Results tagged ‘ A.J. Griffin ’
A’s general manager Billy Beane has had a busy week – and it ain’t over yet! On Monday, the team signed free agent left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to a two-year $22 million deal. And later that same day, the A’s acquired right-handed closer Jim Johnson from Baltimore in return for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.
Then on Tuesday, the team traded two of its top minor league prospects, outfielder Michael Choice and second baseman Chris Bostick, to Texas for outfielder Craig Gentry and right-handed starter Josh Lindblom. The A’s then followed that up just hours later by sending outfielder Seth Smith to San Diego for right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson.
Just the previous week, the team dealt minor league outfielder John Wooten to Washington for left-handed reliever Fernando Abad. And two weeks prior to that, the A’s signed utility infielder Nick Punto as a free agent.
The A’s new outfielder, Craig Gentry – who was nicknamed “Kitten Face” in Texas – is a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He brings excellent defense and speed and hits lefties well, so he figures to take Chris Young’s place as a right-handed platoon player and fourth outfielder who could take over full time in center field for the A’s when Coco Crisp becomes a free agent after next season.
In order to acquire Gentry, the A’s gave up their top outfield prospect, who also happened to be the team’s top major-league-ready hitting prospect, former 1st-round draft pick Michael Choice. After hitting .302 at Triple-A Sacramento in 2013, many had hoped that Choice would be given the chance to fill Young’s role on the A’s roster in 2014. But instead, he’ll get the chance to battle for a starting spot in the Rangers’ outfield this season.
Top talent evaluators are divided on Choice’s chances for success as a major league slugger. But the A’s have a history of undervaluing and trading away talented young outfielders who’ve gone on to become successful major league hitters elsewhere. And A’s fans have to hope that Choice doesn’t turn out to be the next Andre Ethier, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Gonzalez in Texas.
With Choice now gone, Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor are now the most major-league-ready outfielders at the upper levels of the A’s minor league system, while 20-year-old B.J. Boyd and 19-year-old Billy McKinney are the team’s top outfield prospects at the lower levels of the system.
The A’s also traded away their top second base prospect, Chris Bostick, in the deal. And it looks increasingly likely that shortstop Daniel Robertson might have to try to make the move to second base to provide a future double play partner for top shortstop prospect Addison Russell. With fellow second baseman Jemile Weeks now gone as well, Sacramento’s 2014 infield could be comprised of Daric Barton or Anthony Aliotti at first base, minor league free agent signee Jose Martinez at second base, Andy Parrino at shortstop, Hiro Nakajima at third base and Dusty Coleman as the utility infielder filling in at second, short and third.
Meanwhile, RHP Josh Lindblom is likely to start the season in Sacramento’s starting rotation, along with River Cats returnees Arnold Leon and Andrew Werner as well as recent minor league free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann.
At the major league level, new acquisitions Scott Kazmir and Jim Johnson are clearly intended to take the place of free agents Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour on the A’s pitching staff. With Kazmir guaranteed $11 million this season, Johnson expected to net $10-11 million in arbitration and seven starting pitchers currently on the staff, the A’s second-highest-paid starter, Brett Anderson at $8 million, is expected to be the A’s most appetizing bit of a trade bait to be dangled at next week’s Winter Meetings. And rumors already have the Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Yankees, Indians and Mariners licking their lips over the left-hander.
Assuming the A’s are able to complete a deal for Anderson, the team’s 2014 rotation would then be comprised of five of the following six starters: Scott Kazmir, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray. Given the general health of starting pitchers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one out of any group of six starters wasn’t 100% healthy to start the season, so I wouldn’t bother spending too much time worrying about which five of the six will end up making the opening day cut – it’ll surely sort itself out by the end of spring.
As far as the A’s bullpen goes, new closer Jim Johnson, who has saved at least 50 games in each of the last two seasons, and new RHP Luke Gregerson, who has been one of the best setup men in the National League over the past couple of years, are set to join LHPs Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins and RHPs Ryan Cook and Jesse Chavez, who is out options and whom the A’s value as a long man and spot starter.
Since the team typically likes to carry seven relievers, there’s room for one more arm in the A’s pen, and RHP Dan Otero is clearly the most deserving candidate for the final spot. But since Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa and Fernando Rodriguez are all out of options, it’s possible that Otero could start the season being stashed at Sacramento, waiting for someone to hit the DL while one of the others is given a shot.
Over the past week and a half, the A’s farm system has suffered the loss of outfielder Michael Choice, second baseman Jemile Weeks, second baseman Chris Bostick and outfielder John Wooten. And in the last six months, the team lost its 2007 #1 draft pick James Simmons as a minor league free agent and traded away 2008’s #1 pick Jemile Weeks, 2009’s #1 pick Grant Green and 2010’s #1 pick Michael Choice. 2011’s #1 pick Sonny Gray has already made it to the majors, while 2012’s #1 pick Addison Russell should be starting the season at Double-A Midland and 2013’s #1 pick Billy McKinney is expected to start the year at Class-A Beloit.
As previously mentioned, LHP Brett Anderson is the most likely member of the A’s roster to be the next one to find himself on Billy Beane’s trading block, with infielder Alberto Callaspo not far behind. With six other starters on the staff, a long injury history and an $8 million salary attached to his name, Anderson is clearly expendable. And with a salary close to $5 million and no definite spot in the A’s lineup, Callaspo seems to just be taking up roster and salary space at this point.
Outfielders Seth Smith, Chris Young and Michael Choice have all recently departed, with Craig Gentry being the only outfielder the A’s have acquired to take their place. So it certainly seems like there could be room for one more big OF/DH bat to be added to the A’s lineup to help boost the team’s offensive output, possibly as the result of an Anderson deal.
It’s also been reported that the A’s have been inquiring about middle infielders and catchers in trade talks for Anderson. So the team could be looking for a second baseman to take the place of Eric Sogard, or a shortstop who would then enable Jed Lowrie to make the move to second, or possibly a catcher who would allow John Jaso to take over for Seth Smith in the designated hitter role.
The A’s major league roster currently shapes up with Jaso and Norris as the catching platoon, Donaldson, Lowrie, Sogard, Punto, Moss and Freiman serving around the infield, and Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick and Gentry making up the outfield. Since the team typically likes to carry thirteen position players, that leaves one last roster spot open. At this point, it would most likely be filled by Callaspo. But if he ends up being traded, then it would be Barton, unless, of course, the A’s acquire another big bat who would end up pushing Barton back to Sacramento.
With all the current question marks, one thing seems certain – Beane and company aren’t done dealing just yet, and the A’s roster is far from set. There are surely more changes to come. But for the time being, here’s how things are shaping up for the 2014 A’s and River Cats, assuming everyone who’s out of options can clear waivers.
We’re now less than a week away from opening day, and Jemile Weeks has been optioned to Sacramento, Adam Rosales has been placed on the disabled list, and Hiro Nakajima has been struggling and is now dealing with a strained hamstring. And thanks to these recent developments, it looks like the A’s opening day roster may now be rounding into shape – and along with it, the Sacramento River Cats’ and Midland RockHounds’ rosters too. Of course, plenty can still change and nothing is etched in stone. There haven’t been any official announcements from the team yet and there probably won’t be until about 24 hours before opening day, but below are our projected opening day rosters for the A’s and their Triple-A and Double-A affiliates based on what we think we know at this point…
PROJECTED 2013 OAKLAND A’S ROSTER
Brandon Moss 1B
Nate Freiman 1B
Eric Sogard 2B
Jed Lowrie SS
Coco Crisp OF
Josh Reddick OF
Chris Young OF
Seth Smith OF
Brett Anderson LHP
Jarrod Parker RHP
Tommy Milone LHP
A.J. Griffin RHP
Dan Straily RHP
Grant Balfour RHP
Ryan Cook RHP
Pat Neshek RHP
Chris Resop RHP
Sean Doolittle LHP
Jerry Blevins LHP
Travis Blackley LHP
(Bartolo Colon – SUSPENDED)
(Fernando Rodriguez – DL)
(Adam Rosales – DL)
PROJECTED 2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS ROSTER
Jemile Weeks 2B
Andy Parrino SS-3B-OF
Grant Green 2B-3B-OF
Josh Horton 3B-SS-2B
Scott Moore 1B-3B-DH
Shane Peterson OF-1B
Conner Crumbliss OF-2B
Sonny Gray RHP
Andrew Werner LHP
Jesse Chavez RHP
Bruce Billings RHP
Travis Banwart RHP
Evan Scribner RHP
Mike Ekstrom RHP
James Simmons RHP
Arnold Leon RHP
Hideki Okajima LHP
Jordan Norberto LHP
Pedro Figueroa LHP
Justin Thomas LHP
PROJECTED 2013 MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS ROSTER
Anthony Aliotti 1B-DH
Tommy Mendonca 3B-DH
Miles Head 3B-1B
Jefry Marte 3B-1B
Darwin Perez 2B-SS
Tyler Ladendorf 2B-SS-OF
D’Arby Myers OF
Carlos Hernandez LHP
Murphy Smith RHP
Josh Bowman RHP
Sean Murphy RHP
Jacob Brown LHP
Brian Gordon RHP
Carlos Fisher RHP
Kyler Newby RHP
Darren Byrd RHP
Paul Smyth RHP
Nate Long RHP
Sergio Perez RHP
Frank Gailey LHP
***UPDATE: In something of a surprise, the A’s have designated LHP Travis Blackley for assignment. This opens a spot in the A’s bullpen for either Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Mike Ekstrom or Hideki Okajima. Their spot in the River Cats bullpen will be filled by RHP Danny Otero, who was claimed off waivers.
