Results tagged ‘ Bob Melvin ’
While soaking up plenty of Arizona sun during our spring training tour, we also wanted to make sure we got a little light shed on some of the A’s top prospects by folks in the know. So we took the opportunity to talk to three guys who really ought to know the score – Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin.
Grady Fuson is a long-time baseball man who was formerly the A’s director of scouting. One of baseball’s most respected talent evaluators, he was also depicted as one of Moneyball‘s biggest bad guys, but he’s back with the A’s again as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane.
In his fifth season as the A’s director of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi is one of the game’s most forward-thinking front office executives. With a doctorate in economics from UC Berkeley, he is often known as the A’s “numbers guy” and readily admits to feeling somewhat naked without his computer.
Bob Melvin is the popular and affable manager of the A’s who, in 2012, led the team to its first division title since 2006. The former catcher spent 10 years playing in the major leagues and was named AL Manager of Year for his efforts with the A’s in 2012.
We asked this trio of talent evaluators to weigh in on some of the A’s top prospects, and what we heard left us feeling pretty good about the future!
On shortstop Addison Russell…
Bob Melvin: He left us with impressions when he came out and just took batting practice with us during the season. During spring, he certainly didn’t look like a 19-year-old kid. He has a great approach at the plate, a very good work ethic – great athlete. He’s got a chance to be a quick mover.
Grady Fuson: Big league camp didn’t phase him. He went in there and stood around like a veteran. He wasn’t nervous. He was aggressive. He played the same style of game that he’s played since the day we signed him. And I think everybody top to bottom’s been pleased…I think we all see all the tools. It’s not hard to know this guy’s really got some quickness and speed. He’s aggressive on ground balls. He’s got a knack for reading ground balls. He controlled the strike zone in big league camp, so it wasn’t like he was swinging at air or anything. He’s just got a very good awareness about the game for a young kid to go with all the tools he’s got…He’s a great kid. He comes to work every day – he’s quiet but he’s deadly…As he goes along, we’re going to keep an eye on his throwing. It has nothing to do with his arm strength. It’s more about building accuracy and pace and footwork into his game. Other than that, there’s really no holes to poke at offensively. The more he plays, the more he’s going to get comfortable with the strike zone a little bit – what he can hit, what he can’t hit – and that’ll come. But this kid really has no major flaws to really speak of. It’s nice every once in a while to have a player where you can go, “Hey, let’s just go play!”
On outfielder Michael Choice…
Grady Fuson: He’s ahead of the curve as far as when he left Midland last year. What little time we got with him in instructs (instructional league), something’s clicked. His whole approach is so much more balanced and connected. The first 5-6 at-bats I saw him, I kept waiting for him to kind of get out of sorts, but he hasn’t one time. I’m proud of him. He looked great in big league camp. He’s got another burst of energy to his game. He played center field in big league camp very well – 5 of those innings a day over there that sun’s right in your face. And the great thing is, since he’s come over to minor league camp, he’s had the same work ethic, same aggressiveness, same energy. He’s been great…It looks like he’s really figured some things out.
Bob Melvin: This is the first time we’ve been able to see him get a lot of bats and do the things that the organization expects of him. He’s a highly-touted prospect with power and speed. I think he came to this camp really wanting to show the big league staff what he’s all about – and he did that. I mean, it was a very impressive camp. He fell off a little bit – I think he took a couple of 0-fors at the end. But he and Shane Peterson have been terrific throughout the whole camp. And this is a guy who’s going to knock the door down and fight his way in at some point in time, whether it’s next year, whether it’s this year – a September call-up or an injury or something like that. He’s really close to being a big leaguer.
On outfielder Shane Peterson…
Bob Melvin: He’s the one guy here who’s played every single game (this spring). You usually ease your way into it, but he’s done anything but that. He continues to hit. He plays different positions. I haven’t even used him at first, which is probably his most comfortable position, but he’s looked like a true outfielder. You look at the numbers, and he’s had a spectacular camp.
