Category: Interviews

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

ssscarsone_steveAfter spending parts of seven seasons as a big league infielder, Steve Scarsone has now spent eight seasons managing in the A’s minor league system. He’s currently midway through his fourth season managing at Triple-A and his second season in Nashville, where his team currently holds a nine-game lead in its division.

Whereas last year’s Sounds squad was full of seasoned veterans, Scarsone is handling a team filled with promising young prospects this season. We took the opportunity to talk with the skipper in Nashville last week to get his take on some of the team’s top players…

 

AF:  You’re in your second year here in Nashville now, and it’s kind of a different team than you had last year. You’ve got a lot of younger prospects here this year, and I wanted to start out by asking you about a couple of guys you’ve had here this year who are already up in the big leagues. First of all, catcher Bruce Maxwell was on a real tear here this year when he got called up, and he really seemed to make a big leap forward this year. So what did you see happen for him over the course of this season to get where he’s at now?

bm622194cSS:  I think, more than anything, he found a sense of confidence and he started feeling like he belonged at this level, and probably the next. I think it had a lot to do with just getting a chance to play through some things. The bat wasn’t showing up early but the defense was okay. He really thrived off of working with this pitching staff – they’re all young guys he’s had before. They enjoyed throwing to him, he knew that, and he had a good rapport with them. And so he was building confidence with his teammates. [Hitting coach] Eric Martins did a phenomenal job keeping him focused on what he needed to do at the plate. I know that he worked very well and closely with Rick Rodriguez, our pitching coach, when it comes to the game plan with the pitchers and how to get hitters out, and I think that started generating a little bit of confidence. And then he and I got along very well. So I think he was just in a great environment here, the team was good, he felt confident with them, and he had already played with half of them. And then he started to feel a little something happening on the field, and I think it all kind of snowballed from there. You can see his openness and his increased focus within the game. He kind of got away from beating himself up after at-bats – he moved on much easier. Actually, it was a great transformation to get a chance to be a part of. We were so happy to let him know that he was going to go up – that was a joy for all of us.

AF: Well, it sounds like he gained a lot of confidence and just really came into his own this season. Now Ryon Healy is a guy who started out the year hot at Midland, then he came here in May and continued hitting up a storm, and now he’s up starting in the big leagues. So what did you see out of him over the time that he was here?

rh592387bSS:  I think that if you go back to spring when he did not get invited to [major league] camp, from what I heard though the grapevine in minor league camp, he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder – he was out to prove something. He started the year at Midland and did prove something and got himself here. His stay here was short. He made his mark. He continued to play with a little bit of an edge. I know we had conversations where I said, “Listen, I’m not going to treat you like I’m excited to have you here. I’m going to treat you like you still have to prove something – to me, to them. I think that’s the edge that you need.” And I think he kind of agreed with me. He’s obviously very talented, he’s got a great head on his shoulders, he’s smart, he knows what he needs to do, and I’d like to see him continue to have success up there.

AF:  As a former infielder yourself, how did you feel about his abilities at third base when he was here?

SS:  Well, we have Renato Nunez here, so he really didn’t play that many games at third base. He mostly played first base and DH’d. But there really wasn’t anything that stood out that had to be fixed. The glove was good, the arm was good, the footwork was what it is. He’s a big boy, so he’s not going to be as agile as some guys, but he’s going to make the plays and he’s going to be smart about what he’s going to do. And that’s what I thought was definitely going to be a plus for him – I knew that he was going to be able to think the game out and put himself maybe a step or two ahead of the play because he’s got an understanding of the situation.

AF:  Now I wanted to ask you about a guy you just mentioned, Renato Nunez. The first couple months of the season, he was one of your best hitters here, and he still leads the team in home runs, but things started to tail off for him in June and July. So what challenges is he facing at this stage of the game?

rn600524eSS:  I think he’s still trying to figure out how he wants to hit in the big scheme of things. The power numbers have obviously given him an opportunity to get to this level and put him on the map. He’s still a young guy, and some nights he’s smart about his at-bats and he takes what the pitcher gives him and he’s willing to go the other way. But other nights it seems like he’s going all or nothing and finds himself swinging at balls out of the zone and getting himself behind in the count or going down on strikes on pitches he probably should have no reason to swing at. But that’s the struggle as well as the benefit of youth. We know he’s going through some of these changes. He’s starting to kind of get a better idea of what’s happening and what the pitchers are trying to do to him, and this is all just part of the process. You’ll see it in the big leagues, guys will go up and have a great month or two and then the league figures them out the second time through. And then the hitter either falls to the wayside and we go to the next guy or he makes his adjustments and starts to become something that we hope he would be. And I think that’s where Renato is right now. It’s his second time through the league now and he’s starting to sense what’s happening. And I think if you look over the last five to ten games, they’re becoming much better quality at-bats. And this is just part of the process. We’re talking about a 22-year-old kid – I mean, he shouldn’t even be here yet anyway. He does have the power – that’s not going to go away. If this level here can help him develop himself into a better all-around hitter with power, well he’s just going to be better as a big league player down the road.

AF:  Another young guy who’s had to make some adjustments this year is Matt Olson. He got off to a rough start early on, but it seems like maybe he’s starting to get into a little bit of a groove lately. What challenges do you think he’s faced this year in Triple-A and where do feel he’s at at this stage in the season?

mo621566SS:  I like where he’s at right now. I think he’ll agree that he’s made some transitions, he’s made adjustments, along the same lines that Nunez has done. The only difference between the two is Olson did not get off to a good start and found himself battling with numbers that kind of were hard for him to swallow early on, hitting around .200. Those things were rough, but yet he was still having some quality at-bats. Then recently, over the last three weeks to a month, things are starting to drop for him and the hits are coming, which turns into a little bit more confidence. Now he’s getting himself in a better situation evey at-bat, and he’s having much more success. Had he gotten off to a start that was at least .250, I don’t think we would have looked at him like he’s struggling. But we’re seeing Olson with a positive climb now, and I think that too can be very beneficial for young players. Again, a young guy 22 years old, he definitely now can go back and say, “Okay, I had to make this adjustment, and now it’s paying off.” That’s as valuable as coming out and hitting .300 from the get-go and thinking things are all sweet and happy, and the next thing you know, he gets to the big leagues, and all of a sudden – bam, right in the face, reality hits him! I would rather these guys struggle a little bit here, make some adjustments, so that they can then have something to draw from as they make the next step, because they just might struggle up there with no safety net. At least down here, we’re building a little bit of a safety net so they have something to draw back on to hopefully keep that struggle time shorter when it really matters.

AF:  So they know what it’s all about as opposed to thinking that everything’s going to be a piece of cake…

SS:  It’s not an easy game! And the quicker they get to find that out without all the media and all the eyes on them…then when they are in that situation, they have a little bit more groundedness to them, and hopefully that’ll give them a better foundation to build on.

AF:  And then another guy in that group is shortstop Chad Pinder. He started out kind of slow like Olson but ended up being a Triple-A All-Star. He’s been kind of hot and cold this season, but what do you think of Pinder’s season and where he’s at at this point?

cp640461cSS:  I think Chad’s done a really good job of trying to continue to be a contributor on the team. You know, he probably doesn’t have all the upside of some of the guys we talked about earlier, but he might end up being the guy who stays up there longer because he has some consistency in his game and there’s really some substance there that has shown itself day in and day out. There’s a competitiveness, there’s a kind of intelligence about the game and obviously some ability. Whether he’s going to be a shortstop in the big leagues, that’s yet to be seen. But in his time here and his experience here at shortstop, we’ve seen some improvement, we’ve seen some changes that have been implemented through all the work he’s been doing. He’s just kind of one of those guys who could become like a foundation of an infield or an outfield where you look up in a couple years and say, “Oh yeah, he’s supposed to be here.” So I like what he’s done, he’s a great teammate and everybody really enjoys him. He plays hard, works hard and has fun doing it. And those are the guys you hope get a chance to have a little success at the major league level.

AF:  A lot of his errors this season seem to be throwing errors. Again, as a former infielder yourself, do you have a sense of what the problem may be that he’s been having with his throws?

SS:  It’s a number of things. Some of it’s mechanics. We’ve worked on different things, from footwork all the way up. We’ve implemented some of the drills that Ron Washington presented to him and to myself during spring training, so we’ve continued on with those. Sometimes he just doesn’t quite get in the right position to throw because of the way the play presents itself. Other times it’s kind of maybe trying to do too much, trying to be too quick and trying to catch up to the speed of the league a little bit. For all these guys, there has been a considerable amount of improvement over the past couple of months. You know, as much as I would love to say that each one of these guys is perfect, they’re not. But I can say that each one of them is improving and they’re getting to be more and more of a solid ballplayer, both offensively and defensively, which basically is what our objective is here at this level – to get them one step closer to where they’re going to be helpful for the big club.

AF:  Well, I guess that’s your job basically – just get them a little closer to where they need to be.

SS:  Yeah, yeah. It’s a slower process for some. But it is a process, and we understand that we have to go through that process.

AF:  And finally, you had a pretty veteran team here last year. So what’s it been like for you to have this much younger team here this year?

SS:  For me, it’s much more enjoyable in the sense that, as a teacher, there’s a lot more teaching going on. With an older group, you’re just trying to herd the cats and keep things from going astray. So this is more focused on continuing to build these guys up and get them better and better, whether it be physically, out on the field, or mentally or emotionally, just little opportunities to talk through the game and give them a little insight or give them a little different perspective on where their world’s at. They can have tunnel vision a little bit, and sometimes age provides some better vision, so we try to drop little nuggets on them every once in a while. But it’s been a great bunch of guys. They’ve played together for years now, so they have a good rapport, a good camaraderie, and it’s kind of blended out to the other guys who might be new to the organization. We’re just on a good little mission right now, and everybody’s just enjoying everybody’s contributions and friendship more than anything. It’s a happy bunch.

AF:  And everybody’s always a lot happier when you’re winning too!

SS:  But you could argue that we’re winning because we’re happy. So it could be one or the other – but they usually go hand in hand!

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A Trio of Top A’s Prospects Talks about This Season at Triple-A

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bThe A’s Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds currently lead their division by 8 ½ games. And solid performances by many Sounds players, combined with a wave of injuries for the A’s, has provided plenty of opportunities for prospects like Ryon Healy, Bruce Maxwell, Daniel Mengden and Dillon Overton to make their major league debuts for Oakland this season. But there are plenty more prospects in the pipeline at Nashville. Shortstop Chad Pinder and first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson have long been considered top prospects for the A’s, while outfielder Jaycob Brugman’s impressive play of late has begun to push him into that category as well. Earlier this week in Nashville, we took the opportunity to talk with this trio of talented young players about life in Triple-A this season…

 

CHAD PINDER

cp640461cAfter last year’s MVP season at Double-A Midland, Pinder started slowly at Nashville this year but ended up being named a Pacific Coast League All-Star. And though he’s had some struggles with his throwing at shortstop this season, the 24-year-old infielder currently leads the team in total bases and his 14 home runs are second only to Renato Nunez on the Nashville squad.

AF:  You started out the season here in Nashville kind of slow but you ended up as a Triple-A All-Star. So how do you feel you’ve developed as a player this year and what kind of adjustments have you had to make?

CP:  I’ve had to make quite a few adjustments this year. Coming from Double-A where maybe the pitching’s more raw, they’ve got a little bit better stuff here in Triple-A. The pitchers are a little smarter. A lot of guys have spent time in the big leagues. They know how to pitch guys like I am who are aggressive at the plate. And it’s kind of been an adjustment for me to have to change my approach a little bit – whether it be taking more pitches early in the count or making quicker in-game adjustments. You know, last year facing the same few teams [in the eight-team Texas League], it’s a little easier to get comfortable with those guys. And here you’re facing different guys every day, so it’s a little bit more or an adjustment.

AF:  Particularly early in the season, you had a number of errors, and a lot of them seemed to be throwing errors. So what’s your take on the cause of that?

