Results tagged ‘ Miles Head ’
One of the most popular pieces we’ve featured here on A’s Farm over the past year or so was our profile of A’s super scout (and Moneyball bad guy) Grady Fuson. He was the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when he left the A’s to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers. Fuson returned to the A’s about three and a half years ago and currently serves as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
Prior to the amateur draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur prospects in preparation for the draft. But once the draft is complete, he begins a tour around the A’s minor league system, checking in on teams from Sacramento and Stockton to Midland and Beloit.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton during the last week of June, before second baseman Grant Green’s recent promotion to the A’s. We took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators and get the lowdown on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects, as well as some of the fresh new talent that’s just entered the system via this year’s draft. But we started out by taking a look at some of the prospects at the top of the system at Sacramento…
AF: Let’s start off with Sonny Gray, who’s obviously been having a great year at Sacramento. I know there were a few things that you guys were working on with him, but it really seems like he’s gotten over the hump at this point.
GF: Well you know, the credit goes to him. He’s not doing everything the way we wanted it done – there’s been variations to it. But that’s the deal with players – there’s give and take – and we don’t want to put players in positions where they’re doing things that are completely uncomfortable. So it’s trial and error. But he has been much more efficient. He’s using his changeup better – he’s still got a ways to go. But the consistency of his starts has been tremendous. With the exception of maybe one early in the year, he hasn’t had a bad start. I’m proud of him. He’s put himself on the map. When you look at our depth, there’s not too many years that go by that you don’t have to dip down there to grab a starter or two, and he’s put himself in a position to at some point be considered, or at least get his first taste of it.
AF: Well at this point, he certainly appears to be first in line based on what he’s done this year. Is there any one single thing that you’d pinpoint as the key to his success this season?
GF: Yeah, effort. I think he is starting to understand pace and rhythm and tempo, to control the effort level of his delivery. And he’s understanding this thing about how to disrupt timing, instead of being hard with everything.
AF: So it’s really about varying his effort.
GF: Yeah. If you go back to all the good things about him when we drafted him, besides his stuff, this guy’s always been a bulldog, he’s always been a competitor. Do not count this guy out – you know, he’ll come back and find a way to kick your ass if you count him out. And all those things are such a big part of it, his character and mentality on the mound.
AF: Another guy at Sacramento who seems to be on a similar trajectory is outfielder Michael Choice. He also seems to have turned a corner this year. So how do you see his development at this point?
GF: I don’t know what clicked over the winter, but something really clicked and he came into camp a little bit of a changed man in his whole approach. He’s slowed some things down like we’ve been asking him to do and has bought into a couple of other things. I think he’s developing a whole awareness of how guys pitch him and what they try to do. This is his third full year now, and I think it’s just maturity. But I’m proud of him. He hasn’t made people walk him off of center field yet. And the only reason we’re playing him in left more right now is if there is a time that he has to go up, with Crisp, with Young, with Cespedes, he probably wouldn’t play center over those guys. So he needs to learn a little bit about some corners, because the ball comes off differently.
AF: Is there any one thing that’s been the key for him?
GF: Maturity. He’s growing up. He’s maturing into that major league mentality you’re waiting to see. You know, most of these guys are kids. And sometimes, as frustrated as we get, you’ve got to remind yourself, “God, he’s just a kid!” But you can tell when they start to speak smart – you can tell by the things they’re saying back to you. That’s when the maturity thing kicks in and they start to give you the right answers – and bingo! But everything else with Michael is the same. He’s healthy, he’s playing every day, he’s having good at-bats, he’s staying consistent.
AF: Is there anything else that you’d like to see him working on at this point that he needs to do to make himself a complete player?
GF: Long term, to stay in center so that we don’t need a center fielder better than him for a long time, I think he’s going to have to be a guy who diligently works on his reads and his routes because he’s going to have to do it with a lot of instinctual things. He’s always had a weakness closing in on the wall. He’s gotten better – he’s working at it. So I think he’s the kind of guy who’s eventually going to have to do certain drills that are going to keep all that really sharp.
AF: What about another outfielder in Sacramento who everyone was so excited about in spring training, Shane Peterson? He started out well but it looks like he’s been struggling a bit lately.
GF: I don’t know that he’s struggling. He’s just not putting up crazy numbers. He’s doing what he does. He had such a tremendous spring, and almost made the damn club. I just think he’s in that mode where it’s not coming out big every night. But the way he goes about playing the game, there’s no issues there.
AF: So you think the impression he made in the spring still lingers with the A’s front office.
GF: Oh, without a doubt.
AF: Now what about Grant Green? Where do you see him with his hitting and with his development at second base at this point?
GF: At second base, he’s still learning the nuances. This is actually his first full year of playing one spot, and there are a lot of little nuances, so he’s still learning that. His errors have been a combination of a lot of different things, maybe some throws on pivots and things. But as far as what he’s doing at the plate, it’s what he does. He hits .300, he’s starting come up a little bit now with the homers, and as he’s seeing it better his walks are going up. He’s right where he needs to be.
AF: Do you see his future more likely as a second baseman or as more of a multi-purpose type of guy?
GF: It just depends on when he goes up and what the need is. But the great thing about him is he can go up and, if Bob Melvin had to use him in three or four different spots, he can do that. But I do think that second base is the one spot that, since the time we started it, he’s gotten a lot better. Center wasn’t that good a look, we questioned whether he was going to be a true everyday shortstop – the growth there just kind of fizzled. But second base, he’s gotten better at it every step of the way.
AF: So you really feel that you’ve seen more discernible progress at second base than any other spot you’ve had him at so far.
AF: Another infielder at Sacramento is Hiro Nakajima. He’s been bouncing all over the place lately – short, second, third…
GF: Well, they had to make him more versatile. He had the rough spring. He got hurt. We open up the year and Donaldson’s killing it and Lowrie’s playing great. You know, he’s in a tough spot right now. So if he’s going to come up, he’s got to learn all three spots. And he has not spent a lot of time at second or third in his whole career. The good thing is he’s obviously playing better and doing things better than what we saw in spring training.
AF: Well, the other piece of the infield puzzle in Sacramento is Jemile Weeks, who’s been playing a little shortstop this year…
GF: He’s played a great shortstop – he’s played very well.
AF: So if he remains in the A’s system in the future, would you see him having to take on more of a utility role, perhaps?
GF: Yeah, possibly, unless he gets a chance to go in there and do something in a spot and play every day and regain something. You know, this is what having depth is all about. I mean, Billy’s sitting back there right now with a ton of chips. We’ve got guys to bring up if somebody goes down who we feel pretty good about, and he’s got some players he can discuss with people if the need arises.
AF: Now in Stockton, the A’s top draft pick last year, 19-year-old Addison Russell, got off a rough start, but he’s been picking it up over the past month or so. So where do you see his development’s at at this point?
GF: He’s way on target. What he went through was everything we somewhat predicted coming out of camp. You’ve got to remember, there’s not too many 19-year-olds in the California League. You know, you go to a level where there’s more guys who throw breaking balls for strikes, there’s more guys who have little cutters, little two-seamers – things he’s never really seen. It’s different. But you’re hoping that he grows and he learns and, by the second half, things start to turn and he has a quality second half. And his attitude’s great, he’s working at it, he’s not getting fatigued. He’s smart enough to start to understand where he’s getting exposed and how we’re going to fix it. So to me, his development is right on target.
AF: So you think it’s pretty much been the natural progression of events – it took him a little while to get used to things, and now he’s gotten used to it…
GF: You know, we could have done it the other way. We could have kicked him off at Beloit and let him somewhat dominate again. But he wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it as he’s getting out of this learning experience.
AF: The bigger challenge. Well, he is still the youngest guy in the league. How has he looked to you in the field?
GF: Super. Look, he’s got 9-10 errors for a high school kid playing on these fields in the Cal League. You know, I’ve been around a lot of shortstops we developed who came through here who’d have 30 at this time. Tejada, Batista, those guys made 40-50 errors in this league. And he’s got 9-10 tops. I think he’s doing pretty good.
AF: Another guy who’s had a really good year in Stockton is first baseman Max Muncy. I remember talking to you about him in the spring and you said you guys were working on developing his power a bit more. So, with 20 home runs under his belt now, it looks like that’s worked out pretty well.
GF: When we took him, a lot of people questioned how much power’s in there. He only hit 6-7 home runs at Baylor. But you watch him in BP in college prior to the draft and you can tell there’s power in there – he just didn’t know how to get to it yet. Last summer, we just kind of let him go play. But then in instructional league, we got started with getting him to feel what it’s like to get some pitches middle-in and how that works to get the head out. We had the same story when we talked about Grant Green a year or so ago, and look what he’s doing now. But the great thing is he’s got great balance, he’s got good rhythm in his swing, and he’s got a tremendous eye, so he sees the baseball well. He swings at strikes and he takes balls – and that makes hitting so much easier. But from a power standpoint, I think he’s growing on everybody.
