A's Year In Review: Keith Lieppman Q&A, P2

Next year's Comeback Kid?

In part two of our year-end wrap-up Q&A with Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, we discuss the improvements of two A's middle infield prospects, the injury status of players who missed the entire 2010 season, two possible impact relievers for 2011, affiliation changes and plenty more...

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For part one of this interview, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: I read that you had a number of nice things to say about Josh Horton recently. How has he developed as a shortstop?

Keith Lieppman: I'm really excited about what he's become: a solid defensive player. He has shown range and the ability to play the position. You know there was always the question about whether he would be able to stay at short. At this point, he certainly has to be looked at as a guy who should get an opportunity at Triple-A next year.

OC: How about Eric Sogard in his first year in the A's system? Seemed like he handled second base really well defensively.

KL: Yeah, he did. Grady Fuson, back last season when they were both still with San Diego, grabbed him and pretty much told him that he needed to improve a lot of his game: turning double-plays, his throwing mechanics on difficult throws, and then learning to make the exceptional play. He had a few areas that were described to him [as areas of weakness] and he went home during the off-season and really worked on becoming a better defensive player. He became a really good defensive second baseman. I know that Tony DeFrancesco [manager of the Sacramento River Cats] mentioned it a couple of times about how he made big plays for him defensively. You begin to acknowledge guys who stand-out like that. Day-in and day-out, he was a Mark Ellis-type player for Sacramento. Very consistent.

And then you add his unbelievably tenacious at-bats. He battles pitchers, gets quality at-bats. He may be one of the guys who had the highest number of pitches seen over the course of the summer – I don't have the numbers in front of me – but there are a few guys, Sogard, Conner Crumbliss, who really stand-out as having a high number of pitches seen. He showed that in the big leagues. He had good at-bats when he did play.

OC: Chris Carter obviously had a rough start in the big leagues, but he seemed like he was getting it together by the end of the year. What do you see as the thing he needs to improve on to stay in the big leagues for a long time?

KL: I think we are really seeing what he has shown at every level. If you have a track-record for a player, at every level, he struggled early while getting accustomed to that part of the game at that level – the speed of the game or his understanding of it, whatever has affected him at each level, he has usually struggled early. And then, at some point, things usually begin to kick-in for him and he gets confident and the game comes together for him. We had expressed that to Bob Geren and the people in Oakland, that in the minor leagues, this has been his M.O. that this is what he has done in the past. We didn't expect him to go 0-for-33 [laughs], but if you notice, after that, he began to get a little bit of a sense of it. His at-bats became a little more aggressive and you really saw a different Chris than you saw in his previous at-bats. I think he is on-track and he will be able to do what people expected of him.

There is nobody [in Oakland] who can have that type of power and do damage that quickly and he started to show that with the homerun in Seattle. There are some things that he is starting to show that make people say, ‘that's why this is a guy that we were excited about.' There's a learning curve, but I think he's on par right now.

OC: Are there updates on players who missed the entire season like Dusty Coleman, James Simmons and Sean Doolittle? Are they still in the rehab stage or are any of them swinging the bat or throwing yet?

KL: Dusty Coleman is at Wichita State. He's working out with the baseball team there and he's going to school. He is just now being allowed to start hitting. We would have brought him to Instructional League, but it would have been non-productive for him to be here for a week. He's finishing that rehab and very much is healed and will be part of spring training next year.

Simmons is still in the no-throw mode. We are just hoping that things rehab well for him and that he is back up-and-running. With Doolittle, we are just having to wait and see how the rehab goes. He has had the surgery [on his knee] and apparently has felt better after this one than the previous surgeries that he has had, so we are anticipating that if all goes well, he will be ready to go in spring training.

OC: What is the health status on relievers Andrew Carignan and Brett Hunter?

KL: Carignan is in the Instructional League here and in the last three outings has begun to show signs of what he became in the Fall League a few years ago [2008]. He really is on target and has begun to find some things out. He is getting healthy and he may be next year's ‘Comeback Player of the Year.' He's on track and feels good about what he is doing. At that time [in 2008], he was ahead of Andrew Bailey [on the A's depth chart]. We know there is stuff there. If he is healthy, his rise should be pretty quick.

Hunter is still throwing. He's not in this [Instructs] program. He was on a throwing program [at the end of the season,] but he hadn't totally gotten back to 100 percent. We tend not to bring rehabs to Instructional League. He was still in the rehab mode when this program started, but he is throwing.

OC: How did you feel Fautino De Los Santos' first season in the bullpen went?

KL: Outstanding. I saw him during the playoff games and in the final part of the season and he really improved himself. His velocities are back up and he's throwing an outstanding breaking ball now that's tight. That was one of the knocks against him was that he didn't have a really solid off-speed pitch. He calls it a curveball, but it is a really tight, short, tough pitch with depth to it. Some people would call it a curveball, but either way it is a very good pitch and I anticipate that he is somebody who will be noticed in spring training. He's healthy and looking good.

OC: I know he isn't at Instructs, but Matt Thomson had a terrific first pro season. What is his scouting report from your perspective?

KL: Same thing, outstanding. He was the only one that we felt really confident about bring up to Stockton for that one game when they had one of their starters go down there. We had a hole in the staff there and we were looking around the organization to see who we could bring up and we came up with him as being the ideal guy because of his make-up, his stuff and his track record. We really like him. I think he is somebody who has improved a lot from what we thought we had coming out of the draft. He was a definite performer. He made a big impression on the entire system.

OC: I read that in college he was throwing more like 86-89, but I saw somewhere that he was being clocked in the Northwest League in the low-90s. Was he more in the high-80s or the low-90s?

