Oakland A's Q&A: Todd Steverson, Part Two

In part two of our extended conversation with Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson, we discuss the progress of several prospects, including Yordy Cabrera, Chris Bostick, Bruce Maxwell, Addison Russell, B.J. Boyd, Derek Norris, Renato Nunez and more...

To read part one of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Yordy Cabrera was scratched [on Thursday] with back soreness and he missed time during spring training with that injury. Do you think his back has been bothering him all season or do you think his struggles with Stockton are more to do with him just trying to find that feel and being a young player in an advanced league?

Todd Steverson: Yordy is a talented young kid. He has a lot of athleticism and tools that still need to be honed. When you are that toolsy and athletic, sometimes you can do things that – it's kind of hard to explain, but one time your hands just fly on a baseball and you just crush it. The next time, the same pitch you almost feel sometimes like Superman. It's like, I know what I can do and you get away from your approach and you kind of leave yourself for a minute instead of sticking to a nice, simplistic approach of being on time, having a rhythm and seeing strikes instead of trying to do too much at the plate.

The kid has a lot of want in him. He wants to do it. But this game is not a race. You have to learn to segment your at-bats into what they really are. You want to have quality at-bats every time. At the same time that you want them to have quality at-bats, they want to get the results each time, like I said. I know he's not hitting average-wise what he would like to hit or what people would like to see out of a guy that has that type of tools that he does, but I guarantee that he's learning more about himself and the game of baseball during this period in Stockton then he is really regressing. He's not regressing. He's learning and starting to put things into his arsenal. He is really receptive to a lot of instruction.

Honestly, I'm happy with some of the adjustments he has been able to make at the plate coming from the Midwest League, especially from not starting this season on a full-season team and having to recover from his back injury. You'd like to see how he progresses the second half. He's still young. He's not 30 years old. He's still a young kid and he's got some time to see himself become a better ballplayer.

OC: Is it different for you working with the college draft picks as opposed to the kids who were taken right out of high school? Is there a different approach that you take knowing that they have had a little less experience against advanced competition?

TS: That's a double-edged sword there because there are some high school guys who come out and just set the world on fire and there are some college guys from advanced colleges who can struggle in the game out of the get-go. It's on a case-by-case basis how you work with each guy. You'd like to see everyone get off to a good start. You assume that most college guys are more advanced than the high school guys just because of the level of competition but truth of the matter is, it's all about who finds himself faster. You'd like to see your hitters have pure confidence in themselves. Most of these guys who were drafted were the best or one of the best players on their teams from wherever they came from.

The difference between the two is that the college guy has had an opportunity to be in more of a setting where maybe the high school guy has played in front of 10 guys and maybe the college guy has played in front of 10,000 people before. He's had to perform in that atmosphere. The maturity level, though, is probably the biggest difference. Coming out as an 18-year-old and coming in as a 21- or 22-year-old, those three to four years can make a big difference in terms of your maturity and development. That's where it all lies.

Understanding responsibility and work ethic and things like that. That's what maybe the college guy has over the high school guy is maybe the fact that he was put on a scheduled regimen, where a high school guy is showing up after sixth period and getting it done. That's probably more my time. These days the high school guys are playing a lot more club leagues and stuff like that then they did in the past, so it is starting to even itself out a little bit.

OC: Have you spent much time with the players from the new draft class yet?

TS: I have seen [the A's AZL team] a couple of times. I have caught them. There are some really talented young men on that team right now. ‘Young men' being the key phrase there. They are young, but, I tell you what, they are putting it on the table right now. They are saying ‘here I am, let's go do this.' That's good to see right out of the get-go that these guys are able to come in, eyes wide-open, eager to learn and eager to play, which in the 105, 106 degree temperature down there makes it tough. It can get a little tough depending on where you have come from.

I have not seen the guys who were sent straight to Vermont yet, not all of them anyway. I saw a few at extended: [Brett] Vertigan, [John] Wooten, [Bruce] Maxwell. I will be making a trip up there soon. But from what I've seen from the guys in Arizona, I'm very, very encouraged about what we have put into the system.

OC: Does Addison Russell remind you of any other player right now?

TS: I haven't really depicted him as anybody yet. I know he's a talented 18-year-old, that's for sure. Obviously since we picked him in the first round we thought very highly of him.

OC: Is he more of a gap-to-gap hitter right now or a pull-power hitter?

TS: Well, that's a tough call. He's had all of about 50-60 at-bats so far. I think he has the ability to hit for power. Hopefully he is a little more all around, where he will use the whole field. Because the guy can run. He ain't slow by no means. Just work the overall game and what ends up coming out is what we'll see. To tell a guy that he has to be this or that this early in his career is a grave mistake. He'll show you what he can do. He'll hone the skills that you know he possesses.

OC: Is B.J. Boyd one of the fastest guys in the system now?

TS: That guy can fly. I tell you, he is a raw athlete. I actually happened to watch his football video on YouTube. Somebody told me to go to that. You could just see his explosiveness on the football field. You can see him take off down the line and he has some wheels, that's for sure.

That's another eager young man. He's got a lot of ‘yes sir, what would you like me to do sir? I'll do that absolutely, sir.' You love to see that as an instructor because with those guys, you know that you can talk to them to try to get things accomplished from a development perspective.

OC: How have Shawn Duinkerk, Vicmal De La Cruz and Renato Nunez adjusted to the United States this season? Do you feel like they are comfortable being in the US now or is it still sort of an adjustment for them?

