Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's 2016 year-end front office Q&A: Billy Owens, part 3

With the minor league season coming to a close, we caught-up with Oakland A's Assistant General Manager Billy Owens to review the year that was in the Oakland A's system. In part 3, we talk about several players who have made contributions to the playoff-bound Midland RockHounds, including Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto, Beau Taylor, Daniel Gossett, Heath Fillmyer and more. Matt Chapman came this close to being the first Midland RockHound to hit 30 homers since 2001. He passed that plateau with Nashville soon after his promotion. His defense seems pretty big league ready. What do you think he will need to work on offensively to take that next step to the major leagues?

Billy Owens: Matt Chapman, for one, is a very, very strong individual. The power is for real and its to all fields. You saw that with the eight homeruns in major league spring training in the Cactus League and the 30+ homers. These parks in Midland and Nashville are big ballparks that play like pitchers parks, but then you get a guy like Chapman who collects more than 30 homers total or a kid like Renato Nunez with 23 homers and you see that the guys with real power still hit their homers.

Matt has all-field power. He can go line-to-line and he flat-out over-powers the baseball. Hes got holes in his swing. The strike-outs are pretty high. If you go back to his college career, the strike-outs werent nearly at that level, so I think there are some adjustments he can make. The swing is not a long swing, so as he gets more in-tune with that strike-zone and he is able to make more consistent contact, I think that he can bring those strike-out totals down.  If he can master that strike-zone, with him being a threat to go over the fence, if he improves that plate-discipline, his walk totals should go up. Honestly, as well as he plays defense at third base, I actually believe he can play shortstop, as well. Hes a gifted defender. Hes got like Velcro in his glove. He can throw from any angle. If Jerry West was the logo for basketball, then Matt Chapmans arm is probably the logo for third baseman. 

Hes got as good a throwing arm – and its so compact – as you will see. In my little scouting report, I call his arm the logo because it is that distinct. It comes out like a bazooka and it is a heat-seeking missile across the diamond, but he still has some touch. He can touch the ball up and throw from different angles. Watching him play defense is a pleasure.

OC: Franklin Barreto got off to a slow start with Midland this year, but he hit .337 during the second half. Despite being very young for the level, he seems to be able to make mid-season adjustments like a veteran. What have you seen from him as he approaches the upper-levels of the minor league system [ed. note: Barreto was promoted to Nashville after this interview]?

BO: Franklin is a hitter. I have seen Franklin since he was 16 years old in Venezuela. Hes always put up numbers. As we go back to our conversation in May, certain guys are always going to put up numbers. The guy is way younger than the league and also, nobody hits consistently the whole year. People are going to have peaks and valleys, but the guys who can hit are eventually going to put up numbers.

Franklin is a guy who can hit. Hes a guy who is hitting .280 in the Texas League and is young for the level. He has double-digit homers and he is approaching 30 steals [Barreto reached 30 after this interview]. Hes got ample extra-base hits.

The shortstop defense has been solid. Who knows exactly where he will fall in the defensive spectrum, but he definitely has the actions to play shortstop. Hes dabbled at second base, as well. Hes got the legs to play anywhere on the diamond. Hes definitely a dynamic player.

OC: Yairo Munoz got off to a slow start to the season because of a spring injury and never really got on track at the plate for any extended period of time. What do you think he will take away from his struggles this season as he moves on his career?

BO: Yairo is a talented kid. He didnt have the polish of some of the guys that we talked about earlier, but Yairo has a bazooka for an arm and plenty of raw power. The legs are solid. Hes just a kid, like most minor leaguers, who needs to continue to accumulate at-bats and make adjustments. Really at this time last year, he only had about 60 at-bats in High-A ball. This year, he had the injury and hes had almost 100 games at Double-A. The pitching is a lot more advanced at that level. Hes in the process of making his adjustments.

Hes still somewhat dangerous. Hes got close to double-digit homeruns. Hes got to cut down on the strike-outs. Hes got to continue to grind and make adjustments, but as far as having the raw power, the arm strength and the actions to play the left-side of the infield, all of those are positives. Like anything else, hes got to make adjustments and continue to perform at a high level to create an opportunity.

OC: The catching tandem in Midland has been interesting this season. Beau Taylor is putting together a strong year after struggling for much of the past couple of seasons. Andy Paz always seems to hit when he plays, but hadnt gotten much of an opportunity to play regularly until recently. Do you see those guys factoring into the catching depth chart after the way they have played this year? 

BO: Both guys have played well. Beau Taylor is a talented kid. Hes a fifth-round pick and that first year in the California League, he hit well over .300 and played pretty well on both sides of the ball. He got to Double-A and we had some other guys there and he kind of didnt show the defensive acumen that he is capable of showing. Hes flip-flopped during the course of his career where he has been really good offensively and the defense hasnt been as good and then other years – like in 2015 – he led all of minor league baseball – or at least the California League – in throwing guys out. It was a pretty high figure. But he didnt hit as well until close to the Double-A playoffs.

