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Oakland A’s new pitchers: Introducing Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, and Jharel Cotton

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Los Angeles Dodgers Photo Day
Frankie Montas
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s finally made their big move on the trade market Monday morning, just a few hours before the official deadline. They ended up packaging their two best chips together in the same deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers, netting three pitching prospects in return: Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, and Jharel Cotton. They’re all righties, and so far in their careers they’re all starters.

Before we get to scouting reports, let’s start with a big picture of how good these particular players are. Among LA’s prospects at the time of the trade, MLB Pipeline had them ranked No. 5 (Holmes), No. 8 (Montas), and No. 13 (Cotton) -- but remember, the Dodgers entered the season with what was universally considered the best minor league system in the entire sport. Being a top-10 guy in that organization was kind of a big deal, even after Corey Seager cleared out the top spot by graduating to the bigs.

To wit, despite barely cracking the top five of his own team, Holmes is easily a Top 100 prospect. He appeared on the preseason lists of Baseball Prospectus (40), MLB Pipeline (62), Keith Law (71), Baseball America (72), and John Sickels (96), and at BA’s midseason update they bumped him up to No. 60. MLB Pipeline knocked him down to 82 at their update but keep in mind they’ve already added in the 2016 draft class; A.J. Puk ranks No. 78. To add some context to those numbers, Sean Manaea was ranked in the late-40s on those same BA and BP preseason lists.

Meanwhile, Montas is arguably a Top 100 guy as well depending who you ask. The only preseason list he cracked was MLB Pipeline at No. 95, though Sickels had him just missing out at No. 108. But at BA’s midseason update (which doesn’t count 2016 draftees) he clocked in at No. 82 despite throwing only 16 innings this year (more on that later). Finally, Cotton isn’t a Top 100 guy but he’s probably Top 200 and is arguably MLB-ready right now.

To summarize, Holmes is the top prize, Montas has the biggest ceiling, and Cotton has the highest floor and closest proximity to the majors. Let’s take a closer look at each player!

Grant Holmes | Age 20 | Level: A+

2016, A+: 20 games, 4.02 ERA, 105.1 ip, 100 Ks, 43 BB, 6 HR, 3.81 FIP

Holmes was a first-round pick out of high school in the 2014 draft, three spots ahead of Matt Chapman at No. 22 overall. It’s always a gamble drafting a high school pitcher, but he’s on the right track so far in his first two full pro seasons and so that risk can now be downgraded from “teenage pitching prospect” to simply “pitching prospect.”

He struck out 10 batters per nine innings in Single-A last year, and this year he’s reduced his walk rate and been solid overall in the hitter-friendly Cal League. That’s despite being the second-youngest pitcher in the entire league, a full two years the junior of most of the rest. If he’d gone to college, he wouldn’t even have been drafted until next summer, but as it is he seems likely to be in the upper minors already in 2017.

Here’s MLB Pipeline with a snapshot of Holmes’ arsenal:

Holmes can miss bats with both his fastball and breaking ball. After hitting 100 mph as a high school senior, he worked mostly at 93-95 mph with his lively heater during his first full year as a pro. His breaker combines curveball depth with slider velocity when at its best, though it can lack consistency at times.

Over at Oakland Clubhouse, Melissa Lockard follows up with this note:

The slider is Holmes’ most inconsistent offering and may be a pitch the A’s choose to have him move away from in favor of a cut-fastball once he has been in the organization for some time.

For some reason, that suggestion doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or some kind of organizational philosophy, but the A’s sure do seem to love cutters and act wary around some sliders.

All in all, Holmes is a serious talent and immediately becomes one of the A’s top 3-5 prospects. As for what his future holds, here’s a good way to look at it from David Hood at True Blue LA back in March (click through for more details on Holmes’ pitches):

Holmes’ future can take two distinct paths that will shape his future ranking. One likely scenario is that Holmes fails to approve his command above a grade 50, limits his repertoire to just the fastball-curveball, and finds his ceiling at elite closer. The second is that his command improves across the board with experience, the change-up a solid average offering, and his ceiling stays high as a future number one/elite number two starter. At this point, I’m not willing to throw support behind either option, but instead recognize the likelihood of either outcome.

No matter what happens, the best-case ceiling is high, though perhaps a more realistic hope is just a notch down (Baseball America: “Scouts who love him see a future No. 2 or No. 3 starter.”) The consistent message across all reports is that he needs to continue improving his command and his changeup, which is pretty standard for any 20-year-old. Holmes has enough size (6’1, 215) that his build shouldn’t prevent him from being a starter if everything else falls into place.

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Frankie Montas | Age 23 | Level: AAA

2016 stats: Only threw 16 innings due to injury

Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager back in 2009, Montas has been used as a trade chip multiple times. He’s gone from Boston, to the White Sox, to the Dodgers, and now to Oakland, packaged in deals for big names such as Jake Peavy, Todd Frazier, and now Hill and Reddick. (Fun fact: In the Peavy trade in 2013, J.B. Wendelken joined him on the trip from Boston to Chicago.)

Montas’ calling card is his fastball. MLB Pipeline gives it a rank of 70 on the 20-to-80 scale, and to give you an idea what that means, here are the only 70 grades they gave to anyone in Oakland’s system:

  • Frankie Montas’ fastball
  • A.J. Puk’s fastball
  • Matt Chapman’s throwing arm
  • Sean Murphy’s throwing arm

(Note on that last one: Murphy, a catcher, was the A’s 3rd-round pick this year, with his arm being a big reason why.)

That’s the whole list. By that measure, Montas’ heater is one of the four most elite individual tools owned by any A’s prospect. Of course, it takes more than one tool to succeed, and the best prospects have multiple strong ones even if none of them are as great as Montas’ best. But it’s sure a nice head start. Here are some more specifics from MLB Pipeline:

One of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, Montas maintains mid-90s heat into the late innings and can reach back for 102 mph. His fastball has some sinking and cutting action but also can straighten out when he overthrows it. His mid-80s slider also can overpower hitters, though it too flattens out at times.

Like with Holmes, the difference between a future as a starter or a reliever appears to hinge on two things: command, and offspeed pitch. That MLB Pipeline writeup includes the phrase “he still remains more thrower than pitcher,” so there is refinement to be done with his powerful stuff. Meanwhile, no report seems very enthused about the progress of his change-up at the moment. But also like with Holmes, lack of size won’t be the reason he turns to relief, as he’s listed at 6’2, 255.

Over at True Blue LA in January, David Hood admitted that Montas seems more likely to end up in the bullpen, but any disappointment you feel about that should be alleviated by his Dellin Betances comp. Montas made his MLB debut in 2015 (7 games, 15 ip, 20 Ks, 9 BB, 1 HR, 4.80 ERA), meaning that he’ll already be down to his final option year in 2017 — unless his lost ‘16 season earns him a fourth option year, which it might. Either way, time is a factor here.

Finally, there is one more question mark shrouding Montas’ future, and that is his health. He started this year on the DL after having a rib removed in February due to a stress reaction, and he didn’t come back until June. Not two weeks later he was shut down again when a different rib started getting stressed, in what was described as a related issue.

But the A’s knew about all that when they traded for him and they still wanted him anyway. There’s a good chance he won’t pitch again this season, but GM David Forst did mention in his press conference Monday that we might see him in fall or winter ball (Susan Slusser has the whole transcript at the S.F. Chronicle). In other words, Montas is the lotto ticket in this package, but it’s one of those drawings where the jackpot has grown so huge that the local news shows up to do a story on it.

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Jharel Cotton | Age 24 | Level: AAA

2016, AAA: 22 games, 4.90 ERA, 97.1 ip, 119 Ks 32 BB, 17 HR, 4.59 FIP

Cotton was a late-round draft pick who has turned into a legit prospect. He wasn’t taken until the 20th round in 2012, but after an extended stay at High-A he shot up the ladder in 2015 and has spent all of this year at Triple-A. He’s likely to be the first of this trio to reach Oakland, as Forst noted in his press conference that “[h]opefully ... we get a chance to see him up here before the end of the season.”

If you set a minimum of 60 innings pitched, Cotton leads the entire Pacific Coast League in strikeout rate (29.5% of batters faced). He’s also toward the top in home run rate, but for what it’s worth John Sickels of Minor League Ball believes “his strikeout and hit rates are more indicative of his potential than his 2016 ERA.”

As for his repertoire, here is MLB Pipeline:

Cotton began to take off when his fastball velocity spiked from 88-91 mph to 92-96. He gives hitters fits by mixing four-seamers up in the zone with plus changeups in the lower half. Those are his two main offerings, as he also has a curveball and a cutter/slider but neither grades as average.

Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse specifies that changeup as Cotton’s best pitch, even calling it one of the best changes in the whole PCL. David Hood of True Blue LA refers to its excellent movement as “plus plus fade,” but he does wonder if it might become predictable over longer stints.

So what will Cotton become? He still could be solid starter and MLB Pipeline gives him mid-rotation upside, but there’s a long list of things that could send him to the bullpen — including lack of size (5’11), complicated delivery (which is designed to release his fastball from a higher plane), and the chance to play up his stuff in shorter stints (both in terms of max velocity and not giving hitters multiple at-bats to adjust to his offspeed pitch). Hood also mentions that “Cotton displays a fearless attitude and challenges hitters with his stuff,” and if being a bulldog starter doesn’t work out then that’s always a nice description for a late-inning reliever as well.

Learn more about Cotton the person, including his roots in the U.S. Virgin Islands, via this interview with Cespedes Family BBQ. Or just check out the scouting video below.

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Looking forward

Optimistically, the A’s got two Top 100 prospects and a member of their 2017 rotation. Pessimistically, they got one Top 100 guy, a high-velocity lotto ticket and a member of their 2017 bullpen. Either way, they’ve added three more pieces to their rapidly growing collection of quality pitching prospect depth. There was no filler in this haul.

At the All-Star break, I came up with an unofficial midseason update for the top of our Community Prospect List. Sean Manaea and Ryan Dull have graduated, Daniel Mengden is four outs away from rookie status, and I’m pulling Ryon Healy and Dillon Overton because I think they will also graduate by season’s end. Here’s my initial post-trade re-write. (Note: I’m not even going to try to rank recent teenage Cuban signing Lazaro Armenteros for now.)

  1. Franklin Barreto, SS
  2. Matt Chapman, 3B
  3. Grant Holmes, RHP
  4. A.J. Puk, LHP
  5. Matt Olson, OF
  6. Frankie Montas, RHP
  7. Chad Pinder, SS
  8. Renato Nunez, 3B/1B
  9. Yairo Munoz, SS
  10. Daniel Gossett, RHP
  11. Richie Martin, SS
  12. Dakota Chalmers, RHP

That might be too high for Montas, but I figure he’s still on at least one Top 100 list so he should be above the guys who have mostly never been on one. Cotton would show up somewhere in the teens, definitely before No. 20. I also haven’t done much to drop the struggling Triple-A hitters (MLB Pipeline dropped Olson all the way down to No. 17!), for several reasons — Olson and Nunez are still young enough that they have plenty of time to take another crack at the level next year, Pinder is still a middle infielder with pop, and Nashville’s stadium is proving to be quite an extreme pitcher’s park amid a hitter’s league. But all of that is a story for another day.

We won’t do an official CPL vote until the offseason, but let’s see your version of the new Top 10 in the comments!