CP:  Yeah, just a little mechanical stuff with my arm – my arm angle, arm slot. I’m kind of dragging my arm a little bit instead of getting on top. Last year, it was the transition to shortstop and my arm angle was a little higher. This year, I started to get more comfortable and started to kind of try and guide things, and I think that played a part in me kind of sailing some balls. That’s something we’ve been working on the past couple months. And I’ve just been trying to be more consistent with that in my pre-game prep and carry that over into the game.

AF:  I guess the good thing is you’re playing shortstop pretty much every day here, so you’ve got some time to work on things anyway.

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

AF:  Is there anything else in particular that the coaches here are trying to have to work on right now?

CP:  Just what we were talking about – being more consistent with my arm angle, and having that consistency in pre-game prep and even in between innings when I’m throwing the ball to first base, so it’s just drilled into my head. As for the hitting side, I feel comfortable, I feel great at the plate right now. The hits may not be coming, but I feel good, I feel confident at the plate. And right now, we’re working on kind of just staying through the ball and continuing the same approach that I have.

AF:  It sounds like there’s a lot more focus on getting the defensive stuff squared away at this point.

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

AF:  You’ve seen some guys you’ve spent a lot of time playing with, like Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell, making it up to the big leagues this year. So how do you feel when you see some friends of yours going up there and does it make you realize how close you are at this level?

CP:  Oh, definitely. Number one, it makes you realize how real it is and how close you are. And second, being with those guys for the past couple years, it gave me chills to see both of them go up. They’re both great people and tireless workers and both deserve the opportunities that they’re having right now, and I could not be happier for them.

AF:  I know in the past, you were living with Matt Olson in Stockton and in Midland. So what are your living arrangements like here in Nashville?

CP:  I’m still with Olson. When Ryon Healy got called up here, he moved in with us. But now he’s out, so now it’s just me and Olson.

AF:  Just the two of you? Are you getting tired of him yet?

CP:  Nope, not yet.

AF:  Well, hopefully you guys will get a chance to live together at the next level too.

 

MATT OLSON

mo621566Long considered one of Oakland’s top power-hitting prospects, Olson hit 37 home runs in 2014 for Stockton. The 22-year-old got off to a slow start for the Sounds this season, but his 54 walks lead all A’s minor leaguers and his 27 doubles are tops on his team. Considered a talented defensive first baseman, Olson’s primarily been playing right field this season to increase his versatility in the field.  

AF:  So how have you been enjoying this year playing here in Nashville in Triple-A?

MO:  Oh, it’s great. It’s a great town. We get good turnouts here. It’s been fun.

AF:  It’s almost like playing in a major league park here.

MO:  Yeah, it really is – new stadium, good field, good fans.

AF:  You started off a little slow this season. But in the last few weeks, it seems like things are maybe starting to click a little bit for you. So tell me what kind of challenges you’ve faced here at Triple-A this season and where you feel you’re at at this stage of the game.

MO:  Yeah, just a little bit of an adjustment period, as it is going from any level to any level. I’ve been feeling better lately and I’m just kind of in the whole process of adjusting and figuring out what I need to do for myself in order to adjust to what the pitchers are trying to do.

AF:  How do you feel that pitchers have approached you differently at this level and what adjustments have you had to make?

MO:  It’s just guys know what they’re doing with their stuff better. They know how to throw the pitch that starts on the plate then works off the plate – it might look like a strike initially. And I’ve kind of had to check myself and nail my approach in my own head.

AF:  Your home runs have been down a bit this year, but you’ve got 27 doubles. So how’s First Tennessee Park to hit in for a power hitter like yourself? I’ve heard it suppresses home run numbers a bit, so I’m just wondering if that’s maybe led to fewer home runs and more doubles for you this year.

MO:  It plays pretty big in the gaps. We definitely play in some more hitter-friendly parks in this league, for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s led to more doubles but, you know, it’s what you’ve got to work with and you just kind of have to adjust.

AF:  How would you say this park compares to Midland, which isn’t exactly known as a hitters’ paradise either?

MO:  They’re different in their own ways. In Midland, you’ve just got to deal with the wind. Here there’s not really wind blowing, it just doesn’t really carry. But you’ve just kind of got to deal with what you’re working with and try to get results.

AF:  You’ve spent the vast majority of your time here in right field this season. So how are you feeling out there at this point?

MO:  Yeah, I’ve felt very comfortable out there. It just kind of took some time of getting some consistent reps out there and getting game reads off the bat for me to feel completely comfortable. I feel good out there now.

AF:  With a little over a month left in the minor league season, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on or trying to work on over the last month or so here?

MO:  You know, its always just quality at-bats, obviously play good defense, do what we can to win. That doesn’t really change. You go and you adjust based off of how you’ve been doing and how you’ve been feeling. And right now, I’ve been feeling pretty good and I’m just trying to keep it going in the second half.

AF:  And how has it been for you playing here at this level with a bunch of guys you’ve been playing with for quite a while now?

MO:  Yeah, it’s great. It makes it a lot easier when you’re comfortable with guys, when you know you’ve got a core group of guys like we do – a lot of guys from Midland last year. And we work well together. It’s nice coming to the field every day when you enjoy people’s company and you know you’ve got a good team.

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

jb595144bA 17th-round draft pick for the A’s in 2013, Brugman’s solid play has allowed him to advance quickly through the system. And A’s special assistant Grady Fuson recently called Brugman “one of the most fundamentally sound players we have.” The 24-year-old has also been one of the most consistently productive hitters in the A’s system this season, and he’s been spending more time in center field this season to increase his outfield versatility as well.

AF:  Now, like Ryon Healy, you started this year back at Double-A in Midland. Both of you got off to great starts there and ended up here in Nashville and continued to hit well here. So what was your attitude and approach like starting the year back at Midland?

JB:  I mean, when you repeat a level, it’s all about your mindset and the way you go about your business. You have to have a positive attitude. It’s never fun repeating a level, but it’s okay. It just gives you time to master your craft. It gives you time to really refine your tools. My approach at the plate was the same as always. I just try to have good at-bats, be patient. I like to work the counts. I would like to walk more and be more productive in situational hitting, because all those things help the team win. And I just want to put the team in a position to win.

AF:  It seems like you’ve kicked your game up a notch this year. Is there anything in particular that’s clicked for you for you this year or are there any adjustments you’ve made that have really paid off for you?

JB:  I think it’s just over time I’ve been more comfortable with my style of hitting – more comfortable with driving balls in the gap – and really staying to that. A lot of guys sometimes will have success in certain areas and then they try to expand on that, like maybe trying to hit more home runs or whatever. But really, it’s just staying to your game. So each year I’ve just consistently tried to improve in what I’m good at – and that’s hitting doubles, driving in runs, getting on base, just producing in not-a-home-run way. I don’t steal too many bases. So I just try to keep the same style of play and try not to get too greedy.

AF:  Well, I guess maybe just getting to understand what your stye of play is and what works for you – sometimes you’ve got to play a little while to figure that out.

JB:  Yeah, it all comes with time and experience – that’s exactly right.

AF:  Most of time you’ve been in the A’s system, you’ve primarily played the corner outfield positions. But this year, you’ve been spending a lot of time out in center field. So how do you feel about playing center field and how do you feel about your abilities out there?

JB:  Well, this year’s the first time in pro ball I’ve played center [regularly]. I’ve played all my life in center. But this year I’ve been able to have a lot of games in center, which helped me kind of round out the whole outfield. I’ve played a lot in left, in right, and now in center. So I’ve been able to have experience at all positions, which I think helps me to be a more rounded player. Whenever they need a guy in left, I can be that guy in left; whenever they need a guy in right, I can be the guy in right; and the same with center. So I really like that I’ve been playing there so I can kind of round out all the positions. It’s nice.

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

JB:  Yeah, just trying to get a few more bags, try to steal some bases, be a little more aggressive, put more pressure on the pitchers. Sometimes, the game is going slow and you just need something to spark it, and sometimes a stolen base can do that. So I’m just trying to be a little more aggressive on the bases.

AF:  Well, you’ve been hitting at the top of the lineup a lot this season, so I guess that makes sense.

JB:  Yeah, I should profile as a base stealer also – we’re working on that.

AF:  What about seeing guys you’ve known and played with for a few years, like Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell, going up to the big leagues this year? How do you feel when you see your friends going up there and does it make you realize how close you are?

JB:  Yeah, it really does make you feel close. But just playing with those guys and seeing their dreams come true, it’s a great feeling. I’m really close to Healy and to Bruce. I’m really good friends with them and, seeing their success, it just really makes me happy.

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Exclusive: Down on the Farm with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

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

Prior to the draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur players in preparation for draft day. But once the draft is complete, he typically begins a tour around the A’s system while also checking out some of the team’s potential targets prior to the trade deadline.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton a few days after the end of the major league All-Star break and a few days before the A’s added catcher Bruce Maxwell, whom we discussed, to the major league roster. And, as always, we were happy to have 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 from throughout the system…

 

AF:  I know that once the draft is done, you usually hit the road for a bit. So where have you been since the draft?

GF:  I’ve been to Nashville. I’ve been to Midland. I’ve been to Arizona. I’ve been to Stockton – I had to leave, and now I’m back in Stockton.

AF:  I really wanted to start out primarily focusing on some of the guys who’ve been at Nashville this season. First of all, let’s start out with a guy who started the year at Double-A and passed everyone by and is now up with the A’s in the big leagues – Ryon Healy. He was probably the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this season. So what clicked for him this year?

rh592387cGF:  Well, first of all, I think, if you go back, it clicked last year. He really put together a good second half and played well coming down the stretch there last year as well. This year, you know, he came in with a chip on his shoulder. I think he knew during the spring that he was the only guy of that Double-A group who didn’t get a big league invite [to the A’s spring training camp]. So I think he put it in his head that he wasn’t going to Triple-A. And you could tell, even joking around, that he was somewhat pissed. So the first week and a half in [minor league] camp, all he’s doing is trying to jerk balls out of the ballpark. And so it took us about a week and a half to kind of calm him down and let him know that all he was going to do was wreak for himself. But, with that said, his mentality about attacking pitches and driving the baseball continues to improve. And that’s what he’s been doing all year. His strike zone’s getting better, so he’s hitting better pitches, and he’s attacking them. His power numbers have come up, his on-base percentage is up, and he’s hitting the ball to all fields. He’s done everything you’d hope for in a hitter.

AF:  Well, it sounds like he’s definitely been a good kind of aggressive. Another guy who was in a similar spot this season is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He also started the year kind of being left behind in Double-A. He hit really well there, got called up to Nashville and, next to Healy, he’s probably been one of the best hitters in the A’s system this season.

jb595144bGF:  Bruggy’s a very solid player. It’s hard to put all the upside together as far as him being like a star guy in the big leagues, but there’s no way you can count Jaycob out. This guy runs it, he throws it, he can swing it, he ambushes for a homer here and there, he can steal a base. And he’s also, offensively and defensively, probably one of the most fundamentally sound players we have on both sides of the baseball. He does things the way you’d teach it. Footwork in the outfield, reads routes, approach at the plate, swings at strikes, takes balls – you know, he’s got that skill set.

AF:  I know he’s always been talked about primarily as a corner outfielder, but he’s been playing a lot of center field this year at Nashville. So how do you feel about his abilities in center field?

GF:  Well, they’re good, they’re solid. They’re not off the charts. I don’t know that a lot of people are going to look at him and think he’s going to be our center fielder of the future. Can he play center field? Yes. Would be he a little bit exposed speed-wise if he was sitting in a big league outfield? Probably. There’s always going to be a burner who comes along and gets the same kind of reads with better speed. But I wouldn’t be afraid to put this guy in a big league center field anyway.

