OaklandClubhouse: Turning to the Low-A Beloit team, you recently added this year’s first-round pick Matt Chapman to the roster. What was it about him that drew you guys to him the most: the power, the defense, the combination of all of his skills?
Billy Owens: Matt Chapman is an exciting package of tools. He is another baseball rat. He may have the best throwing arm I have scouted from a position player standpoint. They have a scouting scale of 2-to-8, present-to-future, and I put an 8-8 on his throwing arm. It’s that spectacular. It’s unreal. He’s got that going for him. He’s also an outstanding defender at third base. He has quality hands. He always controlled the ‘zone at Cal-State Fullerton. He had a spike in batting average his junior year, but in terms of plate discipline, it was always good.
He played for Team USA last summer and we liked the make-up. We also like the power potential. He moves well at third base and even dabbled some at shortstop in college. The power is definitely there. He has a chance to be a thumper and play well above-average defense on the left side of the infield.
He’s exciting and, for where we picked, he was by far the top player left on the board when we selected in the draft.
OC: Dylan Covey has had an interesting year. His ERA is really high [4.74], but if you look at his starts, he’s been really good in almost all of them and very bad in a few of them. [His FIP is 3.23] How would you assess how he has handled his first full season?
BO: It’s just a matter of him getting acclimated. It’s the first full year and that’s when you focus on continuing to progress and add innings. You really get to know your repertoire of how to attack hitters, of how they combat you and where to throw pitches in certain situations. You also learn about your stuff.
He’s an extreme groundball guy. He’s 93-94 and he can keep the ball on the ground. He is continuing to improve. He’s having a solid first year.
I look at a guy like Bruce Maxwell, another guy from the Stockton team who has improved leaps and bounds this year. He went from being a kid from Birmingham Southern that we took in the second round in 2012 that was probably an offensive-guy first who was learning how to catch. I pulled up in Stockton this year and this guy has become an excellent receiver behind the plate. His flexibility has improved exponentially. His throwing arm is excellent. I think he has thrown out roughly 43% of all base-stealers this year. And when you watch him, the eye test matches the numbers. It’s a plus throwing arm. It’s a very good release. It’s accurate. He has just taken that leadership role behind the plate and has asserted himself.
That’s to explain the process. When he signed, he was a really good hitter that you hoped would work on his defense and would become a legit catching option. Last year, with Marcus Jensen’s tutelage, he was able to improve his catching. I think he focused so much on his catching that it took away from his bat a little bit. Now he is able to combine the two a little bit. With the plate discipline he has, I think he’s a kid who will end up hitting better at the higher levels than he has at the lower levels just because he has improved the defense enough. He will always work on his defense, but now he is a good defensive catcher, so the bat will be able to play as it is capable of playing.
OC: And if he plays for Bob Melvin, he’ll immediately be an All-Star because he’s a catcher, right? [laughs]
BO: Our catching tandem is another example of this type of development. Derek Norris is a kid who played a lot of third base as a high school kid in Wichita. The Nationals drafted him and made him a full-time catcher. He always had great plate discipline and threw everybody out in the minor leagues. He led three different leagues in throwing guys out. When we traded for him, we knew he was a really good athlete and he played well initially, went to the big leagues and fit right in. He was a strong part of the team and now he is an All-Star, which is well-deserved.
I think the competition of having John Jaso – another guy who played multiple positions in the minor leagues and always had a fabulous batting eye like Derek Norris – but Jaso has always been an offensive-catcher who has worked hard on his defense. He caught a no-hitter from our arch nemesis a few years ago, Felix, who has been pretty good. He’s got a 90 MPH change-up, but anyways…
But even Stephen Vogt has played all over the field. I don’t even classify those guys as catchers. They are baseball players.
OC: You guys took a lot of pitching in the draft after taking a position player with the first pick. Was there a concerted effort to take more pitching in an effort to replenish the system after losing so much pitching talent to trades and promotions in recent years?
BO: That goes back to the first question you asked. You never have enough pitching. Whether it is in the rotation in the major leagues or at any of your minor league stops, so you have five spots at every affiliate you have even before you have attrition. From a numbers standpoint, you have to cover that and then if you throw in any trades or injuries or bad performances that require promotions or demotions or moves to the bullpen, you always need more pitchers. That is always an emphasis. It’s always good to fortify and replenish your pitching.
OC: It’s early in his return to the mound, but are you excited from what you’ve seen from Dillon Overton in his first few truncated starts for the AZL A’s team?
BO: Yancy Ayers, our scout there in the Midwest, has always been excited about Dillon Overton. He goes back to seeing Overton and Andrew Heaney throw against each other in the Big 12 tournament in 2012. Going into [his draft year, 2013], he was expected to be a really, really high draft pick. Unfortunately, he had a year that was filled with ups-and-downs that were more reflective of what happened with him eventually getting the surgery as opposed to the talent level.
We scouted Dillon Overton for a few years and we were excited to have the opportunity to get him where we got him in the draft. This kid is a plus command strike-thrower. His fastball is in that low-90s range – 90, 91 – and he might touch a little higher than that. He’s got a really good curveball. His change-up is his best out-pitch. It’s a plus major-league change-up. He really reminds you of Andrew Heaney. Dillon Overton has some of those same attributes. When he comes back fully healthy, I’m confident that he will show those attributes.
OC: The Midland club has been one of the best teams in the Texas League this season despite having to deal with a lot of major injuries. Is that a credit to manager Aaron Nieckula and his staff that they have been able to hold that team together despite all of the injuries?
BO: Aaron Nieckula is a solider. He is a really good manager. Excellent person. He’s been in our organization a long time. I think he started playing for us all the way back in 1998. Webster Garrison, our hitting coach there, has been in our organization for a very long time, as has our pitching coach, Don Schulze. That is a really excellent staff.
I can’t say enough what an excellent job Eric Kubota has done with the scouting staff and just going over the personnel. We have excellent scouts all over the country. Internationally, Sam Geaney has done a tremendous job making sure we have excellent people all over the world. And Keith Lieppman is the best. I say that, and I’m biased, but people from other organizations will always comment on how lucky we are to have Keith Lieppman. This guy is the fabric of the organization. He signed here back in 1971 and has been through all of the different eras. He is just outstanding.
Aaron Nieckula’s staff is a reflection of Keith Lieppman hiring the right people and maintaining that longevity. It’s been fun to see what Midland has done. They are having a good year.
That all being said, the organization is having a good year and the staff is tremendous, but there is still half of July and all of August to continue to get better.