This past week, I had the chance to speak with the A's director of player personnel, Billy Owens, to get his take on some of the A's top prospects now that we're a good month and a half into the season. Owens originally joined the A's back in the late-‘90s, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball. In 2004, he took on his current job, where he's been able to put his extensive knowledge of the game and its players to more thorough use. His genuine enthusiasm for the team's minor league players is always apparent. And I wanted to be sure to share some excerpts of his comments with all of you here. You can see the interview in it's entirety on my Athletics Farm site and check out some highlights from my recent conversation with Billy O. right here on Athletics Nation...
SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
2B-SS Tyler Ladendorf (1 HR / 21 BB / 25 K / .303 AVG / .413 OBP / .437 SLG / .850 OPS)
Billy Owens: Tyler's always been able to play short, been able to play third, been able to play second, put him in the outfield. And he came to spring training and had a couple little cameos in big league camp and did pretty well and he started off pretty hot there at Sacramento. So you've got somebody you can put out at short, you can put out at third, you can put out in center field and really not miss a beat offensively or defensively. Ben Zobrist is kind of a guy that's popular in today's game, but I remember Tony Phillips for the A's back in the day who could get on base, hit some homers and pretty much play anywhere on the field. So when you've got a player like Ladendorf who can do so many things defensively and then starts swinging the bat more positively, he's answered the call this year.
SS Addison Russell (1 HR / 0 BB / 1 K / .714 AVG / .714 OBP / 1.286 SLG / 2.000 OPS)
Billy Owens: We're so excited about Addison as a person and as a player that we just want to make sure he's totally healthy so that when he's ready to go, he can go out there and perform. But the way he acclimated himself to spring training, being around the big league players, he was definitely in a comfort zone compared to his first spring training and he was performing very well. He was hitting the ball with authority. He was making the plays in the field. I've been with the Oakland A's since November of ‘98, and I'm as excited about Addison Russell as anybody we've had during that time frame.
OF Billy Burns (0 HR / 18 BB / 23 K / .230 AVG / .324 OBP / .262 SLG / .586 OPS)
Billy Owens: His walk-to-strikeout ratio is very good. His stolen base percentage has been exceptional throughout his career. The speed is still an elite tool. He's definitely putting the ball in play. So the odds are, over the course of the season, Billy Burns will definitely have his numbers...The talent he showed in spring training was not an aberration...The kid only switch-hit a little bit in high school and didn't really do it in college, then he went back to batting both ways as a professional, so he's still getting acclimated to that...but he's always in control of the zone - more walks than strikeouts historically for his career from both sides of the plate. His makeup is off the charts, he's a hard worker, he loves the game and he gets the utmost out of his ability - so we're as excited about Billy Burns right now as we were the day we acquired him.
1B Max Muncy (2 HR / 24 BB / 14 K / .320 AVG / .446 OBP / .476 SLG / .922 OPS)
Billy Owens: I think last year, by the time he got to Double-A and the [Arizona] Fall League - his first full season - he's such a hard worker, that maybe he got a little bit fatigued. But it also gave him a taste of what he had to do against higher level competition. He came back and got a little bit stronger, his eyes got cleaner and he was having tremendous at-bats. His strikeout-to-walk ratio improved considerably from last year at Double-A and the extra-base hits were coming in bunches. He played an outstanding first base and he was actually playing a pretty solid third base as well. He's just a baseball rat. And the kids who compete every day and have that enthusiasm, when they have talent, they get the most out of their abilities. And Max Muncy is definitely going to get the most out of his abilities and we're definitely encouraged by what he's done so far in the Double-A season.
RHP Michael Ynoa (12 1/3 IP / 12 H / 10 ER / 7 BB / 21 K / 7.30 ERA / 1.54 WHIP)
Billy Owens: He's just a kid who's still 22 years old. He's got a lot of talent, he's up to 97 [mph], he's got a great body and he's got a fluid delivery. The breaking ball's still crisp and the changeup's improving. It's just a matter of him being able to go out there and have a season where he's able to accumulate innings and compete every day. And I think if he's able to sustain time on the field, the talent will manifest itself...Hopefully he can just be on the field here the rest of the season, and then we'll see exactly what he can do with that 95 mph fastball and a good breaking ball and a changeup.
RHP Seth Streich (47 IP / 48 H / 19 ER / 11 BB / 49 K / 3.64 ERA / 1.26 WHIP)
Billy Owens: Last year, his stuff was really good. He was up around 94-95 mph, but the results weren't totally there the first half of the season. But Scott Emerson, our pitching coordinator, was able to work with him and, all of a sudden, the results started to change halfway through last year. The stuff's definitely there - good movement on the fastball, he's got a solid slider and he's got a good changeup. And the reports from Rich Sparks, the area scout who signed him initially, are coming to fruition. Seth's a very good competitor, the stuff's there and really since last year, probably the middle of July, he's pitched very well.
OF Billy McKinney (6 HR / 26 BB / 33 K / .208 AVG / .339 OBP / .382 SLG / .721 OPS)
Billy Owens: I've been very impressed, to be honest. I mean, the kid has 6 home runs, he's got an abundant amount of walks already, he's having really good at-bats and the game reports are pretty positive every night...we know, through the course of the season, he's going to be able to excel...To have 6 home runs at 19 years old and have the walk numbers he's been able to accumulate, it's been a very positive assessment of his abilities so far...Billy had an outstanding spring training...and he can hit, he's a natural hitter, he's hit all through the pros and he's going to have power. I would say with Billy, Mark Kotsay, who played here for a long time, that would probably be the ceiling and David Murphy, who plays for the Indians now, that would kind of be the floor of what I would project Billy McKinney to be as a major league baseball player. But all signs are positive, the kid's a great makeup kid, he's having tremendous at-bats, and the average will heighten during the course of the season.
C Bruce Maxwell (3 HR / 13 BB / 24 K / .297 AVG / .358 OBP / .391 SLG / .749 OPS)
Billy Owens: His numbers were tremendous in college - the strikeout-to-walk ratio, the homers, the base hits. And I think when Bruce joined the organization, he worked so hard on improving his catching abilities that his offense took a back seat. And he went from being a guy who was kind of a catcher initially, now he's a strong defensive catcher. He's got a tremendous throwing arm and his numbers are solid as far as throwing runners out. He's always been a good hitter, and now that he's a tremendous backstop as well, that bodes well for him being a positive prospect going forward.
3B Renato Nunez (6 HR / 10 BB / 35 K / .260 AVG / .310 OBP / .448 SLG / .758 OPS)
Billy Owens: Renato, he's a natural hitter. He's 19 years old, he's a smart kid. He's a good enough hitter where he's able to barrel pretty much any pitch in the strike zone. But with that, you become so fearless that you're able to swing at more pitches. So as he matures, I think he's going to get smarter and realize that for him to drive the ball more successfully, he's got to just concentrate on swinging within the strike zone. But Renato's smart enough and he's a good enough baseball player to make those adjustments. And in the field, he's another kid who's a worker...His bat was always his forte and we signed him because of his bat, but he's improved his defensive abilities. He gives you a lot of heart and a lot of effort and he's making the plays more routinely this year, so that's definitely an arrow pointing forward. But Renato's a hitter, and he will improve his plate discipline. He's got a gorgeous swing and the power will be there. But that's his forte when he's got that Louisville Slugger in his hands!
SS Daniel Robertson (4 HR / 22 BB / 27 K / .289 AVG / .380 OBP / .422 SLG / .802 OPS)
Billy Owens: He's an outstanding prospect. He can definitely play shortstop - he's got great instincts, tremendous hands, his arm's accurate. His plate discipline this year has gotten better. And he's such a sharp kid that he recognized what he needed to improve upon from the Midwest League. Plate discipline was definitely at the top of the list. And he's definitely tackled that so far this year - taking his walks, hitting the ball in the gaps for extra bases. He's had a nice swing. He's probably the first guy at the field every day and the last guy to leave...The fact that Daniel Robertson and Addison Russell came up together, you look at them almost like an Alan Trammell and a Lou Whitaker. But honestly, being able to play short, he could play anywhere in the infield.
2B-SS Chad Pinder (8 HR / 5 BB / 29 K / .333 AVG / .368 OBP / .636 SLG / 1.003 OPS)
Billy Owens: I think he had an injury last year that bothered him initially in short-season ball and was never totally able to get comfortable there, but we always liked the ability. He had a strong Instructional League and carried over to spring training, and he definitely gained some strength. So it was pretty easy to let him go to the California League. And he's done pretty well so far - 6 homers to start, his average is high. But I'd still like to look at that strikeout-to-walk ratio and tighten that up - you know, swing at strikes and take the balls and have that good strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's something that Chad can definitely improve on, but I'm definitely encouraged by the 6 homers, the high average and playing solid defense as well.
1B-3B Ryon Healy (4 HR / 13 BB / 28 K / .206 AVG / .261 OBP / .329 SLG / .590 OPS)
Billy Owens: He always hit in college and had a tremendous last year before we drafted him. He's another kid who unfortunately had a few injuries initially to start his career, but now he's starting to get acclimated. He'll hit. He's definitely got a nice swing, he's got power potential. It's early in the year and he's creeping up there towards the Mendoza Line. Once he passes that and keeps on moving forward and improving that strikeout-to-walk ratio, the talent will be there and he'll hit this year.
RHP Ronald Herrera (38 2/3 IP / 41 H / 11 ER / 9 BB / 25 K / 2.56 ERA / 1.29 WHIP)
Billy Owens: Ronald Herrera is a kid who had a tremendous rookie league last year. He's 19 years old, he's up to 93 [mph] - he'll touch 94 [mph] - tremendous delivery. His breaking ball's solid, he can back you up a little bit with the changeup, he's aggressive and he's got a tremendous demeanor. In a lot of ways, he's what Raul Alcantara was 2-3-4 years ago. So Ronald Herrera is definitely somebody to watch up there at Beloit.
OF Herschel Powell (1 HR / 31 BB / 30 K / .333 AVG / .452 OBP / .410 SLG / .862 OPS)
Billy Owens: I saw him last year in rookie ball and he played very well, put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases. He went up to the New York-Penn League last year and put the bat on the ball, got on base, stole bases and played good center field. And lo and behold, here we are again and he's putting the ball in play, getting on base, stealing bases and playing outstanding defense again. He's tenacious, he's a worker, he believes in his abilities, and he's definitely putting himself more and more on the radar. And like I said, from Billy Beane on down, we reward performance. And if you look at our big league team, if they play well, they'll get opportunities. So a kid like "Boog" Powell, he's definitely put himself on the radar.
You can check out my blog - Athletics Farm - for updates on the A's minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.