Gil Patterson On A's MILB Pitchers

On Sunday, we caught up with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who was in Phoenix at the A's minor league complex running the pitchers' side of the mini-camp for the newly signed draft picks. We talked about A's minor league pitchers from those in extended spring training through Triple-A.

Gil Patterson's comments are organized by team, starting with extended spring training and going up through Triple-A Sacramento.

Extended Spring Training

OC: How's Michael Ynoa?

He had a few set-backs during April and May, but the last three weeks he has stepped it up a little bit. From an organizational perspective, you want to teach these guys to be mentally and physically tough. You can, if you are not careful – especially if a guy always seems to have something wrong – you can sometimes start to look on at him with a little bit of disfavor. You've got to stop yourself. I'm a perfect example. I had eight surgeries [during his playing career]. Did I fake them all? Did I not want to pitch anymore in the big leagues after being 21 and pitching in the big leagues? Even back from my Yankee days when Billy Martin would say, ‘Gil, you're a pussy. You've got to pitch with pain.' And sorry about using that word, I hate using it, but it was like, ‘Billy, since I was five, this is all I have ever wanted to do. Why do you think I am here at 21? ‘Cause I'm so damn good, but you guys pitched me 300 innings in one year.'

But, Ynoa is starting to turn that corner. I said to him once when he pitched, I said, ‘hey, I don't care if both legs are broken, you are still going out there to pitch.' And he smiles. I really just put the ball in Ariel's [Prieto, A's Arizona Rookie League pitching coach] court. I said to him, ‘one day at a time, just make this guy a man, physically and mentally.' And I was talking with [Ynoa on Saturday] and he threw a bullpen with Keith [Lieppman, A's farm director]. I said, give me the most fierce, most relentless animal that you know. I was thinking, a lion, a tiger or a bear, something like that. He said, ‘a buffalo.' I said, ‘a buffalo?' So that is his fiercest and most warrior-like animal, so that is what I am calling him right now. I said, ‘you're a buffalo. Nothing stops you.' So we had a little bit of fun.

Last week, he threw a game and the ball is just coming out of his hand very nice. He's 92-95. And you want the velocity, and that is basically what everything, in a sense, revolves around. He does have a chance to be a beast, or a buffalo, and that's what we are going for with Michael. It was nice to see him step up like that.

Deyvi Jimenez is another kid. He has been throwing the ball very, very well. I would hope to see both Jimenez and Ynoa in Vancouver before the year is over. In fact, Jimenez might even start there. I think with Ariel here [in Arizona] we are going to give Michael a little taste of game play. He hasn't really pitched in a real, real game for us yet. He pitched a little bit last year and stuff, but let him pitch a few times underneath the lights here and then we'll see.

It's not a rush. He's not going to pitch in the big leagues next year. But it is a process. I'm not going to be silly and compare him to Stephen Strasburg, but there are some steps for him. They are just a little bit lower. I think for now, let him get his feet wet here. Let him pitch the way that we all believe he is capable of and then go ahead and put him in that environment [Vancouver]. I'm looking forward to that. I certainly hope it can happen this season.

OC: Who else is standing out?

Omar Duran is throwing well. He will most likely start [in Arizona]. It's almost where we originally started [in talking about Ynoa]. You want to build a mindset that nothing stops me. He got hurt last year. Sometimes you scratch your head and try to figure out why, but then you look on the DL and every team in the major leagues and the minor leagues, people unfortunately break down, whether it be position players or pitchers. Everyone, for the most part, puts in the same workload. Everyone, for the most part, has the same conditioning style and throwing program. There's not one team that's a whole lot different than another. A lot of times that's just genetics that happens to somebody. But he is definitely getting better and throwing the ball very well during extended.

Brett Tomko and I have a good relationship dating back from last year. He is going to be in a simulation game [on Sunday]. I believe he is going to go two innings. He is feeling much better. For someone to go through that little nerve feeling, he threw the ball very, very well in his first BP session a few days ago. I'm very much looking forward to seeing him. You hate to put a figure on it, but today is June 13th, so, heck, by the end of this month, he could be helping a team somewhere. And that might be a little quick because you have to build up arm strength. But the progress he is making is very good.

