Before the season began, Athletics Nation voted on its annual Community Prospect List, ranking the 25 best players in the minors. With hope for the playoffs dwindling by the day, it's time for us to take a look at how those top prospects are doing as we plan for the future. For the full 2015 list, scroll to the bottom of the post. Note that it is a preseason list, and is not yet updated to reflect the current season (we'll do that together next winter).
There are 25 guys, plus five more who were included on lists from other sources. Fitting all 30 into one post would be a little much, so I've separated them into seven categories (plus three bonus categories):
- The Graduates
- The Pitching Depth
- The Young Hurlers
- The Even Younger Hurlers
- The Middle Infielders
- The Corner Sluggers
- The Best of the Rest
- Stepping up in 2015
- The 2015 Draft
- The 2015 Acquisitions
Today, we will begin with The Graduates, which consists of the players who have graduated to full-time roles in Oakland this season. MLB defines a rookie as any player who has racked up at least 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time on the 25-man roster. I'm tossing out that service time marker and only looking at guys who have played enough to qualify. There are currently four graduates who are no longer considered prospects.
No. 6 -- Kendall Graveman
No. 13 -- Mark Canha
No. 15 -- Chris Bassitt
No. 17 -- Billy Burns
A few others have played in the bigs this year, and both R.J. Alvarez and Max Muncy were called up on Tuesday, but they haven't played enough to qualify yet. Muncy does have a chance to graduate by the end of the year, but for now he is classified with The Corner Sluggers.
No. 6: RHP Kendall Graveman
2015 MLB stats: 16 starts, 89⅓ innings, 4.13 ERA, 94 ERA+, 57 Ks, 32 BB, 99 hits, 12 HR, 0.8 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR
Since May 23: 12 starts, 73 innings, 3.21 ERA, 50 Ks, 23 BB, 75 hits, 9 HR
The story of Graveman's career path is well-known by now. He started 2014 in Single-A and tore through High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A to earn a cup of coffee in Toronto last year. After coming over in the Josh Donaldson trade and ranking high in Oakland's relatively weak system, he opened the year in the rotation but struggled and was sent down after four starts. He figured out whatever was wrong, and since returning in late May he's pitched like a middle-of-the-rotation starter. After a nine-start stretch of excellence, he's finally cooled off and gotten smoked in his last three games (lots of hits, walks, and homers), but overall he's been a positive contributor in his rookie year.
It's impossible to know what to make of his highs and lows just yet. Entering the year, the most reasonable hope was that he could settle in as a solid No. 5 starter and maybe aspire to be a No. 4 in the future. So far, he's shown that he can pitch like a No. 3 for an extended stretch, and that he can also be a gascan at times. That sounds about like the description of a No. 5 starter -- good enough to win games, but lacking consistency. I would consider his 2015 season to be something close to a realistic best-case scenario, because he already looks like a rotation mainstay and there is still room for us to dream of something slightly more.
No. 13: LF/1B Mark Canha
2015 MLB stats: 251 PAs, .232/.295/.386, 88 OPS+, 8 HR, 5 SB, 17 BB, 52 Ks, 0.3 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR
Canha was acquired after being picked by Colorado in the Rule 5 Draft, so he had to sink or swim on the MLB roster or else be offered back to his original team (Miami). He got off to a promising start, flashing his power and getting his OPS up to .769 in mid-June, but he's currently mired in a 13-for-70 stretch (.476 OPS) with no homers, two walks, and 17 strikeouts. More recently, he is 2-for-24 with eight strikeouts in his last nine games. He last homered on June 11.
The thing that makes it tough to fully judge Canha is his inconsistent playing time. He has been used as a platoon player and backup option, but I can't help but wonder what would happen if he were allowed to play every day. All of his homers have come against righties and he's struggled against lefties, and although those extremely reversed platoon splits are probably a fluke, my takeaway is that he might not need to hide against righties. Overall, he's not walking as much as I'd like, but his strikeouts are within a reasonable level for a slugger and his power is real. He may yet turn out to be only a role player, like a platoon/bench bat, but I'd rather give daily at-bats to Canha and see what he's got than give them to Billy Butler and confirm what he no longer has.
On defense, Canha is adequate at first base and passable in left field. He doesn't add extra value with his glove, but I also don't think he gives any back through particularly poor fielding either. There's nothing wrong with being merely average on defense, especially if his OPS+ fights its way back up above 100. To make an extremely loose comparison, he feels to me like a lite version of Brandon Moss -- a streaky, low-average slugger with positional versatility in the corners of the diamond, but from the right side of the plate. Can he develop further and approach the peak of Moss, a fellow late-bloomer?
No. 15: RHP Chris Bassitt
2015 MLB stats: 9 games, 33⅔ innings, 2.94 ERA, 133 ERA+, 21 Ks, 11 BB, 27 hits, 2 HR, 0.6 bWAR, 0.4 fWAR
2015 MLB starter: 4 starts, 23 innings, 2.74 ERA, 13 Ks, 2 BB, 22 hits, 1 HR
The question with Bassitt has always been whether he will ultimately become a starter or a reliever. He made five starts for the White Sox last year before the A's picked him up in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and Oakland kept him in the rotation in Triple-A. He made his A's debut with five appearances out of the bullpen, but in late June he returned to the team to replace injured starter Jesse Hahn. All four of his subsequent outings have lasted about 5-6 innings and featured no more than 2 runs, no more than 1 walk, and no fewer than 3 strikeouts.
Bassitt's big problem in the past has been retiring left-handed hitters, but that is yet to stop him so far in MLB. He's actually allowed a lower OPS against lefties (.556) than righties (.746), and both of the homers he's allowed were hit by right-handers. Granted, the underlying K:BB numbers suggest these splits will probably go back to normal as time goes on, but like with Graveman this is probably a realistic best-case scenario for the start of Bassitt's Oakland career. He's holding his own as a back-end starter for now (of the consistent 5-inning variety rather than the feast-or-famine of Graveman), with a chance to establish himself as a rotation mainstay by the end of the year. And if it doesn't work out, he could still be a game-changing reliever with his mid-90s heat and good slider.
No. 17: CF Billy Burns
2015 MLB stats: 323 PAs, .305/.341/.397, 105 OPS+, 20-for-24 SB, 13 BB, 43 Ks, 1.4 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR
Burns has already exceeded any reasonable expectation, just by becoming an everyday starter in the Majors. He projected as a fourth outfielder, with his elite speed but not a whole lot else to lean on, and that's why he was so far down this list. It didn't help that he hit .193 in his only month of Triple-A ball in 2014. However, he got off to a great start in Nashville this year and quickly found himself in Oakland when the depth chart ahead of him fell apart. Since arriving in early May, he's made enough contact to bat over .300 and get himself on base, which is not something that a lot of people expected him to do.
It is still possible that Burns is a mirage. He has succeeded at the plate by jumping on early pitches, making lots of slappy contact, and using his legs to beat out as many hits as he can. It's possible that his speed will allow him to continue this game plan, but he will likely need to start working longer at-bats eventually and adding some walks to his profile in order to keep his OBP up. The good news is he has the skills it takes to do that.
Although Burns has racked up 20 steals already, it feels like he should have twice that number already. He has run far less often than it seems like he should, especially given his high success rate, and far less often than the other top speedsters in the game. On defense, he's made some spectacular diving catches but has also had to use his speed to make up for bad routes. He rates as a negative center fielder despite his occasional flash.
Put it all together, and Burns is already a success. If the league figures him out and he starts hitting .250 instead of .300, then he's still a good bench player who can be a game-changing pinch-runner and a defensive replacement on the corners. Many of us saw that as his likely ceiling entering the year, and now it sounds like his floor. If he proves to be for real, then he's a pesky leadoff man with elite speed who can fake it at a premium position. That's not bad for the No. 17 prospect in the organization, nor for a guy acquired in exchange for one year of Jerry Blevins.
Each player is listed at the level at which he currently plays*, and his stats only include his performance at that current level. The levels refer to the Nashville Sounds (AAA), the Midland RockHounds (AA), the High-A Stockton Ports (A+), the Single-A Beloit Snappers (A), and the short-season Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters (A-). For the hitters, I am going to focus less on raw numbers and more on league-adjusted stats (wRC+) and rates (K% and BB%).
