OaklandClubhouse: You just got back from a trip to Burlington, Iowa, correct?
David Forst: I was in Burlington Thursday and Friday last week.
OC: How is that relationship [with the Burlington Bees] going after having been with Kane County for so many years?
DF: The people have been great. Kane County was a great place for our guys to play and the atmosphere is great, but it obviously comes with a lot of demands on our players' time and things like that. So I think it was a good time for a change. The people in Burlington have been fantastic. The town has sort of welcomed them and just talking to the staff and the players, everything has gone well.
It's not exactly a bustling metropolis. The most difficult thing from Ted [Polakowski] and Keith [Lieppman's] perspective is that it just isn't easy to get to. I flew into Quad Cities and then you have drive 75 miles. The practicality of moving players in and out has been a little tough, but they have done a good job of making due. Ironically, we've had a pretty stable team all year, particularly position player-wise with [Josh] Whitaker, [Tony] Thompson and Yordy [Cabrera] being there all year.
DF: It's a little different because Baisley was a little more on the radar when he went there. He was obviously a higher round pick than Whitaker was. Whitaker also missed the first month with a back injury, but we've discussed at certain times the possibility of moving him and we just felt, as we do a lot of times, that he is having a great year and that team is heading to the playoffs, so leave that group together and see what they can accomplish.
OC: With Yordy Cabrera, he's had his peaks and valleys this season, which I guess is to be expected for a young player with his experience level. Has he done what you expected of him thus far this season?
DF: Without a doubt. Like you said, you expect a player of that age and experience to have his ups and downs. He's still just 20 years old. He will play basically through the whole regular season at 20. On both sides of the ball you would expect some growing pains. He has sort of fit that to a tee. He's hit for some power, but his average has struggled. He has struck-out a decent amount, but he has enough walks to make you think he knows the strike-zone.
Defensively, he's made some incredible plays at shortstop and then he has struggled with the routine ball at times. It really is sort of what you would expect if you drew up what a 20-year-old's first full season would be like. It has been almost exactly that. Overall, we are very happy with how he has done. In fact, I saw him make a barehanded play on a slow-roller that I'm not sure most big league shortstops make.
The talent is there and it has come out at times. It has been a good first year for Yordy.
DF: I was able to see all of them in my two days there. It's tricky evaluating those first-year guys during the summer because it is such a different experience for them having that long, protracted season after having the college season – particularly for the pitchers. You never know how their arms are going to react. But I think all three of those guys have really added to the team there.
Taylor has swung the bat really well. You can see right away watching this guy why he had so much success in college. He has a short swing and he has a solid approach at the plate. He knows what he is doing.
Treinen and Walz, both guys have really good arms. Treinen has a wipeout slider and Walz has no fear. He goes out there and attacks hitters. It's been nice to get them out there and, more than anything, they have contributed to a winning atmosphere for everyone.
OC: The Bees were one of the best teams in minor league baseball the first half of the season but they struggled the second half. Do you see any reinforcements for them for the playoffs?
DF: They've really started to play better. I don't think so considering that Vermont is in the playoff picture, as is Stockton. I don't see any movement, to be honest. But they've played much better over the last three weeks. In talking to Nuke [manager Aaron Nieckula], he understood that there was going to be a lull after the first half, but they've done a really good job of regrouping and starting to play good baseball again going into the post-season.
OC: How has that relationship with Vermont worked out this year? Obviously the move from the Northwest League to the New York-Penn League and the move from a big city to a college town was a big one.
DF: Yeah. Very different from Vancouver. I don't think we set out to end up in the New York-Penn League, just because of the geography of it. It's a long way for our guys to go. We liked being on the West Coast. But honestly, we couldn't have ended up in a better place. Billy and I were there a couple of days early in the month. We got lucky with the weather, but it is a great town. The ownership group there – Ray Pecor and his GM Kyle Bostwick – have been in the game for a long time. They take really good care of the players. I think we couldn't be happier with the set-up there. They are excited to have a winner there. It's been a long time since they've had a team go to the playoffs. We are doing our best to hang on for them [Vermont had a 2.5 game lead over Connecticut through Tuesday].
We are very happy with that arrangement.
DF: With those two guys, it's been nice to see what they have done. Shipman – after Aaron really struggled during spring training and extended – to see the progress he has made during the summer has been great. He was stuck in the nine hole in that line-up for a long time, hitting around .200. He got a little more aggressive and brought his average up to about .260. He can really run it down in centerfield. That's never been a problem. His progress just over the past two months has been fun to watch.
Chad has all of the ability in the world. We saw him hit a long homer to left field. You know it is in there. It's really a matter of him learning the game and, frankly, just growing into his body. He has the physicality to be a corner guy and a middle of the order bat. Those guys going out there and hanging in there for their first full seasons has been nice.
Of the new group, obviously Bobby Crocker jumps out at you. He's kind of the highest round pick there and you know who he is the moment he walks onto the field. He's big, he's well put together. He hit a couple of balls to the opposite field that showed some really impressive power. Crocker is certainly a guy who has stood out.
OC: Do you think B.A. Vollmuth will make it out to Vermont?
DF: We are going to try. I know he has been getting his ABs in Arizona and I think the most important thing is to make sure that he is in good enough shape to go out there after taking off pretty much the entire summer. Keith and I have talked about that. Obviously with the Arizona League wrapping up here in a few days, we will have to decide. If there is a spot for him in Vermont in the post-season to get some more ABs, that is something that we are going to try to do.
OC: I don't know if this is something you can comment on, but would you feel more comfortable with an earlier signing deadline. Is it hard to lose this much development with the guys who sign late?
DF: Yeah. I think no matter where you put the deadline, that is when guys are going to sign. From a strict baseball and development point of view, it would be great if it would be earlier and you didn't lose the entire summer with these guys.
Part of the great thing about Sonny Gray was that he wanted to get out there and make sure that he had some innings under his belt so that he knew what it was like to live the minor league life for at least a month before he headed into the off-season. That is something that we really appreciated about the way he and Bo McKinnis [Gray's agent] handled that negotiation.
OC: You started Gray out in Double-A like you did with James Simmons in 2007, but Sonny is in the rotation whereas James was in the bullpen for that season. Are the different tracks more a case of Sonny having more innings left in his arm for the season than James did at that point?
DF: Yeah, it was really just about getting innings. To be totally honest, Simmons was probably more of the type of guy that you would think could handle that because he was a command guy who you knew was going to throw strikes, whereas Sonny has great stuff, but you know that command and throwing strikes is what he is going to have to work on as he climbs the ladder. But it was really the way it was designed was to get him innings and also it was somewhat of a reward for his willingness to get out there in July and not wait those few extra weeks.
OC: He's a guy who has been talked about as potentially moving to the big leagues quickly, but starting pitching isn't a huge need at the big league level for you guys right now. Does that afford you the luxury of taking a little more time with him to work on some of the smaller things in his game than if you needed him in the big leagues more immediately?
DF: You like to think that ultimately you have that luxury but the minute you say you have enough starting pitching, the next day you are out there scoping out independent league stats. You never feel comfortable with that and you try to balance taking your time and developing a guy like that and thinking maybe he's ready to contribute at the big league level.
OC: Is Sonny going to pitch this fall at all?
DF: He'll go to Instructional League.
Stay tuned for the rest of this interview, in which we cover Grant Green's position change, Michael Choice's first season, the power potential for Stephen Parker and Michael Spina, whether we will see Michael Taylor and Chris Carter with Oakland this September, the progress of Michael Ynoa and Sean Doolittle and more...