Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

 

Last month, A’s Farm compiled our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, gathered from a variety of many different A’s prospect lists currently available. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to find someone who could provide even greater insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And when looking for someone to give A’s fans a real insight into the organization’s top prospects, it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.

In his position with the A’s, Owens plays as many roles as a super utilityman. He works with general manager Billy Beane and assistant general manager David Forst in identifying potential major and minor league trade targets, with scouting director Eric Kubota in profiling potential draft picks, and with farm director Keith Lieppman in keeping a finger on the pulse of the farm system.

Billy Owens, back when he was striking fear into the hearts of Carolina League hurlers (courtesy of checkoutmycards.com)

Owens first entered the world of professional baseball twenty years ago when he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1992 draft. The slugging first baseman made stops at such exotic locales as Kane County, Albany, Frederick, Bowie, Rochester, Kissimmee and finally Jackson, Mississippi, where he claims to have made his best decision as a player evaluator when he decided to quit playing and get into the world of scouting.

Owens joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. The team eventually decided to elevate him to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use.

Now A’s Farm has the opportunity to take advantage of that too as we get his take on our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, as well as a few other players of particular interest. Owens’ knowledge of players inside and outside the A’s organization is broad and deep, but his genuine enthusiasm for the prospects currently stocking the A’s system should be very refreshing to hear for any true fan of the green and gold!

 

Jarrod Parker (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#1 – JARROD PARKER 

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Acquired from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill trade, the Diamondbacks’ first-round draft pick in 2007 struck out 112 batters in 130 2/3 innings at Double-A Mobile last year after missing all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a fascinating prospect. He had a tremendous performance the other day in his first outing in major league camp. He was sitting comfortably at 91-93 mph. He had an opportunity to bury a fastball inside on a 2-2 count, and that fastball was at 95-96 mph. He’s got a tremendous repertoire. His changeup has a chance to be a plus major league pitch. His breaking ball actually has a chance to be an average to plus major league pitch as well. He’s a tremendous athlete. His arm slot’s probably unique – his arm slot’s a little bit higher than normal. From a body standpoint, you could draw a comparison to maybe David Cone. He’s 6’0” and a tremendous athlete. He’s able to field his position well, quick feet on the mound, with tremendous stuff. The Tommy John surgery set him back a few years ago. He was a top 10 overall pick in the draft out of high school inIndiana. And the sky’s the limit. With his stuff, he’s got a chance to really exceed expectations.

 

Michael Choice (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#2 – MICHAEL CHOICE

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2010 – 1st Round

Probably the best pure power hitter in the organization, the A’s first-round draft pick in 2010 hit 30 homers and posted a .285/.376/.542 slash line while playing center field for Class-A Stockton last year.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a physical specimen. He’s got tremendous all-fields power. Armann Brown, our scout down there in Texas, did a tremendous job. Michael’s exciting. The bat gets through the zone in a blur. It’s hard to totally compare guys to major leaguers, but this guy’s bat speed is reminiscent of Gary Sheffield – it’s that explosive, it’s that powerful, it’s that quick through the strike zone. Michael’s only had a full season of A-ball, so there’s a lot of maturation process going forward. But he’s a tremendous kid. He’s smart. He’s got a thirst for knowledge. The foot speed is there to cover ground in the outfield. He’s a tenacious competitor, and he can hit the ball to the stratosphere. You don’t see power like Michael Choice everyday in the minor leagues.

 

Brad Peacock (photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

#3 – BRAD PEACOCK

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2006 – 41st Round

Acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal, the 24-year-old right-hander turned heads by posting a 2.39 ERA while striking out 177 in 146 2/3 innings between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg last season.

BILLY OWENS: He’s an athletic kid. He was a shortstop in junior college. He throws in the low ‘90s. He’s got a very repeatable delivery. He’s aggressive in the strike zone with the fastball. His curveball has shape – it has depth as far as the break, and it’s got some snap to it. His changeup is solid. And he had just a phenomenal year last year between Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues for three or four starts. We started watching him all the way back in his junior college days with Trevor Schaffer, our scout out there in Florida. Personally, I saw Brad pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2010. That’s when we saw him start to really make strides – pound the zone, use both sides of the plate, show that outstanding curveball, good changeup. And he’s got a chance to build upon last year and be a solid major league starter at some point. The ingredients are there. It’s just a matter of us finishing him off here in major league camp and deciding where the chips may fall. But the potential is definitely enormous.

