Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, Part 2

With two weeks left to go in spring training, the Oakland A's are getting closer to Opening Day. Over the past several weeks, the team has had a chance to take a close look at some of their brightest young prospects in big league camp. We spoke to A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi about some of those prospects last Tuesday in Phoenix. This is part two of that interview...

Click here to read Part One.

OaklandClubhouse: If you could go back to the meetings that you guys had after the 2007 season, is where the team is at now where you envisioned it would be during those meetings?

Farhan Zaidi: I hear a lot of people saying, "why did Billy Beane change course?" or "why are they doing something different now?" The plan was to improve the farm system, which we did. Then we were sitting here at the start of this off-season and we realized, we have a chance to get Matt Holliday and we suddenly have the financial flexibility from trading all of those guys, like Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher. Those guys were arbitration-eligible players. They weren't making free agent money, but they were making significant amounts of money.

We started doing the math, and when it looked like the Angels were maybe going to lose Mark Teixeira – they are still a great team, but he was a big part of what made them good – it made sense to be a little bit more aggressive this off-season.

It's not like we traded away all of the players that we acquired. We had to trade a couple of young players in the Holliday trade, but those players were all in areas where we had a lot of depth. We still have that farm system that we were able to build up with those three or four trades and we were still able to be aggressive in the international market and we signed Rashun Dixon, Brett Hunter and Dusty Coleman out of the draft [to over-slot bonuses], so we were able to take some fliers on a few guys. Part of the plan was not that we have to be bad for two years. If you have a chance to actually compete while you have the good farm system, that is really the best of both worlds.

OC: Do you envision more over-slot signings in the future? To me, that and the Michael Ynoa signing were the two biggest changes in the team's "philosophy" over the past year.

FZ: I think there is a good chance that we'll continue to do that, just because the performance of those players has been really good and the player development guys have been really happy with them. It gives us the assurance that our scouting department has the ability to pinpoint guys in the later rounds in the draft that might turn out to be really good values down the road. When you have some initial success with that, it is an encouragement to keep going.

That isn't totally set in stone [that they'll make any over-slot signings this year]. There are so many things that have to go right. You have to pinpoint the players. You have to draft them before some other team drafts them. Then you have to sign them. There are times when you find the players and suddenly they say, "there is no way that I am signing." A lot of things have to go right, but we at least have the mechanisms in place to make that happen.

OC: With no second round pick, does that change the way that you approach drafting in the first round?

FZ: I don't think so. I actually think that having the depth in the system that we have right now gives us a lot of flexibility and free reign with that first round pick. We don't have to address an organizational need. We don't have to pick a college player who is going to move quickly. I think that having a lot of depth and having a farm system that we literally have more players than we have spots for, kind of gives us the ability to go in a lot of different directions with that pick.

OC: Can you imagine having two picks in the top-10 like Washington is going to have this year?

FZ: That's pretty amazing. That first pick is going to cost them a lot of money.

OC: And we probably all know who that is going to be.

FZ: Yeah. [laughs] But in all seriousness, I was telling somebody that Scott Boras [Stephen Strasburg's advisor] – and he is just doing his job – but that he will say anything and he might throw out the Daisuke Matsuzaka posting fee and say "well if that guy is worth that much, then how much is this guy worth?" He can say anything, so it will be interesting to watch. He has proven that he'll throw any number out there, and this is a circumstance where you might actually have a player with really unprecedented abilities.

OC: How much has the Dominican bonus payments scandal changed the way that teams deal with scouting players over there and how they deal with agents for the Dominican players? I know that MLB has its own investigative service, but does that scandal make it harder for you to trust what you see in front of you?

FZ: I think a little. It makes it harder to trust that the players that you are seeing in these workouts are the age that they say they are. Now when we go down there, we have to say this player is definitely two years older than he is claiming, until it is proven otherwise. There is a suspicion of the players, which is unfortunate, but there is a pattern that has developed.

Raymond Abreu, who runs our Dominican complex, is great and he has been with the organization for a long time. His communication with us has always been really good. In a sense, doing what we have been doing lately [in the international free agent market] in focusing on better known players, it makes for a more targeted and efficient operation.

We are not singing players by bulk to the point that it is harder to keep track of what is going on. When you are only signing a handful of guys every year, it is much easier to stay on top of everything that is going on. It's easier for Raymond and his group to communicate to us who they want to go after and what the scouting reports are. When we made the decision to more aggressively spend internationally, I think we improved our communications with them a lot. I think that has helped us a lot to get through some of the things that have been affecting other teams and other organizations.

