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The Oakland A’s have a new minor league pitching coordinator, although he is hardly a new face to the organization. Scott Emerson, who replaces Gil Patterson in the position, has been instrumental in grooming young A’s pitchers since 2003, when he joined the A’s as the pitching coach for their High-A Modesto squad.
Since that season, Emerson has been a pitching coach in the A’s system, spending four seasons at the High-A level (two in Modesto and two in Stockton), four more with Double-A Midland and the last two seasons with Triple-A Sacramento. In 2012, under Emerson’s watch, the River Cats’ pitching staff finished second in the league in Team ERA with a 4.10 mark. Sacramento pitchers led the league in strike-outs (1134 in 1304.2 innings pitched) and in WHIP (1.32). Several River Cats’ pitchers graduated to the major leagues in 2012 and were instrumental in the A’s AL West title, including Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sean Doolittle, Dan Straily, Jim Miller, Pedro Figueroa and Evan Scribner.
Emerson, a native of the Phoenix area, was a 40th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1991 out of Scottsdale Community College. The left-hander pitched for six seasons in the minor leagues for three organizations: Baltimore, Boston and Arizona. Emerson pitched as high as the Double-A level and finished with a 4.07 ERA in 471 career innings.
In 2000, Emerson debuted as a minor league pitching coach with the Gulf Coast (Rookie League) Pirates. He coached in the Pirates’ chain for two more seasons before joining the A’s in 2003. The 2013 season will be Emerson’s 14th year as a minor league pitching instructor.
We spoke with Emerson on Tuesday about his new position in the A’s organization and more…
OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations again on the new position.
Scott Emerson: Thank you. I appreciate it.
OC: You have been a pitching coach for different minor league affiliates for the past 13 years or so. What drew you to this position and working with pitchers throughout the organization rather than just one team?
SE: I want the pressure put on me. I think that it is good to have pressure on you. I have always enjoyed pressure. I think the ability to run the minor league pitching program is a great job and an honor from the A’s.
I’ve coached pretty much every level. I’ve done the Rookie League, short-season A, High-A, Double-A, Triple-A. I did the Arizona Fall League and I did one winter in Mexico, so to be able to do this, I think I can say I have pretty much coached everywhere in minor league baseball. To have the opportunity to help out everybody in the system is a great honor.
OC: You worked under Ron Romanick and Gil Patterson when they were the coordinators. Do you plan to take aspects of how they ran they program and use them in how you run the program?
SE: Yes. I definitely was very close to both guys. I still talk to Ron and obviously I talk to Gil a little bit more because we’ve worked together the past five years. I just talked to Gil yesterday. I will talk to Gil once a week probably for rest of my life it seems like. [laughs]
Both of those guys were huge influences in my career. They put the program on a great path and my job is just going to be to pluck from Ron what I learned and to pluck from Gil what I’ve learned and from Curt Young, our major league pitching coach, and blend everything that we have done in 10 years into the same program. I don’t foresee the program changing.
The voice is going to be a little different and I might be more detail oriented in one area then maybe Gil was or more detail oriented in another area than maybe Ron was, but they taught me a lot. I don’t foresee the program changing. Just the voice and maybe a tweak here and there.
OC: If you had to describe your philosophy as a pitching coach, what would it be? Would it be strike-throwing or mechanics or something different?
SE: I think everybody has to realize the power of fastball command, number one. And that’s very much going to be stressed to the pitchers that your fastball, no matter what, is going to be your best pitch in a command spot.
And changing speeds. The ability to throw your change-up behind in the count is a must. That’s something that I kept preaching to the guys I had at every level. We want major league pitchers, not minor league throwers. And if you can spot up your fastball and throw something else other than your fastball when you are behind in the count, you’re going to be pretty successful.
Those two things are the main two things: fastball command – the ability to spot your fastball – and your ability to throw something soft behind in the count off of your fastball.
OC: Last year being with Sacramento, you worked with a number of pitchers who wound up playing significant roles on the A’s staff by the end of the year. One of those pitchers who you worked with for a big part of the year was Dan Straily, who made big strides this year. What do you see him needing to do to make the jump into being a permanent member of a big league rotation?
