Minor League Teams

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

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bRick Rodriguez served as the long-time pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats, where he had a hand in developing a number of the A’s most talented pitchers over the past many years. When the A’s Triple-A affiliate moved to Nashville last season, the northern California native remained on the west coast with the Single-A Stockton Ports. But this year, he’s back in Triple-A with the Sounds helping to develop another crop of talented young arms for the A’s.

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

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

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRodriguez, Rick2AF:  Well, we’ve checked in with you each of the past four seasons, but this is the first time you haven’t been in California. You’ve been a coach with Oakland, Stockton and the Sacramento River Cats, and you pitched for both the A’s and Giants, so when’s the last time in your career that you actually spent a full season outside of California?

RR:  It might have been back twenty-something years when I was with the Cleveland Indians back in 1988. That might have been the last time. But yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve been out of the state.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about a few of the arms you’ve got here at Nashville this year, some of whom you actually had for part of the year with Stockton last year too. Let’s start with Dillon Overton, who came back from Tommy John surgery. He’s had a great year here at Nashville and he’s been up and down a bit with Oakland. So what have you seen out of him here at Nashville this year and what does he need to do to get over the hump to become a long-term major league pitcher?

do592614dRR:  When he first started here, I think he was trying to feel himself out in the league. Now that he’s had some innings in, he feels comfortable here. He knows he can pitch at this level and at the next. Basically, the same as last year – he has good command of his fastball and a great changeup. He’s still working on his curveball, and he’s added a cut fastball – and I think that’s kind of helped him. And once he gets that cut fastball and maybe a little bit more consistency on his curveball, then he’ll be ready to handle all the big league hitters up there.

AF:  Is his velocity about where it was last year when you had him at Stcokton or has it changed it all?

RR:  It’s probably about the same. On any given start, sometimes it’s a little higher or maybe a little lower, but it’s roughly about the same. But his location has been very consistent.

AF:  Well, his command is obviously the thing for him. Another guy you had for a bit at Stockton last year is Daniel Mengden. He obviously got off to a great start this year, both at Midland and here at Nashville. And his first four starts for Oakland were really solid as well. So what really enabled him to make that leap this year and what does he need to do to get back to that level again?

dm596043bRR:  One thing that he was doing here was he was very consistent at getting ahead of hitters and, when he was ahead of hitters, he was able to put them away. I think that’s what he needs to get back to, and I think that’s what he needs to do to get over that hump in Oakland. He was doing that really, really well for the first few starts. Then it kind of got away from him and he was getting deeper into counts. So getting him back to where he was here – like I said, he was being able to put hitters away early in the count with his pitches. He’s another guy who has tremendous stuff and tremendous command. You know, sometimes you might get a little off-kilter, so we’re just trying to get him back on line.

AF:  It seemed like he had a lot more first-pitch strikes down here and in his first few starts with Oakland than in his last few starts there anyway.

RR:  Yeah, that’s what he was telling me when he came in and I talked to him for a little bit. I just told him, “Hey, we’re going to get you back right where you were and you’re going to be back up there.”

AF:  So I guess he knows what he needs to work on then – no one needs to tell him.

RR:  He knows what he needs to work on. He’s well aware of it and he’s ready to do it.

ra593417cAF:  Now a guy who’s had a couple of great starts since coming up here is Raul Alcantara. He was a little hot and cold this year at Midland, but he comes up here and he doesn’t seem to want to walk anyone or give up a run or anything. So what do you think of what you’ve seen out of him here at Nashville so far?

RR:  Well, he’s another guy I had in Stockton last year! He’s shown very good command of his fastball. Last year the velocity was there, the command was okay. His command of his fastball is a lot better. His changeup is kind of what I remember. It’s almost like a split-action type – it’s late, it’s hard, it goes down, hitters swing at it. He’s still working on his curveball to get that a little more consistent break – and I’ve seen more consistency in the action on the curveball. It still needs to be a little bit more improved but, other than that, he’s dominating so far. I hope it keeps going, especially the no walks!

AF:  Yeah, I’m sure that makes a pitching coach’s life a whole lot easier! Now Jesse Hahn has been up and down this season, but his last start in Oakland was really on point. But why do you feel he’s had the struggles he’s had this year, where do you think he’s at right now and what’s he got to do to get back to where he was?

jh534910bRR:  I think he’s right where he wants to be. Right when he was called up, he was working all his mechanical issues out and he was in a rhythm and it showed up there in Oakland. And we’re just going to continue the work that we’ve been doing here with his rhythm and tempo and mechanics. The one thing that I think he needs to do is just be consistent in his outings, pitch by pitch, just be consistent – that’s a big thing for him.

AF:  One guy out of the bullpen it seems has been overlooked a bit this year is Tucker Healy. He’s certainly been racking up the strikeouts at a good pace. What have you seen out of him here this year?

RR:  I had Tucker a couple years ago his first time in Sacramento, and now here. And the big difference is he’s matured in that he knows how to handle the hitters. He’s very aggressive, he goes right after them. He’s got command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and he’s got that nasty slider that he throws. He just comes right at you – and that’s the biggest thing. I told him, “You look more confident in that you know what you want to do up here.”

AF:  Is there anyone else on the staff who you feel has really made significant progress over the course of the year here?

RR:  Oh man, everybody! Patrick Schuster is a guy who got off to a tremendous start. He’s a left-handed guy who’s more than a left-handed specialist. He did very well here and got a promotion up to Oakland. He’s back down here now, but I look forward to him going back up. Ryan Brasier has been throwing the ball very well. He’s got a power fastball and a good hard slider, and I’m looking for good things out of him.

 

ERIC MARTINS

emMartins, Eric2AF:  Let’s start out by talking about a couple of guys you had here this year who are now in Oakland. Catcher Bruce Maxwell really went on quite a tear here in Nashville before he went up and something really seemed to click for him here lately.

