The Arizona Fall League is about halfway through its schedule, and a few Oakland A’s prospects are beginning to stand out. Overall, the Mesa Solar Sox own a league-best 10-7 record.
The star of the group continues to be Sheldon Neuse, who also headlined our last AFL update. The right-hander has belted three homers in 13 games, to go with a strong .300/.364/.580 batting line. He leads the AFL with eight extra-base hits, and if you’re into RBI then his 16 rank second behind former Oakland farmhand Billy McKinney. Even his strikeouts are decreasing, with his K-rate down to 21.8% after sitting closer to 30% in the early-going (and also during in his torrid regular season).
All of that production is getting Neuse some attention. He represented the A’s in the Bowman Hitting Challenge, a midseason contest that’s sort of a combination between an MLB Home Run Derby and an NBA Skills Challenge. Now he’ll wear the green and gold in the annual Fall Stars Game, which will be televised on Saturday (5 p.m. PT, on MLB Network).
Even his defensive assignments have been noteworthy. He’s played seven games at 3B, which has been his primary position in the pros, as well as three more as the DH. But he’s still getting some run at SS, including three games in the AFL so far. Even if he never ends up meaningfully playing there, just the fact that he’s in the picture at all bodes well for his ability to handle easier/corner positions. Overall he’s made two throwing errors at 3B and one fielding error at SS.
A loud Neuse dinger:
This has also been an encouraging AFL season for catcher Sean Murphy. The 2016 draft pick struggled in Double-A, and even though it was impressive for him to make it there so quickly at all, you’d still like to see some sort of encouraging news to end the year. We’ve gotten just that, as he’s at least getting the bat on the ball and getting on base through 11 games — a .293 average, .396 OBP, and only five strikeouts (10.4%). The power hasn’t followed and so his numbers aren’t as big as Neuse’s, but let’s not get greedy with this defense-first backstop. Murphy is making excellent progress in his first full pro season, between reaching the upper minors and holding his own in the AFL.
Unfortunately, the Arizona experience didn’t go quite so well for outfielder Tyler Ramirez, who has forced his way into my Top 15 A’s prospect list. He opened 1-for-17 (with a homer!) but has been shut down with a lower back strain, reports Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse. He’s been replaced on Mesa’s roster by fellow outfielder Jaycob Brugman.
It’s a tough break for Ramirez, but he’s already put up a long, full, excellent year, from High-A to Double-A to a Texas League championship. Between his non-stop hitting and his Gold Glove in LF, his 2017 goes down as a massive success regardless of his abbreviated AFL stint. As for Brugman, he missed half of August and all of September with a minor injury, so he’s as good an emergency choice as anyone to get a few extra at-bats.
Neuse: 55 PAs, .300/.364/.580, 3 HR, 5 2B, 5 BB, 12 Ks, .343 BABIP
Murphy: 48 PAs, .293/.396/.366, 3 2B, 5 BB, 5 Ks
On the pitching side, Logan Shore finally had a good outing in his third try. He got knocked around in each of his first two starts (both 4 ip, 3 runs, 7 hits), but on Friday he settled down and cruised. He opened with a pair of 1-2-3 frames, then worked out of a jam in the 3rd, and finally allowed a solo homer in an otherwise clean 4th. He’s allowed a dinger in each of his three appearances, but this time he limited the other hits so the long ball didn’t hurt as much.
Now for the caveats: The AFL is a hitter’s league. Shore is a 2016 draftee in his first full pro season, with zero upper-minors experience, and having missed a big chunk of the year to a non-arm injury. I can write off some extra hits, but more important is his ratio of 9 Ks to 1 BB. Shore isn’t a dominant power/whiff guy like A.J. Puk, but rather a command/contact/grounder guy. He’ll give up hits sometimes, even if he reaches his MLB ceiling, but more crucial to his development is continuing to control the strike zone. Pound the zone, avoid walks, and good things will usually follow. In this context, I’ll take the golden K/BB over any small-sample hit-rates or ERA.
The rest of the pitching corps hasn’t offered much of interest. Miguel Romero has been crushed multiple times, leaving him with a 12.71 ERA. Sam Bragg has one strikeout in four innings. Nolan Blackwood, the top prospect of the reliever trio, finally gave up runs (in a non-save situation) but is doing fine in the pen.
Shore: 3 starts, 5.25 ERA, 12 ip, 9 Ks, 1 BB, 3 HR, 17 hits
Blackwood: 5 games, 3.38 ERA, 5⅓ ip, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 5 hits
Not much else to report from the various international winter leagues. Jake Smolinski isn’t hitting in Mexico (.628 OPS), nor is suddenly relevant catcher Beau Taylor in the Dominican (.572 OPS).
Also in the Dominican, speedster Jorge Mateo has managed only a .595 OPS in 42 PAs, including a 28.6% K-rate — but on the bright side, he’s got a dinger, a triple, and 4-for-4 steals! Mateo has worked his way back onto the MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospect list, at No. 97 overall (presumably that means he was a near-miss at the midseason update, and then moved back up at the end of the year when some other folks graduated above him?).