Q&A With Kane County Mgr. Steve Scarsone, P2

In the final part of our interview with 2009 Kane County Cougars manager Steve Scarsone, we discuss a number of the Oakland A's younger prospects, including Max Stassi, Rashun Dixon, Anthony Capra, Ben Hornbeck and more...

Click here to read part one of this interview

OaklandClubhouse: You mentioned the pitcher-friendly aspect of the Midwest League. Is it hard to work with young hitters, like maybe a Jeremy Barfield, who profile as power-hitter types but maybe aren't getting those results in the cold weather and the bigger ballparks of the league?

Steve Scarsone: Yeah, he is a guy who has some work to do to better his offensive progress. He has had to make a lot of adjustments with his swing to be quicker to the ball and hit good pitching. When you are facing better pitching everyday and you have weather concerns – cold days and cold nights and ballparks where the ball doesn't carry much – there is a lot of things on the table there that make it tough for him. The Midwest League is tough enough when you've got everything going in the right direction, and when you have to make some adjustments and try something new and you have to go out there and compete in a pitcher's league-type situation, that can be a lot working against him just going in.

That being said, that's part of the game and that is part of the process and the development that you have to go through. Once we got down to the Instructional League, Jeremy started to show some signs that things were coming together. He had a knee kind of flare up on him, so we had to shut him down at the end, but he'll continue to work. I think that is one of the biggest things. He continues to make the effort. We'll see how things go for him.

OC: Anthony Capra put up some good numbers for you, but there was a stretch during the year where he struggled a little bit with his command. What did you see from him?

SS: One of Anthony's biggest assets is his competitiveness. Sometimes he would struggle with his pitches and maybe be a little wild to the point where he was having to come at hitters in hitter's counts and stuff like that, but even then, that competitiveness and that drive to succeed pushed him forward. Some nights he wouldn't have his best stuff, but he'd try to figure out a way and he wouldn't give in. I remember several times his pitch count was up, but he was still in the thick of the game and obviously we are handcuffed with what we can do sometimes pitch-count wise.

Pitch count is going to be a primary objective and we don't want them to throw more than what they are scheduled to throw so we have to pull them. I remember going out to the mound and him looking at me like, ‘no way you are coming out here right now.' And I'm like, ‘you shouldn't have thrown all of those pitches early. You threw all of those balls and got yourself in this spot.' We'd joke about it afterwards, and he never gave me an attitude or anything. He always understood. At the same time, you could see that look in his eye that he was saying ‘let me get this guy, let me get this guy. I can do it.' That's what you want. When you go out there, you want the pitcher to be like, ‘no, no I can get this guy, let me stay in.' That is the approach he had and I think that is what ultimately is going to push him up because you can't teach that competitive aspect. That is just that drive that few pitchers have, that few players have, and those are the ones who find themselves playing a long time.

OC: What about Ben Hornbeck?

SS: Hornbeck was a bit of a surprise for everybody that he had the success that he had. I don't think that anyone was surprised that he would have success, it was just that he kind of came out of nowhere, in a sense, at least from the perspective of me being the new guy on the block and hearing guys talk about, ‘we'll send Hornbeck to you and hopefully he can be a middle relief guy for you.' The next thing you know he's one of our top starters and he is throwing up good start after good start. He wound-up leaving us towards the middle of the year, as well. He really developed into one of our top pitching prospects. A good kid, as well, and a tough competitor. You enjoy seeing guys like that have success. I was lucky to have some good people like that. Guys who would play hard and weren't afraid to have a little fun along the way.

OC: One guy who was with you for a lot of the year was Brett Hunter, who struggled for much of the year. I believe you had him in Arizona for Instructs, as well. Are his mechanics starting to come together or does he still have a ways to go?

SS: I think his progression has been incredible, if you think about it. If you were to break down his mechanics – and I am by no means a pitching guru or anything like that – but just watching him and comparing him in your mind to all of the other pitchers that you have seen through your life and you see different mannerisms from Brett. I remember sitting down with him one day along with my pitching coach Jimmy Esclante and I said, ‘Brett, when you just play catch, you do this and when you pitch, you are doing this other thing. It just seems like you are adding this stuff that causes an opportunity for more inconsistency in your delivery.' I tried to be that I'm no pitching guy, I'm just telling you what I see, because I know that he has had numerous pitching coaches telling him all sorts of pitching-type stuff. I tried to just say, ‘hey, I'm just a baseball guy looking at you.' We tried to get him to admit that maybe he should try different things.

We ended up sending him back down here to Arizona, which gave him an opportunity to try new things without having to worry about necessarily his stats or worry so much about letting a team down, stuff like that. He could worry just about getting the work in. Then he went up to Vancouver and had some success. When I saw him again in Instructional League, it seemed like he was much cleaner and much more efficient in his mechanics and his release. He had some very good outings during Instructional League that made me think that he was definitely on the right path to have the opportunity to continue to move up. So we'll how he looks next spring. But, again, he's a hard worker. I think he needs to learn to be not so hard on himself. He needs to let the game happen and try not to force everything. He could possibly be that comeback-type guy where we go, ‘wow, I can't believe just a year ago or so we were just trying to figure out how to get him to throw a strike.' He's a good one to follow. It will be interesting to see how that progresses.

OC: Rashun Dixon earned the Instructional League MVP award. What did you see from him as a hitter that earned him that award?

SS: What we saw was that he was hot for the first half of the camp. Everything he seemed to hit fell in. If you look at the course of a five month season, you can look at pretty much every player and find somewhere during the course of that season, there was a two-week span where things just clicked and a guy is hot for two weeks. So you have to consider a little bit of that when you look at Rashun. He got hot, which is awesome. It's all about getting hot at the right time. It sounds like during the Vancouver season he was struggling to find his rhythm. Obviously, I didn't see him during the season. I saw him a little bit in spring training and not again until Instructional League. I don't know what steps and what work he had to do to get to where he was at Instructional League, but obviously there is a talent there, an ability. He has an opportunity if he can continue to progress and show the offensive ability he showed during Instructional League.

He's a good kid. A good hard-working guy. Again, I feel like I am saying that about all of the players, but the A's do instill a good atmosphere to allow the players to know that if they work hard and give an effort, they will be rewarded. Or at least be given the opportunity to move forward. It's like it is cool to be a hard worker in this organization. Some places you'll go, and you'll see an attitude of ‘who does this guy think he is? He's trying to show everyone up because he works so hard.' That's not the way that it is here. It's more like, ‘that guy is working hard. He's alright. He's one of us. Let's work hard with him.' I think that it is just a great atmosphere that Keith Lieppman and everyone around him has created to let these guys know that if they work hard, they will be able to move up. That was demonstrated this summer when there were a whole bunch of guys from my club who moved up.

OC: Were there guys who stood out for you at Instructs?

SS: Max Stassi, everyone is very high on him and rightfully so. For one, he's still young and he's got so much time to work out the bugs and get to the higher levels and still be young enough to be a long-time asset to the A's. He's just one of those guys who just wants to play hard and he has some great tools behind the plate. Offensively, he's going to need to continue to work out some of the bugs, but that is to be expected at that level. Good guy and I think he is going to be one of the cornerstones of the organization as he moves up. He's going to be one of those guys who we are always going to be leaning on to be a leader, too. I think he is going to be a good one.

Grant Green, the number one pick at shortstop, showed some good things, as well. I'd like to see how a full season treats him, if he can stay healthy and keep battling and putting up those good offensive numbers. Those two guys were fun to watch.

We mentioned Stephen Parker already. He had a good Instructional League. There was also Anthony Aliotti, a first-baseman.. Offensively, he needs to catch-up a little bit, but, boy, what a defensive first-baseman. He was saving those guys left-and-right over there, picking the ball. I'm kind of a defensive-minded guy. That's how I made my living as a player as kind of a glove guy. If I could put the bat on the ball, it was kind of a bonus, so I kind of look – especially infielders – at what they bring to the table defensively first. There are guys who look at a player's offense and will say, ‘we'll find a place for him on the field,' whereas I am more of the mind that I want to ensure that he is an asset in the field first because that is going to win you ballgames as much as bats will. I was very impressed with [Aliotti's] defense.

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