To read part 1 of this interview, click here.
OaklandClubhouse: The Stockton Ports’ pitching staff is led by two highly regarded starting pitching prospects in Dillon Overton and Dylan Covey. What are you expecting from them this year in the Cal League?
Billy Owens: Dillon Overton, before his draft year, he was projected to go high in the first round as a lefty who threw 89-92, touching even more velocity than that. He has a very advanced change-up, a solid curveball. Unfortunately for him, he got hurt [during his junior year] and he fell to the second round of the draft. We are able to get him at that spot. What he did last year after rehabbing – I believe his strike-out-to-walk ratio was something like 50 strike-outs to four walks – was terrific. His velocity is not yet back to where it was before the injury, but the pitchability is all there.
Hopefully, as he gets further away from the injury and the strength and repetition increases, he can be that player again with a little more velocity. The pitchability is outstanding. He can move the ball around. The change-up is a plus pitch. The breaking ball is solid. He reads hitters well. Him becoming healthy and realizing the talent that he has bodes well for his future.
Dylan Covey has a fastball up to 94-95 MPH and it has good sink. His breaking ball has good shape to it. For him, it’s just a matter of attacking the strike-zone, mixing his pitches and trying to assert himself on the mound. Hopefully that will benefit him in the California League and moving forward, when the movement on his fastball will play.
Dillon Overton definitely has a chance to be a big league starter if he can come back healthy and Dylan Covey is an exciting prospect, as well, especially if he can attack the ‘zone with that sink.
OC: With Matt Chapman back at extended spring training with the knee injury, Michael Soto has had opportunities to play third base for Stockton. He’s emerged over the past couple of years as an intriguing hitting prospect. What are you seeing from Soto?
BO: He has really started to swing that bat. I think last year he hit about .280 in the Midwest League. His slugging percentage has steadily increased. This kid is a hard worker. From the time we signed him, his body has evolved in a positive manner. Since he has been in the organization, he has always put forth a really good effort. Now we are seeing the fruits of his labor out there on the field. He’s improved his athleticism to a point where he has played some third base and he’s got legitimate power.
OC: Franklin Barreto is off to a slow start with Stockton. That is perhaps not surprising given how young he is, but is there concern over his struggles right now? Or will he be given a lot of leeway given his age?
BO: Franklin Barreto is an immense talent. He has plus speed. He’s strong. His body is built similarly to Rafael Furcal’s. Seeing teenagers play in that California League, especially in April, doesn’t pertain to how they can finish their season. We’ve seen guys recently the past two years get off to okay starts there and finish with a flourish. Franklin is an immense talent and we are really, really truly excited to have him in the organization. Going to High-A ball is a test that we think he can handle. It will be fun to watch him go forward this year and seeing when the dust settles in August what the reports then read.
OC: What are your thoughts on J.P. Sportman? He’s certainly opened a lot of eyes since he was drafted.
BO: Some guys tell you who they are on the field. Sportman, he came over to big league camp and hit the ball squarely whenever he had the opportunity. Last year, he played well wherever he was in the organization and this year it is more of the same. This kid is very similar along the lines to a Jaycob Brugman in that he is not surprising anyone anymore. He is a legit prospect. We are excited to put his name in the line-up everyday to see what he can do.
OC: Keith Lieppman had said during spring training that some of the reasoning behind moving B.J. Boyd and Justin Higley out of the Midwest League where they had struggled was that sometimes it takes getting a player out of a league where things aren’t going well to get them going. Do you see them being able to return to the level of play that they showed in short-season?
BO: B.J. Boyd had a tremendous short-season in Vermont. He hit something like six homeruns and controlled the strike-zone and was an All-Star up there. He’s an explosive athlete. With all of the coverage we have these days, you forget that we are dealing with human beings. No one hits at every level their entire career. There are always peaks and valleys. Last year was a valley. This year, he’s off to a good start. His body is in good condition. He has a pretty good eye at the plate and he’s got a chance to eventually hit for some power. It’s definitely good to see B.J. off to a good start.
