Although he's only been stateside for a little over one year, Burlington Bees pitcher Raul Alcantara has already had plenty thrown his way. While the Dominican Republic native continues to learn a new culture, he's also adjusting to the ways of a new organization after being traded from Boston to Oakland in the Andrew Bailey trade last winter.
The 19-year old right-hander opened his second professional season in the US as a part of the starting rotation for Low-A Burlington. He spoke with OaklandClubhouse through interpreter Douglas Landaeta, an outfielder for the Bees.
"I feel really good in the Oakland A's organization," said Alcantara, who's coming off his best start in the A's organization, pitching six innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits against Lansing on April 19th.
"I'm going out there competing hard and staying focused when I go to the mound and pitch in games. I need to keep getting better day to day."
After a successful, albeit brief, stint with Boston's Gulf-Coast League affiliate last season, he struggled upon his promotion to short-season ball in the New York-Penn League. The 6'3'' righty started nine games in the GCL and allowed just four earned runs on 23 hits in 48 innings, striking out 36. But his ERA would balloon to 6.23 over four starts for Lowell.
Alcantara showed good command over two levels, striking out 50 and walking just 12 in 65.1 innings. It was enough for the A's to ask for him in the Bailey deal last winter, and promote him to a full-season club to start the 2012 season.
"He's a young guy that is learning a lot so far about himself," said Bees pitching coach John Wasdin, a 12-year major-league veteran. "We're trying to build routines and let them to get to know who they are and what it takes to be successful.
"He's young and has a lot of talent, so he's kind of raw. It's like he's trying to corral all of his power and intensity. For me, it's kind of fun working with a guy like that because of his untapped potential. It's a pleasure to watch him when he gets it, understands it and can execute that on the field."
With a fastball that runs in the mid-90s, Alcantara had enough to get hitters out in rookie league ball but now realizes he must continue adding more plus pitches to his arsenal.
"I worked a lot on my change-up at spring training," he said.
"I already have a good fastball and developing slider, so that third pitch will make me a better pitcher. This has been a challenging step for me because I'm still learning this league and the hitters quickly. I'm also developing all of my pitches a lot more and throwing my breaking ball for strikes."
More plus pitches will serve Alcantara well, but control of his best pitch is where it all starts.
"The bottom line is these guys here at this level really need to be able to command a fastball, at any point at any time," Wasdin said.
"That's really the foundation. If you don't have that, then there's really no sense in developing something else. When he starts to be able to do that, then we can focus on a lot of the other stuff. That's where the foundation begins. When he gets command of the fastball, we'll work on sliders here, change-ups here and start working on pitch sequences."
The challenge as a coach is finding enough time to help pitcher's develop all facets of their game, and not just spending hours throwing fastballs in the bullpen.
"With his slider and change-up, those secondary pitches are also huge," Wasdin said.
"(On off days), I'm always having them play with a baseball and figure out where their grips are. We work on stuff on the side. He's really getting a grasp of that. It's basically going out there and using it in game situations.
"We make sure they get their secondary pitches in the game. If they don't have enough, we'll tell the pitcher or catcher that they need 10 more change-ups, a certain amount of sliders, or in this situation I want you to throw a certain pitch. That way they get it in there in certain situations."
Still very young for this level [Alcantara doesn't turn 20 until December], Alcantara will likely be afforded by the A's organization an entire season at Burlington to start putting it all together. It's a process he's prepared to undertake.
"I want to put in a lot of innings this season," he said. "I want to throw all of my pitches well because I've put in a lot of time. I'm handling the adjustments well and the coaching staff has really helped me a lot with it."