Results tagged ‘ Bob Melvin ’

A’s Manager Bob Melvin Gives the Lowdown on the A’s Top Prospects

IMG_2735c

In spring training, A’s manager Bob Melvin mainly has his mind on trying to get his big league lineup ready to roll for the regular season. But with fifty-five players in camp everyday to start the spring, there are plenty of prospects who are bound to pique the skipper’s interest as well. And while we were in A’s camp for a few days, we took the opportunity to ask the affable Mr. Melvin about his impressions of some of the A’s most promising prospects.

 

On shortstop Addison Russell

arDSC02922eWhat we told him this year was just go out and play. We don’t want him to worry about too much here at big league camp. We just want to see what he has to offer athletically, and he’s shown that he has a lot to offer – whether it’s defensively or swinging the bat. He’s got a great awareness of what he needs to do in a particular plate appearance. He’s in the right position all the time. You never hear anything from him – he doesn’t even talk I don’t think. We didn’t want to cloud him up with too much instruction in this camp. We just wanted to see how the skills play out and then maybe at the end of camp talk to him about what we think he needs to work on.

 

On shortstop Daniel Robertson

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2He’s a talented guy, and one of those baseball rats – he just loves to play. From what I understand, he’s always there early and just loves being in the clubhouse…I like him. For a guy who’s all of a sudden playing a little bit here in big league camp for the first time and hasn’t been in pro ball too long, my impressions are that he’s a tough kid and a good talent and a guy who would have to be ranked very high as far as the prospects go in our organization. So it’s nice to be able to get him some games here…I think experience-wise, it’s good. And whether it’s Billy McKinney or whether it’s Robertson, we like to get our prospects in some games here to get a taste of it…Those are two guys who, if you’re forecasting down the road, they’re going to be right in the middle of things. Sometimes it’s tough for us to keep guys who get to free agency. So you’re always mindful of two or three or four years down the road. And Billy [Beane] does a great job recognizing that and targeting certain guys for so many years out to try to keep this thing going in an upward direction.

 

Michael YnoaOn RHP Michael Ynoa

Ynoa’s a big arm. He’s just had injury problems and has had trouble staying healthy for an entire season. We would love to see that this year, so he can progress. The fastball’s electric. He needs to work on his breaking stuff a little bit and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes. We feel a lot better at this point in time than we ever have with him going into a season health-wise.

 

raraul-alcantara01cOn RHP Raul Alcantara

We heard from the development people that this is one of the guys in our system who has a chance to pitch in the big leagues as a starter, and we’ve seen exactly that. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him – he gets all the signs, he’s a clear thinker and he’s got good stuff on top of it. So we have very high hopes for him.

 

On RHP Arnold Leon

al628x471eLeon’s impressed. Last year was his first big league camp, and we were looking at a little shorter stints with him. But we’re lengthening him out a little bit. He looks way more comfortable here now, just his demeanor on the mound – and you’re seeing the results too. This is a guy who, as far as our pitching prospects go, ranks way up there…We’ve always, going in to this season, felt like he would potentially be an option for us. And with two guys [Parker and Griffin] going down, he moves up in the pecking order definitely. But he was a guy who we had our eye on regardless and who we were going to stretch out.

 

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A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/13/14

Minor League Camp at Papago Park

Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson dispensing advice to A’s minor leaguers at Papago Park on Thursday

Matt Olson

Top prospect Matt Olson casts an imposing figure at the plate

Chad Pinder

The A’s 3rd overall draft pick in 2013, shortstop Chad Pinder, at the plate on Thursday

Rickey in a rare moment of repose

 Rickey in a rare moment of repose

Bobby Wahl

Bobby Wahl, with shortstop Chad Pinder backing him up, gave up a 3-run homer in his first inning on the mound this spring

Michael Ynoa

Top pitching prospect Michael Ynoa struck out the first batter he faced on 3 straight pitches in less than 30 seconds

Major League Camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

Bob Melvin

Manager Bob Melvin and coach Mike Gallego take turns hitting grounders to A’s infielders

Josh Reddick

A relatively clean-shaven Josh Reddick keeps an eye on things in batting practice

Brandon Moss

Brandon Moss waits for his turn in the cage

Blue Moon Odom, Ray Fosse and Bert Campaneris

1973-74 World Series Champion teammates Blue Moon Odom, Ray Fosse and Bert Campaneris reunited on the field at Phoenix Muni

Billy Beane

Bob Melvin, Billy Beane and the little Beanelings taking in batting practice before the game

Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld doing his best to charm the bosses

Stephen Vogt

Stephen Vogt takes his turn to schmooze the bosses

Seth Frankoff

Minor league RHP and former A’s Farm blogger Seth Frankoff in big league camp with the A’s for Thursday night’s game

The crowd

The crowd at Phoenix Muni for the A’s last night game ever at what will soon be the team’s former spring training home

Let's play ball!

 Let’s play ball!

 

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

A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/12/14

Major League Camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

Bob Melvin

A’s manager Bob Melvin pontificates as Susan Slusser looks on and A’s baseball info manager Mike Selleck contemplates

The line forms here

The line for catchers forms here for pre-game drills

Derek Norris

Derek Norris reveals the beard behind the mask

Mike Gallego

Mike Gallego shows ‘em how it’s done

Bob Melvin

Bob Melvin overseeing infield drills

Billy Burns showing off his gams

Billy Burns showing off his gams

Daric Barton

Daric Barton testing out his hamstring

Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes has a sit-down talk with his bat before the game

Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson watching someone other than himself hit one out

Almost-face of MLB Eric Sogard

The almost-face of MLB Eric Sogard laces up for the game

Bob Melvin

Bob Melvin’s ready for his close-up

Ray Fosse

Ray Fosse giving Brandon Moss a little fatherly advice

Mitch Williams

Mitch Williams doing his best Kenny Powers impression

Mitch Williams

Jarrod Parker talks to Kenny, er, Mitch Williams

Daniel Robertson

Daniel Robertson gets ready to make the play at shortstop

Let's

Let’s play ball!

 

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

Unexpected Injuries & Surprising Spring Performances Could Change the Face of the A’s Opening Day Roster

Bob Melvin

A’s manager Bob Melvin might end up with a few tricky decisions to have to make.

This was originally expected to be a rare spring where most of the A’s roster was pretty much set, with very few roster questions left to be answered. Possibly the biggest question when camp opened was – who would be the 13th position player to make the squad?

For much of the offseason, there was some uncertainty surrounding John Jaso’s physical status and manager Bob Melvin frequently mentioned his name as a likely candidate to get lots of at-bats as the team’s designated hitter. So it was expected the A’s would probably need to carry three catchers, meaning that lefty-swinging backstop Stephen Vogt, who ably filled in for Jaso when he went down last season, would likely make the team.

Once games got going though, it started to look like Jaso was ready to reclaim his spot behind the plate and it seemed that first baseman Daric Barton, who is out of options, was emerging as the favorite to claim the final roster spot. That wasn’t the only new development to shake up the A’s roster picture though.

Reliever Ryan Cook reported to camp with a sore shoulder that kept him off the mound, newly-acquired outfielder Craig Gentry arrived in Arizona with a strained back that kept him out of the lineup and, just this weekend, first baseman Barton had to be pulled from Saturday’s contest against Colorado after straining his left hamstring – and as we all know, hamstring issues can be notoriously tricky.

Prior to tweaking his hamstring though, Barton had been garnering attention as one of the A’s hottest hitters in the early spring, posting a .444/.643/.667 slash line in his first 7 games. But a number of other players had also been busy putting themselves on the map by coming out of the box with strong spring performances, including Barton’s chief competitor for the final roster spot, catcher Stephen Vogt, along with a trio of outfielders – veteran Sam Fuld, former top prospect Michael Taylor and young speed-burner Billy Burns – while right-handed reliever Evan Scribner was also doing his best to impress out of the bullpen.

Clearly, between some unexpected injuries and some surprising early spring performances, there could be a few changes to the face of the A’s opening day roster. So let’s take at how things are shaping up with a little over three weeks to go until opening day…

THE INJURED

Ryan Cook

rc77-19452-JCounted on as one of the A’s key setup men, Cook arrived in camp with a sore shoulder and, more than three weeks after pitchers first reported, he still hasn’t faced live batters. Even if the right-hander is able to get into a game in the next week, and doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he’s clearly behind schedule. And it’s entirely possible that Cook could end up needing a little extra time in extended spring training before the team feels he’s totally game-ready.

Craig Gentry

cg849bb723307cc864df6eb3f99430e6f4bOne of the A’s key offseason acquisitions, the team is expecting Gentry  to be a force in the lineup against left-handed starters and to do a better job filling in for the A’s starting outfielders than Chris Young did in that role last year. But the player who was known as “Kitten Face” in Texas reported to camp with a lower back strain and, after a week and a half’s worth of games, he still hasn’t been cleared to make an appearance in the field. The A’s are counting on Gentry to lend a dynamic presence to the lineup but, if his back is still bugging him in a couple of weeks, then he might just end up starting the season on the sidelines.

Daric Barton

dbimagesA long-serving presence in the A’s picture, the team’s on-again/off-again first baseman appeared to be on-again after a strong early spring performance and Jaso’s seeming return to normal behind the plate, minimizing the need for the team to carry three catchers and enabling the A’s to avoid having to expose Barton to waivers. But after this weekend’s hamstring strain, he could very well be off-again. There’s no report yet on the severity of the strain, but hamstrings are always a tricky issue, and it’s rarely wise to expect a quick or smooth road to recovery.

THE OPPORTUNISTS

Evan Scribner

es1275311bScribner started the spring as essentially the 8th man in a 7-man bullpen. Manager Bob Melvin has all but said that Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook are set. But with only one left-hander in that group and one of the team’s most promising left-handers, Fernando Abad, out of options, it’s been expected that Scribner, who is also out of options, would be the odd man out. But probably the only pitchers who’ve been more effective than Scribner so far this spring would be Chavez, Doolittle and possibly right-hander Arnold Leon. With Doolittle and Chavez already locks and Leon slated to start the season in the River Cats rotation, if Cook is unable to be in the A’s bullpen on opening day, then Scribner is obviously the A’s go-to guy. His strong performance so far this spring and the fact that he’s out of options should make the choice an easy one.

Stephen Vogt

sv9147When camp opened, the assumption was that Vogt was likely to claim the A’s final roster spot. With manager Bob Melvin repeatedly mentioning that John Jaso might be getting a lot of at-bats as the team’s designated hitter this year, the need for the team to carry a third catcher seemed obvious. And Vogt did a great job of endearing himself to A’s fans and staff alike when he filled in for Jaso late last season and in the playoffs, where he started every game and came up with the key hit for the A’s in their Game #2 victory. But as spring games got going and Jaso seemed ready to re-establish himself behind the plate and Daric Barton was busy getting on base about two-thirds of the time, carrying a third catcher seem to decrease in importance and protecting Barton from waivers seemed to increase in importance, leaving Vogt destined for a spot behind the plate in Sacramento. But if Barton’s strained hamstring keeps him out of action for a few weeks, then Vogt, who’s been one of the team’s best hitters early this spring, posting a .467/.529/.667 slash line, could have a shot at reclaiming his roster spot with the A’s.

Sam Fuld

sfSamSigned fairly late in the game to a minor-league contract, there originally didn’t appear to be much opportunity for Fuld to make the team. The outfield was set with Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and John Reddick, with Craig Gentry as the fourth outfielder and first baseman Brandon Moss also available to fill in in the outfield. But Fuld has been one of the team’s hottest hitters so far this spring, with a .304/.360/.565 slash line, and has impressed manager Bob Melvin and his staff with his play in the field. And if either Gentry or Barton isn’t ready to go by opening day, Fuld is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. Like Barton, he’s a left-handed hitter and, like Gentry, he can also play center field if needed. So if the A’s end up needing a replacement for either of those two players, Fuld is well-suited to fill the bill. His hot spring and the fact that he has an opt-out clause that he can exercise if he doesn’t make the opening day roster, don’t hurt his chances either.

Michael Taylor

mtMichael+Taylor+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+dBTGnNudkqnlThe A’s former top prospect and the River Cats’ all-time hit leader, Taylor appeared to be nearing a dead end with the A’s this spring as he was out of options and seemingly without a major league roster spot available to shoot for. But after a heart-to-heart talk with manager Bob Melvin early this spring, he suddenly started looking like a new man in the batter’s box. And Taylor has been one of the A’s most productive hitters thus far, posting a .333/.379/.556 slash line while playing every day this spring. With Fuld’s ability to play center field though, it might take both Barton and Gentry being unavailable on opening day for Taylor to have a shot at making the roster. But if both of them are out and Fuld claims one of the available spots, then Taylor might make the most logical replacement for Gentry’s right-handed bat against left-handers, while the A’s put off exposing the former top prospect to waivers and give him one last shot to show what he can do.

Nate Freiman

nfNate+Freiman+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+CFUGtYuCl4Ll2The right-handed half of the A’s first-base platoon in 2013, it’s been assumed that Freiman was ticketed for Sacramento in 2014. But could he have the chance to hang on to his roster spot if fellow first baseman Barton starts the season on the shelf? It’s possible, but the problem with Freiman is that he’s essentially a one-trick pony. He can only play first base and he can only hit left-handed pitching, so he’s basically cut out to be the right-handed half of a first base platoon. But with the team seemingly intent on installing Alberto Callaspo in that position at this point, there’s really not much room for Freiman on the roster. Besides, his .167/.286/.333 slash line so far this spring hasn’t been particularly impressive. And even if both Barton and Gentry aren’t ready to go on opening day, and the team wants to fill one of those spots with a right-handed bat to replace Gentry’s, why wouldn’t they go with Taylor, who’s out of options, while they can stash Freiman at Sacramento? Freiman’s best shot at making the roster would most likely come not as a result of injury but rather as the result of a trade, namely of the man who’s most likely to take his job – Mr. Callaspo.

Billy Burns

bbu1275322bThe player who baseball columnist Ken Rosenthal called “the most intriguing player in the A’s camp” could be the wild card in all this. Acquired from the Nationals in the Jerry Blevins deal, Burns has excited A’s fans and staff alike this spring with his ability to get on base and his blazing speed. After a week and a half’s worth of spring games, he sports a .406 OBP. And at one point, his 7 stolen bases not only led all players but led all teams in the Cactus League. Burns has clearly generated a lot of excitement and impressed a lot of the right people this spring, but it’s important to remember that the young switch-hitter is still relatively inexperienced, having played just 30 games above Class-A in his career. So while he undoubtedly has the skills to impress and excite, the stars might really have to be aligned perfectly for Burns to get his shot at this point.

Stay tuned for our on-the-scene reports from spring training next week!

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Spring Has Sprung!

Phoenix Muni

The A’s will be spending their last spring at Phoenix Municipal Stadium (photo via Kate Longworth’s twitter @KLongworthCSN)

As you may already know, A’s pitchers and catchers began reporting to the team’s spring training camp in Phoenix on Friday, with the team’s first workouts on Saturday. And there are already plenty of observations we can make about the major league team, as well as the minor league teams, at this point.

First of all, the A’s are still a very young team. On the 40-man roster, only two players – Coco Crisp and Nick Punto – were born before 1982, and only three of the team’s pitchers – Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson and Jesse Chavez – will be over the age of 29 on opening day.

On Thursday, one day before pitchers and catchers began reporting to the A’s spring training camp in Phoenix, A’s assistant general manager David Forst told Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game that he thought he knew what the A’s starting rotation was going to look like and mentioned Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. That would make Tommy Milone the sixth starter in waiting at Sacramento, with recent acquisitions Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz right behind him.

Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon, along with minor-league free-agent signee Matt Buschmann, will be the top contenders for the remaining spots in the River Cats rotation, with former perfect-game hurler Phil Humber likely serving time in Sacramento’s bullpen. Last year, Humber made 10 relief appearances for the Astros and came into 13 games out of the bullpen for Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Midland’s top three starters from last season – Murphy Smith, Sean Murphy and Zach Neal – would be the next in line to take a step up should there be an issue with any of the previously-mentioned A’s or River Cats starters. If the three of them remain at Midland though, the top three candidates to join them in the RockHounds rotation will be Drew Granier, Raul Alcantara and Tanner Peters.

Billy Beane and Bob Melvin

Billy Beane and Bob Melvin overseeing the action Saturday in Phoenix (photo via Kate Longworth’s twitter @KLongworthCSN)

The 21-year-old Alcantara is the hottest young pitching prospect in the A’s system at the moment, and the team would like to see him start the season in the RockHounds rotation and then see where his talent takes him from there. But at this point, it’s clear that Alcantara could be a fast-riser.

Former bonus baby Michael Ynoa will probably be the other most closely watched young pitcher in the A’s camp this spring. He’s been throwing hard in Phoenix, but the key for him will just be staying healthy and staying on the mound. It’s still expected that he’ll start the season at Stockton. But if he starts out well, he should be due for a quick promotion to Midland.

As far as relievers go, A’s manager Bob Melvin was impressed with Evan Scribner’s and Fernando Nieve’s initial bullpen sessions in Phoenix, and both are likely to end up starting the season as key cogs in the River Cats bullpen, as long as Scribner can clear waivers anyway.

One of last year’s biggest objects of attention when camp opened, Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima, won’t be making any headlines in big league camp this time around though, since Nakajima will be spending his time in the A’s minor league camp this year. But another shortstop, top prospect Addison Russell – who appears on schedule to become the A’s starting shortstop in 2015 – will definitely be getting a good chance to show the A’s staff what he can do this spring in the big league camp.

 

Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir

Starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir take to the mound in Phoenix (photo via Jane Lee’s twitter @JaneMLB) 

 

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

A’s Manager Bob Melvin on Jaso’s Return, How New Additions Gentry & Punto Fit into the Picture and Why He Loves Managing the A’s

DSC03133gAs 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. And A’s manager Bob Melvin followed assistant GM David Forst on the hot seat.

In a question-and-answer session earlier in the day at the Oracle Arena, the normally mild-mannered manager roused the crowd of A’s fans in attendance when, talking about the A’s postseason prospects in 2014, he declared, “We’ve knocked on that door a couple times – it’s time to kick it in!”

He also sounded enthusiastic about recently-acquired minor league outfielder Billy Burns, saying, “I’m excited about Billy Burns…this is supposed to be the fastest guy that maybe we have in camp. So look quick – if he’s on the bases, you might not see him.”

In his session with us a little later in the day, Melvin was his usual relaxed and affable self. And A’s Farm was particularly eager to get the skipper’s take on the A’s current situation behind the plate…

 

On the A’s catching situation, John Jaso’s return from injury and Stephen Vogt’s role in 2014…

John Jaso: Back behind the plate for the A's?

John Jaso: Will he end up back behind the plate for the A’s?

You know, in the role that he [Vogt] had last year, he started every game in the playoffs based on the matchups, and got one of the game-winning hits. He’s a guy that fit in very quickly, so we have a lot of confidence in him. The plan with Jaso from the beginning will be to catch. So we’ll see how that goes for him. We do like to rotate the DH spot, whether it’s a day off for Coco Crisp, whether it’s a day off for Yoenis Cespedes, certainly Jaso’s an option, everybody’s an option there. So we don’t like to get locked into just saying this is our DH. But I think…with the workload that a catcher gets, you know there’d be a day that potentially he [Jaso] DHs too. But I think more than anything, we have to see how he comes through spring training. He’s been cleared to catch in spring training, and we’ll see if he’s over all those issues, and obviously we’ll monitor him very closely in spring.

 

On the possible need to carry three catchers…

It feels that way. There were times last year though where I did have our DH catching. And we were in a position at times, which is hard, where I had my second catcher in the game – and you’re always on pins and needles that hopefully something doesn’t happen. We do have the luxury of having Josh Donaldson who’s caught before. I don’t want him behind the plate – but that’s one of the reasons that we would be able to do it potentially.

 

Craig "Kitten Face" Gentry: Object of the A's affections.

Craig “Kitten Face” Gentry: Object of the A’s affections.

On outfielder Craig Gentry’s role in 2014…

Gentry’s a guy that we’ve had our eye on for a while. Number one, just getting him in our uniform means he’s not beating us – he’s been a guy that’s been tough on us. He can play all three of the outfield spots, he’s got a great track record against left-handed pitching…I’m not sure as far as how many starts he’ll get, but my rhetoric to him will be, “just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you won’t be the biggest impact player of the game.” He has the ability to change a game whether you’re ahead, defensively, whether it’s pinch-running, whether it’s pinch-hitting. He’s one of the premiere guys in the league at being able to handle a role like that, so he’s going to get his share of at-bats, that’s for sure.

 

On free agent infielder Nick Punto’s role with the team…

It’s to be determined. He’s another guy that actually his versatility probably plays against him…but we have some in-game guys that can really impact the game – whether it’s defensively, base-running or offensively – as the game goes along. He is certainly one of those guys that we’ve identified to do that. So he will get his share of starts because you have to keep a guy current and getting X amount of at-bats to stay ready for the opportunities. But I don’t think at this point in time there’s any specific amount of at-bats that I’m looking at for him.

 

Alberto Callaspo: Adding first base to his resume?

Alberto Callaspo: Will he be adding first base to his resume?

On the team’s depth heading into 2014…

Well, I think we increased the depth. We added a couple more switch hitters. Alberto Callaspo was here for a portion of the season…obviously Nick Punto’s the other guy I was talking about. So we’ll look at maybe Callaspo some at first base against left-handed pitching potentially. But the versatility and the depth gets more so each and every year. And I think it’s better than it was in was in 2012, better than it was in 2013…but the division has gotten better as well. So you always feel like you have to get better and address the deficiencies that you think your team had the year before.

 

On what he and the team have taken from the last two years’ playoff experience…

You always try to take the confidence that you had and what you’ve accomplished in years past, and we’ve accomplished some good things the last couple years. You also find some motivation in getting beaten in a certain fashion a couple years in a row. So we wouldn’t be scared of that situation again. We would relish it if we got it again. But more than anything, you try to find what’s best for your team that motivates you the best. And I think for us, it’s bringing our confidence with us and getting past what was a sour taste for us the last couple years.

 

On what’s different for him about managing the A’s…

Well, I like managing the A’s a little better. I grew up here in the Bay Area, so there’s some…pride factor growing up in the area. We’ve had as good a group of guys come through here over the last three years, and we continue to bring in great people that accentuate our team. And just getting along with the front office, the ownership and the fans are a big, big key for me here for that added pride of being an Oakland A.

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

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

DSC03126fAs 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.

 

Billy McKinney: Following in Addison's footsteps.

Billy McKinney: Following in Addison’s footsteps.

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.

 

Bobby Wahl: Will he be a fast riser?

Bobby Wahl: Will he be a fast riser?

On 2013 draft picks Dylan Covey and Bobby Wahl

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.

 

On the value of 1st-round draft picks and the recent trades of former 1st-rounders Grant Green and Michael Choice

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.

 

Craig "Kitten Face" Gentry: Just what the A's were looking for?

Craig “Kitten Face” Gentry: Just what the A’s were looking for?

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.

 

Jim Johnson: The $10 million man.

Jim Johnson: The A’s $10 million man.

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.

 

Josh Reddick: Hoping to reclaim his 2012 glory in 2014.

Josh Reddick: Will he reclaim his 2012 glory in 2014?

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.

 

Nick Punto: He's been there, done that.

Nick Punto: He’s been there, done that.

On how he expects new additions like Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Nick Punto to help the A’s, particularly in the postseason…

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.

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Exclusive: A’s Super Scout Grady Fuson Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

gfDSC01787-1[2c]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?

sgsonnygray_large1bGF:  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.

mcmichaelchoiceoaklandathleticsphotodaynwngr_fbjvxl3bAF:  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.

