to stay consistent – that’s a big thing for me. Last year, I came out hot in the Midwest League and came out here and just kind of lost sight of what I was doing mechanically and mentally. Also, I’ve been trying to expand my game a little bit to the pull side of the baseball field. So just working on that and seeing the ball a little earlier, but also sticking to my middle-away approach is a big thing.

AF:  And what about behind the plate? Starting out, you didn’t have a whole lot of catching experience. But now you’re throwing out baserunners at a great rate and you seem really confident back there. What’s changed for you and how confident are you feeling now as a catcher?

BM:  I feel very confident. I can finally say I’m comfortable behind the plate. It just took repetitions. I was new to it. Just doing it day in and day out and getting used to what I can do and what I can’t do, what’s comfortable and what’s not, and just getting efficient at it. I’m throwing the ball very well. My footwork has gotten a lot better over the years, and so now I can actually feel confident and relax in a game and just do it naturally.

AF:  So was the key to being able to throw a lot of runners out for you just getting the footwork down?

BM:  Yes, it’s getting to my launch position as quick as possible with my feet. Behind the plate, you have such small room for error that everything has to be very efficient and very quick. I had a little more time as an infielder, so I had to shorten things up and be a little more exact. It took me years to try to master my footwork.

AF:  So now you’re at a point where you can just let your arm do the work.

BM:  Correct.

AF:  Let me ask you about a few of the pitchers here in Stockton. Seth Streich has been having one of the best seasons of anyone in the A’s system. What’s he doing right and what’s been working for him this year?

BM:  He just does his homework. He pays attention very closely when he’s not pitching. But when he gets on the hill, he just trusts in me and trusts in [fellow catcher] Ryan Gorton and his game plan. Sometimes he gets in trouble when he over-thinks, just like every pitcher. So we try to keep him in a very light and breezy mentality when he’s on the mound so he can just go out there and shove it at anybody who steps up to the plate.

AF:  And what have the most effective pitches in his repertoire been this season?

BM:  His fastball command is definitely a strength – in and out, up and down. And his changeup has been doing wonders for him as well. In this league, everybody can hit fastballs for the most part, but everybody struggles with the changeup.

AF:  What about Nolan Sanburn? He’s finally been healthy and been able to get out there on the mound and get some innings in out of the bullpen. How’s he been looking and what’s been working for him this year?

BM:  Nolan looks great. He got into a new mindset a few weeks ago just to go out there and put it on table and say, “Hey, here it is – see what you can do with it.” And ever since he’s taken that mentality, he’s been more efficient, he’s been throwing harder, he’s been throwing more strikes and he’s been dominating a lot more hitters. He’s got a great curveball, he’s working on a slider, but his fastball has been blowing people away.

AF:  Now what about Michael Ynoa? How’s he been throwing and where’s he at at this stage of the game?

BM:  He’s progressing just like everyone else. Last year, he threw 72 innings, so this year they’re trying to get his innings up. He’s doing better. When he goes out there and has the right mentality and actually believes in what he does, he dominates pretty easily – just trusting in his fastball and working on putting it where he wants to put it. He’s already got the stuff, he’s already got the movement, he’s already got the velocity. Now he’s just got to work on putting it where he wants to put it.

AF:  So it sounds like being confident, being aggressive and mastering his command are the keys for him at this point.

BM:  Definitely. The guy sits between 95-100 mph every outing. So if he can put 95 mph on a corner, then I think he’ll be something to reckon with down the road.

AF:  So how much time do you spend with pitching coach John Wasdin talking about things?

BM:  Being with Wasdin for the second year in a row, we know each other very well…but I spend a lot of time with him. We talk about everything throughout BP, before the games and sometimes even on the bus. This league’s a little different than the Midwest League – the Midwest League has more teams, so you have to have a little bit more of an in-depth scouting report. In this league, you play everybody a ton, so we tend to remember things. So we bounce ideas off each other. And we just kind of correlate and make sure everything’s running smoothly before we bring our pitchers in and talk to them and make sure we agree on everything.

AF:  What about working with the pitching staff? Do you enjoy that whole aspect of the game?

BM:  I love it. The scouting reports and the day-in and day-out stuff with our pitchers is very enjoyable. We have a great group of guys here. A lot of us have been around each other for a long time, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We feel very comfortable with each other, so it’s easier to notice things with guys because you’ve seen them over and over again. So the communication between pitcher and catcher on this team is easy…and it’s all constructive.

 

DANIEL ROBERTSON

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2The A’s 1st-round supplemental draft pick in 2012 out of Upland High School in California, the 20-year-old infielder had been looked at as the second-best shortstop in the A’s system until the trade of his good friend Addison Russell. Robertson has impressed both at the plate and in the field this year, and his play undoubtedly made it a little easier for the A’s to deal their top prospect and install Robertson as the A’s new “shortstop of the future.” He has the second-most hits among A’s minor leaguers so far this season and his improved plate discipline this year has allowed him to put up the third-best on-base percentage in the A’s minor league system.

AF:  How surprising was it for you to see one of your best friends, Addison Russell, along with one of your teammates here in Stockton, Billy McKinney, get traded?

DR:  It was a surprise, no doubt. With me and Addison getting drafted, as well as Matt Olson, the same year, the last couple years we got real close to each other and did everything together when we had the opportunity. But that’s just how baseball goes – it’s a business. He has his new journey now, and I believe he’ll be successful no matter where he plays. I was surpised, but you’ve still got to go out and play the game.

AF:  There’s always a game to play tomorrow.

DR:  That’s right.

AF:  So are you still planning on staying together out in spring training now?

DR: That’s a good question. It’s up to him. The place is always open. He was the first one there. I’d love to have him there, but it’s up to him.

AF:  So as for you, how does it feel to know that you’ll now be sticking at shortstop and people won’t always be asking when and if you’ll be switching positions with Addison at shortstop in front of you and the path is a little clearer for you now?

DR:  You can say it’s clearer but, for me personally, I always just tell myself you’ve got to come out here and play every day. I felt my abilities were good enough to get to the big leagues no matter who was playing with me or beside me or the Addison question – it didn’t really affect me at the time. But like you said, I guess it’s more open, but that really doesn’t change my mindset at all. I just love coming out here and playing every day, and whatever happens after that is what happens.

AF:  Is shortstop a position you particularly enjoy playing?

DR:  I love playing short. I’ve done a lot of work to stay there, so I’d like to stay there as long as I can. I enjoy it. I feel like you’re the captain of the infield and you can just take control of the game on the defensive side. I love it – I like making that big play there.

AF:  Well, you’re definitely right in the middle of the action there. Now what about at the plate? This year, you seem to have really improved your plate discipline – your walks are up, you’re getting on base a lot. Was that something you were consciously focused on coming into the season and have there been any particular adjustments you’ve made this year?

DR:  I just think it’s getting at-bats under my belt. With more experience and just playing, that stuff’s going to come. I’ve always had a pretty solid approach, but I feel like now I’m really dialed into my zone and when I get my pitch, I’m not missing it. The walks have gone up…but nothing has changed. I didn’t go into the offseason thinking that I’ve got to work on my approach and get my walk numbers up. I just try to come out here and see the ball as well as I can…but I just think it’s been coming with more experience. Even the at-bats I got in big league spring training I think really helped me a lot too.

AF:  I was going to ask you about that. How was that experience for you, having the chance to spend a little bit of time in the big league camp for more than just a day or two this spring?

DR:  I got into some pretty good action there. And it was awesome. All the guys there treated me real well. Bob Melvin’s a great guy. I just soaked up the whole experience. It was my first healthy spring training I’ve had where I was out there every day. And to be put in that situation, I feel like it was a blessing. I learned a lot and I feel like my game got a whole lot better. Just seeing what those guys were doing day in and day out and how they went about their business, it kind of put in my head that I could do this – not that I had any doubts before. But all those guys up there are top-notch guys and real class acts. They welcomed me and I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun.

AF:  Was there anyone in the A’s clubhouse who was particularly friendly or took you under their wing a bit?

DR:  I was with Addison most of the time. But guys like Coco Crisp – he’s a great guy. Derek Norris talked to me a lot. And Stephen Vogt, I know him just from being around southern California. He went to Azusa Pacific, so we got to know each other pretty well. Nick Punto was awesome working on some ground ball stuff. Everyone was awesome.

AF:  You’re from California, so what’s it like for you to be back out here playing in the California League?

DR:  It’s an amazing experience. I was in Wisconsin last year, so my family didn’t really get to come out too much – I’m sure they didn’t really want to either! But it’s been great. When we go down to Bakersfield and Lancaster, it’s about an hour or two hours away and I’ve had my family there. And when we went down to Inland Empire in April, that was the first time that my family and friends and most people who are in my life got to see me play professionally since I signed. So it’s been a great experience being close to home and playing in front of friends and family.

AF:  Are there any particular goals you’re focused on or things you’re working on trying to accomplish the rest of the season?

DR:  Just maintaining what I’m doing. I love coming out here and playing hard every day…I don’t think there’s anything better you can do than come out and play baseball. I don’t like to put goals or expectations on myself because sometimes you can get out of what you’re doing and try to do too much. So I’m just trying to stay within myself and see the ball and hit it hard. And whatever happens after that happens.

AF:  Well, that plan seems to be working out pretty well so far!

 

MATT OLSON

mo15095_4110106706138_1463379083_n4The A’s 1st-round supplemental draft pick in 2012 out of Parkview High School in Georgia, 20-year-old first baseman is clearly one the top power prospects in the A’s system. Olson currently leads the California League in home runs with 28 and has the second-best slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers. His .393 on-base percentage and his 89 walks in his first 100 games certainly serve to endear him to the A’s front office as well.

AF:  So how’s the adjustment to the California League from the Midwest League been for you this year?

MO:  Obviously, the weather’s better. It’s a little easier transitioning from spring training to this as opposed to going from spring training to 35 degrees. I’ve got another year under the belt and kind of had a better idea what to expect going into this year.

AF:  Now what about your power numbers? You’ve always hit home runs, but recently you’ve been hitting even more. Is there anything in particular that accounts for that power surge?

MO:  No, nothing specific. If anything, it’s just waiting to get the right pitch to drive. I think my walk numbers have definitely helped my power numbers, because I’m being more selective and not getting myself out as much up there at the plate.

AF:  Your walk numbers have gone up and your strikeout numbers have gone down this year. Was that something you were specifically focused on coming into this year?

MO:  Yeah, obviously I struck out more than I would have liked last year. I still had decent walk numbers. But it’s just kind of my approach at the plate – not giving pitchers pitches, not getting out of my zone. And that was a big thing that Trick [former minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson] and [A’s special assistant] Grady Fuson and even [current minor league hitting coordinator] Marcus Jensen this year just wanted me to focus in on – just getting a specific zone and attacking that.

