Tag Archive for Oakland Athletics

A’s Top 20 Draft Picks Mid-Season Progress Report

A's top pick A.J. Puk

A’s top draft pick A.J. Puk

It’s been about ten weeks since this year’s amateur draft and about two months since the first of the players picked by the A’s began playing with either the Class-A Vermont Lake Monsters or the rookie-ball Arizona League A’s.

The A’s managed to sign all of their top 20 picks this year. The highest-drafted player Oakland’s front office wasn’t able to sign was 21-year-old right-hander Brigham Hill out of Texas A&M, whom the team took with its 21st pick in the 20th round. But the A’s were fortunate that they were able to ink all 20 of the players they picked before him and get those prospects into the system. And with about two months of play now in the books, it seems like a good time to take a look at how some the A’s newest prospects have been performing down on the farm.

The A’s focused on pitching with their top 20 picks this year, taking 12 pitchers in the top 20 and 7 in the top 10. The team’s top pick, LHP A.J. Puk, has been the standout among the pitching prospects so far this season. The 6-foot-7 21-year-old has looked dominant at times for Vermont, posting a 2.70 ERA while striking out 27 over 20 innings of work for the Lake Monsters.

The A’s second overall pick, RHP Daulton Jefferies, just started seeing some action in Arizona and, in 3 brief appearances, the 21-year-old has shown off his pinpoint control by allowing just 1 run while walking none and striking out 10 over 5 2/3 frames for the AZL A’s. Oakland’s third overall pick taken in the 2nd round was Puk’s teammate at Florida, RHP Logan Shore, who recently joined his friend and former college teammate at Vermont. And in his first 4 appearances, the 21-year-old has allowed 2 earned runs and struck out 8 over 9 innings of work.

The team’s top high school pick was RHP Skylar Szynski, who was taken in the 4th round. Though he’s currently sporting a 8.10 ERA, the 19-year-old’s numbers aren’t really that bad, having allowed 16 hits and just 4 walks while striking out 8 in 13 1/3 innings for the AZL A’s. Three other pitchers from the top 10 rounds who are currently at Vermont have all been perfoming well. 6th-round RHP Brandon Bailey, who’s primarily been used as a starter, has posted a 3.41 ERA over 29 innings since joining the system. LHPs Will Gilbert and Dalton Sawyer have both been working out of the bullpen, where 8th-rounder Gilbert has notched 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings while 9th-rounder Sawyer has struck out 20 over 15 2/3 frames for the Lake Monsters.

Meanwhile, 10th-round pick Mitchell Jordan has been solid while serving in a starting role in Arizona, putting up a 3.24 ERA while walking just 7 and striking out 30 in 33 1/3 innings of work for the AZL A’s. The fastest riser of this year’s draft class has been the A’s 14th-round pick, RHP Nolan Blackwood out of the University of Memphis, who is the only member of this year’s crop to make it all the way up to the Beloit Snappers of the Class-A Midwest League. After looking solid in 5 relief appearances for Vermont, the 21-year-old has struggled a bit since joining Beloit’s bullpen, allowing 9 runs in his first 8 appearances for the Snappers.

When it comes to position players, the team’s three top 10 selections – 3rd-round catcher Sean Murphy, 5th-round third baseman JaVon Shelby and 7th-round outfielder Tyler Ramirez – all did a brief stint in Arizona before joining Vermont. Murphy’s power has yet to show itself as he has just 2 extra-base hits over his first 70 at-bats, while Shelby’s shown himself to be a bit of a free swinger, striking out 39 times in 144 at-bats while putting up a .188 batting average. Ramirez has fared a little better, with a .248/.348/.376 slash line over his first 39 games since joining the system.

The two standouts among the team’s position player picks have been shortstop Eli White and second baseman Nate Mondou, who’ve formed a productive double-play combo for Vermont and who were both recently named New York-Penn League All-Stars. 11th-rounder White has 10 doubles to go along with a .303/.365/.406 slash line, while 13th-rounder Mondou’s impressive .401 on-base percentage is among the five best in the league.

You’ll find the A’s top 20 picks of the 2016 draft along with their current statistics through August 19 listed below. The teams they’ve played for so far this season are noted, with the team they’ve appeared in the most games with listed first and their current team in bold…

 

ap6404621st Round

A.J. Puk

Age: 21 / Left-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters

20 IP / 13 H / 6 ER / 6 BB / 27 K / 2.70 ERA / 0.95 WHIP

 

djPFKSDMUFQUWSOHH.201510291804431st Round Supplemental

Daulton Jefferies

Age: 21 / Right-Handed Pitcher

AZL A’s

5 2/3 IP / 7 H / 1 ER / 0 BB / 10 K / 1.59 ERA / 1.24 WHIP

 

ls6245192nd Round

Logan Shore

Age: 21 / Right-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters

9 IP / 9 H / 2 ER / 3 BB / 8 K / 2.00 ERA / 1.33 WHIP

 

sm6692213rd Round

Sean Murphy

Age: 21 / Catcher

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

70 AB / 1 HR / 7 BB / 9 K / .200 AVG / .273 OBP / .257 SLG / .530 OPS

 

ss1005989374th Round

Skylar Szynski

Age: 19 / Right-Handed Pitcher

AZL A’s

13 1/3 IP / 16 H / 12 ER / 4 BB / 8 K / 8.10 ERA / 1.50 WHIP

 

js6420695th Round

JaVon Shelby

Age: 21 / Third Baseman

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

144 AB / 2 HR / 16 BB / 39 K / .188 AVG / .269 OBP / .271 SLG / .540 OPS

 

bb6690646th Round

Brandon Bailey

Age: 21 / Right-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

29 IP / 25 H / 10 ER / 9 BB / 27 K / 3.41 ERA / 1.17 WHIP

 

tr6692627th Round

Tyler Ramirez

Age: 21 / Outfielder

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

117 AB / 1 HR / 15 BB / 35 K / .248 AVG / .348 OBP / .376 SLG / .724 OPS

 

wg6693358th Round

Will Gilbert

Age: 22 / Left-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters

19 1/3 IP / 15 H / 7 ER / 9 BB / 23 K / 3.26 ERA / 1.24 WHIP

 

ds6621219th Round

Dalton Sawyer

Age: 22 / Left-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters

15 2/3 IP / 13 H / 6 ER / 9 BB / 20 K / 3.45 ERA / 1.40 WHIP

 

mjOWLLPIGUVDSSBTJ.2015091521152810th Round

Mitchell Jordan

Age: 21 / Right-Handed Pitcher

AZL A’s

33 1/3 IP / 34 H / 12 ER / 7 BB / 30 K / 3.24 ERA / 1.23 WHIP

 

ew64220111th Round

Eli White

Age: 22 / Shortstop

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

175 AB / 2 HR / 18 BB / 44 K / .303 AVG / .365 OBP / .406 SLG / .771 OPS

 

lp64197112th Round

Luke Persico

Age: 20 / Outfielder-Third Baseman

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

141 AB / 2 HR / 16 BB / 31 K / .220 AVG / .297 OBP / .312 SLG / .610 OPS

 

nm67014813th Round

Nate Mondou

Age: 21 / Second Baseman

Vermont Lake Monsters + AZL A’s

164 AB / 0 HR / 17 BB / 26 K / .329 AVG / .402 OBP / .372 SLG / .774 OPS

 

nb67015414th Round

Nolan Blackwood

Age: 21 / Right-Handed Pitcher

Beloit Snappers + Vermont Lake Monsters

18 IP / 23 H / 11 ER / 6 BB / 15 K / 5.50 ERA / 1.61 WHIP

 

td64149915th Round

Ty Damron

Age: 22 / Left-Handed Pitcher

Vermont Lake Monsters

7 2/3 IP / 10 H / 5 ER / 6 BB / 9 K / 5.87 ERA / 2.09 WHIP

 

acanthony-churlin16th Round

Anthony Churlin

Age: 19 / Outfielder

AZL A’s

69 AB / 0 HR / 9 BB / 23 K / .217 AVG / .316 OBP / .232 SLG / .548 OPS

 

sm160122917th Round

Seth Martinez

Age: 22 / Right-Handed Pitcher

AZL A’s

2 1/3 IP / 3 H / 1 ER / 2 BB / 2 K / 3.86 ERA / 2.14 WHIP

 

sw0612Weber218th Round

Skyler Weber

Age: 21 / Catcher

AZL A’s

70 AB / 0 HR / 6 BB / 13 K / .171 AVG / .237 OBP / .200 SLG / .437 OPS

 

sgddyl6r89unolb91o19th Round

Sam Gilbert

Age: 22 / Right-Handed Pitcher

(Signed – Has Not Yet Played)

 

 

 

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

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bRick Rodriguez served as the long-time pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats, where he had a hand in developing a number of the A’s most talented pitchers over the past many years. When the A’s Triple-A affiliate moved to Nashville last season, the northern California native remained on the west coast with the Single-A Stockton Ports. But this year, he’s back in Triple-A with the Sounds helping to develop another crop of talented young arms for the A’s.

Eric Martins was the A’s 17th-round draft pick in 1994 and spent parts of seven seasons as an infielder in the A’s minor league system. After his playing career came to an end, the southern California native signed on as a scout for the A’s. He made the move to coaching last year, when he served as the hitting coach for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, and he’s now handling some of the team’s top young hitters this year at Nashville.

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

 

RICK RODRIGUEZ

rrRodriguez, Rick2AF:  Well, we’ve checked in with you each of the past four seasons, but this is the first time you haven’t been in California. You’ve been a coach with Oakland, Stockton and the Sacramento River Cats, and you pitched for both the A’s and Giants, so when’s the last time in your career that you actually spent a full season outside of California?

RR:  It might have been back twenty-something years when I was with the Cleveland Indians back in 1988. That might have been the last time. But yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve been out of the state.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about a few of the arms you’ve got here at Nashville this year, some of whom you actually had for part of the year with Stockton last year too. Let’s start with Dillon Overton, who came back from Tommy John surgery. He’s had a great year here at Nashville and he’s been up and down a bit with Oakland. So what have you seen out of him here at Nashville this year and what does he need to do to get over the hump to become a long-term major league pitcher?

do592614dRR:  When he first started here, I think he was trying to feel himself out in the league. Now that he’s had some innings in, he feels comfortable here. He knows he can pitch at this level and at the next. Basically, the same as last year – he has good command of his fastball and a great changeup. He’s still working on his curveball, and he’s added a cut fastball – and I think that’s kind of helped him. And once he gets that cut fastball and maybe a little bit more consistency on his curveball, then he’ll be ready to handle all the big league hitters up there.

AF:  Is his velocity about where it was last year when you had him at Stcokton or has it changed it all?

RR:  It’s probably about the same. On any given start, sometimes it’s a little higher or maybe a little lower, but it’s roughly about the same. But his location has been very consistent.

AF:  Well, his command is obviously the thing for him. Another guy you had for a bit at Stockton last year is Daniel Mengden. He obviously got off to a great start this year, both at Midland and here at Nashville. And his first four starts for Oakland were really solid as well. So what really enabled him to make that leap this year and what does he need to do to get back to that level again?

dm596043bRR:  One thing that he was doing here was he was very consistent at getting ahead of hitters and, when he was ahead of hitters, he was able to put them away. I think that’s what he needs to get back to, and I think that’s what he needs to do to get over that hump in Oakland. He was doing that really, really well for the first few starts. Then it kind of got away from him and he was getting deeper into counts. So getting him back to where he was here – like I said, he was being able to put hitters away early in the count with his pitches. He’s another guy who has tremendous stuff and tremendous command. You know, sometimes you might get a little off-kilter, so we’re just trying to get him back on line.

AF:  It seemed like he had a lot more first-pitch strikes down here and in his first few starts with Oakland than in his last few starts there anyway.

RR:  Yeah, that’s what he was telling me when he came in and I talked to him for a little bit. I just told him, “Hey, we’re going to get you back right where you were and you’re going to be back up there.”

AF:  So I guess he knows what he needs to work on then – no one needs to tell him.

RR:  He knows what he needs to work on. He’s well aware of it and he’s ready to do it.

ra593417cAF:  Now a guy who’s had a couple of great starts since coming up here is Raul Alcantara. He was a little hot and cold this year at Midland, but he comes up here and he doesn’t seem to want to walk anyone or give up a run or anything. So what do you think of what you’ve seen out of him here at Nashville so far?

RR:  Well, he’s another guy I had in Stockton last year! He’s shown very good command of his fastball. Last year the velocity was there, the command was okay. His command of his fastball is a lot better. His changeup is kind of what I remember. It’s almost like a split-action type – it’s late, it’s hard, it goes down, hitters swing at it. He’s still working on his curveball to get that a little more consistent break – and I’ve seen more consistency in the action on the curveball. It still needs to be a little bit more improved but, other than that, he’s dominating so far. I hope it keeps going, especially the no walks!