On infielder Grant Green…
Grady Fuson: To some degree, offensively, he could be big-league ready – he’s close. He’s got great at-bats going. He’s doing what Grant Green does. He’s been through a year and a half to two year period where we’ve been working on getting him to be more aggressive on the inner half and feeling what it’s like to turn on some balls. It’s helped his power production. Once again, he’s kind of getting his feet wet at a new position, but it’s the one position that you’re really seeing him grow at defensively. He is getting better every day. So obviously he’ll go back to Sacramento and we’ll see how things go in the big leagues to start – but Grant is very, very close.
Farhan Zaidi: I think there’s a growing level of confidence that second base is his best position. And because it’s his best position, probably now and also in the long run, giving him time to develop there is a priority. But we have other guys who need to play that position, so he may not get as many reps there as we would like in a perfect world just because we have to work other guys in there. But from an organizational perspective, more and more people are feeling good about the progress he’s made over there. And he could actually be an asset over there in the long term once he gets more reps and gets more comfortable playing there.
On infielder Miles Head…
Grady Fuson: He didn’t get that much time in big league camp, so he’s kind of getting a late start playing every day here (in minor league camp). But he should be ready to go. Obviously, he can’t do what he did in Stockton – that was the most unreal half you’re ever going to see. But he’s been getting his knocks, he’s swinging aggressive, getting time at third and first – and that’s what we’ll expect when he goes out.
On pitcher Dan Straily…
Farhan Zaidi: I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable in this camp, being in the big leagues, being around the big league team and staff. He’s had some things to work on this spring, just like most pitchers have. But you know, we sort of have this notion of building the starting pitching depth out 8 or 9 guys. And if you’re the 6th guy, it means we have a pretty high level of confidence – we know we’re going to need you at some point…He’s going to be a big factor in our season…He might not be in there for every turn of the 162 game season, but he’s going to play a big role for sure.
Bob Melvin: He just needs to be more consistent at times – and he knows it. He had a tough first inning the other day where he gave up 3 runs and then he pitched really well after that. It’s getting rid of that one inning, or getting through games a little bit more in the fashion that we think he can do it – and he’s probably not quite there yet. But he’s still a young guy, and we’ve had a lot of young guys perform well here. He was instrumental down the stretch with a few games for us last year. He has some experience pitching in a pennant race. But I know he probably looks at his performance this spring and thinks there’s a little bit more in the tank for him and wants to finish up strong.
Grady Fuson: He just seemed a hair out of sync (this spring). He wasn’t locating his fastball as well. And when he doesn’t locate his fastball well, then his sequences don’t come together. As far as his stuff, his stuff was still solid – 90-93mph, good breaker, slider got a little flat at times, good changeup – but he just wasn’t getting ahead of hitters enough as he’d done a year ago…You know, it’s his first big league camp – he knows he’s pressing to make a spot in that rotation.
On pitcher Sonny Gray…
Grady Fuson: His stuff is good. It’s all going to get down to location. If Sonny can improve on pounding the strike zone, he’s going to be a competitive kid. But he’s got to find a way to get ahead earlier in counts and work on the efficient side of being a starter versus the overpowering side of being a starter. He knows it. He’s trying to work through it. And right now, it comes and goes. So it’s a work in progress.
Farhan Zaidi: As much as we have invested in him, he’s a guy who we would want to only bring up when we really feel he’s ready, not sort of out of a sense of urgency for a guy. I think he just has to work on pitching more efficiently. If you’re in Triple-A and you’re throwing 100 pitches in a 6-inning stint, that’s not going to work at the big league level. The guys who have success moving from Double-A and Triple-A to the big leagues are the guys who pitch really efficiently at the minor league level and have short innings, don’t walk guys, all that kind of stuff. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue for him.
On pitcher Andrew Werner…
Grady Fuson: He’s kind of an under-the-radar lefty. He doesn’t throw overly hard. But he’s a locate guy. He’s got a real good changeup. He’s got a solid breaker. So he’s a lot like most lefties who throw 87-88mph who can pitch a little bit.
On pitcher Jesse Chavez…
Grady Fuson: Jesse Chavez has tremendous stuff. It’s just about him harnessing it, and he’s dominated in Triple-A. So it’s just about him getting used to playing in front of a second deck and the lights not blinding him a little bit. But we feel good about having him down there (at Sacramento).
On pitcher Michael Ynoa…
Grady Fuson: The progress continues to be nothing but ‘hang a star on it!’ He’s healthy. His velocity continues to climb. He’s been up to 95-96mph here. His breaking ball’s sharper because the velocity’s back. He’s been around the strike zone. You know, we’re still going to proceed with a little caution, but he’s been good.
Farhan Zaidi: His stuff has been really good. His fastball has been up to the mid-90s. He shows his other pitches. He’s a big presence on the mound. He just needs reps and he needs to get more consistent. If you haven’t pitched at that level, and things start unraveling – just getting out of jams, not letting innings totally get away from you. But the stuff has been fine…The stuff is where you were hoping it would progress to when we signed him – I mean, we thought he might be in the big leagues by now. So all the ingredients are there. It’s just about him getting out and pitching…I think he has the ability to make up for a lot of that lost time, so we’re looking forward to him pitching.
On infielder Daniel Robertson…
Grady Fuson: We’re still just being cautious with the knee. Little by little, he’s done more on the field, so he has not played in games. He feels great. We’re just taking it slow…In instructional league, his spike caught up on the mat hitting in BP and kind of tore a little meniscus in there. So the odds are he probably won’t break (camp). We’ll keep him down here a little bit and make sure it’s tested. But hopefully by the middle of the month, he’s good to go.
On first baseman Matt Olson…
Grady Fuson: Olson’s been great. He just picked up where he left off. He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger. He’s having a nice minor league camp. He’s ready to go.
Farhan Zaidi: The guys over there have been very excited about him. I think he’s hit a handful of homers in minor league games already. He has that kind of power…and that’s got people pretty excited.
* * *
Knowing he’s always got an eye on the future, we took the opportunity to ask Farhan about the possible value of applying analytics to the subject of health and injuries in order to better anticipate the physical resilience of individual players, and here’s what he had to say…
Farhan Zaidi: There’s more and more of this stuff – either analyzing historic DL data or injury data, or also mechanics. I don’t know that there are a lot of great, or certain, answers at this point. But I think it’s a major next frontier for analysis. It started off with offense, then it moved to defense, measuring fielding, now I think this is the next frontier for analytics. We do a fair amount of that – it’s sort of an ongoing process…Even getting a little bit better at predicting players’ health going forward is really valuable. So that’s something that we’re working on and trying to get better at every year…Even if you improve your predictive power a little bit, that can be worth a lot in the long run.
* * *
–GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH–
We asked Grady to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got…
Left-Handed Hitting First Baseman
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 5th Round
He was good last year after we signed him. He went to Burlington (Class-A) right out of the draft and held his own. This guy gets it. He knows how to play the game. He’s got a good swing. He’s very hitter-ish. He’s always had a little bit more power in the bat than his numbers show. And we’re working with him to take advantage of the shorter parts of the park – and it’s coming. He’s been a jewel in camp. He’s firmed his body up a little bit more. He’s a solid defender. Keep your eye on him!
Age: 22 / Drafted 2012 – 14th Round
He closed in Vermont last year. He threw from 25 different slots. In instructional league, we tried to calm him down, gave him one slot, and he went home all winter and worked on it. And he’s gotten so much cleaner now that we’re thinking about maybe starting him and pushing him with some innings. He’s got a good arm. He’s got a nasty changeup…He wiped guys out as a closer, but the more you can get on the mound, the more you’re going to learn.
Age: 21 / Drafted 2012 – 18th Round
Junior college kid – he only pitched 1/3 of an inning for us last year, so I didn’t even know who this guy was. The other day, he comes out here, he’s throwing 94mph with a nasty breaker – good body, good delivery. Today he goes 3 shutout innings, touching 95mph – I’m in!
* * *
Major League Camp and Game vs. Brewers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium
The A’s beat the Brewers 9-7 on a relatively quiet day around camp. Bartolo Colon allowed 3 runs over 5 innings to earn his first win of the spring while Dan Straily gave up 4 runs in 3 innings of work. Outfielder Chris Young blasted a grand slam and infielders Josh Donaldson and Scott Sizemore each went 4-for-4, a particularly timely performance for Sizemore after his chief rival at second base, Jemile Weeks, was sent down yesterday. In his pre-game press conference, manager Bob Melvin announced it’s possible that the team could take all 36 players currently in camp back home for the Bay Bridge Series and make the final roster decisions after that.
Now that my spring training trip has come to a close, be sure to stay tuned for lots of interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Farhan Zaidi and more…
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.
Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…
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.
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.
Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…
Minor League Camp at Papago Park
Major League Camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium
Stay tuned for more from spring training in Phoenix, including interesting insights from Bob Melvin, Grady Fuson, Derek Norris and more…
Exclusive: A’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1
Last 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?
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.
AF: 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.
AF: 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?
FZ: 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.
AF: 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.
FZ: 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.
FZ: 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!
Well, as you may already know, Monday was the big day for A’s pitchers and catchers to report to the team’s spring training camp in Phoenix. As usual, lots of other players chose to show up on Day 1 to join their pitching and catching comrades. The reporters covering the A’s beat showed up as well. And among the news trickling out on the first day of camp thanks to those beat writers…
*The team has reportedly agreed to a minor league deal with left-handed Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima that includes an invitation to the major league camp.
*Catcher Derek Norris has shed a few pounds and has also made some alterations to his swing.
*Third base and infield coach Mike Gallego has apparently been working Nakajima out over the past week and is “pleasantly surprised.” He also noted that the shortstop has great hands, above average footwork and an average arm.
*Top prospect Michael Choice is ready to go after missing the second half of last season with a broken hand.
*Pitching prospect Michael Ynoa is still in the Dominican Republic suffering from a case of chicken pox.
*Coco Crisp arrived with a beatbox, and it wasn’t long before the ‘Bernie Lean’ music was blasting in the A’s clubhouse.
Here’s a sampling of photos from Day 1 of spring training camp from various A’s beat writers…
See what the A’s beat writers have to say in their Day 1 columns…
As we pointed out in our analysis of the John Jaso trade just recently, the A’s are clearly in “WIN NOW” mode. And the team made another “WIN NOW” move on Monday, dealing part-time first baseman Chris Carter, minor league pitcher Brad Peacock and minor league catcher Max Stassi to the Houston Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie and right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez.
Lowrie is a 28-year-old former 1st-round draft pick out of Stanford. The switch-hitter hit a career-high 16 home runs in 340 at-bats with the Astros last season. He’s played primarily at shortstop in his 5-year major league career but has also spent time at third, second and first, and his versatility provides the A’s with added depth at every infield position.
Rodriguez is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who has some control issues but who also managed to strike out an average of 10 batters per 9 innings last year. The 28-year-old has a tendency to give up the long ball and posted an ERA of 5.37 in 70 1/3 innings with the Astros last season. Rodriguez will likely have to battle with Pat Neshek and Chris Resop for a spot on the right side of the A’s bullpen.
To acquire the pair, the A’s parted with three players who’ve all spent far more time in the minors than the majors: Max Stassi, the most highly rated catching prospect in the system who has been praised for his abilities behind the plate but who has also been hampered by injuries and has yet to progress beyond A ball; Brad Peacock, who was slated to be one of the top starters at Sacramento this season but who had his ups and downs last year and ended up posting a 6.01 ERA with the River Cats; and Chris Carter, who was supposed to be the right-handed half of the A’s first base platoon this year. Carter, the only one of the three who was expected to start the year on the major league roster, had formerly been a top prospect but, despite his strong power numbers in the second half last year, his September struggles strengthened the A’s doubts about his potential for long-term success.
About coming to A’s, the Stanford alum Lowrie was quoted as saying, “I’m excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year. I’m excited to have an opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area.” He graciously neglected to mention the fact that he’s also undoubtedly excited not to be playing for the Astros, who will likely be bringing up the rear in their new division this year.
With Lowrie’s addition, the A’s infield situation suddenly becomes a bit murkier. Lowrie has played short, second, third and first. Scott Sizemore has played second and third. Hiro Nakajima can play short, and possibly even second. And then there’s also Jemile Weeks, who can play second, and Josh Donaldson, who can play third.
