Todd Steverson joined the Oakland A's organization in 2004 and he served that season as the hitting coach for the Vancouver Canadians. The next year the A's moved Steverson into the managerial chair. He would serve as skipper for the 2005 and 2006 Stockton Ports and then the 2007 Midland Rockhounds and the 2008 Sacramento River Cats. Steverson had a .529 winning percentage as a minor league manager and won the PCL and Triple-A titles in 2008.
In 2009 and 2010, Steverson was the A's major league first base coach and outfield defense coach. Last season, he returned to his roots as a minor league hitting coach with Sacramento. Steverson guided the powerful River Cats' offense to an 824 OPS and helped a number of A's top prospects have strong seasons after disappointing 2010 campaigns (Michael Taylor and Adrian Cardenas, in particular). Newcomer Jai Miller also put together a career season under Steverson's watch and Jemile Weeks made a seamless transition from Double-A to Triple-A and then to the big leagues with Steverson's assistance.
This fall, Steverson is back in the manager's chair, guiding the 2011 Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. We spoke with Steverson in Phoenix on Friday.
OaklandClubhouse: Have you been working with Michael Choice on any pre-swing mechanics, or is he in a good place with those right now?
Todd Steverson: No, he's in a good place right now. We talk a little bit about mindset and what he is trying to do. He is a different animal when it comes to his wrists. He has very quick wrists and good bat speed. Sometimes that is a hindrance to you in this game, to have that tool. You need to learn to harness it and control it. He understands that and that's where it comes from.
OC: Gary Sheffield was the master of harnessing his quick wrists and bat speed, right?
TS: Yeah, but Sheffield had a really good knack for barreling the baseball though. He had a very vicious swing, but he also had a lot of bat-head control and ability to control the barrel. That's what you are looking for with guys with hands and wrists like that. Barrel accuracy is one of the biggest keys for hitting.
OC: How has Grant Green looked in the outfield for you so far?
TS: Grant's out there working really hard. He's trying to get comfortable with reading how the ball comes off of the bat. It takes a minute. A lot of people think it's easy to stand out in the outfield – the ball goes up and you catch it. There is a lot more involved than that and the amount of time it is going to take for him to really understand how to read balls off of the bat is going to take a little bit longer than five, six games here or 20, 30 games [during the regular season].
Some people take to it faster than others, but it is still a process to learn how to work your feet out there. It's a lot different than the infield.
OC: Getting back to the regular season, you had a couple of guys graduate to the big leagues from your Sacramento squad. Jemile Weeks, in particular, made a splash and was able to jump right into the big leagues almost like it was nothing. What did you see from him development-wise this season?
TS: Weeks is a very confident guy about himself, which number one, everybody should be. He has actually done well since he was drafted by us. It was the injury factor that kept him from ever jumping out at people. He didn't have a whole lot of minor league at-bats before he got to the big leagues. The kid always had confidence in himself. To be honest, I'm proud of him for going up there and doing what he did. It's not easy to become an everyday player in the big leagues, much less sustaining the type of pace that he did while he was up there.
Now he's set a standard for himself. He will go there next year knowing what the big leagues are all about and now it will be about doing the work and maintaining that consistency. There are always areas of the game that he can work on, but from what I knew when I had him for the couple of months that he was in Triple-A, was that the kid had a huge want factor.
Obviously his brother plays up there and he wants to be able to play at the same level as his brother and have the same conversations. His desire to be up there was high and his desire to get his work in was high. That's all we ask for as coaches is to come out here wanting to do it. He always wanted to do it.
OC: It looked like Michael Taylor was able to maintain a better confidence level throughout this season as compared to last. What did you and Michael work on this season?
TS: Mike and I, we went on a lot of different planets, I guess you could say. The main focus was how to get the most out of what he possesses, day-in and day-out. It entailed a little bit of what he was not used to in his development along the way before he got to us, which was that Mike was basically a good contact hitter. Six-foot-five and whatever weight and everybody expects right at the get-go that he is going to hit the ball 800 miles every time. But he was more of a hitter than he was a power guy, even though he hit all of those homeruns in Double-A.
