Category: Interviews

Mr. Melvin Meets The Bloggers

Bob Melvin: Hit me with your best shot!

With Oakland right in the thick of a heated pennant race, A’s manager Bob Melvin took some time out just prior to a mid-September night game versus the dreaded Orioles to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. Melvin was his usual friendly and cordial self as he addressed an array of topics over the course of about 10 minutes and, upon his exit, even made a point of complimenting his interrogators on their rapid-fire questions. The first subjects, raised by A’s Farm, concerned a couple of players who’ve spent some time with both the A’s and the River Cats this year, and Melvin went on to offer his take on a variety of different subjects from there…

 

On third baseman Josh Donaldson’s improvement in his second stint with the A’s this year…

“Well, I think as far as Donaldson goes, it was just a matter of getting here and having some success. The ability’s always been there. If you look at the minor league numbers, he’s been able to hit and hit for power. He’s a great athlete – he can play multiple positions. I think it was just important – similar to a Chris Carter situation – that he came here and had some success. And he did early on, and he’s just been riding on that and more or less believes in himself as a big leaguer now.”

 

On second baseman Jemile Weeks’ struggles this season…

Jemile Weeks: Let’s see, am I supposed to be in Oakland or Sacramento today?

“As far as Jemile, you talk about sophomore slumps and so forth, and he’s a tough kid who can be hard on himself, and I think he got into a little bit of a slump where he couldn’t quite get out of it. You look up there – and you have some pride – and you look at your average after hitting .300 for basically a full season, then not being able to repeat that, you try a little too hard sometimes as opposed to just letting your ability take over. And I think it was just a little bit of a change of scenery – he went down there (to Sacramento) and instantly hit. And I don’t think this is going to effect where his career is going forward.”

 

On the adjustments Jemile Weeks needs to make…

“I think mainly just keeping the ball out of the air a little bit. I think, this year, he hit a couple of home runs early on. He will tell you that had nothing to do with swinging a little bigger. I think he just felt more comfortable with his swing that he could drive some balls. And last year, he just wasn’t trying to do too much. He was just putting it in play, and putting it in play on the ground. So it’s just a matter of finding a happy medium for him, and he will do that.”

 

On the special challenges of working with a younger team…

“Well, I think basically, with where we are in the season, we try to keep the distractions to a minimum and just – I know it’s very cliché – keep all our efforts focused on a particular day. We are playing some match-ups in the second half – whether it’s a Moss/Carter type of thing. And I think keeping them aware of when they’re playing is important so they know and can do their homework on potential pitchers they’re going to face – whether it’s Kottaras and Norris, and we’ve run a little bit of a platoon with Pennington and Rosales at second. So I think they benefit by knowing what days they’re playing. And then I think with younger players, you try to be consistent in giving them good feedback, because the one thing about being a younger player coming to the big league level that you always have to get over is that awe factor and ‘do I belong here in the big leagues?’ And we’ve, as an organization, put a lot of stock in our younger players and getting them to the big leagues. We put them in prominent roles, and I think we’ve done that across the board this year, whether it’s the pitching end of it, whether it’s the position player end of it, and we’ve been rewarded with good performances.”

 

On traditional bullpen roles…

“It’s always a Catch-22, because you want to get the hot hand out there, you want to get the guys that are the best match-ups. Yet relievers are a little different breed. When that phone rings, the guy wants to have a pretty good idea when he’s coming in the game. If we have to change the role for a period of time, I think we’re more apt to do that than just consistently trying to match up. It’s a little different with call-ups when you have more options. But I think if you look at our late guys, our plus-game guys, they know when they’re coming in the game, and that I think is a comfort to them…confidence-wise for them, it helps them to prepare and feel good about what they’re doing, even though just looking at it statistically, it can be more of a match-up thing. So I think it’s a double-edged sword as far as that goes. I do like defining roles, but I’m not afraid to change them if we need to change them.”

 

On team chemistry and when it started to click…

“I don’t know if there was a particular time. I felt good about the players we had in spring training. And when you look at a big league roster, a 25-man roster, I think ours was more like 32 – we were bringing guys back and forth depending on how they were playing at a certain time. And I think, once we kind of defined what roles certain guys had…I think the timing might have been middle to late June…I think we’ve been pretty consistent, especially offensively. And once we started to play better offensively, hit some home runs and so forth, the team started to find an identity within itself. We always felt like we were a scrappy-type team, a team that played well and focused later on in games and played hard and that type of thing. But I think once we started to hit the ball out of the ballpark, we kind of gained a lot more confidence because of that. And we have the guys here to do that now.”

 

Josh Reddick: Who needs an MVP when I’ve got one of these!

On the team’s MVP this year…

“It’s a tough one. You know, the guys that we count on the most are Coco, Reddick and Cespedes. And I think at different parts of the season, they would each be considered the MVP at the time. I couldn’t put my finger on just one. But from an offensive standpoint, those three probably stand out the most.”

 

On the team’s perspective down the stretch…

“We’re trying not to look at the finish line. We’re trying to take it more day-to-day, and let’s count ‘em up at the end. We know the schedule – we know we’re playing a lot of games on the road. We’ve been fortunate enough to win some games on the road. But if you start thinking about this match-up, that match-up, who’s pitching in this series, those are just distractions you don’t need, especially for a younger group. So we’re trying to remain in the moment and put all our focus on today’s game.  I know it’s very cliché, but I think it really has worked for us to this point this year, and that’s the way we’ll remain doing it.”

 

On how his past managerial experiences have prepared him for the challenges of this job…

“Well, first of all, I don’t think you ever get comfortable and say ‘Okay, I’ve had all the experiences, and this is the way I’m going to do things.’ I try to learn from our players. And it’s more about me acclimating to the players than the players acclimating to me. I have to work the personnel that we have in the fashion that we’re best-suited to do it. If we’ve got a bunch of guys that run, you’re not going to sit around and play for a three-run homer. If we have a bunch of guys that hit home runs, you’re not going to run into outs. And this team has kind of morphed into that type of team. We were running quite a bit early on, but we’re not running quite as much now because we don’t want to run into outs because we’re hitting some balls out of the ballpark. I think keeping guys accountable more so now, and communicating. There are certain times you don’t want to communicate, whether it’s your mood or whatever, but you have to stay consistent in what you’re doing as a manager. I like to be a positive guy, especially with the whole group. I will take guys individually if there’s something I want to do on the negative side. But I think it’s staying consistent, whether you’re winning or losing, and staying consistent in my approach to the players – that’s probably the thing that stands out the most for me.”

 

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After Bob Melvin’s press conference, long-time A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse took some time to chat on the field during batting practice and offered up some interesting takes on the A’s current manager…

 

Ray Fosse: I love Bob Melvin this much!

Fosse on Bob Melvin…

“Bob Melvin’s the greatest manager. He deserves so much credit. Nothing against the other guys, but Collin Cowgill, I just interviewed him, and he knows him from being with the Diamondbacks, and he said, ‘I’d run through that wall for the man.’ And when your players are willing to sacrifice their bodies to do whatever…Brandon Inge, when he dove for the ball and separated his shoulder, he comes in the next inning and hits a double down the line, and then he goes on the disabled list. He comes back, he does the same thing here, hits a double, drives in two runs, and then has surgery. But when he was out here, he said, ‘I’d take a bullet for the man right now. If there’s a fight, I’m defending him.’ And that’s the respect these guys have for that man.”

 

Fosse on respect…

“For the first time in the years that we’ve had the (World Series championship) reunions, when the players came in on the cars and they had the red carpet out to the mound, did you notice that every current player was lined up? Never has that been done before. Bob Melvin said, ‘We need to respect the guys who won the championships. I want my team out there shaking their hands as these guys walk by.’ Gene Tenace came on the air and he said, ‘I won’t get a chance to see Bob Melvin, but please tell him that’s the classiest act I’ve ever seen to show respect for a team of the past.’ And it was – I still get goose bumps thinking about what they did.”

 

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Exclusive: A’s Super Scout Grady Fuson Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

Grady Fuson: on the clock in Stockton

One of the most popular pieces we’ve featured here on A’s Farm over the past few months was our profile of A’s super scout (and Moneyball bad guy) Grady Fuson. He was the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when he left the A’s to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers. Fuson returned to the A’s about two and a half years ago and currently serves as the special assistant to the general manager.

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

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton about a week before the All-Star break, after he’d just visited Sacramento and had spent the better part of a week with Stockton as well. We took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators and get the lowdown on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects, as well as some of the fresh new talent that’s just entered the system via this year’s draft. But we started out by taking a look at some of the guys at the top of the system at Sacramento…

 

AF:  I know you’ve been out checking in on some of the minor league teams, and I guess your first stop was in Sacramento. I know Grant Green has been moving all over the field and playing a lot of different positions there lately – left, center, short, third, even second. So what’s the current situation with him?

GF:  Well, everybody’s asked me a little bit about why is he here, why is he there. We’re just trying to increase his versatility. A lot of kids, when they break in the big leagues, if you’re not a bona-fide position guy, it’s hard to break in and get at-bats if you don’t have that versatility. Obviously, we moved him out to center and we know what that looks like now – we know he can play it a little to some degree. We’ve got a little bit of a third base issue still with Sizemore going down early. So now we’re giving him some more time at third, and he’s still playing a little short. And when that time comes when he’s needed in the big leagues, when the powers that be want to give him a little look, at least Bob Melvin’s got a little versatility to where he can play him, and then we’ll see where the bat settles in in the big leagues.

AF:  And how do you feel about his bat at this point?

GF:  Well, I still feel strong that he’s hitter-ish. He’s going to be a hitter. How much power will really come out up there? I think he’s going to be one of those guys where ballparks could play a role. If he plays in a place like Texas, he could probably hit some. If he plays in a place like Petco Park, he’s probably not going to hit too many. But we’ve been working with him for a year and a half now about trying to make some adjustments on pitches middle to middle-in – just trying to change bat head positions so that he can pull more of those balls. He’s been shooting those balls up the middle. If he’s ever going to hit the ball out, those are the pitches he’s got to get the head out and get it over the shorter parts of the ballpark. And he’s made that adjustment.

AF:  So the greater his versatility, the more opportunity there’s going to be for him to get to the big leagues and then, once he’s there’s, the more opportunity there’ll be for him to stay there.

GF:  Exactly.

AF:  Anybody else stand out in Sacramento?

GF:  Everybody else there was about as expected. Michael Taylor is still very improved with his aggressiveness. He’s just not getting the ball out much on the pull side of the field, but he’s squaring it up and hitting it hard a lot. A.J. Griffin – you know he’s dealing again tonight (in Oakland). Griffin’s always good for me. I’m glad he got this opportunity. He’s making the most of it right now.

AF:  Give me your take on Griffin.

GF:  I’ve always been a Griffin guy. I saw him in college. I thought I helped us get him in the draft a little bit. But he’s big, he’s physical. It’s not an overpowering fastball, but I just always liked his ability to get down and away with his fastball, which to me is golden for a pitcher – a guy that can just locate his 4–seam fastball down and away. He’s got a good changeup. He’s got a good breaking ball. We’ve added a little cutter to his game that’s helped. He’s always been aggressive. He throws it down, and he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a competitor.

AF:  What about another pitcher who’s been looking great since he got to Sacramento, Dan Straily?

GF:  Straily’s awesome. He’s been great. I’m proud of that kid.

AF:  What’s been the key to his success this year?

GF:  I just think better command. But if you go back and look at his numbers, I think he was one or two in the California League last year in strikeouts. And he’s come a long way with his changeup. He’s always had a good breaking ball. He throws hard. He’s a 90-94 mph guy. He’s got a good arm. He’s been great.

AF:  One guy at Sacramento who’s been struggling a bit is Brad Peacock. What’s up with him?

GF:  Brad’s just having a hard time backing up quality pitches in the strike zone – executing. It has nothing to do with his stuff. He’s still throwing 90-94 mph. He’s got a good bite to his breaking ball when it’s right. But he’s just been scattered. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson was in there with him and we did some side work. We thought maybe he’s got a little bit of an uphill move that’s kind of wreaking havoc with him trying to get down the mound a little bit. He’s leaving a lot of fastballs up and elevated. And the biggest thing is just his pitch count is not getting him very deep in the game right now.

AF:  It seemed like he started out the season pretty well.

GF:  Yeah, his first few starts were pretty solid. He’s just in a rut right now, but he’s young and he’s got good enough stuff. He’ll come out of it.

AF:  Well, you’ve been here with the Stockton team for a while now. Can you tell me a little bit about the pitching staff here at Stockton?

GF:  The pitching’s been impressive. Blake Treinen, as good as his stuff is, I’m a little disappointed that his performance numbers aren’t a little better. Something’s missing – I’m not smart enough to tell you what it is, but something’s not right. Jake Brown, even though he’s a little bit of a soft-tossing left-hander, he knows how to pitch. He stays away from guys. He knows when to come in. He’s got a real good changeup.

