I recently interviewed a number of A's prospects and personnel while in Arizona for my Athletics Farm site. And I thought I'd share a couple of conversations I had with two rookies who've made the A's opening day roster for the first time this year - Tyler Ladendorf and Billy Burns. You can check out the complete piece which also includes an interview with infield prospect Max Muncy here. And I'll be back with regular weekly minor league reports again this season starting on Monday, April 13 right here on Athletics Nation...
Acquired from Minnesota in the Orlando Cabrera trade back in 2009, Ladendorf has spent most of his time in the A's system at the Class-A and Double-A levels but finally got some serious time at Triple-A last season. Primarily known for his glove in the past, Ladendorf's bat came alive at Sacramento last year. But just as he was enjoying his best season at the plate, he found himself sidelined by a suspension when he tested positive for a drug of abuse. Ladendorf has come back strong this spring though. A's manager Bob Melvin has repeatedly praised his versatility. And it appears that his ability to play second, short and third as well as all three outfield positions has landed him a roster spot with the A's on opening day.
AF: Well, you've gotten plenty of at-bats here in the big league camp this year. What's the experience been like for you?
TL: It's been fun. This is my first big league camp. I'm just trying to get my feet wet and get to know everybody. I mean, it's been awesome with this group right here. You could tell early, it was a bit quieter. But now the last couple of days, it's just been fun to be around with this group.
AF: So how is this experience different from being over in the minor league camp?
TL: There's just more going on. More attention's paid to all the little details. You've just got to be on top of your stuff a little bit more over here. They're not going to hold your hand over here, that's for sure.
AF: Is there anyone here in camp who's taken you under their wing a bit?
TL: Some of the pitchers like [Ryan] Cook and [Sean] Doolittle. But I feel like some of these guys, even though they've got big league time, I feel like I've been here [in the organization] longer than just about anybody in here, in all seriousness.
AF: You're definitely an organizational veteran - you've been here since 2009!
TL: I'm just excited for what this year brings. I'm just happy to be back out there playing more than anything.
AF: Last year, you finally made it up to Triple-A and you were hitting better than ever and having a great season, and then the suspension came along. Was it disappointing for you to have to come off the field at that point after things had been going so well for you?
TL: It was. It was real disappointing, embarrassing, humbling - a lot of words you could use. But I learned from it. I feel like I'm a better person because of it. Unfortunately, it shouldn't have taken an event like that for that to happen. So it was a good feeling coming back here and just trying to pick up where I left off from last year.
AF: Well, you've certainly been playing well this spring. So have the coaches here given you much guidance or had you working on anything, or have they just let you go out there and do your thing?
TL: No, I feel like they're just kind of trying to see what I'm about. And I feel like I'm old enough now where I have my own routine and I understand what I need to do to get ready every day.
AF: So have there been any new challenges for you facing this level of pitching in the major league camp?
TL: Yeah, they're a little bit better up here, that's for sure. You're just not going to see that pitch over the plate - they're few and far between. So I feel like you've just kind of got to pick your spots. I've just tried to stay patient, because I feel like my patience is what led to a lot of success last year. So I don't want to change what got me here. These guys are good. It's fun though, because I'm as competitive as it gets. So if they get me out 3 or 4 times, I'm trying to get back in there that last at-bat and get a knock. So the challenge is exciting every day. It's just a matter of making adjustments.
AF: Now last year, you had better success hitting at Triple-A than you'd had at the lower levels. So what was the difference between hitting at Midland and hitting at Sacramento?
TL: Obviously, if anybody's been to Midland, the conditions there - the wind - there's a lot of physical elements that are out of your control that aren't in hitters' favor. But I feel like my patience at the higher levels helped me, because they're not going to necessarily just come up there and throw everything right down the middle. So I feel like I have a good enough eye to work the counts and handle the bat and do things like that.
AF: Going forward this year, is there anything in particular that you want to try to focus on or work on a bit?
TL: Not really. Honestly, I feel like I turned a corner last year. So I just really want to pick up where I left off...and just build on it.
AF: Now you're able to play a lot of different positions in the field. But are you more comfortable playing anywhere in particular, or do you care? Have they told you there are any spots they want you to focus on more?
TL: No, right now it's everywhere. I take a lot of pride in my defense, so I want to be able to do it all. Whatever I can do to help the team, I just want to win more than anything. It doesn't matter if it's ping pong, I just want to win the game.
Primarily known for his speed, Burns was acquired from Washington after the 2013 season. He got off to a bit of a slow start at Double-A Midland last season and then struggled after a promotion to Sacramento during the final month of the season. But this spring has been an entirely different story. Burns has been one of the best hitters in the A's big league camp. And with outfielders Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick set to open the season on the sidelines, it looks like Burns is going to get the chance to start the season with Oakland.
AF: Well, you've been having a great spring, playing regularly and hitting well. So what's been working for you and accounting for your success?
BB: There's stuff you're always trying to improve on. I'm tyring to improve on my left-handed hitting especially, and I changed a little bit of my approach. In the offseason, I worked with some of the hitting coaches on different mental approaches and just attacking the ball more and getting into a stronger position. But other than that, my game's something I always work on. It's not just one thing, it's everything.
AF: Obviously the left-handed hitting seems to be coming along, you seem to be driving the ball and hitting with a little more authority and getting more hits from the left side. Was that part of the plan, to try to hit with a little more authority from the left side?
BB: Yeah, just getting into a stronger position and just trying to attack the baseball a little bit more instead of being more passive. So I've been working on that and just enjoying this Arizona weather - it's fun being out here.
AF: Now what about the base-stealing aspect of the game? You've been at Double-A, Triple-A and here in major league camp over the past year. Do you find that it's tougher to steal bases quite so easily as you go up the chain?
BB: Some part of it is tougher. It really just depends on my jumps and whether the pitcher is consciously trying to hold me on. But I think it's a little bit harder here at this level...I think the catchers are just better. They have better arms, better experience, better accuracy. They're good - they wouldn't be here if they weren't.
AF: Going forward into this season, is there anything in particular that you really want to try to focus on or work on?
BB: It's going to be different to take my new left-handed hitting approach into the season. And that should be fun just to see how it plays out. But other than that, I'm just always trying to improve on everything. There's nothing I feel like I've mastered.
AF: So are there any veterans here in camp who've been particularly helpful to you this spring?
BB: Well, I'm always with the outfielders. So some of the outfield guys have been pretty instrumental, like Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry. They're always kind of helping me out if I do something stupid. If I have questions, I always feel like I can come to them.
AF: I know you're from Georgia. So if you should end up spending much time in Nashville this year, would that feel fairly close to home for you?
BB: Yeah, it's only like a three-hour drive, so that helps. And I've got family and friends that'll be coming to see me if I'm there, so it'd be cool.
AF: Well, it'd definitely be a lot closer that Midland or Sacramento anyway.
BB: Yeah, that's for sure!