Oakland A's Coaching Q&A: Scott Emerson, P3

In the final part of our three-part interview with Oakland A's new bullpen coach Scott Emerson, we discuss several prospects who made significant strides during the A's fall Instructional League, including one who drew comparisons to former top A's prospect Trevor Cahill.

Click here to read Part One of the interview
Click here to read Part Two of the interview

OaklandClubhouse: Speaking of pitch efficiency, Ryan Doolittle is off to a solid start in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a guy who always seems to pound the strike-zone when he’s healthy. Where do you think he’s at in his career now that he’s had a full healthy season under his belt?

Scott Emerson: I got to see him in the Fall League last week and he was pounding a mid-90s fastball with a much-improved breaking ball, more of a cutter-slash-slider, and a pretty good change-up. He pitches a lot like his brother [A’s closer Sean Doolittle]. He’s aggressive and he’s going to come right at you. I think it was a great job by the organization to re-sign him. He was a six-year free agent. It would be awesome to see two Doolittles on one bench.

OC: How did lefties Jerad Grundy and Michael Fagan progress in Instructs?

SE: I think they did a great job. Steve Connelly, the Vermont pitching coach, had those guys all season. Grundy made great strides. He is in that category of ‘what are we going to do with him’ [role-wise]. Of those two guys, Fagan has a little bit more velocity. He’s 92-93, with maybe a 94 in there, and Grundy sits 90-91, but both of them have the ability to spin a breaking ball and that’s always a good thing from the left side. Both of them did a great job. They want to learn.

I think the most important thing for those lefties is to have a good breaking ball. More times than not, you are going to be coming in and facing left-handed hitters, so you need that good breaking ball. Both of those guys have shown much-improved breaking balls. They do need to improve their fastball command a little bit so that if they do need to throw their fastballs against left-handed hitters in those situations, they can hit their spots with it. But they did a great job.

OC: Did newcomers Cody Stull and Derek Beasley make progress, as well?

SE: Yeah. Stull, we were working on getting a better breaking ball and making it more consistent. He has a good feel for his mechanics and a good feel for his change-up. He just needs to progress with that breaking ball.

Beasley has a good, quick arm. He throws both a slider and a curveball and spins both of those very well. We just need to get Beasley better control of his fastball command. Once he gets that fastball command, he already has the ability to spin both of those breaking balls. And that’s really helpful for him.

OC: I believe Branden Kelliher was the youngest pitcher in camp. Was he able to hold his own against pitchers much older than him?

SE: He’s another guy who did a great job at the end of the year. He has really good stuff. He has a fastball that can reach the mid-90s at 18 years old. He’s got a really good tight breaking ball and he has a really good feel for his change-up. The only thing he does right now is that he wants to pitch for the radar gun. Most young pitchers want to do that. They are at these showcases and they see 30 scouts put up the radar gun and, boom, ‘let me show you how hard I can throw.’ Once he gets out of that mode and matures and understands that at the end of the day, you are a professional glove hitter. You are paid to hit the mitt. More times than not, if you hit that mitt, the money goes in your pocket and out of the hitter’s pocket.

He just needs to slow himself down and realize that he is not a linebacker, he’s a pitcher. The number one thing for him is to execute the pitch and not worry about how hard it is. He’d be the first to tell you that if there was a radar gun in the ballpark, after every pitch, he’d probably look for it. Which most pitchers want to do anyway. Once he starts to get it into his mind, ‘hey, all I want to do is execute my pitch’ – because he’s got three outstanding pitches and if he just tells himself ‘I just need to execute the pitches I have already got and I don’t need to make them better than they are,’ he’s going to be very good.

OC: Steve Connelly mentioned Koby Gauna as a standout from that Lake Monsters’ staff. Gauna isn’t a high velocity guy, but he did well in a late-inning role for the Lake Monsters. Is there a pitcher who you compare him to?

SE: He’s a straight sinker-baller. He’s 87-90. The velocity isn’t over-powering, but the movement and the command of it make it overpowering. He just has tremendous movement. I would compare his sinker to when we had Trevor Cahill. It’s from one side of the plate to the other side of the plate.

He really, really enjoys pitching at the end of the game. He’s very competitive. He has a slider that he can throw for a strike. He has a split that has some tumble. When you have movement going through the ‘zone like he has, you have the ability to plate the pitch and trust the movement. His movement is that good. He has a tremendous sinker. All he has to do is be close to the plate and he’ll be successful.

OC: Corey Walter was another guy on the Vermont staff who put up good numbers this year. It seemed like he actually pitched better this year as a pro than he did at West Virginia. Were there adjustments that he made with Steve and you that allowed him to have better command right out of the chute?

SE: We gave him award in Instructional League of “Most Improved.” He came to us with a throwing motion where he kind of bounced on his front foot, his head was snapping and the ball was kind of traveling where it wanted to travel. We had a great sit-down with him during the summer time about mastering his landing. Which is to land yourself.

The guys might not know the reference, but I go back to Mary Lou Retton jumping off of the pommel-horse and landing on the mat. If she landed firm, she raised her hands and she got a 10. If she landed and wobbled, she didn’t get a 10. My analogy was that if you are wobbling on your landing, the ball was going to wobble and it wasn’t going to be where you wanted it to be. Once he took to that and started sticking his landing, his sinker got a little bit smaller and quicker, his change-up fell off of the table and his breaking ball went from what we called a big slurve to a late curveball.

This guy was tremendous. He has an excellent sinker, a very good curveball and his change-up was outstanding. It’s great to see guys that were very coachable make adjustments and it’s great see how much he improved in a short time. Now you are thinking, ‘dang, if he can do this in a short time, what’s the long road going to hold for him?’ I think this guy is very much improved. Not that he was bad when we got him, but he put himself into a spot to where people talked about him and talked about how much he improved and how good he was.

OC: How did Tyler Willman look?

SE: Excellent arm. We kind of had to overhaul his delivery. He had a tough delivery. We had explain to him about our big picture thinking with him. He threw strikes, but we needed him to throw more quality strikes. It was tough on him in Instructional League because he didn’t immediately see the instant success that maybe other guys saw. But we saw a ton of progress and we gave him the award called “Mr. Fix-It” because we were working on a lot of different things with his delivery.

In big picture thinking, he is going to be able to repeat and actually be better for it. He bought into it. He did a great job controlling his emotions if the statistical numbers weren’t there that day for him. That’s always the tough sell to have these guys understand that in Instructional League it’s called Instructional League for a reason. Some guys need more instruction than others. We just needed him to really focus on getting a better, repeatable delivery so that he can throw more quality strikes. He’s got size, he’s got leverage, he’s got the ability to spin a breaking ball. Hopefully he takes the routine that we were able to work on in Instructional League and takes it into the off-season and continues to work on it. Then you are looking at a guy who really has a chance to help us.

OC: Corey Miller got a lot of groundballs out of the rotation for Vermont. Is he a prototypical sinkerball right-hander?

SE: His delivery reminds me a lot of Jered Weaver in Anaheim. It’s deceptive, across body. He’s got four pitches. He puts them over the plate with some sink. We really worked to try to cut his line down and get him straighter to the plate. Sometimes when you go too far across the body, your arm gets locked and you leave too many pitches up to the arm-side. We really needed to get him to start getting through his posture and getting down the slope of the mound much better. He started to get down through the baseball much better and we saw the quality of his command got a lot better. I’m anticipating him coming into spring training next year being able to repeat his delivery – even if he is cross-fire, he has to stay in his posture to keep the ball down. When he keeps the ball down, he has really nice sink and, like you said, he gets a lot of groundballs.

OC: Ben Bracewell and Rob Huber came to pro ball from high-profile collegiate programs. Were they pretty polished when you got them or did you have them working on making adjustments?

SE: Huber made a huge adjustment. He sat all of his weight on his back leg and he had a high back elbow. He actually kind of looked like a hitter in his posture. We actually had a long talk with him about using the 10 inches on the mound as leverage to throw down the hill. He’s kind of leaning back on his back leg and it didn’t offer him any angle to the plate. We stood him up a little bit taller and tucked the elbows in and, boom, his stuff took off from there. He has an exceptional curveball. You really don’t see guys coming into pro ball with good curveballs. They all want to throw hard sliders and most of them are slurves and not sliders. But this move helped him make a better plane and that led to a better breaking ball. He did an excellent job.

Bracewell was a little bit the same way. He was sitting on that back leg and was a little bit flat in the beginning. He then stood a little bit taller and started throwing down the mound. Talk about a good competitor. This guy wants to compete and he’s showed a lot of improvement.

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