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Stassi wraps fall league, plans for benefit event

For the Appeal-Democrat

PHOENIX — Every fall for the past 20 years, Major League Baseball has presented the Arizona Fall League in the greater Phoenix area, with games held in some MLB teams' spring training stadiums.

Each of the 30 teams send five of their top prospects to one of six teams in the league to get the players more at-bats, innings pitched and exposure to MLB scouts in the October and November games.

It is common knowledge in pro baseball circles that if you are picked to go to the Fall League, you will play with the big team (MLB) in a year or two — you have just about arrived.

You now belong to an elite group of top players — the best of the best — who are being polished for the big time.

In late August, Yuba City's native son and Oakland Athletics catching prospect Max Stassi was tabbed to play in the Fall League, where he played in 13 games while batting .271 with 11 runs batted in during 48 at-bats. Not bad for a young man who had just completed his first full season of high A-ball in Stockton for the Athletics.

I caught up with Max last week at the A's spring training stadium in Phoenix before a game and we talked about his pro career.

Question: How did you feel when the A's notified you that you would be playing in the Fall League?

Answer: I was thrilled. I knew I would be playing with the best here. They wanted me to get some more at-bats because I was a little behind in that category, having been on the DL most of last year and a few smaller injuries this year.

Q: You injured your right shoulder in spring training with the A's in 2011 and then DH'd for Stockton this past April. What happened after that?

A: At the end of April, we decided to shut it down and I had shoulder surgery in the first part of May.

It wasn't really that big of a deal — they just cleaned it up a bit. Then I started a four-month rehab program at home for a month and then in Arizona. By mid-July, I was throwing a little.

In the fall, I played in the Arizona Instructional League here and got some at-bats. I was happy because my rehab only took four months, where the average rehab time for this injury is six months.

Q: With the Stockton Ports last year, you played most of the season and had a very respectable batting average of .268. How did you feel about your year with the Ports?

A: I had a good year — I try not to look at my stats during the year. You can't really control where you hit the ball, so I don't worry about the stats.

I was healthy most of the year except for ankle and oblique injuries, which you pretty much have to play through.

I was also working towards making sure that I would be on the playing field for a full season next year.

Q: Is there any pressure from the A's organization to play through an injury?

A: No, it's all on you. The trainer recommends what's best for you and the team, but it's up to you in the end.

Q: What did you learn in 2012 with Stockton?

A: I learned more about myself as a hitter. It's really all about game reps.

Q: Did family members come down and catch some of your games this year in Stockton?

A: Yes, my mom and dad came down quite a bit. It was great having them so close to where I was playing.

Q: What is your daily routine down here like?

A: I leave my home in Tempe and arrive at the park at 7:45 a.m. I eat breakfast and go to the batting cage, then I stretch, take on-field batting practice, play in the game, shower and go home. Nothing on Sunday. It's pretty monotonous.

Q: You've played baseball for nine months straight now. How do you adjust to playing a full season then coming down here and playing two more months?

A: It's more of a mental grind than anything. The biggest thing to remember is to stay in your routines.

My biggest adjustment was two years ago, while playing with Kane County, near Chicago. I really hit the wall in August because it was my first exposure to playing a full season.

Q: What kind of experience was it playing in the Fall League?

A: It was amazing, really a great experience. It was exciting playing with the top minor leaguers of all of the MLB organizations. You are really part of an All-Star team here.

Q: What are the differences between the level of play here as opposed to what you saw at single-A this year?

A: Mainly the hitters. Here, you have regular three- and four-spot batters all the way through the lineup, from one to nine.

The players are also more refined and make near-impossible plays in the field.

Q: What are your goals right now? Do you have any timelines to make the big team?

A: I just want to have quality at-bats and to stay healthy. I really don't pay any attention to timelines as that is something I can't control.

Those are decisions that the guys in the front office are making, not me. I just have to go out there and take care of business.

Q: Any idea where you will play in 2013?

A: I have no idea where I will be next year. It would be great if I was somewhere above where I was last year.

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