Mark Reblias / USA TODAY Sports Images

Oakland A's front office Q&A: Billy Owens, part one

In part one of our interview with Oakland A's Assistant General Manager Billy Owens, we discuss the current hot streak from Danny Valencia and Khris Davis, the development of Max Muncy and Sean Manaea, and the progress of several Midland RockHounds' prospects.

OaklandClubhouse: Starting with the big league team, you have been around baseball a long time and around the A’s a long time – have you ever seen a pair of teammates have a power surge over a five-six game stretch like Khris Davis and Danny Valencia have? It’s been pretty remarkable to see them carry a team that had been struggling like that.

Billy Owens: It has been really refreshing to see. We have seen Danny Valencia a lot over the years. It all goes back to Neil Avent, our area scout in North Carolina, who recruited Valencia to UNC-Greensboro probably 10-15 years ago. Danny had a great year there and was the conference player of the year, Neil became a scout for us and Danny transferred back home to the U. That’s where our connection with Danny Valencia starts. He came up with the Twins, had a great minor league career and from there, he bounced around. He’s always had talent, but his game really took a step forward last year, when we got him from the Blue Jays. Danny put in all of that hard work over the years, and for Danny to have a stretch like he has had over the past 10 days, it’s been pretty incredible. To go from no homers to six in such a short period of time is pretty crazy.

With Khris Davis, he’s a guy whose father works in the game, Rodney Davis. His father actually played with Terry Pendelton at Fresno State. Khris was a good acquisition. It was tough to lose Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby, but we had an opportunity to acquire a kid who is capable of hitting 30 homeruns out of any ballpark. He’s proven that so far with double-digit homers already (12 on the season through Wednesday). To hit three homers at the Coliseum at night with the cold air and the cavernous ballpark, it tells you that he has real power.  I’m zig-zagging around the country right now doing draft stuff and I’m getting texts from the Coliseum and we had runners on second-and-third and nobody out, and then suddenly there were two-outs and no runs in. I was doing an amateur scouting report and was kind of dejected that we hadn’t scored yet. I was still hopeful we’d come through, but with two-outs, it wasn’t looking that good. Then I got the text that said ‘Davis grand slam’ and I just responded back ‘wow.’ It was pretty surreal last night.

OC: That mirrored my reaction to how things unfolded [Tuesday] night, as well. It has been a rocky last few weeks for the A’s at the big league level, with highs and lows and lots of injuries. Do you feel good about the depth the organization assembled this off-season in how the team has been able to handle the injuries, especially the season-ending ones like to Chris Bassitt and Mark Canha?

BO: Injuries are never easy to absorb, but you spend your whole off-season working on that roster. It starts with your starting nine and then your rotation and then your 25-man is important. Then your 40-man is usually critical, as well. Nowadays, when you have a lot of games and players zig-zagging the country and playing, basically, 162 games in 180 days, your six-year free agent signings are also critical. When we signed Brandon Moss a few years back, he became a big part of our team and thrived and has had a great career.

Depth from all aspects – whether it is your minor league depth, your free agents, your 40-man roster – all of those things are going to come into play over a 162-game season. All of those things.

OC: Going into spring training, no one would have anticipated that Sean Manaea would be up in the big leagues already. Throwing out that Boston start, which seems like it might have been a product of match-up against a very hot team at a bad time, he has been effective in the majority of his innings and he was able to turn over the Rangers’ line-up three times on Monday. What has been the key for him in being able to go from an injured pitcher who hadn’t yet reached Double-A to the big leagues in less than a year?

BO: Sean Manaea has really great stuff and he’s deceptive. You are talking about a kid who set the modern day Cape Cod record for strike-outs. In college at Larry Bird’s school, Indiana State, Manaea had the most strike-outs per nine innings in the country for two years in a row – his sophomore and junior seasons. He came out in pro ball like gangbusters and led the Carolina League in strike-outs [in 2014]. I believe he had the most strike-outs per nine innings – or at least the top two or three – in all of Double-A.

He has a very deceptive delivery. The ball kind of comes out at a different slot. I have compared the delivery to John Candelaria – the old Pirates’ ace in the 1980s. It’s a very similar throwing motion. The breaking stuff is solid and he’s working on a change-up. He’s still fine-tuning that command, but he misses bats.

The major leagues are a tough place to pitch, and initially he’s going to have his peaks and valleys, but he’s a very outgoing kid. He’s not afraid. He’s got a lot of positive energy about him. He’s got good stuff and he should be a good major league starting pitcher. Things don’t happen overnight. Like you said, things kind of happened quickly here, but he’s embracing the moment, being aggressive and working with our great pitching coach Curt Young. And we’ll see what happens.

OC: Max Muncy was promoted to the big leagues this week. It has been interesting to see him add a new position each of the past two years. Reports out of Nashville were that he was doing a solid job in left field. Do you see him being able to embrace a utility role in the big leagues after his experience last year?