Being a switch-hitter, of course, only increases Lowrie’s versatility. But his left/right splits are somewhat curious. For his career, he has an OPS that’s .154 points better against lefties. But last year, he had an OPS that was .196 points better against righties. Lowrie claims that his previous struggles as a left-handed hitter were primarily related to lingering injuries, and his minor league splits do lend some credence to that claim. But it would be nice to see his splits even out a bit given the fact that he’s likely to be seeing plenty of action against both righties and lefties for the A’s this season.
But how exactly will the A’s use Lowrie this year? Well, they’ve certainly got plenty of options. But in a conference call with reporters, A’s general manager Billy Beane said that he and manager Bob Melvin had discussed their options and that they view Japanese import Hiro Nakajima as their shortstop. Beane also mentioned that he could see Lowrie as a nice right-handed complement to Brandon Moss at first base, much like Chris Carter had been.
If we take Beane’s comments to heart, that then raises the question of where Lowrie would play against right-handers. The most obvious answer would be at second base, where there’s already a great deal of uncertainty, and where the top two current candidates, Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks, have both performed better against lefties than righties in recent times – Sizemore, who seems to be the favored candidate, even more so, which could make him a perfect platoon partner with Lowrie at second base.
Lowrie could also be available to back up both Nakajima at shortstop and Donaldson at third base if either struggles or just needs some time off. Of course, if Nakajima, whose defensive ability at shortstop is still a big question mark, spends much of the spring butchering balls at short, Lowrie could always take over the spot full-time and push Nakajima into duty at second. But wherever he plays, as long as he’s healthy – and that’s been something of an issue in the past – it looks like Lowrie will be in the lineup. So he should end up getting into a lot more games for the A’s than Chris Carter would have this year, which ought to make him a productive addition to the major league roster.
One of the biggest winners in this trade could turn out to be the A’s former first baseman Daric Barton, who now stands a decent chance of making the roster as the only true first baseman on the squad. Moss and Lowrie only have a combined 68 major league games at first base between them, and teams often like to have a little defensive certainty on the roster. Before this trade, Barton’s chances of landing a roster spot rested on something happening to either Moss or Carter – and now something has most definitely happened to Carter. Of course, it’s possible that Barton still doesn’t make the roster, but it’s certainly a whole lot more likely that he does now.
On the other side of the coin, one of the biggest losers in this deal could be infielder Adam Rosales. With his guaranteed contract and major league experience, Rosales was the favorite to land the utility infielder role. But now – with Lowrie, Nakajima, Donaldson and either Weeks or Sizemore likely to make the roster – the A’s will have at least two available options at each infield position, making another spare infielder somewhat redundant. Both Weeks and Sizemore could both be losers in this deal too since whoever wins a roster spot will undoubtedly have his at-bats at second base reduced by Lowrie’s arrival. The deal doesn’t do anything to help Eric Sogard’s and Grant Green’s prospects either as it just pushes both of them further down the infield depth chart.
As far as position players on the major league roster go, this deal might just boil down to Lowrie and Barton replacing Carter and Rosales on the A’s 2013 roster. As far as the pitching end of things goes, Beane clearly likes Rodriguez, referring to him as “a real big arm” and saying that he was a key to getting the deal done. But the hard-throwing righty will have to compete for a roster spot with fellow right-handers Pat Neshek and Chris Resop in an already crowded A’s bullpen that’s also likely to include right-handers Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook along with left-handers Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins and Travis Blackley – with guys like Jordan Norberto, Pedro Figueroa, Evan Scribner, Arnold Leon and James Simmons waiting in the wings.
Another beneficiary of the deal could be former 1st-round draft pick Sonny Gray, who will no longer have to compete for attention with fellow prospect Brad Peacock at Sacramento this season. If he pitches well at Triple-A this year, the odds of Gray getting the opportunity to see some time in Oakland before the season’s through have just greatly increased with Peacock out of the equation.
Vying for time with Gray in the River Cats rotation this year will be last year’s phenom Dan Straily, new acquisition Andrew Werner, veteran lefty Garrett Olson, and long-time minor leaguers Jesse Chavez, Bruce Billings and Travis Banwart. It’s my guess that Straily will end up in the major league rotation before long, like most 6th starters do, due to injury, and Banwart will start the season in the Sacramento bullpen, leaving the River Cats with a rotation of Gray, Werner, Olson, Chavez and Billings.
