Minor League Teams

A’s 2015 Minor League Staff

 

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

NASHVILLE SOUNDS (Triple-A)

Manager Steve Scarsone

Pitching Coach Don Schulze

Hitting Coach Webster Garrison

Steve Scarsone was named manager of the A’s new Triple-A affiliate at Nashville.  This will be his third consecutive season as manager of the A’s Triple-A club as he guided Sacramento to a 79-65 record in each of the previous two seasons.  Scarsone now has a 568-554 record in eight 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.  Don Schulze and Webster Garrison earn their first Triple-A assignments in 2015 as pitching coach and hitting coach, respectively.  This will be Schulze’s 10th year as a pitching coach in the A’s system, including the last four at Double-A Midland, and Garrison’s 15th as a coach or manager.  Brad LaRosa returns as the athletic trainer and Terence Brannic was named strength coach.

 

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS (Double-A)

Manager Ryan Christenson

Pitching Coach John Wasdin

Hitting Coach Eric Martins

Ryan Christenson takes over as manager at Midland after leading Stockton to an 85-55 record and a playoff appearance in 2014.  He made his managerial debut in 2013 at Single-A Beloit after spending six seasons as a player in the Major Leagues, including four with the A’s from 1998-2001.  John Wasdin will be the pitching coach on Christenson’s staff for the third consecutive season and Eric Martins was named hitting coach.  Martins served as a scout for the A’s for the past seven seasons.  Justin Whitehouse returns as the athletic trainer and A.J. Seeliger is the new strength coach.

 

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

STOCKTON PORTS (High-A)

Manager Rick Magnante

Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez

Hitting Coach Brian McArn

Rick Magnante assumes the managerial reins at Stockton, his 13th season as a minor league manager.  He has a 457-497 record in his previous 12 seasons, including 55-84 last season with Beloit.  Rick Rodriguez will be the pitching coach after two seasons in that capacity at Sacramento.  Rodriguez is in his 31st season in the A’s organization, which includes seven seasons as a player and two years as bullpen coach in Oakland (2011-12). Brian McArn returns as hitting coach, his 18th in that role with the A’s and his fourth at Stockton (2011-12, 14).  Travis Tims returns as athletic trainer and Henry Torres takes over as strength coach.

 

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

BELOIT SNAPPERS (Class-A)

Manager Fran Riordan

Pitching Coach Steve Connelly

Hitting Coach Lloyd Turner

Fran Riordan joins the A’s organization as manager at Beloit after spending 14 years managing in independent leagues.  Riordan spent the last four seasons at the helm of Florence in the Frontier League, guiding the Freedom to a 190-194 record over that stretch.  Steve Connelly, who had his first professional coaching assignment as pitching coach at Vermont last year, takes over those duties at Beloit in 2015.  Lloyd Turner returns for his second consecutive season as hitting coach with the Snappers and Brian Thorson returns as athletic trainer.  JD Howell will serve as strength 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 Tommy Everidge

In addition to his duties as minor league field coordinator, Aaron Nieckula will manage the A’s short-season club at Vermont, his ninth year as a manager in the A’s farm system.  He has spent the last two seasons at Midland and guided the RockHounds to a 77-63 record and the Texas League Championship in 2014.  Carlos Chavez will be the pitching coach after two seasons with the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League.  Tommy Everidge returns for his second consecutive season as Vermont’s hitting coach and Toshi Nagahara returns as the athletic trainer.

 

Arizona League A's pitching coach Ariel Prieto

Arizona League A’s pitching coach Ariel Prieto

ARIZONA LEAGUE A’S (Rookie Short-Season)

Manager Ruben Escalera

Pitching Coach Ariel Prieto

Hitting Coach Juan Dilone

Ruben Escalera will manage the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League for the second consecutive season and ninth season overall.  He previously managed from 2002-08 and spent the five years in between in various roles as an instructor in the A’s system.  Ariel Prieto was named pitching coach after serving as a coach on the Major League staff the previous three seasons.  He previously served as pitching coach with the A’s rookie club from 2009-11 and will also serve as a liaison between the A’s Dominican Republic and United States based operations.  Juan Dilone returns for his seventh season as hitting coach and Gabriel Ortiz is in his second season as coach.  Chris Lessner returns as the athletic trainer.

 

Minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks

Minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks

Minor League Field Coordinator: Aaron Nieckula

Minor League Hitting Coordinator: Greg Sparks

Minor League Pitching Coordinator: Garvin Alston

Minor League Rehab Pitching Coordinator: Craig Lefferts

Minor League Defensive Coordinator: Juan Navarrette

Aaron Nieckula was named minor league field coordinator and will oversee minor league spring training, extended spring training and instructional league.  Greg Sparks will take over as minor league hitting coordinator after spending three seasons as hitting coach at Triple-A Sacramento.  Sparks is in his 18th season in the A’s organization, which includes eight years as minor league roving hitting instructor from 2004-11.  Garvin Alston was named minor league pitching coordinator after spending the previous six seasons as minor league pitching rehab coordinator.  Craig Lefferts, who spent the previous 12 seasons as a pitching coach in the A’s farm system, replaces Alston as minor league rehab pitching coordinator.  Juan Navarrette is in his 21st season with the A’s and will be the minor league defensive, base running and bunting coordinator.  

 

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.

Preview: Top Prospects Matt Olson & Daniel Robertson Lead A’s Arizona Fall League Squad

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 week, some of the A’s most promising young prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League.

The 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 prospects from the Blue Jays, Angels, Nationals and Cubs, including one particular prospect by the name of Addison Russell.

Attendance at AFL games typically hovers around 200 or so, with the crowds comprised mostly 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 first baseman Matt Olson, shortstop Daniel Robertson and outfielder Boog Powell, while the team’s AFL pitching contingent this year will be comprised of right-handers Drew Granier, Tanner Peters, Ryan Doolittle and Austin House.

 

–A’s Prospects in the AFL in 2014–

mo621566MATT OLSON

First Baseman

Age: 20

Stockton Ports

37 HR / .262 AVG / .404 OBP / .543 SLG / .947 OPS

Olson had perhaps the best overall season of any A’s prospect this year. The 6’4” slugger led all A’s minor leaguers in home runs, walks, RBIs and total bases while playing for Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League. He’ll have the chance to prove his true power potential next season for Double-A Midland, where the hitting conditions for power-hitting prospects have historically been far more challenging.

 

dr621002DANIEL ROBERTSON

Shortstop

Age: 20

Stockton Ports

15 HR / .310 AVG / .402 OBP / .471 SLG / .873 OPS

With the trade of Addison Russell to the Cubs this summer, Robertson has now taken over as the A’s shortstop of the future. And he certainly earned that billing this year, leading all A’s minor leaguers in hits while putting up a healthy .310/.402/.471 slash line and playing solid in the field for Stockton. Robertson also got in a little postseason time with Double-A Midland, where he should be the team’s starting shortstop next season.

