Photo by Chris Lockard /

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

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 4, we talk about several players who spent the majority of the year at the A-ball level, including Richie Martin, Mikey White, Grant Holmes, Casey Meisner, Brett Graves, James Naile, Sandber Pimentel and more...  OaklandClubhouse: Turning to players on the Stockton roster, Richie Martin has had a rough year with the Ports, but he is hitting close to .300 in August. Keith Lieppman mentioned midway through the year that Martin was working on improving his timing at the plate. Have you seen improvements in that area with Martin?

Billy Owens: Richie, if you go back to his college career, he was the youngest player in the SEC to come out of the draft. He had a rough season his freshman year of college. He got better in college. He had a somewhat okay Cape Cod year and then the next year, he was outstanding when he was a Cape Cod All-Star. Hes kind of always dipped his toe in the water offensively.

Hes a toolsy kid. Hes played very solid defense at shortstop all season out there in Stockton. Its good to see him pick it up, hitting around .300 here in August. Hes actually a strong kid. Its not like he has a big power projection, but if he hits like he is capable of hitting, hell surprise you with some thump. He has a chance to be a guy who hits 10 balls over the wall eventually and drive the ball into the gap for doubles.  Hes hitting .230, but he can definitely play shortstop. The tools are there. It has been natural in his development to dip his toe in the water and gradually get better. It wouldnt surprise me at all if we are having this conversation two years from now and he has surged forward and become the guy that we had envisioned during the draft. The talent is there, but hes just in the acclimation stage of his development.

OC: Mikey White had a similar slow start, but he has hit much better over the past two months [.274/.349/.412 during the second half]. What is the key for him to find success at the plate?

BO: Mikey, if you take his stats from June 1 on, they are a lot better. Hes controlling the strike-zone better and is using the whole field. I think moving forward, honestly, he sometimes gets a little too pull-happy and he needs to just go and concentrate and focus on using the whole field. His strike-out rate is higher than it should be. I think his hand-eye coordination and his baseball acumen are better than his current strike-out rate is.

Like anything else, going forward, I think hes got a lot better results on the horizon. Hell be able to tighten his srike-zone some and he has the ability to use the field better as he goes forward. Hell be able to take this year as a learning curve and an adjustment period. Hell be able to go home and think about it and come back next year and utilize the improvements he made in the second half from April 1 on.

OC: Max Schrock joined that roster over the weekend [ed. note: he was promoted to Midland on Wednesday after this interview]. Obviously there is a lot to like about his numbers alone, but Im sure you guys had a long history of scouting him dating back to his South Carolina days. What had you seen from him that made him a target in that trade with Washington?

BO: For one, Scrabble [Marc Rzepczynski] did a good job for us, coming over here for one year and throwing the ball pretty well. He got value by pitching well for us and by bringing in Max Schrock in a trade. Schrock is a kid that we saw back to his high school days in the Carolinas. He had a very strong career at South Carolina. He was up-and-down a little bit [at USC], wasnt always consistent, but always put up generally solid numbers there.

In pro ball, hes hit the ground running. I believe he is a well over .300 hitter over his two seasons. He has a good eye and sneaky power. He uses the field well and is an aggressive base-runner. The numbers pretty much speak for themselves.

Defensively, he was a high school shortstop who played mainly second base in college and hes just going to continue to get better at second base. Grind and continue to make adjustments to improve with the glove.

We are definitely excited. After seeing Max for a long time and him being on the radar for several years, its exciting to see him in white spikes.

OC: There are three power hitters on the current Stockton roster who are intriguing: Chris Iriart, Sandber Pimentel and Jose Brizuela. Do you think they will be able to carry their power numbers when they get to the more advanced levels?

BO: Yeah, they are definitely making positive strides. Brizuela had a strong second half. He pretty much did the same thing last year where he did just okay the first half but you look up and its late August and hes at .265-270 with 15-16 homers and a healthy amount of RBI and a solid on-base percentage. Hes performed pretty well for two years. Every step is a challenge, but hopefully hell continue to produce going forward.

Sandber Pimentel is a young kid who had two really good months in Beloit last year and had solid numbers there, for the most part. This year, he has popped more than 20 homers. He needs to improve his all-field approach, but he is strong enough to continue these power numbers going forward. Hes got to keep on climbing and well see where it goes.

Chris Iriart is a California kid who went to Houston and hes always hit the ball over the wall. Hell hit the ball over the wall and sacrifice some swing-and-miss for the damage. Hes a hard-working kid who has power.

All three of those guys are on the radar and theyll get opportunities. They just need to continue to put up numbers and make adjustments.

OC: Grant Holmes was probably the most high profile of the three pitchers the As acquired from the Dodgers last month. If he reaches his full potential as a pitcher, what do you project from him?

BO: I think Grant, well see what he evolves into, but hes definitely a high-profile, exciting arm. Hes a good athlete. His fastball will touch 96 and tickle a 97. The breaking ball is hard. The change-up has definitely got that two-seam action to it with some sink. The equipment is there. Hes young for the California League. He has close to a strike-out per inning. Hes right up on his innings limit. Hes having a strong season for a 20-year-old in a fast-paced California League with nearly a strike-out an inning and his quality stuff.

We are very excited to have him. It was a positive trade for both sides. Thats what you want, for a trade to help both sides. To get three exciting arms in Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes, it definitely bodes well for our future going forward.

OC: Evan Manarino was a Midwest League post-season All-Star and has quietly put together an outstanding year. Hes a soft-tossing lefty, but do you think he can continue to pound the strike-zone and get good results getting hitters to hit it into the ground like he has?

BO: Yeah. He had an outstanding year in Low-A Beloit and has solid numbers so far in his handful of starts in the California League. Hell top out at 88 and uses both sides of the plate. His slider is a viable pitch. Hes got a good change-up.

With someone like that, lefties kind of create their own roles. Hes got to keep on performing. As he climbs that ladder, his role will be determined by how much success he is having. Its a breath of fresh air over here. The Oakland As, we reward performance on the field. He keeps pitching well, hell get opportunities.

OC: Brett Graves had a rough start but has pitched better down-the-stretch. Did he make any specific adjustments that allowed him to pick it up performance-wise?

BO: With Brett, its kind of similar to Daniel Gossett in that he was an accomplished starter in college, a fairly high draft pick and, for whatever reason, in the Midwest League, his velocity wasnt there. In 2016, it has been a different story. Brett Graves has been throwing much harder. In every outing, he has touched 95 and hes touched 96 a couple of times. Hes got solid action on his fastball and hes got some sink. It can be a groundball pitch. The breaking stuff is getting a little bit better and can definitely get a little bit sharper. Hes made strong adjustments.

He works very hard in between outings. Hes an impressive physical specimen. Hes got a chance to be durable out there and take that ball every five days. From a repertoire standpoint, well see where it goes as a starter. Maybe he can take that next step, but in the back of my mind, for two innings that heavy fastball could get a lot of groundballs in a short outing, as well. I think that going forward he has possibilities either way. He definitely deserves to keep taking that ball, make those adjustments and well see where it goes.

OC: Casey Meisner has gone through a lot of ups-and-downs this year. Where do you think he goes from here? Is there stuff he can take away from this season that he can build on for next year?

BO: Yeah, I think he made some adjustments this year. Like Grant Holmes, being traded as a 20-year-old and coming to a new organization is a lot to deal with. Its never easy to be traded, but its probably a little bit harder the younger you are. Coming over here last year, he was kind of getting his feet wet.

This year, he actually tightened his slider. He showed a really good change-up. His fastball velocity will fluctuate. Most starts, its like 87-92ish. Hell touch 94, but hell be consistently in the 87-92 range. Hes got a really good change-up with swing-and-miss capabilities. His slider is definitely improved. Hell feature a slow curve that is kind of a get-ahead pitch. The fact that his slider is improved will definitely help his strike-out rate.

From a pure record standpoint, it was a tough first half, but I think he settled in nicely in the second half. He had a lot of positive outings. He had a couple of clunkers, too, but going forward, hes got a lot to work with. Hes a 67’’ kid, so his fastball has extreme angle on it and its downhill. Hell keep on making adjustments, tighten his pitches and well see where we are a year or two from now.

OC: Is it harder for those taller pitchers to find consistency with their release point than it is for a guy who is, say, 62’’?

BO: I think it varies. I think the taller guys, if you really watch games on TV, guys like – and these guys are left-handed – but if you watch guys like Drew Pomeranz, David Price and Andrew Miller – those guys are very, very simple with their deliveries. The taller they are, the more simple they are. They let their height create that angle and they dont do a whole lot. But then you go back to a more old-school guy like Rick Sutcliffe, he had the whole tilt and wind-up, so I think it varies. But the taller you are, sometimes the simpler the better.

OC: James Naile was a late-inning reliever last year but he has 150 innings as a starter this year. Have you liked what you have seen from him as a starter this season?

BO: James, the first time I saw him, hes a sinkerballer and he tries to mimic his game after Tim Hudson. Obviously, two different eras and all of that stuff, but his delivery is spot-on and he really sinks that ball. He had an interesting first half where he had a couple of outings in Triple-A, a couple of outings in Double-A and then he settled back there in the Midwest League.

He pounded the zone at every level. He threw strikes. He had sink on the ball. The change-up is a work-in-progress and he had a decent slider. Hes another kid who – and this a testament to our development system – but he moved up to Stockton and his strike-out rate went up [compared to at Low-A]. His slider has gotten a lot better. Its a swing-miss pitch right now. In terms of velocity, hes more of an 88-91 guy with a lot of sink, but that slider has gotten a lot better over the course of this season. Hes still working on the change-up. One thing is certain: hes going to throw a lot of strikes.

OC: Luis Barrera joined the Beloit roster a few weeks ago. Hes put together a second straight solid season. What kind of player do you project him to be moving forward?

BO: Hes got a wide variety of skills. Obviously this is a lofty aspiration, but you are thinking maybe a 2015 version of David Peralta, where you hit 10-15 homers, use the gaps and play all outfield positions and have a chance to control the zone. Barrera has a lot to work on. Hell kind of glide into the ball and cut himself off a little bit, but, as far as being capable of using the whole field and having double figure homerun potential down-the-road and having an opportunity to control the zone and play solid defense, hes got that. His arm can get sporadic right now, but he should have an average major-league throwing arm when the dust settles.

Hes an interesting prospect. He has a wide variety of skills and he has a chance to mature and become better as he climbs the ladder.

OC: Boomer Biegalski has had a nice season for the Snappers in their rotation. Obviously the change-up is his best pitch, but is there another pitch that took a step forward for him this year?

BO: I think Boomer is a fairly polished college starter who pounds that strike-zone. His fastball is in that 87-90, touching 91 range. His change-up is his best. The breaking ball is getting a little bit tighter. Hes a kid who is going to pitch to contact, force the issue early in the count and use both sides of the plate. Hell be efficient and pound the strike-zone.

He had a solid season. Hes definitely on the radar. Hes a strike-thrower and we always reward guys that throw strikes and pound the zone. He can change speeds. Hes having a nice season and well see where it goes.

Stay tuned for the final part of our interview with Billy Owens, during which we focus on the A's two US short-season affiliates.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories