Photo by Mark Wagner

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

In part two of our interview with Oakland A's Assistant General Manager Billy Owens, we focus on prospects on the Nashville Sounds.

OaklandClubhouse: Ryon Healy moved up to Triple-A on Tuesday. With the way the roster was shaking out even early in spring training, it was pretty clear that there were going to be a few guys that would have to repeat at Double-A who had good seasons there. Healy obviously proved he was ready to move onto a new challenge with his start with the RockHounds. It seems like he’s starting to get more loft on his flyballs this year. Do you see him developing into a 20+ homerun hitter?

http://www.scout.com/mlb/athletics/story/1670917-oakland-a-s-front-offic...Billy Owens: The biggest thing with Ryon Healy is that he has always been a really good hitter. He has good strike-zone discipline and he rarely swings and misses. He uses the field. He’s got a nice foundation, being a physical guy, to tap into that power later on, but he makes such frequent contact and he is able to use all of the field, so that will allow him to hit upper-level pitching. 

The sequencing, the quality pitching, the diversity of the breaking stuff, it gets sharper at the upper levels. A kid like Ryon, who is able to make adjustments, make contact to all fields, those are normally good indicators that – especially with his physicality – he will be able to tap into that power later on. It’s exciting. We look at what Ryon did in Double-A during the second half of last season – I believe his line-drive percentage was as good as anybody’s – and that carried over to the first six weeks of the year. It was exciting to see him get three knocks during his first game in Nashville. 

OC: Another guy who has already moved up from Midland to Nashville is starter Daniel Mengden. [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson was raving about him during spring training. What do you think it is about Mengden that allows him to be so effective? Is it location, pitch mix, his delivery, something else? 

BO: I think it is a combination. Going into his draft year, he was a high-profile guy, but he fell to the fourth round. He had a couple of different things happen to him that year. I know our scout Armann Brown stayed on him pretty closely, but he was always a high-profile guy going into that year. He came on strong, the Astros took him, and when we were doing the trade stuff with Scott Kazmir last year, [A’s Special Assistant to the GM] Grady Fuson was the last guy to see Daniel Mengden before we acquired him. Grady came back raving about his stuff, his delivery, his strike-zone ability, and his ability to change speeds and mix pitches. 

On Grady’s recommendation, Billy Beane and David Forst pulled the trigger on that deal with Jacob Nottingham and Mengden. He has been outstanding for us. He’s kind of like Sean Manaea. They both came over here, hit the ground running, threw strikes, put the ball in play, got strike-outs and embraced wearing the white spikes. It has been really fun to see what Daniel Mengden has done so far. He’s definitely trending north.

OC: Another member of that Nashville rotation – Dillon Overton – is pitching in Triple-A in what is essentially his second full season of pro ball thanks to the time off due to the Tommy John surgery. Through 45.1 innings, Overton has 42 strike-outs and only eight walks. He’s given up a lot of hits, though (55), but only two homeruns. Does the hits allowed total concern you, or are you more encouraged by the K:BB rate and the lower homer allowed total?

BO: Dillon is a pitcher. This is a guy that if you go back to his Oklahoma days has always been able to pitch. He can change speeds, move the ball around, is very intelligent on the mound. We took him. He probably fell to us because he had the injury and later the surgery. Since he’s come back, he’s hit the ground running. Honestly, at least initially, he flashed higher velocity as an amateur than he has as a pro, but I’m not concerned [about that]. I like Dillon Overton the way he is. He’s an intelligent pitcher. He can read swings. His change-up is excellent. He has a good idea how to throw his breaking ball, which is an effective pitch. He dots the ‘zone with his fastball. He has a really good mound demeanor.

Photo by Carlos Soria

He’s somewhat of a technician on the mound. He’ll pitch in the big leagues. The role is TBA, but, as he gets further away from his surgery and continues to have success at the higher levels, at some point he’s going to make that trip down 580 and pitch in the 510. He’s fun to watch. He’s a competitor. 

OC: Was it nice to see Zach Neal make his major-league debut. It wasn’t ideal circumstances, obviously, but was it rewarding to see a guy reach the big leagues after he had been released by his original organization and really revived his career with the A’s?

BO: Yeah, it was really rewarding. To see him be amongst our leaders in innings pitched the past three years and to see him be so efficient – I believe last year in Triple-A he was among the top-five in least amount of walks given up per nine innings. He’s an extreme strike-thrower. He’s a competitive kid. He’s done everything that we’ve asked.

I wish it had been under better circumstances. We ran into that buzzsaw up there in Boston, but Zach was able to have his day in the sun, say he is a major-league player, it was pretty exciting. He got in the game. He went out there and competed. He threw strikes. If his sinker keeps on developing like it has, it really has a chance to be a solid pitch. His strike-outs have gone down in Triple-A, almost by design, because he is using that sinker to get groundballs and getting outs early in the count. It has progressed. Hopefully he gets more than one day, but definitely it was exciting to see.

OC: The Nashville team, in general, has struggled to hit out of the gates, although they have been swinging the bats better of late. One guy who hasn’t struggled, though, is Renato Nunez. Every year we have talked about how he has made improvements in pitch recognition, contact rates, etc. and that seems to be happening again this year. Do you think he is starting to realize his full potential as a hitter?

BO: I think the potential is still evolving. He is 22 years old and in Triple-A. He has had that evolution. He was a free swinger in the Midwest League, but still did damage, and he was able to continue that in the California League. Last year in Double-A, they made a few adjustments and he was able to adjust back and had probably the best two months of his pro career in July and August. Then he had a taste of the Arizona Fall League. But his success [at the end of last season] has carried over for the first six weeks.

It’s still an evolution. He’s still tightening that strike-zone and working on his defense. This is an important year for him to keep trending north and going forward, but it is exciting to see the adjustments he continues to make as a young player in Triple-A. Going forward, I like his chances to hit for sure.

OC: It has been a slow start for both Matt Olson and Chad Pinder this season, although they have picked it up a bit over the past week. Are there specific things that young players have to make adjustments to when moving up to Triple-A that you think are impacting them right now?

BO: Every level of baseball is definitely more difficult. In Double-A, the pitchers have really good stuff. In Triple-A, they can locate their pitches better. In the major leagues, they have both. Getting to the upper-levels in Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues, every aspect is pretty challenging.

I think that with Chad Pinder and Matt Olson, a lot of success they had – and they are both very talented players and they will both play in the major leagues – but a lot of things that were identified and they were going to have to adjust to, they weren’t going to be able to see [why those adjustments were necessary] until they saw Triple-A pitching. Now they have seen it for six weeks and they have been tested. Now they are starting to adjust.

The last 10 days have been good for them. They are tightening the strike-zone and having more success. They are both smart kids and great workers. I think that they were challenged initially for the first six weeks and this whole season will be an evolution, but they are smart enough and good enough baseball players to adjust. Going forward, they know what they have to work on. 

Eric Martins, our hitting coach in Triple-A, is outstanding. He is going to be able to work with Chad Pinder and Matt Olson. Going forward from today until the end of the year, their numbers are going to continue to climb and their ‘zones are going to get a little tighter. We’ll eventually see the power that they have showed at the lower levels manifest over the next three months.

Stay tuned for the final part of this interview, where we focus on the A’s two full-season Single-A affiliates…


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