A's Front Office Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, P.2

In Part Two of our interview with Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi, we discuss the pitchers acquired in the Dan Haren deal, the possible Stockton Ports 2008 rotation, the addition of Arnold Leon and the A's increased efforts in international scouting.

For Part One of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Do you see Brett Anderson following the same development path as Trevor Cahill, given they were both drafted out of high school the same year, or does the time that Anderson spent in the California League last year put him further along?

Farhan Zaidi: Well, that is one thing that gets us excited is looking at the Stockton rotation next year. Having Cahill and Henry Rodriguez and possibly Brett Anderson starting the season there. We also have a young Mexican pitcher that we signed, Arnold Leon, who very likely will start out in that rotation. And we have some other good candidates for that rotation, as well. Ryan Webb might be back there. Graham Godfrey, who we acquired from the Blue Jays in the Marco Scutaro deal, could be there, as well. We are pretty excited about the possibility of having all of those pitchers there, hopefully moving through the system together.

Anderson, I think, is the most advanced of those pitchers, despite his age. There are people who think that this guy has the opportunity to move very quickly. The thing you read a lot about Brett Anderson is that he doesn't pitch with a plus-fastball, but he has plus command and plus secondary stuff. We saw him at the Instructional League and one of our scouts clocked him at 90-94 MPH with his fastball. So if that is the start of a trend and there is really more [velocity] in there, like we think there is and like other scouts have sort of theorized in the past, then this is a guy who really could be a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Even without the additional speed on that fastball, he certainly has the makings of a major league starter who is a potential All-Star. He's a guy who we see starting out in Stockton. There is no need for those pitchers to all move at the same time, but it's kind of fun to think about that.

OC: You mentioned Leon. How did the team first zero-in on him and do you see him as a starter long-term?

FZ: We do. In the Mexican League this past summer and also in winter ball, he has pitched as a reliever, but our scouts that have seen him say that he really has a starting pitcher's mix. Certainly, there is no indication that he would lack the endurance to be a starting pitcher. We initially identified him through his stats because he performed very well in the Mexican League over the summer. This year, we didn't really scout the summer Mexican League that extensively, but we knew we wanted to have a presence down there during winter ball. He was one of the guys we targeted as someone that we wanted to get a number of looks at.

Once our scouts actually got down there and saw him pitching with solid-average to even a plus fastball – our reports ranged from 88-92 all of the way up to 90-94 with plus secondary stuff, with plus command – we immediately decided that this was a guy worth aggressively pursuing. Especially since we had internally made the decision to be more aggressive internationally, we thought that this was a guy who would be the perfect kind of player to launch a more aggressive spending campaign in Latin America because as far as spending money in Latin America goes, this guy was as sure of a bet as you could find, in terms of pitching in the highest level you could pitch down there, which I believe is the Mexican League, and having some success. The combination of the very positive scouting report that we had seen from winter ball and the fact that he had performed well over the summer, as well as the winter, led us to pretty aggressively pursue a deal there.

OC: How would you assess the A's other big Latin American signings this off-season, Franklyn Contreras and Omar Castillo?

FZ: They are on a little bit of a different track [than Leon]. They are still pretty young and are likely to play in the Dominican Summer League next year. Obviously that is a situation where those guys may even repeat at that level once or even twice. Leon is a guy we see as being ready for full-season ball. He's a possibility at Stockton, but he could even move quicker than that. He's going to be in big league camp and our major league scouting staff will get a good look at him. He definitely has a different level of polish than even some of the higher-end Dominican players that we have signed recently.

OC: Had the team looked into the Japanese market at all this off-season?

FZ: In terms of major league [Japanese] free agents, those are guys we evaluate every year. Bidding is pretty aggressive for those guys. [Hiroki] Kuroda and [Kosuke] Fukudome we think are going to be very good major league players. We didn't think that we were in a position to make the kind of investment that they ultimately required. We liked the relief pitchers, too, [Masahide] Kobayashi and [Yasuhiko] Yabuta, but that wasn't a real need for us. We didn't really bid aggressively there. This year even more than in past years, we had a lot more information in terms of scouting reports and stats for all of the guys that were available this year. We made conscious decisions on all of those guys on whether to bid aggressively.

[A's Special Assistant to the General Manager] Randy Johnson has a lot of the international scouting responsibilities and he has a lot of contacts in Japan. This coming summer, he'd like to make a couple of trips over there to personally scout some of these players. He's also responsible for some of the Pacific Rim areas, such as Taiwan and Australia, and that is an area we are going to be looking at more aggressively in the future, as well.

OC: Is there any talk in baseball about possibly setting up academies in the Pacific Rim similar to those in Latin America?

FZ: I haven't heard any talk along those lines. I think part of it might be that in the Dominican, there aren't that many independent baseball facilities that young players can use to learn and develop their baseball skills. In those other countries, like Australia and Taiwan, I think there are other independent baseball academies that present those opportunities. I don't think it is something that you could rule out in the future.

OC: Is the team looking to set up an academy in Venezuela and field teams in the Venezuelan Summer League or are the A's satisfied with what they have with the Dominican operation?

FZ: We are pretty satisfied [with the Dominican academy]. The important thing in Venezuela is that in Venezuela, unlike in the Dominican, there is actually organized amateur baseball where you get a chance to see these guys in actual game action. In the Dominican, players are signed just solely based off of workouts or you might have them in your academy for a couple of weeks where you could possibly get them in a summer Instructional League game.

In Venezuela, it is a lot more about scouting those guys than it is about development. We have a scout in Venezuela, Julio Franco, who is an outstanding scout. He signed Henry Rodriguez, Gregorio Petit, Javier Herrera and a number of Venezuelans going back a few years. We've actually improved his budget and his resources and we've told him that we definitely want him to expand his operations and maybe look at some players that fall into higher bonus categories than we have looked at in years past. So I don't see an academy as something that is imminent or even necessary. I think as long as you have good scouting infrastructure in Venezuela, and you are willing to spend the money to sign the players, you can be successful there.

OC: Getting back to the Haren trade, the other two pitchers in the deal – Greg Smith and Dana Eveland – they are obviously a lot closer to the big leagues than is Anderson. Do you see them as starters or as relievers?

FZ: We definitely see both guys as starting pitchers. Obviously, that can change. Eveland is an interesting case because he is a guy who has absolutely off-the-charts minor league numbers and he was considered a fairly highly regarded prospect coming up. He has obviously scuffled a little bit in the big leagues, and that is one of the reasons that we were able to get him as one of the players in a six-player deal. But he is a guy who is still young and has a plus fastball and plus secondary pitches. We had our scouts see him in the Mexican Winter League over the past few weeks and they all gave reports that he looked outstanding and he was basically blowing away the competition which was encouraging because he basically had a lost season this year with his finger injury.

He's a guy that we look at as being not just a back-of-the-rotation starter, but something even better than that. We think that more than anything else, his major league struggles have been a result of nerves. Our scouts believe he has the stuff to get big league hitters out on a consistent basis. He's going to have the opportunity to be a part of our rotation here.

It's kind of interesting because when you look at a guy like Dan Haren, Eveland is the same age that Haren was when we acquired him. Haren had pitched a little more in the big leagues and had had a little bit more success, but he hadn't exactly been lights-out in his major league outings either. Another interesting point is that when we were talking to St. Louis about [the Mark Mulder trade], one of the players that we had targeted was Anthony Reyes, who, at the time, was a much more highly regarded player [than Haren]. In a sense he was kind of a cleaner prospect because he had pitched all of the way [through the minors] and he had dominated in the minors and hadn't pitched that much in the big leagues, unlike Haren, who had pitched in the big leagues and had had kind of mixed results.

Sometimes the best values you can get in these deals are players that you believe can be good major league players who maybe have scuffled a little bit in their first major league experience. That is kind of what we see a little bit with Eveland. He certainly still has to prove himself.

Greg Smith is another guy that we like a lot. Because of his statistical profile and because he doesn't throw hard and he throws from the left-side, it is pretty easy to lump him in that category of being in the back-end, left-handed starter group. This is a guy who we believe has the secondary pitches and the command and more than anything else, just the competitiveness and the moxie to be successful. Our scouts have said, to a man, that this is a guy who pitches above his stuff. He's pitched in some really difficult ballparks coming up in the Arizona system and he had a lot of success.

He's not a guy who has strikeouts that jump off the page at you, but we believe he is the kind of guy who is just going to have success at every level. We view him as better than a back-end of the rotation starter. We think he has the stuff to be more successful than that. He doesn't have any big league experience, so that is always the great unknown, but he's a guy that we are going to take a long look at in camp as well.

OC: So he is going to be invited to big league camp?

FZ: Yeah, absolutely. Eveland is on the 40-man, and Greg Smith is going to be invited to big league camp. And actually, as just one more point on Smith, we kind of drew a lot of parallels – and you don't want to put this kind of pressure on a player – but if you look at his statistical profile, it looks a lot like what Micah Owings' profile looked like last year. If you actually line-up Smith 2007 with Owings 2006, it's amazing how similar they look. They both have similar stuff. They both pitch with average fastballs and average to occasionally above-average secondary stuff. What people always liked about Owings was that he had the competitiveness to challenge hitters and pitch above his stuff. We kind of view Smith the same way.

In the spirit of full disclosure, as someone who relies on statistics, I underestimated Owings. Going into last year, I didn't really like him because he didn't have a lot of strikeouts at the minor league level. Our guys consistently said that he was a real competitor and his stuff would play up in the big leagues and our guys think of Smith the same way.

OC: And they are both pretty good hitters too. [laughs]

FZ: [laughs] Actually when we were talking to Arizona about that, they brought the hitting up. We said, well, ‘that's too bad for you, but we are just looking for the best pitcher.'

Stay tuned for Part Three of this interview, where we discuss the competition for the A's starting rotation next season, the possibility of Joe Blanton being traded, the health of Chris Denorfia and Mark Kotsay and the A's off-season health summit.

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