Results tagged ‘ Billy Beane ’
Last week, we brought you a great little ditty from The Baseball Project called “They Are The Oakland A’s.” And this week, we’ve decided to take it to another level by putting together our own video for the song filled with highlights from the team’s last two seasons and more. So be sure to check it out and get yourself in the green and gold groove for the season!
Our favorite line has to be, “Young and hungry, small payroll, but Billy Beane loves rock & roll.” And we can confirm that the A’s rock-and-roll-loving GM has heard the song and does approve! If you’re interested, you can find out more about the band – which features members of R.E.M., the Dream Syndicate and Young Fresh Fellows – and their new album, 3rd, at their website here.
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 Chavez, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry 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 four years ago to serve as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with the A’s general manager – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here), and he and Beane are both back on the same team and rowing in the same direction.
During spring training, Fuson can most frequently be found patrolling the A’s minor league fields at Papago Park, 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 lowdown on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects…
AF: So what are your impressions of Addison Russell after his first full year of pro ball now that he’s been out here in big league camp?
GF: I think the impression he’s made is the same. He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s played well on both sides of the ball. He’s made some very good plays at short. He’s gotten a lot of playing time. The first ten games or so until he had the hamstring strain, he almost played the last half of every game. So I think he’s had 25 at-bats over there and held his own in every category.
AF: Is there anything that he needs to focus on this season just to get him a little bit closer to being major-league ready?
GF: Well, you know, when he did come to camp, it looked like he toyed with his stance and his hand-set a little bit. So that was a little confusing at the beginning. But he figured a few things out with his hands and changed that. And you know, this kid looks like he’s really close – no matter where he goes, he looks like he’s close.
AF: So it’s just a matter of letting nature take its course at this point.
GF: Yep, nature will take its course.
AF: What about Daniel Robertson? Where’s he at in his development at this stage of the game?
GF: Robbie’s had a nice camp. He was here early for the mini-camp. He’s actually been over there [in the big league camp] quite a bit. He’s had some opportunities. He’s another guy who’s held his own. I think he’s impressed them with his at-bats. And he’s made some good plays on some tough hops over there. He’s got a very polished look for a 20-year-old.
AF: In the future, with Addison Russell moving along as quickly as he has and looking like the A’s shortstop of the near future, looking at Robertson down the line, are there other positions you could see him being a good fit at?
GF: Yeah, I don’t think any of us think there’s going to ever be an issue if he has to go over to second or if he has to go to third. But there’s not a guy you would talk to in this camp who doesn’t look at him as a shortstop, so we’ll just keep that going.
AF: Another guy who’s seen a little time in the big league camp this spring is last year’s top draft pick, Billy McKinney.
GF: Yep, Billy’s been over there a little bit. He actually had some quality at-bats. I was there for his first one. He battled a couple tough ones off and then they threw him an ultra-big-league slider and I think it froze him up a little bit. But yesterday, I think he went 0-2 in that count and battled back a little bit and hit a nice line drive to right. He’s done well…Those kids who get to go across the street [to big league camp], there’s nothing like it for them. I was talking to Renato Nunez this morning, and he came back from there, and he’s on fire. He was talking to all the guys over there, and it’s a thrill and a great experience for those kids to go over there for a day or two.
AF: Since you just mentioned him, I’m guessing Renato Nunez is probably going to get the chance to hit a lot of home runs at Stockton in the California League this year. What’s the outlook on him, especially defensively at third base?
GF: We’re still grinding away defensively. It comes and goes. Sometimes his feet get in the way a little bit. But a couple of balls the other day, he reacted really well on. And then a couple of balls he kind of kicked around. It’s a work in progress. You know, I think his body is still evolving. He was such a young guy when we signed him…now he’s bulked up a little bit and he’s a little stronger, so he’s still going into those years where his body’s still growing and he’s starting to learn what’s going to feel good in the future as far as what weight he plays at and everything. You know, that’s what the minor leagues are for is to figure all that stuff out before you get there.
AF: So he’s basically still a growing kid getting coordinated.
AF: So what about his bat? Are you just letting him go or are you working on anything in particular with him?
GF: It’s nothing major with him. It’s just time and repetition and doing the right thing more often. It’s taking a little bit more focus and intent in his batting practice as far as what he’s trying to do. And it’s all coming. I was down here where he hit today, and he hit about twenty out.
AF: What about Max Muncy?
GF: Muncy’s been all-world on both sides. He’s had quality at-bats every single time out. He’s stronger and the ball’s getting off the bat even a little bit farther. You could see his power really starting to come…One of the issues was always how much power this guy was going to have. He only hit 7 [home runs] at Baylor, but a few of us thought there was going to be some juice in there.
AF: I’ve talked to him a couple of times and he seems to be a pretty smart hitter who really thinks about hitting and has a good approach and knows what he’s doing up there.
GF: He is, yeah. Up and down the whole system, he might be one of our most complete hitters. He’s got the swing to match the eyes, and his plan, his patience, his pitch selection – he’s got a clue, he’s advanced.
AF: So now let me ask you about a couple of pitchers. Where’s Michael Ynoa at at this stage of the game?
GF: He’s ahead of where he’s ever been. He had a couple of the best innings I’ve ever seen him throw over on the big league side. In his first outing, he was 93-96 mph. He was around the plate with his fastball and threw some of the best breaking balls I’ve seen him throw. The arm strength is fully recovered and the shape to the breaking ball is intact, so now it’s just about turning him loose and letting him pitch.
AF: My understanding is that you guys are looking at starting him out in the bullpen this year.
GF: Yeah, we’re probably going to keep him in the bullpen for a while and just let that arm play…
AF: …and not have to worry about trying to fine-tune too many pitches.
GF: The changeup’s still a work in progress with him.
AF: Now what about Raul Alcantara? He looked really good in the big league camp and everyone seems to be saying nothing but good things about him.
GF: Yeah, I think they were really impressed by him. He’s a strike thrower. He changes speeds. He’s got the fastball and the changeup. The breaking ball has always been on the bubble a little bit. It’s not a big, buckling pitch, but it’s a strike. His poise and everything else that goes into it, he was impressive over there in the big league games.
AF: He’s potentially got to be your top pitching prospect right now.
GF: Yeah, one of them. We got a nice little group out of last year’s draft who are going to be fun to watch.
AF: What about Arnold Leon? He’s looked awfully good in the big league camp this year.
GF: The odds are he’s going to go back to Triple-A and be in that rotation, but he’s pitched very well. He’s got a four pitch mix, he’s throwing strikes, he’s a lot more aggressive and he’s using his fastball better. He’s got a very good curveball, he’s got a tremendous changeup, and he’s up to 94 mph – he’s got some weapons. You know, he’s everything you’re looking for.
AF: He really looks like somebody who could be ready to step in if they need someone at some point this year.
GF: Yeah, he’s close. He’s close.
AF: What about the new guy in camp, Billy Burns? Are you as excited about him as everyone else is?
GF: Yeah, no doubt…I never saw him as an amateur, or even with Washington. So I was expecting a little bit more raw of a player, and he’s not. He gets good jumps in the outfield. I think he’s got an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. The worst thing we could do is try to get him to hit it harder and farther. But everything you’ve heard about the legs is dead on – when this guy puts it in play, there’s action.
