Tag: Chad Pinder

Meet Your 2018 Oakland A’s!

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

Third Baseman Matt Chapman

Third Baseman Matt Chapman

Back in May, we took a look at what a young, rebuilding A’s team might look like. But now that we’ve passed the July 31st trade deadline and the A’s have made a number of deadline deals, and even some post-deadline deals, to add players like Blake Treinen, Dustin Fowler, Boog Powell, Jorge Mateo, Sheldon Neuse, James Kaprielian and Jesus Luzardo to the system, it’s a good time to take another look at what the near future might look like for the A’s.

Of course, one never knows what the A’s might do in the offseason, but the fact that they don’t really have many veteran trade chips left to deal will definitely limit their ability to barter. And, as usual, it seems unlikely that they will splurge too much on the free agent market at this stage of the game. The team could dip its toe in the water to fill a few holes on a short-term basis, particularly on the pitching staff, but there aren’t likely to be any terribly significant commitments in the near term, at least not until a new stadium is within view.

Two players who’ve played significant roles this year seem likely to depart after the season – center fielder Rajai Davis, who’s set to become a free agent, and second baseman Jed Lowrie, whom the A’s hold a $6 million option on for next year. With the A’s now fully committed to a youth movement and with both Franklin Barreto and Chad Pinder capable of playing second base, it seems unlikely that the A’s will opt to bring back Lowrie. But is there still any chance that they might be able to get something for either of them before the season’s through the way they did with Yonder Alonso? It’s possible, but it seems like any deal that would have been possible probably would have happened by now. And looking ahead, there are only two significant players on the current roster who are due to become free agents after the 2018 season – outfielder Matt Joyce and reliever Santiago Casilla. Could the A’s possibly get anything for either player in the offseason? Anything’s possible but, if they can, it’s not likely to amount to much.

When looking at next season on the position player front, eleven guys seem to be pretty solid bets for the major league roster, leaving a number of others left to battle for one or two remaining spots, depending on whether the A’s choose to go with twelve or thirteen position players in 2018. The eleven most likely to lay claim to a roster spot include catchers Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley, infielders Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Franklin Barreto, Matt Olson and Ryon Healy, outfielders Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and Dustin Fowler, and super utility infielder/outfielder Chad Pinder. That leaves guys like Boog Powell, Jaycob Brugman, Mark Canha, Jake Smolinski and Renato Nunez fighting for the one or two remaining roster spots. When it comes to the pitching staff, things could be a little more up in the air, and one would have to suspect that’s where any offseason additions might be most likely to occur.

So, setting aside any possible offseason deals or free-agent signings, and adding in a fresh batch of summer arrivals, let’s take a position-by-position look at how things might stack up for the 2018 Oakland A’s…

 

Bruce Maxwell

Bruce Maxwell

CATCHERS

With Stephen Vogt’s departure and Bruce Maxwell making the move to the major league roster in June, the catching corps could prove to be one of the more predictable parts of next season’s roster. Maxwell and Josh Phegley seem set to split time behind the plate for the 2018 A’s, though the team could always give recently-acquired catcher Dustin Garneau the opportunity to compete with Phegley for the chance to serve as Maxwell’s platoon partner. The team’s top minor league catching prospect, former 3rd-round pick Sean Murphy, has played in just 39 games at the Double-A level and is probably another year away from factoring into the catching conversation.

 

INFIELDERS

Matt Olson

Matt Olson

With the departures of Trevor Plouffe and Yonder Alonso, and the likely departure of Jed Lowrie in the offseason, the A’s infield looks to be right at the heart of the youth movement in 2018. Young slugger Matt Chapman is set to anchor the infield at the hot corner, while Marcus Semien is expected to be back at shortstop. It seems likely that top prospect Franklin Barreto will get every opportunity to take over at second base, where he’s probably best-suited defensively and where he’s most likely to remain since the A’s acquired promising shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray deal. The team seems ready to make Matt Olson its primary first baseman, though his consistent platoon splits make it likely that, like Yonder Alonso, he’ll frequently sit against lefties while Ryon Healy moves from the designated hitter spot to take over at first. Meanwhile, with Olson at first and Chapman at third, Healy looks likely to get the bulk of his at-bats in the DH slot once again, serving in that role against righties while seeing some time in the field against lefties. And with Olson likely to sit out against most lefties, that could give super-utility man Chad Pinder, who’s sure to make the squad, a good chance to get some regular at-bats against lefties while stepping into the field in any number of positions and giving various A’s regulars a bit of a breather by sliding into the DH spot for the day. And, of course, Pinder also has the ability to spell Semien and Barreto in the middle infield any time either of them is slumping or could just use a day off. The A’s could also decide to give a player who’s probably best-suited for the designated hitter role a shot to see what he can do as the regular DH against lefties. Right-handed slugger Renato Nunez may be limited defensively, but he’s currently leading the Pacific Coast League with 31 home runs while slashing an impressive .309/.387/.630 against Triple-A lefties this season. So, Nunez clearly could have the ability to do some damage from the DH spot when Healy makes the move to first against lefties. Behind Chapman, Semien, Barreto, Olson, Healy, Pinder and Nunez, other infield options down on the farm could include second basemen Joey Wendle and Max Schrock, shortstop Jorge Mateo, third baseman Sheldon Neuse and Yairo Munoz, who’s been increasing his versatility by playing third base, shortstop and center field for Triple-A Nashville this season.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Dustin Fowler

Dustin Fowler

With a couple of the team’s most veteran position players still in the outfield picture, the youth movement may have a slightly less dramatic effect on the A’s outfield alignment in 2018. The team still has control of its top home run hitter, Khris Davis, for two more seasons. So, assuming he sticks around for at least one more campaign, he’s likely to see most of his time in left field once again. And assuming Matt Joyce is back for the final year of his contract, then he’s likely to wind up back in right field against right-hander hurlers anyway. As for center field, the A’s clearly acquired Dustin Fowler from the Yankees to be their center fielder of the future, and that future is likely to start in 2018. Super-utility man Chad Pinder is capable of putting in time in the outfield. And since Joyce and Fowler are both left-handed hitters, he could well serve as an outfield platoon partner, particularly for Joyce in right. And if things line up as expected, then that would leave one or two more roster spots available for outfielders depending on if the A’s choose to go with twelve or thirteen position players and whether or not they decide to make room for Renato Nunez on the roster in 2018. Lefty-swinging outfielders Boog Powell and Jaycob Brugman, who’ve been the main men in center field over these past couple of months, will clearly move behind Fowler on the depth chart as soon as he returns from the disabled list. Though Powell and Brugman are both capable of playing all three outfield positions, the fact that they both hit from the left side severely limits their ability to serve in any sort of platoon role in the A’s outfield as it’s currently configured. And we all know how much the A’s value those platoon matchups. That could help the cause of a couple of other outfield options who happen to be right-handed hitters – Mark Canha, who still possesses some intriguing power potential, and Jake Smolinski, who’s always put up strong numbers against lefties, is capable of playing all three outfield spots, and is currently on a minor league rehab assignment after sitting out most of the season due to shoulder surgery. One thing that seems certain is that the one of the most interesting roster battles next season should be for the A’s last one or two remaining outfield spots.

