Although the 55-84 final record is what many will dwell on while evaluating this season’s Beloit Snappers club, 2014 was not an entire loss for the Oakland A’s Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League. Rick Magnante’s club developed a number of prospects into candidates for promotion this year, including a trio of outfielders that made the jump to High-A.
That was not reflective in many statistical categories, however. Much has been made of the parent club’s impressive run differential, but the Snappers were on the other end of the spectrum at a minus-171 (702 allowed and 531 scored). As a result, the club ranked in the bottom half of several offensive categories, and was near the bottom in ERA and batting average.
But the glory of minor-league baseball is that past-season team results become distant memories, as player-development is the key focus by the parent club. So with that in mind, OaklandClubhouse changed its approach in recapping the 2014 Beloit Snappers and let manager Rick Magnante do most of the talking. Here is a question-and-answer session with Magnante, who is a veteran coach and scout in the A’s organization.
Bill Seals: Let’s start with some of your overall thoughts on this season’s club.
Rick Magnante: It turned out much like it began...it was raining. In that respect, the weather stayed with us the whole year, no matter where we went. That was a constant. If you compare our first half and second half, wins and losses-wise, you’ll see that we lost more in the second half of play.
Statistically, the one area that jumps out at me was the runs allowed and runs scored. That differential was huge. If you’re trying to find a way to win, when you’re dealing with that kind of run differential you have to be very good in either pitching or timely hitting./p>
If you look at it from the developmental standpoint, we can hang our hats on the Jaycob Brugmans, Tyler Marincovs, Boog Powells, Brendan McCurrays and Bobby Wahls. Those were guys that went up and competed at the next level. They were prepared to move and also contributed to a championships season there in Stockton. That always makes us feel good as coaches and teachers.
I am thankful for the opportunity to do it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m thankful for the entire staff that we had in Beloit. This was Lloyd Turner’s second year with me as the hitting coach and he’s a hard-working guy with a lot insight, patience and trial-and-error in trying to help guys figure it out. Craig Lefferts is the consummate pitching coach, because he did it and can teach it, cares and is passionate. He did a great job with what we had.
BS: How frustrating was it for you to manage a club that was limited in a number of areas?
RM: If you look at it, there are two teams in this league that deserve to win. It’s Kane County and South Bend. There’s a substantial amount of teams in this league with losing records or just barely above .500 over the season. Not everybody gets to win. If you do and develop, and your players are promoted and have success, then you’re doing your job and also fortunate.
If we would have sent [Chad] Pinder and [Ryon] Healy here to Beloit to begin the season (they both spent the year in Stockton), we would have had a different animal than what we put on the field, as well. But ultimately they all would have been gone at some point. Every level serves the level above it, so that’s what we do.
RM: They just embraced change, showed they were coachable and willing to try to do something different to improve. Whether it was a physical technique, skill or mental approach, in terms of how to manage at-bats and how to approach your zone early in the count, how to continue to have quality at-bats and not give quality at-bats away, how to enhance your power and have more frequency with it – that’s what Brugman and Marincov were able to do. They embraced change and it worked in their favor.
Powell had a really good year from the get-go, but he too worked on his game. He developed the ability to go to the off-field, as well as driving the ball so the defense doesn’t shrink the field.
BS: In terms of being labeled a “prospect” versus “non-prospect”, is it safe to say those three have put themselves on the radar of the organization?
RM: Whatever the designation of the organization was prior to this year – Brugman and Marincov went to instructional league last year so we felt that there was potential that was untapped and needed work. They’ll go again this year, so they’ll be ready to make the jump which they already have to Stockton. Maybe with some additional work, they’ll be candidates to play in Midland. Pretty much if you get to Double-A, somebody is going to recognize that you have ability and skill. They have played themselves up in terms of value and appreciation to the organization.
BS: Many of the pitchers that were promoted from Beloit to Stockton this summer have gone on to have a lot of success.
RM: The first guy that went was Chris Lamb. He’s in the starting rotation there and his numbers speak for themselves. He’s striking people out, not walking a lot of people, and he is pitching very effectively.
Andres Avila went up and he can pitch. He was our closer, but he didn’t really have “closer stuff” but effectively worked in the role. He’s had success in the bullpen up there. Bobby Wahl has gone up and pitched out of the bullpen and is holding his own.
