Saturday, April 8th: Barreto’s Big Bat Helps Sounds Win while Shore & Duno Pitch Ports to Victory

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Shortstop Franklin Barreto (3 for 4 / Home Run / 2 RBIs)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Shortstop Franklin Barreto (3 for 4 / Home Run / 2 RBIs)

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE  (Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds      8

Round Rock Express  3

WP – Valdez 1-0 / 3.60

HR – Barreto (2)

Prospect Of The Game:

Shortstop Franklin Barreto

(3 for 4 / Home Run / 2 RBIs)

The A’s top hitting prospect, shortstop Franklin Barreto, has been busy living up to the hype during the first few days of the minor league season, and Saturday was no exception. For the second straight game, the 21-year-old collected 3 hits and clubbed a 2-run homer for the Sounds, and he’s now 8 for 14 with 2 home runs and a triple in the season’s first three games. Right fielder Jaff Decker had another big night at the plate as well, collecting 3 hits, including a double, while driving in a run, and he’s now 8 for 13 with a pair of doubles to start the season. Second baseman Chad Pinder reached base 4 times, on 3 hits and a walk, and is now batting .400 on the season, while designated hitter Chris Parmelee had a pair of singles and drove in a run, and Renato Nunez, starting at third base in place of the injured Matt Chapman, singled in the Sounds’ first 2 runs of the game in the top of the 1st inning. Chapman is suffering from left wrist soreness and is currently considered day-to-day, according to Sounds play-by-play man Jeff Hem’s report on Nashville’s pre-game show. RHP Cesar Valdez, signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, was solid in his first start for the Sounds, allowing 2 runs and striking out 5 over 5 innings of work to earn the win, while RHP Tyler Sturdevant, another recent minor league free agent signee, allowed 1 run in 2 innings of relief in his Nashville debut, and RHP Tucker Healy got the final six outs to close out the win for the Sounds on Saturday.

Click here for more on Midland, Stockton & Beloit…

Snappy Thoughts: Beloit Snappers Season-Opening Series Recap

by Ryan Christoffersen / A’s Farm Beloit Correspondent

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Beloit’s Pohlman Field

The Beloit Snappers opened their season with a doubleheader vs. the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins affiliate) at Pohlman Field in Beloit on Friday, April 8th. This came after the originally-scheduled opening day on Thursday was postponed due to wet grounds at Pohlman Field.

While starting the season with a doubleheader is not ideal for anyone (players, coaches, fans, front office, the guys in the press box), it ended up being a fine day at the ‘ol ballpark. The Snappers split the doubleheader, losing the first game 4-0 and winning the second game 3-2.

 

Game #1:

Pitcher Xavier Altamirano

Pitcher Xavier Altamirano

*Starter Brendan Butler had an inconsistent first outing, allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, over 3 2/3 innings to take the loss. He was mostly hurt by a rough 2nd inning in which he gave up three straight hard-hit doubles.

*RHP Xavier Altamirano had a strong debut, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. He featured a slow curveball at 67-69 mph that really kept the Kernels off balance. Fellow Snappers hurler Dakota Chalmers mentioned that Altamirano had a really good spring training, so he was not at all surprised that Altamirano started off the season strong.

*Outfielder Cole Gruber, last year’s 27th-round draft pick for the A’s, had a chance to show off his speed by reaching base on a beautiful bunt single down the third base line in the 3rd inning.

*Kernels starting pitcher Eduardo Del Rosario really impressed, holding the Snappers to just 2 hits and striking out 7 over 6 shutout innings.

 

Game #2:

First Baseman Miguel Mercedes

First Baseman Miguel Mercedes

*Starter Ty Damron, last year’s 15th-round draft pick for the A’s, pitched 4 strong innings of shutout ball, painting the outside corner all night. The left-hander was a strike-throwing machine, notching 7 K’s on the night. Damron needed just 11 pitches to get through the first two innings. Overall, he threw a total of 58 pitches, 46 for strikes.

*The only trouble for Damron came in the 4th inning, when the Kernels loaded the bases with nobody out. He then struck out the next two batters on six pitches. The third out of the inning was not as easy as Kernels outfielder Christian Cavaness worked an 11-pitch at-bat before finally succumbing to a strikeout. During the lengthy at-bat, Snappers pitcher Michael Murray commented, “Rarely does a long at-bat like this ever work out in the pitcher’s favor.” In this case, Murray was glad to be wrong.

*The Snappers first two runs of the season were scored on wild pitches by Kernels starter Tyler Wells.

*Designated hitter Miguel Mercedes had the Snappers’ first extra-base hit of the season, a double scorched into left-center field that scored first baseman Kyle Nowlin to give the Snappers their first win of the season in a walk-off!

 

Series Notes:

Early season baseball can be sloppy. In this short two-game series, there were two runs scored via wild pitch, one run scored via a throwing error, one passed ball, one balk, and a total of three errors. Catcher Collin Theroux picked a man off first base in Game #1 of the doubleheader, while lefty reliever Will Gilbert picked off an inherited runner in the 7th inning of Game #2.

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A’s Prospect of the Series:

Pitcher Ty Damron

(4 IP / 3 H / 0 ER / 0 BB / 7 K)

 

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Friday, April 7th: Decker’s Big Night Helps Sounds Prevail in Extras while Graves Is Perfect in Ports’ Dramatic Doubleheader Split

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Outfielder Jaff Decker (4 for 4 / Double / RBI / 2 Walks / 2 Runs / 2 Stolen Bases)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Outfielder Jaff Decker (4 for 4 / Double / RBI / 2 Walks / 2 Runs / 2 Stolen Bases)

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE  (Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds      8

Round Rock Express  6

WP – Kurcz 1-0 / 4.50

HR – Barreto (1), Parmelee (1)

Prospect Of The Game:

Outfielder Jaff Decker

(4 for 4 / Double / RBI / 2 Walks / 2 Runs / 2 Stolen Bases)

Center fielder Jaff Decker had a big night at the plate to help Nashville come back from a 5-run deficit and win in 11 innings on Friday. Decker reached base in all 6 of his trips to the plate, going 4 for 4 with a double and 2 walks, while also swiping a pair of bases, driving in a run and scoring twice. His biggest hit was a two-out double in the 9th to tie things up and send the game to extra innings. He also walked and scored the Sounds’ second run in the 11th. Chris Parmelee singled in Decker in the 11th, homered to lead off the top of the 10th and also singled in another run in the 5th. Renato Nunez singled in the winning run in the 11th with his only hit of the game, while second baseman Franklin Barreto had 3 hits, including a 2-run homer in the 5th. Third baseman Matt Chapman exited the game after the 4th inning for unknown reasons. RHP Michael Brady, signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, was shaky in his first start for the Sounds, lasting just 3 innings after surrendering 5 runs in the 1st, but RHP Zach Neal was impressive in relief, tossing 4 scoreless frames to help keep his team in the hunt. RHP Aaron Kurcz picked up the win despite allowing the tying run in the bottom of the 10th, while RHP Bobby Wahl got the final three outs in the 11th to earn the save for the Sounds. In other news, reliever Tyler Sturdevant was added to the roster on Friday to replace Jesse Hahn, who was recalled by the A’s on Wednesday.

Click here for more on Midland, Stockton & Beloit…

Thursday, April 6th: Mann Pitches Hounds to Victory while Barreto’s Big Hit Isn’t Enough to Help Sounds Prevail in Extras

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Midland RockHounds Pitcher Brandon Mann (4 IP / 1 H / 0 ER / 0 BB / 2 K / Win)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Midland RockHounds LHP Brandon Mann (4 IP / 1 H / 0 ER / 0 BB / 2 K / Win)

 

TEXAS LEAGUE  (Double-A)

Tulsa Drillers                  1

Midland RockHounds  4

WP – Mann 1-0 / 0.00

Prospect Of The Game:

Pitcher Brandon Mann

(4 IP / 1 H / 0 ER / 0 BB / 2 K / Win)

Working on the back end of a tandem start, veteran LHP Brandon Mann was nearly perfect over 4 shutout innings, allowing a single to the first batter he faced in the 4th inning, then retiring the next twelve batters in order without allowing another base runner in his impressive season debut for the RockHounds. And the 32-year-old’s strong effort ended up earning him the victory on opening night in Midland. RHP Corey Walter was the front-end starter in Thursday’s tandem arrangement, allowing just 1 run over 3 innings of work. RHP Sam Bragg held Tulsa scoreless in the 8th, and RHP Jake Sanchez pitched a perfect 9th to pick up the save. First baseman Viosergy Rosa doubled, singled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 1st and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly in the 5th. Right fielder Tyler Marincov drove in the RockHounds’ first run with a sacrifice fly and also walked and singled in the game, while left fielder J.P. Sportman singled, walked, stole a base, scored twice and made an impressive catch in left field to save a potential run in the 4th inning for the RockHounds on Thursday. Meanwhile, the tandem of RHPs James Naile and Grant Holmes are scheduled to take the mound for Midland on Friday.

