After six seasons coaching in the Rookie, short-season and Low-A levels of the Oakland A's system, Jimmy Escalante will be making the jump to coaching at the High-A level in 2013. The South Bay resident will be leading the Stockton Ports' pitching staff next season after a successful year guiding the Arizona Rookie League A's in 2012.
Escalante was a 36th-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 out of Hagerstown Community College. The 35-year-old spent three seasons as a catcher in the Orioles' minor league system, logging 153 games. In 2000, he was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft by the Angels. Escalante then made the switch from catcher to pitcher. He spent that season pitching in the Angels' chain and then logged time in the independent leagues before switching to coaching.
In 2007, Escalante joined the A's organization as a pitching coach for their Arizona Rookie League squad. Since that time, he has coached at the short-season A level (Vancouver, 2008), at the Low-A level (Kane County 2009-2010, Burlington 2011) and back at the Rookie level (2012).
We spoke with Escalante this week about his new position in Stockton, his time with the AZL A's and more...
OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on your new post with the Stockton Ports in 2013. You'll be close to home, right?
Jimmy Escalante: Thanks! Yes, I will. It will be great to play in San Jose so many times during the year.
OC: So you live in San Jose year-round?
JE: Yeah, I live in Woodside year-round. I have been here for about 10 years now.
OC: You spent six years coaching in the Rookie, short-season and Low-A levels. What are you looking forward to in the jump up to High-A?
JE: Those guys at the High-A level are a little more polished. You can talk to them a little more about pitching and the strategy of pitching instead of working so much with mechanics. You'll still be working with mechanics – I don't think they stop working with them on mechanics until they reach Double-A when we just let them pitch because they should be pretty well set with mechanics at that point – but I'll be able to introduce more strategy.
The guys will be facing these same opposing hitters over and over, so these guys will create a pattern of what they are swinging at and what they are not. That will be a different level now where we will have to strategize a little bit more.
OC: You'll probably have some of the same guys you worked with at lower levels in past years. Are you looking forward to working with players again maybe a year or so after you previously worked with them to see how they have progressed?
JE: Yeah, it will be great. Guys like [Blake] Hassebrock and [Josh] Bowman, I had them back in Burlington and so on and so on. It will be great to see some of those guys. Hopefully [Michael] Ynoa jumps up a little bit. It will be great to see them again and how they have progressed.
OC: Talking about your 2012 Arizona A's team a little bit. You guys were probably the best team in that league even if you didn't end up winning the title. You had a number of interesting prospects on your pitching staff. Two of the youngest players on the team – Jose Torres and Gregory Paulino – were also your team leaders in terms of innings pitched. Were you impressed with how they were able to hold their own given how young they were?
JE: Jose Torres was crafty. He had a decent fastball. He wasn't throwing a ton of strikes at that time, so he kind of pitched crafty. We were working so much on his delivery this year – he had a little jump in it. It wasn't smooth and he wasn't getting his foot down on time. It wasn't allowing him to get ahead of hitters, so he fell behind a lot. I know that he walked quite a bit, but what was funny about him was that when he walked a guy, it seemed like he'd always get a double-play. A lot of those walks were walked and then double-plays, so I guess it worked out on his behalf. [laughs]
But really just letting him explore himself a little bit. He said he had been worked with so much down in the Dominican that I tried to see what we had with him and really didn't mess with his mechanics too much besides just trying to smooth the delivery out a little bit.
OC: Paulino had a chance to pitch in the US last year too, but I think he was only 19 still this year. What did you think about his season?
JE: Oh, he was very impressive. He has a big league change-up that he can throw whenever he wants. There are some mechanical problems in there. He did get a little crafty at times when he didn't challenge hitters. That would be the downside on his mental approach right now. But overall, I really enjoyed working with him. He was young and he was like a sponge. He wanted more information. He wanted to watch video. He really wanted to know the opposing hitters in the meetings.
The good thing about working with him this year was that he was able to speak to a coach in Spanish. I'm bi-lingual. He hadn't been able to get this information before. I was glad to help out and a lot of the information came down from Gil [Patterson, the A's minor league pitching coordinator in 2012] was given directly to him now. There was no misinterpretation with the language.
OC: You got to work with Michael Ynoa this year. It was a bit of a breakthrough year for Ynoa in that he got to pitch for an extended period. Was it helpful that you were bi-lingual in working with him, especially as he got to learn how to pitch in a competitive atmosphere?
JE: I've seen Ynoa for years now. We know that he hasn't been able to get out of Arizona until this year. One of the things that was good for him this year mentally was that he didn't know what soreness was. We would ask him from ‘one-to-10, what do you feel?' And he'd say, ‘a three.' We'd tell him that there are guys pitching in the big leagues with eight and nine on the pain scale. He had to understand the difference between pain and soreness.
Once he did get out there, he had the velocity. This year he was 95 to 92 and he wasn't quite using it. He hadn't been able to get out there and compete in awhile. So that was another thing that he had to establish with himself: learning how to compete again.
OC: What do you see as the next step in his development? I assume if he is healthy, he'll be pitching in full-season ball for the first time next year.
