Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Justin Knoedler, C

Although Justin Knoedler might be new to the Oakland A's, he isn't unfamiliar to them. Knoedler signed with the A's as a minor league free agent this off-season after seven years in the San Francisco Giants' chain, where he faced the A's in big league camp the past few seasons. We recently spoke to Knoedler about his impressions of A's camp, his experience with the Giants, his defense and more…

After a successful collegiate career as a two-way player at Miami of Ohio, Justin Knoedler was selected in the fifth round of the 2001 draft by the San Francisco Giants. He spent his pro debut season as a reliever, but made the switch to catching in 2002. The right-handed hitting catcher moved steadily through the Giants' organization, playing in Low-A in 2002, High-A in 2003, Double-A in 2004 and Triple-A in 2005. Along the way, he made his major league debut with San Francisco in 2004, appearing in one game for the Giants in October.

Justin Knoedler has a career .266 BA in 572 minor league games.
In 2005, Knoedler appeared in eight games in the major leagues and five more major league games in 2006. Over the past few years, he was one of the Giants' top catching prospects. A full-time opportunity never arose for Knoedler with San Francisco, however, as the Giants mostly chose to acquire veteran backstops such as Mike Matheny, Todd Greene and Bengie Molina rather than turn the position over to a younger player.

In 2007, Knoedler spent the entire year with Triple-A Fresno, and he turned in his best offensive season. In 302 at-bats, Knoedler hit .288 with an 816 OPS for the Grizzlies. The Illinois native is best known for his defense, however, having earned the reputation for having one of the best throwing arms among minor league catchers.

At the end of the 2007 season, Knoedler became a minor league free agent. He was pursued by a number of teams, and chose to sign with the A's. We recently spoke to Knoedler to get his initial impressions of playing "across the Bay," how camp was going and more…

OaklandClubhouse: How is your first camp with the A's going? How does it compare to your time with the Giants?

Justin Knoedler: So far, it's great. I've been meeting a lot of great guys. They said that there is something like 30 players putting an Oakland A's uniform on for the first time. So I'm not in it by myself, switching over to a new club. There are a lot of new faces getting to know the organization, so in that sense, it is good.

The catching instruction has been phenomenal so far. Not that it wasn't over with the Giants, but it seems like we do a whole lot more over here. But so far, so good. It should be an exciting year.

OC: How did you get interested in signing with the A's? Did they contact you pretty much as soon as you became a free agent?

JK: Yeah. This is my first season of free agency, this past off-season, so going into it, I was kind of nervous or interested to see what was going to happen. I knew that the Giants were still interested, but I knew that the opportunities were somewhat limited there over the past few years for me to be in the big leagues. There was a lot of interest and it seemed like the A's were the most genuine offer. As you can tell, they are starting to rebuild their minor league system, and it seems like they are going to be giving a lot more guys chances to be in the big leagues. They contacted me pretty quickly when they could, and it seemed like it was the best opportunity for me to sign with them.

OC: You had some time with the Giants in the big leagues over the past couple of years. Even though it wasn't an extended look, how did that time help you grow as a ballplayer?

JK: I think it helped me tremendously. I had the privilege to work under three catchers – A.J. Pierzynski was the catcher there the first time I got called up and then Mike Matheny and Bengie Molina, which are three of the better catchers in the big leagues – so as far as that, I learned quite a bit from each one of those guys. And, basically, it was helpful to get my feet wet. Getting the nerves out of the way from being up there for the first time and kind of learning that it is the same game no matter where you go. Minor leagues or major leagues, it is basically the same game. There is just a lot more consistency in the big leagues. You learn how to handle yourself and learn from the veterans and you put in a lot of work and when you have a chance to get in the game, you do your best.

OC: You came over to the A's organization with a reputation for being a very good defensive catcher. Do you take a lot of pride in your defense?

JK: Absolutely. I learned at a young age to work hard and as long as you give it your best shot, you can be content with the results. That is just something that I have always done. I work my tail off. Defense comes first, especially at the catcher's position. I'm glad that I am known not only for working hard, but for being one of the better defensive catchers. And whatever I can contribute with the stick is also a plus. But yeah, I am happy that I have worked hard and that I am considered a good defensive catcher.

OC: Have you spent a lot of time working with the pitchers in getting know them and what they throw? Has that process been difficult?

JK: I've spent a lot of time doing that, yeah. That is something that is going to be key for me this Spring Training being new to the organization. I have faced a lot of these guys. I just haven't called them. Getting to know each pitcher, what they like to throw, how they like to attack each hitter, and their sequences is something that I am going to have to spend a lot of time learning for each one of these guys. But I am willing to do that.

It's a comfort thing. The more you catch these guys, the more comfortable you are. I spent six seasons with the Giants, so I was comfortable with just about every single one of those guys. I'll spend the extra time here making sure that I am comfortable catching these guys when it comes time for me to catch them in the games.

OC: You mentioned that you worked with a number of veteran catchers with San Francisco. With the exception of Matthew LeCroy, all of the catchers in A's camp are relatively inexperienced at the major league level. Is that a different feel for you to be working with mostly younger catchers?

JK: It kind of is, but it is kind of nice. We are all in the same boat, so we can work together to try to improve in some of the areas that we need to improve on. One of the things that we didn't really do as much in the Giants' organization is to meet regularly with all of the pitchers and even just the catchers by ourselves. We'll meet together and go over some of the things we need to discuss here. We do our drills together.

Yeah, there is not a veteran presence like a Mike Matheny, who is probably the best catcher in the game defensively. He's not there to tell us how he does it, but we can kind of go through it together. Our catching instructor, Don Wakamatsu, is phenomenal. He's been around some good organizations and he handles the catching instruction really well. But I think it is a good thing that we are all young and can go through this all together.

OC: You began your career as a pitcher, right?

JK: I did. I got drafted in the fifth round as a pitcher and I went to short-season and pitched probably 30 innings. I had a lot of success there pitching, actually. I was just a max-effort guy. I threw everything as hard as I could. It came down to it that I caught in college and the Giants liked me as both a catcher and a pitcher and they let me make the decision. I'm a guy who likes to be in there every day. Playing once or twice a week or every fifth day wasn't something that I was really wanting to do. So I put on the [catching] gear and it has worked out well for me thus far. I have gotten a little taste of the big leagues and hopefully I can make a push to play in the big leagues for awhile.

OC: You had a good season at the plate last year with Fresno. Were there any adjustments that you made that helped you to put up those numbers at Triple-A?

JK: I think it is just something that I have improved on every year, to tell you the truth. I did go play winter ball for the first time the off-season before last. I think that helped me to get going a little bit. Down there, it is the same game, but it is a little bit different pitching and you really have to be able to handle the bat. I didn't really have a lot of success down in the Dominican League, but I think that got me ready for the upcoming season. I had a great hitting coach in Fresno all year – Jim Bowie – and he's a guy who really keeps things simple. I think that is what really helped me last year. Not making it too complicated and just slowing things down and swinging the bat. I just kept things simple and I think that is what helped me be successful.

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