Tomorrow the A’s minor league affiliates kick off their 2016 season. Nashville (AAA), Stockton (High Class A) and Beloit (Low Class A) start at home while Midland (AA) starts on the road in Arkansas. This year Nashville and Midland look to have strong prospect teams while Stockton has some notable guys but not at the level they’ve had the last couple years. Beloit has a few of the typical low minors "raw but upside-y guys."
The second year of the Sounds’ affiliation with the A’s sees a prospect-heavy wave of players coming through including Chad Pinder, Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Dillon Overton and Renato Nunez. Most of those prospects helped Midland power through to a league title in the Texas League. Pinder figures to be starting the shortstop. Last year he had a breakout season in Midland, winning the league MVP after slashing .317/.361/.486. Giving him some breaks at SS will be Tyler Ladendorf when he’s not playing center field. Renato Nunez is likely to get the majority of games starting third baseman while also being in the mix over at 1B. He, Rangel Ravelo and Max Muncy figure to rotate between 3B/1B/DH. In his second season as Nashville’s main second baseman, Joey Wendle looks to continue his second half tear when he slashed .341/.369/.520. Bruce Maxwell will share some of the duties handling the pitching staff. Maxwell has made marked improvement behind the plate and hopes to bring his offense up to par with the high expectations it had coming out of college. If not, he should serve as a capable backup. Being listed as an OF on the roster Matt Olson continues to get looks in RF. He should benefit from getting out of the unfriendly (to left handed batters) confines of the Texas League. In the other corner will be Jake Smolinski who will be joined by Andrew Lambo in a week or less.
The starting rotation will have two of the A’s best pitching prospects: Lefties Sean Manaea and Dillon Overton. Sean Manaea continues to work on his command and improve on his changeup while Overton continues his comeback from Tommy John Surgery and hopefully regains a little more of his lost velocity. Jesse Hahn looks to make his way back up to the major leagues after being demoted out of Spring Training. Behind them will be a combination of Eric Surkamp, Zach Neal, and Chris Smith. J.B Wendelken, who came over in the Brett Lawrie trade, hopes to help the bullpen out. Joining him are prospects Daniel Coloumbe, Tucker Healy, and recent waiver claim Andrew Triggs. If nothing else the Nashville bullpen contains some interesting arm slot relievers.
Top Prospects*: Sean Manaea (1), Matt Olson (3), Chad Pinder (5), Renato Nunez (6), Dillon Overton (10), Rangel Ravelo (11), Joey Wendle (12), JB Wendelken (22), Bruce Maxwell (28), Tyler Ladendorf (30)
The Rockhounds look to win their third straight Texas League championship with their second straight prospect heavy infield. Last year it was Pinder, Nunez, Healy and Olson. This year it will be Matt Chapman at third base, Franklin Barreto at shortstop and Ryon Healy at first base. Both Chapman and Barreto will look to stay healthy throughout the year after missing significant time last year with various injuries. Ryon Healy should get the majority of playing time at 1B, which he’ll share with minor league rule 5 pick Viosergy Rosa. He had a breakout year but was a casualty of the depth at the corner infield spots. Carson Blair made his major league debut last year but starts out in Midland this year, handling what should be a solid starting rotation. Jaycob Brugman is another victim of a roster crunch at the top levels causing him to repeat the league despite a solid season last year. He’ll lead off and move around all the outfield spots once again. Another minor league rule 5 pick, Danny Oh, will help him out in the outfield. JP Sportman has impressed in major league camp whenever he’s made an appearance. He’s not quite a centerfielder but his defense in the corners should be pretty solid.
Midlands opening day rotation this year should be better than last year’s opening day rotation. Daniel Mengden came over in the Scott Kazmir deal last year and made a strong impression. Dylan Covey managed to put up strong numbers in the very hitter friendly league mostly due to his heavy groundball tendencies and that trend shouldn’t stop in Texas. Like Dillon Overton, Raul Alcantara is working his way back from TJS slowly and surely. Also like Covey, he’s generally a groundball pitcher. Joel Seddon will most likely work as a swingman after filling in the same role last year in Stockton. The Midland bullpen looks pretty good with a few fireballers in there. Kris Hall, Sam Bragg, and Aaron Kurcz who can all run their fastballs up to 96 mphs. Unlike the other fireballers, Sam Bragg could go a couple innings every few outings. Corey Walter isn’t a soft tosser either, but he’s not quite a burner like the other three. Sean Doolittle’s younger brother, Ryan, starts out the year in Midland. Trey Cochran-Gill was acquired over the offseason for Evan Scribner.