KL: No, low-90s. He had velocity and command, along with a really good slider. All of the stuff was there. He had a really solid first year.

OC: Did Ian Krol get to throw much or was he pretty much done after a long and productive season?

KL: Ian, we shut down. He reached his max number of pitches, innings and that was the end of that. We had hoped that he would get to pitch into a playoff game in Stockton, but it didn't get to that point. Once that season ended, his season was done.

OC: How about Justin Marks? After a slow start with Kane County, it seemed like he got back on his feet?

KL: He started off really slow and then made some mental adjustments in Kane County. After he started to make those adjustments, he got a lot better. We moved him to Stockton and, again, there was a little bit of a learning curve there. He battled through some minor injuries that he had had before, groin injuries that had been bothering him. But you look at his strike-outs and some of the stuff that he has, it's about the consistency of his performance and limiting the damage. There are a lot of areas that he has improved on. I think he made a pretty good step forward, too, after a slow start.

OC: Royce Consigli had a big year for the AZL A's. What is his scouting report?

KL: Having to repeat the Arizona League, I admire his ability to go back. He's a young, high school player. He was only 17 when he signed. This is a very difficult league to play in Arizona in the summer and he was able to go back and put up solid numbers. He's shown really great ability with the bat. He's shown a little bit of power in this [Instructs] program and he's continued to impress people. He's one of the younger guys who is just making it through the system, but I think next year he should be in a position to compete for one of those Midwest League jobs in Burlington, Iowa.

OC: You will have two new affiliates next season in Burlington, Iowa, and Burlington, Vermont. I know that the Iowa squad is in the same Midwest League, but do you think that will be a big change going to the New York-Penn League [for short-season A ball]?

KL: I think so. The unfamiliar surroundings for the staff, just to begin with. Knowing the league and what to expect, that will totally change. I don't think we have ever been in the New York-Penn League, maybe with the Philadelphia A's. But I don't remember having any sense of that league or what to expect. We are going to have to get used to the travel and what to expect. I think we are the northern-most team. We'll have to figure out whether or not to continue to have a mini-camp in Arizona [after the draft]. Does it benefit us to bring players all the way out here [to Phoenix] just to have to shoot them all the way back to Burlington? There are going to be some decisions to make about how this will all play out. It won't really affect the players. They weren't able to drive their cars to Vancouver and they certainly aren't going to be able to drive their cars to Vermont. [laughs]

Just moving players [will present a new challenge]. It's hard enough to get to Burlington, Iowa. Moving players from Burlington, Iowa, to Burlington, Vermont, will provide some challenges. As far as the travel for instructors, there is a little more time to get into a park. You aren't probably going to be able to get there and work the same day like you could on a straight shot to Vancouver or Chicago. So there are some little different logistical things, but nothing that is going to cause us any real hardships.

OC: Will you regal the Bees with your big season in Burlington, Iowa, as a player [Lieppman hit .295 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs as a player in 1971 for the Bees]? [laughs]

KL: [laughs] That was a good start. If I had done that every year, who knows what would have happened? I had a good first year there and an enjoyable experience. Your first year in pro ball, I don't care where you play, it's a great year. People really enjoy the experience, so whether it's Kane County or Burlington or Stockton, it's all part of the game. It isn't necessarily the size of the ballpark or that sort of thing.

OC: What is your final assessment of the 2010 season now that it is complete? Are you satisfied with how it went?

KL: I really think it was an unusual year. The constant mantra for us the past few years has been injuries and, unfortunately, it started at the big league level on day one and that affected the minor leagues dramatically throughout the first half of the season. We scrambled and, in many cases, had to play players at higher levels than they probably should have been and there were some performances that weren't up to par, I think in part because of that. But as the season progressed, we really showed what I thought was an interesting phenomenon. Both in Kane County and in Stockton, young players, first-year players in Stockton like Green, Parker, Michael Spina and really Tyler Ladendorf, for that matter, the ability for a team to come together and learn how to play. Early on, you looked at Stockton and they weren't really very good as a team, but they learned how to play together as a team as the second half showed. They only added a couple of players [during the season] and the reality is that they learned how to play the game. They improved their skills and learned how to win as a team. I thought that was really good. And basically the same thing happened with the Kane County club. They got off to a little bit of a slow start, but they came on strong in the second half.

I think that says a lot about our conditioning program – we make them lift weights and the nutritional stuff. A lot of teams are fading at the end of the year but our teams all finished strong. Five teams in the playoffs and guys wanted more. You see a lot of teams towards the end, they just want to go home and end the thing. Our guys wanted to play on. I give credit to the Sacramento guys. They went to Game Five [of the divisional series] and those guys were still trying to win instead of just hoping to lose so they could hurry and get called up. That wasn't the attitude. It was ‘let's try to win this thing.' They were in the game into the seventh inning and there was a fluke play and the momentum changed and they ended up losing, but they fought back in that series, down 0-2 and they came back and were in position to win that game.

There were some great individual performances throughout the course of the summer: first-year players like Green and Parker and Crumbliss leading the minor leagues in walks. That's a pretty remarkable stat. He was on-base almost two times per game, which is pretty phenomenal. There were a number of good stories. Travis Banwart. You mentioned earlier the Arizona Fall League and he really made a huge jump from Double-A to Triple-A and he was probably their most consistent starter going down the stretch. Instead of losing velocity [at the end of the season], he started to peak out a little bit. He was putting up a little better numbers – 93, 94 [MPH]. He's put himself in a good position as our starter in the Fall League. Carlos Hernandez has had back-to-back pretty solid years.

For the most part, I think that we are content with what a really injury-riddled, bad start turned into with five teams really plugging it out and putting themselves in position for a championship.

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