AF:  So now you’re really looking for your pitch in your spot and not settling for things that aren’t your pitch.

MO:  Right, just zoning in on certain stuff.

AF:  Now what about in the field? You’ve always had some skills out there. Are you feeling pretty confident out there around the bag?

MO:  Yeah, I take pride in being a defensive player as well. Sometimes, they stick the guy who can’t play anywhere else at first base. But I take pride in it. I know that I’m there to pick guys up, and I don’t want to be the guy bringing everyone down on the defensive side.

AF:  You got a start in the outfield the other night. How did that feel, and when was the last time you played a game in the outfield?

MO:  That was my first time in pro ball, since high school. But it’s definitely something I’m open to. Whatever keeps me in the lineup, and if I’ve got to go to the outfield, so be it.

AF:  Did the game look a little different from that far away?

MO:  It did, but it’s definitely something I could get comfortable with.

AF:  A couple of your buddies got traded away recently. How surprising was it for you to see Addison Russell and Billy McKinney get dealt?

MO:  I think it came as a shock initially for everybody. But it is a business. Our management wanted to get the big league team some help and they’re obviously pushing.

AF:  How has it been for you to play with this group of guys that you’ve been with for the most part since you were first drafted?

MO:  It’s awesome. We’ve got a great clubhouse. Everyone gets along. We’re having fun, but we know when the game starts, we’re there to work. It’s a great group of guys – I haven’t really had any problems with any of them. Anytime you can see people every day for six months and not get tired of them, that’s something to say.

AF:  It is! Is there anything in particular you’re focused on or any goals that you’ve got the rest of the year?

MO:  I’m just up there trying to put together good at-bats, play good defense and help the team win.

 

CHAD PINDER

cpDSC03243dThe A’s 2nd-round supplemental draft pick in 2013 out of Virginia Tech, the 22-year-old infielder spent most of his college career at third base and shortstop but has primarily been playing second base this season at Stockton. After struggling a bit last year at Vermont, he skipped over the Midwest League and went straight to Stockton, where he got off to a great start. And his 18 doubles and 11 home runs have helped him to have the third-best slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers.

AF:  You got off to a great start right off the bat in the California League this year. Is there anything in particular that accounts for your success this season?

CP:  I’m not sure – kind of just believing in myself. You know, I had a rough start last year and I kind of was down on myself and I don’t think I played my game. So I’ve just kind of refocused my mindset to just going out there and having fun and playing the way I think I’m capable of.

AF:  You were also dealing with some lingering injuries last year too, right?

CP:  Yeah, I got banged up a bit.

AF:  So you started out this year healthy and that gave you a good confident feeling that you could get back out there and get things started the right way.

CP:  Anytime you take five months off of baseball, you’re just chomping at the bit to get to spring training and get to a team. So it was awesome just to have that extra energy to get back out there. And it was great to see that they had the confidence to send me out to the California League, so that gave me a little bit of confidence.

AF:  Now what about in the field? You’ve been playing second base out here this year. I don’t know how much second base you’ve played in your life before.

CP:  I played a little bit of second base growing up – very little. In college, maybe like 5 innings at second base. I played the majority of my college career at third and then ended up moving to short during my junior year. So it was a transition for me. And from day one, when they threw me at second, I felt like a fish out of water – and I’m sure I looked like one too! I was struggling. But each day, going out there and doing the early work and getting the repetitions, it’s helped me. I think I’ve grown a lot and I still have a lot of growing to do over there and I’m excited for it.

AF:  So how surprising was it to see your buddy Billy McKinney get traded away recently? That must have been a bit out of the blue for you.

CP:  Yeah, it was. It was out of the blue. It’s something you obviously don’t think it about till it happens. It was a bummer. He was my roommate and I miss the kid. But I guess it’s part of the game. I don’t know, I wish him the best and he’s going to have a great career.

AF:  So are you roommate-less now in Stockton?

CP:  No, he was one of my four roommates. I’m still with Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson and Austin House. So I still have those guys.

AF:  Did you ever have the chance to spend any time in California before you started playing out here in the Cal League, and how does it compare to Virginia, where you’re from?

CP:  First time ever in California…The biggest thing is the weather, for sure. Out here, it’s perfect every day, not a cloud in the sky. At home, I’m sure it’s muggy, probably raining. It’d be awesome to have this type of weather every day to play baseball.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’re focused on the rest of the season?

CP:  Obviously, continuing to work at second base and getting better over there. And then at the plate, not to change anything, but to continue to buckle down and work on my two-strike approach. I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now, but it’s not going to take away from me being aggressive early in the count.

AF:  What about your selectivity? The A’s are always big on plate discipline and taking your walks. Is that something they’ve spoken to you about at all or are they just letting you go out there and do your thing at this point?

CP:  No, I haven’t heard much on it at all. But it’s something that I want to do to make myself a better player. I’ve gotten myself out many times on two strikes, and on a lot on pitches that I need to lay off of, and it’s something that only I can handle and that I can do myself.

 

RYON HEALY

rh1223780bThe A’s 3rd-round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Oregon, the 22-year-old first baseman/third baseman spent most of his college career at first base but has been working to add third base to his resume at Stockton. Along with teammate Chad Pinder, he skipped over the Midwest League and went straight to Stockton this season. And after getting off to a slow start in the California League, he now has the third-most hits among A’s minor leaguers.

AF:  The start of the season might have been a little frustrating for you, but you’ve certainly been turning it on of late. Did anything change in terms of your approach?

RH:  I would say the preparation definitely got a lot better. The pro game has been a lot different than what I was used to. And the coaching staff here has done a great job of getting me adjusted to that and getting me acclimated, so I give them a lot of credit.

AF:  Are there any specific adjustments you’ve made since the beginning of the season that have helped account for the success that you’re having now?

RH:  I think simplifying my swing, and also pitch selection’s been a big part of it. Getting my pitch and being able to do something with it. That’s really helped my success lately.

AF:  So being a little more patient and waiting for your pitch has been key.

RH:  Definitely.

AF:  What about the pitching that you’re facing here in the California League? How does it compare to the competition that you’ve faced in the past?

RH:  I think the main thing is consistency. A lot of these pitchers have a lot more control over more than two or three pitches. A lot of them are four-pitch guys and they can spot their fastball with the changeup, curve, slider. So that’s where the discipline comes in, getting my pitch to hit, because they have so many options. And if I stay disciplined in my zone, then I have a better chance of being successful.

AF:  Now what about playing third base? Obviously that’s a little new to you, but how are you feeling over there and how do you feel about your progress?

RH:  I feel my progress is getting there. It’s not where it needs to be, but I feel like it’s on the right track. Considering last year to this year, through instructs and spring training, I think the progressions have been made and it’s getting better and I’m feeling more comfortable. It’s still a work in progress, but I feel it has potential.

AF:  You’ve been playing with a new group of guys this year than you were primarily with last year. So how have you gotten along with this bunch of guys?

RH:  I haven’t played with a group of guys in a while that has this much fun on a daily basis. We’re at the park for eight to ten hours a day, and we have a great time together. As you can see from our record and our stats, we definitely get the job done in the field. And we have fun doing it, so that makes it more enjoyable to show up at the park and the clubhouse. Between the coaching staff and the players, we all have a very good time together.

AF:  Now I know you’re from California. So how nice is it for you to be playing back out here?

RH:  You can’t complain when you’ve got weather like this on a daily basis. You show up and the sun’s out. I’m from about five hours south of here, so my family gets to come out a lot. So that’s been a blessing this season.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you’re trying to work on or focus on during the rest of the season?

RH:  I think continuing to do well in my preparation – the things that are controllable. Sometimes you can’t control the outcome of the game or the outcome of your at-bats or how many hits you get in a game. But I think the quality of my at-bats, I want to continue to have them be better and continue to get better. And also limit the amount of bad at-bats. I don’t want to have a stretch of ten bad at-bats. You want to limit them to two or three. And having them just be a bad at-bat, not a bad game or a bad week or a bad month. So cutting that time period down is what’s important.

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

BrugmanThe A’s 17th-round draft pick in 2013 out of Brigham Young University, the 22-year-old outfielder started the season in the Midwest League, where he was one of Beloit’s best hitters. But after the trade of Billy McKinney and Herschel Powell’s suspension, opportunity came knocking and Brugman was on his way to Stockton. In his second game with the Ports, Brugman homered, doubled and drove in 4 runs and has posted a .279/.323/.443 slash line since his arrival in Stockton.

AF:  You had a big night in just your second game here in Stockton, hitting a home run and driving in 4 runs, including the winning run in the bottom of the 9th. How did that feel for you?

JB:  It felt great. It’s always good to be welcomed in a home stadium in your first game and do well. It’s kind of nice.

AF:  When you first heard you were getting promoted to Stockton, were you expecting it or were you a little surprised, and how did you feel when you heard you were coming here?

JB:  During the season, I was thinking no way. But with the recent moves and changes, I kind of had an idea that it might be me, because I knew it had to be an outfielder, and I was just in the right place at the right time.

AF:  Now you were having a good season at Beloit. So what was really working for you there?

JB:  It really was a lot of different things, just making adjustments throughout the year, making adjustments to different pitching. You’ve really got to take one game at a time and not stress on your bad games. I was just really comfortable there…and stayed decently hot for a long period of time, and it’s easy to play every day when you’re swinging that well.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you’re working on at this point in time?

JB:  For me personally, I’d like to work on swinging at better pitches and getting more walks. I really am a believer in getting on base and having a good on-base percentage. That’s the only way your team can win, and that’s what I want to do.

AF:  Well, you’re definitely in the right organization for that! Now I guess you were the one married guy on the team in Beloit. So what advantages are there for you to have that support system there for you, and are there any disadvantages?

JB:  Well, I love it. I love my wife and my daughter. If they’re with me, then I’m happier. And if you’re happier, then you play better – that’s the simple fact. They got to live with me for a couple months, and it’s a blessing to have them come to me wherever I am. And they’ll be joining me here, so that’ll be nice. No disadvantages, just sometimes a little less sleep than you want. And you obviously can’t go out partying at night with your teammates, but that’s not really my scene anyway, so it works out good for me.

AF:  Do you have any particular goals or anything you’re focused on the rest of the year?

JB:  Mainly just doing anything I can to help my team win. I just want to continue my success from Beloit over here – that’s all you can ask for. I’m just going to try to have fun and finish strong. That’s a big goal of mine is finishing strong the way you want – no regrets at the end of the season.

 

SETH STREICH

ssStreich2bThe A’s 6th-round draft pick in 2012 out of Ohio University, the 23-year-old right-hander has put together the best season of any starting pitcher in the A’s system this season while competing in the hitter-friendly California League. Streich leads all A’s minor leaguers with 111 strikeouts while walking just 22 and posting an impressive 3.01 ERA over 107 2/3 innings for Stockton.

