First-year Stockton Ports Manager Todd Steverson may be a teacher to the Oakland A’s young prospects, but he is also still a student of the game. Steverson has been involved with professional baseball since he was drafted in 1992.
“Every year that you are in the baseball, you can learn something new from someone else. You have to respect other people’s opinions about the game in order to grow as a coach or a player,” Steverson said.
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Steverson has had a number of great players and coaches help him with his baseball education over the course of his career. He played for the Detroit Tigers in 1995 and he points to a number of the Tigers stars as people who taught him aspects of the game.
“I learned from guys like Kirk Gibson, Cecil Fielder, Alan Trammell, Juan Samuel and Larry Herndon how the game is supposed to be played,” Steverson said. “All of those guys were different types of players and [through watching and talking to them] I was able to touch on and learn different facets of the game.”
After his playing career ended, Steverson joined the coaching ranks. He spent time in the St. Louis Cardinals organization working as a hitting instructor in their minor league system. Steverson points to longtime Cardinals coach George Kissell as a strong influence in his own coaching career.
“Kissell is as good a coach as they come. There is an old baseball saying that ‘he forgot more about baseball than I’ll ever learn’ and that saying applies to George,” Steverson said.
Steverson brought that accumulated knowledge to the Oakland A’s organization in 2004 when he joined as a hitting instructor for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. Steverson had been introduced to A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman a few years back, so when he was looking for a new position, he gave Lieppman a call. A hitting instructor position eventually opened, and Lieppman tabbed Steverson for the post.
“I felt very fortunate to get a position with the Oakland A’s. People who are with the A’s organization tend to stay for a long time, so it is a very difficult organization to get in with,” Steverson said.
According to Steverson, one of the best aspects of the A’s organization is the their system-wide emphasis on having a strong work ethic from both the coaches and the players. Steverson makes it a point to be available to his players for extra batting practice or instruction, and he finds that A’s players are often eager for the additional work.
Steverson had an opportunity to work with a number of top prospects on last year’s Vancouver squad. He anticipates having another strong club in Stockton this season, as the Ports should have a team filled with players primarily from the 2004 Canadians and the Kane County Cougars, both of whom won their regular season titles.
“[The Canadians’ 2004] team was a very close knit group and a lot of the players had really good seasons. I think there are quite a few prospects from that team that could make the jump from [short-season Vancouver to high-A Stockton],” Steverson said.
The Stockton roster won’t be determined until the end of minor league spring training camp. Steverson and the rest of the A’s minor league coaching staff are working long days to instruct and evaluate the minor league talent in order to determine to which level each player should be assigned.
According to Steverson, a typical day for him during spring training this year begins at 5:00 am and end 12 or 13 hours later. The day usually starts with a coaches meeting led by A’s Minor League Camp Coordinator Greg Sparks to discuss the workout and game schedule for the day. Steverson will then run drills until about noon, when the spring training games take place. After the game, Steverson meets with the players he coached that day to go over what took place during the game. He then usually returns to the batting cage to give any additional batting instruction that a player might want. Once those sessions wind down, Steverson files a report on the players he has worked with that day.
Spring training has not only been an opportunity for Steverson to get to know some of the players he might be managing this season, it has also been a chance for him to get to know his coaching staff. Steverson has used the spring training games as an opportunity for him to build a rapport with his pitching and hitting coaches and to work on developing his own in-game managing style.
Steverson also emphasizes that when it comes to player development, he isn’t looking at a prospect’s credentials before determining his worth as a player. Despite being a former first round pick himself, Steverson doesn’t put a lot of stock in ‘experts’ opinions of a player before he has a chance to work with him.
“You sign up to make these kids better players, you aren’t there to make judgments about them before you even get to know them,” Steverson said. “I’ll do everything possible to make that player better than they were before and that is my focus [whether a player is highly touted or not].”