AF:  Yeah, I’m sure that makes a pitching coach’s life a whole lot easier! Now Jesse Hahn has been up and down this season, but his last start in Oakland was really on point. But why do you feel he’s had the struggles he’s had this year, where do you think he’s at right now and what’s he got to do to get back to where he was?

jh534910bRR:  I think he’s right where he wants to be. Right when he was called up, he was working all his mechanical issues out and he was in a rhythm and it showed up there in Oakland. And we’re just going to continue the work that we’ve been doing here with his rhythm and tempo and mechanics. The one thing that I think he needs to do is just be consistent in his outings, pitch by pitch, just be consistent – that’s a big thing for him.

AF:  One guy out of the bullpen it seems has been overlooked a bit this year is Tucker Healy. He’s certainly been racking up the strikeouts at a good pace. What have you seen out of him here this year?

RR:  I had Tucker a couple years ago his first time in Sacramento, and now here. And the big difference is he’s matured in that he knows how to handle the hitters. He’s very aggressive, he goes right after them. He’s got command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and he’s got that nasty slider that he throws. He just comes right at you – and that’s the biggest thing. I told him, “You look more confident in that you know what you want to do up here.”

AF:  Is there anyone else on the staff who you feel has really made significant progress over the course of the year here?

RR:  Oh man, everybody! Patrick Schuster is a guy who got off to a tremendous start. He’s a left-handed guy who’s more than a left-handed specialist. He did very well here and got a promotion up to Oakland. He’s back down here now, but I look forward to him going back up. Ryan Brasier has been throwing the ball very well. He’s got a power fastball and a good hard slider, and I’m looking for good things out of him.

 

ERIC MARTINS

emMartins, Eric2AF:  Let’s start out by talking about a couple of guys you had here this year who are now in Oakland. Catcher Bruce Maxwell really went on quite a tear here in Nashville before he went up and something really seemed to click for him here lately.

EM:  Well, that’s one of my special ones. They’re all special to me, but Bruce and I had a really good relationship. We tried to change him in the past to make him more of a pull power guy. And I came in last year and said, “Hey, let’s make you the hitter that you are and we’ll work on our pull side home runs.” And he’s really grinded it out and really gotten after it and set up a good routine and got back to being the hitter that he was comfortable being in college. Now everything’s kind of clicking on all cyclinders. Starting in spring training, he made some adjustments to his stance and his swing, and he really took off with it. Things just started to come together for him and he went on an impressive run. He’s one of the hardest-working guys around. He’s usually here before everybody – he’s here at 11 o’clock, he’s out stretching, he’s doing his routine – and we’ll just talk hitting. He’s one of those guys who’s real receptive and real into what he’s trying to do and takes instruction and suggestions well and runs with it. And it’s good to see him doing what he did finally.

AF:  Another guy you had here for a brief period of time before he went up to Oakland is infielder Ryon Healy, who was hot from day one this season. So what was working for Ryon Healy and what was he doing right this season?

rh592387bEM:  Well, we all know Healy can hit. I had him last year too and he had a great season in Double-A. The power numbers weren’t there and I just kept preaching to him, “Be a hitter first, your power’s going to come.” And I got to see him this offseason out in southern California. I got to work with him and Matt Chapman and couple other guys a lot during the offseason. And, of course, he was disappointed with spring training, not coming into big league camp, and having to go back to Midland. And he used that as fuel for his fire to prove people wrong. We’d have some conversations and I said, “Hey, just use that against them, force their hand.” And he did it. He came here and he was with his buddies, and there was a comfort level with his teammates and with myself, and we just kept him on track. He’s special hitter, and he understands his swing. And he’s another that I’m proud of. Just seeing him going up and having success and doing well up there, we all know what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on kind of a similar path as Healy this year is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He started out the year back at Midland, hit well there and came up here to Nashville and has continued to hit well here. So what kind of improvements have you seen out of Brugman this year?

jb595144bEM:  Brugman is just a great baseball player. He can go out and play all three outfield positions and play them well. He made some tweaks with his hands in the Arizona Fall League. When I saw him in spring training, that obviously was noticeable. And he really liked it – it got him into a better position to be able to drive balls a little bit more. He’s just a smart hitter, he really studies the pitchers. He has a real solid approach, he doesn’t stray away from his approach, and he’s going to give you a quality at-bat every time he’s up there. He’s done a great job. He went on a tear when he first got here where he was carrying the team, and it was unbelievable. I had Bruggy last year, and seeing him carry us through the playoffs was outstanding – and the year before, when he hit like ten home runs in ten games at Stockton. So he’s got that capability in him. Like I said, he’s going to give you a quality at-bat, he’s not going to back down lefty or righty, he studies the pitchers and he stays true to his approach.

AF:  Now Matt Olson started out the season kind of slow, but it seems like maybe things are starting to click a bit for him lately. Can you tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at now?

mo621566EM:  You know, people seem to forget how young this team is. He’s only 22 years old playing in Triple-A, facing guys who have been up and down in the big leagues probably for the last five or six years, even when he was still in high school. I think the biggest adjustment for him was just understanding how pitchers were going to pitch him. They started playing him in the shift a little bit early in the year, which took away a lot of hits. Once again, he’s in another non-hitter-friendly ballpark. So all that taken into consideration, he’s handled it well and he’s stayed true to form. And we’ve made some adjustments with his approach. There’s a couple of little mechanical things with him. He was kind of coming off balls, and teams were trying to pound him in, and he was probably going out of the zone inside. So we kind of changed him staying over the ball a little bit and working on driving the ball to left-center field, and he’s kind of run with it. He’s finally taken it and stuck with it for a while and not given in to what the pitcher’s trying to do to him, but getting a good pitch for him to hit. And the last three weeks or whatever, he’s stayed true to form. He’s staying in there and having really good at-bats, and now he’s starting to show what he can do.

AF:  A guy who was on a bit of a similar track as Olson is shortstop Chad Pinder. He started out the season a little slow as well but wound up being a Triple-A All-Star. So tell me about some of the challenges he faced early on and where you feel he’s at at this point.

EM:  Like I said with Olson, just being young in this league and understanding how pitchers are going to pitch him. He’s coming off a Texas League MVP, so pitchers and other teams know about Pinder. So he’s just going to have to go out and really understand what they’re going to try to do to him. Probably about a month or a month and a half into the season, we did a little mechanical change where we spread him out a little bit to get him to a strong part of the field, which is right-center field. And he really took off then, had a real good June, carried the team, and started hitting some home runs and started driving the ball the other way. And now we’ve kind of stood him back up to where he normally is because now he’s sound on those balls out over the plate. You know, Pinder’s another one of those guys who’s just a hard-nosed player – he wants to win, he doesn’t care too much about his stats, he’s a baseball player, he’s a gamer, he’s a guy who’s going to go out and give you 110% each day. And it’s fun to see him develop into the hitter that he is. He’s a smart guy, he understands what he wants to do. He’ll go through his little spurts every once in a while, but he easily corrects himself. And if I see something, I can tell him, and he’s quick to make an adjustment. And he’s another guy, this core that we have, that’s special.

cp640461cAF:  As a former infielder yourself, I don’t know how much time you’ve spent with him in the field. But he had a lot of throwing errors, especially early in the season. So is there anything you noticed that was casuing him to be off with his throwing this year?

EM:  Yeah, he worked a lot with Ron Washington during spring training, which was outstanding – Wash is the best that there is. Pinder’s more of a rhythmic infielder, and a lot of the stuff that he did with Wash was hand work and stuff like that. But he kind of forgot how to be in rhythm with his feet, so that’s why his hands and his feet weren’t working and he was losing his arm slot a little bit. And you know, it was really bothering him. And me having him last year and getting to work with him in the infield, I kind of started noticing some stuff and we kind of got him back into being a little bit more rhythmic and doing the stuff that Wash has and incorporating his footwork on top of that with his throws. And I think he made like thirteen errors in the first month of the season, and in the last two months it’s only been like eight or nine. So he’s on top of it. We seem to forget that last year was his first full year playing shortstop too, so he’s still kind of learning some things. He’s picked up a lot from Wash, which has been outstanding. His hands are…I can’t say enough about Wash and what he does with the infielders!

AF:  So I guess you can definitely see the difference between pre-Wash Pinder and post-Wash Pinder!

EM:  Absolutely! So now he’s started incorporating his feet and his arm slot has gotten in a better throwing position, and now he’s right where he needs to be.

AF:  And one last guy to ask you about, third baseman Renato Nunez. He started out the season as probably this team’s best hitter. He still leads the team in home runs, but he’s had some struggles of late. So what’s been going on with him and what kind of challenges is he facing at this stage of the game?

EM:  I think Renato’s the same way – he’s 22 years old. Early in the year, he was just one of those guys who was locked in, and then the league figured him out a little bit. And he started having some at-bats where he was kind of chasing some balls and started looking for some pitches they wanted to get him out with instead of looking for pitches that he wanted to hit. So it was an ongoing struggle with an approach with him – nothing too mechanical – I think with him it was just trying to do a little bit too much. He started on fire, and I think he felt that if he just kept it going he could be there instead of Healy.

rn600524eAF:  Hey, this is going to be easy!

EM:  But you know what, this game humbled him real quick. But he’s a hard worker. I don’t really worry about him because he can hit – he’s a hitter, he has power, he’s got a chance to be a special guy in the middle of the lineup, hopefully for us. But he’s getting back now. His last week’s at-bats have been outstanding. Yesterday he had four quality at-bats and barreled up four baseballs and had one hit to show for it, but he had a sac fly. So it’s just him getting used to looking for his pitch and not trying to hit the pitch that he thinks the pitcher’s going to try to get him out with.

AF:  Now I know you started out as a scout for the A’s. So what made you want to switch over to coaching?

EM:  Well, I love scouting, I can’t thank [A’s scouting director] Erick Kubota enough for giving me an opportunity when I was done playing. I’d always done instructional league, which I love – I love being on the field, I love being around the players. And [A’s director of player development] Keith Lieppman called me a couple offseasons ago. I had drafted Daniel Robertson, and he was going to be in Midland last year – I’m not saying he was the reason why I took the coaching job but it was a good opportunity for me to be around him and that core group of guys that he came up with and see him flourish and help those guys. It was a situation where I thought I was ready to get back on the field. And I love the fact that I did it. Like I said, I love scouting and I love the scouting department. But now, having done both, it’s just opened up my eyes a lot. The scouting has helped me help these hitters on top of it, and I just really enjoy being around these guys.

AF:  So have you found it more fulfilling to have the opportunity to work a little more hands-on with these guys?

EM:  You know, both work. But now that I have an opportunity to work with these kids in Double-A and Triple-A and see them get to the big leagues and see that you have a little bit of a part in it…but with these guys, it’s all their ability. We just kind of keep guiding them in the right direction and give them some suggestions to help them out and that’s fulfilling. You see Bruce Maxwell and Ryon Healy up there, having had them the last couple years, it really is fulfilling seeing those guys up there performing.

*          *          *

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Dillon Overton & Daniel Mengden on the Ups and Downs of Pitching

A wave of pitching injuries for the A’s this season has opened the door for a number of the team’s top pitching prospects to make their debuts in the major leagues a little sooner than expected. Sean Manaea was one of the first to get the call but many others soon followed, including right-hander Daniel Mengden and left-hander Dillon Overton. Both were dominating at Triple-A when they got the call. And both have been up and down a bit between Oakland and Nashville since, with neither laying claim to a permanent spot in the A’s rotation quite yet.

We had the opportunity to interview Mengden in the Oakland clubhouse just a couple of weeks ago. And we then had the chance to catch up with him and Overton for this piece just a couple of days after Mengden had arrived back in Nashville and just a couple of days before Overton was recalled to make his most recent start for the A’s.

 

DILLON OVERTON

do592614dThe A’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2013, Overton underwent Tommy John surgery just shortly after being selected by the A’s in the amateur draft. And roughly three years after being drafted and undergoing surgery, the 24-year-old made his major league debut with the A’s this June. The Oklahoma native has had an outstanding season at Triple-A for Nashville, and his 3.21 ERA still ranks as the third best in the Pacific Coast League. Overton has made four starts over three separate stints with Oakland so far this season, and he’s hoping to have a chance to stick around for more…

AF:  Well, this has been a big year for you. After having the Tommy John surgery and working your way back from that, you made it up to the majors this year. So how do you feel about the journey that you’ve been through?

DO:  You know, the process after you have Tommy John surgery is always an extremely long one. It’s not only a grind on your body, but it’s also a grind on your mind. And to be able to have the season that I’ve had this year, to start in Triple-A and make it to the big leagues, it’s awesome. I’m extremely blessed, and I’m happy with the way the season’s been going so far.

AF:  Now you’ve had a very good season here at Nashville. Are there any particular adjustments you’ve made to have the success that you’ve had here at this level this year?

DO:  Just staying on top of my pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone. The higher you move up in the system, the better the hitters get. A lot of the guys who are in Triple-A right now have been in the big leagues too. So you’re facing the same caliber of hitters as you would in the big leagues. I mean, some of them might be a little better in the big leagues. But it’s really no different – it’s just a different type of stage and a little more pressure. But I’ve been extremely blessed with the way the season’s been going and I’m happy with how I’ve done here at Triple-A, and hopefully I can get to the big leagues to stay there.

AF:  You’ve seemed to have very good command since coming back from the surgery. Did you always have excellent command throughout your college career as well?

DO:  Yeah, I’ve always prided myself on not walking many people every time I set foot on the mound, and I’ve been that way ever since I was a kid. I don’t like throwing balls – I hate it actually. But my command’s always been there, usually with every single pitch that I throw, so hopefully I can keep that going.

AF:  You’ve been back and forth a bit between here and Oakland of late, and you’re about to be going back there again. So what’s it like doing all that bouncing back and forth. Is it a little stressful or disorienting at all?

DO:  I mean, yeah, it’s not so much stressful, it’s more just tiring. But, then again, you really don’t care as long as you’re getting in big league games. To me, it doesn’t really matter as long as I keep getting those calls. And hopefully the plan is to one day get that call and stay up there.

AF:  Well, I’m sure you’re more than happy to overlook any minor inconveniences along the way!

DO:  Yes, exactly!

AF:  So was there anything different you noticed about the way that big leagues hitters approached you?

DO:  Really, the difference is up there, if you miss your spot, they will make you pay for it usually just about every time. Here you can get away with missing your spot some and they won’t hit it or they don’t put very good contact on it. But up there, if you miss your spot and you put it somewhere over the plate where they like it, they make you pay for it every time. So the few outings I’ve had up there, I think I’ve gotten better each outing I’ve gone up there. And I usually get up there a day before, so I’m able to watch the team that I’m gong to face. So just watching them before I throw, knowing their tendencies and what they do, that helps out a lot.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that the coaches really want you to be working on or focusing on at this stage of the game?

DO:  Really, just being more consistent with my curveball. Before I had surgery, I could throw my curveball at any point in time in any count. It really didn’t matter, I could throw it in there for a strike at all times. And when I had surgery, that kind of slipped away a little bit. I’ve been pretty inconsistent with my curveball. I’ll throw five or six really good ones, and then it’ll leave me for a little bit. So really, I’ve just been working on that and seeing if I can get that more on a consistent basis.

AF:  And how do you feel your velocity’s been this year? Has it been about the same as last year or has it been different at all?

DO:  I actually started out this year at a little bit higher speed than what I started with last year. I started this year about where I finished last year, which is a good sign. They always tell people about two and a half years after Tommy John surgery it starts coming back. But it’s been a really slow process for me velocity-wise with it coming back to where it was before I got hurt. But when you don’t have your velocity that you used to have, it makes you rely on everything else that you’ve got – command, using other pitches – when you used to be able to throw 95 and throw it by people. But I try not to think about it and just try to go with the flow.

AF:  But it does force you to have to be a lot better at everything else you do.

DO:  Yes! I tell myself and I tell a lot of other people, when I do, if I do, finally get that velocity back, it’s just going to make me that much better.

 

DANIEL MENGDEN

dm596043bAcquired from the Astros last summer in the Scott Kazmir trade, Mengden got off to a blazing start at Midland this season and quickly earned a promotion to Nashville, where he continued to impress. And his performance there earned him a promotion to Oakland, where the 23-year-old allowed just eight earned runs in his first four major league starts in June but then gave up twenty-three earned runs over his next five outings in July before returning to Triple-A. While with Oakland, Mengden had the opportunity to live with A’s outfielder Josh Reddick, who helped give him a good introduction to big league life before being dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline…  

AF:  Well, a little over a week ago we were talking in Oakland and now we’re here in Nashville, so let’s catch up! Let’s start out by talking about your time in Oakland. Your first four starts were great, and then the last five were a little rocky. So what do you think was the difference between those first starts up there and then those last starts up there?

DM:  Just execution. I was really good – my strike percentage was really good, my first-pitch strikes were really good – the first couple outings. The last four it wasn’t so good. I was falling behind, not throwing as many strikes, my breaking ball might not have been as crisp. And when I was getting to two strikes, I was stretching counts – you know, 2-2, 3-2. I think I could barely make it to the fifth inning three straight games – I was struggling to get to the fifth. And you know, I was not very good at excuting early. I was just trying to battle through. But besides that, it’s one of those things where you kind of get in a groove and are going really well and sometimes you kind of bounce out of it. You know, your body’s a little banged up all the way around. But we’ll be back on top of it and we’ll be good.

AF:  Do you feel the reason you weren’t executing was more mechanical, more mental, or more from your body just being physically tired?

DM:  I’m not really one for excuses. I’m not trying to blame one or the other. You know, it’s probably a little mix of all three. This is my first full year of throwing on a five-day rotation – I did it a little bit last year towards the end of the year. But I think I only threw 130 innings last year and I’m already at 120 right now. So I think maybe if I had to pinpoint one, my body might be a little banged up all the way around, just fatigued from having to throw every fifth day and not really being used to it. But I’m just trying to get my feet back under me. They told me to come down here and get healthy and I’ll be back soon. So I’m not too worried about it. I’m just trying to get healthy – I’m getting a couple extra days off. I’m really trying to get back into the groove.

AF:  I remember when we last talked a little over a week ago, you’d said, “Some of these major league innings can take a lot out of you.” And it made me wonder if maybe you were physically tiring a little bit at this point in the season.

DM:  Yeah, in the big leagues, winning and losing matters. It’s not that it doesn’t in Triple-A or Double-A, but we’re working on things. Everyone down here’s working on something – actually, probably three or four things – but everyone’s working to get better. So I guess it’s probably a little less stressful in the minors. In the big leagues, with guys on first and second and one out, with these next two hitters you’ve got to really try and get a ground ball, or with a guy on third and one out, you’ve got to try and pop a guy up or strike him out and then get the next guy out. So it is a little more stressful and I think it just fatigues you quicker – those ten pitches are way more intense.

AF:  So how did they tell you that you were going back down?

DM:  Curt Young and Bob Melvin sat me down and they just told me, “Hey, we’re going to send you down.” I had a feeling it was coming anyway. I’d had four or five so-so starts in a row. They just told me to get my feet back under me, don’t worry about it, you know, I’ll be back soon. Don’t know when that will be – could be a week, could be three or four weeks, could be September, could be never. You know, I’m 23 years old and having the chance to throw in the big leagues – which was a life-long dream – so I’m already living the dream at 23! So I’m not too worried about it at all. I’m just trying to get healthy, get feeling good again and hopefully get a shot.

AF:  I know that was a lot more than you expected when you started the year at Midland.

DM:  Yeah, sure. I think I told you, my goal was to make it to the big leagues by September. So I made it there early, but it takes a lot out of you.

AF:  How was facing major league hitters different for you than facing hitters down here in Triple-A?

DM:  Well, one thing is you can’t make a mistake. The moment you make a mistake by two or three inches, it’s a double. You make a mistake by a foot, it’s a home run. Even sometimes you’ll make good pitches and they’ll still get hits out of it. For example, I threw a curveball that was basically in the dirt and Wilson golfs it out for a single and two runs score. So I make a great pitch but, because the guy’s a big league hitter, he finds a way to hit it. That’s why it’s the highest level – you don’t get higher than that – those hitters know what they’re doing. And it’s all about executing…every single pitch matters. And, like I said, I feel like lately my execution has been so-so, and some walks and some two-strike hits have really killed me in certain situations. Not making a good enough pitch just led to problems. And once you make a couple mistakes, major league hitters are going to make you pay. And then it starts snowballing and long innings happen and suck pitches out of you and there you go, you’re at 100 pitches by the fifth inning already.

AF:  Now that you’re back here in Triple-A, what are you primarily trying to focus on doing while you’re down here?

DM:  You know, just the same things that I would up there – trying to get strike one, trying to execute all my pitches, getting early outs. I want to try to emphasize limiting the walks, trying to put the ball in play a little bit. And then, when I get to two strikes, putting them away with four pitches per hitter. You know, get them to 0-2, 1-2, maybe throw a ball and set something up and then get the guy out. It’s not my job to strike them out, it’s my job to get them out. A lot of pitchers really want the strikeouts, and I don’t care. The strikeouts will come when they come. I’m just trying to get early outs to try to lengthen the outings. You know, pitching five innings in the big leagues isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to at least throw six or seven…you’ve got to be able to go deep in the games. So I’m just trying to keep my pitch count a little lower. Walks are, of course, the top priority – limit those to zero hopefully!

AF:  Now I know you were living with Josh Reddick when you were up in Oakland, along with Ryon Healy as well. So where are you living down here in Nashville now?

DM:  Well, I’m in my apartment that I had before I left. I’m living with Chris Jensen now. I originally lived with Eric Surkamp, but we designated him and then he got picked up by Korea, so now he’s playing over there. Chris Jensen got promoted from Double-A, so he’s been living in the apartment without me, and now we’re back together in the apartment. But it was kind of weird with all the speculation and talk about Reddick going around. So I kind of told him, “I appreciate everything you did for me…and how nice you’ve been to me and Ryon.” I was like, “I hope I see you again. If not, I’ll see you on the other side.” So it was kind of a weird goodbye in a way. You know, he’s a great guy and a great mentor. Even though he’s an outfielder and not a pitcher, it doesn’t matter. Taking me and Healy into his house, treating us like he said he was treated when he was brought up – it’s really nice knowing a guy’s taking us under his wing and really being there for us, helping us out with living and transportation. Anything we needed, he was there for us. And I think Ryon would say the exact same thing – we really appreciate everything he did for us. He’s a great overall player, he hustles 24/7, and I love watching him in a game. If he grounds out to short, he runs 100% down to first base. He plays the game the right way and he’s just a great mentor.

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A Trio of Top A’s Prospects Talks about This Season at Triple-A

nstumblr_nn6zzrPnCN1qedy4lo1_500bThe A’s Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds currently lead their division by 8 ½ games. And solid performances by many Sounds players, combined with a wave of injuries for the A’s, has provided plenty of opportunities for prospects like Ryon Healy, Bruce Maxwell, Daniel Mengden and Dillon Overton to make their major league debuts for Oakland this season. But there are plenty more prospects in the pipeline at Nashville. Shortstop Chad Pinder and first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson have long been considered top prospects for the A’s, while outfielder Jaycob Brugman’s impressive play of late has begun to push him into that category as well. Earlier this week in Nashville, we took the opportunity to talk with this trio of talented young players about life in Triple-A this season…

 

CHAD PINDER

cp640461cAfter last year’s MVP season at Double-A Midland, Pinder started slowly at Nashville this year but ended up being named a Pacific Coast League All-Star. And though he’s had some struggles with his throwing at shortstop this season, the 24-year-old infielder currently leads the team in total bases and his 14 home runs are second only to Renato Nunez on the Nashville squad.

AF:  You started out the season here in Nashville kind of slow but you ended up as a Triple-A All-Star. So how do you feel you’ve developed as a player this year and what kind of adjustments have you had to make?

CP:  I’ve had to make quite a few adjustments this year. Coming from Double-A where maybe the pitching’s more raw, they’ve got a little bit better stuff here in Triple-A. The pitchers are a little smarter. A lot of guys have spent time in the big leagues. They know how to pitch guys like I am who are aggressive at the plate. And it’s kind of been an adjustment for me to have to change my approach a little bit – whether it be taking more pitches early in the count or making quicker in-game adjustments. You know, last year facing the same few teams [in the eight-team Texas League], it’s a little easier to get comfortable with those guys. And here you’re facing different guys every day, so it’s a little bit more or an adjustment.

AF:  Particularly early in the season, you had a number of errors, and a lot of them seemed to be throwing errors. So what’s your take on the cause of that?

CP:  Yeah, just a little mechanical stuff with my arm – my arm angle, arm slot. I’m kind of dragging my arm a little bit instead of getting on top. Last year, it was the transition to shortstop and my arm angle was a little higher. This year, I started to get more comfortable and started to kind of try and guide things, and I think that played a part in me kind of sailing some balls. That’s something we’ve been working on the past couple months. And I’ve just been trying to be more consistent with that in my pre-game prep and carry that over into the game.

AF:  I guess the good thing is you’re playing shortstop pretty much every day here, so you’ve got some time to work on things anyway.

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

AF:  Is there anything else in particular that the coaches here are trying to have to work on right now?

CP:  Just what we were talking about – being more consistent with my arm angle, and having that consistency in pre-game prep and even in between innings when I’m throwing the ball to first base, so it’s just drilled into my head. As for the hitting side, I feel comfortable, I feel great at the plate right now. The hits may not be coming, but I feel good, I feel confident at the plate. And right now, we’re working on kind of just staying through the ball and continuing the same approach that I have.

AF:  It sounds like there’s a lot more focus on getting the defensive stuff squared away at this point.

CP:  Yeah, absolutely.

AF:  You’ve seen some guys you’ve spent a lot of time playing with, like Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell, making it up to the big leagues this year. So how do you feel when you see some friends of yours going up there and does it make you realize how close you are at this level?

CP:  Oh, definitely. Number one, it makes you realize how real it is and how close you are. And second, being with those guys for the past couple years, it gave me chills to see both of them go up. They’re both great people and tireless workers and both deserve the opportunities that they’re having right now, and I could not be happier for them.

AF:  I know in the past, you were living with Matt Olson in Stockton and in Midland. So what are your living arrangements like here in Nashville?

CP:  I’m still with Olson. When Ryon Healy got called up here, he moved in with us. But now he’s out, so now it’s just me and Olson.

AF:  Just the two of you? Are you getting tired of him yet?

CP:  Nope, not yet.

AF:  Well, hopefully you guys will get a chance to live together at the next level too.

 

MATT OLSON

mo621566Long considered one of Oakland’s top power-hitting prospects, Olson hit 37 home runs in 2014 for Stockton. The 22-year-old got off to a slow start for the Sounds this season, but his 54 walks lead all A’s minor leaguers and his 27 doubles are tops on his team. Considered a talented defensive first baseman, Olson’s primarily been playing right field this season to increase his versatility in the field.  

AF:  So how have you been enjoying this year playing here in Nashville in Triple-A?

MO:  Oh, it’s great. It’s a great town. We get good turnouts here. It’s been fun.

AF:  It’s almost like playing in a major league park here.

MO:  Yeah, it really is – new stadium, good field, good fans.

AF:  You started off a little slow this season. But in the last few weeks, it seems like things are maybe starting to click a little bit for you. So tell me what kind of challenges you’ve faced here at Triple-A this season and where you feel you’re at at this stage of the game.

MO:  Yeah, just a little bit of an adjustment period, as it is going from any level to any level. I’ve been feeling better lately and I’m just kind of in the whole process of adjusting and figuring out what I need to do for myself in order to adjust to what the pitchers are trying to do.

AF:  How do you feel that pitchers have approached you differently at this level and what adjustments have you had to make?

MO:  It’s just guys know what they’re doing with their stuff better. They know how to throw the pitch that starts on the plate then works off the plate – it might look like a strike initially. And I’ve kind of had to check myself and nail my approach in my own head.

AF:  Your home runs have been down a bit this year, but you’ve got 27 doubles. So how’s First Tennessee Park to hit in for a power hitter like yourself? I’ve heard it suppresses home run numbers a bit, so I’m just wondering if that’s maybe led to fewer home runs and more doubles for you this year.

MO:  It plays pretty big in the gaps. We definitely play in some more hitter-friendly parks in this league, for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s led to more doubles but, you know, it’s what you’ve got to work with and you just kind of have to adjust.

AF:  How would you say this park compares to Midland, which isn’t exactly known as a hitters’ paradise either?

MO:  They’re different in their own ways. In Midland, you’ve just got to deal with the wind. Here there’s not really wind blowing, it just doesn’t really carry. But you’ve just kind of got to deal with what you’re working with and try to get results.

AF:  You’ve spent the vast majority of your time here in right field this season. So how are you feeling out there at this point?

MO:  Yeah, I’ve felt very comfortable out there. It just kind of took some time of getting some consistent reps out there and getting game reads off the bat for me to feel completely comfortable. I feel good out there now.

AF:  With a little over a month left in the minor league season, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on or trying to work on over the last month or so here?

MO:  You know, its always just quality at-bats, obviously play good defense, do what we can to win. That doesn’t really change. You go and you adjust based off of how you’ve been doing and how you’ve been feeling. And right now, I’ve been feeling pretty good and I’m just trying to keep it going in the second half.

AF:  And how has it been for you playing here at this level with a bunch of guys you’ve been playing with for quite a while now?

MO:  Yeah, it’s great. It makes it a lot easier when you’re comfortable with guys, when you know you’ve got a core group of guys like we do – a lot of guys from Midland last year. And we work well together. It’s nice coming to the field every day when you enjoy people’s company and you know you’ve got a good team.

 

JAYCOB BRUGMAN

jb595144bA 17th-round draft pick for the A’s in 2013, Brugman’s solid play has allowed him to advance quickly through the system. And A’s special assistant Grady Fuson recently called Brugman “one of the most fundamentally sound players we have.” The 24-year-old has also been one of the most consistently productive hitters in the A’s system this season, and he’s been spending more time in center field this season to increase his outfield versatility as well.

AF:  Now, like Ryon Healy, you started this year back at Double-A in Midland. Both of you got off to great starts there and ended up here in Nashville and continued to hit well here. So what was your attitude and approach like starting the year back at Midland?

JB:  I mean, when you repeat a level, it’s all about your mindset and the way you go about your business. You have to have a positive attitude. It’s never fun repeating a level, but it’s okay. It just gives you time to master your craft. It gives you time to really refine your tools. My approach at the plate was the same as always. I just try to have good at-bats, be patient. I like to work the counts. I would like to walk more and be more productive in situational hitting, because all those things help the team win. And I just want to put the team in a position to win.

AF:  It seems like you’ve kicked your game up a notch this year. Is there anything in particular that’s clicked for you for you this year or are there any adjustments you’ve made that have really paid off for you?

JB:  I think it’s just over time I’ve been more comfortable with my style of hitting – more comfortable with driving balls in the gap – and really staying to that. A lot of guys sometimes will have success in certain areas and then they try to expand on that, like maybe trying to hit more home runs or whatever. But really, it’s just staying to your game. So each year I’ve just consistently tried to improve in what I’m good at – and that’s hitting doubles, driving in runs, getting on base, just producing in not-a-home-run way. I don’t steal too many bases. So I just try to keep the same style of play and try not to get too greedy.

AF:  Well, I guess maybe just getting to understand what your stye of play is and what works for you – sometimes you’ve got to play a little while to figure that out.

JB:  Yeah, it all comes with time and experience – that’s exactly right.

AF:  Most of time you’ve been in the A’s system, you’ve primarily played the corner outfield positions. But this year, you’ve been spending a lot of time out in center field. So how do you feel about playing center field and how do you feel about your abilities out there?

JB:  Well, this year’s the first time in pro ball I’ve played center [regularly]. I’ve played all my life in center. But this year I’ve been able to have a lot of games in center, which helped me kind of round out the whole outfield. I’ve played a lot in left, in right, and now in center. So I’ve been able to have experience at all positions, which I think helps me to be a more rounded player. Whenever they need a guy in left, I can be that guy in left; whenever they need a guy in right, I can be the guy in right; and the same with center. So I really like that I’ve been playing there so I can kind of round out all the positions. It’s nice.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’re focused on or working on at this point?

JB:  Yeah, just trying to get a few more bags, try to steal some bases, be a little more aggressive, put more pressure on the pitchers. Sometimes, the game is going slow and you just need something to spark it, and sometimes a stolen base can do that. So I’m just trying to be a little more aggressive on the bases.

AF:  Well, you’ve been hitting at the top of the lineup a lot this season, so I guess that makes sense.

JB:  Yeah, I should profile as a base stealer also – we’re working on that.

AF:  What about seeing guys you’ve known and played with for a few years, like Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell, going up to the big leagues this year? How do you feel when you see your friends going up there and does it make you realize how close you are?

JB:  Yeah, it really does make you feel close. But just playing with those guys and seeing their dreams come true, it’s a great feeling. I’m really close to Healy and to Bruce. I’m really good friends with them and, seeing their success, it just really makes me happy.

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Down on the Farm with Vermont Lake Monsters Pitcher Brandon Bailey

bb669064Brandon Bailey grew up in Colorado and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where he notched 125 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings while posting a 2.42 ERA in his final season for the Bulldogs. The 21-year-old right-handed pitcher was drafted by the A’s in the 6th round of this year’s amateur draft and is currently playing for the Class-A Vermont Lake Monsters in the short-season New York-Penn League. Bailey recently wrote a blog post about some of his experiences in the A’s minor league system in the weeks since the draft. He’s allowed us to share it with our A’s Farm readers and we look forward to hearing more from Brandon about life down on the farm as the season unfolds. You can check out his personal blog here and you can follow him on Twitter @BBailey_19

 

It’s 1 o’clock in the morning here in Vermont and I’ve spent the majority of my off day doing jack sh*t…Which is typically normal for the average joe who plays baseball in the summer time like myself. Off days come few and far in-between during the months of June, July, and August, so when one of these rare (yet desperately needed) occasions presents itself, ballplayers have to take advantage.

If you’re like me, you generally spend the day sleeping in until noon and then casually taking a stroll to the kitchen to devour whatever happens to be in the fridge at that moment in time. When the stomach is full, you retrace your steps back into your bed where you open up your Macbook and watch some Netflix. This is then followed by some pointless online shopping for the newest Nike products to have hit the market in recent months. For players enrolled in summer school, you feel guilty for not touching the homework from the 6 week online course you mistakenly thought would be a cake walk back in March when you were registering for summer and fall classes. After about an hour of hell, the rest of the afternoon is yours to do whatever you so please. For me, I decided to call my mom today to see how things are going back home in Colorado. She informed me that my dad is working late tonight trying to rack up a couple extra hours in order to make up for being absent this upcoming Monday and Tuesday. My parents are flying out to Burlington to spend the weekend with me and I couldn’t be more excited! The only downside, my younger sister Bri is not going to be able to make the trip due to her busy work schedule at The Egg and I, a local brunch restaurant where she is a hostess part time.

bbA1_CCBL-Brandon-Bailey-Gonzaga3It’s only been two and a half weeks since I last saw my family but I miss them like crazy. On Saturday, July 9th, my older cousin Matt got married in Pueblo, Colorado and I was honored to be his best man and lucky enough to even be in attendance. The week prior to the wedding, I was spending my days at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona at the Oakland A’s Spring Training Complex. I was playing for Oakland’s Rookie Ball team in the Arizona League and was uncertain if the A’s would be willing to give me a few days off from work in order to attend my cousin’s wedding. After throwing a side (bullpen) on July 7th, I spoke with Keith Lieppman, the A’s Director of Player Development. He informed me that he was perfectly comfortable with me leaving for the wedding and casually mentioned he liked what he saw during my bullpen session. He also informed me that I was being promoted to the A’s single-A short-season affiliate the Vermont Lake Monsters and would catch a plane to Burlington on Sunday morning after the wedding.

Two and a half weeks may not seem like long time to the average person but for summer baseball players, two and a half weeks can feel like two and a half years at times. Distance and the time difference seem to be the two most difficult part about summer ball (at least for me). The past two summers I have spent 90 days of summer on the east coast playing baseball. Last summer I played in the Cape Cod Baseball League and lived in Yarmouth-Dennis, Massachusetts. This summer, I’m playing in the New York-Penn League and living in Burlington, Vermont. While the east coast is a beautiful part of the country, it does not compare to the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest, or the Colorado Rocky Mountains in my personal, biased opinion. The majority of my family and friends live on the West Coast and operate according to Pacific Standard and Mountain Standard time, a 2 hour difference from myself over on the East Coast, making it difficult for me to communicate with friends and family due to my busy schedule during the day.

I show up at the ballpark roughly around 2:00pm everyday and don’t leave the park until 10:30pm that evening. A typical day consists of: an active warm up, team game review, stretching, pitchers throwing program, conditioning, pitchers fielding practice, shagging for batting practice, grabbing a bite to eat off the spread, an individual workout with my strength coach Omar, arm care with the Lake Monster team trainer Toshi, “Suiting Up!” (or in other words put on the old uniform), sitting and watching a baseball game for 3 hours (unless I’m on a chart or pitching that day), shower, eat the post game meal, and finally…GO HOME! Not a bad work schedule for anyone who loves the game of baseball. However, by the time I return home to my host family’s house it is 11 o’clock at night and I am absolutely exhausted. My extreme fatigue would not be an issue if I played in the same time zone as my family or my girlfriend Wolfey because they would be going to bed at the same time as me. Unfortunately, it’s only 8:00pm where they are. Prime time for conversing and FaceTiming.

bb1024px-centennialfSince today was an off-day, I was able to catch up with my loved ones at a somewhat decent hour. As I hung up with Wolfey over our FaceTime chat at 9:00pm in comparison to our typical midnight conversations, I thought about how my summer was going. I thought about how I had just finished my book The Arm by Jeff Passan and how I was anxious for my parents to bring out more books for me to dive into. I thought about my first month in professional baseball and all of the crazy experiences I’ve already had. I thought about Gonzaga and how I missed my former coaches, teammates, and the beautiful stadium which makes up the Patterson Baseball Complex. I thought about Nike and how I passed up on an opportunity to be an intern at their world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon in order to chase the dream of hopefully one day playing in the big leagues. I thought about how different professional baseball is in comparison to the college game. I thought about what my future plans and goals for this offseason would be. I thought about the academic fall semester at Gonzaga and how it conflicts with the Arizona Instructional League in late September and early October. I thought about my signing bonus and how I’ve never been one to bitch or complain about taxes until I received my first of two bonus checks in the mail last week. I thought about pay day and how I needed to save every dime I can to pay for gas and food this fall. With all of these thoughts running through my mind as I lay in bed unable to sleep, I decided now was as good of time as ever to start something that I have been contemplating doing for about 2 years.

