Friday, January 31, 2014

A's MiLB Full Season Pitching Depth Chart

Now we're on to the big boys, the individuals comprising rotation and bullpen roles through Beloit to Sacramento this this upcoming 2014 campaign. From Dylan Covey and Bobby Wahl to Matt Buschmann and Phil Humber, it's an overflowing cast that may even have to suffer a few casualties before April to have everyone be smushed and scribbled into the rosters. There's absolutely no shortage of talent here though, like upstarts in Raul Alcantara and Tanner Peters or arms attempting to finally find their professional footing and see their potential materialize in Blake Hassebrock and Brett Hunter. While the A's already have a plentiful major league cast, these boys are the netting that'll salvage the A's should injuries trickle into the Oakland rotation or bullpen, something that has been an unfortunately common occurrence in recent years. So, don't be afraid to get acquainted with the River kittens, Rockdoggies, Ports and Snappers' arms come this April. 

Depth Chart Listing:

LHP Phil Humber
RHP Matt Buschmann
RHP Arnold Leon
LHP Andrew Werner
RHP Josh Lindblom
RHP Fernando Nieve
RHP Jose Flores
RHP Deryk Hooker 
RHP Jeremy McBryde
RHP Evan Scribner
RHP Fernando Rodriguez
RHP Paul Smyth
RHP Drew Granier
LHP Frank Gailey
RHP Ryan Dull
RHP Sean Murphy
RHP Murphy Smith
RHP Tucker Healy 
LHP Omar Duran
RHP Seth Frankoff
RHP Tanner Peters
RHP Shawn Haviland
RHP Blake Hassebrock
RHP Ryan Doolittle
RHP Manaurys Correa
LHP Jeff Urlaub
RHP Chris Jensen
RHP Jesus Castillo
LHP Trey Barham
RHP Nate Long
RHP Brett Hunter
RHP Zach Neal
RHP Jonathan Joseph
RHP Michael Ynoa
RHP Josh Bowman
RHP Devyi Jimenez
LHP Brent Powers
RHP Jose Macias
RHP Andres Avila
RHP Tim Atherton
RHP Dylan Covey
RHP Bobby Wahl
RHP Derek DeYoung
RHP Kyle Finnegan
RHP Sam Bragg
RHP Nolan Sanburn
RHP Seth Streich
RHP Austin House
RHP Kris Hall
LHP Chris Lamb
RHP Trevor Bayless
RHP Tyler Vail
RHP Vince Voiro
LHP Jose Torres
RHP Gregory Paulino 
RHP Kayvon Bahramzadeh
RHP Junior Mendez
RHP Dominique Vattuone

Arnold Leon (Sacramento): 

      (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lockard)

Despite the uptick in notoriety following the pitch he threw which incited the Mexico/Canada WBC brawl last March, most forget that Leon remains a premier prospect within Oakland's system and a 40 man roster member that'll commence in the MLB camp at Phoenix Municipal in the coming weeks. While the organization has constantly vacillated in regards to a starting or relieving route for Leon to partake in over recent years, he primarily was in the Rockhound and Kitty Cat rotations last season between 25 appearances (24 starts) compared to a 44 appearance, bullpen exclusive attempt between Stockton, Midland and Sacramento in 2012. The previous two campaigns came after TJS in which Leon opted for in 2010, and caused him to be absent for the majority of 2011. The stocky 6'1", 205 Mexican native has drawn comparisons to Jesse Chavez for a probable projectable role that he'll likely encompass should be arrive in Oakland, as a long relief/spot start specialist. Still, Leon could thrive in a late inning bullpen post thanks to a diverse repertoire and a velocity increase to 95-96 MPH from a pedestrian 92-94 MPH in a bullpen position comparatively to when starting for multiple innings. Regardless, Leon has proven himself an intriguing asset for the A's to utilize in 2014, and dependent upon performance amongst a ridiculously competitive Sacramento staff, could debut in Oakland if injury requires a replacement. 

Leon began in Midland the season prior and grappled with Texas League foes for 72 2/3 IP (13 starts), with a 15.3% K%, 3.5% BB% and a 1.11 HR/9, exhibiting precision and phenomenal recognition of the strike zone. Despite the mediocre strikeout percentages, something that in 2012 (74 K in 66 2/3 IP) was an above average trait thanks to his conserved arm in his bullpen role, Leon demonstrated his reliable groundball rate and tallied up enough appearances to convince Oakland to slot him in Sacramento. In a nearly identical sample size to conclude his 2013 (71 1/3 IP), Leon accumulated a 16.3% K%, 4.3% BB%, 0.50 HR/9 and a plus 3.23 FIP in a performance slightly better than his AA attempt as Arnold finished with a career high 144 IP, nearly double that of his previous mark of 74 1/3 frames in 2009.

