To read part one of this interview, click here
OaklandClubhouse: Jesus Zambrano is the youngest pitcher pitching for an A’s US affiliate this season. How has he handled the jump from the Dominican Academy to the States?
Scott Emerson: I think he’s done a great job. He’s 17 years old. He’s pitching against professional athletes that are probably two years older than him – maybe even three – on an consistent basis. This guy would be going into his senior year of high school next year and he already has two years of professional baseball.
He’s got one of the better deliveries in the system. He’s got a feel for a good curveball, a change-up and his fastball is in the upper-80s right now. You are hoping by the time he is 20, in three years, it’s low-90s, which it probably should be. I just think the kid has handled himself in such a good way at 17. I look at myself at 17 and I think, dang, I was going into my senior year of high school and playing high school ball. This guy is a two-year professional.
He’s had a couple of rough ones, but he has had a couple of great ones, as well. He’s handled it perfectly. His mental approach is perfect.
OC: Do you think it is beneficial for guys coming over from the Dominican Academy to spend a whole year in Arizona [extended through the AZL and then Instructs] rather than going out to an affiliate and having to learn two different places to live in the same year?
SE: I think it is good for him. One, the coaches in Arizona pick the players up. Two, the clubhouse guys bring the players home at night. We have vans running from their apartments to the field. They are teaching them how to pay rent. There is a lot more that goes into the Arizona complex that people probably don’t really know. There are English classes going on. When they move out and go to Vermont or Beloit, they have to be men. It’s on. It’s like, ‘this is the dishwasher. You have to put your dishes in there to get them clean.’ I’m probably a guilty one, too. I would hate to go into my apartment now from when I played.
I think it is a good spot for him to mature and have someone monitor him a little bit.
OC: Bobby Wahl has pitched very well since moving to the bullpen. What do you think has clicked for him that he was struggling to find as a starter?
SE: One thing with Bobby is that he is a faced-paced guy with his mechanics. Sometimes for him, waiting around for five days to face batters can get frustrating. I think he’s a guy who needs to get on the field more often to get it to click for him. For him hopefully getting more appearances within a two-week span than three starts helps. He just needs to get out there. He has that aggressive fastball approach.
I try to tell him that we aren’t linebackers; we’re pitchers. We are trying to take that little bit of a linebacker attitude out of him and have him be a pitcher. But he’s a great student, a great kid. He has electric stuff. I think the bullpen is a good route for him. When it clicks for him, I have no doubt he will move through the system fast.
OC: Dylan Covey was recently promoted to Stockton. What have you seen from him in his first full year? Do you like what you have seen so far?
SE: We are challenging him a little bit more right now in the California League. You know how that league can go. It can be tough on pitchers. He did a good job in the Midwest League. He mixes up his three pitches really well. He has a very good sinking fastball, which we really didn’t see much of last year. He threw a lot of four-seamers and his velocity was 93-94. Now he is throwing more two-seamers and he is generally sitting a few MPHs lower, but we know he still has that 94-95 in him.
But his change-up has been very good and he’s got a good curveball. The guy has good stuff. It’s all about him maturing as a pitcher and learning what he needs to do against these advanced hitters. That sinker is outstanding, but I try to remind him that we would rather have him be a power pitcher with a sinker than just a sinkerballer.
OC: How much does he get to decide what he is throwing when he is on the mound? Is it the catcher calling the game, the pitching coach/manager, or is he dictating what he wants to throw?
SE: Like anybody else, we try to preach to our pitchers that we want them to be major-league pitchers, not minor-league throwers. I have challenged the pitching coaches. I want them to be major-league pitching coaches. We try to tell ourselves that we are all major-league pitching coaches but we are doing what we are doing. That being said, I want these guys to game-plan. I want them to have a scouting report on every pitcher that we are facing. I think that is an advantage.
You know what the hitters are trying to do against you and you should know what you want to do against your opponent. They go out and they have a game plan and they work off of that game plan. Covey has much say in his game plan as we can give him and then the catchers go out there and try to help him along with the pitching coach in terms of what he should be throwing to each hitter and why. They then go off with it and do the best they can to stick to the game plan.
OC: Earlier this year, you talked about Kyle Finnegan and his work on improving his mechanics. How has he been doing in that respect?
SE: Yeah, he’s done a great job. He’s a guy that came to us last year with no change-up and an okay breaking ball and both of those two pitches have improved greatly. He even made a comment one time that he feels like he’s a pitcher now and not a thrower. That’s what we are trying to do, to get these guys to be pitchers and not throwers. He’s got a great ability to throw a change-up in a fastball count. He’s got the ability to throw his curveball early and late in the count. Early for a strike and maybe late in the count for a chase strike. He’s done a great job just going out there and competing and pitching.
OC: There hasn’t been a more consistent pitcher in the A’s system this year than Seth Streich. Does he remind you of anybody you’ve seen before in terms of the way that he throws? [NOTE: Streich left his start Tuesday evening with an undisclosed injury after this interview had taken place]
SE: I thought about that the other day, like ‘who is Streich?’ I kind of have a little comparison to [Zack] Greinke. He’s just a solid strike-thrower who competes and he pitches inside. He has a developing breaking ball that’s been good all season. His change-up has life in the ‘zone. It kind of has a life of its own. Sometimes it will cut. Sometimes it will sink. Sometimes that’s good, as long as it can stay in the bottom of the strike-zone.
He’s been very consistent, and that’s what you want. Any time a guy takes the mound and you know what you are getting out of this guy on a consistent basis, that’s what big league manager’s, I would think, would want. This guy is going to give us a chance to win tonight. And that’s what he’s done all season.
OC: Chris Lamb has been a nice addition to that Stockton rotation. He’s made a lot of improvements this season. Was it a matter of him getting healthy, or were there specific adjustments that he made that allowed him to succeed this year?
SE: We really tried to get him to quiet down his delivery just a tad. He’d fly off the ball. Craig Lefferts [Beloit pitching coach] and him really worked early in the season on keeping that front side from flying open. Like I was telling you earlier, you fly open, hitters see the ball that tad bit longer. It’s not like we didn’t know he had this good stuff before. He’s had this good stuff for years. But you fly open, you expose the ball, hitters get an advantage, plus it’s hard to control your pitches when you are not working in a straight line.
Now he’s staying on his pitch longer. He’s hiding it longer. His pitches are in the ‘zone better. He’s done a great job. He has really good stuff. He can make it move. He’s got a very good split-fingered fastball. He’s tough to pick up. He kind of has a little funky delivery. He’s had a great season.
Stay tuned for part three of this Q&A, during which we cover several pitchers in the Double-A and Triple-A levels.