Special Assistant to the General Manager Grady Fuson has had a significant impact on several generations of Oakland A's teams. Fuson joined the A's as a scout in 1982 and later served as the farm director for four seasons. During that time, he helped build the foundation for the A's teams that dominated the AL West from 1988-1992. From 1995-2001, Fuson was the A's Director of Scouting. During his tenure in that role, Fuson was instrumental in the drafts that netted the A's stars such as Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.
In 2002, Fuson left the A's for an Assistant General Manager position with the Texas Rangers. He spent three years in Texas before joining the San Diego Padres in 2005. In 2010, Fuson returned to the A's as a Special Assistant to the General Manager. In that role, Fuson helps teach A's minor leaguers "the Oakland A's way" and helps evaluate the A's homegrown talent. He also spends time out on the road scouting possible future members of the organization.
I caught up with Fuson on Tuesday to get his insights on several A's minor league prospects.
OaklandClubhouse: You’ve talked a lot about Sandber Pimentel with our Arizona correspondent Kim Contreras. What kind of potential do you think he’s got?
Grady Fuson: I think there is some big upside there, eventually when it plays itself out. He came in and took Instructional League by storm. I was very impressed with his polish and his approach at the plate for not really being in the States before. He had a little patience to go with his swing and his power and his defensive ability. He’s kind of hit the mat here fairly quick.
OC: He played three years in the Dominican Summer League, right?
GF: Yeah, and he was kind of a hidden guy. I don’t go down there all that much, so I didn’t really know that much about him. After a couple of weeks in the Instructional League, I was like ‘wow, this is one of the better looking young Latin players who has come up here, as far as being polished and ready to play a little bit.’
OC: Yairo Munoz is another one who has seemingly jumped onto the radar over the past year.
GF: Yep. He caught his break last year. At the time they were ready to go out [to short-season Vermont] and Edwin Diaz went down with a knee thing. Diaz, at the time, could have been a little bit ahead of him. But [Munoz] caught the break and took it by storm. I didn’t think it was going to hold up, but it did. Now, if you break it down statistically some of the things that he did, they weren't great indicators of it holding up, but it did.
Now he’s come back bigger, stronger, more patient. In this camp, he’s not chasing as much and he’s not doing some of the things that were a concern.
OC: Has anyone caught your eye this spring that you weren’t expecting to see perform the way that he has?
GF: I’m very proud of the way that B.J. Boyd has approached this camp. His enthusiasm for the game has been great and he’s playing the game very, very hard. He’s playing well. I’m proud of him.
This J.P. Sportman thing is kind of on the fast-track. Then you thrown in a couple of quality ABs over there [in big league camp] and he hit a homer. His instincts are strong and he’s got a little bit of speed. His instincts are really starting to show.
OC: Is he possibly a Boog Powell of this year?
GF: Possibly. He isn’t up there with Boog’s legs, but he does run and there is quickness and there is a centerfield skill. His contact has been good.
Shawn Duinkerk has also stood out. He’s gotten bigger and he’s gotten stronger. You knew that was only a matter of time, but his game awareness seems much better. That was always something that was his Achilles. He lacked the instinctive things about the game, but he’s done alright with that this spring.
OC: Has Branden Cogswell come back using the adjustments that he made during Instructs?
GF: Some. We got some of that going shortly after he signed. At Virgina, he was a no-stride, heel-up, heel-down hitter. Even though he hit in college, it was very soft. Getting him to understand about what it takes to be on time and attack a baseball versus just laying your hands through the hitting zone is what we were working on with him. He’s still got some of that, but he is driving the baseball a little better, but not at a major-league level yet. He puts the ball in play but we are just trying to get him to think about driving some baseballs and putting some impact behind the ball. He has gotten a little bit stronger. He’s about 10 pounds up.
OC: Is that a big thing for a lot of these guys early in their careers, just getting the strength and conditioning on track?
GF: Certainly for the younger guys, but even these college guys like him and even Trent Gilbert are very under-developed body-wise, strength-wise.
OC: Do you see Gilbert as an offensive-minded second baseman?
GF: Yes. We knew that when we took him that the bat was a little bit ahead of the defense, but the one thing we’ve always done a good job with here is taking someone athletically and cleaning up defense. Giving them technique, actions, footwork.
OC: Is Renato Nunez one of those who you think has cleaned up his defense enough to stay at third?
GF: Everybody has a subjective way to rank our depth right now, but that is one of our deeper spots when you think about Nunez, Ryon Healy, Matt Chapman and some of us believe Chad Pinder profiles better there. There is some depth there. Diaz has the feet and the hands of a shortstop but the legs and size of a third baseman. Some people would argue Munoz down-the-road [profiles at third], but Munoz still has so much quick-twitch to what he does.
