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Q&A with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston, part 3

On Saturday, the Oakland A's 2015 player development program officially ended in the U.S. with the conclusion of the A's fall Instructional League. On Monday, we spoke with A's minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston about the 2015 seasons for many A's pitching prospects. Inside, part three of this four-part interview.

To read part one of this interview with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston, please click here. To read part two, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Kevin Duchene didn’t go to Instructs because I believe he had hit his innings limit for the year. Did you have a chance to see him in Vermont this year?

Garvin Alston: I did. I saw Mr. Duchene. He is an interesting fellow, to say the least. The way that he comes to work everyday, he’s very enthusiastic with everything that he does, but he has a lot to learn. I think there is something there that we can get out of him. Hopefully he will understand that this isn’t college anymore. In doing so, I think the baseball-side of him will get better.

OC: Two of the guys we talked about during spring training were Dillon Overton and Raul Alcantara. Both were coming back from Tommy John surgery. Did you feel like they accomplished what you had hoped they would accomplish based on where they were this spring in their rehab programs?

GA: Absolutely. I think that Jeff Collins, Nate Brooks, Craig Lefferts and Nick Paparesta, those guys did a phenomenal job to put a program together for them to get rocking and rolling. They met every criteria for what we needed them to do in regards to getting them ready for this upcoming year so that we could let them loose and so they could see what we needed them to do.

I was very happy with their performances, especially Dillon’s. I was working with Dillon for a whole year [in 2014], so he is a personal, I wouldn’t say project, but because he started his rehab with me – and so did Raul – but Dillon and I hit it off right away. It was one of those things where we had a good relationship and talked quite a bit. I’m very happy with Dillon. Raul is doing extremely well. We are very happy with his progress. If he stays healthy, I think we have something there.

OC: With Overton, his velocity isn’t yet back to where it was before the surgery, but it seemed to be inching back up during the second half of the year. Do you feel like he is getting back to that pre-surgery velocity?

GA: It is still going to be a wait-and-see proposition, but I think that the path that he is on is one that we can be optimistic about for his future. You are absolutely right that coming off of the Tommy John surgery last year, he was a mid- to high-80s guy. This year, he was more of a high-80s, touching 92 from time-to-time, so I think the progress is going to continue. Next year will be the tell-tale year.

OC: What are your impressions of Sean Manaea since he was acquired?

GA: He’s the gentle giant. Actually he came over and pitched a little in Instructs. He came out early so he could have himself prepared for the Arizona Fall League. He came out early and pitched three innings with us and threw a couple of bullpens. Without a doubt, he has plus stuff all the way around, from the fastball to the breaking ball. The change-up is coming. We’ve changed his grip on the change-up, so now he has a better feel for it. That’s going to be a pitch that we are looking for him to throw a little bit more during the Arizona Fall League so that it can be ready for spring training.


OC: With the Beloit staff, it was a rough year in terms of results in the starting rotation. Did you feel like, despite the numbers, they were able to make progress from the start of the year to the end?

GA: I think so. I think with Brett Graves, the first thing that I thought he did was that he competed. For whatever reason, the big fastball wasn’t there, so he had to learn to pitch not just with stuff. He had to learn to hit spots and change speeds and tilt the ‘zone. For me, that was the positive of this, because he can understand for this upcoming year that ‘okay, my velocity doesn’t have to be this to succeed’ because he was expecting [the velocity] to be at a certain level.

A lot of guys that do get drafted that come out of college, a lot of guys don’t realize that they aren’t averaging that 95, 96 MPH. They are just hitting it one or two times [an outing], but they are averaging 92, 91. There is an expectation for these guys to get ahead and continuously do that. It’s hard to explain to a kid that thinks in his mind that he should be throwing 95 coming out of college when you really don’t. Then you have to learn how to pitch a little bit. Now that he realizes that, he has learned how to be a pitcher and not a thrower. I’m very happy about that.

OC: Sean Nolin had the lower half injury this year. When I saw him pitch in May in Sacramento, he was effective, but it seemed like he was laboring with his legs. Do you think that a normal off-season of conditioning will allow him to get his velocity back up to where it was when he was with Toronto?

GA: I sure hope so. I do think that him not being able to train and get himself in shape had a lot to do with his velocity not being where he was accustomed to. Again, this is a situation where he will be able to come in this year and come to camp hopefully in great shape and we’ll see the Sean Nolin that we were expecting that was in Toronto.


OC: Dylan Covey had a nice year in Stockton after struggling in the California League the final month of last season. It looked like he was being more aggressive about trying to get swings-and-misses rather than looking for groundballs. Did you see him being more of a power pitcher this year?

GA: Yes, definitely. The plan changed a little bit for him. Going into last year, he was throwing a lot more two-seam fastballs. He wanted to be that starter who got those quick outs and would last into the sixth or seventh inning, which he did last year in Beloit. The one thing that I talked to him about when he came to mini-camp was ‘listen, I have seen you pitch, I have seen your numbers and everything else. You can sit 93 with your four-seam fastball instead of being the guy who is always using his two-seam. Don’t get rid of it but use more four-seam fastballs.’

Looking at his fastballs, his velocity jumped [this year] 1.3 miles per hour, which doesn’t seem like that much but going from 91.6 to almost 93 miles per hour [on average] on his fastball, that’s a pretty hefty jump. I think that had a lot to do with it and now he can play his two-seam off of his four-seam. And I think he’s understanding that. I thought he had a phenomenal year with him pitching in that league in those ballparks.

OC: In talking about that Stockton staff, Brendan McCurry was the closer there for a lot of the year. He has been nearly unhittable since he was drafted. What is it about him that allows him to have this kind of success as a reliever without the 96, 97 mile per hour fastball?

GA: I agree with you. He was pretty phenomenal this past year also. The one thing that I will say that he had to address early in the season was that he gave up a lot of hits and was behind in a lot of counts [early in the year]. Keith [Lieppman] went into Stockton early in the year before I went out there and he saw that he was dilly-dallying too much and dropping down too much, throwing too many off-speed pitches. Keith just made a simple suggestion ‘hey, throw more fastballs.’

It was a week or two later that I went in there and we had a conversation where I said ‘I talked with Keith Lieppman and I understand that you were being a little too cute with your breaking balls.’ He said, ‘yeah, I have started having a little bit more success now using my fastball.’ I said, ‘one of our basic elements of pitching is pitching off of our fastball.’ For whatever reason, he got it and started jumping ahead of guys and he dominated.

It was just a reminder that ‘hey, use your fastball’. Granted, it isn’t 96-97, but it’s 92-93. It’s good enough to use it to get ahead and use your other pitches.

OC: How do you think he compares to Ryan Dull? Are they similar or pretty different?

GA: I would say that they are different. The reason that I would say that is that they are different but they are similar. They are different when it comes to stuff. Brendan, he’s a guy who can throw from two arm angles with off-speed pitches. Dully, you know exactly what you are getting. You get a fastball down-and-away for strike one. Once he gets you behind in the count, he’s going to come at you with the slider. The batter knows it but he can’t do anything about it. Brendan has a little bit of trickery to his delivery. That would be the main difference, but they are similar in styles.

And that goes for all of our bullpen guys that were there. Our style is that we are going to attack the ‘zone. If you attack the ‘zone, you can use your secondary pitches and get the hitters out.

Stay tuned for our final segment of this interview, during which we discuss several promising relief prospects, including Tucker Healy and Corey Walter, plus much more...

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