Dan Giese had made a very good recovery [from Tommy John surgery. He reported to Sacramento on Tuesday.] He basically had the surgery the same time that Josh Outman had his. Josh threw a bullpen [on Saturday] and threw very well. I'm looking forward to seeing how he feels the day after. His bullpen yesterday was really encouraging.

Jonathan Joseph has good stuff and he is going back to Vancouver. He struggled a little bit in Kane County.

Argenis Paez has a great sinker. I mean, a great sinker. His velo has picked up a little bit.

Jorge Pena has a chance to be something. He reminds you of Freddie Garcia. He had some knee arthroscopy, I believe, and they are just trying to get that better, but he throws the ball very well. I'm hoping we can get him going in game action.

Kane County Cougars

OC: What has been the key to Ian Krol's succces this season?

Ian Krol's maturity [has helped him succeed this season]. Funny story, when he came to Instructional League last year, I mentioned to the players that this is a young man who is just out of high school and we all remember that. We will remember the choices that we all made out of high school. He didn't have the luxury to go to college and grow a little bit. So I said, ‘Good morning, Ian.' And he says, ‘hey, what's up?' And I said, ‘Woah, woah, woah, woah. Mr. Gil does not do ‘what's up?'. Gil does, ‘Good morning, Gil.'' Well about four days later, he walks by and sticks his head into the coaches room and says, ‘Good afternoon Gil. Can I get you lunch?' So he wants to grow up and I think the maturity off of the field is helping him on the field.

Jimmy Escalante [Cougars pitching coach] has done a great job with him. [Krol] is just able to do all of the things that you talk about a pitcher doing: be a warrior, be relentless, throw strikes. He's got a good breaking ball. The ball jumps on hitters even though the velocities might not light up your eyes. He's got a good change-up and he pitches to contact. His numbers, for any player let alone a high school one, are tremendous. We couldn't be any happier for him than we are.

OC: How has Robert Gilliam looked to you?

Robert Gilliam has had not a rollercoaster, but there's been more on the uphill for him. He's still got a power arm. In fact he and I just talked [on Saturday]. The change-up is a very important part of pitching. Fastball command and then being able to change speeds [are the most important parts of pitching]. Sometimes he wants to throw the ball by guys a little bit more than he should. But he is learning. Each time out, you are hoping that they learn something. But he's got a good fastball with life on it. For the most part he commands it well. And he's does have a good change-up. He's not trusting it as much as he should right now, so he and Jimmy this week are going to work on it some more. And he's got really two good breaking balls. He's got a curveball and a slider.

OC: Justin Marks struggled early in the season but has done better lately. Why was that do you think?

It's his first full season in professional baseball really other than spring training. It's a little bit different than college and I think he had to find his niche. Jimmy Escalante, again, has done a tremendous job in helping him find it. I've been very happy with Justin. He is a hard worker. Maybe early on he wasn't quite as open-minded as he's become but I think the more and more he lets Jimmy in, the better and better that he gets. We always tell the pitchers that it is not always our way. We don't know everything. It's not our first rodeo, though, so we do know quite a bit, but we do try to let them have their own feedback and discussions with us and communications with us. But he has pitched very well.

The one time I was there he tried to go through the whole line-up without throwing a change-up, but he's just not that guy. He was trying maybe too many different things and I think now he's just resolved himself that he's a pitcher, which means that you still attack guys with your fastball but you have the ability to change speeds and throw some breaking balls that second time around [the line-up], throw your first pitches for strikes. Those are going to be very, very important to him.

He's got the four-pitch mix that he must use all of the time. It's almost like there is nothing above major league average. Everything is major league average, let's say, or maybe a tick below. What makes everything above major league average is command and the ability to use all of those four pitches in different counts. Because he does have a fastball, slider, cutter, change-up and curveball. When he puts them all together, he's tough. Really tough.

OC: Other standouts?

Connor Hoehn has struck-out a lot of guys this year. He's done a nice job.

OC: There had been some talk of moving Hoehn to the rotation. Is that something in the future with him?

You know, I did that this spring and it just didn't fit in [when the rosters were set]. I think he does have more of a bullpen mentality.

Josh Lansford, Jared's brother, just the other day, I don't know what happened, but he's pitched at 90 all year and the other day he was 92-95. He's also made progress with the breaking ball.