I’ve never been one to share my personal thoughts and experiences with more than a handful of people but I feel like this journey through professional baseball is one that I have to document. Being a Gonzaga student, I try to focus on developing my mind, body, and spirit which is part of the University’s core values and principles. Baseball has done a great job of developing my body but recently, I feel like I have been laking in the development of my mind and spirit. Maybe the best way to get the intellectual juices flowing would be to write about my experiences here in pro ball? And as I look at the time it’s 2:44 in the morning and 1,328 words later.

I guess there is no better time than the present to start doing the things you want to do and being the person you want to be.

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Exclusive: Down on the Farm with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

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

Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with Billy Beane and ends up getting fired – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here).

Prior to the draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur players in preparation for draft day. But once the draft is complete, he typically begins a tour around the A’s system while also checking out some of the team’s potential targets prior to the trade deadline.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton a few days after the end of the major league All-Star break and a few days before the A’s added catcher Bruce Maxwell, whom we discussed, to the major league roster. And, as always, we were happy to have 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 from throughout the system…

 

AF:  I know that once the draft is done, you usually hit the road for a bit. So where have you been since the draft?

GF:  I’ve been to Nashville. I’ve been to Midland. I’ve been to Arizona. I’ve been to Stockton – I had to leave, and now I’m back in Stockton.

AF:  I really wanted to start out primarily focusing on some of the guys who’ve been at Nashville this season. First of all, let’s start out with a guy who started the year at Double-A and passed everyone by and is now up with the A’s in the big leagues – Ryon Healy. He was probably the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this season. So what clicked for him this year?

rh592387cGF:  Well, first of all, I think, if you go back, it clicked last year. He really put together a good second half and played well coming down the stretch there last year as well. This year, you know, he came in with a chip on his shoulder. I think he knew during the spring that he was the only guy of that Double-A group who didn’t get a big league invite [to the A’s spring training camp]. So I think he put it in his head that he wasn’t going to Triple-A. And you could tell, even joking around, that he was somewhat pissed. So the first week and a half in [minor league] camp, all he’s doing is trying to jerk balls out of the ballpark. And so it took us about a week and a half to kind of calm him down and let him know that all he was going to do was wreak for himself. But, with that said, his mentality about attacking pitches and driving the baseball continues to improve. And that’s what he’s been doing all year. His strike zone’s getting better, so he’s hitting better pitches, and he’s attacking them. His power numbers have come up, his on-base percentage is up, and he’s hitting the ball to all fields. He’s done everything you’d hope for in a hitter.

AF:  Well, it sounds like he’s definitely been a good kind of aggressive. Another guy who was in a similar spot this season is outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He also started the year kind of being left behind in Double-A. He hit really well there, got called up to Nashville and, next to Healy, he’s probably been one of the best hitters in the A’s system this season.

jb595144bGF:  Bruggy’s a very solid player. It’s hard to put all the upside together as far as him being like a star guy in the big leagues, but there’s no way you can count Jaycob out. This guy runs it, he throws it, he can swing it, he ambushes for a homer here and there, he can steal a base. And he’s also, offensively and defensively, probably one of the most fundamentally sound players we have on both sides of the baseball. He does things the way you’d teach it. Footwork in the outfield, reads routes, approach at the plate, swings at strikes, takes balls – you know, he’s got that skill set.

AF:  I know he’s always been talked about primarily as a corner outfielder, but he’s been playing a lot of center field this year at Nashville. So how do you feel about his abilities in center field?

GF:  Well, they’re good, they’re solid. They’re not off the charts. I don’t know that a lot of people are going to look at him and think he’s going to be our center fielder of the future. Can he play center field? Yes. Would be he a little bit exposed speed-wise if he was sitting in a big league outfield? Probably. There’s always going to be a burner who comes along and gets the same kind of reads with better speed. But I wouldn’t be afraid to put this guy in a big league center field anyway.

AF:  Another guy who’s really come on strong lately is catcher Bruce Maxwell. His average is up over .300 and he’s got nine or ten home runs now. So what’s been clicking for him?

bm622194cGF:  I think he’s starting to really have more competitive at-bats. I mean, he’s seeing it better. He’s more aggressive on balls in his zone. He’s not carving as many balls up in the big sky out in left-center as he did. He’s starting to feel the pull side of the ballpark with some backspin. There’s still a ways to go. But the bottom line is, as long as he can just be competitive with his at-bats and give you good at-bats, this guy’s going to find himself a job.

AF:  That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you about – how do you feel about his development as a catcher? I know a lot of time and effort has gone into that over the years for him.

GF:  That’s the one thing that’s been pretty good the last few years. He’s really developed himself into an above-average receiver. He’s got very good exchange, and timing and rhythm throwing. He’s become very accurate – he’s worked on it. He still gets exposed with his flexibility as far as sometimes blocking if balls take him way out to the sides. But Brucie’s done a good job – I’m proud of him.

AF:  Now a guy who started out the season slow but ended up being a Triple-A all-star is Nashville shortstop Chad Pinder. He got off to a rough start but seems to have turned things around a bit now. So where do you feel he’s at in the development curve?

cp640461cGF:  I still think there’s some room to go with Chad. He’s had some defensive lapses in Triple-A that he did not show last year in Double-A. I think a lot of it’s throwing. I personally mentioned it to him when I was in there that he’s dropping down. He’s really such a beautiful thrower from a high ¾ spot – that’s gotten away from him a little bit. He’s still driving the baseball, he’s still using the whole field. He still needs to take another step up as far as his pitch recognition – not that he’s a chaser or that he swings really out of the zone – just early in counts, what pitch he’s being aggressive on. To me, he’s still trying to go for too many pitches early in a count that aren’t the kind of pitches he can drive. And I think, over a period of time, that puts him behind in counts and changes the whole sequence that he’s going to get pitched. But he’s another 23-year-old in Triple-A getting his feet wet against experienced guys and hitting around .260 with a dozen homers and playing a solid everyday shortstop. So, as far as the path to the big leagues, he’s on time.

AF:  Yeah, it looked to me like most of his errors this year have been throwing errors. I wasn’t sure if he was just rushing things or if it was something more mechanical.

GF:  Yeah, more throwing errors. He’s dropping down…and that’s just not him. He is a guy who sets his feet. He’s usually very fundamental. Last year, he was so accurate with his throwing, and that carried him last year. He’s got to get back to that.

AF:  Now another guy who’s been on a bit of a similar path as Pinder this year is Matt Olson. He started the season off really rough, then things started picking up for him, but things have been a bit hot and cold with him this year. So where do you feel Matt Olson’s at with the whole Triple-A experience at this point?

mo621566GF:  Well, I think he’s seeing that his holes are becoming more and more exposed the higher up he goes. It’s not like they’re not being addressed. We’ve worked on numerous things trying to uplift his ability to make contact. It’s just going to be a work in progress. The talent has not changed – there’s still big strength in there, he’s still patient and he’s still disciplined. There’s just times where, with the way he delivers the bat, there just happens to be holes in that zone, and we’re just trying to shrink those holes. He definitely needs work staying over the baseball longer and driving baseballs in that shortstop area of the field. He’s losing too many balls in the air though – and he knows it. It’s been addressed, it’s being worked on and, actually, I would say in the last two or three weeks, the quality of his at-bats are getting better.

AF:  He’s spent most of the season playing right field. I know everyone’s always raved about his work at first base. So how do you feel about his work in right field?

GF:  He’s solid. He’s just not as good there as he is at first. So that tends to be a topic in the organization – is the outfield play hindering him offensively? I don’t think so. He likes playing the outfield. I think he knows he’s a very good first baseman but, right now, it’s increasing his versatility. It’s increasing the options, if he does get up there, of where Bob Melvin can use him. Everybody knows he’s probably the best defensive first baseman in the system, so he can always go back there. So when the time arises, when he’s needed, we’ll see where he goes.

AF:  Turning to pitching for a moment, let’s talk about Dillon Overton. He’s been solid at Nashville all year and he’s been up and down with the A’s a couple of times now. So what does he need to do to get over the hump at get to that next level where he can be a solid major leaguer?

do592614dGF:  I think just get some experience up there. He’s shown that he can dominate Triple-A. He’s had numerous games where he’s been dominating. He’s an excellent strike-thrower, he’s got pace to his game, and he’s got location. You know, you still wish there was a little bit more heat coming out of the fastball. And the less his fastball grows, the more perfect he’s going to have to be with his fastball location. He’s very good to the arm side. I think he’s going to have to be able to get into righties better if he’s going to pitch at 88-90 mph – he’s going to have to get in there with a purpose and then go back out. I think he’s still learning that part of it. But I think it’s experience. It’s like all of them, they need some time to see the big leagues – that second and third deck and brighter lights and tougher hitters.

AF:  Before we turn to a few guys at Double-A, are there any updates on Henderson Alvarez and his sore shoulder? Is he just totally shut down at this point?

GF:  Yeah, I don’t know for how long, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few guys at Midland. Another guy who was in kind of a similar position as Ryon Healy this year is outfielder Tyler Marincov. He kind of got left behind at Stockton, hit very well there and earned a promotion to Midland, and now he’s been doing well there too. So what do you think of what we’ve seen out of Tyler Marincov this year?

tm595309cGF:  Well, obviously, from a performance standpoint, you look at his numbers, and everything’s much better. The one thing you see is that he’s driving the ball to the right side of the field better. There’s still some things mechanically I think he needs to get better at, especially if he’s going to take that game with some power to the higher levels. Basically, the same issues that we’re working with Chapman on are the same things with Tyler – a little bit better load and a little bit better separation so that he’s giving himself some time and space to recognize and get in position. But as far as how he’s performing, he’s performed admirably.

AF:  Well, that brings us to Matt Chapman. Obviously, hitting 22 home runs in the Texas League at this point in the season is not an easy thing to do…

GF:  He’s got more homers than hits!

AF: [Laughter] Almost! And he’s also striking out about once every three at-bats. So where is he at in the learning curve at this point?

mc656305dGF:  Obviously, stuck right in the middle! Yeah, the strikeouts are alarming, no doubt. But here’s what I can tell you, I can tell you the kid’s working at it. It hasn’t changed the way he goes about playing the game. His power is immense. It’s all about timing and positioning and how he’s seeing it. It’s the same thing I mentioned with Marincov, there’s a separation move that he’s not had since the day we signed him, and he’s been able to kind of get away with it. You know, one of the biggest things about Chapman that a lot of people are forgetting is that he’s missed two falls of our big instructional period. The first year he signed, when he was going into instructional league, he got hurt and couldn’t play. Then he got hurt coming into spring training. Then he got hurt when we were going to send him to the Arizona Fall League. And then this spring, he was in big league camp till the end. So there’s been two springs and two falls where really – and instruction is what it’s all about – he’s missed. So he’s learning on the fly. Skill-set-wise, he’s everything everybody thinks he is. He’s an above-average third baseman with a cannon arm. He’s an instinctual gamer as far as his presence. He’s got big damaging power that’s got a chance to be a game-changer. It’s just working on all these little things about hitting.

AF:  That’s an interesting point. It seems he really has missed a lot of instruction time. Of course, the other top prospect at Midland is shortstop Franklin Barreto. He’s kind of been doing the same thing he did last year in Stockton. He started out slow and then midway through the season started turning it on a bit and coming around. I know he’s missed a few games recently with a leg issue – I’m not sure how serious that is. But where do you feel he’s at at this point?

fb620439GF:  Well, for a 20-year-old, he’s probably playing about two levels up. He’s doing well. He’s kind of starting to come out of his shell from a personality standpoint. You know, last year, he was very quiet and unassuming – new organization, new people. This year, you can tell, he’s gravitating towards some coaching. He’s really wanting to put a plan together now. You’ve got to remember, this kid’s at Double-A when most kids at 20 are either being signed or in rookie ball. And putting an offensive plan together, situational hitting, those are things that you’re talking about as guys are getting closer to the big leagues. These things are coming fast for him. So I think we all need to realize how young he really is and understand that we have so much time to still work with this guy. Like any young player, there’s some moves here and there that we’re trying to put together so that they work a little more efficiently in his swing. But the plus run, the explosive hands, the ability to ambush a heater from time to time, that’s all there.

