Jemile Weeks is continuing his first full season in pro ball with the Phoenix Desert Dogs. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound second baseman has an upbeat personality that matches his style of play. Weeks is a speedy athlete with promising power, a patient approach and a good line-drive hack. His defense will likely be average or better and he could reach the bigs as early as 2010.
I caught up with Weeks earlier this week at the Arizona Fall League to discuss the base running tips he's gotten from Rickey Henderson, his struggles in Double-A and what it's like to be in the "Moneyball" organization.
Adam Foster: I can tell you love playing the game of baseball and you’re having a lot of fun our here. What’s your favorite thing about being in the AFL?
Jemile Weeks: Just being able to compete with these guys man…guys who are like future major leaguers, within the next year or two probably. So just being able to be counting the number of such good talent. I mean, what more can you ask for right now?
AF: How would you compare some of the pitchers you’ve seen out here to some of the guys you saw in the regular season?
JW: I think it’s some of the best competition I’ve seen. I’m pretty sure most guys in this league are going to say that. Like I said, it’s some of the best talent in the minor leagues. And yeah, the pitching is definitely noticeably better than what I faced in the season.
AF: When I saw you in Spring Training, you weren’t running out any balls. Were you injured at that time or was that an order from the A’s?
JW: Yeah, I was injured. I was going through some things with my legs. And they were pretty much protectin’ what was going on with my body.
AF: What specifically was going on with your legs?
JW: I tore my hip last year in my short stint in Low-A Kane County. So it kind of was acting up on me a little bit. So that was the next best thing for me to do if I was going to get some at-bats, not run too much.
AF: You had some hamstring problems in college too, right?
JW: Yeah, I did in college…nothing that really hindered me too much. But yeah, it was a little bit of a problem.
AF: It looks like you’re moving around just fine now, though. Back to 100-percent?
JW: Yeah, oh yeah.
AF: Once you were in Stockton this year, you really caught fire. How did that feel after dealing with the injuries and having a bit of a layoff?
JW: It felt great. It was a big relief. Being down for so long and then finally getting my chance to get back on the field and at least show a little bit of what I could do, it felt good to be out there.
AF: And it was probably as much pop as you’d hit for in a little while, too.
JW: (Laughs) Yeah, not playing for that long, you don’t really expect to be able to get ‘em out like that. But usually if you put good swings on the ball anything can happen.
AF: How’d you feel about the California League? The parks overall there…the ball travels pretty well, right?
JW: Yeah, ball travels well in that league…gotta still be pretty disciplined in you approach and things like that so you don’t get outside of yourself. It’s easy to get it up and maybe get it up and maybe get it out of there. But it’s also easy to get into a slump if you fall in love with that.
AF: And then moving up to the Texas League, you slowed down a little bit in the second half. How much of that was just fatigue of your first full season versus having a little bit of trouble making some adjustments in Double-A?
JW: I felt like it was mechanically what I was doing at the plate. I really didn’t feel overmatched by pitchers and I didn’t really feel too fatigued. I did hit some balls hard and…the game of baseball everything’s not going to fall your way. It was pretty much me just having to make some more adjustments. And I did so. But sometimes the numbers don’t always show what you’ve done.
AF: Was it swing mechanics? Or what were you working on?
JW: Pretty much my swing…things like that. Any hitter’s constantly working on that, so you’ve just gotta make the most of it.
AF: What specifically were you doing with your swing?
JW: Just different things with my hands: staying inside or gettin’ the top hand through…different things.
AF: And what kind of things are you working on here at the fall league?
JW: One of my main things was stealing bases, they were working on me with. They had Rickey Henderson come work with me. So getting on base and stealing bases was something I wanted to focus on. Defensively…all year I’ve been trying to improve myself defensively. And I think for the most part those are my two biggest things that I was trying to work on.
AF: Working with Rickey, was it kind of reinforcing things that you already heard or did he just open your eyes up to some cool, new techniques?
JW: He opened my eyes to some new techniques. It’s things you have to work at. It’s not gonna’ come overnight but it’s things you gotta work at. And I’m gonna do that.