AF:  What about Sean Murphy? He’s been looking really good both at Burlington and here at Stockton this year.

GF:  He’s by far one of the most improved young pitchers we’ve got in the system. I patted him on the ass after the game and told him, “Do you know how much better you are than you were a year ago?” He’s really cleaned his whole mental game up. He’s just taking things more seriously. He’s gotten focused. He’s pounding his down-and-away fastball. He’s always had a good changeup. He’s getting his breaking ball over in the strike zone.

AF:  Well, he’s had a big change from last year. Batters were hitting over .300 against him last season, and this season they’ve been hitting around .200 against him – that’s a big difference!

GF:  You know, he’s growing up. He’s turning into a pro. I mean, this kid a year ago was from a dinky little school. I remember talking to him last year in Burlington, and he goes “I’ve never been coached.” And he was like a little kid, an amateur. And this year, this guy’s turning into a man. I could see it coming in spring training too. He started to get super serious about his sides. He got his body in great shape. He’s doing good.

AF:  When I talked to him earlier about what accounted for his success this year, he seemed to say it was primarily just about focus and commitment.

GF:  It’s nice to see, because that’s what you’re looking for. Hey, this guy wants it, and this guy doesn’t. Some of them don’t know how to want it. But that’s our job to just keep pounding it into them.

AF:  Have you had a chance to see much of left-hander Ian Krol yet?

GF:  I’m actually going to miss him – they set him back a day. But I’ve been with him on two of his sides. You know, it’s all about his finish – just staying on line and being directed. He wants to cut his finish off and spin out, and he loses his line of command. And when you do those things, there’s usually not a lot of good things that are going to happen. The two sides I’ve been here, we’ve been working with him a lot on that.

AF:  What about Blake Hassebrock who was great at Burlington last year but has been struggling a bit since coming back off the disabled list here?

GF:  I don’t think he’s going any more than three innings tonight. He’s definitely a prospect. He’s big, he’s physical. He throws it downhill and he throws it hard. It’s all the secondary things. We’re trying to get him to use the cutter a little bit more than the slider, because his slider’s never been a great slider.

AF:  T.J. Walz got off to a good start here, but then he was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen. What was behind that?

GF:  It’s not that we’re walking away from him as a starter forever. He’s just had this history that he told us about – when he starts a lot, his arm starts barking. And for some reason, his arm never barks when he throws out of the pen. He’s a guy who we had to watch his innings this year anyway because of his college pitch count and things like that. But he’s still throwing good.

AF:  Another guy who started the year here at Stockton was A.J. Cole. He really struggled here, but he’s been pitching great since he was sent down to Burlington. I guess you really haven’t had a chance to see him since the spring though, right?

GF:  No, I’ve seen a lot of him on video though. When he was going through these issues when he was here, I happened to be in Arizona one day, where me and (director of player development) Keith Lieppman got all the video we could get and we got on the phone with Gil Patterson. Gil had video and we were breaking things apart a little bit. He was dong some things that were different than when he was with Washington. And so Gil got on those and came in here and tried to settle some things down and get things back to where they needed to be. I don’t know if it’s the change to a different league, but it shouldn’t be that big a discrepancy. It was more location and sequences – it wasn’t stuff. The guys who saw him pitch here said it was 93-95 mph. The one thing that we were looking at was to see if his arm was on time with his foot stride. We looked at the timing and his arm was late and just missing.

AF:  Well, sending him to Burlington certainly seemed to be the answer.

GF:  Sometimes that in itself is the answer – a little wake-up call.

AF:  I know you probably haven’t seen him since the spring, but what’s your take on Sonny Gray?

GF:  I think he’s just struggling with his overall command. He’s working on it. I think he’s starting to understand what few concerns we had about him – those are the things that come and go.

AF:  The last I heard, the big thing he was working on was the changeup.

GF:  The changeup, and his direction and the way he lands – helping him stay on line to help him with his command. Those are the two big things.

AF:  Is there anyone on the offensive side of things who’s been opening your eyes since you’ve been here in Stockton?

GF:  Yeah, number one, it’s really good to see Max Stassi on the field everyday. And when he’s on the field everyday, you can see what he’s got a chance to do. He’s a really polished receiver. His arm’s working and feeling great right now. He’s throwing well. He’s hitting balls to all fields. He’s working on his pitch selection. He’s a nice-looking player. This is B.A. Vollmuth’s first time here. He’s still getting used to it a little bit, but doing about what’s expected from him – squaring a lot of balls up, playing solid at third. Yordy Cabrera’s a young kid – you know, things come and go with Yordy. Last night, he swings at a first pitch slider that’s five feet out of the strike zone, and you’re kind of going, “Oh my God!” And then two at-bats in a row were solid – he squared one up to the biggest part of the ballpark and thought he got his first homer. In San Jose (earlier in the week), his footwork was better. Last night, he sat back on groundballs and groundballs ate him up. That comes and goes with young kids. But the reality is that night after night, even though his numbers don’t look like it, I think he’s holding his own.

AF:  Speaking of some of these very young prospects, what’s up with Aaron Shipman at Burlington?

GF:  I’m heading there. I haven’t seen Shipman since I left spring training. Obviously he’s having a rough go just with contact. He’s down in the low .200s again. At one time, he got it up in the .250s. He’s back to doing some swinging and missing. But we’ll see.

AF:  What about another guy here at Stockton who came up from Burlington earlier in the year and has been playing well, and that’s outfielder Dusty Robinson?

GF:  Dusty’s a guy who plays the game with his hair on fire. He’s got some good skills. Dusty can throw, Dusty can run, and Dusty can flat square up a ball at times that makes your jaw drop at how hard he can hit it. It’s a non-stop work in progress about how he handles pitches on the outer half. Sometimes he looks good, and sometimes he looks like he’s never seen one. But he’s doing good. He’s second in our whole organization in homers.

AF:  I know you haven’t seen Michael Choice at Midland yet, but is there anything you can offer on his situation this year?

GF:  I think he’s still fighting his day-to-day approach – it comes and goes. There’s no regression in his tools and his ability. He’s got a very unique set up and approach, and when he’s not on time, there’s issues depending on how a guy can pitch him. You know, that’s the biggest jump you make in this game, besides the big leagues. Getting out of all the A-ball stuff – whether it’s rookie ball, High-A, Low-A – Double-A is where the true pro game really starts. The athletes who can’t hit, they’re still in A-ball. The pitchers who throw hard but can’t throw it over or don’t have some type of off-speed, they’re still in A-ball. So what you’ve got at Double-A is you’ve got the first collection of some ability with understanding performance. And so there’s more pitchers up there who know how to change speeds, really locate more.

AF:  Guys who know how to fool you and know how to exploit your weaknesses…

GF:  Exactly. And the pitching in Triple-A – there’s so many veteran AAAA-type guys. They’re usually older, they’re not as crisp as they used to be, so they pitch ass backwards at AAA – cutter, cutter, cutter, backdoor breaking ball. There’s not a lot of velocity, a lot of hard fastballs, coming at you night after night, unless you’ve got some young kid on their way up. Everybody else is some 30-year-old guy – they trick you. So that becomes a lesson on hitting off-speed. Then when kids first go to the big leagues, they forget how to hit a fastball.

AF:  Speaking of guys who are trying to make that transition to Double-A, have you had a chance to see Miles Head at any point?

GF:  Yeah, in spring training. But you know, what a half! I don’t know that I’ve seen a guy have that kind of half. And if you talk to these guys here (in Stockton), they’ve never been around a guy that hot. They just said nobody could get him out. There were never more than two or three at-bats that went by without him crushing one. You know, another guy I’ve always liked since the day we signed him is Chad Oberacker. He’s got the simplest approach of anybody here. And he just squares it up every at bat. He’s playing a very good center field. He’s a plus runner. He’s a nice-looking kid.

AF:  He’s even hit a few homers this year. I don’t think he’d shown much power before.

GF:  He’s got 6 this year, but one of them was an inside-the-parker.

AF:  What about Josh Whitaker who hit three home runs in a game here one night?

GF:  He’s been playing great. His body’s in great shape. You can see more life out of his body every year. He’s getting tighter and stronger. This kid’s putting himself on the map. He runs, he throws, he’s a better defender, and he’s a threat to hit it out.

AF:  Well, he had a good year at Burlington last year, but I guess the thing with him is there’s always a lot of strikeouts.

GF:  That’s the one thing we tried to set our eye on in the draft. We put more of an emphasis on making that hitting skill a little purer than we’ve had in the past – making that the number one thing, because as an organization the last couple of years, we have had a lot of swing-and-missers. We had 7 guys in Stockton who struck out 100 times last year – Aliotti, Gilmartin, Coleman, Gil, Dixon, Choice and LeVier.

AF:  Well I know when I talked to scouting director Eric Kubota after the draft, it seemed like he kept saying about everyone you drafted, “We really like the way this guy handles the bat.”

GF:  Well, that was a little bit of the change in direction you could see in the draft. Getting high school versus college wasn’t by design, but getting hitters, hitters first, was.

AF:  Was there anyone in this year’s draft you scouted who you were particularly high on?

GF:  Yeah, all of them! The only guy I didn’t see up high was Matt Olson, but Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, all those guys.

AF:  Was there anybody you were maybe a little higher on than other people?

GF:  Yeah, maybe Robertson. I don’t know if I was higher, but higher than a couple. We took him where I’d like to take him. I love B.J. Boyd, the Bay Area kid. This guy’s crude – he may run to the wrong dugout – but let me tell you, he’s got some kind of life in his hands, some kind of life in his legs. He’s electric.

AF:  So, I guess it’s just going to be a matter of refining him then.

GF:  Oh yeah, it’s going to be fun – but what a project! This is what young Carl Crawfords look like when they’re 18!

AF:  Well, that’s always a good thing to hear! Thanks a lot for taking the time to clue us in!

 

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Getting To Know: Sean Doolittle – The A’s Late-Blooming Lefty

Sean Doolittle – hey, where’d you guys hide my bat?  (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Probably the most surprising addition to the A’s roster this season has been left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle. Why? Well, because last year at this time, he wasn’t even a pitcher! Doolittle was a 1st-round draft pick for the A’s back in 2007 out of the University of Virginia. Though he competed as both a first baseman and a pitcher in college, he was projected to be a power-hitting first baseman for the A’s. But after less than 1,000 at-bats in the A’s minor league system, a string of serious injuries ended up keeping him off the field for most of 2009, all of 2010, and the vast majority of 2011.

When it looked like Doolittle’s injuries would keep him from ever having the chance to be a productive hitter again, the decision was made to try his hand at pitching late last year. After getting his feet wet at Stockton, Midland and Sacramento earlier this year – and meeting with impressive results every step of the way – the 25-year-old was called up by the A’s in early-June. And he’s quickly proven himself to be a reliable lefty in the A’s bullpen, posting a 2.08 ERA and striking out 26 batters in his first 13 games with the A’s. When we visited Oakland shortly before the All-Star break, we had the chance to talk with Doolittle about his amazing success on the mound, and what’s behind it all…

 

AF:  A year ago, you probably would have had a hard time imagining that you’d be standing on the pitcher’s mound here at the Oakland Coliseum a year later. Where was your head at this time last year?

SD:  It was pretty immensely out of it to be honest with you. I was wondering if I was ever going to play again period. I was in the middle of missing my third season. I really had no idea what direction my career was headed. I was just trying to stay busy and kind of throwing myself into rehab trying to get healthy. But it was pretty much one of the last things I was thinking of to be honest.

AF:  When was the decision finally made for you to start pitching?

SD:  It was like the last week of August. I think I threw the last game of the rookie ball season down there (in Arizona). I’d just had some bad news from the doctor, and it looked like I was going to need extensive time off or another surgery on my wrist. So I kind of asked, and it took a week for them to bounce it off the powers that be and have them go through the chain of command. And they had a scout come in and watch me throw and, by the last week of August, I was a pitcher.

AF:  So you were the first one to bring up the idea then.

SD:  Yeah.

AF:  Well, that was a good idea! Having pitched in college, I guess it wasn’t something that was completely new to you anyway.

SD:  Yeah, that’s why they were open to me making the switch. I had the background. It wasn’t totally foreign. It was something I had done. And it came back pretty quick.

AF:  Well, you started out in A-ball at Stockton this year. When did you think – hey I think this thing might work out?

SD:  It was probably last year in the Instructional League. The first time out, I hit 97 mph several times and the location was there. I was commanding the fastball. I was throwing strikes with that kind of velocity. And in the Instructional League very early on, I was like – I really think there’s something here. I could maybe do something with this. But I never thought it would happen this fast.

AF:  So what has the key been to your quick success pitching?

SD:  I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out to be totally honest with you.

AF:  So if we figure it out, we should let you know.

SD:  Yeah, absolutely. You might have to ask somebody else. I’m still not sure what I’m doing.