TS: I think they have adjusted well. Vicmal is swinging the bat well again. Duinkerk is doing a good job. He's improved a lot through the extended spring program that he had. Nunez has actually made great strides in terms of where he was from last year in making the adjustments. I'm quite pleased with the way that those guys have been able to handle themselves out on the field. I think they have a good grasp on what it's like to play in the US now. They know what to expect because coming from over there, you don't always know what to expect. Being here for parts of a couple of years now has been a really big help to them.

OC: Chris Bostick spent the first half of the season in Phoenix at extended and he is now with Vermont. Is he still on that plane of advancement that you saw from him last year?

TS: Bostick is doing well. Obviously he came into the game last year and he didn't have a whole lot of games, but he put up some big numbers really quick. He is a very talented young man. He has a high upside with the bat. Still young. He's another guy in that fray there where you look at him and you go, ‘I could see him really being good down the road.' Not that he isn't already good, but when he develops and matures, it will be like, ‘okay.' He carries himself well. He stands out. You like to see guys in the organization who have that type of aura to them.

OC: You mentioned that you got to see Bruce Maxwell before he was sent to Vermont. Does he remind you of a left-handed hitting Landon Powell or is he a very different hitter than that?

TS: No they are different. Landon, he came in from a top four-year program [South Carolina] and Maxwell came out of a smaller school [Division II Alabama-Birmingham]. Landon was probably a little more advanced defensively than Maxwell is, but I tell you what, this kid [Maxwell] has some thump in his bat. He has some pop in his bat. He is strong. He's tall and he has got a lot of leverage. I like his swing.

Once again, he's another guy who likes to work. I think he is going to do well in pro ball once he matures. That's the whole thing about the development part of this. We are developing guys to become major leaguers and the process is the key. Not one year is going to define their career, but the development year-to-year is the key thing about it. It's about getting better.

OC: Have you enjoyed the roving aspect of your new position, being able to go from team-to-team throughout the year?

TS: Absolutely. It has been a good thing. Most of the time in spring training, you say your good-byes and go to your city. You usually don't see the players and coaches again until they get invited to Instructional League. And you still aren't going to see all of the guys you saw in spring training until the next spring. In the capacity I am in now, I'm able to go out there and see everybody and be able to see their development from spring training to where they are now. Instead of hearing it or reading it in the report, I get to see it first-hand. That's one of the more gratifying things. You always hear someone say ‘hey, this guy can hit' or ‘he did this for me.' You are like ‘really?' and you want to see it. Sometimes you only get to see it a little bit in spring training until they are on your team. In the capacity I am in now, I get to go there a couple or three times a year and see what everybody is talking about.

OC: As the manager of the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League last year, you were able to see Mike Trout and Bryce Harper up close during that season. Are you surprised how quickly they have developed into stars at the big league level or was it pretty obvious that they were going to have a quick transition to stardom when you saw them last fall?

TS: Trout, he really has skills playing in that Fall League. You could see his numbers and you knew that he was highly touted. He probably didn't play up to the capabilities that he is doing right now in the Fall League. It's the end of the year and he might have been a little tired. He got his batteries re-charged and he's putting it back in motion. But that is an exciting young player right there. He can do a lot of things. He can run. He can hit. He can throw. He has got some real game to him. You make the All-Star team and you didn't start the season in the big leagues? That means your peers and the coaches and managers recognize what you can do also.

Harper, you knew that he had the talent. Making the transition to the outfield from being a catcher and being able to make it in the big leagues and play solid-average defense in the big leagues, was really impressive. To go from not even playing in the outfield a whole lot coming up out of high school in the short time he was in the minor leagues playing a new position and still hit while learning that new position, and then go to the highest level and keep putting up consistent at-bats, is pretty special.

OC: Derek Norris was also on that Scottsdale team this past fall. He started off this season red-hot with Sacramento and then cooled off a bit but seemed to pick it up again in the big leagues. I've heard the Mike Napoli comparison with Norris. Is that a player you think he could compare to at his ceiling?

TS: Norris reminds me of watching Thurman Munson. He's got that stoic look to him. He's got that big beard. His emotion is purely on the task at hand. He is very integrated in his work. He has tremendous work ethic and he knows what he wants to do and he goes out and gets it done. Great kid. Tremendous exit speed when he squares a baseball up off the bat. You root for a kid like that. He didn't have a great year last year. He had some struggles. To be able to bounce back and do what he did in Sacramento and get the call to the big leagues is a testament to how he worked and his mindset.

OC: Is it fun to see guys graduate and have early success in the big leagues and know that you worked with them to get to that point?

TS: You love to see them have quick success. I'd much rather them have elongated success. It's always good to get off to a good start, but this game is a marathon. It's good to get that first hit out of the way and catch that first ball, things like that. Get all of your firsts out of the way. Then it is about becoming a major league ballplayer. There is a difference between playing in the major leagues and being a major league ballplayer. Once you get those firsts out of the way, you want to become a major leaguer. That's doing what you are supposed to do consistently every day. That takes work ethic and that's what those kids do have. They are there with that. It's not ‘yippee, I'm there. I made it.' It's 'I'm a major leaguer.'

OC: How much are you in contact with [A's hitting coach] Chili Davis or [A's manager] Bob Melvin when a hitter is promoted to the big leagues? Do you give them a rundown of where the hitter is at or do they work with a clean slate in terms of how they assess the player?

TS: I would say Chili and I talk roughly once every two weeks. Sometimes twice in two weeks. We are in constant contact with each other. We are all in that same fraternity. We are all in it for the same thing. It's like Bob said, it's not big leagues and player development. It's the Oakland Athletics. Everybody is in the same family. That is how we communicate. It's not our guys and their guys; they are all our guys. Being able to help from my level and my vantage point to Chili being able to help me if a guy happens to get sent down, is key to getting them back there or up there.

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