Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Bobby Cramer, P

One of the most intriguing stories in the Oakland A's system in 2007 was that of Bobby Cramer, who put together an outstanding season after being signed off of the streets in May. Cramer had been out of baseball for three seasons before joining the A's this year. He went 9-2 with a 2.77 ERA and advanced from High-A to Triple-A. We spoke with Cramer about his 2007 season and his thoughts on 2008.

Bobby Cramer had a 2007 season that seemed to be right out of a Hollywood story. The left-hander was a high school teacher and baseball coach, three years removed from his last season playing affiliated minor league baseball, when he signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A's in May.

Cramer made his A's debut with High-A Stockton, and he immediately found success. He wound-up making nine appearances (eight starts) for the Ports, going 4-1 with a 3.80 ERA in 45 innings before being promoted to Double-A Midland.

Cramer got off to a good start this season with Stockton.
His success continued with Midland, where he went 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 12 outings (seven starts). Overall, Cramer had a 2.77 ERA and a 91:20 K:BB ratio in 97.1 innings during the regular season. At the end of the season, Cramer was promoted once again, this time to Triple-A Sacramento, where he joined the team for the PCL and Triple-A playoffs. Cramer made only one appearance for the River Cats, as a starter for Game Five of the PCL semi-final series. He struggled in that outing, but gained valuable experience by being with the River Cats for the entire playoff schedule.

Cramer was planning to spend the off-season with the Aguilas de Mexicali of the Mexican Winter League. However, a sore shoulder shelved Cramer's Mexican Winter League season after only two starts. He is rehabbing his shoulder and looking forward to a strong season in 2008. We recently spoke to the left-hander.

OaklandClubhouse: I understand that you had some shoulder soreness while you were in Mexico. How is your arm feeling now?

Bobby Cramer: Yeah, the soreness was kind of hanging over a little bit from the season. My last three starts in Midland, it was bugging me pretty bad. And during that playoff start in Sacramento, it was bugging me then, too. I thought a little time-off after the season would make it go away, but when I got extended into the playoffs with Sacramento, it took about two weeks out of the time I was counting on to recover before heading down to Mexico. I thought I'd have about a month off, and I only ended up getting about two weeks. So it never really had a chance to go way, and, like an idiot, when I went down there, I threw 70-something pitches in my first start after not throwing in a game in awhile. The pain came right back and in my next start, it was even worse.

It really bothered me the most in-between starts. I felt it when I was doing everyday activities and when I was doing my bullpen work and long throws. When it was time to pitch in a game, it would loosen up just enough that I was able to pitch. Even though it didn't really hurt when I was pitching, I think it was affecting me somewhat because my control in my last few starts in the season was off and I was giving up more hits than I usually did.

OC: Are you just rehabbing at this point?

BC: There's a place called Sports Medicine Institute, SMI, right next to Anaheim Stadium that I went to when I had my Tommy John surgery and when I was scoped with Tampa. It's a great environment and they have good people. That's where Dr. [Lewis] Yocum sends a lot of his clients. There are a lot of big leaguers and minor leaguers and other pro athletes there rehabbing. It's a great place. They really know what they are doing. I'm there on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays right now for about an hour and a half to two hours.

I'm just getting to the point now where we are adding in more exercises. They were just trying to get all of the swelling down before. I have what I guess is called an internal impingement which I guess is that some of the tendons in my rotator cuff were rubbing on my shoulder, causing some irritation.

OC: So they expect that you will be fine with just rehab?

BC: I'm already feeling almost completely better. Obviously if I tried to play catch right now, it would bother me a little bit, but I was at the point where I would take a shower and I'd try to wash the right-side of my body and the whole back of my left shoulder would hurt. That's all gone now. I'm probably about a week away from not feeling any symptoms from it. I'm thinking in about a month, I'll be 100 percent. I'll be alright by spring training.

OC: Now that you've had almost a full season back in affiliated baseball, do you think this is a career that you want to pursue full-bore?

BC: Yeah. I've obviously played baseball my whole life and it's every baseball player's dream to make it to the major leagues. Even when I was out of baseball, I still felt like I should be playing and I felt like I had something to offer. Not so much to the game necessarily, but to a team to be able to help them. Now that I am back playing again, I feel like it is the right fit for me. I feel like I am meant to be playing, at least right now. I don't know if I have a long career ahead of me or anything. I'm just sort of going with it right now.

The way I see it now is that I was given a second opportunity this season and I took advantage of it. I feel like I put myself in a good position where I can go forward and going into spring training, now people know who I am. Now I can work hard to get ready for next season, which if I was still in Mexico, I wouldn't be able to put as much time in in the weight-room and stuff like that. I'm definitely happy that I am back.

OC: Are there things you are looking to add to your game this off-season or are you just continuing to work on things?

