McBeth making most of move to mound
Center fielder turned pitcher vying for roster spot in A's camp
PHOENIX -- In 2002, Marcus McBeth was ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the A's organization. As a center fielder.This year, he's ranked eighth on the same list. As a pitcher. A closer, actually. "It's a pretty amazing story," said A's pitching coach Curt Young. "To make the switch and already to be to the point where he's finishing games and getting asked to come to big-league camp, it says something pretty special about the kid." McBeth isn't really a kid anymore. He's 26. And while his pitching career is in its infancy, having started with the 2005 season, he has the poise and mound presence of a far more experienced hurler. McBeth started the 2006 season at Class A Stockton and posted a 0.00 ERA in eight games while picking up seven saves. That earned a promotion to Double-A Midland, and his success there -- a 2.48 ERA and 25 saves -- earned him a look at Triple-A Sacramento. All told, McBeth racked up the fifth-most saves in the Minors last summer, earning yet another non-verbal "attaboy" from the club: an invitation to the prestigious Arizona Fall League. And he did well enough there to merit his first invitation to attend big-league camp. Young said McBeth is a longshot to make the team, but with a low-90s fastball and a changeup that Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco likened to that of future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, McBeth is perhaps a strong season at Triple-A away from a regular job in Oakland's bullpen. MLB.com visited with McBeth during the AFL season, and here's what he had to say about his dramatic career change: MLB.com: First things first. Why the change? McBeth: Pretty simple. I wasn't hitting. I was a fastball hitter, and guys figured me out, so I saw a lot of breaking balls. That was it. I couldn't hit the breaking ball. So you were open to the change?
I was. I just wanted my career to move forward. I felt like I was at a standstill because other guys were passing me up. Other guys were hitting. I felt like the A's had plans for me in the outfield, but I just couldn't figure it out fast enough.I feel like I was blessed with a gift -- my arm -- and I talked to our pitching coordinator, Ron Romanick, and he said he would work with me every day, so I took him up on his offer. We went out for about a month, maybe a month and a week, every morning for two hours, working on mechanics and stuff like that. It was all basics. I didn't even get on the mound until that month or so was over. I was just conditioning my arm and making sure I was healthy first. It's a lot different throwing from the outfield and the mound. In the outfield, you can gain ground before you throw, but on the mound you're in an anchored position, so it's a little tougher on the body. Was it strange to make that switch as a pro? It was. Everyone has a head start on you. But I'm competitive. I always have been and always will be. So it's been a challenge, but it's been a lot of fun, too. Does your experience as a hitter help on the mound? Definitely. At first, it didn't, because I couldn't put myself in their shoes. I was thinking about so many things out there, like, 'Get your leg here,' 'Follow through this way,' or 'Grip the ball this way.' But now that it's becoming more second nature, now I can think, 'OK, I know what he's looking for because I know that if I was a hitter, this is what I'd be looking for.' And having been a hitter, I know what the toughest pitches to hit are, and that helps. I know that a good changeup is the toughest pitch to identify and hit, so I've put a lot of work into developing a changeup, and it's OK. It's coming along. It's like a circle change-palmball mix. I feel like that's probably my best pitch. How big of a jump is it, in competitive terms, to go from the Minors to the AFL? Pretty big. Every guy that you face, every day, is like a 3-4-5 hitter from the best teams in the Minors. All of the guys you see out here are guys you're going to see in the big leagues, so it's challenging. But it gives you a taste of, hopefully, what's to come. You can actually see it out here. I mean, people watch Major League ball and see all the highlights and they're like, 'Man, these guys are perfect.' But they all make mistakes, too, and being around these guys, if you were to make a highlight tape of some of the games here, you'd see some of the same things you see in the big leagues. I have a lot of respect for every guy here. Do you have any goals for the 2007 season? I just want to be the best I can be. I have dreams like everyone else of being in the big leagues, but I just want to help the organization any way I can. Hopefully, it's at the Major League level, but I'm still young and new at this, and they've got great pitchers up and down the line, so I just hope they have the confidence in me to get the job done. Do you expect to be at Triple-A? Hopefully. I played at Double-A last year and did fairly well. What do you think you need to work on? Probably fastball command and endurance. I have to work to get to the point where I can pitch an inning one day and come back and pitch again the next day and the day after that. I need to be more consistent in the zone with my offspeed stuff, too. Pretty much everything, really. I feel like I can improve on everything, because I see guys who have different parts of the game figured out better than I do, and I'm like, 'Damn, I wish I could do that.' Basically, I just want to be more polished. And finally, you're going to get a chance to watch the big-league club's stars work up close this spring. Do you pay much attention to the A's during the season when you're in the Minors? I'm actually a fan. I like watching the games. For instance, when Huston Street comes on, everything stops. If I'm in my house and I see Huston Street on the TV, I quit whatever I'm doing because I want to watch that guy throw. ... That guy is unbelievable. Look what he's doing. He's a young guy, and he's got great years ahead of him. ... I want to see all those guys throw, because I feel like I can learn something from them. They've already arrived.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.