A's Front Office Q&A: Keith Lieppman, P.1

With Low-A affiliate Burlington in the midst of the Midwest League playoffs, Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman is in town for the best-of-three series between the Bees and former affiliate Kane County. Prior to Thursday night's Game Two, Burlington correspondent Bill Seals sat down with Lieppman for a question-and-answer session on the Bees' season.

Bill Seals: What are you focusing on in your latest trip to the Midwest?

Keith Lieppman: We've already done the end-of-the-season stuff and had the managers go over with the players what the things they should do in the off-season. But when you get the opportunity to go to the playoffs, it's fun to see how guys respond to a playoff atmosphere. It's kind of what you work for all season, getting teams into the playoffs so guys understand how they have to play at a higher level.

BS: There wasn't much player movement prior to this postseason. What went into the organization's decision to leave much of the Bees roster alone heading into September?

KL: This year we had enough people ahead as far as Triple-A and Double-A that the domino effect wasn't really necessary to move guys up and down. Guys that signed late weren't able to move that quickly through the system. We basically just kept guys in Arizona and Vermont.

And this was such a good mix of players and a fun team, so we didn't really need to move guys around. There weren't that many moves. Sometimes it's good for a whole team to stay together and play a whole season. We've been happy with that approach throughout the whole organization. That kind of consistency helps with teams.

BS: Let's discuss some of the individual players on this year's roster, starting with team MVP Josh Whitaker.

KL: He didn't even make the club out of spring training and started out at extended. That shows you how smart we are sometimes. We are really pleased with the effort he put in and the consistency. He played first base and picked up the team early by playing outfield and DH'ing. He's been a very versatile guy and the main cog in this lineup.

I was kind of disappointed with the statistical change that made him the runner-up [for the league batting title]. I don't understand some of the way that works. It happened with him and another guy in our system, Kelvin Rojas in Arizona. They both lost batting titles. Josh was certainly deserving of it and had a good year.

He was one of the guys that forced his way into playing time. In this game, if guys produce you have to find a place for them. You admire people that maybe didn't get the best opportunity, but when they did get it and get their foot in the door, don't let you lose it. It happened with Jermaine Mitchell this year in Double-A. He finally put things together and forced our hand to get him to Triple-A.

BS: What's the next step for Whitaker, the A's 25th-round pick a year ago?

KL: Absolutely you have to consider moving him to Stockton. There's no reason he hasn't earned the opportunity to be an everyday player at that level. When you have those type of credentials, numbers and versatility, there's no reason not to give him a chance to prove it again at another level. He has the confidence and is on the right path.

BS: What improvements in Whitaker's approach allowed him to have a breakout season?

KL: His mental game, as far as handling the failures and frustrations of the game, were a huge part. I saw him respond and bounce back after bad games. We played him out of position at times. All of the things didn't seem to affect him. When you see a guy that handles adversity – those are the guys who have the best chance of succeeding.

This game is so full of failure and there's so many bad things that happen. A lot of guys don't have a system and break and never get back. When you see somebody who has Whitaker's attitude and mindset, they can continue to succeed and handle a higher level.

BS: How do you evaluate Yordy Cabrera's season at shortstop?

KL: He's right out of high school and had a great experience. He didn't put up great numbers, but you're looking at a foundational level and starting your career. Some negative things happened and he had a few more errors than he liked, but I think he's learned to handle the game a whole lot better.

Sometimes the failures of the game are your best teachers. They promote you to make the changes and adjustments. Somebody like Yordy didn't have a great year, but he's learning how to make the adjustments.

BS: The organization recently decided to move Grant Green off of shortstop after his prolonged defensive struggles at the position. Cabrera committed 38 errors in 101 games at shortstop during his first full professional season. Will his future be at another position as well?

KL: He'll be fine at short. I think some of his confidence got down a little bit. I think we're good with him and he'll continue to play short. With Grant, there was an opportunity in the future at the big-league level with situations with free agents. It probably would be quicker to get to the big leagues if you're an outfielder. [Cliff] Pennington is in a good position right now and [Jemile] Weeks is having a good year. The opportunity for Grant may have been better as an outfielder.

BS: What were your thoughts on Bees number-one starter Blake Hassebrock?

KL: Hassebrock has had an outstanding year. I watched him pitch [Wednesday] night and he's improved his tempo and is using his change-up. He's really looking solid. We're in September and he's still looking good on the mound. Scouts talked to me last night about what a great find he was as an eighth-rounder. Our scouting department made a good decision there.

BS: Who has been the biggest surprise on the pitching staff?

KL: A guy that came out of nowhere is Pedro Vidal from the Dominican Republic. He came out of the bullpen and has really been a mainstay for this club.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, during which Keith and Bill discuss other members of the Bees' pitching staff, as well as two slugging corner infielder, an injury-plagued but talented outfielder and a young player starting to grow into his own.

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