Oakland A's Q&A: Tony DeFrancesco, Mgr.

It's August, which means that the Sacramento River Cats are back in their familiar position of having a lead in their division with only a few weeks left of the season. Through Tuesday, the River Cats had the best record in the PCL with a 72-45 mark and were 8.5 games ahead of Fresno. We spoke to Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco about his recent 1,000th career win, his team and more…

Since debuting as a franchise in 2000, the Sacramento River Cats have done nothing but win and manager Tony DeFrancesco has been a big reason for that success. This is DeFrancesco's sixth season as the skipper for the River Cats, and during that time, the team has earned three PCL titles and four Southern Division crowns. The River Cats look poised to make that five division titles, as they have a healthy 8.5 game lead with less than a month left in the season.

A manager in the A's system for 15 seasons, DeFrancesco has established himself as one of the winningest minor league managers in baseball today. He recently earned his 1,000th career win.

We spoke with DeFrancesco before the River Cats' battle with Oklahoma City on Saturday about that 1,000th win, his ever-changing roster, some individual players and more...

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on getting your 1,000th minor league win.

Tony DeFrancesco: Thank you.

OC: Does it feel like you have been at this long enough to get that many wins?

TD: If you look back, 15 years is a pretty long time. It's been a lot of fun and I have a lot of good memories. I enjoy managing a lot.

OC: Were you aware that it was coming up?

TD: Actually, Johnny Doskow [the River Cats' Radio Broadcaster] sent me a text that said "you have only a couple more to go." From then on, it was a countdown of sorts. But it was a pretty good accomplishment and I'm really proud of being part of the organization and that Keith Lieppman [the A's Director of Player Development] gave me the opportunity to do that and to be here 15 years.

OC: What have you seen from Clayton Mortensen in the few starts you've had him so far?

TD: He was with us for a couple of starts, like you said. He's not over-powering. He's a guy who is a command pitcher with good off-speed – a good change-up – and a good breaking ball. For him to be effective, he needs to locate his fastball. He does have a lot of movement on it, which gives him some deception.

OC: Aaron Cunningham spent most of the year with you. How has he developed?

TD: Cunningham just needs his at-bats. When he drives the ball to the opposite field, it seems like it gets him going. He has shown some power and better consistency, but he still needs to cut back on his strike-outs and his defense is still improving. His arm strength needs to continue to improve, but it looks like he has a bright future in front of him.

OC: It's that time of the year when rosters start moving around a lot at the Triple-A level, but you are also in the middle of a pennant race once again. How do you get guys through these couple of weeks when everyone is probably thinking at least a little about September?

TD: Yeah, we kind of talked about it [on Friday] night, actually. We talked about the fact that you have 30 days to go and whatever is going to motivate you, you should use it. The opportunities in Oakland right now are as good as they have ever been. They are going with a lot of young players and all you've got to do is put up some good numbers here the next month and hopefully you'll get an opportunity just like anybody else. If that can motivate guys and hopefully result in them getting a September call-up, that should get us through the month.

OC: You have a pretty big lead in the division. Is it easier to handle all of these roster moves when you know you have a cushion like that, or does it not really matter?

TD: Every series, you are just trying to win three out of four and let things take care of themselves. The guys have been doing that and [Saturday night] we have a chance to win a series and we have a new team coming in tomorrow, so it starts all over again. It's no different than anyone else. We are trying to win one game at a time and you can't think about the lead or where we are at because, like you said, rosters change and whatever we are dealt that is what we have to go out there and try to win with.

OC: One guy who has had a great year for you out of the bullpen is Brad Kilby. What kind of pitcher is he for you?

TD: He's been awesome. He's a guy who is not afraid to throw strikes. He can get lefties and righties out. I think that is his big plus. He's got a good off-speed and he is sneaky fast. He hides the ball well behind his back. There is no doubt that he is another guy who when September comes is going to get some consideration for a call-up.

OC: How about one of your new players, Brett Wallace. He has been in the middle of your line-up since the trade. Does he give your line-up a different look?

TD: He's hitting three for us. I don't know if he is really ready for that right now, but he has the potential to be one of the best hitters to come along in a long time in the Oakland system. He's getting comfortable at third base defensively and he's played some first for us. His bat is what is going to identify Brett Wallace for us. Right now, they are just trying to pound him inside and he has to make some adjustments at the plate. It's going to be a learning experience for him at this level. You don't go from college ball to the big leagues that quickly. Only a small handful of guys do that.

OC: Adrian Cardenas has struggled for you, but he put up some great numbers in the Texas League. What does he need to do to make that adjustment to Triple-A?

TD: We are kind of still waiting. He had a slow start with us the last time he was here and we sent him back [to Midland] and he is struggling a little bit again up here. Either the pressure or trying to do to much right now might be affecting him. The game is played a little bit quicker at Triple-A and the pitchers have a little bit better stuff, so you've got to be patient at the plate. It is a big learning curve for him right now, but he is getting an opportunity. He is playing some second and some third and his defense has to come along way to be a major league player, but if the bat plays, they'll find a spot for him.

OC: So you'll trade him off between second and third at this point?

TD: Yeah, although Brett is going to be the primary at third base, so [Adrian] will mostly play at second and maybe we'll get him a couple of games at third when Brett goes over to first.

OC: One of the veterans the team just signed is Brett Tomko. He relieved for you in one game, but is he going to be a starter or a reliever?

TD: We are going to try to build him up into the starting rotation. He has been out since before the All-Star game so we are hoping that [on Saturday] we get two innings out of him and then go back to him in four or five days maybe get three or four innings. Eventually we'll try to get his pitch count up.

OC: Is it good for the team to get a veteran guy like that in the clubhouse?

TD: You know, it's hard to say. Everyone is at different parts of their careers. He's trying to get back to the big leagues and all he can do is perform to the best of his abilities. That's his one way back to the big leagues. You've got to be the same as everybody else, consistent and if he doesn't get anyone out, he's in the same boat as anyone else down there. We are hoping that he can stay healthy and help us and maybe help the big league team down the road.

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