Results tagged ‘ California League ’
There’s no question that two of the A’s top hitting prospects can currently be found in the clubhouse of the California League Stockton Ports. The A’s 8th overall draft pick in last year’s draft, first baseman Max Muncy, currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in home runs and RBIs. And the A’s top pick last year, 19-year-old Addison Russell, is second on his team in runs, walks, doubles, total bases and stolen bases and currently leads the team in triples. We took the opportunity to talk with both of them while in Stockton last week, along with their manager, Webster Garrison, to get some perspective on how things have been shaping up for some of the A’s top prospects this season in Stockton…
From day one, the A’s have been aggressive in promoting their top draft pick from last year, shortstop Addison Russell. And this year, the team chose to start him at Stockton in the High-A California League, where he had the distinction of being the youngest player in the league. The 19-year-old struggled early on, but he’s turned things around and has really been coming on strong of late…
AF: At 19, you’re the youngest player in the California League this year. So does anybody give you a hard time about being so young?
AR: Not really, I’m usually just treated as another guy here.
AF: You started the season out kind of slow, but the last month or so, you really seem to be putting it together. So what accounted for the early struggles, and what’s accounted for the turnaround?
AR: I think I’m just more relaxed now. I’m seeing more pitches. I’m seeing more time on the field. I’m just more relaxed, and I think I perform at my best whenever I feel that way.
AF: Was there a lot for you to get used to when you first came to the California League?
AR: Yeah, me being a young guy, I kind of had to soak everything in. And there was just a lot of stuff that I wasn’t used to, so I had to make a few adjustments, and I did.
AF: Besides just getting more relaxed and more comfortable at the plate, what were some of the adjustments you had to make?
AR: It’s really just recognizing the pitch. Before this league, I never really saw a cutter or a two-seam [fastball], and I’m seeing those pitches really well now. That was just a little adjustment that I had to make.
AF: What about in the field, are there any differences for you at this level?
AR: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a faster-paced level. The guys that hit are a little bit quicker to first base and second base, and I have to get rid of the ball a little bit faster, so I had to make that adjustment. But overall, I’m just working on my whole game.
AF: Do you feel you have to try to come in on the ball a little faster now?
AR: I still try to stay in that relaxed state, but just get the ball out a little bit quicker.
AF: You got to spend a little time in the big league camp this spring. So what did you take away from that experience?
AR: I really just tried to get to know the guys and see how they practice, their approaches, their work ethic, just what they do everyday to get prepared for the game. And I try to really put that into my routine and my preparation for the game.
AF: Well, I guess you got a good sense of how the major leaguers do it anyway. So was everybody cool to you there?
AR: Yeah, they were all nice and friendly. They came up and talked to me for a little bit and introduced themselves and I introduced myself to them. It was just a good experience.
AF: So have you kept in touch with your boys in Beloit – Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson?
AR: Yeah, we text and we snapchat and all that stuff every now and then. It’s always good to hear they’re doing good, and it’s always good to hear from them.
AF: Well, you’re from Florida, so how is it for you living out here in California?
AR: It’s a little different than back home. There’s a lot of one-way streets – I’m not used to that.
AF: Have you turned the wrong way yet?
AR: A few times. But other than that, it’s not too bad. We’re staying in a good part of town. There’s some good people there. I’m familiarizing myself with the area, and it’s a nice place.
AF: Do you share a place with some of your teammates?
AR: Yeah, I’m with a few teammates in an apartment – Dusty Robinson, Tanner Peters and Rashun Dixon.
AF: Has your family been out to visit you and see you play at all?
AR: My dad came out here at the beginning of last month and it was just awesome that he kind of got to experience what I’ve been living for the past few months. He enjoyed being out here and seeing his son play. And I’m hoping the other side of my family – my mom, my sisters and my brother – can come out here. I think they would enjoy it.
AF: Well you know, Sacramento’s right up the road – the Triple-A affiliate. Have you had a chance to get up there yet?
AR: Yeah, I’ve been up there to play a pre-season game with the Ports. And it was a pretty nice spot – it was really, really nice.
AF: Well, you never know, it might be home before long!
Besides Addison Russell, the only other member of last year’s draft class for the A’s to start the season as high as Stockton this year is first baseman Max Muncy. The 22-year-old came roaring out of the gate this season and currently leads all A’s minor leaguers with 20 home runs, which is a bit of a pleasant surprise, since he totaled just 4 last year…
AF: Obviously, you’ve been having a good year here in Stockton. So what’s been the key to your success this season?
MM: I feel like I’ve been swinging the same way I’ve swung my whole life. The only difference is there’s been a few more home runs…
AF: Just a few?
MM: (Laughs) Just a few…Yeah, I’ve never put up home run numbers like this. A lot of people say it’s because of the ballpark, it’s because of the league we’re in – maybe a couple of them, but for the most part, I think the big difference is I spent a lot of the off-season working on back-spinning balls. If anyone saw me play last year, they’d notice I had a ton of doubles, but all of them were top-spin balls right down the line. Even the ones I was hitting in the gaps weren’t back-spun, they were spinning sideways, top-spin – they didn’t have back-spin, so they weren’t carrying as much. To me, that’s the big difference. If you hit line drives with back-spin, they tend to carry a little bit more than everything else, so I feel like that’s been the big difference when it comes to my home run numbers.
AF: So you started working on that at home this off-season?
MM: Well, I’ve always had a big problem with top-spin. A lot of lefties have that problem. There’s not many lefties that back-spin all the time. So that’s something I’ve been working on for a while. And this off-season, I really tried to focus on that. I just worked on getting a more downward plane to the ball, staying inside of it a little bit and not coming out early on my swing. And I feel like that’s been a huge difference for me.
AF: I know I was talking with some coaches in spring training who were talking about developing your power potential more. So I don’t know if people have always thought that you had greater power potential than you’ve shown in the past.
MM: Yeah, that’s what a lot of people have thought. You know, I’ve never put up huge home run numbers. In college, I always had a couple, but I wasn’t hitting 15-16 home runs in college like some guys were. So I think they saw it, and I knew I had it. But I’ve been a line drive hitter my whole life, and I still feel like I’m a little bit of a line drive hitter. The only difference is I’m hitting line drives with back-spin that are going a little bit more up in the air because they’ve got that back-spin and they carry.
AF: What’s the most home runs you’ve ever had in a season before?
MM: Probably back in high school. I don’t know what my numbers were in high school. But as far as I can remember, I had 11-12 as a freshman in college.
AF: So when the season started out and everything started going so well for you right off the bat, you must have been thinking, “Gee, this is working out even better than I planned!”
MM: It was a pretty unreal experience for me. I was getting very good contact on a lot of the balls I was hitting. I was putting them in the air, and I wasn’t popping them up – I was hitting them really well. It’s hard to explain, because I’ve never had a start like that before. I’ve never just hit home run after home run, and to do that was pretty amazing. I had friends calling me from school back home saying, “Hey, mix in an infield single every now and then – those are pretty cool too.” It was a lot of fun, and I think I let that get to my head a little bit…
AF: I was going to ask you about that little dip you had in May…
MM: I really think I let it get to my head a little bit. I saw the home runs and I was thinking, “Hey, maybe I can hit more if I start lifting more.” And I was hitting a lot of pop-ups, I wasn’t getting very good contact. I think my strikeout numbers went up. And that’s something I hate doing too – I hate striking out. In the game yesterday, I had a home run but I struck out twice, and I think I was more upset about the strikeouts than I was happy about the home run. That’s another thing I’ve always taken a lot of pride in is walking more than I’ve struck out.
AF: Well, that’ll serve you well in this organization! So you think you started getting a little too homer-happy after the hot start and got a little out of your game?
MM: Yeah, I definitely think I got out of my game. I was trying to lift the ball too much. We went to a couple places like Lancaster, where the wind was just howling out to right field, and I saw that and automatically I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m getting a couple of home runs.” It got to my head, and I wasn’t hitting very many balls. So I had to come back down to earth a little bit and realize that’s not going to happen all the time. I’ve just got to go back to hitting my line drives, and that’s when the home runs started coming again.
AF: Well, stick with what works! Now I remember hearing good things about your defense going back to when you were first drafted. So is there anything different about playing in the field at this level?
