Tag: Bruce Maxwell

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

GF:  Yes.

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

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

AF:  And what about Logan Shore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF: Yeah.

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

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

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

GF: Mm hmm.

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

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

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

GF:  Not at all.

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

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

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

GF:  Yep.

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

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

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

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

AF:  Lasik?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GF:  Yeah…in the bullpen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MATT CHAPMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DANIEL GOSSETT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF:  And what about that changeup of his?

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

AF:  And what are your impressions of Frankie Montas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List

Former top prospect Sean Manaea – who will be the next A’s prospect to make it big?

Former top prospect Sean Manaea – who will be the next A’s prospect to make it big?

Now that spring training is officially underway, it’s time to present A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List.

It’s interesting to note that only four players from last year’s list have made a return to this year’s list, including familiar names like Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder. New to this year’s list are five pitchers – A.J. Puk, Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes and Daniel Gossett – along with catcher Bruce Maxwell.

Dropping off last year’s list were pitcher Sean Manaea, who’s successfully joined the ranks of the majors, pitcher Dillon Overton and catcher Jacob Nottingham, both of whom left the organization via trades, and shortstop Richie Martin, infielder Yairo Munoz and third baseman Renato Nunez, who fell off due to some declines in performance last year. Though, having said that, Nunez easily could have found his way on to the bottom part of this year’s list, as could young right-handers Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore and Dakota Chalmers, all of whom just barely missed out on making this year’s top 10.

Unlike last year, when eight of our top 10 picks were position players, things are evenly divided with five pitchers and five position players this year. And a sign of just how close most of the A’s top prospects really are at this point is the fact that a full seven of this year’s top 10 prospects are expected to start the season at Triple-A Nashville, just one step away from the majors.

Of all the various top 10 lists of A’s prospects that are currently out there, it’s our feeling that Baseball America and John Sickels, as well as the readers of Athletics Nation in their Community Prospect List, have come the closest to getting it right this year. But without any further ado, let’s take a look at A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List

 

A’S FARM’S 2017 TOP 10 PROSPECTS LIST

#1 – Franklin Barreto (SS)

#2 – Matt Chapman (3B)

#3 – A.J. Puk (LHP)

#4 – Jharel Cotton (RHP)

#5 – Frankie Montas (RHP)

#6 – Grant Holmes (RHP)

#7 – Daniel Gossett (RHP)

#8 – Bruce Maxwell (C)

#9 – Matt Olson (1B-OF)

#10 – Chad Pinder (SS-2B)

Honorable Mention – Renato Nunez, Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore, Dakota Chalmers

 

fb620439b#1 FRANKLIN BARRETO

Right-Handed-Hitting Shortstop

Age on Opening Day: 21

Signed as International Free Agent

Still just 21, Barreto is the youngest position player on this year’s top 10 list and is already universally recognized as the top prospect in the A’s minor league system. For the second consecutive season, the young Venezuelan got off to a bit of a slow start in the first half but then really caught fire during the second half. He posted a disappointing .236/.296/.350 slash line in the first half for Midland, but then came back to put up an impressive .337/.393/.490 line in the second half for the RockHounds. And while Barreto’s overall power numbers dipped a bit last year, which is not totally unsurprising for someone going from the homer-happy California League to the pitchers’ paradise of the Texas League, his plate discipline, his defense, and even his threat level on the base paths all improved last season. His walk total more than doubled, while his stolen base total went from 8 in 2015 to 30 in 2016 (most among A’s minor leaguers), and his error total dropped from 34 to 19 despite appearing in 244 more innings in the field last year. Barreto still needs to improve his discipline at the plate, and while relatively small at just 5-10, the hope is that he’ll continue to develop enough strength to be able to demonstrate power beyond his size. In the best of all possible worlds, one could envision him as a Venezuelan version of Miguel Tejada – which the A’s would be more than happy with! While Barreto’s played primarily at shortstop throughout his minor league career, he did appear in 33 games at second base last season. And he’ll probably continue to see at least a little more time there this year at Nashville, since most expect that Barreto’s immediate future in Oakland will most likely lie at second base.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

mc656305c#2 MATT CHAPMAN

Right-Handed-Hitting Third Baseman

Age on Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2014 – 1st Round

The A’s top draft pick in 2014 out of Cal State Fullerton, Chapman arrived with a reputation as a rifle-armed third baseman with lots of power potential – and he’s certainly lived up to that advance billing. Most scouts currently consider the 23-year-old to be a top-tier defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. Last season, he slugged 36 home runs, most of them while playing in the power-suppressing environment at Midland, and also added 27 doubles and 5 triples to his extra-base totals. And in 269 games since joining the A’s system, Chapman has clubbed a total of 64 round-trippers – nearly one every four games. There’s no question that when he makes contact, the ball is bound to go a long way – the question is how much contact he will make. In addition to his 36 home runs in 2016, Chapman also struck out 173 times last season while posting a batting average of just .237, though his walk rate did tick up just a bit last year. But the bottom line with Chapman is this – with his natural power and his prowess in the field, he should be able to bring enough to the table to make himself a valuable major league contributor, though his contact rate will determine just how valuable. He made an extremely positive impression on A’s manager Bob Melvin last spring. And along with Barreto, who will also be starting out the season in Nashville, the A’s hope that Chapman will help to form the heart of a talented and exciting young infield for Oakland beginning in 2018.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

ap640462b#3 A.J. PUK

Left-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2016 – 1st Round

The A’s took Puk with the 6th overall selection in last year’s draft after he’d previously been considered a possible #1 pick. He came to the A’s system as a flame-throwing lefty out of Florida with top-of-the-rotation potential whose fastball had been clocked as high as 99 mph in college. There have been some questions about the 6-7 southpaw’s mechanics and athleticism, as well as whether or not his slider really has the potential to play in a big way at the major league level. But the Iowa native struck out an average of 11 batters per 9 innings while allowing an average of just 6 hits and putting up an ERA of 3.03 during his inaugural season with Vermont in the New York-Penn League. He did turn in just 32 2/3 innings during his pro debut last year though, so our sample size of his work since joining the A’s system has been rather limited. Puk struck out the side in order in his first major league spring training game against Cleveland, but then allowed a home run and a pair of walks in his next appearance before being reassigned to the A’s minor league camp. The question is where the A’s, who’ve been fairly aggressive in the assignment of their high draft picks lately, will choose to have Puk start the 2017 season. It’s anybody’s guess, but the informed speculation thus far has seemed to center on Stockton. His ability to show consistency and maintain his mechanics throughout spring training, and how much work the A’s staff still feels needs to be done in that regard, may have a lot to do with where Puk ultimately winds up to start 2017.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Stockton Ports (A+)

 

jc605194c#4 JHAREL COTTON

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2012 – 20th Round

Of all the players on our top 10 list this year, Cotton is the only one to have been drafted lower than the 2nd round in the amateur draft; he wasn’t selected until the 20th round by the Dodgers in 2012. The 25-year-old over-achiever is also the most likely member of our top 10 list to open the season on the A’s roster in 2017. Cotton arrived last summer, along with fellow right-handers Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes, from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal. And in just his second start in the A’s system, he came within one out of pitching a perfect game for Nashville. Cotton ended up earning the Pacific Coast League strikeout crown with 155 K’s in 135 2/3 innings of work. And his strong showing at Nashville earned Cotton 5 late-season starts with the A’s, where he impressed by striking out 23 in 29 1/3 innings while posting a stingy 2.15 ERA. Cotton’s currently expected to open the 2017 season as Oakland’s #4 starter. And the A’s hope that the mid-90s fastball and solid changeup that have enabled Cotton to fool hitters at the minor league level will allow him to experience continued success at the major league level as well.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Oakland A’s (MLB)

 

fm593423c#5 FRANKIE MONTAS

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 24

Signed as International Free Agent

The only member of the trio of arms the A’s acquired from Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal last summer to have actual major league experience at the time, Montas made 7 appearances for the White Sox in 2015 before being dealt to the Dodgers prior to the 2016 season. Injuries sidelined Montas for all but 7 games last season, but he appeared plenty healthy just a few months ago when he returned to action in the Arizona Fall League and allowed just 1 earned run over 17 innings of work for the Mesa Solar Sox. The Dominican flame-thrower boasts a 100+ mph fastball and has struck out an average of 9.3 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career, though his command can occasionally be an issue. In the past, he’s appeared as both a starter and a reliever, but the A’s are planning on utilizing Montas in a starting role this season. The thinking is that if he can harness his talent, his stuff could make him an intimidating starter. He’ll get the chance to show what he can do every fifth day at Nashville and, if Montas can just learn to master his potentially overpowering stuff, it might not be long before he gets a long look in Oakland.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

gh656550#6 GRANT HOLMES

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2014 – 1st Round

The Dodgers 1st-round pick in the 2014 draft, Holmes was the youngest arm the A’s received from the Dodgers last summer in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal and, at just a month younger than Barreto, is also the youngest player on our prospect list this year. Holmes was a highly-coveted high school hurler out of South Carolina who reportedly received a $2.5 million signing bonus in 2014. He got off to a good start in the Dodgers system, putting up a 3.32 ERA while striking out 10.4 batters per 9 innings over his first two seasons in the minors. He was a little less impressive while pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League last year, posting a 4.63 ERA while his strikeout rate fell to 8.3 per 9. But it’s important to keep in mind that, at the age of 20, Holmes was one of the youngest hurlers in the Cal League last season. There’s no question that Holmes is a big, strong kid with tremendous upside whom many evaluators consider to be the top pitching prospect in the A’s system behind Puk. And Baseball Prospectus currently considers him the A’s top pitching prospect and second-best overall prospect behind Barreto. Holmes will likely start his age-21 season pitching in Midland, which is a much more friendly environment for pitchers to perform in than the homer-happy California League. And if, while there, he can manage to improve his command and make some progress when it comes to developing his secondary pitches, then it could be a quick ascent up the ladder for the talented young righty.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)

 

dg605254c#7 DANIEL GOSSETT

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2014 – 2nd Round

The A’s 2nd-round pick out of Clemson in 2014, Gossett made as much progress as any pitcher in the A’s system in 2016. His first full season at Beloit wasn’t particularly impressive, but after putting up a 4.73 ERA for the Snappers back in 2015, Gossett started off 2016 strong at High-A Stockton, then performed even better at Double-A Midland, before finally finishing up the season in impressive fashion at Triple-A Nashville. In 27 starts across three stops, Gossett put up a 2.69 ERA, while his 151 strikeouts led all A’s minor leaguers last season. The South Carolina native had always shown solid command as well as a reluctance to surrender the long ball, but a slight uptick in velocity as well as the addition of a cutter really boosted the young right-hander’s performance to another level in 2016. Last year, Gossett really started showing the A’s what they hoped they had when they made him their second overall pick in 2014, and he should have the chance to keep showing the organization just what he’s got to offer while pitching every fifth day at Nashville this season.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

bm622194b#8 BRUCE MAXWELL

Left-Handed-Hitting Catcher

Age on Opening Day: 26

Drafted 2012 – 2nd Round

While Maxwell has continued to make steady progress behind the plate ever since he was drafted by the A’s, the burly backstop took a massive leap forward at the plate last year. After putting up a meager .243/.321/.308 slash line at Double-A Midland in 2015, Maxwell turned out to be one of Triple-A Nashville’s hottest hitters last year, posting an impressive .321/.393/.539 line before his elevation to Oakland last July. And he managed to hold his own in the big leagues too, putting together a solid .283/.337/.402 line in 92 late-season at-bats with the A’s. Maxwell didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time catching in college, so he had a lot to learn behind the dish and, fortunately, he proved to be a prized pupil and impressed A’s manager, and former catcher, Bob Melvin with his work behind the plate last spring. Now that his bat seems to be coming around as well, the left-handed hitter could prove to be a valuable asset with both his offense and his defense. He’s currently third on the A’s catching depth chart, so if anything should happen with either Stephen Vogt or Josh Phegley at any point, Maxwell would be the first man up to step in. And as we all know, nothing remains the same in Oakland for too long. So whenever the A’s decide that the time has come to make a change in their catching corps, then Maxwell could find himself getting the bulk of the at-bats behind the plate for the green and gold.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

