Photo of Yerdel Vargas by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's minor league hitting instructor Eric Martins on hitters at fall Instructional League

Oakland A's Triple-A hitting coach Eric Martins discusses the hitters he coached during the recently completed 2016 A's fall Instructional League.

Last week, the Oakland A's concluded their 2016 fall Instructional League camp. A's Triple-A hitting coach Eric Martins was one of several minor league instructors who were at the camp, guiding A's prospects through a daily routine of classroom instruction, on-field drills and games versus other Arizona-based organizations. For more on the A's fall Instructional League, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Switching to Instructs, was there a different feel in camp this year because of how young the Instructs roster was? There were several players born in 2000 and 1999. Was it different working with players who had mostly played in showcase situations and not in games coming into camp?

Eric Martins: Absolutely. There was a lot more instructing going on about the little things that you tend to take for granted that kids coming into the organization might already know. We had to remind ourselves that these kids havent played before and that they are 16-years-old and that we had to actually teach them the little things. It was kind of refreshing in some ways. You take for granted that these kids know these things usually, but being able to go back and teach these kids how to play the game and then see them from the beginning and then again at the end and see how they develop in such a short time, thats rewarding as a coach. Everybody felt good about it. We have some good looking young kids that are coming through the system, Ill tell you. It was fun to watch.

OC: Lazaro Armenteros is the guy who gets the most hype right now from that July 2nd class. Was he the five-tool player that he was hyped up to be?

EM: Hes a physical specimen, first of all. When you look at him at 17-years-old, hes really put together. Unfortunately, we didnt get to see the total package for a large amount of time. He had a finger thing and then he came up a little bit sore in the shoulder, which wasnt a big deal, but they wanted to monitor that because hes going to go to the Dominican Instructs. He basically just DHd, but you could see the bat speed. You could see the power potential for this kid. You just look at him, and he just looks the part.

There is still going to be some fine-tuning that is going to take awhile for him to understand, but hes a great kid. He was willing to try new things and he was willing to work. He had a good time with the kids and wasnt standoffish. He fit right in. Hes an exciting part of that group. If it all clicks together for that guy, he might be really special.

OC: Richie Martin missed the first part of the season and had a rough patch with Stockton but played well for Midland at the end of the year. I know there was a lot of work with him during the season on his swing. Where did he leave off at the end of Instructs?

EM: I think we threw a lot of stuff at him at Instructs to just feel some things out and give him an idea of how he wants to go into the off-season. I think he ended on a good note. There were some different things that we did where we collaborated as a staff with Jim Eppert [As minor league hitting coordinator] and Keith Lieppman [As Director of Player Development]. We wanted to hone in on what he wants to feel at the plate and what we want to see from him and come together on that with Richie. Richie is so in-tune with what he wants to feel [at the plate] sometimes if it doesnt match what we want him to do, its hard for him to get.

I think after about two weeks into Instructs, he found something that was pretty good. He came in with the leg kick and there was all kinds of different things and moving parts. Hes another guy who just needed some separation into his swing. He had a really good and pretty productive Instructional League for him to find what he needed to find to go into the off-season.

OC: Chris Iriart missed some time due to the beaning he took in Beloit, but he put up some big power numbers in a truncated season. Was he there mostly to get at-bats, or were you working with him on anything in particular?

EM: He was there mostly to get some at-bats. There were some things he needed to work on, like a lot of the power hitters that we have mentioned – pitch selection and things like that. But, for the most part, he did a good job and had some good at-bats. He eliminated trying to swing at some fastballs up and out of the zone. Chris is a strong kid. You can see what he can do. He had a couple of games where it didnt matter what the pitcher was throwing. He battled for the entire at-bat: fastballs, breaking balls, sliders, he was barreling up some baseballs all over the field.

OC: Another guy, Miguel Mercedes, emerged this year almost out of nowhere. Do you see him being able to build on what he did this year with Vermont?

EM: I think hes an under-the-radar guy – well, maybe not anymore. [laughs] Hes a guy who can hit. Hes got power, but hes not afraid to use the whole field. Hell take a ball to right field, hell drive the ball to right center field, hell put a charge into a ball and go up over the trees in leftfield. Hes an interesting guy for me. I really like what he is capable of doing. Hes still young and you see that when he works on certain things throughout the day and in batting practice and once the game starts, he goes back to the big old leg kick and tries to start lifting. Thats just a matter of being young and not yet understanding to take what you are working on and, since the Instructional League is there for you to try new things and go for it and not worry about the results that much. But hes very interesting to me. I like him. 

OC: Was Sean Murphy able to swing without restrictions this fall, or was he still dealing with the hamate issue?

