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Talking with Milone, Gray, Doolittle and Peacock

[UPDATE: A's win big in Scottsdale trumping the Diamondbacks 11-2. Kurt Suzuki HR's against his former battery mate as the A's really sock it to both Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow. Tyson Ross looked really good and seems as if he could lock himself up a place in the rotation when camp breaks. Hail and rain interrupted this game midway through and the A's trotted out mostly MiLB players late. Brandon Moss went 3-for-3 to up his spring average to .526]

On March 3rd, as a part of a visit to Spring Training in Peoria, Arizona, I was invited to come into the A’s clubhouse in Phoenix at Phoenix Municipal Stadium before everything got started for the day to interview some players as any member of the media could. It was an exciting day in A’s camp as it marked the first appearance in the clubhouse of Yoenis Cespedes, the great Cuban import the A’s surprised everyone by signing. I was able to conduct brief interviews with eleven players and this is the third and final of three parts. I have separated them so that each group has some degree of relevancy, it is not the order I did the interviews in. This third and final grouping represents the four new or yet-to-reach the Majors pitchers I spoke with: Tom Milone, Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle and Brad Peacock. First and foremost, I want to thank the A’s for this incredible opportunity, it was an experience that I never would have imagined possible and I also want to thank all the players who took a few minutes to talk to me.

The first player I got to speak with upon arriving in the clubhouse was Tom Milone. As you can see I got only to ask him one question,

Q: A big part of your game is your pinpoint control - (at this point Brian Fuentes interrupted and went "Thank you! Oh you're talking to him [referencing Milone] last year you had four walks, two of them intentional. Have you always just had that control or is it something you worked on? And just how important is that to you pitching your game?

A: When I first started pitching I was always able to throw strikes, and it just kind of developed more into like being able to throw it where I want to as I got older. Obviously in bullpens and stuff I try to work on that but it’s something that just kind of came to me. It’s pretty much always been there.

Fuentes then seated next to Milone asked to see the site and looked it up on his iPad and Milone got away without me being able to ask him another question - crafty pitcher indeed. Milone's control truly is amazing, in his very limited time in the Majors, he has thrown just 121 balls out of 408 MLB pitches meaning just 29.7% of his pitches failed to be strikes. Comparing that to Brandon McCarthy who exhibited great control in 2011, McCarthy had 805 of his 2,606 pitches end up as balls or in other words 30.9% of his pitches failed to be strikes. Not bad for a young kid just starting out. Milone's game is highly dependent upon his control. His FIP in the International League in Syracuse was just 2.24 care of his incredible 1.0 BB/9 and shocking 9.69 K/BB. His ability to keep that up in the Majors is the question. In 26 innings in Washington he didn't have success to that degree with just a 3.75 K/BB but that right there is a very impressive number nonetheless. Especially for a first go in pro ball. It'll be really interesting to see how that translate this season in Oakland.

Next up is last year's first round pick Sonny Gray.

Q: Last year you were the A’s first pick coming out of Vanderbilt and you made the jump right to Double-A. Are you planning on making that jump right up to the MLB roster, what are your goals for 2012?

A: Just continue to get better. I went from college to Double-A but it really doesn’t matter too much in the scheme of things. I just want to continue to get better and hopefully soon be up in Oakland.

Q: I know Buster Olney of ESPN went to Vanderbilt and he was really rooting for you on Twitter. What's it like going from pitching in the SEC to pitching in professional baseball how much of a difference is there?

A: It’s some pretty stiff competition at Vandy, even in intersquad games we had twelve guys drafted this year. It’s a really good school and the SEC is a really good conference. I didn’t feel it was too big of a jump pitching in Midland. But, it is definitely a little different. Your routine changes, I think that’s the main part; trying to adapt to things happening, not really related to baseball.

Q: How is it adapting to your first big league camp?

A: It’s awesome. It’s really, really fun. I hope to stay here as long as possible, but it’s been a lot of fun and really exciting and this is really, really where you want to be.

Unfortunately Gray was the first to be cut this spring, but it shouldn't be too long before we see him in Oakland. Gray was the ace at Vanderbilt and as per Baseball America's Prospect Handbook,

"Gray could've been a top-two-rounds pick coming out of high school in 2008."

So clearly he is quite the pitching prospect. I don't know how much problem there was for him adjusting. He didn't pitch much at Midland but in his twenty innings spread across five starts, he had 8.1 K/9 to 2.7 BB/9 but didn't allow a home run adding up to a 2.30 FIP. That FIP however paled in comparison to his 0.45 ERA. His 95.2% strand rate is wholly unsustainable but he pitched very well and it'll be interesting to see how he looks this year. There is some talk that he could be a September call up but personally I'd rather see him get his break next season in Oakland giving him a full year to acclimatize to Triple-A.

