Tag Archive for Billy Owens

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

bo1151079bWell, we’re now about a month and a half into the baseball season. And just as we’re at a point where the A’s front office typically takes a step back and evaluates where the major league roster is at, it’s also a great time to take a step back and see where some of the A’s top prospects are at. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization back in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted 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. Owens spoke with us earlier this week while he was in southern California scouting prospects for next month’s amateur draft. And as we talked with him about some of the team’s top young players, his genuine enthusiasm for the prospects currently stocking the A’s system was apparent…

 

AF:  Well, let’s start off with shortstop Addison Russell who’s missed the past month and a half with a hamstring injury. Do you have any sort of updates to offer on him? It must be a little disappointing for you to have him off the field for so long this season. Has it tempered your expectations for his progress over the course of this season?

BO:  We’re so excited about Addison as a person and as a player that we just want to make sure he’s totally healthy so that when he’s ready to go, he can go out there and perform. But the way he acclimated himself to spring training, being around the big league players, he was definitely in a comfort zone compared to his first spring training and he was performing very well. He was hitting the ball with authority. He was making the plays in the field. I’ve been with the Oakland A’s since November of ‘98, and I’m as excited about Addison Russell as anybody we’ve had during that time frame.

AF:  Another guy at Midland who everyone’s always interested in is outfielder Billy Burns. He hasn’t really been tearing things up down there like he was in the spring. What’s your take on what’s up with him at Midland?

bbu1275322cBO:  We’re still very excited about Billy Burns. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is very good. His stolen base percentage has been exceptional throughout his career. The speed is still an elite tool. He’s definitely putting the ball in play. So the odds are, over the course of the season, Billy Burns will definitely have his numbers. And he’s somebody to be excited about. The talent he showed in spring training was not an aberration.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you guys have him working on or need him to be working on down there this year?

BO:  The kid only switch-hit a little bit in high school and didn’t really do it in college, then he went back to batting both ways as a professional, so he’s still getting acclimated to that. Similar to Billy Hamilton, he’s a different style hitter from the left side and the right side, but he’s always in control of the zone – more walks than strikeouts historically for his career from both sides of the plate. His makeup is off the charts, he’s a hard worker, he loves the game and he gets the utmost out of his ability – so we’re as excited about Billy Burns right now as we were the day we acquired him.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about some of the guys at Stockton since that seems to be where so many of the top prospects are this year. Michael Ynoa was out for a bit with a bicep strain, but he’s come back and looked pretty dominant in his last few appearances. So can you tell me what you’re seeing out of him and what you’re expectations are for him at this point?

BO:  He’s just a kid who’s still 22 years old. He’s got a lot of talent, he’s up to 97 [mph], he’s got a great body and he’s got a fluid delivery. The breaking ball’s still crisp and the changeup’s improving. It’s just a matter of him being able to go out there and have a season where he’s able to accumulate innings and compete every day. And I think if he’s able to sustain time on the field, the talent will manifest itself. It’s just a fact that over his career he hasn’t been able to be on the field because of various ailments. But if he’s out there, the talent’s definitely there. Hopefully he can just be on the field here the rest of the season, and then we’ll see exactly what he can do with that 95 mph fastball and a good breaking ball and a changeup.

AF:  I guess it just boils down to him staying healthy. And if he can stay on the field, then it sounds like you have plenty of confidence in his ability to succeed as long as he stays healthy.

Michael YnoaBO:  Yeah, he’s got to stay healthy. It’s been one of those freak things over the years. Last year, for the first half of the season in Beloit, he was able to make about 15 successful starts in a row, and the results were very positive. Then he came to the California League last year, and then he was shut down for the season. This year early, he was a little bit rocky. But he’s come back and he’s been topping out at 97 [mph] and the breaking ball’s been good. So the talent’s there, but from an experience standpoint, he’s had less than 200 innings in his whole professional career. So he’s just got to be on the mound and get the experience and from there the talent will manifest.

AF:  Another arm at Stockton who’s probably been the most impressive pitching prospect in the system this year is Seth Streich. So can you tell me what you’ve been seeing out of him and what’s accounted for him being able to kick it up a notch, particularly pitching in the California League?

BO:  Last year, his stuff was really good. He was up around 94-95 mph, but the results weren’t totally there the first half of the season. But Scott Emerson, our pitching coordinator, was able to work with him and, all of a sudden, the results started to change halfway through last year. The stuff’s definitely there – good movement on the fastball, he’s got a solid slider and he’s got a good changeup. And the reports from Rich Sparks, the area scout who signed him initially, are coming to fruition. Seth’s a very good competitor, the stuff’s there and really since last year, probably the middle of July, he’s pitched very well.

AF:  A young guy at Stockton whom you guys moved there as a 19-year-old this year, just like you did with Addison Russell last year, is your top draft pick from last year, outfielder Billy McKinney. He’s been showing some power and taking his walks even if his batting average has been a little low. But tell me what you think of Billy McKinney as a 19-year-old in the California League so far this season?

Billy McKinneyBO:  I’ve been very impressed, to be honest. I mean, the kid has 6 home runs, he’s got an abundant amount of walks already, he’s having really good at-bats and the game reports are pretty positive every night. I mean, that’s definitely an aggressive assignment. And we know, through the course of the season, he’s going to be able to excel. And for me, for May 14th, he’s doing very well. To have 6 home runs at 19 years old and have the walk numbers he’s been able to accumulate, it’s been a very positive assessment of his abilities so far.

AF:  I know it’s the California League, but have you been a little surprised by the early power numbers he put up?

BO:  Billy had an outstanding spring training. He had about 25 at-bats in major league camp. He definitely had a handful of extra-base hits in big league camp. Armann Brown, our scout out there in Texas, identified Billy early. He’s somebody who Eric Kubota, our scouting director, identified early. And he can hit, he’s a natural hitter, he’s hit all through the pros and he’s going to have power. I would say with Billy, Mark Kotsay, who played here for a long time, that would probably be the ceiling and David Murphy, who plays for the Indians now, that would kind of be the floor of what I would project Billy McKinney to be as a major league baseball player. But all signs are positive, the kid’s a great makeup kid, he’s having tremendous at-bats, and the average will heighten during the course of the season.

AF:  One guy at Stockton who maybe has a little more experience than some of the guys there is Bruce Maxwell. Can you tell me where you see him at in his development both at the plate and behind the plate as a catcher?

bmDSC02921bxBO:  Yeah, Bruce (Wayne) Maxwell has definitely made tremendous strides since he signed. We signed him out of Birmingham-Southern. He was definitely an offensive-first player. His numbers were tremendous in college – the strikeout-to-walk ratio, the homers, the base hits. And I think when Bruce joined the organization, he worked so hard on improving his catching abilities that his offense took a back seat. And he went from being a guy who was kind of a catcher initially, now he’s a strong defensive catcher. He’s got a tremendous throwing arm and his numbers are solid as far as throwing runners out. He’s always been a good hitter, and now that he’s a tremendous backstop as well, that bodes well for him being a positive prospect going forward. And like so many of our guys in that Stockton crew, those guys are such hard workers. Those players, they love the game and have a tremendous zest and energy for baseball. The Matt Olsons, the Daniel Robertsons, the Billy McKinneys, Addison Russell – I mean, that crew has a love of the game 24/7, so that’s a fun group.

AF:  I guess you don’t have to teach them how to be motivated anyway!

BO:  Yeah, and that’s half the battle to be honest. I mean, those guys are very motivated. You see Matt Olson, who had a big night the other night – 2 home runs and a double – 30 walks on the season, 9 homers, 20 years old, tremendous defender, great attitude. Just seeing these kids when they first signed up and how they jelled with each other right away, I think that’s helped their performance out.

AF:  I was just about to ask you to talk about Matt Olson, as well as Max Muncy, so is there anything else you had to offer?

BO:  I think that Matt Olson as well as Max Muncy have both proven that they’re really good defenders at first base. And with Muncy, we’ve been able to dabble with him playing a little bit at third base, and Matt Olson’s a tremendous defender as well.