OC: It's less of an issue in Venezuela and some of the other international scouting hotbeds, right?

FZ: Yeah. I haven't seen any of it in Venezuela. The other thing about Venezuela is that these kids are actually all in school so they are playing for teams with their schools. There is a much better infrastructure for amateur baseball there, and, presumably, better recordkeeping.

OC: Speaking of Venezuela, is Henry Rodriguez for certain going to start in the bullpen?

FZ: Yes. I believe that decision has been made.

OC: He obviously hasn't been able to throw much because of the hernia surgery, but do you sense any improvements with his command?

FZ: It's really hard to say. He's made two appearances [as of Tuesday, March 17] and he's been 93-96, which is a little low for him but those were literally his first two games. There aren't a lot of guys around who can throw that hard their first couple of games. It's a little early to tell, I think, but I think mentally for him to start the season knowing that he is going to be in the bullpen and that there is a chance that he will start the year in Triple-A and will be one step away from the big leagues, I think that will be good for him.

OC: I saw Javier Herrera running at Papago and it looks like he was moving pretty well. Is he healthy again?

FZ: Yeah. Everything seemed great. He's a guy who every spring it seems that he comes into spring training nursing some sort of an injury, but Bob Alejo had the guys run sprints as part of a fitness evaluation the first week of camp. Javi ran the second- or third-best time of any player in camp. That was a huge sign of encouragement given everything that he has been through. He looked good to us and I think you are right on with what you saw. He is moving around a lot better. He's a guy that we've had to be patient with while he has had all of these injuries, but talent-wise, he's up there with anybody in our organization.

OC: Gregorio Petit had a strong winter in Caracas and he hit well with the A's during the season. I was a little surprised that he wasn't called up in September after how he hit in May. Was it because he didn't perform well during the last six weeks or so with Sacramento last season, or was it because you had guys like Eric Patterson and Cliff Pennington that you had to take a closer look at?

FZ: Yeah, I think that a lot of it had to do more with the guys that we are trying to get an evaluation on. Having them come up and sit didn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense. Petit has had a really good camp, as well. Our big league staff has been very pleased with him. He has played good defense, he's hit well and it actually looks like he is in better shape. Someone said he's lost about 10 pounds from last year, which is great because you can tell that he is moving around better. He's still very much part of the plan and probably with his performance in the spring, he has made up some ground in regards to some of those other middle infielders.

OC: With Eric Patterson, his Triple-A numbers are obviously outstanding, but he hasn't been able to translate that to numbers in the big leagues in his brief stints with Chicago and Oakland. How many opportunities do you give a player like that with his talent before you have to move on?

FZ: I think that as long as they are part of your organization, you hope that when they come up, something will click. Teams with guys like that have had players who just needed to catch a couple of breaks and get some positive momentum, and then they take off. Eric will be the first one to tell you that it didn't quite go as he had hoped when he came up. He had some struggles and some issues making contact. But he has a ton of talent and he was great in Triple-A last year and he got a pretty long look in camp again this year. Hopefully when he gets another chance, he'll be able to take it and run with it.

OC: Corey Wimberly is a fun guy to watch play. Had you guys been following him dating back to when he was playing with Modesto against Stockton?

FZ: Our guys have seen him a lot there and in the Texas League. A couple of years ago, I think it was '07 in the Fall League, he may have led the Fall League in batting average and was one of the top hitters. Just having a guy like that with the versatility to play the infield and the outfield and the fact that he can be so disruptive on basepaths is attractive.

What I really liked about watching him is that he plays with a lot of energy. I would say that of the young guys in camp, the two that impressed me with their energy were him and Sean Doolittle. That's kind of what we want to see from guys in camp for the first time. You sort of want to see them play with their hair on fire a little bit and try to make something happen. I think those guys really did that out of our young guys.

OC: Are you going to make everyone wear their socks like Wimberly's?

FZ: [laughs] Maybe I'm just getting fooled with the stirrups. [laughs] But in all seriousness, it does seem like when he plays, he is always in the middle of the action. And he played a pretty good shortstop, too. I don't know that he can play it well enough to be an everyday shortstop, but if he can play out there, that helps his versatility.

OC: Kind of an Esteban German-type player?

FZ: Yeah. The guy that we have compared him to in the past is Chone Figgans. I don't know that he is quite up to Chone in terms of his hitting. That is still something that he can work on. But in terms of his speed and versatility, he is kind of a similar player.

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