The 25 year old Culiacan native hinges upon his aforementioned precise fastball placement alongside an exceptional changeup, revised curveball, tertiary slider and a cut fastball that have propelled him to the edge of a major league berth. Whether the A's decide upon a bullpen position or to consider him for a permanent rotation role when he ascends to Oakland is unknown at the moment, but it seems as though shall be granted entry into the Rivercats rotation come April. 

Sean Murphy (Midland):

Murphy, one of the unsung starting pieces for the A's at the upper regions of the farm, has garnered comparisons to Dan Straily from the Oakland scouting staff for his imposing size (6'6", 220), repertoire (89-93 MPH FB, slider, curveball, changeup), and a preference towards the strikeout, tallying 299 punchouts cumulatively over the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Plus, he's got a generic name to boot. While not necessary on the fringe of a 200 K season in 2014, Murphy still is a bulletpoint that ought to be highlighted as his second consecutive Texas League attempt looms this April. 

Out of Keystone College, a Division III squad in Pennsylvania, Murphy was an anonymous 33rd rounder plucked by Oakland that proceeded to steamroll past the AZL and consequently bypass Vermont entirely before a minuscule 48 2/3 IP during 2011 between Burlington and Stockton, despite his Ports debut being but a lone August start. His California League sample size would dramatically increase during the following campaign, as after just north of 50 frames with the Bees had been amassed the righty was sanctioned off to Stockton for his remaining 108 2/3 IP. As a fly ball oriented arm, Murphy was predictably annihilated from time-to-time, permitting a grotesque 25 dingers (1.74 HR/9) and concluded with a 4.82 FIP. However, his strikeout percentages received a boost, and the Philadelphia son produced a 23.4% K% and a total 107 strikeouts through the remainder of the season, as he finished third in the organization in cumulative strikeouts at 159 behind Drew Granier and Dan Straily. He also accomplished a rarity by striking out 8 of the first 9 batters he faced in an outing against Rancho Cucamonga, becoming the first Port to achieve such a feat since Trevor Cahill in 2008. 

The organization felt as though Murphy needed to be retained for another stint within Stockton, however the then 24 year old ascended to Midland after three performances (18 2/3 IP) and spent the remaining portion of 2013 with Midland. For his initial AA foray, Murphy fared decently with a 20.7% K%, 8.5% BB% and a drastically reduced 0.59 HR/9, finally locating refuge from the oppressive Cal League and the numerous dingers that are fueled because of it. The considerably more advanced offensive plate discipline was a difficulty for Murphy though, witnessing increases in his walks distributed and decreases in his consistent strikeout production. As he transitions on to 2014, adjustments shall undoubtedly be made for Murphy as he tackles the west Texan prairie for his sophomore attempt versus AA. If you're looking for a candidate to in some facility duplicate Straily's absurd strikeout rampage from 2012, Murphy is one of the better bets. 

Tanner Peters (Midland):

The wiry righty who blew past the California League and correspondingly emerged as one of the breakthrough performers within the Athletics organization in 2013 now is likely headed towards Midland alongside Granier, Murphy, and possibly Alcantara. Peters, who possessed the second lowest BB% amongst qualified starters (4.0%), a 3.65 FIP inflated due to the CL (1.30 HR/9), and a 23.4% K% through 165 2/3 IP and 28 outings, rocketed up A's organizational prospect ranking interpretations and endeared himself to Oakland fans with an August start in which he retired 25 consecutive batters and took a perfect game into the 9th inning, striking out 14 in the process. His 40 strikeout month of August was only the third of any A's prospect in 2013, as Sonny Gray and Drew Granier both achieved the feat in May for the Rivercats and Ports. Thriving upon one of the best changeups in the organization, which Baseball America bestowed the "Best in the California League for 2013", Peters has now readied himself to tackle the last leg prior to Oakland. Wrote a few other additional tidbits about Tanner back in November as my 20th overall Oakland prospect entering 2014:

"The frail 6'1", 160 pound righty got off to a horrendous start, getting eaten alive to the tune of 7 HRs allowed within his first month of Cal League ball (24 2/3 IP). However, afterwards Tanner began a smooth transition through his 28 start season, navigating through 165 2/3 innings as a Port en route to a solid 159:27 K/BB and a 3.65 FIP, finishing as one of the most control oriented pitchers in the system aside from Alcantara. He was the only pitcher in the system to compile 20+ IP, sub 10 BB, and plus 20 K numbers in every single minor league month (Aside from September of course)"

Tanner was kind enough so speak with me for a little while as well on his offseason and preparation entering 2014

CK: Last season with Stockton definitely was a breakthrough for you between just over 165 innings as you finished with one of the greatest cumulative strikeout totals of any A's pitcher with 159. You told me beforehand that you consider yourself a weak contact type of guy, but now that you made it through 2013 do you a feel a bit more confident to get the strikeout than you have in past years? 

