Scott Emerson Talks A's MiLB Pitching, Part 1

With injuries causing roster changes up and down the Oakland A's organization, A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson has been busy during the first quarter of the 2014 season. We caught-up with Emo to discuss how the A's young arms are faring. In part one of this two-part interview, we discuss prospects on the A's High-A and Double-A affiliates.

OaklandClubhouse: It has been a busy year so far with the amount of movement that you've had on the pitching staffs due to injuries and promotions. Has it been difficult trying to get guys into different roles?

Scott Emerson: You just want every team to go out there and get an opportunity not only to develop but to try to win games. We have had some guys receive opportunities to show what they can do. It has been a little trying to try to fill some of the pitching staffs, but I think overall we are in a good place right now.

OC: One of the players who was hurt early this season was Michael Ynoa. He has seemed like a different pitcher since coming off of the DL. What has been the key for him in his recent run of success?

SE: I think with Big Mike, as we call him, the key is confidence. I had a good talk with him when I was there. Ryan Christenson and John Wasdin – the manager and the pitching coach – and I asked him what type of pitcher he is. He finally said he was a power pitcher. We said, ‘take that to heart. You don't necessarily have to go out there and try to be really pretty because it can sometimes work against you if you are nibbling.'

I think he has a little better demeanor out there. He's doing a little bit more pitching with the fastball. That's his bread-and-butter pitch. Any time he is having success, it comes off of his fastball.

I think the last five ball games he has been awesome.

OC: There are a lot of guys in that Stockton bullpen who have put up a lot of big numbers. Austin House has 29 strike-outs and seven walks in 18 innings, but his ERA is high (6.00). Do you think he has pitched better than that ERA number?

Austin House has 21 strike-outs over his last 11.2 innings pitched.

SE: Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. If you look at Austin's numbers overall, I think there was one game this year when he gave up six runs. As a reliever, that kind of game is going to hurt you in the ERA department for awhile. He's got the ability to strike-out guys out. He has good swing-and-miss pitches with a good sinker and a good change-up and a developing slider. Overall, he has done a great job. He has had a stretch where he went five or six games in a row when he didn't give up a run and then had a couple of games where he gave up a couple of bunches of runs. That hurt his earned run average, but other than that, he's doing a good job.

OC: How do you feel Jeremy Barfield is progressing in his first season as a pitcher?

SE: Jeremy is figuring out what type of pitcher he's got to become. It's a learning curve. It's a process. Is he a power left-hander? Is he a breaking ball left-hander? Is he a command-type left-hander? We are all just trying to feel that out.

His fastball is in the upper-80s to low-90s. He's got some cut movement to it. We are just trying to figure out what type of pitcher he is. I think that he is more-or-less going to be a guy who commands with an average fastball. He will be a command guy who can control the strike-zone with his fastball and throw his off-speed behind in the count.

OC: Tim Atherton got close to a perfect game earlier in the year. What are your impressions of him in his first season in the organization?

SE: I think he has done a great job. He's a good student of the game. I was there for that [near perfect game]. That was a lot of fun. So was Dallas Braden. That made it even better. I can remember in the seventh inning, Dallas came to the corner of the dugout and we were talking. We didn't say anything more than ‘is he going to go out for the ninth?' And I said, ‘I hope so.'

Tim has done a great job. He has gone out there and thrown strikes and is giving everything he's got. His work habits are good. He's done a great job.

OC: Stockton starter Hunter Adkins is a guy who is pitching in a different role because of injuries and movement within the system. He's gone from an undrafted free agent last year to moving up to High-A already this year. What makes him able to pitch at this level already?

SE: One aspect is opportunities. He got the opportunity to go to Stockton and he's made the most of it. For the most part, if you can throw strikes with movement on your pitches, you can find success. He isn't overpowering and he's going to be a command guy with that movement, but he's gone out there and he has competed well. He's had some success. That's good to see.

OC: Seth Streich's groundball rate is pretty incredible. The A's have had some successful groundball starters in the past. Is Streich similar to, say, a Trevor Cahill in his ability to fill up the lower part of the strike-zone when he is on?

SE: Yeah. That's a pretty good comparison. Seth's sinker is a little bit smaller than Cahill's, I would say. Trevor's ran across the plate and had what we call ‘big sink.' Seth's is short and quick.

He has done a great job pounding the bottom of the strike-zone with his sinker and keeping the hitters off-balance with an occasional breaking ball. He's got some punch-outs too. He gets ahead and if they don't put it in play, he goes for that strike-out with two-strikes. I think he's done a great job.

OC: Tucker Healy just moved up to Double-A. His numbers since turning pro have been pretty unbelievable. I know his fastball can touch that 93-94 MPH range. What is his best asset as a pitcher? Is it that fastball?

SE: Again his fastball moves. He throws a lot of fastballs. He has a lot of movement. He needs to continue to develop that breaking ball, but when you have that kind of movement and you are a one-, two-inning type short reliever, you are going to have a lot of success if you pound the strike-zone. And he does that. He comes right at you, mostly with two-seamers. He'll throw an occasional four-seamer, but when he's on and throwing strikes down in the ‘zone, he can beat you with his velocity, but he can also beat the ball to make it move away from the barrel of the bat to get his groundballs. He's exciting to watch pitch because he's aggressive with his fastball.

Murphy Smith hasn't allowed a homer in 33 innings this season. His ERA is 2.73.

OC: We talked before the season about Murphy Smith moving into the bullpen and perhaps that his stuff would play better in a relief role. He's off to a great start as a reliever for Midland. What is the biggest difference for him in this new role? Is he just more aggressive in a relief role, or did he have a jump up in velocity?

SE: He throws strikes. He has a knack to throw that strike. He has been pitching a lot of three-, four-inning stints, so he has had to flip the line-up. He's throwing a lot of strikes and he's seen a spike in velocity – he's 93-94 – and the breaking ball stays crisper because he doesn't have to throw 25 breaking balls a night. He's throwing seven or eight breaking balls a night. He throws strikes.

When you throw strikes and you have the ability to throw the little cutter that he's got and you have a curveball and a change-up, he keeps the hitters off-balance, the element of surprise. He is pretty much able to throw any of his pitches in any count. He's done a great job adapting to this bullpen role. He'll keep fighting from there and we'll see what he can do.

OC: Chris Jensen had a rough start in his last outing for Midland, but before that he had been very solid for the RockHounds. What have you seen from him in his first season with the organization and what is he working on the most this year?

SE: Right now, him and Don Schulze – our Double-A pitching coach – are working on a better breaking ball. He has been a little bit inconsistent with it and they are just trying to find that one breaking ball that can be consistent. He has good gamesmanship. You know he's out there when he's pitching. He has a good sinker and he throws a good change-up. That breaking ball will come because his delivery is good enough. He's going to find that grip and get settled in with it and obviously that will be a good pitch for strikes.

He has had a good season so far because he throws strikes and he's a very competitive guy.

OC: Drew Granier had a disastrous Opening Day start, but he has been much better since then, although his strike-out numbers aren't what they were in High-A. Do you feel that his location is improving and that third pitch is coming around for him?

SE: One thing about Drew is confidence. When he pitches with confidence, his stuff is really good. He can be his own worst enemy at times and he can beat himself up and try to be too perfect. He needs to realize that no one is perfect. He just needs to go out there and be himself. When he's himself and he's throwing striking and changing speeds, he's a lot better. When he tries to over-do it and maybe hump up on the fastball a little bit more, he gets himself in trouble.

He's an excellent competitor, but now he needs to compete about controlling himself and understand that he shouldn't try to be too fine. If we are too fine, that's when we can make mistakes. I have a lot of confidence in him that he can do that because he's a guy who wants the baseball and he wants to pitch. I believe he will turn his command around. He's got a good delivery, so he has a chance to have excellent command.

OC: Zach Neal started the year in that Midland rotation, moved up to Sacramento and then was moved back to Stockton yesterday. Is the move to Stockton intended to be a quick stay as rosters are adjusted or will he be part of the Ports' rotation long-term?

SE: You know how Triple-A goes. Here one day, gone tomorrow type thing. These guys have lives and if you move them around and bump them around, it gets stressful. Any thing we can do to keep them in the area for awhile and see what happens and how things play out. We are confident that he can go back to Triple-A at any time. If that's not the case [that there is a roster opening on Sacramento in the near-term], then we will have to re-evaluate later on what is best for him. Right now what is best for him is to keep him close to Sacramento.

OC: Are Nate Long and Andrew Werner in the RockHounds' rotation for the long-run now that Raul Alcantara is going to be out for the year?

SE: I think so. That's depending on Neal and how long we can wait on that, but those guys have stepping up and have done a great job. Nate Long, you just tell him when he is going to pitch and he's just going to go out and pitch. He's got that mentality that if you call my number, I'm going to pitch. It doesn't matter if I am going to start or if I come out of the bullpen. That's the type of stuff that you are looking for in pitching. You are looking for that type of guy who has the ultimate mental toughness about it. ‘It doesn't matter if I'm a starter or a reliever. Just give me the ball and I'm going to get hitters out.' I think he does a great job of that.

OC: Seth Frankoff has come into a lot of those end-of-game situations for the RockHounds this season. What has been the big difference for him the past two seasons when he has had so much success as a reliever?

SE: Seth has great stuff. His ball moves. It cuts, it sinks, it has some velocity. Being in a more limited role out of the bullpen, his focus is better. He stays focused a lot better in shorter stints than he did as a starter. He'd kind of lose himself in the longer outings. But this guy has some stuff. He's got an average major league fastball. He's got plus movement. He's got average to plus curveball. He's an average to plus change-up and then he's got a cutter that's the same – average to plus. It's all about his confidence and his ability to throw strikes.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, when we cover pitching prospects from Triple-A Sacramento, Low-A Beloit and extended spring training.

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