AF:  You’ve been having a great year so far. So what accounts for your success this season?

SS:  I think the main thing is just hard work and the consistent approach I take – just staying focused day to day.

AF:  Tell me a little bit about your approach on the mound.

SS:  Well, in its basic sense, pitching is about disrupting timing and keeping hitters off balance. And that’s one of the main focuses I’ve had this year, just trying to move the ball in and out.

AF:  How’s your fastball command been this year? Are you pretty confident that you can put it where you want for the most part?

SS:  Most of the time. It’s still not where I want it to be, but I’m working on it every day. And I think from last year to this year, I’ve made a lot of strides in being able to locate the fastball.

AF:  What about your changeup? It seems like it’s been a pretty strong pitch for you this year. Do you feel a greater sense of confidence in your changeup at this point?

SS:  Yeah. With my changeup, it’s just a matter of working on it every day. I feel like I’ve made strides with my changeup.

AF:  You’ve been with your pitching coach John Wasdin for a couple of seasons now. What does he bring to the table for you?

SS:  I’ll never say a bad word about that man. I look up to him. He’s been extraordinary, and not only with my life on the baseball field but off it. The man’s awesome. He’s a great pitching coach, and it’s been great to be around him the past two years.

AF:  Do you feel it’s particularly valuable to have someone who’s been there in the major leagues and knows what it takes?

SS:  It goes without saying. The guy had a great career. I think he’s very underrated. He’s been all over the world to play baseball. And it’s just awesome to be around him on a day-to-day basis.

AF:  Now I know you’re from Pennsylvania. Had you ever spent much time out here in California before coming out here to the California League?

SS:  No I hadn’t. And now that I’ve spent this much time out here, my eye allergies are killing me. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s been a great time, but sometimes I struggle to keep my eyes open.

AF:  So I guess it’s amazing that you can see the plate at this point! So is there anything that you’re working on or focused on the rest of the season.

SS:  Just trying to build on the success that I’ve had. I’m not trying to change too much up, because I’m trying to stick with what’s working for me. I’m just trying to stay balanced and see where it takes me.

 

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

Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on Sacramento’s Top Players from River Cats Manager Steve Scarsone and Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez

After spending two seasons mentoring A’s minor leaguers as the manager at Midland, Steve Scarsone is now midway through his second season as the skipper in Sacramento. Meanwhile, Rick Rodriguez is the long-time River Cats pitching coach, though he also served a brief stint as the A’s bullpen coach, and he’s had a hand in developing many of the A’s most talented young pitchers. We spoke with both of them last week in Sacramento, just a day before one of the River Cats’ top players, shortstop Andy Parrino (who was the first player we’d asked the skipper about), was recalled by the A’s…

 

STEVE SCARSONE

ssscarsone_steve_river_cats_n-304bAF:  I wanted to start off by asking you about a couple of guys who’ve been real staples for you here this year in Sacramento. First off, Andy Parrino. What is it that you like about him, what does he bring to your team and what can you see him bringing to a major league team as well?

SS:  Well, right off the bat, we’re talking about a guy who plays solid defense. He’s a top caliber shortstop, and I believe he can help any major league team defensively. He’s also shown that he can have some flexibility at second base and third base, and I know that last spring we used him in the outfield a little bit as Bob Melvin was trying to get an idea of how he could fit in with that club up there. What Andy does here is give us great stability in the infield. I think the pitchers are better when he’s back there. And I think the rest of the fielders rise a little bit to try to stay at his level because of his knowledge of the game, his preparation and the way he anticipates what’s going to happen. As a former infielder myself, he’s just a joy to watch, to talk with and strategize with, and he will apply what we want to do. That I think is his biggest asset to this club or to a major league club. Now this year, he’s swinging the bat much better than last year. Last year, he had a little off year. So this year, he’s back on track with that. He’s currently leading our club in home runs, which isn’t a lot, but someone’s got to do it! And he’s just a guy who works hard every day, goes out and plays hard every night and really cares about his performance, the team’s performance and winning – and that’s a great combination.

AF:  The other guy who’s been a real lock for you in the lineup every day this year is Shane Peterson. What does he bring to your team and what skill set could he have to offer in the majors at some point?

SS:  Well, just like Andy, Shane spends a lot of time preparing himself for the game defensively and offensively. He’s shown that he’s able to play all three outfield positions. He’s done most of his time in center field this year, mostly because of the other personnel we’ve had on the club, but it’s given him an opportunity to showcase himself as a center fielder. He’s kind of been trying to beef up his stolen bases to show that he can steal some bags, so he’s brought that to our club. I think he’s been a much smarter hitter than in the past years that we’ve been together in terms of his planning and staying with his plan. And he’s just a very likeable guy. The club follows him naturally and he goes out there and plays hard every night, just like Andy. The two of those guys are really examples of why we’ve had success this year. It’s guys like Andy and Shane and their approach to every game and that never-quit mentality that’s pushed us over the top in so many close games.

AF:  A couple of new guys here I wanted to get your impression of. Josh Whitaker came up not too long after he was pretty seriously beaned in the head at Midland, which was a little scary. Now that he’s up here with you, what have you seen out of him and what are your impressions so far of Josh Whitaker?

jw53436225e2696.preview-300bSS:  I’ve gotten a chance to see Josh a little bit through the years…I was initially concerned that he was pushed up here a little quick after coming off the concussion stuff. But be that as it may, it looks like he’s taken a little bit of time to get himself acclimated. I know he’s just trying to get himself going again after the injury, and then at a higher level. So I’ve taken that into account when I’m making my evaluations or observations. What I’ve seen over the last two series is a guy who’s starting to feel a little bit more comfortable at the plate. He’s starting to become more aggressive. For a bigger guy, he plays a very good outfield. He’s made a couple of really nice catches, and his arm has proven to be something that people are going to have to take note of. He’s had a couple of outfield assists already, and he’s not afraid to let it loose. So, I think we’ve got something here.

AF:  Now what about one of your newest additions, who was claimed off waivers from Toronto, outfielder Kenny Wilson? A lot of people don’t really know that much about him, so tell me what you can about Kenny Wilson at this point.

SS:  He’s a guy who’s kind of been bouncing around a bit, A-Ball, Double-A. He spent a couple years as a switch-hitter. I think if you go back and look at his numbers a few years ago, you’re going to think he wasn’t doing much. But he was attempting to switch hit. He’s since abandoned that and he’s just a right-handed hitter now. He’s got some speed, he’s going to steal some bases, which I know will fit in well here, as well as up above. It’s going to be fun to see how he develops.

AF:  Another guy I want to ask you about is Tommy Milone. For you, as the manager here, what’s your approach when someone who’s clearly major league talent ends up on your roster here?

tm140238643_display_imageSS:  I’ve gotten to know Tommy over the last couple of years, so there’s already a familiarity there and a mutual respect I would hope. So when you have a guy like Tommy coming down and he’s done everything that they’ve asked him to do in Oakland and yet here he is, it is a little different situation. I think all of us who’ve been in the game for any number of years, you’re going to be asked to do things that maybe don’t make sense in your head but it’s for a bigger cause. I think Tommy’s pretty grounded as an individual and he understands some of the business end of it. I’m sure he wasn’t happy, and I’m not going to be the one to make it worse for him. So it’s an open-arms type of situation. It’s how can we help you transition. And you kind of give a guy like that a little bit more leeway.

AF:  I know you’re in touch with the minor league operations staff all the time, but how much communication do you have with the major league staff about the players here?

SS:  It’s not a daily thing. It’s more as situations present themselves. Most of my communication on that end is from [A’s assistant general manager] David Forst bringing down ideas or suggestions on where he would like things to go. We try to facilitate what they want done here. But I don’t expect Bob Melvin to be calling to see how things are going or if I’m doing okay. I’d be worried if he did. He’s got his hands full…We make nightly reports, so most of the information is there. And every once in a while, there might be a question. Like maybe I’ll get a call about Tommy and how he’s doing transitioning, and I’ll try to be as honest as possible.

AF:  Well, you’ve got another winning team here this year in Sacramento. But not only is it a winning team, but you seem to be having an awful lot of big, dramatic wins – a lot of walk-off wins. So how much fun has it been for you to manage this team this year?

SS:  First of all, it’s been a great time. It’s a great bunch. We’ve had some fun games. We’ve had some late-inning heroics and stuff. Those are always exciting and help fuel the grind of a season. But I’ve also been doing this for a while, so I’m not hanging on every single win or loss. I’m looking at the bigger picture – we’ve got to keep moving them forward, keep moving them forward. They’re a great bunch because they work hard and they really do kind of just go with the flow and there’s no sense of panic – and it’s evident in as many late-inning wins that we’ve had. If we fall behind, we don’t panic. And I think that’s a huge thing. When you think about a minor league game and a major league game, what’s the difference? The difference in a major league game is that you have to win. Winning that game is the only thing that they’re concerned with. Down here, we do strive to win, but we’re not going to jeopardize a player for a win…But you get in the tight games late, now the heat’s up. It simulates more of what an everyday major league game is going to be like. So the more games that we have that are tight like that, the better-suited these guys are going to be when they get into a big league game. So the more we can create a game intensity here, I think it’ll be a greater benefit to these guys moving up…That’s kind of what’s happening in our whole organization. I mean, you see them up there and they’re not phased by the pressure – and we’re trying to be the same way.

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrrick_rodriguez_2011_05_24bAF:  Having an experienced guy like Tommy Milone back here in Sacramento, for you as a pitching coach, what’s your role with him like at this point?

RR:  Well, just to kind of find out exactly what he’s done in Oakland. I know from talking to Curt Young, our big league pitching coach, that they had done some things. So I want to get on the same page and kind of find out exactly from him what they’ve been doing and just try to continue it, because he has been throwing the ball very, very well. So that’s kind of what I have planned for him.

AF:  So basically just trying to continue through with the program that he’s been on.

RR:  Yeah, he knows how to pitch. He knows what he’s doing. It’s just kind of looking for things that he wants me to look for in his delivery.

AF:  Now a guy here who got a long look in spring training and looked really good down there in Arizona is Arnold Leon. The other night, he struck out 13 guys over 6 innings but gave up a couple of home runs, which did him in. But tell me where Arnold Leon’s at, what you like about him and what he needs to work on.

RR:  Lately, Arnold’s been doing a really good job of using his fastball more. I think that’s what he needed to do. He’s been more aggressive moving it in and out of the zone. His curveball was kind of a little bit loopy in the beginning of the year. He changed his grip and got a little bit tighter, so I think that’s helped him. His command’s always been pretty decent. His changeup was okay in the beginning, but it’s getting better now – it has a little bit later sink. So everything I think is starting to hit now and come together for him.

al628x471eAF:  Would you say that sometimes Mexican League pitchers try to be a little too fine and aren’t always as aggressive with their fastball as they ought to be?

