For part one of this interview, click here.
OaklandClubhouse: In the trade with the Chicago White Sox, the A’s actually sent two players to Chicago. The big name in the deal was Jeff Samardzija, but the other player was Michael Ynoa, who was notable in his own right. You have obviously had a long connection with Ynoa. Was it hard to say goodbye to him after everything he had been through with the injuries and all of the time and effort that had gone into developing him as a pitcher?
Billy Owens: The Chicago trade was definitely a win-win trade for both sides. Michael Ynoa is an exciting prospect still with incredible talent and Jeff Samardzija came over here and was a tremendous competitor and definitely held up his end of the bargain and competed every fifth day that he got the ball. It was definitely a win-win trade for both sides.
OC: Starting with Marcus Semien among the players you got in return from Chicago. It sounds like Semien is a quick adapter when asked to make changes to his game, especially defensively. Is that a strength of his?
BO: We are definitely excited to get Marcus. If you look back to his Cal career, he was always steady in the field. He also always had a high slugging percentage for that position in the field. Watching him in 2013, he had a really incredible minor league season. He hit close to 20 homeruns between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. He played good defense. Steady, reliable defense. Smart player. His bat is going to be very potent. And he’s very distinctive.
Seeing him a lot at Cal and seeing his track record, he’s always been a guy who has had a high on-base percentage in the minor leagues. He slugs high for the position. From an emotional standpoint, we think he’s ready to challenge for an everyday major league position right now.
OC: Do you see him as being able to be an everyday shortstop? He played that position a lot in the minor leagues, but has mostly been a second baseman in the big leagues with Chicago.
BO: He has played extensively in the minor leagues at shortstop. We scouted him in the minor leagues and he was at that position. The White Sox already had an incumbent there in Alexei Ramirez, so the opportunities weren’t there. Seeing the way that our club was built the last two years, making the playoffs and the range that we had there, we feel that Marcus will provide us with a similar type range.
OC: Chris Bassitt was the pitcher that came back in that deal. He was another player who was in the Arizona Fall League this year. He has had an interesting career arc. Not too many guys go from reliever to starter in the minor leagues and end up being starters in the big leagues, but Bassitt took that path. Do you see him as a starter or as more of a late-inning reliever type in the future?
BO: Definitely as a starter. He actually started against us and beat us last year as a starter in September. He has a variety of breaking pitches and his velocity was up to 94 MPH on his fastball. His strike-out to walk ratio was tremendous. When we scouted him in the Arizona Fall League, he was solid. He performed admirably when he got a taste of the major leagues. We are excited about him.
If you watch Major League Baseball, the Collin McHughs, the Matt Shoemakers, the Jacob deGroms, you definitely want to have as many quality starting pitching candidates as possible that have had success at the higher levels that are young, durable and have a chance to show their stuff in the major leagues. That is when the final judgment is made.
OC: I was going to ask you this at the end of the interview, but it relates to what you just said. Going back to where the A’s pitching staff was at on Opening Day last year when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin were hurt and the team had yet to acquire Samardzija, Jason Hammel or Jon Lester, do you think that the staff is deeper now with the guys you got from Toronto, Chicago and San Diego than it was at that point on Opening Day 2014?
BO: Yeah, I think that’s the whole theme of this off-season. Quite frankly, I’m kind of surprised from the ardent followers of this team. We have done this so many times. The better guys that we have had, we have always used our assets in trades coming and going. Billy [Beane] decided going into the 2015 season to use some of our assets to replenish our depth. It’s pretty similar to when we traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey after the 2011 season.
It’s an exciting time to be able to get all of these young players opportunities who have accomplished a lot at the higher levels of the minor leagues and have had a taste of the big leagues and have proven to be durable and proven to have really good stuff. To see them graduate to the big leagues is exciting. It’s similar to when we acquired Drew Pomeranz last year. Drew Pomeranz had a taste of the major leagues, had pitched in some difficult pitching environments in Colorado and Colorado Springs, and he was the right age. He came over here and showed us good stuff.
OC: Josh Phegley, the catcher acquired in the White Sox’s deal, hasn’t had a long look in the big leagues despite some strong Triple-A numbers. One of the stats that jumped out at me was his throwing percentage. I think he threw out nearly 50% of all attempted base-stealers last season. Controlling the running game was obviously a big weakness for the A’s, especially late last year. Do you see that aspect of the team improving with Phegley on-board?