TP: I have always been confident in my stuff to strike someone out when I need to. Every time I go out and pitch though I am still concentrating on getting hitters out in 3 pitches. Not many of those will be 1-2-3 K's so I still pitch to contact and I always will. Weak contact is the still the goal. 

CK: You also only distributed 27 walks last season and established yourself as one of the more precise pitchers in the Cal League. What was your mindset in two and three ball counts and how did you stay so consistent throughout the year? 

TP:  I've always been a strike thrower. It is my goal to throw a strike 95% of the time. So no matter if its a 1-1 count or a 3-0 count my mindset never changes. I think I was able to stay consistent by just working hard everyday. Doing what I could to keep my mechanics the same and as clean as possible.

CK: Your changeup received lots of acclaim last year by scouts. Do you view that as your best pitch? 

TP: I would never tell anyone that my change up is my best pitch. I believe for almost all pitchers their fastball should be their best pitch, we live and die by it. My change up has come a long way though. I have usually always have had a good feel for it, but ever since my junior year at UNLV its become my best offspeed pitch. I believe its the best offspeed in the game so that is why I put so much effort into perfecting it as much as I can

CK: What do you believe you've put the most improvement into thus far this offseason?

TP: The offseason for me is really about recovering from a long year and then gaining strength going into the next year and I feel I have done just that. I would have to say I am the strongest physically I have ever been right now so that would be the biggest improvement I've made this offseason.

CK: Last time we talked in Stockton you still had your mustache in tact, but then for some reason you shaved it... I'm glad to see you grew it back this offseason, because it is unbelievably awesome, but is it gonna be staying on for 2014? Or will does it get shaved/grown for superstitious reasons? 

TP: Ahhh the lore of the mustache. I am currently clean shaven but it usually makes an appearance every year. There is no real superstition behind it. I just grow it because I like it. But be on the lookout for it.

CK: Lastly, heading into Phoenix for the preseason in the next few weeks, what do you hope to accomplish when everything is all said and done in September? 

TP: I would say for this year I would like to stay healthy for the whole season and just do everything I can in my power to be the best pitcher I can possibly be. Hard work pays off I believe, so I will put my work in and everything else will fall into place. 

Ryan Doolittle (Midland/Stockton):

      (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lockard)

Yes, the sibling of famed Sean Doolittle, the younger Ryan is still under contract with the Athletics despite having just undergone TJS which cost him nearly the entirety of 2013. Having partook in other additional UCL surgeries while within the Oakland system, Doolittle has hardly had a legitimate opportunity to distinguish himself from the older brother, now one of the most dominant left handed relievers in baseball following an impromptu transition to the mound. But Ryan, when healthy, has been nearly unhittable and has been one of the most statistically remarkable pitchers for the Athletics since he was selected by Oakland in the 26th round in the 2008 Draft. Never having amassed more than 24 appearances in a single campaign, Doolittle hopes 2014 can be the breakout season in which he reunites with Sean in the green and gold. 

Through 163 career innings, Doolittle has a 157:20 K/BB with 10 dingers permitted and a 2.20 GB/FB, an exceptional performance over the previous half decade that has made his absence all the more tragic. If healthy throughout the whole of his career, he likely would be in consideration for a major league bullpen position, if not having already acquired one in Oakland. The righty still has an opportunity though, with a probable Midland position awaiting him to commence 2014, which would serve as Doolittle's AA debut. The Tabernacle, NJ native owns a 59:7 K/BB in 50 1/3 California League frames and has thoroughly demolished the competition with Stockton, as the 26 year old seems the most adequately suited for the Rockhounds bullpen. 

Doolittle recuperated within the AZL last season in August prior to the two start Ports stints, which was to amass as many possible innings as the A's could before the season concluded. Between 17 innings and six appearances, he constructed a 11 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 10 K line that he hopes should vault him upward to Midland. Utilizing a 91-93 FB with movement and an exceptional changeup/slider combination, Doolittle's repertoire is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Dull, who demonstrated what Ryan Doolittle could've done if healthy for a prolonged period during 2013. The dreams of a sibling tandem in the east bay aren't completely dead though, but it'll require Doolittle to be flawless in 2014. 

Bobby Wahl (Beloit):

The draft day coup orchestrated by the A's to acquire the previously considered first rounder was the defining piece of their 2013 haul, as ballclubs were frightened to make an attempt at the Mississippi alumni due to most considering his stock to be replenished if he opted to return to the collegiate ranks. Thanks to a blister development, Wahl was tossed into the A's clutches and the Athletics now are in the possession of an instantaneous top 5 organizational prospect. With a Beloit assignment and a full season attempt now on the horizon for Wahl, the flamethrower prepares to suit up with the turtles in Wisconsin and reward Oakland for their aggressive Secaucus strategy last June.

