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OaklandClubhouse: Has this been your most enjoyable season since you started working in Major League Baseball with the success the team has had?
David Forst: That’s a good question. It has certainly been my most enjoyable over the past five or six years. I think anytime you are in it at this point of the season, enough things have gone right that you are bound to have had some fun along the way. There are a lot of things about this team that have been particularly enjoyable and we’re just hoping that it continues for at least another few weeks.
OC: You have five guys in your rotation right now and including Brett Anderson, four of them spent significant amounts of time in your minor league system this season. What is it about your player development program, especially for pitchers, that allows your pitchers to seem so well prepared for that jump?
DF: It’s hard to pick out just one or two things. Obviously it has been a long time now that we have had a lot of success with pitchers. It has been through different scouting regimes, different pitching coordinators, different minor league coaches. You can’t necessarily point to one thing. But those guys have done a great job. Eric [Kubota, A’s Scouting Director] and his staff have found talent late in the draft, from A.J. Griffin all the way down to Dan Straily all the way in the 24th round.
Gil [Patterson, A’s minor league pitching coordinator] and his staff have done a great job of preparing these guys once they get into pro ball. Certainly the environment we have once they get here [to Oakland] in terms of a pitcher-friendly ballpark doesn’t hurt in allowing these guys to get a little success under their belts right away.
OC: Do you think it almost is a relief for some of these guys to come and pitch at the Coliseum after having to pitch in the PCL, particularly in some of those smaller parks?
DF: A little bit, I would think. Certainly Sacramento not as much, but when you are pitching consistently in Reno, Albuquerque and Salt Lake and those places, yeah, I’ve got to think that those guys welcome the opportunity to pitch in Oakland half of the time.
At the same time, Sacramento is a pretty a good place to pitch in and of itself. Our hitters often complain about it and the numbers, especially of late, bear that out. Their home park in Triple-A isn’t that bad.
OC: In talking about Griffin and Straily, obviously the organization thought highly of them coming into the season after the work they did in 2011, but could you have ever imagined them contributing at the major league level when you were looking at them in spring training?
DF: I think the standard line is that anytime a guy is at Double-A, he has a chance to be in the big leagues quickly. The truth is that if we had thought these guys would be able to compete this year, we would have had them in major league camp. We did like both of those guys coming into this season. They both did enough last year in A-ball to make us think that they were going to be here at some point, but their development path was accelerated by their performances in Midland at the beginning of the year.
OC: Were there any guys who pitched at that Stockton level or even for Midland this year who you think have a chance to blossom like that next year? Maybe not be major contributors at the big league level, but guys who maybe people haven’t heard a lot about right now but will hear a lot about next year?
DF: I would hate to put that kind of pressure on anyone. What Dan and A.J. have done this year is really extraordinary. We have a number of pitchers at that level that we see as major league prospects but I can’t imagine the same kind of thing from anyone else anytime soon.
OC: One of your pitchers in Stockton this year was Ian Krol. He has been a starter for most of his career, but he got some time in the bullpen at the end of the year with Stockton and Midland. Do you still see him as a starter long-term?
DF: We do, yeah. He ran into an issue with an innings limit at the end of the year after he missed basically all of 2011. We felt that we didn’t want to run his innings total up to where he had been in 2010, so he got 85-86 innings in Stockton and we felt that if he was going to get up to that 100 innings out of the bullpen, it made sense to at least expose him to Double-A.
I still feel like he has a future as a starter. He has the three-pitch mix and the sort of know-how on the mound to turn the lineup over a few times.
OC: How do you feel [A’s 2011 top pick] Sonny Gray came out of his first full professional season? Are you feeling good about where he is at going into next year?
DF: Yeah, Sonny had a really good year. He made the mistake of setting the bar for himself really high with his half-season in 2011. When he went to Midland straight out of the draft last season and did as well as he did, everyone – not just us, but the people in the game – thought ‘hey, this guy might move really quickly.’ He went back to Double-A and struggled a little bit in the first half, the way really you’d expect anyone to struggle in their first full season.
He did very well after the break. I think he finished with a three-and-a-half ERA and actually made a really good start in Sacramento during the playoffs. We feel like with as much time as Gil spent with him and the adjustments he made during the course of the season, Sonny had a really good full first year.
OC: With a groundball pitcher like Gray, do you worry as much about strike-out rates as you would with more of a flyball pitcher?
DF: You don’t, no. Obviously groundballs can make up for a lot of contact issues. Sonny’s strike-out rates were good in college and they were good that first year [in Midland in 2011]. You don’t worry about them as much when you get the ball on the ground as much as he does.
OC: Another top pick who spent most of the year with Midland is Michael Choice . It seemed like he had really turned a corner the month or so before he broke his hand. Do you feel like he accomplished what he needed to this season, or will those six or so missed weeks because of the injury impact him coming into the 2013 season?
