Believe 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…
#1 (1st Round)
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.
#2 (1st Round)
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.
#3 (1st Round)
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.
#4 (2nd Round)
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.
#5 (2nd Round)
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.
#6 (4th Round)
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.
#7 (5th Round)
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.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
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.
(International Amateur Free Agent)
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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