Wahl landed on my top 100 Athletics prospects entering 2014 at #4. Here's some additional information about the righty:  

"Wahl, the 5th round draftee out of Mississippi during the previous June, was one of the most noticeable steals throughout the entire field as he was originally projected as a 1st round asset before his velocity decreased during his collegiate season due to blisters, and Oakland scooped him away from remaining squads who assumed Wahl would opt to return to Ole Miss to increase his draft position and successfully inked him at #161 overall. The righty was flown to Papago to partake in a lone appearance where he went 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K prior to boarding another airplane and departing the southwest for Vermont where the 21 year old meandered through 20 2/3 IP in his nine appearances within July and August, concluding with a stellar 27 K's compared to 9 BBs and three dingers allowed. 

Wahl's sample size is far too misiscule to make any consensus with, but his extraordinary potential makes him unanimous top 5 Athletics prospect, with an upper 90's fastball that was recorded at 98-99 at it's peak with the Lake Monsters despite hovering between 94-97 to be more reasonable outcome as the organization's leash on Wahl's cumulative innings becomes longer. His featured secondary is a 82-85 MPH slider that often badly fools opposing batters with an additional changeup that will be tremendously benefitted from being tweaked by the A's staff."

Jose Torres (Beloit):

       (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lockard)

The crowning international LHP prospect within the A's midst, Torres has often been forgotten after just recently partaking in his first attempt at Vermont during an injury riddled 2013. But for the 6'2", 180 pound Venezuelan who signed alongside fellow countrymen Renato Nuñez and Anderson Mata on July 2nd of 2010, Torres seems poised for a breakout campaign in Wisconsin should he be physically intact. The developing 20 year old continues to increase notches upon his velocity, now currently sitting at 87-90 MPH, accompanied by a plus curveball and an inconsistent but effective changeup, and has received acclaim from the organization for his projectability upon the mound. With Anderson Mata, another Venezuelan lefty, having fallen and being proven unable to make a trek to the US thus far, Torres now stands unchallenged as the premier Caribbean lefty for the Athletics, with Omar Duran falling slightly behind the Caracas native.

Torres has had sporadic opportunities within the Athletics system thus far, only accumulating 141 IP through his three MiLB campaigns after commencing in the Dominican academy as a 17 year old in 2011. Cumulatively, between his DSL attempts, 2012 AZL debut as an 18 year old, and his previous Vermont stint, Torres owns a less than desirable 102:68 K/BB as he has demonstrated a difficulty with precision throughout his first few professional outings. However, the lanky youngster consistently has been forgiven with a stellar 1.75 career GB/FB ratio between his 38 appearances (30 starts) and allowed a mere 5 HRs allowed while housed within the short season affiliates. The statistics ought not to be as revered with JT at this stage, with his offerings still being meticulously developed since 2010 and his mechanics having gone through countless alterations through organizational experimentation. Once Torres matures entirely, has his fate decided upon definitively for a pitching delivery, and has his velocity balloon to its absolute potential, you're looking at a menacing prospect for the A's. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jesus Castillo to represent Oakland in the Serie Del Caribe

Oakland's lone participant within the pinnacle event of Caribbean baseball, the Serie Del Caribe, in all likelihood shall be the 29 year old Tucson native and former 27th rounder by the Dodgers, Jesus Castillo. Castillo, who turns 30 on May 31st, is a right handed long relief bullpen asset inked by the Athletics last August out of the Mexican leagues. He was promptly flown to Midland where he navigated through 10 IP with a 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K line between six appearances, including a save which he successfully converted for the Rockhounds. Alberto Callaspo and Fernando Abad, as 40 man roster members, shall be likely prevented from representing their postseason and Venezuelan champion ballclub, the Navegantes de Magallanes. Additionally, Darwin Perez, the resigned MiLB FA who served as the backup pitch runner for the Navegantes (Yes, Magallanes had two pitch runners on their roster), is unlikely to attend with a NRI invitation to the Oakland MLB spring training camp. Callaspo is the only confirmed individual of the trio at this instant, but it seems as though Abad and Perez will follow suit at the moment. 

Callaspo completed his offseason slashing out to a .277/.400/.389 line (2 HR, 6 2Bs, 23 BB:17 K) through 145 appearances exclusively at DH/2B, with a lone mid-contest switch to third base due to a lineup tweak. Fernando Abad went 18 IP, 25 H, 7 R, 0 BB, 15 K through 17 appearances between the Toros Del Este and the Navegantes de Magallanes this winter. Darwin Perez made two postseason appearances for the Navegantes, with zero plate appearances. 

UPDATE (1/31): Alberto Callaspo has since been confirmed to continue onward with Magallanes and has reversed his claim to participate as their primary second baseman. Fernando Abad and Darwin Perez have predictably opted to remain sidelined this February. 

Additionally, Manaurys Correa and Andres Avila contributed to as Athletics organizational members this Carribean postseason. Correa, a recently inked MiLB FA, went 27 1/3 IP, 32 H, 15 R (4 HR), 11 BB, 5 K through six starts with the Tigres De Aragua and the Caribes de Anzoátegui. Avila, Castillo's fellow Mexican league bullpen mate, went 45 1/3 IP, 43 H, 13 R (3 HR), 13 BB, 36 K between 37 appearances exclusively with the Caneros de los Mochis. 

Castillo, who shall compete for a Sacramento bullpen post this spring, has had a revitalized offseason with Hermosillo, the Mexican League champions battling the Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Venezuelan representatives starting on February 1st. Despite the inability to generate swing-and-misses, Castillo has thrived upon his favorable groundball percentages and has exhibited some remarkable poise out of the stretch. The righty amassed a 42:10 K/BB in 51 1/3 IP and permitted a lone dinger in his summer performance in Mexico. As for this offseason, Castillo has fared decently as a fixture in Naranjeros' bullpen, usually immediately spelling their starter: 

Jesus Castillo Regular Season: 27 appearances (All relief), 37 IP, 33 H, 3 ER, 15 BB, 17

Jesus Castillo Postseason: 6 appearances, 5 IP, 12 H, 3 ER (1 HR), 3 BB, 3 K

Jesus Castillo MEX Championship: 4 appearances, 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K.

Cumulatively: 37 appearances, 50 IP, 50 H, 6 ER (1 HR), 19 BB, 25 K. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dominique Vattuone Q&A

Vattuone emerged as one of the hidden gems amongst the 2013 draft haul for Oakland, immediately whipping past fellow short season competition en route to orchestrating one of the more consistent debuts of any newcomer within the A's organization. The lanky 6'4", 175 pounder was lifted past the AZL after a mere nine appearances and was trotted out for another nine with Vermont to conclude his 2013 as the 22 year old made a bullpen exclusive entry in the professional ranks. Cumulatively, Vattuone battled through 30 innings with a 25 H, 13 ER (3 HR), 12 BB, 38 K line and thus was granted an instructional league invite in September along with nine other 2013 draftee pitchers. Not to mention, Vatty gets bonus points for now owning one of the best names in the organization. 

With his first professional spring approaching, I discussed matters with the Maryland native for a bit:

CK: Howdy there Dom, how has this offseason been treating you?

DV: This off-season has been great! Really enjoying the down time with the family. Just returned not too long ago from Chile went on a two week vacation visiting my dad’s side of the family. As for the baseball aspect, I am very pleased with the workouts and the throwing program. I feel like this time is just as important as the season. Preparing yourself properly to embark on the long season ahead. I’m excited to get back out to Arizona and out of the cold here in Maryland.

CK: Oakland has had a recent allegiance towards your college program, UNC-Greensboro, over the past half decade (Rob Gilliam, Jermaine Mitchell, Blake Hassebrock, Lee Land, Tyler Hollstegge). Did you know that the A's were interested in you at all prior to draft day?

DV: Yes, it has been quite a thrill seeing the guys you know still playing for the same team. Since I was a transfer I did not play with Rob and Blake. With that being said I know them pretty well and have worked out with them this off-season down at UNCG. I received a questionnaire following my two outings at Furman University. I did not know the interest level from the A’s until the third day of the draft. My area scout called me that morning, informing me that the A’s wanted to take me later that day. I was glued to the draft tracker since day one. Then I heard my name called. I was taken back, really just sat there and said to myself “this is what I worked for, can’t stop here, gotta keep on going”. It really set in when I was going to the airport headed for AZ.

CK: After transferring to UNCG you made a whopping 46 appearances with only a lone start. Pretty safe to say you're settled in to a bullpen role huh? 

DV: Yeah, the bullpen has been my home and will be from here on out I believe. I enjoy it a lot. In college I would pitch in the Friday game and bounce back sometimes Saturday if not, then they ran me right back out there on Sunday. Being out there when the game is on the line, and you have the ball in hand, that is the greatest feeling, personally.

CK: Was the pick at 32nd overall a surprise? 

DV: I feel like it was the right round for me. I had a decent season my senior year. I figured going into the draft, if I was going to get selected then later on would be it. Numbers weren’t that great, but my area scout saw something and liked it enough to give me this opportunity. I felt like it was my round.

CK: You know, the A's have had a recent string of success with their 32nd overall pick over the past two seasons (Drew Granier, Ryan Dull). Think you can keep it up? Haha

DV: Yes, the 32’s have been successful for sure. These two guys have moved up quickly to Midland. Can I keep up? I feel like I can, having a good feeling about 2014. First full season, going to be a long one, but ready for what it has to offer.

CK: You were one of the first arms to receive a promotion to Vermont from the AZL. What was that transition back to the east coast like and how tricky was the transition to NYPL ball?

