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Hitting coach Eric Martins talks Nashville Sounds hitters

Several of the Oakland A’s top position player prospects are currently with the Nashville Sounds. I spoke with Sounds’ hitting coach Eric Martins on how several are progressing at the plate and in the field.

Matt Olson / Photo by Chris Lockard
Matt Olson has made adjustments / Photo by Chris Lockard

Longtime Oakland A’s scout Eric Martins moved into the coaching side of the organization two years ago when he became the hitting coach for the 2015 Double-A Midland RockHounds. In 2016, he moved to Triple-A Nashville, where he is back for a second season and is currently coaching a roster of hitters that includes several of the A’s top position player prospects. I spoke with Martins on Thursday morning about several of those hitters and the progress they are making so far this season…

OaklandClubhouse: Franklin Barreto has had as good a start to a season as he has ever had in his career. From what you saw from him at the end of last year until now, has he made any changes in his approach that have allowed him to perform at this level?

Eric Martins: I think he just needed that extra year. People ask me about him all of the time and all I can say is that he is special. He does something everyday that amazes you that he is 21-years-old and that he can be playing at this level. The kid can really hit. He has electric hands. He’s strong. He can run. He has done an outstanding job on defense this year. There’s still a lot of talk that he might move to second base, but he’s done a pretty good job at shortstop. He’s really worked at it.

One of the best things about him is that he works. He doesn’t sit back on his talent. He really works on his craft. We get in the cage and do early work. With him, it’s about finding a consistent approach. He went through a stretch for about a week where he scuffled a little bit. I wanted to grab the reins a little bit. I haven’t had him for a full year yet, but [Nashville manager] Ryan Christenson has had him and he’s seen Franklin go through these little stretches. The thing with him would be pitch selection. They were pitching him a little bit differently. We just talked a little bit about not letting that dictate his at-bats. He scuffled for about a week and his strike-outs went up a bit. His strike-outs are still kind of high, but he’s got the innate ability to touch the ball and put a good swing on any single pitch. It’s quite fun to watch honestly.

OC: Obviously he isn’t physically similar, but does Barreto have that Vlad Guerrero ability to make contact with ridiculous pitches?

EM: [laughs] Yeah, kind of. He’ll be able to take a ball down and in and hit it on the barrel for a triple, or something like that. For example, he had an off day, and we used him to pinch-run. He hadn’t taken a swing all day. The game went into extra innings and he goes out there in the bottom of the 11th and first pitch he sees, he hits a triple into right field. The kid wakes up from a deep sleep and he’s already 1-for-2 on the day.

OC: I saw Mark Canha in person in the A’s game yesterday, and it looked like his batting stance was a little different than when he was up in Oakland the last time. What did you work on with him while he was in Nashville?

EM: Mark is unique. He has his own thoughts on what he wants to do. My job here was to support him and help him with whatever he needed. He would bounce some stuff off of me and we would talk about it. I just wanted to make sure that we were on the same page. It wasn’t that I did anything specifically with him. He brought to the table the idea that he wanted to widen out his stance to get into his legs a little bit more, which I was a big supporter of because it allowed him to be a little bit shorter to the ball. He really did a good job down here. The last game he was with us, he smoked four balls and walked. He didn’t get a hit, but it was one of those days where it was line-drive, line-drive, ball driven to the gap but he had nothing to show for it. But it showed the consistent at-bats that he needed.

He just needed some at-bats. Mark is talented and he can hit. As unique as it is, it works for him. He understands the things that he needs to do. I just tried to be supportive and give him the help that he needed, but we went with the ideas that he made up. There might have been a couple of drills that I might of thrown in there for him, but a lot of the adjustments he made were on his own.

OC: Matt Chapman had a strange start to the season with the run of strike-outs and then the wrist injury that kept him out for awhile. He struggled a bit when he got back, but the last 10 days or so he has hit well. Did he make any adjustments that prompted this hot streak, or was it more a matter of getting back to what he had been working on this spring?

EM: A little combination of both, actually. At the beginning of the year, I think his wrist might have been hurt a little earlier than he let us know about, so you might chalk a few of those strike-outs up to that maybe. Just at the beginning of the year, Texas [Round Rock] was throwing some tough guys at us right out of the chute. Which is fine. Those guys will make those adjustments.

Once he hurt his wrist and had that time off, we had a little homestand and he came back, I just wanted him to get some ABs. I said, ‘look, just get your timing back. You’ve been out for two weeks, so get your ABs and when we go on the roadtrip, we’ll work on some things and we’ll do some mechanical stuff.  We were back in Round Rock and I saw some video and started to pick some things up that were impacting the swing. I brought him in to look at it and he really made the adjustment on keeping that part of his mechanics tight. It’s been pretty good for him. He’s making more consistent contact. He’s having really good at-bats. He’s hit like three homeruns in five days. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season for him.

OC: A scout I spoke to who saw Renato Nunez earlier this year said he thought Nunez’s hands looked different in his set-up at the plate. Was that something that he changed with you?

EM: He did that over the off-season in winter ball. He picked his hands up higher. Now he’s back in between what he used to be and where he was at the start of the year. But he’s been doing fine with that. With Renato, it’s all about plate discipline. I still believe that he can hit. I still believe that he’s not just a power guy who is going to hit .240. When all is said and done, I think Renato can go out and hit for average and hit for power. He showed for about a week-and-a-half when he was taking walks and having good at-bats what he can really do. The last couple of days, he’s kind of gotten big again, but he’s still young. I still think that Renato can hit. He’s made some adjustments as the season has gone on, which is good.

That’s all I’m really here for. Guys are going to bounce some ideas off of me: ‘what do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ There might be some instances where I say ‘I think that is going to be counteractive to what you are trying to do, but let’s try it.’ That’s what I am here for. I’m not going to completely change anyone’s swing, but if there is something glaring, that’s when I’ll step in.

OC: Matt Olson was up in Oakland for about a week but didn’t get many at-bats. He didn’t seem to miss a beat when he got back and has been hitting well, but in general is it hard when you get guys back from the big leagues who haven’t played much to get them going again?

EM: It is. First of all, you have to see where their head is at after being sent down. But Matt is a tough enough kid after being sent down that he wasn’t upset. I think he knew that he was only going to be up there for a few days, so it made the demotion easier. But it wasn’t easy for him not to get at-bats for that week and then we had to face someone really tough that night when he got back, but he came down and did what he was doing.

He is one who made some adjustments with Bushie [A’s hitting coach Darren Bush] that he was supposed to carry into the off-season and he did. Those adjustments look outstanding. He looks really good right now. It’s just a matter of him getting those at-bats. Now I think he’s a lot more comfortable [with the changes] because he has been getting some hits and having good at-bats. I expect a good year from Ollie. Whoever knows when they will need him again up there, but I expect him to stick that time.

OC: Is he a little shorter to the ball now?

EM: Absolutely. That was the idea was when Bushie worked with Ollie’s hands to bring them a little bit closer. He can still take his normal load but he still has a direct path to the ball. He’s got a little bit more coverage on the inner-half. He still has the good plate discipline, but he’s a little bit more aggressive. He can be in that in-between where he has such a good eye that at times he can be passive because he’ll pass on pitches that he can hit [if they aren’t strikes]. But at the same time, you don’t want him swinging too much out of the ‘zone. He’s done a good job of being aggressive on a few pitches that he wouldn’t normally swing at, but he has had some good results with that. He’s also still using that plate discipline and having good at-bats.

OC: Has it been good for your line-up to have Jaycob Brugman back?

EM: Bruggy is unbelievable. It was great to get him back. He got back and was just flipping in two or three hits a night even with the missed time. He’s a quality at-bat every single time he is up there. He studies, he works on his craft, he’s solid in his approach. He doesn’t stray away from it. That’s what he does. He gives you a good at-bat every night and he is one of the guys that you want up in a situation you have a chance to tie or win the game because he really relishes those situations.

He’s a little frustrated right now, but I said, ‘Bruggy, you’ve been here for about five days. You’re going to have to relax and get your at-bats.’ But that’s just how he is because he wants to help the team win. We’ve been scuffling a little bit and he feels like he has to step-up to help the team win. At the same time, he still needs to get his timing and his ABs. He’ll be fine.

OC: Joey Wendle has only played second base since he came back from Extended Spring Training. Has the shoulder injury scuttled plans to have him play some shortstop, or is he on a progression to eventually be able to do that once the shoulder is stronger?

EM: I think the progression is the plan. We want to continue to make sure that the shoulder is stable and in good health. He’s still taking groundballs over there, but we have been trying to limit his throws because he is still coming off of that injury. Once it all feels better and he feels really comfortable with it, then there may be some innings for him over at shortstop. That’s what we really want is to do with him this year is to increase his versatility and he started to do that during the off-season. As soon as he feels good enough to move over there, he’ll start making some throws and hopefully we can get him in there a couple games a week or something like that.

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