Travis Buck was in the middle of a standout season when the injury bug bit him in July. The A's 2005 supplemental first round pick was sidelined with a sore hip flexor, which was later diagnosed as a sports hernia.
Buck played in only 84 regular season games in 2006, but he made those games count. The Arizona State alum hit .320 with a 906 OPS in a season split between High-A Stockton and AA-Midland. He had 39 doubles, four triples and seven homeruns when he went on the DL, totals that put him among the leaders in the minor leagues for extra-base hits.
Buck made a brief appearance at the Arizona Fall League, homering in his first at-bat before he was sidelined for the rest of the AFL to have surgery for the hernia.
We recently spoke with Buck from his home in Washington as he rehabbed from his surgery to find out how he was feeling and to get his thoughts on the 2006 season...
OaklandClubhouse: First of all, how are you feeling?
Travis Buck: Slowly, but surely, I’m getting there. I’m still pretty weak and pretty out of shape because I wasn’t able to do a lot of physical activity for about two months but now I am into my rehab and I am feeling a lot better.
OC: What kind of rehab do you do for an injury like this one?
TB: It’s a lot of core exercises, working with my abdominal muscles and my hip muscles. It’s pretty strenuous because I haven’t really used those muscles in a long time, so they are pretty weak, but you’ve got to start somewhere and obviously it’s going to be a lot better the longer I do it.
OC: I know that you received a bunch of different diagnoses for the injury over the past few months. Was that frustrating to keep getting different answers?
TB: Absolutely. It was very frustrating. No one knows your body as good as you do and I had been hearing what a sports hernia was and I had a feeling that is what it was. The original diagnosis was that I had a hernia and a strained hip flexor, then I had an MRI that showed the hip flexor was fine and that I had a hernia.
Then I went to a general surgeon and he said no hernia, so finally, kind of as a last resort, we checked with the sports hernia guru guy in Philadelphia. He could tell in the MRI that I did, in fact, have a hernia and that my lower abdominal was pulling away from my pubic bone. That was kind of what I originally thought and it was something that we could have possibly diagnosed three months ago. You know, we finally got it done and finally figured it out, but it was a very frustrating time.
OC: Do you think you are on target right now to be ready for spring training or will you still be rehabbing in February?
TB: Absolutely I'll be ready. The rehab process for this injury is a pretty speedy process. My first week, I pretty much did nothing and then now, this week, I’m doing running and a whole bunch of things that you would normally think you couldn’t be doing in your second week [of rehab], so it’s a very speedy recovery. The doctor who did my surgery told me that I am going to be better than what I was before anywhere from a month to two months [after the surgery], so I’m definitely going to be a lot better come spring training.
OC: I know it has been a frustrating off-season with the injury, but I know you had some good news the last few weeks as you have been named the system’s top prospect by a number of publications. Is that something that you pay much attention to? Does it give you any added pressure to perform?
TB: I let my parents and my family have fun with all of that. I know my job is to go out there and play baseball and do the best I can. It’s something pretty cool that some people are obviously thinking highly of you and that you are on the right track to get to the big leagues, but I put the most pressure on myself. When I read that, the pressure that comes with it is nothing compared to what I put on myself. I’m very humbled that a lot of people would think that I would be in that position because we have so many great prospects in this system, but it’s nothing really to get too excited about. I have a lot of work ahead of me to get to my goal, and that is the big leagues.
OC: Before you got hurt, you were in the middle of a really great season and it started out down in Stockton. It seems like you didn’t take long for you to adjust to the Cal League. Was there much of an adjustment between Stockton and Kane County?
TB: I kind of had a strained oblique in spring training and I was limited to doing very few things in spring training. I got off to a pretty rough start in Stockton for the first couple of weeks and it wasn’t until a couple of people sat me down and said, ‘you know, this is your spring training. They said that I should treat the at-bats like spring training at-bats early in the season. Yeah, they count, but that these at-bats were really your spring training.’ Once I heard that I started to handle it all a lot better and what I was capable of doing finally came out. It wasn’t that much of a big jump from low-A to high-A.
The biggest jump was from high-A to AA where you are really facing great pitching day-in and day-out, throughout the whole game. It took me a little bit to get accustomed to so many great pitchers who can throw so many different pitches over for strikes at any count, but once I kind of got the handle on that, things started to go really well for me.
OC: You were, I believe, in the lead for extra-base hits or at least near the top of the leaderboard for all of the minor leagues before you got hurt. People have sometimes questioned your power. Did you feel like you were developing more of a power stroke this year then you did in years past?
TB: I think so. Going into my first Instructional League last year, I was talking with our Roving Hitting Instructor and basically he wanted to change my mindset a little bit. If a guy is on first base, pick a pitch that you can drive into a gap. I have been starting to use the gaps a lot more.