 

A.J. Cole

#4 – A.J. COLE

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 20

Drafted 2010 – 4th Round

A fourth-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2010, the 6’4” right-hander has struck out batters at a rate of 10.9 per 9 innings over his short minor league career, and many believe he could turn out to be the real gem of the Gio Gonzalez deal.

BILLY OWENS: He has tremendous potential. He’s tall, he’s lanky. He’s got that ultimate build that we think is going to fill out and be strong and have a chance to be a horse out there on the mound. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, good breaking ball, burgeoning changeup, and he’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that we identified all the way back to the draft. Trevor Schaffer, our Florida scout, was also able to identify him in the draft process. And the Nationals made a good selection there. He went last year to the South Atlantic League and really set that league on fire. He was tremendous all year. And talking to the Nationals in this trade for Gio Gonzalez, who obviously was an outstanding pitcher, Cole was definitely one of the headliners of the deal. So we’re definitely excited to have him.

 

Sonny Gray (photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

#5 – SONNY GRAY

Right-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2011 – 1st Round

Often compared to former A’s righty Tim Hudson, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011 logged 5 starts at Double-A Midland late last summer, giving up just 1 run in 20 innings while striking out 18, and is expected to climb the ladder quickly.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a big-game pitcher. He was the Friday night pitcher at Vanderbilt from day one. He was a guy that our scouts out there in the southeast – Michael Holmes, Matt Ransom – they actually identified Sonny all the way back to high school. And everything he’s accomplished so far, those guys predicted back then. This kid’s as tough as nails. This kid’s a tremendous athlete, along the Tim Hudson lines. He’s a vivacious competitor. His skills on the mound are solid. He’s got a 94-95 mph fastball. He can run that two-seamer at 91-92 mph. He can snap off a very good breaking ball. His changeup’s improving – he’s starting to trust his changeup a lot more. And first and foremost, Sonny is just a gifted competitor. When something arises where you want that rock out there on the mound, you want a tough kid, you want somebody who’s going to be able to handle adversity, I vote for Sonny.

 

Grant Green

#6 – GRANT GREEN

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2009 – 1st Round

Originally drafted as a shortstop but moved to the outfield midway through last season, the A’s 2009 first-round draft pick consistently hits the ball hard and could earn a shot in the A’s outfield before long.

BILLY OWENS: Grant’s a gifted hitter. He’s probably a .300 career hitter so far, between A-ball and Double-A. He’s able to use all fields line to line. This guy can smoke a ball down the right field line, he can smoke a ball down the left field line, and eventually he’s going to be able to hit the ball to the wall. This guy has got a gift to square the baseball up. He’s a got a certain knack to hit the baseball with authority to all fields. I think the shortstop position was something that possibly he could have handled down the road, but his bat is going to be ahead of his defense, and so we made a decision to expedite what he does best, which is hit, and move him to the outfield. And hopefully we can get him to the point where he’s got that certain comfort zone in the outfield. His swing is reminiscent of Michael Young’s in Texas, and I think that he’ll be able to do that at the top level eventually.

 

Derek Norris (photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

#7 – DEREK NORRIS

Right-handed Hitting Catcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 4th Round

The only hitter the A’s acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the right-handed hitting catcher slugged 20 home runs at Double-A Harrisburg last season and sports an impressive career minor league OBP of .403.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a very athletic kid. He played primarily third base in high school. And so the strides he’s made in three or four years in the minor leagues have been tremendous behind the plate. His receiving skills have gotten better every year. His throwing arm is outstanding. I believe he’s led every league he’s played in professionally in throwing guys out percentage-wise. His average wasn’t the greatest last year at Double-A, but his walk numbers are phenomenal, so he still carries a high on-base percentage, And he’s got a little power – he’s got 20+ homer potential. He’s got a keen eye at the plate. He’s got an athletic body, and he’s got a throwing arm that a marksman would be proud of. So hopefully we’ll see him mature this year, build upon what he did last year in Harrisburg, and then after that, the sky’s the limit.

 

Chris Carter

#8 – CHRIS CARTER

Right-handed Hitting First Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2005 – 15th Round

Originally acquired in the Dan Haren deal with the Diamondbacks, the right-handed slugger has put up big power numbers in the minors, clubbing 31 home runs at Triple-A Sacramento in 2010 and posting a career minor league slugging percentage of .540.

BILLY OWENS: You’re talking about a 25-year-old kid who’s got 170 minor league home runs. I think his power potential is phenomenal. He’s got about 150 sporadic major league at-bats over bits and pieces of the last few years. At some point, whenever he gets comfortable, whether it’s this year, next year, this month, May, August, once Chris Carter gets comfortable in the major leagues, he will do damage. I can’t predict exactly when that’s going to be because nothing’s guaranteed and he’s got to compete for a job and earn a chance to play like everybody else. But if you look at Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, those guys have proven right-handed power hitters normally don’t come to fruition over night. I like Chris Carter’s resume. And I really truly believe at some point he’ll do it in the major leagues. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

 

Tom Milone (photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI)

#9 – TOM MILONE

Left-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 10th Round

Acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the left-hander posted a 3.22 ERA while walking just 16 batters in 148 1/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse last season and he should get a shot to show the A’s what he can do in 2012.

BILLY OWENS: He’s got a certain savvy to him. His walk numbers last year were phenomenal. He only walked about 20 guys all year. His strikeout rate is tremendous. He’s got poise. He can use both sides of the plate. He can heat you up, he can slow you down. He can change you up. He can change your eye level with his breaking ball. He’s a tremendous athlete on the mound. He can pick you off. He can field his position well. He’s not a hard-thrower – you can turn the gun off. In the Dallas Braden mold, he’s not going to knock your socks off as far as true velocity. But he can put it inside your hands at the appropriate time. The kid can pitch. He’s a good athlete. The first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues went over the right field wall, so he’s got one more homer than the rest of us! This guy’s a competitor. He’s going to be a solid addition. He’s close to major-league ready, and I’m looking forward to seeing him out there at the Coliseum at some point.

 

Michael Taylor (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#10 – MICHAEL TAYLOR

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

Drafted 2007 – 5th Round

After putting up stellar numbers in the Phillies system, the outfielder’s progress has stagnated a bit since coming to the A’s, but the 26-year-old does still have a .296/.371/.476 career minor league slash line along with some solid tools.

BILLY OWENS: Michael’s got a well-rounded game. He hit for a decent average two years in a row at Sacramento. Just looking at him, you can see the power potential. You know, the hardest level to get over in baseball is Triple-A to the major leagues. As much as we like to see guys develop between A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, the ultimate goal and the best players in the world play in the big leagues. And in the big leagues, they hit their spots, they make adjustments, they will do certain things out there. So Michael has got to get to the point where he’s able to impress the big league staff, compete and earn that opportunity. The talent level’s there, and hopefully it manifests for us in the green and gold.

 

Collin Cowgill (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

#11 – COLLIN COWGILL 

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 5th Round

The Diamondbacks’ fifth-round draft pick in 2008, the right-handed hitting outfielder barely missed making our Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, finishing just behind fellow outfielder Michael Taylor after hitting .354 with 13 homers and 30 stolen bases for Triple-A Reno last season.

BILLY OWENS: We drafted him actually the year before he signed out of Kentucky. He didn’t sign with us back then, so we gave him no choice and this time we traded for him. He’s got tremendous energy, he’s a feisty competitor. He can do a lot of things on the baseball field – he can defend, he’s got some power, he can hit for average, he runs the bases well. Cody Ross would be a very good comparison when looking at Collin Cowgill.

 

Josh Reddick (photo by Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill.net)

NEW ADDITION – JOSH REDDICK 

Left-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2006 – 17th Round

The key piece in the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, the left-handed hitting outfielder hit .280 in 254 big-league at bats with the Red Sox last year, technically not qualifying as a prospect, but he is one of the most potentially exciting young players likely to make the A’s roster.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a rugged competitor. He’s got a nice power/speed/defense blend to him. He’s throwing very well so far in major league camp. The ball comes off his bat well. He hit 20+ home runs last year between Triple-A and the big leagues. Personally, I first saw Josh in the Arizona Fall League about three years ago, and he blasted a ball in the Fall League All-Star Game to dead center, and he hit it a mile. And we’ve been able to see that production manifest over time. And we were able to acquire Josh for a player, Andrew Bailey, who was a tremendous closer for us. So it was important to get a player back of Mr. Reddick’s caliber. And so far in big league camp, we’re excited to have him.