 

hp621471xBOOG POWELL

Outfielder

Age: 21

Beloit Snappers / Stockton Ports

3 HR / .343 AVG / .451 OBP / .435 SLG / .886 OPS

Powell was perhaps the A’s best minor league hitter in the first half while playing for Beloit. About a week and a half after being promoted to Stockton, he was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines. But the speedy center fielder still hit well for Stockton before and after his suspension and ended the season with the best batting average and on-base percentage of any player in the A’s system.

 

dg607549xDREW GRANIER

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 25

Midland RockHounds / Sacramento River Cats

130 1/3 IP / 143 H / 71 ER / 76 BB / 94 K / 4.90 ERA / 1.68 WHIP

A 32nd-round draft pick for the A’s in 2011, Granier has earned his way up through the system with solid performances on the mound. The 25-year-old right-hander started and ended the 2014 season with a few rocky outings but was very dependable for Midland for most of the year. He’ll use the extra innings he’ll get in the AFL to try to gain greater command of his secondary pitches, which he’ll need to do if he hopes to climb the next rung on the ladder.

 

tp607312xTANNER PETERS

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 24

Midland RockHounds / AZL A’s

28 IP / 36 H / 17 ER / 8 BB / 17 K / 5.46 ERA / 1.57 WHIP

Peters had a solid season for Stockton in 2013 but was sidelined by shoulder issues after just three starts for Midland last year. The 24-year-old southern California native came back to get in a few outings in the Arizona League in August but can use some extra innings in the AFL as he looks to get himself back on track and ready to compete again in 2015.

 

rd543114RYAN DOOLITTLE

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 26

Midland RockHounds / Stockton Ports

57 1/3 IP / 53 H / 19 ER / 21 BB / 60 K / 2.98 ERA / 1.29 WHIP

After being drafted back in 2008 and missing significant time due to injury, Sean’s little brother will return to the A’s system for one more season. “Little Doo” struck out 60 in 57 1/3 innings for Midland and Stockton last season and could potentially pitch well enough in the AFL to help put himself into a position to be considered for a bullpen spot next to his big brother sometime before the end of next season.

 

ah572934AUSTIN HOUSE

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 23

Stockton Ports / Sacramento River Cats

61 2/3 IP / 50 H / 21 ER / 23 BB / 82 K / 3.06 ERA / 1.18 WHIP / 19 SV

After starting 9 games for Beloit in 2013, House led all A’s minor league relievers with 19 saves while striking out 82 in just 61 2/3 innings last season. The 6’4” right-hander should have the chance to close out a few more games in the AFL as he gets ready to serve as the RockHounds’ closer at Midland next season.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A’s Top Prospects Soaring At Stockton

Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton

Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton

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

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

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BM:  Correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DANIEL ROBERTSON

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

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

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

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

DR:  That’s right.

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

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

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

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

AF:  Is shortstop a position you particularly enjoy playing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MATT OLSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MO:  Right, just zoning in on certain stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHAD PINDER

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

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

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

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

CP:  Yeah, I got banged up a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RYON HEALY

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

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

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

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

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

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

RH:  Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SETH STREICH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

STEVE SCARSONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

JOSH WHITAKER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TUCKER HEALY

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

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

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

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

TH:  Yeah, for sure.

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

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

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

TH:  You can make less mistakes, for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SETH FRANKOFF

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

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

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

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

SF:  To say the least.

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

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

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

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

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

SF: Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A’s Top Prospects Talk About Life In The AFL

DSC02957bxThe Arizona Fall League just wrapped up its 31-game schedule this past week. As some of you probably already know, there are six teams in the AFL with each team comprised of prospects from five different organizations. Organizations typically use the AFL as an opportunity to get their top prospects a little more live game action to hopefully help advance their development.

The A’s prospects logged one extra game this year as their team, the Mesa Solar Sox, lost the AFL championship game on Saturday after having clinched the AFL East title on Thursday.

A’s Farm had the chance to visit the team earlier in the final week of the AFL season and talked with most of the A’s prospects there. The language barrier prevented us from talking to LHP Omar Duran, and catcher David Freitas’s early departure from the desert due to his impending nuptials kept us from catching up with him. But fortunately, the rest were all game for our enquiries…

 

ADDISON RUSSELL

At age 19, shortstop Russell started the year as the youngest player in the California League, and the former 1st-round draft pick turned in a solid season both at the plate in the field for Stockton. The A’s top prospect is expected to start 2014 at Midland.

DSC02922bxAF:  The AFL is a unique kind of league with all these mixed teams. So how has the experience of playing out here with all these different guys been for you?

AR:  Pretty good. It’s a mix of a lot of people from different organizations. We’re all just kind of meshing together and we’re all getting along. And we’re all just here to play baseball and get better.

AF:  Well, you’ve got a few guys here you played with in Stockton, guys like Max Muncy, Seth Frankoff, Ryan Dull. So it must be nice to have a few familiar faces around anyway.

AR:  Oh yeah, for sure. When you first get here, it breaks that kind of tension. You can talk to them and see what they’ve been up to and see how they’ve been doing. It’s a good thing to see those familiar faces.

AF:  What’s your impression of the talent level here in the AFL?

AR:  You know, it’s the best young talent. They’re all top prospects from their teams. They’re first-round guys, and I expect them to play the way that they’ve been playing to get to this point. So they’ve been doing something right, and I’m fortunate enough to be among them.

AF:  Well, you’re still just 19. So do you feel it steps up your game to be playing with guys who might be a little older or a little more advanced?

AR:  Oh yeah, for sure. The young guys always want to prove themselves and show what they can do on the baseball field. And that’s how I feel. The guys kind of get a sense of how I go about my business, and hopefully I think I’m liked in the clubhouse. And everyone’s been cool.

AF:  You’ve been coming on strong at the end of the AFL season, kind of like you did at Stockton this year. Are there any particular adjustments you’ve made?

DSC02964dxAR:  Just staying patient and looking for my pitch.

AF:  And what’s your pitch?

AR:  Nine times out of ten everyone wants to hit a fastball. I’m just trying to see the fastball early and just know where’s it’s going to be pitched, and then just adjust to the off-speed stuff. So I’m just looking out for the fastball.

AF:  Is there any particular part of the plate where you usually prefer to be looking for a pitch?

AR:  No, not really. I kind of stay over the center of the plate. I work three-quarters of the way in and three-quarters of the way out. So if he throws me an inside pitch, I’m ready for it, and if he throws me an outside pitch, I’m ready for it.

AF:  So what about your play out in the field? I think you only made a handful of errors in the second half this year. Is there anything you’ve been working on out there?

AR:  I’m just trying to go about my business the right way. It’s just staying in the game. You just have to stay in the game and be on your toes and just be ready.