Next up is another pitcher with a fine collegiate pedigree, University of Virginia alumni Doolittle. Doolittle has a big change going from being a position player to being a pitcher. That naturally became the key part of our conversation.

Q: You’ve had quite a big change, and I am sure you’re sick and tired of talking about going from being a position player to be being a pitcher but, you pitched in college, is that like riding a bicycle, it all just comes back?

A: A little bit. I think the overall mechanics came back real quick, but the feel for the offspeed stuff has been slower to come back and has been a bit sporadic at this point. But the mechanics, the fastballs, being able to throw strikes was something that came back really quick and made me think yeah, I have a good foundation, maybe we can do something with this.

Q: I haven’t had the chance to see you pitch and I know a lot of others haven’t yet, what is it you are throwing these days?

A: Fastball, slider, changeup. Pretty simple.

Q: Switching like this completely, changes where you stand in the organization and what your goals are for where you’re playing. What’re you looking for in terms of where you want to be this year?

A: I’m not trying to put too much pressure on it by setting an ultimate goal or having an end game or anything like that. Obviously the first goal is to stay healthy. One of the main reasons that we did this switch was to try to prolong my career and hopefully make it a little bit easier on the body to be able to play year after year. One of the main things is to stay healthy and besides that I’ve been in enough extended spring trainings and AZL, that wherever I go is going to be a step up. I just want to focus on, and it may sound cliche, but what I can control. Wherever I go, I realize this is such a unique situation, so I am really trying not to compare it to where other guys are going to go.

Q: Have you talked to any other guys like Sergio Santos who have made the switch to get their advice?

A: I haven’t. I know that [the A’s], they've looked into some of those situations and what other organizations have done from a workload standpoint and stuff like that to see what guys who have switched have done and how they made that transition. But I personally, haven’t talked to anybody.

Doolittle was optioned to Sacramento a few days ago. Pretty impressive that that is where he will begin his now professional pitching career. In his limited Cactus League action he did not allow a run and allowed just one hit while K'ing three and walking one, albeit in one and a third innings. There are plenty of success stories like Troy Percival and Joe Nathan who made the switch and more recently Sergio Santos. The hope for A's fans of course is that Doolittle can be as successful as them, but I have to wonder how many have made the switch that we never find out about as they languish in MiLB forever. Hopefully if there are many, Doolittle won't become one of them. Really interesting guy and really interesting hear about his switch. I've been rough on Doolittle, lamenting his holding a roster spot all this time when the A's let people who I thought were more valuable pieces go, but I liked him and want to see him succeed.

Last up in my interview series is new Athletic Brad Peacock who along with Milone was acquired from the Washington Nationals in return for left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez. He was a really great interview as I learned a few things about him.

Q: You were a 41st round draft pick and a lot of 41st round draft picks don’t get to make it here and pitch in Major League Baseball. Baseball America has rated you the 36th best prospect which is probably pretty rare that someone is rated a higher prospect than the round they were drafted in. How were you able to turn that low draft position to where you are now?

A: The reason I got drafted so low was I only threw eight innings in high school. I was a third baseman and I asked my coach my senior year of high school - because I couldn’t hit at all - you know let me pitch a little bit. He let me in there and we had a really good pitcher named Mike Gibson and some scouts came to watch him and I came in to close after he was done pitching. A couple of scouts were there and they noticed me and drafted me in the 41st round. They didn’t offer me any money or anything but I was drafted.

Q: Was it a surprise then?

A: Uh, yeah. I had no idea actually. I got the phone call and I was like "what?" But you know, I started pitching in junior college full-time and I started learning to pitch and it’s all said and done from there.

Q: I know you’ve been talked about as one of those potential guys for the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation and you’re sitting here every day with all these guys vying for the same position. Is there ever any tension, do you go out and look at how the other guys are pitching?

A: I just want to be friends with everyone. Go out pitch good, throw strikes and do well and hopefully good things will happen.

Q: So what’s it like being with a new organization?

A: It’s kind of weird because I didn’t know anybody but I’m starting to get to know everybody and its really cool and I like everybody a lot.

Peacock was in the last class of "draft and follow" players. Players who were signed late and then went of to Junior College (as Peacock did) so that their drafting teams could watch their development before making a decision on whether or not they wanted to have them become players in their organization. That is how he could be drafted with just eight innings of high school ball and why the Nats would take a risk on him - clearly he did well in JUCO. To me Peacock's story was just fascinating because in Hollywood you hear of people being discovered out of nowhere at dinner or a movie theater. Peacock is sort of the equivalent, a scout was there to see someone else, caught a glimpse of Peacock, saw something and look where he is now. Really incredible.

That does it. Eleven Athletics spoken to and thank you to them all. I truly appreciated what still is a surreal experience given to me by the A's. Hope all my readers enjoyed reading it.