A's Brass On Michael Inoa

Shortly after announcing the signing of Michael Inoa to the press in the Dominican Republic, the Oakland A's front office hosted a phone press conference to discuss the A's big signing. We have quotes from that press conference with A's GM Billy Beane, A's Director of Latin American Operations Raymond Abreu and A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens inside...

Billy Beane, Oakland A's Vice President and General Manager

Opening Statement:

"Obviously, we are very excited about signing Michael. We were pretty aggressive and we started pretty early in this process. I made a number of trips down here [to the Dominican Republic]. This is an exciting day for us, a very exciting day. We think that Michael is one of the best Latin American prospects to come out in the last decade, which is why we put so much time into it and why, ultimately, we made such a significant investment into the bonus."

What stood out to you about Michael in particular?

"I'm sure that you guys have seen some of the objective sources that have been out there. You kind of run out of superlatives, a little bit. The first thing that you notice about the kid is that there is a very self-confident presence about him that is really unique. He's 6'7'' now and he's only 16 years old. I read this on one of the on-line scouting reports that he looks like a small forward in the NBA physically. He is a very athletic kid. Then when he gets on the mound, what you see is, number one, a guy who is an outstanding athlete at that size and at that age. He's a guy who already has outstanding velocity and a good feel for his breaking ball and a good feel for pitching. As I said, we have seen him a number of times. Billy Owens [A's Director of Player Personnel] has been down here even more than I have. We've seen him up to 94-95 miles per hour and do that with a pretty good feel for command and an idea of how to throw a very good breaking ball. Once again, at this age, he is very unique.

Another thing that we looked at was that at age 16, he probably wouldn't be eligible for the draft for another two years. Yet if he would have entered the draft this year, he probably would have been a top-15 pick and certainly next year and I think, without question, he would have been a top-five pick."

How many times did you see him and what were the roles of the other A's executives who saw him?

"Billy O. and Raymond Abreu, our director of Latin American operations, have seen him the most. Billy O. has been coming down here and teaming up with Raymond since the fall. He also came down for the Caribbean World Series. I have been here about three times in the last seven weeks. I came down with Lew [Wolff] and John Fischer [the A's owners] earlier and Billy Owens came down here again a few weeks ago and a third time for this [the signing], so we were well represented from the top-down here. We thought that was an important part of the process, too.

What were the negotiations like?

"Going back a few months ago, it was pretty apparent that this kid was going to be the most sought-after guy in Latin America, so there was no surprise to us that there was a lot of competition. What we felt was important was, certainly we were going to have a significant financial investment, we felt that it was important to have a significant investment in terms of the time that people such as myself as the General Manager and Billy Owens as the Director of Player Personnel, we felt that it was important to spend time having our people get to know the family and so that they could get to know us. As I said before, this is a very unique kid and a very unique family, and I think that the time that we put in having them get to know not only the organization, but to get to know the people who are at the top of this organization, I think that that really helped us out in the end."

Can you tell us about the family? You said that it was a really unique family.

"They are just a very unique, close-knit family. A very athletic family. His mother is a very accomplished softball player here in the Dominican. His father was a good player in his own right. He's got a younger brother who is about 10 years old and a younger sister who is about five years old. They are just a very close-knit family from Puerto Plata. That was the other thing, when we came down, myself and Billy, we went into Puerto Plata to see where they were from and it was a part of the island that we had never seen before, so it was a good experience. Once again, they are a very close-knit family and really good people to get to know through this process. At the risk of redundancy, I think that [getting to know the family] really helped us out quite a bit."

He has been referred to as both Michel [pronounced Michelle] and Michael. What pronunciation will he be using going forward?

"That's a good question because before the press conference I wanted to be sure. I have called him both myself and his representatives have called him both. I actually got two answers today. I asked Raymond, and he said the Spanish pronunciation was "Michelle" but then I asked Edgar Mercedes, who is the representative down there, and he said "Michael," so I think it is a case of "you say tomato, I say tomato." [laughing] But he has been going by Michael, it seems. But that will be a question that I will ask him point-blank to find out what he prefers."

What is the development plan for Inoa?