mo621566b#9 MATT OLSON

Left-Handed-Hitting First Baseman/Outfielder

Age on Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2012 – 1st Round

Along with Maxwell, Olson’s been in the A’s organization as long as any player on this year’s list, and he’s made an appearance on our annual top 10 prospects list ever since his first full season in the system. With the trades of Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson, Olson is the lone remaining member of the highly-touted trio of top high school prospects the A’s selected with their first three picks in the 2012 draft. The big, left-handed slugger had a monster year with High-A Stockton in 2014, putting up an impressive .262/.404/.543 slash line, but his numbers have declined in each of the past two seasons and he posted a more pedestrian .235/.335/.422 line at Triple-A Nashville last year, though he did have a very solid .263/.345/.475 line over his last 47 games for the Sounds. Olson’s profile as a hitter has always been the same ever since he joined the system – lots of walks, lots of strikeouts and lots of power. Since slugging 37 home runs at Stockton in 2014 though, his home run numbers have decreased, while his doubles have increased. The Georgia native totaled 17 homers at Midland in 2015 and at Nashville last season, while he put up 37 and 34 doubles, respectively. Olson’s power potential and plate discipline are clearly the qualities that will help grease his path to the big leagues. And while still just 22, he did get a quick look with the A’s during the final month of the season last year, getting into 11 games while seeing time at first base, where he’s a defensive standout, and in right field, where he’s more than capable. And with his increasing platoon splits in recent years, Olson could find himself getting a shot as the left-handed half of either a first base or right field platoon in Oakland sometime in the fairly near future.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

cp640461b#10 CHAD PINDER

Right-Handed-Hitting Shortstop/Second Baseman

Age on Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2013 – 2nd Round

The A’s third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Pinder was named the Texas League MVP after putting up an impressive .317/.361/.486 slash line for Double-A Midland in the pitcher-friendly Texas League in 2015, but slipped a bit to a more ordinary .258/.310/.425 line last year for Triple-A Nashville. Pinder has some pop for a middle infielder, collecting 42 home runs and 87 doubles over his last three minor league seasons, and his potent bat has helped him push his way through the system fairly expeditiously. Pinder could still stand to improve his plate discipline though, as he’s struck out over 100 times in each of his last two campaigns and has yet to total more than 28 walks in any single season. While also playing some second base, Pinder has spent most of his time the past couple seasons at shortstop, but he led all A’s minor leaguers with 29 errors – most of them throwing errors – while serving as Nashville’s starting shortstop last season. He spent the last month and a half of the 2016 season in Oakland, playing primarily at second base, which is probably the most likely spot for him to find major league at-bats. But Pinder’s ability to play shortstop and second base, as well as third base, may make him well-suited to fill a utility role for the A’s, possibly starting in 2018.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

Honorable Mention: Renato Nunez, Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore, Dakota Chalmers

It would have been easy to swap Renato Nunez with Maxwell, Olson or Pinder in any of the final three spots on this year’s top 10 list. But the main thing that kept Nunez just a notch behind the rest was his lack of a discernible defensive position to call home. Maxwell has continued to show great improvement behind the plate, while Olson is a talented defensive first baseman as well as a capable corner outfielder, and Pinder’s versatility makes it possible for him to appear at shortstop, second base and third base. But while Nunez’s power potential is very real, it’s hard to imagine him getting many major league at-bats from anywhere other than the designated hitter spot at this point. Young right-handers Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore and Dakota Chalmers, all drafted in the top three rounds within the last two years, also came very close to making our top 10 list this year. All three are clearly talented young hurlers who could rapidly move up the ranks. None has yet to throw 100 innings in the system though, so we’ve still got a lot more to see of them, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see some of their names popping up on next year’s list.

 

Last Year’s Top 10 Prospects List

 

 

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Meet Your 2017 Nashville Sounds

0nsIMG_2587We recently took a look at the likely A’s opening day roster for 2017, which appears to be reasonably well set, with the exception of a couple of minor question marks. This year’s Triple-A Nashville Sounds roster is a far more complicated puzzle to try to piece together at this point though. The main reason for this is that the A’s have invited a whopping 70 players to their major league spring training camp this year, and all but a handful of them already have major league or Triple-A experience and are expected to battle for 50 roster spots with Oakland and Nashville.

Some players, like LHP Felix Doubront and RHPs Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden, are likely to open the season on the disabled list. But if most of the others remain healthy, then that will leave plenty of players on the outside looking in. And with the A’s major league roster seeming to be fairly well set at this point, most of that roster crunch will be occurring at Nashville, and we may be looking at a fairly significant roster purge towards the end of spring training before rosters can be finalized.

While recent draftees, like LHP A.J. Puk and catcher Sean Murphy, certainly won’t be in contention to open the season anywhere near as high as Triple-A, and others players, like infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock, appear set to start the season with Double-A Midland, there are certain players who will be guaranteed plenty of regular playing time at Nashville this season no matter what happens – top prospects like Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto and Matt Olson, as well as others.

The A’s usually like to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 position players at the Triple-A level. And while some recent trades and injuries have helped to relieve the pitching logjam at Nashville a bit, there currently appear to be about 18 position players jockeying for 12 Triple-A roster spots at this point, so something’s definitely going to have to give there. So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up for your 2017 Nashville Sounds…

 

CATCHERS

Bruce Maxwell

Bruce Maxwell

The catching corps appears to be one of the clearer areas when it comes to the Nashville roster. If Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley are both healthy to start the season, then it looks looks likely that Bruce Maxwell will start the year back at Nashville, getting most of the starts behind the plate for the Sounds. Matt McBride, who shared time with Maxwell at Nashville last season, appears set to do the same again this year. The A’s signed catcher Ryan Lavarnway as a minor league free agent in the offseason. But just as there doesn’t appear to be room for three catchers on Oakland’s roster, there doesn’t seem to be room for three catchers on Nashville’s roster either. And since Lavarnway spent most of last season at Double-A and Midland catcher Beau Taylor is set to spend the first 50 games of the season on the suspended list, Lavarnway may need to start the year on the Double-A RockHounds roster until an opening develops in the catching corps.

 

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto

There’s no doubt that top prospect Franklin Barreto will have the chance to get plenty of at-bats as Nashville’s starting shortstop this season. And since it appears unlikely that either Joey Wendle or Chad Pinder will be able to crack Oakland’s opening day roster at this point, then Wendle should end up seeing the majority of the starts at second base for the Sounds, just as he has for the past two seasons, with Pinder splitting time between both second and short while possibly increasing his versatility by spending some time at other spots around the diamond as well. The A’s re-signed minor league free agent Josh Rodriguez, who’s spent most of his time at second and short of late, and also signed minor league free agent Jermaine Curtis, who’s spent most of his time at second and third. But if all the top prospects are healthy, it’s awfully hard to see where the at-bats are to be found for these two veteran minor leaguers. Meanwhile, infielders Yairo Munoz, Max Schrock and Richie Martin are likely to find themselves starting the season on the Double-A RockHounds roster.

 

CORNER INFIELDERS

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

Top power prospect Matt Chapman should find himself firmly entrenched at the hot corner for the Sounds in 2017. Renato Nunez clearly will get his share of at-bats too but, with Chapman viewed as the A’s third baseman of the future, most of them aren’t likely to be coming at third this year. Matt Olson has split time the past couple seasons between first base and right field, while minor league free agent signee Chris Parmelee, a former 1st-round pick with plenty of major league service time under his belt, is also experienced at first and in right, and he and Olson should end up sharing most of the at-bats at first and in right for the Sounds. But let’s not forget that first baseman Rangel Ravelo is still in the picture as well, though he was optioned off the 40-man roster in the offseason. The same is true of utility man Max Muncy, who has spent most of his time at first and third. The A’s signed minor league free agent infielder Jermaine Curtis, who’s spent the bulk of his time at the hot corner, but it seems highly unlikely that he’ll steal many at-bats from Matt Chapman so, if he can crack the Triple-A roster, most of his at-bats would be more likely to come from his secondary position at second base. The A’s also re-signed minor free agent Josh Rodriguez, who’s also far more likely to find at-bats at second than at third, if he can find a way to make it onto the Sounds roster.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Jaycob Brugman

Jaycob Brugman

The Sounds outfield picture is another complicated one to try to piece together at this point, with far more players than spots on the roster. Starting at the top, Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski seem to have the inside track for the final two major league roster spots with Oakland. And if things play out just that way, then major league veteran Alejandro De Aza, who signed a minor league contract in the offseason, would find himself back in Triple-A. However, if De Aza should manage to beat out either Canha or Smolinski, then the odd man out in that competition could be headed back to Nashville. Of course, Smolinksi and De Aza both have plenty of experience in center field, as does Jaycob Brugman, who is ikely to get plenty of at-bats for the Sounds this season, whether he’s starting in center or in either one of the corner spots. The A’s re-signed outfielder Andrew Lambo to a minor league contract, and added minor league free agent outfielder Jaff Decker, as well as Chris Parmelee who, like returning prospect Matt Olson, has spent plenty of time both in right field and at first base. Max Muncy, who will also be in the roster mix, saw significant time in the outfield last year as well. And it’s worth noting that, De Aza, Brugman, Lambo, Decker, Parmelee, Olson and Muncy give the organization a total of 7 left-handed hitters in the Triple-A outfield mix, and that’s on a team that’s only expected to carry 12 position players – of course, catcher Matt McBride spent plenty of time in the outfield last year as well – so something’s definitely going to have to give here one way or another!

 

STARTING PITCHERS

Jesse Hahn

Jesse Hahn

Until recently, the shape of the Sounds starting rotation was looking fairly clear. But the trade of Dillon Overton and Daniel Mengden’s recent foot injury have left things a little less clear. What is clear is that if RHP Jesse Hahn can’t beat out RHPs Andrew Triggs or Jharel Cotton, the favorites to fill the final two spots in the A’s rotation, then Hahn will wind up heading up the Sounds starting five. Two other apparent certainties to join him there are flame-throwing RHP Frankie Montas and former 2nd-round draft pick Daniel Gossett, who finished out the season strong for the Sounds. Beyond those three, the pitching picture starts to get a little murkier, though that’s certainly not for a dearth of viable candidates. LHP Ross Detwiler signed a minor league contract to remain with the organization, but since he has an opt-out clause, he could depart if not guaranteed a spot on the major league roster. But should he decide to stay, then he would likely garner a spot in the Sounds rotation. RHP Raul Alcantara could also be in the mix, but he’s out of options, and it seems unlikely that the A’s would try to sneak him through waivers to get him back on the Nashville roster. RHPs Zach Neal and Chris Smith were two of Nashville’s top starters last season, so they would represent a couple of experienced options, but both primarily shifted to working out of the bullpen during the latter part of last season. Meanwhile, a pair of RHPs the A’s signed as minor league free agents could represent two of the team’s top options – Cesar Valdez, who posted an impressive 1-to-9 walk-to-strikeout ratio for Triple-A Fresno last year, and Michael Brady, who put up a solid 2.89 ERA between Triple-A and Double-A last season. RHP Paul Blackburn, who spent all of last season at Double-A, could fight his way into the competition, as could RHP Heath Fillmyer, but both may be more likely to kick off the year at Midland. RHP Daniel Mengden, who recently underwent foot surgery, and RHP Chris Bassitt and LHP Felix Doubront, both of whom are returning from Tommy John surgery, will all prominently factor into the Sounds pitching picture as soon as they’re ready to return to action as well.

 

RELIEF PITCHERS

Bobby Wahl

Bobby Wahl

There should be no shortage of candidates to fill out the 8 spots in the Sounds bullpen this season. If the A’s should decide to keep RHP Raul Alcantara on the major league roster, since he’s out of options, and there are no further pitching injuries or trades at the major league level, then LHP Daniel Coulombe is likely to find himself starting the year back at Nashville. RHP Bobby Wahl, who posted a 2.65 ERA and 14 saves across three levels last year, RHP Tucker Healy, who struck out 76 in 52 1/3 innings for Nashville in 2016, and RHP Aaron Kurcz all seem likely to return to Music City as well. The A’s also signed minor league free agent RHPs Josh Smith, Tyler Sturdevant and Simon Castro, all of whom have some degree of major league experience under their belts and seem destined to be a part of Nashville’s relief corps this year. The final spots in the Sounds bullpen are likely to be filled by whoever among Zach Neal, Chris Smith, Michael Brady and Cesar Valdez don’t end up finding spots in the Sounds starting rotation. And unless injuries strike, it doesn’t appear that there will be any room for RHPs Trey Cochran-Gill or Sam Bragg, both of whom had solid seasons for Midland last year, to make the move up to Triple-A to start the season.

