Down On The Farm: Grady's Take On A's Top Prospects

Rich Pilling

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to talk with one of baseball's top talent evaluators - A's super scout Grady Fuson. Though some of you might remember Grady as the obstinate scout who got fired in the Moneyball movie, he served as the A's scouting director from 1995-2001 and has been back with the organization for the past 3 ½ years now as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane. You can find my complete interview with him on my Athletics Farm blog, but this week, rather than offer my usual commentary on each of the minor league teams, I thought I'd instead include a selection of Grady's comments on some of the key players with each club. I've made a point of including the players we discussed in the top players section for each team. Just keep in mind that I spoke with him prior to Grant Green's and Sonny Gray's promotions to the A's, and before Michael Ynoa's elevation to Stockton...

SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS

(Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

Record This Week: 3-4

Record This Season: 50-47

Top Cats:

2B Grant Green (11 HR / 27 BB / 67 K / .318 AVG / .374 OBP / .500 SLG / .874 OPS)

OF Michael Choice (11 HR / 48 BB / 85 K / .292 AVG / .383 OBP / .430 SLG / .812 OPS)

SS Hiro Nakajima (4 HR / 16 BB / 48 K / .279 AVG / .342 OBP / .387 SLG / .729 OPS)

RHP Sonny Gray (102 1/3 IP / 96 H / 32 ER / 34 BB / 107 K / 2.81 ERA / 1.27 WHIP)

RHP Bruce Billings (94 2/3 IP / 91 H / 44 ER / 35 BB / 91 K / 4.18 ERA / 1.33 WHIP)

RHP Evan Scribner (30 1/3 IP / 22 H / 5 ER / 7 BB / 37 K / 1.48 ERA / 0.96 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on RHP Sonny Gray...

Well you know, the credit goes to him...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...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...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.

On outfielder Michael Choice...

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...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.

On second baseman Grant Green...

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...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.

On shortstop Hiro Nakajima...

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.

MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS

(Double-A Texas League)

Record This Week: 3-3

Record This Season: 43-50

Top Hounds:

1B Anthony Aliotti (11 HR / 66 BB / 82 K / .346 AVG / .451 OBP / .533 SLG / .985 OPS)

OF Conner Crumbliss (6 HR / 39 BB / 25 K / .284 AVG / .405 OBP / .469 SLG / .874 OPS)

3B Miles Head (2 HR / 12 BB / 42 K / .196 AVG / .264 OBP / .264 SLG / .527 OPS)

RHP Murphy Smith (108 IP / 111 H / 40 ER / 27 BB / 65 K / 3.33 ERA / 1.28 WHIP)

LHP Carlos Hernandez (97 IP / 85 H / 30 ER / 30 BB / 70 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.19 WHIP)

RHP Drew Granier (24 1/3 IP / 17 H / 4 ER / 13 BB / 16 K / 1.48 ERA / 1.23 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on RHP Drew Granier...

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.

On RHP Murphy Smith...

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.

On third baseman Miles Head...

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...He needs to get healthy, and in shape. And then we can get his mind right and get this thing going.

STOCKTON PORTS

(High-A California League)

Record This Week: 5-2

Record This Season: 50-45

Top Ports:

1B Max Muncy (21 HR / 64 BB / 68 K / .285 AVG / .400 OBP / .507 SLG / .907 OPS)

SS Addison Russell (9 HR / 34 BB / 91 K / .263 AVG / .341 OBP / .478 SLG / .819 OPS)

3B B.A. Vollmuth (16 HR / 36 BB / 100 K / .206 AVG / .296 OBP / .429 SLG / .725 OPS)

RHP Tanner Peters (110 IP / 117 H / 55 ER / 20 BB / 94 K / 4.50 ERA / 1.25 WHIP)

RHP Raul Alcantara (24 2/3 IP / 19 H / 5 ER / 7 BB / 21 K / 1.82 ERA / 1.05 WHIP)

RHP Michael Ynoa (7 2/3 IP / 13 H / 11 ER / 4 BB / 8 K / 12.91 ERA / 2.22 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on shortstop Addison Russell...

He's way on target...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...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...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...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.

On first baseman Max Muncy (promoted to Midland on Sunday)...

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.

On third baseman B.A. Vollmuth...

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.

On RHP Raul Alcantara...

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.

On RHP Tanner Peters...

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.

On RHP Michael Ynoa...

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.

BELOIT SNAPPERS

(Class-A Midwest League)

Record This Week: 4-2

Record This Season: 59-34

Top Snappers:

2B Chris Bostick (11 HR / 35 BB / 75 K / .295 AVG / .366 OBP / .484 SLG / .851 OPS)

1B Matt Olson (12 HR / 48 BB / 93 K / .241 AVG / .340 OBP / .424 SLG / .764 OPS)

3B Renato Nunez (13 HR / 17 BB / 92 K / .280 AVG / .319 OBP / .461 SLG / .781 OPS)

SS Daniel Robertson (4 HR / 24 BB / 48 K / .269 AVG / .344 OBP / .380 SLG / .724 OPS)

RHP Seth Streich (92 IP / 95 H / 41 ER / 37 BB / 72 K / 4.01 ERA / 1.43 WHIP)

RHP Vince Voiro (77 1/3 IP / 87 H / 31 ER / 31 BB / 51 K / 3.61 ERA / 1.53 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on the Beloit Snappers and their first-year manager Ryan Christenson...

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...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.

VERMONT LAKE MONSTERS

(Class-A Short-Season New York-Penn League)

Record This Week: 4-3

Record This Season: 12-15

Top Monsters:

OF B.J. Boyd (3 HR / 9 BB / 19 K / .340 AVG / .398 OBP / .532 SLG / .930 OPS)

OF Herschel Powell (0 HR / 8 BB / 9 K / .338 AVG / .405 OBP / .437 SLG / .842 OPS)

SS Chad Pinder (2 HR / 5 BB / 18 K / .167 AVG / .246 OBP / .267 SLG / .513 OPS)

LHP Brent Powers (26 IP / 21 H / 6 ER / 5 BB / 22 K / 2.08 ERA / 1.00 WHIP)

LHP Jose Torres (19 2/3 IP / 19 H / 5 ER / 6 BB / 13 K / 2.29 ERA / 1.27 WHIP)

RHP Gregory Paulino (28 IP / 26 H / 8 ER / 8 BB / 19 K / 2.57 ERA / 1.21 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on infielder Chad Pinder...

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 we got him (A's 3rd overall pick).

AZL A'S

(Rookie Short-Season Arizona League)

Record This Week: 2-4

Record This Season: 7-13

Top A's:

OF Ben McQuown (0 HR / 5 BB / 10 K / .341 AVG / .404 OBP / .488 SLG / .892 OPS)

OF Jonesy Zarraga (2 HR / 3 BB / 10 K / .257 AVG / .350 OBP / .543 SLG / .893 OPS)

OF Billy McKinney (0 HR / 5 BB / 18 K / .292 AVG / .329 OBP / .347 SLG / .676 OPS)

RHP Ronald Herrera (21 1/3 IP / 32 H / 13 ER / 3 BB / 17 K / 5.48 ERA / 1.64 WHIP)

LHP Alex Nolasco (18 IP / 15 H / 11 ER / 14 BB / 13 K / 5.50 ERA / 1.61 WHIP)

LHP Chris Kohler (5 IP / 5 H / 5 ER / 3 BB / 5 K / 9.00 ERA / 1.60 WHIP)

Grady Fuson on center fielder Billy McKinney...

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!

Grady Fuson on LHP Chris Kohler...

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 (A's 5th overall pick). 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.

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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