OaklandClubhouse: A.J. Puk finished the season with a bit of a forearm issue. Do you expect him to have a regular off-season?
Gil Patterson: Yes. Everything I heard when I was down in Arizona indicated that. I think they even sent him home early, if I remember correctly. He didn’t even stay for the entire Instructional League, I believe. I think everything seems very good. He’s going to be in Tampa [where Gil lives]. Once I get back from the Dominican [Instructs] next week, he and I will stay in touch each month. I don’t forsee – and I don’t think anyone else does either – it being an ongoing issue.
It’s to his credit that he said something rather than trying to pitch through something. That’s how you break. For some reason, people sometimes think you are less of a competitor or something if you tell them [you’re hurting]. No one wants to come out of the game. Nobody. Maybe you can say, ‘Gil, there are some exceptions.’ Hopefully those are on someone else’s team [laughs]. But when you are hurt, you are going to hurt yourself and the team if you pitch through it because you aren’t going to perform as well. So speaking up when he did is a credit to him.
Hopefully our medical people, coaches and staff just let him know that we are glad he let us know because not telling us would have impacted him and everyone else on the team. It certainly seems like he is going to come back well. I certainly hope so, because he’s awfully good.
OC: How did you feel he progressed from the start of the season until the end? Did you feel like he had all of his pitches where you wanted them?
GP: Yes, all four. He had over 40% swing-and-miss on the breaking ball, the slider/cutter and the change. And he was over 25% with the fastball. Last Instructional League [in 2016] and last year in Vermont, he made a slight adjustment with his right leg to be firmer so that he was throwing against it rather than bending it. It’s helped his stuff. It’s a credit to him that he was able to pick it up and stick with it because he worked his butt off. We would make him do all of these drills and now during the season, he continued to do drills that re-emphasize his mechanical key. He learned to pitch. He competes. He’s become a better pitcher and a better power pitcher. He knows now that it isn’t always about how hard you can throw it. Sometimes a 2-1 change-up is better than a 2-1 fastball. He’s around the plate more.
That’s the hope. The hope is certainly that from game-to-game and year-to-year he gets better. I think next year, he walks half a guy less or one guy less per nine innings. I think he only walked like 3.5 or 3.7 per nine innings last year and he punched out like 13 per nine innings. His ERA is probably a tick higher than you’d like and you might say, ‘Gil, why is his ERA so high?’ It seemed like it was more the groundballs that got through. Let’s say he walked a guy with two outs and then a blooper gets him in. It wasn’t damage [that resulted in the runs]. You hate to say he was unlucky, but there is a certain amount of truth to luckiness. It’s one of those things where, if I’m the manager, I’d say ‘send the lucky guy in.’ [laughs] Whoever is pitching in the bullpen, I’m looking for the luckiest guy because it does make a difference.
There is this stat called FIP and his FIP is awfully good. If someone has good FIP, you’d think the ERA would almost match it, but in his case this year, it didn’t. But he did everything, for the most part, that we wanted him to this year.
OC: The A’s system has a lot more hard throwers than it used to, but I think Wandisson Charles is still one of the hardest throwers in the system. Did he make progress in Instructs in throwing more strikes?
GP: Yeah, he did this Instructional League. He made progress. It’s still not over yet [in terms of his development], but I’m watching Kenley Jansen with the Dodgers and thinking, ‘Can Charles be our Jansen?’ He has a long way to go but he’s making progress. He was still 97-99 this Instructional League and during the season he had some 102s. There’s lots of things there for us to be hopeful about.
OC: Rafael Kelly came over to Arizona from the Dominican League halfway through the year and put up some really impressive numbers. What kind of pitcher is he?
GP: Unorthodox. He falls way off the rubber on each pitch. You don’t teach that. He throws a change-up that people keep calling a curveball because it looks like a curveball. He has a fastball, curveball, change-up and split. And you know what I’m going to do with him? Leave him alone. I’m going to leave him alone because it works. When the time comes that it doesn’t work as well, then we will try to address some things with the delivery, specifically with keeping the head online a little bit and finishing straight to homeplate for extension.
It was funny. James Naile was talking about his spin rate last year. Usually sinkerballers don’t have high spin rates. His spin rate was about 1700. He said, ‘I have the spin rate of a toddler.’ So I said, ‘that’s alright. Kelly has the extension rate of a toddler.’ [laughs] He doesn’t have good extension, but his pitches work. Like I said, I’m just going to let it be until it catches up to him and then if he needs to make an adjustment with anything, he will. Sometimes when you are throwing a pitch that everyone thinks is going to be a change-up and it will stay to the armside and instead it cuts to the gloveside, who’s to say that is bad if it works?
OC: Teodoro Ortega and Wilkin Ramos were July 2nd signings this year who made their professional debuts at the Instructional League camp. How did they fare?
