Oakland A's Mid-Season Q&A: Scott Emerson, P3

In the final part of our three-part interview with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, we discuss several upper-level prospects, including Blake Hassebrock, Sonny Gray, Zach Neal, Murphy Smith, Drew Granier, Arnold Leon, Carlos Hernandez, Sean Murphy and more...

For part one of this interview, click here.

For part two of this interview, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Blake Hassebrock was recently promoted from High-A Stockton to Double-A Midland. The move from the rotation to the bullpen seemed beneficial for him. Do you think being a reliever helped to simplify what he was doing on the mound?

Scott Emerson: Yeah. I was in San Antonio when he pitched in Double-A [last week]. You're right. He just comes in [out of the bullpen] and has that grip-and-rip mentality. He has a serviceable slider and a serviceable change-up. When those two pitches come around and they can be the solid slider and the solid change-up, the sky is the limit for him because he possesses that mid-90s fastball with movement.

The focus is better for him when he is going to come in and pitch two innings. I think sometimes when he's a starter as the game gets longer for him, he loses a little bit of that focus. Now he's got the ability to stay focused and pitch for two innings, and that has made his ability to get outs much better.

OC: Zach Neal threw a complete game, two-hitter [Tuesday] night for Midland. It's so rare in the minor leagues to see someone go nine innings, let alone throw a shutout. How has he fit in to the organization this year?

SE: He's done a great job. I was in San Antonio and got to see him throw [last week], as well. This was his second of back-to-back really good outings. He had pretty good stuff. We see him as a potential starter down-the-road someday. He's still young. He needs a little bit more experience. The good thing about him is that he asked me in San Antonio if I was worried about him because he had a couple of stretches where he struggled. I said, ‘are you worried about yourself?' And he said, ‘no.' Then I said, ‘I'm not worried about you,' because he is a great competitor.

He wants to learn. He's constantly with Don Schulze, asking him what the expectations are and what he needs to do to pitch in the big leagues. He's taken the organization's philosophies and he's going out there and doing a great job.

OC: Is that really beneficial when a guy new in an organization comes over and asks what the organization expects from him rather than waiting to be told?

SE: Yeah. When these guys start taking responsibilities for themselves, it just makes them aware of their situation. He wants to pitch in the big leagues. We want him to pitch in the big leagues. Our organization has its philosophies. He has bought into them and he likes what we are doing.

Most organizations' philosophies are probably the same as ours in the pitching department. You want to get ahead. You want to change speeds and get outs. Some of us like to stress it more and remind them. My dad always told me ‘persistence to purpose leads to success.' So if we are being persistent with these guys as it relates to the philosophies, the guys who bought into the philosophies are the guys you see pitching in Oakland. He's doing that. Hopefully one day he can get that opportunity.

OC: One of the guys I have always enjoyed following in the organization is Carlos Hernandez. It seems like he's played every role since joining the organization and just seems to get outs even if his stuff isn't overpowering. I think it has been almost a month since he gave up a run in the Texas League. What have you seen from him this year pitching back once again with Midland?

SE: Carlos has done a great job of doing what we have asked him to do in terms of pitching in any role and pitching where we need him to: starting or relieving, in Sacramento or Midland. I'm sure he's frustrated not being in Sacramento and not being at a higher level, but sometimes the numbers game catches up with you.

He's done a fine job. We'd probably like to see him get more of his lefties out so we can project him getting lefties out in a big league bullpen. That type of thing. But he's done a great job of doing what we ask him to do.

OC: Murphy Smith's second go-around in the Texas League has gone a lot better than his first. What improvements has he made since last year?

SE: We tried to give him a little more of a Kevin Brown-type delivery where he is going to rotate a little bit more, so he can get a little more deception. A lot of people who have seen him pitch say that it looks a lot better. He's a lot more aggressive down the [pitching] lane. I did see a couple of 93, 95 pitches out of him the other night.

He's just got to put it all together. He's got solid-average major league stuff. He just needs to continue to put that together and hopefully he'll get his opportunity at the next level.

OC: You mentioned earlier that you saw Drew Granier pitch for Midland the other day. He's walked a few more guys since making the move up to the Texas League. Is that product of his work on the change-up, or is that just something that happens when you jump up a league?

SE: I think when you are throwing a lot of breaking balls in A-ball and are getting a lot of chase swings from A-ball hitters, you're not going to get as many chase swings at the higher level. He has always been a little stubborn about using his change-up in A-ball because he can get A-ball hitters to chase his breaking ball. Now in Double-A when you've got hitters who have been in Double-A for a few years, maybe some ex-big leaguers, they aren't going to be chasing the breaking ball as much.

He needs to be able to use that change-up to force them eventually to chase that breaking ball. If you are over-exposing it in A-ball, but it's a decent pitch, you are going to get a lot of swings-and-misses. If you over-expose it in Double-A, Triple-A or the big leagues, you just aren't going to get as many swings at it.

I think he finally noticed that and the other night, he threw like a big leaguer. He commanded his fastball. He threw his change-up 18 times. I want to say 13 strikes with it and he got six outs with it. He did give up five runs in seven innings, but I think it was probably the best game I've seen him pitch ever.

OC: Sean Murphy has spent most of the season in that Double-A rotation. What has he done this year to build off of the solid season he had last year?

SE: I think he does an excellent job of throwing four pitches for strikes. He has a curveball he can throw over the plate. He has a good change-up and that change-up keeps him in the count. If he falls behind, he can throw that change-up and the guy puts the ball into play. His fastball command is improving. He's improving with all of his pitches and he has close to five major-league average pitches that he puts over the plate. He competes well. He's done a great job.

OC: Arnold Leon is about to hit that 100-inning mark. I think he had about 70 innings last year. Is there a plan to move him to the bullpen to keep his innings down the rest of the year, or will he stay in the rotation for the remainder of the season?

SE: We've taken everybody who has an injury history or who has changed roles from starter to reliever and we are re-evaluating them every month. We are checking with the strength and conditioning people and with the pitching coaches to make sure that he is staying strong and getting to the mound fresh. If Arnold keeps getting to the mound fresh, then we'll probably keep starting him. If there comes a time when we start to notice possible dead arm or him getting tired – I think his career-high was somewhere around 75 innings, so when he gets to that 100-inning mark, we'll have to re-evaluate where we are at with him.

OC: You had a few years working with Sonny Gray in the minor leagues. What was it like to see him make his major-league debut earlier this month and what are you expecting from him the rest of the year?

SE: It's awesome when you get to finally watch him pitch in the big leagues. You are hovering around the TV or the computer and it was great to watch him get out there and compete and have success. That's the good thing. Sonny's having a great year and he has great stuff. We look for great things out of him for the rest of his career.

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