Before getting to this week’s look at the A’s top minor league performers this season, there were a few minor league developments this weekend worth briefly mentioning. Infielder Tyler Ladendorf and LHP Sean Nolin both returned to action for Nashville, while outfielder J.P. Sportman did the same for Stockton, and infielder Renato Nunez landed on the disabled list with a hamstring strain at Midland this weekend. But now, let’s get to the A’s top minor league performers of 2015…
With just about three weeks left in the minor league season, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the players in the A’s system who’ve been having true standout seasons on the field this year. Many minor league players can dazzle with an amazing week, or even an amazing month, but being able to perform at a high level over the course of a sometimes grueling minor league season, where travel can be torturous and days off are rare, is another thing altogether. So let’s take a look at some of the top performers in the A’s system this year. And remember, we’re not ranking top prospects here, just taking a look at the top performers on the field. You can keep tabs on all the A’s top prospects and minor league teams on my Athletics Farm site and get lots more details on the A’s top minor league performers of the year right here on Athletics Nation…
Third Baseman - Stockton (A+)
(293 AB / 23 HR / 39 BB / 77 K / .259 AVG / .353 OBP / .587 SLG / .940 OPS)
The A’s 1st-round draft pick just last year, Chapman leads all A’s minor leaguers in home runs with 23 after playing only three months this year. The Orange County native missed the first month of the season with a knee injury and has been out since the first week of August with a wrist injury. The 22-year-old also leads the A’s minor league system in slugging percentage (.587), thanks not only to his 23 home runs but also his 21 doubles and 3 triples in just 293 at-bats. When he was drafted, A’s front office personnel raved about Chapman’s power potential, and it seems to be coming to fruition in the hitter-friendly California League. And in the field, he possesses an elite throwing arm at third. The hope is that he’ll be able to make it back on the field over the next few weeks before the end of the minor league season. But either way, expect him to see him manning the hot corner and facing the more challenging hitting environment at Midland next season. A’s special assistant Grady Fuson told me about Chapman last month: "There’s no doubt about the power – the power’s going to be there. It’s all going to depend on how good a hitter he ends up becoming."
Second Baseman - Midland (AA)
(429 AB / 12 HR / 92 BB / 114 K / .308 AVG / .435 OBP / .478 SLG / .912 OPS)
Walsh has been having perhaps the best overall season in the A’s minor league system this year. The Stanford alum was a 13th-round draft pick for the Cardinals back in 2010 and was signed by the A’s to a minor league deal early last year. Walsh has played in all but five games for Midland this season and has been the Rockhounds’ best all-around hitter this year. His .435 on-base percentage is the best in the A’s minor league system by a mile. The 25-year-old switch-hitter also leads all A’s minor leaguers in doubles with 35 and in extra-base hits with 48. His .308 batting average trails only his double-play partner, Chad Pinder. And his 205 total bases tie him for the RockHounds’ team lead with Pinder. Walsh has plenty of experience at third base and in the outfield as well, and his versatility could help make him a potential option as a utility man for the A’s at some point. Expect to see him playing some second base and doing a bit of moving around the diamond next season at Nashville.
Shortstop - Midland (AA)
(419 AB / 14 HR / 26 BB / 91 K / .317 AVG / .362 OBP / .489 SLG / .851 OPS)
After having a solid season while playing second base for Stockton last year, Pinder is having an even better season while playing shortstop for Midland this year. The 23-year-old has the best batting average (.317) in the A’s minor league system and also has more RBIs (79) than any other A’s minor leaguer. Pinder possesses a little pop too, and he’s put up 14 home runs and 26 doubles in the notoriously difficult hitting environment at Midland. He’s also improved his walk-rate a bit, but his plate discipline could still stand a little more improvement. Meanwhile, Pinder seems to be doing a dependable job of playing shortstop, while also having some experience and second and third, which only increases his value. Expect to see him playing shortstop at Nashville next season, where he’ll be just a step away from breaking into Oakland’s infield mix. A’s special assistant Grady Fuson told me about Pinder last month: "He’s been great on both sides. He’s played a very solid short…When it comes to his numbers, across the board, the arrows are pointing up."
Starting Pitcher - Nashville (AAA)
(137 IP / 121 H / 53 ER / 60 BB / 90 K / 3.48 ERA / 1.32 WHIP)
The A’s 1st-round draft pick back in 1999, Zito has come full circle. After pitching for the A’s Triple-A team in 2000, he’s twirling for the team’s Triple-A affiliate again in 2015. In 2000, it was Sacramento but, in 2015, it’s Nashville. And the 37-year-old has been the Sounds’ most consistent starter this season. Zito leads the team in innings pitched with 137, in wins with 8 and in strikeouts with 90. He also has the best ERA (3.48) and batting-average-against (.235) among all A’s minor league starters. He’s proven to be a solid presence while starting 22 games for the Sounds. So, some A’s fans may wonder why Zito hasn’t yet been called up to make an appearance with the A’s. Well, there are likely two main things that have been holding Zito back - a fastball that lingers in the mid-80s and a $1 million guarantee if he makes the major league roster. The feeling seems to be, while the wily veteran may still be able to fool minor league hitters with his curveball and his changeup, that the velocity is not where it needs to be to be able to sustain success in the majors. But for now, Zito’s been making the most of the opportunity to show minor league hitters, and pitchers, just how it’s done. He’s currently serving a stint on the 7-day disabled list but is expected to be back in action sometime this week.
Relief Pitcher - Midland/Nashville (AA/AAA)
(54 1/3 IP / 35 H / 4 ER / 15 BB / 65 K / 0.66 ERA / 0.92 WHIP)
Ryan Dull has had one of the best seasons of any A’s minor league reliever in recent memory. The 25-year-old didn’t allow a run until the seventh week of the season in late May, then didn’t give up another run until July, and has still allowed only 4 runs all season. And he hasn’t missed a beat since his promotion to Nashville a few weeks ago. The former 32nd-round draft pick has regularly been fooling minor league hitters, striking out 65 over 54 1/3 innings this season. A’s special assistant Grady Fuson told me about Dull last month: "He’s been 90-92 mph, his ball has a little sink and dive to it, and he pitches at the bottom of the zone fabulously. He’s got a hard little slider and he’s got a nice little changeup. He’s one of the better pitchers in our system when it comes to really pitching down in the zone consistently, and that’s the biggest attribute he has, plus he pounds the strike zone." And he concluded about Dull, "If he continues to do that at every level, he will pitch in the big leagues."
You can check out my site - Athletics Farm - for updates on the A’s minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.