A's Assistant General Manager David Forst recently took some time away from what is likely the A's toughest spring training in recent years (in terms of roster decisions and position battles) to answer some questions for Athletics Nation.
While it's too early to make too many evaluations, I went ahead and asked about position battles and young players nonetheless.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to David Forst for taking the time. Enjoy.
Blez: Let me start off with a personal question. I recently interviewed Susan Slusser and she said you got married this offseason. Congratulations on that! But she also said that she didn't think you had time to take a honeymoon yet. Have you?
David Forst: Thanks for your congratulations, Tyler. Yes, my wife Rebe and I were married in November, and, no, we haven't had a chance to go on a honeymoon yet. The day after our wedding I had to fly to Florida for the GM meetings and she had to return to Phoenix where she is clerking for a federal judge. It's not a honeymoon exactly, but spending all of spring training together in beautiful Arizona is not a bad consolation prize. (Though I'm told I still owe her a trip to Hawaii after the World Series.)
Blez: How has camp been so far? The A's young pitching has performed well. Between Blanton, Meyer and Haren, who would you say has had the best camp thus far?
DF: Camp has been great so far. We were really looking forward to this spring as much as any since I've been here because of all the new faces as well as all the decisions we knew we'd have to make as far as the roster is concerned. As for the young pitchers, all three have impressed in the few short weeks we've been here. Haren is an intimidating figure out on the mound, Blanton has shown the poise and presence that helped him move so quickly through our system, and Meyer made some great adjustments between his two starts to this point and showed an outstanding fastball and change up in his outing against the Giants today (3/9).
Blez: Chad Bradford going to down to an injury seemed to open the door for an extra reliever to make the team. Many in AN are calling for Huston Street already especially given his performance thus far. Will the arbitration clock timing enter into your decision here at all? Or will the best pitcher win the spot? Who else is right up there in your mind?
DF: There are certainly outside factors that play into the decision of who makes the opening day roster, but we are always committed to going into the season with our best 25 guys. In a division that has been decided by just 1 game a couple of times in the last 5 years, we know that game #1 is just as important as game #162. Huston definitely has opened some eyes here early in camp, but so have Jimmy Serrano, Kirk Saarloos, and Tyler Johnson. I think the depth of our bullpen is going to be a strength for us this year, and clearly important in the face of losing Chad for a couple of months.
Blez: What are some other names that have already opened eyes of the front office? Suzuki seems to be both raking and is also 3 for 3 in gunning down would be base stealers.
DF: Kurt has definitely made the most of his opportunity so far in big league camp, showing off his arm as well as a solid approach at the plate. Omar Quintanilla has drawn raves from Ron Washington for his work in the infield thus far and Richie Robnett put on an early display in BP that had a lot of the coaches talking. It's always fun to get a quick glimpse of the future of the organization here in the first few weeks of Spring.
Blez: Has this A's camp been different from A's camps in the past in terms of atmosphere?
DF: I think there's been a little more competition in this camp than any in the last few years which always brings a different element to camp. But it's a healthy competition, and our guys have responded well and certainly seem to be up to the challenge.
Blez: How often have you been checking in on Hudson and Mulder to see their names in the box scores? Or have you already kind of divorced yourself from that?
DF: We truly haven't looked back since we made those deals in December, so to be honest, other than Peter Gammons' brief mention of Mulder's first start in his ESPN.com article, it's not something we've concerned ourselves with.
Blez: Mark Ellis seems to have come back better than ever. Even though it's only spring games, how impressive is what Ellis is accomplishing? Does he have the inside track right now over Ginter and Scutaro because of his defense? And how do you think his throwing strength is?
DF: Mark has been very impressive during the first week of games. No one ever doubted how hard he worked over the last 12 months, and we always felt that if anyone could get himself back into playing shape after this traumatic injury, it was Ellie. He's had outstanding at bats, consistently driving the ball to all fields, and has already made some plays in the field that have demonstrated the strength he has built up in that shoulder. Like I said before, there are some excellent competitions going on in camp right now, and Mark has definitely been up to the challenge.
Blez: Do you think the team is going to struggle for power this year? Will too many teams be able to pitch around Chavez? The team finally seems to be a real strong OBP-type team which I'm sure is by design.
DF: We're not concerned with the power on the club. It's not hard to see us hitting 135+ HR's between Chavez, Durazo, Crosby, Swisher, Ginter, and Byrnes alone, and we expect the rest of the lineup to do their fair share. Hopefully, you're right about the OBP of this club - adding Kendall to the already strong on base talents of Kotsay, Hatteberg, Chavez, Durazo, et al should be fun to watch.
Blez: The outfield situation is interesting. Since Kielty has had the injury, it's seemed to have quieted the Byrnes trade rumors. Byrnes has been hitting the ball well, seemingly laying off the outside pitch from righthanders. Thomas has also performed well. And Matt Watson has made the most of his at-bats. How do see the outfield shaping up right now?
DF: Another of the exciting decisions we have to make before opening day is how to find playing time for a group of very talented outfielders. Like you said, Byrnes, Thomas, and Watson have all performed well up until this point, Kotsay is clearly our center fielder, and Swisher's minor league track record and successful September call-up indicate that he is destined for big things. As for Kielty, the medical staff expects he'll be cleared for play in games by this weekend, so he should be caught up on AB's shortly. Without a doubt, it's going to take all of March for Ken Macha and the staff to sort out the situation in the outfield.
Blez: How much of a relief was it to see Meyer come back and pitch the way he did today as opposed to his first outing?
DF: No one here is making a decision based on one outing, whether it is the first or last of the spring. I'm sure it took some pressure off of Dan to have a few good innings under his belt, so that's always a good thing.
Blez: What do you think of the pen and how it's shaping up? Is it as you expected when you consummated the deals?
DF: With all of these guys just throwing an inning at a time and still just working on getting their mechanics straightened out, it's a bit too early to say whether things are shaping up the way we expect them to. That said, the guys we have brought in (Calero, Cruz, Yabu) have looked good and we're looking forward to seeing them get stretched out as the spring goes on.
Blez: How's Tyler Johnson looked so far? Is it more tempting to keep him on the roster to give you additional left-handed support in the pen besides Rincon? Or do you believe that a pen like Anaheim's that didn't even have a left-hander last year, can work?
DF: Tyler's been impressive, showing off a live FB and excellent off-speed stuff. He'll have plenty of opportunities during the rest of the month to earn a spot in the revamped bullpen. We've had anywhere from 0-3 lefties in the pen over the last 5 or so years, so the decision will come down to performance more than some need to fill out the roles in our pen.
Blez: There was a story in the Oakland Tribune today that said that Damian Miller would sometimes ignore the pitching gameplan in 2004 and do his own thing on the mound. Is that accurate? How is Jason Kendall behind the dish? Is he everything advertised and will he stick to the gameplan laid out by Curt Young and the pitcher on the mound?
DF: From everything we've seen and heard from the guys in the clubhouse, Kendall has been as advertised behind the plate. Both the pitching and coaching staffs have total confidence in him, and the other catchers in camp can't seem to soak up enough of his knowledge. I expect A's fans are going to absolutely love watching this guy play.
Blez: The past two years Ken Macha has seemed to call for more situational at-bats and possibly small ball, but he drops it when the season starts. Since the team isn't built around power and does have some good speed this year (Thomas, Byrnes, Kotsay, even Kendall), do you see more stolen base attempts, bunting and that kind of baseball?
DF: Well, I hope we see more successful stolen bases rather than just "stolen base attempts." We've always maintained that the most important thing about so-called "small ball" is executing it correctly, whether it be getting a bunt down, hitting the ball on the ground when a hit and run is on, or getting a good jump to steal a base. Once you perfect the execution, then you can use those things as weapons in the right situations. The guys you mentioned have the capability to put pressure on defenses, and I expect Ken will use them appropriately.
Blez: What do you like about Yabu? What do you think he might have to improve to win in the majors?
DF: What we like about Yabu, and what interested us when we set out to sign him as a free agent, is the experience he brings to our young team, as both a starter and reliever. He's been successful for over 10 years in the Japanese Leagues, and we expect that success to translate to our game. His superb command and outstanding split are what give him the chance to really excel in the American League.
Blez: How do you feel about this team's chances in 2005 to take the AL West?
DF: We've put a lot of time and effort into building this team, and we certainly didn't do it not to compete. We will go through the ups and downs that a young team inevitably goes through, but we also expect to be in the thick of things. Ken and his great staff are incredibly proud, and they certainly don't expect anything less than to be in the race in September. I think the same can be said of the 50+ guys who are in our clubhouse right now: they all take a lot of pride in their work and will do whatever it takes to bring another winning team to Oakland.
Blez: And finally, I'm going to ask a few people this. Who do you expect to have the most wins by the end of the year between Zito, Mulder, Hudson and Harden? How about ERA?
DF: I don't know, but you can probably guess which two I'm rooting for.
Thanks so much, David. We really appreciate your time here in AN.
Good luck on getting to Hawaii. I know A's fans are hoping you'll be heading there AFTER a huge celebration.