Tag Archive for Oakland Athletics minor league players

A’s Farm’s 2016 Top 10 Prospect List

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

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

With the first A’s players set to start turning up at the team’s spring training camp in just a few weeks, it’s time to present A’s Farm’s 2016 Top 10 Prospect List.

It’s interesting to note that six players from last year’s list have made a return to this year’s list, including Franklin Barreto, who made his debut in the A’s system last season, along with returning prospects Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Renato Nunez, Chad Pinder and Dillon Overton.

New to this year’s list are starting pitcher Sean Manaea and catcher Jacob Nottingham, who were both acquired in deadline deals last summer, as well as last year’s top draft pick for the A’s, shortstop Richie Martin, and young shortstop Yairo Munoz.

Eight of this year’s top 10 are position players, while only two are pitchers – both of them left-handers. And half of this year’s top 10 could start the season at Triple-A Nashville, while another three to five players are likely to begin the year at Double-A Midland, with only one or two top prospects starting the year in A ball.

Most A’s prospect lists this year feature shortstop Franklin Barreto in the top spot, but we’ve opted to go with left-handed hurler Sean Manaea as the more mature, advanced and polished prospect who’s more likely to make a big impact at the major league level. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at A’s Farm’s 2016 Top 10 Prospect List

 

A’S FARM’S 2016 TOP 10 PROSPECT LIST

#1 – Sean Manaea (LHP)

#2 – Franklin Barreto (SS)

#3 – Matt Olson (OF-1B)

#4 – Matt Chapman (3B)

#5 – Renato Nunez (3B)

#6 – Chad Pinder (SS)

#7 – Dillon Overton (LHP)

#8 – Jacob Nottingham (C)

#9 – Yairo Munoz (SS)

#10 – Richie Martin (SS)

 

sm640455b#1 SEAN MANAEA

Left-Handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2013 – 1st Round

As a big lefty with big strikeout numbers who stands a chance of becoming the A’s #2 starter, behind staff ace Sonny Gray, at some point over the next year and a half, Manaea takes the top spot on our prospect list this year. Of course, how he fares while facing more experienced hitters at Triple-A Nashville next season will determine whether or not Manaea ends up finding himself on the fast track to Oakland. After coming over from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist deal, the southpaw posted an impressive 1.90 ERA while striking out 10.8 per 9 innings in 7 starts for Double-A Midland, and he then went on to lead the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts by whiffing 33 in just 25 2/3 innings. Manaea works with a slider, a changeup and a fastball that occasionally touches 97 mph and can seem unhittable at times. Since being drafted in 2013, he’s missed some time due to both hip and abdomen injuries but, fortunately, he hasn’t experienced any arm issues thus far. As a 6’5” lefty who has the ability to put up gaudy strikeout numbers, the Indiana native has a lot of upside. And A’s general manager David Forst recently remarked that Manaea has “everything that you’re looking for out of a top-of-the-rotation guy.”

Likely To Start 2016 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

fb620439#2 FRANKLIN BARRETO

Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop

Age On Opening Day: 20

Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent

Universally considered the best young hitting prospect in the A’s system, Barreto turned in an impressive .302/.333/.500 slash line as a 19-year-old at High-A Stockton last season after coming over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. The shortsop started off slow in April, batting just .171 with a .243 slugging percentage in the first month of the season. But he heated up as the season unfolded and, in July, he hit .375 with a slugging percentage of .700. Barreto obviously has the ability to swing the bat, but he also has some speed. And though he’s fairly small at just 5’9”, he has some pop as he showed by hitting 13 home runs last year despite sitting out six weeks with a wrist injury. The young Venezuelan can be a bit of a free-swinger though, and he drew just 15 walks against 67 strikeouts over 364 plate appearances last season. But the big question about Barreto surrounds his defense. While he has a strong arm, his play in the field can be erratic, and he chalked up a total of 34 errors in 86 games at shortstop last year. He spent some time in the outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League, and A’s general manager David Forst has indicated that he may end up dividing his time between shortstop and second base at Midland next season. But he also noted that Barreto is still quite young and that the team does believe he has the ability to stick at shortstop over the long run.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)

 

mo621566#3 MATT OLSON

Left-Handed Hitting Outfielder/First Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2012 – 1st Round

Most A’s fans who follow the team’s farm system are pretty familiar with Matt Olson’s profile by now. The big, strong left-handed slugger is generally considered to be the team’s top young power-hitting prospect after notching 77 home runs over the last three seasons. While making his Double-A debut last year, his 17 home runs (at the power-crushing confines of Midland) were the fourth-most among A’s minor leaguers, while his 105 walks were the second-most, and his 139 strikeouts were the third-most. And 45% of Olson’s plate appearances resulted in either a home run, a walk or a strikeout last season. The 6’5” slugger has been solid defensively at first base, but he actually spent more time in right field during the second half last year, where he may not have a lot of range but where his strong arm serves him well. And the Georgia native is likely to see more time in the outfield at Triple-A Nashville next season. Olson’s combination of power and plate discipline will ultimately be his ticket to the show. But if he has the ability to play first base as well as the corner outfield positions, then that versatility should only accelerate his ascent to Oakland.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

mc656305b#4 MATT CHAPMAN

Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2014 – 1st Round

2014’s #1 draft pick for the A’s missed the first month of the season due to a knee injury and the last month of the season due to a wrist injury, but that still didn’t stop him from leading the A’s minor league system in home runs with 23 in just 304 at-bats at High-A Stockton last year. Of course, the friendly confines of the California League helped make that possible, but it did prove that Chapman’s power potential, which the A’s front office has always believed in, could be real. Of course, that will be put to the test in the far less hospitable habitat of Midland next season. In the field, there’s no doubt that Chapman possesses a good glove and a great arm and is well-suited for the hot corner. He can be a bit too much of a free-swinger at times and he batted just .250 last year, but his walk rate was up over his inaugural campaign, boosting his on-base percentage to a respectable .341 for 2015. And with his solid defensive work in the field, if Chapman can just manage to get on base with enough frequency, he should hopefully have enough pop to make him a credible candidate to handle the corner in Oakland before long.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)

 

rn600524#5 RENATO NUNEZ

Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 22

Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent

Along with Olson, Nunez is one of the top two power-hitting prospects in the A’s system. The young Venezuelan hit 18 home runs in just 381 at-bats at Double-A Midland last season and has totaled 66 bombs over the last three years. His plate discipline could still use a little work, as he drew just 28 walks last season, but he did manage to lower his strikeout rate significantly in 2015. There’s no doubt that Nunez’s power potential is real, and it’s played at every level. The big question about Nunez has always concerned his defense. He’s primarily played third base throughout his minor league career, but he’s never really looked comfortable there. He appears slow in the field without a lot of range, and it’s hard to imagine seeing him handle the hot corner in the majors. Nunez got a handful of starts at first base last season and didn’t really look at home there either. But his bat may just be good enough to get him to the majors, perhaps sooner rather than later. And if the young slugger can live up to his potential at the plate, then the A’s will surely find a way to get his bat into the lineup one way or another.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

cp640461#6 CHAD PINDER

Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2013 – 2nd Round

Pinder moved up one notch on our list this year on the strength of his Texas League MVP season at Midland. He posted an impressive .317/.361/.486 slash line and showed plenty of pop, particularly for the pitcher-friendly Texas League, by putting up 32 doubles and 15 home runs in his Double-A debut. He could still stand to improve his plate discipline though, as he drew just 28 walks in 522 plate appearances this season. After primarily playing second base for Stockton in 2014, the Virginia native made a smooth transition back to shortstop in 2015. Though he doesn’t show great range, Pinder does have a strong arm that serves him well. Many feel that he’ll ultimately end up being a better fit at either second or third base, but he did show this season that he can do a credible job at shortstop. And being a versatile infielder with a decent bat may give Pinder as good a chance as anyone at getting a shot in Oakland sometime before the season’s through.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

do592614b#7 DILLON OVERTON

Left-Handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2013 – 2nd Round

2013’s 2nd-round draft pick for the A’s underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing in the summer of 2013 and has been building himself back up ever since returning to action the following summer. The A’s have been handling the lanky lefty with great care, never letting him go more than 4 innings in an outing in 2014 and never letting him go more than 5 innings in an outing in 2015. Overton’s command has been sharp ever since his return from surgery, walking just 31 and striking out 159 in 163 innings over the past two seasons. But his velocity has yet to fully return, and his fastball has mostly been sitting in the high-80s. Overton does have an effective breaking ball and changeup though and, as mentioned, he commands his repertoire well. The Oklahoma native performed well at both High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland last year, putting up a combined 3.43 ERA on the season. A’s general manager David Forst recently said, “If we can get this guy to 91-92 [mph] again, he’s here in no time.” And if that does indeed happen, then Overton could have the potential to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. But if his velocity doesn’t fully return, then he could still end up as a finesse lefty at the back end of the rotation or possibly an effective left-handed reliever coming out of the bullpen for the A’s.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Midland RockHounds (AA) / Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

jn641924#8 JACOB NOTTINGHAM

Right-Handed Hitting Catcher

Age On Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2013 – 6th Round

Acquired from the Astros in the Scott Kazmir deal, Nottingham took over as the starting catcher at High-A Stockton last July and immediately became the top catching prospect in the A’s system. After not looking particularly impressive in his first two minor league seasons in 2013 and 2014, the 6’3” backstop had a breakthrough year with the bat in 2015, putting up a .316/.372/.505 slash line while playing with three different teams in A ball. The biggest boost came in his power numbers, as he collected 33 doubles and 17 home runs over 465 at-bats, though it may be a bit of a challenge for the young catcher to replicate those numbers in the pitcher-friendly Texas League next season. Nottingham walked just 33 times last year, so he could show a little more discipline, but his career minor league .284 batting average and .352 on-base percentage demonstrate his ability to be productive at the plate. Behind the plate, the big backstop has shown a strong arm, but his receiving skills could still use some work, as is evidenced by his 19 passed balls last season. He is still young though – he’ll be turning 21 just before opening day – so there is time for improvement. There’s a chance that Nottingham could end up being moved from behind the plate, and he did appear in 18 games at first base last season. But if he can stick at catcher, then his powerful bat could made him a potent backstop for the A’s in the not-too-distant future.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)

 

ym622168b#9 YAIRO MUNOZ

Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop

Age On Opening Day: 21

Undrafted – Signed as International Free Agent

After spending the first few months of the season struggling to put up a .236/.278/.363 slash line with Class-A Beloit, Munoz seemed reborn after a promotion to the California League, where he posted a healthy .320/.372/.480 line over the last six weeks of the season while playing as a 20-year-old for High-A Stockton. Munoz possesses good speed and more pop than you’d expect out of a middle infielder, and he stole 11 bases while collecting 13 home runs and 26 doubles over the course of the season. The Dominican native also has a strong enough arm and enough range to be able to stick at shortstop, though he should easily be able to make the transition to second or third base if needed. Munoz just turned 21 and could start the season either as the primary shortstop at Stockton or splitting time at shortstop and second base with top prospect Franklin Barreto at Midland, which A’s general manager David Forst has mentioned as a distinct possibility. But either way, as a versatile young infielder with some speed and some pop, he’ll be given plenty of opportunites to prove himself, and he’ll get the chance to move up quickly if he does.

Likely To Start 2016 With: Midland RockHounds (AA) / Stockton Ports (A+)

 

rm621006#10 RICHIE MARTIN

Right-Handed Hitting Shortstop

Age On Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2015 – 1st Round

Last year’s top draft pick for the A’s, Martin came to the team from the University of Florida with a well-deserved reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop. A strong arm, good range and sharp instincts enable him to make lots of plays that few other shortstops his age can. So defense is definitely not a question with Martin. He possesses good speed as well, and he swiped a total of 45 bases over three college seasons. The question with Martin has always been about his bat. He put up a .284/.376/.376 slash line with 7 home runs during his collegiate career. The Florida native impressed in the Cape Cod League in 2014 by finishing second in batting with a .364 average. But his slash line in his first pro season at Vermont in 2015 was a rather uninspiring .237/.353/.342. Martin’s never shown much pop, but he has shown the ability to take a walk to get on base. And the hope is, with his solid defensive skills and his patience at the plate, that his bat will develop enough to make him a legitimate defense-first shortstop in the major leagues.

Likely To Start 2015 With: Beloit Snappers (A) / Stockton Ports (A+)

 

HONORABLE MENTION: CASEY MEISNER

Just barely missing out on our top 10 list this year was right-handed starting pitcher Casey Meisner, who was acquired from the Mets last summer in the Tyler Clippard trade. The 20-year-old was drafted out of high school by the Mets in the 3rd round in 2013, and the 6’7” hurler has put up a career 2.88 ERA while notching 208 strikeouts in 241 minor league innings since then. The tall Texan impressed in seven starts at Stockton last season and could start the year back at Stockton or at Double-A Midland if the A’s want to be aggressive with him. He’s still young, but he’s got a solid fastball that sits in the low-90s, a promising curveball, good command and plenty of potential.

 

Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

 

 

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Meet Your 2016 Nashville Sounds

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bYesterday we previewed the Oakland A’s 2016 major league roster (here), and today it’s time to take a look ahead at the Triple-A Nashville Sounds roster for the coming season. The Sounds will be beginning their second season as the A’s top affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, with Steve Scarsone returning as the team’s skipper. And many of the organization’s top young hitting prospects, including Matt Olson, Chad Pinder and Renato Nunez, are expected to make their Triple-A debuts at Nashville this season. The organization typically likes to start the season with 12 position players and 13 pitchers on the Triple-A roster, so let’s take a look at the players who are most likely to find themselves filling out the Nashville Sounds opening day roster in 2016.

 

CATCHERS

Carson Blair

Carson Blair

As things currently stand, it looks like last year’s primary catching corps at Midland could be taking over at Nashville this season. In 2015, Carson Blair made it all the way from Midland to Oakland over the course of his first season in the system after signing on as a minor league free agent, and he should start the year at Nashville as the most likely candidate to get the call should the A’s need reinforcements behind the plate. Bruce Maxwell, who spent all of last season at Midland, appears well-positioned to move up a level and join Blair as part of the Sounds’ 2016 catching combo. There is some chance though that Matt McBride, whom the A’s signed as a minor league free agent, could possibly end up taking over the role as the Sounds’ second catcher. The minor league veteran has primarily served as an outfielder and first baseman of late and hasn’t appeared behind the plate since 2013, but he has caught 169 minor league games and the A’s do currently have him listed among the catching corps on the team’s list of non-roster invitees to its major league training camp this spring. Meanwhile, top young catching prospect Jacob Nottingham should be starting the season just one level away at Double-A Midland.

 

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder

Joey Wendle appeared in 137 of Nashville’s 144 games last season and didn’t spend one inning anywhere in the field other than at second base. And the 25-year-old prospect should be the starting second baseman in Music City again next season but, with Andy Parrino gone via free agency, Wendle’s primary double play partner this year is set to to be shortstop Chad Pinder, who is coming off his Texas League MVP season. The versatile Tyler Ladendorf is also likely to get playing time at both middle infield positions and should see some time in the outfield as well. Minor league free agent infielder Josh Rodriguez, whom the A’s signed in the offseason, has spent plenty of time at both middle infield positions as well as at third base but, if Wendle, Pinder and Ladendorf all start the season at Nashville, then Rodriguez could end up being a better fit for the second base spot at Double-A Midland, right across the bag from top shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto.

 

CORNER INFIELDERS

Renato Nunez

Renato Nunez

There should be no shortage of candidates for the corner infield positions at Nashville next season, but there will now be one less name in the mix with the release of first baseman Nate Freiman. Young slugger Renato Nunez will move up from Midland and should get the majority of the starts at third base, while Rangel Ravelo is likely to spend the bulk of his time at first base, with Max Muncy bouncing between both corner infield positions. Top prospect Matt Olson will also see some time at first base, but the slugger actually spent more time in the outfield than at first base during the second half of last season and seems poised to spend much more time in the outfield again next season. And if Nunez, Ravelo, Muncy and Olson all start the season with Nashville, until a roster spot opens up, first baseman/third baseman Ryon Healy may have to start the year repeating a level at Double-A Midland, where 2014’s #1 draft pick for the A’s, Matt Chapman, is likely to be the main man at the hot corner in 2016.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

A trio of outfielders with MLB experience is set to see time in the Sounds’ outfield next season. If Josh Reddick, Billy Burns, Coco Crisp, Mark Canha and Sam Fuld all open the season on the A’s major league roster as expected, then Jake Smolinski will end up starting the year at Nashville, along with 27-year-old outfielder Andrew Lambo (who’s spent time with the Pirates) and 30-year-old outfielder Matt McBride (who’s appeared with the Rockies). Lambo and McBride are also capable of playing first base, and McBride could end up seeing some time behind the plate as well. Top prospect Matt Olson, who, as previously mentioned, spent more time in the outfield than at first base during the second half of last season, will be joining this experienced trio in the Sounds’ outfield mix and should be spending plenty of time roaming the outfield grass at First Tennessee Park as he looks to make his mark at the Triple-A level next season. All four of them will undoubtedly spend some time rotating through the designated hitter slot for the Sounds as well. But since they all are primarily corner outfielders, that could open up the opportunity for Jaycob Brugman to receive the bulk of the starts in center field for the Sounds, with Tyler Ladendorf available to give Brugman a break in center when he’s not busy appearing elsewhere in the infield.

 

STARTING PITCHERS

Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

Since left-handers Sean Nolin and Felix Doubront are both out of options, it seems somewhat unlikely that they’ll be factoring into things at Nashville next season unless either of them could somehow manage to make it through waivers. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be plenty of other viable candidates for the Sounds’ starting rotation though. Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who made nine starts for the A’s late last year, seems as likely as anyone to start the season in the Triple-A rotation. And since the A’s front office has made it sound as if they still view Jarrod Parker as a starter, then Nashville’s rotation would appear to be Parker’s most likely landing spot in the coming season. Right-hander Zach Neal, who was one of the Sounds’ most reliable starters last year, seems like a good bet to open the season in the rotation, as does veteran righty Chris Smith, whom the A’s signed as a minor league free agent after he was solid in 22 starts for the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate at El Paso last year. The final spot in the Sounds’ starting rotation seems likely to go to the A’s top minor league pitching prospect, left-hander Sean Manaea, who was impressive at Double-A Midland last season after coming over from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist deal. And if another spot should open up in the Triple-A rotation due to either injuries or trades, then another left-handed pitching prospect, Dillon Overton, could be in line to make the move up from Midland as well.

 

RELIEF PITCHERS

R.J. Alvarez

R.J. Alvarez

As usual, there are far more deserving candidates for the bullpen at the Triple-A level than there are available spots. The organization usually likes to start the season with eight relievers at Triple-A. And if there’s no room in the reconfigured major league bullpen on opening day for Ryan Dull – especially with Fernando Rodriguez out of options – then the right-hander may find himself waiting in the wings at Nashville to start the season. R.J. Alvarez and the recently-acquired J.B. Wendelken should join Dull as two other promising young righty relievers for the Sounds. Angel Castro, who made his major league debut with the A’s last season, was re-signed as a minor league free agent and will surely be back in the Nashville bullpen, along with returning right-hander Taylor Thompson, likely leaving room on the right side for one of either Ryan Brasier on Aaron Kurcz – and Brasier may hold the edge as he has major league experience and has received an invitation to the A’s major league spring training camp, unlike Kurcz. Meanwhile, Daniel Coulombe, who appeared with the A’s late last season after coming over from the Dodgers, and minor league free agent signee Eric Surkamp, who’s spent time in the majors with the Dodgers, Giants and White Sox, seem set to provide reliable relief options from the left side. Of course, there are plenty of other worthy candidates for spots in the Triple-A bullpen, including a couple of recent minor league free agent signees, lefty Patrick Schuster and righty Eduard Santos, as well as recently-acquired right-hander Trey Cochran-Gill, and organizational stalwarts like Seth Frankoff, Tucker Healy, Ryan Doolittle, Kris Hall and Jeff Urlaub, who’ve all done their duty at the Double-A level.

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A’s 2016 Minor League Staff

 

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone

NASHVILLE SOUNDS (Triple-A)

Manager: Steve Scarsone

Pitching Coach: Rick Rodriguez

Hitting Coach: Eric Martins

Steve Scarsone returns to Triple-A Nashville for the second consecutive season after the Sounds finished 66-78 in 2015. This will be his fourth consecutive season as manager of the A’s Triple-A club and he now has a 634-632 record in nine seasons as a minor league manager, including stints in the A’s system with Midland from 2011-12, Stockton in 2010 and Kane County in 2009. Rick Rodriguez will be the pitching coach after holding that role with Single-A Stockton last year. This is his 32nd season in the A’s organization, which includes seven seasons as a player and two years as bullpen coach in Oakland (2011-12). Eric Martins takes over as hitting coach after making his minor league coaching debut as hitting coach at Midland in 2015. Brad LaRosa returns as the athletic trainer and AJ Seeliger was named strength and conditioning coach.

 

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

Midland RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson

MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS (Double-A)

Manager: Ryan Christenson

Pitching Coach: John Wasdin

Hitting Coach: Brian McArn

Ryan Christenson returns to Double-A Midland after guiding the RockHounds to their second consecutive Texas League championship last year. He is now 245-174 in three seasons as a manager and has led his club to the playoffs all three seasons. John Wasdin returns as Christenson’s pitching coach for the fourth consecutive season and Brian McArn moves up from Stockton to take over as hitting coach. This is McArn’s 19th season as hitting coach in the A’s farm system, which includes a stop at Midland in 2004. Justin Whitehouse returns as the athletic trainer and Henry Torres will be the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

Stockton Ports manager Rick Magnante

STOCKTON PORTS (High-A)

Manager: Rick Magnante

Pitching Coach: Steve Connelly

Hitting Coach: Tommy Everidge

Rick Magnante will manage at Stockton for the second consecutive season following a 74-66 showing in 2015. He is now 531-563 in 13 seasons as a manager in the minors. Steve Connelly is in his first season as the Ports pitching coach after holding that job with Short Season Single-A Vermont in 2014 and Single-A Beloit in 2015. Tommy Everidge joins Stockton as hitting coach after serving in that capacity for Vermont in 2014 and 2015. Travis Tims returns as athletic trainer and Sean Doran takes over as strength and conditioning coach.

 

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

Beloit Snappers manager Fran Riordan

BELOIT SNAPPERS (Class-A)

Manager: Fran Riordan

Pitching Coach: Don Schulze

Hitting Coach: Juan Dilone

Fran Riordan returns to manage Beloit for the second consecutive season after the Snappers finished 55-84 in 2015. He spent the previous 14 years managing in independent leagues. Don Schulze is in his first season as pitching coach at Beloit after spending last year at Nashville. This is 11th season as pitching coach in the A’s farm system. Juan Dilone will be the hitting coach after spending the previous seven years with the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League. Brian Thorson returns as athletic trainer and Matt Rutledge will serve as strength and conditioning coach.

 

Vermont Lake Monsters manager Aaron Nieckula

Vermont Lake Monsters manager Aaron Nieckula

VERMONT LAKE MONSTERS (Class-A Short-Season)

Manager: Aaron Nieckula

Pitching Coach: Carlos Chavez

Hitting Coach: Lloyd Turner

In addition to his duties as the A’s minor league field coordinator, Aaron Nieckula will manage the A’s Short Season club at Vermont for the second consecutive season. It is his 11th year as a manager in the A’s farm system and he has a 649-679 record over the previous 10 seasons. Carlos Chavez returns as pitching coach for the second consecutive year and Lloyd Turner takes over as hitting coach after spending the previous two seasons at Beloit. Toshi Nagahara returns as the athletic trainer and Omar Aguilar is the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Arizona League A's manager Webster Garrison

Arizona League A’s manager Webster Garrison

ARIZONA LEAGUE A’S (Rookie Short-Season)

Manager: Webster Garrison

Pitching Coach: TBA

Hitting Coach: Ruben Escalera

Webster Garrison will be the manager of the A’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League, his ninth season as manager. He last managed at Stockton in 2013 and has a 534-522 record over his previous eight seasons. This is his 24th season in the A’s organization, which includes 17 years as a minor league manager or coach and seven years as a player. Ruben Escalera will be the hitting coach after managing the club the previous two seasons and Gabe Ortiz will be a coach. Chris Lessner returns as the athletic trainer and Terence Brannic is the strength and conditioning coach.

 

Minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson

Minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson

Minor League Field Coordinator: Aaron Nieckula

Minor League Hitting Coordinator: Jim Eppard

Minor League Pitching Coordinator: Gil Patterson

Minor League Rehab Pitching Coordinator: Craig Lefferts

Minor League Defensive Coordinator: Juan Navarrette

Gil Patterson returns to the A’s organization as minor league pitching coordinator after spending the previous three years in the Yankees organization in a similar role. Patterson was the A’s minor league roving pitching instructor in 1996 and from 2008-12 and also coached in the A’s farm system from 1991-95. Jim Eppard was named minor league hitting coordinator after spending 13 seasons in the Angels organization. He spent the last two years as assistant hitting coordinator after a two-year stint as the Angels major league hitting coach. Juan Navarrete is in his 22nd season with the A’s and will be the minor league defensive coordinator and Craig Lefferts and Aaron Nieckula return for their second consecutive season as minor league rehab pitching coordinator and minor league field coordinator, respectively.

 

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

Getting to Know the A’s 2015 Top 10 Draft Picks

A's top pick Richie Martin

A’s top pick Richie Martin

Now that day two of the amateur draft is complete, it’s time to run down the A’s top ten picks of the 2015 draft. After taking two collegiate shortstops with their top two picks on Monday, the team continued to prefer college players on Tuesday but focused more on finding promising young pitchers.

Overall, the team took five pitchers and five position players with its top ten picks. The five position players picked were all up-the-middle guys, including the two college shortstops, along with two college center fielders and one college catcher. Of the pitchers, four were college arms – two right-handers and two left-handers.

The only non-college player selected by the A’s in the top ten rounds was 6’3” high school right-hander Dakota Chalmers. Considering the fact that the Chlamers has committed to Georgia, could he possibly pose a signing risk? We’ve heard that the A’s are confident that won’t be an issue.

As we mentioned yesterday, top pick Richie Martin is a 20-year-old shortstop out of Florida who came in second in the Cade Cod League in hitting last summer with a .364 average. He also possesses good speed and seems to have the defensive ability to stick at shortstop in the long-term.

Second pick Mikey White is a 21-year-old shortstop out of Alabama who’s always been solid at the plate and has shown a consistent ability to get on base, but many think he may ultimately end up being a better fit at second base.

The three hitters taken on Tuesday – catcher Nick Collins and center fielders Skye Bolt and Steven Pallares – all fit the classic A’s profile as power and patience guys. All of them have walked at least as many times as they’ve struck out this season and all possess a slugging percentage of at least .449.

The pitchers are primarily high strikeout guys with good control. San Diego State right-hander Bowdien Derby led the Mountain West Conference in strikeouts with 131 over 103 innings of work, while Long Beach State right-hander Kyle Friedrichs showed exceptional control with just 12 walks to go along with 109 strikeouts.

We’ll be learning a lot more about all the A’s top picks in the coming days and can look forward to getting the chance to see much more of them at Vermont or Arizona, or possibly even Beloit, before the month is through.

 

rmbrn_richie050513_10715444_8col21st Round

Richie Martin

Shortstop

Florida

Age: 20 / 6’0” – 185 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 5 HR / 33 BB / 34 K / .292 AVG / .404 OBP / .424 SLG

 

MBA2nd Round

Mikey White

Shortstop

Alabama

Age: 21 / 6’1” – 195 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 4 HR / 31 BB / 47 K / .339 AVG / .444 OBP / .537 SLG

 

dc_MG_8530_resize23rd Round

Dakota Chalmers

Right-Handed Pitcher

North Forsyth High School (GA)

Age: 18 / 6’3” – 170 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 High School Stats: 51 1/3 IP / 27 H / 11 ER / 37 BB / 82 K / 1.50 ERA / 1.25 WHIP

 

sbbolttt24th Round

Skye Bolt

Center Fielder

North Carolina

Age: 21 / 6’2” – 180 lbs.

Bats: Both / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 10 HR / 40 BB / 40 K / .259 AVG / .383 OBP / .449 SLG

 

kdILLOSUKevinDuchene25th Round

Kevin Duchene

Left-Handed Pitcher

Illinois

Age: 21 / 6’2” – 210 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Left

2015 College Stats: 102 2/3 IP / 89 H / 20 ER / 18 BB / 88 K / 1.75 ERA / 1.04 WHIP

 

bdDerby1.0.0b6th Round

Bowdien Derby

Right-Handed Pitcher

San Diego State

Age: 21 / 5’10” – 180 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 103 IP / 94 H / 38 ER / 34 BB / 131 K / 3.32 ERA / 1.24 WHIP

 

Kyle Friedrichs7th Round

Kyle Friedrichs

Right-Handed Pitcher

Long Beach State

Age: 23 / 6’1” – 190 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 100 IP / 90 H / 31 ER / 12 BB / 109 K / 2.79 ERA / 1.02 WHIP

 

ncSHallGtown-NickCollinsXYZ28th Round

Nick Collins

Catcher

Georgetown

Age: 21 / 6’2” – 228 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 7 HR / 22 BB / 21 K / .370 AVG / .435 OBP / .540 SLG

 

jlbaseball-action-jaredlyons9-new29th Round

Jared Lyons

Left-Handed Pitcher

Liberty

Age: 22 / 6’0” – 190 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Left

2014 College Stats: 50 2/3 IP / 40 H / 16 ER / 12 BB / 48 K / 2.84 ERA / 1.03 WHIP

 

spCGcLRYsWcAAKzAN210th Round

Steven Pallares

Center Fielder

San Diego State

Age: 22 / 6’2” – 185 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 9 HR / 37 BB / 33 K / .352 AVG / .447 OBP / .523 SLG

 

#11 James Terrell OF (HS-CA), #12 Chris Iriart 1B (Houston), #13 Brett Siddall OF (Canisius), #14 Boomer Biegalski RHP (FL St), #15 Ryan Howell 2B (NV Reno), #16 Dustin Hurlbutt RHP (Tabor), #17 Brent Wheatley RHP (USC), #18 Brett Sunde C (West Mich), #19 Seth Brown 1B (Lewis-Clark St), #20 James Naile RHP (AL-Birm)

#21 Andrew Tomasovich LHP (Charleston South), #22 Brady Bramlett RHP (Mississippi), #23 Eric Senior OF (HS-ON), #24 Heath Bowers RHP (Campbell), #25 Evan Manarino LHP (Irvine), #26 Jordan Devencenzi C (NV Reno), #27 Xavier Altamirano RHP (Oral Roberts), #28 Marc Berube RHP (Pittsburgh), #29 Armando Ruiz RHP (AL St), #30 Brendan Butler RHP (Dowling)

#31 John Gorman RHP (Boston Coll), #32 Michael Murray RHP (FL Gulf Coast), #33 Mike Martin CF (Harvard), #34 Shane Conlon 1B (KS St), #35 Tim Proudfoot SS (TX Tech), #36 Troy Rallings RHP (Washington), #37 Andy Cox LHP (Tennessee), #38 Chris Cullen C (HS-GA), #39 Gregory Fettes C (Kentucky), #40 Nick Maton SS (HS-IL)

 

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

A’s Pick a Pair of Collegiate Shortstops on Day 1 of the Draft

rmCHBTsrKUYAA4geDFor the second year in a row, the A’s selected a collegiate infielder with their first pick in the amateur draft. Last year it was third baseman Matt Chapman, and this year it was shortstop Richie Martin.

