Interview with Sacramento OF Jack Cust

When the A's lost Jason Giambi to free agency following the 2001 season, a number of pundits predicted that the A's would acquire a young slugger from the D-backs chain to replace Giambi's production. And, no, that slugger was not Erubiel Durazo. It was Jack Cust. The A's were unable to acquire Cust that off-season, but he joined the organization three years later. We sat down with Cust before a recent River Cats game to find out how he feels about being part of the A's organization at last.

Jack Cust has always been a Billy Beane kind of hitter. From the moment he graduated from high school and was drafted in the first round of the 1997 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cust has been a home run and on-base percentage machine. In 1999, Cust generated a lot of buzz when he hit .334 with 32 homers and a .452 on-base percentage for High-A High Desert. Cust followed that season with two more solid campaigns and by 2002, it was clear that he was ready for the major leagues.

Unfortunately for Cust, there was no room for him on the veteran-laden Diamondbacks roster. Like fellow prospects Erubiel Durazo and Lyle Overbay, Cust found himself stuck behind veterans Mark Grace, Danny Bautista, Greg Colbrunn and Luis Gonzalez. So it was inevitable that Cust would be traded in the off-season before the 2002 campaign. The A's were rumored to be in high pursuit of the slugger, but Oakland and Arizona could never consummate a deal. The A's ended up acquiring Carlos Pena as the heir apparent to Jason Giambi and Cust was dealt to Colorado for reliever Mike Myers.

Since leaving the Arizona organization, Cust's career has stagnated a bit. He had a solid 2002 campaign for the Rockies' AAA team in Colorado Springs, but couldn't get on-track at the plate during a 35-game stint with the Rockies. He was dealt that following off-season to the Baltimore Orioles in part because he had developed the label of being a DH-type. Cust, however, disagrees with the label that he can't field his position out in left.

"I feel fine in the outfield. I've felt fine in the outfield the last four years, it is just a matter of getting someone who will let me go out there and play in the field," Cust said with a laugh.

"I got a chance to play out there [this season] and I feel good. [Being a defensive liability] is a label that I have been stuck with since I was drafted and it's hard to shed labels. I just have to go out there and I show people that I can play the outfield. I'm never going to win a Gold Glove or anything, but I can go out there and make the plays I need to make."

Cust's time with Baltimore did not go as smoothly as expected. He played well in a 27-game stint at the end of the 2003 season for the Orioles, posting an 878 OPS. However, the Orioles decided to go with more veterans in 2004, and Cust suddenly found that his spot at the major league level was gone. After a disappointing 2004 campaign, Cust was granted his free agency and he signed quickly with the club he was seemingly made to play for, the Oakland A's.

"They were the first team that called me so that meant a lot. Basically, teams have been trying to change the way that I hit and over here they like guys who walk and are patient," Cust said.

"Other teams were trying to get me to swing the bat and I just wanted to go somewhere where I could be myself and not worry about changing my style of hitting. For two years they were trying to get me to change and swing the bat more and last year I wasn't playing that much over there so I was just excited to go somewhere where I'd have a chance to play everyday."

Cust has stuck to his style of hitting this season with the River Cats and has produced good results. Through Wednesday, Cust was leading the River Cats with 19 homers and 93 runs scored and he had driven in 75 runs (good for third on the team). Although he has struck out 146 times, he has walked on 110 occasions for a Jack Cust-like .405 on-base percentage. Cust has also been durable, appearing in a team-high 129 games.

Thus far, Cust has labeled his experience with the River Cats as a positive one.

"Sacramento is one of the better places to play in the minor leagues. We didn't really win that much last year [in AAA-Ottawa] and this year we're winning. It's a lot more fun when you win. It's great to come to the field every day and not have that losing mentality around you," Cust said.

Cust also appreciates that the A's as an organization have an overall organizational strategy that they adhere to closely. He notes the difference between playing for organizations that win like the A's and the Diamondbacks and organizations that lose like the Orioles and the Rockies can sometimes be as simple as keeping to a master plan.

"With Baltimore and Colorado, I think that sometimes when you lose you try to change the direction you are going in instead of trying to stick with a plan and that can hurt the development of the entire organization," Cust said.

"Obviously here, Billy [Beane] knows what he wants to do and he has a master plan that he sticks to. He is the one who controls the shots and you know that he is in charge of the organization. In other organizations, you don't really know who is in charge. It makes it easier as a player to know where the organization is coming from."

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