When Todd Steverson joined the Oakland A's organization from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, it was as a hitting coach for short-season Vancouver. The next year, Steverson was named the manager of the High-A Stockton Ports and he continued to manage in the A's organization through the 2008 season. That year he took home the Pacific Coast League and Triple-A championships with Sacramento.
In 2009, Steverson was named to the A's major league coaching staff. For the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Steverson served as the first-base coach and oversaw the A's outfield defense.
This season, Steverson will be returning to the role he served in for five years with St. Louis and one year with Oakland -- hitting coach. Steverson will serve on the Sacramento River Cats' staff along with manager Darren Bush and pitching coach Scott Emerson. Steverson, Bush and Emerson previously worked together with Stockton in 2005 and 2006.
We spoke with Steverson last week in Phoenix about his new role with the River Cats, as well as his work this spring with the A's minor leaguers on base-running and more...
OaklandClubhouse: Keith Lieppman mentioned the other day that you have been running the base-running drills this spring. What sort of things have you been focusing on?
Todd Steverson: We are trying to be aggressive with good judgment. Opportunistic out there on the bases. Being able to be in position to take advantage of any mistake by the defense on the other side. Really just put some pressure on the other team to make some plays against us based upon the aggression that we are throwing out there everyday.
OC: Do you feel like you have seen improvements since the start of camp?
TS: I think there has been a nice difference in our attitude towards base-running and the way that we go about it. We've probably never been in the past known as much of a base-running type of organization, but base-running is a very scrutinized part of the game, especially when it comes down to the end of some ballgames. You take a look back at the history of the game. Some guys have given up homers to end ballgames and you see that homer, but you can run that base-running mistake over and over and over again on ESPN or TNT or whatever and show how that possibly impacted the game, one way or the other. If we are knowledgeable about how to run the bases in a good way and are able to take advantage of the defenders, then we will be in a good position.
Guys go to the big leagues and they are expected to know how to run the bases. It's our job down here in the minor league system to teach them how to run the bases. I know it is probably their least-liked thing to do, but theoretically, that has to be a part of their arsenal when they get up there. You hit and field all day and a lot of times the base-running kind of gets neglected for the fundamentals, like bunt defense and then they are in the cage or in the outfield taking flyballs. The amount of time that you spend on base-running sometimes isn't enough and then it becomes a glaring issue over the course of the season. We have to sit here and educate our players on how to run the bases because when you get up to the big leagues, there is a camera everywhere that you go and they will let you know if you did it right or wrong.
OC: You are going to have a number of good hitters on your Sacramento team this season, like Chris Carter, Adrian Cardenas, Michael Taylor, Jemile Weeks, etc. Is there a typical philosophy that you bring or do you individualize it with each hitter?
TS: It's always individualized based upon who that player is and how he plays the game. These guys have been playing the game for a few years now and really it is about their focus on how to compete everyday and keep themselves right. It's not so much mechanics right now for them. They pretty much have their mechanics down for what they need to do. They need to focus on their approach to their at-bats everyday and staying focused. That's the biggest thing.
That's not to say that there won't be any mechanical work, because there will always be some mechanical work going on over the course of the year, but their main focus has to be their approach, their thought process and really not necessarily being concerned with the result. If the approach is there, I'm pretty sure those players will get their results.
OC: I saw Rickey Henderson was in camp [last week]. What was he working on with guys?
TS: Rickey, I think he was up top talking to the base-stealers. It's a good thing to have Rickey in camp. A lot of the kids might not know a lot of the other players who played in his era, but they all know Rickey. He's a Hall-of-Famer. For him to take the time out of his schedule to come down here and work with these kids, I'm sure they appreciate it and we the staff appreciate it. It's an honor, really. Not every camp gets to have a Hall-of-Famer standing out there with them on the backfields at Papago teaching them how to steal bases.
OC: You worked with Darren Bush when you were managing in Stockton. What kind of coaching staff do you think you guys are going to have this year?
TS: We worked together for two years in '05 and '06 out there in Stockton. We are a pretty close-knit group, myself, him and Emo [Scott Emerson]. We enjoy each other and we know how to razz each other. The thing about us is that we all try to figure out ways to do things different to make things better. We don't like to stay in the same rut. There are always things that we can do to make the player get better and I think that is where we connected the most, being able to discuss baseball amongst ourselves in the office later after the game and figure out ways we can make things work for the players so they can have long careers.
OC: When you were in Sacramento, Carlos Gonzalez was a player we talked about a lot. He's obviously blossomed in the big leagues with Colorado. Is it fun to see a player that you worked with in the minor leagues have success like that in the big leagues?
TS: It's always fun to see guys get to the big leagues. That's the ultimate goal. Whether they believe or you believe that you had a hand in helping them, obviously you did something along the way – whether it was to facilitate a venue for him or the opportunity for him. But every player in every organization has been touched by somebody that the player has decided to take something from that person himself and put that advice in motion. Coaches don't make players. Players make players. Coaches just give players the "food" to eat. It is up to them whether they choose to eat or choose not to eat. But it is our job out there to give them all of the information possible for them to be successful. It's up to them to decide to put the fork in it.
OC: What is the biggest change for you going to be to be a hitting coach, as opposed to a manager or first base coach as you have been the past several years?
TS: I'm starting to think I've about done it all. [laughs]
OC: Next year you can be the pitching coach.
TS: No pitching coach for me. But I'm relishing the opportunity actually. I started off as a hitting coach in the Cardinals organization and I loved the aspect of hitting and coaching hitting. I went into the managing side of it and did that for four years and then went up to the big leagues and saw first-hand for a couple of years how the game is played up there and how it is expected to be played. I have more of an arsenal for myself and my knowledge to be able to help these guys. Now going back to Triple-A, I've never been a hitting coach at Triple-A, but it has always been in my blood. I'll also be taking on the base-running and outfielder responsibilities, so I hope those go well too. I look forward to going out there and helping these guys at a different level than I have been able to help them for the last six years really.
OC: Are you going to make Chris Carter a Gold Glove outfielder this year too?
TS: You know what? There will be no lack of hard work out there. I can't promise no Gold Gloves, but he will definitely get his work in.