A's Post-Season Interview: Farhan Zaidi, P. 3

In the final segment of our three-part interview with Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi, we discuss the health of Eric Chavez, the role for Huston Street in 2009, the futures of Javier Herrera and Henry Rodriguez, the emergence of Vince Mazzaro and more...

Click here for Part One of the interview and here for Part Two.

OC: Was there one guy – either at the major league or the minor league level – who really surprised you this season?

FZ: The guy that I think took the biggest leap forward was Vince Mazzaro, who is right there with Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill as guys that we see as at least mid-rotation or better pitchers in the big leagues. Mazzaro is a guy who has always had pretty good stuff. He was a pretty high draft pick for us out of high school. He has always thrown hard, but his secondary pitches have kind of been a work in progress. Last year during Instructional Leagues, he was a guy that our staff kept telling us had made huge improvements. The reality is that in the Instructional League, you hear that about a lot of guys because it is an environment where players are tinkering with stuff and looking to improve. Sometimes those improvements really pan out and you see it the next year, and sometimes they don't. In Vinny's case, they really did and he has established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. I think we always had that hope for him, but if you look at his numbers in the Cal League last year and you look at his numbers in the Texas League this year, that kind of improvement isn't something that you see very often.

OC: Andrew Carignan was another guy who dominated the Texas League this year. He walked a ton of guys, but no one seemed to be able to hit him. Do you see him as a guy who could potentially challenge for a spot in the big leagues at some point next year?

FZ: Yeah, he is definitely a guy who could help us at the big league level next year. He's a guy that our scouts and our front office people in Arizona got to see in the Arizona Fall League [last week] pitch a few times. He was very impressive there. He is a guy that we felt all along that he could move quickly. A few of us saw him in Stockton earlier in the year and I actually thought that he might get all of the way up to Triple-A by the end of the season. He didn't quite get there because of some of the command issues, but if he throws strikes like he is doing right now in the Fall League, he could be someone who could contribute to the major league bullpen next year.

We are very happy with his development, but in terms of the question about guys who might have popped up this year, he isn't really that, because we kind of expected that of him. He was a high-profile closer at a top collegiate program and those guys are the ones that you almost expect to move rather quickly.

OC: Another hard throwing righty, Henry Rodriguez, was throwing out of the bullpen at the end of the year. Is that the role that you see him in next season?

FZ: I think that is the plan for him in Venezuela this off-season, that he is going to continue to work in that role. It is a role that Henry likes being in and that he has had some success. It is certainly a role that people have projected him landing in. I remember that you asked me about this a few months ago, and I said that it is really easy to take a guy with Henry's stuff and say that he projects more as a closer just because it is an aesthetically pleasing thing to have a closer who is throwing 100 MPH.

But you can have hard-throwing starters, as well. I think I brought up the Josh Beckett example. A guy like Josh Beckett is as valuable a guy as you have in all of baseball, a starting pitcher who can go out and dominate every fifth day. We still want to continue to develop Henry as a starting pitcher to the extent that that is a role that he enjoys and that he can succeed in, but with some of the command issues that he had this year and some of the success he had as a reliever, we want to let this play out over the winter and probably reassess it when he arrives in spring training.

OC: Do you find that other teams tend to focus on big moments when scouting a prospect, like the one that Henry had at the Futures Game when he blew away three hitters or like the long homerun that Justin Upton hit at the Futures Game in San Francisco? Or do they really take a look at the whole picture?

FZ: I absolutely think you hit on it. Sometimes those seminal moments stick in people's minds. Ultimately, though, individual moments or not, Henry is a guy who throws 100 miles per hour. You can count the number of guys who have an arm like that in affiliated baseball on one hand. I was actually at the Futures Game and I saw it first-hand and it is something that I keep bringing up. When you look at the overall numbers that Henry had this year, especially at Double-A, they don't look that impressive, but one reason that I and others in the front office are optimistic about his future is that every time he has been on a big stage, whether it was in big league spring training or in the Futures Game, he has had success. That is a reason for great optimism, which goes along with the fact that he throws 100 miles per hour. We are obviously an organization that values performance, but in his case, because he such a special talent and he was moving back-and-forth between levels and roles this year, we don't really put a lot of credence in his Double-A numbers. We think he still has a chance to be a really good major league player.

OC: Does the emergence of pitchers like Vince Mazzaro, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, etc. help to mitigate the disappointment of seeing Fautino De Los Santos go down with an elbow injury early in the year? Does having additional depth in the pitching ranks make it easier for the team to not push De Los Santos' recovery from the injury?

FZ: I think so. Fautino, who some people thought was the best talent that we got in that Nick Swisher trade, was a guy who caused a lot of excitement early in the year. We saw him a lot in minor league camp and a lot of us thought that he was the best pitcher in minor league camp, particularly in a couple of outings that we saw. It certainly would have been more of a crushing blow in an environment like maybe two years ago when he would have been far-and-away our best prospect. That was one of the reasons that we felt it was important to add a level of depth to the organization. With pitchers, there is going to be attrition, whether it be injuries or performance. Being a team that can't go out and spend money to add players whenever that kind of situation arises, having that depth is important. We still have high hopes that Fautino will return next season and continue to develop as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

You don't want to be in a situation where you have two or three prospects who are so central to your overall plan that your plan gets derailed if they get hurt. That's kind of the luxury that we have right now.

