Oakland A's Mid-Season Q&A: Billy Owens, P. 1

We have passed the midway point of the 2013 minor league season. We recently caught-up with Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens to go over the progress of several A's prospects. In part one, we cover manager Ryan Christenson, Chris Bostick, Raul Alcantara, Michael Ynoa, Renato Nunez, Bruce Maxwell, Matt Olson, Daniel Robertson, Addison Russell, Max Muncy and Anthony Aliotti.

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to start with the Beloit Snappers since you were in Chicago watching the team take on Kane County. One of the guys who I wanted to talk about is Chris Bostick. He caught everyone's eye during his pro debut in 2011 and is having an outstanding year at the plate with Beloit this year. What do you think of him as a player and how does he project down the road?

Billy Owens: First, Chris is an extremely hard worker. He's focused. He's definitely an intense baseball player. Continuing what he did last year [with short-season Vermont] and what he did when he signed, he has an excellent hitting approach. He stays through the middle of the field. He has power potential and his glove at second base is promising. He is definitely working on the finer points of fielding with our esteemed infield coordinator Juan Navarette.

He is just getting better every day. The numbers reflect it. I think he's hitting .298 with 10 homers. He has a speed component and he is definitely trending north.

OC: One thing that has impressed me about the Snappers is how well they have played as a team despite having such a young roster. How impressed have you been with Ryan Christenson in his first season as a manager in the system?

BO: He is doing an outstanding job. Ryno is a great communicator. He has great experience – he played in the major leagues, he played in our system. We definitely have the best farm director in the game in Keith Lieppman and he has taught Ryan well. Ryan played for Keith and also played in the big leagues with us. He has really taken this young club and run with it.

These kids got some tutelage last season in short-season under Rick Magnante [in Vermont] and under Marcus Jensen [in Arizona] and they gelled pretty well. The kids last year in Rookie ball lost a tough game to the Rangers for the championship but that team got along and thrived and competed with each other. A couple of those guys got moved up to short-season ball but they joined together again during Instructional League.

Those guys are definitely a unit. They have good teamwork. They like each other. They feed off of each other. So Ryan adds to that component as a good leader. We expect big things out of him as a manager in the future.

OC: Michael Ynoa was named to the World Team roster for the MLB Futures Game [on Wednesday] and teammate Renato Nunez has a chance to make that team through MLB's final vote. Can you talk about what they have been able to accomplish in their first seasons of full-season ball?

BO: Michael Ynoa's journey has been well chronicled. We have talked about before that he was only able to take baby steps on the diamond. Now the talent has been validated in terms of what he can do. He has an impressive body at 6'6'', 6'7''. He has an intimidating look to him and he is a pretty good athlete as well. He throws in the mid-90s with a pretty good breaking ball, a solid change-up and he is pitching in the ‘zone.

As we gradually increase his workload, with Michael missing so much time over the years, to use a football analogy, we want to get yardage on first down before we think about touchdowns.

It's been a work-in-progress. It has been exciting just to go through the whole signing process and to see the talent on the field three or four years later. Going forward, he's going to be an integral part of our future. The talent is there. You don't want to throw caution to the wind. You just want to continue to get yardage, continue to get first downs and down the road we will look for touchdowns.

Renato Nunez, the kid is a hitter. He went to Rookie ball last year and I believe he led the circuit in doubles. He went to the Midwest League this year and already has 13 homers, which I believe is second in the league to date. He is an aggressive swinger. He can hit fastballs, breaking balls, change-ups. He has a fast bat and makes adjustments well and he has power. He is a tremendous make-up kid. The sky is the limit for his future.

He is also a kid who is going to make tremendous strides with Juan Navarette on his fielding. He'll continue to improve and be diligent on his work at third base.

OC: How would you assess the first half-seasons in full-season ball for 2012 supplemental first-round picks Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson?

BO: I think both guys are energetic, tremendous kids. Last year, Matt Olson came out of the gates and hit a few homeruns early. He hit for a high average, but we felt that his approach could improve. I think this year his average isn't as high as it was in Rookie ball, but his walks and strike-outs are getting a lot better. He is using the whole field. His extra-base hits are starting to perk up.

