Weeks And Ross One Year Later

By roughly 4:00 pm PST, Jemile Weeks, Tyson Ross and the rest of the Oakland A's 2008 draft class will graduate from being the most junior players in the organization to "grizzled veterans." We caught-up with Weeks and Ross, the A's top two picks in 2008, to get their thoughts on last year's draft and on what has transpired for both of them since draft day.

In 2007, the Oakland A's posted their first losing record since 1998. Although the team was disappointed to have such a poor showing, the scouting department was excited about the opportunity to have picks early in rounds one and two for the first time in a decade. In 2008, the A's picked 12th in both rounds one and two and came away with two impressive talents: Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks and Cal right-hander Tyson Ross.

One year and another losing season later, the A's are once again drafting in the top-15 in the first round. The team doesn't have a second round pick this season (it was lost as compensation for signing free agent Orlando Cabrera), but Oakland should have some talented players to choose from with their first pick on Tuesday.

Both Weeks and Ross signed quickly after being drafted last season and were sent directly to Low-A Kane County, skipping over the short-season affiliates. They have stayed together in 2009 as members of the High-A Stockton Ports. Over the past year, both have shown flashes of being the players that warranted such high picks, while also struggling with injuries.

The first year in the green and gold hasn't always been smooth sailing for Ross and Weeks. Both have had injury problems on-and-off. Ross spent time on the disabled list last season and earlier this year with shoulder discomfort and Weeks missed the final six weeks of the 2008 season and the first nine weeks of the 2009 campaign with a torn hip flexor. Both players insist that they are 100 percent healthy now.

Ross was limited to a reduced pitch count for much of the early part of the season, but he is now back to a normal routine. In 10 starts, he has thrown only 38.2 innings, but in his last outing, he made it through five innings for only the second time this season. Ross is 0-4 with a 4.19 ERA for Stockton. He has struck-out 32 batters, but his control has been shaky (15 walks) and he has allowed an uncharacteristic five homeruns.

"It's had it's ups and downs but it's a learning process. It is definitely what I expected pro ball to be. You have to grind it out and learn along the way. I have been learning a lot," Ross said.

Ross has been working diligently on what he calls his two best pitches – his cutter and slider – and he feels that he finally has both pitches back to where they were when he was with Cal and was one of the best right-handed starters in college baseball.

"Those used to be my money pitches. Spring training all of the way through the first couple of starts I was kind of struggling with it," Ross said.

"I have been working with it every day to just try to get back to where I used to be with it. Gil Patterson came out here a few weeks ago and he helped me out a lot with it. I feel like I'm back on track with that."

Ross, like every Oakland A's minor league pitcher, has been tasked with improving his change-up and he is also working on refining his command.

"I'm really working on my change-up and overall command of all of my pitches in the strike-zone. I am good at throwing those pitches to have them chase for strikes, but I need to be able to throw them in the ‘zone," Ross said.

"I just want to come out and keep improving every time out. That is what it is going to take to keep moving up the ladder. Build off of the previous start each and every time."

Until May 27th, Weeks was stuck in Phoenix, Arizona, at the A's minor league complex rehabbing his leg injury and getting in some game action with the A's extended spring training team. He had anticipated leaving Phoenix much earlier than May 27th, but a few minor set-backs left him in the desert. Learning that he was finally being sent to Stockton was arguably the best baseball-related news Weeks had heard since draft day.

"That [leaving Phoenix] was one of the best things that I heard in awhile right there. I was excited to come out here and get started," Weeks said.

Weeks, who debuted with the Ports only a week-and-a-half ago, is on a four-days-on/one-day-off schedule for now to protect his legs, but otherwise he is on a normal routine.

"I'm having just light treatment stuff [on his legs]. Heat up and maybe a light massage here and there and I have to make sure that I get all of my stretching in," Weeks said.

If Weeks isn't 100 percent, the rest of the California League is probably dreading the moment that he is completely back to normal. In 10 games with the Ports, Weeks has been a one-man offensive wrecking crew. He has had a hit in every game he has played in and is batting .341 with eight runs scored, 15 hits, two doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs. He has also walked eight times. Weeks even stole his first base on Sunday, a sign that his legs are feeling good.

"I've been feeling pretty well out there. Pretty comfortable. I played with some of these guys last year [with Kane County], so it is a pretty easy transition this year to come out here and get started," Weeks said.

Weeks wasn't known for his power when he was taken by the A's out of Miami, but he already has three homeruns in only 44 at-bats this season. Although he doesn't have a reputation as a power-hitter, Weeks isn't surprised by his early homerun outburst.

"It's one of those things where I don't really rely on it, but I know that I have the capability to make that happen at times," Weeks said.

Both Weeks and Ross spent time in the Midwest League last season with the Kane County Cougars after signing with Oakland. The Midwest League is known as a pitchers' league, while the California League is known for hitting, so there is usually a noticeable difference for players moving from one league to the other.

"I think the difference [between the Midwest and California Leagues] is that [the Cal League] is a little more professional, it seems like. As far as pitching, the guys have a better idea of what they are doing and have better location, things like that," Weeks said.

"I think if you just take it level-by-level and try to accomplish what you can there, it makes it a lot easier to transition."

Ross had the advantage at the start of this season of having played a few games with the Ports during the California League playoffs in 2008, so he knew a little bit about what to expect when he arrived in Stockton at the start of the year.

"Coming in, I had a little bit of knowledge just about the road games, the commuter trips to San Jose and I played at Lancaster, too, so I kind of had a feel for the Cal League coming in and that always helps," Ross said.

For Weeks and Ross, Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of their professional careers. Weeks, whose older brother Rickie is a former first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and a major league veteran, said he had no expectations going into the draft last season despite the fact that he was a highly touted collegiate player.

"The day of the draft I was just looking for the possibility of being picked up," Weeks said.

Since that time, he has used his status as a first-round pick as motivation to continue to improve on the diamond.

"Just having that alone is one of the things that kept me lit up inside and from the day I was drafted until now, it has been about putting in the work that is necessary to be successful. I want to keep moving," Weeks said.

For Ross, an Oakland native, being drafted was a goal. Being drafted by his hometown Oakland A's was a dream come true.

"It seems like it was last week. I can't believe that it has been a year ago now," Ross said on Sunday.

When asked how the first year has gone being a member of the green and gold, Ross's face lit up and he smiled broadly.

"It's been awesome," Ross said.

One of the biggest benefits of being part of the A's organization for Ross is that he is having the opportunity to spend his first full professional season playing in front of friends and family in Stockton.

"It's great. This morning [Sunday] I woke up early and watched my little brother play in a showcase at University of Pacific. It is really nice to have family around," Ross said.

On Tuesday, both Ross and Weeks figure to see a number of their former teammates from Cal and Miami, respectively, taken in the MLB Draft. Ross, in particular, has been able to keep close tabs on his former Golden Bear teammates given his proximity to Berkeley. Cal has a number of candidates to be taken in the first five rounds of this year's draft, including Orinda, California, native Brett Jackson and DH/pitcher Blake Smith.

"It's looking good for some of my buddies. I am happy for them. I'm hoping that some of them get into the white spikes," Ross said.

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