2009 MLB Pre-Draft Q&A With Farhan Zaidi

The next 10 days are going to be busy ones for front offices around baseball, as the 2009 amateur draft draws closer. Farhan Zaidi, Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations, took time out of that preparation period to discuss the 2009 draft with us...

Note: The A's have the 13th overall pick in the first round of this year's draft. The team does not have a second round pick or any supplemental round picks.

OaklandClubhouse: Generally speaking, how does this draft compare in terms of depth of talent to last year's draft?

Farhan Zaidi: I don't really subscribe to the idea that we can evaluate the depth or quality of a draft before the fact. I've heard people say this draft class is thin up top and has good depth in terms of there being little gap between guys who'll get picked in the mid-late 1st round and guys picked in the 3rd.

I'm really not sure how one would even go about supporting a claim like that. What I can say with greater certainty is that Aaron Crow was viewed as a guy in the 3-15 range last year, and he's projected in that same range this year, so that speaks more to the similarity of this year's draft talent to last year's rather than any big difference.

Don't get me wrong, I think hindsight lets you make a sound evaluation of drafts in retrospect, but I think talking about whether a particular draft is "good" or "deep" before it even happens is completely speculative. I will say that every draft class has its idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses -- for instance, this year's draft will probably be very pitching-heavy up top -- but it's hard to say anything about the overall level of talent until we have a few years of professional performance to go on.

OC: Has the fact that the team has only one pick in the first two rounds changed the way that you have prepared for this draft? Would not having a second round pick make the team more likely to be conservative with the first pick?

FZ: Not having comp picks or a 2nd rounder has certainly altered our approach to seeing players, at least for Billy, David and myself, given the limited time we have to watch amateurs leading up to the draft. It has actually given the three of us the opportunity to really focus on players that will be in our mix at 13, rather than having to see a broader range of top 100 players who would otherwise factor into our first few picks.

From a strategic perspective, I don't think our lack of additional picks will make us any less conservative at 13. On the contrary, I think our organizational depth gives us the luxury of potentially gambling on a higher-risk, higher-reward type with our first pick. That's not a specific objective, but we are in a better position to go that route with our 1st rounder than we were two or three years ago.

OC: Have you noticed a difference in terms of the organization's scouting reports on players now that the team is in the second year of having an increased scouting staff?

FZ: We're definitely getting more players turned in by our scouts and are getting more looks at the high-profile guys. That greater coverage was a major priority when we set out to rebuild the farm system two off-seasons ago. I don't think our reports are materially different, or that we are targeting different types of players, but having more information on more players will definitely help us acquire more and better talent out of the draft.

OC: Last year, the team went over-slot to sign Brett Hunter, Rashun Dixon and Dusty Coleman. Is that something the organization is willing to consider doing again?

FZ: We will certainly consider it. When we decided to be more aggressive with "tough signs" last year, a lot of the selling of the concept internally was based on the great job our scouting department has done of identifying these players in past years -- guys like Justin Smoak, Mike Leake and Dan Schlereth, among others. While we didn't sign those players, drafting them established that our scouting department could produce a strong return on a larger draft budget.

Seeing guys like Dixon and Coleman get off to such good starts in their pro careers has only reinforced that thinking. Our ultimate spending in this year's draft has by no means been capped and could be a fluid situation, so we will be keeping our eyes open for players that our scouting department deems worthwhile follows later in the draft.

OC: Does the organization expect to be active on the July 2nd international signing day? If so, does that have any impact on the strategy for the organization in the US amateur draft?

FZ: We want to continue what we started last year in terms of being players at the top-end of the Latin American market. That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to be signing any players for seven-figures. Over the past year, our emphasis has been on putting an infrastructure in place where we could be viewed as serious competitors for the top young Latin American talent -- that has included better communication with our baseball people in the Dominican and Venezuela, as well as more cross-checking trips by our staff based in the US. That's really the part of the equation you can control.

What you can't control is how heated the competition gets for those top players, to the point where you no longer think they're worth the signing bonus cost. If that's the case, we may decide to spend that allocation of our baseball operations budget elsewhere (including in the amateur draft). But again, we're much more confident now in our ability to collect information and evaluate talent in Latin America.

OC: How much does organizational need play into what the team is looking for with that first pick? Given some of the trades the organization has made over the past few years, do you feel that need is more of a concern that can be addressed in trades rather than the draft?

FZ: I can't speak for other organizations but organizational need does not play a role for us with our first pick. We select the guy we think will develop into the best player. That said, it's not particularly easy to employ a strategy of "draft for talent and trade for need."

The reality is that there is a lot of friction in the trade market and the chances to re-shuffle your talent to better suit your needs are limited. For instance, even though there are a lot of times when prospect-for-prospect trades would make sense, you rarely see them. Furthermore, when you have a player you are considering trade offers on, you can't control which teams express interest or what type of prospects the teams that do express interest have.

When we traded Dan Haren and Nick Swisher a couple of off-seasons ago, much was made of the fact that we essentially got back all pitchers and outfielders; the reality is our trading partners did not have infield prospects that we were high on at the time. And in each case, the team we wound up trading with had expressed far and away the most aggressive interest in that player.

All that said, I think there is some merit to evaluating and drafting players based on positional scarcity, if not need. A team should value a shortstop who could hit .280 with 15-20 HR much more highly than a corner outfielder with similar offensive potential, and, depending on how you calibrate things, maybe more than a corner outfielder with .290, 20-25 HR potential. So while we wouldn't draft a shortstop because we though we needed one, we certainly apply different offensive standards to premium defensive positions like shortstop over ones like first base or the corner outfield spots.

OC: Since draft day 2008, there has been a debate among A's fans regarding the selection of Jemile Weeks as opposed to Brett Wallace. Did the A's seriously consider Wallace? Are you still happy with the choice?

FZ: We did seriously consider Brett Wallace. Being a Pac-10 player, our scouts probably got more looks at him over his three years at ASU than the average scouting department, and they really believed in the bat. When our pick came up, Weeks and Wallace were the top guys left on our board.

If the draft were being held today, I would probably take Wallace. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. But that answer might change in a week, a month, a year or five years. It may change several times over the course of that time frame. It's still very early in their pro careers and, in fairness, Jemile has been battling injuries for most of that time. We're hoping Jemile can stay healthy the rest of the season and we're excited about the progress he can make if he does. We really had both players rated very closely together and I think this could be an interesting debate to have for years to come. I think they both have a chance to be very valuable players at the major league level.

OC: Obviously he will be gone well before the A's pick, but have you had a chance to scout Stephen Strasburg? Do you agree with the assessment that he is the "greatest pitching prospect ever"?

FZ: I have not had seen Strasburg in person, just because there was really no point other than the sheer entertainment value of watching a guy throw 100 MPH. He's certainly the most hyped pitcher in draft history, in part because he is a once-in-a-generation talent, and in part because the media coverage of the draft is so much greater than it has been in the past. I will say that reading about him all spring has made getting swept by Seattle in the last series of last season a little easier to swallow.

OC: How much have you personally gone out to scout players this season?

FZ: As I mentioned earlier, I've focused on guys in our mix at 13, so I've probably seen about 15-20 guys.

OC: With the Moneyball movie possibly being made, would it be fair to say that the organization's approach to the draft has changed since 2002? Don't you think Adrian Brody would make a better Billy Beane than Brad Pitt?

FZ: Our approach to the draft has definitely evolved but it really has to do with us having more budget flexbility, and in reaction to other teams adopting a more college-oriented approach.

Adrian Brody's not a bad call, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Brad Pitt's going to make a pretty good Billy.

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