OaklandClubhouse: There were a lot of very interesting components to the 2013 Stockton Ports' team, but I think most people start with Addison Russell when discussing the team. You have seen a lot of players come through Stockton in the eight years you have been announcing for the club. Is Russell the best player you have seen play for Stockton?
Zack Bayrouty: I think he is the player with the highest ceiling, for sure. I think given his age – he's so young and just his athleticism and his natural abilities – he's going to be a superstar. Probably when I look back on my time with the Ports, at least for the first eight years – barring him getting injured – he's probably going to be the most special player that I have covered in Stockton. He's got superstar quality and I think he will be one down-the-road.
OC: The A's haven't historically been a team that places really young players at the High-A level, but this year you had a few players on the younger side, especially Russell (19) and Raul Alcantara (20). Was there a different feel surrounding this team with the younger guys on the roster?
ZB: I think it was. I didn't necessarily think of it in those terms, but it was. The guy you mentioned, Raul Alcantara, he pitched beyond his years. To have, I believe, 14 starts in the California League and have an ERA under 4.00 was remarkable and I think it shows how far he has come. He's a guy who walked 17 in 79-80 innings.
There was definitely a bit of a different feel to have the younger guys, but, at the same time, it didn't necessarily feel that way because they played beyond their years. They did a really good job.
OC: Tanner Peters wasn't one of the younger players on the team, but he had a solid year in his first season at that level. Was his near-perfect game on August 9th the best game you have ever seen pitched live (Peters lost the perfect game with one out in the ninth)?
ZB: Yes, if not the best, it was probably the most exciting. There was an electricity in the ballpark that night. The funny thing is, he had retired a number of guys in a row before. He had starts when he had retired 15 and then 18 in a row to start the game, so he had been flirting with something like that. Then that night, it just happened when he just set down 21 in a row, and you start to think, ‘oh my goodness.'
His change-up was just spectacular that night. At midseason, he added a slider, which I think really helped him clear another hurdle. He added that third pitch to the arsenal. He also moved to the third base side of the rubber. I think at that point in August, he was comfortable working on that side of the rubber and he was comfortable working with his slider. Everything just seemed to come together that night and he retired 25 in a row.
For me, that was the most special night I have been a part of in that ballpark [Banner Island Ballpark]. I told him that after the game. I went to shake his hand and said, ‘hey man, thanks for giving me that memory' because I really thought it was going to happen.
OC: At that level of baseball, you almost have to be more dominant to throw a perfect game than you would at the major league level because your defense isn't as likely to help you out in a spectacular way like it can in the big leagues.
ZB: I think you're right. He struck-out 14, so he didn't even need the defense all that much. It was one of those things where normally during the course of a perfect game or a near-perfect game or a no-hitter, there is one play that stands out. There is one play where the defender makes the play and it causes you to think. ‘wow, this is really going to happen.' There wasn't really that play that night.
Tanner pretty much did everything on his own. He was throwing his pitches for strikes. He was throwing that change-up for strikes and getting swings and misses. He did it all himself. But you're right, I think it can be more difficult at that level when defense isn't always at major-league quality behind you. To come as close as he did is special.
OC: Had Max Muncy stayed with the Ports all season, he had a chance to post some pretty special numbers. What kind of player was he when he was with Stockton?
ZB: He was clutch. I think that is the word that comes to mind. Whenever the team needed a jolt or a big hit, he was there to provide it. His power numbers were pretty good. He hit 21 homeruns [in 93 games]. I'm not sure if that pace will hold at another level. I don't think it did once he went to Midland. He was fortunate to be a left-handed hitter and have a swing that was tailored perfectly to Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton where you have the short-porch in right field.
But he wasn't a one-trick pony. He hit to all fields and it wasn't just homeruns. He had all sorts of hits. He was a clutch player and just a very good offensive player, for lack of a better term. I don't think that his .285 average in the Cal League was an aberration. I think he will be a good hitter at any level going forward. I'm not sure about the power numbers staying at that pace, but he was a professional hitter.
OC: How about defensively?
ZB: He was very good defensively. Really I can't think of any time when I would have thought of him as a liability over there. His glove was really good. I think that is probably why the A's thought so highly of him when he was in Stockton. He was not only putting up the offensive numbers, but he was also playing good defense. He could do it on both sides.
OC: Bobby Crocker had an interesting season. His strike-out numbers and contact rates weren't very good, but the rest of his numbers wound-up being pretty impressive when all was said and done. What kind of player do you think Crocker can be, provided he can make more contact on a consistent basis?
ZB: I think he can be a really exciting player. I was talking with [Ports' manager] Webster Garrison at the end of the year and I said, ‘Crocker is having a really quiet good year.' He hit .275 and double-digit homeruns. You're right that he had stretches when he did struggle, but he also had stretches when he was really locked in. When he was locked in, he was really fun to watch. He is the type of player that goes 110 miles per hour when he is out there. He's just flying around.
