Oakland A's Front Office Q&A: David Forst

The rising prospects in the Oakland A's system are not limited to their minor league affiliates. When discussions about future GMs start up around the league, A's Assistant GM David Forst is often one of the first names mentioned. We spoke to Forst on Thursday about the changes that the organization made this off-season, the draft, the new additions to the club, Carlos Gonzalez's ETA and more…

OaklandClubhouse: I was hoping you could tell me about the changes that you have made to the team's scouting department this off-season. What did the team do and have you seen an impact yet?

David Forst: We sort of openly admitted that that was a part of the organization that had sort of fallen behind because of our focus on the major league club. Considering that the run of success we had starting in 1999 was, in part, due to the scouting and player development that we had here, we realized that it was probably something that we should have addressed sooner. The fact is that we did get together at the end of the 2007 season with every part of the organization in order to address it and really make changes that were needed for a few years.

We added area scouts. We added financially to our signing bonus budget on an international level. We increased some of the responsibility of some of the folks spread out in Latin America, and we added responsibility to [Special Assistant to the GM] Randy Johnson in terms of international work and covering the Pacific Rim, as well as Australia. It really was something that was long over-due here.

OC: Do you see the team being a bigger player on July 2nd, when the big-time international signings tend to get announced?

Arnold Leon of Mexico was a six-figure bonus international signing this off-season.
DF: I'm not sure that we are going to see that immediately. I don't know that this year we have enough background [on all of these players] to do that, but the fact is that we already have significantly more information than we did in years past. We've had conversations about players in price ranges that we, in other years, would have never considered. So we've already seen a change in the information that is coming in and the possibilities of players. I don't know that it is going to come together for this year's signing period, but I think going forward we feel good about being a player in that game.

OC: Do you think that the timing of this expansion along with the Japan trip will help you in the Pacific Rim at all?

DF: I'm not sure that spending a few days over there is really what is needed for us to have a leg up there. What we need to do over there is really operate on a grass-roots level in terms of seeing players and that sort of thing. But, certainly having been over there, the A's brand is now more familiar to the players there. We have some good contacts now; people that we had been in touch with before but now have had a chance to see over there. So it certainly can't hurt.

OC: Switching to spring training, with all of the new players in camp, was there a different feeling than in past years when the club was made-up more of core group of returning players?

DF: Spring training was definitely different this year. Whether it was because of the new faces or the new direction surrounding the team, whatever it was, I think that a lot of us had the most enjoyable spring that I can remember. First of all, seeing Bob [Geren] kind of take over and make his own culture with this team with the new faces was great. I think a lot of the players welcomed the challenge of the media kind of picking us to finish last just about everywhere.

Dana Eveland was one of the new faces this spring for the A's.
Also, to a man, the players that we traded for exhibited what our scouting reports said that we were getting in such a short period of time. It was very encouraging.

OC: You've seen some of them already in the big leagues with Ryan Sweeney, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith. I know that it is early, but are you encouraged with what you are seeing so far from the guys you got in the trades?

DF: Yeah, we are encouraged. Obviously, those trades were not made for us to have success in April 2008. So I think we are focused more on the development process of those players, even the ones who are already in the major leagues. As we sit here [on Thursday], Ryan Sweeney is hitting close to .300, but, more importantly, we've seen how well he plays centerfield. We see how well he can run the bases. We've seen how well he can make adjustments at the plate between the time when we first saw him in spring training and now. Those things are a lot more important than results.

It's similar with Dana [Eveland]. His stuff was never really in question, but I think that Curt Young has gotten through to him to make some changes. He is working faster. He is throwing more quality strikes. Those developmental-type things are what we are looking at now as important for down-the-road, as opposed to whatever Dana's record is, I think, 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA or something like that. Those numbers are less important than the fact that we are seeing that the progress in their development is what we expected of these guys.

The A's are encouraged by Ryan Sweeney's development thus far.
OC: What was your impression of Greg Smith? You got to see him up-close twice on the road-trip. Were you impressed with how he recovered from that bad first inning in his first outing?

DF: Yeah. You never know how a guy is going to react in his first big league outing. For Greg to come back out and throw five scoreless innings versus Toronto after a shaky first inning and come back in his next start and pitch as well as he did in his outing in Chicago, was great. There are a lot of guys with the talent to pitch up here, but the deciding factor [about whether they stay] is whether they can handle everything that goes with being in the big leagues. Certainly, it was a good sign for Greg the way that he pitched in his first couple of starts.

OC: A lot of the guys you acquired this off-season were left-handed starting pitchers. When you make big trades like that, are you looking more to fill the needs of the organization, or is it more about going after the best players available and worrying about who will play where when they get to the big league level?

DF: Probably more the latter. We are looking for the best players available. If we end up with, like you said, a number of left-handed pitchers or we've made trades for a handful of outfielders, we expect those things will sort themselves out. It's never a bad thing to have too many good players. So you don't worry about those problems when you are looking to get the best available talent.

OC: With Fernando Hernandez, the decision was made to DFA him earlier in the week and he was sent back to Chicago yesterday. Was the decision to let him go because you wanted a more experienced pitcher in the bullpen that Bob Geren would feel comfortable using in Kirk Saarloos because of the injuries, or was it that Hernandez needed more time in the minor leagues?

Brett Anderson is one of the Stockton "Big Four."
DF: I think it was more about Fernando, really. Our reports on him were great and he pitched well in the spring, but I think once we got him into the major league season some of his weaknesses right now were exposed. It's probably a case where he needs a little more time in the minor leagues to work on some things. Unfortunately, obviously because of the Rule 5 regulations, we didn't have an opportunity to give him that here so we had to send him back.

OC: Were there any discussions to keep him or did Chicago just really want him back?

DF: I brought up the subject with them, but they were pretty adamant from the beginning that they were going to take him back.

OC: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Carlos Gonzalez. He's off to a very good start in Sacramento. Would the decision to bring him to the major leagues have more to do with where he is developmentally or will it have to do with the needs of the big league team?

DF: I think in an ideal world, that decision is always made based on the player and his development and what is best for him. Obviously, we've already seen earlier this year that we don't always get to live in that ideal world. In the case of Greg Smith, we would have loved to have seen Greg get 10-plus starts in Triple-A before coming here, but what happens to the major league team changes that.

I think in Carlos' case, it is the same. We would love to keep him down there [in Triple-A] for enough time where we feel like he has gotten a comfortable Triple-A experience. Is there something specific he needs to do? No. He just needs at-bats. Like you said, he's off to a great start. He's hitting close to .330, taking some walks, playing great centerfield. I saw him make a catch yesterday in Sacramento that was simply phenomenal. There is not a line that we have put out there where we are saying, ‘you have to achieve this and this in order to get here.' The fact is that he would be better of by getting a couple hundred at-bats in Triple-A. So we are hoping to give him that.

Henry Rodriguez is off to a good start for Stockton.
OC: Have you had a chance to see the Stockton team and see the guys in that rotation yet? I was also kind of curious about what the decision-making was behind deciding to keep all of those guys [Fautino De Los Santos, Henry Rodriguez, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill] together in the same rotation.

DF: I have only seen [Stockton] once. I think between all of us in the office, we have seen all of the guys. Obviously, they are all off to great starts, some having dominated more consistently than others. They are all sort of on separate timetables. We will move each of them as they are ready. I don't think we are committed to keeping them together all season and moving them all to Double-A together when they are ready. When one of them proves through development and performance with his stuff that he is ready to go, we won't hesitate to move him to Midland.

OC: How encouraged are you to see Craig Italiano pitching well after the last two years?

DF: I'm just happy for Craig, more than anything on an organizational level. To go through what he has gone through with a shoulder injury and with a head injury, it's just nice for the kid that he is able to go out there and compete. To get off to as good of a start as he has is great. We are going to have to be careful with him this season because he has only thrown about 40 innings over the last two years. To think that you are going to get a full, 150+ inning season out of him is probably not the smartest thing in the world.

We are going to monitor his innings and his pitch counts pretty closely and hopefully keep him healthy throughout the season and get him as many innings as we think is safe for him to throw.

OC: I know that James Simmons is being kept on a pitch count right now. Is that to keep his innings total down for the year?

DF: Actually, James missed about a week and a half in spring training. So he was kind of behind everybody. He had sort of a soreness, it's weird, in the bone in his forearm. It was sort of like a shin-splint thing, I don't know the technical term for it. He was about a week and a half behind everybody at the start of the season and that is why he is being restricted a little bit right now by pitch counts. I think that in another two or three more starts, he'll get back up to a normal 90 to 100 pitch count level.

OC: Touching on the upcoming draft, obviously you would have liked the team to be better last season, but are you excited to be in the top-15 for the first time in something like 10 years?

2007 first-round pick James Simmons is on a pitch count for Midland while he builds up his arm strength after missing some time this spring.
DF: It has been a long time. Certainly this is the highest we've picked in my tenure. Which I guess is a good thing, that we haven't been up there. It does bring a different dynamic to the way that we approached the spring and ultimately approach the draft. It's funny, no matter how high you pick, you are always wishing that you were just a little bit higher. We've had years where we have picked 26th and we were positive that the guy that we want is going to go 24 or 25.

This year, in my conservations with [A's Scouting Director] Eric Kubota, we keep saying ‘there is no way that Player A or Player B is going to make it out of the top-10.' So you are never entirely happy with where you are picking, but we certainly recognize that there should be an excellent player available for us to pick at 12.

OC: There has been a lot of talk about slot recommendations and that some teams follow them and some teams don't. Can you explain what the slot recommendation is exactly, where it comes from and what the theory behind it is?

DF: The Commissioner's Office has a program in place to support the draft and the signing of players, the slot system. We are certainly committed to following the Commissioner's program. We also understand that the best thing for the organization is to take the best players available. When it comes to draft-time, we always balance those two things. But I know that Lew [Wolff, A's owner] and Billy [Beane, A's GM] are committed to the Commissioner's program.

OC: You just traveled with the team on the latest road trip. Do you travel with the team on every road trip?

DF: Between me, Billy and Farhan [Zaidi, A's Baseball Operations Manager], we try to have someone on every road trip. It is obviously dependent on what else is going on during the course of the year, whether it be the minor league season or the draft. It doesn't always work out that way, but we try to have someone from the front office on every trip.

OC: Have you warmed up yet since you got back?

Eric Chavez is making progress, but the A's are taking it slow with his rehab.
DF: [laughs] I actually played in that stuff for a few years [at Harvard]. But it was cold. I would definitely rather not be outside in that stuff. There were some miserable conditions.

OC: Is there an ETA for when Eric Chavez will resume baseball activities or is he still in a holding pattern?

DF: He's getting close. We don't have a timetable yet for when Eric will be back, but he is getting close to getting back to baseball activities. Obviously, with the setbacks Eric had in March, we are going to be overly cautious with him. Make sure the strength in his back and the surrounding muscles are exactly where they need to be in order to get him back on the field, taking groundballs, swinging the bat and those sorts of things. I know that Eric is anxious to get back out there and I'm sure that we'll see him up here during this homestand because he wants to be around his teammates. But things are going well for Eric right now.


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