EM:  Well, that’s one of my special ones. They’re all special to me, but Bruce and I had a really good relationship. We tried to change him in the past to make him more of a pull power guy. And I came in last year and said, “Hey, let’s make you the hitter that you are and we’ll work on our pull side home runs.” And he’s really grinded it out and really gotten after it and set up a good routine and got back to being the hitter that he was comfortable being in college. Now everything’s kind of clicking on all cyclinders. Starting in spring training, he made some adjustments to his stance and his swing, and he really took off with it. Things just started to come together for him and he went on an impressive run. He’s one of the hardest-working guys around. He’s usually here before everybody – he’s here at 11 o’clock, he’s out stretching, he’s doing his routine – and we’ll just talk hitting. He’s one of those guys who’s real receptive and real into what he’s trying to do and takes instruction and suggestions well and runs with it. And it’s good to see him doing what he did finally.

AF:  Another guy you had here for a brief period of time before he went up to Oakland is infielder Ryon Healy, who was hot from day one this season. So what was working for Ryon Healy and what was he doing right this season?

rh592387bEM:  Well, we all know Healy can hit. I had him last year too and he had a great season in Double-A. The power numbers weren’t there and I just kept preaching to him, “Be a hitter first, your power’s going to come.” And I got to see him this offseason out in southern California. I got to work with him and Matt Chapman and couple other guys a lot during the offseason. And, of course, he was disappointed with spring training, not coming into big league camp, and having to go back to Midland. And he used that as fuel for his fire to prove people wrong. We’d have some conversations and I said, “Hey, just use that against them, force their hand.” And he did it. He came here and he was with his buddies, and there was a comfort level with his teammates and with myself, and we just kept him on track. He’s special hitter, and he understands his swing. And he’s another that I’m proud of. Just seeing him going up and having success and doing well up there, we all know what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on kind of a similar path as Healy this year is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He started out the year back at Midland, hit well there and came up here to Nashville and has continued to hit well here. So what kind of improvements have you seen out of Brugman this year?

jb595144bEM:  Brugman is just a great baseball player. He can go out and play all three outfield positions and play them well. He made some tweaks with his hands in the Arizona Fall League. When I saw him in spring training, that obviously was noticeable. And he really liked it – it got him into a better position to be able to drive balls a little bit more. He’s just a smart hitter, he really studies the pitchers. He has a real solid approach, he doesn’t stray away from his approach, and he’s going to give you a quality at-bat every time he’s up there. He’s done a great job. He went on a tear when he first got here where he was carrying the team, and it was unbelievable. I had Bruggy last year, and seeing him carry us through the playoffs was outstanding – and the year before, when he hit like ten home runs in ten games at Stockton. So he’s got that capability in him. Like I said, he’s going to give you a quality at-bat, he’s not going to back down lefty or righty, he studies the pitchers and he stays true to his approach.

AF:  Now Matt Olson started out the season kind of slow, but it seems like maybe things are starting to click a bit for him lately. Can you tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at now?

mo621566EM:  You know, people seem to forget how young this team is. He’s only 22 years old playing in Triple-A, facing guys who have been up and down in the big leagues probably for the last five or six years, even when he was still in high school. I think the biggest adjustment for him was just understanding how pitchers were going to pitch him. They started playing him in the shift a little bit early in the year, which took away a lot of hits. Once again, he’s in another non-hitter-friendly ballpark. So all that taken into consideration, he’s handled it well and he’s stayed true to form. And we’ve made some adjustments with his approach. There’s a couple of little mechanical things with him. He was kind of coming off balls, and teams were trying to pound him in, and he was probably going out of the zone inside. So we kind of changed him staying over the ball a little bit and working on driving the ball to left-center field, and he’s kind of run with it. He’s finally taken it and stuck with it for a while and not given in to what the pitcher’s trying to do to him, but getting a good pitch for him to hit. And the last three weeks or whatever, he’s stayed true to form. He’s staying in there and having really good at-bats, and now he’s starting to show what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on a bit of a similar track as Olson is shortstop Chad Pinder. He started out the season a little slow as well but wound up being a Triple-A All-Star. So tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at at this point.

EM:  Like I said with Olson, just being young in this league and understanding how pitchers are going to pitch him. He’s coming off a Texas League MVP, so pitchers and other teams know about Pinder. So he’s just going to have to go out and really understand what they’re going to try to do to him. Probably about a month or a month and a half into the season, we did a little mechanical change where we spread him out a little bit to get him to a strong part of the field, which is right-center field. And he really took off then, had a real good June, carried the team, and started hitting some home runs and started driving the ball the other way. And now we’ve kind of stood him back up to where he normally is because now he’s sound on those balls out over the plate. You know, Pinder’s another one of those guys who’s just a hard-nosed player – he wants to win, he doesn’t care too much about his stats, he’s a baseball player, he’s a gamer, he’s a guy who’s going to go out and give you 110% each day. And it’s fun to see him develop into the hitter that he is. He’s a smart guy, he understands what he wants to do. He’ll go through his little spurts every once in a while, but he easily corrects himself. And if I see something, I can tell him, and he’s quick to make an adjustment. And he’s another guy, this core that we have, that’s special.

cp640461cAF:  As a former infielder yourself, I don’t know how much time you’ve spent with him in the field. But he had a lot of throwing errors, especially early in the season. So is there anything you noticed that was casuing him to be off with his throwing this year?

EM:  Yeah, he worked a lot with Ron Washington during spring training, which was outstanding – Wash is the best that there is. Pinder’s more of a rhythmic infielder, and a lot of the stuff that he did with Wash was hand work and stuff like that. But he kind of forgot how to be in rhythm with his feet, so that’s why his hands and his feet weren’t working and he was losing his arm slot a little bit. And you know, it was really bothering him. And me having him last year and getting to work with him in the infield, I kind of started noticing some stuff and we kind of got him back into being a little bit more rhythmic and doing the stuff that Wash has and incorporating his footwork on top of that with his throws. And I think he made like thirteen errors in the first month of the season, and in the last two months it’s only been like eight or nine. So he’s on top of it. We seem to forget that last year was his first full year playing shortstop too, so he’s still kind of learning some things. He’s picked up a lot from Wash, which has been outstanding. His hands are…I can’t say enough about Wash and what he does with the infielders!