Justin Higley is a tremendous athlete. We got him later in the draft in 2013. I believe during our pre-draft workout, he ran a 6.3/60. He was flying, and he has tremendous power. He has already eclipsed what he did in college. He is already a better player than what he was in college. He has some really good clay to mold with that athleticism and the heart and desire to get better. Hopefully he can tighten that strike-zone a shade and let the athleticism come out.
OC: Moving onto the Beloit Snappers’ squad, there are some young prospects on that team. Shortstop Yairo Munoz homered [on Wednesday] and had a great spring training. What are you hoping to see from him during his first experience in a full-season league?
BO: He’s another player where you don’t really look at results initially. The kid is a teenager from a warm weather climate playing in the Midwest League where all of the cities are fantastic but it can be frigid there in April. Results are really a bonus at that stage. Yairo is a legit talent. He’s a five-tool player. He can hit. He has a chance to hit for power. He’s a solid defender and he runs pretty well. He’s got all of the tools to definitely be a guy going forward who really performs. He emerged from a statistics standpoint last year in Vermont to the point where he was as good as any shortstop in that league – younger or older than him. It’s nice to see him have a good start to the season.
OC: Shawn Duinkerk was the talk of spring training. Have you been pleased with how he has been able to learn the game after playing as a kid in Aruba, where there isn’t as much of a tradition of baseball at the high school level?
BO: Definitely. Shawn is a off to a really good start. He has been hovering around that .300 range. He has a tremendous body. He has shown that aptitude for being able to come over here and play our game professionally. Seeing him progress over the past couple of years to the point where he is off to a good start this year is very promising because he has the tool-set and the body/frame and the skills are definitely there. Hopefully we can keep on varnishing those tools and the skills will have a chance to emerge.
OC: Sandber Pimentel has that combination of power and patience that has always been coveted within the organization. I have heard comparisons to David Ortiz with him based on his body type, but is there a player comp from within the organization that you would make for Pimentel?
BO: It’s hard to compare guys to other players. When Sandber came over, he touched ground in the States, his enthusiasm was off-the-charts. He really wanted to learn. His English has progressed really well right away. He’s got power in his bat. We have seen Sandber since he was 14, 15-years-old, working him out before he signed and the power has always been tantalizing. It’s starting to come to fruition with him. He has a good eye at the plate and he plays a pretty good first base. His enthusiasm and his will to succeed is off-the-charts. That portends to having a pretty good career.
OC: The starting rotation in Beloit is made up mostly of high-round draft picks from last year’s draft. They are a mix of big school and small school pitchers. Do you expect this year to be more of a developmental year, or do you think by the end of the season the numbers will be pretty good for all of them?
BO: It’s always interesting. Whether you come from a big school, a small school or you are an international signee, the talent, after awhile, has a chance to emerge regardless of background. To start off the year, the numbers don’t look totally rosy, but if you look at the velocities, Jordan Schwartz is up to 95 MPH, Heath Fillmyer is up to 95 MPH and he can even touch a little bit more. Both of those kids are very athletic and both of those kids really didn’t pitch that much in college. They were position players that transitioned to the mound the last year or two before the draft. From a results standpoint, you almost take a blind-eye to the results as long as they are able to develop their pitches, use their athleticism and learn how to throw strikes at the professional level.
The college kids – Brett Graves and Daniel Gossett – definitely have very good equipment. Graves is up to 95 MPH and he has four pitches and he is a very athletic kid himself. He has sink on the fastball. It’s up to 95. He has solid sink to the breaking ball. He should have a good season going forward. Daniel Gossett pitched really well in the ACC and went to Vermont last year and had 25 strike-outs to one walk and he had a really good ERA. Four starts in the Midwest League are definitely not going to temper our enthusiasm for what he can do.
OC: Jose Torres got the save [Wednesday] for Beloit. He looks to be back-on-track after missing some time the past few years with injury. What have you seen from him?
BO: Jose Torres is emerging as a legit prospect. He really took off last winter in Venezuela and started touching 95 MPH. He's been very aggressive and showing that same velocity thus far in the Midwest. It’s exciting to see his start to the season and what he is eventually capable of doing.