BC: One thing that I always regretted when I was with Tampa was I ended up spending too much time working out the wrong areas in the weight-room. I really want to focus on my legs and my core this off-season. There are guys who I have played with over the years who throw hard and they are able to maintain that velocity because they have a strong core and legs. I really want to focus on that. I want to get into pilates and yoga this off-season. I was talking to Mike Rogers when I was in Stockton and he was telling me that he did yoga and pilates last off-season and he was telling me that it was one of the best things that he'd ever done. When he showed up in spring training, he said he felt better than ever. So I hope to get into that.

I won't be able to get as many innings in this off-season as I would have if I was still in winter ball, and I really wanted to work on my change-up because that will be a big part of my game. If everybody is healthy next season and they stick me back in the bullpen, having not developed a change-up won't be as big of a deal. But if anyone gets hurt next year or if they are still looking at using me as a starter next season, I'm really going to need it.

But my main goal is just to get stronger. When I went into this season, I wasn't planning to play a whole season, so my workouts weren't geared up for that. Now that I know that I am going back, I'm really going to focus on getting stronger.

OC: I know that one start in the PCL playoffs probably didn't go as well as you would have hoped, but what was the entire experience of being with Sacramento during the playoffs like?

BC: It really reminded me of when I played baseball as a kid. It sort of sounds sad to say, but there is a different team atmosphere when you are younger playing Little League All-Stars and CIS and when I was at [Cal-State] Long Beach, making the playoffs. When you get to pro ball, guys are always coming and going and your team is always evolving. It is no secret that until you get to the big leagues, pro ball is not as team oriented. Even though being with Sacramento in the playoffs was still the minor leagues, it was just really fun and really exciting.

The first two games we lost in Salt Lake, and I was still so excited after the games. I was disappointed that we lost, and obviously I was still trying to acclimate myself to the team and get to know the guys, but just seeing how fired up they got and the atmosphere, just took me back to when I was playing and having so much fun as a kid. Not that baseball isn't fun now, don't get me wrong, but these guys made the atmosphere so great, it was fantastic.

OC: Did you feel like getting that chance to pitch in the playoffs was a nice reward for the season that you'd had?

BC: Oh, yeah. Definitely. When I first signed, my goal was to make it to Midland. I had never made it out of A-ball with the Devil Rays. To be honest, I only really had about three weeks of High-A experience with Tampa. When I got to Stockton, it was nice being in High-A because I had never really played a full season at that level, but at the same time, I'm 27 years old and wanted to get a taste of Double-A. I got there and then I had some success there, so then I was like ‘alright, maybe I shouldn't just be happy to be at Double-A. I should set my sights higher for this year.'

Not too many people move more than one level in one season. It usually takes a season like I had or like [Mike] Madsen had in order to do that. When I got promoted to Sacramento, I feel like part of it was rewarding me, but part of it was them having confidence in me because they didn't just send me up there to be a just-in-case guy out of the bullpen. They sent me up there to start Game Five, which means they had a lot of confidence in me. I wasn't nervous at all. I was happy to be there. I felt like it was a nice end to the season.

I feel like even though I only had two innings up there, in terms of pitching experience, I gained a lot of experience from just being around the guys and watching how guys with more experience go about their business.

OC: Has the team told you what your role will be next season?

BC: No. I was talking with Scott Emerson – Emo, our Double-A pitching coach, and the whole reason that Oakland signed me this year was because there were so many guys who got hurt. They needed someone to come in and be healthy. Emo told me that if everyone comes back healthy next season, there probably won't be a spot for me in the rotation next year. He said, ‘you'll probably go back to the bullpen. That is what you have always done before.' And he said ‘your pitching repertoire kind of matches that of a reliever, as a lefty who can come in and get lefties out. The nice thing is that you can get righties out, too, because you have the cutter. You maintain your velocity, but you don't really have a change-up, so that might fit better as a reliever, so don't be surprised if that is where they send you next season.'

I'm completely fine with that. As far as anything else, they haven't told me anything. I'm hoping that even though I have limited Triple-A experience that they give me an invite to big league camp. I'm always studying the competition. I'm a fan of the game, so I'm always following the other guys. [Alan] Embree and [Lenny] DiNardo are probably going to be [in the A's bullpen next season], and [Jerry] Blevins has a great shot at being there. Other than that, me and [Brad] Kilby are probably going to be at Triple-A. We both have a decent shot [at appearing in the big leagues next season] if we are putting up good numbers and someone gets hurt.

I'm hoping that I get an invite to big league spring training. Not so much because they are going to give me a legitimate chance to make the team, but just to kind of show them what I can do at that level and that I am not afraid to pitch there. That way if I go back to Sacramento, maybe I get off to a quick start and someone gets hurt or someone is not doing well, and there I am.

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