Results tagged ‘ Tommy Milone ’
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.
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.
Wednesday, August 28th: Aliotti & Ladendorf Help Cats & Hounds Win while Peters Pitches Ports to Victory
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Fresno Grizzlies 3
Sacramento River Cats 4
WP – Gordon 4-0 / 3.69
HR – Aliotti (2)
Farmhand Of The Game:
First Baseman Anthony Aliotti
(Home Run / 2 RBIs / GWRBI)
With the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, first baseman Anthony Aliotti led off the inning with a home run over the left field wall to provide the walk-off win for the River Cats on Wednesday. Aliotti also drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the 6th. Starter Arnold Leon allowed 3 runs on 8 hits over 5 2/3 innings, while RHP Brian Gordon tossed a scoreless 9th to pick up the win. In other news, RHP Pat Neshek cleared waivers and was assigned to Sacramento.
A’s Farmhand Of The Day
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE (Triple-A)
Sacramento River Cats 6
Iowa Cubs 4
WP – Scribner 2-1 / 2.33
Farmhand Of The Game:
Outfielder Michael Taylor
(2 for 3 / 2 RBIs / GWRBI)
With the bases loaded and 2 outs in the top of the 8th inning and the game tied, outfielder Michael Taylor singled to drive in a pair of runs and give the River Cats the lead. Third baseman Daric Barton had 3 hits, while first baseman Anthony Aliotti drove in a pair of runs for the Cats. Starter Tommy Milone allowed 3 runs, all unearned, and struck out 8 over 5 1/3 innings of work, while RHP Evan Scribner picked up the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, and RHP Brian Gordon tossed a scoreless 9th for his 16th save. Meanwhile, Midland’s best starting pitcher, LHP Carlos Hernandez, has been promoted and will be joining Sacramento’s pitching staff, and RHP Darren Byrd was assigned to Stockton to make room on the River Cats roster.
Originally drafted by Tampa Bay back in 2007, veteran minor league catcher Stephen Vogt didn’t get his first cup of coffee in the big leagues until last year when, at the age of 27, he got into 18 games for the Rays. The A’s acquired him just after the 2013 season started and sent him to Sacramento, where he’s been one of the River Cats’ most productive hitters this season, batting .325 with 9 home runs in 231 at-bats.
With starting catcher John Jaso’s hand still bothering him, Oakland decided to call on Vogt this week. So now, at 28, the left-handed-hitting backstop is getting his second shot in the majors with the A’s. In his first at-bat against Cincinnati on Tuesday night, Vogt drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Two night’s later, he homered against St. Louis for his first major league hit. And, fortunately, A’s Farm was there to catch up with Vogt on his first day in Oakland as the team prepared to play Cincinnati later that night…
AF: So when did you find out you were coming up to Oakland?
SV: Last night, right after our game. You know, we had the rain delay, so it was a little later – it was about 11:15. (River Cats manager) Steve Scarsone took me in the office and just said, “What’s the best thing you could hear right now?” I said, “I’m going up.” And he said, “There you are.” So here we are – I’m here tonight!
AF: Did you come down to Oakland last night?
SV: No, it was way too late last night. So we drove down this morning.
AF: Do you know if you’re playing today?
SV: I’m catching.
AF: So you’re thrown in with a bunch of pitchers you never even had a chance to be around in spring training. What’s that like?
SV: You know, it’s a learning curve. You have to rely on them. I’m going to help them out the best I can. I’ve talked with D-No (Derek Norris) and Jaso a little bit about them already, and they’ve been great in helping me out. So it’s just a matter of going out there and seeing what I can do.
AF: Well, it’s three hours till game time. So have you had a chance to talk to tonight’s starting pitcher Tommy Milone yet?
SV: Not yet. I haven’t even met him.
AF: So I guess you’re just hoping to meet him before you get out on the field.
AF: Do you have any family or friends here for your debut with the A’s tonight?
SV: Yeah, my wife and daughter, and my parents and my grandparents and my aunt are going to be here tonight. I’m from Visalia, so everybody’s local.
AF: You’ve been hitting well in Sacramento all year. So what accounts for your success at the plate this season?
SV: A lot of it is just getting off to a good start. You come out in your first game of the year and get three hits, and it’s like, “All right, here we go.” And that lineup down there is a pretty good lineup, and hitting around a lot of good guys is going to get you a lot of good pitches to hit, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success so far.
AF: Well, down in Sacramento you’ve been catching Sonny Gray, who seems to have gotten over the hump this year. From your perspective as a catcher, what have you seen from him this season?
SV: Electric stuff – three great pitches. He really is learning how to pitch. He’s learning how to get people out. He’s competing really well. Honestly, I just can’t say enough about how he’s coming along. He’s going to be something pretty special.
AF: Is there any one thing that’s been the key to his success this year?
SV: Just his command. When he’s on, he’s on. He struggles a little bit sometimes with his command. But for the most part, this year, he’s been outstanding. And he’s not far away. He’s got really good stuff.
AF: So when you’ve got a game plan, he’s throwing it right where it’s supposed to be – which makes things a lot easier for you.
SV: Absolutely. He’s a lot of fun to work with.
AF: Well, best of luck to you tonight.
SV: Thank you very much.
* * *
We’re now less than a week away from opening day, and Jemile Weeks has been optioned to Sacramento, Adam Rosales has been placed on the disabled list, and Hiro Nakajima has been struggling and is now dealing with a strained hamstring. And thanks to these recent developments, it looks like the A’s opening day roster may now be rounding into shape – and along with it, the Sacramento River Cats’ and Midland RockHounds’ rosters too. Of course, plenty can still change and nothing is etched in stone. There haven’t been any official announcements from the team yet and there probably won’t be until about 24 hours before opening day, but below are our projected opening day rosters for the A’s and their Triple-A and Double-A affiliates based on what we think we know at this point…
PROJECTED 2013 OAKLAND A’S ROSTER
Brandon Moss 1B
Nate Freiman 1B
Eric Sogard 2B
Jed Lowrie SS
Coco Crisp OF
Josh Reddick OF
Chris Young OF
Seth Smith OF
Brett Anderson LHP
Jarrod Parker RHP
Tommy Milone LHP
A.J. Griffin RHP
Dan Straily RHP
Grant Balfour RHP
Ryan Cook RHP
Pat Neshek RHP
Chris Resop RHP
Sean Doolittle LHP
Jerry Blevins LHP
Travis Blackley LHP
(Bartolo Colon – SUSPENDED)
(Fernando Rodriguez – DL)
(Adam Rosales – DL)
PROJECTED 2013 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS ROSTER
Jemile Weeks 2B
Andy Parrino SS-3B-OF
Grant Green 2B-3B-OF
Josh Horton 3B-SS-2B
Scott Moore 1B-3B-DH
Shane Peterson OF-1B
Conner Crumbliss OF-2B
Sonny Gray RHP
Andrew Werner LHP
Jesse Chavez RHP
Bruce Billings RHP
Travis Banwart RHP
Evan Scribner RHP
Mike Ekstrom RHP
James Simmons RHP
Arnold Leon RHP
Hideki Okajima LHP
Jordan Norberto LHP
Pedro Figueroa LHP
Justin Thomas LHP
PROJECTED 2013 MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS ROSTER
Anthony Aliotti 1B-DH
Tommy Mendonca 3B-DH
Miles Head 3B-1B
Jefry Marte 3B-1B
Darwin Perez 2B-SS
Tyler Ladendorf 2B-SS-OF
D’Arby Myers OF
Carlos Hernandez LHP
Murphy Smith RHP
Josh Bowman RHP
Sean Murphy RHP
Jacob Brown LHP
Brian Gordon RHP
Carlos Fisher RHP
Kyler Newby RHP
Darren Byrd RHP
Paul Smyth RHP
Nate Long RHP
Sergio Perez RHP
Frank Gailey LHP
***UPDATE: In something of a surprise, the A’s have designated LHP Travis Blackley for assignment. This opens a spot in the A’s bullpen for either Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Mike Ekstrom or Hideki Okajima. Their spot in the River Cats bullpen will be filled by RHP Danny Otero, who was claimed off waivers.