MM: I’ve always taken pride in my defense at first base. I’ve always felt like I’m a little bit of an above average defender at first base because I was never a first baseman. When I went to college, I was recruited there as a second baseman/third baseman. So I’ve always had decent feet and good hands, and I feel like taking that to first base is a huge advantage for me. I know I can get around balls and what I need to do. I can get reads on short hops. That’s just something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in. I’ve always loved being a good defender. To me, it’s a good feeling when I’m able to make the other infielders feel comfortable throwing the ball across the field to me. I’ve been there before. Like I said, I wasn’t always a first baseman. I’ve had first baseman before where you weren’t sure if they were going to catch it or they were going to miss it. So I take a lot of pride in that.
AF: I never realized you’d played second and third before. So you’ve really got much more of that infielder’s mentality.
MM: Yeah, I’d never played first base until I got to college. And the only reason they put me there is that’s where the open spot was on the team, and they just wanted my bat in the lineup. I got there my first year, and I just ended up staying there until now. And as far as I know, the A’s have told me that’s where I’m staying. I’m always going to mess around at those other positions just in case – I think that’d be a fun opportunity.
AF: Well, I guess the way the season’s started for you has given you a lot of confidence anyway, which always helps, right?
MM: Yeah, it definitely helps. It’s been a really fun year so far, and I’m really looking forward to the second half. Hopefully I can stay a little bit more consistent, and not have a month that kind of drops off a little bit.
AF: Well, no matter what, as long as you keep taking those walks and getting on base, you’ll get through it!
The Ports are managed by Webster Garrison. The affable former infielder is in his third season as Stockton’s skipper and has plenty to say about the team’s top prospects…
AF: I wanted to start out by asking you about shortstop Addison Russell. He started out a little shaky this year. But what have you seen from him in the three months that he’s been here so far?
WG: The kid’s a hard worker. But he’s not putting as much pressure on himself as he was earlier in the season. There were a lot of expectations on him, and he was just trying so hard to get it done, then he started getting a little frustrated as well. Now he’s got it going a little bit. We moved him in the lineup from first to second just to take a little pressure off him where he’s not the first guy up every night. And he’s just settling in and having fun. He’s a good guy – the guys enjoy his company out here. And he’s just started to get comfortable out there and play extremely well as of late.
AF: So you think it’s just been a matter of him relaxing and getting comfortable with things?
WG: Yeah, taking the pressure off himself and just relaxing and playing baseball.
AF: What specific adjustments has he had to make?
WG: Well, hitting-wise, which is what he was struggling with the most, he has to be able to use the whole field. Instead of just trying to crank every ball out of the ballpark, now he’s starting to use the whole field. He’s waiting back better. He’s not as jumpy. He’s not as anxious. He’s just relaxing and letting the ball come to him and hitting it where it’s pitched compared to trying to go get it. And he’s getting to know these pitchers a lot better. Basically, he didn’t know any of these pitchers. Now that we’ve been through a couple of teams a few times, he knows what they’ve got and he knows how they’re trying to attack him and he’s made a good adjustment and he’s having fun.
AF: So do you think he’s a fast learner?
WG: Yeah, he’s definitely a fast learner for a 19-year-old kid. Most 19-year-old kids would probably still be in struggle mode right now. But he’s turning a corner and it’s good to see, and he’s a mature kid for his age.
AF: Well, having a fast learning curve sure makes your life a lot easier!
WG: It makes my life a lot easier, and I definitely feel a lot better right now!
AF: Now what about defense, how’s his learning curve been in the field?
WG: He’s got all the actions. He’s got the arm. He’s preparing himself. He’s coming in, getting the notes, getting to know the hitters. He’s positioning himself well. I don’t have to watch him as much as I used to because I know he’s got a good idea what he’s doing out there. He’s got good hands and a strong arm and has definitely got the actions. He’s got a lot of range out there.
AF: Another guy who’s been a standout this year is first baseman Max Muncy, who came in and hit from day one with surprising power. So I’m curious to get your take on what he’s been doing here this year.
WG: Yeah, since day one, he’s been swinging a real good bat, and it all started in spring training. He came into spring training swinging a good bat, so he’s just kept it going all season. He’s got a real good idea of hitting. The kid knows what he wants to do. And when he’s getting his pitch, he’s not missing it much. He was the only lefty in our lineup in the first half, so on certain occasions they really wouldn’t pitch to him, and he made the adjustment and takes his walks if he has to. And if they challenge him, he’s ready. He’s using the whole park as well, but his strong side’s his pull side. So when he gets that pitch in, he’s ready for it. And he’s laying off away until he gets two strikes, and he can definitely go that way as well. He’s a good-looking young hitter.
AF: What would you say is his single greatest strength as a hitter?
WG: I would say his swing – where he hits the ball. He goes through the ball and bottom-halfs it. He knows he’s not one of the best runners, so he’s trying to stay off the ground and he’s working hard on creating that back-spin where he’s in the air mostly. And it’s paid big dividends for him compared to pounding balls on the ground. He’s got that back-spin bottom-half where that ball’s getting up in the air, and it’s a good idea to be hitting like that here and in the California League period.
AF: I wanted to ask you about a couple of pitchers. Raul Alcantara recently joined your club. So what do you think of what you’ve seen from him so far?
WG: I saw him in spring training as well. Yesterday he was good. He went after hitters. He attacked hitters with all his pitches and got some easy outs and did a good job overall. He only had one walk, and that was late in his outing, which is a big key. If you’re throwing strikes, you’re definitely going to have some success.
AF: What about another guy who was here but was recently promoted to Midland, Drew Granier. What did you see from him?
WG: This kid’s a fierce competitor. He expects the best when he goes out there. And he’s got the pitches. He’s working on his changeup still, but his fastball’s moving, his breaking ball’s moving, and he’s got a great idea of pitching. He’s a little older kid than Alcantara – he’s a college kid – but he’s got a real good idea of pitching, and he’s aggressive – he goes after guys.
AF: One last question that you may or may not have an answer to. There’s a guy who was blowing everybody’s mind here last year – Miles Head. I’m sure you remember him. Even though I know you haven’t seen him this year in the Texas League, do you have any idea what might be the problem with him this season?
WG: He’s got a lot of injuries this year. It’s a slow start for him. He’s been on the DL twice this year. I heard he’s hit some balls well, just right at guys. I know Miles is going to turn it on sooner or later. It’s just a tough deal because I know he’s kind of injured and is off to a slow start. But as soon as he gets it together, I know the kid’s going to hit. It’s a beautiful thing watching him hit!
AF: I’m sure you enjoyed it!
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Believe it or not, baseball’s amateur draft is only five weeks away, and hard-core A’s fans will soon have a fresh batch of hot prospects to ponder. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to take a look back at last year’s draft class and see where things stand. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.
Owens originally joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week from an undisclosed location, where he was secretly scouting prospects for the draft. We talked about the A’s draft picks from last year’s first five rounds as well as a couple of top international prospects who are currently making their mark in the A’s system…
#1 (1st Round)
Shortstop / Age: 19
The A’s top draft pick in 2012, Russell got off to a blazing start last season. Just 19, the A’s invited him to big league camp this spring and aggressively started him off this year at Stockton in the High-A California League. He got off to a slow start and then had a brief stint on the DL, but he seems to have started heating up a bit over the past week or so.
BILLY OWENS: He had a sensational debut (last season), and we couldn’t be more excited. And seeing him in major league spring training – how he handled himself, the professionalism that he showed, just the constant energy that he plays with everyday – he has a maturity beyond his years. It’s obvious that he’s had tremendous parenting, and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s a pretty advanced assignment going to High-A ball, but we feel he’s going to be up for the challenge. We feel pretty confident that he can go there and handle himself. It’s a long year. We’re going to see how the season goes all the way through the end of the minor league championship season. And we’re pretty confident that he’s going to be able to catch up to the league, stay mature, show his tools, and be an exciting part of our system going forward.
#2 (1st Round)
Shortstop / Age: 19
Robertson got off to a great start in the Arizona League last year but then struggled a bit with short-season Vermont in the NY-Penn League. He injured his knee in the instructional league. The ensuing surgery kept him out of competitive action this spring and delayed the start of his season. But he arrived in Beloit last week with a hot bat, blasting a home run in his first game.
BILLY OWENS: His make-up is outstanding. He’s a very coachable kid – talented, mature. He got dinged up a little bit, but he’s gone straight to Low-A (this season). I think his first night, he was a triple short of a cycle, and he got another hit yesterday, and he’s playing a solid shortstop. This kid definitely likes to play baseball and has been well-coached. His skill level is outstanding. He’s a solid shortstop prospect. He can definitely play the position. His hands are solid. He’s got a strong arm. He’s fundamentally sound.
#3 (1st Round)
First Baseman / Age: 19
Another one of the A’s top draft picks who got off to a great start in Arizona last year, Olson began the season with Beloit in the Midwest League. His bat remained cold through most of a very cold April in Wisconsin, but he’s begun heating up over the past week, homering in two consecutive games over the past few days.
BILLY OWENS: Matt Olson comes from a baseball family. His father played college ball. His brother plays at Harvard currently. And he’s a baseball rat. He can play first base, and he could even dabble in the outfield if need be. He’s got a short, efficient swing. I think initially he had such a strong debut – he hit a home run in his first at bat last year in Arizona rookie ball – he might have gotten a little too pull-confident and tried to force the issue with power. But we think that Matt Olson’s going to be a very good all-around hitter, be able to use the field line-to-line, and the power will just develop over time. He’s just a natural hitter. We like his hands – his hands are fluid, they’re strong, they’re direct. He had a couple of doubles the other night and hit his first home run. He’s using all the field again and squaring up multiple pitches. He’s got a very good eye – he walked 3 times the other night. I’m seeing the trends, and I’m more excited seeing the all-fields approach and the walks start to pick up versus the power. The power’s going to be there ‘cause this kid’s 6’4”, 230 pounds and just naturally strong. So it should be exciting.
#4 (2nd Round)
Catcher / Age: 22
Maxwell appeared to be a dependable hitter in his debut last year and has continued to look like a solid hitter this year at Beloit. He specializes in getting on base, but some have wondered about his ability to stick behind the plate.
BILLY OWENS: His numbers at Birmingham Southern were just ridiculous. They were pretty amazing when you look at the extra-base hits versus the little amount of strikeouts. This kid’s got a tremendous eye, discerning at the plate. His swing path is fluid – it’s very compact, direct to the baseball. He’s strong, he’s going to have power, he’s going to be a high-walk guy. His catching is improving. Just at first glance, he reminds me of ex-Athletic Mickey Tettleton. He can catch, he’s probably going to mix in some first base down the road and get involved every now and then as a designated hitter. But first and foremost, he’s a slugger who’ll be an essential part of the Oakland Athletics organization.
#5 (2nd Round)
RHP / Age: 21
The first pitcher the A’s selected in last year’s draft, Sanburn appears to be a talented young hurler with an arsenal of pitches, but he spent a lot of his college career pitching out of the bullpen. So without a lot of innings under his belt, he still needs to build his stamina as a starter.
BILLY OWENS: We were excited to get Nolan when we got him. With his arm and his variety of pitches, it was a coup where we got him in the draft last year. When he went to rookie ball in short-season (Class-A), he was 96 mph+. His curveball broke off the table, and he’s got a solid changeup. He’s a very athletic kid. Just being predominantly a reliever in college last year, we’re starting to get him prepared him for X amount of innings. We’re kind of taking baby steps initially, but he’s raring to go and ready to unleash that arsenal out there.
#6 (4th Round)
Outfielder / Age: 19
Boyd was best known as a big Bay Area high school football prospect when the A’s drafted him last year. He’s loaded with talent and got off to a great start last year, but he’s young and his baseball skills will need a little refinement.
BILLY OWENS: He’s got a dynamic skill set. Last year, he was by far the fastest player in our draft class. And then he went straight out to rookie ball and showed that speed. He’s just explosive. He was an accomplished football player, had multiple Division I offers, but we were able to draft him. And all that carried over to rookie ball last year. That was a fun team that lost the final to the Rangers’ rookie ball squad, but B.J. was a catalyst for that team. He hit a few home runs, he walked, he hit for a high average, he stole bases, he played a good center field. The Midwest League is a great league, we’re proud to be there, but it’s a little bit cold initially, so we held a couple guys back. We’ve got him back there in extended (spring training), but at some point, I think he’ll be ready for the Midwest League this year. And I honestly believe that he’ll make a positive impression once he gets there. Right now he’s chomping at the bit, working hard in extended, shedding a few pounds, and getting ready to hopefully take the Midwest League by storm later on.
#7 (5th Round)
First Baseman / Age: 22
Drafted out Baylor, Muncy was the only member of the A’s draft class to start last season in the Class-A Midwest League, and he held his own there. This year, the A’s decided to start him out at High-A Stockton along with Addison Russell, and Muncy has flourished. He already has twice as many home runs in April, 8, as he did all of last year at Burlington, and he currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in round-trippers.
BILLY OWENS: Maxwell Muncy is a guy we’re excited about. Armann Brown, our area scout out there in Texas, pointed Max out early, always liked the make-up. Max came from a good family structure and background. He’s at the field early. He’s there late. He’s watching video. He’s just ready to play everyday, so we’re excited. He’s amongst the minor league home run leaders, and we like his skill set. He can pick it at first base – we like his range there. His swing is the type of swing that’s going to be able to hit advanced level pitching. And first and foremost, this guy’s a baseball rat. I mean, he’s a cage-wrecker. You’ve got to turn the lights off otherwise he’s going to be in that cage 24/7. He’s a fun guy to watch.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
Third Baseman / Age: 19
The A’s invested heavily in Nunez when they reportedly gave the young Venezuelan $2.2 million to sign back in 2010. He made his American debut in the Arizona Rookie League last year and didn’t disappoint, flashing the bat the A’s had hoped to see. He’s started this season wielding the biggest bat at Beloit, and he even celebrated his 19th birthday on opening night by blasting his first home run.
BILLY OWENS: He’s an exciting kid to watch. Sam Geaney, our international scouting director, and Julio Franco, our chief scout in Venezuela, they identified Renato all the way back to when he was 14 years old. And we were able to track him, follow him, and we were able to secure his services. He went to the Dominican Summer League at 16 years old and was able to get his feet wet and was able to do pretty well there. Last year, in the Arizona Rookie League, I believe he led the league in doubles. He just has that short stroke – it’s a very accurate barrel. He’s pretty advanced to send him at 19 years old to the Midwest League. This kid’s got outstanding make-up, he’s not afraid of anything. I think he’s hit 4 home runs, 5 doubles. He’s having a good start up there in Beloit. And it’ll be fun to watch him this year, because this kid likes to play a lot and his background is excellent and he’s a natural-born hitter.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
RHP / Age: 21
The A’s originally signed Ynoa for over $4 million as a 16-year old. He’s now a 21-year-old. And thanks to injuries, through last season, he’d thrown less than 40 innings. But Ynoa finally appears to be healthy and is back on the mound for Beloit this season.
BILLY OWENS: It’s definitely fun to see Michael in the box scores. The talent’s always been immense, and now it’s just a matter of him continuing to increase his workload and get out there on the diamond. He’s a fabulous athlete. He’s topped out at 96-97 mph, his breaking ball is getting better everyday, and his command is improving. So seeing him every five days in that box score is an exciting thing, and hopefully he can keep on doing that, because the talent’s there. And hopefully we’re crossing our fingers that he’s passed certain hurdles and he can be out there and enjoy a healthy season.
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Sunday, April 7th: Muncy Slugs Ports to Win while Gray & Hernandez Pitch Cats & Hounds to Victory and Snappers Get No-Hit
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Las Vegas 51s 4
Sacramento River Cats 8
WP – Gordon 1-0 / 12.00
HR – Taylor (2), Choice (1), Vogt (1)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Sonny Gray
(6 IP / 2 H / 0 ER / 3 BB / 4 K)
Top pitching prospect Sonny Gray impressed in his season debut with Sacramento, allowing just 2 hits over 6 scoreless innings. He left the game with the lead, but Las Vegas scored 2 runs off RHP Brian Gordon to tie the game in the top of the 7th inning. Sacramento then exploded for 6 runs in the bottom of the 7th thanks to a grand slam off the bat of outfielder Michel Choice and solo shots courtesy of outfielder Michael Taylor and newly-arrived catcher Stephen Vogt, who also added a pair of doubles on the night to cap off an impressive debut for the River Cats. Jemile Weeks got his first start at second base this season, Grant Green got his first start at first base, Josh Horton made his season debut at third base, and RHP Dan Otero returned to the River Cats’ roster after clearing waivers.
TEXAS LEAGUE (Double-A)
Midland RockHounds 4
Arkansas Travelers 1
WP – Hernandez 1-0 / 0.00
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Carlos Hernandez
(5 IP / 4 H / 0 ER / 1 BB / 3 K / Win)
LHP Carlos Hernandez was solid in his season debut with the RockHounds, tossing 5 scoreless innings to earn the win. RHP Darren Byrd contributed 2 scoreless innings to pick up the save. Third baseman Jefry Marte doubled in a run, newly-acquired outfielder Jake Goebbert picked up his first hit since joining the RockHounds, and catcher Nick Rickles collected a pair of hits in his Double-A debut.
CALIFORNIA LEAGUE (High-A)
Bakersfield Blaze 8
Stockton Ports 12
WP – Peters 1-0 / 7.20
HR – Muncy 2 (3), Robinson (2), Crocker (1), Vollmuth (1), Kirkland (1)
Farmhand Of The Game:
First Baseman Max Muncy
(2 Home Runs / 4 RBIs)
First baseman Max Muncy continued his hot start in the California League, slugging his second and third home runs and driving in 4 runs for the Ports on Sunday. Outfielder Dusty Robinson hit his 2nd home run of the season, and outfielder Bobby Crocker and infielders B.A. Vollmuth and Wade Kirkland all hit their first. Starter Tanner Peters was a little shaky in his first start with Stockton, allowing 5 runs, 4 earned, in 5 innings of work, but he still managed to pick up the win. RHP Jose Macias got the final four hits for the save. And shortstop Addison Russell missed his second straight game after tweaking his ankle running out an infield hit in Friday’s game. You can check out the play on which in happened, as well as Russell’s first hit, on ProspectNotes’ YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ProspectNotes
MIDWEST LEAGUE (Class-A)
Beloit Snappers 1
Cedar Rapids Kernels 9
LP – Voiro 0-1 / 7.36
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Derek De Young
(4 1/3 IP / 5 H / 1 ER / 2 BB / 1 K)
The Snappers were no-hit by a trio of Cedar Rapids hurlers on Sunday, but Beloit did manage to push a run across the plate in the 8th inning thanks to 3 walks and a sacrifice fly. Snappers’ starter Vince Voiro had a rocky outing in his season debut, allowing 8 runs, 3 earned, on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings to take the loss, but RHP Derek De Young looked good in relief, allowing just 1 run in 4 1/3 innings of work.
Tacoma @ Sacramento – 7:05pm PT
Midland @ Arkansas – 5:10pm PT / 7:10pm CT
San Jose @ Stockton – 7:05pm PT
Beloit @ Peoria – 4:30pm PT / 6:30pm CT
The opening day roster for the Stockton Ports, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the California League, was announced this week. And the Ports’ lineup will be led by the A’s top draft pick from last year, rising star Addison Russell.
The A’s top shortstop prospect will be joined in the Ports’ infield by first baseman Max Muncy, second baseman Antonio Lamas and third baseman B.A. Vollmuth, along with backups Tony Thompson and Wade Kirkland. Returning outfielders Myrio Richard, Josh Whitaker and Dusty Robinson will be joined by newcomer Bobby Crocker, and Ryan Ortiz and Ryan Delgado will be behind the plate.
The Ports’ pitching staff will be comprised of Sean Murphy, Jacob Brown, Drew Granier, Blake Hassebrock, Seth Frankoff, Andres Avila, Tanner Peters, Jose Macias, Jonathan Joseph, T.J. Walz, Pedro Vidal, David Mota and Omar Duran.
You’ll find the Stockton Ports’ complete roster, along with profiles of some of the team’s top players, below…
Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop
Age On Opening Day: 19
Drafted 2012 – 1st Round
The A’s top pick in last year’s draft was not only the star of the A’s 2012 draft class but was also the star of the team’s entire minor league system. And it didn’t take long for Russell to quickly become a favorite amongst A’s fans who have their eyes on the future. The Florida native earned the attention by tearing through three levels of minor league ball at the age of 18, and he’ll be starting the year in the California League at the age of 19. In 217 at-bats in the Arizona League, the NY-Penn League and the Midwest League in 2012, Russell had 10 doubles, 9 triples, 7 home runs and 16 stolen bases with an impressive .369/.432/.594 slash line. He didn’t disappoint in the field either, showing nice range and a good arm. The bottom line is that Russell is very young, very talented and very hard-working, and there’s no reason that he shouldn’t continue to rise as quickly as his performance demands.
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 22
Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
Another promising catch from last year’s draft, Muncy skipped two levels of the A’s minor league system and started the year higher than any other member of the A’s draft class at Class-A Burlington in the Midwest League. And he held his own there, posting a .275/.383/.432 slash line in 64 games. The left-handed hitter also seemed to be developing a little more power this spring in Arizona. And Muncy will be joining Russell, as the two fastest-rising members of last year’s draft class, in Stockton’s infield this season.
–STOCKTON PORTS 2013 ROSTER–
Max Muncy 1B
Tony Thompson 3B-1B
Wade Kirkland 2B-SS
Sean Murphy RHP
Jacob Brown LHP
Drew Granier RHP
Blake Hassebrock RHP
Seth Frankoff RHP
Andres Avila RHP
Tanner Peters RHP
Jose Macias RHP
Jonathan Joseph RHP
T.J. Walz RHP
Pedro Vidal RHP
David Mota RHP
Omar Duran LHP
Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2
Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, where he gave us the lowdown on top prospects Addison Russell, Dan Straily, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and Grant Green. In Part 2, we’ll cover Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez, Michael Ynoa and more of the A’s top prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…
AF: Next on our list is a guy who got off to a phenomenal start last year, hitting probably as well as anyone in pro ball in the first half at Stockton, and who you guys very shrewdly targeted in last year’s trade with Boston – and that’s third baseman Miles Head. He came back down to earth a bit at Midland in the second half but still held his own there. Tell me what you think about Miles Head at his point and where you see him playing in the field this year now that you’ve got another third baseman like Jefry Marte in the system who’s basically at the same level as him.
FZ: He was a guy that we did sort of tack on to that deal a little late. And one of the things about him, similar to the Brandon Moss story, when we went and looked at him in the 2011 season, he was a guy who got better every month – first in the South Atlantic League and then even in the Carolina League in 2011, where his overall numbers weren’t great. He was getting better there every month. We’re very optimistic about him. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system. He’s a very aggressive hitter. He wants to put the ball in play, and he makes consistently loud contact. Defensively, we moved him over to third base last year, the position he played as an amateur. Everybody has more value at third base than at first base. But in the long run, he’s going to be a guy who plays both positions. And with Marte in the system, and both of those guys potentially starting the year in Double-A, I think both guys will see time at both spots. That still enables both guys to get plenty of reps at third, but it’s a case where having that flexibility and experience at a couple of different spots doesn’t hurt.
AF: The seventh guy on our list was your second overall draft pick last year, shortstop Daniel Robertson. He got off to a great start in the Arizona League. He had a little tougher time of it in his brief time at Vermont, but obviously everybody still seems to feel very positive about his abilities and what he’s capable of doing in the long run. So tell me what you think about Daniel Robertson at this stage of the game.
FZ: We feel very good about him. You’re right. He played very well in Arizona. He didn’t really have the results to show for it in Vermont, but nobody who was there thought that he was over-matched. And if he had another 10 or 20 games in the season at Vermont, I think he would have brought up his numbers. So we’re not concerned about that small sample that he had there. He’s one of the brightest and most motivated players I think we’ve ever brought into the system, so the intangibles that he brings in make you all the more excited about him. And our guys who really study swings, from (minor league hitting coordinator) Todd Steverson on down, all think he has one of the best and one of the most compact swings of the young guys out there. So that’s exciting when you hear about those kinds of skills that you know translate as you move up the ladder.
AF: Where do you see him playing in the field this year? Do you see him still starting at shortstop, or do you plan on moving him around the infield a bit?
FZ: It really sort of depends on how things shake out on the depth chart. His ability to play probably the most premium position on the field isn’t something you want to give up easily. So I think he’ll probably wind up getting time at both spots on the left side of the infield. But as well as he played short when he got the chance last year, we think it’s worth keeping him there and having him get some reps there.
AF: Eighth on our list is another infielder who hit really well in Arizona last year, and that’s third baseman Renato Nunez. He obviously doesn’t seem to have any problem swinging the bat, but he’s been a little shaky in the field thus far. So tell me what you think of Nunez both offensively and defensively at this point.
FZ: Yeah, you’re right. It was great to see him come over last year and put up the numbers that he did. And it was actually just a little unfortunate that we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to move him up to Vermont because he was as deserving as Robertson and Olson of getting that late-season promotion. Defensively, it’s a work in progress. He has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting a few reps. Our defensive coaches, Juan Navarrete and the rest of the group, feel good about his chances to improve at third. You know, people have said this for a long time, you don’t want to read too much into error totals at the low minor league level. I think Derek Jeter’s first full season error total (56 in 126 games) is one of the most constantly thrown around statistics. We’re not concerned about that. He has plenty of time to work on refining his skills.
AF: Ninth on our list is the top pitcher you took in the draft last year, right-hander Nolan Sanburn. He only got in about 18 or 19 innings last year, but a lot of people are very high on him. So with the limited opportunity you’ve had to see him, what do you think about him so far?
FZ: It’s interesting. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the typical college pitcher we’ve drafted. He didn’t throw a ton of innings at Arkansas. He was only there for a year. He was really more of a middle reliever at Arkansas and didn’t get much of an opportunity to become a mainstay on that pitching staff for whatever reason. So what we got was a guy who you felt there was some track record, because he’s a guy who did pitch with a reasonable amount of success, but you also had the upside of a junior college or high school player almost. What we’ve seen so far has been really encouraging. He’s obviously got out stuff. He’s got a plus curveball. For him, he’s going to just have to work on his fastball command and refining a third pitch. But he has the physical build and endurance to be a starter. He’s got two pitches that are a really good foundation. And if he can refine the rest of his arsenal, he could be an impact-type guy.
AF: Tenth on our list is a guy who certainly wasn’t a high draft pick but who a lot of people have been saying good things about – Chris Bostick, who’s been playing both second and short. I think he was drafted in the 44th round and the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, but there are a lot of folks who seem to have a good feeling about him.
FZ: Chris was one of those guys at the tail end of the draft who we just wanted to see how he progressed over the summer. And he went to the NYCBL, which is probably one of the top ten summer college leagues around. And I’m not sure if he won the batting title, but he was either first or second in the league in hitting. I think he hit like .450. He had more walks than strikeouts. It was really one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a summer league for a kid who has just graduated from high school and was playing against college sophomores and juniors. So that’s what really got us excited about him. And you’re right, the numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he has that performance history and all the ingredients and tools are there. So he’s definitely a little bit under the radar, but someone we are excited about.
AF: Your third overall draft pick last year, first baseman Matt Olson, is another guy who hit really well in the Arizona League and showed a lot of power there and looked good in a very brief stint with Vermont as well. So how to do you see Matt Olson at this point?
FZ: You know, it isn’t our common practice to take a high school first baseman that high in the draft. If you do that, it’s because you feel really good and excited about the bat. And he was a guy who matched that description. He’s a guy who we think has future plus, or even double-plus, power. He hit some long home runs in Arizona and carried that over into Vermont. So he’s a guy who profiles as an above-average offensive first baseman, which is saying a lot, because that’s a position that demands a lot offensively. But the whole key is that he continues to progress and starts moving towards achieving that power projection.
AF: And the final guy that everyone is always curious to know about is pitcher Michael Ynoa. After lots of time off due to injuries, he’s on the mend and getting back into the swing of things. So where are things at with Michael Ynoa?
FZ: I really think that the way he finished last season has given us a lot of reason for optimism. He went out and pitched outside the Arizona League for the first time. He had a couple of rough outings, but also had a couple of positive outings. And the reports on his stuff were really very encouraging. He was up to 95-96 mph, showing a full arsenal of pitches. And that was something that he carried into the Instructional League – he was one of the best pitchers for us both in terms of stuff and performance. He unfortunately got a late start this spring. He was a little sick in the Dominican and didn’t get over until a week into camp. He threw his first live bullpen session today against hitters over at Phoenix Muni. If everything went well with that, then he should be able to get into a game sometime soon. I think that would be a huge achievement and benchmark for him. He’s a guy who I think we’ve always felt that once he can get over his injuries, with the kind of stuff he has, he can make up for some of the lost time he’s had over the last few years.
AF: One last thing I’m curious to ask you about. When you’re analyzing minor league guys and their numbers, what is the first thing you’re looking at for both hitters and pitchers to try to get a handle on who the guys are who are most likely to be successful at the major league level?
FZ: Well, for a hitter, to be honest, for me, one of the biggest and most important metrics is walks and strikeouts. Guys that have a good ratio – just because those are an indicator of good plate discipline – the guys who, for the most part, swing at strikes and don’t swing at balls. And with the kind of stuff that you face in the big leagues, if you can’t do that, your chances for success drop dramatically. Hey, I’m not going to complain about the guy who hits .300 or has a .600 slugging percentage, but really, that’s the first thing that I look at because having good plate discipline is what really enables a lot of the actual hitting production to translate at a higher level. As far as pitching goes, strikeouts are a big factor. The other thing that really goes along with that is strike percentage. And I say that because sometimes we forget that not all strikeouts are created equal. There’s a big difference between throwing three strikes and just overpowering a guy, and having a 7-8-9 pitch at-bat where you have a full count and the guy fouls off a few pitches and then finally you strike him out. That first type of strikeout is a lot better indicator of skill and performance than the second type – so that’s why looking at strikeouts in conjunction with strike percentage is so important to me. Like I mentioned, once you get to the big leagues, you have to be able to pitch in the strike zone. If you’re striking out players in the minors by getting them to chase, it’s going to be a lot harder to replicate that success at the highest level. So those are the first things that I look at for hitters and pitchers at the minor league level.
AF: I was just reading something that said something pretty similar about walks and strikeouts for hitters. It was basically saying that whatever your hitting profile, once you get to the major leagues, you’re going to be striking out a lot more than you were in the minors. So you better start out with a decent ratio, because it’s going to be going down once you start having to face major league pitchers.
FZ: You know, I think there’s this common perception that that’s not something that you can get better at. I look at Grant Green, who went from Double-A to Triple-A and actually cut his strikeout rates dramatically, and I think that was maybe the single most encouraging thing about Grant’s season last year. And you look at Yoenis Cespedes, and there have been many articles written about his plate discipline through the course of the season from April to September and how he started swinging at more strikes and fewer balls and how, as he continued to do that, his production continued on an upward trajectory. Guys can get better, so I would never want to totally doom somebody to failure. And frankly, on the flip side, just because you have a good walk/strikeout ratio doesn’t guarantee success. But I think it is one of the best statistical predictors of hitters’ success at the big league level.
AF: Right, absolutely. That’s a lot of great information. I really appreciate it.
FZ: No problem. Just imagine how much more informative it would have been if I wasn’t out driving around and was at my computer.
AF: Well, the next time I talk to you, we’ll just have to make sure you’re staring at a computer!
* * *
Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1
Last month, we brought you A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, taking a look at some of the team’s top young talent down on the farm. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to talk with someone who could provide an even deeper insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And it’d be hard to find someone with more detailed information on the array of players in the A’s organization than the team’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi.
Farhan didn’t necessarily take the traditional route into baseball, earning a B.S. in economics from MIT and later earning his Ph.D in economics from UC Berkeley. He originally joined the A’s as a baseball operations analyst in January of 2005 and is currently entering his fifth season as the team’s director of baseball operations. Though he performs many different roles in his current position – including evaluating amateur draft targets, handling contract negotiations and developing advance scouting reports – as the economics major who feels a little disconnected when he’s too far away from his computer, Farhan is basically known as “the numbers guy” who oversees statistical analysis for the team.
We took the opportunity to talk to Farhan earlier in the week while he was making the long and boring drive back from the Royals’ and Rangers’ spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona after the A’s split squad had just lost to the Royals. He made a point of noting early on that he felt a little naked without his computer on hand and apologized for the lack of detailed statistical information that he’d have at the ready. But I think you’ll agree that, even without his computer, Farhan had plenty of valuable and insightful information to offer on all the A’s top prospects…
AF: How would you describe what you do in your current role as director of baseball operations?
FZ: It’s a real mix of stuff. The work that I was doing when I first started, which was conducting and supervising all the analysis, is still a very big part of my job. But it’s expanded into other things. Contract negotiations with agents – that’s something we split a few ways in the office. I travel with the team during the season. I’m pretty active in developing and maintaining the advance reports that we give to our coaches. And then I’m pretty active in the draft too. During the spring, I try see players who are guys who are first-round considerations for us. And I sort of manage the analysis that we do for the amateur draft as well.
AF: So as far as the amateur draft goes, you’re both going out and seeing the players in person as well as analyzing their numbers and performance?
AF: Aren’t you quite involved in analyzing and targeting minor league free agents as well?
FZ: Yeah, we don’t always get to aim super high on the major league free agent side. So pouring over the minor league free agents and being smart about which guys we bring in who can have a material impact on the major league team is a pretty big part of our operation. And guys like that, whether it’s Brandon Moss or Jim Miller or Evan Scribner, those guys play a big role for us every year. And in a year like last year where he have some success, they become all the more important.
AF: Well, I wanted to ask you about Brandon Moss specifically. Can you tell me a little more about what you saw in him that made you really sit up and take notice?
FZ: Yeah, it’s funny, he was a guy we had some history with. He actually hit a home run off of us in Japan all the way back in 2008. He’s a guy who was a very high level prospect with the Red Sox at one time and wound up kicking around a little bit and playing for a couple of different organizations prior to the Phillies. And what we try to look for with guys like that in the minor league free agent market isn’t necessarily just what their career track record is, but to try to look for some progression and improvement, where you can take advantage of a guy’s upward trajectory. And even a guy who’s a little bit old for a prospect may have figured something out that’s turned him into a potentially more productive player. And with Moss, there were a couple of things that we looked at. There was how he finished in the second half of his Triple-A season in 2011. If you look at his first half versus his second half splits, he really produced in the second half of that season. We got some good scouting looks at him as well, so the stats and the scouting reports lined up.
AF: Well, let’s get to the top 10 guys on our A’s prospect list plus maybe a couple of others. So starting out at the top of everyone’s list is your #1 draft pick from last year, shortstop Addison Russell. He obviously looked great in his first stint in pro ball last season, and he moved up through three different levels very quickly. So now that you’ve had a chance to see him in the major league camp this spring, what are your impressions of him at this point after having seen a little more of him?
FZ: Yeah, nothing we’ve seen has made us any less excited about his long-term prospects. He’s a really good athlete. He has the potential to be a five-tool player down the road. And having him in big league camp is less about trying to get him into the immediate plans and more about giving him a taste of being around big leaguers and the big league coaching staff and a chance for our staff to get to know him a little bit better. I think it was a little bit overwhelming for him at first, but I think he’s getting increasingly comfortable. He played a few innings today and made a couple of nice plays in the field. It’s just exciting to have a kid like that who has those kinds of tools and backs it up with performance at a very young age. So, obviously, we’re excited about him. We’re going to let him develop at his own pace. But I think it’s been a really good experience for him and for our coaching staff to have him in camp.
AF: How likely is it that he starts the season at Stockton in the California League?
FZ: It’s a possibility, but we haven’t made a decision one way or another. He’s going to spend some time in the big league camp, and then he’ll spend some time in the minor league camp with the player development guys there. So that decision is still a little bit down the road.
AF: Well, you guys were obviously pretty aggressive in moving him along last year. Are you still prone to being aggressive with him as long as he shows he can handle things?
FZ: I wouldn’t characterize us as wanting to be aggressive with him but I think, more and more, I personally realize that every player really needs to be brought along at his won pace. Some guys have very slow and steady progress, repeating levels when needed. And for other guys, they can move really quickly and have the aptitude to play up to higher competition levels very quickly. So it really is a player thing, and that determination just hasn’t been made on Addison yet. But along the way, it’ll all be about what’s the best thing for him. And what past players have done, either inside our organization or with other teams, won’t have any bearing on it.
AF: Okay, second on our list is another guy who had a great minor league season and moved up through three levels last year and made it up to Oakland late in the season – and that’s right-hander Dan Straily. So how are you feeling about his development at this point and what he still needs to work on to clear that last hurdle?
FZ: Obviously, the prospect status that he has now is one of the biggest and most positive developments for our organization from last year, and it’s a testament to all our player development. But I think the most exciting thing about him, from both a scouting and a statistical thing, is his ability to miss bats. Probably the single best predictor of success in the big leagues is guys who miss bats and get strikeouts in the minors. And he obviously did that in spades last year. I think getting to the big leagues and getting acclimated to the discipline that hitters at this level have, that you don’t get quite as many swings and misses out of the strike zone, you have to be able to pitch in the zone, and you have to be able to pitch with your fastball. I think those are the kinds of adjustments that Dan’s going to have to make. And I think he started to make them a little. I think he sort of learned through his experience last year that big league hitters don’t miss mistakes the way that minor league hitters do. So you have less of a margin for error, and part of limiting your margin for error is not walking guys and not putting extra guys on base. So I think he’s going to come out this year with a better understanding of that and more aggressively throw more strikes, and I think those will be very good things for him.
AF: I interviewed him recently. And he seems to be a guy who’s pretty smart and really seems to like to think about pitching a lot, so hopefully that’s a good sign!
FZ: Yeah, absolutely. I get the exact same impression off him. And with a guy like that, you don’t even have to say too much to him because you know that he probably has a good awareness of who he is and what he needs to work on.
AF: Third on our list is your 2010 top draft pick, outfielder Michael Choice. After his big year at Stockton, there were big hopes for him last year at Midland. He struggled a bit in the first half and then, just when it looked like he was starting to turn it around, he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Obviously, he’s been hitting really well in spring camp so far this year. So what are your impressions of him at this stage of his development?
FZ: Yeah, he’s looked terrific in camp, and I think it’s encouraging because this is a continuation of the way he finished the year. He was really the hottest hitter in the Texas League when he, unfortunately, got hurt. And it’s too bad for his development that he missed out on the end of the season because who knows how far he could have gotten. You never know how a guy’s going to come back from injury, physically and mentally, in terms of missing the reps that he missed. But he’s been one of the most effective hitters in camp. He’s hit all the pitches. He’s hit good pitching. It’s not like he’s getting all these hits against minor leaguers or guys who are in late in the game. He’s played a good center field, which is also a major part of what he could potentially offer. The biggest thing for him, when we first got him, the one thing that really stood out about him was just the bat speed. Just sitting in the scouts section, you could hear everybody’s breath be taken away every time he’d take one of those big swings. And the issue for him was shortening up and refining his mechanics to the point where he could really hit that high quality pitching. And I think this has been one of the best jobs that our player development has done – giving him a swing that was simple enough that it could work at the major league level. And that’s what he’s really shown so far this spring.
AF: So do you see him as a potentially legitimate major league center fielder then?
FZ: He’s still playing center field. As long as he’s playing center field, he’s a potential major league center fielder. He has the physical ability to stay out there. And part of it, quite frankly, is gong to be, when he reaches the big leagues, what the big league outfield looks like, where we have needs. That might be as big a part of the equation as where we think his best position is.
AF: Is it reasonable to expect that we’re going to see him starting the year at Sacramento?
FZ: Yeah, that’s the hope. And certainly he’s done nothing to dissuade that notion so far.
AF: Fourth on our list is another #1 draft pick who started out the year at Midland, right-hander Sonny Gray. And like Choice, he started out the season a little wobbly – I guess he was working on his delivery along with his changeup – and then he started to put it together a little more at the end. So where do you think Sonny Gray is at this stage of the game?
FZ: Well, he’s a guy who now in two straight big league camps has really turned heads with his stuff, with just the life on his fastball and then his curveball – he has those two big league pitches. Sonny’s a guy who’s really stood out in the past couple of years. For him, it’s really been a couple of things. One is working and refining his changeup. He has a good changeup – he just really has to learn to trust it and use it more. And another part of that is he’s probably got to not have things speed up on him when things unravel a little bit. Sometimes he maybe just needs to not out-think himself on the mound and just trust his stuff, because his stuff is clearly major league caliber. We really liked the development of him last year. It’s not easy for a starting pitcher to go straight to Double-A and stay in that rotation all year and actually finish the year in Triple-A. So we’re very optimistic about him continuing that progression. He has things to work on, but we knew he had things to work on when we drafted him, and he’s already improved in those dimensions.
AF: Fifth on our list is Grant Green. He’s obviously moved around a lot since he was your top draft pick back in 2009. And I’m really curious how you see him profiling as a potential major league player both at the plate and in the field.
FZ: You don’t want to put too much pressure on players or give them too much credit before they’ve achieved the same level as the comp you’re using, but the guy that I think Grant Green could develop into is a Michael Young type player. I think he has that kind of profile. He’s really a gap-to-gap hitter who has 15-20 homer power. He just has a natural knack for hitting that makes you believe he could be a .300 hitter in the big leagues. And defensively, it’s been a little bit of a work in progress for him. But just like with Michael Young, Michael Young’s a guy who’s moved around and played a few different positions, and a lot of his value to the team was his ability to move around, not just within a season, but across seasons, and sort of fill in depending on where the team needed him. And I think Grant is kind of building up that sort of versatility, which I think could be a huge benefit to a team. So in a perfect world, you hope he turns into that Michael Young type of player.
AF: Well, hopefully it’s a matter of turning a liability into a virtue if he develops this tremendous versatility then. But where do you see him as strongest in the field at this point?
FZ: The best position that I’ve seen him play really is the position he’s playing right now, which is second base. I was joking with someone about this today saying, “He plays second base like he’s too good to play the position.” But I actually like that. He plays it with that kind of confidence, with a little bit of flair. But I like seeing him with that kind of confidence in the field. He can make all the plays at second base. When you play second base, you have just a little more time to get over to first, and that I think has relaxed him a little bit. He has good range, and I think he just has a comfort level at second base. I think he’s always had the defensive tools. Believe it or not, when we were scouting him in high school, we actually considered him a defense-first shortstop. So the defensive tools are certainly in there. And combine that with the confidence he’s shown playing second base and I think that’s where he profiles best.
AF: That’s interesting. When I spoke with him last year, he said his preference was definitely to be playing right around the bag where the action is at either shortstop or second base. So the fact that he’s looking comfortable and showing confidence there at second base makes sense.
FZ: Right, if he hits like Michael Young, you’ll find a place to play him. If you have a bat like that that has the ability to go to a few different spots and play those spots, that’s all the more valuable. You know, I was at the Sloan Sports Conference this weekend in Boston, and one of the papers was about the value of roster flexibility. And just as an aside, just for your own edification, it’s an academic paper but it’s on their website, I think it’s worth checking out. And they talk about the value of having a roster built on players who are fairly interchangeable and can play multiple positions, because they’re able to be platoon players, maybe even across different positions, and because it insulates you against injury. And that’s the direction that our roster has been going in the last couple of years. And I think we got a lot of benefit out of that last year, and I think we’ll get a lot of benefit out of it this year. And Grant could be the kind that fits in with that roster philosophy very well.
AF: Yeah, I was going to say that theme certainly seems to fit right in with where you guys are at this point. It seemed like everything you did in the off-season was designed to add as much flexibility to the roster as you possibly could.
FZ: Yeah, absolutely. When we’re looking at individual players, and we think they have that ability to expand their flexibility, we’re probably more inclined to at least take a look at that than we have in the past.
AF: That’s funny, it’s almost becoming like building a fantasy baseball roster. Guys who can play multiple positions are always one of the things you’re looking for.
FZ: Yeah, there’s no doubt. Guys who can play across positions and save you a roster spot, obviously you have to figure out how much more valuable those guys are. And look, part of it is having a manager who can manage the personalities and keep guys happy. Every player wants to play everyday and wants to be at the same position everyday just because baseball players are creatures of habit. But Bob Melvin is just a great communicator and a guy that the players love to play for. And we have the advantage of being able to create a little bit more depth and flexibility and trust that he’ll be communicating with these guys so that the roster and all the guys are on the same page. And that’s a big part of being able to do this.
AF: Yeah, it’s great to be able to have someone who can get guys to be happy about doing things they might not normally be all that happy to do!
FZ: Right! I mean, it’s a challenge. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be smooth sailing, but there’s nobody I trust more than Bob Melvin with that task.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, in which he gives us the lowdown on Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez and Michael Ynoa and what he really looks for in minor league prospects!
Yesterday we brought you a complete rundown of manager Bob Melvin’s bloggers-only press conference from last week at the Coliseum. Well, after the skipper did his duty, the A’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, joined us to address a number of player personnel queries. A trained economist in his 8th year with the A’s, Farhan is deeply involved in the critical analyses that the team does on players both inside and outside the organization, so his insights are invaluable. Rather than provide a complete rundown of every subject that Farhan took the time to touch on, below are his insights on some of the more intriguing young players to make their marks in the majors and minors for the A’s organization this year. Once again, A’s Farm, kicked off the questioning – this time by asking for Farhan’s take on one of the A’s top prospects whom folks are always eager to find out more about…
On the future of former 1st-round draft pick Grant Green…
“If you look at what Grant did this year, he cut his strikeouts down a lot. And his numbers were up across the board. And I think that was more in line with what we were expecting out of him than what we saw from him last year. We’re just trying to figure out defensively maybe where he can be an asset to the team and where we can fit him into our defense. There’s two different levels of prospects – there’s guys at a lower level where you just want them to be where they’re most comfortable or where their value is maximized, and then you have older guys where you’re maybe starting to have to look at your big league depth chart and you’re starting to say, ‘Where can this guy play?’ And with Grant, he’s a guy who I think next year will have a chance to make the team. So right now I couldn’t tell you what position he’s going to play or how he fits in, but I think he’s really given us a lot of options, which is always a good thing.”
“You try to give guys as much rope as possible, because this transition from Triple-A to the big leagues is so tough. And if I guy has a good game when he comes up, he just kind of builds off that momentum and goes from there. But if he goes 0 for 4 with a couple of strikeouts, he can get in a downward spiral. And if you look at those guys and look at that first game after they came up, they started succeeding and then building off of that. And I don’t mean to reduce it to such a simple thing, but that’s how it is sometimes. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting some level of confidence for these guys.”
On the rapid rise of right-hander Dan Straily…
“I really think the year that he got on the radar for us as an organization was 2011 with the year that he had in the California League where, if you look at those numbers and adjust for the league and environment, that was a really impressive performance. And I think, before that, I would have said, ‘He’s kind of a good organizational guy.’ He had a good year in the Midwest League. But last year, to do what he did in the California League, he started showing some plus stuff, some plus velocity. He was a guy we started thinking could be a part of the plan going forward. Now look, he wasn’t in big league camp, so don’t give us too much credit. But he was a guy I would have said at the beginning of the year that I could see him spending most of the year in Double-A and if he had a similarly good year, move up to Triple-A, and then sort of really be on the radar. So a little bit like Parker, I think the most impressive thing about what he’s done is just the speed and sort of really forcing the issue – being so good in Double-A that we had to move him up, and being so good in Triple-A that, when the opportunity presented itself, we brought him up here. I wouldn’t say it was totally out of the blue, but obviously he’s totally blown by everyone’s expectations.”
* * *
When the season began, top pitching prospects like A.J. Cole, Ian Krol and Blake Hassebrock were expected to make the Class-A Stockton Ports’ starting staff the real highlight of the team. But Hassebrock ended up spending much of the first half on the disabled list, Krol has struggled for most of the season, and Cole got off to such a rough start that he was eventually sent down to Burlington.
The focal point of the team turned out to be young third baseman Miles Head who quickly proved himself to be the best hitting prospect in the organization, but almost as quickly found himself promoted to Midland. With Head now gone, the Ports’ offensive load has been turned over to young hitters like catcher Max Stassi, third baseman B.A. Vollmuth, first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones, shortstop Yorda Cabrera, and outfielders Dusty Robinson and Josh Whitaker. And when we visited Stockton about a week before the All-Star break, we took the opportunity to talk with manager Webster Garrison about some of his hitting prospects.
We also had the chance to talk to the player who now appears to be the Ports’ top pitching prospect, right-hander Sean Murphy. The 23-year-old got off to a red-hot start at Burlington, posting a 1.97 ERA in 8 starts, and he’s continued to look impressive at Stockton. Murphy has the third most strikeouts of all starting pitchers currently in the A’s minor league system with 105 in 110 1/3 innings, and hitters are batting only .222 against him on the season. He’s had a couple of rough starts recently, but Murphy has clearly put himself on the map with his strong performance this season.
So be sure to check out our chat with Ports’ pitcher Sean Murphy followed by our conversation with Stockton manager Webster Garrison and get the inside scoop on the 2012 Stockton Ports…
AF: You’ve been having a great year at Burlington and here at Stockton. Last season, guys were hitting over .300 against you, and most of this year, guys have been hitting around .200 against you. So what’s changed?
SM: I would say just actually getting ahead of batters, and just staying consistent and trusting my off-speed stuff – throwing it for strikes when I need to throw it for strikes, and then going out of the zone when I need to go out of the zone. That’s the biggest key from last year to this year – just throwing every pitch with a purpose.
AF: What made that change happen? Did somebody tell you something, did a light suddenly go off, or did it just creep up on you?
SM: I would say (Burlington pitching coach) John Wasdin helped me out a lot with the mental side of the game – really just focusing in on throwing every pitch with a purpose, not just throwing pitches to throw them – having a your mind set on what you’re going to do with this pitch and what you want the hitter to do with it, rather than just go out there and see the sign for the curveball and just throw it – he wants it away and you throw it away, rather than splitting the plate. So I think that’s the biggest difference – just being committed and having a purpose.
AF: You got off to a great start this year at Burlington, and then you came up here to the California League, which is considered much more of a hitters’ league. So have you had to do anything different here or had to make any adjustments?
SM: Because the wind blows out in most places here, the biggest key is keeping the ball down in the zone. If you keep the ball down and really get ahead of batters, you can start playing with them and get them out.
AF: You’ve been second or third behind Dan Straily in the entire A’s system in strikeouts for most of the year. So what’s been your big out pitch?
