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Oakland A's 2017 Community Prospect List #5: Jharel Cotton is no longer a sleeper

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Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s acquired an impressive haul of prospects last summer in exchange for their impending free agents, just as they had in their similarly last-place 2015 campaign. The first of that group, Jharel Cotton, has already cracked our Community Prospect List. Here’s the current list, including their winning margins (the difference between their % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. Franklin Barreto, SS (+67%)
  2. Matt Chapman, 3B (+26%)
  3. A.J. Puk, LHP (+38%)
  4. Jharel Cotton, RHP (+60%)

Cotton was one of three pitchers who came over in a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, but he was not supposed to be the first of that trio to make this list. Grant Holmes was the headliner, a young Top 100 prospect. Frankie Montas brought the eye-grabbing elite tool with his triple-digit fastball. But Cotton delivered the most important thing: MLB results.

After leading the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in strikeouts, and nearly throwing a perfect game for Nashville (and in a road game), the former 20th-round draft pick got his chance in the bigs and made the most of it. He made five starts for Oakland in September, including one each against all the other AL West teams, and ended up with a 2.15 ERA in nearly six innings per start. His peripherals were good (23 K, 4 BB), he didn’t let the homers get out of hand (max 1 per start), and of course he got no favors along the way from Oakland’s defense, which ranked 32nd out of 30 teams.

The thing that impresses me the most about Cotton is how much non-A’s fans love him. Of course we’re going to like our own prospects, especially the good ones, but Cotton has risen so far from his original sleeper status that he’s just a straight-up top prospect now. I thought I was being bold when I put him No. 4 on my updated list in November, but if anything that seems to be his low point now — Baseball America also put him fourth, and John Sickels bumped him up to No. 3 in the system (and maybe Top 100 overall?). Eno Sarris has mentioned the possibility of Cotton having the ceiling of a No. 2 starter. To contrast: When the A’s acquired him, before his big debut, he only slotted in at No. 15 on MLB Pipeline’s midseason list.

That dynamic MLB trial has put Cotton firmly on the national radar, far beyond what his good-but-not-dominant Triple-A performance could have done for him. It was a small sample, and in September no less, but even a five-game sample of big league success is more than most of these prospects have. Cotton isn’t a lock for the Opening Day rotation in 2017, but he sure seems like a frontrunner right now.

Here is the process (please read, there are minor changes):

  • Five candidates will be listed on the ballot. The voting will take place in the comments section. I will start with a comment listing all five players, and then I will respond to that with five new comments in the style of "Vote: Player Name" for each candidate. Please do not reply directly to the official "Vote" comments, so that the ballot can stay together in one group.
  • Choose your ONE favorite by Rec'ing the comment with his name. Please only vote for one. The player who receives the most Rec's earns the next spot on the CPL, while the remaining four players move on to the next ballot where they are joined by a new nominee.
  • In the comments, below the official voting, commenters will nominate players to be put onto the ballot for the next round. Similar to the ballot, I will start with a comment calling for nominations, which can then be made as a response to my comment. The format for your comment should be "Nomination: Player Name".
  • After the first nomination for a player has been put in, all other votes for that player will come from Rec'ing that comment. The player with the most Rec's earns the nomination.
  • If a prospect is traded, his name will be crossed out, and all other players will be moved up a space. If a prospect is acquired, a special vote will be put up to determine where that player should rank.

* * *

The new nominee is Bruce Maxwell. After quietly, slowly, steadily developing for a few seasons, the former 2nd-round pick suddenly broke out at the plate in 2016. After one particularly ludicrous stretch, in which he went 18-for-28 with 5 HR in eight games, he got his ticket to Oakland and spent a couple months as a perfectly decent backup catcher. At this point his floor is as an MLB backup, which is no small praise, with the chance to hit like a starter.

XBH = Extra-Base Hits
Hitter average rates: 100 wRC+, 8.0% BB, 20.0% Ks

Bruce Maxwell, C

Expected level: MLB | Age 26

2016 stats (AAA): 219 PAs, 148 wRC+, 10 HR, 11.0% BB, 17.8% Ks
2016 stats (MLB): 101 PAs, 103 wRC+, 1 HR, 7.9% BB, 23.8% Ks

From John Sickels:

Older prospect, but glove will keep him employed at least as a reserve; he hits left-handed which makes platoon use easier; while skepticism is understandable, he did mash in college and it is plausible that all the concentration on improving his defense kept his bat stagnant for a while; put another way, the .283/.337/.402 line may not be a fluke at all. ETA 2017.

* * *

Frankie Montas, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2016 stats (AA + AAA): 7 games, 16 ip, 22 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR
2016 stats (AFL): 6 games, 17 ip, 9 Ks, 8 BB, 0 HR

From John Sickels:

Limited to just 16 innings by rib injury but was excellent in those innings ... fastball 95-100 MPH with peaks at 101-102; average to plus slider; threw strikes with the hard stuff in ’16 but change-up remains erratic; most observers view him as a reliever at this point, albeit a really good one. ETA 2017.

* * *

Grant Holmes, RHP

Expected level: Double-A? | Age 21

2016 stats (A+): 26 games, 4.63 ERA, 134 ip, 124 Ks, 53 BB, 10 HR, 4.09 FIP

From John Sickels:

Reports still have fastball in mid-90s with plus curve, but change-up has lagged and he hasn’t been as dominant as you’d expect from the stuff reports; command within the strike zone remains inconsistent, traced to mechanical problems which come and go; still young enough to live up to the early hype. ETA 2019.

* * *

Matt Olson, 1B

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 23

2016 stats (AAA): 540 PAs, 102 wRC+, 17 HR, 13.1% BB, 24.4% Ks
2016 stats (MLB): 2-for-21, 7 BB, 4 Ks, .321 OBP, 54 wRC+

From John Sickels:

Stock down somewhat after he got off to a slow start in ’16 but he was hotter down the stretch and slugged .475 with .356 OBP in second half of season; still young; power/patience hitter, struggles against lefties but can handle right-handers; at this point projects as productive platoon bat rather than a star but that still has value. ETA 2018.

* * *

Daniel Gossett, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2016 stats (A+): 9 starts, 3.33 ERA, 46 ip, 53 Ks, 13 BB, 4 HR, 3.45 FIP
2016 stats (AA): 16 starts, 2.49 ERA, 94 ip, 94 Ks, 25 BB, 4 HR, 2.57 FIP
2016 stats (AAA): 2 starts, 1.98 ERA, 13⅔ ip, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 0 HR, 3.80 FIP

From John Sickels:

Fastball in 90-94 range, with some reports as high as 95-96, with solid-average curveball and change-up; whole greater than the sum of the parts; Holmes draws more praise for his stuff but Gossett is a lot more polished, granted Gossett is also four years older; ready for a trial soon with workhorse potential. ETA 2017.

* * *

Vote in the comments below for your favorite of the five by Rec'ing his "Vote: (Player Name)" comment, and post your nomination(s) as well!