But this deal clearly wasn’t about the minor league roster; it was all about the major league roster – increasing the A’s infield depth and versatility and having a solid backup plan in place just in case Nakajima doesn’t pan out at short, Donaldson regresses at third, or nothing else works out at second. It’s clearly a “WIN NOW” move, just like it was with the Jaso deal. Peacock, Cole and Treinen represent a lot of young arms to give up – not to mention Carter and Stassi – in the two deals. But the A’s focus is clearly on winning now while the window of contention is open. And Beane admitted as much in his conference call with reporters, saying “Given where the club finished last year and where we see it having a chance to compete this year, we wanted to do everything we could to help ourselves right now.”
And for the A’s, the future is clearly NOW!
Beane And Melvin On A’s Top Prospects, Who’ll Play Second Base, And The Team’s Biggest Challenge In 2013
Over the past few days, we’ve brought you coverage of the bloggers-only press conference with various members of the A’s staff that took place last weekend at A’s FanFest. But there were a few question-and-answer sessions with the general public that provided some illuminating insights as well.
The most interesting of these panels featured A’s general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin sharing a stage with outfielders Chris Young and Josh Reddick. While Young’s dancing and Reddick’s beard provided the entertainment, Beane and Melvin provided some interesting observations on the team.
Melvin, the AL’s reigning Manager of the Year, said that the big challenge for the team this season was going to be “keeping our edge,” but that he hoped to “build off the momentum from last year.” The A’s skipper added that he planned to have the team work even harder this spring, but that he feels like “we’re a better team going into spring training” this year.
As for the competition at second base between Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore, Beane commented, “If Jemile could have a bounce-back year, that’d be great.” But he also noted that second base was Sizemore’s original position and that “he showed a lot the half-season he was with us…he could be a factor as well.” He then added that second base would be one of the few spots that Melvin and his staff would have to take a close look at this spring.
As for last year’s playoff experience against Detroit, Melvin noted that “Verlander probably had a bigger strike zone than we would have liked to have seen.” And Beane, while confessing to squirming too much to be able to watch many regular season games, admitted, “I do watch the playoffs. At that point, it’s all house money.”
When it comes to the A’s top prospects, Beane noted, “The kid who was really impressive last year was (1st-round draft pick) Addison Russell.” He said that the A’s scouts had done a great job evaluating the high school shortstop and that he’s had “as good a year as an 18-year-old could have.” And when asked about former top pitching prospect Michael Ynoa, Beane commented, “He appears to be healthy…we hope that he moves quickly at this point.”
Overall, one got the sense that the manager and the GM were very much in sync when it came to their confidence in the depth and versatility of the current roster. And it sounded as if they and the team were all more than ready to get going in their defense of the AL West championship title in 2013.
A’s Assistant GM David Forst On New Catcher John Jaso, New Shortstop Hiro Nakajima, And The Importance Of Team Chemistry
As part of A’s FanFest this past weekend, a few members of the A’s staff took some time out to attend a bloggers-only press conference in the bowels of the Oracle Arena. One of those who stopped in to chat with us was A’s assistant general manager David Forst. And A’s Farm was especially eager to find out what it was that got the A’s front office so excited about shortstop Hiro Nakajima…
On the team’s belief that Japanese shortstop Hiro Nakajima could succeed in the major leagues…
I did not actually see him myself. We have a number of guys who’ve seen him back through the WBC in 2009 – a lot of our pro scouts, our international guys. Part of it is based on the numbers. His offensive numbers do translate well based on what other Japanese players have done here. But the reports, not only scouting reports, but from other players who’ve played with him – I think we mentioned Bob Melvin had talked to Ichiro and to Hideki about him. The guys who’ve done well over here are guys who have some leadership over there, who have the personality, who aren’t as affected by the off-the-field things that they gave to adjust to, which are huge. We saw that with Yoenis too – there’s so much that foreign players have to deal with aside from just baseball. We felt like he’d be able to handle that stuff, so his talent would play. Defensively, that’s the hardest thing for us to predict, because we don’t have the same metrics we have on the offensive side. But our reports are good – the hands, the arm strength. All the things you look for from a scouting perspective, we feel pretty good about…we do think he can play the position.