24-year-old right-hander Dan Straily is generally considered to be the A’s top young pitching prospect heading into 2013 – and he earned that distinction on our own Top 10 Prospect List as well. But he wasn’t always quite so high on everyone’s radar. The Oregon native was drafted in the 24th round by the A’s back in 2009 out of Marshall University in West Virginia. And his numbers in the A’s system didn’t immediately open any eyes. But what did happen was that he just seemed to get better and better every step of the way. Rather than being challenged by each new level, each time the bar was raised, his performance seemed to kick up a notch.
Last year, after not even being invited to major league camp, Straily started the season at Double-A Midland, where he might have been expected to spend most of the year toiling away in the Texas League. But a funny thing happened, he started striking out batters at a rate of 11.4 per 9 innings while maintaining a 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA of 3.38. About halfway through the season, the 6’2” right-hander was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he proceeded to strike out hitters at a similar rate while notching an even more impressive ERA of 2.02. Straily finally got the call to Oakland late in the season where he went 2-1 in 7 starts while posting a 3.89 ERA in the heat of the A’s playoff run.
Conventional wisdom has it that there are currently five starters ahead of Straily on the A’s depth chart – Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin. And in a recent press conference, A’s assistant general manager David Forst referred to Griffin and Straily as the team’s 5th and 6th starters. Of course, spring training’s barely underway and anything can happen. But we do know that Bartolo Colon will be unable to make his first start of the season while he completes his suspension, which could very well mean that Straily will be in line for a start with the A’s the first week of the season no matter how everything else shakes out.
Of course, if any of the A’s other five starters should open the season without a clean bill of health, then Straily would definitely be well-positioned to stick around for a while after that first start. But if Straily does end up starting the season back at Sacramento, then he would definitely be one of the A’s top two pitching prospects at Triple-A, along with former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, hoping to be the first called when a warm arm is needed.
One thing’s for certain, whenever the A’s call, Straily will be ready. He’s clearly a student of the game who appreciates the fine art of pitching and is hungry for the opportunity to continue practicing it at the highest level. For now, all he can do is focus on making the most of his opportunities this spring in Arizona where, when he’s not working hard in the A’s camp, he’s hanging out at the temporary home he shares with his wife Amanda and their new puppy, along with fellow A’s pitcher Tom Milone and his fiancée, and A’s catcher Derek Norris. It’s a full house, and a house full of young guys working to establish their place in the major leagues with a team that typically gives young players like them plenty of opportunities to do so. We talked to Straily this week just after he’d returned home from his fourth day ever in big league camp…
AF: Can you tell me a little bit about your basic repertoire of pitches you’re working with right now?
DS: Fastball command this year has been my biggest thing coming into the season. I noticed last year at the end of the year when I got tired, that was the first thing to go. So I’m making sure that’s dialed in. But fastball, changeup, slider and curveball are what I have to offer.
AF: What’s been your big strikeout pitch?
DS: It was really everything. There were some games it was the fastball. Sometimes it was the changeup. Sometimes it was just sliders. Whatever’s going for me that night – whatever happens to be the most “on” pitch. When you have four pitches, you’re going to have one off-speed pitch that’s going to stand out more than the others every night. It tends to be the slider. And then last year it seemed that the changeup was really kind of the equalizer, because guys had to think about that, and then they’d get the slider – or they’d think about the slider, and then they’d get the changeup. That’s my game. I don’t tend to fall into too many patterns. I just mix speeds and try to hit spots.
AF: Well, that’s good a thing because if you do fall into too many patterns, guys will start to figure that out and take advantage of it.
AF: Last year you had a really dominant season in the minor leagues, in Double-A and Triple-A, and that performance really put you on people’s radar. Was there anything it particular that really clicked for you last year?
DS: For me, mostly it was just the consistency. Every game, I kind of knew what I was going to get – my fastball command was consistent, changeup movement was consistent, slider was consistent. It was just everything you look for. You notice there’s not a whole big difference in terms of stuff from minor league guys, major league guys – the stuff is pretty much the same – it’s just the level of consistency. You know, each guy’s going to be different. For me, it was just finding the consistency of my delivery, and my stuff was there all the way through last year. I remember early on, I had a rough game in Double-A and they just reiterated to me, “You know, you’re not judged game to game – you’re judged over the course of the year.” And it starts to take that pressure off from trying to be perfect every single pitch to just going out there and trusting yourself and being confident in yourself. You’re going to give up home runs, you’re going to give up singles – it’s going to happen. But also the mental game, I was able to take that to a whole new level – talking with (Midland pitching coach) Don Schulze and (Sacramento pitching coach) Scott Emerson last year and just trusting myself and trusting the adjustments that we were making on the side. It wasn’t that I was a completely different pitcher, it’s that I was finally the complete pitcher that I am capable of being. I saw flashes of good changeups before, flashes of good fastball command, and then finally it all hit together.
AF: So it was really just a matter of integrating everything and just putting it all together consistently as opposed to doing something new or having some big revelation.
DS: Yeah, I never felt like I really did anything different. It’s not like anything really changed. I didn’t change my mechanics. I didn’t change anything else. It’s like I told some reporters last year when they called about all the strikeouts, I said, “I’m not doing anything different. They’re just missing them this year.” It’s more than that obviously. I learned how to set up hitters a lot better. I learned how to recognize swings. And I started paying attention more to what guys are trying to do and different things like that.
AF: It sounds like it was really all about just gaining command of all your pitches and then being able to execute what you wanted when you wanted. Am I right?
DS: Absolutely. Being able to trust myself, full count, bases loaded, throwing a changeup. Throwing changeups in counts when I normally wouldn’t throw them. Throwing that 0-2 fastball inside instead of just throwing a nasty slider because I know they’re going to swing and miss at it. Don Schulze came up to me one day in Double-A and just said, “You know what? No one’s going to care what you did in Double-A after you’ve been pitching in the big leagues for years. So don’t focus so much on your results today. Go out there and work on your fastball and your changeup today. Work on fastball command and throw your changeup. You have to develop your changeup if you want to be in the major leagues.” And I’d heard that so many times. It’s not like he was the first one to tell me that. But I just heard it so many times that it finally clicked. And I finally understood what he was trying to say. And he just happened to be the one who said it when I finally understood it. Yeah, no one’s going to care what I did in Double-A. Obviously, if you do bad, you’re not going to stay around. You have to be successful, but no one’s going to care about your success there. They just want to know that you can do it at the next level, and then at the next level.
AF: So at that point you just started to develop the confidence to throw whatever you needed to throw whenever you needed to throw it?
DS: Yeah, absolutely, like I used to only throw changeups to lefties and sliders to righties. And I finally just gained the confidence in my pitches, and the consistency and the command. You know, I can throw any pitch to anybody at any time. It’s really just trusting yourself, and that was something that I was really able to learn how to do last year.
AF: You mentioned your pitching coach at Midland, Don Schulze. Was anyone else key in contributing to your success last season?
DS: Well, Scott Emerson was really big on scouting reports and helping me learn how to prepare for a game. In Double-A, you don’t get a chance to really see a scouting report until you see a team once – you have to make your own. And in Triple-A, it’s a little better, a little more advanced. You see guys more often, guys have been around Triple-A for a few more years. So that was the first time I was ever introduced to scouting reports. So when I did get called up, it was a little easier for me to just go in there and read it and know what I was looking for and know how my stuff played into the scouting reports. It’s just a whole other part of the game I didn’t even realize really existed. So he was really big on that side of things for me.
AF: Can you tell me a little more about the differences between the various levels you were at last year - between Double-A and Triple-A, and then between Triple-A and the majors? Were there any specific things that you had to adjust to at each level?
DS: One of the biggest things between Double-A and Triple-A would honestly have to be the travel. You think it’s going to be great – no more riding buses, you’re going to be flying. But it’s not the kind of hours you’d expect. You’re not flying chartered airplanes – you’re flying the first flight out each morning and then having to play that night at 7:30. It’s a grind. And I wasn’t even there a whole season, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be there for a whole year. But in terms of the actual play, a big difference is you notice guys start having approaches – not so much just one type of hitter. Guys aren’t just a power hitter, guys aren’t just an average hitter. You start getting more complete hitters. And then you get into some of these Triple-A PCL parks where the ball just flies.