Click here for more on Nashville, Stockton & Beloit…

Stockton Ports 2017 Opening Day Roster Preview

by Josh Moore / A’s Farm Stockton Correspondent

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Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark

This year, Stockton has the pleasure of welcoming Oakland’s first four selections from last year’s draft onto its 25-man opening day roster, as the Ports add a total of 13 new players to the 2017 squad.

The main cause for excitement in Stockton this year revolves around the team’s retooled pitching staff, which will feature last year’s top three draft picks for the A’s: LHP A.J. Puk (#6 overall, Florida), RHP Daulton Jefferies (#37, Cal) and RHP Logan Shore (#47, Florida).

Of the 13 pitchers currently on the Ports pitching staff, eight of them are expected to work as part of four two-man starting pitching tandems, at least to start the season. In addition to top picks Puk, Jefferies and Shore, a couple of 2016 Snappers starters, RHPs Angel Duno (7-7, 2.68) and Dustin Hurlbutt (3-6, 2.57), will be joining a pair of Ports hold-overs, RHPs Casey Meisner (1-14, 4.85) and Brett Graves (7-10, 4.60), along with LHP Evan Manarino (10-6, 2.58), who split time between Beloit and Stockton last year. And this octet of promising young pitchers certainly has the potential to shape up as the California League’s most talented starting staff in 2017.

Last season, Stockton’s hitters struck out a total of 1,226 times (second worst in the California League), and the Ports were league-average or below in nearly all offensive categories. With a pair of last year’s more productive hitters, Joe Bennie (.302/.376/.449) and B.J. Boyd (.288/.346/.395), joining Midland this season, the Ports hope that some of the newcomers will step up to help replace their production.

Among the new arrivals are a number of 2016 draft picks who just got a chance to get their feet wet last year, including catcher Sean Murphy (3rd round, Wright State), outfielder Tyler Ramirez (7th round, North Carolina), shortstop Eli White (11th round, Clemson) and second baseman Josh Vidales (28th round, Houston). Joining them will be some more experienced prospects who spent all of last season with Beloit, including outfielders Skye Bolt (.231/.318/.345) and Brett Siddall (.241/.321/.356) as well as second baseman Trent Gilbert (.269/.327/.380).

The key to success for Stockton this season, however, will be the performance of its talented young pitching staff. It will surely need to improve on a 2016 staff that underwhelmed last year, even after adding highly-touted RHP Grant Holmes, who joined the Ports in August after arriving from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal. Among the five teams in the California League North Division last season, Stockton had the highest ERA (4.56) and WHIP (1.44) as well as the fewest saves (20), so there’s definitely plenty of room for improvement in 2017.

 

10 Ports Players to Watch in 2017

1. LHP A.J. Puk

ap640462bIf there was any doubt who to note first on this list, witnessing Puk’s performance in Stockton’s exhibition game versus Cal State East Bay on Tuesday evening erased all doubt. The big lefty will undoubtedly be the big attraction at Banner Island Ballpark this season. And he possesses a unique set of skills that will be dearly missed whenever he is inevitably sent to Midland, whether it be midseason or next season, so that he can terrorize Texas League hitters. Sporting a 6’7″ frame and long, reddish-blonde hair, Puk is a dominant figure on the mound. His unique ability to hurl a 98-mph fastball on a downward plane results in a distinct POP audible a quarter mile down Fremont Street. Though he was facing collegiate competition on Tuesday, Puk was absolutely a man amongst boys. Brought into the game in relief of starter Dustin Hurlbutt, Puk struck out 8 batters in 4 innings while allowing just two base runners. Puk made his spring training debut in major league camp for the A’s, striking out the side in the first of his two appearances in big league camp. In 10 starts at Vermont in 2016, Puk pitched to a 3.03 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP while striking out 40 in 32 2/3 innings, and he was most proficient against right-handed hitters, allowing a stingy .157/.232/.202 line against righties. At his best in 2016, Puk combined to allow just 3 hits and 2 walks over 8 2/3 innings while striking out 13 and allowing no runs in back-to-back August starts. Like many larger-framed pitchers, however, Puk is also prone to a wild, difficult-to-repeat delivery and occasionally lacks control because of it. In both his freshman and sophomore seasons at Florida, Puk averaged more than 4 walks per 9 innings and allowed 3.3 free passes per 9 frames at Vermont. For Ports fans, the news of Puk’s arrival could be bittersweet. As one of the most potentially electrifying pitchers in the California League, he might not end up staying in the league for long.

2. RHP Logan Shore

ls624519Dating back to their days together at Florida when Shore and A.J. Puk dominated SEC lineups together, and despite what’s been written above, the better pitcher statistically has actually been Shore. Logan didn’t feature a mid-to-high 90s fastball or double-digit K/9 numbers at Florida, but he walked only a fraction of the batters that Puk did (1.90 to 4.04 BB/9), showed off an ERA in the mid-2s compared to Puk’s in the mid-3s, and won 30 games over three seasons as opposed to Puk’s 16 victories. Shore’s best asset is probably his ability to control the strike zone, which he typically pounds with a plus changeup, slider and a fastball that sits in the low 90s with excellent command. In his brief stint in Vermont last season, lefties struggled to the tune of a .306 OPS while Shore pitched to an overall 2.57 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, striking out 21 in as many innings for the Lake Monsters. He really impressed in a surprise spring training start in major league camp against the Angels, where he struck out 5 (including Mike Trout) over 5 solid innings and allowed just a single run thanks to some unusual spring training base-running shenanigans.

3. RHP Daulton Jefferies

djPFKSDMUFQUWSOHH.20151029180443Oakland’s second pitching selection in 2016 out of UC Berkeley, Jefferies was nearly as dominant as Shore against lefties in his first taste of pro action, holding them to a .167/.250/.222 slash line in the Arizona League in what was admittedly a very small sample size. Overall, in 11 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 2.38 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP while notching 17 strikeouts for the AZL A’s. Like Shore, Jefferies’ consistency and control are a large part of what makes him so good. He walked only 8 in 50 innings while putting up a 1.08 ERA in his final season at Cal. And in limited action in the Arizona League last year, he issued just 2 walks in his 11 1/3 innings of work. A rocky spring training outing in his only action in major league camp saw him yield 8 hits and 6 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings of work for the A’s, but Jefferies is certainly a prospect who has the potential to move through the A’s system quickly.

4. C Sean Murphy

sm669221Although Murphy is a defensive-oriented backstop with a laser for an arm, he hit .298 at Vermont before an 0-for-23 stretch cut his batting average to .237 last year. He finished last season on a high note, however, going 3-for-3 with a home run, 3 RBIs and a walk in his final game. He also caught both A.J. Puk and Logan Shore in each of their final starts last season. Murphy showed off his plus arm with a 1st inning laser beam to second base to nail the runner on a stolen base attempt in Stockton’s exhibition game on Tuesday, but the backstop appeared to be a little over-matched at the plate at times.

5. IF Mikey White

mw608383bWith the release of last year’s starting third baseman for Stockton, Jose Brizuela, White looks to take over the bulk of the third base duties for the Ports in 2017. The former Alabama standout was drafted by the A’s in the second round in 2015, just one round after the team selected fellow SEC infielder Richie Martin. And last year, he ended up hitting .247/.315/.352 in his first season with the Ports. Hitting in the seventh spot in the order behind Sean Murphy in Stockton’s exhibition game on Tuesday, White showed signs of improving his performance this year, drilling a 2-run homer to left, singling to left, and walking in his first 3 plate appearances against right-handed pitching.

