In part one of our mid-season conversation with Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager Billy Owens, we discussed several Oakland A’s rookies currently getting their feet wet in the big leagues. In part two, we discussed four prospects with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds who could join the A’s later this season.
In part three of our conversation, we chat about five players currently on the Double-A Midland RockHounds’ roster.
OaklandClubhouse: A.J. Puk has struggled a bit with command in his last two starts with Double-A Midland, although he settled in well after a rough first inning in his last start. How do you feel he is progressing in his first full season as a professional pitcher?
Billy Owens: It’s been a fun first year. Going back to draft day, during the course of that spring, we probably never would have thought that A.J. Puk would get to us with the sixth pick in the country. SEC starter, 6’7’’, left-handed, up to 97, and three swing-miss pitches with his fastball, slider and change-up. Just the way the season progressed, we were very thrilled to get him with that sixth pick in the draft in 2016. He’s been as advertised from day one. Trevor Schaffer, since he scouted him dating back to his freshman year at Florida, and even going back to Kevin Mello had him back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a high school player, A.J. Puk has always had really good stuff.
His fastball changes lanes and it’s tough to square up. He’s 6’7’’. The slider, it can be nasty at times. Honestly, I think his change-up is probably his best swing-miss pitch. When you put that with a guy who is 6’7’’ – you look at the history [of left-handers that size] Randy Johnson, he wasn’t an overnight success, Drew Pomeranz who is another guy who is a tall starter, lefty with pretty good stuff, Andrew Miller was another famous guy who was traded numerous times and was a top-10 overall pick. I think that with those kinds of guys with that kind of stuff, you really want to try to keep the delivery simple. Gil Patterson did that with him from day one. You try to take the combination of seeing all of those 6’6’’ and taller lefties that throw 95+ with that kind of electricity, and give A.J. something very simple to work with to harness that stuff.
He was able to really cut through the California League with that upper-90s fastball, sometimes even topping out at that century mark and that devastating change-up and an effective slider and he even sprinkled in some curveballs. His first start was great in Double-A, but as generally thing go, Double-A is harder than High-A. The next start, they got the scouting report and waited him out and it wasn’t as pretty. His third start in Double-A was encouraging. Rocky road to start the first inning. Got out of it with a pretty double-play and settled in. Threw five solid innings from there and finished with six innings in, four walks and four strike-outs. It was an encouraging start. The sky is the limit for what A.J. can do. At some point, he’ll really settle in and harness that stuff.
In terms of stuff from a premium left-handed starting pitching prospect standpoint, I’ll take A.J. Puk over any left-handed starter in the minor leagues.
OC: Grant Holmes, I believe, is still the youngest player on that Midland roster. He took his lumps a bit early in the year, but he has pitched much better over the past month. What kind of adjustments has he made since joining the A’s?
BO: Holmes is a different player than [Franklin] Barreto, obviously, but similar in that he has always played up. Instead of going to short-season, he went to Low-A. Instead of going to Low-A, he went to High-A. Now he’s in Double-A when most kids his age are in A-ball. Just from a maturation process, he’s playing with grown men in Double-A and you have to locate the fastball more and tighten the breaking ball. He’s got a naturally excellent change-up. He throws a power change-up but he can also take some off and really draw the change-up and create some separation, which is unique for a guy who throws 95 miles per hour.
He’s got the pitches. He’s a really smart kid as far as making adjustments and listening to the pitching coaches during the game. He’ll take his lumps. He’s very young, one of the youngest starters in that league. I think when he hands in his report card at the end of the year, it will be good. He’ll learn from that. He’ll get challenged again at the next two levels, but, at the end of the day, he’ll be a pretty good major league starting pitcher.
OC: Max Schrock was a player you picked up in an August deal with the Washington Nationals. He seemed like a really solid pick-up for an August acquisition. He’s hit for average everywhere he has played. Do you see him developing power as he matures, or does he project more as a .300 hitter who can steal a few bases for a team?