* The following recent promotions are not reflected: Yairo Munoz to High-A (to cover for injured Franklin Barreto), R.J. Alvarez to MLB, Max Muncy to MLB
|1||Matt Olson||1B||21||AA||425 PAs, 123 wRC+, 12 HR, 17.9% BB, 24.2% Ks|
|2||Franklin Barreto||SS||19||A+||.354 PAs, 120 wRC+, 12 HR, 4.2% BB, 18.4% Ks|
|3||Matt Chapman||3B||22||A+||313 PAs, 149 wRC+, 21 HR, 10.9% BB, 23.0% Ks|
|4||Renato Nunez||3B||21||AA||321 PAs, 112 wRC+, 14 HR, 6.9% BB, 16.2% Ks|
|5||Dillon Overton||LHP||23||AA||Promotion! 5 starts, 3.96 ERA, 25 ip, 16 Ks, 6 BB, 3 HR|
|6||Kendall Graveman||RHP||24||MLB||16 starts, 4.13 ERA, 89⅓ ip, 1.78 K/BB, 0.1 fWAR|
|7||Yairo Munoz||SS||20||A*||400 PAs, 86 wRC+, 9 HR, 5.5% BB, 15.5% Ks|
|8||Sean Nolin||LHP||25||AAA||On disabled list (shoulder)|
|9||Raul Alcantara||RHP||22||A+||9 starts, 3.56 ERA, 30⅓ ip, 21 Ks, 5 BB, 3.45 FIP|
|10||Joey Wendle||2B||25||AAA||435 PAs, 90 wRC+, 6 HR, 3.9% BB, 17.5% Ks|
|11||R.J. Alvarez||RHP||24||AAA*||21 games, 4.13 ERA, 24 ip, 33 Ks, 12 BB, 2.47 FIP|
|12||Rangel Ravelo||3B||23||AA||66 PAs, 181 wRC+, 2 HR, 13.6% BB, 13.6% Ks|
|13||Mark Canha||1B/OF||26||MLB||251 PAs, 92 wRC+, 8 HR, 6.8% Ks, 20.7% BB, 0.5 fWAR|
|14||Chad Pinder||SS||23||AA||376 PAs, 134 wRC+, 10 HR, 6.1% BB, 20.7% Ks|
|15||Chris Bassitt||RHP||26||MLB||9 games, 2.94 ERA, 33⅔ ip, 1.91 K/BB, 0.4 fWAR|
|16||Dustin Driver||RHP||20||A-||7 games, 5.54 ERA, 26 ip, 13 Ks, 13 BB, 4.93 FIP|
|17||Billy Burns||OF||25||MLB||323 PAs, 109 wRC+, 20 SB, 4.0% BB, 13.3% Ks, 1.4 fWAR|
|18||Max Muncy||1B/3B||24||AAA*||156 PAs, 106 wRC+, 4 HR, 13.5% BB, 26.3% Ks|
|19||Tyler Ladendorf||IF/OF||27||AAA||On disabled list (ankle surgery)|
|20||Daniel Gossett||RHP||22||A||20 starts, 4.81 ERA, 106⅔ ip, 84 Ks, 44 BB, 4.72 FIP|
|21||Bobby Wahl||RHP||23||AA||24 games, 4.18 ERA, 32⅓ ip, 36 Ks, 14 BB, 3.15 FIP|
|22||Chris Kohler||LHP||20||A-||7 games, 4.94 ERA, 31 ip, 32 Ks, 6 BB, 3.17 FIP|
|23||Pat Venditte||SHP||30||MLB||On disabled list (shoulder, currently rehabbing in A+)|
|24||Jaycob Brugman||OF||23||AA||401 PAs, 102 wRC+, 5 HR, 9.7% BB, 16.7% Ks|
|25||Brett Graves||RHP||22||A||20 starts, 5.02 ERA, 104 ip, 60 Ks, 37 BB, 4.26 FIP|
|NR||Bruce Maxwell||C||24||AA||280 PAs, 74 wRC+, 1 HR, 10.4% BB, 13.2% Ks|
|NR||Ryon Healy||3B/1B||23||AA||375 PAs, 92 wRC+, 6 HR, 5.9% BB, 13.3% Ks|
|NR||Branden Kelliher||RHP||19||N/A||Extended spring training in Arizona|
|NR||Dylan Covey||RHP||23||A+||19 starts, 3.82 ERA, 103⅔ ip, 65 Ks, 35 BB, 5.10 FIP|
|NR||Sandber Pimentel||1B||20||A||362 PAs, 118 wRC+, 10 HR, 10.8% BB, 22.4% Ks|
We'll take a look at the rest of the list over the next couple weeks. Congrats to this year's graduates!