Down On The Farm – Week #16: The Lowdown on the A’s Top Prospects

Sean Doolittle - How did I get here?

Over the past week, I’ve posted a number of interesting interviews with and about many of the A’s top prospects on my Athletics Farm blog. Just prior to the All-Star break, I had the chance to visit Stockton, Sacramento and Oakland and talk with talented young players like Sean Doolittle, Dan Straily, Grant Green and Sean Murphy as well as Stockton manager Webster Garrison, Sacramento pitching coach Scott Emerson and A’s special assistant Grady Fuson. The complete interviews are available on my Athletics Farm blog, but what I’ve done here this week is to compile key excerpts about the young players that A’s fans seem to be most interested in. So get ready to get the lowdown on the A’s top prospects here on Athletics Nation right after the jump…

THE PLAYERS

GF: Grady Fuson – Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Oakland A’s

WB: Webster Garrison – Manager of the Stockton Ports

SE: Scott Emerson – Pitching Coach of the Sacramento River Cats

AF: Athletics Farm

with special guest appearances by Sean Doolittle, Dan Straily, Grant Green and Sean Murphy

SEAN DOOLITTLE (Relief Pitcher – Oakland A’s)

Sean Doolittle on Sean Doolittle…

AF: You started out in A-ball at Stockton this year. When did you think - hey I think this thing might work out?

SD: It was probably last year in the Instructional League. The first time out, I hit 97 mph several times and the location was there. I was commanding the fastball. I was throwing strikes with that kind of velocity. And in the Instructional League very early on, I was like - I really think there’s something here. I could maybe do something with this. But I never thought it would happen this fast.

AF: So what has the key been to your quick success?

SD: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out to be totally honest with you.

AF: So if we figure it out, we should let you know.

SD: Yeah, absolutely. You might have to ask somebody else. I’m still not sure what I’m doing.

AF: Well, what are you mainly throwing now?

SD: Fastball, slider, changeup - a lot of fastball/slider combos to lefties. But the fastball’s been the key for me – the velocity and the way that I’ve been able to command it has really helped me have success. It’s kind of been my go-to pitch.

AF: So is there anything in particular you’re working on right now?

SD: Just trying to develop my off-speed stuff as much as we can. It’s still a work in progress. It’s to the point that I feel like I can compete with it for sure, but it’s not to where I want it to be and where I think it could be. But pitchers talk about how it takes them years to refine their breaking stuff and get the feel for their changeup. So we’re working on it everyday as much as we can, without throwing too much – there’s a fine line there.

A.J. GRIFFIN (Starting Pitcher – Oakland A’s)

Grady Fuson on A.J. Griffin

GF: I’ve always been a Griffin guy. I saw him in college. I thought I helped us get him in the draft a little bit. But he’s big, he’s physical. It’s not an overpowering fastball, but I just always liked his ability to get down and away with his fastball, which to me is golden for a pitcher – a guy that can just locate his 4–seam fastball down and away. He’s got a good changeup. He’s got a good breaking ball. We’ve added a little cutter to his game that’s helped. He’s always been aggressive. He throws it down, and he’s a strike-thrower. He’s a competitor.

Scott Emerson on A.J. Griffin…

SE: A.J. is a strike-throwing machine. And he works at the bottom of the strike zone. He works quick. He’s got an excellent changeup. Anytime that you can disrupt the timing of hitters, it’s always a plus. But again, everything comes off that good fastball command. He really commands the fastball down and away. He has the ability to throw his changeup behind in counts, so he’s always back in the count. If he falls behind in the count, he can throw that changeup in a fastball situation and either get hitters swinging or have them put the ball in play. And he’s developed a cutter over the course of the season this year - sometimes it looks like a slider - but to right-hander hitters, he got a lot of groundballs with it.

DAN STRAILY (Starting Pitcher – Sacramento River Cats)

Dan Straily on Dan Straily…

AF: What’s been the key to your success this year?

