Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Michael Spina, 3B

Oakland A's 2009 11th round pick Michael Spina came to the A's organization with a reputation of being a power hitter, and he hasn't disappointed in his first professional season. The third baseman hit seven homers in 190 at-bats and posted a .432 SLG. David Malamut spoke with Spina over the weekend...

Michael Spina left the University of Cincinnati as the Bearcats' all-time leading homerun hitter, but he was a relatively unheralded prospect going into the draft. Spina is hoping to follow the same path as the man that he overtook to set the Bearcats' homerun record, Kevin Youkilis, who was also an under-the-radar prospect at the start of his career.

Spina is off to a good start. He jumped almost immediately to full-season baseball and Low-A Kane County after signing with Oakland (he played two games with the A's Rookie League team first). Despite playing against opponents who had significantly more professional experience than he did, Spina held his own, batting .255 with seven homers, 28 RBIs and a 776 OPS in 184 at-bats in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Spina even overcame a scary injury in early July when he was hit in the face by a pitch.

David Malamut spoke with Spina over the weekend...

David Malamut: You played in 108 games this year. How do you feel?

Michael Spina: I feel alright. I've had a couple of set-backs while I was getting here. A couple of injuries and getting sick. Other than that, I feel good. Physically I've been prepared. My body feels good right now. I think it is more mental for everybody right now, it's more mental and you just got to keep going and play hard.

DM: What was your first baseball experience?

MS: My father coached me in Florida youth competitive baseball. That was the first year that I went to the playoffs. My father coached me up all the way through high school. I give him credit for a lot of my success, he helped me get to who I am today and the hard work and effort that I have I developed from him.

DM: Why did you go to Florida Community College?

MS: Out of high school I had a lot of Division One colleges after me, especially all the ones in Florida -- Florida State and Florida and Miami -- but I didn't have SAT scores to get into the schools so I had to look for my second option that was JUCO. At the time Dez Hamilton, he was a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, had seen me play a lot and he talked to me and I went there on a full ride. I got better and worked on some things I needed to work on to become more mature in baseball. Then Cincinnati came along and offered me a scholarship.

DM: What did you learn at Cincinnati?

MS: I learned a lot in Division One. Division One is a big step from junior college and high school, I'll tell you that much. It makes you mature real quick to face some of the best guys in the nation playing Louisville, Notre Dame, schools like that in the Big East. You have got to learn quick or you are just going to be one of those guys that don't succeed. I was one of the guys that caught on pretty quick.

I had successful years there. I had a great time. I learned a lot from the coaching staff -- Coach Cleary and Coach Meador, my hitting coach. Coach Meador, he changed my hitting around. I became a lot more of a power hitter hitting a lot of homeruns there in Cincinnati. I had never done that before in my career. I give some of my success to him and my coach. He wanted to change my hitting and it worked out for the best.

DM: What does the homerun record at Cincinnati mean to you?

MS: It means a lot to me to beat the guy that is in the big leagues right now in Kevin Youkilis. It probably means about everything to me right now in college baseball, to be put on one of the top notches in Cincinnati baseball history ever, it means a lot to me. There is not a word that I can use to describe it. I mean that is just amazing to me.

DM: Why did you not sign with Minnesota last year?

MS: After the year I put up, hitting .373 with 21 homeruns, getting drafted in the 45th round was kind of more of an insult to me to be honest. I thought the best opportunity for me was to come back and get more of my schooling done and put up another great year and see what happens from there. I know schooling will take me further in life, so I went one step further in getting my education and now I'm playing pro ball which was my dream.

DM: What did you learn from going back for your senior year?

MS: I have five classes to go, after which I will graduate this off-season. I learned more of how to be a leader as a senior at a Division One. All of the young guys coming in, they look up to you and you have got to play a role where they have to follow you. You got to lead by example which I think I did pretty well. We had a lot of freshman starting and we got to the Big East Tournament. This year we didn't have everything to get into the championship again like we did the year before, but I think it was a learning experience for a lot of the guys. I thought I was a pretty good role model and hope to have another good year this year.

DM: What was the experience like playing for the Amsterdam Mohawks in the college summer league, and what did you learn from it?

MS: It was a great atmosphere. It was a learning experience, that's for sure. It was a small town up north in New York. The town probably had 10,000 people and about every night we had about half those people at our games. Everyone knew each other. It was fun. Spags, who is our GM there, he keeps in contact with me. I developed like a family there. My host family is there. We all keep in contact, they are great people to have. They are supportive of me and they help me through every day.

DM: And how was hitting with wood?

MS: I've hit with wood all my life growing up in Florida. Hitting in all the wood bat tournaments you play in, it's nothing really different, especially when we played in Division One. We hit with wood in the off-season. We were not allowed to pick up a metal bat, so you have to develop and learn to hit with a wood bat. I think doing that growing up has helped me now. If you don't pick up a wood bat and don't know where the sweet spot is you are going to have trouble.

DM: How much different is hitting for power with a wood bat compared to a metal bat?

MS: With a wood bat, you have to hit it on the sweet spot. If you want it to go with the metal bat, you could hit it anywhere on that bat and it'll go far. It tests your ability and it tests your strength. I think wood bats are more of a challenge and I love it.

DM: How was being scouted?