AF:  Another guy who’s really come on strong lately is catcher Bruce Maxwell. His average is up over .300 and he’s got nine or ten home runs now. So what’s been clicking for him?

bm622194cGF:  I think he’s starting to really have more competitive at-bats. I mean, he’s seeing it better. He’s more aggressive on balls in his zone. He’s not carving as many balls up in the big sky out in left-center as he did. He’s starting to feel the pull side of the ballpark with some backspin. There’s still a ways to go. But the bottom line is, as long as he can just be competitive with his at-bats and give you good at-bats, this guy’s going to find himself a job.

AF:  That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you about – how do you feel about his development as a catcher? I know a lot of time and effort has gone into that over the years for him.

GF:  That’s the one thing that’s been pretty good the last few years. He’s really developed himself into an above-average receiver. He’s got very good exchange, and timing and rhythm throwing. He’s become very accurate – he’s worked on it. He still gets exposed with his flexibility as far as sometimes blocking if balls take him way out to the sides. But Brucie’s done a good job – I’m proud of him.

AF:  Now a guy who started out the season slow but ended up being a Triple-A all-star is Nashville shortstop Chad Pinder. He got off to a rough start but seems to have turned things around a bit now. So where do you feel he’s at in the development curve?

cp640461cGF:  I still think there’s some room to go with Chad. He’s had some defensive lapses in Triple-A that he did not show last year in Double-A. I think a lot of it’s throwing. I personally mentioned it to him when I was in there that he’s dropping down. He’s really such a beautiful thrower from a high ¾ spot – that’s gotten away from him a little bit. He’s still driving the baseball, he’s still using the whole field. He still needs to take another step up as far as his pitch recognition – not that he’s a chaser or that he swings really out of the zone – just early in counts, what pitch he’s being aggressive on. To me, he’s still trying to go for too many pitches early in a count that aren’t the kind of pitches he can drive. And I think, over a period of time, that puts him behind in counts and changes the whole sequence that he’s going to get pitched. But he’s another 23-year-old in Triple-A getting his feet wet against experienced guys and hitting around .260 with a dozen homers and playing a solid everyday shortstop. So, as far as the path to the big leagues, he’s on time.

AF:  Yeah, it looked to me like most of his errors this year have been throwing errors. I wasn’t sure if he was just rushing things or if it was something more mechanical.

GF:  Yeah, more throwing errors. He’s dropping down…and that’s just not him. He is a guy who sets his feet. He’s usually very fundamental. Last year, he was so accurate with his throwing, and that carried him last year. He’s got to get back to that.

AF:  Now another guy who’s been on a bit of a similar path as Pinder this year is Matt Olson. He started the season off really rough, then things started picking up for him, but things have been a bit hot and cold with him this year. So where do you feel Matt Olson’s at with the whole Triple-A experience at this point?

mo621566GF:  Well, I think he’s seeing that his holes are becoming more and more exposed the higher up he goes. It’s not like they’re not being addressed. We’ve worked on numerous things trying to uplift his ability to make contact. It’s just going to be a work in progress. The talent has not changed – there’s still big strength in there, he’s still patient and he’s still disciplined. There’s just times where, with the way he delivers the bat, there just happens to be holes in that zone, and we’re just trying to shrink those holes. He definitely needs work staying over the baseball longer and driving baseballs in that shortstop area of the field. He’s losing too many balls in the air though – and he knows it. It’s been addressed, it’s being worked on and, actually, I would say in the last two or three weeks, the quality of his at-bats are getting better.

AF:  He’s spent most of the season playing right field. I know everyone’s always raved about his work at first base. So how do you feel about his work in right field?

GF:  He’s solid. He’s just not as good there as he is at first. So that tends to be a topic in the organization – is the outfield play hindering him offensively? I don’t think so. He likes playing the outfield. I think he knows he’s a very good first baseman but, right now, it’s increasing his versatility. It’s increasing the options, if he does get up there, of where Bob Melvin can use him. Everybody knows he’s probably the best defensive first baseman in the system, so he can always go back there. So when the time arises, when he’s needed, we’ll see where he goes.

AF:  Turning to pitching for a moment, let’s talk about Dillon Overton. He’s been solid at Nashville all year and he’s been up and down with the A’s a couple of times now. So what does he need to do to get over the hump at get to that next level where he can be a solid major leaguer?

do592614dGF:  I think just get some experience up there. He’s shown that he can dominate Triple-A. He’s had numerous games where he’s been dominating. He’s an excellent strike-thrower, he’s got pace to his game, and he’s got location. You know, you still wish there was a little bit more heat coming out of the fastball. And the less his fastball grows, the more perfect he’s going to have to be with his fastball location. He’s very good to the arm side. I think he’s going to have to be able to get into righties better if he’s going to pitch at 88-90 mph – he’s going to have to get in there with a purpose and then go back out. I think he’s still learning that part of it. But I think it’s experience. It’s like all of them, they need some time to see the big leagues – that second and third deck and brighter lights and tougher hitters.

AF:  Before we turn to a few guys at Double-A, are there any updates on Henderson Alvarez and his sore shoulder? Is he just totally shut down at this point?

GF:  Yeah, I don’t know for how long, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few guys at Midland. Another guy who was in kind of a similar position as Ryon Healy this year is outfielder Tyler Marincov. He kind of got left behind at Stockton, hit very well there and earned a promotion to Midland, and now he’s been doing well there too. So what do you think of what we’ve seen out of Tyler Marincov this year?

tm595309cGF:  Well, obviously, from a performance standpoint, you look at his numbers, and everything’s much better. The one thing you see is that he’s driving the ball to the right side of the field better. There’s still some things mechanically I think he needs to get better at, especially if he’s going to take that game with some power to the higher levels. Basically, the same issues that we’re working with Chapman on are the same things with Tyler – a little bit better load and a little bit better separation so that he’s giving himself some time and space to recognize and get in position. But as far as how he’s performing, he’s performed admirably.

AF:  Well, that brings us to Matt Chapman. Obviously, hitting 22 home runs in the Texas League at this point in the season is not an easy thing to do…

GF:  He’s got more homers than hits!

AF: [Laughter] Almost! And he’s also striking out about once every three at-bats. So where is he at in the learning curve at this point?

mc656305dGF:  Obviously, stuck right in the middle! Yeah, the strikeouts are alarming, no doubt. But here’s what I can tell you, I can tell you the kid’s working at it. It hasn’t changed the way he goes about playing the game. His power is immense. It’s all about timing and positioning and how he’s seeing it. It’s the same thing I mentioned with Marincov, there’s a separation move that he’s not had since the day we signed him, and he’s been able to kind of get away with it. You know, one of the biggest things about Chapman that a lot of people are forgetting is that he’s missed two falls of our big instructional period. The first year he signed, when he was going into instructional league, he got hurt and couldn’t play. Then he got hurt coming into spring training. Then he got hurt when we were going to send him to the Arizona Fall League. And then this spring, he was in big league camp till the end. So there’s been two springs and two falls where really – and instruction is what it’s all about – he’s missed. So he’s learning on the fly. Skill-set-wise, he’s everything everybody thinks he is. He’s an above-average third baseman with a cannon arm. He’s an instinctual gamer as far as his presence. He’s got big damaging power that’s got a chance to be a game-changer. It’s just working on all these little things about hitting.

AF:  That’s an interesting point. It seems he really has missed a lot of instruction time. Of course, the other top prospect at Midland is shortstop Franklin Barreto. He’s kind of been doing the same thing he did last year in Stockton. He started out slow and then midway through the season started turning it on a bit and coming around. I know he’s missed a few games recently with a leg issue – I’m not sure how serious that is. But where do you feel he’s at at this point?

fb620439GF:  Well, for a 20-year-old, he’s probably playing about two levels up. He’s doing well. He’s kind of starting to come out of his shell from a personality standpoint. You know, last year, he was very quiet and unassuming – new organization, new people. This year, you can tell, he’s gravitating towards some coaching. He’s really wanting to put a plan together now. You’ve got to remember, this kid’s at Double-A when most kids at 20 are either being signed or in rookie ball. And putting an offensive plan together, situational hitting, those are things that you’re talking about as guys are getting closer to the big leagues. These things are coming fast for him. So I think we all need to realize how young he really is and understand that we have so much time to still work with this guy. Like any young player, there’s some moves here and there that we’re trying to put together so that they work a little more efficiently in his swing. But the plus run, the explosive hands, the ability to ambush a heater from time to time, that’s all there.

AF:  He’s also been doing a lot of running this year – he’s already stolen over 20 bases so far – which is obviously good to see. Do you think this current leg injury is much of a big deal though?

GF:  No.

AF:  Okay, and then one last guy at Midland who’s always interesting to talk about is infielder Yairo Munoz. He came out kind of strong but then he started struggling a bit. So what do you think about where he’s at right now?

ym622168GF:  I would say about what I said last year – talented, but careless. He lost all of spring training [due to injuries]. He came in heavy. This kid’s added thirty pounds in the last year. He’s starting to become more fit now, but it’s been a struggle for him carrying this extra weight. He was hurt with three different things and lost all of spring training. So the reality is, May – he didn’t get out till May – was basically his spring training. But by the time you get to Double-A, the instinctual side of the game needs to start building as far as positioning yourself, making throws with your legs underneath you, not trying to do everything on the run, narrowing your strike zone, getting more focused on pitches that you can hit – and he’s behind with that still. His talent skill is where it belongs but, in a perfect world, he would be in A-ball learning how to play the game with a little bit more focus and purpose. This kid’s very talented, but there’s just a lot of careless mistakes still going on in his game – swinging at stuff he doesn’t need to be swinging at, throwing on the run when he doesn’t need to be, a lot of style before substance sometimes. But [Midland manager] Ryan Christenson’s doing a great job harping on it down there. We’re staying with it and it’s one of those things where we don’t know when the maturity level’s going to kick in – hopefully it starts to come.

AF:  One interesting development this year has been the performance of the Beloit pitching staff, with guys like Evan Manarino and Boomer Biegalski and others there. What’s your impression of what some of those young pitchers have been doing there this season?

GF:  Manarino’s a college senior strike-thrower we signed a year ago. He’s a below-average-fastball guy, but he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a got a good breaker and he’s got a feel to pitch. He’s kind of doing what we expected him to do. He was a polished college pitcher. He doesn’t have big stuff, but he knows what he’s doing. Biegalski’s gone through a little fastball stage where he got erratic, so he never got to that changeup that he’s noted for. Now five out of his last six starts, his fastball command’s starting to improve, so you’re seeing his line score improve. So, to me, it’s all about his ability to stay in command of his fastball to get to his changeup.

AF:  Now just to touch on the draft a bit, you guys took three big pitchers at the top of the draft – A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. So what’s your overall impression of how the A’s came out of the draft this year?

GF:  We needed starters, and we got starters! Puk is a big, big physical man who’s got a big upside heater and a fair breaking ball. The changeup and the feel to pitch will show how far things are going to take him. Daulton Jefferies is more of a Sonny Gray-looking guy – kind of a slighter, smaller frame – but he’s got a live arm. He’s got tons of movement, he’s got a sinker and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got good stuff and he locates. I can’t wait to get him healthy and get him out pitching. And Shore’s probably one of the better college pitchers in the draft, period. The biggest thing with Logan is he used his sinker, his two-seamer, all year in college and his velocity kind of went backwards a little bit. So he’s kind of pitching 87-91 mph – pitched great, don’t get me wrong – but a few of us saw this guy 92-93-94 mph last year using his four-seamer a little bit. And once we get him out and get him going, we’re going to see if we can’t get some of that back. But there’s not much to do with his breaking ball and changeup. He’s durable, he’s strong, he’s a strike-thrower, he knows what he’s doing. We got three good ones there.

AF:  I know they’ve been taking it easy with Jefferies after his shoulder injury earlier this year. Are we likely to see him at some point soon?

GF:  The plan with him is to keep strengthening the shoulder area a little bit, and he should be getting some innings in August. He’s not going to be stretched out big. We’ll just get him going, then he’ll be in instructional league and we’ll go from there.