AF: Yeah, I would imagine you couldn’t be happier with the progress he’s made at this point. A guy who’s had a rougher time of it this year at Stockton though is 2011’s 3rd-round draft pick, third baseman B.A. Vollmuth. So what’s the source of the problem with him?
GF: It’s funny you bring him up, I was just talking to him the other day. He’s just not adjusting well in the strike zone. And I think he’s trying to be too big of a master. He’s trying to hit outer-half pitches the other way and pitches in the middle up the middle – he’s just trying to do too much that he’s not really capable of doing yet. So we talked about staying with his strength. Just look middle/middle-in and if they throw you away, just spit on it and let it go. But look middle/middle-in, and when you get them, hammer them. And just avoid the outer half of the strike zone right now until you get two strikes. But quit trying to be a master all over the strike zone right now. So we’ll see – he’s had a rough go of it.
AF: Now in terms of pitchers, what about right-hander Raul Alcantara? He recently came up to Stockton and I know you had a chance to see his first start.
GF: Yeah, good first one. He didn’t try to do anything different. He commanded his fastball well, both sides of the plate. He’s got a good changeup, and his breaking ball’s starting to show some promise. The breaking ball was always the iffy pitch. His slurve is now turning into somewhat of a legit curveball, and he’s getting some depth to it so he’s getting some swings and misses. And he’s got tempo, he’s got clean moves in his delivery. He’s still young, he’s only 20. He’s doing really good. A good second half here and you never know where it puts him for next year.
AF: Yeah, he could be a fast riser. Another guy who’s been doing a pretty good job at Stockton is Tanner Peters. What’s your take on him at this point?
GF: He’s doing good. We’ve been playing with the breaking ball for a couple of years. He’s always had a good changeup. His velocity is starting to hold. He’s a guy who maybe touches 91-92 mph but pitches at 87-88 mph, but now he’s pitching at 90 mph. We’ve talked about him using his sinker more instead of the four-seamer. He’s got a tendency with his delivery style to have a lot of misses, and misses in bad places, with his four-seamer. So we’ve been talking to him a lot about throwing his sinkers more, which will make him be more efficient, because he can get up with his pitch counts too real easy. But he’s had a very good first half, and we expect it to keep going.
AF: Well, it seems like, as a young pitcher, if you can just keep it together and make it through the Cal League without too much damage, you ought to be all right!
GF: Every ballpark here is a unique experience. You know, you go to High Desert and Lancaster and it’s like a pinball game.
AF: Well the guy who really started out great in Stockton this year and moved up to Midland is Drew Granier. He was dominant last season in the Midwest League and had a great first half in the Cal League this year. Now I know he wasn’t a high draft pick or a top prospect to start out, but what do you think about what he’s doing right now?
GF: Well, he’s been great. It’s hard to pick out negatives when your numbers look the way his do. But there are still some things we’re trying to get from him that he’s fighting a little bit. He’s not as efficient as he needs to be – he gets a little scattered. He’s not using his changeup to the level we need him to use it. But when you win a bunch of games last year and then you come in and win another half a dozen here, it’s kind of hard for him to go, “Okay, let me do it your way.” But the good thing was in his first start in Double-A, if I remember right, he threw 99 pitches and 66 strikes. That’s as efficient a game chart as I’ve seen this year from him, and he also threw 12% changeups, and it’s usually about 6%. But let me tell you, this guy grinds, this guy competes. His breaking ball is getting sharper – guys do not see it, they don’t get good swings. That’s why his strikeouts are so high. When you look at guys in this league who have high strikeout rates, it’s usually a college guy like him who’s getting it done with his breaking ball. But the next level is when all the other stuff starts to come into play. So I’m glad we’ve challenged him. He deserved being moved up. And hopefully he runs with everything we’ve been trying to pound into him.
AF: So he could be a guy who, with the right approach, could really come from the back of the pack to the top of the pack.
GF: Without a doubt. You get this guy between the white lines and he’s something. He fights you out there.
AF: Does anybody else on Midland’s pitching staff jump out at you right now?
GF: You know, Murphy Smith made a nice adjustment. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Scott Emerson picked up on something in spring training and got him closing up a little bit more on his load and it has helped him keep that fastball in the strike zone more, and that’s really what’s helped him a ton. And Sean Murphy continues to compete. We talked about him last year, and I thought he was one of the most improved pitchers in the system a year ago, and he continues to do what he’s doing.
AF: A guy who’s been having a great season at Midland is first baseman Anthony Aliotti. He’s been leading all A’s minor leaguers in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all year. I know he hasn’t been considered a top prospect, but is there anything more that he can do to put himself on the map?
GF: No, he’s just waiting for an opportunity to get to the next level – in fact, a couple of guys are. It just depends on what’s going on at Sacramento to get these guys moving.
AF: So people do see and appreciate what he’s been doing at Midland this year?
GF: Without a doubt.
AF: Now I wanted to ask you about a guy who was blowing everybody’s mind with his hitting in the first half of last year but who’s really struggled this season. Do you have any insight into what’s been going on with Miles Head this year?
GF: Well, he’s just had a bad 2013. He showed up to camp extremely heavy. And we got him started doing something about it. And then, for whatever reason, he was swinging at air down there in Midland for a while before he got hurt. He’s just been hurt – his shoulder’s barking again, and we had to sit him again. So he’s just had a bad 2013.
AF: So I guess the first thing that needs to happen is that he needs to get healthy…
GF: He needs to get healthy, and in shape. And then we can get his mind right and get this thing going.
AF: Now what about all the young guys at Beloit? That team’s really been having a great season this year.
GF: Yeah, it’s great. They’re having a blast. Ryan Christenson is a hall-of-fame first-year manager. He’s doing a great job. He’s picked up on so many important things. He’s been a great leader for those kids. Just go around the lineup – Maxwell, Olson, Bostick, Robertson, Nunez – they’re all on target. They’re all playing super.
AF: I was going to ask you about the decision to hire Ryan Christenson as the manager at Beloit with all those top prospects there. He’s a former A’s outfielder, but he really didn’t have any previous managing experience.
GF: We were going to hire him just to be the hitting coach, but we had some things happen that kind of forced our hand a little bit. But as we sit here now, there’s not a person in the organization who isn’t just pleased as hell that he’s stepped up and done the job he’s done.
AF: Now what about the job that former top prospect Michael Ynoa has done in Beloit this year?
GF: He’s going 5 innings now routinely, throwing 75-85 pitches, and throwing hard. And the breaking ball’s really getting good. The breaking ball’s now getting a little bit closer to the projection breaking ball that they all thought he might have. I don’t know what his velocity is every night, but I know he’s been up to 97 mph numerous times and pitching 92-95 mph – so you can’t throw it a whole lot harder than that. And he’s healthy – he hasn’t missed a start.
AF: Taking a look at the draft for a minute, what about the A’s top draft pick this year, center fielder Billy McKinney? What did you see when you were scouting him?
GF: I just thought he was one of those special hitters – very instinctual, great swing, balance, aggressiveness, knows the strike zone for an 18-year-old kid. He’s not raw, he runs, he throws, he’s got all the equipment. There’s going to be some power. And where we were in the draft, if this kind of guy got to us in this draft, I’m in!
AF: So did you fall in love with him the first time you scouted him in high school?
GF: Yeah, but he walked five times. They walked him five times, all intentional. I had to come back four days later.
AF: Well at least you knew they were giving him plenty of respect anyway! So did you get a chance to see much of the second hitter the A’s took this year, infielder Chad Pinder?
GF: Yeah, Pinder’s a slender 6’2” who’s got room to grow. He’s got good feet, he throws, he’s a good defender. He ended up playing a lot of shortstop in college this year, but I think down the road he’s probably a third baseman. There’s a chance for some power in there. There’s some things that have to get cleaned up in his approach a bit, but I think he’s a solid pick for where he got him.
AF: Was there anybody else in this year’s draft class who really jumped out at you?
GF: Yeah, Chris Kohler, the high school lefty we got in the compensation round. I liked him a lot and thought he was a great pick where we got him. He’s a 90 mph guy with a good curveball. He’s got fair location now for an 18-year-old. He’s a real baseball guy.
AF: Well, going back to the big league club, with people talking about all the guys down at Sacramento – Grant Green, Jemile Weeks, Hiro Nakajima – do you feel that the A’s have the best defensive middle infielders in the organization up in Oakland on the A’s roster right now?
