Beane And Melvin On A’s Top Prospects, Who’ll Play Second Base, And The Team’s Biggest Challenge In 2013
Over the past few days, we’ve brought you coverage of the bloggers-only press conference with various members of the A’s staff that took place last weekend at A’s FanFest. But there were a few question-and-answer sessions with the general public that provided some illuminating insights as well.
The most interesting of these panels featured A’s general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin sharing a stage with outfielders Chris Young and Josh Reddick. While Young’s dancing and Reddick’s beard provided the entertainment, Beane and Melvin provided some interesting observations on the team.
Melvin, the AL’s reigning Manager of the Year, said that the big challenge for the team this season was going to be “keeping our edge,” but that he hoped to “build off the momentum from last year.” The A’s skipper added that he planned to have the team work even harder this spring, but that he feels like “we’re a better team going into spring training” this year.
As for the competition at second base between Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore, Beane commented, “If Jemile could have a bounce-back year, that’d be great.” But he also noted that second base was Sizemore’s original position and that “he showed a lot the half-season he was with us…he could be a factor as well.” He then added that second base would be one of the few spots that Melvin and his staff would have to take a close look at this spring.
As for last year’s playoff experience against Detroit, Melvin noted that “Verlander probably had a bigger strike zone than we would have liked to have seen.” And Beane, while confessing to squirming too much to be able to watch many regular season games, admitted, “I do watch the playoffs. At that point, it’s all house money.”
When it comes to the A’s top prospects, Beane noted, “The kid who was really impressive last year was (1st-round draft pick) Addison Russell.” He said that the A’s scouts had done a great job evaluating the high school shortstop and that he’s had “as good a year as an 18-year-old could have.” And when asked about former top pitching prospect Michael Ynoa, Beane commented, “He appears to be healthy…we hope that he moves quickly at this point.”
Overall, one got the sense that the manager and the GM were very much in sync when it came to their confidence in the depth and versatility of the current roster. And it sounded as if they and the team were all more than ready to get going in their defense of the AL West championship title in 2013.
A’s Assistant GM David Forst On New Catcher John Jaso, New Shortstop Hiro Nakajima, And The Importance Of Team Chemistry
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. One of those who stopped in to chat with us was A’s assistant general manager David Forst. And A’s Farm was especially eager to find out what it was that got the A’s front office so excited about shortstop Hiro Nakajima…
On the team’s belief that Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima could succeed in the major leagues…
I did not actually see him myself. We have a number of guys who’ve seen him back through the WBC in 2009 – a lot of our pro scouts, our international guys. Part of it is based on the numbers. His offensive numbers do translate well based on what other Japanese players have done here. But the reports, not only scouting reports, but from other players who’ve played with him – I think we mentioned Bob Melvin had talked to Ichiro and to Hideki about him. The guys who’ve done well over here are guys who have some leadership over there, who have the personality, who aren’t as affected by the off-the-field things that they gave to adjust to, which are huge. We saw that with Yoenis too – there’s so much that foreign players have to deal with aside from just baseball. We felt like he’d be able to handle that stuff, so his talent would play. Defensively, that’s the hardest thing for us to predict, because we don’t have the same metrics we have on the offensive side. But our reports are good – the hands, the arm strength. All the things you look for from a scouting perspective, we feel pretty good about…we do think he can play the position.
On evaluating defensive metrics…
The key on defense is to have everything sort of match up. If you’re looking at Range Factor and UZR and all the stuff that takes into account the Field f/x stuff, the SportVision data, the key is to have everything match up. So if you have conflicting reports, that’s when you sort of look at your scouting reports. I think you only feel good about defensive stats when things are aligned across the board.
On the team’s strategy in this year’s amateur draft…
We got together with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and his guys a couple weeks ago just to sort of go over the list. It’s a lot deeper in college players this year – both pitching and position players. We certainly didn’t set out to take a bunch of high school guys last year. That’s just where we felt like the talent was. But it is deeper in the college level…We’ve obviously traded away a lot of pitching. We have pitching here, and then there’s a little bit of a gap after guys like Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. There’s a gap down to A ball, and having traded A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen kind of opened that gap up a little bit…Obviously you always need to replenish your pitching every year.
On the acquisition of catcher John Jaso…
He’s been on the target list for a while. You look at what he did in the minor leagues, the type of offensive player he was – he’s certainly the kind of guy that historically we’ve coveted. And he had a year in Seattle where he really finally broke out offensively. So as we watched him a lot over the course of the season, seeing him in our division, he was certainly a guy we thought about towards the end of the season and all off-season and figured out a way to see if Seattle would part with him. And it obviously took a long time for (Mariners’ general manager) Jack Zduriencik to come around. And getting Mike Morse was the piece that he needed. In fact, one of our pro scouts, Craig Weissmann, was an amateur guy with Tampa when he signed Jaso originally in the draft. So we’ve kind of had our eye on John for a while.
On trading pitching prospect A.J. Cole back to the Nationals in the John Jaso deal…
(Nationals’ general manager) Mike Rizzo had said a couple times in the last twelve months how disappointed he was in having given up A.J., so Billy sort of knew in the back of his head that that was going to get us in the door. And when things sort of matched up, he knew Seattle wanted Morse. And obviously Rizzo knew we didn’t have interest in Morse, but we were able to say, “Hey Mike, if you’re still interested in A.J., we might be able to work something out here.”
On pitchers’ workloads…
We’re always aware of it. It’s something that we constantly talk about. (A’s pitching coach) Curt Young does a great job of keeping track of these guys start by start and then on a three-starts-by-three-starts basis. But it’s certainly not a situation where we’re going in saying we’re going to cut pitcher A off here or whatever. Our trainers do a lot of work in between starts, and they do a good job of keeping track of historical comps for each guy. So whether it’s Jarrod Parker, who increased his workload significantly last year, or Brett Anderson, who had a limited workload because of the injury, I think we have the best feel for them just because our trainers have their hands on these guys after each start. So I expect that we will continuously talk about and be aware of it, but I don’t imagine that anyone will have a limit set on them to start the season.
On the possible need for the team to add more veteran pitching depth…
Obviously we’re aware that a lot of what we accomplished last year was based a lot on our starting pitching depth, and the fact that we ended up using 7-8-9 starters who were effective. The fact that Travis Blackley is still here obviously and can fill that role and you expect a full season out of Brett Anderson, we felt like adding Bartolo Colon was probably as much as we needed to do. At the same time, it’s just not easy to add those veteran guys when, on paper, you have a rotation like we do. It’s not necessarily an attractive place for a veteran guy to come and have to make the team or fight for it. So we feel like, with A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily in the 5-6 spot, with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray at AAA, with Travis here being able to be a swing man, we feel like there is the depth there to get it done.
On clubhouse chemistry…
There’s no doubt that clubhouse culture is important, and it starts with Bob Melvin - that’s the most important thing. He set the tone for those guys, and they kind of followed his lead, which isn’t the case everywhere. I think there’s been a lot made of Jonny Gomes leaving and Brandon Inge, and you’re never going to keep all 25 guys together. But…we like the mix we have – personalities combined with guys who take it seriously on the field. But also you have a bunch of guys who should continue to get better, whether that’s about age or getting a chance to play everyday, this team should not have guys who regress – they should continue to trend upwards.
A’s Manager Bob Melvin On The Team’s New SS, Who’ll Start At 2B, And Daric Barton’s Chances Of Making The Roster
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. A’s manager Bob Melvin was kind enough to stop by between his various autograph sessions and photo ops to field a few questions. And A’s Farm was particularly eager to get the skipper’s take on the A’s current situation at second base…
Well, first and foremost, I like that we have some competition there. And I think that for both those guys, in spring training, it’s important because they’re playing for their job right there. And you want to see what kind of shape somebody comes in, what kind of desire, what kind of attitude they’re going to take towards that. Now they’re not the only two guys. Certainly Adam Rosales can play everywhere. It almost works against Rosie some that he is so versatile and can play other positions. And then we’re also going to look at Grant Green who’s going to get some at-bats over there, as well as Eric Sogard. So we have some options there. As we sit here right now, probably the two most prominent options are Weeks and Sizemore. I think it’s nice that we have some competition. And the versatility plays into our club as well, in that Scotty can play third and we can move some guys around to try to get our best lineup on a particular day. But both those guys will be in a competition type mode in spring training…In the case of Scotty, who played a full year at third, got hurt, and now he’s going back to second base, you want to make sure he gets comfortable over there first. And you don’t start evaluating right away on him, because you know it’s going to take some time for him to be comfortable. You know, it’s not uncommon for a guy who has a rookie year like Jemile had to not have as good a year the next year. And I think, even though it was difficult for him last year, he’ll probably benefit from that going forward, with his mindset each and every day coming to second base. It’s easy to read your press clippings – you know “I’m the untouchable guy,” “I’m the guy that’s the leadoff guy,” “I have the second base job.” And it’s not his fault – a lot of younger players have to go through that. That can be dangerous. But I know, I’ve talked to him here recently, and he is really looking forward and knows that he still has an opportunity and is grateful for that. I think you’ll see a different Jemile Weeks this spring…But there’s no limitations on Scotty. He’s a hard-working kid, and he put himself in the position of going to spring training this year to have no limitations based on the way he rehabbed and worked. It’s going to take probably a little time. It’s a completely different angle over at second base. The balls are on you a little bit later. You have different things that you have to do. He has experience doing it before. But there’s still going to be a learning curve for him, turning double plays and just learning the angles and the position again. And, therefore, we’ll give him some time to be comfortable before we really start evaluating him more objectively. But as far as the rehab goes, he’s 100% and looking forward to getting out there and contributing however he can.
