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Oakland Athletics Assistant GM Billy Owens on A’s A-ball prospects

In the last part of our four-part mid-season conversation with Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager Billy Owens, we discuss five prospects getting their feet wet in A-ball and touch on 2017 top pick Austin Beck.

Eric Marinez / Photo by David Malamut
Eric Marinez is having a breakout season for Beloit. / Photo by David Malamut

On Monday, I spoke with Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager Billy Owens about a wide-range of topics relating to the A’s younger talent. In case you missed the first three parts of the interview, here are the links: part one, part two and part three. In our final segment, we discuss two pitchers recently signed by the A’s out of Cuba, three Beloit Snappers’ prospects having breakout seasons and A’s 2017 top pick Austin Beck.

OaklandClubhouse: After a long paperwork process, Norge Ruiz is finally in the States and is pitching for High-A Stockton. What kind of pitcher is he based on what you have seen from him thus far and reports you had on him?

Billy Owens: Norge, he’s kind of old school. Back in the day, we traded for Omar Olivares in the 1990s. That type of guy. He’s going to mix-and-match. The fastball, it tops at 94, but he’s more of a 91ish with a little bit of a sinker. He’ll flash a cutter. He has a loopy breaking ball. His change-up is his bread-and-butter off-speed pitch. He’ll flash a split-finger in there. He’ll change arm angles and mix both his release point and his pitches.

He has a chance to be a backend starter and it’s still an acclimation to coming over here from Cuba. He spent a lot of time in the Dominican and now he is here in the States. It will be an adjustment, but he has a chance to fill up the strike-zone, move the ball around, be in that low-90s range, have enough breaking ball to change eye levels, and his change-up is his out-pitch. Hopefully, he’ll get adjusted and pitch like he’s capable of pitching the rest of the summer here.

OC: Miguel Romero also came over from Cuba during a similar timeframe. What kind of pitcher is he?

BO: Miguel Romero is more of a power guy. He’ll heat up in that 94, 95 MPH range. He’s got a really good change-up. His change-up is kind of Fernando Rodney-esque in terms of it having a swing-miss component to it. He has a nice slider. He is more of a power pitcher with a good change-up. Really excellent athlete. Outstanding physicality to him. He’s exciting. He got a little taste the other night in Beloit. Topped at 95. I was actually there. He pitched better than his linescore would dictate. He’s got really good stuff. We’ll see where it goes. We are optimistic for sure.

OC: Edwin Diaz and you mentioned Eric Marinez earlier have both been playing much better this season. Are they starting to come into the talents that you guys projected from them when they signed?

BO: And I would put Luis Barrera on that list too. All those guys offer impressive tools. Edwin Diaz has arguably the best hands in the organization fielding wise. It’s a pleasure just to watch him take a groundball. The exchange is clean. He’s a bigger guy, so in terms of shortstop it’s kind of like looking at Jhonny Peralta at a young age in terms of the physicality to him. Edwin lowered his strike-out rate and upped his walk rate a bit. He has a handful of homers and the defense is outstanding. Literally the best hands in the organization.

Eric Marinez, he’s a kid who I think only walked four times in the New York-Penn League and still hit .250. Sweet stroke. This year, his walk rate is up a lot higher than what it was in the New York-Penn League. He and Edwin have been flip-flopping between short and third. Marinez doesn’t have the polish that Diaz has defensively, but Marinez is probably a little bit more explosive of a defender. He has 70-grade arm and the real stylish hands, as well. He just needs to get a little more consistent, but he is definitely a prospect and he’s breaking out this season.

Luis Barrera, last year he rolled about a .320 in the New York-Penn League and then he went to Low-A for about 100 at-bats and hit around .280. This year, he’s right around .280 and he has six or seven triples, double digit doubles and three homers. He’s a plus runner. He has the tools and equipment to play centerfield. He’s played all three outfield positions in Beloit and he’s really coming into his own. He has a really good bunt game, as well, and he’s fast enough to get infield hits. Luis Barrera is definitely breaking out as a prospect. Young kid. I think he’s still just 21-years-old, but all three of those guys are having great years. That Low-A team is fun to watch between Edwin Diaz, Eric Marinez and Luis Barrera. All three of those guys are legitimate prospects.

Oakland A’s prospect Luis Barrera opening eyes despite All-Star snub

OC: Looking at Austin Beck, how would he compare to the last two high school players the A’s selected with their top pick, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, in terms of polish in their game at the same stage?

BO: All three of those guys are such different players and they are from different parts of the country. We were really excited to get all three when we selected them. It’s too early to put any kind of timetables or comparisons.

Eric Kubota does an outstanding job as the Scouting Director and the numbers will prove that he has been one of the most productive Scouting Directors for his tenure. The WAR for the guys that he has drafted is very high over the years. You throw in the guys who performed for us, like Kurt Suzuki, Huston Street, and guys who have been traded like Andre Ethier, Eric’s WAR is outstanding.

We are excited about Austin Beck, as well as all of the other draft choices. All 30 teams are excited two weeks after the draft. It’s tough to put any kind of specifics on what these guys are going to do so soon after the draft. We all have conversations before the draft and then you do your selecting and everyone is excited and shaking hands and that’s when the real work starts. It will be fun. Austin is a very talented kid and we are looking forward to him having a successful career.

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