The Oakland A's farm system has quietly been blessed with exceptional health in 2016. Not a single member of our preseason Community Prospect List Top 30 has suffered a season-ending injury, with RHP Dylan Covey's strained oblique being by far the worst of the lot (he's missed three months). There have been a couple brief DL stints here and there for routine small stuff but even those have been minimal in frequency. Leaving aside the cancer diagnosis of veteran Andrew Lambo (which is both serious and utterly non-baseball-related), it's incredible how healthy the entire A's farm has been from top to bottom.
On that note, the organization's top prospect, shortstop Franklin Barreto, returned to the lineup for Double-A Midland last week after one of those brief bang-ups. Barreto tweaked a hamstring in the middle of July and ended up missing nine games, which if anything is on the faster side for such a recovery. Since returning on July 26, he's gone 13-for-29 in seven games with six extra-base hits (2 HR), two walks, three strikeouts, and a 1.296 OPS. Despite coming back on a Tuesday, he still hit enough to earn Texas League Player of the Week honors. It's been more than just one hot week, though (stats below are July 1 thru Aug. 2):
Barreto, since July 1 (in 92 PAs): .413/.473/.663, 14 extra-base hits, 9 BB, 9 K
Baseball America does a monthly all-prospect team, and as part of it they include a Baseball-Reference-style OPS+ for the top hitters. Barreto's July earned a 221 OPS+ mark, meaning he was well over twice as good as the average hitter in the league for an entire month. Dude is en fuego. Here's some insight from his manager Ryan Christenson, via Michael Peng of MiLB.com:
"He's really understanding what allows him to have success here at this level, which is controlling the strike zone," Double-A Midland manager Ryan Christenson said of the top-ranked A's prospect. "He's done a much better job of not chasing out of the strike zone and just sticking to what he's looking to get. ... He's been a line drive machine and just hitting lasers all over the yard."
This entire story should sound familiar to anyone who has been following Barreto's career with the A's. Last year, as a 19-year-old in High-A Stockton, he broke out and posted a 1.093 OPS in July ... until an errant ground ball hit him on the wrist, giving him a bone bruise that cost him six weeks and essentially ended his season. This year, after taking half a season to adjust to Double-A as the second-youngest position player in the entire league*, he has once again figured things out and is now shredding everyone in sight. Since July 1, he has more three-hits games (4) than 0-fers (3). In 15 of 21 games during that span, he's reached base at least twice via hit or walk.
* min. 108 PAs; the youngest is Alex Verdugo of the Dodgers
Barreto's slow first half dropped him down the various Top 100 lists slightly. He now ranks No. 53 at the midseason update of Baseball America, and coincidentally MLB Pipeline put him in exactly the same slot (though MLB's version also includes 2016 draft picks). If he stays hot in August, I expect he will shoot back up those lists to at least the 25-35 range where he sat last winter. One way or other, though, he's still Oakland's top prospect and he remains an incredibly exciting part of the team's not-too-distant future.
There's still the defensive side of the ball to figure out, but remember the debate is really over which up-the-middle position he should play. That's a whole different conversation than the one we often have for guys like Danny Valencia and Renato Nunez who struggle to even stick at the corners, and frankly I'm not the least bit worried about it yet. I'm too busy doing spit-takes every time I look at what he's doing with the bat.
Wahl slamming the door
Right-handed pitcher Bobby Wahl cracked the bottom of our CPL last winter, clocking in as the A's No. 29 prospect, but he hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet this year. That's partly because he's a reliever in Double-A, which by definition can only be mildly exciting, and it doesn't help that injuries in past years prevented him from gaining much momentum on the field or on our prospect radar. But the 5th-round pick from 2013 is finally finding a groove like he never has before.
Since June 1, Wahl has thrown 20 innings over 20 appearances ... and given up just one run, on a solo homer, for a 0.45 ERA during that span. The rest of his line includes 28 Ks, 8 BB, and only 7 hits. All but four of those outings began in the 9th inning or later, resulting in 10 saves out of 10 chances. (He did take a loss, as that solo homer came leading off the bottom of the 10th inning. Pobody's nerfect.)
It's no secret that the A's have pumped up their prospect depth in starting pitching, but the reliever landscape also looks promising. The A's have essentially operated with a 12-man bullpen this year, as they've had plenty of adequate fill-ins available at Triple-A Nashville whenever help is needed or an injury pops up, and they still haven't even called on the intriguing arms of Tucker Healy (12.6 K/9) or Aaron Kurcz (walk rate cut in half from last year). Now Wahl leads the next wave of potential Oakland relievers, along with fellow Midland standouts Trey Cochran-Gill (0.62 ERA last 17 games) and Sam Bragg (2.57 ERA in 23 games since moving back to short relief).
With that kind of depth to draw from, the A's hopefully won't find themselves in a 2015-style bullpen trainwreck anytime soon. Hopefully.
Hitters (thru 109 games)
Marincov is in a bit of a slump, but he's built up a strong enough track record this year that we don't have to freak out when he has a bad week. His wRC+ dropped 18 points since our last update (11 team games ago), but I'm much more interested in Barreto's wRC+ going up by 13 points in that span.
|... Bullpen ...
Gossett has allowed exactly one earned run each of his last five starts, for a 1.42 ERA with four strikeouts per walk. Fillmyer is being kept on a short leash (what appears to be 5-inning limit) but has been effective in all three games since his promotion. Seddon finally had a bad game but still owns a 1.79 ERA in his last seven starts. Finally, Walter continues to be a robot -- you wind him up, and he trots out and tosses four or five scoreless innings. He's done that in seven of his last 10 outings.
All five affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 6:05 p.m., Chris Smith vs. Colorado Springs
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Brandon Mann vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Rancho Cucamonga
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Boomer Biegalski vs. Kane County
Low-A Vermont: LIVE, A.J. Puk vs. Lowell
Puk is having his best game yet, by far. He's thrown four innings with just an unearned run, four Ks and one walk (38-of-51 pitches for strikes!). Friedrichs and Biegalski are the other names to watch here.