Results tagged ‘ Sonny Gray ’
As you may already know, A’s pitchers and catchers began reporting to the team’s spring training camp in Phoenix on Friday, with the team’s first workouts on Saturday. And there are already plenty of observations we can make about the major league team, as well as the minor league teams, at this point.
First of all, the A’s are still a very young team. On the 40-man roster, only two players – Coco Crisp and Nick Punto – were born before 1982, and only three of the team’s pitchers – Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson and Jesse Chavez – will be over the age of 29 on opening day.
On Thursday, one day before pitchers and catchers began reporting to the A’s spring training camp in Phoenix, A’s assistant general manager David Forst told Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game that he thought he knew what the A’s starting rotation was going to look like and mentioned Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. That would make Tommy Milone the sixth starter in waiting at Sacramento, with recent acquisitions Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz right behind him.
Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon, along with minor-league free-agent signee Matt Buschmann, will be the top contenders for the remaining spots in the River Cats rotation, with former perfect-game hurler Phil Humber likely serving time in Sacramento’s bullpen. Last year, Humber made 10 relief appearances for the Astros and came into 13 games out of the bullpen for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Midland’s top three starters from last season – Murphy Smith, Sean Murphy and Zach Neal – would be the next in line to take a step up should there be an issue with any of the previously-mentioned A’s or River Cats starters. If the three of them remain at Midland though, the top three candidates to join them in the RockHounds rotation will be Drew Granier, Raul Alcantara and Tanner Peters.
The 21-year-old Alcantara is the hottest young pitching prospect in the A’s system at the moment, and the team would like to see him start the season in the RockHounds rotation and then see where his talent takes him from there. But at this point, it’s clear that Alcantara could be a fast-riser.
Former bonus baby Michael Ynoa will probably be the other most closely watched young pitcher in the A’s camp this spring. He’s been throwing hard in Phoenix, but the key for him will just be staying healthy and staying on the mound. It’s still expected that he’ll start the season at Stockton. But if he starts out well, he should be due for a quick promotion to Midland.
As far as relievers go, A’s manager Bob Melvin was impressed with Evan Scribner’s and Fernando Nieve’s initial bullpen sessions in Phoenix, and both are likely to end up starting the season as key cogs in the River Cats bullpen, as long as Scribner can clear waivers anyway.
One of last year’s biggest objects of attention when camp opened, Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima, won’t be making any headlines in big league camp this time around though, since Nakajima will be spending his time in the A’s minor league camp this year. But another shortstop, top prospect Addison Russell – who appears on schedule to become the A’s starting shortstop in 2015 – will definitely be getting a good chance to show the A’s staff what he can do this spring in the big league camp.
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. The day’s sessions wrapped up with an appearance by the dynamic duo of young starter Sonny Gray and veteran closer Jim Johnson.
Gray, of course, distinguished himself last year by winning five games down the stretch for the A’s and besting Justin Verlander in Game #2 of the A.L. Division Series. And A’s Farm was curious to ask the young hurler about the adjustments he had to make coming up to the major leagues midseason…
On the differences of pitching in the major leagues…
I think, for me, the preparation was a lot more advanced up here than it was even in Sacramento. And it was just trying to learn the hitters, and meet with [pitching coach] Curt Young, meet with the catchers and stuff. That was a little bit of an adjustment, which was a good adjustment for me. I think just the information that you have up here is amazing – it’s crazy. We were able to really establish a plan, a way to attack a game, but at the same time, kind of continue to do what got me here and continue to pitch with the strengths that I have – and it worked well for us.
On the importance of his college experience…
I think it had a huge impact. If I would have signed out of high school, I don’t even know if I’d still be playing baseball. I was just a lot smaller, I was just so young. I’m a huge fan of the college route. You know, it doesn’t work for everyone. But for me, it made all the difference in the world, especially going to Vanderbilt – it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
On getting ready for the season…
I’m just really excited to get to spring. I went to Phoenix like eight days ago and started throwing bullpens there with Curt, and a lot of guys were there…I’m just really ready to get there and start practicing and start getting this thing on the road.
On the learning curve for a young pitcher…
I still have a lot of learning to do. I’m just tweaking things here and there. Obviously, there’s something you can pick up from every player, and every single year. I learned a lot last year, and I was here for I think 14 starts [actually 10 regular season and 2 postseason starts]. I mean, I learned so much, and I’m just going to continue to pick up little things here and there. And I think that’s what makes baseball so fun for me – there’s so many things that you can pick up…Last year, Bartolo Colon – I mean, just the subtle way he does it that a lot of people don’t see. You know, he doesn’t talk much. But just the little things he would say here and there in the locker room. You know, his actions had a huge impact on me. To see somebody do it for that long, and the way he’s kind of changed his game completely, he had so much information.
The A’s new closer, Jim Johnson, led the league in saves in each of the last two seasons. The 6’6” right-hander will be counted on by the team to continue the success of departed closer Grant Balfour, and he seems eager to meet the challenge…
On joining his new team…
I’m really excited to be here. I got to meet a lot of the guys for the first time officially [at FanFest]. I’ve played against quite a few of them for a couple years. You see how much fun they have on the field, and how that carries over, and the tight-knit group that they have. This is the time of year we’re all excited to just get out there and just start playing. I can tell it’s going to be a fun year.
On his past impressions of the A’s…
Every time we played Oakland…we knew it was always going to be a battle here, it’s always going to be a dogfight. It’s not an easy place to play…They’re a scrappy team, but they have fun, and that’s a good combination to have. You play so many games…so you better have fun and enjoy it. But when you’ve got those guys that are scrappy, that are grinding out at-bats and doing what they need to do to help the other guy down the chain, that leads to good things down the road. So it’s good to be on that side, absolutely.
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A’s Assistant GM David Forst on Top Prospects Russell & McKinney, Coco’s New Contract and What the A’s Expect from Reddick in 2014
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few representatives of the A’s took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference at the Coliseum. First up was A’s assistant general manager David Forst who volunteered a generous bit of time to talk about some top major and minor league players for the A’s. We had the chance to ask him about two of the A’s most promising young players – shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney. Forst clearly couldn’t be more excited about the prospects for Russell, and he’s definitely not the only one in the A’s front office who feels that way.
Earlier in the day, in a question-and-answer session at the Oracle Arena, A’s general manager Billy Beane lit up like a Christmas tree when the subject of Russell came up. He characterized the young shortstop as a special kind of player who doesn’t come along very often and said he was “knocking on the door.” The A’s GM went on to enthuse, “We’ve had some great young players come through the system, and we’re as excited about Addison as we have been about a lot of the guys…that went on to be stars. So he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player.”
