Friday, April 18, 2014

Athletics assign a trio of extended arms

With the campaign already underway, the pitching staffs of each respective affiliate have undergone a a significant amount of alterations already with preliminary injuries ravaging rosters and forcing some to be called upon from Arizona, as some were excluded from an opening day assignment due to roster overcapacity and were made to patiently wait until disabled list stints accumulated to receive their opportunity. For Hunter Adkins, Dominique Vattuone and Junior Mendez, their seasons are now prepared to begin as the trio were each individually above the competition within Vermont as they demonstrated within the organizational debuts between the AZL and Lake Monsters the previous year, yet were snubbed from initial opportunities at a full season ballclub. Adkins effectively usurps the vacancy left by Shawn Haviland in Stockton, as the veteran righty ascends to Midland following TJS in replacement of D'Arby Myers and following Zach Neal's replacement of Joe Blanton in Sacramento, who abruptly retired and prompted this shift. Adkins additionally becomes the fifth Stockton Port with no prior Midwest League experience and bypasses Beloit entirely with Billy McKinney, Ryan Gorton, Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder each also leaping over a Snappers assignment to take refuge on the Stockton roster through 2014. The transition is logical for Adkins, a somewhat elderly senior acquisition from the 2013 Draft eligible fray despite going undrafted and having to be dependent upon the Athletics revising and inking him after the festivities has concluded in Secaucus, joining Travis Pitcher and Pi'ikea Kitamura as other NDFAs brought into the organization; despite Kitamura, a middle infielder from Hawaii, having since been released following an AZL stint. 

Not one to often opt for NDFAs, Oakland has seemingly stumbled into a bargain with Hunter Adkins though, the former 18th round acquisition from Middle Tennessee State in 2012 before opting to return to his collegiate program, as the hefty 6'4" starter wields a 88-92 MPH fastball and bolsters his primary offering with a plethora of secondary options such as a cutter, curveball and developed changeup that saw him amass a cumulative 41 2/3 IP, 37 H, 15 ER (3 HR), 12 BB, 33 K statistical résumé between Arizona and Vermont upon making his initial professional entry. With Stockton, Adkins appeared in relief of Seth Streich upon the Inland Empire roadtrip and went 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 2 R (1 HR), 2 BB, 3 K prior to joining the Ports rotation after surrendering a dinger in his California League debut (As is often the case) and striking out the remaining two batters he faced to conclude his outing. He'll make his debut within a starting role against Lake Elsinore in this coming week, asserting himself as a potential breakthrough arm for the Athletics in 2014. 

With Bobby Wahl transported to the DL, Dominique Vattuone and Junior Mendez usurp roles upon the Snappers roster as the pair of 2013 draftees following Mendez' starting tenure and then long relief duties through Papago and Burlington, VT while Vattuone starred within a late inning bullpen facility through the short season affiliates as well. I discussed matters with the duo this December in preparation of their debuts and entry into their initial full professional seasons: 

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? 

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.

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.

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