Anthony Recker made big strides during his first full professional season. After hitting only .233 in Vancouver in 2005, Recker improved his batting average to .287 for the Kane County Cougars in 2006. He also hit 14 homeruns and drove-in 57 runs. Along the way, Recker was named to the Midwest League All-Star team and he helped lead his team to the Midwest League Championship Series.
The former Division III college backstop and 2005 18th round pick enters the 2007 season as one of the Oakland A’s rising prospects behind the plate. He is making the jump from Kane County to Stockton and the California League, where he is expected to be the Ports starting catcher. We spoke to Recker four days before Opening Day in Stockton to get his thoughts on the upcoming season and on building on his outstanding 2006 campaign.
OaklandClubhouse: How are you feeling after spring training?
Anthony Recker: I feel really good actually. I feel great.
OC: Was it easier to go through this spring training having gone through it last year?
AR: It was definitely an advantage to have gone through spring training last year. Coming in this year, I had a much better idea of what was expected of me and what I was going to have to do as far as work load and that sort of thing. I just really understood the point of spring training and what it was all about and what I was supposed to get out of it, so that helped a lot.
OC: How did you feel after a full season of catching and after having caught the most games in your career? Did it take you a long time to recover this off-season?
AR: It didn’t take that much time to recover. I think I took maybe a few weeks or a month off to rest up and let my body heal up and stuff, and then I got right back at it and I feel as good as new.
OC: What did you work on during the Instructional Leagues this year? Did you work more on offense or on defense?
AR: Definitely more on defense. I did a lot of defensive work. Offensively, I worked on some things. They made a few tweaks to my swing again and I worked on fixing a few things [offensively]. Defensively I did a lot of drills, like catch-and-release drills, techniques for blocking the ball and techniques for receiving the ball and that sort of thing.
OC: Was there anyone in particular who you were working with on those defensive drills?
AR: Defensively, yeah, I worked with Aaron Nieckula a lot. He was my manager in Kane County and so we had a good working relationship already and that helped a lot.
OC: Do you have a lot of expectations for making the jump to the California League? Have you heard a lot about the league?
AR: I have heard a lot about it being a hitting league and about it featuring a lot of offense. For me, that is a good thing in one respect, but in another respect, I’m a catcher and obviously I’m trying to keep other players from hitting. It is going to be an interesting year and hopefully I can work with the pitching staff so that we can have a successful year.
OC: You’ve worked in the past with a number of the pitchers on the Ports’ staff. Is that an advantage for you, knowing already what they throw and so forth?
AR: Oh, definitely, because I know what they can throw in certain situations and some of the guys have improved from last season, so they will be able to hit their spots better. As far as being on the same page in terms of pitching calling and all that, there are a lot of advantages to having played with these guys before. I can really see the ball better and know what they are throwing and what they want to throw and where I can expect the ball. Like if I want it in the dirt, will it be in the dirt, and so on. Just things like that. A lot of advantages to that.
OC: You had a strong offensive season last year in Kane County. Were you surprised by how much success you were able to have in making the jump from Vancouver to Kane County or were you expecting that kind of a season?
AR: I wouldn’t call it a surprise, but I wouldn’t say that I was expecting it either. I always set high goals for myself. Last year, I set high goals for myself and I achieved some of them, but not all of them. Coming into this season, it is the same thing. Now that I have raised the bar a little bit for myself, I can set higher goals for myself for this year. I’m looking forward to it.
OC: During spring training, did you get a chance to work with some of the catchers who are a few years further along in their careers than you?
AR: Yeah, definitely. Last year, I wouldn’t say that I was intimidated coming in and working with some of those guys, but it was interesting to see some of the guys who I had heard about actually in action. I kind of sat back and watched them last year.
This year, when it came to working, I got to work with them a lot because it seems like the way they split up early work, they kind of put the veterans with the veterans and the younger guys with the younger guys. It seems to flow better for the veterans when they are together. When I was with them, we got a lot of work done in a little bit of time and it was quality work. You can see how you can be efficient at getting work done in this game. That will definitely help me out for the season because now I know how to approach doing my extra work, whether it is hitting or catching or whatever it may be.
OC: Offensively, do you see yourself now as a homerun hitter or do you still consider yourself as more of the line-drive hitter?
AR: I have always been a line-drive hitter and if it happens to get out of the ballpark, then it does. Obviously, my mindset is not hitting homeruns, but knowing that I can is something that is definitely in my head. It’s not that I feel like I have to necessarily hit homeruns, but I know that is partly expected of me now.
My mindset now is always just to be looking to drive the ball. Hitters always say that they look to hit line-drives and the mistakes go out of the ballpark, so my approach sort of goes along those lines. I’m just going to keep trying to drive the balls into the gap and if they happen to go out, all the better for me.
OC: What was the Midwest League All-Star game experience like for you last year?
AR: It was awesome. I was there with a bunch of great guys from Kane County and there were a lot of great players from other teams there also. Just a lot of talent. It was just a lot of fun. I kind of just sat back and soaked in the entire experience. The game was fun, but it was everything else that was around it that was really amazing. Meeting the other guys, and getting to know some other coaching staffs and just having a good time, all of these things made it a lot of fun.
OC: You guys went pretty far in the Midwest League playoffs last year. What was the playoff experience like in comparison to your regular season games?
AR: You always want to say that you go out and play every regular season game as hard as you can, but in the playoffs there is always that added extra kick of adrenaline that gets you that much more pumped up for the game. It was definitely an awesome experience. I have had the luck to play in back-to-back championship series. In the Northwest League, I played in the championship series and then again last year with Kane County. It is a lot of fun, but I just hope that one of these times I’ll be able to come home with a ring.
OC: You are probably going to be sharing some time behind the plate again with Raul Padron. What is your working relationship like with him and is it an advantage to have played with him before?
AR: Definitely. Me and Padron get along great. We have a very good relationship. It’s definitely not that of a competitive-type relationship. We help each other out. We both like working with each other and we know what we have to work on and how to get work done, so obviously doing work is a lot easier. Both of us picked each other up in the bullpen when we needed it, both of us pick each other up during the game both offensively and defensively when we needed it last season, so we work pretty well together.
OC: What areas are you looking to improve on the most this season?
AR: It’s just all around improvement, really. Being a catcher, defense has to be my number one priority, so I’ll be working on that, probably harder than anything else. But you have to produce offensively, as well, or you won’t stick around in this game either. I’m obviously looking to improve on my numbers offensively, but defensively, I’d really like to improve on being consistent. I know I can make every play and block every ball, but I just need to be able to do that on a consistent basis.
OC: I know that you were at big league camp for at least one of the split-squad games this spring. Was that an eye-opening experience to be over at big league camp and to be able to play with some of the major league guys?
AR: It was. It was a lot of fun. I got to meet a lot of the guys I hadn’t already met. I learned a lot about how things work up there and how to be relaxed. Kind of like I did last year at the All-Star Game, I sort of just sat back and soaked up the experience. I got to have a few conversations with some of the guys and I picked their brains a little bit about approach and mental things and so it was definitely a lot of fun and it was definitely an eye-opening experience.