AF:  He’s also been doing a lot of running this year – he’s already stolen over 20 bases so far – which is obviously good to see. Do you think this current leg injury is much of a big deal though?

GF:  No.

AF:  Okay, and then one last guy at Midland who’s always interesting to talk about is infielder Yairo Munoz. He came out kind of strong but then he started struggling a bit. So what do you think about where he’s at right now?

ym622168GF:  I would say about what I said last year – talented, but careless. He lost all of spring training [due to injuries]. He came in heavy. This kid’s added thirty pounds in the last year. He’s starting to become more fit now, but it’s been a struggle for him carrying this extra weight. He was hurt with three different things and lost all of spring training. So the reality is, May – he didn’t get out till May – was basically his spring training. But by the time you get to Double-A, the instinctual side of the game needs to start building as far as positioning yourself, making throws with your legs underneath you, not trying to do everything on the run, narrowing your strike zone, getting more focused on pitches that you can hit – and he’s behind with that still. His talent skill is where it belongs but, in a perfect world, he would be in A-ball learning how to play the game with a little bit more focus and purpose. This kid’s very talented, but there’s just a lot of careless mistakes still going on in his game – swinging at stuff he doesn’t need to be swinging at, throwing on the run when he doesn’t need to be, a lot of style before substance sometimes. But [Midland manager] Ryan Christenson’s doing a great job harping on it down there. We’re staying with it and it’s one of those things where we don’t know when the maturity level’s going to kick in – hopefully it starts to come.

AF:  One interesting development this year has been the performance of the Beloit pitching staff, with guys like Evan Manarino and Boomer Biegalski and others there. What’s your impression of what some of those young pitchers have been doing there this season?

GF:  Manarino’s a college senior strike-thrower we signed a year ago. He’s a below-average-fastball guy, but he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a got a good breaker and he’s got a feel to pitch. He’s kind of doing what we expected him to do. He was a polished college pitcher. He doesn’t have big stuff, but he knows what he’s doing. Biegalski’s gone through a little fastball stage where he got erratic, so he never got to that changeup that he’s noted for. Now five out of his last six starts, his fastball command’s starting to improve, so you’re seeing his line score improve. So, to me, it’s all about his ability to stay in command of his fastball to get to his changeup.

AF:  Now just to touch on the draft a bit, you guys took three big pitchers at the top of the draft – A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. So what’s your overall impression of how the A’s came out of the draft this year?

GF:  We needed starters, and we got starters! Puk is a big, big physical man who’s got a big upside heater and a fair breaking ball. The changeup and the feel to pitch will show how far things are going to take him. Daulton Jefferies is more of a Sonny Gray-looking guy – kind of a slighter, smaller frame – but he’s got a live arm. He’s got tons of movement, he’s got a sinker and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got good stuff and he locates. I can’t wait to get him healthy and get him out pitching. And Shore’s probably one of the better college pitchers in the draft, period. The biggest thing with Logan is he used his sinker, his two-seamer, all year in college and his velocity kind of went backwards a little bit. So he’s kind of pitching 87-91 mph – pitched great, don’t get me wrong – but a few of us saw this guy 92-93-94 mph last year using his four-seamer a little bit. And once we get him out and get him going, we’re going to see if we can’t get some of that back. But there’s not much to do with his breaking ball and changeup. He’s durable, he’s strong, he’s a strike-thrower, he knows what he’s doing. We got three good ones there.

AF:  I know they’ve been taking it easy with Jefferies after his shoulder injury earlier this year. Are we likely to see him at some point soon?

GF:  The plan with him is to keep strengthening the shoulder area a little bit, and he should be getting some innings in August. He’s not going to be stretched out big. We’ll just get him going, then he’ll be in instructional league and we’ll go from there.

AF:  And what about Shore?

GF:  Shore’s going to be limited. He was a 100+ innings guy in college. He’s going to go to Vermont and maybe pitch occasionally out of the bullpen. They may start him, but it’s not going to be with any depth.

AF:  And finally, was there anyone else the A’s took in the draft you’re particularly high on?

GF:  Some of the early guys – the high school pitcher we took, Skylar Szynski. He’s a very good-looking kid – athletic, six-foot-one, strength in his body, has got a quick arm, got a chance to have a plus breaker and a plus change. It looks like he’s going to be a strike-thrower – got to settle down his delivery, he’s a little quick-paced. So everything right now looks pretty productive.

AF:  Speaking of high school guys, last year’s 3rd-round pick, Dakota Chalmers, has looked pretty good at Vermont so far this year.

GF:  Dakota’s done well. He’s actually pitching better there than he has in extended, in spring and everywhere else.

AF:  Well, maybe he’s one of those guys who rises to the occasion – he needs a challenge!

GF:  That’s right, put him out in a real stadium!

AF:  So now where are you headed off to next?

GF:  Well, you know, the phone could always ring at any minute on trades. That’s always live.

AF:  Well, I guess it is that time of the year…

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Catching Up With a Pair of the Ports’ Top Hitters: James Harris & Joe Bennie

spstockton-ports-logoThe A’s affiliate in the California League, the Stockton Ports, has struggled for much of this season, putting up a .408 winning percentage through the team’s first 98 games. But a couple of Stockton’s biggest standouts in the batter’s box so far this season have been outfielder James Harris and second baseman/outfielder Joe Bennie.

Harris is the team leader in hits, runs, total bases, stolen bases, batting average and on-base percentage, while Bennie leads the team in doubles, extra-base hits and RBIs. We took the opportunity to talk with the pair earlier this week in Stockton.

 

JAMES HARRIS

jh605266bAs a 17-year-old high school outfielder, Oakland native James Harris was a 1st-round pick for Tampa Bay in the 2011 amateur draft. But after struggling through four seasons in the Tampa system, never rising above Class-A, the former top prospect was released towards the end of spring training in 2015. Within a couple of weeks though, Harris was signed by his hometown team and sent to Beloit, where he had a solid season as the Snappers’ leadoff hitter, putting up a .359 on-base percentage over 86 games in the Midwest League. And he’s taken things up another notch this season with the Ports, putting up an impressive .312/.390/.442 slash line and stealing 20 bases through 96 games while also being named a California League All-Star…

AF:  You’ve been having a good year here in Stockton and you’ve been very consistent. So what’s been working for you here this season?

JH:  Pretty much just going out there and having fun. I put in a lot of work in the offseason to be able to just come out here and play and not have to worry about trying to make too many major adjustments throughout the season. I’m just trying to stay consistent with an approach and attitude and make little minor adjustments within the season. So I think that’s helped with consistency.

AF:  What was your offseason program like and what were you really focused on in the offseason?

JH:  This offseason was a lot of skill work – so hitting, first steps, speed, jumps. Just trying to stay consistent with the short swing and be able to repeat that swing over and over again regardless of pitch and location. And then obviously being able to steal some more bases, being able to get a good first step. And then just kind of working out to be a little stronger, to be able to drive the ball to all fields, and be able to do things I need to do to stay healthy for a full season.

AF:  When you came over to the A’s organization last season, things really seemed to start clicking for you right away. It seems like you started having a lot of success right off the bat. So is there anything in particular that accounts for that?

JH:  Change of scenery and maturity. You know, when Tampa drafted me, I was young – 17 years old. And after a few years over there, I was still learning and adjusting to the game. And by the time I got over here, it was a good change of scenery. I’ve had an opportunity to go out there and play every day, so I’ve just tried to make the most of it. I just kind of went back into a position where nothing was going to be given, so I didn’t want to back down or let down or anything. And also, the energy and the vibes over here with the coaches and the coordinators have all been good. And I think I’ve been able to communicate with them and be pretty open with them about things that I want to work on, and also feel comfortable with asking questions about things that they feel I could do better and take the criticism for what it is and work to be better at it.

AF:  Well, I guess sometimes it’s just nice to be able to make a fresh start!

JH:  It is, it is – and just an opportunity to play for a team I grew up watching and was my favorite team. It made the game fun again. It’s almost like the beginning of a dream all over again.

AF:  I was going to ask you about that. Being from Oakland, when you first found out that you were going to have the chance to join the A’s, what was your first reaction to that?

JH:  My first reaction was just thankful that another team was going to give me an opportunity. And the second thing was just, you know, that’s something I’ve always dreamed about. I’ve played in the Coliseum a few times with my high school team and been to a ton of games there. And when I told my family, they were really excited. So I just want to make the most of the opportunity and do the best I can to be able to play at home in my backyard.

AF:  So when you were growing up and following the A’s, who were some of the players you liked and had your eye on?

JH:  Well, the teams when I was younger that I remember, Jermaine Dye was a big guy, and then Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada – you know, that whole team with the big three [Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito] – Terrence Long, Scott Hatteberg, Mark Ellis, Huston Street had just got there…

AF:  The classic Moneyball days!

JH:  Yeah, that was what I knew. And tickets were $5 on hot dog day. I’d go with my family or I’d go on summer field trips with programs and stuff. I think I still have a deck of cards at home with a bunch of A’s players from growing up. Those was the guys that I remember being able to watch. And Rickey Henderson has always been my favorite player.

AF:  I was wondering about that. I had a feeling that might be the case.

JH:  Yeah, Rickey’s always been my favorite player. I met him in high school, because he went to my high school [Oakland Technical High School]. And they ended up naming our high school field after him, so I met him then. I talked to him a little bit when I was with Tampa in the offseason. And then this year, I’ve had a chance to work with him more.

AF:  I imagine you must have spent some time with him in Arizona in spring training.

JH:  Yeah, I talked to him there. And then he’s come here two or three times and I’ve had a chance to talk to him here.

AF:  Well, I imagine when a guy like Rickey has something to say to you, you probably listen!

JH:  100 percent – I guarantee you he’s not trying to steer me wrong!

AF:  You can’t go wrong listening to Rickey!

JH:  Exactly!

AF:  Have you seen Moneyball and, if you have, what did you think about it?

JH:  I have. I thought it was a pretty good film. I didn’t know much about the whole Moneyball scheme and what they were doing at the time. I just learned of it once I saw it what the whole idea of it was. And it makes more sense now being in the middle of it and seeing how organizations work when it comes to players. I thought it was a real good movie though.

AF:  Then finally, is there anything that you’re particularly focused on at this point in the season?

JH:  Everything. I think the main thing is just staying focused. It’s so easy at the end of the season to start kind of losing focus and start shutting it down a little bit. So just trying to stay locked in on every game – we’ve got somewhere close to 50 games left – to lock it in for every pitch, or on the bases, or out in the field. And then just constantly working on jumps, reads, you know, little stuff, footwork in the outfield, staying consistent with the swing and getting good pitches to hit, not trying to do too much, just trying to keep everything simple and just staying focused through the end of the season. I don’t want to let up early. Letting up early creates a bad habit, and they see that stuff. They want to see you finish all the way through. You know, if you get to the big leagues, even if you’re not in the playoff chase, they want you still going hard all the way to the end of the season.

AF:  That’s right, you can’t let up till the last game!

 

JOE BENNIE

jb643218bTaken by the A’s in the 28th round of the 2013 draft, Bennie has done a great job of getting on base ever since joining the A’s organization, and he currently sports a .370 on-base percentage over parts of four minor league seasons. Bennie started out primarily playing second base, while seeing a little time at third base, but he shifted to the outfield last season, and has split his time between the outfield and second base this year. Bennie has been one of Stockton’s best hitters this season and is currently boasting the best on-base percentage (.380) and slugging percentage (.448) in his time in the A’s system. And his brother Robert, an outfielder, was just taken by the A’s in the 24th round of this year’s draft…

AF:  You’ve been having a really solid year here at Stockton. You’ve been getting on base and showing a little pop. So what’s been clicking for you here this season?

JB:  I just think it’s a product of having a lot of at-bats over the past couple years and just all the hard work in the offseason. I showed up to spring training early just trying to get some extra at-bats. And I just think it’s starting to click with my approach and just my confidence out there. So I’m happy the results are coming as part of that.

AF:  And how do you feel about hitting here in Stockton as opposed to Beloit, where you were last year? How’s it been different for you?

JB:  You can mis-hit some balls and they’ll travel a little bit more here. But I try not to let that stuff get to me or get me off my approach. It’s the same game, so I just try to stick with what I can do.

AF:  What are some of the differences in the kind of pitching you’ve had to face here in High-A in the California League?

