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Sheldon Neuse starting strong in Arizona Fall League

Checking in with 7 Oakland A’s prospects in the AFL.

Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The Arizona Fall League is through its first week of play, and the seven Oakland A’s prospects in attendance have each gotten into some games. The Mesa Solar Sox stand at 2-3 so far, with a roster containing minor leaguers from the A’s, Cubs, Nats, Astros, and Tigers.

Bill from Athletics Farm got the ball rolling last week with an intro, but here’s a refresher on Oakland’s contingent as well as an update on their first outings.

Sheldon Neuse | 3B

2017, A+/AA: .380/.444/.567, 176 wRC+, 7 HR, 8.9% BB, 27.2% Ks, .510 BABIP (in 169 PAs)

Neuse has done nothing but hit since being acquired in the Doolittle/Madson trade. This was his first full pro season (drafted in 2016), and he mashed all the way up to Double-A; that statement will be true for all three of the hitters on this list. Neuse then went on to lead the team through the playoffs toward another league championship, with a .971 OPS in 10 games.

Nothing has changed in Arizona. He’s already homered twice in his first four games, and overall he’s 6-for-16 with a walk, 6 Ks, 6 RBI, and an 1.162 OPS.

His BABIP has remained in the stratosphere and we’ll have to wait longer to see how he settles in long-term, both in this AFL season and in his career overall. His regular season mark is so high that it looks like a typo, and that has allowed him to continue putting up absurd numbers despite a high strikeout rate. The story has been the same this fall, as his 17 plate appearances have gone as such: 2 HR, 6 Ks, 1 BB, and 4-for-8 the rest of the time (.500 BABIP).

Sean Murphy | C

2017, AA: .209/.288/.309, 69 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.7% BB, 15.7% Ks (in 217 PAs)

Murphy hit much better in High-A Stockton to begin the year, with a 130 wRC+ that earned him a ticket up to Midland. His calling card is his defense behind the plate, but his bat holds potential too.

In Arizona, Murphy has gotten into three games and responded by going 3-for-10 with a double, 3 BB, a HBP, and no strikeouts.

His poor Double-A stats were largely dragged down by a .232 BABIP, but he made plenty of contact along the way. His low K-rate throughout the minors allows us to give some benefit of the doubt that he’ll work past his late-2017 slump, especially when factoring in his rapid rise up the system as well as the extra demands of developing a young catcher. That encouraging high-contact trend is continuing in the AFL, where he’s yet to strike out even once.

Tyler Ramirez | OF

2017, A+/AA: .304/.398/.431, 132 wRC+, 11 HR, 12.8% BB, 23.3% Ks, .394 BABIP (in 571 PAs)

That stat line is combined for the whole season, but it remained remarkably consistent after Ramirez moved up from Stockton to Midland. He put the ball into play more in Double-A, with both his K and BB rates inching down a couple points, but otherwise he was eerily identical at both levels. His BABIP remained high, but not at Neuse’s ridiculous level.

Unfortunately, the AFL has not been kind to Ramirez so far. He’s 1-for-17, though that one hit was a homer. He’s racked up 3 BB and 6 Ks, which is within range of what you’d expect from him.

Ramirez also had a poor postseason for Midland (4-for-30, .424 OPS), and at this point I have to wonder if he’s getting a bit worn out. He reached his career high in plate appearances in early July, then finished the last two months of the regular season, played another couple weeks of postseason, and is now on the AFL circuit. He began last year in college, and this year he hasn’t stopped moving from March to October; he’s got nearly 100 PAs more than Neuse. Obviously success would be the best possible result here, but if he keeps scuffling then I’ll have a built-in excuse for him.

Logan Shore | RHP

2017, A+: 4.09 ERA, 72⅔ ip, 74 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 3.43 FIP

Shore’s fast-track to the bigs was slowed by a lat injury this year, but his numbers were still encouraging. That made him a prime candidate to visit the AFL and recoup some of his lost innings.

His first start in Arizona didn’t go well. He got in trouble each of his first three innings, eventually surrendering a three-run homer. He settled down for a 1-2-3 frame in the 4th, but the damage had already been done and the Solar Sox never fully recovered. Shore’s final line in the no-decision: 4 ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 7 hits, 1 HR. (The AFL is generally considered a hitter’s league, for what it’s worth.)

Nolan Blackwood | RHP

2017, A+: 3.00 ERA, 57 ip, 48 Ks, 18 BB, 2 HR, 3.84 FIP, 19-of-20 saves

The sidearmer (2016, 14th round) served as the closer in High-A Stockton and did his job well. He also helped out with a couple innings in Midland’s playoff run. He’s a legitimately promising relief prospect.

Blackwood has appeared once in the AFL so far, tossing a scoreless frame with one hit and a pair of strikeouts.

Miguel Romero | RHP

2017, A+: 6.87 ERA, 18⅓ ip, 25 Ks, 9 BB, 4 HR, 5.99 FIP

The 23-year-old is still a work-in-progress relative to the rest of this list, having just made his United States debut in June, but one look at his strikeout rate gives a hint at his potential. He throws hard but must improve his command, and the AFL is exactly the place to have a raw youngster log some extra innings.

Romero has made one appearance so far, with the following line: 2 ip, 0 runs, 1 K, 1 BB, 2 hits.

Sam Bragg | RHP

2017, AA: 3.03 ERA, 68⅓ ip, 56 Ks, 16 BB, 4 HR, 3.18 FIP

Bragg is the least interesting name on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve followed him fondly these last couple years, and he could still find his way up to Oakland’s bullpen someday. He’s a decent relief prospect, and if anything I think it’s weird that he didn’t get a chance in Triple-A in 2017. He more than earned it.

But this spot was supposed to go to high-profile Cuban free agent Norge Ruiz, who barely played this year for various reasons. He’s packed with mystery and we were hoping to get some early answers. Unfortunately Ruiz was shut down for the AFL due to injury, and Bragg was the last-minute replacement. (For what it’s worth, Ruiz has officially dropped off my A’s Top 30 prospect list. He can rejoin once he’s done anything interesting on the field, which will require he return to health and not get caught cheating anymore.)

So, it’s not that I don’t like Bragg, just that there’s nothing left to learn. We already know who he is and what he can do, and all that’s left is to try him in Triple-A and eventually MLB. There’s nothing he can do in the AFL to move either up or down in my book, and he’s not rehabbing from any 2017 injuries, so his time is essentially wasted here as far as I’m concerned. Each team is obligated to log some innings, so Bragg is serving as filler for now.

That said, he’s pitched once so far, throwing one inning and allowing a run on three hits.

Next time, we’ll also talk about the international winter leagues, which currently include Yairo Munoz and Jake Smolinski and may soon feature Franklin Barreto.

Click here for full A’s winter league stats