A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/24/13

Major League Camp and Game vs. LA Dodgers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

The A’s beat the Dodgers 7-4 with catcher Derek Norris blasting his team-leading 5th home run and A.J. Griffin allowing 4 runs and striking out 8 in 4 2/3 innings of work to earn his second win on the spring. But the arrival of new first baseman Nate Freiman (pronounced “Fry-man”) was the big development around camp today. Everyone from broadcaster Ken Korach to assistant GM David Forst made a point of introducing themselves to the 6’8” slugger. And Forst seemed particularly eager to see the team’s latest acquisition take batting practice, after which he pronounced, “The power is there.” After the game, it was announced that the team had optioned second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Shane Peterson to Triple-A Sacramento.

Bob Melvin and Chili Davis engaged in a pre-game staring contest

Chili Davis can confirm that Bob Melvin walks softly but carries a big stick

A's spring training coach Phil Garner keeping an eye on infield drills

A’s spring training coach Phil Garner keeping an eye on infield drills

The A's new 6'8" first baseman Nate Freiman

The A’s new 6’8″ first baseman Nate Freiman

A's Asst. GM David Forst came down introduce himself to Nate Freiman and to watch his new first baseman take batting practice

A’s Asst. GM David Forst came down to introduce himself to Nate Freiman and watch his new first baseman take batting practice

Nate Freiman showed some real power in batting practice

Nate Freiman showed some real power in batting practice

Fireballer Mike Gallego takes his turn on the mound

Fireballer Mike Gallego takes his turn on the mound

Yoenis Cespedes engaged in his pre-batting practice bat-grooming ritual

Yoenis Cespedes engaged in his pre-batting practice bat-grooming ritual

Yoenis Cespedes takes his hacks in the cage

Yoenis Cespedes takes his hacks in the cage

Cespedes, Gallego, Melvin, Moss & Smith engage in a little friendly pre-game banter around the cage

Cespedes, Gallego, Melvin, Moss & Smith engage in a little friendly pre-game banter around the cage

Chris Young autographs balls for some inappropriately-attired youngsters in the A's dugout before the game

Chris Young autographs balls for some inappropriately-attired youngsters in the A’s dugout before the game

Chris Young led off for the A's on Sunday

Chris Young led off for the A’s on Sunday

Scott Sizemore - one of the final contestants, along with Eric Sogard, in the A's second base competition

Scott Sizemore – one of the remaining contestants in the A’s second base competition

Nate Freiman went 0-for-4 in his spring debut for the A's

Nate Freiman went 0-for-4 in his debut for the A’s

Shane Peterson singled to finish the spring hitting .408 before being sent down right after the game

Shane Peterson singled to finish the spring hitting .408 before being sent down right after the game

Former A's second baseman Mark Ellis just looking wrong in Dodger blue

Former A’s second baseman Mark Ellis just looking wrong in Dodger blue

 

Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…

 

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!

A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/23/13

 

Minor League Camp at Papago Park

There was a lot of action at the A’s minor league camp on Saturday, with Michael Ynoa making the start in the Double-A game and Hiro Nakajima getting in a few innings at second base in the Triple-A game. Ynoa’s fastball was topping out in the mid-90s, and Nakajima blasted an opposite field home run.

Michael Ynoa on the bullpen mound before his start in Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

Michael Ynoa on the bullpen mound before his start in Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

Michael Ynoa warming up before Saturday’s start

Michael Ynoa warming up before Saturday’s start

Michael Ynoa is a towering figure on the mound at Papago Park

Michael Ynoa is a towering figure on the mound at Papago Park

Michael Ynoa was throwing in the mid-90s in Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

Michael Ynoa was throwing in the mid-90s in Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

Hiro Nakajima sees what the world looks like from second base in Saturday’s Triple-A game at Papago Park

Hiro Nakajima sees what the world looks like from second base in Saturday’s Triple-A game at Papago Park

Not only did Hiro play second base and shortstop in Saturday’s Triple-A game, but he hit a home run as well

Not only did Hiro play second base and shortstop in Saturday’s Triple-A game, but he hit a home run as well

Grant Green at the plate in Saturday’s Triple-A game at Papago Park

Grant Green at the plate in Saturday’s Triple-A game at Papago Park

The home run king of the A’s minor league system in 2012, outfielder Dusty Robinson hit 27 home runs between Burlington and Stockton last season

The home run king of the A’s minor league system in 2012, outfielder Dusty Robinson hit 27 home runs between Burlington and Stockton last season

Players and coaches hanging out in and around the dugout during Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

Players and coaches hanging out in and around the dugout during Saturday’s Double-A game at Papago Park

 

Major League Game vs. SF Giants at Scottsdale Stadium

The A’s topped the Giants 12-5 with Tommy Milone earning the win in his last start in Arizona this spring. But the big news was that Eric Sogard had another perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a home run in his underdog bid to overtake the favorites in the A’s heated second base competition.