JB:  I just think they have more of an idea of how to pitch. So they’re really going to attack your weaknesses until you prove you can fix them. In rookie ball, pitchers kind of just throw the ball as hard as they can and they don’t know where it’s going. Last year, they kind of had more of an idea. But this year, it’s been challenging at times because they know what they’re doing. But I just stick to the same approach each day and try not to let that get in my way.

AF:  In your time in the organization, you’ve played a few different positions – second base, third base, the outfield. Is there anywhere in particular that you feel most comfortable at this stage of the game?

JB:  Yeah, I guess they’re searching for a position for me. And they like that I can kind of fill the utility role, which I don’t mind at all because it keeps me in the lineup every day – it doesn’t matter where I’m playing. Personally, I really like second base. I got drafted as a second baseman. I played there for the first two years of pro ball. That’s somewhere I’m really comfortable. But after last year going to instructs to work on the outfield, I’m really comfortable out there now too. So wherever they put me, it doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty comfortable everywhere now.

AF:  Are there many guys on this team you’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time playing with since you were drafted?

JB:  Lana Akau since rookie ball, our first year when we got drafted. Jose Brizuela the last two or three seasons. James Harris the last two years. So there’s been a couple guys I’ve been with pretty much every step of the way.

AF:  Now I know you’re from the east coast. So, prior to this year, had you had the chance to spend much time out in California before and how do you like living and playing out here on the west coast?

JB:  Oh, it’s definitely the first time I’ve been out here for a long period of time. I was out here for like three days my junior year of college when we played the University of San Diego. But other than that, it’s my first time in Cali…I like it a lot. California is nice. We get to travel to nice places. You know the weather is always going to be sunny and a little hot. So I’m enjoying this lifestyle.

AF:  So who have you been living with out here?

JB:  I live with Heath Fillmyer and Brett Graves – two pitchers.

AF:  Have you been getting the pitchers’ perspective on things now?

JB:  Oh, yeah. Sometimes I’ll ask them how they would pitch me. Maybe other teams have that same approach against me, so I use that to my advantage.

AF:  Getting into the mind of the enemy!

JB:  Exactly!

AF:  So is there anything that’s been particularly memorable for you about this season?

JB:  I love every day just coming to the locker room, just getting ready to go. I don’t take a day for granted in pro ball.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’re focused on or working on at this point in the season?

JB:  Yeah, I try to make progress every day. Right now, I’m sticking to my routine hitting, just trying to stick with that so I’m consistent. And defensively, that’s probably where I put in the most work. In B.P., I really take my reps seriously. But for the most part, just trying to stay healthy and take care of my body.

AF:  And finally, how did you feel about your brother getting drafted by the A’s and the two of you being together here in the same organization now?

JB:  Oh, it was a dream come true. He had a lot of looks from a couple teams. And I was really hoping it was the A’s all the way, just because I love this organization and I’ve seen the opportunities I’ve gotten and I just think this is a great place for him to be. We’ve only been teammates once, and that was in varsity baseball, and I was a senior and he was a freshman. So it’ll be fun to go to spring training with him and hopefully we get to the big leagues together!

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A’s Rookies Ryon Healy & Daniel Mengden Talk about Life in the Majors

Due to a seemingly never-ending wave of injuries, the A’s have truly been a team in flux this season. But the resulting roster turmoil has provided plenty of opportunities for some of the team’s top prospects, including starting pitcher Daniel Mengden and corner infielder Ryon Healy, both of whom we took the opportunity to talk to earlier this week. We last spoke with Mengden in this May interview, shortly after he made his first start for Nashville. And we hadn’t spoken with Healy since his time in Stockton in 2014, when we talked to the big batch of A’s prospects who were then playing for the Ports in this piece.

Both players started this season with Double-A Midland, but their impressive performances brought them all the way to the big leagues within a matter of months. And we wanted to check in and see how the adjustment to the majors was going. We spoke with both of them earlier this week, shortly before Oakland’s 10th-inning walk-off win against the Astros, in which Healy drove in a pair of key runs for the A’s.

 

RYON HEALY

rh592387cAfter finishing last season with a strong second half for Midland, Ryon Healy found himself starting 2016 back in Double-A due to an abundance of corner infielders on this year’s Nashville team. But the 24-year-old immediately began tearing up the Texas League and quickly earned a May promotion to Nashville, where he didn’t miss a beat. Healy had the best batting average and slugging percentage among all A’s minor leaguers when he was called up by the A’s a week ago. And he’s shown some real pop as well as an ability to hit with runners in scoring position during his brief time in Oakland. Originally drafted as a first baseman in the third round of the 2013 draft, the southern California native mostly split time between first base and third base in the minors, but the A’s have made it clear that they’d like to see if Healy can handle the hot corner in the majors. And so far, with the help of A’s infield coach Ron Washington, the audition’s been going well… 

AF:  So how have your first few days in the big leagues been going for you so far?

RH:  You know, it’s been awesome. All the players and the coaching staff have done a great job of helping me get into a good routine between the cage and the weight room and then early defense and B.P. So I can’t thank all the guys enough for making me feel comfortable and at home here so far.

AF:  Well it must be nice for you to see a few guys here you’ve actually played with before.

RH:  Definitely. The day I showed up here, I recognized at least half the clubhouse. The other half I’ve seen, so I made sure I introduced myself. I’m just trying to show all the respect I can for the veterans here.

AF:  So were you out working in the field with Ron Washington earlier today?

RH:  Every single day I’m out there with Wash before the game.

AF:  How useful and instructive has that experience been for you?

RH:  He probably has way more knowledge than I’ll ever be able to absorb, but I’m going to be out there every day just trying to learn anything and everything I can from him just because of how much experience he has. But even in the short time that I’ve been here, he’s done a lot for my confidence as a defender.

AF:  Now you haven’t been here that long yet, but is there anything different about the way that major league pitchers approach you that’s caused you to have to make any adjustments in your approach at the plate?

RH:  I think just being ready to hit in every count. A lot of these pitchers don’t know me, but these guys aren’t afraid of me. Obviously, they look at me and I’m a few days into the big leagues, so they’re going to come right after me with heaters. I made the mistake the other night when I faced Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays of out-thinking my at-bat and I got four or five straight heaters and all of a sudden I was struck out. Some of the veterans in here have helped me with that kind of mental stuff. So I’ll be more prepared next time.

AF:  Is there anything else that’s been different for you either on or off the field when it comes to major league life compared to things in Nashville or Midland?

RH:  It’s still baseball, at a very high level – the very highest level. And you need to make sure that your body and your mind are prepared every day to perform at the highest level. But at the end of the day, it’s still a game and everyone’s here to enjoy it. But it’s also a business, and you need to prove every day that you can be here and want to stay here.

AF:  You started out the season at Double-A Midland and you’ve come a long way in a few months and now you’re here. You probably were the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this year, so what accounts for the big leap forward you seemed to take this season?

rhDSC04459bRH:  I think it was just a mindset honestly. I didn’t really enjoy the way that I finished the season last year. I know my numbers looked good but, the way that I viewed it, I wasn’t satisfied at all with what I did. I thought the second half of my season last year was a big improvement over the first half, but I still wasn’t very happy with the way that I finished the season. So I knew I had to go home and make some big adjustments. So I watched a lot of video and talked to a lot of people with a lot of experience and absorbed what I could and applied what I did. And fortunately for me, I walked into spring training with a positive mindset, understanding that Double-A was probably going to be my starting point. But I also know it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. I’m definitely not anywhere near the finish, and I never will consider myself near the finish line, but I’ll always just continue to work harder and get better.

AF:  So you started out with a positive approach about trying to prove yourself and letting them know what you could do?

RH:  That was definitely the mindset going in – it was chip on your shoulder, prove everyone wrong, and try and shock the world.

AF:  Rather than mope about it, just go out and show them.

RH:  It was one or the other. It was pretty much a make or break year for me. And fortunately for me, I picked the right mindset and went from there.

AF:  What are some of the adjustments you’ve made at the plate that have helped you get to where you’re at now?

RH:  I think a lot of it’s my mental approach at the plate – just being able to decide which pitches I can do damage with and which pitches I should take, whether they’re balls or strikes. So I’ve taken a lot more strikes this year, and it’s allowed me to get more mistakes, because I’m ready for a pitch in my zone. Rather than hitting a pitcher’s pitch, I’m hitting a pitch I want to hit – which is probably why my strikeouts have gone up, but my walks have also increased. I’m not afraid to hit with two strikes. I’m not afraid to take a strike earlier in the count if it means that I’ll get a pitch in my zone later in the count.

AF:  It sounds like you’ve really become very intelligently selective, looking for that pitch that you can handle and just trying to lay off of everything else.

RH:  Exactly, I think that’s been a big factor in it right now.

AF:  Now you’re from California, and I know your family’s had a chance to come out and see you play. So how has it been for you to be able to have the chance to play here in California?

RH:  It’s incredible. The best part for me is being in the same time zone. I can text my siblings and my parents, instead of having to time our phone calls, so that’s been nice.

AF:  So now that you’ve been here for a few days, is there anything that you’re really trying to focus on every day when you step out on the field here?

RH:  I think it’s just staying in tune with every single pitch and making sure I’m prepared for every play at third base. I think there’s only been one play so far where I’ve really been caught off guard – the potential interference with Carlos Correa and I. But besides that, I feel like I’ve done a good job understanding every scenario that could happen. That was just the one that snuck up on me, but it’s something that I’ll put in the memory bank and it won’t happen again.

AF:  I know you hadn’t really been spending that much time at third base this year, so how has it felt being over there at third base every day? Has it been a bit of an adjustment for you?

RH:  The game is all about adjustments. But yeah, it’s definitely something that I can now put all my time and effort into now that they’re showing that they want me to play there. So instead of having to take reps at first and third, I’m just going to take them at third right now. Until they tell me otherwise, that’s where I’m going to put all my time and effort.

AF:  So I guess they’ve made it clear that that’s where they see you at this point.

RH:  Yeah, for right now.

AF:  Well we all know that anything could change tomorrow.

RH:  Exactly!

 

DANIEL MENGDEN

dmusa-today-9368808.0bRight-hander Daniel Mendgen was acquired by the A’s last summer, along with catcher Jacob Nottingham, in the trade that sent left-hander Scott Kazmir to Houston, and the former fourth-round draft pick ended up posting a 4.25 ERA over eight starts for Stockton last season. Mengden then came roaring out of the gate this season, putting up a 1.19 ERA in eleven starts for Nashville and Midland before being called up to Oakland in early June. The 23-year-old allowed eight earned runs over his first four major league starts in June and has allowed nineteen earned runs over his last four starts in July. Mengden’s distinctive windup on the mound has attracted a lot of attention, as has his handlebar mustache, which is reminiscent of legendary A’s reliever Rollie Fingers…

AF:  So how did you feel when you first got the call to the big leagues last month? Were you surprised at all?

DM:  I was kind of surprised. I figured I might be a September call-up. I thought they might let me sit in Triple-A. Even though I was doing well, I didn’t think it really mattered. I thought I was just going to mature down there and get my feet under me and then be a September call-up, maybe in the bullpen.

AF:  I guess you weren’t really feeling too much pressure down there at that point anyway.

DM:  Yeah, so I was kind of just doing my thing, just going about my business, taking it one game at a time. And then there were injuries and it was good timing and they gave me a chance. And I’m trying to do the best I can to run with it and trying to put us in the best position to win.

AF:  So how did they tell you that you were going up to the big leagues?

DM:  It was our manager Steve Scarsone and our pitching coach Rick Rodriguez. We were in Oklahoma City for a doubleheader. And after the second game, I came in to give them the chart. And he was like, “Hey, you messed up the chart. You missed two hitters. You missed like 10 pitches.” And I said, “I didn’t miss any pitches.” He goes, “You’ll get fined for each batter you miss the next game.” And then he said, “Do you like doing charts?” And I was like, “No, who likes doing charts?” And he says, “Good, you’re going to the big leagues. You don’t have to do charts anymore.”

AF:  You’re off the hook! Well, I guess they called Ryon Healy in and started telling him that he wasn’t hustling before they told him he was going up.

DM:  Yeah, same type of thing. Scar’s a great manager down there. He just tries to keep it loose and have fun.

AF:  Did Bob Melvin or Curt Young have any words of advice for you when you first got here?

DM:  Curt was just like, “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re throwing well. Don’t change anything. Nothing changes from Triple-A to the big leagues except the jersey. So just keep doing your thing and don’t worry about the excess stuff going on with being in the big leagues and the fans and all the mumbo jumbo around us.”

AF:  Have any of the big league pitchers up here had any particular advice to offer you yet?

DM:  Rich Hill is really a good veteran guy who’s talked to me a little bit and helped me out when he can. I’ve asked him if I’m doing things right and asked him how it goes for rookies and stuff like that. Most of our guys are pretty good. I was talking to Ryan Madson one day when we were in the bullpen and we were talking about changeups and grips and how we throw it. They know I’m a rookie and I’m going to try and pick their brain and learn as much as I can while I can from the veteran guys.

