2009 In Review: Q&A With Keith Lieppman, P. 2

In Part Two of our lengthy, season-end conversation with Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, we discuss the progress of some 2009 draft picks, the fall plans for Michael Ynoa, Fautino De Los Santos and Sean Doolittle, some surprising performances, and more...

For Part One of this interview, please click here

OaklandClubhouse: You got some pretty interesting performances from your 2009 draft picks, in particular Conner Crumbliss and Paul Smyth. What did you see from them?

Keith Lieppman: Crumbliss, at first, reminded us a lot of Steve Stanley and the impact that he had, but this guy can play the infield and he has a little bit more power than Steve had at the same time. He brings that same lead-off, aggressive kind of approach to the game. He can steal bases. He is the blue collar guy, aggressive, make-things-happen, on-base percentage guy who gets on-base in every way possible: with a hit, or a bunt hit or a walk. Fundamentally, he is a pretty sound player. He's kind of one of those underdog-type guys that once you let him go and play for awhile, he impresses. Both managers in [Vancouver and Kane County] quickly found that he was their most valuable player. He's been a real catalyst both for Vancouver – I think he was their MVP – and for Kane County these past few weeks. He put a little spark in them, helping them get ready for the playoffs.

Smyth is amazing. He hasn't given up a run the entire year and he just keeps going. It doesn't matter where he pitched – Vancouver or Kane County – he had success. He came in in all kinds of situations and he's got great deception and movement on his fastball. Those are the kind of finds where you go back to the scout and say, ‘wow. How did everybody else miss on this guy?' He was very impressive.

OC: The three draft picks who signed on deadline day – Max Stassi, Ian Krol and Grant Green – got to play in a handful of regular season games before the end of the year. Were you happy with the shape they were in when they signed after the long negotiations?

KL: Yeah. I actually saw Krol – I happened to be in Kane County – and I saw him pitching in a summer league out there. We saw him then and knew that he was actively pitching so there was no concern about whether he was ready to pitch. We gave him a couple of side sessions in Arizona, an inning down there [in the Rookie League] and then the idea was to get him to Vancouver to give him a little more competition and give him a little more experience at a higher level. He was able to encounter that. There is something to be said about sending a high school kid to that league because it is certainly not an easy league to perform in. He had some challenges there, but he handled himself professionally. It was a good sign. A lot of the scouts and the opposition, when they see him, they see the kind of good stuff he is going to have, especially when he learns to pitch as a professional. Right now, he is relying on the kind of things that got him through high school. As he learns and progresses, he is going to be a good one because his stuff is there.

For Stassi to go right to Vancouver, as well, I don't think we've done that with a high schooler since Matt Sulentic and then, before that, Ben Grieve. Those are the kind of guys who have gone there. Stassi, it's too bad that he didn't sign earlier because he was fitting right into that situation, but that doesn't matter now. He'll head to Instructional Leagues. The good thing is that we knew he could catch, but then he went in and was able to hit at that level, as well, and he put up good at-bats. We were surprised and excited about how well he played.

Green wasn't in as great of baseball shape as the other two, but he was in tremendous physical shape. Boras and his group kept him lifting and strong during that time. He just had to get back in shape baseball-wise. We didn't really put him out in the field. We just had him take some groundballs and DH during games, but we wanted him to get some at-bats at that level [High-A] and he did remarkably well. He just stepped right in and had solid at-bats. The manager [Aaron Nieckula] really was impressed with how he played the game. You could see how he was picked where he was and what kind of a player he is going to be.

OC: Would you anticipate that Green would start in Stockton next year rather than going to Kane County?

KL: Yeah, I would think that he is advanced enough that he could handle that. Absolutely.

OC: Is Michael Ynoa going to be able to pitch in the US Instructs this month, or is he going to have to wait until Dominican Instructs?

KL: We are hoping that he is going to be able to pitch in Instructs. He started his throwing program at the very end of the Arizona [Rookie Ball] program. We are just going to hope that he continues it during this period before he reports again on the 16th. We are hoping that he is going to be able to pitch by the middle of Instructs down here.

OC: Has it been a pretty steady rehab for him on the elbow?

KL: Yeah. I think with young kids you kind of want to let them grow and let those bones come together and not force things. At this stage, there wasn't that tremendous rush to have him out there rather than just allowing him to gradually improve and let his arm recover and just let him grow up. He is such a tall, skinny kid and he is still growing. To put extra force on that arm would not be wise at this time.

OC: Do you anticipate that Fautino De Los Santos will play winter ball?

KL: We asked him not to play. He is going to come to the Instructional League and play regularly for us and hope that the hamstring and everything is good. We anticipate him being there.