"He is going to spend the rest of the year in the Dominican Republic. He will be coming to the United States on a visitor's visa to go through a physical, which would be normal procedure. For the rest of the year, he will be spending it at our complex over here in La Victoria."

Will he be pitching in games or just working out this year?

"That has yet to be determined. Physically, he could probably handle the games, but we are going to be looking at the history of some of the players at this age, some of the high-profile kids who have gone through this process, and kind of determine that as we go along. One of the things that we will do from a development stand-point is, number one, we will be very proactive in teaching him English at the La Victoria academy. Then, as soon as we can, we will get Gil Patterson, our minor league pitching instructor, and Keith Lieppman, our director of player development, down here just so they can a) get to know the kid and b) start to indoctrinate him into some of the things that we teach and hopefully start the process off on the right foot. The short answer is that the actual game plan is yet to be determined. The first thing is to get the physical out of the way, but he will definitely be down in the Dominican Republic for the remainder of the year."

Looking ahead to 2009, do you see him in the Dominican Summer League or in Rookie Ball in the US?

"Once again, I don't think I can answer that right now. I will say this, we saw him pitch at one of the ad-hoc intrasquad games here about seven weeks ago. He actually threw, in a tryout situation, against some of the kids we have down here [in the A's Dominican academy]. We also had him pitch against some of the more advanced kids. In fact, we had a number of kids who had played at a high level [in the minors] who had yet to arrive at spring training [in the US]. He performed admirably against them in the two innings that he threw. Alex Valdez [who had a 752 OPS with Low-A Kane County last season] was one, Raul Padron [who played for High-A Stockton and then in the Arizona Fall League last season] was another. At that juncture, he looked like he could more than hold his own, and that was seven weeks ago.

How does this signing impact the A's presence as a factor in the market for players outside of the US?

"It was very important. First and foremost, this was a special player that we felt that any and everybody would be interested in. But this also goes back to the fall for us. We set out an organizational game-plan at that point. It was no secret that we reduced the major league payroll. What we wanted to do and what we have continued to do is reinvest what would normally be the major league payroll into the infrastructures in terms of not just increasing the number of scouts and the number of people who covered things for us internationally, but also the investment. We have continued to invest in the infrastructure, not just in this, but in other things. The savings or reduction in major league payroll are actually being thrown into things like this. We anticipate continuing to be very aggressive, not just in Latin America, but all over the world. As of last night, I was getting e-mails from our guys about players not just from Latin America, but from other parts of the world. Short answer is that we think this is the beginning of a process that a) we think is very important for us and b) we plan on being very involved with going forward.

Is Inoa still growing and can you compare him to anyone currently in the big leagues in terms of stature?

"Yeah, it is quite possible that the kid is still growing. I guess if I could compare him to someone physically, I guess the closest comparison would be Daniel Cabrera maybe right now. That is probably the closest comparison. Cabrera is the first guy who comes to my mind physically, keeping in mind that he is obviously quite a bit older than Michael. [Inoa] has a very athletic body and it wouldn't surprise me at all if, at some point, he grew an inch or two even beyond that."

Pitching-wise is Felix Hernandez a fair comparison?

"I think more in terms of the status of the prospect. I think they have maybe different styles, a little bit. I think the comparison there is really just the stature of the player, really, as it relates to some of his peers in this market. Not so much physically, although Felix is a good sized kid in his own right, but I think it is more stature than anything."

Are you ruling out Inoa participating in the Instructional League completely this year?

"At this point, yes."

What kind of competition have you seen Inoa playing against?

"The best [game situation] we could get was, quite frankly, the one that we had at our own complex. Those guys are professional players and he had no problem at all in that situation. It is a different form of scouting. Most of the games are ad-hoc games or tryout situations, so you aren't talking about the same sort of environment as you would have scouting someone, say, at the College World Series. It isn't as structured as that. But the competition that he faced in the workout about seven weeks ago was certainly beyond what any high school kid would face in the US."

Can you describe the relationship you had with the family?

"They are a very close-knit family and each time that we came down, the family was always with him. Each time were able to interact with the kid. Obviously, he was on the field for a lot of the time, but we were able to meet with him for dinner a couple of times through the agent. Obviously, there was a language barrier since I speak little to no Spanish, but with Edgar there and Raymond there translating for us, it was something a) that we enjoyed and b) I think both sides were very comfortable."

This is a departure from the previous strategy of taking players that you have a lot of data on. Does this feel like a risk, signing a young player like Inoa?

"We actually looked at it differently. There were a couple of things that went into it. First of all, part of our analysis here, which I previously stated, was that we believed that, if not this year, then certainly in the next two amateur drafts as a comparison, he would have been a top-five pick. So part of this was sort of purchasing an opportunity, if that makes any sense. If you look at it, the money that we have invested – the $4.25 million – we felt that that money was better invested in a player like Michael Inoa, given the number of years and the potential impact that he might have, versus, say, signing one major league player for one year at $4.25 million given what would be available at those terms. That's the way we look at. There are a number of other ways to look at it, but, for us, we broke it down that simply that it relates very much to the major league payroll and our investment in the infrastructure. The risk versus the potential reward was worth it to us.

"From a macro standpoint, I look at how far the organization has come from a personnel standpoint. Beyond the fact that we have, I believe, the number one pitching staff in the major leagues at this point, if you start looking at the number of young pitchers that we have in the organization, with Michael now a part of that group, I think that that is an impressive a group as any in baseball. Getting back to everyone understanding the cost of pitching, particularly for an organization like ours, we had concluded that our pitching was something that needs to come from within and was organic. All of those things mean that where we started out from this past October and where we are right now, I think we have just taken huge strides. From the farm system overall, which even in our own evaluations was probably near the bottom quite frankly, to one that is near the top. That combined with some of the young players that we have at the major league level, I think that bodes well for the future."

In light of recent events, how do you know that the kid is really 16 and when does he turn 17?

"He turns 17 on September 24th. That is a fair question, but I think that you also have to respect what has gone on here in terms of Major League Baseball. Certainly just getting in and out of the country these days, there is a lot more of a process and documentation that needs to be provided. Major League Baseball has done a great job setting up an office down here. I think the process of verifying ages down here is far more strict than it used to be, maybe even here, in some respects, is more strict than over in the United States. We are quite confident. We've gone through the process and we are quite confident that we have verified the age."

Raymond Abreu, A's Director of Latin American Operations

Some of the reports are that Michael chose the A's because of the personal attention that he got from the organization. What did you do that was so appealing?

"We were very honest. Billy [Beane] himself is very easy going and was quite frank with the family. We did everything by the book, the way that we needed to do it. Billy Owens talked to them about the longevity of the people within the system, and that made an impression on the family that these guys have been with the organization for a long time and that they know what they are doing."

What were the other organizations involved in the negotiations?

"The New York Yankees, Cincinnati and the Texas Rangers. Frankly, all of the teams were interested, but those were the heaviest players going after him."

Were the Yankees in it until the end, or did they drop out early?

"I'm not sure when the Yankees actually bailed out, but we got him. We're happy."

How do you see him as a pitcher?

"He's quite impressive. As you see him on the mound, he's got great mound presence and good ability and above-average tools."

Can you tell us about his breaking ball?

"He's got a really good breaking ball and change-up and a fastball between 92-94. The kid is the complete package. All we need is time and maturity with the kid as far as experience in the game. He's very intelligent, very self aware. The kid is a class act. He's taken everything in very well."

How do you compare him talent-wise to other high-profile players who have come out of Latin America?

"His maturity both on the field and off the field, for me quite frankly, makes all of the difference. He's a really good athlete with standout abilities and the thing that I really like about him personally is that he is very family oriented and really mature for his age. This guy is truly a pitcher. A lot of these younger guys, they just throw the fastball, but this guy can really pitch."

How many years have you been watching him?

"We first heard of him when he was about 15 years old, and we followed up on that. As soon as July 2nd time came close, we knew how hard he was throwing, where he was throwing and who he was throwing for. When they had that big tryout camp in Santiago, that is when we went out there and did our final reports."

How many times have you seen him pitch?

"About four times."

Billy Owens, A's Director of Player Personnel

What did you see in Michael?