RR:  When he got here last year, his fastball was very good, but his curveball was a little bit sharper. So I think he started to use his curveball a little bit more early and got away from using the fastball. So we were talking and we just decided he needed to use his fastball. He has a very good fastball with very good velocity and very good movement on it – use it, get ahead with it. And use that breaking ball a little bit later in the count instead of maybe over-exposing it too early in the game.

AF:  So it sounds like being aggressive with the fastball is really the key to his success at this point. Now I wanted to ask you about a new guy here who you probably haven’t had the chance to see whole lot of yet, and that’s Tucker Healy. He’s put up amazing strikeout numbers in the A’s system pitching out of the bullpen. He got into a couple of rough games here to start. But what have you been able to see out of him so far here?

RR:  I’m really just starting to get to know him and assess his strengths and what he needs to work on. From what I’ve seen, it looks like he has a good aggressive fastball and a nice little breaking ball. He’s not afraid to go after hitters. But it’s just more observation right now and just kind of seeing what he does and not give him too much instruction.

AF:  Is there anyone on the staff who you feel has made a big improvement or come a long way over the first half of the year?

jlJosh+Lindblom+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+GzH80HnKvQXl2RR:  Well, Josh Lindblom. He didn’t have the best start in the world. And lately, his starts have been a lot more consistent in terms of having quality pitches and quality location. Unfortunately, he was just starting to get in that groove and he got hit in the ankle, so now he’s out for however many weeks. He was a guy who was really coming along. And hopefully, maybe it’s not as bad and he can come back and still pitch towards the end of the year with a few weeks left and then see what happens.

AF:  What’s the status of his ankle at this point?

RR:  I think he’s just going to go in a boot right now and just kind of rest it for a couple three weeks and then maybe just get another X-ray and see where it is…but it’s unfortunate that had to happen because he was making some good progress.

AF:  Is there anyone else you’ve seen make some real progress this year?

RR:  Well, Paul Smyth. He’s had quality outings against both left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. He’s spotting his fastball. He doesn’t have that 95 mph fastball, but he’s in that 89-91 mph range with tremendous movement. He’s got a great slider. I think when he got here last year, left-handed hitters were hitting him a little bit better. But he’s made a great improvement on getting left-handed hitters out. He’s throwing strikes. He’s not afraid to come in in any situation. He’s very versatile – he’s pitched in the beginning of the game, he’s pitched late in the game. If you call down there, he’s ready to go. But he’s made tremendous improvement.

AF:  You’ve had a few experienced guys in your bullpen this year. Can you tell me a little bit about the guys you’ve been counting on down there this year?

RR:  Yeah, like Evan Scribner. He’s been very professional. He’s a very good pitcher. He’s been around. I had him when I was up in Oakland in the bullpen. He was very good up there. Fernando Rodriguez has been throwing the ball well. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. His velocity is up there now. His curveball is very sharp. I think the more times he gets out there, obviously the better off he’s going to be. So he just needs to pitch. Those two guys have been the mainstays of our bullpen. Jeremy McBryde has come a long way. Starting the year off, we really didn’t know where he was going to pitch. He kind of did a little bit of long relief, in the middle, some other stuff. And lately, he’s kind of been in a closing role with Scribner. And he’s excelled, he’s done very well, especially against right-handed hitters, and even against left-handed hitters. But he’s a guy who definitely can close a game just as well as Scribner can, or even Fernando coming in too. And then you’ve got Joe Savery from the left side, who has a very good fastball and breaking ball. Since he’s our only lefty, we’re trying to put him in situations where he can be used like he would be used in Oakland. And he’s been throwing the ball well. All in all, it’s been a good year. And I think guys are now starting to hit their stride, so that’s a good thing!

 

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

RockHounds to River Cats: A’s Minor Leaguers Josh Whitaker, Tucker Healy and Seth Frankoff Talk About the Transition to Triple-A

A few A’s minor leaguers have made their way from Midland to Sacramento over the past few weeks – outfielder Josh Whitaker and relievers Tucker Healy and Seth Frankoff. And we took the opportunity to talk to the talented trio about the transition to Triple-A just a few days before the All-Star break in Sacramento…

 

JOSH WHITAKER

jw53436225e2696.preview-300bThe A’s 25th-round draft pick in 2010 out of Kennesaw State in Georgia, Whitaker was one of the RockHounds’ top sluggers in the first half, posting a .320/.367/.523 slash line before his promotion. The 25-year-old missed some time after being beaned in the head in early June in an incident that saw him taken off the field in an ambulance and led to a stint on the disabled list. But once he recovered, Whitaker was on his way to the River Cats, where he’s put up a .219/.250/.313 slash line in his first 16 games at Sacramento.

AF:  Now you were pretty seriously beaned in the head last month at Midland. You were unconscious for a while and were taken from the field in an ambulance. How scary was that experience for you?

JW:  Yeah, it was definitely scary. I didn’t realize it at the time. But afterwards, when my wife was calling and my parents were calling trying to get info and stuff, I kind of realized how much it scared everybody else really more than me. But it’s something that I guess still lingers. You know, anytime I get something high and tight, I kind of get flashbacks of that and it’s still something I’m really working hard on to get over. I’ve talked to Sparky [Sacramento hitting coach Greg Sparks] about it, and I asked him what his approach would be to get over something like that. And he just said the more at-bats over time I have, the better it’ll get. So hopefully that’ll all click here soon and I can get back to how I was before.

AF:  Once you came to, did you remember all the details of what had happened?

JW:  Yeah, I had a pretty good idea. I didn’t have much memory loss. I remember the first pitch of that at-bat him throwing a slider and just thinking to myself that I didn’t really see it very good, so I was just trying to stay in there and try to see the spin a little better. And I just stayed in there a little too long and he got me. So whenever I have at-bats where it’s kind of tough to see here in the first inning, I just kind of have flashbacks of that. And it’s just something I’m going to have to end up getting over if I’m going to do well. So hopefully time will help that.

AF:  So not long after recovering from that, you got the call up here to Triple-A, which is another adjustment. How does the talent here in the Pacific Coast League look different to you than the talent you faced in the Texas League?

JW:  Talent-wise, I don’t think there’s too much of a difference, besides command of all their pitches. I’ve seen the same velocity and breaking stuff in Double-A from organizations’ top prospects that they send there. I guess that league was easier on me because I kind of had an idea how teams would pitch me. There’s so few teams in the division and you play them over and over and over again. The scouting report really doesn’t change. They have an idea of how they want to pitch you and they do that to you every time. So I guess being able to go through this league and face the teams and know how they’re going to approach pitching me will help with the timing as well.

AF:  So you don’t feel that the pitchers you’re facing here in Triple-A are all that different from the guys you saw in Double-A. It’s just that you don’t know them and how they’re going to go after you.

JW:  Yeah, I kind of had an idea before and now I’m just trying to learn them.

AF:  With the transition to another level here in Sacramento, are there a few friends or familiar faces you’ve played with in the past you were glad to see here?

JW:  Yeah, I’ve been playing with [Anthony] Aliotti for a couple years now. We’re actually roommates on the road. Me and him critique each other. We’ve been around each other enough to know each other’s swings.

AF:  So you’re each other’s hitting coach!

JW:  Yeah, exactly. So if he sees something in me that seems weird or awkward, he’ll let me know, and vice versa. So it’s always good to have somebody who’s been around and seen you play.

AF:  Are there any specific aspects of your game that you feel you need to work on to get to the next level?

JW:  I’ve really been taking a lot of pride in my defense this year, as far as outfield assists and making every routine play. And I’ve got the ability to make the diving plays and stuff like that. I’ve really been focusing on that. I know that I’ll be able to hit, so I try my best not to worry about it and that’ll come with time. But right now as I’m going through this period of getting back from getting hit in the head, I really want to focus on things I can control like my defense and baserunning and stuff like that.

AF:  So I guess your main goal the rest of the way this year is just getting more comfortable hanging in there at the plate after the beaning.

JW:  Yeah, that’s my only goal is to feel comfortable staying in on any type of breaking pitch that starts in at me coming back over the inside corner…Hopefully I’ll be over that soon and maybe the numbers will start to show.

 

TUCKER HEALY

thDSC03367cThe A’s 23rd-round draft pick in 2012 out of Ithaca College in New York, Healy’s impressive strikeout numbers since he joined the system have put him on the fast track, going from Vermont to Beloit to Stockton to Midland to Sacramento in just two years’ time. The 24-year-old has struck out a total of 190 batters in just 121 1/3 innings in his minor league career. This season, Healy struck out 29 in 17 1/3 innings while posting a 1.04 ERA for Stockton, then went on to strike out 29 in 19 1/3 innings while putting up a 2.33 ERA for Midland, and he’s now struck out 13 in 7 1/3 innings with an ERA of 3.68 so far for Sacramento.

AF:  What’s been the key to your success that’s helped you get all the way up here to the Triple-A level so quickly?

TH:  I think it’s pretty simple. When I get ahead of hitters, that’s when I do my best. Getting strike one on guys is really important, and converting 1-1 counts to get it to 1-2 instead of 2-1 makes a huge difference. When I get ahead, I’m good. When I fall behind, that’s when I might struggle. So just getting ahead of hitters and mixing in a good mix of pitches.

AF:  So once you get ahead of hitters, you feel pretty confident you can finish them off.

TH:  Yeah, for sure.

AF:  Are there any particular challenges facing these Triple-A hitters here?

TH:  If you look at the times I’ve struggled so far here, it’s when I fell behind hitters. It’s that simple…They’re definitely more experienced and have a better eye and better knowledge at the plate.

AF:  And if you fall behind them, they’re going to take advantage of you.

TH:  You can make less mistakes, for sure.

AF:  Tell me a little bit about the pitches you throw and what kind of command you feel you have of them.

TH:  I throw a fastball, a slider and a changeup, and I feel confident in every one of them. I’m sure if you look at my percentages, they might show that I throw my fastball more than the others, but I feel confident with all three. In terms of my command, I just focus on throwing strikes and getting ahead and not being too fine at times. Sometime when I get into trouble it’s when I try to place it in certain spots instead of going right after them…When I’m out there, I try to aim to the glove. Wherever he puts the glove, I try to put it right there.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’re working on or anything the coaching staff’s been trying to get you to focus on at this point?

TH:  They’ve been trying to get me to throw my slider more since I was at Stockton. I think it’s come along a good ways from the beginning of the season to now. And I was just thinking about this and talking to some of the pitchers…I have to be more willing to throw in on guys and jam them up and that opens up the outside later in the count…Coming in is definitely huge, more so than down at the lower levels, you have to come in here.

AF:  You started the year at Stockton, then went to Midland and now you’ve made your way to Sacramento. So how has making all those transitions been for you?

