Photo by Greg Bessette

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

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 our final installment, we talk about several players who spent the year in short-season, including A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, Dakota Chalmers, Eli White, Nate Mondou, Miguel Mercedes and more... OaklandClubhouse: With Vermont, the pitching staff generally gets the headlines, but shortstop Eli White and second baseman Nate Mondou had really nice offensive seasons, especially when you consider that the league is a pitchers league. Have you been pleasantly surprised with how they have made the transition from college to pro?

Billy Owens: Yeah. They are two totally different guys. Eli White is a guy that we have seen for awhile. Neil Avent has done a great job getting those late-round guys. Eli White has the tools. He was an ACC shortstop. He is a plus runner. I think he stole 25 bases this season in college. His average was down for Clemson, which is probably why we got him where we did in the draft. From a tools perspective, he definitely has the ability to stay at shortstop all the way up the ladder. Good arm, smooth actions. A very good athlete. The ball comes off his bat well.

Hes been hovering around .300 all season and hes got some power in there. He has a chance to drive 7-to-10 over the wall eventually and he has the speed to steal 20 bases. Its been a great offensive performance for short-season and he definitely has the tools to be a prospect, for sure. 

Nate Mondou, an accomplished ACC hitter. Real tough, feisty kid. He gives you quality at-bats. Hes a grinder. He uses the whole field and has solid plate discipline. Hes definitely having a solid season. Very reminiscent to what he did in the ACC. Hes had a very strong offensive year and I really like his make-up and mentality. Hes a good addition to the system.  OC: Miguel Mercedes leads the New York-Penn League in homeruns with 10 [ed. note: now up to 11] and hes the first Vermont hitter to reach double-digits in homeruns in several years. He started off the season really hot but cooled in August. How has he developed as a hitter the last couple of years?

BO: I think Miguel, he is a really imposing-looking guy physically. Hes a strong kid. He has light-tower raw power. He had a tremendous start to the season and he still leads that league in homeruns. Hes just going through an adjustment period. You get off to that fast start. You hit the ball to the wall and all of a sudden, they arent throwing you that many fastballs anymore. Then you have to make adjustments.

Its been a work-in-progress from an approach standpoint, but to lead that league in homers is a big deal. When I was up there, there were only a handful of guys for the Lake Monsters franchise who have ever hit double-figure homeruns in a season. Four or five guys ever. Pretty good list, most of those guys have played at a much higher level. Thats definitely encouraging. Hell have to tighten his approach as he goes up to higher levels, but he has had a nice breakout this year with the homeruns. He is a threat at the plate and hes definitely exciting.  OC: Was Sean Murphy shut down to continue to recover from the hamate surgery that he had?

BO: Yeah. We knew that he had the hand issue going in. Murph had a solid Cape Cod season and three-year career in college. Hes a very good athlete for the catcher position. You talk about major league average and thats really good. Thats average in the major leagues, so when you talk average arm or "average running ability, from a scouting perspective, that equates to major league average.

Murph is a really good athlete. He runs close to major league average and hes good sized. His arm is really good. Its an above-average throwing arm. He receives very well. He physically looks like John Buck where he has that tall, lanky, strong build to him. He has raw power. Hes a very smart kid. Hes a sponge. A student of the game.

It was too bad that he had the hamate injury, but, honestly, it probably pushed him down in the draft to where we could get him in that position [third round]. Hes a kid that going forward hell be able to contribute on both sides of the ball. Hell be a steady climber up the ladder.  OC: How have you felt A.J. Puks professional debut has gone?

BO: He's been solid. To top out at 97 from the left-side is special. Hes a similar build to a Drew Pomeranz. Hes got a solid slider and the change-up is improving. To be that tall and what you alluded to earlier, hes kind of in that David Price, Drew Pomeranz mold where the simpler moves for his delivery will be beneficial. He has a rocket for an arm. To be that big and throw that hard is unique. Its not going to be perfect strikes every time initially, but to have basically three weapons from that unique angle of being 67’’ and having a history of missing bats, so far so good.

OC: What have you thought of Logan Shore and his debut, and what do you project for him moving forward?