It's really matter of being able to keep the same swing and not about hitting homeruns. It's about having a consistent swing that allows you to take advantage of those pitches that you are able to hit homeruns off of. That's the difference that a lot of players don't understand. Mike was starting to get it towards the end. It's not that they are trying to hit homeruns. It's that they are putting themselves in position so that when the mistake happens, they can put a good swing on it and the homer could happen.
It was about being aggressive and recognizing that this is his at-bat and his time kind of thing. He grew as a person and as a hitter. There is always more to do. He'll probably say there is more to do, too. But I'm proud of him that he was able to go up to the big leagues and pretty much hold his own when he had the opportunity to play. He's a good defender, so hopefully he will be in the mix [for the A's] sometime soon.
OC: What about Chris Carter? What do you think it's going to take for him to be able to translate what he has done for his whole life onto that big league stage?
TS: It's going to take him. You get so many opportunities in this game to go out there and prove that you are a major league ballplayer. Really through all of the learning and coaching and tutelage you have been given along the way, it's really up to you to use that and it's your responsibility to take it upon yourself to go out there and get it done. He's got phenomenal numbers throughout his time in the minor leagues, and probably better power numbers than nearly anyone in minor league baseball over the past four or five years.
You know it's there. It's always going to be there. He just has to figure out how to transfer what he knows he can do and believe that he can do that at the highest level. He's a very talented hitter. I wouldn't say he is a pure hitter, but he has some attributes that don't come along every day. You want to see that. I know everybody wants to see that. They see all of the numbers and they are like, ‘wait a minute, when is this going to happen?' I firmly believe it is going to happen for him. When he puts it together, it's going to be nice looking.
OC: Were you with the organization when Nelson Cruz was here?
TS: I was.
OC: Did you work with Nelson at all?
TS: I had a chance to work with him just a little bit through spring training in 2004.
OC: Is it amazing to see what he is doing right now?
TS: You know, Nelson's another one. He's a late bloomer. You can say a late bloomer big league-wise. The numbers he put up in the minor leagues, especially in Modesto in '04, that was a good year. He bounced around. He did his thing with Milwaukee, Texas and back to Texas, so it isn't like he left us and became this giant that you see hitting four or five homeruns in the playoffs like you see right now.
But everyone has to understand that the game of baseball is a process. It's not like football where you come out of college as a highly touted running back and all of a sudden you are doing things. Football players have an adjustment period, too, but the adjustment period for a baseball player can take a little longer. It can take a year. A month, two months, two years. There are guys who spring up from other organizations all of the time and it's like ‘where did this guy come from?' Then you look at his background and you see that he was with two or three different organizations. He just finally got it. The ‘got it' factor just sometimes takes a long time.
OC: You've been around the game a long time. It seems like there are more pitchers throwing hard than in the past, Justin Verlander hitting 100 after 130 pitches, relievers one-after-the-other hitting 95+, etc. Do you think pitchers train differently than they used to?
TS: No, I don't think they train differently [than from a few years ago]. Obviously from the old school they do. There is a lot more emphasis on pitch efficiency and mechanics than there ever was back in what you would quote, unquote call the old days. I think the roles have really helped from a velocity standpoint, especially in the bullpen. Verlander is a different beast. Not everyone can fluctuate between 93 and 100 miles per hour in the course of a nine-inning ballgame. You aren't going to find that very often and that's why he is going to win the Cy Young.
But the majority of starting pitchers who can throw 95 are not going to throw 95 for the whole game like he does. They'll pick and choose their spots for when to run it up there. The velocity is there, but I don't think it is the velocity that messes with people as much as the movement that they have now. A lot of cutters, two-seamers off of a four-seam fastball. I think the curveball is making more of a comeback these days. Of course, the devastating slider that everyone seems to have.
In my opinion, the best pitch in baseball is the straight change-up. Verlander actually has one of those and he doesn't always get credit for that all of the time. If you watch him pitch, a lot of his out pitches are a solid change-up and a good curveball. You look at Tim Lincecum, he came in and developed a change-up and became what he is now.
That pitch right there needs to be more talked about now a days. Everyone is talking about the cutter, but guys with a great change-up have been doing pretty well in the big leagues for a long time. Trevor Hoffman had a lot of saves thanks to that pitch.