AF:  So I guess you can definitely see the difference between pre-Wash Pinder and post-Wash Pinder!

EM:  Absolutely! So now he’s started incorporating his feet and his arm slot has gotten in a better throwing position, and now he’s right where he needs to be.

AF:  And one last guy to ask you about, third baseman Renato Nunez. He started out the season as probably this team’s best hitter. He still leads the team in home runs, but he’s had some struggles of late. So what’s been going on with him and what kind of challenges is he facing at this stage of the game?

EM:  I think Renato’s the same way – he’s 22 years old. Early in the year, he was just one of those guys who was locked in, and then the league figured him out a little bit. And he started having some at-bats where he was kind of chasing some balls and started looking for some pitches they wanted to get him out with instead of looking for pitches that he wanted to hit. So it was an ongoing struggle with an approach with him – nothing too mechanical – I think with him it was just trying to do a little bit too much. He started on fire, and I think he felt that if he just kept it going he could be there instead of Healy.

rn600524eAF:  Hey, this is going to be easy!

EM:  But you know what, this game humbled him real quick. But he’s a hard worker. I don’t really worry about him because he can hit – he’s a hitter, he has power, he’s got a chance to be a special guy in the middle of the lineup, hopefully for us. But he’s getting back now. His last week’s at-bats have been outstanding. Yesterday he had four quality at-bats and barreled up four baseballs and had one hit to show for it, but he had a sac fly. So it’s just him getting used to looking for his pitch and not trying to hit the pitch that he thinks the pitcher’s going to try to get him out with.

AF:  Now I know you started out as a scout for the A’s. So what made you want to switch over to coaching?

EM:  Well, I love scouting, I can’t thank [A’s scouting director] Erick Kubota enough for giving me an opportunity when I was done playing. I’d always done instructional league, which I love – I love being on the field, I love being around the players. And [A’s director of player development] Keith Lieppman called me a couple offseasons ago. I had drafted Daniel Robertson, and he was going to be in Midland last year – I’m not saying he was the reason why I took the coaching job but it was a good opportunity for me to be around him and that core group of guys that he came up with and see him flourish and help those guys. It was a situation where I thought I was ready to get back on the field. And I love the fact that I did it. Like I said, I love scouting and I love the scouting department. But now, having done both, it’s just opened up my eyes a lot. The scouting has helped me help these hitters on top of it, and I just really enjoy being around these guys.

AF:  So have you found it more fulfilling to have the opportunity to work a little more hands-on with these guys?

EM:  You know, both work. But now that I have an opportunity to work with these kids in Double-A and Triple-A and see them get to the big leagues and see that you have a little bit of a part in it…but with these guys, it’s all their ability. We just kind of keep guiding them in the right direction and give them some suggestions to help them out and that’s fulfilling. You see Bruce Maxwell and Ryon Healy up there, having had them the last couple years, it really is fulfilling seeing those guys up there performing.

*          *          *

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

Dillon Overton & Daniel Mengden on the Ups and Downs of Pitching

A wave of pitching injuries for the A’s this season has opened the door for a number of the team’s top pitching prospects to make their debuts in the major leagues a little sooner than expected. Sean Manaea was one of the first to get the call but many others soon followed, including right-hander Daniel Mengden and left-hander Dillon Overton. Both were dominating at Triple-A when they got the call. And both have been up and down a bit between Oakland and Nashville since, with neither laying claim to a permanent spot in the A’s rotation quite yet.

We had the opportunity to interview Mengden in the Oakland clubhouse just a couple of weeks ago. And we then had the chance to catch up with him and Overton for this piece just a couple of days after Mengden had arrived back in Nashville and just a couple of days before Overton was recalled to make his most recent start for the A’s.

 

DILLON OVERTON

do592614dThe A’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2013, Overton underwent Tommy John surgery just shortly after being selected by the A’s in the amateur draft. And roughly three years after being drafted and undergoing surgery, the 24-year-old made his major league debut with the A’s this June. The Oklahoma native has had an outstanding season at Triple-A for Nashville, and his 3.21 ERA still ranks as the third best in the Pacific Coast League. Overton has made four starts over three separate stints with Oakland so far this season, and he’s hoping to have a chance to stick around for more…

AF:  Well, this has been a big year for you. After having the Tommy John surgery and working your way back from that, you made it up to the majors this year. So how do you feel about the journey that you’ve been through?

DO:  You know, the process after you have Tommy John surgery is always an extremely long one. It’s not only a grind on your body, but it’s also a grind on your mind. And to be able to have the season that I’ve had this year, to start in Triple-A and make it to the big leagues, it’s awesome. I’m extremely blessed, and I’m happy with the way the season’s been going so far.

AF:  Now you’ve had a very good season here at Nashville. Are there any particular adjustments you’ve made to have the success that you’ve had here at this level this year?

DO:  Just staying on top of my pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone. The higher you move up in the system, the better the hitters get. A lot of the guys who are in Triple-A right now have been in the big leagues too. So you’re facing the same caliber of hitters as you would in the big leagues. I mean, some of them might be a little better in the big leagues. But it’s really no different – it’s just a different type of stage and a little more pressure. But I’ve been extremely blessed with the way the season’s been going and I’m happy with how I’ve done here at Triple-A, and hopefully I can get to the big leagues to stay there.

AF:  You’ve seemed to have very good command since coming back from the surgery. Did you always have excellent command throughout your college career as well?

DO:  Yeah, I’ve always prided myself on not walking many people every time I set foot on the mound, and I’ve been that way ever since I was a kid. I don’t like throwing balls – I hate it actually. But my command’s always been there, usually with every single pitch that I throw, so hopefully I can keep that going.

AF:  You’ve been back and forth a bit between here and Oakland of late, and you’re about to be going back there again. So what’s it like doing all that bouncing back and forth. Is it a little stressful or disorienting at all?

DO:  I mean, yeah, it’s not so much stressful, it’s more just tiring. But, then again, you really don’t care as long as you’re getting in big league games. To me, it doesn’t really matter as long as I keep getting those calls. And hopefully the plan is to one day get that call and stay up there.

