Oakland A's Mid-Season Q&A: Todd Steverson P1

We continue our mid-season assessment of the Oakland A's minor league system with a conversation with A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson. In part one, we discuss the progress of prospects Addison Russell, Max Muncy, Bobby Crocker, B.A. Vollmuth, Matt Olson, Chris Bostick and Renato Nunez.

OaklandClubhouse: Where have you been traveling recently?

Todd Steverson: I was in town [Oakland] for the draft, and then I did a little bit in Stockton, then went to Midland and then Beloit.

OC: Starting with the Stockton guys, Addison Russell just finished a strong month of June. What was the difference for him between the month of June and when he was struggling a bit in April and May?

TS: Honestly, the talent never went anywhere. In my opinion, it's just a matter of, as a younger player, having to catch-up with the league a little bit. Some of those guys [he is playing against] are repeating the league or are quite a bit older than he is as college players. It's also, in my opinion, one of the best years I've seen for pitching in that league. I've seen a lot of really good pitchers on other teams face us this year.

Overall, I think it was just an adjustment period that every player has to go through. You are going to have your ups and down, but it's just a matter of fitting into where he fits in, in terms of showing what he can do.

OC: I've noticed that Russell has struggled this year against left-handed pitching. In general, I have noticed over the years that young players tend to struggle versus left-handers, even if they are right-handed hitters. Do you think that is because they don't see as many left-handers in amateur baseball and that pro ball is the first time that they have seen them regularly?

TS: As it relates just to Addison, that may be the case. You may not see a whole lot of left-handers [in high school]. But it seems to be a little bit more of an epidemic as a whole. For some reason, it has always been that. As long as I have been a hitting coach or a manager, you take a look at your batting averages against left-handed pitchers, and for some reason, they just don't look right. Your team is hitting .240 or .250 against left-handed pitchers and you have six or seven right-handers in the line-up.

Left-handers are a little different for righties at times. As for Addison, I wouldn't say that I think it would be a trend for the rest of his career in terms of left-handed pitchers. It's just one of those things. Were the majority of pitchers that he saw during his amateur days righties? Probably, but I'm sure he did see some left-handers along the way. The majority of guys that you do see are probably right-handed.

OC: One of his teammates, Max Muncy, put together a great power month in June. He had a strong power month in April, didn't hit for much power in May and then hit 11 homeruns in just 27 games in June. What adjustments did he make between May and June?

TS: As I have talked to you before about him, the guy has a tremendous eye. The last I looked, he had almost even walks to strike-outs. That right there is a humungous factor because if you are able to take balls and swing at strikes, you have a good chance of doing some damage with the baseball. He has a knack and an innate ability to see balls that he wants to hit that are strikes and go after them.

The power numbers, as for that, that is obviously a great plus for him right now. I think it is more of a comfort factor for him right now, as it related to the up-and-down months. The opposing teams [in May] started playing a shift on him in A-ball. Which is rare. You don't see that a whole lot at that level. It was funny to me because I didn't think he was a dead-pull hitter. But you hit enough homers and show the other team that you are going to pull enough balls that they will put a shift on you.

I still think he has the capability to use all sides of the field. I saw him hit a homerun to left-center in Stockton, so he's not all pull right now. But I would say that the majority of what he is doing is pulling the ball. Which is good and bad. You always want a guy to be able to pull a baseball, but you also know that the majority of pitches are in the middle of the plate or outer third, so you have to be able to tame the left-side of the field and take your fair share of hits there.

I think he has got that ability, but right now he is getting pitches to pull and you can't be opposed to a guy who is getting the type of pitches he is getting to pull and doing the kind of damage he is doing to those pitches. I just don't want him to get pull conscious, especially knowing that our next level – Midland – is not a very left-handed pull-conscious place. The better off you are using the whole field in general as a hitter, you are going to be okay.

He's a good hitter period, though, just all around.

OC: Bobby Crocker has been batting a lot of leadoff for the Ports this year. He has hit for average the past few months and he has some power and good speed, but his walk-to-strike-out ratio isn't what you'd like to see. Is that something that you work on with him, or is he just such a naturally aggressive hitter that that is just who he is going to be in professional baseball?

TS: Actually Bobby and I had a conversation about that exact issue when I was in town the last time. He approached me specifically about cutting his strike-outs down and being able to take more walks. He admitted to the fact that he has swung out of the ‘zone more than he would like to swing out of the ‘zone. Quite a bit of our philosophy of hitting is to swing at strikes. What ends up happening is that he fouls off a couple of his strikes and then gets caught swinging out of the ‘zone with two strikes.

If you foul off your balls to hit consistently, then it is going to happen [strike-outs]. Being in a lead-off role, he is going to see his fair share of fastballs, but pitchers knowing the kind of damage that he can do because obviously he has some power to him, he'll see breaking balls late in the counts or mixed in. Then they are going to go to their put-away pitches. If you are going to see their put-away pitches consistently in your at-bats, that's not conducive to a good walk-to-strike-out ratio.

I think at the end of the day, that is what has happened to him. He hasn't put his ball in play early enough [in the count] or been able to stay out of a lot of two-strike counts. At that level, you can call it what you want to call it, but if you get to two-strikes, your chances of striking out are increasing super high. Your ball in play is not going to be as firm and your batting average is not going to be as good as it is earlier in the count.

I think he has found himself missing his pitch too much and that has resulted in him being put in that two-strike situation too frequently.

OC: B.A. Vollmuth had a nice month of June after really struggling in May and April. What is the key for him finding his way as a hitter?

TS: Things didn't go how B.A. likely would have wanted them to go early in the season. His stroke never really went anywhere, as far as I ever saw when I was watching him. The stroke was still the same. The swing still was the same. But just as I talked about with Bobby, I saw B.A. foul off an inordinate amount of pitches that he would normally crush based on the history of what I have seen from him.

When you foul off your pitch over and over and over again, it becomes very mental for you. You go up there with the thought process of, ‘hey, I'm ready to hit' my pitch and I am going to look for a fastball, then you get it, you put a good swing path on it and you just foul it off. At that point, it becomes a mental thing: ‘how am I fouling off my pitch?' ‘What am I doing wrong?' He started getting those balls in play in June and the results turned around.

OC: You mentioned you had just been in Beloit. I saw that Matt Olson hit a homerun the other night. His batting average isn't where it was in his pro debut last season, but his walks-to-strike-outs are improving. Have you worked on approach with him a lot this season?

TS: Matty is a different type of guy as it relates to all of that. He's tall. He's six-foot-five, 200-plus pound guy with great leverage, but he stands a long ways away from the ‘zone. Overall, he's taken his walks and he's going to have his fair share of strike-outs, but consistently getting himself into the strike-zone, being that tall, finding a spot that he can stand in that will allow him to be as consistent as he can be getting into the ‘zone with that leverage, is probably the biggest part of it.

For him, learning his body and how it works and putting him in the strongest position he can with that six-foot-five frame is probably the most optimum with him.

OC: Do you find that learning how their body works in terms of their swing is more difficult for someone who is six-five as opposed to someone who is six-feet, six-one?

TS: It does. I spoke with an old friend of mine and teammate, Tony Clark. Tony is six-five, six-six and we spoke about the trials and tribulations that he went through trying to find a position to consistently sit in and be able to be consistent with his swing. It was a lot of ‘stand-up, squat down, open up, close down, back off the plate because of long arms, get on the plate, etc.' He went ‘round-and-‘round, year-in and year-out because initially he said that he had long arms and they would throw the ball over the plate and he would just crush it. Eventually they started coming in on him and he had to make adjustments.

In my opinion that is the same thing that has to go on for Olson. With him being tall and having long arms, he is going to have a bit of hole in his swing somewhere. People are going to try you in to see if you can pull your hands in and get the head of the bat to the ball. People are going to go away from you and see if your swing gets long if they go away. Especially with the power that he has and the ability that he has, he has done a good job of battling that to this point. I know his batting average is not to where he would like it, but I think the progress of his maturity as a hitter has come along pretty well.

OC: Chris Bostick has really made big strides this year. What are his strengths as a hitter? Is he a top-of-the-order guy or, as someone with already 10 homeruns in the Midwest League, a middle-of-the-order threat?

TS: Bos is starting to put himself on the map. He opened eyes that first year when he came out and had a hit in every game he played in in the Rookie League. Went to Vermont last year and had to go through the whole extended [spring training] thing and had to overcome a few injuries along the way. He was hit in the face with a ball and a lot of things happened to him. He had a decent year in Vermont by all means. He hit .250 or so in that league as a 19-year-old, which isn't bad.

I think now he is getting more comfortable with the baseball because that was not his first thing. He was also a football player when he was out there on the East Coast. He's had to learn a lot of things along the way, but I think he's finally getting comfortable as a baseball player and understanding what he can do as a player.

He can drive the ball to the opposite field really well, and that always bodes well for any hitter is to be able to shoot the ball the opposite way, especially since the majority of pitches are going to be out over the plate. He is not slow by any means. He can steal some bases and he can beat out some infield hits. I think that overall, he has just gained a lot of confidence in his game and it is showing on the field. Confidence goes a long way.

OC: It seems like the confidence that Renato Nunez developed last year in the Arizona League has bled over into this year. I know he isn't a finished product by any means, but how would you assess his progress in his first full-season professional league?

TS: Renato is very aggressive. A very aggressive hitter. I just finished watching him. He's got a lot of damage on his mind when he takes a swing. He doesn't leave a whole lot in the bag. That is good in one sense and a hindrance in another as it relates to saying hey, ‘I want you to be aggressive'. Sometimes he is a little over-aggressive when he is swinging at balls out of the ‘zone, which costs him some at-bats.

He's done better, in my opinion, with the off-speed pitches in laying off some and being able to battle and foul off some tough ones to stay in at-bats. That is exactly what you look for in a young player. Overall, I would say that he has blossomed into a pretty solid potential power-hitting third baseman. You don't know exactly how it is going to all pan out, but for a 19-year-old to put up 13 homeruns at this point with a lot of season left, you see a lot of promise there.

His slugging numbers are really good. Overall, his game still has to have some polish to it. He's not there yet. He is putting together a really good season, but there is always room for improvement offensively and defensively for him. Right now, you are happy with the progress he has been able to get you right now. But you hope that the learning part of it is still going. It's not that ‘I got it.' It's ‘no, you've got part of it, but let's expand upon what we've got to this juncture.'

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, which will touch on the progress of Daniel Robertson, Miles Head, Chad Oberacker, Dusty Coleman, Anthony Aliotti and more.

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