Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Scott Emerson

The Opening Day rosters for all four of the Oakland A's full-season minor league affiliates are out. We spoke with A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson about the A's pitching prospects fared this spring and what role some pitchers are expected to fill this season.

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to touch base with you on how the pitchers did during spring training. First, though, the A's signed Joe Blanton to a minor league deal this week. You worked with him during his first stint with the organization, right?

Scott Emerson: Yeah, a long time ago.

OC: Have you spoken to him since the team signed him?

SE: No, I haven't spoken to him. I sent him a text message welcoming him back. [Sacramento River Cats' pitching coach] Rick Rodriguez spoke to him to find out when the last couple of times he pitched was, so we can set him up for the rotation in Sacramento. I'm very much happy to have him back and I'm anxious to see if we can help him out and get him back to the big leagues.

OC: Did you see him at all during this year's spring training?

SE: He actually pitched against us at Tempe Diablo. He did alright. He threw strikes, which is a good sign. He's still got pitchability. He knows how to pitch. I'm hoping that we can get him back on track. Anything that he feels out-of-whack on, hopefully we can help him and get him back to the big leagues.

OC: Blanton is one of two veteran big league pitchers on that staff, with Philip Humber being the other. Is Humber going to start out in the rotation or the bullpen this season?

SE: He's actually going to start out in the bullpen. The organization values him both as a starter and as a reliever, but right now they feel like the biggest value for us is for him to pitch out of the bullpen.

OC: Sean Murphy made the Sacramento Opening Day roster. How much did his start in that big league game this spring help him make the River Cats' roster, or was that the plan from the start of camp?

SE: Sacramento needed a fifth starter and he had a really good game against the Rangers. I would say that that opened up some eyes. Murph has a good ceiling. He has four good pitches. He mixes it up and throws strikes and he was every bit in contention with everyone else to get that job in Sacramento. I would definitely say [that start] helped to open some eyes, but he had a great spring and definitely deserved to go.

OC: Arnold Leon had a good spring training in big league camp after struggling some in big league camp last year. How do you think he will do as a starter with Sacramento this season?

SE: Arnold's probably one of the organization's hardest workers. Anytime you can give Arnold the baseball and watch him pitch, it is fun to watch. He's an aggressive pitcher with four pitches and he uses both sides of the plate. He's maturing each and every outing as a starter.

OC: There are a lot of guys on the Midland RockHounds' pitching staff who were starters last season. It sounds like Andrew Werner and Murphy Smith will begin the season in the bullpen. Is that correct?

SE: Yep, that's correct.

OC: For each of those guys, do you think pitching in shorter outings will help them throw strikes more consistently or fix whatever needed improving over last year?

SE: Werner had a great spring training this year. The organization's feeling is that he is trying something new as a reliever and so we can bring him back to a place where he had success in the past in the Texas League. He's been throwing a lot of strikes and has an improved breaking ball that will help him versus left-handed hitters. We're excited what he can do out of the bullpen.

Murphy Smith has had a couple of years in Double-A as a starter and it was tough to get him to Triple-A, but we feel that if Murphy can pitch out of the bullpen, maybe a spike in velocity and his stuff will get a little bit better. We'll see how he can play with that stuff in a short-inning stint.

OC: How did Drew Granier look this spring? Was his command better than it was last year?

SE: Drew did really well this spring. His breaking balls look to be back, both of them. He struggled some with his breaking ball last year. His fastball command looks to be much better. Just his overall comfort was improved. He looked comfortable out there again. He's got four good pitches. We are still working on that change-up, but we look for good things out of him this year.

OC: Tanner Peters was on the rehab list early in spring training. Is he completely healthy going into the start of the season?

SE: Yes. We were just a little cautious with Tanner during spring training. Tanner had a great season last year and I'm looking for great things from him this year. He really impresses me with his ability to throw the ball to both sides of the plate and the command of his pitches. I am very impressed with what he does.

OC: What were your first impressions of Chris Jensen this spring after he joined the organization from Colorado during the off-season?

SE: He's another command-type guy. He has good stuff and he throws strikes to both sides of the plate. I really like the way he was poised and showed maturity. He's going to fit in really well here.

OC: With so many experienced guys who can throw multiple innings in the Midland bullpen, do you think that will help keep the wear-and-tear off of guys in the RockHounds' starting rotation such as Peters and Granier who threw a lot of innings last year?

SE: In my opinion, your team wins games based on the bullpen. You look at how the game goes now, if your starters give you six-and-a-third innings and hand it over to the bullpen, you're going to win a lot of games. When you have an experienced bullpen like Midland has – they have three good lefties [Werner, Jeff Urlaub and Frank Gailey] – and you're right when you talk about those starters and controlling their innings. We are looking for our starters to go out there and get to that sixth inning mark. The sixth inning is the key. If you can get the game into the seventh inning and then turn it over to the bullpen, you've done well.

OC: Raul Alcantara will be the youngest pitcher on that staff and maybe one of the youngest in the entire Texas League. Do you think that leap will be a big one for him from High-A?

SE: I think consistency is something that Raul is going to have to understand. He's going into what I call the first men's league of professional baseball. You have some ex-big league players. You have a lot of guys repeating the league. I'm sure he's going to have some ups and downs, but hopefully the downs aren't too low and he can be mature in handling them. Those are the things we are looking at. You want to see how guys respond to failure, and in the Texas League, there is going to be some games where things aren't going to go his way. How he responds to those games and how we can get him back into the moment are going to be critical.

