It was the second time in his brief pro career that Powell had torn his ACL. He missed the entire 2005 season after tearing his ACL during an off-season workout. The A's 2004 top pick has been productive when he has been healthy, however, and he has developed a reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues.
Powell, who turns 26 in mid-March, is optimistic that his latest injury won't keep him on the sidelines this spring and that he will have a chance to challenge for a spot on the A's Opening Day roster.
We recently spoke with Powell as he was traveling from his East Coast home to Phoenix in preparation for spring training.
OaklandClubhouse: First of all, I wanted to see how the rehab was going and how your knee was feeling?
Landon Powell: Great. I'm feeling really optimistic about it. I had the surgery around July 10th or 12th or something like that, so I think it has been a little more than six months. I think right now, I am where I was at with my last surgery at about 10 months. This is a much more accelerated rehab process. I am catching bullpens and hitting full speed and running and that sort of thing.
Landon Powell has developed a reputation as a top-notch defensive catcher.
OC: What did it mean to you to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season?
LP: It was great. It was a huge moment in my career. It meant a lot that they wanted to protect me and to keep me from being selected in the Rule 5 draft and they wanted to keep me in the organization. It feels like even though I have had these two injuries, they have plans for me in the future. That meant a lot to me and gave me some good motivation.
OC: How did this injury happen exactly? Was it during a game or was it just a freak accident?
LP: It was both. It was a play during a game and it was also kind of a freakish thing. I hit a flyball to centerfield and when I turned to run to first base, I pushed off of my left leg in the batter's box and it just tore. There is kind of no explanation for it. It just sort of happened.
OC: Was it easier to approach this rehab having gone through it once before?
LP: Yeah, in that regard, I knew what to expect so it was easier this time going into rehab, knowing what it was going to be like and what it was going to take and the challenges that were involved and the time it takes. You have to pretty much go [to rehab] every day. So that was easier in that regard.
But it was probably tougher this time because having already done it once and never wanting to do it again and having a great season last year and getting to Triple-A and feeling like I was getting really close to getting the call up, it kind of felt like I had my life-long dream of getting to the major leagues ripped away from me. So in that sense, it was mentally and emotionally a lot harder to have the injury. But once I started the rehab process, it wasn't that big of a deal.
OC: Obviously, you had a great season last year while you were healthy. It started off a little slow at Double-A and then really picked up. Were there adjustments that you made to get out of that slump?
LP: I've always been a little bit of a slow starter in college and everything. I'm one of those guys, the more I play, the more at-bats I get, the better I feel and the better I usually play. My best months in college were always towards the end of the season. This year, April was pretty tough for me in Midland. Part of it was just a slow start and part of it, I think, was as catchers, you don't get as many at-bats in spring training because you are always catching and things like that. When I went into the season, I was still trying to get a little bit of the rust off, hitting-wise.
But, yeah, I made some adjustments. Webby [Webster Garrison], the Double-A hitting coach, really worked hard with me. And [manager] Todd [Steverson] really worked hard with me. I was in a really good grove there for a couple of months.
OC: You had an amazing month in June [Powell had a .425 BA and a 1318 OPS]. Have you ever had a month like that in your career? What was it like to be in a groove like that?
LP: Yeah, I think in Stockton, I had a month like that where I really tore it up a little bit. [laughs] That was my first really extended great run in pro ball. Obviously in college, things like that happened a lot. It's funny, as a player, when you get into those grooves like that or you are really hitting the ball well, you feel like that is who you are as a player. I felt like finally I was playing like I was supposed to, whereas before, I always felt like I was underachieving.
I think as a player, you have a little bit higher expectations for yourself. When I started playing well there in late-May and into June, I was like, alright, finally I am playing like I need to and like I am supposed to. I felt like I was reaching my ability level.
OC: You had a lot of success in a limited amount of time with Sacramento. I know you probably weren't there long enough to really tell the difference between the two levels, but what was it like to reach Triple-A?
LP: It was great. I think I played four or five games and one of them was a 16-inning game. Once you get into it, the speed of the game is a little bit better [at Triple-A]. Everyone has a little bit more experience and has been around a little bit longer. It's a little bit more of a thinking man's game, I think, at the Triple-A level. That was the difference that I saw. At Double-A, guys have a lot of ability and great stuff, as far as pitching goes. The pitchers maybe aren't refined as much as they are in Triple-A. In Triple-A, their stuff may not be as great – their stuff is still great – but sometimes they are beating you with their mentality and things like that. That was kind of the difference. It was a little bit more of a chess game at Triple-A. I felt that way in terms of being a hitter and in terms of calling pitches as the catcher, I think it was a little bit more of a chess match.
OC: You've gotten a lot of praise for your defensive work behind the plate. Is that something that you take a lot of pride in? What kind of work goes into it?
LP: I think it is something that I have definitely taken a lot of pride in. My dad was a long-time ACC umpire and being an umpire, you get to mingle a lot with the catchers and things like that. He also played a little bit of catcher when he played ball. He always felt like defense was the way that catchers made it. That was the reason that I started catching in Little League at a young age. I played some shortstop and second base, as a kid. When I was 10 years old, I told my dad, ‘I want to play in the major leagues. That is my dream.' He said, ‘if you really want to do it, the best way is to be a switch-hitting catcher.' [laughs] He honestly believed that. I went out that winter and I started switch-hitting and I started catching. We have a batting cage in my backyard and I spent countless hours working out there – catching, blocking balls and starting to hit left-handed, things like that.
In college, Jim Toman was our assistant coach, and he was an All-ACC catcher at NC State. He really spent a lot of time working with me defensively. They always sort of figured that I would probably end up being a pretty good hitter, but they wanted to make sure that I was a pretty good defensive catcher first. So I have always prided myself on my defense and defense has always come first for me. There are a number of guys on the team who can hit, but you are the only guy who can control the game back there behind the plate as a catcher. You can save a lot of runs for your team, both calling the game and blocking balls.
OC: Did you pick up any new pointers last spring in big league camp when you were with all of those veteran catchers?
LP: Oh, definitely. Big league camp was a really great experience for me last year. Just to be able to watch Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse. Obviously, Kendall has had a really great career. He's been an All-Star and things like that, so getting to watch him was great. And we also had Mike Piazza there and he's a Hall of Famer. He didn't get to spend a lot of time with the catchers and things like that because he was a lot more focused on DHing, but it was still great to pick his brain. Talking with those guys and getting to watch them in action, it was a definite learning experience for me. You always try to be a sponge and learn from those around you, especially when those guys have had such great careers.
OC: Is there going to be a different feel at big league camp this year? The catching corps is really young with the veteran guys like Kendall, Melhuse and Piazza gone. Have you spoken with Kurt Suzuki or Rob Bowen about what it will be like this year?
LP: No, I haven't gotten the feel for what it will be like yet. I was drafted with Kurt and Kurt and I played in Vancouver together our first year, so I know what kind of player he is and I have been around him. He has definitely made a lot of strides and gotten a lot better as a catcher, especially defensively. He could always hit, but he's gotten a lot better as a defensive player. I don't really know Rob Bowen. We have the same agent, actually, so I've gotten to know him through my agent, just some things about him, so I am looking forward to actually meeting him and Justin Knoedler. Just going out there and breaking a sweat with all the guys and getting ready for the season.
I'm just really excited about Spring Training. Having the injury last year, flashes of your career in front of you, not knowing if you are ever going to play again when you first get hurt, I'm just really optimistic about my knee now. I'm excited and ready to start spring training. My goal is to make the team out of camp. I know that people don't expect me to do that, and people aren't really thinking that is a possibility, but my goal is to go camp and make the team out of camp.