Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Todd Steverson, P1

After a busy spring training at the A's minor league facility, Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson has begun the "roving" part of his job description. Steverson's first stop on his tour of the A's minor league affiliates is with the Stockton Ports. We spoke with Steverson as he made his way to San Jose to join the Ports for their commuter series against the Giants. Part one

OaklandClubhouse: Is this your first trip out of Phoenix this season?

Todd Steverson: This is. I was in Phoenix at extended.

OC: How is the extended program going so far?

TS: They're doing fine. I think they have only lost one game up to this point, as far as I can remember. They have may tied one, but things are going pretty good down there. We have all of our Latin players in camp now, like Yairo Munoz, and some of the holdovers from spring training are there and they are getting their work in. It has been pretty productive so far.

OC: Have you had much time with Munoz yet? This is his first time coming over to play in the States, right?

TS: Yeah. I went out to the Dominican in February before spring training, so I spent some time with him and all of our Latin players out there before spring training kicked off. This adjustment is a little different for everybody. The first time over in the States, you keep trying to coach them up when you are down there in the DR. Try to tell them that things are different; not everybody speaks Spanish. It's a culture change for them. As much English as they can learn, and as fast as they can learn it, is normally the easiest transition for them.

Obviously, living in a hotel or an apartment – whatever they have right now – is a very different lifestyle.

OC: What sort of player is Munoz?

TS: He's got some speed. He's got a really, really strong arm. He's got good hands as a fielder. He's got some pop in his bat. I wouldn't say he's a straight homerun guy that could leave the yard at any time. That's not his game, but he has the ability to do it. I would say mostly he's a singles, doubles hitter right now who has the ability to leave the ballpark.

OC: You are headed off to see the Stockton team right now, and one of the guys who is off to a very fast start from a power perspective, or just in general, is Max Muncy. What kind of student was he when you worked with him this spring?

TS: To be honest with you, Muncy had a nice approach when he came to us. So in terms of any adjustments made at that level, there really haven't been many huge adjustments made mechanically with him. He's got a tremendous eye as a hitter, so he has the ability to lay off of some pitches and take his walks. That's obviously a quality that you'd love to teach to everybody, but it's something that is kind of innate or goes along with you as you grow up. You are either super selective or you are not.

I think he's just starting to come out of his shell a little bit in terms of having the type of stroke that could produce some homeruns [he has five homers in 41 at-bats through Sunday]. I would say last year he was predominantly a line-drive hitter. I think last year he hit five or so [four homers in 229 at-bats], which isn't bad at all considering he only played half a season. I don't want him to be consumed with hitting homeruns, but obviously playing a corner position like he does, it helps.

OC: Another corner infielder on that Stockton team is B.A. Vollmuth. He got off to a slow start this year, but had a big game in Bakersfield on Sunday [4-for-4 with two homers] before the team headed back north. What did you work on with him this spring and what kind of hitter do you see him growing into this year?

TS: B.A. is a very good hitter. When you have talent, you have to start to learn the talent that you have and not take it for granted. Sometimes with hitters, the light-switch can be flipped on at any time because they have the talent. The truth of the matter is, you have to keep your routine going. You have to put in the time and the effort to keep that routine because otherwise your swing will just quit on you and you don't know why. Really because you are cheating on your swing.

I think you have to keep your routine to keep your approach what it is because the first thing that typically goes for any player is recognition. They say, ‘I'm not recognizing the ball.' Recognition has a lot to do with approach. If you are able to identify your approach well, then you will spend less time in that sad state. You can pull yourself out of that a lot quicker as soon as you begin to recognize who you are as a hitter and what's your approach.

That's what B.A. is really all about. He's learning himself. He's learning how his body works with his approach. Because there is nothing really specifically to help him with swing-wise. It's all about him playing and really committing to what you believe when you get up there and trusting that everything that you've done in your routine before you get up there – and this is everybody, by the way, and not just B.A. – but trusting that your routine will come out subconsciously during the game.

OC: Speaking of approach, Bobby Crocker mentioned to me that he was working this spring on being less high energy during the games. What do you do with a player who is almost putting too much energy into every at-bat or every play in the field?

TS: You hear a lot of players say in certain articles or an interview or what have you, ‘I was trying to do too much.' Really, that boils down to me as a tremendous component of effort level. Understanding your effort level is key in this game. If you are too high, your body level doesn't work as well as it should all of the time. Not in his case, anyway. That's not to say he should be too relaxed as it comes to effort level, but you have to find a happy-medium between too much and too little. I think everyone is trying to find that out as they go along: what their optimum effort level is.

Bobby was usually a seven, eight or a nine, most of the time. He was like ‘I want to do it, I need to get this done.' Where the truth of the matter is that you want to allow your body to connect in a nice, rhythmic flow and let it all happen.

OC: I assume you'll be spending some time with Addison Russell while you are with the Stockton team. He missed a few games with the back strain, but he was back in the line-up on Sunday. Is there anything that the organization is keeping a special eye on with Russell given that he is a few years younger than everyone else on that roster, or is he viewed the same way as everyone else on the team at this point?

TS: I'm not sure there is a special eye. He is one of our farmhands. He's a highly touted farmhand, but now the challenge for him is learning the game. He had a good first year everywhere he went. And he received a lot of accolades for that up to this point. Full season is typically a little different than the first year. He will still have success in this game because he is a tremendous athlete and an excellent baseball player. But there is still a lot to be learned at this point about the professional game of baseball, period.

I think during the long course of the year, that is what we are really honing in on. It isn't really anything specific with his mechanics or ‘you have to be this type of a hitter, or that type of a hitter.' Time will tell with all of that. But he needs to learn the professional game of baseball and how it is played. Everybody needs to figure out, for lack of a better word, the rules of the game.

That's where he's at right now. But he's a 19-year-old in the Cal League. He isn't the first 19-year-old in the Cal League, but he's a 19-year-old in the Cal League. A maturity level has to be reached, specifically with his types of skills and his ability to move [up the farm system], his knowledge and maturity has to go along with it. That's where we are at.

OC: Hopefully you don't have to go out to Beloit until it isn't snowing anymore. But that team is one of the youngest Midwest League teams I think I've ever seen the organization send out there.

TS: Quite possibily.

OC: The two corner infielders on that squad – Matt Olson and Renato Nunez – are both 19-year-olds playing full-season ball for the first time. What are you expecting from them this year? Will their development hinge a lot on what you were just talking about with Addison in terms of learning the game?

TS: That, and I think along with games played and getting everyday reps and taking at-bats against other teams. It's a 16-team league so the amount of competition is high and the teams are changing on you all of the time. You might see a phenom pitcher on the other side one day and then all of a sudden you get a guy who is a different kind of pitcher. You have to learn how to keep your mindset even. I'm back to approach again, but you need to learn to keep your approach consistent for 400-plus at-bats.

Maybe Nunez came close to 400 at-bats last year between the Rookie League and extended, but overall, in true competition when the stats go on the back of their baseball card, this is a set-up for both of them. They need to learn themselves. There is no substitute for experience sometimes. A lot of guys will say, ‘these young guys are being thrown out there in the Midwest League. Let's see what they've got. Are they over their heads or are they where they need to be?'

But experience is experience. Regardless of where you play, you are going to learn about yourself and about the game. Hopefully these guys are going to learn to adapt over the next five months and make something positive happen for themselves this season. You don't know. No one has the crystal ball to know whether they will be over their heads or if they are where they need to be. It's all about going out there and giving them the experience.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, when we discuss Bruce Maxwell, Nick Rickles, Michael Taylor, Michael Choice, Jemile Weeks and more...

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