2014 A’s BlogFest: Q&A with Assistant GM David Forst

What is BlogFest? You might remember I talked about it in my last entry, but essentially, 10 or so bloggers were invited to a press conference at FanFest to

talk with a few people in the A’s organization. This year, we got to talk with David Forst, Bob Melvin, Jim Johnson and<!–more
Sonny Gray in a suite in center field. In this entry, I’ll give you guys our conversation with Assistant GM of the A’s, David Forst.

We got to talk about a variety of different subjects, including from first-round picks, offseason additions, and WHY THE A’S DIDN’T TAKE MIKE TROUT IN THE DRAFT. He got into Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and other minor leaguers such as Bobby Wahl and Dylan Covey. David Talked about the roles he expects people to have in 2014 along with his take on the A’s bullpen in the upcoming season. But, best of all, we got to meet his son, Judah.

David and his son, Judah

David and his son, Judah

Player and Media Relations Manager, Adam Loberstein: Everybody, this is Judah Forst. He will be taking questions today. Also, his dad David Forst is the Assistant General Manger of the Oakland A’s.

[Chuckle in Room]

Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager, David Forst: Thanks everybody for coming. For those of you that were here last year, thanks for coming back. Go ahead. Whatever you want. Okay, maybe not whatever you want, but within reason.

The “Golden Child,” Addison Russell and his game…

I expect he’ll start the year at Midland. The thing that impressed me the most about Addison last year, and there were obviously a lot, after starting the way he did. I went to see him the first week of May, I went down to Stockton and I watched him play and talked to him a little bit and to see the way he kind of turned his season around. First year, full player, 18-year-old kid. That tells me as much about Addison as a player as really anything he did. I mean, you can go and watch him and see the power, see the swing, see the arm, you can see all those things there. With a guy like that, it’s really easy to see. I remember having conversations in April with Todd Steverson, who at the time was our Minor League hitting coordinator, and saying, hey, is this kid okay? Look, let him know we understand he is going to struggle. When I saw him myself in May, I said hey, you’re not going to hit .200 forever. It’s just not going to happen. He’s a confidant kid, but anyone who spends a whole month doing that, a little bit of doubt and within a couple of weeks, he started to turn around, and the way he performed the rest of the year. And he’s going to hit, he’s going to have enough power for the middle of the diamond, he can throw from anywhere, his hands. There is a reason he is a Top 10 prospect in baseball. To see him turn his season around and put everything together, and continue on into the fall league, that’s a long year for anyone, particularly for a kid in his first full season. I wasn’t here when Chavy was in the minor leagues, or (Ben) Grieve at the same time, but everyone says we haven’t had a kid put it all together since Eric (Chavez) was there. It’s fun to watch, he’s fun to be around and we are going to see a lot of him in Spring Training. I know one of Bob’s main objectives to to get Addison a lot of reps because there is no telling how soon he is going to be here… You can see the tools and ability. When you spend time with him, you understand how much fun he has and how mentally strong he is, you really feel good about his chances going forward.

The Astros, Mariners, and Rangers making additions this offseason…

 It’s going to be tough. We known in this division for a long time, with the money being thrown around, and certainly think the Rangers have had some regrets the last few years. They went and got two of the best players available, in (Prince) Fielder and (Shin-Soo) Choo. We still feel like the makeup of the complete 25-man roster gives us a chance to repeat. As great a job as Bob (Melvin) has done, managing that group, putting guys in the right spots, platooning, using the bullpen, we feel  like from one to twenty-five, we’re just as strong, if not stronger than we were the last two years. Certainly the bullpen. With adding Jim (Johnson) and Luke (Gregerson) to what was already an outstanding group, with potentially a full season of (Dan) Ortero, Jesse (Chavez) showed what he can do last year. That has to be a strength that we’re going to lean on a lot.

