The scouting industry is still buzzing over Oakland’s signing of Dominican right-hander Michel Inoa. During the week of the signing, I was able to sit down for a few minutes with Oakland farm director Keith Lieppman, in town to visit his Low-A team at Kane County, and talk about what a team does with a player like Inoa.
Kevin Goldstein: Now with Inoa, obviously this is uncharted territory for you. Are there any concrete plans with him whatsoever? Will he even be in instructs?
Keith Lieppman: At this point, I think it would be in his best interest to allow him to get accustomed to the environment down there and let him spend the summer with our people down there and let him be amongst his own guys to start with and become part of that culture. Then, I would say spring training would be the best time to bring him in to the United States. I know even with [Todd] Van Poppel, when he first signed, we sent him almost right away to Double-A, and he lost the socialization aspect and he didn’t become a part of anything. He was just this one guy. It was an odd situation and he never really got comfortable in his own skin. Not that you can compare the two, but I think that socialization process is important so he can get to know us a bit better. We’re going to send [pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson to the Dominican towards the end of the month, and he’ll get a chance to talk to him, and really just let him get comfortable with us first. The expectation of him coming over as such a young kid into our instructional league, and there maybe being an overload of so many things so fast, that not rushing it might be the best way to approach it. By the time he gets here, he’ll have a better grasp of the language, he’ll have a better idea of what we do, and that will maybe take some of the headlights off him a bit, because there are already going to be plenty on him when he gets here.
KG: Sure, so do you find yourself losing sleep at night just saying to yourself ‘we’ve never had anything like this now what do we do with it?’
KL: Well, I’ve certainly thought about it a lot. I got an email from Billy [Beane] the day after we signed him and it said, “Good luck, it’s all yours now.” So it’s been a while. I feel sort of the same as when we had Van Poppel, we had [Kirk] Dressendorfer, we had that whole group-we had the ‘five aces.’ And I felt the same, as part of that group. Karl Kuehl was the farm director then and I was the coordinator, but we definitely felt the publicity and the notoriety of the signings and this seems similar to that.
KG: Beyond what you talked about earlier with Van Poppel and the social aspects, are there any other lessons learned from those days? From dealing with the five aces situation?
KL: Well, in looking at it, the idea that we tried to push guys too fast. There was the tremendous desire-and you know that Van Poppel had a major league contract-so we had to get him to the big leagues in a hurry. And he went from a very short stint in Rookie ball all the way to Double-A. So there was that push to move him very quickly and I think with Inoa’s situation, certainly his talent will dictate where he belongs, but I don’t think there’s this push to overstep or be too quick with him, or where we’d send him.
KG: Do you think about timetables at all?
KL: We just have to wait until he gets here and see how quickly he adjusts while using our best assets to move him along the road. I think it’s tough to put timetables on somebody that young, even though he’s a very talented kid. It’s tough to see he’s going to be in Double-A at a certain point or to set some kind of standards.
A lot of people I’ve talked to have said he could be in the big leagues at 19. Other people think there will be more adjustments needed, and he’ll need to learn how to become a pitcher…
KL: Right, and I think once you start saying a kid is going to be there by a certain time, then you can’t have a clear picture of what you are really dealing with and that can change the way you view things. So you are better off keeping an open mind and adjusting to what the situation really is, and not have that expectation right from the beginning, because then you put that before the kid and before everything else. He just might not be ready for that. It happened a little like that for Henry Rodriguez this year-he got off to a great start at Stockton, where he started with three great outings in a row, and we thought he was ready for Double-A, and we gave him a shot there, and he wasn’t ready. So maybe we should have left Henry for a little longer at High-A, and maybe he would have been able to handle it a little bit better. So you learn by some of these situations and certainly in this case, Henry has gone back to Stockton and done well, and he’ll get a shot again. But you don’t like to go back and forth with players. You like to move them incrementally at the right time so once they get there, they stay there. That’s happening with [Trevor] Cahill right now-he’s getting his indoctrination to Double-A and he’s doing really well. You use examples of what’s happened in your system in the past, and what’s happening right now, and you see a player like Cahill or Rodriguez or even Inoa, and you know he’s on your roster and we’re going to get him to the big leagues. That’s all we can do.