* * *
–GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH–
We asked Grady to tip us off to a few guys in the A’s system to keep an eye on and here’s what we got…
He’s very aggressive. He’s got a good fastball. He’s really taken to the changeup. He had a better breaking ball last year than he’s throwing in this camp. He’s kind of struggling with his breaker. But I really like the way he goes about it and the things he does.
We’re still building his innings, but he’s pitched 90 mph here. He’s got a good curveball. He’s really come a long way with the changeup. He’s around the plate. He’s got some strength in his body. And for 19, he’s doing great!
We took him fairly high last year. One of the issues with him was, for a college guy, he was very physically immature – nice frame, but no muscle – but he’s put on twenty pounds. And it’s good weight, and it is showing in the BPs and in the game work – so we’ll see!
* * *
The Baseball Project – featuring members of R.E.M., The Dream Syndicate and Young Fresh Fellows – is releasing their third album, titled 3rd, next Tuesday, March 25th. All the songs are about baseball, but only one of them is about the Oakland A’s. We’ve got it right here, and I can confirm that rock-and-roll-loving A’s general manager Billy Beane – who’s referenced in the song – has heard it and loves it. So with that stamp of approval, give it a spin and get your Bay Area baseball groove on, A’s fans! You can check out the band’s website here for more…
A’s Assistant GM David Forst on Top Prospects Russell & McKinney, Coco’s New Contract and What the A’s Expect from Reddick in 2014
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. First up was A’s assistant general manager David Forst who volunteered a generous bit of time to talk about some top major and minor league players for the A’s. We had the chance to ask him about two of the A’s most promising young players – shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney. Forst clearly couldn’t be more excited about the prospects for Russell, and he’s definitely not the only one in the A’s front office who feels that way.
Earlier in the day, in a question-and-answer session at the Oracle Arena, A’s general manager Billy Beane lit up like a Christmas tree when the subject of Russell came up. He characterized the young shortstop as a special kind of player who doesn’t come along very often and said he was “knocking on the door.” The A’s GM went on to enthuse, “We’ve had some great young players come through the system, and we’re as excited about Addison as we have been about a lot of the guys…that went on to be stars. So he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player.”
In his session, Forst also talked about some of the team’s top young pitching prospects and shared some interesting insights on the A’s draft philosophy that has seen the team increasingly shift its focus to high school players in recent years. On the major league front, the assistant GM discussed the challenge of having to fill a number of holes in the offseason, Coco Crisp’s recent contract extension, what the team expects from Josh Reddick and John Jaso in 2014, and how the A’s expect to contend in a strengthened American League West and push themselves past the competition in the postseason. But A’s Farm started things off by asking Forst to share his take on the A’s most promising young player in the pipeline…
On A’s top prospect Addison Russell…
I expect he’ll start the year at Midland. The thing that impressed me most about Addison last year, and there were obviously a lot…to see the way he kind of turned his season around…that tells me as much about Addison as a player as anything he did. You can go and watch him and see the power, see the swing, see the arm from the hole…with a guy like that, it’s really easy to see. But I remember having conversations in April with Todd Steverson, who at the time was our minor league hitting coordinator, and saying, “Hey, is this kid okay? Look, let him know we understand, he’s going to struggle.” And when I saw him myself in May, I said, “Hey, you’re not going to hit .200 forever – it’s just not going to happen.” I think he’s a confident kid, but anyone who spends a whole month doing that, there’s going to be a little bit of doubt. And within a couple weeks, he started to turn around. He’s going to hit, he’s going to have enough power for the middle of the diamond, he can throw from anywhere. There’s a reason he’s a top ten prospect in baseball. And to see him turn the season around, put everything together, and continue on into the [Arizona] Fall League, that’s a long year for anyone, particularly for a kid in his first full season…Everyone says we haven’t had a kid put it all together since Eric Chavez was there…and we’re going to see a lot of him in spring training. I know one of Bob Melvin’s main objectives is to get Addison a lot of reps because there’s no telling how soon he’s going to be here…You can see the tools and the ability, but when you spend time with him and you understand how much fun he has and how mentally strong he is, you really feel good about his chances going forward.
On last year’s top draft pick Billy McKinney…
I actually didn’t get to Arizona to see those guys. I saw Billy in March last year – I went to see him play in high school. There wasn’t a lot of consensus on the board last year in the draft room. It was just one of those years where we were picking so low that guys had different opinions. But by the time that we got down there, the nice thing was we did have a strong voice in Billy’s favor – and you always feel good about a pick when that happens. And he came out and hit the way we expected, sort of above what you’d expect for his years. He got a chance to go to Vermont and get his feet wet a little bit. And I know in Instructional League, he talked to [A’s farm director] Keith Lieppman and said, “Just so you know, I expect to follow Addison’s path and start in Stockton next year.” It’s nice to hear. You don’t put expectations on a kid like that, because we know how special Addison is, but we know he will go be with a full-season club. We know he can hit, he did a great job in center field, and we’re excited about Billy.
On the A’s recent shift to drafting top high school players like Russell and McKinney…
We didn’t like taking kids out of high school when the information was so limited. Things have evolved over the last ten years. These kids play in so many showcases – they play against the best competition in the country. We know so much more performance-wise about a high school kid than we did even five years ago, but particularly when the book (Moneyball) was written…Sure, you’re dealing with an extra three years of personal development, and any kid from the ages of 18 to 21 changes a lot…but I think we’ve gotten to the point where we are a lot more comfortable with what these kids show us on the field. Addison is from Pensacola, Florida. If he was only playing against kids in a 50-mile radius, then you’re not sure how he stacks up. But he went to California and played, he went to Texas and played, he went to Miami and played against all these kids. Billy did the same thing – he’s on that showcase circuit where you know how he stacks up against everybody in the country…When we didn’t take Mike Trout, it was because we thought, “this is a cold-weather kid from the northeast, we’re not sure how he stacks up against the rest of the country.” Well, if we’d stepped back to see that Mike did the same things and played those circuits and performed really well, we might have lined up our board differently. So really, it’s a different time with the high school kids. And if our scouts have seen a lot of them and they sort of check enough boxes, we feel really good about those guys – and Billy fell into that group.
Both Covey and Wahl were interesting conversations. Covey was a 1st-round pick in high school. Bobby was expected to potentially be a 1st-round guy, at least a top two guy. Both guys fell to an area where we paid over-slot for them because we wanted to, and we felt like both guys had some sort of marks against them that hurt their draft status. With Dylan, he never sort of performed the way people expected him to out of high school, but the stuff was always there and there was an upward trend in his college performance. And Bobby we knew had an injury history, but if we could get him healthy and keep him healthy, this was a 1st-round talent. So as far as the diversity of our draft portfolio, those guys fit really nicely after taking a guy like Billy [McKinney] in the 1st-round because they’re a little more advanced. And if they did stay healthy and kind of live up to what their pre-draft status was, you potentially have some top guys. And both guys went out and pitched great. Dylan obviously was able to make the jump to the Midwest League for a couple starts. But both those guys have a chance to start the year in Stockton, depending on how things shake out, and potentially move quickly because of their status as college players.