On evaluating defensive metrics…
The key on defense is to have everything sort of match up. If you’re looking at Range Factor and UZR and all the stuff that takes into account the Field f/x stuff, the SportVision data, the key is to have everything match up. So if you have conflicting reports, that’s when you sort of look at your scouting reports. I think you only feel good about defensive stats when things are aligned across the board.
On the team’s strategy in this year’s amateur draft…
We got together with (scouting director) Eric Kubota and his guys a couple weeks ago just to sort of go over the list. It’s a lot deeper in college players this year – both pitching and position players. We certainly didn’t set out to take a bunch of high school guys last year. That’s just where we felt like the talent was. But it is deeper in the college level…We’ve obviously traded away a lot of pitching. We have pitching here, and then there’s a little bit of a gap after guys like Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. There’s a gap down to A ball, and having traded A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen kind of opened that gap up a little bit…Obviously you always need to replenish your pitching every year.
On the acquisition of catcher John Jaso…
He’s been on the target list for a while. You look at what he did in the minor leagues, the type of offensive player he was – he’s certainly the kind of guy that historically we’ve coveted. And he had a year in Seattle where he really finally broke out offensively. So as we watched him a lot over the course of the season, seeing him in our division, he was certainly a guy we thought about towards the end of the season and all off-season and figured out a way to see if Seattle would part with him. And it obviously took a long time for (Mariners’ general manager) Jack Zduriencik to come around. And getting Mike Morse was the piece that he needed. In fact, one of our pro scouts, Craig Weissmann, was an amateur guy with Tampa when he signed Jaso originally in the draft. So we’ve kind of had our eye on John for a while.
On trading pitching prospect A.J. Cole back to the Nationals in the John Jaso deal…
(Nationals’ general manager) Mike Rizzo had said a couple times in the last twelve months how disappointed he was in having given up A.J., so Billy sort of knew in the back of his head that that was going to get us in the door. And when things sort of matched up, he knew Seattle wanted Morse. And obviously Rizzo knew we didn’t have interest in Morse, but we were able to say, “Hey Mike, if you’re still interested in A.J., we might be able to work something out here.”
On pitchers’ workloads…
We’re always aware of it. It’s something that we constantly talk about. (A’s pitching coach) Curt Young does a great job of keeping track of these guys start by start and then on a three-starts-by-three-starts basis. But it’s certainly not a situation where we’re going in saying we’re going to cut pitcher A off here or whatever. Our trainers do a lot of work in between starts, and they do a good job of keeping track of historical comps for each guy. So whether it’s Jarrod Parker, who increased his workload significantly last year, or Brett Anderson, who had a limited workload because of the injury, I think we have the best feel for them just because our trainers have their hands on these guys after each start. So I expect that we will continuously talk about and be aware of it, but I don’t imagine that anyone will have a limit set on them to start the season.
On the possible need for the team to add more veteran pitching depth…
Obviously we’re aware that a lot of what we accomplished last year was based a lot on our starting pitching depth, and the fact that we ended up using 7-8-9 starters who were effective. The fact that Travis Blackley is still here obviously and can fill that role and you expect a full season out of Brett Anderson, we felt like adding Bartolo Colon was probably as much as we needed to do. At the same time, it’s just not easy to add those veteran guys when, on paper, you have a rotation like we do. It’s not necessarily an attractive place for a veteran guy to come and have to make the team or fight for it. So we feel like, with A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily in the 5-6 spot, with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray at AAA, with Travis here being able to be a swing man, we feel like there is the depth there to get it done.
On clubhouse chemistry…
There’s no doubt that clubhouse culture is important, and it starts with Bob Melvin - that’s the most important thing. He set the tone for those guys, and they kind of followed his lead, which isn’t the case everywhere. I think there’s been a lot made of Jonny Gomes leaving and Brandon Inge, and you’re never going to keep all 25 guys together. But…we like the mix we have – personalities combined with guys who take it seriously on the field. But also you have a bunch of guys who should continue to get better, whether that’s about age or getting a chance to play everyday, this team should not have guys who regress – they should continue to trend upwards.