Now that we’re almost a month and a half into the season, it seems like a good time to reflect on the A’s big off-season moves and try to get a read on how all those new acquisitions have panned out. Of the ten players the A’s acquired in their three big deals with Arizona (for right-hander Trevor Cahill), with Washington (for left-hander Gio Gonzalez), and with Boston (for reliever Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney), five of those players are currently on the major league roster, two are playing at Triple-A, and three are in Class-A. And we decided to get the lowdown on all these players from someone who’s got his finger on the pulse of not only the A’s major league roster but of all the minor teams as well – A’s assistant general manager David Forst.
Forst grew up in southern California, captained the Harvard University baseball team, and played independent ball in the Frontier League before landing an entry level position in the A’s baseball operations department in January of 2000. He’s currently in his ninth season as the A’s assistant general manager and general manager Billy Beane has entrusted him with a broad range of responsibilities that cover just about every aspect of the organization. So he’s the perfect man to give us the inside scoop not only on last off-season’s key acquisitions but also on all the top prospects down on the farm. So without any further ado, let’s go to the tape…
AF: Well, I know the amateur draft is coming up next month. So are you spending a lot of your time prepping for the draft at this point?
DF: I’m actually on the road probably two or three days a week now, but I’m discussing it a lot more than that with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and the guys in the office. The draft is sort of the top of our list right now.
AF: Well you’ve got a lot of high picks this year.
DF: Yeah, we have two comp picks and then an extra second round pick as well.
AF: I wanted to start out getting your take on the players the A’s acquired in all the big off-season deals now that you’ve had a chance to see them up close. So let’s start with the guys you got from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill trade. And obviously the key guy for you in that deal was former first-round draft pick Jarrod Parker, who’s already in the major league rotation for you.
DF: Jarrod’s come a long way just from the beginning of spring training. We knew when we traded for him that the further he got away from that surgery, the more he was going to resemble the prospect that everybody had in the top ten in the game. The second half in Double-A last year, he was getting better – he obviously was good enough for the Diamondbacks to call him up – and we’ve sort of seen that progress continue before our eyes. He had a nice spring training, but he certainly didn’t dominate. In fact, he made one start at the end where he was very disappointing. But he quickly made some adjustments in Triple-A. I think he made four starts down there at Triple-A. His command was better and his stuff was consistently good. We knew we were going to need a fifth starter, and it was the right time to give him an opportunity here. And he’s been outstanding up here. He’s shown no fear here in his first sort of regular stint in the big leagues, and he’s thrown strikes – which are really the two things that you worry about with a young kid coming into this environment, and he’s been outstanding.
AF: And I think he’s got a lower ERA than Trevor Cahill at this point too.
DF: Well, you try not to make that direct comparison. These trades are made for the long haul. But we’re happy with what Jarrod’s given us at the big league level.
AF: The other pitcher involved in that deal was reliever Ryan Cook, who’s turned out to be a big part of the A’s bullpen.
DF: Well, I can’t say I expected him to start out with 16 scoreless innings to begin the year, but Ryan’s been phenomenal. We saw a lot of him last year in the minor leagues. We discussed him at the deadline when we made the Brad Ziegler deal, so we had pretty good information on Ryan. In fact, when we made the deal, (Arizona GM) Kevin Towers was very reluctant to part with him. That was sort of the last piece that fell into place for us. We thought we had a good young pitcher on our hands, and he has answered every challenge so far. I think when you look at his stuff and what he’s been able to do in the eighth inning, he’s a guy you can project to be at the back of the bullpen for a long time.
AF: When you look at what he’s done so far, I assume you’ve got to see a potential future closer out there.
DF: Yeah, it’s something we’ve discussed. You never know how guys react until they’re actually there and have to get the last three outs. But just from a pure stuff standpoint, we certainly think Ryan has the potential to do it down the road.
AF: The other guy in that deal was outfielder Collin Cowgill, who is back up with the A’s now. He obviously had great numbers in Triple-A last year. But what do you think of what you’ve seen of him so far?
DF: Collin’s been exactly what we expected. He had a great spring training and made our club out of the gate. Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough at bats for him with the glut of outfielders we had. But he’s come as advertised – he plays the game hard, he’s aggressive, he’s smart in the outfield. I think this guy has a chance, when things sort of shake out, to start in the outfield for us here in the big leagues.
AF: How do you feel about his ability to play center field?
DF: He’s been one of our better guys in center field. Obviously, when Yoenis Cespedes went down, after Coco Crisp having already gone on the disabled list, and we were looking for someone, we called Collin up because we knew he had that skill.
AF: I remember Billy Beane telling me in the spring that you can never have too many guys who are capable of playing center field, and it looks like that’s played out very quickly for you this year.
DF: For sure, not everybody can do it for whatever reason. And we’ve hammered through our depth in that spot pretty quickly.
AF: The next big off-season trade was the one with Washington for Gio Gonzalez. One of those four guys you got in that deal is in the major leagues right now, and that’s Tommy Milone.
DF: Well, we knew Tommy was advanced as far as prospects go. And we knew it wouldn’t be long till he was in the big leagues just because when you look at the line he put up last year – you can’t walk 16 guys in a full Triple-A season without really knowing what you’re doing as a pitcher. When we made that deal, he was sort of painted as the fourth guy, and even as the potential throw-in by some outlets. But we knew he had the best chance to impact our major league team right away just because he really had nothing left to prove at Triple-A. And he’s been excellent. It’s no secret he doesn’t have overwhelming stuff or a plus fastball or whatever, but he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. And he’s basically had seven quality starts, a couple of rough ones in the middle, but even in those, he still made some progress and has sort of fit nicely in the middle of our rotation.
AF: I was talking to Anthony Recker in spring training about Milone. And he said that his command was so good that he’s always able to put his pitches where he wants and at least execute the game plan.
DF: For sure, yeah, he’s fun to watch for that reason. You know when he does miss, he meant to miss and it’s for a reason. And I can understand why Recker said that. From a catcher’s standpoint, he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to work with.
AF: And I think he actually has one more win that Gio does at this point.
DF: Well, Gio’s having himself a pretty good year. I’m sure Washington’s very happy with him.
AF: Another pitcher who came over in that deal was Brad Peacock. He had a bit of a rough spring and isn’t currently on the major league roster, but he’s been pitching very well at Sacramento so far this year.
DF: Yeah, like you said, much like Jarrod, he didn’t exactly dominate in the spring. But he has gone down to Triple-A and pitched well. He just hasn’t quite gotten that consistency together. He’ll put together two good starts in a row then hit a little bit of a speed bump. But overall, his numbers are good. His ERA’s in the mid-threes and he’s striking out almost one an inning. So for us, watching Brad every time out, you want to see a guy put together four, five, six good starts in a row before you feel pretty good about having him here. And I imagine that time is probably not that far off.
AF: Another guy in that deal who’s currently at Sacramento is catcher Derek Norris. He’s been hitting close to .300 for most of the year. I’m not sure how he’s been looking behind the plate, but his numbers sure have been looking good.
DF: Derek has sort of turned his offensive numbers on their head a bit. The knock on him was that he couldn’t hit for average, all he did was walk. I think he got all the way through three or four weeks of the season before getting his third walk of the year, but he was hitting like .360 at the time. And he got raves from the coaching staff from day one on how he handled pitchers and his receiving skills. His throwing numbers have never been in question. He’s always been one of the best guys in the minor leagues as far as throwing out baserunners. He’s in a little bit of a funk right now. I think his average has dropped below .300 for the first time this year. But we couldn’t be happier with his progress on both sides of the ball. He just turned 23 years old and he’s just getting his first taste of Triple-A and he’s hitting close to .300 most of the season and catching every day. We feel very good about Derek.
AF: Do you view him as being major league ready at this stage of the game?
DF: Yeah, I mean you always like a guy to get as much experience in Triple-A as possible, particularly for a catcher, who has to handle a game plan at the highest level and still bring his offense along with him. So if we were in an emergency situation, I think we could feel comfortable with Derek catching everyday up here, which is a good feeling. But it’s also nice to have the luxury of having two guys up here with experience and knowing that you can have him spend time in Triple-A and not lose anything.
AF: The final piece of that deal was A.J. Cole, who a lot of folks really considered the top prospect of the bunch and were very excited about. But he’s really been struggling at Stockton so far this year.
DF: Well, yeah, he obviously hasn’t performed how anyone would hope. I know A.J. himself is frustrated. And I’ve spent some time talking with (minor league pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson and (director of player development) Keith Lieppman over the last couple weeks about A.J. to make sure we get a good read on what’s going on. His stuff continues to be outstanding. His fastball tops out at 95 mph almost every time out. Gil saw him pitch just the other day and said his secondary pitches were good. Just for whatever reason right now, he’s getting hit, and it’s pretty consistently every time out. We have actually spent some time talking about the best thing for A.J. – whether that’s heading back to the Midwest League or getting some time off from the rotation, something just to make sure he gets some success under his belt. But the good thing is he’s healthy and his stuff is good. We just need to make some adjustments and get him back on track as far as results are concerned.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s assistant general manager David Forst, in which he gives us the lowdown on Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and more top A’s prospects.