Results tagged ‘ Derek Norris ’
Major League Camp and Game vs. Brewers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium
The A’s beat the Brewers 9-7 on a relatively quiet day around camp. Bartolo Colon allowed 3 runs over 5 innings to earn his first win of the spring while Dan Straily gave up 4 runs in 3 innings of work. Outfielder Chris Young blasted a grand slam and infielders Josh Donaldson and Scott Sizemore each went 4-for-4, a particularly timely performance for Sizemore after his chief rival at second base, Jemile Weeks, was sent down yesterday. In his pre-game press conference, manager Bob Melvin announced it’s possible that the team could take all 36 players currently in camp back home for the Bay Bridge Series and make the final roster decisions after that.
Now that my spring training trip has come to a close, be sure to stay tuned for lots of interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and more…
Minor League Camp at Papago Park
Major League Camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium
Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…
24-year-old right-hander Dan Straily is generally considered to be the A’s top young pitching prospect heading into 2013 – and he earned that distinction on our own Top 10 Prospect List as well. But he wasn’t always quite so high on everyone’s radar. The Oregon native was drafted in the 24th round by the A’s back in 2009 out of Marshall University in West Virginia. And his numbers in the A’s system didn’t immediately open any eyes. But what did happen was that he just seemed to get better and better every step of the way. Rather than being challenged by each new level, each time the bar was raised, his performance seemed to kick up a notch.
Last year, after not even being invited to major league camp, Straily started the season at Double-A Midland, where he might have been expected to spend most of the year toiling away in the Texas League. But a funny thing happened, he started striking out batters at a rate of 11.4 per 9 innings while maintaining a 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA of 3.38. About halfway through the season, the 6’2” right-hander was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he proceeded to strike out hitters at a similar rate while notching an even more impressive ERA of 2.02. Straily finally got the call to Oakland late in the season where he went 2-1 in 7 starts while posting a 3.89 ERA in the heat of the A’s playoff run.
Conventional wisdom has it that there are currently five starters ahead of Straily on the A’s depth chart – Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin. And in a recent press conference, A’s assistant general manager David Forst referred to Griffin and Straily as the team’s 5th and 6th starters. Of course, spring training’s barely underway and anything can happen. But we do know that Bartolo Colon will be unable to make his first start of the season while he completes his suspension, which could very well mean that Straily will be in line for a start with the A’s the first week of the season no matter how everything else shakes out.
Of course, if any of the A’s other five starters should open the season without a clean bill of health, then Straily would definitely be well-positioned to stick around for a while after that first start. But if Straily does end up starting the season back at Sacramento, then he would definitely be one of the A’s top two pitching prospects at Triple-A, along with former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, hoping to be the first called when a warm arm is needed.
One thing’s for certain, whenever the A’s call, Straily will be ready. He’s clearly a student of the game who appreciates the fine art of pitching and is hungry for the opportunity to continue practicing it at the highest level. For now, all he can do is focus on making the most of his opportunities this spring in Arizona where, when he’s not working hard in the A’s camp, he’s hanging out at the temporary home he shares with his wife Amanda and their new puppy, along with fellow A’s pitcher Tom Milone and his fiancée, and A’s catcher Derek Norris. It’s a full house, and a house full of young guys working to establish their place in the major leagues with a team that typically gives young players like them plenty of opportunities to do so. We talked to Straily this week just after he’d returned home from his fourth day ever in big league camp…
AF: Can you tell me a little bit about your basic repertoire of pitches you’re working with right now?
DS: Fastball command this year has been my biggest thing coming into the season. I noticed last year at the end of the year when I got tired, that was the first thing to go. So I’m making sure that’s dialed in. But fastball, changeup, slider and curveball are what I have to offer.
AF: What’s been your big strikeout pitch?
DS: It was really everything. There were some games it was the fastball. Sometimes it was the changeup. Sometimes it was just sliders. Whatever’s going for me that night – whatever happens to be the most “on” pitch. When you have four pitches, you’re going to have one off-speed pitch that’s going to stand out more than the others every night. It tends to be the slider. And then last year it seemed that the changeup was really kind of the equalizer, because guys had to think about that, and then they’d get the slider – or they’d think about the slider, and then they’d get the changeup. That’s my game. I don’t tend to fall into too many patterns. I just mix speeds and try to hit spots.
AF: Well, that’s good a thing because if you do fall into too many patterns, guys will start to figure that out and take advantage of it.
AF: Last year you had a really dominant season in the minor leagues, in Double-A and Triple-A, and that performance really put you on people’s radar. Was there anything it particular that really clicked for you last year?
DS: For me, mostly it was just the consistency. Every game, I kind of knew what I was going to get – my fastball command was consistent, changeup movement was consistent, slider was consistent. It was just everything you look for. You notice there’s not a whole big difference in terms of stuff from minor league guys, major league guys – the stuff is pretty much the same – it’s just the level of consistency. You know, each guy’s going to be different. For me, it was just finding the consistency of my delivery, and my stuff was there all the way through last year. I remember early on, I had a rough game in Double-A and they just reiterated to me, “You know, you’re not judged game to game – you’re judged over the course of the year.” And it starts to take that pressure off from trying to be perfect every single pitch to just going out there and trusting yourself and being confident in yourself. You’re going to give up home runs, you’re going to give up singles – it’s going to happen. But also the mental game, I was able to take that to a whole new level – talking with (Midland pitching coach) Don Schulze and (Sacramento pitching coach) Scott Emerson last year and just trusting myself and trusting the adjustments that we were making on the side. It wasn’t that I was a completely different pitcher, it’s that I was finally the complete pitcher that I am capable of being. I saw flashes of good changeups before, flashes of good fastball command, and then finally it all hit together.
AF: So it was really just a matter of integrating everything and just putting it all together consistently as opposed to doing something new or having some big revelation.
DS: Yeah, I never felt like I really did anything different. It’s not like anything really changed. I didn’t change my mechanics. I didn’t change anything else. It’s like I told some reporters last year when they called about all the strikeouts, I said, “I’m not doing anything different. They’re just missing them this year.” It’s more than that obviously. I learned how to set up hitters a lot better. I learned how to recognize swings. And I started paying attention more to what guys are trying to do and different things like that.
AF: It sounds like it was really all about just gaining command of all your pitches and then being able to execute what you wanted when you wanted. Am I right?
DS: Absolutely. Being able to trust myself, full count, bases loaded, throwing a changeup. Throwing changeups in counts when I normally wouldn’t throw them. Throwing that 0-2 fastball inside instead of just throwing a nasty slider because I know they’re going to swing and miss at it. Don Schulze came up to me one day in Double-A and just said, “You know what? No one’s going to care what you did in Double-A after you’ve been pitching in the big leagues for years. So don’t focus so much on your results today. Go out there and work on your fastball and your changeup today. Work on fastball command and throw your changeup. You have to develop your changeup if you want to be in the major leagues.” And I’d heard that so many times. It’s not like he was the first one to tell me that. But I just heard it so many times that it finally clicked. And I finally understood what he was trying to say. And he just happened to be the one who said it when I finally understood it. Yeah, no one’s going to care what I did in Double-A. Obviously, if you do bad, you’re not going to stay around. You have to be successful, but no one’s going to care about your success there. They just want to know that you can do it at the next level, and then at the next level.
AF: So at that point you just started to develop the confidence to throw whatever you needed to throw whenever you needed to throw it?
DS: Yeah, absolutely, like I used to only throw changeups to lefties and sliders to righties. And I finally just gained the confidence in my pitches, and the consistency and the command. You know, I can throw any pitch to anybody at any time. It’s really just trusting yourself, and that was something that I was really able to learn how to do last year.
AF: You mentioned your pitching coach at Midland, Don Schulze. Was anyone else key in contributing to your success last season?
DS: Well, Scott Emerson was really big on scouting reports and helping me learn how to prepare for a game. In Double-A, you don’t get a chance to really see a scouting report until you see a team once – you have to make your own. And in Triple-A, it’s a little better, a little more advanced. You see guys more often, guys have been around Triple-A for a few more years. So that was the first time I was ever introduced to scouting reports. So when I did get called up, it was a little easier for me to just go in there and read it and know what I was looking for and know how my stuff played into the scouting reports. It’s just a whole other part of the game I didn’t even realize really existed. So he was really big on that side of things for me.
AF: Can you tell me a little more about the differences between the various levels you were at last year - between Double-A and Triple-A, and then between Triple-A and the majors? Were there any specific things that you had to adjust to at each level?
DS: One of the biggest things between Double-A and Triple-A would honestly have to be the travel. You think it’s going to be great – no more riding buses, you’re going to be flying. But it’s not the kind of hours you’d expect. You’re not flying chartered airplanes – you’re flying the first flight out each morning and then having to play that night at 7:30. It’s a grind. And I wasn’t even there a whole season, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be there for a whole year. But in terms of the actual play, a big difference is you notice guys start having approaches – not so much just one type of hitter. Guys aren’t just a power hitter, guys aren’t just an average hitter. You start getting more complete hitters. And then you get into some of these Triple-A PCL parks where the ball just flies.
AF: In terms of pitching, were there any adjustments you had to make when you finally got called up to the big leagues towards the end of the year?
DS: Not really. When I got called up, I was running on empty basically. But it was really good to figure out how to pitch when you feel like you just can’t get enough rest at the end. But then the day of your game comes up, you’re jacked up and you’re ready to go because you’re pitching in the major leagues that night. But you just get out there and don’t really see the names on the back of the jersey, you just see the scouting report and you see the game plan in your head of how you’re going to pitch certain guys and that’s really kind of what it boils down to. Obviously the media has built up certain players and their numbers speak for themselves but, as a pitcher, you don’t really see it that way, you just see the game plan and the scouting reports.
AF: You must have ended up pitching more innings last year than you had at any other time in your pro career.
DS: I threw 140+ innings my first year, then the next year I threw like 160, then in 2012 I threw 191. So I’ve had a steady upward climb.
AF: Towards the end of the year, you must have been aware that you’d thrown a lot of pitches over the course of the year.
DS: Yeah, at the end of the year, I was maybe just putting too much pressure on myself. But I definitely feel like, coming to camp now, it’s a whole different world to come in here and be a part of it from day one instead of just showing up in the middle of a playoff race and having to meet guys and be a part of a team at that point because you don’t know anybody there.
AF: Well, it must have been interesting to join the A’s late last year, with all that energy and excitement in a playoff run, and just step into the middle of all that.
DS: That was pretty cool. As a minor league player, you’re not so much noticing what they’re doing at the major league level. You’re more focused on your task at hand and your job and what’s going on at your level. So I didn’t even know about ‘The Bernie’ or anything like that. People don’t realize that you’re not focused on the big leagues when you’re in Double-A. You’re focused on what you’re doing to get yourself better. So it’s cool to get up there and actually learn about all the cool stuff that’s going on up there and just the fans’ energy that they’re bringing every night. The first night, my debut was in front of like 32,000 people on a Friday night in Oakland. And it was just a lot of fun to make your debut in that atmosphere.
AF: Last year with the A’s, you made 7 starts, won a couple of games, pitched well. But the one trouble spot was the long ball. You gave up 11 home runs. Have you had a chance to reflect on that and how you might be able to adapt to keep guys from being able to square up the ball like that?
DS: Yeah, I just did a terrible job of mixing up speeds. I kind of got away from my game and just let everything kind of speed up on me. And I was able to get home and kind of reflect on that and realize the game didn’t change at all, I’m the one who changed. It was frustrating, I can’t say it wasn’t. To be honest, it came up today in the clubhouse when I was talking with a reporter. They pointed out that I gave up 17 runs on the year (for Oakland), and I think 14 or 15 came via the home run. And I said, “Well, if I can figure out how to stop giving up home runs, I’ll be good to go!” But for me, it was just a lot of left-handers I’d fall behind in counts and leave the fastball out over the middle of the plate. And that’s what good hitters are supposed to do – if you fall behind and put a fastball right over the middle, they’re supposed to hit home runs. So it was kind of my own doing. But that’s not me – that was a fluke. Obviously, it happened – we all saw it. But that’s not who I am as a pitcher. And it won’t be like that again. It was embarrassing as a player. I remember the last time I threw against the Mariners, I gave up 3 hits – 2 of them home runs. It was very frustrating, to be pitching so well and then to throw a ball right over the middle – home run. I just didn’t do a good job of hitting spots.
AF: Well, I know no pitcher likes to be standing out there on the mound and have to turn around and watch one sailing over the fence.
DS: Yeah, and the weird thing was I think nine of them were in day games. And I have no idea why. I’ve pitched in plenty of day games and been perfectly fine.
AF: This is your first year in the big league camp, right?
DS: My first day of big league camp was Tuesday.
AF: So is there anyone around you’ve known for a while that you’re particularly friendly with who it’s just good to have around in camp?
DS: Well, my roommate’s Tom Milone. And you can’t get much more of an even-keeled type of guy than that. So it’s been good just to have him around everyday. Him, me and Derek Norris are all living together. It’s good – we’ve got a catcher and a couple of pitchers.
AF: How’s your relationship with A’s pitching coach Curt Young? You probably never got to spend that much time with him in spring before, but now I’d imagine you’re a lot more prominent on his radar.
DS: You know, he’s got a tough job. There are thirty pitchers or so here in camp. The only time I actually get to see him is when I’m pitching off a mound. I’m excited to hopefully be with him for a whole year – that’s the goal. From everything I heard, he’s just a great resource, which I saw last year when I was up – everything from holding the runners to pitch selection to how to take care of yourself. The guy’s been around the game so long he’s an amazing pitching coach.
