Oakland A's Q&A: Keith Lieppman, Part One

It has been a busy first few weeks for Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Keith Lieppman. For the third consecutive year, Lieppman has been forced to put minor league rosters together piecemeal thanks to injuries that have affected the entire organization. We caught-up with Lieppman on Wednesday to discuss those injuries, some early impressions and more. This is Part One of that interview...

OaklandClubhouse: We spoke a little bit this spring about the impact that injuries have on player development in terms of having to move guys around a lot. Has it been difficult to set your teams while having to move so many guys around?

Keith Lieppman: Yeah, it's turned into a giant jigsaw puzzle that changes locations every day. There are a lot of people who are affected. It's a jigsaw puzzle and dominoes effects. It's an odd place to be in, but we've done it for so many years now because we have had some issues. We are kind of used to it, but it never makes it any easier. There have been so many unusual injuries.

But that always creates opportunities, though. With what is sometimes a little bit of a hassle to get people moving, ends up bringing people opportunities that were either warranted or just come out of nowhere. Certainly, it is a double-edged sword, in some respects.

OC: Despite all of that, three of your teams are in first place and are playing well. Are you concerned at all about the Stockton Ports' poor start? Is there anything that you think needs to be done there, or will the season just run its natural course?

KL: They just happen to be in a situation where the league is really good. Not to say that our players aren't good, but there is a situation where we ran up against a very tough San Jose club, a tough Modesto club and then a tough Visalia club right out of the chute. We didn't play great, either. I think it will get better as the season goes on, but we just faced some very good clubs very early in the year and I think that it was a situation where it was a little bit of a wake-up call. Some of these guys, it is their first time through the league and they are making some adjustments. I think there are some returning guys that we are going to have to take a look at and determine if they are doing the job and making the progressions that they need to do in order to move on in the system.

With the number of injuries that we have had, we have a whole extended spring – where I am at right now – where we have a whole slew of guys who are trying to get themselves back up and running and they need places to play. Certainly Stockton might be one of those places where some of these guys might go through to get back into shape.

OC: Is one of those guys Jemile Weeks? Is he coming back pretty soon?

KL: Well, it just continues to be a long, drawn-out saga with him. It's no longer his hip. Now he is having problems with his calf and Achilles. What started in one area of the body has kind of pushed its way down. It has turned out to be a little bit longer process than we anticipated. He is still not playing everyday down here. We are just trying to get him strong enough to where he is able to take it out everyday.

OC: Tyson Ross just came off of the DL for Stockton. Do you think that he is going to have to change his mechanics being that he has had arm injuries in two consecutive years now?

KL: I wouldn't say that there needs to be a big mechanical change. He has an unorthodox delivery, but, you know, it's like somebody looks at Bob Gibson and he was unorthodox. [Ross] has some unusual mechanics that maybe aren't the perfect model, but I don't think that is the reason why he has had some arm problems. I think that his mechanics are something that actually work in his favor. I don't think that there are generally things about those mechanics that are causing his arm to have a problem.

OC: Matt Spencer is off to a good start for Stockton this season and he hit well with the Ports at the end of last year. What does he have to do to move to the next level?

KL: We are backed up outfield-wise and he is just a victim of having a whole bunch of guys ahead of him. Especially with the outfield situation all the way through the system, he was just a numbers guy. He was in a situation similar to Tom Everidge, who had a great year last year and we would have hoped that he could move to Triple-A [but he has been blocked]. There are a few guys who are in that same situation who are good players who are just backed up.

OC: A guy who did have an early-season promotion is David Thomas. What kind of player is he?

KL: A very aggressive, lead-off type hitter who has shown some power. He has also stolen a few bases and we are using him to try to infuse some life into that Stockton club. He's set up for the task. He has done very well for them so far. I am very happy with his early-season performance at both Kane County and Stockton.

OC: Have you been surprised with how well Kane County as a team has been hitting this season given the league that they play in?

KL: We knew that going into it there were some guys who were ready to take off, especially Dusty Coleman. We had a good sense that Jason Christian would do well and we were looking for a place for Steve Kleen to play, as long as he was healthy. Those three we knew that that was all going to fall into place, but the rest were question-marks: Grant Desme coming off of injuries, Mitchell LeVier stepping up to his first real test, Franklin Hernandez, those were all of the real pleasant surprises that have come out of their first chance at A-ball. There were some that we had a sense were capable of doing well and then the guys who are stepping up in their first taste of A-ball are really off to a good start.

OC: Coleman has been at shortstop and Christian has been at third base. Do you anticipate that they will switch positions at all as the season goes on?

KL: Not really. Christian has kind of found a home at third. If there was a situation that required Christian to move to short, we would do it, but I think we are comfortable with Coleman being the everyday guy there. If Coleman needs a day here and there, then we'll use that opportunity to keep Christian sharp at short, but, for the most part, I think we are happy with the way it is playing out right now.

OC: Shawn Haviland, Anthony Capra and Ben Hornbeck have all gotten off to great starts for Kane County. What have you seen from them?

KL: Haviland came back [this spring] with a lot more velocity than he came with last year. I think he was probably a little bit burned out at the end of last year. He came back after having a great off-season program. Physically, he got stronger. His velocity and stuff has improved a bunch since last year, so he has gotten off to a great start.

Hornbeck went to the Instructional League with a real concise agenda that Gil Patterson put out for him to do some different stuff with his arm angle. He responded and has really gotten off to a good start with that.

I think we kind of expected Capra would be what he has been. He came as touted. He had a great spring and it looks like he is just following suit in terms of where we picked him in the draft and what we expected.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this interview later this week. In Part Two, we discuss Adrian Cardenas, Daric Barton, Chris Carter and more...

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