Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Scott Emerson, P2

In the last two parts of our off-season Q&A, Oakland A's new bullpen coach Scott Emerson discusses the pitchers who threw at the A's fall Instructional League. In this section, we cover a range of pitchers, including Bobby Wahl, Dustin Driver, Chris Kohler, Daniel Gossett, Brett Graves, Brendan McCurry, Joel Seddon, Matt Stalcup, Jordan Schwartz, Lee Sosa and Heath Fillmyer.

To read part one of this interview, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: A little over a week ago the US Fall Instructional League camp finished up. How did you feel that camp went overall this year?

Scott Emerson: I think it was great. I told Liepp [A’s farm director Keith Lieppman] of the 15, 16 years I have been coaching this game, I can’t really remember a funner time in baseball than I had during the Instructional League with these kids. We had kids that were very open-minded. We gave them the truth. Sometimes as a pitching coordinator, you have to play dad. You’ve got to throw out the truth and you’ve got to be the hard-nosed guy. Sometimes you can’t be the funny guy, like I’d like to be. I like to be the clown guy every once in awhile. But you have to throw out the truth so that these guys understand what we are talking about so they can get better. Every single guy in that room was open to making adjustments, if they needed to make an adjustment.

I like to tell them, some of the guys that we draft are ready. They are big-league ready. Their stuff is ready. They just need to learn how to face better hitters. I told the other guys, ‘some of you guys are here because our scouts think we can get you better and polish you off.’ But those kids were very open-minded. They were awesome.

OC: Most of the guys in camp were draft-year guys, but Bobby Wahl was there for his second Instructs. Do you feel like with his move to the bullpen, he is getting close to making that final adjustment to be able to move up the ladder to the big leagues quickly?

SE: I think Bobby Wahl is an exceptional pitcher. The reason why he was there is that he had an oblique injury early in the season, and he really didn’t tell anybody. He tried to hide it for a few months. He didn’t get his innings in on the mound. We wanted him to pitch more. He came down to the Instructional Leagues and got back on track. He was pain-free and he was lights-out.

You have a guy who throws mid- to upper-90s and who throws strikes with a powerful breaking ball and a good change-up. Those are the guys we are looking for if they can command the baseball. Velocity isn’t everything, but when you have it, if you can command the baseball, that makes you special. The sky is the limit for this guy. If he does what he is supposed to do and lives up to his potential and maximizes his potential, he’s going to be a great big leaguer.

OC: Do you think with him being out there everyday with the possibility that he might pitch is better for him mentally than being on an every-fifth-day starter’s schedule?

SE: I think he could probably adapt to starting, but his stuff, his mentality, his aggressiveness, his competitiveness and willingness to be out there everyday, like you said, it can make him a special reliever. I think he fits the mold of an end-of-the-game type reliever, but he has three plus pitches, so he could fit into pretty much any role, in my opinion. I think the back-end of the game will be his future.

OC: Two other guys in camp who had been in the organization for more than a year were Lee Sosa and Matt Stalcup. Both guys have shown good stuff at times, but both have struggled with command off-and-on. Did they make progress during Instructs?

SE: Stalcup did a great job this year with Craig Lefferts [Snappers’ pitching coach] in Beloit with being able to repeat his delivery. We talked about with him ‘repeat the delivery, control the controllables.’ If you can control your delivery, you can control the baseball more. A lot of people who hadn’t seen Stalcup in awhile saw him in Instructional League and really thought that he had toned up his body, he got to the point to where he could control himself and his control of the baseball was much better. You’ve got a left-handed guy who can spin a breaking ball and has a good change-up. Anything can happen from there.

Sosa had a little set-back in Instructional League. A minor back issue that slowed him down. But everything is fine and he’s ready to go. He’s done a much better job of throwing strikes. He has a big arm. We talked about throwing strikes and now we have to get him over the hump next year where those quality strikes come in. And to have that ability to not have hitters sit on his fastball. He’s one of those guys where he is aggressive and he loves his fastball, but everybody in the ballpark knows it is coming. That gives the hitter a little bit of an advantage because if you are going to throw it all of the time, you’d better master command of it. All he has to do is get that second pitch that he can throw for a strike that gets the hitters thinking about it. Then, again, you would have a powerful arm for the backend of a game that the organization has at its disposal.

OC: A back injury kept Dustin Driver out of short-season, but it sounds like he got into a number of Instructional League games. How did he look, and do you think he will be ready to jump to full-season ball next year?

SE: Driver was absolutely awesome. He did a great job. When we first drafted him, he took a few months after his high school season and didn’t pick up a baseball and maybe got into a little bit too much of a bodybuilder mode. When he first showed up, he looked a little bit big, maybe like he was going for the beach body look. But, this year, what I saw in August in Arizona when he was throwing his sim games and what he did in Instructional League was phenomenal.

We are talking mid-90s fastball with movement. A good late biting slider. And a good change-up. He’s a competitor off the charts. This guy wants to succeed and he did a great job.

OC: Chris Kohler missed short-season and the Instructional League game schedule with an injury, but it sounds like he was throwing bullpens towards the end of Instructs. Do you think he will be able to have a relatively normal off-season?

SE: We were actually able to get him into two sim games late in the year. He actually threw the last day of Instructional League. 9 o’clock in the morning he got out there and he toed up the rubber and faced some hitters for 20 minutes. He was awesome.

He really reminds me of Andy Pettitte. His delivery kind of looks like his. Another kid who wants to succeed. He’s got excellent stuff. Garvin Alston, the rehab pitching coordinator, did a great job with him. The sky is the limit for this kid. Hopefully both him and Driver will put themselves in position to make that Beloit team [out of spring training] and really get rolling in their professional careers.

OC: I got to see Brendan McCurry pitch in that post-season game in Stockton. He was pretty fun to watch, with his different deliveries and the way he was able to change speeds. Does he remind you at all of Danny Farquhar?

SE: Yeah, you know, that’s a good comparison. I had Farquhar twice in Sacramento, once when we had him the first time and when he came back this second time. But this guy [McCurry], talk about the competiveness and savvy and very confident in his abilities. The ability to create pitches from those different slots and at his age is remarkable. More times than not, you are going to tell a guy, ‘okay, let’s pick one slot. Let’s stay in this slot and let’s try to master this slot.’ But he did so well in both slots, it was kind of like, ‘hey, let’s ride this out for awhile.’

Sometimes you see someone – like I had Brad Ziegler for four years. And Ziegler used to mix it up sometimes when he was a starter. He’d be over-the-top probably 80% of the time and down below maybe 20% of the time. Ziggy did a great job getting outs in the minor leagues. At one point in time, we thought, ‘well what is going to make him a good major-league pitcher?’ And the answer was keeping him side-arm. I don’t know what the plan would be at the end of the day for McCurry, but for now, I think it’s definitely let him mix up the two arm slots and create a lot of deception for the hitter.

OC: Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves got their feet wet in Vermont after the draft. What did they focus on during Instructs? Were they able to get a full Instructs in after a long collegiate season followed by a pro debut?

SE: Those kids, talk about two outstanding young men. Those two were unbelievable. An open book. When I was talking earlier about being students of the game, these guys are going to be students of the game. That’s just how their personalities and mentalities work. Two of the hardest workers in the clubhouse. Some of it was to kind of slow them down a little bit because they have had such long seasons. Most of those guys in college started throwing in December of last year and now we are into October. But those two guys want to learn and they did a fantastic job in Instructional League.

OC: Do you think both of them will continue as starters next year?

SE: Yeah, those guys are going to create their own path. They are good enough to go out there with their stuff. Once they get hot, the sky is the limit for those two guys.

OC: How did Jordan Schwartz look? He came into pro ball perhaps a bit more of a rawer prospect than many four-year collegiate players, but it sounds like he has a big arm.

SE: Early in Instructional League, we are really focused on getting these guys to concentrate on their deliveries. We are really trying to get these guys to master their deliveries. His velocity was down a little bit. We’re talking low-90s. We had a great conversation in the bullpen about how all of the work we do in the bullpen, especially without the baseball, is just about mastering the delivery. But when you get the baseball in your hand, let’s go. You have to get after it.

That last game in Instructional League when he pitched, he was sitting 95 and topping out at 96. He was very aggressive and his stuff was a lot better. Like you said earlier, he’s very raw. His pitching mentality is raw and his delivery is raw. It’s a great canvas to have to work with someone like that because the sky again is the limit with this guy. He can spin a breaking ball, he has good arm speed and feel for a change with a mid-90s fastball. That’s what you are looking for and this kid’s got it. Now he just has to be able to take that mentality and learn how to pitch. When he does that, he’s going to be pretty dang good.

OC: Do you think he’s going to be a reliever or could he start with those three pitches you mentioned?

SE: I think there is no reason why he can’t be a starter. He’s got that ability to change speeds. He did show a plus change-up at times. He did show a plus slider with a plus fastball. He’s around the plate. I would say he doesn’t have the excellent command yet, but I think when he polishes it off, his delivery will be good enough to have good command of his pitches. I would say we start him as long as possible and then see what happens.

OC: How did Heath Fillmyer look? He’s another guy who converted to pitching late in his collegiate career. Is he starting to look more natural on the mound at this point?

SE: I think he did a great job. Tremendous job. From when I saw him in Arizona [during the summer] until the end of Instructional League, I said to myself, ‘this guy is going to be good.’ He’s got a good arm. He polished off his delivery much better. I think Carlos Chavez, our pitching coach in Arizona, did a great job of taking a real raw athlete and getting him into a better pitching mentality mode in terms of his mechanics. Fillmyer took to it. He was an excellent student. He wanted to learn. He grasped the opportunities to listen. At the end of the day, you are looking at a guy who is throwing a mid-90s fastball with a good breaking ball and a good change-up.

We told him at first that he was something like 1.9 to the plate. We really preach to our minor league pitchers that they should be 1.35 or better. We want to start that delivery as soon as possible. He became 1.2 to the plate and he was awesome.

OC: Rich Sparks mentioned that you guys were talking about having Joel Seddon possibly start next year. Do you think his secondary pitches will allow him to stretch past those two-inning outings that he has been pitching primarily since he started college?

SE: I think it is a viable option to really think about. You have a guy who has four pitches. He pounds the strike-zone. We gave out some awards in Instructional League and he was Mr. Efficiency. This guy was averaging 12 pitches per inning. Anytime you can pound the strike-zone and make hitters make contact – and he’s got a good sinker – he’s always one pitch away from two outs, that’s a bonus. Like I said earlier about Schwartz, it doesn’t hurt you to try to start these guys knowing you can always move them back to a bullpen. I think that’s an option that the organization can look at.

At the end of the day, you also have a guy who can compare to Dan Otero. If I had to compare Seddon to anyone in the organization, I compare him to Otero. A guy with a good sinker, throws a ton of strikes, keeps the ball on the ground and gets his strike-outs when he needs it. I think that would be a viable option if the organization needs it. Like I told him, you can only have five starters at every spot.

Sometimes we like to create situations where we have guys pitching three or four innings out of a bullpen. We like to think we are sending out eight starters or nine starters to Stockton or Beloit to where these other three or four guys when they pitch they get three-inning stints. You saw Jonathan Joseph pitch some games where he went three or five innings [for Stockton] and made some spot starts, so 1) it’s always good for a team to have those kind of guys and 2) it’s always good to be versatile.

As you know, some of these guys who are minor league closers are going to be asked to pitch multiple innings in the big leagues. I remember having Evan Scribner in Sacramento and I told him, ‘look you are going to be pitching some two-inning stints here because I noticed when you pitched in the minor leagues in San Diego over the past three years, you hadn’t even thrown more than 35 pitches in any one game. When you get called up to the big leagues, I don’t think you are going to be the closer. So you are going to have to throw at least 35-40 pitches sometimes.’

Sometimes when you go to the big leagues, you go because they need the innings. If you aren’t stretched out, you are in trouble. I think his first big league game with Oakland that year, he was in the 40s, 50s-range. And then I want to say the game against Texas at the end of the season that year [2012], I think he pitched three innings. So you have to put yourself into a position to where you’re getting guys stretched out. Seddon might be one of those guys who is stretched out a little bit more.

Stay tuned for part three of this interview, during which we discuss the rest of the pitchers who participated in the A's fall Instructs program.

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