SM: Against lefties, I’d have to say the changeup – just the deception of the changeup. Really getting ahead with the fastball, locating it, which sets up the changeup, and working the changeup off the same plane against lefties. Against righties, everything – it’s all come together for me – but I’d have to say my slider late in the count. Just going off the plate and staying down with it gets a lot of swings and misses. And then freezing people going in with the curveball – that’s a big key.
AF: Tell me a little more about your repertoire.
SM: My fastball – I like to get ahead with my fastball. I could get ahead with off-speed too – its just throwing it for strikes is what’s key. My #2 would be my changeup – that’s my go-to pitch. If I’m facing the cleanup hitter with runners in scoring position and a 3-2 count, I’m going to go with my changeup most of the time. And then my curveball has been a big key for me this year – actually throwing it in the zone. Then my slider late in the count. I would have to rank my pitches fastball, changeup, slider, then curve.
AF: Well congratulations – whatever, you’re doing, it all seems to be coming together for you this year!
SM: Yes, sir!
AF: I know you played in the A’s minor league system back in the ‘90s. I remember you playing in Double-A, but they weren’t in Midland at that point, they were somewhere else, right?
WG: When I was playing, they were in Huntsville.
AF: Right, in the Southern League. And then you were at Tacoma in the PCL too, right?
WG: Yep, Tacoma.
AF: I guess you’ve seen all the stops.
WG: A lot of them!
AF: Well, I wanted to get your impressions of some guys on the team here in Stockton. Let’s start off with outfielder Dusty Robinson, who came up here from Burlington about a month and a half into the season. He’s obviously a big power hitter, and he’s from right here in the Central Valley. So what’s your impression been of him so far?
WG: He works hard. Like you said, he’s got the big swing. He’s definitely a home run hitter. We’re just working on him staying on the ball, trying to use the whole field. He’s a good defensive player. He’s got a good arm and he runs well. He’s a good-looking young prospect coming up. He just has to work on that pitch away. Coming inside, he’s ready for that all the time. And he’s definitely a power hitter.
AF: So the main thing he’s got to work on at this point is that away pitch?
WG: Yeah, and he’s working on it. He’s not the only one – there’s a lot of guys in the minor leagues who have to work on that pitch. But that’s definitely one of the pitches he’s got to work on staying on, because he’s a big power guy. He likes to get it going, and once he gets it going, that bat’s coming through the zone and he’s looking to go to left field. And so he’s working on staying to right-center in batting practice.
AF: You said he’s looking good in the outfield. So does he have skills in the outfield? He’s not just a power-hitting DH type?
WG: Oh, he’s definitely not just a DH type. He can definitely play the outfield. He runs balls down. He throws well. He’s diving and hustling, and he runs well. So he’s not just a DH by a long shot. He can play the outfield.
AF: He’s got about 10 stolen bases so far this year, so it does seem like he’s got a little speed.
WG: Yeah, he’s got some speed. He can steal a base. He runs well. He’s a well put-together guy. He’s not a big tall large guy, but he’s well put-together for his size, and he does a little bit of everything. He can hit the ball out of the park, he runs well, he throws well, and he’s a good defensive outfielder.
AF: Right-hander Sean Murphy started out the year in Burlington too and looked really good there. He came up here in May. So how’s he looking to your eyes?
WG: He’s looking real good! He’s a competitor. He goes out there when he pitches and he locates well and he changes speeds well, and he’s competing. He’s out there and he’s got a game plan. He knows what he wants to do with the ball, and he puts it in spots and lets the defense play for him. He makes big pitches when he gets guys on, and he gives us a great opportunity to win when he’s out there. I like what I see out of that kid.
AF: He told me that he’s been throwing with a lot of confidence and a lot of purpose. Is that what you see?
WG: Exactly, that’s definitely what I see. He’s focused, he’s prepared, and he goes out there and he executes his pitches and it’s working well for him right now.
AF: Another guy who just came up from Burlingtonis third baseman B.A. Vollmuth. What do you think about what you’ve seen of him thus far?
WG: I saw a lot of him in spring training. He’s a good young player as well. He’s a good defensive guy for third base – good arm. He’s going to hit as well. He had abig springtraining for us. So were looking for some good things out of him. He’s more of a contact guy. He can use the whole field, and he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. So we’re looking for him to step in there and play well. I think he was playing pretty good in Burlington from the reports I was getting – no big numbers, but putting the ball in play hard a lot. So that’s what I’m looking forward to from him while he’s here.
AF: He came up here when you lost your other third baseman Miles Head, who I’m sure you were happy to pencil into the lineup every night. He’s obviously up at Midland now, but tell me about your impressions of him when he was here.
WG: He’s just one of those ballplayers who’s amazing. That’s all you can say is “amazing.” His approach to hitting is amazing. He puts the ball in play. He puts it in play hard. He hits the ball to all fields. There’s no certain way to pitch him. He hit just about every pitch and he hit it hard. He used the whole field. He plays hard, works hard. He’s a good kid all the way around. I was just happy to have him here as a ballplayer. I knew he wouldn’t be here long. But to lead the league in hitting and have 18 home runs and almost 60 RBIs for half a season, that’s just outstanding – very impressive.
AF: And he just turned 21 while was here too, right?
WG: He just turned 21. He’s an impressive-looking young hitter. I don’t know exactly how he’s doing in Midland right now, but he’s definitely going to be making waves later on in this game.
WG: I think his best tool to hitting is he’s just up there hitting. He’s not up there thinking I’ve got to go the other way or I’ve got to stay inside the ball – where my arm is, where my foot is, where my head is. He’s just going up there ready to hit.
AF: So he’s keeping it simple.
WG: Yeah, he’s keeping it plain and simple. That’s his approach and it works well for him. He goes up there swinging. He’s not up there looking to walk – but if you walk him, he’ll take it. But he’s looking to do damage while he’s up there. He’s not just up there swinging, he’s looking to do damage.
AF: Is there any weakness in his game? Is there anything he really needs to work on as he moves up the ladder?
WG: He could work on his defense a little bit more – just getting jumps. He was basically a first baseman and we moved him over to third base this year. So he’s working hard at it. He’s going to get better, but he’s better than what we thought he was going to be. He’s a ballplayer – he can catch the ball, he can throw the ball. He was already an infielder, so he can definitely catch the ball. He’s just got to work on getting jumps and angles and reads and when to throw it and when not to throw it – just third baseman stuff he hasn’t done in a long time.
AF: So you think he’s got the essentials that he could make it work at third with time?
WG: Oh yeah, definitely. He’s only 21 years old. He just turned 21. Once he gets a couple of years under his belt at third base, he’ll definitely be okay.
AF: How would you compare him to a guy who was a staple here for you at Stockton last year, Michael Choice? Is there any way you could compare the two?
WG: I’d say Mike’s just a raw power guy. He’s going to hit it farther than Miles Head. He’s just one of those strong guys. When he gets a hold of it, it’s gone and it’s gone by a lot. Miles Head is just a little more of a consistent hitter using the whole field – the ball’s in play more and he’s just getting more hits. Mike’s got the big swing where he’s hitting home runs and extra base hits. He had an outstanding second half last year and made some great adjustments. But with Miles Head, the ball’s just in play more and it’s in play a lot more hard. He can just hit the ball out of the park anywhere, and there’s just a little more consistent hard contact.
AF: Catcher Max Stassi was hurt for a while, but he’s been back playing a little more regularly for a while now and showing a little pop. What’s your take on him?
WG: Like you said, he’s been back in the lineup. He got injured earlier in the year, and now he’s getting real comfortable again. He’s started catching a lot. And his bat’s always been a plus in my eyes, because he definitely can hit the ball, and he can drive it out of all parts of the park as well. And now he’s starting to see a lot of pitches and he’s getting more and more comfortable. He’s a staple right in the middle of our lineup right now and we’re going to continue to look for big things out of him.
AF: Another guy people have been looking for big things from is shortstop Yordy Cabrera, but he’s been struggling a bit at the plate here. What’s your take on him?
WG: Young, raw talent – and it shows at times. He’s a young raw kid, but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s got moves in the field – good hands, strong arm. He’s definitely got some pop in his bat. He’s just got to get a little more consistent in his approach and putting the ball in play where he can have some better results. He’s a young kid who’s up there swinging, trying hard – so hard at times that it doesn’t work out for him. But he works so hard. If he just settles down and just tries to do the little things well, I think he’ll be okay.
AF: Well, I guess trying too hard is better than not trying hard enough anyway.
AF: Well, thanks a lot, Webster.