6. RHP Nolan Blackwood 

nb670154A 14th-round selection out of Memphis, Blackwood projects to be Stockton’s primary closer in 2017. He’s a submarine-style pitcher similar to former A’s Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler, but with a better fastball that reaches the low 90s. Blackwood began last season with Vermont, appearing 5 times in relief, allowing 2 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings (2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) before being promoted to Beloit. Blackwood got off to a rocky start for the Snappers, where he allowed 9 earned runs in his first 8 2/3 innings while opposing batters crushed his pitches to the tune of a .415 batting average and an OPS of 1.020. In his final 6 appearances, however, the 6’5” righty managed to right the ship, holding opposing batters to a .114/.162/.114 slash line while allowing just 6 base runners in 11 1/3 innings. Blackwood continued his scoreless streak during two brief appearances in major league spring training camp for the A’s, throwing 1 1/3 shutout innings versus Milwaukee and Chicago, which will hopefully help provide him with an added boost of confidence heading into his debut season in Stockton.

7. 1B Chris Iriart 

ci664872bDefensive limitations aside, Iriart can swing it with power, as he combined to hit 22 home runs last season between Beloit and Stockton. His impressive .689 slugging percentage in 61 at-bats at Stockton last season more closely resembled most other Ports hitters’ OPS. Besides Iriart, only fellow first baseman Sandber Pimentel (.779) and outfielder Seth Brown (.702) return to the club with an OPS that was better than .700 last season, and the young slugger promises to provide the Ports will plenty of power in 2017.

8. OF Skye Bolt

sb621450A quick, switch-hitting center fielder, Bolt will instantly become Stockton’s best defensive outfielder. After electing not to sign with the Nationals after being drafted out of high school, he showed promise as a freshman at North Carolina, hitting .321/.418/.491, but he never saw his production match those numbers again over his next two collegiate seasons. Oakland selected the speedy center fielder in the 4th round in 2015, but he’s yet to come on strong at the plate in Vermont or Beloit during first two professional seasons, hitting a combined .233/.321/.358 while grounding into more double plays (14) than he has stolen bases (12). Bolt went 0-3 in Tuesday’s exhibition, striking out once, though his first two at-bats were loud outs, resulting in his counterpart in center field having to make two spectacular plays to keep him off the basepaths.

9. 1B Sandber Pimentel

sp622698Though Pimentel will open the season on the 7-day disabled list, he returns to Stockton for a second season after leading the Ports in home runs (21) and notching the second-most RBIs (66) and walks (60) on the team. 18 of the left-handed slugger’s 21 home runs came in 317 at-bats versus right-handed pitchers in 2016. Pimentel cooled off in the latter half of the season, doing most of his damage between May and July, when he slashed .257/.349/.530 and belted 17 home runs. Pimentel hit fifth in the order in Tuesday’s exhibition game and once again went yard to right-center.

10. RHP Matt Sergey

ms519270Finally, if you’re a fan of the classic underdog, I’ll try to sell you on Matt Sergey, even if just for this season. Once a 45th-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers way back in 2007, the 27-year old Sergey has spent much of his time bouncing around the independent leagues. Despite an obvious lack of tools, and with a fastball that tops out in the low-90s and barely fringe-to-average secondary pitches, Sergey seems to pick his spots well and has a knack for missing bats. Matt spent parts of 2016 with Laredo in the independent American Association, where he pitched to a 4-0 record in 7 starts over 44 innings, allowing only 4 runs with a WHIP of just 0.93. His first attempt at A-level ball was last year at Stockton, where he made 12 appearances with mixed results. Despite Sergey’s success as a starter in Laredo, he’s probably not cut out to be starting pitcher, but his 13.7K/9 ratio in his 27 innings with Stockton last year indicate that he can indeed produce outs in limited stints. He made an appearance in Tuesday’s exhibition game, retiring the only four batters he faced. In 2016, 6 of Sergey’s 9 relief appearances for Stockton were in similar three-to-four-out situations; and in them, he didn’t allow a single run and struck out 12 in just 6 1/3 innings of work.

 

You can find the complete Stockton Ports opening day roster here.

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Beloit Snappers 2017 Opening Day Roster Outlook

by Ryan Christoffersen / A’s Farm Beloit Correspondent

bsHi there! My name is Ryan Christoffersen and I will be contributing to Athletics Farm this season from Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit is the home of the Oakland Athletics’ Low Single-A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers (#OhSnap).

Working as a Stats Stringer and Official Scorer at Pohlman Field in Beloit, I am going to be at almost every home game. That means I will be able to keep everyone updated on what is happening and what I am seeing from the prospects playing for the Snappers. This is actually my second year working in the Pohlman Field press box. Last season, I was the Pitch F/X Operator for the Snappers, so I am already familiar with about ten of the players on the current roster.

Don’t forget to read the main source of news for the Beloit Snappers at snappersbaseball.com, where new Media Relations Manager Garrett Mansfield is doing some great work. And speaking of snappersbaseball.com and Garrett, check out his article on the Snappers opening day roster. That article and my following thoughts should work together to give Oakland A’s fans a very good idea of what prospects are in Beloit to start this season and why they should be very excited!

 

They’re baaaaack…

Ten Snappers making a return trip to Beloit this season…

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Leon “Boomer” Biegalski

RHP Boomer Biegalski: Real name is “Leon.” I prefer “Boomer.” It makes me think of Tom DeLonge’s character from the blink-182 music video First Date. Boomer Biegalski actually led the 2016 Beloit Snappers with 153 1/3 innings pitched. He finished with a respectable 3.70 ERA (3.96 FIP) and a 1.19 WHIP. He was even selected to play in the Midwest League All-Star Game. The problem with Biegalski last season was how poorly he pitched in the second half. Not only was his ERA about a full run higher after the all-star break (first half: 3.21 ERA, second half: 4.15 ERA), but his home runs allowed ballooned from 4 in the first half to 10 in the second half. It has got to be frustrating to return to Beloit after a full season there, but I would bet he is one of, if not the first, Snappers moved up this season.

SS/2B/3B Trace Loehr: Here is an interesting case. Loehr, like Biegalski, spent all of last season with the Snappers. A 6th-round pick out of high school in 2014, Loehr was the #26 prospect in the A’s organization according to MLB Pipeline going into the 2016 season. But it was a season full of speed bumps for this slick-fielding infielder. Loehr did not hit well in the first half, batting just .211/.241/.283. He had a short stay on the disabled list in late April/early May. And then, in late July, Loehr was arrested and was placed on the temporarily inactive list for almost two weeks. With limited information available on the incident, I have to assume Loehr was cleared of any wrongdoing. When he came back in August, he started to play really well, hitting .338/.372/.513 in 21 games with 4 stolen bases and numerous “web gems” in the field. If Loehr can continue to play closer to what he did last August, we could have a post-hype breakout player.

3B/SS Edwin Diaz: Spent all of last season with the Snappers. Has some potential with the bat, but a high strikeout rate (29.7%) is part of the reason he is back in Beloit.

LHP Andrew Tomasovich: Side-arm lefty reliever has some nasty swing-and-miss stuff (11.34 K/9 in 39 2/3 innings), but has trouble controlling it (1.64 WHIP, 5.67 ERA).

RHP Michael Murray: Made 12 starts for the Snappers last season. ERA was a little high at 4.28, but probably more representative of his season is the fact that he had a 3.66 FIP in 61 innings.

RHP Brendan Butler: Pitched well in 9 starts for Beloit in 2016 with 3.14 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 51 2/3 innings. Can he build off of successful 2016 season? If so, he could move up quickly.

OF Mike Martin: Pleasant surprise for Snappers in 2016 before getting hurt in July and missing the rest of the season. Hit .298 with a .372 OBP and 7 stolen bases in 34 games for the Snappers.

OF Luis Barrera: Young outfielder with exciting potential is going into his age-21 season. Hit .310/.361/.428 between Vermont and Beloit last season while playing all three outfield spots.

RHP Xavier Altamirano: Strong start to 2016 in Beloit, but struggled in May before being put on DL. Once healthy, he pitched in Vermont the rest of the year and had a 2.48 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings.

C Collin Theroux: 32nd-round pick in 2016 had a brief cameo in Beloit at the end of the season. In 21 at-bats, Theroux struck out 15 times and did not record a hit. Nowhere to go but up!

