Oakland A's Front Office Q&A: Billy Owens, P1

The 2014 first half concluded with the Oakland A's standing in first place in the AL West and carrying the best record in baseball. Looking to maintain that position, the A's have already dipped into their farm system to make a big trade. We caught-up with A's VP of Player Personnel Billy Owens to discuss the Cubs' trade, as well as the state of the organization going into the stretch run.

OaklandClubhouse: Obviously the first half has gone really well for the A’s. Has there been anything that has surprised you, or any players that have stepped forward that you wouldn’t have counted on in the beginning of the year?

Billy Owens: It’s been a good first half from Billy Beane, David Forst, Farhan Zaidi, Dan Feinstein, Keith Lieppman, Eric Kubota, Sam Geaney. It’s always exciting.

The baseball season has an ebb-and-flow to it. Whether it is the regular season, the hot stove, getting excited again for spring training. You put in all of that labor and to have a first half like this has been great. Bob Melvin and his staff – Chip Hale, Tye Waller, Mike Gallego, Chili Davis, Curt Young, Darren Bush – we have a hell of a coaching staff. These guys, they have a presence about them. The style of play we play, we have platoons. We have guys who have had a couple of knocks in the game already and they can still get pinch-hit for. You really have to buy into that team concept at the major league level, and Bob Melvin orchestrates that perfectly.

OC: The headlines earlier this month were surrounding the big trade to bring in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. When evaluating trade options, what was it about those two guys in particular that you felt would enhance the team’s playoff chances?

BO: I think the old adage has always been true that you never have enough pitching. The way this season has broken down across the sport, that’s just another example of how starting pitching is always a precious commodity. You never have enough. You might as well keep on adding to it.

Then you have terrific stories like Jesse Chavez, who is a guy who we scouted since his minor league days with the Texas Rangers. He’s been a guy who has always been talented. You figure a guy who has been traded and claimed off waivers 10-to-15 times, you know that people have always been intrigued by the talent, but he just wasn’t able to get over the hump.

I always point to last year. Curt Young is one of the best pitching coaches in the game without a doubt. Last year, I remember it was an extra-inning game that went like 16-, 17-innings and Jesse Chavez was the last man standing. He went four or five innings and I think that day was the day he solidified himself to the point where he truly believed in what he was capable of doing. It carried over to where he had a strong year in a bullpen role last year. That magnified this year in the rotation.

We are equal opportunists here. We reward performance. Whether it is Stephen Vogt coming over here and blistering the baseball right away. Didn’t matter where it was – Sacramento, Oakland, American League, inter-league, it didn’t matter. We reward performance. It’s been a fun first half, but every game is a challenge in the major leagues, without a doubt.

Our division is probably right now the best in baseball. The Angels are lurking and they are very talented. Seattle has a really good ballclub. You can see Houston going through the fruits of their labor and they are going to be tough soon. And then there is Texas that has been in the World Series twice in the past five years. This division is very talented and we are going to have to be able to compete with those teams to get to the playoffs. So far, so good, but every day is a challenge in the major leagues.

"All three of those guys have a chance to be very significant, high-quality major league players. It was not an easy decision. To say it came without emotion would not be true," - Billy Owens, on trading Russell, Straily and McKinney

OC: We’ve talked a lot about Addison Russell over the past couple of years. How difficult was it for you guys to realize that this was the trade you wanted and you were going to have to give Russell up to get the guys you wanted back?

BO: With all of the information out here and with all of these talented front offices and farm systems around baseball, in every trade, you have to give up quality to get quality. For us to get two stellar pitchers in the Shark [Samardzija] and Hammel, the cost of doing business was Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. All three of those guys have a chance to be very significant, high-quality major league players. It was not an easy decision. To say it came without emotion would not be true.

There were a lot of fireworks there on the Fourth of July when everything finally got consummated. I was actually in Washington, D.C. watching the Cubs for a few days [when the trade was finalized]. I was actually re-routed from another trip, so I happened to be in D.C. When the fireworks went down, I went to see Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle afterwards [at the National Mall]. [laughs] It was an interesting day.