The goal of a 1st-round pick is always to get them here. You never draft someone hoping just to create an asset to move. With Grant and with Michael, it sort of worked out that way. But it’s a lot more rewarding certainly when Sonny Gray pitches here or ultimately when Addison Russell does get here. That’s what you want out of your 1st-round pick. I won’t say that we’re sort of focused on any position ever in the 1st-round – we’re looking for the best player…I know there’s been a lot made of trading those guys. Throughout the farm system, we’ve moved a lot of players and, as such, we’re sort of in a position where we need to rebuild. But there’s never a specific goal with a 1st-round pick.
On meeting the team’s key offseason needs…
When you look at our checklist at the end of October, replace Bartolo Colon, replace Grant Balfour, so you’ve got a starting pitcher and a closer. Craig Gentry was a guy we had been focused on for a long time who we just felt fit so well…with his ability to play all three outfield spots, running, hitting from the right side, so we sort of checked that one off…We added more pieces to the bullpen. We got some depth in the starting rotation with Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz. These were all things that we sort of laid out in October. You just hope you can hit as many as possible.
On how the A’s expect to best the rest of the west in 2014…
We still feel like the make-up of the complete 25-man roster gives us a chance to repeat, and as great a job as Bob Melvin has done the last two years of managing that group – putting guys in the right spots, platooning, using the bullpen. We feel like from 1 to 25, we’re just as strong as we were, if not stronger than, the last two years. And certainly the bullpen – with adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to what was already an outstanding group, maybe potentially a full season of Dan Otero, and Jesse Chavez showed last year what he can do – that has to be a strength that we’re going to lean on a lot.
On the effect of increased national TV revenue on the team’s spending…
There’s no doubt our payroll is going to be higher this year probably than ever, certainly in the time I’ve been here. You just have to do the math and see we’re significantly above where we were last year. And that’s what allowed us to go get Jim Johnson, knowing there’s going to be a $10 million price tag on him, and to sign Scott Kazmir, even a move like signing Eric O’Flaherty, where you’re only adding a little bit for this year. But we had already sort of bumped up against our number, and [managing partner] Lew Wolff and [team president] Mike Crowley were very open to what we were trying to do with Eric for half a season and then backload the money. So there’s no doubt that, whether it’s the TV money, the success of the team, all these things have gone into ownership being very open to increasing the bar and letting us do some things this offseason that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
On avoiding long-term contracts and Coco Crisp’s extension…
I think we’ve benefited a lot from the flexibility over the last few years. Obviously having added Coco in the last 24 hours, but other than Yoenis Cespedes and Scott Kazmir, there was nobody signed for 2015. We don’t necessarily want to recreate the team every year, because obviously the fans like the players that are here and we like the certainty of the guys that we know, but that we’ve given ourselves the ability to do it is a huge factor in our success. So to commit to a guy like Coco, obviously we know the guy, we know the player, he’s so important to what we do, and it was just an opportunity where we felt like this was the right dollar amount to commit to him beyond the next couple of years.
On expectations for Josh Reddick in 2014…
We certainly expect Josh to bounce back. I don’t think anybody knows fully how much his wrist affected him last year, and Josh will never ever admit it privately or publicly. But the fact is that he had that injury in Houston early in the year. And when you look at the difference in his numbers between 2012 and 2013, a player with his talent, you have to assume there’s something else going on. So we fully expect Josh to bounce back – and I fully expect to have him under contract hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks. But Josh adds so much with his defense alone that it’s hard to calculate his value to the team. And if he does get back to being the offensive player that we saw in 2012, he has the chance to carry this team at times.
On expectations for John Jaso’s return in 2014…
He’s coming to camp as a catcher. He’s cleared all exams. He’s had no setbacks with his physical activity. Look, you can’t predict how he reacts when he gets hit by a foul tip – that’s a medical issue. We did everything we could in terms of giving him the rest he needed and getting him to see the right people. But he comes into camp as a catcher – same situation with him and Derek Norris. The nice thing is Stephen Vogt sort of emerged last year in John’s absence, and that’s a great problem to have. If you end up having a roster with all three of those guys, they’re great options for the DH spot and the catching spot.
Each of those guys we felt addressed, not necessarily a weakness, but somewhere we could get better. It’s hard to say how they specifically help us in the postseason, but anytime your pitching depth is strong – whether it’s with Kaz or Jim Johnson or Gregerson – you expect that to come into play in a tight postseason game. Nick has played in the postseason quite a bit, he’s been on winning teams, he knows a lot of the guys around the league. There’s no way that his experience isn’t going to help us when it comes down the stretch – it’s sort of subjective to say exactly what that is, but we’ve seen it before with players that we’ve brought in. So hopefully these guys fit as well as the group has the last two years. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do is put that puzzle together to compete in September, and I think we have every reason to believe that these guys will fit.
* * *
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.
One of the most popular pieces we’ve featured here on A’s Farm over the past year or so 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 three and a half years ago and currently serves as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
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 and Stockton to Midland and Beloit.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton during the last week of June, before second baseman Grant Green’s recent promotion to the A’s. 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 prospects at the top of the system at Sacramento…
AF: Let’s start off with Sonny Gray, who’s obviously been having a great year at Sacramento. I know there were a few things that you guys were working on with him, but it really seems like he’s gotten over the hump at this point.
GF: Well you know, the credit goes to him. He’s not doing everything the way we wanted it done – there’s been variations to it. But that’s the deal with players – there’s give and take – and we don’t want to put players in positions where they’re doing things that are completely uncomfortable. So it’s trial and error. But he has been much more efficient. He’s using his changeup better – he’s still got a ways to go. But the consistency of his starts has been tremendous. With the exception of maybe one early in the year, he hasn’t had a bad start. I’m proud of him. He’s put himself on the map. When you look at our depth, there’s not too many years that go by that you don’t have to dip down there to grab a starter or two, and he’s put himself in a position to at some point be considered, or at least get his first taste of it.
AF: Well at this point, he certainly appears to be first in line based on what he’s done this year. Is there any one single thing that you’d pinpoint as the key to his success this season?
GF: Yeah, effort. I think he is starting to understand pace and rhythm and tempo, to control the effort level of his delivery. And he’s understanding this thing about how to disrupt timing, instead of being hard with everything.
AF: So it’s really about varying his effort.
GF: Yeah. If you go back to all the good things about him when we drafted him, besides his stuff, this guy’s always been a bulldog, he’s always been a competitor. Do not count this guy out – you know, he’ll come back and find a way to kick your ass if you count him out. And all those things are such a big part of it, his character and mentality on the mound.
AF: Another guy at Sacramento who seems to be on a similar trajectory is outfielder Michael Choice. He also seems to have turned a corner this year. So how do you see his development at this point?
GF: I don’t know what clicked over the winter, but something really clicked and he came into camp a little bit of a changed man in his whole approach. He’s slowed some things down like we’ve been asking him to do and has bought into a couple of other things. I think he’s developing a whole awareness of how guys pitch him and what they try to do. This is his third full year now, and I think it’s just maturity. But I’m proud of him. He hasn’t made people walk him off of center field yet. And the only reason we’re playing him in left more right now is if there is a time that he has to go up, with Crisp, with Young, with Cespedes, he probably wouldn’t play center over those guys. So he needs to learn a little bit about some corners, because the ball comes off differently.
AF: Is there any one thing that’s been the key for him?
GF: Maturity. He’s growing up. He’s maturing into that major league mentality you’re waiting to see. You know, most of these guys are kids. And sometimes, as frustrated as we get, you’ve got to remind yourself, “God, he’s just a kid!” But you can tell when they start to speak smart – you can tell by the things they’re saying back to you. That’s when the maturity thing kicks in and they start to give you the right answers – and bingo! But everything else with Michael is the same. He’s healthy, he’s playing every day, he’s having good at-bats, he’s staying consistent.
