Category: Interviews

Getting To Know: Derek Norris – A’s Catcher Of The Future

 

Derek Norris – Fear the beard! (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When the A’s dealt away Gio Gonzalez, one of the team’s most popular players, in the off-season for pitchers Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris, four minor league players most A’s fans had never heard of, some fans were clearly skeptical. But just five months after that trade, while the 20-year-old Cole has been struggling at Class-A, Milone is leading the A’s pitching staff in wins, Peacock is the River Cats’ wins leader, and catcher Derek Norris has been hitting up a storm at Sacramento. The former 4th-round draft pick has been hitting close to .300 for most of the season, currently sports a healthy .503 slugging percentage, and has been looking like he may be the successor to current A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki sooner rather than later.

A’s assistant general manager David Forst recently told me about Norris, “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 summed up his impression of the 23-year-old receiver by saying, “We feel very good about Derek.” And A’s fans who’ve been paying attention seem to share that sentiment.

 

AF: So tell me a little bit about where you grew up and where you went to school.

DN: I was born and raised in Goddard, Kansas. I went to school at Goddard High School – a 6A school in a small town. I grew up playing three sports (baseball, football and basketball), but baseball was always my passion. I played it throughout high school. And then I signed with Washington, five years later I was traded, and here I am.

AF: What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

DN: The Kansas City Royals were always my favorite team when I was growing up. George Brett was always the talk of the town, and I grew up idolizing him.

AF: Well that’s as good a hitter to model yourself after as anyone.

DN: Yeah, I know, right?

AF: Were you always a catcher in high school?

DN: No, I didn’t catch a whole lot till my senior year mostly. I had a couple guys in front of me in my freshman and sophomore years who were Division I prospects, so I played third base and pitcher my first couple years, and then I transitioned to catcher later on.

AF: How did you feel about catching? Was it something that you were eager or reluctant to do?

DN: It wasn’t a huge transition because I had done it before. But it’s obviously going to be a lot more difficult when guys throw harder and their pitches move more and they’re a lot better than what I was used to. It’s definitely a tough transition at first. But it seems like every game that goes by, the more I catch, the better I get. I’ve come a long way from where I was, and I definitely want to keep striving to be where I want to be.

AF: I imagine you were surprised about being traded. How’d you hear about the trade to the A’s and what was your reaction?

DN: I was actually at the gym working out and I got a text message from one of my teammates from last year, Cory VanAllen. And he said, “I just read an article about you and Brad Peacock possibly being in a trade for Gio Gonzalez.” Well, I hadn’t heard anything – I’d just talked to my agent a few days previously. And he said, “We haven’t heard anything, but if something comes up, we’ll definitely be in touch.” And then the next day, I got a phone call from my agent and he goes, “Hey, rumors have been picking up, but they’re just rumors as of now.” And then, I’d probably say within an hour, it was finalized. So it happened very quick. And it was definitely really strange. I’ve never really been through anything like that before. And it was definitely a cool experience though – it was real cool.

AF: Had you ever been in the big league camp with the Nationals before?

DN: Yeah, I was in camp with the Nationals in 2010 and 2011.

AF: Obviously that was in Florida, and I think you’d previously spent all your time playing on the east coast. So how was it different spending your first spring out in Phoenix with the A’s and having a whole new coaching staff to work with this year?

DN: It was great. The coaching staff, from the manager all the way down to the bullpen coach, every coach there treated me well. I had no complaints – everybody was great. And the weather’s obviously a lot better. You don’t have to worry as much about rain or hurricane winds or anything like that. So it was definitely a plus. I liked it a lot.

Derek Norris – keeping his eye on the ball       (photo by Sara Molina/Sacramento River Cats)

AF: I guess a lot shorter drives too!

DN: Yeah, definitely. On the east coast, you drive two and a half hours and you take batting practice on the field. Over in Arizona, you take batting practice at your home field and then travel over and just play. So that was definitely different too.

AF: Well since A’s manager Bob Melvin was a catcher too, was he able to speak to you in your own language?

DN: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t get to talk to him a whole lot, because he’s concerned with his big league lineup and trying to figure out things with that. But in the time that I got to speak with him, he was very positive. And I know he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and I enjoyed every minute that I got to speak with him about the game in general and just everything.

AF: Was there anything in particular you learned or took away from your experience this spring?

DN: Just adapting to a different environment and different players. I went from having Pudge as the starting catcher in Washington with all his knowledge. And then you go from that to Kurt Suzuki, who’s also one of the premiere catchers in the major leagues, so that was definitely a plus as well.

AF: So both those guys were very open and had a lot to share with you?

DN: Oh, definitely. Kurt couldn’t have been any better to me in spring than he was. He was very open. Any question I had, he answered, and he was always there for anything that I needed.

AF: This is your first year in Triple-A and you’ve been hitting well and hitting for power at Sacramento. In the past, your profile was that of a guy who walked a lot and had a high on-base percentage but didn’t really hit for a high average. But it seems like it’s been just the opposite this year. You’ve been hitting right around .300 all year, but I think it took a while before you even got your first walk this season. So I’m curious to know what’s changed in your approach at the plate.

DN: Yeah, I got with my hitting coach this off-season back home. And we pretty much just broke down my last season because I was very upset with the way that it went. We pretty much just started from scratch and weighed the pros and cons of my season and it just came down to the percentages of me hitting were always with two strikes. And anybody who knows baseball knows that if you’re hitting with two strikes a lot, you’re not going to be hitting for a very good average. So being able to know the difference between seeing pitches and getting in good hitters’ counts and seeing pitches and getting in good pitchers’ counts. So we pretty much just broke that down into, if you get a good pitch to hit early in the count, your percentages are way better of getting a hit than later in the count when there’s two strikes. So that was one of the biggest things – just swinging the bat more at good pitches to hit, but not going out of your strike zone to try and get base hits.

AF: So basically it sounds like just finding those good pitches to hit earlier in the count was the key for you.

DN: Right, instead of later in the count – for sure.

AF: So have there been any particular challenges this year that you feel you’ve really had to work on at this level?

DN: I’m a firm believer that if you come out and you just keep playing everyday, you’re going to get better as long as you don’t take anything for granted. The more you play, the better you get. The more pitches you see, the more innings you play, the better you’re going to get. And that’s really my ultimate goal – to just keep getting better everyday.

AF: Well it seems like they’ve had you behind the plate in Sacramento almost everyday as it is!

DN: Yeah, that’s one thing that I really pride myself on is being back there everyday. I want it to be a surprise when I’m not in there.

Derek Norris – he’s got it, he’s got it! (photo by Sara Molina/Sacramento River Cats)

AF: How do feel about your work behind the plate as a catcher, both defensively and also in terms of game-calling and working with the pitching staff there in Sacramento?

DN: A lot of the guys on this team who I’ve had to work with so far, a lot of us are on the same page, which is pretty hard to do, especially early on in the season because you don’t know a guy’s tendencies and things that they like to throw. As far as game-calling, it’s been pretty smooth thus far, knock on wood. And it’s going pretty well as far as defensively, working with our manager Darren Bush – he stays on me all the time with my work, and it just keeps improving everyday.

AF: How have you enjoyed playing in Sacramento and playing at Raley Field?

DN: Well, it’s been great so far. We’ve had pretty good crowds. And we’ve put together a pretty good team to put out there every night. And our team, they’re just a great group of guys, and we meld together real well, and it’s been a great experience so far.

AF: So who are your best friends on the team? Who do you usually spend your free time hanging out with?

DN: I try to get to know different guys as much as I can. But I actually lived just down the road from Travis Banwart. We went to the same high school and everything – we kind of grew up together. So if I were to pick one guy, it’d probably be him.

AF: That’s right, I forgot he was a Kansan too. So do you have any particular goals for yourself for the rest of the season? Is there anything in particular you’d like to accomplish?

DN: I try not to set myself any particular goals, except for just coming out here and giving 100% everyday and just try to win every ballgame.

AF: And try and get in every ballgame too I guess!

DN: Yeah, try and get in every ballgame I can – that’s right!

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

 

Exclusive: A’s Assistant GM David Forst Gives the Lowdown on Off-Season Acquisitions and A’s Top Prospects – Part 2

A’s Assistant General Manager David Forst

Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s assistant general manager David Forst, where he gave us the lowdown on Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and more. In Part 2, we’ll cover Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and more top A’s prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

AF: Well, the final big off-season trade was the one with the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. The main guy you got back in that deal was Josh Reddick. And I imagine you’ve got to be feeling pretty good about him at this point.

DF: Yeah, very good. I don’t think we knew ourselves that Josh would be capable of stepping right into the middle of the lineup and hitting the way he has and obviously hitting in the 3-hole for us pretty much all season. He’s really been our most consistent guy. We knew he was a good hitter, and we knew he was going to be an above average right fielder, but he has exceeded even our own expectations. So we’re very happy with Josh at this point, and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t continue to hit in the middle of the lineup here.

Josh Reddick

AF: It seems like he’s making a lot of fans in Oakland real quick.

DF: Yeah, he is a fan favorite as well. He’s got a little bit of personality to him, which never hurts.

AF: Well it’s my theory that A’s fans are always fond of long-haired outfielders (Eric Byrnes, Nick Swisher, even briefly, Travis Buck).

DF: Well, I’ll have to see how many of those we can corner.

AF: The other hitter in that deal was infielder Miles Head, who’s been putting up great numbers at Stockton this year. You’ve got to be pretty pleased with him as well.

Miles Head

DF: Yeah, he’s been outstanding. He just turned 21 a week ago. To come into his first exposure at High-A and put up those kind of numbers has been outstanding. And playing third base for the most part, a position that he hasn’t played in a while, and he’s been pretty good over there too. He’s been the best guy on that Stockton team to date and one of our most consistent hitters in all the minor leagues. Miles has done a great job.

AF: Do you see him spending a full season at Class-A, or might he get bumped up if he keeps hitting like he has?

DF: I think we’re open to having him move. We’re talking about just a 100 plus at bats right now. And you’d like to see a guy do it for probably at least twice that long. Our history in terms of moving guys up from the California League to Double-A has been to make them do it for at least a full half-season and then see where they are because it is a huge jump. People talk about the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues obviously being the toughest. But to go from A-Ball to Double-A is a significant jump and you’re really facing a different level of pitcher there, so you want to make sure guys are ready before you make that decision.

Raul Alcantara

AF: The final guy in that deal was pitcher Raul Alcantara, who’s just 19 years old. And he’s been a little inconsistent at Burlington so far.

DF: Yeah, Raul will pitch all year at 19, so age is very much on his side. But like you said, he’s been kind of inconsistent. He had a very good start two starts ago where he threw 6 shutout innings and then came out the other day and walked 7 guys in 4 1/3 innings. So it’s a pretty typical trend line for a young kid first time in full-season ball. We weren’t even going to send him out to a full-season team after spring training, but he had a good camp and our guys liked the progress he was making. He really is very much in the development stage, working on both his secondary pitches and fastball command – the basic fundamentals you need a young pitcher to work on. And while he’s there, he’s holding his own, which is what you sort of hope for out of a 19-year-old.

Michael Choice

AF: Okay, now getting beyond the off-season deals, there are some other guys in the system who people are always interested in finding out more about. And the guy who’s always at the top of that list is former first-round draft pick Michael Choice, who’s been playing at Midland and just hit his second homer of the year the other day. (He’s since hit his third).

DF: I don’t totally know what to make of the power numbers right now, other than to say that we’re not at all concerned about him. I think one thing you know for sure with Michael is that he’s going to hit for power. So I would imagine that we’re going to see a spurt here at some point where he puts together 5 or 6 home runs in a week and brings those numbers right back up. The nice thing is he’s maintained the average in Double-A that he put together in A-Ball last year. He’s walking, his on-base has been right around .350 all year, and he’s out there everyday and healthy. So I think there are a lot of good indicators when it comes to Michael, and we have no doubt the power numbers will catch up.

Sonny Gray

AF: I’ve noticed he has been getting on base at a pretty regular clip anyway, which is always good to see. Another guy at Midland who everyone’s had their eye on who’s also been a little spotty so far is last year’s first-round draft pick Sonny Gray.

DF: Yeah, I think we all had high expectations because of where Sonny was drafted and frankly how well he came out of the gate last year with his 20 innings in Double-A, which no one really expected him to do. So when you look and his ERA’s in the mid-fours and he’s not quite striking out a batter an inning, we obviously all had high expectations. But again, in Sonny’s first year out, he’s holding his own in Double-A and his stuff has been very good every time out. (Director of player development) Keith Lieppman was in there recently and was raving about his breaking ball as a major league out pitch. And I think it’s just a matter of time before Sonny figures it out and his command gets better and he starts putting up some dominating starts at that level.

Sean Doolittle

AF: Another guy at Midland who’s a really interesting story is Sean Doolittle, who started out great at Stockton and was bumped up to Midland and so far has looked really good there too.

DF: Yeah, Sean has the potential to be a great story. Obviously, everybody knows what a great prospect he was as a position player. Unfortunately, his body just didn’t allow him to do it. But he’s now put together, between Stockton and Midland, I think 14 innings where he’s struck out 28 guys or something, and he’s touching 95-97 mph just about every time out. Obviously with a guy like that, you know his fastball’s going to play and it’s just a matter of working on his changeup and breaking ball. And that’s something we’ve stressed with Sean – not to just throw fastballs by guys but make sure he’s working on that other stuff. But as long as he continues to have success like that, then he’s going to move up the chain.