 

The Newbies

Top five new Snappers ranked in order of how excited I am to see them play this season…

  1. RHP Dakota Chalmers: Only Snapper ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Oakland A’s prospects at #14. I figure there is a good chance he spends the entire season in Beloit because he is just 20 years old and needs to work on his control.

  2. OF/3B/2B JaVon Shelby: An article from last year here on Athletics Farm talks about the 2016 A’s draft class with Athletics Scouting Director Eric Kubota. In the article, Kubota talks about how Shelby is capable of playing the outfield as well as third base and second base. He is described as a versatile, “toolsy” player with a lot of potential. Kubota even says he is “a Josh Harrison (of the Pirates) type of player.” Harrison is a versatile, productive and overall exciting player to watch – he also hit .337 in 79 games in the Midwest League in 2009. If Shelby even slightly resembles Josh Harrison, the Snappers are getting a fun player to watch.
  3. 1B Miguel Mercedes: Listed at 6’4”, 255 lbs., this power-hitting first baseman should be knocking home runs out of homer-friendly Pohlman Field all summer long. HOT TAKE ALERT! – Mercedes will finish in the top three in home runs in the Midwest League.
  4. LHP Will Gilbert: A college closer at North Carolina State, this guy looks to be the best bet as the Snappers best reliever to start the season. I have always heard one of the quickest paths to the majors are for left-handed relievers. From his good stats in Vermont to his high draft spot for a reliever (8th round), I could see Gilbert playing for the Oakland A’s in the big leagues in the not-too-distant future, provided he pitches up to his potential in Beloit.
  5. OF Cole Gruber: I am always pumped to see a player with blazing speed. Whether it is base stealing, running the bases, or making plays in the outfield, speed kills. Gruber led the Arizona League with 28 stolen bases while being caught just twice last season.

I hope you enjoyed my opening thoughts on the opening day Snappers roster! Growing up here in the midwest as a huge baseball fan, it was inevitable that I would take interest in the Midwest League. I really started to follow the Midwest League starting in 2004. In my experience, I have found that the Midwest League is a place for players to have their breakout seasons. While 2016 was a tough year in the standings, I am very excited for the 2017 Beloit Snappers. While lacking in top prospects, this team is full of players with breakout potential. #OhSnap

You can find the complete Beloit Snappers opening day roster here.

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A’s Minor Leaguers Star in Tabitha Soren’s ‘Fantasy Life’

Tabitha Soren

Tabitha Soren

As soon as the players from the A’s 2002 draft class entered the system to begin their professional baseball careers, former MTV journalist Tabitha Soren began photographing them and documenting their journeys. Of course, this was the draft class that was documented in the well-known tome “Moneyball.”

Many A’s fans will recall that the first two picks from that draft, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, made it to the big leagues within the next two years. But it’s those players who never made it to the majors – like Ben Fritz and Steve Stanley – and those who got just the briefest cups of coffee – like Jeremy Brown and Mark Kiger – who form the real backbone of Soren’s new book, “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream.”

Filled with Soren’s photos of players from the 2002 class both during and after their baseball careers, the book also includes childhood photos as well as compelling essays by the players themselves reflecting on their own diverse journeys. Some of those journeys led to World Series championships and multi-million-dollar contracts, and some of those journeys led to work in the coal mines and homelessness.

What all the players profiled in “Fantasy Life” have in common is the fact that they were all chasing a childhood dream – a few of them caught it, but most of them were forced to have to surrender it. Referring to these ballplayers in a recent book talk, Soren said, “You’re not a child even though you’re playing a child’s game.” And this book makes clear the journey from wide-eyed children to clear-eyed men that each of these dreamers had to make.

Soren has also spent time photographing a much more recent crop of A’s prospects, primarily those playing with the Stockton Ports. Some of those photos, as well as some photos of the players from the 2002 draft class who are featured in the book, are included below. “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream” will be released by Aperture on April 1 and is available to order online now. All photos below by Tabitha Soren…

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Before & After: Nick Swisher (above) and Mark Kiger (below)

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A’s prospect Matt Olson (above) / Olson with fellow prospect and frequent roommate Chad Pinder (below)

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

gfDSC01787-1[2c]Long-time baseball man Grady Fuson served as the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when the team drafted such talented players as Eric ChavezTim HudsonMark MulderBarry Zito and Rich Harden.

He left the A’s at the end of 2001 to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers and, after moving on to head up the Padres scouting department, Fuson eventually returned to the A’s a little over seven years ago to serve as a special assistant to the general manager.

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

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

 

AF:  Let’s start out by talking a little bit about last year’s draft. I know you guys may not have even expected to have the chance to get the guy who turned out to be your top draft pick, left-hander A.J. Puk. But now that you’ve got him here in camp and you guys have had a chance to get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now, and what have you got to work on with him to get him where he needs to be?

ap640462bGF:  Well ever since we signed him, we really haven’t seen any of the command issues that kind of bothered him a little bit in college. So for the most part, once he got signed and got out and got comfortable, he threw pretty good strikes in Vermont, did the same in instructs, and has done the same here. So now that we’re starting to feel comfortable about his location and his execution, [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson has allowed him to bring back a curveball that apparently Florida had taken from him all those years. And it’s actually showing some signs of life. It’s a different angle than his slider, and it looks like it’s going to be a very good pitch for him. For him, it’s about a big man maintaining some consistency in his delivery so that he’s able to execute at the highest level. He had an unbelievable first major league inning in a spring training game – 97 mph, threw strike after strike, threw the baseball by all of them, it wasn’t even close!

AF:  I guess that opened a lot of people’s eyes.

GF:  Yes.

AF:  Last year, you guys took three pitchers at the top of the draft. After Puk, right-handers Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore, a couple more experienced college pitchers, were your next two picks. So how are those two guys looking at this point?

GF:  Jefferies, as you know, experienced some shoulder issues last year at Cal and was shut down – probably not shut down long enough. They allowed him to go out and pitch at the end of the year, and he probably wasn’t 100%. So we spent most of the time rehabbing him all last summer. He hit the mound a couple of times late in the summer. He pitched effectively and pitched issue-free. So instead of pushing the envelope, we didn’t even bring him to instructional league really – he was here for a short period of time but did not throw. The rest and the recovery, for the medical guys, was more important. Now he’s showing up 100% healthy. He’s been pounding the strike zone – 93s-94s-95s with a filthy changeup. The breaking ball is the one thing that we still play with a little bit – still trying to play with a grip, play with an angle – so if there’s any pitch in there that needs some attention…but he’s a pretty good strike thrower and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got a chance to be a special kid.

AF:  And what about Logan Shore?

ls624519GF:  Shore’s been very good. As a sophomore, there were some 93 and 94 mph four-seamers in there, much more than there were his last year in college. He pitched around 90 mph all year. Everything he threw had more of a sink to it. I think there was some question as to how much was left in this guy. I for one was excited to see if we could get that four-seamer back. Now being with him, everything he holds is a four-seamer! But velocity is up. There was one day he touched 95 mph, but he been pitching in the 92s and 93s. He’s got a filthy changeup. He’s another guy who could improve a little bit on the consistency of his breaking ball. He’s similar to Jefferies, maybe not as live and quick of an arm, but they both have plus to double-plus changeups and they’re both strike throwers.

AF:  How much thought have you guys given to maybe keeping all three of these guys together as a group to start the season?

GF:  We’ve had our thoughts. I think they’re all somewhat advanced college pitchers – there’s some polish there. Puk may be the lightest on overall command, but these guys have a chance to move quicker than the rest.

AF:  Is there anyone else from last year’s draft that you’ve been feeling particularly fond of lately?

GF:  Yeah, let me mention Skylar Szynski. He was a high school pick in the 4th-round – powerful kid, good arm, good breaker, makings of a changeup, around the dish. He tired easily after we signed him. He lost half the summer to fatigue. We brought him back for instructional league and didn’t have him do much because of the fatigue factor. But he’s come back to this camp and has looked very good. The ball is jumping out of his hand. He’s got decent moves in his delivery, which creates a lack of concern. There’s power in this kid’s game. It’s just about him getting on the mound now and getting to a level where he can go out and pitch a little bit. I’m unsure how we break here with him but, in my opinion, a very good draft pick.

AF:  So it sounds like it’s up in the air at this point whether he goes to a short-season or a full-season team this year.

