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Talking to Gomes, Cowgill and Donaldson

Note: Brandon Allen's grand slam, part of a 7 RBI day, propelled the A's to a 12-10 win over the Cubs today. Oakland blew a 9-4 lead courtesy of Edgar Gonzalez being Edgar Gonzalez, but bounced back with two runs in the 9th to up their Cactus League record to 2-1. These interviews deserve attention, so I have bumped them back atop the front page. Enjoy and discuss, and get ready for some split squad action on Monday! - Nico

Yesterday, 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 first 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 first grouping represents the three offensive players I spoke with Jonny Gomes, Collin Cowgill and Josh Donaldson. The next parts will feature four returning pitchers and four pitchers new to Oakland or yet to reach the Majors. 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.

First up let's do the interview with Jonny Gomes, one of the longer ones.

Q: I heard yesterday on MLBNetworkRadio that you were an A’s fan growing up in particular the late 80’s teams. On those teams who was your favorite guy and if you were to say the guy you are most like who would that be?

A: Coming up just being a young kid you are always an admirer of that big home run so [Jose] Canseco, [Mark] McGwire. But at the same time Rickey Henderson with stealing all those bags was exciting and Dennis Eckersley as a shutdown closer was cool. The uniqueness I guess of the Carney Lansford at the hot corner and his approach at the plate with his bat wiggle. Mike Gallego, here was pretty cool too.

Q: It’s gotta be pretty cool now playing with somebody you watched.

A: Yeah people can have Hall of Fame careers, people can be in the big leagues forever but the opportunity to play for your hometown and childhood favorite team is pretty cool. Who I’d be like? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody could compare that day in age to today’s day in age and have what they had going on. I’ll just be my own guy.

Q: Coming to Oakland you’re sort of in a similar situation to what you had in Tampa Bay a really young club with a lot of guys looking at getting that first foot in the door to competing in 2015. Do you see any similarities between this team and Tampa Bay, with you being the veteran now?

A: Obviously there’s similarities just flat out like service time and age. These guys approach it a little differently - there’s a lot of trades, a lot of new faces, everyone’s still starting to get to know each other – down in Tampa, there were no trades. We all came up together – all of us. So it was an extremely unique situation that I think is extremely hard to duplicate. It’s not just the players it goes all the way back to the scouting department, the draft class and all that so that was a unique situation. As far as these new guys and being hungry, obviously when you’re young you’re a bit more athletic so its exciting watching these guys play. The arms, they definitely are power arms coming at you hard and fast. It’ll be exciting. I was in this situation when I was young and it is a great opportunity. You can come up here and shine and make a name for yourself.

Q: There’s been talk of you maybe being in left field or at designated hitter. The outfield sure got clogged in a hurry, are you still looking at breaking in there, do you have a preference or whatever gets you playing time?

A: Yeah, wherever you can get playing time. I’ve played left field in the big leagues, I’ve played right field in the big leagues, I’ve DH’d. I’m not more comfortable in one or the other. I think you’ve seen in the past couple of years, people struggling in the DH slot to where it’s really not the best job in America where all you have to do is hit and go home. It’s actually a position and it’s tough and at same time it can hurt for it can really help the team. I’ve had success DH’ing for a few years in the American League and I have had success playing in the outfield in the National League. So all I can do is worry about #31 and just worry about when it’s called.

Q: Number 31, I know that you had to get that from Brandon Allen, any disclosure about what the terms of that agreement are?

A: Not yet, but A.J. Burnett has set the bar a little too high for my liking with what he did over there in Pittsburgh with the college fund. Hopefully we can arrange something else.

Gomes was a really great interview, very easy to talk to and really a personable guy. He is clearly passionate about being a member of the Oakland A's from his rattling off a bunch of players unable to decide on one or two as many a fan is often to do. There have been many players who have had difficulty DH'ing, and it makes sense you are somewhat removed from the game and it is a salient point he makes that is in fact a position and shouldn't be treated just as something anyone can do. Immediately coming to mind as a failed DH is another Bay Area native and former Ray, Pat Burrell. But Gomes' splits by position are somewhat significant,

as a LF .253 .330 .442 98
as a RF .280 .348 .578 134
as a DH .221 .328 .417 92

It'll be worth monitoring how he does this season and if a position change has a similar outcome. For what it is worth the samples between left field and designated hitter are very close: 1,092 plate appearances as a LF, 1,042 plate appearances as a DH, while in RF he has a mere 490.

I got the chance to ask new Athletic Collin Cowgill a few questions as well.

Q: Bob Melvin has said that even if you haven’t been in the game you come back to the dugout with your jersey all dirty and everything I’ve read there’s been praise on your work ethic. What does that mean to you and how do you go out and play the game that might be different from others?

A: It’s been like that my whole life. I’ve never been the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the most talented guy. I try to put myself in the position where at the end of the day I have no regrets. There is no reason why I shouldn’t perform because I put my work in, and do the best I can to prepare for the game. And whether or not I get hits or what not, I play hard and do what I can to help the team win. That’s always been my philosophy, whatever I can do on the field, whether it is running hard on a pop up or ground out, there’s always a chance somebody will make a mistake out there. I just want to put myself in a position to help the team win; I prepare that way, and hope to be successful.

Q: When you got traded here in early December the outfield looked like you and Ryan Sweeney and maybe that’s it. Now there are nine guys here, does that change your outlook or how you go about doing things?

A: No, you just go out and play hard and just try to win the games. Even in spring training you want to go out there and you want to win. There’s always going to be competition and battling for spots and that’s never going to change. I think that’s a good problem for us as an organization to have, we have so much talent in the outfield. It makes us better as a team, and it makes each other better as we all are competing for jobs and at the same time want us all to do well and be successful because that helps us win games and that’s our ultimate goal.

Q: You’ve played all three outfield positions. Is there one you feel most comfortable with or prefer?

A: I like centerfield the best. I feel you have a better perspective out there. You see the field straight on, so you can make a better adjustment and you have a better idea as to where the ball is going based on where the catcher sets up. You’re a little more prepared there than in the corners because you only have one view. I’m more comfortable playing there than anywhere else.

Cowgill may prefer center, but Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson preferred him in left field where he saw 138 innings in limited action to just 60 as the captain of the outfield in center. The majority of his games in the minors have been in center field however where he has 182 appearances to just 122 in right and only 44 in center. One thing I found striking about Cowgill is that he isn't a very big guy. He is listed at 5' 9" and 185 lbs but that seems generous on the weight side. Baseball America's write-up of Cowgill in the 2012 Prospect Handbook is exactly what Melvin articulated to the group of bloggers that had the opportunity to interview him at FanFest, as it reads,

"Cowgill is the prototypical grinder, the kind of player every manager wants on his team."

I saw that firsthand today as he runs out every pop up, ground out, backs up his fellow fielders. Basically does everything you want a guy to do and are taught in Little League as not only a good practice but a good duty and life lesson on hard work and responsibility. That is clearly something highly valued by MLB clubs and seems a prerequisite for being a clubhouse leader.

Finally, I got to speak with Josh Donaldson.

Me: Obviously your profile has sort of changed in the past week; you’ve been talked about on national networks because of the injury to Scott Sizemore. What is it like? Has it been a whirlwind going from fighting for a backup role on the team to now being talked about as the starting third baseman?

Donaldson: I was already taking ground balls and stuff before Sizemore got hurt first of all. Second of all now that he got hurt its just put more of a focus on it whereas I was putting focus on catching before. Where the priorities are is the only thing that’s changed.

Me: I heard yesterday on the radio, in an interview Cliff Pennington did with MLBNetworkRadio and he said, you had started off at third base, came to catcher and now are back.

Donaldson: Yeah, when I was in college I started off a third baseman. And in my sophomore year I started splitting time between third base and catcher and then since 2008, I would play a game here and there. I think I had 10 games there in 2008, then in 2009 I had 15, in 2010 eight and then last year close to thirty and played in the Dominican too.

Me: What got you started with catching to begin with?

Donaldson: I started catching because when I was in college we had lost a guy that was going to be a freshman to the draft and they didn’t have any catching. Our coach said, "I feel like you could do it back there if you tried it out" and I tried it out and was pretty successful early on. I pretty much did it because of a team need but I’ve always felt comfortable at third.

Me: I know you’ve been focusing on third but have you had a chance to catch any of the new guys here? Any early scouting reports?

Donaldson: I didn’t get to catch any of the guys we got in any of the big trades. It feels like so long ago but I’ve caught Sonny, he threw the ball well. Good mechanics came out nice and easy. Scribner, he has developed a nice little split-fingered change up, fastball is good, got a big curveball.

In reading the answer to the first question, it seems as if Donaldson is being abrasive but he was not at all. He was very cordial and was simply expressing that the plans haven't altered as dramatically as we outsiders might think. I did however find it interesting that he hasn't caught many of the new guys, it seems then if pitchers and catchers reported a while ago that he even prior to Sizemore's injury wasn't doing much catching of the young guys. Makes me wonder if that is a job left to the veteran Kurt Suzuki or if younger guys like Derek Norris, Ryan Ortiz or Max Stassi take those responsibilities to build rapport with pitchers that will be under their charge in the minors?

One other thing I found interesting about this is that Donaldson's position change was due to necessity on the club he was on. A few guys I spoke to had position changes, and it seems when playing at college - a high level - and obviously considering trying to make a career out of professional baseball that that seems a dangerous and risky move that could diminish your level in the draft and dramatically impact your potential paycheck. I was really kind of surprised by how frequent it seemed albeit in very small sample sizes.

I will post the remainder of the interviews the next two Sundays.

Also because this post isn't long enough, I wanted to share some videos I shot at the game yesterday. I figure it is easiest to use links. They are in order: Tyson Ross, Jarrod Parker, Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Jim Miller and Brett Hunter:

I also took some photos and will try to get them up sometime soon for people to see.