But this guy is an excellent prospect. He's what you look for in a prospect. He has a good arm. He's a guy that throws strikes. He's got a good change-up. I'm very excited to watch him pitch.

OC: The decision was made to have Michael Ynoa pitch out of the Stockton bullpen this season. Will he be used more in end-of-game situations, or will he be in a long relief role where he comes in during the seventh inning or so and tries to finish a game from there?

SE: End of the game is going to be a good role for him. We really don't like to classify guys as closers, per se, in A-ball. We like to have multiple options at the end of games and Stockton has an excellent bullpen. We like him to go multiple innings when he pitches.

Big Mike, as he has been known around the complex now, has electric stuff. In two-inning bursts, I think this guy could be really good. He's on the 40-man roster and he could possibly help out the major league club at some point in time this season.

OC: Will Nolan Sanburn be in a relief role or a starting role for Stockton?

SE: He's going to be in relief. He's pretty much going to do the same thing that Ynoa is doing. Anticipate those guys getting the ball at the end of the game in two-inning spurts.

OC: It sounds like Seth Streich had a really good spring after ending last season with a bit of an arm injury. Will he have any restrictions or is he ready to go out there every fifth day at this point?

SE: He's ready to go out there every fifth day. He has been awesome this spring. He's strong and he has been fun to watch pitch. Obviously, like anyone else, we will keep a close eye on him, but all indications are that he is ready to go.

OC: The Beloit staff has a lot of pitchers that were taken in the 2013 draft. Bobby Wahl is starting Opening Day, I believe. How did they all look in their first professional spring training?

SE: Most of them came to the [minor league] mini-camp and we had them pitch in some of the Double-A and Triple-A games at first. I think, at times, they were a little bit nervous, but I told them to use that as a learning experience. Know that we can't get away with pure velocity at the belt. Know that we have to be able to pitch and use what we call our ‘five elements of pitching': location, change-of-speeds, effort-level and velocity. Know that we have to use those elements to get the best hitters out in the world.

I remember that Bobby Wahl gave up two homeruns in a Double-A game. I think he was probably a little upset, and I asked him ‘did you learn something today?' And he said, ‘yes.' And I said, ‘okay, now we are on the path.' You have to know what the best hitters in the world do and sometimes a little bit of adversity helps these guys out to see ‘wow, if this is what it is going to be like in the big leagues, or Double-A and Triple-A, then I need to do these types of things.'

Some guys breeze through A-ball and it is easy for them and they can't command their fastballs. They have a trick change-up that they throw non-stop in A-ball and they breeze through A-ball and then realize that they can't get Double-A hitters out with just the change-up. They have to be able to command the fastball.

That was the point I was trying to make with those guys. You have to be able to command your fastball if you are going to pitch in the big leagues.

OC: Ronald Herrera is going to make the jump to full-season ball after only making two outings with Vermont last year and pitching mostly in the Rookie league. What is it about him that enables him to make that jump even though he doesn't have a lot of innings in the US under his belt?

SE: I can't think of too many professional pitchers that have as smooth of a delivery as him, and that's going all the way to the big leagues. I rave about him. If I was right-handed and I was 18, I would want to be Ronald Herrera. He's got unbelievable command for a guy at 18. He shows unbelievable poise. His maturity is outstanding for an 18-year-old, or any person, really.

Nothing seems to rattle him. His last outing in spring training, he went five scoreless innings and I think he struck-out six. He looked great. The indications tell us that if this guy is capable of doing these things, then let's challenge him a little bit and see what he can do in the Midwest League.

OC: So there won't be a piggy-back starter situation in Beloit this year? The starting rotation will be in a regular ‘pitch as deep as you can into a game' sort of situation?

SE: We have a small piggy-back. We are going to try at some point in time to match-up Sam Bragg with Herrera and then have Matt Stalcup matched-up with Bobby Wahl. But Wahl and Herrera are going to get all of the starts and the other two guys will pitch behind them. A lot of that is to try to build up another starter in case stuff happens within the system and you'll have two guys already there in Beloit with built-up pitch counts. Last year's tandem, we had a five-and-a-three.

We just want to build up as many guys as we can. Starting pitching is the premium. You try to get guys to start as long as they can before you move them to the bullpen. It's really just a matter of trying to see guys for as long of periods as we can. That's how we evaluate them.

OC: Were there any guys who came into camp who had an impressive new pitch or put together a performance that you really weren't anticipating?

SE: All of the guys came in where I expected them to come in. The guys from Instructional League tried to build off of what they did during Instructional League and they did a good job. The Walhls and the Kyle Finnegans and Dylan Covey and Chris Kohler and those types of guys came in and were really good. We are just trying to build off of that. Austin House came in looking really good as a reliever. His ball has a lot of sink right now. He's got a great change-up. Nolan Sanburn, his pitch mix is great. He has four plus major league pitches. He just needs to learn to pitch and compete. He has everything that you look for in a big league pitcher.

OC: Is the plan for Chris Kohler to start in Vermont after extended spring training?

SE: We are just trying to look for Chris to make a few starts in extended. It was a tough decision not to send him to Beloit, but we felt that we weren't in a hurry with him. Hopefully, at some point in time, he can get to Beloit before Vermont even gets rolling.

We hope he makes a few extended spring training starts and we'll keep evaluating him. He had a good spring. Whatever happens there, happens.

OC: Where is your first roving assignment this year?

SE: I will be in Little Rock, Arkansas [with Midland] on April 10. I'll start off with 26 days where I'll hit all four clubs and the extended spring team. I'm excited!

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