DS: Just throwing strikes down in the zone. Last year in Stockton, I spent a lot of time working on that because of how the ball sails in that league. That’s really been the key to success this year – just being able to keep the ball down.

AF: You’ve always been a bit of a strikeout pitcher, but even more so now. You’re leading the entire A’s minor league system in strikeouts this year. So is there any particular reason for that?

DS: It’s just kind of happened. I’m not pitching all that differently. I’ve just had a few games with a lot of strikeouts. I’ve had some 10+ strikeout nights and a bunch of 7-8-9 nights. It’s not like I’m trying to strike everyone out. It’s just kind of the way things are working out. My goal pretty much every night is to go out there and go 7-8 innings. And sometimes that’s 7-8 innings with a bunch of strikeouts and sometimes it’s 7-8 innings with just a handful of strikeouts. But I’m not necessarily trying to strike people out.

Scott Emerson on Dan Straily…

SE: I like his delivery. When you have a repeatable delivery like he does, it makes it a lot easier to throw all four of your pitches. He’s got four major league pitches, and he’s just got to go out there and face better hitters here in Triple-A and show us what he can do.

AF: Tell me about his repertoire.

SE: Well, he’s got a sinking fastball that goes to the arm side with good downhill plane to his mechanics. He’s got a good top-to-bottom curveball. He’s got a good late slider that at times looks like a cut fastball. And he’s got an excellent changeup that at times will look like a loose split-finger where the ball will actually fall off the table. So he’s a lot of fun to watch.

AF: What’s been his big strikeout pitch?

SE: More of his breaking ball. But the ability to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate sets up his breaking ball. Everything works off the fastball. When he throws it to both sides and then he’s able to throw that breaking ball, he’s getting them to chase it.

BRAD PEACOCK (Starting Pitcher – Sacramento River Cats)

Grady Fuson on Brad Peacock…

GF: Brad’s just having a hard time backing up quality pitches in the strike zone - executing. It has nothing to do with his stuff. He’s still throwing 90-94 mph. He’s got a good bite to his breaking ball when it’s right. But he’s just been scattered. (Minor league pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson was in there with him and we did some side work. We thought maybe he’s got a little bit of an uphill move that’s kind of wreaking havoc with him trying to get down the mound a little bit. He’s leaving a lot of fastballs up and elevated. And the biggest thing is just his pitch count is not getting him very deep in the game right now. He’s just in a rut right now, but he’s young and he’s got good enough stuff. He’ll come out of it.

Scott Emerson on Brad Peacock…

SE: He’s got great stuff. There’s no doubt his pitch mix is very good. He’s struggling a little bit with his fastball command. And once the fastball command comes back and comes around, the sky’s the limit for this guy. His weapons are just that good. He’s got a hard late curveball, and a very good changeup with good arm speed, and then the changeup just dies. So we’re just looking for him to get that fastball command back. And you know, sometimes you put some pressure on yourself. You get traded for a guy like Gio Gonzalez and you run into a couple of rough games – he’s just got to know that we’ve got a lot of confidence in him – you’ve just got to go out there and have fun and pitch your game.

GRANT GREEN (Outfielder – Sacramento River Cats)

Grant Green on Grant Green…

AF: You started out the year playing strictly in the outfield, but you’ve been playing a lot of different positions lately – short, third, second. So how has it been adapting to all these new positions and playing a different position everyday?

GG: It’s fun. It’s something new every single day - walking into the clubhouse and checking the lineup to see where I’m playing. It’s kind of fun and interesting to see where I’m playing. Certain days it’s a little bit less stressful to know I’m playing in left. But tomorrow I could be playing second - something different, something new.

AF: What about this year at the plate for you – your power numbers were down last year, but they’ve been up a bit this year – is there anything you’ve been doing differently?