AF:  Well, I’m sure you’re more than happy to overlook any minor inconveniences along the way!

DO:  Yes, exactly!

AF:  So was there anything different you noticed about the way that big leagues hitters approached you?

DO:  Really, the difference is up there, if you miss your spot, they will make you pay for it usually just about every time. Here you can get away with missing your spot some and they won’t hit it or they don’t put very good contact on it. But up there, if you miss your spot and you put it somewhere over the plate where they like it, they make you pay for it every time. So the few outings I’ve had up there, I think I’ve gotten better each outing I’ve gone up there. And I usually get up there a day before, so I’m able to watch the team that I’m gong to face. So just watching them before I throw, knowing their tendencies and what they do, that helps out a lot.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that the coaches really want you to be working on or focusing on at this stage of the game?

DO:  Really, just being more consistent with my curveball. Before I had surgery, I could throw my curveball at any point in time in any count. It really didn’t matter, I could throw it in there for a strike at all times. And when I had surgery, that kind of slipped away a little bit. I’ve been pretty inconsistent with my curveball. I’ll throw five or six really good ones, and then it’ll leave me for a little bit. So really, I’ve just been working on that and seeing if I can get that more on a consistent basis.

AF:  And how do you feel your velocity’s been this year? Has it been about the same as last year or has it been different at all?

DO:  I actually started out this year at a little bit higher speed than what I started with last year. I started this year about where I finished last year, which is a good sign. They always tell people about two and a half years after Tommy John surgery it starts coming back. But it’s been a really slow process for me velocity-wise with it coming back to where it was before I got hurt. But when you don’t have your velocity that you used to have, it makes you rely on everything else that you’ve got – command, using other pitches – when you used to be able to throw 95 and throw it by people. But I try not to think about it and just try to go with the flow.

AF:  But it does force you to have to be a lot better at everything else you do.

DO:  Yes! I tell myself and I tell a lot of other people, when I do, if I do, finally get that velocity back, it’s just going to make me that much better.

 

DANIEL MENGDEN

dm596043bAcquired from the Astros last summer in the Scott Kazmir trade, Mengden got off to a blazing start at Midland this season and quickly earned a promotion to Nashville, where he continued to impress. And his performance there earned him a promotion to Oakland, where the 23-year-old allowed just eight earned runs in his first four major league starts in June but then gave up twenty-three earned runs over his next five outings in July before returning to Triple-A. While with Oakland, Mengden had the opportunity to live with A’s outfielder Josh Reddick, who helped give him a good introduction to big league life before being dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline…  

AF:  Well, a little over a week ago we were talking in Oakland and now we’re here in Nashville, so let’s catch up! Let’s start out by talking about your time in Oakland. Your first four starts were great, and then the last five were a little rocky. So what do you think was the difference between those first starts up there and then those last starts up there?

DM:  Just execution. I was really good – my strike percentage was really good, my first-pitch strikes were really good – the first couple outings. The last four it wasn’t so good. I was falling behind, not throwing as many strikes, my breaking ball might not have been as crisp. And when I was getting to two strikes, I was stretching counts – you know, 2-2, 3-2. I think I could barely make it to the fifth inning three straight games – I was struggling to get to the fifth. And you know, I was not very good at excuting early. I was just trying to battle through. But besides that, it’s one of those things where you kind of get in a groove and are going really well and sometimes you kind of bounce out of it. You know, your body’s a little banged up all the way around. But we’ll be back on top of it and we’ll be good.

AF:  Do you feel the reason you weren’t executing was more mechanical, more mental, or more from your body just being physically tired?

DM:  I’m not really one for excuses. I’m not trying to blame one or the other. You know, it’s probably a little mix of all three. This is my first full year of throwing on a five-day rotation – I did it a little bit last year towards the end of the year. But I think I only threw 130 innings last year and I’m already at 120 right now. So I think maybe if I had to pinpoint one, my body might be a little banged up all the way around, just fatigued from having to throw every fifth day and not really being used to it. But I’m just trying to get my feet back under me. They told me to come down here and get healthy and I’ll be back soon. So I’m not too worried about it. I’m just trying to get healthy – I’m getting a couple extra days off. I’m really trying to get back into the groove.

AF:  I remember when we last talked a little over a week ago, you’d said, “Some of these major league innings can take a lot out of you.” And it made me wonder if maybe you were physically tiring a little bit at this point in the season.

DM:  Yeah, in the big leagues, winning and losing matters. It’s not that it doesn’t in Triple-A or Double-A, but we’re working on things. Everyone down here’s working on something – actually, probably three or four things – but everyone’s working to get better. So I guess it’s probably a little less stressful in the minors. In the big leagues, with guys on first and second and one out, with these next two hitters you’ve got to really try and get a ground ball, or with a guy on third and one out, you’ve got to try and pop a guy up or strike him out and then get the next guy out. So it is a little more stressful and I think it just fatigues you quicker – those ten pitches are way more intense.

AF:  So how did they tell you that you were going back down?

DM:  Curt Young and Bob Melvin sat me down and they just told me, “Hey, we’re going to send you down.” I had a feeling it was coming anyway. I’d had four or five so-so starts in a row. They just told me to get my feet back under me, don’t worry about it, you know, I’ll be back soon. Don’t know when that will be – could be a week, could be three or four weeks, could be September, could be never. You know, I’m 23 years old and having the chance to throw in the big leagues – which was a life-long dream – so I’m already living the dream at 23! So I’m not too worried about it at all. I’m just trying to get healthy, get feeling good again and hopefully get a shot.

AF:  I know that was a lot more than you expected when you started the year at Midland.

DM:  Yeah, sure. I think I told you, my goal was to make it to the big leagues by September. So I made it there early, but it takes a lot out of you.

AF:  How was facing major league hitters different for you than facing hitters down here in Triple-A?