AF:  Well, what are you mainly throwing now?

SD:  Fastball, slider, changeup – a lot of fastball/slider combos to lefties. But the fastball’s been the key for me – the velocity and the way that I’ve been able to command it has really helped me have success. It’s kind of been my go-to pitch.

AF:  So is there anything in particular you’re working on right now?

SD:  Just trying to develop my off-speed stuff as much as we can. It’s still a work in progress. It’s to the point that I feel like I can compete with it for sure, but it’s not to where I want it to be and where I think it could be. But pitchers talk about how it takes them years to refine their breaking stuff and get the feel for their changeup. So we’re working on it everyday as much as we can, without throwing too much – there’s a fine line there.

AF:  Coming up here to Oakland, is there anything that’s been particularly different with the big league game for you?

SD:  There’s just less room for error. The strike zone is smaller, and the hitters battle a lot more. And if you catch the outer third of the plate, you’re going to be in trouble. In the lower levels, maybe they foul it off. If you make a mistake, more times than not, you’re going to pay for it. So that’s what I’m finding out.

AF:  So basically, just don’t make mistakes!

SD:  Yeah!

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

Catching Up With: The Sacramento River Cats

 

Raley Field – Home of the Sacramento River Cats

The A’s triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats have a long history of winning – and this season has been no exception. The team currently boasts the best record in the 16-team Pacific Coast League, and has gotten great performances from many members of the starting rotation like Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Bruce Billings and even, earlier in the year before his struggles, Brad Peacock. And when we visited Sacramento about a week before the All-Star Break, we took the opportunity to talk with the newest member of the River Cats’ rotation, right-hander Dan Straily, as well as the team’s pitching coach, Scott Emerson.

We also had the chance to talk to one of the staples of the Sacramento lineup who always garners a great deal of interest amongst A’s fans, former 1st-round draft pick Grant Green. The former shortstop, whom the organization converted to an outfielder midway through last season, has recently been playing all over the diamond. The 24-year-old has put in time this season in left field and center field, as well as at shortstop, third base and second base. And after working on his approach at the plate, the right-handed swinger’s power numbers are up a bit this year and his strikeouts are down, and he could very well be angling for a spot with the 2013 A’s.

So be sure to check out our chat with top hitting prospect Grant Green, followed by our conversations with River Cats’ starting pitcher Dan Straily and Sacramento pitching coach Scott Emerson, and get the inside scoop on the 2012 Sacramento River Cats…

 

Sacramento River Cats

Outfielder

GRANT GREEN

AF:  Well you started out the year playing strictly in the outfield, but you’ve been playing a lot of different positions lately – short, third, second. So how has it been adapting to all these new positions and playing a different position everyday?

GG:  It’s fun. It’s something new every single day – walking into the clubhouse and checking the lineup to see where I’m playing. It’s kind of fun and interesting to see where I’m playing. Certain days it’s a little bit less stressful to know I’m playing in left. But tomorrow I could be playing second – something different, something new.

AF:  So it’s been an enjoyable challenge for you rather than something difficult?

GG:  Yeah.

AF:  Do you have any preferences in terms of where you’d ideally like to play?

GG:  Short, of course – that’s what I’m most comfortable with. After that, I like playing second – something I just started doing this year. I’ve only played 1 or 2 games there. But if I could stay in the middle of the diamond on the infield, I would love to. I’ve gotten more used to playing left.

AF:  It sounds like you’d prefer to be where the action is.

GG:  Exactly.

AF:  What about this year at the plate for you – your power numbers were down last year, but they’ve been up a bit this year – is there anything you’ve been doing differently?

GG:  Yeah, we’ve really worked on getting more quality ABs – kind of seeing a little bit more pitches than usual – still being aggressive, but aggressive inside the zone instead of just being aggressive in general. And then last fall I really worked on widening my stance and getting a little bit of a load. It also helps that we’re not playing in Texas League parks. There are a lot of graveyards and the wind blowing the ball foul.

AF:  Have most of your home runs been off any particular type of pitch?

GG:  I’ve had a couple that were hanging sliders, a couple fastballs in, a couple fastballs down the middle. So it’s been a little bit of an array of pitches.

AF:  And where have most of your home runs gone out this season?

GG:  Either in left-center or left. I think I maybe have one to center, if that.

AF:  Your strikeouts have been down a little this year. Is there any particular reason for that?

GG:  Just the overall approach. There was a little stretch at the beginning of the year where I was striking out a little bit too much and being a little bit too aggressive – just in general, swinging at bad pitches. And we really worked on quality ABs and quality pitches. And if I strike out looking on a borderline pitch, it’s better than swinging at a ball.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you’re really working on right now?

GG:  Yeah, mostly the defensive side – coming back to the infield, trying to get back to that first step coming in, unlike the outfield. Just trying to get back to doing that and trying to cut distance and trying to save the arm a little bit when it comes to the infield.

AF:  So are you practicing at different positions every day?

GG:  It depends. If I’m playing the infield, then I’ll take all BP at that. And if I’m playing the outfield, I’ll take one round there and usually one round at short and just practice cutting the distance.

AF:  I know you’re originally from Orange County, so do you spend most of the off-season in southern California?

GG:  Yeah, I have a house in Corona. It’s about 10 minutes from where I grew up. So I spend my time there, travel a little bit, and try and go to the beach as much as possible.

AF:  Well you’ve now played in the California League, the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League. So in all your travels, is there any place you’d rather never see again?

GG:  Probably Bakersfield. The whole situation there was just a grind. The field wasn’t very nice – the infield was terrible actually. The clubhouse was old. That’s one place I’d never go back to.

AF:  That’s funny, you’re not the only one I’ve heard say that.

GG:  I bet!

AF:  Thanks, Grant.

 

Sacramento River Cats

Starting Pitcher

DAN STRAILY

AF:  Well, you got off to a good start this year at Midland and now you’ve been doing great here at Sacramento too. So what’s been the key to your success this year?

DS:  Just throwing strikes down in the zone. Last year in Stockton, I spent a lot of time working on that because of how the ball sails in that league. That’s really been the key to success this year – just being able to keep the ball down.

AF:  You’ve always been a bit of a strikeout pitcher, but even more so now. You’re leading the entire A’s minor league system in strikeouts this year. So is there any particular reason for that?

DS:  It’s just kind of happened. I’m not pitching all that differently. I’ve just had a few games with a lot of strikeouts. I’ve had some 10+ strikeout nights and a bunch of 7-8-9 nights. It’s not like I’m trying to strike everyone out. It’s just kind of the way things are working out. My goal pretty much every night is to go out there and go 7-8 innings. And sometimes that’s 7-8 innings with a bunch of strikeouts and sometimes it’s 7-8 innings with just a handful of strikeouts. But I’m not necessarily trying to strike people out.

AF:  So, you’re not trying to be Nolan Ryan.

DS:  Exactly.

AF:  Coming from the Texas League to the Pacific Coast League, which is considered to be more of a hitters’ league, have there been any adjustments you’ve had to make?

DS:  Not so far. It’s just kind of nice that the wind’s not blowing out at least here. It’s seems like in most of the Texas League stadiums, the wind’s blowing out. But I haven’t really been here long enough to be forced to make any adjustments. I’ve just been pitching the way I’ve been pitching.

AF:  So how have you liked playing in Sacramento so far?

DS:  So far it’s been awesome. Last night coming in here with a packed stadium – and a packed stadium most places is a few thousand less than it is here. I got to pitch here last week. And you don’t normally notice when you’re playing how many people are there, but when you’re done, you tend to notice those things. It’s a lot of fun. I just like the atmosphere here.

AF:  Have you been following your former teammate A.J. Griffin’s progress this year?

DS:  Absolutely. He was my roommate in Texas when we were down there. I texted him the other night and told him congratulations and stuff and talked to him a little bit today. It’s awesome. He’s my first friend I’ve seen come up and be in the show now. So that’s just awesome.

AF:  Well, that must give you a real sense of just how close it can be.

DS:  They keep telling us, you’re just one phone call away. And he definitely proved that. We were down in Vegas one day and just all of a sudden A.J. walked in just beaming with this big old smile and he came in and told us. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.

AF:  Well, good luck!

 

Sacramento River Cats

Pitching Coach

SCOTT EMERSON

AF:  Well, Dan Straily came up here last month, and he’s been looking as good as he did at Midland. Tell me what you like about him.

SE:  Well, I like his delivery. When you have a repeatable delivery like he does, it makes it a lot easier to throw all four of your pitches. He’s got four major league pitches, and he’s just got to go out there and face better hitters here in Triple-A and show us what he can do.

AF:  Tell me about his repertoire.

SE:  Well, he’s got a sinking fastball that goes to the arm side with good downhill plane to his mechanics. He’s got a good top-to-bottom curveball. He’s got a good late slider that at times looks like a cut fastball. And he’s got an excellent changeup that at times will look like a loose split-finger where the ball will actually fall off the table. So he’s a lot of fun to watch.

AF:  What’s been his big strikeout pitch?

SE:  More of his breaking ball. But the ability to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate sets up his breaking ball. Everything works off the fastball. When he throws it to both sides and then he’s able to throw that breaking ball, he’s getting them to chase it.

AF:  Another guy you had here for a while this year was A.J. Griffin. And so far he’s been doing as well in Oakland as he was here.

SE:  Well A.J. is a strike-throwing machine. And he works at the bottom of the strike zone. He works quick. He’s got an excellent changeup. Anytime that you can disrupt the timing of hitters, it’s always a plus. But again, everything comes off that good fastball command. He really commands the fastball down and away. He has the ability to throw his changeup behind in counts, so he’s always back in the count. If he falls behind in the count, he can throw that changeup in a fastball situation and either get hitters swinging or have them put the ball in play. And he’s developed a cutter over the course of the season this year – sometimes it looks like a slider – but to right-hander hitters, he got a lot of groundballs with it.

AF:  After having him here for a while this year, did you feel confident about his ability to succeed at the major league level?

SE:  Yeah, he holds runners well. That’s one of the questions you always get – does he hold runners? He plays good defense, he has the ability to throw his changeup behind in the count, and he spots his fastball. If you can do those things, you’re pretty much going to have some success in the big leagues.

AF:  Another one of your starters here this year is Bruce Billings. He was pitching really well early on, then he was on the disabled list for a while, and now he’s been coming back. Tell me a little bit about him.

SE:  Bruce has got real good command. He throws the ball at the bottom of the zone with movement. Anytime you can throw balls at the bottom of the zone with movement, you’re going to have a lot of success. He didn’t really have his sinker last season. But coming here this year, he started the year throwing that sinker at the bottom of the zone and getting some groundballs. He’s got a good late slider. Anytime you can do that and have good life at the bottom of the zone and get groundouts, you’re going to pitch good.

AF:  Now what about Brad Peacock? He’s really been struggling of late and seems to have hit a bump in the road. So what’s up with him?

SE:  Well, he’s got great stuff. There’s no doubt his pitch mix is very good. He’s struggling a little bit with his fastball command. And once the fastball command comes back and comes around, the sky’s the limit for this guy. His weapons are just that good. He’s got a hard late curveball, and a very good changeup with good arm speed, and then the changeup just dies. So we’re just looking for him to get that fastball command back. And you know, sometimes you put some pressure on yourself. You get traded for a guy like Gio Gonzalez and you run into a couple of rough games – he’s just got to know that we’ve got a lot of confidence in him – you’ve just got to go out there and have fun and pitch your game.

AF:  Thanks, Scott – that’s really informative.

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

Catching Up With: The Stockton Ports

 

Banner Island Ballpark – Home of the Stockton Ports

When the season began, top pitching prospects like A.J. Cole, Ian Krol and Blake Hassebrock were expected to make the Class-A Stockton Ports’ starting staff the real highlight of the team. But Hassebrock ended up spending much of the first half on the disabled list, Krol has struggled for most of the season, and Cole got off to such a rough start that he was eventually sent down to Burlington.

The focal point of the team turned out to be young third baseman Miles Head who quickly proved himself to be the best hitting prospect in the organization, but almost as quickly found himself promoted to Midland. With Head now gone, the Ports’ offensive load has been turned over to young hitters like catcher Max Stassi, third baseman B.A. Vollmuth, first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones, shortstop Yorda Cabrera, and outfielders Dusty Robinson and Josh Whitaker. And when we visited Stockton about a week before the All-Star break, we took the opportunity to talk with manager Webster Garrison about some of his hitting prospects.

We also had the chance to talk to the player who now appears to be the Ports’ top pitching prospect, right-hander Sean Murphy. The 23-year-old got off to a red-hot start at Burlington, posting a 1.97 ERA in 8 starts, and he’s continued to look impressive at Stockton. Murphy has the third most strikeouts of all starting pitchers currently in the A’s minor league system with 105 in 110 1/3 innings, and hitters are batting only .222 against him on the season. He’s had a couple of rough starts recently, but Murphy has clearly put himself on the map with his strong performance this season.