AF:  Was there anything you learned or were there any adjustments you made in the field as the season went on?

AR:  I just try to play pitch by pitch. You know, if the catcher’s setting up outside to a right-handed hitter, I might shade up the middle just a little bit. Just trying to see what kind of pitch the pitcher’s going to throw so I can kind of get a good idea where he might hit it. If he throws a right-hander a curveball, I’m trying to shade into the six hole a little bit. So just trying to stay ready and stay in the game.

AF:  When the season’s over, what are you going to do when you finally get a little time off?

AR:  I’m probably just going to sleep, see some family and get back to training.

AF:  So where are you planning on spending the off-season?

AR:  Back in my hometown in Florida.

AF:  Well, I’m sure they’ll be glad to see you!

2013: 17 HR / 61 BB / 125 K / .269 AVG / .369 OBP / .495 SLG / .865 OPS

AFL: 1 HR / 10 BB / 15 K / .282 AVG / .361 OBP / .435 SLG / .796 OPS

 

MAX MUNCY

First baseman Muncy led all A’s minor leaguers in home runs with 25 in 2013, 21 of them coming when he got off to a blazing start in the California League before being promoted to Midland in July.

DSC02925bxAF:  Well, you got off to a great start in Stockton this year. Then you went up to Midland and it was a little more of a challenge there. So what were the biggest differences for you when it came to facing those pitchers and hitting in those parks?

MM:  The difference for me was pitchers were a lot more confident in their stuff. They weren’t afraid to throw whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. And I can honestly say the back-foot slider was the biggest difference to me. In the Cal League, there were a lot of high-powered arms that we saw. They had sharp curveballs, but none of them would try and back-foot it. I get to the Texas League, and I’m automatically seeing two back-foot pitches each at-bat. I’ve never really seen that, so it took quite a while to get used to that. My strikeout numbers went up quite a bit at first and then I started making the adjustments towards the end. And I really enjoyed the challenge because that was really the first time I’ve ever really failed. And I’m glad I went through it then, so now I know how to deal with it going into this next year. Well, hopefully I won’t be dealing with it – but playing the sport of baseball, it’s impossible not to.

AF:  Well, even the best hitters fail two out of three times! So what were the specific adjustments you actually had to make to deal with that?

MM:  Just setting my sights differently. You know, seeing that pitch down and in and trying to lay off that. When I was hitting all those home runs in the Cal League, if I saw a pitch down and in, I got ready to turn on it and try and lift it in the air. I started trying to do that in the Texas League, but instead of being a fastball, it was a curveball or a slider and it disappeared off the table. So just laying off certain pitches and having a better approach at the plate and attacking the better pitches over the plate. Also one of the bigger adjustments was trying to pick up on patterns that the pitchers were doing, certain things they would do – trying to speed you up and then slow you down with a different pitch, just little things like that.

AF:  So assuming you start next season back at Midland, do you feel you’ve learned the lessons you needed to in order to get off to a good start next year?

DSC02951cxMM:  Yeah, I really feel and believe that I can go back in there and have a strong start just like I did this year. Obviously, the home run numbers probably aren’t going to be there. That entire league is a tough league to hit in. Everywhere you go, the wind blows in 30-40 mph. And on top of it blowing in, the field in Midland and a lot of the fields, they’re big dimensions, so it’s tough to get the ball out. But hopefully at the beginning of the season, the wind’s not quite blowing in yet, so hopefully I can take advantage of that. But that was also one of the big adjustments for me was getting back to my line drive swing and not hitting the ball in the air as much. And once I started doing that, I actually ended up hitting a couple of home runs and my average started climbing up and I was going back to what I was used to doing.

AF:  It’s often such a big adjustment for hitters going from the California League to the Texas League because the parks and the conditions are just so different.

MM:  Everyone had always told me it was different hitting in the Texas League because the wind blows in. But I went there and I was kind of in shock at how different it really was. One of my first couple of games there, I hit a ball to right field that probably would have been about 100 feet out of Stockton and the right fielder was almost coming in on it. The ball got up in the wind and just died.

AF:  We’re not in Stockton anymore!

MM:  No.

AF:  And the park in Midland often has some of the lowest home run totals in the whole league. Michael Choice had a hard time there. Grant Green had a hard time there. All these guys have big years at Stockton then go there and have a tough time hitting it out.

MM:  Yeah, it was really tough. I think I even got a couple of triples there. You hit the ball in the gap and it goes for days out there. You can just run all around the bases.

AF:  I notice they’ve had you playing a little third base out here. So what’s that all about? Was that part of the plan or was it just out of circumstance?

MM:  I don’t know what the plan is to be honest. Our first couple of days out here, we were having practice and (manager) Bill Richardson was having a meeting with us and he comes to me and goes, “You play first and third, right?” But after I got over the actual shock of that, I was like, “Yeah, I used to play third all the time before I got to college, so I’m used to it.” I’ve gotten a couple of games there and it’s been a lot of fun for me. It’s always fun to play a different position. I haven’t been told if that’s a plan for me in the long run, but it’s good to keep my versatility up. It makes it easier to move up.

2013: 25 HR / 88 BB / 102 K / .273 AVG / .381 OBP / .476 SLG / .857 OPS

AFL: 0 HR / 10 BB / 10 K / .224 AVG / .350 OBP / .265 SLG / .615 OPS

 

RYAN DULL

RHP Dull pitched well enough to sail through three levels of the A’s system in 2013, starting the season in the Midwest League before moving up to the California League and finally finishing the season in the Texas League.

DSC02918bxAF:  Well, you started the season in the Midwest League and now you find yourself out here in the Arizona Fall League. Looking at the guys you were facing to start the year compared to the guys you’re facing here in the AFL, what kind of differences do you see?

RD:  You definitely see a lot more polished approaches in the hitters here. They hit the pitch that they want. You don’t really see them swing at many pitches out of the zone, as compared to earlier in the year – there were a lot more free swingers.

AF:  You were dominant in the Midwest League early in the year and you did really well in the California League where a lot of pitchers often have trouble. And then came the jump to Double-A – was that the biggest leap you felt in the course of the season?

RD:  I did, I definitely felt that. We changed some sequences on how to attack hitters and be a little more conscious of actually pitching inside a lot more than I did. Working on changing sequences from hitter to hitter so everybody doesn’t see the same sequence every time. And we tried to work on bringing that approach out here as well.

AF:  So are there any particular pitches you’re working on at all or do you pretty much feel you’ve got your repertoire down at this point?

RD:  I think I have it down now. It’s just making sure it’s all consistent and I can be able to put it where I want to instead of just relying on one pitch to get all the outs.

AF:  Do you still have certain pitches that you feel most comfortable going to in a tough spot?

RD:  I feel like recently I could use any three that I want to at any time, which makes it a little easier to pitch because whatever the catcher throws down, you have the confidence to throw that.