TH:  It’s definitely been a good ride. I’m happy to be here. It’s definitely not easy picking up and moving. I’ve done it twice now this season, going from Stockton to Midland and moving here in like a two month span. It wasn’t easy, but I’m definitely happy to be here. And the guys have been real nice in the clubhouse, being friendly with us and talking to us, so that’s been a big help coming here.

 

SETH FRANKOFF

sfDSC02927bxThe A’s 27th-round draft pick in 2010 out of the University of North Carolina, Frankoff began as a starter but made the transition to a full-time reliever last season at Stockton, where he struck out 93 in 74 1/3 innings while putting up an impressive 2.78 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League. The 25-year-old took over as the closer at Midland this year and was as effective as anyone in the system in that role, posting 15 saves – which still leads all A’s minor leaguers – and striking out 47 in 33 2/3 innings in relief for the RockHounds.

AF:  When you first got to Sacramento, you got into a couple of rough games, so what’s the transition to Triple-A been like?

SF:  The hitters are a lot more experienced here. So you’ve got to execute all your pitches. A couple of times I didn’t do that, and I got hurt because of it. So you’ve just really got to focus in on staying aggressive in the zone and executing pitches. And if you’re going to miss, missing where the ball’s not going to get hit…My first outing, I left one up and a guy hit a home run off me. And then Reno’s not the most forgiving place. But at the same time, you’ve still got to deal with those conditions. So it’s been an adjustment period for me, and I’m working on it and working to get better every day.

AF:  The ballparks in the PCL are definitely a little different than some of those ballparks in the Texas League.

SF:  To say the least.

AF:  Now you were one of the most effective closers in the A’s system during the first half of the year at Midland. So what was really working for you down there?

SF:  I was just kind of going straight to put-away. I was pitching at the end of the ballgame, so you kind of get guys out quickly…My goal when I go out there is to get ground balls and punchouts and to keep the ball on the ground and keep it in the infield so that guys aren’t advancing bases and try to get the inning over with as quickly as possible.

AF:  What are some of the differences about playing at the Triple-A level?

SF:  You’re playing in a big city, and everywhere you go is a farily big city. You have a lot more mature ballclub. We have guys with some big league time in the clubhouse. So I’m just trying to go about my business the right way and try to do what you’re told.

AF:  And try not to look like the new guy…

SF: Yeah, absolutely.

AF:  What about the ballparks you’re playing in here in the PCL, do they seem a lot bigger and a lot closer to a major league environment to you?

SF:  Yeah, everywhere we’re going there’s 10,000-seat stadiums. And here in Sacramento, on July 3, I believe we had 15,000 people. So it’s definitely a joy to play in front of that many people…now in the big leagues, there’s 30,000+ but still, when you play in front of more people, it’s an adrenaline rush being out there.

AF:  So what about the the process of transitioning from one place to another during the season?

SF:  Still trying to figure stuff out logistically – my car and some of my luggage is still in Midland. My wife is in North Carolina trying to work on getting everything out here, so it’s a process.

AF:  Well, you did arrive here with your Midland teammate Tucker Healy anyway. Are there many other familiar faces you’ve played with before on this River Cats team?

SF:  Well, I played with Ryan Ortiz last year in Stockton. Josh Whitaker, Anthony Aliotti – played with them for a couple years. Most of the guys here I’ve met during spring training. But at the same time, we’ve got guys we’ve claimed who I’ve never met before. It’s kind of a revolving door. It’s kind of crazy. There’s definitely a lot more moves going on here than at Midland.

AF:  Yeah, I imagine you’ve never played with a guy like Tommy Milone before.

SF:  I’ve met Tommy over the past couple years and he’s a very good guy, and he’s somebody you try to learn from. He’s got quite a bit of success and experience in the big leagues, and you just try to pick up on what he’s done to make himself successful and just try to pick his brain and see how he goes about his business.

AF:  So have you had the chance to talk much to some of the more veteran pitchers here?

SF:  In the bullpen, there’s plenty of time to talk. Philip Humber down there is a former third overall pick and had a perfect game. There’s quite a bit of experience down there – Savery and Scribner are 40-man guys who’ve been in the big leagues this year. So you just try to pick up on things that they do and go about your business the right way.

AF:  Being a guy who’s played baseball his whole life and worked your way up through the system, now that you’re here at Triple-A, can you smell the major leagues from here? Does it feel a lot closer?

SF:  It definitely feels closer. I haven’t pitched the way I wanted the last few outings. But you can’t worry about that. You’ve just got to go out there and get the job done. It’s all about pitching well consistently. You know, at Midland, guys just don’t get called up, whereas here, it can happen. So you’ve just got to try to put yourself in the best situation to give yourself that opportunity, because that’s what we’re all here for is to try and get there.

 

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

Catching Up With: Oakland A’s Catcher Stephen Vogt

svstephenvogtoaklandathleticsvminnesota5tni_depo0cl2Stephen Vogt didn’t get his first taste of life in the majors until the age of 27, when he made it into 18 games for Tampa Bay. The A’s acquired him at the start of last season and called him up to the big club from Sacramento midway through the year. And with John Jaso sidelined through much of the second half, Vogt played a pivotal role in the A’s pennant run.

Many were disappointed when he started the 2014 season back at Sacramento, including Vogt himself. But after a couple of months, he found his way back to the big leagues and Vogt has once again found himself in the middle of the action in Oakland. We had the chance to catch up with him in the A’s clubhouse during the Bay Bridge series just before the A’s were about to win their sixth straight…

 

AF:  You seem to have a knack for coming through and getting a big hit when it counts. Do you look forward to hitting in those pressure situations?

SV:  I think that’s the dream of any hitter. You want to be hitting with the game on line, you want to be hitting with people in scoring position with two outs, you want to be in those pressure at-bats. That’s when you drive in runs, that’s when it’s fun. I wouldn’t say I’m any different than anybody else. But I love those situations. I tend to relax in those situations. Being a catcher, I know, as a catcher, you’re nervous, pitchers are nervous. So you’ve just got to be patient and wait for a mistake.

AF:  Do you feel that your defense as a catcher has improved or evolved over the past couple seasons since you’ve been with the A’s?

SV:  Absolutely. I think just getting traded over here last year and being a catcher for a full season, doing something every day is the best way to get better at something. So, for the first time in my career, I was given the opportunity to catch every day. And so my defense has definitely gotten better because of that…Up until that point, I had never been given the chance to catch every day. But getting that full year of experience catching has really helped me take my defense behind the plate to another level.

AF:  Well, you’ve been back playing a number of different positions again lately. How comfortable are you playing other positions at this point and how much time does it take you to acclimate to playing in other spots?

SV:  Yeah, it takes time. But I feel like I’m right back to where I was a couple years ago when I was playing outfield, first and catching every week. So I feel comfortable. Am I as good as some of these other outfielders up here? No. Am I as good as some of the other first basemen up here? No. But I feel like I’m adequate and serviceable in the outfield or at first. And I feel like I’m going to make the routines plays, but I’m not going to be climbing any walls or doing anything that these guys can do.

AF:  Now I wanted to ask you about a couple of pitchers. You started last year with Sonny Gray at Sacramento and ended the year catching him in the playoffs, and now you’re here with him again this year. How have you seen his evolution as a pitcher since you first saw him at Sacramento?

sv51ce58484676a.preview-620bSV:  Over the last year, Sonny’s learned how to pitch. And I think sometimes back in Sacramento, he could still just throw and get away with it. But ever since the playoffs and down the stretch last year and this year, he’s pitching. He’s commanding his fastball better, he’s throwing his breaking ball better, he’s throwing his changeup better. He’s just overall a lot better pitcher now as opposed to last year when I first caught him – he was still kind of a thrower.

AF:  You were also catching Jesse Chavez last year at Sacramento, and you’ve seen him go to being a bullpen guy last year and now to a starter this year. Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution you’ve seen with him?

SV:  I don’t think there’s been much of an evolution to be honest. Last year in Sacramento, as a starter, he was dominant. He was doing what he’s doing this year…so for him to do what he’s doing now, it’s not a surprise to me. I’ve seen him do that before…He does have starter stuff, and so he’s able to do it, and I saw that last year in Sacramento.

AF:  So now that you’ve been back up with the big club for a little while and have had the chance to see the team compete, just how good is this team?

SV:  I don’t know if I can say how good we are – but it’s fun. It’s a different feel every night. It’s 25 or 30 or however many guys we’ve had up here so far this year who all we care about is winning. It doesn’t matter who gets the big hit, who gets the last out, who gets the hold, who gets the save, who gets the win, as long as we’re shaking hands at the end of the game. There’s a lot of talent in this room, but there’s no superstars – and I think that’s what makes this team so special. Donaldson, Cespedes, Moss are having just monster years for us in the middle of the order and they’re carrying us offensively, but there are different guys stepping up every night. And I think that’s the testament of a true team. If I don’t get the job done, somebody right behind me is going to get it done. Everybody has that belief that the guy behind you is going to get it done if you don’t…and I think that’s just the mark of a good team. We all trust each other and believe in each other, and it’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of.

AF:  And finally, when you started the first couple months of the season at Sacramento, how much did you miss being around these guys here in Oakland?

SV:  A ton. I mean, I love Sacramento and I love the guys down there – the coaching staff is great. But going to the playoffs with this team last year and just feeling like you’re a part of the team…I just missed the guys, I missed the atmosphere, I missed the people. And to be back, it’s really good.

 

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

Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on Oakland’s Top 10 Draft Picks of 2014 from A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota

A's scouting director Eric Kubota

A’s scouting director Eric Kubota

After unexpectedly taking high school players with their top pick in each of the past two years, the A’s returned to their old, familiar ways this year, selecting college players with eight of the team’s top ten picks. The A’s made 21-year-old Cal State Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman their top pick this year. Chapman is best known for his solid defense and strong throwing arm at third, but the A’s also like his plate discipline and think that he has the potential to develop into a legitimate power hitter.

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

We talked to Kubota about a week and a half after the draft, just a day after top pick Matt Chapman’s signing was officially announced. At the time we spoke, the A’s had signed seven of their top ten picks, but Kubota expressed confidence that the remaining three would all be in the fold before long. And we were happy to get his take on the A’s main man, Matt Chapman, along with all the team’s other top ten picks from the first ten rounds of the 2014 draft…

AF:  I really want to get a quick take from you on all the A’s top ten draft picks this year. But before we start getting into this year’s draft class, is there anyone from last year’s draft class who really gives you a particular sense of pride when you look at them this year?

EK:  Well, we’re certainly happy with Billy McKinney’s progress. His batting average might not show it, but he’s a high school guy and he’s playing in advanced Single-A, so it was really a stretch for him. I think he’s actually swung the bat better than the numbers have necessarily shown. So we’re certainly happy with him.

mcimg_6735bAF:  Well, it was just announced earlier this week that you signed your #1 pick, third baseman Matt Chapman out of Cal State Fullerton. So tell me what really excited you most about him?