AF: In terms of pitching, were there any adjustments you had to make when you finally got called up to the big leagues towards the end of the year?
DS: Not really. When I got called up, I was running on empty basically. But it was really good to figure out how to pitch when you feel like you just can’t get enough rest at the end. But then the day of your game comes up, you’re jacked up and you’re ready to go because you’re pitching in the major leagues that night. But you just get out there and don’t really see the names on the back of the jersey, you just see the scouting report and you see the game plan in your head of how you’re going to pitch certain guys and that’s really kind of what it boils down to. Obviously the media has built up certain players and their numbers speak for themselves but, as a pitcher, you don’t really see it that way, you just see the game plan and the scouting reports.
AF: You must have ended up pitching more innings last year than you had at any other time in your pro career.
DS: I threw 140+ innings my first year, then the next year I threw like 160, then in 2012 I threw 191. So I’ve had a steady upward climb.
AF: Towards the end of the year, you must have been aware that you’d thrown a lot of pitches over the course of the year.
DS: Yeah, at the end of the year, I was maybe just putting too much pressure on myself. But I definitely feel like, coming to camp now, it’s a whole different world to come in here and be a part of it from day one instead of just showing up in the middle of a playoff race and having to meet guys and be a part of a team at that point because you don’t know anybody there.
AF: Well, it must have been interesting to join the A’s late last year, with all that energy and excitement in a playoff run, and just step into the middle of all that.
DS: That was pretty cool. As a minor league player, you’re not so much noticing what they’re doing at the major league level. You’re more focused on your task at hand and your job and what’s going on at your level. So I didn’t even know about ‘The Bernie’ or anything like that. People don’t realize that you’re not focused on the big leagues when you’re in Double-A. You’re focused on what you’re doing to get yourself better. So it’s cool to get up there and actually learn about all the cool stuff that’s going on up there and just the fans’ energy that they’re bringing every night. The first night, my debut was in front of like 32,000 people on a Friday night in Oakland. And it was just a lot of fun to make your debut in that atmosphere.
AF: Last year with the A’s, you made 7 starts, won a couple of games, pitched well. But the one trouble spot was the long ball. You gave up 11 home runs. Have you had a chance to reflect on that and how you might be able to adapt to keep guys from being able to square up the ball like that?
DS: Yeah, I just did a terrible job of mixing up speeds. I kind of got away from my game and just let everything kind of speed up on me. And I was able to get home and kind of reflect on that and realize the game didn’t change at all, I’m the one who changed. It was frustrating, I can’t say it wasn’t. To be honest, it came up today in the clubhouse when I was talking with a reporter. They pointed out that I gave up 17 runs on the year (for Oakland), and I think 14 or 15 came via the home run. And I said, “Well, if I can figure out how to stop giving up home runs, I’ll be good to go!” But for me, it was just a lot of left-handers I’d fall behind in counts and leave the fastball out over the middle of the plate. And that’s what good hitters are supposed to do – if you fall behind and put a fastball right over the middle, they’re supposed to hit home runs. So it was kind of my own doing. But that’s not me – that was a fluke. Obviously, it happened – we all saw it. But that’s not who I am as a pitcher. And it won’t be like that again. It was embarrassing as a player. I remember the last time I threw against the Mariners, I gave up 3 hits – 2 of them home runs. It was very frustrating, to be pitching so well and then to throw a ball right over the middle – home run. I just didn’t do a good job of hitting spots.
AF: Well, I know no pitcher likes to be standing out there on the mound and have to turn around and watch one sailing over the fence.
DS: Yeah, and the weird thing was I think nine of them were in day games. And I have no idea why. I’ve pitched in plenty of day games and been perfectly fine.
AF: This is your first year in the big league camp, right?
DS: My first day of big league camp was Tuesday.
AF: So is there anyone around you’ve known for a while that you’re particularly friendly with who it’s just good to have around in camp?
DS: Well, my roommate’s Tom Milone. And you can’t get much more of an even-keeled type of guy than that. So it’s been good just to have him around everyday. Him, me and Derek Norris are all living together. It’s good – we’ve got a catcher and a couple of pitchers.
AF: How’s your relationship with A’s pitching coach Curt Young? You probably never got to spend that much time with him in spring before, but now I’d imagine you’re a lot more prominent on his radar.
DS: You know, he’s got a tough job. There are thirty pitchers or so here in camp. The only time I actually get to see him is when I’m pitching off a mound. I’m excited to hopefully be with him for a whole year – that’s the goal. From everything I heard, he’s just a great resource, which I saw last year when I was up – everything from holding the runners to pitch selection to how to take care of yourself. The guy’s been around the game so long he’s an amazing pitching coach.
AF: So is there anything in particular you’re working on or focused on this spring?
DS: I’m just focused on trying to make the team right now. I don’t get the luxury of working on something at this point. What I came with is what I have to go to battle with for the year. I’m sure, for some veterans, it’s more about getting ready for the season. Well I’m getting ready for the season as well, but I’m also fighting for a job. There’s only so many jobs available out there and more than enough guys to fill those positions. The last couple years I’ve had a little better idea of where I was going because it was pretty well laid out. But there’s no more room to go up anymore, so just trying to stay there is the hardest part.
AF: Well, I guess it’s pretty clear what the goal is now anyway.
DS: But the thing is, as much as you want to be there, if you’re not there, you can’t let it get you down because there’s a whole season ahead either way. So I keep telling people when they ask where I see myself going this year, I say, “That’s not up to me. That’s up to the front office.” My job’s to go out there and pitch, whether that’s in Sacramento, that’s in Midland or that’s in Oakland. It doesn’t matter – wherever they tell me to go, that’s where I’m going to be.
AF: I think everyone realizes the value of pitching depth at this point. I mean, the A’s used ten different starting pitchers last year. So wherever you are, if you’ve got a good arm and are pitching well, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in that rotation at some point one way or another.
DS: Yep, that’s what you’ve to remember either way.
AF: Well, it sounds like you’re just working on staying focused on your game, maximizing what you’ve got, and trying to continue making as good an impression as possible.
DS: Yeah, and so far from what I’ve felt, I just think it’s going to be a repeat and a little bit better from last year. You know, get a little bit better each year, throw a little bit harder each year, come into camp with a little better idea of how to be physically ready and mentally ready. I learned so much last year in every aspect of the game. And I’m just ready to go this year. I’m excited.
AF: Onward and upward!
DS: That’s right!
* * *
There were lots of interesting quotes to come out of last weekend’s FanFest in Oakland. And based on what was said by A’s management, coaches and players, here are a few things that I think we can safely surmise…
* Coco Crisp will be the A’s primary center fielder and leadoff hitter.
* Chris Young will be in the lineup against lefties, give other starters regular days off against righties, and will move around in the lineup and see time at every spot in the outfield.
* Seth Smith will get most of the at-bats at DH.
* The A’s have a lot more confidence in Hiro Nakajima‘s bat than they do in his glove and his arm.
* Barring injuries, the A’s starting rotation will consist of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon (after missing his first start while serving out his suspension).
* If the starting rotation is healthy, Dan Straily will be at Sacramento until he’s needed in Oakland.
* Top prospect Michael Choice will start the season at Sacramento.
* Everybody loves Addison Russell, and the 19-year-old will be invited to attend the major league camp in spring training.
* Josh Reddick didn’t bother wasting any money on razors this off-season.
* Chris Young is still in the early stages of his Bernie Lean lessons.
A’s Assistant GM David Forst On New Catcher John Jaso, New Shortstop Hiro Nakajima, And The Importance Of Team Chemistry
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. One of those who stopped in to chat with us was A’s assistant general manager David Forst. And A’s Farm was especially eager to find out what it was that got the A’s front office so excited about shortstop Hiro Nakajima…
On the team’s belief that Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima could succeed in the major leagues…
I did not actually see him myself. We have a number of guys who’ve seen him back through the WBC in 2009 – a lot of our pro scouts, our international guys. Part of it is based on the numbers. His offensive numbers do translate well based on what other Japanese players have done here. But the reports, not only scouting reports, but from other players who’ve played with him – I think we mentioned Bob Melvin had talked to Ichiro and to Hideki about him. The guys who’ve done well over here are guys who have some leadership over there, who have the personality, who aren’t as affected by the off-the-field things that they gave to adjust to, which are huge. We saw that with Yoenis too – there’s so much that foreign players have to deal with aside from just baseball. We felt like he’d be able to handle that stuff, so his talent would play. Defensively, that’s the hardest thing for us to predict, because we don’t have the same metrics we have on the offensive side. But our reports are good – the hands, the arm strength. All the things you look for from a scouting perspective, we feel pretty good about…we do think he can play the position.