OC: Any chance that Sean Doolittle will play with Sacramento during the playoffs? I saw him taking batting practice there during their last homestand.

KL: Actually, there really isn't any place to put him [on the Sacramento roster] with Everidge and Carter. And then to put him into that kind of a situation where he hasn't really played all year wouldn't be fair to him and maybe even the club. Worst-case scenario, we can get him some at-bats at Instructional League, but we are still trying to get him a winter ball job and are hoping that something works out.

OC: Has it been harder to get winter ball jobs?

KL: Especially in his case. When you don't play a full season, teams are really interested in guys who have put up numbers. They seem to forget what this kid had done last year. It is what have you done for me lately. We are going to continue to try to push to get him a chance. We are trying to get [Adrian] Cardenas down there, too, but there isn't anything available right now.

OC: Joel Galarraga went out early in the season with a shoulder injury. I wasn't sure what his contract situation was. Is he still property of the team next year despite the shoulder injury?

KL: Yeah, in fact, he just left a few weeks ago to go back to Mexico. He'll return October 1st and go through a three-week rehab period in Arizona where we can really improve what can be done with the shoulder in the US, as opposed to if he rehabbed it solely in Mexico. Let our doctors and rehab guys work with him then.

OC: So he still fits into that catching picture?

KL: Yeah, absolutely.

OC: Anthony Recker ended up playing most of the season at Triple-A, perhaps in part because of Galarraga's injury. He ended up with pretty good numbers there even with his slow start with Sacramento. Does Recker still fit into the catching picture?

KL: He would be in that category of "Most Improved Player" if we did an organizational thing. I'd say that he certainly is in that group with a lot of other guys. He made huge strides defensively and offensively. He made a few adjustments at the end of the season. After a really rough start, he ended up hitting in the .260s average-wise and reached double-digits in homeruns. He was an All-Star last year at this time. When he got to Triple-A and didn't get the full playing time, just like any player who doesn't get regular at-bats, it's a shock and it is difficult to deal with. But he learned how to handle it, and he did a good job.

OC: With so many of your players having graduated to the big leagues over the past two years, are you happy to see that kind of progress, or do you wish you had more time with guys like Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill?

KL: It's kind of a mixed bag. Ultimately, you really want them to do well at the lower levels and you expect that they are going to struggle some at the top levels. The real goal is just to get them there and stay. The beauty is that none of those guys have come back this year. In that regard, it has been a very successful year for our [minor league coaching] staff. We've talked about this among ourselves, but the situation really allowed them to stay up there and make improvements and learn on the job. They are capable of hanging in there.

To have that many young pitchers, including Andrew Bailey and even Jeff Gray now who has kind of found his own little niche, finding their way there and staying there, is the biggest reward for player development. The guys who come up and down, you might get a little thrill [that they made it] but then when they come back and they are still trying to get back up, you aren't as satisfied.

OC: Mickey Storey has been quite a story this year.

KL: He has been outstanding. It didn't matter where he pitched this season, he was outstanding for the organization. He's the guy who was nowhere on the radar at the start of the year. He was at extended spring and didn't even get invited to spring training and then he ends up as kind of like the MVP over the last three weeks at Midland. He threw some huge innings for them and he actually picked up Sacramento a couple of times this year and threw some big innings for them. Those contributions are huge from a guy who was roasting away in Arizona in mid-April.

You talk about guys getting to the big leagues, the success stories or whatever, this one is a great success story. To let someone compete like he did and then him forcing us to continue to move him was great. He went to Kane County without a real role, and then all of a sudden, he became the closer. Really, his attitude and ability to hang there were great. Then he went to Stockton and did the same thing. They put him in sort of a mid-role in Midland and now he is finding his way into the end of the game there, as well. He must be pretty good to be able to do that.

OC: It looks like he has a 25-30 MPH spread between his curveball and his fastball. That's a pretty unusual spread right?

KL: Yeah, you try to not make him look like somebody, but he is kind of like a Justin Duchscherer-type pitcher with that kind of a good breaking ball and maybe a little more velocity than Duke. Storey has that same kind of mentality on the mound. He is a competitor on the mound. He isn't afraid. He stands right in there. Those combinations really bode well. This kid could probably start, as well. In high school and college, before he got hurt, I think he was one of the top starters in the country.

OC: I believe he won the Freshman Pitcher of the Year award after he first season at FAU.

KL: Yeah.

OC: Brad Kilby is another guy who kept forcing the hand until he got a chance to pitch in the big leagues, right?

KL: Some guys have to take that route. Brad Ziegler and Tom Everidge were two others. Every organization has them – players who have done well enough to be there but the situation just wasn't right, but eventually they make it. There are a lot of good stories like that in the organization right now.


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