In his session, Forst also talked about some of the team’s top young pitching prospects and shared some interesting insights on the A’s draft philosophy that has seen the team increasingly shift its focus to high school players in recent years. On the major league front, the assistant GM discussed the challenge of having to fill a number of holes in the offseason, Coco Crisp’s recent contract extension, what the team expects from Josh Reddick and John Jaso in 2014, and how the A’s expect to contend in a strengthened American League West and push themselves past the competition in the postseason. But A’s Farm started things off by asking Forst to share his take on the A’s most promising young player in the pipeline…
On A’s top prospect Addison Russell…
I expect he’ll start the year at Midland. The thing that impressed me most about Addison last year, and there were obviously a lot…to see the way he kind of turned his season around…that tells me as much about Addison as a player as anything he did. You can go and watch him and see the power, see the swing, see the arm from the hole…with a guy like that, it’s really easy to see. But I remember having conversations in April with Todd Steverson, who at the time was our minor league hitting coordinator, and saying, “Hey, is this kid okay? Look, let him know we understand, he’s going to struggle.” And when I saw him myself in May, I said, “Hey, you’re not going to hit .200 forever – it’s just not going to happen.” I think he’s a confident kid, but anyone who spends a whole month doing that, there’s going to be a little bit of doubt. And within a couple weeks, he started to turn around. He’s going to hit, he’s going to have enough power for the middle of the diamond, he can throw from anywhere. There’s a reason he’s a top ten prospect in baseball. And to see him turn the season around, put everything together, and continue on into the [Arizona] Fall League, that’s a long year for anyone, particularly for a kid in his first full season…Everyone says we haven’t had a kid put it all together since Eric Chavez was there…and we’re going to see a lot of him in spring training. I know one of Bob Melvin’s main objectives is to get Addison a lot of reps because there’s no telling how soon he’s going to be here…You can see the tools and the ability, but when you spend time with him and you understand how much fun he has and how mentally strong he is, you really feel good about his chances going forward.
On last year’s top draft pick Billy McKinney…
I actually didn’t get to Arizona to see those guys. I saw Billy in March last year – I went to see him play in high school. There wasn’t a lot of consensus on the board last year in the draft room. It was just one of those years where we were picking so low that guys had different opinions. But by the time that we got down there, the nice thing was we did have a strong voice in Billy’s favor – and you always feel good about a pick when that happens. And he came out and hit the way we expected, sort of above what you’d expect for his years. He got a chance to go to Vermont and get his feet wet a little bit. And I know in Instructional League, he talked to [A’s farm director] Keith Lieppman and said, “Just so you know, I expect to follow Addison’s path and start in Stockton next year.” It’s nice to hear. You don’t put expectations on a kid like that, because we know how special Addison is, but we know he will go be with a full-season club. We know he can hit, he did a great job in center field, and we’re excited about Billy.
On the A’s recent shift to drafting top high school players like Russell and McKinney…
We didn’t like taking kids out of high school when the information was so limited. Things have evolved over the last ten years. These kids play in so many showcases – they play against the best competition in the country. We know so much more performance-wise about a high school kid than we did even five years ago, but particularly when the book (Moneyball) was written…Sure, you’re dealing with an extra three years of personal development, and any kid from the ages of 18 to 21 changes a lot…but I think we’ve gotten to the point where we are a lot more comfortable with what these kids show us on the field. Addison is from Pensacola, Florida. If he was only playing against kids in a 50-mile radius, then you’re not sure how he stacks up. But he went to California and played, he went to Texas and played, he went to Miami and played against all these kids. Billy did the same thing – he’s on that showcase circuit where you know how he stacks up against everybody in the country…When we didn’t take Mike Trout, it was because we thought, “this is a cold-weather kid from the northeast, we’re not sure how he stacks up against the rest of the country.” Well, if we’d stepped back to see that Mike did the same things and played those circuits and performed really well, we might have lined up our board differently. So really, it’s a different time with the high school kids. And if our scouts have seen a lot of them and they sort of check enough boxes, we feel really good about those guys – and Billy fell into that group.
Both Covey and Wahl were interesting conversations. Covey was a 1st-round pick in high school. Bobby was expected to potentially be a 1st-round guy, at least a top two guy. Both guys fell to an area where we paid over-slot for them because we wanted to, and we felt like both guys had some sort of marks against them that hurt their draft status. With Dylan, he never sort of performed the way people expected him to out of high school, but the stuff was always there and there was an upward trend in his college performance. And Bobby we knew had an injury history, but if we could get him healthy and keep him healthy, this was a 1st-round talent. So as far as the diversity of our draft portfolio, those guys fit really nicely after taking a guy like Billy [McKinney] in the 1st-round because they’re a little more advanced. And if they did stay healthy and kind of live up to what their pre-draft status was, you potentially have some top guys. And both guys went out and pitched great. Dylan obviously was able to make the jump to the Midwest League for a couple starts. But both those guys have a chance to start the year in Stockton, depending on how things shake out, and potentially move quickly because of their status as college players.
The goal of a 1st-round pick is always to get them here. You never draft someone hoping just to create an asset to move. With Grant and with Michael, it sort of worked out that way. But it’s a lot more rewarding certainly when Sonny Gray pitches here or ultimately when Addison Russell does get here. That’s what you want out of your 1st-round pick. I won’t say that we’re sort of focused on any position ever in the 1st-round – we’re looking for the best player…I know there’s been a lot made of trading those guys. Throughout the farm system, we’ve moved a lot of players and, as such, we’re sort of in a position where we need to rebuild. But there’s never a specific goal with a 1st-round pick.
On meeting the team’s key offseason needs…
When you look at our checklist at the end of October, replace Bartolo Colon, replace Grant Balfour, so you’ve got a starting pitcher and a closer. Craig Gentry was a guy we had been focused on for a long time who we just felt fit so well…with his ability to play all three outfield spots, running, hitting from the right side, so we sort of checked that one off…We added more pieces to the bullpen. We got some depth in the starting rotation with Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz. These were all things that we sort of laid out in October. You just hope you can hit as many as possible.
On how the A’s expect to best the rest of the west in 2014…
We still feel like the make-up of the complete 25-man roster gives us a chance to repeat, and as great a job as Bob Melvin has done the last two years of managing that group – putting guys in the right spots, platooning, using the bullpen. We feel like from 1 to 25, we’re just as strong as we were, if not stronger than, the last two years. And certainly the bullpen – with adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to what was already an outstanding group, maybe potentially a full season of Dan Otero, and Jesse Chavez showed last year what he can do – that has to be a strength that we’re going to lean on a lot.
On the effect of increased national TV revenue on the team’s spending…
There’s no doubt our payroll is going to be higher this year probably than ever, certainly in the time I’ve been here. You just have to do the math and see we’re significantly above where we were last year. And that’s what allowed us to go get Jim Johnson, knowing there’s going to be a $10 million price tag on him, and to sign Scott Kazmir, even a move like signing Eric O’Flaherty, where you’re only adding a little bit for this year. But we had already sort of bumped up against our number, and [managing partner] Lew Wolff and [team president] Mike Crowley were very open to what we were trying to do with Eric for half a season and then backload the money. So there’s no doubt that, whether it’s the TV money, the success of the team, all these things have gone into ownership being very open to increasing the bar and letting us do some things this offseason that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
On avoiding long-term contracts and Coco Crisp’s extension…
I think we’ve benefited a lot from the flexibility over the last few years. Obviously having added Coco in the last 24 hours, but other than Yoenis Cespedes and Scott Kazmir, there was nobody signed for 2015. We don’t necessarily want to recreate the team every year, because obviously the fans like the players that are here and we like the certainty of the guys that we know, but that we’ve given ourselves the ability to do it is a huge factor in our success. So to commit to a guy like Coco, obviously we know the guy, we know the player, he’s so important to what we do, and it was just an opportunity where we felt like this was the right dollar amount to commit to him beyond the next couple of years.
