Off-Season Q&A With Ron Romanick, Part Two

Earlier this month, the Oakland A's named Ron Romanick the team's new major league bullpen coach. Romanick had spent the past nine years as the A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator. We recently spoke at length with Romanick about a range of topics. In part two of our discussion with Romanick, we discussed the top performers during the Instructional Leagues and some of the A's Dominican prospects.

Click here for part one of the interview.

OaklandClubhouse: Did any of the younger pitchers stand-out for you at the Instructional Leagues?

Ron Romanick: Yeah, definitely. Trevor Cahill, he was tremendous. Vince Mazzaro had a great Instructional League. Andrew Bailey was really good. We call it the "play-up league." There are a few things that we have the pitchers "play up" and work on the most during the Instructional League, so that they can take it to the next level during the next spring training, and these guys all did that.

Andrew Carignan, the first year player out of North Carolina, he made significant improvements during Instructional League. Among the first years, Travis Banwart was another guy who stood out. Our most improved pitcher was a reliever named Justin Friend.

We don't do a whole lot with our first years when they first start playing. Our main focus during their first season is for them to go out and throw. We first need to find out how tired they are and how much they have been used in school [before they play with mechanics] and we want to introduce them to our throwing program and keep them healthy. During the regular season, we don't try to teach them too much stuff because we really want to see what they have got. It's really an evaluation period for them. Once they get to the Instructional League, we can start breaking down their pitches and maybe work on something like a set-up issue, maybe move a guy to the other side of the rubber, those types of things. That really helped [Friend] out. It freed him up a little bit and he had a really nice Instructional League.

A few of the Latin program players did really well. Ronny Morla and Hector Garcia, two really tall pitchers, did a very nice job. The left-hander Pedro Figueroa had a very strong camp, as well. For the Latin program players, Instructional League is more about keeping them going. I believe they are going to go to the Dominican Instructional Leagues, and they will get some innings there and they'll keep working on what we started. We have all of our Dominican instructors over there to make sure that we are all on the same page.

I'm beaming because the last 35 innings we pitched [in the Instructional Leagues], we gave up one run. We changed some things this year. The early work that we do, we did more footwork and preparation work, and we did more meetings and less physical work because they are gassed at the end of the year. We tweaked the program a little bit and they really responded well to the meetings. They took what we did there with the documentation we did and we gave them a scouting report on what they were doing and what the other teams were doing and their tendencies and they took that out there and executed it. It really peaked during the last 35 innings, we ran the table. It's a credit to the kids. They were really gung-ho until the last pitch.

OC: I noticed that Ronny Morla had good numbers this year. What kind of pitcher is he?

RR: If you look at him, he is a very physically gifted kid. Himself and Hector Garcia, if you were going to draw-up an ideal pitcher from the Dominican, they would be it. They are both about 6'4'', 6'5'', they both have about 31'' waists and their arms are long. They both are leveraged and they have nice deliveries.

Morla pitched for the first time over here [in the US this year]. The numbers that I keep, I track the strikes. I have my own database and I ask the pitching instructors to track the strikes that the pitchers throw. Obviously the change-up is a big developmental pitch for them, along with locating the fastball. I have about eight years of the database, and I think he has the highest strike percentage of any Latin program player that I've ever had. Nineteen percent change-ups thrown, 65 percent strikes across the board, off-speed first pitch, everything. He just filled up the strike zone with quality.

He just did a great job this year. For a guy that's in his first year over here, there is a lot to deal with. They are dealing with the culture change and all of the issues that come with that. He has got a nice delivery and he throws in the low-90s. The positives just come and come and come. He had a really good year, and I am excited about him. We'll see what he does next year.

OC: What about Andrew Bailey? He obviously has that big fastball. What else do you see from him?

RR: He's like a mini-Curt Schilling. He kind of looks like him body-wise. He's big barrel chested and he has the same type of delivery. He can pitch up in the ‘zone with his fastball. It's a nice little rising fastball. He also has a nice breaking ball. He came to the Instructional Leagues to work on his change-up a little bit more because he really didn't get to it [during the season]. He can basically go out and pitch with his fastball to both sides of the plate.

Stockton is a tough place to pitch. It's not like the old Stockton park. It's probably the second or third most hitter-friendly parks in the Cal League now. So you have to adjust for that. Even with that, he did fine. He started the season in extended spring training because he had a little issue with his lat in the spring coming from the cold weather. So we kept him in extended, got him in shape and got him about 20 innings and he did great in the Midwest League and then did well with Stockton. Then he pitched about eight innings in Tucson [in Triple-A for Sacramento] at the end of the year. We kind of teased him about that every time he dropped a Triple-A reference on us. He would say, ‘well, this is what they do in Triple-A,' and we'd laugh and tell him that ‘you only have one game in Triple-A.' We have some fun with that.

He's really something. He's right on schedule. He's highly motivated and he's a student of the game. Those three kids [Bailey, Cahill and Mazzaro] all showed up to some of the Arizona Fall League games, which was impressive to me. I turn into a pumpkin at about eight or nine o'clock because I'm doing the double-duty [with the Instructional League and the AFL], and those guys would show up at some of the fall league games, which says a lot about their desire. I believe they think they can pitch across the street [at the AFL] right now. It's kind of fun to see that. They are scoping out the guys they are going to have to get out in a couple of years.

Bailey really turned it on. I'm excited to see him again. Hopefully, he'll prepare a little better for next year. He lives in New Jersey and it is cold, which makes it hard to prepare. I'm trying to get him to come out to Arizona a little earlier next year, so he doesn't have those issues [with his lat] next year. It's tough for those guys coming through the minor leagues because they don't make a lot of money right away, so trying to get them to come out here early into the warm weather is tough but important because spring training is so short. There is not much time to get it ready and get it going.

OC: Mazzaro is another New Jersey guy, right?

RR: Yeah, he is. But he came out early for spring training last year.

OC: Do you think that benefited him?

RR: I think so. We have tweaked the off-season throwing program to account for guys who are living in the cold weather. I just finished re-writing that to re-emphasize more distance throwing. Building up their base a little bit before they get up on the mound. We try to adjust that every year. If they can get out here in the warmer weather, it's even better. A lot of these guys don't have a chance to get much distance back east because there isn't much distance in those field houses. They don't even get up to 200 feet, so those guys get shorted that way. You've got to do what you've got to do. The facilities are open in Arizona for them. They just have to buddy-up and come out here together. We had about 10 guys do that last year. Hopefully, more guys will come this year and see the benefits of coming out here early.

OC: What do you see Mazzaro having to do to get to the next level?

RR: You have to keep in mind with him that he's a high school kid. You see them mentally and emotionally grow-up. You can't see that in a box score, but you see that in the day-to-day with their approach, their work in the gym and how they talk. Vinny turned 21 this year, so technically he's not a teenager anymore, but I have a 22 year old, so I would beg to differ. [laughs] His mind is still developing and growing up in baseball is a tough thing to do. The first couple of years in baseball can be a little overwhelming because they are teenagers. But they are gifted, so you have to allow for that development.

Vinny has great movement on his fastball. My issue with him is that he needs to throw more quality strikes with that fastball. He has a ton of swing-and-miss in his games, but his fastball percentages needed to come up, just the strikes. He needs to use that change-up a little bit more and perhaps use some subtraction off of that fastball. That will get his pitch count down a little bit because he has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game already.

If he has a chance to go to Double-A sometime next year, he'll need more quality strikes with his fastball. He's on the board now. He's pitched a season at High-A and he's experienced that. I just want to make sure that if and when he gets a chance to go to Double-A, it will be more about execution and not learning core things. He should have most of that down, and I think he does. Ideally, when our guys are competing against the best talent that the other organizations have to offer [in Double-A], they are focusing on executing what they already know and not learning. That's what we try to have set-up for those kids the first time they go to Double-A.

OC: Did Craig Italiano end up pitching in a game during the Instructional League, or did he just throw simulated games?

RR: He got into four games, I believe. He looks great. We took our time with him. Obviously, it is a little sensitive with him because of the line-drive [that struck Italiano in the forehead earlier in the year]. He did great. He's looking really good. He worked on some things and he's such a quick learner. He's just had no luck at all right now. I told him that I think his injuries both years were one day apart on the calendar. I told him that next year, on whatever that date is, he's not playing.

He looks great though. No ill effects and I think in his last two outings, he didn't give up anything. He left on a positive note. He's one of my favorite people here, and he looks really good. It's a tough thing that he went through with the line-drive and everything.

Check back later this week for the final part of our interview with Ron Romanick.

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