Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Scott Emerson, P.2

In part two of our conversation with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, we discuss Sonny Gray, Pedro Figueroa, Andrew Werner, Sean Murphy, Drew Granier, Nolan Sanburn and others.

Click here for part one of this Q&A.

OaklandClubhouse: [On Wednesday] night, Sonny Gray threw a nine-inning complete game. Can you talk about Gray's maturation from when you saw him the year he was drafted in 2011 until now?

Scott Emerson: I think with Sonny, it's just the maturity of his whole game. He was thrown in at such a high level [Double-A] and had success right away and then started the next year in Double-A. Now you find him in Triple-A. With Sonny, you have to let Sonny be Sonny. He bails out on his mechanics a little bit, but he is able to repeat that. He's an excellent competitor. He attacks the strike-zone with some sink. He's got a top-to-bottom breaking ball and an improving change.

Sometimes the best coaching for guys is no coaching. You have to take a different approach. Sonny is a little unorthodox with his delivery, but it works for him. You want to let him go out there and let it work. I watched that game on MiLB.tv and he was excellent. He forced the issue early. He has all of the tools. He's got excellent stuff. When he is throwing strikes, he's tough to hit.

OC: I had heard that Pedro Figueroa was going to be stretched out this season, but he has been in the Sacramento bullpen all season. What is the plan for him moving forward?

SE: I think what is best for Figgy right now is to get out there and pitch in short stints. He has three excellent pitches and he had a lot of success last year in Triple-A and in the big leagues. I think you are always looking to stockpile starters, so we are going to keep getting his pitch count up in case something happens in Oakland, where he has the ability to go up there and be the long guy if he has to.

He's got three pitches that are dominating and we are trying to keep his pitch count up every time he goes to the mound. That way when Oakland needs him, he's got those bullets.

OC: Andrew Werner recently mentioned that he had recently made some mechanical adjustments and that he was starting to feel more comfortable again. What do you see from him, and do you think he has a chance to contribute in the big leagues this year?

SE: He's gotten to the big leagues before, and he's going to be counted on. He just needs to be able to repeat his delivery a little bit more. I told him to try to control the controllable. When you control your delivery, you control the baseball more. I think he has put into his mind that if he is making that good delivery, good things will follow.

He's got good movement to his arm-side. He can throw a good change-up. He's got a good little cutter/slider pitch. Again, it's about throwing balls and strikes, but with him, repeating that delivery is the key to being able to throw strikes.

OC: Jesse Chavez was doing a nice job as a starter for the River Cats. He recently returned after a stint as a reliever with the A's. Has he made a lot of improvements since you saw him a little bit at the end of last year with Sacramento?

SE: Chavy, we've got to find a way for him to be as dominant in the big leagues as he has been in Triple-A the last couple of years. Last year and this year – I got to see him early in the season – the confidence for him is there in Triple-A. He has all of the weapons to be a good major league pitcher. He can sink it. He has a good top-to-bottom breaking ball. He has a good change-up. It's just a matter of him going out there and knowing that he has that good stuff to challenge those big league hitters.

OC: Moving on to the Stockton staff, I don't know if you had a chance to see him before he was promoted to Double-A Midland, but Sean Murphy has gotten off to a good start this season. What is he throwing this year?

SE: I got to see Murph pitch both in Stockton and Midland. He's pitched. He's gone out there and pitched. He's got average major league stuff, but he's a competitor. He'll throw any pitch at any time and he disrupts the hitter's timing. He'll throw a 2-1 change-up, a 3-1 change-up, 3-2 change-up. He'll pop in a soft get-me-over breaking ball.

He's fun to go out there and watch because he's a pitcher. He just fills up the strike-zone with four pitches. We always talk about that I don't want minor league throwers. We want major league pitchers. Right now, he's going out there and he's competing and he's pitching. He's done a great job.

OC: Drew Granier is putting up those Dan Straily-like strike-out numbers right now. How does he get so many swings-and-misses? Is there one particular pitch that he gets most of those from, or does he just mix his pitches really well?

SE: He has a tight, four-seam fastball that he can locate to both sides of the plate. He's got a tight, tight curveball. The curveball changes planes. He can slow it down and speed up the curveball to get hitters off-balance with it. He'll also throw the occasional change-up, but when you have the ability to locate the fastball to both sides of the plate and you can slow down and speed up the curveball, that's pretty tough to hit.

OC: Tanner Peters has a really ridiculous strike-out-to-walk ratio, but he has been hit pretty hard in the Cal League so far this year. What do you say to pitchers who are obviously throwing a lot of strikes but are seeing the hits pile up on them anyway?

SE: I think a lot of that is quality of the command. Without being there to see him every night, he's got good enough stuff to get hitters to strike-out and he's throwing a lot of strikes. It's all about what happens when he doesn't have that quality command. I like to talk about focus. You've got to be focused for 110, 120 pitch range every pitch. I'm not necessarily talking about Tanner, but when you see guys give up a lot more hits and then you see a lot of strike-outs, that's when you see guys lose focus from hitter-to-hitter. They focus in. They get their strike-out. They lose focus and maybe leave a couple of pitches up.

OC: Jake Brown and Jonathan Joseph have done a good job throwing strikes out of the Stockton bullpen. Do you see them having a chance to move up to Double-A this year?

SE: Yeah. Brownie is a big, soft-tossing pitcher that makes his fastball look harder than it really is and he has a change-up that he can throw in any count. Joseph has a good, live fastball that goes to both sides of the plate and a top-to-bottom breaking ball and a good change-up. With him, it's about him maturing as a pitcher and putting it all together. Right now, he's having a solid year.

OC: Were there any standouts that you worked with in extended spring?

SE: There is a promising pitcher there named Lee Sosa. He's a big, strong, athletic kid from the Bronx. He's got a great pitcher's mentality. He's aggressive and he throws his fastball in the mid-90s. He's got a tight little breaking ball. He just needs to get out there and pitch every five days in extended. He's a guy to watch down there.

All of those guys in Arizona in extended there are at the beginning of their careers and are just trying to put their pitches together and work on their deliveries.

OC: Is Nolan Sanburn on a throwing program yet or is he still strengthening that shoulder?

SE: Yes. He just started throwing.

OC: So is the thought that in a month or so, he might be able to get out to Beloit?

SE: Nolan needs to get healthy and get strong. We'll have to evaluate his progress for a little while in Arizona before we make a move.


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