The Triple-A Nashville Sounds have an 11-game lead in their division with 11 games left to play, so by my calculations they are looking solid for a playoff berth in the Pacific Coast League. In fact, their 77-56 record is the best in the entire league.
The Sounds did that mostly via strong pitching, surely with some help from their tough home ballpark — they’ve allowed the fewest runs per game of all 16 PCL teams, nearly half a run lower than the runner-up and more than a run better than the average. But they’ve also managed to hit, standing as one of five teams to average at least five runs per game on offense. And now with the likes of Ryon Healy, Bruce Maxwell, and Chad Pinder up in the bigs, Nashville has needed new heroes to step up at the plate.
Nobody has filled that void better than outfielder Jaycob Brugman. The 24-year-old has been on fire in August, with a .978 OPS and nearly a walk for every strikeout. He’s also done that while playing mostly CF, and even if he doesn’t stick there in the long run at least you get the idea that he’s got some moves on defense. His overall August line, in 24 games (112 plate appearances):
Brugman, Aug.: .385/.446/.531, 2 HR, 13 BB, 17 Ks
He won’t hit for that high of an average over a longer sample, but the point is that he’s all the way up in Triple-A and still hitting the ball hard. This hot month has raised his wRC+ up to 118, by far the highest of any of the meaningful prospects remaining in Nashville. He’s a lefty, but he’s more or less held his own against southpaws in the upper minors. Perhaps he’d be a good platoon mate for Jake Smolinski or Brett Eibner down the road, either in CF or RF, with the knowledge that it isn't the end of the world if he faces a lefty now and then?
But despite all that, I’m not making a call to Free Bruggy. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been one of my absolute favorite pet prospects the last two seasons. But let’s be realistic — Khris Davis, Coco, Danny Valencia, and Smolinski are getting the reps in the outfield right now, with Eibner on the bench as it is. If Brugman were called up now, he’d just be riding the pine, as I pine from afar to see him play.
No, instead I’d rather see him keep leading the charge for the postseason-bound Sounds. When Sacramento was the A’s affiliate, they won their division 12 out of 16 years and added five PCL titles and three Triple-A titles. Let’s keep that run of excellence going in our new city. Several members of this team won rings last year in Double-A Midland, including Brugman, Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, Colin Walsh, and Tucker Healy. Let’s see if they can get the A’s tenure in Nashville started the right way with a championship in just their second season in town! And if there's time, Bruggy can get a cup of coffee at the end of September before his real trial next spring.
Nashville has lost some players to Oakland recently, most notably Pinder, Alcantara, and various role players on the pitching staff. However, they've also added a lot of talent in the last couple weeks.
The highlight, of course, is third baseman Matt Chapman. The 23-year-old, whom I have at No. 2 on my personal list of top A's prospects, got the call to Triple-A after leading the Double-A Texas League with 29 home runs. He'll need to prove he can keep his strikeout rate in check as he continues to move up the ladder, but his elite defense means that he has something to offer even when he's slumping at the plate. He's 6-for-37 so far in Nashville, with four of those hits being for extra bases, and he's racked up 6 BB to 14 Ks.
Chapman, AA: .244/.335/.521, 29 HR, 11.7% BB, 29.2% Ks, 141 wRC+
The Sounds have also added three players from High-A Stockton. Two relievers, lefty Cody Stull and righty Carlos Navas, join new closer Bobby Wahl in a revamped pen -- it's nice to see the relief corps fill back in so quickly after losing so many arms to the big league club. Both pitchers are 24 years old, and both posted gaudy strikeout rates in High-A. In addition, outfielder B.J. Boyd came up to fill a spot on the bench, but the 23-year-old has only gotten into one game so far (he went 0-for-4).
Stull, A+: 1.46 ERA, 55⅔ ip, 63 Ks, 11 BB, 2 HR, 2.58 FIP
Navas, A+: 4.08 ERA, 53 ip, 67 Ks, 22 BB, 5 HR, 3.85 FIP
Boyd, A+: .288/.346/.395, 8 HR, 7.4% BB, 16.2% Ks, 101 wRC+
Hitters (thru 133 games)
Brugman isn't the only one who's playing well. Wendle has an .836 OPS in August, putting him at .820 since the start of June. Olson's strikeout rate in August is only 18.6%, which is a key improvement, and Ravelo has an .825 OPS in August as well. Bruggy is the hottest bat in the lineup, but he's not alone. Meanwhile, Chapman had his best Triple-A performance yet on Friday, notching a homer and a triple; his numbers in the table above come in only 43 plate appearances.
|... Bullpen ...|
Alcantara and Mengden appear to be at a point where their innings are being limited to a hard five per start. Alcantara only threw around 50 innings last year in his return from Tommy John and is already at 130 overall this season, so there's no reason to push him much harder in what has turned into a successful campaign at the last minute. Mengden is only about a dozen frames past his career high from last year, but he'll surely be asked to make some starts in the playoffs so there is still a long way to go. Meanwhile, Overton and Cotton seem to be on slightly longer leashes.
All five affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Jharel Cotton vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Brandon Mann vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:15 p.m., Casey Meisner vs. Bakersfield
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Michael Murray vs. Kane County
Low-A Vermont #1: LIVE, A.J. Puk vs. Connecticut
Puk is scoreless through three frames, though with a few walks. Cotton and Meisner are the other names to watch.