DV: The transition back to the east coast was amazing. Yes, the time change was a little rough the first couple of days. But being back in the same time zone, playing in areas near home was a great feeling. Overall being able to talk to my family for more than just a few texts a day was nice. I just missed the Aberdeen trip, would have been right next to my Juco. Would have been cool playing in front of all my friends and family.

CK: You had a little strikeout burst during your first professional stint by K'ing 38 in 30 innings. Do you feel like you can always get the strikeout? 

DV: I feel like I can in the right situations. With that being said, when I look back at this past season both in the NY-Penn and AZL I found myself throwing more pitches when I did get the strike out. Ultimately the more pitches you throw, out of the pen, the shorter your outings get. I love getting the big strikeout in the inning(s) don’t get me wrong, I need to conserve some pitches and produce soft contact.

CK: How was the instructional league this Fall as one of 21 pitchers in attendance?

DV: I enjoyed the Instructional league this fall. I was able to improve my mechanics and towards the end, begin to repeat the same delivery. With the other pitchers there it was beneficial , not only did we learn from the coaches and instructors, we learned and built off one another. 

CK: Can you give me a rundown of what pitches you have in your repertoire? And which one (s) are you really looking to emphasize improvement on entering 2014?

DV: I throw a 2-seam; inside to a righty and away from a lefty, getting good sink.

4-seam; away from a righty and inside to a lefty. I also throw a splitter, which I use as my change-up

Last but not least my breaking ball that floats between the titles of a slider and a slurve (depends on the day I suppose). I feel like my splitter is the pitch I am looking to improve most of the three pitches. Primarily getting used to the ball change, from college to professional. With the high seams in college I was very comfortable with the grip. Now, I am getting a better feel for the splitter grip with these lower seamed baseballs.

CK: Are you already aware of whether or not you'll be staying in extended and be heading off to Vermont or if you'll have a shot to break camp with the Snappers?

DV: As of right now, I do not know. My goal and hope is to break camp and play for the Snappers in April. Feeling good about the March 3rd report date. Just have to take it one day at a time and work hard. I feel like Beloit will be a good start.

CK: What do you hope to accomplish during this 2014 season with the A's?

DV: I hope to continue to move up through the A’s systems. Working each day on my tasks at hand and becoming a better pitcher. I want to improve my command, swing recognition, and be more aggressive attacking the zone. Whether it is in the game, dry work, post outings, staying healthy and giving my team the best chance to win. Pitching is a relay race, you give it your all and when it’s your turn. Once your turn is up you hand it off to the next guy and he gives it his all.

Joe Michaud Interview

As a part of the preview for the upcoming short season pitching depth chart, I'm launching an interview series with a few recent 2013 draftees slated to commence in Vermont/AZL or possibly even Beloit come 2014. First up is Joseph Michaud, a 33rd round senior out of upstart Bryant. Joe was gracious enough to grant me bit of time and catch me up on his offseason and plans going forward as a professional:


CK:  Thank you for the interview, Joe. First off how has the offseason been treating you? 

JM: The offseason has been going really well. I’m happy with the lifting/conditioning program, and it feels great to be throwing again. It’s also a huge plus being able to spend a little more time at home with my family than I’ve been able to the last few years.


CK: Coming from Connecticut, and specifically Milford, ever heard of Evan Scribner? 

JM: I have heard a lot about Evan Scribner. He’s what guys in my position aspire to be; he went to college in the northeast, got drafted in the late rounds, and worked his way through the system step by step all the way to the big leagues. I played against his brother, Troy, in college, and was fortunate enough to meet Evan during instructional league this past fall. He was a good guy, very down to Earth.

CK: What were your expectations heading into draft day? Did you expect to be selected or was the 33rd round pickup a surprise? A disappointment? 

JM: I ended my season sourly against Arkansas, so going into draft day I really didn’t know what to expect. I assumed that IF I was picked, it would be rounds 30-40 or as a free agent. I had the draft tracker up all day watching, and eventually saw my name. I was in sheer disbelief. It was the most euphoric feeling I’ve experienced in my life.


CK: You started primarily at Bryant making 22 starts over your upperclassman career, however took more to the bullpen in your first innings as a professional. Are you more comfortable one way or another?

JM: Pitching out of the bullpen really grew on me. I’ve always said that I wasn’t comfortable out of the pen, but the more I got used to the routine, the better I started feeling when I got out there. The ultimate bonus of being in the bullpen in the AZL was getting to share a bench with Bob Welch [Former Cy Young winner, current A's pitching instructor]; a truly one-of-a-kind man, and an amazing baseball mind.


CK: What was your experience like your first few games as a professional?

JM: My first few games as a professional were a little nerve wracking. The lack of a big crowd of fans in the AZL helped me to relax at first, but the biggest adjustment I noticed was learning that a 90mph fastball sneaks by no one anymore. It’s a cute pitch, but unless I located it and got some sink to it, it got hit hard…often.

