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“Seventh Nevin” Sits Down with SP Trevor Oaks (Royals)

I started writing for Major League Fantasy Sports nearly four months ago and thought it would be neat to bring you up close and personal with some of the players that we’ve been uncovering and introducing. I have asked a couple of players and RHP Trevor Oaks (Royals) was the first player with whom I was able to snag. (I had notified Trevor about the article I wrote a couple months ago and he responded, thanking me for reminding him to just, “pound the zone.” I figured I had nothing to lose in asking for a sit down, and voila, here we are.)

Since Trevor plays in Omaha, Nebraska (for the Royals AAA affiliate, the Storm Chasers), meeting face to face would be difficult. We had to settle for a phone interview, which worked famously. Setting the stage, while I was preparing to begin the interview, we were just talking about Omaha’s game that day (Wednesday, May 2) and how the Storm Chasers won in extra innings. (this season being the first that the minor leagues are beta-testing the rule where they start extra innings with a runner on second base, to speed up the game). So, let’s pick it up right there:

Nevin: “So what do you think about the changes in baseball that Manfred and company are attempting to implement?”

Oaks:I think they should just leave the game the way it is. You could have a team being completely shut out in the game and your team is doing well. Then your team brings in a guy and he gives up a hit or a couple baserunners late and now suddenly, and unluckily, the game is tied. Based on the trends of the game, that team and their offense wouldn’t be able to get additional baserunners, and now you’re going to reward them with a man on second just because it’s extra innings? I don’t think that’s necessarily fair, especially with no outs. I think it rewards teams whose offenses may have struggled that game.

Nevin: “Well, I absolutely appreciate your spending some time with me tonight and in advance of our call, I prepared a few questions. So if you don’t mind, we’ll dive right in. What do you enjoy most about baseball?”

Oaks: “Definitely the people that you meet. Over the course of my career I’ve met some really cool friends from playing. Now that I’ve gotten farther in the game with regard to professional ball, now I’m meeting some of the greats, some of the legends, like the Greg Madduxes and the George Bretts of the game. All those people change your perspective of the game. When I was younger, I wasn’t a huge baseball fan; my parents wanted me to be active. It’s definitely the teammates and coaches that make the game worthwhile. If you’re not enjoying it in the clubhouse, it won’t be any fun.”

Nevin: “When you talk about meeting Greg Maddux (one of my all time favorite pitchers) or George Brett (someone I grew up watching), are you starstruck in any way?”

Oaks: “There is a little bit of an ‘awe factor’ and you definitely want to pick their brain to see what they’re like. But at the end of the day, they’re people, too. I learned that my first year in Spring Training with the Dodgers, where I’m like a middle-school kid watching Clayton Kershaw. He was the guy for me, but after taking BFPs side by side with Kershaw, you learn he’s a normal dude like everyone else, and that helps you keep that perspective. And I think they appreciate it as well, when you treat them normally.”

Nevin: “Where you a good hitter in back in high school?”

Oaks: “I wouldn’t say I was a good hitter, I would say there weren’t very good pitchers in my high school league. I could always put a line drive out there, but I didn’t have a ton a power. I hit 0.397 in high school and started on varsity, but never really had a lot of power.”

Nevin: “You were diagnosed with your elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery after your senior year of high school in 2012. In 2018, that surgery is almost commonplace; however, for you, what was the surgery like and how difficult was your recovery?”

Oaks:When I did get the Tommy John surgery, I felt that at that time it was still kind of unusual, especially for a high school player. I was really concerned about how it would affect my future and college ball, not even thinking about professional ball at that time. I found out on my graduation night that I had to have the surgery and Biola University thankfully upheld my partial scholarship for me. My first year with Biola entailed a lot of shagging balls (ball bucket), scoreboard, etc. I would play catch, throwing left handed, but the most frustrating part was not getting any respect from the older players – because they couldn’t see me play. In baseball, that’s how you get respect, by the way that you play. Since I couldn’t play, it was

Nevin: “What was your first year at Biola like, once you got on the field?”

Oaks:I was essentially thrown into the fire because Biola needed starters. I threw nearly 100 innings that first year and there were some growing pains. I had a senior that was frustrated that Josh Staumont (Royals) and I were getting a lot of playing time. It was just kind of a crazy year, but once I started pitching, they could see that I had potential and I did earn the respect of my teammates.