EK:  With him, it’s really the upside. I think he’s just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be. We know that there’s a ton of impact power in his swing. And we think, with just a few adjustments, his power will be up there. So we really think, down the road, we’ll have a chance to get a third baseman who can affect the game both on defense and at the plate.

AF:  Prior to the draft, a lot of people were projecting him as more of a 2nd-round guy. Was there anything in particular that you guys saw in him that you placed a higher value on than some other people did?

EK:  I would say that probably everybody who was picking towards where we were picking in the draft had him in their conversation. Everybody’s going to have different positions and there’s going to be people who evaluate the draft outside the industry…but just about every team that picked at the back half at least had some conversation about him.

dgVVLYQGJKSGDGSMH.20131021153816bAF:  Your #2 pick was RHP Daniel Gossett out of Clemson, who seems to fall into the mold of a slightly smaller-body-type guy like Sonny Gray. Tell me what you really liked about him, and are smaller pitchers the new market inefficiency?

EK:  I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. We don’t really think of him as small…Daniel’s taller than 6 feet. So we didn’t really take his height into account. We think he’s plenty physical enough to do what he needs to do. He’s got very good stuff. He throws 92-94 mph. He throws strikes with his fastball and locates it down. He has an excellent breaking ball and a very good changeup.

AF:  Are there any major league pitchers you’d compare him to?

EK:  I hesitate to compare anybody to Sonny Gray, just because what he’s done is so incredible. But he’s on the less-physical side – probably you could say David Cone, physically anyway, those are the kind of people you could compare him to.

bgbrettgraves2AF:  Your #3 pick was RHP Brett Graves out of Missouri, who a number of people really liked, but his strikeout numbers aren’t really quite as eye-popping as a lot of the guys you’ve taken. So tell me what made you want to go with him.

EK:  He’s a little bit different. He’s more of a pitch-to-contact guy. He throws hard up there at 94-95 mph, but he’s more of a sinkerball type pitcher than a strikeout guy now…but we like the fact that he keeps the ball out of the air and throws strikes and he throws hard.

AF:  And he’s officially still unsigned, correct?

EK:  Correct, yes.

jsjordan-schwartz3bAF:  Your #4 pick was RHP Jordan Schwartz out of Niagara, who didn’t seem to be quite so high on some people’s radar before the draft. So what did you like about him?

EK:  He’s a former position player. We really liked the athleticism. He saw him up to 97 mph with a strikeout breaking ball. We think he’s kind of an upside guy. He’s kind of untapped…we could get a really high ceiling with him once he starts getting some professional instruction.

AF:  Your #5 pick was RHP Heath Fillmyer, who’s from a smaller school, Mercer County Community College out of New Jersey. So what did he do to get himself on your radar?

SONY DSCEK:  He’s very similar to Schwartz in that he’s also a converted position player. We saw a very good fastball, 94-95 mph, and an above-average curveball. He’s another guy who’s a real upside kid. With player development, we can give him to [minor league pitching coordinator] Scott Emerson and some of our pitching people in player development, and the sky’s the limit.

AF: And he’s still officially unsigned, right?

EK:  Yes.

AF:  Your #6 pick was high school shortstop Trace Loehr out of Oregon. It was announced that he signed earlier this week. What did you like so much about him to make him your first high school pick on the board, especially since he’d already committed to Oregon?

tl1339-7-Red-7bEK:  There’s a lot to like about Trace. He’s got tools. He’s a plus runner. We really like the way he swings the bat. We really, really love his makeup. We think there’s just a lot here. He’s got a lot of the traits that we think make players successful in the long run, and we’re excited about that.

AF:  Was there one thing in particular that really jumped out for you about him, or was it more of a well-rounded package that he presented?

EK:  No, we think he can really swing the bat. He’s got a chance to be a very good defender too, but I think the thing that we were most drawn to was the bat.

AF:  So kind of like with Billy McKinney where you really liked the swing?

EK:  Yeah, kind of. It’s a little different in that he plays the middle infield, so it’s a little different, but yeah.

AF:  Are there any major leaguers you might compare him to?

EK:  Yeah, I thought a little bit about Kyle Seager when I saw him.

bcuva_baseball_branden_cogswell_2013_01_home3AF:  Your #7 pick was another middle infielder, Branden Cogswell out of Virginia. His offensive numbers weren’t really that eye-popping, but he was taking a lot of walks and getting on base. So what did you like about him?

EK:  Well, that was one of the things obviously. We liked his ability to get on base – we valued that. But we also really liked his defense. He played second base this year, but we think he can play shortstop. We really like his defense and think the offense will be more than enough to allow him to be a major league player.

AF:  And he’s the only other one of the top ten who still hasn’t signed yet. He’s still playing, right?

EK:  Correct, he’s still playing.

bk1339-3-Green-7bAF:  Your #8 pick was the only high school pitcher you took in the top ten, RHP Branden Kelliher out of Washington. What so impressed you about him to make him the one high school pitcher you went with in the top ten?

EK:  We valued him higher than that spot, and we were happy that he fell to us. We’ve seen him up to 96 mph. We’ve seen a good breaking ball. He’s probably more on the slight side physicality-wise. There’s some similarity to a guy we took out of the northwest 12 or 13 years ago – Jeremy Bonderman. Same kind of physicality, same kind of stuff.

mffagan_oacAF:  Your #9 pick was LHP Mike Fagan out of Princeton, who was the only left-hander you took in the top ten. Tell me a little bit about what you liked about him.

EK:  He’s a guy who’s always had a lot physical ability. We’ve seen a lot of him – we’ve scouted him quite a bit. And this year, he really turned the corner as far as his performance. He’s a left-hander who throws up to 92-93 mph and he’s got a good breaking ball. He’ll go out as a starting pitcher. But I could imagine him potentially being a left-handed specialist down the road. It might be a little bit of a lazy comparison, but he kind of reminds me of Craig Breslow, another Ivy League left-hander.

cmPdineSJU-Miller2AF:  And your #10 pick was RHP Corey Miller out of Pepperdine, who was actually one of the physically bigger pitchers you took in the top ten. What did you like about him?

EK:  He’s a physical kid with a good body who’s got solid stuff with a history of pitching well and winning.

AF:  Are you expecting to sign all your top ten picks?

EK:  We hope to get them all done, and we feel confident that we can get them all done.

AF:  Is it safe to assume that most of the college pitchers we’ve discussed are likely to end up at Vermont this year?

EK:  Well, they’re all going to Arizona to begin with. And yeah, it’s likely that most of them will be in Vermont before the end of the summer.

AF:  And finally, how excited are you to see Matt Chapman signed, and how excited are you to see him out there playing in the coming weeks?

EK:  Very excited. You know, the whole scouting staff will be living and dying by those box scores this summer!

AF:  Okay, great! Thanks a lot.

 

A’s 2014 Draft Class

#1 3B Matt Chapman (CSU Fullerton), #2 RHP Daniel Gossett (Clemson), #3 RHP Brett Graves (Missouri), #4 RHP Jordan Schwartz (Niagara), #5 RHP Heath Fillmyer (Mercer College), #6 SS Trace Loehr (Rex Putnam HS), #7 SS Branden Cogswell (Virginia), #8 RHP Branden Kelliher (Lake Stevens HS), #9 #LHP Mike Fagan (Princeton), #10 RHP Corey Miller (Pepperdine)

#11 RHP Joel Seddon (South Carolina), #12 RHP Tyler Willman (Western Illinois), #13 2B Max Kuhn (Kentucky), #14 C Casey Schroeder (Polk State), #15 2B Trent Gilbert (Arizona), #16 3B Jose Brizuela (Florida State), #17 C Eric Cheray (Missouri State), #18 LHP Michael Nolan (Oklahoma City U.), #19 C Tom Gavitt (Bryant), #20 RHP Koby Guana (CSU Fullerton)

#21 SS Tim Proudfoot (Texas Tech), #22 RHP Brendan McCurry (Oklahoma State), #23 1B Collin Ferguson (St. Mary’s), #24 RHP Dawson Brown (U. West Florida), #25 CF Joseph Estrada (Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS), #26 RHP Rob Huber (Duke), #27 CF J.P. Sportman (Cent. Conn. State), #28 RHP Corey Walter (West Virginia), #29 LHP Cody Stull (Belmont Abbey), #30 LHP Derek Beasley (South Carolina-Aiken)

#31 RHP Tyler Schimpf (Capital Christian HS), #32 CF Denz’l Chapman (Junipero Serra HS), #33 C Michael Rivera (Venice HS), #34 1B John Nogowski (Florida State), #35 CF Austen Swift (Bishop Allen Academy HS), #36 OF Tyler Spoon (Arkansas), #37 OF Brock Lundquist (Fountain Valley HS), #38 CF Colt Atwood (Sam Houston State), #39 2B Payton Squier (Greenway HS), #40 SS Bryson Brigman (Valley Christian HS)

 

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

Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

bo1151079bWell, we’re now about a month and a half into the baseball season. And just as we’re at a point where the A’s front office typically takes a step back and evaluates where the major league roster is at, it’s also a great time to take a step back and see where some of the A’s top prospects are at. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization back in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week while he was in southern California scouting prospects for next month’s amateur draft. And as we talked with him about some of the team’s top young players, his genuine enthusiasm for the prospects currently stocking the A’s system was apparent…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start off with shortstop Addison Russell who’s missed the past month and a half with a hamstring injury. Do you have any sort of updates to offer on him? It must be a little disappointing for you to have him off the field for so long this season. Has it tempered your expectations for his progress over the course of this season?

BO:  We’re so excited about Addison as a person and as a player that we just want to make sure he’s totally healthy so that when he’s ready to go, he can go out there and perform. But the way he acclimated himself to spring training, being around the big league players, he was definitely in a comfort zone compared to his first spring training and he was performing very well. He was hitting the ball with authority. He was making the plays in the field. I’ve been with the Oakland A’s since November of ‘98, and I’m as excited about Addison Russell as anybody we’ve had during that time frame.

AF:  Another guy at Midland who everyone’s always interested in is outfielder Billy Burns. He hasn’t really been tearing things up down there like he was in the spring. What’s your take on what’s up with him at Midland?

bbu1275322cBO:  We’re still very excited about Billy Burns. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is very good. His stolen base percentage has been exceptional throughout his career. The speed is still an elite tool. He’s definitely putting the ball in play. So the odds are, over the course of the season, Billy Burns will definitely have his numbers. And he’s somebody to be excited about. The talent he showed in spring training was not an aberration.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you guys have him working on or need him to be working on down there this year?

BO:  The kid only switch-hit a little bit in high school and didn’t really do it in college, then he went back to batting both ways as a professional, so he’s still getting acclimated to that. Similar to Billy Hamilton, he’s a different style hitter from the left side and the right side, but he’s always in control of the zone – more walks than strikeouts historically for his career from both sides of the plate. His makeup is off the charts, he’s a hard worker, he loves the game and he gets the utmost out of his ability – so we’re as excited about Billy Burns right now as we were the day we acquired him.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about some of the guys at Stockton since that seems to be where so many of the top prospects are this year. Michael Ynoa was out for a bit with a bicep strain, but he’s come back and looked pretty dominant in his last few appearances. So can you tell me what you’re seeing out of him and what you’re expectations are for him at this point?

BO:  He’s just a kid who’s still 22 years old. He’s got a lot of talent, he’s up to 97 [mph], he’s got a great body and he’s got a fluid delivery. The breaking ball’s still crisp and the changeup’s improving. It’s just a matter of him being able to go out there and have a season where he’s able to accumulate innings and compete every day. And I think if he’s able to sustain time on the field, the talent will manifest itself. It’s just a fact that over his career he hasn’t been able to be on the field because of various ailments. But if he’s out there, the talent’s definitely there. Hopefully he can just be on the field here the rest of the season, and then we’ll see exactly what he can do with that 95 mph fastball and a good breaking ball and a changeup.

AF:  I guess it just boils down to him staying healthy. And if he can stay on the field, then it sounds like you have plenty of confidence in his ability to succeed as long as he stays healthy.

Michael YnoaBO:  Yeah, he’s got to stay healthy. It’s been one of those freak things over the years. Last year, for the first half of the season in Beloit, he was able to make about 15 successful starts in a row, and the results were very positive. Then he came to the California League last year, and then he was shut down for the season. This year early, he was a little bit rocky. But he’s come back and he’s been topping out at 97 [mph] and the breaking ball’s been good. So the talent’s there, but from an experience standpoint, he’s had less than 200 innings in his whole professional career. So he’s just got to be on the mound and get the experience and from there the talent will manifest.

AF:  Another arm at Stockton who’s probably been the most impressive pitching prospect in the system this year is Seth Streich. So can you tell me what you’ve been seeing out of him and what’s accounted for him being able to kick it up a notch, particularly pitching in the California League?

BO:  Last year, his stuff was really good. He was up around 94-95 mph, but the results weren’t totally there the first half of the season. But Scott Emerson, our pitching coordinator, was able to work with him and, all of a sudden, the results started to change halfway through last year. The stuff’s definitely there – good movement on the fastball, he’s got a solid slider and he’s got a good changeup. And the reports from Rich Sparks, the area scout who signed him initially, are coming to fruition. Seth’s a very good competitor, the stuff’s there and really since last year, probably the middle of July, he’s pitched very well.

AF:  A young guy at Stockton whom you guys moved there as a 19-year-old this year, just like you did with Addison Russell last year, is your top draft pick from last year, outfielder Billy McKinney. He’s been showing some power and taking his walks even if his batting average has been a little low. But tell me what you think of Billy McKinney as a 19-year-old in the California League so far this season?

Billy McKinneyBO:  I’ve been very impressed, to be honest. I mean, the kid has 6 home runs, he’s got an abundant amount of walks already, he’s having really good at-bats and the game reports are pretty positive every night. I mean, that’s definitely an aggressive assignment. And we know, through the course of the season, he’s going to be able to excel. And for me, for May 14th, he’s doing very well. To have 6 home runs at 19 years old and have the walk numbers he’s been able to accumulate, it’s been a very positive assessment of his abilities so far.

AF:  I know it’s the California League, but have you been a little surprised by the early power numbers he put up?

BO:  Billy had an outstanding spring training. He had about 25 at-bats in major league camp. He definitely had a handful of extra-base hits in big league camp. Armann Brown, our scout out there in Texas, identified Billy early. He’s somebody who Eric Kubota, our scouting director, identified early. And he can hit, he’s a natural hitter, he’s hit all through the pros and he’s going to have power. I would say with Billy, Mark Kotsay, who played here for a long time, that would probably be the ceiling and David Murphy, who plays for the Indians now, that would kind of be the floor of what I would project Billy McKinney to be as a major league baseball player. But all signs are positive, the kid’s a great makeup kid, he’s having tremendous at-bats, and the average will heighten during the course of the season.

AF:  One guy at Stockton who maybe has a little more experience than some of the guys there is Bruce Maxwell. Can you tell me where you see him at in his development both at the plate and behind the plate as a catcher?

bmDSC02921bxBO:  Yeah, Bruce (Wayne) Maxwell has definitely made tremendous strides since he signed. We signed him out of Birmingham-Southern. He was definitely an offensive-first player. His numbers were tremendous in college – the strikeout-to-walk ratio, the homers, the base hits. And I think when Bruce joined the organization, he worked so hard on improving his catching abilities that his offense took a back seat. And he went from being a guy who was kind of a catcher initially, now he’s a strong defensive catcher. He’s got a tremendous throwing arm and his numbers are solid as far as throwing runners out. He’s always been a good hitter, and now that he’s a tremendous backstop as well, that bodes well for him being a positive prospect going forward. And like so many of our guys in that Stockton crew, those guys are such hard workers. Those players, they love the game and have a tremendous zest and energy for baseball. The Matt Olsons, the Daniel Robertsons, the Billy McKinneys, Addison Russell – I mean, that crew has a love of the game 24/7, so that’s a fun group.

AF:  I guess you don’t have to teach them how to be motivated anyway!

BO:  Yeah, and that’s half the battle to be honest. I mean, those guys are very motivated. You see Matt Olson, who had a big night the other night – 2 home runs and a double – 30 walks on the season, 9 homers, 20 years old, tremendous defender, great attitude. Just seeing these kids when they first signed up and how they jelled with each other right away, I think that’s helped their performance out.

AF:  I was just about to ask you to talk about Matt Olson, as well as Max Muncy, so is there anything else you had to offer?

BO:  I think that Matt Olson as well as Max Muncy have both proven that they’re really good defenders at first base. And with Muncy, we’ve been able to dabble with him playing a little bit at third base, and Matt Olson’s a tremendous defender as well.

AF:  Can you talk a little bit more about what you saw out of Max Muncy earlier this year at Midland before he broke his finger?

mmDSC02925bxBO:  Yeah, he was controlling the zone as usual. I think last year, by the time he got to Double-A and the [Arizona] Fall League – his first full season – he’s such a hard worker, that maybe he got a little bit fatigued. But it also gave him a taste of what he had to do against higher level competition. He came back and got a little bit stronger, his eyes got cleaner and he was having tremendous at-bats. His strikeout-to-walk ratio improved considerably from last year at Double-A and the extra-base hits were coming in bunches. He played an outstanding first base and he was actually playing a pretty solid third base as well. He’s just a baseball rat. And the kids who compete every day and have that enthusiasm, when they have talent, they get the most out of their abilities. And Max Muncy is definitely going to get the most out of his abilities and we’re definitely encouraged by what he’s done so far in the Double-A season.

AF:  Speaking of third base, back at Stockton, Renato Nunez has certainly looked a whole lot better in the field so far this season after leading the organization in errors last year, but he still seems to have a little work to do in terms of his plate discipline. Can you talk a little bit about where he’s at both offensively and defensively at this point?

BO:  Renato, he’s a natural hitter. He’s 19 years old, he’s a smart kid. He’s a good enough hitter where he’s able to barrel pretty much any pitch in the strike zone. But with that, you become so fearless that you’re able to swing at more pitches. So as he matures, I think he’s going to get smarter and realize that for him to drive the ball more successfully, he’s got to just concentrate on swinging within the strike zone. But Renato’s smart enough and he’s a good enough baseball player to make those adjustments. And in the field, he’s another kid who’s a worker. We signed Renato when he was 16 years old. We scouted him since he was 14. His bat was always his forte and we signed him because of his bat, but he’s improved his defensive abilities. He gives you a lot of heart and a lot of effort and he’s making the plays more routinely this year, so that’s definitely an arrow pointing forward. But Renato’s a hitter, and he will improve his plate discipline. He’s got a gorgeous swing and the power will be there. But that’s his forte when he’s got that Louisville Slugger in his hands.

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2AF:  Going around the Stockton infield, Daniel Robertson has been pretty solid. He’s been taking his walks, getting his doubles and has had a good average playing shortstop every day. What are your thoughts on him at this stage of the game?

BO:  He’s an outstanding prospect. He can definitely play shortstop – he’s got great instincts, tremendous hands, his arm’s accurate. His plate discipline this year has gotten better. And he’s such a sharp kid that he recognized what he needed to improve upon from the Midwest League. Plate discipline was definitely at the top of the list. And he’s definitely tackled that so far this year – taking his walks, hitting the ball in the gaps for extra bases. He’s had a nice swing. He’s probably the first guy at the field every day and the last guy to leave. I couldn’t be more excited. And it’s funny, Daniel Robertson is definitely playing good shortstop. But the fact that Daniel Robertson and Addison Russell came up together, you look at them almost like an Alan Trammell and a Lou Whitaker. But honestly, being able to play short, he could play anywhere in the infield.

AF:  So my understanding is that as long as he can play shortstop and Addison’s not in the major leagues, you guys are content to have him continue to stay at short and you feel confident that he can eventually make the move at some point without too much trouble.

BO:  Yeah, he can definitely play shortstop, and there’s value in keeping him at shortstop. But in a dream scenario, with guys staying healthy going forward and coming to fruition, I always envisioned those guys – Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson – being the Oakland version of Trammell and Whitaker.

AF:  And they might even share an apartment together too! A couple of other guys you were pretty aggressive putting at Stockton this year were two of your 2013 draftees, infielders Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy. So can you tell me a little bit about the A’s decision to start both those guys at Stockton and what you’ve seen out of both of them so far this year?

cpDSC03243dBO:  Chad Pinder’s a kid whose father played some pro ball, so he had an idea what to expect. He started three years in college at Virginia Tech. I think he had an injury last year that bothered him initially in short-season ball and was never totally able to get comfortable there, but we always liked the ability. He had a strong Instructional League and carried over to spring training, and he definitely gained some strength. So it was pretty easy to let him go to the California League. And he’s done pretty well so far – 6 homers to start, his average is high. But I’d still like to look at that strikeout-to-walk ratio and tighten that up – you know, swing at strikes and take the balls and have that good strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s something that Chad can definitely improve on, but I’m definitely encouraged by the 6 homers, the high average and playing solid defense as well. Ryon Healy’s a kid from California who went to the University of Oregon. He always hit in college and had a tremendous last year before we drafted him. He’s another kid who unfortunately had a few injuries initially to start his career, but now he’s starting to get acclimated. He’ll hit. He’s definitely got a nice swing, he’s got power potential. It’s early in the year and he’s creeping up there towards the Mendoza Line. Once he passes that and keeps on moving forward and improving that strikeout-to-walk ratio, the talent will be there and he’ll hit this year.

AF:  As far as Pinder goes position-wise, do you envision him sticking at second base at this point, or what are your thoughts on where he ends up playing in the long-term?

BO:  I think he could play all three. You’ve got to play certain guys at certain places because we’ve got other players there. But he definitely could play second, he could play third – he’s got the arm to handle anywhere in the infield. I look at Chad Pinder in a dream scenario as a J.J. Hardy type of player who’s got some sock for a middle infielder and does a lot of different things well. So he could definitely play anywhere in the infield.

AF:  And in terms of jumping those guys to Stockton, is part of the thinking that the hitting environment in Beloit, particularly early in the year when it’s so cold up there, is not necessarily the best thing for some of your top hitting prospects?

BO:  Obviously, the California League is a little bit warmer than it is in the Midwest League, but you’ve got to hit anywhere. And that’s probably one of the best things about our organization is that we reward performance. So wherever you got drafted and whatever amount of money you signed for, if you perform, we will reward you. So that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Pinder had a good enough spring training and a strong Instructional League. And the other guys were younger for the most part in Beloit and that’s the way it broke down this year.

tlLadendorf, Tyler2AF:  Just to skip up to Sacramento for a minute, one guy who’s impressed up there this year after being stuck at Midland for the past few years is Tyler Ladendorf. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen out of him this year and what your expectations are for him at this point?

BO:  I just think the more and more we watch baseball in 2014, guys who have versatility and can still hit for a decent average and have some extra-base hits, if they can play the infield and outfield well, they can make themselves assets to an organization. So Tyler’s always been able to play short, been able to play third, been able to play second, put him in the outfield. And he came to spring training and had a couple little cameos in big league camp and did pretty well and he started off pretty hot there at Sacramento. So you’ve got somebody you can put out at short, you can put out at third, you can put out in center field and really not miss a beat offensively or defensively. Ben Zobrist is kind of a guy that’s popular in today’s game, but I remember Tony Phillips for the A’s back in the day who could get on base, hit some homers and pretty much play anywhere on the field. So when you’ve got a player like Ladendorf who can do so many things defensively and then starts swinging the bat more positively, he’s answered the call this year.

AF:  The A’s have a lot of interesting young pitching prospects up at Beloit this year. Is there anyone up there on that staff who you’ve really got your eye on right now?

BO:  Well, I think Ronald Herrera is a kid who had a tremendous rookie league last year. He’s 19 years old, he’s up to 93 [mph] – he’ll touch 94 [mph] – tremendous delivery. His breaking ball’s solid, he can back you up a little bit with the changeup, he’s aggressive and he’s got a tremendous demeanor. In a lot of ways, he’s what Raul Alcantara was 2-3-4 years ago. So Ronald Herrera is definitely somebody to watch up there at Beloit.

AF:  And finally, is there anyone else we haven’t talked who you’ve got your eye on who’s made their way on to your radar this year?

PowellBO:  Yeah, the kid [Herschel] “Boog” Powell. I saw him last year in rookie ball and he played very well, put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases. He went up to the New York-Penn League last year and put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases and played good center field. And lo and behold, here we are again and he’s putting the ball in play, getting on base, stealing bases and playing outstanding defense again. He’s tenacious, he’s a worker, he believes in his abilities, and he’s definitely putting himself more and more on the radar. And like I said, from Billy Beane on down, we reward performance. And if you look at our big league team, if they play well, they’ll get opportunities. So a kid like “Boog” Powell, he’s definitely put himself on the radar.

AF:  Well, I’d imagine that having the best on-base perecentage in the A’s system probably doesn’t hurt.

BO:  No, it doesn’t hurt a bit. And it’s been becoming a trend with him.

AF:  Great, thanks a lot for all the info, Billy.

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Exclusive: Down on the Farm with Farhan Zaidi, the A’s new Assistant General Manager – Part 2

fzFarhanZaidiYesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s assistant general manager and director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, where he gave us the lowdown on top prospects like Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, Michael Ynoa, Raul Alcantara and Arnold Leon. In Part 2, we’ll cover Billy McKinney, Billy Burns, Max Muncy and more. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

 

AF:  Another guy who’s spent a little time in the big league camp this spring is last year’s top draft pick, Billy McKinney. So what have your impressions been of him to this point?

Billy McKinneyFZ:  I think the more times he’s come over, the more comfortable he’s been. I thought he was a little gun shy in his first couple of at-bats, which is totally understandable. But his performance last year somehow went a little under the radar, maybe because it was mostly in Arizona – he spent the last ten days in Vermont. But he did about as well as you could expect a high school position player to do. And we’ve seen some of that the more times he’s come over – the quality at-bats, the swing. You know, his bread and butter is going to be what he does offensively. And all that he‘s given us is positive in the times we’ve seen him.

AF:  Now what are your thoughts about the guy who everyone seems to be most excited about this spring, Billy Burns?

FZ:  The combination of elite speed and the ability to get on base isn’t as common as you would think. First of all, there aren’t that many elite speed guys. And the guys who do have elite speed don’t necessarily make enough contact or walk enough to really fully leverage that speed. I think he’s one of the best handful of guys at that in the minor leagues. And he’s got his strengths and weaknesses like every player. But he knows his strengths and he tailors his game to fully exploit those strengths. He tries to put the ball in play. He hits the ball on the ground. He has the speed to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. And I wouldn’t say he’s got Josh Reddick’s arm, but what he does is he gets to balls quickly. He’s accurate and he releases balls quickly when he does get to them. We saw him have a couple of assists in a game. And that was an area where we had some questions about whether he had the arm to play center field, and so far he’s shown every ability to play out there. So his all-around game has been great. And I think what coaches love is having a guy like that who knows what he has to do to be successful and knows what he has to do to help the team as much as possible. And obviously he’s really excited the fans, which is great. You know, he’s only spent about a month at Double-A, so he’s got a little bit of a ways to go. But we know the speed is going to play at this level for sure. It’s just letting some of those other skills catch up with that part.

AF:  I don’t think people realize how inexperienced he really is. He’s only had about 30 games above Class-A. So do you anticipate him getting a little more time in at Double-A this year?

FZ:  That’s the plan for right now. Things can change seeing how the rest of the depth chart plays out. But for a guy who hasn’t been switch-hitting for that long, getting more left-handed at-bats will be big for him. And in that sense, if a guy is still learning to swing from one side of the plate, you don’t want him to just be trying to stay afloat. And that’s maybe what moving a guy like that too aggressively might do. We want him to get comfortable hitting from the left side of the plate. So sending him back to the level where he finished last year and had some success makes some sense. But he’s a guy who’s made a strong enough impression that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with us at some point this year.

AF: Now I want to ask you about a guy who, along with Addison Russell, has moved up the ladder more quickly than anyone, and that’s Max Muncy. How do you view him at this point?

mmDSC02925bxFZ:  Very advanced bat. He’s sort of lived up to every expectation we had when we drafted him…but the way things look right now, he’s probably going to go back and start the year in Midland. But he’s a guy who could move quickly because he has a pretty polished game, particularly offensively.

AF:  Would you say that, along with Addison Russell, he’s as close to being major-league ready as anyone you’ve drafted in the last couple of years?

FZ:  Yeah, I think from the position player side, that’s a fair statement.

AF:  I’ve talked to him a few times and I get the impression that he’s a really smart hitter who’s got a pretty good approach to things.

FZ:  Yeah, very cerebral guy – probably for us, the poster child for the kind of approach we want. We want guys to control the zone. And that means both not swinging at pitches out of the zone but also looking to do damage when you’re in hitter’s counts. And I haven’t seen the guy take a bad at-bat, so that’s very exciting. He has the kind of consistency that some of our younger guys still need to develop.

AF:  Are there any somewhat under-the-radar guys in the A’s system you’d suggest people might want to keep an eye on?

thDSC03367cFZ:  You know, one guy who has a chance to move pretty quickly is Tucker Healy, who started in Beloit and finished last year in Stockton…Every time Tucker’s name comes up, whether it’s regarding the depth chart or whether a team asks about him in a trade, which has happened a couple of times, and I go back and look, I’m always taken aback by how good he really was last year. So maybe not a guy who has the pedigree draft-wise…but between Beloit and Stockton last year, he had a 1.31 ERA and in 48 innings, he had 10 walks and 74 strikeouts. I mean, it’s ridiculous. And then the year before that in Vermont, he had 45 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29 innings. I would say he’s very under the radar.

AF:  What about any position players?

FZ:  I would say it’s harder for position players to slide under the radar. But two guys I think could take a big step forward are the first two college position players we drafted last year – Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy. Not that those guys are under the radar, but they didn’t get a ton of reps after signing. They’re both guys who are very advanced, and I expect them to either start the year in Stockton or wind up there at some point. And advanced college hitters can put up some noticeable numbers at that level.

cpDSC03243dAF:  And Pinder was hindered by injuries much of last year.

FZ:  Yeah, I don’t think we’ve seen any sort of true indication of his ability level. He’s a guy who could have gone as high as the late first round. So he could sneak up on people.

AF:  And he’s staying at shortstop?

FZ:  Yeah, I think we’ve been happy with how he’s looked there.

AF:  And what about Healy position-wise at this point? He’s primarily a first baseman but you also had him at third a little bit last year.

FZ:  I know we tried him at third base. Our guys liked him there. I think we’ll continue to at least give him a chance there. He likes playing third and he wants to get better there. So when a guy is being challenged on the defensive spectrum the fact that the guy wants to do it and wants to get better is always a big factor.

AF:  Now one last general question about the draft. You guys have drafted a lot more high school players in the past couple of years than you had in the past. And David Forst has said that he feels you have so much more information available on high school players now than you did even five years ago that you really feel a lot more confident going with high school guys at this point. Would you agree with that assessment?

FZ:  I think so, yeah. It’s sort of having a comfort level, seeing these guys the whole previous summer before their senior years playing in these summer circuits where they face a good level of competition…Now people have a long history of these guys dating back at least to the summer before their senior years. And scouting staffs are a little bigger now, so you get more looks…and we don’t think it’s a useful strategy to just lop off half of the draft pool and say we’re just taking these guys. We’re probably going to lose out on talent if we do that…and just to be clear, that’s not something that’s happened in the last three years. I think the balancing of value between high school and college guys is something that probably started ten or fifteen years ago and has sort of very slowly and steadily worked its way into what I think is pretty close to parity at this point. And that’s because of team’s drafting tendencies but also because of the correction of what was once a pretty big information asymmetry between these players.

AF:  Great, thanks a lot – that was even more informative than I’d hoped!

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