This year, it has been reminiscent of his first full year with us. Hes shown ability on both sides of the ball. Hes hitting better than .280. Hes got a fair number of extra-base hits. Hes hitting in the middle of that line-up. Hes shown the ability to catch. Hes got a strong arm to throw guys out.

Hes a sneaky catching prospect. Then when you really think about it, most catchers dont really break into the major leagues until they are his age. Besides the real true upper-level freak type guys, most catchers are 27 to 30 when they really break in. You see a lot of examples like that at the major league level. I remember when we claimed Chris Gimenez off waivers and then he went to Texas and now hes in Cleveland doing pretty well. Rene Rivera did pretty well in San Diego and then was in the big trade to Tampa Bay. Neither one of those guys showed a pulse at the upper-levels until 27, 28 years old.

Beau Taylor has made himself viable again by showing that ability on both sides of the ball. 

Andy Paz, interesting kid. Hes of Cuban descent, but he was signed out of France. He showed he could control the strike-zone very early in his career. Hes always put up pretty good numbers in limited time and this year, he went to Double-A out of necessity and put up some good numbers. He also receives well and his arm is playable.

The biggest thing with him is continuing to work with him on his exchange. His times are more in that 2.1 range and now its starting to get a little better. Hell flash a 2 flat every once in awhile. I saw one where he was under 2. As he improves that exchange, hes always controlled the zone and he receives the ball well, hes put himself on the radar, for sure.

OC: At this time last year, Daniel Gossett and Heath Fillmyer were completing up-and-down years with Low-A Beloit. This year, they have been arguably the two most consistent right-handed starters in the As system. Have you been happy with the improvements they have made this year? [ed. note: Gossett was promoted to Triple-A Nashville after this interview]

BO: Yeah definitely. They are two totally different guys in terms of their development. Daniel Gossett was a Friday night starter at Clemson. Threw 93-94. Good mix of pitches. He went out to short-season and only walked one guy for Vermont. Then he came out last year and just wasnt really the same guy. The velocity was down. He nibbled a little bit and didnt really assert himself. He was kind of like that the whole season. He showed a little bit more what he was capable of doing in August.

This season, he came out guns blazing, showing what he can do right away. He is topping out at 96. Hes assertive and aggressive in the strike-zone. The curveball is excellent. The change-up is good. Hes added a little cutter. Gil Patterson is back, so hes added a cutter that is very effective against left-handed batters. Hes absolutely pounding the zone and is using every crevice of that strike-zone. He just came off of his career-high in strike-outs with 10 [on Aug. 25]. Hes definitely on the radar.

I always enjoy watching a guy who with his stuff, hes giving his team a chance to win. The fielders are staying really busy when Gossetts on the mound. They are excited to see him. Hes on the map, for sure. Hes pitching like he did in college and now hes asserting himself and is pitching in the upper-levels of the minor leagues and is having success.

Heath Fillmyer, hes the opposite end. Similar talent, but a shortstop mainly in high school and in the junior college ranks. Touched 95 during his draft year and we took him as a pitcher, but he had to learn the ABCs and the nuances of pitching. I believe last year he started off the season 0-9 or 0-10 in Beloit. Steve Connelly, outstanding pitching coach, is in High-A this year but he was in Beloit with both guys last year. He got Heath to make a couple of adjustments. Just from being a tremendous athlete and his own maturation, he turned that 0-10 into a very positive second half.

He came out this year like gangbusters. Hes a great athlete and he can touch 94 and move the ball around. His secondary stuff is solid. Hes a leader on the mound. When they do all of their work between starts, he is definitely the guy who is leading the crew out there. Hes definitely on the map. Hes a strong starting pitching prospect, for sure.

OC: Corey Walter has had a pretty remarkable season to pitch as well as he has after he had never thrown more than 50 or so innings in a season. Hes up to roughly 100 now and it seems like he blanks the competition every time hes out there. What is the key to his success?

BO: Corey is another guy who was signed by Neil Avent, who is the same guy who signed Ryan Dull. Hes found some real late-round gems for us. Walter had a really good year for Stockton last year. He had a 1.42 ERA and was 90-92 and he had life down in the zone, small run and a solid slider. He threw a ton of strikes. This year, he has built upon that. The velocity has been similar and he actually touched a 93 and 94 this year. Hes always been really aggressive in the zone.

That Midland staff, they have a ton of guys throwing hard, and Corey Walter has put himself on the map. His performance has been solid from the start of the year until today and you cant discount what he has done. Plus hes throwing up to 93/94 miles per hour, so he has pretty good stuff, as well.

Stay tuned for the next part of this interview, during which we discuss several prospects from the A's full-season A-ball affiliates.

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