AF:  Can you talk a little bit more about what you saw out of Max Muncy earlier this year at Midland before he broke his finger?

mmDSC02925bxBO:  Yeah, he was controlling the zone as usual. I think last year, by the time he got to Double-A and the [Arizona] Fall League – his first full season – he’s such a hard worker, that maybe he got a little bit fatigued. But it also gave him a taste of what he had to do against higher level competition. He came back and got a little bit stronger, his eyes got cleaner and he was having tremendous at-bats. His strikeout-to-walk ratio improved considerably from last year at Double-A and the extra-base hits were coming in bunches. He played an outstanding first base and he was actually playing a pretty solid third base as well. He’s just a baseball rat. And the kids who compete every day and have that enthusiasm, when they have talent, they get the most out of their abilities. And Max Muncy is definitely going to get the most out of his abilities and we’re definitely encouraged by what he’s done so far in the Double-A season.

AF:  Speaking of third base, back at Stockton, Renato Nunez has certainly looked a whole lot better in the field so far this season after leading the organization in errors last year, but he still seems to have a little work to do in terms of his plate discipline. Can you talk a little bit about where he’s at both offensively and defensively at this point?

BO:  Renato, he’s a natural hitter. He’s 19 years old, he’s a smart kid. He’s a good enough hitter where he’s able to barrel pretty much any pitch in the strike zone. But with that, you become so fearless that you’re able to swing at more pitches. So as he matures, I think he’s going to get smarter and realize that for him to drive the ball more successfully, he’s got to just concentrate on swinging within the strike zone. But Renato’s smart enough and he’s a good enough baseball player to make those adjustments. And in the field, he’s another kid who’s a worker. We signed Renato when he was 16 years old. We scouted him since he was 14. His bat was always his forte and we signed him because of his bat, but he’s improved his defensive abilities. He gives you a lot of heart and a lot of effort and he’s making the plays more routinely this year, so that’s definitely an arrow pointing forward. But Renato’s a hitter, and he will improve his plate discipline. He’s got a gorgeous swing and the power will be there. But that’s his forte when he’s got that Louisville Slugger in his hands.

drrobertson480_szmaxxpi_ibplc2rl2AF:  Going around the Stockton infield, Daniel Robertson has been pretty solid. He’s been taking his walks, getting his doubles and has had a good average playing shortstop every day. What are your thoughts on him at this stage of the game?

BO:  He’s an outstanding prospect. He can definitely play shortstop – he’s got great instincts, tremendous hands, his arm’s accurate. His plate discipline this year has gotten better. And he’s such a sharp kid that he recognized what he needed to improve upon from the Midwest League. Plate discipline was definitely at the top of the list. And he’s definitely tackled that so far this year – taking his walks, hitting the ball in the gaps for extra bases. He’s had a nice swing. He’s probably the first guy at the field every day and the last guy to leave. I couldn’t be more excited. And it’s funny, Daniel Robertson is definitely playing good shortstop. But the fact that Daniel Robertson and Addison Russell came up together, you look at them almost like an Alan Trammell and a Lou Whitaker. But honestly, being able to play short, he could play anywhere in the infield.

AF:  So my understanding is that as long as he can play shortstop and Addison’s not in the major leagues, you guys are content to have him continue to stay at short and you feel confident that he can eventually make the move at some point without too much trouble.

BO:  Yeah, he can definitely play shortstop, and there’s value in keeping him at shortstop. But in a dream scenario, with guys staying healthy going forward and coming to fruition, I always envisioned those guys – Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson – being the Oakland version of Trammell and Whitaker.

