Note: This interview took place on the afternoon of Saturday, September 11, before the conclusion of the playoff runs for Sacramento and Kane County.
OaklandClubhouse: Now that the minor league regular season is over, how would you assess the season from a player-development standpoint? Obviously the injuries were rough.
Farhan Zaidi: It was definitely a year where some guys took a step forward and some guys took a step back, unfortunately. We started the year losing Grant Desme – losing isn't really the right word for it – but from an organizational-depth standpoint, that was a loss. And then we had a couple of guys like Sean Doolittle who we had high hopes for this year who never got on track physically.
OC: What's Doolittle's status right now?
FZ: He's doing well. He may get into a game in Instructs, but I'm not sure they are going to want to push it that much. The goal is to have him ready for spring training next year.
OC: Did he end up having surgery a second time?
FZ: No, not a second one. He's kind of rehabbed the first one. I think he is doing pretty well, but until he's playing games again, you can't say for certain. But there's definitely optimism there.
Then we had a couple of guys like Corey Brown and Adrian Cardenas who started the year in Triple-A and then had a bit of a hiccup there and had to go back [to Double-A], but they ended the season strong, which is what you like to see. They both went back and did really well for Midland and they are both up and contributing for Sacramento in the playoffs. They are both candidates to start next year in Triple-A and be knocking on the door.
I think every year you are going to have guys who step-up and guys who step down. You just hope that you have built enough positive momentum behind your key guys. Not everyone is going to have the kind of season that you would hope for, but overall, the fact that we had a bunch of teams make the playoffs and there was some upward mobility in our system with guys getting promoted and we have an exciting contingent going to the Fall League, so all of those things are positives.
OC: Speaking of the AFL contingency, you are sending the left-side of the Stockton infield in Grant Green and Stephen Parker. I don't know if you can ever expect someone to have the kind numbers that Green did, but I think he had some of those expectations coming in, but Parker put up a season on the same level. What is your assessment of those two guys?
FZ: They are both very advanced hitters. Like you said, Grant being a first-round pick with the kind of pedigree that he had – being a three-year starter at a Pac-10 school and being one of the top hitters in the Cape the one year he spent there – you almost expected it. You don't want to take away from the accomplishment of what he did this year, but, you're right, we almost expected him to do what he did this year.
And Parker actually had a similar year and was really more consistent than Grant, who got off to kind of a slow start and then really heated up at the end of the year and started hitting for power in the second half. Stephen, I think, was just very consistent from day one with his power and batting average. A lot of his numbers are pretty steady over the year, which is obviously an impressive feat for a guy who didn't have the same pedigree as Grant. But nonetheless, the college position players that you take in the first five or six rounds, you hope that they can go to Stockton and be productive. Both of those guys did that, which is great.
OC: Defensively, I know there have been some questions about Grant's throwing arm. Are you guys still confident that he can stay at that position, or is there a position change in the offing?
FZ: I think you've mentioned it before that a shortstop with his kind of offensive profile is one of the most valuable players in baseball probably, so there is every intention of giving him every opportunity possible to stick there because of the value that he brings to that position. But part of that is going to be a question of organizational depth also, and Cliff Pennington has had a really nice year for us at the shortstop position and has established himself as a big league starter. We will have to look at Grant's position moving forward both as a function of how we evaluate his defensive ability and what is the best way to keep him moving up the ladder and get him to the big leagues. No determination has been made, but those are sort of the factors.
OC: How about Parker? I've heard good things about the defense despite the high error totals. Are you confident that he is ultimately a third baseman?
FZ: He's definitely got the athleticism to play there. He's a relatively young player for his class also both in terms of age and experience. I think he just needs more reps there. A lot of infielders, especially in the lower levels of the minors, make a lot of errors and that is not necessarily the best judge of their ability or potential, more importantly. He's going to the Fall League as a third baseman and I anticipate him starting next year at third base. It's going to be a continual evaluation process. He's not a finished project at third base, but very few guys in their first full pro year are, but we have hopes for him sticking there.
OC: Ian Krol finished the year with Green and Parker in Stockton. I have heard rave reviews about his competitiveness, but what about his stuff?
FZ: His fastball velocity is interesting. It kind of fluctuates. He will be 86-90 in some games and in other games he will be 88-92, even touching 93. But what he really brings to the table is one) his command, and two) is his secondary pitches. He has a really good breaking ball and change-up. This might be an over-simplification, but when I think about a prospect, particularly a starting pitching prospect, there are really three criteria and any pitcher has to meet two of them: there's fastball velocity, fastball command and secondary pitches. And even if he is a guy who is ultimately an 88-91 guy from the left-side, the fact that he has good command and that he has really good secondary pitches, he has plenty of stuff to succeed in that role.
You are right that the competitiveness and the moxie – being as young as he is and competing against much older players – it takes a special kind of guy to do that. He's obviously done it very well. He's a guy who could move pretty quickly. A guy's first full professional season, you don't want to put too much on his plate. He was pitching at home [with Kane County], so we wanted to keep him in Kane County for most of the year, but when we had a need and we felt that he was really ready, it was nice to be able to let him finish up at the next level.
OC: What about Matt Thomson? He had one great start in Stockton and his numbers were really out-of-this-world in Vancouver?
FZ: He's a guy that we were thrilled to get where we did in the draft because we knew he had good stuff. He had kind of been a starter and a reliever in college and had performed better in the reliever role, but we had seen him with good starter stuff. He's a big, physical guy. He's a guy who can sit in solid-average and touch-plus velocity and he was really a man-among-boys in the Northwest League. Even though that is a park that plays well for pitchers, his walk and strike-out rates were outstanding and those things are really independent of the park. If you look at his statistical performance, which we do, and we continually rate [players drafted this year] even as they come out of the draft, he had one of the top-five pitching lines of anyone drafted this year. That's obviously really exciting.
Being an older, physically mature guy, he is definitely somebody who can move quickly.
OC: How about the three high school players taken in rounds two through four? Do you expect Yordy Cabrera, Aaron Shipman and Chad Lewis to be full-season players next year, or is it too early to tell?
FZ: It's a wait-and-see. I think it is going to be a function of the kind of camps they have next year. One of the drawbacks of the late signing deadline is that these guys only got out and played in a handful of games in Rookie Ball and that's not really a good gauge of their readiness level. If they signed earlier and got up to Vancouver, maybe you could make a determination on them – particularly the question of whether they could start next year in full-season ball. But at this point it is just too early to tell.
Even when they came in, it was nice to get them in and they will be in Instructional League, which will be another chance to see those guys, but they weren't necessarily in baseball shape and hadn't faced live pitching in awhile, so it is really tough to make a determination based on a handful of at-bats. That's going to be something that we evaluate in Instructs and in camp next year.
Stay tuned throughout this week for parts two and three of this interview and throughout the next several weeks for more "Year in Review" coverage.