DM:  Well, one thing is you can’t make a mistake. The moment you make a mistake by two or three inches, it’s a double. You make a mistake by a foot, it’s a home run. Even sometimes you’ll make good pitches and they’ll still get hits out of it. For example, I threw a curveball that was basically in the dirt and Wilson golfs it out for a single and two runs score. So I make a great pitch but, because the guy’s a big league hitter, he finds a way to hit it. That’s why it’s the highest level – you don’t get higher than that – those hitters know what they’re doing. And it’s all about executing…every single pitch matters. And, like I said, I feel like lately my execution has been so-so, and some walks and some two-strike hits have really killed me in certain situations. Not making a good enough pitch just led to problems. And once you make a couple mistakes, major league hitters are going to make you pay. And then it starts snowballing and long innings happen and suck pitches out of you and there you go, you’re at 100 pitches by the fifth inning already.

AF:  Now that you’re back here in Triple-A, what are you primarily trying to focus on doing while you’re down here?

DM:  You know, just the same things that I would up there – trying to get strike one, trying to execute all my pitches, getting early outs. I want to try to emphasize limiting the walks, trying to put the ball in play a little bit. And then, when I get to two strikes, putting them away with four pitches per hitter. You know, get them to 0-2, 1-2, maybe throw a ball and set something up and then get the guy out. It’s not my job to strike them out, it’s my job to get them out. A lot of pitchers really want the strikeouts, and I don’t care. The strikeouts will come when they come. I’m just trying to get early outs to try to lengthen the outings. You know, pitching five innings in the big leagues isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to at least throw six or seven…you’ve got to be able to go deep in the games. So I’m just trying to keep my pitch count a little lower. Walks are, of course, the top priority – limit those to zero hopefully!

AF:  Now I know you were living with Josh Reddick when you were up in Oakland, along with Ryon Healy as well. So where are you living down here in Nashville now?

DM:  Well, I’m in my apartment that I had before I left. I’m living with Chris Jensen now. I originally lived with Eric Surkamp, but we designated him and then he got picked up by Korea, so now he’s playing over there. Chris Jensen got promoted from Double-A, so he’s been living in the apartment without me, and now we’re back together in the apartment. But it was kind of weird with all the speculation and talk about Reddick going around. So I kind of told him, “I appreciate everything you did for me…and how nice you’ve been to me and Ryon.” I was like, “I hope I see you again. If not, I’ll see you on the other side.” So it was kind of a weird goodbye in a way. You know, he’s a great guy and a great mentor. Even though he’s an outfielder and not a pitcher, it doesn’t matter. Taking me and Healy into his house, treating us like he said he was treated when he was brought up – it’s really nice knowing a guy’s taking us under his wing and really being there for us, helping us out with living and transportation. Anything we needed, he was there for us. And I think Ryon would say the exact same thing – we really appreciate everything he did for us. He’s a great overall player, he hustles 24/7, and I love watching him in a game. If he grounds out to short, he runs 100% down to first base. He plays the game the right way and he’s just a great mentor.

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

 

CHAD PINDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

CP:  Nope, not yet.

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

 

MATT OLSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

Talking about Stockton’s Top Prospects with Manager Rick Magnante

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

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

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

RM:  That would be correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  And what about Richie Martin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

 

JAMES HARRIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  The classic Moneyball days!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JH:  Exactly!

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

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

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

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

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

 

JOE BENNIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  Getting into the mind of the enemy!

JB:  Exactly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

Meet Your 2016 Nashville Sounds

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bYesterday we previewed the Oakland A’s 2016 major league roster (here), and today it’s time to take a look ahead at the Triple-A Nashville Sounds roster for the coming season. The Sounds will be beginning their second season as the A’s top affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, with Steve Scarsone returning as the team’s skipper. And many of the organization’s top young hitting prospects, including Matt Olson, Chad Pinder and Renato Nunez, are expected to make their Triple-A debuts at Nashville this season. The organization typically likes to start the season with 12 position players and 13 pitchers on the Triple-A roster, so let’s take a look at the players who are most likely to find themselves filling out the Nashville Sounds opening day roster in 2016.

 

CATCHERS

Carson Blair

Carson Blair

As things currently stand, it looks like last year’s primary catching corps at Midland could be taking over at Nashville this season. In 2015, Carson Blair made it all the way from Midland to Oakland over the course of his first season in the system after signing on as a minor league free agent, and he should start the year at Nashville as the most likely candidate to get the call should the A’s need reinforcements behind the plate. Bruce Maxwell, who spent all of last season at Midland, appears well-positioned to move up a level and join Blair as part of the Sounds’ 2016 catching combo. There is some chance though that Matt McBride, whom the A’s signed as a minor league free agent, could possibly end up taking over the role as the Sounds’ second catcher. The minor league veteran has primarily served as an outfielder and first baseman of late and hasn’t appeared behind the plate since 2013, but he has caught 169 minor league games and the A’s do currently have him listed among the catching corps on the team’s list of non-roster invitees to its major league training camp this spring. Meanwhile, top young catching prospect Jacob Nottingham should be starting the season just one level away at Double-A Midland.

 

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder

Joey Wendle appeared in 137 of Nashville’s 144 games last season and didn’t spend one inning anywhere in the field other than at second base. And the 25-year-old prospect should be the starting second baseman in Music City again next season but, with Andy Parrino gone via free agency, Wendle’s primary double play partner this year is set to to be shortstop Chad Pinder, who is coming off his Texas League MVP season. The versatile Tyler Ladendorf is also likely to get playing time at both middle infield positions and should see some time in the outfield as well. Minor league free agent infielder Josh Rodriguez, whom the A’s signed in the offseason, has spent plenty of time at both middle infield positions as well as at third base but, if Wendle, Pinder and Ladendorf all start the season at Nashville, then Rodriguez could end up being a better fit for the second base spot at Double-A Midland, right across the bag from top shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto.