On evaluating defensive metrics…
The key on defense is to have everything sort of match up. If you’re looking at Range Factor and UZR and all the stuff that takes into account the Field f/x stuff, the SportVision data, the key is to have everything match up. So if you have conflicting reports, that’s when you sort of look at your scouting reports. I think you only feel good about defensive stats when things are aligned across the board.
On the team’s strategy in this year’s amateur draft…
We got together with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and his guys a couple weeks ago just to sort of go over the list. It’s a lot deeper in college players this year – both pitching and position players. We certainly didn’t set out to take a bunch of high school guys last year. That’s just where we felt like the talent was. But it is deeper in the college level…We’ve obviously traded away a lot of pitching. We have pitching here, and then there’s a little bit of a gap after guys like Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. There’s a gap down to A ball, and having traded A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen kind of opened that gap up a little bit…Obviously you always need to replenish your pitching every year.
On the acquisition of catcher John Jaso…
He’s been on the target list for a while. You look at what he did in the minor leagues, the type of offensive player he was – he’s certainly the kind of guy that historically we’ve coveted. And he had a year in Seattle where he really finally broke out offensively. So as we watched him a lot over the course of the season, seeing him in our division, he was certainly a guy we thought about towards the end of the season and all off-season and figured out a way to see if Seattle would part with him. And it obviously took a long time for (Mariners’ general manager) Jack Zduriencik to come around. And getting Mike Morse was the piece that he needed. In fact, one of our pro scouts, Craig Weissmann, was an amateur guy with Tampa when he signed Jaso originally in the draft. So we’ve kind of had our eye on John for a while.
On trading pitching prospect A.J. Cole back to the Nationals in the John Jaso deal…
(Nationals’ general manager) Mike Rizzo had said a couple times in the last twelve months how disappointed he was in having given up A.J., so Billy sort of knew in the back of his head that that was going to get us in the door. And when things sort of matched up, he knew Seattle wanted Morse. And obviously Rizzo knew we didn’t have interest in Morse, but we were able to say, “Hey Mike, if you’re still interested in A.J., we might be able to work something out here.”
On pitchers’ workloads…
We’re always aware of it. It’s something that we constantly talk about. (A’s pitching coach) Curt Young does a great job of keeping track of these guys start by start and then on a three-starts-by-three-starts basis. But it’s certainly not a situation where we’re going in saying we’re going to cut pitcher A off here or whatever. Our trainers do a lot of work in between starts, and they do a good job of keeping track of historical comps for each guy. So whether it’s Jarrod Parker, who increased his workload significantly last year, or Brett Anderson, who had a limited workload because of the injury, I think we have the best feel for them just because our trainers have their hands on these guys after each start. So I expect that we will continuously talk about and be aware of it, but I don’t imagine that anyone will have a limit set on them to start the season.
On the possible need for the team to add more veteran pitching depth…
Obviously we’re aware that a lot of what we accomplished last year was based a lot on our starting pitching depth, and the fact that we ended up using 7-8-9 starters who were effective. The fact that Travis Blackley is still here obviously and can fill that role and you expect a full season out of Brett Anderson, we felt like adding Bartolo Colon was probably as much as we needed to do. At the same time, it’s just not easy to add those veteran guys when, on paper, you have a rotation like we do. It’s not necessarily an attractive place for a veteran guy to come and have to make the team or fight for it. So we feel like, with A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily in the 5-6 spot, with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray at AAA, with Travis here being able to be a swing man, we feel like there is the depth there to get it done.
On clubhouse chemistry…
There’s no doubt that clubhouse culture is important, and it starts with Bob Melvin - that’s the most important thing. He set the tone for those guys, and they kind of followed his lead, which isn’t the case everywhere. I think there’s been a lot made of Jonny Gomes leaving and Brandon Inge, and you’re never going to keep all 25 guys together. But…we like the mix we have – personalities combined with guys who take it seriously on the field. But also you have a bunch of guys who should continue to get better, whether that’s about age or getting a chance to play everyday, this team should not have guys who regress – they should continue to trend upwards.
On Monday, we unofficially learned that shortstop Stephen Drew had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox and would not be returning to the A’s, and we also unofficially learned that the A’s would be filling the hole at shortstop by signing Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima. It was announced on Tuesday, after our last A’s Off-Season Transactions Update, not only that the Nakajima signing was official but also that, to clear room on the roster for their new shortstop, the A’s had traded outfielder Collin Cowgill to the Mets for Double-A third baseman Jefry Marte.
With the A’s new shortstop in the fold, it looks like their work is essentially done for the off-season and that the major league roster, barring any unforeseen (yet inevitable) injuries, is pretty much set. But it also seems that the Triple-A roster at Sacramento may be pretty much set at this point too. This really shows a remarkable level of certainty for an organization that’s typically had any number of question marks remaining at this time of year.
Below you’ll find a complete listing of the anticipated A’s and River Cats opening day rosters, barring any unexpected deals or injuries, as of this point in time almost 3 ½ months before opening day. Any changes should be minor, especially where the major league roster is concerned. I’d expect any changes to most likely come from potential moves involving some of the minor league pitchers or infielders. Following the roster lists below, we’ll go around the horn and discuss where things stand at every position for both the A’s and the River Cats…
2013 OAKLAND A’S
Brandon Moss 1B
Chris Carter 1B
Jemile Weeks 2B
Adam Rosales IF
Josh Reddick OF
Coco Crisp OF
Seth Smith OF
Chris Young OF
Brett Anderson LHP
Jarrod Parker RHP
Tom Milone LHP
A.J. Griffin RHP
Dan Straily RHP
Grant Balfour RHP
Ryan Cook RHP
Pat Neshek RHP
Chris Resop RHP
Sean Doolittle LHP
Jerry Blevins LHP
Travis Blackley LHP
–SUSPENDED FOR 5 GAMES–
2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
Daric Barton IF
Andy Parrino IF
Eric Sogard IF
Scott Moore IF-OF
Grant Green IF-OF
Brad Peacock RHP
Sonny Gray RHP
Andrew Werner LHP
(+2 of the following 4 in the rotation with 1 in the bullpen & 1 traded or released)
Garrett Olson LHP
Jesse Chavez RHP
Bruce Billings RHP
Travis Banwart RHP
Evan Scribner RHP
Arnold Leon RHP
James Simmons RHP
Mike Ekstrom RHP
Jordan Norberto LHP
Pedro Figueroa LHP
Justin Thomas LHP
2013 OAKLAND A’S
As far as the 2013 A’s go, catcher and first base are two positions that are pretty clearly set. Right-handed hitter Derek Norris and left-handed hitter George Kottaras will make up the A’s catching tandem. This likely won’t be a strict platoon though, as the A’s view Norris as their catcher of the future. I’d expect Norris to get between 350-400 at-bats, with Kottaras getting somewhere between 200-250 at-bats – of course, performance on the field could have a big effect on playing time behind the plate. The first base platoon of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter will remain in place in 2013. This should be a pretty strict left/right platoon, unless Moss regresses and Carter starts coming on strong, in which case the big right-hander could end up stealing some at-bats from Moss.
Second base may represent the biggest question mark on the A’s roster. Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore both stand a decent chance of claiming the starting job, while prospect Grant Green appears to be a long shot. It’s my feeling that, as long as he can show in the spring that he’s ready to put it together, the edge will go to former #1 draft pick Weeks. But if Weeks looks like he hasn’t learned anything, then Sizemore should be ready to step in – though we do have to remember that he is coming back from an injury that sidelined him for a solid year and will be competing at a position that he hasn’t played much over the past two years. Whichever one of these guys doesn’t claim the major league job will probably end up at Sacramento with Green. At this point, my guess is that Weeks opens the season with the A’s, while Sizemore ends up at Sacramento waiting for a chance to come back and take over in the event that Weeks or Donaldson struggles – but that could very easily change based on what happens in the spring.
Your 2013 starting shortstop will be Hiro Nakajima, with Adam Rosales likely serving as his backup – as well as the backup at second at third. If Nakajima proves to be more of a “zero” than a “Hiro,” then Rosales will step in and start getting more at-bats at short. Josh Donaldson will be the starting third baseman unless and until he proves that his second-half surge last season was just a fluke. If that happens, then Sizemore is the most likely candidate to step in at third.
In the outfield, the A’s have five players (Cespedes, Reddick, Crisp, Smith and Young) to fill the three outfield spots as well as the designated hitter spot in the lineup. Those four positions should offer up about 2400 at-bats, which would mean there’s close to 500 at-bats to go around for each of them – that’s if they’re all healthy. Of course, they won’t all be healthy. I’d guess that at just about any point in the season, one of them will be dinged up enough to, if not warrant a stint on the DL, at least warrant a little time out of the lineup. So I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about who plays where and when. I suspect it’ll work itself out one way or another and we’ll end up seeing plenty of all of them in the starting lineup.
As for the starting rotation, it’s important to remember that Bartolo Colon will be suspended for the first five games of the season and the A’s will play the first seven games of the season without a day off. That means that, barring injury, Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily will open the season as the A’s starting five. Of course, there’s a reasonable chance that one of those pitchers could have some nagging injury to start the season. In that case, Colon could be ready to step into the rotation after the first week. If, miracle of miracles, all five starting pitchers are fully healthy and functioning to start the season, then Colon could always kill time in the bullpen until one of them is sidelined with a balky elbow, shoulder, rib cage or back.
The A’s bullpen will be a crowded place though. Aside from Colon, there will be nine or ten legitimate contenders for the seven bullpen spots. On the right-handed side of things, Grant Balfour will be the closer and Ryan Cook will be the primary right-handed set-up man, while Pat Neshek will surely have a spot after signing a guaranteed contract, and Chris Resop is bound to get a spot after the A’s made a concerted effort to acquire him from the Pirates. That would push Evan Scribner to Sacramento.
On the left-handed side of things, Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins appear to be assured spots after their consistent performances throughout 2012, and Travis Blackley seems to be locked in as the long-man in the ‘pen. That would push Jordan Norberto and Pedro Figueroa to Sacramento. Of course, the odds that one of those seven relievers starts the season with some kind of injury is fairly high, which would open the door to one of those spots.
2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
If we make the preceding assumptions about the major league roster, and take into account the fact that the Triple-A roster rarely includes more than 12 hitters and rarely has any fewer than 13 pitchers, then the River Cats roster starts to fall pretty clearly into place.
The A’s acquired two experienced minor league catchers – 29-year-old Luke Montz and 27-year-old Steven Hill – who should share the catching duties at Sacramento this year. Meanwhile, veteran Daric Barton will be standing in at first base, waiting for his chance should anything happen with Moss or Carter.
If Jemile Weeks doesn’t make the roster in Oakland, then he’ll surely be the starting second baseman at Sacramento. But if Scott Sizemore is the one to get sent down, as I suspect, then I’d expect him to get the majority of the starts at second base in Sacramento, preparing himself in case Weeks again struggles. Andy Parrino, who was acquired from San Diego in the Tyson Ross trade, is bound to be Sacramento’s primary starting shortstop this year. I’d expect to see the versatile Eric Sogard getting most of his starts at third base this year, while also picking up a few other starts around the infield. When Sogard’s not starting at third, then fading prospect Stephen Parker is likely to get some starts at the hot corner as well.
Scott Moore, who has been the A’s most promising minor league free agent signing this off-season, can play third base, as well as first base, second base and the outfield, but will probably end up seeing a lot of at-bats as the designated hitter for the River Cats. Sacramento’s starting outfield should be made up of on-base machine Shane Peterson in left, top prospect Michael Choice in center and former top prospect Michael Taylor in right. That just leaves our old friend Grant Green, whom the organization could make the River Cats’ regular second baseman, but I’m guessing that, when it’s all said and done, they’ll end up utilizing his versatility and giving him starts all over the field – preparing him for his most likely future role with the A’s as a versatile utility man.
There are three pitchers who, as long as they’re healthy, are sure to make Sacramento’s starting rotation – top prospects Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray, along with left-hander Andrew Werner, who was acquired from San Diego in the Tyson Ross deal. The rest of the River Cats’ rotation will be filled out by two of the following four hurlers – right-handers Jesse Chavez, Bruce Billings and Travis Banwart, as well as major league veteran and minor league free agent signee Garrett Olson. Of the two who don’t make the rotation, one will likely end up as the long-man in the River Cats’ bullpen with the other either DL’d, traded or released.
Sacramento’s 2013 bullpen ought to boast an impressive array of arms who could be ready to step in and help at the major league level at a moment’s notice. If all the major league bullpen arms are healthy, then the River Cats’ ‘pen should include names like Evan Scribner, Arnold Leon, James Simmons and minor league free agent signee Mike Ekstrom from the right side and Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa and minor league free agent signee Justin Thomas from the left side.
On the whole, it looks like a River Cats roster that ought to be more than ready to defend its division title and, hopefully, so should the 2013 A’s!
* * *
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (TRIPLE-A)
Sacramento River Cats 8
Colorado Springs Sky Sox 2
(WP – Griffin 4-2 / 3.07)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher A.J. Griffin
(5 IP / 1 ER / 3 K / Win)
Worth Noting: After struggling his first time out, A.J. Griffin looked much more impressive in his second rehab start for Sacramento on Monday, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits over 5 innings to earn the win, and it now seems likely that the right-hander will end up re-joining the A’s rotation before the end of the week. In his first game with the River Cats, right-hander Jesse Chavez gave up just 1 run in 4 innings in relief to earn the save. Catcher Jason Jaramillo had 2 hits and drove in 3 runs, while second baseman Jemile Weeks doubled and drove in 2 runs in the win. In other news, the A’s traded long-time Sacramento catcher Anthony Recker to the Cubs for 29-year-old catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli, who could be expected to be added to the River Cats roster soon.
TEXAS LEAGUE (DOUBLE-A)
Frisco RoughRiders 1
Midland RockHounds 2
(WP – Gil 1-0 / 0.00)
Farmhand Of The Game:
First Baseman Anthony Aliotti
(Double / RBI)
Worth Noting: With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 13th inning, first baseman Anthony Aliotti doubled to drive in the game-winning run for the RockHounds on Monday night. Catcher David Freitas doubled in Midland’s only other run of the game in the 4th. Starter Murphy Smith had a solid outing, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits over 6 innings of work, but it was infielder Leonardo Gil who picked up the win by pitching 1 perfect inning in relief.
CALIFORNIA LEAGUE (HIGH-A)
Stockton Ports 8
Visalia Rawhide 3
(WP – Brown 6-10 / 5.01)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Outfielder Dusty Robinson
Worth Noting: Outfielder Dusty Robinson clubbed a grand slam in the 1st inning to give the Ports a lead that would prove to be insurmountable on Monday. Starter Jacob Brown held Visalia to 3 runs while striking out 7 over 5 1/3 innings to earn his 6th win for the Ports.
MIDWEST LEAGUE (CLASS-A)
Burlington Bees 0
Kane County Cougars 4
(LP – Granier 11-9 / 3.10)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Drew Granier
(6 IP / 2 ER / 9 K)
Worth Noting: Starter Drew Granier had another solid outing, allowing 2 runs on just 3 hits while striking out 9 over 6 innings of work. But Burlington couldn’t push a run across the plate on Monday, and the right-hander ended up taking his 9th loss for the Bees. Outfielder Bobby Crocker collected a pair of hits, and first baseman Max Muncy, outfielder Douglas Landaeta and catcher Nick Rickles all doubled in the loss.
NEW YORK-PENN LEAGUE (CLASS-A SHORT-SEASON)
Connecticut Tigers 7
Vermont Lake Monsters 4
(LP – Menna 0-9 / 5.08)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Second Baseman Chris Bostick
(2 Doubles / 3 RBIs / Stolen Base)
Worth Noting: Starter J.C. Menna had a rocky outing, allowing 5 runs and striking out 7 over 5 innings to take the loss, while second baseman Chris Bostick had a pair of doubles and drove in 3 runs for Vermont.
ARIZONA LEAGUE (ROOKIE SHORT-SEASON)
AZL D-backs 3
AZL Athletics 1
(LP – Bahramzadeh 1-2 / 7.30)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Dakota Bacus
(2 1/3 IP / 0 ER / 3 K)
Worth Noting: The A’s lineup collected only 4 hits on Monday, while starter Kayvon Bahramzadeh allowed 2 runs, 1 earned, and struck out 6 over 3 innings to take the loss. This year’s 9th-round draft pick Dakota Bacus struck out 3 in 2 1/3 perfect innings of relief to lower his ERA to 1.20 in his first 30 innings of pro ball.
Sacramento @ Colorado Springs – 5:05pm PT
San Antonio @ Midland – 6:30pm CT
Stockton @ Modesto – 7:05pm PT
Burlington @ Kane County – 6:30pm CT
Connecticut @ Vermont – 7:05pm ET
One of the most popular pieces we’ve featured here on A’s Farm over the past few months was our profile of A’s super scout (and Moneyball bad guy) Grady Fuson. He was the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when he left the A’s to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers. Fuson returned to the A’s about two and a half years ago and currently serves as the special assistant to the general manager.
