The Oakland A’s made two different trades this winter that each netted them a “player to be named later,” and on Tuesday they resolved those loose ends. The team announced the names of their two new acquisitions — in exchange for OF Jaycob Brugman, the Orioles sent over RHP Jake Bray; and in exchange for 2B Joey Wendle, the Rays dealt catcher Jonah Heim. Both played in the lower minors in 2017.
Jake Bray, RHP
He was drafted young out of community college in 2013 but stalled soon after due to Tommy John surgery. That left him in Single-A (equivalent: Beloit) this year at age 24, which is slow progress up the ladder, but for what it’s worth he was excellent there. His numbers included 82 strikeouts in 51 innings, with rates of 14.5 K/9 and 37.8% of all batters faced. Mix in tiny walk and homer rates, and his 1.76 FIP is as good as you can hope to see in the pros. His arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball and a slider, reports Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse.
Bray, 2017: 3.88 ERA, 51 ip, 82 Ks, 14 BB, 2 HR, 1.76 FIP, 50 hits, 18-for-23 saves
That performance must be put into proper context, because he’s yet to face any kind of advanced competition and he’s generally been old for his leagues. He also already has a significant injury history, and he surely won’t be making our Community Prospect List. But Bray is yet to take the professional mound and perform poorly for any kind of extended stretch, and that alone makes him worth keeping an eye on in 2018.
Jonah Heim, C
He was drafted by the Orioles out of high school in 2013 and turned 22 this summer. Baltimore sent him to the Rays in August of 2016 for big leaguer Steve Pearce. Heim’s calling card is defense, which you can read all about in the following scouting reports:
- MASN Sports (2015): “Sometimes, with a young catcher, there are plenty of aspects of their defense that might need improving or tweaking. (His Low-A manager) said that is not the case with Heim. ... ‘There is really nothing to fix or retool,’ (the manager) said. ‘Everything mechanically is solid. ... He just needs to be patient with himself as he gets stronger.’”
- Baseball Prospectus future grades (2015): 40 Hit; 40 power; 30 speed; 60 glove; 55 arm; Makeup: “Gets raves about makeup; works at craft hard; works with pitching coaches and pitchers very well; calls an ideal game behind the plate.”
- Minor League Ball (2016): “He's continuously drawn rave reviews about his defense and makeup from higher ups in the Orioles organization, noting he has a plus arm and good receiving skills.”
- 2080 Baseball (2016): “The organization, and pitchers especially, speak highly of Heim’s defensive skills behind the plate, and rightfully so. ... Heim is a very intelligent game caller and always is on the same page as his pitcher.“
- Numbers: Threw out 30-of-67 basestealers this year (45%), and 38% for his minor league career.
As for his hitting, that part of Heim’s game isn’t nearly as advanced. That’s fair enough, though — he still had some physical development to finish when he reached the pros, and catchers have more to work on than players at other positions. He spent 2016 in High-A but went back to Single-A for most of 2017, where he managed to put up positive stats for the first time in his career.
Heim, 2017 (Single-A): .268/.327/.426, 9 HR, 8.4% BB, 17.8% Ks, 112 wRC+
The A’s catching depth chart is so thin that an NFL ref could use it to measure a first down. Adding anyone of interest is worthwhile, especially someone who has a good reputation with coaches and pitchers. Remember, even if a catching prospect doesn’t make it to the bigs, he’ll still work with all the pitching prospects you do hope will make it.
But wait! There’s more!
Since we’re talking about new additions to the lower minors, we may as well mention the new international signing. Dairon Blanco is an outfielder from Cuba, and he’ll turn 25 this winter. He’s lauded as an 80-grade runner according to assistant GM Dan Feinstein, via both Lockard as well as Joe Stiglich of NBCS. Check out those links for more details, and check back next spring to see what level Blanco will be assigned to after missing the last couple years of play.
Welcome, new prospects!