The Oakland A's tabbed longtime scout and minor league pitching coach Jim Coffman to take Prieto's place in Vermont. Coffman served as a scout in the Northwest region for the A's for the past five years, but before that he had been a pitching coach in the A's organization.
Under Coffman's tutelage this season, the Lake Monsters have struck-out more than a batter per inning (611 in 604.2 innings) while posting a 3.80 team ERA. Donald Moore spoke with Coffman about his season with the Lake Monsters.
Donald Moore: How's does the pitching staff look this year?
Jim Coffman: You know, we've had a real strong bullpen this year. Our starting pitching has been a little suspect at times. I think throughout, the organization has been just a little short on starting pitching in the lower levels, so the draft was real good and we picked up some really good arms and obviously at this level, we don't extend their innings. We hold their pitch counts and their inning appearances down and most of these new pitchers, especially if they were in college starters, are getting two innings at a time, maybe every three to four days. So we want to take care of them, and get them acclimated to professional baseball, get them on a routines and throwing programs kind of the Oakland A's way, but at the same time, not push them and risk injury.
So what you see is, we are not going to win as many games as we probably could have if we were pushing these players, but we just want to get them ready for Instructional League and get them ready for next year's spring training.
DM: Who stands out on your staff this season?
JC: Some of the guys early, like Nate Eppley, who has been moved to Burlington, who was real consistent for us. He's kind of a three-quarter arm slot guy who threw a lot of strikes and he had a little cutter and slider working for him and he went through this league and had a pretty good time of it. Julio Ramos, he's moved up too and he was on limited pitch count. He has done really well and he has been outstanding and he's doing well in Burlington.
And some of our bullpen guys. Austin House, he has had a really good year statistic-wise and he's another guy we can't push, but we give him an inning here and there, get him ready for next year. Tucker Healy has also been really good for us. Nice surprise with Ryan Dull, where he went in the draft, and he's been really consistent and he has a real good change-up and nice command of his fastball and is a little bulldog. He gets out there and gets after it. He's been real fun to work with and be around.
DM: As a pitching coach, what has been your biggest challenge with your younger players?
JC: I think some of it is getting them to trust their fastball and their change up. They have to realize that they come out of college and a lot of times, these college guys control the game and have a pitch backwards a lot. A lot breaking balls, a lot of off-speed pitches. They almost pitch off their secondary stuff rather than their fastball. Professional baseball pitchers really have to learn how to pitch off their fastball and it's all about location and changing their speeds.
So what we really emphasize is location of fastball and hopefully creating some movement and deception with that. And to really command their fastball and change up. That is the key at higher levels. If they can disrupt timing and locate pitches as well, they are going to need that skill to get to the big leagues.
Down here you can trick them with breaking balls, cutters, sliders and some other things like that, but in the higher levels, those hitters tend to stay off of pitches that are off of the strike zone.
DM: You've been affiliated with the A's organization for a long time, as both a scout and minor league coach and instructor. What job do you like best?
JC: You know, I love being on the field with my players , but on the other hand, it takes you away from your family a lot. The big reason I got off the field the first time was when my kids were growing up and I was spending a lot of time away from them. So actually took Keith Lieppman's advice. He asked me if I'd be interested in the scouting side of it. Obviously I said something to my wife and she was all for it. You get to stay home more and I enjoy that side of that.
At first you wonder if you are going to be very good at it, and traveling and the way you have to organize. I'm not a real organized guy, but you learn the shortcuts and you learn how to acclimate your time to be more efficient and every year you get a little smarter and a little bit better on staying away from areas you probably shouldn't go to and spend more time with the players you should.
I think it's probably 50/50. I love being with the players and it's always fun to watch a kid develop right before your eyes and gain confidence. So there is always going to be that side of it, but on the other side, I like to go out and look at players and evaluate them and then turn them loose and let are other guys [scouts] look at them, too.
DM: Originally, Ariel Prieto was to be the pitching coach for the Lake Monsters this season, but then Oakland summoned him to be the translator for Yoenis Cespedes. Was it a quick transition for you to accept the position?
JC: I was scouting in Arizona and we had been rained out in Tucson, so I drove into Papago and I walked in and Keith Lieppman looked at me and said, ‘you're here for your interview?' And I thought he was joking, but since I done it in the past, and Keith explained the situation, I accepted the job.
I tell you, there are no better guys on this planet than Keith Lieppman and Rick Magnate and when they asked me to take the job, it was hard to say no.
DM: Coach Coffman, the best of luck to you this season.
JC: Thank you.