Marcus Semien to honor Ron Washington at Coaching Corps awards


Marcus Semien to honor Ron Washington at Coaching Corps awards

In 2015, Marcus Semien was probably the worst defensive player in all of Major League Baseball.

That's not hyperbole. The A's shortstop committed a mind-boggling 35 errors, eight more than any other player in the league.

Fast forward to 2018 and Semien had transformed himself into a Gold Glove Award finalist. How was that type of improvement possible in just three years?

Semien credits one man: Ron Washington.

"He's the reason that happened. I'm out there playing the game but I always imagine him still coaching me and talking to me. It's helped me so much. ... Without him, I don't know if I'd be here."

Semien will honor the former A's coach at this week's Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Sunday at 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. The ceremony will feature professional Bay Area athletes of all sports as they pay tribute to coaches who helped them get to where they are today. The event will also support Coaching Corps' mission of providing well-trained coaches to young athletes from low-income communities.

Semien first met Washington during that nightmare 2015 season. Washington was out of work after managing the Texas Rangers the previous eight seasons, but he came to meet with the A's at the request of then general manager Billy Beane.

"Billy Beane called him up and said, 'I think there's a kid you might be able to help,' Semien recalled. "He came midseason to Tampa and we met right there."

Washington joined the A's as an infield coach, marking his second stint with the organization. He and Semien went to work right away, taking thousands of ground balls and working specifically on his hands with flat-glove drills.

"My flat glove was instrumental in the way I caught the ball," Semien said. "We were not even three feet away from each other and he had the ability to hit a fungo (bat) that close to me and simulate the last hop of a ground ball. And we did that thousands and thousands of times every day during the year-and-a-half he coached me."

While Washington worked Semien hard, he always maintained an encouraging attitude, something Semien appreciates to this day.

"The way he preaches is very positive. If you mess up, it's okay. Next rep. He's there to hit you as many balls as you need, and when he sees something he likes, he gets very enthusiastic about it."

Of course, the physical skills only represent half the battle in baseball. Washington was also instrumental in elevating Semien's confidence and mental toughness.

"I made a lot of errors the first two months before Wash came," Semien acknowledged. "I could've rolled over and just given up, but Wash showed me the way to really focus on my technique, and the more reps we did, the more comfortable I got out there. Wash really helped my mental game. His saying is mind over matter. Our matter was getting my defense cleaned up and that's what we did."

Semien's progress wasn't always as smooth as he would have hoped, but he stayed committed and continued to improve. In 2016, he cut his errors down from 35 to 21 and increased his fielding percentage from .947 to .971.

This past season, Semien recorded a career-high nine defensive runs saved, third-most among AL shortstops. His 11.6 rating in the SABR Defensive Index was third best in all of baseball, regardless of position. And it all started with Wash.

"I think the dedication, the time he puts in, the effort, it's the best I've ever seen," he praised. "There are coaches who come in and get their work done, and that's enough for some people. But for a person like me in 2015, there was a lot more that needed to be done and he went the extra mile."

At just 28 years old, Semien still has plenty of years left in his playing career. But that doesn't mean he hasn't thought about a coaching career of his own down the road.

"Wash's style is the style I would want to use," he smiled. "I would take everything I learned and everything that got me better and use that. If I didn't have him coach me the way I did, I don't know if I'd be able to be a good coach."

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

"It made me feel a little lost in the world."

Former A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history on Sept. 23, 2017, by being the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. 

He detailed that day to NBC Sports Bay Area/California in NBC Sports' documentary, "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports."

"When I got to the field, I immediately walked into my manager's office -- had a sit down with him and our GM in private, told them what I was going to do, told them how I was going to go about it -- told them my plan, reasons, and shed a few tears because it's a heartfelt subject for me ... " 

Maxwell knew the backlash he would receive, he just wasn't prepared for the magnitude of it. He received death threats -- and still does to this day.

"The fact that somebody actually took the time to find out what school my sister coached basketball at in Texas, somebody took the time to find out where my mother lived," he explained. 