Martin is a 20-year-old junior out of Florida who came in second in the Cade Cod League in hitting last summer with a .364 average. He also possesses good speed and seems to have the defensive ability to stick at shortstop in the long-term.

The A’s followed up their first pick by selecting their second college shortstop of the day, Mikey White out of Alabama. White is a 21-year-old junior who’s always been solid at the plate and has shown a consistent ability to get on base, but many think he may ultimately end up being a better fit at second base.

The A’s aren’t expecting to have any trouble signing either of their top two picks this year. The draft resumes on Tuesday with rounds 3 through 10. We’ll have more complete coverage of the A’s top ten picks tomorrow. But in the meantime, here’s the basic rundown on the A’s first two picks of the 2015 amateur draft…

 

rmbrn_richie050513_10715444_8col21st Round

Richie Martin

Shortstop

Florida

Age: 20 / 6’0” – 185 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 5 HR / 33 BB / 34 K / .292 AVG / .404 OBP / .424 SLG

 

MBA2nd Round

Mikey White

Shortstop

Alabama

Age: 21 / 6’1” – 195 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2015 College Stats: 4 HR / 31 BB / 47 K / .339 AVG / .444 OBP / .537 SLG

 

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

Talking Top Prospects with A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens

bo1151079bNow that we’re almost a third of the way into the minor league season, it seems like a good time to take a step back and take a look at how some of the A’s top prospects have been doing so far this season. And there’s no one better to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization back in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week while he was out on the road scouting prospects for next month’s amateur draft. And as always, his enthusiasm for the A’s top young prospects is obvious…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start out in Nashville. You guys obviously have an awful lot of veteran players there this year. But the one guy down there who genuinely qualifies as a legitimate prospect is the guy you got from the Indians for Brandon Moss, and that’s second baseman Joey Wendle. He’s been showing some pop with the bat, getting lots of doubles and extra-base hits, and he’s looked pretty good in the field too. He might still need to refine his plate discipline and pitch selection a bit, but what have you been seeing out of him?

jwWendle, Joey2BO:  I think he’s off to a good start. Joey’s a guy we saw extensively in the Arizona Fall League two years ago, and then he had an injury in 2014 with the Indians. Then we followed him after he came back from his injury in August, and we were definitely intrigued by the player. Then we were able to acquire him in the offseason in a good deal for both sides with Brandon Moss. And he definitely had a strong spring training. He’s got a very short, consistent stroke. He’s got some power in there, the production’s been solid the first two months, and he’s got strong intangibles. The glove’s steady. He didn’t have that much Double-A tutelage, so it’s not surprising that his numbers aren’t tremendous from a plate discipline standpoint now. But with his character, good eye and power potential, we think that’s going to get better as time goes by this season. And talking to his college coaches over the years, the Indians personnel and our guys in Triple-A this year and in major league spring training, everyone extols his character and his work ethic. His intangibles are off the charts, and we like his bat too.

AF:  Okay, let’s move down to Midland, where most of the team’s top young hitting prospects are this year. Of course, your top prospect there is first baseman Matt Olson, who’s also been getting some time in the outfield this year. As usual, he’s been taking his walks and getting on base. He’s hit 6 home runs there so far in what is typically a very tough place for guys to hit. But what do you think about what you’ve seen out of Matt Olson so far at the Double-A level?

moOlson, Matt2BO:  Matt’s an exciting player. He’s 21 years old. He has 6 homers in a notoriously tough park, especially for a left-handed batter. The walk numbers are like 37 walks and 44 strikeouts. He’s been playing a really good outfield. He can play corner outfield fine – his arm’s strong. At first base, his talent level’s elite from a defensive perspective. I don’t think there’s a better defensive first baseman in all of professional baseball. With his strong throwing arm, it translates well to the outfield – and it increases his versatility. Seeing Matt over the years since Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia outside of Atlanta, he can get streaky with the home runs. His raw power is off the charts – he hit 37 homers last year at Stockton. But I can definitely see him, once he’s totally acclimated and has his swing plane down, going on one of those notorious hot streaks, and he can pop you 10 or 15 homers in a 30-game stretch. And I like the fact that he’s increased his defensive versatility. The walk and power numbers are good and I think he’s due for an explosion at the plate.

AF:  Another guy who moved up to Midland along with Olson this year is Chad Pinder, whom you guys have moved back over to shortstop. He’s now got as many home runs as Olson does and has been hitting well at Midland which, again, is a tough place to hit. So tell me what you think of Pinder’s offensive performance as well as how he’s looked at shortstop so far this year.

cpPinder, Chad2BO:  He actually played a lot of shortstop and third base in college. And at the time we drafted Chad, we had two prominent players who are no longer with us at the shortstop position [Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson], so Chad was able to increase his versatility and play second base, play some third base and play some games at shortstop. He’s definitely got solid hands, the footwork is improving and he’s got enough range for the position. His arm’s strong enough to play either shortstop or third base. He’s progressing very well. The biggest thing with him was I think he only had about 22 walks last year…and pitchers at the upper levels can exploit the fact that you’re going to be that impatient. So he’s improved his walk numbers dramatically. I think he already has almost as many walks this year as he had all of last season. He’s got the 6 homers, and the ball comes off his bat well. For the left side of the infield, he’s got a lot of potential. In a dream world, the guy I’d to compare him to would be J.J. Hardy. What he’s doing is exciting and he’s definitely a legitimate prospect.

AF:  Well, speaking of the left side of the infield at Midland, another top prospect over there who just came back recently is third baseman Renato Nunez. He got a late start to the season due to some nagging injuries, but he’s been heating up and has hit a few homers there recently. So what do you think of his progress at this point?

rnNunez, Renato2BO:  Renato is an exciting player. He’s probably got as good a chance to hit for average and power as anybody in our organization. He’s a kid I personally scouted since he was 14 years old, and he’s really maturing as a hitter. If you look at the numbers right now, he’s really holding his own. He’s got like 13 walks and about 17 strikeouts and he’s got a few home runs already. So from where he was as a 19-year-old player in the Midwest League who had some power…to how he developed last year to hit the 29 homers in Stockton…to see where he is now really tightening that zone at 21 years old in Double-A is very encouraging, because the swing’s as pure as you’ll see from the right side of the plate and the power is real. So if he can just tone it down to where he’s just swinging at strikes and taking the balls, he can be an explosive hitter.

AF:  The A’s other big third base prospect, last year’s #1 pick Matt Chapman, also got off to a late start this year due to a knee injury. But now he seems to be heating up a bit too at Stockton. So what are your impressions of Matt Chapman at this point?

mcChapman, Matt2BO:  Matt Chapman is exciting. He’s probably got as strong a throwing arm as anybody playing baseball. On a scouting scale of 2 to 8, he’s got a legitimate 8 throwing arm. And defensively at third base, he’s got a chance to probably be a 7 defensively. He went to the Double-A playoffs last year and hit a couple home runs in the Texas League championship series. He’s got real power. The ball goes off his bat well. Plate discipline is always a thing we really encourage. It was impressive for him to do what he did last year in the Texas League playoffs, but we definitely want to improve that plate discipline from the numbers at Beloit last year. We worked on that down in the instructional league and in the time that he was healthy in spring training, and now we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor and he’s starting to heat up in the California League.

AF:  Another top prospect at Stockton is the kid you got in the offseason from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson deal, shortstop Franklin Barreto. Just like Addison Russell was when he was there, he’s either the youngest or at least one of the youngest players in the California League at just 19. So what are you seeing out of Franklin Barreto and what are you expecting to see out of him?

fbBarreto, Franklin2BO:  Franklin’s starting to percolate now. What Franklin did last year at Vancouver, which is a notorious pitcher’s park, to go there and hit .311 and hit 6 home runs and put up almost 30 steals, it was exciting. We did an extensive scouting job on him, not only in the Northwest League last year, but he’s another kid, like Renato Nunez, who I go back to when he was 14 years old. So we’ve seen him a lot over the years. And just like Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, he’s skipping Low-A as a teenager and going straight to the California League. And actually, between those three players, at this point of the season, he probably has the highest batting average out of all three of those guys during that period. They’re all three talented, and they were able to survey the California League in April and May and make adjustments. And hopefully, like those other two guys, he’ll really flourish in High-A ball the rest of the season.

AF:  Another guy at Stockton who’s been putting himself on the map with his performance there lately is outfielder Brett Vertigan. He got off to a great start at Beloit and got moved up to Stockton and has been getting the job done there as well. People might not have been watching him quite as closely earlier on, but he’s certainly been opening some eyes this year. So tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen out of Brett Vertigan.

bvVertigan, Brett2BO:  He’s been swinging the bat really well. It’s good to see he’s having success. He’s an outstanding kid, a hard worker. He’s probably similar to Sam Fuld. The guy’s a ball hawk in the outfield and he can be a slap hitter at the plate, has pretty good plate discipline and does things aggressively with his legs. So for a player to take a step forward, grind away and take advantage of an opportunity, we’re definitely excited to see what Brett’s doing this year.