OC: How much has the play of Daniel Robertson this year given you guys a sense that even without Addison Russell, you have a good option at shortstop at the major-league level in a year or two?

BO: With Daniel Robertson, we kind of always linked those two players together – and Addison is going to be a quality, five-tool shortstop without a doubt. Daniel Robertson, he’s a very quality major-league prospect in his own right. He plays a dynamite shortstop. He’s a quality, quality major league prospect. He makes the spectacular play along with the efficient play. He’s got tremendous instincts. His angles are above-average. His throwing arm at short is pure and it’s plenty.

Daniel Robertson is batting .296/.400/.467

He’s a very intriguing shortstop prospect in his own right. He can make all of the plays. His walk-rate this year is up. He is going to develop into a guy who is going to be capable of hitting more than 15 homeruns. He is capable of hitting .300 and he has been hovering around that mark all year. He’s probably the epitome of a baseball rat. He eats, drinks, sleeps baseball. That’s who he is. He has that infectious personality. He’s fun to be around. You know that he is going to give you that utmost effort. You know that is going to permeate to the rest of his teammates.

His instincts are off-the-charts. He made a couple of plays when I was watching him at Stockton that were plays that you didn’t think he could make, and he made them pretty easily, to be honest. We are definitely excited about Daniel Robertson.

OC: That Stockton team in general has been fun to watch and they have really come together over the past seven or eight weeks. Two players on the team – Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy – were 2013 draft picks. They both had disappointing pro debuts last year, but you guys skipped them up to High-A and didn’t have them play at Beloit. What was it about them that made you confident they could handle the jump in levels despite the disappointing numbers with Vermont?

BO: Baseball goes back 150 years and every year you can’t wait to see who is going to develop into pennant contenders and all of that stuff. But in this era, prospects are probably more famous than some regular major league players were 30 years ago. Now everyone knows on a nightly basis through the Internet what these kids are doing. People forget that Miguel Tejada made his fair-share of errors in the California League. Angel Berroa ended up being the Rookie of the Year, but he didn’t go without his own issues in A-ball.

Chad Pinder has a .538 SLG

We draft them and, especially the college guys, they are coming off of a full season where they played 70 or so games and tried to get to the College World Series and they probably had fall ball and played in the winter and the previous summer. Then they get drafted, wear a suit to the press conference and, all of a sudden, they are playing pro baseball. Some guys hit the ground running and other guys have a certain transition that goes along with it.

You don’t take players where we took Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy in the draft and not believe in the talent. Chad Pinder was a three-year starter in college. He had two good summers. His father played professional baseball. I was going to believe in that aspect of it more than in his first 100 at-bats in professional baseball. We are excited about them.

Chad’s biggest thing is hopefully he can be able to stay durable during the year. But the bat is exciting, definitely. He has a lot of extra-base hits during the year. He can move around the infield. He has played a lot of games at second base, but I think he is still very capable of playing shortstop and third base. He has power and can use the whole field. He’s an exciting prospect. I compare his physicality and his style of play to J.J. Hardy. He has a lot of upside and we’re intrigued by the talent. Going forward, he’s going to be an exciting prospect in our system.

Ryon Healy has a 963 OPS since the Cal League All-Star break

Ryon Healy: Southern California kid who went to the University of Oregon. He steadily got better throughout his college career. I think his strike-outs to walk ratio were a lot better his junior year of college. They improved steadily throughout his career. He was a Cape Cod League All-Star the year before. He had history. Rick Magnante scouted him all the way back when Ryon was in high school. Jim Coffman signed him. We had good reports on him.

Same deal. One hundred at-bats last summer definitely didn’t temper the excitement for the kind of player we felt that he could be. He’s shown that. He had a rough April. He was still getting acclimated to the professional game. Ever since May 1st, I’d love to see what the numbers are because he has been using the whole field. He has power to all fields. Really, untapped power, to be honest. He has about 12 homers now, but that strike-out to walk ratio is improving and as that climbs and the at-bats keep improving, I think the power will continue to manifest. He has that kind of skill-set and body to have that kind of power down-the-road.

Stay tuned for the rest of this interview, when we discuss Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, Aaron Shipman, Seth Streich, Matt Chapman and more...

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