Oakland A's Q&A: Travis Buck, OF

A year ago at this time, Scout.com named Travis Buck the Oakland A's top prospect. Now after a successful rookie season for the A's, Buck is expected to be one of the key players on the 2008 team. We spoke with Buck this week about his rehab from his elbow injury, his thoughts on his rookie season, his efforts to remain healthy next season and his expectations for the A's upcoming trip to Japan.

Coming into spring training in March, Travis Buck was expected to start the 2007 season with Triple-A Sacramento with the thought that he might be ready for the major leagues some time during the second half of the season. Thanks to injuries to Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson during spring training, an opportunity opened for Buck to make the major league team out of spring training. He grabbed hold of that opportunity, batting .339 with a 933 OPS during spring training, and he won a spot on the A's 25-man roster at the start of the season.

Buck hit .339 during spring training to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Buck was inserted into the starting line-up on Opening Day, playing in front of friends and family in Seattle at Safeco Field. He collected his first hit – a double – off of Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in his second major league at-bat. Later that month, he would score a walk-off run in the extra-innings of an April 13th game versus the New York Yankees.

Buck hit only .190 during the month of April, but he exploded in May, batting .352 with four homers. One of those homers came on May 1, when he hit a two-run homer off of Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to tie a game at Fenway Park that the A's would eventually win in extra-innings. Buck finished his rookie season with a .288 BA and an 851 OPS. He also played surprisingly strong defense in the outfield for the A's. The only blemish on Buck's rookie season was his health. A variety of ailments limited the former Arizona State star to 82 games. His season ended in August when bone chips in his elbow had to be removed.

We spoke to the talented A's outfielder about his health, his thoughts on his rookie season and more…


OaklandClubhouse: How is your elbow feeling?

Buck's stay in the minor leagues was a short one.
Travis Buck: My elbow feels great. I completed my rehab at about the end of November. Now I am in my regular routine of lifting without a problem, so it feels really good right now.

OC: Are you back to your regular throwing and all of that stuff?

TB: I'm going to start my throwing program in January, but right now I am just lifting according to our off-season program without any restrictions and limitations. It feels really good to be ready to start throwing in January.

OC: Was the elbow problem something that you had played with for awhile or was it something that came on towards the end of your season?

TB: Actually, I've felt the restriction [in my elbow] for probably the past couple of years. It finally started to really affect me this past year. We were trying to put it off and wait to have the surgery until after the season was over, but a couple of the loose bodies – the bone chips – broke-off and kind of got stuck in a place where it sort of locked my elbow out, so we obviously had to do the surgery a little bit earlier than we had expected.

OC: Injuries aside, it was obviously a very exciting year for you. Going back to spring training, at what point did you feel like you really had a shot to make the team on Opening Day?

TB: When the unfortunate injury to Dan Johnson came about, it kind of opened up a spot because they were thinking about having Nick Swisher play first base. I didn't really know that I had a chance to make the team at that point. I was still just going out there without any pressure and was trying to do the best that I could do to show them that I could compete at that level. As spring training kind of wound down, I was still up there and was playing every day and the thought kind of crossed my mind that I might make the team out of spring training. Fortunately enough, I did.

OC: What was that first game like for you? I know you are from that area. What was it like to be out there at Safeco Field?

TB: Oh, unbelievable. I didn't really look at the schedule until a day or two before the final cuts were made and I noticed that we were opening up in Seattle, a couple of hours away from home. I thought, what better way to begin my big league career than in my home state in front of my friends and family who watched me grow-up. It was very surreal. It was an unbelievable feeling and a memory that I'll never forget.

Buck scored the winning run versus the Yankees in April.
OC: You had a couple of big moments during the first six weeks or so of the season – scoring that winning run in extra innings against the Yankees and hitting that game-tying homerun off of Jonathan Papelbon in Boston. Which was your favorite moment or is it hard to pick one over the other?

TB: Those were probably the two most memorable moments for me this past year. Ever since I was a little kid, I was a Yankees fan, so playing against guys that I idolized – Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly, who was coaching with the Yankees at that time – and then winding-up scoring the winning run against them, it was pretty surreal. It was also cool having been a Yankees fan growing up to get the game-tying homerun off of Papelbon in Boston in the top of the ninth. That was probably the biggest highlight, just to get that hit in that atmosphere, in front of that crowd, obviously against one of the best closers in the game was pretty special.

OC: Was it interesting to watch the World Series this year and see Papelbon be so lights out and think, hey, I got that guy?