On expectations for Josh Reddick in 2014…
We certainly expect Josh to bounce back. I don’t think anybody knows fully how much his wrist affected him last year, and Josh will never ever admit it privately or publicly. But the fact is that he had that injury in Houston early in the year. And when you look at the difference in his numbers between 2012 and 2013, a player with his talent, you have to assume there’s something else going on. So we fully expect Josh to bounce back – and I fully expect to have him under contract hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks. But Josh adds so much with his defense alone that it’s hard to calculate his value to the team. And if he does get back to being the offensive player that we saw in 2012, he has the chance to carry this team at times.
On expectations for John Jaso’s return in 2014…
He’s coming to camp as a catcher. He’s cleared all exams. He’s had no setbacks with his physical activity. Look, you can’t predict how he reacts when he gets hit by a foul tip – that’s a medical issue. We did everything we could in terms of giving him the rest he needed and getting him to see the right people. But he comes into camp as a catcher – same situation with him and Derek Norris. The nice thing is Stephen Vogt sort of emerged last year in John’s absence, and that’s a great problem to have. If you end up having a roster with all three of those guys, they’re great options for the DH spot and the catching spot.
Each of those guys we felt addressed, not necessarily a weakness, but somewhere we could get better. It’s hard to say how they specifically help us in the postseason, but anytime your pitching depth is strong – whether it’s with Kaz or Jim Johnson or Gregerson – you expect that to come into play in a tight postseason game. Nick has played in the postseason quite a bit, he’s been on winning teams, he knows a lot of the guys around the league. There’s no way that his experience isn’t going to help us when it comes down the stretch – it’s sort of subjective to say exactly what that is, but we’ve seen it before with players that we’ve brought in. So hopefully these guys fit as well as the group has the last two years. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do is put that puzzle together to compete in September, and I think we have every reason to believe that these guys will fit.
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It appears that most of the A’s off-season work is done. The team has found capable replacements for departing free agents Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour and Chris Young and filled a few other holes as well. It’s possible that someone like Alberto Callaspo, who’s set to earn close to $5 million and doesn’t have a full-time position, could still end up being traded before spring training is through. It’s possible that a few younger players with major league experience who are out of options like outfielder Michael Taylor or reliever Evan Scribner could be dealt as well. But for the most part, barring any unforeseen injury issues, it looks like the A’s are now holding most of the cards they’ll be playing to start the 2014 season. And it’s becoming increasingly clear who most of the players are that Sacramento River Cats fans can expect to be seeing at Raley Field in 2014 as well.
2014 OAKLAND A’S
One area that seems to be most clearly set for the team is the outfield, with Josh Reddick in right, Coco Crisp in center, Yoenis Cespedes in left and newcomer Craig Gentry serving as the fourth outfielder. The left side of the infield will also remain in place for the A’s, with the team’s most valuable player in 2014, Josh Donaldson, manning the hot corner and the team’s best-hitting shortstop in recent memory, Jed Lowrie, returning to shortstop.
The other four positions in the lineup – second base, first base, catcher and designated hitter – are the areas where the A’s will deploy their patented platoons. Free agent infielder Nick Punto is likely to take over for Adam Rosales and Callaspo as Eric Sogard’s platoon partner at second base. And based on manager Bob Melvin’s comments, it seems like that might push Callaspo into the role of Brandon Moss’s platoon partner at first base, which would then push Nate Freiman to Sacramento along with fellow first baseman Daric Barton.
Melvin’s recent comments also make it sound like John Jaso is likely to get most of the DH at-bats, replacing the departed Seth Smith in that position, while against left-handers, Craig Gentry would join the lineup in left field with Yoenis Cespedes moving into the DH spot. With Jaso getting most of the DH at-bats, that requires the A’s to carry a third catcher, and that’s most likely to be Stephen Vogt, who got plenty of valuable experience last year down the stretch and in the postseason for the A’s. And his left-handed bat is the perfect complement to righty-swinging backstop Derek Norris, who hit just .149 against right-handed pitching last year.
Basically, Vogt would be replacing Jaso in the catching platoon, just as he did late last year, with Jaso moving out from behind the plate to replace Seth Smith in the DH platoon, while Punto replaces Callaspo in the second base platoon, Callaspo replaces Freiman in the first place platoon and Craig Gentry takes Chris Young’s place in the lineup against left-handers.
As far as the pitching staff goes, the plan seems pretty clear. Free agent lefty Scott Kazmir will take over for Bartolo Colon as the veteran presence in the team’s starting rotation, while young righty Sonny Gray appears set to take lefty Tommy Milone’s spot in the rotation, just as he did late last season, with Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily rounding out the starting five.
Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Jim Johnson will take over for Grant Balfour as the team’s closer, while top-notch setup man Luke Gregerson will take the roster spot that Pat Neshek occupied most of last season and lefty Fernando Abad is likely to take Jerry Blevins’ spot on the left side of the bullpen, with fellow lefty Sean Doolittle and righties Ryan Cook, Jesse Chavez and Dan Otero rounding out the rest of the A’s bullpen – though it’s possible that, since he’s out of options, the team could also decide to have Evan Scribner take Otero’s spot to start the season. The A’s will also likely start the season with two relievers who are both recovering from Tommy John surgery on the disabled list – recently-signed free agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty and righty Fernando Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Astros in the Jed Lowrie deal.
2014 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
If we make the preceding assumptions about the major league roster, then the River Cats roster starts to fall pretty clearly into place. Of course, there are a few players who are out of options, and it’s quite possible that at least one of them won’t end up clearing waivers.
The A’s have two veteran minor league catchers to handle the River Cats pitching staff, returning backstop Luke Montz along with Chris Gimenez, who was recently claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the team looks to be overloaded with first basemen, with Daric Barton, Nate Freiman and Anthony Aliotti all looking for playing time – unless the A’s end up trading Callaspo and opening up a roster spot for Freiman as Brandon Moss’s platoon partner. If not, there could still be plenty of playing time to be found for all three between the first base and the designated hitter spot.
Returning River Cat Andy Parrino appears to be set at shortstop. Hiro Nakajima is likely to get the majority of starts at third base while also picking up at-bats at other positions around the infield, while free agent signees Jose Martinez and Alden Carrithers should get most of the playing time at second base. Shane Peterson is set to return to Sacramento’s outfield, along with Jake Goebbert and, if they clear waivers, veteran minor leaguers Michael Taylor and Corey Brown (who was recently designated for assignment).
The River Cats should have plenty of worthy contenders for their starting rotation. If the A’s other five starters are all healthy to start the season, then Tommy Milone is likely to anchor Sacramento’s starting five, along with recently-acquired righty Josh Lindblom and lefty Drew Pomeranz. Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon will also be competing for a spot as well as free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann, with those don’t make the rotation starting the season in the River Cats bullpen. If he clears waivers, they’re likely to be joined there by Evan Scribner, along with returning River Cats Paul Smyth and Fernando Nieve and free agent signees Deryk Hooker and Jose Flores as well as Triple-A Rule 5 draftee Tim Atherton.
So that’s how things seem to be shaping up for both the A’s and the River Cats, assuming everyone clears waivers and Billy Beane doesn’t have any last-minute surprises up his sleeve!
A’s general manager Billy Beane has had a busy week – and it ain’t over yet! On Monday, the team signed free agent left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to a two-year $22 million deal. And later that same day, the A’s acquired right-handed closer Jim Johnson from Baltimore in return for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.
Then on Tuesday, the team traded two of its top minor league prospects, outfielder Michael Choice and second baseman Chris Bostick, to Texas for outfielder Craig Gentry and right-handed starter Josh Lindblom. The A’s then followed that up just hours later by sending outfielder Seth Smith to San Diego for right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson.
Just the previous week, the team dealt minor league outfielder John Wooten to Washington for left-handed reliever Fernando Abad. And two weeks prior to that, the A’s signed utility infielder Nick Punto as a free agent.
The A’s new outfielder, Craig Gentry – who was nicknamed “Kitten Face” in Texas – is a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He brings excellent defense and speed and hits lefties well, so he figures to take Chris Young’s place as a right-handed platoon player and fourth outfielder who could take over full time in center field for the A’s when Coco Crisp becomes a free agent after next season.
In order to acquire Gentry, the A’s gave up their top outfield prospect, who also happened to be the team’s top major-league-ready hitting prospect, former 1st-round draft pick Michael Choice. After hitting .302 at Triple-A Sacramento in 2013, many had hoped that Choice would be given the chance to fill Young’s role on the A’s roster in 2014. But instead, he’ll get the chance to battle for a starting spot in the Rangers’ outfield this season.
Top talent evaluators are divided on Choice’s chances for success as a major league slugger. But the A’s have a history of undervaluing and trading away talented young outfielders who’ve gone on to become successful major league hitters elsewhere. And A’s fans have to hope that Choice doesn’t turn out to be the next Andre Ethier, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Gonzalez in Texas.
With Choice now gone, Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor are now the most major-league-ready outfielders at the upper levels of the A’s minor league system, while 20-year-old B.J. Boyd and 19-year-old Billy McKinney are the team’s top outfield prospects at the lower levels of the system.
The A’s also traded away their top second base prospect, Chris Bostick, in the deal. And it looks increasingly likely that shortstop Daniel Robertson might have to try to make the move to second base to provide a future double play partner for top shortstop prospect Addison Russell. With fellow second baseman Jemile Weeks now gone as well, Sacramento’s 2014 infield could be comprised of Daric Barton or Anthony Aliotti at first base, minor league free agent signee Jose Martinez at second base, Andy Parrino at shortstop, Hiro Nakajima at third base and Dusty Coleman as the utility infielder filling in at second, short and third.
Meanwhile, RHP Josh Lindblom is likely to start the season in Sacramento’s starting rotation, along with River Cats returnees Arnold Leon and Andrew Werner as well as recent minor league free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann.
At the major league level, new acquisitions Scott Kazmir and Jim Johnson are clearly intended to take the place of free agents Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour on the A’s pitching staff. With Kazmir guaranteed $11 million this season, Johnson expected to net $10-11 million in arbitration and seven starting pitchers currently on the staff, the A’s second-highest-paid starter, Brett Anderson at $8 million, is expected to be the A’s most appetizing bit of a trade bait to be dangled at next week’s Winter Meetings. And rumors already have the Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Yankees, Indians and Mariners licking their lips over the left-hander.
Assuming the A’s are able to complete a deal for Anderson, the team’s 2014 rotation would then be comprised of five of the following six starters: Scott Kazmir, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray. Given the general health of starting pitchers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one out of any group of six starters wasn’t 100% healthy to start the season, so I wouldn’t bother spending too much time worrying about which five of the six will end up making the opening day cut – it’ll surely sort itself out by the end of spring.
As far as the A’s bullpen goes, new closer Jim Johnson, who has saved at least 50 games in each of the last two seasons, and new RHP Luke Gregerson, who has been one of the best setup men in the National League over the past couple of years, are set to join LHPs Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins and RHPs Ryan Cook and Jesse Chavez, who is out options and whom the A’s value as a long man and spot starter.
Since the team typically likes to carry seven relievers, there’s room for one more arm in the A’s pen, and RHP Dan Otero is clearly the most deserving candidate for the final spot. But since Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa and Fernando Rodriguez are all out of options, it’s possible that Otero could start the season being stashed at Sacramento, waiting for someone to hit the DL while one of the others is given a shot.
Over the past week and a half, the A’s farm system has suffered the loss of outfielder Michael Choice, second baseman Jemile Weeks, second baseman Chris Bostick and outfielder John Wooten. And in the last six months, the team lost its 2007 #1 draft pick James Simmons as a minor league free agent and traded away 2008’s #1 pick Jemile Weeks, 2009’s #1 pick Grant Green and 2010’s #1 pick Michael Choice. 2011’s #1 pick Sonny Gray has already made it to the majors, while 2012’s #1 pick Addison Russell should be starting the season at Double-A Midland and 2013’s #1 pick Billy McKinney is expected to start the year at Class-A Beloit.
As previously mentioned, LHP Brett Anderson is the most likely member of the A’s roster to be the next one to find himself on Billy Beane’s trading block, with infielder Alberto Callaspo not far behind. With six other starters on the staff, a long injury history and an $8 million salary attached to his name, Anderson is clearly expendable. And with a salary close to $5 million and no definite spot in the A’s lineup, Callaspo seems to just be taking up roster and salary space at this point.
Outfielders Seth Smith, Chris Young and Michael Choice have all recently departed, with Craig Gentry being the only outfielder the A’s have acquired to take their place. So it certainly seems like there could be room for one more big OF/DH bat to be added to the A’s lineup to help boost the team’s offensive output, possibly as the result of an Anderson deal.
It’s also been reported that the A’s have been inquiring about middle infielders and catchers in trade talks for Anderson. So the team could be looking for a second baseman to take the place of Eric Sogard, or a shortstop who would then enable Jed Lowrie to make the move to second, or possibly a catcher who would allow John Jaso to take over for Seth Smith in the designated hitter role.
The A’s major league roster currently shapes up with Jaso and Norris as the catching platoon, Donaldson, Lowrie, Sogard, Punto, Moss and Freiman serving around the infield, and Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick and Gentry making up the outfield. Since the team typically likes to carry thirteen position players, that leaves one last roster spot open. At this point, it would most likely be filled by Callaspo. But if he ends up being traded, then it would be Barton, unless, of course, the A’s acquire another big bat who would end up pushing Barton back to Sacramento.
With all the current question marks, one thing seems certain – Beane and company aren’t done dealing just yet, and the A’s roster is far from set. There are surely more changes to come. But for the time being, here’s how things are shaping up for the 2014 A’s and River Cats, assuming everyone who’s out of options can clear waivers.
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Round Rock Express 3
Sacramento River Cats 5
WP – Gray 10-7 / 3.42
HR – Goebbert (1)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Designated Hitter Jake Goebbert
(Home Run / 2 Walks / 2 Runs)
Designated hitter Jake Goebbert made a good first impression with Sacramento on Saturday, hitting a home run in the 5th inning to tie the game and walking twice and scoring twice in his first game with the River Cats after being promoted from Midland. Third baseman Hiro Nakajima had 2 hits and drove in a pair of runs, while starter Sonny Gray gave up 3 runs on 8 hits over 6 1/3 innings to pick up his 10th win, while RHP Kyler Newby got the final 3 outs to earn his 1st save for Sacramento. It was also announced that the A’s were recalling RHP Evan Scribner while sending LHP Tommy Milone to the River Cats. The A’s also acquired RHP Fernando Nieve from the Indians and assigned him to Sacramento.