Prior to the amateur draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur prospects in preparation for the draft. But once the draft is complete, he begins a tour around the A’s minor league system, checking in on teams from Sacramento to Midland and Stockton to Burlington.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton about a week before the All-Star break, after he’d just visited Sacramento and had spent the better part of a week with Stockton as well. We took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators and get the lowdown on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects, as well as some of the fresh new talent that’s just entered the system via this year’s draft. But we started out by taking a look at some of the guys at the top of the system at Sacramento…
AF: I know you’ve been out checking in on some of the minor league teams, and I guess your first stop was in Sacramento. I know Grant Green has been moving all over the field and playing a lot of different positions there lately – left, center, short, third, even second. So what’s the current situation with him?
GF: Well, everybody’s asked me a little bit about why is he here, why is he there. We’re just trying to increase his versatility. A lot of kids, when they break in the big leagues, if you’re not a bona-fide position guy, it’s hard to break in and get at-bats if you don’t have that versatility. Obviously, we moved him out to center and we know what that looks like now – we know he can play it a little to some degree. We’ve got a little bit of a third base issue still with Sizemore going down early. So now we’re giving him some more time at third, and he’s still playing a little short. And when that time comes when he’s needed in the big leagues, when the powers that be want to give him a little look, at least Bob Melvin’s got a little versatility to where he can play him, and then we’ll see where the bat settles in in the big leagues.
AF: And how do you feel about his bat at this point?
GF: Well, I still feel strong that he’s hitter-ish. He’s going to be a hitter. How much power will really come out up there? I think he’s going to be one of those guys where ballparks could play a role. If he plays in a place like Texas, he could probably hit some. If he plays in a place like Petco Park, he’s probably not going to hit too many. But we’ve been working with him for a year and a half now about trying to make some adjustments on pitches middle to middle-in – just trying to change bat head positions so that he can pull more of those balls. He’s been shooting those balls up the middle. If he’s ever going to hit the ball out, those are the pitches he’s got to get the head out and get it over the shorter parts of the ballpark. And he’s made that adjustment.
AF: So the greater his versatility, the more opportunity there’s going to be for him to get to the big leagues and then, once he’s there’s, the more opportunity there’ll be for him to stay there.
AF: Anybody else stand out in Sacramento?
GF: Everybody else there was about as expected. Michael Taylor is still very improved with his aggressiveness. He’s just not getting the ball out much on the pull side of the field, but he’s squaring it up and hitting it hard a lot. A.J. Griffin – you know he’s dealing again tonight (in Oakland). Griffin’s always good for me. I’m glad he got this opportunity. He’s making the most of it right now.
GF: I’ve always been a Griffin guy. I saw him in college. I thought I helped us get him in the draft a little bit. But he’s big, he’s physical. It’s not an overpowering fastball, but I just always liked his ability to get down and away with his fastball, which to me is golden for a pitcher – a guy that can just locate his 4–seam fastball down and away. He’s got a good changeup. He’s got a good breaking ball. We’ve added a little cutter to his game that’s helped. He’s always been aggressive. He throws it down, and he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a competitor.
AF: What about another pitcher who’s been looking great since he got to Sacramento, Dan Straily?
AF: What’s been the key to his success this year?
GF: I just think better command. But if you go back and look at his numbers, I think he was one or two in the California League last year in strikeouts. And he’s come a long way with his changeup. He’s always had a good breaking ball. He throws hard. He’s a 90-94 mph guy. He’s got a good arm. He’s been great.
AF: One guy at Sacramento who’s been struggling a bit is Brad Peacock. What’s up with him?
GF: Brad’s just having a hard time backing up quality pitches in the strike zone – executing. It has nothing to do with his stuff. He’s still throwing 90-94 mph. He’s got a good bite to his breaking ball when it’s right. But he’s just been scattered. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson was in there with him and we did some side work. We thought maybe he’s got a little bit of an uphill move that’s kind of wreaking havoc with him trying to get down the mound a little bit. He’s leaving a lot of fastballs up and elevated. And the biggest thing is just his pitch count is not getting him very deep in the game right now.
AF: It seemed like he started out the season pretty well.
GF: Yeah, his first few starts were pretty solid. He’s just in a rut right now, but he’s young and he’s got good enough stuff. He’ll come out of it.
AF: Well, you’ve been here with the Stockton team for a while now. Can you tell me a little bit about the pitching staff here at Stockton?
GF: The pitching’s been impressive. Blake Treinen, as good as his stuff is, I’m a little disappointed that his performance numbers aren’t a little better. Something’s missing – I’m not smart enough to tell you what it is, but something’s not right. Jake Brown, even though he’s a little bit of a soft-tossing left-hander, he knows how to pitch. He stays away from guys. He knows when to come in. He’s got a real good changeup.
AF: What about Sean Murphy? He’s been looking really good both at Burlington and here at Stockton this year.
GF: He’s by far one of the most improved young pitchers we’ve got in the system. I patted him on the ass after the game and told him, “Do you know how much better you are than you were a year ago?” He’s really cleaned his whole mental game up. He’s just taking things more seriously. He’s gotten focused. He’s pounding his down-and-away fastball. He’s always had a good changeup. He’s getting his breaking ball over in the strike zone.
AF: Well, he’s had a big change from last year. Batters were hitting over .300 against him last season, and this season they’ve been hitting around .200 against him – that’s a big difference!
GF: You know, he’s growing up. He’s turning into a pro. I mean, this kid a year ago was from a dinky little school. I remember talking to him last year in Burlington, and he goes “I’ve never been coached.” And he was like a little kid, an amateur. And this year, this guy’s turning into a man. I could see it coming in spring training too. He started to get super serious about his sides. He got his body in great shape. He’s doing good.
AF: When I talked to him earlier about what accounted for his success this year, he seemed to say it was primarily just about focus and commitment.
GF: It’s nice to see, because that’s what you’re looking for. Hey, this guy wants it, and this guy doesn’t. Some of them don’t know how to want it. But that’s our job to just keep pounding it into them.
AF: Have you had a chance to see much of left-hander Ian Krol yet?
GF: I’m actually going to miss him – they set him back a day. But I’ve been with him on two of his sides. You know, it’s all about his finish – just staying on line and being directed. He wants to cut his finish off and spin out, and he loses his line of command. And when you do those things, there’s usually not a lot of good things that are going to happen. The two sides I’ve been here, we’ve been working with him a lot on that.
AF: What about Blake Hassebrock who was great at Burlington last year but has been struggling a bit since coming back off the disabled list here?
GF: I don’t think he’s going any more than three innings tonight. He’s definitely a prospect. He’s big, he’s physical. He throws it downhill and he throws it hard. It’s all the secondary things. We’re trying to get him to use the cutter a little bit more than the slider, because his slider’s never been a great slider.
AF: T.J. Walz got off to a good start here, but then he was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen. What was behind that?
GF: It’s not that we’re walking away from him as a starter forever. He’s just had this history that he told us about – when he starts a lot, his arm starts barking. And for some reason, his arm never barks when he throws out of the pen. He’s a guy who we had to watch his innings this year anyway because of his college pitch count and things like that. But he’s still throwing good.
AF: Another guy who started the year here at Stockton was A.J. Cole. He really struggled here, but he’s been pitching great since he was sent down to Burlington. I guess you really haven’t had a chance to see him since the spring though, right?
GF: No, I’ve seen a lot of him on video though. When he was going through these issues when he was here, I happened to be in Arizona one day, where me and (director of player development) Keith Lieppman got all the video we could get and we got on the phone with Gil Patterson. Gil had video and we were breaking things apart a little bit. He was dong some things that were different than when he was with Washington. And so Gil got on those and came in here and tried to settle some things down and get things back to where they needed to be. I don’t know if it’s the change to a different league, but it shouldn’t be that big a discrepancy. It was more location and sequences – it wasn’t stuff. The guys who saw him pitch here said it was 93-95 mph. The one thing that we were looking at was to see if his arm was on time with his foot stride. We looked at the timing and his arm was late and just missing.
AF: Well, sending him to Burlington certainly seemed to be the answer.
GF: Sometimes that in itself is the answer – a little wake-up call.
AF: I know you probably haven’t seen him since the spring, but what’s your take on Sonny Gray?
AF: The last I heard, the big thing he was working on was the changeup.
GF: The changeup, and his direction and the way he lands – helping him stay on line to help him with his command. Those are the two big things.
AF: Is there anyone on the offensive side of things who’s been opening your eyes since you’ve been here in Stockton?
