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Oakland A's 2016 Community Prospect List #21: Zack Erwin is the key to the Brett Lawrie trade

Later bros! See you on Opening Day!
Later bros! See you on Opening Day!
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The next pick for our Community Prospect List is lefty pitcher Zack Erwin, a 2015 draftee who was acquired this winter from the White Sox in the Brett Lawrie trade. The current list, including their winning margins (the amount by which they won their elections, defined as a percentage of the total vote):

1. Sean Manaea, LHP (+1%)
2. Franklin Barreto, SS/CF (+70%)
3. Matt Olson, 1B/OF (+24%)
4. Matt Chapman, 3B (+26%)
5. Jacob Nottingham, C (+1%)
5. Chad Pinder, SS (+31%)
6. Renato Nunez, 1B/3B (+51%)
7. Yairo Munoz, SS (+14%)
8. Richie Martin, SS (+12%)
9. Casey Meisner, RHP (+24%)
10. Dillon Overton, LHP (+25%)
11. Rangel Ravelo, 1B (+30%)
12. Joey Wendle, 2B (+6%)
13. Dakota Chalmers, RHP (+19%)
14. Raul Alcantara, RHP (+24%)
15. Daniel Mengden, RHP (+10%)
16. Mikey White, SS/2B (+26%)
17. Ryan Dull, RHP (+1%)
18. Skye Bolt, OF (+9%)
19. Zack Erwin, LHP (+31%)

It's easy to feel disappointed by the Brett Lawrie trade. He's an everyday MLB player, he's only 26, he's relatively inexpensive, and it's not impossible that he could still break out into a star. Furthermore, his availability was cited as the reason why Billy Beane was willing to deal Josh Donaldson. In the minds of us fans, those facts will all combine to pump up what we perceive as his market value. To see him flipped for a pair of unheralded minor league pitchers, one a reliever and the other a draftee who only cracks No. 19 on our CPL, certainly does not match that mental image.

But while I will never see that trade as anything other than a personality dump (that's like a salary dump, except for clubhouse chemistry), that doesn't mean those minor league pitchers can't also be interesting in their own right. That is, Lawrie was probably worth more, even coming off a lackluster season, but that doesn't mean Oakland got nothing out of the deal.

That brings us to Zack Erwin, whom I see as the key to the whole thing. J.B. Wendelken could well end up in the A's bullpen sometime this year, and he might even be good, but he was the safe bet in the exchange. When you trade a starting infielder, the middle reliever you get back in return is definitely the secondary piece, especially when that reliever isn't even in the bigs yet. So, Erwin is the guy who has the power to turn this transaction into a plus for Oakland.

Erwin was just drafted last summer, 16 spots ahead of Skye Bolt in the fourth round. For context, some recent A's fourth-round picks include Dylan Covey, B.J. Boyd, and Max Stassi -- none of them have panned out yet, but Stassi has at least debuted and is currently on Houston's 40-man roster. Some notable MLB names from the fourth round include Jason Kipnis, Brandon Crawford, Dee Gordon, James Paxton, and Adam Warren, so it's possible to find serious talent there. And for his part, Erwin reached Single-A in his pro debut and flourished there, both of which are uncommon for a draftee.

As with any prospect, there are pluses and minuses. He's a lefty! But his velocity barely reaches 90 mph. But he has wonderful command and deception and secondary pitches to make up for it! But the minors are littered with soft-tossers and junkballers who never made it. In the end, he's a lotto ticket just like any other fourth-rounder, but at least he's off to as good a start as you could hope for in his pro career.

When a trade goes down, it makes sense to judge it right away to see how logical it was in the present moment. But it also makes sense, in a different way, to reserve judgment and see how things turn out in the end. I'm not concerned about what Lawrie does or doesn't do in Chicago, because it seemed clear that he had to go no matter what. But if Erwin turns out to ride a fast track to Oakland's rotation over the next couple years, he has the opportunity to turn the trade from a disappointing necessity into a legitimate win.

★ ★ ★

Here is the process:

  • Five candidates will be listed on the ballot. The voting will take place in the comments section. I will start with a comment listing all five players, and then I will respond to that with five new comments in the style of "Vote: Player Name" for each candidate. Please do not reply directly to the official "Vote" comments, so that the ballot can stay together in one group.
  • Choose your ONE favorite by Rec'ing the comment with his name. Please only vote for one. (Note: If it comes down to a close two-man race, we will discuss the possibility of having the third-party voters cast a second vote for one of the two leading candidates, sort of like Ranked-Choice Voting.) The player who receives the most Rec's earns the next spot on the CPL, while the remaining four players move on to the next ballot where they are joined by a new nominee.
  • In the comments, below the official voting, commenters will nominate a player to be put onto the ballot for the next round. After the first nomination for a player has been put in, all other votes for that player will come from Rec'ing that comment. The player with the most Rec's earns the nomination.
  • The format for the comment should be "Nomination: Player Name".
  • If a prospect is traded, his name will be crossed out, and all other players will be moved up a space. If a prospect is acquired, a special vote will be put up to determine where that player should rank.