Nevin: “Staumont was a teammate at Biola, and now he’s a teammate again with the Royals?”

Oaks: “He was a true freshman and I was a sophomore (academically). Josh ended up transferring after his freshman year (when the coach changed jobs) and I ended up transferring to California Baptist. I learned a lot at Cal Baptist. I had the ability, but my year there I learned why it’s important to be efficient. And the mentality of being in attack mode with a good tempo, keeping the defense on their toes and engaged. And why a first pitch groundout is more valuable than a punchout. I would say that’s where I started to refine my game. I had a great experience at Cal Baptist.”

Nevin: “Back to my question list, at any level, is it more difficult to be a quality hitter or a quality pitcher? (And I do understand I’m talking to a pitcher.)”

Oaks: “I would always say it’s more difficult to be a hitter than a pitcher, just because how difficult hitting is. The best hitters fail 7 out of 10 times. I’ve seen pitchers throw 60 MPH and get outs, throwing below the hitting speed, that’s just how it goes. It’s definitely more difficult to make it as a hitter, especially in professional ball.”

Nevin: “Regarding pitching, and your evolution at Cal Baptist, do you view pitching as an art, science, or a mix of the two?”

Oaks: “It has to be a mix of the two, but I would say the game is trying to make it more scientific, and there are some benefits to that. I think the best pitchers are the ones that keep it simple and make it their own. Trevor Bauer (Indians) is very successful at what he does, but I also think there are some guys that overthink things.”

Nevin: “I used a quote I found on FanGraphs from you about shifting your thumb and your ‘sink came back.‘ When we spoke earlier, you mentioned that you were looking to ‘get 1.5 inches of depth back on your sinker.‘ What does that mean?”

Oaks: “TrackMan exists in every minor league park. It tracks all types of attributes about each pitch. An average major league pitcher has a fastball that drops a certain number of inches because of gravity. That average is 0,0 on a graph. If your fastball sinks or rises (or has a lot of spin), they’re basing success of pitchers based on how it moves when compared to that 0,0 focal point. My sinker was originally dropping 8-12 units when compared to the major league average. Last year, they told me that my fastball lost 1.5 units, leaving the ball higher in the zone. Once I heard that, I was obsessed with how to get the movement back and that threw off my focus. With the loss of the sink, last year where I would have gotten a ground out to short, this year it’s a hard single to left (assuming same exit velocity).”

Nevin: “Since advanced metrics have invaded baseball, do you have classroom time where you disect things like Spin Rate and Bauer Units? Or is it more pitching coach with pitchers individually?”

Oaks: “It isn’t in a classroom setting, it’s more 1-on-1. But if you feel something is off, the video is available to you. Different angles so you can get varied perspectives on your motion. We do sit down and read the swings of the opposing teams. For example, how will we pitch these guys today, what do they like to do, etc. Most of the time it’s between the starting pitcher and the catcher, and then the catchers will usually take that to then work with the relievers.”

Nevin: “The catchers have to be the busiest guys on the squad, are they not? Hitting, defense, pitchers … triple duty.”

Oaks: “And they also have to catch bullpen before games. It’s insane how much work they have to do and I don’t think they get enough credit. Some catchers may not be the best hitters, but they’re so good at calling games and working with pitchers, that teams will rolls the dice offensively because the catcher is so good everywhere else. In receiving as well, staying underneath pitches, stealing a call or two, most catchers don’t have the strength in their arms to steal that outside or low pitch and pull it in to get the strike call. That’s huge when they can help their pitchers. It’s game changing. 2-1 becomes 1-2 instead and that changes pitch selection and how a pitcher can set up a hitter.”

Nevin: “To that end, setting up hitters, what is your full pitch arsenal?”

Oaks: “I throw about 95% 2-seams [fastballs], a cutter, a slider, and a change up. If I’m going to go up in the zone or if I want something away [off the plate], I’ll throw a 4-seamer.”

Nevin: “Do you have an idea about the percentage that you throw each pitch?”

Oaks: “Around 65% fastball and 5% change up with the rest cutters or sliders.”

Nevin: “Are the non-fastball pitches harder on your arm?”

Oaks: “I don’t think so. If you have clean mechanics, you should be using your body and you should be okay. I do notice that If I do throw a lot of sliders in a given day that my shoulder and elbow may be a little more sore the next day. I think that’s just the nature of the pitch.”