So be sure to check out our chat with Ports’ pitcher Sean Murphy followed by our conversation with Stockton manager Webster Garrison and get the inside scoop on the 2012 Stockton Ports…

 

Stockton Ports

Pitcher

SEAN MURPHY

AF:  You’ve been having a great year at Burlington and here at Stockton. Last season, guys were hitting over .300 against you, and most of this year, guys have been hitting around .200 against you. So what’s changed?

SM:  I would say just actually getting ahead of batters, and just staying consistent and trusting my off-speed stuff – throwing it for strikes when I need to throw it for strikes, and then going out of the zone when I need to go out of the zone. That’s the biggest key from last year to this year – just throwing every pitch with a purpose.

AF:  What made that change happen? Did somebody tell you something, did a light suddenly go off, or did it just creep up on you?

SM:  I would say (Burlington pitching coach) John Wasdin helped me out a lot with the mental side of the game – really just focusing in on throwing every pitch with a purpose, not just throwing pitches to throw them – having a your mind set on what you’re going to do with this pitch and what you want the hitter to do with it, rather than just go out there and see the sign for the curveball and just throw it – he wants it away and you throw it away, rather than splitting the plate. So I think that’s the biggest difference – just being committed and having a purpose.

AF:  You got off to a great start this year at Burlington, and then you came up here to the California League, which is considered much more of a hitters’ league. So have you had to do anything different here or had to make any adjustments?

SM:  Because the wind blows out in most places here, the biggest key is keeping the ball down in the zone. If you keep the ball down and really get ahead of batters, you can start playing with them and get them out.

AF:  You’ve been second or third behind Dan Straily in the entire A’s system in strikeouts for most of the year. So what’s been your big out pitch?

SM:  Against lefties, I’d have to say the changeup – just the deception of the changeup. Really getting ahead with the fastball, locating it, which sets up the changeup, and working the changeup off the same plane against lefties. Against righties, everything – it’s all come together for me – but I’d have to say my slider late in the count. Just going off the plate and staying down with it gets a lot of swings and misses. And then freezing people going in with the curveball – that’s a big key.

AF:  Tell me a little more about your repertoire.

SM:  My fastball – I like to get ahead with my fastball. I could get ahead with off-speed too – its just throwing it for strikes is what’s key. My #2 would be my changeup – that’s my go-to pitch. If I’m facing the cleanup hitter with runners in scoring position and a 3-2 count, I’m going to go with my changeup most of the time. And then my curveball has been a big key for me this year – actually throwing it in the zone. Then my slider late in the count. I would have to rank my pitches fastball, changeup, slider, then curve.

AF:  Well congratulations – whatever, you’re doing, it all seems to be coming together for you this year!

SM:  Yes, sir!

 

Stockton Ports

Manager

WEBSTER GARRISON

AF:  I know you played in the A’s minor league system back in the ‘90s. I remember you playing in Double-A, but they weren’t in Midland at that point, they were somewhere else, right?

WG:  When I was playing, they were in Huntsville.

AF:  Right, in the Southern League. And then you were at Tacoma in the PCL too, right?

WG:  Yep, Tacoma.

AF:  I guess you’ve seen all the stops.

WG:  A lot of them!

AF:  Well, I wanted to get your impressions of some guys on the team here in Stockton. Let’s start off with outfielder Dusty Robinson, who came up here from Burlington about a month and a half into the season. He’s obviously a big power hitter, and he’s from right here in the Central Valley. So what’s your impression been of him so far?

WG:  He works hard. Like you said, he’s got the big swing. He’s definitely a home run hitter. We’re just working on him staying on the ball, trying to use the whole field. He’s a good defensive player. He’s got a good arm and he runs well. He’s a good-looking young prospect coming up. He just has to work on that pitch away. Coming inside, he’s ready for that all the time. And he’s definitely a power hitter.

AF:  So the main thing he’s got to work on at this point is that away pitch?

WG:  Yeah, and he’s working on it. He’s not the only one – there’s a lot of guys in the minor leagues who have to work on that pitch. But that’s definitely one of the pitches he’s got to work on staying on, because he’s a big power guy. He likes to get it going, and once he gets it going, that bat’s coming through the zone and he’s looking to go to left field. And so he’s working on staying to right-center in batting practice.

AF:  You said he’s looking good in the outfield. So does he have skills in the outfield? He’s not just a power-hitting DH type?

WG:  Oh, he’s definitely not just a DH type. He can definitely play the outfield. He runs balls down. He throws well. He’s diving and hustling, and he runs well. So he’s not just a DH by a long shot. He can play the outfield.

AF:  He’s got about 10 stolen bases so far this year, so it does seem like he’s got a little speed.

WG:  Yeah, he’s got some speed. He can steal a base. He runs well. He’s a well put-together guy. He’s not a big tall large guy, but he’s well put-together for his size, and he does a little bit of everything. He can hit the ball out of the park, he runs well, he throws well, and he’s a good defensive outfielder.

AF:  Right-hander Sean Murphy started out the year in Burlington too and looked really good there. He came up here in May. So how’s he looking to your eyes?

WG:  He’s looking real good! He’s a competitor. He goes out there when he pitches and he locates well and he changes speeds well, and he’s competing. He’s out there and he’s got a game plan. He knows what he wants to do with the ball, and he puts it in spots and lets the defense play for him. He makes big pitches when he gets guys on, and he gives us a great opportunity to win when he’s out there. I like what I see out of that kid.

AF:  He told me that he’s been throwing with a lot of confidence and a lot of purpose. Is that what you see?

WG:  Exactly, that’s definitely what I see. He’s focused, he’s prepared, and he goes out there and he executes his pitches and it’s working well for him right now.

AF:  Another guy who just came up from Burlingtonis third baseman B.A. Vollmuth. What do you think about what you’ve seen of him thus far?

WG:  I saw a lot of him in spring training. He’s a good young player as well. He’s a good defensive guy for third base – good arm. He’s going to hit as well. He had abig springtraining for us. So were looking for some good things out of him. He’s more of a contact guy. He can use the whole field, and he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. So we’re looking for him to step in there and play well. I think he was playing pretty good in Burlington from the reports I was getting – no big numbers, but putting the ball in play hard a lot. So that’s what I’m looking forward to from him while he’s here.

AF:  He came up here when you lost your other third baseman Miles Head, who I’m sure you were happy to pencil into the lineup every night. He’s obviously up at Midland now, but tell me about your impressions of him when he was here.

WG:  He’s just one of those ballplayers who’s amazing. That’s all you can say is “amazing.” His approach to hitting is amazing. He puts the ball in play. He puts it in play hard. He hits the ball to all fields. There’s no certain way to pitch him. He hit just about every pitch and he hit it hard. He used the whole field. He plays hard, works hard. He’s a good kid all the way around. I was just happy to have him here as a ballplayer. I knew he wouldn’t be here long. But to lead the league in hitting and have 18 home runs and almost 60 RBIs for half a season, that’s just outstanding – very impressive.

AF:  And he just turned 21 while was here too, right?

WG:  He just turned 21. He’s an impressive-looking young hitter. I don’t know exactly how he’s doing in Midland right now, but he’s definitely going to be making waves later on in this game.

AF:  Obviously he’s got a lot of skills, but is there any one thing that’s been central to his success?

WG:  I think his best tool to hitting is he’s just up there hitting. He’s not up there thinking I’ve got to go the other way or I’ve got to stay inside the ball – where my arm is, where my foot is, where my head is. He’s just going up there ready to hit.

AF:  So he’s keeping it simple.

WG:  Yeah, he’s keeping it plain and simple. That’s his approach and it works well for him. He goes up there swinging. He’s not up there looking to walk – but if you walk him, he’ll take it. But he’s looking to do damage while he’s up there. He’s not just up there swinging, he’s looking to do damage.

AF:  Is there any weakness in his game? Is there anything he really needs to work on as he moves up the ladder?

WG:  He could work on his defense a little bit more – just getting jumps. He was basically a first baseman and we moved him over to third base this year. So he’s working hard at it. He’s going to get better, but he’s better than what we thought he was going to be. He’s a ballplayer – he can catch the ball, he can throw the ball. He was already an infielder, so he can definitely catch the ball. He’s just got to work on getting jumps and angles and reads and when to throw it and when not to throw it – just third baseman stuff he hasn’t done in a long time.

AF:  So you think he’s got the essentials that he could make it work at third with time?

WG:  Oh yeah, definitely. He’s only 21 years old. He just turned 21. Once he gets a couple of years under his belt at third base, he’ll definitely be okay.

AF:  How would you compare him to a guy who was a staple here for you at Stockton last year, Michael Choice? Is there any way you could compare the two?

WG:  I’d say Mike’s just a raw power guy. He’s going to hit it farther than Miles Head. He’s just one of those strong guys. When he gets a hold of it, it’s gone and it’s gone by a lot. Miles Head is just a little more of a consistent hitter using the whole field – the ball’s in play more and he’s just getting more hits. Mike’s got the big swing where he’s hitting home runs and extra base hits. He had an outstanding second half last year and made some great adjustments. But with Miles Head, the ball’s just in play more and it’s in play a lot more hard. He can just hit the ball out of the park anywhere, and there’s just a little more consistent hard contact.

AF:  Catcher Max Stassi was hurt for a while, but he’s been back playing a little more regularly for a while now and showing a little pop. What’s your take on him?

WG:  Like you said, he’s been back in the lineup. He got injured earlier in the year, and now he’s getting real comfortable again. He’s started catching a lot. And his bat’s always been a plus in my eyes, because he definitely can hit the ball, and he can drive it out of all parts of the park as well. And now he’s starting to see a lot of pitches and he’s getting more and more comfortable. He’s a staple right in the middle of our lineup right now and we’re going to continue to look for big things out of him.

AF:  Another guy people have been looking for big things from is shortstop Yordy Cabrera, but he’s been struggling a bit at the plate here. What’s your take on him?

WG:  Young, raw talent – and it shows at times. He’s a young raw kid, but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s got moves in the field – good hands, strong arm. He’s definitely got some pop in his bat. He’s just got to get a little more consistent in his approach and putting the ball in play where he can have some better results.  He’s a young kid who’s up there swinging, trying hard – so hard at times that it doesn’t work out for him. But he works so hard. If he just settles down and just tries to do the little things well, I think he’ll be okay.

AF:  Well, I guess trying too hard is better than not trying hard enough anyway.

WG:  True.

AF:  Well, thanks a lot, Webster.

 

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Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on the A’s Top 10 Draft Picks of 2012 from A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota

Thanks to the loss of free agents Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, the A’s had a few more picks than usual in the upper ranks of the amateur draft this year – 5 of the first 75 picks to be exact. And surprisingly, the team used a number of those picks to target high school players, something that’s been uncommon for the organization in the past.

The man responsible for overseeing the A’s efforts in the amateur draft is scouting director Eric Kubota. Kubota grew up in northern California, graduating from Aptos High School before moving on to the University of California at Berkeley. He started out his career in the baseball world by interning for the A’s in the mid-‘80s before signing on as the assistant director of baseball relations in 1987. Kubota eventually served as the assistant director of scouting and the supervisor of international scouting before being selected to succeed Grady Fuson as scouting director following his departure after the 2001 season.

In his time at the helm of the A’s scouting department, the team has drafted players like Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Huston Street, Kurt Suzuki, Cliff Pennington, Jemile Weeks, Michael Choice and Sonny Gray. So who better to give us the inside scoop on this year’s top draft picks for the A’s? We talked a week after the draft had ended, before #1 pick Addison Russell’s signing had been officially announced (word has it that it’s all but a done deal and that an official announcement could be coming at any time). We took the opportunity to get Kubota’s take on the A’s main man, Russell, along with all the team’s other top 10 draft picks of 2012.

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AF: The main thing that’s been notable with this year’s draft as far as the A’s go is the large number of high school players taken with high draft picks this time around. Is there any specific reason for that change?

EK: Obviously, it was a change that we took so many high school guys. But there wasn’t any conscious change in how we scouted and how we set up our boards and things like that. And I’ve told people every year that we like high school guys. It’s just the way the board falls. And this year what presented itself was an opportunity to draft the high school guys we thought were clearly the best guys. So that’s how that all came to be.

AF: A lot of people felt there just wasn’t that much mind-blowing college talent available this year either. Did that also factor into things?

EK: I think that’s fair to say. We thought that the high school crop was deeper. There’s also a little bit of cost certainty built into the new system, so that helped as well a little bit – to just kind of have an idea of what you were getting into financially. But I say it every year, and I know it hasn’t necessarily been brought out by our drafts, but we like plenty of high school players, but a lot of times it’s just the way the board falls.

AF: So what did you see in your first pick, high school shortstop Addison Russell, that you really liked, is there anything that needs work with him, and are there any players you would compare him to?

