Oakland A's Front Office Q&A: Billy Owens

The off-season for all but two teams in baseball is fully in swing and Billy Owens and the rest of the Oakland A's front office are busy assessing the 2009 season and putting together plans for 2010. We caught-up with Owens, the A's Director of Player Personnel, in Arizona just after the conclusion of an Arizona Fall League game to get his thoughts on a variety of topics.

As always, it figures to be a busy off-season for the Oakland A's front office. The past two off-seasons have been spent re-shaping a roster that went to the American League Championship Series in 2006, but has since been mired in three consecutive losing seasons. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens sees a very bright light at the end of the tunnel for his organization, led by the promise of a strong group of young major leaguers and up-and-coming prospects.

We caught-up with Owens last Thursday afternoon for a Q&A just as he was leaving the ballpark having watched the Phoenix Desert Dogs (featuring the A's contingent of Arizona Fall League players) in an AFL battle.

OaklandClubhouse: How has the A's contingent looked at the Arizona Fall League thus far?

Billy Owens: Our contingent in the Fall League has been impressive. Grant Desme has been unbelievable, obviously. Most of his homeruns have been just no doubters and he has been hitting everything hard.

Jemile Weeks numbers aren't necessarily reflective of how he has been playing [as of Thursday]. He has been putting together a lot of good at-bats. And he has looked good defensively. He's definitely been on the upswing defensively. He's cleaned up his footwork and has made improvements all around.

Corey Brown hasn't had the hype because Desme is having such a great start, but he has been playing really well. He has four homeruns, which would be a lot if it weren't for Desme having 10. He's been swinging the bat well and playing great defense all over the outfield.

Justin Friend has pitched well. He's been at 91-92 with his fastball and he is at about 88 with his sinker.

Sam Demel has three above-average major league-caliber pitches. His numbers aren't good right now, but you can't really put too much stock in pitchers' numbers in this league. I think the league is hitting something like .300 right now. He has been at 93 or so with his fastball and has had good movement.

James Simmons is a command guy. He has been sitting at 88-90 most of the time with some sink. He has a really good change-up and he is working on his out-pitch down here. His linescore [for the start on Thursday] really wasn't indicative of how well he pitched. There were a couple of miscues behind him that were ruled hits that could have been ruled errors.

OC: Is Simmons healthy again? I know he missed some time at the end of the year.

BO: Yes. He was a little banged up at the end of the year, but he is healthy again.

OC: How about Mickey Storey? His rise through the organization from being an unknown is remarkable. What have you seen from him?

BO: Mickey Storey has been remarkable. All of the credit goes to our area scout for finding him down there in Florida, so we could grab him in the 31st round. He has tremendous command and his curveball is incredibly deceptive. He also mixes in a pretty good slider. It was remarkable how he was able to strike-out something like 70 batters and walk only eight this year. He has a good approach on the mound and really shows no fear.

Again, I wouldn't worry too much about his numbers [at the Fall League]. This is definitely a tough league for pitchers, so it is a good challenge all around for pitchers to come down here and go against all of these advanced hitters in these hitter-friendly ballparks.

This league has become a real ‘who's who' of baseball over the past few years. So many Rookies of the Year have come out of this league recently. Everyone knows about it and its importance now and it is really just a shame that it hasn't been found by the fans yet.

OC: How would you assess the state of the organization right now?

BO: I think you have to be excited to be a fan of the Oakland A's right now. You had two 21-year-old pitchers who had good seasons in the big leagues and a young pitching staff that performed remarkably well. It is a team that will be looking to build off of the strong second half performance and we have a whole slew of great position players coming.

Chris Carter had a ridiculous year. He was like a Tyrannosaurus Rex against the rest of the competition. It was a really remarkable, amazing year given how he was able to hit for power and average like that. Grant Green [the A's first pick in the 2009 draft] can swing the bat as good as any player we have selected in the draft over the last 10 years. The youngster Max Stassi [the A's fourth round pick in 2009] is just born to catch. Ian Krol [the A's seventh round pick in 2009] has also shown a lot of potential.

