The A’s current approach to rebuilding has some fans nervous, because it relies on the success of many prospects and nothing is less predictable than the fate of prospects. Oakland has been disciplined in not trading any of its "exciting young core," preferring instead to sign free agents who have in common that are may not be elite players but they also will not block young players as they arrive. Matt Joyce, Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe, and Santiago Casilla are all on 1-2 year deals for relatively little money.
The risk, of course, is that the A’s are leaning heavily on success from players who have yet to enjoy success in the big leagues — in many cases they haven’t even had so much as a cup of coffee and in other cases a small cup is exactly the sum total of their experience.
Is it wise to bank so much on Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Bruce Maxwell, Ryon Healy, Renato Nuñez, Chad Pinder, Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, Daniel Mengden, and so on? (Only Healy has sustained any big league success so far and even that was only a half season.)
The answer lies in just how good the A’s think these young players are. Sure, there are no guarantees, but hitting on players in the draft is a bit different from hitting on players you already have, that your professional scouts have already seen on multiple occasions, that you have concluded are the real deal and will more likely hit their 75th percentile projection than their 50th or, heaven forbid, their 25th.
In other words, it appears the A’s front office is "all in" on the young core and that’s absolutely fine so long as they are right. They need to do better than the usual rate of bust and disappointment associated with the draft and with the minors.
Personally I’m a non-believer in Renato Nuñez and Chad Pinder, but the good news is that even if I’m right the A’s can do fine without those two thriving. They can’t, however, be wrong too many times and certainly not with the players on whom they are most depending.
Let’s take a look at how the landscape might shake down for the lineup if several key prospects were to hit around their 70th percentile after all.
Franklin Barreto: A 70th percentile projection might yield an average defender up the middle with a slash line of .280/.340/.440 and a tidy 15/15 combo of HRs and stolen bases.
Matt Chapman: A 70th percentile projection might yield an excellent (but not quite gold glove level) defender at 3B with a slash line of .240/.320/.450, 25 HRs.
Matt Olson: A 70th percentile projection might yield a very solid 1Bman or slightly below average RFer with a slash line of .230/.330/.430, 25 HRs.
Bruce Maxwell: A 70th percentile projection might yield an average defender (good framing, not as good blocking) at catcher with a slash line of .250/.310/.400.
Ryon Healy: A 70th percentile projection going forward might yield an average defender at 1B with a slash line of .270/.330/.450, 20 HRs.
Plenty of slugging, to be sure, not as much batting average as you would like, pretty good defense. For better or worse, incumbents-under-contract-for-a-while Khris Davis and Marcus Semien share these qualities. I'm not sure where a .360+ OBP is going to come from unless Chapman or Olson hits his ceiling, but there is plenty of upside in this group — and it appears the A’s brass believes some of these guys are going to reach their potential.
If most of them do, and if 1-2 break out to approach their ceiling, the A’s look like they’re in good shape. And if that doesn’t happen? If the A’s have blown it on evaluating their best prospects at the most crucial time to get it right? That...would be a real problem.
I’ve been highly agnostic on a couple of these prospects, most notably Olson. One day I see lots of potential in someone so young who has already mastered walks, dingers and defense, and another day I see a long swing that could get terribly exposed at the highest level. .250/.360/.500? Totally could happen. .180/.280/.350? Totally could happen.
What I keep hoping is the tie-breaker with these guys — Chapman’s troubling K-rate, Olson’s long swing, Maxwell’s clunky receiving — is that internally it appears the A’s top scouts have taken a long look and given these guys a resounding thumbs up. Not just a thumbs up, but more the "stay the course, because you can bank on these guys" thumbs up. That’s easy to do with Kris Bryant, harder to do with talented players who are still working out kinks that could potentially derail them.
Is the A’s apparent internal endorsement enough to make you a believer in this crop? With prospects, no one is right all the time but here’s one time where the A’s scouting department and front office really needs to be right.