GF: The most consistent, yes. You know, Sogie’s dynamite. Rosie’s a very good shortstop. Lowrie is playing solid, but the difference is what he’s bringing to us offensively, which we haven’t had out of that position in a while. And that’s the reason we’re winning – we’re winning because we’re a much more offensive club than we have been. We’re on base more, we walk more, and we homer – and our defense is still really, really good. You know, people forget, we’ve got a nice club right now. It’s hard to pick a hole on that club.
AF: Well, that’s always good to hear. Thanks a lot!
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There’s no question that two of the A’s top hitting prospects can currently be found in the clubhouse of the California League Stockton Ports. The A’s 8th overall draft pick in last year’s draft, first baseman Max Muncy, currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in home runs and RBIs. And the A’s top pick last year, 19-year-old Addison Russell, is second on his team in runs, walks, doubles, total bases and stolen bases and currently leads the team in triples. We took the opportunity to talk with both of them while in Stockton last week, along with their manager, Webster Garrison, to get some perspective on how things have been shaping up for some of the A’s top prospects this season in Stockton…
From day one, the A’s have been aggressive in promoting their top draft pick from last year, shortstop Addison Russell. And this year, the team chose to start him at Stockton in the High-A California League, where he had the distinction of being the youngest player in the league. The 19-year-old struggled early on, but he’s turned things around and has really been coming on strong of late…
AF: At 19, you’re the youngest player in the California League this year. So does anybody give you a hard time about being so young?
AR: Not really, I’m usually just treated as another guy here.
AF: You started the season out kind of slow, but the last month or so, you really seem to be putting it together. So what accounted for the early struggles, and what’s accounted for the turnaround?
AR: I think I’m just more relaxed now. I’m seeing more pitches. I’m seeing more time on the field. I’m just more relaxed, and I think I perform at my best whenever I feel that way.
AF: Was there a lot for you to get used to when you first came to the California League?
AR: Yeah, me being a young guy, I kind of had to soak everything in. And there was just a lot of stuff that I wasn’t used to, so I had to make a few adjustments, and I did.
AF: Besides just getting more relaxed and more comfortable at the plate, what were some of the adjustments you had to make?
AR: It’s really just recognizing the pitch. Before this league, I never really saw a cutter or a two-seam [fastball], and I’m seeing those pitches really well now. That was just a little adjustment that I had to make.
AF: What about in the field, are there any differences for you at this level?
AR: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a faster-paced level. The guys that hit are a little bit quicker to first base and second base, and I have to get rid of the ball a little bit faster, so I had to make that adjustment. But overall, I’m just working on my whole game.
AF: Do you feel you have to try to come in on the ball a little faster now?
AR: I still try to stay in that relaxed state, but just get the ball out a little bit quicker.
AF: You got to spend a little time in the big league camp this spring. So what did you take away from that experience?
AR: I really just tried to get to know the guys and see how they practice, their approaches, their work ethic, just what they do everyday to get prepared for the game. And I try to really put that into my routine and my preparation for the game.
AF: Well, I guess you got a good sense of how the major leaguers do it anyway. So was everybody cool to you there?
AR: Yeah, they were all nice and friendly. They came up and talked to me for a little bit and introduced themselves and I introduced myself to them. It was just a good experience.
AF: So have you kept in touch with your boys in Beloit – Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson?
AR: Yeah, we text and we snapchat and all that stuff every now and then. It’s always good to hear they’re doing good, and it’s always good to hear from them.
AF: Well, you’re from Florida, so how is it for you living out here in California?
AR: It’s a little different than back home. There’s a lot of one-way streets – I’m not used to that.
AF: Have you turned the wrong way yet?
AR: A few times. But other than that, it’s not too bad. We’re staying in a good part of town. There’s some good people there. I’m familiarizing myself with the area, and it’s a nice place.
AF: Do you share a place with some of your teammates?
AR: Yeah, I’m with a few teammates in an apartment – Dusty Robinson, Tanner Peters and Rashun Dixon.
AF: Has your family been out to visit you and see you play at all?
AR: My dad came out here at the beginning of last month and it was just awesome that he kind of got to experience what I’ve been living for the past few months. He enjoyed being out here and seeing his son play. And I’m hoping the other side of my family – my mom, my sisters and my brother – can come out here. I think they would enjoy it.
AF: Well you know, Sacramento’s right up the road – the Triple-A affiliate. Have you had a chance to get up there yet?
AR: Yeah, I’ve been up there to play a pre-season game with the Ports. And it was a pretty nice spot – it was really, really nice.
AF: Well, you never know, it might be home before long!
Besides Addison Russell, the only other member of last year’s draft class for the A’s to start the season as high as Stockton this year is first baseman Max Muncy. The 22-year-old came roaring out of the gate this season and currently leads all A’s minor leaguers with 20 home runs, which is a bit of a pleasant surprise, since he totaled just 4 last year…
AF: Obviously, you’ve been having a good year here in Stockton. So what’s been the key to your success this season?
MM: I feel like I’ve been swinging the same way I’ve swung my whole life. The only difference is there’s been a few more home runs…
AF: Just a few?
MM: (Laughs) Just a few…Yeah, I’ve never put up home run numbers like this. A lot of people say it’s because of the ballpark, it’s because of the league we’re in – maybe a couple of them, but for the most part, I think the big difference is I spent a lot of the off-season working on back-spinning balls. If anyone saw me play last year, they’d notice I had a ton of doubles, but all of them were top-spin balls right down the line. Even the ones I was hitting in the gaps weren’t back-spun, they were spinning sideways, top-spin – they didn’t have back-spin, so they weren’t carrying as much. To me, that’s the big difference. If you hit line drives with back-spin, they tend to carry a little bit more than everything else, so I feel like that’s been the big difference when it comes to my home run numbers.
AF: So you started working on that at home this off-season?
MM: Well, I’ve always had a big problem with top-spin. A lot of lefties have that problem. There’s not many lefties that back-spin all the time. So that’s something I’ve been working on for a while. And this off-season, I really tried to focus on that. I just worked on getting a more downward plane to the ball, staying inside of it a little bit and not coming out early on my swing. And I feel like that’s been a huge difference for me.
AF: I know I was talking with some coaches in spring training who were talking about developing your power potential more. So I don’t know if people have always thought that you had greater power potential than you’ve shown in the past.
MM: Yeah, that’s what a lot of people have thought. You know, I’ve never put up huge home run numbers. In college, I always had a couple, but I wasn’t hitting 15-16 home runs in college like some guys were. So I think they saw it, and I knew I had it. But I’ve been a line drive hitter my whole life, and I still feel like I’m a little bit of a line drive hitter. The only difference is I’m hitting line drives with back-spin that are going a little bit more up in the air because they’ve got that back-spin and they carry.
AF: What’s the most home runs you’ve ever had in a season before?
MM: Probably back in high school. I don’t know what my numbers were in high school. But as far as I can remember, I had 11-12 as a freshman in college.
AF: So when the season started out and everything started going so well for you right off the bat, you must have been thinking, “Gee, this is working out even better than I planned!”
MM: It was a pretty unreal experience for me. I was getting very good contact on a lot of the balls I was hitting. I was putting them in the air, and I wasn’t popping them up – I was hitting them really well. It’s hard to explain, because I’ve never had a start like that before. I’ve never just hit home run after home run, and to do that was pretty amazing. I had friends calling me from school back home saying, “Hey, mix in an infield single every now and then – those are pretty cool too.” It was a lot of fun, and I think I let that get to my head a little bit…
AF: I was going to ask you about that little dip you had in May…
MM: I really think I let it get to my head a little bit. I saw the home runs and I was thinking, “Hey, maybe I can hit more if I start lifting more.” And I was hitting a lot of pop-ups, I wasn’t getting very good contact. I think my strikeout numbers went up. And that’s something I hate doing too – I hate striking out. In the game yesterday, I had a home run but I struck out twice, and I think I was more upset about the strikeouts than I was happy about the home run. That’s another thing I’ve always taken a lot of pride in is walking more than I’ve struck out.
AF: Well, that’ll serve you well in this organization! So you think you started getting a little too homer-happy after the hot start and got a little out of your game?
MM: Yeah, I definitely think I got out of my game. I was trying to lift the ball too much. We went to a couple places like Lancaster, where the wind was just howling out to right field, and I saw that and automatically I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m getting a couple of home runs.” It got to my head, and I wasn’t hitting very many balls. So I had to come back down to earth a little bit and realize that’s not going to happen all the time. I’ve just got to go back to hitting my line drives, and that’s when the home runs started coming again.
