Spring Q&A With Pitching Coach Garvin Alston

In 2008, Garvin Alston got to work with a collection of young arms at High-A Stockton that was the envy of pitching coaches throughout the California League. This year he will be taking on a new role in the A's minor league coaching staff. We caught-up with Garvin from spring training to discuss his new role and some of the pitchers that he worked with at Stockton last season.

Garvin Alston has been working with some of the Oakland A's top pitching prospects over the last several years. From 2005-2006, Alston served as the pitching coach for the Low-A Kane County Cougars. He was promoted to High-A Stockton in 2007 and spent two seasons as the Ports' pitching staff. This year, Alston will be transitioning to a new position in the A's minor league coaching staff. He will be serving as the minor league coordinator for rehabilitations for pitchers. His role will have him working with pitchers throughout the A's system, as well as rehabs with some of the A's major league hurlers.

We spoke with Alston on Monday after the first day of minor league camp to find out more about his new position and to get his thoughts on some of standout 2008 Ports' pitchers.

OaklandClubhouse: Were you working at big league camp [Monday], or were you at minor league camp for the opening day there?

Garvin Alston: A little bit of both. I started off at the minor league camp and gave a couple of lectures and then I headed off to the major league side.

OC: What does your new position going to entail this year? Are you going to be traveling to all of the different affiliates throughout the year?

GA: Yes. Keith Lieppman [A's Director of Player Development] will assign me occasionally to go out to different areas whenever other coaches are either taking a vacation or if they need me to work with someone directly, then they'll ship me out.

OC: What drew you to this position as opposed to the pitching coach slot that you had filled the past couple of years?

GA: It was kind of weird how it happened. I guess between Gil [Patterson, A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator], Keith and the front office, they were trying to explore different avenues to help us out with the health issue.Recently, especially over the past three or four years, we have been having injury issues with the Oakland A's. With that being said, they talked about creating this position and Gil Patterson actually had this position, I believe, when he was with the Yankees. He recommended me for it. It was also kind of convenient with me already living in Arizona. It worked out great.

OC: In terms of the injury management, are you going to be putting pitchers on a particular program or is it going to be more on an individual case-by-case basis?

GA: It's a combination of three different things: 1) depending on where they are at with their rehabs, we get additional programs from the doctor who performed the surgery or put the player on the rehab; 2) from the major league side, Ron Romanick and Curt Young both will call me and let me know exactly what it is that they want me to do; and 3) then I have the ability to take a look at the program and tweak it based on what the player is feeling and I'll come up with something that will help him out. I have my own ideas about certain things and how to do certain things, but, of course, I will need to get clearance from certain people and if they say ‘yay,' then we will continue down that path.

OC: You had a very talented pitching staff in Stockton last season and I wanted to ask you about a few of those guys. First, Brett Anderson. He seems to have a very advanced feel for pitching for someone his age. What did you see from Brett last season?

GA: I think that right now Brett Anderson is one of the most complete pitchers out there. He has an understanding of the game, an understanding of what he can do and what he does well. He pitches inside effectively. Truly nothing bothers him. He has a game-plan and I could go on and on for days with this young man. He is always well-prepared and he is always into what is going on. The neat thing is that he and Trevor Cahill, they have a bond that I haven't seen in awhile with young players. They are both trying to help each other to get better and are trying to out-do each other and push each other to the next level. Between those two and watching them last year, and seeing what they are doing now in spring training, throwing the ball well, the sky is the limit for these young men.

OC: What were the improvement that you saw from Cahill last season over his previous year in Kane County?

GA: For Trevor, he really understood his game. I think it was the combination of a few things that happened for him going from Kane County to Stockton. One was that I thought he had better fielders around him in Stockton. They were able to catch the ball on the ground more frequently. That was one part. The other part was once he learned to use his two-seam fastball in the inside portion of the plate to right-handers, I think that is what took him to the next level. He understood what that pitch can do as far as freeing up the other part of the plate.

He is a very intelligent young man. I don't think a lot of people know that about him because he is so quiet. But he is very, very into the game and, again, is another guy who loves to prepare and keep notes on every hitter that he has ever faced. He is able to use that against the guys that he was seeing over and over again. He's just very good. He's a competitor. He loves to compete and he loves to win.

OC: Another guy that you got to see with Stockton was Arnold Leon. He was only with the team for the first few months of the season, but what did you see from him?

GA: I saw a guy with pinpoint command with his fastball. He is developing his change-up and his off-speed pitches and I think that over time those will become pitches that can work extremely well for him. Presently, I think that is what he is working on, working on his slider and trying to get that improved. I think that he is another guy who is a diamond in the rough who is going to blossom this year. He understands what he needs to do to improve. He has always been a reliever in Mexico, so now coming over, we intentionally kept him in the bullpen [last season] and during the Instructional League, we gave him a few starts. I think that starting is probably around the corner for him even though he can be a reliever any time that he wants to. He can come around and be another young, bright arm to come along.

OC: There were a couple of guys – Jason Fernandez and Graham Godfrey – who both did some starting and relieving for you last season. Where do you see those guys ultimately ending up, role-wise?

GA: I think they can do both. In Oakland, we try to refrain from putting labels on guys. As long as they can get people out, that is something that works in their favor that they can do both. Personally, I think they can do both. I think they can start and relieve.

With Jason, we have what I would call a special bond in that we will push each other and challenge each other where I challenge him with the things that he does on the field and he challenges me to come up with new stuff to try to help him succeed.

Graham is so meticulous with how he goes about his business. He tries to be a perfectionist. That is something that you find in baseball, but not too much in young guys. Young guys often try to perfect a lot of stuff over a big period of time, whereas he just focuses on perfecting one thing at a time, so he can be a well-rounded pitcher.

OC: Your closer for much of last season was Sam Demel. He was nearly impossible to hit last year, but sometimes struggled with his command. What does he need to do to take his game to the next level?

GA: I think Sam is going to be a lot better than a lot of people expect, to be honest with you. Sam has two pitches that are almost unhittable. He has a change-up that he throws that acts almost like a split-fingered fastball. And he has a two-seam fastball that is in the 92-93 range that just bores into right-handers and disappears at times. What I saw last year was that he tried too hard instead of letting his natural abilities come through and that sometimes got him in trouble. Instead of pushing forward, I think one thing he did learn was how to pull back and let the game come to him instead of trying to take the game from the other team.

OC: Is that something that Henry Rodriguez did? Over-throwing to try to hit triple digits on the radar gun?

GA: You know what is so funny about it? Henry doesn't worry about the radar gun. Henry is just worrying about getting his off-speed pitches right because he knows he can throw as hard as anyone in the game. He is trying to develop his other pitches and do the best that he can. I'm not exactly sure what the situation was with him when he went to Double-A, but when he came back to me, his delivery was still the same, nothing had changed. He went into the bullpen at that time, but I thought that was something that was really good for him. Now he could concentrate not on four pitches but just on three, which will make his situation a lot better.

OC: He and Fautino De Los Santos are both going to be rehabbing injuries this spring. Where are they at in terms of getting healthy?

GA: That I don't know. Fautino is still in the Dominican and Henry is still with the big league club. I haven't seen as much with those guys in terms of what is going on with their rehab and things of that nature. Once they cross over to Papago, I'll have a better idea of where they are at and what they are doing.

OC: I know that Michael Ynoa was pitching [Monday] at minor league camp. Did you get a chance to see him throw?

GA: Actually, I didn't, but I heard good things from a lot of guys. He heard he threw the ball extremely well and that his fastball had a lot of zip. But I was on another field at the time he was throwing.


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