This kid has had a tremendous attitude. He loves the game of baseball and he is a very good athlete at first base. I made the analogy the other day – and obviously this is a ways down the road – but he kind of fields his position like the old Minnesota Twins player Kent Hrbek. He throws very well. He's got tremendous footwork. He's athletic, agile and he picks throws well.

Down the road, he has a chance to be a plus defensive first baseman with a plus throwing arm and he will eventually hit for power. Right now, we just want him to keep his approach sound, use the field, take those walks when they are given and make quality contact. I expect a better second half from him than his first half as he continues to refine his approach.

Daniel Robertson got a late start this year [rehabbing an injury at extended spring training]. He got here in late April. But this kid plays an outstanding shortstop. He kind of reminds me of the former Atlanta Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser in that he is almost boringly efficient. He has good footwork. He reads the ball off the bat well, gets the ball cleanly, has a very good transfer and is on the money with his throws. He is aggressive and energetic and alert in the field.

We have to remember that these guys are teenagers playing in a league that is historically tough to hit in. For him to be hitting .270ish right now with a handful of homeruns in his first 200 at-bats of long-season professional baseball is encouraging. As he gets acclimated to playing a full season and he gets his 500 at-bats, I think the numbers will improve.

OC: Bruce Maxwell and Raul Alcantara were with the Snappers for the first half of the season before recently earning promotions to High-A Stockton. How would you assess Maxwell's improvement at the plate over the numbers he put up with Vermont last year? Also, what was the difference for Alcantara in his second go-around in the Midwest League after struggling last year?

BO: Maxwell, for one, his numbers were ridiculous in college. He had more homers than strike-outs and he was that level's player of the year. Just being drafted and going through the excitement of draft day and then suddenly you are in a professional uniform, swinging a wood bat day-in and day-out, it's an adjustment period. It's almost like we get too high or too low as an industry on what guys do in short-season before they have had a chance to have their first full Instructional League and to have a full, normal off-season and a full spring training.

Bruce is a good hitter. He has even strike-outs to walks. He uses the field. He has a pretty left-handed swing. The power hasn't come yet, but it will come. It's on the horizon. He has very strong hands and he sees the baseball exceptionally well. He's definitely going to be a positive force at the plate.

He has improved his defense [at catcher] up a notch, as well. He is in-tune with the pitching coach, he works with the staff well, he is blocking and receiving solidly. He's always had a plus arm from a strength standpoint and now his transfer is getting better. He is hitting as expected, the power is on the horizon and his catching has improved. That defensive improvement is a testament to him and to Marcus Jensen, our catching coordinator, who has done an excellent job with his catching.

Raul Alcantara, we got him from the Red Sox two years ago. When he came over, he was very young for the Midwest League. He had had a good run in the Gulf League with the Red Sox and had had a taste of the New York-Penn League. We are always aggressive with our assignments and that bodes well for us. Raul got a taste of the Midwest League last year in a very aggressive move. He was able to get acclimated and he was a tremendous teammate, but he had to get used to hitters who were older and more advanced.

He showed the velocity, but he had to refine his command and his secondary pitches. He saw what the league had to offer, went back, got his rest, went to the Instructional League to work on his secondary pitches and this year, I think he left here with his walks in single digits. His fastball was still touching 95 miles per hour, his change-up is solid and his breaking ball is improved. He definitely warranted an advanced assignment to Stockton.

OC: When you talk about the Stockton team, the first player you think of is Addison Russell. He went through a few bumps in the road early in the season with his health and getting adjusted to the league, but he has hit his stride this month [.370/.400/.712 in June]. What adjustments did he make to get to the point where he was swinging the bat as well as he has been lately?

BO: Addison is a special talent. Just seeing him last year make a meteoric rise through the system from Rookie ball to short-season to Low-A. I think he hit .360 with double-digit homers, lots of extra-base hits, exceptional defense and maturity beyond his years. He came to big league spring training this year and didn't skip a beat. Everyone likes him and he wasn't overwhelmed by the experience at all. He hit the ball very hard during spring training even if the results weren't there, and the at-bats were very good.