Nevin: “In looking back at the article I penned about you, it’s not a secret that you don’t have “Ruthian” strikeout ratios. (This actually got a chuckle from Trevor.) But personally, if you get people out, I’m not sure it really matters how. If you’re limiting baserunners and getting people out, you’re doing your job. A lot of pitchers will pitch to contact and trust their defenses, and recent Royals teams have had phenomenal defenses. When someone tells you that you must have high K/9 ratios in order to be successful in today’s game, what’s your reply? ”

Oaks: “I’ve been pretty successful without a good K-rate thus far, so I don’t really care what they say. *laughs* I mean, it would be nice to punch out the world, and trust me I tried, but that’s just not what I do. For whatever reason, God has decided my fastball has sink and when people do make contact, they are probably going to hit it into the ground, and I’m fine with that. I’m always going to try to get better and find a way to make my off-speed nastier or be more deceptive for more swings and misses, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to be someone I’m not. I’m going to roll with what I have. I believe that there is value in efficiency and letting your defense work. What you see now with pitchers trying to punch out the world is that they can only go into the 5th inning. The bullpen then has to carry the slack. If I can go 3+ times through the lineup, I can preserve maybe two relief pitchers, so that tomorrow, when we really need it, they’re ready to go. And they can be more effective and get outs. It’s a more effective methodology in a game, a series, and over the course of the season. At least in my opinion.”

Nevin: “Every now and again you will get an off day, a chance to sit back and watch the game. Do you have a favorite player to watch? I mean, just how good is Shohei Ohtani (Angels). His spring training numbers were terrible and everyone who thinks they know baseball said he’d be a complete bust. We were all wrong.”

Oaks: “Ohtani was definitely intriguing to watch because of the buzz around him. I was more curious about his pitching because that is what I heard was so phenomenal. I watched one spring training outing and he dotted each off-speed pitch. He had 9 strikeouts in 3 innings, literally striking out everyone he faced. So impressive. He’s carried that into games that count it and he’s continued to be impressive. I think he’s going to be good. But he’s not must watch, just a fresh face with a lot of buzz. To answer your question, anyone that I’ve played with or played against, those are players I want to watch. Brandon Morrow, who is now with the Cubs, he was in Oklahoma City with me last year and he carried like a 12+ ERA. He had previous big league experience with some nasty stuff.  He got the call and never came back, becoming the setup guy for Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) and also pitched in every game in the post-season, which was super impressive to me. There’s a connection to that player because he was my teammate. What was the difference maker for him? I pull for those guys and I want those guys to do well. And now Morrow is killing it on the Cubs. Another guy, Jacob Rhame, made the Mets opening day roster, or Brock Stewart (Dodgers) and Ross Stripling (Dodgers), all the guys I played with. It’s always fun to watch them.”

Nevin: “Is there anything that makes you nervous before, during, or after a game?”

Oaks: “Before the game there’s always a little anxiety because of wanting to perform well. But I think that’s healthy because you want to care. Once I get on the mound, I’m good. Nothing really makes me super nervous. Even in my MLB debut, I was more nervous leading up to the game, than actually in the game.”

Nevin: “Having been drafted by the Dodgers in 2014, 7th round, you almost made it all the way with that organization. In a world where trades happen so frequently, for example, Lewis Brinson (Marlins) has already been traded twice, what was it like being traded?”

Oaks: “It was weird at first. I was at a prospects thing in Washington, DC representing the Dodgers. During dinner, I received a call from Farhan (Dodgers GM) telling me that I had been traded to the Kansas City Royals. It was a shock at first. But as I started thinking about it, I realized it would be a good opportunity for me. I think if I were still with the Dodgers, I wouldn’t have been called up yet. Being with the Royals, it will take a couple years to get back to where they were [in 2014-15] and I like my chances.”

Nevin:Max Schrock (Cardinals) was quoted as saying that when he was traded he tried to meet as many people as quickly as possible to help make him feel more comfortable so he would play better more quickly. Did you do something similar when you went from Los Angeles to Kansas City?”

Oaks: “I wouldn’t say that … it was more not trying to force anything or try too hard. Some guys like it when you’re a better listener than talker. They sent me to FanFest in Kansas City and that helped me get comfortable because of meeting a lot guys from the big league team already. Talking with them and hanging out was nice, and they welcomed me in. And it helped me know people when I got to Spring Training.”