Bo Schultz has done a tremendous job getting groundballs. His groundball percentage is just stupid good. Jose Guzman has pitched well enough for us, as well. Jose Pina, we just moved his arm slot down.

Stockton Ports

OC: Who stood out for you with Stockton when you were there last week?

Mike Madsen is on his way back. He threw the ball really well. That was nice to see. His arm strength is back. He's pitching at 90. My thought is to just keep sending him out there. He's been through a lot of set-backs the last couple of years and so it was nice to see him throw the ball so well and get into the sixth inning. That was kind of neat to see.

I saw Andrew Carignan, Fautino De Los Santos and Brett Hunter [during his visit]. The good thing with Carignan is that he is healthy. And, for the most part, throwing 92, 93 about every game. But just like [Saturday] night again, he walked two more guys in his inning. He's just in a tough spot trying to find that rhythm and trying to be able to repeat [his delivery]. Sometimes people worry too much about mechanics and delivery and whether someone says they are good or bad, the person throwing the baseball is the biggest judge. Whether someone else says it is good or bad, if he can repeat even a bad delivery, he's going to throw the ball for strikes. He's just, at this point, unable to repeat very well. He's a bit frustrated but in his head it's like ‘okay, I'm feeling a little bit better with rhythm tonight, let's go see how I feel again tomorrow.' That's a nice little attitude to have and I hope, and I think he will, continue to go with that. If it's at the point where he stops feeling confident when he gives up some runs, then that is something to look at, but I think he is strong enough mentally to get that.

Hunter is about the same way. His arm is feeling good, not great. His arm angle is kind of like that Carlos Marmol of the Cubs' motion. That's where he is at now. And he's repeating that better. He just spins off a little bit. He knows what his key is.

Of the three, De Los Santos, at this point, might be the most advanced. His arm continues to feel good and that is our biggest objective with all three of them, or with anybody, really. [laughs] And he's pitching at 94-96 and more consistent in the strike-zone. I'm not going to say major league command yet, but more consistent. The slider is getting better. Don Schulze [Ports' pitching coach] and Ariel and Lefty [Craig Lefferts, the Vancouver pitching coach] have done a nice job with that, so he's coming. He's coming and we are very happy with the progress.

OC: How has Paul Smyth looked?

Paul Smyth has been amazing. Heck, he should be pitching in Oakland. [laughs]

OC: Is Smyth's throwing motion like Brad Ziegler's?

Smyth's arm angle is at three o'clock. He bends over a little bit and is at three o'clock with the angle. Ziegler's is more four o'clock. But, boy, I tell you what, [Smyth] is something. No fear. Come right after you, here you go. Come get this. He does have some deception, but he can spin a breaking ball. He can throw a change-up. And he does have some movement. He is not afraid to go right after you. He does keep the ball down. It's not a diving-bombing, Roy Halladay sinker, but it is awfully good.

OC: What has Shawn Haviland improved on over last year when he struggled in the second half?

Shawn Haviland is just better [than he was last year]. I think he is able to command the baseball better and recognize what hitters might be trying to do. We added a cutter, of course, and that has helped him some. He just has an idea. The other thing I think is that last year at the end of the season he might have just gotten a little bit fatigued, but we are really happy with the way that he is pitching.

Midland Rockhounds

OC: Talk about the Midland pitching staff?

With Figgy [Pedro Figueroa], I don't want to set the bar low because, quite honestly, I set it high, but when guys move up, whether it be Anthony Capra or Figgy, even Ben Hornbeck, especially from Single-A to Double-A, that's a pretty good jump. Like I said, I don't want to set the bar low for us. I want to set it high. When I would visit out there, there were some teams who had pitchers go back for the second and third year. And, yes, those teams pitched well. And some teams even sent guys back who had 10 or 12 wins and a 3-something ERA back to the same league.

Like I said, not to set the bar low, but Figgy is learning. Capra is learning. Carlos Hernandez, it's his second year in the league and he is pitching a little bit better. Travis Banwart, it's his second year and he is pitching much better. Jared Lansford, it's not his first go-around and he's pitching very well. I think in general I was happy with [what he saw at Midland]. Ryan Edell has pitched very well. He's the guy we got from Cleveland. So you have Figgy, Capra, Edell and Hernandez, who has pitched fine except for every so often a start where he'll post some pretty high walk totals. Travis has pitched very well. So it's nice to see those guys pitch well.