GG: Yeah, we’ve really worked on getting more quality ABs - kind of seeing a little bit more pitches than usual - still being aggressive, but aggressive inside the zone instead of just being aggressive in general. And then last fall I really worked on widening my stance and getting a little bit of a load. It also helps that we’re not playing in Texas League parks. There are a lot of graveyards and the wind blowing the ball foul.

AF: Your strikeouts have been down a little this year. Is there any particular reason for that?

GG: Just the overall approach. There was a little stretch at the beginning of the year where I was striking out a little bit too much and being a little bit too aggressive - just in general, swinging at bad pitches. And we really worked on quality ABs and quality pitches. And if I strike out looking on a borderline pitch, it’s better than swinging at a ball.

Grady Fuson on Grant Green…

GF: Well, everybody’s asked me a little bit about why is he here, why is he there. We’re just trying to increase his versatility. A lot of kids, when they break in the big leagues, if you’re not a bona-fide position guy, it’s hard to break in and get at-bats if you don’t have that versatility. Obviously, we moved him out to center and we know what that looks like now – we know he can play it a little to some degree. We’ve got a little bit of a third base issue still with Sizemore going down early. So now we’re giving him some more time at third, and he’s still playing a little short. And when that time comes when he’s needed in the big leagues, when the powers that be want to give him a little look, at least Bob Melvin’s got a little versatility to where he can play him, and then we’ll see where the bat settles in in the big leagues.

AF: And how do you feel about his bat at this point?

GF: Well, I still feel strong that he’s hitter-ish. He’s going to be a hitter. How much power will really come out up there? I think he’s going to be one of those guys where ballparks could play a role. If he plays in a place like Texas, he could probably hit some. If he plays in a place like Petco Park, he’s probably not going to hit too many. But we’ve been working with him for a year and a half now about trying to make some adjustments on pitches middle to middle-in - just trying to change bat head positions so that he can pull more of those balls. He’s been shooting those balls up the middle. If he’s ever going to hit the ball out, those are the pitches he’s got to get the head out and get it over the shorter parts of the ballpark. And he’s made that adjustment.

MILES HEAD (Third Baseman – Midland RockHounds)

Webster Garrison on Miles Head…

WG: He’s just one of those ballplayers who’s amazing. That’s all you can say is "amazing." His approach to hitting is amazing. He puts the ball in play. He puts it in play hard. He hits the ball to all fields. There’s no certain way to pitch him. He hit just about every pitch and he hit it hard. He used the whole field. He plays hard, works hard. He’s a good kid all the way around. I was just happy to have him here as a ballplayer. I knew he wouldn’t be here long. But to lead the league in hitting and have 18 home runs and almost 60 RBIs for half a season, that’s just outstanding - very impressive.

AF: Is there any weakness in his game? Is there anything he really needs to work on as he moves up the ladder?

WG: He could work on his defense a little bit more – just getting jumps. He was basically a first baseman and we moved him over to third base this year. So he’s working hard at it. He’s going to get better, but he’s better than what we thought he was going to be. He’s a ballplayer - he can catch the ball, he can throw the ball. He was already an infielder, so he can definitely catch the ball. He’s just got to work on getting jumps and angles and reads and when to throw it and when not to throw it - just third baseman stuff he hasn’t done in a long time.

MICHAEL CHOICE (Outfielder – Midland RockHounds)

Webster Garrison on Michael Choice

AF: How would you compare Miles Head to a guy who was a staple here for you at Stockton last year, Michael Choice? Is there any way you could compare the two?

WG: I’d say Mike’s just a raw power guy. He’s going to hit it farther than Miles Head. He’s just one of those strong guys. When he gets a hold of it, it’s gone and it’s gone by a lot. Miles Head is just a little more of a consistent hitter using the whole field - the ball’s in play more and he’s just getting more hits. Mike’s got the big swing where he’s hitting home runs and extra base hits. He had an outstanding second half last year and made some great adjustments.