BO: Max actually went to Baylor as a second baseman and then ended playing a majority of first base there. Then we drafted him and his defense was so good at first base, but he had never been a big homerun guy except at Stockton. But really, he’s more of a really good at-bat, line-drive approach, use the whole field swing kind of hitter. We approached him between Double-A and Triple-A and said ‘hey, you are a good baseball player and you play a very good first base. Why don’t you try to put yourself in a position to play other spots on the field?’

His throwing arm was always capable of playing the left side of the infield and spots in the outfield. They are different players, ultimately, but I kind of compare Muncy to a left-handed hitting Kevin Millar when he first broke in with the Marlins. Millar played third base for Portland and then broke in with the Marlins playing third base, first base and left field. That’s what we envision with Max. He has really increased his versatility and it gives him some options.

If you look at these rosters around the league, hardly anybody breaks in playing one position. You never know when your number is going to be called from Triple-A. Having versatility and being solid defensively in multiple places only helps your cause. And Max has embraced that.

OC: Speaking of versatility, it has been interesting to see the infielders in Midland move around this season. Matt Chapman got the start at shortstop yesterday and has played there a few times this season. Franklin Barreto has played second base, in addition to short, and Yairo Munoz has moved all over the infield since being activated from extended spring training. At this point, are you guys looking to see what you have with those guys at those positions, or are you hoping that all three can come up able to play each of those positions in the big leagues?

BO: It’s a byproduct of the fact that from Little League on up, the best player on the diamond plays shortstop. As you matriculate through the draft process or the international process – in the case of Barreto and Munoz – they are signed as shortstops. They are all playing at the same level. Matt Chapman is top-level defensive third baseman, but he also has a lot of experience at shortstop from the amateur level.

Photo by Chris Lockard /

Just to continue the versatility theme, the fact that Munoz and Barreto were both signed as shortstops and Chapman is a third baseman with shortstop experience, we have the option to move them around. Barreto has experience playing a few other positions at the amateur level and Munoz is a great athlete and we can move him around, as well. Munoz and Chapman both have top shelf throwing arms. You can only play nine guys at a time and when all of those guys are in the line-up, they have been able to move around the diamond and gain versatility.

OC: Chapman had one of the better first major league camps of any young prospect I can remember in awhile. It wasn’t just the power, but he often looked like the best defender on the field. Do you think he is a little further ahead of where you would have anticipated he would be at this point last season?

BO: Ultimately, knock on wood, Matt stays healthy. [A’s Scouting Director] Eric Kubota liked him for awhile. Eric did a great job that year. We picked 25th that year and he identified Matt early as a player we should target during the whole process. It was fortunate that he actually got to that portion of the draft. Honestly, for a kid to be so ready for the pros – Matt’s glove is really outstanding – I give Cal-State, Fullerton a lot of credit. You look over the years, between Mark Kotsay, Kurt Suzuki, Khris Davis, they have had a lot of guys who have been ready for the big leagues fairly quickly. They have done a good job.

Matt Chapman, defensively, he’s pretty much as good as it gets with the glove. Swinging the bat, Chapman has, I believe, nine homeruns already in Double-A. He is continuing to work on the strike-zone discipline, but it has been very exciting to see what he has done thus far.

OC: Barreto has been up-and-down this season for Midland. Was that something that you anticipated given that he is only 20-years-old and playing at Double-A for the first time?

BO: I think we have to put it in context. I remember growing up in the 70s and 80s, you’d read the Sporting News or something similar, and they would give you the stats two weeks after the fact by the time you were reading it. Now, we go day-to-day. Even the great players who ended up hitting .300 in the major leagues, I’m sure weren’t always hitting .300 on May 18. Some guys start off slow. I remember Ryne Sandberg was notorious for being a ‘never got a hit in April’ kind of guy.

Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Last year, we had a lot of the same conversations about Franklin Barreto early in the season. Then he ended up hitting over .300 in High-A ball as a 19-year-old when he turned in the report card at the end of the year. He graduated from that league last year. He’s 20. He’s in Double-A. He’s one of the best prospects in baseball, and I think that his expectations and our expectations of what he’s going to hit this year, I’m going to be more patient and see what it says on September 5 than I am going to be concerned about May 18.

OC: Munoz is a guy who, it seems to me, always responds well to a challenge. Whether it is jumping up two levels, or, like yesterday, when he was the only guy to reach base safely against Yu Darvish. Do you feel like he is the sort of player who plays up to his competition?

BO: Yeah, that’s a good assessment. Yairo Munoz, he likes to compete. He has a lot of tools. Along with Matt Chapman, his arm is as good as anyone’s out there. Munoz is a talented kid. He’s got power. His arm is top shelf. He has a chance to stay and play a good shortstop. He is a good enough athlete to move around the diamond. He likes to compete. When he is out there, he is ready to dig in and compete.

That’s fun to see. Yu Darvish is one of the best starters in all of baseball and is coming back from injuries, but when you look up and you see that Munoz got on-base with a hit and a walk, that’s pretty exciting to see.

Read part two:

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories