Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Todd Steverson, P2

In part two of our early season conversation with Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson, we cover several prospects, including Bruce Maxwell, Nick Rickles, Michael Taylor, Michael Choice and Jemile Weeks.

Click here to view part one of this conversation.

OaklandClubhouse: Bruce Maxwell is off to a good start [.343/.395/.514 in 35 at-bats through Sunday]. We talked last year about how you were having him not worry about the power numbers, that those would come. That already seems to be happening in the early going this season. Did you see a lot of changes from him between last year and this spring?

Todd Steverson: Bruce came in as a contact-type of guy as a hitter. His college numbers indicated that he was the kind of hitter who had the ability to take his walks and make contact. It still translates. If you look at his numbers that he had with Vermont, he didn't strike-out much and he took his fair share of walks. He's still doing that now.

Along with that, obviously he wants to morph his game into a little more gap style to get to or go over the wall. But I think he's getting to understand – and, if you can't figure it out, this is my philosophy – how his body works. One of the biggest things that athletes discount when they are at the amateur level because they are typically better than the other players there, is that they typically take their athleticism for granted. So they never figure out, ‘this is why I am better than you.'

When you reach a level when the quality of the athleticism evens out, then you may see some struggles. Now you need to understand what I do and how I do it. The knowledge of that is something to be desired by everybody. His game is going to come along. He's – like everyone else – is having to learn how to control the mental aspects of the game.

I think with him being a catcher, one of the biggest keys for him that he is trying to get done this year is controlling his knowledge of the game as a catcher in terms of dealing with the pitching staff and understanding our philosophy as it relates to the pitching philosophy. Understanding who is on the mound and really becoming a captain back there. At the same time, be able to put together quality at-bats. That becomes a big mental game for a kid sometimes. It's a lot of responsibility to be a catcher. Learning to deal with that is enormous.

OC: Another catcher who just joined Maxwell with Beloit is Nick Rickles, who was at Low-A last year and he struggled at the plate. He was a similar hitter to Maxwell in college in terms of contact rate, etc. What sort of changes do you think he needed to make as a hitter to get better results than he had at the plate last season?

TS: Confidence. Once you have a season like that, your confidence may be shot a little bit. Believing that that was just a blip in the radar screen has to be part of the thought process because you have to believe in your talents and you have to believe in who you are and what you bring to the table. This game has a way of humbling a lot of people who have had prior success, but it doesn't mean it is permanent.

I think he is learning that ‘what happened to me was probably a direct result of how I handled myself in terms of my mental state.' It is very easy in this game to get negative. That is the very easiest thing to do in this game, is to get down on yourself. To have a season like he did, it would be very easy for him to take an 0-for-4, or something like that, and say, ‘oh, here we go again.' I think he works better on his mental state and saying, ‘I'm better than that' going forward.

OC: We have talked a lot about the mental aspect of the game as it relates to Michael Taylor and his ups and downs over the years. He was called up to the big leagues this week to replace Yoenis Cespedes on the A's roster and has been off to a great start with Sacramento. Are you seeing him finding himself a little more each year that you have worked with him?

TS: I tell you want, you having done this job for as long as you have right now, it's just awesome for you to see the maturation of a hitter or a player. You've been able to see where they came in at, where their downfalls were and what they were able to accomplish in terms of escaping their downfalls, and so on and so forth. Once again, the experience and the knowledge of everything that you go through in this game allows you to make decisions about how you fix, keep or throw away anything.

He's had a lot of different things thrown at him during the years that he has been with us. He had that great year in Double-A with the Phillies and he hit all of those homers. If you ask him, I'm not quite sure that he knew how he did what he did [that season]. Sometimes there are players who have a really good season who can't recall what they did to have that really good season. Then it becomes, I'll say it again, a ‘learning of myself process.' How was I able to do that? Why was my swing so great right there? What was my mindset when I was hot, or when I was doing well, or when I was comfortable?

I think he has been able to gain that self-awareness to be able to make that determination of ‘okay, that happened of me because' and now he has a good answer. That's the maturation of a hitter. Not making excuses. Not blaming the umpire all of the time. There is a self-awareness of what is bringing you positive results and what is bringing you negative results.

OC: When Michael Choice came into this spring, there was some concern that it would take him awhile to get back the timing he had when he was hit by that pitch last summer. Were you pleased with how quickly he was able to regain that timing?

TS: Yeah, you've got to be. He actually had an excellent major league camp and he was really back in rhythm with doing things in our Instructional League before he had some personal issues that he had to take care of. But his approach – he'll tell you himself – he has a better knowledge now of his approach. You can say, ‘my timing is off or something else is off' but the knowledge of how to get it back for him, because he has so many moving parts – he has four, five, six moving parts – is huge for a guy like him.

If I can tell you what I do, then I can always do it. That was his learning process, especially last year in Double-A, was a lot of video work and work on the field to understand what the feeling was all about. I tell you, as a hitter, if you can understand what the feel is, then the you are the majority of the way there.

OC: Is that what you are hoping to see from Jemile Weeks this year? That he can figure out what it was that was working for him in 2011 and what went wrong last year?

TS: Yeah, Weeksie is in the same category as everyone else. He left us in Triple-A some kind of consistent hot and he went up there and carried it along into the big leagues. But, like we've talked about, the game is about adjustments – mental and physical. When you come in and you raise a ruckus like you did, everyone is going to pay attention and everyone is going to develop a scouting report on you. They are going to try to exploit what they believe are weaknesses and you have to make the adjustment.

I think last year, the adjustments that he probably tried to make came out of haste. You start staring at the scoreboard and it says .210 and you think, with the next hit, it will say .310. That doesn't happen. It's a process. I think a little bit last year he found himself chasing the scoreboard a little bit instead of going through the process of putting consistently quality at-bats together.

As far as I have seen up to this point, he has been putting together quality at-bats and getting back to where he knows he is comfortable. Like we've said, he's getting that feel back. Because he's a talented hitter. If he can just stay healthy, he can re-emerge for us as a positive player at some point.

OC: Do you think he has more natural strength as a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter?

TS: Actual strength, I'd probably give it to him right-handed because that's his natural side. But that is sometimes a detriment to some switch-hitters because they know it. But at the same time, they go up there and they may get a little bigger [with their swing] than they should. Having the same approach both left-handed and right-handed, that can be the hardest thing to do.

Switching sides in the middle of the game can be difficult.

OC: What kind of thought-process does a switch-hitter have to go through when they switch sides during a game?

TS: It always seems that – and you can look at it with most switch-hitters that the left-side is going to be better than the right-side. For most switch-hitters, it tends to be that the left-side is better than the right-side just because you see the majority of right-handed pitching. You don't get a ton of reps as a right-handed hitter. You have to give that right-handed swing a lot of love early in the course of your work during the day because you aren't going to use it as much as you are going to use that left-handed swing.

Most switch-hitters will say, ‘man, my right-handed side just isn't there.' It may be their dominant side, but it isn't getting as much work because of the lack of reps they truly get game-wise.

OC: Changing gears a bit, where do you head next?

TS: I will join Sacramento and then Midland.

OC: That Sacramento team scored 53 runs in their last through games [Friday through Sunday], but they are playing in Reno. Do you find that hitters have trouble or get out of their element when they play in a more ‘normal' hitting atmosphere after leaving a ballpark like the one in Reno?

TS: I like to see Reno and Albuquerque and those places. But you still have to hit the ball. Obviously those are a lot better hitter's ballparks, but a lot of hitting is confidence. Regardless of where you play, the result is the result. You can't say, ‘oh that's a Reno homer or that's a Albuquerque homer.' No one is taking it off of the back of your baseball card after you leave. You still have to perform your daily approach and swing at every venue.

Just look at Yankee Stadium. It's 3-0-whatever down-the-line and the ball flies out of there like no other, or a place like Arizona where the ball really flies. Nobody is taking those hits away from guys that play there. You need those types of places, especially if you play in Oakland and Sacramento, which are two pitcher's parks. You have to take advantage of some positive situations when you can, and that's alright, because eventually they'll even out.

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