For the first installment of our BlogFest recap, read cuppingmaster's wrap-up of the Q&A with David Forst.
At last weekend's FanFest, a few of us from Athletics Nation got the chance to participate in a small press conference with other A's-related bloggers. This post will go over Bob Melvin's session, as well as part of Mike Gallego's session. I'm not going to present it as a full transcript, because it's really long and I don't like that Melvin's initials are "BM" - that's a euphemism for poo, and I won't allow that kind of potty mouth in my article. I'm going to summarize, paraphrase, and lightly quote. (Also, you can already find partial transcripts at Athletics Farm for Melvin and Gallego.)
Let's kick things off with an appropriate topic: Leadoff hitters. I asked Melvin what he looks for in a leadoff hitter, and the short answer was "Coco Crisp." He acknowledged that Coco doesn't put up a high on-base percentage, but claimed that "he's there when you need him." That's terribly subjective, but honestly, I know exactly what he means. I usually like my skills tangible and my analysis objective, but Coco brings that "spark" to the top of the lineup which I can't explain. The speedy, slappy leadoff hitter is exciting, and makes me feel better about the lineup; it's baseball's comfort food. Given that lineup construction only has a tiny effect on a team's win total over the course of the season, I don't mind Melvin indulging a bit and going old-school in this regard.
What was nice about his answer was that he acknowledged some more new-school (is that a word?) ideas and stats, from Coco's shortcomings as an on-base guy to John Jaso's high batting average on balls in play (we'll disregard the fact that Jaso doesn't have a noteworthy BABIP; it's just nice to hear the manager mention that stat at all). What's more important is that Melvin is right: Jaso has led off before, and he does have the skills to do so in Oakland in 2013. The way he was talking about him, though, made it sound like Jaso will be hitting 2nd when he plays (which also sounds good to me). On days when Coco doesn't start, Melvin suggested Jaso as a leadoff option, as well as Chris Young if the pitcher is a lefty. However, when I asked for clarification, he said very plainly, "Coco's my guy."
My second question for Melvin was about Daric Barton. I don't know why I asked about him. I should have asked something about Seth Smith, and what his role might be. But I guess that, deep down, I just really want to see people argue with each other for hours on end, and that is the guaranteed result of any mention of Barton on this site. Specifically, I asked what would have to happen for him to get another chance in Oakland. Melvin gave a diplomatic answer about making your own chances, and he did refer to Barton as "the only true defender we have at the position," but it was pretty clear that he is just an insurance policy in case Brandon Moss and Chris Carter regress or get hurt.
Another point of conversation involved Spring Training. I asked him how much weight he puts into Spring Training stats, and his response was about what you would expect. If you have a veteran who is already set at his position, then the numbers aren't all that important. However, when you have a young player whom you've never seen before, or two guys fighting for the same spot, then, in Melvin's words, "what else do you have to go on?"
This reliance on Spring Training will be on display this year in the battle for 2nd base, where Melvin identified Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks as the "two most prominent options." He mentioned Grant Green and Eric Sogard as part of the mix as well, while he said this regarding Adam Rosales: "(He) can play everywhere. It almost works against Rosie...that he is so versatile, that he can play other positions." In other words, there is no reason to lock your best utility guy into one position when there are other 2nd base options who have more potent bats.
Melvin had a lot to say about Weeks and Sizemore. He chalked up Weeks' 2012 to a routine sophomore slump, made worse by the massive amount of attention that he got last spring as the only "untouchable" player in the organization. Weeks had both his position and the leadoff spot in the order locked up heading into 2012 despite having played in only 97 MLB games to that point, and Melvin thinks that he'll benefit from the sobering lesson he learned about getting too comfortable too quickly in the Majors. "I think you'll see a different Jemile Weeks this spring."
