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

Part one of a conversation with Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens focuses on upper-level A's prospects, including Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, Jaycob Brugman, Tyler Ladendorf and others...

OaklandClubhouse: Starting with Midland Rockhounds squad. They have been playing really well of late. Matt Olson is off to a very good start in a league that can be tough on power hitters. Are you surprised with how well he has played thus far?

Billy Owens: Not at all. Matt had a great spring training. He really acclimated himself [during big league camp]. The spring numbers don’t really indicate what a positive experience it was for Matt, but he definitely impressed everybody with his defense. His power is immense. He has an impeccable batting eye. His numbers thus far – 18 walks in 19 games – he just gets better every year. He’s a baseball rat with enormous talent on both sides of the ball.

OC: With Ike Davis playing well for the A’s at first base and Mark Canha showing some promise at that position, is there any thought to trying Olson in left field at all this year?

BO: It’s going to be an evolving process. I don’t think that what the guys in the big leagues are doing is going to dictate what we do with Matt defensively, but the kid is a really good baseball player. He’s got a strong arm. He threw better than 90 miles per hour in high school. I’ve seen him play some outfield sporadically last year in Stockton. He can definitely do it. And it’s not just left field. He can play left or right field, along with playing first base as well as anybody in the minor leagues.

OC: Chad Pinder has moved to a sort-of new position this year, going from second base last year to shortstop this season. How have you felt the transition has gone for Pinder?

BO: It’s a different transition. In college, he went back-and-forth between shortstop and third base. Then initially in his pro career, he played some games at shortstop in Vermont. Last year, with Daniel Robertson on the same team with him in Stockton, Chad had to learn a new position for him in second base, since he played mainly shortstop and third base in college. I think it is good for him to get a chance to be well rounded defensively. Obviously shortstop and catcher are the two most demanding positions defensively. But he has been steady there. He is still going through the nuances of the position, but he is showing his versatility and has a chance to stay at shortstop.

OC: Jaycob Brugman got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he has been swinging the bat well lately. He has a pretty high contact rate this season. Do you feel like that is a strength of his game?

BO: Different player than a Boog Powell, but similar in some ways. Jaycob is a legitimate prospect. He has always hit in college and then he came to our organization and I believe he won the Instructional League MVP his first year in the organization. Then he raked last year in Low-A with Beloit and then went to Stockton and had an epic August with a bunch of homeruns. He controls the ‘zone. He’s a good outfielder. This is not a surprise. This kid is a good hitter and Jaycob Brugman is definitely a legitimate prospect.

OC: The organization picked up Colin Walsh early last year when Addison Russell got hurt. Walsh has hit really well since joining the A’s. How do you feel he fits into the organization?

BO: Colin is a great kid. He came over and fit right in. Along with that, he has displayed that versatility we value up and down the organization. You see that with our team at the big league level and it is has really trickled down throughout the organization [an emphasis on versatility]. Colin can play a lot of different positions on the field. He gives you a really good at-bat. He’s a switch-hitter. With the versatility and being able to hit both ways and giving you a good at-bat and really sticking his bat on the baseball, he has been a welcome addition to the organization.

OC: Chad Oberacker was a player the organization was high on a couple of years ago, but he went through a struggle period in the Texas League. This season, he is off to a fast start and is second in the league in OPS, sandwiched in between top prospects Carlos Correa and Olson. Do you think he is starting to realize that potential that he showed his first year or so in the organization?

BO: He has definitely been a good player for us. He plays the outfield well at all three positions. He’s a contact hitter. It’s very good to see him off to a good start in the Texas League. He definitely adds to that line-up.

OC: The Midland bullpen is a talented, veteran group with Seth Frankoff, Ryan Dull, Tucker Healy and Ryan Doolittle leading that crew. Do you see opportunities for those guys in Triple-A during the year?