BO: Definitely. His throwing percentage the last couple of years has been outstanding. We have seen him all the way back to his Indiana Hoosiers days. He was a second-round pick of the White Sox. He has always hit. Throughout college and every level of the minor leagues he has hit. Last year in Triple-A, he hit 23 homers. I personally saw him hit a couple of homers in the big leagues the year before. He has power. He has a very strong throwing arm. He is a high-energy kid and his throwing is a plus. When you combine his throwing with Stephen Vogt’s throwing, you have two strong-armed catchers.
OC: The final player in the deal is first baseman Rangel Ravelo, who put up impressive numbers last year as a 22-year-old in Double-A. He seems to be starting to tap into his power potential, reaching double-digits in homers and hitting 37 doubles last year. Do you see more power for him down-the-road?
BO: Yeah. Ravelo is an exciting guy to have. Scouting Allen Craig at Cal and Steven Pearce at South Carolina and throughout his days in the minor leagues, he is similar. He is a right-handed hitter with a short swing who maybe from a physicality perspective doesn’t look like he is going to be a masher, but the productivity from a young age with the high number of doubles, the good strike-zone discipline, playing in Double-A at 21, 22-years-old in a tough park to hit in, we definitely like his chances to hit going forward.
OC: The trade that came just before the Christmas break brought the A’s back Jesse Hahn, who had a great rookie season with the Padres, and R.J. Alvarez, who was one of the Angels’ best prospects before he was traded to San Diego in the Huston Street trade. How do you feel they are going to fit into the team next year?
BO: Hahn has big-time stuff. We scouted Hahn well back to the Virginia Tech days. Before his injury [he had Tommy John surgery after his junior season of college], Hahn had a chance to be a very high pick. Once he had his surgery, he performed in the Tampa Bay organization, and then went to the San Diego organization last year in a trade. We monitored him closely from Virginia Tech to his Tampa Bay days to his time in the San Diego organization. His stuff plays. His fastball is 95 with action. The breaking ball has a chance to be plus. The change-up is a pretty good pitch, as well. He attacks hitters and he definitely had an exciting taste of the big leagues last year. We hope he builds on that this year.
R.J. Alvarez is a kid that went to Florida International University. We saw him in college but also right away in pro ball with the Angels in Cedar Rapids and then again in the Cal League a couple of years ago. Against Stockton, he put up a couple of innings with 95 to 97 MPH fastballs and showed a good breaking ball. He is a high-energy guy who probably has a similar style to Ryan Cook when we acquired Cook from the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he is a big man physically with a strong fastball and a wipeout breaking ball.
OC: Looking at where the team is at now, you still have a couple of players on the 40-man roster in Andy Parrino and Tyler Ladendorf who present the opportunity to have a defensive-oriented back-up middle infielder. Is that something that you think would benefit the team compared to what the team has had in that role the past few years?
BO: They both bring a lot to the table. Andy Parrino had a very strong season last year offensively at Triple-A. He caught the ball very well for us in the big leagues in September. Tyler Ladendorf definitely improved last year offensively and he has always been a high-contact player. He never struck-out close to 100 times, and he asserted himself last year in Triple-A. He also played spectacular defense.
Watching Ladendorf and Parrino play together in Sacramento last year was a treat. They put a show on every night. The double-plays were highlight reels nightly. The middle infield spots are tough positions to acquire at any point, so it’s nice to have depth at both of those positions.
OC: You mentioned briefly the return of Dan Kantrovitz to the organization earlier in the interview. There have been a number of changes to the front office this off-season with Farhan Zaidi and Sam Geaney leaving and Kantrovitz returning. Have there been changes with your responsibilities?
BO: Making the playoffs the last three years and Billy Beane has made the playoffs eight out of the last 15 years, and it’s a testament to having a winning organization when you lose talented people. Farhan is going to do a tremendous job down there in LA and Sam Geaney is a rising star and he will do an excellent job in San Diego. We are very happy to have Dan Kantrovitz back here. He’s a very talented executive as well.
Billy Beane has kind of had that Bill Walsh tree out there with executives moving into promotions in other organizations and Chip Hale [former A’s bench coach] becoming a manager with the Diamondbacks. It’s fun working for Billy because he trains us well and he puts us in a position to win. He also will lose talented people over the years, but that is a testament to what Billy has been able to do in creating a winning culture over here.