Minor League Camp at Papago Park
There was a lot of action at the A’s minor league camp on Saturday, with Michael Ynoa making the start in the Double-A game and Hiro Nakajima getting in a few innings at second base in the Triple-A game. Ynoa’s fastball was topping out in the mid-90s, and Nakajima blasted an opposite field home run.
Major League Game vs. SF Giants at Scottsdale Stadium
The A’s topped the Giants 12-5 with Tommy Milone earning the win in his last start in Arizona this spring. But the big news was that Eric Sogard had another perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a home run in his underdog bid to overtake the favorites in the A’s heated second base competition.
Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…
24-year-old right-hander Dan Straily is generally considered to be the A’s top young pitching prospect heading into 2013 – and he earned that distinction on our own Top 10 Prospect List as well. But he wasn’t always quite so high on everyone’s radar. The Oregon native was drafted in the 24th round by the A’s back in 2009 out of Marshall University in West Virginia. And his numbers in the A’s system didn’t immediately open any eyes. But what did happen was that he just seemed to get better and better every step of the way. Rather than being challenged by each new level, each time the bar was raised, his performance seemed to kick up a notch.
Last year, after not even being invited to major league camp, Straily started the season at Double-A Midland, where he might have been expected to spend most of the year toiling away in the Texas League. But a funny thing happened, he started striking out batters at a rate of 11.4 per 9 innings while maintaining a 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA of 3.38. About halfway through the season, the 6’2” right-hander was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he proceeded to strike out hitters at a similar rate while notching an even more impressive ERA of 2.02. Straily finally got the call to Oakland late in the season where he went 2-1 in 7 starts while posting a 3.89 ERA in the heat of the A’s playoff run.
Conventional wisdom has it that there are currently five starters ahead of Straily on the A’s depth chart – Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin. And in a recent press conference, A’s assistant general manager David Forst referred to Griffin and Straily as the team’s 5th and 6th starters. Of course, spring training’s barely underway and anything can happen. But we do know that Bartolo Colon will be unable to make his first start of the season while he completes his suspension, which could very well mean that Straily will be in line for a start with the A’s the first week of the season no matter how everything else shakes out.
Of course, if any of the A’s other five starters should open the season without a clean bill of health, then Straily would definitely be well-positioned to stick around for a while after that first start. But if Straily does end up starting the season back at Sacramento, then he would definitely be one of the A’s top two pitching prospects at Triple-A, along with former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, hoping to be the first called when a warm arm is needed.
One thing’s for certain, whenever the A’s call, Straily will be ready. He’s clearly a student of the game who appreciates the fine art of pitching and is hungry for the opportunity to continue practicing it at the highest level. For now, all he can do is focus on making the most of his opportunities this spring in Arizona where, when he’s not working hard in the A’s camp, he’s hanging out at the temporary home he shares with his wife Amanda and their new puppy, along with fellow A’s pitcher Tom Milone and his fiancée, and A’s catcher Derek Norris. It’s a full house, and a house full of young guys working to establish their place in the major leagues with a team that typically gives young players like them plenty of opportunities to do so. We talked to Straily this week just after he’d returned home from his fourth day ever in big league camp…
AF: Can you tell me a little bit about your basic repertoire of pitches you’re working with right now?
DS: Fastball command this year has been my biggest thing coming into the season. I noticed last year at the end of the year when I got tired, that was the first thing to go. So I’m making sure that’s dialed in. But fastball, changeup, slider and curveball are what I have to offer.
AF: What’s been your big strikeout pitch?
DS: It was really everything. There were some games it was the fastball. Sometimes it was the changeup. Sometimes it was just sliders. Whatever’s going for me that night – whatever happens to be the most “on” pitch. When you have four pitches, you’re going to have one off-speed pitch that’s going to stand out more than the others every night. It tends to be the slider. And then last year it seemed that the changeup was really kind of the equalizer, because guys had to think about that, and then they’d get the slider – or they’d think about the slider, and then they’d get the changeup. That’s my game. I don’t tend to fall into too many patterns. I just mix speeds and try to hit spots.
AF: Well, that’s good a thing because if you do fall into too many patterns, guys will start to figure that out and take advantage of it.
