Farhan Zaidi Talks Oakland A's Draft

On Thursday morning, we had a long conversation with Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi. In the first part of our conversation, we focused on the recently completed draft. We cover the first four picks, as well as the team's drafting philosophy and the role Grady Fuson had in the front office during the draft process.

OaklandClubhouse: What were your overall impressions of the draft? Did things play out the way that you expected them to, especially in the first round, or were things a lot different?

Farhan Zaidi: Michael Choice was a guy who we had earmarked pretty early on in the process. We had a lot of our senior evaluators go in and see him and really be excited by the offensive potential that he presented. We just liked the fact that he was a really nice blend of performance and potential. He was a guy who was on Team USA and had a terrific freshman year and sophomore year and had a terrific year this year and was a Team USA performer – but at the same time, he was a guy who has a lot of upside and is actually incredibly young for his class. He is a guy who doesn't turn 21 until November. You have a guy like Zach Cox, who was a sophomore eligible for the draft – and Choice is actually several months younger than him.

We were really excited about him and at the time when we put him in our mix at [the 10th pick], I don't think he was quite as famous as he wound-up being in the last month or so, but I think partly because of a lack of college position players in the draft, he was really moving up boards and the last few days leading up to the draft, I think we had some concerns that he wasn't going to be there at 10.

We had some other guys in our mix who we liked quite a bit too. So it wasn't an "all-or-nothing" position for us, but the fact that he was there, we were very excited. He was really the guy that we thought was the best guy on the board [at that point in the draft]. I think it is easy to rationalize the pick by saying, ‘they were trying to find power. They were trying to find right-handed power to meet their organizational needs,' but it was really not about need but just about taking the best player available. I think the fact that he does feel needs for us is a bonus.

OC: Do you think he is a guy who will sign earlier than Grant Green did last year, or is he someone we'll have to wait until mid-August to see?

FZ: I think we are optimistic. That process is being handled by Eric Kubota [A's Director of Scouting] and I think he is optimistic that we will get something done sooner rather than later. I think when you take a guy in the first round, a guy that you are excited about, the whole organization really wants to see the guy go out and be able to see how he does in the boxscores right away. So we are all looking forward to that and we are hopeful that something will be done soon.

OC: Your second pick was Yordy Cabrera. You mentioned age in relation to Choice and it is sort of the opposite situation with Cabrera, who is almost college junior age as a high school senior [he is turning 20 later this year]. Does his age affect how you evaluated Cabrera, or, because he is still only 19, does it not matter that much?

FZ: Yeah. You can't ignore it. Particularly for position players, we all know that there is a very steep aging profile between 18 and 23, 24. You did have to evaluate Yordy with a different level of standards than the average high school player. That said, we thought that even against the standards of a 19-year-old player, he matched up very well.

The point our scouts made – and I actually got a chance to see Yordy myself, along with a lot of the other guys who were picked in the first round – it's pretty apparent that even if he were at junior college or if he was a college sophomore, he would really standout on the field. He is just a very physical guy. He's 6'3'', 6'4'' and I think he'll play at shortstop. I think the plan is to send him out at shortstop. He may grow off of the position, but he's definitely a guy that we see playing that position at least for now. He's got a terrific arm. He threw low- to even mid-90s as a pitcher. And he's got very projectible power, as well. He is a guy we project to have above-average power.

In some sense, you do have to consider the age, but things like the power, the arm, the intangibles and the bloodlines, a lot of the things that you like about Yordy, really are true of him whether he was a regular high school aged-kid or whether he was a little bit older like he is.

It was definitely a conversation for us. We had to decide if we were really evaluating him relative to other high school players or were we trying to keep in mind the age thing relative to other 19-year-olds that we see. I think that we really did the latter. All of the things that we liked about him would have been true if he were in junior college or in college, so that was what drove our fondness for the player.

OC: Aaron Shipman was your next pick. He is from that very talented Georgia high school class. Was he someone you got to know from watching some of those other guys in the Georgia talent pool or was he someone who you knew about on his own?

FZ: I think you make a good point that because it was such a great year in Georgia from a high school standpoint, it was a good run for our senior evaluators to get in there and get to see a bunch of guys who were going to go in the first few rounds of the draft. That might have helped raise the profile of some of these guys, but at the same time, even if it was a weak class coming out of there, this guy would have stood out.

I think he was a guy who was rated very highly that we liked and we maybe rated higher internally than perhaps the public perception of him, which by itself was quite high. He's just a really good athlete. A well above-average runner. A guy who can fill out and maybe come into some power. A true centerfielder.