CK: You were one of the lucky AZLers to get a bump up to Vermont before the season ended. What was difference in competition like out there compared to Arizona?

JM: The major difference that I noticed between the AZL and NYPL hitters was that they showed more discipline at the plate. Pitches that I may expect a chase out of in rookie ball were taken for balls in Vermont. It emphasized to me the importance of mixing pitches and keeping the hitters off balanced.

CK: You struck out 30 batters in your first 19 pro frames, one of the more successful strikeout marks of any 2013 draftee. Do you consider yourself a strikeout arm? Or more of a weak contact type?

JM: I was fortunate to get a good amount of strikeouts this year, but am in no way a strikeout pitcher. My fastball has never reached higher than 92, and my changeup in a work in progress to say the least. I really just try and keep the hitters off balance best I can and hope for weak contact. If they strike out, then so be it, but a double play ball would be preferable.

CK: What pitches do you have?

JM: I throw a fastball (primarily a 2 seam fastball), a slurve, and a changeup. I try and sink my fastball due to the lack of velocity. The pitch I am most comfortable with is my breaking ball

CK: Out of those, which one do you aim to improve the most headed into your first preseason MiLB camp?

JM: My changeup is really iffy as of right now, but once I develop a feel for that, I know it will be a really important pitch for me in the future. Also, the thing that I need to improve the absolute most is being able to command the inner half of the plate with my fastball. I’ve always been timid when it comes to throwing in, and if I want to succeed and move up, that’s got to end now.

CK: Do you believe starting off in Beloit could be an achievable goal for you headed into 2014?

JM: I would assume that since I am only going to extended spring training, Beloit is not going to happen for me right away. However, I am taking my offseason work seriously, and if I start in Vermont, I will try and play as well as I can to build a resume that would warrant me being called up. Until then, I can only focus on controlling what I can control.

In 19 innings (12 appearances/2 starts), Michaud allowed 21 H, 8 ER (1 HR), 10 BB and struck out 30 along with a 2.33 GB/FB ratio that ranked second amongst 2013 draftees behind Dylan Covey. He'll turn 23 on April 4th. 

Junior Mendez/Jon Massad Interview

SHNU is more than just commercials, apparently 

Oakland's 16th and 25th rounders took some time to chat with me about perfect game heartbreaks, hairstyles and all that other baseball stuff in a pair of interviews listed below. 

Junior Mendez is the first of the two. Mendez saw one of the largest stock increases from 2012 to 2013 of any draft hopeful, being plucked in the 16th round by Oakland. Between 39 1/3 IP and 19 appearances (1 start) while juggling time in Vermont and the AZL, Mendez went 32 H, 12 ER (2 HR), 15 BB and struck out 40. To compliment his success he also was one of the youngest collegiate juniors available in the 2013 Draft, just turning 21 this past September (9/20/1992). Justin Higley (12/25/1992) was the only more youthful college draftee (Not counting JC draftees) selected by the Athletics. He's in contention to break camp on Beloit's roster. 

CK: Thanks for your time, Junior. How has your offseason been?

Mendez: Hey no problems. This offseason's been great. Had some time to spend with family and friends, but now it's time to really get into baseball mode. It's been the longest I've ever been taking off of the game. Guys would tell me how long the offseason was, but until now, I had no idea. I need to start getting my golf swing down so I can pick up a new hobby [Laughs].

CK: Obviously your last collegiate season was pretty special. Second nationally in strikeouts, 97 innings, a 133:17 K/BB ratio... Those are numbers that would make Max Scherzer blush. What was the key to your success?  

Mendez: Yeah those numbers were pretty, but it wasn't until the season was over was when I really noticed how special that season was. The one thing that really kept me focused was thinking three pitches or less. Having that in mind allowed me to go deeper into games and kept me trying to do less and allow the hitters to get themselves out. It was a very simple philosophy that slowed the game down big time for me.

CK: Additionally, you struck out 15 in a no hitter that would've been a perfect game had it not been for a 7th inning error. Was it a little disappointing not picking up the PG?

Mendez: That was a funny day, not because I threw a no hitter but for the fact I had woken up with a fever and was not feeling good at all. I was praying that I could get through six innings and help my team to a win. I had no idea I even had a perfect game or no hitter going. I knew it was something when I had two strikes on the kid in the 9th and everyone was going wild. Was it disappointing? Not really because looking back at the play, it was a slow roller to third making it a tough play, and I know my third baseman did all he could to get the out and that's all that mattered. 

CK: At least it wasn't as heartwreching as Massad's near perfect game huh? Haha (More on that coming up)

Mendez: Massad's near perfect game was ridiculous! Because unlike mine, his error would have been the last out of the game.

CK: Were you expecting to go around the 16th round? Or was it a surprise? 