Dylan Covey has had his ups and downs. His record is similar to what it was here in Beloit. He’s had a few wins, but his ERA is high. He flirted with a no-hitter a week ago in seven innings, which indicates to you that when his stuff is good and he commands it then he’s a good pitcher. Consistency would have to be something he addresses.
We sent up Brendan McCurry and he was unbelievable. The guy has given up one run and walked one guy. His ERA for us was 0.34. He went up to Stockton and pitched one scoreless inning. Our pitching was a little thin this season, so McCurry stayed a little longer and did a real good job in the bullpen to allow us to win games that we could win.
BS: What allowed McCurry to be that successful as a member of the Snappers?
RM: There’s the old adage that the little guys have to prove they can and the big guys have to prove they can’t. You’ve got a guy that’s probably had to prove he can from the time he picked up a ball, so he’s got that mentality that he’s going to come right after you. ‘I may be diminutive in stature, but I’ve got something in this arm that’s going to put you on your heels’. He’s got the three to four pitches, the two arm slots, is funky, is deceptive, changes speeds and throws strikes. He can pitch.
BS: With the losses of so many solid contributors throughout the year, was it difficult for you as the manager to consistently put a winning product on the field?
RM: I’m the leader and am in charge, so I’ve got to set the tone. If I really focus in on what it is we’re trying to accomplish in A-Ball in Beloit, Wisconsin, it’s to get the players better. I can’t dwell on the wins and losses. Do they affect you daily? Does it create a mood in the clubhouse that’s not as positive as you like? Certainly it does. For me to dwell on that and make it a personal issue is unrealistic on my part.
I look at how we did development-wise and what areas we needed to improve on. Every day I needed to create for the players a positive work environment so they want to come to the park and improve. Win or lose, that’s the job that Oakland asks us to do. I would be cheating the organization if I got wrapped up in the wins and losses. It’s about getting the players better and is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.
BS: As you looked at your roster of players towards the end of the season, who were the best candidates to make the move to the California League in 2015?
RM: Certainly Matt Chapman is one of those guys, and in the last few days we sent him up to Midland. Kyle Finnegan went up and started in Midland because they needed a pitcher up there. Chapman took an 0-for-3 in his first game, but can he go up and help them in the playoffs? He certainly can...in the field. If they don’t know him and have a book on him, he might get some pitches to hit and is capable of doing damage.
You’re hoping Chapman will be ready to go to the next level to begin the year. He’s a big-leaguer. He’s a special player in our system. Branden Cogswell is working on his game a little bit and trying to learn how to be a more productive, aggressive and stronger hitter.
McCurry and Joel Seddon next season should certainly make the jump to the next level.
B.J. Boyd is our high-schooler and has worked through some adversity this year. I thought he finished well and his attitude was good at the end. He stayed positive, even though his numbers probably didn’t reflect it. He’ll go instructional league and I’m sure they’d like to see him make it to the next level.
Lou Trivino and Matt Stalcup are a couple other candidates. Trivino was a little inconsistent and up and down. I think Stalcup was like 6-1 in his last seven starts with a 2.00 ERA, so he made dramatic improvement. He overcame some of his mechanical flaws in the delivery that (pitching coach Craig Lefferts) worked with him on all year. He worked on it from day one and finally it clicked for him. He mixed well and located, so he learned to pitch a little bit there in the end.
Joey Wagman came over from the independent league and pitched pretty well. Hunter Adkins was up and down, in the bullpen and starting rotation depending on the needs of the team at the time. Those guys are all going to compete for something.
BS: Finnegan remained with the club for much of the season and logged 119.2 innings to rank third on the team, but seemed to have bouts with inconsistency. How would you assess his performance?
RM: We saw pitchability early and diminished arm velocity late, so we tried to create a balance where he could regain some of the velocity and still be able to pitch. That was the gray area, the middle ground that was hard to find for him. When we tried to add velocity, the breaking ball went away and fastball command diminished.
He did what was asked of him, and then when they asked him to make some other changes, he did that as well. It was a learning experience for him. We’ll have to see if the velocity comes back. Maybe it was just that this was his first year with this workload and it took a little bit of a toll.