Our guys really like the swing. That's really the toughest thing to project with high school position players. You can have a guy who has all of the tools and may have the makings of a swing but you just really don't know if guys are going to hit or not when they get to pro ball. One of the phrases our scouting staff uses a lot is that they have a knack for the barrel and manage to square up the ball with high frequency. This guy does that. The fact that he was a guy we liked a lot and got a lot of looks at, it was the fact that everyone who saw him saw that same thing that I think really put this guy pretty high on our draft boards.

OC: Chad Lewis is from that same high school [Marina High School] that Daric Barton and Justin Sellers attended. Lewis also performed really well in those high school showcases. When guys come from a really good high school program like Marina's and have performed under-pressure in a showcase setting, is that something that plays well into his make-up?

FZ: Yeah, that matters a lot. I think that if you look at that run of three high school position players that we took [in this year's draft], our familiarity with those guys because of the showcases is much higher than it would have been for high school position players 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of our scouts have seen these guys against good competition. You feel a lot more confident in your evaluation of those players when you have had that many looks at the player and when you've seen these hitters against pretty good pitchers who you think are going to go high in the draft.

[Lewis] was a guy who was definitely a performer on that circuit. Being from Southern California and performing against that level of competition, you feel a lot more confident about your evaluation of him than maybe your typical high school draft. We had so much familiarity with him because of that and because of the area that he is from. I think whatever reservations you have about taking a high school players, especially position players, it is really mitigated when you get to see them in that environment.

OC: Is there some irony to the fact that the movie about "Moneyball" might finally be made and the team is now regularly drafting high school players pretty high in the draft?

FZ: [laughs] It's interesting. I think that a lot of people within the organization and even Michael Lewis have made this point – the book wasn't about being dogmatic about any one particular strategy. I think it was more about looking for where you may have seen an opportunity and trying to exploit it.

I think one of the under-told elements of the 2002 draft was the fact that the team had a ton of picks and were under very serious budget constraints. I think that drove a lot of the picks. The question became, ‘alright, if we have to take the lower-than-slot guys, then what is the best way to identify those guys?' I think that is kind of what drove that. Now we are in an environment where we had a budget and we could afford slot. We have some flexibility and it's kind of a matter of taking the best players available.

Quite frankly, I think that a lot of college position players who were going in the fifth or sixth round in the draft a few years ago are now going in the second or third today. I think you kind of adjust accordingly. Also, like I said, I think the landscape has changed a little bit to where you can take high school players with more confidence because you have seen them in showcases and you have such a higher level of familiarity with them.

Ten years ago, we knew so much more about college players. Not just because we saw them more but because we could evaluate them from a statistical standpoint. Now in terms of how many looks you get at players between the high school and college players, it's almost a wash. On top of that, you do have the statistics on the college players but you do have showcase performance on the high school players. I think the gap has closed a little bit on the risks that goes into evaluating high school players.

OC: How is [former A's Director of Scouting] Grady Fuson fitting into the front office? Is he involved only in the draft? [Fuson returned to the team as a Special Advisor to Baseball Operations in February 2010]

FZ: I wasn't here during the last time he was with the team, so this is my first time experiencing interactions with him and I think that he is terrific. As far as the draft, it was an incredible resource to have Grady go in there and be able to cross-check a lot of the guys who were at the top of the draft. Grady was in the meetings and heard what our scouts were saying and what we were saying statistically about the players and added in his own opinions. It has been a seamless addition to what we do from a draft perspective. I loved having him there. Eric loved having him there. I think it was just a tremendous addition to bring him back.

I think from this point on, he is going to be a little more focused on the player-development side. It is something that he has done in the past, helping out Keith [Lieppman, A's Director of Player Development], getting a chance to visit the different clubs and identifying organization-wide areas that we need to work on and a lot of the things that we, as an organization, like to preach to our players: pitchers throwing strikes, hitters having a good approach and develop plate discipline.

I think he is taking it upon himself to spread that message throughout the minors. I think that is going to be a lot of what he does for the second half of the year. And I think that will be great. Keith will happily take all of the help he can get with delivering that message and being another resource for the minor league coaching staffs and keep Keith abreast of what is going on with the different teams.

Stay tuned for the rest of this conversation, in which we cover whether the A's would make additions around the trade deadline, the roles of Landon Powell, Henry Rodriguez and Tyson Ross, the injuries on the farm, the performances of Michael Taylor, Adrian Cardenas, Corey Brown and Chris Carter, and more...

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