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Meet Your 2017 Oakland A’s

0IMG_2486cAs the 2016 season came to an end and the A’s headed into the offseason, there were an awful lot of questions regarding the team’s roster for the coming season, and many of those questions still remained unanswered as the calendar turned to 2017. But a quartet of January free agent signings, along with a number of other minor moves, seems to have solidified the shape of the A’s roster for 2017.

At one time, it appeared that a number of rookie hitters might stand a good chance of making the 2017 opening day roster, including players such as catcher Bruce Maxwell and infielders Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle. But the way things are now shaping up, barring injuries, it looks like the A’s are likely to start the season with no rookie position players on the roster and perhaps just one or two rookie pitchers on the opening day squad.

Of course, the A’s being the A’s, it’s entirely possible that the front office could still have a few unexpected tricks up its sleeve before opening day. But after the flurry of roster moves over the past month, here’s how things are now shaping up for your 2017 Oakland A’s…

 

CATCHERS

Stephen Vogt

Stephen Vogt

Stephen Vogt was named to the American League All-Star squad for the second straight season last year, and the A’s current clubhouse leader is set to return as the team’s primary catcher again this season. Josh Phegley, who appeared in 73 games for Oakland in 2015, made it into just 25 games for the A’s last year due to injuries. Phegley has apparently recovered from last summer’s knee surgery and, as long as he’s healthy, is expected to serve as Vogt’s platoon partner in 2017. Rookie receiver Bruce Maxwell had an impressive Triple-A campaign and looked solid in 33 late-season games with the A’s last year. So if there are any health issues with Phegley or Vogt to start the year or at any point during the season, then Maxwell should be poised to step right in and pick up the slack.

 

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Marcus Semien

Marcus Semien

Slugging shortstop Marcus Semien hit 27 home runs while appearing in a total of 159 games for Oakland in 2016. The iron-man infielder played in more games than any other member of the A’s squad for the second straight season, and we can probably expect to see more of the same kind of endurance from Semien again this year. Meanwhile, second baseman Jed Lowrie, in his second stint with the A’s, missed the final two months last season while undergoing foot surgery. The team expects him to be recovered from the procedure and has anointed him as its starting second baseman for the coming season, as long as he remains healthy. The A’s also signed infielder Adam Rosales as a free agent in late January, and one would expect that the versatile veteran could fill in fairly regularly for Lowrie at second base while also giving Semien a few more days off at shortstop over the course of the season. With Semien, Lowrie and Rosales in the picture, it doesn’t leave much room for other middle infielders like Joey Wendle and Chad Pinder, who are likely to be available at Nashville if any infield replacements are needed. Also waiting in the wings at Nashville will be shortstop (and possible future second baseman) Franklin Barreto, who’s considered the A’s top hitting prospect.

 

CORNER INFIELDERS

rh592387c

Ryon Healy

Another one of the A’s January free agent signings was former Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe, whom the team made clear would serve as its starting third baseman, shifting young slugger Ryon Healy to first base and the designated hitter spot. Last year’s primary first baseman Yonder Alonso has been retained and the left-handed hitter is expected to man the position while righties are on the mound. Healy, who proved himself at the plate last year, is expected to be a regular in the lineup, likely serving as the designated hitter much of the time while possibly shifting back to his natural position at first base when Alonso sits against lefties. That would open up the designated hitter spot against lefties. Mark Canha missed most of last season after undergoing hip surgery but is expected to be at full strength come spring training. A’s general manager David Forst has frequently spoken favorably of Canha over the course of the offseason, and he would seem to be the most likely candidate for the role, while also being available to fill in at first base as well as in the outfield. If reinforcements are needed at the corner spots, the A’s top power-hitting prospect, third baseman Matt Chapman, will be just one step away at Nashville, as will other young sluggers like Renato Nunez and first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Khris Davis

Khris Davis

Khris Davis clubbed 42 home runs while serving as the A’s starting left fielder last season and, fortunately for A’s fans, they can expect to be seeing the big bopper back in the cleanup spot for the green and gold again this year. American League stolen-base leader Rajai Davis was signed as a free agent to man center field and bat leadoff, while veteran left-handed hitter Matt Joyce was signed to be the team’s starting right fielder against righties, with returning right-handed hitter Jake Smolinski expected to serve as his platoon partner against lefties. Mark Canha, who is likely to see some time at first base and in the designated hitter spot, could also be available to fill in in the outfield corners. Meanwhile, down on the farm, two young left-handed hitting prospects who could step in and fill outfield roles if needed, Matt Olson and Jaycob Brugman, should be back for their second seasons at Nashville. And joining them there will likely be another left-handed-hitting outfielder, this one with plenty of major league experience, 32-year-old veteran Alejandro De Aza, who was signed to a minor league contract last month.

 

STARTING PITCHERS

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray

There really don’t seem to be too many big question marks about the A’s starting rotation at this point. Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are set to top the starting five. And since Daniel Mengden recently fractured a bone in his right foot, it’s now even more likely that the final two spots in the rotation will be filled by a pair of pitchers the A’s front office has repeatedly spoken highly of during the offseason, rookie Jharel Cotton and reliever-turned-starter Andrew Triggs. The A’s used a total of 14 different starting pitchers last year though, so we’ll probably end up seeing plenty of other names in the starting mix before the season’s through. Jesse Hahn, who made 9 starts for the A’s last season, is likely to start the year at Nashville and could be called upon if needed. A pair of pitchers who each made at least half a dozen starts for the A’s in 2017, Ross Detwiler and Zach Neal, should be available at Triple-A as well. Flame-thrower Frankie Montas, who’s on the 40-man roster, is also expected to start at Nashville, as is 2014 2nd-round pick Daniel Gossett. Raul Alcantara, who made 5 starts for the A’s late last year and is out of options, may very well end up serving as a long man out of the A’s bullpen but could always shift back into a starting role if needed. And, of course, once he recuperates from his foot injury, Mengden will be available again at some point, as will righty Chris Bassitt and lefty Felix Doubront, both of whom are returning from Tommy John surgery.

 

RELIEF PITCHERS

Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson

Much like the starting rotation, the A’s bullpen picture appears to be fairly clear as well, with just a couple of key questions remaining. With the A’s surprising signing of former Giants closer Santiago Casilla in January, the big question is whether Ryan Madson will return to the closer’s role for Oakland in 2017 or if Casilla will wind up displacing him. However it ends up shaking out though, the pair should serve as two of the team’s top late-inning options. Joining them will be fellow righties John Axford, Liam Hendriks and Ryan Dull as well as southpaw Sean Doolittle. If the A’s would like to have a second lefty in the bullpen, then Daniel Coulombe, who appeared in 35 games for the A’s last year and is the only other left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster, would seem to be the obvious choice. 24-year-old right-hander Raul Alcantara is out of options though, so the A’s may want to use that final spot to protect the young starter and have him serve as the long-man out of the bullpen. But if the A’s wanted to hang on to Alcantara and have a second lefty in the bullpen as well, then they could always consider trading one of their other relievers. If they did decide to do that, then someone like Axford, who is in the final year of his contract and is owed $5.5 million this year, would seem to be the most likely candidate. And if any bullpen reinforcements are needed, one of the top options this year could be right-hander Bobby Wahl, who’s on the 40-man roster, struck out 10.8 batters per 9 innings across three minor league levels in 2017 and finished the year with 4 saves over the last month of the season at Nashville.

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A’s Farm’s 2016 Post-Season Organizational All-Star Team

A's minor league home run leader Matt Chapman

A’s minor league home run leader Matt Chapman

With the 2016 minor league season now complete, it’s the perfect time to take a step back and determine who the true standouts on the field really were in the A’s system in 2016. And with that in mind, it’s time to name A’s Farm’s 2016 Post-Season Organizational All-Star Team!

Below you’ll find the primary starting players at each position for Triple-A Nashville, Double-A Midland, High-A Stockton, Class-A Beloit, Class-A Short-Season Vermont and the Rookie League Short-Season AZL A’s in 2016. Offensive starters were selected from the players who had the most games played at each position for each team over the course of the season, with notable players not leading in games played at a particular position listed in the designated hitter category. Starting pitchers for each club were selected from among the top starters for each team, while closers were selected from each team’s saves leader.

Asterisks denote players with combined statistics from multiple minor league teams within the A’s system, but players’ major league statistics and statistics acquired while with other organizations have not been included. And since he did not appear in more than 25 games at a particular position for any individual minor league team this season, Ryon Healy, who was having the best season of any hitter in the A’s minor league system prior to his promotion, is not included here.

Check out our list of All-Star candidates at each position. Then click on the link just below the list of contenders to find A’s Farm’s winning Organizational All-Stars at each position. The winners were determined based purely on performance, not potential. Remember, we’re not selecting the top prospects here, we’re choosing the top performers on the field this season. So take a good look at the candidates for yourself and then cast your vote in our poll for the top A’s Organizational All-Star of 2016!

 

–THE CANDIDATES–

 

CATCHER

Nashville – Bruce Maxwell (219 PA / 10 HR / .321 AVG / .393 OBP / .539 SLG / .932 OPS)

Midland – Beau Taylor (401 PA / 5 HR / .280 AVG / .383 OBP / .398 SLG / .781 OPS)

Stockton – Argenis Raga (330 PA / 2 HR / .263 AVG / .329 OBP / .356 SLG / .686 OPS)

Beloit – Jose Chavez (273 PA / 0 HR / .207 AVG / .246 OBP / .243 SLG / .489 OPS)

Vermont – Brett Sunde (92 PA / 0 HR / .250 AVG / .322 OBP / .300 SLG / .622 OPS)

AZL A’s – Robert Mullen (113 PA / 1 HR / .260 AVG / .363 OBP / .406 SLG / .769 OPS)

 

FIRST BASE

Nashville – Rangel Ravelo (416 PA / 8 HR / .262 AVG / .334 OBP / .395 SLG / .729 OPS)

Midland – Viosergy Rosa (535 PA / 9 HR / .255 AVG / .359 OBP / .383 SLG / .742 OPS)

Stockton – Sandber Pimentel (485 PA / 21 HR / .237 AVG / .342 OBP / .436 SLG / .779 OPS)

Beloit – Ryan Howell (411 PA / 7 HR / .216 AVG / .345 OBP / .354 SLG / .699 OPS)

Vermont – Miguel Mercedes (278 PA / 12 HR / .258 AVG / .324 OBP / .448 SLG / .771 OPS)

AZL A’s – Charley Gould (206 PA / 1 HR / .273 AVG / .340 OBP / .350 SLG / .690 OPS)

 

SECOND BASE

Nashville – Joey Wendle (529 PA / 12 HR / .279 AVG / .324 OBP / .452 SLG / .776 OPS)

Midland – Wade Kirkland (274 PA / 2 HR / .215 AVG / .249 OBP / .289 SLG / .538 OPS)

Stockton – Mikey White (521 PA / 6 HR / .247 AVG / .315 OBP / .352 SLG / .666 OPS)

Beloit – Trent Gilbert (521 PA / 4 HR / .269 AVG / .327 OBP / .380 SLG / .707 OPS)

Vermont – Nate Mondou (256 PA / 0 HR / .296 AVG / .376 OBP / .363 SLG / .739 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Josh Vidales (175 PA / 1 HR / .345 AVG / .437 OBP / .507 SLG / .944 OPS)

 

SHORTSTOP

Nashville – Chad Pinder (465 PA / 14 HR / .258 AVG / .310 OBP / .425 SLG / .735 OPS)

Midland – Franklin Barreto (525 PA / 11 HR / .284 AVG / .342 OBP / .422 SLG / .763 OPS) *

