Talking Top Prospects with A’s Assistant GM Dan Feinstein

A's Asst GM Dan Feinstein (photo: J.Meric/Getty)

A’s assistant GM Dan Feinstein (photo:J.Meric/Getty)

While still in college at UC Davis in 1994, Dan Feinstein got his foot in the door of the baseball world by landing an internship in the Oakland A’s media relations department. He then ended up spending nearly a decade as the team’s video coordinator before eventually getting the chance to serve as an amateur scouting assistant for the A’s in 2004.

Feinstein took the opportunity to join the Dodgers front office in 2005 when former A’s assistant general manager Paul DePodesta became that team’s general manager, but he wound up moving on to Tampa Bay, where he spent six seasons as the director of baseball operations under former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.

The northern California native eventually returned to the A’s just prior to the 2012 season, and he was promoted to assistant general manager, professional scouting and player personnel in late 2015.

His duties currently include assisting executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst with all aspects of baseball operations, including contracts, trades, the construction of major and minor league rosters and arbitration, and he also oversees the team’s international scouting department. But we wanted to take the opportunity to get Feinstein’s inside perspective on some of the A’s top prospects, specifically the top five A’s prospects from A’s Farm’s recent top prospects list

 

AF:  Well, at the top of just about everyone’s A’s prospects list this year is infielder Franklin Barreto. He had a great spring in the big league camp before gettng sent over to the minor league complex, and he’s obviously getting very close to being in the major leagues. What excites you most about him, and what does he still need to work on to get his game where it needs to be?

DF:  Well, one thing we’ll talk about with a few of these guys…is that, even though he’s been with us for a little while now, he’s still just barely 21 years old – he turned 21 during this spring training. So it’s something we have to be mindful of, just how young he is, and how above his age he’s played at virtually every level he’s been at. He’s a fairly quiet kid but extremely confident. He’s a very advanced hitter for his age, excellent hand-eye coordination and bat speed. He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s a really talented young bat.

AF:  Should we expect to be seeing him getting time at both shortstop and second base this year at Nashville?

DF:  Yeah, we certainly think he has enough arm and range to stay at shortstop but, for the immediate future, he’ll probably be able to make the biggest impact at second base. He has very good hands. He’s still learning the nuances of playing the middle of the diamond. I know he’s spent a good deal of time this spring training just making sure that he has the proper footwork and that he’s getting in a strong position to throw. We certainly see him as a shortstop in the future, but he may have his biggest impact at second base this season.

AF:  So would you say that the primary focus for him in terms of improvement this season is more on his defense than on his offense then?

DF:  Yeah, I think that’s probably the case.

AF:  Okay, let’s move on to #2 on our list, and that’s third baseman Matt Chapman. First of all, we know his power is real since he managed to keep his power numbers up at Midland last year, which very few guys seem to be able to do. But he maybe needs to make a little more consistent contact. So what do you like about what you’ve been seeing out of Chapman at this point and what do you need to see out of him at Nashville this season to feel that he’s really major-league ready?

DF:  Matt is a really underrated athlete. He plays a really stellar third base. He’s kind of emerged as one of the best defensive third baseman in all of the minor leagues. He could probably play anywhere on the field if you let him.

AF:  Well, he did used to pitch in college too, right?

DF:  Yeah, and he threw really hard! I mentioned his athleticism, but also his bat speed, the strength in his hands and wrists, and his natural ability to defend. He’s got above-average range at third base. He’s got an extremely strong and accurate arm. There are just so many things to like about him. He did go to Triple-A [late last season], and all his stats might not have been exactly what he would have liked, but he still managed to hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and his power numbers didn’t drop off at all in his short stint in Triple-A.

AF:  Are there any adjustments that are being made to his swing or his approach at this point?

DF:  This spring, I know he’s made it a point to try to be a little more selective and really identify the pitches that he can attack.

AF:  So it sounds like pitch selection is really the main thing that he needs to focus on at this point then.

DF:  Probably, yeah.

AF:  #3 on our list is your 1st-round pick from last year, LHP A.J. Puk. I know you might not have even expected to have the chance to take him in the draft. But now that you’ve gotten him into system and you guys have gotten the chance to really get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now? And I know when Sonny Gray was drafted, he needed to work on the changeup and maybe clean up some of his mechanics, so what do you have to work on with Puk to get him where he needs to be?

DF:  Well, first, A.J. has a rare combination of size and stuff from the left side. You just don’t see a whole lot of 6’7” left-handed pitchers with his kind of stuff. He has the ability to leverage the fastball downhill. He does have an out-pitch breaking ball. He certainly has the ingredients of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. In college, he was primarily fastball/slider. That’s mostly what we saw last spring. It’s really all he needed in college – he would throw an occasional changeup. This spring, he has gone back to a pitch that he threw early on in his college career. He’s got a curveball that we hadn’t really seen much of before. It’s a more true downward break, and that has the chance to be an out-pitch as well. Some of the things he’s working on here: certainly advancing his changeup and making it a more usable third or fourth pitch, being more efficient with his pitches and, like every young player, he’s just adjusting to the daily rigors of his first full professional season – setting his schedule, getting into the weight room, managing his nutrition and that kind of thing.

AF:  Okay, #4 on our list is RHP Jharel Cotton. The A’s got him last summer from the Dodgers. I know you guys have had the chance to get a much better look at him here this spring, and I’m sure you’ve liked a lot of what you’ve seen out of him so far. He certainly seems to be abe to fool a lot of hitters, especially with that changeup of his. So how are you feeling about him at this point and his possible role as a member of the A’s starting rotation going forward in the coming years?

DF:  We were excited to acquire him in the trade, and he continued to perform exceptionally well in Nashville when we got him. And then he came up and made five outstanding starts in the major leagues in September. He’s as confident a young man as you’ll see on the mound, and he does have a pretty exceptional changeup. It’s safe to say it’s one of, if not the best, changeups in our entire organization.

AF:  And finally, #5 on our list is RHP Frankie Montas. He also came over from the Dodgers last summer, but he’d been injured, and I know you didn’t really get to see a lot of him until the Arizona Fall League. So now that you’ve gotten a good look at him, what’s your evaluation of him? And since he really didn’t pitch many innings last year, what’s the plan for him going forward into this season?

DF: His fastball and slider both come as advertised. It’s an easy 97-98 mph pretty consistently this spring, and then the slider’s a real wipeout pitch for him. The onus is going to be on the coaching staff and us in the front office to manage his innings this year after coming off a real shortened season last year, and making sure that we can get the most out of him and get him through a full season healthy.

AF:  Now I know originally there was a lot of talk about having him working as a starter at Nashville this year, but Billy Beane has recently been quoted talking about him working out of the bullpen. Has that all been worked out yet? Is he likely to start the year working as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start?

DF:  We’re not sure yet. It’s something that we’re going to discuss with the coaches over these last two weeks and figure out not only what’s best for his development but what the best makeup of our 25-man roster is. Something that he’s working on, the biggest thing, is the continued development of his third pitch – because we still believe he’s a starting pitcher – and to continue to develop that changeup and make it a real usable complement to his fastball and slider.

AF:  Okay, great. Thanks a lot for all that input!

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