CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - The Beloit Snappers pitching staff has struggled as a unit this season, posting a league-worst 4.67 team ERA. Despite those numbers, the Snappers have several talented pitchers who could play a critical role in the future of the Oakland A's in a few years. Over the weekend, OaklandClubhouse's Beloit Correspondent Bill Seals caught-up with A's minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston, who was subbing as the team's pitching coach this weekend. He spoke with Bill about the progress of several young arms on the Snappers' staff.
Bill Seals: Since joining up with the team earlier this week, what has been your focus in working with the pitching staff?
Garvin Alston: For the last five days of being here, the first three I was basically here observing things with our [Beloit] pitching coach, Steve Connelly. I’ve taken my time and seen how things are being done, just making sure things are going according to what we talk about and the organization wants.
The one thing that I am very pleased with is these guys are learning their routines and understanding what they need to recover every day to get ready to pitch and perform and compete in baseball games. I’ve been very happy with that. These young kids coming out of college, usually they’ve got six or seven days to prepare for their next start. Having that five-man rotation for the starters and learning that is a lot. I’m watching the young kids, watching how they rebound, how they’re taking care of the bodies, eating better now and making sure they get to the gym. I’m helping in any capacity that I can.
GA: I’m very pleased with it. Just watching it from the very beginning – even some of the guys that are not here right now, including Jordan Schwartz, who is in Arizona getting healthy right now – they are learning their craft right now. In doing so, they have to learn how to become professional pitchers and get on that five-day rotation. It took a half a season for them to realize they’re not going to feel fresh every time they go out there and what they need to do during the week to feel ready to compete. We’re starting to see that transition to where they’re turning into pitchers now.
BS: In particular, what have you noticed in Graves from the beginning of the spring until now?
GA: The one thing I love about Graves is he’s a pitcher now and not a thrower. Last year when he was at Missouri, he was a guy that threw extremely hard and his balls were all over the place – high, down, inside or out. He couldn’t tell you where it was going half the time. This year he’ll tell you exactly, ‘I can put a fastball to my glove side, I can throw a change-up behind in counts and I can spin a breaking ball better than I did last year. His transformation to becoming a pitcher has been remarkable.”
BS: Has he taken something off his fastball from college in order to achieve more movement?
GA: The one thing that we talk about in this organization is location, movement, change-of-speed, and if you can do those three things you can pitch in the big leagues. They took it to heart and came to instructional league. We told them the things they need to improve on if you have an opportunity to be a major league pitcher. These guys went home and studied upon their craft and came here this year trying to figure it out. I’m loving the results.
BS: In particular, what have you noticed in Gossett from the beginning of the spring until now?
GA: He’s been a surprise also. One thing about Goose is his energy when he comes to the field every day is felt and he works hard. He’s understanding now that four-seam fastballs in professional baseball get hit. These guys that are out here are good, too, just like him, so he understands that movement is definitely something that’s a part of his game plan. He’s always had that, but never really had to use it when he was in the college ranks. He’s learning.
BS: When I spoke with him early in the season, he was having some difficulties with perfecting a third pitch. How is he progressing there?
GA: The third pitch is his breaking ball and it’s more up and down. We’re trying to get a bit more plane to it and a little bit more action and finish at the plate. The other pitch that I think has come a long way is his two-seam fastball. Now he’s able to put that on both sides of the plate and be effective in using it while he’s up in the count or behind in the count. Steve Connelly has done a great job of getting the message across that we talk about so much.
BS: While Graves and Gossett have shown signs of improvement, another high 2014 draft pick Heath Fillmyer has pretty much struggled from the word go. Is he on the verge of turning things around?
GA: He’s just a raw talent right now. I won’t say we’re taking it slow with him right now, but the pieces we’re giving to him we want to make sure that he gets it so he has a solid base. It may seem like his progression is coming along slower than others, but in actuality it isn’t. He’s where he’s supposed to be. That fastball command of 94 miles-an-hour on average – if he gets that it’s [Zack] Greinke-ish. Commanding a baseball at a high velocity is something we’re searching for. We’re just looking for him to go out there and compete, which is his best asset.
BS: Is the coaching staff here kind of limiting his in-game workload to build confidence?
GA: He’s available to go more than that, but we try to protect them as much as possible but we also need to for them to grow up, too. There are instances where he could have gone a lot more, but we chose at that point in time to pull him out of the game to protect him. He’s available to go six-plus innings every time out.
BS: Jordan Schwartz opened the season in Beloit, but had his struggles before being shut down with an injury. How has he done in Arizona?
GA: He’s rehabbing and pitching extremely well. His last outing he was down in Arizona doing some rehab and threw the ball well. I believe he’s pitching today for a rehab in Arizona and after that we’ll find out exactly what’s going to happen with him. He’s feeling much better and is doing fine.
BS: Who else has stood out to you on the Snappers pitching staff?
GA: The first person that I would say is Jose Torres. Everybody knew that he had velocity and went from 92 to 97, being able to average that at 94. The thing that I’m happy with is his command. His fastball command is there and he’s starting to develop a nice little slider. With those things being said, he’s understanding that he could be a middle-to-late [inning] guy coming out of the bullpen and be very effective.
The other person is Carlos Navas. My goodness, he’s having a superb year. He’s learned quite a bit. His progress with the breaking ball is coming very fast and quickly. He has a two-pitch mix. Last year with him being a starter in the Arizona League, his change-up was his best pitch, but now coming out of the bullpen he doesn’t have to save it. He’s letting it go a little bit more, averaging 92 miles an hour with good arm-side run and sink. Now the slider is playing into effect. Whenever he faces lefties, he has his change-up whenever he needs it. I’m very impressed with where he’s at.
Ever since Koby Gauna has been here, he’s been outstanding. There’s nothing you can say about his sinker – he throws it up there and you hit it on the ground. He’s so good at it.