Scott Emerson Talks A's MiLB Pitching, Part 2

In part two of our interview with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, we discuss the progress of pitchers on the staffs of the Beloit Snappers and Sacramento River Cats, as well as two pitchers currently at extended spring training. Find out what pitchers such as Dylan Covey, Kyle Finnegan, Dan Straily, Josh Lindblom and others are working on.

To read part one of this interview, click here.


OaklandClubhouse: Moving on to the Beloit staff, Bobby Wahl just returned from the DL [oblique strain] a little more than a week ago. Is he at the building up pitch-count part of his progression right now?

Scott Emerson: Yeah, we generally work guys back slowly. He worked in two sim games that got him up to 35, 40 pitches. We generally add 15-20 pitches or so upon his return. I think in his next outing, he should be close to 70-75 pitches. We will build his pitch count up to 100 pitches.

Dylan Covey has allowed three runs over his last 28 innings.

OC: Dylan Covey has a string of really strong starts going. He has induced a lot of groundballs. Has that been the key for him this season?

SE: I got to see him in Peoria go eight innings. I was expecting a little bit more of the power fastball that he has, and the next thing you know, he is throwing a ton of power sinkers. That sinker is very good. The velocity is down a little bit because he is throwing a ton of sinkers, and the groundball rate is through the roof. I think he had 19 groundball outs that night. He's pitching with an average fastball with a two-seamer and he's locating it and he has evolved a good change-up.

It's sort of different. You saw him last year as a big-time power guy, which I think he'll get back to. We'll encourage him to throw a little more four-seam fastballs. Anytime you are throwing 90-91 with plus movement, that's a gift. He's got that gift going on right now. I think he's trying to ride that sinker out as long as he can.

OC: You have talked about Ronald Herrera and his great mechanics. He is holding his own with Beloit despite being the youngest pitcher on that team. What is your goal for him this season? Is there anything in particular that he is working on?

SE: This guy, for me, is awesome. He is fun to watch compete and pitch. He pounds the bottom of the strike-zone. For a guy who just turned 19 like he did, to have a change-up and a curveball like he does and to be able to move a ball to both sides of the plate, it's fun to watch him pitch. He just needs experience against good hitters. He just needs to keep doing that for the next couple of years until he's big-league ready.

He's a guy you just sit back and watch. You don't fiddle with him much. You can tell him how to pitch. You may mention his delivery, but you are able to coach his mental game more because his delivery is very good. You just sit back and maintain that delivery and you get to do some advanced teaching stuff with him on the mental-side of the game and on the pitch selection side.

OC: You were working with Kyle Finnegan quite a bit on his mechanics during Instructs. Is he where you want him to be with all of that?

SE: He got out of synch with his delivery for a little while. His hands and his stride leg weren't working together and his velocity was down. But now his velocity is back up. He is able to locate in the bottom of the strike-zone and he's developed a really good change-up. He didn't have that change-up last year. And he's pitching. For a time, it looked like he might be a thrower. We want pitchers, not minor league throwers and he's done a great job of learning how to pitch. There is a bright future ahead for him. His groundball rate has been really great, as well.

OC: There are a lot groundball pitchers in the organization right now. That has obviously been something the organization has valued over the past several years. Is that something you as a staff teach, or do [A's Scouting Director] Eric Kubota and his staff really look for guys that do that already during the draft?

SE: I think it is a combination of both. Our scouting department has done a great job of supplying us with good pitchers. They need to be commended. It's a lot of fun when you get these kind of guys who can come in here and are advanced enough that you can teach them to really pitch. When these guys throw strikes in the bottom of the strike-zone, they are going to get those groundballs. If you pitch up in the strike-zone, you are going to get a few more strike-outs, but you might give up a few more runs because you are up in the ‘zone.

Our guys, for the most part, those starters are pounding the bottom of the strike-zone with what they have with the ability to throw that change-up to mess up the hitter's timing and then come right back with that fastball. Any time you can do that, you are going to get a lot of groundballs. They have seen a lot of success by doing that.

OC: Will Dan Straily be focusing on getting his pitches down more in the strike-zone while he is with Sacramento? When he was in the big leagues, it seemed like he was leaving a lot of balls up.

SE: Yeah, and we talked about that. We want him to get back to the aggressive approach. When you are trying to strike guys out, it can be a positive because if you are trying to strike guys out on three pitches, you are going to be attacking the strike-zone. If you keep the ball off the barrel of the bat, you are going to find success. If you locate in the bottom of the strike-zone and change speeds, you are going to get more strike-outs. If the hitter is pretty good, when you are pitching in the lower part of the ‘zone, you are going to get your groundouts.

With Strals, go for that strike-out. Go for that swing-and-miss. But if you are going to get that swing-and-miss, one of our big terms is ‘be nasty within the strike-zone.' Big league hitters don't chase too many pitches out of the strike-zone. If we are nasty within the strike-zone, we are going to get either strike-outs or groundouts. But if we are nibbling, per se, or just trying to pitch to contact out over the middle of the plate, we are going to be in trouble. I think his biggest focus is to be nasty inside that strike-zone. His stuff is good enough that he should get his strike-outs and groundballs if he does that.

Josh Lindblom has a 6.80 ERA in 42.1 innings for Sacramento.

OC: Josh Lindblom came off the DL [on Tuesday] and had a really nice start. Do you feel like he is back on track?

SE: Yeah. I talked to him when I was in Sac about his fastball. Fastballs and change-ups are key for him. He's got an excellent delivery. I think he gets away from using his fastball and his change-up some. Those two are key for him. Pitchers can fall in love with their breaking balls and all of a sudden, they are over-exposing the breaking ball. It's harder to command those breaking balls and when the hitter can see it, it's easy for him to hit it.

I noticed [Tuesday] night that he got back to his regular fastball-change-up mix and he had a much better game.

OC: Jeff Urlaub was recently promoted to Sacramento. He is a guy who has never had trouble throwing strikes. What is the key for him to succeed in Triple-A?

SE: Just continue on doing what he has been doing. Like you said, he has a knack for throwing strikes. He has one of the highest percentages of strikes thrown in the organization. I think he averages between 66-70% strikes. He's putting it over the plate. That year-and-a-half in Midland and the Arizona Fall League, he's done a great job. He's earned this promotion to Sac. We just want to see him continue to compete and see how this plays out.

OC: How are Chris Kohler and Dustin Driver progressing with the extended spring training program?

SE: They are doing great. Those two guys are very competitive kids. They want to pitch. They are good students of the game and they are learning a lot. They are progressing well.

OC: Is the plan right now to send them to Vermont at the start of that season?

SE: I think the draft will dictate some of that, but they have done a good job of putting themselves in position to go there.


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