Oakland A's Q&A: Gil Patterson

The 2012 season has produced mixed results for some of the Oakland A's top pitching prospects thus far, with some taking big leaps forward, while others have struggled. We spoke with A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson about several of the A's top pitching prospects, including Sonny Gray, A.J. Cole, Raul Alcantara, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, Ian Krol and more...

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to ask you about two guys who have made big leaps forward this year: A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. Starting with Griffin, are you surprised with how well he has fared in his first two big league starts?

Gil Patterson: In general, no, because the first thing that he does is that he can pound the strike-zone, especially with his fastball, especially down-and-away. You and I know the importance of that. And he can throw the change-up. When you can change speeds, boy it's tough for them to sit on one thing. He's always had the curveball. The cutter, we just started this spring. He's really taken to it extremely well. I think it has been a big asset to his pitching. Not that he's behind in the count very often, but he can get that 1-0 or 2-1, he can cut it a little bit and get it in to a left-hander or down-and-away to a right-hander and make him roll over on it. He has used it a number of times to get groundballs. I'm very, very encouraged and happy and not very surprised because of the things that I just said. He's a strike-thrower and people who are strike-throwers, they at least give you a chance to stay in games.

OC: Does he remind you of Justin Duchscherer at all?

GP: You know something, that is a great call. They both throw the big, slow curveballs and both had the fastball and the cutter and the change-up, as well. So yes, in that regard, I'd say yes. I'd even say that [Griffin] has got a better angle than Duke has going downhill. It's tough to have a whole lot better command. [Duchscherer] could hit a one-inch lane from 60-feet, six inches. Griffin, right now, needs a two-inch lane. He's not far behind. But yeah, that's a good analogy.

OC: With Straily, I know you were pleased with how he did last season, but with this year's step forward, is it the continued improvement of the change-up that has been the key?

GP: You hit it right on the head. One game, he and I had a bit of a disagreement in that in his 15-strikeout game, it was alright to throw 35 percent breaking balls. I said, ‘you know, you are allowed to get swings-and-misses with your change-up, too.' There have been times when he's had 15 change-ups in a game and 10 were swing-and-misses. That's how much it has improved. He is such a student of the game. Even [Sunday] night, even without the breaking ball – he didn't strike-out that many guys with the breaking ball; his percentage of breaking ball strike-outs were low –he still struck-out 10.

OC: Regarding one of their teammates for much of the year with Midland – Sonny Gray – are you disappointed with how things have gone for him this year or has he pitched better than the numbers would indicate?

GP: I really like what you said last. I think for any of us to expect him to go out and pitch like he did his first 25 innings of pro ball [in 2011] that would be kind of silly. Because his numbers were something like one run allowed in his last inning of work, three walks and nearly a strike-out an inning. I think everyone or a lot of people kind of hoped or expected that that could carry on. But he is in a man's league. This is a man's league. For him to do what he did last year and continue to learn and make strides, he is getting better, even though sometimes you look at the numbers and say it doesn't warrant that.

We are trying to get him to stick his landing better and not to spin off. I think that when he can do that in the game as well as he can on the side, it's going to get better and better. The major league breaking ball is still there. His change-up development has gotten better. [Midland pitching coach] Don Schulze has done a great job with him to try to stick with him mechanically and to try to reinforce the importance of throwing a change-up.

His fastball percentage in a lot of the early games this season was in the 50-55 percent range. The last game or two, it has been 75 percent. He is making strides in commanding the fastball and throwing quality strikes from there. As much as people love numbers – and everyone loves numbers – I know that isn't what his game is going to revolve around this season. He is making strides in the right direction. We are happy with it and I know for a fact that he is happy with it, as well.

OC: How have you felt the transition has gone for A.J. Cole with the Burlington Bees? It seemed like he ran into a decent amount of bad luck when he was pitching for Stockton with a lot of balls finding holes. Was his transfer to Burlington more about change of scenery or is he working on something in particular with Burlington?

GP: I'm so glad you said that. You never want to make excuses and he's not an excuse-maker. He would never come in the next day and say, ‘you know those four runs in the third or the fourth last night [were because of bad luck]', because in the other four or five innings, they often didn't score. It seemed like with Stockton one inning was often his Achilles heel. I think it just got to the point to where I don't want to say that we doubted his mental toughness because we did not, but I think it got to the point to where we said, ‘let's let him feel a little more confident, in case it is wavering a little bit.' Like you said, the move to the Midwest League has worked out extremely well.