Stockton – Richie Martin (400 PA / 3 HR / .235 AVG / .327 OBP / .322 SLG / .649 OPS) *

Beloit – Trace Loehr (386 PA / 1 HR / .249 AVG / .292 OBP / .350 SLG / .642 OPS)

Vermont – Eli White (270 PA / 2 HR / .275 AVG / .344 OBP / .356 SLG / .700 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Jesus Lage (143 PA / 0 HR / .184 AVG / .277 OBP / .248 SLG / .525 OPS) *

 

THIRD BASE

Nashville – Renato Nunez (550 PA / 23 HR / .228 AVG / .278 OBP / .412 SLG / .690 OPS)

Midland – Matt Chapman (589 PA / 36 HR / .237 AVG / .328 OBP / .519 SLG / .847 OPS) *

Stockton – Jose Brizuela (403 PA / 16 HR / .254 AVG / .337 OBP / .446 SLG / .784 OPS)

Beloit – Edwin Diaz (340 PA / 5 HR / .236 AVG / .311 OBP / .331 SLG / .642 OPS)

Vermont – JaVon Shelby (222 PA / 5 HR / .193 AVG / .284 OBP / .315 SLG / .599 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Javier Godard (166 PA / 0 HR / .252 AVG / .319 OBP / .308 SLG / .627 OPS) *

 

LEFT FIELD

Nashville – Max Muncy (268 PA / 8 HR / .251 AVG / .360 OBP / .408 SLG / .768 OPS)

Midland – J.P. Sportman (515 PA / 5 HR / .267 AVG / .309 OBP / .379 SLG / .688 OPS)

Stockton – B.J. Boyd (490 PA / 8 HR / .287 AVG / .344 OBP / .386 SLG / .730 OPS) *

Beloit – Justin Higley (499 PA / 6 HR / .251 AVG / .325 OBP / .381 SLG / .706 OPS) *

Vermont – Luis Barrera (253 PA / 3 HR / .310 AVG / .361 OBP / .428 SLG / .789 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Kyle Nowlin (198 PA / 2 HR / .260 AVG / .389 OBP / .383 SLG / .772 OPS)

 

CENTER FIELD

Nashville – Jaycob Brugman (433 PA / 7 HR / .295 AVG / .352 OBP / .438 SLG / .790 OPS) *

Midland – Brett Vertigan (462 PA / 2 HR / .246 AVG / .314 OBP / .316 SLG / .629 OPS)

Stockton – James Harris (599 PA / 7 HR / .297 AVG / .370 OBP / .410 SLG / .780 OPS) *

Beloit – Skye Bolt (402 PA / 5 HR / .231 AVG / .318 OBP / .345 SLG / .663 OPS)

Vermont – Steven Pallares (343 PA / 1 HR / .168 AVG / .311 OBP / .189 SLG / .500 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Jeramiah McCray (123 PA / 0 HR / .202 AVG / .260 OBP / .316 SLG / .576 OPS)

 

RIGHT FIELD

Nashville – Matt Olson (540 PA / 17 HR / .235 AVG / .335 OBP / .422 SLG / .757 OPS)

Midland – Tyler Marincov (590 PA / 19 HR / .265 AVG / .341 OBP / .436 SLG / .776 OPS) *

Stockton – Seth Brown (532 PA / 8 HR / .241 AVG / .340 OBP / .362 SLG / .702 OPS)

Beloit – Brett Siddall (542 PA / 9 HR / .241 AVG / .321 OBP / .356 SLG / .677 OPS)

Vermont – Tyler Ramirez (205 PA / 2 HR / .230 AVG / .322 OBP / .360 SLG / .682 OPS) *

AZL A’s – Cole Gruber (154 PA / 0 HR / .214 AVG / .346 OBP / .294 SLG / .640 OPS)

 

DESIGNATED HITTER

Nashville – Matt McBride (274 PA / 7 HR / .267 AVG / .339 OBP / .441 SLG / .781 OPS)

Midland – Yairo Munoz (414 PA / 9 HR / .240 AVG / .286 OBP / .367 SLG / .653 OPS)

Stockton – Joe Bennie (574 PA / 13 HR / .283 AVG / .361 OBP / .421 SLG / .783 OPS) *

Beloit – Chris Iriart (394 PA / 22 HR / .250 AVG / .340 OBP / .503 SLG / .843 OPS) *

Vermont – Eric Marinez (241 PA / 1 HR / .251 AVG / .261 OBP / .332 SLG / .593 OPS)

AZL A’s – Casey Thomas (133 PA / 0 HR / .258 AVG / .300 OBP / .275 SLG / .575 OPS)

 

STARTING PITCHER

Nashville – Daniel Mengden (98 1/3 IP / 69 H / 16 ER / 29 BB / 95 K / 1.46 ERA / 1.00 WHIP) *

Midland – Daniel Gossett (153 2/3 IP / 125 H / 46 ER / 41 BB / 151 K / 2.69 ERA / 1.08 WHIP) *

Stockton – Heath Fillmyer (134 IP / 132 H / 49 ER / 39 BB / 118 K / 3.29 ERA / 1.28 WHIP) *

Beloit – Evan Manarino (150 IP / 135 H / 33 ER / 28 BB / 121 K / 1.98 ERA / 1.09 WHIP) *

Vermont – Xavier Altamirano (91 1/3 IP / 91 H / 32 ER / 21 BB / 75 K / 3.15 ERA / 1.23 WHIP) *

AZL A’s – Argenis Blanco (60 2/3 IP / 58 H / 17 ER / 17 BB / 48 K / 2.52 ERA / 1.24 WHIP)

 

CLOSER

Nashville – Tucker Healy (52 1/3 IP / 38 H / 21 ER / 26 BB / 76 K / 3.61 ERA / 1.22 WHIP / 8 SV)

Midland – Bobby Wahl (54 1/3 IP / 36 H / 16 ER / 28 BB / 65 K / 2.65 ERA / 1.18 WHIP / 14 SV) *

Stockton – Cody Stull (61 2/3 IP / 56 H / 11 ER / 14 BB / 65 K / 1.61 ERA / 1.14 WHIP / 6 SV) *

Beloit – Jared Lyons (59 2/3 IP / 47 H / 14 ER / 20 BB / 71 K / 2.11 ERA / 1.12 WHIP / 7 SV) *

Vermont – Dalton Sawyer (18 2/3 IP / 15 H / 7 ER / 10 BB / 26 K / 3.38 ERA / 1.34 WHIP / 3 SV)

AZL A’s – Joseph Camacho (29 2/3 IP / 27 H / 10 ER / 6 BB / 22 K / 3.03 ERA / 1.11 WHIP / 3 SV)

 

Click here to see A’s Farm’s 2016 Post-Season Organizational All-Star Team…

15 Prospects Who Could Play Key Roles for A’s in 2017

Ryon Healy

A’s infielder Ryon Healy

After the team’s second consecutive losing season, the A’s roster is currently in just about as much flux as it’s been at any time in the club’s recent history. It’s anyone’s guess who will remain from the current roster when next season begins, but one thing seems certain. The team could be ready to offer more opportunities to its top prospects than it has been in a long, long time.

Already this season, prospects like Ryon Healy, Bruce Maxwell, Chad Pinder, Joey Wendle, Arismendy Alcantara, Daniel Mengden and Dillon Overton have seen time with the big league club, and even more top young players could be making their debuts with the A’s come 2017.

Of course, no one knows what the front office may do in the offseason. But if the team decides to commit to developing the next generation of the green and gold around a core of young prospects currently in the A’s system, here are a number of players who could play key roles next year. (For the purposes of this piece, players over the age of 26 aren’t considered “prospects.”)

 

rh592387cRyon Healy

Third Baseman/First Baseman

Age: 24

If any prospect is bound to play a prominent role for the A’s in 2017, it’s likely to be Ryon Healy. He spent a little more than half the season in the minor leagues, where he was the best hitter in the A’s system over the first three months of the season, putting up an impressive .326/.382/.558 slash line over a combined 85 games for Nashville and Midland. And in his seven weeks with the A’s, he’s hitting .287 with 11 doubles and 6 home runs. Healy’s clearly capable of playing third base, but he may be better-suited to play first base. His ability to play both the corner spots allows the front office some flexibility this offseason. But wherever he ends up starting next year, it seems pretty clear that Healy will find his name somewhere on the lineup card for the A’s in 2017.

 

aa570489bArismendy Alcantara

Second Baseman/Shortstop/Outfielder

Age: 24

Acquired from the Cubs early this summer for Chris Coghlan, Alcantara is a versatile player who’s spent time at shortstop, second base, third base and in the outfield in his minor league career. And even though he might not be a standout at any of those positions, we all know how much the A’s value versatility. Alcantara will also be out of options next season, so the team could end up losing him if he doesn’t make the roster. And it’s not hard to imagine an opening day A’s squad with the speedy and versatile Alcantara serving as the ultimate utility man and the 13th position player on the roster.

 

bm622194bBruce Maxwell

Catcher

Age: 25

Maxwell was one of Nashville’s best hitters this season, putting up a .321/.393/.539 slash line for the Sounds. The backstop also impressed manager Bob Melvin and the A’s coaching staff this spring with his work behind the dish. So it seemed likely that the team would want to get a look at him at the major league level at some point this season. Maxwell’s yet to make his mark at the plate in the majors, going 4 for 32 in his first 13 games, but that could turn around at any time and he is considered to be a capable major league receiver. So if Oakland should decide to move Steven Vogt or Josh Phegley this offseason, or if injuries should sideline either of them, Maxwell appears the most likely candidate to claim a spot in the A’s catching corps.

 

jw621563dJoey Wendle

Second Baseman

Age: 26

After coming to the A’s organization from Cleveland at the end of 2014 in the Brandon Moss trade, Wendle finally made his major league debut with the A’s this week. A steady if not flashy player, Wendle was leading the Sounds in hits, runs and total bases and his 52 extra-base hits tied him for the second most among A’s minor leaguers when he was promoted from Nashville. The team is planning to platoon the lefty-hitting Wendle with the righty-swinging Chad Pinder at second base for the rest of the season. And depending on how they perform, it’s possible that platoon could last into next season as well.

 

cp640461bChad Pinder

Shortstop/Second Baseman

Age: 24

The A’s third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Pinder pushed his way through the system fairly quickly while playing both shortstop and second base. He was named the Texas League Player of the Year as the everyday shortstop at Double-A Midland last season, and his 14 home runs this year trailed only Renato Nunez and Matt Olson among his Nashville teammates. Pinder will be serving as the right-handed half of the A’s second base platoon for the rest of the season and, depending on what happens, that platoon could persist into next season. But since Pinder also has plenty of experience at both shortstop and third base, it’s always possible that he could find a spot on the roster as the A’s utility infielder next year as well.

 

jb595144bJaycob Brugman

Outfielder

Age: 24

Over the first few months of the season, Brugman was probably the second-best overall hitter in the A’s system next to Ryon Healy, and he’s had an outstanding season while primarily playing center field and batting leadoff for Nashville and Midland. He currently has the second most hits and total bases among A’s minor leaguers as well as the third most doubles, triples and RBIs. Much like Wendle, Brugman’s a steady if not flashy player, but his consistent play has earned him some fans in the A’s front office and he could potentially see some time in the majors this month once Nashville’s postseason run is over. There may be some openings in the A’s outfield mix next season and, as a solid left-handed hitter, Brugman could potentially serve as the left-hander half of a platoon in center field or right field for the A’s next year.

 

mo621566Matt Olson

First Baseman/Outfielder

Age: 22

The A’s third overall pick in the 2012 draft, Olson has always been considered one of the top power prospects in the organization. His 34 doubles for Nashville are a team high, while his 17 home runs trail only teammate Renato Nunez on the Sounds, and his 71 walks are the most among all A’s minor leaguers. Olson struggled early in the season but has put up a solid .259/.345/.482 slash line in the second half. He’s made about two-thirds of his starts in right field this season and, while he’s a capable outfield defender, Olson is known as a top-notch defender at first base. He’s still just 22, so there’s no rush. But if the A’s decide to go all in on their youth movement in 2017 then, as a left-handed hitter with strong platoon splits, Olson could find a spot as the left-handed half of a platoon either at first base or in right field for the A’s at some point next season.