OC: I heard that many believed Munoz was the best shortstop in the New York-Penn League last year.
GF: In terms of talent, yeah. A number of the opposing managers jumped on him as one of the top prospects in that league. A buddy of mine managed Brooklyn and he said, ‘hey, he’s one of the top for me.’ I was back there enough and didn’t see the whole league, but the Cyclones had a shortstop and [his friend] said Munoz was right behind him, which he should be just based on skills alone. He’s got power, he runs well, he’s athletic, he’s got a big arm. It’s just about learning the nuances about being consistent in this game.
OC: Heath Fillmyer had an impressive stint in the simulated game [on Tuesday]. What do you think of where he is at?
GF: He’s one of my favorite growing guys. Knew nothing about him until we took him. Converted shortstop. Hadn’t been on the mound that much. When we first got him, his arms and legs were going everywhere. How quick this guy adapted to putting a delivery together. Some guys, you work on these moves and they never get it. This guy got it. And then boom, the ball started jumping out of his hand. This guy was throwing threes, fours and fives in Instructional League and dropping some mid-90s. He’s so athletic and he’s young. He’s only 20. There’s upside there. He might be better in the long haul than the guys we took in front of him.
OC: With Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves, they were the college pitchers from the big conferences. Is it a matter of tweaking things with them at this point, or is there a lot that they need to work on still?
GF: It is a lot of tweaking with Gossett. Some of the things that he does that are a little bit different are not really things that you can change. With Graves, it’s getting him back online when his sinker plays. We are working with him on a breaking ball. He’s not really gifted at biting a breaking ball, but there are flashes of it being in there. He’s got the bigger arm of the two.
OC: Is there concern about size with those two?
GF: Not really. Graves is alright. Gossett is a slighter-built guy. Fillmyer, to me, has a tremendous frame. Jordan Schwartz is a big bull. His delivery is a little bit of a mess, but he’s got a great arm and movement. When he’s in the strike-zone, he can get groundballs and overpower hitters. He is a little behind the learning curve. He’s just not as polished mentally as far as the level where he has played. He doesn’t understand the game quite like a Gossett or a Graves might. He came from a small school and the years of different level of competition that he played against [as compared to the ACC and SEC with Gossett and Graves].
OC: Do you anticipate when Matt Olson gets to Midland with the wind playing like it does for left-handed pull hitters that it is going to be an adjustment for him?
GF: It has been for every hitter who has ever set foot there. The good thing about him is that he has such big power that it plays everywhere. But, from last year to this year, he’s playing in two opposite ballparks. The Cal League has a lot of homer-friendly ballparks. The Texas League can be anti-homer friendly in a ton of ballparks. There are adjustments that have to be made.
It’s similar to the old PCL pitching thing. You get guys who have stuff and they carve it up in A-ball and Double-A and then you send them to the Coast League and the roof caves in because you play in Vegas, Albuquerque where the ball flies and you have the thick grass in Colorado Springs and the lighter air. The next thing you know, these guys are camping out with a 4.50 or 5.00 ERA and they are losing their minds. So you’ve got to get them back to executing their plan again and realize that the elements are the elements. There are things that you can do to tweak your plan for the elements, but when you start going against your whole program to get guys out, then you become a Triple-A renegade. You become one of these 30-year-old guys that pitch backwards to get guys out.
OC: Any idea how the new park in Nashville is going to play?
GF: At this point, no idea. We’ll have to see when the guys get out there.
OC: How difficult is it to get guys not to focus on their numbers and to focus instead on their development?
GF: We know that guys are going to look at their numbers. It’s just human nature. It’s amazing but a lot of these guys are still hung up on batting average. They still don’t focus on the aspects of their numbers that are important for scoring runs, which is what we value.
I was talking about this in a hitter’s meeting the other day. When we are talking about selectivity, it isn’t just about how many walks a hitter has. It’s about being able to work deep into counts and not swing early in a count just because you get a fastball. Some of these guys are swinging early in the count because they don’t want to see a breaking ball. But just because you get a fastball early doesn’t mean it’s a good pitch to hit if it is off the plate or on the black. If you can get deep into counts and are able to foul-off what we call the “bitch” pitch, that pitcher’s pitch, then you get another opportunity for the pitcher to make a mistake. Over the course of 500 at-bats, if you get 20 more mistakes to hit or you get that walk, that is going to make a big difference in scoring runs.
You see how the big league team has played this spring. It’s a lot like watching paint dry. It isn’t exciting but they are doing the things you need to do to score runs. That’s what we are trying to teach here.