I took the opportunity to stop in at Stockton last week to check in on a few guys. I had the chance to talk with center fielder Skye Bolt and new arrivals, and roommates, Brandon Bailey and Nate Mondou. I also took some time to do an interview with Stockton manager Rick Magnante, which I've included below. You can find the other interviews with Bolt and Bailey and Mondou on my Athletics Farm site. I happen to be in Nashville right now, and I just witnessed Mark Canha's grand slam and Renato Nunez's minor-league-leading 27th home run, as well as a 10-run 6th inning by Salt Lake, here on Sunday night. You can look forward to seeing some interesting interviews with hurler Jesse Hahn, first baseman Matt Olson, manager Ryan Christenson, as well as hitting and pitching coaches Eric Martins and Rick Rodriguez, on my site over the coming week. But for now, see what Ports manager Rick Magnante had to tell me about some of Stockton's new arrivals – and it's worth noting that this conversation took place prior to Ports pitcher Norge Ruiz's 10-game suspension…
Stockton manager Rick Magnante originally began his professional baseball career as a 13th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians out of the University of Santa Barbara back in 1969. He first joined the A’s organization in 1995 as an area scout covering southern California, where he was the signing scout for players like Barry Zito. He also began managing short-season teams for the A’s in 2006 after his duties prepping for each year’s draft were through.
After spending five seasons in Vancouver and three seasons in Vermont, Magnante gave up his scouting duties and began managing full-time. He spent the 2014 season in Beloit and is now in his third season with Stockton. I took the opportunity to talk with the Stockton skipper last week to get his first-hand take on some of the prospects who've recently joined the Ports…
AF: You've had a lot of turnover on your roster here at Stockton this year. So, let's talk about some of the new guys who've recently joined your squad here in the second half. Let's start out with 22-year-old second baseman Nate Mondou, who arrived from Beloit at the end of June. He's not a very big guy, but he seems to be doing a pretty good job of putting the bat on the ball.
RM: He's your typical grinder, blue-collar player who has to maximize his skill set to be that over-achieving, instinctual, anticipatory kind of player – and he is that. And his ability to swing the bat has been impressive. I think he's a sleeper. I think you could see Nate in the big leagues. I'll go out on a limb right now and say that may happen someday, because he can play the game. And the other thing you have to take into consideration is that this is his first full season. He had a real good first half there in Beloit. He came up here and he's hot as a firecracker – he's slowed down a little bit as of late, but that's going to happen. And if he can just finish with some kind of consistency at the plate after his first full season, I think that's quite an accomplishment for him.
AF: He sounds like the kind of guy you could really see hustling his way to the big leagues.
RM: Yeah. I asked him, "Were the Boston Red Sox ever interested in you?" I said, "To me, you're Marty Barrett, you're Jerry Remy, you're Dustin Pedroia. You're all those under-sized middle infielders who can really play the game and give 110% every time." So, that's what I liken him to.
AF: I was thinking about David Eckstein.
RM: Absolutely, that's a good comparison.
AF: 21-year-old outfielder Luis Barrera came up here from Beloit in the middle of July. He got off to a pretty good start here and has already hit a couple of home runs for you. He seems to have a lot of tools to work with.
RM: He's a combination of tools with an emerging skill set and a baseball IQ that still needs to advance some. But he's wiry strong, fast, defends, throws, chance to hit, and has youth on his side. So, certainly he's a chance prospect for me.
AF: The other guy who came up from Beloit at the same time as Barrera is 21-year-old infielder Edwin Diaz. He's still very young, but he's also got some tools.
RM: Originally drafted as a shortstop, he's gotten bigger, filled out and slowed down a little bit, so he's moved over to the corner. He's gifted with the glove and has a gifted arm. He's made some sensational plays in the short time that he's been here to allow us to stay in ballgames and eliminate rallies and not give extra outs away. He needs to work on the bat. The hitting is his Achilles heel right now. There's strength there, there's leverage, there's raw power. But the ability to make consistent contact, to take advantage of pitches in the zone that he should hit, those areas are the areas that he needs to improve on.
AF: 22-year-old infielder Sheldon Neuse just recently came here from the Nationals' system. Have you been able to form much of an impression of him yet?
RM: We had a nice talk in the office yesterday, just a little orientation. I gave him a little history about the A's, our direction, our philosophy. I got some information from him, a little bio, where he comes from, his family, etc. Anytime anybody comes over to a new organization, you've just got to give them a pass for six to ten games and let them just get their feet on the ground. But his numbers speak for themselves. He was a 2nd-round draft pick by the Nationals, and we know they scout well. And it looks like we're going to give him an opportunity to play some shortstop and some third base and see how that goes. But we had him out here for some early work in batting practice today, and there is raw power to all fields. But early on, you can see it's a good body – there's strength, there's power. He closed all three years at Oklahoma as well as playing short and third. I don't know if it's Chapman-like, but there's arm strength there.
AF: 23-year-old Cuban pitcher Norge Ruiz is an intriguing pitching prospect that people are very interested in. He's made four starts here in Stockton now, so what have you been able to see out of him so far?
RM: Well, he's extremely competitive – extremely competitive. He raises the bar very high in terms of his expectations, which is good, but it sometimes can be unrealistic and unattainable. So, I tried to bring that down a little bit and create some kind of measured reality for what we expect here. But you're dealing with a different culture…with those guys, you really have to give them the opportunity to just settle in and get comfortable. They want to impress early. He's got a large mix of pitches – from the fastball to the curveball to the slider to the splitter to the change. So, we're going to let him throw his stuff and see how he does. And I'm sure we'll start to abridge his arsenal and try to get him something that works more like a traditional three-pitch/four-pitch mix and see how it all works out. But he's had his moments where he's been impressive. He mixes it up, he changes speeds and he attacks hitters. And he's going to have to learn also that this is professional baseball in America. It's not international baseball. This is a little bit more challenging over here. And he's going to have to do what he needs to do to make the necessary adjustments. So far, he's competed out here, and he's mixed in well with his teammates – so good for Norge!
AF: As we all know, the minor league season can be a bit of a grind. And with a month or so left in the minor league season, we're probably starting to hit that grind point right about now. So, at this point, what are you thinking about, and what messages are you conveying to the young players here on your squad?
RM: Well, you know, we had a successful first half. I was very pleased with the fact that, with four games left to play in the first half, we were one out, and had a chance to get ourselves an early first-half spot in the playoffs. It did not come to fruition. But as far as the work ethic, the energy, the commitment, the fellowship, the camaraderie that we've seen here early on, I'm very pleased with the makeup of the ballclub. At the halfway point, when I sat down and spoke with the players, I simply said that now is the second half, this is when adjustments need to be made, not only in terms of what you need to do to get better, but also what the other teams are going to do to offset the success you've had against them. And also, I just said that I thought there was tremendous parity in the California League, and there was no one or two teams that I felt this year were clearly, talent-wise, better than the rest. So, our future, our destiny here this second half is going to be a function of how well we play the game and how few mistakes we make…with a new crew, with a whole different group of guys – outside of maybe Eli White and maybe Pimentel and Bolt and Brown and Siddall and Mikey White; the pitching has completely changed; we have two new catchers [Argenis Raga and Santiago Chavez]; we have a new third baseman [Edwin Diaz]; we have a newly-acquired infielder with Sheldon Neuse. So, it's a different crew, but you expect that. That comes with the territory in the minor leagues – we, as a staff, understand that. So, we just continue to come out and work hard every day, send out a positive message and make sure that the guys give us their best effort. And to date, they have.
Visit Athletics Farm for updates on the A’s minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.