OC: That sort of reminds me of 2006 when Javier Herrera went down with an elbow injury in the spring and then Daric Barton was hurt a few months later and the depth of the organization seemed to thin out quickly without those two guys playing.

FZ: Right.

OC: With Javi, he is running out of option years. Did he earn another option year because of the injuries?

FZ: Yeah, he does have a fourth option.

OC: Do you think he can play everyday in the outfield, or is there a worry that those hamstring injuries are too chronic for him to be able to play nine innings in the field, day-in and day-out?

FZ: There is definitely that concern. Whenever you have a guy who hasn't been able to stay healthy year-in and year-out, for as long as it has been going on with him, you do have to wonder. And he is still pretty young and it doesn't get easier to stay healthy as you get older. That said, towards the middle of the year when he still hadn't gotten out on the field and played, there was a little bit more skepticism about whether he had a future in the organization. Then he went out and played pretty regularly in the second half and did a nice job and finished the year off pretty strong.

Obviously having that fourth option is going to be huge for him because he has had limited time in Triple-A and this will give him the opportunity to go there and continue to develop and maybe even get some time at the big league level next year. He still has great talent and he still has great speed and, when he is healthy, he still plays a great centerfield. The talent is still there. The question is whether he can stay healthy.

Kind of getting back to when he got hurt in '06, we, and really every organization, try to map out what your roster is going to look like and what your depth chart is going to look like three, four, five years down the road. But you never want to be in a situation where you say you have this guy down in A-ball and he is definitely going to be our second baseman, or this guy in Double-A is going to be our third starting pitcher a year from now. Whenever you are in that situation, you are banking on guys who, by definition, there is a lot of uncertainty with. I think what is great now is that now when we do those depth charts going out two, three, four years down the road, we have multiple options at all of those open positions. I think that is the situation that you want to get your organization to.

OC: Speaking of depth charts, where are you penciling in – or are you penciling in – Eric Chavez at this point? Do you see him as the team's starting third baseman, or do you really view him as more of a first baseman/DH now?

FZ: Our expectation right now is that he is going to be fully ready to go by spring training and that he is going to be our everyday third baseman next year. That said, we do recognize the need to improve our corner infield depth at the major league level. One, in case we do feel that Daric [Barton] needs more development time and two, with Chavy's health, we are hopeful that things will be fine, but you can never discount that maybe he does have continued issues next year. Adding corner infield depth, perhaps someone who can fill in at either of those positions is definitely something we want to take a look at.

OC: Do you see Jeff Baisley fitting in as one of those depth players at the corners next year?

FZ: Yeah, he is definitely in the mix. He had a very nice year in Triple-A. [River Cats' manager] Todd Steverson said that he was consistently one of their best hitters in terms of power and discipline and getting big hits for them. He came up to the big leagues and did a nice job. He struggled a little bit at first and couldn't get any hits to fall in in his first few at-bats. But he finished off nicely and played good defense both at first base and third base. So he is definitely a name that will be in that major league mix for corner infield depth. But that wouldn't necessarily preclude us from going out and getting a more established name.

OC: It must have been nice to see young relievers like Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine and Jerry Blevins step forward and pitch well this season. But it obviously set up a situation where the incumbent closer Huston Street wasn't in that role at the end of the year. Do you think the team has to establish who the closer would be before the start of spring training, or do you think Huston would be okay coming into a situation where there is an open competition for the closer role?

FZ: Ultimately, we are going to do what is best for the team, and I think right now, the best thing for the team is not to declare anything. There is no need to declare that Player X or Y is going to be the closer next year. I think all of those guys have strengths at the end of a game. Ziggy is a guy who can come in and get a groundball when you have guys on-base and can basically eliminate a rally that way. Huston is a guy who has always had really good control and has had success in big situations. Joey is just pure stuff, and if you look at his numbers, he had one of the best years for a reliever ever. There is certainly the dominance factor there with Joey, but there are continued questions about whether he can be that Mariano Rivera-type guy who can throw two innings at a time or who can throw back-to-back-to-back days. We want to continue to be careful with how we use Joey.

If you look at those three guys, there is no reason why they all can't fit into the bullpen picture and all get save opportunities. I'm not saying that is what is going to happen necessarily, but we don't feel compelled to make a move to define roles at this point.

OC: The closer-by-committee concept was the talk of baseball a few years ago, but it kind of got a bad rap. Do you think that could work?

FZ: I think so. The times that it has happened, without being specific, I think it was more a function of the personnel than a function of the idea being off. We spend enough time with our players and our pitchers to know that psychologically they like having their roles and they like knowing when they are going to pitch, but there is no statistical or objective evidence that says that performance suffers when relief pitchers don't know the exact inning that they are going to pitch in. I think there is a little bit of a myth-factor there. I don't think that there is enough conclusive evidence that a bullpen-by-committee or a closer-by-committee wouldn't be worth us trying it if we had the right personnel.

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