Of course, the bullpen [in Midland] has been very, very good. Justin Friend went down with a sore elbow about a week ago, but he has pitched well for us and Lansford and Jason Ray and Justin Souza has come back [from Sacramento] and has pitched really well. And Beau Vaughan has had a tremendous season for us. Daniel Sattler was pitching great until a couple of outings ago. Derrick Gordon has held his own and Mickey Storey, of course.

OC: What happened with Hornbeck? He seems to be pitching better now that he is at Stockton. Was it command with him in Midland?

It always seemed like with him that there was always one inning where he would have a blow-up. In a perfect world, you could put enough people around him where you could not force him through it, but get him through it. It just didn't work out that way. Basically what you said is true. He does need to command all of his pitches just a step better. I didn't mind the move down to Stockton. It's tough being in player development. You want to put guys where you challenge them, so you make a move that is mentally tough, but you want to make sure that they continue to gain confidence. It's such a Catch-22. Sometimes when you are moving a guy up a level, if he doesn't pitch well, he's going to go back and how is he going to adjust to that? Is it better to start him off low and move him up once he pitches good, but then what if he thinks he is too low and he isn't happy and he thinks he should be up? So many things go through your head, but he strong mentally and physically and really he is getting better each time out.

We did have to lower his arm angle just a little bit in Stockton. It was just a little bit too high in Midland, so we did lower his arm angle a little bit and we feel much more comfortable with the little bit lower arm angle.

OC: With someone like Hornbeck, will he be given a lot of time to see if he will work out as a starter before he would be moved into a relief role?

Basically, two or three people will tell me when it is time, Billy [Beane, A's General Manager] and Keith, of course, but yes, I still like him as a starter. He kind of reminds me of – again raising the bar high – a Cole Hamels with just a tremendous change-up and a pretty good little fastball that he can locate. Not overpowering. Has a little bit of a cutter, almost a slider and a little curveball. Like I said, I'm still not ready to pull the plug on him as a starter.

Sacramento River Cats

OC: The back of the River Cats' bullpen has been impressive with Sam Demel and Henry Rodriguez [note: this interview took place before Demel was traded].

Guess what pitch Sam Demel throws now? [laughs]

OC: Cutter?

Of course. I've told him not to go crazy [with the pitch], but his cutter is 90 to 91 and his fastball is 93 to 94. He can sink it. He's got a great change-up and a good slider. He's got four weapons that are not big changeable weapons. Basically all of the pitches are fastballs. It's a fastball that cuts, it's a fastball that sinks, it's a fastball that moves and a fastball that goes slow, with the change-up. It's almost the same arm everything except the ball is going three different ways, right, left and down. And then he's got a slider. His walk ratio and his strike ratio are all improved. He is just able to command the ball better and repeat his delivery better.

And Henry Rodriguez is the same way. Henry has just finally, I think, matured enough to say ‘I don't need to throw 103. Ninety-nine is more than good enough.' And then again, be able to repeat.

OC: Other River Cats of note?

How about the years that Clayton Mortensen and Travis Blackley are having? Mort, we added a curveball in spring training. I told him that he could be Roy Halladay, Jr. He can sink it. He has a little cut-slider piece and now you add a little curveball into the mix, a little bit of a wrinkle to get guys off of the fastball. He's got a great sinker and a tremendous change-up.

Blackley, in the times that I have seen him, has thrown the ball really well.

OC: Is it hard to incorporate a guy who was brought into the system mid-season from independent ball like Blackley was this year?

Not really, and you know why? Those guys are usually a little bit more mature and they have been around the game. You kind of pick their brains first and then maybe you say, ‘hey, I've seen this work with some guys.' And then maybe you throw out a guy's name that maybe he knows and you say ‘this has worked for him, do you want to try it?' And then they try it and they say ‘hey, that's nice.' Or, in his case, I just watched him and I said ‘this is big league stuff. This is stuff that you can pitch in the big leagues with.' I think maybe back in the day he tried to go hard, harder, hardest and instead of going smarter and sometimes a little bit slower. He has been a nice addition.

Jonathan Hunton's numbers at Triple-A have been excellent. We've basically added a two-seamer to him and have gotten him to trust his change-up more and he has made very nice adjustments there.

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