Q&A with Keith Lieppman, A's Farm Director

On Saturday, we caught up with A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, who was in Stockton to get a closer look at the Ports. We spoke with Lieppman about a range of topics. Inside, find out his thoughts on when it is a good time to promote a top prospect, whether he is concerned about Henry Rodriguez's struggles, his impressions of the Kane County pitching staff and more…

OaklandClubhouse: When is it appropriate to promote a top prospect to the next level?

Keith Lieppman: We've kind of had a rule-of-thumb where you try to let them dominate a league [before promoting them], but there is no firm, set standard for a promotion. Sometimes it is injuries that create an opening. Sometimes it is a lack of production for a guy ahead of you. Right now, we have a whole bunch of guys who are playing well. There is nothing wrong with having success.

When you look at a guy like Sean Doolittle or one of the other top guys, you might say, ‘okay, he'll play at this level x-amount of games and then get some time at Double-A.' If everything works out, then there is always the [Arizona] Fall League. There are plenty of avenues for giving a player the opportunity to grow. It's a full year, so there is time to give a guy a lot of different experiences. In the past, with a guy like Nick Swisher or Jeff Baisley or Travis Buck, they were guys who were in A-Ball and then all of a sudden they get to Double-A and then the Fall League, it gives them an opportunity to experience a lot of different levels in a relatively short amount of time. Come December, they have seen a lot of different guys, and it moves them very quickly up the ladder.

OC: Are you concerned about the struggles of Henry Rodriguez since Rodriguez was promoted to Double-A Midland?

KL: Yeah, there is always a concern when someone struggles. We've had Gil Patterson, the minor league pitching coordinator, out there [with Midland] for each of the last two series. It's the biggest adjustment that any player has to make going from A-ball to Double-A. Henry has had some situations where he is working with a really tight strike-zone and guys have been laying off of some of his pitches. You really want to give him an opportunity to try to adjust to this adversity rather than giving into it and sending him back to A-ball.

You try to set your goals smaller and just try to achieve smaller ideas of what you are trying to do. Right now, we are working at fastball command. He has been pitching behind all of the time. In his last outing, he was good through four innings and then it came unraveled. In that outing, we achieved a lot of what we wanted to do, but, then again, his damage control skills didn't come into play in that game.

There are so many aspects of pitching that come into play in terms of making these adjustments. It's a faster game [at Double-A] and there are better hitters, faster runners. In A-ball, you can get away with a few things. There are maybe two or three weak links in every line-up where those hitters are going to get themselves out for you. They don't force the contact as much. In Double-A, the line-ups are much better. He's having to battle in every at-bat, so it is a challenge. I'm up for the challenge of letting him stay there right now and see if we can help him grow. It's not all about performance. It's about the process for him, execution and so forth. The equipment for him is all there. It's just about getting the execution down.

OC: Has Rodriguez's confidence been shaken at all with the struggles?

KL: It's a little shattering for a guy to go from dominating to struggling, but for me, it is no different than him playing winter ball in Venezuela. He's facing good players there, too. It's just a little different setting. I think he should respond okay.

OC: Has it been fun to come out and see the affiliates playing well this season?

KL: It's been fun. Here in Stockton, getting to see Doolittle and Chris Carter and Josh Horton every night is a lot of fun. Really, every night you get to see quality prospects around the system. I saw the Double-A club [in early May] in San Antonio. I got to see Vince Mazzaro and Andrew Bailey start games, and both of those guys have been pitching well. You see guys who have moved ahead a level and made adjustments to get better against the next wave of competition, and that has been impressive.

Cliff Pennington has been playing a lot better in the middle of the diamond for Midland. Anthony Recker has pulled out of what was a really bad start at the plate. There are some areas in [Recker's] game that need to get better, but Casey Myers has really helped him with his throwing and catching skills. Recker has done a very good job with that staff.

OC: Travis Banwart was just promoted to Stockton. What did you see from him that triggered the decision to promote him?

KL: You look at what Banwart did last year with Kane County and you combine that with what he has done so far this year and he's thrown about 90 innings there. He has out-pitched the [Midwest] League in that time. He's done everything he can possibly do at this point at that level. He's proved he can pitch there and pitch there with quality stuff, so it was time to move him up.

OC: There are a number of pitchers throwing well in Kane County right now.

KL: Absolutely. That pitching staff has been very good for Kane County. Jamie Richmond has been very good. Scott Mitchinson has been great and Craig Italiano has been awesome. We have to worry about limiting Italiano a little bit. He has been pitching so well and we really don't want to give him that many innings this season. He's only thrown 36 innings over the past two years, so there is going to come a point where at about 100 innings, or somewhere in that area, he's not going to be able to pitch more than that. We don't want to over-do it with him this season.

Italiano is commanding the ball a lot better now. Early in the season, the numbers were a little deceiving. He was a little bit off, but he was still getting a lot of swings and misses. Now, he is really executing a lot better.

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