Todd Steverson: They are looking pretty good. Manny is starting to come around. It looks like his timing is getting to where to he wants it to be for spring training. Cespedes did really well his first couple of days there. He's striking pitches and taking good swings. He's got a lot of talent.
OC: Does Cespedes remind you of anybody?
TS: I can't really put a pinpoint on him like that yet. He's got a good body type, but I can't put a pinpoint on who he looks like though.
OC: You recently finished the spring training mini-camp. How did that go for you?
TS: It was good. These guys are taking their whacks and getting some extra time in before the regular season. It's a short spring training for the minor leaguers. It's tough to get going in such a small timeframe sometimes, so having a decent amount of the guys come out and get their arms ready to go for the season and be able to break camp and have some of our pitchers able to throw 100 pitches off the get-go and have our hitters prepared to get right into the business is a great thing.
OC: The camp was a mix of young players and guys who have been in the system for a few years. Did you have one program for everyone or was it more specialized depending on the hitter's individual skill level?
TS: Everybody is individual as it relates to their approach. Everyone has different sets as it relates to their hands. Everyone's got different loads, what have you. But what we like to say is that learning to approach the pitch is a lot more similar to everybody than their personal mechanics. The approach and putting yourself in position to hit mistakes that are thrown up there by the pitcher are really where it's a common ground. We want everybody to be able to be in the strongest position with their legs, so they can see the baseball. One of the biggest things about hitting is being able to see the baseball. To be able to do that, you've got to get ready and prepared with an early body movement to get your legs to be a strong base so you can see the ball longer.
OC: Did anyone standout to you as really picking up things quickly or making a big improvement?
TS: Really almost all of them. Obviously it is kind of new to some of the guys because of what they used to do. We wanted it to be a lot more on task with one certainty and absolute that we wanted to see as coaches. We will work everything else around that absolute, but without being in position to hit consistently, we are really banging our heads against the wall trying to help you guys play.
OC: You got to see Miles Head for the first time since he was acquired this off-season. What did you think of him as a hitter?
TS: So far, I've only caught him for 10-15 at-bats and some BP, but for a young hitter, he's got a lot of tools. He's got quick bat speed, good balance, a good head on his shoulders. He's a nice acquisition, in my opinion. He's only 20 years old, so you can only get better from there and with the attributes that he has at this age, you can assume that he would be able to mature into a nice, solid hitter once he gets it all going.
OC: Yordy Cabrera got a chance to go up to a big league game and wound-up hitting the game-winning homer. Do you anticipate a better season from him this year than he had last season?
TS: I would hope to anticipate better seasons from everybody, but Yordy had some struggles last year and the best thing about sports and the game of baseball is that you have the opportunity to reflect and learn from what just happened to you. You can then come out and try to compete in a better manner from what you know you were lacking.
I think he's come to grips with some of the things that held him back last year in terms of maturing as a hitter. He has now matured one full year as a hitter. Anybody will tell you who has played the game long enough – big leaguers included – that it's a process. It's not snap-snap, I'm there. Regardless of how talented you are, there are only a select few who have made that jump like that. Yordy, being as talented as he is, the sky is the limit for him regarding that. But it becomes an all-around game. Your whole game needs to be shaped your entire time in the minor leagues before you become a big leaguer. I think that is what Yordy is starting to realize that he needs to sync his whole game up so it fits the bill when he gets to the big leagues.
OC: You only had two outfielders in mini-camp. Did that make outfield drills tricky or are Aaron Shipman and Rashun Dixon fast enough to cover the outfield by themselves? [laughs]
TS: They were. [laughs] It was a little infielder-heavy in mini-camp. We are also using this time to hone in on some of our guys to give them a little extra work that we feel will really help them. Shipman and Dixon are two guys that we think highly of – not that there are guys who we don't – but we believe they deserved the opportunity to come out and get a jump-start on their season. As an organization, we'd like to see everyone do well, but we gave them that opportunity for the extra work. Especially with the big league camp being so outfield-heavy, a high amount of outfielders [in camp] was not necessary since we aren't playing real games yet.
OC: There are guys who have been working out at the complex who haven't officially reported to camp yet and aren't part of the mini-camp. What sort of work do you do with those guys?