It was a little disappointing because I had like 39 or 40 doubles before I got hurt and definitely would have led the minor leagues in doubles and maybe even in extra-base hits, so it was disappointing to get hurt. I definitely changed my mind-set a little bit when I was heading up to the plate when guys were on-base. It really helped me to show what kind of player I am going to become. The power is definitely going to be there.
As of right now, I am a doubles hitter and as I keep on progressing and growing more as a professional hitter, then I believe I am going to let that power come out.
OC: You have only been playing in the outfield for the past five or so years since you went to college. How do you feel your defense is coming along at this point? Are you comfortable in the outfield?
TB: Being thrown out there in college, I had no idea what to do. Here I thought it was going to be just running and catching a fly-ball, but it is a lot harder than people expect. You’ve got to be able to learn the bat angles as the ball comes off of the bat and you’ve got to get your first step pretty much where the ball is going to be.
Five or six years of playing in the outfield, here I am still learning a whole lot about playing the position. I know I still have a long ways to go, but as of right now, the more I learn to become a better outfielder, that is only going to help me out to move me up as quickly as possible.
OC: You stole 11 bases in 13 opportunities this season. Is that something where you are given a green light by the manager regularly, or does the manager give you a sign when he thinks it would be a good time to run?
TB: Playing for Todd Steverson, our manager in Stockton, he didn’t really like to steal a lot of bases, so I didn’t really get a lot of opportunities. Once I got up to AA and was playing for Von [Hayes], who stole a lot of bases when he was playing, we had a plan as a team to put some guys in scoring position and for the guys who could steal, to steal. He gave us the green light so that when we thought that we could go, we could go.
I was a guy who stole a lot of bases in college. A lot of people just look at me and think that I am not that fast, so I’ll continue to let them think I can’t steal bases, even though I’m a pretty good base-stealing guy, so I can use that to my advantage.
OC: You played in the Futures Game at the All-Star game this year. What was that experience like for you?
TB: It was pretty fun. I was obviously a defensive replacement and didn’t get an at-bat. [laughing] It was funny because I kind of told them that guys don’t make the Futures Game because of their defense and with defense being the weakest part of my game, it was pretty funny to be a defensive replacement. But just going over there and being selected, it was a tremendous honor, especially it being my first full year at the professional level.
Just being with a whole bunch of guys that were highly touted and being pretty much treated like a big leaguer was obviously something that I’ll never forget. It’s something that will make me work that much harder to get up there. It was a very exciting experience for me.
OC: Was it comparable to the level of play that you saw at the Arizona Fall League this year?
TB: I would say so. Obviously, a lot of the players [in the Futures Game] were in the big leagues after that so they weren’t [at the AFL], but I’d say the competition level and the people that you were playing against was pretty much comparable.
OC: What was the Rising Stars Showcase like? Do you think it is an event that will continue?
TB: I would think so. They added a little thing for the players who won. They got $500, so it was a bit of incentive for the players to go out there and win rather then act like it was just another game. We had a lot of the great players at the Fall League playing against each other and they wanted a competitive atmosphere so they added that incentive, but I think it is definitely a good thing for the Fall League to do and I think it is only going to take off from there.
OC: Did you get a chance to watch the AFL Championship Game? I know that you were injured at that point.
TB: I did not. I was at home. I think that was the first week or two [after the surgery] where they told me I couldn't do anything, that I couldn’t drive and a whole bunch of stuff. That was one of the weeks where I just had to stay in bed, so unfortunately I missed it. It was good to see [Kevin] Melillo, who was staying with me during the Fall League, win it and I definitely followed it on the internet and was pulling for all of the guys because I knew how much work they had put into it.
OC: I know you were teammates with [former A’s top prospect] Andre Ethier briefly when you were in college. Have you talked with him much since he made the big leagues [with the Dodgers]?
TB: We keep in touch every once in awhile. Once the season finished, I got to see him because we were rehabbing in the same place and we also live only a mile away from each other. It was good to hear how well he was doing and how excited he was after basically being up [in the big leagues] the whole year. It was really good for me to hear him talk about it. The numbers he put up there are nothing new to me because I knew what a great ballplayer he is, so he’s only going to get better.
OC: Have you guys talked about how people have compared the two of you as players?
TB: Absolutely. Coming into Arizona State as a freshman and he was a junior and being thrown out into the outfield where he was, he definitely took me under his wing and showed me a lot of the ropes on how to play outfield. He was a guy who I looked up to in the batting cage because I wanted to be the type of player that he was, so the more knowledge that I took from him, the more it would help me down the road. When people compare us as having a similar style, I think they are pretty much right on.