GP: I’ll tell you what. They did really well. Ramos, probably because of his size [he’s 6’5’’ and Ortega is 6’0’’], you may be a little bit more impressed with at this point, but they both filled up the strike-zone and they have a feel for a change-up and a breaking ball. Ramos might average a tick higher, but Ortega was pitching at 88 and Ramos at 89-91, which is great at their ages. Free, effortless deliveries. Whoever signed them did a heck of a job as far as getting guys who don’t need a lot of work. Heck, if you keep signing guys like that, you won’t need me around. They are awfully good.
We made a tweak with Ramos. Ramos was so slow to the plate that runners weren’t stealing first-to-second; they were going first-to-third. But other than that, they were very good. I was happy with both of them.
OC: How did Oscar Tovar do at Instructs?
GP: It wasn’t stellar. It was solid. You talked before about some of the guys who don’t have a lot of innings built up, like Dustin Driver, and what’s the best thing for him? Tovar has innings built up, but I’m not sure going forward if him pitching two innings out of the bullpen wouldn’t be more beneficial. He was in the piggyback tandem in Vermont and he pitched later in the game in one outing. [Vermont pitching coach] Bryan Corey says to me ‘for three innings, he looked like a man on a mission.’ He threw 94-97 in a 2-1 game and they were not scoring.
Sometimes you hate to have a young pitcher penciled into a bullpen role, but if the other way is not really working, when is the time to make that move? It’s almost like Dellin Betances years ago with the Yankees. We tried to keep him starting for a year or two, and then Cash [Brian Cashman] told me to tell him that he wanted him in the bullpen. That that was his only way to the Yankees. He did it. He wasn’t happy, but he just took off.
Who knows? Maybe Tovar is the same way. I’m not certain I can do that because I can always be told no. His arm is too good to struggle. He can sink it. He has a good change-up. Sometimes he has a great cutter. It’s a matter of confidence and consistency, which is often the case with young guys. He needs to be able to put it together on a consistent basis.
OC: Wyatt Marks was a closer in college, but he was stretched out as a starter with Vermont. How did you like him in a starter role?
GP: I think he performed so well, that I think he’ll stay as a starter next year. It might be in a tandem role possibly. He had that invisible slider. You look at it and when you watch it, it looks like it stays in the same spot, but when guys swing at it, they miss it by a foot. I like what he did this year. His slider is a really good swing-and-miss pitch and he worked on his change-up and he got that pitch going a lot better this Instructional League.
OC: What was the key for Jean Ruiz in having such a strong year with Vermont?
GP: He threw strikes. He can throw his change-up and his slider for strikes. The only thing about his change-up during the season was that it produced very little swing-and-miss. We gave him a two-seam change-up in Instructs, and he might have had a 50% swing-and-miss rate with it. He really made an improvement with his change-up during Instructs. He also has a little bit of an attitude in a good way. He’s also got some deception to his delivery. He’s a little cross-body with a high front shoulder, so there is some deception. It’s a little funky coming out, but he throws strikes.
OC: He wasn’t in camp, but I wanted to get your thoughts on how Jesus Luzardo looked after he came over in the Nationals trade?
GP: This guy is special. I saw him twice in the AZL before he moved up. I said, ‘can you please send him to Vermont?’ [laughs] Nuke [Aaron Nieckula] and Bryan said, ‘we are happy with the guys we have,’ and I said, ‘wait until you see this.’ For as good as he is on the mound with his stuff, he’s equally as good in the clubhouse. He’s really good. The fastball has life. Good breaking ball. Good change-up. Good feel for pitching. He’s going to be really good.
OC: With Tommy John surgery, it’s interesting how some guys can regain their feel for throwing strikes more quickly than others. Did you feel like he regained his feel pretty quickly?
GP: In the small sample I had with him, I didn’t see any issues with him throwing strikes.
OC: Thinking of lefties, there aren’t a ton of left-handers in the system right now, especially out of the bullpen. There were two college senior left-handers in Instructs in Logan Salow and Pat Krall. Do you think they can move up the depth chart quickly?
GP: Yes, and maybe Logan more than Pat right now. Logan had a good Instructional League and worked on a couple of things delivery-wise. He got a little more extension, had a better feel for his slider and commanded his fastball. He had a nice Instructional League.
Pat did, as well, although Logan is probably further along. Pat worked a little bit with Lefty [Craig Lefferts]. We slowed down his delivery a little bit to give him a little bit more, I guess you could say, power behind his load. His cutter was around 78 [MPH] and the curveball was 75, so we tried to get a little bit more separation and get the cutter a little bit firmer, like at 82, 83. He did that pretty well, at the end especially. With his change-up, he was kind of leaving his arm behind him. It was a good change-up and he had a quite a few swing-and-misses in the AZL, but it was one of those where the guys saw it coming but the hitters in the AZL just couldn’t hit it. But we quickened up his arm a little bit to make him more deceptive. He’s on his way, but, like I said, he’s probably a little bit behind Logan.
OC: Did anyone else standout in Instructs that I didn’t mention?
GP: We’ll see what happens with Kevin Duchene. He had a nice Instructional League. If he comes to camp ready, maybe we can send him to Beloit [out of camp] and see what he is capable of. That would be a priority for us if he comes back pitching as well as he finished off the Instructional League.
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