EK: Well, the first thing that you notice about Addison is his athleticism. He’s just an extremely gifted athlete in many ways. It bears out in his running speed and his agility. We really like the athleticism – we like the upside. He’s a guy who we think has plus tools across the board – a potential 5-tool player – and a lot of upside. He can be an offensive shortstop with power, with speed, with arm strength – really with the whole package. Like any high school player, there’s a lot of development that has to happen for him to get where he’s going. But we like his ability to play and we like his skills. As far as major league players that he reminds us of, Barry Larkin is one name that comes to mind.

AF: Do you see him starting out for you as a shortstop in the minor leagues?

EK: We see him as a shortstop in the major leagues, yes.

AF: How certain were you that he was going to end up being your first-round pick heading into the draft?

EK: We had a pretty good sense that he was in a mix of guys who could be our first-round pick. What generally happens is you end up with two or three or four guys, based on what you’re hearing and how you like them, that you think are going to be the group from which you’re going to pick. And in some ways, the decision gets made for you based on who gets picked in the draft. But he was certainly amongst the group of guys that we thought we had a chance to get.

AF: Your second pick was another high school shortstop, Daniel Robertson out of southern California. What did you see in him that made you want to grab him so early?

EK: Daniel Robertson really impressed us with his bat. We feel he’s got a very, very advanced approach to hitting for a high school guy. He’s got strength. His defensive skills are very solid – we think they’re good enough for him to play shortstop. Ultimately, down the road, he probably ends up at third base. We’re very confident that he has the offensive potential to be a profile player there. He’s very polished as far as what he does now. And some guys have compared him to David Wright.

AF: Your third pick was another high school player, Matt Olson, a big left-handed hitting high school first baseman out of Georgia. What did you like about him?

EK: What we really like about him is his bat. He’s really a sweet swinger. He kind of reminds us of John Olerud. He’s a big-framed kid, so there’s a chance to add a lot of strength to his frame, and that’s where the power’s going to come with him. We really like the bat, and we like his chances to have power down the road as his body gets bigger and stronger. And he’s very, very good around first base.

AF: So what do you think the prospects are of getting all your top three picks signed?

EK: We’re working out the final details. But we’re pretty optimistic about where things are headed.

AF: So you’re pretty optimistic about getting all three of them locked up at this point?

EK: Correct.

AF: Now your fourth pick was a college catcher, Bruce Maxwell, out of Alabama who’s already signed. Do you project him remaining as a catcher at the major league level?

EK: Yeah, first and foremost, we do think he’s a catcher. We think he has all the necessary ingredients to catch. Once again, what we really like about Bruce is his bat. First off, if you look at his numbers, I know it was Division III, but you’d be hard-pressed to find statistics like that anywhere. But what our scouts saw with their eyes matched every bit of those stats.

AF: If I’m correct, I think he hit around. 470.

EK: Yeah, and four or five times more walks than strikeouts with 16 homers or something like that.

AF: And he’s a left-handed hitting catcher too, right?

EK: Correct.

AF: With your fifth pick, you took your first pitcher in the draft, right-hander Nolan Sanburn out of the University of Arkansas, who’s still unsigned. Tell me what made you want to take him as your top pitcher in the draft.

EK: Nolan’s kind of an old school power pitcher. He’s got a fastball that’s up to 97-98 mph. We’ve seen an above-average curveball and an above-average changeup at times. He’s a strong, physical kid. He’s pitched both as a starter and out of the bullpen. We think he’s got the necessary ingredients to start in professional baseball. And he has the kind of stuff that could work his way to the upper ranges of the rotation or, if he does have to go back to the bullpen, to the late innings out of the bullpen. Sanburn, physically, reminds me of Tim Belcher.

AF: Your sixth pick was Kyle Twomey, a young left-handed high school pitcher from southern California who appears to be a real long, lanky kind of guy. I know there was some question about him maybe wanting to go to college. What did you like about him?

EK: What we like about Kyle is his projection and his ability to pitch right now. He flashes three average-to-better pitches. He touches 91-92 mph with his fastball right now. We think with normal physical development, he’s going to throw a bit harder. He’s got an above-average changeup right now. His breaking ball has good shape. He has all the ingredients – he just needs a little more velocity in our opinion. But he’s got a very, very good feel for what he’s doing out there. He already knows how to pitch. We just think the sky’s kind of the limit with this kid because he’s got so much physical development left to him. And he kind of reminds us a little bit of Andrew Heaney who went #9 in the draft this year.

AF: Your seventh pick was high school outfielder B.J. Boyd out of Palo Alto, who seemed really eager to sign up and play. So I guess that made it easy for you, right?

EK: Yeah. It’s just nice when some kid’s are very, very excited about signing and getting going with their pro career, and B.J. certainly wants to do that. He’s a tremendous athlete. He was a tremendous high school football player. He could have probably played Division I football. He’s a strong, compact, electric athlete. There’s a lot of upside to a lot of things he does. He’s probably a little rough around the edges, and there’s some development that needs to happen for it all to come together for him. But he can really run, he’s got strength in his bat, and he’s got a chance to really play center field. Some of the guys who saw him compared him a little bit to a young Carl Crawford.

AF: Your eighth pick was another left-handed hitting first baseman, Max Muncy out of Texas. How would you compare him to Matt Olson, your other top first base pick?

EK: First off, he’s three years older, so that puts him three years farther down the development track. Once again, what we really like about Max is his bat. All of us who went in there to see him, for lack of a technical term, he just looked “hitter-ish.” And we really like his chances to hit. He’s a surprising athlete. He doesn’t scream “athlete” on first look, but he runs well, and he’s very good around first base. And we just like the whole package with Max but, first and foremost, the bat.

AF: With your ninth pick, you went back to pitching with college right-hander Seth Streich out of Ohio. What did you like about him?

EK: He’s an athletic kid. He’s got a good body. We’ve seen him throw hard, up to like 94-95 mph, with a very good slider. He was one of the better hitters on their team at one time, but he just decided that pitching was his best way to help the team. We actually think he’s kind of an upside guy. He just hasn’t pitched as much as some of these guys. And we just like the whole combination of body, athleticism and stuff.

AF: Your tenth pick was another college pitcher, Cody Kurz out of Oxnard who’s a little younger. I think he’s only 19. Tell me about him.

EK: Yeah, he’s a younger kid who just hasn’t pitched all that much. He was actually a Division I football recruit. He was a linebacker, which will tell you something about his physicality. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic. We’ve seen him up to 94-95 mph. We’ve seen him with a very good breaking ball. We just think we’re kind of just seeing the tip of the iceberg on him. We just think there’s a lot of upside to him.

AF: Once these guys are all drafted, how involved are you in the signing process?

EK: Very involved. Most of the signings go through me. Occasionally there will be guys where either Billy Beane or David Forst have good relationships with their advisors, so they may help out. But most of the negotiations work through me. The scouts do a lot with them in some of the cases, and then in certain cases I do some of them.

AF: So in this period after the draft is over, your work is certainly not done. There’s still plenty of stuff to follow up on for you.

EK: Yeah, we’re trying to get players signed. And basically, the day after the draft ends, we start getting ready for next year’s draft.

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#1 (11th Overall)

Addison Russell

Shortstop

Pace High School / Pace, Florida

Age: 18

6’1” / 210 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .358 AVG / .532 OBP / .815 SLG

 

 

 

#2 (34th Overall)

Daniel Robertson

Shortstop

Upland High School / Upland, California

Age: 18

6’1” / 190 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .560 AVG / .696 OBP / 1.000 SLG

 

 

 

#3 (47th Overall)

Matt Olson

First Baseman

Parkview High School / Lilburn, Georgia

Age: 18

6’4” / 225 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .353 AVG / .421 OBP / .765 SLG

 

 

#4 (62nd Overall)

Bruce Maxwell

Catcher

Birmingham-Southern College / Birmingham, Alabama

Age: 21

6’2” / 230 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 College Stats: .471 AVG / .619 OBP / .928 SLG

 

 

#5 (74th Overall)

Nolan Sanburn

Right-Handed Pitcher

University of Arkansas / Fayetteville, Arkansas

Age: 20

6’1” / 205 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Right

2012 College Stats: 39 1/3 IP / 28 H / 11 ER / 22 BB / 47 K / 2.52 ERA

 

 

 

#6 (106th Overall)

Kyle Twomey

Left-Handed Pitcher

El Dorado High School / Placentia, California

Age: 18

6’3” / 180 lbs.

Throws: Left / Bats: Left

2012 High School Stats: 73 2/3 IP / 39 H / 8 ER / 25 BB / 77 K / 0.76 ERA

 

 

#7 (139th Overall)

B.J. Boyd

Outfielder

Palo Alto High School / Palo Alto,California

Age: 18

5’11” / 205 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .507 AVG / .628 OBP / .704 SLG

 

 

#8 (169th Overall)

Max Muncy

First Baseman

Baylor University / Waco, Texas

Age: 21

6’1” / 205 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 College Stats: .322 AVG / .418 OBP / .494 SLG

 

#9 (199th Overall)

Seth Streich

Right-Handed Pitcher

Ohio University / Athens, Ohio

Age: 21

6’3” / 200 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Left

2012 College Stats: 75 1/3 IP / 81 H / 37 ER / 36 BB / 62 K / 4.42 ERA

 

 

 

#10 (229th Overall)

Cody Kurz

Right-Handed Pitcher

Oxnard College / Oxnard, California

Age: 19

6’4” / 225 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Right

2012 College Stats: 24 2/3 IP / 15 H / 4 ER / 11 BB / 21 K / 1.46 ERA

 

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

Getting To Know: Derek Norris – A’s Catcher Of The Future

 

Derek Norris – Fear the beard! (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When the A’s dealt away Gio Gonzalez, one of the team’s most popular players, in the off-season for pitchers Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris, four minor league players most A’s fans had never heard of, some fans were clearly skeptical. But just five months after that trade, while the 20-year-old Cole has been struggling at Class-A, Milone is leading the A’s pitching staff in wins, Peacock is the River Cats’ wins leader, and catcher Derek Norris has been hitting up a storm at Sacramento. The former 4th-round draft pick has been hitting close to .300 for most of the season, currently sports a healthy .503 slugging percentage, and has been looking like he may be the successor to current A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki sooner rather than later.

A’s assistant general manager David Forst recently told me about Norris, “He got raves from the coaching staff from day one on how he handled pitchers and his receiving skills. His throwing numbers have never been in question. He’s always been one of the best guys in the minor leagues as far as throwing out baserunners.” He summed up his impression of the 23-year-old receiver by saying, “We feel very good about Derek.” And A’s fans who’ve been paying attention seem to share that sentiment.

 

AF: So tell me a little bit about where you grew up and where you went to school.

DN: I was born and raised in Goddard, Kansas. I went to school at Goddard High School – a 6A school in a small town. I grew up playing three sports (baseball, football and basketball), but baseball was always my passion. I played it throughout high school. And then I signed with Washington, five years later I was traded, and here I am.

AF: What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

DN: The Kansas City Royals were always my favorite team when I was growing up. George Brett was always the talk of the town, and I grew up idolizing him.

AF: Well that’s as good a hitter to model yourself after as anyone.

DN: Yeah, I know, right?

AF: Were you always a catcher in high school?

DN: No, I didn’t catch a whole lot till my senior year mostly. I had a couple guys in front of me in my freshman and sophomore years who were Division I prospects, so I played third base and pitcher my first couple years, and then I transitioned to catcher later on.

AF: How did you feel about catching? Was it something that you were eager or reluctant to do?

DN: It wasn’t a huge transition because I had done it before. But it’s obviously going to be a lot more difficult when guys throw harder and their pitches move more and they’re a lot better than what I was used to. It’s definitely a tough transition at first. But it seems like every game that goes by, the more I catch, the better I get. I’ve come a long way from where I was, and I definitely want to keep striving to be where I want to be.

AF: I imagine you were surprised about being traded. How’d you hear about the trade to the A’s and what was your reaction?

DN: I was actually at the gym working out and I got a text message from one of my teammates from last year, Cory VanAllen. And he said, “I just read an article about you and Brad Peacock possibly being in a trade for Gio Gonzalez.” Well, I hadn’t heard anything – I’d just talked to my agent a few days previously. And he said, “We haven’t heard anything, but if something comes up, we’ll definitely be in touch.” And then the next day, I got a phone call from my agent and he goes, “Hey, rumors have been picking up, but they’re just rumors as of now.” And then, I’d probably say within an hour, it was finalized. So it happened very quick. And it was definitely really strange. I’ve never really been through anything like that before. And it was definitely a cool experience though – it was real cool.

AF: Had you ever been in the big league camp with the Nationals before?

DN: Yeah, I was in camp with the Nationals in 2010 and 2011.

AF: Obviously that was in Florida, and I think you’d previously spent all your time playing on the east coast. So how was it different spending your first spring out in Phoenix with the A’s and having a whole new coaching staff to work with this year?

DN: It was great. The coaching staff, from the manager all the way down to the bullpen coach, every coach there treated me well. I had no complaints – everybody was great. And the weather’s obviously a lot better. You don’t have to worry as much about rain or hurricane winds or anything like that. So it was definitely a plus. I liked it a lot.

Derek Norris – keeping his eye on the ball       (photo by Sara Molina/Sacramento River Cats)

AF: I guess a lot shorter drives too!

DN: Yeah, definitely. On the east coast, you drive two and a half hours and you take batting practice on the field. Over in Arizona, you take batting practice at your home field and then travel over and just play. So that was definitely different too.

AF: Well since A’s manager Bob Melvin was a catcher too, was he able to speak to you in your own language?

DN: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t get to talk to him a whole lot, because he’s concerned with his big league lineup and trying to figure out things with that. But in the time that I got to speak with him, he was very positive. And I know he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and I enjoyed every minute that I got to speak with him about the game in general and just everything.

AF: Was there anything in particular you learned or took away from your experience this spring?

DN: Just adapting to a different environment and different players. I went from having Pudge as the starting catcher in Washington with all his knowledge. And then you go from that to Kurt Suzuki, who’s also one of the premiere catchers in the major leagues, so that was definitely a plus as well.

AF: So both those guys were very open and had a lot to share with you?

DN: Oh, definitely. Kurt couldn’t have been any better to me in spring than he was. He was very open. Any question I had, he answered, and he was always there for anything that I needed.

AF: This is your first year in Triple-A and you’ve been hitting well and hitting for power at Sacramento. In the past, your profile was that of a guy who walked a lot and had a high on-base percentage but didn’t really hit for a high average. But it seems like it’s been just the opposite this year. You’ve been hitting right around .300 all year, but I think it took a while before you even got your first walk this season. So I’m curious to know what’s changed in your approach at the plate.

DN: Yeah, I got with my hitting coach this off-season back home. And we pretty much just broke down my last season because I was very upset with the way that it went. We pretty much just started from scratch and weighed the pros and cons of my season and it just came down to the percentages of me hitting were always with two strikes. And anybody who knows baseball knows that if you’re hitting with two strikes a lot, you’re not going to be hitting for a very good average. So being able to know the difference between seeing pitches and getting in good hitters’ counts and seeing pitches and getting in good pitchers’ counts. So we pretty much just broke that down into, if you get a good pitch to hit early in the count, your percentages are way better of getting a hit than later in the count when there’s two strikes. So that was one of the biggest things – just swinging the bat more at good pitches to hit, but not going out of your strike zone to try and get base hits.

AF: So basically it sounds like just finding those good pitches to hit earlier in the count was the key for you.

DN: Right, instead of later in the count – for sure.

AF: So have there been any particular challenges this year that you feel you’ve really had to work on at this level?

DN: I’m a firm believer that if you come out and you just keep playing everyday, you’re going to get better as long as you don’t take anything for granted. The more you play, the better you get. The more pitches you see, the more innings you play, the better you’re going to get. And that’s really my ultimate goal – to just keep getting better everyday.

AF: Well it seems like they’ve had you behind the plate in Sacramento almost everyday as it is!

DN: Yeah, that’s one thing that I really pride myself on is being back there everyday. I want it to be a surprise when I’m not in there.

Derek Norris – he’s got it, he’s got it! (photo by Sara Molina/Sacramento River Cats)

AF: How do feel about your work behind the plate as a catcher, both defensively and also in terms of game-calling and working with the pitching staff there in Sacramento?

DN: A lot of the guys on this team who I’ve had to work with so far, a lot of us are on the same page, which is pretty hard to do, especially early on in the season because you don’t know a guy’s tendencies and things that they like to throw. As far as game-calling, it’s been pretty smooth thus far, knock on wood. And it’s going pretty well as far as defensively, working with our manager Darren Bush – he stays on me all the time with my work, and it just keeps improving everyday.

AF: How have you enjoyed playing in Sacramento and playing at Raley Field?

DN: Well, it’s been great so far. We’ve had pretty good crowds. And we’ve put together a pretty good team to put out there every night. And our team, they’re just a great group of guys, and we meld together real well, and it’s been a great experience so far.

AF: So who are your best friends on the team? Who do you usually spend your free time hanging out with?

DN: I try to get to know different guys as much as I can. But I actually lived just down the road from Travis Banwart. We went to the same high school and everything – we kind of grew up together. So if I were to pick one guy, it’d probably be him.

AF: That’s right, I forgot he was a Kansan too. So do you have any particular goals for yourself for the rest of the season? Is there anything in particular you’d like to accomplish?

DN: I try not to set myself any particular goals, except for just coming out here and giving 100% everyday and just try to win every ballgame.

AF: And try and get in every ballgame too I guess!

DN: Yeah, try and get in every ballgame I can – that’s right!

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

 

Exclusive: A’s Assistant GM David Forst Gives the Lowdown on Off-Season Acquisitions and A’s Top Prospects – Part 2

A’s Assistant General Manager David Forst

Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s assistant general manager David Forst, where he gave us the lowdown on Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and more. In Part 2, we’ll cover Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and more top A’s prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

AF: Well, the final big off-season trade was the one with the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. The main guy you got back in that deal was Josh Reddick. And I imagine you’ve got to be feeling pretty good about him at this point.

DF: Yeah, very good. I don’t think we knew ourselves that Josh would be capable of stepping right into the middle of the lineup and hitting the way he has and obviously hitting in the 3-hole for us pretty much all season. He’s really been our most consistent guy. We knew he was a good hitter, and we knew he was going to be an above average right fielder, but he has exceeded even our own expectations. So we’re very happy with Josh at this point, and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t continue to hit in the middle of the lineup here.

Josh Reddick

AF: It seems like he’s making a lot of fans in Oakland real quick.

DF: Yeah, he is a fan favorite as well. He’s got a little bit of personality to him, which never hurts.

AF: Well it’s my theory that A’s fans are always fond of long-haired outfielders (Eric Byrnes, Nick Swisher, even briefly, Travis Buck).

DF: Well, I’ll have to see how many of those we can corner.

AF: The other hitter in that deal was infielder Miles Head, who’s been putting up great numbers at Stockton this year. You’ve got to be pretty pleased with him as well.

Miles Head

DF: Yeah, he’s been outstanding. He just turned 21 a week ago. To come into his first exposure at High-A and put up those kind of numbers has been outstanding. And playing third base for the most part, a position that he hasn’t played in a while, and he’s been pretty good over there too. He’s been the best guy on that Stockton team to date and one of our most consistent hitters in all the minor leagues. Miles has done a great job.

AF: Do you see him spending a full season at Class-A, or might he get bumped up if he keeps hitting like he has?

DF: I think we’re open to having him move. We’re talking about just a 100 plus at bats right now. And you’d like to see a guy do it for probably at least twice that long. Our history in terms of moving guys up from the California League to Double-A has been to make them do it for at least a full half-season and then see where they are because it is a huge jump. People talk about the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues obviously being the toughest. But to go from A-Ball to Double-A is a significant jump and you’re really facing a different level of pitcher there, so you want to make sure guys are ready before you make that decision.

Raul Alcantara

AF: The final guy in that deal was pitcher Raul Alcantara, who’s just 19 years old. And he’s been a little inconsistent at Burlington so far.

DF: Yeah, Raul will pitch all year at 19, so age is very much on his side. But like you said, he’s been kind of inconsistent. He had a very good start two starts ago where he threw 6 shutout innings and then came out the other day and walked 7 guys in 4 1/3 innings. So it’s a pretty typical trend line for a young kid first time in full-season ball. We weren’t even going to send him out to a full-season team after spring training, but he had a good camp and our guys liked the progress he was making. He really is very much in the development stage, working on both his secondary pitches and fastball command – the basic fundamentals you need a young pitcher to work on. And while he’s there, he’s holding his own, which is what you sort of hope for out of a 19-year-old.

Michael Choice

AF: Okay, now getting beyond the off-season deals, there are some other guys in the system who people are always interested in finding out more about. And the guy who’s always at the top of that list is former first-round draft pick Michael Choice, who’s been playing at Midland and just hit his second homer of the year the other day. (He’s since hit his third).

DF: I don’t totally know what to make of the power numbers right now, other than to say that we’re not at all concerned about him. I think one thing you know for sure with Michael is that he’s going to hit for power. So I would imagine that we’re going to see a spurt here at some point where he puts together 5 or 6 home runs in a week and brings those numbers right back up. The nice thing is he’s maintained the average in Double-A that he put together in A-Ball last year. He’s walking, his on-base has been right around .350 all year, and he’s out there everyday and healthy. So I think there are a lot of good indicators when it comes to Michael, and we have no doubt the power numbers will catch up.

Sonny Gray

AF: I’ve noticed he has been getting on base at a pretty regular clip anyway, which is always good to see. Another guy at Midland who everyone’s had their eye on who’s also been a little spotty so far is last year’s first-round draft pick Sonny Gray.

DF: Yeah, I think we all had high expectations because of where Sonny was drafted and frankly how well he came out of the gate last year with his 20 innings in Double-A, which no one really expected him to do. So when you look and his ERA’s in the mid-fours and he’s not quite striking out a batter an inning, we obviously all had high expectations. But again, in Sonny’s first year out, he’s holding his own in Double-A and his stuff has been very good every time out. (Director of player development) Keith Lieppman was in there recently and was raving about his breaking ball as a major league out pitch. And I think it’s just a matter of time before Sonny figures it out and his command gets better and he starts putting up some dominating starts at that level.

Sean Doolittle

AF: Another guy at Midland who’s a really interesting story is Sean Doolittle, who started out great at Stockton and was bumped up to Midland and so far has looked really good there too.

DF: Yeah, Sean has the potential to be a great story. Obviously, everybody knows what a great prospect he was as a position player. Unfortunately, his body just didn’t allow him to do it. But he’s now put together, between Stockton and Midland, I think 14 innings where he’s struck out 28 guys or something, and he’s touching 95-97 mph just about every time out. Obviously with a guy like that, you know his fastball’s going to play and it’s just a matter of working on his changeup and breaking ball. And that’s something we’ve stressed with Sean – not to just throw fastballs by guys but make sure he’s working on that other stuff. But as long as he continues to have success like that, then he’s going to move up the chain.

Ian Krol

AF: Besides A.J. Cole, there are a few other highly-regarded pitchers who’ve also been struggling at Stockton so far this year – guys like Ian Krol and Blake Hassebrock. I think they’ve both had some injury issues too. I know Krol’s on his way back, but is Hassebrock likely to be out for a while?

DF: He’s got an oblique issue that’s been bothering him, so he’s not quite back to throwing yet. He’s been out almost two full weeks now I believe. But yeah, Blake struggled a little bit before he went on the DL. We’re not going to see him pitch I would guess for another few weeks. And Ian just got back from his own DL stint. He pulled a groin a couple of outings ago and missed about two weeks, but he threw three innings the other night and seems to be back on track. That whole Stockton rotation right now is struggling. And it’s a tough place for pitchers. There are a lot of ballparks there where the ball flies, and you’ve got some older hitters spread out throughout the league. So it’s going to take some time for these guys to adjust. But their stuff is good and, for the most part, their arms are healthy. But Blake Treinen and T.J. Walz are doing a nice job. You’ve got a good group. I think it’s just going to take a while for them to put it together.

Drew Granier

AF: Yeah, Walz has really been the best starter so far at Stockton. And then down at Burlington, Sean Murphy and Drew Granier have both looked really good. I don’t know if their performances have been a bit of a pleasant surprise for you.

DF: Yeah, they’ve definitely opened up some eyes with their performance there and are in the conversation to move up at some point. Both guys have done well. Burlington’s right around .500, with not a lot of offensive performance to date. So it’s clearly been the pitching staff’s that’s carried them, and those guys you mentioned have been as good as anyone.

AF: I think they were both 32nd and 33rd round draft picks.

DF: Yeah, exactly, and they went out and had decent summers last year. But you really can’t evaluate these guys until they get into full-season ball. And they’ve both been very good.

Dusty Robinson

AF: The one guy who’s really been driving the offense at Burlington so far this year is outfielder Dusty Robinson, who’s been looking like a real power prospect.

DF: Yeah, his slugging numbers have been good from day one. He’s a guy we really did like out of the draft last year. He didn’t go in a premium position, but J.T. Stotts, our area scout, was very vocal about wanting this guy and feeling like his swing was going to play at the next level. And Dusty’s put up excellent numbers in what is typically a tough hitting environment, between the cold weather there in April and May and some tough parks to hit in. But he has been their most consistent offensive performer.

AF: Is there anyone I didn’t bring up who’s prominent on your radar screen and particularly worth mentioning from your point of view?

DF: Nope, you were pretty thorough. I think you’ve covered just about everyone who’s doing all right so far.

AF: Well, hopefully everyone who’s on your radar screen is on A’s Farm’s radar screen!

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

 

Exclusive: A’s Assistant GM David Forst Gives the Lowdown on Off-Season Acquisitions and A’s Top Prospects – Part 1

David Forst: The future’s so bright he’s gotta wear shades

Now that we’re almost a month and a half into the season, it seems like a good time to reflect on the A’s big off-season moves and try to get a read on how all those new acquisitions have panned out. Of the ten players the A’s acquired in their three big deals with Arizona (for right-hander Trevor Cahill), with Washington (for left-hander Gio Gonzalez), and with Boston (for reliever Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney), five of those players are currently on the major league roster, two are playing at Triple-A, and three are in Class-A. And we decided to get the lowdown on all these players from someone who’s got his finger on the pulse of not only the A’s major league roster but of all the minor teams as well – A’s assistant general manager David Forst.

Forst grew up in southern California, captained the Harvard University baseball team, and played independent ball in the Frontier League before landing an entry level position in the A’s baseball operations department in January of 2000. He’s currently in his ninth season as the A’s assistant general manager and general manager Billy Beane has entrusted him with a broad range of responsibilities that cover just about every aspect of the organization. So he’s the perfect man to give us the inside scoop not only on last off-season’s key acquisitions but also on all the top prospects down on the farm. So without any further ado, let’s go to the tape…

AF: Well, I know the amateur draft is coming up next month. So are you spending a lot of your time prepping for the draft at this point?

DF: I’m actually on the road probably two or three days a week now, but I’m discussing it a lot more than that with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and the guys in the office. The draft is sort of the top of our list right now.

AF: Well you’ve got a lot of high picks this year.

DF: Yeah, we have two comp picks and then an extra second round pick as well.

Jarrod Parker

AF: I wanted to start out getting your take on the players the A’s acquired in all the big off-season deals now that you’ve had a chance to see them up close. So let’s start with the guys you got from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill trade. And obviously the key guy for you in that deal was former first-round draft pick Jarrod Parker, who’s already in the major league rotation for you.

DF: Jarrod’s come a long way just from the beginning of spring training. We knew when we traded for him that the further he got away from that surgery, the more he was going to resemble the prospect that everybody had in the top ten in the game. The second half in Double-A last year, he was getting better – he obviously was good enough for the Diamondbacks to call him up – and we’ve sort of seen that progress continue before our eyes. He had a nice spring training, but he certainly didn’t dominate. In fact, he made one start at the end where he was very disappointing. But he quickly made some adjustments in Triple-A. I think he made four starts down there at Triple-A. His command was better and his stuff was consistently good. We knew we were going to need a fifth starter, and it was the right time to give him an opportunity here. And he’s been outstanding up here. He’s shown no fear here in his first sort of regular stint in the big leagues, and he’s thrown strikes – which are really the two things that you worry about with a young kid coming into this environment, and he’s been outstanding.

AF: And I think he’s got a lower ERA than Trevor Cahill at this point too.

DF: Well, you try not to make that direct comparison. These trades are made for the long haul. But we’re happy with what Jarrod’s given us at the big league level.

Ryan Cook

AF: The other pitcher involved in that deal was reliever Ryan Cook, who’s turned out to be a big part of the A’s bullpen.

DF: Well, I can’t say I expected him to start out with 16 scoreless innings to begin the year, but Ryan’s been phenomenal. We saw a lot of him last year in the minor leagues. We discussed him at the deadline when we made the Brad Ziegler deal, so we had pretty good information on Ryan. In fact, when we made the deal, (Arizona GM) Kevin Towers was very reluctant to part with him. That was sort of the last piece that fell into place for us. We thought we had a good young pitcher on our hands, and he has answered every challenge so far. I think when you look at his stuff and what he’s been able to do in the eighth inning, he’s a guy you can project to be at the back of the bullpen for a long time.

AF: When you look at what he’s done so far, I assume you’ve got to see a potential future closer out there.

DF: Yeah, it’s something we’ve discussed. You never know how guys react until they’re actually there and have to get the last three outs. But just from a pure stuff standpoint, we certainly think Ryan has the potential to do it down the road.

AF: The other guy in that deal was outfielder Collin Cowgill, who is back up with the A’s now. He obviously had great numbers in Triple-A last year. But what do you think of what you’ve seen of him so far?

Collin Cowgill

DF: Collin’s been exactly what we expected. He had a great spring training and made our club out of the gate. Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough at bats for him with the glut of outfielders we had. But he’s come as advertised – he plays the game hard, he’s aggressive, he’s smart in the outfield. I think this guy has a chance, when things sort of shake out, to start in the outfield for us here in the big leagues.

AF: How do you feel about his ability to play center field?

DF: He’s been one of our better guys in center field. Obviously, when Yoenis Cespedes went down, after Coco Crisp having already gone on the disabled list, and we were looking for someone, we called Collin up because we knew he had that skill.

AF: I remember Billy Beane telling me in the spring that you can never have too many guys who are capable of playing center field, and it looks like that’s played out very quickly for you this year.

DF: For sure, not everybody can do it for whatever reason. And we’ve hammered through our depth in that spot pretty quickly.

AF: The next big off-season trade was the one with Washington for Gio Gonzalez. One of those four guys you got in that deal is in the major leagues right now, and that’s Tommy Milone.

Tommy Milone

DF: Well, we knew Tommy was advanced as far as prospects go. And we knew it wouldn’t be long till he was in the big leagues just because when you look at the line he put up last year – you can’t walk 16 guys in a full Triple-A season without really knowing what you’re doing as a pitcher. When we made that deal, he was sort of painted as the fourth guy, and even as the potential throw-in by some outlets. But we knew he had the best chance to impact our major league team right away just because he really had nothing left to prove at Triple-A. And he’s been excellent. It’s no secret he doesn’t have overwhelming stuff or a plus fastball or whatever, but he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. And he’s basically had seven quality starts, a couple of rough ones in the middle, but even in those, he still made some progress and has sort of fit nicely in the middle of our rotation.

AF: I was talking to Anthony Recker in spring training about Milone. And he said that his command was so good that he’s always able to put his pitches where he wants and at least execute the game plan.

DF: For sure, yeah, he’s fun to watch for that reason. You know when he does miss, he meant to miss and it’s for a reason. And I can understand why Recker said that. From a catcher’s standpoint, he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to work with.

AF: And I think he actually has one more win that Gio does at this point.

DF: Well, Gio’s having himself a pretty good year. I’m sure Washington’s very happy with him.

Brad Peacock

AF: Another pitcher who came over in that deal was Brad Peacock. He had a bit of a rough spring and isn’t currently on the major league roster, but he’s been pitching very well at Sacramento so far this year.

DF: Yeah, like you said, much like Jarrod, he didn’t exactly dominate in the spring. But he has gone down to Triple-A and pitched well. He just hasn’t quite gotten that consistency together. He’ll put together two good starts in a row then hit a little bit of a speed bump. But overall, his numbers are good. His ERA’s in the mid-threes and he’s striking out almost one an inning. So for us, watching Brad every time out, you want to see a guy put together four, five, six good starts in a row before you feel pretty good about having him here. And I imagine that time is probably not that far off.

AF: Another guy in that deal who’s currently at Sacramento is catcher Derek Norris. He’s been hitting close to .300 for most of the year. I’m not sure how he’s been looking behind the plate, but his numbers sure have been looking good.

Derek Norris

DF: Derek has sort of turned his offensive numbers on their head a bit. The knock on him was that he couldn’t hit for average, all he did was walk.  I think he got all the way through three or four weeks of the season before getting his third walk of the year, but he was hitting like .360 at the time. And he got raves from the coaching staff from day one on how he handled pitchers and his receiving skills. His throwing numbers have never been in question. He’s always been one of the best guys in the minor leagues as far as throwing out baserunners. He’s in a little bit of a funk right now. I think his average has dropped below .300 for the first time this year. But we couldn’t be happier with his progress on both sides of the ball. He just turned 23 years old and he’s just getting his first taste of Triple-A and he’s hitting close to .300 most of the season and catching every day. We feel very good about Derek.

AF: Do you view him as being major league ready at this stage of the game?

DF: Yeah, I mean you always like a guy to get as much experience in Triple-A as possible, particularly for a catcher, who has to handle a game plan at the highest level and still bring his offense along with him. So if we were in an emergency situation, I think we could feel comfortable with Derek catching everyday up here, which is a good feeling. But it’s also nice to have the luxury of having two guys up here with experience and knowing that you can have him spend time in Triple-A and not lose anything.

A.J. Cole

AF: The final piece of that deal was A.J. Cole, who a lot of folks really considered the top prospect of the bunch and were very excited about. But he’s really been struggling at Stockton so far this year.

DF: Well, yeah, he obviously hasn’t performed how anyone would hope. I know A.J. himself is frustrated. And I’ve spent some time talking with (minor league pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson and (director of player development) Keith Lieppman over the last couple weeks about A.J. to make sure we get a good read on what’s going on. His stuff continues to be outstanding. His fastball tops out at 95 mph almost every time out. Gil saw him pitch just the other day and said his secondary pitches were good. Just for whatever reason right now, he’s getting hit, and it’s pretty consistently every time out. We have actually spent some time talking about the best thing for A.J. – whether that’s heading back to the Midwest League or getting some time off from the rotation, something just to make sure he gets some success under his belt. But the good thing is he’s healthy and his stuff is good. We just need to make some adjustments and get him back on track as far as results are concerned.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s assistant general manager David Forst, in which he gives us the lowdown on Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and more top A’s prospects.

Exclusive: A’s Super Scout (and Moneyball Bad Guy) Grady Fuson Gives the Lowdown on Life in Baseball and A’s Prospects to Watch

Grady Fuson: Keeping his eye on the ball!

Grady Fuson is one of the baseball world’s most respected talent evaluators. He’s spent the past 30 years in pro ball, scouting talent at every level. As the A’s scouting director from 1995-2001, Fuson was responsible for drafting the A’s big three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito over three consecutive years (1997-1999), and then drafted Rich Harden the following year (2000). Prior to that, as the A’s national cross-checker, he was involved in the drafting of Jason Giambi and Ben Grieve, as well as the signing of Miguel Tejada. Many of these players formed the core of some very successful A’s teams, and some went on to contribute to other winning teams as well.

In his final draft as the A’s scouting director, Fuson drafted high school pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in the first round, causing a certain degree of controversy which was touched upon in the best-selling book, Moneyball. While well known and well respected within the baseball fraternity, Grady Fuson probably became best known to the general public when he was portrayed in the film version of Moneyball as the obstinate scout fired by general manager Billy Beane (as played by Brad Pitt) after a dramatic and heated confrontation.

What your average filmgoer doesn’t know is that there was no such firing. Fuson actually left the organization for another opportunity with the Texas Rangers. And he has been back working with the A’s as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane for the past two years now. It turns out that, sometimes, real-life really is more interesting than fiction. And wanting to get a real-life look at a life in baseball, we took the opportunity to talk with Fuson about his journey in baseball as well as to get his take on some of the A’s most intriguing prospects.

Grady Fuson: Rockin' the green & gold in Medford

After coaching baseball at the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s, Grady Fuson got his first opportunity to join the scouting fraternity in 1982 when an old friend (and likely drinking buddy) of Billy Martin’s who had been scouting the northwest area for the A’s retired, and the team asked Fuson if he’d like to take over the territory. He thought the opportunity sounded intriguing and signed on, agreeing to work as an area scout in the northwest. During the spring, he’d keep tabs on all the promising young amateur prospects throughout the region. And during the summer, he’d coach short-season rookie clubs for the organization in such exotic locales as Medford and Idaho Falls.

By 1985, he was given responsibility for the northern California area as well and relocated to the Bay Area for the first time. In 1991, after nearly ten years of beating the bushes for prospects, the team made him their national cross-checker, basically the right-hand man to the scouting director. The position involved personally checking on all the top prospects recommended by the team’s area scouts and getting some perspective on all of them so that the organization could accurately gauge how they all stacked up.

After a few years in that position, a period which included the drafting of future MVP Jason Giambi and future Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve as well as the signing of future MVP Miguel Tejada, Fuson was promoted to the position of scouting director by A’s general manager Sandy Alderson. And thus began what he calls “one of the proudest times of my life” – a time during which the A’s drafted future Cy Young winner Barry Zito as well as future All-Stars Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Rich Harden and Eric Chavez.

Todd Helton: Where have you been all our lives?

But his first draft as the A’s new scouting director involved a very difficult decision – the decision whether or not to draft the promising Cuban exile pitcher, Ariel Prieto (who’s now back with the A’s acting as the interpreter for new Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes).

Todd Helton was my guy the whole time. This guy Ariel Prieto comes out of nowhere in the last month. So I fly in to see him and, boy, he’s really good. So I say, ‘Sandy, there’s a guy here who’s much different than the rest of these amateurs. He’s older, he’s more polished. This guy might be big league ready real fast.’ So we had many pow-wows about which way to go – Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto. And when it all came down to it, he wanted to go that way, and that’s the way we went.”

Needless to say, Ariel Prieto didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and Todd Helton is still playing today. The previous year had seen the A’s draft a sweet-swinging slugger out of Texas in the first round – a strapping young lad by the name of Ben Grieve. The outfielder would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1998, also winning the hearts of A’s fans in the process. But somewhere along the line, his progress seemed to hit a wall, he was traded away by the A’s and, by the time he was 29, he was out of the game altogether. And ever since, A’s fans have been left asking, “What went wrong with Ben Grieve?”

Ben Grieve: We hardly knew ya...

“The passion for the game just left him completely. Something was just missing. But this guy was just born to hit. But what happened? It’s a mind-boggler. He just lost his passion, his energy, his work ethic – to get bigger, to get stronger, to get better. He just took it all for granted. And his body started to slow up at a young age, and things just stopped firing. It’s a very unique story. Still, to this day, his was one of the best swings I’ve ever scouted.”

But after that, the A’s used their top picks wisely, having perhaps as much success in the draft as any team in the game and, in the process, forming the foundation of the winning A’s teams to come.

“One of the things I’ll always be proudest of is, in my years as scouting director, we nailed it on number ones – Chavez in ‘96, Mulder in ‘98, Zito in ‘99, even my last year in ’01 with Bonderman and Crosby. Collectively speaking, we drafted well.”

Grady's Kids: Hudson, Zito & Mulder

During that time, current A’s GM Billy Beane moved up from his position as assistant general manager to take over for long-time general manager Sandy Alderson in a transition that Fuson called “seamless.” The two worked together as general manager and scouting director for four years, acquiring players like Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden during that time. There were clearly some differences of opinion on the drafting of a high school pitcher – Jeremy Bonderman – in the first round of the draft in 2001 (more on that later). But it wasn’t philosophical differences – or any sort of dramatic confrontation – that caused Fuson to part ways with the A’s. It was simply an offer too good to refuse from the rival Texas Rangers following the 2001 season.

“The Rangers called Billy and asked for permission to interview me for GM after Doug Melvin was let go. They invited three guys to come back for a second interview – Dave Dombrowski, John Hart and myself. Tom Hicks ended up choosing John Hart, but he wanted me to come in too. They throw in this assistant GM thing. And they want John Hart as the GM for three years. They want me to come in and overhaul and redo scouting and player development and oversee all that.”

But the A’s front office wasn’t too thrilled with the fact that they had allowed the Rangers to interview Fuson for one position but now he was being offered another.

Grady Fuson: Lone Star King

“Billy made it very, very hard for me to say ‘yes.’ We talked a lot that night before I decided, and he offered me a great deal to stay. His loyalty and belief in me really came out at a different level. But after being with Oakland for twenty years, the opportunity to go somewhere new, oversee player development and scouting and take that next step, was an opportunity in my life that I thought I had to take.”

It wasn’t that easy though. Always looking for an opportunity to improve themselves, the A’s insisted on being compensated for the loss of Fuson. They hoped to wrangle a player like Hank Blalock out of the Rangers but, in the end, settled for a financial compensation package determined by the commissioner. Fuson was reluctant to disclose the level of compensation the A’s received in return for losing his services but did admit, “You could sign a real good player with it.”

Implicit in Fuson’s deal with the Rangers was the understanding that he would be viewed as a sort of GM-in-waiting when the time came for John Hart to step aside. And that time seemed to come in the summer of 2004 when, despite upping the payroll by $40 million to a whopping $110 million, the Rangers were still struggling to win and the pressure on the team to do something was mounting. It was at this time, shortly before the All-Star break, that Fuson claims Rangers owner Tom Hicks came to him and said it was time to make a change.

Tom Hicks: Indian giver?

“He said, ‘I’ve talked to John. At the end of the year, he’s going to step aside. You’re stepping in.’ We agreed on a contract. We agreed on a lot of things. We weren’t going to announce it till after the All-Star break. But during the All-Star break, whether it was John, whether it was Buck Showalter, whether it was some other people, they got Tom to change his mind. And the way they did it really bothered me from a moral and ethical standpoint. And so I said, ‘Well, if John’s going to continue to go forward, then I want to step out.’ So I resigned.”

Fuson says A’s GM Billy Beane was one of the first people to call and offered the opportunity to talk about returning to the A’s. But Fuson ultimately accepted an offer from Padres general manager Kevin Towers to return to his hometown of San Diego. Before long, Fuson’s former boss Sandy Alderson joined the Padres front office, followed shortly thereafter by former A’s assistant GM Paul DePodesta – forming something of an A’s brain trust reunion in San Diego.

Grady Fuson: Good morning San Diego!

But after a few years with the Padres, Jeff Moorad took control of the team and hired new general manager Jed Hoyer. The new GM wanted to bring in his own people and decided to let Fuson go. But after being asked to take his leave, it didn’t take long for another job offer to come. He got a call from Billy Beane that night. And before long, he was back on board as a special assistant to the general manager of the Oakland A’s.

“It’s been great. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m in big league camp. I’m watching all the games, helping evaluate, giving them my opinions on everything. Once the big league club gets set, then my focus is in the minor league camp. Once we break camp, then it’s all amateur draft – all of April, May and part of June – I’m cross-checking. And then in the summer, I hit all of our clubs once or twice, and Oakland. I’ll go in there and sit there for four or five days and get my eyes on the big league club and see what’s going on there. And at the deadline, if he’s got some trades and wants me out seeing some guys prior to some trades before the deadline, then I’ll do that.”

But what about all that Moneyball drama? All those debates over scouts vs. stats? The dinosaurs vs. the young turks? All those heated confrontations? Fuson claims there were no great philosophical debates, only differences of opinions over players. He says he certainly wasn’t anti-statistics and that those fault lines were over-dramatized by the book and the film.

“When I was a national cross-checker, I raised my hand numerous times and said, ‘Have you looked at these numbers?’ I had always used numbers. Granted, as the years go on, we’ve got so many more ways of getting numbers. It’s called ‘metrics’ now. And metrics lead to saber-math. Now we have formulas. We have it all now. But historically, I always used numbers. If there’s anything that people perceived right or wrong, it’s that me and Billy are very passionate about what we do. And so when we do speak, the conversation is filled with passion. He even told me when he brought me back, ‘Despite what some people think, I always thought we had healthy, energetic baseball conversations.’”

Ken Medlock & Brad Pitt: Just like their real-life counterparts, they don't actually hate each other.

Fuson admits that he was initially caught off guard by some of the characterizations in the book.

“After the book came out, I’d already left, and I was a little stunned by some of the things said in there. And I had my time where me and Billy aired it out a little bit. And he was a very gracious listener when I aired it out. Guys were sticking microphones in my face left and right and I was kind of taking the fifth. But I told Billy, ‘It’s time for me to fire a shot across the bough, man.’ The good thing is most people know none of that really ever happened.”

As for the reported draft room tensions, Fuson says that’s par for the course.

“Was there tension at times in the draft room? Of course, that’s what a draft room is. The draft is so important to so many of us that there is tension. But in baseball, there’s always tension, anxiety and questions asked. Your boss asks you a question and you give your opinion and he disagrees, and how do you get to this common ground? Me, I’ve always respected who my boss is. If you tell me I can’t take that player, that player isn’t going to get taken.”

Jeremy Bonderman: Cherchez la Bonderman!

But surely it can’t feel great to find yourself portrayed as a bad guy on the big screen.

“The great thing about me and Billy is, back then, we used to have a lot of baseball discussions. In some of them we disagreed, and some of them we agreed. But the bottom line is they were always good baseball discussions. How that got twisted into me being a bad guy I think just got overblown in one scenario with the Jeremy Bonderman pick. There was some anxiety over the ownership, with them being caught off guard that we took a high school pitcher – that we hadn’t taken one in ten years. And that thing got kind of ugly. Billy certainly put up a big fight the night before the draft as to why we shouldn’t take him. But I was never told not to take the guy, and that’s who we as a group at the time wanted to take. And that got a little overblown, so all of a sudden I became the resistor – I was never a resistor.”

Fuson concludes by saying, “I’m glad I’m back – especially with where the state of the club is!” Fuson’s passion for player development is obvious as he offers his take on the A’s current crop of promising young prospects. And when it comes to the A’s newest acquisition, Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, Fuson is clearly impressed.

“He’s physical. He’s explosive. There’s no doubt this guy can crush a fastball. So now we’ve got to watch, when guys start changing speeds on him, is he going to be able to hold up? But so far, this is a good sign. I joked with Billy and said, ‘You might have underpaid!’”

Michael Choice

Fans of Double-A Midland will be glad to know that they can look forward to seeing the A’s last two first-round draft picks, power-hitting outfielder Michael Choice and hard-throwing right-hander Sonny Gray, donning Rockhounds uniforms this year. Besides Cespedes, Fuson thinks Choice may be the best pure power hitter in the organization.

“He’s just a very explosive hitter, probably one of the most explosive hitters in the minor leagues right now. This guy has learned a few things and he’s made adjustments. We shoved him right into the California League. We had some expectations and he achieved them. He cut his strikeouts down and shortened up his stride. He’s probably one of the biggest potential power hitters we’ve signed here in a long time. And he’s not just power-oriented. This guy has speed, defensive ability, arm strength – he’s got the package. And it’s just all about us grooming this guy and developing that package.”

Sonny Gray

As for Gray, he thinks the gritty right-hander’s repertoire needs a few refinements but, other than that, he seems to think he’s got what it takes.

“We’re looking at him really developing this changeup that we’ve shoved down his throat since we signed him. And he wants it as bad as we want to give it to him – because everything he throws is hard and snaps. And he’s gotten away in college without really developing this off-speed something to slow hitters down with. We made him throw it almost every other pitch in the instructional league. And he’s digging it – he wants to throw it. He’s a bright kid. And when it comes to all the other attributes, he’s just a tremendous kid – he’s a competitor. His athleticism, his competitiveness, his will to win, those things go a long way.”

Another particularly intriguing prospect is former 2007 first-round draft pick Sean Doolittle, originally drafted as a first baseman but now, due to injuries, trying to make it as a pitcher. He’s likely to start the year working on his repertoire at Single-A. But, so far, he’s been throwing well and, if he continues to do so, he could move his way up through the ranks quickly.

“His transition has been so fast. He just picked up a ball at the end of the summer. And then basically his first official training back on the mound since college was in instructional league. And now he’s got a couple scoreless innings in big league camp. But the transition’s been great. It’s been easy. He’s taken to it real quick. He’s got a couple of very instinctual knacks in his pitching. The breaking ball needs to be developed, but he’s going to be a nice addition.”

And when it comes to assessing the current state of the A’s organization, Fuson’s love of player development shows through: “We are, to some degree, in a rebuild mode. Look, I always want to put a ring on my finger, but I like building – I like getting better!”

 

We asked Grady Fuson to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system that we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got:

-GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH-

Blake Hassebrock

Blake Hassebrock

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age: 22 / Drafted: 8th Round – 2010

Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports

There’s a lot of upside to him. He’s got power in his arm. He’s got a hard breaking ball. The changeup is a developing pitch for him. He’s got good angles. He’s got good planes. It’s just about him learning the touch and feel part of being a starter. He was fairly dominant at Single-A Burlington last year. He was drafted in the 8th round in 2010. If you get a chance to see him, you’re going to like what you see.

 

Yordy Cabrera

Yordy Cabrera

Right-handed Hitting Shortstop

Age: 21 / Drafted: 2nd Round – 2010

Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports

He’s a big key to our system. He was an older high school guy when we took him last year in the draft. He was held back when he was younger so that he could have an extra year of learning English. He was born and raised in the Dominican and his family had moved to the States. He’s physical, he’s big, he’s strong, he runs and he throws. It’s all about learning the nuances. He didn’t have the kind of year we expected, or even he expected, last year in Burlington. But he’s going to be given an opportunity to go to the California League at the age of 21 and see what this young man can do. But there’s impact to his whole game.

 

Jermaine Mitchell

Jermaine Mitchell

Left-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age: 27 / Drafted: 5th Round – 2006

Expected To Start 2012 With: Sacramento Rivercats

I think the next step for him determines a lot of what we do in the future here in Oakland. Jermaine was a kid they’d signed years ago who was gifted and had raw tools. It’s taken a long time for these tools to apply themselves to performance. When I first came back here in 2010, Jermaine was almost on the verge of release. But you just can’t release players like this. They’re just too talented. You can’t replace them, so you might as well keep playing them. And things have really turned for this kid. He started to put it together in 2010, and everyone saw what he did last year. He’s a dynamic, gifted athlete who has a chance to do everything in the game. Those type of players are so difficult to acquire – a dynamic speed guy in center, somebody you can trust is going to do something offensively. There’s no doubt that he’s going to make some decisions possible if, in fact, he continues to back up what he’s done at the Triple-A level. He’s that dynamic of an athlete.

 

 

 

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