In addition to featuring the youngest crop of players the Oakland A's have sent to the Midwest League in years, the Beloit Snappers are being guided by rookie manager Ryan Christenson. The former outfielder certainly doesn't lack for experience, as he played for the A's in parts of four seasons from 1998-2001 and put in the time in the Oakland farm system working his way up to the bigs from starting as a 10th-round draft pick.
Christenson played his final big-league game for Texas in 2003, and hung up the cleats after a 65-game run at Triple-A Albuquerque, in the Marlins organization, the following season. Christenson's life in baseball has now come full circle, as he's taken on the managerial duties at Beloit coaching players in the organization he himself was groomed in.
OaklandClubhouse sat down with Christenson during his team's first series of the season at Cedar Rapids.
OaklandClubhouse: What brought you back into the coaching profession, nearly a decade after your last big-league game?
Ryan Christenson: After I finished playing, I finished up my school and kind of saw myself getting into the business world. I took my degree and did that down in San Diego. After a couple years, I realized pretty quickly that wasn't my calling. I wasn't enjoying myself and had the itch to get back into baseball.
I went down to Atlanta and got an academy off the ground on the south side of Atlanta. It was intriguing to me. The second year we were out there, the city pulled the bond off the table that we had. That's when I finally figured out that flipping balls to kids for long-term wasn't for me.
I put my name in the hat with some professional teams to get back into coaching. I talked with Keith Lieppman and Grady Fuson last October and was out there for instructional league. Everything went well and they brought me on to be manager of the team.
It couldn't have been a better fit. From my playing days with the A's, there are still a lot of familiar faces throughout the organization that I respected as a player. I'm happy to be with these kids here in Beloit. This is the youngest team they've ever sent up here to the Midwest League and this could really be the future of the organization if these guys pan out. We've got some really good young prospects and I'm looking forward to working with them.
OC: Do you see yourself in some of the players, given how you put in your time in the minors to move up through the ranks?
RC: I think as a coach, you see yourself in everybody. You always remember the path that you walked as a player throughout an organization. I think I can relate to a lot of players, in that I wasn't a top draft pick and wasn't necessarily expected to make it to the major leagues. I struggled my first year, then figured it out and went like gangbusters. I know how quickly it can turn and the light switch can turn on. I try to pass on these things to my players. I have faith that anybody can figure this game out.
OC: Do you take a different approach with this year's group, being that it's so young?
RC: I don't think I really have to adapt my style from anything I've done in the past. When I was in Atlanta, pretty much the age of kids I was working with was 18-, 19-year-old players. I got along with those players in Atlanta just fine, and they respected the instruction I gave.
OC: How much playing experience did you have in the Midwest League?
RC: I got drafted in 1995 and went to Medford and struggled pretty bad that year. My shoulder was pretty messed up, so I had off-season surgery that year. I started the following short-season back in Medford and did well. After about the first month, I got moved up to West Michigan. I was there for about a month, we got into the playoffs and ended up winning the league. That was my only experience in the league.
RC: I'm very impressed with both of them. They're two strong 19-year-olds. Both of them have a bright future in this game.
Olson is a big, strong kid from Georgia that plays first base and has a beautiful swing. He's learning to make a little more consistent contact. He has tremendous power, but has a little swing-and-miss in his swing. But when he hits it, it goes a long way. He handles lefties and righties well.
Nunez is a tremendous fastball hitter. He can turn around about any fastball that is thrown to him. He's learning as he sees more velocity, but also pitchers that have that along with the polish. They have the secondary pitches with some command. Some of these pitchers can command that breaking ball and even that third pitch. For our young players, that's going to be their major challenge. Adjusting and being able to recognize and handle breaking balls, do damage when they're mistakes and laying off them when they're out of the zone.
RC: I like all three of them. Solano sprained his wrist a little the first night, so we're getting him healthy. I sat him the last three games (against Cedar Rapids), because I know that can linger on. But from what I've seen, he's got a nice stroke. He's trying to drive the ball a little more. He's got good hands as a shortstop, but can get careless once in a while and make an errant throw he doesn't need to.
Bostick is a hard-nosed player that likes to play the game on the ground. He gets dirty, dives for the ball and has nice pop in the bat for a guy that profiles out as a two-hole hitter. When he connects, he can hit it a long way. He has a good approach, is a selective hitter and knows what he's trying to do up there. He has a good future in this game.
Roberts has a good left-handed swing. He's been in the organization a few more years and is the elder statesman at the age of 24. Sam can hit a little bit and I like how he goes about his game. He can play second, third and short for us, and can even go out in the outfield. He's a utility player that you like to have.
OC: Another high draft pick on this squad is catcher Bruce Maxwell. What has he shown you since the start of spring training?
RC: Bruce has a unique talent in the position he plays. He worked with Marcus Jensen during spring training, realizing he had some polishing that needed to be done catching. His mind is in three places really, and that's always a struggle for catchers. He's trying to work his technique back there as a catcher, work with pitchers to make sure he's calling a good game, and then obviously swinging the bat. If that doesn't go right, frustration can set in along with fatigue.
It's going to be an interesting year for him and a good learning experience. He's a strong player with some serious pop in the bat. When he figures it out, he has the potential to do some damage with the bat. And he's already gotten off to a good start. He'll get a majority of the time at catcher, but I won't burn him out. He might spend a couple days a week in the DH role, and get some time off altogether.
Snappers' Notes: On Friday, catcher Nick Rickles joined the Beloit roster from Double-A Midland. Rickles was the starting catcher for the Low-A Burlington Bees last season. He had one start with Midland and collected two hits and an RBI in four at-bats.
The Snappers also placed Wilfredo Solano and Stuart Pudenz on the seven-day DL.