He starts the year in Stockton as the youngest player in the league on an aggressive assignment. Honestly, 20 years ago, Derek Jeter could go to the South Atlantic League in 1993 and his results weren't chronicled every single day. Now Addison, instead of waking up on June 15 and seeing he is batting X for his first 200 at-bats, now he is exposed to the media pressure as a day-to-day thing.

To be the youngest kid in that league and wake up today on June 27th with him hitting .259 with nine homeruns, slugging .500 and playing exceptional defense at shortstop, that's really the story. How he got there from April 1 to June 27, it's not really a struggle. The kid, he's mature. He took to it. All of his teammates like him and he's very coachable. The second half is going to be a lot better than the first half. But when you put it in context, the first half was pretty good.

OC: Stockton first baseman Max Muncy has had a standout season thus far. Coming into the year, it seemed like the only thing missing from his profile was his ability to hit for power, but hitting 20 homers in his first 75 games or so seems to answer that question. Anthony Aliotti is having a tremendous season at the same position in Midland, but if there is an opening, is Muncy a player you'd like to see moved up to Double-A?

BO: Max, for one, is a baseball rat. He's a left-handed hitter, but he reminds me of a Kevin Millar just with their effervescent attitude towards the game. Kevin was an undrafted free agent who just raked in college. He is from California, but he played in Texas. And he killed in the minor leagues. I think he still holds the record for RBI with 130 with the Portland Sea Dogs. Max just has that same zest for the game. He gives a quality at-bat every day. He's a tenacious competitor.

He's got the 20 homers and even walks to strike-outs, but his defense is outstanding. I went to this series about 10 days ago in Rancho Cucamonga, and he pulled a jaw-dropping 3-6-3 double-play with the game on the line. With the game in the balance, he made a miraculous play for the double-play and he also caught a tremendous pop-up in that game.

Just his overall flow is excellent. The strike-outs to walks are even, the homers are there, and he is doing what Armond Brown, the area scout down there in Texas, anticipated. That's why he recommended him and he has proven prophetic here. With the minor leagues, there is no set timetable. That's what thing we have talked about over the years. There are always surprise promotions and demotions. There is always a methodical reason for every move.

The best thing anybody in the system – in the major leagues or the minor leagues – can do is play their best every day for the particular club that they are on. Be a part of a winning atmosphere and help the club out and be a good teammate and produce. I think Max Muncy is doing all of the above and he is going to continue doing that. We'll make those decisions as they come.

OC: Speaking of Aliotti, he had a solid season in the Texas League last year and has taken that to another level this year. He has always been somewhat fringy in terms of his prospect status, but he's improved at the plate every year and is a plus defender at first. Do you see him as someone who could make a push for a big league job in the next few years?

BO: I think that first and foremost that Anthony is definitely a prospect. You can't hide from that fact. The way that he's hit .300 in Double-A last year in his first year at that level and has backed that up by hitting .350 in the first half this year is impressive. His extra-base hits have increased, his walk numbers have increased, he uses the whole field. He can hit the ball from foul line to foul line with authority. His glove at first base is tremendous.

From a scouting perspective, I have always looked at him as he has risen through the ranks as someone like Mike Aldrete, who was a Bay Area favorite when I was a kid. Anthony has probably exceeded those projections right now. Just the fact that he has exceeded what he did in Double-A last year and he has just continued to thrive.

I went down to see our Double-A club recently and he just blistered the ball all over the field. He made an impact defensively at first base. He is definitely the team leader of the Midland squad. An excellent individual and a smart baseball player. He's doing everything we have asked of him.

I played in the Baltimore Orioles system and Don Baylor and Bobby Grich were MVPs of the International League and they both went back. When you have a good major league team – and the Orioles back then were in the World Series – Don Baylor and Bobby Grich had to go back and duplicate their International League MVPs. It's not unprecedented in baseball. The timetables, and we can go back-and-forth about it, but you have to produce wherever you are at to make sure that the spotlight is on you. Anthony and Max are both doing that.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, during which we cover Drew Granier, Murphy Smith, Sonny Gray, Grant Green, Stephen Vogt and much more...

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