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Oakland Athletics Assistant GM Billy Owens on Nashville Sounds prospects

In part two of our mid-season conversation with Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager Billy Owens, we discuss four prospects currently playing for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

Renato Nunez / Photo by Chris Lockard
Renato Nunez is hitting, but looking for a spot in the field. / Photo by Chris Lockard

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 discuss four prospects with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds who could join the A’s later this season.

OaklandClubhouse: Speaking of peaks and valleys, Frankie Montas is one of the pitchers who has had his ups and downs this season. He’s back in Nashville and is in the Sounds’ starting rotation now. Do you see him as someone who should develop as a starter, or did you like him in that bullpen role?

Billy Owens: It’s kind of like with guys that always start at shortstop and then sprout out. Frankie has tremendous stuff. He can throw over 100 MPH. He’s got a good breaking ball. One thing I think he should be developing in Triple-A right now is throwing his change-up more, because it is actually a pretty good pitch and that will give him a lot more contrast to the 100 MPH petroleum that he features. He just needs to settle in, accentuate his stuff and learn his lessons in Triple-A and when that next big league opportunity comes up, be assertive and find a way to combat what they are doing to him at that level. At some point, he’ll settle in and be a good big league pitcher.

Oakland Athletics Assistant GM Billy Owens on A’s rookies

He got a taste. He was in the bullpen and the radar gun readings were exciting but he still needed a little bit of polish. But he’ll be ready the next time. I saw a Triple-A outing of his right after he got sent down and I had three or four of my scouting brethren in the stands and they were chuckling, saying sarcastically ‘this guy couldn’t pitch in the big leagues’ because it was mind-blowing stuff. He was throwing 100, the slider was nasty and the change-up was off-the-charts. It’s just a matter of not being predictable in the big leagues and settling in.

We just take every player and it’s almost like we make these lists in the off-season and we jump on the next big thing when they are in A-ball and then we develop something that they are calling prospect fatigue. The big leagues is still the biggest jump going. The guys get up there and they either do well their first year and then the second year the league makes an adjustment, or vice versa. But they are going to struggle. They are going to get sent down and go back-and-forth. That’s just how it goes. It’s a different league and the best players in the world. And the best players in the world who aren’t playing in the big leagues are playing in Triple-A, so that league is tough too. There is an adjustment period and we’ve seen it. Whether it’s guys we have talked about here and they go in different directions.

One guy I think of is Dan Straily. Straily led the minor leagues in strike-outs. He came to the big leagues, had a nice honeymoon in Oakland, and then the next year his velocity was down and he got traded to the Cubs. He didn’t do it there. Got traded to the Astros and spent the year in Triple-A. Then he got traded to Cincinnati and threw 200 innings for them and now he’s one of the best starters in the National League for the Marlins. That’s a normal progression as far as going between Triple-A and the big leagues.

OC: Looking at the Triple-A roster, Renato Nunez is leading A’s minor leaguers in homeruns. He’s moved around some in the field this season. Do you think there is a spot for him defensively that he can settle into given that Matt Chapman is ahead of him at third base?

BO: Renato, he’s hovering around .250 in terms of average and he has around 21, 22 tanks in Triple-A. Nashville is very similar to Sacramento. Nashville has more of a batter’s eye as far as the background being friendlier [than Raley Field], but it is still by far the hardest place to hit a homer in the Pacific Coast League. It’s documented as far as the analytics and by the eye test. It’s by far the hardest place to hit a homer in the PCL. So for Renato at 23-years-old hitting in the hardest park to hit a homerun in the PCL, for him to be hitting .250 with those 21, 22 homeruns with the swing to match is a good sign. I still think he has a chance to hit for average and for power in the big leagues.

From the average standpoint, that’s an aggressive statement with him hitting .250 in Triple-A, but we’ve seen it. We’ve seen the Sacramento kids when it was tough to hit in and those guys turned into good big league hitters, whether it was the Andre Ethiers or the Josh Donaldsons. If you look at what Donaldson hit in Triple-A for us and how he has hit in the big leagues, it’s different. The ballparks dictate sometimes your average. Renato Nunez has the kind of swing to be a player who can hit for average in the big leagues. He’s always hit for power in the minors being a young guy at the level. His average has fluctuated, but he’s a hitter.

I think he’s gotten somewhat comfortable in left field. He’ll never be a ballerina out there, but he’s gotten comfortable. And he’s done a better job at third base, as well. Between left field, third base and first base and some games at DH, Renato has a bat that’s going to translate. What the timetable is, that will be dictated by a lot of different factors, but at some point, that bat is going to play in the big leagues.

OC: Yairo Munoz joined the Sounds about a week ago and he’s seen some time in centerfield with Nashville. He’s obviously a very talented defender in general. Do you see him as someone who could move between the outfield and the infield in the big leagues?

BO: Yeah, Yairo is a talented kid. I think with our configuration with Franklin Barreto, Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman, we have a crowd of guys at shortstop and third base either in the big leagues or on the 40-man roster already. I think it is advantageous to accentuate Yairo’s athleticism and his versatility. He’s been shagging balls in the outfield to get loose before the game and he’s looked good out there. He’s an outstanding athlete. I think it fits for him to play outfield, shortstop, third base, second and keep on improving those at-bats.

I was in attendance in the game that he took Cole Hamels deep in a recent rehab game for Cole. He took him out to deep center and he had three good at-bats. He had a walk and he lined out in the game against Hamels, as well. Triple-A is an adjustment. He had a full season last year in Double-A and this year he had two months, so Triple-A is going to be an adjustment. Different pitch sequences, they execute better. Initially, it’s going to be an adjustment, but from a physical standpoint, he definitely has the ability to play anywhere in the infield and outfield. He has the speed to play center. The arm strength is top of the line. It definitely fits to try him in the infield and outfield. It’s been a breakout year for him to hit upper-level pitching like he did in Double-A and to get a taste of Triple-A already this year.

OC: Jake Sanchez got a promotion to Triple-A a month or so ago. The transformation in the quality of his stuff from when he was a starter to now as a reliever has been impressive. Do you see him as a legitimate prospect for the A’s bullpen in the next year or so?

BO: Yeah, Jake kind of forced the issue. Jake went from a starter where the sinker was always his best pitch. But David Forst, our general manager, felt that Jake’s stuff had a chance to play up if he moved into the bullpen and David was correct as usual. Jake moved to the bullpen and his velocity went way up. I saw him on back-to-back days and his fastball on the second day topped out at 96. He’s got a natural sinking fastball. The slider is solid and he can make a pitch. Some guys have really good stuff, but when the going gets tough, they can’t really make a pitch. But Jake Sanchez so far in Double-A and Triple-A has proven that the tougher the situation, he’s up for the task and he can make a pitch. As you know, we always need good bullpen guys and Jake Sanchez is definitely forcing his way into upper-level conversations.

Stay tuned for part three of our conversation, when we discuss several prospects with the A’s other full-season affiliates.

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