AF: Well, stick with what works! Now I remember hearing good things about your defense going back to when you were first drafted. So is there anything different about playing in the field at this level?
MM: I’ve always taken pride in my defense at first base. I’ve always felt like I’m a little bit of an above average defender at first base because I was never a first baseman. When I went to college, I was recruited there as a second baseman/third baseman. So I’ve always had decent feet and good hands, and I feel like taking that to first base is a huge advantage for me. I know I can get around balls and what I need to do. I can get reads on short hops. That’s just something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in. I’ve always loved being a good defender. To me, it’s a good feeling when I’m able to make the other infielders feel comfortable throwing the ball across the field to me. I’ve been there before. Like I said, I wasn’t always a first baseman. I’ve had first baseman before where you weren’t sure if they were going to catch it or they were going to miss it. So I take a lot of pride in that.
AF: I never realized you’d played second and third before. So you’ve really got much more of that infielder’s mentality.
MM: Yeah, I’d never played first base until I got to college. And the only reason they put me there is that’s where the open spot was on the team, and they just wanted my bat in the lineup. I got there my first year, and I just ended up staying there until now. And as far as I know, the A’s have told me that’s where I’m staying. I’m always going to mess around at those other positions just in case – I think that’d be a fun opportunity.
AF: Well, I guess the way the season’s started for you has given you a lot of confidence anyway, which always helps, right?
MM: Yeah, it definitely helps. It’s been a really fun year so far, and I’m really looking forward to the second half. Hopefully I can stay a little bit more consistent, and not have a month that kind of drops off a little bit.
AF: Well, no matter what, as long as you keep taking those walks and getting on base, you’ll get through it!
The Ports are managed by Webster Garrison. The affable former infielder is in his third season as Stockton’s skipper and has plenty to say about the team’s top prospects…
AF: I wanted to start out by asking you about shortstop Addison Russell. He started out a little shaky this year. But what have you seen from him in the three months that he’s been here so far?
WG: The kid’s a hard worker. But he’s not putting as much pressure on himself as he was earlier in the season. There were a lot of expectations on him, and he was just trying so hard to get it done, then he started getting a little frustrated as well. Now he’s got it going a little bit. We moved him in the lineup from first to second just to take a little pressure off him where he’s not the first guy up every night. And he’s just settling in and having fun. He’s a good guy – the guys enjoy his company out here. And he’s just started to get comfortable out there and play extremely well as of late.
AF: So you think it’s just been a matter of him relaxing and getting comfortable with things?
WG: Yeah, taking the pressure off himself and just relaxing and playing baseball.
AF: What specific adjustments has he had to make?
WG: Well, hitting-wise, which is what he was struggling with the most, he has to be able to use the whole field. Instead of just trying to crank every ball out of the ballpark, now he’s starting to use the whole field. He’s waiting back better. He’s not as jumpy. He’s not as anxious. He’s just relaxing and letting the ball come to him and hitting it where it’s pitched compared to trying to go get it. And he’s getting to know these pitchers a lot better. Basically, he didn’t know any of these pitchers. Now that we’ve been through a couple of teams a few times, he knows what they’ve got and he knows how they’re trying to attack him and he’s made a good adjustment and he’s having fun.
AF: So do you think he’s a fast learner?
WG: Yeah, he’s definitely a fast learner for a 19-year-old kid. Most 19-year-old kids would probably still be in struggle mode right now. But he’s turning a corner and it’s good to see, and he’s a mature kid for his age.
AF: Well, having a fast learning curve sure makes your life a lot easier!
WG: It makes my life a lot easier, and I definitely feel a lot better right now!
AF: Now what about defense, how’s his learning curve been in the field?
WG: He’s got all the actions. He’s got the arm. He’s preparing himself. He’s coming in, getting the notes, getting to know the hitters. He’s positioning himself well. I don’t have to watch him as much as I used to because I know he’s got a good idea what he’s doing out there. He’s got good hands and a strong arm and has definitely got the actions. He’s got a lot of range out there.
AF: Another guy who’s been a standout this year is first baseman Max Muncy, who came in and hit from day one with surprising power. So I’m curious to get your take on what he’s been doing here this year.
WG: Yeah, since day one, he’s been swinging a real good bat, and it all started in spring training. He came into spring training swinging a good bat, so he’s just kept it going all season. He’s got a real good idea of hitting. The kid knows what he wants to do. And when he’s getting his pitch, he’s not missing it much. He was the only lefty in our lineup in the first half, so on certain occasions they really wouldn’t pitch to him, and he made the adjustment and takes his walks if he has to. And if they challenge him, he’s ready. He’s using the whole park as well, but his strong side’s his pull side. So when he gets that pitch in, he’s ready for it. And he’s laying off away until he gets two strikes, and he can definitely go that way as well. He’s a good-looking young hitter.
AF: What would you say is his single greatest strength as a hitter?
WG: I would say his swing – where he hits the ball. He goes through the ball and bottom-halfs it. He knows he’s not one of the best runners, so he’s trying to stay off the ground and he’s working hard on creating that back-spin where he’s in the air mostly. And it’s paid big dividends for him compared to pounding balls on the ground. He’s got that back-spin bottom-half where that ball’s getting up in the air, and it’s a good idea to be hitting like that here and in the California League period.
AF: I wanted to ask you about a couple of pitchers. Raul Alcantara recently joined your club. So what do you think of what you’ve seen from him so far?
WG: I saw him in spring training as well. Yesterday he was good. He went after hitters. He attacked hitters with all his pitches and got some easy outs and did a good job overall. He only had one walk, and that was late in his outing, which is a big key. If you’re throwing strikes, you’re definitely going to have some success.
AF: What about another guy who was here but was recently promoted to Midland, Drew Granier. What did you see from him?
WG: This kid’s a fierce competitor. He expects the best when he goes out there. And he’s got the pitches. He’s working on his changeup still, but his fastball’s moving, his breaking ball’s moving, and he’s got a great idea of pitching. He’s a little older kid than Alcantara – he’s a college kid – but he’s got a real good idea of pitching, and he’s aggressive – he goes after guys.
AF: One last question that you may or may not have an answer to. There’s a guy who was blowing everybody’s mind here last year – Miles Head. I’m sure you remember him. Even though I know you haven’t seen him this year in the Texas League, do you have any idea what might be the problem with him this season?
WG: He’s got a lot of injuries this year. It’s a slow start for him. He’s been on the DL twice this year. I heard he’s hit some balls well, just right at guys. I know Miles is going to turn it on sooner or later. It’s just a tough deal because I know he’s kind of injured and is off to a slow start. But as soon as he gets it together, I know the kid’s going to hit. It’s a beautiful thing watching him hit!
AF: I’m sure you enjoyed it!
* * *
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Tacoma Rainiers 1
Sacramento River Cats 6
WP – Banwart 4-2 / 4.18
HR – Vogt (9)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Travis Banwart
(7 1/3 IP / 5 H / 1 ER / 3 BB / 7 K / Win)
Starter Travis Banwart turned in an impressive outing on Saturday, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits and striking out 7 to earn his 4th win. Designated hitter Stephen Vogt clubbed his 9th home run, while third baseman Scott Moore collected 3 hits, including 2 doubles, and drove in a pair of runs, and first baseman Daric Barton and outfielder Michael Choice both doubled and drove in a run for the River Cats.
Monday, May 13th: Billings Leads Cats to Victory while Snappers Win a Tight One, Hounds Fall and Ports Drop 6th Straight
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Sacramento River Cats 8
Nashville Sounds 4
WP – Billings 3-2 / 6.10
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Bruce Billings
(6 IP / 4 H / 1 ER / 2 BB / 8 K / Win)
Starter Bruce Billings had a solid outing for Sacramento on Monday, allowing 3 runs, just 1 earned, on 4 hits while striking out 8 to earn his 3rd win. Designated hitter Grant Green had 2 hits, including a double, and drove in 2 runs. Center fielder Michael Choice also collected a pair of hits, and left fielder Scott Moore drove in a pair of runs. Shortstop Hiro Nakajima doubled and drove in a run, but his throwing error in the bottom of the 3rd inning led to 2 unearned runs.
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Sacramento River Cats 7
Reno Aces 3
WP – Chavez 1-1 / 2.45
HR – Choice (4)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Jesse Chavez
(7 IP / 6 H / 2 ER / 0 BB / 9 K / Win)
Starter Jesse Chavez had another solid outing for Sacramento, allowing 2 runs while walking none and striking out 9 to earn the win, and RHP Mike Ekstrom gave up a run in 2 innings of relief to pick up his 2nd save. Outfielder Michael Choice hit his 4th home run, his 3rd in the last 2 days, and drove in 3 runs for the River Cats.
TEXAS LEAGUE (Double-A)
Arkansas Travelers 12
Midland RockHounds 4
LP – Leon 1-1 / 7.27
HR – Head (2), Goebbert (1)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Designated Hitter Miles Head
(Home Run / 2 RBIs)
After making a stunning debut in his first start for Midland, RHP Arnold Leon struggled mightily in his second outing, allowing 9 runs, 7 earned, on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings to take the loss. Designated hitter Miles Head hit his 2nd home run and outfielder Jake Goebbert slugged his 1st for the RockHounds.
CALIFORNIA LEAGUE (High-A)
Stockton Ports 6
San Jose Giants 12
LP – Hassebrock 0-1 / 8.49
HR – Lamas (1)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Second Baseman Antonio Lamas
(Home Run / 3 RBIs)
Starter Blake Hassebrock had a tough time of it on Monday, allowing 9 runs, 7 earned, on 8 hits over just 2 2/3 innings to take the loss. Second baseman Antonio Lamas hit a 3-run homer, his 1st for the Ports, while outfielder Josh Whitaker had 2 hits and drove in a pair of runs in the loss.
MIDWEST LEAGUE (Class-A)
Sacramento @ Las Vegas – 7:05pm PT
Arkansas @ Midland – 4:30pm PT / 6:30pm CT
Stockton @ San Jose – 7:00pm PT
Game #1 – KaneCounty @ Beloit – 2:00pm PT / 4:00pm CT
Game #2 – KaneCounty @ Beloit
The opening day roster for the Midland RockHounds, the A’s Double-A affiliate in the Texas League, was announced this week. The RockHounds’ lineup will be led by one of the A’s top hitting prospects, third baseman Miles Head, who led all A’s minor leaguers in hits, RBIs, batting average and slugging percentage last season.
Along with Head, the RockHounds’ infield will also include Jefry Marte, Tommy Mendonca, Anthony Aliotti, Dusty Coleman, Darwin Perez and Tyler Ladendorf. Jeremy Barfield, Chad Oberacker and D’Arby Myers will man the outfield, while Ryan Lipkin and Nick Rickles will be behind the plate.
The RockHounds’ starting rotation will likely include Murphy Smith, Josh Bowman, Josh Stinson, Zach Neal, Carlos Hernandez and Arnold Leon as soon as he’s been stretched out enough to start. Left-handers Jeff Urlaub and Frank Gailey will join right-handers Carlos Fisher, Sergio Perez, Kyler Newby, Darren Byrd and Paul Smyth in the RockHounds’ bullpen.
You’ll find the Midland RockHounds’ complete roster, along with profiles of some of the team’s top players, below…
Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 21
Drafted 2009 – 26th Round
Head was acquired, along with Josh Reddick and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara, from Boston last year in the deal that sent Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox. The big third baseman had an unbelievable first half at High-A Stockton, bashing 23 doubles and 18 home runs in just 267 at-bats while posting a truly impressive slash line of .382/.433/.715. The Georgia native spent the second half at Double-A Midland, where he put up a much more mortal .272/.338/.404 slash line in 234 at-bats. Head will get the chance to master the Texas League again in 2013. He played all but a handful of games at third base last year, and the team hopes that Head will stick at third, but he’ll probably spend just as much time at first base this season.
Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman
Age On Opening Day: 21
Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent
The A’s acquired Marte this off-season from the Mets in the Collin Cowgill trade. The third baseman had a .251/.322/.366 slash line last season at Binghamton in the Double-A Eastern League. Those numbers might not seem overly impressive, but it’s important to remember that he started the year as just a 20-year-old playing full-time at Double-A. And Marte looked good this spring, hitting .400 with a pair of doubles in a brief look with the A’s. Along with Miles Head, he’ll be splitting time between third base and first base at Midland this year and hoping to make his mark in his second year at Double-A.
Left-Handed Hitting Outfielder
Age On Opening Day: 24
Drafted 2011 – 25th Round
Oberacker was a bit of a sleeper in the A’s system who’s now on the rise. He was drafted in the 25th round in 2011, but he’s quickly moved up the ladder and was the only one of Stockton’s regular outfielders from last season to earn a promotion to Midland to start the year. There might not be any one aspect of Oberacker’s game that really stands out, but he seems to do everything just well enough to succeed. He hits for a decent average, has a little pop in his bat, has good speed and can play center field. He’ll start the season flanked by Jeremy Barfield and D’Arby Myers in the RockHounds’ outfield and will rise as far as his talent will take him.
Age On Opening Day: 24
Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent
Leon is probably best known for his role in helping to precipitate the brawl between the Mexican national and Canadian national teams at this year’s WBC tournament. Besides that dubious distinction, Leon is a talented Mexican hurler whom the A’s signed as an international free agent back in 2008. Unfortunately, serious arm injuries caused him to miss most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. But he came back strong, pitching out of the bullpen, in 2012. The A’s plan to stretch him out and see if he can get back on track as a starter this year at Midland.
–MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS 2013 ROSTER–
Anthony Aliotti 1B-DH
Tommy Mendonca 3B-DH
Miles Head 3B-1B
Jefry Marte 3B-1B
Darwin Perez 2B-SS
Tyler Ladendorf 2B-SS-OF
D’Arby Myers OF
Murphy Smith RHP
Josh Bowman RHP
Zach Neal RHP
Carlos Hernandez LHP
Arnold Leon RHP
Carlos Fisher RHP
Sergio Perez RHP
Kyler Newby RHP
Darren Byrd RHP
Paul Smyth RHP
Josh Stinson RHP
Jeff Urlaub LHP
Frank Gailey LHP
While soaking up plenty of Arizona sun during our spring training tour, we also wanted to make sure we got a little light shed on some of the A’s top prospects by folks in the know. So we took the opportunity to talk to three guys who really ought to know the score – Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin.
Grady Fuson is a long-time baseball man who was formerly the A’s director of scouting. One of baseball’s most respected talent evaluators, he was also depicted as one of Moneyball‘s biggest bad guys, but he’s back with the A’s again as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
In his fifth season as the A’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi is one of the game’s most forward-thinking front office executives. With a doctorate in economics from UC Berkeley, he is often known as the A’s “numbers guy” and readily admits to feeling somewhat naked without his computer.
Bob Melvin is the popular and affable manager of the A’s who, in 2012, led the team to its first division title since 2006. The former catcher spent 10 years playing in the major leagues and was named AL Manager of Year for his efforts with the A’s in 2012.
We asked this trio of talent evaluators to weigh in on some of the A’s top prospects, and what we heard left us feeling pretty good about the future!
On shortstop Addison Russell…
Bob Melvin: He left us with impressions when he came out and just took batting practice with us during the season. During spring, he certainly didn’t look like a 19-year-old kid. He has a great approach at the plate, a very good work ethic – great athlete. He’s got a chance to be a quick mover.
Grady Fuson: Big league camp didn’t phase him. He went in there and stood around like a veteran. He wasn’t nervous. He was aggressive. He played the same style of game that he’s played since the day we signed him. And I think everybody top to bottom’s been pleased…I think we all see all the tools. It’s not hard to know this guy’s really got some quickness and speed. He’s aggressive on ground balls. He’s got a knack for reading ground balls. He controlled the strike zone in big league camp, so it wasn’t like he was swinging at air or anything. He’s just got a very good awareness about the game for a young kid to go with all the tools he’s got…He’s a great kid. He comes to work every day – he’s quiet but he’s deadly…As he goes along, we’re going to keep an eye on his throwing. It has nothing to do with his arm strength. It’s more about building accuracy and pace and footwork into his game. Other than that, there’s really no holes to poke at offensively. The more he plays, the more he’s going to get comfortable with the strike zone a little bit – what he can hit, what he can’t hit – and that’ll come. But this kid really has no major flaws to really speak of. It’s nice every once in a while to have a player where you can go, “Hey, let’s just go play!”
On outfielder Michael Choice…
Grady Fuson: He’s ahead of the curve as far as when he left Midland last year. What little time we got with him in instructs (instructional league), something’s clicked. His whole approach is so much more balanced and connected. The first 5-6 at-bats I saw him, I kept waiting for him to kind of get out of sorts, but he hasn’t one time. I’m proud of him. He looked great in big league camp. He’s got another burst of energy to his game. He played center field in big league camp very well – 5 of those innings a day over there that sun’s right in your face. And the great thing is, since he’s come over to minor league camp, he’s had the same work ethic, same aggressiveness, same energy. He’s been great…It looks like he’s really figured some things out.