GF: Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk a bit about some of the higher-level prospects now. Your top prospect, infielder Franklin Barreto, looked very good in big league camp this spring and he was recently sent over to the minor league camp. He’s going to start the season at Nashville, and he’s obviously very close at this point. What’s left for him to do to be major-league ready and what’s he got to work at Nashville this year?

fb620439bGF:  Not a whole lot! I mean, he’s really come on as an offensive player. There’s going to be power in his game for a little man. He’s probably got the quickest bat and quickest hands in the system. Nobody can ever have enough experience controlling the strike zone and learning how people pitch you and things like that. He’s played a little bit more aggressively in big league camp, which most young kids do. There were times that we were concerned about his effort. It showed up in the [Arizona] Fall League a little bit as well. Some of that’s fatigue – some of that could be attitude. But this guy has dominated, going down the line, making hard turns, everything in big league camp that would impress a major league coaching staff.

AF:  So should we assume this year at Nashville he’ll be spending time at shortstop and second base, splitting time between the two.

GF: Mm hmm.

AF:  Now what about third baseman Matt Chapman? He managed to keep up his power numbers at Midland which, as you know, no one ever seems to do. So obviously the power is real. He’ll be at Nashville this year. I know the question with him always has to do with how much contact he’s going to make. So what’s he got to work on at Nashville to be ready to take the next step?

GF:  That’s it – hopefully improving his strikeout rate. He looks better. It looks like there’s a little bit more separation to his move, which is going to give him a little bit more time to read and react. But everything else is solid. He’s hitting them just as far today as he did a year ago.

AF:  Well I guess we don’t have to bother worrying about his power and defense anyway.

GF:  Not at all.

AF:  A guy who made a big leap forward last year was catcher Bruce Maxwell. He really seemed to turn a corner with the bat last summer at Nashville. What clicked for him last year, and where do you feel he’s at both at the plate and behind the plate at this stage of the game?

bm622194bGF:  Yeah, it was a little bit of a breakout year for Maxie offensively. It was certainly a collection of the most competitive at-bats I’ve ever seen him have over the course of his career – and it held up in the big leagues. And the more quality at-bats he had there, the more he ended up playing, especially late in the year. The bottom line is we have Stephen Vogt and we have Josh Phegley, and when they’re both healthy, there’s kind of no place to go. So in his case, if he goes back to Nashville, it’s not that he’s being demoted. It’s just that right now he’s still waiting in the wings. I think everybody’s locked into the catch/throw – we’re okay – he’s done a great job with that the last two years. Maybe some blocking – you know, you could pick these guys apart left and right if you want but…he still gets exposed sometimes in blocking situations. But catching and throwing, he’s done a tremendous job.

AF:  At this point for him, it sounds like it’s mainly just a matter of standing in line and waiting his turn.

GF:  Yep.

AF:  Let’s talk about infielder Chad Pinder, who was recently sent back over to the minor league camp. Bob Melvin was just saying the other day that he thought that his bat was ahead of his defense and it may be just a matter of finding the proper home for him in the field. And now they want to try to make him more versatile defensively and have been talking about having him spend some time in the outfield this year at Nashville.

GF:  Well his defense last year threw us all for a loop a little bit, because of how well he played the year before at Midland. So he went through some growing pains, and I think he’s realized some of the things he’s done wrong. I think the big league staff and the front office, some people have gotten a different look at him – maybe he was a little intimidated or nervous, whatever it may be, in the big leagues last year and had a little stiffer look to him. But I think he’s put himself back on the map in this camp. I know the staff has been impressed. He’s done well offensively for the most part. But, you know, he goes back and tries to put another stage to his game, and see if he can improve on that defense. My thing with Chad has always been, he’s just been a guy who’s always had a very low walk rate. So very low walk rates usually equal guys with recognition issues. And with Chad, he’s gotten better in his two-strike situations, but for me personally, I see him get himself in trouble early in the count. He’s offering at pitches early in the count that are going to be low odds to square up. So if he can improve his recognition of what he wants to jump on early, I think that’s going to improve the whole on-base thing a little bit.

cp640461bAF:  And do you anticipate seeing him moving around a bit in the field and getting a little more versatile this year?

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt, which we’re big on in the big leagues. We platoon a ton. So the more versatility, the more options there are. The other thing that’s going to be interesting…he told me that he had his eyes done.

AF:  Lasik?

GF:  Yeah, and in the at-bats that I was seeing over there [in major league camp], he looked a little bit more patient and confident.

AF:  So maybe he literally is seeing pitches better at this point! A guy who’s in a somewhat similar situation as Pinder is first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson, who was also sent back over to the minor league camp recently. Bob Melvin was saying that they’re working on changing his swing a bit. So what’s he got to do this year to get himself to where you can see him being ready for the major leagues?

GF:  He’s got to define where the impact’s going to be. We already know what he can do defensively. He’s well above average at first, and he’s solid in the outfield. I’m sure if you wanted to put him at third, he could play it. He’s just a good defender. So it’s the same story with him going into this year as every year. There’s always been power, there’s always been on-base, but it’s about not having so many empty at-bats. So it doesn’t take a scientist to realize we need the contact rate to go up and the swing-and-miss rate to come down…and try to make him as good as he can be as far as his approach. This is the first year that he’s come back with a change – he’s a little bit more out in front of himself instead of tied up in the air – and it looks like it’s helping him. He’s been much more competitive in his big league at-bats this spring.

AF:  So it sounds like you’re trying to shorten his swing a bit.

GF:  Yeah, we’re trying to shorten it and we’re trying to get him to stay over the baseball a little bit better.

AF:  And you feel like he’s taken to that change fairly well?

GF:  Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about Renato Nunez. It’s always sort of the same conversation about him. The power potential’s real, when he hits the ball it goes a long way, but the question has always been where he’s going to end up in the field.

rn600524dGF:  Well he’s got to learn to make himself more versatile. It’s going to be an interesting year for him, because he’s going to have to play some left, he’s going to have to DH, he’s going to have to play some first, and then he’ll get some third base time – but you’ve got Chapman there, and he’s probably going to get the majority of the time there. So it’s time for him to kind of change his game a little bit. He’s kind of an odd one, because he’s so young, and yet he’s like the most unheard of 22-year-old to hit 23 homers in the Pacific Coast League. So you’ve got to appreciate what this guy can do – this guy can change the course of a game with one swing. But he’s never come to big league camp and nailed it, you know, like Chapman did [last spring]. Sometimes those things need to happen to get that extra opportunity.

AF:  Another hitter likely to start the year back at Nashville who I wanted to ask you about is a guy I think you’ve always felt good about, and that’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He’s another guy who seemed to take a big step forward last year. He always seems to over achieve and exceed people’s expectations, and he had a really good season last year. So where do you feel he’s at and what’s he got to do at this point?

GF:  He’s close, I think he’s ready. But to open the year, he’s going to go back to Nashville. But there’s not a lot Bruggy needs to overcome to become our fourth, or somebody’s fourth, or fifth outfielder. And in a perfect world, if you’ve got a contending team, I kind of see him that way. He can play all three outfield spots, and he’s going to give you a good quality at-bat whether he’s getting four at-bats a night or two a week – and that’s a vital skill for a part-time player. Now in Bruggy’s case, if he does the things that he’s been doing in the minor leagues, which is a little combo of everything, then he’s going to make himself into an everyday player somewhere, here, somewhere. It was their first look at him in big league camp. They’ve heard most of the minor league coaches describe him. I thought he held his own and did fine and his at-bats were competitive.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few pitchers before we wrap up. A pitcher who made a lot of progress last year was Daniel Gossett. He wasn’t particularly eye-opening at Beloit in 2015, but then he suddenly blows through Stockton, Midland and Nashville last year and looks good at every stop. So what clicked for him?

dg605254cGF:  Last year was his breakout year…he really turned it around. And I think it’s just about starting to execute in the finer spots of the strike zone. He’s always been a strike thrower, but it’s been control over command. But now I think his command is starting to tighten up. And when he wants to go down and away, he’s hitting it, and when he wants to come underneath the hands in, he’s hitting it. Before, a lot of his stuff was kind of center cut, and so there was a lot more contact off him and the strikeouts were down. And last year, that all flipped. And he did a very good job in big league camp. He pitched very well.