As for Sizemore, let's get the important part out of the way: "There are no limitations on Scott" after he tore his ACL last spring and missed the 2012 season. Melvin acknowledged that it will take time for Sizemore to re-adjust back to 2nd base after shifting to 3rd in 2011, and noted that the team won't jump to any conclusions about his defense until he's had a fair chance to get comfortable in the field. I also got the impression that Sizemore's versatility might give him a bonus point in this battle; Melvin mentioned that he can slide over to 3rd base in a pinch, which adds to the team's flexibility.
Finally, there were a couple of questions about the team's mindset heading into 2013 after the success of last season. He noted the need to keep a positive attitude, because "you are who you think you are." If you go into 2013 thinking about the Plexiglas Principle, in which teams who take a big leap forward tend to take a half-step back the next season, then you might become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, last year's success brought a lot of attention to the team, and it will require the club to "worry more so about ourselves" than about the other teams who might be gunning for them in the AL West. So, it sounds like he's planning on a lot more of last year's one-day-at-a-time mentality ("we need to focus on what we do on a daily basis"), and that his focus will be on maintaining the "constant upbeat enthusiastic attitude that we had last year."
A lot of Mike Gallego's session turned into a nostalgic ride through his playing career, the Earthquake series, and his buddy Walt Weiss getting hired as Colorado's new manager. Nico is going to cover that stuff on Sunday. We did manage to squeeze in a couple of questions about this year's squad, though.
When I asked about Hiro Nakajima, Gallego chose his words carefully. However, Nico and I agreed after the fact that he didn't sound very enamored with his new shortstop's defense. Of course, he hasn't gotten to know Hiro yet, or had the chance to work with him at all, but this isn't exactly a glowing report:
"He probably doesn't have one of the most expansive ranges of the shortstops that are out there. But, as far as catching the routine play - that's what we're all about here. Make the routine plays. The great plays will come."
He's also not impressed with Hiro's arm ("average at best"), but then added that his own arm wasn't anything special and that he made it in the league for 13 years on the strength of his defense. There are other things which a seasoned professional like Hiro can do to overcome the lack of explosive physical skills. I mentioned David Eckstein, and he called that a perfect example of a guy who "plays the game right" and learns ways to maximize the talent that he does have. Regarding Hiro, he also added: "I know he can hit."
Later, Gallego spent some time marveling at the energy of last year's fans toward the end of the season, and how it was more electric than even the '88-'89 World Series teams. The money quote was this, though:
"Fans believed, the game wasn't over until the last out. One of the funniest lines I heard this year was Brandon Moss, about the walkoffs. He says, 'You know, this is exciting! These fans are staying, you know, it's unbelievable! It's just unbelievable how many walkoffs we've had. But I just don't understand; how come we always only do it at home?' I told Brandon Moss, stay right there, kid. Don't think. Whatever you do, don't think."
To wrap things up, I asked Gallego one more question which has been burning in the minds of the Athletics Nation community for months. Yes, when presented the chance to ask Mike freaking Gallego anything that I wanted, this is seriously what I asked. I leave you with the transcript of this final question, and encourage you to check back this weekend for Nico's final installment of the FanFest Sessions. Have a great Friday!
Alex: "We have a bit of a running joke on AN that we can solve two problems at once and take Cespedes out of the crowded outfield and throw him at shortstop, because, why the hell not? (Just) use your imagination and everything works. In real life, though, how do you think he'd handle that position? Is that something you think he could actually (do)?"
Gallego: "Cespedes? At short? He can play wherever he wants. That guy's an unbelieveable athlete. He's an unbelievable athlete. Shortstop...let me think about that. Well, it's funny, I don't know if you guys remember but he was kind of hurt there for awhile last year a little bit, and a couple people saw him taking grounders at short. (I nodded yes.) Yeah? And I was the one hitting them? Man, they pulled me in the office the next day and they said, 'What are you doing?' And I go, 'Did you see this guy take ground balls?' 'No.' 'Watch this guy take ground balls.' 'Yeah, but he's hurt.' And I said, 'I don't care.' So, do I think he could play shortstop? I don't know...I can't give you that answer."
Alex: "Can I take credit for it if it happens?"
Gallego: "Sure, write your name down on the way out."
It's totally happening.