AF:  And they might even share an apartment together too! A couple of other guys you were pretty aggressive putting at Stockton this year were two of your 2013 draftees, infielders Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy. So can you tell me a little bit about the A’s decision to start both those guys at Stockton and what you’ve seen out of both of them so far this year?

cpDSC03243dBO:  Chad Pinder’s a kid whose father played some pro ball, so he had an idea what to expect. He started three years in college at Virginia Tech. I think he had an injury last year that bothered him initially in short-season ball and was never totally able to get comfortable there, but we always liked the ability. He had a strong Instructional League and carried over to spring training, and he definitely gained some strength. So it was pretty easy to let him go to the California League. And he’s done pretty well so far – 6 homers to start, his average is high. But I’d still like to look at that strikeout-to-walk ratio and tighten that up – you know, swing at strikes and take the balls and have that good strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s something that Chad can definitely improve on, but I’m definitely encouraged by the 6 homers, the high average and playing solid defense as well. Ryon Healy’s a kid from California who went to the University of Oregon. He always hit in college and had a tremendous last year before we drafted him. He’s another kid who unfortunately had a few injuries initially to start his career, but now he’s starting to get acclimated. He’ll hit. He’s definitely got a nice swing, he’s got power potential. It’s early in the year and he’s creeping up there towards the Mendoza Line. Once he passes that and keeps on moving forward and improving that strikeout-to-walk ratio, the talent will be there and he’ll hit this year.

AF:  As far as Pinder goes position-wise, do you envision him sticking at second base at this point, or what are your thoughts on where he ends up playing in the long-term?

BO:  I think he could play all three. You’ve got to play certain guys at certain places because we’ve got other players there. But he definitely could play second, he could play third – he’s got the arm to handle anywhere in the infield. I look at Chad Pinder in a dream scenario as a J.J. Hardy type of player who’s got some sock for a middle infielder and does a lot of different things well. So he could definitely play anywhere in the infield.

AF:  And in terms of jumping those guys to Stockton, is part of the thinking that the hitting environment in Beloit, particularly early in the year when it’s so cold up there, is not necessarily the best thing for some of your top hitting prospects?

BO:  Obviously, the California League is a little bit warmer than it is in the Midwest League, but you’ve got to hit anywhere. And that’s probably one of the best things about our organization is that we reward performance. So wherever you got drafted and whatever amount of money you signed for, if you perform, we will reward you. So that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Pinder had a good enough spring training and a strong Instructional League. And the other guys were younger for the most part in Beloit and that’s the way it broke down this year.

tlLadendorf, Tyler2AF:  Just to skip up to Sacramento for a minute, one guy who’s impressed up there this year after being stuck at Midland for the past few years is Tyler Ladendorf. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen out of him this year and what your expectations are for him at this point?

BO:  I just think the more and more we watch baseball in 2014, guys who have versatility and can still hit for a decent average and have some extra-base hits, if they can play the infield and outfield well, they can make themselves assets to an organization. So Tyler’s always been able to play short, been able to play third, been able to play second, put him in the outfield. And he came to spring training and had a couple little cameos in big league camp and did pretty well and he started off pretty hot there at Sacramento. So you’ve got somebody you can put out at short, you can put out at third, you can put out in center field and really not miss a beat offensively or defensively. Ben Zobrist is kind of a guy that’s popular in today’s game, but I remember Tony Phillips for the A’s back in the day who could get on base, hit some homers and pretty much play anywhere on the field. So when you’ve got a player like Ladendorf who can do so many things defensively and then starts swinging the bat more positively, he’s answered the call this year.

AF:  The A’s have a lot of interesting young pitching prospects up at Beloit this year. Is there anyone up there on that staff who you’ve really got your eye on right now?

BO:  Well, I think Ronald Herrera is a kid who had a tremendous rookie league last year. He’s 19 years old, he’s up to 93 [mph] – he’ll touch 94 [mph] – tremendous delivery. His breaking ball’s solid, he can back you up a little bit with the changeup, he’s aggressive and he’s got a tremendous demeanor. In a lot of ways, he’s what Raul Alcantara was 2-3-4 years ago. So Ronald Herrera is definitely somebody to watch up there at Beloit.

AF:  And finally, is there anyone else we haven’t talked who you’ve got your eye on who’s made their way on to your radar this year?

PowellBO:  Yeah, the kid [Herschel] “Boog” Powell. I saw him last year in rookie ball and he played very well, put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases. He went up to the New York-Penn League last year and put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases and played good center field. And lo and behold, here we are again and he’s putting the ball in play, getting on base, stealing bases and playing outstanding defense again. He’s tenacious, he’s a worker, he believes in his abilities, and he’s definitely putting himself more and more on the radar. And like I said, from Billy Beane on down, we reward performance. And if you look at our big league team, if they play well, they’ll get opportunities. So a kid like “Boog” Powell, he’s definitely put himself on the radar.

AF:  Well, I’d imagine that having the best on-base perecentage in the A’s system probably doesn’t hurt.

BO:  No, it doesn’t hurt a bit. And it’s been becoming a trend with him.

AF:  Great, thanks a lot for all the info, Billy.

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Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks 2012 Draft Class with A’s Farm

bo1151079bBelieve it or not, baseball’s amateur draft is only five weeks away, and hard-core A’s fans will soon have a fresh batch of hot prospects to ponder. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to take a look back at last year’s draft class and see where things stand. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.

Owens originally joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted 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. Owens spoke with us earlier this week from an undisclosed location, where he was secretly scouting prospects for the draft. We talked about the A’s draft picks from last year’s first five rounds as well as a couple of top international prospects who are currently making their mark in the A’s system…

 

arfPCk2bFI5#1  (1st Round)

ADDISON RUSSELL

Shortstop / Age: 19

The A’s top draft pick in 2012, Russell got off to a blazing start last season. Just 19, the A’s invited him to big league camp this spring and aggressively started him off this year at Stockton in the High-A California League. He got off to a slow start and then had a brief stint on the DL, but he seems to have started heating up a bit over the past week or so.

BILLY OWENS: He had a sensational debut (last season), and we couldn’t be more excited. And seeing him in major league spring training – how he handled himself, the professionalism that he showed, just the constant energy that he plays with everyday – he has a maturity beyond his years. It’s obvious that he’s had tremendous parenting, and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s a pretty advanced assignment going to High-A ball, but we feel he’s going to be up for the challenge. We feel pretty confident that he can go there and handle himself. It’s a long year. We’re going to see how the season goes all the way through the end of the minor league championship season. And we’re pretty confident that he’s going to be able to catch up to the league, stay mature, show his tools, and be an exciting part of our system going forward.

 

drdanielrobertson_mlb_display_image#2  (1st Round)

DANIEL ROBERTSON

Shortstop / Age: 19

Robertson got off to a great start in the Arizona League last year but then struggled a bit with short-season Vermont in the NY-Penn League. He injured his knee in the instructional league. The ensuing surgery kept him out of competitive action this spring and delayed the start of his season. But he arrived in Beloit last week with a hot bat, blasting a home run in his first game.

BILLY OWENS: His make-up is outstanding. He’s a very coachable kid – talented, mature. He got dinged up a little bit, but he’s gone straight to Low-A (this season). I think his first night, he was a triple short of a cycle, and he got another hit yesterday, and he’s playing a solid shortstop. This kid definitely likes to play baseball and has been well-coached. His skill level is outstanding. He’s a solid shortstop prospect. He can definitely play the position. His hands are solid. He’s got a strong arm. He’s fundamentally sound.

 

mo15095_4110106706138_1463379083_n4#3  (1st Round)

MATT OLSON

First Baseman / Age: 19

Another one of the A’s top draft picks who got off to a great start in Arizona last year, Olson began the season with Beloit in the Midwest League. His bat remained cold through most of a very cold April in Wisconsin, but he’s begun heating up over the past week, homering in two consecutive games over the past few days.

BILLY OWENS: Matt Olson comes from a baseball family. His father played college ball. His brother plays at Harvard currently. And he’s a baseball rat. He can play first base, and he could even dabble in the outfield if need be. He’s got a short, efficient swing. I think initially he had such a strong debut – he hit a home run in his first at bat last year in Arizona rookie ball – he might have gotten a little too pull-confident and tried to force the issue with power. But we think that Matt Olson’s going to be a very good all-around hitter, be able to use the field line-to-line, and the power will just develop over time. He’s just a natural hitter. We like his hands – his hands are fluid, they’re strong, they’re direct. He had a couple of doubles the other night and hit his first home run. He’s using all the field again and squaring up multiple pitches. He’s got a very good eye – he walked 3 times the other night. I’m seeing the trends, and I’m more excited seeing the all-fields approach and the walks start to pick up versus the power. The power’s going to be there ‘cause this kid’s 6’4”, 230 pounds and just naturally strong. So it should be exciting.