Ian Krol

AF: Besides A.J. Cole, there are a few other highly-regarded pitchers who’ve also been struggling at Stockton so far this year – guys like Ian Krol and Blake Hassebrock. I think they’ve both had some injury issues too. I know Krol’s on his way back, but is Hassebrock likely to be out for a while?

DF: He’s got an oblique issue that’s been bothering him, so he’s not quite back to throwing yet. He’s been out almost two full weeks now I believe. But yeah, Blake struggled a little bit before he went on the DL. We’re not going to see him pitch I would guess for another few weeks. And Ian just got back from his own DL stint. He pulled a groin a couple of outings ago and missed about two weeks, but he threw three innings the other night and seems to be back on track. That whole Stockton rotation right now is struggling. And it’s a tough place for pitchers. There are a lot of ballparks there where the ball flies, and you’ve got some older hitters spread out throughout the league. So it’s going to take some time for these guys to adjust. But their stuff is good and, for the most part, their arms are healthy. But Blake Treinen and T.J. Walz are doing a nice job. You’ve got a good group. I think it’s just going to take a while for them to put it together.

Drew Granier

AF: Yeah, Walz has really been the best starter so far at Stockton. And then down at Burlington, Sean Murphy and Drew Granier have both looked really good. I don’t know if their performances have been a bit of a pleasant surprise for you.

DF: Yeah, they’ve definitely opened up some eyes with their performance there and are in the conversation to move up at some point. Both guys have done well. Burlington’s right around .500, with not a lot of offensive performance to date. So it’s clearly been the pitching staff’s that’s carried them, and those guys you mentioned have been as good as anyone.

AF: I think they were both 32nd and 33rd round draft picks.

DF: Yeah, exactly, and they went out and had decent summers last year. But you really can’t evaluate these guys until they get into full-season ball. And they’ve both been very good.

Dusty Robinson

AF: The one guy who’s really been driving the offense at Burlington so far this year is outfielder Dusty Robinson, who’s been looking like a real power prospect.

DF: Yeah, his slugging numbers have been good from day one. He’s a guy we really did like out of the draft last year. He didn’t go in a premium position, but J.T. Stotts, our area scout, was very vocal about wanting this guy and feeling like his swing was going to play at the next level. And Dusty’s put up excellent numbers in what is typically a tough hitting environment, between the cold weather there in April and May and some tough parks to hit in. But he has been their most consistent offensive performer.

AF: Is there anyone I didn’t bring up who’s prominent on your radar screen and particularly worth mentioning from your point of view?

DF: Nope, you were pretty thorough. I think you’ve covered just about everyone who’s doing all right so far.

AF: Well, hopefully everyone who’s on your radar screen is on A’s Farm’s radar screen!

 

Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

 

Exclusive: A’s Assistant GM David Forst Gives the Lowdown on Off-Season Acquisitions and A’s Top Prospects – Part 1

David Forst: The future’s so bright he’s gotta wear shades

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.

Jarrod Parker

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.

Ryan Cook

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?

Collin Cowgill

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.

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.

Brad Peacock

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.

Derek Norris

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.

A.J. Cole

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.

Exclusive: A’s Super Scout (and Moneyball Bad Guy) Grady Fuson Gives the Lowdown on Life in Baseball and A’s Prospects to Watch

Grady Fuson: Keeping his eye on the ball!

Grady Fuson is one of the baseball world’s most respected talent evaluators. He’s spent the past 30 years in pro ball, scouting talent at every level. As the A’s scouting director from 1995-2001, Fuson was responsible for drafting the A’s big three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito over three consecutive years (1997-1999), and then drafted Rich Harden the following year (2000). Prior to that, as the A’s national cross-checker, he was involved in the drafting of Jason Giambi and Ben Grieve, as well as the signing of Miguel Tejada. Many of these players formed the core of some very successful A’s teams, and some went on to contribute to other winning teams as well.

In his final draft as the A’s scouting director, Fuson drafted high school pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in the first round, causing a certain degree of controversy which was touched upon in the best-selling book, Moneyball. While well known and well respected within the baseball fraternity, Grady Fuson probably became best known to the general public when he was portrayed in the film version of Moneyball as the obstinate scout fired by general manager Billy Beane (as played by Brad Pitt) after a dramatic and heated confrontation.

What your average filmgoer doesn’t know is that there was no such firing. Fuson actually left the organization for another opportunity with the Texas Rangers. And he has been back working with the A’s as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane for the past two years now. It turns out that, sometimes, real-life really is more interesting than fiction. And wanting to get a real-life look at a life in baseball, we took the opportunity to talk with Fuson about his journey in baseball as well as to get his take on some of the A’s most intriguing prospects.

Grady Fuson: Rockin' the green & gold in Medford

After coaching baseball at the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s, Grady Fuson got his first opportunity to join the scouting fraternity in 1982 when an old friend (and likely drinking buddy) of Billy Martin’s who had been scouting the northwest area for the A’s retired, and the team asked Fuson if he’d like to take over the territory. He thought the opportunity sounded intriguing and signed on, agreeing to work as an area scout in the northwest. During the spring, he’d keep tabs on all the promising young amateur prospects throughout the region. And during the summer, he’d coach short-season rookie clubs for the organization in such exotic locales as Medford and Idaho Falls.

By 1985, he was given responsibility for the northern California area as well and relocated to the Bay Area for the first time. In 1991, after nearly ten years of beating the bushes for prospects, the team made him their national cross-checker, basically the right-hand man to the scouting director. The position involved personally checking on all the top prospects recommended by the team’s area scouts and getting some perspective on all of them so that the organization could accurately gauge how they all stacked up.

After a few years in that position, a period which included the drafting of future MVP Jason Giambi and future Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve as well as the signing of future MVP Miguel Tejada, Fuson was promoted to the position of scouting director by A’s general manager Sandy Alderson. And thus began what he calls “one of the proudest times of my life” – a time during which the A’s drafted future Cy Young winner Barry Zito as well as future All-Stars Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Rich Harden and Eric Chavez.

Todd Helton: Where have you been all our lives?

But his first draft as the A’s new scouting director involved a very difficult decision – the decision whether or not to draft the promising Cuban exile pitcher, Ariel Prieto (who’s now back with the A’s acting as the interpreter for new Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes).

Todd Helton was my guy the whole time. This guy Ariel Prieto comes out of nowhere in the last month. So I fly in to see him and, boy, he’s really good. So I say, ‘Sandy, there’s a guy here who’s much different than the rest of these amateurs. He’s older, he’s more polished. This guy might be big league ready real fast.’ So we had many pow-wows about which way to go – Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto. And when it all came down to it, he wanted to go that way, and that’s the way we went.”

Needless to say, Ariel Prieto didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and Todd Helton is still playing today. The previous year had seen the A’s draft a sweet-swinging slugger out of Texas in the first round – a strapping young lad by the name of Ben Grieve. The outfielder would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1998, also winning the hearts of A’s fans in the process. But somewhere along the line, his progress seemed to hit a wall, he was traded away by the A’s and, by the time he was 29, he was out of the game altogether. And ever since, A’s fans have been left asking, “What went wrong with Ben Grieve?”

Ben Grieve: We hardly knew ya...

“The passion for the game just left him completely. Something was just missing. But this guy was just born to hit. But what happened? It’s a mind-boggler. He just lost his passion, his energy, his work ethic – to get bigger, to get stronger, to get better. He just took it all for granted. And his body started to slow up at a young age, and things just stopped firing. It’s a very unique story. Still, to this day, his was one of the best swings I’ve ever scouted.”

But after that, the A’s used their top picks wisely, having perhaps as much success in the draft as any team in the game and, in the process, forming the foundation of the winning A’s teams to come.

“One of the things I’ll always be proudest of is, in my years as scouting director, we nailed it on number ones – Chavez in ‘96, Mulder in ‘98, Zito in ‘99, even my last year in ’01 with Bonderman and Crosby. Collectively speaking, we drafted well.”

Grady's Kids: Hudson, Zito & Mulder

During that time, current A’s GM Billy Beane moved up from his position as assistant general manager to take over for long-time general manager Sandy Alderson in a transition that Fuson called “seamless.” The two worked together as general manager and scouting director for four years, acquiring players like Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden during that time. There were clearly some differences of opinion on the drafting of a high school pitcher – Jeremy Bonderman – in the first round of the draft in 2001 (more on that later). But it wasn’t philosophical differences – or any sort of dramatic confrontation – that caused Fuson to part ways with the A’s. It was simply an offer too good to refuse from the rival Texas Rangers following the 2001 season.

“The Rangers called Billy and asked for permission to interview me for GM after Doug Melvin was let go. They invited three guys to come back for a second interview – Dave Dombrowski, John Hart and myself. Tom Hicks ended up choosing John Hart, but he wanted me to come in too. They throw in this assistant GM thing. And they want John Hart as the GM for three years. They want me to come in and overhaul and redo scouting and player development and oversee all that.”

But the A’s front office wasn’t too thrilled with the fact that they had allowed the Rangers to interview Fuson for one position but now he was being offered another.

Grady Fuson: Lone Star King

“Billy made it very, very hard for me to say ‘yes.’ We talked a lot that night before I decided, and he offered me a great deal to stay. His loyalty and belief in me really came out at a different level. But after being with Oakland for twenty years, the opportunity to go somewhere new, oversee player development and scouting and take that next step, was an opportunity in my life that I thought I had to take.”

It wasn’t that easy though. Always looking for an opportunity to improve themselves, the A’s insisted on being compensated for the loss of Fuson. They hoped to wrangle a player like Hank Blalock out of the Rangers but, in the end, settled for a financial compensation package determined by the commissioner. Fuson was reluctant to disclose the level of compensation the A’s received in return for losing his services but did admit, “You could sign a real good player with it.”

Implicit in Fuson’s deal with the Rangers was the understanding that he would be viewed as a sort of GM-in-waiting when the time came for John Hart to step aside. And that time seemed to come in the summer of 2004 when, despite upping the payroll by $40 million to a whopping $110 million, the Rangers were still struggling to win and the pressure on the team to do something was mounting. It was at this time, shortly before the All-Star break, that Fuson claims Rangers owner Tom Hicks came to him and said it was time to make a change.

Tom Hicks: Indian giver?

“He said, ‘I’ve talked to John. At the end of the year, he’s going to step aside. You’re stepping in.’ We agreed on a contract. We agreed on a lot of things. We weren’t going to announce it till after the All-Star break. But during the All-Star break, whether it was John, whether it was Buck Showalter, whether it was some other people, they got Tom to change his mind. And the way they did it really bothered me from a moral and ethical standpoint. And so I said, ‘Well, if John’s going to continue to go forward, then I want to step out.’ So I resigned.”

Fuson says A’s GM Billy Beane was one of the first people to call and offered the opportunity to talk about returning to the A’s. But Fuson ultimately accepted an offer from Padres general manager Kevin Towers to return to his hometown of San Diego. Before long, Fuson’s former boss Sandy Alderson joined the Padres front office, followed shortly thereafter by former A’s assistant GM Paul DePodesta – forming something of an A’s brain trust reunion in San Diego.

Grady Fuson: Good morning San Diego!

But after a few years with the Padres, Jeff Moorad took control of the team and hired new general manager Jed Hoyer. The new GM wanted to bring in his own people and decided to let Fuson go. But after being asked to take his leave, it didn’t take long for another job offer to come. He got a call from Billy Beane that night. And before long, he was back on board as a special assistant to the general manager of the Oakland A’s.

“It’s been great. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m in big league camp. I’m watching all the games, helping evaluate, giving them my opinions on everything. Once the big league club gets set, then my focus is in the minor league camp. Once we break camp, then it’s all amateur draft – all of April, May and part of June – I’m cross-checking. And then in the summer, I hit all of our clubs once or twice, and Oakland. I’ll go in there and sit there for four or five days and get my eyes on the big league club and see what’s going on there. And at the deadline, if he’s got some trades and wants me out seeing some guys prior to some trades before the deadline, then I’ll do that.”

But what about all that Moneyball drama? All those debates over scouts vs. stats? The dinosaurs vs. the young turks? All those heated confrontations? Fuson claims there were no great philosophical debates, only differences of opinions over players. He says he certainly wasn’t anti-statistics and that those fault lines were over-dramatized by the book and the film.

“When I was a national cross-checker, I raised my hand numerous times and said, ‘Have you looked at these numbers?’ I had always used numbers. Granted, as the years go on, we’ve got so many more ways of getting numbers. It’s called ‘metrics’ now. And metrics lead to saber-math. Now we have formulas. We have it all now. But historically, I always used numbers. If there’s anything that people perceived right or wrong, it’s that me and Billy are very passionate about what we do. And so when we do speak, the conversation is filled with passion. He even told me when he brought me back, ‘Despite what some people think, I always thought we had healthy, energetic baseball conversations.’”

Ken Medlock & Brad Pitt: Just like their real-life counterparts, they don't actually hate each other.

Fuson admits that he was initially caught off guard by some of the characterizations in the book.