Nevin: “My original question was what do you anticipate for your first MLB experience? But since that happened, let me pivot and ask: how did you enjoy your first MLB experience?”

Oaks: “The experience itself was really cool from getting the call and getting into the game, the start was really special. My family was there, my girlfriend, it was awesome. But the results weren’t what I was hoping for. I did see some good things, but overall I was little disappointed in how I performed. And I felt that was a little from the fans and coaching staff. It’s a goal to prove people wrong and perform the way I know I can. But overall I was happy with the experience and I’ll never forget it.”

Nevin: “Did you keep a ball?”

Oaks: “Actually, something I didn’t know. The Royals called time out when I got my first out, and saved that ball. My first strikeout, they saved that ball. After the game, they took my jersey and they’re going to put it in a shadow box and send it to me. I’ve never heard of an organization doing that; it’s really awesome.”

Nevin: “Now, a couple rapid fire non-baseball questions. Charlie Blackmon (Rockies) recently extended for 6-years, $108M. It was reported that he was driving the same Jeep that he had when he was first signed, when he first broke into the minor leagues. If you don’t want to answer, that’s cool, but what’s the first thing you did with your signing bonus (after being drafted)?”

Oaks: “Paid off my all my student loans.”

Nevin: “What’s your favorite band/ music?”

Oaks: “Favorite artist right now is Chris Stapleton. He’s a country/ blues artist. John Mayer. I like the guitar-y/ blues-y feel.”

Nevin: “Do you have a favorite movie?”

Oaks: “Good Will Hunting. Braveheart. Gladiator.”

Nevin: “What is your #1 “go to” that helps you relax [after a game, or whenever]?”

Oaks: “I’ll go to my room and read and listen to soft house music. Mellow-piano stuff. ”

Nevin: “Do you have a favorite verse from scripture?”

Oaks: “Romans 12:1-2, ‘Therefore, I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices wholly and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. And do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be renewed by the transforming of your minds.'” (He quoted this by heart. I was impressed.)

Nevin: “Do you have a favorite non-baseball athlete?”

Oaks: “Kobe Bryant. Being from Southern California, he was the man.

Nevin: “What is your biggest pet peeve?”

Oaks: “People being not courteous, drives me insane.

Nevin: “Is there anything that you’d want to share with our reading audience about yourself? For example, I was on the pseudo ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Win It‘ in Orlando in 2001 game show at Universal Studios. I didn’t do well, but I I made the hot seat.”

Oaks: “I was going to try to play volleyball in college before trying out for baseball. I was going to try to be a setter for Cal Baptist. I had good hands, but no club experience, so they thought it would take too long to catch me up. So I decided to give baseball a try at the college level. I guess that worked out. *more laughter*

Nevin: “Thanks so very much for your time this evening, Trevor. It has been a great time chatting with you and getting to know a little more about you. Best of luck with your season and I hope you get back to Kansas City soon.”

Oaks: “Cool. Sounds good. Thanks again.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed the conversation with Trevor. In a world where you never know what type of personality you’re going to get from baseball personnel, Trevor is a terrific guy and I hope he gets another chance for the big club soon.

And on an unrelated note, super-congratulations to Trevor from all of us at Major League Fantasy Sports on his recent marriage engagement. We wish you nothing but the best and a life full of happiness with your soon-to-be missus!

Stay tuned next week as we’re back to uncovering more MiLB SPs for you to add to your radar. It’s about time for teams to begin calling on these younger arms to strengthen a pennant race run, or to see what they have down on the farm.

My best you.

7th Nevin

Are you looking for a better experience? Fantasy Football League Openings 2018

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 20th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #121 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.

Our guest this week is Andy Macuga former Head Coach of Borrego Springs High School in San Diego. Andy is also a veteran owner in Major League Fantasy Sports leagues covering baseball and football.

A business analyst by day, pursuing all things baseball by night. My favorite day of the year is opening day and my favorite sound is the crack of the bat ... the great contact-type, not that flubbed, squishy foul ball-type. In my free time I still collect some baseball cards (though not quite like I did when I was 12), join my colleagues here writing for Major League Fantasy Sports and manage a recently-founded Dynasty League.

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