Tommy Milone gave up 3 runs and struck out 4 in 5 1/3 innings to earn the win against the Giants in Scottsdale on Saturday

Tommy Milone gave up 3 runs and struck out 4 in 5 1/3 innings to earn the win against the Giants in Scottsdale on Saturday

Jordan Norberto tossed a scoreless inning of relief in Saturday’s win against the Giants

Jordan Norberto tossed a scoreless inning of relief in Saturday’s win against the Giants

The biggest A’s fans from Texas, Allie and Keri, supporting the Green & Gold in Scottsdale on Saturday

The biggest A’s fans from Texas, Keri and Allie, supporting the Green & Gold in Scottsdale on Saturday

 

Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…

 

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!

A’s Spring Training Tour – 3/22/13

Minor League Camp at Papago Park

Infield propsect Chris Bostick rockin’ the old school stirrups

Infield propsect Chris Bostick rockin’ the old school stirrups

2011 3rd round pick third baseman B.A. Vollmuth

2011 3rd round pick third baseman B.A. Vollmuth

Outfielder B.J. Boyd crossing the plate after Max Muncy’s home run

Outfielder B.J. Boyd crossing the plate after Max Muncy’s home run

Prospect Matt Olson casts an imposing presence at first base

Prospect Matt Olson casts an imposing presence at first base

Top prospect Addison Russell still drawing rave reviews

Top prospect Addison Russell still drawing rave reviews

The Golden Child in the field

The Golden Child in the field

The dugout at Papago Park

The dugout at Papago Park

 

Major League Camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

The team hits the field at Phoenix Muni

The team hits the field at Phoenix Muni

Okay now everyone pretend you’re a tree!

Okay now everyone pretend you’re a tree!

Manager Bob Melvin’s pre-game press conference

Manager Bob Melvin’s pre-game press conference

The always entertaining Mike Gallego

The always entertaining Mike Gallego

Mike Gallego clearly looks up to Bob Melvin

Mike Gallego clearly looks up to Bob Melvin

Derek Norris taking charge behind the plate

Derek Norris taking charge behind the plate

Yoenis Cespedes grooming his bat and grooming himself

Yoenis Cespedes grooming his bat and grooming himself

Coco Crisp performing his amazing one-handed bat-balancing act

Coco Crisp performing his amazing one-handed bat-balancing act

Josh Reddick giving his follicles a workout

Josh Reddick giving his follicles a workout

A’s PR Director Bob Rose asking Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, “C’mon guys, why can’t I take batting practice?” Check out Bob’s blog at: http://clubhouseconfidential.mlblogs.com/

A’s PR Director Bob Rose asking Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, “C’mon guys, why can’t I take batting practice?” Check out Bob’s blog at: http://clubhouseconfidential.mlblogs.com

Coco Crisp getting serious in the batting cage

Coco Crisp getting serious in the batting cage

The scene at Phoenix Muni

The scene at Phoenix Muni

The view from the press box

The view from the press box

Rollie & Campy – Rollie Fingers & Bert Campaneris have been there and done that – three times!

Rollie & Campy – Rollie Fingers & Bert Campaneris have been there and done that – three times!

 

Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…

 

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!

Spring’s Young Over-Achievers!

Spring training leaves A's manager Bob Melvin with a lot to contemplate

Spring training leaves A’s manager Bob Melvin with a lot to contemplate

Well, we’re a little over three weeks into spring training now, and we’ve had the chance to get a good look at a number of the A’s most promising young hitters. There are 13 hitters who are likely to start the season in the A’s minor league system who’ve gotten into anywhere between 4 and 21 major league spring training games thus far – and most of them have performed pretty well!

However, only 3 of the 13 still remain in major league camp – outfielder Shane Peterson along with infielders Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard. They aren’t the only ones to make their mark though. Catcher David Freitas, infielders Jefry Marte, Grant Green and Darwin Perez as well as outfielder Michael Choice all hit the ball well during their time with the major league team.

Below is a list of the 13 players who we’re likely to see starting the year at Sacramento, Midland or Stockton who got at least 10 at-bats in major league games this spring, followed by a profile of a few particular over-achievers…

 

Shane Peterson (OF-1B) 18-for-42 / 6 2B / 1 HR / .429 AVG / .489 OBP / .690 SLG

Michael Choice (OF) 13-for-42 / 2 2B / 1 HR / .310 AVG / .333 OBP / .476 SLG

Eric Sogard (IF) 16-for-31 / 7 2B / 0 HR / .516 AVG / .559 OBP / .742 SLG

Andy Parrino (IF) 12-for-31 / 5 2B / 1 HR / .387 AVG / .457 OBP / .645 SLG

Michael Taylor (OF) 5-for-23 / 2 2B / 0 HR / .217 AVG / .250 OBP / .304 SLG

Grant Green (IF-OF) 9-for-22 / 5 2B / 0 HR / .409 AVG / .409 OBP / .636 SLG

Scott Moore (IF-OF) 4-for-20 / 0 2B / 1 HR / .200 AVG / .304 OBP / .350 SLG

David Freitas (C) 8-for-17 / 1 2B / 1 HR / .471 AVG / .471 OBP / .706 SLG

Luke Montz (C) 1-for-17 / 0 2B / 1 HR / .059 AVG / .105 OBP / .235 SLG

Addison Russell (SS) 4-for-16 / 1 2B / 0 HR / .250 AVG / .294 OBP / .313 SLG

Darwin Perez (IF) 5-for-15 / 1 2B / 0 HR / .333 AVG / .412 OBP / .400 SLG

Jefry Marte (3B) 4-for-10 / 2 2B / 0 HR / .400 AVG / .455 OBP / .600 SLG

Miles Head (3B) 1-for-10 / 0 2B / 0 HR / .100 AVG / .091 OBP / .100 SLG

 

ERIC SOGARD

esEric+Sogard+Oakland+Athletics+Photo+Day+-UWwbavIYEwlWith Hiro Nakajima and Jed Lowrie added to the roster in the off-season and Adam Rosales both out of options and carrying a guaranteed contract, Sogard’s likely to start the season bouncing around Sacramento’s infield. But his spring performance has certainly helped to keep his name in play anyway. In his first 31 at-bats, Sogard is hitting over .500 and leads the team with 7 doubles. He also has just 1 strikeout. And with that kind of performance at the plate, if another infielder is needed in Oakland at some point, Sogard’s name should be quick to come to mind.

 

SHANE PETERSON

sphi-res-7054450_display_imageAt 25, Peterson has yet to see time in the majors. But let’s not forget that he was a 2nd-round draft pick for the Cardinals in 2008 before coming over to the A’s in the Matt Holliday deal. With five outfielders already on the A’s roster, there doesn’t appear to be much room for Peterson. But after posting an impressive .460 OBP last season between Sacramento and Midland, he’s definitely opened some eyes this spring by batting .429 in 42 at-bats while bashing 6 doubles. He’s likely to start the season in the Sacramento outfield, along with Michael Choice and Michael Taylor. But Peterson can also play first base, and he’ll undoubtedly see some time there as well, which could help offer him another route to the big leagues.

 

DAVID FREITAS

dfhi-res-7054388_display_imageNo one seemed to pay too much attention to Freitas when he came over from the Nationals last summer in the Kurt Suzuki deal. But they’re certainly noticing him now after he went 8-for-17 this spring, hitting .471 with a home run, a double and just 1 strikeout. Freitas has never played above Double-A though, and he’s likely to start the season at either Midland or Sacramento. But at this point, with the departure of Max Stassi, Freitas appears to be the most promising young catcher in the A’s minor league system.

 

ANDY PARRINO

apAndy+Parrino+San+Diego+Padres+Photo+Day+r2YPnsacmu2lParrino came to the A’s this off-season along with LHP Andrew Werner in the Tyson Ross trade. And much like Sogard, Parrino is another infielder whose chances of making the roster are greatly hindered by the presence of Lowrie, Nakajima and Rosales. He’s likely to start the season playing shortstop at Sacramento, though the A’s have been giving him some time in the outfield this spring as well. But Parrino has put himself on the map with his consistent hot-hitting this spring, going 12-for-31 and hitting .387 with 5 doubles and a home run. And if the shortstop spot proves troublesome for the A’s this season, Parrino could end up earning a shot.

 

 

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!

Spring Training Update – 3/18/13

 

A’s Farm’s update on the third week of spring training and the A’s big round of roster cuts…

 

A’s Spring Training Stats

Grant Green Stats

Michael Taylor Stats

Michael Choice Stats

David Freitas Stats

Scott Moore Stats

Darwin Perez Stats

Brian Gordon Stats

 

 

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!

Spring Training Update – 3/11/13

 

A’s Farm’s update on the second week of spring training and Shane Peterson’s hot start…

 

Shane Peterson Career Stats

A’s Spring Training Stats

 

 

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 Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2

fz0511cnzaidi_x582cYesterday, we brought you Part 1 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, where he gave us the lowdown on top prospects Addison Russell, Dan Straily, Michael Choice, Sonny Gray and Grant Green. In Part 2, we’ll cover Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez, Michael Ynoa and more of the A’s top prospects. So let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

AF:  Next on our list is a guy who got off to a phenomenal start last year, hitting probably as well as anyone in pro ball in the first half at Stockton, and who you guys very shrewdly targeted in last year’s trade with Boston – and that’s third baseman Miles Head. He came back down to earth a bit at Midland in the second half but still held his own there. Tell me what you think about Miles Head at his point and where you see him playing in the field this year now that you’ve got another third baseman like Jefry Marte in the system who’s basically at the same level as him.

mh542535_10150896496846662_1633034326_nFZ:  He was a guy that we did sort of tack on to that deal a little late. And one of the things about him, similar to the Brandon Moss story, when we went and looked at him in the 2011 season, he was a guy who got better every month – first in the South Atlantic League and then even in the Carolina League in 2011, where his overall numbers weren’t great. He was getting better there every month. We’re very optimistic about him. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system. He’s a very aggressive hitter. He wants to put the ball in play, and he makes consistently loud contact. Defensively, we moved him over to third base last year, the position he played as an amateur. Everybody has more value at third base than at first base. But in the long run, he’s going to be a guy who plays both positions. And with Marte in the system, and both of those guys potentially starting the year in Double-A, I think both guys will see time at both spots. That still enables both guys to get plenty of reps at third, but it’s a case where having that flexibility and experience at a couple of different spots doesn’t hurt.

