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Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens discusses the 2015 Stockton Ports

The Stockton Ports made the California League post-season for a second straight year by virtue of earning a wild card spot. Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens discusses several of the talented prospects on the Ports' roster.

The 2015 Stockton Ports put together a solid 2015 season, finishing with the second-best overall record in the California League's North Division at 74-66. The Ports are currently playing in the first-round of the Cal League playoffs and face a winner-takes-the-series game against the San Jose Giants tonight.

Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel spoke with us this week about all of the A's US affiliates. In part one, we discussed the 2015 Midland RockHounds. In this part two, we take a closer look at several players on the 2015 Ports' roster.

OaklandClubhouse: Looking at the Stockton Ports, between Yairo Munoz and Franklin Barreto, the Ports may have had the best shortstop combination in the California League this year. Munoz had a strong start in the Midwest League and then really struggled in the middle of the season before taking off after his promotion to Stockton. Do you think Munoz is the kind of player who will continue to play up to the level of his competition as he advances in the system?

BO: Yairo is a talented kid. We have talked about that before. He did have a catastrophic fork in the road in June, I believe, in the Midwest League. The Midwest League can be tough, but that was sort of a weird stretch. He had played so well in April and May and at some point, sometimes you try to tread water and you drown a little bit. With a couple of openings, though, the kid has a lot of talent and he was able to go to the California League and it jumpstarted his season again.

He is a kid who swings early and swings often, but he doesn’t swing-and-miss much. The strike-outs aren’t very high for a guy who has such an aggressive approach. He is able to hit the ball to all fields. He’s got surprising power. He’s a better athlete – and we’ll see what kind of player he becomes at the top level – but he’s similar from a skill-set standpoint to Tony Batista. He doesn’t have Tony’s unorthodox stance that he used at the top level, but Yairo is talented.

I believe he got voted the best throwing arm from an infielder in the Midwest League by their managers in a couple of publications. He has the tools to stay at that position. He runs well. He’s got a chance down-the-road to hit 15-20 homeruns and he might even surprise with a few more. He’s got electric tools.

He’s got to tighten the approach some. Even though he isn’t a swing-and-miss guy, at some point he’s got to tighten that approach and take a few pitches. He did mix in a few walks at the end of the year. Munoz has that all around ability. He has the tools to stay at shortstop and a tremendous throwing arm. He’s athletic and agile. The approach needs to be tightened, but the bat speed is real and he has some power.

OC: Barreto, unfortunately, missed a month with that wrist injury, but he hit a homer in his second game back from the DL and finished the year hitting above .300 despite the horrible month of April, where he hit under .200. Is he everything you expected he’d be when you got him from Toronto?

BO: Yeah. It’s common a theme but there is always such a long history with each of these players and that history usually starts well before they begin each level. Franklin is a guy that I personally have seen since he was 14 years old. Seeing him dominate all of the amateur events around the world and then go to [short-season] Vancouver last year – we played in Vancouver as an organization for 15 years and know how difficult that ballpark is to hit in – and for him to go there and torch the Northwest League, hit for damage and well above .300 at 18-years-old with that history, you knew he was going to hit.

With the teenage kids that we have sent directly to the California League that have skipped Low-A, they have all struggled in April and a little bit of May. Actually, I wasn’t alarmed at all [by Barreto’s start] because if you looked his numbers compared to the last two teenagers that we sent to Stockton in 2013 and 2014 [ED. NOTE: Addison Russell and Billy McKinney], his numbers were actually better than those guys at the same time in the same months and both of those guys went on to do big things. With Franklin, you knew the talent was going to eventually rise. And the talent is there.

Being a teenager, changing organizations, skipping a whole level: we’ve all been teenagers. That’s not an easy thing to do. He finished over .300. He’s not a tall person, per se, and this is just a comparison, but from a body perspective, he looks like Rafael Furcal. He has that same explosiveness in terms of the running speed and athleticism. He’s a shortstop in the California League and he has a chance to advance and be a strong infielder. We’ll see where that destination holds, but he is an electric athlete and he has a very potent bat. This year, in the California League, is only a microcosm of what this kid is capable of doing offensively.

OC: The organization picked up Jacob Nottingham mid-season in the Scott Kazmir deal. He’s younger, but Nottingham reminded me of a 2008 Josh Donaldson when you acquired him from the Cubs thanks to his aggressive, powerful swing at the plate and his athletic ability behind the plate. Do you see any similarities between Nottingham and a 2008 Donaldson?

BO: From when we acquired those players and what level they were at and where they went from there, I can see some similarities, but from an evaluation standpoint, I picture more of a Mike Napoli. Napoli, with the Anaheim Angels coming up, always had power to all fields and a good approach at the plate. Jacob is probably a little bit more aggressive and more athletic and has the ability to hit for average, whereas Mike was more explosive and had a ton of walks, but they are similar behind the plate. They have strong arms. They definitely need to tighten their release and do other things defensively, but going forward, I picture more of a Mike Napoli player for Nottingham.

OC: Matt Chapman re-injured his wrist, but hopefully he will be able to play in the Arizona Fall League still. He put up some outstanding power numbers in the California League in an abbreviated number of games this year. I was just impressed watching Chapman take BP. I don’t know that I have seen any right-handed hitter, except maybe Chris Carter, put on that kind of BP display at Banner Island Ballpark. Is Carter a good comp for Chapman in terms of his power?

