Interviews

A’s Top 10 Prospect Review with A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens

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A’s Assistant GM Billy Owens

Now that we’re about a third of the way into the minor league season, we wanted to step back and take a look at how all the players from our preseason Top 10 Prospect List have been performing so far this season. And there’s no one better to help us do that than A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization back in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was then named the A’s Director of Player Personnel in 2004. And this past offseason, he was promoted to the position of Assistant General Manager, where the A’s are able to put his extensive knowledge of the game and its players to use in a variety of different ways.

Owens took the time to speak with us this past weekend while he was out on the road scouting prospects for next month’s amateur draft. We asked his opinion of each of the A’s top 10 prospects from our list and, as always, his enthusiasm for the A’s young players is obvious…

 

AF:  Okay, we wanted to go through our preseason Top 10 Prospect List with you and get your take on where they’re all at now that we’re about a third of the way into the minor league season at this point. So let’s start out with #1 on our list, pitcher Sean Manaea, who’s already made it to the major leagues, maybe even a little sooner than everyone expected due to all the injuries. He’s obviously a very talented young arm. Can you tell me a little bit about what you like about him and how you see his future in the major leagues shaping up?

Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

BO:  Obviously, he’s young and it’s early in his professional career. It’s only his third full season. We made the deal last year with Ben Zobrist to acquire Manaea and he’s been super for us. He came over to Midland last year and he helped that team to a Texas League championship. He had a lights-out spring training. And with the injuries and Sean’s very good performance there in Nashville, we promoted him. He’s got really good stuff. He’s topped out at 96 mph. He throws from a slightly unusual slot that causes deception. He’s got a nice slider and a developing changeup, and he attacks the zone. It’s obviously early in his development, and there are going to be peaks and valleys, but at some point he’s going to settle in and be a really good major league starting pitcher. Physically, he reminds me of the old Pittsburgh Pirates lefty John Candelaria – he kind of throws from that same slot as the Candy Man. Sean’s going to be a really good pitcher, but it’s early and he’s young. He’s acclimated himself very well. He’s a hard-working kid, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he takes everything in from the veterans. And it’s exciting to see what he’s done so far.

AF:  It looks like he could be more of a strikeout pitcher than Candelaria was in his heyday. He’s obviously very talented, but he’s hit a few bumps in the road early on. Is there anything in particular that he needs to do to get over the hump?

BO:  You know, they always tell you about the major leagues but, once you get there, it’s still a little bit different – it goes at a faster pace. And he obviously only had a handful of Triple-A starts. So he’s just got to fine-tune his stuff and keep on going pitch to pitch, because in the major leagues things happen quickly. So it’s nothing earth-shattering. His timetable’s just been accelerated…and at the end of the day, he’s going to be a really good major league starting pitcher.

AF:  So maybe just more of a mental adjustment for him then.

BO:  I wouldn’t even say that. I just think that the major leagues are the ultimate test. And so until you see it, until they make adjustments, until you adjust back, until you watch the video of the major league hitters, until they watch you, it’s a constant chess match. And you don’t really master that chess match until you’ve been through the wars and gone back and forth and settled in. So for a kid in his third full season, it’s a lot to ask, but he’s taken everything in his stride. He went 6 2/3 innings in his last two starts. Everything’s been positive, he’s aggressive and he’s having fun out there.

AF:  He certainly seems to have a good attitude, that’s for sure. #2 on our list is infielder Franklin Barreto. One good thing to see out of him this year is the fact that his errors in the field are certainly down from last year. He’s also been moving around, playing a little bit of second base in addition to shortstop. So how do you see his positional future shaking out and how do you view his play in the field this year?

Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto

BO:  I think that so far, he’s 20 years old in Double-A, he’s a really talented kid, he’s got 4 or 5 home runs already and he’s got 13 stolen bases. At the youth level, the best kid always plays shortstop. So from an athletic standpoint, he’s a talented kid. He’s almost a double-plus runner on a major league scale. He’s got power – he hit 3 home runs in major league spring training this year. Last year, he started off somewhat slowly but he finished over .300 in the California League, so offensively he’ll be fine. In Double-A, we’ve got guys like Matt Chapman and Yairo Munoz who are all capable of playing shortstop. So with all those guys on the same team, it’s been advantageous to move those guys around.

AF:  I think he’s only got about 9 or 10 walks so far this season. So would you like to see him improve his plate discipline a little bit at this point?

BO:  Yeah, but you’ve got to put it in context. He’s 20 years old in Double-A, and he’s always been a career .300 hitter and he’s an aggressive player. So we could sit here in May and talk about certain ratios, but not a lot of people have been 20 years old at Double-A putting up solid numbers. And just from development and games played, he’ll learn to tighten the strike zone and, from there, he’ll definitely flourish and be a really good player.

AF:  #3 on our list is Matt Olson. He’s been a top power-hitting prospect in the system for a few years now. But he’s struggled a bit so far this year at Nashville. I think he’s got just 3 or 4 home runs and he’s been hitting below the Mendoza Line for most of the season. So can you talk a little bit about the challenges that he’s faced adapting to Triple-A?

Matt Olson

Matt Olson

BO:  Yeah, I think we’re still very excited about Matt Olson. Triple-A is definitely a very big test, especially for a kid who’s still at a young age – 22 years old. Coming off a solid Double-A season, the first two months are definitely going to be challenging, but it’s been encouraging the last ten days or so where he’s tightening the strike zone and the walk-to-strikeout ratio is starting to pick up. You know, Double-A pitchers have really good stuff, and in Triple-A, they start being capable of really hitting their spots and pitching in sequences and really pitching to the scouting report. And then in the major leagues, they have both. So every level is a challenge as you climb the ladder. And I think Matt had to go to Triple-A to see the adjustments there that he had to be able to make. He’s a smart kid and a very talented player, and now hopefully from May going forward, he’ll continue to make those adjustments and tighten the zone. He had a really good second half last year in Midland. So this year, expect more of the same. He’ll make an adjustment from May going forward and have a really strong second half of the season.

AF:  He’s primarily been playing in right field this season. I think he’s only spent about half a dozen games at first base this year. Given that there could be an opening at that position in Oakland in the near future, do you expect him to continue getting most of his playing time in right field this season?

BO:  Yeah, I think that it increases his versatility. We’ve talked in the past about the fact that Matt’s a plus defensive first baseman, no question about it, but I also think he’s an underrated athlete. Last year, he went out to the Texas League and it was the first time that he’s really played that much outfield. And he had a ton of assists – he was among the league leaders in assists from the outfield. So going forward, having that versatility, he can always play a really good first base, and getting acclimated to right field at the higher level is only going to benefit Matt and the organization going forward.

AF:  #4 on our list is someone you’ve got to be pretty excited about this year, third baseman Matt Chapman. He’s leading the Texas League in home runs with 11, which isn’t an easy thing to do, and he’s been taking some walks as well. So what have you been seeing out of Matt Chapman at the Double-A level this year?

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

BO:  He’s been exciting from the moment he stepped in the organization. We picked late in the first round that year. And Eric Kubota identified Matt Chapman as somebody we’d have a chance to get with our pick that year in the draft but also somebody he thought was going to be a high caliber first-round pick, and he’s proven correct. I mean, Matt Chapman’s exciting. He’s got a ton of natural power to all fields, not just pull-side power. He’s got plenty of power to the opposite field, which he showed on a few homers in major league spring training. His throwing arm is top shelf – as good a throwing arm as you’ll see out there. For Team USA, when he was a rising prospect, I think he threw 100 mph as a reliever – his arm’s that good. And he showed it in major league spring training. I think he got voted one of the top defensive third basemen last year in the minor leagues. He’s a natural fielder, and he’s capable of sliding over to shortstop and playing a really good shortstop as well. The power is definitely going to be there, and it’s exciting to see him tighten the strike zone and improve the walk-to-strikeout ratio.

AF:  With the arm he has, do you feel he has enough range and enough natural ability to be able to play shortstop at the major league level?

BO:  Yeah, I think it’s possible. He’s definitely a top-flight third base defender, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could log some games at shortstop at that level.

AF:  #5 on our list is third baseman Renato Nunez. He got off to a good start at Nashville this year and he’s been leading the team in home runs there. So how do you feel about the way he seems to be handling things at Triple-A this year?

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Renato Nunez

BO:  It’s been exciting to watch Renato’s development. He’s made adjustments at every level. He hit almost 30 home runs in the California League, then he cut down on his strikeouts dramatically moving up to Double-A, and he’s continued to tighten the strike zone at the Triple-A level. And he’s got a nice swing – it’s short, it’s compact and he produces a lot of home runs with that swing. He’s capable of using the whole field, going line to line. He’s a solid offensive hitting prospect. It’s been fun to see him make the adjustments, and he definitely has a chance to continue that going forward and improve his numbers.

AF:  And what have you seen in terms of his defense at third base so far this year?

BO:  Yeah, he’s been solid over there. He’s definitely an offense-oriented player. But he works hard and shows flashes defensively. We have Eric Martins there, our hitting instructor, but he also has a lot of experience in the infield, and Steve Scarsone, our manager, who also was a very good infielder for a long time. They’re constantly helping Renato develop into a solid infielder. And time, reps and opportunity hopefully lead to progress and we’ll see where it goes.

AF:  #6 on our list is infielder Chad Pinder. He’s another guy who, like Matt Olson, has had some difficulties at Nashville early on. I think he’s only had about half a dozen walks there this year. Can you talk about some of the challenges he’s faced at the Triple-A level this season?

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder

BO:  Yeah, it’s the same kind of thing we talked about. Triple-A is definitely another step – it’s a challenge. The pitchers are better, but Chad will definitely adjust. He’s been on a hot streak the last 10 or 15 games. He’s making a lot harder, more authoritative contact. He’s tightening the strike zone. He’s always been somewhat of a free swinger, and he’s had success doing that, but Triple-A poses more challenges with that style. He’s a very instinctive player, he’s a smart player and I believe he’ll adjust. Now that he’s seen that caliber of pitching for the first six or seven weeks of the season, we’re slowly seeing him making the adjustments – he’s starting to barrel more baseballs and he’s driving the ball a lot better towards the end of the month. So going forward, it’s definitely going to be exciting to see how he progresses this year. He’s an exciting player, and he’s just going to continue to progress and evolve and make adjustments.

AF:  He’s had about a dozen errors at shortstop so far, and I think a lot of them have been throwing errors. Has he just been rushing things a bit? How do you account for that?

BO:  For one, shortstop’s the most difficult position on the field – you get the most chances. And with young infielders, you don’t judge them by the number of miscues per se. He’s a solid fielder. He’s working hard with Eric Martins, he’s working hard with Steve Scarsone, and he’s continuing to improve. He only went back to full-time shortstop in the last year and a half. He’s steady and he had a solid major league spring training. So going forward, he’ll continue to work at it and he’ll be able to improve his shortstop positioning but also, at some point, be able to play all three infield positions, because you never know when opportunity’s going to arise.

AF:  #7 on our list is a pitcher who’s been at Triple-A this season, Dillon Overton. He’s a little ways past the Tommy John surgery now and it’s my understanding that he’s finally off the leash and free to go. He’s hit a few bumps in a couple of his starts, but his command has continued to be solid. What have you seen out of him at Triple-A this year?

Dillon Overton

Dillon Overton

BO:  Dillon’s a very good pitcher. He reads hitters very well. He just has a natural instinct to pitch, and he moves the ball in and out. He’s got a really advanced changeup and a solid curveball. His fastball will sit comfortably in that 87-91 mph range, a touch more occasionally. But he understands the game, he has a natural instinct for the mound and he’s got very good touch. He’s unpredictable out there as far as his sequencing. So he’s solid. He’ll definitely be a major league pitcher at some point, and then we’ll see exactly what role that is, but he can pitch, for sure.

AF:  Is his velocity about where it was last season or has it ticked up at all this year?

BO:  Yeah, I’d say it’s more similar to where it was last year. And honestly, I think we all saw Dillon pre-surgery and he showed flashes of having more velocity than he has as a pro. But, like you said, he’s got a fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s progressed at every level, he gets hitters out, he pitches deep into ballgames now, and he pounds that strike zone. So he’ll be a major league pitcher regardless, and he’ll be a major league pitcher with the arsenal that he has currently.

AF:  #8 on our list was catcher Jacob Nottingham, whom you guys traded away in the offseason in the Khris Davis deal. Can I just ask you how hard it was to trade away a top catching prospect like that whom you guys had just made an effort to acquire?

BO:  I think that all 30 teams are trying to win as many games as possible. We’re excited to have Khris Davis. And when you make a trade, both organizations are trying to improve themselves. We were able to acquire a 30-home-run bat and they were able to acquire a good catching prospect and a solid pitching prospect. So both sides agreed to to the deal, and we’re happy.

AF:  #9 on our list is infielder Yairo Munoz. He got a bit of a late start to the season with some nagging injuries, but he’s been showing some pop in his time with Midland this year. What have you seen out of him in his time at Double-A so far this season?

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz

BO:  He’s a talented kid and he always responds to challenges. He’s got a lot of tools – he’s got pop in his bat, he can run, he’s got a fabulous throwing arm. Matt Chapman and Yairo Munoz have the two best infield throwing arms in the system by far. He’s hit the ground running in Double-A. He got a taste of it last year, he got moved up for the playoffs, and now he’s been off to a good start. Like you said, he had some nagging injuries, but he’s there now and he’s having solid at-bats – he’s driving the baseball. He’s a natural shortstop. With him, Barreto and Chapman, with those three kids capable of playing shortstop, it’s allowed all three of them to gain some versatility by moving around. But Yairo is definitely a solid major league prospect, and I could see him moving up our rankings as time goes on.

AF:  I know he’s been playing shortstop, second base and now a little bit of third base this year. So do you see him continuing to see time at all three of those positions as the season continues?

BO:  Yeah, I just believe that the best players normally start off as shortstops. So from a draft process or when you sign a kid internationally, a lot of times you sign shortstops or you draft shortstops. And in our case, in the last couple of years, between Barreto, Chapman and Munoz, they’re all at the same stage of their development at Double-A. They all have shortstop/third base experience, but they’re on the same team. They can’t all play one position, so they’re going to move around and gain versatility and also help that team win ballgames.

Richie Martin

Richie Martin

AF:  Well, speaking of shortstops, #10 on our list is shortstop Richie Martin. Everyone was really looking forward to getting a better look at him in his first full season this year. Obviously it must have been disappointing to see him get hurt. But even though he’s been off the field, can you tell me what you like about Richie Martin based on what you’d seen out of him prior to his knee injury this spring?

BO:  Yeah, Richie’s got a very good shortstop profile. He’s strong defensively – he’s got all the actions you want to see. He’s got a strong throwing arm, he’s got very good hands and he’s got tremendous agility and flexibility for the shortstop position. Offensively, he’s got a line-drive bat and he uses the field. And I believe, last year, he was one of the youngest players from the SEC who got drafted. He’s got tools, he has intangibles and he’s got really good makeup. It’ll be exciting to see when he gets on the field and shows what he can do.

AF:  And with Nottingham off our list due to the trade, we replaced him with pitcher Casey Meisner. When he came over from the Mets in the Tyler Clippard trade last year, he got off to a great start and looked really solid at Stockton last season. But he seems to be struggling with his command a bit this year. So can you tell me what you’ve seen out of him so far this season?

BO:  He’s a tall kid – he’s 6’7”. When he’s pitching very well, he’s had a great angle on the ball – he throws downhill, throws strikes. He’s got a pretty good changeup and a solid breaking ball. At Stockton, it’s an offense-oriented park…and Stockton can be challenging. Starting this year, he’s been okay, but definitely he needs to keep on working on pounding that strike zone, getting ahead in the count and having a strong second half going forward.

AF:  And finally, one guy who wasn’t on our top 10 list, or many others, whom I have to ask you about just because he’s gotten off to such a great start is pitcher Daniel Mengden. He seems like a really smart pitcher who’s been tremendous so far this year. So what you’ve seen out of him and what accounts for his great start this season?

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Daniel Mengden

BO:  He’s a student of the game. In college, he was a top-flight pitching prospect. He got dinged up in his junior year and it caused him to fall in the draft to the fourth round. Houston was able to get him there and then we were able to acquire Daniel and Jacob Nottingham in the Scott Kazmir trade. And since he’s come over, he’s been fabulous. He’s been up to 95-96 mph with the fastball. He’s got a solid breaking ball and a good changeup. He’s absolutely pounded the zone and been very efficient and aggressive. He keeps a book on the hitters. He’s been outstanding and it’s been fun to watch. He’s met every challenge and, going forward, we expect more of the same.

AF:  So is there anything else he needs to do to get to the next level?

BO:  He’s at Triple-A now and he’s knocking on the door. He’s putting up zeroes, he’s a diligent worker and he’s been very aggressive. When he came over to the system, he acclimated very well. So the future’s definitely bright!

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Getting To Know: A’s Pitching Prospect Daniel Mengden

The mustachioed Mr. Mengden

The mustachioed Mr. Mengden

Right-hander Daniel Mengden came roaring out of the gate this season and got off to as impressive a start as any pitcher in the A’s system. The Texas native allowed just two runs over his first four starts at Double-A Midland while notching 28 strikeouts in 23 innings to go along with his 0.78 ERA. When top pitching prospect Sean Manaea was promoted to Oakland, the 23-year-old was quickly summoned to Triple-A Nashville to take his spot in the Sounds starting rotation. And in his first start in Music City, Mengden appeared just as dominant, tossing six shutout innings to earn the win in his Nashville debut.

After attending Westside High School in Houston, Mengden blossomed into a star pitcher at Texas A&M and, after a particularly impressive sophomore season, he was considered a possible first-round draft pick. But injury issues in his junior year pushed him into the fourth round, where he was selected by his hometown Houston Astros in the 2014 draft. After spending parts of two seasons in the Astros organization, Mendgen was acquired by the A’s last summer, along with catcher Jacob Nottingham, in the trade that sent left-hander Scott Kazmir to Houston, and he ended up posting a 4.25 ERA over eight starts for Stockton last season.

Mengden is a four-pitch pitcher whose fastball has apparently topped out at 98 mph this year. “He’s been super,” said A’s special assistant Grady Fuson on Mengden’s hot start. “I saw him last year prior to the trade too. He’s got good stuff – his velocity, curveball and changeup are all solid.” And when asked what Mengden needs to do to make it to the next level, Fuson offered, “I’d like to see him more focused early in the count – he needs to get strike one more often.”

If he can keep it going, Mengden’s fast start this season could possibly put him on a similar path to former A’s pitching prospects Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin in 2012. After getting off to hot starts at Midland that year, they were both moved up to Triple-A, where they continued to impress, and the pair ended up finshing the season in the A’s starting rotation. And with expected A’s starters Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront both sidelined for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, it’s not hard to imagine Mengden making an appearance in the major league rotation before the season is through if he can keep up the good work.

Also working in Mengden’s favor, as far as A’s fans may be concerned, is his distinctive handlebar mustache, reminiscent of legendary A’s reliever Rollie Fingers, which will certainly help endear him to the A’s faithful whenever he ultimately arrives in Oakland. We took the chance to speak with the mustachioed Mr. Mengden this weekend, just a day before he was set to make his second start for Nashville…

 

AF:  Well your season’s certainly gotten off to a good start. So is there anything in particular you attribute your early success to this year?

DM:  Well if I think about it, I probably would say it’s been the first offseason I’ve been able to work out and everything. When I was drafted by the Astros originally, I had a stress fracture in my back and I had to rehab that…so I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been going so well – kind of just being healthy. And I’ve really worked on normal stuff you’d work on during the offseason – just trying to make my pitches better and just trying to make my craft better overall.

AF:  You haven’t been at Triple-A for very long yet, but does anything seem different to you in terms of the batters you’re facing and their approach at this level?

DM:  I think it’s kind of the same. I’d say the one thing that’s different is maybe the approach is just a little bit better and their overall eye with two strikes and their knowledge of the strike zone’s a little bit better.

AF:  I believe you’ve got four different pitches you’re working with. So what’s exactly in your repertoire?

DM:  Yeah, I throw a fastball, both four-seam and two-seam, a cutter, a changeup and a curveball.

AF:  And which would you say is the strongest of your secondary pitches?

DM:  To put them in order, I’d probably say changeup, cutter, curveball.

AF:  How do you feel about your off-speed stuff at this point? Is there anything in particular you’re working on right now?

Mengden hurling for the Hounds

Mengden hurling for the Hounds

DM:  The one thing I really worked on this offseason was the curveball. It was more a sort of get-me-over pitch. And I really started working on making it an out pitch, making it sharper, being able to throw it harder. So that’s honestly been a really big key for me – being able to have four strong pitches, not just three then a curveball. I feel like what I’ve done with my curveball this offseason allows me to have four strong pitches that I can throw to hitters and keep them off balance.

AF:  So what’s your out-pitch that you’re most comfortable going to when you really need something in a tough spot?

DM:  I’ll really use all three, or actually all four, just depending on what the hitter shows me. And if one’s not working, I guess the one that’s always there is usually the cutter. That pitch is there for me most of the time. So if I would pick the one that’s the most consistent, it’d probably be the cutter.

AF:  I’ve heard reports that your velocity has been up a bit this season. So do you feel you’re throwing a little harder this year?

DM:  Yeah, I feel kind of the same, but the numbers that I’ve been getting back this year have been a little bit better.

AF:  What have they shown you topping out at this year?

DM:  98

AF:  Well that’s a good number!

DM:  Yeah!

AF:  Do you feel that’s primarily due to being healthy and the offseason work you were able to put in this year?

DM:  Yeah, I think so. In my first full season with the Astros, I was anywhere from 90-95, and then this year in spring training, I was getting it up there. In spring training, I hit 98 a couple times. And so far this year, there’s been a lot of 97s, and they’ve said I’m 93-94ish most of the time, instead of 90-91.

AF:  Well, those few extra miles an hour make a big difference! Looking at your numbers over the past couple of years, it doesn’t look like you’ve had all that much trouble with left-handed hitters. Do you have any kind of different approach against left-handed and right-handed batters?

DM:  Not really, I think the way my pitches are are a lot harder on lefties. I have a hard change and then a cutter on the hands and also a fastball and a curveball. I feel like it really affects them more than righties. I can run that cutter in on their hands and really blow them up, and then I can go down and away with the changeup and kind of get them all messed up. And really with all four pitches, I can keep them off balance.

AF:  Now going back to your trade to the A’s last summer, I know you’re from Houston and you were drafted by your hometown team, the Astros. So what was your reaction to the trade and how did you find out about it?

DM:  I was actually sleeping. I got a call about 9 in the morning. It was an assistant GM. I saw his name pop up and I was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on?” So I woke myself up really fast and answered the phone. And he just said straight up, “You’ve been traded to the Athletics. Wish you all the best, you’ve done great for our organization, blah, blah, blah.” And he said, “David Forst with the A’s will be in touch with you. Have a great career.” That was it, and so at that moment, I was like, “What?” It was kind of weird. We knew trades were going to happen because the Astros were making a run. We were all talking about it, but we thought maybe I’d have a safety blanket over me because I’m from Houston, but I was one of the first ones to go when me and Jacob [Nottingham] got traded. And the A’s organization’s been great, I love everything about it and it’s just been a great change for me.

AF:  And if I recall, I think your team, Lancaster, was playing the A’s affiliate, Stockton, the day you were traded, right?

DM:  Yes, me and Jacob packed up our bags and walked across the field and played our old team.

Mengden & Nottingham making their way from the Lancaster dugout to the Stockton dugout

Mengden & Nottingham making their way from the Lancaster dugout to the Stockton dugout last summer

AF:  I’d imagine getting traded in the middle of the season and having to meet a bunch of new teammates had to be a little weird for you. Did you know anyone with the Ports or become tight with anyone over there quickly?

DM:  Yeah, I knew Matt Chapman beforehand [from Team USA]. And getting traded over there, it was nice knowing somebody. And then me, Corey Walter and Joel Seddon became pretty good friends, and then we were all together at Midland to start the year, so it was nice.

AF:  Now coming over and joining a new organization, how did you feel about the A’s and their approach to things?

DM:  I liked it. It was way different from the Astros. The Astros were pretty strict – a lot of rules and stuff like that. And then getting traded over to the A’s, Rick Magnante, our manager at High-A, said, “We have two rules – be on time and wear white cleats.” So coming from the Astros to that, I was kind of blown away. Being here is really laid back. They let us just go out there and play baseball – be professional and go about your business. So it’s a lot of fun.

AF:  I guess there aren’t too many rules and regulations to have to remember anyway.

DM:  Nope, just go throw the baseball.

AF:  This spring was your first spring in the A’s minor league camp. Gil Patterson also just returned to the organization as the A’s minor league pitching coordinator. How much time did you spend with him and was there anything in particular that the coaching staff was really working with you on this spring?

DM:  Yeah, he’s a great coach. We worked on my stretch a little bit. My windup’s been pretty consistent for me. But we really worked on the stretch and really trying to find something that was comfortable for me and allowed me to be above the ball and get downhill with my pitches and throw pretty good strikes.

AF:  I know you’ve got that unusual motion where you’ve got your hands way up over your head before you come set. Where did that come from?

DM:  It came from back when I was in college. I was actually a catcher and a pitcher in college. My hitting wasn’t very good, so that’s why I’m a pitcher now. We just kind of threw it all together…one day, I was just messing around, throwing things together, and it started working.

AF:  Now you started out the year at Double-A Midland. John Wasdin is the pitching coach down there. How much did he contribute to the good start you got off to this year?

DM:  Yeah, he’s a great pitching coach and a great guy too. We worked on having a good plan going into the game, just keeping the ball down. Double-A and Triple-A, that’s where the real hitters are – the guys who can hit the fastball. So you’ve really got to be able to locate your fastball and use your other pitches as well.

AF:  And now that you’re in Nashville, you’ve got Rick Rodriguez as your pitching coach.

DM:  Yeah, he was our pitching coach in High-A last year. So it was nice getting to be with him for the last two months in Stockton and then being here is kind of nice. He knows me pretty well and what I like to do. So it’s nice having a guy you know around.

AF:  So when you head out to take the mound, what’s your focus? Is there anything in particular you’re trying to remind yourself to do?

DM:  Just pound the zone, establish strikes and let the defense play behind you.

AF:  Despite your success this year, I’ve noticed that your walk rate has actually been up a little over last year. Is there any particular reason for that and are you trying to cut down on that a bit?

DM:  Yeah, you never really want to walk people. I was talking about that with John Wasdin right before I got promoted. The one thing I can really work on is cutting down the walks. I think I had 12 walks at Midland in 23 innings, and I think I want to say maybe 8 or 9 were out of the stretch. I think I had 4 or 5 4-pitch walks. Sometimes I’d just kind of lose it. I’ve really been working on the stretch, and it’s slowly gotten better over time. But overall, my walks have been a little rough. I think I had close to 40 in around 130 innings last year, and I already had 12 in 23 this year. So I was really trying to work on that in my last outing. I was doing a good job of pounding the zone – I think I had 69 strikes in 96 pitches. And I was really trying to let the defense play and trying to use 3 or 4 pitches to get guys out instead of running the count to 2-2 or 3-2 and stuff like that.

AF:  So is there anything else in particular you’re focused on trying to do the rest of the season?

DM:  I’m just trying to stay as consistent as I can and just trying to go out there and make consistent starts for our team and give us a chance to win a ballgame.

AF:  And finally, I have to ask you where that handlebar mustache of yours came from.

Rollie Fingers: Not a bad role model

Rollie Fingers: Not a bad role model

DM:  It goes back to college. When I was at Texas A&M, our coach was pretty strict on facial hair and being clean cut, but he did allow us to grow whatever facial hair he grew. So he grew a normal bushy mustache, so I was was going to one-up him and grow a crazy Rollie Fingers mustache and curl it up. So I did it in college and the fan club did it and I started throwing well…then last year, I brought it back with the Astros organization. And then in the middle of the year last year, Ralston Cash with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization contacted me over Instagram and noticed I had a mustache just like him. He has his own charity foundation named after him, the Ralston Cash Foundation, and it helps children who’ve lost parents to cancer. He has these T-shirts with a silhouette of a guy’s face with a mustache on it, and he sells those T-shirts for his charity. And he asked if I wanted to join, since we had the same moustache, and help spread the word and help little kids around the U.S. So I told him, “Sure, I’d love to join.” So on my Instagram and Facebook, I try to help out when I can…but people kind of joked when I was traded to the A’s, it was like, “Hey, give me that guy with the stupid mustache!”

AF:  Well, you’re definitely in the right organization for mustache appreciation!

DM:  Yeah, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers are good company. If I’m with them, that’s always good!

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

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

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 six years ago to serve as a special assistant to the front office.

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

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

 

AF:  The A’s have had a big crop of talented young players passing through the major league camp this year. So is it exciting to have a bunch of young guys like that around who are right on the cusp of breaking through?

GF:  Well the good thing is, after the trades last year, there’s a different look to the system now that there’s been some trades and we’ve brought some talent back. And last year’s draft looks looks like it’s panning out. So, within one year, you’ve seen the talent base come back pretty strong…That whole crew that was in Double-A last year – Nunez and Pinder and Olson – it’s a good group. And now there’s more depth coming in from behind.

AF:  Well, let me ask you about some of those guys in particular. Chad Pinder, whom I know you’ve always been high on, had a big year in the Texas League last year, which isn’t easy for anyone to do. And he’s had the chance to spend a lot of time in the big league camp. So what have you been seeing out of him this spring?

cp640461bGF:  He’s had a great camp. And the most impressive thing is all the early work and side work that [A’s infield coach] Ron Washington does in the backfields. Wash really didn’t know him, and Wash has been really, really impressed. And he agrees with me – there’s no reason why this guy can’t play a major league shortstop. He’s had a good camp. His at-bats have been good – they’ve been quality. I think he’s made a very positive impression on everybody.

AF:  It looks like he’ll be the primary shortstop at Nashville this year. But do you think he’ll be seeing a little time at other spots as well just to continue developing his versatility?

GF:  Yeah, it’s important to keep his versatility, for when he’s ready to make the next jump. So he’s going to play some second base, maybe he goes and plays third a little bit, but he’ll be a primary shortstop – he’s earned it.

AF:  Now what about Renato Nunez? He was able to keep his power numbers up at Midland last year, which is no small feat. But what does he still need to be working on at this point?

rn600524dGF: He’s working much better as far as his practice time, his B.P. time, his drill work. He’s trying to stay centered, trying to hit the ball to the middle of the field and to the opposite field. His natural move is to the pull side of the field, so there’s that deep count, breaking ball thing that kind of gets him in trouble. And his footwork with his throwing, his hands and his actions – his reactions have really improved over the years. He’s getting better with his feet, but there’s still some things with his throwing, getting his legs underneath him and his stride and tempo and pace, to improve his accuracy.

AF:  So do you think we’re still primarily going to be seeing him at third base this year? Or do you think he’s going end up getting much time at first base?

GF:  Probably mostly third. But everybody has to be versatile to some degree, so he’s probably going to have to go over there from time to time. If [Max] Muncy’s in Triple-A, we’ll see how that whole thing works itself out.

AF:  Matt Olson has gotten a good amount of time in the big league camp this spring, and he’s set to start out the year at Nashville. I’d like to know what you’ve been seeing out him lately and what you think he’s got to do to take things to the next level?

mo621566bGF:  Nothing’s really different – you know, defending, doing all the things he does well. And he’s showed some power. At the same time, the swing-and-miss, sometimes that catches up to him a little bit. But the bottom line is, he goes over there and some of those things get exposed and it just reminds us all what needs to happen to make this guy complete. He’s still young, he’s still learning, and he’s at a higher level of baseball now. But he comes to play, he does all the right things, and he never takes his offense to his defense. So he just needs to get his at-bats and get things going.

AF:  He played a lot of right field, particularly in the second half, at Midland last season. Do you think we’re going to end up seeing as much of him in the outfield as first base at Nashville this year?

GF: Yeah, I think that’ll take place as the season goes on. He’s an above average first baseman. He can play the outfield, but his defense lies at first. So it’s all going to depend on the depth of that club in the outfield and what’s needed out there. It’s certainly not a bad idea that he continues to go out there from time to time. But nobody’s trying to make him a full-time outfielder.

AF:  Now second baseman Joey Wendle was at Nashville all last season, but he never got a September call-up. So what does he need to do this year to try to move up the ladder?

jw621563dGF:  If you’re asking me personally, I think he’s a very gifted instinctual hitter. This guy can square up a baseball anywhere in the strike zone. He’s jumpy, he’s aggressive. If there’s anything I would like to see him do is kind of back down and become a hair more patient. I know he loves to swing it, and he can hit it. There’s a lot of things he can hit, but he can’t hit it all with quality. There’s still some polish on some pivots that I think he can take another move with. But this guy’s a gamer, and he plays hard – he plays with his hair on fire. He had a very solid year when it was all said and done in Triple-A. So he’s waiting in the wings and trying to make some improvements on some things that he needs to work on.

AF:  So far, he’s only played exclusively at second base here. Is there any thought to trying to increase his versatility at all?

GF:  No, he’s not the kind of guy that you would see moving to short or third.

AF:  Well, I guess second base it is then! I wanted to ask you about Max Muncy, whom you mentioned earlier. Are you expecting him to basically be splitting time between first base and third base again this year at Nashville?

GF:  Yeah, we haven’t had that discussion yet, but Bob [Melvin] has used him at both in big league camp. And when you think about the personnel that’s going to Nashville, if he goes back, it’s going to have to be creative – some time at first, some time at third, some time at DH.

AF:  Last year, Tyler Ladendorf broke camp with the A’s. Then he got hurt and was sidelined for much of the season. He’s been playing a lot of center field in camp this spring…

tl502285bGF:  Yeah, and he’s shined!

AF:  Do you expect we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in center field this year at Nashville?

GF:  Yeah, ever since a year and a half ago, that’s what we’re trying to create out of him is maybe that super utility type guy. But he’s done an absolutely fabulous job in center. They hit these balls deep in gaps, and you’ve really seen him run down some balls and be instinctual. So it’s been a positive, positive thing for him.

AF:  So, with his ability to play second base and shortstop as well, it looks like he could really be a legitimate option up the middle for you across the board.

GF:  Sure, yeah.

AF:  You don’t really have that many true center fielders at the top of the system right now, so I guess that’s a good spot to have him in. Speaking of which, do you see Jaycob Brugman spending more time in center field than in the corners this season? Where do you see him spending most of his time this year?

GF:  Probably more center this year – he plays it well. He’s one of the best we’ve got, so he’ll probably spend a lot of time there. He’ll move from time to time but right now, the way it looks, mostly center.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on some of the younger guys. I know you always talked about Matt Chapman’s power potential, and he’s really been showing it. He had a good season at Stockton last year. And he’s spent a lot of time in the big league camp this year and he’s really been having a great spring here.

mc656305cGF:  Yeah, he’s probably been the talk of this camp. You know, every year there’s a new kid who’s fortunate enough to have a very high-performance camp, and Chapman’s been the guy. And it’s putting pressure on some of the other infielders – they’re all wanting to change positions! But he’s done well. His B.P.’s have been electric, he’s driving the ball to right-center like nobody else, and he’s just had a very, very impressive camp all around.

AF:  What kind of challenges to do you see him facing in Double-A at Midland this year?

GF:  First of all, health. Let’s just find a way to stay on the field. He’s been with us a year and a half now. The year we signed him, he kind of broke down in Beloit. Then he broke down coming in last year and missed a lot of time early and got a late start, and then broke down with the wrist. So he needs to get 500 at-bats and 140 games. But he’s doing great things. He’s starting to get a little more rhythmic with his swing – not being so rigid – and you’re starting to see the results of that. I mean, who knows what the competition’s like? With his limited amount of experience, he could have some struggles early. But hopefully he’s the kind of guy who starts to figure some things out. So, a learning first-half and a performance second-half.

AF:  Well, we’ve certainly seen that happen before.

GF:  He’s been having a performance big league camp!

AF:  Another top prospect who’ll be at Midland this season is shortstop Franklin Barreto. I remember when you were first seeing him here last spring after you guys acquired him and he ended up getting into camp late and got off to a bit of a slow start. What kind of progress have you seen out of him since then over this past year?

fb620439bGF:  Amazing. Either I was completely blind or…this guy’s not anything like it looked when he first got here a year ago. He’s got an instinct for the baseball defensively – he’s not polished yet, but that’s the least of our worries. I mean, footwork, technique – we can do a great job cleaning that stuff up. But there’s a lot of life in his bat – the ball jumps. And he’s actually throwing it a little bit better in my opinion this spring. I mean, the whole package – it’s there.

AF:  So does he maybe remind you a little bit of Miguel Tejada at this point?

GF:  Yeah, that’s a good call.

AF:  Are we going to be seeing him at any positions other than shortstop this year? Is he going to get looks at second base or in center field at all?

GF:  Yeah, depending on the health of Yairo Munoz. Munoz has kind of been tender [dealing with a lingering quad injury]. He hasn’t done much early in camp. But if they both go to Midland, then they’re both going to have some time at second at short – if that’s the way it ends up.

AF:  Yeah, David Forst had mentioned a couple months ago that maybe they both might go to Midland and end up sharing time at second and short there. But what about Munoz’s progress last year? He started out the season not so hot at Beloit, then he gets bumped up to Stockton, and suddenly he looks like a whole different guy.

ym622168bGF:  Well you know…he can be a live wire one minute and he can kind of be a downer the next. It’s just about waiting for him to grow into being a man – getting some maturity mentally. And I think that was the big change, once he left Beloit and went to a higher level of competition. You talk to [Stockton manager] Rick Magnante, and he was a model citizen in the time he was at Stockton. And it showed up in his performance – he played better in Stockton than he played in Beloit. He’s always a guy that there’s some maintenance to, but that’s what we do here. Their character, their work ethic, their maturity is as big in the coaching arena as taking B.P. and doing all the drill work. He’s an extremely talented kid, and he does things different than a lot of people. He’s strong, he’s physical – he and Chapman probably have the two best arms you’re going to see in this system.

AF:  Well, given the challenge last year, he seemed to rise to the occasion anyway.

GF: Oh, definitely.

rm621006cAF:  Another top shortstop prospect who’s been in camp this spring is your #1 pick from last year, Richie Martin. He was over in the big league camp for a while. So what have you been seeing out of him in his first spring with the organization?

GF:  We didn’t do a lot with him last summer offensively, which is what we do with most of them for a while. If we’re going to start to tinker, it usually starts in instructional league. And the only thing we did in instructional league was just tried to build some rhythm moves into his swing. And it’s coming, it’s looking better – it’s certainly coming off his bat better. He’s not cutting his swing off. Defensively, you know, this guy’s not far off. He’s got to learn the pace of the game, so that he doesn’t overcharge and things like that. But as far as the skill set, no issues.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about a couple of pitchers. First off, Sean Manaea – everyone’s been pretty excited about him here this spring. He’s set to start the year at Triple-A Nashville. So what does he need to do to get himself to the next level?

sm640455cGF:  Right now, it looks like just stay healthy. I mean, he’s been pretty dominant since we got him. Last year in the Texas League, he had 3-4-5 dominant starts. In the [Arizona] Fall League, he had a couple of dominant starts. And he’s been dominant for the most part down here in camp as well. You know, some command issues here and there – maybe a little violent move there. When he gets the adrenaline flowing, he gets a little off line and it wreaks a little havoc sometimes with his command – but that’s part of the growing curve. But the bottom line is, this guy’s been facing big leaguers up there. It’s not like he’s been pitching in the seventh inning against non-roster call-ups. He’s faced people’s big league names, and he’s had some dominant innings.

AF:  So it sounds like it won’t be long before he’s ready.

GF:  Yeah, I wouldn’t think so.

AF:  Another left-hander who got some time in big league camp is Dillon Overton. He’s been on that post-Tommy John recovery curve for a while, but he’s looked good here in camp this spring. So where is he at now and what have you been seeing out of him?

do592614cGF:  He’s healthy. He came in and you could tell he was prepared. He was a tick firmer – a lot of 88-92s. He pitched well – he put up zeroes. I think he had 6 innings with zeroes across the board – good changeups, his breaker was working.

AF:  I was going to ask you if his velocity was up a bit, and it sounds like it is.

GF:  Yeah, it is. It’s not what some people saw prior to him being hurt, but I don’t think he needs to get all that back to be a major league guy. And this is going to be the first year when he’s going to be opened up – there’s no restrictions.

AF:  So are there any other guys you’re feeling particularly good about this year that we ought to be keeping an eye on?

GF:  Yeah, two pitchers – Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves. Graves, when we drafted him, we thought he was a 90-95ish type guy. And from day one, the velocity’s been light. Last year was not a very good year. His breaking ball comes and goes. But this guy seemed really smart, he seemed like he was really into making himself a better pitcher. Late last year, we were trying to find out, “What’s missing, why do you think your velocity’s light?” “I don’t know, I haven’t changed anything.” I said, “Something’s had to change.” “I haven’t changed anything.” Well, come to find out, he stopped long-tossing. So he went back on a long-toss program for the last month or month and a half there and stayed on it all winter. And he’s been 92-96 every time out down here – good delivery, breaker’s harder and sharper, he’s throwing tremendous. And Gossett has slowed down his pace a little bit and he’s come back firmer. And he cut his hair, so he’s got better aerodynamics coming down the mound. [Laughter]

AF:  I’d heard Gossett had maybe added a cutter too.

GF:  Well, [minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson is back, so Gil gives everybody a cutter. He’s the cutter master!

AF:  So I’m assuming we’re most likely to be seeing those two guys at Stockton this year.

GF:  Yeah, most likely.

AF:  Okay great, well we’ll definitely be sure to keep an eye on the two of them this year then. Thanks!

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

Olson, Pinder & Chapman: Trio of Top Prospects Talks about Spending the Spring in Big League Camp

mo621566b#3 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Matt Olson is one of the top young power-hitting prospects in the A’s system. He was the A’s third overall pick in the 2012 draft, selected right behind shortstops Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson, who would soon become his roommates and two of us his closest friends. A first baseman by trade, Olson began increasing his versatility by spending a good amount of time in right field at Midland last year. He’s set to get his first taste of Triple-A this season at Nashville, where we’ll get to see what kind of damage his big bat can do in the Pacific Coast League.

AF:  Well, this is the first time you’ve spent a prolonged period of time in the big league camp. So what’s it been like for you and what have you been able to get out of the experience?

MO:  It’s been good…it’s a nice feeling to be around these guys and soak up whatever they’re doing and just watch what they’re doing…I’m more of an observer than going up and asking things. So I watch guys’ routines and just how they carry themselves.

AF:  Now you spent last season at Midland, which isn’t known as a hitter’s paradise. So what kind of challenges did you face and what did you have to deal with as a hitter there?

MO:  Yeah, like you said, it’s generally not known as a hitter’s park, especially for lefties. But the thing is the mental side of it. You know, I kind of had to deal with the mental side of not letting the park affect me at the plate. And I did have a little time during the season where I did let it affect me. And I kind of had to remind myself to just go through your at-bat the way you normally would. And I started seeing some results after that.

AF:  So how does the major league pitching you’ve had a chance to face over here compare to some of the minor league pitching you’ve faced in the past?

MO:  Guys just have a better feel for their stuff, maybe a little better stuff, a little tighter sliders, faster fastballs. But mainly they just know what they’re doing better and they know how to approach each at-bat better.

AF:  You’ve always been a first baseman, but you spent a lot of time playing right field last year at Midland, particularly during the second half of the season. So where are you expecting to be position-wise this coming season?

MO:  I’ve been working out at first and outfield so far this spring. I’m pretty comfortable doing either – so wherever they need me, wherever I have a spot in the lineup.

AF:  You’ve always had a reputation as a pretty solid defensive first baseman. So what was it like when you first started going out and spending time in the outfield? What particular challenges are involved in getting used to playing out there?

MO:  It’s just different as far as knowing what to do with each ball – knowing what to do with a ball down the line, who to pick up when you’re coming to throw the ball to the cut-off. There was definitely a learning curve. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% comfortable out there – I don’t think I should be. I’ve just really been starting to pick it up in the past year or so. But I’m just trying to get some work in and get more comfortable out there to where I can just not even think about anything and just let it happen.

AF:  So have you seen or talked to your old roommates Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson lately?

MO:  I haven’t talked to them much. I actually haven’t seen Addison – he’s got his baby now. But I try to keep in touch with them and talk to them every once in a while. Us three aren’t the best at communicating with each other. But once we get back with each other all hanging out in person, it’s like we didn’t miss a beat.

AF:  And of all your old roommates at Stockton, I guess Chad Pinder was the only one you still had around to keep you company at Midland last year.

MO:  Yeah, just Pinder.

AF:  I remember in Stockton, it was you, Pinder, Robertson, Billy McKinney and Austin House all living together.

MO: Yeah, whoever I live with goes!

 

cp640461b#6 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Chad Pinder was named the Texas League Player of the Year last season after leading all Midland regulars in batting average and slugging percentage as well as leading the league in total bases. He played exclusively at shortstop last season after primarily appearing at second base the year before at Stockton. Pinder is slated to begin the season as Nashville’s starting shortstop, though his ability to play short, second and third could increase the chances of him seeing some time in Oakland before long.

AF:  You’ve spent a lot of time here in the major league camp this spring, which is always a good thing. So what’s the experience been like for you?

CP:  It’s been awesome – learning a lot, getting my feet wet. So it’s been a good experience.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’ve experienced here in the big league camp that’ll be helping you out down the road?

CP:  Honestly, just all the reps I’m getting. And I’m learning a lot about different things some of these big leaguers do and how they go about their business – I’d say that’s a big thing. The kind of dedication it takes, what they do around the clubhouse – all the little things I’ve picked up on.

AF:  Has anyone in particular been a big help to you here this spring?

CP:  Working with [A’s infield coach Ron] Washington has been tremendous. I mean, I can’t speak highly enough of him and all the stuff that I’ve gotten from him thus far.

AF:  So have you been out there working in the field with him every morning?

CP:  Just about every single day.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you’ve picked up from Ron Washington that you’ll really be putting into play going forward?

CP:  Yeah, a lot of the techniques of fielding groundballs, the little things that normally I’ve never worked on, whether it be different arm angles, different angles working around the bag. There’s things that he drills into us.

AF:  And I guess he’s always going to make sure your footwork’s right too!

CP:  Yeah, no doubt, no doubt!

AF:  After spending the previous season playing second base in Stockton, you spent all last year at shortstop in Midland. So what was it like for you to get back into playing shortstop on a daily basis again?

CP:  It was nice, it was awesome. I obviously played it growing up, and I loved the opportunity to get to play it at this level.

AF:  Here in the big league camp, they’ve had you playing a lot of second base. Now moving back over there to second base, do you have to shift gears a bit, or does it come right back to you?

CP:  Yeah, it’s a little bit of shifting gears. But obviously playing there in Stockton for a full year and still getting reps there in practice at second base, it’s fine, it’s not a big deal.

AF:  The ballpark in Midland certainly isn’t known as a hitter’s park, but you obviously had a great season there, being named the Texas League player of the year. So what was the key to your success in the Texas League last year?

CP:  Honestly, I think playing in that environment helped me – knowing that I couldn’t get away with a cheap home run. I had to just focus on hitting line drives. And I think that playing in that environment helped make me a little bit more of a complete hitter last year.

AF:  So the challenge served you well then.

CP:  Yeah, definitely. It made me stay within myself and just try to hit the ball hard and make consistent hard contact.

AF:  Now your long-time roommate Matt Olson has been here in camp with you. It must be nice to have a familiar face around to go through this whole experience with.

CP:  Absolutely. I’ve known Olson basically my entire time in pro ball. And obviously we’ve been very close over the past couple years. So it’s nice to have him here for sure.

AF:  And do you ever see any of your old roommates from Stockton?

CP:  Yeah, I saw [Austin] House the other day. I saw D-Rob [Daniel Robertson]. I played with him in the [Arizona] Fall League this past year and we lived together in the Fall League. And Billy McKinney lives with us now during spring training. So we’re all still good friends.

AF:  So going forward into this season, is there anything you’re looking to try to do in the year ahead?

CP:  Just carrying everything over from last year, just staying consistent and not trying to do too much and just to continue to grow as a player.

 

mc656305c#4 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Matt Chapman was the A’s #1 pick in the 2014 draft. The team selected him primarily for his defense at the hot corner and his power potential with the bat. And Chapman made good on that potential by leading all A’s minor leaguers with 23 home runs last year while appearing in just 80 games due to injuries. The 22-year-old has been one of the A’s young standouts this spring, clearly impressing manager Bob Melvin and the coaching staff in his first big league camp. Chapman will be starting the season at Double-A Midland, but he could be a prospect who’ll be rising fast.

AF:  You’ve been getting a nice, long look here in your first big league camp. So what’s this whole experience been like for you?

MC:  It’s been a pretty surreal experience. Just to be invited here was an honor. And to be able to be around still and be able to be with the big league team and practice with them and play in games has been a dream come true.

AF:  Well, you’ve obviously been having a lot of success here. So what accounts for how well you’ve been doing this spring?

MC:  I think getting healthy, and all the work that I put in this offseason is paying off. I’ve been working with the coaches – working with Ron Washington, working with [hitting coach Darren] Bush – trying to just keep staying consistent. But I think all the hard work I put in this offseason has helped me prepare for what I’ve been doing. I feel very confident with how hard I worked. So I was prepared.

AF:  Well, it sounds like you definitely didn’t take it easy this offseason. So is there anything in particular that the coaches have been working with you on here?

MC:  Defensively, just being in the right position always and to always be thinking. I was working on my base a lot, defensively, being more level so I can use my hands more and feet. And then offensively, not trying to overswing and do too much, just trying to take a nice consistent swing and not get myself out and make sure that I’m giving myself the best opportunity to get hits.

AF:  Are there any veterans who’ve been particularly helpful to you this spring?

MC:  Billy Butler, Khris Davis, Yonder [Alonso], [Stephen] Vogt, everybody’s been giving me little tips and things to either work on or how to be more professional. So I’m just trying to soak up as much stuff as I can while I’m here.

AF:  So what have you picked up here in big league camp that you’ll be applying going forward?

MC:  Just showing up everyday regardless of what’s going on, and always trying to keep the same positive outlook. You know, it’s a long season, so being able to stay even-keeled. And putting in the work so that, whether you have success or not, you won’t question whether you prepared yourself – you’ll know you gave everything you’ve got and left everything you had out there.

AF:  Well, it looks like you’ll be heading to the Texas League this year. So what are you anticipating for yourself in the season ahead at Midland?

MC:  All I’m really focused on is going out to Midland and playing everyday and staying healthy and just trying to get better and work my way up.

AF:  You’ve always had a reputation as a quality defensive third baseman with a powerful arm, and you’ve made some nice plays here in the spring. So are you still feeling as confident as ever out in the field at third base?

MC:  Of course, you always have to be confident. That’s how you give yourself the best opportunity to have success.

AF:  Well, when you’ve got an arm like yours, I’m sure it makes it a whole lot easier to be confident out there!

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Catching Up With The M Squad: Sean Manaea, Max Muncy & Bruce Maxwell

sm640455cSean Manaea was acquired from Kansas City last summer in the Ben Zobrist trade and immediately became the A’s top pitching prospect. He posted a 1.90 ERA in 7 starts for Double-A Midland last season and is expected to start the year atop Triple-A Nashville’s starting rotation. The big lefty has looked impressive in the major league camp this spring and it may not be long before Manaea ends up making his debut in the green and gold.

AF:  This is your first time pitching in big league camp with the A’s. So how’s the experience been for you so far?

SM:  It’s awesome. It’s really, really cool seeing all these guys on TV and then being here with them – that blows my mind everyday. It really is awesome, expecially when you have great pitchers like Sean Doolittle, Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn – it’s unreal. I’m just trying to figure out as much as I can and pick their brains as much as I can while I’m here, so I can take it into the season and hopefully make it to the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal is just to make it to the big leagues. But right now, it’s really awesome. I’m just trying to have a good time and have fun.

AF:  Well, it sounds like you’re definitely not taking it for granted anyway!

SM:  Yeah, I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. You don’t know how long you’re going to be here or what could happen. So I enjoy soaking up all I can every single day.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’ve picked up here this spring that you know you’ll be able to carry forward with you into the coming season?

SM:  Yeah, just like the mentality stuff. Like [John] Axford, I was talking to him about his curveball, because a couple bullpens ago, I was having a hard time trying to throw it for strikes. So I was talking to him about it and just about tweaking pitches. And he told me that he was tweaking one of his pitches in the bullpen before he went in the game. And wow, that’s pretty crazy – just doing something a couple pitches before you get in the game. So that’s something that I’ve definitely thought about a lot and I could definitely be using that throughout the season.

AF:  So just learning how to make those constant adjustments.

SM:  Yeah, constant adjustments – that’s what the game’s all about.

AF:  How much time have you spent with A’s pitching coach Curt Young this spring and what has he had to impart to you?

SM:  I’ve been out here since January, and he’s pretty much been out here the whole time too. So pretty much every bullpen I’ve had and every time I’ve played catch, he’s been out there. He’s just been helping me a lot – talking about changeups, talking about pitching and stuff like that. It’s just been really, really cool what he’s had to say to me. So I’ve just been soaking up all I can about what he’s said.

AF:  Now you’re known to have a pretty good fastball and to throw pretty hard. But do you pay much attention to the actual velocity of your fastball or how hard you’re actually throwing it at any given time?

SM:  I don’t really worry about that stuff…The main focus for me is trying to minimize walks. That’s something I’ve kind of had problems with throughout my career. So just trying to minimize walks and be more consistent with my pitches, that’s what I’m really focused on. I know the velo will most likely be there.

AF:  Where do you feel you’re at with your secondary stuff at this stage in the spring?

SM:  Right now, my changeup feels really good coming out of my hand. I feel like I really have a good grip on it – a good feeling in my head and in my hand – and it’s doing what I want it to. So that’s where I want it to be, especially since I never really had a changeup before. And then the slider, it’s coming. There’ll be times when it’s good but then I feel like most of time it’s been kind of bad. So I’ve just got to worry about getting that right grip and being able to get that good feeling back in my hand. So that’s something that I have to be working on these next couple weeks before the season starts.

AF:  Is there anyone here who throws a slider who’s been able to offer any helpful advice?

SM:  Yeah, I’ve been talking to everybody and just trying to see what they have to say. With like [John] Axford and Ryan Madson, I was talking about tweaking pitches and what they would do if something’s not feeling right. And they told me maybe I’ve just got to do a completely different grip just to start things fresh. So, maybe I have to! It’s something I’ve been working on these past couple days.

AF:  You’ve gotten plenty of time in the big league camp and gotten into plenty of games. So how do you feel about getting to spend as much time on the mound here in the big league camp as you have?

SM:  I feel really great! Just being up here as long as I can, just trying to pick people’s brains and talk to them about how they go about their business – that’s something I’m really, really happy about. Just to be able to be up here and be with the big leaguers, that’s what I’m really most excited about.

AF:  Now assuming you start the season in Nashville, that’s not really all that far from where you’re from in Indiana. So are you looking forward to having some of your family being able to come see you this season?

SM:  Yeah, I think it’s only about three and a half or four hours from where my girlfriend lives. And then for my family, it’s only like a six or seven hour trip. So that’s not bad at all, especially since I’ve been playing in like Texas and Delaware and places like that. So I’m really looking forward to that and just having them be able to come and watch me play. That’s something I’m really excited about.

AF:  So is there anything in particular that you really want to work on or try to accomplish in the coming season?

SM:  I would say just keeping down the walks. I’ve had problems with that. I feel like that starts with my mechanics – maybe I have to smooth things out or maybe do something different with my arm. That’s something I’m really harping on, especially at the beginning, because if you start off well it’ll carry on through the rest of the season. So that’s the biggest focus for me is keeping down the walks and being more consistent with my off-speed stuff. So that’s what I’ve really been focused on since the beginning of the year.

AF:  Well, if you can do that, then I guess everything else probably ought to fall right into place!

 

mm571970bMax Muncy was the first member of Oakland’s 2012 draft class to reach the major leagues with the A’s when he made his big league debut last April. Muncy’s stock in trade has always been his keen eye at the plate. Originally drafted as a first baseman, the 25-year-old Texan has been learning to play third base over the past couple of seasons. And now this spring, the A’s are also trying to break him in at second base.

AF:  Now you were up and down between Nashville and the major leagues a few times last season. Was there anything in particular that you learned from that experience?

MM:  There’s always something that you can learn. For the most part, I was still relatively young in my career at the major league level, so there’s little things I can learn all the time. Last year, I was really trying to learn how to kind of prepare myself for games and how to get ready to come off the bench and how to be a guy who’s not going to be in the lineup everyday. That was something I’d never done before, so I had to learn how to do it. And I think every time I went up, I had to learn more and more about how to take care of that problem. And there’s always stuff that you can learn from those big guys up there, even if it’s not from your own teammates, guys you’re playing against on the road. One of the times I was up last year, we were in Arizona and I got to see [Paul] Goldschmidt go about his business, and he’s one of the best out there. So there’s always things you can  take from guys, whether it’s your own team or the other team.

AF:  You spent a lot of time learning to play third base last season. Are you still learning things there and are you starting to feel a little more comfortable over there now?

MM:  I’m still learning things there but, now that I’ve had some time to actually really work at it, I feel probably about a hundred times more comfortable than I did last year. And I think it’s showing a little bit this spring. It feels more like a natural position now. It doesn’t feel like it’s still something I’m learning – now it feels likes it’s there. It’s just one of those things that takes time and takes reps, and it takes game reps sometimes for that.

AF:  Well, they’ve been starting to stick you out there at second base now. So how’s that been going?

MM:  Well, you know, we’re still learning that one. But I think hopefully I’ve proven that, if you give me enough time to work on something, I can get good at it. So, second base is just one of those things that I’m going to need some time to work at it – I’m going to need some reps – but I feel it’s something that I can really pick up. It’s not a completely foreign position to me, having played it in high school, I know somewhat what I’m doing there. It’s just getting reps back at that position, having someone slide into you when you’re turning a double play – those kind of things.

AF:  Have you been spending much time working with Ron Washington in the field this spring?

MM:  Yeah, every morning. We actually split it up – we do one morning at second, one morning at third. We go back and forth every single morning. And it’s been a lot of fun working with him. He really knows what he’s talking about.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that he’s been focusing on with you?

MM:  Really just focus on the basic fundamentals – that’s something that he teaches evey single morning. A lot of coaches like to go out there and try to teach the advanced stuff, how to do certain plays. He really reiterates doing the basic fundamentals every single morning – just fielding a ground ball right at you, using your hands, just getting your feet involved. He tries to really ingrain that in your head. And that’s the kind of the thing I take away from him is to really focus on the fundamentals. And if you can do that, then the more advanced stuff just kind of comes on its own.

AF:  So what have you been focused on trying to do at the plate this spring?

MM:  Staying short and quick. The last couple years, I feel like I’ve kind of gotten away from my swing being real short and quick, with quick hands. I feel like I’ve gotten a little too big, and so I’m trying to get back to that this spring. And I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job of it. I’ve had a lot of hard contact…balls aren’t falling for me, but I’m just saving that for the season.

AF:  Well, just give it time. It all evens out, right?

MM:  Yep!

AF:  Is there anything in particular the coaching staff has been working on with you or trying to get you to do this spring?

MM:  We’re always working on that outside pitch – that’s something I’ve always struggled with. We started working on it last year – me and [A’s hitting coach Darren] Bush. And this year we’re still working on it – just being able to drive that low and outside pitch and not pull off of it and get a little more power to the opposite field.

AF:  Going forward, is there anything in particular that you’re really looking to focus on this season?

MM:  Well, my defense obviously. That’s something that’s been a work in progress over the last year or so, so obviously I’m going to be working on that. But I think one thing I really want to get back to is cutting down my strikeouts and getting back to a high walk rate, which I feel like last year, just getting out of rhythm, might have gotten away from me a little bit. And I want to get back to that this year – not chasing bad pitches. I got into a problem last year chasing some off-speed pitches down in the dirt, and hopefully I can get away from that this year.

 

bm622194bBruce Maxwell was a 2nd-round pick for the A’s in the 2012 draft. In his first few years in the A’s system, the focus was primarily on developing his catching skills. But this spring, Maxwell has impressed both at the plate and behind the plate while in major league camp with the A’s.

AF:  So how’s it been for you getting some time in big league camp this year?

BM:  It’s been going great, man. It’s the best year I’ve had, health-wise, performance-wise. I just feel very confident rolling into this season.

AF:  You’ve obviously made some big strides defensively behind the plate, and you’ve impressed the coaching staff here this spring. Bob Melvin has had lots of nice things to say about you lately. So how are you feeling about your work behind the plate these days?

BM:  I feel amazing. I feel better than ever. It’s a big confidence booster. And now I can try to channel a little more of my focus on my hitting, since my catching is more natural, more comfortable.

AF:  So you don’t have to spend as much time thinking about it now – you can just do it.

BM:  Correct.

AF:  So have you learned a lot from being around the big league veterans in camp and have you spent a lot of time with catching coach Marcus Jensen this spring?

BM:  Marcus is always with me. I tell people that Marcus is my creator. Ever since day one, I’ve been with Marcus. He always makes sure that I’m really sharp behind the plate and makes sure that everything’s refined. And honestly, just being around these guys and just kind of learning how to be a big leaguer – the consistency, the work ethic, the routines every morning. And over time, the more and more time I get behind the plate, the better I’ve gotten.

AF:  Have you spent much time talking with the big league catchers here, Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley? Have they had much to offer you?

BM:  Yeah, they’re very open individuals. If they see something, they give us a suggestion. If you ever have a question, they’re always open to answer it. Whether we’re at the field or not, their phones are always on and they’re always willing to help us younger guys.

AF:  What’s the difference between the kind of pitching you’re used to seeing in the minor leagues and the kind of pitching you’ve been facing here in the major league camp?

BM:  Besides the name on the back of the jersey, not much. Yes, they execute a little more and their stuff is a little sharper, a little tighter, a little more accurate. But, at the same time, it’s still the same game. I faced a few really good guys with the Cubs, and they get paid a lot of money to be that good…that time they got me, next time I’ll get them.

AF:  You spent the season at Midland last year, which isn’t exactly known as a hitter’s paradise. What kind of challenges does a hitter face playing there at Midland?

BM:  Every one you can possibly find! Between the wind blowing in, the ball not flying anywhere, it teaches you how to become a very good hitter, very accurate hitter, very efficient hitter. When it comes to fly balls, a lot of them don’t get out. It just teaches you a different way of hitting. It almost trains you to be a complete hitter, in all aspects, because that’s about the only way you’re going to put up the numbers there.

AF:  I guess if you can hit there, you can hit anywhere!

BM:  Correct.

AF:  I know you caught Sean Manaea in Midland last year. I’m not sure if you’ve caught him or had the chance to see much of him here in camp this spring. But I’m curious to know, as a catcher, what you feel his greatest strengths are and what impresses you most about him.

BM:  His confidence…he goes on the mound knowing he’s better than whoever he faces. And he lets his ball work. He’s got life on his fastball. He’s just very efficient. The ball jumps out of his hand – it really does. He’s got a wipeout slider and a very good changeup. He just has confidence, and he just goes out on the mound and does his job. And he’s the first person to pick you up. He doesn’t really take it too serious but, at the same time, it is his job and he’s very, very good at it.

AF:  And it seems like he has fun along the way too!

BM:  Oh yeah, he’s a live character – that’s for sure, that’s for sure!

AF:  Well, it’s always good to have a few of those around – it’s a long season.

BM:  Exactly. And he’s been like that since college.

AF:  Now going forward into the season, what are you thinking about heading into the year ahead?

BM:  Progressing – being that guy. I want to continue what I’m doing here in spring and carry that over into the season, and keep progressing behind the plate and keep progressing at the plate. My bat’s going to play a little better this year. That’s the goal – that’s what I’ve worked on. And I know my catching’s always going to play if I keep it as consistent as it has been.

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

Bob Melvin Gives the Lowdown on the A’s Top Prospects

DSC04403bIn his pre-game press conferences in recent days, A’s manager Bob Melvin has had plenty of opportunities to offer his perspective on the plethora of A’s prospects who’ve appeared in the big league camp with the team this spring. No one has had as good a view of the current crop of prospects as the A’s skipper, and it’s clear that he’s liked what he’s seen…

 

On what’s impressed him most about young prospects Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto this spring…

Everything! Really. As comfortable as they are playing in games – usually for younger players…just to be in big league camp should be an honor for them – but to be able to play as much as they have and produce like that? I remember when I was that age, I was just happy to be around, let alone playing in games like that. You can tell when they’re out there in the field, they’re not in awe of anything. They’re very respectful of who they’re playing with and the opportunities that they’re given here this spring, but they’re not scared of it. And both of them have really impressed – they’ve both swung the bat very well. It’s about as impressive a swing out of Barreto as I’ve seen all camp, whether it’s in batting practice or in the game. So they come as advertised. When we talk about younger prospects who are some of the better ones in the game, both these guys definitely are.

 

On Franklin Barreto’s future defensive prospects…

I think he’s a shortstop. He does like to play the outfield too. But one of the things that we wanted to do was keep him at one position in big league camp. I know he likes center field a little bit. We’ll see where it goes, but once you have a guy you feel can play shortstop, he’d have to play his way off there, and it doesn’t look like he will.

 

On Chad Pinder’s future defensive prospects…

Pinder’s already played different positions for us and has the ability to play second, short and third. So we look at him to be more versatile than we do Barreto right now. And Pinder even told me that he could play the outfield too. We don’t need him to do it right now. But he’s tried to do everything he can to impress us this camp. You’re talking about the Texas League player of the year. He had a great year last year. I would say he’s someone we’ll move around more than we will Barreto.

 

On Tyler Ladendorf

The injuries last year kind of set him back…and then at the end when he came back, he still wasn’t fully healthy yet. I’ve not seen him play better than he’s playing right now. He gives you great versatility. There are guys who give you versatility where they’re maybe not so great at certain positions – that is not the case with him. He can play short, he can play second very well, he can play center field, he can play any of the outfield spots. He’s one of those guys, when you talk about versatility, he does it all very well.

 

On catcher Bruce Maxwell’s performance this spring…

I was a little worried about him going [to play for Germany in the World Baseball Classic]. He was getting an opportunity to play here and was taking advantage of it. And you know, sometimes when you go away and you’re not here, other guys get some opportunities. But he did well, so we’re looking forward to getting him back and getting him some more opportunities, because he’s another guy who’s taken advantage of the opportunities that he’s had here this camp…He is a guy who has made us look at this thing differently based on what he’s done this camp. You’re always looking to add whatever depth you can at certain positions, and it looked like we were a little short at the catching position. But now we look at him differently, as a potential option for us, which is good to see. He’s a left-hander, he’s got some power, he does a nice job behind the plate, he uses the whole field. So it’s good to know that we have somebody we feel the potential is there, if something happened injury-wise or whatever, that we’d have a guy to draw from – he and Carson Blair.

 

On pitcher Sean Manaeas performance this spring…

He’s been pitching well, and making adjustments. Like in the last game, he really didn’t have a breaking ball at all. He came in in relief, which he’s not used to doing, and he basically pitched on fastball/changeup and had success doing it. You find out a lot about yourself when you’re a young kid getting your first taste of big league camp and one of your pitches isn’t working and you’re able to get by and have some success with what is maybe your third-best pitch. Each and every time he’s out there, we get to take a longer look at him and evaluate him and form an opinion on him. And to this point, it’s a very high opinion…He just needs to pitch. He’s very aware of what works for him and what doesn’t. He takes instruction well…and in an organization that’s had a lot of great heads of hair, he’s right up there!

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Ray Fosse’s Take on this Spring’s Crop of Top Prospects

rfphoto153BNot only has Ray Fosse now spent three decades as a broadcaster for the Oakland A’s, working alongside names like Bill King, Lon Simmons, Ken Korach and Glen Kuiper, but he’s also a former All-Star catcher who won two World Series rings with the A’s in 1973 and 1974. We took the opportunity to get his take on the A’s current crop of prospects in the major league camp this spring…

AF:  So how do you feel about seeing this new crop of young prospects that have come into the A’s camp this spring?

RF:  I give credit to [scouting director] Eric Kubota and the scouting department – and making the trades, like Franklin Barreto coming from Toronto. Watching him play, he’s been outstanding. But I think the thing that Billy Beane and David Forst, who’s now the general manager, have never said is, “We’re not going to try to win.” And now, you’re hearing clubs are trying to tank it so they can get high draft choices. I’m saying, “Wait a minute, you’re supposed to be trying to win at this level. How do you tell your fans you’re trying to get draft choices?”

AF: What’s been your impression of what some of the younger guys like Franklin Barreto and Matt Chapman have been doing here in the big league camp this spring?

RF:  The main thing to look at with those kids is getting the experience at this level. I experienced it – I knew I was going to Triple-A, but I got a chance to be with the big league players. And that’s something that you can never put a price tag on. But I think Franklin Barreto – just watching him last weekend against the Cubs when the A’s scored three in the bottom of the ninth inning – he ended up getting a base hit to drive in the second run. Then he was on first and, on a base hit, he went to third on his own – first to third, and then scored on a sac fly and tied the game. Just watching, at 20, his development – as [A’s coach] Ron Washington said, “Maybe he knows he’s going to the minor leagues, but what he’s doing is experiencing this.” You can look at Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto, Chad Pinder and Matt Olson – that’s a pretty good infield for the future. They’re probably all going to develop together and maybe come up together, depending on what happens at this level. But they’re getting experience facing major league pitching in spring training – something that’s invaluable.

AF:  Since you were a catcher, I wanted to ask if you’ve had a chance to see much of catcher Bruce Maxwell this spring and what your impression has been of him.

RF:  Yeah, I like him. And I think it’s a good position to be in, because there’s Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley, and that’s it! I think what Bob Melvin and his staff are trying to figure out now is, in the event something happens, who’s going to come up. And Maxwell’s shown that he’s got a good idea. And whoever would come up…would be a back up, but it would be a great experience. So if I’m a catcher in the organization, I’m busting it and I’m learning as much as I can. When I signed with Cleveland many, many years ago, they were  looking for catchers because they didn’t have a lot in the organization. And it worked out, because I only spent two full years and two half years in the minor leagues and I was in the big leagues – and that’s signing out of high school as an 18-year-old. So it’s a great opportunity for a catcher. But I’ve enjoyed what Maxwell has done…just the way he seems to want to learn, the way he handles himself behind the plate. And we can never forget the most important job of a catcher is to catch – handle the pitching staff and catch. Offense is so prevalent at every position, but catching and handling the pitching staff are the keys to being a good catcher.

