Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Billy Owens, P2

In the second half of our two-part interview with Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens, we discuss a number of the A's young offensive players, as well as the impact of some of the veteran position players, including Manny Ramirez.

For part one of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Turning to your first base battle, you have Brandon Allen, Chris Carter and Kila Ka'aihue getting most of the playing time. What would you have to see from one or two of them to have them make the Opening Day roster?

Billy Owens: I think the biggest key with all three guys is having them assert themselves and translate their minor league performance to what they are capable of in the major leagues. Kila did a good job with Kansas City and put up good numbers every year [in the minor leagues] and getting him over here was definitely something that we were excited about. He's got big power and he has controlled the ‘zone in Triple-A. He got a taste of the big leagues with Kansas City.

Brandon Allen has hit prodigious blasts in the minor leagues and in the big leagues. He is just getting acclimated more and more to big league pitching. Showing what he can do will definitely exemplify how soon he can be ready for the major leagues.

Chris Carter is a guy who I love his resume. He only has a 140 at-bats in the major leagues sporadically the past two years. I have a lot of confidence – not sure where or when – but his resume will be validated in the major leagues.

OC: You got to see Josh Donaldson play some third base over the past three years, especially last year with Sacramento. Did his time playing third base in the Dominican League this winter give you more confidence to send him over to that position when Scott Sizemore got hurt this spring?

BO: Actually I think with Josh, I think he probably played 80 percent of his games in college on the left-side of the infield. Twenty percent of those games came at short and the other 60 percent were at third base. He's a kid who has been comfortable on the left side of the infield the whole time. From a draft standpoint, all the way back to his college days, he dabbled at catcher. He was drafted as a catcher and we were able to play him at that position probably 80 percent of the time during his minor league career. But he always dabbled at third base, as well, and he was so comfortable at that position. Going to the Dominican allowed him probably a few more games to get that comfort zone back, but it is definitely a position that is not foreign to Josh at all.

OC: Do you see him getting any time behind the plate this spring, or do you really have him focused at third base only at this point?

BO: I think right now the focus is at third base and just going out there to the new terrain and re-acclimating himself to the position and showing what he can do. But he has caught well enough over the past handful of years that we definitely know that he can catch.

OC: I read someone comparing Derek Norris to Mike Napoli from an offensive-perspective the other day. Do you see that as a valid comparison?

BO: I think the comparison comes from the fact that they both have big power and they both walked a lot in the minor leagues. So that can be a valid comparison. Derek Norris was actually mainly a third baseman in high school so he has only been catching full-time the past four or five years. He's probably more athletic in a similar way to Josh Donaldson in that he runs average and he moves around very well, which allows him to block the ball. His throwing percentage the past few years has improved. I know he led the Eastern League in throwing percentage on stolen base attempts and he also led the Carolina League the year before that. He's exciting. Last year he walked well over 100 times. He can get on-base and he has raw power. He was able to have a high on-base percentage last year despite a relatively low batting average.

OC: I have noticed on Twitter that a lot of minor leaguers have been commenting on how impressed they've been to watch Manny Ramirez take batting practice and have enjoyed the opportunity to learn from him. Do believe you will get additional value from Ramirez beyond what you hope to get from him on the field when he is working with younger players?

BO: You know what, for one, I have been following that on the Twitter universe as well. Manny has been outstanding. His work ethic over the years has been well documented. He has been a guy who has always been the first guy in the cage and the last guy to leave. He's always studying pitchers. Even though he is going to miss the first 50 games this year that [work ethic] is definitely permating through the clubhouse.

Seeing a guy with his resume – the 555 homeruns and the .312 batting average – that is still thirsty for knowledge every day and is going to be the first in the cage at 6:45 in the morning and is going to be out there late. I'm driving away from the stadium at 6 and Manny is still out there hitting in the cage. That is impressive for a guy with his resume. Hopefully that rubs off on the guys who are more youthful and they can see what it takes to survive in the major leagues.

OC: Who do you think has a better throwing arm – Josh Reddick or Collin Cowgill?

BO: For one, they are both rugged competitors. Josh Reddick has come over here and he has gotten comfortable right away. He has taken very good at-bats, shooting the ball to all fields. He hit a monster homerun the other day. His athleticism in the outfield has been tremendous. He's made spectacular catches on numerous occasions already.

Collin Cowgill is just, he's got a motor out there. It's like a 10 cylinder motor right away. He doesn't go from gears one through eight. He starts off at 10. This guy, from the moment he hits the field, he is full-bore all the way. His resume is impressive as well. He won the PCL batting title last year and he has hit everywhere. We actually drafted him out of Kentucky the year before he signed, so we've seen him a long time. I remember seeing him with South Bend with the Diamondbacks in the Midwest League back in the day. He has always played hard. He's always had tremendous energy. He plays all three outfield positions well and he throws well. In reality, picking up Josh Reddick and Collin Cowgill, those are two players who can play all three outfield positions very well.

OC: With the addition of the veteran players such as Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith and retaining Coco Crisp, are you feeling better about your offense at this point than you were at the same point last season? Or are you expecting a similar year offensively?

BO: For one, hope always springs eternal in spring training. [laughs] Last year I felt pretty good at this point about our offense. This year, bringing Coco back – Coco is probably one of the most underrated players in the major leagues. Tremendous energy every day and he led the American League in stolen bases last year along with Brett Gardner. Switch-hitter with a good glove in center.

Jonny Gomes, I have been following him since his Tampa Bay days. He's actually a Northern California native. He lights up a room when he comes into the clubhouse. He's got a big league personality all the way and he really has untapped power potential. He's hit 20 homeruns or more in three or four different times in his career, and honestly without a lot of at-bats some of those times. There is still untapped power along with a tremendous personality with Jonny.

Seth Smith has been a guy who has probably platooned more than he has played everyday over the years, but he has blistered right-handed pitching and has really not had a true opportunity versus left-handed pitching. But he has taken good at-bats, he has a nice swing and he has power potential that he can hit the ball a long, long ways. Hopefully that carries over to the Coliseum.

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