 

rn600524eRenato Nunez

Third Baseman/Designated Hitter

Age: 22

Along with Olson, Nunez has been considered one of the top young power prospects in the A’s system for a few years now. And his 23 home runs this season are the most at Nashville and the second most among all A’s minor leaguers next to Matt Chapman. He got off to a hot start early this season. And when Billy Butler was still struggling with the A’s, many were calling for Nunez to be called up and put in the designated hitter spot. Nunez’s defense at third base has always been a bit suspect, and he’s recently begun getting some starts in left field while also spending more time serving as the Sounds’ DH. Like Olson, he’s just 22, so he’s still got some time. But if Oakland should decide to cut ties with Butler one way or another this offseason, it could make it much more likely that the young power hitter will get a long look with the A’s sometime next season.

 

mc656305eMatt Chapman

Third Baseman

Age: 23

The A’s 1st-round draft pick in 2014, Chapman has been considered a top prospect from the moment he was drafted, primarily based on his defensive abilities and his power potential. He clearly has a cannon for an arm, and he’s currently leading all A’s minor leaguers with 33 home runs. After belting 29 bombs in the unfriendly confines of the Texas League, Chapman was promoted to Nashville a little over two weeks ago and has since hit 4 more for the Sounds. [Update: Chapman hit 3 home runs in Saturday’s game and now has 7 for the Sounds.] He deeply impressed A’s manager Bob Melvin in spring training, who seemed sad to see him go. And now that he’s in Triple-A, the 23-year-old is just one step away from the majors. It seems clear that another strong spring could get the A’s to start thinking about moving Healy across the diamond so that they can install Chapman at the hot corner sooner rather than later.

 

fb620439Franklin Barreto

Shortstop/Second Baseman

Age: 20

Barreto has been viewed as the A’s top young hitting prospect ever since his arrival from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. And since joining the A’s system, the 20-year-old Venezuelan has followed a pattern of starting out slow each season and then catching on fire in the second half, and this year has been no exception. Barreto boasts a .320/.381/.467 slash line over the last 90 days, and his hot finish earned him a promotion from Midland to Nashville on the last day of August, so he’ll now have the opportunity to compete in postseason play for the Sounds. Barreto’s still just 20, but like Chapman, he’ll be finishing the season just one step away from the majors. Though he’s spent most of his minor league career as a shortstop, he’s also gotten some starts this season at second base. And coincidentally, that could be a key area of competition for the A’s this spring. Barreto will get his shot in the big leagues sooner or later and, if he keeps swinging a big bat, the A’s could decide he’s their best bet in 2017.

 

dm596043cDaniel Mengden

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 23

Mengden is set to be the first pitching prospect called up by the A’s with September’s expanded rosters. He looked impressive in his first 4 outings for Oakland this season, allowing just 8 earned runs over 4 starts in June, but he struggled in his next 5 appearances, giving up a total of 23 earned runs in 5 July starts before being sent back to Nashville. Mengden impressed after returning to Music City, putting up a 2.10 ERA in 6 starts for the Sounds. And overall, in 17 minor league starts this season, Mengden has posted an impressive 1.46 ERA while striking out 95 in 98 1/3 innings of work. The 23-year-old admittedly was feeling a little worn down after hitting a career-high in innings pitched this season. But after a little R & R in the offseason, if Mengden can return to the form he flashed in his first 4 big league starts, then he could put himself in contention for a return to the majors again next season.

 

do592614cDillon Overton

Left-Handed Pitcher

Age: 25

Overton made 5 starts for Oakland this season and mostly struggled, putting up a 10.97 ERA in his time with the A’s. But he was one of the best starters in the Pacific Coast League this season. His 3.29 ERA is currently the fifth best in the league and he’s struck out 105 in 125 2/3 innings for the Sounds. There’s obviously a big difference between what it takes to succeed at Triple-A and what it takes to make it in the majors. The A’s have been hoping that Overton’s velocity would tick up another notch since his return from Tommy John surgery. And if he could manage to add just a couple miles an hour to his fastball next season, it could make a world of difference. It’s also possible that the A’s front office could ultimately decide that Overton’s arm is better-suited to the bullpen and could take the opportunity to see how he fares as either a long reliever or a situational lefty.

 

jc605194bJharel Cotton

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 24

After coming to the A’s as part of a trio of talented young arms the team snagged from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal, Cotton made a strong impression when he came within one out of throwing a perfect game in his second start for Nashville. The 24-year-old has posted a 2.86 ERA in 6 starts for the Sounds and appears poised to claim the Pacific Coast League strikeout crown with 155 K’s in 135 2/3 innings of work this season. Cotton has consistently tallied big strikeout totals. His mid-90s fastball and his solid changeup have enabled him to succeed at the Triple-A level and, with a strong spring, he could put himself into contention for a spot in the major league rotation next season.

 

ra593417cRaul Alcantara

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 23

Alcantara has been a prominent pitching prospect in the A’s system since coming over from the Red Sox, along with Josh Reddick, following the 2011 season. Tommy John surgery slowed down his progress, but he’s made quite an impression in the second half this season, putting up a 1.18 ERA in 8 starts since joining Nashville in July. He’s yet to have a bad start at the Triple-A level, and it appears that Alcantara could finally be reaching his potential. He’s still just 23, but he’s been on the A’s 40-man roster for some time, so his option years are winding down, and the A’s may feel some pressure to give him a shot soon. He’s pitching as well as anyone at Nashville right now. So why not strike while the iron is hot? And Alcantara’s arm has certainly been as hot as anyone’s in the second half of 2016.

 

fm593423bFrankie Montas

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age: 23

Montas is the only one of the three arms the A’s acquired from the Dodgers who comes with major league experience. He made 7 appearances with the White Sox in 2015 before being dealt to the Dodgers prior to the 2016 season. Surgery during the offseason followed by a broken rib have sidelined Montas for most of the year. He only threw 16 innings in the Dodgers’ system this season, but he’s set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, so the A’s front office will get a chance to get a good look at him before next spring. The Dominican righty boasts a 100+ mph fastball, and he’s struck out an average of 9.3 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career. Montas has mainly appeared as a starter in the minors. And if he looks strong in his return to action, the A’s could give him a shot at a rotation spot next year, or they could always choose to put his power arm in the bullpen and see how it plays out there.

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Exclusive: Get an Inside Look at Nashville’s Top Prospects from Sounds Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez & Hitting Coach Eric Martins

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bRick Rodriguez served as the long-time pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats, where he had a hand in developing a number of the A’s most talented pitchers over the past many years. When the A’s Triple-A affiliate moved to Nashville last season, the northern California native remained on the west coast with the Single-A Stockton Ports. But this year, he’s back in Triple-A with the Sounds helping to develop another crop of talented young arms for the A’s.

Eric Martins was the A’s 17th-round draft pick in 1994 and spent parts of seven seasons as an infielder in the A’s minor league system. After his playing career came to an end, the southern California native signed on as a scout for the A’s. He made the move to coaching last year, when he served as the hitting coach for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, and he’s now handling some of the team’s top young hitters this year at Nashville.

We took the opportunity to talk with both of them about some of the A’s most promising prospects last week in Nashville…

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRodriguez, Rick2AF:  Well, we’ve checked in with you each of the past four seasons, but this is the first time you haven’t been in California. You’ve been a coach with Oakland, Stockton and the Sacramento River Cats, and you pitched for both the A’s and Giants, so when’s the last time in your career that you actually spent a full season outside of California?

RR:  It might have been back twenty-something years when I was with the Cleveland Indians back in 1988. That might have been the last time. But yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve been out of the state.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about a few of the arms you’ve got here at Nashville this year, some of whom you actually had for part of the year with Stockton last year too. Let’s start with Dillon Overton, who came back from Tommy John surgery. He’s had a great year here at Nashville and he’s been up and down a bit with Oakland. So what have you seen out of him here at Nashville this year and what does he need to do to get over the hump to become a long-term major league pitcher?

do592614dRR:  When he first started here, I think he was trying to feel himself out in the league. Now that he’s had some innings in, he feels comfortable here. He knows he can pitch at this level and at the next. Basically, the same as last year – he has good command of his fastball and a great changeup. He’s still working on his curveball, and he’s added a cut fastball – and I think that’s kind of helped him. And once he gets that cut fastball and maybe a little bit more consistency on his curveball, then he’ll be ready to handle all the big league hitters up there.

AF:  Is his velocity about where it was last year when you had him at Stcokton or has it changed it all?

RR:  It’s probably about the same. On any given start, sometimes it’s a little higher or maybe a little lower, but it’s roughly about the same. But his location has been very consistent.

AF:  Well, his command is obviously the thing for him. Another guy you had for a bit at Stockton last year is Daniel Mengden. He obviously got off to a great start this year, both at Midland and here at Nashville. And his first four starts for Oakland were really solid as well. So what really enabled him to make that leap this year and what does he need to do to get back to that level again?

dm596043bRR:  One thing that he was doing here was he was very consistent at getting ahead of hitters and, when he was ahead of hitters, he was able to put them away. I think that’s what he needs to get back to, and I think that’s what he needs to do to get over that hump in Oakland. He was doing that really, really well for the first few starts. Then it kind of got away from him and he was getting deeper into counts. So getting him back to where he was here – like I said, he was being able to put hitters away early in the count with his pitches. He’s another guy who has tremendous stuff and tremendous command. You know, sometimes you might get a little off-kilter, so we’re just trying to get him back on line.

AF:  It seemed like he had a lot more first-pitch strikes down here and in his first few starts with Oakland than in his last few starts there anyway.

RR:  Yeah, that’s what he was telling me when he came in and I talked to him for a little bit. I just told him, “Hey, we’re going to get you back right where you were and you’re going to be back up there.”

AF:  So I guess he knows what he needs to work on then – no one needs to tell him.

RR:  He knows what he needs to work on. He’s well aware of it and he’s ready to do it.

ra593417cAF:  Now a guy who’s had a couple of great starts since coming up here is Raul Alcantara. He was a little hot and cold this year at Midland, but he comes up here and he doesn’t seem to want to walk anyone or give up a run or anything. So what do you think of what you’ve seen out of him here at Nashville so far?

RR:  Well, he’s another guy I had in Stockton last year! He’s shown very good command of his fastball. Last year the velocity was there, the command was okay. His command of his fastball is a lot better. His changeup is kind of what I remember. It’s almost like a split-action type – it’s late, it’s hard, it goes down, hitters swing at it. He’s still working on his curveball to get that a little more consistent break – and I’ve seen more consistency in the action on the curveball. It still needs to be a little bit more improved but, other than that, he’s dominating so far. I hope it keeps going, especially the no walks!

AF:  Yeah, I’m sure that makes a pitching coach’s life a whole lot easier! Now Jesse Hahn has been up and down this season, but his last start in Oakland was really on point. But why do you feel he’s had the struggles he’s had this year, where do you think he’s at right now and what’s he got to do to get back to where he was?

jh534910bRR:  I think he’s right where he wants to be. Right when he was called up, he was working all his mechanical issues out and he was in a rhythm and it showed up there in Oakland. And we’re just going to continue the work that we’ve been doing here with his rhythm and tempo and mechanics. The one thing that I think he needs to do is just be consistent in his outings, pitch by pitch, just be consistent – that’s a big thing for him.

AF:  One guy out of the bullpen it seems has been overlooked a bit this year is Tucker Healy. He’s certainly been racking up the strikeouts at a good pace. What have you seen out of him here this year?

RR:  I had Tucker a couple years ago his first time in Sacramento, and now here. And the big difference is he’s matured in that he knows how to handle the hitters. He’s very aggressive, he goes right after them. He’s got command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and he’s got that nasty slider that he throws. He just comes right at you – and that’s the biggest thing. I told him, “You look more confident in that you know what you want to do up here.”

AF:  Is there anyone else on the staff who you feel has really made significant progress over the course of the year here?

RR:  Oh man, everybody! Patrick Schuster is a guy who got off to a tremendous start. He’s a left-handed guy who’s more than a left-handed specialist. He did very well here and got a promotion up to Oakland. He’s back down here now, but I look forward to him going back up. Ryan Brasier has been throwing the ball very well. He’s got a power fastball and a good hard slider, and I’m looking for good things out of him.

 

ERIC MARTINS

emMartins, Eric2AF:  Let’s start out by talking about a couple of guys you had here this year who are now in Oakland. Catcher Bruce Maxwell really went on quite a tear here in Nashville before he went up and something really seemed to click for him here lately.

EM:  Well, that’s one of my special ones. They’re all special to me, but Bruce and I had a really good relationship. We tried to change him in the past to make him more of a pull power guy. And I came in last year and said, “Hey, let’s make you the hitter that you are and we’ll work on our pull side home runs.” And he’s really grinded it out and really gotten after it and set up a good routine and got back to being the hitter that he was comfortable being in college. Now everything’s kind of clicking on all cyclinders. Starting in spring training, he made some adjustments to his stance and his swing, and he really took off with it. Things just started to come together for him and he went on an impressive run. He’s one of the hardest-working guys around. He’s usually here before everybody – he’s here at 11 o’clock, he’s out stretching, he’s doing his routine – and we’ll just talk hitting. He’s one of those guys who’s real receptive and real into what he’s trying to do and takes instruction and suggestions well and runs with it. And it’s good to see him doing what he did finally.

AF:  Another guy you had here for a brief period of time before he went up to Oakland is infielder Ryon Healy, who was hot from day one this season. So what was working for Ryon Healy and what was he doing right this season?

rh592387bEM:  Well, we all know Healy can hit. I had him last year too and he had a great season in Double-A. The power numbers weren’t there and I just kept preaching to him, “Be a hitter first, your power’s going to come.” And I got to see him this offseason out in southern California. I got to work with him and Matt Chapman and couple other guys a lot during the offseason. And, of course, he was disappointed with spring training, not coming into big league camp, and having to go back to Midland. And he used that as fuel for his fire to prove people wrong. We’d have some conversations and I said, “Hey, just use that against them, force their hand.” And he did it. He came here and he was with his buddies, and there was a comfort level with his teammates and with myself, and we just kept him on track. He’s special hitter, and he understands his swing. And he’s another that I’m proud of. Just seeing him going up and having success and doing well up there, we all know what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on kind of a similar path as Healy this year is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He started out the year back at Midland, hit well there and came up here to Nashville and has continued to hit well here. So what kind of improvements have you seen out of Brugman this year?

jb595144bEM:  Brugman is just a great baseball player. He can go out and play all three outfield positions and play them well. He made some tweaks with his hands in the Arizona Fall League. When I saw him in spring training, that obviously was noticeable. And he really liked it – it got him into a better position to be able to drive balls a little bit more. He’s just a smart hitter, he really studies the pitchers. He has a real solid approach, he doesn’t stray away from his approach, and he’s going to give you a quality at-bat every time he’s up there. He’s done a great job. He went on a tear when he first got here where he was carrying the team, and it was unbelievable. I had Bruggy last year, and seeing him carry us through the playoffs was outstanding – and the year before, when he hit like ten home runs in ten games at Stockton. So he’s got that capability in him. Like I said, he’s going to give you a quality at-bat, he’s not going to back down lefty or righty, he studies the pitchers and he stays true to his approach.

AF:  Now Matt Olson started out the season kind of slow, but it seems like maybe things are starting to click a bit for him lately. Can you tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at now?

mo621566EM:  You know, people seem to forget how young this team is. He’s only 22 years old playing in Triple-A, facing guys who have been up and down in the big leagues probably for the last five or six years, even when he was still in high school. I think the biggest adjustment for him was just understanding how pitchers were going to pitch him. They started playing him in the shift a little bit early in the year, which took away a lot of hits. Once again, he’s in another non-hitter-friendly ballpark. So all that taken into consideration, he’s handled it well and he’s stayed true to form. And we’ve made some adjustments with his approach. There’s a couple of little mechanical things with him. He was kind of coming off balls, and teams were trying to pound him in, and he was probably going out of the zone inside. So we kind of changed him staying over the ball a little bit and working on driving the ball to left-center field, and he’s kind of run with it. He’s finally taken it and stuck with it for a while and not given in to what the pitcher’s trying to do to him, but getting a good pitch for him to hit. And the last three weeks or whatever, he’s stayed true to form. He’s staying in there and having really good at-bats, and now he’s starting to show what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on a bit of a similar track as Olson is shortstop Chad Pinder. He started out the season a little slow as well but wound up being a Triple-A All-Star. So tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at at this point.

EM:  Like I said with Olson, just being young in this league and understanding how pitchers are going to pitch him. He’s coming off a Texas League MVP, so pitchers and other teams know about Pinder. So he’s just going to have to go out and really understand what they’re going to try to do to him. Probably about a month or a month and a half into the season, we did a little mechanical change where we spread him out a little bit to get him to a strong part of the field, which is right-center field. And he really took off then, had a real good June, carried the team, and started hitting some home runs and started driving the ball the other way. And now we’ve kind of stood him back up to where he normally is because now he’s sound on those balls out over the plate. You know, Pinder’s another one of those guys who’s just a hard-nosed player – he wants to win, he doesn’t care too much about his stats, he’s a baseball player, he’s a gamer, he’s a guy who’s going to go out and give you 110% each day. And it’s fun to see him develop into the hitter that he is. He’s a smart guy, he understands what he wants to do. He’ll go through his little spurts every once in a while, but he easily corrects himself. And if I see something, I can tell him, and he’s quick to make an adjustment. And he’s another guy, this core that we have, that’s special.

cp640461cAF:  As a former infielder yourself, I don’t know how much time you’ve spent with him in the field. But he had a lot of throwing errors, especially early in the season. So is there anything you noticed that was casuing him to be off with his throwing this year?

EM:  Yeah, he worked a lot with Ron Washington during spring training, which was outstanding – Wash is the best that there is. Pinder’s more of a rhythmic infielder, and a lot of the stuff that he did with Wash was hand work and stuff like that. But he kind of forgot how to be in rhythm with his feet, so that’s why his hands and his feet weren’t working and he was losing his arm slot a little bit. And you know, it was really bothering him. And me having him last year and getting to work with him in the infield, I kind of started noticing some stuff and we kind of got him back into being a little bit more rhythmic and doing the stuff that Wash has and incorporating his footwork on top of that with his throws. And I think he made like thirteen errors in the first month of the season, and in the last two months it’s only been like eight or nine. So he’s on top of it. We seem to forget that last year was his first full year playing shortstop too, so he’s still kind of learning some things. He’s picked up a lot from Wash, which has been outstanding. His hands are…I can’t say enough about Wash and what he does with the infielders!

AF:  So I guess you can definitely see the difference between pre-Wash Pinder and post-Wash Pinder!

EM:  Absolutely! So now he’s started incorporating his feet and his arm slot has gotten in a better throwing position, and now he’s right where he needs to be.

AF:  And one last guy to ask you about, third baseman Renato Nunez. He started out the season as probably this team’s best hitter. He still leads the team in home runs, but he’s had some struggles of late. So what’s been going on with him and what kind of challenges is he facing at this stage of the game?

EM:  I think Renato’s the same way – he’s 22 years old. Early in the year, he was just one of those guys who was locked in, and then the league figured him out a little bit. And he started having some at-bats where he was kind of chasing some balls and started looking for some pitches they wanted to get him out with instead of looking for pitches that he wanted to hit. So it was an ongoing struggle with an approach with him – nothing too mechanical – I think with him it was just trying to do a little bit too much. He started on fire, and I think he felt that if he just kept it going he could be there instead of Healy.

rn600524eAF:  Hey, this is going to be easy!

EM:  But you know what, this game humbled him real quick. But he’s a hard worker. I don’t really worry about him because he can hit – he’s a hitter, he has power, he’s got a chance to be a special guy in the middle of the lineup, hopefully for us. But he’s getting back now. His last week’s at-bats have been outstanding. Yesterday he had four quality at-bats and barreled up four baseballs and had one hit to show for it, but he had a sac fly. So it’s just him getting used to looking for his pitch and not trying to hit the pitch that he thinks the pitcher’s going to try to get him out with.

AF:  Now I know you started out as a scout for the A’s. So what made you want to switch over to coaching?

EM:  Well, I love scouting, I can’t thank [A’s scouting director] Erick Kubota enough for giving me an opportunity when I was done playing. I’d always done instructional league, which I love – I love being on the field, I love being around the players. And [A’s director of player development] Keith Lieppman called me a couple offseasons ago. I had drafted Daniel Robertson, and he was going to be in Midland last year – I’m not saying he was the reason why I took the coaching job but it was a good opportunity for me to be around him and that core group of guys that he came up with and see him flourish and help those guys. It was a situation where I thought I was ready to get back on the field. And I love the fact that I did it. Like I said, I love scouting and I love the scouting department. But now, having done both, it’s just opened up my eyes a lot. The scouting has helped me help these hitters on top of it, and I just really enjoy being around these guys.

AF:  So have you found it more fulfilling to have the opportunity to work a little more hands-on with these guys?

EM:  You know, both work. But now that I have an opportunity to work with these kids in Double-A and Triple-A and see them get to the big leagues and see that you have a little bit of a part in it…but with these guys, it’s all their ability. We just kind of keep guiding them in the right direction and give them some suggestions to help them out and that’s fulfilling. You see Bruce Maxwell and Ryon Healy up there, having had them the last couple years, it really is fulfilling seeing those guys up there performing.

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Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on Nashville’s Top Prospects from Sounds Skipper Steve Scarsone

ssscarsone_steveAfter spending parts of seven seasons as a big league infielder, Steve Scarsone has now spent eight seasons managing in the A’s minor league system. He’s currently midway through his fourth season managing at Triple-A and his second season in Nashville, where his team currently holds a nine-game lead in its division.

Whereas last year’s Sounds squad was full of seasoned veterans, Scarsone is handling a team filled with promising young prospects this season. We took the opportunity to talk with the skipper in Nashville last week to get his take on some of the team’s top players…

 

AF:  You’re in your second year here in Nashville now, and it’s kind of a different team than you had last year. You’ve got a lot of younger prospects here this year, and I wanted to start out by asking you about a couple of guys you’ve had here this year who are already up in the big leagues. First of all, catcher Bruce Maxwell was on a real tear here this year when he got called up, and he really seemed to make a big leap forward this year. So what did you see happen for him over the course of this season to get where he’s at now?

bm622194cSS:  I think, more than anything, he found a sense of confidence and he started feeling like he belonged at this level, and probably the next. I think it had a lot to do with just getting a chance to play through some things. The bat wasn’t showing up early but the defense was okay. He really thrived off of working with this pitching staff – they’re all young guys he’s had before. They enjoyed throwing to him, he knew that, and he had a good rapport with them. And so he was building confidence with his teammates. [Hitting coach] Eric Martins did a phenomenal job keeping him focused on what he needed to do at the plate. I know that he worked very well and closely with Rick Rodriguez, our pitching coach, when it comes to the game plan with the pitchers and how to get hitters out, and I think that started generating a little bit of confidence. And then he and I got along very well. So I think he was just in a great environment here, the team was good, he felt confident with them, and he had already played with half of them. And then he started to feel a little something happening on the field, and I think it all kind of snowballed from there. You can see his openness and his increased focus within the game. He kind of got away from beating himself up after at-bats – he moved on much easier. Actually, it was a great transformation to get a chance to be a part of. We were so happy to let him know that he was going to go up – that was a joy for all of us.

AF: Well, it sounds like he gained a lot of confidence and just really came into his own this season. Now Ryon Healy is a guy who started out the year hot at Midland, then he came here in May and continued hitting up a storm, and now he’s up starting in the big leagues. So what did you see out of him over the time that he was here?

rh592387bSS:  I think that if you go back to spring when he did not get invited to [major league] camp, from what I heard though the grapevine in minor league camp, he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder – he was out to prove something. He started the year at Midland and did prove something and got himself here. His stay here was short. He made his mark. He continued to play with a little bit of an edge. I know we had conversations where I said, “Listen, I’m not going to treat you like I’m excited to have you here. I’m going to treat you like you still have to prove something – to me, to them. I think that’s the edge that you need.” And I think he kind of agreed with me. He’s obviously very talented, he’s got a great head on his shoulders, he’s smart, he knows what he needs to do, and I’d like to see him continue to have success up there.