When asked about the Coco Crisp signing and the payroll…

There’s no doubt our payroll is going to be higher this year than probably ever, certainly in the time I’ve been here. You just have to do the math and see we are significantly above where we were last year. That’s what allowed us to go get Jim, knowing that there was going to be a 10 million dollar price tag on him. To sign (Scott) Kazmir, to even a move like signing Eric O’Flaherty, where you’re only adding a little bit for this year, but we had already sort of bumped up against our number, and Lew (Wolff) [A’s owner] and Mike Crowley [Team president] were very open to what we were trying to do with Eric and Adam for half a season and then backload the money. There’s no doubt that whether it’s the TV money, the success of the team, all of these things have gone into ownership being very open to increasing the bar and letting us do some things this offseason that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

Longterm commitments…

Mostly, I think we have benefited  a lot from the flexibility of the last few years. Obviously having added Coco in the last 24 hours, but other than Yoenis (Cespedes) and Kaz, there was nobody singed for 2015. We don’t necessarily want to recreate the team every year. Obviously, the fans like the players that are here, we like the certainty of guys that we know, but that we have given ourselves the ability to do it is a huge factor in our success. To commit to a guy like Coco, obviously we know the guy, we know the player, he is so important to what we do, it was just an opportunity where we felt like this was the right dollar amount to commit to him beyond the next couple of years.

Things the team was unable to address during the offseason…

I guess you are never 100% satisfied, but realistically, when you look at our checklist at the end of October, replace Bartolo (Colon), replace Grant (Balfour), so you’ve got a starting pitcher and a closer. (Craig) Gentry was a guy that we had been focused on for a long time and we just felt fit so well with what we’ve done here the last two years, with the ability to play all three outfield spots, running, hitting from the right side, so we checked that one off. We felt really good about the remaining position players. There wasn’t an obvious spot where we felt the cost was worth the upgrade. So, we added more pieces to the bullpen, we got some depth in the starting rotation with (Josh) Lindblom and (Drew) Pomeranz. These were all things that we had laid out in October, you just hope you can hit as many as possible.

Getting more value out of the first round pick…

The goal of a first round pick is always to get him here. You never draft someone, hoping just to create an asset to move. With Grant (Green) and with Michael (Choice), it sort of worked out that way, but it’s a lot more rewarding when Sonny (Gray) pitches here, or ultimately when Addison does get here, that’s what you want out of your first round pick. I won’t say we are focused on any position in the first round. You’re looking for the best player. I think it’s just worked out that way. I know there’s been a lot made of trading those guys, or throughout the farm system, we’ve moved a lot of players, and as such, we are in a position where we need to rebuild. There’s never a specific goal of the first round pick really.

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Judah Forst

David (To Judah): This is awfully loud buddy, can I turn it down for you a little bit?

[Turns down volume on Judah’s iPad. Chuckle amongst room.]

On how he expects this offseason’s additions to help the team…

I’ve mentioned a couple of them specifically. Each of those guys, we felt like, addressed, not necessarily a weakness, but somewhere we could get better. It’s hard to say specifically how they help us in the postseason. Any time your pitching depth is strong, whether it’s with Kaz or Jim Johnson, and Gregerson, you expect that to come into play in a tight postseason game. Nick (Punto) has played in the postseason quite a bit, he has been on winning teams, he knows a lot of the guys around the league. There’s no way that his experience isn’t going to help us when it comes down the stretch and it’s sort of subjective to say exactly what that is, but we’ve seen it before with players that we’ve brought in, so hopefully those guys fit as well as the group as the last two years. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do. Put that puzzle together to compete in September and I think we have every reason to believe these guys will fit. 

On consistency and bringing new ideas into the front office…

It’s a challenge that we face. Billy’s been in the organization since he was a player in the late 80’s. This is my 15th year. Farhan (Zedi) [Director of Baseball Operations] I think is coming up on his 9th or 10th year. The nice thing about that is that we work well together. We finish each other’s sentences and each have our own little niche and know what’s important. At the same time, like you said, we do have the challenge of creating something new every year and finding a new way to do it. I think we’ve done a very good job evolving over the last 10 years. Certainly, since the book was written and since those ideas have become pervasive across the game, we’ve had to move into certain things and the easier thing to do is to develop with the technology. We can evaluate defense and running and throwing so much better than we were able to 10 years ago. The thing we have to do is stay on top of that technology and make sure we have people in our office that have the skills to use it. I don’t have that skill set. I’m not an engineer. Farhan has a computing background. In the last two years, we’ve brought in a new analyst, Michael Schatz. Rob Naberhaus is a developer we brought in house. All of those to create new systems and make sure we stay up on what’s going on out there. That’s kind o where our focus is. To stay up on the technology so that we do have some edge.