AF:  So you feel pretty confident in all your pitches at this point.

RD:  I do.

AF:  Well that is a help! So when you got to the Texas League late in the year, what were you finding different about the hitters there from the hitters you’d faced at the lower levels?

RD:  They can hit your good pitches well. Even if you think it’s a good pitch, they still might hit it hard. And they definitely know how to hit the mistakes a lot better. And I really had to learn how to mix it up even more. They can swing at really good pitches or pitches out of the zone and they’ll still find a way to get a hit. They know how to hit the bad pitches and still get hits out of it somehow.

AF:  How would you compare the general level of play out here in the AFL to what you experienced in the Texas League?

RD:  I would say it’s a step up, because you’re playing with the best in the minor leagues right now. And it’s guys you’re going to be playing against for years to come.

AF: So what’s the key thing that you’ve been focused on during your time here in the AFL?

RD:  Just trying to keep my game plan the same. I feel like at the beginning of this fall league, I just wasn’t the same. I wasn’t sticking to the game plan that I used all season. But then, as of late, we’ve been going back to my game plan of just continuing to stay aggressive and using hitters’ aggressiveness to my advantage so I can try to get them out as quick as possible.

2013: 60 IP / 44 H / 16 ER / 9 BB / 78 K / 2.40 ERA / 0.88 WHIP

AFL: 11 IP / 11 H / 6 ER / 4 BB / 9 K / 4.91 ERA / 1.36 WHIP

 

SETH FRANKOFF

RHP Frankoff was the most reliable arm out of Stockton’s bullpen in 2013 and finished the year with the best ERA and WHIP of any pitcher on the team who threw more than 70 innings.

DSC02927bxAF:  So when you found out you were going to be given the chance to play in the AFL this year, how did you feel about it?

SF:  It was a goal that I’d had. So it was nice to get a little bit of recognition. It’s a great honor to be invited here. It means that the organization sees something in you. So obviously this was something that made me feel good about the kind of year I had.

AF:  You spent all year in the California League. So how does the talent level out here in the AFL compare?

SF:  Well, it’s kind of a who’s who of prospects. So you’ve heard a lot of the names before. There are some very talented individuals in this league – and some guys who’ve gotten paid a lot of money.

AF:  Some guys who’ve got some pretty nice cars, right?

SF:  Absolutely, the parking lot’s always interesting to see!

AF:  So what about pitching here? You’ve been doing well out here, but are there any particular adjustments you’ve had to make?

SF:  Just trying to buy into the philosophy that the A’s have preached to us. You hear it so many times, but really it’s true – just getting ahead, strike one, strike two, putting guys away in less than three pitches, and really working the fastball command is paramount. Stay out of the middle of the plate, stay down in the zone, and just try to continue what I was working on this season and continue to improve every time I get out there.

AF:  So when you came out here, did the A’s tell you they wanted you to work on anything in particular?

SF:  One thing that (minor league pitching coach) John Wasdin who’s here with us has conveyed to me that they want to see is really working the fastball down and away to right-handers and then throwing my curveball for more strikes. I think I’ve shown that I can throw my cutter and my changeup in most every count, but they really want me to get the strike percentages up with my fastball and curveball. So that’s a couple of things I’ve been working on.

AF:  The cut fastball’s what you’ve always relied on, right?

SF:  It’s been my bread and butter a little bit. But you have to be able to adapt. Scouting reports get out, so you have to be able to show guys other things to be successful.

AF:  Well, that’s what happens. As you move up, there’s always something new they need you to work on to get to that next level. And even if you might not be comfortable with it, you’ve got to get comfortable with it if you want to move on.

SF:  Absolutely. This is a game you always have to try to improve at. The day you think you have it all figured out is the day the game will pass you by. So that’s kind of what I try to live by.

AF:  Things obviously went well for you this year in the California League. Was there anything you felt you really learned there?

5def91afafe2db66b97fcd415781568b4xSF:  I think that I threw a lot more strikes. I’m not a big statistical guy, but I want to keep my walks down obviously. So I think that getting ahead in the count and not giving guys free passes helped me out tremendously. I think that just pitching with confidence is a big thing. You have to have conviction in every pitch you throw and know that you have the ability to be successful in what you’re doing out there.

AF:  Well, obviously your command this year at Stockton was very good just looking at the numbers. Was that just the result of confidence or a commitment to throwing more strikes or what?

SF:  Well, I’m very fortunate to live in the same basic area as our (minor league) pitching coordinator Scott Emerson. So I was able to work with him a couple of times in the off-season and he kind of cleaned up a couple of things with my delivery, really working direction-wise, getting on a straight line to the plate. And that really helped me out going into spring training.

AF:  The California League is such a tough league for so many pitchers, but you did very well there. I’m sure you saw plenty of balls sailing out of those parks…

SF:  It’s not very forgiving!

AF:  So is there anything you felt you were doing differently that allowed you to succeed there?

SF:  I put a premium on groundball outs. My goal every time I go out there is to not let a ball get out of the infield. So if you’re staying down in the zone, you’re going to get those groundball outs. So that’s what I try to do is work down in the zone, try to get downward plane on the baseball and make guys, if they are going to put it in play, hit it weakly and hit in on the ground, because you aren’t going to get hurt very often when they put it on the ground.

AF:  Yeah, your odds are definitely much better if no one’s having to look up! So I guess you’re finally about to get to enjoy a little off-season time. Are you looking forward to getting back to North Carolina for a while?

SF:  Absolutely, it’s been a joy to be out here. But it’ll certainly be nice to get back home and see my family and get to do a little fishing and some golfing and stuff like that. I plan on taking a couple of weeks off as soon as I get home and eat quite a bit for Thanksgiving. But then when December 1st comes around, I’ll start getting back after it in the weight room.

2013: 74 1/3 IP / 57 H / 23 ER / 23 BB / 93 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.08 WHIP

AFL: 12 1/3 IP / 8 H / 2 ER / 3 BB / 15 K / 1.46 ERA / 0.89 WHIP

 

JEFF URLAUB

LHP Urlaub spent all of the 2013 season as a key lefty out of the bullpen for Midland.

DSC02916bxAF:  So how’s this whole AFL experience been for you?

JU:  It’s been a blast. This has been the best experience ever. The guys, when we came together in early October, we meshed so well. And 90% of these guys are the future of major league baseball, so it’s been a blast to get to know a lot of guys from different organizations. They’re so good that it makes it so much more fun to play.

AF:  You’re from out here in Phoenix, right?

JU:  Yeah, born and raised out here. Growing up out here, I’ve seen so many Fall League games. I was a bat boy for a team when I was in high school. So the transition for me was a lot easier, because I get to go see my family every night. I get to see my friends, everybody gets to come out and see me play and it makes it a lot easier for me.

