Oakland A's Mid-Season Q&A: Scott Emerson, P1

Wahl has impressed in the early going.

In part one of our mid-season conversation with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, we talk about several pitchers who have seen time with the A's short-season clubs this year, including Nolan Sanburn, Bobby Wahl, Chris Kohler, Dylan Covey, Kyle Finnegan, Dustin Driver, Ronald Herrera, Gregory Paulino, Jose Torres, Sam Bragg and more.

OaklandClubhouse: Let's start with the Vermont Lake Monsters' staff since you are currently with that team. They have been pitching well recently, tossing two shut-outs in a row. Kyle Finnegan, the A's sixth-round selection this season, was the starter on Monday and is off to a good start in his first six outings with the Lake Monsters. What is his scouting profile right now?

Scott Emerson: He reminds me a lot of Tim Hudson. He's not a big, physical specimen. He's a roughly six-foot-tall right-hander, but he has a mid-90s fastball, a good breaking ball and we are trying to develop that change-up. He's going to start throwing more change-ups to get him rolling.

He's had a nice stretch, has gotten his feet wet and has some pitches that should be plus major-league pitches. He's around the plate with his fastball. So far so good with him.

OC: Last night's starter Brent Powers has gone back-and-forth the past few years between short-season A and Low-A. What do you think the key for him will be to make that break-through to full-season ball?

SE: His fastball isn't an over-powering type of fastball. It's upper-80s. Craig Lefferts [the Vermont pitching coach] has done a great job of re-tuning his delivery so that he can repeat his pitches. One of the keys for him will be his ability to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes on a consistent basis.

I see him as a Tommy Milone-type pitcher. He's got to put the ball over the plate. He's got to change speeds and, depending on the line-up he is facing, possibly pitch a little bit backwards and have the ability to throw soft behind in the count. His fastball isn't going to over-power guys, but he can get guys out with his fastball if he is going to use his off-speed in fastball counts.

OC: There are two young arms in that rotation in Gregory Paulino and Jose Torres. How do you feel they are handling their first experience in a non-complex league?

SE: I came in with new eyes on these guys. I hadn't seen either Paulino or Torres before this season. They have been very surprising and outstanding. They both possess good fastball command. Torres has a good developing curveball. Again, that is a credit to Craig Lefferts, who has really been working with him on his breaking ball. Torres also has a good, developing change-up.

Paulino has got an outstanding change-up. Anytime you've got a young pitcher who isn't very long into the game of baseball in terms of experience who can throw that change-up behind in the count like Paulino, it keeps him in the count. It can get him back into counts when he is behind. Both of those guys have done a great job.

OC: Do you feel like they both have room to add velocity as they get older? You mentioned they already had that fastball command. Do you think there is room for them to get to that low-to-mid-90s velocity as they mature?

SE: Yeah, most definitely. We try to get these guys to understand that we can build velocity through weights, strength and conditioning and proper nutrition. That's something we have educate, especially with the Latin players, is eating healthy. Sometimes they come to the States and they see McDonald's and they see Burger King and those types of restaurants and they are filling up on bad foods. I give them the example of ‘if you have a car, you don't give that car bad gas and expect it to run good.'

For them, it's the understanding of life, if you want to be the ultimate professional, you have to eat healthy. Those sorts of things. They have the physical stature to fill into a good pitcher's body. If they can do that, the velocity is going to jump up. Along with that will come the extra snap on the breaking ball and extra arm speed on the change-up. From the development standpoint, they are on the right track.

OC: Both you and [A's farm director] Keith Lieppman mentioned how well Lee Sosa threw during extended spring training. How has he done since the season started?

SE: He's done a great job. We've talked to him and it's no secret that he has been a little bit suborn about throwing his change-up, but our organization feels like quality major-league pitchers are going to have a good back-and-forth game with their change-up, so sometimes you have to remind him.

The good thing about Sosa is that he has the weapons in his holster. He has a mid-90s fastball. He has a breaking ball that can fall off the table. And he has a change-up. He just has to get experience knowing when to use his change-up. Sometimes the guys, they need a higher level to teach them that lesson.

[Midland right-hander] Drew Granier, a few nights ago I was in San Antonio and Don Schulze, our Midland pitching coach was on vacation. We forced [Granier] to use that change-up. In seven innings, even though he gave up five runs, that was the best outing that I have seen him pitch this season, and I have seen him pitch five outings this year. Granier bought into that change-up at the higher level, that it was going to get him outs quicker and get him deeper into games.

Of course we want punch-outs, but we want punch-outs when we need them and we want balls in play early so our starters can go deeper into games.

OC: Do you think if Sosa starts throwing that change-up more often he can move into a starter's role with three pitches in his arsenal?

SE: Yeah. We try to keep guys extended a little bit. We'll mix the starters up. Hopefully we can get Lee some starts the rest of the season. They have a double-header coming up and he'll probably start one of those games. Any guy that is going to flip line-ups and go three or four innings, we see them as possible starters down-the-road. It's just unfortunate that we can only start five guys at a time. In Beloit, we kind of rotated some, got some guys some starts so that they could develop their pitches.

Sosa, he's expected and we've talked to him about using his change-up because there is a chance down-the-road that he is going to be used every fifth day in a rotation somewhere.

OC: Two guys in the Vermont staff from this year's draft – Bobby Wahl and Sam Bragg – were starters in college. They have been throwing really well in shorter stints. I assume they are being limited to the short-inning stints to keep their overall innings-totals down for this year after the college season. How are they taking to pro ball?

