UCR Coach On A's First Pick Simmons

With their first pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, the Oakland A's selected UC-Riverside right-hander James Simmons. We spoke to Simmons' UCR head coach, Doug Smith, to find out more about the A's newest arm.

Oakland A's 2007 first round pick James Simmons finished his junior season at UC-Riverside with an 11-3 record and a 2.40 ERA in 123.2 innings. The lanky right-hander struck-out 116 and walked only 15 in 2007.

We spoke to the college head coach of the A's newest first round pick on Thursday.

OaklandClubhouse: What does James throw right now?

Doug Smith: James is essentially a two-pitch pitcher right now: fastball and change-up. He'll pitch anywhere from 88 to 93 MPH. His biggest strength is his command. He has as good of command as anyone I have ever been around. He can throw it dead-on where he is looking the vast majority of the time.

He is extremely competitive and extremely poised. He has a really good mound presence and he is used to winning. He has done a lot of winning.

OC: From the scouting reports, it seems that he has great off-speed pitches. Is that accurate?

DS: The change-up is his primary off-speed pitch, but there is a slider and he'll throw a curve-ball in there. Those both need to be developed a little bit more fully, but he is such a good athlete that I would suspect that would happen fairly quickly for him.

OC: What sort of development did he do in the three years he was in your system?

DS: His velocity has improved a lot. When we signed him out of high school, his velocity was 86-87 miles per hour. He has gotten a couple of inches taller and maybe 20 pounds heavier and has added a significant amount of velocity.

His durability has improved also. He went out and threw 123 innings this season and he was as effective in the first inning as he was in the last inning.

The most significant numbers with James are that he struck out 116 batters and walked 15. That is just an incredible percentage.

OC: Do you see him as a starter long-term?

DS: Yeah, I do. I think that is what he is best suited for. He is a big, durable guy and I think that is where he will end up fitting, but the A's will know best where he fits in. They'll do what's right for him within the organization.

OC: Were there a lot of scouts following James all season?

DS: Yeah, when James was pitching this year, the place was full. We saw Craig Weissman a lot, who is the area scout down here [for the A's], and we saw Ron Vaughn a lot, who is the A's national cross-checker. We kind of thought that James would fall in that slot between 20 and 28 and so he went right where he was projected.

We are still in school. We have one week left and then a week of finals, but I know that he is looking forward to getting started and I would suspect that that would happen relatively quickly.

OC: What do you think he'll have to work on the most as he makes that next jump?

DS: I think he is probably going to have to spend a little bit more time working on the slider-curveball combination, whichever the A's player development people decide will be the right pitch for him. The slider/curve is probably something he is going to have to spend some more time on because the fastball and change-up are plus pitches with plus command. If he is able to add that third pitch, he should be able to move through the organization at a fairly rapid pace.

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