Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Landon Powell, C

Catcher Landon Powell's professional career has been a test of endurance. He has had to overcome three knee surgeries that have thus far kept him out of the major leagues. With the release of Rob Bowen, Powell has a strong chance of breaking camp with the big league team for the first time. We caught-up with Powell on Tuesday to talk about his health, working with the A's young pitchers & more…

When the Oakland A's took Landon Powell with the 24th overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft, it seemed like it would be just a matter of time before he was behind the plate for the A's. Five years later and that day has yet to come for Powell thanks to a series of injuries. The first came in 2005 when he tore his ACL during off-season conditioning drills. After a solid 2006 season and a strong first-half of the 2007 season, Powell looked poised to break-through to the big leagues. However, that path was interrupted again in July 2007 when he tore his ACL a second time.

After an intense rehab, Powell was back on the field at the start of the 2008 season for Triple-A Sacramento. He got off to a slow start with the River Cats, but by mid-season, Powell was swinging the bat with authority once again. In 71 at-bats in July, Powell hit .310 with a .425 OBP and five homeruns. It seemed inevitable that Powell would get a September call-up, but in August, he started to experience soreness in his knee. He eventually had to have arthroscopic knee surgery, which cost him the final three weeks of the season and a September call-up.

Powell reported to the A's 2009 major league spring training with the knee completely rehabbed. He has gotten off to a good start at the plate, hitting .321 with two homers in 13 at-bats. Powell has also played well defensively, throwing out three runners attempting to steal. Perhaps in part thanks to Powell's strong showing this spring, the A's released their incumbent back-up catcher Rob Bowen on Tuesday, leaving Powell as one of the leading candidates to make the A's Opening Day roster.

We caught-up with Powell before the A's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday to chat about his recovery from his injuries, his experience this spring and more. [note: this interview took place before Bowen's release was announced.]

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on a great spring thus far. How are your knees feeling?

Landon Powell: Great.

OC: How was your rehab from the knee injury that you had at the end of last season?

LP: It was really minor. I just tore a little bit of cartilage and it was a minor clean-out procedure. The surgery was a little 15 minute arthroscopic and I was walking on the day of the surgery. I was running full speed and doing most activities three weeks later. It was just kind of bad timing. The time of the season that it came up didn't really give me a chance to get back out there. It wasn't a big deal at all and I was working out again in September and all the way through the off-season.

OC: So you had kind of a normal off-season?

LP: Yeah, a very normal off-season.

OC: How was it having a full season at Triple-A? Did you learn a lot playing at the level?

LP: Definitely. At the beginning of the season, I was coming off of the ACL and I was early off of it. I was only seven months off of the surgery. I probably wasn't 100 percent early on in the season. I think the best thing was that it taught me how to deal with some adversity. I had to deal with really struggling at the plate, which is something that I really haven't had to do coming up. I've had decent success here and there and last year I was hitting something like .180 in May. I was really struggling. It taught me a lot from that aspect, being able to come back from that. Once I started to feel healthy again, things started to click for me. So it was a good year.

OC: You've been able to work with a number of the pitchers in the A's camp over the past couple of years, including Gio Gonzalez. How much familiarity are you able build with these pitchers from year-to-year?

LP: I got to see Gio a ton last year. It seemed like every time he pitched I was catching for him. I know that he is 23 or something like that and he has had a lot of pro experience, but just the changes that he made from the beginning of the year to those last couple of starts before he was called up were huge. He's got an amazing amount of talent and once his mental maturity started growing as a pitcher, it was fun to watch. I was able to grow with him. The same thing with a guy like Vince Mazzaro, who I got to see after he got called up [from Double-A].

This is fun. This is an organization right now where we have a lot of really young pitchers and for a catcher like me, that's a lot of fun because I have gotten to move up the system with those guys and I have a lot of familiarity. Makes it really fun to catch.

OC: Is it a lot different calling a game in big league camp compared to during the minor league regular season? Are you working with a lot more information or are you more focused on what the pitchers are doing than anything with the hitters?

LP: I think right now we are going more with pitchers' strengths. We aren't really going over a lot of scouting reports on hitters right now. A lot of teams, we might have reports on four or five guys, but the rest of the guys will be minor league guys who we don't have much information on. I think right now the pitchers are just working on getting their pitch counts up and working on their strengths. Once we get closer to the season, we'll start working maybe on the hitters' weaknesses. But we are still trying to call the game like we would normally call it. As a catcher, we know that a big power hitting left-hander we'll call a certain way, and a slap hitting right-hander with good speed, we might approach him differently. So that still kind of dictates how you call a game.

OC: You and Kurt Suzuki were drafted the same year, but you really haven't played on the same team since Vancouver in 2004. Is it fun to catch up with somebody four or five years later?

LP: I haven't gotten to see Zook play a whole lot. I have just gotten to talk to other players who have played with him. Not having seen him play in four years and then seeing him now, he has worked so hard. I have to give him a ton of credit and tip my cap to him because of all of the guys who I have played with the past four years, he is one of the guys who has worked the hardest and he's made the most improvements defensively. He's a really really good defensive catcher now and I think coming into pro ball, he was considered more of an offensive-minded catcher. Now I think a lot of people would consider him a defensive guy, he's that good.

OC: With your switch-hitting, what do you focus on in the spring? Is there one swing that tends to come along quicker than the other?

LP: I usually start swinging the bat right-handed a little better more quickly. I don't know if that is because I was naturally a right-handed hitter from birth, but left-handed usually takes a bit longer to come along. But I am feeling really good this spring training. I am definitely ahead of where I was at this point last year. Timing-wise with my knee, I was just having a difficult time getting locked in. I didn't really get locked in until the middle or end of May. Right now I am starting to feel pretty comfortable in there.

OC: Last year you were mostly observing at big league camp because you were still rehabbing your knee. What has the experience been like to actually participate fully this year?

LP: It's been cool. Two years ago, I got to get into maybe 30 innings, or something like that. But I don't think I got a ton of at-bats. I think I got maybe 10 at-bats. This year, they have given me a chance to start some games and I have gotten in a lot of innings. It's good to break the ice and get comfortable out there and get to catch some of these pitchers I haven't had a chance to catch in the past and get to play with some of the position players I haven't played with before. It has been a great experience so far.

OC: You've been on the verge of a call-up to the big leagues for the past few seasons. What would it mean to finally get that call?

LP: It would mean everything. For a guy like me who has been so close so many times and had it kind of ripped away from me because of one injury or another, I think it would be really special. I am really looking forward to that day. I'm not going to give up until it happens. I am just going to keep coming back. A lot of people have asked me because of the knee injuries if I have ever considered moving to first base. I'm just too stubborn to do that. I feel like my time will come and I just have to keep working at it and things will work out for me.

This off-season I had another thing. I had a liver disease that they discovered back in December. They thought that was going to sideline me for awhile. That was after I had already come back from my little arthroscopic knee surgery. I had to go into the hospital for five days and I had a liver biopsy and they found out that I had this chronic liver disease that I was born with that we never knew that I had. All of a sudden, the doctors were telling me that I might not be able to play baseball again. I was like, ‘come on, seriously? Can't something go right one time?' But the medication I was put on has worked really well for me and I have been able to get my numbers back down to close to normal.

I still have watch it everyday. I had bloodwork this morning, so it is something that I am still dealing with. I think God is testing me a little bit in terms of how I deal with adversity and trying to teach me some resilience. I know that when I get that first at-bat in the big leagues, whenever that it is – whether it is now or five years from now – it will be a really special moment, not only for me, but for my wife and my parents and everyone who has been involved in the process.

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