Oakland A's 2008 Draft Q&A: Farhan Zaidi

The 2008 June amateur draft is just around the corner. The Oakland A's will be picking 12th in this year's draft, the team's highest draft position in nearly 10 years. On Monday, we caught-up with Oakland A's Manager of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi to discuss the draft. Inside, we discuss the A's draft strategy, the impact of the team's enhanced scouting department and more…

OaklandClubhouse: I know you can't get into specifics about individual players, but I wanted to get your general opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the draft class and how the A's are approaching the 2008 draft.

Farhan Zaidi: I can talk a little bit about the draft from our perspective. Obviously, it has been quite a while since we have drafted this high, so that is something that is creating a lot of excitement within the scouting department and in baseball operations, in general. When you pick that high, 12th overall, there are maybe three or four guys that you can pretty much rule out [because they are likely to go before the 12th pick], but pretty much everyone else in the draft, with the exception of those three or four guys, is fair game. When you throw signability in there, you might even say that everybody is fair game, as opposed to when you are picking in the late-20s when you know that there is a pretty big group of guys that you are probably not going to get a chance to select. I think it has been exciting for our guys to go out and see the absolute top players in the country, whether that be in high school or college ball, and know that we have a real shot at any of those guys.

I also think from an organizational perspective, our farm system has improved so much over the past year. The fact that we have so much more depth now in the system, really opens up some more possibilities for us in combination with having such a high pick. In the past, we really couldn't afford to miss with our first pick. There was such a steady pipeline of guys to the big leagues that we had to hit with the first pick just to keep some sort of inventory in our farm system. We couldn't go out on a limb as much and take a high-risk, high-ceiling type talent. Now I think we are in a position to do that, which is also very exciting because there aren't that many opportunities to add high-impact type players and this pick could be one of those times. Hopefully if we get back on the winning track [at the major-league level], we won't have another pick this high in the draft for a number of years.

The combination of having a high pick and having increased depth in the farm system is giving us a chance to take a higher ceiling player than maybe we have in the past.

OC: Was the scouting period any different this year with the college season starting early? Did that give the team a chance to scout more high school and junior college players early on in the spring season?

FZ: I don't really think so. There were obviously reports coming in on [the high school and junior college] guys earlier than the college guys just because of scheduling, but I think what has really helped us are the additions that we have been able to make to [A's Director of Scouting] Eric Kubota's staff. We have been able to give him a little more manpower this year. When you are an organization, like us, that has had this focus on college guys, scouts have to make difficult decisions: are they going to go watch one high schooler who is playing really far out of their way and it is going to wind-up taking the scout the whole day to travel back and forth to the game? Or do they go to a college game where they might get to see three or four guys they are scouting all at once? In the past, I think they had to make some difficult decisions and probably leaned towards seeing the college players. This year, because the college season started later, but more so because they had more time and smaller areas to cover, I think that our high school and junior college coverage has been as good this season as it has ever been.

OC: The team has selected a decent number of high school or junior college players over the past three or four years in comparison to earlier in the decade, I believe. Does having drafted those younger players give you some good comparison points when evaluating younger players in this draft that you might not have had before?

FZ: I think so, both from an evaluation perspective and from a player development perspective. From an evaluation perspective, even when other teams are taking younger players in the draft, you can look back at what they were as amateurs and then track their progress as pros to gain some [comparison points]. But obviously, you have a much closer relation and a much closer understanding of those players and how they stand in professional baseball when they are in your organization. So I do think that taking a couple of [younger] players and having them in your organization, you do start to have a better understanding of what types of pitchers improve or sustain their stuff, and what types of position players can translate their swings to wood bats and facing higher caliber pitching. It is definitely a learning experience, both from a player evaluation perspective and from a player development perspective.

This is probably something I have mentioned before, but we are used to having college guys steadily moving up one or two levels a year within our organization. Starting in 2005 when we took a bunch of high school kids, it has taken us a little while to learn to be a little bit more patient with those high school players. We are willing to let them repeat short-season ball, if that is necessary, or move them a little bit more slowly.

We are being tested a little bit right now with Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. Anderson, obviously, wasn't our initial draft pick, but they are both young guys in our system now who are doing really well at High-A. In the past, we may have seen what these guys are doing right now and feel compelled to move them up right away. I think there was a greater sense of urgency in the past with the steady movement of guys from the system to the big leagues and with the comparison point that we were working with of college guys moving quickly and handling that movement, that it just made sense to move these guys once they had mastered a level. Now, I think that we are recognizing that there is really no urgency, that we have a lot of depth and that sometimes the best thing for young players is to let them experience success for an extended period of time at one level. Even if that success is almost at the level of domination, sometimes that is just the best thing for a young player to experience and not be too aggressive and get them to the big leagues as quickly as possible.