AF:  The seventh guy on our list was your second overall draft pick last year, shortstop Daniel Robertson. He got off to a great start in the Arizona League. He had a little tougher time of it in his brief time at Vermont, but obviously everybody still seems to feel very positive about his abilities and what he’s capable of doing in the long run. So tell me what you think about Daniel Robertson at this stage of the game.

drdanielrobertson_mlb_display_imageFZ:  We feel very good about him. You’re right. He played very well in Arizona. He didn’t really have the results to show for it in Vermont, but nobody who was there thought that he was over-matched. And if he had another 10 or 20 games in the season at Vermont, I think he would have brought up his numbers. So we’re not concerned about that small sample that he had there. He’s one of the brightest and most motivated players I think we’ve ever brought into the system, so the intangibles that he brings in make you all the more excited about him. And our guys who really study swings, from (minor league hitting coordinator) Todd Steverson on down, all think he has one of the best and one of the most compact swings of the young guys out there. So that’s exciting when you hear about those kinds of skills that you know translate as you move up the ladder.

AF:  Where do you see him playing in the field this year? Do you see him still starting at shortstop, or do you plan on moving him around the infield a bit?

FZ:  It really sort of depends on how things shake out on the depth chart. His ability to play probably the most premium position on the field isn’t something you want to give up easily. So I think he’ll probably wind up getting time at both spots on the left side of the infield. But as well as he played short when he got the chance last year, we think it’s worth keeping him there and having him get some reps there.

rnnc3bac3b1ez-renato3AF:  Eighth on our list is another infielder who hit really well in Arizona last year, and that’s third baseman Renato Nunez. He obviously doesn’t seem to have any problem swinging the bat, but he’s been a little shaky in the field thus far. So tell me what you think of Nunez both offensively and defensively at this point.

FZ:  Yeah, you’re right. It was great to see him come over last year and put up the numbers that he did. And it was actually just a little unfortunate that we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to move him up to Vermont because he was as deserving as Robertson and Olson of getting that late-season promotion. Defensively, it’s a work in progress. He has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting a few reps. Our defensive coaches, Juan Navarrete and the rest of the group, feel good about his chances to improve at third. You know, people have said this for a long time, you don’t want to read too much into error totals at the low minor league level. I think Derek Jeter’s first full season error total (56 in 126 games) is one of the most constantly thrown around statistics. We’re not concerned about that. He has plenty of time to work on refining his skills.

nsresized_99261-5csanburn3colbw_47-15782_t728AF:  Ninth on our list is the top pitcher you took in the draft last year, right-hander Nolan Sanburn. He only got in about 18 or 19 innings last year, but a lot of people are very high on him. So with the limited opportunity you’ve had to see him, what do you think about him so far?

FZ:  It’s interesting. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the typical college pitcher we’ve drafted. He didn’t throw a ton of innings at Arkansas. He was only there for a year. He was really more of a middle reliever at Arkansas and didn’t get much of an opportunity to become a mainstay on that pitching staff for whatever reason. So what we got was a guy who you felt there was some track record, because he’s a guy who did pitch with a reasonable amount of success, but you also had the upside of a junior college or high school player almost. What we’ve seen so far has been really encouraging. He’s obviously got out stuff. He’s got a plus curveball. For him, he’s going to just have to work on his fastball command and refining a third pitch. But he has the physical build and endurance to be a starter. He’s got two pitches that are a really good foundation. And if he can refine the rest of his arsenal, he could be an impact-type guy.

cbC.-Bostick3AF:  Tenth on our list is a guy who certainly wasn’t a high draft pick but who a lot of people have been saying good things about – Chris Bostick, who’s been playing both second and short. I think he was drafted in the 44th round and the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, but there are a lot of folks who seem to have a good feeling about him.

FZ:  Chris was one of those guys at the tail end of the draft who we just wanted to see how he progressed over the summer. And he went to the NYCBL, which is probably one of the top ten summer college leagues around. And I’m not sure if he won the batting title, but he was either first or second in the league in hitting. I think he hit like .450. He had more walks than strikeouts. It was really one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a summer league for a kid who has just graduated from high school and was playing against college sophomores and juniors. So that’s what really got us excited about him. And you’re right, the numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he has that performance history and all the ingredients and tools are there. So he’s definitely a little bit under the radar, but someone we are excited about.

mo15095_4110106706138_1463379083_n2AF:  Your third overall draft pick last year, first baseman Matt Olson, is another guy who hit really well in the Arizona League and showed a lot of power there and looked good in a very brief stint with Vermont as well. So how to do you see Matt Olson at this point?

FZ:  You know, it isn’t our common practice to take a high school first baseman that high in the draft. If you do that, it’s because you feel really good and excited about the bat. And he was a guy who matched that description. He’s a guy who we think has future plus, or even double-plus, power. He hit some long home runs in Arizona and carried that over into Vermont. So he’s a guy who profiles as an above-average offensive first baseman, which is saying a lot, because that’s a position that demands a lot offensively. But the whole key is that he continues to progress and starts moving towards achieving that power projection.

AF:  And the final guy that everyone is always curious to know about is pitcher Michael Ynoa. After lots of time off due to injuries, he’s on the mend and getting back into the swing of things. So where are things at with Michael Ynoa?

mymichael-ynoa.p1FZ:  I really think that the way he finished last season has given us a lot of reason for optimism. He went out and pitched outside the Arizona League for the first time. He had a couple of rough outings, but also had a couple of positive outings. And the reports on his stuff were really very encouraging. He was up to 95-96 mph, showing a full arsenal of pitches. And that was something that he carried into the Instructional League – he was one of the best pitchers for us both in terms of stuff and performance. He unfortunately got a late start this spring. He was a little sick in the Dominican and didn’t get over until a week into camp. He threw his first live bullpen session today against hitters over at Phoenix Muni. If everything went well with that, then he should be able to get into a game sometime soon. I think that would be a huge achievement and benchmark for him. He’s a guy who I think we’ve always felt that once he can get over his injuries, with the kind of stuff he has, he can make up for some of the lost time he’s had over the last few years.

AF:  One last thing I’m curious to ask you about. When you’re analyzing minor league guys and their numbers, what is the first thing you’re looking at for both hitters and pitchers to try to get a handle on who the guys are who are most likely to be successful at the major league level?

FZ:  Well, for a hitter, to be honest, for me, one of the biggest and most important metrics is walks and strikeouts. Guys that have a good ratio – just because those are an indicator of good plate discipline – the guys who, for the most part, swing at strikes and don’t swing at balls. And with the kind of stuff that you face in the big leagues, if you can’t do that, your chances for success drop dramatically. Hey, I’m not going to complain about the guy who hits .300 or has a .600 slugging percentage, but really, that’s the first thing that I look at because having good plate discipline is what really enables a lot of the actual hitting production to translate at a higher level. As far as pitching goes, strikeouts are a big factor. The other thing that really goes along with that is strike percentage. And I say that because sometimes we forget that not all strikeouts are created equal. There’s a big difference between throwing three strikes and just overpowering a guy, and having a 7-8-9 pitch at-bat where you have a full count and the guy fouls off a few pitches and then finally you strike him out. That first type of strikeout is a lot better indicator of skill and performance than the second type – so that’s why looking at strikeouts in conjunction with strike percentage is so important to me. Like I mentioned, once you get to the big leagues, you have to be able to pitch in the strike zone. If you’re striking out players in the minors by getting them to chase, it’s going to be a lot harder to replicate that success at the highest level. So those are the first things that I look at for hitters and pitchers at the minor league level.

AF:  I was just reading something that said something pretty similar about walks and strikeouts for hitters. It was basically saying that whatever your hitting profile, once you get to the major leagues, you’re going to be striking out a lot more than you were in the minors. So you better start out with a decent ratio, because it’s going to be going down once you start having to face major league pitchers.

ycCincinnati Reds v Oakland AthleticsFZ:  You know, I think there’s this common perception that that’s not something that you can get better at. I look at Grant Green, who went from Double-A to Triple-A and actually cut his strikeout rates dramatically, and I think that was maybe the single most encouraging thing about Grant’s season last year. And you look at Yoenis Cespedes, and there have been many articles written about his plate discipline through the course of the season from April to September and how he started swinging at more strikes and fewer balls and how, as he continued to do that, his production continued on an upward trajectory. Guys can get better, so I would never want to totally doom somebody to failure. And frankly, on the flip side, just because you have a good walk/strikeout ratio doesn’t guarantee success. But I think it is one of the best statistical predictors of hitters’ success at the big league level.

AF:  Right, absolutely. That’s a lot of great information. I really appreciate it.

FZ:  No problem. Just imagine how much more informative it would have been if I wasn’t out driving around and was at my computer.

AF:  Well, the next time I talk to you, we’ll just have to make sure you’re staring at a computer!

*     *     *

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 Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1

fzFarhanZaidiLast month, we brought you A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, taking a look at some of the team’s top young talent down on the farm. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to talk with someone who could provide an even deeper insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And it’d be hard to find someone with more detailed information on the array of players in the A’s organization than the team’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi.