AF: Is there anything else that you’d like to see him working on at this point that he needs to do to make himself a complete player?
GF: Long term, to stay in center so that we don’t need a center fielder better than him for a long time, I think he’s going to have to be a guy who diligently works on his reads and his routes because he’s going to have to do it with a lot of instinctual things. He’s always had a weakness closing in on the wall. He’s gotten better – he’s working at it. So I think he’s the kind of guy who’s eventually going to have to do certain drills that are going to keep all that really sharp.
AF: What about another outfielder in Sacramento who everyone was so excited about in spring training, Shane Peterson? He started out well but it looks like he’s been struggling a bit lately.
GF: I don’t know that he’s struggling. He’s just not putting up crazy numbers. He’s doing what he does. He had such a tremendous spring, and almost made the damn club. I just think he’s in that mode where it’s not coming out big every night. But the way he goes about playing the game, there’s no issues there.
AF: So you think the impression he made in the spring still lingers with the A’s front office.
GF: Oh, without a doubt.
AF: Now what about Grant Green? Where do you see him with his hitting and with his development at second base at this point?
GF: At second base, he’s still learning the nuances. This is actually his first full year of playing one spot, and there are a lot of little nuances, so he’s still learning that. His errors have been a combination of a lot of different things, maybe some throws on pivots and things. But as far as what he’s doing at the plate, it’s what he does. He hits .300, he’s starting come up a little bit now with the homers, and as he’s seeing it better his walks are going up. He’s right where he needs to be.
AF: Do you see his future more likely as a second baseman or as more of a multi-purpose type of guy?
GF: It just depends on when he goes up and what the need is. But the great thing about him is he can go up and, if Bob Melvin had to use him in three or four different spots, he can do that. But I do think that second base is the one spot that, since the time we started it, he’s gotten a lot better. Center wasn’t that good a look, we questioned whether he was going to be a true everyday shortstop – the growth there just kind of fizzled. But second base, he’s gotten better at it every step of the way.
AF: So you really feel that you’ve seen more discernible progress at second base than any other spot you’ve had him at so far.
AF: Another infielder at Sacramento is Hiro Nakajima. He’s been bouncing all over the place lately – short, second, third…
GF: Well, they had to make him more versatile. He had the rough spring. He got hurt. We open up the year and Donaldson’s killing it and Lowrie’s playing great. You know, he’s in a tough spot right now. So if he’s going to come up, he’s got to learn all three spots. And he has not spent a lot of time at second or third in his whole career. The good thing is he’s obviously playing better and doing things better than what we saw in spring training.
AF: Well, the other piece of the infield puzzle in Sacramento is Jemile Weeks, who’s been playing a little shortstop this year…
GF: He’s played a great shortstop – he’s played very well.
AF: So if he remains in the A’s system in the future, would you see him having to take on more of a utility role, perhaps?
GF: Yeah, possibly, unless he gets a chance to go in there and do something in a spot and play every day and regain something. You know, this is what having depth is all about. I mean, Billy’s sitting back there right now with a ton of chips. We’ve got guys to bring up if somebody goes down who we feel pretty good about, and he’s got some players he can discuss with people if the need arises.
AF: Now in Stockton, the A’s top draft pick last year, 19-year-old Addison Russell, got off a rough start, but he’s been picking it up over the past month or so. So where do you see his development’s at at this point?
GF: He’s way on target. What he went through was everything we somewhat predicted coming out of camp. You’ve got to remember, there’s not too many 19-year-olds in the California League. You know, you go to a level where there’s more guys who throw breaking balls for strikes, there’s more guys who have little cutters, little two-seamers – things he’s never really seen. It’s different. But you’re hoping that he grows and he learns and, by the second half, things start to turn and he has a quality second half. And his attitude’s great, he’s working at it, he’s not getting fatigued. He’s smart enough to start to understand where he’s getting exposed and how we’re going to fix it. So to me, his development is right on target.
AF: So you think it’s pretty much been the natural progression of events – it took him a little while to get used to things, and now he’s gotten used to it…
GF: You know, we could have done it the other way. We could have kicked him off at Beloit and let him somewhat dominate again. But he wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it as he’s getting out of this learning experience.
AF: The bigger challenge. Well, he is still the youngest guy in the league. How has he looked to you in the field?
GF: Super. Look, he’s got 9-10 errors for a high school kid playing on these fields in the Cal League. You know, I’ve been around a lot of shortstops we developed who came through here who’d have 30 at this time. Tejada, Batista, those guys made 40-50 errors in this league. And he’s got 9-10 tops. I think he’s doing pretty good.
AF: Another guy who’s had a really good year in Stockton is first baseman Max Muncy. I remember talking to you about him in the spring and you said you guys were working on developing his power a bit more. So, with 20 home runs under his belt now, it looks like that’s worked out pretty well.
GF: When we took him, a lot of people questioned how much power’s in there. He only hit 6-7 home runs at Baylor. But you watch him in BP in college prior to the draft and you can tell there’s power in there – he just didn’t know how to get to it yet. Last summer, we just kind of let him go play. But then in instructional league, we got started with getting him to feel what it’s like to get some pitches middle-in and how that works to get the head out. We had the same story when we talked about Grant Green a year or so ago, and look what he’s doing now. But the great thing is he’s got great balance, he’s got good rhythm in his swing, and he’s got a tremendous eye, so he sees the baseball well. He swings at strikes and he takes balls – and that makes hitting so much easier. But from a power standpoint, I think he’s growing on everybody.
AF: Yeah, I would imagine you couldn’t be happier with the progress he’s made at this point. A guy who’s had a rougher time of it this year at Stockton though is 2011’s 3rd-round draft pick, third baseman B.A. Vollmuth. So what’s the source of the problem with him?
GF: It’s funny you bring him up, I was just talking to him the other day. He’s just not adjusting well in the strike zone. And I think he’s trying to be too big of a master. He’s trying to hit outer-half pitches the other way and pitches in the middle up the middle – he’s just trying to do too much that he’s not really capable of doing yet. So we talked about staying with his strength. Just look middle/middle-in and if they throw you away, just spit on it and let it go. But look middle/middle-in, and when you get them, hammer them. And just avoid the outer half of the strike zone right now until you get two strikes. But quit trying to be a master all over the strike zone right now. So we’ll see – he’s had a rough go of it.
AF: Now in terms of pitchers, what about right-hander Raul Alcantara? He recently came up to Stockton and I know you had a chance to see his first start.
GF: Yeah, good first one. He didn’t try to do anything different. He commanded his fastball well, both sides of the plate. He’s got a good changeup, and his breaking ball’s starting to show some promise. The breaking ball was always the iffy pitch. His slurve is now turning into somewhat of a legit curveball, and he’s getting some depth to it so he’s getting some swings and misses. And he’s got tempo, he’s got clean moves in his delivery. He’s still young, he’s only 20. He’s doing really good. A good second half here and you never know where it puts him for next year.
AF: Yeah, he could be a fast riser. Another guy who’s been doing a pretty good job at Stockton is Tanner Peters. What’s your take on him at this point?
GF: He’s doing good. We’ve been playing with the breaking ball for a couple of years. He’s always had a good changeup. His velocity is starting to hold. He’s a guy who maybe touches 91-92 mph but pitches at 87-88 mph, but now he’s pitching at 90 mph. We’ve talked about him using his sinker more instead of the four-seamer. He’s got a tendency with his delivery style to have a lot of misses, and misses in bad places, with his four-seamer. So we’ve been talking to him a lot about throwing his sinkers more, which will make him be more efficient, because he can get up with his pitch counts too real easy. But he’s had a very good first half, and we expect it to keep going.
AF: Well, it seems like, as a young pitcher, if you can just keep it together and make it through the Cal League without too much damage, you ought to be all right!
GF: Every ballpark here is a unique experience. You know, you go to High Desert and Lancaster and it’s like a pinball game.
AF: Well the guy who really started out great in Stockton this year and moved up to Midland is Drew Granier. He was dominant last season in the Midwest League and had a great first half in the Cal League this year. Now I know he wasn’t a high draft pick or a top prospect to start out, but what do you think about what he’s doing right now?
GF: Well, he’s been great. It’s hard to pick out negatives when your numbers look the way his do. But there are still some things we’re trying to get from him that he’s fighting a little bit. He’s not as efficient as he needs to be – he gets a little scattered. He’s not using his changeup to the level we need him to use it. But when you win a bunch of games last year and then you come in and win another half a dozen here, it’s kind of hard for him to go, “Okay, let me do it your way.” But the good thing was in his first start in Double-A, if I remember right, he threw 99 pitches and 66 strikes. That’s as efficient a game chart as I’ve seen this year from him, and he also threw 12% changeups, and it’s usually about 6%. But let me tell you, this guy grinds, this guy competes. His breaking ball is getting sharper – guys do not see it, they don’t get good swings. That’s why his strikeouts are so high. When you look at guys in this league who have high strikeout rates, it’s usually a college guy like him who’s getting it done with his breaking ball. But the next level is when all the other stuff starts to come into play. So I’m glad we’ve challenged him. He deserved being moved up. And hopefully he runs with everything we’ve been trying to pound into him.
AF: So he could be a guy who, with the right approach, could really come from the back of the pack to the top of the pack.
GF: Without a doubt. You get this guy between the white lines and he’s something. He fights you out there.
AF: Does anybody else on Midland’s pitching staff jump out at you right now?
GF: You know, Murphy Smith made a nice adjustment. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Scott Emerson picked up on something in spring training and got him closing up a little bit more on his load and it has helped him keep that fastball in the strike zone more, and that’s really what’s helped him a ton. And Sean Murphy continues to compete. We talked about him last year, and I thought he was one of the most improved pitchers in the system a year ago, and he continues to do what he’s doing.
AF: A guy who’s been having a great season at Midland is first baseman Anthony Aliotti. He’s been leading all A’s minor leaguers in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all year. I know he hasn’t been considered a top prospect, but is there anything more that he can do to put himself on the map?
GF: No, he’s just waiting for an opportunity to get to the next level – in fact, a couple of guys are. It just depends on what’s going on at Sacramento to get these guys moving.
AF: So people do see and appreciate what he’s been doing at Midland this year?
GF: Without a doubt.
AF: Now I wanted to ask you about a guy who was blowing everybody’s mind with his hitting in the first half of last year but who’s really struggled this season. Do you have any insight into what’s been going on with Miles Head this year?
GF: Well, he’s just had a bad 2013. He showed up to camp extremely heavy. And we got him started doing something about it. And then, for whatever reason, he was swinging at air down there in Midland for a while before he got hurt. He’s just been hurt – his shoulder’s barking again, and we had to sit him again. So he’s just had a bad 2013.
AF: So I guess the first thing that needs to happen is that he needs to get healthy…
GF: He needs to get healthy, and in shape. And then we can get his mind right and get this thing going.
AF: Now what about all the young guys at Beloit? That team’s really been having a great season this year.
GF: Yeah, it’s great. They’re having a blast. Ryan Christenson is a hall-of-fame first-year manager. He’s doing a great job. He’s picked up on so many important things. He’s been a great leader for those kids. Just go around the lineup – Maxwell, Olson, Bostick, Robertson, Nunez – they’re all on target. They’re all playing super.
AF: I was going to ask you about the decision to hire Ryan Christenson as the manager at Beloit with all those top prospects there. He’s a former A’s outfielder, but he really didn’t have any previous managing experience.
GF: We were going to hire him just to be the hitting coach, but we had some things happen that kind of forced our hand a little bit. But as we sit here now, there’s not a person in the organization who isn’t just pleased as hell that he’s stepped up and done the job he’s done.
AF: Now what about the job that former top prospect Michael Ynoa has done in Beloit this year?
GF: He’s going 5 innings now routinely, throwing 75-85 pitches, and throwing hard. And the breaking ball’s really getting good. The breaking ball’s now getting a little bit closer to the projection breaking ball that they all thought he might have. I don’t know what his velocity is every night, but I know he’s been up to 97 mph numerous times and pitching 92-95 mph – so you can’t throw it a whole lot harder than that. And he’s healthy – he hasn’t missed a start.
AF: Taking a look at the draft for a minute, what about the A’s top draft pick this year, center fielder Billy McKinney? What did you see when you were scouting him?
GF: I just thought he was one of those special hitters – very instinctual, great swing, balance, aggressiveness, knows the strike zone for an 18-year-old kid. He’s not raw, he runs, he throws, he’s got all the equipment. There’s going to be some power. And where we were in the draft, if this kind of guy got to us in this draft, I’m in!
AF: So did you fall in love with him the first time you scouted him in high school?
GF: Yeah, but he walked five times. They walked him five times, all intentional. I had to come back four days later.
AF: Well at least you knew they were giving him plenty of respect anyway! So did you get a chance to see much of the second hitter the A’s took this year, infielder Chad Pinder?
GF: Yeah, Pinder’s a slender 6’2” who’s got room to grow. He’s got good feet, he throws, he’s a good defender. He ended up playing a lot of shortstop in college this year, but I think down the road he’s probably a third baseman. There’s a chance for some power in there. There’s some things that have to get cleaned up in his approach a bit, but I think he’s a solid pick for where he got him.
AF: Was there anybody else in this year’s draft class who really jumped out at you?
GF: Yeah, Chris Kohler, the high school lefty we got in the compensation round. I liked him a lot and thought he was a great pick where we got him. He’s a 90 mph guy with a good curveball. He’s got fair location now for an 18-year-old. He’s a real baseball guy.
AF: Well, going back to the big league club, with people talking about all the guys down at Sacramento – Grant Green, Jemile Weeks, Hiro Nakajima – do you feel that the A’s have the best defensive middle infielders in the organization up in Oakland on the A’s roster right now?
GF: The most consistent, yes. You know, Sogie’s dynamite. Rosie’s a very good shortstop. Lowrie is playing solid, but the difference is what he’s bringing to us offensively, which we haven’t had out of that position in a while. And that’s the reason we’re winning – we’re winning because we’re a much more offensive club than we have been. We’re on base more, we walk more, and we homer – and our defense is still really, really good. You know, people forget, we’ve got a nice club right now. It’s hard to pick a hole on that club.
AF: Well, that’s always good to hear. Thanks a lot!