“After the book came out, I’d already left, and I was a little stunned by some of the things said in there. And I had my time where me and Billy aired it out a little bit. And he was a very gracious listener when I aired it out. Guys were sticking microphones in my face left and right and I was kind of taking the fifth. But I told Billy, ‘It’s time for me to fire a shot across the bough, man.’ The good thing is most people know none of that really ever happened.”

As for the reported draft room tensions, Fuson says that’s par for the course.

“Was there tension at times in the draft room? Of course, that’s what a draft room is. The draft is so important to so many of us that there is tension. But in baseball, there’s always tension, anxiety and questions asked. Your boss asks you a question and you give your opinion and he disagrees, and how do you get to this common ground? Me, I’ve always respected who my boss is. If you tell me I can’t take that player, that player isn’t going to get taken.”

Jeremy Bonderman: Cherchez la Bonderman!

But surely it can’t feel great to find yourself portrayed as a bad guy on the big screen.

“The great thing about me and Billy is, back then, we used to have a lot of baseball discussions. In some of them we disagreed, and some of them we agreed. But the bottom line is they were always good baseball discussions. How that got twisted into me being a bad guy I think just got overblown in one scenario with the Jeremy Bonderman pick. There was some anxiety over the ownership, with them being caught off guard that we took a high school pitcher – that we hadn’t taken one in ten years. And that thing got kind of ugly. Billy certainly put up a big fight the night before the draft as to why we shouldn’t take him. But I was never told not to take the guy, and that’s who we as a group at the time wanted to take. And that got a little overblown, so all of a sudden I became the resistor – I was never a resistor.”

Fuson concludes by saying, “I’m glad I’m back – especially with where the state of the club is!” Fuson’s passion for player development is obvious as he offers his take on the A’s current crop of promising young prospects. And when it comes to the A’s newest acquisition, Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, Fuson is clearly impressed.

“He’s physical. He’s explosive. There’s no doubt this guy can crush a fastball. So now we’ve got to watch, when guys start changing speeds on him, is he going to be able to hold up? But so far, this is a good sign. I joked with Billy and said, ‘You might have underpaid!’”

Michael Choice

Fans of Double-A Midland will be glad to know that they can look forward to seeing the A’s last two first-round draft picks, power-hitting outfielder Michael Choice and hard-throwing right-hander Sonny Gray, donning Rockhounds uniforms this year. Besides Cespedes, Fuson thinks Choice may be the best pure power hitter in the organization.

“He’s just a very explosive hitter, probably one of the most explosive hitters in the minor leagues right now. This guy has learned a few things and he’s made adjustments. We shoved him right into the California League. We had some expectations and he achieved them. He cut his strikeouts down and shortened up his stride. He’s probably one of the biggest potential power hitters we’ve signed here in a long time. And he’s not just power-oriented. This guy has speed, defensive ability, arm strength – he’s got the package. And it’s just all about us grooming this guy and developing that package.”

Sonny Gray

As for Gray, he thinks the gritty right-hander’s repertoire needs a few refinements but, other than that, he seems to think he’s got what it takes.

“We’re looking at him really developing this changeup that we’ve shoved down his throat since we signed him. And he wants it as bad as we want to give it to him – because everything he throws is hard and snaps. And he’s gotten away in college without really developing this off-speed something to slow hitters down with. We made him throw it almost every other pitch in the instructional league. And he’s digging it – he wants to throw it. He’s a bright kid. And when it comes to all the other attributes, he’s just a tremendous kid – he’s a competitor. His athleticism, his competitiveness, his will to win, those things go a long way.”

Another particularly intriguing prospect is former 2007 first-round draft pick Sean Doolittle, originally drafted as a first baseman but now, due to injuries, trying to make it as a pitcher. He’s likely to start the year working on his repertoire at Single-A. But, so far, he’s been throwing well and, if he continues to do so, he could move his way up through the ranks quickly.

“His transition has been so fast. He just picked up a ball at the end of the summer. And then basically his first official training back on the mound since college was in instructional league. And now he’s got a couple scoreless innings in big league camp. But the transition’s been great. It’s been easy. He’s taken to it real quick. He’s got a couple of very instinctual knacks in his pitching. The breaking ball needs to be developed, but he’s going to be a nice addition.”

And when it comes to assessing the current state of the A’s organization, Fuson’s love of player development shows through: “We are, to some degree, in a rebuild mode. Look, I always want to put a ring on my finger, but I like building – I like getting better!”

 

We asked Grady Fuson to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system that we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got:

-GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH-

Blake Hassebrock

Blake Hassebrock

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age: 22 / Drafted: 8th Round – 2010

Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports

There’s a lot of upside to him. He’s got power in his arm. He’s got a hard breaking ball. The changeup is a developing pitch for him. He’s got good angles. He’s got good planes. It’s just about him learning the touch and feel part of being a starter. He was fairly dominant at Single-A Burlington last year. He was drafted in the 8th round in 2010. If you get a chance to see him, you’re going to like what you see.

 

Yordy Cabrera

Yordy Cabrera

Right-handed Hitting Shortstop

Age: 21 / Drafted: 2nd Round – 2010

Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports

He’s a big key to our system. He was an older high school guy when we took him last year in the draft. He was held back when he was younger so that he could have an extra year of learning English. He was born and raised in the Dominican and his family had moved to the States. He’s physical, he’s big, he’s strong, he runs and he throws. It’s all about learning the nuances. He didn’t have the kind of year we expected, or even he expected, last year in Burlington. But he’s going to be given an opportunity to go to the California League at the age of 21 and see what this young man can do. But there’s impact to his whole game.

 

Jermaine Mitchell

Jermaine Mitchell

Left-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age: 27 / Drafted: 5th Round – 2006

Expected To Start 2012 With: Sacramento Rivercats

I think the next step for him determines a lot of what we do in the future here in Oakland. Jermaine was a kid they’d signed years ago who was gifted and had raw tools. It’s taken a long time for these tools to apply themselves to performance. When I first came back here in 2010, Jermaine was almost on the verge of release. But you just can’t release players like this. They’re just too talented. You can’t replace them, so you might as well keep playing them. And things have really turned for this kid. He started to put it together in 2010, and everyone saw what he did last year. He’s a dynamic, gifted athlete who has a chance to do everything in the game. Those type of players are so difficult to acquire – a dynamic speed guy in center, somebody you can trust is going to do something offensively. There’s no doubt that he’s going to make some decisions possible if, in fact, he continues to back up what he’s done at the Triple-A level. He’s that dynamic of an athlete.

 

 

 

Getting To Know: Josh Reddick – The Undisputed Heavyweight Champ of the Cactus League

Josh Reddick – even Manny Ramirez doesn’t have one of these!

Many A’s fans weren’t particularly happy this winter when two of their favorite players, All-Star reliever Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney, were sent packing to Boston in a deal for three players most A’s fans had never heard of – outfielder Josh Reddick, minor league infielder Miles Head, and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara. While Head and Alcantara are still a long way from the major leagues, the good news is that outfielder Josh Reddick appears to be more than major league ready and could be set to lock down a spot in the A’s outfield battle royale.

Reports so far this spring have been good on the left-handed hitter, and it looks like the A’s may have acquired an outfield fixture who could provide a little of the pop that’s been lacking in A’s outfielders of late. He hit 21 home runs combined in less than 500 at bats between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston last year. And the Georgia native is also known as a guy who gives it his all and who brings a sense of fun and excitement to the field everyday. A bit reminiscent of former A’s Nick Swisher and Eric Byrnes, he could be poised to become the next in a long line of long-haired outfield fan favorites in Oakland. But we started out talking with Reddick about his biggest non-baseball passion…

AF: So what’s your walk-up song going to be this year?

JR: Gonna do the same one – gonna stick with Triple H’s (Motorhead’s The Game”).

AF: So you’re a really big WWE fan then?

JR: Oh, of course. I go to every event that I can when I’m close. I just give him (Triple H) a shout, and he’ll leave me a ticket. Usually it’s behind like Jerry Lawler, and I usually go backstage after the show and talk to him.

AF: How did you get to know him?

JR: I went when I was in Boston and had my wrist surgery. They were in town that night. I was still getting tickets through the camera crew who I’d known before. And he’d heard a few months before that I used his song to walk up to, so he apparently told the guy that he wanted to meet me. So before the show, he comes up and says, “Hey man, Triple H wants to meet you backstage after the show.” So when I got back there, I talked to him for about an hour. He gives me his phone number and tells me if I ever need anything to just give him a call.

AF: So what’s the deal with that WWE belt above your locker?

JR: It’s something I bought in Double-A. So it’s something I’ve carried around with me whenever I go into ballparks. And I actually just got the real belt from Triple H last week. He sent me one of his real ones. He said if I was going to carry one around, it might as well be the real deal.

AF: Well I imagine there’s not too many guys in MLB walking around with one of those. So do you ever go out in public with it, maybe go to Walmart or something?

JR: Nah, I usually just keep it in my locker.

AF: Well it seems that people are always talking about you as a gritty sort of player who’s always hustling and giving it his all. Where do you think that comes from?

JR: I think it goes back to my parents. Once they realized I wanted to do this for a living, and this was going to be my dream growing up, they said, “Well you’re not going to half-ass it. You’re going to play not game the right way. If not, we’re going to take you off the field.” And that’s what they preached to me – to give it 110% between the lines, and never walk home having any regret. So that’s one thing that I pride myself on. I don’t want to go and look in the mirror and ask myself, “What if I’d have caught that ball, we would have won.” You never want to have that question of “what if” after a baseball game.

Josh Reddick: A man of many talents

AF: You weren’t a particularly high draft pick when Boston selected you in 2006. So how’d everything start out for you once you were drafted and started playing in the Red Sox system?

JR: I started out pretty well at extended spring training for a month and a half, and then I went up to low-A for the rest of the season. And I think I hit .300 with almost 80 RBIs after missing the first month and a half of the season. And the next year I hit about .330. Then I think Double-A was the hardest jump for me. Double-A was a real big learning process for me. I just had to change my approach altogether.

AF: What was the main problem you had adjusting?

JR: It was like – I’m not getting four fastballs per at bat, more like one or two per at bat. So I had to learn how to earn the fastballs rather than expect them. So I had to learn how to hit more off-speed stuff.

AF: So when you finally got the call from the Red Sox to go the big leagues, what was that like for you?

JR: We had actually just got done with about an 8-hour bus ride overnight and we’d gotten into our hotel room in Harrisburg about 6:00 in the morning. We were all sleeping in, and my phone rings about 11:00 in the morning, which I’m not expecting. I had a mohawk at the time and a mustache – I was kind of in a slump and I was trying to get out of it – and my manager says, “Cut your hair, shave your face, pack you’re stuff. You’re leaving.” So I’m like, “Leaving? Where am I going?” “We don’t know yet.” Click. So I get up, shave my head, shave my face. I go get some lunch and my phone rings and he says, “You’re meeting with the team in Baltimore. We don’t know if you’re getting activated yet. But just in case, they need you there.” But I’m not flying – I’ve got a car service driving me three and a half hours to Baltimore. And it’s the longest car ride of my life! I’m on the phone calling everybody back home. But as soon as I get to the hotel room and open the door, my phone rings and it’s Theo Epstein: “Drop your stuff and get to the ballpark – you’re getting activated.” And they were really great with bringing me in. Big Papi came up and gave me a hug, and everybody came over and told me “congratulations.”

AF: So how was that first game for you?

JR: I didn’t play that first game. So I had to sit on the bench for eight innings, then go pinch hit and play defense. Then the next night was my first start.

AF: Do you remember your first hit?

JR: 2-1 changeup double off David Hernandez. I remember that first game very well. 2 for 3 with 2 doubles and a walk. And in the TV interview after the game, I got shaving creamed by David Ortiz.

AF: Do you remember your first game at Fenway?

JR: My first experience at Fenway I wasn’t actually in the game. Rick Porcello was pitching against us and we had a rookie on the mound. And the rookie hit two guys in the top of the first. So Porcello comes out and throws at Victor Martinez in the first inning. We’re all getting pissed, and everything’s getting heated. Next thing, our rookie hits a guy with a curveball and they start freaking out. The first hitter of the next inning is Kevin Youkilis, and Youkilis gets beaned in the shoulder and – bench-clearing! And I was the first one out of the dugout, and I was loving it!

AF: So were you ready to start using your WWE moves out there?

Josh Reddick – you talkin’ to me?

JR: Yeah, I love that stuff!

AF: Was there anything in particular you struggled with once you got to the majors?

JR: Not playing everyday was tough. At first, I was playing about once or twice a week, and that’s never easy. And once I started playing consistently, I think I showed them what I could really do. Consistent playing time is definitely huge. Other than that, it’s just learning to adapt as they adapt to you.

AF: As a left-handed hitter, it looks like so far in your major league career you really haven’t had much trouble hitting lefties.

JR: In my career, I’ve actually done better against lefties than I have against righties!

AF: Is there any particular reason for that?

JR: I think I’ve got it in my head that they’re going to try and freeze me with a curveball – and I like hitting that curveball!

AF: So you’re just ready and waiting for it.

JR: Exactly!

AF: Looking you up online, I notice in every picture, you look completely different. You’ve got a completely different haircut, different hair color, different facial hair. So what’s the deal with the constantly changing look?

JR: I just get bored – or if I’m in a slump, I know it’ll bring me out of it!

AF: So have you noticed any particular differences between the Red Sox clubhouse and the A’s clubhouse?

JR: I kind of feel more comfortable here. I feel like I can joke around a lot more than I could there. Definitely not having the amount of media that they have is fun. You don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder every five seconds to see who’s listening.

AF: Did they put you through any kind of rookie hazing over there?

JR: Nothing outside of the normal hazing thing – the dress up on the last road trip thing. They got me a little bit, but it wasn’t like all day every day.

AF: Obviously the season ended on a bit of a bad note for that Boston team. So heading into the offseason, were you thinking about coming back with your Red Sox teammates and having a chance to redeem yourselves in Boston this year?

JR: I think the whole team was eager to come back and put that behind us and shut everyone up and show people we were still a good team.

AF: So when you got the call and heard you were being traded to the A’s, that had to be a bit of a surprise for you.

JR: I mean, I was shocked. I had some mixed feelings. But when I found out there was going to be a starting spot open for me, that was going to be a great opportunity. I mean, you couldn’t help but be happy. And I’ve been treated really well by the coaching staff and everyone.

AF: I’ve talked to lots of folks with the A’s who’ve had plenty of great things to say about you, so I know they really value you.

JR: Yeah, when I talked to them on the phone, they made me feel like I was a guy they had wanted for a very long time, and I was going to get an opportunity to play.

Josh Reddick: Checking in on A’s Farm or the latest WWE news?

AF: So when was the first time you actually heard from general manager Billy Beane?

JR: About twenty minutes after the trade happened. Our general manager Ben Cherington called me. And then five minutes later, Billy called me. And then ten minutes after that, Bob Melvin called me.

AF: So now that you’re with the A’s, I have to ask you, have you seen Moneyball yet?

JR: Oh, yeah. It was a good movie. I think Brad Pitt did a really good job playing that role. He seemed like a guy that really belonged in the baseball world.

And from everything we can tell, Josh Reddick looks like a guy that really belongs in the baseball world too. Just a few hours after we spoke with him, he hit a home run in the A’s 8-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and is currently hitting .400 with an OPS of 1.063 on the spring. And if he can even come close to replicating his spring performance during the regular season, he could become the undisputed heavyweight champ of the A’s 2012 lineup!

 

Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

 

Last month, A’s Farm compiled our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, gathered from a variety of many different A’s prospect lists currently available. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to find someone who could provide even greater insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And when looking for someone to give A’s fans a real insight into the organization’s top prospects, it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.

In his position with the A’s, Owens plays as many roles as a super utilityman. He works with general manager Billy Beane and assistant general manager David Forst in identifying potential major and minor league trade targets, with scouting director Eric Kubota in profiling potential draft picks, and with farm director Keith Lieppman in keeping a finger on the pulse of the farm system.

Billy Owens, back when he was striking fear into the hearts of Carolina League hurlers (courtesy of checkoutmycards.com)

Owens first entered the world of professional baseball twenty years ago when he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1992 draft. The slugging first baseman made stops at such exotic locales as Kane County, Albany, Frederick, Bowie, Rochester, Kissimmee and finally Jackson, Mississippi, where he claims to have made his best decision as a player evaluator when he decided to quit playing and get into the world of scouting.

Owens joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. The team eventually decided to elevate him to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use.

Now A’s Farm has the opportunity to take advantage of that too as we get his take on our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, as well as a few other players of particular interest. Owens’ knowledge of players inside and outside the A’s organization is broad and deep, but his genuine enthusiasm for the prospects currently stocking the A’s system should be very refreshing to hear for any true fan of the green and gold!

 

Jarrod Parker (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#1 – JARROD PARKER 

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Acquired from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill trade, the Diamondbacks’ first-round draft pick in 2007 struck out 112 batters in 130 2/3 innings at Double-A Mobile last year after missing all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a fascinating prospect. He had a tremendous performance the other day in his first outing in major league camp. He was sitting comfortably at 91-93 mph. He had an opportunity to bury a fastball inside on a 2-2 count, and that fastball was at 95-96 mph. He’s got a tremendous repertoire. His changeup has a chance to be a plus major league pitch. His breaking ball actually has a chance to be an average to plus major league pitch as well. He’s a tremendous athlete. His arm slot’s probably unique – his arm slot’s a little bit higher than normal. From a body standpoint, you could draw a comparison to maybe David Cone. He’s 6’0” and a tremendous athlete. He’s able to field his position well, quick feet on the mound, with tremendous stuff. The Tommy John surgery set him back a few years ago. He was a top 10 overall pick in the draft out of high school inIndiana. And the sky’s the limit. With his stuff, he’s got a chance to really exceed expectations.

 

Michael Choice (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#2 – MICHAEL CHOICE

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2010 – 1st Round

Probably the best pure power hitter in the organization, the A’s first-round draft pick in 2010 hit 30 homers and posted a .285/.376/.542 slash line while playing center field for Class-A Stockton last year.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a physical specimen. He’s got tremendous all-fields power. Armann Brown, our scout down there in Texas, did a tremendous job. Michael’s exciting. The bat gets through the zone in a blur. It’s hard to totally compare guys to major leaguers, but this guy’s bat speed is reminiscent of Gary Sheffield – it’s that explosive, it’s that powerful, it’s that quick through the strike zone. Michael’s only had a full season of A-ball, so there’s a lot of maturation process going forward. But he’s a tremendous kid. He’s smart. He’s got a thirst for knowledge. The foot speed is there to cover ground in the outfield. He’s a tenacious competitor, and he can hit the ball to the stratosphere. You don’t see power like Michael Choice everyday in the minor leagues.

 

Brad Peacock (photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

#3 – BRAD PEACOCK

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2006 – 41st Round

Acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal, the 24-year-old right-hander turned heads by posting a 2.39 ERA while striking out 177 in 146 2/3 innings between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg last season.

BILLY OWENS: He’s an athletic kid. He was a shortstop in junior college. He throws in the low ‘90s. He’s got a very repeatable delivery. He’s aggressive in the strike zone with the fastball. His curveball has shape – it has depth as far as the break, and it’s got some snap to it. His changeup is solid. And he had just a phenomenal year last year between Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues for three or four starts. We started watching him all the way back in his junior college days with Trevor Schaffer, our scout out there in Florida. Personally, I saw Brad pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2010. That’s when we saw him start to really make strides – pound the zone, use both sides of the plate, show that outstanding curveball, good changeup. And he’s got a chance to build upon last year and be a solid major league starter at some point. The ingredients are there. It’s just a matter of us finishing him off here in major league camp and deciding where the chips may fall. But the potential is definitely enormous.

 

A.J. Cole

#4 – A.J. COLE

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 20

Drafted 2010 – 4th Round

A fourth-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2010, the 6’4” right-hander has struck out batters at a rate of 10.9 per 9 innings over his short minor league career, and many believe he could turn out to be the real gem of the Gio Gonzalez deal.

BILLY OWENS: He has tremendous potential. He’s tall, he’s lanky. He’s got that ultimate build that we think is going to fill out and be strong and have a chance to be a horse out there on the mound. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, good breaking ball, burgeoning changeup, and he’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that we identified all the way back to the draft. Trevor Schaffer, our Florida scout, was also able to identify him in the draft process. And the Nationals made a good selection there. He went last year to the South Atlantic League and really set that league on fire. He was tremendous all year. And talking to the Nationals in this trade for Gio Gonzalez, who obviously was an outstanding pitcher, Cole was definitely one of the headliners of the deal. So we’re definitely excited to have him.

 

Sonny Gray (photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

#5 – SONNY GRAY

Right-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2011 – 1st Round

Often compared to former A’s righty Tim Hudson, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011 logged 5 starts at Double-A Midland late last summer, giving up just 1 run in 20 innings while striking out 18, and is expected to climb the ladder quickly.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a big-game pitcher. He was the Friday night pitcher at Vanderbilt from day one. He was a guy that our scouts out there in the southeast – Michael Holmes, Matt Ransom – they actually identified Sonny all the way back to high school. And everything he’s accomplished so far, those guys predicted back then. This kid’s as tough as nails. This kid’s a tremendous athlete, along the Tim Hudson lines. He’s a vivacious competitor. His skills on the mound are solid. He’s got a 94-95 mph fastball. He can run that two-seamer at 91-92 mph. He can snap off a very good breaking ball. His changeup’s improving – he’s starting to trust his changeup a lot more. And first and foremost, Sonny is just a gifted competitor. When something arises where you want that rock out there on the mound, you want a tough kid, you want somebody who’s going to be able to handle adversity, I vote for Sonny.

 

Grant Green

#6 – GRANT GREEN

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2009 – 1st Round

Originally drafted as a shortstop but moved to the outfield midway through last season, the A’s 2009 first-round draft pick consistently hits the ball hard and could earn a shot in the A’s outfield before long.

BILLY OWENS: Grant’s a gifted hitter. He’s probably a .300 career hitter so far, between A-ball and Double-A. He’s able to use all fields line to line. This guy can smoke a ball down the right field line, he can smoke a ball down the left field line, and eventually he’s going to be able to hit the ball to the wall. This guy has got a gift to square the baseball up. He’s a got a certain knack to hit the baseball with authority to all fields. I think the shortstop position was something that possibly he could have handled down the road, but his bat is going to be ahead of his defense, and so we made a decision to expedite what he does best, which is hit, and move him to the outfield. And hopefully we can get him to the point where he’s got that certain comfort zone in the outfield. His swing is reminiscent of Michael Young’s in Texas, and I think that he’ll be able to do that at the top level eventually.

 

Derek Norris (photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

#7 – DEREK NORRIS

Right-handed Hitting Catcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 4th Round

The only hitter the A’s acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the right-handed hitting catcher slugged 20 home runs at Double-A Harrisburg last season and sports an impressive career minor league OBP of .403.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a very athletic kid. He played primarily third base in high school. And so the strides he’s made in three or four years in the minor leagues have been tremendous behind the plate. His receiving skills have gotten better every year. His throwing arm is outstanding. I believe he’s led every league he’s played in professionally in throwing guys out percentage-wise. His average wasn’t the greatest last year at Double-A, but his walk numbers are phenomenal, so he still carries a high on-base percentage, And he’s got a little power – he’s got 20+ homer potential. He’s got a keen eye at the plate. He’s got an athletic body, and he’s got a throwing arm that a marksman would be proud of. So hopefully we’ll see him mature this year, build upon what he did last year in Harrisburg, and then after that, the sky’s the limit.

 

Chris Carter

#8 – CHRIS CARTER

Right-handed Hitting First Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2005 – 15th Round

Originally acquired in the Dan Haren deal with the Diamondbacks, the right-handed slugger has put up big power numbers in the minors, clubbing 31 home runs at Triple-A Sacramento in 2010 and posting a career minor league slugging percentage of .540.

BILLY OWENS: You’re talking about a 25-year-old kid who’s got 170 minor league home runs. I think his power potential is phenomenal. He’s got about 150 sporadic major league at-bats over bits and pieces of the last few years. At some point, whenever he gets comfortable, whether it’s this year, next year, this month, May, August, once Chris Carter gets comfortable in the major leagues, he will do damage. I can’t predict exactly when that’s going to be because nothing’s guaranteed and he’s got to compete for a job and earn a chance to play like everybody else. But if you look at Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, those guys have proven right-handed power hitters normally don’t come to fruition over night. I like Chris Carter’s resume. And I really truly believe at some point he’ll do it in the major leagues. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

 

Tom Milone (photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI)

#9 – TOM MILONE

Left-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 10th Round

Acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the left-hander posted a 3.22 ERA while walking just 16 batters in 148 1/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse last season and he should get a shot to show the A’s what he can do in 2012.

BILLY OWENS: He’s got a certain savvy to him. His walk numbers last year were phenomenal. He only walked about 20 guys all year. His strikeout rate is tremendous. He’s got poise. He can use both sides of the plate. He can heat you up, he can slow you down. He can change you up. He can change your eye level with his breaking ball. He’s a tremendous athlete on the mound. He can pick you off. He can field his position well. He’s not a hard-thrower – you can turn the gun off. In the Dallas Braden mold, he’s not going to knock your socks off as far as true velocity. But he can put it inside your hands at the appropriate time. The kid can pitch. He’s a good athlete. The first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues went over the right field wall, so he’s got one more homer than the rest of us! This guy’s a competitor. He’s going to be a solid addition. He’s close to major-league ready, and I’m looking forward to seeing him out there at the Coliseum at some point.

 

Michael Taylor (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#10 – MICHAEL TAYLOR

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

Drafted 2007 – 5th Round

After putting up stellar numbers in the Phillies system, the outfielder’s progress has stagnated a bit since coming to the A’s, but the 26-year-old does still have a .296/.371/.476 career minor league slash line along with some solid tools.

BILLY OWENS: Michael’s got a well-rounded game. He hit for a decent average two years in a row at Sacramento. Just looking at him, you can see the power potential. You know, the hardest level to get over in baseball is Triple-A to the major leagues. As much as we like to see guys develop between A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, the ultimate goal and the best players in the world play in the big leagues. And in the big leagues, they hit their spots, they make adjustments, they will do certain things out there. So Michael has got to get to the point where he’s able to impress the big league staff, compete and earn that opportunity. The talent level’s there, and hopefully it manifests for us in the green and gold.

