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OaklandClubhouse: How long does it take with newly acquired minor league players like Miles Head, A.J. Cole or Brad Peacock to feel like you really know what you need to know about them as players and to feel like they are completely indoctrinated into your system?
David Forst: I think those are separate things. I think you get to know guys pretty well, certainly by the end of spring training and the few weeks of the season. I think you feel you know the player. How long it would take to sort of feel like they are part of the system and are on-board with the things we are doing probably takes a full season both for a pitcher and a hitter. You know from talking to Gil [Patterson, A’s minor league pitching coordinator] that there are so many things that he wants to impart on his pitchers that it pretty much takes a full season to get those things out, even with as fast as Gil talks.
With the position players, too, you want to be careful. You don’t want to change guys too much when they first get here. You want to give them an opportunity to show you what made them successful before. Then at some point, you as an organization and Trick [Todd Steverson, A’s minor league hitting coordinator] as the hitting coordinator, want to step in and tweak and make adjustments.
So really it takes a whole season for position players and pitchers to feel like they are totally on-board with the organization.
OC: With A.J. Cole, he struggled with Stockton, although defense may have played a factor there, but he excelled with Burlington. Do you feel like he has to return to High-A next year or do you think he can skip to Double-A after what he did in Burlington?
DF: I don’t think we’ll probably make that decision until spring training next year. We are definitely encouraged with what he did when he was sent back to Burlington. It is never an easy thing for a player to have to go backwards in the middle of the season. For a player of A.J.’s age and experience, he handled it incredibly well. He went down there and, from a performance perspective, you couldn’t have asked for anything more. From his walks and his strikeout numbers and he helped that team out and helped get them into playoff contention.
I think we are all happy ultimately with the totality of A.J.’s year. We will probably decide come February, March where it makes sense to fit him in next season.
OC: Brad Peacock had to fight off the line-drive to the elbow at the end of the year, but he seemed to be hitting his stride before that happened. Are you feeling comfortable with the adjustments that he made with the River Cats and where he is at going into next season?
DF: Yeah, I feel good about Brad. His season wasn’t really that different from Sonny Gray’s. Both guys were essentially in their first seasons in the organization. Sonny had that half-season and Instructs under his belt. But you are talking about two guys in their first full seasons with the organization who kind of got off to rocky starts but did make adjustments midway and pitched better.
You look at Brad’s numbers over the course of the season and they’re not pretty. A six-ERA isn’t probably what anybody had in mind. But he did find a way to win 12 games. He did still strike-out more than a batter an inning and really other than his last start after coming back from the elbow injury, finished up on a positive note.
I think as an organization we are happy with the way that Brad was going towards the end of the year.
OC: With the new CBA, you got to see a lot of your draft class for a lot longer this year than you would have in the past. Do you think that especially some of your younger players like Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson will have a leg up going into next year compared to where they would have been at with the late signing date under the old CBA?
DF: Without a doubt. You cannot quantify how critical that was for those guys to get hundreds of at-bats under their belts. You’re right, under the old system, we might not have seen any of those guys until the middle of August. Even then, they may have gotten in only a few games in the Arizona League, let alone have the opportunity to move up to Vermont and, in Addison’s case, get to Iowa.
That’s critical experience for those guys. As great as their summers were, we will see this benefiting them more down-the-road.
OC: Russell put together some eye-popping numbers this season. Obviously you guys were high on him to take him 11th overall. What is it about Russell in particular that drew your staff to zero in on him with your top pick?
DF: I learned this a little more after we drafted him – I only had a chance to see him play one game in high school and didn’t really have a chance to meet him – but I think what our scouting staff knew was there is a presence and a personality that comes with Addison that goes beyond his physical skills on the field.
We would never have moved him as aggressively as we did [from Rookie Ball to Low-A with a stop in short-season] if we didn’t think he was mature enough and ready enough to handle it. That kind of thing jumps out at you. He’s 18-years-old, but he’s not fazed by anything. He is so relaxed on the field and it allows those physical gifts to come through. He’s exciting to watch and he’s fun to be around. Our entire staff has been able to see that in just a short time.
OC: You were able to bring over Renato Nunez and Vicmal De La Cruz from the Dominican Academy a little earlier than you have with other international signings in the past. How do you think that transition went for those two and do you think you will be bringing over some of the Academy guys earlier in the future?
DF: They both had the talent to force your hand. That is kind of the difference between them and maybe some of the guys who have taken a little longer in the DSL. Both Nunez and Vicmal are incredibly talented. The international staff deserves a lot of credit, dating back obviously to Dan Kantrovitz, who no longer here [he is the head of amateur scouting for the Cardinals].
Both guys had solid summers: Nunez a little better on paper, but Vicmal’s polish is there. You can see it when you go to the park. I think it will be great for them to have that under their belt if they do eventually get into full-season play at a young age. A lot of the Latin players that we have in full-season ball are 21, 22 years old. For these guys to be able to get there as teenagers will be great for them.
OC: Michael Ynoa got a chance to pitch regularly this year, which was a nice change for him. You have a big decision coming up regarding him and whether to place him on the 40-man roster this November. What will go into the decision whether or not to protect him from the Rule 5 draft?
DF: Yeah, that’s a pretty unique situation that we are going to be facing in the next few months. The positive with Michael is that he did get out there and pitch. We were finally able to get him out of Arizona and see him in a New York-Penn League boxscore, which was great. I know that it did a lot for his mental well-being because anytime someone spends as much time in Arizona as he has, it can be a grind. It’s hard.
I saw him pitch in Vermont and our guys commented on how much fun he was having being out there. Ultimately, yes, we need to decide whether to protect him based on the 30-40 innings that he threw this year. It’s not that different from other decisions based on how we decide. The factors would be who gets left off in his place, how much room we have on the 40-man in November and December. It will be a tough call for us at that time.
OC: Is it at all similar to when you had to make the decision with Henry Rodriguez? He had a little more experience but not a tremendous amount more when you added him.
DF: I’d have to go back and look at exactly what Henry’s numbers were, but that one obviously worked out pretty well for us and for Henry. If you are looking for a comp, that’s probably a good one.
OC: It is fun given how much you have traded back-and-forth with the Washington Nationals in the past year-and-a-half to see both clubs so competitive this year?
DF: I don’t think it was by design that we traded a lot with them, but it has worked out that way. Billy [Beane, A’s GM] and Mike Rizzo [Nats’ GM] have a really good relationship at this point. You do keep track of the guys who have gone. Whether it is Henry or Corey Brown or whoever, you have an emotional attachment to guys who came up through your system and you certainly root for them as individuals.
OC: Are you concerned at all about innings totals for your young starters at the big league level coming down the stretch?
DF: There’s no one in the big leagues who is really of concern right now (innings-total wise). Bob [Melvin, A’s manager] and Curt [Young, A’s pitching coach] have done a really good job of monitoring these guys over the course of the season in terms of pitch counts. We’ve gotten these guys extra days [of rest] whenever it was possible. Even A.J. Griffin and Dan Straly, who spent a lot of time in the minor leagues, while they were there we sort of kept it in the back of our minds. Because of that we watched their pitch counts closely. No one is more vigilant than Gil is when it comes to keeping minor league pitchers in line in terms of innings and pitch counts. So we are confident with where they are right now.
OC: When we did this interview at this point last year, we talked about Sean Doolittle making a choice about whether he wanted to rehab that wrist some more or move to the mound. Is it hard to put into words what he has been able to accomplish these past 12 months to be such a big contributor for you at the big league level as a pitcher this year?
DF: Yeah, it’s pretty remarkable. Like you said, we were just barely deciding whether this was going to happen or not. Now we are talking about a guy who has closed games in the big leagues and put up some off the best set-up numbers in the league. You can’t spread credit around enough.
Obviously from Sean himself to Garvin Alston [A’s rehab pitching coordinator] and Gil working with him at Instructional League to each of his pitching coaches along the way: Craig Lefferts in Stockton, Don Schulze in Midland and Emo [Scott Emerson] in Sacramento. All of these guys have played a part in turning a pretty good first base prospect into one of the best set-up guys in the American League. It is one of a number of great stories on this team this year, but potentially the best one.
OC: Would he ever be able to swing the bat in an extra-inning game or something like that, or are his days as a hitter, even in a one-off at-bat, over?
DF: I really hope we never get to the point where we run out of players and have to have him swing the bat. We are going to do everything we can to keep him healthy as a pitcher and that includes not letting him in the batter’s box.
OC: Your affiliation agreement with the Burlington Bees is up and the “affiliation shuffle” that goes on amongst the team is happening right now. Do you have a timeframe for when you will know what the team’s Low-A affiliate will be next year?
DF: The sooner, the better. You don’t like going too far into the off-season without knowing those things. I know that Ted [Polakowski, A’s director of minor league operations] and Keith [Lieppman, A’s director of player development] are working hard on trying to figure out that situation, but I don’t think there is a timeframe right now.
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