In what’s become his annual winter interview with bloggers, A’s assistant general manager David Forst addressed a wide range of topics covering both the major league squad as well as the team’s minor league system at A’s FanFest on Sunday.
When asked which of the A’s offseason acquisitions he was personally most excited about, Forst hesitated to single out any one player, but he eventually got around to talking about infielder Marcus Semien, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija deal, saying, “Marcus was a guy we were really focused on…We really believe in his ability to play the middle of the infield. As much as anybody we’ve added this offseason, he’s as deserving of an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.”
Despite critiques by some of Semien’s range at shortstop, Forst praised his strong arm and quick release and said, “We’ve seen enough of Marcus to believe he can handle the position.”
Asked to assess the prospects of some of the A’s newly-acquired young pitchers with the team this season, Forst started out by praising right-hander Chris Bassitt, who arrived with Semien from the Sox, saying, “Bassitt pitched really well against us in September last year. He’s shown what he can do in the big leagues.”
But of all the A’s new arms, the A’s assistant GM sounded most intrigued by righty Kendall Graveman, who came over from the Blue Jays in the deal that sent third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto: “Kendall is the guy who moved up as quickly as anybody in the game last season and dominated almost every level. So you sort of hope that the projection on him continues to go in that direction.”
Regarding talk of Bassitt or lefty Sean Nolin, who was acquired along with Graveman in the Donaldson deal, possibly being useful bullpen pieces, Forst said the team plans to keep them as starters since, “We’re not going to get through the season with five starters.”
When asked how newly-acquired first baseman Ike Davis fits into the picture, Forst said, “I think he has a chance to fit into the way we set the lineup…particularly against right-handed pitching. There have not been any inconsistencies in his performance against righties…There’s no reason he’s not in the lineup against right-handers all the time.”
Forst also said that Davis had mentioned he wants to get a shot at getting some playing time in the outfield to increase his opportunities to play. But later, when asked about his abilities in the outfield, Davis sounded a little less enthusiastic, saying “I’m not going to be amazing…I can catch the ball if I get to it, and I can throw it in pretty quickly, but I’m down to do anything.”
Addressing the subject of team chemistry on a roster full of new faces, Forst admitted, “I recognize that we’re bringing twenty-something new guys into a clubhouse, and frankly they’re all down there shaking hands right now and introducing themselves.” But he expressed plenty of confidence in manager Bob Melvin’s ability to make it all gel.
Forst was asked about the apparent lack of home run power in the team’s new lineup and admitted, “We’re not unaware of that concern. The home run totals look different certainly than they did a year ago. That said, Coco’s hit 20, Reddick’s hit 30, Ike has hit 30…I don’t think power is as big a concern for us as some people have made it out to be.”
He also noted that the team has other advantages: “I do think we’re going to have a lot of options in terms of matchups and platoons. When you look at [Josh] Phegley and Davis and [Mark] Canha – all are here because of their particular skill sets.”
Forst discussed some of the infield prospects that fans can look forward to seeing at the team’s new Triple-A affiliate in Nashville this season. He mentioned that he expects Rangel Ravelo, acquired from the White Sox, to play “a good amount of third base” in addition to first base, and noted that Max Muncy could also see some playing time at third in addition to first for Nashville. And Forst named newly-acquired second baseman Joe Wendle along with Andy Parrino and Tyler Ladendorf as the Triple-A team’s middle infield options.
Regarding the A’s top young hitting prospect, first baseman Matt Olson, Forst seemed happy to still have him around after having recently traded away some of the team’s other hitting prospects: “I think Matt Olson is as surpised as anyone that he’s still here. In fact, when I called him last week to officially tell him he was coming to big league camp, I had to promise I wouldn’t trade any more of his friends.”
He praised Olson’s power and approach, saying that he “fits the bill” as the prototypical type of A’s hitter, and has hopes that he’ll go to Double-A Midland and pick up where he left off last year at Stockton.
Forst claimed that Olson’s Stockton teammate, third baseman Renato Nunez – who’s also ticketed for Midland – took a big step forward this year, particularly when it comes to his ability to handle breaking pitches and said, “At that age, with what he’s done, you can put a really high ceiling on a guy like that.”
As far as the team’s top draft pick last year, third baseman Matt Chapman, Forst praised his brief time at Double-A Midland and in the instructional league, saying the team saw a guy with a lot of power and a chance to be a really good third baseman and claimed, “Other than [Eric] Chavez, we haven’t seen anyone come through the system with that kind of ability and that arm at third base.”
Forst expects Chapman to start the season at Stockton but said, “If he keeps the power and increases the contact rate, he has the chance to move quickly.”
Another top prospect who appears likely to end up at Stockton is young shortstop Franklin Barreto, who came over from the Jays in the Donaldson deal. There have been some questions about Barreto’s ability to stick at short. But while admitting that he has some work to do on his throwing, Forst clearly stated, “We see Franklin at shortstop.” He also had praise for another one of the organization’s young shortstops, Yairo Munoz, whom he said was a popular target in offseason trade talks and who seems likely to end up at Beloit this season.
Speaking of Stockton though, with the team’s Triple-A affiliate moving from Sacramento to Nashville, Forst admitted that fans in Stockton might be getting a lot more chances to see some of the team’s rehabbing major leaguers this season, and mentioned pitchers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, both of whom will be returning from Tommy John surgery, as distinct possibilities to be seeing time in Stockton this season.
Forst said that he doesn’t expect the team to make any other significant additions before spring training and said that the front office was “not spending a lot of time” on highly-touted Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada. But he did mention that newly-hired assistant general manager Dan Kantrovitz and director of pro scouting Dan Feinstein were leaving that day to attend a two-day prospect showcase in the Dominican.
On the subject of Kantrovitz, who replaced former assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi who was hired as the Dodgers’ new general manager this offseason, Forst said the fact that he had a clear skill set in quantitative analysis made him a particularly attractive candidate for the job and that he’s now running the A’s analytics department and “was integral, as soon as he got here, in helping with the decisions we made on player personnel.”
Forst also praised the A’s new hitting coach, Darren Bush, whom he claimed Bob Melvin has leaned on heavily since he joined the coaching staff prior to the 2013 season and said that “moving him into the hitting coach position was a logical next step.”
* * *