Grady Fuson on Michael Choice…

GF: I think he’s still fighting his day-to-day approach - it comes and goes. There’s no regression in his tools and his ability. He’s got a very unique set up and approach, and when he’s not on time, there’s issues depending on how a guy can pitch him. You know, that’s the biggest jump you make in this game - Double-A is where the true pro game really starts.

SONNY GRAY (Starting Pitcher – Midland RockHounds)

Grady Fuson on Sonny Gray

GF: I think he’s just struggling with his overall command. He’s working on it. I think he’s starting to understand what few concerns we had about him – those are the things that come and go.

AF: The last I heard, the big thing he was working on was the changeup.

GF: The changeup, and his direction and the way he lands – helping him stay on line to help him with his command. Those are the two big things.

SEAN MURPHY (Starting Pitcher – Stockton Ports)

Webster Garrison on Sean Murphy…

WG: He’s looking real good! He’s a competitor. He goes out there when he pitches and he locates well and he changes speeds well, and he’s competing. He’s out there and he’s got a game plan. He knows what he wants to do with the ball, and he puts it in spots and lets the defense play for him. He makes big pitches when he gets guys on, and he gives us a great opportunity to win when he’s out there. I like what I see out of that kid.

Grady Fuson on Sean Murphy…

GF: He’s by far one of the most improved young pitchers we’ve got in the system. I patted him on the ass after the game and told him, "Do you know how much better you are than you were a year ago?" He’s really cleaned his whole mental game up. He’s just taking things more seriously. He’s gotten focused. He’s pounding his down-and-away fastball. He’s always had a good changeup. He’s getting his breaking ball over in the strike zone.

Sean Murphy on Sean Murphy…

AF: You’ve been having a great year at Burlington and here at Stockton. Last season, guys were hitting over .300 against you, and most of this year, guys have been hitting around .200 against you. So what’s changed?

SM: I would say just actually getting ahead of batters, and just staying consistent and trusting my off-speed stuff - throwing it for strikes when I need to throw it for strikes, and then going out of the zone when I need to go out of the zone. That’s the biggest key from last year to this year - just throwing every pitch with a purpose.

AF: You’ve been second or third behind Dan Straily in the entire A’s system in strikeouts for most of the year. So what’s been your big out pitch?

SM: Against lefties, I’d have to say the changeup - just the deception of the changeup. Really getting ahead with the fastball, locating it, which sets up the changeup, and working the changeup off the same plane against lefties. Against righties, everything - it’s all come together for me - but I’d have to say my slider late in the count. Just going off the plate and staying down with it gets a lot of swings and misses. And then freezing people going in with the curveball - that’s a big key.

AF: Tell me a little more about your repertoire.

SM: My fastball - I like to get ahead with my fastball. I could get ahead with off-speed too - its just throwing it for strikes is what’s key. My #2 would be my changeup - that’s my go-to pitch. If I’m facing the cleanup hitter with runners in scoring position and a 3-2 count, I’m going to go with my changeup most of the time. And then my curveball has been a big key for me this year - actually throwing it in the zone. Then my slider late in the count. I would have to rank my pitches fastball, changeup, slider, then curve.

IAN KROL (Starting Pitcher – Stockton Ports)

Grady Fuson on Ian Krol…

GF: I’ve been with him on two of his sides. You know, it’s all about his finish - just staying on line and being directed. He wants to cut his finish off and spin out, and he loses his line of command. And when you do those things, there’s usually not a lot of good things that are going to happen. The two sides I’ve been here, we’ve been working with him a lot on that.

MAX STASSI (Catcher – Stockton Ports)

Webster Garrison on Max Stassi

WG: He’s been back in the lineup. He got injured earlier in the year, and now he’s getting real comfortable again. He’s started catching a lot. And his bat’s always been a plus in my eyes, because he definitely can hit the ball, and he can drive it out of all parts of the park as well. And now he’s starting to see a lot of pitches and he’s getting more and more comfortable. He’s a staple right in the middle of our lineup right now and we’re going to continue to look for big things out of him.