Oakland Athletics Photo DayAF:  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.

GF:  Yes.

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?

arDSC02744dGF:  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.

mm165457_10151385210931662_1498946120_n4GF:  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.

raAlcantara_480_copy_ny1gttbt_waw91fkd2GF:  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?

dgzKKWrSRN3GF: 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?

mhhi-res-7054392_display_imageGF:  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?

bmc320xGF:  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!

*     *     *

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

Prospect Watch with Grady, Farhan & Melvin

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.

gfDSC01787-1[2c]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.

fz0511cnzaidi_x582dIn 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.

bmDSC02384cBob 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

arfPCk2bFI2Bob 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

mcmichaelchoiceoaklandathleticsphotodaynwngr_fbjvxl3Grady 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

Oakland Athletics Photo DayGrady 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

dsstraily-dan3Farhan 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

sgsonnygray_large1Grady 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

mymichael-ynoa.p1Grady 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

mo15095_4110106706138_1463379083_n3Grady 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…

 

mmph_571970Max Muncy

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!

 

ah4d931175d1234c733cd80af2892b53d5bAustin House

Right-Handed Pitcher

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.

 

ddOakton---Derek-DeYoung2Derek DeYoung

Right-Handed Pitcher

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!

*     *     *

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/25/13

Major League Camp and Game vs. Brewers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

The A’s beat the Brewers 9-7 on a relatively quiet day around camp. Bartolo Colon allowed 3 runs over 5 innings to earn his first win of the spring while Dan Straily gave up 4 runs in 3 innings of work. Outfielder Chris Young blasted a grand slam and infielders Josh Donaldson and Scott Sizemore each went 4-for-4, a particularly timely performance for Sizemore after his chief rival at second base, Jemile Weeks, was sent down yesterday. In his pre-game press conference, manager Bob Melvin announced it’s possible that the team could take all 36 players currently in camp back home for the Bay Bridge Series and make the final roster decisions after that.

The scene at Phoenix Muni before batting practice on Monday

The scene at Phoenix Muni before batting practice on Monday

Manager Bob Melvin hitting grounders to Scott Sizemore at second base

Manager Bob Melvin hitting grounders to Scott Sizemore at second base

Scott Sizemore, who went 4-for-4 on Monday, taking grounders at second base

Scott Sizemore, who went 4-for-4 on Monday, taking grounders at second base

Derek Norris, the A's spring home leader, taking his hacks in the cage

Derek Norris, the A’s spring home run leader, taking his hacks in the cage

Josh Reddick awaiting his turn in the cage

Josh Reddick awaiting his turn in the cage

Josh Reddick standing in at second base during batting practice. Could he be the answer at second? He did snag a line drive there!

Josh Reddick standing in at second base during batting practice. Could he be the answer at second? He did snag a line drive there!

Bartolo Colon allowed 3 runs in 5 innings to earn his first win of the spring

Bartolo Colon allowed 3 runs in 5 innings to earn his first win of the spring

Coco Crisp led off on Monday and had 2 hits and 2 stolen bases

Coco Crisp led off on Monday and had 2 hits and 2 stolen bases

Derek Norris went 0-for-1 with 2 walks but still leads the team in home runs with 5

Derek Norris went 0-for-1 with 2 walks but still leads the team in home runs with 5

Coach Tye Waller congratulates Nate Freiman's neck after the 6'8" first baseman got his first hit for the A's

Coach Tye Waller congratulates Nate Freiman’s neck after the 6’8″ first baseman got his first hit for the A’s

Crisp & Reddick congratulate each other after scoring on Chris Young's grand slam

Crisp & Reddick congratulate each other after scoring on Chris Young’s grand slam

Reddick, Crisp & Sizemore head back to the safety of the dugout after Sizemore's big bomb

Reddick, Crisp & Sizemore head back to the safety of the dugout after Sizemore’s big bomb

Dan Straily allowed 4 runs in 3 innings of work on Monday

Dan Straily allowed 4 runs in 3 innings of work on Monday

 

Now that my spring training trip has come to a close, be sure to stay tuned for lots of interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and more…

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

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