BO: Max Schrock has always been a really good hitter. I have seen him play dating back to high school. That was a very fair trade last year. The Nationals, they needed a left-handed reliever at that point in the season and they picked up Scrabble [Marc Rzepczynski] and so it was an advantageous deal for both sides. Both sides are happy. Max came over here and helped Midland win a Texas League Championship. He led all of the minor leagues in hits in 2016. He’s just able to manipulate the barrel and use all fields. He’s a .300 career hitter.
He’s got some power in there. I think he has the potential for double-digit homeruns in the major leagues when the dust settles. Just looking at the big league numbers this year, there are a whole lot of players with more homeruns than you would have envisioned when those players were in A-ball or Double-A. The power is always the last thing to come. It’s a lot more important to be a good hitter before the power spikes.
He’s a good hitter and he’ll have plenty of extra-base production at the top level. From a defensive standpoint, he’s been excellent. He’s definitely worked with Juan Navarrette. He was really good to start and Juan really accentuated his game. He’s made every conceivable play at second base. The Midland team leads the Texas League in double-plays turned and Max is a big part of that. We are excited to have him and fully expect him to take that natural progression and eventually be a good major league player.
OC: Sean Murphy received a promotion to Double-A recently. I was impressed with what I saw from him in Stockton this year. The arm and the defense were well established coming into this year, but it seemed like his bat was a little ahead of what maybe one would have expected from him coming out of college. Do you see him as a real two-way threat as a prospect?
BO: No doubt. Sean Murphy is firmly establishing himself as one of the premiere two-way catching prospects in the minor leagues. His arm is a 70 and the scouting scale is 2-8. We are fortunate to have Matt Chapman, who has an 8-arm. And we have a few guys with big arms. Murphy has a lockdown 7 arm. Yairo Munoz has a close to a 7 arm as possible. Eric Marinez in Low-A ball is another guy in our system with close to a 70-grade arm, as well.
Sean Murphy, he’s a wall behind the plate: 6’4’’, but still really flexible, outstanding hands, 70-grade arm. Offensively, he has been damaging the baseball with nine homeruns in the California League. He’s off to a good start in the Texas League so far. Honestly, he had a breakout year in the Cape Cod League before his junior year and then he was off to a great start to his junior year. Unfortunately, he got hurt during his college season [broken hamate bone] and that kind of curtailed his offensive numbers. Him being a team guy, I think he probably came back prematurely from the injury. We took note of that and we didn’t let those numbers dictate where we valued him. We definitely valued the player.
He’s been as advertised. That defense is outstanding. The arm has been superlative and the bat has been good and the power is going to be there. He’s a real tough kid. I just put in a scouting report that he’s hockey tough. He’s a tough kid and he’s hungry to play well and thirsty for more knowledge. He’s definitely one of the premier two-way catching prospects in the minor leagues.
OC: I enjoyed watching Tyler Ramirez play with Stockton, as well. He just received a promotion to Midland. He sort of reminds of Jaycob Brugman in how he grinds out his at-bats and uses the whole field. Is he a Brugman-esque prospect, the kind of guy who does a lot of little things well?
BO: Tyler Ramirez is able to use the whole field. He hit .300 in High-A ball. Hit a handful of homeruns. Really solid defender. Instinctive technician out there. He’s definitely a solid player. I think from a major league profile perspective, recently, David DeJesus played for us a handful of years ago. That would be a lofty comparison, but that would be somebody for Tyler to emulate. But he can definitely use the whole field. He’s patient. He has 45 walks on the year. You’d like to see him cut down on the strike-outs some. His ball-striking ability is better than his strike-out numbers indicate. I think he can be a kid who can hit for a high average and really controls the zone at the higher levels.
So far so good. It’s his first full season and we are excited. Here we are, it’s July 3rd and he’ll get a chance to get a taste of Double-A for the next few months hopefully and we’ll see where we are at for the rest of the year. But it was very exciting to get him where we got him in the draft. He’s been a very good player so far for us.
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