AF: Last year you had a really dominant season in the minor leagues, in Double-A and Triple-A, and that performance really put you on people’s radar. Was there anything it particular that really clicked for you last year?
DS: For me, mostly it was just the consistency. Every game, I kind of knew what I was going to get – my fastball command was consistent, changeup movement was consistent, slider was consistent. It was just everything you look for. You notice there’s not a whole big difference in terms of stuff from minor league guys, major league guys – the stuff is pretty much the same – it’s just the level of consistency. You know, each guy’s going to be different. For me, it was just finding the consistency of my delivery, and my stuff was there all the way through last year. I remember early on, I had a rough game in Double-A and they just reiterated to me, “You know, you’re not judged game to game – you’re judged over the course of the year.” And it starts to take that pressure off from trying to be perfect every single pitch to just going out there and trusting yourself and being confident in yourself. You’re going to give up home runs, you’re going to give up singles – it’s going to happen. But also the mental game, I was able to take that to a whole new level – talking with (Midland pitching coach) Don Schulze and (Sacramento pitching coach) Scott Emerson last year and just trusting myself and trusting the adjustments that we were making on the side. It wasn’t that I was a completely different pitcher, it’s that I was finally the complete pitcher that I am capable of being. I saw flashes of good changeups before, flashes of good fastball command, and then finally it all hit together.
AF: So it was really just a matter of integrating everything and just putting it all together consistently as opposed to doing something new or having some big revelation.
DS: Yeah, I never felt like I really did anything different. It’s not like anything really changed. I didn’t change my mechanics. I didn’t change anything else. It’s like I told some reporters last year when they called about all the strikeouts, I said, “I’m not doing anything different. They’re just missing them this year.” It’s more than that obviously. I learned how to set up hitters a lot better. I learned how to recognize swings. And I started paying attention more to what guys are trying to do and different things like that.
AF: It sounds like it was really all about just gaining command of all your pitches and then being able to execute what you wanted when you wanted. Am I right?
DS: Absolutely. Being able to trust myself, full count, bases loaded, throwing a changeup. Throwing changeups in counts when I normally wouldn’t throw them. Throwing that 0-2 fastball inside instead of just throwing a nasty slider because I know they’re going to swing and miss at it. Don Schulze came up to me one day in Double-A and just said, “You know what? No one’s going to care what you did in Double-A after you’ve been pitching in the big leagues for years. So don’t focus so much on your results today. Go out there and work on your fastball and your changeup today. Work on fastball command and throw your changeup. You have to develop your changeup if you want to be in the major leagues.” And I’d heard that so many times. It’s not like he was the first one to tell me that. But I just heard it so many times that it finally clicked. And I finally understood what he was trying to say. And he just happened to be the one who said it when I finally understood it. Yeah, no one’s going to care what I did in Double-A. Obviously, if you do bad, you’re not going to stay around. You have to be successful, but no one’s going to care about your success there. They just want to know that you can do it at the next level, and then at the next level.
AF: So at that point you just started to develop the confidence to throw whatever you needed to throw whenever you needed to throw it?
DS: Yeah, absolutely, like I used to only throw changeups to lefties and sliders to righties. And I finally just gained the confidence in my pitches, and the consistency and the command. You know, I can throw any pitch to anybody at any time. It’s really just trusting yourself, and that was something that I was really able to learn how to do last year.
AF: You mentioned your pitching coach at Midland, Don Schulze. Was anyone else key in contributing to your success last season?
DS: Well, Scott Emerson was really big on scouting reports and helping me learn how to prepare for a game. In Double-A, you don’t get a chance to really see a scouting report until you see a team once – you have to make your own. And in Triple-A, it’s a little better, a little more advanced. You see guys more often, guys have been around Triple-A for a few more years. So that was the first time I was ever introduced to scouting reports. So when I did get called up, it was a little easier for me to just go in there and read it and know what I was looking for and know how my stuff played into the scouting reports. It’s just a whole other part of the game I didn’t even realize really existed. So he was really big on that side of things for me.
AF: Can you tell me a little more about the differences between the various levels you were at last year - between Double-A and Triple-A, and then between Triple-A and the majors? Were there any specific things that you had to adjust to at each level?
DS: One of the biggest things between Double-A and Triple-A would honestly have to be the travel. You think it’s going to be great – no more riding buses, you’re going to be flying. But it’s not the kind of hours you’d expect. You’re not flying chartered airplanes – you’re flying the first flight out each morning and then having to play that night at 7:30. It’s a grind. And I wasn’t even there a whole season, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be there for a whole year. But in terms of the actual play, a big difference is you notice guys start having approaches – not so much just one type of hitter. Guys aren’t just a power hitter, guys aren’t just an average hitter. You start getting more complete hitters. And then you get into some of these Triple-A PCL parks where the ball just flies.
AF: In terms of pitching, were there any adjustments you had to make when you finally got called up to the big leagues towards the end of the year?
DS: Not really. When I got called up, I was running on empty basically. But it was really good to figure out how to pitch when you feel like you just can’t get enough rest at the end. But then the day of your game comes up, you’re jacked up and you’re ready to go because you’re pitching in the major leagues that night. But you just get out there and don’t really see the names on the back of the jersey, you just see the scouting report and you see the game plan in your head of how you’re going to pitch certain guys and that’s really kind of what it boils down to. Obviously the media has built up certain players and their numbers speak for themselves but, as a pitcher, you don’t really see it that way, you just see the game plan and the scouting reports.
AF: You must have ended up pitching more innings last year than you had at any other time in your pro career.
DS: I threw 140+ innings my first year, then the next year I threw like 160, then in 2012 I threw 191. So I’ve had a steady upward climb.
AF: Towards the end of the year, you must have been aware that you’d thrown a lot of pitches over the course of the year.
DS: Yeah, at the end of the year, I was maybe just putting too much pressure on myself. But I definitely feel like, coming to camp now, it’s a whole different world to come in here and be a part of it from day one instead of just showing up in the middle of a playoff race and having to meet guys and be a part of a team at that point because you don’t know anybody there.
AF: Well, it must have been interesting to join the A’s late last year, with all that energy and excitement in a playoff run, and just step into the middle of all that.
DS: That was pretty cool. As a minor league player, you’re not so much noticing what they’re doing at the major league level. You’re more focused on your task at hand and your job and what’s going on at your level. So I didn’t even know about ‘The Bernie’ or anything like that. People don’t realize that you’re not focused on the big leagues when you’re in Double-A. You’re focused on what you’re doing to get yourself better. So it’s cool to get up there and actually learn about all the cool stuff that’s going on up there and just the fans’ energy that they’re bringing every night. The first night, my debut was in front of like 32,000 people on a Friday night in Oakland. And it was just a lot of fun to make your debut in that atmosphere.
AF: Last year with the A’s, you made 7 starts, won a couple of games, pitched well. But the one trouble spot was the long ball. You gave up 11 home runs. Have you had a chance to reflect on that and how you might be able to adapt to keep guys from being able to square up the ball like that?
DS: Yeah, I just did a terrible job of mixing up speeds. I kind of got away from my game and just let everything kind of speed up on me. And I was able to get home and kind of reflect on that and realize the game didn’t change at all, I’m the one who changed. It was frustrating, I can’t say it wasn’t. To be honest, it came up today in the clubhouse when I was talking with a reporter. They pointed out that I gave up 17 runs on the year (for Oakland), and I think 14 or 15 came via the home run. And I said, “Well, if I can figure out how to stop giving up home runs, I’ll be good to go!” But for me, it was just a lot of left-handers I’d fall behind in counts and leave the fastball out over the middle of the plate. And that’s what good hitters are supposed to do – if you fall behind and put a fastball right over the middle, they’re supposed to hit home runs. So it was kind of my own doing. But that’s not me – that was a fluke. Obviously, it happened – we all saw it. But that’s not who I am as a pitcher. And it won’t be like that again. It was embarrassing as a player. I remember the last time I threw against the Mariners, I gave up 3 hits – 2 of them home runs. It was very frustrating, to be pitching so well and then to throw a ball right over the middle – home run. I just didn’t do a good job of hitting spots.
