Oakland A's Front Office Q&A: Billy Owens, P2

In the second half of our in-depth interview with Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens, we cover the development of Michael Ynoa, Billy McKinney, Chris Kohler, Bobby Wahl, Dustin Driver, Bruce Maxwell, B.J. Boyd, Max Muncy, Iolana Akau, Dylan Covey, Ronald Herrera, Drew Granier, as well as the departure of Todd Steverson, and more...

To read the first half of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: You've known Michael Ynoa since before he signed with the organization in 2008. How would you assess his first season in full-season leagues?

Billy Owens: Just from a circumstance standpoint with the injuries, the talent was never validated until this year. Now people can see that athletic kid who is 6'7'' and can throw 95-96 MPH and who has a curveball that can be a swing-miss pitch down-the-road and show a developing change-up. It was good for the talent to be validated and it was good for Michael to get out there and compete against his peers and get a taste of what professional baseball is all about. He was able to log some innings, get stronger and really be able to assess his performance. He had a chance to go into the off-season with some actual innings under his belt. For all parties concerned, that was going to be positive.

If you think about a swimmer, Michael Phelps comes to mind with the wide-back and the 6'7'' frame with a sinewy look that is still strong. This kid has amazing athleticism and body. The ball comes out of his hand clean. It comes out hot, 95+. The breaking ball is there. Just from a circumstance standpoint, he was never able to validate that talent, but this year he did. I still think this was just a precursor to bigger things and better things down-the-road. Now we've seen a glimpse of the talent. Hopefully next year, he cracks the door in.

OC: With the options clock ticking for Ynoa, is that a stressor at all to move him more aggressively through the system, or will his progress be dictated solely on his performance?

BO: We will stick with the performance and how it manifests. There is no set timetable for everything. We sit here and, like with every organization, you read all of the different magazines or whatnot that tries to assess prospects, but, for the most part, these guys have to play a certain amount of innings. They have to have a certain amount of at-bats before they are ready for the major leagues. It's a long process. You are playing against the best players in the world at the major league level. There are challenges that are going to be at every stop.

There are more cases of guys doing well after 25 years old versus the guys – the Mike Trouts, Bryce Harpers and Manny Machados that have spoiled all of us to think that things happen quickly. Talent manifests and dictates timetables.

OC: B.J. Boyd had a nice first full professional season. Is he a player you could see being like a Coco Crisp or an Eric Byrnes with double-digits in homeruns and stolen bases at the top of a line-up every year?

BO: I kind of compare him to Ray Lankford. He played for the Cardinals in the '90s. B.J. has that strong, football build. When his body is in optimal condition, he can really run. The ball definitely comes off his bat well. The eight homeruns in 250 at-bats this year were definitely not a fluke. The power is there. Honestly, the kid is a pretty advanced hitter. The strike-out to walk ratio was good. He knows how the pitchers are attacking him and he's loose at the plate. His bat path is direct to the ball. He is able to relax and he is a very good athlete.

He is definitely combustible and he will have an offense-type package going forward. He has a chance to have that power-speed combination and be a kid who steals 20+ bases, gets on-base a lot, hits for high average, and thumps the baseball with a lot of extra-base hits and some homeruns.

OC: Is the A's first-overall pick this year – Billy McKinney – similar to that with the power-speed combo projection?

BO: Billy McKinney is a professional hitter. You say that knowing that the kid is 19 years old. Going back to when Armond Brown scouted him all the way back to his sophomore year of high school, there were always rumblings that Billy McKinney was the best hitter in the state of Texas. We have lofty expectations of him internally and we think of Mark Kotsay in terms of having those kind of instincts.

Defensively, he has a nose for the baseball. He is able to go all different directions, back and forward to the baseball. He has a good throwing arm and he loves to play the game. He had a high stolen base percentage. I believe in Rookie ball he stole seven bases and didn't get caught. Then when he went to Vermont, he thumped a couple of extra-base hits and got on-base with walks and was able, in a short period, to show that he could handle a more advanced assignment.

But first and foremost, dating back to when Armond Brown identified him as a sophomore, we thought he was the best hitter in Texas and he has done nothing to diminish those lofty expectations.

OC: You grabbed a couple of pitchers in the top-five rounds who had previously had first-round projections – Bobby Wahl and Dylan Covey. Did you come out of the draft feeling like you almost had a couple of extra top-round picks getting those guys where you got them?

BO: For one, all 30 teams are happy when they come out of the draft. You put in that time and work and all of the scouting departments are out there grinding. Eric Kubota and his staff do an outstanding job. Leaving the draft, everybody is happy and you are definitely excited about basically your Christmas presents. The draft is Christmas day for scouts.

Dylan Covey is a kid who went in the first round out of high school and then went to the University of San Diego. He was diagnosed with diabetes coming out of high school and he was able to handle that and learn and mature and see all of the different reactions and still be a competitive athlete. He was able to handle that in the college environment. Professionally, he hit the ground running. His delivery is outstanding. The baseball comes out of his hand exceptionally well. He was up to 95 in short-season and Low-A. His curveball has an 11-7 break to it and he has a good change-up. He attacked the ‘zone and the hitters and he was able to assert himself professionally.

