OaklandClubhouse: How has the camp gone?
Todd Steverson: Camp has gone good. A lot of things going down. A lot of different thought processes. When there are changes or adjustments being made, there is always going to be a lull in there for a little bit because the initial shock of ‘I want to try to do something different to be better' tends to shock the brain a little bit. The moves aren't typically comfortable right off of the get-go. It takes a little while and a different mindset to get into it.
OC: Has anyone in particular made significant strides during the camp?
TS: I think everybody has made some sort of an improvement in one area or another – whether it be defense, running the bases or offensively. Speaking particularly on the offensive side, Jaycob Brugman has had a pretty good camp. Matt Olson is doing fine. Renato Nunez is still swinging the bat well and Tyler Marincov has shown the ability to adjust and adapt well. I can say something good about everybody in terms of making an adjustment and implementing it and figuring out how that works for them. But that would really require me to go on results and I'm not into results for the Instructional League in terms of hitting. He may have hit .200 down here, but I like what he is doing now.
OC: How has Jesus Lopez looked (Lopez was one of the A's July 2nd signings this season)? This is the first time you've seen him play, right?
TS: Yeah. I saw him on video. Sam [Geaney, the A's international scouting coordinator] showed me video on him. You know what? The kid has skills. All of 16-years-old out here hanging with the boys. He fits in just fine. When he gets on the baseball field, you have to remind yourself that he is just 16. It's like, ‘that's a nice move he has there. Or those are some good actions, or that's a nice throw.' Not that he can't be good at 16, but he blends in well with guys who are more mature in this sport at this point.
OC: How did Yairo Munoz do this year? From the beginning of extended spring training until now, do you think he's grown a lot?
TS: This is a big adjustment. We've talked about this before, you and I. When you come over here from the Dominican or Venezuela or wherever you may come, the culture shock is there. There can be some home-sickness. The rules of the United States of America are different, what you can and can't do. The lifestyle is different.
For him, I think the lifestyle of the United States was different and he probably underachieved as a hitter during the Arizona Rookie League season relative to the ability that he has got. Just now, at the conclusion of this program, I think he's starting to figure out the things that it takes to be a consistent performer as a professional baseball player. It's not just all about talent. It's about using your mental side. Using your brain to determine what's right and what's wrong and to learn from your mistakes.
Sometimes it is the wild, wild West down there in the Dominican. You throw as hard as you can, swing as hard as you can and run as fast as you can to get signed. Then you become a professional ballplayer and get that signature and now it is time to learn to implement those skills in a different way. That has to happen for all of them, not just him. Everybody, after you have graduated from amateur status or a free agent into a signed baseball player, there is always a time and a place where you have to get into a professional baseball world and learn how to be a professional.
OC: It's a different adjustment, but Chad Pinder seemed to struggle this season after making the jump from high-round college draft pick to professional baseball. Do you think he was able to make some adjustments during Instructs that will help him next season?
TS: In terms of adjustments, he's probably made the most. To his credit, they were in pieces. It was ‘try this,' ‘do that,' ‘and that will effect this.' They were building blocks where one would morph into the other. It took a minute and it was probably mind-boggling for him to continually feel the discomfort of something new for an extended period of time. I would say that he is still a little uncomfortable, but he's starting to get it.
He is a really good athlete. The best thing about Chad is his willingness to want to do something to get better. I could throw a lot of different things at him and he'd be like, ‘let's do it. If it makes me better, let's do it.' Sometimes that is good. Sometimes that is not always what you want. I don't want him to be a tinkerer his whole career. I want him to have something solid and something simple to hold onto and become a good hitter that way. If you are always doing something different every day, you never really get to have your own approach.
There are a lot of people who will say a guy like Cal Ripken, Jr. went up to the plate with a different stance every other week. He was a tinkerer and he was a successful tinkerer, but he was one of few.
OC: B.J. Boyd was in camp. You have talked about how he is one of the fastest players in the organization, but he didn't have a lot of success stealing bases this season. Did he spend a lot of time working on his base-running during Instructs?
TS: Yeah. B.J., Aaron Shipman and D'Arby Myers are making our, let's say, more burly runners really happy right now because they are taking over on the bases every time someone who is not a runner gets on, pretty much. They are doing that to work on their stealing capabilities, jumps and reading the pitchers.
OC: Was that what Myers was in camp to do, for the most part?
TS: D'Arby was here, for the most part, to clean up some of his approach and recognition skills and also work on the stolen base thing, to really get acclimated with his speed and how much more dimension he can put into his game. It was kind of two-fold: let's get a solid approach that allows him – he didn't strike out a ton or anything like that this year, but he's got a lot more in his approach than just putting the ball into play.
OC: D'Arby was one of the most experienced players in camp this year. Is it different working with a player with more experience than less?
TS: Not for me. The only difference I would say is that he has more knowledge. He has been able to experience higher levels and he understands the verbiage about the future of what some of these kids are going to encounter later on. For that level, he is a very good asset to us as coaches because he can confirm or deny any thought processes they might have.
OC: Were you able to work on things with Daniel Robertson in camp this year that you weren't able to last year because of the injury he sustained last year early in camp?
TS: Not really. You figure, he went out in May, so for an extended period of time, he was in Arizona and I was still here. He was doing just fine after the injury. I didn't really strap anything on him until he got into competition in terms of adjustments or anything like that. I saw him a few times during the course of the year. We talked. We are still on the same level of what we talked about initially.
He's a tremendous athlete. He really wants it. Sometimes he'll get frustrated when he doesn't do it exactly how it should feel. Which is typical. I think right now he is starting to get to the point where he understands where the verbiage we have been using is going to. It's not about the results. It's about ‘was that right?' He's at the point now where he can say, ‘that felt good' even though he didn't get it, or even though he missed it. He knows if he follows that up, good things will happen eventually. That's a tough thing for a player to grasp, to know that he didn't get a hit but it was the right thing that he was able to do in that at-bat approach-wise.
OC: Are there other players that you needed to get past the whole results-oriented part of their thinking?
TS: Yeah. There were 23 of them [the entire position player roster]. Nobody wants to come out and hit zero, but for what we are doing here developing a new mindset and a new focus, it's okay for us. They will probably say, ‘sure, that's okay for you, but I want some sort of gratification out of this whole thing.' In the teaching process, you would like to see some success to keep the process going. If you make a change and get zero hits, you aren't really going to stick to the change mentally.
OC: Does it help that Instructional League scores and stats aren't kept in a place that is readily accessible for the players to see?
TS: It does, but hitters are crazy. They know if they don't have a hit. They know how many hits they've got. They may not know exactly how many at-bats they got, but they know how many hits they've got, where they went and who they landed in front of or to the side of. Statistically in their own head, they know where they are at. They know if they are raking, if they are in the middle or if they are down below.
Once again, going back into the whole process of what you are doing, our main focus is for every player to come out of here better than he came in and more knowledgeable about the game of baseball than he did before he got here. It's not just all about offense. It's a well-rounded game of defense, base-running, being a student of the game. A lot of self-awareness things we try to do because really instinctive players have really high awareness. On that level, I think we've accomplished our goals in this camp.
OC: How would you assess where Billy McKinney is after his first professional season? Is he where you hoped he would be?
TS: He's a very good ballplayer. A very good ballplayer. I think Billy has been able to grow in this program by recognizing more of himself and why he does what he does. What ends up happening athletically is that you out-shine when you are younger. You don't pay attention as to why it gets done the way it gets done. The top two percent of all athletes who are truly gifted don't necessarily have to pay attention to it, but everybody else has to have an awareness of their athleticism and how it pertains to them.
I think where Billy is is at the point where he knows that he is gifted with some athleticism, but now he has to figure out how he is going to put that athleticism into play because he has a good knowledge of the game. He plays the game well and comes to work everyday happy to be there.
OC: I noticed that Max Muncy was playing a little third base for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Was that something that you as a coaching staff were hoping to see, or is that more of a function of the players that are on that Mesa roster and Muncy filling a need?
TS: I think collectively as an organization that you see all of the value in every player. Obviously he played first base well and hit well this year. If he has the capability to play third base also, that will increase his value as a player. There isn't any reason not to play him over there. We already know we have a good first baseman. If he can be average to a tick above adequate at another spot, that can be a big boost for his game.
We don't like pin-holing guys into spots where we say ‘you're just this, and you're just that.' You'll see what we do in the big leagues, moving guys to different positions. If Eric Sogard was just a second baseman like he was when he came into our organization and we had never tried him at shortstop in Sacramento and let him play into that, you never know where he is at right now. He's versatile now. He made himself valuable for our big league team. The same goes for Jed Lowrie. He's a shortstop but he moves around all over the place.