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Colorado Springs Sky Sox 2
Sacramento River Cats 5
WP – Gray 9-5 / 2.85
HR – Taylor (15), Peterson (7)
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Sonny Gray
(5 IP / 4 H / 2 ER / 0 BB / 3 K / Win)
RHP Sony Gray had a solid start in his return to the River Cats, allowing 2 runs on just 4 hits over 5 innings to earn his 9th win, while LHP Pedro Figueroa tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief to post his 2nd save. Outfielders Michael Taylor and Shane Peterson both homered and drove in a pair of runs for the River Cats.
One of the most popular pieces we’ve featured here on A’s Farm over the past year or so was our profile of A’s super scout (and Moneyball bad guy) Grady Fuson. He was the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when he left the A’s to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers. Fuson returned to the A’s about three and a half years ago and currently serves as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
Prior to the amateur draft in early-June, Fuson’s duties primarily consist of scouting amateur prospects in preparation for the draft. But once the draft is complete, he begins a tour around the A’s minor league system, checking in on teams from Sacramento and Stockton to Midland and Beloit.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Fuson in Stockton during the last week of June, before second baseman Grant Green’s recent promotion to the A’s. We took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators and get the lowdown on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects, as well as some of the fresh new talent that’s just entered the system via this year’s draft. But we started out by taking a look at some of the prospects at the top of the system at Sacramento…
AF: Let’s start off with Sonny Gray, who’s obviously been having a great year at Sacramento. I know there were a few things that you guys were working on with him, but it really seems like he’s gotten over the hump at this point.
GF: Well you know, the credit goes to him. He’s not doing everything the way we wanted it done – there’s been variations to it. But that’s the deal with players – there’s give and take – and we don’t want to put players in positions where they’re doing things that are completely uncomfortable. So it’s trial and error. But he has been much more efficient. He’s using his changeup better – he’s still got a ways to go. But the consistency of his starts has been tremendous. With the exception of maybe one early in the year, he hasn’t had a bad start. I’m proud of him. He’s put himself on the map. When you look at our depth, there’s not too many years that go by that you don’t have to dip down there to grab a starter or two, and he’s put himself in a position to at some point be considered, or at least get his first taste of it.
AF: Well at this point, he certainly appears to be first in line based on what he’s done this year. Is there any one single thing that you’d pinpoint as the key to his success this season?
GF: Yeah, effort. I think he is starting to understand pace and rhythm and tempo, to control the effort level of his delivery. And he’s understanding this thing about how to disrupt timing, instead of being hard with everything.
AF: So it’s really about varying his effort.
GF: Yeah. If you go back to all the good things about him when we drafted him, besides his stuff, this guy’s always been a bulldog, he’s always been a competitor. Do not count this guy out – you know, he’ll come back and find a way to kick your ass if you count him out. And all those things are such a big part of it, his character and mentality on the mound.
AF: Another guy at Sacramento who seems to be on a similar trajectory is outfielder Michael Choice. He also seems to have turned a corner this year. So how do you see his development at this point?
GF: I don’t know what clicked over the winter, but something really clicked and he came into camp a little bit of a changed man in his whole approach. He’s slowed some things down like we’ve been asking him to do and has bought into a couple of other things. I think he’s developing a whole awareness of how guys pitch him and what they try to do. This is his third full year now, and I think it’s just maturity. But I’m proud of him. He hasn’t made people walk him off of center field yet. And the only reason we’re playing him in left more right now is if there is a time that he has to go up, with Crisp, with Young, with Cespedes, he probably wouldn’t play center over those guys. So he needs to learn a little bit about some corners, because the ball comes off differently.
AF: Is there any one thing that’s been the key for him?
GF: Maturity. He’s growing up. He’s maturing into that major league mentality you’re waiting to see. You know, most of these guys are kids. And sometimes, as frustrated as we get, you’ve got to remind yourself, “God, he’s just a kid!” But you can tell when they start to speak smart – you can tell by the things they’re saying back to you. That’s when the maturity thing kicks in and they start to give you the right answers – and bingo! But everything else with Michael is the same. He’s healthy, he’s playing every day, he’s having good at-bats, he’s staying consistent.
AF: Is there anything else that you’d like to see him working on at this point that he needs to do to make himself a complete player?
GF: Long term, to stay in center so that we don’t need a center fielder better than him for a long time, I think he’s going to have to be a guy who diligently works on his reads and his routes because he’s going to have to do it with a lot of instinctual things. He’s always had a weakness closing in on the wall. He’s gotten better – he’s working at it. So I think he’s the kind of guy who’s eventually going to have to do certain drills that are going to keep all that really sharp.
AF: What about another outfielder in Sacramento who everyone was so excited about in spring training, Shane Peterson? He started out well but it looks like he’s been struggling a bit lately.
GF: I don’t know that he’s struggling. He’s just not putting up crazy numbers. He’s doing what he does. He had such a tremendous spring, and almost made the damn club. I just think he’s in that mode where it’s not coming out big every night. But the way he goes about playing the game, there’s no issues there.
AF: So you think the impression he made in the spring still lingers with the A’s front office.
GF: Oh, without a doubt.
AF: Now what about Grant Green? Where do you see him with his hitting and with his development at second base at this point?
GF: At second base, he’s still learning the nuances. This is actually his first full year of playing one spot, and there are a lot of little nuances, so he’s still learning that. His errors have been a combination of a lot of different things, maybe some throws on pivots and things. But as far as what he’s doing at the plate, it’s what he does. He hits .300, he’s starting come up a little bit now with the homers, and as he’s seeing it better his walks are going up. He’s right where he needs to be.
AF: Do you see his future more likely as a second baseman or as more of a multi-purpose type of guy?
GF: It just depends on when he goes up and what the need is. But the great thing about him is he can go up and, if Bob Melvin had to use him in three or four different spots, he can do that. But I do think that second base is the one spot that, since the time we started it, he’s gotten a lot better. Center wasn’t that good a look, we questioned whether he was going to be a true everyday shortstop – the growth there just kind of fizzled. But second base, he’s gotten better at it every step of the way.
AF: So you really feel that you’ve seen more discernible progress at second base than any other spot you’ve had him at so far.
AF: Another infielder at Sacramento is Hiro Nakajima. He’s been bouncing all over the place lately – short, second, third…
GF: Well, they had to make him more versatile. He had the rough spring. He got hurt. We open up the year and Donaldson’s killing it and Lowrie’s playing great. You know, he’s in a tough spot right now. So if he’s going to come up, he’s got to learn all three spots. And he has not spent a lot of time at second or third in his whole career. The good thing is he’s obviously playing better and doing things better than what we saw in spring training.
AF: Well, the other piece of the infield puzzle in Sacramento is Jemile Weeks, who’s been playing a little shortstop this year…
GF: He’s played a great shortstop – he’s played very well.
AF: So if he remains in the A’s system in the future, would you see him having to take on more of a utility role, perhaps?
