The Oakland A's broke the seal on their Triple-A lineup on Friday, bringing up the first of a large group of promising hitters to help out the big league team. However, it was not the guy whom anyone would have guessed in March, but rather Ryon Healy who got the first call after a meteoric rise through the upper minors this year.
Healy has made a good first impression, going 2-for-7 with a home run and mistake-free defense at third base, and he is currently expected to be the primary option at the hot corner until further notice. And with several more eggs waiting in the basket, and a long list of veteran position players on the trade block, the natural next question is: Who will be the next hitting prospect to be called up from Triple-A Nashville?
On Thursday night I did a Q&A with Tom Dakers of the Blue Jays blog Bluebird Banter, and one of the questions he asked me was which youngsters I expected to see in the second half of the season. I made a list for him, in order of likelihood that they're the next one called up. The top of my list was Healy, who wasn't called up until several hours later, but I'm not going to take any credit for guessing that one right -- picking him to be the first hitter promoted was like predicting that it wouldn't rain in Oakland this mid-July weekend.
I've done a bit of tweaking on my list in the days since, and here is the current version. Note that it only includes hitters not pitchers, and I have left out Max Muncy and Arismendy Alcantara because they aren't technically prospects anymore (even though I expect we'll see them in Oakland again this year):
1. Jaycob Brugman, OF: If you read this Prospect Watch series then you know Bruggy is arguably my biggest prospect crush and has been for a year now, so you might think I'm being biased here. I'm serious about this suggestion, though. With Healy up, the best hitters who play regularly in Nashville are Brugman, Muncy, and Bruce Maxwell (more on him soon). And with Billy Burns demoted back to the minors, Coco Crisp publicly identified as a guy who will lose playing time, and Josh Reddick on the trading block, the outfield depth could disappear real quick. Brugman is the best outfielder in Nashville, and he can even take over CF and let Jake Smolinski move back out to a corner spot where he belongs. Free Bruggy!
2. Bruce Maxwell, C: I had Maxwell two spots lower originally, but I'm moving him up because he ran his wRC+ all the way up to 124 with a couple more big games since then. Stephen Vogt could be traded this month, but I have a hunch he won't and even if he stays there could still be room for Maxwell. Remember, Josh Phegley is still on the DL, with Matt McBride serving as the expendable backup -- it's not tough to imagine Phegs being shut down for the end of a lost season. Alternatively, Vogt doesn't have to keep catching if the A's want to try his bat out elsewhere (we know he's played 1B and OF before) which I would support given the punishment his body takes behind the plate. The A's showed their interest in Maxwell by taking a long look at him this spring, and now he's putting up numbers in real games. I was low on him entering the year, but if the A's think he's ready then there are no rigid obstacles standing in his way -- no better time to break in a new catcher than when the games don't mean anything.
3. Chad Pinder, SS: It's nearly impossible for me to envision a scenario in which Jed Lowrie is still on the team in August, which means there will be space to fill in the middle infield. With a few potential replacements toiling in Triple-A, and then a few more on the horizon behind them, it's time to start taking a look at them and see if one can stick. No point in stockpiling shortstops if you're gonna be too afraid to try any of them out in the bigs. And while Pinder has been doing his 2015 Semien impression at short (22 errors already), I'm talking about putting him at 2B where he'd be asked to do slightly less. Let's see if that bat can play.
4. Matt Olson, OF: Olson has taken a lot of heat this year for his slow adjustment to Triple-A. Is it the growing pains of a 22-year-old in his first test at the highest MiLB level, or is it a sign he'll never make enough contact to be an effective hitter? We still don't know yet, but he homered in each of the last two games and now boasts a July OPS of 1.066 (12-for-37, majority for extra-bases, with a K rate under 18%). That little hot streak has now pushed him above league average, with a 102 wRC+, and it might be time to start reconsidering some of those doubts. I think the only way Olson makes it to Oakland this year is if Reddick gets traded, and even then there's no guarantee, but just the fact that he's an outfielder now could open up the door a bit faster than if he was still at 1B.
5. Joey Wendle, 2B: Same story as Pinder, except he's surely behind Pinder in line (and probably Alcantara too). He's not hitting and he has less (or rather, zero) defensive versatility, but he is billed as a positive fielder (in contrast to Pinder at the moment) so that could help. He's also on the 40-man roster already, though that may not matter as much when some veterans start getting cleared out. My hunch is that Wendle's best chance is to make it as a Sept call-up and just try to impress someone.
6. Renato Nunez, "3B," and Rangel Ravelo, 1B: They are all-bat players who aren't hitting well in Nashville. Their only hope at the moment is that they are both on the 40-man already, but it would take a lot of injuries for them to get a shot right now. Renato in particular might just need a second shot at Triple-A next year, which is fine since the A's have plenty of other corner infielders to sort through in the meantime.
Whether you agree with the order or think I'm way off, these are probably the names we have a chance at seeing in the second half of the season. Things can change based on what kinds of trade returns the A's net this month, but for now these are next guys up. Who do you think gets the first call? Vote in the poll at the bottom!
Hitters (thru 93 games)
Since our last update at the end of June, Maxwell's SLG has gone up 72 points (thanks to 4 homers) while his strikeout rate has actually gone down a tenth. Dude is hot. Olson's wRC+ has gone up 14 points in that span. As I was writing this post, Pinder hit his 11th and 12th homers.
|... Bullpen ...|
Overton got smashed in his MLB trial but hasn't let it get him down, as he's tossed a couple quality starts since returning to Nashville. Jesse Hahn, on the other hand, has a 5.20 ERA in his six starts since returning to Triple-A, with nearly a walk per strikeout. And finally, I still can't stop looking at those strikeout rates in the bullpen.
All five affiliates are in action. (And all five won on Friday!)
Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Zach Neal vs. El Paso
Double-A Midlannd: LIVE, Raul Alcantara vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: LIVE, Joey Wagman vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: Lost 4-0, Angel Duno vs. Bowling Green
Low-A Vermont: Lost 5-4 (11 inn.), Xavier Altamirano vs. Williamsport
Down in Rookie Ball, fourth-round pick Skylar Szynski threw two scoreless innings in his fourth professional game. His ERA is 7.36 but he has 7 Ks to 2 BB. Alcantara had a good game (6 ip, 1 run, 8 Ks, 0 BB). Duno only threw a couple innings, and was piggybacked by Dustin Hurlbutt (5⅔ ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 0 BB). In addition to Pinder's dingers, Brugman and Maxwell each have two hits already and it's only the 4th.