Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Travis Buck

The 2008 season was a trying one for Oakland A's outfielder Travis Buck. He began the year as one of the team's most promising young players, but after a slow start and an injury, Buck found himself in Triple-A. He overcame a concussion and worked his way back to the big leagues by the end of the year. Now he is hoping to parlay a strong September and spring into a breakout 2009 season.

After a 2007 rookie season that saw Travis Buck hit .288 with an 850 OPS, Buck came into the 2008 campaign as one of the main cogs in the Oakland A's line-up. However, Buck got off to a slow start to the season and was batting only .182 at the end of April. He landed on the disabled list in early May, and after a rehab stint with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, the A's officially optioned him to Triple-A, where he would spend most of the rest of the season. In 45 games with, he hit .296 with a 798 OPS for the River Cats. Buck was given another test while with Sacramento when he suffered a concussion after colliding with the centerfield wall making a catch. He missed nearly a month recovering from that injury.

After helping the River Cats win the Pacific Coast League title, Buck was promoted back to Oakland for the final two weeks of the season. He hit .367 with four homers in 49 at-bats to end the season on a strong note. Buck has carried that success into spring training. In 17 games, he is hitting .283 with an 877 OPS and is playing with renewed confidence. We caught-up with Buck last week in Phoenix to talk about what he took from his experience in 2008 and more…

OaklandClubhouse: You are in the middle of a nice spring. Are you feeling different than you were at this point last year?

Travis Buck: I'd say that the biggest change for me is my mentality, which has allowed my swing to get back to my normal swing, going the other way instead of trying to pull everything. The swing feels great. I have the right mindset going into this year.

OC: I heard that you went through a pretty intense off-season conditioning program. What did that entail?

TB: I hit the weights really hard. This is the first off-season where I didn't have to rehab anything. I took about two weeks off right after the end of the season and then I got back into the weight room. I was lifting heavy right off of the bat and was doing a lot of running and speed work. It's definitely paying off. I am feeling really strong and hopefully it will carryover throughout the whole year.

OC: Have you had any ill effects regarding your elbow since you had the bone chips removed [in 2007]?

TB: No problems at all. I've had no lingering effects from that and from the concussion last year. If anything, the concussion made my head a little better. [laughs] I've changed my outlook towards the game and I've learned not to get too down on myself. I've just been concentrating on doing what I do best, and it has been working thus far.

OC: How did you deal with the concussion being that it wasn't an injury that you could actually see but was probably something that effected everything that you did?

TB: It was the toughest because that injury, anything to do with your head is almost more important than your career because it has to do with your life. It made me realize a lot of things. Whenever it went away, that was when I could go back onto the field and start playing again. I just had to wait. It is something that you don't want to rush. Fortunately enough, it only cost me about three or four weeks. The final two weeks when I did extremely well back up in the majors allowed me to know that when I am healthy and in the right mindset, I can play like that for a full season. That is what I plan to do this year.

OC: Did those two weeks help you recover your confidence after a difficult season?

TB: Definitely. It was just perseverance through everything last year. It started with me quote-unquote being the face of the team last year and that led to me putting too much pressure on myself and then I started off slow and I started to change the player I had been my whole life. Of course, I didn't want it to happen but I'm glad that it did. I don't consider it a wasted year. I had never really struggled before. I had had success everywhere I had been and [the first struggles] happened to come at the big league level at the beginning of the year when all of the eyes were on me so to speak. It was a great learning experience for me and it should only help me down-the-road.

OC: Did you pay close attention to the A's moves this off-season when they brought in Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi, or is that something you can't worry about?

TB: I was more excited than worrying about anything because I know that if I can play my style of game, I'm not going to have any worries at all. It was big for us young guys to have the team to bring those guys in because we can learn a lot from them and they can take the pressure off of us. It will allow us to continue to develop as young players who can stay around in the big leagues for a long time.

OC: When Jason Giambi was coming up as a young player, he had a similar game to yours. He was more of a gap-to-gap hitter than a pure homerun hitter. Have you learned anything from him about how he developed into a power hitter?

TB: Absolutely. The biggest thing for me is just watching him during BP and talking to him about certain situations during the games. Obviously, when he was coming up, he didn't hit as many homeruns and he was more gap-to-gap and the power developed over time. That is what is going to happen with me, too. I had seven homeruns in the big leagues last year in just over 100 at-bats. I've already hit three this spring, so that is the least of my worries. It's going to happen as long as I keep my approach up-the-middle and the other way like I have all spring. I feel like I am going to have a great year.

OC: We've talked about your defense in the past. Are you where you want to be with the glove?

TB: Absolutely. Going back, about 90 percent of my injuries have been caused by playing the outfield, just being really aggressive and thinking that every ball that is hit my way I could catch. Now more than ever, I have learned to pick my spots, like when the game is on the line and in certain situations. I'm not going to put my body at risk in every situation. Am I still going to play hard as I always have? Yes. It's just that I am not going to put my body in harm's way like I have in years past. The biggest thing is knowing when and when not to take chances.

OC: Have you been working out at all in centerfield?

TB: I know that I can play all three positions. I haven't been out there yet this spring. I have played a little left and, obviously, right, but going back to my rookie year, they threw me out there for a handful of games and I did well. It doesn't matter where they put me and I am going to have the same amount of confidence in right, left or center. Obviously, the more you play, the better off you are going to be. Whenever they decide to throw me out there, if they do, I'll be ready.

OC: Do you like leading off?

TB: Absolutely. At first, it was kind of a shock, but in my college days, I led-off quite a bit. You only really lead-off one time during the game, and that is in the first inning. Now, more so than ever, you want to lead off because your job is to get on-base in front of the big boys that we have in the line-up now. Going back to my rookie year, I did well in the lead-off spot and I did well in that role during the last two weeks of the season last year.

We have a whole bunch of guys who can lead-off. It's good just knowing the flexibility that we have on our roster. If guys match-up better than others, they'll be in the line-up. We can all use a day off every now and then over 162 games, especially with the injuries that we have had.

OC: The last series of the 2008 season was in Seattle and you had a big series. How was that to perform in front of friends and family?

TB: Up until that point, I don't think I had done all that well against Seattle. They have a whole bunch of great pitchers and to compete against the best pitchers and end the season on a high note was really good. Not necessarily just for my family, but most importantly for myself and showing the organization that I obviously still do have it and it's only going to get better. The biggest thing was for me to end the season on a high note and carry that into the spring and hopefully into the regular season.


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