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Like so many of the A’s recent draft choices, Bryn Alderson comes from a baseball background. His father is Sandy Alderson, the legendary former General Manager of the Oakland A’s who recently returned to the front office of the San Diego Padres after a stint in the Commissioner’s Office. The younger Alderson is well on his way to a successful baseball career of his own. After attending Dartmouth College, where he was a pitcher, Bryn joined the Oakland A’s front office as a Baseball Operations Assistant. In 2005, he was named Coordinator of Scouting.
Alderson spoke with us on Wednesday, one week after the end of the 2006 draft. He gave us an insider’s look at the draft process, his feelings on the players that the A’s took and more…
OaklandClubhouse: What is the draft room like on draft day?
Bryn Alderson: It’s pretty exciting on draft day. We have meetings in the draft room for about a week in advance. It can get fairly monotonous. There is a lot of food in there, scout comfort foods, soda and whatnot. We try to make it as comfortable for the scouts so they feel like they can stay in there for awhile. They are generally in there for 10 hours a day for a week before the draft, so when draft day comes around, everyone is really excited and everyone is really accustomed to the room by then.
Everyone is really excited on draft day. The area scouts who have all flown in, and they are hoping that maybe they can get their guy or one of their top guys and everyone else is looking forward to who we end up with and finding out where the guys we’ve analyzed so closely end up.
OC: How long out before a draft do you starting looking at players?
BA: Well, this day and age, there is a lot of information out there, so the players are on the map a lot of times as early as high school. Once our scouts send in the summer follow list, then the summer hits and a lot of the summer league teams start playing and that’s when it really gets going.
The advanced scouts send in reports starting in January and generally in the areas of the country where there is a lot more sunshine you have more information. Generally in January everything gets going, our scouting directors are in the office and are starting to read reports and focusing in on guys depending on who sees what players playing well early in the season.
OC: On draft day, are you constantly on the phone with players asking if they will sign if you take them in a certain slot, that sort of thing?
BA: That does go on. There is a lot changing every minute in the days leading up to draft day. A lot of it is done through the area scout, whether the area scout has information on whether a kid is signable through what round. As the draft goes on, when the dynamics of the draft are changing, the player’s opinion might change.
Our scouting director, our area scouts and sometimes even Billy [Beane] are on the phone with the kids or with their agents trying to feel out the opinions of the agent or of the player to gauge their whether they will sign -- not just before the draft, but as the draft is going on. Sometimes the player’s or the agent’s opinions will change as the draft goes on.
OC: How different was it this year as opposed to the last few years not having a first round pick and having to sit through the entire first round and the supplemental round?
BA: It was a little less exciting, but that was what we had in front of us. We signed Esteban Loaiza and hopefully that will work out better for us as the year goes on. It is a little tough. You scout everyone, regardless of when your first pick is, so it is a little bit tough when you have to watch them come off of the board. Hopefully you are pulling names off of your “tough sign board” or your board that represents the later rounds rather than your earlier rounds. It is a little difficult, but that is the way it goes.
OC: I noticed that a number of the players you took this year were either from smaller Division-I schools or schools that weren’t in Division-I. Was that something that you guys found was an area that wasn’t being mined as much as it could be or was it just happenstance that those players were there?
BA: It was more happenstance. You have to take the draft for what it is. This year’s draft wasn’t really strong if you ask most people, so if there is any year that you aren’t with a first round pick, maybe it was this year. You know, we’ll find out in a couple years if the draft was strong or not. You never know, but I think that that was the make-up of the draft.
You never want to draft for a position if you can. You don’t want to have too many preconceived notions going into the draft because the draft can change at any moment. Once 65 picks are up, the complexion of the draft can change a lot. So I don’t think it was really a plan. It was just that the draft presented the situation to us.
OC: Can you tell us a little bit about [A’s first pick] Trevor Cahill and why you guys zoomed in on him so closely?
BA: Trevor is a West Coast kid from San Diego, Vista High School. He is a right-handed pitcher with a three-pitch mix. He has shown three-plus pitches at times. He can throw consistently 90-91 and can touch 93-94. His real plus pitch is a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He is a really good athlete. He has played shortstop and he is a smart kid.
We like the make-up of our first two picks, especially. Trevor was committed to go to Dartmouth in the Ivy League, so he is a very smart kid and I think adaptability is particularly important when you draft high school kids. We saw him early. Our scouting director [Eric Kubota] and Billy Owens, [A’s director of player personnel], saw him pitch extremely well and then Billy [Beane] went down there and saw him pitch again.
We are very happy with Trevor, but again, you never know what you are going to have available so it wasn’t like we were definitely eyeing him as our first pick for sure. It sort of is just how the draft ended up working out.
OC: You went to Dartmouth, right? Is it going to be hard to convince someone not to go there?
BA: [laughing] Yeah, I have actually gotten a couple of emails from people telling me that I am helping with the demise of the Dartmouth program. I think that [Cahill being committed to Dartmouth] is just a coincidence, but we are very fortunate to have a kid who was able to get into Dartmouth and someone whose education is obviously very important to him.
OC: Do you think you will be able to sign [A’s second pick] Matt Sulentic, as well?
BA: I think so. I think we are pretty close to signing Sulentic. I don’t think it will be a problem. As you know, when you do go in and select a player, signability is a very important part of it, especially for a team like us. Our area scout down there, Blake Davis, got a positive read on his signability and we look forward to signing Sulentic as soon as possible. We like to get these kids signed and started on their pro careers as quickly as possible so that they can get to the big leagues as quickly as they can.
OC: Do you anticipate both Cahill and Sulentic going to Arizona, assuming that both sign?
BA: Most likely. It’s not my decision but I assume that is where they will go. Our high school kids have generally gone to [the Arizona Rookie League] and whether they spend very much time there, only time will tell.
OC: The A’s seventh round pick, Michael Leake, had faced Cahill in high school. Is that how you guys started to get interested in him?
BA: It wasn’t the fact that he had faced Cahill. Southern California is always a rich community for baseball. He was another player who when our pick was up in the seventh round, he was the best player available at that point.
OC: Both [A’s fourth round pick] Chad Lee and [A’s sixth round pick] Andrew Bailey are coming off of serious injuries in the last 20 months. How did you guys gauge their injury progress? Did you look at injury reports or talk to the players directly?
BA: We always do our due diligence with the medical work. We have our minor league medical coordinator, Jeff Collins, come in two days prior to the draft and go through our top-200 draft prospects at least and then look at any other guys who we have marked with red flags.
But these guys [Lee and Bailey] have both demonstrated the ability to pitch and pitch effectively with high velocity on their fastballs after the injuries so the injuries were no longer a factor. We always research injuries, big time. When you are talking about this amount of money, it is really important to have a good grasp on the history of their injuries.
OC: You picked up four pretty athletic outfielders in the first 14 rounds or so. Are you guys focusing now more on traditional “tools” then maybe you used to?
BA: I don’t think it is necessarily a trend that we have been geared towards, but you always like to have athletic kids. You like to have kids who may be able to play different positions or pitchers who have shown good athleticism by playing, for instance, a middle of the diamond position that takes a lot of athleticism that some pitchers might not ordinarily have.
This year, we did look at some players with speed. In particular, we took a kid who just turned 17 out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy who is “toolsy”, as they say, in the eighth round, Angel Sierra. He is a plus-plus runner who can play centerfield. But, in general, you always want to take good athletes.
OC: Were there any players who fell to you guys in spots that you were surprised to see them?
BA: One guy we were very impressed to see available in the 10th round was Christian Vitters, a shortstop out of Frenso State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Some people have doubted some of his tools, but he has always done a lot of what we covet. He has shown good plate discipline and the occasional power for a shortstop. He had a wrist or hand injury that backed a number of teams off, but if you had asked some guys a few months earlier, Vitters is someone who could have gone in the top three or four rounds.
OC: Is he someone you think you’ll be able to sign at this point?
BA: I think so, yeah, we should be able to.
OC: Danny Hamblin, your ninth round pick, was someone who people thought very highly of coming into Arkansas and then he hurt his shoulder his freshman year, but he did show some good power in college. Is he someone you envision growing into a power-hitting corner infielder?
BA: Yeah, he probably could. As you said, he did suffer a right-shoulder injury. I think it was sliding as a freshman and his arm strength hasn’t come back fully after the surgery in the off-season, but he is a good athlete again and he has shown some good power and speed. He is a guy who could probably play the corner, but he is athletic enough maybe to play in the outfield.
OC: Another player who fell in the draft because of injury was Mike Ambort, a catcher from Lamar. Before the injury, some people had him going in the first one or two rounds. He went to you at 18. Do you think he will sign?
BA: Well, you never want to be discouraged to the point where you don’t think you can sign a guy, otherwise we wouldn’t have selected him, so if all goes well, we should be able to sign him. We feel very lucky to get him where we did.
OC: Just like last year, you picked up another family member from the front office late in the draft, Burke Lieppman [son of A’s Director of Player Development, Keith Lieppman]. Is he a draft-and-follow candidate like Shane Keough was last year?
BA: Yeah, he might fit that bill. Burke is a guy who I’ve seen for awhile playing down in our Arizona Papago complex. He is a tall first-baseman and I think he may be the type who is a draft-and-follow.
OC: How did you see Shane Keough fitting into the system when you went ahead and made the decision to sign him?
BA: He is a draft-and-follow from last year who was playing out at Yavapai College where there were actually a number of players who were drafted this season. We had good numbers on Shane as he played this year. We did select him hoping that he would come into his own this year and he did everything that we were hoping.
[A’s area scout] Jeremy Schied down in Arizona had some very good numbers on him in his area regardless of whether we drafted him or not, so it was very relieving for Jeremy once we did get Shane signed.
Shane is a very good athlete. He has very good bloodlines, of course, with his father Matt having played in the big leagues. Shane is a good hitter who has displayed some power, but he also has some speed and can also play some centerfield. He may not stay there, but he is a great athlete. He has a lot of tools.
OC: You ended up with two players from UNC, Greensboro and two more players from the Southern Conference. Was that due to the fact that area scout Neil Avent had been coaching at UNCG before this year?
BA: I think that Neil’s experience as a coach contributed to his transition to being a scout. He had known our East Coast cross-checker, Michael Holmes, very well before so they did very well together on the road this year scouting. But again, it’s about the players who are available at the time that you are ready to pick. So it isn’t necessarily your intention before the draft to select from a familiar school or one area in particular, but Neil did a great job scouting that area this year. I think that probably has a lot to do with him coaching in that area.
OC: So what is your next step now that the draft is over? Do you get some time off?
BA: There is always work to be done. I’m out here in Oakland so there is always work going on. But there is always a little bit of a break after we get these guys signed and on their way to playing in either Arizona or in Vancouver or even Kane County. There may be a little bit of time off, but not too much. There is always more to do. There is the Cape Cod League this summer and other summer leagues and area code games to scout.
OC: During the draft, did you text message your dad or anything to find out what was going on in San Diego? [laughing]
BA: I spoke with him a few times, but not exactly during the draft [laughing]. We spoke a little bit, albeit cautiously on my end. I don’t want to have that conflict of interest come about, but we talked about it. He did spend quite a bit of time in the draft room, as he likes to be in the middle of everything. I think they had a decent draft. I know he was happy with it and I was happy with ours.
OC: Is he happy being back in the middle of the everyday operations of a baseball team?
BA: He certainly is. He enjoyed New York and the challenges that were presented there, but he certainly missed the everyday winning and losing and the responsibility that goes along with that. He is very happy to be back with a team and I think he got very lucky landing in a city such as San Diego. He is very happy.
OC: How strange was it for you last year when you guys picked Jared Lansford after probably growing up watching his father play for the A’s?
BA: It certainly was strange. Jared has had quite a season this year. I’ve known Carney for a long time and it is sort of hard to believe that his son was draft eligible already. It was strange, but it is a great baseball family. As you know, Josh [Carney’s oldest son] was in the draft this year. We were very happy with Jared having known Carney for so long.
OC: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
BA: No problem!