Going forward, it will be exciting to see what can happen for a guy who was a high pick out of high school. We are very happy with where we got him and he validated that with his performance this summer.

Bobby Wahl: big conference [SEC], big stuff. His fastball hits 96 and moves a lot. His breaking ball is nasty. He's got a good change-up. I'm not sure what all of the particulars were [in the draft], but to see him out there pitch this summer and during Instructional League, he has a chance to be a quick mover. His stuff is top-shelf. He has a nastiness and a competitiveness that is going to bring out the best in him. He's exciting to watch.

OC: How would assess the two high school pitchers you took in the top-10 rounds: Dustin Driver and Chris Kohler?

BO: Dustin Driver, the numbers are what they are, but I think the stuff is top shelf. He's up to 96 and the breaking ball is solid. The change-up is probably his best pitch. He was probably throwing too many pitches initially in Rookie Ball when he was throwing a curveball and a slider. He has a strong, physical body and he's a good athlete. It was a small sample size. The numbers weren't what you'd expect, but he definitely has time to assess things, come back in excellent shape, keep that fastball in the 95-96 mold and sharpen up the breaking ball and fill up the strike-zone. The change-up is his best pitch.

It's fun to get a kid like Driver, who has those kind of attributes.

Chris Kohler came in and he's an excellent athlete. He can really swing the bat and could have been an excellent draft pick as a hitter. He can run the bases. He can do a lot of different stuff. On the mound, he's 89-93 and his fastball has late life. It has a hop to it. His breaking ball is crisp and changes lanes. It's a swing-miss pitch. His change-up is a good pitch as well, a developing pitch that has a chance to be a swing-miss pitch down in the ‘zone.

His numbers were good and his stuff was better. He is definitely a student of the game and he is exciting to watch. I can definitely see him forcing the issue next year as far as having the opportunity to go to a long-season league.

OC: Ronald Herrera got out of the complex leagues and had a chance to pitch for an affiliate for the first time this season. He put up some impressive numbers. What kind of prospect is he?

BO: He's a solid prospect. His fastball is up to 94. He has a good breaking ball and his change-up is in the ‘zone. He throws a ton of strikes. In a lot of ways, there are some similarities to Raul Alcantara in terms of their abilities to pound the strike-zone with multiple pitches, but still have that good velocity up to 94 miles per hour, and pitch to both sides of the plate. He is also able to mix all of his pitches.

It was definitely an exciting Rookie ball experience. He got a taste of that short-season level, but he is definitely on the radar as a solid prospect.

OC: It is a lazy comparison to ask if Iolana Akau compares to fellow Hawaiian Kurt Suzuki, but is there another catcher that Akau reminds you of, especially defensively?

BO: Defensively, Akau is special. I cruised into a game after a long roadtrip to watch our Rookie League guys and this guy threw out two or three base-runners in the first two innings. His footwork was outstanding. It was quick. The athleticism jumps out right away. From a defensive-standpoint, he has that quickness and agility to be able to block the ball, like Kurt Suzuki. I'd even say that from an arm standpoint, you can say he has more arm strength than Kurt. Obviously, Kurt is going to be a 15-year major league player and we were proud to draft him and then re-acquire him back from the Nationals last year.

This kid [Akau] is exciting. J.T. Stotts was out there doing his Hawaii coverage from a scouting perspective, and he did an outstanding job. We got him in a place in the draft that was advantageous.

OC: Bruce Maxwell reminded me a little bit of a left-handed hitting only Landon Powell, from an offense-perspective. Do you see any similarities between those two?

BO: Sometimes you like to do comparisons, but Bruce Maxwell is just a natural hitter. His numbers at Birmingham-Southern were pretty ridiculous. His strike-out to walk ratio and the power he was able to supply was pretty unbelievable. Then he went to the Midwest League and controlled the ‘zone. Honestly, the most exciting thing about Bruce Maxwell is that his catching improved so much.

At first you were thinking – going back to the old days of the Oakland A's – that he could be like that Mickey Tettleton-type guy. He could get on-base, hit for power, catches some and plays some first base. Kind of like a left-handed version of Mike Napoli. He just won a World Series, but that was kind of his M.O. – he caught, he played some first and he thumped the ball around. I think Bruce concentrated so much on his catching, and he worked so much with Marcus Jensen, our outstanding catching instructor and new roving hitting coordinator, he worked so much with Marcus to improve his catching – and his catching went up three clicks – that from an offensive standpoint, he didn't quite assert himself as he is capable of.

Going forward, now that he has established himself as a good defensive catcher, his offense will come back in full force. Because this guy is a good hitter, no doubt. Take away his numbers. I know he got on-base and whatnot in the California League, but I'm excited about his bat. His bat gets through the ‘zone. He's got a flat-plane swing. He has a taste of loft. He has a tremendous eye at the plate and he controls the ‘zone. The bat speed and the strength is there.

My nickname for him is Bruce Wayne Maxwell because he's the Batman.