 

bmBruce Maxwell#4  (2nd Round)

BRUCE MAXWELL

Catcher / Age: 22

Maxwell appeared to be a dependable hitter in his debut last year and has continued to look like a solid hitter this year at Beloit. He specializes in getting on base, but some have wondered about his ability to stick behind the plate. 

BILLY OWENS: His numbers at Birmingham Southern were just ridiculous. They were pretty amazing when you look at the extra-base hits versus the little amount of strikeouts. This kid’s got a tremendous eye, discerning at the plate. His swing path is fluid – it’s very compact, direct to the baseball. He’s strong, he’s going to have power, he’s going to be a high-walk guy. His catching is improving. Just at first glance, he reminds me of ex-Athletic Mickey Tettleton. He can catch, he’s probably going to mix in some first base down the road and get involved every now and then as a designated hitter. But first and foremost, he’s a slugger who’ll be an essential part of the Oakland Athletics organization.

 

nsresized_99261-5csanburn3colbw_47-15782_t728#5  (2nd Round)

NOLAN SANBURN

RHP / Age: 21

The first pitcher the A’s selected in last year’s draft, Sanburn appears to be a talented young hurler with an arsenal of pitches, but he spent a lot of his college career pitching out of the bullpen. So without a lot of innings under his belt, he still needs to build his stamina as a starter.

BILLY OWENS: We were excited to get Nolan when we got him. With his arm and his variety of pitches, it was a coup where we got him in the draft last year. When he went to rookie ball in short-season (Class-A), he was 96 mph+. His curveball broke off the table, and he’s got a solid changeup. He’s a very athletic kid. Just being predominantly a reliever in college last year, we’re starting to get him prepared him for X amount of innings. We’re kind of taking baby steps initially, but he’s raring to go and ready to unleash that arsenal out there.

 

bbmce_052312_0222B#6  (4th Round)

B.J. BOYD

Outfielder / Age: 19

Boyd was best known as a big Bay Area high school football prospect when the A’s drafted him last year. He’s loaded with talent and got off to a great start last year, but he’s young and his baseball skills will need a little refinement.

BILLY OWENS: He’s got a dynamic skill set. Last year, he was by far the fastest player in our draft class. And then he went straight out to rookie ball and showed that speed. He’s just explosive. He was an accomplished football player, had multiple Division I offers, but we were able to draft him. And all that carried over to rookie ball last year. That was a fun team that lost the final to the Rangers’ rookie ball squad, but B.J. was a catalyst for that team. He hit a few home runs, he walked, he hit for a high average, he stole bases, he played a good center field. The Midwest League is a great league, we’re proud to be there, but it’s a little bit cold initially, so we held a couple guys back. We’ve got him back there in extended (spring training), but at some point, I think he’ll be ready for the Midwest League this year. And I honestly believe that he’ll make a positive impression once he gets there. Right now he’s chomping at the bit, working hard in extended, shedding a few pounds, and getting ready to hopefully take the Midwest League by storm later on.

 

mm628x471b#7  (5th Round)

MAX MUNCY

First Baseman / Age: 22

Drafted out Baylor, Muncy was the only member of the A’s draft class to start last season in the Class-A Midwest League, and he held his own there. This year, the A’s decided to start him out at High-A Stockton along with Addison Russell, and Muncy has flourished. He already has twice as many home runs in April, 8, as he did all of last year at Burlington, and he currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in round-trippers.

BILLY OWENS: Maxwell Muncy is a guy we’re excited about. Armann Brown, our area scout out there in Texas, pointed Max out early, always liked the make-up. Max came from a good family structure and background. He’s at the field early. He’s there late. He’s watching video. He’s just ready to play everyday, so we’re excited. He’s amongst the minor league home run leaders, and we like his skill set. He can pick it at first base – we like his range there. His swing is the type of swing that’s going to be able to hit advanced level pitching. And first and foremost, this guy’s a baseball rat. I mean, he’s a cage-wrecker. You’ve got to turn the lights off otherwise he’s going to be in that cage 24/7. He’s a fun guy to watch.

 

rnnc3bac3b1ez-renato3(International Amateur Free Agent)

RENATO NUNEZ

Third Baseman / Age: 19

The A’s invested heavily in Nunez when they reportedly gave the young Venezuelan $2.2 million to sign back in 2010. He made his American debut in the Arizona Rookie League last year and didn’t disappoint, flashing the bat the A’s had hoped to see. He’s started this season wielding the biggest bat at Beloit, and he even celebrated his 19th birthday on opening night by blasting his first home run.

BILLY OWENS: He’s an exciting kid to watch. Sam Geaney, our international scouting director, and Julio Franco, our chief scout in Venezuela, they identified Renato all the way back to when he was 14 years old. And we were able to track him, follow him, and we were able to secure his services. He went to the Dominican Summer League at 16 years old and was able to get his feet wet and was able to do pretty well there. Last year, in the Arizona Rookie League, I believe he led the league in doubles. He just has that short stroke – it’s a very accurate barrel. He’s pretty advanced to send him at 19 years old to the Midwest League. This kid’s got outstanding make-up, he’s not afraid of anything. I think he’s hit 4 home runs, 5 doubles. He’s having a good start up there in Beloit. And it’ll be fun to watch him this year, because this kid likes to play a lot and his background is excellent and he’s a natural-born hitter.

 

mymichael-ynoa.p1(International Amateur Free Agent)

MICHAEL YNOA

RHP / Age: 21

The A’s originally signed Ynoa for over $4 million as a 16-year old. He’s now a 21-year-old. And thanks to injuries, through last season, he’d thrown less than 40 innings. But Ynoa finally appears to be healthy and is back on the mound for Beloit this season.

BILLY OWENS: It’s definitely fun to see Michael in the box scores. The talent’s always been immense, and now it’s just a matter of him continuing to increase his workload and get out there on the diamond. He’s a fabulous athlete. He’s topped out at 96-97 mph, his breaking ball is getting better everyday, and his command is improving. So seeing him every five days in that box score is an exciting thing, and hopefully he can keep on doing that, because the talent’s there. And hopefully we’re crossing our fingers that he’s passed certain hurdles and he can be out there and enjoy a healthy season.

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Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up with all the news down on the farm!

A’s Farm in Top 10 MLB Blogs in 2012!

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick gave A’s Farm a taste of things to come in spring training!

Well, the results are in – and in our first year out of the box, A’s Farm was ranked in the Top 10 MLB blogs for 2012! At our peak late in the season, we were averaging almost 5,000 hits per week and almost 20,000 hits per month. And we want to be sure to thank all you devoted A’s fans who are obviously committed to learning as much as possible about the organization from top to bottom.

We also want to thank MLB Trade Rumors for repeatedly featuring A’s Farm as one of their top blog picks of the week, Baseball Reference for regularly featuring us in their player news section, and A’s Nation who asked us to provide a weekly minor league update during the season for the hordes of A’s fans who get their A’s news from the biggest and best A’s blog on the web.

In 2012, A’s Farm profiled the A’s new players and top prospects, offered progress reports on the team’s top draft picks, named the A’s organizational all-stars, and featured interviews with GM Billy Beane, along with players like Josh Reddick, Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle, and front office personnel like assistant GM David Forst, scouting director Eric Kubota and director of player personnel Billy Owens. And in one of our most popular pieces of the year, A’s Farm profiled A’s super-scout and Moneyball bad guy Grady Fuson. All that in addition to our daily updates on all the A’s minor league affiliates – the Sacramento River Cats, Midland RockHounds, Stockton Ports, Burlington Bees, Vermont Lake Monsters and the Arizona League A’s.

Stay tuned for much more right here in 2013, and be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm to keep up to date on all the A’s minor league teams and top prospects down on the farm!

 

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!