Farhan didn’t necessarily take the traditional route into baseball, earning a B.S. in economics from MIT and later earning his Ph.D in economics from UC Berkeley. He originally joined the A’s as a baseball operations analyst in January of 2005 and is currently entering his fifth season as the team’s director of baseball operations. Though he performs many different roles in his current position – including evaluating amateur draft targets, handling contract negotiations and developing advance scouting reports – as the economics major who feels a little disconnected when he’s too far away from his computer, Farhan is basically known as “the numbers guy” who oversees statistical analysis for the team.

We took the opportunity to talk to Farhan earlier in the week while he was making the long and boring drive back from the Royals’ and Rangers’ spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona after the A’s split squad had just lost to the Royals. He made a point of noting early on that he felt a little naked without his computer on hand and apologized for the lack of detailed statistical information that he’d have at the ready. But I think you’ll agree that, even without his computer, Farhan had plenty of valuable and insightful information to offer on all the A’s top prospects…

 

AF:  How would you describe what you do in your current role as director of baseball operations?

FZ:  It’s a real mix of stuff. The work that I was doing when I first started, which was conducting and supervising all the analysis, is still a very big part of my job. But it’s expanded into other things. Contract negotiations with agents – that’s something we split a few ways in the office. I travel with the team during the season. I’m pretty active in developing and maintaining the advance reports that we give to our coaches. And then I’m pretty active in the draft too. During the spring, I try see players who are guys who are first-round considerations for us. And I sort of manage the analysis that we do for the amateur draft as well.

AF:  So as far as the amateur draft goes, you’re both going out and seeing the players in person as well as analyzing their numbers and performance?

FZ:  Yeah.

AF:  Aren’t you quite involved in analyzing and targeting minor league free agents as well?

FZ:  Yeah, we don’t always get to aim super high on the major league free agent side. So pouring over the minor league free agents and being smart about which guys we bring in who can have a material impact on the major league team is a pretty big part of our operation. And guys like that, whether it’s Brandon Moss or Jim Miller or Evan Scribner, those guys play a big role for us every year. And in a year like last year where he have some success, they become all the more important.

AF:  Well, I wanted to ask you about Brandon Moss specifically. Can you tell me a little more about what you saw in him that made you really sit up and take notice?

FZ:  Yeah, it’s funny, he was a guy we had some history with. He actually hit a home run off of us in Japan all the way back in 2008. He’s a guy who was a very high level prospect with the Red Sox at one time and wound up kicking around a little bit and playing for a couple of different organizations prior to the Phillies. And what we try to look for with guys like that in the minor league free agent market isn’t necessarily just what their career track record is, but to try to look for some progression and improvement, where you can take advantage of a guy’s upward trajectory. And even a guy who’s a little bit old for a prospect may have figured something out that’s turned him into a potentially more productive player. And with Moss, there were a couple of things that we looked at. There was how he finished in the second half of his Triple-A season in 2011. If you look at his first half versus his second half splits, he really produced in the second half of that season. We got some good scouting looks at him as well, so the stats and the scouting reports lined up.

arfPCk2bFI2AF:  Well, let’s get to the top 10 guys on our A’s prospect list plus maybe a couple of others. So starting out at the top of everyone’s list is your #1 draft pick from last year, shortstop Addison Russell. He obviously looked great in his first stint in pro ball last season, and he moved up through three different levels very quickly. So now that you’ve had a chance to see him in the major league camp this spring, what are your impressions of him at this point after having seen a little more of him?

FZ:  Yeah, nothing we’ve seen has made us any less excited about his long-term prospects. He’s a really good athlete. He has the potential to be a five-tool player down the road. And having him in big league camp is less about trying to get him into the immediate plans and more about giving him a taste of being around big leaguers and the big league coaching staff and a chance for our staff to get to know him a little bit better. I think it was a little bit overwhelming for him at first, but I think he’s getting increasingly comfortable. He played a few innings today and made a couple of nice plays in the field. It’s just exciting to have a kid like that who has those kinds of tools and backs it up with performance at a very young age. So, obviously, we’re excited about him. We’re going to let him develop at his own pace. But I think it’s been a really good experience for him and for our coaching staff to have him in camp.

AF:  How likely is it that he starts the season at Stockton in the California League?

FZ:  It’s a possibility, but we haven’t made a decision one way or another. He’s going to spend some time in the big league camp, and then he’ll spend some time in the minor league camp with the player development guys there. So that decision is still a little bit down the road.

AF:  Well, you guys were obviously pretty aggressive in moving him along last year. Are you still prone to being aggressive with him as long as he shows he can handle things?

FZ:  I wouldn’t characterize us as wanting to be aggressive with him but I think, more and more, I personally realize that every player really needs to be brought along at his won pace. Some guys have very slow and steady progress, repeating levels when needed. And for other guys, they can move really quickly and have the aptitude to play up to higher competition levels very quickly. So it really is a player thing, and that determination just hasn’t been made on Addison yet. But along the way, it’ll all be about what’s the best thing for him. And what past players have done, either inside our organization or with other teams, won’t have any bearing on it.

dsstraily-dan3AF:  Okay, second on our list is another guy who had a great minor league season and moved up through three levels last year and made it up to Oakland late in the season – and that’s right-hander Dan Straily. So how are you feeling about his development at this point and what he still needs to work on to clear that last hurdle?