BO: Logan, hes a kid who will touch a 93 and will pitch in that 89-92 range to both sides of the plate. Extremely polished. Sink on the fastball. Bugs Bunny change-up. Actually, his fastball-change-up combination was so good for him in college that he didnt even throw that many sliders until his last year in college. Going into Instructional League, that will definitely be a point of emphasis, tightening the slider. But he can pitch. Hes confident and he pounds that zone. Maybe a tighter, a little bit different repertoire, but similar to when A.J. Griffin came on and he was able to rocket it through the system pounding the strike-zone, using both sides of the plate and creating different angles, and having that very good understanding of how to pitch. 

Logan Shore, he can pitch.

OC: Brandon Baileys chances of being a starter are always knocked because of his size, but how do you think he has fared as a starter so far? Can he stay in that spot for awhile? 

BO:  We are always optimistic. He had nine strike-outs [on August 24]. Hell touch a 93, as well. Good change-up. Solid slider. Ton of strikes. Colorado kid that went to Gonzaga. He fills that zone up. Hes competitive. Hes a strike-thrower. Hes tenacious on the mound, and the numbers are pretty much a reflection of what he did in college. You hate to put limitations on anybody. There are pitchers at the major league level both starting and relieving that come in all shapes and sizes. Well see what the high-water mark is, but this kid is fearless and he is pounding that strike-zone and hes got pretty good stuff.

OC: Dakota Chalmers got off to a good start, but he has struggled with his command recently. Is he at where you guys would have hoped hed be at development-wise?

BO: Yeah. Dakota is 19. Hes a really good athlete. He cares. This kid wants that ball every five days. Hes aggressive. He likes baseball. Hes a competitor. He probably just needs to channel that abundance of energy the right way. He can get a little amped on the mound. But as far as his stuff, hell touch a 96, if not a little bit more. His curveball is definitely a swing-miss. His change-up – if we go back to that major league average projection – he has a chance to have a plus change-up.

Hes got dynamic weapons on that mound. Obviously he has to channel that ability to throw the ball over the plate as he climbs the ladder, but the weapons, the arm action, the body, those things are all positives. The energy he brings to the ballpark every day, just wanting to be out there and having that youthful exuberance, is exciting to see. At 19 years old, going forward, hes in a good position.

OC: There was some question as to whether Daulton Jefferies would even pitch this season coming off of the shoulder injury during his college season, but hes made five starts for the AZL As. Is he further along in his rehab than you even anticipated when you took him in the draft?

BO: The shoulder, thats not for me to really say. Well see where that goes, but as far as him being a leader and him being a phenomenal athlete and being able to touch that 94-95 and having success at Cal every year and with Team USA, thats all there. Hes up to 94, 95. His change-up is well above-major league average. His slider is right at major league average and he has a chance to improve his projection with that pitch. And he is a phenomenal athlete. 

Looking at him, you get the obvious comparisons to Sonny Gray physically. Actually, a totally different physical comparison – he definitely looks very similar to Sonny Gray – but Kenta Maeda is a good comp. Maeda is also a tremendous athlete with that wiry frame. Seeing Daulton pitch at Cal, it kind of reminded me of Maeda a little bit. Hes able to make adjustments on the fly, use that athleticism, throw that Bugs Bunny change-up in any count and dial-up that fastball to 95. With all things being considered, moving forward as he is able to get more innings, hell be a successful pitcher. 

OC: How have you felt Oscar Tovars season has gone since he returned from suspension?

BO: On the field, the results have been pretty good. Hes had a couple of clunkers, but he will touch 95 or better in most starts and hes got solid secondary pitches. Arizona, results on both sides can be tough on both sides in the summer-time. Thats a tough environment. Its necessary, but its not the easiest environment to really have results pitching or hitting. Hes taking the ball. Hes proven somewhat durable. The stuff is there. He will have a chance to keep on advancing, and well see where it takes him next year. But he definitely will approach 95 in every outing. 

OC: Skylar Szynski didnt pitch in a game in August. Was it a matter of stepping back with him and getting him ready for Instructs and not worrying about game action at this point?

BO: Yeah. I think if you go back to our high school draft picks weve had over the years: Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Ryan Webb, etc., weve always taken baby steps initially right after the draft. Let them get acclimated to the process, really control their innings and get them used to Instructional League. Then well push forward more during their first full season. Just like those three guys, we are doing the same thing with Skylar.

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