A's 2010 Year In Review: Farhan Zaidi, P. 2

OAKLAND - The 2010 minor league regular season has come to a close, so it is time to reflect on the year that was in the Oakland A's system. We sat down with Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi on Saturday to discuss his assessment of the 2010 season from a player-development standpoint. In part two of this Q&A, we talk arm injuries, strike-out totals, Stassi, Dixon & more...

For part one of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: How would you assess Max Stassi's season? His defense was a bit of a disaster early in the season, perhaps surprisingly, but he was throwing out a lot more guys by the end of the year, but offensively, his strike-outs really jumped as the season went on.

Farhan Zaidi: I relate it back to what a difficult hitting environment [the Midwest League] is. We've had so many countless guys who have struggled a little bit offensively at that level and then they get up to Stockton and it's a completely different thing. So much so, that we have almost come to expect it, which is a little bit unfair because hitting well in Stockton shouldn't be considered an afterthought. It still takes a good hitter to do well at that level. I think with Max, some of it was the rigors of his first full season and playing a physically demanding position. I think his offense was affected a little bit just by wearing down physically by the end of the season. But the defense is great now and that pitching staff was one of the best in the Midwest League, which is a testament to his work behind the plate.

I think we still feel very positively about his offense, his power and his ability to be productive in more hitter-friendly environments further up the ladder.

OC: Would repeating at that level be considered not much of a set-back for someone of his age?

FZ: Yeah. We had talks about him splitting the season between Kane County and Stockton earlier in the year, and that wound-up not happening. It was good for him to spend that whole year with that group of guys, with Rashun Dixon, Ian Krol and those guys. Keith Lieppman has talked a lot about keeping core groups of players together and that's a group that I think it would be nice to see move up the ladder together. That was one of the factors in keeping those guys in Kane County for the full season. Based on his progression defensively and the fact that he had some nice stretches offensively, he is definitely going to be considered for Stockton next season.

OC: Dixon really turned it around this season.

FZ: Yeah, he did. I think he really did it sort of quietly. There just aren't a lot of huge offensive lines put up in the Midwest League, but I think his on-base percentage was about .360-.370 [it was .371] and he drew a lot of walks. The strike-outs were a little high but not prohibitively high and I think he wound-up hitting about eight or nine homers [eight homers in the regular season and two in the playoffs]. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that he would put up that line in Kane County at that age, I would have said that was a pretty impressive accomplishment. I think we are really happy with his performance and with the fact that he was able to handle the rigors of full-season ball as well as he did. He's definitely another candidate to move up next year.

OC: We've talked about two guys whose strike-out totals were high this year, but there are a number of prospects in the A's system, including Michael Choice, whose strike-out totals are high. Do you think that is a product of those players learning to see a lot of pitches and getting into a lot of two-strike counts, or is it just one of those things?

FZ: I think we try to present and teach a balanced hitting philosophy. There's some concern that we train our hitters to be too patient and to take too many pitches and that's really not the philosophy that we're teaching. Maybe it was at one point many years ago, but I think what we try to teach guys is to get into hitters' counts, so you can take an aggressive hack and do some damage to the baseball. Really, ultimately all throughout the organization that is what we are looking for. We are looking for guys who damage the baseball and hit for power and the best way to do that is to get into favorable counts to do that. You take a guy like Jose Bautista who is leading the league in homers this year. He is also second or third in the league in walks, which is a little bit of the untold story there.

We are not adverse to guys who swing and miss and take their share of swings and misses. The best way for guys to hit homeruns and hit for power is to get into counts where you can take a big hack and be up there trying to get an extra-base hit. When you are behind in the count, it's a lot harder to do that. The entire organization is in tune with that. We focused in the draft on guys who hit for power and most guys who hit for power are guys who do work the count and do draw walks and both Choice and [A.J.] Kirby-Jones are those kind of guys. With Dixon it is the same way. One of the things we liked about him [leading up to the 2008 draft] was that he was raw but we liked the approach. We thought that there was a chance for him to not be a guy who chased a lot of pitches out of the ‘zone and that is a skill-set [chasing pitches out of the ‘zone] that doesn't play well at the higher levels.

OC: This is a crude comparison, but is A.J. Kirby-Jones' approach to hitting like Jack Cust's?

FZ: He is a guy who walked in college, although I was a little bit surprised about how much he walked in the Northwest League. Some of that actually was him getting pitched around. Particularly before Choice got there, he was viewed as such a dangerous hitter. At least the reports we got from that staff [in Vancouver] was that he wasn't getting a lot to hit and a lot of those walks were him clearly being pitched around as opposed to him working the count. He hit for an extremely high average in college, but then again, Jack hit for an extremely high average in the minors, too. Overall, I still think of Kirby-Jones as more of a contact-oriented hitter than Jack. I don't think he is going to be quite at the same extreme three-true outcomes player as Jack, but there are some comparisons.

OC: There were a number of arm injuries this season in the minors, and four high-profile Tommy John surgeries with Michael Ynoa, Pedro Figueroa, Julio Ramos and Arnold Leon. Are you concerned about the frequency of these types of injuries, especially in light of the fact that the organization was able to avoid them, for the most part, in the early 2000s, late 1990s, or are they really unavoidable?

FZ: It would be a little negligent to just throw up your arms and say ‘these things happen' every time a guy goes down, so we are constantly evaluating everything that we do with our pitchers. Their throwing programs and pitch counts and things like that. We are in constant contact with our player development people and our minor league staff. We are going to continue to look for ways to lessen the risk, if, in fact, we are putting our players at risk.

It's a very inexact science right now. There are a lot of people who have opinions about how to lower pitchers' injury risk, but there isn't a lot of evidence out there to support those claims. And that's everything from throwing programs to pitching mechanics. There are a lot of pitching guru-types out there who are looking to be hired as consultants who claim to be able to teach certain mechanics that lower the risk of injuries, but, again, it's a question of whether those are tried-and-true methods or just someone's opinion because everyone has an opinion on this stuff.

We feel good about the communication that we have and that we are constantly evaluating the [pitcher development] process. We aren't happy with the level of injuries that we have had and, to the extent that we continue to have injuries, it won't be for a lack of trying to find a reason about why it is happening or a lack of effort exploring alternatives.

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