OC: Drew Granier made the jump from High-A to Double-A midseason. Command was an issue for him all season, but it was especially pronounced in the Texas League. What does he need to do to make that next step?

BO: That's the biggest jump in baseball. A.J. Griffin really jumps out at you as a similar situation. He went from Low-A to High-A to Double-A, hit a speedbump, got sent back to High-A. The next season, he was ready for Double-A.

Drew was leading the California League in strike-outs. I think he had something like 97 in 85 innings, and you make that jump to Double-A and the hitters are more advanced and more experienced. They chase less. Definitely a faster-paced game with more power that can be exploited.

It's just a natural progression. I still see Drew Granier as having a chance to fit in that A.J. Griffin-mold as that good, homegrown backend starter. He's got a good fastball. He's up to 94. His breaking ball is his bread-and-butter pitch. I think his experience in Double-A will force him to utilize his change-up a lot more. Then coming back next year, in 2014, when the change-up improves, his numbers will improve at the higher levels.

OC: How has Max Muncy been able to develop as quickly as he has since being drafted last season?

BO: Max Muncy, I relate him to that left-handed version of Kevin Millar. He has that baseball knack to him. Millar broke in as a left-fielder and actually played a lot of third base in the minors and then played first base for Boston when they won the World Series in 2004.

Max is a baseball rat. He added a taste of power to his bat this year. I believe he hit 25 homers and had 100 RBI. He worked closely with Todd Steverson [former A's roving hitting coordinator] before he left to go to the Chicago White Sox, which was bittersweet. I was very, very excited and happy to see Todd get an opportunity at the major league level. We go back to high school a little bit and ASU versus UofA, being in the minor leagues and coaching together, as well as scouting all of these years. He did an outstanding job with Max and with all of our hitters. We wish him well. The job he did with Max and with Bruce Maxwell and Daniel Robertson and Addison Russell, the White Sox are definitely getting a winner, an outstanding coach and a better person.

Max Muncy will attest that Todd helped him at the Arizona Fall League before he went to the White Sox and Max will continue to do good things for us going forward. We wish Todd well.

OC: Steverson had a lot of managerial experience in the A's organization. Do you see him as a future major league manager?

BO: Yeah. I think he's able to do a lot of different things. He was an outstanding coordinator and he knows his hitting. He managed High-A, Double-A and Triple-A for us and he won a PCL title and the Triple-A championship. Going forward, his communication is some of the best that I have seen in the game. I am able to touch a lot of different areas in the game and I know that this guy is one of the best at communication. He had guys wanting to come join him in the cage and play for him.

It was kind of an emotional deal when I got the phone call that he was going away, but I have full confidence that going forward that Marcus Jensen will be a tremendous hitting coordinator. He has done an excellent job managing the Arizona Rookie League club and working with the catchers. He'll team along with Scott Emerson on the pitching side to give us two outstanding young coordinators.

It's just a testament to what Billy Beane, David Forst, Keith Lieppman, Farhan Zaidi, Dan Feinstein, Grady Fuson, Eric Kubota and all of the staff has done over the years. The Oakland A's organization is a fun place to work and 96 wins this year with the bulls-eye on us was great. Losing Game Five still hurts, but we are hoping to have a championship off-season here. Hopefully next year we can replicate the regular season and go a little bit further in the post-season.

OC: You recently returned from the A's Dominican Instructional League camp. How did that camp go?

BO: It's definitely an exciting camp. It was a great time. Marcus Jensen was down there. Scott Emerson was down there. Sam Geaney. Chris Pittaro. All vital cogs in our organization. The kids definitely were able to get that good instruction everyday and get better. It was an exciting time. We have a lot of excellent players down there and they will get their opportunity next year in the Arizona Rookie League.

OC: Going back to the coaching announcements, last year the A's brought in Lloyd Turner as a coach, and this year, the organization added Tommy Everidge and David Newhan as coaches. Is it fun to bring back as coaches players who grew up in your system?

BO: If you look at the organization, we are a very loyal, fluid organization. It goes back to Keith Lieppman, who signed with the A's as a player in 1971 and he has been the best farm director in baseball the last 20 years. Billy Beane was a player for the Oakland Athletics all the way back to the World Series in 1989 and he is obviously the best general manager in the game. Webster Garrison played in the big leagues with the A's. Curt Young and Mike Gallego played in the big leagues with the A's for a long time.

You go up and down our organization and you see alumni. J.T. Stotts is one of our scouts and he is a former A's player. Marc Sauer is our East Coast cross-checker. Up and down the line from a player development and scouting perspective, we've normally taken care of our own. If guys have shown a good attitude and a good aptitude for baseball when they come into our system, we take care of them.

That's very important. As much as we all want to play in the big leagues and get the lavish contracts and whatnot, there is always life after playing baseball. From a career standpoint, I strongly believe that the Oakland A's have created opportunities for careers after their playing days are done for those kids who have come into the organization, worked hard and shown a good attitude. We can go up and down our coaching staff and a lot of those guys have played for the A's at some point in their careers.

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