Monday, May 12, 2014
Oakland A's Extended Spring Training Update
With the opening of campaigns throughout the country between Beloit, Midland, Sacramento and Stockton, most have forgotten that the remaining outcasts yet to be assigned towards any full season affiliate have been participating within a regimen amongst their fellow Papago counterparts versus opposing organizations down in Arizona, having yet to see their March schedule shift until the Vermont and AZL campaigns get underway in June. Still tethered to Phoenix are such notable farmhands as Jesus Zambrano, Justin Higley, Chris Kohler, Dustin Driver, Yario Muñoz, Jesus Lopez, and Jose Torres who were retained due to inexperience, youth, inconsistency or just sheer inability to cram them onto an available roster as this bunch of misfits contends for injury replacement duties prior to Lake Monster roster configurations in the approaching month. Joining me to update on this seldom addressed sector of the farm system is 26th round acquisition from the 2013 Draft, Kyle Wheeler, the catcher hailing from Mississippi and a previous interviewee for this very blog who provided some intriguing insight on the Arizona proceedings thus far:
CK: Hey there Kyle. As a catcher, how have the guys upon the mound looked thus far? Anybody in particular that's stood out through the first month?
KW: I've been beyond impressed with Jesus Zambrano. The kid is 17 years old and can dominate players at this level already. The stuff he has is quite impressive. Next I would have to say Blake McMullen, he has came in and shown up to play every outing. Great command of all three pitches and the movement he has developed on his two seam and change up makes him even more special!... Blake's last two outings consisted of 8 IP has only allowed one hit while only walking one batter in 14 innings. He's an old country boy from the south, similarly to [Drew] Granier, and he's got that attitude that he will beat you even if you beat him nine out of ten times... He's gonna be damn sure he gets you that last time that counts.
AJ Burke and Jon Massad equally have came in doing great jobs as well! Both guys have come in and dominated the bottom of the strike zone. And of course Dustin Driver... What a difference from the AZL to this Spring! He commands his fastball from 93-96.... Key word he is *commanding*. He has gained a lot of confidence in all his pitches and looks like a completely different pitcher.
Chris Kohler has been on the DL with a sore shoulder. Shockingly Cody Kurz has been better and better every outing, but not sold on the control he's having yet. Kurz and I have developed a good catcher-pitcher relationship and every time I've caught him he's done well, just hoping he can adjust to other catchers. Jose Torres has been ok, spotty at times with command but when he has it he's lethal. And Jensi Peralta is the same as Torres. More trouble with command than Torres though. But a big improvement from last season in the AZL.
CK: What about on the offensive side? Again, anybody in particular that has been noticeable?
KW: Man, there's no individual that is out hitting one another... We have all swung the bats well! If I had to separate two people it would be Dayton Alexander and Brett Vertigan. Those guys have a chip on their shoulder and have shown it. Vertigan with easily five or six triples and two HRs in extended. And clutch with runners in scoring position. And Dayton just competes... Hard day in and day out like it's his last game to play. Most impressive offensively since spring started though would be Seongmin Kim. He has gone with a new approach and crushes balls now.
CK: A couple guys in particular that interest me are AJ Kubala and Justin Higley. Kubala came in as a high schooler and struck out in over half of his plate appearances through his AZL debut in 2013 and Justin Higley was pretty well deserving of Beloit this season. What have been your impressions on them thus far?
KW: AJ [Kubala] is a hard nosed worker who puts in more work than anyone in their free time. He's made several adjustments and is a lot shorter to the ball which will eliminate the strikeouts. I expect a big season from him wherever it is that he will be playing. He's young with a lot of upside in him, it's just putting it all together consistently that will make him the true player that he is capable of being... Higley has had a good spring. I hate he didn't break camp because he's a great player, but Boogie [Powell] and [Bijon] Boyd both were in front of him.
CK: What about the man in question... Yourself. How has the spring been treating you out in Arizona?
KW: [Laughs] I've improved tremendously since camp has started! Went from throwing 2.1's to 1.8's [Home to second] and Gabriel Ortiz has helped me a lot. It's definitely starting to show! I came in a little slow on the hitting side, late on a lot of fastballs, but have worked with our hitting coaches and more on time and ready to hit now. To me, it's all about being patient and buying into what your trying to learn from your coaches and it has benefited me a tremendous amount.
CK: How has the facial hair situation been too? I hope you keep growing it to Derek Norris lengths like we promised...
KW: [Laughs] Oh man, Dusty Brown gives me crap about it everyday but still growing it out! Got another five months before I even think about cutting it.
CK: Dusty Brown is just a crotchety old man
KW: That is the truest statement about Dusty!
CK: Hope everything else goes well out in Papago, Wheelie. And get out to Stockton ASAP
KW: Hope to get there sooner than later!
Noted, Blake McMullen is a 6'1", 205 righty hailing from the NAIA institution of the University of Sciences and Arts of Oklahoma who accumulated 24 2/3 frames within the AZL during his 2013 campaign following his 29th round acquisition and amassed a 20:14 K/BB while permitting a lone dinger. Seemingly demonstrating his offseason improvement through this spring stretch, McMullen additionally flashed reasons for optimism during his initial professional stint with a 1.29 GB/FB ratio. While not spoken of as highly, Jensi Peralta enters as an intriguing farmhand following the 22 year old Venezuelan's conversion towards the mound following a lackluster offensive stretch for Oakland between the Dominican academy and the AZL, now entering his third campaign since his shift after a mere frame pitched during 2012 and 18 IP accumulated through 2013 with an erratic 19:13 K/BB with no HRs and a 1.33 GB/FB. The sample size is misiscule for Peralta, but his probable Vermont assignment makes him an interesting and underrated relieving prospect to monitor. AJ Burke and Jon Massad each participated in AZL exclusive attempts as well, with Burke having his campaign abruptly hindered by an injury as the 31st (Burke) and 25th (Massad) round pickups each completed successful debuts with Massad amassing a 24:5 K/BB within his 30 IP (3 HR/2.19 GB:FB) and AJ Burke went 29 H, 18 ER (1 HR), 6 BB, 18 K in his 20 2/3 IP. Cody Kurz, the 8th round asset plucked from Oxnard College in the 7th round during 2012, featured as a hulking former linebacker recruit that was essentially selected as a potential exclusive option, struggling nightly to command while partaking against collegiate competion. That inconsistency transitioned forth into the professional ranks after walking 29 in his 21 2/3 IP while punching out a mere nine before succumbing to an injury that squandered the entirety of his 2013, thus entering this campaign as a perculiar and fascinating bullpen option to watch. Positionally, Seongmin Kim arrives as one of Oakland's most high profile Pacific Rim assets as the most hefty international acquisition between the 2011 and 2012 signing periods after inking for $510,000 before the Korean backstop partook in a debut campaign within the Australian academy before being flown domestically to the southwest. Kim has been stunted however attributable to physical roadbumps, only amassing 55 plate appearances thus far within the AZL. Eligible for Vermont, the 21 year old receives unanimous acclaim for his offensive capabilities and reportedly has improved vastly defensively with his reactions behind the plate, establishing this 2014 as a potential breakthrough campaign for Seongmin.