AF:  As a former infielder yourself, how did you feel about his abilities at third base when he was here?

SS:  Well, we have Renato Nunez here, so he really didn’t play that many games at third base. He mostly played first base and DH’d. But there really wasn’t anything that stood out that had to be fixed. The glove was good, the arm was good, the footwork was what it is. He’s a big boy, so he’s not going to be as agile as some guys, but he’s going to make the plays and he’s going to be smart about what he’s going to do. And that’s what I thought was definitely going to be a plus for him – I knew that he was going to be able to think the game out and put himself maybe a step or two ahead of the play because he’s got an understanding of the situation.

AF:  Now I wanted to ask you about a guy you just mentioned, Renato Nunez. The first couple months of the season, he was one of your best hitters here, and he still leads the team in home runs, but things started to tail off for him in June and July. So what challenges is he facing at this stage of the game?

rn600524eSS:  I think he’s still trying to figure out how he wants to hit in the big scheme of things. The power numbers have obviously given him an opportunity to get to this level and put him on the map. He’s still a young guy, and some nights he’s smart about his at-bats and he takes what the pitcher gives him and he’s willing to go the other way. But other nights it seems like he’s going all or nothing and finds himself swinging at balls out of the zone and getting himself behind in the count or going down on strikes on pitches he probably should have no reason to swing at. But that’s the struggle as well as the benefit of youth. We know he’s going through some of these changes. He’s starting to kind of get a better idea of what’s happening and what the pitchers are trying to do to him, and this is all just part of the process. You’ll see it in the big leagues, guys will go up and have a great month or two and then the league figures them out the second time through. And then the hitter either falls to the wayside and we go to the next guy or he makes his adjustments and starts to become something that we hope he would be. And I think that’s where Renato is right now. It’s his second time through the league now and he’s starting to sense what’s happening. And I think if you look over the last five to ten games, they’re becoming much better quality at-bats. And this is just part of the process. We’re talking about a 22-year-old kid – I mean, he shouldn’t even be here yet anyway. He does have the power – that’s not going to go away. If this level here can help him develop himself into a better all-around hitter with power, well he’s just going to be better as a big league player down the road.

AF:  Another young guy who’s had to make some adjustments this year is Matt Olson. He got off to a rough start early on, but it seems like maybe he’s starting to get into a little bit of a groove lately. What challenges do you think he’s faced this year in Triple-A and where do feel he’s at at this stage in the season?

mo621566SS:  I like where he’s at right now. I think he’ll agree that he’s made some transitions, he’s made adjustments, along the same lines that Nunez has done. The only difference between the two is Olson did not get off to a good start and found himself battling with numbers that kind of were hard for him to swallow early on, hitting around .200. Those things were rough, but yet he was still having some quality at-bats. Then recently, over the last three weeks to a month, things are starting to drop for him and the hits are coming, which turns into a little bit more confidence. Now he’s getting himself in a better situation evey at-bat, and he’s having much more success. Had he gotten off to a start that was at least .250, I don’t think we would have looked at him like he’s struggling. But we’re seeing Olson with a positive climb now, and I think that too can be very beneficial for young players. Again, a young guy 22 years old, he definitely now can go back and say, “Okay, I had to make this adjustment, and now it’s paying off.” That’s as valuable as coming out and hitting .300 from the get-go and thinking things are all sweet and happy, and the next thing you know, he gets to the big leagues, and all of a sudden – bam, right in the face, reality hits him! I would rather these guys struggle a little bit here, make some adjustments, so that they can then have something to draw from as they make the next step, because they just might struggle up there with no safety net. At least down here, we’re building a little bit of a safety net so they have something to draw back on to hopefully keep that struggle time shorter when it really matters.

AF:  So they know what it’s all about as opposed to thinking that everything’s going to be a piece of cake…

SS:  It’s not an easy game! And the quicker they get to find that out without all the media and all the eyes on them…then when they are in that situation, they have a little bit more groundedness to them, and hopefully that’ll give them a better foundation to build on.

AF:  And then another guy in that group is shortstop Chad Pinder. He started out kind of slow like Olson but ended up being a Triple-A All-Star. He’s been kind of hot and cold this season, but what do you think of Pinder’s season and where he’s at at this point?

cp640461cSS:  I think Chad’s done a really good job of trying to continue to be a contributor on the team. You know, he probably doesn’t have all the upside of some of the guys we talked about earlier, but he might end up being the guy who stays up there longer because he has some consistency in his game and there’s really some substance there that has shown itself day in and day out. There’s a competitiveness, there’s a kind of intelligence about the game and obviously some ability. Whether he’s going to be a shortstop in the big leagues, that’s yet to be seen. But in his time here and his experience here at shortstop, we’ve seen some improvement, we’ve seen some changes that have been implemented through all the work he’s been doing. He’s just kind of one of those guys who could become like a foundation of an infield or an outfield where you look up in a couple years and say, “Oh yeah, he’s supposed to be here.” So I like what he’s done, he’s a great teammate and everybody really enjoys him. He plays hard, works hard and has fun doing it. And those are the guys you hope get a chance to have a little success at the major league level.

AF:  A lot of his errors this season seem to be throwing errors. Again, as a former infielder yourself, do you have a sense of what the problem may be that he’s been having with his throws?

SS:  It’s a number of things. Some of it’s mechanics. We’ve worked on different things, from footwork all the way up. We’ve implemented some of the drills that Ron Washington presented to him and to myself during spring training, so we’ve continued on with those. Sometimes he just doesn’t quite get in the right position to throw because of the way the play presents itself. Other times it’s kind of maybe trying to do too much, trying to be too quick and trying to catch up to the speed of the league a little bit. For all these guys, there has been a considerable amount of improvement over the past couple of months. You know, as much as I would love to say that each one of these guys is perfect, they’re not. But I can say that each one of them is improving and they’re getting to be more and more of a solid ballplayer, both offensively and defensively, which basically is what our objective is here at this level – to get them one step closer to where they’re going to be helpful for the big club.

AF:  Well, I guess that’s your job basically – just get them a little closer to where they need to be.

SS:  Yeah, yeah. It’s a slower process for some. But it is a process, and we understand that we have to go through that process.

AF:  And finally, you had a pretty veteran team here last year. So what’s it been like for you to have this much younger team here this year?

SS:  For me, it’s much more enjoyable in the sense that, as a teacher, there’s a lot more teaching going on. With an older group, you’re just trying to herd the cats and keep things from going astray. So this is more focused on continuing to build these guys up and get them better and better, whether it be physically, out on the field, or mentally or emotionally, just little opportunities to talk through the game and give them a little insight or give them a little different perspective on where their world’s at. They can have tunnel vision a little bit, and sometimes age provides some better vision, so we try to drop little nuggets on them every once in a while. But it’s been a great bunch of guys. They’ve played together for years now, so they have a good rapport, a good camaraderie, and it’s kind of blended out to the other guys who might be new to the organization. We’re just on a good little mission right now, and everybody’s just enjoying everybody’s contributions and friendship more than anything. It’s a happy bunch.

AF:  And everybody’s always a lot happier when you’re winning too!

SS:  But you could argue that we’re winning because we’re happy. So it could be one or the other – but they usually go hand in hand!

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Exclusive: Down on the Farm with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

gfDSC01787-1[2c]Long-time baseball man Grady Fuson served as the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when the team drafted such talented players as Eric ChavezTim HudsonMark MulderBarry Zito and Rich Harden. He left the A’s at the end of 2001 to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers and, after moving on to head up the Padres scouting department, Fuson eventually returned to Oakland a little over six years ago to serve as a special assistant to the front office.

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

Prior to the draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur players in preparation for draft day. But once the draft is complete, he typically begins a tour around the A’s system while also checking out some of the team’s potential targets prior to the trade deadline.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton a few days after the end of the major league All-Star break and a few days before the A’s added catcher Bruce Maxwell, whom we discussed, to the major league roster. And, as always, we were happy to have the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators to get the scoop on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects from throughout the system…

 

AF:  I know that once the draft is done, you usually hit the road for a bit. So where have you been since the draft?

GF:  I’ve been to Nashville. I’ve been to Midland. I’ve been to Arizona. I’ve been to Stockton – I had to leave, and now I’m back in Stockton.

AF:  I really wanted to start out primarily focusing on some of the guys who’ve been at Nashville this season. First of all, let’s start out with a guy who started the year at Double-A and passed everyone by and is now up with the A’s in the big leagues – Ryon Healy. He was probably the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this season. So what clicked for him this year?

rh592387cGF:  Well, first of all, I think, if you go back, it clicked last year. He really put together a good second half and played well coming down the stretch there last year as well. This year, you know, he came in with a chip on his shoulder. I think he knew during the spring that he was the only guy of that Double-A group who didn’t get a big league invite [to the A’s spring training camp]. So I think he put it in his head that he wasn’t going to Triple-A. And you could tell, even joking around, that he was somewhat pissed. So the first week and a half in [minor league] camp, all he’s doing is trying to jerk balls out of the ballpark. And so it took us about a week and a half to kind of calm him down and let him know that all he was going to do was wreak for himself. But, with that said, his mentality about attacking pitches and driving the baseball continues to improve. And that’s what he’s been doing all year. His strike zone’s getting better, so he’s hitting better pitches, and he’s attacking them. His power numbers have come up, his on-base percentage is up, and he’s hitting the ball to all fields. He’s done everything you’d hope for in a hitter.

AF:  Well, it sounds like he’s definitely been a good kind of aggressive. Another guy who was in a similar spot this season is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He also started the year kind of being left behind in Double-A. He hit really well there, got called up to Nashville and, next to Healy, he’s probably been one of the best hitters in the A’s system this season.

jb595144bGF:  Bruggy’s a very solid player. It’s hard to put all the upside together as far as him being like a star guy in the big leagues, but there’s no way you can count Jaycob out. This guy runs it, he throws it, he can swing it, he ambushes for a homer here and there, he can steal a base. And he’s also, offensively and defensively, probably one of the most fundamentally sound players we have on both sides of the baseball. He does things the way you’d teach it. Footwork in the outfield, reads routes, approach at the plate, swings at strikes, takes balls – you know, he’s got that skill set.

AF:  I know he’s always been talked about primarily as a corner outfielder, but he’s been playing a lot of center field this year at Nashville. So how do you feel about his abilities in center field?

GF:  Well, they’re good, they’re solid. They’re not off the charts. I don’t know that a lot of people are going to look at him and think he’s going to be our center fielder of the future. Can he play center field? Yes. Would be he a little bit exposed speed-wise if he was sitting in a big league outfield? Probably. There’s always going to be a burner who comes along and gets the same kind of reads with better speed. But I wouldn’t be afraid to put this guy in a big league center field anyway.

AF:  Another guy who’s really come on strong lately is catcher Bruce Maxwell. His average is up over .300 and he’s got nine or ten home runs now. So what’s been clicking for him?

bm622194cGF:  I think he’s starting to really have more competitive at-bats. I mean, he’s seeing it better. He’s more aggressive on balls in his zone. He’s not carving as many balls up in the big sky out in left-center as he did. He’s starting to feel the pull side of the ballpark with some backspin. There’s still a ways to go. But the bottom line is, as long as he can just be competitive with his at-bats and give you good at-bats, this guy’s going to find himself a job.

AF:  That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you about – how do you feel about his development as a catcher? I know a lot of time and effort has gone into that over the years for him.

GF:  That’s the one thing that’s been pretty good the last few years. He’s really developed himself into an above-average receiver. He’s got very good exchange, and timing and rhythm throwing. He’s become very accurate – he’s worked on it. He still gets exposed with his flexibility as far as sometimes blocking if balls take him way out to the sides. But Brucie’s done a good job – I’m proud of him.