AF:  You spent all year in the Texas League this season. So how would you compare the level of competition out here?

JU:  The competition is better. Don’t get me wrong, no matter what, when you get to Double-A, it’s a different game. And I learned a lot my first year in Double-A this year, which I felt helped me transition into the Fall League as far as preparation and caliber of play. It’s tough. This league is everything that everybody says it is.

AF:  I’ve always thought of the AFL as sort of comparable to a Double-A All-Star league.

JU:  Absolutely. I’d say Double-A, Triple-A all-star guys – and that might even be an understatement. I can say a lot of the guys on our team could play in the big leagues for somebody right now.

DSC02965bxAF:  You got off to a really good start out here, so you were obviously up to the challenge and must have been feeling pretty confident.

JU:  I was. I came in confident. But I didn’t want to come in over-confident, because the game of baseball’s very humbling. But I got off to a great start. I pitched well the entire month of October. I’ve hit a little speed bump now towards the end. But I don’t think I’ve done anything different as far as the Midland season to now.

AF:  What were the key lessons you learned in Double-A this year at Midland?

JU:  Mainly, it was believing in myself and believing that I belonged there. Only spending half a year in High-A last year and being able to be successful there, I went into spring training with the goal to make it to Double-A at least at some point this year. A lot of it was mental. You’ve got to study hitters a lot more. You’ve got to look at more scouting reports. It was tough, but you learn a lot as you go through. You hit a bunch of little speed bumps here and there. And it’s how you get past those and get back on track.

AF:  What was the difference in the hitters you were facing in Double-A as opposed to the hitters you were facing in High-A?

JU:  They’re a lot smarter. They make a lot more adjustments quicker. You can have success pitching a guy how you want to pitch him with your strengths one time. But then if you face him a day or two later, everybody’s got the scouting report on you. You don’t want to over-think the situation, you still have to pitch to your strengths, but then sometimes you might have to alter it a little bit. Guys at the Double-A level make a lot better adjustments a lot faster. Some even make adjustments mid-at-bat. But all these guys can hit – that’s why they’re there.

2013: 46 2/3 IP / 49 H / 20 ER / 13 BB / 40 K / 3.86 ERA / 1.33 WHIP

AFL: 13 IP / 14 H / 4 ER / 3 BB / 16 K / 2.77 ERA / 1.31 WHIP

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

Maxwell started the year as the backstop for Beloit before being promoted to Stockton. He was the new kid on the block in the AFL, taking the place of catcher David Freitas who took an early exit to get married. Maxwell made it into just one game before the end of the AFL season.

DSC02921bxAF:  You spent the first part of the season in the Midwest League and then you made it up to the California League. What was the difference in those leagues from your perspective?

BM:  The difference is, in the Cal League, pitchers had a better understanding of what they were trying to do. When we were in the Midwest League, we still had a lot guys who were ironing some things out. And when I got up to the Cal League, a lot of pitchers already had an idea of what they wanted to do. They had pretty good control for the most part. There were more plans, there was more execution, there were more goals, instead of just going out there and just trying to get people out with whatever. The scouting report’s more in-depth, and our guys actually worked with us catchers very well.

AF:  I know you haven’t actually been catching for all that long. So how do you feel your catching game’s been coming along?

BM:  I think I’ve made big strides thanks to our coordinators and all the catching coaches I’ve had here in the A’s organization. But it’s just going to continue to get better. When I first got here, just the speed of the game overwhelmed me. And now it’s just ironing out the little things, because my receiving, my blocking, my game-calling’s gotten a lot better.

AF:  How do you feel about working with the pitchers, getting the scouting reports, working on a game plan? Do you enjoy that aspect of the game?

BM:  Oh yeah, I love it. When stuff doesn’t get executed, of course, the fingers get pointed at us first, but at the same time, I love the responsibility. When it does work, you and the pitcher have a camaraderie that can’t be matched in any other sport.

AF:  Are there any particular pitchers you worked with this season who really impressed you with their approach?

BM:  On the whole, Tanner Peters. He was real calm. He never really got worked up over anything. And he just really focused on executing his pitches and his game plan. Every time we’d go over a scouting report, it’d be like, “I got this guy with this, this guy with that. Let’s keep it up till they make an adjustment.” He was on his game all the time, and it showed in his productivity. So it was good to work with him.

AF:  Now what about hitting in the California League? Were there any particular adjustments for you this year?

BM:  Not even just in the Cal League, I’ve been making adjustments this year hitting-wise in general. Basically, I was just trying to go out there and just stick to my game plan. Middle-of-the-field is my strong suit. I’m not a very pull-oriented hitter. I’m working on some things. But for the most part, I’m just trying to barrel as many baseballs as possible.

AF:  So going forward, what are you primarily going to be focused on in terms of your hitting?

BM:  Having an approach and executing that approach. I mean, you’re not always going to get a hit – we do play a game of failure. Just kind of accepting the fact that just because I might be on time or I know what’s coming doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out the way I want. And at the same time, just consistency. Just like behind the plate, my consistent game-calling and attentiveness, I need the same thing at the plate. My biggest goal this year was to make sure I had the biggest progress with my catching in my first full season. I wasn’t really worried about my hitting, and I hit well. So now it’s kind of like I need to put a little more focus into the little things in my hitting and catching just to make things that much better.

2013: 7 HR / 43 BB / 63 K / .275 AVG / .348 OBP / .390 SLG / .739 OPS

AFL: 4 AB / 0 HR / 0 BB / 1 K / .000 AVG / .000 OBP / .000 SLG / .000 OPS

*     *     *

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 updates e-mailed to you free by signing up here.

Preview: Top Prospects Russell & Muncy Lead A’s Arizona Fall League Squad

AFLWhile the fall is an important time for A’s players and fans alike when it comes to post-season play, it’s also an important time for some of the minor leagues’ top prospects. And as the A’s begin Game #4 of their American League playoff series against Detroit on Tuesday, some of the team’s top prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League.

The league has been going strong for the past couple of decades now, and its schedule runs for about 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 prospects from the Cubs, Nationals, Tigers and Angels.

The attendance at AFL games typically tops out at around 200 or so, with the crowds comprised of a healthy dose 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.

The A’s AFL pitching contingent this year will be comprised of minor league relievers like right-handers Ryan Dull and Seth Frankoff and left-handers Jeff Urlaub and Omar Duran, while some of the team’s top hitting prospects will be seeing some action in Arizona, including shortstop Addison Russell, first baseman Max Muncy and catcher David Freitas.