AF:  He seems to be doing a pretty good impression of Boog Powell from last year.

BO:  Yeah, definitely. Maybe they didn’t start with all the accolades, but they were good players and our outstanding player development people were able to get the most out of their ability.

AF:  One pitcher of particular interest at Stockton is Dillon Overton, who was the A’s 2nd-round pick in 2013 and is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery after coming back in the second half of last season. They’re obviously still being a little cautious with his pitch count, but what’s your impression of his progress this year?

doOverton, Dillon2BO:  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has been amazing. But we’re still taking baby steps with him coming back from the Tommy John surgery. And honestly, before the surgery, he was a guy who could probably pitch comfortably in that 90-91 mph range and get up to 92-93 mph, where he could be a lights-out pitcher and a quick mover. So far, after the surgery, he’s been pretty much around 87-89 mph and will touch 90 mph. He’s still very effective and has a solid chance to be a good major league pitcher. But if he can continue to make progress and get a little bit more velocity over the course of the next couple years, along with that pinpoint control, he’s got a chance to be a rotation piece.

AF:  We were speaking about Franklin Barreto, but the A’s have another promising young shortstop at Beloit, Yairo Munoz, who’s just 20. He’s had some big games lately and has been heating up a bit. Tell me what you’ve seen out of Munoz so far.

ymMunoz, Yario2BO:  Yeah, last year at 19 years old in the New York-Penn League, he popped 5 home runs, hit .298 and made the All-Star team. Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz both have the potential to be five-tool players at their position. Along with Matt Chapman, they have the two best infield throwing arms in the organization. Yairo’s got legitimate power to all fields – he’s got a chance to be a 15-20 home run guy. I could definitely see a similarity to Tony Batista when he played for the A’s in the mid-‘90s as a middle infielder and a third baseman who could pop 15-20 home runs and play solid defense. And just the energy and the enthusiasm he brings everyday is exciting. He’s definitely an underrated talent.

AF:  A guy who’s been a bit of a surprise this year at Beloit is first baseman Sandber Pimentel, who’s just been hitting great and showing a lot of pop this year. He wasn’t really on a lot of people’s radar before this season, so tell me a little bit about him.

sp552fd147046a1.image2BO:  Yeah, he’s an exciting kid. He’s like a miniature “Big Papi.” There’s only one, but being from the Dominican Republic and kind of the way he carries himself, you can tell he models himself after David Ortiz. But he’s a kid who controls the zone, the swing is real and the ball comes off his bat. He’s got legitimate power potential and he’s got a nice glove at first base. He’s taken to the United States – the kid’s improved his English immensely in the last year and a half. The coaches rave about his day-to-day work ethic and his personality. And he’s definitely emerging as a legitimate prospect for us.

AF:  So is he another one of those guys you’ve been watching since he was a kid?

BO:  Yeah, for sure. I’ve seen Sandber since he was 14 or 15 years old out there scouting Latin America. Our guys are so good. Raymond Abreu in the Dominican Republic has been with us for twenty years. He’s a guy who goes back to the Miguel Tejada days and all the way back to Luis Polonia. He runs a tremendous camp down there in La Victoria in the Dominican Republic. Julio Franco is out there in Venezuela, and he’s been able to mine for talent over there for years. Those guys are in the trenches and working every day. And it’s kind of nice to see guys like Nunez and Barreto, Sandber Pimentel and Yairo Munoz really emerge this year. It’s definitely a credit to Raymond and Julio.

AF:  Now your top two pitching picks from last year’s draft, Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves, are both in the rotation at Beloit this year. So how have they been progressing from your point of view?

dgGossett, Daniel2BO:  Yeah, Daniel Gossett was a winner at Clemson. In the New York-Penn League last year, he had a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio. And now in the Midwest League, we’re seeing his numbers gradually improving. He’s around 90-92 mph with a solid breaking ball and we’re working on incorporating the changeup into his arsenal. He’s a strike thrower and he’s definitely aggressive in the zone. Brett Graves kind of has a tick more velocity – he’s up to 94-95 mph. He sinks the ball really well. We’re just trying to tighten those off-speed pitches so we can increase those strikeouts, but the groundball rate’s been pretty good.

AF:  And finally, there are a couple of guys who’ve been in the A’s minor league system who are now making contributions at the major league level and doing well this year. I’m talking about Max Muncy and Billy Burns. I’m just curious to know how satisfying it is for you to see those guys making contributions on the major league roster and what you think about what they’ve been doing so far?

mmMuncy, Max2BO:  Yeah, so far it’s been exciting to watch. Max Muncy was a player who went to Baylor and played all over the infield initially and eventually settled in at first base in college. Armann Brown, our outstanding scout in Texas, was always pushing and letting us know that Max could play multiple positions. And Max was outstanding at first base. We’ve been blessed with tremendous defensive first basemen, from Matt Olson to Max Muncy to Anthony Aliotti. And Max Muncy was just so good defensively, his feet worked well and he showed the arm strength, so we allowed him to play about 25 games last year defensively at third base in Double-A. And he really worked at third base in the offseason and came to major league camp and made a favorable impression. And when he was able to get the opportunity, he showed a tremendous batting eye. He led the Texas League last year in on-base percentage and walks, and he’s got sneaky power – he hit 25 home runs between Stockton and Midland a couple years ago. And when we needed another third and first baseman who could give you quality at-bats at the big league level, Max Muncy definitely answered the call and he’s playing well. That advanced eye and those innate baseball skills that he has will translate to the top level and he’ll give you a quality, professional at-bat every day. And Billy Burns, he was able to make adjustments. Billy was a right-handed hitter exclusively at Mercer University out there in Macon, Georgia. The Nationals made him a switch-hitter right away in his professional career. So by the time we got Billy, he was able to really sting the ball as a right-handed hitter, but as a left-handed hitter at the upper levels, he was more of a guy who controlled the zone and kind of poked at the baseball. Last year, Billy got a taste of the major leagues and he saw where the fielders were playing him as a left-handed hitter and he realized he needed to make an adjustment. So when he went down to Triple-A, he got a bigger bat and he worked with Greg Sparks, our hitting coordinator for the organization who was at Triple-A last year. And when he came to spring training this season, we were able to see the adjustments he made and we realized that it was going to translate to the top level much more realistically. It’s a long season and hopefully the tide turns for us but, with Max Muncy and Billy Burns, their contributions so far the first two months of the season have been great.

AF:  Well, I know you’re out scouting for the draft right now. So are you able to disclose your current location or is that top secret?

BO:  No, I never can do that. I just finished with a conference tournament and getting ready for the regionals before we go hunker down in Oakland for the week prior to the draft. It’ll be fun. We pick #20. I think our second pick is around #63. And it’s a deep draft – maybe you don’t have the guy who’s the guaranteed superstar at the top, but at 20-100, there are a lot of really good players.

AF:  Well, I’m sure you’ll have you’ll have your finger on the pulse of all of them!

BO:  Well, you know, it’s fun, but the thing is, not only do you want to draft really good players, but over the years, guys we’ve discussed at the draft, Billy Beane and David Forst will turn around and try to trade for guys we liked during the draft process down the road. So it’s not only the guys you get, but it’s also other guys you’ve evaluated you might have a chance to get in the future. It’s always a puzzle. You never really finish the puzzle, but you’re always trying to add another piece to it!

*          *          *

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

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

Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with the A’s general manager – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here), and he and Beane are both back on the same team and rowing in the same direction.

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

 

AF:  Well, let’s start right off with the team’s top prospect, Matt Olson. He spent some time in the big league camp this spring. And everyone’s really got their eyes on him now. So what have you been seeing out of him?

moOlson, Matt2GF:  Well, he impressed over there. He did a great job defensively. He got off to a little bit of a slow start, swinging and missing early in camp, but then it all came around. He’s a young kid, still just 20 years old when he went over there – he just had his 21st birthday. But his swings were good. His development is on track. He’s got huge power, and I think he let everybody know who he was over there. He’s what’s left of that high school group.

AF:  Yep, he had to say goodbye to his buddies Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson this past year. But what does he need to focus on or try to work on this season at Midland?

GF:  I think the same things – just trying to improve the contact, and instead of missing balls, maybe he’s got the ability to foul them off and get them out of play. He’s still got a tremendous eye. He knows the strike zone – very advanced for a young guy. It’s a little bit of new ground when you’re dealing with a young kid who’s advancing at this rate. There’s no rush, to me it’s just going to be typical development.

AF:  Pretty much just let nature take its course!

GF:  Yeah. Now’s he’s going to play where the game really starts to get real. But whatever problems happen to arise should be easily fixed. He’s had a lot of at-bats now in the minor leagues, he’s starting to grow up and become a man, and he knows more about his swing and how to fix things. So it’s going to be fun to watch.

AF:  Another guy who impressed in big league camp this year is Max Muncy. He’s been hitting well and learning a new position at third base. How close is he to being ready?

mmMuncy, Max2GF:  He’s definitely back on time from where he was late last year at Double-A. I think he got out of sorts a little bit. Midland has a way of doing that to a lot of hitters. I think they try to overpower the conditions there sometimes and it just wreaks havoc on their day-to-day approach. And I think Max and a lot of guys who’ve gone through the Texas League get caught up in that.

AF:  He actually told me that himself just the other day.

GF:  Yeah, it happens. I mean, we’ve already talked to Olson and said, “Are you going to be the first guy who can go there and not come out of there crushed?” But with Muncy, he’s back on time with his swing. He’s always seen the ball very well. He’s always swung at good pitches and taken balls. He got out of sorts, but in this camp he came along great. And on top of that, he’s played more games at third base in big league camp than he’s played in the minor leagues, but he held up. We always thought this guy could go over there and do it. We just never had the flexibility to get him over there for long enough. But where things are in the system now, he’s going to get a lot more time over there.

AF:  So do you think his bat is fairly close to being able to handle major league pitching on a regular basis?

GF:  Yeah, and I think he showed that. He didn’t go to big league camp and just get five or six quick at-bats. I think he got enough of a good look-see for everybody to know that this kid’s got a sound approach. He stays in the middle of the field, he sees the baseball well, he takes good at-bats, and it’s just a matter of time before that opportunity comes for him.

bbBurns, Billy2AF:  A guy who seems to have made some big improvements this year is Billy Burns. He didn’t have a great offensive season last year, but he’s been one of the A’s best hitters this spring and has looked great. So is that just an illusion or has he made some real improvements that are going to last?

GF:  Well, it’s his second year of being the gold star spring training player, so we’re going to see! But I’ll tell you the difference. Last year, so many of his hits were ground balls and a lot of things he out-ran. This year, it seems like he’s in his legs better, using a little core, using the bottom half and driving the baseball a little bit better. That was always the goal last year. And a few of us thought, if he’s just going to be a handsy, punch hitter, they’re going to shrink the field on him the higher he goes up. But now, he’s at his second camp and he’s driving the ball a little bit better, so hopefully he stays with this part of his game. He’s another year into the switch-hitting, so he’s getting a little bit more comfortable from the left side. But he’s staying in his legs, and when you use your legs in hitting, that’s so much of your body mass and where your strength comes from.

AF:  And how to do you feel about his abilities as a center fielder?

GF:  I think he’s a keeper. There’s no issue with him in center. He’s very fundamental. Billy’s a guy who can play a little shallower and do pretty good behind him. He’s definitely a well above average center fielder.

tlLadendorf, Tyler3AF:  Another guy who’s made a great impression in big league camp this year is Tyler Ladendorf. He’s been moving on up the depth chart. He never hit that much in the system until he got to Sacramento last year. He was hitting great there and then the suspension happened. But where do you see Ladendorf’s at at this point?

GF:  Well, he’s fighting to be one of the last guy’s on that club right now. And as long as we’re an outfielder short, his versatility is holding up because he’s one of the few who can play second, third, short and get in the outfield and do some things. And obviously something started to click halfway through last year where the at-bats started to become more quality. I hand it to him, he’s put himself in a very good position. I think he’s grown up a lot in life, more importantly than just baseball. You know, the last 300 at-bats of his life so far have been pretty solid, so God bless him!

AF:  Do you think second base is his most natural position where he really fits the best?

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt.

jwWendle, Joey2AF:  Now speaking of second base, what about Joey Wendle? When the A’s traded Brandon Moss for him, a lot of A’s fans were wondering what was so great about him to justify that deal. But now that you’ve had a chance to see him here in camp, what have you seen out of Joey Wendle?

GF:  Well, he’s a player I never really knew much about until Billy [Beane] made the trade. But he seems to come as advertised. He’s athletic, he’s got quickness and he’s a tough out. He’s got a little pop in the bat and he uses the whole field. It looks like he’s got the chance to be solid at second. I don’t know how much versatility there could be to him. That’s going to take some time for us to see him some more. But he’s an offensive second baseman, he’s a gamer and it seems like he’s got some character to him as well.

AF:  A guy I know you were very high on last year in camp is Chad Pinder. What have you seen out of him this spring and what are you expecting out of him this year?

cpIMG_0155x2cGF:  I go back to last year when he went home and put on some strength. You know, he’s really come into himself as a baseball player, not only defensively but offensively. He’s got a good, pure swing. The only thing with him right now is just his patience at the plate. He’s been a very low walk-rate guy, and I think when it’s all said and done, that needs to improve. But when you think about where his career is, he hasn’t played that much baseball professionally. It’s really just a year and a half. We’re going to have him at shortstop, probably open the year at Midland. But he’s going to get his opportunity every day at shortstop to begin this year and we’ll see where it goes.

AF:  Another guy I wanted to ask you about who was in big league camp for a while is Renato Nunez. So where’s he at in his learning curve?

GF:  Yeah, he’s a guy we started with at 16 or 17, and how many changes have been made to his body and size and strength? He’s an improving third baseman. The accuracy of his throwing continues to be on the bubble – that’s one thing he’s going to have to step up. You know, the one place that we’re starting to get some depth right now, even with the trades, is third base and short. When you think about, you know, if Matt Chapman was out here, and Nunez and Ryon Healy, and Pinder actually looks more third base-ish than he does second base or short. The young kid Edwin Diaz is becoming very physical and very big. So we have all this depth. And depending on how they’re moving up together and getting them time…Nunez got some at-bats in big league camp and wasn’t overly productive. He’s been hurt since he’s been down here [in minor league camp]. He’s got some nagging little things, but he shouldn’t be out too long. You know, he’s still got to get a little firmer with his body, get a little tougher and stronger as far as his commitment to how he’s taking care of himself. But he certainly comes with a ton of impact if everything really hits. You know, he’s got time on his side.

rnNunez, Renato2AF:  Well, I guess Midland will be a big challenge for him this year. He’ll either have to rise to the occasion or not. So for now, he’s staying at third though?

GF:  Yeah, that’s going to be an organizational discussion. If we move him – when, where? Obviously, you’re not loaded with options. But depending on the movement of a Chapman or a Healy or him, who stays at third? Healy’s a first baseman by trade. Chapman has the edge defensively on all of them, but he’s behind Healy and Nunez and even Pinder on the depth chart right now. And he’s hurt – he’s missed the whole camp so far. Get them healthy and get them out and playing, and then we’ll go from there.

AF:  So do you think Healy’s going to end up in a similar situation to last year, maybe playing first and third at Midland with Olson also at first and Nunez also at third?

GF:  Well, if Nunez doesn’t break camp, then Healy’s got the nod.

AF:  Since you mentioned Chapman, it’s his knee he tore up, right?

GF:  The day before he showed up. He was running some stairs.

AF:  So he’ll miss the start of the season then.

GF:  The odds are he’ll miss April.

ym-bur0824racineaward1.jpg20140824bAF:  You mentioned the left side of the infield and you’ve got a couple of particularly interesting guys over there now. The young shortstop Yairo Munoz really came on strong last year. What have you been seeing out of him this spring?

GF:  He’s taken this camp by storm. He’s come in stronger and smarter. He’s been showing more patience at the plate, playing hard, playing aggressively, playing smart. He’s done everything right in this camp. He’s good to go. Electric tools – there’s power in the bat, super arm strength. There’s life in his body, and he plays the game with vigor and enthusiasm.

AF:  And how do you see him in the field as a shortstop?

GF:  Good – I mean, typical young mistakes here and there. But skill-set-wise, he’s solid. This guy runs, he throws, he’s got life, he’s got actions, he’s got pop in the bat. He’s got everything you’re looking for.

AF:  So you think he’s got the ability to stick there at the shortstop position long-term?

GF:  Yeah.

AF:  The A’s also got another shortstop from Toronto this offseason, Franklin Barreto. I know he was late to camp, but he’s another highly-touted shortstop. So what have you been able to see out of him in the time that he’s been here?

fbDSC04083bGF:  Definitely seen the bat. It’s quick, it’s short and it’s direct to the ball. He impacts the ball well. It seems like he’s got a clue at the dish. He’s got good actions in the field. We haven’t seen a lot of arm strength yet at this point, so we don’t know if he’s a little tired. I’ve checked, and he’s not hurting. And again, he’s kind of behind physically…so we’re just waiting to see that one out.

AF:  So how would you compare Barreto and Munoz?

GF:  Well, there’s two ways to look at it. When you compare their numbers from a year ago, Barreto’s numbers were better than Yairo’s at the same level of play. But at the same time, Yairo’s got some impact skills that might be ahead of him. Obviously, it’ll take time to find out who delivers the consistency. One of them can have the bigger upside, but who’s going to be the guy who develops the consistency and becomes a true player?

AF:  What other positions could you see each of them most naturally slotting into?

GF:  Munoz could go to third because he’s probably got the bigger upside power, whereas Barreto would go to second. But I’m reserving judgment on that, because we just haven’t seen enough.

AF:  All right, let’s talk about some young pitchers with some upside. What about Bobby Wahl? There’s obviously a lot of promise there, but he struggled a bit last year. What are you seeing out of him at this point?

WahlGF:  Biggest stuff we’ve got in the system – I mean, when you just break down a breaking ball and a fastball. He can throw it real hard and he can drop a breaking ball that’ll buckle you. The whole thing is he’s so talented and he’s got such good stuff that in the real scheme of development, you’d want him on the mound more often. But trying to protect some of his past injuries and keep him healthy, we have to try to develop him as a 1-2 inning type of guy. Sometimes that slows down development, which is evident with him going to Stockton and not doing very well and then walking into a big league camp and punching out the side. You know, when you’ve got that kind of stuff, you just never know when it’s going to show up in the right spots. I will give him this – he pitched down a lot better in these big league games than he has historically in the minor leagues. So that’s been his biggest thing. He’s always had the stuff. It’s just his location and elevation that’s gotten him in trouble in the minor leagues. You know, he was throwing some fastballs 97 mph at the knees in big league camp. Well, that’s pretty much going to beat anybody. So it’s about him bringing that here.

AF:  So he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen this year then.

GF:  Yeah.

doDillon-Overton-2014-bm-300x225cAF:  Now Dillon Overton looked good coming back from Tommy John surgery in the second half of last season. What have you seen out of him this spring?

GF:  There have been flashes of who he really is, and then there have been flashes of him getting out of rhythm a little bit, but his stuff is back. I thought his breaking ball and his changeup were back at the end of last year. The only thing that kind of deteriorated through the rehab was his velocity. So the velocity’s back to somewhere between 87-90 mph. And I think that’s going to increase the more that he goes out there and feels confident.

AF:  So far he’s topped out around 90 mph then?

GF:  Yeah, but he’s the kind of guy that, even if it never climbs over 90 mph, this guy’s got a good chance of getting people out. He’s got a chance to really locate. He’s got feel and deception with his breaking ball, he’s got a quality changeup, and he’s got an idea what he’s doing. So this isn’t a guy whose success is going to rely on how hard he throws. This kid’s got a clue. I see some dominance coming out of him.

AF:  Is there going to be an innings limit on him this season?

GF:  Oh, yeah.

raAlcantara, Raul3bAF:  Let me ask you about Raul Alcantara, who had Tommy John surgery last May. I believe he’s been throwing some bullpens lately. How’s he looking?

GF:  He’s been good, very good. He threw a side the other day.

AF:  So you think he’s still got a few months before he’ll be back out there later in the season?

GF:  Yeah, he’s a June guy probably.

AF:  A young guy who missed last season with various issues but is back in action this spring is Dustin Driver. He pitched well here the other day. What have you been seeing out of him now that he’s back on the mound?

GF:  He’s healthy. He had a good instructional league. He’s stronger, his body’s in better shape, and he’s got a more mature awareness of the sport. He’s got a changeup that he didn’t have when he arrived. So it’s about commanding the baseball, pure and simple. It’s about him throwing fastballs in the strike zone. And when he can prove that he can be efficient enough to go out some place and start filling up that zone with strikes, then he’s on his way. His breaking ball’s not quality for a guy who throws as hard as he can throw, so that’s a work in progress. But he’s come a long way with his changeup.

ckDSC04067x2AF:  Another young guy who missed last season is Chris Kohler. So what have you been seeing out of him now that he’s back on the mound again?

GF:  He’s been good. He’s fully confident in his fastball. He’s extending, he’s getting out front and he’s letting it go. He’s got plenty of 92s coming out of his hand. The biggest thing that he’s been going through is he’s lost the feel for his breaker a little bit. So this camp has kind of been more geared to him getting his breaking ball back. I think our intent was to have him ready to go out, but that’s still under discussion what’s going to happen. That breaking ball that he has is a weapon for him, and we’ve got to make sure he’s got it. But he’ll get it back.

AF:  Before we’re through, let me ask you about one last position player I know you like who had a big year last year, and that’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman. What do you like about him?

jb595144GF:  He’s a baseball guy, he comes to play and he’s well-rounded on all sides of the game. To me, I think he’s our best fundamentally sound outfielder – not only his routes and his reads, but crow hops and his technique in throwing. I think he’s got instincts for the game. He’s always been a listener and he’s learned quick. He doesn’t do anything over the top – there’s not a lot of big things you see out of him. But you’re talking about a guy who hits, he’ll hit it out, he’ll steal a base, he’ll throw you out. He just does everything well. And last year, between Beloit and Stockton, this guy put up a super year. So let’s just keep it going!

AF:  Well, let’s hope they all do! Thanks.

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Catching Up With A Trio Of Up And Coming A’s: Ladendorf, Burns & Muncy

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It’s often the case in baseball that injuries can end up opening the door for young players to show what they can do. With injuries to outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, it’s fortunate that the A’s have had some young players impressing in camp this spring.

And during the final week of spring training in Arizona, we took the opportunity to talk with three of the A’s up and coming hitting prospects who could be end up playing key roles with the team both this season and in the future.

 

TYLER LADENDORF

tlLadendorf, Tyler3Acquired from Minnesota in the Orlando Cabrera trade back in 2009, Ladendorf has spent most of his time in the A’s system at the Class-A and Double-A levels but finally got some serious time at Triple-A last season. Primarily known for his glove in the past, Ladendorf’s bat came alive at Sacramento last year. But just as he was enjoying his best season at the plate, he found himself sidelined by a suspension when he tested positive for a drug of abuse. Ladendorf has come back strong this spring though. A’s manager Bob Melvin has repeatedly praised his versatility. And it appears that his ability to play second, short and third as well as all three outfield positions is likely to land him a roster spot with the A’s on opening day.

AF:  Well, you’ve gotten plenty of at-bats here in the big league camp this year. What’s the experience been like for you?

TL:  It’s been fun. This is my first big league camp. I’m just trying to get my feet wet and get to know everybody. I mean, it’s been awesome with this group right here. You could tell early, it was a bit quieter. But now the last couple of days, it’s just been fun to be around with this group.

AF:  So how is this experience different from being over in the minor league camp?

TL:  There’s just more going on. More attention’s paid to all the little details. You’ve just got to be on top of your stuff a little bit more over here. They’re not going to hold your hand over here, that’s for sure.

AF:  Is there anyone here in camp who’s taken you under their wing a bit?

TL:  Some of the pitchers like [Ryan] Cook and [Sean] Doolittle. But I feel like some of these guys, even though they’ve got big league time, I feel like I’ve been here [in the organization] longer than just about anybody in here, in all seriousness.

AF:  You’re definitely an organizational veteran – you’ve been here since 2009!

TL:  I’m just excited for what this year brings. I’m just happy to be back out there playing more than anything.

AF:  Last year, you finally made it up to Triple-A and you were hitting better than ever and having a great season, and then the suspension came along. Was it disappointing for you to have to come off the field at that point after things had been going so well for you?

TL:  It was. It was real disappointing, embarrassing, humbling – a lot of words you could use. But I learned from it. I feel like I’m a better person because of it. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have taken an event like that for that to happen. So it was a good feeling coming back here and just trying to pick up where I left off from last year.

AF:  Well, you’ve certainly been playing well this spring. So have the coaches here given you much guidance or had you working on anything, or have they just let you go out there and do your thing?

TL:  No, I feel like they’re just kind of trying to see what I’m about. And I feel like I’m old enough now where I have my own routine and I understand what I need to do to get ready every day.

AF:  So have there been any new challenges for you facing this level of pitching in the major league camp?

TL:  Yeah, they’re a little bit better up here, that’s for sure. You’re just not going to see that pitch over the plate – they’re few and far between. So I feel like you’ve just kind of got to pick your spots. I’ve just tried to stay patient, because I feel like my patience is what led to a lot of success last year. So I don’t want to change what got me here. These guys are good. It’s fun though, because I’m as competitive as it gets. So if they get me out 3 or 4 times, I’m trying to get back in there that last at-bat and get a knock. So the challenge is exciting every day. It’s just a matter of making adjustments.

AF:  Now last year, you had better success hitting at Triple-A than you’d had at the lower levels. So what was the difference between hitting at Midland and hitting at Sacramento?

TL:  Obviously, if anybody’s been to Midland, the conditions there – the wind – there’s a lot of physical elements that are out of your control that aren’t in hitters’ favor. But I feel like my patience at the higher levels helped me, because they’re not going to necessarily just come up there and throw everything right down the middle. So I feel like I have a good enough eye to work the counts and handle the bat and do things like that.

AF:  Going forward this year, is there anything in particular that you want to try to focus on or work on a bit?

TL:  Not really. Honestly, I feel like I turned a corner last year. So I just really want to pick up where I left off…and just build on it.

AF:  Now you’re able to play a lot of different positions in the field. But are you more comfortable playing anywhere in particular, or do you care? Have they told you there are any spots they want you to focus on more?

TL:  No, right now it’s everywhere. I take a lot of pride in my defense, so I want to be able to do it all. Whatever I can do to help the team, I just want to win more than anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s ping pong, I just want to win the game.

 

BILLY BURNS

bbBurns, Billy2Primarily known for his speed, Burns was acquired from Washington after the 2013 season. He got off to a bit of a slow start at Double-A Midland last season and then struggled after a promotion to Sacramento during the final month of the season. But this spring has been an entirely different story. Burns has been one of the best hitters in the A’s big league camp. And with outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick set to open the season on the sidelines, it looks like Burns is likely to get the chance to start the season with Oakland.

AF:  Well, you’ve been having a great spring, playing regularly and hitting well. So what’s been working for you and accounting for your success?

BB:  There’s stuff you’re always trying to improve on. I’m tyring to improve on my left-handed hitting especially, and I changed a little bit of my approach. In the offseason, I worked with some of the hitting coaches on different mental approaches and just attacking the ball more and getting into a stronger position. But other than that, my game’s something I always work on. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything.

AF:  Obviously the left-handed hitting seems to be coming along, you seem to be driving the ball and hitting with a little more authority and getting more hits from the left side. Was that part of the plan, to try to hit with a little more authority from the left side?

BB:  Yeah, just getting into a stronger position and just trying to attack the baseball a little bit more instead of being more passive. So I’ve been working on that and just enjoying this Arizona weather – it’s fun being out here.

AF:  Now what about the base-stealing aspect of the game? You’ve been at Double-A, Triple-A and here in major league camp over the past year. Do you find that it’s tougher to steal bases quite so easily as you go up the chain?

BB:  Some part of it is tougher. It really just depends on my jumps and whether the pitcher is consciously trying to hold me on. But I think it’s a little bit harder here at this level…I think the catchers are just better. They have better arms, better experience, better accuracy. They’re good – they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.

AF:  Going forward into this season, is there anything in particular that you really want to try to focus on or work on?

BB:  It’s going to be different to take my new left-handed hitting approach into the season. And that should be fun just to see how it plays out. But other than that, I’m just always trying to improve on everything. There’s nothing I feel like I’ve mastered.

AF:  So are there any veterans here in camp who’ve been particularly helpful to you this spring?

BB:  Well, I’m always with the outfielders. So some of the outfield guys have been pretty instrumental, like Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry. They’re always kind of helping me out if I do something stupid. If I have questions, I always feel like I can come to them.

AF:  I know you’re from Georgia. So if you should end up spending much time in Nashville this year, would that feel fairly close to home for you?

BB:  Yeah, it’s only like a three-hour drive, so that helps. And I’ve got family and friends that’ll be coming to see me if I’m there, so it’d be cool.

AF:  Well, it’d definitely be a lot closer that Midland or Sacramento anyway.

BB:  Yeah, that’s for sure!

 

MAX MUNCY

mmMuncy, Max2Taken by the A’s in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, Muncy has shot through the A’s minor league system faster than any other position player from that draft, primarily due to his advanced plate discipline. A first baseman throughout his college and pro career, Muncy has been learning to play third base this spring. And he managed to put up an impressive .364/.463/.697 slash line in his first big league camp. Muncy’s expected to split time between first and third at Triple-A Nashville this season.

AF:  You’ve spent an awful lot of time in the big league camp this year, especially for a non-roster invite. So this must be a great experience for you.

MM:  Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. I definitely didn’t expect to be up here this long. You know, they make those first couple of cuts and I was expecting to go down. But they’ve kept me here the whole time, and I’ve really enjoyed it. You get to learn from the best players out there. There are some guys I’ve really been taking a lot of stuff from this year and I feel like that’s really going to help me out a lot.

AF:  Is there anyone here who’s been particularly helpful to you this spring?

MM:  Stephen Vogt’s talked to me a bunch, and he’s been a guy I’ve been watching a lot – the way he takes batting practice, the way he takes his swings in the game. He’s definitely somebody you can learn from. His batting practice is so professional, it’s fun to watch. [Ben] Zobrist is another guy I’ve really been paying a lot of attention to. I like everything he does. I feel like I can learn a lot from those two guys. It’s been fun to watch how they go about their business. Everything they do is just so professional.

AF:  So has the coaching staff said much to you about what they’ve seen from you or what they’d like to see from you?

MM:  No, I haven’t heard too much from them. The only thing that goes on is I go out and get my early work in with Gags [Mike Gallego] and Scars [Steve Scarsone] and we go out and do a lot of ground ball work and try to make that transition to third a little easier. I’ve had a couple of bumps in the games, but those are all learning experiences. I feel like I’ve been getting a lot better this spring, and I’m ready to make a full-time transition over there. From what I know, the plan is to play first and third this year, so I’m excited about it.

AF:  I was just about to ask you if they’ve specifically clarified for you what you can expect in terms of where you’ll be playing in the field this year.

MM:  I don’t think it’s ever really clarified for anybody. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that I can expect to be playing some first and some third the entire year. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s always fun learning a new position. For me, it’s a little fun to get away from first. It’s nice to actually be one of the guys making the throws instead of just catching it.

AF:  I remember when they stuck you over at third in the Arizona Fall League a couple of years ago, you seemed a little surprised to end up over there.

MM:  I was definitely surprised, because I hadn’t even heard anything about it before. At the time, I don’t know if there was actually a plan for me to go over to third. There were just so many people on that AFL team that the opportunity for me to get at-bats was to go play third. So I don’t know if that’s what started it or if something else started but, from that day forward, it’s kind of been an ongoing thing to make a move over to third.

AF:  Now you spent last year at Midland. And Midland’s a notoriously difficult place for a lot of guys to hit, especially compared to Stockton. So what are some of the challenges that one faces hitting in Midland at that park?

MM:  Well, if you take everything else away, the hardest challenge is just the adjustment to the pitching. A lot of people say the jump from A-Ball to Double-A is one of the toughest in baseball. For me, so far it has been, but that’s because I haven’t made another jump yet. It’s definitely a huge difference. You go from guys who are really young in A-Ball, then you go into Double-A and you’ve still got a lot of young guys, but they’re big-time prospects and they’ve got big-time arms. And on top of that, you’ve got a lot of veteran guys down there who have seen some big league time or some Triple-A time and they know what they’re doing. So that, to me, I think is the biggest adjustment. And on top of that, Midland’s just…for a pull left-handed hitter, that wind blows in about 40 mph every single day. And the field dimensions in Midland are just gigantic, and you’ve got about a 30-foot wall all the way around the field. Just in my two years there, I’ve seen some balls hit that get knocked down pretty good. You shouldn’t let the hitting conditions affect you, but I think one the things that happens is you feel like you have to start doing a little more and you start changing your swing. I definitely let that affect me, especially last year. I came back from that injury, and I just felt like I had to start using more body and getting a bigger swing just to get the ball out. I ended up changing everything, and it cost me a lot last year. It’s definitely a mental grind in Midland, and you’ve just got to find a way to get through it.

AF:  So what about your time here in major league camp? You’ve talked about facing Double-A pitchers, and you’re up here facing guys even more advanced than that now. So what are you seeing in the pitching you’ve been facing here?

MM:  This is my first time up in big league camp. And it’s been a lot different facing the pitchers up here, because they’re trying to make a team and they’ve actually got a plan of attack, whereas you might face a guy in the minor leagues who has to throw a certain number of fastballs or curveballs because it’s spring training and they’re trying to get they’re work in. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed – if you go out and you’re facing a guy and he’s trying to make a team, you might see five sliders an at-bat. But facing some of these pitchers has been fun, because it’s the best competition out there, and it’s been really fun to go out there and try to grind against that. They’re not afraid to attack either side of the plate. They throw whatever pitch whenever they want and, on top of that, they command almost any pitch they want. So it’s just been refreshing to go up there and have to be ready for anything at any time. It’s fun.

AF:  Well, you’ve been fairly successful facing these pitchers up here so far this spring. So is there anything in particular that you feel you’ve learned that you’re going to be able to take forward and carry with you this season?

MM:  For whatever reason, I feel like I’ve always hit really well in spring training. I think the biggest thing for me this spring so far has just been getting myself into a good hitting position really early. A lot of times, it’s kind of been just seeing the ball and then reacting to it, and now it’s more getting into hitting position and attacking the ball instead of waiting for it. It’s not really a huge adjustment at all but, as a mindset, it’s different. I just feel like getting into that good hitting position really early is one of the biggest things for me. I’ve really been trying to do it the past couple of years, and I feel like this year it’s really starting to take shape for me.

AF:  You’ve always had the sort of classic A’s approach as a hitter with your plate discipline. Has anyone in the organization talked to you about anything that they want you to do or don’t want you to do?

MM:  No, they really haven’t said anything as far as hitting. The only thing they’ve really said to me is just defensively – they’re out there working with me because they know it’s something I’m new to doing – that’s really the only thing they’ve talked to me about. I just go out there and get my work in and hang out with the guys and watch what they do. I watch some of the guys take ground balls, like Brett Lawrie – he’s a cat over there at third. You can definitely learn from watching those guys go about their business. And that’s the biggest thing I’ve really been trying to do is just keep my eyes open and watch what everyone’s been doing.

AF:  Now going forward this season, presumably at Nashville, is there anything in particular that you really want to try to focus on or work on this year?

MM:  I think the biggest thing for me is to not let anything affect the way I’m swinging it, and not let my mind get in the way, which is what I did at Midland. In Midland, I’ve hit a ball that got knocked down, and suddenly I’m thinking I’ve got to start changing stuff. I think this year I really need to focus on just staying with who I am, and if I do that, I’ll end up being fine.

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A’s Trade Triple-A RHP Matt Buschmann to Tampa Bay to Make Way for Possible Addition of Barry Zito to Nashville Rotation

Could Barry Zito be Nashville bound?

Could Barry Zito be Nashville bound?

The A’s traded Triple-A RHP Matt Buschmann to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash on Thursday. We’€™ve also learned that, though no final decision has been made yet, the A’€™s front office thinks it’s likely that non-roster pitcher Barry Zito will agree to join the Triple-A Nashville Sounds to start the season. And if that is indeed the case, then the Buschmann deal would serve to open up a spot in Nashville’s starting rotation for Zito.

If Zito does agree to accept the Triple-A assignment, then the Sounds would open the season with a starting staff consisting of LHPs Zito, Brad Mills and Rudy Owens as well as RHPs Chris Bassitt and Arnold Leon. The team’s bullpen would likely include 8 of the following 10 relievers: Ryan Cook, Eury De La Rosa, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Venditte, Brock Huntzinger, Kevin Whelan, Ryan Verdugo, Jim Fuller, Chad Smith and Angel Castro.

In other news, the A’€™s released three more minor leaguers on Thursday. Outfielder Zeke DeVoss and RHPs Tyler Vail and Joseph Michaud were all given their releases. They join hurlers Paul Smyth, Murphy Smith, Drew Granier, Deck McGuire, Brandon “€œBranch”€ Kloess and Dakota Freese, as well as first baseman Ryan Huck, who were all released earlier this week.

DeVoss was a light-hitting 24-year-old outfielder who’€™s appeared in just two dozen games above Class-A in his career and played primarily at Stockton last season. The 23-year-old Michaud was drafted in the 33rd round in 2013 and looked good at Vermont early last season but had a tough time after being promoted to Beloit. Also 23, Vail has mostly struggled since being selected by the A’€™s in the 5th round of the 2010 draft. He posted a career 4.56 ERA over 290 innings in the A’s minor league system.

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A’s Release More Minor League Hurlers on Wednesday

Murphy Smith: One of the latest minor league hurlers to be released by the A's.

Murphy Smith: One of the latest minor league hurlers to be released by the A’s.

Hot on the heels of the releases of minor league hurlers Drew Granier, Deck McGuire, Brandon “€œBranch”€ Kloess and Dakota Freese earlier this week, the A’s also released RHPs Murphy Smith and Paul Smyth on Wednesday.

After being moved to the bullpen last year, Smith posted a 4.73 ERA in 85 2/3 innings at Double-A Midland. Smyth, despite posting a 3.05 ERA in 59 relief innings at Triple-A Sacramento last year, was told earlier in the week that he would likely be sent back to Double-A this season. The reliever then requested his release and it was eventually granted by the organization on Wednesday.

In other news, it looks like RHP Nate Long, who was one of Midland’s top starters last year, will open the season on the disabled list or at extended spring training in Arizona. That means that, in addition to Zach Neal and Chris Jensen, Midland’s starting rotation is likely to include 3 of the following 4 hurlers: Chris Lamb, Jake Sanchez, Tim Atherton and Tanner Peters. Meanwhile, with Smith and Smyth’€™s release, the top candidates for Midland’s bullpen now appear to be Jeff Urlaub, Seth Frankoff, Tucker Healy, Ryan Dull, Ryan Doolittle, Kris Hall, Jonathan Joseph and Andres Avila.

As we mentioned yesterday, the Triple-A Nashville rotation appears to be set for the moment with RHPs Chris Bassitt, Arnold Leon and Matt Buschmann as well as LHPs Brad Mills and Rudy Owens. And there are currently 10 arms available for 8 slots in the Nashville bullpen: Ryan Cook, Eury De La Rosa, Fernando Rodriguez, Pat Venditte, Brock Huntzinger, Kevin Whelan, Ryan Verdugo, Jim Fuller, Chad Smith and Angel Castro.

As we reported yesterday, there are whispers that the A’s have been talking to other teams about recently-demoted RHP Ryan Cook. And with the recent news that outfielder Coco Crisp may miss as much as the first two months of the season due to elbow surgery, it certainly wouldn’€™t be surprising to see the A’s package a couple of experienced bullpen arms like Cook and possibly Fernando Rodriguez for someone who could help provide the team with a little more depth in the outfield.

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