MS: Scouting was, ah, I don't even know what the word for it is. Not nervous but nerve-racking. People all over you every day, going to school at the same time and these guys calling you everyday and just on you about everything. It was a learning experience, that's for sure. It is their job to nag and pick and see who you are and see if you have a problem because they are going to invest money in you. It was a learning experience and something I will never forget.

DM: How was draft day?

MS: It was great. I was relaxed. I was with my fiancée and her family and my mother and father and brother flew up from Florida and we pretty much had a family get-together at her parents' house and just watched it on the computer. It was a nerve-racking day since I was a senior, but other than that it was a relaxed day, an exciting day. I got a call from Oakland in the 11th round and I can further play baseball now.

DM: How was being drafted by the A's?

MS: I've liked it so far. I know it's one of the better organizations to be drafted by. They treat their guys real well. They don't look down upon people. We all get along. They call us the Swinging A's because we swing. We like hitting. It was a good organization for me to be in. I've loved it so far and hopefully I can move on up.

DM: What was Arizona like?

MS: Hot. I got there and I didn't know anything about it because I've never been to Arizona before. I got there and got off the plane and was like, ‘wow this is hot.' I've been in Cincinnati for two years and haven't been used to that hot weather. I got there and showed up and didn't know what to do. I just got thrown in the bunch, got on the field and showed my tools. About a week after that -- after I got my physicals and everything done -- I ended up here in Kane County.

DM: How about the move to Kane County?

MS: It's been great. The fans are good to have. We get a good crowd every day here at home. If you don't have that, it's hard to play especially when you are going through mental and physical approaches. It's great to have those people on you and wanting you to succeed. So far here I've had a great time. These guys on this team, we're in the playoffs. We like to play hard everyday. We might not win everyday but we play hard and Manager Scar [Steve Scarsone], he beats it into us that we need to play hard everyday. You never know when your last game could be due to injury or being released or traded, so you've got to play hard everyday and have fun with it and hopefully get to the big leagues one day.

DM: What went through your mind when you got hit in the face by the pitch on July 7th at Clinton, Iowa?

MS: Nothing went through my mind then. I was scared because that could be deadly there. You could lose your life. I've never been hit in the face like that before. We were just at a ballpark where you couldn't see the ball really well. I tried to turn in. He threw a two-seam in high and tight and I lost it for a second. By the time I had seen it, it had hit me. It's definitely an experience I don't want to go through again in my life. Thank God that I was alright and didn't have anything wrong, just a lot of bleeding with stitches in my mouth, a lot of swelling, for two and a half weeks. Other than that I don't want to go through that again.

DM: How was the mental rehab from an incident like that?

MS: That was probably the hardest part of coming back. My first two or three at-bats were pretty bad. Seeing a ball come back at you at probably 90 miles per hour plus is tough, especially when you are thinking that in your last at bat you been hit in the face. It took a couple of at-bats. It is still taking time now, to be honest. Still pitchers come in high and tight, inside. You get a little nervous at times but you have got to relax and you've got to trust yourself and keep going everyday and getting better.

DM: What's your mentality at the plate?

MS: I don't think any pitcher can get me out. I just have that mindset. I think I'm better than every pitcher. Most of the time pitchers will get the hitters out but you have to have that mentality going up to the plate if you want to be successful at hitting. When I go up there I have confidence in myself, the confidence I have in myself I want my teammates to have in me. I try to show that and I try to hit every day.

DM: What are you trying to do at the plate?

MS: I'm trying to hit the ball hard. Not trying to hit it out of the ball park every time. Hitting doubles or whatever. I just try to do whatever I can do to help the team, if I have to get on-base in a certain situation I try to get on-base looking for a certain pitch at a certain time. I play hard and try to get after it and try to let it come to you. Try to score and try to win. The biggest thing is to win. The more times I'm on-base, the better chance we have to win. That's all I try to do.

DM: What do you still need to work on offense?

MS: Everyone has something to work on everyday until you get to the big leagues. Even then you still have something to work on. I have to see more pitches and get more comfortable. I need to hit the ball more consistently hard. Watch guys in the big leagues and every ball they hit is pretty much hard, so that is what you have to work on. Putting more backspin on it. I don't think I'm too far away, just have to work on something to get you better every day.

DM: What about defensively?

MS: You've got to work on range, feet. You've got to really work on things in the game with that, to be honest. When the ball gets hit, reaction, you just got to work hard everyday and play hard.

DM: What are your top 5 artists in your iPod?

MS: I don't listen to an iPod. I play PSP. I don't listen to music really. I like listening to Kenny Chesney in the car.

DM: If you were not playing baseball what would you be doing?

MS: I'm getting my degree in criminal justice or I would have my degree in criminal justice. I don't have my minor in psychology yet, but I'd be somewhat in the law enforcement. I don't know what. Not a police officer, maybe a SWAT team, something more physical, more exciting. Maybe law enforcement but I also want to be a coach someday and hopefully for a Division One school or even higher.

DM: What do you like to do in the off-season?

MS: I hang out with my fiancée in Cincinnati. I like to go visit my family in Florida, my nieces and nephews. I love fishing. That's what I do in the off-season. I don't get to see my family and my fiancée very much, so I hang out with them and spend time with them because you don't get much time with them because in a couple of months you're back on the field.

DM: What's your off-season training like?

MS: It's a lot harder than it is right now. It's everyday. You are lifting weights and you are running. It's not much hitting and stuff like that. It is more like running and conditioning and getting stronger. You've got to be mentally and physically strong because there is a guy out there to get your job.

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