 

Collin Cowgill (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

#11 – COLLIN COWGILL 

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 5th Round

The Diamondbacks’ fifth-round draft pick in 2008, the right-handed hitting outfielder barely missed making our Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, finishing just behind fellow outfielder Michael Taylor after hitting .354 with 13 homers and 30 stolen bases for Triple-A Reno last season.

BILLY OWENS: We drafted him actually the year before he signed out of Kentucky. He didn’t sign with us back then, so we gave him no choice and this time we traded for him. He’s got tremendous energy, he’s a feisty competitor. He can do a lot of things on the baseball field – he can defend, he’s got some power, he can hit for average, he runs the bases well. Cody Ross would be a very good comparison when looking at Collin Cowgill.

 

Josh Reddick (photo by Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill.net)

NEW ADDITION – JOSH REDDICK 

Left-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2006 – 17th Round

The key piece in the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, the left-handed hitting outfielder hit .280 in 254 big-league at bats with the Red Sox last year, technically not qualifying as a prospect, but he is one of the most potentially exciting young players likely to make the A’s roster.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a rugged competitor. He’s got a nice power/speed/defense blend to him. He’s throwing very well so far in major league camp. The ball comes off his bat well. He hit 20+ home runs last year between Triple-A and the big leagues. Personally, I first saw Josh in the Arizona Fall League about three years ago, and he blasted a ball in the Fall League All-Star Game to dead center, and he hit it a mile. And we’ve been able to see that production manifest over time. And we were able to acquire Josh for a player, Andrew Bailey, who was a tremendous closer for us. So it was important to get a player back of Mr. Reddick’s caliber. And so far in big league camp, we’re excited to have him.

 

Yoenis Cespedes

LATE ADDITION – YOENIS CESPEDES

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

The year’s most-heralded Cuban free agent, the A’s signed the power-hitting outfielder to a 4-year/$36-million contract late in the offseason in the hopes that his talents will quickly translate to major league success.

BILLY OWENS: First off, he’s got a lot of syllables, so I might just call him YC for now! But he’s a tremendous athlete. Personally, I saw YC play at the Pan-American Games in 2010 in Puerto Rico. And just the speed, power, defense quotient was scintillating just watching that over five or six games down there in Puerto Rico. And it was a very calculated but educated gamble orchestrated by Billy Beane and David Forst to be able to acquire a player of this caliber. And the process goes back to Craig Weissmann and Chris Pittaro, two great scouts of ours, and Sam Geaney, our international coordinator. I think that we weren’t sure that he was going to be in our neighborhood as far as the dollars were concerned. But once YC got to our neighborhood, we felt that it was a unique opportunity to get a player of his caliber with his middle-of-the-diamond skills. It’s definitely a testament to Billy and David trusting our scouting acumen and seeing what he’s done over there in international competition and taking this opportunity and seeing how it works out. We think this guy’s a gifted defender. We think he’s got a throwing arm that’s going to be amongst the best out there. So the ability is there. But now you’ve got to go show it at a professional level, hopefully sooner rather than later, in the major leagues.

 

Sean Doolittle (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WILD CARD – SEAN DOOLITTLE

Left-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Originally drafted by the A’s as a first baseman in the first round of the 2007 draft, injuries have limited his mobility and kept him completely off the field for the past two seasons, but he’s now looking to make his mark on the mound as a hard-throwing lefty.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a world-class competitor. He’s actually the career win leader at the University of Virginia, who’ve had a ton of major league players over the years. So the pitching mound is not foreign to Sean Doolittle. We all thought that he’d be a tremendous first baseman/outfielder right now and hitting 25+ home runs. But due to injuries, that didn’t happen. But now he’s allowed to compete again, and the other day at major league camp, he was up to 93-94 mph. He showed a promising breaking ball. He filled the zone up. He fielded the position well. He’s just a very competitive kid who wants to go out there and do what he does best and compete on a baseball field. And that’s something he hasn’t been allowed to do the last two years, so he’s just waiting to break out. There’s no question about the toughness and the competitive skills of this kid. And now he’s got a left arm that just happens to have a rocket attached to it.

 

Thanks again to A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens for taking the time to offer his insights on some of the A’s most intriguing young prospects!

 

 

When Billy Met Johnny…

Ramone and Beane: the inaugural meeting of the Johnny and Billy mutual admiration society

Following on the heels of our two-part interview with A’s GM Billy Beane earlier this week, and in honor of Moneyball’s recognition at the Oscars on Sunday night, I thought it’d be interesting to re-run this old interview that I did with Billy Beane and punk rock legend Johnny Ramone back during the Moneyball season of 2002. The interview was actually conducted during the early stages of the A’s record-setting winning streak and first appeared in the late, great, Bay Area magazine ChinMusic! Johnny Ramone died just two years later from prostate cancer, and Billy Beane is now the longest-tenured general manager in the American League.

It’s interesting to see what was being said about steroids, budgets, the importance of on-base percentage, and the necessity of the A’s having to re-invent themselves ten years ago. The genesis of the interview is also kind of interesting. I always knew that Johnny Ramone was a big baseball fan. He’d told me in an interview many years earlier that he spent much of his free time on the road writing letters to baseball players requesting signed 8×10 photos of them for his collection. At first, I thought he was joking, but it turned out he was dead serious. And he eventually ended up with one of the largest collections in the country!

I’d also heard that Billy Beane, growing up as a teenager in San Diego in the ’70s, was a big punk rock fan. So with that in mind, I approached Billy at a spring training game in Arizona in 2002 and suggested the idea of doing a joint interview with both him and Johnny. His reply was: “Just say when!” With their mutual love of baseball and punk rock, it was natural that the two of them would immediately hit it off. And Johnny would later even end up helping out Billy’s daughter, Casey, with her school paper on the origins of punk rock.

After the interview, I had a baseball conversation with Johnny almost every week until he died. In the last conversation, just shortly before be passed, he was very concerned with Jason Giambi‘s struggles early in his multi-year contract with Johnny’s beloved Yankees. He asked me how many years were left on Giambi’s guaranteed contract, and when I told him, Johnny was distraught: “Oh my God, what are the Yankees gonna do?!” He knew the end was near–not for the Yankees, but for himself–yet all he could think about was the Yankees being saddled with a struggling Giambi’s contract. It was later that year that the Red Sox mounted their startling comeback against the Yankees, taking four straight to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs. And I couldn’t help but think that it was a good thing Johnny had already died by that time, because that surely would have killed him!

Excerpts from the interview appeared online at the time, but this is the first time the complete interview has ever appeared online. When you see that photo of Joe Strummer in Billy Beane’s office in the Moneyball film, don’t be surprised. As you can see in the interview, his enthusiasm for the Clash is almost as great as his enthusiasm for the Ramones!

(JR = Johnny Ramone / BB = Billy Beane / CM = yours truly on behalf of ChinMusic!)

 

BEANE ON THE BRAT

(from ChinMusic! #5)

Some people might think the worlds of baseball and punk rock don’t have an awful lot in common. But just try telling that to punk rock legend and baseball freak Johnny Ramone and Oakland A’s general manager and punk rock freak Billy Beane! You’ll have a mighty hard time finding a punk rock icon more devoted to our national pastime, and an even harder time finding a baseball executive who was buying Ramones and Sex Pistols 8-tracks and rushing out to catch the Clash way back in ’78. And who else but we here at ChinMusic! would have the sense to bring this dynamic duo together for an enlightening little chit-chat on our two favorite subjects…good music, and good old-fashioned hardball. The two talked a month before the end of the 2002 season, with Rhino Records having just issued a fresh batch of remastered Ramones releases, with the A’s in the midst of their record-breaking 20-game winning streak, and with the threat of a possible baseball strike looming just a day away. Thankfully, the games went on…and so did the first meeting of the Billy & Johnny mutual admiration society…

CM:     Johnny, meet Billy…Billy, meet Johnny…

The Ramones: We hate Yes!

BB:      Johnny, they might have given you a heads up that I might turn into a crazy fan here and just gush for a few minutes. But I went out and got the “Rocket To Russia” 8-track when I was 16. And I got into the Ramones, the Dead Boys and everybody else for the same reason that you started playing it. I got so sick of hearing “Kashmir,” and “Roundabout” by Yes, and all these synthesizers on the radio. So when I first heard you I went, “Oh my God!” It was like I was enlightened! So I said, “Johnny’s just gonna have to put up with me for a few minutes because I’m gonna turn into like some crazy Trekkie guy here.”

JR:       Hey, and I wanted to be a baseball player…I just fell into this!

CM:     That’s why we knew it was a great idea to bring you guys together!

BB:      You know how I found out that you were a baseball fan, Johnny? I had read somewhere that you knew John Wetteland.

JR:       I met Wetteland when Peter Gammons came over one day. He wanted to do a piece on baseball and rock & roll. He brought me over to Dodger Stadium and I got to meet Wetteland. And I was always a big fan.

BB:      Yeah, I actually played with John in Detroit briefly when he got drafted over there in spring training. And at that point we were exchanging Roxy Music CDs.

JR:       Boy, at this point he’s into Christian rock. So I guess he must have gone through some problems in his life!

BB:      Yeah, he had a tough upbringing. But he’s a real nice and very enlightened guy. And that’s how we started talking because I read somewhere that you two had hooked up. By the way, you know what I just did, Johnny? I went and saw Siouxsie & the Banshees.

JR:       Oh God!

BB:      Well, I had to go see them just because everyone’s going on these old tours again. So I went…and they were terrible! I was so disappointed. Siouxsie’s not in her salad days anymore!

JR:       Have you seen Marilyn Manson?

BB:      No, I haven’t. I was reading up on them. I guess the biggest thing for me is I first really gotta love the music.

JR:       I didn’t even know their music at all. But I ended up going to see them three times last year because I’m friendly with them, and their show is terrific. And last year, I went to see Green Day too and they were terrific.

BB:      Yeah, I really like Green Day.

JR:       I went to see them at the Forum a few months ago and I couldn’t believe how entertaining they were.

CM:     They have a good drummer, and I think a good punk band needs a really good drummer.

Blondie: Look, parallel lines - hey wait a minute, that gives us an idea!

BB:      Well, we were just talking about Clem Burke, the great drummer from Blondie

JR:       He was actually in our band for about a week!

BB:      Yeah, and I still think Debbie Harry was really cute back then!

JR:       Debbie was beautiful back in the ’70s and early ’80s…she was beautiful!

BB:      When we were in the playoffs two years ago in New York, Johnny, I made the cab driver take me to CBGB’s in my suit and tie and take a picture out in front of the awning there.

JR:       I went and did that when we went into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this past March when we got inducted. I probably took my first picture there since about 1974. I went inside for the first time in about 20 years too. And Hilly, who runs the place, was actually nice to me. He was never nice to me before. He gave me a t-shirt…he wouldn’t even give me a free soda before!

BB:      Well I’ve read all the biographies. You were actually a construction worker at first, right?

JR:       Yeah, I was a construction worker. I was a steam-fitter for five years. I bought a guitar when I was 26 years old.

BB:      That’s amazing!

CM:     Did you read “Please Kill Me,” the Legs McNeil book?

JR:       I don’t read any of them because…well, I just don’t read them.

CM:     Well, you were there!

JR:       I read baseball books all the time. Baseball’s my life…and watching old movies.

BB:      I actually just gave “Please Kill Me” to Scott Hatteberg, our first baseman.

JR:       Billy, we have a Ramones tribute record coming out in November. And we’ve got Rob Zombie, the Chili Peppers, Metallica, U2, Green Day, Rancid, the Pretenders, KISS, Tom Waits, a really good lineup.

BB:      Now is Tom Waits gonna sing a Ramones song?

JR:       Yeah, Tom Waits did a Ramones song. Eddie Vedder did two Ramones songs on it. U2 did “Beat On The Brat.” Metallica did “53rd & 3rd.”

BB:      Well I read Dee Dee’s autobiography, so I remember what that song was about!

JR:       Nobody sang about this kind of stuff. I mean, here’s Dee Dee writing about some Vietnam veteran coming back and becoming a male prostitute…and a Green Beret on top of it!

Lars Frederiksen wants to know: "Why'd you trade Ben Grieve?!"

BB:      Do you know Lars Frederiksen, the guitar player for Rancid?

JR:       Yeah. Wow, you really know your punk rock!

BB:      Yeah, he’s a huge A’s fan. He lives in San Francisco. In fact, his mother’s a season-ticket holder and we talk on occasion. He’ll call me when we make a trade. You know, “Why’d you trade Ben Grieve, what’s going on here?”

JR:       Oh yeah? Lars calls me up like once a year and we usually talk about old movies or horror films. I’ll have to run some baseball by him next time.

BB:      Given where you’re from, are you originally a Mets fan, Johnny?

JR:       I’m a Yankee fan! I’ve been a Yankee fan since I first saw Mickey Mantle play probably in like 1955.

BB:      Oh, well you and probably a few million other people! That’s how Jason Giambi’s dad became a fan too. That’s why Jason’s in New York now.