AF:  Now a guy who started out the season slow but ended up being a Triple-A all-star is Nashville shortstop Chad Pinder. He got off to a rough start but seems to have turned things around a bit now. So where do you feel he’s at in the development curve?

cp640461cGF:  I still think there’s some room to go with Chad. He’s had some defensive lapses in Triple-A that he did not show last year in Double-A. I think a lot of it’s throwing. I personally mentioned it to him when I was in there that he’s dropping down. He’s really such a beautiful thrower from a high ¾ spot – that’s gotten away from him a little bit. He’s still driving the baseball, he’s still using the whole field. He still needs to take another step up as far as his pitch recognition – not that he’s a chaser or that he swings really out of the zone – just early in counts, what pitch he’s being aggressive on. To me, he’s still trying to go for too many pitches early in a count that aren’t the kind of pitches he can drive. And I think, over a period of time, that puts him behind in counts and changes the whole sequence that he’s going to get pitched. But he’s another 23-year-old in Triple-A getting his feet wet against experienced guys and hitting around .260 with a dozen homers and playing a solid everyday shortstop. So, as far as the path to the big leagues, he’s on time.

AF:  Yeah, it looked to me like most of his errors this year have been throwing errors. I wasn’t sure if he was just rushing things or if it was something more mechanical.

GF:  Yeah, more throwing errors. He’s dropping down…and that’s just not him. He is a guy who sets his feet. He’s usually very fundamental. Last year, he was so accurate with his throwing, and that carried him last year. He’s got to get back to that.

AF:  Now another guy who’s been on a bit of a similar path as Pinder this year is Matt Olson. He started the season off really rough, then things started picking up for him, but things have been a bit hot and cold with him this year. So where do you feel Matt Olson’s at with the whole Triple-A experience at this point?

mo621566GF:  Well, I think he’s seeing that his holes are becoming more and more exposed the higher up he goes. It’s not like they’re not being addressed. We’ve worked on numerous things trying to uplift his ability to make contact. It’s just going to be a work in progress. The talent has not changed – there’s still big strength in there, he’s still patient and he’s still disciplined. There’s just times where, with the way he delivers the bat, there just happens to be holes in that zone, and we’re just trying to shrink those holes. He definitely needs work staying over the baseball longer and driving baseballs in that shortstop area of the field. He’s losing too many balls in the air though – and he knows it. It’s been addressed, it’s being worked on and, actually, I would say in the last two or three weeks, the quality of his at-bats are getting better.

AF:  He’s spent most of the season playing right field. I know everyone’s always raved about his work at first base. So how do you feel about his work in right field?

GF:  He’s solid. He’s just not as good there as he is at first. So that tends to be a topic in the organization – is the outfield play hindering him offensively? I don’t think so. He likes playing the outfield. I think he knows he’s a very good first baseman but, right now, it’s increasing his versatility. It’s increasing the options, if he does get up there, of where Bob Melvin can use him. Everybody knows he’s probably the best defensive first baseman in the system, so he can always go back there. So when the time arises, when he’s needed, we’ll see where he goes.

AF:  Turning to pitching for a moment, let’s talk about Dillon Overton. He’s been solid at Nashville all year and he’s been up and down with the A’s a couple of times now. So what does he need to do to get over the hump at get to that next level where he can be a solid major leaguer?

do592614dGF:  I think just get some experience up there. He’s shown that he can dominate Triple-A. He’s had numerous games where he’s been dominating. He’s an excellent strike-thrower, he’s got pace to his game, and he’s got location. You know, you still wish there was a little bit more heat coming out of the fastball. And the less his fastball grows, the more perfect he’s going to have to be with his fastball location. He’s very good to the arm side. I think he’s going to have to be able to get into righties better if he’s going to pitch at 88-90 mph – he’s going to have to get in there with a purpose and then go back out. I think he’s still learning that part of it. But I think it’s experience. It’s like all of them, they need some time to see the big leagues – that second and third deck and brighter lights and tougher hitters.

AF:  Before we turn to a few guys at Double-A, are there any updates on Henderson Alvarez and his sore shoulder? Is he just totally shut down at this point?

GF:  Yeah, I don’t know for how long, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few guys at Midland. Another guy who was in kind of a similar position as Ryon Healy this year is outfielder Tyler Marincov. He kind of got left behind at Stockton, hit very well there and earned a promotion to Midland, and now he’s been doing well there too. So what do you think of what we’ve seen out of Tyler Marincov this year?

tm595309cGF:  Well, obviously, from a performance standpoint, you look at his numbers, and everything’s much better. The one thing you see is that he’s driving the ball to the right side of the field better. There’s still some things mechanically I think he needs to get better at, especially if he’s going to take that game with some power to the higher levels. Basically, the same issues that we’re working with Chapman on are the same things with Tyler – a little bit better load and a little bit better separation so that he’s giving himself some time and space to recognize and get in position. But as far as how he’s performing, he’s performed admirably.

AF:  Well, that brings us to Matt Chapman. Obviously, hitting 22 home runs in the Texas League at this point in the season is not an easy thing to do…

GF:  He’s got more homers than hits!

AF: [Laughter] Almost! And he’s also striking out about once every three at-bats. So where is he at in the learning curve at this point?

mc656305dGF:  Obviously, stuck right in the middle! Yeah, the strikeouts are alarming, no doubt. But here’s what I can tell you, I can tell you the kid’s working at it. It hasn’t changed the way he goes about playing the game. His power is immense. It’s all about timing and positioning and how he’s seeing it. It’s the same thing I mentioned with Marincov, there’s a separation move that he’s not had since the day we signed him, and he’s been able to kind of get away with it. You know, one of the biggest things about Chapman that a lot of people are forgetting is that he’s missed two falls of our big instructional period. The first year he signed, when he was going into instructional league, he got hurt and couldn’t play. Then he got hurt coming into spring training. Then he got hurt when we were going to send him to the Arizona Fall League. And then this spring, he was in big league camp till the end. So there’s been two springs and two falls where really – and instruction is what it’s all about – he’s missed. So he’s learning on the fly. Skill-set-wise, he’s everything everybody thinks he is. He’s an above-average third baseman with a cannon arm. He’s an instinctual gamer as far as his presence. He’s got big damaging power that’s got a chance to be a game-changer. It’s just working on all these little things about hitting.

AF:  That’s an interesting point. It seems he really has missed a lot of instruction time. Of course, the other top prospect at Midland is shortstop Franklin Barreto. He’s kind of been doing the same thing he did last year in Stockton. He started out slow and then midway through the season started turning it on a bit and coming around. I know he’s missed a few games recently with a leg issue – I’m not sure how serious that is. But where do you feel he’s at at this point?

fb620439GF:  Well, for a 20-year-old, he’s probably playing about two levels up. He’s doing well. He’s kind of starting to come out of his shell from a personality standpoint. You know, last year, he was very quiet and unassuming – new organization, new people. This year, you can tell, he’s gravitating towards some coaching. He’s really wanting to put a plan together now. You’ve got to remember, this kid’s at Double-A when most kids at 20 are either being signed or in rookie ball. And putting an offensive plan together, situational hitting, those are things that you’re talking about as guys are getting closer to the big leagues. These things are coming fast for him. So I think we all need to realize how young he really is and understand that we have so much time to still work with this guy. Like any young player, there’s some moves here and there that we’re trying to put together so that they work a little more efficiently in his swing. But the plus run, the explosive hands, the ability to ambush a heater from time to time, that’s all there.

AF:  He’s also been doing a lot of running this year – he’s already stolen over 20 bases so far – which is obviously good to see. Do you think this current leg injury is much of a big deal though?

GF:  No.

AF:  Okay, and then one last guy at Midland who’s always interesting to talk about is infielder Yairo Munoz. He came out kind of strong but then he started struggling a bit. So what do you think about where he’s at right now?

ym622168GF:  I would say about what I said last year – talented, but careless. He lost all of spring training [due to injuries]. He came in heavy. This kid’s added thirty pounds in the last year. He’s starting to become more fit now, but it’s been a struggle for him carrying this extra weight. He was hurt with three different things and lost all of spring training. So the reality is, May – he didn’t get out till May – was basically his spring training. But by the time you get to Double-A, the instinctual side of the game needs to start building as far as positioning yourself, making throws with your legs underneath you, not trying to do everything on the run, narrowing your strike zone, getting more focused on pitches that you can hit – and he’s behind with that still. His talent skill is where it belongs but, in a perfect world, he would be in A-ball learning how to play the game with a little bit more focus and purpose. This kid’s very talented, but there’s just a lot of careless mistakes still going on in his game – swinging at stuff he doesn’t need to be swinging at, throwing on the run when he doesn’t need to be, a lot of style before substance sometimes. But [Midland manager] Ryan Christenson’s doing a great job harping on it down there. We’re staying with it and it’s one of those things where we don’t know when the maturity level’s going to kick in – hopefully it starts to come.

AF:  One interesting development this year has been the performance of the Beloit pitching staff, with guys like Evan Manarino and Boomer Biegalski and others there. What’s your impression of what some of those young pitchers have been doing there this season?

GF:  Manarino’s a college senior strike-thrower we signed a year ago. He’s a below-average-fastball guy, but he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a got a good breaker and he’s got a feel to pitch. He’s kind of doing what we expected him to do. He was a polished college pitcher. He doesn’t have big stuff, but he knows what he’s doing. Biegalski’s gone through a little fastball stage where he got erratic, so he never got to that changeup that he’s noted for. Now five out of his last six starts, his fastball command’s starting to improve, so you’re seeing his line score improve. So, to me, it’s all about his ability to stay in command of his fastball to get to his changeup.

AF:  Now just to touch on the draft a bit, you guys took three big pitchers at the top of the draft – A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. So what’s your overall impression of how the A’s came out of the draft this year?

GF:  We needed starters, and we got starters! Puk is a big, big physical man who’s got a big upside heater and a fair breaking ball. The changeup and the feel to pitch will show how far things are going to take him. Daulton Jefferies is more of a Sonny Gray-looking guy – kind of a slighter, smaller frame – but he’s got a live arm. He’s got tons of movement, he’s got a sinker and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got good stuff and he locates. I can’t wait to get him healthy and get him out pitching. And Shore’s probably one of the better college pitchers in the draft, period. The biggest thing with Logan is he used his sinker, his two-seamer, all year in college and his velocity kind of went backwards a little bit. So he’s kind of pitching 87-91 mph – pitched great, don’t get me wrong – but a few of us saw this guy 92-93-94 mph last year using his four-seamer a little bit. And once we get him out and get him going, we’re going to see if we can’t get some of that back. But there’s not much to do with his breaking ball and changeup. He’s durable, he’s strong, he’s a strike-thrower, he knows what he’s doing. We got three good ones there.

AF:  I know they’ve been taking it easy with Jefferies after his shoulder injury earlier this year. Are we likely to see him at some point soon?

GF:  The plan with him is to keep strengthening the shoulder area a little bit, and he should be getting some innings in August. He’s not going to be stretched out big. We’ll just get him going, then he’ll be in instructional league and we’ll go from there.

AF:  And what about Shore?

GF:  Shore’s going to be limited. He was a 100+ innings guy in college. He’s going to go to Vermont and maybe pitch occasionally out of the bullpen. They may start him, but it’s not going to be with any depth.

AF:  And finally, was there anyone else the A’s took in the draft you’re particularly high on?

GF:  Some of the early guys – the high school pitcher we took, Skylar Szynski. He’s a very good-looking kid – athletic, six-foot-one, strength in his body, has got a quick arm, got a chance to have a plus breaker and a plus change. It looks like he’s going to be a strike-thrower – got to settle down his delivery, he’s a little quick-paced. So everything right now looks pretty productive.

AF:  Speaking of high school guys, last year’s 3rd-round pick, Dakota Chalmers, has looked pretty good at Vermont so far this year.

GF:  Dakota’s done well. He’s actually pitching better there than he has in extended, in spring and everywhere else.

AF:  Well, maybe he’s one of those guys who rises to the occasion – he needs a challenge!

GF:  That’s right, put him out in a real stadium!

AF:  So now where are you headed off to next?

GF:  Well, you know, the phone could always ring at any minute on trades. That’s always live.

AF:  Well, I guess it is that time of the year…

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