BO: Spring training, I see it as an opportunity mainly to make a good impression. There are only so many roster spots, but you get the attrition factor with injuries throughout the organization and you’ve got plusses and minuses performance-wise. It’s never about where you start a season. It’s always about where you finish a season. A kid like Seth Frankoff, he’s a pitcher but along the same lines of Jaycob Brugman, Frankoff has done nothing but pitch well for us. Once he transitioned to the bullpen a couple of years ago, his strike-out to walk ratio has been scintillating. He’s sitting there, as we speak, with nine innings, six hits given up, one walk and 12 strike-outs. That’s more the norm with him than an illusion. Once he got his feet wet last year in Triple-A, he had an outstanding performance there, as well. He’s definitely a legitimate prospect.

Ryan Doolittle, he is a great athlete. He was phenomenal in the Arizona Fall League last year, up to 95 [MPH]. He has a developing slider and a good split-change. From a numbers perspective, it hasn’t been a great beginning, but the stuff is still there. He’s a really competitive person and the family has great genes. He’ll definitely have a good season there.

Tucker Healy, he got a taste of Triple-A last year. Every level is more difficult. High-A is a lot more difficult than Low-A and Double-A is a lot more difficult than High-A. Triple-A – you almost have to break into Triple-A and it’s a lot more difficult than Double-A. Then you have the big leagues, which is the ultimate test. Tucker got a chance to get acclimated and see what Triple-A is all about [last year]. Now he is refining his slider down there in Midland and is working on that fastball command. But he has great deception and a lot of movement on that fastball. He’s another kid who has a chance to emerge this year.

Ryan Dull is a solid relief prospect. Feisty competitor that burst on the scene two years ago and continues to thrive late in the game. He's consistently in the 92-93 MPH range with mild sink and plane to his fastball. Mixes in a slider that he can manipulate and incorporates a good change of pace. We really like his demeanor on the mound and his stuff between the lines. He definitely has a chance to continue to climb the ladder and he certainly has put himself in higher-level conversations.

OC: Bobby Wahl is making his Double-A debut, but do you see him moving up this year?

BO: Bobby Wahl is a top shelf relief prospect. He's tantalized with 95-99 MPH heat and an improving slider. He's shown glimpses of being a shut-down, late-inning reliever. If he can harness his fastball command and continue to develop his slider, Wahl has the equipment to be a late inning flamethrower at the top level.

OC: Speaking of good impressions in spring training, Max Muncy obviously opened a lot of eyes this spring with how he hit in big league camp and even how he handled third base. Now he’s in the big leagues because of Ben Zobrist’s injury. Do you think he can be a guy who goes back-and-forth between third base and first base in the big leagues once he is established there?

BO: Yeah. When Max went to Baylor, he played some second base and then he migrated over to first base. Seeing him play defense right away when he joined the organization, he moved his feet well and his throwing arm has always been graded as a solid average major-league throwing arm, which is really good. Not a lot of guys who play strictly first base have an average to above-average major-league throwing arm. Max has that ability. Once we were able to tell him [that they’d like to see him at third base] towards the end of last year and he dabbled at third base with Midland towards the end of the year, he was able to make that his focus this off-season as far as increasing his versatility and working out at third base. I am pretty positive that he even dabbled in the outfield, as well.

If you look around, hardly anybody breaks into the major leagues at one position solely and that’s their position. If you go back even to the Hall of Fame player Albert Pujols, he played left field, third base and first base when he broke in with St. Louis. You have got to have that versatility when you break in because guys already have set roles established in the major leagues. I think Max, by being able to show he can handle third base, has been given an opportunity.

OC: Obviously he’s on the DL right now, but Tyler Ladendorf made a strong impression this spring and during his time in the big leagues. Once he’s healthy again, do you envision him playing a valuable role for the A’s this season?

BO: It’s all about making an impression. I think the last couple of years, Tyler has shown he can really be an asset anywhere on the field defensively. You can throw him out at shortstop and he plays a really good shortstop. You can put him out in centerfield and the breaks and the jumps and the reads are really good out there. He can play any position on the field, so that – combined with the .297 average last year in Triple-A and the high contact frequency and low strike-outs and then showing what he can do during major league spring training – that definitely bodes well for his future this year.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, which will focus on prospects playing for the A's two Single-A clubs, including Franklin Barreto, Dillon Overton, Yairo Munoz and others...

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