If there was an award for "Most Improved Prospect," Marcus McBeth would probably have it on his mantle. The South Carolina native went from being a project pitcher who was making the difficult conversion from outfielder to pitcher at the beginning of the season to arguably the A's best relief prospect by the end of the year. The right-hander served as the closer for the AA-Midland Rockhounds for much of the season, racking up 25 saves for the Rockhounds. He also saved seven games for High-A Stockton at the start of the year and spent some time in May with AAA-Sacramento. All told, McBeth finished the year with 32 saves and 86 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He held opposing batters to a paltry .198 average this season.
After his big 2006 season, the A's selected McBeth to play in the annual prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League. He quickly began earning raves from scouts at the AFL for his poise on the mound and his outstanding change-up. McBeth served as the Phoenix closer for most of the AFL season and he struck out 11 while walking only three in 10 innings of work for the Desert Dogs. He also earned the save in the AFL's "Rising Stars Showcase," which made its debut this season. He held AFL hitters to a .194 batting average, an impressive number in a notorious hitter's league.
On Monday, McBeth was added to the Oakland A's 40-man roster, a move which protects him from being drafted in the Rule 5 draft in December. It also puts McBeth in a position to come to major league spring training camp in 2007, possibly to compete for a spot in the A's bullpen. We caught up with the hard-throwing right-hander as he was decompressing from his outstanding season to find out his feelings on being added to the 40-man roster, his thoughts on the AFL season, his progression as a pitcher and more…
OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on being added to the 40-man roster! What does that move mean to you?
Marcus McBeth: It was a big shock. I felt like it was like the draft all over again, in a lot of ways. Your career really starts over again at this point. It's like a dream come true to be on the roster and that much closer to making it to the big leagues. At the same time, I don't want to be one of those players who is just on the roster. I'm going to work as hard as I can so that I can contribute to the Oakland A's.
OC: Will this spring be your first spring training with the major league team?
MM: When I played in the outfield, they'd sometimes call us over to fill in [major league spring training games], but I've never been invited to big league camp before. It will be my first exposure to them at camp as a pitcher. I have a ton of respect for those guys and I'll be working to make as good of an impression as I can. I know a lot of the people over there already, so it should be a good experience.
OC: What was your AFL experience like?
MM: Towards the end of the season, guys were starting to get a little tired, but it was amazing because you get in a situation [in the AFL] where they bring in guys from all walks of life and all different organizations together to play on one team and the chemistry we ended up with was really great. It's all about having fun, really. The coaches didn't have to prod us into playing even though we were tired. Guys just came together and we kept winning up through the end. It was great.
OC: You got to play for [Phoenix and Sacramento manager] Tony DeFrancesco earlier this season. Do you think you've improved since the last time he saw you?
MM: I think so. I went to Sacramento sometime in May, I believe, and I felt like I really needed to work on my control when I was there. I learned there that you can't get away with leaving pitches over the plate because the hitters [in AAA] are going to take advantage of you if you miss your spots. Command is a big thing.
I was still pretty young pitching-wise when I was in Sacramento, so I felt like I had a lot to learn still. The second time he saw me in the AFL, I think that my command was a little better. I've had a very quick learning process [as a pitcher] and I think I can make even more improvements as I get more experience and continue to work.
OC: What has the transition from position player to pitcher been like for you?
MM: You know, one of the things that I think makes pitching a little bit easier is that you always know what's coming. When you are a hitter, you are really guessing at what the pitcher is going to throw. However, when I'm on the mound, I can decide how I want to control the game and where I want to put the ball. I can have a real game plan out there in terms of what pitch to throw in what count and where to put that pitch. When you are a hitter, you really don't have time to think about all of that stuff before you have to decide to swing. I also get to control the tempo of the game when I am on the mound.
The most difficult thing about pitching is that you have to execute what your plan is. I might decide that I am going to throw a fastball inside to a hitter, but if I miss my spot, I'm going to be in trouble. This year, I learned a lot about what pitches to throw in what situations.
OC: Your change-up has created a lot of buzz among scouts this season. How do you hide it so well from the hitters and how hard was it to learn how to throw?
MM: In terms of hiding [the change-up] well, it's all about keeping the same arm speed and the same throwing motion. You have to trust your grip and really throw the ball the same way that you would throw your fastball.
In terms of how I developed the change-up, it was really all about throwing it every day. I worked on my change-up literally every day for at least a month with [Oakland A's Pitching Coordinator] Ron Romanick. He had me go out there and we would experiment with different grips until I was completely comfortable with it. He told me the most important thing was to find that grip that I liked and feel for it each time. With my slider, I was afraid to throw it too much at first because I didn't want to be one of those guys who over-rotates on the slider and ends up hurting his arm. Eventually, I got comfortable with it and it has become a pitch I can use.
OC: Do you feel like you have pretty good command of all three of your pitches [fastball, change-up and slider] now?
MM: When I get tired, my breaking ball and my change-up tend to get away from me and I have to rely on my fastball. I need to work on my fastball location because when I don't have my breaking ball or change-up working, I really need to be able to locate that fastball well. When I am throwing well, though, I feel like I have all three of my pitches working.
OC: I was following the AFL games on-line and I noticed that you were taken out of your last appearance early. Did you get hurt or was it just a precautionary move?
MM: Fatigue. I came into [the AFL season] really wanting to win and they were trusting me with the ninth inning. I didn't want to let any of the guys on the team down. If that meant pushing myself then that's what I wanted to do to win. I think I just maxed my arm out. In that last game, I didn't feel any pain or anything, I just felt like I couldn't get my arm through the throwing motion like I should be able to, so we shut it down. I think it was just dead arm because there wasn't any pain.
OC: That's good to hear! So what are your plans for the off-season? Are you taking time off before starting your throwing program?
MM: Yep, my wife and my daughter and I are heading back home to South Carolina for a few weeks for the holidays. When I get back [to Arizona], I'm going to dedicate myself to working out and getting myself in the absolute best shape possible for the spring. I'll probably start my throwing program in January and hopefully I'll be in great shape for the start of camp.