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Nico’s Gutsy Top 20 A’s Prospect List

“#3, baby!!!!”

By "gutsy" I mean here comes a prospect list driven by gut, one that in hindsight will either look incredibly smart or laughably dumb.

Consider 2009 and the kind of furrowed brows and sideways squinting you would have been met with had you put together a list that had single-A catcher Josh Donaldson #1 and 1st round pick Grant Green #20, or had obscure 24th round pick Dan Straily ahead of the electric Fautino de los Santos.

Hindsight is 20/20 and foresight is really really harrrrd, but with prospects sometimes between your eyes and your gut you get a feeling about who will make it big, who will make it small, and who will not make it, not make it at all. {Wow. I was literally possessed by Dr. Seuss for 30 seconds just now. It was surreal and magical, and I’m pretty sure I was molested.}

So here is my official top 20 list as of September 8th, 2016, based on everything I know and more importantly everything I think. Or think I know, or know I think. Essentially what you’re supposed to see is how we will say the list "should have been" if we look back 10 years from now...

#1: Franklin Barreto, SS/2B/CF

I believe Barreto’s bat will play in the big leagues and that he will settle into a position where his athleticism will allow him to be at least average. Most likely he will wind up at 2B, though neither SS nor CF are out of the question. At any of those three positions he will have a plus bat, capable of a legitimate .280/.350/.450 with 15 HRs and 15 SBs. I think he is one of two future All-Star position players in the A’s pipeline.

#2: Matt Chapman, 3B

I think Chapman has a long career ahead of him as a "top 5 defensive 3Bman" and 25-30 HR hitter. He will strikeout a lot, which is the quality that separates him from Barreto, but I still believe that a .250/.320/.480 hitter might reside in that bat.

#3: Max Schrock, 2B

I know, right? Here’s the thing: John Sickels has the "this guy can f***ing hit" award (once given to then-prospect Josh Willingham) and you know what? Max Schrock can f***ing hit. Yes, 23 at bats is too few to get giddy over Shrock’s AA line of .391/.375/.435, but prior to that the 21 year old batted .341/.373/.453 in advance A-ball. As a 20 year old last year in full-season A-ball? .326/.381/.459.

I’m still stunned that the A’s got Shrock for 2 months of a decent lefty reliever having an ok season. If Shrock is just an average or decent 2Bman he has a chance to be comparable in value to Daniel Murphy or Neil Walker. But even if he is stretched at 2B, his bat has the chance to play just fine elsewhere, be it LF or DH.

I think he’ll stick at 2B, though. Keep him at 2B, send him to the School of Wash, give him a year, and don’t be Shrocked if he Maxes out his talent by raking big league pitching for a long time. Remember: at 5’8" he slots in right between Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve. Good things really do come in small packages.

#4: Jharel Cotton, SP/RP

Cotton, like his trade-mate Frankie Montas, lives in scouting purgatory, thought by some to be a future SP and by others to be a future reliever. We saw — ok, heard (thanks, CSN) — firsthand that he has a plus-plus changeup, along with better first-day-nerves than Raul Alcantara. With a legitimate fastball, a decent curve, an ability to pound the strike zone and a willingness to challenge big league hitters, Cotton seems to me like a SP who will warrant a spot in the middle of the rotation.

Despite arguably being the third piece in the Hill-Reddick deal, I see Cotton becoming a rotation mainstay in the #3-#4 slot beginning in 2017. And if any pitcher was ever suited to the Coliseum it’s Cotton and his propensity for inducing tons of pop-ups, many of which will stay in play only in Oakland.

#5: Frankie Montas, SP/RP

There is no doubt about Montas’ arm, just the question of "starting pitcher or relief pitcher?" Montas has hit 100 MPH on the gun and if he sticks in the rotation he profiles similarly — thankfully in stuff, not temperament — to Yordano Ventura and other true power pitchers the likes of which the A’s have rarely had in recent years.

Even if he moves to the bullpen Montas profiles as a potential "lights out closer" with a true power arm. The questions have been around Montas’ secondary pitches and control, but his stuff is electric enough that if one of those comes around he is going to be good and if both come around he is going to be great. I’m betting he either becomes a #3 SP, erratic but often dominant, or a true closer. Either is a very good thing.

#6: Jaycob Brugman, RF/CF

Jaycob Brugman has quietly put up an excellent AAA season at the age of 24 and as a left-handed batting outfielder he ought to get a serious look in Oakland for 2017. I don’t know if he will end up in RF or CF — this probably depends largely on what off-season moves the A’s make this winter — but I think Brugman has a chance to be, like Ryon Healy, an under-the-radar prospect who enjoys more success than many of his higher profile teammates.

Brugman doesn’t get a lot of attention because he isn’t flashy and doesn’t do anything "incredibly well" — he just does most everything well. He seems like he can be an average CFer or above average RFer with the potential to bat a solid-if-not-spectacular .270/.340/.420. And if platooned with Jake Smolinski, Bruglinski has a chance to be a beast.

#7: Matt Olson, 1B/RF

I have generally been bearish on Olson ever since I first saw his swing, which began on a Tuesday and ended mid-morning on Friday. Olson is never going to hit for a high average — heck he can’t even do that in the minor leagues — and he is going to strike out a lot. That doesn’t, however, mean he can’t be a big leaguer and have a decent career.

One thing to remember about Olson is that he is a good defender, supposedly excellent at 1B as well as fair-and-improving in RF. There are three qualities Olson brings to the table and all three are valuable: he will hit HRs, he will walk, and he can help you on defense. I expect Olson to hit around .222/.333/.430 in the big leagues and he may wind up being a platoon player, albeit on the strong side of the platoon.

#8: Logan Shore, SP

I have a good feeling about Shore, who is polished and could be a contender for a #3-#4 spot in the rotation as soon as 2018. I don’t expect Shore to win any Cy Young awards but like Kendall Graveman he could quietly pass many flashier and more talented arms to become an important mainstay in the rotation.

#9: A.J. Puk, SP

I hope Puk reaches his potential because his ceiling is high, but I see a few red flags beyond the standard "he could get hurt because he’s a pitcher and pitching is really bad for you." He comes into pro ball as a "20 pitches/inning guy" with control issues and even if he is successful there is a chance he will wind up as more of an Andrew Miller type than as a CC Sabathia type. The trouble with the Andrew Miller comp is that Miller throws strikes. Matt Thornton? Suddenly the excitement level drops.

#10. Bruce Maxwell, C

First of all if you’re a solid defensive catcher to whom pitchers like to throw, you’re going to have a career. It might be with 9 different teams over 11 seasons, and you might hit .207, but two things are certain: you will continue finding employment as a backup catcher and you will, for no particular reason, bat .444 against the A’s.

I think Maxwell has a chance to be more than a "backup catcher" early in his career. He has a chance to be part of a tandem, be it platooning with Josh Phegley or being somewhat of a "personal catcher" for a couple young pitchers in the rotation. I’m not sure that he will be good enough to serve as a team’s #1 catcher but I think with his strong game calling skills, throwing ability, and good eye, he will stick in the big leagues for a while regardless of his batting average or slugging percentage.

#11: Joey Wendle, 2B

Now that I have had a chance to see a bit of Wendle, I have a bit more confidence in him than I had when his poor plate discipline, and lack of positional flexibility, concerned me. Wendle is a type of player that I generally love: smart, fundamental, efficient, a guy who relies on reading the ball off the bat and getting a great first step, gears his swing towards loud contact, and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

While I am tempted to say Wendle is limited, thanks to a middling OBP and lack of ability to play SS, to a "AAAA depth" role, I also have visions of him working with the combination of Mark Ellis and Wash, and joining Brugman as an under-the-radar gem. Until, of course, he is run out of town by Max Schrock.

#12: Daniel Gossett, SP

Speaking of under-the-radar gems, little press is given to Gossett. He doesn’t throw Montas’ high-90s fastball or Cotton’s Bugs Bunny changeup, but he is a very good pitcher having a very good year. On Gossett’s side are age (23) and pedigree (2nd round pick) and I see no reason he can’t successfully vie for a spot in the back of the A’s rotation soon.

#13: Richie Martin, SS

Anyone with 1st round pedigree who can play a good defensive SS is a legitimate prospect. With Elvis Andrus upside, Martin certainly has a chance to make a #11 pick look foolish, and recently he has made a batting adjustment that has purportedly led to an offensive upsurge.

I suspect that ultimately, Martin will fall short offensively and will find himself compared more often to the likes of Didi Gregorius than to the likes of Elvis Andrus. Hopefully history will remember me as a fool. (OK that’s practically a given.)

#14: Grant Holmes, SP

Why am I not more bullish on Holmes, a 20 year old with great stuff who is a top 100 prospect? I don’t know. Sometimes you just get a feeling about who will make it and who won’t and my gut doesn’t see great things for Holmes. Maybe he gets injured, maybe he doesn’t throw enough quality strikes. Baseball history is littered with Sean Gallaghers and Luke Hochevars who had it all until somehow they just didn’t. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind if and when I ever actually see Holmes throw a pitch, but at the moment I have him in the "earns a few cups of coffee but doesn’t really make it" part of the list.

#15: Rangel Ravelo, 1B

I think Ravelo can hit. Of course it doesn’t help that in AAA this season, at age 24, he has hit a very pedestrian .262/.334/.395 but I believe in his bat as a Michael Young "alley to alley doubles power" hitter with good plate discipline.

However, like Yonder Alonso, Ravelo doesn’t give you the HR power normally associated with 1B, and unlike Alonso, Ravelo does not give you plus defense. I still think Ravelo can bat something like .280/.340/.380, but where that will get him I don’t know.

#16: Heath Fillmyer, SP

Not every pitcher who makes it to the big leagues has to be an ace, and while "back of the rotation," "innings eater," and "swingman" are not glamorous designations any starting pitcher who makes it to the big leagues is useful, and even valuable.

I can see Fillmyer making it to the big leagues for a run as a SP and that’s enough to warrant putting him at #16.

#17: Chad Pinder, 2B, SS, 3B

I see a lot of Grant Green in Pinder and that’s not a good thing. Like Green, Pinder is a SS in name who has an erratic throwing arm wherever you put him and like Green, Pinder is tall, slender, has some pop in his bat, and has a severe allergy to walks.

Hacking is not usually a sustainable hitting approach unless you are Vlad Guerrero, and I do not believe Chad Pinder is Vlad Guerrero. And I don’t really see evidence that Pinder will excel anywhere on the infield, even if some positions will better disguise his flaws than others.

Overall, Pinder strikes me more as a "tweener" than as a "super utility infielder" and as pitchers expose his weaknesses I’m not convinced that he will be more than a .251/.286/.339 hitter who can "play several positions, just not very well." And yes, that slash line is exactly Grant Green’s career line to date.

#18: Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, CF

I’m not a fan. Alcantara swings at most everything but makes little contact, usually being late on fastballs and early on changeups. He does not appear to read offspeed pitches well and defensively he reminds me a lot of Jemile Weeks: athletic but not really very accomplished.

He’s really fast, though.

#19: Renato Nuñez, 1B, "3B," DH

Nuñez finds himself pretty high on most prospect lists but not on mine. Start with the fact that Nuñez’ bat is going to have to carry him because his defense won’t, and you have a guy whose best position is going to be DH. Add to that low walk rates and now you’re relying on batting average and slugging to carry him.

That works if you can bat .290 and slug .500, but that’s a tall order for a prospect whose minor league career has had some good seasons and some not-so-good ones. This is not a Max Schrock who "just hits, and hits, and keeps on hitting," but rather a talented young swinger hoping to translate his raw tools to the big stage. Yet it’s on the big stage that so many "toolsy" guys flatline and I see more Jesus Guzman in Nuñez than I see Ty Wigginton. (Wow. I could tell you from where I pulled that name out of, but some things are better left unsaid.)

#20: Raul Alcantara, SP

I will be interested to see Alcantara’s next couple starts, knowing that nerves undoubtedly played a part in his forgettable debut. That being said, sometimes you can pick up on how a pitcher handles his struggles and Alcantara’s body language wasn’t exactly encouraging. However it’s not his body language, or one start, that concerns me so much as the stuff.

Alcantara reminds me a lot of Arnold Leon whom I first saw, and really liked, just before he was claimed by Tommy John surgery. Leon came back but the stuff was never quite the same and similarly, what I saw from Alcantara was that he had good velocity on the fastball but the life wasn’t really there. His cutter was awful — flat, hittable — and I have a feeling he is going to be the latest in a bevy of pitchers whose comeback from TJS is successful in theory but not in practice, and who quickly descend into obscurity when their long awaited big league trial fails.

Honorable mention...

#21: Dillon Overton, SP

I can give you 87-89 reasons why Overton won’t make it in the big leagues. Once an excellent prospect throwing 93-94 MPH with a plus changeup, I had hopes for Overton coming back from TJS throwing 91-92 MPH and settling into Dallas Braden/Jason Vargas territory at the back of the rotation.

Instead we wound up with a poor man’s Tommy Milone. Basically in order to succeed at the big league level, Overton has to be perfect because as we saw his mistakes are going to be hit a long, long way. It’s sad but despite knowing how to pitch I just don’t think Overton has enough weapons to succeed.

#22: Yairo Muñoz, SS

He’s too young, toolsy, and intriguing not to make the list, plus someone has to be #22. I suppose I could have thrown "Lazarito" in here somewhere, but how the heck do I start to even have a hunch about him yet? Maybe next year...

#23: Dalton Jefferies, SP

Someone has to be "talented but totally derailed by injury," and I’m going to pick out Jefferies as a guy whose shoulder problems return and render him the next Henderson Alvarez. Go Bears.