TB: Yeah, the thought definitely crossed my mind that he was a guy that I had a good memory off of, especially when he was lights out. Another thing about the World Series was watching guys that I had played against like Jacoby Ellsbury – I played against him in college – and one of my college teammates, Dustin Pedroia, have a great World Series was obviously really special. I'm still really close to Dustin, I talk to him all of the time, so just to see his great season end with a World Series ring, I couldn't have been more happy for him.

OC: I know that the season didn't go as well as you guys would have hoped, but were there any positives that you took out of having so many young guys come up during the season to get their feet wet such as Kurt Suzuki?

Buck celebrates one of Suzuki's game-winning hits.
TB: Absolutely. A whole bunch of the guys that I played with in the minor leagues made it up there this year. With me being up there from the start of the year and then having guys come up throughout the year like Danny Putnam and especially Kurt Suzuki, who I really became good friends with, was great. Having [Suzuki] come up and play really well and having a chance to live with him for the remainder of the season was fun. It was great to see those guys come up and really show what they could do. We've been through a lot together in the minor leagues and to have them come up and have us reach the ultimate goal together was obviously something really special.

OC: You got to bat a lot of lead-off this season in the major leagues, which is something I don't think you did a lot of in the minor leagues. Did you have to adjust your approach at the plate to bat lead-off or did you maintain the same approach you used when you were hitting second or third?

TB: I was really shocked when [Oakland A's manager] Bob [Geren] inserted me in there. They told me not to change my approach at the plate just because I was batting lead-off, to keep the same approach. I definitely embrace it. I love batting lead-off. It seemed like every time I got on-base, I scored, so I loved setting the table and having all the big boys behind me and driving me in. It's something where, we'll see where they put me this year, but if they put me back in the lead-off spot, I'll definitely embrace it.

Buck improved his defense this season.
OC: When we spoke last year, you said that your defense was the part of your game that you needed to improve the most, but it seemed like when you got to the big leagues, you were able to handle the corner outfield spots well. Do you feel like your defense was something that improved this season?

TB: Absolutely. Like I said before, that was definitely something that I had to improve on. I worked pretty extensively with our outfield coach, Tye Waller, during spring training and throughout the season. It really helped me talking to him about certain situations. Also, just watching and talking to guys like Mark Kotsay and Shannon Stewart and Nick Swisher, guys who were out there every day having success defensively, really helped me. Getting a chance to play all three positions out there and playing them pretty well, I was really pleased with how my defensive game has progressed.

OC: There had been some talk that you might see some time in centerfield next season. Is that something that you are preparing for or do you feel comfortable in centerfield already?

TB: When they gave me the opportunity, I loved playing out there. I know that my speed is definitely under-estimated. I have been working really hard on getting good jumps and I know that I can handle it. If the opportunity arises where they want me to be out there again, I feel like I have as much confidence as I would playing in left or right. Whatever they feel is best for the team is what I am up for. Hopefully I'll get the chance to show them what I can do in spring training, and we'll take it from there.

OC: Is there anything that you are looking to improve on for next season?

TB: Yeah, just the grind. Being out there every single day. Being healthy. When I was hurt, I watched a lot of the guys who pretty much played every day, like Shannon Stewart and Nick Swisher, just to see what they did every day to prevent certain injuries and how they took care of their business. Those guys are playing every single day. It's a tough grind on us players and those guys are out there playing every day at a high level. I'm doing a whole bunch of stuff towards injury prevention that will hopefully allow me to be out there every day.

OC: Were the injuries something you guys talked about last season? I know that members of the front office have talked about monitoring the injury situation in the off-season to see if some of the injuries can be prevented. Is that something that the guys are conscious of?

TB: Yeah, it was kind of a crazy year because so many guys got hurt. It's probably something that won't ever happen again that happened to us this past year. You've got to take all of the precautionary steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I know that the organization is coming down pretty hard and making sure that we all come into spring training healthy and continue that throughout the year. I think that is a great step because we obviously don't want to have that many guys injured, key guys that really help the team when they are out there. We are all taking it very seriously and hopefully it will definitely pay off for us next year.

OC: I know you guys are slated to go to Japan to start the season. Are you looking forward to that trip and have you ever been there before?

TB: I'm really excited. I got a chance to go overseas and play in Japan when I was a sophomore in college and I was with Team USA. It was a great atmosphere. The fans over there are really into the game and it was a really good time. We get to play in the Tokyo Dome against the Red Sox and have that place packed, it's going to be a great experience. I know that all of the guys are looking forward to it.


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