GF: Yeah, number one, it’s really good to see Max Stassi on the field everyday. And when he’s on the field everyday, you can see what he’s got a chance to do. He’s a really polished receiver. His arm’s working and feeling great right now. He’s throwing well. He’s hitting balls to all fields. He’s working on his pitch selection. He’s a nice-looking player. This is B.A. Vollmuth’s first time here. He’s still getting used to it a little bit, but doing about what’s expected from him – squaring a lot of balls up, playing solid at third. Yordy Cabrera’s a young kid – you know, things come and go with Yordy. Last night, he swings at a first pitch slider that’s five feet out of the strike zone, and you’re kind of going, “Oh my God!” And then two at-bats in a row were solid – he squared one up to the biggest part of the ballpark and thought he got his first homer. In San Jose (earlier in the week), his footwork was better. Last night, he sat back on groundballs and groundballs ate him up. That comes and goes with young kids. But the reality is that night after night, even though his numbers don’t look like it, I think he’s holding his own.
AF: Speaking of some of these very young prospects, what’s up with Aaron Shipman at Burlington?
GF: I’m heading there. I haven’t seen Shipman since I left spring training. Obviously he’s having a rough go just with contact. He’s down in the low .200s again. At one time, he got it up in the .250s. He’s back to doing some swinging and missing. But we’ll see.
AF: What about another guy here at Stockton who came up from Burlington earlier in the year and has been playing well, and that’s outfielder Dusty Robinson?
GF: Dusty’s a guy who plays the game with his hair on fire. He’s got some good skills. Dusty can throw, Dusty can run, and Dusty can flat square up a ball at times that makes your jaw drop at how hard he can hit it. It’s a non-stop work in progress about how he handles pitches on the outer half. Sometimes he looks good, and sometimes he looks like he’s never seen one. But he’s doing good. He’s second in our whole organization in homers.
AF: I know you haven’t seen Michael Choice at Midland yet, but is there anything you can offer on his situation this year?
GF: I think he’s still fighting his day-to-day approach – it comes and goes. There’s no regression in his tools and his ability. He’s got a very unique set up and approach, and when he’s not on time, there’s issues depending on how a guy can pitch him. You know, that’s the biggest jump you make in this game, besides the big leagues. Getting out of all the A-ball stuff – whether it’s rookie ball, High-A, Low-A – Double-A is where the true pro game really starts. The athletes who can’t hit, they’re still in A-ball. The pitchers who throw hard but can’t throw it over or don’t have some type of off-speed, they’re still in A-ball. So what you’ve got at Double-A is you’ve got the first collection of some ability with understanding performance. And so there’s more pitchers up there who know how to change speeds, really locate more.
AF: Guys who know how to fool you and know how to exploit your weaknesses…
GF: Exactly. And the pitching in Triple-A – there’s so many veteran AAAA-type guys. They’re usually older, they’re not as crisp as they used to be, so they pitch ass backwards at AAA – cutter, cutter, cutter, backdoor breaking ball. There’s not a lot of velocity, a lot of hard fastballs, coming at you night after night, unless you’ve got some young kid on their way up. Everybody else is some 30-year-old guy – they trick you. So that becomes a lesson on hitting off-speed. Then when kids first go to the big leagues, they forget how to hit a fastball.
AF: Speaking of guys who are trying to make that transition to Double-A, have you had a chance to see Miles Head at any point?
GF: Yeah, in spring training. But you know, what a half! I don’t know that I’ve seen a guy have that kind of half. And if you talk to these guys here (in Stockton), they’ve never been around a guy that hot. They just said nobody could get him out. There were never more than two or three at-bats that went by without him crushing one. You know, another guy I’ve always liked since the day we signed him is Chad Oberacker. He’s got the simplest approach of anybody here. And he just squares it up every at bat. He’s playing a very good center field. He’s a plus runner. He’s a nice-looking kid.
AF: He’s even hit a few homers this year. I don’t think he’d shown much power before.
GF: He’s got 6 this year, but one of them was an inside-the-parker.
AF: What about Josh Whitaker who hit three home runs in a game here one night?
GF: He’s been playing great. His body’s in great shape. You can see more life out of his body every year. He’s getting tighter and stronger. This kid’s putting himself on the map. He runs, he throws, he’s a better defender, and he’s a threat to hit it out.
AF: Well, he had a good year at Burlington last year, but I guess the thing with him is there’s always a lot of strikeouts.
GF: That’s the one thing we tried to set our eye on in the draft. We put more of an emphasis on making that hitting skill a little purer than we’ve had in the past – making that the number one thing, because as an organization the last couple of years, we have had a lot of swing-and-missers. We had 7 guys in Stockton who struck out 100 times last year – Aliotti, Gilmartin, Coleman, Gil, Dixon, Choice and LeVier.
AF: Well I know when I talked to scouting director Eric Kubota after the draft, it seemed like he kept saying about everyone you drafted, “We really like the way this guy handles the bat.”
GF: Well, that was a little bit of the change in direction you could see in the draft. Getting high school versus college wasn’t by design, but getting hitters, hitters first, was.
AF: Was there anyone in this year’s draft you scouted who you were particularly high on?
AF: Was there anybody you were maybe a little higher on than other people?
GF: Yeah, maybe Robertson. I don’t know if I was higher, but higher than a couple. We took him where I’d like to take him. I love B.J. Boyd, the Bay Area kid. This guy’s crude – he may run to the wrong dugout – but let me tell you, he’s got some kind of life in his hands, some kind of life in his legs. He’s electric.
AF: So, I guess it’s just going to be a matter of refining him then.
GF: Oh yeah, it’s going to be fun – but what a project! This is what young Carl Crawfords look like when they’re 18!
AF: Well, that’s always a good thing to hear! Thanks a lot for taking the time to clue us in!
The A’s triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats have a long history of winning – and this season has been no exception. The team currently boasts the best record in the 16-team Pacific Coast League, and has gotten great performances from many members of the starting rotation like Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Bruce Billings and even, earlier in the year before his struggles, Brad Peacock. And when we visited Sacramento about a week before the All-Star Break, we took the opportunity to talk with the newest member of the River Cats’ rotation, right-hander Dan Straily, as well as the team’s pitching coach, Scott Emerson.
We also had the chance to talk to one of the staples of the Sacramento lineup who always garners a great deal of interest amongst A’s fans, former 1st-round draft pick Grant Green. The former shortstop, whom the organization converted to an outfielder midway through last season, has recently been playing all over the diamond. The 24-year-old has put in time this season in left field and center field, as well as at shortstop, third base and second base. And after working on his approach at the plate, the right-handed swinger’s power numbers are up a bit this year and his strikeouts are down, and he could very well be angling for a spot with the 2013 A’s.
So be sure to check out our chat with top hitting prospect Grant Green, followed by our conversations with River Cats’ starting pitcher Dan Straily and Sacramento pitching coach Scott Emerson, and get the inside scoop on the 2012 Sacramento River Cats…
Sacramento River Cats
AF: Well you started out the year playing strictly in the outfield, but you’ve been playing a lot of different positions lately – short, third, second. So how has it been adapting to all these new positions and playing a different position everyday?
GG: It’s fun. It’s something new every single day – walking into the clubhouse and checking the lineup to see where I’m playing. It’s kind of fun and interesting to see where I’m playing. Certain days it’s a little bit less stressful to know I’m playing in left. But tomorrow I could be playing second – something different, something new.
AF: So it’s been an enjoyable challenge for you rather than something difficult?
AF: Do you have any preferences in terms of where you’d ideally like to play?
GG: Short, of course – that’s what I’m most comfortable with. After that, I like playing second – something I just started doing this year. I’ve only played 1 or 2 games there. But if I could stay in the middle of the diamond on the infield, I would love to. I’ve gotten more used to playing left.
AF: It sounds like you’d prefer to be where the action is.
AF: What about this year at the plate for you – your power numbers were down last year, but they’ve been up a bit this year – is there anything you’ve been doing differently?
GG: Yeah, we’ve really worked on getting more quality ABs – kind of seeing a little bit more pitches than usual – still being aggressive, but aggressive inside the zone instead of just being aggressive in general. And then last fall I really worked on widening my stance and getting a little bit of a load. It also helps that we’re not playing in Texas League parks. There are a lot of graveyards and the wind blowing the ball foul.
AF: Have most of your home runs been off any particular type of pitch?
GG: I’ve had a couple that were hanging sliders, a couple fastballs in, a couple fastballs down the middle. So it’s been a little bit of an array of pitches.
GG: Either in left-center or left. I think I maybe have one to center, if that.
AF: Your strikeouts have been down a little this year. Is there any particular reason for that?
GG: Just the overall approach. There was a little stretch at the beginning of the year where I was striking out a little bit too much and being a little bit too aggressive – just in general, swinging at bad pitches. And we really worked on quality ABs and quality pitches. And if I strike out looking on a borderline pitch, it’s better than swinging at a ball.
AF: Is there anything in particular that you’re really working on right now?
GG: Yeah, mostly the defensive side – coming back to the infield, trying to get back to that first step coming in, unlike the outfield. Just trying to get back to doing that and trying to cut distance and trying to save the arm a little bit when it comes to the infield.
AF: So are you practicing at different positions every day?
GG: It depends. If I’m playing the infield, then I’ll take all BP at that. And if I’m playing the outfield, I’ll take one round there and usually one round at short and just practice cutting the distance.
AF: I know you’re originally from Orange County, so do you spend most of the off-season in southern California?
GG: Yeah, I have a house in Corona. It’s about 10 minutes from where I grew up. So I spend my time there, travel a little bit, and try and go to the beach as much as possible.
AF: Well you’ve now played in the California League, the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League. So in all your travels, is there any place you’d rather never see again?
GG: Probably Bakersfield. The whole situation there was just a grind. The field wasn’t very nice – the infield was terrible actually. The clubhouse was old. That’s one place I’d never go back to.
AF: That’s funny, you’re not the only one I’ve heard say that.
GG: I bet!
AF: Thanks, Grant.
Sacramento River Cats
AF: Well, you got off to a good start this year at Midland and now you’ve been doing great here at Sacramento too. So what’s been the key to your success this year?
DS: Just throwing strikes down in the zone. Last year in Stockton, I spent a lot of time working on that because of how the ball sails in that league. That’s really been the key to success this year – just being able to keep the ball down.
AF: You’ve always been a bit of a strikeout pitcher, but even more so now. You’re leading the entire A’s minor league system in strikeouts this year. So is there any particular reason for that?
DS: It’s just kind of happened. I’m not pitching all that differently. I’ve just had a few games with a lot of strikeouts. I’ve had some 10+ strikeout nights and a bunch of 7-8-9 nights. It’s not like I’m trying to strike everyone out. It’s just kind of the way things are working out. My goal pretty much every night is to go out there and go 7-8 innings. And sometimes that’s 7-8 innings with a bunch of strikeouts and sometimes it’s 7-8 innings with just a handful of strikeouts. But I’m not necessarily trying to strike people out.
AF: So, you’re not trying to be Nolan Ryan.
AF: Coming from the Texas League to the Pacific Coast League, which is considered to be more of a hitters’ league, have there been any adjustments you’ve had to make?
DS: Not so far. It’s just kind of nice that the wind’s not blowing out at least here. It’s seems like in most of the Texas League stadiums, the wind’s blowing out. But I haven’t really been here long enough to be forced to make any adjustments. I’ve just been pitching the way I’ve been pitching.
AF: So how have you liked playing in Sacramento so far?
DS: So far it’s been awesome. Last night coming in here with a packed stadium – and a packed stadium most places is a few thousand less than it is here. I got to pitch here last week. And you don’t normally notice when you’re playing how many people are there, but when you’re done, you tend to notice those things. It’s a lot of fun. I just like the atmosphere here.
AF: Have you been following your former teammate A.J. Griffin’s progress this year?
DS: Absolutely. He was my roommate in Texas when we were down there. I texted him the other night and told him congratulations and stuff and talked to him a little bit today. It’s awesome. He’s my first friend I’ve seen come up and be in the show now. So that’s just awesome.
AF: Well, that must give you a real sense of just how close it can be.
DS: They keep telling us, you’re just one phone call away. And he definitely proved that. We were down in Vegas one day and just all of a sudden A.J. walked in just beaming with this big old smile and he came in and told us. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.
AF: Well, good luck!
Sacramento River Cats
AF: Well, Dan Straily came up here last month, and he’s been looking as good as he did at Midland. Tell me what you like about him.
SE: Well, I like his delivery. When you have a repeatable delivery like he does, it makes it a lot easier to throw all four of your pitches. He’s got four major league pitches, and he’s just got to go out there and face better hitters here in Triple-A and show us what he can do.
AF: Tell me about his repertoire.
SE: Well, he’s got a sinking fastball that goes to the arm side with good downhill plane to his mechanics. He’s got a good top-to-bottom curveball. He’s got a good late slider that at times looks like a cut fastball. And he’s got an excellent changeup that at times will look like a loose split-finger where the ball will actually fall off the table. So he’s a lot of fun to watch.
AF: What’s been his big strikeout pitch?
SE: More of his breaking ball. But the ability to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate sets up his breaking ball. Everything works off the fastball. When he throws it to both sides and then he’s able to throw that breaking ball, he’s getting them to chase it.
AF: Another guy you had here for a while this year was A.J. Griffin. And so far he’s been doing as well in Oakland as he was here.
SE: Well A.J. is a strike-throwing machine. And he works at the bottom of the strike zone. He works quick. He’s got an excellent changeup. Anytime that you can disrupt the timing of hitters, it’s always a plus. But again, everything comes off that good fastball command. He really commands the fastball down and away. He has the ability to throw his changeup behind in counts, so he’s always back in the count. If he falls behind in the count, he can throw that changeup in a fastball situation and either get hitters swinging or have them put the ball in play. And he’s developed a cutter over the course of the season this year – sometimes it looks like a slider – but to right-hander hitters, he got a lot of groundballs with it.
AF: After having him here for a while this year, did you feel confident about his ability to succeed at the major league level?
SE: Yeah, he holds runners well. That’s one of the questions you always get – does he hold runners? He plays good defense, he has the ability to throw his changeup behind in the count, and he spots his fastball. If you can do those things, you’re pretty much going to have some success in the big leagues.
AF: Another one of your starters here this year is Bruce Billings. He was pitching really well early on, then he was on the disabled list for a while, and now he’s been coming back. Tell me a little bit about him.
SE: Bruce has got real good command. He throws the ball at the bottom of the zone with movement. Anytime you can throw balls at the bottom of the zone with movement, you’re going to have a lot of success. He didn’t really have his sinker last season. But coming here this year, he started the year throwing that sinker at the bottom of the zone and getting some groundballs. He’s got a good late slider. Anytime you can do that and have good life at the bottom of the zone and get groundouts, you’re going to pitch good.
AF: Now what about Brad Peacock? He’s really been struggling of late and seems to have hit a bump in the road. So what’s up with him?
SE: Well, he’s got great stuff. There’s no doubt his pitch mix is very good. He’s struggling a little bit with his fastball command. And once the fastball command comes back and comes around, the sky’s the limit for this guy. His weapons are just that good. He’s got a hard late curveball, and a very good changeup with good arm speed, and then the changeup just dies. So we’re just looking for him to get that fastball command back. And you know, sometimes you put some pressure on yourself. You get traded for a guy like Gio Gonzalez and you run into a couple of rough games – he’s just got to know that we’ve got a lot of confidence in him – you’ve just got to go out there and have fun and pitch your game.
AF: Thanks, Scott – that’s really informative.
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
TRIPLE-A PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
Fresno Grizzlies 2
Sacramento River Cats 5
(WP – Griffin 3-2 / 2.81)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher A.J. Griffin
(6 IP / 2 ER / 2 K / Win)
Worth Noting: Starter A.J. Griffin had another solid outing for Sacramento, allowing 2 runs over 6 innings to earn his 3rd win with the River Cats. Infielder Brandon Hicks hit his 4th home run in the last 5 games and Kila Ka’aihue, playing left field in his first game with the River Cats, homered as well. Designated hitter Chris Carter collected 3 hits in the win.
DOUBLE-A TEXAS LEAGUE
Frisco RoughRiders 5
Midland RockHounds 1
(LP – Daley 7-4 / 4.81)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Gary Daley
(5 2/3 IP / 1 ER / 7 K)
Worth Noting: The RockHounds had a rough night in the field, committing a total of 6 errors. Starter Gary Daley allowed 5 runs, only 1 of them earned, and struck out 7 over 5 2/3 innings to run his record to 7-4. Outfielder Michael Choice singled in the RockHounds’ only run in the bottom of the 1st inning.
CLASS-A MIDWEST LEAGUE
MidwestLeague Eastern Division All-Stars 18
MidwestLeague Western Division All-Stars 2
(LP – Granier)
Burlington Bees Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Seth Frankoff
(2/3 IP / 0 ER / 1 K)
Worth Noting: Bees’ All-Star starter Drew Granier got knocked around in the 1st inning by the Eastern Division All-Stars. The right-hander allowed 5 runs, 2 earned, in just 2/3 of an inning to take the loss. Bees right-hander Seth Frankoff pitched 2/3 of an inning of scoreless relief, and Burlington shortstop Sean Jamieson went 0 for 1 in the All-Star blowout.
CLASS-A SHORT-SEASON NEW YORK-PENN LEAGUE
Tri-City ValleyCats 4
Vermont Lake Monsters 7
(WP – Lamb 1-0 / 0.00)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Chris Lamb
(5 IP / 0 ER / 2 K / Win)
Fresno @ Sacramento – 12:05pm PT
(Hacker vs. Godfrey)
Frisco @ Midland – 6:30pm CT
(Tepesch vs. Castro)
Vermont @ Tri-City – 7:00pm ET
(Avila vs. Perez)