2014 Year In Review: Marcus Jensen Q&A, P2

In the final part of our year-end Q&A with Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Marcus Jensen, we talk the difference between the Cal League and the Texas League, the development of Billy Burns, the consistency of Shane Peterson, the power potential for Max Muncy and much more...

Click here for part one of this interview

OaklandClubhouse: A lot of those guys I mentioned [in part one of the interveiw] are likely to move up to Double-A next year. That jump from High-A to Double-A can be difficult for hitters. What is it about the jump from A-ball to Double-A or, more specifically, the Cal League to the Texas League that makes it so hard on hitters?

Marcus Jensen: Certainly the leagues are different. The elements, first and foremost. The Cal League is conducive to hitting. It’s a hitter-friendly league. You move to Double-A and the pitching is just a little bit better. You still have to throw the ball over the plate, but it’s a development process and everyone is just a little bit better as they move up through the system. The California League is a hitter-friendly league. You have elements and dimensions of fields that may be more conducive to the homeruns for hitters. The Texas League is the exact opposite of that, especially in Midland. When the elements start to take over and you start talking about the wind cutting across the field, balls that in the California League might normally leave the park are being run down by the bigger gaps in the Texas League.

All that plays a part. It can challenge guys mentally who are accustomed to seeing balls go into the gap that are now being run down. That becomes a challenge for them to keep grinding, keep staying confident and not lose who you are based on maybe not being able to reproduce the same numbers that you had in the Cal League. That’s been one of the biggest obstacles for hitters making the move from Stockton to Double-A.

OC: Is that something that Bruce Maxwell, for instance, will have to process this off-season in assessing why the numbers didn’t carry over when he made the jump from A-ball to Double-A this year?

MJ: Each level presents its own challenges. The game is played the same way, but there are still differences. One thing that I didn’t mention before is that there are only eight teams in the Texas League and you are facing the same teams over and over again. Based on scouting reports and playing guys over and over again, they learn tendencies and make adjustments. Now, again, it’s a matter of approach and staying disciplined not only for that game but for the course of the season. That presents a challenge for hitters going into that league, just the small number of teams that are playing.

As far as Maxwell is concerned, again he’s still learning himself. He’s had success up until this point, but he’s aware that he is going to have to make some adjustments. In the process of making those adjustments, there may be some failure throughout that. That’s part of what he experienced when he made the jump to Double-A.

OC: Is the Texas League particularly tough on catchers given the heat and the long bus rides that are a part of that league, or are those things equally difficult on players?

MJ: I think just in general when guys move up – especially with the catching – everybody has their responsibilities on both sides of the field, offensively and defensively, and the catchers especially. You have to really be mentally strong and you can’t be one dimensional because if one aspect of your game struggles a little bit, you are not a value on both sides. That can be challenging, as well, from the catching standpoint, just understanding that even if your hitting isn’t up to par or what you would like, you still have defensive responsibilities.

When you talk about the grind of every day and the travel, that’s what makes baseball what it is. In the minor leagues, it’s a long season, 142 games. It’s very easy to catch fire for a short period of time, but the length of the season is more defining than short spurts within the season when you may have performed well.

OC: One of the guys who spent a bulk of this season with the RockHounds is Billy Burns. What were your thoughts on working with him for the first time this year?

MJ: I first saw him in big league camp and he obviously made a big impression with everyone there. He had a good spring training. He understood his game and he was a sparkplug. When I say he understood his game, I mean that he understood the speed element and what he needed to do as a leadoff hitter. As he started off in Midland, switch-hitting is still relatively new to him and he is learning who he is on both sides of the plate. As you try to match who you are on one side with the other, it doesn’t always translate that way. He has got to learn who he is as a right-handed hitter, as well as a left-handed hitter in the role that he is going to be playing as a leadoff hitter.

He had a productive year. You don’t want to get so caught-up in numbers that it defines a player’s value. Throughout that there is a process of learning who you are and there may be some struggles with learning who you are before you can make that initial growth to play up to the potential that you are capable of.

OC: B.J. Boyd never quite seemed to get on-track with Low-A Beloit this year. Did you see improvement with him by the end of the year?

MJ: B.J. is athletic. He has got a lot of talent. He’s got the speed element. He, too, is trying to figure out how his talent translates to the pro game and he’s trying to learn who he is in a deeper way than just simply being physically better than everyone. That’s the challenge of kids coming from high school into the pro game. They are accustomed to being the dominant player coming out of high school, and all of a sudden, they are playing with guys who are just as good, if not better. It doesn’t take away from the tools that you already have, but now you have to learn to play with those tools at a higher level. Not only at the level that you are at, but you have to figure out how those tools will help you at the higher levels.

As a young player, he’s just learning. The game, unfortunately, is humbling. With that, it kind of challenges who you are on the inside and your motivation to keep improving and keep grinding. A lot of times, a season like the one Boyd had is something that can be used as a catalyst that can keep teaching him what kind of adjustments he needs to make. I think that is the biggest thing with Boyd is getting him to understand the right adjustments that need to be made in order for all of his tools to be utilized and for him to have the season that he is capable of.

OC: The suspension cut into his second half, but Boog Powell was able to establish himself as a legitimate threat at the top of the order. He seemed to even find a little more power than he showed the previous two seasons. Is he starting to add that element to his game?

MJ: He is capable of that. He is a gritty player. He is a guy who certainly knows what his game is. He is a guy who had success in the Midwest League. He had a great year there. He put up good at-bats and understood his at-bats by being disciplined and understanding his approach. He utilized the bunt game. A lot of guys who are in that position are slow to adopt that, but he utilized it and he understood that was a strength of his. That carried him throughout the season in the Midwest League.

He is capable of driving some balls, but first and foremost, it’s important for him to understand what his role is and if he happens to run into a couple here or there, that’s fine, but he’s not going to be a guy that we project to be a homerun hitter. That doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of running into one here and there. That’s a nice asset to have, as long as he doesn’t lose sight of who he is in the process of gaining some power.

OC: Jaycob Brugman had a pretty remarkable power run while with Stockton and he finished with a solid year overall. He has been described to me as a player who does everything pretty well. Is that how you would assess him?

MJ: He has grown considerably. Who you see today with Brugman is not necessarily what we initially saw – not in terms of potential and capability, but he was very much a different hitter when he was drafted. He was very pull-conscious. To his credit and to [Beloit hitting coach] Lloyd Turner’s credit – who worked with him this year to catapult his season – Brugman was able to make adjustments, keep working and buying in. He understood that he had to make some adjustments and that is a process. If you lose sight of the process and you don’t stay after it and you struggle, you can lose yourself in that struggle.

To his credit, he kept grinding and, as a result of that, he started to see success. The field started to open up to him. He had a great year this year and he had an opportunity to move up to Stockton and continue that and he put up some impressive power numbers in a short period of time. It’s great to see. I’m sure it has built some confidence in him that he can build upon for the following years.

OC: Was there a similar sort of adjustment period for Tyler Marincov?

MJ: Yeah. Similar adjustments with Tyler as well. Learning who he is and what he is capable of. He’s got some natural power, good hands and quick wrists. It was just a matter of him starting to understand who he is and him putting together the quality at-bats that allow him to have more consistent success that allowed him to put up the numbers that he had this year.

Between the three guys that you mentioned – Boog Powell, Jaycob Brugman and Tyler Marincov – all certainly had good years and it’s a credit to them and to Lloyd for continuing to work with them and getting the most out of what they are capable of and elevating their game to another level.

OC: Max Muncy had a really good year in terms of getting on-base. He didn’t hit for as much power as he did in the California League. Where do you think he is at in his development as a hitter?

MJ: Every year is a learning experience in terms of who you are. You are met with challenges. He got exposure to the league the year before after he was promoted [from Stockton] and then spent the whole year there this season. As the league and teams are adjusting to you, you have to stay mentally tough. Again, that’s a little bit of a trap that happens when making the transition from the Cal League to the Texas League is that you are accustomed to seeing balls either fall in or get into the gaps. Now suddenly balls are getting run down. That was part of the process of this year.

He’s going to be fine. He’s a guy who is showing some other intangibles – like you said – getting on-base, drawing the walks, putting up quality at-bats. The power is not a concern because it is there. It’s just a matter of trusting. Trusting it and not trying to do more. That’s another thing that happens: sometimes guys will make adjustments and they are the wrong adjustments because they are trying to do more than what they are capable of because of the elements of the league. In the process of doing that, you can lose yourself. That’s part of the process and the growth, too. Not only understanding the correct adjustments but also recognizing the wrong adjustments and changing accordingly.

OC: Shane Peterson was remarkably consistent for Sacramento this season. Do you think he has reached that stage of truly understanding who he is as a hitter?

MJ: He’s had success at different points in time over the past few years. Shane’s success is based on a lot of skill. He has to feel a certain thing and timing and rhythm. If the timing and rhythm is off, it makes it difficult to hit. If he can find that and stay in that, everything else seems to come together, like the approach. Those are the challenges that are met with Shane, being comfortable with the timing and the rhythm. When those are on, he has more consistent at-bats and, as a result, he had the kind of year that he had this year.

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