11/17/09 5:27 PM EST
Patience pays off in honors for Bailey
A's staff has praise for Rookie of Year's vast improvement
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
A day after being named the American League's 2009 Rookie of the Year, Bailey on Monday spent the better part of a news conference at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Tuesday espousing the power of self-faith.
A struggling 24-year-old starting pitcher languishing in Double-A ball during his third season of professional baseball last summer, Bailey had every right to wonder if his dream of playing big league ball was dying in the dust at Midland, Texas.
Midway through the 2008 season, he was 1-8 with a 6.18 ERA.
Any sort of concessionary thoughts, however, never entered his mind.
"I always had a belief that I could make it," said Bailey, who was flanked at the news conference by A's general manager Billy Beane and skipper Bob Geren. "There was never a time that I gave up on myself."
The A's never gave up on Bailey, either. But they did come up with a new plan.
Tantalized by his power arm and impressed with his high strikeout totals as a starter, they decided to turn him into a relief pitcher.
"Even though he was struggling as a starter," Beane said, "we were still high on him."
Midland pitching coach Scott Emerson and Minor League roving pitching instructor Gil Patterson were charged with overseeing the transition, but first they asked Bailey if he was open to the career move.
"I said, 'That's fine with me,'" Bailey recalled. "[I figured] as long as I have a name on the back of my jersey, I have a chance to make it to the big leagues."
That same day, Patterson showed Bailey how to throw a cut fastball. After several days of working on it in side sessions, with Patterson actually dropping into the squat to catch his new convert, the cutter was unleashed in competition.
And away Bailey went. He ripped through the second half of Texas League action, posting a 0.92 ERA over 22 appearances, and after a similarly dominant turn in the Arizona Fall League, Bailey wowed the A's brass as a virtual unknown during his first trip to big league Spring Training, where he didn't allow a run in Cactus League play until the final week before the 25-man roster was set.
Every Friday during camp, Beane, Geren and the rest of Oakland's personnel men got together to discuss the next round of cuts. Every Friday, Bailey escaped the reaper.
"I don't think we went into Spring Training thinking he'd break with us," said Beane. "But we kept coming back to, 'We can't cut a guy who hasn't given up a run.'"
So Bailey made the team, and Geren eased him into action. Bailey was used in fairly low-stress situations early on, earned more trust by thriving, and eventually ascended into the closer's role, out of which he set the Oakland rookie saves record with 26.
"Bob did a great job of putting him in a position to succeed early," Beane offered.
Geren deflected the praise, echoing earlier comments by Beane that lauded the scout -- Jeff Bittiger -- who discovered Bailey at tiny Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., and serving props to the men who work with Oakland's prospects throughout the Minor League system.
"A lot of the guys in the scouting and development [departments] of this organization should be congratulated along with Andrew," Geren said.
Bailey has had his fill of congratulatory messages since being named Oakland's third ROY in six years, but his appearance alone suggested that he's not likely to rest on his laurels.
Noticeably trimmer than when the season ended, he said he's been working out four times a week in an effort not to lose weight, but to "turn bad weight into good weight."
"There's definitely room for improvement; 27 saves is better than 26," Bailey said. "My goal was to get to the big leagues, and I've already achieved that goal. My goal now is to stay."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.