He handled it quite well. Who knows? I'm not 100 percent sure what David [Forst], Billy [Beane], all the front office people will decide [in terms of whether Cole will return to Stockton this season]. Sometimes you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. Should we move him back, or should we let him finish there? You have to get caught-up in what is best for his development and not whether Burlington wins or Stockton wins, although winning is important for the organization and for those teams. You are still looking at the big picture. I think right now, we are extremely happy with the way he has bounced back.

He has raised his arm angle a little bit higher than it was in Stockton, but the pitches were always there. As a matter of fact, [Stockton manager] Webster Garrison – a lot of times managers when a pitcher is 0-and-7, which I think he was, a lot of times managers, half-kiddingly, are the first ones who want you out of there. It's what have you done for me lately. As here's a guy [Garrison] who thought Cole pitched well enough to keep his team in the game. He didn't always pitch as badly as his linescore looked and his stats looked. It still wasn't as bad as everyone thought, but what he has done in Burlington we are very happy with.

OC: What is Cole's Burlington teammate Raul Alcantara working on this year? How would you assess his progress, being just 19 and pitching in the Midwest League this year?

GP: That is a big step for him. It's been a rollercoaster. He will have a game or two where he goes six innings, five hits, one run, one walk, five strike-outs, and it's like ‘ok.' Then it will be four innings, eight hits, five runs, three walks, etc. He needs some development in all areas, quite honestly. He's in the right league where it's challenging enough. You still have to locate your fastball, even though he's 91-94. His change-up is good. I think right now, along with the mental discipline that he has to accomplish, throwing a consistent breaking ball is one of our other physical goals for him.

OC: You went with a six-man rotation in Stockton earlier this year, but then Blake Hassebrock went on the DL and that was altered. Now that he's back, do you see the six-man rotation returning at all?

GP: I was really hoping that on my tombstone it would read: "Gil Patterson. Loved G-d. Loved people. Great pitching coach. Starter of the six-man rotation." [laughs] But I don't think it's going to happen. It didn't work out nearly as well as I would have hoped. I thought that with the extra day of rest, guys would respond better, but they didn't. Like you said, there were a couple of injuries and I'm not saying that I wouldn't try it out again, but it didn't work very well in Stockton. I think right now we'll just maintain the five.

OC: How would you say that Ian Krol has done after missing an entire year?

GP: It's still very much a work-in-progress. He'll make strides and again we just talked about Alcantara physically and mentally needing to develop. Ian is in that same boat. Missing that full season last year has made an impact on him both physically and mentally. He is making strides. The biggest thing that we challenge not only with the pitching coaches but with the pitchers is that every time out, just try to get a little bit better. Now the numbers might not always be better, but just try to be a little bit better each time out. Learn a little something from your last game that you can put into this game, whether it be pitching without your best stuff or controlling the running game or your behavior when things don't go well. Each time, work on things that you can get just a little bit better at.

And Ian, I'm not going to say it's one-step forward, two-steps back, but with missing last year, it's like we are dealing with a tortoise-and-the-hare type thing. You want it so badly to come along quickly, and it's going to take some time, both on his part and on ours.

OC: Speaking of taking some time, Michael Ynoa finally made his 2012 debut [on Saturday]. What is the plan for him this summer?

GP: He has worked hard. The training staff has worked exceptionally hard. [Saturday] he was 92-94 [MPH]. I think originally we did have a plan for him when he signed with us for each season and what the workload would be like and where. But I think at this point now, it's almost on a daily basis to see how he responds. We'll see how he responds to [Saturday's] game and that will determine what we do next. And how he responds to that next outing will determine the next step, and so forth. Personally, the first thing is his health and secondly, I wouldn't mind getting him to Vermont this year, if that could fit in.

OC: Two other pitchers from the A's Dominican Academy are pitching for the AZL A's this year: Gregory Paulino and Jose Torres. What are they throwing at this point?

GP: They are in the right league. The two pitching coaches that we have in the Dominican work very hard preaching fastball command first and then throwing a change-up second and then trying to develop a major league breaking ball third. Torres and Paulino have the first two pretty well. They are, for the most part, gaining confidence in their fastball command and are throwing good change-ups. The third step to come is that breaking ball. They are pitching three or four innings each time out for us. We'll keep them at a 75-85 pitch limit to watch their workload and, for the most part, [AZL A's pitching coach] Jimmy Escalante has been happy with how they have progressed.

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