 

A’s Prospects in the AFL in 2013

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Addison Russell – Shortstop – Age: 19

Stockton Ports / Sacramento River Cats

17 HR / .269 AVG / .369 OBP / .495 SLG / .865 OPS

 

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Max Muncy – First Baseman – Age: 23

Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds

25 HR / .273 AVG / .381 OBP / .476 SLG / .857 OPS

 

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David Freitas – Catcher – Age: 24

Midland RockHounds / Sacramento River Cats

10 HR / .231 AVG / .306 OBP / .368 SLG / .674 OPS

 

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Ryan Dull – RHP – Age: 24

Beloit Snappers / Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds

60 IP / 44 H / 16 ER / 9 BB / 78 K / 2.40 ERA / 0.88 WHIP / 19 SV

 

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Seth Frankoff – RHP – Age: 25

Stockton Ports

74 1/3 IP / 57 H / 23 ER / 23 BB / 93 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.08 WHIP / 4 SV

 

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Jeff Urlaub – LHP – Age: 26

Midland RockHounds

46 2/3 IP / 49 H / 20 ER / 13 BB / 40 K / 3.86 ERA / 1.33 WHIP / 1 SV

 

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Omar Duran – LHP – Age: 23

Stockton Ports / Vermont Lake Monsters

58 1/3 IP / 39 H / 27 ER / 43 BB / 91 K / 4.17 ERA / 1.41 WHIP / 3 SV

 

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 updates e-mailed to you free by signing up here.

A’s Instructional League Roster

Billy McKinney

Billy McKinney

A total of 44 players reported to the A’s fall Instructional League camp in Phoenix this week. Many of the A’s top prospects will spend the next month training, conditioning, participating in drills and playing other teams’ Instructional League clubs in Arizona.

The A’s top pick from this year’s draft – outfielder Bill McKinney – along with two of the A’s top three picks from the 2012 draft – shortstop Daniel Robertson and first baseman Matt Olson – will all be participating. Meanwhile, the A’s top pick from 2012 – shortstop Addison Russell – will begin his off-season work in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League later next month.

Below you’ll find the A’s complete fall Instructional League roster along with the team each player finished the 2013 season with listed next to their name…

 

A’s Instructional League Roster

–PITCHERS—

Dylan Covey

Dylan Covey

Jeremy Barfield  (Sac)

Sam Bragg  (Bel)

Dylan Covey  (Bel)

Dustin Driver  (AZL)

Kyle Finnegan  (Bel)

Kris Hall  (Bel)

Ronald Herrera  (Ver)

Austin House  (Bel)

Chris Kohler  (AZL)

Joe Michaud  (Ver)

Junior Mendez  (Ver)

Michael Ynoa

Michael Ynoa

Carlos Navas  (AZL)

Nolan Sanburn  (Bel)

Lee Sosa  (Ver)

Lou Trivino  (Ver)

Dominique Vattuone  (Ver)

Tyler Vail  (Bel)

Victor Veliz  (DSL)

Bobby Wahl  (Ver)

Michael Ynoa  (Sto)

Jesus Zambrano  (DSL)

 

Bruce Maxwell

Bruce Maxwell

–CATCHERS—

Iolana Akau  (AZL)

Bruce Maxwell  (Sto)

Josh Miller  (Ver)

Andy Paz  (AZL)

Kyle Wheeler  (AZL)

 

–INFIELDERS—

Chris Bostick  (Bel)

Daniel Robertson

Daniel Robertson

Edwin Diaz  (AZL)

Ryon Healy  (Ver)

Ryan Huck  (Ver)

Jesus Lopez  (DNP)

Yairo Munoz  (AZL)

Renato Nunez  (Bel)

Matt Olson  (Bel)

Chad Pinder  (Ver)

Daniel Robertson  (Bel)

 

B.J. Boyd

B.J. Boyd

–OUTFIELDERS—

B.J. Boyd  (Ver)

Jaycob Brugman  (Ver)

Shawn Duinkerk  (AZL)

Justin Higley  (AZL)

Tyler Marincov  (Ver)

Billy McKinney  (Ver)

D’Arby Myers  (Mid)

Aaron Shipman  (Bel)

 

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 updates e-mailed to you free by signing up here.

Catching Up With: The Sacramento River Cats

srDSC02040BThe Sacramento River Cats boast three Pacific Coast League All-Stars this season – outfielder Michael Choice, second baseman Grant Green and pitcher Sonny Gray. All are former 1st-round draft picks and all could soon be seeing time in Oakland, so you forward-looking A’s fans ought to get acquainted with them while you can. We took the opportunity to talk with all three of them, along with River Cats pitching coach Rick Rodriguez, while in Sacramento last week to see how things are shaping up for some of the A’s top prospects…

 

MICHAEL CHOICE

mcmichaelchoiceoaklandathleticsphotodaynwngr_fbjvxl3bThe A’s top pick in 2010, Choice struggled a bit last year with Midland. But he had a great spring and seems to have turned the corner this year in Sacramento. With Chris Young not likely to be retained by the A’s next season, Choice could be in line to see time in the A’s outfield next year…

AF:  You’ve been having a good year here in Sacramento, and you had a really good spring too. Did you have a little extra confidence, because it seems like you just came out the chute raring to go this year?

MC:  Just going back to the off-season, I spent a lot of time working in the off-season and getting myself ready for spring training. And all the hard work just paid off.

AF:  Was there anything you did different this off-season as opposed to the past?

MC:  Not too different. I had a little more time to get things going. The off-season before I went to the [Arizona] Fall League, the season before that there was instructs (instructional league). So there was a lot more time to kind of rest and get yourself into more of a routine that you’d like to get into. So basically I had a lot of time to get in the cage, especially in the winter when it’s cold.

AF:  So how did everyone treat you when you were in the big league camp this spring?

MC:  Yeah, everybody’s cool up there. For the most part, the A’s clubhouse is pretty young. There’s not too many older guys up there, so everybody’s real receptive to each other.

AF:  Was there anyone in particular who took you under their wing or took the time to show you the ropes a bit?

MC:  Not anybody in particular. But I spent a lot more time with most of the outfielders in camp. Coco, C.Y., Reddick, Seth Smith – those guys are the ones I talked to the most up there.

AF: Well, after the spring you had, you must have had a lot of confidence and been pretty eager to get things going.

MC:  Yeah, definitely. You’re always ready to get the season started because spring training gets long, especially once you go down to minor league camp. It’s the same thing everyday, and you’re just ready for some real games where it matters.

AF:  So what would you say has been the key to the success you’ve been having this year?

mc7111730cMC:  Just the experience of the game. The more games you play in, the more experience you get, the more you see guys, you just get into a routine of how to get better.

AF:  It seems like you’ve been taking a lot of walks and getting on base a lot this year. Is there anything different in your approach at the plate, or is there anything different in what you’re looking for or what you’re trying to do at the plate?

MC:  Not so much, just kind of basically picking up where I left off at the end of last year at Midland – just really trying to swing at good pitches, pitches I can handle that are more up in the zone and trying to leave the ones down alone.

AF:  And what about your basic swing and your mechanics, how much are you still tweaking that, or are things pretty much settled in now?