Mendez: Well when it came to the draft, I had no expectations. I knew that people would get told they go in the top ten and not go at all, some people get no interest at all until their names called, so really I had no expectations because it would only stress me out. I just said "everything happens for a reason" and just went on with my day. I knew that was something I couldn't control so I let the draft take its toll and was extremely happy to know I was going to a great organization who gives opportunities to those who perform and not so much politics.

CK: How was your transition to the professional ranks? Biggest difference between AZL and NYPL competition?

Mendez: My first few weeks were a little rough. I got away from my three pitches or less and was trying to do too much. but then I just figured out that hitters will get themselves out again and I began to have cleaner and quicker innings. The biggest difference from the AZL to New York- Penn league to me was the discipline on the hitters part. Hitters wouldn't chase as much and guys hit mistakes a little more often.

CK: What pitches do you have as of now? And which one in particular do you hope to improve upon heading onward?

Mendez: At the moment I have four seam, two seam, curve ball and change up. My change up has always been my least effective pitch until instructional league this year, when I got my slider taken away and put more focus on my change. The change going into this year is still my project, I know that with a real good change you can keep guys off of the fastball and make it look a little faster

CK: Digressing from baseball for a bit to hairstyles: Thinking about growing the hair out to Massad-esque proportions at any point during 2014? Would be pretty awesome, in my opinion.

Mendez: Well I always say that I won't grow my hair, but somewhere during the season I change my mind because nothing makes you look like ball player more than some curls out the back of the hat [Laughs]. And since I do most of the cutting hair on the team, I just dont feel like dealing with my own.

CK: Goals for 2014?

Mendez: My goals for this upcoming year, is do anything in my power to keep moving up. just want to become a better pitcher, so better command, better pitch selection, and improve my tempo and be a great teammate.

Second up is Jonathan Massad, Mendez' fellow Penmen rotation partner over the 2013 campaign. Massad went 30 IP (17 appearances/2 starts) entirely within the AZL while permitting 34 H, 13 ER (3 HR), 5 BB and punching out 24. Massad, who turns 23 on April 19th, was the 6th selection inbetween 13 consecutive senior signs (Rounds 21-33) in the A's 2013 Draft as a 25th rounder. He'll commence with the Lake Monsters come June barring a setback. 

CK: Hey Jon, how was everything been since August?

Massad: Everything has been going well. I enjoyed the holidays with my family and friends and now just waiting to get back to facing hitters. I have just been working out and following my throwing program to stay in shape.

CK: Last season you starred for SHNU in a little over 80 IP and held opponents below the Mendoza line. How were you able to sustain your success? 

Massad: My last season in college was great. We had a good defense which helped me a lot. I tend to get a good amount of ground balls so when the defense can work behind me it makes things a lot easier. I have only been pitching full time since my junior year in college. We played with wood bats in the NE-10 so I threw a lot of fastballs and tried to keep the ball low. I figured it I could minimize walks everything else would fall into place.

CK: In your 2013 senior debut, you retired the first 26 batters of the game just to see the final out to secure your perfect game be botched. I mean, that makes me squirm reading about it months after the fact. How did you possibly process that in the moment?

Massad: That game was crazy. It was pouring out and there were a lot of people that stayed to watch. There were two outs in the 9th and I still had the PG. There was a pop-up to the shortstop and the game would have been over. The team was already almost out of the dugout to come running out to the mound and the ball just hit off his glove and fell to the ground. I got the next guy out to keep the no-no but it was pretty tough to fall asleep that night. In the end of the day we won so that was really the only thing that mattered.

CK: After your 25th round selection you spent the remainder of 2013 out in the AZL. What was it like acclimating to the professionals? 

Massad: The transition was pretty smooth. At first, throwing out of the bullpen was a little challenging. It is just a different mindset. I had less feel when I got out there sometimes but eventually I settled in.

CK: What was the coaching staff like out there in Papago?

Massad: The coaches were all great. They had a lot of insight that helped me throughout the summer. I learned the most from Bob Welch. I knew he had a very successful career and had a ton of knowledge on and off the field. We sat for hours in the bullpen together and he was very helpful.

CK: Do you have a preference towards starting or bullpen work going forward?

Massad: I would rather be a starter. I started in college so I think it comes a little more natural to me. In the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. I think I have more feel for my pitches as a starter.

CK: What pitches do you use? And which ones are you working on the most at the moment?

Massad: I throw a 4-seam fastball and a 2-seam/sinker along with a change-up and slider.  This year I really want to improve my velocity. I have been working hard this off-season to get stronger and improve mechanics so hopefully that will happen.

CK: Finally, what do you hope to accomplish as your first full professional season grows nearer?

Massad: My biggest goals of this upcoming season are to get outs and stay healthy.  Also I want to develop my pitches as much as possible. I feel there is always room for improvement. Hopefully all goes well and we can win some games this year no matter when and where I pitch.