Oakland A's Q&A: Keith Lieppman, Part 1

BURLINGTON, IA - Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman is currently in Burlington, Iowa, with the A's Low-A affiliate. Burlington correspondent Bill Seals caught-up with Lieppman for a Q&A. In part one, the two discuss the Bees' pitching staff, Brad Peacock, Max Muncy and the plans for Nolan Sanburn's 2012 debut.

Bill Seals: There's quite a front-office contingent in town for this series, with [Special Assistant to the GM] Grady Fuson, [minor league hitting coordinator] Todd Steverson and yourself. Have you gotten a good read on the squad you have in Burlington this summer?

Keith Lieppman: I've picked the club up in Lake County, Fort Wayne and Peoria, so this is the fourth time I've seen the club. I've got a pretty good sense of what's going on here. Fortunately this has been one of these years we've been able to give a guy a full season and a lot of at-bats. There hasn't been that much movement, except for a little bit with the pitchers. This has been a good opportunity for these guys to understand their game and get their first full years under their belt.

BS: Let's start with the lone member of the 2012 draft class on the roster, Max Muncy, a fifth-rounder out of Baylor.

KL: Coming out of a really good college season, he had to shift gears a little bit into the pro game. He's coming to an understanding of what it's like to play every day. You're facing good competition on a regular basis. In college, you're seeing some good Friday night guys but you don't have the same competition day-in and day-out. He's made a few adjustments and done well so far. The numbers may not be indicative of how well he's been hitting, but he battles and gets quality at-bats. The game's full of making adjustments on a regular basis and this is his first adjustment along the way.

BS: What went into the aggressive assignment to Burlington – more of an opening at first with the Bees or was Muncy ready for Low-A ball?

KL: We thought this would be a good fit for him. He's a more mature hitter and had an idea of the strike zone. We felt very comfortable he had a pro-like approach and would be able to withstand some of the ups and downs. As with every player when you move them to this level, at some point they're going to make adjustments and there's going to be failure involved. You think the makeup a kid has will allow him to handle the adversity. It's coming and at some point or another you're going to have to deal with it. We felt that he was capable of handling the obstacles that do come as a minor league player.

BS: Do you anticipate any other 2012 draftee promotions to Burlington?

KL: I think that jump is probably a little too extreme to take some of the high school kids like [Addison] Russell, [Daniel] Robertson, [B.J.] Boyd and [Matt] Olson. There's a bunch of kids that would be better served to stay there, or if they do move just to go up to Burlington, Vermont. I doubt we'll have too much movement. There may be a couple moves from Vermont here to Iowa, but for the most part we have a pretty set of where these guys will finish the season.

BS: Perhaps the most advanced of your higher draft picks was Arkansas reliever Nolan Sanburn. Where do you plan to assign him?

KL: We're going to send him to Vermont on Tuesday, where he'll start making his appearances. He didn't have that many innings in college and is probably better served starting slower. Age-wise he's fine, but as far as maturity level, we should probably let him have a good feeling at that level and get his feet wet. There's no real need to rush him at this point.

The way our pitching philosophy, you're going to throw X amount of innings and then the following year you don't want to dump a whole lot of extra innings on a guy. If this year he ends up with 60 innings, he may only go 100 next year. You have to decide at the very beginning how much you want him to have. He could start in a piggy-back situation and pitch four or five innings per outing. He may open as a starter, but then ultimately you're going to have to back him off.

BS: So the organization does plan to make him a starter?

KL: Absolutely we see him as a starter, especially with a power arm and good breaking ball. He has the chance to put together a nice mix. You add the change-up, which we require in the system to start at a young age with. We think he'll be able to handle it.

BS: Switching gears, another highly-touted pitcher, A.J. Cole was demoted from Stockton to Burlington earlier in the season and has made a huge impact on the starting rotation.

KL: We sort of pushed him up a little quickly to the Cal League, which is a really aggressive hitter's league. He was a victim of some bad luck there. You get behind the eight-ball, and we didn't play really good defense as a club there. That left him in an unusual position for a guy coming out of the South Atlantic League last year. His record wasn't great and we felt like it would be a good opportunity to get it going again coming back. He's done an outstanding job here and been very aggressive. He's felt his way back to where he belongs. Eventually I think we're going to move him back up.

BS: Will that be back to Stockton, or do you plan to jump him to Midland?

KL: Midland would be too much of a jump at this point. We'll probably just take him back to the Cal League and let him experience that. He's running out of innings as well. He's going to end up with a bunch. We may end up having to cut back his innings here and let him finish in Burlington. A lot of these guys have been solid and just can't keep going with the innings.

BS: Were Cole's problems similar to what has plagued fellow starting pitcher Brad Peacock at Triple-A Sacramento?

KL: Peacock had more command issues and wasn't able to locate as well as he wanted to. He had the good mix and is just now starting to come out of it. In his defense, we tried to do a lot of mechanical changes with him. He was focused on making adjustments with his delivery and that may have taken him away from what he was trying to do on the field. Once he got beyond the mechanical part, he's been free and easy the past two outings. He's throwing good strikes and throwing all his pitches.

BS: What have you thought of the remainder of Burlington's pitching staff?

KL: I'm really thrilled with Drew Granier. He did a great job last year for us in Vermont and has continued it on this year. He's been the most steady, consistent performer and given them six or seven innings on a regular basis. He's right on schedule, but on the other hand he's one of those guys who is going to run out of innings.

This is the only club we've had a 12-man pitching staff with. Usually we have 13 at every level. Because of guys like Granier, he takes a lot of the load off the bullpen when he pitches.

Raul Alcantara has good stuff and is a young guy. We're very happy with his improvements with the change-up and the breaking ball is starting to come around. Next year will be one that we can let him loose and throw a lot more innings.

In the bullpen, Jonathan Joseph is a nice story and has found his niche as a reliever. He has a mid-90s fastball and outstanding curveball – two swing-and-miss pitches he can put guys away with. He's found a nice place.

Jose Macias has found his stride out of the bullpen. He threw some 93s and 94s [Thursday] night with movement. He has a much more aggressive, confident look on the mound. Both those guys have peaked up as the season's gone on.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview. Julio Ramos, Nick Rickles, Beau Taylor, Sean Jamieson, Zhi-Fang Pan and more are discussed.

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