AF: So is there anything in particular you’re working on or focused on this spring?
DS: I’m just focused on trying to make the team right now. I don’t get the luxury of working on something at this point. What I came with is what I have to go to battle with for the year. I’m sure, for some veterans, it’s more about getting ready for the season. Well I’m getting ready for the season as well, but I’m also fighting for a job. There’s only so many jobs available out there and more than enough guys to fill those positions. The last couple years I’ve had a little better idea of where I was going because it was pretty well laid out. But there’s no more room to go up anymore, so just trying to stay there is the hardest part.
AF: Well, I guess it’s pretty clear what the goal is now anyway.
DS: But the thing is, as much as you want to be there, if you’re not there, you can’t let it get you down because there’s a whole season ahead either way. So I keep telling people when they ask where I see myself going this year, I say, “That’s not up to me. That’s up to the front office.” My job’s to go out there and pitch, whether that’s in Sacramento, that’s in Midland or that’s in Oakland. It doesn’t matter – wherever they tell me to go, that’s where I’m going to be.
AF: I think everyone realizes the value of pitching depth at this point. I mean, the A’s used ten different starting pitchers last year. So wherever you are, if you’ve got a good arm and are pitching well, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in that rotation at some point one way or another.
DS: Yep, that’s what you’ve to remember either way.
AF: Well, it sounds like you’re just working on staying focused on your game, maximizing what you’ve got, and trying to continue making as good an impression as possible.
DS: Yeah, and so far from what I’ve felt, I just think it’s going to be a repeat and a little bit better from last year. You know, get a little bit better each year, throw a little bit harder each year, come into camp with a little better idea of how to be physically ready and mentally ready. I learned so much last year in every aspect of the game. And I’m just ready to go this year. I’m excited.
AF: Onward and upward!
DS: That’s right!
* * *
Well, as you may already know, Monday was the big day for A’s pitchers and catchers to report to the team’s spring training camp in Phoenix. As usual, lots of other players chose to show up on Day 1 to join their pitching and catching comrades. The reporters covering the A’s beat showed up as well. And among the news trickling out on the first day of camp thanks to those beat writers…
*The team has reportedly agreed to a minor league deal with left-handed Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima that includes an invitation to the major league camp.
*Catcher Derek Norris has shed a few pounds and has also made some alterations to his swing.
*Third base and infield coach Mike Gallego has apparently been working Nakajima out over the past week and is “pleasantly surprised.” He also noted that the shortstop has great hands, above average footwork and an average arm.
*Top prospect Michael Choice is ready to go after missing the second half of last season with a broken hand.
*Pitching prospect Michael Ynoa is still in the Dominican Republic suffering from a case of chicken pox.
*Coco Crisp arrived with a beatbox, and it wasn’t long before the ‘Bernie Lean’ music was blasting in the A’s clubhouse.
Here’s a sampling of photos from Day 1 of spring training camp from various A’s beat writers…
See what the A’s beat writers have to say in their Day 1 columns…
It was announced on Wednesday that the A’s had acquired catcher John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-team deal that sent A’s minor league pitchers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, along with a player to be named later, to the Washington Nationals, who sent first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse to the Mariners. As a result of the trade, catcher George Kottaras, who had just signed a $1 million deal with the A’s earlier in the week, was designated for assignment. Kottaras, and his contract, will presumably be traded by the A’s sometime within the next ten days.
The left-handed hitting Kottaras became expendable with the arrival of Jaso, who also bats left-handed. Kottaras and the right-handed hitting Derek Norris were expected to split the A’s catching duties fairly evenly in 2013. But with Jaso, who hits right-handers far better than he handles left-handers, now in the fold, the arrangement is likely to become much more of a strict platoon, with Jaso getting most of the starts against right-handed pitchers and Norris getting most of the starts against left-handers – who represent no more than a quarter of all major league starters. This will give the 23-year-old Norris the chance to develop at his own pace, without the pressure of having to carry too much of the load right away.
Many A’s fans had been clamoring for an upgrade behind the plate, and this deal gives them just that. But some hard-core A’s followers were upset that the team gave up so much promising young pitching talent in the trade. The loss of Cole, who came over just last year in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals (to whom he now returns), particularly rankled many fans. The 21-year-old right-hander was considered one of the A’s top three pitching prospects, along with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray, while Blake Treinen was the A’s 7th-round draft pick in 2011.
The 24-year-old Treinen was a little inconsistent at High-A Stockton last year. While he had a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he posted an ERA of 4.37 and gave up a little over 10 hits per 9 innings while barely managing 100 innings between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Meanwhile, Cole had a disastrous start to his season at Stockton, going winless in 8 starts while compiling an astronomical ERA of 7.82. But after being sent down to Class-A Burlington in the Midwest League, he bounced back to post an impressive 2.07 ERA while striking out 102 in 95 2/3 innings. And his late-season turnaround gave many A’s fans great hope for his future.
The bottom line though is that neither of these two pitchers has ever thrown a pitch above A ball. And while they may one day develop into quality pitchers, they both still have a long way to go. The 29-year-old Jaso may not be an All-Star, but he is a major leaguer, and at least the A’s feel they know what they’re getting with him. The team clearly preferred a major league catcher in the hand to two minor leaguers in the bush leagues!
As for Jaso’s past performance, since he’ll really only be expected to carry the load against right-handed pitchers, the fact that he’s never shown any ability to hit left-handers is irrelevant. All that really matters is what he can do against righties. And last year, Jaso carried an impressive .302/.419/.508 slash line against right-handers. That’s compared to Kottaras’s .207/.335/.434 slash line against righties last year. Though neither Jaso nor Kottaras is likely to win any Gold Gloves, it’s a clear upgrade at the plate from the catching position for the A’s.
Jaso has a particular knack for getting on base – last year he walked an average of once every 6 plate appearances against right-handers while batting over .300 against them. He also has a knack for hitting doubles – last year Jaso doubled once every 15 ½ at-bats while Kottaras doubled just once every 28 ½ at-bats. So if nothing else, the A’s should expect to see Jaso standing on first base and second base a lot more than they saw Kottaras at those two locations!
The main conclusion that can be drawn from this deal though is that A’s general manager Billy Beane wants to win now! If he can unload part of the A’s pitching future to make an upgrade to the major league roster, he’s not going to hesitate to do it. If the A’s had finished in last place last year, it might be another matter and this deal might not have happened. But the A’s were the A.L. West champions last year, and you better believe that Billy Beane wants to turn them into the two-time A.L. West champions.
Beane clearly stated as much in a post-trade conference call with reporters when he said, “We’re shifting all of our focus on the major league club and trying to take as much advantage as we can of the opportunity we have.” In other words, “Win now!” – which, after having endured some years of rebuilding, ought to be a welcome rallying cry for most A’s fans!
Well, the results are in – and in our first year out of the box, A’s Farm was ranked in the Top 10 MLB blogs for 2012! At our peak late in the season, we were averaging almost 5,000 hits per week and almost 20,000 hits per month. And we want to be sure to thank all you devoted A’s fans who are obviously committed to learning as much as possible about the organization from top to bottom.
We also want to thank MLB Trade Rumors for repeatedly featuring A’s Farm as one of their top blog picks of the week, Baseball Reference for regularly featuring us in their player news section, and A’s Nation who asked us to provide a weekly minor league update during the season for the hordes of A’s fans who get their A’s news from the biggest and best A’s blog on the web.
In 2012, A’s Farm profiled the A’s new players and top prospects, offered progress reports on the team’s top draft picks, named the A’s organizational all-stars, and featured interviews with GM Billy Beane, along with players like Josh Reddick, Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle, and front office personnel like assistant GM David Forst, scouting director Eric Kubota and director of player personnel Billy Owens. And in one of our most popular pieces of the year, A’s Farm profiled A’s super-scout and Moneyball bad guy Grady Fuson. All that in addition to our daily updates on all the A’s minor league affiliates – the Sacramento River Cats, Midland RockHounds, Stockton Ports, Burlington Bees, Vermont Lake Monsters and the Arizona League A’s.
Stay tuned for much more right here in 2013, and be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up to date on all the A’s minor league teams and top prospects down on the farm!
On Monday, we unofficially learned that shortstop Stephen Drew had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox and would not be returning to the A’s, and we also unofficially learned that the A’s would be filling the hole at shortstop by signing Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima. It was announced on Tuesday, after our last A’s Off-Season Transactions Update, not only that the Nakajima signing was official but also that, to clear room on the roster for their new shortstop, the A’s had traded outfielder Collin Cowgill to the Mets for Double-A third baseman Jefry Marte.
With the A’s new shortstop in the fold, it looks like their work is essentially done for the off-season and that the major league roster, barring any unforeseen (yet inevitable) injuries, is pretty much set. But it also seems that the Triple-A roster at Sacramento may be pretty much set at this point too. This really shows a remarkable level of certainty for an organization that’s typically had any number of question marks remaining at this time of year.
Below you’ll find a complete listing of the anticipated A’s and River Cats opening day rosters, barring any unexpected deals or injuries, as of this point in time almost 3 ½ months before opening day. Any changes should be minor, especially where the major league roster is concerned. I’d expect any changes to most likely come from potential moves involving some of the minor league pitchers or infielders. Following the roster lists below, we’ll go around the horn and discuss where things stand at every position for both the A’s and the River Cats…
2013 OAKLAND A’S
Brandon Moss 1B
Chris Carter 1B
Jemile Weeks 2B
Adam Rosales IF
Josh Reddick OF
Coco Crisp OF
Seth Smith OF
Chris Young OF
Brett Anderson LHP
Jarrod Parker RHP
Tom Milone LHP
A.J. Griffin RHP
Dan Straily RHP
Grant Balfour RHP
Ryan Cook RHP
Pat Neshek RHP
Chris Resop RHP
Sean Doolittle LHP
Jerry Blevins LHP
Travis Blackley LHP
–SUSPENDED FOR 5 GAMES–
2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
Daric Barton IF
Andy Parrino IF
Eric Sogard IF
Scott Moore IF-OF
Grant Green IF-OF
Brad Peacock RHP
Sonny Gray RHP
Andrew Werner LHP
(+2 of the following 4 in the rotation with 1 in the bullpen & 1 traded or released)
Garrett Olson LHP
Jesse Chavez RHP
Bruce Billings RHP
Travis Banwart RHP
Evan Scribner RHP
Arnold Leon RHP
James Simmons RHP
Mike Ekstrom RHP
Jordan Norberto LHP
Pedro Figueroa LHP
Justin Thomas LHP
2013 OAKLAND A’S
As far as the 2013 A’s go, catcher and first base are two positions that are pretty clearly set. Right-handed hitter Derek Norris and left-handed hitter George Kottaras will make up the A’s catching tandem. This likely won’t be a strict platoon though, as the A’s view Norris as their catcher of the future. I’d expect Norris to get between 350-400 at-bats, with Kottaras getting somewhere between 200-250 at-bats – of course, performance on the field could have a big effect on playing time behind the plate. The first base platoon of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter will remain in place in 2013. This should be a pretty strict left/right platoon, unless Moss regresses and Carter starts coming on strong, in which case the big right-hander could end up stealing some at-bats from Moss.
Second base may represent the biggest question mark on the A’s roster. Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore both stand a decent chance of claiming the starting job, while prospect Grant Green appears to be a long shot. It’s my feeling that, as long as he can show in the spring that he’s ready to put it together, the edge will go to former #1 draft pick Weeks. But if Weeks looks like he hasn’t learned anything, then Sizemore should be ready to step in – though we do have to remember that he is coming back from an injury that sidelined him for a solid year and will be competing at a position that he hasn’t played much over the past two years. Whichever one of these guys doesn’t claim the major league job will probably end up at Sacramento with Green. At this point, my guess is that Weeks opens the season with the A’s, while Sizemore ends up at Sacramento waiting for a chance to come back and take over in the event that Weeks or Donaldson struggles – but that could very easily change based on what happens in the spring.
Your 2013 starting shortstop will be Hiro Nakajima, with Adam Rosales likely serving as his backup – as well as the backup at second at third. If Nakajima proves to be more of a “zero” than a “Hiro,” then Rosales will step in and start getting more at-bats at short. Josh Donaldson will be the starting third baseman unless and until he proves that his second-half surge last season was just a fluke. If that happens, then Sizemore is the most likely candidate to step in at third.
In the outfield, the A’s have five players (Cespedes, Reddick, Crisp, Smith and Young) to fill the three outfield spots as well as the designated hitter spot in the lineup. Those four positions should offer up about 2400 at-bats, which would mean there’s close to 500 at-bats to go around for each of them – that’s if they’re all healthy. Of course, they won’t all be healthy. I’d guess that at just about any point in the season, one of them will be dinged up enough to, if not warrant a stint on the DL, at least warrant a little time out of the lineup. So I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about who plays where and when. I suspect it’ll work itself out one way or another and we’ll end up seeing plenty of all of them in the starting lineup.
As for the starting rotation, it’s important to remember that Bartolo Colon will be suspended for the first five games of the season and the A’s will play the first seven games of the season without a day off. That means that, barring injury, Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily will open the season as the A’s starting five. Of course, there’s a reasonable chance that one of those pitchers could have some nagging injury to start the season. In that case, Colon could be ready to step into the rotation after the first week. If, miracle of miracles, all five starting pitchers are fully healthy and functioning to start the season, then Colon could always kill time in the bullpen until one of them is sidelined with a balky elbow, shoulder, rib cage or back.
The A’s bullpen will be a crowded place though. Aside from Colon, there will be nine or ten legitimate contenders for the seven bullpen spots. On the right-handed side of things, Grant Balfour will be the closer and Ryan Cook will be the primary right-handed set-up man, while Pat Neshek will surely have a spot after signing a guaranteed contract, and Chris Resop is bound to get a spot after the A’s made a concerted effort to acquire him from the Pirates. That would push Evan Scribner to Sacramento.
On the left-handed side of things, Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins appear to be assured spots after their consistent performances throughout 2012, and Travis Blackley seems to be locked in as the long-man in the ‘pen. That would push Jordan Norberto and Pedro Figueroa to Sacramento. Of course, the odds that one of those seven relievers starts the season with some kind of injury is fairly high, which would open the door to one of those spots.
2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
If we make the preceding assumptions about the major league roster, and take into account the fact that the Triple-A roster rarely includes more than 12 hitters and rarely has any fewer than 13 pitchers, then the River Cats roster starts to fall pretty clearly into place.
The A’s acquired two experienced minor league catchers – 29-year-old Luke Montz and 27-year-old Steven Hill – who should share the catching duties at Sacramento this year. Meanwhile, veteran Daric Barton will be standing in at first base, waiting for his chance should anything happen with Moss or Carter.
If Jemile Weeks doesn’t make the roster in Oakland, then he’ll surely be the starting second baseman at Sacramento. But if Scott Sizemore is the one to get sent down, as I suspect, then I’d expect him to get the majority of the starts at second base in Sacramento, preparing himself in case Weeks again struggles. Andy Parrino, who was acquired from San Diego in the Tyson Ross trade, is bound to be Sacramento’s primary starting shortstop this year. I’d expect to see the versatile Eric Sogard getting most of his starts at third base this year, while also picking up a few other starts around the infield. When Sogard’s not starting at third, then fading prospect Stephen Parker is likely to get some starts at the hot corner as well.
Scott Moore, who has been the A’s most promising minor league free agent signing this off-season, can play third base, as well as first base, second base and the outfield, but will probably end up seeing a lot of at-bats as the designated hitter for the River Cats. Sacramento’s starting outfield should be made up of on-base machine Shane Peterson in left, top prospect Michael Choice in center and former top prospect Michael Taylor in right. That just leaves our old friend Grant Green, whom the organization could make the River Cats’ regular second baseman, but I’m guessing that, when it’s all said and done, they’ll end up utilizing his versatility and giving him starts all over the field – preparing him for his most likely future role with the A’s as a versatile utility man.
There are three pitchers who, as long as they’re healthy, are sure to make Sacramento’s starting rotation – top prospects Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray, along with left-hander Andrew Werner, who was acquired from San Diego in the Tyson Ross deal. The rest of the River Cats’ rotation will be filled out by two of the following four hurlers – right-handers Jesse Chavez, Bruce Billings and Travis Banwart, as well as major league veteran and minor league free agent signee Garrett Olson. Of the two who don’t make the rotation, one will likely end up as the long-man in the River Cats’ bullpen with the other either DL’d, traded or released.
Sacramento’s 2013 bullpen ought to boast an impressive array of arms who could be ready to step in and help at the major league level at a moment’s notice. If all the major league bullpen arms are healthy, then the River Cats’ ‘pen should include names like Evan Scribner, Arnold Leon, James Simmons and minor league free agent signee Mike Ekstrom from the right side and Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa and minor league free agent signee Justin Thomas from the left side.
On the whole, it looks like a River Cats roster that ought to be more than ready to defend its division title and, hopefully, so should the 2013 A’s!
* * *
With Oakland right in the thick of a heated pennant race, A’s manager Bob Melvin took some time out just prior to a mid-September night game versus the dreaded Orioles to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. Melvin was his usual friendly and cordial self as he addressed an array of topics over the course of about 10 minutes and, upon his exit, even made a point of complimenting his interrogators on their rapid-fire questions. The first subjects, raised by A’s Farm, concerned a couple of players who’ve spent some time with both the A’s and the River Cats this year, and Melvin went on to offer his take on a variety of different subjects from there…
On third baseman Josh Donaldson’s improvement in his second stint with the A’s this year…
“Well, I think as far as Donaldson goes, it was just a matter of getting here and having some success. The ability’s always been there. If you look at the minor league numbers, he’s been able to hit and hit for power. He’s a great athlete – he can play multiple positions. I think it was just important – similar to a Chris Carter situation – that he came here and had some success. And he did early on, and he’s just been riding on that and more or less believes in himself as a big leaguer now.”
On second baseman Jemile Weeks’ struggles this season…
“As far as Jemile, you talk about sophomore slumps and so forth, and he’s a tough kid who can be hard on himself, and I think he got into a little bit of a slump where he couldn’t quite get out of it. You look up there – and you have some pride – and you look at your average after hitting .300 for basically a full season, then not being able to repeat that, you try a little too hard sometimes as opposed to just letting your ability take over. And I think it was just a little bit of a change of scenery – he went down there (to Sacramento) and instantly hit. And I don’t think this is going to effect where his career is going forward.”
On the adjustments Jemile Weeks needs to make…
“I think mainly just keeping the ball out of the air a little bit. I think, this year, he hit a couple of home runs early on. He will tell you that had nothing to do with swinging a little bigger. I think he just felt more comfortable with his swing that he could drive some balls. And last year, he just wasn’t trying to do too much. He was just putting it in play, and putting it in play on the ground. So it’s just a matter of finding a happy medium for him, and he will do that.”
On the special challenges of working with a younger team…
“Well, I think basically, with where we are in the season, we try to keep the distractions to a minimum and just – I know it’s very cliché – keep all our efforts focused on a particular day. We are playing some match-ups in the second half – whether it’s a Moss/Carter type of thing. And I think keeping them aware of when they’re playing is important so they know and can do their homework on potential pitchers they’re going to face – whether it’s Kottaras and Norris, and we’ve run a little bit of a platoon with Pennington and Rosales at second. So I think they benefit by knowing what days they’re playing. And then I think with younger players, you try to be consistent in giving them good feedback, because the one thing about being a younger player coming to the big league level that you always have to get over is that awe factor and ‘do I belong here in the big leagues?’ And we’ve, as an organization, put a lot of stock in our younger players and getting them to the big leagues. We put them in prominent roles, and I think we’ve done that across the board this year, whether it’s the pitching end of it, whether it’s the position player end of it, and we’ve been rewarded with good performances.”
On traditional bullpen roles…
“It’s always a Catch-22, because you want to get the hot hand out there, you want to get the guys that are the best match-ups. Yet relievers are a little different breed. When that phone rings, the guy wants to have a pretty good idea when he’s coming in the game. If we have to change the role for a period of time, I think we’re more apt to do that than just consistently trying to match up. It’s a little different with call-ups when you have more options. But I think if you look at our late guys, our plus-game guys, they know when they’re coming in the game, and that I think is a comfort to them…confidence-wise for them, it helps them to prepare and feel good about what they’re doing, even though just looking at it statistically, it can be more of a match-up thing. So I think it’s a double-edged sword as far as that goes. I do like defining roles, but I’m not afraid to change them if we need to change them.”
On team chemistry and when it started to click…
“I don’t know if there was a particular time. I felt good about the players we had in spring training. And when you look at a big league roster, a 25-man roster, I think ours was more like 32 – we were bringing guys back and forth depending on how they were playing at a certain time. And I think, once we kind of defined what roles certain guys had…I think the timing might have been middle to late June…I think we’ve been pretty consistent, especially offensively. And once we started to play better offensively, hit some home runs and so forth, the team started to find an identity within itself. We always felt like we were a scrappy-type team, a team that played well and focused later on in games and played hard and that type of thing. But I think once we started to hit the ball out of the ballpark, we kind of gained a lot more confidence because of that. And we have the guys here to do that now.”
On the team’s MVP this year…
“It’s a tough one. You know, the guys that we count on the most are Coco, Reddick and Cespedes. And I think at different parts of the season, they would each be considered the MVP at the time. I couldn’t put my finger on just one. But from an offensive standpoint, those three probably stand out the most.”
On the team’s perspective down the stretch…
“We’re trying not to look at the finish line. We’re trying to take it more day-to-day, and let’s count ‘em up at the end. We know the schedule – we know we’re playing a lot of games on the road. We’ve been fortunate enough to win some games on the road. But if you start thinking about this match-up, that match-up, who’s pitching in this series, those are just distractions you don’t need, especially for a younger group. So we’re trying to remain in the moment and put all our focus on today’s game. I know it’s very cliché, but I think it really has worked for us to this point this year, and that’s the way we’ll remain doing it.”
On how his past managerial experiences have prepared him for the challenges of this job…
“Well, first of all, I don’t think you ever get comfortable and say ‘Okay, I’ve had all the experiences, and this is the way I’m going to do things.’ I try to learn from our players. And it’s more about me acclimating to the players than the players acclimating to me. I have to work the personnel that we have in the fashion that we’re best-suited to do it. If we’ve got a bunch of guys that run, you’re not going to sit around and play for a three-run homer. If we have a bunch of guys that hit home runs, you’re not going to run into outs. And this team has kind of morphed into that type of team. We were running quite a bit early on, but we’re not running quite as much now because we don’t want to run into outs because we’re hitting some balls out of the ballpark. I think keeping guys accountable more so now, and communicating. There are certain times you don’t want to communicate, whether it’s your mood or whatever, but you have to stay consistent in what you’re doing as a manager. I like to be a positive guy, especially with the whole group. I will take guys individually if there’s something I want to do on the negative side. But I think it’s staying consistent, whether you’re winning or losing, and staying consistent in my approach to the players – that’s probably the thing that stands out the most for me.”
* * *
After Bob Melvin’s press conference, long-time A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse took some time to chat on the field during batting practice and offered up some interesting takes on the A’s current manager…
Fosse on Bob Melvin…
“Bob Melvin’s the greatest manager. He deserves so much credit. Nothing against the other guys, but Collin Cowgill, I just interviewed him, and he knows him from being with the Diamondbacks, and he said, ‘I’d run through that wall for the man.’ And when your players are willing to sacrifice their bodies to do whatever…Brandon Inge, when he dove for the ball and separated his shoulder, he comes in the next inning and hits a double down the line, and then he goes on the disabled list. He comes back, he does the same thing here, hits a double, drives in two runs, and then has surgery. But when he was out here, he said, ‘I’d take a bullet for the man right now. If there’s a fight, I’m defending him.’ And that’s the respect these guys have for that man.”
Fosse on respect…
“For the first time in the years that we’ve had the (World Series championship) reunions, when the players came in on the cars and they had the red carpet out to the mound, did you notice that every current player was lined up? Never has that been done before. Bob Melvin said, ‘We need to respect the guys who won the championships. I want my team out there shaking their hands as these guys walk by.’ Gene Tenace came on the air and he said, ‘I won’t get a chance to see Bob Melvin, but please tell him that’s the classiest act I’ve ever seen to show respect for a team of the past.’ And it was – I still get goose bumps thinking about what they did.”
* * *
With the California League and the Midwest League both in the midst of their All-Star breaks and minor league teams right around the halfway points of their seasons, it seems like the perfect time to take a step back and determine who the true standouts in the A’s system have been in the first half of 2012. And with that in mind, we’ve decided to name A’s Farm’s Organizational All-Star Team!
Below you’ll find the starting players at each position for Triple-A Sacramento, Double-A Midland, High-A Stockton, and Class-A Burlington. Offensive starters were determined based on games played at each position, with notable players not leading in games played at a particular position listed in the designated hitter category. Starting pitchers for each club were determined based purely on performance while closers were selected from each team’s saves leader. The asterisks denote the four players with combined statistics from two teams, Stockton and Burlington. And players currently on the major league roster were not included.
Below the list of contenders, you’ll find A’s Farm’s selection of Organizational All-Stars at each position. The winners were determined purely on performance, not potential. Remember, we’re not selecting the top prospects here, we’re choosing the top performers on the field so far this season. Take a good look at the candidates for yourself and feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and selections. Is it true that numbers don’t lie? You tell me!
A’s Farm’s Organizational All-Star Team – The Contenders
Sacto – Derek Norris (8 HR / .273 AVG / .331 OBP / .474 SLG / .804 OPS)
Midland – Ryan Ortiz (2 HR / .168 AVG / .300 OBP / .272 SLG / .572 OPS)
Stockton – Max Stassi (5 HR / .272 AVG / .323 OBP / .442 SLG / .766 OPS)
Burlington – Nick Rickles (4 HR / .229 AVG / .277 OBP / .349 SLG / .626 OPS)
Sacto – Chris Carter (11 HR / .275 AVG / .358 OBP / .488 SLG / .846 OPS)
Midland – Anthony Aliotti (5 HR / .291 AVG / .401 OBP / .417 SLG / .818 OPS)
Stockton – A.J. Kirby-Jones (13 HR / .297 AVG / .414 OBP / .543 SLG / .957 OPS)
Burlington – Douglas Landaeta (7 HR / .245 AVG / .293 OBP / .403 SLG / .696 OPS)
Sacto – Brandon Hicks (11 HR / .266 AVG / .364 OBP / .524 SLG / .888 OPS)
Midland – Tyler Ladendorf (4 HR / .298 AVG / .378 OBP / .440 SLG / .819 OPS)
Stockton – Nick Leyja (2 HR / .211 AVG / .278 OBP / .304 SLG / .583 OPS)
Burlington – Chih Fang Pan (2 HR / .280 AVG / .338 OBP / .383 SLG / .721 OPS)
Sacto – Adam Rosales (3 HR / .282 AVG / .320 OBP / .451 SLG / .771 OPS)
Midland – Dusty Coleman (6 HR / .210 AVG / .273 OBP / .324 SLG / .597 OPS)
Stockton – Michael Gilmartin (2 HR / .202 AVG / .281 OBP / .271 SLG / .552 OPS)
Burlington – Sean Jamieson (4 HR / .246 AVG / .371 OBP / .366 SLG / .737 OPS)
Sacto – Stephen Parker (4 HR / .258 AVG / .338 OBP / .390 SLG / .728 OPS)
Midland – Josh Horton (6 HR / .251 AVG / .338 OBP / .416 SLG / .754 OPS)
Stockton – Miles Head (18 HR / .382 AVG / .433 OBP / .715 SLG / 1.149 OPS)
Burlington – B.A. Vollmuth (7 HR / .260 AVG / .334 OBP / .412 SLG / .747 OPS)
Sacto – Grant Green (8 HR / .297 AVG / .341 OBP / .461 SLG / .802 OPS)
Midland – Conner Crumbliss (4 HR / .269 AVG / .408 OBP / .395 SLG / .803 OPS)
Stockton – Chad Oberacker (7 HR / .304 AVG / .372 OBP / .483 SLG / .856 OPS) *
Burlington – Royce Consigli (5 HR / .250 AVG / .342 OBP / .444 SLG / .786 OPS)
Sacto – Jermaine Mitchell (3 HR / .224 AVG / .338 OBP / .357 SLG / .695 OPS)
Midland – Michael Choice (6 HR / .260 AVG / .334 OBP / .372 SLG / .706 OPS)
Stockton – Myrio Richard (0 HR / .249 AVG / .297 OBP / .324 SLG / .621 OPS)
Burlington – Aaron Shipman (0 HR / .217 AVG / .323 OBP / .265 SLG / .588 OPS)
Sacto – Michael Taylor (4 HR / .316 AVG / .421 OBP / .460 SLG / .881 OPS)
Midland – Jeremy Barfield (7 HR / .291 AVG / .338 OBP / .439 SLG / .777 OPS)
Stockton – Josh Whitaker (7 HR / .263 AVG / .336 OBP / .404 SLG / .739 OPS)
Burlington – Bobby Crocker (5 HR / .274 AVG / .355 OBP / .423 SLG / .778 OPS)
Sacto – Wes Timmons (2 HR / .222 AVG / .333 OBP / .303 SLG / .636 OPS)
Midland – Shane Peterson (2 HR / .285 AVG / .449 OBP / .437 SLG / .886 OPS)
Stockton – Dusty Robinson (16 HR / .252 AVG / .346 OBP / .520 SLG / .867 OPS) *
Burlington – Eliezer Mesa (2 HR / .271 AVG / .286 OBP / .378 SLG / .664 OPS) *
Sacto – Graham Godfrey (59 1/3 IP / 50 H / 8 ER / 10 BB / 43 K / 1.21 ERA / 1.01 WHIP)
Midland – Daniel Straily (85 1/3 IP / 70 H / 32 ER / 23 BB / 108 K / 3.38 ERA / 1.09 WHIP)
Stockton – Sean Murphy (82 1/3 IP / 57 H / 21 ER / 22 BB / 86 K / 2.30 ERA / 0.96 WHIP) *
Burlington – Drew Granier (83 1/3 IP / 82 H / 28 ER / 25 BB / 76 K / 3.02 ERA / 1.28 WHIP)
Sacto – Evan Scribner (33 2/3 IP / 24 H / 12 ER / 9 BB / 36 K / 3.21 ERA / 0.98 WHIP / 7 SV)
Midland – Jonathan Ortiz (27 1/3 IP / 24 H / 12 ER / 11 BB / 22 K / 3.95 ERA / 1.28 WHIP / 9 SV)
Stockton – Zach Thornton (26 1/3 IP / 29 H / 14 ER / 6 BB / 37 K / 4.78 ERA / 1.33 WHIP / 6 SV)
Burlington – Drew Tyson (25 2/3 IP / 28 H / 11 ER / 8 BB / 12 K / 3.86 ERA / 1.40 WHIP / 4 SV)
A’s Farm’s Organizational All-Star Team – The Winners
Sacramento River Cats
(8 HR / .273 AVG / .331 OBP / .474 SLG / .804 OPS)
(13 HR / .297 AVG / .414 OBP / .543 SLG / .957 OPS)
Sacramento River Cats
(11 HR / .266 AVG / .364 OBP / .524 SLG / .888 OPS)
Sacramento River Cats
(3 HR / .282 AVG / .320 OBP / .451 SLG / .771 OPS)
(18 HR / .382 AVG / .433 OBP / .715 SLG / 1.149 OPS)
(7 HR / .304 AVG / .372 OBP / .483 SLG / .856 OPS) *
(6 HR / .260 AVG / .334 OBP / .372 SLG / .706 OPS)
Sacramento River Cats
(4 HR / .316 AVG / .421 OBP / .460 SLG / .881 OPS)
(2 HR / .285 AVG / .449 OBP / .437 SLG / .886 OPS)
Sacramento River Cats
(59 1/3 IP / 50 H / 8 ER / 10 BB / 43 K / 1.21 ERA / 1.01 WHIP)
Sacramento River Cats
(33 2/3 IP / 24 H / 12 ER / 9 BB / 36 K / 3.21 ERA / 0.98 WHIP / 7 SV)
When the A’s dealt away Gio Gonzalez, one of the team’s most popular players, in the off-season for pitchers Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris, four minor league players most A’s fans had never heard of, some fans were clearly skeptical. But just five months after that trade, while the 20-year-old Cole has been struggling at Class-A, Milone is leading the A’s pitching staff in wins, Peacock is the River Cats’ wins leader, and catcher Derek Norris has been hitting up a storm at Sacramento. The former 4th-round draft pick has been hitting close to .300 for most of the season, currently sports a healthy .503 slugging percentage, and has been looking like he may be the successor to current A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki sooner rather than later.
A’s assistant general manager David Forst recently told me about Norris, “He got raves from the coaching staff from day one on how he handled pitchers and his receiving skills. His throwing numbers have never been in question. He’s always been one of the best guys in the minor leagues as far as throwing out baserunners.” He summed up his impression of the 23-year-old receiver by saying, “We feel very good about Derek.” And A’s fans who’ve been paying attention seem to share that sentiment.
AF: So tell me a little bit about where you grew up and where you went to school.
DN: I was born and raised in Goddard, Kansas. I went to school at Goddard High School – a 6A school in a small town. I grew up playing three sports (baseball, football and basketball), but baseball was always my passion. I played it throughout high school. And then I signed with Washington, five years later I was traded, and here I am.
AF: What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
DN: The Kansas City Royals were always my favorite team when I was growing up. George Brett was always the talk of the town, and I grew up idolizing him.
AF: Well that’s as good a hitter to model yourself after as anyone.
DN: Yeah, I know, right?
AF: Were you always a catcher in high school?
DN: No, I didn’t catch a whole lot till my senior year mostly. I had a couple guys in front of me in my freshman and sophomore years who were Division I prospects, so I played third base and pitcher my first couple years, and then I transitioned to catcher later on.
AF: How did you feel about catching? Was it something that you were eager or reluctant to do?
DN: It wasn’t a huge transition because I had done it before. But it’s obviously going to be a lot more difficult when guys throw harder and their pitches move more and they’re a lot better than what I was used to. It’s definitely a tough transition at first. But it seems like every game that goes by, the more I catch, the better I get. I’ve come a long way from where I was, and I definitely want to keep striving to be where I want to be.
AF: I imagine you were surprised about being traded. How’d you hear about the trade to the A’s and what was your reaction?
DN: I was actually at the gym working out and I got a text message from one of my teammates from last year, Cory VanAllen. And he said, “I just read an article about you and Brad Peacock possibly being in a trade for Gio Gonzalez.” Well, I hadn’t heard anything – I’d just talked to my agent a few days previously. And he said, “We haven’t heard anything, but if something comes up, we’ll definitely be in touch.” And then the next day, I got a phone call from my agent and he goes, “Hey, rumors have been picking up, but they’re just rumors as of now.” And then, I’d probably say within an hour, it was finalized. So it happened very quick. And it was definitely really strange. I’ve never really been through anything like that before. And it was definitely a cool experience though – it was real cool.
AF: Had you ever been in the big league camp with the Nationals before?
DN: Yeah, I was in camp with the Nationals in 2010 and 2011.
AF: Obviously that was in Florida, and I think you’d previously spent all your time playing on the east coast. So how was it different spending your first spring out in Phoenix with the A’s and having a whole new coaching staff to work with this year?
DN: It was great. The coaching staff, from the manager all the way down to the bullpen coach, every coach there treated me well. I had no complaints – everybody was great. And the weather’s obviously a lot better. You don’t have to worry as much about rain or hurricane winds or anything like that. So it was definitely a plus. I liked it a lot.
AF: I guess a lot shorter drives too!
DN: Yeah, definitely. On the east coast, you drive two and a half hours and you take batting practice on the field. Over in Arizona, you take batting practice at your home field and then travel over and just play. So that was definitely different too.
AF: Well since A’s manager Bob Melvin was a catcher too, was he able to speak to you in your own language?
DN: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t get to talk to him a whole lot, because he’s concerned with his big league lineup and trying to figure out things with that. But in the time that I got to speak with him, he was very positive. And I know he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and I enjoyed every minute that I got to speak with him about the game in general and just everything.
AF: Was there anything in particular you learned or took away from your experience this spring?
DN: Just adapting to a different environment and different players. I went from having Pudge as the starting catcher in Washington with all his knowledge. And then you go from that to Kurt Suzuki, who’s also one of the premiere catchers in the major leagues, so that was definitely a plus as well.
AF: So both those guys were very open and had a lot to share with you?
DN: Oh, definitely. Kurt couldn’t have been any better to me in spring than he was. He was very open. Any question I had, he answered, and he was always there for anything that I needed.
AF: This is your first year in Triple-A and you’ve been hitting well and hitting for power at Sacramento. In the past, your profile was that of a guy who walked a lot and had a high on-base percentage but didn’t really hit for a high average. But it seems like it’s been just the opposite this year. You’ve been hitting right around .300 all year, but I think it took a while before you even got your first walk this season. So I’m curious to know what’s changed in your approach at the plate.
DN: Yeah, I got with my hitting coach this off-season back home. And we pretty much just broke down my last season because I was very upset with the way that it went. We pretty much just started from scratch and weighed the pros and cons of my season and it just came down to the percentages of me hitting were always with two strikes. And anybody who knows baseball knows that if you’re hitting with two strikes a lot, you’re not going to be hitting for a very good average. So being able to know the difference between seeing pitches and getting in good hitters’ counts and seeing pitches and getting in good pitchers’ counts. So we pretty much just broke that down into, if you get a good pitch to hit early in the count, your percentages are way better of getting a hit than later in the count when there’s two strikes. So that was one of the biggest things – just swinging the bat more at good pitches to hit, but not going out of your strike zone to try and get base hits.
AF: So basically it sounds like just finding those good pitches to hit earlier in the count was the key for you.
DN: Right, instead of later in the count – for sure.
AF: So have there been any particular challenges this year that you feel you’ve really had to work on at this level?
DN: I’m a firm believer that if you come out and you just keep playing everyday, you’re going to get better as long as you don’t take anything for granted. The more you play, the better you get. The more pitches you see, the more innings you play, the better you’re going to get. And that’s really my ultimate goal – to just keep getting better everyday.
AF: Well it seems like they’ve had you behind the plate in Sacramento almost everyday as it is!
DN: Yeah, that’s one thing that I really pride myself on is being back there everyday. I want it to be a surprise when I’m not in there.
AF: How do feel about your work behind the plate as a catcher, both defensively and also in terms of game-calling and working with the pitching staff there in Sacramento?
DN: A lot of the guys on this team who I’ve had to work with so far, a lot of us are on the same page, which is pretty hard to do, especially early on in the season because you don’t know a guy’s tendencies and things that they like to throw. As far as game-calling, it’s been pretty smooth thus far, knock on wood. And it’s going pretty well as far as defensively, working with our manager Darren Bush – he stays on me all the time with my work, and it just keeps improving everyday.
AF: How have you enjoyed playing in Sacramento and playing at Raley Field?
DN: Well, it’s been great so far. We’ve had pretty good crowds. And we’ve put together a pretty good team to put out there every night. And our team, they’re just a great group of guys, and we meld together real well, and it’s been a great experience so far.
AF: So who are your best friends on the team? Who do you usually spend your free time hanging out with?
DN: I try to get to know different guys as much as I can. But I actually lived just down the road from Travis Banwart. We went to the same high school and everything – we kind of grew up together. So if I were to pick one guy, it’d probably be him.
AF: That’s right, I forgot he was a Kansan too. So do you have any particular goals for yourself for the rest of the season? Is there anything in particular you’d like to accomplish?
DN: I try not to set myself any particular goals, except for just coming out here and giving 100% everyday and just try to win every ballgame.
AF: And try and get in every ballgame too I guess!
DN: Yeah, try and get in every ballgame I can – that’s right!