Baseball America is one of the industry leaders when it comes to prospect evaluation, and each offseason the site ranks the Top 10 prospects in each organization. On Wednesday, the Oakland A's list was released. See if you can figure out who is notably absent:
1. Franklin Barreto, SS
2. Sean Manaea, LHP
3. Matt Chapman, 3B
4. Renato Nunez, 3B/1B
5. Richie Martin, SS
6. Matt Olson, 1B/OF
7. Chad Pinder, SS/2B
8. Dillon Overton, LHP
9. Casey Meisner, RHP
10. Yairo Munoz, SS
The name I'm thinking of is Jacob Nottingham, the power-hitting catcher acquired from the Astros in the Scott Kazmir trade. Nottingham clocked in at No. 5 on our own Community Prospect List, and he was also fifth on John Sickels' recent ranking (with a B+/B grade). BA's Jim Shonerd sat in for a Q&A about the list, and here's what he had to say about the slugger:
Nottingham was close. I basically had three guys for two spots at the back of the top 10 with him, Meisner and Munoz. Nottingham's going to get there because of his bat, it's just a matter of whether he can get his defense good enough that you can live with him behind the plate. Otherwise he's a first baseman. He does have the arm for a catcher, but he's not particularly agile and has lapses in focus. Good news is he's just 21, but I can see this turning into a situation where a catcher gets moved because his bat is too good for the team to wait for his defense to catch up.
In other words, it sounds like Nottingham would be No. 11 on the list. It doesn't appear to be a matter of BA being down on him, though I have a feeling he might have been judged like a guy who won't stick at catcher long-term (that's my speculation). And remember, a potential move to 1B doesn't have to strictly be the result of him not cutting it behind the plate; like Shonerd suggested, it can also be a way to fast-track his bat to Oakland.
So how big of a snub is this, really? The world of prospects is so subjective, and the differences between a few spots on a ranking list often range from razor-thin to apple-and-orange comparisons. Here, I'll justify it in a few sentences, leaving aside the four guys we also ranked ahead of him:
- Pinder and Nottingham essentially tied in our poll, so putting Pinder ahead of him is fine. I voted for Pinder too.
- If you guess Nottingham will end up at 1B, then Nunez is simply another slugger at the same position moving up the ladder at the same ages, except Nunez already succeeded at Double-A and the AFL.
- Munoz had similar success at the same age in a similar-sized partial season at High-A, and he has a better chance to play a premium position than Nottingham does. A case can be made.
- Overton and Meisner are pitchers, and that makes this a tough comparison. What's better, a good batting average or a good ERA? A good wRC+ or a good FIP? To each their own, and BA liked this pair of pitchers slightly more. All three players had promising 2015 seasons, and while this isn't how most of us on AN would order them, it's also worth noting that nobody else is going to put Manaea over Barreto like we did.
- Martin is a recent draftee who has barely played in pro ball, and that makes it so difficult to know how to rank him. Draftees are something of a wild card on these lists entering their first full seasons.
I don't know what specific reasons BA had for dropping Nottingham down to No. 11, but I don't think it's at all unreasonable precisely because of the comparability of these guys' values. There are so many B/B-/C+ kinds of prospects in this system that a difference of a half dozen spots really can come down to a matter of preference and analytic priorities, especially if the evaluator has a particular hunch one way or other about a player. That's a credit to the A's farm because it means there is a depth of quality prospects, and it's an even bigger credit that these guys are fighting for spots 5-thru-10 rather than 1-thru-5 (since there are some A-/B+/B guys ahead of them).
As for the rest of the list, Martin over Olson is surprising, more due to Olson being so low than Martin being so high. In the Q&A, Shonerd compares Olson to Chris Carter, with Olson being a lefty version with better defense but who hit for a much lower average in Midland (note: Carter has a .217 career average in MLB). He has this to say about Martin:
He'll have some power, but it's not going to be a significant part of his game. Better chance he ends up at the top of the order. He doesn't have a flashy arm like a Chapman or Munoz, but it's good enough to play the position and all his other defensive tools are outstanding.
Being a legitimate shortstop often goes a long way in these types of rankings, for what that's worth.
Another interesting note is Overton over Meisner. We'll have that decision to make for ourselves sometime next week, and I expect it'll be another nailbiter of a vote. The case for Overton includes his proximity to MLB (Sickels noted he "should be ready for a trial soon") and the fact that he's succeeding even without his full velocity post-TJS. Of course, the velo drop is also part of the case against him; some folks want to see his fastball get back up over 90 mph before picking him. The case for Meisner involves projecting how good you think he can be as he enters the upper minors, due to his youth and his big frame and his improved velocity. Sickels put Meisner three spots ahead of Overton, so as you can see there is not a consensus among the mainstream channels either.
Also: Barreto, Manaea, Chapman, and Nunez are mentioned by Shonerd as possibilities for the overall Top 100 list. If you're into this stuff, you should absolutely check out the rest of the Q&A for notes on other guys like Chalmers, Bolt, Wahl, Covey, and more!
What do you think of this list? How egregious is Nottingham's omission, or is it no big deal with such a tightly packed list? Who else is too high or too low? To the comments!
Oh, and below you'll find a comparison between this list, Sickels' top 10, and our own list-in-progress (assuming Nunez holds his landslide lead for No. 7).