When he is going through that phase when he is really locked in, he is fun to watch and he brings a lot of energy to the field. If he can make more contact and get on-base more consistently and they can find a way for him to hit at the top of the order, that would be ideal. He's got great stolen base numbers and he has great speed. He can be that burst of energy in a line-up. He hit everywhere in the line-up. It was a weird year in that there were a lot of different line-ups. Webster Garrison tried a lot of different guys at the top of the line-up, the bottom of the line-up. Bobby, at times, hit in the middle of the line-up.
I think Bobby is a top-of-the-order type guy if he can make more contact on a consistent basis.
OC: Bruce Maxwell joined the team halfway through the season. For a catcher to make it to High-A during his first full professional season is pretty impressive. What did you see from Maxwell on both sides of the ball this season?
ZB: He was very confident. When he got up to the High-A level, there was all of this talk about him being a high draft pick, but a Division II guy. And, sure, you can dominate Division II in college, but are you the real deal when you play professional ball? I asked Bruce about that the first time I interviewed him and he said, ‘go ahead and doubt me. I know what I can do and I am very confident in my abilities.'
At the plate, he definitely showed signs of that. He hit for a little bit of power. It was such a small sample of a season – I think it was less than 50 games that he was with us – but you could tell that he was confident with the bat. I think that will definitely be a good tool for him going forward.
Defensively, at times I think he was a little bit shaky as far as the receiving goes. I think they will probably continue to work with him on that. But I think the bat is for real. I think he's going to come out next year and try to prove that all over again.
OC: Josh Whitaker returned to Stockton at the beginning of the year, earned a promotion to Midland, then got hurt almost immediately and, once he was healthy, had to return to Stockton until there was a spot open in Midland. He seems like a guy people forget about despite the fact that he puts up good numbers. Does he remind you of any other players you have covered?
ZB: That's a good question. Off of the top of my head, I can't think of anybody that he reminds me of. It was unfortunate for him that he finally got his shot to go up to Double-A and four or five days in, he got that broken hand. He then had to come back to Stockton [after the injury healed]. I think what was most impressive about Josh was that he came back to Stockton basically because they didn't have a place to put him in Double-A. As soon as they had a spot, they were going to put him up there, so he had to bide his time in Stockton. That can be a tough thing for a player to deal with, but he still hit .270. It's not like his heart wasn't in it when he came back to Stockton. He produced and he performed. He still swung the bat really well.
He's a guy with a lot of natural power. I'm hoping he gets his shot with a full season in Double-A and can stay healthy for the entire year.
OC: B.A. Vollmuth had a very strange year at the plate. He put up good power numbers and had a pretty decent slugging percentage, but he barely hit .200 and, I believe, at one point in mid-May he hardly had any hits at all for the season. Did he make adjustments during the season that allowed him to improve?
ZB: Weird is the best way to say it. It was a weird season. You look at his batting average, and it was .212, so it looks like a bad season and I think B.A. would classify it as a bad season for him. But there was a period in mid-May when he was hitting something like .121. Then he had a 16-game hitting streak and it ended right at the All-Star break, if I'm not mistaken. That was the point where he was swinging the bat the best he had all year.
Unfortunately, I think that All-Star break came at the wrong time for him. At that time, maybe he had made that adjustment and then he had to sit for four days. After that, he finished with the average above .200, but never quite got back to how he was swinging during the streak. He hit 21 homeruns and I think sometimes he was trying to go for it all. I talked with Webster Garrison about that and Webby said, ‘look, he's a guy who needs to realize that he doesn't have to do that every time he's up. He needs to focus on making that consistent contact and everything else will follow.'
I think B.A. was trying to figure out what type of hitter he was as the season went on. I think he'll put in a lot of work in the off-season and maybe next year, he'll come out of the gate swinging the bat much better. But it was definitely a strange year for him.
OC: The Ports had a 17-inning game during which infielder Wade Kirkland got the win on the mound and had the walk-off homerun. What do you do as an announcer when games start stretching into 12, 13+ innings territory?
ZB: The 17-inning game was five hours and 44 minutes. It started at 11:00am because it was an Education Day. It was really, really funny because by the time the game was getting close to when it eventually ended, all of those kids had left because they can't stay the whole game. They were either on a field trip or with a camp or something like that. So the ballpark was basically empty as all of this was going on.
For a broadcaster, that is kind of a challenge you have to deal with because there is really no noise. You are dealing with crickets. You try to fill in as much as you can and add color as much as you can. Without the crowd being there, you can't pause and get this nice crowd noise because no one is there.
At the same time, it makes it easier because you get to this point where you realize that there is this quirky, unique game going on in front of you and those are the games that you live for and that you enjoy being a part of. At that point, my energy sort of takes over and I had a lot of fun with it. And then to have what happened happen at the end was unbelievable.
The Ports tied it twice in extra-innings before winning it. Lake Elsinore took the lead in the 16th and Philip Pohl ties it in the bottom of the 16th on the first pitch. And then to have Wade Kirkland pitch in the 17th and then hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 17th in his first at-bat, I've never seen a guy – nor will I probably ever see again – hit the walk-off homerun and be the winning pitcher. So that will go down for me as one of the most fun and most weird games I have ever been a part of.
OC: Have you ever seen anyone swing as hard as Antonio Lamas? The times I saw him hit, he had the biggest cuts I'd ever seen from someone who I think is about 5'8''.
ZB: I have never seen anyone with an approach like the one Antonio Lamas has. It was literally go up there and you see the ball and you hit the ball. I don't think there was ever a consistent approach. I never knew what was going to go down during a Lamas at-bat. Your guess was as good as mine, and, I think, as good as his. The bat came out of his hands at least once a game. That is one thing I will always remember. He lost the bat at least once a game. They had a running count and he got fined in kangaroo court a ton because of it. I'm surprise no one got injured with the bat smoking them. There were some close calls.
He was unique, for sure. I don't think I've ever seen an approach like that, and I've never seen the bat come out of someone's hands at the rate it did with Lamas.
OC: Going back to the pitching staff, we touched a little on Alcantara and Peters, but who were some of the other guys who stood out for you this year?
ZB: Michael Ynoa was definitely unique. I've been waiting a long time to see Ynoa. They signed him in '08 and that was my second season in Stockton. I thought that he might have a chance to get up there in 2010 or 2011, but he obviously had the set-back with the Tommy John surgery. So he finally gets up here midway through last season.
The stuff is there. The stuff is real: he throws hard and it is effortless, just like it's advertised. The problem with him was that he had a tough time locating his fastball when he got into the California League. I know he had terrific numbers in Low-A, but it is a whole different ballgame when you get to High-A, especially when you get to the California League. His first couple of starts were painful in that he couldn't really locate his fastball. When you can't do that – especially in the Cal League – you are going to get into trouble. He had a lot of walks early and he gave up a lot of hits.
I think he did start to figure it out. Unfortunately, as a starter, I think he began to figure it out and then he went down with a little bit of an injury midway through July. It wasn't anything too major, but they were obviously very cautious with him and they kept him out for a few weeks. But he had started to figure it out. He came back and actually worked out of the bullpen a bit, and he pitched well out of the bullpen.
On our last roadtrip, he actually recorded his first professional save. It was in Bakersfield and in order to get that save, he had to work for it. He gave up a leadoff triple in the ninth of a one-run game, but he went and got the next three guys out and they were unproductive outs and that was that first professional save. That outing was impressive. It was only one inning, but I think that outing is something for him to build on going forward.
You also have to talk about Ryan Dull because he was here and then gone in a matter of a few weeks. He throws that ghost ball, that fastball that you just can't see. He was really impressive. Obviously the strike-outs to walks were unbelievable for him in a small number of innings. He made quite an impression. I was actually kind of surprised that they got him up to Double-A when they did because I figured they would let him dominate for a half season in the Cal League. That's saying something if you can do that for half a year in the California League.
The one guy I was really surprised they moved up so quickly was Drew Granier. That's not a knock on Drew. He had a great first half of the year. For the first few months he was the most exciting pitcher on the staff to watch because he was striking out guys at such a high rate. I think at the time he left he was leading the league or just behind the league leader in strike-outs, but he was also leading the league in walks. For that reason, I didn't think they'd send him up to Midland at the break. That surprised me a little bit because he has good stuff with the swing-and-miss but I think that is something to watch down-the-road, whether he can keep the walks down. That's going to be a big key for him.
OC: Seth Frankoff was with the team for the entire year. What kind of pitcher was he out of the Ports' bullpen?
ZB: He was the anchor of that bullpen. He was there for the entire year. He had a stretch where he didn't allow an earned run for pretty much the entire month of July. He came on in any situation and you knew the game was in good hands. Webster Garrison liked to save him for situations like that when he needed a reliable guy, and Seth was that guy. That says a lot about Seth.
At the start of the season, he didn't jump out at you as a guy that you pegged for the Fall League. But he went on the disabled list at the end of May and came back a couple of weeks later. He seemed like a completely different pitcher after that. He was pitching with a lot of confidence and was getting outs whenever he came in. He started to develop into that role where he was the stopper in the bullpen. Then you started to think to yourself, ‘this is a guy who you might see in the Fall League.' And sure enough, he was picked to go. He's definitely on the A's radar now. Double-A should be a nice challenge for him next year, and I think he's up to it.
OC: T.J. Walz pitched well for Stockton in 2012, but it seemed like his command wasn't the same in 2013. He still struck-out over a batter an inning, but his walks and hits were way up. What was the difference for him this season, in your opinion?
ZB: It's really tough to pinpoint. I talked to T.J. early in the year and he said he was feeling great, but you got the feeling as the season went on that maybe something was lacking for him. I don't know if it was in terms of command or if it was just stuff. He had all of these strike-outs, but he also struggled to get clean innings. That was the thing that struck me about T.J. He would come in and you'd be waiting for him to have a clean inning and it just never seemed to happen. He'd pitch really well in some situations, but then at times he'd get himself into trouble and wouldn't be able to find his way out of it.
I really don't know what the difference was for T.J. this year. He said he felt good early in the year, but I'm not sure if anything changed during the course of the season.
OC: You talk to scouts around baseball and one of the first guys they mention in terms of having the best pure stuff in the A's organization is Blake Hassebrock. The numbers haven't always been there for him, but it looked like he started to find some consistency when he moved into the bullpen. Did he look better to you out of the bullpen?
ZB: Absolutely, yes. I asked him when he moved into the bullpen if he felt more comfortable in this type of role and he said absolutely. He felt like he was a guy who could go out there for an inning or two and let it all hang out. He throws hard and a lot of times, guys who throw hard have a tough time sustaining that velocity for four, five or six innings. He said in college, he worked a lot in the backend of the bullpen and that was where he felt most comfortable.
He was a completely different pitcher in the bullpen. Not only could he let it hang out for a couple of innings, but it also took a lot of pressure off of him. I think he was put at ease in some ways. It definitely translated into a lot of success and got him that in-season promotion to Midland. It made all of the difference in the world to move from the rotation into the bullpen. He does have terrific stuff and scouts do always rave about it.
OC: Josh Bowman pitched extremely well for the Ports during the second half of the 2012 season and looked poised for a big breakthrough in 2013. However, he struggled to start the year in Midland and then really struggled for his first few starts back with Stockton after being demoted. He did pitch much better as the season went on. Do you think his struggles were because of a physical issue or did he just need to regroup?
ZB: I think it was a little bit of both. I don't think he came out of spring training completely healthy. I think he tried to get through it on his own because he wanted to be in Double-A and he didn't want to let anybody know that he wasn't 100%. He went to Double-A and obviously the numbers weren't there and he came back to Stockton.
His first couple of outings in Stockton, I was thinking to myself, ‘is this the same guy that we saw last year?' He then went on the disabled list and came back. His first start off of the DL was the day before the All-Star break. He was great in Rancho Cucamonga. I think he pitched five innings in that game and that's when it started to turn around for him. He started to turn the corner. He got better as the season went on after the All-Star break.
I think the struggles not only were physical, but also, at times, he was disappointed that he had to come back to Stockton. I think that stretch in late May when he had a couple of bad outings, he told me in an interview that maybe mentally he wasn't all there during those starts and that he had been frustrated. But he said he learned to work through it and he was better because he had to go through that period. I think moving forward it will be an experience that he remembers and he leans on whenever he goes through a tough time.
He'll get another shot in Double-A. He's such a smart guy and he has really good stuff. When he gets another chance at Double-A, I think you'll see a different guy starting next year than he was starting this year.
OC: Tucker Healy didn't have much time with the Ports before he landed on the DL, but he was impressive in his short stint with the team. He's a fellow native of the Northeast like you are. What are your thoughts on Healy?
ZB: Tucker is from Needham, Massachusetts and I said that every time he came in because baseball guys from Massachusetts are few-and-far between. He has great stuff. A great fastball. Him and Dull were eerily similar not only in the fact that they threw similar fastballs, but also that their numbers were similar. They had similar strike-outs to walks and ERAs and they came up [from Beloit] together.
At the time Ryan was promoted, Tucker only had a couple more outings after that and then they shut him down for the season. I think he had a little bit of fatigue and they didn't want to mess with it. He expressed some frustration towards the end of the season, wanting to get back out there. Saying, ‘boy, I wish they hadn't shut me down.' I told him, ‘hey, I think that means that they think enough of you to that they want to shut you down and not take any risks.'
He's on the A's radar for sure and he has the kind of stuff that, especially for the backend of the bullpen, will get you through some games. Next year, he's going to be chomping at the bit, especially because he had to sit for the final month of this season.
Tune in later this week as Zack shares his thoughts on former Ports' manager and new Chicago White Sox's hitting coach Todd Steverson, the 2008 Stockton Ports championship squad and more...