 

STARTING PITCHERS

Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn

What once looked like a strong suit for the A’s, thanks to trades, injuries and poor performance, now appears to be a little more up in the air. Twelve different pitchers have made starts for the A’s this season. LHP Sean Manaea is the only A’s hurler to make it to the mound for more than 20 starts so far this season, and he also leads the teams in wins and strikeouts. RHP Kendall Graveman was looked at as the team’s ace-in-waiting behind Sonny Gray and was the A’s opening day starter this year, but injuries have limited him to 11 starts this season. Manaea and Graveman look to be locks to top the A’s rotation again in 2018. But don’t forget about a guy who put up better numbers than either of those pitchers have this season before undergoing hip surgery this summer – RHP Andrew Triggs. If he returns healthy and regains his form, then Triggs would also be in line to claim a rotation spot next season. A pair of rookies would appear to be the best bets to round out the rotation – RHP Paul Blackburn, who’s been solid in 9 starts for the A’s, and RHP Daniel Gossett, a former 2nd-round pick who’s shown plenty of promising potential. Behind those five (none of whom is currently over the age of 28), there are a number of arms who could be in waiting at Nashville but who also come with a number of questions marks. RHPs Jharel Cotton and Jesse Hahn have combined to make 31 starts for the A’s this season, and while both have shown great promise at times, they can both be wildly inconsistent as well. RHP Daniel Mengden, who showed such potential at times last season, is still in the picture and has recently returned to action for Nashville after missing much of the season due to injuries. Veteran RHP Chris Smith also remains in the mix and could serve as valuable rotation depth at Triple-A. Other potential starting options in the system include RHP Chris Bassitt (who’s been working out of the bullpen at Nashville while making his way back from Tommy John surgery), RHP Frankie Montas (who had been serving in a starting role at Triple-A before landing on the disabled list), RHP Raul Alcantara (who started the season on the A’s roster), RHP Corey Walter (who’s made 11 starts for the Sounds this season), and LHP A.J. Puk (the A’s top draft pick last year who’s put up an ERA of 5.36 and struck out 61 in 45 1/3 frames since joining Double-A Midland in June). Puk may not be ready to be a real rotation option for the A’s to start the season but, depending on how things play out, he could prove to be a legitimate option for the team before next season is through.

 

RELIEF PITCHERS

Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen

The bullpen could be the biggest question mark for the A’s heading into 2018. There aren’t too many locks here, nor too many talented young hurlers who look to be ready to bloom into superstar status. This could be an area the A’s seek to fill in with a few shrewd free-agent pickups, or the organization might just decide to make the best with what they’ve got and wait until the team looks like it might be ready to contend before investing in outside help for the bullpen. But looking at what’s in-house at the moment, RHP Blake Treinen seems to be the best option for the closer’s role. Of course, RHP Santiago Casilla is still under contract for next season, while the A’s will also maintain control of a couple of other familiar faces from the bullpen – RHPs Liam Hendriks and Ryan Dull. Two hard-throwing RHPs will remain in the mix as well – Frankie Montas, who’s still working to harness his potential, and Simon Castro, who has shown some promise in 13 appearances for the A’s this season. RHP Bobby Wahl will be returning from thoracic outlet surgery, while RHP J.B. Wendelken will be coming back from Tommy John surgery. And there are a number of possible long-relief options to consider as well, including RHP Chris Hatcher (who was recently acquired from the Dodgers), RHP Chris Smith (who could be well-suited for such a role), RHP Chris Bassitt (who’s been throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen at Nashville), RHPs Michael Brady and Josh Smith (both of whom have served in that role at times this season), and RHP Raul Alcantara (who started the season in that role for the A’s). On the left side of the bullpen, the A’s current options look to be fairly limited. Of course, LHP Daniel Coulombe, who’s made 53 relief appearances for the A’s this season, clearly stands atop the pack. LHP Felix Doubront has been serving in a relief role for Nashville since returning from Tommy John surgery, and the A’s recently acquired LHP Sam Moll, who’s made 139 relief appearances in the Rockies system over the last five years. But beyond that, there aren’t many more southpaws to be seen in the bullpen picture at this point anyway, so stay tuned.

 

One never really knows what the A’s might decide to do in any given offseason, and this one’s certainly no different. But one thing’s clear – the team is committed to rebuilding with this current crop of young players. There aren’t many veterans left to deal away at this point, so any significant additions would most likely have to come from the free agent market, though it seems unlikely that the A’s would be ready to make too much of a splash in the free agent pool at this stage of the game. Once plans for the A’s new ballpark are announced, we should start to get a much better sense of what the team’s long-term and short-term player personnel plans are. But for now, this is how the current crop of young players who are likely to make the squad next season is shaping up. And hopefully, A’s fans can look forward to watching this promising pack of prospects develop into a winning team that will be able to carry its winnings ways into a new ballpark somewhere in Oakland in the not-too-distant future.

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

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

0nsIMG_2587Eric 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 eventually made the move to coaching, first serving as the hitting coach for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, and he’s now spending his second season handling some of the team’s top young hitters at Nashville.

Rick 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 first moved to Nashville, the northern California native remained on the west coast to spend a season with the Single-A Stockton Ports. But he’s now serving his second season with the Sounds, helping to develop another crop of talented arms for the A’s.

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

 

ERIC MARTINS

emMartins, Eric2AF:  Yairo Munoz is a guy who got off to a bit of a slow start when he first came up to Triple-A, but it seems like something’s been starting to click for him lately. So, where do you feel he’s at at this point?

EM:  Well, Yairo came in and he’s notoriously known as being a free swinger. He’s got one of the highest first-pitch-swing-percentage rates in the organization. It’s one thing that I kind of talked to him about a little bit. You don’t ever want to take away a hitter’s aggressiveness, but it’s being able to recognize the pitches that he wants to swing at early. He’ll still have his lapses every once in a while, but I think that’s one thing that’s calmed him down a little bit. He’s been a little bit more selective. He’s worked a little bit more here. We’ve worked on his pitch selection and his approach, because he has the ability to hit the ball all over the yard. He’s so aggressive, he’s got electric hands. He’s one of those guys that’s kind of special, he’s a little bit free-spirited, he’s a little bit of a loose cannon, but the tools are evident. Like the other day, he kind of looked bad on a couple sliders and the guy hung him a two-strike breaking ball and he hit it over the left-field wall. And he’s been having really good at-bats the last couple weeks. I think the other thing is just being comfortable being here. These pitchers here pitch a little bit differently. And you get an aggressive guy like Yairo and they can feast on him for a little bit until he makes the adjustment, and he’s done that. He’s done a pretty good job of that.