AF:  And I guess adding the cutter helped him a bit too.

GF:  Yeah, but he’s got a solid repertoire of pitches, and his fastball velocity’s up. He was 91-95 mph pretty much every outing last year.

AF:  Well that always helps! Another pitcher I wanted to talk to you about is Raul Alcantara, who’s out of options. He’s been pitching in the big league camp all spring and competing for a spot on the major league roster. Where do you feel he’s at and do you see his future more as a starter or a reliever at this point?

GF:  Well Raul’s ability to start, especially at the major league level, is going to be determined by his efficiency and command of a breaking ball. There’s no doubt that he’s got a good arm. He’s got a great changeup. So with Sonny Gray being down, it kind of eases the decision as to what we do. I’m not sure yet, we still have a couple meetings to have about…is he in the mix for the fifth starter role or does he kick it off as the long guy? But I think there’s enough opportunity now for him to possibly stay when we break. So we’ll see how that goes.

AF:  And finally, I wanted to ask you about Frankie Montas, who was one of the guys you got last summer from the Dodgers. He was hurt most of last season, but he pitched for you guys a bit in the Arizona Fall League and now he’s been pitching here in the big league camp this spring. So what’s he look like to you now that you’ve had the chance to get a look at him up close here in camp?

fm593423cGF:  I got to see him a little bit in instructs before we sent him over to the Fall League. I saw him in two outings in the Fall League, and I’ve seen him two or three times here. Easy 100 mph – probably one of the easiest big velo guys you want to see. The breaker comes and goes, but it can be filthy at times. Personally, I would like to see him utilize his changeup more, which I just haven’t seen – I don’t know if I’m running to the bathroom when he throws it! Especially if we’re going to think down the road as a starter, he’s going to need that changeup. But currently, he’s just not really using it that much. I think he went into this big league camp knowing that he was going to be used probably an inning or so at a time, because we’re going to have to watch his pitch counts this year and his innings, so he just attacked them with fastballs and sliders. But he’s done well.

AF:  I know there’s been a lot of talk about whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever, and the fact that he was injured and only threw so many innings last year, so realistically he can only be expected to throw so much this year. So is he going to start out the season as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start at all?

GF:  He’s got to start out as a reliever at this point because he’s only been a one or two inning guy so far. And plus, we’re going to have to watch the innings. So he can go out and get a good half a year in the bullpen and, if he’s still feeling good and healthy and we’ve still got 50-60 innings to play with, then if we decide to go the starter route, he could attack that later. Or there’s a chance he’s on the club.

AF:  You mean, the major league club, right?

GF:  Yeah…in the bullpen.

AF:  Well that’d certainly be good news for fans who like to see guys who can bring the heat! Thanks as always for the insight.

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Talking with a Trio of Top A’s Prospects: Chapman, Gossett & Maxwell

IMG_3715bLast week at the A’s major league spring training camp in Mesa, we took the opportunity to chat with a trio of top A’s prospects, all of whom made our pre-season Top 10 Prospects List.

We caught up with catcher Bruce Maxwell and third baseman Matt Chapman, both of whom we’d spoken with a number of times before. And we also got the chance to speak with pitching prospect Daniel Gossett for the first time.

Maxwell and Chapman both spent plenty of time in the major league camp last spring, but it was the first time in big league camp for Gossett, who was clearly excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

After getting the chance to appear in three spring games, Gossett was reassigned to the A’s minor league camp the day after we spoke, but both Maxwell and Chapman are likely to remain with the major league squad till just prior to opening day.

 

MATT CHAPMAN

mc656305c#2 on our Top 10 Prospects List, third baseman Matt Chapman led all A’s minor leaguers with 36 home runs last season, slugging 29 at Double-A Midland to lead the Texas League and then adding another 7 in just a few weeks with Triple-A Nashville. 2014’s top draft pick for the A’s is also known as a top-tier defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. The 23-year-old will start the year at Nashville, where he’ll try to prove to the A’s that he’s ready for the show sooner rather than later.

AF:  Well, it was a very solid season for you last year. You managed to hit 29 home runs while playing at Midland, which is considered to be a bit of a pitchers’ park. So how did you manage to keep your power numbers up going from Stockton to Midland when so few other guys have been able to do that?

MC:  Just really working with the coaches, swinging at the right pitches, getting good pitches to hit, and just letting your good swing take care of the rest. For me, working hard in the weight room and getting my strength up, and just trying to put good swings on the ball. I’m just going to keep trying to take good swings and letting the results happen.

AF:  You obviously kept your power swing going when you got a late-season promotion to Triple-A Nashville and hit seven more home runs in just a few weeks there. So how did you feel about your experience there?

MC:  It was fun. Every level you go up, there’s different challenges and different adjustments you need to make, so it was fun to kind of get a taste of that. And I’m assuming that’s where I’ll be this season. So it’ll be nice to have a little bit of experience and kind of know what to expect a little more this time around.

AF:  Making the move from High-A to Double-A and Triple-A last year, were there any particular adjustments you had to make against more advanced pitching?

MC:  Definitely, you’re always making adjustments. That’s something in baseball that I don’t think will ever stop. So for me, it might be just making those adjustments a little faster, because the pitchers have a plan of how they want to attack you. So for me, it’s just sticking with that professional approach and being able to not give in to those good pitches those pitchers are making.

AF:  Was having the chance to spend plenty of time in big league camp last year a helpful experience for

you? And did it boost your confidence a bit heading into the season?

MC:  Definitely. Being around these guys and trying to learn as much as I could was definitely a great experience – and also having some success and then being able to have that confidence that you are good enough to play at a higher level.

AF:  So how’s it been being back here in big league camp for your second year? Do you feel a little more comfortable this time around?

MC:  Definitely. It’s always nice to get some of that experience under your belt, so that when you come back again, you know what to expect, you kind of develop more of a routine, you know the guys a little bit better, put some more names to faces, and feel more comfortable just being yourself. It’s been fun.

AF:  Is there anything that the coaching staff has you working on in particular this spring?

MC:  From an offensive standpoint, my rhythm and timing – just really working on dialing in that good rhythm and good timing. And pitch selection – just being disciplined and really committing to getting the pitch that I’m looking for – and kind of just developing that professional hitting approach.

AF:  Now you’re known for your solid defense and your strong arm. So how confident do you feel out there in the field at third base?

MC:  I’m definitely confident. You should always be confident in your abilities, because when you’re confident, you play your best. And at this level, you should always want to play your best. So you should always be confident and believe in yourself. I’m definitely very confident in my ability on defense and err on the side of attacking every baseball.

AF:  So what are you focused on and what’s your mindset heading into this coming season?

MC:  My mindset coming into this season is to take everything that I’ve been working on this season in big league camp, everything that I learned from last season, successes and failures, and hopefully combine all those together and formulate the best version of me that I can be, then take that into the beginning of this season and go out there every day and try to get better and show them I’m ready to make the next step.

 

DANIEL GOSSETT

dg605254c#7 on our Top 10 Prospects List, right-handed starting pitcher Daniel Gossett blew through three levels of the A’s system last season, making as much progress as any pitcher in the organization, and his 151 strikeouts led all A’s minor leaguers last year. Oakland’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2014 (selected by the A’s right after Matt Chapman), the 24-year-old is set to begin the year as a member of the starting rotation at Triple-A Nashville but, depending on how things go, he could end up getting a shot to show what he can do in Oakland before the season’s through.

AF:  You made a big leap forward last season, pitching well at Stockton, Midland and then Nashville. So what accounted for your progress last year, what clicked for you?

DG:  I really focused on just staying with the process, trusting my stuff, and not trying to do too much. And now I get to be around all these guys [in the A’s major league camp], so I get to learn a ton every day. So this is an awesome experience for me. If I can just grab on to everything I learn here and just apply it, it’s going to be the best thing for me.

AF:  I was just about to ask what it’s been like for you to be in big league camp for the first time this spring.

DG:  It’s everything you dream of. This is the dream for everyone. Obviously I haven’t made it to the big leagues yet, but this is obviously a step up in spring training. And I’m honored and excited to be a part of all this and to be around all these guys and to learn as much as I can.

AF:  Has anyone here taken you under their wing a bit or been particularly helpful to you this spring?