MC:  I mean, with hitting, you’re always tweaking something, but most of the time, it’s more mental than physical. At this point, I work on the physical stuff before the game, but once the game starts, it’s all mental and you’re more worried about what the pitcher has and how you’re going to be successful against him.

AF:  Now they’ve been having you spend a little time in left field and right field this year. So how is it different for you playing the corner positions rather than center field?

MC:  Corners are a little bit faster. You’ve got to read angles. Knowing the hitter’s important – which guys like to pull, which guys like to hit the ball opposite field. But it’s been going good so far, just getting my reps in during BP and making sure I can get good reads in the game.

AF:  So is there anything in particular that you’re currently focused on working on either in the field or at the plate, or is it now just a matter of going out everyday and trying to follow through on the approach that you’ve developed at this point?

MC:  You pretty much just hit the nail on the head right there. You know, everything I’ve done in preparation before the game, I just want that to play in the game.

AF:  When you left the big league camp in spring training, did Bob Melvin or anybody pat you on the back or let you know they appreciated what they saw from you in camp this year?

MC:  Yeah, you have those sit-down meetings before you get sent out, and they basically just said, “Keep working hard and knock the door down.”

 

GRANT GREEN

Oakland Athletics Photo DayThe A’s top pick in 2009, Green has been a man without a home in the field. He started out as a shortstop, then switched to the outfield, and even saw a little time at third base. But he finally seems to be settling in at second base this season. And with the middle infield the murkiest part of the A’s major league roster, many A’s fans are already clamoring for Green to get his shot…

AF:  You’ve been having a good year here, and things have been going well for you at the plate. So are there any particular adjustments you’ve made this season?

GG:  Nothing different really, just the same stuff we were working on last year.

AF:  And what was the key stuff you were working on last year?

GG:  Just better plate discipline, better balance – that’s something we worked really hard on last year. I kind of had a good season and wanted to keep it going this year.

AF:  So are you waiting more for your pitch now?

GG:  Yeah, definitely not trying to get that pitcher’s pitch early and just waiting on mine.

AF:  It seems like you’ve been hitting an awful lot of doubles this year. Is that just due to waiting for the right pitch a little more?

GG:  Yeah, I’ve had a little bit more success hitting balls in the gap this year. I’ve always been the type of guy who’s had quite a few doubles. I think last year was the lowest amount of doubles I’ve had in a season. But it’s definitely just been a matter of getting my pitch and doing something with it.

AF:  Were you feeling pretty confident to start the year?

GG:  Yeah, then I hit a little valley here and there. I went on a couple of stretches that weren’t the best.

AF:  Well, it seems like you’re in one of your best stretches of the year right now. Are you just seeing the ball really well right now?

GG:  Yeah, I’m definitely just seeing the ball well. I’ve had a couple of at-bats where the ball’s fallen for me, and that kind of happens when you’re going well. So it’s been a combination of both.

AF:  Well, you’ve also been hitting them over the wall and in the gaps lately too, so that’s not just luck. (He would hit two home runs in the game later that night). But what about in the field? You’ve been playing second base for most of the season, and it’s a rarity for you to be at one spot most of the season. How do you feel about second base and how are things developing for you over there?

ggUSATSI_7112088_160320754_lowres-1024x682bGG:  I’m feeling good. I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable than I was at the beginning of the year. It’s almost becoming second nature now. So that’s definitely a good feeling – being able to worry about one position only. I’m still just doing the usual, just working on little stuff here and there – whether it’s turning two around the bag, because it’s just a different look from what I’m used to, or different feeds to second base. Those are really the main two things that we work on.

AF:  You’ve obviously spent plenty of time playing shortstop, so how does second base compare to shortstop for you? What’s different for you over there?

GG:  Definitely, the view off the bat is much different. But other than that, the only other thing I really see that’s different is the turns. Coming from short, you’re able to kind of read the play because everything’s in front of you – you see the ball, see the runner. When you’re at second base, it’s more of a reaction thing, more of a feel, that you know on certain balls you’ve got to get rid of it quick and on other balls you’ve got a little bit more time and you can stay in there.

AF:  And are you feeling more confident every day you’re out there at second?

GG:  Oh yeah, much more confident. Like you said, it’s a rarity that I’ve been able to stay at one position most of the year. So it’s definitely nice to be able to know when you come to the yard that not only are you going to be playing but the odds are you’re going to be at one position and you’re going to be able to work on that one position during BP.

AF:  So do you pay much attention to what’s going on with the big league club in Oakland and how they’re doing and how guys up there are playing?

GG:  Not really, other than the guys I’ve come to know through the system who’ve gotten called up. Other than that, it’s not the thing on my mind. I’m a River Cat right now, and that’s what I am. So until that call-up comes, I’m going to be here in Sacramento being a River Cat.

AF:  So do you live with any teammates here in Sacramento during the season?

GG: I’ve got an apartment just for the season with a couple of guys here – Ryan Ortiz and Paul Smyth have lived with me throughout the year.

AF:  And finally, after long avoiding Twitter, there now seems to be a Twitter account for you (@GreenieLocks8). Now was that created by Sonny Gray and Bruce Billings, or does that actually belong to you?

GG:  (Laughs) No, it is not mine. It’s something they have fun with. They definitely asked me if they could do it, and I said yes. It’s all fun. I’m not on the Twitter game, but more than likely, I’ll probably take it over at some point.

AF:  So you were somewhat complicit in this thing anyway.

GG:  Yeah, I told them as long as they didn’t get me in trouble, it was okay.

 

SONNY GRAY 

sghi-res-162663960_display_image2The A’s top pick in 2011, Gray had a lot to learn last year in his first full season at Midland. But he seems to have gotten over the hump this year at Sacramento and is clearly the A’s top pitching prospect, poised to pounce as soon as an opportunity pops up on the big league pitching staff. We had the chance to see his last start in Sacramento, where he allowed 4 runs in the 2nd inning but righted the ship and otherwise pitched flawlessly over 7 innings of work and walked away with a no-decision in a game the River Cats won. We talked to him in the Cats’ clubhouse after the game, along with Oakland Clubhouse’s Chris Biderman. Below are some selections from that post-game question-and-answer session…

Q:  I know you’ve been working on your changeup for quite a while. So where do you feel you’re at with the changeup right now?

SG:  I think it’s good. I think I threw 7 pitches in the 5th or 6th inning tonight, and I think I threw 5 changeups and got some early contact. So I’m very confident – I’ll throw it whenever, to righties or lefties. Tonight it got me out of the 2nd inning with the double play, and I got a lot of swings and groundballs and soft contact with it.

Q:  Do you feel a lot more confident throwing it this year than you would have at any point last year?

SG:  Oh, at any point in my whole career, in my whole life. It’s just something that finally got in my mind that it helps me and it makes me that much better of a pitcher.