EM: He was good. You lose track because he is so impressive with his arm strength and his catching ability, but he had a really solid camp swinging the bat. He showed some power. He showed some ability to handle the bat. He had some solid at-bats. Hes a strong, physical kid. Hes going to get all of the credit in the world for what he can do behind the dish, but hell be a pleasant surprise at the plate, as well. He has some power behind his swing.

OC: JaVon Shelby is another hitter with a lot of strength, as well. He really struggled for much of his pro debut, but he had a power surge the last week of the season. Is it coming together a little better for him after Instructs?

EM: Yeah, absolutely. JaVon is just so quick. Hes one of those quick-twitch athletes and the first moment he wants to get those hands moving. But hell want to get pull happy. We are trying to get him to stay over the baseball and try to use the whole field so his strike-out numbers will go down a little bit. But he has electric hands and he has tremendous bat speed. Hes got power everywhere. Its just a matter of him staying over the ball more to cut down on the strike-outs. But I like him, too. Hes an outstanding athlete.

OC: He played some outfield during Instructs, right?

EM: Yeah, we moved him to centerfield. Hes a really good athlete and I think he did a really good job out there. He ran down some balls in the gap and looked like a natural out there. That just adds to the flexibility and versatility for these guys. Him being able to play centerfield and infield, that just helps him out a lot more as his career continues.

OC: Nate Mondou and Eli White had strong pro debut seasons in Vermont. Did they continue to progress in Instructs?

EM: Absolutely. Nate Mondou, he can really swing the bat. Hes impressive with his at-bats and he can really hit. He came more to get a little bit better in the infield, which he did. He really got after it and was grinding and got together with Juan [Navarette, the As roving infield coordinator] and myself and actually became a really good second baseman. Making all of the plays, showing some range. I like that kid. Hes a grinder-type player. 

Eli White, same way. Quiet, goes about his business. Solid kid, solid player. His focus at camp was all about working on his hitting to get a little more barrel control. He likes to drive the ball to right field, so we were trying to get him to barrel the ball to the pull-side to be able to use the whole field. I like those two players. Those guys are solid. 

OC: Was Luke Persico a player who you had scouted when he was in high school?

EM: I did. I had Luke in the Area Code games with the Brewers. Interesting kid. Good body. Very, very versatile. I think thats one thing that we liked about him. He just needs to get a little bit stronger physically to be able to handle some at-bats, but the kid is a smart baseball player, came from a good program and he knows the game. Hes probably able to play anywhere on the field that you put him. Hes played some centerfield, right field, left field, second base. Can probably play third base and first base and he can run a little bit. Hes very interesting.

OC: What did Skye Bolt work on during camp?

EM: We worked on some mechanical things with his hands, as far as his swing. I really like Skye. He has all of the tools in the world. Its just a matter of him being able to put it all together. I think the last couple of weeks he made some big strides trying to figure out where he wanted to have his hands in a position where he would feel comfortable. I think he really liked it and he had some really good at-bats the last couple of weeks. Skye is a freak. Great athlete. He can run. Strong arm. Its just a matter of putting things together.

OC: Is it hard with switch-hitters trying to make adjustments like that mechanically? If he finds a spot for his hands, does it translate for both swings?

EM: For him, I think it is a feel for both sides. I have worked with quite a few switch-hitters. Colin Walsh, for instance, was completely different from the right-side than he was from the left. I think Skye felt really good from the right side. It was a matter of finding a consistent spot for his hands on the left side, and I think he found it. He is in a place where he can have a little bit smoother load and transfer to get the bat-head out. That was a big thing for him.

OC: Was there anyone else that stood out to you that we havent discussed so far? 

EM: I really like Yerdel Vargas, one of the young Latin players that we have. He made some huge strides. I hate to attach names on guys, especially if they are just 16-years-old, but Liepp and I talked about it and [Keith] said it, so I can too because I was thinking the same thing, but he reminds us a little bit of Francisco Lindor. Smooth, tremendous athlete. Hes only 16 and stuff like that and he only hits from the right-side, but the kid is a natural out there at shortstop.

Josh Vidales made some strides. Hes another under-the-radar guy. Late-round pick and a senior, but this kid can really play some defense. Switch-hitter and he can hit a little bit. I really liked him.

Anthony Churlin, the high school kid that we took, I think this kid has a chance. Physical for a 19-year-old kid, has a good body, and he has that good sound you want to hear off of the bat. Not too many guys have it. I really like him.

I liked the camp. The camp in general was really good. It was really high energy, which was good. Sometimes you get these guys after they have played a season already and now they have to go to Instructs and you have to find ways to motivate them. Having a lot of those younger guys and the new draftees, this is their first experience with it and it was easy for us to go out there. They were ready to go. That was a lot more fun than trying to go out there and motivate guys who are in their second or third Instructs. It was awesome. I loved it and I enjoyed every minute of it. Im really excited about the crop of young guys that we have.

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