AF:  Well, whatever you said to him seemed to get through anyway! Have you been working with him in the field as well?

EM:  Yeah, he’s been playing all over the field. When he’s out in center field, he reminds me of Carlos Gomez a little bit. He’s a little bit, like I said, of a loose cannon, but he has all the tools. His arm is tremendous. He’s done a great job in center field. He can run some balls down. His versatility has been huge for us, and it’s going to be huge for him. He’s played third base, he’s played shortstop, he’s played left field, and he’s looked really good in the outfield. He’s always been a pretty good infielder.

AF:  So, it sounds like you think he could work in center field.

EM:  I think he’s only going to get better out there. He’s made some tremendous catches out there. It’s just about knowing where to throw the ball. He’s got such a good arm that he just wants to show it off each time. He just needs to come up and find the cut-off man and know where he’s throwing the ball. But other than that, his angles and his routes have been pretty good. He’s covered some ground out there, and he’s looking more and more comfortable out there.

AF:  Well, he kind of likes to show off wherever he’s at in the field, right?

EM:  Yeah, he’s got the loud tools, so why not?

fb620439AF:  Franklin Barreto got a little taste of the big leagues this year and now he’s back here with you in Nashville. So, what did he learn from that experience and what are you working on with him at this point?

EM:  Well, I think it was good for him to go up and kind of see what those pitchers are going to do and how good they are. And he came down with instructions on some stuff that he needed to work on. And his at-bats have been really good since that point. He’s made consistent contact with two strikes, so his strikeout rates have gone down a little bit, and I think that’s one thing that they wanted to see. His mechanics have gotten a little bit better. He’s getting a little bit more comfortable staying inside the ball – he’s not worried about the pitches in anymore. He’s doing a good job with his approach and his work, and you can see his at-bats starting to trend back to where they were at the beginning of the year. But the consistency in the at-bats has been a little bit better.

AF:  It sounds like getting a look at major league pitching might have been a good, eye-opening experience for him.

EM:  Absolutely. I think he saw how the guys who don’t have the premium stuff can pitch and how good the guys who have the premium stuff are, so you’ve just got to find a way to battle.

AF:  A guy who’s been up and down between Nashville and Oakland a number of times this year is Matt Olson. What do you think he’s learned from all his trips to the big leagues this year?

EM:  I think with Olson, he’s so laid back and he understands, so it doesn’t really bother him, which is good. You know, it can bother a lot of people who are going up and down. He gets it, so it’s been easy on him. He just comes down and he does what he does, and he’s continuing to work on everything. He’s had such a good year, and he knows his time’s coming to get up there and be playing consistently. So, we just continue to work on the adjustments that he made in the offseason with his swing and his mechanics. So, he’s fine and he’s ready to go. When he gets that call and he’s going to be the everyday guy and get some consistent at-bats, you’re going to see who Matt Olson really is.

mo621566AF:  Yeah, he seems like a pretty low-key guy. It doesn’t seem like a lot would bother him.

EM:  No, real low maintenance. And that’s the thing, for him being so young, he gets it and he understands. The important thing for him is to get at-bats. And if there’s no at-bats for him up there, then he’s going to come down here and continue to get his at-bats and continue on with the good year that he’s had. It’s been a breakthrough for him as far as the consistency of his season – hitting close to .270 all year. It’s been a good year for him, where the last couple years have been kind of down. I think the mechanical tweaks that he made this offseason and early in spring training really helped.

AF:  Chad Pinder was back here in Nashville rehabbing for a while before heading back to the big leagues. So, what kind of things were you working on with a guy like that who’s rehabbing here?

EM:  Pinder was just getting his at-bats and getting his timing back. Having a lot of history with him, it was just a matter of getting his hands in the right position and his timing and all that stuff. He’s so strong and he can drive the ball all over the park. So, it was just a matter of him just seeing some pitches, working his at-bats and making sure his timing was there. He did have some strikeouts here, but he got in some counts and worked some at-bats. That was it for him. You don’t really want to change too much, because he’s been doing so good up there. It’s just those little fine-tuning things. And with me having the history with him, it was easy.

AF:  Well, you must be pretty familiar with a lot of these guys at this point.

EM:  Absolutely, it’s fun. I’ll still get some calls from the guys up there – Bruce and Chapman – checking in. And I’ll send them a text when they have a good game up in the big leagues – Brugman and I texted a couple days ago. So, it’s fun to see those guys having some success up there. They’re going to be a big part of things from now on.

AF:  A guy who spent some significant time in the big leagues and then found himself back down here was Mark Canha. It seems like he was on a bit of a tear here. So, what were you working on with him here?

mc592192EM:  Well, I think Mark just kind of simplified things here a little bit. He stopped worrying about his leg kick and the timing of his leg kick and just started concentrating on his hands. And it was one thing that he never really thought about so much. He was so worried about the timing of his leg kick that it kind of threw off his hands a little bit. So, now he’s kind of switched the roles a little bit, and he’s a lot simpler – the moves are a lot simpler. They’re not as unique and different. He still has a little bit of funk to his swing, but that’s who he is. And Mark can really hit. It’s just he gets in his own way sometimes when he over-thinks his mechanics. But he’s really simplified some stuff, and his at-bats have been outstanding. The power’s obviously there. He’s a really good hitter. He just needed to come down here and simplify some stuff, and I think he’s found his niche now.

AF:  Now that we’re heading into the final month or so of the minor league season, is there any particular message that you’re trying to convey to your hitters here at this stage of the game?

EM:  I just tell them to finish strong. I know some guys are getting tired. Some guys can be thinking elsewhere. They can be thinking, “Why am I not up in the big leagues?” Or they can be chasing their numbers. But they’ve got to realize that whatever numbers that they have now, there’s always something that you can get out of your at-bats. Don’t give any at-bats away. We had a couple of games in New Orleans that were back-to-back day games at the end of a 12-day road trip, and you could tell guys were tired, and we gave some at-bats away and didn’t really compete. You’ve got to kind of give them that a little bit, but you’ve got to rein them back in after a day or two, because they all count. At the end of the day, you give some at-bats away and you’re 0 for 4, that counts against you. So, don’t take any at-bats off – just keep competing and have quality at-bats.

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRodriguez, Rick2AF:  It’s kind of like you’ve been the supplemental A’s pitching coach this year with all the A’s starters who’ve been down here at one point or another this season – Graveman, Cotton, Hahn, etc. So, I wanted to ask you about working with some of those guys, starting with Jesse Hahn, who was pitching really well for Oakland earlier this year then ended up coming back down here. So, what have you been working on with him and what are you trying to do with him?

RR:  We have good communication between myself and [A’s pitching coach] Scott Emerson. He always has a plan of what these guys should do. So, he either sends me something or he calls me and says, “We need to work on this, this and this.” And with Jesse, it’s more his fastball command – just trying to command that fastball and working ahead in the count. He was working on a new grip on his changeup, so we’re trying to work that in. So, his command and his changeup.

AF:  Now when you have a guy like Kendall Graveman, who was working his way back from an injury and has been out for a while, what kind of things are you focused in that situation?

RR:  The biggest thing when coming back from an injury is trying not to let the injury itself affect you, just trying to keep with what you’ve done in the past. I think we were in New Orleans, and at some point, he felt confident enough to really just kind of let it go. And at that point, I think he realized he was over his injury and now it’s a question of commanding that sinker, commanding that cutter, and getting back to where he was before he got hurt.

AF:  So, I guess the first step is just gaining that confidence back that you’re actually healthy enough to be able to do what you need to do.

RR:  Yeah, it’s always in the back of your mind when you come back from an injury. It’s like, “Am I going to hurt anything again?” And then you realize, “Hey, I’m great – I’m healthy.” And then you can get back to your routine and what made you successful.

AF:  Now what about Jharel Cotton, who’s back up with the A’s now? He spent some time with you here. Where do you feel he’s at now? Did you feel you were able to help get him back to where he needs to be to be successful?

jc605194RR:  Yeah, I know his first outing coming back from the blister, he was a little rusty – he was out of sync, his fastball command wasn’t there, his changeup was up and down. His last outing, he seemed to command his fastball to both sides of the plate and he started to get his changeup with that late sink that I saw last year. His cutter’s always been there – just trying to get him to use his curveball a little bit more. But it was just more getting back into the swing of things – getting a routine and then trying to take that routine into the game.

AF:  Another guy you’ve had rehabbing here is Chris Bassitt, who’s been coming back from Tommy John surgery. After a bit of a setback, he’s been pitching out of the bullpen now. So, how’s he looking to you at this point?

RR:  This is his second go-around with the rehab. He looks more confident now. I think his elbow’s feeling better. He’s bouncing back a lot quicker. So, he’s just going to be coming out of the ‘pen. And if he pitches a day, we’ll give him a day off. And if he has two ups, we’ll probably give him a couple days off just to kind of rest that elbow. But he’s come along really good. His fastball command is there. He’s got his cutter back. I like his slow curveball – that kind of throws everybody off. But he’s doing well.

AF:  One guy who’s not actually rehabbing here who I wanted to ask you about is Corey Walter. He wasn’t a high draft pick, but he’s always pitched well and has had a great track record through the system. He got off to a good start here in Nashville, then he had a couple of crazy outings where he just got totally lit up and gave up something like 20 runs over two starts, and now it looks like maybe he’s starting to get back on track a bit again. So, what happened to him when he seemed to go off the rails there for a bit and where’s he at now?

cw657794bRR:  I think he’s still learning how to start. And as a starter, sometimes you go through a little phase where, for a couple outings or whatever, it’s not working and you’re trying everything. And I think that’s what he was going through. I know through the All-Star break, he had a couple of extra days – I think that helped him. Then with the rehabbers and some guys coming down from Oakland, we had to shuffle around, so he pitched out of the ‘pen a couple times. And it was a good chance to work on his sinker command on the side. He really needed to get that back down in the zone. And he did the other night. His slider was good and his split was better – it was a little sharper.

AF:  Do you see him staying as a starter in the near future or will he maybe be making a move back to the ‘pen?

RR:  I’m not sure what the plan is. I know he’s been starting, and I’m sure he’s going to be starting once all this rotation stuff gets cleared up. So, we’ll see how that goes, but I’m looking forward to him starting.

AF:  And as we enter the final month of the minor league season here, what messages are you trying to convey to your pitching staff at this point?

RR:  We just had a big e-mail from our pitching coordinator [Gil Patterson]. And the big thing I talk about is the fact that we have 4-6 weeks, so let’s make a good push and finish really, really strong. It’s important to finish strong, so that you go into that offseason really confident. You just want to be consistent and finish well, and then see what happens.

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

Ryan Christenson: Guiding Guys to the Big Leagues from Nashville

rc636148237120845988-ryan3by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

Originally drafted by the A’s in the 10th round in 1995, Ryan Christenson began his major league playing career as an outfielder with the A’s back in 1998. He made it to the playoffs with the A’s 2000 team before being dealt to Arizona during the 2001 season. The southern California native made his last major league appearance with Texas in 2003, and finished out his playing career by spending the 2004 season playing in the Pacific Coast League.

He then left the game for a while to go into the business world before being bitten by the baseball bug again and returning to the field in 2013 to skipper the Beloit Snappers, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League. Christenson quickly impressed the A’s organization with his ability to work with young players and, like many of his young charges, he moved through the system quickly, taking the reins at Stockton in 2014, before moving on to manage Midland in 2015 and 2016, and then becoming the skipper of the Nashville Sounds this season.

Christenson has managed many of the A’s top young prospects as they’ve moved through the system together. He began at Beloit back in 2013 with Bruce Maxwell, Matt Olson and Renato Nunez. In 2014 at Stockton, in addition to Maxwell, Olson and Nunez, he also had Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder and Jaycob Brugman, and he managed all six players again at Midland the next season. Top prospects Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto came under his charge at Midland in 2016, and have spent time with him at Nashville this year as well.

Obviously, Christenson has had a major hand in helping to develop many members of the A’s current youth movement. He’s had the chance to watch the A’s top prospects play on a daily basis as much as any other human being alive and knows them as well as anyone. So, last weekend in Nashville, we took the opportunity to talk to the skipper about his job and also got his impressions of a few of the main members of the A’s youth movement like Bruce Maxwell, Chad Pinder, Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto…

 

AF:  As a player, you played for that 2000 A’s team that started that four-year playoff run in Oakland with guys like Giambi, Chavez, Tejada and the beginning of the Big Three with Hudson, Mulder and Zito. Those guys you played with on that 2000 team really formed the core of those winning A’s teams of the early 2000s. So, what was that whole experience like for you and what did you take from that that may be of use to you now?

RC:  Obviously, just having been in the organization at every level, I still have a feel for the philosophy that we try to teach here as a player development person with the A’s now. I think one of the things that I remember most about that group there was just the closeness that we had with the young core group of players, because it seems like we all came through the system together and kind of all arrived in the big leagues together in the late ’90s, and then started to really play better baseball and were able to win the division there in 2000. So, that’s what I see and hope for with this group as we change over now. A lot of these guys have all come through the minor leagues together and have an opportunity to do something special at the big league level with that relationship already set in place.

AF:  After you retired as a player after the 2004 season, you were out of the game for a while until you came back and started managing at Beloit in 2013. So, what led to you getting back into the game at that point?

RC:  After I was done playing, I finished up my degree. I had a business degree and kind of saw myself going into the business world. I did that for a couple years but realized pretty quickly that being behind the desk was not where I really wanted to be. I felt myself starting to miss the game and realized how much I loved the game. As a player, I didn’t think that I was going to go into coaching, but I did feel that I was missing the game. And I had some friends like A.J. Hinch, Sal Fasano and David Newhan and some guys I was talking to who were in the game and were enjoying themselves…I interviewed in 2012 and didn’t get anything, thank goodness. And I happened to land in a perfect spot with the A’s, back where I came up. And it was just a good fit. It was everything I was looking for – with a boss like [farm director] Keith Lieppman, obviously some familiarity with [Vice President of Baseball Operations] Billy Beane and [General Manager] David Forst, and [special assistant] Grady Fuson was here, and I knew [assistant general manager] Dan Feinstein from my playing days. So, that just made it feel like a good place to start my coaching career.

AF:  You’ve coached at every full-season level in the system at this point, going from Beloit up to Nashville now. So, what’s the difference for you managing guys who are just starting out their careers in Single-A and then managing guys up here in Triple-A who’ve been around a bit and who’ve maybe even spent some time in the big leagues before?

RC:  The guys here already have a feel for what they have to do on a day-to-day basis. They have a pretty good understanding of the game. At the lower levels, you’re helping these guys understand what their day-to-day routine is going to be and how they get through a day. And then up here, it’s more managing the players than managing the work day – so getting to know these guys, having that relationship, because it’s a whirlwind here. Sometimes, you have to have some tough conversations; sometimes, you get to have some real exciting conversations as far as sending guys up. But if you don’t have a pulse of where they’re all at, then this job could spiral on you in a hurry.

AF:  Yeah, you’re actually in the middle of a lot of personal drama here in Triple-A. Guys here often find themselves going through some major changes one way or another.

RC:  Yeah, they are major. And a lot of them have wives and families. At the lower levels, you don’t have to deal with that issue. Moving around is a little bit easier. But here, it can be a major uprooting.

AF:  Yeah, going back and forth between Beloit and Stockton isn’t quite as dramatic a change in life as going back and forth between Nashville and Oakland! Now you started out in Beloit with guys like Bruce Maxwell and Matt Olson, and you’ve been with them almost every year through their minor league careers. So, what’s it like for you personally to see them making it to the major league level after having started out with them back in A-ball?

rc87435-6292763FrRC:  It feels good, just because you’ve seen all the work that they’ve put in. Somebody like Maxwell, you see the transition that he’s made to turn himself into a very, very good defensive catcher. He came in as this great hitter, but the catching has continuously gotten better. So, just to see him pay attention to that and turn himself into the best catcher we have in the organization has been really neat to watch. But just the fact that I’ve been around them for four or five years and had some pretty solid relationships with these guys, just to be able to see them go up there and do it on TV at the ultimate level, which is where they all wanted to be, is pretty cool.

AF:  A guy you had at Stockton, at Midland, and for a little while here at Nashville this year is Chad Pinder. He’s an interesting player with his versatility. How do you see him profiling as a major league player?

RC:  I think he’s panning out into being the super-utility guy that we’re seeing right now. I think the throwing and the glove on the infield are probably not the quality to do it every single day at this point, not that it can’t improve. But he’s got the tools to shift around and play any of the three infield positions and play them well. So, it’s good to have a guy who can bounce around and do all three versus one position every single day. And now that he’s shown that he can go in the outfield, the fact that we can put him out there anywhere on the field is huge. The first day in spring training when I saw him go to the outfield, his instincts and his first move and his desire to want to get a good jump and go get the ball kind of impressed me that he can do it, because he’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a very strong and powerful guy, and some of the home runs that we’ve seen him hit already this year up there show the capabilities that he has. But he’s got a short swing, which allows him to get the ball deep. I think he’s still kind of coming into his own and figuring out his approach. He needs to improve to be successful at the major league level as far as working counts a little bit more and drawing a few more walks. Not going out of the zone as much as he was and being an aggressive swinger is only going to help his numbers as far as what they really want to see him improve on, which is that on-base number, and he can certainly do that.

AF:  Earlier this year, you had two guys here who are considered two of the A’s top position player prospects – Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto. Chapman’s up with the A’s now, and Barreto was up for a bit but now he’s back here in Nashville. What have you seen out of those guys, what makes them such special players, and what do they both need to do to really be able to succeed at the major league level on a long-term basis?

RC:  Well, I think both of them are right along the lines of what we were just talking about with Pinder. A refinement of their strike zone is the main thing. I think Barreto’s seen that at this level here and when he’s been in the big leagues. Somebody can be exploited that can’t lay off of that slider or that fastball that starts in the zone and by the time it gets to the hitting zone it’s dropped out of it. So, I think that’s where the improvement’s going to come offensively for all three of them – Chapman, Barreto and Pinder. Chapman is one of the best, if not the best, third basemen I’ve ever been around. The kid is absolutely electric. He’s as dynamic left and right as you can get, he’s got one of the best arms in the game at third base, and he’s got range. And especially in Oakland, he’s a perfect fit, with all that foul territory, so he’s going to be huge for them at third base. I still think they’re figuring out whether Barreto fits better at shortstop or second base. He’s a young player still kind of finding his focus. I think some of his errors that he’s made here are just a lack of focus at times, which you can see kind of drift in and out with young players. But I love what I’ve seen from him at second base. I’ve seen him make plays that remind me of Roberto Alomar. And Chapman and Barreto are both extremely powerful. Obviously, Barreto’s not as powerful as Chapman, but for a little guy, Barreto can really drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark, which is fun to watch.

AF:  Well, it sounds like he might be more of a standout player as a second baseman than as a shortstop.

RC:  I think so, I think in a perfect world. Just watching some of the young players we have in the minor leagues, I think Richie Martin is our best pure shortstop. He’s just as electric left and right as Chapman. So, I think if you can just envision those two guys on the left-hand side, that’s lock-down quality defense. Richie’s still kind of trying to figure himself out as a hitter. I’m not sure what they’re expecting or would like to see him hit, but it’s not a lot. He’s that good at shortstop. I think Barreto’s going to end up doing both. But possibly at this point in time, second base might be his better of the two.

AF:  And since you played with him, does Chapman remind you a bit of Eric Chavez?

RC:  I’m telling you, I played a lot with Chavy, and Chapman’s better than Chavez as a defender. Obviously, Chavy was a great hitter. But Chapman is better – I tell people he’s the best I’ve seen. I was always a baseball fan growing up, and I can never remember ever watching a better third baseman. He’s incredible – so much fun to watch.

AF:  So, now that you’ve had the opportunity to do this job for a few years, what’s the single best part of it for you?

RC:  My whole life I’ve just been a baseball fan. So, to be able to work in the industry of baseball has been a blessing. I was out of it and realized how much I love it and was able to get back into it. And it’s not always that easy just because you played to get back in – there’s only so many jobs to go around. But I feel very fortunate to be able to do that. And I’ve also been real fortunate to be around this young group that we’re trying to watch do something in the big leagues right now. It’s just been incredible to watch these guys play great baseball. We’ve done a lot of winning over the last four years. It’s been a great experience all around. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

*          *          *

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Friday, July 21st: Jensen’s Strong Start & 4 HRs Help Sounds Win while Hounds Snap Skid behind Rosa’s Big Bat

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Pitcher Chris Jensen (6 IP / 6 H / 0 ER / 1 BB / 1 K / Win)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Pitcher Chris Jensen (6 IP / 6 H / 0 ER / 1 BB / 1 K / Win)

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE  (Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds             7

New Orleans Baby Cakes  5

WP – Jensen 5-1 / 3.97

HR – Barreto (11), Lavarnway (6), Munoz (4), Pinder (1)

Prospect Of The Game:

Pitcher Chris Jensen

(6 IP / 6 H / 0 ER / 1 BB / 1 K / Win)

RHP Chris Jensen turned in a strong start to help the Sounds win their third straight on Friday. The 26-year-old allowed just 1 unearned run over 6 innings of work to notch his 5th win for Nashville. Rehabbing RHP Ryan Dull pitched a perfect frame in the 7th, while RHP Tucker Healy gave up 4 runs in just 2/3 of an inning of relief, and LHP Patrick Schuster got the final out to secure his 1st save of the season. Sounds hitters slugged four home runs, all solo shots. Shortstop Franklin Barreto blasted his 11th in the 1st, while catcher Ryan Lavarnway clubbed his 6th in the 3rd. Rehabbing second baseman Chad Pinder belted his 1st in the 6th, and left fielder Yairo Munoz smacked his 4th in the 7th. Munoz also singled and stole a base for the Sounds. Meanwhile, RHP Frankie Montas and first baseman Matt Olson were both recalled by the A’s, while first baseman Chris Carter was signed to a minor league deal and sent to Nashville, and infielder Melvin Mercedes was reassigned to the Sounds roster on Friday.

Click here for more on Midland, Stockton, Beloit, Vermont & AZL A’s…

Wednesday, July 19th: Olson’s Slam Highlights Sounds’ Comeback Win while Pinder, Graveman, Cotton, Bassitt, Dull & Alcantara All Make Rehab Appearances

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Designated Hitter Matt Olson (Grand Slam / 4 Walks)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds DH Matt Olson (Grand Slam / 4 Walks)

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE  (Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds  11

Iowa Cubs                8

WP – Trivino 1-0 / 6.19

HR – Olson (19), Lavarnway (5), Wilson (1)

Prospect Of The Game:

Designated Hitter Matt Olson

(Grand Slam / 4 Walks)

With the bases loaded, two outs and the Sounds down by four runs in the top of the 8th inning, designated hitter Matt Olson stepped to the plate and slugged a grand slam to tie the game on Wednesday. Then in the 11th, catcher Ryan Lavarnway belted a 3-run blast to provide the margin of victory for Nashville. Olson also drew 4 walks in the game, while Lavarnway drove in another run with a sacrifice fly in the 6th. Right fielder Kenny Wilson homered in the 5th, and shortstop Chad Pinder went 0 for 2 with a walk in his second rehab appearance. RHP Kendall Graveman allowed 4 runs over just 2 1/3 innings in his first rehab start for the Sounds, while rehabbing RHP Jharel Cotton surrendered 4 runs in 3 1/3 innings of work. RHP Chris Bassitt tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief, and RHP Lou Trivino threw 3 scoreless frames to notch his 1st win for Nashville. Meanwhile, the A’s sent RHPs Zach Neal and Michael Brady to the Sounds, while Nashville infielder Melvin Mercedes was reassigned to the RockHounds on Wednesday. And Jon Heyman reported that the A’s and free agent first baseman Chris Carter had agreed to terms and that the slugger was expected to join the Sounds soon.

Click here for more on Midland, Beloit, Vermont & AZL A’s…

Tuesday, July 18th: Munoz Continues Hot-Hitting in Sounds’ Loss while White & Barrera Have Big Games for Ports

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Center Fielder Yairo Munoz (3 for 5 / Home Run)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Nashville Sounds Center Fielder Yairo Munoz (3 for 5 / Home Run)

 

PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE  (Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds  7

Iowa Cubs             16

LP – Bracewell 1-2 / 4.76

HR – Munoz (3)

Prospect Of The Game:

Center Fielder Yairo Munoz

(3 for 5 / Home Run)

Yairo Munoz had a big game while making his eighth career start in center field for the Sounds on Tuesday. The 22-year-old collected 3 hits, including a home run, and is now 8 for 16 with a pair of home runs over his last 4 games for Nashville. Third baseman Renato Nunez doubled twice and singled, while right fielder Mark Canha had 2 hits, including a double, stole a base and drove in a pair, and designated hitter Chad Pinder went 1 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in his first rehab appearance for the Sounds. After turning in a pair of quality starts in his last two appearances for Nashville, RHP Ben Bracewell had a rough outing on Tuesday, allowing 10 runs, 8 earned, in just 2 2/3 innings of work to suffer the loss as the Sounds lost their third straight. In addition to Pinder, RHPs Kendall Graveman and Jharel Cotton have also joined Nashville on rehab assignments and both are expected to make appearances for the Sounds on Wednesday.

Click here for more on Midland, Stockton & Vermont…

A’s Farm Podcast Gets the Inside Scoop on Nashville’s Top Prospects from Hitting Coach Eric Martins & Pitching Coach Rick Rodriguez

This week, the A’s Farm Podcast turns its focus to the Nashville Sounds, the A’s Triple-A affiliate, when Nashville’s hitting coach Eric Martins and pitching coach Rick Rodriguez join A’s Farm Editor-in-Chief Bill Moriarity to provide the inside scoop on some of Nashville’s top prospects.

rrRR_200_x_250_sln62qk4_rxwbqro8emEM_200_x_250_o8srttxq_lf6658swMartins offers the lowdown on some recent Sounds hitters who are now with the A’s like Matt Chapman, Chad Pinder, Bruce Maxwell, Matt Olson, Jaycob Brugman and Franklin Barreto, while Rodriguez shares his insights on some promising pitchers like Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn, Frankie Montas and more. Eric Martins joins us at the top of the show, and Rick Rodriguez joins us at 22.45.

A’s Farm Podcast
with host Bill Moriarity and special guests hitting coach Eric Martins & pitching coach Rick Rodriguez

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

Thursday, June 22nd: Ports Win Behind Siddall’s Big Bat while Sounds Drop a Pair

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Stockton Ports Designated Hitter Brett Siddall (4 for 4 / 2 Home Runs / 5 RBIs)

A’s Prospect Of The Day: Stockton Ports Designated Hitter Brett Siddall (4 for 4 / 2 Home Runs / 5 RBIs)

 

CALIFORNIA LEAGUE  (High-A)

Modesto Nuts       1

Stockton Ports  11

WP – Duno 6-3 / 5.10

HR – Siddall 2 (9), Murphy (9), Bolt (7)

Prospect Of The Game:

Designated Hitter Brett Siddall

(4 for 4 / 2 Home Runs / 5 RBIs)

Designated hitter Brett Siddall had a big night at the plate for the Ports on Thursday. The 22-year-old collected 4 hits, including a pair of home runs, while driving in 5 runs to lead Stockton to victory in the first game of the second half. Catcher Sean Murphy and center fielder Skye Bolt both slugged solo shots, while first baseman Sandber Pimentel had 3 hits and drove in a pair of runs for the Ports. RHP Angel Duno turned in a strong start on Thursday, allowing just 1 run over 6 innings of work to earn his 6th win for Stockton. In other news, A’s shortstop Marcus Semien was sent to Stockton to begin a rehab assignment and is expected to make his first appearance for the Ports on Friday.

Click here for more on Nashville, Midland, Beloit & Vermont…

Meet Your 2018 Oakland A’s!

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

A's top prospect Franklin Barreto

Top prospect Franklin Barreto

Whatever happens with the A’s before the start of next season, one thing is certain – with many of the team’s current everyday players set to become free agents in the offseason, there’s bound to be plenty of turnover on the 25-man roster.

Center fielder Rajai Davis, first baseman Yonder Alonso, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, current shortstop Adam Rosales, as well as reliever John Axford, are all set to hit the free agent market in the offseason, and second baseman Jed Lowrie has a team option for 2018 and seems unlikely to return. Of course, most of these potential free agents are likely to be traded before the season is through but, one way or another, they’re all likely to be long-gone by the time 2018 rolls around.

The only regular position players in the starting lineup who are currently under team control for 2018 are outfielders Khris Davis and Matt Joyce, catcher Stephen Vogt, first baseman/designated hitter Ryon Healy and shortstop Marcus Semien, who will reclaim his starting shortstop role once he returns from the disabled list. Backup catcher Josh Phegley, utility infielder Chad Pinder and reserve outfielders Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski will also remain under team control for 2018. And the entire pitching staff, with the exception of Axford, will still be under control next year as well.

Of course, no one is ever certain what the A’s will do in the offseason, but it does seem as though the front office has structured this team to be ready for a big youth infusion next season – which could work well with the team’s stated intention of announcing plans for a new stadium before the end of the year.

So, disregarding any potential trades or free agent signings, let’s just assume that the A’s do decide to move forward with a full-on youth movement next season, stocking the roster with as many prospects as possible who are currently in the team’s minor league system. No one is saying that they will, or that they should, but just for the fun of it, let’s take a look at what a young, prospect-laden A’s team could potentially look like in 2018.

As previously mentioned, the pitching staff is already full of fairly young arms under team control, so any big changes would primarily involve position players, which is what we’ll mainly focus on here, though we will briefly touch on 2018’s potential pitching staff as well. It’s worth noting that every single position player proposed below for a potential prospect-laden A’s roster is currently age 29 or under, with Khris Davis the only potential everyday.player currently over the age of 26.

 

CATCHERS

Bruce Maxwell

Bruce Maxwell

The team’s current catching corps is set to be under team control for next year. 32-year-old Stephen Vogt is earning $2.965 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration for the second time in the offseason, while 29-year-old Josh Phegley is earning just $545,000 this year and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. With Vogt struggling so far this season and set to receive a raise through the arbitration system next year, this looks like an obvious spot to make a move to get younger. 26-year-old catcher Bruce Maxwell seems to have mastered Triple-A at this point, with a career slash line of .318/.386/.527 in the Pacific Coast League. And he’s looked fairly solid both at the plate and behind the plate during his 42 major league games for the A’s last year and this year. If the team does decide to put the left-handed-hitting Maxwell behind the dish next season, then it would make plenty of sense to keep Phegley around as his right-handed-hitting counterpart, and to try to make a deal to trade the popular Vogt either this summer or in the offseason to a club that’s looking for a little veteran catching help.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Jaycob Brugman

Jaycob Brugman

When we look at the A’s outfield picture for 2018, two things seem fairly certain: one Davis will stay and one Davis will go. 29-year-old left fielder Khris Davis, who’s hit 54 home runs since joining the A’s last season, is clearly the best-hitting outfielder on the A’s roster and seems likely to stick around. Davis is under team control for two more seasons, and he could serve as the most veteran presence on a young A’s squad next year while manning left field and holding down the cleanup spot. But 36-year-old center fielder Rajai Davis was always intended to serve as a one-year rental and is expected to depart via free agency in the offseason. One of last year’s other free agent signings, 32-year-old right fielder Matt Joyce, was signed to a two-year deal but has severely under-performed so far for the A’s. With one year left on his contract after this season, the team could try to foist him off on a contending club looking for a veteran left-handed bat, even if it means having to eat part of his deal. If the A’s do decide to go with a youth movement next year, there really won’t be much room on the roster for an under-achieving veteran outfielder with sub-par defensive skills. The A’s could replace Joyce in right field with 23-year-old slugger Matt Olson, who currently has 9 home runs, a .349 on-base percentage and a .508 slugging percentage for the Sounds while also leading the team with 19 walks. Olson has long been looked at as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the system and, though he’s mainly been playing first base for Nashville this season, he primarily played right field last year at Triple-A, has appeared at the position in half of his major league games, and has looked solid as a corner outfielder, where his strong arm can come in handy. Olson would immediately represent a defensive upgrade in the outfield and, potentially, an offensive one as well. When it comes to replacing Rajai in center, finding a successor in the A’s system could be tough since the A’s organization is sorely lacking in true center fielders, but there is one possible replacement who might be worth taking a chance on, and that’s Jaycob Brugman. Many in the A’s front office seem to feel that the 25-year-old is better-suited to serve as a part-time center fielder and really view him as more of a corner outfielder. And while he may not have the quickness and the range that one would ideally like to see in a true center fielder, it’s been a while since the A’s have had the luxury of having a true center fielder, and Brugman has shown a propensity for out-performing expectations at every level. He’s also experienced, having played more games in center field than at any other position in his minor league career. And while appearing in 154 games in center, Brugman has made just 2 errors at the position. Then there’s the fact that, while serving as the Sounds’ primary leadoff hitter, he’s boasting a .377/.441/.472 slash line this season since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. The former 17th-round draft pick has over-achieved at every minor league level, and he could do the same at the major league level as the A’s center fielder in 2018. It’s worth noting that Brugman and Olson are both left-handed hitters, but 28-year-old right-handed-hitting outfielders Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski both remain under team control for another few years and could be available to serve as platoon partners if needed.

 

INFIELDERS

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

The A’s could be due for the biggest turnover in the infield next year. 30-year-old first baseman Yonder Alonso, 30-year-old third baseman Trevor Plouffe, and soon-to-be-34-year-old utility infielder Adam Rosales are all expected to depart via free agency after the season, if they’re not dealt before then, while 33-year-old second baseman Jed Lowrie’s contract has a club option for 2018, which essentially puts him in the same boat as the rest. The only starting infielder expected to return is 26-year-old shortstop Marcus Semien, who remains under team control through 2020. Fortunately, the A’s do have some talented young players to put around him in the infield, including top prospects Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto as well as a number of other promising young players. The 24-year-old Chapman has been the A’s top third base prospect since the day the team made him its top draft pick in June of 2014. He hit 23 home runs in just 304 at-bats for Stockton in 2015, mashed 36 between Midland and Nashville last year, and has hit 8 in just 88 at-bats while boasting a .557 slugging percentage so far this season for the Sounds. And to top it off, Chapman is also considered a top defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. Widely considered to be the A’s top hitting prospect, Barreto just turned 21 a few months ago, but he’s already been tearing it up at Triple-A this year, putting up an impressive .320/.369/.510 slash line for the Sounds so far this season. Though Barreto has spent most of his time at the shortstop position, he’s also seen some time at second base, and many in the A’s front office have openly talked about the likelihood of him having to make the move to the other side of the bag, where the A’s are likely to soon have an opening. 25-year-old infielder Ryon Healy debuted with a bang for Oakland last season, posting a .305/.337/.524 slash line for the A’s. He’s been hitting at a more average pace so far this season while primarily serving in the designated hitter role, but Healy still holds plenty of promise. And given the chance to move out of the DH spot and play every day in the field at first base for the A’s in 2018 could be just what he needs to get back on track and really show what he can do. And speaking of designated hitters, 23-year-old slugger Renato Nunez has spent most of his minor league career playing third base, but since Matt Chapman has returned to health at Nashville, Nunez has been spending most of his time alternating between left field and the designated hitter spot for the Sounds. Nunez’s power has always been real, and he currently leads his team in home runs and doubles with 10 of each while sporting a .536 slugging percentage, and he even managed to hit a ball clear out of First Tennessee Park in Thursday night’s game. With his power bat and his defensive deficiencies, Nunez seems perfectly-suited to serve in the designated hitter role. And in a limited sample so far this season, 25-year-old infielder Chad Pinder has looked like one of the A’s best hitters. He’s gotten starts at shortstop, at second base, in the outfield and as the designated hitter so far for the A’s, and he’s also spent time at third base in college and in the minors. Pinder’s versatility could make him well-suited for a super-utility role, spelling Barreto at second, Semien at short and Chapman at third, while also filling in in the outfield and as well as in the designated hitter spot. We all know how much the A’s value versatility, and Pinder’s positional flexibility could make him a valuable piece for a young A’s team in 2018.

 

PITCHERS

Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman

As mentioned earlier, the major turnover for the A’s next year is likely to be on the position-player front, and that’s primarily because Oakland’s pitching staff is already full of fairly young arms who will be under team control for years to come. The organization currently has a dozen starting pitchers at the major league or Triple-A level who will all still be in their 20’s next year and will remain under team control for multiple years, with Sonny Gray the first to be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. These pitchers (with their current ages in parentheses) include: Sonny Gray (27), Kendall Graveman (26), Sean Manaea (25), Andrew Triggs (28), Jesse Hahn (27), Jharel Cotton (25), Chris Bassitt (28), Daniel Mengden (24), Raul Alcantara (24), Daniel Gossett (24), Paul Blackburn (23) and Zach Neal (28). That represents a fair number of fairly decent young arms who still have the potential to get much better and will remain under control for years to come. That’s not even mentioning all the talented young arms the A’s currently have below the Triple-A level, including 24-year-old RHP Corey Walter and 21-year-old RHP Grant Holmes at Midland, and 22-year-old LHP A.J. Puk and 22-year-old RHP Logan Shore at Stockton. That should give the A’s plenty of pitching options to choose from in 2018 and beyond. As for the bullpen, it looks like that’s where most of the veterans may be found for the 2018 A’s. 34-year-old RHP John Axford is the only reliever eligible for free agency in the offseason, which means that most members of the A’s bullpen could be returning, including RHPs Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Dull and Frankie Montas, along with LHPs Sean Doolittle and Daniel Coulombe, all of whom remain under team control for 2018. Of course, 25-year-old RHP Bobby Wahl and 29-year-old RHP Josh Smith, who are both currently auditioning for the A’s, could also be options, as could 26-year-old RHP Tucker Healy, who’s currently sporting a 1.29 ERA for Nashville.

 

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t necessarily a prescription, but just a look at what could happen if they A’s do decide to move forward with a full-on youth movement next season. Of course, if the team does decide to deal potential free agents like Alonso, Plouffe, Lowrie, Rosales, Rajai Davis and Axford, or possibly even veterans like Vogt and Joyce, before the season’s through, that could net a number of new prospects in return who could potentially fill even more holes on a talented young A’s team next year. But, whatever happens, it’s certain that there will be a lot of new faces on the 2018 A’s, and most likely, many of them will be much younger faces.

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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 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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