OaklandClubhouse: How did your first year as the A’s minor league hitting coordinator go? Did you enjoy it in comparison to being a manager in Arizona?
Marcus Jensen: I did enjoy it. I enjoyed the managing experience, especially managing the lower levels, specifically the Rookie Ball level. It gave me a good teaching opportunity, especially with kids transitioning from either high school or college or even the Dominican Academy into pro ball. That was good.
This was a different job, but I really enjoyed this part of it, as well.
OC: Several of the players on the 2014 Stockton Ports team that did so well offensively this year were on your 2012 Arizona Rookie League team. A number of them improved significantly this year as compared to last year’s performance. Starting with Matt Olson, what did you think he was able to do this year that allowed him to have the success he had with the Ports?
MJ: Matt has big potential. He’s a big guy and this year was kind of indicative of the power potential that he has. He showcased that last year and he just continued with that this year. Just learning who he is, especially for a young player transitioning into pro ball, it takes a few years to get an understanding and a feel for who you are. He will still be learning and trying to gain an understanding, but Matt has kept learning and kept getting better. This year was just a stepping stone for him from last year. He continued to improve and had the great season that he did.
OC: Being tall yourself, was there anything that you were able to share with him from your own personal experience in terms of how to set-up or make adjustments with long arms and a tall frame?
MJ: When I first got the position, I remember one of the things that I made it a point to do was get footage on tall hitters. Everyone is different in the sense that tall hitters have more length. People see size and they see body type and they immediately equate that to power and to leverage, which is true, but how you are able to get to that leverage is the most challenging part with tall hitters.
He came in with a short swing that transferred over into pro ball pretty well. It was just a matter of having him understand his length and, I guess more importantly, was understanding the strike-zone and what balls he could handle and controlling the strike-zone. We did talk a little bit about the physicalities of being a taller hitter and creating leverage that way, but he already came in with some intangibles and awareness when it came to his length.
OC: How much did you get to see this year’s A’s number one pick Matt Chapman? What were your first impressions of what he was able to do at the plate?
MJ: I first had an opportunity during the lead-up to the draft. Before we even drafted him, he came in for a tryout. It was a pretty impressive tryout. He actually came in the day after a group of guys. I think he flew in from somewhere, and was able to try out. He was pretty impressive. Comparing him to the number of guys we had in the day before, he really stood out.
That was my first look at him. Then we selected him and we were high on him based on our reports and then the tryout certainly made an impression, as well. He has a lot of physicality. A lot of tools, which we were all excited about. Again, it’s just transitioning into pro ball and understanding who he is and not necessarily conforming to the hitter that he had to be in college. That’s going to be a process and a challenge to find out who he can be [in the pros]. He has all of these tools and all of these weapons. Now it is just a matter of what works for him.
OC: Daniel Robertson had a really good all-around year this season and it seemed like he was one of the most consistent players in the system this year. Did you see any one aspect of his game improving the most, or is he progressing along the path you projected for him when he played for you in 2012?
MJ: When we first got him, he was impressive in the sense that – you try not to throw the term around ‘gamer’ too often with too many guys because you use that as a badge of honor, but immediately that was the impression that I had with him, that he was a gamer.
He understands the game in terms of trying to do all he can to better himself as well as the team. To do that, he keeps pushing. With that mentality, I don’t think you ever stop growing or ever stop learning. I expect him to continue to get better, or at least maintaining as he develops and progresses through the system. He certainly had a great year this year. Very consistent from the beginning all the way through the end. Again, being a young player just learning himself at the pro level and how that transfers over.
OC: Renato Nunez had a decent first half, but he had a much better second half, raising his average quite a bit and hitting for more power. Is he starting to get a better sense of the strike-zone and what pitches to attack and what ones to lay-off of as compared to a couple of years ago?
MJ: Yes, certainly. He has some electric hands and some tools and power. You could see that at the Rookie Ball level and even as it continued on to Low-A. The growth of young hitters is understanding your approach and being disciplined enough to maintain your approach. I have preached to these guys that the biggest battle between the hitter and the pitcher is who can remain more disciplined. It becomes a challenge at times, especially as you want to maintain that aggressiveness. Sometimes in the process of being aggressive, you become over-aggressive and lose your approach. That’s part of the growth with him: understanding the strike-zone and understanding how pitchers are going to pitch him and the variety of breaking balls and things that they are going to do to try to get him off-balance. Can he remain disciplined enough to stay within his approach and not chase outside the zone? That will be the keys for him.
MJ: Certainly. With Ryon Healy, it was pretty remarkable and impressive what he did. You try not to harp on specific numbers, but you can’t help to when you consider how, at least batting average-wise, he struggled earlier on in the season. It didn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t hitting balls hard. It was just that his batting average didn’t reflect at that time how he was hitting the ball. Over the course of the season, he was able to maintain and persevere and keep staying after it. Some of those balls that he was hitting hard earlier that were getting caught were now finding holes and gaps. That’s a credit to Ryon and a credit to [Stockton hitting coach] Brian McArn for staying after it and keeping him positive and keeping him focused. It’s very easy to lose yourself, especially if you get caught-up in numbers and don’t see the bigger picture. What he was able to do was pretty impressive to turn the season around.
Pinder started the season off really good and really hot and swinging the bat well. He was able to maintain that, pretty much, throughout the course of the season. He was set-back with a couple of injuries here and there. A lot of times, especially if you are swinging the bat well, it’s hard to come back and find that rhythm and timing again, but, for the most part, he was able to do that.
Everyone that you have mentioned here are all young players in terms of where they are in their professional careers. The fact that they have had some immediate success and continued that a couple of years into the system, that should certainly build some confidence. They all have the baseball capacity to keep pushing and keep driving themselves to keep learning. As much growth as they have had in the short-term, in terms of moving through the system, there will continue to be challenges to be met when they reach the higher levels.