Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Keith Lieppman, P. 2

In part two of our spring conversation with Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, we discuss Grant Green, Miles Head, Jefry Marte, Arnold Leon, Renato Nunez, Michael Choice, Vicmal De La Cruz, Conner Crumbliss, Tyler Ladendorf, Tony Thompson, Darren Byrd, Shane Peterson, David Mota, Omar Duran, the move to Mesa and more...

For part one of the interview, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Do you feel like Arnold Leon is back to where he was before the Tommy John surgery now?

Keith Lieppman: Definitely. His velocities are back. He has a sharp breaking ball and he has been healthy. No set-backs. Everything has been good.

OC: You mentioned Miles Head a little bit earlier. He had that shoulder injury during the Arizona Fall League. Was he back 100 percent healthy at the start of spring?

KL: Yeah. The only thing that sort of worked against him was that he reported about 15 pounds overweight. His conditioning wasn't there. He had to spend a lot of time getting back into condition prior to really getting noticed in another way. So it has taken him a little longer just because of the condition that he reported in.

OC: Are you still planning to stick with him at third base for now?

KL: Both. We'll probably play him at third and some at first. Just see how his range, agility and his ability to play the position plays out. There are lots of options at Double-A to play third or first, so he can probably play both and it will work out fine. We have Anthony Aliotti there, who can play first, and there are a number of guys who could fill that role.

OC: Jefry Marte was a new addition to the third base mix this off-season. It seemed like he had a good stint at big league camp. What have you seen from him in minor league camp?

KL: He has a very quick bat and the ball really jumps off of his bat. In fact, he's hitting right now as I am watching. [laughs] Early in this camp, we were able to see him take a very aggressive approach at the plate. He's someone who, as a 21-year-old, is an individual who understands the strike-zone a little bit and is our type of a hitter.

OC: Tony Thompson is another guy in that third and first base mix. He had a big second half with Stockton last year. What do you see from him this year?

KL: He is in that kind of in-between role between A and Double-A. He had a good year [in 2012] and really played well, but being kind of stuck behind a Miles Head or an Anthony Aliotti, who also played well, it may be his best opportunity to go back a year in Stockton and get regular at-bats. If he can find a place to get those at-bats, whether it is at first, third or DH, or whatever. He's capable of playing those positions and even if we have to put him in the outfield to find him some at-bats.

OC: Does moving Stephen Parker give you more flexibility in getting at-bats for some of those guys in the top two levels?

KL: It certainly opens up a lot of scenarios for a lot of those at-bats. It had looked as if Parker was going to be in the same boat that he was in last year when he didn't get the regular at-bats that he felt that he needed, even though he ended up with 350-380. He was caught in-between. It gives Parker a much better opportunity than he would have had in the crowded infields in Double-A and Triple-A with us.

OC: Conner Crumbliss and Tyler Ladendorf are two guys who can play a lot of different positions. Will that help them move up since they can move around the field a little bit?

KL: I think with Crumbliss, with his combination of eye and versatility as an outfielder and second baseman – he hasn't really played any other positions on the infield except second base – whereas Tyler has the capability of playing everywhere on the infield and outfield. He is able to do both a little more than Conner, but Conner brings the other aspect of on-base percentage, his ability to walk and get on-base. And also power. The kid had 10 homers last year. He certainly provides a lot of versatility, as well.

Both are interesting little components and could be very instrumental between that Double-A and Triple-A roster. We are still trying to figure out where they both fit in the big scheme of things right now. By the end of next week, we should have a pretty good idea where they both fit in because between Josh Horton, Ladendorf and Crumbliss, they all really provide a lot of expertise to those clubs. They are all really helpful pieces.

OC: Darren Byrd was the player brought over in the Parker trade. I know he has only been over in camp with you for a few days, but do you see him as a late-inning type?

KL: Absolutely. From what I have seen so far, plus from his numbers and I have seen a little bit of video, he is kind of what that staff needed, the kind of guy who has the ability to do that. He fits in at Double-A and potentially Triple-A depending on how that plays out over the next week.

OC: Todd Steverson [A's minor league hitting coordinator] mentioned that Michael Choice has continued to look good since coming down from big league camp. Are you pleasantly surprised with how quickly he has been able to come back and hit well after missing all of that time with the broken thumb?

KL: Absolutely. We were really concerned about whether he was going to be able to get enough at-bats. We tried to get him into the Instructional League and winter ball and all of that, but unfortunately he wasn't able to do any of that. He missed all of that time, but he came back prepared and ready to play. He really has had a great spring. He has shown power and he has shown great defense and a tremendous attitude. He has been one of the highlights of camp, both in the big leagues and in the minor leagues.

OC: Have you enjoyed the emergence of Shane Peterson over the past year or so after watching him have to stick it out in Double-A for a few years?

KL: Yes, because he has always sort of had to take that second-fiddle position when guys are sent down from the big leagues to Triple-A and he would be the guy who was sent down [to Double-A] or maybe wouldn't get as much playing time. But he seems to have always hit and he put himself in a position to finally get on the roster and then given the opportunity, he has really, really played well in big league camp. He has opened a lot of eyes this spring.

OC: You had a number of staff changes over the off-season. How have all of those changes come together for you so far this spring?

KL: We kind of had a different approach this year. We have changed the way that we do this, but the Triple-A coaching staff this year stays with the big league staff the whole time because typically the guys that they are managing stay up in the big league camp until the very end. We won't see those guys until maybe Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. That's a little bit of a change.

In terms of the new additions, Ryan Christenson [new Beloit manager, and former A's outfielder] has been outstanding, as has Lloyd Turner [new Vermont hitting coach and former A's minor leaguer] and Carlos Chavez [new AZL A's pitching coach]. They have all been great additions to a group of staff members that we feel is vital to the development of our players. You know how important that is for us to have the right people in the right places and we think we really have a good group of people to operate.

Emo [Scott Emerson] has been awesome with the pitching and Trick [Todd Steverson] with the hitters. We have very good continuity with our programs from the big leagues all the way through.

OC: With Lloyd Turner, did you know when he was a player with you that he was someone you'd be interested in bringing back as a coach when his playing days were over?

KL: Yeah. He had shown as a young player that he was somebody who was aggressive and was somebody who loved the game and came from a little bit of a coaching background. Anybody who can go and spend that much time in independent ball and love the game to that degree, you know that there is something special about him. And then once I interviewed him and had a better feel for him, I knew that he was someone who would be able to step-in and be that guy.

OC: You have a few guys who are coaches for you now who were players in your system. Is it fun to bring back players like that as coaches who had played for you?

KL: It is. We also have Bob Welch, who is working with us now as an aid to our pitching coaches in our minor league system. He has brought a whole lot with him. We had Tony Phillips here a few years ago. There is a tradition that Oakland staff members and players bring to our system. That tradition, like the Dodgers of old and other organizations who have taken a lot of pride in the players who have played in their system, we have tried to continue to use that. The best way to do that is you know these people and you have been around them and you know what you are going to get by hiring them. They have continued that tradition.

OC: In 2015, the A's will be moving their minor league complex and spring training home to Mesa after a very long time in Phoenix. Are you looking forward to the move or will it be hard to say good-bye to Papago after so many years there?

KL: For me, having been through every possible scenario since 1971 – my first year was at Fitch Park [where the A's are moving in Mesa] as a player – and along the way stop-overs at probably seven or eight venues, to end up with 20 years here [at Papago], it's not going to be easy to leave this environment and setting. This is one of the most beautiful places in Arizona. I think there is a certain atmosphere and tranquility to this ballpark that makes it a great place for player development.

Anybody who has come to visit us here and see our offices here, I think it is one of the most incredible places that I've ever been, with the mountains and the green grass and the whole thing. But you make adjustments and we'll make the move to Fitch and I'm sure that everything will be great when we get there. I think that anyone who has been here will have certainly appreciated and enjoyed working here. It's a beautiful complex.

OC: Will the A's-related names for the fields and streets remain (i.e., Tony LaRussa Field)?

KL: It's my understanding that the fields will turn back over to being a city facility, and it will be used in a much different way. I'd be surprised if they kept those. This is more Oakland-oriented so I'd be surprised if they kept those.

OC: Has anyone else stood out for you in camp thus far that I haven't asked you about or you haven't mentioned previously?

KL: I forgot to mention one guy who was part of the contingent of former players coming back to help us on the coaching side, and that is Phil Garner. He has been a big part of our system. He spends a lot of time with our big league and minor league clubs. In fact, he's over here today [on Saturday] watching Hiroyuki Nakajima and Grant Green and just getting locked in with what these staffs go through. As I said, there is just tremendous continuity between the staffs in the major leagues and the minor leagues. That is all playing out on a regular basis.

Back to other standouts, Grant Green has made big adjustments at second base. I think Green finally found his place where he can stay as a second baseman. He was at short, then we moved him to the outfield and then to third base, but at second, it looks like he has found a place where he is comfortable and he has done a nice job. He has still continued to swing the bat well and he has done a nice job.

OC: How have the players you brought over early from the Dominican Academy looked?

KL: The guys we brought over early, Michael Soto – the third baseman/first baseman – has had a really good camp. So has David Mota, the pitcher. I think Bob Welch has really helped him with his sinker and his command. He and Omar Duran both have had really good camps thus far. So some of the guys we already brought over have really looked good thus far.

OC: Are Renato Nunez and Vicmal De La Cruz set to go to Vermont this year, or are you planning for them to go to a full-season league?

KL: At this point, we are looking at Nunez going out to Beloit. We are hoping that he can handle some of the rigors of a full season. That's a very youth-oriented move to Beloit with Matt Olson and Nunez and maybe a Wilfredo Solano. A lot of it is pushing guys quicker than maybe they needed to go. As a general rule, De La Cruz would be better served getting more at-bats in Arizona and then working his way through Vermont and then maybe by the end of the year get to Beloit.

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