Top Prospects*: Franklin Barreto (2), Matt Chapman (4), Raul Alcantara (14), Daniel Mengden (15), Ryon Healy (20), Jaycob Brugman (21), Dylan Covey (23)
-Note Yairo Munoz (7) should join Midland when he comes back from his injury
Sleepers**: JP Sportman, Joel Seddon
There’s a repeat of sorts happening to the Ports, unfortunately, in that the previous years’ top pick got injured during spring training and missed the first 6-8 weeks of the season. Last year it was Matt Chapman, this year it’s Richie Martin after requiring meniscus surgery. While Martin’s out, the Stockton offense will be led by fellow 2015 draftee Mikey White, Cal League repeaters BJ Boyd and Tyler Marincov, and newcomers Argenis Raga and Sanber Pimentel. With Martin out, White should get the majority of the starts at shortstop. Sanber Pimentel isn’t the most gifted defender and is just relegated to first base and DH. He’ll enjoy the very hitter friendly environment of the Cal League after laboring in the second half of last year in the Midwest League last year. BJ Boyd and Tyler Marincov will get plenty of playing time in centerfield and rightfield respectively. Each had solid if unspectacular years last year in Stockton. Backing them up will be another 2015 draft product, Seth Brown, who had a pretty good year against younger competition in the NY-Penn League. He’s mostly a corner guy but filled in at centerfield a few times as well. James Harris will patrol the outfield, he’s not really someone to watch but he went to Oakland Tech which is cool. Argenis Raga had a rough start to the season, getting demoted to Vermont in June, but earned his way back up to Beloit. He was originally signed as an infielder but moved to catcher when he came stateside.
A pair of prospects that came over to the organization in trades lead the way for the Ports rotation. Casey Meisner, from the Clippard trade and one of the biggest steals, had a tough first couple of starts but settled down the rest of the way. He has good stuff now and at 6’7" is still projectable for more down the road. Zack Erwin came over in the offseason Brett Lawrie trade. According to Keith Law his stuff took a jump forward after raising his arm slot a bit. He’s another projectable starter. Daniel Gossett and Brett Graves will look to rebound after having pretty bad debut seasons. Gossett at least had a better second half and apparently was up to 96 this spring. Heath Fillmyer has nasty stuff but no idea where it’s going. He can run his fastball into the mid 90’s. If he can harness his stuff he has the makings of a solid pitcher. Bobby Wahl’s main problem since he turned pro has been remaining healthy, and he should soon rejoin Midland and add to the hard throwing crop of relievers.
Top Prospects*: Casey Meisner (9), Mikey White (16), Zack Erwin (19), Sanber Pimentel (24), Heath Fillmyer (25), Daniel Gossett (27), Bobby Wahl (29)
-Note: Richie Martin should join Stockton when he returns from surgery.
Sleepers**: Argenis Raga, Seth Brown, BJ Boyd
Skye Bolt is one of the more intriguing players in the A’s system. He has all the raw tools to be a very good hitting center fielder, but he hasn’t quite put it all together. He has a good enough eye to make up for any lack in contact though. Trace Loehr is your run of the mill "gritty little guy playing with his hair on fire." He’s a guy that’s generally greater than the sum of his parts. He’ll probably mostly play shortstop although he’s more of a future second baseman. Jesus Lopez was the big deal out of the 2013 international free agency class, signing for $900,000 with the A’s when he was expected to sign elsewhere. The A’s have been pushing him hard through the system thus far, and that’s not any different this year. He’ll mostly play 2B for Beloit as a 19 year old (20 year old prospects are considered ahead of the age curve for the Midwest League). Last year the A’s drafted a slew of college players that were young for their grade, one being Brett Siddall who didn’t turn 21 until the October after his draft. Age at draft day is a consideration especially for high school players, but that’s a topic for another day. Siddall’s a corner outfielder with a little bit of pop. Edwin Diaz was drafted with the knowledge that he was fairly raw at the time. He’s a shortstop now that’s most likely to shift over to third due to his size. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to put everything together but will look to change that this year. Santiago Chavez has had a wild ride in the A’s system. As an 18 year old he was sent out to Midland to fill in for injuries. When they got a couple catchers to report to Midland, he was sent to Beloit, then to Vermont. Last year he was jumped up to Stockton, and this year he’s back in Beloit. He’s a defensive specialist.
The Beloit rotation will feature a couple of youngsters on the opposite of the spectrum. Dustin Driver is a hard thrower who’s struggled with his control. He’s also dealt with injuries and each fall he’s impressed. Opposite of him, Jesus Zambrano is a soft tossing control specialist, although there’s always projection in a 19 year old to add velocity. Boomer Biegalski was a late sign with the A’s out of Florida State as a draft eligible sophomore last year. He’s another command over stuff kind of guy. The last few years seemingly have had a reliever jump up a few levels, this years guy might be James Naille.
Top Prospects*: Skye Bolt (18), Dustin Driver (26)
Sleepers**: Jesus Lopez, Jesus Zambrano, Brett Siddall, Trace Loehr
* - Top Prospects taken from our Community Prospect List results
**- Sleepers are mostly just names to watch that didn’t make our Community Prospect List that could jump into the rankings next year.