AF:  And what about Shore?

GF:  Shore’s going to be limited. He was a 100+ innings guy in college. He’s going to go to Vermont and maybe pitch occasionally out of the bullpen. They may start him, but it’s not going to be with any depth.

AF:  And finally, was there anyone else the A’s took in the draft you’re particularly high on?

GF:  Some of the early guys – the high school pitcher we took, Skylar Szynski. He’s a very good-looking kid – athletic, six-foot-one, strength in his body, has got a quick arm, got a chance to have a plus breaker and a plus change. It looks like he’s going to be a strike-thrower – got to settle down his delivery, he’s a little quick-paced. So everything right now looks pretty productive.

AF:  Speaking of high school guys, last year’s 3rd-round pick, Dakota Chalmers, has looked pretty good at Vermont so far this year.

GF:  Dakota’s done well. He’s actually pitching better there than he has in extended, in spring and everywhere else.

AF:  Well, maybe he’s one of those guys who rises to the occasion – he needs a challenge!

GF:  That’s right, put him out in a real stadium!

AF:  So now where are you headed off to next?

GF:  Well, you know, the phone could always ring at any minute on trades. That’s always live.

AF:  Well, I guess it is that time of the year…

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Talking about Stockton’s Top Prospects with Manager Rick Magnante

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

After spending five seasons in Vancouver and three seasons in Vermont, Magnante gave up his scouting duties and began managing full-time. He spent the 2014 season in Beloit and is now in his second season with Stockton. We took the opportunity to talk with the skipper earlier this week to get his first-hand take on a few of the Ports’ top prospects…

AF:  It seems like the guy who’s really been one of the most consistent hitters for you here in Stockton this season has been Joe Bennie.

RM:  That would be correct.

AF:  He’s been doing a good job of getting on base, and he’s been showing some pop too. So what’s been working for him this year?

jb643218bRM:  Well, I think Joe has the innate ability to hit a baseball and hit it hard. He’s a guy who has a good sense of timing and readiness that allows him to recognize pitches and give quality at-bats regardless of the count. He’s not opposed to getting himself into a two-strike count and battling through that and maybe getting to a full count and working a walk or getting a hit. So I think his recognition skills and his timing, along with a strong powerful swing with leverage, has allowed him to drive baseballs the way he’s done this year. And as you mentioned, his consistency has been very good from day one, but it’s gotten better. His average has picked up as of late, so he’s starting see the results of the hard work that he truly puts in every day. He’s extremely diligent, very passionate, very committed. You know, the attitude is everything. There’s some things you can’t teach. There’s some things you can help players with in terms of all their skill sets. But Joe has a natural feel to hit. And he’s just getting to become what we expect here in Oakland. He’s becoming a professional hitter.

AF:  I know he’s moved around a bit in the field – second base, third base, the outfield. So where do you feel he’s really best-suited to be in the field?

RM:  I think that right now our biggest concern with Joe is finding a place he’ll be serviceable as a defender. So the process is still ongoing. He’s played some third, not this year but previously. He began the year at second base here, and he still continues to play second base. We’re still experimenting a little bit with him in the outfield. So, in terms of what he’s going to be ultimately, I don’t think anybody has the answer to that right now. We haven’t solved that dilemma yet. But the reality is if you hit, you play. So I think Joe’s going to figure that out. And I think wherever we ask him to play, he’s very willing to do that. He’s very open-minded. He’s not reluctant, saying “This is difficult,” or “I don’t feel comfortable here.” He’s looking to say, “How can I be better? What do I need to do?”

AF:  Another guy who’s been pretty consistent for you and has certainly done a great job of getting on base all season is outfielder James Harris. What’s he meant to your team this year and what kind of development have you seen out of him?

jh605266bRM:  He truly has been our most consistent player, because he’s hit from day one for average and hasn’t stopped. He too is getting better as the season progresses. The more repetitions you get, the more at-bats you get, if you’re getting better, you’re going to see results. Everybody goes through some ups and downs, and so has James to some degree, but from day one he’s been selective and aggressive enough in his at-bats to get the pitches he wants to hit. So he’s developed as a hitter very dramatically since his first years in pro ball with Tampa Bay. This is my first real exposure to James. I saw him in spring training and he had a terrific spring. Along with his ability to hit, there is some power there, and I think it will develop more than what you’re seeing here in the California League this year. He’s also athletic, he can run. The area he really needs to improve upon is his defense. He needs to become a better outfielder and a better thrower. But if the bat is a big part of the equation, he’s shown this year that he’s made huge strides at the plate, and I’m pleased to say that he’s having a great year.

AF:  Since he’s been in pro ball for a while, I think people tend to forget that he’s actually still fairly young. He’s still just 22.

RM:  Yeah, he was a high school signing, not unlike B.J. Boyd. They’re both from the same area. He’s gotten a second chance here, and he’s made the most of it. And that speaks to his character and his drive and his focus on what he wants to do and where he wants to go. So it’s been a good year for James.

AF:  Now another guy who’s been a big bat for you here this year is first baseman Sandber Pimentel. He’s obviously got some power, and he’s done a good job of getting on base too. So what have you seen out of him this year in Stockton?

sp622698RM:  Well, he’s young as well. He’s 21 years old. The first thing you see is his physical presence – he looks the part. This is what they’re supposed to look like. I’m sure David Ortiz looked something like this at his age as well. So the comparison is fair from a physical profile. But what I’ve seen from Sandber is the ability to work harder at what he’s doing, to take all facets of the game – his hitting, his fielding, his throwing, his base running – to another level, to get better at being a complete, all-around player. I think what you deal with sometimes with the Latin player is the fact there is no baseball infrastructure in the Dominican. There is no Little League, PONY League, high school, junior college, college baseball. Most everything they do is on a showcase basis – they go, they hit, they throw, they field, they run. The tools are evaluated, but the baseball IQ is not developed. So when you bring a kid like him and you put him in the Cal League where you’re playing with older guys, more advanced guys, more skilled guys, guys with better baseball acumen for lack of a better term, his learning curve is going to be slower. So patience and perseverance are the key words for him. You just have to continue to teach and mentor him. And this year he’s been receptive and we’re starting to see some of the fruits of our labor in the way he’s playing the game on both sides of the line. So we’re pleased with the development from Sandber.

AF:  Two other hitters I wanted to ask you about are last year’s top two draft picks for the A’s – infelders Richie Martin and Mikey White. Both have had some struggles at the plate this season. So what kind of challenges have you seen those guys having to face this year in High-A?

mw608383bRM:  White first because he’s been here all year – his strengths for me are his baseball skills. His ablity to know how to play the game, to be in the right position, to make the throw to the proper base, to advance along the bases correctly – all those things are in place for him. But now it’s a matter of how can we develop the tools? And so the first thing, of course, that we want to do is we want him to become a better hitter. He got off to a slow start this year, and we’ve been working diligently with him on his approach. By that, I mean his ability to get ready to hit in a physical manner so that he’s in a position to recognize pitches, be balanced, be centered, be leveraged, and be strong at contact. And we’re starting to see that now as the season has progressed into the second half. His at-bats are better. If you notice his swings, you’ll see he’s over the baseball, his hands are in a better position, his timing is improved, he’s recognizing better. So we’re very pleased with that, because it’s been a little bit of a tough road for him this first half. But he has not allowed it to affect his attitude, how he approaches the game, his work ethic. He comes out here every day very open-minded and willing to do what we ask him to do. And sometimes you’ve got to take two steps backward before you can take one step forward. We’ve gone through the backward steps, so now we’re looking for the forward steps.

AF:  And what about Richie Martin?

rm621006cRM:  He got kind of sidetracked with the meniscus tear in spring training, and that set him back a little bit, so he didn’t get the full benefit of spring training. And when you go to extended [spring training] after all the teams break down there, it’s not quite the same as spring training – you’re not facing different clubs, you’re not facing better arms. So it took him a little bit of time to get going. What you see with Richie I think is what everybody sees. You see a very athletic, agile, strong, toolsy kind of player in terms of his ability to catch the ball, his ability to run, his ability to throw with an above-average arm – all those things stand out. He too is in a position right now where he’s facing much better competition, and he too is one that we need to try to help get in sync at the plate. And by that, I mean to get his timing in a position where he can recognize pitches, be on time and be in a position to drive baseballs with greater regularity. So the things we’re working on with him are basically his timing, his readiness and his overall approach to hit. So we’re making some strides with him, but it’s an ongoing process. And you believe, as talented and athletic as he is – and, of course, he’s a very dedicated kid, a very competitive kid, and a self-starter – that he’ll figure it out.

AF:  Okay, I wanted to ask you about one pitcher on your staff who came here from Beloit at the end of May – and that’s Kyle Friedrichs. He had a disastrous first start, giving up nine runs in his debut. But ever since then, he’s been about as solid as could be, and he hardly ever walks anyone. So tell me what you’ve been seeing out of Kyle Friedrichs and what’s been working so well for him this season?

kf664851RM:  Well, he’s a smart pitcher. He knows how to attack hitters. It’s not about ego with him. He’s not trying to strike them out, he’s trying to get them out. He’s trying to pitch to contact within the first three pitches and have the hitters put the ball in play and allow his defense to play behind him. What has been surprising has been the humber of strikeouts he’s had. He has a mix of pitches – he he’s got a four-pitch arsenal. He knows how to use his pitches, he can locate, he upsets hitters’ timing and he pitches ahead in the count – all of which is a recipe for success. So, he’s more pitcher than he is power, but it’s working right now for him and he’s really been a welcome addition to our club.

AF:  Which of his pitches are really working for him at this point?

RM:  Well, he locates a fastball and he stays down in the zone. So even when they do touch him, it’s on the ground. That’s important for him. And there’s a little movement. He’s got a slider, he’s got a curveball and he’s got a change. And I would call them all serviceable pitches. He’s got a mix. So he’s the type of guy who might go through the lineup the first time using one or two pitches to get outs. Then in those second or third at-bats, other pitches are introduced and now the hitters have to cover more than one or two pitches, and that’s to his advantage.

AF: It sounds like being able to locate that fastball down in the zone is the key for him.

RM:  Most everything that he throws is down and it’s got downward plane to it, so it’s groundball, groundball, groundball. It’s not overpowering, so the key is command of the pitches.

AF:  Now I know you were a scout before you got into coaching. So did Grady Fuson hire you to be a scout for the A’s when he was the team’s scouting director back in the ‘90s?

RM:  Grady hired me in 1995 to be an area scout in southern California. And I spent five, almost six, years before I even explored the chance to get on the field. And when I went to Italy in 2005 to be part of the MLB international academy there, I met some people on that side and they offered me the opportunity to manage South Africa in the first World Baseball Classic. And we were an organization that welcomed scouts, after the draft, to be a part of the short-season staffs. So I’d mentioned to [farm director] Keith Lieppman on a couple of occasions that would be something I’d like to do if the opportunity presented itself. And after the baseball classic, he asked me if I’d like to manage Vancouver in 2006 and I said, “You don’t have to ask twice.” So I’ve been able to do a few things here with Oakland, and I’m grateful to Grady for bringing me over and I’m grateful to Keith for giving me the opportunity to manage. 2013 was my last year as a scout and now I’m full-time on the field.

AF:  And I guess it sounds like you’re enjoying the chance to be back out on the field.

RM:  At this point in my life, I’m truly blessed. I’ve got a full-time job in baseball, I have a five-month offseason, and I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor at this point in my life. I’m just very grateful for how things have happened here in Oakland.

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Catching Up With a Pair of the Ports’ Top Hitters: James Harris & Joe Bennie

spstockton-ports-logoThe A’s affiliate in the California League, the Stockton Ports, has struggled for much of this season, putting up a .408 winning percentage through the team’s first 98 games. But a couple of Stockton’s biggest standouts in the batter’s box so far this season have been outfielder James Harris and second baseman/outfielder Joe Bennie.

Harris is the team leader in hits, runs, total bases, stolen bases, batting average and on-base percentage, while Bennie leads the team in doubles, extra-base hits and RBIs. We took the opportunity to talk with the pair earlier this week in Stockton.

 

JAMES HARRIS

jh605266bAs a 17-year-old high school outfielder, Oakland native James Harris was a 1st-round pick for Tampa Bay in the 2011 amateur draft. But after struggling through four seasons in the Tampa system, never rising above Class-A, the former top prospect was released towards the end of spring training in 2015. Within a couple of weeks though, Harris was signed by his hometown team and sent to Beloit, where he had a solid season as the Snappers’ leadoff hitter, putting up a .359 on-base percentage over 86 games in the Midwest League. And he’s taken things up another notch this season with the Ports, putting up an impressive .312/.390/.442 slash line and stealing 20 bases through 96 games while also being named a California League All-Star…

AF:  You’ve been having a good year here in Stockton and you’ve been very consistent. So what’s been working for you here this season?

JH:  Pretty much just going out there and having fun. I put in a lot of work in the offseason to be able to just come out here and play and not have to worry about trying to make too many major adjustments throughout the season. I’m just trying to stay consistent with an approach and attitude and make little minor adjustments within the season. So I think that’s helped with consistency.

AF:  What was your offseason program like and what were you really focused on in the offseason?

JH:  This offseason was a lot of skill work – so hitting, first steps, speed, jumps. Just trying to stay consistent with the short swing and be able to repeat that swing over and over again regardless of pitch and location. And then obviously being able to steal some more bases, being able to get a good first step. And then just kind of working out to be a little stronger, to be able to drive the ball to all fields, and be able to do things I need to do to stay healthy for a full season.

AF:  When you came over to the A’s organization last season, things really seemed to start clicking for you right away. It seems like you started having a lot of success right off the bat. So is there anything in particular that accounts for that?

JH:  Change of scenery and maturity. You know, when Tampa drafted me, I was young – 17 years old. And after a few years over there, I was still learning and adjusting to the game. And by the time I got over here, it was a good change of scenery. I’ve had an opportunity to go out there and play every day, so I’ve just tried to make the most of it. I just kind of went back into a position where nothing was going to be given, so I didn’t want to back down or let down or anything. And also, the energy and the vibes over here with the coaches and the coordinators have all been good. And I think I’ve been able to communicate with them and be pretty open with them about things that I want to work on, and also feel comfortable with asking questions about things that they feel I could do better and take the criticism for what it is and work to be better at it.

AF:  Well, I guess sometimes it’s just nice to be able to make a fresh start!

JH:  It is, it is – and just an opportunity to play for a team I grew up watching and was my favorite team. It made the game fun again. It’s almost like the beginning of a dream all over again.

AF:  I was going to ask you about that. Being from Oakland, when you first found out that you were going to have the chance to join the A’s, what was your first reaction to that?

JH:  My first reaction was just thankful that another team was going to give me an opportunity. And the second thing was just, you know, that’s something I’ve always dreamed about. I’ve played in the Coliseum a few times with my high school team and been to a ton of games there. And when I told my family, they were really excited. So I just want to make the most of the opportunity and do the best I can to be able to play at home in my backyard.

AF:  So when you were growing up and following the A’s, who were some of the players you liked and had your eye on?

JH:  Well, the teams when I was younger that I remember, Jermaine Dye was a big guy, and then Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada – you know, that whole team with the big three [Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito] – Terrence Long, Scott Hatteberg, Mark Ellis, Huston Street had just got there…

AF:  The classic Moneyball days!

JH:  Yeah, that was what I knew. And tickets were $5 on hot dog day. I’d go with my family or I’d go on summer field trips with programs and stuff. I think I still have a deck of cards at home with a bunch of A’s players from growing up. Those was the guys that I remember being able to watch. And Rickey Henderson has always been my favorite player.

AF:  I was wondering about that. I had a feeling that might be the case.

JH:  Yeah, Rickey’s always been my favorite player. I met him in high school, because he went to my high school [Oakland Technical High School]. And they ended up naming our high school field after him, so I met him then. I talked to him a little bit when I was with Tampa in the offseason. And then this year, I’ve had a chance to work with him more.

AF:  I imagine you must have spent some time with him in Arizona in spring training.

JH:  Yeah, I talked to him there. And then he’s come here two or three times and I’ve had a chance to talk to him here.

AF:  Well, I imagine when a guy like Rickey has something to say to you, you probably listen!

JH:  100 percent – I guarantee you he’s not trying to steer me wrong!

AF:  You can’t go wrong listening to Rickey!

JH:  Exactly!

AF:  Have you seen Moneyball and, if you have, what did you think about it?

JH:  I have. I thought it was a pretty good film. I didn’t know much about the whole Moneyball scheme and what they were doing at the time. I just learned of it once I saw it what the whole idea of it was. And it makes more sense now being in the middle of it and seeing how organizations work when it comes to players. I thought it was a real good movie though.

AF:  Then finally, is there anything that you’re particularly focused on at this point in the season?

JH:  Everything. I think the main thing is just staying focused. It’s so easy at the end of the season to start kind of losing focus and start shutting it down a little bit. So just trying to stay locked in on every game – we’ve got somewhere close to 50 games left – to lock it in for every pitch, or on the bases, or out in the field. And then just constantly working on jumps, reads, you know, little stuff, footwork in the outfield, staying consistent with the swing and getting good pitches to hit, not trying to do too much, just trying to keep everything simple and just staying focused through the end of the season. I don’t want to let up early. Letting up early creates a bad habit, and they see that stuff. They want to see you finish all the way through. You know, if you get to the big leagues, even if you’re not in the playoff chase, they want you still going hard all the way to the end of the season.

AF:  That’s right, you can’t let up till the last game!

 

JOE BENNIE

jb643218bTaken by the A’s in the 28th round of the 2013 draft, Bennie has done a great job of getting on base ever since joining the A’s organization, and he currently sports a .370 on-base percentage over parts of four minor league seasons. Bennie started out primarily playing second base, while seeing a little time at third base, but he shifted to the outfield last season, and has split his time between the outfield and second base this year. Bennie has been one of Stockton’s best hitters this season and is currently boasting the best on-base percentage (.380) and slugging percentage (.448) in his time in the A’s system. And his brother Robert, an outfielder, was just taken by the A’s in the 24th round of this year’s draft…

AF:  You’ve been having a really solid year here at Stockton. You’ve been getting on base and showing a little pop. So what’s been clicking for you here this season?

JB:  I just think it’s a product of having a lot of at-bats over the past couple years and just all the hard work in the offseason. I showed up to spring training early just trying to get some extra at-bats. And I just think it’s starting to click with my approach and just my confidence out there. So I’m happy the results are coming as part of that.

AF:  And how do you feel about hitting here in Stockton as opposed to Beloit, where you were last year? How’s it been different for you?

JB:  You can mis-hit some balls and they’ll travel a little bit more here. But I try not to let that stuff get to me or get me off my approach. It’s the same game, so I just try to stick with what I can do.

AF:  What are some of the differences in the kind of pitching you’ve had to face here in High-A in the California League?

JB:  I just think they have more of an idea of how to pitch. So they’re really going to attack your weaknesses until you prove you can fix them. In rookie ball, pitchers kind of just throw the ball as hard as they can and they don’t know where it’s going. Last year, they kind of had more of an idea. But this year, it’s been challenging at times because they know what they’re doing. But I just stick to the same approach each day and try not to let that get in my way.

AF:  In your time in the organization, you’ve played a few different positions – second base, third base, the outfield. Is there anywhere in particular that you feel most comfortable at this stage of the game?

JB:  Yeah, I guess they’re searching for a position for me. And they like that I can kind of fill the utility role, which I don’t mind at all because it keeps me in the lineup every day – it doesn’t matter where I’m playing. Personally, I really like second base. I got drafted as a second baseman. I played there for the first two years of pro ball. That’s somewhere I’m really comfortable. But after last year going to instructs to work on the outfield, I’m really comfortable out there now too. So wherever they put me, it doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty comfortable everywhere now.

AF:  Are there many guys on this team you’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time playing with since you were drafted?

JB:  Lana Akau since rookie ball, our first year when we got drafted. Jose Brizuela the last two or three seasons. James Harris the last two years. So there’s been a couple guys I’ve been with pretty much every step of the way.

AF:  Now I know you’re from the east coast. So, prior to this year, had you had the chance to spend much time out in California before and how do you like living and playing out here on the west coast?

JB:  Oh, it’s definitely the first time I’ve been out here for a long period of time. I was out here for like three days my junior year of college when we played the University of San Diego. But other than that, it’s my first time in Cali…I like it a lot. California is nice. We get to travel to nice places. You know the weather is always going to be sunny and a little hot. So I’m enjoying this lifestyle.

AF:  So who have you been living with out here?

JB:  I live with Heath Fillmyer and Brett Graves – two pitchers.

AF:  Have you been getting the pitchers’ perspective on things now?

JB:  Oh, yeah. Sometimes I’ll ask them how they would pitch me. Maybe other teams have that same approach against me, so I use that to my advantage.

AF:  Getting into the mind of the enemy!

JB:  Exactly!

AF:  So is there anything that’s been particularly memorable for you about this season?

JB:  I love every day just coming to the locker room, just getting ready to go. I don’t take a day for granted in pro ball.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’re focused on or working on at this point in the season?

JB:  Yeah, I try to make progress every day. Right now, I’m sticking to my routine hitting, just trying to stick with that so I’m consistent. And defensively, that’s probably where I put in the most work. In B.P., I really take my reps seriously. But for the most part, just trying to stay healthy and take care of my body.

AF:  And finally, how did you feel about your brother getting drafted by the A’s and the two of you being together here in the same organization now?

JB:  Oh, it was a dream come true. He had a lot of looks from a couple teams. And I was really hoping it was the A’s all the way, just because I love this organization and I’ve seen the opportunities I’ve gotten and I just think this is a great place for him to be. We’ve only been teammates once, and that was in varsity baseball, and I was a senior and he was a freshman. So it’ll be fun to go to spring training with him and hopefully we get to the big leagues together!

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A’s Rookies Ryon Healy & Daniel Mengden Talk about Life in the Majors

Due to a seemingly never-ending wave of injuries, the A’s have truly been a team in flux this season. But the resulting roster turmoil has provided plenty of opportunities for some of the team’s top prospects, including starting pitcher Daniel Mengden and corner infielder Ryon Healy, both of whom we took the opportunity to talk to earlier this week. We last spoke with Mengden in this May interview, shortly after he made his first start for Nashville. And we hadn’t spoken with Healy since his time in Stockton in 2014, when we talked to the big batch of A’s prospects who were then playing for the Ports in this piece.

Both players started this season with Double-A Midland, but their impressive performances brought them all the way to the big leagues within a matter of months. And we wanted to check in and see how the adjustment to the majors was going. We spoke with both of them earlier this week, shortly before Oakland’s 10th-inning walk-off win against the Astros, in which Healy drove in a pair of key runs for the A’s.

 

RYON HEALY

rh592387cAfter finishing last season with a strong second half for Midland, Ryon Healy found himself starting 2016 back in Double-A due to an abundance of corner infielders on this year’s Nashville team. But the 24-year-old immediately began tearing up the Texas League and quickly earned a May promotion to Nashville, where he didn’t miss a beat. Healy had the best batting average and slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers when he was called up by the A’s a week ago. And he’s shown some real pop as well as an ability to hit with runners in scoring position during his brief time in Oakland. Originally drafted as a first baseman in the third round of the 2013 draft, the southern California native mostly split time between first base and third base in the minors, but the A’s have made it clear that they’d like to see if Healy can handle the hot corner in the majors. And so far, with the help of A’s infield coach Ron Washington, the audition’s been going well… 

AF:  So how have your first few days in the big leagues been going for you so far?

RH:  You know, it’s been awesome. All the players and the coaching staff have done a great job of helping me get into a good routine between the cage and the weight room and then early defense and B.P. So I can’t thank all the guys enough for making me feel comfortable and at home here so far.

AF:  Well it must be nice for you to see a few guys here you’ve actually played with before.

RH:  Definitely. The day I showed up here, I recognized at least half the clubhouse. The other half I’ve seen, so I made sure I introduced myself. I’m just trying to show all the respect I can for the veterans here.

AF:  So were you out working in the field with Ron Washington earlier today?

RH:  Every single day I’m out there with Wash before the game.

AF:  How useful and instructive has that experience been for you?

RH:  He probably has way more knowledge than I’ll ever be able to absorb, but I’m going to be out there every day just trying to learn anything and everything I can from him just because of how much experience he has. But even in the short time that I’ve been here, he’s done a lot for my confidence as a defender.

AF:  Now you haven’t been here that long yet, but is there anything different about the way that major league pitchers approach you that’s caused you to have to make any adjustments in your approach at the plate?

RH:  I think just being ready to hit in every count. A lot of these pitchers don’t know me, but these guys aren’t afraid of me. Obviously, they look at me and I’m a few days into the big leagues, so they’re going to come right after me with heaters. I made the mistake the other night when I faced Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays of out-thinking my at-bat and I got four or five straight heaters and all of a sudden I was struck out. Some of the veterans in here have helped me with that kind of mental stuff. So I’ll be more prepared next time.

AF:  Is there anything else that’s been different for you either on or off the field when it comes to major league life compared to things in Nashville or Midland?

RH:  It’s still baseball, at a very high level – the very highest level. And you need to make sure that your body and your mind are prepared every day to perform at the highest level. But at the end of the day, it’s still a game and everyone’s here to enjoy it. But it’s also a business, and you need to prove every day that you can be here and want to stay here.

AF:  You started out the season at Double-A Midland and you’ve come a long way in a few months and now you’re here. You probably were the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this year, so what accounts for the big leap forward you seemed to take this season?

rhDSC04459bRH:  I think it was just a mindset honestly. I didn’t really enjoy the way that I finished the season last year. I know my numbers looked good but, the way that I viewed it, I wasn’t satisfied at all with what I did. I thought the second half of my season last year was a big improvement over the first half, but I still wasn’t very happy with the way that I finished the season. So I knew I had to go home and make some big adjustments. So I watched a lot of video and talked to a lot of people with a lot of experience and absorbed what I could and applied what I did. And fortunately for me, I walked into spring training with a positive mindset, understanding that Double-A was probably going to be my starting point. But I also know it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. I’m definitely not anywhere near the finish, and I never will consider myself near the finish line, but I’ll always just continue to work harder and get better.

AF:  So you started out with a positive approach about trying to prove yourself and letting them know what you could do?

RH:  That was definitely the mindset going in – it was chip on your shoulder, prove everyone wrong, and try and shock the world.

AF:  Rather than mope about it, just go out and show them.

RH:  It was one or the other. It was pretty much a make or break year for me. And fortunately for me, I picked the right mindset and went from there.

AF:  What are some of the adjustments you’ve made at the plate that have helped you get to where you’re at now?

RH:  I think a lot of it’s my mental approach at the plate – just being able to decide which pitches I can do damage with and which pitches I should take, whether they’re balls or strikes. So I’ve taken a lot more strikes this year, and it’s allowed me to get more mistakes, because I’m ready for a pitch in my zone. Rather than hitting a pitcher’s pitch, I’m hitting a pitch I want to hit – which is probably why my strikeouts have gone up, but my walks have also increased. I’m not afraid to hit with two strikes. I’m not afraid to take a strike earlier in the count if it means that I’ll get a pitch in my zone later in the count.

AF:  It sounds like you’ve really become very intelligently selective, looking for that pitch that you can handle and just trying to lay off of everything else.

RH:  Exactly, I think that’s been a big factor in it right now.

AF:  Now you’re from California, and I know your family’s had a chance to come out and see you play. So how has it been for you to be able to have the chance to play here in California?

RH:  It’s incredible. The best part for me is being in the same time zone. I can text my siblings and my parents, instead of having to time our phone calls, so that’s been nice.

AF:  So now that you’ve been here for a few days, is there anything that you’re really trying to focus on every day when you step out on the field here?

RH:  I think it’s just staying in tune with every single pitch and making sure I’m prepared for every play at third base. I think there’s only been one play so far where I’ve really been caught off guard – the potential interference with Carlos Correa and I. But besides that, I feel like I’ve done a good job understanding every scenario that could happen. That was just the one that snuck up on me, but it’s something that I’ll put in the memory bank and it won’t happen again.

AF:  I know you hadn’t really been spending that much time at third base this year, so how has it felt being over there at third base every day? Has it been a bit of an adjustment for you?

RH:  The game is all about adjustments. But yeah, it’s definitely something that I can now put all my time and effort into now that they’re showing that they want me to play there. So instead of having to take reps at first and third, I’m just going to take them at third right now. Until they tell me otherwise, that’s where I’m going to put all my time and effort.

AF:  So I guess they’ve made it clear that that’s where they see you at this point.

RH:  Yeah, for right now.

AF:  Well we all know that anything could change tomorrow.

RH:  Exactly!

 

DANIEL MENGDEN

dmusa-today-9368808.0bRight-hander Daniel 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 the former fourth-round draft pick ended up posting a 4.25 ERA over eight starts for Stockton last season. Mengden then came roaring out of the gate this season, putting up a 1.19 ERA in eleven starts for Nashville and Midland before being called up to Oakland in early June. The 23-year-old allowed eight earned runs over his first four major league starts in June and has allowed nineteen earned runs over his last four starts in July. Mengden’s distinctive windup on the mound has attracted a lot of attention, as has his handlebar mustache, which is reminiscent of legendary A’s reliever Rollie Fingers…

AF:  So how did you feel when you first got the call to the big leagues last month? Were you surprised at all?

DM:  I was kind of surprised. I figured I might be a September call-up. I thought they might let me sit in Triple-A. Even though I was doing well, I didn’t think it really mattered. I thought I was just going to mature down there and get my feet under me and then be a September call-up, maybe in the bullpen.

AF:  I guess you weren’t really feeling too much pressure down there at that point anyway.

DM:  Yeah, so I was kind of just doing my thing, just going about my business, taking it one game at a time. And then there were injuries and it was good timing and they gave me a chance. And I’m trying to do the best I can to run with it and trying to put us in the best position to win.

AF:  So how did they tell you that you were going up to the big leagues?

DM:  It was our manager Steve Scarsone and our pitching coach Rick Rodriguez. We were in Oklahoma City for a doubleheader. And after the second game, I came in to give them the chart. And he was like, “Hey, you messed up the chart. You missed two hitters. You missed like 10 pitches.” And I said, “I didn’t miss any pitches.” He goes, “You’ll get fined for each batter you miss the next game.” And then he said, “Do you like doing charts?” And I was like, “No, who likes doing charts?” And he says, “Good, you’re going to the big leagues. You don’t have to do charts anymore.”

AF:  You’re off the hook! Well, I guess they called Ryon Healy in and started telling him that he wasn’t hustling before they told him he was going up.

DM:  Yeah, same type of thing. Scar’s a great manager down there. He just tries to keep it loose and have fun.

AF:  Did Bob Melvin or Curt Young have any words of advice for you when you first got here?

DM:  Curt was just like, “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re throwing well. Don’t change anything. Nothing changes from Triple-A to the big leagues except the jersey. So just keep doing your thing and don’t worry about the excess stuff going on with being in the big leagues and the fans and all the mumbo jumbo around us.”

AF:  Have any of the big league pitchers up here had any particular advice to offer you yet?

DM:  Rich Hill is really a good veteran guy who’s talked to me a little bit and helped me out when he can. I’ve asked him if I’m doing things right and asked him how it goes for rookies and stuff like that. Most of our guys are pretty good. I was talking to Ryan Madson one day when we were in the bullpen and we were talking about changeups and grips and how we throw it. They know I’m a rookie and I’m going to try and pick their brain and learn as much as I can while I can from the veteran guys.

AF:  Since you’ve been here, is there anything in particular you’ve been working on or focused on trying to do?

DM:  Well, we’re always working on things. We’re trying to better every day no matter what. We always have room to get better. But just the general things like keeping the fastball down and executing two-strike pitches – just the general stuff, nothing too fancy.

AF:  So at this stage of the game, what pitches are really working for you and which ones are you still working on refining?

DM:  It kind of depends on the day. Some days I have all four, and some days you have two or three. But I guess the most consistent would probably be the fastball and the changeup – and the cutter most of the time. But my last start, the curveball was a little off. I couldn’t throw it very well, but I kept throwing it because you’ve got to throw it to show it to them. But I’d probably say the curveball is one of the more work-in-progress pitches I have that kind of varies more from start to start. But most of the time, I have the fastball, the cutter and the changeup almost every outing.

AF:  And what’s your velocity been like lately?

DM:  It’s probably normal – 90-95 mph, in that range. It’s weird, its like big league innings are way harder than Triple-A innings. Some of those innings just suck the life out of you. It’s a lot harder having to actually get outs in certain situations, and it takes that much more energy out of you at this level compared to Triple-A.

AF:  You don’t have quite as much left in the tank after a few of those innings.

dmDaniel+Mengden+Oakland+Athletics+v+Houston+NKSYO9ZVIWMl2DM:  Exactly!

AF:  Is there anything you find different about the way major league hitters approach you that’s caused you to have to make any adjustments to the way you pitch?

DM:  Yeah, everyone’s approach here is a lot better – that’s why they’re here. They have a good approach, they’re a good hitter and they have a good eye. You have to really throw good pitches. You can’t get away with bouncing a curveball or throwing a pitch way outside or up. Hitters are a lot more disciplined. I have to make good pitches. I can’t just hope they’re going to swing. Sometimes they’ll swing at pitches out of the zone. But most of the time, if it’s out of the zone, they’ll take it. They see everything way better than most guys and their overall approach is just better.

AF:  So is there anything in your game you’ve really had to focus on – maybe just trying to be more precise with your pitches?

DM:  Yeah, just fastball command – fastball command is number one. If you have that, then you can go from there. You’ve got to keep the ball down and throw strikes. The thing of it here is, if you make a mistake, it’s either a double or a home run. In Triple-A, if you make a mistake, you still could get an out possibly. But here, if you make the tiniest mistake, the ball’s going a long way.

AF:  Now I know one of your starts was in your hometown of Houston. So how was that for you?

DM:  Oh, it was great – just being able to see my family and friends, college friends, people I played ball with, coaches, teachers. Anybody you could think of came out and supported me, and it was great having that support and fan base behind me. And it was great being able to pitch in front of all of my family, besides just my parents, my girlfriend and my siblings. But yeah, it was exhilarating. It’s one of those feelings that’s really hard to explain…After the game was over, I had probably at least 100 people just waiting to take pictures and stuff – people from when I was on the swim team when I was like 9 or 10 to college teammates and boosters and friends I’ve made through high school and college…so it was pretty cool.

AF:  So what’s the major league routine been like for you?

DM:  With a lot of day games here, it’s kind of hard to really go out and do much. Basically just hitting the field every day, get our stuff done early and get out for the game. And usually by the time we get home, we’re tired and we just kind of watch some TV and go to sleep. So it’s not a very extravagant life. But on the road, you might want to go out and explore and eat dinner somewhere.

AF:  Where are you living now that you’re here in the Bay Area?

DM:  Right now I’m living with Josh Reddick. I moved into his house. I had been living at a team hotel for a while…It’s been fun. He’s a great guy. He’s a real fiery cat. He likes to have a lot of fun. So he’s a good guy to be around.

AF:  So is there anything in particular you’re focused on heading into your next start?

DM:  Just executing my pitches – trying to make the best pitch I can in any given situation. Every hitter’s just a hitter – you don’t have to try and over-think it. Sometimes you’ll say, “Oh my gosh, that’s Jose Altuve.” You just kind of have to go after them like they’re a normal hitter. You can’t think about their name. You think that they’re the enemy and you’re trying to beat them. So if I execute my pitches and do what I need to do, if me and [Stephen] Vogt stick to our plan, most of the time, we’ll win – if I execute everything. It’s all just about executing.

AF:  And finally, have you been getting a lot of attention for the mustache since you’ve been up in the big leagues now?

DM:  Oh, yeah! Some guy in the stands actually handed me mustache wax and told me, “Hey, this is what I use. Why don’t you try this?” People always say they love it. On the road, people either hate it or they love it. There’s no in between – you either love it or you hate it.

AF:  So, just for the record, what mustache wax do you use?

DM:  It’s called Bonafide.

AF:  You haven’t had the chance to meet the owner of the A’s original handlebar mustache, Rollie Fingers, yet, have you?

DM:  No, but I actually did a conference call interview with him maybe two weeks ago before the All-Star break. So it was nice to be able to talk to him and pick his brain…He said he hadn’t seen me throw, but he said he’d heard a lot about me. He said that all of a sudden people were telling him, “This kid has the same mustache as you.” So he said he had to look me up.

AF:  Well, at least the two of you ought to be able to compare notes on mustache waxes when you meet!

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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.

 

Get the Inside Scoop on Oakland’s Top 11 Draft Picks of 2016 from A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota

A's scouting director Eric Kubota

A’s scouting director Eric Kubota

The A’s took a familiar path in this year’s draft, selecting college players with fifteen of their top sixteen picks. And the team took a trio of talented college pitchers with their top three selections. Top pick A.J. Puk is a flame-throwing lefty out of Florida with top-of-the-rotation potential, while second pick Daulton Jefferies is a 20-year-old righty from Cal with pinpoint control, and Logan Shore is a solid strike-throwing righty also out of Florida who possesses an advanced understanding of pitching.

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

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

When we spoke with Kubota, three days after the conclusion of this year’s draft, the A’s had signed eight of their top eleven picks. And word has it that 4th-round pick Skylar Szynski’s signing should be official soon. But Puk and Shore will have to wait until Florida’s College World Series run is complete.

 

AF:  So now that the draft is in your rear-view mirror, how are you feeling about this year’s draft class overall and was there anything unique about the character of this year’s draft from your point of view?

EK:  Well, we’re certainly excited about this year’s draft class. To get the three pitchers we got at the top of the draft, we were extremely happy about it. We felt like there was depth throughout the draft which we were able to take advantage of. I’m not really sure it was unique, except I’m sure a lot of people will probably say it was kind of old school for us because there were a lot of college players from major programs that ended up falling into the spots where we picked them.

AF:  Well, I guess it must have been nice for you to have the #6 pick overall and to not have to wait until the 20s to have your first pick anyway.

EK:  Yeah, it’s nice on draft day. It’s not nice having to experience what has to happen to get you that spot though!

AF:  Exactly! Well, I know you didn’t expect to have your first pick, left-hander A.J. Puk out of Florida, fall to you with the sixth pick. How did you feel about having the chance to take him with your first pick and how would you assess his talent?

apajpuk-florida1-250x300EK:  Yeah, obviously, we were really surprised that he fell to us. As I mentioned before, we started hearing rumblings that he may be sliding, for whatever reason, but we still really did not believe it until he did get to us, so we were certainly happy about that. As far as him as a baseball talent, arguably – probably not even arguably – he was the college pitcher with the highest ceiling in this year’s draft. He’s 6’7”, we’ve seen him up to 97 mph, he’s got a wipeout slider at times, and we like the changeup. It’s just an intimidating look with intimidating stuff and a top-of-the-rotation ceiling.

AF:  Do you have any sense of why it was that he did end up falling to you? I don’t think many people were expecting him to fall to you at number six.

EK:  Right. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to know what was going on in those other draft rooms. I do know, in general, that teams are trying to maximize their draft pool. So maybe they felt there were better ways for them to do that. But I’m really not privy to why he slid – I think we were just happy that he did.

AF:  And obviously, with him and Logan Shore, we’re going to have to wait till Florida’s done playing for there to be any deals done with them.

EK:  Correct.

AF:  And with your next pick, the 37th overall in the competitive balance round, you took right-hander Daulton Jefferies out of Cal. I talked with him last week, and he seemed to have a pretty good understanding of pitching and what he needs to do to be successful. So what did you like about Daulton Jefferies that made you want to take him there?

djNCAA California Coastal Car (3)EK:  Well, first of all, I’m a Cal guy, so I’m biased – he’s obviously a smart guy! But he’s got a great idea of what he needs to do on the mound. He’s super athletic. We’ve seen him with three plus pitches, and he can really pitch. He’s competitive. There’s just so much to like about him moving forward. And he’s the kind of guy who can move quickly through the system.

AF:  He missed 8 weeks with the shoulder strain this season. But I know your medical staff had the chance to look at him both before and after the draft. So do you feel pretty confident about the shoulder issue going forward?

EK:  Yeah, we feel confident that in the long term it’ll be fine. And really, in a lot of ways, it was an opportunity for us that he did get hurt because I don’t think we thought that he would get to #37 had he been healthy all spring.

AF:  In the 2nd round, you took another right-hander and another guy out of Florida, Logan Shore. And he’s a guy, like Jefferies, who seems to be a smart pitcher who really knows how to pitch. He might not have that blazing fastball but he certainly seems to know what he’s doing on the mound and what he needs to do to succeed.

lsloganshoreuf300EK:  Well, he’s a physical right-hander. He’s been the Friday night guy at Florida for three years, which is pretty impressive when you consider the amount of pitching that they always have at Flroida. He doesn’t always go out and throw with the big velocity, but we’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. We think it’s in there – he just doesn’t use it unless he needs it on occasion. He really knows how to pitch, he can locate, and he knows how to use his stuff – it’s not sexy, sexy stuff, but the way that he uses it is very sexy to us in a baseball way. He can really pitch and he’s competitive. He’s got a great changeup, and we do think that there’s probably more fastball in there than he shows on a weekly basis because he just hasn’t needed to use it.

AF:  So looking at this group of pitchers, is there anyone you might compare Puk to?

EK:  For Puk, as a starting pitcher, I would say James Paxton, although physically he may be more Andrew Miller-ish. But his stuff I think is similar to Paxton.

AF:  And what about Jefferies and Shore?

EK:  Yeah, Jefferies I always kind of likened to Mike Leake. And then Shore, I don’t have a great one, but he reminds me of Jake Peavy a little bit.

AF:  Well, all he has to do is be a little bit like Jake Peavy and he’ll be all right! I guess the development staff is probably looking forward to getting those three arms into the system.

EK:  I would think so. I’d think they’d be pretty happy to get those guys.

AF:  In the 3rd round, you took your first position player, catcher Sean Murphy from Wright State. He has a reputation as a strong-armed catcher. Tell me how you view his abilities behind the plate and what you expect to see out of him offensively.

smZMUNWMNGCNTJJNX.20150502043215bEK:  We think that the catching has really come along. We think he has a chance to be a really good receiver. He’s obviously got plenty of arm strength. And with the bat, there’s strength. We think that there’s more development left with the bat. We think he’s going to hit with some power and he’s going to hit for enough of an average that, when you combine it with his defensive skills, you’ve got a front-line major league catcher.

AF:  He seems to be one of those guys that everyone agrees ought to stick at catcher.

EK:  Right, he’s definitely a catcher. We think the bat may be behind the defense at this point. But we do see development there and we think he’s going to be able to play the game on both sides.

AF:  Any comparisons for him?

EK:  Murphy, I kind of thought of him as like a Mike Matheny type possibly.

AF:  Now in the 4th round, you took your only high school pick in the top 15 rounds, right-hander Skylar Szynski from Indiana. So tell me what you liked so much about him that made you want to make him your first high school pick in the 4th round.

ss100598937EK:  He’s a guy we liked. We had people who liked him as high as the 2nd round or the competitive balance round. He’s an athletic kid. He’s got a good body to build on. We’ve seen him up to 95 mph. He’s got a good breaking ball and the changeup is advanced for a high school guy. There’s a lot to like. Those are the traits that the industry likes in high school pitchers. You get them into your system and hope to develop them, but there’s a lot of physical skill to like.

AF:  Were you a little surprised that he was still available to you at that point?

EK:  Yeah, we were and we were definitely happy that he was.

AF:  Did you have a comp for Szynski?

EK:  I honestly didn’t have a great one, but one of my scouts said Collin McHugh.

AF:  In the 5th round, you went with former major leaguer John Shelby’s son, JaVon Shelby, a third baseman out of Kentucky. He’s considered a very toolsy guy, but I know he under-performed a bit with the bat last year.

jshttps-%2F%2Fkty-platform-secure-prod.silverchaliceEK:  Yeah, he certainly didn’t have the year offensively that he wanted. But we saw him a lot this spring and we liked the approach and we liked his aggressiveness at the plate. We think there’s strength in there for power. Like you said, he’s very toolsy. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm. And he did a good job at third base. He’s played second base in the past. We think his skills line up in center field as well. That versatility is something that we value, and we think he’s got a chance to play a lot of positions well. And we think he’s got a chance to hit and hit with some power.

AF:  So you think there are some real positional options for him going forward.

EK:  Definitely, definitely.

AF:  Did you have a comp for Shelby?

EK:  Maybe kind of a Josh Harrison. He’s bigger than Josh Harrison, but maybe a Josh Harrison type of player.

AF:  Well, Harrison definitely moves around the field like you mentioned. In the 6th round, you went back to pitching with right-hander Brandon Bailey from Gonzaga. He looks a bit like a Bowdien Derby clone from last year’s draft to me. How do you see him?

bbmaxresdefault2EK:  Yeah, we made those comparsions with Derby as well. He’s obviously a shorter right-handed pitcher. But we’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. We think he can really pitch. He’s got a good changeup. He just has a really good feel for what he’s doing and he’s obviously performed at a high level.

AF:  He had some really nice strikeout numbers.

EK:  Yep, he’s got a changeup that he gets swings and misses with and he’s got a slider that he gets swings and misses with. I think he had 17 strikeouts in the West Coast Conference tournament a couple of weeks ago.

AF:  And is there anyone you’d compare him to, besides Bowdien Derby?

EK:  I thought maybe Kris Medlen potentially.

AF:  In the 7th round, you went back to a position player, center fielder Tyler Ramirez out of North Carolina. I know some scouts seemed to be a little divided on him, but he certainly seemed to put the numbers on the board. So what did you really like about him?

trNSATKSHRAIYJQGE.20150115212753EK:  Yeah, we think he can hit. That’s the thing that he can do. He can really hit. He’s an above-average runner, and we think he’s got a chance to stay in center field. But the thing that he brings is the bat, for sure.

AF:  So you think he’s got the skills to possibly stick in center field though?

EK:  We do. Yeah, we do.

AF:  And who would you compare him to?

EK:  Ramirez reminds me of David DeJesus.

AF:  Well, you closed out the last few rounds with more pitching. In the 8th round, you took left-handed reliever Will Gilbert who was the closer at North Carolina State. What did you like about him?

wggilbertside.0.0bEK:  He’s a left-hander with three average-to-better pitches and a feel to use them. He’s performed at a high level. He’s the kind of guy, coming in out of the bullpen, who could move quickly in an organization.

AF:  So it sounds like he’s going to stay in the bullpen then.

EK: Yeah, I would say so.

AF:  In the 9th round, you went with another left-hander, Dalton Sawyer out of Minnesota. I know I’ve heard some people think he might ultimately profile better as a reliever, but what’s your view of him?

dsMinnesotaDaltonSawyer1bEK:  Well, he’s another tall lefty. We’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. He definitely had a good year as a starter this year and he’s going to go out as a starter. He’s a left-handed pitcher who’s physically imposing with velocity and a good changeup, so we’ll see where that takes him. One of my scouts said Sawyer reminded him of Jim Kaat. So if any of your readers remember Jim Kaat…

AF:  Well I do anyway!

EK:  I do too!

AF:  In the 10th round, you took right-hander Mitchell Jordan from Stetson. I can’t honestly say that I know a whole lot about him, so I’ll leave it to you to tell me what I ought to know about Mitchell Jordan.

mjSU_JordanMitchell2EK:  Yeah, he can really pitch. He’s got kind of average stuff, but he can really pitch. In a lot of ways, he’s kind of a poor man’s Logan Shore. If you look at his Cape Cod League last summer, he had an incredible summer on the Cape. I saw him over a month into the season, maybe five weeks in, and I saw him give up his first earned run, and he’d been starting the whole time I was up there. So he can really pitch.

AF:  So he sounds like one of those guys whose Cape Cod League performance really helped put him on the map.

EK:  It really helped, yeah.

AF:  Well, I guess at this point, you’ve signed 28 of your 41 picks. So you’ve been moving pretty fast, and I think you might even be a little bit ahead of last year’s pace.

EK:  Yeah, I think we’re in a good spot, and it’s worked out so far so good in that regard.

AF:  I wanted to ask you about your last two 1st-round picks. Last year was shortstop Richie Martin and the year before that was third baseman Matt Chapman. As a scouting director, how are you feeling about where those two guys are at at this stage of the game?

EK:  Yeah, we’re really happy with both of them. They both had to endure some injury issues. Matt had some injuries last year, and Richie got hurt in spring training, which has slowed their development a little bit. But I think, where we sit now, they’ve basically done what he expected. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded what we expected in certain cases. Chapman has certainly hit with the power we expected and he’s shown flashes of the defense that we expected, and he’s performing in a high-level league now. And Richie, having just gotten started after being hurt in spring training, is off to a good start. And everything that those guys have brought, as far as character, makeup and work ethic, has only made us happier to have them. They’re just great kids and they’re both going to make the most of their ability.

AF:  And now that the draft is finally over and you’re down to maybe just a dozen or so picks left to get in the fold, what’s next up on your agenda?

EK:  Our scouts are already out getting ready for next year. There’s events that happen this week, national events, and then next week. So we just get back on the horse and start working for next year.

AF:  Back out beating the bushes!

EK:  Yep!

 

A’s 2016 Draft Class

1st LHP A.J. Puk (Florida), 1st Lottery RHP Daulton Jefferies (UC Berkeley), 2nd RHP Logan Shore (Florida), 3rd C Sean Murphy (Wright State), 4th RHP Skylar Szynski (Penn HS-IN), 5th 3B JaVon Shelby (Kentucky), 6th RHP Brandon Bailey (Gonzaga), 7th OF Tyler Ramirez (North Carolina), 8th LHP Will Gilbert (North Carolina St), 9th LHP Dalton Sawyer (Minnesota), 10th RHP Mitchell Jordan (Stetson)

11th SS Eli White (Clemson), 12th OF Luke Persico (UCLA), 13th 2B Nathan Mondou (Wake Forest), 14th RHP Nolan Blackwood (Memphis), 15th LHP Ty Damron (Texas Tech), 16th OF Anthony Churlin (Island Coast HS-FL), 17th RHP Seth Martinez (Arizona St), 18th C Skyler Weber (Georgia), 19th RHP Sam Gilbert (Kansas), 20th RHP Brigham Hill (Texas A&M)

21st OF Kyle Nowlin (Eastern Kentucky), 22nd C Roger Gonzalez (Winthrop), 23rd RHP Christian Lindsay-Young (Niagara CC), 24th OF Robert Bennie (East Stroudsburg), 25th OF Jeramiah McCray (Martin Luther King HS-CA), 26th 1B Charley Gould (William & Mary), 27th OF Cole Gruber (Nebraska-Omaha), 28th 2B Josh Vidales (Houston), 29th RHP Matt Milburn (Wofford), 30th RHP Nick Highberger (Creighton)

31st RHP Sam Sheehan (Westmont), 32nd C Collin Theroux (Oklahoma State), 33rd C Jarrett Costa (Westmont), 34th SS Casey Thomas (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), 35th LHP Daniel Rafferty (Bucknell), 36th RHP Brady Schanuel (Parkland), 37th OF Michael Farley (Chico HS-CA), 38th OF Matthew Frazier (Clovis North HS-CA), 39th SS Shane Martinez (John W North HS-CA), 40th SS Brett Bittiger (Pace)

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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.

Local Boy Daulton Jefferies Makes Good as A’s 2nd Pick in This Year’s Draft

dj12805924_1071818282936327_5742636123770923759_n.0.0bThe A’s didn’t have to look far to find their second pick in this year’s amateur draft. With the 37th overall selection, the team took Daulton Jefferies, a 20-year-old right-hander who’s spent the past three years pitching right in their own backyard at UC Berkeley for the California Golden Bears.

While Jefferies’ fastball reportedly has been clocked as high as 95 mph, he also works with a changeup and a slider and possesses excellent command. He went 7-0 and posted a stellar 1.08 ERA while striking out 53 and walking just 8 over 50 innings of work in his junior year at Cal this season. But he missed about 8 weeks of the season due to calf and shoulder injuries. He was once considered a potential top 20 pick in the draft, but those injury issues may have caused him to tumble into the lap of the A’s, who were more than happy to have the opportunity to nab another top-tier talent.

Jefferies, who went to high school in Atwater, just a few miles north of Merced, says that he’s modeled himself a bit after A’s right-hander Sonny Gray. So the northern California native was clearly happy to find himself selected by the local team. An added plus to being taken by the A’s is the fact that he’s also friends with the other two young pitchers the team took on the first day of the draft, Florida’s A.J. Puk and Logan Shore. The trio had the chance to play together last summer on the USA Collegiate National Team and have been fast friends ever since.

We took the opportunity to talk with Jefferies on the morning after the draft and found him eager and excited to be part of a pack of promising young pitching prospects who will hopefully help guide the green and gold back to glory before long…

 

AF:  Well, congratulations on being selected by the A’s on the first day of the draft. So how did it feel waking up today knowing you were one of the top 40 picks in the major league draft?

DJ:  To be honest with you, it hasn’t really hit me yet! As soon as I got drafted, I ran to get an A’s hat…and when I woke up, it was the first thing I put on. But it hasn’t hit me yet – it’s pretty surreal.

AF:  So are you going to go to sleep with it on tonight too?

DJ:  I wouldn’t doubt it to be honest with you.

AF:  I know you’re from around the Merced area. So did you grow up as an A’s fan or a Giants fan or both?

DJ:  My family is a mix between Dodgers, Giants and A’s. I have a big family so it’s spread out a bit. But going to Berkeley certainly helps – going to see Sonny Gray pitch, going to see Marcus Semien, Mark Canha and Bob Melvin, who are Cal graduates. I grew up going to Giants games and A’s games.

AF:  It sounds like you grew up being pretty well acquainted with the A’s anyway. So have you seen or read Moneyball yet?

DJ:  Yes, I watched Moneyball. It was actually a really good movie. I didn’t get a chance to meet Billy Beane. But I’m sure I will, so I’m pretty excited.

AF:  Oh, I’m sure you will very soon! So did you have a favorite A’s player growing up?

DJ:  Not really. I remember watching Scott Hatteberg and that whole story. And then, Sonny Gray…I kind of try to model my game after him. He’s had a lot of success there. He plays the game the right way and plays it for the right reasons.

AF:  So are you looking forward to wearing those white cleats?

DJ:  Yeah, my uncles were teasing me about that, and the stirrups and everything. I’m pretty excited. As long as I’m a professional baseball player, I could wear a clown outfit and I wouldn’t care!

AF:  Can you tell me a little bit about your repertoire and how confident you are in each of your pitches and where they’re at at this point?

djNCAA California Coastal Car (3)DJ:  My fastball’s 90-94 mph and touches 95-96 mph. I can control both sides of the plate. Both 4-seam and 2-seam – the 2-seam more going in to righties and away to lefties. And then I build off my fastball and I build off my changeup. My favorite pitch to throw is my changeup. It probably goes from 84 to 88 or 89 mph. I like to throw it a lot to lefties and get hitters off balance, and then going to righties away and getting them to kind of reach and roll over and build off of that with a fastball inside and jam them. And then I just developed a slider this year, and it became one of those big out pitches for me. It usually goes from about 82 to 86 or 87 mph. I learned about myself a lot building off my off-speed. I don’t have a huge, over-powering fastball, like 96-98 mph range. So I just developed into what I think I am. I hit my spots and I can control both sides of the plate. And I don’t really care about strikeouts, as long as I get guys out and miss barrels. I don’t try to strike anyone out. But as long as I execute my pitches, everything will work out. But professional ball is a whole different animal, and I’m ready for it.

AF:  I was going to ask you about what you kind of touched on there. What’s your mentality like when you take the mound? Is there anything in particular you’re trying to remember to do or thinking about trying to accomplish whenever you take the mound for a start?

DJ:  First pitch strike and getting ahead of guys, and getting the leadoff guy out – that’s a big momentum shift. As a pitcher, you’re trying to get your offense back in the dugout so they can score some runs for you. So anything I can do to help speed up that process and get them back grabbing their bats is good.

AF:  You’ve had a good career at Cal over the three years you’ve been there, but you really had a great year this season. You went 7-0 with an ERA of 1.08, and it’s hard to do much better than that. So what was really working for you this season and was there anything different you were doing this year?

DJ:  You know, I think the summer helped me a lot with confidence. Being on the USA Collegiate National Team and playing against other national teams – it was kind of weird playing against 35-year-old Cubans – but it was a great experience, and it kind of opened my eyes to finding out what kind of pitcher I really am. The big thing for me was getting ahead and kind of attacking the hitter. I’m going to make the hitter earn his way on base, I’m not going to walk the guy – I hate walks with a passion!

AF:  You got off to a great start at Cal this year, and then you had a couple of injuries involving your calf and your shoulder and ended up missing about 8 weeks of the season. So can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there?

DJ:  The calf started first after facing Oregon State. And then my arm started to kind of stiffen up. I thought it was just normal soreness from throwing a complete game against Oregon State, but it didn’t really go away. And I just decided to shut it down. So I got the rest I needed. And I was extremely fortunate to be able to get back out there and play with my guys the last two games.

AF:  Did the A’s want to talk to you about the shoulder injury and look into the situation a little further before the draft?

DJ:  Yeah, I went to the workout [for draft prospects at the Coliseum] last week. And I got to see their doctor. He took me through some tasks, strengthening stuff and mobility with my shoulder. And guys in the big leagues get over this injury and I did too. And I’m just glad they had faith in me and I can’t wait to get out there. Jermaine Clark was my scout, and he had some nice things to say to me when I went there.

AF:  I guess you actually played together on the USA Collegiate National Team last summer with the A’s other top two picks from the first day of the draft, Florida pitchers A.J. Puk and Logan Shore.

DJ:  Yeah, we did. We’ve gotten to be pretty good friends. I text Logan and A.J. all the time. They’re a great group of guys. And just being around those guys with those repertoires and getting to see A.J. Puk pitch – when it looks like it’s 86 mph but, when you look up, it’s 97 mph, just because he makes it look so easy. But I couldn’t be more happy. I facetimed them this morning and we all had our A’s hats on, so it’s a pretty exciting time for us!

AF:  Well, I guess it must be nice to be starting your pro career with a couple of guys you already know and like and have played with before.

DJ:  Absolutely, it’s awesome!

AF:  So being a northern California guy yourself, is there anything else you’d like A’s fans to know as you embark on your career in the green and gold?

DJ:  I’m just so thankful for the opportunity. And I can’t wait to get out there and start the uprising of the Oakland A’s! And not just me, but Logan Shore and A.J. Puk and everyone else, we’re going to get this thing going and we’re extremely excited!

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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.

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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