Nick Blasi has 17 SB in 18 chances this season.
The Kane County Cougars enter this final regular season week with a chance to make the playoffs as either a wild card or second-half division winner. On the eve of their final week of games, OaklandClubhouse.com caught up with Cougar Manager Dave Joppie to get his thoughts on the team’s base stealing success this season, the addition of the A’s two top picks to the roster and his reaction to the no-hit performance of Joe Scott earlier this week. (THIS IS A FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM CONTENT)
Running Circles Around The Competition
As we have documented all season, the 2005 Kane County Cougars have been the Oakland A’s organization’s equivalent to the running St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s. The Cougars have racked up more than 100 stolen bases and, most impressively, have been caught only 31 times. Last season, the Cougars were more of a traditional Oakland A’s team. They played mostly station-to-station and did a lot of waiting for the three-run homer. So why the change in philosophies? Kane County Manager Dave Joppie explains that this year’s team has lent itself more to base-stealing then in year’s past.
“As a manager, I have to adapt to the roster we have. Last year, we could stand around and wait for the three-run homer. This year we have guys like Javier Herrera, Nick Blasi and Cliff Pennington who are good base-stealers so the roster lends itself to running more,” Joppie said.
However, just because the Cougars are running more doesn’t mean they have strayed from the Oakland A’s philosophy of playing for the big inning.
“I pay close attention to the percentages (of successful steals to number of attempts). A lot of teams run out of big innings, but we are careful not to do that. The guys have the green light to steal, but they know when it is a good time to go. I have a lot of confidence in my guys to make those decisions,” Joppie said.
When asked about who the best base-stealers were on the Cougars’ roster this season, Joppie singled out the trio of Pennington, Herrera and Blasi.
“Herrera steals most of his bases on speed alone,” Joppie said. “While Pennington and Blasi study the pitchers more. They both have good instincts for when to go and they don’t force things.”
2005 Draftees Make Impact
The Cougar line-up received a mid-season jolt of production when the A’s first two 2005 draft picks were added to the roster. First round pick Cliff Pennington arrived in Kane County first, signing with the A’s in mid-June and suiting up for the Cougars on June 21. Since his arrival, Pennington has been near or at the top of the order. In 57 games with the Cougars, Pennington has hit .283 with a .362 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases in 27 attempts.
“We started Cliff out as the second hitter but slid him into the lead-off spot after Kevin Melillo was promoted to Stockton,” Joppie said. “The lead-off spot is a good fit for him. He gives you really good at-bats and battles every time he’s up there. He’s a real gamer and when he gets on base, he’s capable of stealing second and third for you.”
Supplemental first round pick Travis Buck took longer to sign with Oakland because his collegiate squad, the Arizona State Sun Devils, made it to the College World Series. Once he did come to terms with Oakland, Buck was sent to Vancouver to start his professional career. After dominating the Northwest League for just over two weeks, Buck was sent to Kane County. He has been mostly a middle of the order hitter for the Cougars since his arrival and he has acquitted himself well. In 20 games, Buck is hitting .333 with a .429 on-base percentage and 16 runs batted in.
“Travis is a very disciplined hitter against both righties and lefties,” Joppie said. “For a left-handed hitter, Buck stays in there against lefties really well.”
Joppie believes that the strength of the collegiate programs that both Pennington and Buck came from helped them feel comfortable playing at Kane County.
“We play before 12-13,000 fans a night at Kane County, but I think they were used to that sort of atmosphere in college and that helped them adjust,” Joppie said.
Joe Scott “Opening Eyes”
On Monday night, Cougar starter Joe Scott worked seven no-hit innings before giving way to the bullpen. The Cougars fell two outs short of the combined no-hitter, but Scott’s performance raised a lot of eyebrows. The Seton Hall alum began the season in Kane County as a member of the Cougars bullpen. However, he was sent to Vancouver at the start of the short-season so that he could be converted into a starting pitcher. He returned to Kane County a few weeks ago and has been a member of the rotation ever since. Joppie has been impressed with Scott since his return to the Cougars.
“He has a bulldog-type mentality on the mound,” Joppie said. “He reminds me a lot of Rich Harden. He doesn’t have the velocity that Rich does, but he has a similar approach and mechanics.”
Joppie has been especially impressed with Scott’s demeanor on the mound and his approach to attacking hitters.
“He’s not going to get himself beat. He knows how to get ahead with his fastball and then finish off hitters with his breaking ball. He’s opened a lot of eyes this season,” Joppie said.