Today’s column is a deviation from the norm, as I was fortunate enough to be granted an exclusive interview with Brian Oliver, the creator of Nats Farm Authority, and the writer that inspired me to create NatsGM.
Brian started NFA six year ago when he shared with some fellow baseball fans that he wanted to keep track of the progress of the 2005 Nationals inaugural draft class (the Ryan Zimmerman draft) and their journey to the major leagues. He had always had an interest in minor league baseball, and this idea of a blog seemed like a natural outlet.
From that idea, NFA grew larger than Brian ever imagined: the first sign “he has something” was when he landed an interview with Nationals minor league pitcher Shawn Hill. Interviews and regular information about minor league players was not something most Nationals fans regularly read about, and he realized he had found his niche. Soon afterwards, he was receiving media access on par with other media members including receiving minor league press credentials from Terry Byrom in Harrisburg and Anthony Oppermann in Potomac.
At the same time, Stan Kasten and the Washington Nationals were realizing the growing influence of blogs within the media and started allowing them to have access to press conferences and conference calls. It all culminated when Brian received his major league press credentials in 2010, which he describes “I will keep that card as a memory of something pretty amazing from such a niche market”.
Last summer Brian finished his Masters in Secondary Education and found a job as a math teacher. When he started to look at his schedule in year one as a teacher and the all-absorbing nature that is the profession, Brian decided he would not have the time to devote to keep NFA going daily. In August, Brian made the difficult decision to walk away from his website and his daily columns with his fans.
I was fortunate enough to run down Brian recently, and he was kind enough to grant me an exclusive interview in which he shared his thoughts on the 2011 draft, the progress in Latin America, and the direction of the organization as a whole. I hope you enjoy this special interview with Brian Oliver.
NatsGM -> Brian, with the 2011 MLB Draft just recently completed, what are your general thoughts on the Nationals effort this year? What did you like and what may have you wanted to see differently?
NFA -> “In 5 years, fans could look back on the 2011 draft as the point at which the Nationals took their largest strides towards competitiveness. But it’s not a certainty and it is going to be predicated a quite a bit of luck when it comes to health.
Entering the 2011 draft, Rice 3B Anthony Rendon was considered the prohibitive favorite for the first overall pick. But an ankle injury last summer and a bothersome shoulder allowed other players to challenge Rendon for the top spot in the draft. Once the Mariners passed on him, the Nationals were the next logical landing place. If the shoulder checks out, or if the Nationals find something and get it fixed, he could provide the Nats with the best player in the third straight draft (after Strasburg & Harper).
Alex Meyer is a hard throwing RHP who scouts have always loved and in the best case scenario, he could develop into a middle of the rotation arm or perhaps a hard-throwing closer. Brian Goodwin has the tools to become a #2 hitting CF, a solid major league regular.
The real wild card in this draft is TCU’s Matt Purke. Entering the 2011 season, he was right at the top of the draft eligibles with Rendon but a discouraging loss in velocity raised questions about the health of his arm/shoulder. If he heads to the Cape Cod Summer League and shows that he has his velocity back, the Nats could find themselves with two of the top players in the draft in Rendon & Purke.”
NatsGM -> To build off that question a bit, many of these readers know about the first couple of player’s the Nationals selected (Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin, and Purke specifically), was there a pick or a couple of later picks that you particularly liked that the Nationals made?
NFA ->” I really like the selection of Hawtin Buchanan in the 19th round. He’s a right-handed pitcher out of high school and he’s huge (6’8″ 240lbs). He won’t be an easy sign (committed to Ole Miss) but if the Nats want to pay over slot, he’s an intriguing upside guy.
The other guy I really like is 38th round Stanford LHSP Brett Mooneyham. He was considered one of the top left-handers entering the season but a freak accident (sliced a tendon in his hand on can of beans) cost him the season. He’s arguably a top 100 guy if completely healthy. I doubt he signs because he can probably do better for himself if he returns to Stanford for his senior season.”
NatsGM -> To shift directions a bit, I was curious what your general thoughts are on GM Mike Rizzo and the direction he has for the organization?
NFA -> “It appears that the Lerners trust Rizzo in the draft. He has been allowed to invest in the top talents early (Strasburg & Harper) and late (Cole & Ray). It’s really one area that has shown improvement (the farm system). What we need to see next is a return on the investments. The pipeline from the minors needs to start showing results at the major league level. There is still room for improvement but they are slowly taking the right steps.”
NatsGM -> Brian, while you were writing at Nats Farm Authority, you were one of, if not the first in the National’s media that wrote extensively about the demise of the Nationals presence in Latin America and the need for extensive investment in this rich area of prospects: How have the Nationals done in rebuilding this once thriving engine and what do the Nationals still need to do?
NFA -> “This is where I still think work needs to be done. The Nats had to basically raze their international academy and more or less start from scratch. While getting in on the big dollar international free agents grabs the headlines, I’d rather see the Nats take $5 million and spread it around 20 guys looking for quality from quantity.
A truly successful organization should draw talent not just from the draft and trades but also from the international market.”
NatsGM -> As I am sure you know, there is quite a demand for NatsFarm.com, is there any chance of bringing Nats Farm Authority out of “retirement”? The fans, including myself miss you.
NFA -> “It’s always a possibility. Once I get another year of teaching under my belt, I should have a better idea of whether I can devote the time I feel I need to operate NFA.”
NatsGM -> Where can people contact you these days?
NFA -> “I am up on Twitter (NFA_Brian) and I post on wnff.net under the same ID.”
Your students are lucky to have such a wonderful, caring teacher. I, for one, hope you decide to “unretire” NFA sometime in the future. Thank you so much Brian for sharing your time and thoughts with us.
A Big “Tip of the Fedora” to Brian Oliver for sharing some time with me and with my readers. I began my day for three years with coffee, breakfast, and opening NFA on the computer. That was quite a treat, thank you.
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