JE: He was able to pitch, I wouldn't say a whole season, but he was able to pitch out there and even move up a level without any kinks in him. I think mentally he will be prepared to go out there and start pitching and feel comfortable.
OC: You had a number of the 2012 draft picks on your staff. One of those picks who pitched extremely well was Dakota Bacus. What did you see from him?
JE: My goodness, Bacus had four quality pitches and he could throw them for strikes any time. He was a very aggressive pitcher. Really goes after guys. We have that saying that we want warriors on the mound, and that's what he was out there. Every time he went out there, he didn't care when he was out there, how many innings. Because of his innings in college, we really had to limit his innings.
But we wanted him out there as much as we could. During the playoffs, we were even thinking of starting him. It all worked out perfectly where he was able to be used in situations where he could just stop the other team or we could knock them out with him on the mound.
OC: Another top-10 round pick, Cody Kurz, really struggled with his command this year. I know that he spent a lot of his high school days concentrating on football. What are you working on with him that will get him on the right track?
JE: Kurz, I wouldn't completely say he had the yips, but he has said himself that he couldn't feel the ball coming out of his fingertips. It had nothing to do with an injury. It was more mental. Many players have had it where they put too much pressure on themselves. I think he was pushing too hard. I am hoping next year that he comes back and now that he's been around the guys and knows the game, he can relax a little bit and show what we saw in video of him in college. There was a difference, not necessarily with mechanics, but how he went after guys.
OC: Taylor Massey, the left-hander, threw well for you this year. What kind of pitches does he have?
JE: Massey was a true summer, we called him. He threw curveballs after curveballs after curveballs. In the situations we kept bringing him in, he felt like he needed to go there. In the future, I think we'd like to see him use his fastball a little more and pitch off of the fastball. Because he can get it up there at 89-91. He felt like he could get those guys to swing early on in the count with his breaking pitch and he felt comfortable with that. But in the future we are going to have to see him throw more fastballs and establish that.
OC: You had two guys on your staff this year who made the switch from being position players to being pitchers: Daniel Petitti and Jensi Peralta. Where are they at in their development as pitchers? Are they pure velocity guys at this point?
JE: Petitti actually wasn't a velocity guy. He was actually forced to learn how to pitch because his velocity wasn't what we expected it to be. He was throwing on the flat ground and he was getting it up there. We brought the radar gun out and we were trying to figure out what was happening with him in terms of velocity. He was throwing close to 95, 96 off of the flat ground. Then down on the mound, it seemed like the hips weren't working and it was only allowing him to pitch at 90, 91.
But he has a very heavy fastball which is released out front more and he was able to throw a slider that I know we worked on quite a bit. Even Garvin [Alston, the A's minor league pitching rehab coordinator], who was down there, had a hold of him quite a bit working on the slider. Once he had those two pitches, at the end he started to mix in a change-up, which he had a good feel for also. He has a good sense of what he is doing. He has been behind the plate for years. So he knew how to pitch to them.
But his whole thing was how aggressive he was coming out of the ‘pen. Going right after guys and I thought he did a good job.
Peralta, I think is a diamond in the rough. We found him and turned him into a pitcher and he surpassed what we expected from him. He had a good breaking pitch and a fastball that was basically untouchable. He could be a gem. I'm not going as far as saying he's going to be another [Sean] Doolittle, but we see the same potential arm in Peralta as we do with Doolittle.
OC: Now that he is healthy again, where do you feel Tyler Vail's development is at? It seemed like he was throwing strikes a lot more frequently this season.
JE: He's feeling comfortable. We were trying to work with him on mechanics at first with him being a very young guy, but it seems like his style is just going to have to stay the way that it is. He is much more comfortable with himself now. We just let him go out there this year and pitch and he's feeling great.
I had him in Burlington [in 2011] and coming from where he was before: high school and then short-season and then coming straight to Burlington, I think it was a good idea to keep him back a little this season to develop a tough mental side of him and also on his pitches. We kind of threw him to the wolves last year in the Midwest League, but for him to be able to get out of Arizona and pitch at a higher level this year was great for him.
OC: Have you had a chance to work with Omar Duran much over the past few years?
JE: I got to work with Duran a lot this year. That was one of my projects from Gil. As soon as we left spring training [for extended spring], he said, ‘let's get this kid ready.' From what I heard, he had been in Arizona a couple of years and this year really broke-out. He was the type of pitcher who had been pitching not to get hit instead of going after guys. He needed to be a little more aggressive. He had the arm. He had the angle.
The slider that he threw this year that he was able to develop and snap more out front, created more of a fastball look to hitters. He was throwing off of his fastball. It was great working with him. There were no miscommunications with him. We were speaking the same language and were able to go back and watch video and make adjustments with what was happening with his delivery.
OC: Have you worked with the rest of the 2013 Stockton coaching staff before – Webster Garrison and Haas Pratt?
JE: I have spent three years with Haas Pratt now. Two in Kane County and one in Burlington. So yeah, Haas and I have been together quite a bit. I have never worked with Webby but I've heard great things about him. I've gotten to spend some time with him in spring training and I have coached with him when I've had to fill in for another pitching coach during spring training.