* * *
For the second year in a row, the A’s selected a high school hitter with their first pick in the amateur draft. Last year it was shortstop Addison Russell, and this year it was center fielder Billy McKinney.
McKinney just completed his senior year of high school in Plano, Texas, where he claims to have been something of a secret A’s fan while living in the Lone Star state. But he admits he doesn’t have any favorite A’s players and hasn’t seen Moneyball, though he’s certain he’ll be taking care of that in the next few days.
He said he was “astonished” when got a call from A’s general manager Billy Beane informing him that the A’s were going to make him their first pick and that he was surprised he was able to get some words out when Beane told him it was him on the phone.
McKinney claims that his greatest strength is his work ethic, which A’s scouting director Eric Kubota noted as well. Kubota also seconded other evaluators’ estimates of McKinney by praising his ability with the bat, saying that he was “one of the best high school hitters in the draft.” McKinney’s other tools appear to be somewhat average, though he makes up for it with his work ethic and instincts.
McKinney says he’s modeled his swing after fellow lefty-swinger Josh Hamilton, while Kubota compared him to former A’s outfielder Mark Kotsay. He has average power and a good eye, which is evidenced by the fact that, in his senior year, he drew 36 walks against just 6 strikeouts.
The A’s second overall pick was left-handed pitcher Dillon Overton out of the University of Oklahoma. Kubota says he throws “anywhere from 88-94 mph” with a good fastball, breaking ball and changeup and has “lots of upside.” His 22 walks against 76 strikeouts seem to indicate that he also possesses pretty good control.
With their third and final pick on Day #1 of the draft, the A’s took shortstop/third baseman Chad Pinder from Virginia Tech. Kubota said the team was “pleasantly surprised” that Pinder was still available at that point in the draft and were glad to get him. He also added that he thinks he has a chance to stick at shortstop as his career progresses.
Just like last year, the A’s don’t expect to have any trouble signing any of their top three picks this year. And Kubota said that he expected that the college guys – Overton and Pinder – would be likely to start the season at Vermont later this month.
The draft resumes on Friday, with rounds 3 through 10, so stay tuned for more updates to follow. But in the meantime, here’s the basic lowdown on the A’s first three picks of the 2013 amateur draft…
* * * * *
#1 (24th Overall)
Plano West High School / Plano, Texas
Age: 18 / 6’1” / 195 lbs.
Bats: Left / Throws: Left
2013 High School Stats: .372 BA / .585 OBP / .663 SLG / 9 2B / 2 3B / 4 HR / 17 RBI / 36 BB / 6 K
* * * * *
#2 (63rd Overall)
University of Oklahoma / Norman, Oklahoma
Age: 21 / 6’2” / 172 lbs.
Throws: Left / Bats: Left
2013 College Stats:
86 2/3 IP / 84 H / 28 ER / 22 BB / 76 K / 2.91 ERA
* * * * *
#3 (71st Overall)
Virginia Tech / Blacksburg, Virginia
Age: 21 / 6’2” / 192 lbs.
Bats: Right / Throws: Right
2013 College Stats: .321 BA / .404 OBP / .483 SLG / 13 2B / 1 3B / 8 HR / 50 RBI / 21 BB/38K
* * * * *
While soaking up plenty of Arizona sun during our spring training tour, we also wanted to make sure we got a little light shed on some of the A’s top prospects by folks in the know. So we took the opportunity to talk to three guys who really ought to know the score – Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin.
Grady Fuson is a long-time baseball man who was formerly the A’s director of scouting. One of baseball’s most respected talent evaluators, he was also depicted as one of Moneyball‘s biggest bad guys, but he’s back with the A’s again as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
In his fifth season as the A’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi is one of the game’s most forward-thinking front office executives. With a doctorate in economics from UC Berkeley, he is often known as the A’s “numbers guy” and readily admits to feeling somewhat naked without his computer.
Bob Melvin is the popular and affable manager of the A’s who, in 2012, led the team to its first division title since 2006. The former catcher spent 10 years playing in the major leagues and was named AL Manager of Year for his efforts with the A’s in 2012.
We asked this trio of talent evaluators to weigh in on some of the A’s top prospects, and what we heard left us feeling pretty good about the future!
On shortstop Addison Russell…
Bob Melvin: He left us with impressions when he came out and just took batting practice with us during the season. During spring, he certainly didn’t look like a 19-year-old kid. He has a great approach at the plate, a very good work ethic – great athlete. He’s got a chance to be a quick mover.
Grady Fuson: Big league camp didn’t phase him. He went in there and stood around like a veteran. He wasn’t nervous. He was aggressive. He played the same style of game that he’s played since the day we signed him. And I think everybody top to bottom’s been pleased…I think we all see all the tools. It’s not hard to know this guy’s really got some quickness and speed. He’s aggressive on ground balls. He’s got a knack for reading ground balls. He controlled the strike zone in big league camp, so it wasn’t like he was swinging at air or anything. He’s just got a very good awareness about the game for a young kid to go with all the tools he’s got…He’s a great kid. He comes to work every day – he’s quiet but he’s deadly…As he goes along, we’re going to keep an eye on his throwing. It has nothing to do with his arm strength. It’s more about building accuracy and pace and footwork into his game. Other than that, there’s really no holes to poke at offensively. The more he plays, the more he’s going to get comfortable with the strike zone a little bit – what he can hit, what he can’t hit – and that’ll come. But this kid really has no major flaws to really speak of. It’s nice every once in a while to have a player where you can go, “Hey, let’s just go play!”
On outfielder Michael Choice…
Grady Fuson: He’s ahead of the curve as far as when he left Midland last year. What little time we got with him in instructs (instructional league), something’s clicked. His whole approach is so much more balanced and connected. The first 5-6 at-bats I saw him, I kept waiting for him to kind of get out of sorts, but he hasn’t one time. I’m proud of him. He looked great in big league camp. He’s got another burst of energy to his game. He played center field in big league camp very well – 5 of those innings a day over there that sun’s right in your face. And the great thing is, since he’s come over to minor league camp, he’s had the same work ethic, same aggressiveness, same energy. He’s been great…It looks like he’s really figured some things out.
Bob Melvin: This is the first time we’ve been able to see him get a lot of bats and do the things that the organization expects of him. He’s a highly-touted prospect with power and speed. I think he came to this camp really wanting to show the big league staff what he’s all about – and he did that. I mean, it was a very impressive camp. He fell off a little bit – I think he took a couple of 0-fors at the end. But he and Shane Peterson have been terrific throughout the whole camp. And this is a guy who’s going to knock the door down and fight his way in at some point in time, whether it’s next year, whether it’s this year – a September call-up or an injury or something like that. He’s really close to being a big leaguer.
On outfielder Shane Peterson…
Bob Melvin: He’s the one guy here who’s played every single game (this spring). You usually ease your way into it, but he’s done anything but that. He continues to hit. He plays different positions. I haven’t even used him at first, which is probably his most comfortable position, but he’s looked like a true outfielder. You look at the numbers, and he’s had a spectacular camp.
On infielder Grant Green…
Grady Fuson: To some degree, offensively, he could be big-league ready – he’s close. He’s got great at-bats going. He’s doing what Grant Green does. He’s been through a year and a half to two year period where we’ve been working on getting him to be more aggressive on the inner half and feeling what it’s like to turn on some balls. It’s helped his power production. Once again, he’s kind of getting his feet wet at a new position, but it’s the one position that you’re really seeing him grow at defensively. He is getting better every day. So obviously he’ll go back to Sacramento and we’ll see how things go in the big leagues to start – but Grant is very, very close.
