Talking Full-Season Oakland A's Hitters

In part two of our conversation with Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson, we discuss several position player prospects on full-season affiliates, as well as the mindset of players in Triple-A in August and more.

To view part one of this interview, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Aaron Shipman seems to have turned a corner after struggling for the first few years of his pro career. The turnaround came after he was hurt early in the season and had to spend some time at extended spring training rehabbing. What kind of work have you guys done with him over the past two years to get him to where he is now?

Todd Steverson: Honestly, Ship had an arm issue early in the year after not starting off that well. Last year was his first full season and it was a learning period for him. It didn't go so well for him. He probably had some more thought process about what he was going to come back here and be. He communicated with me throughout the whole off-season. You start off the season so optimistic and then you go out there and it's just not happening for you.

It's a very hard thing to deal with mentally sometimes when you feel so optimistic about yourself and you change something around that was not so good for you and then you find yourself right back in the same place. At that point, you've got to ask yourself, ‘why?' On that level, maybe you can say it was a good thing. It's never a good thing to get hurt, but maybe it was a good thing that he had to leave the team there for a little while to fix his injury.

He was able to kind of wipe that slate a little bit and start anew. It was almost his own mini spring training while still rehabbing his injury. He was able comeback with a different mindset and create a different idea of what he wants to do all over again. Not a lot of players through the course of the year have the opportunity to say, ‘hold on, stop for a minute, let me get my head clear for about a month and then I'll be back.' And then come back and be productive with that. He had that opportunity. Good for him. But everyone else is wearing that slump. It's day-in and day-out. Might get a day off here or there, but you're playing.

It was just told to him to get with understanding what he wants to do and how he wants to approach his at-bats. How he wants to approach the game in general. How he wants to change the mindset of what is engrained in his head of what he thought it should be as opposed to what it should be. That's a hard thing to break habits.

Without going into what the specific habit was or what the thought-process was that wasn't allowing his total ability to come out, that can happen. We have to do our job as coaches to find out the information of what may be holding him back. It wasn't that his thought-processes were wrong. It was that they could be modified. I think he did a good job of modifying his thought-processes and going back and getting his game back on the table.

OC: He obviously has a good understanding of the strike-zone and his speed is probably going to be his best tool, but do you see Shipman adding any power as he fills out his frame at all?

TS: I don't want to say no to anybody. Obviously his swing right now isn't conducive to putting balls off and over walls consistently. Not that it isn't in there or that through maturity it could come. It's possible. So I don't want to say no, but I wouldn't say lock him down for 20 [homeruns] later on. If he is in the double-digits, I'm pretty sure Ship will be happy and he'd be having a pretty good year. More likely than not, that's not his game.

OC: Daniel Robertson has hit three homeruns this week. We talked earlier this year about his effort level and how he can sometimes get too amped up for his at-bats. Has he been on a more even keel lately?

TS: Yes. I spoke with the hitting coach there, Casey Myers, [Thursday] morning. He was really pleased with Robertson's progress at this point in terms of how he has been hitting as of late. He's really another player who has been able to hold his head above water throughout the season after an injury. The injury kind of derailed his Instructional League last year, which possibly could have given him a little more ammo going into the year. He missed all of Instructional League so it was sort of like, ‘here it is and here I am' sort of thing at the beginning of the year.

I think the biggest thing that Casey expressed to me is that he is pleased that [Robertson] is starting to use the whole field more. Being able to still take the balls that need to be driven up the middle or the other way and still get his contact points good and getting that head to the point of contact to really drive some balls to the pull-side. You can't ask for much more.

OC: Nick Rickles has had a nice second half after struggling at the Low-A level for a while. Did he make any changes?

TS: Yes. I'm not sure where he would go if you asked him directly what it was that was different that he was doing. He and I had a conversation before I left there about how he was really good in simulated games or pitchers throwing and pre-game stuff. He killed balls all over the place. We talked about what the difference was in his mindset when he is doing that as compared to the game. He kind of was like, ‘wow, really? I'm free then.' How he implemented that into his thought-process, you'd have to ask him.

The thoughts of what we were really talking about was learning how to carry over the feeling of when you do feel free and less tense. How do I carry that over to when it counts or when they have numbers on me? That's hard. That's the biggest battle that the majority of players face is the almighty statistic. It is a tough struggle to tell somebody, ‘it's okay if you don't get a knock if you have a quality at-bat.' They look at you like, ‘what? It might be cool for you to watch, but it goes down as an 0-for-1 for me. It doesn't go down as an 0-for-1 for you.'

To convince them that the more quality at-bats you take, the numbers will be there in the end is a humongous challenge. But you have to trust the approach. You have to have confidence in the approach. With Nick Rickles, there is a good chance there that his approach during the game did not resemble his confidence when it didn't count. When it counted, he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform. That meant he was out-of-body in terms of what he really wanted to do. When you have to fight that every day, that's a tough row to hoe.

OC: Do you sometimes wish from a developmental standpoint that players didn't have access to their statistics?

TS: If we were able to blank out the scoreboard, take off the velocity signs off of the field, put no paperwork in the clubhouse that says this is what you are hitting, strikes-outs, walks, triples, etc., and eliminate Internet use for them to find those numbers, yeah. [laughs] It would be really a nice little experiment. You know that hitters are so messed up, they'd probably start to go back and figure out their own stats anyway. They'd start writing it down. ‘I'm 0-for-my-last-10. Look at my book.'