Bob Melvin: This is the first time we’ve been able to see him get a lot of bats and do the things that the organization expects of him. He’s a highly-touted prospect with power and speed. I think he came to this camp really wanting to show the big league staff what he’s all about – and he did that. I mean, it was a very impressive camp. He fell off a little bit – I think he took a couple of 0-fors at the end. But he and Shane Peterson have been terrific throughout the whole camp. And this is a guy who’s going to knock the door down and fight his way in at some point in time, whether it’s next year, whether it’s this year – a September call-up or an injury or something like that. He’s really close to being a big leaguer.
On outfielder Shane Peterson…
Bob Melvin: He’s the one guy here who’s played every single game (this spring). You usually ease your way into it, but he’s done anything but that. He continues to hit. He plays different positions. I haven’t even used him at first, which is probably his most comfortable position, but he’s looked like a true outfielder. You look at the numbers, and he’s had a spectacular camp.
On infielder Grant Green…
Grady Fuson: To some degree, offensively, he could be big-league ready – he’s close. He’s got great at-bats going. He’s doing what Grant Green does. He’s been through a year and a half to two year period where we’ve been working on getting him to be more aggressive on the inner half and feeling what it’s like to turn on some balls. It’s helped his power production. Once again, he’s kind of getting his feet wet at a new position, but it’s the one position that you’re really seeing him grow at defensively. He is getting better every day. So obviously he’ll go back to Sacramento and we’ll see how things go in the big leagues to start – but Grant is very, very close.
Farhan Zaidi: I think there’s a growing level of confidence that second base is his best position. And because it’s his best position, probably now and also in the long run, giving him time to develop there is a priority. But we have other guys who need to play that position, so he may not get as many reps there as we would like in a perfect world just because we have to work other guys in there. But from an organizational perspective, more and more people are feeling good about the progress he’s made over there. And he could actually be an asset over there in the long term once he gets more reps and gets more comfortable playing there.
On infielder Miles Head…
Grady Fuson: He didn’t get that much time in big league camp, so he’s kind of getting a late start playing every day here (in minor league camp). But he should be ready to go. Obviously, he can’t do what he did in Stockton – that was the most unreal half you’re ever going to see. But he’s been getting his knocks, he’s swinging aggressive, getting time at third and first – and that’s what we’ll expect when he goes out.
On pitcher Dan Straily…
Farhan Zaidi: I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable in this camp, being in the big leagues, being around the big league team and staff. He’s had some things to work on this spring, just like most pitchers have. But you know, we sort of have this notion of building the starting pitching depth out 8 or 9 guys. And if you’re the 6th guy, it means we have a pretty high level of confidence – we know we’re going to need you at some point…He’s going to be a big factor in our season…He might not be in there for every turn of the 162 game season, but he’s going to play a big role for sure.
Bob Melvin: He just needs to be more consistent at times – and he knows it. He had a tough first inning the other day where he gave up 3 runs and then he pitched really well after that. It’s getting rid of that one inning, or getting through games a little bit more in the fashion that we think he can do it – and he’s probably not quite there yet. But he’s still a young guy, and we’ve had a lot of young guys perform well here. He was instrumental down the stretch with a few games for us last year. He has some experience pitching in a pennant race. But I know he probably looks at his performance this spring and thinks there’s a little bit more in the tank for him and wants to finish up strong.
Grady Fuson: He just seemed a hair out of sync (this spring). He wasn’t locating his fastball as well. And when he doesn’t locate his fastball well, then his sequences don’t come together. As far as his stuff, his stuff was still solid – 90-93mph, good breaker, slider got a little flat at times, good changeup – but he just wasn’t getting ahead of hitters enough as he’d done a year ago…You know, it’s his first big league camp – he knows he’s pressing to make a spot in that rotation.
On pitcher Sonny Gray…
Grady Fuson: His stuff is good. It’s all going to get down to location. If Sonny can improve on pounding the strike zone, he’s going to be a competitive kid. But he’s got to find a way to get ahead earlier in counts and work on the efficient side of being a starter versus the overpowering side of being a starter. He knows it. He’s trying to work through it. And right now, it comes and goes. So it’s a work in progress.
Farhan Zaidi: As much as we have invested in him, he’s a guy who we would want to only bring up when we really feel he’s ready, not sort of out of a sense of urgency for a guy. I think he just has to work on pitching more efficiently. If you’re in Triple-A and you’re throwing 100 pitches in a 6-inning stint, that’s not going to work at the big league level. The guys who have success moving from Double-A and Triple-A to the big leagues are the guys who pitch really efficiently at the minor league level and have short innings, don’t walk guys, all that kind of stuff. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue for him.
On pitcher Andrew Werner…
Grady Fuson: He’s kind of an under-the-radar lefty. He doesn’t throw overly hard. But he’s a locate guy. He’s got a real good changeup. He’s got a solid breaker. So he’s a lot like most lefties who throw 87-88mph who can pitch a little bit.
On pitcher Jesse Chavez…
Grady Fuson: Jesse Chavez has tremendous stuff. It’s just about him harnessing it, and he’s dominated in Triple-A. So it’s just about him getting used to playing in front of a second deck and the lights not blinding him a little bit. But we feel good about having him down there (at Sacramento).
On pitcher Michael Ynoa…
Grady Fuson: The progress continues to be nothing but ‘hang a star on it!’ He’s healthy. His velocity continues to climb. He’s been up to 95-96mph here. His breaking ball’s sharper because the velocity’s back. He’s been around the strike zone. You know, we’re still going to proceed with a little caution, but he’s been good.
Farhan Zaidi: His stuff has been really good. His fastball has been up to the mid-90s. He shows his other pitches. He’s a big presence on the mound. He just needs reps and he needs to get more consistent. If you haven’t pitched at that level, and things start unraveling – just getting out of jams, not letting innings totally get away from you. But the stuff has been fine…The stuff is where you were hoping it would progress to when we signed him – I mean, we thought he might be in the big leagues by now. So all the ingredients are there. It’s just about him getting out and pitching…I think he has the ability to make up for a lot of that lost time, so we’re looking forward to him pitching.
On infielder Daniel Robertson…
Grady Fuson: We’re still just being cautious with the knee. Little by little, he’s done more on the field, so he has not played in games. He feels great. We’re just taking it slow…In instructional league, his spike caught up on the mat hitting in BP and kind of tore a little meniscus in there. So the odds are he probably won’t break (camp). We’ll keep him down here a little bit and make sure it’s tested. But hopefully by the middle of the month, he’s good to go.
On first baseman Matt Olson…
Grady Fuson: Olson’s been great. He just picked up where he left off. He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger. He’s having a nice minor league camp. He’s ready to go.
Farhan Zaidi: The guys over there have been very excited about him. I think he’s hit a handful of homers in minor league games already. He has that kind of power…and that’s got people pretty excited.
* * *
Knowing he’s always got an eye on the future, we took the opportunity to ask Farhan about the possible value of applying analytics to the subject of health and injuries in order to better anticipate the physical resilience of individual players, and here’s what he had to say…
Farhan Zaidi: There’s more and more of this stuff – either analyzing historic DL data or injury data, or also mechanics. I don’t know that there are a lot of great, or certain, answers at this point. But I think it’s a major next frontier for analysis. It started off with offense, then it moved to defense, measuring fielding, now I think this is the next frontier for analytics. We do a fair amount of that – it’s sort of an ongoing process…Even getting a little bit better at predicting players’ health going forward is really valuable. So that’s something that we’re working on and trying to get better at every year…Even if you improve your predictive power a little bit, that can be worth a lot in the long run.
* * *
–GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH–
We asked Grady to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got…
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
He was good last year after we signed him. He went to Burlington (Class-A) right out of the draft and held his own. This guy gets it. He knows how to play the game. He’s got a good swing. He’s very hitter-ish. He’s always had a little bit more power in the bat than his numbers show. And we’re working with him to take advantage of the shorter parts of the park – and it’s coming. He’s been a jewel in camp. He’s firmed his body up a little bit more. He’s a solid defender. Keep your eye on him!
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 14th Round
He closed in Vermont last year. He threw from 25 different slots. In instructional league, we tried to calm him down, gave him one slot, and he went home all winter and worked on it. And he’s gotten so much cleaner now that we’re thinking about maybe starting him and pushing him with some innings. He’s got a good arm. He’s got a nasty changeup…He wiped guys out as a closer, but the more you can get on the mound, the more you’re going to learn.
Age: 21 / Drafted 2012 – 18th Round
Junior college kid – he only pitched 1/3 of an inning for us last year, so I didn’t even know who this guy was. The other day, he comes out here, he’s throwing 94mph with a nasty breaker – good body, good delivery. Today he goes 3 shutout innings, touching 95mph – I’m in!
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We’re now less than a week away from opening day, and Jemile Weeks has been optioned to Sacramento, Adam Rosales has been placed on the disabled list, and Hiro Nakajima has been struggling and is now dealing with a strained hamstring. And thanks to these recent developments, it looks like the A’s opening day roster may now be rounding into shape – and along with it, the Sacramento River Cats’ and Midland RockHounds’ rosters too. Of course, plenty can still change and nothing is etched in stone. There haven’t been any official announcements from the team yet and there probably won’t be until about 24 hours before opening day, but below are our projected opening day rosters for the A’s and their Triple-A and Double-A affiliates based on what we think we know at this point…
PROJECTED 2013 OAKLAND A’S ROSTER
Brandon Moss 1B
Nate Freiman 1B
Eric Sogard 2B
Jed Lowrie SS
Coco Crisp OF
Josh Reddick OF
Chris Young OF
Seth Smith OF
Brett Anderson LHP
Jarrod Parker RHP
Tommy 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
(Bartolo Colon – SUSPENDED)
(Fernando Rodriguez – DL)
(Adam Rosales – DL)
PROJECTED 2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS ROSTER
Jemile Weeks 2B
Andy Parrino SS-3B-OF
Grant Green 2B-3B-OF
Josh Horton 3B-SS-2B
Scott Moore 1B-3B-DH
Shane Peterson OF-1B
Conner Crumbliss OF-2B
Sonny Gray RHP
Andrew Werner LHP
Jesse Chavez RHP
Bruce Billings RHP
Travis Banwart RHP
Evan Scribner RHP
Mike Ekstrom RHP
James Simmons RHP
Arnold Leon RHP
Hideki Okajima LHP
Jordan Norberto LHP
Pedro Figueroa LHP
Justin Thomas LHP
PROJECTED 2013 MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS ROSTER
Anthony Aliotti 1B-DH
Tommy Mendonca 3B-DH
Miles Head 3B-1B
Jefry Marte 3B-1B
Darwin Perez 2B-SS
Tyler Ladendorf 2B-SS-OF
D’Arby Myers OF
Carlos Hernandez LHP
Murphy Smith RHP
Josh Bowman RHP
Sean Murphy RHP
Jacob Brown LHP
Brian Gordon RHP
Carlos Fisher RHP
Kyler Newby RHP
Darren Byrd RHP
Paul Smyth RHP
Nate Long RHP
Sergio Perez RHP
Frank Gailey LHP
***UPDATE: In something of a surprise, the A’s have designated LHP Travis Blackley for assignment. This opens a spot in the A’s bullpen for either Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Mike Ekstrom or Hideki Okajima. Their spot in the River Cats bullpen will be filled by RHP Danny Otero, who was claimed off waivers.
Well, we’re a little over three weeks into spring training now, and we’ve had the chance to get a good look at a number of the A’s most promising young hitters. There are 13 hitters who are likely to start the season in the A’s minor league system who’ve gotten into anywhere between 4 and 21 major league spring training games thus far – and most of them have performed pretty well!
However, only 3 of the 13 still remain in major league camp – outfielder Shane Peterson along with infielders Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard. They aren’t the only ones to make their mark though. Catcher David Freitas, infielders Jefry Marte, Grant Green and Darwin Perez as well as outfielder Michael Choice all hit the ball well during their time with the major league team.
Below is a list of the 13 players who we’re likely to see starting the year at Sacramento, Midland or Stockton who got at least 10 at-bats in major league games this spring, followed by a profile of a few particular over-achievers…
Shane Peterson (OF-1B) 18-for-42 / 6 2B / 1 HR / .429 AVG / .489 OBP / .690 SLG
Michael Choice (OF) 13-for-42 / 2 2B / 1 HR / .310 AVG / .333 OBP / .476 SLG
Eric Sogard (IF) 16-for-31 / 7 2B / 0 HR / .516 AVG / .559 OBP / .742 SLG
Andy Parrino (IF) 12-for-31 / 5 2B / 1 HR / .387 AVG / .457 OBP / .645 SLG
Michael Taylor (OF) 5-for-23 / 2 2B / 0 HR / .217 AVG / .250 OBP / .304 SLG
Grant Green (IF-OF) 9-for-22 / 5 2B / 0 HR / .409 AVG / .409 OBP / .636 SLG
Scott Moore (IF-OF) 4-for-20 / 0 2B / 1 HR / .200 AVG / .304 OBP / .350 SLG
David Freitas (C) 8-for-17 / 1 2B / 1 HR / .471 AVG / .471 OBP / .706 SLG
Luke Montz (C) 1-for-17 / 0 2B / 1 HR / .059 AVG / .105 OBP / .235 SLG
Addison Russell (SS) 4-for-16 / 1 2B / 0 HR / .250 AVG / .294 OBP / .313 SLG
Darwin Perez (IF) 5-for-15 / 1 2B / 0 HR / .333 AVG / .412 OBP / .400 SLG
Jefry Marte (3B) 4-for-10 / 2 2B / 0 HR / .400 AVG / .455 OBP / .600 SLG
Miles Head (3B) 1-for-10 / 0 2B / 0 HR / .100 AVG / .091 OBP / .100 SLG
With Hiro Nakajima and Jed Lowrie added to the roster in the off-season and Adam Rosales both out of options and carrying a guaranteed contract, Sogard’s likely to start the season bouncing around Sacramento’s infield. But his spring performance has certainly helped to keep his name in play anyway. In his first 31 at-bats, Sogard is hitting over .500 and leads the team with 7 doubles. He also has just 1 strikeout. And with that kind of performance at the plate, if another infielder is needed in Oakland at some point, Sogard’s name should be quick to come to mind.
At 25, Peterson has yet to see time in the majors. But let’s not forget that he was a 2nd-round draft pick for the Cardinals in 2008 before coming over to the A’s in the Matt Holliday deal. With five outfielders already on the A’s roster, there doesn’t appear to be much room for Peterson. But after posting an impressive .460 OBP last season between Sacramento and Midland, he’s definitely opened some eyes this spring by batting .429 in 42 at-bats while bashing 6 doubles. He’s likely to start the season in the Sacramento outfield, along with Michael Choice and Michael Taylor. But Peterson can also play first base, and he’ll undoubtedly see some time there as well, which could help offer him another route to the big leagues.
No one seemed to pay too much attention to Freitas when he came over from the Nationals last summer in the Kurt Suzuki deal. But they’re certainly noticing him now after he went 8-for-17 this spring, hitting .471 with a home run, a double and just 1 strikeout. Freitas has never played above Double-A though, and he’s likely to start the season at either Midland or Sacramento. But at this point, with the departure of Max Stassi, Freitas appears to be the most promising young catcher in the A’s minor league system.
Parrino came to the A’s this off-season along with LHP Andrew Werner in the Tyson Ross trade. And much like Sogard, Parrino is another infielder whose chances of making the roster are greatly hindered by the presence of Lowrie, Nakajima and Rosales. He’s likely to start the season playing shortstop at Sacramento, though the A’s have been giving him some time in the outfield this spring as well. But Parrino has put himself on the map with his consistent hot-hitting this spring, going 12-for-31 and hitting .387 with 5 doubles and a home run. And if the shortstop spot proves troublesome for the A’s this season, Parrino could end up earning a shot.
Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2
Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, where he gave us the lowdown on top prospects Addison Russell, Dan Straily, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and Grant Green. In Part 2, we’ll cover Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez, Michael Ynoa and more of the A’s top prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…
AF: Next on our list is a guy who got off to a phenomenal start last year, hitting probably as well as anyone in pro ball in the first half at Stockton, and who you guys very shrewdly targeted in last year’s trade with Boston – and that’s third baseman Miles Head. He came back down to earth a bit at Midland in the second half but still held his own there. Tell me what you think about Miles Head at his point and where you see him playing in the field this year now that you’ve got another third baseman like Jefry Marte in the system who’s basically at the same level as him.
FZ: He was a guy that we did sort of tack on to that deal a little late. And one of the things about him, similar to the Brandon Moss story, when we went and looked at him in the 2011 season, he was a guy who got better every month – first in the South Atlantic League and then even in the Carolina League in 2011, where his overall numbers weren’t great. He was getting better there every month. We’re very optimistic about him. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system. He’s a very aggressive hitter. He wants to put the ball in play, and he makes consistently loud contact. Defensively, we moved him over to third base last year, the position he played as an amateur. Everybody has more value at third base than at first base. But in the long run, he’s going to be a guy who plays both positions. And with Marte in the system, and both of those guys potentially starting the year in Double-A, I think both guys will see time at both spots. That still enables both guys to get plenty of reps at third, but it’s a case where having that flexibility and experience at a couple of different spots doesn’t hurt.
AF: The seventh guy on our list was your second overall draft pick last year, shortstop Daniel Robertson. He got off to a great start in the Arizona League. He had a little tougher time of it in his brief time at Vermont, but obviously everybody still seems to feel very positive about his abilities and what he’s capable of doing in the long run. So tell me what you think about Daniel Robertson at this stage of the game.
FZ: We feel very good about him. You’re right. He played very well in Arizona. He didn’t really have the results to show for it in Vermont, but nobody who was there thought that he was over-matched. And if he had another 10 or 20 games in the season at Vermont, I think he would have brought up his numbers. So we’re not concerned about that small sample that he had there. He’s one of the brightest and most motivated players I think we’ve ever brought into the system, so the intangibles that he brings in make you all the more excited about him. And our guys who really study swings, from (minor league hitting coordinator) Todd Steverson on down, all think he has one of the best and one of the most compact swings of the young guys out there. So that’s exciting when you hear about those kinds of skills that you know translate as you move up the ladder.
AF: Where do you see him playing in the field this year? Do you see him still starting at shortstop, or do you plan on moving him around the infield a bit?
FZ: It really sort of depends on how things shake out on the depth chart. His ability to play probably the most premium position on the field isn’t something you want to give up easily. So I think he’ll probably wind up getting time at both spots on the left side of the infield. But as well as he played short when he got the chance last year, we think it’s worth keeping him there and having him get some reps there.
AF: Eighth on our list is another infielder who hit really well in Arizona last year, and that’s third baseman Renato Nunez. He obviously doesn’t seem to have any problem swinging the bat, but he’s been a little shaky in the field thus far. So tell me what you think of Nunez both offensively and defensively at this point.
FZ: Yeah, you’re right. It was great to see him come over last year and put up the numbers that he did. And it was actually just a little unfortunate that we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to move him up to Vermont because he was as deserving as Robertson and Olson of getting that late-season promotion. Defensively, it’s a work in progress. He has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting a few reps. Our defensive coaches, Juan Navarrete and the rest of the group, feel good about his chances to improve at third. You know, people have said this for a long time, you don’t want to read too much into error totals at the low minor league level. I think Derek Jeter’s first full season error total (56 in 126 games) is one of the most constantly thrown around statistics. We’re not concerned about that. He has plenty of time to work on refining his skills.
AF: Ninth on our list is the top pitcher you took in the draft last year, right-hander Nolan Sanburn. He only got in about 18 or 19 innings last year, but a lot of people are very high on him. So with the limited opportunity you’ve had to see him, what do you think about him so far?
FZ: It’s interesting. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the typical college pitcher we’ve drafted. He didn’t throw a ton of innings at Arkansas. He was only there for a year. He was really more of a middle reliever at Arkansas and didn’t get much of an opportunity to become a mainstay on that pitching staff for whatever reason. So what we got was a guy who you felt there was some track record, because he’s a guy who did pitch with a reasonable amount of success, but you also had the upside of a junior college or high school player almost. What we’ve seen so far has been really encouraging. He’s obviously got out stuff. He’s got a plus curveball. For him, he’s going to just have to work on his fastball command and refining a third pitch. But he has the physical build and endurance to be a starter. He’s got two pitches that are a really good foundation. And if he can refine the rest of his arsenal, he could be an impact-type guy.
AF: Tenth on our list is a guy who certainly wasn’t a high draft pick but who a lot of people have been saying good things about – Chris Bostick, who’s been playing both second and short. I think he was drafted in the 44th round and the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, but there are a lot of folks who seem to have a good feeling about him.
FZ: Chris was one of those guys at the tail end of the draft who we just wanted to see how he progressed over the summer. And he went to the NYCBL, which is probably one of the top ten summer college leagues around. And I’m not sure if he won the batting title, but he was either first or second in the league in hitting. I think he hit like .450. He had more walks than strikeouts. It was really one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a summer league for a kid who has just graduated from high school and was playing against college sophomores and juniors. So that’s what really got us excited about him. And you’re right, the numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he has that performance history and all the ingredients and tools are there. So he’s definitely a little bit under the radar, but someone we are excited about.
AF: Your third overall draft pick last year, first baseman Matt Olson, is another guy who hit really well in the Arizona League and showed a lot of power there and looked good in a very brief stint with Vermont as well. So how to do you see Matt Olson at this point?
FZ: You know, it isn’t our common practice to take a high school first baseman that high in the draft. If you do that, it’s because you feel really good and excited about the bat. And he was a guy who matched that description. He’s a guy who we think has future plus, or even double-plus, power. He hit some long home runs in Arizona and carried that over into Vermont. So he’s a guy who profiles as an above-average offensive first baseman, which is saying a lot, because that’s a position that demands a lot offensively. But the whole key is that he continues to progress and starts moving towards achieving that power projection.
AF: And the final guy that everyone is always curious to know about is pitcher Michael Ynoa. After lots of time off due to injuries, he’s on the mend and getting back into the swing of things. So where are things at with Michael Ynoa?
FZ: I really think that the way he finished last season has given us a lot of reason for optimism. He went out and pitched outside the Arizona League for the first time. He had a couple of rough outings, but also had a couple of positive outings. And the reports on his stuff were really very encouraging. He was up to 95-96 mph, showing a full arsenal of pitches. And that was something that he carried into the Instructional League – he was one of the best pitchers for us both in terms of stuff and performance. He unfortunately got a late start this spring. He was a little sick in the Dominican and didn’t get over until a week into camp. He threw his first live bullpen session today against hitters over at Phoenix Muni. If everything went well with that, then he should be able to get into a game sometime soon. I think that would be a huge achievement and benchmark for him. He’s a guy who I think we’ve always felt that once he can get over his injuries, with the kind of stuff he has, he can make up for some of the lost time he’s had over the last few years.
AF: One last thing I’m curious to ask you about. When you’re analyzing minor league guys and their numbers, what is the first thing you’re looking at for both hitters and pitchers to try to get a handle on who the guys are who are most likely to be successful at the major league level?
FZ: Well, for a hitter, to be honest, for me, one of the biggest and most important metrics is walks and strikeouts. Guys that have a good ratio – just because those are an indicator of good plate discipline – the guys who, for the most part, swing at strikes and don’t swing at balls. And with the kind of stuff that you face in the big leagues, if you can’t do that, your chances for success drop dramatically. Hey, I’m not going to complain about the guy who hits .300 or has a .600 slugging percentage, but really, that’s the first thing that I look at because having good plate discipline is what really enables a lot of the actual hitting production to translate at a higher level. As far as pitching goes, strikeouts are a big factor. The other thing that really goes along with that is strike percentage. And I say that because sometimes we forget that not all strikeouts are created equal. There’s a big difference between throwing three strikes and just overpowering a guy, and having a 7-8-9 pitch at-bat where you have a full count and the guy fouls off a few pitches and then finally you strike him out. That first type of strikeout is a lot better indicator of skill and performance than the second type – so that’s why looking at strikeouts in conjunction with strike percentage is so important to me. Like I mentioned, once you get to the big leagues, you have to be able to pitch in the strike zone. If you’re striking out players in the minors by getting them to chase, it’s going to be a lot harder to replicate that success at the highest level. So those are the first things that I look at for hitters and pitchers at the minor league level.
AF: I was just reading something that said something pretty similar about walks and strikeouts for hitters. It was basically saying that whatever your hitting profile, once you get to the major leagues, you’re going to be striking out a lot more than you were in the minors. So you better start out with a decent ratio, because it’s going to be going down once you start having to face major league pitchers.
FZ: You know, I think there’s this common perception that that’s not something that you can get better at. I look at Grant Green, who went from Double-A to Triple-A and actually cut his strikeout rates dramatically, and I think that was maybe the single most encouraging thing about Grant’s season last year. And you look at Yoenis Cespedes, and there have been many articles written about his plate discipline through the course of the season from April to September and how he started swinging at more strikes and fewer balls and how, as he continued to do that, his production continued on an upward trajectory. Guys can get better, so I would never want to totally doom somebody to failure. And frankly, on the flip side, just because you have a good walk/strikeout ratio doesn’t guarantee success. But I think it is one of the best statistical predictors of hitters’ success at the big league level.
AF: Right, absolutely. That’s a lot of great information. I really appreciate it.
FZ: No problem. Just imagine how much more informative it would have been if I wasn’t out driving around and was at my computer.
AF: Well, the next time I talk to you, we’ll just have to make sure you’re staring at a computer!
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