On international scouting and talent…

 I think we’re always out there. Sam Geaney runs our international department. I was just with him in the Dominican a couple of weeks ago and we feel like we have a very strong presence in the Dominican Republic, we’ve tried over the last couple of years, since Sam has run the department to branch out a little bit. We now have full-time scouts in Panama and Columbia, which we didn’t as of a few years ago. We’ve done a good job in Venezuela, all the way back to Ramon Hernandez and most recently Renato Nunez coming out of there, so we feel good about the coverage there. Asia has been tough for us, it’s a really tough bidding market. We’ve had some success with a player like (Chih Fang) Pan, who’s been in A-ball the last few years. It’s something we spend a lot of time focusing on. Sam does a great job and has sort of built on what Dan Kantrovitz did before him in building up the international department. I’ll be the first to admit, we have not seen the results at the Major League level like we did in the early part of the 2000’s, like with Miguel (Tejada) and Ramon, Santiago Casilla, but part of that is that we’ve traded players, but it certainly always remains a focus for us internationally.

On the expectations for Josh Reddick in 2014…

… We certainly expect Josh to bounce back. I don’t think anybody knows fully how much his wrist affected him last year. And Josh will never, ever admit it, privately or publicly. But, the fact is that he had that injury in Houston early in the year, and when you look at the difference in his numbers between 2012 and 2013, a player with his talent, you have to assume there is something else going on. We fully expect Josh to bounce back. I fully expect to have him under contract hopefully sometime in the next couple of weeks. Josh adds so much with his defense alone, it’s hard to calculate his value to the team and if he does get back to being the offensive player that we saw in 2012, he has a chance to carry the team at times, like we saw then.

On the expectations for catcher John Jaso in 2014…

… He’s come into camp as a catcher. He’s cleared all exams. He’s had no setbacks with his physical activity. Look, you cannot predict how he reacts when he gets hit with a foul tip. I mean, like I said, that’s a medical issue. We did everything we could in terms of giving him the rest he needed and getting him to see the right people. He comes into camp as a catcher. You know, same situation with him and Derek (Norris). The nice thing is, Stephen (Vogt) sort of emerged last year in John’s absence and that’s a great problem to have and if you end up having to have a roster with all three of those guys, they’re great options from the DH spot and the catching spot for Bob (Melvin).

On 2013 1st Round pick Billy McKinney

I saw Billy in March last year, I went to see him play in high school and there wasn’t a lot of consensus on the board last year in the draft room, it’s just one of those years where we’re picking so low, guys have different opinions, but by the time we got down there, the nice thing was we did have a strong voice in Billy’s favor and you always feel good about a pick when that happens. He came out and hit the way we expected, sort of above what you expect for his years. He got a chance to go into Vermont and get his feet wet a little bit. I know he, in Instructional League, he talked to Keith Lieppman [Director of Player Development] and he said, “Just so you know, I expect to follow Addison’s path and start in Stockton next year.” [Laughter in room] It’s nice to hear, I mean you don’t put expectations on a kid like that, because we know how special Addison is, but he will be with a full-season club, we know he can hit, he did a great job in center field, and we’re excited about Billy.

On drafting players right out of high school…

We didn’t like taking kids out of high school when the information was so limited. Things have evolved over the last ten years. These kids play in so many showcases; they play against the best competition in the country. We know so much more, performance-wise about a high school kid than we did even five years ago, particularly when the book [Moneyball] was written. You’re dealing with an extra three years of personal development and any kid from the ages of 18 to 21 changes a lot and no matter if they’re playing baseball, if they’re in college, if they’re working, whatever, so you have that to deal with. But, I think we have gotten to the point where we are a lot more comfortable with what these kids show us on the field. Addison was from Pensacola, Florida. If he was only playing against kids in a 50 square mile radius, then we’re not sure about how he stacks up, but he went to California and played, he went to Texas and played, he went to Miami and played against all these kids. Billy did the same thing. He’s on that showcase circuit, where you know how he stacks up against everybody in the country. The last mistake we made that way, and I won’t say mistake, but when we didn’t take Mike Trout, it was because we thought, “This is a cold-weather kid from the northeast, we’re not sure how he stacks up against the rest of the country.” Well, if we had stepped back to see that Mike did the same things and played those circuits and performed really well, we might have lined up our board differently. So, really, it’s a different time with high school kids and if our scouts have seen a lot of them, and they sort of check enough boxes, we feel really good about those guys and Billy fell into that group.