On new shortstop Hiro Nakajima…
Well, I think it’s tougher to get a handle on an international player probably more so defensively than offensively. We do know that he has a lot of leadership qualities – that he likes to be the guy. He seems to have a great personality. And I’ve said before, it seems like the guys who were leaders in Japan seem to have the best chance of succeeding over here – whether it’s a Matsui, whether it’s an Ichiro – and we feel like he falls into that category. We’re excited about it. But until you get your hands on him and watch him on a day-to-day basis, you’re not 100% sure if your evaluation is right, certainly on the defensive end of it.
On what he’s looking for in the leadoff spot…
Well, I think Coco Crisp does a good job at that. Granted, you look at it and you look at on-base percentage and Coco’s not a .380 on-base guy, but he’s there when you need him. We do have some other guys on days that he doesn’t play. Chris Young has led off against left-handed pitchers before. Look at his numbers against lefties. He hit a bunch of homers for me in his rookie year, and he understands leading off as well. You know, John Jaso is a guy who has led off. And you look at the on-base and you look at what he does, not only his patience but batting average with balls in play, there are a lot of things that would suggest this guy can hit up in the lineup, based on his on-base and the way he handles the bat. So whether he’s hitting in the two-hole one day, or if I have some guys off, it’s not totally out of the question that he could potentially lead off too. He gives us a lot of flexibility where he can hit in the lineup. And based on some increased power last year too, we feel like he can kind of go to a different level as far as that goes and could be a production guy later in the order.
On former first baseman Daric Barton’s chances of making the roster…
Well, you know what, you make your chances. And he did years before to put himself in the position to play every day. And that’s the way he has to look at it again. I don’t want him coming in thinking, “I have no chance to make the team here.” If you look at it, defensively, he’s the only true defender at the position. And he’s a good defender at the position – very good. So we felt like it was important to keep him. I mean, if Brandon Moss goes down, it’s obviously a natural for Daric Barton to take over that position. Chris Carter plays over there some too. So coming into camp, he’s going to be fighting to make a 25-man roster again. And I know he’s appreciative of another opportunity for him. So as quickly as it can change, it can flip back the other way as well.
A’s Coach Mike Gallego On New Shortstop Hiro Nakajima, What Brandon Moss Shouldn’t Do, And What To Save In An Earthquake!
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. One of those who made some time to chat with us was A’s third base coach, and second baseman for the A’s 1989 World Series championship team, Mike Gallego. The diminutive drill instructor for the A’s infielders proved to be an affable and loquacious raconteur. A’s Farm kicked off the questioning of the former 2nd-round draft pick by asking Gallego to share a highlight from his playing days…
On his most memorable moment – 1989’s earthquake-addled Bay Bridge World Series…
The earthquake World Series had to be something that was obviously very special and memorable to me due to the fact that, as horrible as it was for some families obviously, I really felt that because of that game that day, we saved quite a few lives, because I know for a fact that when I drove down the Nimitz Freeway at 5:20 on an off-day, that thing was bumper to bumper. And for many reasons, obviously because of the game, it wasn’t quite as packed. Quick story – no one really knew this one. When it did start coming – I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the locker room at Candlestick, but it was underneath the stands – and you could literally hear it coming. It was like this rumbling. I wasn’t playing that day again obviously, and I’m sitting in the locker room and I could hear this thing coming, and I thought it was the fans actually stomping their feet, because you’re right underneath them. And all of a sudden, you could look and all this dust and soot started coming through the air vents, and this place starts rocking. And we’re at Candlestick, and we’re not used to this locker room, and it’s huge – this locker room is really big. And boom, all of a sudden the power just goes out and people starts screaming, “Get the hell out of here. It’s an earthquake. This place is coming down!” That’s all we heard, “Get out!” Everyone starts running. And there’s probably about twenty of us still in the locker room, because the starters were on the field warming up. So all the power’s out and it’s around 5:20ish – I don’t know the exact time. But there’s one door open in the back where the light was coming through, so that was the only target you had of light. So we’re running towards this – as the place is literally rocking like a wave – running into tables, windows, chairs, tripping, running into each other. It’s complete panic. You know how they say, “Walk calmly out?” No, we were screaming and yelling and trying to get outside. We were scared to death. I get about halfway, and I turn around and I start going against the grain. And everyone’s like, “Where the hell are you going?” And I just keep going – complete darkness. I get to my locker and I’m feeling around and I grab my glove. And I said, “If I go down, I’m going down with this, because y’all know I didn’t get there ‘cause of my bat!”