SE: I think the thing with Dan is that he has a very repeatable delivery. When you can repeat your pitching mechanics, it makes your pitches that much better. He made changes to get a sound pitching delivery this year, and his ability to throw any pitch at any time was remarkable. He’s got above-average major league stuff. His pitches move. He can change speeds on his pitches.
Ultimately, at the big league level, he’s probably got to improve his fastball command a little bit, but he has all of the weapons to be a very good major league starter.
OC: One of the guys who has gone back and forth with his mechanics the past few years is Tyson Ross. You and he are about the same height (6’6’’). Is it harder for tall pitchers to find that repeatable delivery than it is for a pitcher who is, say, 6’1’’ or so?
SE: Myself, you can get long and lanky and lose the synchronization in your pitching mechanics. With Tyson, he came to the A’s with a little unusual mechanics. The problem that you run into sometimes is that Tyson was throwing 95-96 MPH for us in Midland in 2009 and he was throwing strikes. So when you’ve got a guy who is throwing strikes, how much do you really want to tinker with him? You change his mechanics and you lengthen out his stride, and the next thing you know, he’s throwing 88-89. Now you’ve got another problem.
There’s two reasons why guys don’t throw strikes. One is mental. They just get into that mental – we call it “the thing” – and they just lose it mentally. And, two, they are physically hurting. I’ve seen guys who have gone to have successful careers in the big leagues with terrible mechanics. And I’ve seen great minor league guys who have great mechanics who never get to the big leagues.
With Tyson, it’s just a matter of reminding him how he got to the big leagues. It’s not pretty, but he was throwing 95-96 at one time with electric stuff. When Tyson gets his confidence back, it doesn’t matter what his delivery looks like because his pitches are that good.
OC: You had a chance to work for a full season with Brad Peacock. He went through some peaks and valleys but seemed like he was putting it together at the end of the year before he was hit in the arm with that line-drive. Where do you see him at going into next season?
SE: Brad’s got three excellent major league pitches. He’s got his fastball, which is above-average and is between 93 and 96. He’s got a devastating change-up with good arm speed and a good top-to-bottom breaking ball.
He’s just got to throw his fastball more for strikes. The weapons are there. Some people will talk about his season not being as successful, but anytime you win 12 or 13 games in the PCL, you’ve had a pretty good season no matter what your ERA looks like.
OC: Is the Pacific Coast League a difficult league for a pitching coach to get a true assessment of your pitchers with those ballparks like Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, etc. where it isn’t uncommon to see a pitcher give up seven or eight runs in a couple of innings? Do you have to ignore a lot of those numbers when evaluating those guys?
SE: I think sometimes when you are in the Renos, the Colorado Springs and places like that, you tell yourself, “if a guy can pitch in this ballpark, what can he do in the big leagues?” Because you can’t mistakes in those ballparks because they will punish you if you make a mistake in those ballparks. In most of them the infield is fast. The grass is cut short and they are really quick and the ball flies.
One of the best places in the league to get a good evaluation is Sacramento. But sometimes you like to see how they do when they are faced with that environment. An example that we talked about, Dan Straily, he made I want to say three or four great starts in Sacramento. And then we had to go to Reno. For me, as the pitching coach, I thought, “alright, now we are going into the homer dome. If he can have success here, then we’ll see what my opinion is after that.” And he pitched a great ballgame against Reno. And it was clear, this guy can pitch.
OC: I know Raley Field plays a little differently at different times of the year, but is it a decent approximation for playing in Oakland, minus the foul territory?
SE: I think in Sacramento you can get away with throwing some balls out over the plate a little bit more, but good hitters are going to hit you no matter what ballpark you are playing in. The ball may not go out as easy in Sac. Those balls that go out in Reno could be doubles in Sacramento. But it gives a better gauge because the atmosphere is a little bit more productive for pitchers.
OC: One of the guys I’ve enjoyed watching pitch when he has been healthy the past four years or so is Arnold Leon. You saw him for much of last season. Is he back to being the pitcher he was before he injured his elbow?
SE: I had Arnold when he got hurt in Midland. Arnold has four excellent pitches. More times than not, every night three of those show up that are really good that night. The sky is the limit for Arnold for me. He’s aggressive. He’s young. He throws strikes. He has that ability to throw his change-up when he is behind in the count. He’s a great competitor. He is fun to watch pitch. I’m a big fan of Arnold Leon.
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