AF:  And since you were a catcher, you also know a little bit about pitchers. So I wanted to ask you what you’ve seen out of the A’s top pitching prospect, Sean Manaea, so far this spring.

RF:  I think the composure…Sean Manaea shows that confidence. Give credit to the A’s organization. The Royals were trying to win a World Series, which they did. And they were willing to give up someone like Manaea to get Ben Zobrist, who turned out great, but then he goes on to the Cubs. So they got him for a World Series…but the A’s were smart in picking up pitching – you can never have too much. And I think Sean Manaea, we may see him in Oakland sooner rather than later – a lot sooner than people think.

AF:  Well, it never hurts when you’re a big left-hander who throws hard, right?

RF:  Exactly. And again, showing the composure at this level. It is spring training, but you’re facing major league hitters. So I think that’s a big plus for him to be able to experience this but also to be able to show that he can pitch.

AF:  Thanks, Ray.

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A’s GM David Forst Talks about the A’s Starting Rotation, Clubhouse Chemistry, an Extension for Reddick & Some of the Team’s Top Prospects

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A’s GM David Forst

In what’s become his annual winter interview with bloggers, A’s general manager David Forst addressed a wide range of topics covering both the major league squad as well as some of the system’s top prospects at A’s FanFest on Sunday.

In his session, Forst discussed how he sees the team’s starting rotation shaping up, whether or not the A’s may still be able to make some additions to the roster, the likelihood of signing outfielder Josh Reddick long-term, last year’s lack of clubhouse chemistry, the future of top prospects Sean Manaea, Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz, and much more.

 

On the A’s starting pitching this coming season…

Going into the offseason…after Sonny [Gray], [Kendall] Graveman and [Chris] Bassitt, there were a lot of question marks. So you add Rich Hill early on, which was important to us. And then when you look at how the back end shapes up, between Jesse [Hahn], who’s feeling really good, Jarrod [Parker], who’s healthy as we speak now – obviously, he had an unfortunate setback last year – Aaron Brooks, whom we saw a little bit of, Felix [Doubront], who got to start a little bit, all these guys will figure in ultimately till Henderson [Alvarez] is ready. And signing Alvarez, it was key for us to know that he’s probably not going to be there the first six or seven weeks. We’re looking at June 1 as probably our best guess right now. But if you have Sonny, Rich, Graveman, Bassitt and then the rest of that depth, you feel pretty good about filling it till Alvarez gets there, and over the course of the season.

 

On the A’s top pitching prospect, left-hander Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

As far as Sean has come and as great as he is, we really do want him to start the year in Triple-A. I said that about Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill many years ago too and they ended up here, so you never know what’s going to happen over the next two months. But once Sean got healthy with Kansas City and then made the transition [to the A’s organization], there was really nothing lacking from his game – and he continued in the [Arizona] Fall League just getting innings. There’s velocity, there’s command, there’s three pitches, there’s everything that you’re looking for out of a top-of-the-rotation guy. So we couldn’t be happier with where Sean is right now. And we’ll see him during spring training. I’ve already talked to [A’s pitching coach] Curt [Young] and said, “Let’s get him out there and get him some innings and have him face big league hitters.” But if everything goes right, I don’t see him starting the year with us – and that’s not anything he did, that’s just sort of how we’ve planned it.

 

On left-handers Sean Nolin and Dillon Overton, both of whom were working their way back from injuries last year…

Well, right before we traded for Sean, he was throwing 94 mph in the Fall League – and you really felt good. And unfortunately, then he had the groin injury, and it really just lingered. I mean, the guy we saw here throwing 86, that was not the guy we traded for, and I don’t think that’s who Sean thinks he is. So, ultimately, until he gets out on the mound in spring training, you just don’t know. But if he got back to being that guy, it changes his outlook completely. And for a player who’s out of options, like he is, certainly it’s important for us to get a read in February and March as to where he fits – and if that fifth starter spot, if that’s him, great, that fits us really well, and if he ends up in the bullpen giving us some length, that works too. I think you don’t know on him until he gets out there. For Dillon, this has been a long process for him coming off of [Tommy John] surgery. Again, you talk about that number 94 [mph], when I saw him pitch his junior year, that’s the guy he was – and sophomore year as well. He’s come back really well performance-wise off the surgery – he pitched great in Double-A. And you just sort of dream, “Hey, if we get this guy throwing 91-92 again, he’s here in no time.” So the fact that he can compete where he’s at and throw strikes and use the cutter and the changeup is great. If you add a little bit of fastball velocity, then he becomes really special again – the way he was viewed going into his junior year at Oklahoma.

 

On the free agent and trade market for the A’s as we approach the end of January…

Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson

Well, as always with the free agent market, we sort of just stay in touch – we’re never the aggressors. The one thing we did this year with Ryan Madson is we were aggressive, we sort of went to the top of the market. He was such a good fit with his stuff and his experience at the back of the pen. But otherwise, we sort of let the market come to us, and I think we’ll continue to do that. I can’t say there’s anybody out there right now that…we’re sort of really in on. We’re happy with the moves we’ve made. We do have some trade conversations ongoing, but that’s normal for this time of year, just to kind of stay in touch. But it’s a pretty unique market right now to be here on January 24 with all these guys out there…Yeah, we’ve made some of our best signings in February – Billy [Beane] has always said that over the years. I can’t think of anyone specifically off the top of my head right now that I think might fall to us, but we do have the flexibility, both payroll and roster-wise, to sort of be opportunistic if it’s there.

 

On committing to former platoon player Danny Valencia as the A’s everyday third baseman in 2016…

I think having Danny for a full season was a big part of our offseason plan, the way we put the club together. Obviously, hitting right-handers, going into 2015, was the knock on him. And he will be the first to say that he consciously made adjustments – opening his stance, getting his foot down earlier against righties. It’s not my department to work with hitters, but there are things that he did. And I talked with [A’s hitting coach] Darren Bush over the course of the second half when Danny got here and said, “Hey, is this guy for real?” Because his performance against righties did not suggest he was going to do what he did. And Darren is confident. No one is more confident than Danny, I can tell you that. Without you even asking, he will tell you he can hit right-handed pitching. I think we feel really good about him being at third base every day.

 

On the possibility of Josh Reddick and the A’s coming to terms on a contract extension…

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick

We obviously just got Josh’s one-year number done but, in the course of that conversation, I have spoken to his agent about an extension. So it’s something we will continue to talk about…Look, the relationship that Billy [Beane] and I have with Josh, the relationship I have with his agent, we will have conversations over the next two months and see if it works. I mean, there’s obviously a lot of money to be made out there on the free agent market. But Josh, as long he’s been here, has kind of become the face of our team, somewhat the drive and the energy of this club. So it’s something we will make an effort at. It takes two to kind of get to that place, so we’ll see where it goes…Till we get into the conversation, you never know where it’s going to go.

 

On Billy Butler’s and Coco Crisp’s offseasons as they look to rebound next year…

Billy has been very upfront that he did not have the season he’d hoped to have. And he did make an effort, everything from getting his Lasik corrected to putting a gym in his home to working with a personal chef in the offseason. He has taken every step you want to see over this four or five month period – he’s done it to sort of show that he’s serious. So, on paper, there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t get back to the player we signed. So that’s clearly important for our club if he’s going to take a lot of DH at-bats. Coco is healthy as we sit here right now, which is kind of the best you can hope for. He’s spent time in the offseason working on his neck, working on his various wrist and knee issues, his elbow – there’s a list of things – but he is healthy…So he’s excited about the year. We just need to get him on a field and have him run down a fly ball or take batting practice. Until he does those baseball activities day in, day out, it’s hard to say how he holds up.

 

On last year’s perceived lack of clubhouse chemistry and what the team has done to address it…

Bob Melvin

Bob Melvin

Well, I certainly won’t deny that it’s something that we talked about and addressed with [A’s manager] Bob [Melvin]. Look, anytime you get off to the start that we did and then the season plays out that way, not everybody’s going to be happy. And we’ve always talked about this chicken-and-egg thing – does winning breed chemistry or vice versa? So when you have a season like we did, guys are going to be unhappy, not everybody’s going to get along – that’s part of it. And frankly, you learn a lot about people, players and staff, when you go through that season. And I can tell you that I feel great about Bob after what he went through and dealt with in 2015. That said, we did look into the makeup and the personalities of the guys we brought in and did as much background as we could do on a free agent – a guy like [Ryan] Madson or [John] Axford, whom you haven’t had here. We made a trade with San Diego and [former Padres coach and new A’s coach] Mark Kotsay knew those guys. So we had some ability to look into guys in the offseason, and it was something we talked about a lot. I don’t think we will ever get to the point where we’re bringing in good guys over talent, but it’s part of the equation. And certainly, coming off of last year, it’s something we’re cognizant of.

 

On where prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz may be getting most of their playing time in the future…

I will say Franklin wanted to play some center field. We want him to get time at second base and center field, that will continue, but ultimately we still believe he can play shortstop. So, if he and Yairo end up together in Midland to start the year, they’ll go back and forth between second and short…but certainly Yairo can really play the position, and we feel really good about that. What he did in the California League over a short period of time was really impressive. You look at both those guys, the bat’s playing at 19-20 years old, and you feel really good about moving them through the system. So I think we’ll continue to have both of them at short. And as long as it’s sort of tenable moving up, we’ll do that. At some point, we may have to make a decision on one or both. And I know Franklin likes working on center field. I think anytime you have a season the way he did and you make 30+ errors [at shortstop], it’s hard to sort of have that confidence. And there’s a lot of pride. I don’t think he wants to go out there and let teammates down. But he’s 19 years old. And the list of guys –  whether it’s [Eric] Chavez or [Miguel] Tejada – who made 30+ errors in the Cal League and then went on to do just fine, it’s a long list. And everybody believes that Franklin has the athleticism and the fundamentals to play shortstop if we decide that’s where he should be.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS:  By all means, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  And was it basically right shoulder soreness?

SS:  Basically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  Great, thanks!

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

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

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

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

 

MAX MUNCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MM:  Exactly!

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

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

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

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

 

JOEY WENDLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JW:  Yes, it definitely is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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