Farhan Zaidi: I think there’s a growing level of confidence that second base is his best position. And because it’s his best position, probably now and also in the long run, giving him time to develop there is a priority. But we have other guys who need to play that position, so he may not get as many reps there as we would like in a perfect world just because we have to work other guys in there. But from an organizational perspective, more and more people are feeling good about the progress he’s made over there. And he could actually be an asset over there in the long term once he gets more reps and gets more comfortable playing there.
On infielder Miles Head…
Grady Fuson: He didn’t get that much time in big league camp, so he’s kind of getting a late start playing every day here (in minor league camp). But he should be ready to go. Obviously, he can’t do what he did in Stockton – that was the most unreal half you’re ever going to see. But he’s been getting his knocks, he’s swinging aggressive, getting time at third and first – and that’s what we’ll expect when he goes out.
On pitcher Dan Straily…
Farhan Zaidi: I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable in this camp, being in the big leagues, being around the big league team and staff. He’s had some things to work on this spring, just like most pitchers have. But you know, we sort of have this notion of building the starting pitching depth out 8 or 9 guys. And if you’re the 6th guy, it means we have a pretty high level of confidence – we know we’re going to need you at some point…He’s going to be a big factor in our season…He might not be in there for every turn of the 162 game season, but he’s going to play a big role for sure.
Bob Melvin: He just needs to be more consistent at times – and he knows it. He had a tough first inning the other day where he gave up 3 runs and then he pitched really well after that. It’s getting rid of that one inning, or getting through games a little bit more in the fashion that we think he can do it – and he’s probably not quite there yet. But he’s still a young guy, and we’ve had a lot of young guys perform well here. He was instrumental down the stretch with a few games for us last year. He has some experience pitching in a pennant race. But I know he probably looks at his performance this spring and thinks there’s a little bit more in the tank for him and wants to finish up strong.
Grady Fuson: He just seemed a hair out of sync (this spring). He wasn’t locating his fastball as well. And when he doesn’t locate his fastball well, then his sequences don’t come together. As far as his stuff, his stuff was still solid – 90-93mph, good breaker, slider got a little flat at times, good changeup – but he just wasn’t getting ahead of hitters enough as he’d done a year ago…You know, it’s his first big league camp – he knows he’s pressing to make a spot in that rotation.
On pitcher Sonny Gray…
Grady Fuson: His stuff is good. It’s all going to get down to location. If Sonny can improve on pounding the strike zone, he’s going to be a competitive kid. But he’s got to find a way to get ahead earlier in counts and work on the efficient side of being a starter versus the overpowering side of being a starter. He knows it. He’s trying to work through it. And right now, it comes and goes. So it’s a work in progress.
Farhan Zaidi: As much as we have invested in him, he’s a guy who we would want to only bring up when we really feel he’s ready, not sort of out of a sense of urgency for a guy. I think he just has to work on pitching more efficiently. If you’re in Triple-A and you’re throwing 100 pitches in a 6-inning stint, that’s not going to work at the big league level. The guys who have success moving from Double-A and Triple-A to the big leagues are the guys who pitch really efficiently at the minor league level and have short innings, don’t walk guys, all that kind of stuff. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue for him.
On pitcher Andrew Werner…
Grady Fuson: He’s kind of an under-the-radar lefty. He doesn’t throw overly hard. But he’s a locate guy. He’s got a real good changeup. He’s got a solid breaker. So he’s a lot like most lefties who throw 87-88mph who can pitch a little bit.
On pitcher Jesse Chavez…
Grady Fuson: Jesse Chavez has tremendous stuff. It’s just about him harnessing it, and he’s dominated in Triple-A. So it’s just about him getting used to playing in front of a second deck and the lights not blinding him a little bit. But we feel good about having him down there (at Sacramento).
On pitcher Michael Ynoa…
Grady Fuson: The progress continues to be nothing but ‘hang a star on it!’ He’s healthy. His velocity continues to climb. He’s been up to 95-96mph here. His breaking ball’s sharper because the velocity’s back. He’s been around the strike zone. You know, we’re still going to proceed with a little caution, but he’s been good.
Farhan Zaidi: His stuff has been really good. His fastball has been up to the mid-90s. He shows his other pitches. He’s a big presence on the mound. He just needs reps and he needs to get more consistent. If you haven’t pitched at that level, and things start unraveling – just getting out of jams, not letting innings totally get away from you. But the stuff has been fine…The stuff is where you were hoping it would progress to when we signed him – I mean, we thought he might be in the big leagues by now. So all the ingredients are there. It’s just about him getting out and pitching…I think he has the ability to make up for a lot of that lost time, so we’re looking forward to him pitching.
On infielder Daniel Robertson…
Grady Fuson: We’re still just being cautious with the knee. Little by little, he’s done more on the field, so he has not played in games. He feels great. We’re just taking it slow…In instructional league, his spike caught up on the mat hitting in BP and kind of tore a little meniscus in there. So the odds are he probably won’t break (camp). We’ll keep him down here a little bit and make sure it’s tested. But hopefully by the middle of the month, he’s good to go.
On first baseman Matt Olson…
Grady Fuson: Olson’s been great. He just picked up where he left off. He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger. He’s having a nice minor league camp. He’s ready to go.
Farhan Zaidi: The guys over there have been very excited about him. I think he’s hit a handful of homers in minor league games already. He has that kind of power…and that’s got people pretty excited.
* * *
Knowing he’s always got an eye on the future, we took the opportunity to ask Farhan about the possible value of applying analytics to the subject of health and injuries in order to better anticipate the physical resilience of individual players, and here’s what he had to say…
Farhan Zaidi: There’s more and more of this stuff – either analyzing historic DL data or injury data, or also mechanics. I don’t know that there are a lot of great, or certain, answers at this point. But I think it’s a major next frontier for analysis. It started off with offense, then it moved to defense, measuring fielding, now I think this is the next frontier for analytics. We do a fair amount of that – it’s sort of an ongoing process…Even getting a little bit better at predicting players’ health going forward is really valuable. So that’s something that we’re working on and trying to get better at every year…Even if you improve your predictive power a little bit, that can be worth a lot in the long run.
* * *
–GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH–
We asked Grady to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got…
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
He was good last year after we signed him. He went to Burlington (Class-A) right out of the draft and held his own. This guy gets it. He knows how to play the game. He’s got a good swing. He’s very hitter-ish. He’s always had a little bit more power in the bat than his numbers show. And we’re working with him to take advantage of the shorter parts of the park – and it’s coming. He’s been a jewel in camp. He’s firmed his body up a little bit more. He’s a solid defender. Keep your eye on him!
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 14th Round
He closed in Vermont last year. He threw from 25 different slots. In instructional league, we tried to calm him down, gave him one slot, and he went home all winter and worked on it. And he’s gotten so much cleaner now that we’re thinking about maybe starting him and pushing him with some innings. He’s got a good arm. He’s got a nasty changeup…He wiped guys out as a closer, but the more you can get on the mound, the more you’re going to learn.