"I saw him when I came down here for the Caribbean World Series. Edgar Mercedes put together a workout that included a lot of good players who signed on July 2nd. Obviously, the featured attraction was Michael Inoa. Right away, the thing that shocked me was that he was 6'7'' and he looked like an NBA small forward. His athleticism, his awareness and his command within the strikezone and the fact that he already had a pretty good breaking ball that had a chance to be a hammer later on and his change-up was very workable right now, was all very impressive. We felt that the fact that we have been able to develop pitching over the years – right now, even with the young staff, we are number one in the major leagues in pitching – that goes back to Keith Lieppman, Ron Romanick and Gil Patterson being able to develop pitchers. This kid is 16 years old and he has the requisite skills, athleticism and tools combined at age 16, you put that together with our system, we felt that it was well worth the investment."

How much did you sell him on the system and the A's success developing pitchers?

"The family really did their homework. They saw going back to the trilogy of Hudson-Mulder-Zito, and especially seeing the new guys, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and the Dominican Santiago Casilla, and they saw the success of that versus the other clubs that were pursuing Michael, and they felt very comfortable with the fact that we promote young players. They know that you are probably in the best hands in baseball in terms of developing young pitching talent [with Oakland]."

People say he is the best Latin prospect since Felix Hernandez. Do you go along with that?

"Yeah, I would concur. It's kind of funny. We had what I call the summit meeting last year. Billy shaved the payroll and we talked about investing in our infrastructure. Part of that was that we played the Red Sox in Japan and we saw some amateur players in Japan. Randy Johnson [A's special assistant to the GM] has seen a number of players in Australia and I have been to Venezuela and the Dominican extensively. Without a doubt, this kid is the best 16-year-old kid that I have seen in the last decade. Felix Hernandez is accomplished now and it is hard to compare anyone to King Felix, but if there was ever a guy who could develop into being a frontline starting pitcher in the major leagues, this is the guy."

Felix made the major leagues when he was 19. Do you think Michael can do that?

"I tell you what. I don't think we ever put timetables on someone's development. Going back to what was really impressive about this kid, it was that he wasn't just a young flamethrower pitching for the radar gun. I vividly remember when Billy Beane, Lewis Wolff, John Fischer, myself and Farhan Zaidi came down in May and the kid knew that ownership was involved and that we were really serious. He didn't pitch for the radar gun. He faced Alex Valdez, Raul Padron, professional players, in addition to a few kids in our system and kids in tryouts who wound-up getting big money from other teams, and he filled up the strike-zone, showed his breaking ball, he didn't overthrow, he mixed in change-ups and his confidence was very evident."

How did he learn to pitch that way in the Dominican?

"I just think that he comes from such an athletic family and I have been amazed throughout this whole process that the kid never really got overwhelmed at all. He had a coolness to him. He's calm, he's self-aware, he's mature. Just watching the press conference and how he handled himself with the plethora of media, and he still was unblemished."

On the personal meeting with his family in Puerto Plata.

"A lot of teams pursued this kid heavily and a few clubs actually offered more money than we did, but I think that we were able to sell ourselves, sell the organization and pretty much let the kid know that we are going to be committed to him as far as the kid advancing from 16 and beyond, and develop into a very good major league pitcher."

When do you think he can come to the US? Is next year realistic?

"Like Billy said earlier, as far as him coming to the US, we are going to examine Felix Hernandez and the other top pitchers from Latin America in the last five years and try to go through a similar process. But we hold no boundaries here. When Michael is ready to establish himself in the United States, we are going to allow him that opportunity."

Are you expecting to sign anyone else from Latin America over the next few weeks?

"Oh, for sure. I made a trip to Venezuela, along with our scout Julio Franco, who has done an awesome job. He's got three guys on our 40-man roster currently right now. Along with our commitment in the Dominican, like Billy says, we are ready to commit globally to pursuing baseball players throughout the world. I made my trip to Venezuela and we have things pending there right now. Down here in the Dominican, July 2nd is kind of like our equivalent to the June amateur draft, but we can still sign guys after that and we are thinking of doing a few things right now."

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