It's not even June yet, and already the Oakland A's have dipped heavily into their farm system for reinforcements. With an entire starting rotation on the disabled list, plus four regular position players and a few more depth guys out, the Triple-A Nashville Sounds are providing new reinforcements on what feels like a daily basis. A quick rundown of the DL situation, with italics denoting that the player is out for the season:
SP: Sonny, Bassitt, Doubront, Alvarez, Parker
RP: Hendriks, Alvarez (the other one)
C/IF: Phegley, Lowrie, Canha, Sogard
OF: Reddick, Fuld
That's 13 players simultaneously on the DL, the most the A's have lost at once since 1979. Even if you consider that Parker was always a long shot, and Henderson Alvarez was signed specifically because he was injured (i.e., flawed and cheap), and that R.J. Alvarez isn't a huge piece, and that Sogard and Fuld may have been squeezed out even if healthy, that's still a heck of a lot of key players to lose all at the same time.
And who has replaced them? Leaving aside Jesse Hahn, who should have just started the year in Oakland outright, here are the players who have moved up from Nashville at some point, with italics for the ones who are currently back in the minors (Neal will be in Oakland tomorrow):
SP: Surkamp, Manaea, Neal
RP: Coulombe, Triggs, Wendelken
C/IF: McBride, Ladendorf, Muncy
OF: Smolinski, Lambo
There is good news about that list, but then again, if you're pessimistic you could consider it bad news. Let's just call it news for now, and I'll let you decide what it means. While that list looks long and it might feel like the A's have exhausted their minor league resources for now, Sean Manaea is the only name on there who is really a top prospect. J.B. Wendelken and Tyler Ladendorf both broke the lower levels of our Community Prospect List Top 30, but that's not what I'm talking about.
The A's have blown through most of their fringe depth pieces, but they haven't yet called on their truly exciting prospects. Granted, one reason they haven't done so is that most of those top guns are struggling to start the season, but even the ones who have been good (Nunez, Overton) have been left to marinate as long as possible. The A's always want to compete, but it appears that so far they have resisted the urge to rush their best youngsters just to make a Hail Mary attempt at improving the early-season standings. And to add even more intrigue, Nashville has added another exciting talent in starter Daniel Mengden -- many of us liked the mustachioed bulldog entering the year, but I don't think anyone expected him to limit opponents to four runs in eight starts and graduate from Double-A in under a month.
Fortunately, the worst of the nightmare may be over. Lowrie and Phegley are expected back this week, and Sonny supposedly isn't hurt bad. A couple of the current reinforcements can soon go back to waiting for the next emergency. But depending on when that emergency occurs, the next call could go to one of the bigger prospects rather than the depth guys. The question is, who might that next name be?
If the need arises in the next few weeks (let's say Graveman injures himself in a freak shoveling accident, or Burns ironically pulls a hammy while walking), then you might be looking at the italic names above -- guys like Surkamp, Wendelken, and Lambo. But here's a list of the top prospects who have yet to debut:
SP: Mengden, Overton
RP: Schuster, T. Healy
IF: Nunez, Ravelo, Pinder, Wendle, R. Healy
In addition to the surprising Mengden, Nashville has Dillon Overton striking out nearly a batter per inning with over 5 Ks per walk. The lefty has slightly more experience than Mengden, but the latter's numbers are so beyond ridiculous that if he maintains anything like his current pace then you can't ignore them much longer. In the bullpen, the Sounds still have some more intriguing names after the ones we've already seen. Lefty Patrick Schuster is only 25 years old but has strong K and BB numbers to go with an 0.96 ERA, and righty Tucker Healy is striking out over 14 batters per nine innings.
As for the position players, Renato Nunez is the obvious top contender. He's the best hitter on the team now that Max Muncy is in Oakland, and he's already on the 40-man roster anyway. I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn't make his MLB debut this year, but the question is how long the A's want him to succeed in Triple-A before bringing him up. Meanwhile, fellow bat-first righty Rangel Ravelo is picking up the pace recently with a .920 OPS in May. With Matt Olson and Chad Pinder still struggling, perhaps Joey Wendle could get a shot if the middle infield springs more leaks.
When it comes to selecting a replacement from the minors, there are lots of factors involved. Who is playing well in Nashville, what's the status of the 40-man roster, how long will the injured player be out, will the new guy play every day or sit on the bench, is the focus on the present day or developing for the future, etc. And on top of that, we're talking theoretically here because we don't know when the next injury will occur or who will suffer it. But dammit, there's a poll at the bottom of this post and we're gonna take our best guess anyway.
Hitters (thru 44 games)
Renato Nunez, 3B: .269/.322/.519, 8 HR, 5.3% BB, 14.6% Ks, 121 wRC+
Rangel Ravelo, 1B: .263/.321/.390, 2 HR, 8.4% BB, 13.7% Ks, 89 wRC+
Matt Olson, OF: .194/.299/.358, 4 HR, 13.3% BB, 27.8% Ks, 78 wRC+
Chad Pinder, SS: .236/.266/.351, 2 HR, 3.8% BB, 23.3% Ks, 61 wRC+
Joey Wendle, 2B: .204/.251/.329, 4 HR, 5.0% BB, 26.3% Ks, 51 wRC+
... And here's one key stat for each of those guys:
- Nunez: For the fourth straight year, he has decreased his K% after moving up a level. I'm telling you, this guy is gonna hit when he reaches the bigs.
- Ravelo: His May hot streak includes hitting for average (.321), hitting for power (7 XBH in 59 PAs), and regaining his plate discipline (5 BB, 7 Ks).
- Olson is slowly improving, but still striking out a lot. Let's hope he's distracted by learning to become a full-time outfielder. Marcus Semien showed us that it can be tough to hit while also undergoing on-the-job defensive training.
- Pinder's plate discipline was awful in April (1 BB, 24 Ks) but has improved in May (5 BB, 13 Ks), so perhaps he's figuring things out.
- I've got nothing for Wendle. He's actually gotten worse in May.
Oh, and the newest additions:
Ryon Healy, 3B/1B: 6-for-18, 3 XBH, 1 BB, 4 Ks
Jaycob Brugman, OF: 1-for-9, 0 BB, 3 Ks
Healy hasn't missed a beat so far since his promotion, like Mengden but for hitting rather than pitching.
Pitchers (thru 44 games)
Daniel Mengden, RHP: 4 starts, 0.67 ERA, 27 ip, 23 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR
Dillon Overton, LHP: 9 games, 4.03 ERA, 51⅓ ip, 49 Ks, 9 BB, 2 HR
Patrick Schuster, LHP: 16 games, 0.96 ERA, 18⅔ ip, 19 Ks, 6 BB, 0 HR
Tucker Healy, RHP: 15 games, 2.60 ERA, 17⅓ ip, 28 Ks, 6 BB, 1 HR
J.B. Wendelken, RHP: 16 games, 4.60 ERA, 15⅔ ip, 29 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR
Wendelken is fanning nearly two batters per inning in the minors. I don't think we saw his full ability in his MLB debut, because he was hung out to dry when the team needed him to eat up as many outs as possible (his first inning was quite good). As noted in the Mengden video above, the Sounds have the best team ERA in the Pacific Coast League by over half a run (3.05, next-best 3.79, league average 4.35).
Andrew Lambo, OF: .245/.314/.338, 1 HR, 8.5% BB, 20.3% Ks, 79 wRC+
Zach Neal, RHP: 7 starts, 2.53 ERA, 42⅔ ip, 21 Ks, 4 BB, 3 HR
Eric Surkamp, LHP: 3 starts, 3.18 ERA, 17 ip, 22 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR
I didn't really think Neal would ever reach Oakland, but here we are. At least he has good control given his low walk rate?
All four affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nasvhille: 7:05 p.m., Eric Surkamp vs. Las Vegas
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Springfield
High-A Stockton: 6:35 p.m., Zack Erwin vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: 4:30 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Quad Cities
Erwin is the name to watch here, and as a bonus he is facing Brock Dykxhoorn, who was drafted by Houston in 2014 out of Tatooine.