Andy Skeels returns to San Jose to manage the Advanced-A Giants for 2012, where he’s leading a group of talented young players and helping some of the top prospects in the Giants system reach their potential. Skeels talked to me about the lineup and rotation and spoke specifically about many of the kids on this squad, like Joe Panik, Andrew Susac, and Josh Osich.
Chris Martinez: Who’s going to be your everyday starting five?
Andy Skeels: As it stands right now we have [Shawn] Sanford, [Taylor] Rogers, [Ryan] Bradley, [Justin] Schumer, and [Jack] Snodgrass. That’s our starting five.
It’s a nice mix with some guys who throw a lot of strikes and a few lefties in Snodgrass and Bradley who can work the corners and change speeds. We have a lot of strike throwers and I’m really encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. We have a dynamite bullpen too. The bullpen compliments our starters nicely.
CM: Last year the Giants used a six man rotation and this year you’re going with a five man rotation. Can you talk about the change?
AS: We went with the six last year to protect Zack Wheeler and make sure he was stretched out enough. Sometimes it works out that way depending on who’s in your starting rotation. This year we decided to go with five.
CM: Andy Skeels: Who’s your closer this year?
AS: At the minor league level you don’t try to define roles as much as you try to give kids opportunities to pitch. One night it might be one guy and the next night it might be someone else. We have enough arms here where in the next year or two we could have a future closer in the mix. Right now we have a lot of kids who throw hard, throw strikes, and are aggressive out there. We’ll see how that develops as the season moves on. We give everyone the chance to pitch.
CM: What’s your typical everyday lineup?
AS: We have four outfielders that we really like. You’ll see a combination of all of them out there on a rotational basis to start the season. There’s Jarrett Parker, a returning player who we’re [eager] to see make some progress this year. There’s [Chris] Lofton, Ryan Lollis, and Devin Harris. Lollis and Lofton are two guys who can play center for us. Lollis is versatile because he can play anywhere and he’s an above-average defensive outfielder. We really like the way he swings the bat. This kid is a straight gamer and I really like the way he plays the game. Devin Harris is a big thumper out in right field and we’re hoping to see his power and consistency develop. We have a good mix in the outfield.
In the infield there’s Adam Duvall who was a South Atlantic League All-Star last year. He put up huge numbers in a bad-hitting ballpark. He’s an exceptional athlete. We’re excited to have him hitting in the middle of the lineup. There’s Joe Panik, our first round pick, at shortstop. This kid was born to play baseball. He’s exceptional: a great teammate, a hard worker, he does everything a manager wants, and he can play. Carter Jurica’s at second. We have a few first basemen: Ricky Oropesa out of USC and Luke Anders, who’s returning from last year. He had a few health setbacks so we brought him back here to see if he can get back on track. He has big time power and so does Oropesa.
Behind the plate is Andrew Susac, our second round pick and another exceptional athlete. He’s a smart kid and we really like the way he swings the bat. This will be his first professional year so Susac and Panik and Oropesa are starting out as babies and we’ll see as we go.
I like this group of kids we have. It’s a nice mix in the clubhouse and on the field. I’m looking forward to this season.
CM: Jurica played a lot of short last year and now he’s over at second with Panik at shortstop here. Can you talk about Jurica’s adjustment to playing second?
AS: The angles and the throws are a little bit different. We felt [playing second] suited his skill set a little better. He’s adjusted very nicely over there. He gets good jumps on the ball and it’s still a work in progress like all the kids here in A-ball.
CM: I talked to Susac a bit at the season preview event earlier in the month and he said he would be working on things behind the plate, like blocking the plate and calling his own games. He also said he would be working with you specifically on those things. Can you talk about his development so far?
AS: It’s probably far too early in the season to talk about progress. Catching and calling a game is a lot like playing quarterback. The entire responsibility for what’s happening in the game and with the pitching staff is a lot. Steve Young sat behind Joe Montana for six years. There’s a lot to learn. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.
We review what happens in the game the night before, make a few adjustments, and point out things that we want to do better. It all happens on a game-by-game basis. He’s a great student. He’s very wiling to listen to what we have to say.
This is all brand new for him. The professional game is so much different from what you’ll see in college ball. Out here you’re expected to think for yourself. I can teach a lot of things but I can’t put 20 years of experience into you right away. Experience is something you have to learn and earn. He’s in the process of doing that now. I think he’s very receptive and he’ll be fine.
CM: One of Oropesa’s best tools is his power. He has a good swing but also has a tendency to strike out a lot. What are you working on with him to cut down on his strikeouts.
AS: He hasn’t played professional baseball yet. For me, anything that happens in college is a moot point. I don’t care what he did in college because it doesn’t translate to what you’ll see out here. For a guy with power you try to get him a lot of at-bats to get him comfortable and to understand his strengths in terms of the strike zone.
Big, strong guys who put the ball into play more consistently will hit for power. At this stage like I said before he’s brand new. We’re trying to get a feel–for us and for him–of what his strike zone is and what he does best. Check back in a few months from now and we’ll have a better idea of the direction we’re heading with him.
CM: Chris Lofton is another exciting player with tons of speed in the outfield. What are your expectations for him at the plate and in the outfield?
AS: My expectations for him are the same as my other players. We expect them to show up ready to work and they’re doing everything they can to help our team win games. He’s a young kid who has shown us good instincts in the outfield. We’re trying to develop them even more.
This year will be part of the process on figuring out which part of the lineup suits him best as a hitter. The development process is ongoing with him and all the players here. That’s why they’re in A-ball. I’m happy to have him here because he brings a lot of speed to the top of the lineup. He’s shown he hits left-handed pitching well so far.
CM: Jarrett Parker is repeating the level here. Sometimes repeating a level looks bad for a prospect. What will Parker be working on this year?
AS: The idea that prospects don’t repeat is bogus. Matt Williams was the first player taken in the nation and he had to repeat Triple-A three times. Players go back for a lot of different reasons, like finishing up some things they didn’t complete the year before.
Parker skipped two levels. He didn’t play rookie ball. He didn’t play in Augusta. He went straight to the Cal League. He’s a young player with very little experience to date. I think he held his own very well here.
Not every player is Buster Posey. Prospects do repeat. A lot of them do. For Jarrett, it’s becoming more consistent. It’s about playing the game better and understanding what’s happening in the game, like how pitchers are trying to attack him, and how to become a better defender and baserunner.
He had a great spring training for us and he’s done a lot of good things so far. We’re very encouraged by what he’s doing. Keep in mind it’s not where you start; it’s where you finish.
CM: Josh Osich is a very exciting prospect who will be pitching out of the bullpen. Can you talk about what you’ve seen from him so far and what you want to see from him the rest of the year?
AS: We want to make sure he’s comfortable on the mound. He’s a big, power left-handed arm with the kind of fastball that can dominate batters in the strike zone.
Here’s another kid who’s just starting out as well. Playing at this level in your first year of professional baseball is always an adjustment.
We’re going to take it slow with him and make sure he develops on time. I like what I see when he gets out there. He competes well and doesn’t get rattled.
CM: Talk about Steven Harrold for this year.
AS: He’s another power arm with a power slider. For him, he needs to control the strike zone, command his fastball, and learn to throw his slider when he’s behind in the count.
He’s got two power pitches: the riding fastball and a nice, hard slider. The ability to control the strike zone–for all pitchers but especially relievers–is what makes pitchers move up the levels. You have to command both pitches to compete at the major league level. Harrold works incredibly hard and he goes out there and competes. We like what we see in him.
CM: What about Phil McCormick?
AS: He’s a side winding left-handed reliever who’s really tough on left-handed hitters. He has a very unusual arm angle and some velocity to go along with it. He’ll be a lot to handle for the hitters in this league.
We had Joe Paterson here a few years back. He and McCormick do some similar things as left-handers who drop down. I think he has a better fastball than Paterson had.
The main thing for McCormick is repetition and getting him in more games so he can get experience and learn how to attack left-handed hitters as well as right-handed hitters.
I really like my bullpen. There’s a lot of guys down there I can bring it at any time of the game.
CM: Steve Kline is the new pitching coach here. How are you two getting along and how’s he getting along with the pitchers?
AS: [laughs] Steve’s a great guy. He’s got all kinds of valuable insights due to his major league career. He’s great with the pitching staff. He’s earned respect because of what he’s done in this game. He has a passion for the game. I think he’ll be a great addition to our staff here in San Jose. I’m looking forward to a very successful season and I think I’ll learn a lot from him.