OC: Shane Peterson is swinging the bat well again for Sacramento after struggling earlier this year. Do you think he's back to where he was last year?

TS: I spoke with Shane about this. You know how hard it is to get to last season and what he did? Not necessarily in Midland, but he threw up something like .380, .390 [.389] in Triple-A. Come on, Melissa. You are talking about guys like John Olreud and George Brett hanging around there trying to get to Teddy Williams' .406.

I'm not saying it's not possible, but it's an out-of-body experience that you need to learn from. Most guys take it for granted that they are hot, but if you stay hot for a long time and then all of a sudden it doesn't happen, what did you learn from it? What you end up finding yourself doing for too long is searching for that same feeling that got you to hit .390. The truth of the matter was all you were doing was putting yourself in position every day, a timely position and swinging at good pitches that you could put a barrel on. And the baseball gods shined upon you that the balls fell to the side or in front of defenders.

There's no recipe for a sure hit. The only recipe is how confident you are in your approach and sticking to the plan of swinging at strikes and being on-time for a strike and recognition for a strike. There is no discounting that in this game. Zero. I think for him, he went to look for a feeling of a number, where it was always right in front of him. He's not any different of a dude. Not a different guy, but I think he finally realized recently that he hasn't changed his swing and he hasn't changed his approach that much, but he had gotten out of what had gotten him to this place for too long. He needed to get back to what he did well.

He has been able to be more successful that way. He has all of the tools in the world to get back to the big leagues and enjoy a career. That's big, especially when you get a taste of it. You want to go back. You hope that doesn't hinder him trying to get back by playing too hard.

OC: That's got to be hard.

TS: It is hard because you see the holy grail. You have gotten to the pinnacle and you got to touch it and then they say, ‘just kidding for a minute.' There is no other feeling like knowing that you get to go back for the first time, but the work process to do it, you fight so hard to get that call again that it sometimes almost goes in reverse for you. He got the call because of what he was doing in the first place. He just has to understand that part of it.

OC: Having managed and coached hitting at the Triple-A level, is it difficult to keep a clubhouse together in August when you have a mix of players who have been to the show and are trying to get back and a mix of players who haven't been there yet? Is it hard to keep them focused on the everyday grind when September call-ups are just a few weeks away?

TS: I would have to say yes and no. Yes, you know they are thinking about it and no because they have to know that when 7:05 comes around and without the game at 7:05 and you being productive in it, your chances of getting there are pretty slim. If you start looking past what it is front of you, you are in trouble. It's human nature for guys who have been there who are in Triple-A to say that they want to go back. You have pitchers staring at extra-inning [MLB] games and weighing the possibilities of the team needing another pitcher the next day.

It gets to be a mind-shattering thing for some guys if they let it get to them. As a staff member, it's our job to keep them as focused as possible on the task at hand. What goes on in Oakland, goes on in Oakland. What's going on here in River Cat nation is going on here in River Cat nation. If the phone rings, and it is for you, we'll let you know. You only can hope to put yourself in the position for the phone call.

That's what is stressed to them the most that look, we're here together. Let's have some fun. We are going to lose some guys along the way and gain some guys along the way in terms of roster moves. That's part of what we do. But you have to hone your craft every day and have a good time and win this ballgame. At the end of the day, you go into the clubhouse and no one taps someone on the shoulder, how much better did you get? Or did you waste a day because you decided to take that day off because you were bitter about where you were?

Right now, nobody should ever take being on a professional field for granted. I think everyone has to be reminded of that quite a bit. Don't take being on a professional baseball field – whether it be the big leagues or the minor leagues – for granted. You are one of the select chosen few to have a chance to come out here and try to do this. If you disrespect the game, the game will find a way to come and humble you. Enjoy the time, but never not come out to the field and take what you've got for granted.

OC: Have you seen Jemile Weeks playing center?

TS: Yes.

OC: Is that a legitimate position for him if they called him up, do you think?

TS: I don't see why he couldn't play there. He probably wouldn't want to stand out there everyday because he's kind of still a novice at it at this point, but there is nothing to say that he couldn't become a solid utility player for that type of role. The more bullets you are able to put in your holster, the more valuable you are able to become. Alright, he can play second, he's played short, he can play center. All of which he's done an adequate job at. Well, now you've started to become more valuable as an option for a team.

I think that it is just another something that he is able to put into his game that allows him to be valuable. Like Eric Young, Jr. Plenty of guys like that in his mold that came up as highly touted prospects who got a taste of the big leagues and had to almost re-invent themselves in the minor leagues a little bit. That's kind of what you do when you do get sent down, really. Pitchers, hitters, you kind of have to re-invent yourself when you get sent down. That being said, not a lot of players recognize that.

Jemile, I believe, has recognized that he will do whatever it takes to get back to the big leagues, whether it be second, short or center. ‘Let me throw my ego to the side for a minute and not say that I'm a second baseman only and let me figure out an avenue to get me back to where I want to be.' That's not easy to do for a lot of people in this game. You have to swallow your pride for a minute in terms of what you think you should be or who you think you should be and go and do something else. If you know what, if you want to go play on TV again, you've got to get it done.

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