★ ★ ★

The new nominee is Dylan Covey. The hurler didn't make our CPL last year after showing very little in his full-season debut in 2014 (split between Beloit and Stockton). However, he got another shot at High-A last year and began to settle in as a grounder-inducing innings-eater. He's still got a long way to go to reach MLB, and John Sickels likes him better as a future reliever, but Covey has regained some of the stock he'd lost over the last couple years.

Dylan Covey, RHP

Expected level: Double-A | Age 24

2015 stats (Double-A Midland): 26 starts, 3.59 ERA, 140⅓ ip, 100 Ks, 43 BB, 13 HR, 4.61 FIP


Scouting grades: Fastball: 50 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45

The Brewers selected Covey 14th overall in 2010, and he was set to sign with them until a post-Draft physical revealed that he had diabetes. He decided instead to stay close to home and attend the University of San Diego as he learned to manage the condition.

Covey has been inconsistent since his high school days but still shows flashes of the stuff that first attracted scouts. His fastball has reached 95 mph but more typically sits around 90 mph with heavy sinking action. His curveball is his best secondary offering, and he also mixes in a slider and changeup.

Covey has struggled with his control at times, leading to his inconsistency. If he can find a way to throw more strikes, he still has a chance to become a big leaguer.

★ ★ ★

Here are our other current candidates:

Jaycob Brugman, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2015 stats (Double-A Midland): 566 PAs, 105 wRC+, 6 HR, 11.0% BB, 15.7% Ks


Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Brugman was a 17th-round pick in 2013 but played well above that level in his first full professional season. He hit 21 home runs between Class A Beloit and Class A Advanced Stockton, joining Matt Olson and Renato Nunez as the only Minor Leaguers in the organization to hit more than 20 home runs in 2014.

Brugman couples a smooth left-handed swing with good patience at the plate. As he showed in 2014, he's capable of driving balls out of the park, but he's more likely to end up as an average power hitter than a masher.

The A's have used Brugman in all three outfield positions. He has solid defensive tools and likely fits best in one of the corners.

★ ★ ★

Ryon Healy, 3B/1B

Expected level: Triple-A? Double-A? | Age 24

2015 stats (Double-A Midland): 543 PAs, 113 wRC+, 10 HR, 5.5% BB, 15.1% Ks


Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 35 | Arm: 45 | Field: 45 | Overall: 45

Healy has a short, quick swing with loft, giving him the potential to hit for both average and power. He does a good job of making contact and using the entire field to hit.

The A's have used Healy at both first and third base, but playing with Matt Olson and Renato Nunez in 2014 meant that he played more DH than anything else. Healy profiles best at first base, but no matter where he settles defensively, it'll be up to his bat to get him to the Major Leagues.

★ ★ ★

J.B. Wendelken, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 23

2015 stats (Double-A): 27 games, 2.72 ERA, 43 ip, 56 Ks, 11 BB, 4 HR, 2.68 FIP
2015 stats (Triple-A): 12 games, 4.50 ERA, 16 ip, 13 Ks, 5 BB, 2 HR, 4.09 FIP

From Nathaniel Stoltz of FanGraphs (written when Wendelken was still starting):

Wendelken's big weapon right now is a monstrous changeup that features zone-crossing fade. ... The bigtime action on the pitch is paired with excellent velocity separation -- early in my viewing, Wendelken's fastball was in the low 90s while the change was in the upper 70s. He features it heavily to both lefties and righties and isn't afraid to double or triple up on it if a batter's unable to pick the pitch up. As you can see, it induces a ton of awkward swings. ... [H]e's more likely to fit into a Brad Boxberger/Tyler Clippard role as a reliever who can air it out around 92 mph and throw a nasty changeup 35% of the time.

★ ★ ★

Tyler Ladendorf, UTIL

Expected level: Triple-A? MLB? | Age 28

2015 stats (Triple-A Nashville): 90 PAs, 76 wRC+, 1 HR, 5.6% BB, 25.6% Ks
2015 stats (MLB Oakland A's): 4-for-17, 1 triple, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 5 positions in 9 games

From AN Prospect Watch:

Ladendorf's identifying skill is his versatile defense, as he can more or less play every position and can apparently play most of them well. He's appeared at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, and RF in his professional career. ...

[His] other skill is hitting left-handed pitching. Offense is not his strength overall, but year after year he posts exaggerated platoon splits with big OPS marks and great K:BB rates against southpaws. If he can continue to succeed in that niche in MLB, then it's easy to see how he could carve out a role as a platoon infielder or simply a super-utilityman.

★ ★ ★

Vote in the comments below for your favorite of the five by Rec'ing his "Vote: (Player Name)" comment, and post your nomination(s) as well!