DG:  I try and pick as many brains as I can and talk to everyone I can. But Sean Manaea’s been a rock for me, so that helps out a ton. I get to sit by him every day and ask him anything. I feel like he’s a good friend that I can lean on.

AF:  That’s funny because he was the new kid here just last year!

DG:  I guess he understands what I’m going through, so he can kind of look out for me a little bit as well.

AF:  So what was it like when you got out there on the mound in your first spring training game facing big league hitters for the first time?

DG:  Well the first one was actually a start – it was the home opener! It was the first time I’d ever pitched in a big league scenario and I’m starting the game. So there was a little anxiety, but it was awesome. It was great to be on the mound in a big league uniform. It’s still not the real deal, but it’s definitely a cool experience.

AF:  Let’s talk a little bit about your repertoire. What were you throwing last year and what was really working for you?

DG:  I was really able to work off my fastball, which was really good. My fastball control was pretty good. But then I was able to work on my changeup, which has been a staple for me. And then I added a cutter last year, which actually helped out a ton – another option to go to. So adding that pitch really helped out a lot. And [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and a guy who was in Stockton with me last year, Brett Graves, helped me out a ton with the cutter. I’ve just got to keep refining and keep working to see if I can make it a little bit better every day.

AF:  Well, in addition to Gil Patterson, you also had three different pitching coaches throughout the system to work with over the course of last season.

DG:  So I had Steve Connelly my first couple years. I had him in Vermont, then I had him in Beloit, then I had him in Stockton. And so that was great to have a building block there, a good firm relationship I could always lean on. Then I go up to Double-A at Midland and then Triple-A with Rick Rodriguez. And just getting different perspectives on pitching is awesome. These guys, that’s their job – they understand, they’ve been there. So I can learn from them and take different aspects from them and put it all together.

AF:  So how were those different parks for you to have to pitch in? Stockton’s known as a hitters’ park, while Midland and Nashville are known a little more as pitchers’ parks.

DG:  Oh yeah, Stockton and the whole Cal League is definitely a hitters’ league. But you’ve just got to trust in the process – just keep pitching and everything else is outside your control, so just control what you can. And I just try to see if I can wheel out the best I’ve got every day.

AF:  As you moved through three different levels last year, were there any significant adjustments that you needed to make moving from one level to another?

DG:  In Triple-A, definitely. You’ve got a bunch of guys up there with a ton of big league time, and they all have great approaches. And you’re not going to get many swings and misses out of the zone – you have to be good in the zone. Coming from Double-A and High-A, and I’m not trying to talk down about anyone, but I was getting more swings and misses out of the zone. Then you go up to Triple-A and you’ve got to be nasty in the zone, and that’s a bit of an adjustment.

AF:  You’ve got to work in the danger zone all the time!

DG:  Yeah, you’re always living right there on the edge, that’s for sure!

AF:  Even though you weren’t there for very long at the end of last year, how did you enjoy your time in Nashville?

DG:  Unbelievable! Everything there is great. Everything gets better the more you move up, that’s just the way it is. But Nashville’s got a brand new stadium, awesome fans, great city – there’s no down side. It’s really close to home for me too, five hours away, which is fantastic, so I got to spend some more time with my family.

AF:  I guess you didn’t miss all those bus rides across Texas when you were down at Midland.

DG:  That’s true. That’s not a bad deal. Going from the Texas League where I’ve got 12-hour bus rides, then [at Nashville] you’re jumping on a plane to head down to Louisiana. That’s fine with me. I’m not going to complain about that, that’s for sure.

AF:  So if you should end up starting the year back at Nashville, I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad thing then.

DG:  Absolutely. If I start the year playing baseball, that’s a good year!

AF:  So what are you focused on here the rest of the spring?

DG:  I just need to work on some consistency stuff. I need to be consistent in the zone. Just trust myself, that’s the biggest thing. Knowing that I’m facing big league hitters, sometimes I feel like I need to do more, but that’s not the case. You’ve got to do what you do and do it the best you can.

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

bm622194b#8 on our Top 10 Prospects List, Maxwell had a breakthrough 2016 season at Nashville and made his major league debut last July with Oakland, where he made a positive impression on manager Bob Melvin and the A’s coaching staff. The 26-year-old backstop is expected to start the season back at Triple-A Nashville, but if another catcher is needed on the major league squad at any point during the season, then Maxwell will likely be the first man to get the call.

AF:  You made a big leap forward offensively at Nashville last season. So what accounted for the improvements that you were able to make at the plate last year?

BM:  I feel like it was just trusting in the process, and learning from the guys who helped me, whether it be my coaches or my teammates, and just trusting in the hitter that I am, and finally getting enough at-bats to really put into play what I do best and stick to that. So once I had the confidence and the repetitions and the trust in the process, I was able to just kind of let my talent take over.

AF:  And what is it that you feel you do best as a hitter and what is the approach that works for you?

BM:  For the most part, I’m a big strong guy and I have power to all fields, keeping in mind that I use the opposite field very well, and to really try to perfect that craft of mine, so I can always rely on that at the end of the day. So being able to stay confident with that and not switch up my game depending on the pitcher or the situation in the game was my biggest thing. Sticking with that on a daily basis has really made me the consistent hitter that I know I can be and I know they know I can be.

AF:  Last spring, you had the chance to spend a lot of time in the big league camp. I’m sure that was a great experience fo you, but how important was it in terms of developing even more confidence in your own abilities and your own game?

BM:  It was huge…last year I got to show them what I’ve been working on and show them that I do belong and how I’ve come a long way catching-wise. So it was good to get that exposure…and put a good run in in spring. And it really helped me going into the season.

AF:  When you left the big league squad last spring, did Bob Melvin or the coaching staff have anything to say to you or any advice they left you with?

BM:  Yeah, they told me to keep doing what I was doing…and they just told me to make sure that I keep progressing behind the dish and the hitting will take care of itself. They just told me to keep with a good routine, keep my head on straight and just keep plugging away.

AF:  Well, we know there’s always work to do on the catching side, and you’ve obviously done a lot of that already. But where do you feel you’re at with your catching game at this point?

BM:  Honestly, I feel like I’m the best I’ve been. I feel comfortable back there…and I know my pitchers feel confident in me, especially a lot of the guys in Triple-A. I’ve got a good rep with a lot of the big league guys as well because I caught a lot of them in camp last year. And so it’s just about staying on top of it every day.

AF:  So are there any particular aspects that you’re really focused on or trying to work on behind the plate at this point?

BM:  Just making sure that I stay mobile, making sure my pitchers have a nice big target, and making sure that I just stay sharp with the little things back there. Me being as big as I am, the little things are what matter the most. So just trying to make sure those are on point every day, and trying to make sure that my pitchers have the best opportunity to throw strikes and have a big target and can be as confident and comfortable as they can be with me.

AF:  Coming out of college, you really hadn’t done a whole lot of catching at that point. And the main focus when you came into the A’s system was really getting you up to speed with your catching. So how does it feel to now be the #3 catcher on the depth chart for the A’s right there near the top of the food chain?

BM:  It feels good. When I started catching, it seemed like a long way off. I feel that I’ve learned and I’ve applied stuff and put it to use every day. And now my confidence is up there, so it feels good.

AF:  Let me get your quick take, as a catcher, on a few of the pitchers who’ve been here in camp with you this spring. I don’t know if you’ve gotten the chance to catch Jharel Cotton much. I know you didn’t get a chance to catch him at Nashville last year because you were already up in the big leagues when he came over.

BM:  Well I’ve played against Cotton for years. So I’ve known Cotton going on four years now. But he’s a competitor. On any given day, he’s going to go out there and give you his best effort. His pitches are very good, especially when he’s dialed in. And it’s fun to play behind him – he’s got a good pace. It’s his job to make hitters struggle, and that’s what he does. He has a good repertoire of pitches, and he’s a bulldog, so he’s going to go after you with everything he’s got and give you the best chance to win.

AF:  And what about that changeup of his?

BM:  It’s great! It’s not great to hit against him, but catching it’s not so bad.

AF:  And what are your impressions of Frankie Montas?

BM:  He’s kind of the same except he throws 100 mph. He’s got a really good breaking ball, and his changeup’s really good, but his fastball’s dominant. He goes out there cool, calm and collected, and he gives it everything he’s got. He attacks you – he forces you to make an adjustment and then, as soon as you make that adjustment, he makes the adjustment. So he’s strong mentally and even stronger physically.

