Over at MLB.com on Friday, the MLB Pipeline prospect page released its list of Oakland A’s Top 30 prospects for 2017. Click through the see the whole list, which you can also compare to our own nearly completed Community Prospect List.
Here are a few interesting things I noticed on my first look through.
1. Matt Chapman’s defensive grades
You probably know about Chapman already. He’s got big power and an even bigger arm at third base, giving him the chance to contribute on both sides of the ball. Last year, four A’s prospects had one of their tools ranked as a 70-grade on the 20-to-80 scale, and one of them was Chapman’s throwing arm. His overall fielding received a 60-grade at the time, which is still excellent but not elite.
What a difference a year makes. Not only did Chapman’s arm get bumped up to a 75-grade, but his overall defense is now up to 70 as well. That makes Chapman’s arm the strongest in the entire minor leagues according to MLB Pipeline, as well as the single best tool in the A’s whole system, which also contains the following list of 70-grades:
- Chapman’s fielding
- A.J. Puk’s fastball
- Frankie Montas’ fastball
- Sean Murphy’s throwing arm
- Bobby Wahl’s fastball*
By this measure, it’s not just a matter of his arm anymore; Chapman is now simply an elite defensive prospect, albeit at a corner position. Think about that: We talk a lot about his power, especially after he led the A’s in Cactus League homers last year and then swatted 36 in the minors in tough home parks, and power isn’t even his carrying tool. All of this helped him find his way onto three of the five major Top 100 lists, including MLB Pipeline’s version (and a peak of No. 80 on John Sickels’ list).
* Wahl is also a new addition to that list. His fastball got a 60-grade last year but is up to 70-grade now, including a mention that he touched 100 mph last season.
2. Nolan Blackwood
There is one somewhat surprising name toward the bottom of MLB Pipeline’s list: No. 28 Nolan Blackwood. The sidearming right-handed reliever was the first member of Oakland’s 2016 draft class to reach Single-A Beloit, where he posted an excellent 2.87 FIP in 20 innings (20 Ks, 5 BB). But with such a depth of intriguing prospects in the system, he hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet at Athletics Nation.
This actually isn’t even the highest ranking for Blackwood, as Keith Law put him at No. 21 on his own list. But it’s still a bold statement about a recent 14th-round pick, much less one who already pitches in relief. Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say about Blackwood:
Most sidearm and submariner pitchers rely heavily on their deception to help improve what usually is below-average stuff. That's not the case with Blackwood, a wiry, 6-foot-6 right-handed sidearmer whom the A's drafted in the 14th round last June after three seasons of closing games at Memphis. He became the first player from the 2016 Draft class to reach a full-season level, moving up to Class A Beloit from Short Season Vermont roughly a month into his career.
Blackwood's velocity is atypical compared to hurlers with a similar arm slot, as he'll sit at 88-91 mph with heavy sink that results in extreme ground-ball contact but few whiffs. He pairs it with an average breaking ball as well as a changeup, both of which play up on account of his tremendous deception, although he'll need to develop the latter in order to be successful against lefties.
With an ideal fastball-breaking ball combo for neutralizing right-handed hitters, Blackwood could be a fast riser through the Minor Leagues.
3. Pinder in the Top 10
Different evaluators will have different opinions on the weight of ceiling vs. track record. Some focus more on raw, young, unproven talent for which the sky is still the limit, while others value a player who has already passed a few minor league tests and is closer to the bigs.
There is no right answer, merely different opinions, but MLB Pipeline tends to lean toward preferring youth and high ceilings. That’s why I’m not surprised to see them put Grant Holmes over Chapman, nor 2016 draft picks Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore in the Top 10. Baseball Prospectus did all of those things too. What surprises me is to see MLB Pipeline do all those things while also putting Chad Pinder in the Top 10.
To be clear, this isn’t a complaint. Pinder clocked in at No. 17 on our CPL, but he’s in my own personal Top 10 (as well as Baseball America’s). Even if he doesn’t make enough contact to be an everyday player, he still looks to me like a quality MLB-ready utilityman. But MLB Pipeline wouldn’t put him so high if they saw him as a bench player, because that’s not their style. Instead they must see him more as a potential super-sub starter: “[I]t's Pinder's ability to play multiple positions that could help him to carve out a regular role in the big leagues.”
4. Three matches!
This is more of a neat tidbit than anything too meaningful, but there are exactly three matches between MLBP’s Top 30 and our own CPL:
1. Franklin Barreto
5. Frankie Montas
26. Paul Blackburn
The first one actually does mean something, as Barreto turned out to be the consensus No. 1. guy. The other two are just neat coincidences. There are only two other players who are even within one spot of each other on the two lists: A.J. Puk (Nos. 2/3) and Richie Martin (Nos. 11/12). Also, in the ongoing final CPL vote, Casey Meisner is currently on pace to finish No. 30 on our list, one spot away from his No. 29 at MLBP.
Let’s wrap up with a comparison of all the major Top 10 lists so far (will add A’s Farm and Oakland Clubhouse when available):