If you look at the rankings [of minor league talent for organizations around baseball], whether it is Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America or another publication doing the rankings, you'd have to think that we'd be at least in the top-five in talent and I think you could make the argument that we have the most depth of talent top to bottom of any organization. It's exciting.

It's still the majors and we still need to get results there, but I think we are getting ready to take that next step forward. Next year I think we'll have a chance to surprise a lot of people and by 2011, watch out. I compare the 2010 team to the 1999 Oakland Athletics team in terms of the depth of talent and how those young players are starting to come together where you know you'll have that nucleus going forward. I'm elated. It's an exciting time to be wearing the white cleats.

OC: We've talked a lot about the organization's expansion of its scouting efforts internationally. How do you think that is going?

BO: I am happy with all aspects of where our organization is at, including the international program. I've been with the organization for 12 years now and we are healthier in all areas of the organization than at any point since I've been with the team. We are signing international players from all over the spectrum, low-profile, mid-profile and high-profile guys.

I'm also pleased with the direction of the draft. Over the past few years, we have been able to take advantage of our higher draft position to bring in some top-level talent and sign some talented guys in lower spots. We have also been able to find some nuggets later in the draft. The arrow is definitely pointing up in both areas [of amateur scouting].

OC: Are there any updates on the health of Michael Ynoa and Fautino De Los Santos?

BO: There aren't really any updates. Michael Ynoa was at Instructional League and he was able to throw light side sessions and play catch. He will be participating full force at some point during the Dominican Instructional League. The great thing about Ynoa is that he is still immensely talented, and very, very young. Fautino De Los Santos is immensely talented, as well, and he will be healthy again soon and both guys will be able to show what they can do.

OC: The team signed a player out of Australia, Oliver Box. Will he be coming over to the US to play soon?

BO: The best thing about the state of the organization right now is that we have so much depth that we will only move someone to a spot when they are ready for it. There is no rushing guys. He is in Australia staying in shape and working out and when he is ready to go, he'll come over to the US to play.

OC: We talked last year about how, even though he had a great season, Chris Carter had room to improve to be a better all-around player. What sort of adjustments do you think he made to become that better all-around player?

BO: I think the thing with Chris Carter is that he was a young player last year who was moving over into a new organization for the first time.. He hit .291 in Low-A with the White Sox [in 2007], but he might have been putting too much pressure on himself his first season here [in 2008, when he hit .259]. He still hit for the power, but there were holes that developed in his swing and the average dropped. He sat down with [A's Director of Player Development] Keith Lieppman and [A's Minor League Hitting Coordinator] Greg Sparks [after the season]. Chris really wanted to get back to being a good hitter again and not just a slugger. They made the necessary adjustments with him and he was able to take off.

I think his athleticism is often unjustly maligned in certain aspects. Chris is a good athlete. He has good hands, can run a little bit and has a good arm. I sort of equate [people's perception of his defense] to Daric Barton when he was in the minor leagues. People were always maligning his defense in the minors, but I knew that Daric was a good athlete and that he was better than people were giving him credit for. When Daric got to the big leagues, he showed that he was a good defensive player. Chris is going to be the same way.

OC: Speaking of defense, do you think Brett Wallace is a third baseman moving forward?

BO: I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that question. [laughs] The thing that is important to remember about Brett is that in his junior season at Arizona State, his coach Pat Murphy moved him over to third base after he hadn't played there at all his first two years. A lot of people called it an experiment, but Brett took it as a challenge. He worked extremely hard there, played well there and still managed to win the Pac-10 Triple Crown for the second year. Then he was taken by the Cardinals in the draft and continued to play at third. This year, he spent much of the year playing third for teams that made it to the PCL finals and he played well at the hot-corner for them, too. That is a pretty high level to be playing at. I think the more important thing is to focus on what Brett has done defensively and not worry so much about what you might think will happen in the future. He is a tremendous player.

OC: On a personal note, I saw your name come up in media rumors when the San Diego Padres' General Manager position was open. Is it a goal of yours to be a GM someday?

BO: That is a tough question. You are always looking for new challenges in your career, but it has been and continues to be a blessing to wear the white spikes.

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