While in Mesa last week, I took the opportunity to talk with A’s assistant general manager Dan Feinstein as well as special assistant Grady Fuson about some of the team’s top prospects for my Athletics Farm site. As we all know, the A’s currently have a number of prospects potentially on the verge of breaking through in the very near future. And I know that lots of Athletics Nation readers are eager to learn as much as possible about some of these promising young players. So I’ve included a portion of these recent conversations below for your perusal. If you’d like to read the full interviews on my site, as well as some recent interviews I did with prospects Matt Chapman, Daniel Gossett and Bruce Maxwell, you can find them all here…
Assistant general manager Dan Feinstein returned to Oakland to begin his second stint with the A’s just prior to the 2012 season and was promoted to serve as one of the team’s trio of assistant general managers in late 2015. I had the chance to talk with him a little over a week ago at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa about top prospects Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, A.J. Puk, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas. His comments on Barreto and Chapman are included here…
AF: Well, at the top of just about everyone’s A’s prospects list this year is infielder Franklin Barreto. He had a great spring in the big league camp before gettng sent over to the minor league complex, and he’s obviously getting very close to being in the major leagues. What excites you most about him, and what does he still need to work on to get his game where it needs to be?
DF: Well, one thing we’ll talk about with a few of these guys…is that, even though he’s been with us for a little while now, he’s still just barely 21 years old – he turned 21 during this spring training. So it’s something we have to be mindful of, just how young he is, and how above his age he’s played at virtually every level he’s been at. He’s a fairly quiet kid but extremely confident. He’s a very advanced hitter for his age, excellent hand-eye coordination and bat speed. He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s a really talented young bat.
AF: Should we expect to be seeing him getting time at both shortstop and second base this year at Nashville?
DF: Yeah, we certainly think he has enough arm and range to stay at shortstop but, for the immediate future, he’ll probably be able to make the biggest impact at second base. He has very good hands. He’s still learning the nuances of playing the middle of the diamond. I know he’s spent a good deal of time this spring training just making sure that he has the proper footwork and that he’s getting in a strong position to throw. We certainly see him as a shortstop in the future, but he may have his biggest impact at second base this season.
AF: So would you say that the primary focus for him in terms of improvement this season is more on his defense than on his offense then?
DF: Yeah, I think that’s probably the case.
AF: Okay, let’s move on to #2 on our list, and that’s third baseman Matt Chapman. First of all, we know his power is real since he managed to keep his power numbers up at Midland last year, which very few guys seem to be able to do. But he maybe needs to make a little more consistent contact. So what do you like about what you’ve been seeing out of Chapman at this point and what do you need to see out of him at Nashville this season to feel that he’s really major-league ready?
DF: Matt is a really underrated athlete. He plays a really stellar third base. He’s kind of emerged as one of the best defensive third baseman in all of the minor leagues. He could probably play anywhere on the field if you let him.
AF: Well, he did used to pitch in college too, right?
DF: Yeah, and he threw really hard! I mentioned his athleticism, but also his bat speed, the strength in his hands and wrists, and his natural ability to defend. He’s got above-average range at third base. He’s got an extremely strong and accurate arm. There are just so many things to like about him. He did go to Triple-A [late last season], and all his stats might not have been exactly what he would have liked, but he still managed to hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and his power numbers didn’t drop off at all in his short stint in Triple-A.
AF: Are there any adjustments that are being made to his swing or his approach at this point?
DF: This spring, I know he’s made it a point to try to be a little more selective and really identify the pitches that he can attack.
AF: So it sounds like pitch selection is really the main thing that he needs to focus on at this point then.
DF: Probably, yeah.
