Post trading deadline, an exciting minor league core is there for the A's to build on in the coming seasons. Questions like "How soon will these guys contribute?" are trumped by more important questions such as "Will these guys contribute at all?" Here are my own "key questions" around some of the talent Oakland is most eagerly awaiting to make an impact by 2017. See if they match your top 5 questions, and also what your answers are to my queries.
Sean Manaea's health
With starting pitchers, often the question of staying healthy is more of an issue than the question of getting hitters out. This was the case with Jarrod Parker and now with Jesse Hahn. With perceived "Francisco Liriano upside" Manaea lost 2014 to a hip injury that led to shoulder soreness. Now healthy he is back to dominating minor league hitters, including an auspicious AA debut for the A's last week (7 IP, 3 hits, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K).
If healthy and back to hitting 94MPH on the gun, Manaea figures to contribute no later than 2017 and perhaps sooner. Was the hip/shoulder setback a one-time thing or will it Nolin into more of an Anderson?
Jacob Nottingham's position
Not on health care reform or wild Friday nights. I mean catcher or outfielder? The book on Nottingham is that he can hit, as his breakout season in A-ball this year has demonstrated, and that he is raw at catcher. His value rises if he can stick at catcher. On the other hand, with Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley both under contract for the next 4-5 years and Oakland's outfield by far its weakest area organizationally, Nottingham could potentially fast-track his way to Oakland via left field.
Will Nottingham stick at catcher and perhaps facilitate an eventual move of Vogt to LF or the trade market? Or will Nottingham try to follow in the footsteps of another catcher-turned-hitting-star-elsewhere-on-the-diamond -- he now plays for the Blue Jays.
What has gotten into Chad Pinder???
Chad Pinder was always an interesting prospect, as a middle infielder with some pop in his bat. However, throughout his minor league career he has been regarded more as a potentially good utility infielder than as a top prospect. Why?
Partly, it has always been unclear -- as it is with most minor league shortstops -- whether Pinder will stick at SS or eventually move to 2B or 3B. Partly, he has not shown great plate discipline. And partly, his minor league seasons have been ok but nothing special. (Last year for single-A Stockton he batted .288/.336/.489 in the very hitter-friendly California League).
Until 2015, that is. Pinder is killing it in 2015. At age 23 he is not terribly old for his league nor is he repeating a level. Midland is well known for suppressing offensive numbers, most especially power. Yet all Pinder has done in 2015 is put up a slash line of .321/368/.488 with 12 HRs. He's slugging .621 against LHPs.
So far Pinder has stuck at SS, but if he moves up quickly he could be valuable at 2B (where the A's currently have a need) or SS (where he could give the A's a true backup for Semien) or 3B (where he could move Brett Lawrie to 2B). In 2015, Pinder has gone from being a "second tier prospect," the kind of guy you "keep an eye on" but don't focus on, to being in the mix for the back of the next "top 100" lists. And at age 23, having mastered AA for a full season, he could be very close to the big leagues.
This guy for real?
Can Rangel Ravelo come out of the gate in 2016 hitting for Oakland?
Many of the A's talent is still 1-2 years away. You won't hear from Daniel Mengden, Casey Meisner, Franklin Barreto, or Nottingham for a bit, but then there is Rangel Ravelo. A pure hitter (if you're not familiar with his minor league stats, you can check them out here) who will turn 24 next April, Ravelo is healthy and back to doing what he does best: hitting baseballs hard and well (currently .318/.378/.477 for AA Midland).
If the A's are going to compete in 2016 they need better production at 1B, 2B, and LF than they have gotten from the underwhelming triumvirate of Ike Davis, Eric Sogard, and Sam Fuld. Ravelo should enter 2016 with a chance to force his way onto the big league roster and into the every day lineup.
Ravelo's glove is nothing special, but by accounts it is not a liability. He is listed as playing 3B/1B, which usually means he can fake it at 3B and more than hold his own at 1B (think Max Muncy). Of all the young players coming up for the A's right now, Ravelo is probably the one most likely to make an impact in 2016. Is he ready, and good enough, to be, say, Oakland's every day 1Bman next April and a boon to the lineup?
Which Chris Davis is Matt Olson going to be?
Make no mistake about it, Matt Olson is going to be Chris Davis. The question is just: which one?
Remember when Davis was the joke of the AL, swinging and missing like it was going out of style? After striking out 150 times in just 391 at bats in 2009, Davis actually increased his K rate fanning 40 times in 120 at bats in 2010. That's worst case scenario for Olson, who has Davis' power and skill set but will have to prove he can make contact against big league pitching. Olson's long swing has always concerned me, though his raw power and excellent plate discipline are unquestioned and by all reports he also plays solid defense.
Monday night we were reminded of how good Chris Davis is now, as he turned around a high fastball from Jesse Chavez and bombed a 3-run HR that took the wind out of the A's sails in the top of the 1st, then won today's game with a 10th inning grand slam the other way. Remember the time he was fooled so badly by a Sean Doolittle curve that he reached out in desperation just to try to avoid whiffing and flicked it ... over the right-center field wall?
Olson figures to start 2016 at AAA ready to be called up any time he proves to be ready and the A's have a need. With the skill set to hit .240/.340/.480 in the big leagues and the skill set to hit .190/.260/.370 it remains to be seen whether Olson has the contact skills to succeed at higher levels. Does he?
Those are my top 5. What are yours? And what do you think are the answers to each of my queries? Most prospects flame out a little or a lot, but at least right now there is plenty to get excited about -- if not also a bit nervous.