AF: Well, I know no pitcher likes to be standing out there on the mound and have to turn around and watch one sailing over the fence.
DS: Yeah, and the weird thing was I think nine of them were in day games. And I have no idea why. I’ve pitched in plenty of day games and been perfectly fine.
AF: This is your first year in the big league camp, right?
DS: My first day of big league camp was Tuesday.
AF: So is there anyone around you’ve known for a while that you’re particularly friendly with who it’s just good to have around in camp?
DS: Well, my roommate’s Tom Milone. And you can’t get much more of an even-keeled type of guy than that. So it’s been good just to have him around everyday. Him, me and Derek Norris are all living together. It’s good – we’ve got a catcher and a couple of pitchers.
AF: How’s your relationship with A’s pitching coach Curt Young? You probably never got to spend that much time with him in spring before, but now I’d imagine you’re a lot more prominent on his radar.
DS: You know, he’s got a tough job. There are thirty pitchers or so here in camp. The only time I actually get to see him is when I’m pitching off a mound. I’m excited to hopefully be with him for a whole year – that’s the goal. From everything I heard, he’s just a great resource, which I saw last year when I was up – everything from holding the runners to pitch selection to how to take care of yourself. The guy’s been around the game so long he’s an amazing pitching coach.
AF: So is there anything in particular you’re working on or focused on this spring?
DS: I’m just focused on trying to make the team right now. I don’t get the luxury of working on something at this point. What I came with is what I have to go to battle with for the year. I’m sure, for some veterans, it’s more about getting ready for the season. Well I’m getting ready for the season as well, but I’m also fighting for a job. There’s only so many jobs available out there and more than enough guys to fill those positions. The last couple years I’ve had a little better idea of where I was going because it was pretty well laid out. But there’s no more room to go up anymore, so just trying to stay there is the hardest part.
AF: Well, I guess it’s pretty clear what the goal is now anyway.
DS: But the thing is, as much as you want to be there, if you’re not there, you can’t let it get you down because there’s a whole season ahead either way. So I keep telling people when they ask where I see myself going this year, I say, “That’s not up to me. That’s up to the front office.” My job’s to go out there and pitch, whether that’s in Sacramento, that’s in Midland or that’s in Oakland. It doesn’t matter – wherever they tell me to go, that’s where I’m going to be.
AF: I think everyone realizes the value of pitching depth at this point. I mean, the A’s used ten different starting pitchers last year. So wherever you are, if you’ve got a good arm and are pitching well, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in that rotation at some point one way or another.
DS: Yep, that’s what you’ve to remember either way.
AF: Well, it sounds like you’re just working on staying focused on your game, maximizing what you’ve got, and trying to continue making as good an impression as possible.
DS: Yeah, and so far from what I’ve felt, I just think it’s going to be a repeat and a little bit better from last year. You know, get a little bit better each year, throw a little bit harder each year, come into camp with a little better idea of how to be physically ready and mentally ready. I learned so much last year in every aspect of the game. And I’m just ready to go this year. I’m excited.
AF: Onward and upward!
DS: That’s right!
* * *
There were lots of interesting quotes to come out of last weekend’s FanFest in Oakland. And based on what was said by A’s management, coaches and players, here are a few things that I think we can safely surmise…
* Coco Crisp will be the A’s primary center fielder and leadoff hitter.
* Chris Young will be in the lineup against lefties, give other starters regular days off against righties, and will move around in the lineup and see time at every spot in the outfield.
* Seth Smith will get most of the at-bats at DH.
* The A’s have a lot more confidence in Hiro Nakajima‘s bat than they do in his glove and his arm.
* Barring injuries, the A’s starting rotation will consist of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon (after missing his first start while serving out his suspension).
* If the starting rotation is healthy, Dan Straily will be at Sacramento until he’s needed in Oakland.
* Top prospect Michael Choice will start the season at Sacramento.
* Everybody loves Addison Russell, and the 19-year-old will be invited to attend the major league camp in spring training.
* Josh Reddick didn’t bother wasting any money on razors this off-season.
* Chris Young is still in the early stages of his Bernie Lean lessons.