CM:     Well I’d say that had a fateful impact, didn’t it?

BB:      It did…there’s no question it did!

JR:       By the way, you’re doing a tremendous job with this team, Billy.

BB:      I appreciate it, thank you.

JR:       What’s your payroll?

BB:      We’re at about $40 million.

JR:       $40 million…unbelievable! I see teams always getting these over-priced veterans who don’t produce when you can bring up young guys that’ll probably give you the same type of production. And you guys seem to be doing that.

BB:      When Sandy Alderson, who’s now in the commissioner’s office, was here, Sandy sort of saw the dichotomy in payroll starting to exist. And we just started the process a lot earlier than a lot of other clubs. But the biggest challenge for us isn’t so much one year. The challenge is to keep reinventing yourself, after losing guys like Giambi, Damon, Isringhausen, and still stay at that payroll and still be good.

JR:       Right.

BB:      Three years ago, before we were actually good, I said, “Someday, someone’s gonna look at this group of young players that’s on the A’s club and say, ‘I can’t believe they were all on one team.'” That’s how good I think these guys are. Chavez is just 24 years old. Tejada’s 26. Zito, Mulder, Hudson…these guys are so young it’s just remarkable!

Tino Martinez: Why you no love me, Johnny?

JR:       Well, you see teams all the time that will sign guys who are average players, they might even be below average, but they’ve been veterans and they’re signing them for too much money.  I remember last year, with the Yankees having to deal with the Tino Martinez issue, and Tino leaving. Yankee fans were complaining. And I’m going, “Tino’s a below average first baseman at this point!”

CM:     I know a lot of people were harping on you Billy that the A’s ought to be signing Tino Martinez to solve your first base problem, and that probably would have cost you about $10 million more than you ended up spending.

BB:      You’re exactly right!

JR:       And the Yankees were smart, they got Giambi. I think he’s fourth in the American League in runs scored. He gets on base so much that he’s scoring all these runs, and he’s slow as can be.

BB:      That’s sort of our big thing, on-base percentage. And when it comes to that, Jason was really the poster-child for the A’s.

JR:       Exactly. And the Yankees were smart…they spent their money wisely!

BB:      Yeah, they did. And Jason’s such a remarkable player for all those reasons. In my opinion, he’s the best offensive player in the American League, and he has been for the past number of years.

JR:       When he hit that grand slam in that extra inning game, when they were three runs down, he just won over everyone. I’m making my wife sit there and watch this, and I’m going, “You’ll see, if the guy before him can just get on base, I think he’s gonna do it this time.”

BB:      Well, that was actually when Jason really started turning it around too.

JR:       Yeah, that’s when he won over all the Yankee fans. I kept saying, “How could they be booing this guy? Just leave him alone. He’s gonna have his numbers at the end of the season.”

CM:     Well, that’s the New York way!

JR:       I mean, forget Tino, you know?

BB:      Well, the good thing up in Oakland sometimes is that there are certain players you just can’t sign. So it sort of gives you the ability not to make decisions that maybe the public may want you to make.

CM:     You don’t have worry about whether or not to spend that $10 million…because you just can’t!

BB:      Yeah, exactly! And the one thing now, as well as we’ve been playing, can you imagine if we had Giambi back? You know, it’s sort of scary! That’s why I keep going back to just how talented this group of players we have right now is. And then the way the pitching staff just keeps getting better and better…

Ben Grieve: Why you no love me, Billy?

JR:       Hey, how come Ben Grieve didn’t develop like it seemed he was going to when he first came up?

BB:      He had a solid rookie year, he went on to hit 28 home runs his next year, then he just seemed to plateau and it’s just hard to explain. But with young players, the first hump you have is that you get up here and you’re just happy to be here. I guess it’s probably like an album. You come out with a hit album, and that first hit album wasn’t so hard. It’s the second one. You know, the ability to recreate that.

JR:       Everyone puts out their best stuff on the first one.

BB:      Yeah, exactly. And the ability to stay up and discover what’s going to work, based on making those adjustments, is really what makes the great ones. You look at a guy like Chavez, it scares me to think about what Eric’s gonna do. This is a kid who’s hit 30 home runs, driven in 100 runs, I think two years now, and won a Gold Glove…and he’s seven years younger than Jason!

JR:       I hope Soriano’s able to make the adjustments. He swings at a lot of stuff and he’s gonna have to get a little more plate-discipline.

BB:      Oh yeah, Soriano will be fine. The kid who’s gonna be good over there too is Nick Johnson. If you look at it, the best hitters always start out with that great plate-discipline.

JR:       Yeah, he’s got great plate-discipline.

BB:      The Yankee teams of the ’90s always sort of exemplified that. I’m pretty good friends with the Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman. And when they signed Jason, I know one of the things they really wanted to focus back on was on-base percentage, which they’d lost a little bit.

CM:     Well isn’t that also a key part of your philosophy with the A’s too Billy, getting your hitters to take as many pitches as possible and trying to get opposing pitchers to throw as many pitches as you can?

BB:      Yes, because ultimately, if you go into a game and you’ve got to face Clemens for seven or eight innings, and then Mariano Rivera for one, you’re not gonna get many runs.  What you try to shoot for is trying to get the middle relievers in there, get as many at-bats as you can against them, because if you have to make your living off Clemens and Rivera, you’re not gonna win too many games.

Nolan Ryan: Pitchers these days? Please!

JR:       I saw once where they said that Nolan Ryan in one of his peak years with the Angels was averaging like 160 pitches per game, okay? That’s hardly believable! I once watched a game with Sam McDowell pitching. He had gone 11 innings and had struck out 12 or 13 guys, walked 10, and he was up to like 230 pitches!

CM:     Guys hardly throw that many pitches in three starts now!

BB:      Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine…

JR:       And Ryan, back then, would never lose a game once he had a lead after like the seventh inning. He got stronger and more dominant as the game would go along.

CM:     You know, that’s an interesting point that Johnny brings up. I’d be curious to hear you address how things have changed. I remember when I was a kid following baseball back in the ’70s, you had four-man rotations as opposed to five-man rotations and you had guys throwing nine innings quite a bit…

JR:      Ferguson Jenkins throwing 30 complete games a year…

BB:      Mickey Lolich throwing I think close to 400 innings one year…

CM:     But what do you think about this sort of change in pitching philosophy over the years?

BB:      Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s funny because we’re kind of taking a look at that ourselves. I believe that the five-man rotation came into play when Earl Weaver actually had five great starters.

JR:       The Yankees always had a five-man rotation with Casey Stengel. But Whitey Ford had never won 20 games. And in the ’61 season when Ralph Houk became manager, he went to the four-man rotation and Whitey Ford won 24 games that year. But Stengel was always doing it.

BB:      Well, I think no one really knows the reason why it came into play. But I think the reason it stays in play is because pitchers’ health is at such a premium, and teams are so protective of those great young starters. And a lot of these guys now, this generation of pitchers, have been raised on the five-man rotation.

CM:     It seems like something that just kind of crept in without really any conscious thought. And now that it’s in, everybody’s kind of used to it, so nobody wants to vary from it.

Billy Martin: Just win baby!

JR:       I remember a time before when the Dodgers had the four-man rotation in the ’60s, with Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen and Johnny Podres. They had a four-man rotation. And then Billy Martin would go to the four-man rotation…

CM:     Yeah, Billy Martin used to like to throw the starters out there as long as possible.

BB:      Yeah, unfortunately that group of pitchers he had here, I think it was ’81 in Oakland, a lot of them after that had arm injuries.

JR:       But I think that could have just happened. I don’t know if Billy’s to blame.

CM:     He did that elsewhere and it didn’t necessarily happen.

JR:       Yeah, he did it with Lolich and he had a big year the following year. For throwing 370 innings, he still had a good year the following year.

BB:      Yeah, you know what’s interesting too is the Japanese have much different theories on it.

JR:       Right, pitch more!

BB:      Yeah. And I’ll tell you what, it’s something that in our organization we just want to take a look at it and sort of examine the history, as we’re sort of doing here orally.

JR:       I guess all those breaking pitches take a toll, right?

BB:      Yeah. And for us, our bread and butter is those big three young guys…Zito, Hudson and Mulder. And we just want to make sure we don’t do anything that could lead to an injury. So we actually keep track of every pitch they throw, even in between starts.

JR:       Oh, I saw Zito throw a curveball to a lefty last night…it started out behind him and went back over for a strike!

Barry Zito: I'm mentioned in this article, and it was written this many years ago

CM:     One of those knee-buckling curves!

BB:      Barry’s pretty special. He’s also a fledgling rock star, as you may or may not know.

JR:       Everybody wants to get into the act!

BB:      In fact, remember game three of the playoffs that he started last year, the 1-0 game?

CM:     The one with the Jeter play.

BB:      Exactly! Who could forget?! Well before the game, I was in the workout room running on the treadmill. And then Barry walks in and puts in a CD, plays it as loud as he can, and gets on the warm-up bike, and doesn’t say a word to me the whole time. And he has this whole routine when he’s pitching, different songs and stuff. People call him quirky, but he’s incredibly disciplined with his routine.

CM:     He’s just really locked in, that’s really what it is! But I know when I talked to Barry, he did say that you had turned him on to the Strokes, Billy.

JR:       So I guess Billy’s the coolest guy in the organization!

CM:     Exactly, it’s up to you to pass this stuff on to the next generation of players, Billy!

BB:      Well, I was passing out Ramones CDs to Spiezio. And now with Scott Hatteberg, who’s a huge music fan, I actually gave him the DVD of “The Filth & The Fury,” and I had to explain it to him. I gave him a whole history of how Malcom McLaren had come over to New York and had sort of managed the Dolls

CM:     Yeah, he was the last of the Dolls’ bad managers.

BB:      Kind of ruined them too, didn’t he?

CM:     Well, I know Sylvain and Arthur Kane, so I’ve heard plenty of Malcolm stories.

JR:       Have you heard the one about when I hit him in the dressing room up at the Whiskey?

CM:     No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one…let’s hear it, Johnny!

JR:       Well he was in the dressing room, and I’m already offended that this guy was in my dressing room, and he says to some girl I was seeing at the time, “Hey, what’s his problem?” And I go, “What’s my problem?” And I punched him. Then I pick up Dee Dee’s bass and I go to hit him over the head with it, and they drag him out.

CM:     Just in the nick of time!

Scott Hatteberg: Filth & The Fury fan?

JR:       I don’t need this guy asking, “What’s my problem?”

CM:     Well, you know, after the Dolls broke up, Malcolm took Sylvain’s guitar back to England with him. And in some of the early Sex Pistols stuff, you see Steve Jones playing this white guitar…

JR:       The white Falcon…

CM:     Yeah, Syl’s white Falcon, exactly!

JR:       He had the Dolls dressing up in the red patent leather with the communist hammer & sickle backdrop behind them. And I’m going, “What is this?” You know?

BB:      Well, when I gave Hatteberg “The Filth & the Fury,” I explained to him the differences between the New York scene and the English scene. He actually went home and watched it and he was just blown away. He couldn’t believe how great it was!

JR:       Oh, he was liking it then?

BB:      Oh, he loved it! A couple of years ago when the Pistols did their reunion tour, I figured I had to go, right? So I went out, and there was a whole group of young guys. And then there were guys like me wearing, you know, middle-aged man clothes, who had actually bought the first 8-track! Anyway, on the last song, a young guy behind me decides the best thing to do was to push the guy in front of him. So I’m sitting there with my brother and his friend and coming this close to getting into a fistfight at a concert. I was the assistant GM at the time, so my brother grabs me and goes, “You’re the assistant GM with the A’s, you don’t need to be getting into fights at punk rock concerts!”

JR:       That would have been terrific, yeah!

BB:      The purists would say, “Oh, you can’t go see the Pistols now, it’s not the same thing.” But I’ll tell you what, it was great!

JR:       The best band I’ve seen since I got started in like ’74 were the Clash at a certain point…like around ’77-’78.

BB:      I saw them when they came over to the States on their first tour.

JR:       Yeah, with the “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” the second album tour. They were just tremendous on that tour.

BB:      When I saw them, Johnny, they had just come over, and they had not yet come out with “London Calling.” “London Calling” was due out in about six months.

The Clash: Just give 'em enough rope

JR:       So it was still after “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.”

BB:      Yeah, exactly.

JR:       They were probably at a peak there, because I saw them a year or so later, and they weren’t as good as they were the previous year. So they peaked. I guess this must have been in ’78, right?

BB:      Yeah, it was probably the Fall of ’78.

JR:       The first concert I went to see was the Rolling Stones in 1964. It was at Carnegie Hall in New York. I remember the date, June 20th, 1964.

BB:      My first one was KISS.

JR:       I see Paul Stanley around here. I’ve got him on the Ramones tribute record and he’s a really nice guy.

BB:      You guys played out here, Johnny, I think it ended up being your last tour. It was an outdoor amphitheater up in Concord, and I want to say it was ’93.

JR:       Well, the last tour would be ’96 when I did Lollapalooza. That was the last thing that I did. I retired then, and the only time I’ve ever played again was one song with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones song and they wanted me to play one song with them.

BB:      Well, Dee Dee was actually up here about a year ago.

JR:       Yeah, Dee Dee died, you know?

BB:      Yeah, I remember the day it happened in fact.

