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Oakland Athletics front office Q&A: Keith Lieppman, part 3

In the final part of our Q&A, we discuss Logan Shore, Tyler Ramirez, Max Schrock, Luis Barrera, Norge Ruiz and many more with Oakland A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman.

Logan Shore / Photo by Chris Lockard
An injury slowed Logan Shore this season. / Photo by Melissa Lockard

Oakland Athletics front office Q&A: Keith Lieppman, part 1

Oakland Athletics front office Q&A: Keith Lieppman, part 2

OaklandClubhouse: Do you see Max Schrock getting an opportunity to play other positions besides second base at some point?

Keith Lieppman: We’ve tried to maybe bring that, but he’s been injured a few times this year and there hasn’t been a good opportunity to do that. Right now, it’s probably not going to happen this year with Sheldon Neuse and Jorge Mateo there. Perhaps next year there might be an opportunity or maybe if he plays winter ball. But right now, there isn’t really an opportunity for him to play anything but second.

OC: Have you liked Schrock’s approach at the plate?

KL: He’s done great. To have that kind of group around him — B.J. Boyd is hitting something like .326 and he’s hitting .317-.318 — it’s sort of become a competition between them. I think winning teams and winning players just make everyone better as they learn and compete with each other. Schrock’s approach is very good. He takes pitches if he needs to, but he’s ready to ambush right away. He doesn’t have any fear at the plate. I think he’s done a really good job of developing an approach that fits his style. He’s got a bunch of doubles and puts up quality at-bats.

OC: You mentioned Boyd. He’s been at or above .300 for virtually the entire season. What has he done to improve his game over the past few years?

KL: I think he finally found his own voice. A lot of people over the years have given him a lot of ideas for how to work with his mechanics and a lot of it was very helpful. He had a real big hitch in his swing and I think he eliminated that, but once he got to a certain point, he took it upon himself to become his own person. He really just took off with it. It took a lot of time and effort and a lot of guys giving him information, but I think finally he took it into his own mind that it was something he was going to figure out and he did.

All aspects of his game increased. I think going to Triple-A helped him the last few weeks of last season. He saw how Triple-A players were. He improved his defense. The last piece will be stolen bases. He’s starting to do that again but he runs well. He goes first to third and everything is in position to be that lead-off type guy. He bunts. He uses the whole field. The stolen base will be the last piece to finish him off.

OC: Tyler Ramirez has had as an impressive a first full season as any recent A’s position player prospect I can remember. Does he compare to any other player who has come through the organization before?

KL: He’s a little bit like Brugman. Similar style. Occasional power, moves the ball to all fields. Has good at-bats. Good speed. Good arm. They are similar type players. Tyler moved very rapidly. To have guys that were in Vermont at this time last year already in Double-A, it really says a lot about the quality of the guys that we are drafting like Murphy, Ramirez, Puk. Logan Shore would like have been there if it wasn’t for the injuries. With all of the opportunities that promotions have brought with guys going to the big leagues, it’s created a lot of opportunities for guys to move. It has maybe given us a chance to re-evaluate how quickly we move people. We moved Healy from Vermont to Stockton right away and Pinder right away. Those were kind of our first risky moves in trying to promote players rapidly, and I think that we are finding out that good college players can handle that jump. Even though Healy was hitting .200 the first month, he overcame that and moved through our system very quickly.

OC: It kind of harkens back to when you used to start some of those college pitchers in Double-A, like Sonny Gray, James Simmons

KL: Thinking about how those guys have been able to move up, when we had two teams in the same league [California League] in Visalia and Modesto, the two teams in one league was very beneficial for us. I think that was a great time where we were able to take those guys and move them pretty quickly from Rookie ball to High-A. Our draft continues to produce those kind of guys. It’s probably going to happen again this year. There are four or five quality guys on the Vermont squad who could probably skip right past Beloit and go to Stockton.

OC: The Stockton rotation began the year with some of those 2016 draft picks, but then Daulton Jefferies got hurt and Shore got hurt and Puk was promoted. Looking at Shore, the numbers weren’t pretty his first couple of starts back with Stockton after the lat injury, but he’s pitched better of late. Do you think he’s getting back to where he was before the injury popped up?

KL: Yeah. It’s such a touchy issue when you are trying to come back from those kinds of injuries. You look at any of the guys – Graveman is still trying to get his groove back. It just takes awhile, especially, Shore’s never even been at that level before. There’s a lot that goes into that process. His last outing was very good. Not all of the balls were hit hard off of him. He gave up six hits and a few of them didn’t even make it out of the infield. The line doesn’t always describe how he is doing. He’s been very good and so far so good with him coming back. Without the injury, he’d probably be at Double-A right now.

OC: Brett Siddall has had a big breakout season after being sort of the odd-man out to start the year. Do you see him as sort of a ‘diamond-in-the-rough’ in the system?

KL: Absolutely. He was in kind of the same boat as Healy was in 2014. It was getting to decision time. It around the same time in mid-May, right around 100 at-bats and he was hitting below .200 and no damage and all of a sudden something kicks in for him. It was a combination of all of the things falling into place for him. You look up and it’s already August and he’s had a spectacular year. Without April, no telling what his numbers would look like. It’s a great story about somebody who scuffled and turned it around within about a two-week period.