Grady Fuson on Max Stassi…

GF: Yeah, number one, it’s really good to see Max Stassi on the field everyday. And when he’s on the field everyday, you can see what he’s got a chance to do. He’s a really polished receiver. His arm’s working and feeling great right now. He’s throwing well. He’s hitting balls to all fields. He’s working on his pitch selection. He’s a nice-looking player.

YORDY CABRERA (Shortstop – Stockton Ports)

Grady Fuson on Yordy Cabrera

GF: Yordy Cabrera’s a young kid – you know, things come and go with Yordy. Last night, he swings at a first pitch slider that’s five feet out of the strike zone, and you’re kind of going, "Oh my God!" And then two at-bats in a row were solid – he squared one up to the biggest part of the ballpark and thought he got his first homer. In San Jose (earlier in the week), his footwork was better. Last night, he sat back on groundballs and groundballs ate him up. That comes and goes with young kids. But the reality is that night after night, even though his numbers don’t look like it, I think he’s holding his own.

Webster Garrison on Yordy Cabrera…

WG: Young, raw talent - and it shows at times. He’s a young raw kid, but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s got moves in the field - good hands, strong arm. He’s definitely got some pop in his bat. He’s just got to get a little more consistent in his approach and putting the ball in play where he can have some better results. He’s a young kid who’s up there swinging, trying hard - so hard at times that it doesn’t work out for him. But he works so hard. If he just settles down and just tries to do the little things well, I think he’ll be okay.

DUSTY ROBINSON (Outfielder – Stockton Ports)

Webster Garrison on Dusty Robinson…

WG: He works hard. He’s got the big swing. He’s definitely a home run hitter. We’re just working on him staying on the ball, trying to use the whole field. He’s a good defensive player. He’s got a good arm and he runs well. He’s a good-looking young prospect coming up. He just has to work on that pitch away. Coming inside, he’s ready for that all the time. And he’s definitely a power hitter.

Grady Fuson on Dusty Robinson…

GF: Dusty’s a guy who plays the game with his hair on fire. He’s got some good skills. Dusty can throw, Dusty can run, and Dusty can flat square up a ball at times that makes your jaw drop at how hard he can hit it. It’s a non-stop work in progress about how he handles pitches on the outer half. Sometimes he looks good, and sometimes he looks like he’s never seen one. But he’s doing good. He’s second in our whole organization in homers.

A.J. COLE (Starting Pitcher – Burlington Bees)

Grady Fuson on A.J. Cole…

GF: I’ve seen a lot of him on video. When he was going through these issues when he was here, I happened to be in Arizona one day, where me and (director of player development) Keith Lieppman got all the video we could get and we got on the phone with Gil Patterson. Gil had video and we were breaking things apart a little bit. He was dong some things that were different than when he was with Washington. And so Gil got on those and came in here and tried to settle some things down and get things back to where they needed to be. I don’t know if it’s the change to a different league, but it shouldn’t be that big a discrepancy. It was more location and sequences - it wasn’t stuff. The guys who saw him pitch here said it was 93-95 mph. The one thing that we were looking at was to see if his arm was on time with his foot stride. We looked at the timing and his arm was late and just missing.

AF: Well, sending him to Burlington certainly seemed to be the answer.

GF: Sometimes that in itself is the answer – a little wake-up call.

B.J. BOYD (Outfielder – Arizona League A’s)

Grady Fuson on B.J. Boyd…

GF: I love B.J. Boyd, the Bay Area kid. This guy’s crude – he may run to the wrong dugout - but let me tell you, he’s got some kind of life in his hands, some kind of life in his legs. He’s electric.

AF: So, I guess it’s just going to be a matter of refining him then.

GF: Oh yeah, it’s going to be fun - but what a project! This is what young Carl Crawfords look like when they’re 18!

You can check out my blog - Athletics Farm - for daily updates on the A’s minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.

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