Maxwell then admitted he rarely left home when he headed back to Arizona following the event. 

"I was miserable," he said. 

He didn't want to do anything. Not exercise, not even talking to his parents.

"At that moment in time, I was standing for something way bigger than myself," Maxwell explained.

Just a few weeks later, the 28-year-old made headlines once again when he was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery worker.

Maxwell told NBC Sports Bay Area/California he was in a certain mental state, and in addition to what was currently going on, he felt he needed to grab his gun in order to protect himself.

"I'm in my house, I'm defending myself, just in case this happens to be one of these crazy-ass people that are sending me threats," Maxwell said

He didn't feel like himself. Not even like a human being, he explained.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien shares mental health journey]

But now, he's freely talking about it and wants to leave his mark on the world with more than just what's going on between the foul lines.

You can watch all of the "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports" vignettes right here. The full documentary will play all month on NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California.

Check our channel listings page for times and dates.

MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason


MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason

It's no secret that the A's need to improve their bullpen. Oakland blew 30 saves in 2019, the most of any team in the majors.

With that in mind, here are five free agent relief pitchers the A's could target this offseason:

Will Harris

The A's already know Harris well from his time with the Astros. The 35-year-old has spent the last five years in Houston, posting a sparkling 2.36 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.

The 2019 season was the best of Harris' career. The right-hander went 4-1 with four saves, along with a 1.50 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He notched 62 strikeouts in 60 innings, allowing just 14 walks.

Harris earned $4.225 million this past season and could be due a raise after his terrific performance. However, at the age of 35, he still figures to be an affordable option for Oakland.

Drew Pomeranz

The former A’s left-handed found tremendous success as a reliever this year after getting dealt to Milwaukee. In 25 games with the Brewers, Pomeranz went 0-1 with two saves, a 2.39 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP. The 30-year-old struck out an eye-popping 45 batters in just 26 1/3 innings, while issuing eight walks.

Pomeranz pitched for the A's in 2014 and 2015, going 10-10 with three saves and a 3.08 ERA. He spent the first part of last season across the Bay in San Francisco, where he struggled mightily as a starter, going 2-9 with a 5.68 ERA. But once he arrived in Milwaukee, he became a completely different pitcher.

Pomeranz earned $1.5 million this year after making $8.5 million in 2018. His new contract will likely fall somewhere between those figures, making a second A's stint a possibility.

Daniel Hudson

A crucial part of the Nationals' World Series title, Hudson figures to be a hot commodity on the free agent market. The 32-year-old went 9-3 with eight saves and a 2.47 ERA between Washington and Toronto, striking out 71 batters in 73 innings.

Hudson also notched four saves in the postseason, going 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA. The right-hander has a career ERA of 3.83 in 10 seasons, with the first four coming as a starter.

Hudson earned just $1.5 million this year and will be in line for a significant raise. Still, the hard-throwing veteran could be worth it for an A's team in need of late-inning options.

[RELATED: Why A's, Hudson would be good fit]

Joe Smith

Smith was superb in limited appearances for the Astros this season. The veteran right-hander went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 25 innings, striking out 22 and walking five.

Smith, 35, has a career ERA of 2.98 in 13 major league seasons. The sidearm specialist has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a meager .215/.278/.308 slash line throughout his career.

Smith just completed a two-year, $15 million deal with Houston and could be available for a similar price this time around. The A's would be wise to at least make an inquiry.

Steve Cishek

Cishek is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with the Cubs. The right-hander combined to go 8-9 with 11 saves and a 2.55 ERA, registering 135 strikeouts 134 1/3 innings.

[RELATED: Bullpen upgrade is Forst's main priority]

Cishek, 33, has a career 2.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 132 saves in 10 seasons. His sidearm delivery has also been especially successful against right-handed hitters, allowing them to slash just .199/.265/.288 in his career.

Cishek earned $6.5 million each of the last two seasons with the Cubs and figures to get a similar contract this offseason. He could certainly help boost the A's bullpen in 2020.