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On 2013 draft picks Dylan Covey and Bobby Wahl

Both Covey and Wall were interesting conversations. Like you said, Covey was a first round out of high school. Bobby was expected to potentially be a first round guy, or at least a top two guy. Both guys fell to an area where a), we paid over slot for them, because we wanted to and we felt like both guys had… some sort of marks against them that hurt their draft status. With Dylan, he never sort of performed the way people expected him to out of high school, but the stuff was always there and there was un upwards trend in his college performance. And Bobby we knew had an injury history, but if we could get him healthy and keep him healthy, this was a first round talent. As far as the diversity of our draft portfolio, those guys fit really nicely after taking a guy like Billy in the first round because they’re a little more advanced and if they did stay healthy and live up to what their pre-draft status was, you potentially have some top guys and both guys went out and pitched great. I know Dylan was obviously able to make the jump to the Midwest league for a couple starts, but both those guys have a chance to start the year in Stockton, depending on how things shake out, and potentially move quickly, because of their status as college players.

On the high school draft pool…

We certainly have a long way to go and how we evaluate, mostly because the actual statistics on those guys are somewhat meaningless, it’s far away from the big leagues. But, I do feel like, as an industry, we’ve figured out how to get a lot more, a lot better data on them and learn a lot more than just sort of looking at the Baseball America state-by-state list and saying “Well, the guy from Luisiana may be as good as the guy from Texas.”

On scouting in the northeast…

I think you’ve seen sort of a different way of looking at players not only in the northeast, but a Brandon Nimmo, who comes out of Montana, who doesn’t even really have a high school team. Guys who don’t have the high-profile, high school program, but have the ability to go to a Perfect Game showcase or go to the Area Code Games, I think there’s been a lot more focus on what they’ve done there and understanding those guys do have the ability to be in the first round.

On signing older players, like Coco Crisp…

We think Coco is a little bit unique in his body type and that he will continue through his age 34, 35 to perform. And certainly, when you get to that end of the spectrum, the talent pool isn’t good, or the track record isn’t good of how guys have performed, particularly where we are now in terms of hopefully being beyond the stuff that guys were using in the early part of the 2000s, but we think Coco, with his work ethic and his track record has a chance to do that. But, you always are taking a risk, I mean we dealt with it on Bartolo, dealing with a guy who’s performed at 39 and 40, how far is he really going to go, so that’s a question we have to take into account every time. 

Stephen Vogt and his role in 2014…

I don’t have any problem with Stephen being in there as much as we need him. I mean, he proved though the second half last year and in the postseason, he can handle the pitching staff, outstanding at bats against right handers, he threw the ball well last year as anyone has seen. When we traded for him at the beginning of the year, the knock on him was, he’s not really a catcher. Tampa played him in left field a lot, he hand’t thrown the ball well, he certainly figured it out and worked his way into a outstanding throwing catcher, so yeah,  I feel great about Stephen… With Dan Feinstein [Director of Professional Scouting/Baseball Development] in our office knowing Stephen from Tampa, we had a little bit of inside information, saying “Hey, this is going to be a project.” But, if you ask him, he spent a ton of time last year doing specifically that, to make sure that he was able to catch in the big leagues. 


There you have it! You can also check out the posts from A’s Farm, Athletics Nation, The Afroed Elephant, and eDraft, and their take on the interview with Forst. Tomorrow, I will bring you the interview with manager Bob Melvin, so keep a look out for that. Thanks for reading!

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Nick Badders is a blogger for MLB.com. He writes the blog, 7000 Coliseum Way, and you can follow him on Twitter @RFNick149. You can also LIKE his blog on Facebook. This blog entry was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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