Cramer Hasn't Missed A Beat In Return To Pros

One of the biggest surprises in the Oakland A's system this season has been left-hander Bobby Cramer. Cramer, who signed with the team as a minor league free agent in May, has compiled a 7-1 record and a 2.73 ERA for Stockton and Midland this season. His road back to affiliated baseball has been unorthodox. We recently spoke with him about his journey and his time with the A's.

For the past two seasons, Oakland A's scout Craig Weissman had been working on getting Bobby Cramer, a left-hander from Southern California, to sign-on with the A's as a minor league free agent. Weissman had signed Cramer out of Long Beach State for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in 2003. After two-plus seasons with the Devil Rays, Cramer was cut despite posting ERAs of 3.55 or better during all three of his professional seasons. Weissman, who had since joined the A's scouting staff, tried with no avail before the 2006 and 2007 seasons to get Cramer to sign with Oakland.

Since being released from the Tampa Bay organization, Cramer had started a new life outside of baseball. His first year away from the game he worked for Shell Oil. However, Cramer found that he missed being around baseball and being around people his own age, so he changed career paths and began substitute teaching and coaching high school baseball. One of Cramer's first teaching jobs was a long-term substitute position teaching pre-algebra and algebra to students in the continuing education program. This past year, he had been substitute teaching physical education and special education and had been serving as the pitching coach for his high school alma mater.

"I love being around the kids [while teaching] and I love that you can also coach and make a little extra money doing that. When I was working for Shell Oil, I was working out in Carson, CA, for about a year and for the most part everybody was in their 50s and on the verge of retiring. The whole time, I missed being around people my age and around the game," Cramer said.

"Being able to teach and coach is definitely something I'd like to do full-time when I am done with baseball."

Cramer had pretty much resigned himself to being done with professional baseball when Weissman called him in mid-May to see if he would be willing to join the A's organization mid-season. The A's had had a number of injuries strike their minor league pitching ranks and they were looking for immediate pitching help.

"I was pretty discouraged with Tampa because I felt like my numbers were good and they let me go anyway. I didn't want to risk quitting my job and going to spring training and then being released," Cramer said about why he had resisted Weissman's efforts to have him sign with Oakland earlier.

"My [high school] season ended and [Weissman] called me up on a Wednesday morning and told me that the A's were looking for some help and by Friday night I was in Stockton pitching. The timing of it and the fact that I didn't have to try-out and possibly get released made a big difference. They said they wanted me and they were going to throw me in right away and that helped me make-up my mind, that's for sure."

Although Cramer had left professional baseball on a sour note, it didn't take long for him to feel back at home on the field.

"I still remember the first day I was out there [in Stockton] shagging fly balls during batting practice. I just couldn't believe I was back where I was. I was smelling the food cooking in the stands and I was out on a beautiful ball field and I was just happy to be there," Cramer said.

Cramer's transition into the Stockton clubhouse was made easier by the fact that he already knew two of the players on the team. Josh Alliston, who was part of the Stockton bullpen when Cramer arrived, had been Cramer's college roommate at Long Beach State. In addition, Ports' shortstop Justin Sellers had been neighbors with one of Cramer's best friends when Cramer was in high school.

"Sellers was a little kid back then and he'd want to go swimming with us and hang out when we were in high school," Cramer said laughing.

"[Alliston and Sellers] had an apartment together along with Jeff Muessig and Eric Sheridan, so they took me in and I just took off from there. I really got along with everyone in Stockton."

It helped that Cramer had an immediate positive impact on the Ports' pitching staff, as well. In his first outing for the Ports, Cramer came on in relief and struck out six batters in only 2.2 innings. In his next outing, he threw six innings as a starter and allowed only one run. Cramer wound-up appearing in nine games for the Ports, eight as a starter, and he posted a 4-1 record with a 3.80 ERA in 45 innings. The lefty struck out 41 and walked only 10 for the Ports.

That performance earned Cramer a promotion to Double-A Midland on July 4th. It was Cramer's first time at the Double-A level, as he had never progressed higher than High-A while with the Devil Rays organization. Although Cramer had been mostly a starter in Stockton, he was used initially out of the bullpen for the Rockhounds. He once again found immediate success with his new team. In five relief appearances for the Rockhounds, Cramer allowed no runs and only six hits and one walk in nine innings. He struck out 12 over that span.

Cramer was recently moved into the Rockhounds' starting rotation and the results have been equally impressive. In two starts, Cramer has allowed only one run in 12 innings. He has won both games and has struck out eight while walking one. Overall for Midland, Cramer has a 3-0 record and an 0.43 ERA in 21 innings pitched.

"When I got here, [Midland pitching coach] Scott Emerson told me that I was live that night out of the bullpen. He said, ‘you are going to be coming out of the bullpen for now.' I took that as there was a chance that I would be coming out of the rotation in the future, but it was not set in stone yet," Cramer said.

"I don't know if me pitching well allowed them to make a move or if they were just looking for me to get my feet wet in the bullpen to see how I would do before they moved me into the rotation. I think the fact that I handled myself well in relief gave them the confidence to throw me out there [in the rotation]."

Cramer credits catcher Anthony Recker, who was promoted from Stockton to Midland around the same time as Cramer, for playing a big part in Cramer's transition to Double-A.

"[Recker] caught pretty much every one of my games when I was in Stockton, so having him behind the plate when I got up here made it feel like nothing had changed," Cramer said.

"He knew my pitching style and he's good at studying the hitters and he calls a good game. He's helped me make a really smooth transition."

Despite his dominating numbers thus far with Midland, Cramer has noticed a definite increase in the level of competition from Single-A to Double-A.

"The hitters, they don't miss as much as they do in Stockton. There are a number of pitches that I got swings and misses on down there that they don't miss here," Cramer said.

"My last start, stat-wise it looked like a really good game, but they squared me up about seven or eight times when they hit it right on the screws. Having a nice defense really helped me. The hitters' eyes are a lot sharper up here."

Cramer arrived in the A's organization with a fastball in the mid- to high-80s, a cutter and a curveball.

"My fastball, my cut fastball and my curveball have always been my bread-and-butter. I can pretty much throw those at any time for a strike," Cramer said.

On the season, Cramer has allowed only 72 base-runners and he has a 61:12 K:BB ratio in 66 innings for Midland and Stockton. However, he recognizes that he'll need to add a few more pitches to his arsenal to continue his climb through the minor league ranks. In particular, Cramer is looking to add a change-up, a pitch that the A's value highly.

"I was a reliever with Tampa and I was pretty much a reliever during my college career. I never really had to develop a change-up because I rarely had to go through the line-up twice. Now that I am a starter, it is really showing me that I need a change-up," Cramer said.

"Pretty much all of my bullpen sessions have involved me throwing a lot of change-ups and two-seam fastballs. I need something to make my fastball a little harder. I don't throw in the 90s so I need that change-up.

"[His pitching coaches with the A's] have told me, ‘your cutter is a lethal pitch and you use it so much that they get too many looks at it and they start to make adjustments on it.' They said. ‘if you can establish your fastball outside and throw that change-up, it'll make that cutter even more effective.' The fact that I am working on those things and still managing to have success is really pleasing to me."

Despite his work in side sessions, Cramer knows he has a long way to go to master the change-up. His coaches have told him to throw the change-up in low-pressure situations for now, i.e. when there are no runners on-base or when he is ahead in the count. Cramer plans to put in a lot of work this off-season on the change-up so that he can come into spring training next season with more confidence in the pitch.

"I'm going to throw only two-seamers, four-seamers and change-ups [this off-season] and I will continue that up through spring training. Even if my results [next spring] aren't what they are right now, they'll know that I can get outs and they'll see that I am working on those pitches and then I'll work my cutter and curveball back in once the season starts," Cramer said.

"The A's are a big fastball-change-up organization and I have been told that since before I got here, but they are also a big organization on getting outs and I'll try to mesh the two together before the start of next season. Especially the higher I go, the more I'll need that change-up."

Cramer's time with the A's organization this season has re-awakened his dream of playing major league baseball, a dream he had all but abandoned after his experience with Tampa Bay.

"When I got released, it was pretty disheartening because when I was there, my numbers were good. I spent the last two years watching games on TV and I had season tickets for the Angels last year and I got tired of watching guys who I felt like couldn't compete as well as I knew I could," Cramer said.

"Then getting back out here and performing like I have after not throwing to professional hitters in two years has really reaffirmed to me that I can compete at this level and maybe there is a future for me."

Cramer sees himself fitting much better with the A's organization than he did in Tampa. According to Cramer, when he was with Tampa, their organizational emphasis for pitchers was focused primarily on throwing hard.

"When I was with Tampa, I was at A-ball, so the stats weren't as important to them as the stuff that they saw with you. They were really hard on me about velocity and telling me that I needed to throw harder," Cramer said.

"Basically, that is why I got released. I had had arthroscopic surgery going into spring training of '05 and I was only throwing 84, 85 in spring training and they cut me loose. Guys would be getting their butts kicked [in Tampa] and all they would care about was how hard they had thrown that day. I have never been a speed guy anyway. I have always been a stuff guy, so it didn't bode well for my abilities."

Cramer sees a big difference in the coaching philosophy within the A's organization.

"The A's are more of the mind that ‘hey, you guys go get outs and keep your pitch count down and keep your team in the ballgame and we'll reward you for it.' They have rewarded me by promoting me and putting me in the rotation and I love it," Cramer said.

Cramer also believes that the attitude of the players in the A's organization is a lot better than what he experienced with Tampa.

"It's a lot more enjoyable team atmosphere in Oakland than it was in Tampa. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of bitterness with guys when I was in Tampa," Cramer said.

"You had guys like Elijah Dukes who really made the clubhouse pretty uncomfortable and a lot of young guys who were fighting each other, trying to get out of A-ball. Now that I am in High-A and Double-A, everybody is a lot older and more mature. It is a lot more enjoyable."

Once the minor league season is over, Cramer plans to go back home to Southern California and continue substitute teaching and coaching high school pitchers. He will also give pitching lessons at a local batting cage.

"Probably the only thing that will change [from his normal schedule at home] is that I will spend a lot more time on myself with training and diet and putting time in the weight room," Cramer said.

Like all players who sign with an organization as minor league free agents, Cramer will be a free agent at the end of the season. The A's will have exclusive rights to sign Cramer up until October 15th, after which time he will be free to sign with any team, including the A's. Cramer is hoping that he has the opportunity to re-sign with the A's.

"I don't know all of the circumstances yet. I haven't been in this situation before, I'm looking to find an agent right now to help me with those things, but I really would like to re-sign with Oakland. I couldn't be happier with the way they have treated me and with the organization," Cramer said.

"I have known since I was in high school and college that Billy Beane likes drafting college players and that they have that maturity level and are that much closer [to the big leagues] and I fit into his mold. I am pitching my butt off trying to please them and hopefully I will have a chance to do it again next year."

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