After serving as the A’s scouting director from 1995-2001, Grady Fuson returned to the A’s in 2010 to serve as a special assistant to the general manager. I spoke with him a week ago at Fitch Park in Mesa about many of the A’s top prospects, including Barreto and Chapman, as well as Bruce Maxwell, Jaycob Brugman, Raul Alcantara, Frankie Montas, Daniel Gossett, last year’s top three draft picks – pitchers A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore – and Chad Pinder, Matt Olson and Renato Nunez. His thoughts on Pinder, Olson and Nunez are included here…
AF: Let’s talk about infielder Chad Pinder, who was recently sent back over to the minor league camp. Bob Melvin was just saying the other day that he thought that his bat was ahead of his defense and it may be just a matter of finding the proper home for him in the field. And now they want to try to make him more versatile defensively and have been talking about having him spend some time in the outfield this year at Nashville.
GF: Well his defense last year threw us all for a loop a little bit, because of how well he played the year before at Midland. So he went through some growing pains, and I think he’s realized some of the things he’s done wrong. I think the big league staff and the front office, some people have gotten a different look at him – maybe he was a little intimidated or nervous, whatever it may be, in the big leagues last year and had a little stiffer look to him. But I think he’s put himself back on the map in this camp. I know the staff has been impressed. He’s done well offensively for the most part. But, you know, he goes back and tries to put another stage to his game, and see if he can improve on that defense. My thing with Chad has always been, he’s just been a guy who’s always had a very low walk rate. So very low walk rates usually equal guys with recognition issues. And with Chad, he’s gotten better in his two-strike situations, but for me personally, I see him get himself in trouble early in the count. He’s offering at pitches early in the count that are going to be low odds to square up. So if he can improve his recognition of what he wants to jump on early, I think that’s going to improve the whole on-base thing a little bit.
AF: And do you anticipate seeing him moving around a bit in the field and getting a little more versatile this year?
GF: Yeah, without a doubt, which we’re big on in the big leagues. We platoon a ton. So the more versatility, the more options there are. The other thing that’s going to be interesting…he told me that he had his eyes done.
GF: Yeah, and in the at-bats that I was seeing over there [in major league camp], he looked a little bit more patient and confident.
AF: So maybe he literally is seeing pitches better at this point! A guy who’s in a somewhat similar situation as Pinder is first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson, who was also sent back over to the minor league camp recently. Bob Melvin was saying that they’re working on changing his swing a bit. So what’s he got to do this year to get himself to where you can see him being ready for the major leagues?
GF: He’s got to define where the impact’s going to be. We already know what he can do defensively. He’s well above average at first, and he’s solid in the outfield. I’m sure if you wanted to put him at third, he could play it. He’s just a good defender. So it’s the same story with him going into this year as every year. There’s always been power, there’s always been on-base, but it’s about not having so many empty at-bats. So it doesn’t take a scientist to realize we need the contact rate to go up and the swing-and-miss rate to come down…and try to make him as good as he can be as far as his approach. This is the first year that he’s come back with a change – he’s a little bit more out in front of himself instead of tied up in the air – and it looks like it’s helping him. He’s been much more competitive in his big league at-bats this spring.
AF: So it sounds like you’re trying to shorten his swing a bit.
GF: Yeah, we’re trying to shorten it and we’re trying to get him to stay over the baseball a little bit better.
AF: And you feel like he’s taken to that change fairly well?
AF: Okay, let’s talk about Renato Nunez. It’s always sort of the same conversation about him. The power potential’s real, when he hits the ball it goes a long way, but the question has always been where he’s going to end up in the field.
GF: Well he’s got to learn to make himself more versatile. It’s going to be an interesting year for him, because he’s going to have to play some left, he’s going to have to DH, he’s going to have to play some first, and then he’ll get some third base time – but you’ve got Chapman there, and he’s probably going to get the majority of the time there. So it’s time for him to kind of change his game a little bit. He’s kind of an odd one, because he’s so young, and yet he’s like the most unheard of 22-year-old to hit 23 homers in the Pacific Coast League. So you’ve got to appreciate what this guy can do – this guy can change the course of a game with one swing. But he’s never come to big league camp and nailed it, you know, like Chapman did [last spring]. Sometimes those things need to happen to get that extra opportunity.
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