AF:  Since you’ve been here, is there anything in particular you’ve been working on or focused on trying to do?

DM:  Well, we’re always working on things. We’re trying to better every day no matter what. We always have room to get better. But just the general things like keeping the fastball down and executing two-strike pitches – just the general stuff, nothing too fancy.

AF:  So at this stage of the game, what pitches are really working for you and which ones are you still working on refining?

DM:  It kind of depends on the day. Some days I have all four, and some days you have two or three. But I guess the most consistent would probably be the fastball and the changeup – and the cutter most of the time. But my last start, the curveball was a little off. I couldn’t throw it very well, but I kept throwing it because you’ve got to throw it to show it to them. But I’d probably say the curveball is one of the more work-in-progress pitches I have that kind of varies more from start to start. But most of the time, I have the fastball, the cutter and the changeup almost every outing.

AF:  And what’s your velocity been like lately?

DM:  It’s probably normal – 90-95 mph, in that range. It’s weird, its like big league innings are way harder than Triple-A innings. Some of those innings just suck the life out of you. It’s a lot harder having to actually get outs in certain situations, and it takes that much more energy out of you at this level compared to Triple-A.

AF:  You don’t have quite as much left in the tank after a few of those innings.

dmDaniel+Mengden+Oakland+Athletics+v+Houston+NKSYO9ZVIWMl2DM:  Exactly!

AF:  Is there anything you find different about the way major league hitters approach you that’s caused you to have to make any adjustments to the way you pitch?

DM:  Yeah, everyone’s approach here is a lot better – that’s why they’re here. They have a good approach, they’re a good hitter and they have a good eye. You have to really throw good pitches. You can’t get away with bouncing a curveball or throwing a pitch way outside or up. Hitters are a lot more disciplined. I have to make good pitches. I can’t just hope they’re going to swing. Sometimes they’ll swing at pitches out of the zone. But most of the time, if it’s out of the zone, they’ll take it. They see everything way better than most guys and their overall approach is just better.

AF:  So is there anything in your game you’ve really had to focus on – maybe just trying to be more precise with your pitches?

DM:  Yeah, just fastball command – fastball command is number one. If you have that, then you can go from there. You’ve got to keep the ball down and throw strikes. The thing of it here is, if you make a mistake, it’s either a double or a home run. In Triple-A, if you make a mistake, you still could get an out possibly. But here, if you make the tiniest mistake, the ball’s going a long way.

AF:  Now I know one of your starts was in your hometown of Houston. So how was that for you?

DM:  Oh, it was great – just being able to see my family and friends, college friends, people I played ball with, coaches, teachers. Anybody you could think of came out and supported me, and it was great having that support and fan base behind me. And it was great being able to pitch in front of all of my family, besides just my parents, my girlfriend and my siblings. But yeah, it was exhilarating. It’s one of those feelings that’s really hard to explain…After the game was over, I had probably at least 100 people just waiting to take pictures and stuff – people from when I was on the swim team when I was like 9 or 10 to college teammates and boosters and friends I’ve made through high school and college…so it was pretty cool.

AF:  So what’s the major league routine been like for you?

DM:  With a lot of day games here, it’s kind of hard to really go out and do much. Basically just hitting the field every day, get our stuff done early and get out for the game. And usually by the time we get home, we’re tired and we just kind of watch some TV and go to sleep. So it’s not a very extravagant life. But on the road, you might want to go out and explore and eat dinner somewhere.

AF:  Where are you living now that you’re here in the Bay Area?

DM:  Right now I’m living with Josh Reddick. I moved into his house. I had been living at a team hotel for a while…It’s been fun. He’s a great guy. He’s a real fiery cat. He likes to have a lot of fun. So he’s a good guy to be around.

AF:  So is there anything in particular you’re focused on heading into your next start?

DM:  Just executing my pitches – trying to make the best pitch I can in any given situation. Every hitter’s just a hitter – you don’t have to try and over-think it. Sometimes you’ll say, “Oh my gosh, that’s Jose Altuve.” You just kind of have to go after them like they’re a normal hitter. You can’t think about their name. You think that they’re the enemy and you’re trying to beat them. So if I execute my pitches and do what I need to do, if me and [Stephen] Vogt stick to our plan, most of the time, we’ll win – if I execute everything. It’s all just about executing.

AF:  And finally, have you been getting a lot of attention for the mustache since you’ve been up in the big leagues now?

DM:  Oh, yeah! Some guy in the stands actually handed me mustache wax and told me, “Hey, this is what I use. Why don’t you try this?” People always say they love it. On the road, people either hate it or they love it. There’s no in between – you either love it or you hate it.

AF:  So, just for the record, what mustache wax do you use?

DM:  It’s called Bonafide.

AF:  You haven’t had the chance to meet the owner of the A’s original handlebar mustache, Rollie Fingers, yet, have you?

DM:  No, but I actually did a conference call interview with him maybe two weeks ago before the All-Star break. So it was nice to be able to talk to him and pick his brain…He said he hadn’t seen me throw, but he said he’d heard a lot about me. He said that all of a sudden people were telling him, “This kid has the same mustache as you.” So he said he had to look me up.

AF:  Well, at least the two of you ought to be able to compare notes on mustache waxes when you meet!

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A’s Mid-Season Minor League Leaders

With the major league All-Star break almost upon us, it’s a good time to take a look at the A’s minor league leaders in a few key hitting and pitching categories – as we did last summer, which you can revisit here. A minimum of 150 at-bats is required for the hitting categories and a minimum of 50 innings is required for the ERA and WHIP categories for pitchers. Players from all four of the A’s full-season affiliates – Nashville, Midland, Stockton and Beloit – are included and the stats are complete through games of Friday, July 8. Some of the names you might expect to see atop the lists, while others may come as a bit of a surprise!

 

Ryon Healy

Ryon Healy

BATTING AVERAGE

1) Ryon Healy .325

2) James Harris .305

3) B.J. Boyd .304

After hitting .302 last season at Midland, infielder Ryon Healy started the year back at Double-A, but he earned a promotion to Triple-A Nashville in mid-May by being the best hitter in the A’s system, and he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s played nearly every day this season, appearing in 84 games, and has already accumulated 108 hits, which is the most among A’s minor leaguers, while primarily playing first base but also occasionally appearing across the diamond at the hot corner. Meanwhile, outfielders James Harris and B.J. Boyd have both really been batting the ball around the yard at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton all season.

 

Beau Taylor

Beau Taylor

ON-BASE PERCENTAGE

1) Beau Taylor .386

1) James Harris .386

3) Ryon Healy .382

Catcher Beau Taylor has now spent parts of five seasons with Double-A Midland and he’s apparently learned plenty of patience in that time, as he’s been drawing a walk about once every six and a half plate appearances this season. After washing out as a former 1st-round draft pick for Tampa Bay, the A’s brought outfielder James Harris aboard last year. He did a terrific job as the table-setter atop Beloit’s lineup last season, and he’s taken it up a notch as a California League All-Star for Stockton this season.

 

Ryon Healy

Ryon Healy

SLUGGING PERCENTAGE

1) Ryon Healy .560

2) Matt Chapman .485

3) Tyler Marincov .473

Nashville infielder Ryon Healy has simply been the best overall hitter in the A’s minor league system this season. His 28 doubles, 46 extra-base hits and 186 total bases are all tops in the A’s system by a safe margin and show what a threat he’s been in the batter’s box all season. Meanwhile, Midland third baseman Matt Chapman has 15 doubles and 2 triples to go with his league-leading 20 home runs, and his teammate, outfielder Tyler Marincov, has put 18 doubles and 1 triple to match his 14 home runs while splitting time between Midland and Stockton this season.

 

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

HOME RUNS

1) Matt Chapman 20

2) Ryon Healy 14

2) Tyler Marincov 14

After leading the A’s minor league system in home runs with 23 while playing in the hitter-friendly California League last season, Midland third baseman Matt Chapman already has smashed 20 in the far less hitter-friendly confines of the Texas League, where he currently leads the league in round-trippers. It’s worth noting that infielder Ryon Healy and outfielder Tyler Marincov have both spent parts of their seasons in the Texas League as well. Neither has ever hit 20 home runs in a season before, but both are currently on pace to sail past that mark this season.

 

Angel Duno

Angel Duno

ERA

1) Angel Duno 2.22

2) Evan Manarino 2.33

3) Corey Walter 2.55

22-year-old Venezuelan RHP Angel Duno has been a key member of an extremely solid Beloit Snappers starting rotation this season. His control has been particularly impressive, and he’s only walked 9 batters over 69 innings, which has really helped keep him out of trouble for the Snappers this year. His teammate, LHP Evan Manarino, has probably been the team’s best starter, allowing just 1 home run all season while walking 15 and striking out 83 over 96 2/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, Midland RHP Corey Walter started the season in the bullpen before moving into the RockHounds starting rotation. He’s started 12 games while coming out of the bullpen in 7. And he’s looked strong in both roles, allowing just 1 home run while walking 11 over 67 solid innings this season.

 

Kyle Friedrichs

Kyle Friedrichs

WHIP

1) Kyle Friedrichs 1.04

2) James Naile 1.06

2) Zach Neal 1.06

Last year’s 7th-round draft pick for the A’s, RHP Kyle Friedrichs, has been one of the best pitchers in the A’s minor league system this season. Friedrichs started out the year dominating the Midwest League with Beloit and has done a solid job since moving up to Stockton. He’s allowed just 10 walks over 95 innings of work and has been doing a better job of keeping runners off base than any other hurler in the A’s system. Friedrichs’ former Snappers teammate James Naile has been another dependable member of Beloit’s starting staff. After doing some fill-in work at both Nashville and Midland, Naile is now back with the Snappers and is looking as solid as ever. Nashville RHP Zach Neal has always done a really good job of keeping runners off base with his low walk rate, and he’s only walked 6 batters for the Sounds all season.

 

Chris Smith

Chris Smith

STRIKEOUTS

1) Chris Smith 99

2) Daniel Gossett 90

3) Heath Fillmyer 83

3) Evan Manarino 83

Many A’s fans might not realize that Nashville RHP Chris Smith is currently tied for the Pacific Coast league strikeout lead. The 35-year-old, who was signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, has struck out nearly a batter per inning, notching 99 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings for the Sounds. 2014’s 2nd-round draft pick for the A’s, RHP Daniel Gossett, has always put up solid strikeout numbers, but he’s taken things up a notch this season, and he’s now struck out more than a batter per inning with 90 strikeouts in just 83 innings while splitting time between Stockton and Midland. 2014’s 5th-round pick, RHP Heath Fillmyer, has struck out 83 in 85 innings for Stockton this season, while LHP Evan Manarino has whiffed 83 while walking just 15 in 96 2/3 innings of work for the Snappers.

 

Dillon Overton

Dillon Overton

WINS

1) Dillon Overton 9

2) Aaron Kurcz 8

3) Evan Manarino 7

Though he made a couple of starts for the A’s recently, LHP Dillon Overton has probably been the most  dependable member of the Nashville Sounds starting staff this season, giving his team a solid chance to win almost every time out, and his 3.01 ERA is currently fourth best among Pacific Coast League starters. Meanwhile, reliever Aaron Kurcz has somehow managed to accumulate 8 wins while pitching out of the bullpen for both Nashville and Midland, with his victories evenly split – 4 apiece for the Sounds and the Hounds. Kurcz has notched 4 saves as well and has been effective with a 2.34 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP over 30 appearances. And Beloit LHP Evan Manarino has been the best among an extremely solid starting staff for the Snappers this season.

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A’s Farm Report for Week of June 27-July 3: Taking a Look at Each Affiliate’s Top Performers

Nashville's Ryon Healy will soon be headed to the All-Star Futures Game

Nashville’s Ryon Healy will soon be headed to the All-Star Futures Game.

With the draft taking up a lot of our attention over the past few weeks, it’s been a month since we last did an around-the-horn roundup of all the A’s affiliates. So it seems like a good time to take a look at who the prospects are who’ve really been leading the way for their teams so far this season. Of course, Ryon Healy and Jaycob Brugman have been wielding big bats both before and after their promotions to Nashville, while Matt Chapman and Tyler Marincov have been lighting up the scoreboard for Midland lately. Joe Bennie has been a big surprise at the plate for Stockton, and Beloit’s pitching staff has certainly  been a pleasant surprise for the Snappers. In addition, there are plenty of new prospects who are now starting to make their mark in Vermont and Arizona as well. A version of this weekly minor league report was originally prepared by Athletics Farm for Athletics Nation

 

Click here for this week’s update on Nashville, Midland, Stockton, Beloit, Vermont & AZL A’s…