Q:  How do you feel about your overall command?

SG:  I think it’s better than it’s been. It’s obviously something that you’re always going to work on. You’re always going to try to get better at that. But even tonight – I missed up in the zone a little bit in the 2nd inning and got hit – but other than that, it was a walk on a close pitch here, a walk on a close pitch there.

Q:  If you had that kind of 2nd inning in a start last year, you might not have been able to recover. How much different of a pitcher are you now than you were at this time last year?

sgsonnygray_large1bSG:  I’ve felt really comfortable on the mound this whole year. I had a little bump in the road in the 2nd inning, and last year I might not have been able to make the adjustment and tone it down a little bit and start throwing changeups and curveballs for strikes and making my fastball look a little better. You know, it’s kind of frustrating to give up 4 runs in the 2nd inning feeling as good as I felt tonight, but it’s also kind of rewarding to be able to still get 7 innings after throwing almost 40 pitches in 1 inning.

Q:  You took over the PCL lead in strikeouts tonight. Is that something you’re able to take some pride in?

SG:  I think strikeouts are never a bad thing because you can kind of shut down an inning. But I think I am striking more guys out this year than last year.

Q:  Is that because of the refinement of your secondary pitches?

SG:  I think so. I think I’m getting a lot of swings on my breaking ball, and that’s probably because my fastball’s a little bit better this year and I’m throwing my breaking ball noticeably better this year than I did last year. I don’t know if it’s the weather here that allows you to do that. In Midland, it’s a little bit tough, but I have noticed that my breaking pitches have been better.

Q:  Was it kind of cool to face a guy like Eric Chavez who’s been in the big leagues for as long as he has, or was that even on your mind at all?

SG:  No, it wasn’t on my mind really. I didn’t really know.

Q:  Is there anything in particular you’re focused on working on right now now that you’re feeling confident in the changeup a little more?

SG:  The only thing I’m doing every time out is just trying to make pitches and get as many outs as possible. There’s not one thing that I would say I’m getting lectured on. It’s just trying to get outs every time you get out there.

Q:  So at this point, it’s just a matter of executing the game plan and doing everything you know you need to do.

SG:  Yeah, right.

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRick+Rodriguez+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+ou52Cdqaojrl4Rick Rodriguez is the long-time River Cats pitching coach, though he also served a brief stint as the A’s bullpen coach last season. He’s had a hand in developing many of the A’s most talented young pitchers, and is now entrusted with guiding Sonny Gray’s glide path to the majors…

AF:  So I wanted to talk to you primarily about Sonny Gray. Obviously he’s had a really good season and he kind of looks like he’s gotten over the hump. So, as his pitching coach here this year, can you define from your perspective what he’s been doing right this season?

RR:  Yeah, this is really the first year I’ve ever worked with him. I remember him from spring training last year. And just going by the little bit I saw last year compared to this year, it’s like night and day. His command of his fastball has gotten a lot better. His changeup has gotten a lot better. He’s getting more confidence in it – he can throw it pretty much anytime now. His curveball has always been nasty. And he’s learning how to pitch. He’s learning that you just can’t pump fastballs in there all the time. So he’s using that changeup. He’s learning to pitch back and forth and learning how to use that changeup when he’s behind in the count.

AF:  It certainly seems like his outings have been a lot more efficient. He’s throwing far fewer pitches, he’s not walking a lot of guys. So what’s the source of that newfound efficiency?

RR:  I think it’s just more confidence. Coming into this level, he’s seeing that he can compete and dominate this league. And hopefully for however long he’s here, he can continue to do that and then when he goes to the big leagues he’ll have all the confidence in the world.

AF:  Now what about his third pitch – the changeup? I know that’s something the organization’s been working on with him for a while now. So how’s that been developing?

RR:  Yeah, I give him credit. He’s working hard in the bullpen on it. That’s part of his routine – he works it in. He knows you do X amount of fastballs here, okay now we’re going to do the changeup. He’s limiting the use of his breaking ball in his side work – he’s working primarily fastball/changeup. And I think that’s translated into the success he’s having right now.

AF:  And I’m assuming that his command has improved as well, that he’s putting pitches where he wants to more frequently.

RR:  Yeah, more frequently – there’s always room for improvement. And every once in a while, just like anybody else, all of a sudden the fastball command gets off track and then gets back on track. But his command has gotten a lot better.

AF:  Is there any one particular thing that you’re trying to work on with him right now?

sg389140_10151492122053224_169388681_n2RR:  You know, I keep talking to him – we preach first-pitch strikes. So we’re always working on first-pitch strikes. But in addition to that, once you get 0-1, hey let’s get 0-2. Instead of throwing a ball, let’s go 0-2 and start really putting those guys in a defensive mode. And I think he’s starting to understand that – he’s trying. It’s a learning process, and he’s still very young, so he’s still learning how to do all that.

AF:  So you’d really like to make him even more aggressive right off the bat.

RR:  Yeah, he’s got all the talent in the world. And like I said, he’s very young and he’s still working on some things, but he’s going to be a good one.

AF:  Well, at this point, he’s the next prospect in line if anything should happen. So what do you think he still needs to do to be in a position to be a successful major league pitcher?

RR:  His mound presence is very good. His emotional presence is very good in the dugout. I think that’s a big plus for him – I think he’s learned that. The one thing I think he probably needs to do is the execution of his pitches probably needs to be a little bit more consistent – meaning if the catcher’s going fastball down and away to a right-handed hitter, I want him to hit that fastball down and away or miss down and away, not for it to come back over the plate. And just like with anybody else, you get in little ruts and sometimes the ball does come back over. And with Sonny, he’s learning, if that ball does come back over, what to do to get it where he wants it. And I think if he can improve on that, he’s going to be tough.

AF:  Is there anyone else on your staff here you’ve seen show a lot of improvement this year?

RR:  Well, I had Scribner when I was the bullpen coach in Oakland last year. But down here, his control has gotten so much better. His curveball has gotten to the point where he can throw it pretty much at any time wherever he wants. And he’s doing very well both against left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. Brian Gordon has come on very, very strong. He’s learned to command the strike zone with all his pitches. He tightened up his slider, which I think helped. Pedro Figueroa worked on some mechanical things and now his fastball command has gotten much better. His slider’s gotten a little bit sharper. So guys are still working, trying to get better, trying to iron out some stuff. But those three guys have come in and improved tremendously.

AF:  So you think Scribner is a dramatically improved pitcher from what you saw of him in Oakland last year?

RR:  Yeah, from what I saw of him in Oakland and from what I see now. Again, it’s about executing. But if he can just keep executing in Oakland the way he is here, he’s going to be fine.

 

Find out more about the A’s top prospects. Get the inside scoop on Choice, Green and Gray from their manager, Sacramento River Cats skipper Steve Scarsone, here.

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