On new A’s shortstop Hiro Nakajima:
I’ve seen some video on him. I know he can hit. Defensively, he probably doesn’t have one of the most expansive ranges of the shortstops that are out there. But as far as catching the routine play, that’s what we’re all about around here. Make the routine play – the great plays will come. And I think once he learns the league, once he learns his pitching staff, as far as knowing how to play each hitter, each situation, obviously you’re going to increase your range. There’s a few things I can give him as far as using his eyes better, anticipating balls better, which will help increase his range as well. But the guy’s a professional, so I think he’s going to be just fine…[his arm is] average at best, I’d say. But I know I played thirteen years with this arm, and this guy’s got a way better arm than I ever had. It’s all about playing the game right, and he seems like he knows what he’s doing, as far as what I saw in the video. I don’t know him personally yet, but he’s been around for a little bit and he’s pretty mature already, and I’m looking forward to seeing him get out there and work for the Oakland A’s.
On A’s fans last season:
Wow, incredible! As a player back in ’88-’89, I don’t remember that electricity to tell you the truth. Maybe because I was so scared, or focused, not scared – I didn’t say “scared,” I said “focused” – about being in the playoffs. Everything becomes a blur as a player. It’s so loud it becomes quiet. So I don’t know how loud it was as a player. I don’t recall it being as loud as it was this year. These fans, you fans – unbelievable! I’ve been in stadiums where you notice, “Oh shit, it’s loud here!” But here, I’ve never noticed that – till last year. That was unbelievable – the electricity that you guys brought to the ballpark everyday. And as far as bringing the old fans back, I’m sure we did do that – the guys that have been sitting there going, “the A’s will never win again,” “I don’t like the organization,” “they want to move,” whatever issues people have had in the past about the A’s – I’m sure we brought a lot of those people back. But I know one thing for a fact, we made a lot of new fans as well. That team was exciting to watch. Whether you’re a baseball fan, whether you’re a Yankee fan, whether you’re a Red Sox fan, whether you’re a Giant fan, these people wanted to watch that group of players play every day. I know I did. I enjoyed it. I’ve never enjoyed a year as a coach as much as last year, because there were no expectations, the young guys that came up, the walk-offs. Every day we came out the underdog to the ballpark and beat some butt. And I’ll tell you what, it made it fun to come to the ballpark every single day. And what the fans did for the group, to motivate them, to get them going, to believe in themselves – the fans believed the game wasn’t over until the last out. One of the funniest lines I heard this year, Brandon Moss about the walk-offs, he says, “You know, this is exciting. It’s just unbelievable how many walk-offs we have. But I just don’t understand, how come we always only do it at home?” I just looked at Brandon Moss, “Don’t think – whatever you do, don’t think.”
It was announced on Wednesday that the A’s had acquired catcher John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-team deal that sent A’s minor league pitchers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, along with a player to be named later, to the Washington Nationals, who sent first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse to the Mariners. As a result of the trade, catcher George Kottaras, who had just signed a $1 million deal with the A’s earlier in the week, was designated for assignment. Kottaras, and his contract, will presumably be traded by the A’s sometime within the next ten days.
The left-handed hitting Kottaras became expendable with the arrival of Jaso, who also bats left-handed. Kottaras and the right-handed hitting Derek Norris were expected to split the A’s catching duties fairly evenly in 2013. But with Jaso, who hits right-handers far better than he handles left-handers, now in the fold, the arrangement is likely to become much more of a strict platoon, with Jaso getting most of the starts against right-handed pitchers and Norris getting most of the starts against left-handers – who represent no more than a quarter of all major league starters. This will give the 23-year-old Norris the chance to develop at his own pace, without the pressure of having to carry too much of the load right away.
Many A’s fans had been clamoring for an upgrade behind the plate, and this deal gives them just that. But some hard-core A’s followers were upset that the team gave up so much promising young pitching talent in the trade. The loss of Cole, who came over just last year in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals (to whom he now returns), particularly rankled many fans. The 21-year-old right-hander was considered one of the A’s top three pitching prospects, along with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray, while Blake Treinen was the A’s 7th-round draft pick in 2011.
The 24-year-old Treinen was a little inconsistent at High-A Stockton last year. While he had a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he posted an ERA of 4.37 and gave up a little over 10 hits per 9 innings while barely managing 100 innings between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Meanwhile, Cole had a disastrous start to his season at Stockton, going winless in 8 starts while compiling an astronomical ERA of 7.82. But after being sent down to Class-A Burlington in the Midwest League, he bounced back to post an impressive 2.07 ERA while striking out 102 in 95 2/3 innings. And his late-season turnaround gave many A’s fans great hope for his future.
The bottom line though is that neither of these two pitchers has ever thrown a pitch above A ball. And while they may one day develop into quality pitchers, they both still have a long way to go. The 29-year-old Jaso may not be an All-Star, but he is a major leaguer, and at least the A’s feel they know what they’re getting with him. The team clearly preferred a major league catcher in the hand to two minor leaguers in the bush leagues!
As for Jaso’s past performance, since he’ll really only be expected to carry the load against right-handed pitchers, the fact that he’s never shown any ability to hit left-handers is irrelevant. All that really matters is what he can do against righties. And last year, Jaso carried an impressive .302/.419/.508 slash line against right-handers. That’s compared to Kottaras’s .207/.335/.434 slash line against righties last year. Though neither Jaso nor Kottaras is likely to win any Gold Gloves, it’s a clear upgrade at the plate from the catching position for the A’s.
Jaso has a particular knack for getting on base – last year he walked an average of once every 6 plate appearances against right-handers while batting over .300 against them. He also has a knack for hitting doubles – last year Jaso doubled once every 15 ½ at-bats while Kottaras doubled just once every 28 ½ at-bats. So if nothing else, the A’s should expect to see Jaso standing on first base and second base a lot more than they saw Kottaras at those two locations!
The main conclusion that can be drawn from this deal though is that A’s general manager Billy Beane wants to win now! If he can unload part of the A’s pitching future to make an upgrade to the major league roster, he’s not going to hesitate to do it. If the A’s had finished in last place last year, it might be another matter and this deal might not have happened. But the A’s were the A.L. West champions last year, and you better believe that Billy Beane wants to turn them into the two-time A.L. West champions.
Beane clearly stated as much in a post-trade conference call with reporters when he said, “We’re shifting all of our focus on the major league club and trying to take as much advantage as we can of the opportunity we have.” In other words, “Win now!” – which, after having endured some years of rebuilding, ought to be a welcome rallying cry for most A’s fans!
Well, the results are in – and in our first year out of the box, A’s Farm was ranked in the Top 10 MLB blogs for 2012! At our peak late in the season, we were averaging almost 5,000 hits per week and almost 20,000 hits per month. And we want to be sure to thank all you devoted A’s fans who are obviously committed to learning as much as possible about the organization from top to bottom.
We also want to thank MLB Trade Rumors for repeatedly featuring A’s Farm as one of their top blog picks of the week, Baseball Reference for regularly featuring us in their player news section, and A’s Nation who asked us to provide a weekly minor league update during the season for the hordes of A’s fans who get their A’s news from the biggest and best A’s blog on the web.
In 2012, A’s Farm profiled the A’s new players and top prospects, offered progress reports on the team’s top draft picks, named the A’s organizational all-stars, and featured interviews with GM Billy Beane, along with players like Josh Reddick, Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle, and front office personnel like assistant GM David Forst, scouting director Eric Kubota and director of player personnel Billy Owens. And in one of our most popular pieces of the year, A’s Farm profiled A’s super-scout and Moneyball bad guy Grady Fuson. All that in addition to our daily updates on all the A’s minor league affiliates – the Sacramento River Cats, Midland RockHounds, Stockton Ports, Burlington Bees, Vermont Lake Monsters and the Arizona League A’s.
Stay tuned for much more right here in 2013, and be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up to date on all the A’s minor league teams and top prospects down on the farm!