AF: Was it kind of fine tuning…looking at what the pitcher’s release time is to the plate? Figuring out how to get your secondary? What were some of the things he showed ya?
JW: It was different things about what to look for when the pitcher’s going to the plate or as far as knowing where you are with your lead…different approaches to make your jump quicker and more explosive from out of your stance to run to second base.
AF: And the A’s have kind of gained a reputation as a team that’s hesitant to send base runners unless they’re stealing at a really high success rate. Is it something where you feel like you can be successful enough where you’re gonna get the green light? You could be one of the first guys since Rickie stealing a lot of bases up there.
JW: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s true. I guess they have that reputation. I feel like they’re starting to let loose a little bit. They’ve been trying to get guys in that running role lately, I feel like lately. Hopefully that is a thing for me to have the green light and be able to run when I feel it’s best for me. But it’s all up to the organization.
AF: I think there are a lot of people with Moneyball who’ve misinterpreted it. And they go out and say it’s about being patient; about taking pitches. My understanding with the A’s philosophy, it’s more once you see a pitch you like, you hit it. You don’t go and jump on anything that isn’t your pitch. Is that your understanding?
JW: Yeah, it’s basically percentages. So your percentage to get hit and get on base is within the zone. And if you’re swinging outside the zone – causing basically more strikeouts and things like that – then that’s when you’re not working within their program and what they want you to do.
AF: So do you almost feel like when you’re being coached through the A’s organization, in their development, they’re almost running some of this statistical language by you and having you translate it into your game. Or is it you’re going out and doing your thing just like and other coaching you had in college?
JW: I’m pretty much going out and doing my thing. But I’m listening to what they’re saying and trying to incorporate whatever I don’t have in my game that they tell me to do, trying to incorporate it. But for the most part I think they got me because I try to be a prototypical leadoff guy or someone at the top of the lineup. And the things that they stress are things that I need to be doing anyways.
AF: Your brother is in the big leagues, your parents are both very talented athletes, your sister's a very talented athlete...do you kind of feel like even though there are a lot of gifted athletes out here, do you do anything differently than them? Has being around the game affected you? Are there things you can pass on?
JW: I wouldn't say I was too far advanced than people in certain issues and certain areas like that. But I feel like my understanding is at a level where I don't feel like I'm a first-year player. People always say it's his first full season, things like that but I don't like to use that as a crutch to lean on or anything. I feel like go out there and play the game. I've been around it. And it has helped me along my way through minor league ball.
AF: Yeah, especially since you were a coveted amateur too. Have you been able to interact with Grant Green at all...pass any knowledge off him?
JW: Actually I played I think it was just one game with him. It was in instructs...I came out there early. And it was just one or two games I played with him. We just talked. We didn't really do too much stepping along the lines of what you're gonna see here and there. But I'm sure we'll get some conversations going on by Spring Training time.
AF: How important is it really, people talk about it a lot, the chemistry between a second baseman and a shortstop? You're both professional athletes, you're very athletic. Is is something where you need to work together for a few months before you feel comfortable with each other?
JW: Yeah. I guess there's different times it take for a shortstop and second baseman to get used to each other. I'm not sure of the time period. But it does help to know your shortstop and know his actions...when he's gonna flip it, when he's gonna throw it hard, what he's gonna do on a back hand, where your second baseman likes the ball. There's different things you just gotta know.
AF: Like who's covering second when?
JW: Yeah. The communication is really big on balls up the middle. So you definitely have to get into some kind of relationship with your shortstop.
AF: What do you think about the name Mickey catching on for you as a pro ball player?
JW: Mickey? I mean, we'll work with it. Whatever comes, we'll work with it you know.
AF: Isn't that what your grandpa calls you?
JW: My grandfather calls me that. And I don't really think about it too much. When he says it, It's almost like him saying my name. So I don't even see it as a nickname too much.
AF: Why does he call you it?
JW: He really just says Mickey because when I was little it was that big thing about Disney World and everything. And I guess Mickey just stuck with me with him. And I just run along with it. It's like not even a different name with me.
AF: It's nothing about being able to dart around like a mouse or anything like that, it's Disney World?
JW: I'm sure it has something to do with that. But it's pretty much from my childhood days.