Oakland A's Q&A: Steve Kleen, UTL

If there was a "Comeback Player of the Year" vote for Oakland A's minor leaguers, Steve Kleen would be near the top of that list for 2009. After missing all of last season with injury, Kleen bounced back with a vengeance, appearing in all 140 games and hitting .312 with 15 homers, 85 RBIs and an 856 OPS for Kane County and Stockton. We spoke with Kleen about his season and more...

It has been a terrific year both on and off the field for Steve Kleen. On the field, Kleen hit .312 and played in every game this season for Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. Off the field, Kleen saw his efforts to help out in the community rewarded by the Stockton Ports when he was honored with the Ports' inaugural Dallas Braden Community Award. These achievements were made even more sweet for Kleen since they came a season after he missed the entire year with a shoulder injury.

Kleen was an 11th round pick by the A's in 2005, and he was moving steadily through the Oakland organization before the injury cost him the 2008 season. In 2006, Kleen hit .281 in 126 games for Kane County. The Pepperdine alum followed that season by hitting .272 with the Ports in 2007. A torn labrum stopped that progress in its tracks in 2008, as he had off-season surgery that cost him the season.

Kleen had to reprove himself in spring training and he earned a spot on the Kane County Opening Day roster. He spent exactly half of the season with the Cougars, batting .282 with eight homers in 70 games. Kleen earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game and a post-All-Star game promotion to Stockton. With the Ports, Kleen turned it up a notch, batting .342 with seven homers, a .430 OBP and a 917 OPS in 70 games. Kleen set career-highs in nearly every offensive category in 2009.

We caught-up with Kleen in Stockton over the Labor Day weekend to discuss his charity work and his comeback season…

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on winning the Dallas Braden Community award. Can you tell me a little bit about the charity you are setting up [on Saturday before the game]?

Steve Kleen: Tonight I was looking to set-up something to show our support for our chaplains. They have been a big part of our team this year. They have helped lead a Bible study during the week and are here on Sundays. They come up here from Manteca and have been a real source of encouragement for a lot of the guys on the team through their ministry. They do it all just because they want to be an encouragement and a blessing to us. I want to give back to them, so we are selling some autographed gear and hopefully we will raise a little bit of money to help them with their ministry.

OC: You've had a great season this year after missing all of last season. What was it like to get back on the field this season after missing the year?

SK: I had a lot of anxiety coming into spring training because I hadn't played in so long. I knew I was coming back to a really high level of baseball. I felt confident that I could perform and it was just a matter of working those butterflies out of my stomach. Once that went away, I was surprised with how well I was prepared. Physically, I came back stronger and mentally it was a huge adjustment having the game taken away from me for a little while and not being able to play. I was hungry to come back and prove that I could still play.

OC: It was a shoulder injury, right?

SK: Right.

OC: How did it happen?

SK: I think it was just a throwing injury. It was a torn labrum. It was a long recovery, a big surgery. It's great to finally play a season healthy.

OC: Had it been bothering you for awhile?

SK: Yeah, it was sore for most of the 2007 season. But it wasn't until the very end of the season that it turned into pain and I knew I had to get it checked.

OC: You were here [in Stockton] in 2007 and now you are back here again. Has there been a difference in the way that you have been able to approach the California League this time around?

SK: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that I have been really trusting God with my career. Before I was trying to do it all on my own strength and I was pressing mentally. Baseball is such a game of failure that you have to be able to bounce back from a poor performance because you play everyday. I was having a hard time in '07 handling failure. This year, if I have a bad game, I come back the next day with a mentality that I am going to succeed today.

OC: You've played a little third base in addition to your customary first base this season. Has that been comfortable for you, or it is still a learning process?

SK: I feel comfortable. I feel like I can play any corner position – left field, right field, third, first. They've played me a lot at first and I have played every game this year. I think I've played about five games at third. I felt fine over there. I felt comfortable. I know that for me, personally, it will be better to play more positions. It gives me more options and first base is such a tough position. You really have to put up ridiculous offensive numbers. I think I am capable enough – I'm agile enough and I have a good enough arm – that I can play any of the corner positions.

OC: You did some pitching in college. Do you miss that at all or is that something that you have put behind you?

SK: Actually, I haven't missed it one bit. Especially in pro ball, we play everyday and especially as a position player, you are in the line-up, you are getting at-bats and you really feel like an athlete. Pitchers, it's just a lot of time waiting. If you have a bad performance, you have to wait days sometimes before your next chance. I like the position player part of it, being able to play defense, offense, run the bases. Just to be a part of the game everyday.

OC: How do you approach each at-bat? Are you looking early in the count to take an advantage of a mistake or are you trying to see a lot of pitches?

SK: I am just trying to hit a good pitch. I'm not looking to swing at a pitcher's pitch and I am looking to get a pitch where I can get the barrel of the bat on the ball and hit it hard somewhere. I am more of a line-drive hitter, so most of the time I am looking to hit singles, doubles, that sort of thing.

OC: You were a part of the Midwest League All-Star game. What was that experience like for you?

SK: That was an awesome experience. I got to participate in the Home Run Derby. Then I played in the game and hit a home run in the All-Star Game. It was just really exciting to be surrounded by guys that I know are on-track to be in the big leagues and feel like I could compete at that level. It was an honor.

OC: You had a '07 Stockton teammate, Tom Everidge, make it to the big leagues this season. Is it inspirational to see guys who you were teammates with and maybe played a few levels with make it to the big leagues?

SK: I was so happy for Tommy. He has done great and he deserved it. I was so excited to see him get that opportunity. For me personally, it is an encouragement to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I just have to continue to work hard and show up everyday and continue to get better. Hopefully, I'll get the chance as well.

OC: Do you have any off-season plans now that you are healthy and don't have to go to rehab or PT everyday?

SK: The main thing is to get some relaxation and prepare for next season and spend some time with my wife.

OC: Do you feel like your body has held up well this season, or was it a shock to come back to the 140 game schedule?

SK: I was surprised with how well I held up. You get those little bumps and bruises here and there. For some reason, I tend to get hit by pitches more than anyone else, it seems like. You've just got to play through those little things. Without a major injury, I was surprised with how easily my body handled this season.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories