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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Matt Chapman hurt, Jaff Decker hot in Triple-A

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 minor league baseball season is under way, so it’s time to kick our Prospect Watch series back into gear. To catch you up, here are the Opening Day rosters for each of the Oakland A’s four full-season affiliates, from Triple-A down to Single-A.

Four teams means lots of games every day, over 100 players, and too many story lines to fit into one post. Therefore, like last year, we’ll focus on one affiliate every day with the goal of visiting everyone at least once each week.

Today we’ll begin with the most advanced team, the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, who are off to a 2-3 start this year after posting the best record in the 16-team Pacific Coast League last season.

Matt Chapman hurt

The Sounds have two national Top 100 prospects, Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto. Unfortunately one of them is already on the shelf, as Chapman landed on the 7-day disabled list with a left wrist sprain. The injury came on a check swing on Friday, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

The good news is that Chapman is right-handed, so at least this doesn’t affect his elite throwing arm. The bad news is that it’s not the first time he’s hurt his left wrist, as a previous injury to that body part cost him the final month of the 2015 season as well as a trip to the Arizona Fall League later that year. And of course, wrists are quite important for hittin’ dingers.

While we wait for our future superstar 3B to return to action, here’s an idea to look forward to (just add in some Healy Monster):

Meanwhile, putting one player on the DL means there’s room for another to come up. The beneficiary this time was right-handed pitcher Chris Jensen, who was squeezed out of the initial roster by the simple logjam of interesting veteran pitching depth (and Ross Detwiler). Jensen, 27, is a starter who split last year between Double-A and Triple-A, and at least numbers-wise he profiles similarly to Zach Neal but with more walks. That last sentence explains why he had to wait for a roster spot.

With the addition of Jensen, the Sounds now have a nine-man bullpen and only 11 total position players. Of course, there will be more shuffling over the next couple weeks, so that huge pitching staff is surely (hopefully?) not a long-term roster construction strategy.

Jaff Decker hot

The Triple-A roster is stacked with legitimate prospect talent, and yet the most compelling story right now might belong to a 27-year-old fringe outfielder whose name should phonetically rhyme with the word chaff but doesn’t.

That’s because Decker looks like a lock to be the next position player called up to Oakland, whenever that might happen. He was the last man cut from spring training, and he has an opt-out clause on May 1 if he hasn’t been brought up yet. Furthermore, as a lefty hitter who can play CF, he would fit onto the A’s current roster perfectly and fill a needed backup role.

Helping his case even further is that he’s off to a blazing start. After a strong spring performance, with a .965 OPS and a walk for every strikeout, he’s done the following through five games:

Decker, 2017: 10-for-20, 2 doubles, 5 BB, 3 Ks, 2-of-3 steals

One of those doubles came with two outs in the 9th inning and drove in the tying run, sending the game into extras where Nashville eventually won.

Decker has a couple more weeks to prove he deserves a chance in Oakland, and so far he’s doing everything he can to force the issue. On the defensive side, here’s a video of him making a sweet diving catch in CF.

Franklin Barreto hotter

Decker’s not the only one hitting, though, just the most relevant one to the next month of A’s baseball at the MLB level. The hottest hitter on the Sounds so far has been the organization’s top prospect, Franklin Barreto.

The 21-year-old stagnated a bit last winter on national Top 100 prospect lists, which seemed odd since he was excellent for the entire second half of last season. But he’s already showing early signs that sleeping on him was a mistake.

Barreto, 2017: 9-for-19, 2 HR, triple, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 1.436 OPS

Note that all of these games have come on the road so far, so they haven’t been at Nashville’s pitcher-friendly park. However, Round Rock isn’t one of the worst bandboxes in the league, so we can still enjoy these big numbers without factoring in a Coors-like effect.

Some video links:

As for some of the other top hitting prospects (not as hot yet):

  • Chad Pinder is 9-for-22, but has struck out in a third of his plate appearances.
  • Renato Nunez homered! But hasn’t done much else and is striking out even more than Pinder.
  • Matt Chapman was 0-for-7 with 6 Ks when he got hurt (d’oh).

Pitching: Castro & Valdez

The Sounds pitching staff is made up mostly of veteran depth in the early going, with only a few youngsters mixed in. Among the kids, top prospect Daniel Gossett walked five in his first start, though Paul Blackburn fared better with six quality innings in his pitch-to-contact style.

None of the veterans have really stood out yet with an eye-popping performance, but perhaps the two closest are swingman Cesar Valdez and reliever Simon Castro. For Valdez, the name of the game is avoiding walks and eating innings efficiently, so this line from his first start is encouraging:

Valdez, 2016: 5 ip, 2 runs, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits, 1 HR

Meanwhile, Castro brings a bit more strikeout potential, especially since he pitches in short relief. On the downside, though, the two walks he issued (back-to-back, no less) drove in the deciding run in the late innings of a 5-4 loss on Monday.

Castro, 2016: 3⅓ ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 1 hit (2 games)

It’s difficult to say who might be next in line for a spot in Oakland, but these two aren’t wasting any time putting their best feet forward.

More on Castro & Valdez

Tuesday’s games

The A’s are off today, so what better time to follow along with some minor league action! Here’s the slate:

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Daniel Gossett vs. Oklahoma City
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Grant Holmes vs. Springfield
High-A Stockton: LOST 6-0, Casey Meisner vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: 4:30 p.m., Ty Damron vs. Clinton

The full pitching tandems for the three lower teams include James Naile (w/ Holmes), Brett Graves (w/ Meisner), and lefty Brendan Butler (w/ Damron). In High-A, Meisner got smashed and Graves was strong, but the lineup was held to just one hit (a single by catcher Lana Akau).

Link to box scores