GF: Yeah, possibly, unless he gets a chance to go in there and do something in a spot and play every day and regain something. You know, this is what having depth is all about. I mean, Billy’s sitting back there right now with a ton of chips. We’ve got guys to bring up if somebody goes down who we feel pretty good about, and he’s got some players he can discuss with people if the need arises.
AF: Now in Stockton, the A’s top draft pick last year, 19-year-old Addison Russell, got off a rough start, but he’s been picking it up over the past month or so. So where do you see his development’s at at this point?
GF: He’s way on target. What he went through was everything we somewhat predicted coming out of camp. You’ve got to remember, there’s not too many 19-year-olds in the California League. You know, you go to a level where there’s more guys who throw breaking balls for strikes, there’s more guys who have little cutters, little two-seamers – things he’s never really seen. It’s different. But you’re hoping that he grows and he learns and, by the second half, things start to turn and he has a quality second half. And his attitude’s great, he’s working at it, he’s not getting fatigued. He’s smart enough to start to understand where he’s getting exposed and how we’re going to fix it. So to me, his development is right on target.
AF: So you think it’s pretty much been the natural progression of events – it took him a little while to get used to things, and now he’s gotten used to it…
GF: You know, we could have done it the other way. We could have kicked him off at Beloit and let him somewhat dominate again. But he wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it as he’s getting out of this learning experience.
AF: The bigger challenge. Well, he is still the youngest guy in the league. How has he looked to you in the field?
GF: Super. Look, he’s got 9-10 errors for a high school kid playing on these fields in the Cal League. You know, I’ve been around a lot of shortstops we developed who came through here who’d have 30 at this time. Tejada, Batista, those guys made 40-50 errors in this league. And he’s got 9-10 tops. I think he’s doing pretty good.
AF: Another guy who’s had a really good year in Stockton is first baseman Max Muncy. I remember talking to you about him in the spring and you said you guys were working on developing his power a bit more. So, with 20 home runs under his belt now, it looks like that’s worked out pretty well.
GF: When we took him, a lot of people questioned how much power’s in there. He only hit 6-7 home runs at Baylor. But you watch him in BP in college prior to the draft and you can tell there’s power in there – he just didn’t know how to get to it yet. Last summer, we just kind of let him go play. But then in instructional league, we got started with getting him to feel what it’s like to get some pitches middle-in and how that works to get the head out. We had the same story when we talked about Grant Green a year or so ago, and look what he’s doing now. But the great thing is he’s got great balance, he’s got good rhythm in his swing, and he’s got a tremendous eye, so he sees the baseball well. He swings at strikes and he takes balls – and that makes hitting so much easier. But from a power standpoint, I think he’s growing on everybody.
AF: Yeah, I would imagine you couldn’t be happier with the progress he’s made at this point. A guy who’s had a rougher time of it this year at Stockton though is 2011’s 3rd-round draft pick, third baseman B.A. Vollmuth. So what’s the source of the problem with him?
GF: It’s funny you bring him up, I was just talking to him the other day. He’s just not adjusting well in the strike zone. And I think he’s trying to be too big of a master. He’s trying to hit outer-half pitches the other way and pitches in the middle up the middle – he’s just trying to do too much that he’s not really capable of doing yet. So we talked about staying with his strength. Just look middle/middle-in and if they throw you away, just spit on it and let it go. But look middle/middle-in, and when you get them, hammer them. And just avoid the outer half of the strike zone right now until you get two strikes. But quit trying to be a master all over the strike zone right now. So we’ll see – he’s had a rough go of it.
AF: Now in terms of pitchers, what about right-hander Raul Alcantara? He recently came up to Stockton and I know you had a chance to see his first start.
GF: Yeah, good first one. He didn’t try to do anything different. He commanded his fastball well, both sides of the plate. He’s got a good changeup, and his breaking ball’s starting to show some promise. The breaking ball was always the iffy pitch. His slurve is now turning into somewhat of a legit curveball, and he’s getting some depth to it so he’s getting some swings and misses. And he’s got tempo, he’s got clean moves in his delivery. He’s still young, he’s only 20. He’s doing really good. A good second half here and you never know where it puts him for next year.
AF: Yeah, he could be a fast riser. Another guy who’s been doing a pretty good job at Stockton is Tanner Peters. What’s your take on him at this point?
GF: He’s doing good. We’ve been playing with the breaking ball for a couple of years. He’s always had a good changeup. His velocity is starting to hold. He’s a guy who maybe touches 91-92 mph but pitches at 87-88 mph, but now he’s pitching at 90 mph. We’ve talked about him using his sinker more instead of the four-seamer. He’s got a tendency with his delivery style to have a lot of misses, and misses in bad places, with his four-seamer. So we’ve been talking to him a lot about throwing his sinkers more, which will make him be more efficient, because he can get up with his pitch counts too real easy. But he’s had a very good first half, and we expect it to keep going.
AF: Well, it seems like, as a young pitcher, if you can just keep it together and make it through the Cal League without too much damage, you ought to be all right!
GF: Every ballpark here is a unique experience. You know, you go to High Desert and Lancaster and it’s like a pinball game.
AF: Well the guy who really started out great in Stockton this year and moved up to Midland is Drew Granier. He was dominant last season in the Midwest League and had a great first half in the Cal League this year. Now I know he wasn’t a high draft pick or a top prospect to start out, but what do you think about what he’s doing right now?
GF: Well, he’s been great. It’s hard to pick out negatives when your numbers look the way his do. But there are still some things we’re trying to get from him that he’s fighting a little bit. He’s not as efficient as he needs to be – he gets a little scattered. He’s not using his changeup to the level we need him to use it. But when you win a bunch of games last year and then you come in and win another half a dozen here, it’s kind of hard for him to go, “Okay, let me do it your way.” But the good thing was in his first start in Double-A, if I remember right, he threw 99 pitches and 66 strikes. That’s as efficient a game chart as I’ve seen this year from him, and he also threw 12% changeups, and it’s usually about 6%. But let me tell you, this guy grinds, this guy competes. His breaking ball is getting sharper – guys do not see it, they don’t get good swings. That’s why his strikeouts are so high. When you look at guys in this league who have high strikeout rates, it’s usually a college guy like him who’s getting it done with his breaking ball. But the next level is when all the other stuff starts to come into play. So I’m glad we’ve challenged him. He deserved being moved up. And hopefully he runs with everything we’ve been trying to pound into him.
AF: So he could be a guy who, with the right approach, could really come from the back of the pack to the top of the pack.
GF: Without a doubt. You get this guy between the white lines and he’s something. He fights you out there.
AF: Does anybody else on Midland’s pitching staff jump out at you right now?
GF: You know, Murphy Smith made a nice adjustment. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Scott Emerson picked up on something in spring training and got him closing up a little bit more on his load and it has helped him keep that fastball in the strike zone more, and that’s really what’s helped him a ton. And Sean Murphy continues to compete. We talked about him last year, and I thought he was one of the most improved pitchers in the system a year ago, and he continues to do what he’s doing.
AF: A guy who’s been having a great season at Midland is first baseman Anthony Aliotti. He’s been leading all A’s minor leaguers in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all year. I know he hasn’t been considered a top prospect, but is there anything more that he can do to put himself on the map?
GF: No, he’s just waiting for an opportunity to get to the next level – in fact, a couple of guys are. It just depends on what’s going on at Sacramento to get these guys moving.
AF: So people do see and appreciate what he’s been doing at Midland this year?
GF: Without a doubt.
AF: Now I wanted to ask you about a guy who was blowing everybody’s mind with his hitting in the first half of last year but who’s really struggled this season. Do you have any insight into what’s been going on with Miles Head this year?
GF: Well, he’s just had a bad 2013. He showed up to camp extremely heavy. And we got him started doing something about it. And then, for whatever reason, he was swinging at air down there in Midland for a while before he got hurt. He’s just been hurt – his shoulder’s barking again, and we had to sit him again. So he’s just had a bad 2013.
AF: So I guess the first thing that needs to happen is that he needs to get healthy…
GF: He needs to get healthy, and in shape. And then we can get his mind right and get this thing going.
AF: Now what about all the young guys at Beloit? That team’s really been having a great season this year.
GF: Yeah, it’s great. They’re having a blast. Ryan Christenson is a hall-of-fame first-year manager. He’s doing a great job. He’s picked up on so many important things. He’s been a great leader for those kids. Just go around the lineup – Maxwell, Olson, Bostick, Robertson, Nunez – they’re all on target. They’re all playing super.
AF: I was going to ask you about the decision to hire Ryan Christenson as the manager at Beloit with all those top prospects there. He’s a former A’s outfielder, but he really didn’t have any previous managing experience.
GF: We were going to hire him just to be the hitting coach, but we had some things happen that kind of forced our hand a little bit. But as we sit here now, there’s not a person in the organization who isn’t just pleased as hell that he’s stepped up and done the job he’s done.
AF: Now what about the job that former top prospect Michael Ynoa has done in Beloit this year?
GF: He’s going 5 innings now routinely, throwing 75-85 pitches, and throwing hard. And the breaking ball’s really getting good. The breaking ball’s now getting a little bit closer to the projection breaking ball that they all thought he might have. I don’t know what his velocity is every night, but I know he’s been up to 97 mph numerous times and pitching 92-95 mph – so you can’t throw it a whole lot harder than that. And he’s healthy – he hasn’t missed a start.
AF: Taking a look at the draft for a minute, what about the A’s top draft pick this year, center fielder Billy McKinney? What did you see when you were scouting him?
GF: I just thought he was one of those special hitters – very instinctual, great swing, balance, aggressiveness, knows the strike zone for an 18-year-old kid. He’s not raw, he runs, he throws, he’s got all the equipment. There’s going to be some power. And where we were in the draft, if this kind of guy got to us in this draft, I’m in!
AF: So did you fall in love with him the first time you scouted him in high school?
GF: Yeah, but he walked five times. They walked him five times, all intentional. I had to come back four days later.
AF: Well at least you knew they were giving him plenty of respect anyway! So did you get a chance to see much of the second hitter the A’s took this year, infielder Chad Pinder?
GF: Yeah, Pinder’s a slender 6’2” who’s got room to grow. He’s got good feet, he throws, he’s a good defender. He ended up playing a lot of shortstop in college this year, but I think down the road he’s probably a third baseman. There’s a chance for some power in there. There’s some things that have to get cleaned up in his approach a bit, but I think he’s a solid pick for where he got him.
AF: Was there anybody else in this year’s draft class who really jumped out at you?
GF: Yeah, Chris Kohler, the high school lefty we got in the compensation round. I liked him a lot and thought he was a great pick where we got him. He’s a 90 mph guy with a good curveball. He’s got fair location now for an 18-year-old. He’s a real baseball guy.
AF: Well, going back to the big league club, with people talking about all the guys down at Sacramento – Grant Green, Jemile Weeks, Hiro Nakajima – do you feel that the A’s have the best defensive middle infielders in the organization up in Oakland on the A’s roster right now?
GF: The most consistent, yes. You know, Sogie’s dynamite. Rosie’s a very good shortstop. Lowrie is playing solid, but the difference is what he’s bringing to us offensively, which we haven’t had out of that position in a while. And that’s the reason we’re winning – we’re winning because we’re a much more offensive club than we have been. We’re on base more, we walk more, and we homer – and our defense is still really, really good. You know, people forget, we’ve got a nice club right now. It’s hard to pick a hole on that club.
AF: Well, that’s always good to hear. Thanks a lot!
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Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on the A’s Top Prospects from Sacramento River Cats Skipper Steve Scarsone
After spending the past two seasons mentoring A’s minor leaguers as the manager at Midland, Steve Scarsone is now midway through his first season as the skipper in Sacramento. And he’s currently charged with overseeing the development of a number of the A’s former 1st-round draft picks – players like Sonny Gray, Michael Choice and Grant Green. We had the chance to talk with Scarsone last week and got his take on some of the team’s top prospects who could soon be seeing time in Oakland…
AF: Well, I wanted to start out by asking you about your ace, Sonny Gray. He’s been pretty consistent all year. So what’s your take on where he’s at at this stage of his development?
SS: Well, I think you hit it on the head – he’s been consistent all year. Last year he and I were both in Midland, and we saw him struggle – not on the field – but struggling trying to get a hold of some of the mechanics stuff that the pitching coaches were working with him on and getting away from some of his natural stuff that he had so much success with in college. And you know, it’s kind of tough as a young player because you fall back on your success in your amateur days…
AF: This worked for me before…
SS: Exactly, so there was some resistance to it all. And then eventually over time, there was just a little give and a little take, and he’s found himself a nice little compromising type of mechanics. And it’s a very clean delivery and windup and everything. He’s taken a lot of extra movement out. And it’s keeping him much more in line, which I think is a lot of the reason why he’s had so much more control and command of his fastball. And that’s his pitch – he’s got an A+ fastball. And anytime that he can spot that up, all of his other pitches are going to be all that much more effective. So he’s kind of built off of all those things and he’s had a tremendous season so far, and I think it all stems from that fastball command.
AF: So if the fastball’s going where it ought to go, then everything else falls into place after that.
SS: Certainly. As a hitter, if you’re facing a pitcher who’s putting his fastball where he wants it – in, out, up, down – it makes things tough. I mean, you’ve really got to get yourself geared up for a fastball, and then all of a sudden he comes back with a changeup of his breaking ball, which is a plus breaking ball as well. So he’s really given himself the opportunity to have three quality pitches and really keep hitters from having any kind of comfort in the box.
AF: It certainly seems like his games are a lot more efficient. He’s throwing far fewer pitches and walking far fewer guys and just getting through games a lot more quickly and efficiently.
SS: Exactly right. And that builds confidence, and then that confidence allows him to feel like he’s in control of this game. It’s been really fun to watch him progress from last year to this year, and we’re so excited to see what happens for him in the future.
AF: Well, I guess you’ve seen as much of him in the last couple of years as anyone. So what about his third pitch – the changeup – is that rounding into shape or is that still a work in progress?
SS: Still a work a progress – he still mixes that in with a little cutter, slider. You talk to some catchers, they’ll think it looks like a slider. Some catchers will say it’s a cutter. He says it’s a cutter. So those are things he’s still kind of working on. But just having that variety and dominating with the fastball and making that curveball something the hitter has to be concerned about makes for an effective pitcher.
AF: Another guy you had last year in Midland who also seems to have turned a corner is Michael Choice. So where do you see he’s at at this point?
SS: Well, I think Michael is becoming a much smarter player. He’s always been a smart player since I first got to see him last year. He really dissects his at-bats. He has an understanding of what pitchers are trying to do with him and how they’re trying to get him out, and he tries to get himself in the best position to avoid that. But he’s being more intelligent about how he approaches his game. He used to have a lot of movement in his swing and his set up. It’s a little bit more refined now, a little cleaner. He’s able to adjust himself during the course of a game. To me, that’s an intelligent ballplayer, when you can make adjustments on the fly and you can stay away from doing the same thing that’s not getting you results. He’s able to kind of pull himself away a little bit and redirect his energies. He has a lot of natural ability. His bat speed’s there – there’s a lot of good things there. So for him to make the next step, it’s going to be from those adjustments. And we’re seeing those adjustments, so we think that’s going to be a great advantage for him.
AF: It sounds like the bottom line is obviously he’s a very talented player, and he’s now learned that baseball is a game of constant adjustments – you’ve contantly got to make adjustments – and he’s now doing that.
SS: Exactly right. And I think it’s a good sign that he’s willing to do that. And we also moved him to the corner outfield spots to get him some experience on those. He’s made that adjustment and adapted to that and he’s done a good job there too. So you can see how his natural abilities allow him to adjust to other things as well, not just hitting.
AF: Well, it’s one thing to be talented, but it’s another thing to have some capacity for learning and developing.
SS: Right, yeah. That’s a good point – exactly right.
AF: Now what about Grant Green? He’s been hitting well lately and has been picking it up as the season’s gone on. He’s been out there at second base most of the time, just one position now. Where do you see him at this stage of the game both at the plate and in the field?
SS: Well, offensively as a hitter, we know what he can do. He’s done it at every level. He did it here last year. He’ll continue to hit as long as he wants to play this game. Going from shortstop to the outfield and now to second base has kind of frustrated him. But I also think he’s such a hard worker that he’s taken each position change and he’s run with it. But the move back to second base feels a little more natural to him. It might be the better position for him as opposed to shortstop – having a little bit more time for throws. And there are times when maybe he’s not making the right decision or his reactions were a little bit slow, but he’ll then come to us and ask what he could have done differently or we’ll go to him and tell him what he could have done differently. And that’s why he’s playing predominantly second base here, so that he can experience all those things. I think he should have a nice, easy transition up to the big leagues and he could be an everyday guy up there.
AF: So you think you’re seeing enough continual development from him the more he’s out there everyday at second base that you can pretty easily envision him as a major league second baseman at this point?
SS: Yeah, I think he’s there, especially since his bat plays up. We all know that if you hit, we’ll leave a little defense on the table. So that’s something that I think will make him a little bit more attractive to the major league club down the line. The defense will come. And you never know, he could end up being that guy that will be a full defensive and offensive player. But he’s still learning through some of those experiences.
AF: Well, another infielder who’s been playing a new position is Jemile Weeks, who’s been playing a lot of shortstop this year. So I’m curious to know how you think he’s been doing over there.
SS: Well, we had Green and him both here sharing some time at second base, so he was doing a lot of DH’ing and still is. And when Parrino went up earlier in the season, we had a little hole there at shortstop, so we put our heads together and Jemile said he’d played there in college. So we started working at it, and he did well over there. It took a little while for him to get his feet underneath him a little bit. At second base, you can wait for the ball a little bit more and play a little deeper. At shortstop, you’ve got to be more aggressive and come get balls. He doesn’t have a cannon of an arm, but he’s got a quick release. So he worked on it and he showed some good movement over there. So that’s an option. Obviously he’s done well at second base the days he’s played there. There’s talk of maybe moving him to the outfield (which has since happened). And I think where Jemile’s at in his head, he wants to do whatever he needs to do to make himself more attractive to a big league club. So he’s working hard everyday so he can get back to the big leagues.
AF: So do you think he has the right attitude to do what he needs to do at this point?
SS: I do. I really think his attitude’s been outstanding all season so far. Since day one, he showed up saying, “You know what, I don’t like this. I’d rather be there.” And I said, “No kidding. What are you going to do about it?” And he said, “I’m going to work my ass off and I’m going to be ready for when that chance comes.” And I said, “That’s all you can do, and I’ll help you.” So he’s been right on. I’ve been proud of the way he’s handled it.
AF: Now another piece of the infield puzzle is Hiro Nakajima. He’s been moving around getting looks at different positions – short, second, third. So can you tell me what you think of him at these different spots?
SS: Well, obviously he came over as a shortstop. Right now we’re trying to get him to gain some first-step movement. I think the years of playing in Japan, so many years on turf, he became a little bit of a sit-back-and-make-the-plays type of guy. So he’s got to train himself to be a little more of a grass-type player. But he’s really started to play with a lot more personality. He got the injury in spring training, and he worked his way through that. And I think he was a little hesitant when he first got here to Sacramento. But now that he’s feeling that the injury’s healed, we’re seeing much more energy, much more aggressiveness both on defense and offense, and it’s been fun to watch. We’ve decided to give him some experience at third and second just to give Oakland an opportunity if a utility-type role presents itself, since Lowrie’s having such a good season at shortstop. But his bat has come along, and you never know what could happen. He’s working hard and showing good progress and starting to look like a young kid.
AF: So, as of today, who would you say would be the best defensive second baseman on your roster?
SS: Green’s had the most reps over there. Parrino’s probably our best defensive player, but he hasn’t done much on that side there because of Weeks and Green predominantly taking all the playing time over there. But I really like what Green’s accomplished so far. He’s shown much more range. He’s much more consistent with the routine play. His turns and feeds are becoming more and more consistent. And that’s all we can ask for is to see the continual improvement.
AF: Is there anyone on your roster who I haven’t mentioned who’s particularly impressed you this season?
SS: In terms of position players, we picked up Stephen Vogt from the Rays right at the end of spring training – obviously he just went up, so it’s easy for me to say. But he’s been very impressive both offensively and defensively. And for a guy who didn’t really catch a whole lot the last couple of years, he’s been thrown into an everyday catching role and he’s stepped up and really been outstanding behind the plate in both working with the pitchers as well as blocking and throwing and all that other stuff. He’s been very impressive as well off the field, the leadership role he’s brought over too. So I had no problem at all letting the folks in Oakland know that he was a quality guy. We’re going to miss him while he’s gone.
Find out more about the A’s top prospects straight from their own mouths. Check out our recent interviews with Sonny Gray, Michael Choice and Grant Green here.
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A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Sacramento River Cats 1
Fresno Grizzlies 0
WP – Gray 8-5 / 2.81
Farmhand Of The Game:
Pitcher Sonny Gray
(7 IP / 5 H / 0 ER / 2 BB / 9 K / Win)
Top pitching prospect Sonny Gray turned in another impressive outing for the River Cats on Thursday, striking out 9 over 7 scoreless innings to earn his 8th win, while RHP Brian Gordon got the final 3 outs for his 7th save. Catcher Stephen Vogt, who returned to the River Cats with Oakland’s recall of RHP Dan Straily, collected a pair of hits, while outfielder Michael Choice doubled in Sacramento’s only run of the game in the top of the 1st inning. You can check out our recent interviews with Choice, Gray, Grant Green and River Cats’ pitching coach Rick Rodriguez here.