OaklandClubhouse: Koby Gauna joined your staff midway through the year. With his turbo sinker, did anything get hit off the ground against him this year?
Steve Connelly: Koby is a competitor like you wouldn’t believe. He trusts his ability to get the groundballs. I have watched games where after five pitches he has the bases loaded and three pitches later, he’s out of it with no runs scored. He never panics. But what makes him really good is his ability to locate his sinker glove-side. Most sinkerball pitchers just go in. They want to go in, in, in and get that sink, but he loves to go glove-side. He will go in on guys and a guy doesn’t swing and he’s 1-0. Then, boom, he goes glove-side and it goes back over the plate for strike-one and he’ll go back in and he’ll get a groundball or if the guy takes it for a ball, he’ll go back glove-side again.
It’s almost an impossible pitch to hit. Instead of trying to get a strike-out with it, he uses it to get back into positive counts. He’s really got a good approach for what he wants to do. He never gets outside of that. He has a really good idea of what his next pitch is going to be. He never dwells on the previous pitch and whether it was good or bad. He tells himself ‘did I execute the pitch that I wanted?’ ‘Yeah. ‘Was it a bad result?’ ‘Yeah, but who cares? I executed the pitch that I wanted.’ He never gets flustered out there. He stays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much. That’s what makes him Koby. He is just a very chill kid.
OC: Mike Fagan struggled at the beginning of the year, went to extended and Vermont and then returned to Beloit and seemed like he pitched better. He seems to struggle to be consistent from batter to batter, but when he is on, he’s very good. What does he need to do to get that consistency?
SC: Repetition and education. I’ve told him many times that he is like an elementary school student when it comes to the game of baseball. He’s never been around coaching. Everything has been on his own. He didn’t really have a pitching coach in college. The first time he really learned anything about pitching was when he got into pro ball. But he’s obliviously intelligent. He learns quick. He learns on the fly. If you tell him how to do something, he will do it correctly the next time, but he just need constant reminding of how to do it.
He came down to Arizona and him and Craig Lefferts really hit it off well. Lefty did an awesome job with him, taking him on the side and talking about what a lefty does and what a left-handed reliever does and gave him sequences and gave him ideas. He just really helped him to sharpen up his delivery. Lefty really helped him out. They have a really good bond going and I’m sure that will continue moving forward. I’m sure the first person that Fagan will find in the lockerroom this spring will be Lefty.
OC: Ryan Gorton got to you guys at the end of the year. I’m not sure if you worked with him much when he was a catcher, but it sounds like he is picking up the pitching side of things really quickly. What kind of pitcher is he?
SC: He’s like a savant. He really is. He has a tremendous idea of how to get a hitter out. His swing recognition is above a first-year pitcher, obviously, because he caught for all of those years. He knows how to call a game. He knows what to throw.
But the most impressive thing about him – and I’ll give you this as an example – is that he gets to Beloit and he says, ‘I really want to develop a change-up. I haven’t been able to throw a change-up.’ So I say, okay, and I watch him throw a bit. I say ‘why don’t you mess around with this grip here?’ and he throws it and says, ‘yeah, I like that grip.’ He takes it out into the game that night. The first change-up he throws is a swing-and-miss. So then he tries doing too much with the next change-up he throws and he ends up bouncing it. But then he makes a quick adjustment and doesn’t try to do too much. He throws the change-up again and it’s a swing-and-miss. His first night out there, he throws three change-ups and gets two swings-and-misses.
Now he’s throwing that change-up all of the time. He’s got a fastball that is running arm-side. He’s got a cutter that he can throw glove-side. He’s got a slider that in the beginning he was just using to get swings-and-misses. I told him, ‘throw it up there in the ‘zone.’ He said, ‘okay’ and he throws it in the ‘zone and gets results with that. Then we go over the change-up and he gets results with that. I’m pretty sure if I taught him a knuckleball, he’d know how to throw a knuckleball quickly.
OC: Were there any other guys on that Beloit staff that you think took a big step forward that maybe wouldn’t have been obvious from afar?
SC: Yeah. I’ll use Rob Huber. In Instructional League last year, Emo [Scott Emerson] completely overhauled his delivery. Carlos Chavez had Huber the whole year in Arizona and he hadn’t seen him since the summer. I’m telling him, ‘man, Huber has really come a long way.’ And Carlos is like, ‘really?’ I said, ‘his delivery is so clean now.’ And Carlos is like, ‘really?’ [laughs] The first day pitchers were throwing sides [this spring], Carlos looks at me and is like, ‘oh my God, it’s like it’s not even the same guy. It’s a completely different guy.’
Huber went out and had a great year for us. He ran into some arm fatigue at the end and we ended up putting him on the DL and he came back at the end of the season. I think he missed two or three weeks in August and came back and threw the final week of August. I don’t think he was quite ready. I don’t think he was 100 percent yet. Going into his last outing of the year, he had an ERA in the twos after throwing in something like 35 games. For a guy to have his first full season in any league with an ERA under 3.00 is really good. He ended up having a three-something [3.02] because his last game he gave up four runs. His velo and his command were a tick down at that point.
He is a kid who really made a good move forward. He has got a fastball that is 89-92. For being not very tall, he creates a pretty good angle down with it. He has a swing-and-miss curveball that is top-to-bottom with a little bit of bite. He also has a nice slider that works off of that. I think personally he had a really good year in the Midwest League for his first season.
OC: Were there any guys at Instructs this fall that caught your eye?
SC: Yes, James Naile. I love him. I don’t know what we are going to do with him. I don’t know if he is going to be a starter or a reliever, but this guy has the stuff to make the jump to the Cal League, in my opinion. He has a fastball that he commands side-to-side with sink that sits in the low-90s. A wipeout slider and a great change-up. He has really come a long way. I think he is going to be a great arm for us in the future.
Boomer Biegalski is another guy who jumped out. He has a plus change-up. It’s just a great change-up that he has. He has to clean up his curveball a little and it got a lot better at the end of Instructional League. His fastball is a good fastball that he commands, too.