The final installment of our chances to chat with members of the A’s organization welcomes in the assistant to Billy Beane, Assistant General Manager David Forst. This was literally the next best thing to actually getting to talk to Billy Beane himself. David and all of us did a little rapid fire Q&A on a number of topics throughout the organization. I’ll give credit here to Bill over at AthleticsFarm.com who already transcribed this portion of our session, and thus has saved me a little time in doing it myself. Bill does a great job and many of the questions brought up were his own on Sunday, so be sure to check out his site as well.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. One of the biggest topics of this entire offseason was how the A’s were going to fill their hole at shortstop after the trade of Cliff Pennington to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the loss of Stephen Drew as a free agent to the Boston Red Sox. There were a number of options out there, some intriguing, some downright depressing. But there was one that caught the eye of many who follow the Athletics closely, and he caught the eye of the Athletics themselves. Of course I’m referring to the new starting shortstop for the A’s Hiro Nakajima. Forst hinted that they had kept an eye on him since seeing him play in the World Baseball Classic back in 2009, and that they believed his offensive numbers from Japan would carry over to the United States. But they were also well aware that baseball adjustments weren’t the only obstacle, “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.” The new life that Nakajima will embark on will be different in just about every possible way, so his character will shine through if he is to succeed here. Forst also mentioned that Nakajima’s defense was not a concern and that accounts from their scouts were positive, “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.”
Forst seems to believe that the strength of this June’s amateur draft is in college players as opposed to the high schoolers that littered the 2012 draft. He also said that there is a bit of a gap in the minor league system. ”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.” Methinks the A’s might target college pitchers in the draft this year.
The recent acquisition of John Jaso came up as well, Forst confirmed that the essential piece that made the entire 3 team deal fall into place was A.J. Cole, and that Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo really wanted Cole back and seemed to regret trading him. Jaso certainly fits the classic Athletics mold for a player with a good ability to get on base and the occasional pop as well. Forst didn’t go as far as saying he was a “holy grail” type player in Billy Beane’s eyes, but it’s pretty clear he was.
I asked Forst about one thing that had troubled me all offseason, the fact that the A’s hadn’t given themselves more of a safety net with their young starting rotation. They have a lot of talent, but should some of those pitchers take a step backwards this team as a whole could suffer. Forst said they had not explored that avenue, because they felt they already had enough depth to weather any pitching storms with the likes of Travis Blackley, Dan Straily, and even Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. ”It’s not necessarily an attractive place for a veteran guy to come and have to make the team or fight for it,” Forst added. That makes total sense, no starting pitcher with any other options would want to come to a team that he would have to compete for a spot on. Any starter who wouldn’t mind competing for a spot may not be any better than the internal options the A’s already have.
The final question dealt with the incredible clubhouse chemistry that helped propel the A’s to the AL West title in 2012. ”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,” Forst said. Bob Melvin won the AL Manager of the Year for a reason, and it’s clear to everyone within the organization just how much impact he’s had. Forst understands the importance of team chemistry and they certainly take that into consideration when building the team for 2013.
The BlogFest portion of FanFest was a great experience, highlighted by a lot of good questions and good answers all around. The excitement exhibited by all three of our guests served only to intensify the enthusiasm for the upcoming season. The sky truly is the limit for this team, and they know it, but they know it won’t come easily.