TS: You treat them just like any other guy who is actually in camp. They may come out a little later [in the day], but they are still going to get their groundballs and flyballs and get their swings in. They are a commodity for the organization as much as the mini-campers. You have to applaud the kid for coming out and taking his job seriously enough to make the choice to come out early and be prepared before the reporting date. We take them and they do pretty much the same things that are going on during the mini-camp. The hitters get their tee-work in, their soft-toss, their mini-toss and their swings in. They get their verbiage and thought processes, everything.
OC: What changes on Sunday when everyone reports to camp? Is it just that the days are longer or are you teaching different things now that everyone is in camp?
TS: It's a lot different when everyone gets here because now you have to implement all of the different aspects of the game on defense also. Cut-offs and relays, bunt plays, pick-offs and rundowns, first-and-third defense. All of that stuff has to be addressed now that obviously we couldn't work on in the mini-camp with only two outfielders. We just go through the whole thing, the same process that the big leaguers go through when they first report. It's a fresh start and it's all about fundamentals and doing things correctly the first time and being precise about it and understanding what we are trying to do.
TS: The good thing about the A's and the guys we have in camp is that we've brought our guys up and we've seen them and we've had interaction with them before they have gotten to big league camp, whether it be the Fall League or they played for you during the season. Whatever it was, you've seen them along the way throughout their careers, coming up different levels and through the Instructional League. Everyone in our organization has talked to or worked with these players at some point. That's the good thing about the cohesiveness within the organization.
As for me personally, absolutely I've talked to Choice, I've talked to Greenie. Guys like the non-roster invitees, [Jeff] Fiorentino actually played for me on my team in the Fall League in back in '07 and he was on my Triple-A team in Sacramento in '08. [Jason] Pridie, I didn't know him but he came out early and he lives in town. I just met [Brandon] Moss and I've seen [Cedric] Hunter play across the way when he was with San Diego. I've seen [Kila] Ka'aihue for years, and I've had conversations with him as baseball comrades throughout the years. Obviously [Wes] Timmons played for me last year. Sogie [Eric Sogard] has played for me. [Chris] Carter has played for me. [Michael] Taylor has played for me. Even Coco [Crisp] has played for me. [laughs]
[Josh] Reddick I hadn't seen a lot of, but I learned a lot about him from Chili [Davis, the A's major league hitting coach]. That's the communication I'm speaking of. Anyone I know about, I talk to Chili and explain to him my knowledge and history with them and the player's history. And he does the same with me because you never know where they are going to be or where you are going to be.
OC: How has it been working with Chili Davis? Are you trying to coordinate hitting philosophies or are you bouncing ideas off of one another at this point?
TS: I knew Chili before he got the job over here with Oakland. Chili is a great baseball man. He enjoys the game. He loves talking about the game, as do I, so we've matched really, really well together. Our philosophies, if you want to go with that – I'd go more with our thought processes – on how things should go with hitters and what their thought processes should be, mesh pretty much evenly. We talked a lot during the off-season and we spent a lot of time together at the complex before camp opened up talking about these thought process.
We came to the conclusion that we are not very far off very much at all, if at all, with how we feel development of hitters should go. That includes Sparky [Greg Sparks], our Triple-A guy who was the coordinator before I was. Sparky has been talking with Chili and they are getting a good relationship and a good rapport so they can communication properly throughout the course of the season when we send players up and down. That creates a cohesive unit between the minor leagues and the big leagues.
OC: What are you looking forward to the most about your new position?
TS: I'm looking forward to having the 60 guys or so that I will have under my belt and seeing their progression from last year or Instructional League through spring training. I like to see players mature, whether it be physically, mentally or both. I love the process. Hopefully every coach loves that process. I see players across the diamond that I had – whether it be when I was with the Cardinals or the A's – and I look at how they are grown from where they were or how they struggled with certain things and they are not anymore.
There is a maturation process that really gratifies me. There are people who don't really enjoy the process, especially the players, because they want instant gratification. But I enjoy the process because I love to see the final product after the process completes. It's kind of like raising a child. It's a process. You don't want them to touch the stove, so they watch and learn not to touch the stove. It's the same with us. I like to see them grow. That's what I am most looking forward to, that process happening.