DF: It was really a tough break, almost literally, to go out when he did. He was hitting over .400 in the second half and he was really swinging the bat well. His track record is a little bit that it takes him awhile to get settled. You look at his numbers in Stockton last year, especially in the second half, and he was right on track to finish up strong [this year, like he did in 2011].
He got close to 400 plate appearances at Double-A under his belt and he is going to spend some time in Instructional League. He may get some at-bats towards the end of it. I don’t know exactly what he is going to be able to do physically, but I don’t think his progress is going to be impacted significantly by missing those two months. We obviously want him to get as many at-bats as possible. We have kicked around the idea of winter ball just to make up for some of that time, but I don’t know for sure that he is going to do that.
I think Michael learned a lot this season in Double-A and certainly made the necessary adjustments based on how he finished up there.
OC: Do you feel like Midland in particular and the Texas League in general is tough on right-handed hitters? It seems like all of the right-handed hitters – except for Chris Carter – have had some trouble at that stop.
DF: What’s interesting about that park [in Midland] – and I have only been there for a handful of games each season – is that the wind typically blows from right to left. If you are right-handed and a pull-hitter, it actually can be helpful.
Michael did such a good job spreading the ball around and has such good power to right-center that it probably was difficult for him to put up power numbers in that park. He can be treated sometimes as a left-handed pull-hitter because he hits the ball so well that way. Again, I think he made those necessary adjustments and I think it’s not a bad thing for a guy to have to learn to change on the fly. At the same time, when you are facing good pitching, it’s always an adjustment when you get to Double-A.
OC: Grant Green went through that Double-A adjustment period last season and he put up much better numbers with Triple-A Sacramento this year. Do you feel like he is a pretty polished hitter at this point?
DF: I do. Polished is probably right. He is certainly not a finished product. You have to be happy with the improvements you saw from Grant this year. We have always known that he has a knack for hitting. We’ve always talked about the ability to hit for .300 is there. But to put up the doubles and the homers numbers this year, he has really worked hard the past 12 months – including in the Fall League when he was with Todd Steverson [A’s minor league hitting coordinator and 2011 AFL manager] full-time.
Todd spent a lot of time with Grant working on his approach and trying to get more power out of there. You know he can hit. You are just trying to increase the different things he can do at the plate.
OC: What is he going to be working on the most at the Arizona Fall League this year? He’s obviously spent a lot of time in that league the past few years [this is Green’s third consecutive season in the AFL].
DF: Yeah, not many guys get to go back as often as Grant has. He will definitely play a lot of second base, which is something that you saw him do towards the end of the regular season. Also, this is a new approach [at the plate] that he and Todd worked on last fall and that he carried over into the regular season really well. He’s the kind of guy you think another 100 plate appearances potentially in the Fall League is going to get him that much closer to contributing for us next year.
OC: Was there any thought to adding him to the 40-man roster now rather than in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and have him with the big league team in September? Or did you want him to focus on getting ready for the Fall League instead?
DF: Those decisions are always tricky. Obviously Grant isn’t the only guy who didn’t come up who potentially deserved to. With the team in contention the way that it is and with Bob [Melvin, A’s manager] needing specific weapons at his disposal, it just didn’t make sense to have Grant up here.
OC: The two other hitters that you are sending to the AFL – Miles Head and Max Stassi – both had pretty solid campaigns in 2012. What are you looking forward to seeing them work on this fall?
DF: With Miles, it’s just more opportunities to get ABs against upper-level pitching. He proved in a short period of time that he was too good for the California League. He got off to a little bit of a rough start in Double-A, sort of like what we talked about with Michael in terms of how guys have to make that adjustment. But he really came around towards the end after he came back from that concussion. I think it is just a natural progression for Miles to be able to face guys in the Fall League.
As much time as Max missed towards the end of the year, this will be a chance for him to complete his season. He had a stretch I believe in July or early August where he really swung the bat well and started to hit for a lot of power. Unfortunately, he missed the last three weeks of the season with an oblique injury. This is a good way for him to finish off the year.
OC: How do you feel Max's arm strength is? Is it where you’d like to see it after the surgery?
DF: It’s getting there. You never know when a guy has shoulder surgery whether he will ever get back to where he was throwing the ball before the injury. You just hope that the further away he gets from the surgery, the stronger he will get.
OC: Now that you have had him in your system for a year, where do you see Miles slotting for you defensively? He spent a lot of time at third base. Is that where you see him long-term?
DF: We are going to continue to play him at third base. He did a really nice job for a guy who hadn’t been there for awhile. Basically the whole time he spent in the Red Sox system he didn’t play there at all. He did a lot of good work over there. We are going to continue to play him there in the Fall League. Our philosophy has always been to play guys at that spot until they prove they can’t do it. Miles has gone the other direction. He has shown a lot of improvement there.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the second part of this interview, when the A's 2012 draft class is discussed, as well as several prospects acquired by the team last off-season and more.
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