To read part one of this interview with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston, please click here.
OaklandClubhouse: Mike Fagan had to go back to extended spring training after a rough first few weeks of the season, but he pitched well after returning to Vermont and later Beloit. Did he carry that progress over into Instructs?
Garvin Alston: He did, but it wasn’t consistent. That was the thing that we brought him down here for, was to work on the consistency of his stuff. Without a doubt, right now on his good days, we could put him at higher levels and he would compete and actually get outs easily. We just can’t put our finger on [the inconsistency] yet. He’s a very bright kid. He understands the things that we are doing with him, but, for whatever reason, when he is out there competing, he gets a little bit ahead of himself.
He is so relaxed. I told him ‘I want you to be little bit more like John Rocker than what your demeanor is right now. I need more energy out of you. More of that go-get ‘em attitude when you are out there. Right now, you are thinking too much about delivery and my hands need to be here and my foot needs to be here. You know what? Go pitch.’ His last outing, he was decent. He shows flashes of being extremely good, but we need him to be consistent.
OC: I saw Matt Stalcup a couple of times during the last few months of the season in Stockton. It looks like he is starting to develop into a solid left-handed starter. I think he was the most experienced pitcher in camp. What was he working on?
GA: He was here, more or less, because he missed the beginning of the season and we wanted to get his innings totals up a little bit. The thing we worked on most with him was bettering his fastball command. We are kind of looking at him like a Dallas Keuchel-type guy, the kind of guy who can throw his fastball in and out. His secondary pitches are what is going to make him.
He understands that. We worked on some delivery things with him to get him throwing a little bit more downhill and not kick out as much. He did well. He was fatigued when he was down here, no question about it, but it was about him coming down here and working on his fastball command and shoring up that fastball.
OC: You have worked with a couple of guys who have made the transition from position player to pitcher over the past few years. Ryan Gorton doesn’t seem to have as big of a fastball as some of the guys who you have worked with on that transition, but it seems like he might have a better idea of how to be a pitcher than some of the guys who switched. Is that accurate?
GA: That is 100 percent accurate. I worked with Ryan a little bit. Lefty [A’s rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts] definitely worked with him. We knew that Ryan had pitched some at Oregon State and was successful there, but the one thing I can say is that Ryan came in here and took the mound, from day one he was a strike-thrower. The velocity wasn’t there at first but then he got stronger and got used to the throwing program every day and all of a sudden his velocity kept increasing and increasing.
Down here in Instructs, he was an average 92 MPH guy, which is average in the big leagues. For me, when you include his secondary pitches – he has a cutter and he does have a slider that is hit or miss sometimes, but when it is on, it is a plus pitch – but he developed this change-up that they taught him when he got to Beloit. He actually learned it – and this is phenomenal to hear – he learned it in 35 minutes. His aptitude to be able to learn grips and pick up pitches and be down in the ‘zone is remarkable.
It will be interesting to see what happens with him next year and where he goes and how he performs in a full year in this setting. I am encouraged by what he did. He was pretty much one of our best pitchers down here in Instructs. I’m very happy with his progress.
OC: Jesus Zambrano got a chance to make two starts in Triple-A at the end of the year. He has always been a strike-thrower. What other progress is he making after his second year pitching in the US?
GA: He is understanding his energy level. That’s the one thing, when Zambrano gets too excited, he doesn’t throw strikes. When he is able to get ahead of hitters and control his energy and do the things he needed to do, he is as good as they come. He got into a bad habit of wanting to fall off of the mound. He watched a lot of baseball on TV and some of these guys he was watching throw 99-100 miles per hour coming out of the bullpen were guys that he loves watching. He ends up trying to mimic what they are doing. I had to explain to him that ‘they are relief pitchers and you are a starting pitcher. You have to understand the difference.’
We worked on some stuff with him with his delivery, Grady Fuson and myself. To be honest with you, it started in spring training a little bit and we saw it and we attacked it and it got better. After it got better, what ended up happening was that he went back to what he was doing before. The energy in his delivery was off. He thought he was doing the right thing, but now he understands what is right and what is the wrong way to go about his delivery. He’s good to go.
GA: Mr. Tovar, I am very high on him. He shows a big arm with an understanding of a good change-up and a really good breaking ball. The only problem with Tovar right now – and, again, this happens to a lot of Dominican and Venezuelan ballplayers when they come over for the first time, they want showcase everything and overthrow – and that was his issue.
He threw quite a bit in our mini-camp games that we had down here for the simple fact that we wanted to ease the pressure that you would have going out there and facing another team. In doing so, he had two outings that were absolutely horrendous and he couldn’t throw a strike. Then his last three outings, he started to get the ball around the plate. Then we put him in a real game and he dominated the inning. I’m very happy with him.
Mr. Wandisson Charles, he has a long way to go, but, again, another big arm. He can reach 97, 98 miles per hour. He’s a big kid, 6’7’’, and he is strong, but he has a lot of delivery flaws at the present time. He needs to get that better to throw better strikes. I would love to treat him as a starter, but because he doesn’t throw enough strikes, we are thinking about maybe just putting him in the bullpen and letting him go and throw. We would like to make him a starter first, so we’ll keep exploring that, but we are going to make some delivery changes and see if he can get them.
OC: A number of the relievers that were drafted this season came to camp. Did any of them make any noticeable improvements during the camp?
GA: Absolutely, yes. Armando Ruiz made a phenomenal change. When he came in, he was more of a slinger. The first thing that we did was to get him to understand that he had to leverage the baseball and he picked it up rather quickly. Rather than getting behind the ball, drive the ball down. His velocity went up a click. Rather than being 89-90 guy, he was a 90-93 guy down here at Instructs. That was definitely a positive surprise.
Brendan Butler, we loved his arm coming out. His velocity went up two clicks also with some delivery changes. Those changes were more with his foot. His foot was going towards the left-hand hitter’s batter’s box and he was losing energy and velocity. We got him to understand that his foot need to go in a certain direction. He was another one that opened eyes. He is a strike-thrower. He throws the ball over the plate, but he isn’t really commanding it. It’s more of a control thing. If we can get him to improve that, I think he can be a surprise.
James Naile was the star of Instructs. He was absolutely phenomenal. He was always a two-seam fastball guy and all of his pitches were moving. He also had a very good year in Vermont. I asked him, ‘hey, can you throw a four-seam fastball?’ He said, ‘I didn’t, but I can learn.’ Immediately, he picked up the four-seam fastball and then understood that he could throw it and then throw his two-seam fastball off of that. He has a wipeout slider. I didn’t know that about him until this camp. His slider is one of the best, I would say, out of the guys that were drafted. I was very, very happy with that.
Stay tuned for the final two parts of this interview, during which we go over several A's pitching prospects that didn't participate in Instructs, including Kevin Duchene, Sean Manaea, Dillon Overton, Brett Graves and many more...