Part I of this series featured Brandon McCarthy, Part II featured Josh Reddick, Part III featured Seth Smith, and Part IV featured Cliff Pennington. In our final installment, after the jump A's manager Bob Melvin addresses the crowded 1B picture, evaluating the young talent in general, leadership on this particularly young team, and his options for closers. The photo below is by our own Optimist Prime.
"I don't like to undermine my own players,
but the fish Cliffy caught was only this far from shore."
Nico: I had a couple questions about the early part of the season. With all these guys who are kind of at "make or break" points in their career - Carter, Taylor - I'm just curious how much you're going to give a long leash, like "give them 2 months and see what they can do" versus, "this is a performance based (level)". That has to be one of the tougher things you're going to have to face in the spring.
Melvin: Especially with the guys we brought in; there's going to be a lot of competition in camp. So, to answer your question: Performance based. It's difficult at times to evaluate in spring training, but it's what we have. I think knowing that as a player going in, "This is an opportunity. This is no longer a scholarship, ‘gimme' thing, I have to earn it," I think you find out what they're made of, I really do. I think there are make or break points for guys over the course of their career and sometimes it comes to this, and you find out truly what they're made of - and they find out for themselves, too.
Nico: What are you going to key in on most in spring training, because spring training's this weird environment where pitchers are on pitch counts, their velocity's not up, you're seeing AA pitchers - so it's kind of hard to figure out, "How good is this pitcher, how good is this hitter?" So what are the things that are going to catch your eye?
Melvin: Well, I said all along towards the end of last year that defense is going to be a priority, and it will be a priority for us. We're going to go over to Papago (the series of back fields right near the stadium) right away and use all the fields. I think last year they probably stayed over in Phoenix and just used those two fields, and I think it's important for us to understand that defense is going to be a priority. When you have pitching depth like we do, you owe it to yourself to play good defense. And we have guys that can play defense: Last year, Scotty (Sizemore) was new at 3B, Jemile (Weeks) comes up 1/4 into the season, Allen's over at 1B and he wasn't with us the whole time. The continuity's going to be important. Getting all these guys together, and making it priority, and staying on top of it alone makes them understand that you're going to have to do well, and perform, to get your reps here.
Question: On the current squad, of these up and coming young guys, who do you see having the potential to be (a leader)?
Melvin: I think that Brandon McCarthy has really taken it to another level, and he's completely reinvented himself. If you look at how he studies the game, he knows the numbers, and he's a different pitcher now. He knows what works for him - the sinker and cutter. He used to be a 4-seam, over-the-top, little bit of movement and breaking ball, and now he's a completely different guy and I think he deserves to have the title of an "example setter" for us this year. I think our younger guys - and we do have a lot of young starters that are going to get good looks this year - if they watch his preparation, they're going to learn something from a guy like that. So I think he has a chance to be, at least on the pitching staff, a leader for us.
As far as position players go, I think Chad (sic) Pennington is quickly becoming a leader too. He's a guy that got some big hits for us last year, and he became a force in the clubhouse. There were times when I wanted something done that I chose him to go send the message, and it was done very well, so I think he looks to be more of a leader.
And I think Kurt Suzuki as well - (he) took a little bit of a step back last year, at least his offensive numbers and struggled a bit defensively for him - (but) recognizing that in his preparation this year, he's in a natural position to lead as well. And then obviously Coco (Crisp), just leads by what he does, just goes out there and does his thing. Weeks will be a guy, but I don't want to put that type of pressure on him now. I just want him to do his thing - he doesn't even have a full year in big leagues yet. But I think the more comfortable he gets, and the more experienced he gets, he's a guy that can lead by example too.
Question: Do you see (Collin) Cowgill filling that role at some point too?
Melvin: Cowgill is my type of player. He comes to play. He sits for the bench for 9 innings, he's gonna find a way to get dirty on the way to the dugout when the game's over.
Question: What's your past experience with Cowgill?
Melvin: I never had him in Arizona, but I'm very close to their manager and he has a lot of good things to say about him - and I like the way he plays the game. So I think he's going to be a guy that's going to be a good fit for our club.
Question: With the closing role, right now it's sort of up in the air. Fuentes has experience closing, but is there a favorite going in?
Melvin: (Fuentes') numbers were good closing last year too. I think his best numbers occurred when he was closing. So certainly he's an option. Certainly Balfour, based on performance, is an option. Whether you want those two guys in more leverage situations in the 7th or 8th is pretty much going to be the decision-maker for me.
If a guy like De Los Santos or Devine, someone like that - you give them a clean 9th, knowing that these guys are going to clean the messes in the 7th and 8th - that's certainly a way potentially you could go. All those options are open, and I think it's going to be a little ways into spring training before we figure that one out.
Question: Where do you see Tyson Ross fitting into this whole scheme?
Melvin: You've got McCarthy, Colon, Braden will be back but not right away, and then you've got all these other guys (presumably referring to Milone, Parker, Peacock, Ross).
Question: You're thinking starting, or relieving?
Melvin: I think starting. He had a really good Fall league. I mean, last year was a tough year for him. He's a very talented guy, and if you look at his volume of work early in the season, at times he was as competitive as any pitcher on the staff. So the talent is there. I think he's looking forward to just getting a fresh start, and an opportunity to win a job. And I think in his position, that's all you can ask for.
Question: Similar to the "(pitching) rotation" question, you have the "1B rotation" question, 4-5 guys. Going into spring training, do you have a ranking in your head?
Melvin: Yeah, but I'm not going to tell you guys! (laughter, snapping of fingers) We have some options there; we definitely have some options. Brandon Allen, in my opinion, is a terrific talent that has never been able to work through a slump at the big league level. You look at his minor league numbers, gets to the big leagues, does well, as soon as he does poorly someone has already taken his job. So I think if he's able to work through a slump, I think that's going to be a big turning point for him. Now I'm not saying that's the direction I'm going - I'm leading with him.
Daric Barton is another guy who had a tough year last year, physically, all the way around. Now he's healthy, and I know he profiles into our system: He's an "on base guy," he's a good defender and so forth, and I know he's looking forward to re-proving himself again too. So we can start with those two guys. And the Carters, and Kila, are certainly in the mix. I haven't seen them as much as I've seen the other guys, but we'll have plenty of competition at that slot, and I think that's a good thing.
Question: You had mentioned how the 7th and 8th innings could be higher leverage situations, which is really not in tune with the "conventional wisdom," which is that the 9th inning requires a certain kind of fortitude -
Melvin: I think there's both sides to that. I really do. There are certain guys, like Jose Valverde, who is an unbelievable closer. If you brought him in the 7th or 8th I don't think you'd see near the success that he's had. He needs a little bit of leeway, to walk somebody; he's a "clean inning guy" that will get out of his own mess. So we'll see where it goes. We feel like we have some options, and we'll see where we go with that...
...Boy you guys are good! Get me away from these guys - I can't bulls**** my way through it! (And with that, they did get Melvin away from us: Newbob left to make way for Newjosh and Awesomebrandon, Ol' Pennington and Newseth, whose interviews comprised parts I-IV of this series.)
We hope you enjoyed the five installments of "sound bytes from FanFest". Now stay tuned for a very special episode of "The Golden Girls," as Dorothy, played by Bartolo Colon, runs for city council against Blanche and hijinks ensue.