Age: 21 / Drafted 2012 – 18th Round
Junior college kid – he only pitched 1/3 of an inning for us last year, so I didn’t even know who this guy was. The other day, he comes out here, he’s throwing 94mph with a nasty breaker – good body, good delivery. Today he goes 3 shutout innings, touching 95mph – I’m in!
* * *
As we pointed out in our analysis of the John Jaso trade just recently, the A’s are clearly in “WIN NOW” mode. And the team made another “WIN NOW” move on Monday, dealing part-time first baseman Chris Carter, minor league pitcher Brad Peacock and minor league catcher Max Stassi to the Houston Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie and right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez.
Lowrie is a 28-year-old former 1st-round draft pick out of Stanford. The switch-hitter hit a career-high 16 home runs in 340 at-bats with the Astros last season. He’s played primarily at shortstop in his 5-year major league career but has also spent time at third, second and first, and his versatility provides the A’s with added depth at every infield position.
Rodriguez is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who has some control issues but who also managed to strike out an average of 10 batters per 9 innings last year. The 28-year-old has a tendency to give up the long ball and posted an ERA of 5.37 in 70 1/3 innings with the Astros last season. Rodriguez will likely have to battle with Pat Neshek and Chris Resop for a spot on the right side of the A’s bullpen.
To acquire the pair, the A’s parted with three players who’ve all spent far more time in the minors than the majors: Max Stassi, the most highly rated catching prospect in the system who has been praised for his abilities behind the plate but who has also been hampered by injuries and has yet to progress beyond A ball; Brad Peacock, who was slated to be one of the top starters at Sacramento this season but who had his ups and downs last year and ended up posting a 6.01 ERA with the River Cats; and Chris Carter, who was supposed to be the right-handed half of the A’s first base platoon this year. Carter, the only one of the three who was expected to start the year on the major league roster, had formerly been a top prospect but, despite his strong power numbers in the second half last year, his September struggles strengthened the A’s doubts about his potential for long-term success.
About coming to A’s, the Stanford alum Lowrie was quoted as saying, “I’m excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year. I’m excited to have an opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area.” He graciously neglected to mention the fact that he’s also undoubtedly excited not to be playing for the Astros, who will likely be bringing up the rear in their new division this year.
With Lowrie’s addition, the A’s infield situation suddenly becomes a bit murkier. Lowrie has played short, second, third and first. Scott Sizemore has played second and third. Hiro Nakajima can play short, and possibly even second. And then there’s also Jemile Weeks, who can play second, and Josh Donaldson, who can play third.
Being a switch-hitter, of course, only increases Lowrie’s versatility. But his left/right splits are somewhat curious. For his career, he has an OPS that’s .154 points better against lefties. But last year, he had an OPS that was .196 points better against righties. Lowrie claims that his previous struggles as a left-handed hitter were primarily related to lingering injuries, and his minor league splits do lend some credence to that claim. But it would be nice to see his splits even out a bit given the fact that he’s likely to be seeing plenty of action against both righties and lefties for the A’s this season.
But how exactly will the A’s use Lowrie this year? Well, they’ve certainly got plenty of options. But in a conference call with reporters, A’s general manager Billy Beane said that he and manager Bob Melvin had discussed their options and that they view Japanese import Hiro Nakajima as their shortstop. Beane also mentioned that he could see Lowrie as a nice right-handed complement to Brandon Moss at first base, much like Chris Carter had been.
If we take Beane’s comments to heart, that then raises the question of where Lowrie would play against right-handers. The most obvious answer would be at second base, where there’s already a great deal of uncertainty, and where the top two current candidates, Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks, have both performed better against lefties than righties in recent times – Sizemore, who seems to be the favored candidate, even more so, which could make him a perfect platoon partner with Lowrie at second base.
Lowrie could also be available to back up both Nakajima at shortstop and Donaldson at third base if either struggles or just needs some time off. Of course, if Nakajima, whose defensive ability at shortstop is still a big question mark, spends much of the spring butchering balls at short, Lowrie could always take over the spot full-time and push Nakajima into duty at second. But wherever he plays, as long as he’s healthy – and that’s been something of an issue in the past – it looks like Lowrie will be in the lineup. So he should end up getting into a lot more games for the A’s than Chris Carter would have this year, which ought to make him a productive addition to the major league roster.
One of the biggest winners in this trade could turn out to be the A’s former first baseman Daric Barton, who now stands a decent chance of making the roster as the only true first baseman on the squad. Moss and Lowrie only have a combined 68 major league games at first base between them, and teams often like to have a little defensive certainty on the roster. Before this trade, Barton’s chances of landing a roster spot rested on something happening to either Moss or Carter – and now something has most definitely happened to Carter. Of course, it’s possible that Barton still doesn’t make the roster, but it’s certainly a whole lot more likely that he does now.
On the other side of the coin, one of the biggest losers in this deal could be infielder Adam Rosales. With his guaranteed contract and major league experience, Rosales was the favorite to land the utility infielder role. But now – with Lowrie, Nakajima, Donaldson and either Weeks or Sizemore likely to make the roster – the A’s will have at least two available options at each infield position, making another spare infielder somewhat redundant. Both Weeks and Sizemore could both be losers in this deal too since whoever wins a roster spot will undoubtedly have his at-bats at second base reduced by Lowrie’s arrival. The deal doesn’t do anything to help Eric Sogard’s and Grant Green’s prospects either as it just pushes both of them further down the infield depth chart.
As far as position players on the major league roster go, this deal might just boil down to Lowrie and Barton replacing Carter and Rosales on the A’s 2013 roster. As far as the pitching end of things goes, Beane clearly likes Rodriguez, referring to him as “a real big arm” and saying that he was a key to getting the deal done. But the hard-throwing righty will have to compete for a roster spot with fellow right-handers Pat Neshek and Chris Resop in an already crowded A’s bullpen that’s also likely to include right-handers Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook along with left-handers Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins and Travis Blackley – with guys like Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa, Evan Scribner, Arnold Leon and James Simmons waiting in the wings.
Another beneficiary of the deal could be former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, who will no longer have to compete for attention with fellow prospect Brad Peacock at Sacramento this season. If he pitches well at Triple-A this year, the odds of Gray getting the opportunity to see some time in Oakland before the season’s through have just greatly increased with Peacock out of the equation.
Vying for time with Gray in the River Cats rotation this year will be last year’s phenom Dan Straily, new acquisition Andrew Werner, veteran lefty Garrett Olson, and long-time minor leaguers Jesse Chavez, Bruce Billings and Travis Banwart. It’s my guess that Straily will end up in the major league rotation before long, like most 6th starters do, due to injury, and Banwart will start the season in the Sacramento bullpen, leaving the River Cats with a rotation of Gray, Werner, Olson, Chavez and Billings.
But this deal clearly wasn’t about the minor league roster; it was all about the major league roster – increasing the A’s infield depth and versatility and having a solid backup plan in place just in case Nakajima doesn’t pan out at short, Donaldson regresses at third, or nothing else works out at second. It’s clearly a “WIN NOW” move, just like it was with the Jaso deal. Peacock, Cole and Treinen represent a lot of young arms to give up – not to mention Carter and Stassi – in the two deals. But the A’s focus is clearly on winning now while the window of contention is open. And Beane admitted as much in his conference call with reporters, saying “Given where the club finished last year and where we see it having a chance to compete this year, we wanted to do everything we could to help ourselves right now.”
And for the A’s, the future is clearly NOW!