 

Yoenis Cespedes

LATE ADDITION – YOENIS CESPEDES

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

The year’s most-heralded Cuban free agent, the A’s signed the power-hitting outfielder to a 4-year/$36-million contract late in the offseason in the hopes that his talents will quickly translate to major league success.

BILLY OWENS: First off, he’s got a lot of syllables, so I might just call him YC for now! But he’s a tremendous athlete. Personally, I saw YC play at the Pan-American Games in 2010 in Puerto Rico. And just the speed, power, defense quotient was scintillating just watching that over five or six games down there in Puerto Rico. And it was a very calculated but educated gamble orchestrated by Billy Beane and David Forst to be able to acquire a player of this caliber. And the process goes back to Craig Weissmann and Chris Pittaro, two great scouts of ours, and Sam Geaney, our international coordinator. I think that we weren’t sure that he was going to be in our neighborhood as far as the dollars were concerned. But once YC got to our neighborhood, we felt that it was a unique opportunity to get a player of his caliber with his middle-of-the-diamond skills. It’s definitely a testament to Billy and David trusting our scouting acumen and seeing what he’s done over there in international competition and taking this opportunity and seeing how it works out. We think this guy’s a gifted defender. We think he’s got a throwing arm that’s going to be amongst the best out there. So the ability is there. But now you’ve got to go show it at a professional level, hopefully sooner rather than later, in the major leagues.

 

Sean Doolittle (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WILD CARD – SEAN DOOLITTLE

Left-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Originally drafted by the A’s as a first baseman in the first round of the 2007 draft, injuries have limited his mobility and kept him completely off the field for the past two seasons, but he’s now looking to make his mark on the mound as a hard-throwing lefty.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a world-class competitor. He’s actually the career win leader at the University of Virginia, who’ve had a ton of major league players over the years. So the pitching mound is not foreign to Sean Doolittle. We all thought that he’d be a tremendous first baseman/outfielder right now and hitting 25+ home runs. But due to injuries, that didn’t happen. But now he’s allowed to compete again, and the other day at major league camp, he was up to 93-94 mph. He showed a promising breaking ball. He filled the zone up. He fielded the position well. He’s just a very competitive kid who wants to go out there and do what he does best and compete on a baseball field. And that’s something he hasn’t been allowed to do the last two years, so he’s just waiting to break out. There’s no question about the toughness and the competitive skills of this kid. And now he’s got a left arm that just happens to have a rocket attached to it.

 

Thanks again to A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens for taking the time to offer his insights on some of the A’s most intriguing young prospects!

 

 

8 comments for “Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

  1. March 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I knew beforehand the A’s had a good farm system, but now looking at the list itself, it’s amazing to just stare at the quantity of good players they have in the wings.
    -Mateo
    http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com

  2. Vivek
    March 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic idea to get Billy to share his thoughts.

    However, sometimes I find it hard to read between the lines with him because he is so exuberant and optimistic about every prospect (he has to be). He pretty much has given up on Taylor though.

    I fully agree with him on Carter. The guy needs a steady opportunity. He has to earn that of course but once he earns that, give him a long leash, let him develop.

  3. August 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Great stfuf, you helped me out so much!

  4. August 7, 2013 at 12:16 am

    Thanks for your thoughts. It’s helped me a lot.

  5. August 31, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Rhonda, Thanks for sharing the itomroanifn on Grant Writing. I never knew Owens offered one on one consultation with access to all of Heidi’s resources. This is something that our non-profit clients can surely use as well as other organizes seeking a grant. Many times they don’t know where to start. I will add you and Owens College to my list of resources that I offer to our business clients.

  6. October 22, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Absolutely gorgeous! It seems like yeaterdsy. You both look so happy. So glad we were able to share the day with you. Love the cute shot of Caroline too of course! XXOOCooosin

  7. November 28, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Always refreshing to hear a rational answer.

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