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AFL Eye Test: Sean Murphy, Nolan Blackwood, Sheldon Neuse

First opinions on Sean Murphy and Nolan Blackwood, a second look at Sheldon Neuse, and a sighting of old friend Jaycob Brugman.

The Mesa Solar Sox celebrate their 5-2 win over the Scottsdale Scorpions on Monday, Nov. 6.

Due to conflicts between the AFL schedule and my own, it took me almost three weeks to get back to another Mesa Solar Sox game. However, my patience was rewarded, as four of the six Athletics prospects on the team played in the game, a 5-2 victory for Mesa over the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Sean Murphy

Wow. Just, wow.

You may recall seeing this video on Twitter a few weeks back, of an excellent throw Murphy made to throw out a runner:

Yeah, well, last night he did that again. Except this time, the pitch was decently far to his right, making the play that much more impressive. He shifted to the ball, picked it perfectly, and gunned it to second base, nailing New York Yankees second base prospect Thairo Estrada for the second out of the third inning.

The inning before, he laid a throw right on the money on a Steven Duggar stolen base attempt, but Duggar had just barely gotten a big enough lead and was called safe. It was a very close play that replay may have overturned had it occurred in the big leagues. In addition, every inning, Murphy’s throw down to second after the pitcher’s warm-up pitches was a bullet, right on the money.

Just from this one game I can tell that Murphy has one of the best catcher arms I have seen, and could possibly rival Matt Chapman on pure arm strength. He looked solid all around on defense, making a few nice blocks and showing no notable flaws.

Offensively, Murphy went 0-2 with two walks and a strikeout. While clearly fooled on a few swings, overall he showed strong discipline and fought hard for his two walks. His one ball in play was a weak first pitch pop-up to right field. He did hit a few balls hard just foul down the third base line. Overall, despite a fairly quiet offensive night, this game has sold me further on Murphy’s role as Oakland’s catcher of the future.

Nolan Blackwood

Blackwood entered the game for the save in the top of the ninth inning. Despite a two-out walk, he struck out the side, including making quick work of top Yankees prospect Estevan Florial. His fastball sat at 90 mph but touched 93 and had very good horizontal movement. The few offspeed pitches he through were slurvey, clocking in around 77-78.

The main takeaway on Blackwood is his funky delivery. He is a true sidearmer, and it is certainly deceptive, especially when combined with the movement on his running fastball. This deceptive delivery looks repeatable and is reason to believe in his success. While Blackwood doesn’t possess traditional closer stuff or velocity, I am a big fan and I see him finding success in a Joe Smith-type role as a set-up man or righty specialist.

Sheldon Neuse

Neuse has a lot of helium right now due to his strong AFL season so far. However, he was very quiet offensively on Monday night, going 0-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. He worked the count well in the second inning, drawing a full-count walk, but from that point was simply too aggressive. He hit a routine grounder to shortstop in his next at-bat, and flailed at offspeed pitches in his next two, one of which came with a runner on third and one out.

I’m comfortable chalking this up to an off night for Neuse, but it is a reminder that he does have some holes in his swing. His strikeout rate is well over 25% during his time in the A’s organization, and while he has big raw power and is capable of hitting the ball as hard as anyone, it is unreasonable to expect him to hit .300 in the bigs. I could see him settling somewhere in the .260-.280 range.

Defensively, Neuse only saw two opportunities. In the top of the second, with Duggar on first, the batter hit a high pop-up to the left side. Neuse made a heads-up play and showed off his arm by gunning the ball to first to try and get Duggar. The throw was strong, but could not be picked by the first baseman and instead hit Duggar. Later, in the fifth inning, Neuse ranged well to his left on a chopper and threw to second for the fielder’s choice.

Jaycob Brugman

We saw plenty of Brugman in the majors this season, and he didn’t necessarily impress much. He started in left field and batted second on Monday night, and went 0-3 with two walks. He didn’t look much different than he did in the majors this year, but did put a charge into one ball in the bottom of the third, on a fly out to the left center field wall. My opinion of him remains unchanged - he is a fourth or fifth outfielder that can take a walk with a little bit of speed and power, but not enough to start. Useful, but not a star by any means.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to at least one more Solar Sox game, and maybe get a look at Logan Shore. I’m disappointed to have missed Tyler Ramirez, who was removed from the roster with an injury.

Below is a gallery of (low quality) photos I took of all four players. If you have any questions about any of the players from Monday night’s game, feel free to ask. Until next time - lean on, A’s fans!