AF:  And have you had the chance to work with Daniel Gossett yet?

BM:  I’ve caught him one time. But from what I know about him and what I’ve seen, he’s an aggressive pitcher. He’s got confidence in all his pitches. He’s just going to go right after you. He works around the corners and he works down in the zone very well.

AF:  So after having had the chance to be here before, do you feel a little more comfortable and a little more confident at this point?

BM:  It feels good. I feel like I have a good relationship with a lot of these guys. A lot of the guys in this room, I’ve played at Triple-A and Double-A with. But Yonder Alonso and Marcus Semien and a lot of guys I’ve developed good relationships with, so it feels like I belong here.

AF:  Last year, you were with the big league club pretty much till the very end, and you’ll probably be with them till the very end again this year. So whatever happens, wherever you end up, what’s your mindset heading into this season?

BM:  To keep aggressive…everybody wants to get better and better every year. So this year, it’s about repeating what I did last year, and just getting a little more refined in certain aspects, and just being the catcher I know I can be and my pitching staff knows I can be, and just winning a championship whether it be at Triple-A or in the big leagues.

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Talking Top Prospects with A’s Assistant GM Dan Feinstein

A's Asst GM Dan Feinstein (photo: J.Meric/Getty)

A’s assistant GM Dan Feinstein (photo:J.Meric/Getty)

While still in college at UC Davis in 1994, Dan Feinstein got his foot in the door of the baseball world by landing an internship in the Oakland A’s media relations department. He then ended up spending nearly a decade as the team’s video coordinator before eventually getting the chance to serve as an amateur scouting assistant for the A’s in 2004.

Feinstein took the opportunity to join the Dodgers front office in 2005 when former A’s assistant general manager Paul DePodesta became that team’s general manager, but he wound up moving on to Tampa Bay, where he spent six seasons as the director of baseball operations under former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.

The northern California native eventually returned to the A’s just prior to the 2012 season, and he was promoted to assistant general manager, professional scouting and player personnel in late 2015.

His duties currently include assisting executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst with all aspects of baseball operations, including contracts, trades, the construction of major and minor league rosters and arbitration, and he also oversees the team’s international scouting department. But we wanted to take the opportunity to get Feinstein’s inside perspective on some of the A’s top prospects, specifically the top five A’s prospects from A’s Farm’s recent top prospects list

 

AF:  Well, at the top of just about everyone’s A’s prospects list this year is infielder Franklin Barreto. He had a great spring in the big league camp before gettng sent over to the minor league complex, and he’s obviously getting very close to being in the major leagues. What excites you most about him, and what does he still need to work on to get his game where it needs to be?

DF:  Well, one thing we’ll talk about with a few of these guys…is that, even though he’s been with us for a little while now, he’s still just barely 21 years old – he turned 21 during this spring training. So it’s something we have to be mindful of, just how young he is, and how above his age he’s played at virtually every level he’s been at. He’s a fairly quiet kid but extremely confident. He’s a very advanced hitter for his age, excellent hand-eye coordination and bat speed. He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s a really talented young bat.

AF:  Should we expect to be seeing him getting time at both shortstop and second base this year at Nashville?

DF:  Yeah, we certainly think he has enough arm and range to stay at shortstop but, for the immediate future, he’ll probably be able to make the biggest impact at second base. He has very good hands. He’s still learning the nuances of playing the middle of the diamond. I know he’s spent a good deal of time this spring training just making sure that he has the proper footwork and that he’s getting in a strong position to throw. We certainly see him as a shortstop in the future, but he may have his biggest impact at second base this season.

AF:  So would you say that the primary focus for him in terms of improvement this season is more on his defense than on his offense then?

DF:  Yeah, I think that’s probably the case.

AF:  Okay, let’s move on to #2 on our list, and that’s third baseman Matt Chapman. First of all, we know his power is real since he managed to keep his power numbers up at Midland last year, which very few guys seem to be able to do. But he maybe needs to make a little more consistent contact. So what do you like about what you’ve been seeing out of Chapman at this point and what do you need to see out of him at Nashville this season to feel that he’s really major-league ready?

DF:  Matt is a really underrated athlete. He plays a really stellar third base. He’s kind of emerged as one of the best defensive third baseman in all of the minor leagues. He could probably play anywhere on the field if you let him.

AF:  Well, he did used to pitch in college too, right?

DF:  Yeah, and he threw really hard! I mentioned his athleticism, but also his bat speed, the strength in his hands and wrists, and his natural ability to defend. He’s got above-average range at third base. He’s got an extremely strong and accurate arm. There are just so many things to like about him. He did go to Triple-A [late last season], and all his stats might not have been exactly what he would have liked, but he still managed to hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and his power numbers didn’t drop off at all in his short stint in Triple-A.

AF:  Are there any adjustments that are being made to his swing or his approach at this point?

DF:  This spring, I know he’s made it a point to try to be a little more selective and really identify the pitches that he can attack.

AF:  So it sounds like pitch selection is really the main thing that he needs to focus on at this point then.

DF:  Probably, yeah.

AF:  #3 on our list is your 1st-round pick from last year, LHP A.J. Puk. I know you might not have even expected to have the chance to take him in the draft. But now that you’ve gotten him into system and you guys have gotten the chance to really get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now? And I know when Sonny Gray was drafted, he needed to work on the changeup and maybe clean up some of his mechanics, so what do you have to work on with Puk to get him where he needs to be?

DF:  Well, first, A.J. has a rare combination of size and stuff from the left side. You just don’t see a whole lot of 6’7” left-handed pitchers with his kind of stuff. He has the ability to leverage the fastball downhill. He does have an out-pitch breaking ball. He certainly has the ingredients of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. In college, he was primarily fastball/slider. That’s mostly what we saw last spring. It’s really all he needed in college – he would throw an occasional changeup. This spring, he has gone back to a pitch that he threw early on in his college career. He’s got a curveball that we hadn’t really seen much of before. It’s a more true downward break, and that has the chance to be an out-pitch as well. Some of the things he’s working on here: certainly advancing his changeup and making it a more usable third or fourth pitch, being more efficient with his pitches and, like every young player, he’s just adjusting to the daily rigors of his first full professional season – setting his schedule, getting into the weight room, managing his nutrition and that kind of thing.

AF:  Okay, #4 on our list is RHP Jharel Cotton. The A’s got him last summer from the Dodgers. I know you guys have had the chance to get a much better look at him here this spring, and I’m sure you’ve liked a lot of what you’ve seen out of him so far. He certainly seems to be abe to fool a lot of hitters, especially with that changeup of his. So how are you feeling about him at this point and his possible role as a member of the A’s starting rotation going forward in the coming years?

DF:  We were excited to acquire him in the trade, and he continued to perform exceptionally well in Nashville when we got him. And then he came up and made five outstanding starts in the major leagues in September. He’s as confident a young man as you’ll see on the mound, and he does have a pretty exceptional changeup. It’s safe to say it’s one of, if not the best, changeups in our entire organization.

AF:  And finally, #5 on our list is RHP Frankie Montas. He also came over from the Dodgers last summer, but he’d been injured, and I know you didn’t really get to see a lot of him until the Arizona Fall League. So now that you’ve gotten a good look at him, what’s your evaluation of him? And since he really didn’t pitch many innings last year, what’s the plan for him going forward into this season?

DF: His fastball and slider both come as advertised. It’s an easy 97-98 mph pretty consistently this spring, and then the slider’s a real wipeout pitch for him. The onus is going to be on the coaching staff and us in the front office to manage his innings this year after coming off a real shortened season last year, and making sure that we can get the most out of him and get him through a full season healthy.

AF:  Now I know originally there was a lot of talk about having him working as a starter at Nashville this year, but Billy Beane has recently been quoted talking about him working out of the bullpen. Has that all been worked out yet? Is he likely to start the year working as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start?

DF:  We’re not sure yet. It’s something that we’re going to discuss with the coaches over these last two weeks and figure out not only what’s best for his development but what the best makeup of our 25-man roster is. Something that he’s working on, the biggest thing, is the continued development of his third pitch – because we still believe he’s a starting pitcher – and to continue to develop that changeup and make it a real usable complement to his fastball and slider.

AF:  Okay, great. Thanks a lot for all that input!

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

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