OC: It is very early, but for the moment it appears that the returns from the 2007 draft class have been very solid with top pick James Simmons and reliever Andrew Carignan already in Double-A and Sean Doolittle, Josh Horton and Sam Demel finding success at High-A, and Corey Brown hitting well at Low-A, etc. Has the early success of that class and the fact that a number of those picks are already playing at least at High-A allow the team more flexibility when it comes to looking at draft prospects who might take more time to develop?

FZ: Yeah. I think the success of that draft is part of the depth that we have been able to develop, between that and the trades and being more active internationally and signing a kid like Arnold Leon. You know, it is funny. I've talked to you more generally about how we have moved away from the college-draft strategy, but I believe that Gary Brown in the 12th round last year was the first high schooler that we took. I think what we tried to do more last year was to focus more on tools and athleticism with the college players and maybe emphasize statistical analysis a little bit less than we have in the past.

Even Doolittle, who had very good numbers his entire collegiate career, wasn't one of the guys who, when you run your college stats, was going to be at the absolute top. But I think we took a few other things into consideration there: his pedigree of having played for Team USA, the fact that he was a two-way guy and – while this is related some to stats – the fact that he played in the big ballpark at Virginia which caused him not to have the same gaudy power numbers that some of the other first baseman had who were taken right around that slot.

I think that even in the realm of taking college guys, we have taken a broader approach to evaluating guys and, maybe, if anything, have de-emphasized statistics and looked more at what our scouting department has to say about these guys and looked at other factors that might help predict future success.

OC: Because there is more staff this year in the scouting department, have you found that the reports have been able to get into a lot more detail?

FZ: I think that is the case. It is not just a function of increased manpower, but is also a function of a change in the organizational direction. Once you make it clear to the scouts that we are willing to take chances on college players that maybe are not your traditional college picks in terms of guys who are very high performing, but are maybe a little bit more toolsy and are players that our player development people can have fun with, then I think that scouts become a little more focused on those toolsy-type players when they see them rather than thinking that this is not our kind of guy. So they may bear down on a guy like that a little bit harder.

They may also try to present a guy in their report in a way that makes him seem like more of a viable possibility. In the past, they might have had the thought that ‘well, this guy has great tools, but he swings-and-misses a lot' or something along those lines. I think now when our scouts are out there seeing players like that, they are trying to look for the positives because they know that based on some of the guys that we took last year, like Corey Brown and Grant Desme, we are valuing, even among college players, the tools and athleticism maybe a little more than we have in the past.

OC: How much do you and David [Forst, A's Assistant GM] and Billy [Beane, A's GM] go out and see the players yourselves? Are you relying mostly on the reports you get back from Eric Kubota and his staff?

FZ: David has actually gone out quite a bit this year. I have only seen a handful of games myself. I think partly because of the importance of this pick to the organization, the fact that we haven't picked this high in long time and hopefully won't again any time soon, David has made it a point of really seeing a lot of the guys who are going to be in the picture and who are projecting as top-12 or top-15 picks. So he has gone out and seen almost all of the guys that we would be considering taking with that pick.

OC: Just as a point of clarification, there was no supplemental pick given for Shannon Stewart, correct?

FZ: No, because he signed a minor-league deal.

OC: So then the team won't pick again until the second round, right?

FZ: Correct. I believe our next pick is no. 58.

OC: Does that change your thinking going into this draft, having only one first-round pick as opposed to many of the previous years when the team has had two or more picks in the first and supplemental first-rounds?

FZ: I think other than our disappointment in not having those supplemental picks, which are always fun, I don't think it will necessarily change the strategy of the club with this pick. Like I said, if you had a couple of supplemental picks, you might be even more compelled to take a high ceiling player knowing that you have a couple of more picks in the comp round where you can take safer players. But we are already so well-positioned to take the risk and go for high-ceiling talent that we certainly don't need the supplemental picks to move our strategy in that direction. I think we are already comfortable with taking any of the universe of players who might be available up there with the 12th pick. Other than being disappointed not to be able to add a few more guys to the system, I don't think [having only one first-round pick] changes the strategy much.

OC: With the four A's affiliates getting off to good starts and many of the new players playing well, has it been fun for you to watch the way the start of this season has unfolded in the minor leagues?

FZ: Absolutely. We [the baseball operations team] are always looking at the minor-league boxscores and watching the Sacramento team when their video is available on MiLB.com. There are so many new guys in the system, whether it is from the trades or 2007 draft picks or minor-league free agents or a kid like Leon, we have really kind of improved the ratio of real, genuine prospects in our system. It makes it a lot more fun because those teams are winning and experiencing success. Part of what I think has helped develop the winning culture in Oakland has been the fact that the minor league teams have always won. In some cases, in the past, to maintain that winning culture, we had to bring in minor league veteran-types who we knew would produce and help sustain that winning culture. We have been able to move a little bit away from that because we have so much talent in the system that we can just win with that talent and not necessarily bring in career minor leaguers that you know are going to produce and help win games. It is always more fun to be able to win and have success in the minor leagues with young talent.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we continue to our coverage of the 2008 draft...

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