 

CORNER INFIELDERS

Renato Nunez

Renato Nunez

There should be no shortage of candidates for the corner infield positions at Nashville next season, but there will now be one less name in the mix with the release of first baseman Nate Freiman. Young slugger Renato Nunez will move up from Midland and should get the majority of the starts at third base, while Rangel Ravelo is likely to spend the bulk of his time at first base, with Max Muncy bouncing between both corner infield positions. Top prospect Matt Olson will also see some time at first base, but the slugger actually spent more time in the outfield than at first base during the second half of last season and seems poised to spend much more time in the outfield again next season. And if Nunez, Ravelo, Muncy and Olson all start the season with Nashville, until a roster spot opens up, first baseman/third baseman Ryon Healy may have to start the year repeating a level at Double-A Midland, where 2014’s #1 draft pick for the A’s, Matt Chapman, is likely to be the main man at the hot corner in 2016.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

A trio of outfielders with MLB experience is set to see time in the Sounds’ outfield next season. If Josh Reddick, Billy Burns, Coco Crisp, Mark Canha and Sam Fuld all open the season on the A’s major league roster as expected, then Jake Smolinski will end up starting the year at Nashville, along with 27-year-old outfielder Andrew Lambo (who’s spent time with the Pirates) and 30-year-old outfielder Matt McBride (who’s appeared with the Rockies). Lambo and McBride are also capable of playing first base, and McBride could end up seeing some time behind the plate as well. Top prospect Matt Olson, who, as previously mentioned, spent more time in the outfield than at first base during the second half of last season, will be joining this experienced trio in the Sounds’ outfield mix and should be spending plenty of time roaming the outfield grass at First Tennessee Park as he looks to make his mark at the Triple-A level next season. All four of them will undoubtedly spend some time rotating through the designated hitter slot for the Sounds as well. But since they all are primarily corner outfielders, that could open up the opportunity for Jaycob Brugman to receive the bulk of the starts in center field for the Sounds, with Tyler Ladendorf available to give Brugman a break in center when he’s not busy appearing elsewhere in the infield.

 

STARTING PITCHERS

Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

Since left-handers Sean Nolin and Felix Doubront are both out of options, it seems somewhat unlikely that they’ll be factoring into things at Nashville next season unless either of them could somehow manage to make it through waivers. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be plenty of other viable candidates for the Sounds’ starting rotation though. Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who made nine starts for the A’s late last year, seems as likely as anyone to start the season in the Triple-A rotation. And since the A’s front office has made it sound as if they still view Jarrod Parker as a starter, then Nashville’s rotation would appear to be Parker’s most likely landing spot in the coming season. Right-hander Zach Neal, who was one of the Sounds’ most reliable starters last year, seems like a good bet to open the season in the rotation, as does veteran righty Chris Smith, whom the A’s signed as a minor league free agent after he was solid in 22 starts for the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate at El Paso last year. The final spot in the Sounds’ starting rotation seems likely to go to the A’s top minor league pitching prospect, left-hander Sean Manaea, who was impressive at Double-A Midland last season after coming over from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist deal. And if another spot should open up in the Triple-A rotation due to either injuries or trades, then another left-handed pitching prospect, Dillon Overton, could be in line to make the move up from Midland as well.

 

RELIEF PITCHERS

R.J. Alvarez

R.J. Alvarez

As usual, there are far more deserving candidates for the bullpen at the Triple-A level than there are available spots. The organization usually likes to start the season with eight relievers at Triple-A. And if there’s no room in the reconfigured major league bullpen on opening day for Ryan Dull – especially with Fernando Rodriguez out of options – then the right-hander may find himself waiting in the wings at Nashville to start the season. R.J. Alvarez and the recently-acquired J.B. Wendelken should join Dull as two other promising young righty relievers for the Sounds. Angel Castro, who made his major league debut with the A’s last season, was re-signed as a minor league free agent and will surely be back in the Nashville bullpen, along with returning right-hander Taylor Thompson, likely leaving room on the right side for one of either Ryan Brasier on Aaron Kurcz – and Brasier may hold the edge as he has major league experience and has received an invitation to the A’s major league spring training camp, unlike Kurcz. Meanwhile, Daniel Coulombe, who appeared with the A’s late last season after coming over from the Dodgers, and minor league free agent signee Eric Surkamp, who’s spent time in the majors with the Dodgers, Giants and White Sox, seem set to provide reliable relief options from the left side. Of course, there are plenty of other worthy candidates for spots in the Triple-A bullpen, including a couple of recent minor league free agent signees, lefty Patrick Schuster and righty Eduard Santos, as well as recently-acquired right-hander Trey Cochran-Gill, and organizational stalwarts like Seth Frankoff, Tucker Healy, Ryan Doolittle, Kris Hall and Jeff Urlaub, who’ve all done their duty at the Double-A level.

*          *          *

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

A’s 2016 Minor League Staff

 

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

NASHVILLE SOUNDS (Triple-A)

Manager: Steve Scarsone

Pitching Coach: Rick Rodriguez

Hitting Coach: Eric Martins

Steve Scarsone returns to Triple-A Nashville for the second consecutive season after the Sounds finished 66-78 in 2015. This will be his fourth consecutive season as manager of the A’s Triple-A club and he now has a 634-632 record in nine seasons as a minor league manager, including stints in the A’s system with Midland from 2011-12, Stockton in 2010 and Kane County in 2009. Rick Rodriguez will be the pitching coach after holding that role with Single-A Stockton last year. This is his 32nd season in the A’s organization, which includes seven seasons as a player and two years as bullpen coach in Oakland (2011-12). Eric Martins takes over as hitting coach after making his minor league coaching debut as hitting coach at Midland in 2015. Brad LaRosa returns as the athletic trainer and AJ Seeliger was named strength and conditioning coach.

 

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS (Double-A)

Manager: Ryan Christenson

Pitching Coach: John Wasdin

Hitting Coach: Brian McArn

Ryan Christenson returns to Double-A Midland after guiding the RockHounds to their second consecutive Texas League championship last year. He is now 245-174 in three seasons as a manager and has led his club to the playoffs all three seasons. John Wasdin returns as Christenson’s pitching coach for the fourth consecutive season and Brian McArn moves up from Stockton to take over as hitting coach. This is McArn’s 19th season as hitting coach in the A’s farm system, which includes a stop at Midland in 2004. Justin Whitehouse returns as the athletic trainer and Henry Torres will be the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

STOCKTON PORTS (High-A)

Manager: Rick Magnante

Pitching Coach: Steve Connelly

Hitting Coach: Tommy Everidge

Rick Magnante will manage at Stockton for the second consecutive season following a 74-66 showing in 2015. He is now 531-563 in 13 seasons as a manager in the minors. Steve Connelly is in his first season as the Ports pitching coach after holding that job with Short Season Single-A Vermont in 2014 and Single-A Beloit in 2015. Tommy Everidge joins Stockton as hitting coach after serving in that capacity for Vermont in 2014 and 2015. Travis Tims returns as athletic trainer and Sean Doran takes over as strength and conditioning coach.

 

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

BELOIT SNAPPERS (Class-A)

Manager: Fran Riordan

Pitching Coach: Don Schulze

Hitting Coach: Juan Dilone

Fran Riordan returns to manage Beloit for the second consecutive season after the Snappers finished 55-84 in 2015. He spent the previous 14 years managing in independent leagues. Don Schulze is in his first season as pitching coach at Beloit after spending last year at Nashville. This is 11th season as pitching coach in the A’s farm system. Juan Dilone will be the hitting coach after spending the previous seven years with the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League. Brian Thorson returns as athletic trainer and Matt Rutledge will serve as strength and conditioning coach.

 

Vermont Lake Monsters manager Aaron Nieckula

Vermont Lake Monsters manager Aaron Nieckula

VERMONT LAKE MONSTERS (Class-A Short-Season)

Manager: Aaron Nieckula

Pitching Coach: Carlos Chavez

Hitting Coach: Lloyd Turner

In addition to his duties as the A’s minor league field coordinator, Aaron Nieckula will manage the A’s Short Season club at Vermont for the second consecutive season. It is his 11th year as a manager in the A’s farm system and he has a 649-679 record over the previous 10 seasons. Carlos Chavez returns as pitching coach for the second consecutive year and Lloyd Turner takes over as hitting coach after spending the previous two seasons at Beloit. Toshi Nagahara returns as the athletic trainer and Omar Aguilar is the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Arizona League A's manager Webster Garrison

Arizona League A’s manager Webster Garrison

ARIZONA LEAGUE A’S (Rookie Short-Season)

Manager: Webster Garrison

Pitching Coach: TBA

Hitting Coach: Ruben Escalera

Webster Garrison will be the manager of the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League, his ninth season as manager. He last managed at Stockton in 2013 and has a 534-522 record over his previous eight seasons. This is his 24th season in the A’s organization, which includes 17 years as a minor league manager or coach and seven years as a player. Ruben Escalera will be the hitting coach after managing the club the previous two seasons and Gabe Ortiz will be a coach. Chris Lessner returns as the athletic trainer and Terence Brannic is the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson

Minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson

Minor League Field Coordinator: Aaron Nieckula

Minor League Hitting Coordinator: Jim Eppard

Minor League Pitching Coordinator: Gil Patterson

Minor League Rehab Pitching Coordinator: Craig Lefferts

Minor League Defensive Coordinator: Juan Navarrette

Gil Patterson returns to the A’s organization as minor league pitching coordinator after spending the previous three years in the Yankees organization in a similar role. Patterson was the A’s minor league roving pitching instructor in 1996 and from 2008-12 and also coached in the A’s farm system from 1991-95. Jim Eppard was named minor league hitting coordinator after spending 13 seasons in the Angels organization. He spent the last two years as assistant hitting coordinator after a two-year stint as the Angels major league hitting coach. Juan Navarrete is in his 22nd season with the A’s and will be the minor league defensive coordinator and Craig Lefferts and Aaron Nieckula return for their second consecutive season as minor league rehab pitching coordinator and minor league field coordinator, respectively.

 

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

Renato Nunez Joins Chad Pinder as A’s Top Hitting Prospects in Arizona Fall League while Matt Chapman Is Sidelined with Wrist Injury

afl_rsardpq5_oyouytpm1bWhile most baseball fans are focused on the drama of postseason play in the fall, it’s also an important time for some of the minor leagues’ top prospects. And starting next Tuesday, some of the A’s most promising young prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League. Last year’s top draft pick for the A’s, third baseman Matt Chapman, was originally scheduled to participate, but a lingering wrist injury will leave him sidelined, and he’ll be replaced by fellow third baseman Renato Nunez.

The Arizona Fall League has been going strong for the past couple of decades now, and its schedule runs for about 5-6 weeks from early-October through mid-November. There are 6 teams in the AFL, with each team comprised of prospects from 5 different organizations. A’s prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this year, where they’ll be joined by players from the Angels, Marlins, Cubs and Rays, including former A’s prospect Daniel Robertson.

Attendance at AFL games typically hovers in the 200s, with the crowds comprised largely of scouts, agents and various professional baseball personnel. Most organizations use the AFL as an opportunity to get some of their top prospects a little more live game action to hopefully help advance their development.

Some of the A’s top young hitting prospects will be seeing action in Arizona, including shortstop Chad Pinder and third baseman Renato Nunez along with their Midland teammate, outfielder Jaycob Brugman, while the A’s AFL pitching contingent this year will be comprised of promising left-hander Sean Manaea as well as right-handed relievers Brendan McCurry, Kris Hall and Aaron Kurcz.

 

–A’s Prospects in the AFL in 2015–

 

cpPinder, Chad3Chad Pinder

Shortstop

Age: 23

Midland RockHounds

15 HR / 28 BB / 103 K / .317 AVG / .361 OBP / .486 SLG / .847 OPS

Pinder put together an impressive season while serving as Midland’s starting shortstop this year. The 23-year-old led all A’s minor league regulars with a .317 batting average, while his 86 RBIs were the second-most in the system next to Nashville’s Jason Pridie. Pinder possesses a little pop too, and he posted 15 home runs to go along with 32 doubles in the notoriously difficult hitting environment at Midland. Pinder could still stand to improve his plate discipline a bit though, and he’ll have the opportunity to work on that in the AFL while he prepares to take over as the starting shortstop at Nashville next season.

 

rnNunez, Renato3Renato Nunez

Third Baseman

Age: 21

Midland RockHounds

18 HR / 28 BB / 66 K / .278 AVG / .332 OBP / .480 SLG / .812 OPS

With Matt Chapman sidelined with a wrist injury, Nunez will now get the chance to make his AFL debut in 2015. The 21-year-old put together a solid season at Midland and, despite missing the first month of the season due to injury, still managed to post the third-highest home run total in the A’s minor league system with 18. Nunez also improved his walk and strikeout rates a bit this year while increasing his versatility by making a handful of starts at first base for the RockHounds. And the Venezuelan slugger will now have the opportunity to continue to refine his game in the AFL as he prepares to make his Triple-A debut in 2016.

 

jbBrugman, Jaycob3Jaycob Brugman

Outfielder

Age: 23

Midland RockHounds

6 HR / 62 BB / 89 K / .260 AVG / .343 OBP / .382 SLG / .725 OPS

The A’s 17th-round draft pick in 2013, Brugman is a solid all-around player who doesn’t jump off the page at you but manages to do everything well enough to be a productive performer on the field. The 23-year-old reduced his strikeout rate this season and totaled 8 triples, which were as many as anyone in the A’s system, to go along with 27 doubles, 62 walks and 11 stolen bases. Brugman will try to make a positive impression in the AFL as he hopes to boost his chances of opening the season as a member of Nashville’s starting outfield.

 

sm640455bSean Manaea

Left-Handed Starting Pitcher

Age: 23

Midland RockHounds

42 2/3 IP / 34 H / 9 ER / 15 BB / 51 K / 1.90 ERA / 1.15 WHIP

Manaea came over from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist trade and was impressive in almost every outing for Midland. After finishing the season as the RockHounds’ top starter, the former 1st-round draft pick went on to throw 8 shutout innings in the first game of the Hounds’ three-game sweep of the Texas League Championship Series. The 6’5” lefty missed a lot of time early in the season with a groin injury, so he’ll look to make up for lost time in the AFL as he also attempts to firm up his reputation as the A’s most promising pitching prospect.

 

bmMcCurry, Brendan3Brendan McCurry

Right-Handed Relief Pitcher

Age: 23

Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds

63 IP / 39 H / 13 ER / 17 BB / 82 K / 1.86 ERA / 0.89 WHIP

McCurry was the A’s minor league saves leader this year, notching 21 at Stockton before going on to post 6 for Midland, and he failed to convert just 1 save opportunity all season. The A’s 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 also walked just 17 while striking out 82 in 63 innings and has struck out an average of 11.7 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career. Much like Ryan Dull, McCurry isn’t physically imposing (he’s listed at 5’10” and 165 lbs.), but an impressive stint in the AFL could help put him on the fast track to the majors.

 

khHall, Kris2Kris Hall

Right-Handed Relief Pitcher

Age: 24

Midland RockHounds / Nashville Sounds

74 IP / 61 H / 23 ER / 57 BB / 77 K / 2.80 ERA / 1.59 WHIP

The A’s 8th-round draft pick in 2012, Hall has always put up solid strikeout numbers, but he’s also struggled with control issues throughout his career. The 24-year-old struck out 9.4 and walked 6.9 per 9 innings this season, and he allowed a meager 5 home runs over 74 innings of work. Hall is currently coming off his best season, and he has good stuff, but he’ll be looking to gain greater mastery of his command while working in the AFL.

 

ak594891Aaron Kurcz

Right-Handed Relief Pitcher

Age: 25

Nashville Sounds

26 IP / 29 H / 12 ER / 15 BB / 31 K / 4.15 ERA / 1.69 WHIP

The veteran among the A’s AFL contingent this year, Kurcz came over from Atlanta midseason. He has shown a consistent ability to put up big strikeout totals throughout his minor league career, but he also battles with bouts of wildness at times and has yet to make it to the majors since being drafted by the Cubs back in 2010. The 25-year-old Las Vegas native will be making his second consecutive appearance in the Arizona Fall League after playing for Surprise in 2014.

 

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

A’s Set Fall Instructional League Roster

DSC04060x2

The A’s released their Fall Instructional League roster this week. Camp is set to open at the A’s minor league facilities in Arizona next week and will run for a month.

23 pitchers and 23 position players are currently scheduled to attend. And some high-profile prospects like catcher Jacob Nottingham and pitchers Chris Kohler and Dustin Driver will be participating.

The A’s top four picks from this year’s draft will also be attending – infielders Richie Martin and Mikey White, pitcher Dakota Chalmers and outfielder Skye Bolt. You can check out the full list of A’s prospects who are set to be in camp below…

 

–PITCHERS–

Dakota Chalmers

Dakota Chalmers

Xavier Altamirano

Ivan Andueza

Marc Berube

Boomer Biegalski

Brendan Butler

Dakota Chalmers

Wandisson Charles

Bowdien “Bubba” Derby

Dustin Driver

Mike Fagan

Heath Fillmyer

John Gorman

Ryan Gorton

Dustin Hurlbutt

Branden Kelliher

Chris Kohler

James Naile

Armando Ruiz

Jordan Schwartz

Matt Stalcup

Andrew Tomasovich

Oscar Tovar

Jesus Zambrano

 

Jacob Nottingham

Jacob Nottingham

–CATCHERS–

Iolana Akau

Jose Santiago Chavez

Robert Mullen

Jacob Nottingham

Brett Sunde

 

–INFIELDERS–

Richie Martin

Richie Martin

Joe Bennie

Edwin Diaz

Ryan Howell

Chris Iriart

Trace Loehr

Jesus Lopez

Eric Marinez

Richie Martin

Sandber Pimentel

Mikey White

 

–OUTFIELDERS–

Skye Bolt

Skye Bolt

Luis Barrera

Skye Bolt

Seth Brown

Justin Higley

Steven Pallares

Jhonny Rodriguez

Brett Siddall

James Terrell

 

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