JR:       You know, from watching athletes play beyond their prime, I wanted to retire and stay retired. I did not want to get up there and perform, and be past my prime. I was already, but I had to continue on to reach a certain amount where I could comfortably retire. So I had planned out my retirement probably five years before I retired. And I’m definitely sticking to it. I don’t even touch the guitar.

BB:      Well in terms of your guitar-playing, as you got older, did you find yourself more interested in doing more with the guitar, or did you just love the style that you…

JR:       No! I never even touched the guitar. When I’d walk on the stage, that’s when I touched the guitar!

BB:      Just had a callous on that index finger, right?

JR:       Yeah, we’d keep touring and playing all the time. I just loved playing for the fans, otherwise to me it was like I hated being on the road. I loved getting on the stage and playing the hour-and-fifteen-minute show for the fans.

CM:     Everything else was just work, huh?

JR:       Yeah, everything else was just work! But I loved meeting the fans, talking to the fans. I signed autographs for every fan. It was such a good feeling knowing that if I talked to them for one minute, they seemed to be so excited and it would make their day. And I thought, “Wow, this is just great that I’m able to make their day just by being nice to them!”

Phil Spector: He never was able to wash the Ramones out of his hair

BB:      By the way, I actually liked “End Of The Century” that came out in ’79-’80, the one that Spector did with you guys. In fact, that was the first year I signed. I was in the instructional league and wearing that out. That’s when “Rock & Roll High School” came out too, the movie. And I remember all those problems that supposedly you guys had with Phil Spector doing that album. And you know, it was supposed to have been a nightmare recording it.

JR:       Right.

BB:      But I actually like the album. I think the sound is great!

JR:       Rhino just put out the next four albums starting with “End of the Century,” “Pleasant Dreams,” “Subterranean Jungle,” and “Too Tough To Die.” They came up with bonus tracks and demos and everything else. I’ll send you a bunch of stuff.

BB:      I was just saying…I never get tired of it! I go into a ballpark now, and some of the riffs that you guys had I hear in ballparks, and commercials…

JR:       Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Actually, I sit there, and when it comes on, if I’m at the ballpark, I feel embarrassed and I’ll look down. I try to hide.

BB:      Well, you know, I was in Berkeley about 11 years ago and I was gonna buy a guitar. So there was a young guy who was working at the guitar store. And he goes, “Well what do you like?” And I said to him, “Well, do you like the Ramones?” And he looked at me straight as can be and goes, “Doesn’t everyone?”

JR:       I wish!

BB:      …as if that was a ridiculous question to even ask! But I remember, even in the ’80s in Milwaukee, they used to play the intro to “Blitzkrieg Bop!”

JR:       Yeah, a lot of the ballparks put it on.

BB:      Well Milwaukee was one of the first to do it in the ’80s. And with “Blitzkrieg Bop,” they never played the words, they just played the intro.

JR:       Yeah. “Hey, ho, let’s go!” They play it at Yankee Stadium all the time.

Bay City Rollers: the Ramones' biggest threat?

BB:      Well it must be flattering, especially when you think about the first time you guys put that riff together, and you’re thinking “Hey, this works!” And then…

JR:       Well, we had written that song because we had heard the Bay City Rollers doing “Saturday Night.” And we thought that was our competition, the Bay City Rollers. So we had to come up with a song that had a chant ’cause they had one too.

CM:     That was gonna be your big pop hit!

BB:      Well, I think you outlasted them!

JR:       So what are they going to do about steroid use, Billy? How do we go 37 years with Roger Maris’s record there, and then have it broken six times or something in this recent period? They’ve made a joke of these records that stood…it’s not adding up.

BB:      Well, obviously when things happen people are always going to start to wonder. But it sounds like they’re working on something that I think, if anything, would lend itself to at least putting away some of the questions about some of the things that are going on.

JR:       Well if I was hitting 50 homers and I was not on steroids, I would come forward and say, “I volunteer to be tested.”

BB:      Yeah, if I was hitting 50 homers…well if I was hitting 50 homers, I wouldn’t be the GM of the A’s right now! But you know, all through the ’80s, weightlifting was totally taboo in baseball. And guys now lift weights in baseball like they do in football, so there’s no question that the players are stronger because they are working harder. When I first got in the game, the only thing guys did was they hit and they threw. The conditioning they did was very minimal compared to now.

JR:       Yeah, that part is all true. But no one’s hitting home runs any farther than Mickey Mantle.

Mickey Mantle: They're still not hitting 'em any farther than this guy!

BB:      Well there are certain guys, Mantle being one of them, that transcend time anyway. And I always believe that even in the game now, there’s a group of players that is so much better. They’re at such a level beyond everybody else that it’s like Jordan in basketball. Bonds is one of those guys, and so was Mantle, and guys like McGwire. Put him in any era, 20 years from now, and he’s just gonna be exactly what he was, a tremendous player!

JR:       Right, the great players would be great in any era.

JR:       Well, it looks like it’s gonna be the A’s and the Yankees again this year!

BB:      Well, we’ll cross our fingers. I hope we get a chance at them. We’ve got a tough division.

CM:     Do you watch all the Yankee games on cable, Johnny?

JR:       Oh yeah. You know, occasionally I’m cheated out of a couple though. They don’t have them all on.

CM:     Do you get out to many games since you’ve moved to southern California?

JR:       No, not that many because my wife doesn’t want to go. And I’m sort of at home with my wife now. But retirement’s great though…I love it! This is what I’ve looked forward to all my life. It was a little weird the first year, sitting around and missing playing. But I knew that’s how it was gonna be. That’s why boxers don’t get out; that’s why ballplayers don’t get out. But I tried to prepare myself for that mentally. Look, I did it for 22 years…time to move on with my life. You know, I’ve been married for 20 years and I’m just happy being home with my wife.

CM:     Well, it’s time to start spending more time focusing on baseball now, Johnny!

JR:       Yeah, trust me, I do plenty of that!

BB:      You’re a collector too, right Johnny?

JR:       Yeah, I’m a collector. I don’t have it anymore, but I had probably the largest autographed 8×10 collection in the country. I had about 5,500 different players’ autographed 8x10s…pretty much from 1950 on, probably 75% of the players. But I’m also a movie poster collector. So I decided to liquidate that collection a few months ago and put the money towards movie posters. I just wanted to make it easier on my wife in case anything ever happened to me. So I just took the money and put it into some 1930s horror movie posters that I collect. My friend Kirk Hammett from Metallica, he’s a huge collector too. He lives in San Francisco…but unfortunately, he’s not a baseball fan!

BB:      Well if there’s any baseball stuff I could get you…

JR:       Well I do collect team-autographed balls!

BB:      Well I’ll get you one of those!

JR:       I have mostly ’50s stuff…’55 Senators, ’55 White Sox, ’55 Cardinals. But guys now don’t write as neat as they used to…every signature was so perfect! But I’d love to be able to add something…

BB:      Well why don’t we be optimistic and say that you’ll be getting the 2002 World Champion team ball?!

JR:       Well if I had an Oakland A’s team ball, I might have to start rooting for them!

BB:      That’s what I’m banking on! Well like I said, I tried to stop from gushing, but I’m like a Star Trek fan when it comes to the Ramones. Thanks for taking the time out, Johnny. I really appreciate it. I’m a huge fan, as big as they come!

JR:       Yeah, it was great talking to you too!

 

You can also check out my original review of Moneyball from back in 2003 here… ChinMusic! – Moneyball Book Review

 

Yours truly with Johnny and Billy in 2002

 

Exclusive: A’s GM Billy Beane Talks Trades and Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2

Billy Beane, pondering the A's outfield picture

Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of our exclusive interview with A’s general manager Billy Beane, where he discussed the talents of Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the Trevor Cahill deal with the Diamondbacks, and the big Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals. In today’s episode, we’ll cover the Andrew Bailey deal with the Red Sox, what he looks for in minor league players, his favorite new bands, and his biggest catch of the offseason. Now let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

AF: Now let’s take a look at the Boston deal for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. You got Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara. Obviously, Reddick is the guy we’re expecting to see first. So what did you really like about him?

BB: He had a real good year last year with Boston just coming up – he’s still very young. We were at the time certainly still in desperate need of some young outfielders who were ready to step in. Josh is a great defender and a very, very athletic kid, and a guy that we always liked even before this year. So given the need at the position and some of the success that he had his first year out, we thought he’d be a good fit for us.

AF: I guess you’re looking at him as primarily a corner outfielder at this point.

BB: Probably most of the time, but Josh has the ability to play center too. So that’s nice to have, particularly if you need to give guys rest. But he’s an outstanding corner guy and he’s a very capable center fielder, which is never a bad thing.

AF: It sounds like you’re going to have a lot of capable center fielders on the roster this year.

BB: Yeah, well it’s nice to have. You’ve got to give guys rest. And if someone goes down, you really don’t want to be stuck with just one because it creates this huge hole. So having guys you can move around if needed is great to have as a manager.

AF: Guys getting injured? Imagine that!

Josh Reddick: To shave or not to shave? That is the question! (photo by Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill.net)

BB: Yeah, exactly!

AF: I’m assuming Josh Reddick’s going to have every shot at being a starting outfielder for you in the major leagues this year, right?

BB: Yeah, that’s the thought. Yes.

AF: Now Miles Head is someone people weren’t quite as familiar with. I think he’s only had one full year in the minors. What about him got your attention?

BB: Well, he took some big strides forward with the bat this year. He had a very good offensive year. His original position was third, and we’re going to move him back over to third. And if he can combine his offense with some capable defense, he’s a pretty interesting prospect. But he made some huge strides last year offensively, and that’s what brought him to our notice.

AF: The final piece of that deal was Raul Alcantara, a very young pitcher. What did you like about him?

BB: Well we saw him in the Gulf Coast League a couple times and he was very impressive down there. Once again, he’s got a very good fastball, a good arm, and showed himself very well for a young kid. And we were very impressed with him.

AF: Now when you’re looking at minor league hitters, whether your own players or other people’s, what are the key things you’re looking for?

BB: Well, I think the whole game is about controlling the strike zone, whether you’re a pitcher trying to get hitters to swing outside the zone or you’re a hitter trying to shrink the strike zone. And it’s a skill set that translates from the minor leagues to the major leagues very well, so that’s certainly one of the first things we look at. And let’s face it, it’s still hitting, so the ability to make solid contact on a consistent basis is always pretty important.

AF: What about minor league pitchers? What are the first things you’re looking at when evaluating them?

BB: I think you always like to see strikeouts, swings and misses, because it’s not dependent on anything else. And it’s also a good indicator of a guy’s future success in the major leagues. So it’s nice to see guys who strike guys out and miss bats.

AF: Well it seems like a lot of the guys you’ve gotten this offseason are pretty hard throwers and have some pretty good strikeout numbers, so it sounds like that’s really the direction you’re going.

BB: Let’s put it this way, you don’t have to throw hard to strike guys out, but it helps. There’s certainly a correlation between strikeouts and velocity. But strikeouts are a good indication of what a guy’s stuff is like. And if guys can’t hit it, it must be pretty good.

AF: Now this offseason, you acquired a lot of young pitchers, and a few young hitters. You’ve also had some young hitting prospects in the system for the last few years. And it seems like you’ve opened up plenty of opportunities for the young pitchers to play and make it at the major league level this year. But you’ve also gone out and acquired some major league hitters and maybe not opened the door quite so wide for some of your young hitting prospects. So what was the thinking behind that?

BB: Well our feeling is, you’ll get the opportunity when you sort of earn that. If we thought guys were ready or had proven they’re ready with their minor league performance, we would give them that opportunity. But in many cases, that just isn’t what’s happened. Minor league players don’t stay minor league players for very long if they hit well. It’s really that simple.

AF: If you earn it, it will come!

BB: Yeah, absolutely.

AF: I’m curious to know how the season looks from a general manager’s perspective. What’s the slowest time of the year for you when you can maybe turn your focus away from baseball for a minute and take a vacation or do something else?

BB: Nowadays, I’m not sure there is. There’s never a day when there’s not something for you to do. But probably the time when a lot of the industry will at least take a little bit of a break is between Christmas and New Year’s. But there’s very little time other than that when you’re not really working on something. Even when I go on vacation, usually I’m working. We take the family to Hawaii every year, but every year I’m usually up early in the morning making calls and trying to get things done before we get out for the day. But it’s turned into probably a 360-day-a-year job. And with the access to general managers through mobile phones and e-mail, it really never shuts down.

AF: I guess it’s not like the old days when you could go on vacation and people couldn’t find you.

BB: It actually works out good because when you are away, you don’t feel disconnected. Sometimes vacations are no fun if you know there’s a lot of stuff piling up on your desk. I think it works out good because I think you actually have more freedom now because you can get a hold of people so much easier than you could ten years ago. So I actually think it’s a good thing.

AF: So you don’t have to rush back to the office to deal with everything.

BB: Yeah, exactly.

AF: So what’s the busiest and most intense time of the year for you?

BB: When the World Series ends up through Christmas is by far the most intense and busiest time as far as the workload goes. Every year, that period is the one when you’ve always got something to do and your day never seems to end – right up to the Winter Meetings and even up until Christmas – that’s by far the busiest time.

AF: And when do you start preparing for the draft?

BB: Right after the start of the year. The scouting department is getting everything ready. They’re having their meetings.

AF: I’m assuming you’re in a pretty intense mode leading up to the draft in June.

BB: Yeah, for the scouting department it’s intense for them until the draft. And for myself and David Forst and some of the other guys, it’s pretty involved just making sure that we see some of the guys we can in April and May leading up to the draft in June.

AF: So what’s the most interesting non-baseball experience you’ve had this offseason?

Billy Beane's biggest catch of the offseason?

BB: Catching a 30-pound salmon on a fly rod! That was probably the most interesting and the most fun non-baseball thing.

AF: Where were you fishing at?

BB: Up near Redding on the lower Sacramento River.

AF: So I guess you’ll also be headed out to Hollywood for the Oscars soon, right?

BB: Yeah, that’s next weekend. So that should be fun. It’s been an interesting year with the movie and everything. And this will be sort of a bookend to it all. And it’s a great honor for the people who put the movie together, certainly for Brad Pitt and all the people who were nominated. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. And my wife and daughter are going to be there with me, so it’ll be a great experience.

AF: Any good new music you’ve been listening to lately?

Hey ho, let's go A's!

BB: I like that new M83 stuff that’s out – it’s a little different. I like the Dum Dum Girls. It’s got a little bit of that Raveonettes kind of sound – that wall of sound. I still like that National album that came out. The other band I like I’ve been hearing that I think is an L.A. band is Bleached. Those are a couple of the more recent ones.

AF: Well, you know the Johnny Ramone autobiography is coming out April 1st?

BB: Aw man, that’ll be great. I’ll look forward to it. It’s still hard to believe three of the original Ramones are no longer with us.

AF: But the drummers are all still alive!

BB: I know! I was just thumbing through this book on the Ramones, and I was looking at pictures of Johnny and Dee Dee and Joey, and they look so young. It just doesn’t seem like that long ago.

AF: I know. It’s amazing how quick they all went.

Shortly after that, like the Ramones, our connection was lost, as our intrepid general manager traversed the desert on his way to Phoenix. So that concludes our pre-season check-in with the A’s main man. Hopefully we’ll have some pleasantly surprising new developments to discuss when we check in again in the post-season. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section. And be sure to check back in at A’s Farm this weekend, when I’ll be re-posting my Billy Beane/Johnny Ramone joint interview from the memorable Moneyball/winning streak season of 2002!

Exclusive: A’s GM Billy Beane Talks Trades and Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1

A's GM Billy Beane is cornered by a horde of hungry sportswriters at the general managers' meetings in Florida (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

To very loosely paraphrase that old-time sports junkie Alfred, Lord Tennyson…“it’s spring training and a young man’s fancy turns to baseball!” Well, not just young men’s, but lots of middle-aged and old men’s too! It’s also a time for general managers and front office staffs to evaluate just what they’ve got to work with. And few of them will be casting their eyes on as vast a sea of unrecognizable faces as our own general manager, Billy Beane, who spent much of the offseason acquiring talented young prospects that most of us wouldn’t recognize if we were standing next to them at one of the Coliseum’s communal urinal troughs!

A’s Farm took the opportunity to talk with Mr. Beane late last week, just prior to his arrival in Phoenix for the start of spring training, and just shortly before the mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers. We wanted to get his take on all the hot young prospects he spent his winter working to get his mitts on. Neither his reported contract extension with the team nor the Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez signings were official at the time of this interview, so he couldn’t comment much on those subjects. But I think his passion for the team and his excitement over the talented core of young players he’s assembled clearly show through here. So without any further ado, let’s go to the tape…

AF: Just to start out with, can you talk about your new contract extension that’ll reportedly be keeping you with the A’s through the 2019 season?

BB: We’re putting some finishing touches on it. It’s not quite finished, but I anticipate it being finished very soon. Conceptually we’re in agreement on most of the issues now and we’re just finishing it up.

AF: And is there anything new to report on the whole situation with the potential move to San Jose?

BB: Unfortunately, no news on the San Jose, or stadium front, as I like to call it. We just continue to patiently wait for some decision. We’ve been told straight-up that it’s going to come soon. It hasn’t, but we still continue to wait. There’s been no new news recently.

AF: I guess you’ve been having to give that same answer for a while now.

BB: Yeah, unfortunately we have. But there’s nothing we can do about it. The powers that be have their own timetable and things that they have to do, so we just patiently wait.

AF: Though it’s not official yet, the A’s have reportedly signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a 4-year deal. So what can you say about him at this point?

BB: He’s a very talented player that we’ve spent a significant amount of time scouting. He’s a center-of-the-diamond player. He’s got tremendous physical skill. He’s played at the highest level internationally on arguably the best amateur team in the world. And it’s hard to find that kind of talent out there.

AF: Well let’s get to all the big offseason deals. When you first started talking to Arizona about a potential trade for Trevor Cahill, was Jarrod Parker one of first names that came to your mind?

Will Jarrod Parker wind up in the rotation? (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

BB: If we were going to give up a pitcher in our starting rotation, particularly someone of Trevor’s caliber, one of the places we were going to have to start was with someone we felt could replace Trevor in the rotation very quickly. The Diamondbacks have a number of good young pitching prospects, and Jarrod certainly was near the top of the list for us.

AF: What stood out most about him to you?

BB: He’s been a pretty high profile kid since he came out of high school. I believe he was the tenth player in the draft, so he’s always been on everybody’s radar screen. He had Tommy John surgery a couple years ago and he bounced back well from that. He’s not a real big kid, but he’s got a real explosive fastball. And of everything we know, he’s supposed to be a tremendous kid with great makeup and competitiveness as well. So we gave up a very good pitcher, and what we really did was turn back the clock a little bit in terms of the service time and the cost. So we were fortunate and happy to get Jarrod and fortunate that Arizona would consider moving him to us.

AF: Is there anything you feel he still needs to work on?

BB: Usually with young pitchers, it’s just refining their command of the strike zone. Most guys who get to the big leagues can throw a strike, but it’s also about throwing quality strikes. And that sometimes comes with experience. So I think in Jarrod’s case, it’s just being even finer with his command – and continue to work on his breaking ball, because he certainly has a major league fastball.

AF: And what do you think his prospects are for making the major league roster?

BB: Well he’s certainly going to get the opportunity, along with all the young pitchers. Some of it will be depending on where Dallas Braden is in his recovery. Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross – those guys will probably get a shot at the rotation, because we’ve lost a couple guys and Dallas may not be ready, and we may take it slow with him. I think he’s doing great, and I think he anticipates being ready. But if we’ve got a lot of depth with young guys, we may opt to go very slow with Dallas and make sure he holds up all year.

AF: So do you consider it pretty wide open for the final two or, if Braden’s not ready, three spots in the rotation – with Milone, Peacock, Parker, Godfrey, and Ross?

BB: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

AF: I know you’ve had your eye on outfielder Collin Cowgill for a while now. I think you drafted him once and have tried to trade for him before.

BB: Yeah, we had a long history with Collin. We’d drafted him the year before he signed [with Arizona] out of Kentucky, and he opted to go back to school. And over the course of the last couple years in pro ball, we’ve always liked him as a player. We just weren’t able to get him over in a deal. He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three positions and is ready to take the next step in the big leagues. He was a good fit as well in terms of where he was at in his development. He’s got a lot of skills, he’s got a little bit of power, he’s a good hitter and a good defender. He’s a pretty balanced all-around player.

AF: Is there anything you’d like to see him work on at this point?

Has Collin Cowgill earned his shot? (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

BB: Right now, he just needs to get some at bats at the major league level. He’s proven himself at every minor league stop. So hopefully we can just get him enough at bats. The fact that he’s right-handed will help that, and he can play center field. For him, it’s just experience and feeling comfortable. He had some big league experience last year and he had some postseason experience too. But we do like him as a player and we think he could have a long major league career with us.

AF: What do you think his odds are of making the major league roster out of camp?

BB: Well I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s done everything at every minor league level. So it’s really about giving him that chance. But he’s earned his way to the big leagues, and I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s got a lot of versatility too. It’s nice to have a guy who can play all three outfield positions.

AF: Now the final guy in the Arizona deal was reliever Ryan Cook. What did you see in him that made you want to get him included in this deal?

BB: Well he’s a guy who made some huge strides last year. He was converted from a starter to the bullpen. He’s got a big arm. He’s the kind of guy you like to have in the bullpen – a big power arm. He got a little bit of big league time last year, but really took a step forward. It’s nice to have guys with that kind of velocity in your bullpen. And he’s a guy we actually tried earlier in the year to get in another deal. So we were happy to get him as well.

AF: How hard does he throw?

BB: He can get it up there 95-96mph. He’s definitely well above the 90 mark. He can get in the mid-90s.

AF: Will he have every chance of making the major league roster?

BB: Yeah, it’s hard to say. Someone of those things we’ll be sorting out during the spring. But he’ll be given a chance.

AF: Now when you started talking to Washington about the deal for Gio Gonzalez, was there one name on the top of your list that you were intent on getting included in that deal from the start?

BB: We liked all four players quite a bit. It was a challenge getting all four, but we knew we had a pretty good pitcher we were trading. And I think, to Washington’s credit, it was a pretty competitive trade market. There were a lot of teams interested in Gio. But I don’t know that we’ve had a deal since I’ve been here where we’ve really liked every player at the level we like these guys. We think all of them are going to be major league players. The three pitchers have a chance to be major league starters. And in Norris’s case, we think he’s going to be a front-line major league catcher. So to get that many guys you think are going to be major leaguer starters or front-line major leaguers, I think is pretty unusual, so we were very pleased with what we got back.

AF: Well that deal certainly did a lot to fortify your whole system and it looks like those three guys could be the core of your major league rotation for some time to come.

BB: Yeah, hopefully. With a small market club, you kind of have to develop your own pitching. And when you trade for it, you have to get it pretty young. We’re not going to make much headway going through the free agent market for pitchers. It’s expensive and it’s pretty risky. So this is the way we have to do it. Hopefully this group will be a group that stays together for a long time. A lot of it’s predicated on what our future is.

AF: So let’s break it down one by one. Tom Milone, a left-hander, seems to be a pretty smart pitcher who knows what he’s doing. What did you see in him that you really liked?

Can Tom Milone replace Gio in the rotation, and as Dallas Braden's favorite lefty friend? (photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI)

BB: He’s a little bit like Dallas Braden. He’s a pitcher who’s really dominated at every level he’s been at since he signed. He’s not going to wow you with his fastball velocity like Dallas. But he really knows how to pitch. He’s got great command. And ever since he came out of the draft, he really hasn’t hit any rough spots whatsoever.

AF: Now Brad Peacock was the lowest drafted of all the guys you got this offseason, but his minor league numbers were great. What did you see in him you really liked?

BB: Well he was a converted guy. So he really just started pitching. But he’s got a power arm and a real sort of heavy fastball. He had a great year and pitched a little bit in the big leagues. But he was one of the better pitchers in the Eastern League and one of the top prospects for Washington, so we were pretty excited to get him in this deal.

AF: He had an awful lot of strikeouts. What’s his best pitch, and how hard does he throw?

BB: He’s got an explosive fastball. The fastball’s the best pitch for anybody to start with. So it all starts with his fastball. And I think he was near the top in the minor leagues in strikeouts per nine last year, and that’s usually a pretty good indicator of how a guy might do in the major leagues. He can get it up there 93-94mph with some movement and it’s got some pop to it.

AF: Now the other pitcher in that deal was A.J. Cole. He’s very young, but people rank him very highly and think he’s very talented. What got you excited about him?

BB: He was a high-profile high school kid out of the draft. He’s got sort of a classic pitcher’s build – long, lean with a real loose arm. He’s got a tremendous amount of talent, starting with his fastball – which he can get up to the mid-90s – which again, is a great place to start. He’s the farthest away of anybody, but he could have the highest upside of anybody.

AF: Where do you see him starting out this year, probably in Stockton?

BB: It’s hard to say right now. That would be the logical next step for him. But I don’t want to make any commitments till I’ve gotten a chance to get to know the kid.

AF: The final piece in that deal was catcher Derek Norris. He seems like a classic guy you might be interested in. He gets on base, he has some power. I know he had a low batting average the last year or two. I don’t know much about his defensive skills. So tell me how you see him?

BB: Well, just as you said. It’s hard to find a guy at that position who hits for power and gets on base. He’s not dissimilar to the way Mike Napoli was when he was coming up with the Angels. His throwing was very good last year. He throws runners out at a very high clip. So he’s got a good combination of skills for that position. He’s very athletic. He actually runs pretty well. He probably runs well enough to be an outfielder if you needed him to be.

AF: Do you view him as a catcher though?

BB: Yeah, he’s definitely a catcher. It’s just unusual to find a catcher who runs that well and is as athletic as he is.

AF: Do you anticipate him ending up in Triple-A or do you think he needs any more time in Double-A?

BB: I think he’s about ready to take the next step. We’ll see how spring goes, but I don’t think we have any illusions about whether he’s going to go back to Double-A.

 

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our exclusive interview with A’s GM Billy Beane, in which he discusses the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, what he looks for in minor league players, his favorite new bands, and his biggest catch of the offseason! In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section.

 

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