The Oakland A's might have one or two of their top pitching prospects with them when they break camp…
Q&A With BP's Kevin Goldstein, Part Two
OaklandClubhouse: To have a General Manager resign [Jim Bowden, Washington Nationals] in large part because of a scandal relating to the international free agent market has to have a big impact on how players are signed over there, right? Especially since this was an organization that was actually run by Major League Baseball not that long ago.
Kevin Goldstein: I think that is a valid point. I do think you are going to see some tightening there, especially since Major League Baseball – they have an office in the Dominican whose job it is to make sure that things are on the up-and-up. That office confirmed the Esmailyn Gonzalez signing. They said, ‘yes, this is who he is and this is how much money he is getting and he is 16 years old.' So they didn't do their job either. It's ugly and I don't know necessarily how you fix it because the Dominican Republic is not the United States of America and it is a whole other world. In many ways, it is a third-world country and you are dealing with kids who have rudimentary, if any, education, You are dealing with a whole lot of money and a whole lot of people involved in organized crime. You are dealing with all sorts of stuff down there. This stuff happens all over the place in 18 million ways and nobody hears anything about it.
OC: Do you ever envision a situation where there would be an international draft that every player had to be involved in in order to gain entry into affiliated baseball, or is that just a pie-in-the-sky idea?
KG: There has been talk about a world draft, but I actually do think it is pie-in-the-sky. I'm also not convinced that it does anything as far as competitive balance. The complaint is always that it isn't balanced because the Yankees and Red Sox and now the A's and the Mets spend all of their money there and we don't have it. If you have a world draft, all of the teams that cry poor are not going to have the scouting resources to accurately gauge the guys anyway. So I don't think it would really change anything.
But it has been talked about. There are issues with it. Teams aren't all that on-board with a world draft and then there are various legal and logistical issues that are kind of beyond me that people have mentioned to me. I think a more intelligent way to help the draft would be to allow for the trading of draft picks. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw something like that come up in the next collective bargaining agreement. That is a whole other issue, however, in that the draft is dealt with completely in the collective bargaining agreement and the draft is always the red-headed step-child of the collective bargaining agreement. It's always the last thing that they talk about, if they even talk about it at all. It's never a huge part of anything, so it is always hard to get change done there.
OC: Speaking of the 2008 draft, the A's took Jemile Weeks. He obviously didn't have a chance to play much before he got hurt, and there were two guys taken right after him in Brett Wallace and Aaron Hicks who got off to great starts to their professional careers. Do you think that the A's made a mistake in taking Weeks with that pick over Wallace or Hicks, or do you see Weeks fitting in well into the A's system?
KG: I think you might call the decision a mild surprise. This is going to sound funny, but I think that it is a mistake to call it a mistake six months after the pick. We won't know if it is a mistake until four or five years down the line. Obviously, Brett Wallace had a great debut. But at the same time, Jemile Weeks is an athletic, upside guy who plays up the middle, whereas Brett Wallace is an unathletic guy who is probably going to have to play first base. There is a lot more flexibility with a guy like Weeks.
Hicks is a guy who is obviously very good, but a lot of teams, including I believe the A's, liked him better as a pitcher, but he didn't want to pitch. He wanted to be a centerfielder.
OC: If Weeks has a chance to play at High-A Stockton this season and puts up the kind of numbers that he put up in his short stint in Kane County last year, does he move up into that four-star prospect category?
KG: I definitely think so, yeah. If he stays healthy and does what you said, which would probably end up being like .280 with 15 homers, 80 walks and 40 steals, he is going to look like a hell of a player. I think that is what the dream is: a second baseman who has great speed, some power and on-base skills. That is a dangerous player. The name that comes up a lot – and this is a guy who I think was one of the more underrated players – is Ray Durham. I think he can be a Ray Durham kind of guy. Ray Durham was a heck of a ballplayer in his time.
OC: The knock on Durham was always his fielding. Is that something that Weeks is going to be better at than Durham?
KG: Weeks is one of those guys where all of the tools are there for him to be a very good defensive second baseman, but he is just not there yet. The only risk that you are taking is that the bat just moves too fast for the glove to catch-up. But he certainly could become a good second baseman.
OC: Another guy the A's picked up in the draft was Rashun Dixon.
KG: I love him.
OC: What sort of projection would you have for him, or is he so raw at this point that it is hard to put any sort of projection on him?
KG: You know, it's funny. If you talk to [Keith Lieppman], they want to put him in Kane County, but not necessarily at the beginning of the year. I live close to Kane County's park and the weather stinks early in the year and you can't get as much consistent work. So they might hold him back for awhile and have him work on the swing and get him a lot of reps [in extended spring training] before they send him there when the weather warms up.
Dixon is raw. It's an athlete, at this point. He was better than a lot of people expected him to be in Arizona last summer, but he is one of those guys who if he went to Kane County and hit .230 and struck-out a ton, it wouldn't be any more surprising than if he hit .280 and was flashy and showed incredible promise. There is a pretty wide range of what Rashun Dixon can do this year.