SE: Outstanding. I haven't seen Wahl yet. I got to see him in Arizona throw a bullpen before I left earlier in the year, but Craig Lefferts raved about his last three-inning outing with six punch-outs. He said it was probably the best outing from anybody he's seen all season.

I got to see Bragg pitch last night. It was the first time I've seen him pitch in a game. I did get to see him throw a couple of bullpens in Arizona. Both guys look to be competitors with good stuff. Like you said, we are keeping a close eye on the younger guys and their workloads. They kind of threw more than we would have liked in college this year, so we are going to pull the reigns back on them a little bit. We want to get them to Instructional League so that everyone can see them in the organization. Most definitely we feel like they are starters in the future.

OC: Dylan Covey [A's 2013 fourth-round pick] isn't with Vermont anymore, having moved up to Beloit, but he's had an outstanding start to his pro career. He's a former first-round pick [by the Brewers in 2010] coming out of high school but didn't sign. Do you view him as a pitcher with first-round stuff?

SE: First time I saw him, the two names that came to mind were Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan when I saw this kid.

OC: Wow.

SE: That's what I said when I saw him, ‘wow.' A fourth-round pick and numbers-wise, some people say he struggled this year in college, but what we've seen in the bullpen and what we've seen in his first few games in professional baseball, the sky is the limit for this kid in my eyes. He's got four pitches that, as of now, will show you plus.

For him, it's all about command. Will he get the command to make his pitches effective in the big leagues? He's got an excellent delivery. He's got feel for all four of his pitches. I can't rave enough about what I have seen from this kid so far. With him, you can have all of the stuff in the world and be a minor league thrower. We are trying to develop major-league pitchers. It will be about him being able to execute his pitches. He has the pitches right now. It's about can he execute them and can he learn the professional game of how to pitch with those pitches.

OC: You said Clemens and Ryan. Does he has that powerful lower-body drive that they had?

SE: No, he's just got the classic, over-head wind-up delivery. He's a stocky built individual. He threw a couple of top-to-bottom breaking balls that Ryan and Clemens in his early days would throw. Craig Lefferts, that was his era of pitching. When we first saw him throw, we both turned to each other and about said the same two guys' names. It was like, ‘wow, this guy was an excellent fourth-round draft pick.' If he was a first-round draft pick, I would have said the same thing, that he was a good first-round pick. And he was [in 2010].

OC: So you feel like he's at that level of talent?

SE: Yes.

OC: Turning to the Arizona rookie club, one of this year's high-round picks was left-hander Chris Kohler. He was selected out of high school, so I assume he'll be brought along a bit slowly. What is his path for the next year or so? What is he working on?

SE: He threw 90 innings as a junior in high school through the summer and he had already thrown 110 before he even came to professional baseball this year. We are trying to keep him on a starter's routine, pitching every fifth day, but limited to about two innings. Next year, we see him as a starter. He has a lot of comparisons to me to Andy Pettitte.

A solid left-handed delivery. He throws his breaking ball well. He needs maybe a little bit better change-up right now. He has the high school-type mentality right now that he is going to blow guys away with his fastball and get them to chase the breaking ball. Now we are getting him to the point to where he understands that he is going to have to use the change-up to be effective at the major-league level.

But he has all of the leverage and all of the things that you look for. To be honest with you, if you had told me that he was a first-rounder, too, I would have believed you.

OC: Is A's 2013 seventh-round pick Dustin Driver going to pitch in any live games this Rookie League season, or will he make his live game debut during Instructs?

SE: He is scheduled to start throwing in some games on either the first or second week of August. He didn't throw a baseball from the end of his high school season until all the way through the draft. He didn't even play catch for six or seven weeks, so we felt like it would be best for him to get back on a throwing program and get ready to pitch rather than go right into it not having pitched or even played catch.

We treated him as if he had almost a season off with the seven weeks. Garvin Alston, our rehab pitching coordinator, took the lead with him and drew up a nice throwing program, progression program to pitch in games. He did throw batting practice the other day, so he's not far off from games.

OC: There is a young pitcher on the staff, Ronald Herrera, who came over the States for the first time this year. He has a 30:4 K:BB rate thus far. What kind of stuff does he have?

SE: He has a fastball, curveball and change-up. He has a classic delivery. His delivery is one of the best I have seen in a long time, especially from a young prospect. He repeats his delivery. He's got a good top-to-bottom curveball and a good change-up. He's another guy who has been very surprising. This guy is going to have a lot of weapons. I really like what he does to move his body into position to make his pitches. He has a chance to be really good.

OC: Nolan Sanburn was finally able to get out of Arizona and to a full-season league earlier this month [he is with Beloit]. What is the plan for him the rest of this season? Will he make short relief outings for the rest of the year?

SE: Yeah, he's probably going to go every fourth day barring rain or an off-day in Beloit. The plan is for him to go every fourth day, throw two innings and run that all the way through the end of the season into Instructs. We'll bring him back down to Instructional League so that he can get some more innings and then probably go back into that rotation somewhere next year.

OC: Do you feel like the shoulder injury is behind him now?

SE: Given that we like Nolan a lot, we probably were more conservative with him early in the year to make sure that all of this is behind him. We are looking at the big picture for him and the big picture is pitching in the big leagues. We just want him to feel good about himself this year, get some appearances in and then go out next year when we'll re-start and hopefully put him in the rotation somewhere.

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