To very loosely paraphrase that old-time sports junkie Alfred, Lord Tennyson…“it’s spring training and a young man’s fancy turns to baseball!” Well, not just young men’s, but lots of middle-aged and old men’s too! It’s also a time for general managers and front office staffs to evaluate just what they’ve got to work with. And few of them will be casting their eyes on as vast a sea of unrecognizable faces as our own general manager, Billy Beane, who spent much of the offseason acquiring talented young prospects that most of us wouldn’t recognize if we were standing next to them at one of the Coliseum’s communal urinal troughs!
A’s Farm took the opportunity to talk with Mr. Beane late last week, just prior to his arrival in Phoenix for the start of spring training, and just shortly before the mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers. We wanted to get his take on all the hot young prospects he spent his winter working to get his mitts on. Neither his reported contract extension with the team nor the Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez signings were official at the time of this interview, so he couldn’t comment much on those subjects. But I think his passion for the team and his excitement over the talented core of young players he’s assembled clearly show through here. So without any further ado, let’s go to the tape…
AF: Just to start out with, can you talk about your new contract extension that’ll reportedly be keeping you with the A’s through the 2019 season?
BB: We’re putting some finishing touches on it. It’s not quite finished, but I anticipate it being finished very soon. Conceptually we’re in agreement on most of the issues now and we’re just finishing it up.
AF: And is there anything new to report on the whole situation with the potential move to San Jose?
BB: Unfortunately, no news on the San Jose, or stadium front, as I like to call it. We just continue to patiently wait for some decision. We’ve been told straight-up that it’s going to come soon. It hasn’t, but we still continue to wait. There’s been no new news recently.
AF: I guess you’ve been having to give that same answer for a while now.
BB: Yeah, unfortunately we have. But there’s nothing we can do about it. The powers that be have their own timetable and things that they have to do, so we just patiently wait.
AF: Though it’s not official yet, the A’s have reportedly signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a 4-year deal. So what can you say about him at this point?
BB: He’s a very talented player that we’ve spent a significant amount of time scouting. He’s a center-of-the-diamond player. He’s got tremendous physical skill. He’s played at the highest level internationally on arguably the best amateur team in the world. And it’s hard to find that kind of talent out there.
BB: If we were going to give up a pitcher in our starting rotation, particularly someone of Trevor’s caliber, one of the places we were going to have to start was with someone we felt could replace Trevor in the rotation very quickly. The Diamondbacks have a number of good young pitching prospects, and Jarrod certainly was near the top of the list for us.
AF: What stood out most about him to you?
BB: He’s been a pretty high profile kid since he came out of high school. I believe he was the tenth player in the draft, so he’s always been on everybody’s radar screen. He had Tommy John surgery a couple years ago and he bounced back well from that. He’s not a real big kid, but he’s got a real explosive fastball. And of everything we know, he’s supposed to be a tremendous kid with great makeup and competitiveness as well. So we gave up a very good pitcher, and what we really did was turn back the clock a little bit in terms of the service time and the cost. So we were fortunate and happy to get Jarrod and fortunate that Arizona would consider moving him to us.
AF: Is there anything you feel he still needs to work on?
BB: Usually with young pitchers, it’s just refining their command of the strike zone. Most guys who get to the big leagues can throw a strike, but it’s also about throwing quality strikes. And that sometimes comes with experience. So I think in Jarrod’s case, it’s just being even finer with his command – and continue to work on his breaking ball, because he certainly has a major league fastball.
AF: And what do you think his prospects are for making the major league roster?
BB: Well he’s certainly going to get the opportunity, along with all the young pitchers. Some of it will be depending on where Dallas Braden is in his recovery. Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross – those guys will probably get a shot at the rotation, because we’ve lost a couple guys and Dallas may not be ready, and we may take it slow with him. I think he’s doing great, and I think he anticipates being ready. But if we’ve got a lot of depth with young guys, we may opt to go very slow with Dallas and make sure he holds up all year.
AF: So do you consider it pretty wide open for the final two or, if Braden’s not ready, three spots in the rotation – with Milone, Peacock, Parker, Godfrey, and Ross?
BB: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
AF: I know you’ve had your eye on outfielder Collin Cowgill for a while now. I think you drafted him once and have tried to trade for him before.
BB: Yeah, we had a long history with Collin. We’d drafted him the year before he signed [with Arizona] out of Kentucky, and he opted to go back to school. And over the course of the last couple years in pro ball, we’ve always liked him as a player. We just weren’t able to get him over in a deal. He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three positions and is ready to take the next step in the big leagues. He was a good fit as well in terms of where he was at in his development. He’s got a lot of skills, he’s got a little bit of power, he’s a good hitter and a good defender. He’s a pretty balanced all-around player.
AF: Is there anything you’d like to see him work on at this point?
BB: Right now, he just needs to get some at bats at the major league level. He’s proven himself at every minor league stop. So hopefully we can just get him enough at bats. The fact that he’s right-handed will help that, and he can play center field. For him, it’s just experience and feeling comfortable. He had some big league experience last year and he had some postseason experience too. But we do like him as a player and we think he could have a long major league career with us.
AF: What do you think his odds are of making the major league roster out of camp?
BB: Well I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s done everything at every minor league level. So it’s really about giving him that chance. But he’s earned his way to the big leagues, and I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s got a lot of versatility too. It’s nice to have a guy who can play all three outfield positions.
AF: Now the final guy in the Arizona deal was reliever Ryan Cook. What did you see in him that made you want to get him included in this deal?
BB: Well he’s a guy who made some huge strides last year. He was converted from a starter to the bullpen. He’s got a big arm. He’s the kind of guy you like to have in the bullpen – a big power arm. He got a little bit of big league time last year, but really took a step forward. It’s nice to have guys with that kind of velocity in your bullpen. And he’s a guy we actually tried earlier in the year to get in another deal. So we were happy to get him as well.
AF: How hard does he throw?
BB: He can get it up there 95-96mph. He’s definitely well above the 90 mark. He can get in the mid-90s.
AF: Will he have every chance of making the major league roster?
BB: Yeah, it’s hard to say. Someone of those things we’ll be sorting out during the spring. But he’ll be given a chance.
AF: Now when you started talking to Washington about the deal for Gio Gonzalez, was there one name on the top of your list that you were intent on getting included in that deal from the start?
BB: We liked all four players quite a bit. It was a challenge getting all four, but we knew we had a pretty good pitcher we were trading. And I think, to Washington’s credit, it was a pretty competitive trade market. There were a lot of teams interested in Gio. But I don’t know that we’ve had a deal since I’ve been here where we’ve really liked every player at the level we like these guys. We think all of them are going to be major league players. The three pitchers have a chance to be major league starters. And in Norris’s case, we think he’s going to be a front-line major league catcher. So to get that many guys you think are going to be major leaguer starters or front-line major leaguers, I think is pretty unusual, so we were very pleased with what we got back.
AF: Well that deal certainly did a lot to fortify your whole system and it looks like those three guys could be the core of your major league rotation for some time to come.
BB: Yeah, hopefully. With a small market club, you kind of have to develop your own pitching. And when you trade for it, you have to get it pretty young. We’re not going to make much headway going through the free agent market for pitchers. It’s expensive and it’s pretty risky. So this is the way we have to do it. Hopefully this group will be a group that stays together for a long time. A lot of it’s predicated on what our future is.
AF: So let’s break it down one by one. Tom Milone, a left-hander, seems to be a pretty smart pitcher who knows what he’s doing. What did you see in him that you really liked?
BB: He’s a little bit like Dallas Braden. He’s a pitcher who’s really dominated at every level he’s been at since he signed. He’s not going to wow you with his fastball velocity like Dallas. But he really knows how to pitch. He’s got great command. And ever since he came out of the draft, he really hasn’t hit any rough spots whatsoever.
AF: Now Brad Peacock was the lowest drafted of all the guys you got this offseason, but his minor league numbers were great. What did you see in him you really liked?
BB: Well he was a converted guy. So he really just started pitching. But he’s got a power arm and a real sort of heavy fastball. He had a great year and pitched a little bit in the big leagues. But he was one of the better pitchers in the Eastern League and one of the top prospects for Washington, so we were pretty excited to get him in this deal.
AF: He had an awful lot of strikeouts. What’s his best pitch, and how hard does he throw?
BB: He’s got an explosive fastball. The fastball’s the best pitch for anybody to start with. So it all starts with his fastball. And I think he was near the top in the minor leagues in strikeouts per nine last year, and that’s usually a pretty good indicator of how a guy might do in the major leagues. He can get it up there 93-94mph with some movement and it’s got some pop to it.
AF: Now the other pitcher in that deal was A.J. Cole. He’s very young, but people rank him very highly and think he’s very talented. What got you excited about him?
BB: He was a high-profile high school kid out of the draft. He’s got sort of a classic pitcher’s build – long, lean with a real loose arm. He’s got a tremendous amount of talent, starting with his fastball – which he can get up to the mid-90s – which again, is a great place to start. He’s the farthest away of anybody, but he could have the highest upside of anybody.
AF: Where do you see him starting out this year, probably in Stockton?
BB: It’s hard to say right now. That would be the logical next step for him. But I don’t want to make any commitments till I’ve gotten a chance to get to know the kid.
AF: The final piece in that deal was catcher Derek Norris. He seems like a classic guy you might be interested in. He gets on base, he has some power. I know he had a low batting average the last year or two. I don’t know much about his defensive skills. So tell me how you see him?
BB: Well, just as you said. It’s hard to find a guy at that position who hits for power and gets on base. He’s not dissimilar to the way Mike Napoli was when he was coming up with the Angels. His throwing was very good last year. He throws runners out at a very high clip. So he’s got a good combination of skills for that position. He’s very athletic. He actually runs pretty well. He probably runs well enough to be an outfielder if you needed him to be.
AF: Do you view him as a catcher though?
BB: Yeah, he’s definitely a catcher. It’s just unusual to find a catcher who runs that well and is as athletic as he is.
AF: Do you anticipate him ending up in Triple-A or do you think he needs any more time in Double-A?
BB: I think he’s about ready to take the next step. We’ll see how spring goes, but I don’t think we have any illusions about whether he’s going to go back to Double-A.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our exclusive interview with A’s GM Billy Beane, in which he discusses the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, what he looks for in minor league players, his favorite new bands, and his biggest catch of the offseason! In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section.