OC: Luis Barrera moved up to Stockton a few weeks ago. How do you feel he’s handling the jump up there?

KL: It’s another tough jump for him. He’s a younger guy who is very aggressive and has the tools. This level will test him because pitchers are able to do a lot of things differently. He isn’t able to get away with his aggressiveness on the bases or in the outfield as much. He’s learning to have to have a better plan and a better approach. That’s what this level brings. Guys are a little more mature and guys are having to match what is going on around him. Things are taken a little more lightly at a Low-A level. There’s not as much importance in the day-to-day routines. He’s finding that he is having to do those things at this level to be able to compete.

He’s also probably lost about 10 pounds since the season started. We are trying to keep the weight on him. But he’s doing great. He’s handling the situation. He has a big arm and he has four or five homeruns. He looks like he is going to be okay.

OC: Norge Ruiz and Miguel Romero are both on that Stockton staff. They are making the transition from pitching in Cuba to High-A without a lot of lower-level innings in-between. What have the positives been for them this season and what will they be working on the rest of the year?

KL: Neither one of them had pitched much, like you said. They had been at the complex just pitching against guys that are at the lowest level and they may have been at a higher level but your game sort of goes along with the level you are facing. There was no challenge. Until they came over here in June, they hadn’t been challenged at all. The first couple of games in the Arizona League for both Norge and Romero, they had to up their game. Little by little, they made the adjustments to the competition.

Romero did well in Beloit but then got beat up a little bit in Stockton, but his last few outings have been excellent. He’s got good velo, good hard breaking stuff and I think Romero is right on track.

Ruiz’s transition was a little bit easier. I think he’s a little further along. He’s adjusted after a couple of shaky starts in Stockton, he’s come back and is beginning to be able to understand the game. They haven’t faced anything like this or been in a situation like this before. Being in a ballpark where the ball jumps like that or Stockton’s short porch or playing down South where the ball flies out, they are experiencing all new things and how to go about it. This adjustment period is going to take awhile. You can’t really base a whole lot on their performance right now. It’s just kind of them getting used to all of these different, new situations.

OC: Was it difficult for Ruiz to deal with the suspension [for having a foreign substance on his non-pitching arm]?

KL: I don’t think he’s probably doing anything different than anyone else is. He just got caught. I think there are a lot of guys who do the same thing. They are just a little bit more discreet. He probably just didn’t know any better coming from where he came from originally. You think that these things are part of what is going on in the game. Typically most people don’t even know that it is going on. Guys always want to try to get better grips on baseballs. I don’t think it affected him adversely. He got the suspension and had to pay the fine. I think he’ll avoid that in the future.

OC: Dalton Sawyer has moved around a lot this year, starting in Beloit and making spot starts in Nashville before settling in with Stockton. Has he been a pleasant surprise this year?

KL: Yeah, absolutely. I think that Gil has taken him as sort of his pet project. He’s actually trying to give Dalton a delivery that is a little like Chris Sale. He’s sort of used him as his comp. Maybe the last three outings or so, Gil has been playing with this idea of introducing a little bit different change to how his delivery works. I think Dalton is taking to that.

He’s a real sharp kid. To be able to handle going to Triple-A and move around is admirable and has also helped him. It’s given him a view of a lot of different levels. I think that sometimes it helps a mature guy who can handle it. It’s more information that can help him as he progresses. He handled it very well. It’s a little bit like what James Naile did last year when he moved around.

OC: Brandon Marsonek joined the Stockton team recently from Arizona. Undrafted free agent but pitching really well. What kind of pitcher is he right now?

KL: It’s funny. His nickname is “the new guy” in Stockton right now because he was just supposed to come there temporarily. He did really well in Arizona and we had the injuries to Andrew Tomasovich and Brandon Bailey went down. We had a lot of injuries and we needed a guy who could go in and fill a spot and help the team out until these guys got healthy. Then all of a sudden, he’s back-to-back three scoreless innings efforts. Even prior to that he pitched very well. He’s a little bit like our sixth-round pick Logan Salow. They are similar: quick arm lefties that have good command. They throw the ball over the plate, sinking pitches with good change-ups. They are really similar type guys. But he was in the right spot at the right time and got promoted and he’s performed. I’m hoping to leave him there to finish the season.

OC: Daulton Jefferies and James Kaprielian had their Tommy John surgeries around the same time this year. Are they going to be on a similar rehab schedule?

KL: I think they were a week apart. I think the Yankees had a different schedule for Kaprielian and Daulton is on his program. How those two interact remains to be seen. I’m pretty sure that Kaprielian will be in Arizona soon, but however they progress, it will be just how things play out. They are very close [in timing], but we’ll kind of match them up to see how they go. But however they progress, we’ll just let it go the way that it goes. So far, so good for both of them. They are on a good plan.

OC: Do you expect Dustin Fowler to be at the complex this off-season working on his rehab, or will he continue that at home?

KL: I don’t know what the plan is right now. I know he’s in Oakland right now. We’ll see how that plays out. For awhile, he’ll just be there.

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