BO: Looking at the player, for one, the defense that Chapman plays isn’t comparable. He plays defense like a gazelle over there at third. This guy is a vacuum and his arm – forget hyperbole, he threw 97 to 100 when he dabbled in pitching for Team USA off of the mound and really hadn’t pitched that much. He has incredible arm strength and a strong glove at third base. He’s more along the lines of a Dean Palmer, Travis Fryman type third baseman, where he is able to lock it down defensively and pop 25 homers at the third base position.

As he matures and maybe tightens that strike-zone, he may be able to increase that on-base percentage. But the defense is special and the raw power is off the charts. As he continues to tighten the strike-zone and learn about himself offensively, he has a chance to be a very strong, complete player.

OC: B.J. Boyd worked a lot on his base-running with Rickey Henderson during Instructs last year and he stole 18 bases this year. He had a nice season for Stockton after really struggling in the Midwest League last year. What was the key for his improvements this season?

BO: B.J. really took a major step forward. The joy and the energy was back in his game. Just the way he moved and interacted with people every day, you could tell he was in a good place. Obviously, Rickey is a unique person to work with, so that will help anybody. I think that B.J. will continue to evolve offensively. This year, he was able to spray line-drives all over the field. He’s got some raw power and we saw glimpses of that in short-season when, I believe, he hit eight homers in 70 games or something along those lines. That kind of strength is still in there. It hasn’t totally been untapped, but it has been a positive year. For him to hit for solid average, move around well on the bases and play a pretty good outfield, he kind of put himself back on the map as a strong offensive performer going forward.

It’s such a long journey to the majors that it isn’t uncommon to hit a fork in the road and have a rough year in the Midwest League, especially that’s a tough league to hit in.

OC: Dylan Covey was the work-horse of that Stockton staff this year and a mid-season Cal League All-Star. How do you think he handled his second tour through the Cal League after struggling during his first stint at the end of last year?

BO: I think Dylan actually took a major step forward this year. Going back to his high school days and being a high draft pick and then going to USD, where his numbers were solid but the strike-out totals were never indicative of how hard he was throwing. This year, the second-half especially, his stuff and his strike-out numbers started to get more synchronized. He has always been a guy who is a groundball machine, throwing that low-90s turbo sinker down in the ‘zone, but his breaking stuff has always had the potential to create more swings-and-misses. Sometimes it was a matter of more sequencing and hitting the right spots later in the counts.

I’d have to see those numbers, but I believe over his last 10 starts, the strike-out numbers definitely increased. He was more assertive. He seemed to be more aggressive attacking hitters in the strike-zone and he was looking to be more efficient. Going forward next year, it’s going to be exciting to see what he can do in 2016 because he took a real step forward at the end of 2015.

OC: Were you happy with how Raul Alcantara looked this year coming off of the elbow injury?

BO: Yes. For one, I believe he is one of our most focused pitchers. Really, one of our most focused players. This kid really pays attention to detail. If you watch him chart pitchers between starts, this guy really reads hitters and applies it to his next outing. He was able to get his fastball to that 96-97 range and pitch comfortably as a starter in that 92-95. His change-up is really good. His breaking ball is behind his change-up but it has a chance to be a solid pitch in the future. And he’s always thrown strikes.

Just coming off of surgery and getting back into the swing of things, throw out the results, it was a good year for him to get back on the mound. Going forward, he’s still very young and he’s got that really good velocity. He throws strikes and his change-up compliments his velocity well and that breaking ball should get better. This year was a good year to get healthy and show that he is able to throw again. Next year will be a year where I think you will see the results tick upward.

OC: Two members of the Ports’ starting rotation – Daniel Mengden and Casey Meisner – were picked up mid-season in trades. What intrigued you about both of them when the trades were being considered?

BO: Mengden was a Friday starter at Texas A&M. Armann Brown, our scout in Texas, was always high on Daniel. He put up numbers in college. He averaged a strike-out an inning. He raced through the Midwest League and he had a couple of starts in the California League before we picked him up. Velocity-wise, he will pitch comfortably in that 91-94 range and he will touch a 96. He has done that in every outing since we picked him up. He’ll have a couple of pitches hit 96. He’s got more of that old-school, full delivery. His breaking pitch is solid, his change-up is improving and he throws strikes. He’s polished and he’s fun to watch. He’s a guy who has a chance to be a workhorse and an innings-eater going forward.

Casey Meisner. He’s a 20-year-old kid who is 6’7’’ and throws down-hill. His fastball touches 94 and he pitches more in that 91-93 range. He has good fastball command and he can hit both sides of the plate with that fastball. The change-up is a potential plus pitch. It has a chance to create swings-and-misses. The breaking ball has good shape. He’ll try to tighten that breaking ball in the future. He’s also intelligent on the mound. He reads hitters well.

To fortify the system with two strike-throwing, talented hurlers like those two was definitely a positive for the system.

OC: We talked earlier this year about Jose Torres. He had a terrific year for Beloit and then had a chance to get his feet wet with Stockton during the last week of the year. Do you think there is a chance he could move back into a starter’s role or do you think he’s found a home as a bullpen guy?

BO: That’s a good question. We will go forward and see how that goes, but Torres is definitely a talented player. Scouts definitely get on the edge of their seats when he is pitching. He’s up to 96 from the left-side. He’s got good angles. The change-up is solid and the breaking ball is improving. He can dot that fastball and the fastball velocity for a left-handed pitcher is really good. Jose definitely took a strong step forward and he put himself on the map for the entire baseball community this year. His stuff in the Midwest League, going to a few games this year, when they announced his name, the scout section definitely got excited.

Stay tuned for part three of this interview, which will focus on the Low-A Beloit Snappers and the A's two short-season squads.

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