FZ:  Obviously, the prospect status that he has now is one of the biggest and most positive developments for our organization from last year, and it’s a testament to all our player development. But I think the most exciting thing about him, from both a scouting and a statistical thing, is his ability to miss bats. Probably the single best predictor of success in the big leagues is guys who miss bats and get strikeouts in the minors. And he obviously did that in spades last year. I think getting to the big leagues and getting acclimated to the discipline that hitters at this level have, that you don’t get quite as many swings and misses out of the strike zone, you have to be able to pitch in the zone, and you have to be able to pitch with your fastball. I think those are the kinds of adjustments that Dan’s going to have to make. And I think he started to make them a little. I think he sort of learned through his experience last year that big league hitters don’t miss mistakes the way that minor league hitters do. So you have less of a margin for error, and part of limiting your margin for error is not walking guys and not putting extra guys on base. So I think he’s going to come out this year with a better understanding of that and more aggressively throw more strikes, and I think those will be very good things for him.

AF:  I interviewed him recently. And he seems to be a guy who’s pretty smart and really seems to like to think about pitching a lot, so hopefully that’s a good sign!

FZ:  Yeah, absolutely. I get the exact same impression off him. And with a guy like that, you don’t even have to say too much to him because you know that he probably has a good awareness of who he is and what he needs to work on.

AF:  Third on our list is your 2010 top draft pick, outfielder Michael Choice. After his big year at Stockton, there were big hopes for him last year at Midland. He struggled a bit in the first half and then, just when it looked like he was starting to turn it around, he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Obviously, he’s been hitting really well in spring camp so far this year. So what are your impressions of him at this stage of his development?

mcmichaelchoiceoaklandathleticsphotodaynwngr_fbjvxl3FZ:  Yeah, he’s looked terrific in camp, and I think it’s encouraging because this is a continuation of the way he finished the year. He was really the hottest hitter in the Texas League when he, unfortunately, got hurt. And it’s too bad for his development that he missed out on the end of the season because who knows how far he could have gotten. You never know how a guy’s going to come back from injury, physically and mentally, in terms of missing the reps that he missed. But he’s been one of the most effective hitters in camp. He’s hit all the pitches. He’s hit good pitching. It’s not like he’s getting all these hits against minor leaguers or guys who are in late in the game. He’s played a good center field, which is also a major part of what he could potentially offer. The biggest thing for him, when we first got him, the one thing that really stood out about him was just the bat speed. Just sitting in the scouts section, you could hear everybody’s breath be taken away every time he’d take one of those big swings. And the issue for him was shortening up and refining his mechanics to the point where he could really hit that high quality pitching. And I think this has been one of the best jobs that our player development has done – giving him a swing that was simple enough that it could work at the major league level. And that’s what he’s really shown so far this spring.

AF:  So do you see him as a potentially legitimate major league center fielder then?

FZ:  He’s still playing center field. As long as he’s playing center field, he’s a potential major league center fielder. He has the physical ability to stay out there. And part of it, quite frankly, is gong to be, when he reaches the big leagues, what the big league outfield looks like, where we have needs. That might be as big a part of the equation as where we think his best position is.

AF:  Is it reasonable to expect that we’re going to see him starting the year at Sacramento?

FZ:  Yeah, that’s the hope. And certainly he’s done nothing to dissuade that notion so far.

sgsonnygray_large1AF:  Fourth on our list is another #1 draft pick who started out the year at Midland, right-hander Sonny Gray. And like Choice, he started out the season a little wobbly – I guess he was working on his delivery along with his changeup – and then he started to put it together a little more at the end. So where do you think Sonny Gray is at this stage of the game?

FZ:  Well, he’s a guy who now in two straight big league camps has really turned heads with his stuff, with just the life on his fastball and then his curveball – he has those two big league pitches. Sonny’s a guy who’s really stood out in the past couple of years. For him, it’s really been a couple of things. One is working and refining his changeup. He has a good changeup – he just really has to learn to trust it and use it more. And another part of that is he’s probably got to not have things speed up on him when things unravel a little bit. Sometimes he maybe just needs to not out-think himself on the mound and just trust his stuff, because his stuff is clearly major league caliber. We really liked the development of him last year. It’s not easy for a starting pitcher to go straight to Double-A and stay in that rotation all year and actually finish the year in Triple-A. So we’re very optimistic about him continuing that progression. He has things to work on, but we knew he had things to work on when we drafted him, and he’s already improved in those dimensions.

AF:  Fifth on our list is Grant Green. He’s obviously moved around a lot since he was your top draft pick back in 2009. And I’m really curious how you see him profiling as a potential major league player both at the plate and in the field.

gg140084977_102FZ:  You don’t want to put too much pressure on players or give them too much credit before they’ve achieved the same level as the comp you’re using, but the guy that I think Grant Green could develop into is a Michael Young type player. I think he has that kind of profile. He’s really a gap-to-gap hitter who has 15-20 homer power. He just has a natural knack for hitting that makes you believe he could be a .300 hitter in the big leagues. And defensively, it’s been a little bit of a work in progress for him. But just like with Michael Young, Michael Young’s a guy who’s moved around and played a few different positions, and a lot of his value to the team was his ability to move around, not just within a season, but across seasons, and sort of fill in depending on where the team needed him. And I think Grant is kind of building up that sort of versatility, which I think could be a huge benefit to a team. So in a perfect world, you hope he turns into that Michael Young type of player.

AF:  Well, hopefully it’s a matter of turning a liability into a virtue if he develops this tremendous versatility then. But where do you see him as strongest in the field at this point?

FZ:  The best position that I’ve seen him play really is the position he’s playing right now, which is second base. I was joking with someone about this today saying, “He plays second base like he’s too good to play the position.” But I actually like that. He plays it with that kind of confidence, with a little bit of flair. But I like seeing him with that kind of confidence in the field. He can make all the plays at second base. When you play second base, you have just a little more time to get over to first, and that I think has relaxed him a little bit. He has good range, and I think he just has a comfort level at second base. I think he’s always had the defensive tools. Believe it or not, when we were scouting him in high school, we actually considered him a defense-first shortstop. So the defensive tools are certainly in there. And combine that with the confidence he’s shown playing second base and I think that’s where he profiles best.

AF:  That’s interesting. When I spoke with him last year, he said his preference was definitely to be playing right around the bag where the action is at either shortstop or second base. So the fact that he’s looking comfortable and showing confidence there at second base makes sense.

FZ:  Right, if he hits like Michael Young, you’ll find a place to play him. If you have a bat like that that has the ability to go to a few different spots and play those spots, that’s all the more valuable. You know, I was at the Sloan Sports Conference this weekend in Boston, and one of the papers was about the value of roster flexibility. And just as an aside, just for your own edification, it’s an academic paper but it’s on their website, I think it’s worth checking out. And they talk about the value of having a roster built on players who are fairly interchangeable and can play multiple positions, because they’re able to be platoon players, maybe even across different positions, and because it insulates you against injury. And that’s the direction that our roster has been going in the last couple of years. And I think we got a lot of benefit out of that last year, and I think we’ll get a lot of benefit out of it this year. And Grant could be the kind that fits in with that roster philosophy very well.

AF:  Yeah, I was going to say that theme certainly seems to fit right in with where you guys are at this point. It seemed like everything you did in the off-season was designed to add as much flexibility to the roster as you possibly could.

FZ:  Yeah, absolutely. When we’re looking at individual players, and we think they have that ability to expand their flexibility, we’re probably more inclined to at least take a look at that than we have in the past.

AF: That’s funny, it’s almost becoming like building a fantasy baseball roster. Guys who can play multiple positions are always one of the things you’re looking for.

DSC02384bFZ:  Yeah, there’s no doubt. Guys who can play across positions and save you a roster spot, obviously you have to figure out how much more valuable those guys are. And look, part of it is having a manager who can manage the personalities and keep guys happy. Every player wants to play everyday and wants to be at the same position everyday just because baseball players are creatures of habit. But Bob Melvin is just a great communicator and a guy that the players love to play for. And we have the advantage of being able to create a little bit more depth and flexibility and trust that he’ll be communicating with these guys so that the roster and all the guys are on the same page. And that’s a big part of being able to do this.

AF:  Yeah, it’s great to be able to have someone who can get guys to be happy about doing things they might not normally be all that happy to do!

FZ:  Right! I mean, it’s a challenge. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be smooth sailing, but there’s nobody I trust more than Bob Melvin with that task.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of A’s Farm’s exclusive interview with A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, in which he gives us the lowdown on Miles Head, Daniel Robertson, Renato Nunez and Michael Ynoa and what he really looks for in minor league prospects!

A’s Farm Cracks into Top 5 MLB Blogs in February!

Just like the A's, A's Farm's gunning for the top spot!

Just like the A’s, A’s Farm’s gunning for the top spot!

Well, we’d made it as high as #6 before, but last month, for the first time, A’s Farm finally cracked into the top 5 as the 5th-ranked MLB blog for the month of February!

Thanks to all you A’s fans out there who’ve made A’s Farm a regular stop to stay up to date on all the A’s top prospects.

In the past month, we’ve brought you our A’s Top 10 Prospect List along with our exclusive interviews with top hitting prospect Addison Russell and top pitching prospect Dan Straily.

Stay tuned for more spring training updates and interviews as well as daily updates on all the A’s minor league affiliates once the season gets underway.

And if you haven’t already, be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up to date on all the latest down on the farm!

Spring Training Update – 3/4/13

 

A’s Farm’s update on the first week of spring training and top prospect Michael Choice’s hot start…

 

Michael Choice Career Stats

A’s Spring Training Stats

 

 

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!

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