OC: Two other guys that the A's went over slot for in the draft last season were Brett Hunter and Dusty Coleman. What are your thoughts on those two prospects?
KG: Coleman is a very interesting shortstop. He is a damn good shortstop defensively. There are going to be some questions about the bat overall. Hunter, I think, might be a real find. He was, without question, one of the best pure arms in the draft. There was just the question of the injury. When they signed him and he had the time off, he was healthy in Instructs and he was bringing some serious heat again. He was in the upper-90s, or at least touching the upper-90s. If he is back to that, and I think they are going to manage his health and his work load and I think they are going to keep him on a program where he is kind of a regimented reliever, where he is expected to throw X-number of innings on certain days out of the bullpen, then I think he could end up looking like a pretty good closer prospect 12 months from now.
OC: So you see him as a reliever more than as a starter?
KG: I think his ultimate role will be out of the bullpen, but I think it is going to be as a late-innings guy because he has a ton of stuff.
OC: Andrew Carignan is a closer-type who is moving up the system pretty quickly. Do you think he has the stuff to be a closer in the big leagues?
KG: I think his stuff is probably a little short of closer-worthy. I think that he is more set-up-man-worthy. His one bugaboo, of course, is throwing strikes. That's going to be everything for him. He has a big league arm, it is just going to come down to him being able to throw strikes. Relievers who walk guys don't tend to last very long. They tend to drive teams insane and they want to get rid of them. He's got to throw more strikes at this point and I think that is certainly going to be the main focus of his year. Everything else is pretty much there for him.
OC: Two guys who throw strikes pretty consistently are James Simmons and Vince Mazzaro. Is it possible for them to develop into four-star prospects, or is that not really their ceiling?
KG: Let's start with Simmons. Simmons didn't make my top-11 and I got a lot of e-mails saying, ‘why do you hate James Simmons?' ‘What's wrong with James Simmons?' The answer is that nothing is wrong with James Simmons at all. I like James Simmons. Like I said to someone else, if James Simmons was a Houston Astro, he would be the number two prospect in the system. The biggest problem with James Simmons [from a ranking perspective] is that he is in Oakland. Simmons is a guy who is everything that they expected him to be and exactly who they thought he was when they drafted him and they signed him, which is a guy whose ceiling is probably a number four starter, but he has such a ridiculously excellent chance of being that. There is so little risk with him.
I think after last year, that is still the case. He had a pretty good year while dealing with some pretty strange health issues with the sleep disorder. He has actually been one of the big talks early on in the A's spring camp, where he is showing a much improved breaking ball, which is the one pitch that has always, I don't want to say has been a problem for him, but has maybe lagged behind the other pitches.
If you think about that Triple-A [Sacramento] rotation, it is going to be all prospects. It's going to be Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, James Simmons and Vin Mazzaro. You could be in a situation where God forbid someone gets hurt in late April, Simmons might be the guy at Triple-A who is most ready to step-in. While he has the lowest upside of the four, he might be the most ready.
OC: Because of his fastball command mostly?
KG: Yeah. If you think of a guy like Cahill, Anderson or even Mazzaro, there is a chance that they could kind of blow up in a bad way. I think if you threw Simmons into the big leagues right now, there is a chance that he would give you six innings and keep you in the game. I think there is a chance that he would be the first guy called up because he would be the safest pick to come up, even though, again, he has less upside than the other three.
OC: What about Mazzaro? When I saw him in Stockton, there were starts where he looked like the best starter in the Cal League and a lot of other starts where he didn't fare that well. Obviously, last year it sort of clicked for him in the Texas League. Is that for real for him?
KG: When he pitched here in Kane County and, like you said, in Stockton, there were a lot of consistency issues. But he was always one of those guys who the scouts liked better than the numbers. It was always kind of mismatch for him. You would always sort of wonder, ‘why is he not better?' Because you would see what was coming out of his hand and it's actually pretty good. I do think that he sort of caught-up in a good way to that. He still needs to transform himself and learn how to pitch. As he moves up, and I think you saw this when he was moving up to Triple-A, he did make the adjustments. Once you get there, you need to throw more pitches. They need to think that there might be something more than the sinker coming. At Double-A, he was really just living off of that sinker. It's going to come down to the refinement of some of his secondary pitches.
I certainly think that he could be a big league starter. Kind of an innings-eating, groundball kind of a guy. Not a huge star, or anything, but innings-eating, groundball guys who can pitch pretty well, last I looked those guys made about $12 million a year.
Kevin Goldstein's work can be found at http://www.baseballprospectus.com/. He will be in the Bay Area on March 26th for a book signing along with BP colleagues Gary Huckabay and Christina Kahrl. The signing will be at 7:30pm at the Books Inc. shop in Alameda.
Stay tuned for the remaining portion of this interview.
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